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Monthly Archives: February 2008

No Country for Old Men  §

I found myself reading the reviews again this morning after it cleaned up at the Oscars and was struck by the degree to which people outside the U.S. don’t like it. Most often, they tend to find it unbelievable, senseless, the characters having no motives and thus no resonance; they are just dark and senseless, such reviewers say, and as such they don’t hold up because the veneer of reality wears away quickly.

My constant thought on reading such reviews: such writers know nothing of America. Maybe it’s another film that can only really be understood by American audiences for what it is: a reflection of our very soul.

Strange that such reviewers can bemoan shallow posturing and senseless, amoral, indiscriminate, and pathological violence in economic self-interest in a film… without drawing the parallel to actual American behavior in, say, Iraq—to use but one recent example.

Is it possible  §

that only the damned will be saved?

Sometimes I look inside myself and see only darkness. At other times I look inside myself and see only light. In medieval times, this sensation would have been a matter of morality. Now it is a matter of post-structuralism.

Cynicism is always circular.

Circles are cynically mathematically normative.

To be able to be honest is to shoot domination through its heart. “Truth to power,” they say, and there’s something to that. The problem is that “truth” to power is rare, while the rationalization of truth to power is not.

Things.

1. I have not made a things list in a long time
2. I used to drink more coffee than I do now
3. I miss Joe’s at the University of Chicago
4. Sometimes I just miss the University of Chicago
5. Sometimes I also miss the New School, even though I’m a student
6. I feel too damn old to be a student
7. I am scared shitless by being as old as I am
8. I sublimate disappointment
9. I have a more “addictive personality” than I like to admit to myself
A. I have not deployed hexadecimal in at least a decade
B. I sometimes miss computer science
C. I am rotten at managing money
D. I am rotten at managing input and suggestions
E. I sometimes want to kill my boss with my bare hands
F. I sometimes just want my bare hands to kill

Rather often I fantasize about stopping everything but one thing in my life.

– Just academics (paying for the rest and living with loans), or
– Just work (forgetting any career or personal goals), or
– Just photography (forgetting all of fucking reality), or
– Just writing (forgetting how it was always slave labor)

I can not be a monk because I don’t have any kind of moral-conceptual asceticism in me, but dammit if I don’t wish life were simpler. When I’m happy I often claim that life is simple but of course to do so is to suspend disbelief for a moment so that you can watch the movie of you and finally enjoy it for a change, for a brief moment. In truth, everyone knows that life is as complicated as is living.

Right now I am sure I can hear the gears of “now” turning to keep up with the present, which is itself undergoing constant digestion and deprication, and whose remnants continue to fall into the abyss that is memory. The fact that the present is infinitely renewable does not ameliorate the tragedy of its perpetual decay, nor of its embarrassingly conspicouous idiocy.

Paradoxes  §

To be responsible is to apologize, to submit, and to fulfill expectations. But to apologize, to submit, and to fulfill expectations are also weak. And to be weak is to be incapable of being responsible. Heady three-way of adulthood.

Quitting and staying; the power of others; anger  §

Sometimes in life you are faced with the structurally-prescribed task of making decisions to which and for which you cannot rationally apply any rational criteria for the evaluation of options—for which you cannot even determine what such criteria should be because you simply don’t have enough information to decide whether you will be fucking nuts if you choose A over B, or whether you will be fucking nuts if you choose B over A, or whether you will be fucking nuts either way, or whether you will not be fucking nuts but instead absolutely fine in either circumstance.

In this case, A is the qualifying examination that I must take before I can achieve full candidacy status. I don’t know the questions that will be on it, I don’t know who will grade the exam that I take, I don’t know what a completed exam looks like or how it was graded, and I don’t know what the consequences will be in terms of social prestige/power/leverage/opportunity if I choose to postpone it until the fall semester, rather longer/later than it is usually taken. I am in a good position now at the school but I cannot for the life of me determine what sort of position I might be in if I postpone taking it, nor what sort of position I might be in if I do take it, since I cannot determine what sort of performance I might reasonably expect to achieve given all of the unknowns, not the least of which are the exam itself and what a “good” completed exam or set of essays contains or looks like.

At the same time, B is the job that I have held for a year-and-a-half or so at this point and which has gradually decayed into something akin to emotional torture, a field of uncertain payment, uncertain expectations, uncertain authority structures, uncertain daily tasks, uncertain measurement and evaluation of those tasks, and an uncertain future. In this context I am being asked to sign an uncertain and patently illegal (not to mention self-contradictory) contact for which there are (at best) uncertain consequences both of signing and of not signing. If I refuse to sign, do I still have a job? Does a person even exist to tell me whether I still have a job if I refuse to sign? If I do sign, what exactly are the requirements that I agree to fulfill? It’s not entirely clear. When can I have them clarified? That is also unclear. How will I know if I’ve met them? Also unclear. If I fail to meet them, what are the consequences? Also unclear.

If I approach the problem conservatively and somewhat normatively, presupposing all of those things that I consider to be the “most likely”—and in this case, “most likely” is really a synonym for “I flipped a coin” since I have no fucking idea what is “most likely” in any case, I’m more or less choosing on gut instinct—I then assume that I have two responsibilities competing for my attention. The first is to deliver a certain amount of work and time to my employer, and the second is to spend a certain amount of time studying for the qualifying examination to be held in just a little more than a week.

Two deadlines that feel arbitrary, self-imposed, and immaterial, like fictions I’ve cooked up for myself in order to fuck myself up. But yet they also carry the air of reality with them precisely because I’ve cooked them up in response to gut feelings that arise in turn in response to real circumstances that I’ve lived, even if I can’t enumerate fully and elaborate on the many facets of the causal dynamics involved. I feel as though if I don’t take the exam now and do well, I’ll suffer later (possibly catastrophically), and I feel as though if I don’t put in a rather large complement of hours rather soon at work, I’ll suffer later (possibly catastrophically), even if there are no logical or empirical reasons to make such suppositions.

Have I simply convinced myself of the importance of things that are important only as ideological points brought to bear by other parties’ interests? Can I reasonably expect to convince myself of the opposite?

And how will I appear to myself and others if I (a) postpone the exam, especially now after having decided to take it in a few short days and after having announced as much, or (b) quit my job, especially when I have financial responsibilities? Yet it remains quite certain that I am physically, emotionally, and intellectually incapable of fulfilling both of the largely (I have been made to feel by all involved) imaginary commitments that I write about here. Fucking passive-aggressive world, passive-aggressive reality, passive-aggressive causal nexus, that’s what.

I hate this dynamic and set of decisions and completely unclear contexts and they make me feel frustrated, increasingly angry, and rather more selfishly alone than I’m accustomed to feeling or being. I feel like a jackass and a martyr and a needless dramatic all in one. Depressing. Frustrating.

Fuck . them . all .

Growing older  §

Youth carries with it a certain externality that disappears later in life. To be young is not merely to be frustrated but also to want to do something about that frustration, to want to find whomever or whatever is the source of that frustration and to destroy it, change it, transcend it, triumph over it, make it your own.

With age comes a kind of fatigue, a kind of weariness. No longer something to be fought on the battlefield, frustration is instead the thing that pursues you endlessly, across continents and worlds and years. Priorities, goals, aspirations, appointments and positions, incomes and bills, contracts and cases, little inconveniences and big inconveniences—they begin to accumulate just behind you, a kind of storm that one forever tries to outrun. It is no longer a matter of wanting to fight it all off; it is instead a matter of wanting to outrun it, to spin or juggle plates endlessly and in increasing quantity with the hope of being able to stave off crisis rather than have to confront it head-on.

This sort of thinking leads one to stay in jobs longer than one might have otherwise done—longer than one might have done when one was younger—and to become increasingly less prolific both in terms of general output and in terms of specific kinds of output, like creative projects or academic work. To sublimate and flee from frustration is precisely to avoid the work of having to confront it.

In this sublimation and flight, papers are lost, would-be career “branches” never quite “branch” from their trunk, and big victories or big defeats give way to little contingencies and small bumps in the flow of reality of an everyday sort.

It is unclear to me whether I can ever become a prolific academic or even a writer of any serious volume again. The motivation seems to have gone; I am no longer driven as I once was to say what I am dying to say and moreover to ensure that others are able to hear it. There is no conversion project behind my action any longer, no desire to save souls or move mountains.

I am content to manage my own garden; this level of contentment is irreconcilable with any kind of serious production beyond day-to-day wage labor. Growing up may be, in essence, the end of one’s voice inasmuch as it stretches outside the confines of one’s own house and family. I don’t know whether that

Somewhere underneath my skin,  §

many layers deep, is the same kid I was when I was 18, or 15, or 12, or 7 years old. It hardly seems possible—so many things have happened since then, so much water has passed—yet it must be. People are people, they are who they are, they are born, they travel through life, and they die, we know this because we are them, we experience it for ourselves; it is what has happened to you and it is what is happening to me.

I am married. I have a dog and I live in New York and I will earn a Ph.D. before too long and become a professor. I think about having children. I have written six books and am a professional writer. I drive a Volvo and have a bookshelf full of sociology books. Is this who I am? As someone with something of a materialist bent theoretically, this all must be who I am, I suppose.

I have friends that are growing up along with me. We don’t get to talk as much as we could. Some of this is my fault, for being too busy and too inaccessible and maybe just a little bit too caught up in my own very comfortable world. Some of it is just circumstance and the differences in life practice that emerge between people. I’m an emailer, it’s almost the only way to get ahold of me other than sitting in the same room together, but maybe they aren’t. I don’t know. It’s habit, I’ve been emailing since I was ten years old, all around the world. But in any case, they’re growing up along with me.

They’re living in states I hadn’t ever even thought about as a kid and doing very adult things that are so far outside the realm of anything I could have ever imagined that it shocks me even now when I can imagine them.

Adulthood is a strange and unfathomable thing. Life paths are a strange and fathomable thing that wind all over the globe, twisting their way through a history that is itself always evolving and always materializing in the form of unfathomable things. An internetworked world? The end of the cold war? The collapse of the American economy? These things could not have been understood even if they had been predicted.

The future is itself a deity, inscrutable and all-powerful, able to manufacture a reality akin to magic—a reality that dominates, that transforms worlds, that creates the heavens and the Earth for all those who are destined afterward to live in and on them.

I don’t know. I don’t know much. I have no answers for God, to God, or about God. I am not particularly interested in God, or rather, the term is just a bit too efficient for me in describing the infinite nuance and shock and memory that comprise being and identity.

I didn’t set out to be a philosopher, but that is more or less what I am attempting to become professionally. After living for 32 years, I really can’t see how it can be otherwise, for anyone. Anyone who reaches 32 years and isn’t a philosopher in some way or other hasn’t been paying attention and is beyond salvation.

Salvation itself, of course, is marked by signposts along the way. Pause at any of them for a moment and you can catch the corresponding mode of transit that will carry you all the way to the end of your story in glassy, structured shelter. But salvation or no, you will get there in the end.

Just where “there” is remains absolutely indeterminate. It is, as they have always said, a matter of a journey. Dammit this is all banal. And yet it’s really impossible for life to be banal, I suspect. After all, it’s yours, and you’ve never had another, and it’s all really the same place.

All roads meet, I just told one of my travelling partners. After all, there is only one globe. Follow any road long enough and it will take you to anywhere else that you care to be; in the most mathematical sense, we share a single, wildly chaotic and articulated road with everyone else on the planet—a small lonely planet in the middle of a very large universe, on which we are born, grow old, and die, walking the entire time under a field of stars that survey our strange lives and are as puzzled by their meanings as are we.

The modern industrial/post-industrial lifestyle…  §

…is far too complex. I dislike that complexity immensely. Some days I want very much to go and blow things and people up, for no particular reason other than to reduce the complexity of the system down to something manageable.

Novel, radical metaphor  §

is the one and only means for enlarging and/or expanding reality. Everything else is just iteration.