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.