Overweening Generalist


Monday, August 22, 2016

Food/Sex/Death: Edition Beth

Shake and shake
The catsup bottle,
None will come,
And then a lot'll.
-Richard Armour

Food: Tomatoes and other Fruits and Veggies and Tom Robbins
As a kid my mom served up a lot of sliced tomatoes on our sandwiches. I remember she diced tomatoes for the bean tacos that were mostly refried beans and Crisco-based tiny corn tortillas that were prone to disintegration upon first touch.

At least I thought those were tomatoes mom bought from the big corporate grocer. One day, just out of high school, I got a day gig painting a guy's parents' house. As I remember, the guy who hired me seemed to put out an "I'm a low-level mobster" vibe. His parents were very Italian and his father - who I will call "Mario" - didn't speak English, except for the word "fuck." He liked to say "A fuckeen..." a fuckeen something; I could never quite make out the rest. He'd then look at me and laff, like we were two guys sharing a guy moment with him swearing. He could have had no idea about the sort of language my fellow musicians and I were using in the evening.

Anyway, this guy grew his own tomatoes, and his wife - a little firecracker who was always cooking killer-ass italian food and spoke English fluently and was about 4'6" - gave me a big bag of Mario's tomatoes each day before I went home. That first day was a revelation, and you saw it coming with my foreshadowing: it was the first time I ate REAL tomatoes, and crikey! they were ridiculously tasty-good, and constituted a minor variety of religious experience. I had friends over and held out a tomato:

"Here, check this out. Eat this thing."
"Uhh...looks like a very red red tomato to me, what's the catch?"

I said, just walk over to the sink there and eat it plain; if you want to put a little salt on it it's next to the sink. And in moments they knew too: we'd all been had: tomatoes were not the watery vaguely tomato-ish things we'd been led to believe. I now think those fake tomatoes were merely meant for texture. 

And now at farmer's markets all over Unistat you can get these goddess-sent delicious things, if you don't already grow them yourself. What a simple, life-giving, unadulterated joy to eat REAL tomatoes! The "little things in life" can loom large at times.

After that, anytime I went to the corporate grocer and saw the tomatoes all piled up I had to stifle the urge to corner the manager and personally indict him for conspiracy to foist faux tomatoes on the unsuspecting public.

Now, as I said, you can find flavorful tomatoes all over Unistat. It almost cancels out that whole Iran-Contra Scandal, in my spacial hemisphere's moon-logic...

One of our greatest poetic prose writers, Tom Robbins, has been riffing on fruits and vegetables in a psychedelic way throughout his career. Here he is in a slightly more sober mood, commenting on our topic:

"Without apparent guilt or shame, supermarkets from coast to coast regularly post signs reading VINE RIPENED TOMATOES atop produce bins piled high with tomatoes that have never ever experienced the joys of ripening; that, in fact, are hard, usually more pink than red, often streaked with yellow, orange, or even green; and when cut open will reveal pectin deposits of ghostly white. Back when one of those babies last saw a vine, it might have passed for the viridescent apple of Granny Smith's eye. Merchants who through ignorance, indifference, or outright chicanery untruthfully promise 'vine-ripened tomatoes' could and should be prosecuted under truth-in-advertising laws."
-pp.69-70, "Holy Tomato" from Tibetan Peach Pie

Robbins tried LSD in 1963 and soon after quit his day job by "calling in well." He moved to Manhattan looking for the Others, and attended a talk by Timothy Leary at Cooper Union. Afterward Robbins found himself at the same vegetable stand as Leary. Uncle Tim asked Tom Robbins (then a totally unknown writer) "how to tell which brussels sprouts were good." Robbins told Leary to choose the ones that "were smiling."
p.244, Aquarius Revisited, Peter O. Whitmer

Here's Robbins riffing on the ubiquitous blackberry brambles found all over the Pacific Northwest, and even down into my San Francisco Bay Area:

"And the fruit, mustn't forget the fruit. It would nourish the hungry, stabilize the poor. The more enterprising winos could distill their own spirits. Seattle could become the Blackberry Brandy Capital of the World. Tourists would spend millions annually on Seattle blackberry jam. The chefs at the French restaurants would dish up duck in purplish sauces, fill once rained-on noses with the baking aromas of gateau mure de ronce. The whores might become known, affectionately, as blackberry tarts. The Teamsters could try to organize the berry pickers. And in late summer, when the brambles were proliferating madly, growing faster than the human eye can see, the energy of their furious growth could be hooked up to generators that, spinning with blackberry power, could supply electrical current for the entire metropolis. A vegetative utopia, that's what it would be. Seattle, Berry Town, encapsulated, self-sufficient, thriving under a living ceiling, blossoms in its hair, juice on its chin, more blackberries - and more! - in its future. Consider the protection offered. What enemy paratroopers could get through the briars?"
-Still Life With Woodpecker, p.130

It would be easy to index a gaggle of vegetative riffs in the Robbins oeuvre, but I'll leave us with this one:

"Of our nine planets, Saturn is the one that looks like fun. Of our trees, the palm is obviously the stand-up comedian. Among fowl, the jester's cap is worn by the duck. Of our fruits and vegetables, the tomato could play Falstaff, the banana a more slapstick role. As Hamlet- or Macbeth - the beet is cast. In largely vegetarian India, the beet is rarely eaten because its color is suggestive of blood. Out, damned mangel-wurzel."
-Jitterbug Perfume, p.76

Bonus Track: Here's sociologist Lisa Wade on the history of tomatoes being thought of as "vegetables" and not what they "really are" according to botanists: fruit. I like this short article because we're reminded of the longstanding scientific dipshittery of the Unistat Supreme Court, that fruits are like "ovaries," and that social constructionism may be the most important part of what people now seem to dismiss (stupidly) as "postmodernism." My labeling of dipshittery was hasty: the unanimous SCOTUS in the late 19th c were merely basing their opinion on their preferred social construction; scientific classification seems also largely a social invention.

                                     an erotic money-shot from the vegetable world

"Of all sexual aberrations, chastity is the strangest." - Anatole France

Sex: Gender 
Speaking of social construction...

A few months ago I was re-reading an old Robert Benchley book, The Early Worm, from 1927. In one comic essay he begins joking off something he'd read by a German biologist named Max Hartmann (<----curiously paltry Wiki, eh?). Benchley had read that Hartmann's sexual determination studies revealed that no one was purely 100% male or female. The Wiki here says Hartmann was later critical of the Nazis, but some source I neglected to mention in my notes revealed that Hartmann had continued to do research in Germany under the Nazi regime. Anyway, Benchley had a fine time with this idea - Hartmann (as filtered through Benchley) thought that if 60% of your cells were male, then you were "male." And so on. Benchley wondered how this might pertain to the Broadway stage:

Roger: Ever since that night I met you at the dance, my male percentage has been increasing. I used to register 65%. Yesterday in Liggetts I took a test and it was eighty-one.

Mary: You had your heavier overcoat on.

Roger: Please, dear, this is no time for joking. I never was more serious in all my life. And that means only one thing. Haven't you - aren't you - do you register the same as you did?

Mary (looking at her finger-nails): No. I have gone up seven points. But I thought it was because I had cut down on my starches.

...Benchley goes on for a couple of pages here. What a different time. Now, in 2016, if you're a transgender person you are subject to being followed into public restrooms and outed...but that's North Carolina, and I'm sure their battle with sexual fascism will turn out okay.

I do think parts of Unistat are horribly behind. Not just North Carolina, either. The Swedes have been talking about abolishing gender for at least five years now. In Australia you can declare yourself male, female, or "nonspecific," which seems like a start to me. As of early 2013 in Nepal they added a third gender, if only for "ease of legal documents." Indonesia has had a non-binary conception of gender for hundreds of years. Here's a link to a documentary (Two Spirits) about a Navajo "boy" who was also a "girl" and was murdered. The Native American/First Nations had, for probably a thousand years at least, not constructed a gender binary.

Here's an article by a person named Cory Silverberg that discusses how the concepts of "sex" and "gender" are different.

Lately, my own cis-male problem with gender has been with book clubs: for some reason - which, the more I delve into it, seems darker and darker in its implications - men don't "do" book clubs in Unistat. Which I find depressing. I've had my problems in this female-gendered world of book clubs, and it's really touchy; I don't know how to address it. I've been forced out of book clubs in which I was the only male, and I was convinced that nothing I'd done was sexist, obnoxious, or unpleasant in any way. Right now I'm in one, and it's in a very progressive community, and the group is fairly large, and there are often two or three other guys at the monthly meetings, and the women seem accepting of us. So far. I'm sorta paranoid. But what's so overwhelmingly female about reading books and discussing them? I found a short piece by Jesse Singal - a male - who nailed it pretty well for me, and I sent it to the group email for my current book club, saying "this is sorta 'meta' but Singal speaks for me here," and wrote that I was open to hearing the opinions of anyone who cared to chime in. So far one female answered and was as open-minded and sweet about males expressing themselves emotionally without having to fear being labeled as gay or whatever. I assume other guys in the group identify as gay, but I don't know and I honestly don't care: I'm just glad they're there. I like reading books as a group and discussing them; it's very pleasurable. I ask open questions, I listen, I give opinions, I try to get a laff or two. The Man Book Club referred/linked to in Singal's article is something I do not want to join: too toxic in its Unistat social construction of male-ness, cis-male gendered. I get that already, everywhere.

This seems like a huge problem to me, but I don't think it will capture much attention space for a long while, as we seem much more taken by our relatively new (and felicitous, to me) acceptance of homosexuality, and we're now grappling with transgendered people.

What a utopia if people could just openly be as they feel they "are" and not be subject to violence or discrimination! I know I've had my mind expanded by my personal experiences with gay males, lesbians, the professed and apparently bisexual, and a couple of times I have experienced the mild and bracing shock that I'm currently talking to someone who has transitioned from one sex to another...or wanted me to think they had.

It has always been like this. We're making progress, but it's too slow.

"If I could drop dead right now, I'd be the happiest man alive!" - Samuel Goldwyn

I was recently reading in Clifford Pickover's delightful Strange Brains and Genius: The Secret Lives of Eccentric Scientists and Madmen, about the some of the more bizarre ideas of the great utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham. Get a load of this:

"Bentham had a peculiar interest in the rituals of death. For example, to Bentham, cemeteries and burials were a waste of money. Instead, he suggested that embalmed corpses be mounted upright along stately drives and busy thoroughfares. I can just imagine his pleasure at seeing corpses planted like palm trees along Santa Monica Boulevard or affixed to lampposts along New York's Fifth Avenue, for as far as his eye could see."

Pickover reminds us we can all go visit University College in London and see Bentham's lifelike corpse and mummified head, but warns us that his artificial eyes "stare at you like Linda Blair's in The Exorcist." 
-Strange Brains, Pickover, p.103

Hey, you out there: don't go gently into that good night. Good night!
PS: I had forgotten I'd planned to do 22 of these Food/Sex/Death thingies. I hardly ever look at the stats for this blog, but the other day, stoned out of my wig, I checked to see who was reading me at that moment. It appeared someone in Japan (really?) was reading the sole Food/Sex/Death spew I did way back in December 2013. So I tried another. Hey, better late than never to spew again, no? Wot?

                                 まばゆいばかりのボビー・キャンベルによっ て当

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Intellectuals in the (late?) Anthropocene

Why "late?": Global warming, antibiotic resistance, global terror, income inequality, acceleration of AI, rapidly ephemeralized synthetic biological techniques, nuke proliferation. I'm not all that worried about an errant asteroid. I'm worried about sociopaths in power, and a species-wide inequality in knowledge and empathy towards The Other...

Three articles caught my eye in the past week. I'll link to them, give my idio-precis and comments. Why? Because I care about both of us.

1. ) L.D. Burnett in Chronicle of Higher Education: "Holding On To What Makes Us Human," an Adjunct who writes books about academia; Burnett implores us to defend the Humanities in the face of runaway "transferrable skills" and the cost/benefit reality of universities now. Screw "critical thinking" (although that's valuable, of course): we must find a way of articulating why knowledge of literature/history/philosophy etc is inherently valuable, despite all that's transpired in the epoch of NeoLiberalism. She wants arguments that set aside money and jobs issues. And I say: good luck with that, although I'm with you in spirit, Ms. Burnett.

Her keynote (fair warning: I do not have perfect pitch) seems to be that we must resist perishing, but if we must perish, we should go down resisting. At first I thought she meant "we" adjuncts. Then I realized she seemed a tad more cosmopolitan: we humans. I bet you're on board with her here with me, no?

If I sound like a dick here, I apologize. I'm just as caught up in the morass of being a Knower and struggling to pay the bills as she is, probably more so. I know Adjunct jobs suck ass as far as pay goes (usually), but I don't even get to do that. I'm a freelancer. There's a really heavy downside to that, apart from making your own hours and staying up all night taking notes in your books. Weed helps. It certainly helps.

2.) Michael Lind, a prolific and fairly heavyweight intellectual who notes he's been "accused" of being a "public intellectual," claims that his own in-group of intellectuals are "freaks." Lind is not doing the Chomsky thing of calling out his fellow intellectuals for facilitating and sucking up to State power. He's merely saying he and his kind: academics, think tank experts, opinion journalists, and downwardly-mobile free-spirited bohemians? They really are "freaks" and out of touch with ordinary values. This last sub-class of Bohemians constitute a group who are living off (largely) inherited bourgeois-begotten capital in order to be revolutionaries, avant-garde writers, or artists.

Lind asserts that "populists" who've always argued intellectuals are out of touch are basically correct. He notes that non-intellectuals are/were wrong about the gold standard, the single tax and "other issues" (I wish he'd have gone into much greater detail here, as I think it's very many other issues, but that's just me), but populists are right: intellectuals are freaks and weirdoes who are out of touch with mainstream values.

Intellectuals live in large cities and their judgment is distorted by their borderlessness (because scholarship is inherently borderless). Proles finish high school and go into manual labor in what's now the "service sector." They work within 18 miles of where their mothers live and depend on family networks for economic support and child care. Intellectuals often defer marriage and children in order to further their career goals, and they move all over the place, as academia is found throughout the continent. Their notions about a borderless world as a moral and political ideal are, says Lind, "stupid and lazy" because there's no world-wide infrastructure to keep a welfare state equitably distributed throughout the world. (I see this as a worthy utopian goal, but Lind keeps mum about this: "stupid and lazy.") Their childlessness and deferred marriages make them "unusually individualistic"...Lind would like to see that studied more and so would I.

Talk about unrestricted immigration feeds nationalist and neo-fascist and right-wing populist political movements, and we're seeing that as I type, in many places. Also, it feeds the well-entrenched meme among the unwashed that the UN is taking over their lives, incipient fears of "lost sovereignty" (a classic divide-and-conquer/misdirection move by the Ruling Class), not to mention the Bilderbergers-bugaboo. (Enough food and clean water for Burundi? Tyranny!)

Here's another major problem with intellectuals: they see the problem of inequality and their solution is...be more like me!: More and better education is the mantra. (As long as Obama has been Prez he's repeated this old workhorse. And I'm embarrassed to admit that on more than one occasion I've yelled at him through the teevee screen, "For what?")

Lind says this idea of more education is natural, but "stupid and lazy." He's a conscience for his own class of freaks! How come "more education" isn't a good idea? Automation and the service sector job market is really all there is. He doesn't mention Adjuncts, and it's easy to conjure reasons why. Janitors with Master's degrees? Sad. He does say unionization might be a good idea for service-sector workers. A restriction of low-wage immigration (I don't see this happening). A higher minimum-wage is mentioned.

I read Lind's short piece three times and I still can't discern the level of wryness in it. If you read the piece he exempts those intellectuals in the "hard sciences." Gee, I wonder why?

A final idea: it's often floated out that one or two years of national service could be  a moral and social balancer. Lind says: stupid idea, because the proles already have it hard enough without doing two years of unpaid work. But then he gets off his best riff: But: "it might not hurt" for professional intellectuals to face "a year or two working in a shopping mall, hotel, hospital, or warehouse."

My Wry-o-Meter was sparking and giving off noxious fumes on that last bit. That Michael Lind!

As a general comment on Lind, some dialectical sparks from Alvin Gouldner, who is writing about the history and alienation of intellectuals, first from the Old Regime of inherited landed aristocracy, and then the bourgeoisie, this latter group being at first allied with the intellectuals against the Old Regime and helped by their cultural capital...until the bourgeoisie came into ascendancy. Gouldner refers to both the technical intelligentsia and humanistic intellectuals as The New Class:

The New Class believes its high culture represents the greatest achievement of the human race, the deepest ancient wisdom and the most advanced modern scientific knowledge. It believes that these contribute to the welfare and wealth of the race, and that they should receive correspondingly greater rewards. The New Class believes that the world should be governed by those possessing superior competence, wisdom and science - that is, themselves. The Platonic Complex, the dream of the philosopher king with which Western philosophy begins, is the deepest wish-fulfillment fantasy of the New Class. But they look around and see that the men who employ them do not begin to understand the simplest aspects of their technical specialties, and the politicians who rule them are, in Edmund Wilson's words, "unique in having managed to be corrupt, uncultivated, and incompetent all at once."
-p.65, The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class (1979), Alvin Gouldner, PhD
3.) "Power, Powerlessness, Thinking and Future," by French philosopher Bernard Stiegler, from about 10 months ago. Stiegler notes that intellectuals have been steeped in the analysis of power relations since M. Foucault, but that thinking about this should also highlight powerlessness too, and maybe more now than ever, since intellectuals seem to not understand that techne has accelerated faster than they could conceptualize, and they are now proles themselves. He attacks those intellectuals who claim the term "right wing intellectual" is an impossibility or oxymoron, because, well, Freud, Heidegger, Niklas Luhmann, Maurice Blanchot, and many others. And deeper: there was thinking before the French Revolution and "Left" vs. "Right" and we now need to reconceptualize what it means to think, now that almost all of us are proles.

Stiegler thinks it's unfortunate that the term "intellectual" was ever used as a noun, when it's an adjective. Further, the term activates neurological opposition between "manual workers" and the types Gouldner is talking about, above. And yet throughout the article you notice Stiegler uses "intellectuals" as a term for their class. That's because it's ensconced in culture. And Michael Lind's presuppositions about his own class seem to hold sway, eh?

Here's where it gets interesting for me: Stiegler claims, based on Marx and Engels, that "proletarianism" now effects not only most of us, but all forms of knowledge. Futhermore, it's a "widespread generalization of entropic behavior" since the Anthropocene commenced and we began to time-bind like mad. Proletarianization destructs knowledge: how to live, do and conceptualize. And intellectuals seem oblivious that this is what has happened to them. They are now much closer to Lind's janitors than any sort of Gouldner's Platonic philosopher kings, no doubt.

Stiegler wants to clarify: Marx and Engels thought that proletarians denote not a state of poverty so much as a loss of knowledge...knowledge about how to harness negentropy to conceptualize our way out of this mess. Rather than doing this, they "adopt attitudes and poses." A culture of knowledge construction and new ideas has been run out of town by consumer capitalism, based on "behavioral prescriptions produced by marketing." In the weakest part of his fascinating article, Stiegler uses Alan Greenspan's testimony about why he didn't see the 2008 crash coming. It seems there were a few hundred better examples, but perhaps this one suffices...

So, let's stop with labeling "left"and "right" thinking and replace it with thinking, which he seems to align with negentropy, the notion that, though entropy is The Law, its negative reciprocal is creating novel order and structure amidst chaos. (What Korzybski called "time-binding'.) The acceleration of technology has lapped our social systems of law, education, political organizations and forms of knowledge. We will always be late, it seems. Our only hope is realizing we're all proles now, begin thinking from within casino economies and marketing and short-term R&D "disruptions." We need not become Luddites and reject technology, and Stiegler cites Evgeny Morozov's article (presumably HERE although Stiegler merely claims this "evokes") as a way into a new politics, in which it's essential to re-think "value."

Morozov seems like a start to me, too, but I'd also cite John Dewey's 1920 book Reconstruction in Philosophy as a text that argued the Platonic ideal of the "spectatorial view" of knowledge had it backwards: no intellectual need fool herself into believing that just because she doesn't get her hands dirty that she truly knows, and that those who do things with their hands (mechanics, plumbers, craftspeople of every stripe) don't "know" anything. Workers know quite a lot, and so the fuck what if it's not Hegel or organic chemistry: it's knowledge that produces immediate material results in the sensory/sensual world. Dewey's book disabused me of these notions about the primacy of spectatorial/armchair views of knowledge long ago, and this text seems woefully underrated to me.

Earlier, Marx had expressed a dislike for the opposition of Techne and Logos. Bernard Stiegler reminds us here that, "Knowledge is always constituted by technics, which in so doing always constitutes a social relation." (italics in original)

Also, and more practically, look at contemporaries like Douglas Rushkoff and his marvelous recent book, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, and Martin Ford's Rise of the Robots. Here are thinkers who can get us started thinking ourselves...out of our proletarian situation. There are many, many more...

Hiroshima and Nagasaki occurred 71 years ago this past week or so. Soon after that Dark Moment, a very smart individual noted that everything had changed...save for our "way of thinking."

                                             Tueuses graphiques par Bobby Campbell

Thursday, July 28, 2016

On Cruelty

One of my favorite academic philosophers is Richard Rorty, who died in 2007. As I read him, he's a sort of radical small "d" democrat who seemed a lot like some of my favorite anarchist characters of personal acquaintance, but Rorty called himself a "bourgeois liberal." His essay on Orwell in Contingency, Irony and Solidarity was marvelous in fleshing out what he thought was the number one value among liberals: cruelty is the worst thing we can do. He was heavily influenced by Judith Shklar in this.

                                                        philosopher Judith Shklar

I recently re-read a bunch of Rorty (and the Shklar essay I linked to above, which I highly recommend) and, while I think we make up our own hierarchy of values and they are not dictated to us from some transcendent being, I subscribe to Shklar's idea. (I wonder about more esoteric readings of Machiavelli, but that's for some other blogspew.) I've been thinking and worrying this topic of treating others cruelly quite a lot lately, for reasons most of you may guess.

In delving into the library of the history of cruelty, I can't help but be cheered by some substantial gains over the centuries. Then again, I'm reminded we have a long way to go. Just today I read THIS.

The human running on the Republican ticket looks at this information and thinks - I'm guessing - "I can be more cruel than that." I have good reason to think the human on the Democratic side knows about this stuff, pretends to not know, and would privately give her assent to its continual practice.

In reading on the history of cruelty: my gawd! There's just so goddamned much, and I have (presumably) finite minutes left before I shuffle off my mortal coil so why don't I do something - anything - less depressing? I guess I get obsessed by certain ideas, even if some of them activate neural circuitry that seems to take a metaphorical machete to anything close to "euphoria."

Montaigne's (d.1592) essay, "Of Cruelty" shows him at his most proto-Modern Humanist. Get a load of this passage:

I do not lament the dead, and should envy them rather; but I very much lament the dying. The savages do not so much offend me, in roasting and eating the bodies of the dead, as they do who torment and persecute the living. Nay, I cannot look so much as upon the ordinary executions of justice, how reasonable soever, with a steady eye. Some one having to give testimony of Julius Caesar's clemency: "he was," says he, "mild in his revenges. Having compelled the pirates to yield by whom he had before been taken prisoner and put to ransom; forasmuch as he had threatened them with the cross, he indeed condemned them to it, but it was after they had first been strangled. He punished his secretary Philemon, who had attempted to poison him, with no greater severity than mere death." Without naming that Latin author, [I tracked it to Suetonius, in my Robert Graves translation of The Twelve Caesars, chapter on Julius, section 74. - OG] who thus dares to allege as a a testimony of mercy the killing only of those by whom we have been offended, it is easy to guess that he was struck with the horrid and inhuman examples of cruelty practices by the Roman tyrants.

I'll say it's "easy to guess," aye. Yea, ya gotta wonder about Suetonius ("mild in his revenges"?), but then I guess he'd seen quite enough. And, you know, something very much on the cruelty level as strangling pirates before nailing 'em to a cross as "merciful" has probably happened somewhere on our planet in the last year, but who knows? CIA torturers? Some Third World dictator (backed by the CIA?); who knows whiskey tango foxtrot goes on in No. Korea...Vladimir Putin, like his presumed ally and/or dupe Trump, merely has journalists killed. It's safe to say Suetonius would consider it almost "right neighborly" to kill a journalist by bashing his head in with a hammer, using contract killers, etc.

                                        Russia's Anna Politkovskaya, human rights activist
                                                      likened to Unistat's
                                        investigative journalist Seymour Hersh

It may not be about making Russia or Unistat "great again" but you can be damned sure a lot of journalists will not look too closely at what might bring on bodily troubles for themselves, or - as Ari Fleischer said after 9/11 in response to a quote from comedian Bill Maher - that it's "a reminder to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do...." (See 98% of the way down on that transcript.)

As far as I know, Maher has not been strangled or nailed to a cross: Now that's progress!

(So far...)

Russian Journalist Murdered: Is Russia's Press Freedom Dead?

                                           искусство Бобом Кемпбелл

Friday, July 15, 2016

Gary Webb, Philip Marlowe, Robert Anton Wilson and Chapel Perilous

Investigative Journalists
I finally caught, on Netflix, Spotlight, this generation's All The President's Men. I had coincidentally been thinking a lot about investigative journalism and journalists and was moved by the story. And how could one not be?

The "Spotlight" group of investigative reporters at the Boston Globe were in the belly of the beast of Catholicism in Unistat. Their footwork, tenacity and courage has seemed to actuate some real change in what seems like an endless run of pedophile priests, with cover-ups going all the way to the Vatican.

The Film Noir Detective Hero
But they were a team, backed by a major metropolitan daily. Woodward and Bernstein: two guys backed by the Washington Post. Still: when I look at ballsy investigative reporting, I keep thinking of some of my favorite characters in my favorite film style: film noir, which flourished in Unistat from 1941-1959, but has never gone away. Some of those film feature the lone private detective who gets hired to do a seemingly simple seedy gig, like finding out if a spouse is cheating. But one thing leads to another, and the detective (Chandler's Philip Marlowe is the best example) finds himself up to his ears in a bigger mystery. Things are not what he thought they were, and he's in great danger.

He's not being paid to solve this big conspiracy - much less report on it for a major newspaper - but he can't help himself: he's the Lone Knight in search of the truth. He takes risks, travels in the labyrinth of The City from the poorest neighborhood to the wealthiest enclaves, trying to piece things together.  Everyone, it seems, is lying to him. But why? He needs to know. He will eventually get knocked out, shot at, drugged, and punched in the solar plexus by hulking meathead gangsters.

He will come out alive, but with the gnosis. The myth of the private detective in films noir: he's a free agent, not well-off, lives by his wits and instinct and street-smart intellect and knows how to talk his way out of a jam and into more knowledge of the situation.

The noir detective drinks, loves beautiful women, and is obviously flawed, and he's no hypocrite. He seems like a profane character, but he's a mostly a man of honor who hates bullshit, who cares about justice in a world that only pays lip service to the idea. In a hopelessly corrupt metropolis, he keeps his integrity. And observes.

It's been noted many times that the Marlowe-type detective harkens back to the Knights of the Grail legends. Which brings us to Chapel Perilous.

Chapel Perilous
I had come across this term when I first tried reading T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland in my early twenties. I didn't follow up on the footnote in the section "What the Thunder said," which tells us to consult "Miss Weston's book." I have since made a study of Jessie Weston's 1919 work of brilliant scholarship, From Ritual to Romance, which studies the Grail legends from primary sources. There are very many variations on Chapel Perilous, with interpolations by later writers. Weston's penultimate chapter covers a few of the versions that involve Chapel Perilous, with Sir Lancelot starring, or sometimes Sir Gawain, and even King Arthur appears.

A generic version of Chapel Perilous: the Knight is riding alone in the forest when a violent storm hits. He finds a chapel in a clearing, often near a cemetery. He'll take refuge from the storm there. He goes in and no one is there, except for a dead knight on the altar, with one long candle lit nearby. There is a window behind and above the altar. Suddenly a Black Hand extinguishes the candle and chapel-shakingly loud haunting voices are heard. The Black Hand looks evil and hideous. Maybe the Knight engages the Black Hand with his sword, and barely makes it out alive.

My favorite version in Weston: King Arthur has fallen off his game: he's a slob and is at risk of losing all fame and prestige he once had. His wife urges him to trek out to the Chapel of St. Austin, which is a very dangerous journey, but may be just the thing to restore Arthur's reputation. He will take with him a young squire, son of (get this) Yvain the Bastard. The squire's name is Chaus. Chaus is like myself: if I have a very exciting and unusual thing to do the next day, I sleep fitfully in anticipatory anxiety.

Chaus decides to sleep in his clothes in the hall, to be ready to roll at daybreak with Arthur. He doesn't want to screw this up. He falls asleep, and then it appears King Arthur has already wakened and left on the journey without him. He immediately jumps up and rushes to his horse, trying to follow the tracks of Arthur's horse. Chaus happens upon a chapel in a glade, near a churchyard. He enters the chapel, but there's no one there, only a dead knight on the altar. There are golden candlesticks burning at the dead knight's head and foot. He takes one of the candlesticks and jams it into one pant-leg, mounts his horse, and goes off searching for Arthur.

Chaus then meets on the road a dark, foul man with a double-edged knife. Chaus asks him, "Have you seen Arthur?" The man says no, but I've met you and you're a thief! You stole that golden candlestick! You're also a traitor. Give me the candlestick! Chaus refuses and the dark man stabs Chaus in the side. Chaus cries out...and then awakens: he'd been asleep in the hall the whole time, yet he has the candlestick and he's been stabbed! Chaus, bleeding out, tells his story, confesses, receives the last rites, and dies.

Weston, after relating many variations of this story, asks what could it all mean? And she's convinced that it is "The story of an initiation (or perhaps it would be more correct to say the test of fitness for an initiation) carried out on the astral plane, and reacting with fatal results upon the physical." (italics in original, pp. 171-172 of the Dover ed.)

Robert Anton Wilson and Chapel Perilous
Robert Anton Wilson uses "Chapel Perilous" as an unforgettable metaphor in his autobiographical book, Cosmic Trigger vol 1 (1977). RAW told Sander Wolff in an interview in 1990 that the "whole book is an account of self-induced brain change." Self-experimentalists and Quantified Self-ies: are you aware that the heritage of your endeavor(s) is brimming with a history of daring, intrepid self-experimentalists like RAW? (I also find Scott Michaelson's take on RAW's self-experimentation compelling: that it was a synthesis of Aleister Crowley and modern neuroscience.) (See Portable Darkness, jacket sleeve, inside cover.)

As I write, there is a group reading of Cosmic Trigger vol 1 going on over at RAWIllumination.net, and if you're reading this at a later date, look for the archives of the reading and the scads of insightful comments and leave your own comments from your reading there, as I sense this is a case in which a "mere blog" will offer up many a nugget for future researchers...

Back to Wilson's take on Chapel Perilous as metaphor:

When researching occult conspiracies, one eventually faces a crossroad of mythic proportions (called Chapel Perilous in the trade). You come out the other side either a stone paranoid or an agnostic; there is no third way. (p. 6, CT1) Wilson describes Chapel Perilous as a mind-state that, while undetectable by any instruments, certainly seems all-too real to the person who finds herself in it. Comparing Chapel Perilous to the human Ego, "once you're inside it, there doesn't seem to be any way to get out again, until you suddenly discover that it has been brought into existence by thought and does not exist outside thought." (p.6)

In reading of Wilson's determination to push his nervous system as far as it can go before it breaks (delving into ceremonial magick, psychedelic drugs, various forms of yoga, a deep research into conspiracy theories, even some investigative reporting on his own, etc, etc, etc...) he finds himself the psychologically functional equivalent of the Knight, alone in the isolated Chapel, with a dead knight before him on the altar, and then the otherworldly Black Hand appears...

What does he do? Read the book!

                                                Gary Webb, investigative reporter

Gary Webb
If you don't know who the reporters/investigators I'm talking about here, you really ought to look into their cases for yourself. (See Michael Hastings and Danny Casolaro too?) There are far too many (luminous) details and I suspect at least half of my readers are familiar with these figures anyway. So I'll try to make it brief: Gary Webb got a line on how the CIA was allowing crack cocaine to flood the streets of Los Angeles, in order to fund their covert war against the socialist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Few believed him, but he was smart, with boundless energy, and he produced a series of reports for the small San Jose Mercury-News that made national headlines. Then, the CIA, with a deplorable amount of help from the Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times - the reasons seem complicated: they resented being scooped by a relatively small-town paper and some liked the access the CIA allowed them? - Webb quickly went from award-winner to having his own editor and staff gutlessly retract most of Webb's work. There is much to be learned here, my friends, and it's not for the faint of heart.

Perhaps "mendacious" is too strong a word for these big-time journalists and editors, who, taking the CIA's idea an running with it, decided that Webb's work was shoddy and stoked the fears of an already "conspiracy-theory"- minded African American readership. Webb's own paper took him off the investigation beat and he eventually quit, pursued the story alone, but ended up dead in his hotel room eight years after his breakthrough reporting, with two bullet holes in his head from a .38

I read a lot of the full-frontal assault on Webb in the Big Newspapers. One thing that really troubles me (to this day) is that, apparently, we're not supposed to know that the CIA has been involved with gangsters and thugs and drug smuggling since...before they were even called the CIA! Don't reporters go to the library and read the astonishingly well-documented Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia, by Alfred McCoy? How did you miss not reading about the OSS/CIA and their deal with Lucky Luciano and the Mob, the democratic elections in Italy, and the French Connection that flooded the streets of major Unistat cities with heroin?

Another galling thing: many of the "reporters" on the big-city dailies who attacked Webb for stoking conspiracy theories in black communities? Many of them were black themselves. I tracked down a handful and emailed them, politely asking if they've changed their mind about Gary Webb (who turns out to have been right about almost everything, of course). Only one wrote back: Donna Britt, who wrote in the WA Post that the whole CIA/crack cocaine-contra connection "just may not have happened." But still, paranoid cases will go on thinking their conspiracy thoughts. "They know the truth, or one truth anyway: It doesn't matter whether [Webb's "Dark Alliance" series - OG] claims are 'proved' true. To some folks - graduates of Watergate, Iran-Contra, and FBI harassment of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr - they feel so true that even if they're refuted, they'll still be fact to them." (Donna Britt, Washington Post "Finding the Truest Truth," Oct 4, 1996)

Here's what she said in her email to me:

Thanks for your note. The fact is that I honestly don't recall what I wrote about him. That was a long time ago! Sorry to disappoint.....

The boundaries are imaginary. The rules are made up. The limits don't exist....

Apparently she's a book-author now. HERE is her website.

When I think of Gary Webb, I think of his own Chapel Perilous. But: was it brought into existence by thought alone? I think there was more to his. I think Webb's Chapel Perilous somehow has something to do with us.

Other Sources Consulted:
Kill The Messenger: How the CIA's Crack-Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Gary Webb, Nick Schou.

Kill The Messenger (2014 film starring Jeremy Renner as Webb: trailer)

Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack-Cocaine Explosion, by Gary Webb

"Managing a Nightmare: How the CIA Watched Over the Destruction of Gary Webb," by Ryan Devereaux, The Intercept

Censored 2016: chapter 7, "Dark Alliance: The Controversy and the Legacy, Twenty Years On," by Brian Covert, pp.227-253

Murder, My Sweet (1944 Edward Dmytryk) with Dick Powell as Marlowe
The Big Sleep (1946 Howard Hawks) with Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe
Lady in the Lake (1947 Robert Montgomery) with Montgomery as Marlowe
Long Goodbye (1973 Robert Altman) with Elliot Gould as Marlowe
Farewell, My Lovely (1975 Dick Richards) with Robert Mitchum as Marlowe
Chinatown (1974 Roman Polanski) with Jack Nicholson as Jake Gittes

                                           I personally posed for this photo. The book was
                                           artist Bob Campbell's idea. In reality, the number
                                           of arms is slightly exaggerated.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

An Idioglossary For Our Reading in the Info-Glut (Partial)

Last I wrote to you few weirdos, I groped toward a small section that I and possibly you encounter in your reading: your readings and their apparent effects on your sensoria.

Another approach would be a gathering of terms. If you're able to make use of even one term, I'll be happy. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

I aim my personal lexicon-blunderbuss, exhale, and fire:

exformation: In my previous blogspew I quoted David Foster Wallace on this term. Here are three other interpretations I've seen: 1.) Everything we don't actually say but which we have in our minds when - or before - we say anything at all. Whereas information is the demonstrable and measurable (in the Shannon sense of the math of information) utterance we actually come out with. 2.) "Useful and relevant information" 3.) A specific sort of information explosion.

I don't have in my notes who I am quoting in #2. I know it seems trivial, and perhaps it is...to you. And that's the very point. #3 seems a lot like DFW's gloss ("a certain quality of vital information removed from but evoked by a communication in such a way as to cause a kind of explosion of associative connections within the recipient") to me. #1 reminds me of all those riffs you and your friends have about not coming up with the perfect comeback in time. It's only later when you think, "Oh! That would have been the perfect riposte!" I think the Italian term fare secco qualcuno means this, but I don't quite trust my memory on this...which is an example of exformation?

HERE is the current Wiki on Exformation. That which was not said and that which was explicitly discarded? Tor Norretranders - the neologizer for exformation - wrote a book on consciousness that came out in Unistat around 1999. He said that which our consciousness rejects is the most valuable part of ourselves. Our brains are fantastic processing systems meant for survival. Apparently we make an image of the world in our heads, which is a fantastic strategy for biosurvival, and this nervous system processing information from within and from the environment...including an image of the imager itself, that very helpful phantasm: our "selves." It seems this idea about consciousness keeps being rediscovered and reframed. Just three days ago, George Johnson of the New York Times reported on consciousness in this way. It violates almost all of our notions about our "self" but there we go: my digression is already out of the way for this particular blog article.

Exformation seems to bear some sort of anti-matter family resemblance to Ezra Pound's idea of excernment, which was "The general ordering and weeding out of what has actually been performed. The elimination of repetitions...The ordering of knowledge so that the next man (or generation) can most readily find the live part of it, and waste the least possible time among obsolete issues." - Pound, as quoted in Christine Brooke-Rose's A ZBC of Ezra Pound, p.18. It's one of the functions of the critic, according to Pound.

                               a random beautiful fractal image, because why the hell not?

Noocene Epoch: I forgot how to place the umlaut over that second o. O well. I found this term in another 1999 book, The Biosphere and Noosphere Reader: "How we manage and adapt to the immense amount of knowledge we've created." The Noocene seems like a subset time-frame of the newly minted Anthropocene: the period since humans created massive Industrialization.

"Knowledge," not information. We all have our favorite ways to define the difference between these two phantoms. I see knowledge as of drinking age, and it's been around the block. Knowledge tends to grate on our nerves by being a know-it-all, but then it can be contrite and quite charming. Info tries to get away with whatever it can. It's underage, hangs around the pool hall and smokes cubebs stolen from its grandpa and who the hell knows where info will end up? Let's hope it makes good use of itself and doesn't kill somebody.

Wisdom watches both of them and shakes Its head.

componentiality: An aspect of modern consciousness. "Technology induces a cognitive style we call 'componentiality' - breaking up reality into separate components that can be analyzed and manipulated." - found on p.121 of Peter Berger's Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist, when writing about his 1973 book The Homeless Mind

At first glance: what a stupid term. But we swim in a componential world; obviously there were many millennia when human consciousness did not know of such a Damned Thing. It therefore seems manifestly not a stupid term. In fact: Sing to me! O Goddess! Of words that describe something right in front of my face, that I never noticed! I owe you one...

apophenia: German psychologist Klaus Conrad (d: 1961) coined this term, but I picked it up while reading William Gibson's novel Pattern Recognition, and he gave at least two glosses in different spots in the book: 1.) "The spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness in unrelated things;" 2.) "Each thing conceived as part of an overarching pattern of conspiracy." (pp.115 and 294)

Possibly related ideas: metanoia, paranoia, abduction in logic, reading Chinese, gestalting, pronoia - all or some of these terms as cited by the OG in the current context as being (possibly?) an example of apophenia. If I have been apophenic here, I blame it all on my reading. Don't look at me. I didn't do it.

Another text I read says people with mental disorders are prone to apophenia. Okay, so maybe I am a little "off." So what? Anyway...here's an interesting Q, and it gets to near the heart of problems of Info-Glut 2016: are experiences of apophenia the symptom of mental illness, or the cause?

enmindment: I'm pretty sure the poet/classics scholar/writer on the "Deep State" Peter Dale Scott minted this term. He contrasts it with "the Enlightenment":

I believe in enmindment
the translation of light
into awareness of the dark
and understanding of that fear
we return to
whenever we forget
-from Minding the Darkness, p11

At first glance, lapping into second, this seems part of the overtone series for exformation, but it addresses an emotional component of it. It certainly seems to address all that reading we do that is not "fiction" that nonetheless makes us feel like we've been reading a horror story, eh?

Kampung culture: Another term copped from Peter Dale Scott. It means "narrow world-view" in Javanese culture. PDS was trying to find out more about Unistat's involvement in the slaughters of East Timor. Suharto, Sukarno, CIA and Dutch imperialism all appear. See p.213 of Minding the Darkness, but I hafta warn ya: it's not pretty. This unpacking of "narrow world-view" can take on some nasty hues. Even after the Dutch left, the Javanese still bathed in the blood of their brothers. Why? Kampung culture:

PDS quoting Pramoedya:

Even in the belly of Dutch power
Java still glorified

its Kampung culture
they bathed in the blood of their brothers
right up through 1966

And because Java was no longer
in the belly of European power
the slaughter reached an unlimited scale

Suffice to say: It Can't Happen Here!

Giambattista Vico used the term sapienza volgare, or "popular wisdom," which to Vico were ideas expressed through myth, rituals, traditions. I do not see this term as the "same" as Kampung culture, but it seems related. (via my own apophenia?)

anamnesis: An SAT-like word I shouldda known, but didn't: To remember. A recalling to mind. Plato's use: all souls need to be stimulated in order to remember an eternal Truth, or to accept axioms as self-evident. Chomsky seems to like this idea. I get it.

jouissance: Obviously French (cough): Enjoyment, or our French brothers and sisters seem to mean "Whatever gets you off." It seems aimed at our transcending of our ordinary/primary "reality." It's probably a good description for why I read. Leo Bersini considers jouissance intrinsically self-shattering and disruptive of the "coherent self." (possibly see McKenna, Terence?) In my delvings into glosses of jouissance a competing term, plaisir, often shows up, trying to get in on the conversation. Plaisir sounds like "pleasure," but it seems to strengthen dogma and individual me-ness. Roland Barthes eloquently defines plaisir as a "homogenizing movement of the ego." Plaisir might be defined as going for what you already know - more of the same stuff - while jouissance seems like an attempt to fracture the structure of the ego, whatever the ego "is," after reading about exformation...

Einfuhlen: Gore Vidal says he got this term from Johann Gottfried Herder, German polymath who died in 1803. Vidal unpacked it thus: "The ability to get into the past, while realizing that it's not just another aspect of the present, with people you know dressed up in funny clothes." I tend to link this term in my own thinking with Vico's entrare, which Vichian Isaiah Berlin described as the force of imaginative insight used to understand remote cultures.

I had always wondered vaguely about this when reading history, and fearing my imagination was falling short. This term helped remind me of how much is missing in history, which I guess we'll just have to learn to live with. The "missing" part, that it. Let us continue to develop our historical imaginations till death parts us! Why? Oh, all the usual reasons, but also: it might help stave off Kampung culture where you live.

unthinking: As opposed to re-thinking: I first noted this term in Immanuel Wallerstein's Uncertainties of Knowledge, p.104: He wanted to emphasize very deep-seated notions that, even though physical sciences have shown to be inadequate, nevertheless stay with us and lead us epistemologically astray. The great anthropologist Weston Labarre gave me a term similar: group archosis: "Nonsense and misinformation so ancient and pervasive as to be seemingly inextricable from our thinking." Thomas Vander Wal coined the study of folksonomics/folksonomy as the ordered set of categories - or "taxonomy" - that emerges from how people tag items, which works in cognitive anthropology. Oh hell: let me drop in another fave here: logophallocentrism, which Robert Anton Wilson interpreted as "We have a social system based on belief in the special magic power of words and penises."

Let's hope all that categorizing leads to something we can cash out and invest in the Sanity Sweepstakes...RAW reminded us we seem to have inherited a lot of our ideas from the apes. No wonder this crap is so hard to root out and overcome! This all seems something akin to...

unspeak: I found this term used by Steven Poole. It's language that "says one thing while really meaning that thing, in a more intensely, loaded and revealing way than a casual glance might acknowledge." I think I know what Poole was getting at here, but I may need to make more multiple glances. Is this like "enhanced interrogation"? I suspect so. Orwell's doublespeak, let's remind ourselves, was a form of language that says one thing while really meaning the opposite. So far, of the thousands of real-life examples, I like Bush43's "Blue Skies Initiative" which would have gutted the Clean Air Act and allowed corporations to dump their toxic garbage - or "negative externalities," in economist's-speak - anywhere they wanted. I may as well tack on cognitive policy, which, according to George Lakoff, is the policy of getting an idea into normal public discourse, which requires creating a change in the brains of millions of people. (see The Political Mind, p.169)

campus imperialism: Coined by Jaron Lanier, as far as I know. He touches on it HERE. Representatives of each academic discipline assume something like a Philosopher-King's eye view of all other disciplines, which are subsumed under their own. It gives rise to thinking such as the very common idea now - I touched on it earlier - that we humans are merely sophisticated computing machines. It's all data-processing, all the way down. While I side with Lanier and other qualophiles (a term I got, ironically, from Daniel Dennett, who seems a qualophobe of some sort): our own experiences seem not covered by any academic domain, while each area of the campus has its own particular ways to model what it thinks is my experience. Okay, this is at least my second digression, but while I'm on it I may as well: currently I see the admittedly brilliant Nick Bostrom's notions about the "Simulation Hypothesis" as taking up a lot of cultural space, perhaps deservedly so. However, a small gaggle of minions will make of this idea - an astounding one for sure! - more than perhaps it deserves: campus imperialism? I will admit the Simulation Hypothesis leaves me pretty damned spaghettified, which is a more extreme step - or colorful phrase! - than having one's mind "blown" or "stretched" by a novel set of facts or ideas.

Which brings me to another German term:

Unbehagen: something like "uneasiness." Einstein felt this in the face of the quantum theory, and he tried to get rid of it the rest of his life, to no avail. Because I'm a Soft Whorfian, I think Germans who use this word mean something a little more than uneasiness, but I don't have the German chops to say so or not. Bostrom's "Simulation Hypothesis" - that there's a better than 50% chance we are all simulations made by other Beings -  makes me feel Unbehagen, but even if it's true I don't know why it should matter. I mean, we were all getting along fairly well before the Sim Hyp, weren't we? Please say we were. Oh hell, it's all just campus imperialism anyway, right? Right?

Much of my reading, on the other hand and ironically and paradoxical to boot, seems to chase after this feeling of Unbehagen. Some H.P. Lovecraft can do it. Much of actual history does it. Certain conspiracy theories can do it. Borges does it, and even Argentines without means do it.

depressogenic: One of my favorite scientist-writers, Robert Sapolsky, used this term in an essay about what might be in all our futures. "Why do I assume we'll all be getting sadder? Mainly because it strikes me that there is so much in our present civilization that is depressogenic." - found in The Next 50 Years.

No comment...

ideology: "Ideas serving as weapons for social interest." - one of my favorite definitions, from Berger and Luckmann's The Social Construction of Reality, in a discussion of Marx.

How much of what we read fits into this definition of ideology? Keep your powder dry. (Or is it "powders"? Let us keep our various powders and powderings dry...)

Alright, I've done enough harm for today. My intent was to maybe give you one term that you might make good use of, not to make you feel even more annoyed (you know the definition) than you already were, which would defeat the purpose of this post.

                                           conception graphique par Bobby Campbell

Monday, June 27, 2016

Phenomenology and Info-Glut

At some point in the past 12 years I began to develop a Shadow that watched me consume information. Metaphorically, the Shadow set up lines of communication with "me" and took measures to insert redundancy and insulated wires, etc: the clarity of signal between Shadow and "me" became less and less noisy. I am not describing a clinical picture here; I'm not mentally ill.

Not yet, anyway.

The Shadow seemed only concerned with how I felt when reading books or on Internet, or any other media in which we decode alphabetical "words." (i.e., It's a lot like what you're doing right where you are sitting now.) I noticed It didn't care very much about my listening to music or watching TV. There had been a similar sort of Entity many years ago that watched my TV watching, but it was blunt and always correct. A typical message: "You're not really enjoying this program. Not anymore. Turn it off and do what really makes you happy."

A lot of the time that happy-making thing was reading. It still is.

I know now this Shadow and the earlier Entity were parts of myself I'd constructed from reading and thinking about how media affects me. And I know my reading can make me unhappy, but sometimes I ward that off by saying to myself, "This is very unpleasant information, and it seems mostly true, or true enough. But I'd rather be one who knows how the world 'really' works than an oblivious bore. It's what Jefferson said was essential for democracy to work." Something like that.

Mostly my reading brings me great joy and wonder. That's why I'm addicted to it. I'm okay with the addiction. Resonant energy-language from books interacting with my nervous system has become some sort of activity that acts symbiotically: I derive a sort of secular religiosity of wonder from it; it derives my attention and money, but I think the thing it really likes is how I propagate its seed. It wants pullulation; I deliver. We're both happy.

And, like playing a musical instrument, reading on and on for years and really challenging yourself makes you a more formidable reader. I can pick up Finnegans Wake at any point, read a page and yack about my interpretations there for 20 minutes. I'm currently reading my first Murakami book (and it's great!: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, not that you'd asked) and I get the palpable feeling that my intense readings of Borges make this book "easier" because of the earlier heavy lifting of the Argentine and Chandler, maybe William Gibson and a handful of like-marvelous writers...

I've at times (twice at minimum) read myself into Chapel Perilous, and reading was part of finding my way out. Nowadays the only worry I have in these regards is Info-Glut. I first became aware that I was not the only one who experienced the vertigo of info when a book called Information Anxiety appeared on the New Books shelf at my local library in 1990. It was by some guy named Richard Saul Wurman, who later invented the TED Talks. He gave some historical perspective. Misery loved company yet again. I forget whether Lassie ever really did come home...

Since then: a flood/deluge/onslaught/barrage/din of books and articles on the effects of too much information interacting with the nervous system. Ironic? Hell yes. Those terms (flood/deluge, etc) are some of the same ones people use when they talk about their own "info overload."

So: I guess I model internally my reading on some sort of Bell Curve, and most of the time I'm right near the top, on the lefthand slope, enjoying myself. And if I get to the top and tip over and start sliding down the righthand side, I know some good breathing exercises. I know to go be with friends. I know when to take a walk or play guitar, lose myself in that.

Some Notes From Outside Me and My Shadow

-David Foster Wallace, in an essay collected in Both Flesh and Not, addressed the combination of boredom - which his friend and fellow writer Jonathan Franzen said DFW died from (boredom) - and information anxiety: Total Noise. He not only addressed the personal responsibility to be informed as a citizen in a "democracy" but he felt like he was drowning, losing his autonomy, in "the tsunami of available fact, context, and perspective." In order to stay afloat, we need allies, proxies, and subcontracting friends who will maybe read that long article for you, and tell you what's the gist and pith. A bulwark against info-glut were those invaluable writers of concision who knew how to marshall the flood of facts and convey them meaningfully. They seem to be essayists.

While I doubt I'll ever totally understand DFW's boredom problem - some things seem simply beyond me, temperamentally - the irony for us here is that he was one of those writers who provided that bulwark for us.

What further complicates DFW for me: in his brilliant discussion of Kafka and short stories and jokes in Consider the Lobster, he addresses Danish science writer Tor Norretranders's idea of exformation, "which is a certain quality of vital information removed from but evoked by a communication in such a way as to cause a kind of explosion of associative connections within the recipient." - that's how DFW unpacks Norretranders here.

DFW's suicide is too sad -not to mention too arch and far too simplifying - to posit that his boredom-unto-out-of-control-depression-and-suicide was due to going over the Bell Curve, down the right-hand slope, careening into oblivion. His writing gives me nothing but pleasure; he makes me feel smarter. He helps me deal with the Glut.

-In David Ulin's The Lost Art of Reading he tells us about the Global Information Industry Center's 2009 study about information consumption by Unistatians in 2008: tons of shallow crap. Okay, but why? This led me to Elizabeth Eisenstein.

-Around 1962, the honcho primo of the American Historical Association, Carl Bridenbaugh, gave a talk about how the new media of TV, telephones, polaroid cameras, transistor radios, data processing machines and "that Bitch Goddess, Quantification."

Bridenbaugh: "Notwithstanding the incessant chatter about communication that we hear daily, it has not improved; actually it has become more difficult."

Eisenstein's massive, 2-vol The Printing Press as an Agent of Change argued the opposite of Bridenbaugh, who thought we were losing our history, our memory, who we are, due to the new media. Eisenstein showed how utterly profound the Gutenberg explosion was responsible for the rise of science, the Protestant Reformation and the Renaissance. She cited Marshall McLuhan's Gutenberg Galaxy for pointing to scholars that they can be blind to the very medium in which they swim: books. The past was becoming not less accessible, but more accessible. Scholars translate books, crack codes like Linear B, uncover the Dead Sea Scrolls, etc.

Still: how to make sense of that part of the glut you're mired in at present? Does info glut make us culturally crazy? Is this ultimately behind the phenomena of "FOMO" and other mediated maladies since 2000CE?

-T.S. Eliot, by 1934 quite the reactionary, but still:

Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to GOD.
-"The Rock"

While I don't share Eliot's Anglican bend by any stretch, why not constantly wonder about the principles and workings in us of data/information/knowledge/wisdom? And, perhaps especially: silence? It seems to me worthsomewhiles.

-Aldous Huxley and the stoned intelligentsia that followed in the wake of his Doors and Perception and Heaven and Hell often picked up Aldous's metaphorical riff: that tripping on LSD and psilocybin was flooding the nervous system with information. Huxley compared the experience of rapid info-flow on psychedelics as if ordinary life was spent while your mind was a garden hose with a crink in it, so we experience those dribbles and drabs as "reality. With psychedelic drugs, the garden hose is straightened out, and it feels like a goddamned fire hose of info-deluge. With the slightest tweak of a serotonin molecule, "reality" is seen in a profoundly new light. Lots of us have at times freaked out on that...glut.

It doesn't seem too much to see why robotic cults follow in the wake of this: the replacement by a very low-info environment. The grasping at quotidian Our Leader Will Tell Us crap. Jesus Told Me To Tell You crap. In order to feel better. I get it.

Back To My Shadow and Me

One thing that helps me in staving off the fear from Info-Glut: I find it feels good to imagine being part of a conspiracy of readers/knowers who are privy to certain things. (If I recall correctly, the Shadow turned me on to this cabal.) This seems to me at once both a product of my arrested adolescent Walter Mitty-mindedness, and a hedge against, for lack of a better word, insanity. I mean, Ted Kaczynski read the Great Books. Cosmic humor and frequent erotic flings with the Infinite Goof seem quite on the jocoserious order in face of the Glut. Or: do you have a better way?

                                             l'image de bobby campbell                                       

Friday, June 17, 2016

Obscurity, Codes and Puzzles in Books: Ponderings

"Censorship is the mother of metaphor." - Borges

While I'm on record as being with the cognitive neurolinguistics of Lakoff, et.al., as my main model for the mother of metaphor, Borges here gets at something I find exceedingly interesting: the now-marginalized idea that writers have used coded language for various reasons, and one of them would be to escape persecution by the State. I give Borges his point here.
Joyce's Friend Byrne's Crypto

With the debates about mass surveillance and encryption continuing on to what I assume is a slow boil, and with brilliant high school students bringing the debate (literally) to Capitol Hill, many of us of a certain caste of mind eventually wonder where and when this began. One day we find ourselves in the archives and indexes of old books. We learn some of what we set out for. In my case - and probably (?) yours - you get the serendipitous hit, too. A recent example from my own forays:

John Francis Byrne, who was James Joyce's best friend at university in Dublin, later invented a cryptographic device that he thought might make him rich, because it was an uncrackable "Chaocipher," which used what's called an "autokey" in the trade. It was a cigar box with some bits of strings and a few odds and ends. When Byrne showed it to his cousin she said it would win him a Nobel Prize, "not for science, apparently, but for ushering in an age of universal peace by conferring the gift of perfect security upon the communications of all nations and all men." - The Codebreakers, Kahn, p.767

                                                       J.F. Byrne, Joyce's friend

Byrne thought his device would be used by businessmen, brotherhoods, religious groups and social institutions, and by "husband, wife, or lover." (Kahn, quoting Byrne, p.768) Anyone could use his device anywhere and it would provide perfect encryption. Byrne met with and tried to sell his device to the US Army, State Department, AT&T, and the Navy, and was turned down. The State Dept sent him a form letter, telling him their own "ciphers are adequate to (our) needs."

Byrne, who published a book in 1951 called The Silent Years, mostly about remembering Joyce, devoted the final third of his book to telling the world about his amazing encryption machine, and actually challenged the public to crack his code, offering "$5000 or the total royalties of the first three months after publication of his book..." (Kahn, 768) Byrne challenged the American Cryptogram Association, the New York Cipher Society and Norbert Wiener to crack his code.

"Nobody ever claimed the money, and Byrne died a few years later. One may presume that the reason both for the failure of the public to read his cipher and failure of the government to adopt it was that while the cipher probably had its merits, its many demerits outweighed them for practical use. Byrne, like many inventors, both won and lost. His cipher was never broken. But his dream never came true." (768)

                                            David Kahn, 2013. His book The Codebreakers
                                            is a tour-de-force.

When Joyce came back to Dublin in 1909, another of his old friends from university, Vincent Cosgrave, told Joyce that Nora had "walked out" with him - Cosgrave - around the time Nora fell for the dreamy writer, which devastated him. He wrote accusatory letters to Nora, who was living at their home in Trieste. He wondered if Giorgio, his first child and only son, born in 1905, was really his. Byrne tried to convince Joyce that Cosgrave and Oliver St. John Gogarty (the model for Ulysses's "Buck Mulligan") were trying to ruin Joyce. It was a plot. Joyce's brother Stan told James that Nora had rebuffed Cosgrave, and this calmed the Irish/cosmopolitan bard.

In real life, Byrne lived with cousins at 7 Eccles Street in Dublin, which is the address of Leopold and Molly Bloom. Byrne is "Cranly" in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the character who lends a sympathetic ear to Stephen's aesthetic ideas, amongst other things. The section late at night in Ulysses, where Bloom has forgotten the key to his house, so he jumps the fence and gets in through the backdoor and lets Stephen in? That actually happened with Byrne. Joyce makes me think of it as a mythic thing, which is marvelous on his part...

By 1910 Byrne had emigrated to New York, where he worked as a journalist under the name J.F. Renby, an anagram of his last name. He died in 1960.
Arthur Melzer Makes Me Think

"Against history, we developed community through the use of a subtle and ambiguous language that could be heard in one way by the oppressor, in another way by your friends. Our weapons of sabotage were ambiguity, humor, paradox, mystery, poetry, song and magic."
-Andrei Codrescu, the Romanian essayist, broadcaster and poet, in his 1990 The Disappearance of the Outside: A Manifesto For Escape, pp.38-39

In a dizzyingly wonderful book that leaves me wondering what I'm missing, Michigan State professor of political science, Arthur Melzer, published Philosophy Between the Lines: The Lost History of Esoteric Writing (2014).

[Get a load of his out-of-book appendix, a real data-dump of historical textual examples that bolster his claims that esoteric writing (writing in a tricky way in order to not be persecuted or not damage the body politic, but it's more complicated than that) has basically gone on since writing and the State emerged.]

The book was reviewed widely and positively...by NeoCons. The bad reviews seem to be from anti-NeoCons. Melzer says the book needed to be written, and the subject - which was one of Leo Strauss's main riffs - wasn't really Melzer's thing. He doesn't like esoteric writing. He wants to read writers who say exactly what they mean.

I've read the book and find it magisterial. Then I made the mistake of re-reading a book of essays, mostly by Umberto Eco, with contributions by Christine Brooke-Rose, Richard Rorty, and Jonathan Culler: Interpretation and Overinterpretation. I find it heady stuff. But it worsened my probably paranoid overinterpretation of Melzer's avowed reluctance to address the topic, and his NeoCon ties.

"My friends and colleagues all regard it as curious that I should be the one to write this book. There are people who have a real love for esoteric interpretation and a real gift for it. I am not one of them."

And yet there's 450 pages (plus that online appendix!), scholarly throughout. And then I'm into Eco, illustrating how paranoid overinterpretations occur. And there's NeoCon Mark Lilla, in his book on Vico (who to me is the most interesting example of what Melzer calls "defensive esoteric" writing), saying he disagrees with Leo Strauss on an esotericist reading of Vico. (See G.B. Vico: The Making of an Anti-Modern, pp.243-245)

Before Melzer's book appeared, for years I'd accumulated notes on the topic on my own, but I hadn't read NeoCon godfather Strauss's 1952 Persecution and the Art of Writing. I accumulated notes based on my readings of Robert Anton Wilson, William S. Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Norman O. Brown, Frances Yates, Nietzsche, etc.

The British empiricist Isaiah Berlin knew Strauss and liked him, admired his mind, but thought a lot of his ideas were wrong, including the esoteric idea:

"Strauss was a careful, honest and deeply concerned thinker, who seemed to have taught his pupils to read between the lines of the classical philosophers - he had a theory that these thinkers had secret doctrines beneath the overt one - which could only be discovered by hints, allusions and other symptoms, sometimes because such thinkers thought in this fashion, sometimes for fear of censorship, oppressive regimes and the like. This had been a great stimulus to ingenuity and all kinds of fanciful subtleties, but seems to me to be wrong-headed. Strauss's rejection of the post-Renaissance world as hopelessly corrupted by Positivism and empiricism seems to me to border on the absurd."
-Conversations with Isaiah Berlin, with Ramin Jahanbegloo, pp. 31-32

And yet Berlin seems to me one of the most astute readers of Vico. And yet: I agree with Berlin about Strauss's rejection of Modernity. And yet: Melzer's book seems overwhelmingly persuasive.

I have not read my way into yet another Chapel Perilous. But I have once again become, lately, ever-more hyper-aware of my own interpretive schemes in reading.

The headspace? Cosmic hilarity!
Ending in a Southernly Direction

Lee Server interviewed the late great Terry Southern, and here's a passage apropos:

Server: Reading Candy as a kid, I'll confess to you, played a definite part in my growing into manhood - I don't intend to go into details. What would you read for "erotic purposes" as a youngster?

Terry Southern: When I was young, they had what were called "little fuck-books" - which featured characters taken from the comics. Most of them were absurd and grotesque, but there were one or two of genuine erotic interest; "Blondie" comes to mind, as do "Dale" and "Flash Gordon" and darling "Ella Cinders." For a while, convinced there was more than met the eye, I tried to "read between the lines" in the famous Nancy Drew books, searching for some deep secret insinuation of erotica so powerful and pervasive as to account for the extraordinary popularity of these books, but alas, was able to garner no mileage ("J.O." wise) from this innocuous, and seemingly endless, series.
-Now Dig This: The Unspeakable Writings of Terry Southern, 1950-1995, ed. Mike Southern and Josh Alan Friedman, p.2
                                                   grafica di Bob Campbell