Saturday, August 26, 2006

Plot Points

Personal note. Our fathers left us, and the only arbiter we had was the book of judges. Daddy: last seen in 1994. Allen Ginsberg: dead in 1997. Stephen J. Gould bowed out in 2002. Ever seen a grown man cry massive tears? Ever seen them clawing at the carpet. It sent tingles into my fingertips; I've never felt shivers down my spine. Thousands of nameless men castrated 2003-2006. And here A. D. dreaming increasingly bearded dreams of being progenotor, paterfamilias, breeder. Here A. D. dreams of setting the next generation right in an accelerated culture whne every year the generation gap swells, a huge redshift in human mutual understanding that will rip nations at the seams, just you wait.

This is my attempt to break free of The Easy System, which runs: go out, find some specific detail, describe it, maybe drink (and produce Wine (Part whatever)), rest and relax and gloat. Wow, they sure are a lot of words. But lately, I've been more of a fan of getting into one thing deeply, or leaving some record of meanderings in this culture that drowns the seeker all too easily. So here is my review (or maybe more accurately: commentary) of a book I found on the street and subsequently inhaled: Skinny.

What sucked me into the plot was haunting level of identification with the main character. Far too many scenes, incidents and wry observations are just overdramatized events from my own life. The book is pegged as an exploration of the sister bond, but the two sisters are essentially my brother and I. Giselle is the top medical student, the perfectionist and control freak who is at no point in control. She is the emotionally blunted, avoidant, introverted anorexic. Again, the author dramatizes. Having gone through the life-force bending, emotionally blunting, overcontrolled and overstressed MCAT process, there is no way I couldn't understand. Her younger sister is the "athletic" and outwardly well-adjusted one. You should see me and my brother as we partitioned off the niches. It avoided a lot of sibling rivalry: I gradually gave up on all sports, and he chose to focus on them. His level of personal adjustment exceeds mine. I'm beginning to suspect that he'll end up as the "artistic" one, and I'll be consigned to being the robot skullface of Moloch, striking some disgusting Faustian bargain. Their bond is tender but there is a repulsion there that's never really explained. Oh, the father is absent, and I'll tell you the descriptions of father-absent households fit. They come from an immigrant household, capturing perfectly the absurdity I feel when I'm taken to have some sort of attachment to a country that is nothing but haze in memory, and the occassional aversive volley of gunshots, a country that gave me nothing but a second alphabet, an unpronouncable last name, an in the occassional mund an assumption of exoticism, of "otherness". (I have to mention this: I just found out that when the war in the former Yugoslavia broke out, Susan Sontag flew into Sarajevo, and in the ruins of the newspaper building put on a performance of Waiting for Godot. This seems fiendishly appropriate.) Meh. Read the book if you want. I say this with shame, but I didn't understand the ending. I guess it fits into my own goddamn fear of the goddamn future. Deeply unsettling; ribbed with pathos. 7/10.

Next book to note: Generation X: Tales from an Accelerated Culture.

Consider: "Perhaps randomness is not merely an adequate description for complex causes that we cannot specify. Perhaps the world really works this way, and many events are uncaused in any conventional sense of the word. Perhaps our gut feeling that it cannot be so reflects only our hopes and prejudices, our desperate striving to make sense of a complex and confusing world, and not the ways of nature."

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Darwinian Left (Part I)

"She was a student when I was at my first job at Bennington in the 70s, and I saw her up close. And I know what she knows. I mean, she transferred from there, to Yale, and her background in anything is absolutely minimal. She started a career in philosophy, abandoned that, and has been taken as this sort of major philosophical thinker by people in literary criticism. But has she ever made any exploration of science? For her to be dismissing biology, and to say gender is totally socially constructed — where are her readings, her studies? It’s all gameplay, wordplay, and her work is utterly pernicious, a total dead-end." -Camille Paglia on Judith Butler

In those articles, and in another small book I inhlaed over two days I hatched my latest long-term project: to articulate a Dawinian Left. To dispel misunderstandings and stupid extrapolations of evolutionary theory that seem to support an atavistic, conservative, normative world-view. Why do I do this? Because many of my progressive brethern are, when it comes to science, "stupid liberals". If they read enough shitty articles attacking the very foundations of their belifs, then they'll abandon either their liberalism or their engagement with science. I've seen this in dull, stonewalling eyes that slot science in as yet another "discourse", or more perjoratively, "language game". We can't do that. Language games do not, by themselves create enough weapons-grade fissile material to destroy the world, or enough invisible chemicals to poke an Antarctica-sized hole in the ozone layer. So science is not just a language game. Some people seem to think that poking at a few instances where it is (and of course there are such instances, see for example the latest astronomical row over the definition of "planet", which is just semantics) justifies a broader conclusion. Or have they given up on any kind of logical inference? That's stupid. I was drawn to evolutionary theory precisely because it made me uncomfortable: here was something that might change my mind on issues close to me. And I've wrestled with it ever since. And I continue to wrestle with it. So that's what motivates my new quixotic project to reconcile two prima facie incompatible views. It mayb e easier than I think. Maybe it's imposible. What creature will emerge? I don't know. Right now I'm going to go drink.

Consider: "You think you're so goddamn smart youi can just keep your secrets hidden away, but I got news for you. Einstein doesn't rule within these walls--Darwin does."

Friday, August 18, 2006

Loss For Words

Scene: balcony of housing project. A hanging pot of landscape geraniums. Night.

MATTERHORN: Have I ever told you this? Whenever you hear the sound of an emergency siren...
BRAGGADOCIO: right now...
M: ...yeah, like right now. It is... ambiguous. You can be sure shit is going down, but it also indicates that wehatever shit is going down is being addressed. Social safety net got your back. Slightly less so if you're not of the same colour as 47% of the people of this city...
B: ...white?
M:, jackass. Of course white!
B: So why didn't you just say that?
M: Because I wanted to point out that white folk are in the minority. Also I like the sound of my own voice. Jackass.
B: You do have a good voice. A certain CBC radio quality to it. Makes you seem cultured just by saying things slowly enough. Not like my voice. Mine's thin like those extra-thin spaghettis you can get at Zimmerman's. Thin and crispy. And it seems to boil at a higher point. Man, those were the days.
M: What days?
B: Last year when we ate spaghetti every night, and we fed the homeless with our extras.
M: Is that why they're still milling around the dumpsters?
B: Hell yeah. Our own private harem of smelly, ugly/deformed/toothless, male boy-toys. Don't you remember?
M: (To the fourth wall.) I did remember, but I wanted to get Braggy here to talk. For the sake of clumsy exposition, ya dig?
B: What?
M: Meh; don't worry. Why are we up here anyway?
B: What, on the fourth story of the half-collapsed, third-world-style clapboard monstrosity they call an aparment building? This Moby Dick enclosure for the recently poor and bereaved, this pipeline of neighbours' screams of agony, of ecstasy, of loenliness...
M: Calm, there. You know what happens if you get worked up.
B: Yeah...
M: So quiet. Here, have chocolate bar. You have to practically inhale it before it melts. (He takes the chocolate bar, which is actually a proein bar coated in chocolate.)
M: Can you tell me, without your roundabout speech, what we're doing here?
B: We're waiting for Godot.
M: Shut the fuck up! We're not.
B: No, we're listening to ambulance sirens and whiling away the night because it's too fucking hot inside.
M: Oh...
B: You got any cardamom?
M: What? No.
B: You got a pitcher of ice water?
M: What does it look like?
B: I don't know, for, you see, I am blind.
M: No you're not!
B: Fine. You got any henna dyes?
M: What do you want henna dyes for?
B: To trade for cardamom.
M: You're strange.
B: All part of the plan. You remember the one red paperclip guy?
M: If this was on the internet, I don't remember shit.
B: Well, whatever. Got any stencils?
M: No.
B: Shit. I was gonna use them to make political graffitti.
M: Where? All the wall space is used up.
B: Not on the second floor, it's not.
M: But you'd need rigging and such.
B: I can trade for it.
M: I don't know.
B: No, this dude on Craigslist is offering free scaffolding.
M: Why the fuck?
B: I don't know. Something to do with "walking the world". Possible it's some kind of occupational therapy.
M: Are you browsing Craigslist right now?
B: In my mind I am. Hey, got any balustrades?
M: No.
B: Got any warped poker chips?
M: Threw them out in the dumpster.
B: Where's the dumpster?
M: Homeless people sold the contents and container for scrap.
B: To who?
M: Probably with the aid of Craigslist.
B: Oh, you totally won that conversation. I am vanquished.
M: Great.
B: Got any weed?
M: No, man. And you know you can't smoke any.
B: Yeah, makes my hypothalamus swell.
M: Yeah, what's up with that? They ever get back to you about the results of the study?
B: They couldn't draw any conclusions. The sample size was too small. Wasted millions of dollars.
M: Shit.
B: Meh, snakes on a plane.
B: Got a telescope?
M: No.
B: Have you memorized any poetry recently?
M: A couple of quatrains by Hafiz.
B: Serious?
M: Yeah. Wanna hear them?
B: No. Got any empty soup cans?
M: Why specifically soup cans?
B: I have my reasons. Yay or nay?
M: None. You know what I do or don't have. You're sitting in my apartment.
B: No I'm not.
M: Oh, fuck a duck. What else do you need.
B: Who said I needed any of this stuff?

Enter POPE, stage right, four stories below.

POPE: Hey, guys, has anyone seen my bong?
B: I'll trade you a new bong for cardamom.
P: No dice. Sentimental attachment, ya dig?
B: Fine.
P: Besides, you didn't specify how much cardamom.

Exit all but Matterhorn.

M: جز نـقـش تو در نـظر نیامد ما را
جز کوی تو رهـگذر نیامد ما را
خواب ارچه خوش آمد همه را در عهدت
حـقا کـه بـه چشم در نیامد ما را
M: Which reminds me: I need some wine.

Exit Matterhorn.

Consider: "When childhood dies, its corpses are called adults and they enter society, one of the politer names of hell. That is why we dread children, even if we love them. They show us the state of our decay."

Sunday, August 13, 2006


I have to say: this brief foray into the land of the living reminded me of what I live for—and, of course, what one has to sacrifice from time to time. Ah, the living. I envy the living. They have backyard gatherings where you can see a couple of stars in your peripheral vision in the northern sky, away from the glare of downtown lights. They will surrender to the osmosis of the confused crowd surging past fat, indigestible rails on the streets. They will parody banners strung from laundromat to pizza parlor. They write long lists of sordid anecdotes on toilet paper and use up the whole roll. They’ll throw the joke out there just for the hell of it, appropriateness be damned. They notice the curve and contour of jeans walking by, and sometimes give each other knowing looks. They will find the latest thing to obsess over, and on a good day even let it affect their behaviour. They are the opposite of exacting perfectionists who suck up all that weak human emotion during important presentations. They blaze in lofts. They haul away junk piles and sing the songs of their Armenian forefathers. They sometimes give thought to the bursting, flowing nets of family trees across forests and dales, valleys, fens, spinneys, sea-shores, peaks, crags and seas. These invisible humming reticulations. They even take away a lesson from a standardized test passage.

I can't wait to rejoin them. I can't sustain anything in the state I'm in.

Consider: "Usually, terrible things that are done with the excuse that progress requires them are not really progress at all, but just terrible things."

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Braingasm (Part II)

So the other day I had one of those moments when you figure out a truncated word you've been using is part of a rich etymological history stretching back to that first gurgling (or burbling) metazoan lost on a coral reef somewhere. Basically, this was equivalent to when I learned "diss" was short for "disrespect". That was some mind-shaking shit, I tell you.

Yesterday's word: "dig". In the sense that beats and subsequent hepcats used it: "so I was walking down the street, digging the old neighbourhood, when I run into a guy digging a hole in the ground. I'm like, "What'cha digging?", and he's like "this hole", and I'm like "I dig"." But all that aside, I found a possible candidate: "to dig" is short for "to dignify". Bear with me. Why would you ever dig a moment? Nobody digs scenes of horror or tragedy. You may stand transfixed, or numbed and cant's look away, or possessed with some fiendish curiosity. But you don't dig it. Digging is something apart. Digging is what you do when you see a child teaching an old man how to ride a unicycle. Digging is what you do to graffitti that says "beauty is our only weapon". You dig the bum's rant if it's particularly evocative. You dig a natural lawn drizzled with warm, slow rain, thinking "this is right". (This happened to me that day.) You dig trees and squirrels as they go about their treeing and squirreling. You can even dig your own mind from time to time: you can daydream or invent stories about your retinal flares or floaters. (I have one long, malleable floater I have named Xerxes the Hunter. Why not? And another thin, put-together one I call Salah the Dandy. Again, why not? And I'm working on the dozens of transient floaters--the supporting cast, if you will.) You can dig the somplexity of paint peeling off a billobard. And so on and so forth. But it doesn't even have to be enthusiastic. It can be passionate and passive digging. This kind of digging can be unnoticed by everybody. I'm doing it right now to my hands, and still managing to accomplish something. In this way you can listen to absolutely anyone.

So why is this so important? I believe I've found a concept to give some tangibility to what I try to do as a writer. (As a semi-productive, unofficial, prolix, I'd-starve-if-this-was-my-livelihood writer, if you care to call that a writer.) I try to dignify moments. Mundane moments. I try to extract a Hero Cycle or dramatic arc from things like old Mrs. Sadat struggling to order her angina medication at the pharmacy. Because the modern world bulldozed our psyches, but we still have the resources to fight back. That's why art is important. It trains you to find the "poetry" in anything. Yes, anything. That's why I prefer "digging" over alternatives like "turning into art" or "beautifying" or other pronouncements in that vein. If you can find some way to dignify the essentially objective mindlessness, the almost-thing-in-itselfness of, say, an SN2 mechanism, then you are closer to finging God than millions of candle-lighters and well-wishers. Then your art has saved you, and has indirectly saved the world. You have achieved total mental Feng Shui.

Consider: "History is replete with examples of what happens when any group of authorities do not have to answer to empirical evidence but are free to define truth as they see fit. None of the examples has a happy ending. Why should it be otherwise with therapy?"