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Monthly Archives: March 2009

Oh . My . God  §

I have been waiting for this film for decades and I didn’t even realize it. This is the coolest news I’ve heard in years. I hope, hope, hope this gets seen.

No information about an NYC screening, though. 🙁

See the trailer here.

The reason I could never write a novel?  §

There are far too many accounts to be settled in my life. There is far too little Tao and also too little Zen.

Any attempt at a novel would quickly turn into a holocaust, a forum for the ruthless and unreadable crucifixion of everyone and everything that makes me even the slightest bit uncomfortable, not to mention those things that make me angry or that have caused me pain or suffering.

It would be a hail of bullets, like most of my life has been. Unpleasant and not particularly inspiring.

Put a footnote on it  §

Anyone who thinks that freedom is a legal issue is completely unfree.

Anyone who believes in truth is completely ignorant, imagining the reality in things without positing their unreality.

The Christian God has doomed the world to unhappiness and destruction, but through sleight of hands Christians attempt to deflect the causal arrow, suggesting that it originates in all other places but the one place where it actually originates.

It pains me at times to realize that even the once-wise east, facing annihilation at the hands of destructive western ideals, has now fallen prey to monotheistic metaphysics and Protestant “ethics.”

What do I know?  §

I’ll tell you what I know. I know nothing. The only people who know less are the people who claim to know something. The only people who have less are the people who claim to have something.

Happiness is a death trap.

Individual death.

Familial death.

Social death.

Environmental death.

Planetary death.

The faithful seek happiness under the mistaken belief that no harm comes from it—that, in fact, it is divine. It is not divine. It is the death of the human race. In pursuit of happiness we have destroyed, continue to destroy, and will ultimately and finally destroy, the only sentient life within innumerable light years of our planet, perhaps in the known universe and across all of time.

It is a chemical state and series of biofeedback mechanisms that causes us to pursue ends that were survival-positive throughout the bulk of human history when our population was not beyond carrying capacity, numbered in the thousands or a few million, not in the many billions and growing exponentially.

No-one will memorialize us when we are gone.

I am getting older. Much older. The last few years have done more to age me than all of the previous years combined. I aged maybe 10 years in my first 23 years. I have aged at least the remaining 23 years over the last 10.

By the time many men and women die, they are a hundred, or a thousand, despite being in their seventies or eighties.

Age isn’t a matter of time. Time is a social construct. Age is a matter of experience, of what happens to you. In a place that socially constructs time as we do, there is a happening once per second, or at least once per year. These accumulate.

But the fundamental relationship is an event-based relationship; age is a matter of what has happened to you, not of externalities.

Some days I add an entire year.

I am going gray. It is the funniest thing to be going grey. I forget it’s happening. I suppose it’s the analogue to those who go bald, or who suffer from receding hairlines.

For a long time, I could ignore it; the gray hairs weren’t obvious. They were, instead, limited in number and out of the way so that other people had to tell me they were there.

“You have a gray hair! Just there! Here, look in the mirror. Can you see it? I promise, it’s there!”

For a long time, I couldn’t see it.

These days I can see all of them. There are a lot of them. I couldn’t see any when I came to New York. Now there are more than I can count.

I am, quite simply, going gray.

You can’t argue about the nature of reality with people. Reality is what it is for them, as they experience it. To talk metaphysics, someone has to buy into the concept of ‘a metaphysics’ in the first place.

Most don’t.

That’s one of the vexing bugbears with which metaphysics has always had to cope. It is not a science but precisely an anti-science, and for that reason many put it into the same box as the occult, the supernatural. I know that as a kid, I understood ‘metaphysics’ to be vaguely related somehow to the study of ghosts and psychics.

Sad and emblematic of the dying culture in which I was raised.

For most, a second is quite simply a second. You can’t explain to them that for nearly all of human history there was no such concept; it was always there. A car is easier; they’ll readily admit that cars were ‘invented’ and changed the world, and thus that cars aren’t an ‘essential’ part of reality, but something humans came up with.

Seconds, minutes, hours, miles, longitude, latitude, and the very notions of ‘truth’ and ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ and ‘holy’ and ‘unholy’ on the other hand? Despite the fact that in the larger course of human history, all of these are as brand-spanking-new for humanity as the concept of a ‘car’ or a ‘computer’ is, for some reason people can’t accept their relativity.

“If you drop a ‘car’ into the middle of the Amazon jungle with no ‘modern’ people around anywhere, in the roadless, densely vined-and-treed morass of naked native peoples thousands of miles from ‘civilization’ who have never, ever even seen an outsider, does it still have its carness?” I ask my students each semester. They have trouble with a word like ‘carness’ at first, but eventually they tend to decide amongst themselves that for something to have ‘carness,’ to be a ‘car,’ the people that encounter it actually have to know what it is, know what it’s for, and be able to use it for movement.

It is tough to have ‘carness’ in a place where metal hasn’t even been invented yet, where there is no concept of transportation or the need to travel, no method of fueling it, and no place to drive it without running into one or many tall jungle trees, nobody who even realizes that you are meant to climb ‘inside’ it and ‘use’ it in some way. In the deepest Amazon jungle, they always tend to conclude after much discussion, a car has very little ‘carness’ but is instead just a giant hung of solid stuff that sits there, immobile, like a shinier, transparent, and tremendously peculiar rock.

Somehow they are always unable to reach the same conclusion about time, or about God, despite the fact that humanity has existed for several hundred thousand years, but linear time and the Christian God as ideas for only a few hundred, or at most a couple thousand.

They can’t let go of the notion that a second is a second is a second anywhere you go, for anyone you encounter, even if a car isn’t a car unless it’s in a car-enabled civilization.

People love their metaphysics.

I suppose it stands to reason. Without a solid metaphysics, their entire world, belief system, and way of explaining to everyone else around them why they are right, good, and special as a being, is lost.

Without a solid metaphysics, nothing is special.

Nothing is, in fact, real—apart from raw, animal sensation and action, the very antitheses of civilization.

On a different but related note:

Diplomacy is in fact the slowest path to peace. History bears this out. War is, in fact, much faster.

Not only that, but the very possibility of peace is increased through war, conflict, and violence but hamstrung by its absence.

War is, in fact, peace, despite the protestations of Orwell fans.

The natural state of humankind isn’t war and it isn’t peace; it’s dumb nonlinear punctuated thresholding and dialexis. Up and down and up and down and left and right and left and right.

You want peace? You want stasis? You’ll have to do something decidedly nonhuman—decidedly inhuman, in fact—to get it. Like, maybe, war.

Totalitarianism is the only avenue to peace. Democracy was born in war and violence, breeds war and violence, is sublimated war and violence, and recalls war and violence in its metaphors.

Democracy is, as I said once in public, the sublimation of conflict, not its absence. For some, sublimation is ideal. For others, sublimation is not enough. Progress is transformation; transformation is accomplished, by definition, by becoming something that you are not.

Where I stand on this matter I remain uncertain. Is it better to be what you are, even if what you are is a suffering-experiencing and suffering-causing machine? In short, a social actor that is mortal and that is imbued with an anti-mortality instinct?

Or is it better to try to become what you are not? To try to, in short, change what you are?

Acceptance or transcendence. That has always been the question. That remains the question, I suppose, though the secondary question is what direction such transcendence will take, if you choose it (the thing that separates, for example, ‘social liberals’ from ‘social conservatives’).

But at the end of the day, the other question is first: tolerance or self-negation?

Before any fucking hippie condemns the self war, keep in mind that if the fundamental nature of the self is to suffer and to cause suffering (and, in the case of the masses, to understand nothing at all about anything, being, in short, no different from a mushroom or a sea cucumber), is self-negation so bad?

The first step in becoming ‘more’ is to develop the capability to juxtapose it against ‘less.’

That doesn’t, of course, do anything to answer the fundamental value question.

Neither will this post.

Things that are lost as you age:

* Friends

* Dreams

* Possibilities

* Freedom

* Independence

* Indulgence

* Innocence

* Creativity

* Focus

* Intensity

I used to think that the immediate, aggressive bouts of sadness at circumstances and events that I felt were the worst thing that could possibly happen to a human.

There is, unfortunately, a deeper set of sadnesses that come with calm and maturity, those very things that you imagine (as a young person) that mitigate any and all sadnesses and render the “adults” of the world forever less sympathetic in youthful eyes.

These are the sadnesses of metaphysics, of irreconcilable realities. Not different ‘versions’ of truth, but fundamentally different universes. You can argue with someone about ‘which’ truth is truth and still be within the realm of culture, interaction, adapatation, mutuality.

Once you start to dispute the fundamental context of the interaction, there is nothing left to do.

More sad than break-ups or loneliness are simply ‘the ways people are.’ The people you know. The people you love. The vast gulfs of distance that come to separate you, that are insurmountable and that are also uncrossable because the metaphysical ‘locations,’ the metalongitudes and metalatitudes that you adapt are matters not merely of opinion, but of your very functioning and awakeness in the world. Without them, you are not, so it would do no good to try to change them for someone else, to help them to ‘have’ you, since you would cease to exist before they managed to do so anyway.

Closing thoughts:

1. Knowledge is despair.

2. There is no knowledge deeper than social knowledge.

3. There is no ‘objective’ God.

4. There is no ‘objective’ anything.

5. I sometimes wish I was an idiot.

Radical inversions of personality  §

are always radically suspect.

There is an uncrossable divide between elite and pedestrian. It is one of the tragic ironies of Marx that what would otherwise be a materially universal truth is made nonuniversal by its nonuniversal intelligibility, and that the result is universal falsehood that is itself an alternate, actually universal, infinitely more regrettable truth.

The gods make jokes in recursively tightening circles that squeeze the lives out of the innocent as though they were guilty. The actually guilty, being masters of geometry and other things philosophical, draw themselves out of such mathematical games, leaving the innocent—who refuse to come along—behind.

It is all regrettable.

Imagine this:  §

You go to the grocery store to buy some groceries and you are checked out by the cashier that everyone loves to hate. They can’t even manage to scan every item in your basket without fucking up at least four times; some things are missed, others are double-billed, and when one tiny item refuses to scan, the cashier passes it over and over and over the tiny window without ever adjusting the distance between the item and the scanner or the speed with which they move it, as though sheer repetition is going to make it work right. When the total comes it’s $20.01 and you give them a $50 and a penny and they give you back your penny and a $1 bill. You tell them you gave them a $50 and they say no, you gave them a $30. You respond to this by saying that (a) there is no $30 bill and (b) even if there was, the change from a “$30” would not be $1.01. They disbelieve you and don’t know how to open the register anyway, so they call the manager over the intercom, but they do it in such a jumble of slurred words and colloquialism that you’ll be surprised if the manager ever turns up. When the manager finally does, they accept at face value their employee’s story and ask you why, if you gave them a $30, they should give you more change than $1.01, and they’re suspicious that you didn’t just use your credit card, since everybody pays with credit cards anyway these days.

At a loss for words, you kill yourself with a shard from the jar of pickles that you shatter on the floor in bewildered frustration.

I have had two “work opportunities” in as many days with the professional academic “research organization” versions of the characters in this story. I have never spent so many hours in so few days being embarrassed for other people and organizations. I want the money, I really do, but I’m not willing to be employed by a faded, Mexican plastic garden gnome boss and the G.I. Joe action figures they’ve seen fit to bring in as my would-be co-workers.

Not if my name is to be on the academic product that results.

It all makes me realize just why so many people outside the world of graduate degrees and graduate research make fun of the idiot eggheads with Ph.D. degrees. A whole shitload of them need a grant, a board, and a set of working draft development briefs just to wipe their ass. Another significant chunk of them think they’re wiping their ass but are shocked when they scratch half of their face off with sandpaper instead.

It’s shameful.

I wonder if academics in, for example, the E.U. are this way as well, or if it’s just one more indication that the United States is becoming a third world country with third-rate labor, education, and self-awareness, top to bottom.

Things often happen in life to convince me  §

that I’m not doing it right. I think there are any number of ways to approach this problem, but the easiest is probably to draw a little diagram of a spectrum:

Time spent from time available:

Capability <---------------------> Publicity

The thing about life is that (from a certain metaphysical perspective) it’s made of time—time that is finite. Spend it on one thing, in other words, and you can’t spend it on another.

The other thing about life is that we live it in an incredibly competitive and crowded world in which literally billions of people are vying for attention and opportunity and food and energy all the time, and in which most will not live comfortably.

And that’s the crux of the problem. Because there’s such competition for opportunity, opportunities tend to go to those that have the largest social opportunity structues—that are the most “out there,” in other words; that nurture the strongest kind of continuous “publicity.” They talk and propose and “create” (regardless of the value of such creations) endlessly, almost unable to help their ceaseless and inane chatter and sociality, and their ebullient social networks and solidary connections are the stuff of tsunamis more than social gatherings.

However, when time is spent on publicity, it isn’t spent on developing capability (i.e. becoming skilled or qualified). Because of the amount of competition, however, only the most visible, connected, insistent, and liked end up with jobs, titles, and power. So we have this paradox: the more you get hired or are likely to get hired, the less you are actually qualified to and/or the less you actually know.

The more you can do and the more you know, the less likely you actually are to be given a chance to contribute it to society.

The second-class minds have the jobs, literally; the people with no skills or poor skills or who seriously overestimate their skills. The bigger the fuck-up, the better the job they have, because the hiring is done by fuck-ups (to start with) and because the fuck-ups, by virtue of spending almost none of their time developing actual skills and the vast majority of it becoming popular and “networking,” rise that much more quickly.

I’m supposed to be looking for work. But instead I’m turning my nose up at multiple “opportunities” in a row. I tell myself it’s integrity, but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s not helpful to my cause (i.e. to live). I don’t know. I simply have this absolute distaste for incompetence. I hate it when I see idiots doing jobs poorly for lots of money. I hate it even more when they invite me to join in and/or when their work actually makes society worse.

Don’t get me wrong, I like money. But I can’t bear (at least not yet) the prospect of letting myself attach my name to utter crap. I think, in fact, that it’s vanity on my part that causes this. In the long term (say, a few lifetimes, a couple centuries), crap rots and disappears from human memory. What’s left is the hidden greatness—often not discovered until much later—that came from those whose contemporaries dismissed them or were far too busy saluting each others’ crap to take notice. I don’t want to leave behind me only totally forgettable crap. Even worse, I’d hate to be remembered from amongst the few who get remembered as one of those responsible for filling the world with crap.

Eventually, I suppose, I’ll have to concede and compromise. I did at Media Tenor. But for the moment, I’m not finding anything equivalent. I’m finding things that are much more idiotic, people doing much worse jobs than I saw there and at the same thinking they’re doing them that much more skillfully, and doing so with much bigger budgets in some cases.

Scary.

And it explains all the prejudice I’ve heard from people I know about “college people” and “egghead Ph.D.” holders who are dumb as rocks. As it turns out, a great many of them are.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Any Ph.D. student worth his or her salt in any discipline can run off a list of giants in the history of their field that were ridiculed while they were young and/or alive, alongside the imbeciles in their field that have dominated it for a decade here or there, gaining converts and enriching themselves shamelessly until suddenly they are transformed from orthodoxy into community of circus clowns literally overnight when their own social network falls into disrepair.

Am I bitter?

Maybe I’m just better than everyone else. 😉

At certain moments,  §

in certain modes and melodies, the keys of a piano cause hearts to stop beating, or perhaps to start beating again. At such moments, the idea of a “piano player” is unimaginable. Nobody is “playing” the instrument at that moment; the instrument itself is reaching out in longing to everyone it can imagine, to every hand it has ever felt on its ivory skin.

When objects come to life, when life itself is seen through objects, the world of feelings is paradoxically intensified, rather than diminished.

The feelings of such temporarily animated objects inevitably shatter sunlight, rainwater, and whispers alike into shards of memory and selfhood.

On the last day of the world there will be nothing left to do but remember.

Videaux  §

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwL0G9wK8j4

Busy three days ahead  §

Veneer very thin today. The air seems sad, every drop of sunlight precious, as though tomorrow were the end of the universe.

I want nothing more than to scratch my dog’s ears all day. Suddenly and for a moment there is no more important task on earth or in all of society than to make my dog feel as though the world isn’t such a bad place after all.

Day four and still at it,  §

thousands of files later.

I’ve realized: my life has been a life of ideas. This space I’m excavating, it’s a giant pile of ideas and the paperwork to support them, in all stages of completion and at all levels of viability, from the stupid or the most undeveloped to the brilliant and the fully realized, written as 800 pages, and published.

There are more ideas here, being cataloged, mused about, and explored, than I can ever hope to fully develop in a lifetime.

Day two  §

I’ve spent the day once again buried beneath piles and piles of my own self. All kinds of things beyond last night’s “Oh, I forgot I wrote that book!” have turned up. Lists of languages I’d forgotten I was translated into. Articles and reviews I’d forgotten I’d written. Resumes listing jobs I forgotten I’d worked. Notes I forgotten I’d taken and ideas I’d forgotten I’d had. Decisions I’d forgotten I’d made.

The folder I’m working on now is one of my “archive” folders into which a whole bunch of things from 2000 to 2007 were thrown. It’s bizarre, a kind of trip into past thoughts, past selves, past possibilities, and past limitations.

Some of the blog posts I used to make were fabulous. Some of the things I never got around to posting were even better still. I don’t know what happened to me. I guess I grew up and got stupid.

This is the sort of task that is very nearly beyond me, even now. This is like excavation, like research, like a biography of someone else that I’m trying to write and struggling to make heads or tails of.

Trying to figure out where all the disparate little facts of my digital life should be filed and how they should be named shows me how very strangely diverse my life has been. It has consisted of precisely everything thus far, and each thing in sixteen drafts and surrounded by correspondence!

I’m going out. There are still about 3,000 documents to open, rename, and file. That’s for tomorrow. And probably the next day as well.

Incoherent unclear unimaginable  §

Today I have embarked on the project I’ve been meaning to begin since halfway through my stint at Chicago: trying to restore some control over, and some sense of order concerning the organization of, my personal data.

All in all I have some 16 gigabytes of personal data, which won’t sound like much to many people out there until I make clear that when I say “personal data” I specifically exclude multimedia: movies, photos, software, downloads, music, email, etc.

That’s right, it’s 16 gigabytes of miscellaneous Microsoft Office, OpenOffice.org, Acrobat, and plain text files spread across several thousand folders and several tens of thousands of files with often incoherent or inconsistent naming schemes and a particularly unhelpful ad-hoc folder structure with lots of duplication and overlap.

It’s a nightmarish mess.

It wasn’t always this way; my data was always meticulously organized. Don’t forget that I entered the computer+network age with a head start; I was coding software to catalog directory trees in 1986 when it was still difficult to explain to most people who had touched a computer (still a minority then) just what a “folder” on a computer was or why it was important to remember a file’s “name” if you wanted to open it later.

But somewhere during my masters degree at a top three university, while simultaneously working on my fifth and sixth books and running several websites, not to mention planning to move and looking for a job, I let it get away from me. Since then, I’ve always had more pressing projects. I’ve literally been “behind schedule” vis-a-vis my own “high priority” immediately critical tasks since sometime in early 2004.

With the submission of what I expect to be my final “course paper” of all time, my shift in status to an advanced-standing Ph.D. student, the submission of my course transfer paperwork from Chicago, and spring break staring me full in the face at one of my teaching institutions, I am more “caught up” than I’ve been in years and can finally justify a moment to try to clean up around the digital house.

I’ve been at this since this morning. There are days of work left to go. Today I have rationalized my directory structure and begun to file recognizable things by date, category, and type, renaming them in the process to be more informative without having to be opened. What remains are “temp folders” full of hundreds of files whose names are unclear or whose relationships to other revisions of similar files are unclear.

Things I found in the process:

– I still have full manuscripts for four unpublished books

– I’d forgotten an entire book killed just before it went to press

– My 1990 pre-smarthost email address was “neb!pl21%hellgate.utah.edu”

– Like so many others, I was naive and overconfident as an undergrad

– I have also lost (I think) some data I wish I hadn’t

– I need a new indexing system; I’ve outgrown my homegrown database

– I’ve been a writer since long before I was published

– The universe of personal data twenty years on is massive

– Many of the selves I have been are strangers to me now

It’s time to start a backup and hit the sack. Tomorrow is another long day wading through, and carefully renaming and filing, piles and piles of data from years past.

Middling minds have made the same mistake  §

throughout the history of the academy: they mistake for incompetence that they don’t respect what is actually transformative erudition that they simply don’t understand. History is littered with the fallen “greats” of forgotten fashions and epochs who dismissed out of hand, while bathing in their own stuffy self-regard, precisely the ideas and thinkers that would supplant them and survive them indefinitely as human philosophy’s transcendental landmarks.

Here’s to the little minds that mistake a touch of career success amongst their contemporaries—a book published, a nice conference held, a compliment on a suit or a lecture—for intellectual success amongst their progenitors and progeny: may your conservative, vastly overvalued thoughts continue to disappear with startling regularity from the species-memory of men.

Wednesday night after the important stuff  §

The thing is, quality of writing is inversely proportional to the friendliness and transparency of the “user interface” through which the writing is recorded. For example, in my own case:

Writing on Paper = Great Stuff

Typewriter = Pretty Good Stuff

Old Computers = Reasonable Stuff

New, Modern, Shiny Computers = Shite

Or maybe it’s just that I’m getting to old to write. Or something.

But no, I really think it has something to do with the degree to which one feels as though one is interfacing with, or even becoming, a commodity. It has a definite chilling effect to have perfect commodities that are fully transparent vs. imperfect self-assembled tools that one knows inside and out because one has to.

What can you give a big dog with crazy chops to chew, apart from rawhide? I don’t like giving him rawhide, it’s a bit too much like crackers for his jowls. Crunch, crunch, and it’s a hundred little shards, which he then inhales. This can’t be safe.

But then nothing that’s “digestible” is ever very hard, and the harder stuff isn’t “digestible,” which matters because there is (so far) nothing so hard that he can’t chew it to bits. The only thing we haven’t tried is a nice cast iron bone, but I suspect he’d turn that into iron filings.

I put a bed of smooth stones on the side of my desk to try to create a subconscious awareness of unexposed crevices right in front of me. A kind of material assertion of the existence of the subconscious, or maybe in my case even its embodiment, since I have been beginning to feel as though I no longer have one.

That is, in fact, perhaps the scariest thing that can happen to a person: the sensation (or is it the suspicion) that one is actually becoming completely transparent to the world and to oneself, with no remaining mysteries or secrets—that one is so eroded and trained by life itself and the relentless stench of time that nothing unexpected can any longer issue forth, as though one has become just another hand tool or household utility.

I want to write again. I have the writing bug again. No, not blogs. Books.

B o o k s .

It is time to pitch an idea. To pitch an idea, of course, I must have an idea. I feel it, though. I feel the need for a project, a project outside of the “Ph.D. project,” which was very fulfilling while I was taking courses and finding a way to pay for them without starving, but which has become less clearly ordering in nature at is core in recent days.

I need something to order my consciousness, or something around which to order my consciousness.

I don’t want to write technology anymore, though—at least not on the scale of books, and at least not pure technology. Something social in nature. I don’t need to go so far as to say sociological—after all, I’m not a bigwig yet—but something closer to stuffy than to step-by-step.

I gotta run.