Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Put a Fork in PostModernism

I've done my penance. I've read Gravity's Rainbow, V., Giles Goat-Boy, Infinite Jest, The Runaway Soul, Underworld and plenty of other weighty, witty bricks that constitute much of the so-called PostModern canon.

I certainly admire the sparks and flashes thrown off by its talented illusionist/practitioners. But while I'm not going to say they all read alike or that I am any kind of expert in the field, I can at long last say despite favoring Don DeLillo's work in particular and the nonlisted-above Sot-Weed Factor by Barth (a singular work), that I just don't find real sustenance in PostModernism.

I do like novels of ideas. Iris Murdoch, for instance, has always impressed me with her ability to spin tales of physical and psychological mayhem that include meaningful doses of philosophy and mystery. However I think the whole problem with PM is rooted in the faulty notion that not just novels but we ourselves can credibly become untethered from our own histories.

By positing that we can shape-shift; can become something else than what we seem, can carapace ourselves in multiple identities, is not only manifestly false, it is a ruse. Of course you'd wish you hadn't said all those things last night drunk. But you did (fictionally speaking). And if you choose to elide that fact, you're left wandering in the murky, unconnected outer circle of hell where the uncommitted spend eternity.

PM fiction lives and breathes the notion of no-commitment. There is no commitment to character, for certain. There is little emphasis on putting a three dimensional human being in-situation. There is much deconstruction of the integrity of the individual, as if to perform that parlor trick were really an option and not just a wild hope for the dissolute and the fearful.

LIve up to ideas, I say, and embody them in character. Let ideas be couched in the squishy, sloppy places we call home. Let us come down from the wobbly pinnacle where literature posits us as not real things at all, but just a happenstance of traits and cartilage.

In its failure to do so, PostModernist literature seems an amusement, but a disconnected one (necessarily) and in the end, pretty thin soup.


All-new Yahoo! Mail - Fire up a more powerful email and get things done faster.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Up Against the Wall, Motherfuckers! (Remember them?)

Perhaps this is an ironic dispensation but its message at least deserves a hearing.
NYC, particularly Manhattan, is becoming a class-stratified, far-too-expensive chalet for the nouveau riche and their gentrifying minions. It has become the haven of the affluent, especially those matriculating into overrated, astronomically pricey insitutions of higher learning. Look at the East Village: it is now the provenance of NYU students with expense accounts, crushingly bourgeois attitudes,
and the imposture of their species. The lesson of downtown? A smoothie bar is the death of a neighborhood, indeed, death of a community. Most of the real estate on and below 14th St. (I'm only harping on NYU because I frequent its vicinity moreso than other school environments) has been upended, demolished, and built anew to accomodate the collegiate gentry. Gone are the many rock clubs, dive bars, bookstores, and flea-bag art joints. I propose a solution: citizen action committees to bring back the violence, decay, drugs, and insanity that once characterized the region. Organized vice will wipe out the cancer of NYC's failed modernity. Talk to anyone who lived downtown in the seventies and early eighties: they will tell you how life was dirty, dangerous, and delightful. We cannot enjoy ourselves anymore because we cannot afford it; neither can we enjoy the style of life now being created. Bring back the sleaze, stilettos, and razors, people will flee, property rights will go down, the rich and scared will vanish, and we can indulge our fantasies of creation, knowing that, at last or again, a true city flourishes.
--Martin Scriblerus

Visual Distortions in the Urban Modality

Recently I've noticed, or else my subjectivity has, the impairment of the empirical, the fickle false-firing of perception on the streets of NYC (or so I would like to think). Especially on the East Side, mostly walking north on 2nd or 3rd Avenues, persons coming towards this roving I/Eye transform, or rather, begin a process of accelerated aging, that is mystifying and disheartening. Two examples:

1)at 4:53pm on Tuesday, July 18, a woman in her mid to late twenties, nearly two blocks away, slowly advanced towards me. Slowly, as she got nearer, her lips pursed, brow furrowed, ridges on her upper lift appeared, her entire body sagged under gravity's cruel make-over.

2) at roughly 9pm on Thursday, August 10, a man in a suit, brandishing a suitcase
and smoking a cigarette, walking apace with a woman similar in age, furiously blossomed into a octogenarian, a burst-capillary nose and thinning hair no more salient than the lines that began to impress itself in various directions across his face.

These instances, these phenomena, could be evidence of the shortcomings of my perspective, perception, vision. But what if certain streets warrant the instantaneous senescence of its walkers? What if these streets offer a portal into the future of its patrons, illuminating the process of their disintegration? Dear Reader, have you experienced this? What are your thoughts? --Curley

Modern Times, Modern Timidity w/out the Toilet Titians

In times of economic instability, cultural stupidity, spiritual rigidity, artistic redundancy, political tomfoolery, psychological conformity, sexual morbidity, bellicose cruelty, and social futility-- these times, in fact--bathroom graffiti in NYC grows ponderously vacuous. Once the domain of primitivist grandeur and deft poetic sloganeering, lunatic pornographic come-ons, and other voices of the void, the toilet museuems have been transformed into cauldrons of banality without the redemption of cliche, irony without the restraint of paradox, School of Visual Arts noodlings instead of amatuer scrawlings, political manifestos so appallingly centrist and rife with newspeak they seem to have been borrowed by CNN. In short, the city bathroom gallery has been converted into a message board for stockbrokers and repressed Upper West Siders. Alas: the bathroom bards have flushed themselves down the toilet or vacated their former dwelling spaces. Beware: let none of your intelligence or orifices touch anything in here. A quarantine is in order.
--Martin Scriblerus

Sunday, August 27, 2006

A Fine Day in Kennebunkport

I went to Maine with my wife and two kids and stopped at the nearly-too-cute town of Kennebunkport where Bush the First is known to summer. Not sure if George the Younger were out lobstering that day but the town was tricked out as if he were.

"Welcome Back Mr. President" on the Crab Shack may have referred to either Bush.

But the peace demonstration along the waterfront could only have beed directed at Bush the Second. We could not have timed it better had we planned it. Moments after parking the car by the crafts fair, we agreeably joined step with the marchers--a couple of hundred of them--as they walked slowly into the center of town right past where we were parked.

Some bystanders seemed to disagree but most flashed peace signs or thumbs-up. I suppose peace-marching in New England is an exercise in stating the obvious, but it struck me as so happily all-American and so typically New England nonetheless. No fuss, no muss. Just a peace-march past the Presidential compound, thank you very much. And I'll have that with fries.

My favorite sign: "Liar, Liar, World on Fire"; second favorite: "Who Would Jesus Bomb?"


Talk is cheap. Use Yahoo! Messenger to make PC-to-Phone calls. Great rates starting at 1¢/min.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

More theses for monophysites

I mentioned over a month ago that more theses would be added.
But theses, like feces, need to marinate to evolve requisite
piquancy. Relevancy? You be the judge, I'll be the executioner:

3. The law of excluded middle, the philosophical notion that any
proposition must be 'either/or' and never 'and,' applies as well
to the opposition of question and answer. Nothing can be both a
question and an answer, lest it become a 'quanswer,' a fancy
pronunication and spelling of 'cancer.' Something like 'chancre'
for 'canker,' 'chancre' being a portmanteau of 'chance' and 'err,'
which should never potentially be the same thing.

40. Never mention God unless God gives permission. But God never
gives permission. Silence is a god.

42. Some stories have no true beginning or end. These, in fact, invite
us to invent the opening and the closing. Do neither: let breathing
space prevail.

30. I will never reduce myself to ashes. Consequently, the ashes will
never reduce themselves to me. How strange--I was from the dust and to
the dust I would go, if I could go, but I'm tracking mud through this
idea and mud is not on the list.

19. Meaning is overestimated to those who think. Those intellectuals
who tell you otherwise are arranging thoughts and not possibilities.

21. When will the forceps free my head from the memory of my mother's womb?

22. Initiate two contradictory acts at once and you will kill
the populace without violence.

49. Can ideas be contemptuous of their purveyors?

26. When you are walking, go haunting. They want have a ghost of a chance.
--Curley, 2008

Monday, August 14, 2006

Misuse of the Blues

Lord knows the blues have seen better times.

These days its easy to forget that the blues used to be deeply felt, marginal, electrifying and subversive all at once. If you hadn't noticed it was the rock on which rock was based, you've been under one for half a century.

Now we can turn on the television and see blues as a mainstream cure-all for boredom; a three-chord quick-fix for what ails-ya. In car commercials it screams that the little four cylinder econobox got game, yo. In floor cleaner commercials it shouts that the new age mom ain't gonna take that dirt no mo'. And if you're interested in a bank that's based on eight bar progressions, and that sounds like Robert Johnson is making loans in the back, you can take your pick.

I don't know what to say about fixing it. But I do think we ought to start penalizing ads for misuse of blues. If there's a guy staring out of a cubicle and suddenly its as if Muddy Waters is whanging away in the hallway, that's a fine. If the  NowhereMobile goes by and you hear Screamin' Jay Hawkins and you feel like Satan is waiting at the crossroads, that's a bigger fine. You see where I'm headed.

I sure hope Muddy and Screamin' Jay (or their estates) are getting paid for the music. I have no problem with that.

But its just sad to see the music that changed America become such a ready shill for the mundane. It makes me blue.

--Renaissance, August 15 2006

Talk is cheap. Use Yahoo! Messenger to make PC-to-Phone calls. Great rates starting at 1¢/min.

Privacy as We Know It

Recently AOL released hundreds of thousands of search request records to the scholarly community, believing it would aid sociological research. What they found was that it caused a front-page uproar about the nature of privacy in a digital world.

If you haven't read about it, the short form goes something like this:

Even when you search anonymously, your various requests can be grouped as having come from the same machine (and in the case of AOL, where you're logged in, you're just one data cell away from being identified from the get-go). Once grouped, your searches can be narrowed down to the point where its almost certain the viewer can guess who the person is, or with minimal additional research, discover who it is.

Last week the NY Times got in touch with a woman in Maryland who had searched for information related to owning an incontinent dog. They had her identified via her searches; and she confirmed those unhappy pup searches were hers.

The news is, search isn't private. And by implication, not much else on line is, either.

The larger issue is: why does that matter so much?

We're living in the infancy of an age of infinite connectivity. We're used to doors and walls and barriers, and at least amongst those of us who remember when there was no internet, private communication.

But it looks from here like infinite connectivity is also opening up an age of infinite visibility. Everything you do on line can potentially be seen by everyone else. Privacy zealots would like to pretend we can wind the clock back, but we can't. The notion that you can have perfect access to all known information plus perfect anonymity is pure hubris. Isn't going to happen.

A newer generation seems more comfortable with this--or at least the generation that seems to care little whether they posted weird, whacky stuff about themselves on MySpace does. And maybe they are on to something. Instead of worrying about who finds out that you searched for adult diapers and duct tape in the same session, how about if society just got more tolerant over all?

Aside from the times when you find out your neighbor has searched for "bomb kit" and "jihad" and "economy class" in the same session, why should you (or for that matter, law enforcement officials) really care what they searched for?

That's a question for another post: maybe we have too many laws and need to concentrate on enforcing only those that really matter (like the one that would catch the abovementioned traveler).

The digital age has forced us all into the same digital sandbox. We are all in the sandbox toying with these new, visible selves. Get used to it. Me, I am using a pseudonym. It's a personal thing.

-- Renaissance Aug 14, 2006

Do you Yahoo!?
Everyone is raving about the all-new Yahoo! Mail Beta.

Shaw versus Shakespeare; or, what's the weltanschuang, Kenneth?

"While my province burns,
I sing of love,
giving that fiery wheel a shove."
--John Montague

The recently revised world narrative of conflict, death, and suffering (for this triad has always been with us; pace Hegel, history doesn't repeat itself, it just publishes added editions) has turned the American populace into doomsday prophets,neurotic despondents, and cynical experts on international affairs. Oh yes, the cult of post-millennialism also runs rampant--at least in the NYC area-- in the form of proselytizers and ranters. Jews for Jesus (probably a front for the Christian Right), Jehovahs, Latter Day Saints, and numerous Hispanic pentecostal groups proclaim that the end is near and repentance and atonement should be seriously pursued before God or Moloch pour soul-snuffing lighter fluid on us all.
Of course, hysteria has been our kith and kin since the Witchcraft Trials. But hardly on this scale. We have decided to pursue, by and large, a policy of collective confusion with a dash of know-it-all-itis, a speck of crisis-mongering, and, most appallingly, a streak of retributive justice for people we would rather kill off than understand. Yes, the US is becoming a breeding ground for fanatics. As Freud notes, "...devout believers are safeguarded in a high degree against the risks of certain neurotic illnesses; their acceptance of the universal neuroses spares them the task of constructing a personal one." Amen. I mean, goddman. If cooler heads won't prevail, an outside perspective is needed. I know just the man.
George Bernard Shaw is seldom read now-- a shame, really, because he could save us all. This Irish dramatist, essayist, socialist, and vegetarian wrote enough text to paper over a continent and most of the content of his words dealt with the major social issues of the day (any day), including war, suffering, and justice. It was Shaw, a contrarian of the first order, who wrote that "Any victory at all is a victory for war." Not only did he write and dramatize a world even our current crop of naysayers, hatemongers, and handwringers would recognize, they might also learn to remedy their sad prognoses and misguided attempts to criticize the world. And the man is damn funny. Humor has political power--let all heed this truth--and Shaw wielded humor like a tomahawk missile. But unlike said weapon, he never missed his mark.
I was reminded of Shaw after reading Michael Holroyd's appreciation in the Times Literary Supplement a few weeks ago. In a piece entitled, "Dionysos, Do the Right Thing," Holroyd, Shaw's official biographer, claims that Shaw, much more than Shakespeare, illuminates our world and casts a sensibility that is artistically and politically more tenable. Holroyd watched an adaptation of The Bacchae in which Euripides needs to decide whether Shakespeare or Shaw should be rescued from the underworld to lead us back into right thinking. Apparently, the treatment ultimately decided on Shakespeare. Holroyd reveres Shakespeare but condemns the decision: Willy glamorized war and validated nationalism; Shaw excoriated war and loathed patriotism
and critiqued them both. As long as patriotism is with us, to paraphrase GBS, the human race will never live in peace. How true. But no more justification is needed here: the proof is in the plays and many essays. Read them and see what you think. If you agree that Shaw is a writer for our times, recite some lines to your neighborhood fanatics: perhaps they will see the real light or else shrivel up and disappear altogether. He is truly a man to meet.
Oh, yes: he also had red facial hair, a trait shared by this correspondent and a shade of Shaw on one's face can't be a bad thing. Not in these days.