Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Nothing brings out performativity like the holidays.

In direct contrast to the apparent artificiality of such interactions, we see the genuine quality of such beautiful posts as Briullov's latest set. How can I negotiate the differentiation between Derrida's maxim that nothing becomes reality until it is verbalized, and the existential concept that no conversation is wholly "genuine" (i.e. without performativity)?

I remember once, Freaky F told our German History class about how he could never tell his ex-wife's family about how "sabbatical" means "A university pays me to take a semester off so I can do research." Briullov can fashion dialogues upon his thought processes...where do I begin?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Pushkin. Flower. 1828. And it's still true.

I've found some dried out flower, its odor gone
Forgotten in a book
And - well, my whole being shakes
By some strange dream:

Where'd it bloom? When? What was the spring like then?
And had it grown awhile? Who collected it -
A stranger, or a familiar hand?
And why should it be laid here?

In memory of some sweet encounter
Or of a star-crossed desertion,
Or a lonely sojourn
Through the silence of the fields, the shades of the forest?

And could the man be alive, or his lover too?
Right now, what corner have they found together?
Or have they withered away
Just like this dried out flower?

Перевод мой.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Give me wonderment. *Flash* Give me innocence. *Flash*

On my walk to the cafe just now I was enjoying the mittens I'd just purchased, but still felt, as they say, under the weather. It was cold. Cold cold cold. The sky was grey and murky like a swamp filled with frog legs and alien brains. Wind blew the last leaves around the pavement, and the branches waved them goodbye. The scene was, I think, to express it in a word, "bleagh."

Then a woman crossed my path. She was carrying a toddler into the daycare next door, and had the child's jacket, but had foregone the struggle of putting the jacket on in the car only to take it off again indoors. The little girl's back was open to the cold air.

And she was laughing. A gigantic grin wrought her giggles into an echoing cackling, and her hands drummed on the woman's breast. She loved it; the cold was a new sensation, not yet bothersome, and she loved it.

They went indoors and I crossed the last half block to the cafe. But I was smiling.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Drenched in Vanilla Twilight

Shameless use of photoshop. Shameless shameless. It makes me feel like I fell through a chasm of stars and landed on an Age of Myst.

(Nubble Light, York, Maine)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bare Threads, Here, But I Trust in You. Put them Together.

One of my favorite comments in these history classes - although it's levied by far the most in Modern German - is a variation on commenting on how the historian used the archives.
"This is totally a book he could have written in St. Paul."

"I think the chapter on East Germany is sparse." - "But she was the first one allowed access to East German archives."

"He obviously has spent the past twenty years poring over the city's records."
(I swear that this strain of dialogue has tickled me even before I saw it explicitly attacked as an intellectual's conceit in Antoinette Burton's Archive Stories.) The timbre of the comments I just now referenced plays countermelody to a different strain of thoughts:
"She has an acknowledgment to a specific archivist; you can tell she really lucked out and got access to something she wasn't expecting."

"Here are a few of my favorite things." [followed by a list of classic texts.]

Burton's comment on the Lower East Side Squatters and Homesteaders Archive Project: "The squatters' project is one of hundreds, perhaps thousands of similar archive enterprises taken up by groups who believe that their histories have not been written because they have not been considered legitimate subjects of history -- and hence of archivization per se."
All's I'm trying to say is that there are pressures to reify the archives, even among the people who ostensibly read and paid attention to works like Burton's, if for no other reason than to protect oneself against the inevitable onslaught of cranky grad students, looking to create some corpses.

I realize there can't be any goal in any writing project except to write the best one can write, period. And yet it strikes me that no one is ever going to look at Virginia Woolf's Orlando and say that she ought to have left Cornwall and spent more time in the Moscow archives...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Oh, Monolithics of Culture

This university releases crime alerts for [any?] [violent] crime that takes place. Typically, the activity happens late at night, to a student alone or in a very small group. Typically, the description of the attacker is: "tall black man wearing a hoodie." Case in point.

[Typically?] the racial tension has finally come to fruition. While the victim in this incident isn't explicitly labeled as black, one can picture that the "tall and semi-muscular" man, one of "five white males and two white females," who decided criminally to threaten the individual, was ensuring that "Mr. Scary Black Man" (thanks to the unBridge for that terminology) wouldn't rape one of the women with him. Because [ostensibly] fratboys with guns are what America needs to protect herself. Right to self-form militias and all that.

Of course the response ranges from the altruistic to the politic to the polemic.

I could go into a diatribe about race and racism, but it comes down to what the Czech dissident author Václav Havel had to say about Marxist ideology in Soviet-occupied Czechoslovakia: there is a difference between class consciousness and conciousness of class. That is, there's a marked disparity between knowing how to "talk the talk and walk the walk" (or knowing what is or is not politically correct, playing into power structures of acceptance and sociability, sensibility) and actively believing in the power of those words.

In a community that so obviously does not have race consciousness, it shouldn't surprise me that the consciousness of race doesn't equate to judicious decision-making. There might not [always] be a moral judgment on the class and race statuses of individuals [although the unBridge reports that the commentary at a "Campus Safety Town Hall Meeting" proves that there is still a fair amount of that], but there nevertheless is a lack of subtlety, of empathy. It doesn't help students of color that the racist stereotype: "You are black therefore lazy therefore poor and evil and scary" has been shortened to "You are black...therefore evil and scary." The thought process is still racist. It is still ahistorical; what other motivations are driving the attack? Rather than arguing [again, as, I'm very sorry to admit, the unBridge reported was a legitimate suggestion at the Town Hall Meeting] that "those community members" be banned from bars, or that homeless people be deported on account of their homelessness, we should spend some time examining exactly what driving [historical, economical, subjective] forces are at play here.

(Edit: Find the "official" interpretation of the Town Hall Meeting on the Daily Illini website.)

(Editx2: Don't take anyone's word for it. If you have a spare two hours, watch the meeting yourself here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

No Dahlias and Cherry Trees. Just Poppys.

It bothers me to participate in holidays, as if only once a year is it appropriate to think about the dead, and military conquest, and expansionist entrepeneurial-colonialist utopias.

I found myself reading an article about Armistice Day at 10:58 am., and decided I could take the two minutes on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month to have a moment of silence. My brain, of course, would not be silent, and thought about the ramifications of war and - more importantly - the assumptions that allow for it. I came up with the following guidelines for myself, that I should not become a soldier:
I respect fellow humans' right to live.
I respect their right to the mutual protection of imperfect mortal law, and the benefits of my subjective metaphysical contemplations, as long as it doesn't interfere with theirs.
I respect their earnestness.
I respect their will to live, their pursuit of happiness.
I respect their quest for understanding in the postmodern world.
I respect their right not to be over-romanticized.
I respect their right not to be patronized.
I respect that placing them under my chains of influence is counterproductive to these desires.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Whose feet are being dragged by whom?

I love thinking about the illogic of set expressions in the English language. I talked the Animus's ear off today about things like "couldn't like less than." Does it mean there is no higher? Or no lesser?

Anyway. That was getting him back for when I said "the water lapping at the bridge" and he asked if water has a tongue.

Here's another gem from yesterday's New York Times reportage of the possible US deal with Sudan: "...persistent reports of foot-dragging by the Sudanese authorities..."

Let's think about this foot-dragging. What Mark Lander is implying is that at the macro level, the Sudanese government isn't outputting everything it should be. The way he says it is by - apparently - giving agency to individual bureaucrats.

Yet consider the mental-state of a bureaucrat. Might a bureaucrat flex his or her respective muscles in order to feel powerful? Certainly.

Could such a state employee really drag his or her feet in such a way as to jeopardize the national status? I don't think so.

Which leads to an impasse. If bureaucrats are taking unnecessary amounts of time on filling out those paperworks they need to, it's either because someone higher up directs them to do so -- or because of extenuating circumstances. There's no way for us to tell which, but either abnegates the entire purpose for using the "foot-dragging" metaphor in the first place -- we no longer have any appreciation of individuals participating in Sudanese governmental policies. We just have one monolithic structure.

That's ok. Later we can talk about the English propensity to mask agency. "This paper argues that..." or "The committee decided that..." or "Mistakes were made..."

Monday, November 8, 2010

Number Nine [Turn me on dead man]

Maybe the answer was six? Or seven. I can't remember.

The thing is, neither could anyone else.

Here is a situation where context is key, perhaps. Trivia, on a Sunday night, in the cornfields of Illinois. The question: "Including both regular and post-season match-ups, how many perfect games were there in the American League in the past MLB season?"

Teams full of white guys, middle class and beer bellied, put their heads together and started counting, naming, of course, every pitcher on every team who had succeeded in that feat.

When it came time for the answer - either six or seven - and the resultant uproar, not just was the announcer anticipating said uproar. He knew which game was the one in question. "It was a no-hitter, but there was an error," he said, almost immediately, almost before anyone had said, "What about --?"

My team [Oh Shit, Dragon Attack!] watched with detached bemusement.

It's ok, because a guy at the gym listened to the unBridge and me discuss whether Kate Perry's "Fireworks" is kitsch, or vulgar, or both (or if a cultural event can be both) with the same kind of detached bemusement.

That is: one might find the things I think about extraneous or irrelevant. That opinion doesn't necessitate that what [other] men typically consume is worthwhile or relevant.

Six, or seven?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Too Much (too many?) Wiggles.

I think she's pretending to be Captain Feathersword?
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Ophelia-so-bad-for-yourself. Write a poem.

I have to remind myself that the throwing of temper tantrums is inappropriate. One may only kick a tantrum, these days. Suffice to say I had a great long weekend and wish it were not for to be the end. Quite. Yes. Considerably.

Pictures will follow.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I feel an obsessive desire to consume Wittgenstein

The sensation I work from a script
I say, “X!” expecting some retort
But you’ve instead said “Alpha.”
The slap those times you deviate
I don’t know the answer
And Gödel laughs at my pale attempts
Less words, your head rests on my chest
Gently tracing muscles’ lives
Until the sun’s full set
Then you leap up, tongue out, declare:
“You drive me wild.”

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Do I Not Have Eyes, to See?

We found them, once, on a ship of the damned, a barge haphazardly sailing the Rhine and Rhone and Danube, its cargo the ostracized. The structuralists and formalists and antinominalists and all their friends -- they found them in the cemeteries, the underground walkways, the peripheries.

The thing is these "they," the [insert your favorite euphemism e.g. 'forgotten,' 'subaltern,' 'peripheral,' 'outsiders'], are not on the periphery. But it's easy to overlook them when they escape the margins to which we exile; temporality, here, works with just as much strength as locality.

It's Thursday. Mid-morning sun in that unfamiliar brightness - "we" are, after all, typically ensconced in our schools and offices and secure worlds by now. It's downtown, the Main Street, that part of town that falls under the sway of the college students and bar-crawling patrons. The night is not as shadowed as once it was; the night offers no protection to the ostracized.

They're out, now. In the sun, they walk. In the shop windows, they stop and watch myriad proceedings. One makes fastball pitching motions, nothing in his hand, towards a dumpster, awaiting the metallic echo of a sound that's not yet fired.

I see two options. Either my thesis is correct - and temporality dictates the periphery, but the context changes, time enforces itself upon the shadow gestalt of centrism and all its enemies in different ways - or there's a more insidious breakdown of the system of peripheries and alienations, where those considered subaltern no longer hide, but are not equal before the law.

Take that to bear on whatever strain of current events you may like. As the unBridge quipped the other day, "You have infinite possibilities ahead of you."

I looked over at him and [mournfully? with sardonic foreknowledge of what would be the next words out of his mouth?] replied: "Because I'm white?"

He laughed. He nodded.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sounds like George Santayana, to me.

This is from a text on Weimar Germany, the republic that lasted from the end of World War I to the rise of the Third Reich. It is titled, appropriately, Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy (Eric Weitz [Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2007]).
At a stormy Reichstag session following the murder, Chancellor Joseph Wirth gave one of the most forceful and moving political speeches of the Weimar era. He knew that the assassins had not acted alone, knew that they operated in an environment that had made such terror acts salonfähig, that is, acceptable in polite society. Wirth vociferously attacked the men on the right...[charging] them with creating a 'murderous atmosphere' in the country. ...And he concluded: "There stands the enemy (to the right), who drips his poison in the wounds of the people-There stands the enemy-and about that there is no doubt: the enemy stands on the right!"
It's not my style to do the flamboyant things sometimes asked, but sometimes the shocking events of the world truly do necessitate positive action. (Although far be it from me to say that there is any perfect response: cf. far-echoing and angry reactions even from players on the same side).

All I'm wondering is, in light of current events - current events, I realize, that are so often cited and commented on as to have lost all rhetoric flair -- have we not established a situation analogous to Weimar Germany? Are there not some certain elements of contemporary society that "stand to the right"?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Lord of the Flies. In a Factory.

A diamond shatters. Who's to blame?

I don't know what process diamonds actually undergo, but let's run with the following. If it makes you feel better, it's an experiment that exists totally within my mind, so it doesn't matter if it correlates to reality.

At the final checkpoint in mining, diamonds pass through a conveyor belt, at the end of which a man with a tiny little archaeologist's hammer taps them, just once, light vibrations like a ghostly presence, just outside audible reality. The diamonds, though vibrating, maintain their internal quality, and move on.

But one little diamond moves along the track, without a sense of apprehension (he is, after all, a diamond), and reaches the little man with his little hammer. The strike - a crash in the air that disrupts all of his peers' subtleties and emanations - and the diamond shatters. In the instant of the strike, he feels (because our diamonds, now, can feel) the presence of a hairline fracture deep within, a little fracture he'd never have noticed, were it not for the little man's little hammer's little blow, but a flaw, nevertheless. He disintegrates onto the tracks of the conveyor.

The diamond shatters, but the agent of its destruction can't be to blame; after all, so many other diamonds had come before, and so many would hereafter, that survived the trial of the little man's little hammer's little strike. The instrument of destruction cannot be held accountable for the destruction. The diamond was flawed.

The diamond was doomed.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

It's fun, for example, to read Camus's diaries.

I can't remember what precisely led me to it, but I decided I wanted to rewatch that clip from Ukraine's Got Talent I first saw and referenced around this time last year.

I decided I wanted to write a response to it, more than I had before. As I started drafting this blogpost, I remembered that I was thinking about World War II in Russia around this time last year, and checked; oddly enough, the entry dating precisely to this date, one year ago, is the one I recalled.

What's more, I am still wondering the same questions. From that earlier post:
Why do those things that seem to be “the best” at evoking an emotional response, those that are winning competitions (like Ukraine’s Got Talent) and are lauded as the exhibits to see around town (like this) all return to the question of war, to total war, to the undeniable presentiment that everything is going to be destroyed?

...What is keeping the threat of imminent and total destruction so present in creative Russians’ minds? Why has total war and total victimization trumped all other mode of artistic expression? Is it possible to tell a narrative without returning to that war? How can one move past it?
What's scary to me, now, what seems more important to me, now, what I can't stop thinking about, now, is not the question Why is the memory of the war so important and moving for them? Rather, it's become Why am I incapable of feeling what I would like to consider an appropriate level of empathy towards them?

First world problems.

More precisely, I'm having trouble justifying to myself those inquiries I used to find so fascinating and important. I can contemplate reading any of the same sources, pondering the same problems, but I can't bring myself to feel excited about elucidating their historical importance, their role in the grand teleological schemes of man, their role in maintaining or destroying the status quo. I only want to read them insofar as they're important to my personal thought processes, emotional evolutions.

First world problems.

There, I've said it and had done with.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

"The Beast" is more a Phenomenon than a Physical Being

I tagged along to the Apple N' Pork Festival in nearby Clinton a little bit ago. Naively, I pictured it roughly similar to all of those childhood visitations to New England apple orchards: there would be suburban families, apple donuts, apple cider, trees, a pseudo-idyllic country aesthetic.

It was not that. Or, more precisely: the very heart of the festival, at the Clinton Homestead (a relatively demure Reconstruction-era manor), was dominated by clustering tents and wooden stalls, the promised pork and apple cider and - donuts abiding. Gingerbread men were to be had - at the expense of standing in a line that would make my Soviet forebears proud.

Lest damnation fall upon thee, thou shalt not stray from the festival core. A huge field behind the mansion was dominated by a flea market; along the periphery downtown, a similar bazaar's expansion blanketed the asphalt.

At the risk of sounding like I'm turning the Great White Man's gaze upon subjects of internal colonization, I have to admit there was something about the festival - primarily on those peripheries, but imbuing the whole thing as well - that disturbed, unsettled me. There was a pinched look about everyone's eyes, a look that suggested that as much as this was a people 'on holiday,' what they were experiencing was anything but a joyous occasion. They seemed to be a people unaccustomed to anything but la tendre indifference du monde. The Apple n' Pork Festival was less celebration as it was an easing of that grind upon which they typically found themselves.

Walking back to the car, we passed a whole string of houses, on the porches of which clans, friends, acquaintances were gathering to drink various beverages out of solo cups. Their eyes watched us pass. I wondered what had drawn them to Clinton, Illinois. I wondered what kept them there. I wondered how they experienced their reality. I wondered how I could think that the ways in which I derive pleasure from my existence could seem that much more desirable than the ways in which they did.

One of my Animus's old friends, an Illinois native I'll call a Leaf on the Wind, aggressively told me once: "You might look down on these expanses of corn and soy field, and think that it's nothing but fly-over territory, but it's not. It's not just a wide expanse between the two coasts - people live here, too."

I want, so badly, to believe in rationalism.

The seat I had chosen was the only one facing the kitchen. Everyone else had assumed positions on couches, ottomans, stools, facing towards the television, towards the bedroom, away from the kitchen.

Which meant I was the only one who saw the green towel rise up, float and twist like a feather in an updraft for about five seconds, and fall to the ground.

Almost immediately the pit of my stomach dropped out, and I wanted nothing more to get out of the apartment. I excused myself, saying that I had a phone date with my Animus; I had started to say what I really saw, and everyone else said, "Shut up, shut up, you were just speaking Russian, then. Nonsense syllables, those, when you talked about the paranormal activity in the renovated funeral home."

I agreed. I laughed, I said, "Thanks for the great night." I walked out the door.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It's convincing myself to have a positive outlook

Prompted by my last ruminations on fall, which have continued, for me, in the past couple of days of cool weather and fallen leaves, I asked my Animus what he liked about autumn.

He made a face. "It's not my favorite time of year. Whenever I think of it, all I can think of is raking up leaves off the property, the thought, 'If we just cut these trees down, we won't have to do this every year,' trimming back grape vines for next spring, leaving everything barren and cold."

"But you harvested the grapes, right?"

"Sure, but that was only a week. Then, as I said, it was cold and ugly; not yet Christmas, but no longer warm."

There was a moment of silence before I said, "I need the sun and warmth, but I can't deny that there are some things I love about fall. There's a new hue to the hunter's moon; there's a taste to the breeze, swollen by Indian summer days and rapidly cooled by nightfall; there are corn mazes and apple-picking; ciders and pumpkins and spices..."

"You're right," my Animus replied. "It's the time of year when you can start using your oven again, when you can start cooking soups and stews."

Tungsten lights of the domestic scene take on new meaning against a nightfall that comes earlier and faster; the body passes from the dichotomous hot-but-cold into a genuine appreciation for blankets' warmth; it's a new appreciation and delineation just of what it means to be hot or cold.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Because Weather is Determinism.

When I ran this morning, the chill wind blew on my face like so many 5k's I used to race. Fresh-cut grass mixed with the scent of dying leaves. The little children screamed.

There was a taste to my saliva, that mixture of lactic acid crystallized by the same cold air, that doesn't come in the sun and heat. I wondered what special children's soccer league might have them running up and down the fields at this time of year, what socioeconomic tendencies I might assume from year-long soccer drills, when I remembered.

I had forgotten about fall. The wind was chill, the leaves were dying, the children were screaming - because it's fall.

This is supposed to happen.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I Tell Myself Fairytales

The most recent guided visualization of my meditations:

Here is a ring. I take the ring, and I put it at the base of the foundations of a castle I am building up. The stones of this castle are made of adamantium, a material that hums with the frequency of fingers running along a piece of iron fence, but that never can break. These are stones that are cemented together with the glue of chapstick and magic saliva. The castle smells like slightly sunburnt flesh.

I sit inside the castle, and the ring thrums underneath my feet, and while I realize that no matter how strong a master builds his fortress against the oncoming storm, that stronghold always fails, as yet I prize the sanctuary it gives to me. The wind is a distant howling outside the walls.

The ring thrums beneath my feet.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

If you need to make the rain Freudian, so be it.

"Something you're going to learn pretty quickly," - this being the unBridge, a third-year in the program, speaking, "is that getting readings done early isn't going to get you time to do free, fun activities. It's going to get you free time to do more readings."

I felt like that today. I had worked to split up my milieu; I had gone to the gym (I have to go in the early morning, because I can't stand waiting in line for the bench, although, true, it would break the routine more to go in the afternoon), worked at home, gone to the library, worked in a cafe, and returned home only after 5 pm -- but I still found myself chomping at the bits.

I went for a walk.

I went for a walk, and remembered the pleasure of walking down the middle of a one-way street lit by soft phosphorescent glows. I smelled the air and wondered if my sense impressions smelled like Glade plug-ins but were the real thing, or were the wafting artificiality of all of the suburbia and academia in which I found myself. I tasted the sky and watched lightning clouds gather.

I went for a walk, and on the return home the wind began to pick up. The lightning flashed more than intermittently. The wind wasn't just picking up, it was pushing me, and I wanted simultaneously to keep my head to it, to entwine myself in its grasp, and to turn a shoulder to its press in my thrusting gait. The rain spat like miniature balls of hails, great slaps upon my face and shoulders.

The temperature dropped.

I realized that I had been waiting for something. For the hour when I could tuck myself in to bed. For a hobby to present itself. For my Animus to call. For the humidity to shuck its relentless claims on the earth. Any one of those things could have satisfied the rest - just one of those things did satisfy the rest.

The wind was singing, the rain dancing, and I stopped in front of my apartment. I raised my hands to the sky and embraced it.
I come with the storm
A subject conflated to his symbols
And so I am the storm
Enshrouding the city with my fogs
My waters upon its every stone
Its lights pressed upon my flesh
I really do need to find a hobby, though. One that doesn't involve using a computer, or reading. Like...what do humans do in their spare time?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Because he had me in mind when he wrote, of course.

I haven't spoken about my Hypothesis of the Modern Vanities™ for a while, but the way in which this quote seemed so explicitly to speak to me reminded me of one of those conceits -- "Andy, You're a Star!"
The modernist project of redemption in charisma has been unable to melt frozen melancholy, not for lack of ardor, but for the apparent solidity of real conditions that have overpowered the overestimated strength of literature. Modernism has recognized those conditions, however, and has articulated their critique, and therein lies its continued relevance and the prematurity of a postmodernist quietism that bears the marks of the neoconservative era in which it has arisen. [...] Yet the question of modernism is ultimately not purely formal; it is a question of translating aesthetic innovation into strategies of societal emancipation, and until that project is achieved, modernism and its charismatic promises remain the order of the day.
-from Russell Berman's The Rise of the Modern German Novel: Crisis and Charisma
There's a necessarily large corpus of jargon in this, the concluding remarks of Berman's monograph. Much as I pretend not to write in a didactic tone, let me parse it, quickly: Modernism as a literary trend in Germany at the turn of the century was defining itself against institutions. Everything was Hegelian, thesis and antithesis, sets and series of oppositions and antinomies. One "third way" out was through charisma, the "grace-giving spirit of community." Modernist writing, therefore, was just as much for providing social commentary as it was against the idealist institutions (of literature and of society) that proceeded it.

Enough explicit exposition. I'll comment only obliquely, then, on the reason why I'm quoting my schoolwork on my blog, instead of in the historiographic paper I'm meant to be writing right now. The modernist project of redemption in charisma has been unable to melt frozen melancholy....a question of translating aesthetic innovation into strategies of societal emancipation.

I'm answering a question I hardly realized I was posing, even though I specifically postulated it earlier.

Frozen Icarus ain't going nowhere.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Read as: I already know the answer.

I thought about something at the gym yesterday, when I found myself forced to use a machine for the chest press, rather than a bench. Because I do a circuit workout, I bench press twice in a five-day rotation - so I'm on it 1.5 times per week. That's the same ratio I have to using the apparatus for pull-ups, sitting row, lat pull downs, etc., etc.

And yet only on one of those structures do I ever find myself waiting and/or forced to find an alternative.

So what's the deal? Is it that
a) there is that greater a collective of individuals who use the bench (and eschew other exercises)
b) there is a workout program that requires the bench every day in addition to other muscles exercised
c) I go to a "fratboy" gym where many of the users are primarily interested in "getting jacked," not in actually working on strength training or maintaining a healthy body and lifestyle.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Annabel Lee?

Dream!Icarus (that same one sometimes called the Athenian) is apparently a singer/songwriter. I woke up this morning with just one fragmentary couplet remaining from the song he was singing:
My angel lives down by the sea
Come back, my angel, to me.

Friday, September 10, 2010

"Bodies and Evidence," Indeed

This passage came up in the monograph we read for Approaches last week, Tamara Chaplin's Turning on the Mind: French Philosophers on Television:
Although all sectors of French society were exposed to charges of collaboration, the purging of the intellectuals was particularly harsh. The anti-Semitic writer Robert Brasillach was included amongst the 791 accused collaborators who were eventually executed. Basillach's offense was distinctly textual: his published ideas, opinions, and assertions were deemed criminally influential. "There are words," wrote Simone de Beauvoir, "as murderous as gas chambers."
It shouldn't surprise me that there are bloodthirsty elements in the intelligentsia. This is, after all, the same era as what I study in Russia, the same phenomenon that I study in Russia.

And yet I am surprised.

Is it because of some predisposition I have to think of the "civilized" French?

Is it because of my love for Simone and her cohort?

I feel cold every time I think about de Beauvoir using her words to create a dead body, by which I certainly don't mean to be an apologist for Nazi sympathizers. Did Simone write those words with a touch of irony, realizing that her people's indictment of the collaborators was as murderous as those others' words had been?

Much as I say that I buy into a rhetoric of the "angry" or "dissident" intellectual, I hold much more with the belief in and attempt towards the ideals of Elucidation and Enlightenment. Welcome, then, to my continued confrontation with the Dark Side of the Academy.

Labor Day Weekend, 3

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I'll let you in on a secret.
Benjamin himself is aware that his memories are characterized by a remarkable absence of people, and he tells us of a sudden epiphany that revealed to him in what way modern cities take their revenge upon the many claims human beings make upon one another. Memory ruled by the city does not show encounters and visits, but, rather, the scenes in which we encounter ourselves or others, and such an insight betrays an entire syndrome of Benjamin's ideas about life in the modern world...[emphasis mine]
(Peter Demetz's introduction to Reflections)

Well, two secrets. One - something that you'll never see explicitly written anywhere else - that Portsmouthwerk of mine is defined by the veil between narrator-as-spectator and the other-as-performer. If I pull it off, we'll not be meant to focus on the disconnect itself, but just to feel its presence; it's tangible; it's a dreamscape.

The second is that the whole time I was in the city I couldn't bring myself to get excited about taking pictures of buildings. My cities have stopped being devoid of people. My Animus said, "Maybe 'Frozen Icarus' was a period, and you are rewriting that script, and you have to figure out where you're going next."

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Phantasm of Moscow, 2

I continue to organize and reorganize my notes and journal entries from Moscow. What I include below strikes me for how intensely it is marked by its location and temporality, and yet how astonishingly ahistoric it must be, paradoxical as it sounds, insofar as it continues to bear some relevance in my existence, in this new time, this new place.

Not to mention its self-referential and most blatant lift from Pahlaniuk's Invisible Monsters.
What can I tell you that you don’t already know? I waste my life away in archives doing research that I could, if I were working in a society that believed in freedom of information, I could complete within a semester. I pine after one of the Weeping Angels From Doctor Who, who only shows interest in me when I’ve turned my back…
first you say you won’t then you say you will you keep me hanging on but we’re not moving on…
I defeat myself with the same neuroses of self-doubt and –hatred that have always plagued me. And plagiarism. I can’t write for the constant citations and games of Joyce-inspired (but without the accompanying genius) treasure troves of quotes and references.


Give me a drunken blog post.


Give me brutal honesty.


Sibylla, ti theis?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

She might have picked them all out.

Let's do a literature post. I like literature posts. My Animus told me I've been thinking about history and academia too much, it's driving me insane. I'm inclined to agree. Let's turn to happy topics.

Let's talk about Sylvia Plath's Bell Jar.

[And that's what we like to call "ironic juxtaposition."]

[And this - Basil Exposition.]

When the first American edition of The Bell Jar came out in 1970, Mrs. Plath maintained that her daughter, shocked by the novel's success, had begged her brother to block its American publication. She similarly postulated that Bell Jar was half of a larger opus, the dark half, which would have been followed by the healthy view of the world. Plath had been striving to portray not only a world within a bell jar, but a world experienced through the distortion of a bell jar upon the eyes.

And didn't she? Esther's world is full of conflations, convolutions, distortions - she embroils babies and death and pain; sexual pleasure and over eating; the careful poise of debutantes and the girls' ineptitude. There's the sense that any scene at a party or in a hospital weren't quite right, that they've been told perfectly through the voice of a confused college student who doesn't know all of the personal politics, all of the jargon and reasons and details, as if the action hides behind the partial obfuscation of a scrim.

The novel begins with:
It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York. I'm stupid about executions. The idea of electrocution made me sick [...and] I couldn't help wondering what it would be like, being burned alive along your nerves.

I thought it must be the worst thing in the world.
The Rosenbergs begin it all, not because it is so wholly political, the novel, but just because they became entrapped in their own bell jar, because their bell jar - in news articles and propaganda and a sense of propriety - pervade the background of the entire novel. When Esther feels the closest to giving in to her sexual needs (with Konstantin in New York, with the math professor in Boston), the Russians are right there. Propriety. This is not how a lady behaves; even Joan, the one to fall prey to her personal demons (and should, therefore, be the farthest from play-acting), seems like she is putting on a performance to/for Esther. Esther writes as if to say: This is not how a lady ought to act, but she does, sometimes, for the attention, even to the point of hurting herself.

When does polite behavior end and the neurosis set in? Of all those situations, had Esther 500 and a room of one's own, had the benefit even of one of the twentieth-century's social evolutions, would she have sunk so low?
I thought it would be discouraging for a woman who'd just had a baby to see somebody plonk down a big bouquet of dead flowers in front of her, so I steered the trolley to a washbasin in an alcove in the hall and began to pick out all the flowers that were dead.

Then I began to pick out all those that were dying.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Pile them all together, and call them destiny

Here's one of those times when everything seems so serendipitous.

The other day, my Animus brought up the topic of wartime letter-writing. "Can you imagine," he asked, "how much more strain there must have been, for those on the front and those at home, whose only opportunity to communicate was by the snail mail?" How long would it take back in the day for individuals to feel stress over their letters? Would they count the days until the letter arrived, and then the days until a hypothetical letter returned? How many days would they give their correspondent to reply before they started that return count? Would they take excuses of letters lost in the postal service at face value?

Next level: The History Department reads a "book in common" every year; this year's text was This Republic of Suffering, which touches on (among other things) the breakdown of the postal service in the Confederacy. All the postmasters had gone to fight. Families hoping for news from their sons-brothers-fathers on the front had no idea in what state their boy might be, and cases of mistaken deaths, in addition to being greatly exaggerated, were multiple.

Next level: I feel a low-level of anxiety any time I write someone a text or email without receiving a response in X amount of time. Is it narcissism? Is it the need for instantaneous gratification? I recently found myself apologizing to an individual because I'd left his email marked "unread" for a couple days, reminding myself that I needed to reply to it, finally receiving a "hey, are things cool?" message from him before I opened up an email and wrote back.

The pinnacle: Ishtar recently wrote an interesting post in which she queried why we trivialize the stories we narrate. To rephrase it, twice: Why do we make important stories sound as if, or present our important stories so they seem to be, less important than they really are? Why do we hesitate to tell stories simply because we can't see their immediate relevance? (That is - why do we alter the communication of either extreme. I presume there's a middling level of story that one is typically capable of telling without worry.)

As I've progressed up the ladder of this phenomenologized synchronicity, I've made an attempt to make the emotional tie-in clearer: one feels anxiety during the course of a conversation, of an interaction. One feels nervous at one's presentation, at one's audience's perception, at one's remembrance of self-perception, self-reflection.

Is it because of a metahistorical sense that we might find our own words used or quoted against us? Do we mean to save ourselves from "the condescension of history," to quote EP Thompson?

Is it because of a more immediate fear of failure, not even of a communications breakdown, but for fear that some revelation may prove not to revelatory? Some revolution, indeed, quite reactionary? Aren't there those ones in front of whom our tongues are stilled, not out of fear, but out of the desire to please, to present only the best and brightest of our ideas and conceptions?

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Phantasm of Moscow

I came upon this among my Moscow notes. I don't know if it'll inspire a separate blogpost or something more substantial than my temporary jumps upon the soapbox, but sometimes it's fun to self-plagiarize.
I was possessed by the idea that if every generation had its own defining moments: post-war reconstruction; the Civil Rights movement and fighting against the perceived war atrocities of Vietnam; the Challenger explosion and the fall of the Soviet Union; what would be the defining moments of my generation?

I can only assume that they would be anti-moments, all, moments of hope and promise that never came to pass. 1984 and there’s been no major downfall of capitalist society. The fall of the Soviet Union didn’t bring about the end of history, nor the end of postmodernism any sudden break in art and artistic ventures. 1999 and no one’s partying, not really. 2000 and no nerdy man is reunited with his disco love, nor have any bank systems collapsed. 2001 and we still haven’t charted the stars, and there’s been no breakthrough in our nirvana, no children of the stars arisen. Some two-thousand people may have died on September 11, 2001, but there’s been no major policy change in either the US or the Middle East, just new ways to define who can be whose enemies…

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Maybe There'll be Price Inflation

No one ever believes me when I say that I think of myself as "angry writer" or "dissident intellectual." I think Briullov queried why I like that adjective, "dissident," so much. My Animus just laughed in my face. I have, nevertheless, convinced myself that I ought to identify as an angry intellectual, that I was a stereotype and a cliche but one that's proven to work, that I should enjoy it.

Now that I have an Animus, now with a new thing by which people will try to identify me, I feel less threatened by the prospect of those as negative stereotypes as by any "boxing" through their introduction. I'm still the Frozen Icarus. I'm still so (theoretically) rebellious.

I know there's nothing new in what I'm saying. It's not necessarily the writer's task to present something new, as much as to phrase the old in an elucidating way. My own idea of myself is under fire. How can I fight against people assuming I am "just" anything? I prefer the ideas, though sometimes self-contradictory when I gather them up like this, of the Simones and the Judiths and the Michaels.

Don't pigeonhole.

No transvestites on the bus for you.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Available Exclusively for Real Life

My Animus and I went, a while back, to see Inception, that new movie with Leonardo diCaprio et al., a bit of scifi-action movie blockbuster flickery. A crack team of con artists and peripheries work through a special drugging apparatus to share their target's dream, either for "extraction" - stealing secret data - or to attempt "inception" - an as-yet only theoretical practice of putting an idea into someone's mind. Leo And Friends™ decide the best way to inceive an idea into their target is to go three dreams deep, establishing a scenario where the target thinks he himself has come up with the idea.

That was the crash course version of the plot. Does it not, from that scenario, sound like it should be a Tarantino-inspired mindf***? And such was I expecting.

Which goes to show that even when one's expectations are unfulfilled one can be pleasantly surprised. But now, wondering what Briullov might draw from modern American movie-making, I find myself considering the ramifications of this summer blockbuster, this film that, despite all advertising and intellectual possibilities, chose not to make a psychological thriller, but a feel-good video game of a movie. If a character dies in the dreamworld(s), one of two things happens: if they're near the end of the drug's effects, they wake up; if not, they have an unpleasantly long trip through the subconscious, but still can, potentially, survive.

No one dies. All of the objectives are complete. Everyone is happy.

Wait. Wait. What?

What does it say about us that Inception is just a feel-good video game flick? It is a movie such as has obvious capacity to discuss - if not a Matrix-like high school student's level of inquiry into the nature of reality - then at least something relevant or intriguing to be stated about dreams, dreaming, imagination. Christopher Nolan's previous work queried the nature of neurosis and psychosis without becoming hyperintellectual; why not with Inception?

What are we so scared of facing?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The World in Black and White

There are so many white people here.

I hesitate to say that. I usually try to stay within the lines of only covert social dissidence, never explicitly writing something politically incorrect or insensitive.

But there are so many white people here.

I'm honestly shocked. I was excited to come to a place with more diversity than small New England towns can provide; even Moscow, for all of its ethnic and international groups, has a lot of homogeneity.

But there are so many white people here.

Another girl in the program, who moved from Alabama, said that she's gotten more flak for her race here than she did down there. She said, "I guess when I talked on the phone to my realtor, she must have thought I was white."

She said, "When my husband - who is white - and I pulled up to the property, you could just see on her face: 'We were expecting you, but...not her.'"

She said, "Someone's already busted up my mailbox."

Honestly, what century do I live in?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

From The Aquarian Conspiracy

"In his 1918 diary, Hermann Hesse recalled a dream in which he heard two distinct voices. The first told him to overcome suffering, to calm himself. It sounded like parents, school, Kant, the church fathers. But the second voice-which sounded farther off, like 'primal cause'-said that suffering only hurts because you fear it, complain about it, flee it.
You know quite well, deep within you, that there is only a single magic, a single power, a single salvation...and that is called loving. Well, then, love your suffering. Do not resist it, do not flee from it. Give yourself to it. It is only your aversion that hurts, nothing else."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Like a Dragon after a Pregnant Lady

So many times Briullov and I rolled the thought around with our tongues, with no discernible headway. So did Nietzsche. So did every philosopher the whole world round. Around, around, the imprecise grace of an amateur at the wine-tasting, tuxedo ill-fitting, shirt billowing where it's not drenched in sweat, the thought still rolling, cheeks bulging like the Gallows' man.

The hypothesis: An intellectual must write from a place of discontentment.

Why? Simply because the question of innovation demands the stimulus of unhappiness?

How linguistic does this inquiry become? Can the intellectual be content? Happy? Pleased? Enlightened? Do we not always associated The Enlightened as The Teacher -- yet wouldn't The Enlightened, the most separated from suffering, feel the least need for revolution? If no suffering, whence discontentment, incontinence, unhappiness, displeasure, melancholia -- in short, that state of being de rigueur du homme intelligent?
I've had a recurring nightmare
I was loved for who I am
Missed the opportunity
To be a better man

Do I tell myself: "You will never reach a perfection of happiness, and that's enough to fuel your thought"? Should I search for ways to make myself miserable? When does querying the status quo [because the status is...not...quo], pushing the proverbial envelope, stepping, stage left, out the box - when does inquiry stop and malcontent ideological war-mongering begin?

Riddle me this: Can I, so staunchly refusing to be placed in any box, exercise that same maneuver, separating life-life from intellectual-life? Wasn't one of the first things I ever wrote in this blog that I wanted that never to be the case?

And yet I like being happy.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

D-Days of August

Even at the height of my productivity senior year, or last summer, or during Moscow, I felt dissatisfied. I chalked it up to some hybridized overachiever's complex mixed with Napoleon. Sprinkled-on inferiority for flavor.

Compare me to a summer's day; I am far lovelier and more temperate. Compare that dissatisfaction with a day at a half moon of a lake. Accumulate the minutiae, the likes and dislikes, the hopes and dreams: a life in the woods, a childhood of lakes and paddleboats, memories of Sea-Doos and Bose blasting across the waterway and sunlit oil paintings. Time contracts, levels and variations of the future quash into one narrative, one sentence refers to tomorrow, and the next to five years from now, and the following to this coming Thanksgiving, as if there were no absolute passage of time. Note the new colors even I - the self-professed connoisseur of sunsets - see in the reflections of those calming waters, the shades of blue and maroon, soft orange and pinks and greens.

A boat, its motor barely running, glides across the perimeter of those waters, a single white light above its starboard side, a lantern in the night. And there's no guilt in sitting and observing its slow passage.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

I Can Has Narnia Now?

After all these years of desiring after what so many drunken UNH students have done before me, I climbed atop Wild E.

I miss Snugglz.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

There were shadows in the windows

Typically, whether by a sense of propriety or moral code or fear of breaking mortal or transcendental laws, I don't feel tempted to trespass. A man's house is his castle, and I don't want boiling oil, real or metaphorical, poured on my head.

So when I see caution tape roped around a building, and draped across the entrance, and the doors and windows are wide open...oh, why does it seem like the best idea in the world is to enter said building and poke around?

I didn't, because I have no spine. And because I wouldn't be able to write about the story here.

I'm reminded of that literature professor of mine in St. Petersburg, who had us stand in a snow drift for a half hour while she tried to pick the lock on the courtyard where the starushka in Crime and Punishment lived; that itch to jump, to fall, to be tempted, I suppose, is a universal. Hurray!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Take that, Summer Work Ethic

I'm composing at my Portsmouthwerk in a lounge chair beside a tall window, the interrogator's lamp protecting my weakening eyes before the onslaught of yet another glowing screen, another blank page, another attempt to organize all of the fragments and sketches.

There's a breeze from that window, and the sounds of cars and humans, and I remember a similar lighting, a similar breeze, from some summer in my childhood. It was a time when the bathtubs had cats' feet, and pails were full of blueberries, and in our utter boredom Visa and I looked up the species of all the robins breeding in Grandpa's rows of corn and raspberries. Such breezes are as an amnesiac for the sun and heat (what sun and heat?) that had (might have once) been the scourge of the day.

That was when the Old Man still stood, and there were no drunk people shouting at each other that they'd be late, that they were going the wrong way, but there was still that feeling that even as we were finding ways to occupy our lives, even if we found something that made us forget that as-of-yet-unknown buzzword for this day and age, ennui, we could never escape the ticking of the clock, the march towards some inexorable yet equally incalculable end.

I choose, rather than inertia, rather than a Hegelian synthesis, to sidestep fate. Beer o'clock down at the pub it is, then.

Funny How Things from 46 Years Ago Still Make Me Mad

There's nothing that says conservative-bred indoctrination like Johnson/Khrushchev-Era Cold War fearmongering!

Oh, kids. When will you learn - if you gripe about your ears of corn, we'll deport you to the GULAG? Consider the Communist, who has neither ears nor corn...

I'm actually more upset by the second interior page, just for the wild leaps of faulty causational logic it causes my brain to undergo:
Anti-Communist ideology
Where Communist = atheist
Means Anti-Communist = anti-atheist
Means US Ideology = pro-religion
Obviously that's the state of American ideology, and has been, and is, and likely shall be. Yet - still. Seeing such a slap in the face, couched in the terms of "freedom of conscience," stings.

"Nobody can control what you think" is my favorite line, for its intense and unintentional irony. "Nobody can control what you think," says the book of anti-Communist indoctrination.

Now go buy a rifle for the coming storm.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

What ho, professional conference!

A Russian anecdote I recently heard from a keynote speaker:
It's better to marry a public servant than an oligarch. The perks are the same, but job security is much better.
This is what I've been trying to say. Then I won't have to worry about supporting anyone on my cray schemes. Madame de Pompadour and I have agreed it would be a worthwhile venture. Let the politician hunting begin!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Congratulations to the Wer and the Wif!

I am a naughty blog writer, excuses, blah blah blah. To repay you I break from my m.o. and present you with pictures of people! People that I know! Pictures of Frozen Icarus himself!

Lord preserve.

The mirror-shot seemed like a good idea but the mechanics were hard to work out. Jonathan Strange would have helped.

Groomspeopleses. (Can we talk about the solar plexus thrust that Good-ol'-Abe and I are doing?)

The Gallows Men, and The Artist

The lovely sunset

The lovelies, themselves!

Did you like the rhetorical device I used in not revealing the bride until the final moment? :D

Friday, July 9, 2010

Nor do I keep bugs in plastic baggies.

The other day I went up to an old New Hampshire mill town for the committal of a relative's remains at the family grave. The thing about that - other than such cemeteries being, essentially, a French Canadian phonebook {Ledoux, Dauphinon, Perrier, Mercier, etc} - was that it was an opportunity to fill in the gaps.

Let me rephrase. My dad has this habit of turning to one of my brothers or to me, this during an extended family get-together, and asking some kind of personal question that's just come to his mind: "Where will you be living next fall?" "What's your next trip to Russia hold in store for you?" "Tell me your hopes and dreams."

Well. That last I'm more likely to intone than he, but you understand. The interment became an exercise in digging up (horrible pun, that) aspects of my genealogy I never knew existed, like this, my great-grandfather's headstone; like the house in which my grandmother grew up; like my father's easy tour-guide spiel as we passed streets and buildings I'd never seen before.

I didn't even have to travel to Ukraine to get it.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Liberty, and Justice, For All

When sunset hits the square, a discordant violin begins to play, and cheers from the sports bars down any alley, and shouts and tumbles fill the park.

What does that fiddle player here, so far from Harvard Square, the hobo capital of the world? Is there any change in his bag from human hand, or is it all bait? And what made him pick this, he, who could be of age to dishwash or cull the field or herd or school, as the most appropriate of careers?

He pauses, and looks up, and I follow his gaze - the mighty Leftist Marching Band approaches! (We both, I think, share the amused look that says: "Isn't that a redundancy? What else ought the Leftists do, but parade?") The hula hoop woman, the ringleader Lenin standing tall, shouts to me: "We're going to interrupt your reading, we're going to interfere!" and somehow it seems like she's saying more than just now, immediately, in this time and space; somehow it's a battle cry.

Some of the band members are crunchy college girls, the rest old citizens, their hair frizzled or gnarled or dyed unnaturally. The ringleader, the hula hoop woman, has a mace now, and she doggedly twirls it in the steps she remembers from the old propaganda footage of Red Square. Her combat boots strike the brick earth, the band begins a funk rendition of "This Land is My Land," and they gyrate at the hip, the feathers in the hair twitch, and the only missing bit is an acrobat to whip the crowd into a frenzy, else a pied piper to milk the people and spirit the rats and children out of Portsmouth.

The drummers' cymbal is cracked all down the middle, the crack in time and space that brought them here via 1969, and as the sun makes its last desperate pleas to the square's rooftops, they begin to lose their grip on this reality, their gyrations turned deadly, their May 1st circle dance into a black hole.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Put some butter on it. By popular demand.

One thing Wer, Wif, and I have in common is an English professor - whom we've nicknamed T-Unit - who always wore horrible clothing, rusty orange sweaters or woolen suit jackets, and everything with leather elbow patches crusted on. He was fond of saying that they appeared, magically, on everything in his closet, the night he got tenure.

That story has nothing to do with anything [laughter], except that in the days when Wer and Wif were in T-Unit's Beowulf class we would sit to dinner in the dining hall, this with a group of our roommates and friends, and grill him about their relationship, and he would always clam up and get this sheepish grin on his face - a grin similar to what he has right now. [everyone turns to the head table, where he has his head buried in Wif's shoulder.]

Because the truth is that Wer is goofy. [laughter] If anyone here is familiar with the TV show How I Met Your Mother, I think you'll agree with me when I say that he is of the same goofy cast as Marshall, and that Wif fits the bill to be Lily. But Wer, like Marshall, has so many admirable characteristics on top of his goofiness: his loyalty, his passion, and...I knew I would forget one [looking down at my note paper] oh, right, his intelligence. [laughter] I...that came out way more sarcastic than I meant it to be.

And for every compliment I have for Wer, I have three for Wif; the two are a great match for one another. They are the kind of couple, like Marshall and Lily, who, down in DC, would be just as happy to sit on the side of the reflecting pool, rather than visit the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial. [Good-ol-Abe, Wer, and Wif laugh. Everyone else is confused.] Inside joke.

So - and this is where I should raise my glass - congratulations. May your qualities always resonate with one another; may you find happiness with each other, wherever you may be; and may you always love each other, no matter what terrible fashion decisions you may perpetrate.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

And no one was sent to the Underworld.

A while back Ishtar and I went to Sokolniki, an amusement park just outside the city center. What we saw there defies exact description, which is why I must revert to epithets and metaphors...

We saw a most amazing phenomenon of The Walking Dead, a cadre of Ancient Ones dancing in the square. It was marvelous to behold. Half of them were these patrician, refined, elegant specimen; the other half were crazy people. One had a low-slung, blood red muumuu, her cane drooping from one wrist, a silver butterfly matting down her hair, and she was spinning spinning spinning. Ishtar and I danced to Ochi chernye [a famous gypsy song popularized in Soviet times] until we saw the vehemence in the Ancient Ones' gaze. We struck a retreat.

There were more Ancient Ones throughout the park, and they were all so much more striking than their younger counterparts - than the men drinking beers, or the couples shushing squalling children, or the family rollerblading. These were such as had dressed themselves according to daguerreotype standards: the beehives and flowing sundresses of nineteenth century aristocracy, the Virginiae and Septimi who somehow escaped defenestration and riverification.

With such age comes, as the story goes, increased danger. At one point we found ourselves in the woods, Ishtar and I, and the Ancient Ones were bearing down upon us, jealous of our youth, and they were striking their silver hips and chestplates with birchwood staffs and staves. They trapped us in the bathrooms - which were, for once, without a cover charge - and we cowered underneath a sign that said: "Respect the cleaners. Pee in the toilet."

Ishtar called out to the Ancient Ones:
If thou openest not the gate to let me enter,
I will break the door, I will wrench the lock,
I will smash the door-posts, I will force the doors.
I will bring up the dead to eat the living.
And the dead will outnumber the living.
And the Ancient Ones, whose dead acquaintances indeed outnumbered those whom they knew alive, beat a hasty retreat, their muumuus all a'rustling, their canes ne'er touching the ground as they ran, the silver butterflies fluttering like every beat of the wings was taking away another breath from those wrinkled breasts.

And that was how Ishtar saved the day.

Friday, June 18, 2010

I Hate When I have to Show Hometown Pride

This one time a girl asked me where I was from, and I said, "New Hampshire." She got this look on her face like I said I was born in a dumpster, among the pizza boxes and banana peels. All defensive, I said, "Southern New Hampshire, less than an hour outside of Boston. And I've been living out on the seacoast. It's not the boonies you're thinking of."

I'm reading this book, The Wisest Man in America, where the sophistry of a Journalist of Doom™ juxtaposes a granddaughter of that Thoreau transcendentalism personified in a New Hampshire native from the North Country, a man who has successfully predicted every presidential primary since 1960.

I try not to over-identify with the state, cause all, whatever, you know, it's not me and I'm not it, and I might be sad the Old Man fell from the mountain those years back, but that's the extent of it, and I'm trying to be all non-conformist without participating in the herd of independent minds. I still feel the feathers on the Icarus wings start get ruffled every time this Wetherell dude (New Jersey-born) feels the need to make comments about podunk New Hampshire.

I make comments about podunk New Hampshire, but it's different. I speak from experience. This dude describes the North Country like he's only seen it in Transcendentalists' musings, like the closest he's come to standing above the mountaintops is from contemplating Caspar David Friedrich's Wanderer. The Portsmouth of his visions sounds like no Portsmouth I've ever contemplated.

I met some other girl in Moscow, totally by chance, also from New Hampshire. She said, "I want to live in that house up the street from the Walker School in Concord."

I said, "Real funny you should mention that house, my sister, Galinda, used to date the kid who lived there."

"She went out with Murphy?" she exclaimed. "That's so cool!"

I'm fine with self-reflexive mockery or with external criticism. The latter masquerading as the former, though, has to be the perfect act of subterfuge - else it rings false, else it detracts from everything.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

All Hail Your Glorious Machine Lord

There are lots of shiny new phones on the market. Showing here and here.

Now consider this vacuum that cleans your floors, itself.

Good-ol'-Abe, Wer, and I were in a department store, walking off the dry thirst we had from the Bachelor Party of Doom™ that had transpired. Walking, that is, like the old people who get to the mall and power walk in circles like little hamsters in consumerist wheels for days to the thumping sound of techno Cher. That's beside the point (although did you know they call the little sitting areas "Rejuvenation Stations"? That tickled me.) In the department store, we browsed the home appliances section, playing with Martha Stewart's crazy devices, gawking at the beautiful emulsion blenders and their ilk. Good-ol'-Abe mentioned that a friend of his has the Robot Vacuum.

I said, "Oh, man. The one thing a Droid needs to take over the world is mobility."

He looked back and said, "What if you put a Droid on top of one of those?"

I said, "IT'S THE TERMINATOR!" Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh. Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh. (The Terminator [original] theme is 5 amelodic thumps. It varies slightly throughout the series. You can look for it on youtube if you don't trust me.)

This is how the world ends
This is how the world ends
This is how the world ends
Not with a bang but a mobile mobile telephone.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Look for the blue shirts.

Because of the crack squad of monkeys that goes around for the MLB and takes down any unauthorized videos, I can't find a good link on youtube to show you this -- but if you happen to see any recaps of the Sox-Phillies match from Saturday, most particularly Nava's 2nd inning grand slam, you will see the Ol' Hateful* and all his friends, two rows back from where the ball landed in the dugout.

Bachelor Party of Doom™! Mwahaha.

*Lest I be misinterpreted - a Jack Kerouac citation - atop Desolation Mountain he says, "I will come face to face with god or Tathagata and find out once and for all what is the meaning…instead I'd come face to face with myself…face to face with ole Hateful Duluoz Me."

Sunday, June 6, 2010

You Decide Where Story Ends, Fiction Begins

This is important - when I say "Main Street" it means a two-lane small town winding path that turns into suburbia closer to the capitol. The following takes place in the small town section.

I watched a cop car pass me by before I ran onto Main Street. I was running along it, and a car ahead pulled over, hazards flashing, and the cop had pulled a U-Turn to stop beside it.

A car pulled over, hazards flashing, and the cop had pulled a U-turn and stopped behind it. I would have to pass them by, and I didn't want to run in the middle of the road, podunk as Main Street may be -- but I was also aware of how my emergence from behind the SUV might closer resemble a cockroach emerging from its bedroom post metamorphosis than anything else.

I turned all Kafka on the world, and became a shade among the SUV's shadows. When I reached its back bumper Driver!Cop had exited, while Shotgun!Cop hung out. Driver!Cop, a short man with close-cropped blond hair and glasses, visibly startled by my appearance, rested a hand on his weapon.

I tore out my iPod's earpieces. "Yes, do it! Draw your weapon on me! It's the last piece I need to take down the corrupt enterprise that is this legal system. I can see the headlines now: 'Bow Cop Arraigned on Charges of Criminal Threatening of Unarmed Passerby.' Do it! Do it, you won't, do it!"

That was when Shotgun!Cop exited the vehicle.

A couple hours later, when I had become intimately aware with what I can only assume was the small town equivalent of a drunk tank, my parents came to pick me up. Miraculously, the iPod Shuffle of DOOM™, which normally only has about 45 minutes of battery life, was still paused on The Killers (A Crippling Blow). I had one earpiece in when I said to the parents - I think the cops were still in earshot - "It was worth it."

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Oh, and Hemingway does not write chick lit.

As close to a manifesto as I'll get since the last one.
...When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
before answering.
Someone telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
Then reply.

If they say We should get together
say why?

It's not that you don't love them anymore.
You're trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished...
-from "The Art of Disappearing" by Naomi Shihab Nye

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Go Back to the Shadows

I should probably know better than to try to piece stereotypes together like pieces of a rational puzzle, and yet I still do it all the time.

The other day, I saw a man reading some kind of Weekly World News or Star Magazine type journal. was of that "not serious" flavor, for all of our sakes. On the obverse (from him - the side facing me, that is to say), I saw an advertisement for male enhancement herbal drugs developed in Nepal. Isn't that something - the conflicting racist stereotypes - the one desire to emasculate Asian races with comments about their penis size (which might fuel the ad campaign - "There was high demand for this, so they developed it") compared to the stereotype of any Asian race as masters of herbal remedies and esoteric sciences (so they can market an exciting, exotic variation on the male enhancement scam).

I guess I've half-answered my own query. If you think "supply/demand" then you can justify the whole racist enterprise; if you think in terms of whether or not the medicine might actually work, then it all breaks down. Because if "Asian masters of herbology" have perfected a male enhancement drug, there should be no stereotype of the small Asian penis.

I used a hypothetical "you" in that last paragraph. I got into trouble with that when I went to burgers with Gypsy-Song, Briullov, and company. Gypsy-Song said she didn't care for my Butler allusion and I explained, to the rest of the company, that I was extending her metaphor about the heteronormative and the transvestite. "...but if you see a transvestite on the bus, you'd feel more threatened than you would by the same individual you saw on stage."

Gypsy-Song asked, "Who's 'you' in this story?"

"The heteronormative Great White Male."

"See, that's what I don't agree with. I don't think that such an opinion is normal."

"Of course it's not normal," I said, "But it's prevalent [I ought to have said 'normative] - else why would there be such a big deal about securing equal rights for humans, regardless of their sexuality?"

"Oh, people are stupid," she said. "Look at how many people follow the Tea Party."

"The Tea Party is the best thing to ever happen to the Republican Party," - this was Debbie/Dallas interjecting, "I'm excited to see them split themselves up."

The girls are likely right. I still let myself fall into the trap of the hidden center, from time to time. Hopefully there's no one who would fall for the racist stereotypes of an ad; hopefully there's no one who would fit the criteria to act as the heteronormative Great White Male. I'm scared they number more than I care to admit.

A young GI sat next to me on the final leg of my journey, possibly reading me writing about the possibility of him reading me writing about the possibility of him...

Again with the craziness. I was tempted to grill him: how old are you? Were you just on drill or in some flavor of deployment? Why did you join? What are your hopes and dreams? Who is the enemy? Why are you fighting?

I didn't, though.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

I can listen to Pandora once again!

Alright, now I'm back, typical for the atypical, that narrative voice of Neurogia you know and love. Bukowski's narrator is a gross and pathetic misogynist, but there's something fun and alluring to the beer-bellied, apathetic beatnicitude of it all the same. So, slice and splice, inculcate, depricate, play the typical Western mystic and take those aspects of some ancient and spiritual tradition, remove the spiritual and the ancient and the traditional, and market the rest.

I am a very good American boy.

But really, there comes a point when being beatnik stops being cute and cool and rebellious and dissident, and just becomes a drunk old man who hasn't amounted to anything, a point when I start querying the narrative because there's no way this man who just described himself as a 280-pound loser can really be pulling as much tail as he claims to be. At the risk of shattering the aura of mystery around mine Portsmouthwerk, I must say I've figured out a new facet to the philosophy major's ideal fate. Always fun and exciting.

The whole point with the last post was that I allowed myself a moment of regression. I've already established for myself the parameters of how I understand humans and their agency, but I had a relapse into a different mindset. The question was whether I should dramatize this summer [June, at least] into "internal exile" or if I could ignore the sirens' song from the coast, so far and yet so close.

The problem is that I didn't go for a run yesterday. The days to be afraid are the days when I don't run run run. On my run today, I pondered the problem - this past year I've changed to uncertain or unfamiliar settings to force myself to query new things. The challenge presently upon me, then, is to query the painfully common and certain and familiar.

Location is just a set of space-time coordinates, after all.

Friday, May 28, 2010

At the Post Office, Take 2, Except Not

home and safe. long line at dc plus bukowski = destruction of the english language. an elderly couple in front of me:
Joe American: Look at how few of the stations are open. Great job, Obama.
Jane American: [chuckling] Oh, you.
i looked up from Post Office, imagined a sarcastic response:
Right, because every minor inconvenience is Obama's personal wrong-doing. If McCain and Palin had won the presidency, all these foreign nationals would be shot as soon as they stepped on US soil, so at least we'd have those stations at our disposal as well...
but fantasy!Icarus is braver than I shall ever be (cf the post before this).

but lines, man, hanging out with raised emotions (even though those emotions be low-level anxiety and disgruntlement flavored with a light salting of despair) with the same select group of people results in a bizarre and artificial emotion of camaraderie, particularly when this is a line, many of whose denizens feel it is perfectly acceptable to air one's dirty laundry at higher-than-normal-speaking-volume. we might almost have been friends, once.

Wif laughed when I told her about my Bukowski-tinged dreams. She said, "You let yourself be too strongly affected by the literature you're reading."

She raised her hands to the sea and sky and said, "This is P'mouth! You're back!"

She pointed her hand at me and said, "It's you, in P'mouth!"

and then i drove back home.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Oh, Coward, Every Time.

It's one thing to recognize that a poet's character speaks, but not for the author, that the writer speaks, but not on behalf of his time. It's a whole other beast to internalize that belief, to understand that it's both the very heart of the matter and completely unnecessary to look at creative individuals, these thinkers and these dreamers, these ticking time bombs of suicide and rage and love, all emotion amplified, all decisions exemplified, all voices testifying to one Purpose, and think that we'd untangle to the heart of some mythic Zeitgeist.

How easy it is, likewise, to call Stalin the WRITER of his era, like Tolstoy rules his flock, a higher calling controls the stock and hollow tocks upon the hammer's anvil. Instead we hear the cacophony of voices, the pigeons cooing all amass, and moving to those pitched out crumbs from higher hands their teeth to gnash. Multiple hands, and though strings might pull upon the birds' shit wings, they are so many and so invisibly tangled there can be no thought about cause and effect. So I should just STOP IT already. It has to be a path of thick description; it must be the game of articulating magic the likes of which no one will like but, like, maybe me alone.
His [Pasternak's] wife recalled that when they got to the shore [after their boat almost capsized] he was "white as a sheet" - but, as even the Romans noted, the best soldier is the one who pales after the danger's passed: the coward is afraid before the fight, the brave one - afterwards.
I hate flying.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

There's no Sun in the Subconscious, so whence the Shadow?

I'll break an unwritten law I had for myself - not to admit when I'm describing a dream sequence, but to allow the surreality to take care of that statement. I originally wanted not to be all "this is reality, this is not" on your asses.

Like a recent Doctor Who episode, I've been having bad dreams recently. Mine are less focused sati-driven themes, though - more on the bit where our own minds are able to pick up on exactly what would scare us the most, and toy with the places that scare us, and not in the good way.

The Shadow Icarus of one dream (to use the Jungian archetype) had a blog, like mine, also with crazy nicknames, like mine, and included links to people's blogs, which counteracts the whole question of pretending to write the stories with anonymity.

So when he talked about a character named "Athenian" (because this dude was so pretentiously philosophical, as I gathered), and linked to this blog as he's systematically writing every failing I've ever had: "Athenian is one of those guys who..." etc., etc, I felt the upset.

Dream!Icarus wrote an email: "I'm not trying to deny your freedom of speech, but could you at least take down the links that directly identify me in your comments?"

Le sigh. Joseph Campbell wrote about how we see The Shadow in myths as these fantastic villains - like Percival's half-brother, whom he fights for the right to enter the Grail Castle. My Shadow is nowhere near as cool.

Then I was punished for quoting Dmitriev earlier. I was walking downtown through one of those thunderstorms, but this one wasn't stopping. This one kept raging and the wind was all up in my grill and there were puddles bound by jersey barriers that retained water rising up to your thigh.

My subconscious is systematically destroying me, the man and the environment, the pelagic depths swirling in the wake of the fall. The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Now I just need a superhero(villain?) name.

The most impressive feat from last night was when The Doctor's Brother's...well, I don't even know how to describe her. Crush? Very-temporary-love-interest? Anyway. There was an individual sitting down the table and we thought, "She looks like that girl from How I Met Your Mother. What's that character's name?" And we thought and pondered and contemplated and came up with Barney Marshall Lily Ted and...

And we drew a blank.

Staring across the table at one another, whoever was participating in this - definitely me, Waterloo, The Doctor's Brother - I think Briullov and Gypsy-Song were off having a more intellectual conversation or two - and I remembered: "Robin! Robin Robin Robin!"

Be impressed. I have inherited my father's ability to retain obscene amounts of useless trivia. It shall combine with my other superpowers to help me take. over. the. world.

I already have a sworn nemesis and everything! Yes. Good. Good. Very good. Everything is falling into place.

Friday, May 21, 2010

It's all for you, Damien!

Study this. There will be a test. We have, my friends, the opportunity to look into the eyes of our enemies and defeat them, if only we can spend long enough staring.

I decided, recently, and in related news, that no one ever can tell what color my eyes are. I swore - perhaps rashly, perhaps crazily - that the first woman who can tell me, without any prompting or hinting or knowing about this comment, that my eyes are blue, will bear my children.

I know it's the word of a crazy person. I know my eyes are a very dark and stormy blueish gray, but they're my dark and stormy blueish gray, and I don't like it when I've been told to my face that I have brown eyes or hazel eyes. No. False.

I'm fine with it when people think my irises are black, though, that's fun and exciting. Like Damien. Or Paul Atreides.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

You may call me Orgoch.

There are so many stories I want to tell, stories I've never gotten to about characters who've been in the background but never announced, like Gypsy-Song and the Queen Supreme, like Waterloo and The Doctor’s Brother, all of the whores at the end of the universe that we are, but half of those stories aren’t mine to tell, and the other half I’m bound by circumspection not to recount, and there’s an extra third that defy any flavor description I might give to them.

We’re nearing one of the edges of this blog-tapestry, and the weave is fraying. Can you feel it? No matter the story I try to tell, it starts getting crazy. Crazy crazy crazy. And those repeated images and phrases I keep using may well turn yet into a system of careful motif and theme, or could simply devolve into lazy repetitions, or may form nothing more than a corpus of practice sketches to one as-yet-unformed oeuvre. And as Mickey Fouc says, a genius is just a madman with l'oeuvre -- so until that day, I'm just a crazy person.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Workin at the post office, yea!

I went to the post office!

I said goodbye to a great many books, the exact weight of which I will have to tell you when I receive them back in the US-of. My receipt says that I shipped two packages at 5 kg each, but no way was I only carrying 10 kg when I felt like I was going to die. Granted, I had overpacked the shopping bags I was using, and the handles had broken before I even reached the metro, and that might have something to do with it...

I make adventures for myself. I had to walk past the Central Telegraph building to draw out enough money, and then come back, and saw a sign that said "international shipping" pointing into a sketchy backdoor area. It fit with my assumptions that the post office would be in this creepy place, so I might as well follow the sign, right? And so I did.

After fifteen minutes in a line I wasn't meant to be in (and feeling like a character in Sorokin's novel) I saw that everyone had filled out forms and asked the person in front of me where I could get some. He dug a set out of a cardboard box, and I decided it would be worth my while to duck out of line, write the forms with very careful beautiful handwriting, and then start again. And so I did.

Halfway through the form-filling, I got to the question "what items are you shipping and how much do they weigh?" I asked a woman, nearby, if I had to weigh every book individually or if I could get away with writing "books." She replied - and you've been waiting for this realization to come - that I was in the wrong room, the wrong line, using the wrong forms, and I needed to go into the main entrance. And so I did.

There, I became momentarily discouraged by the "line" (read as: "pressing crowd") of citizens around the first bank of windows, all of which read "Mailing throughout Russia." I kept walking down the hall, walking walking, ooh cement glue! walking, walking, and came upon the "Packaging and Mailing Internationally" window.

There was no line! See, above, the weird can't-actually-be-the-right-weight parcels the employee made of my books. Three didn't fit, but that's a number I can handle. It's a magic number!

The best part was when the employee finished with the second parcel (really, they are parcels, cardboard paper wrapped in twine, om nom nom) and asked, "More sdelaiem?" [Will we make (or do) the sea?]

I thought, "I couldn't possibly have heard that correctly," and said, "Shto-shto?" [Sorry, what?]

More sdelaim?

I thought, "What the shiz? What sea? I don't get it..." and - as my mind always draws up for reference when I hear the word "more," the phrase from Tolstoy came to mind, "nashe more otchaiania" [our sea of despair] - and I got all the more confused.

She looked exasperated at this point, but was kind enough to explain: "Do you want to send it by sea or by air?"

"Ohhhhhhh," I both said and thought. "Sea'll be more economic, right? Let's do that."

She nodded, and started typing up the receipt.

Meantime, I pictured a Russian freighter sailing the oceans, blue "Pochta" sign on its hull matching the roiling azure of the oceantide, and then I pictured a Somali pirate vessel taking said freighter captive, and then I couldn't decide if I was dreading that possibility or hoping it'd occur, since I'd thereafter be able to say, "Pirates stole my research."

I'm sad they don't ship crude oil and the post on the same vessels.