Kierkegaard was an awesome psychologist in large part because he could understand and respect and channel and even risk appearing to advocate styles of living (“lifestyles” seems inadequate to my meaning here) that he hoped never to be caught dead practicing. His ambivalent portraits (technically embodiments, because in his pseudonymous works he declines to distinguish his perspective from that of his invented characters/philosophers/archetypes) of aesthetes, hedonists, and free spirits (the most memorable of which he christened merely “A”) are the most seductive I’ve ever encountered; they pack the peculiar power of deeply imagined, largely unlived experience:

To forget — this is the desire of all people, and when they encounter something unpleasant, they always say: If only I could forget! But to forget is an art that must be practiced in advance. To be able to forget always depends upon how one remembers, but how one remembers depends upon how one experiences actuality. The person who runs aground with the speed of hope will recollect in such a way that he will be unable to forget. Thus nil admirari [marvel at nothing] is the proper wisdom of life. No part of life ought to have so much meaning for a person that he cannot forget it any moment he wants to; on the other hand, every single part of life ought to have so much meaning for a person that he can remember it at any moment.

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Obamacare won’t destroy America as we know it, but Baz Luhrmann still might. Stand up, my friends, and FIGHT THE REAL ENEMY.*

*I know Baz Luhrmann is not the real enemy. He just sucks so much.

I’m not really happy about what this blog was for awhile, but I’m also not happy about having barely posted anything for the past month, so fuck meaningful change, I’m just going to try to post more often, about — or simply linking to/reproducing — whatsoeverthefuck makes a real impression on me.

In keeping with that doomed commitment to Whim, here is a breathtaking poem by Wallace Stevens which I came across for the first time last Saturday, during time I had set aside for applying to jobs:

Men Made Out of Words

What should we be without the sexual myth,
The human revery or poem of death?

Castratos of moon-mash — Life consists
Of propositions about life. The human

Revery is a solitude in which
We compose these propositions, torn by dreams,

By the terrible incantations of defeats
And by the fear that defeats and dreams are one.

The whole race is a poet that writes down
The eccentric propositions of its fate.

          — from Transport of Summer (1947)

On a Couple of My Favorite Things: Dogs and Words

A customer brought his husky into my workplace yesterday. There were very few other customers in the store and this was a beautiful animal so of course the husky got everyone’s attention. Commanded everyone’s attention, I mean. She seemed like a serene, docile, happy dog (if you can really judge a dog’s happiness by the wagging of its tail), and with those dazzling eyes commanding everyone’s attention I wanted to take one extra impulsive step and say damnit, this husky is wise.

Attributing wisdom or any supposedly human trait to an animal isn’t necessarily the same thing as anthropomorphizing an animal. Perhaps the reason we make such precarious associations from time to time is that our minds eventually become suspicious of the linguistic-conceptual associations they learn to utilize ad nauseum. Perhaps we need to test or simply permit the absurd possibility that a dog is, in its way, as wise as our most trusted human advisors. And certainly we need to accept incomplete and incompatible definitions of the most exalted words in our language.

Variations on a Fundamental Truth —

"All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music."

          — Walter Pater

"All art aspires to the condition of Top 40 bubblegum pop."

          — Stephin Merritt

All Is Calm, All Is Bright —

This has probably been the loneliest, dullest Christmas season of my entire life, including the first 18 holiday-free years of my life (I was raised in an evangelical Christian religion (in)famous for its aversion toward traditional Christian celebrations and certain other eccentricities), and yet the loveliness of a Catholic Mass — only the second one I’ve ever attended — was not lost on me tonight. Majesty poured effortlessly out of every corner and window and archway of St. Vincent de Paul Parish while my roommate, a believer, passed time before the service began by inventing Catholic extravagances I knew slightly better than to expect (e.g., a paid-by-the-hour Jesus impersonator comes flying through a stained-glass window at the climax of the ceremony). Later, the darling 8-to-10-year-old girl in front of us farted repeatedly during one of many prayers, and then her younger brother, not to be outdone, miraculously turned doodling into a disruptive act, but luckily no one tensed up — everyone had to smile at such shenanigans. There were, of course, songs, some better than others, some amusing in their good-natured simplicity, others profoundly joyous. The extremely brief sermon stressed that Christ is constantly present in our lives regardless of whether we acknowledge His presence, and I suppose there is a solemn side to that overfamiliar notion; tonight, however, I was struck by its astonishing high-spiritedness, by the fact that, if indeed Christ the Redeemer offers us — no, presses upon us — this great and perfect gift at every moment of our grotesquely sinful lives, then perhaps breathless laughter — the laughter of awestruck gratitude — is the only appropriate, or possible, response.

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On Gustave Flaubert’s 189th Birthday, Which Is Now Over —

I’ve felt glum and isolated and supremely grateful for the comfort of good books all day – somewhat familiar feelings that suddenly seemed more valid when I remembered it’s the 189th birthday of Gustave Flaubert, who once claimed – absurdly, and with all of his heart – that “the only way of tolerating existence is to lose oneself in literature as in a perpetual orgy.” The senior year I spent losing/destroying myself in my undergraduate thesis on Flaubert might be used as testimony against his claim, but that’s no matter, not today: birthdays should be about recognizing every contribution an individual consciously or unconsciously makes to the world without which it would be a demonstrably less fascinating place. With that principle in mind, and also because it behooves me to finally keep quiet about a man I’ve thought, said, and written so much (too much) about over the past year, I reproduce several portions of Henry James’ poignant, empathic tribute to Flaubert’s character, which James somehow produced despite having little affection for the gorgeously sublimated spiritual agitation that marks Flaubert’s style and method. Really, though, James’ is a bizarrely fitting type of appreciation for an author whose stock-in-trade was bestowing beauty upon characters and topics he could barely tolerate:

He was born a novelist, grew up, lived, died a novelist, breathing, feeling, speaking, thinking, performing every operation of life, only as that votary; and this though his production was to be small in amount and though it constituted all his diligence. It was not indeed perhaps primarily so much that he was born and lived a novelist, as that he was born and lived literary, and that to be literary represented for him an almost overwhelming situation. … His case was a doom because he felt of his vocation almost nothing but the difficulty. He had many strange sides, but this was the strangest, that if we argued from his difficulty to his work, the difficulty being registered for us in letters and elsewhere, we should expect from the result but the smallest things. We should be prepared to find in it well-nigh a complete absence of the signs of a gift. We should regret that the unhappy man had not addressed himself to something he might have found at least comparatively easy. We should singularly miss the consecration supposedly given to a work of art by its having been conceived in joy. That is Flaubert’s remarkable, his so far as I know unmatched distinction, that he has left works of an extraordinary art even the conception of which failed to help him to think in serenity. The chapter of execution, from the moment execution gets really into the shafts, is of course always and everywhere a troubled one … but we frequently find Flaubert cursing his subjects themselves, wishing he had not chosen them, holding himself up to derision for having done so, and hating them in the very act of sitting down to them. He cared immensely for the medium, the task and the triumph involved, but was himself the least able to say why. He is sustained only by the rage and the habit of effort; the mere love of letters, let alone the love of life, appears at an early age to have deserted him. Certain passages in his correspondence make us even wonder if it be not hate that sustains him most. So, successively, his several supremely finished and crowned compositions came into the world, and we may feel sure that none others of the kind, none that were to have an equal fortune, had sprung from such adversity. …

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24-Hour News Gets It Right —

CNN Inexplicably Airs Dumb and Dumber Diarrhea Scene

CNN Inexplicably Airs Dumb and Dumber Diarrhea Scene

(Thanks to Torrey Armstrong for the link.)

On Bob Dylan Acting Like, Uh, Bob Dylan —

Greil Marcus narrates Bob Dylan’s performance and acceptance speech at the 1991 Grammy Awards, where he received a Lifetime Achievement Award:

With the Gulf War in progress, the blanket of acceptance that had been draped over the show was so heavy the WAR SUCKS T-shirt New Kid on the Block Donnie Wahlberg wore to the American Music Awards a few weeks earlier would have been forbidden here; maybe that’s why Dylan sang “Masters of War,” from 1963, and maybe that’s why he disguised it, smearing the verses into one long word. If you caught on to the number, the lyrics did emerge — “And I’ll stand o’er your grave / Til I’m sure that you’re dead” — but lyrics were not the point. What was was the ride Dylan and his band gave them. With hats pulled down and dressed in dark clothes, looking and moving like Chicago hipsters from the end of the fifties, guitarists Cesar Diaz and John Jackson, bassist Tony Garnier, and drummer Ian Wallace went after the song as if it were theirs as much as Dylan’s: a chance at revenge, excitement, pleasure. You couldn’t tell one from the other, and why bother?

With this career performance behind him, Dylan took his trophy from a beaming Jack Nicholson; he squinted, as if looking for his mother, who was in the audience. “Well,” he said, “my daddy, he didn’t leave me much, you know he was a very simple man, but what he did tell me was this, he did say, son, he said” — there was a long pause, nervous laughter from the crowd — “he say, you know it’s possible to become so defiled in this world that your own father and mother will abandon you and if that happens, God will always believe in your ability to mend your own ways.”

Then he walked off. He had managed to get in and out without thanking anybody, and this night it really did seem as if he owed nobody anything.

— from the essay collection Ranters & Crowd Pleasers: Punk in Pop Music, 1977 - 92 (1993)

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On Jon Stewart, Satire, Sanity, and Peace Not-Marching —


November 30th marked the one-month anniversary of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear – not a significant occasion in and of itself, but made rather fascinating (to me) by its conjunction with the birthdays of Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain, two old white crackpots who delighted in violating intellectual and social boundaries which Jon Stewart rather obliquely defended in his closing speech at the rally. While I don’t begrudge Stewart his stated fondness for polite and reasonable discourse (really, no one should, not even those who doubt the man’s sincerity), I also can’t wholeheartedly support his commitment to such niceties, for one simple reason: Stewart is a satirist. Fans and skeptics alike think of him primarily as a satirist, and in a post-rally interview with Rachel Maddow he unmistakably identified himself as one, so he will someday have to confront the problem of satire’s general incompatibility with niceties, which in practice is the same thing as satire’s enthusiasm for violating boundaries in the interest of exposing them as … boundaries – that is to say, as levees built to prevent too much contradictory information from flooding our minds at once.

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