June 14, 2010

An Exploratory Essay in Quasi-scientific Parables

There was a wise man that once said that if there were any work to be done that it would be done by its sheer existence alone. However, the time frame in which it would get done was dependent on the variable attitudes to the nature of the work itself. He was going to write a book expounding on this theory but he never got around to it. This is very likely due to the fact that he could not find anything in his house because he never managed to do his housework. The city mistook his house for a forgotten landfill and as far as anyone knows he died of oxygen depravation after a few years.

Fortunately, his life’s work was passed into the world on a sheet of paper and his death did not really matter. He was a great thinker, but all great thinkers are, he was a flash-in-the-pan. After his first theory of the conditional existence and non-existence of work, he went on to other fields of probability and achieved other astounding insights, which he intended to write on the paper with the first theory but set it aside because after all that thinking he needed a good nap, a form of work higher on his priority list.

Any great thinker will tell you that a good nap is a lot of work. One wise man has been quoted on many occasions for his thought-provoking observations on the challenging field of pillow fluffing. “A pillow is only as good as the quality of its fluff, which lasts in direct proportion to the length of patience in the person who is responsible for fluffing it and the heart rate of those observing the person using said fluffed pillow.” This was received with broad yawns from his fellow researchers at the convention when he first revealed it. They were not fully convinced so the rest of the day was spent in pursuit of proof of the statement.
This lead to the next major theory in probable napping; more fulfilling naps will be taken in higher frequency in larger groups of people. A more specific correlative was attached about the increase of fulfilling naps amongst people of similar professions and age category. This correlative was tested with various degrees of success. The wise men found it to be absolutely true and went on to continually practice it, as often as 300 days a year, stopping only to take a vacation when they became too stressed. Another test was conducted by a zealous graduate student in a preschool setting. He hypothesized that if the preschoolers were assigned jobs, then their naps would be more fulfilling. They were trained in janitorial aspects concerning the movement of debris with a stiff-bristled implement attached to a long handle commonly referred to as a broom. Before being able to prove anything, he was smothered by a fire blanket when on of his subjects accidentally knocked the hasp with his broom. This gave birth to the modern-day laboratory science maxim, “Don’t give brooms to little kids.” which has subsequently saved many lives. Further investigations into the correlative stopped after the incident and have as of yet to resume.

The failure of work resumption was explored by a man of indifferent intelligence recently. He made leaps and bounds in the field. He discovered that the tendency of thought was to think that if work was started and no one was working on it any further that it must be done. He hypothesized that this was due to the nature of work itself, in the fact that work has a goal and that anything towards that goal brings the work closer to completion. Later research showed that the consensus of people believe work left unfinished would become finished if other work was done elsewhere. The man would have probably made many more discoveries but he went on coffee break and never returned to the subject.

Another aspect of … well never mind.

Six olf' Bits

1. Index cards are to be carried around at all times, at least one of them, in case you might encounter something witty, or just something that you want to write down to remember. Our memories go downhill, and it is nice to have a short written account of a moment.

2. The wire hood is a wire thing on Champaign bottles. I am not really too well versed in the ways of this upper crust alcoholic beverage, but as I understand, it holds the cork in prior to opening.

3. Apparently publishing makes you neurotic. If you write for the sole purpose of being published, you are writing for the wrong reasons. Writing is the reward unto itself.

4. I didn’t really get that part, something about the rooms in the castle you were told not to go by your parents. It is your duty as a writer to expose the under exposed.

5. I for one like the line “Risk being unliked…truth is always subversive.” I am really not sure why, I think mostly because it came near the end of the book, and I was less thinking “I have to get this read,” and was more open to thoughts like “Wow, what a profound and insightful comment.”

6. For my money. I really like Chuck Palahniuk. I could rave about his deconstruction of the masculine ideal and everything like that, but he creates strong narrators that leave you interested in the story. The plots are usually unbelievable, but you have to suspend belief in a plausible reality to read his work. In short, his work is fun to read.

conversation drifts

Conversation drifts upwards.
“We need to write something that is playful and fun. I cannot think to do anything else. It would be a shame to use my talents as a shady humorist, but if I must fade into the background once a stone marks my place, it shall be. To live and enjoy life is my task.”
It drifts to the ceiling.
“…Once there was this moocow and it was a very good moocow.”
Where it mingles,
“Or maybe it was not. Reject modernism. Turn on your fathers, and return to the ways of their own fathers. Reject Christ, the postmodern condition. Become the Jews of Zion, warble around Malta, or Venice, the beautiful old world cities built upon the rubble of the old lands, the old ways, and the marble and the friezes and the classical busts staring at you from their cold stone eyes. They’re dead, and we are all dead, just waiting for the inevitable end that will enshroud us all.”
and becomes noise.
“I swear to God, she had to weigh over two hundred pounds. I know, I know, she carried it well, but there is some innate fear of being with someone that big.”
There is a chattering
“I am not going to live my life in fear. There is a war on, you know. There isn’t any thing that is going to stop it. We all know, there’s always some sort of war. There is no golden age of civilization, there is just cycling.”
amongst people where the words
“…and I really think she gave me herpes. I’ve never had anything like this before, but as I understand, she’s been around. You know her, I think. She works at the coffee shop down the street from where I live. Why are you smiling?”
we say drift out the door
“I should be going home. I can’t drink too much tonight and I’m running short on cheddar. Maybe we can raise hell some other time, when I’m more available.”
with the cigarette smoke
“She wears so much makeup that she goes around looking like a whore. I tell you, its not attractive. There is no way that she looks in the mirror before she goes out. If she does, she needs to see an eye doctor.”
as we stumble into
“There’s no way the Red Sox can lose this season. The Yankees have nobody. They’ve lost that attitude of certain victory that used to surround them. The aura is dulled their flaws have been exploited. They are no longer God like. They’ve been humanized for god’s sake, and humans die”
this early morning.

Contemplations on Finals Week: Modest Proposals

• You find yourself awake at six in the morning, trying to finally grasp the complexities of thermodynamics, or the deeper meaning of James Joyce’s Ulysses. I know the boat you are in. Test at any time in the semester can be a hard thing to deal with, but finals carry an additional weight. Perhaps you have a professor who weighs the final at forty percent of your grade, or maybe you have an eight-thirty final in a class that meets normally at four in the afternoon. The stresses of finals week is enough to crush even the hardiest soul.

• To combat the stress of an overwhelming collection of facts that you must squeeze into your taxed brain, I have a few suggestions. For starters, I have found that self-medication is an excellent choice. No matter what poison you choose, this is a superb route to take. I am not offering this suggestion as a way to improve your test scores, but I can guarantee that if you take enough of your medicine, you simply will not care about said test scores.

• If the prior suggestion leaves a bad taste in your mouth, I am fully ready with more ideas. I have witnessed several individuals who have gained confidence in conversing with invisible beings. I am not in the position of endorsing any particular being, but I am close with the Christian God. When compared to possibility of eternal damnation or the pursuit of nirvana, a simple two-hour test looses its significance. The prospect of failure on a test is a far lesser demon than the prospect of failure at life.
Finding religion puts the minor triviality of finals into perspective.

• Another idea about finals stress is that you don’t need to worry about them. You know the weird punk rock girl in your class? The one who wore her Doc Martins with shorts way back in August? I have it on good knowledge that while you were procrastinating, and enjoying time with your friends, she was studying and keeping up on her homework. If you can, sit as close to her as possible. She may have the veneer of rebellion, but she knows Nietzsche, Kant, and Jung as well as their closest friends ever did. The bonus of the situation is that her handwriting is large and flowery, a hand that is easily read from five feet away. Cheat your way through finals week, and buy Christmas gifts instead of studying. Your friends will love you for it, and your parents will laude you for the excellent marks. The only downside is that you have to be conscious of the professors. They tend to frown on this activity.
• I wish you all a happy finals week, and may you all find success in your endeavors. To graduating seniors, good luck in your respective fields. To those who follow my advice and fail, I am truly sorry. To those who followed the advice and succeeded, I expect flowers. I particularly like daisies and lilies.

Against Post-Modernism

Painting, Politics, Poetry

I meant to write this when I was a little more contemptuous of things, but I allowed my contempt to simmer, and we can no longer get some out with a spoon. We would need a metal spatula or something of the sort.
The first thing is to say is that “The Literature” became a proper noun is because it still holds a lasting relevance to the world we experience. Without this relevance, the art becomes nothing, and is just an ephemeral blip on the radar screen.
To bring this into something I know better, I would like to examine painting. The old masters were really the “Old Masters” because they excelled in representational art. I know that with our ever-increasing hold unto technology, these representational artists have become just the photographers of olden days. In painting, capturing the moment is essential, just as representational literature is about capturing the moment, whether it exist in the physical world or in the soul.
Innovation isn’t frowned upon. When your own way of creating art is co-opted by a new technology, a revolution of sorts seems natural as the sun rising in the east. However, there are limits to the extent of revolution. Van Gough and Monet will be remembered because they painted pretty pictures, not because of their revolt. Pollock, Kitchen, and Rothko will find themselves in the dustbin of history, because what they were saying, or trying to say, made sense at the point that they were creating. Now, to me and to many other observers, they seem that they were throwing paint at a canvas. THIS IS WHAT THEY WERE DOING. Poetry, any art really, is not about throwing something at the page or the canvas and seeing what would result. Call it avant-garde, call it Dadaism, call it abstract expressionism, the future will remember it for what it is: nothing.
LeRoy Jones quoted Dostoevsky’s Ivan Karmazov’s famous, “All is permitted.” He fortuitously OMITTED the fact that this thought, when taken at face value, immediately leads to the assumption that there are no boundaries to what can happen, and we fall into anarchism, whether it be in politics or in art. Many great thinkers have taken up the repercussions of what happens after we allow all to be permitted. The important thing to note is that there is a middle ground. The ground between Ivan and say, Thomas Hobbes’s “Leviathan,” at least in their ideologies, is where the great art lays.
It always has.
It always will.
These poets will become footnotes in an anthology, at best.

June 3, 2010

On the Bending Cross

Eugene Victor Debs is a personal hero of mine. I first learned about him and his work not in a scholastic setting, but in the pages of the late Howard Zinn’s _People’s History_. I was excited to take on a full-length biography of the man. For _The Bending Cross_, Haymarket has repackaged a biography from 1947 and placed new front material in the book. The text and the critical approach as a result are somewhat dated.

Textually,If you can get past the no-longer-P.C. references to African Americans as ‘negroes,’ you should be fine as a reader. Critically however, I have a feeling that desire to round off the edges of Comrade Debs might have made the author wear rose-colored glasses. I never met Eugene Debs, so I cannot verify the characterization of the man, but the Debs that we read about the pages of Ginger’s biography is so nice and so aloof that I honestly would not believe him as a character in a fictional work.

In fact, the Debs of _The Bending Cross_ did remind me of a fictional character. I kept thinking of Aleksey Fyodorovich Karamazov in Doestoevski’s novel. Alyosha comes across as fake in the sense that Debs is too fake. They’re both written to clearly as allegorical Christ figures. Ginger makes this comparison explicit as he begins his long march to the end (399). The lack of explicit criticism has the opposite effect of what I think the author hoped to effect. Debs has no depth in his own biography and comes across as a figure in a moral allegory. The moral allegory is not, but the real world is, and Debs was an imperfect inhabitant of that world. He claims so even in the pages of the biography, but there it seems a false modesty.

This lament is not a call for my heroes to have flaws. Debs did, and we’re given only an attempt at an honest assessment in the last two pages of the book. He drank too much, held aloof from his wife, and maybe took advantage of his brother. The human flaws are what gave him his humanity and are what gives us hope. If you want to learn more about a great under-looked hero of humanity, read this book. Debs’ life is an example for all of us, only know we all have flaws.

June 2, 2010

Walking the road to serfdom.

Hayek was scared, and rightly so if his analysis was right. Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Russia were nightmares of states that the rest of the world would hope to wake up from. That the Russian people and the Germans eventually woke up does not excuse the excesses of power claimed by both totalitarian dictators.

Hayek, however, was wrong in his analysis.

First off, I want to dispatch and then turn away from the easiest and most superficial criticism of this work. Hayek is a bad writer. The construction of his English are tortured and awkward. Not every writer taking on English can write with the verve and elegance of Conrad or Nabokov. Sadly, even in his field, someone writing centuries before him has a better grip on lucid prose. Adam Smith, a Scotsman, writes in a clearer English to the contemporary reader.

Rhetorically, Hayek’s largest problem with his argument is definitional. He dedicated his work ‘to the Socialists of all parties.’ His tongue-in-cheek dedication is meant to yoke together both the Nazi program and Stalin’s version of Marxism-Leninism. The work goes through pains to keep this parallel alive, but only goes to show that both of our antagonists in the work are effective dictatorships. The key argument of the work is that the road that both countries took to their respective places were parallel. Hayek goes through pains to support this thesis, tying together some ex-socialist in the Nazi movement as proof of the socialist root of Nazism. He ignores the fact that Nazism developed in the beer-halls of Bavaria as a nationalistic alternative to the internationalist SDP that lost its intellectual and moral high ground by supporting Germany’s entry into the capitalist conflagration we know as World War One. The Nazi party and fascist ideology grew and developed not as a logical extension of socialistic ideals, but in conflict with both socialist and communist parties in the late twenties and early thirties.

Hayek’s villain becomes not socialism as understood by any socialist, but instead the villain is a planned economy. Ignoring the fact that socialism is an economic, political, and moral system is one thing. Parts of the socialistic system are open to criticism and discussion and debate. However, Hayek’s move is intellectually dishonest. If the countries of the Soviet Union and Germany had anything in common it was that they had centrally directed economies. Both countries had separate problems and were not heirs to the post-capitalist utopias in any form. Germany had to rebuild, as did the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union had not just the international war to recover from, but also faced internal strife. The tsarist country that became the Soviet Union was still very rural and largely agrarian and thus had to focus a damaging amount of economic focus on industrialization. Neither country was ready for the transition that Marx was able to see happening in mid-nineteenth century England or Germany.

Hayek’s thesis is rendered moot by this false comparison. ‘Socialism’ is not the villain. Dictatorship and totalitarian systems that repress the people are the enemy of a well-functioning state. Many different political and economic systems have led to serfdom. Hayek’s market-based savior is no better. He argues that oppression is inevitable in both a planned economy and a market based one. The market-based economy, to Hayek, is preferable because the oppressor is the market itself, and not some entity that has a face. I fundamentally disagree with him here, as in an open system you have a chance to petition for redress an individual. If a market leaves me to starve, I have no one to look at for succor or blame. This is many times more alienating for me.

The final prescription Hayek advocates is one I and many other leftist can get behind. Although Hayek speaks against international planning, he recognizes the need for international cooperation. For him this is a cooperation of the markets, where governments hand over economic policy and the nation-state is weaker as a result. The confounding part here is that the socialist, Marxist view is internationalist. Nation-states themselves exist to protect bourgeois capital, and borders are at best an ethno-linguistic myth. What Hayek in the end argues against is competing state capitalist countries and advocates for the blurring of those boundaries.

I recommend this book, despite my rating, because it is important for people from all sides of the debate to know every side of the debate. Hayek is important in right-wing libertarian thought, but you should approach with caution if you have not read some of the important theorist he is speaking against; his definition of leftists are at the mercy of his arguments and not necessarily a reflection of any socialist’s words or intents.