Reading Der Mensch Erscheint im Holozän, Section 2

pp. 25-39


In this “section,” I count seven. No, eight. Though there is a question about the first: Since the verses are numbered, is an excerpt from the Bible also a list? I think yes. Look at the books of the law. Every narrative is a list. Every list is a narrative. This happened. And then this.

    1. pp25-26: the story of the flood
    2. p27: Aussergewöhnliche Hochwasser
    3. p29: geological epochs
    4. p32: meat in the freezer
    5. pp33-34: wenn x 10 = ist es ein malerisches Dorf
    6. p34: als als als, fällt es ihm ein
    7. pp34-35: bereit sein ist alles (though this list might be stranger than Bible verses as list)
    8. pp35-36: 7 weitere Arten von Donner

Writing is ordering words. Reading is accepting someone else’s order. Man kann nicht den ganzen Tag lesen. Es bleibt nichts als Lesen.

A list of all the words I looked up (whether I actually needed to or not) in this section: Sintflut, wimmelte, Sense, Kuppen, Graten, Trias, Jura, Kreide, überholt, zucken, unversehrt, Pfützen, Gehöft, ächzende, Plapper, Getöse, Knatter, Geklirr, munkelnde.

Und dann auch diese Sätze:

    1. Herr Geiser hat ungefähr verstanden, was Protuberanzen sind, die übrigens nichts mit dem Wetter auf der Erde zu tun haben, und die Gattin des Sonnenforschers hat einen Topf voll Suppe gebracht, Minestrone zum Aufwärmen.1
    2. . . . und wenn Herr Geiser an den Knöpfen dreht, plötzlich rutscht das Bild weg, der Ton bleibt . . .2
    3. Der Käse schwitzt.
    4. . . . irgendetwas gibt es immer zu tun oder zu denken . . .

1. I love the purposeful run-on here, the way these ideas are butted up against one another.
2. And I love the wordplay and the metaphor here: that the TV does what the mountain might, that “Ton” is also earth.

Reading Der Mensch Erscheint im Holozän, Section 1

pp. 9-24

Today is Sunday.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.1

Someone nodded hello to me on the street yesterday.

To me, or to him?

Someone nodded hello to Reader on the street yesterday.

Church bells were already ringing, to announce the Armistice in November 1918, when word reached Wilifred Owen’s family that he had been killed in battle one week before.

Picasso made Gertrude Stein sit more than eighty times for her portrait.
And then painted out the head and redid it three months later without having seen her again.

Pablo Casals began each day for more than seventy years by playing Bach.

I have come to this place because I had no life back there at all.

I have, Reader has?

Reader has come to this place because he had no life back there at all.2

-Es bleibt nichts als Lesen.

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987, 1597, 2584, 4181, 6765, 10946, 17711, 28657, 46368, 75025, 121393, 196418, 317811, 514229, 832040, 1346269, 2178309, 3524578, 5702887, 9227465, 14930352, 24157817, 39088169 . . .3

1. Genesis 1:2 (KJV)
2. Markson, David. Reader’s Block. Normal, Illinois: Dalkey Archive, 2001. 9. Print.

Reading Der Mensch Erscheint im Holozän by Max Frish

Toward the end of March, a friend and I decided to read Max Frisch’s book Der Mensch Erscheint im Holozän (Man in the Holocene) together. We also decided to respond to it in writing. To that end, we devised a few rules:

1. The book is 134 pages long. It begins on page 9 and ends on page 143.

    If we read 20 pages a day, it will take us 6.5 days to read the book.
    If we read 15 pages a day, it will take us 9 days to read the book.
    If we read 10 pages a day, it will take us 13 days to read the book.
    (We voted for 15 pages a day.)

2. 15 pages a day would make the following:

    Section 1: pp. 9-24
    Section 2: pp. 25-39
    Section 3: pp. 40-54
    Section 4: pp. 55-67
    Section 5: pp. 68-84
    Section 6: pp. 85-99
    Section 7: pp. 100-114
    Section 8: pp. 115-129
    Section 9: pp. 130-143

3. Then we added

    Section 9a: response to

4. We will read one section per day (skip days may be requested).
5. We will each write one response per section.
6. Responses may not be longer than 268 words.
7. We are not allowed to write within one another’s responses.
8. However, we may comment on each other’s responses.
9. And we may footnote our own responses.
9a. Said footnotes will not count toward any length restriction.

Over the next few weeks, perhaps at a rate of one every three days, I will be posting my responses to Der Mensch Erscheint im Holozän. Those responses will be posted in the category reading: Man in the Holocene.

her (what?)

UPDATE: I forgot I had written this in late November, 2013.

Just saw her (in English with German subtitles) and experienced a wide range of emotions. I then had an interesting conversation with one of my co-workers and some of his friends. The co-worker had problems with the film because he felt fremdscham (a sense of shame for others, cf. “schadenfreude”) throughout. He also couldn’t let go of the idea that Samantha was a machine. I wonder if the sense of joy we feel when the device in our pocket buzzes after we’ve waited for an answer to a text or an email—or even and perhaps especially the disappointment we feel when that buzzing was just an automated message from a credit card company—is a relationship with a machine. That someone made the device buzz is still true, but it was the buzzing that caused the emotional reaction. I walked home through the medieval streets of this town, typing something on the device I usually keep in my pocket, something that would eventually make someone else’s device buzz, and I looked up at the 400-year-old, half-timbered houses and listened to the gurgle of the canal, and was struck again by the seemingly huge disconnect that, in actuality, isn’t. In the film, Samantha helps Theodore get a physical book of the letters he’s written for other people published. Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was.

my first week without facebook

    • I wished I could contact someone whose place of work I could simply visit later.
    • I dropped a piece of pasta covered with red pesto on the floor. When I picked the pasta up, I washed it without thinking, laughed at myself, then threw the pasta in the compost. I thought it was sad I coulnd’t share this bit of humorous/ridiculous information with Facebook, but then I realized I never would have posted that.
    • I had a little more time in the morning to get ready.
    • I had a couple of moments where I didn’t quite know what to do with myself.
    • I wrote this post on this sorely neglected blog.
    • I didn’t really notice otherwise.

a miniature film festival

The mystery illness I’ve been fighting off-and-on for well over a year now (and which may very well simply be stress (which seems— (wait! rabbit hole!))) returned this weekend, and so, in between naps, I used Netflix and iTunes to curate a miniature film-fest. The theme of the festival was John Carpenter and/or Kurt Russell (with exceptions (to be explained)) and included the following films (in the order watched) (and none of which I had previously seen):

    Big Trouble in Little China (1986 by John Carpenter and starring Kurt Russell)
    The Thing (1982 by John Carpenter and starring Kurt Russell (and a moustacheless Wilford Brimley!))
    Robocop (1987 by Paul Verhoeven)
    Stargate (1994 by Roland Emmerich starring Kurt Russell and James Spader)
    Escape from New York (1981 by John Carpenter and starring Kurt Russell)
    Escape from L.A. (1996 by John Carpenter and starring Kurt Russell)
    The Thing (2011 by Matthijs van Heijningen)

I have been a huge fan of John Carpenter’s They Live (1988 starring “Rowdy” Roddy Piper) ever since I accidentally saw it on the Fox 42 Late Night Movie sometime in 1994, though I don’t think I learned what it was called until probably ten years later. I was talking with a colleague (whose opinions on film and music I hold in high regard) the other day about it, which is, in part, what prompted this mini festival in the first place, and he suggested that They Live would have been better if Kurt Russell had starred in it. Not knowing any of Russell’s work with Carpenter, I could neither agree nor disagree, but something about his assertion didn’t feel right. Now, after seeing four of Carpenter and Russell’s collaborations, reacquainting myself with Jonathan Lethem’s book/essay on They Live (entitled, appropriately enough, They Live), and remembering that Slavoj Žižek has quite a bit to say about the film (in part that it is one of the greatest leftist films to ever come out of Hollywood), I can say this: Kurt Russell would have been entirely too movie star for They Live, and would have lent it a completely different sense of irony and camp (I mean, just look at Big Trouble in Little China and Escape from L.A.!) than the decidedly working-class irony and camp lent to it by professional wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy.

Before I continue: It has occurred to me that my mother is likely reading this. Mom, yes, I am writing about film, but please notice that I am not writing about film in any technical way: I do not know anything about lighting, or setting up shots, or what they’re called, or editing, or really any of that stuff. I might be able to identify a wipe or a dissolve, but I couldn’t tell you what they mean. I am writing about film from a literary/cultural studies perspective; I am qualified to do that. I am not qualified to write about film from a film studies perspective, and it is my lack of technical knowledge (and, obviously, a degree in film studies) which disqualifies me. Also, I love you and I got your Valentine’s letter today, so thanks!

Moving on.

Mostly, I just wanted to present some notes I took in my head as I watched these seven films, but this seems to have turned into something made of paragraphs. I suppose the obvious thing to do would be to write one paragraph per film. Let’s see what happens. Warning: Even though I hadn’t seen any of these films before this last weekend, I’m going to write about them as though they have been seen (I mean, they’re (nearly) all 20-30 years old), which means there may be spoilers.

Big Trouble in Little China is fun and silly and attempts to present Russell as a truck driver, but he’s entirely too pretty to really pull it off, which is fine, because the film isn’t trying to be a serious piece of cinematic realism (what with its giant green fireballs and mythological Chinese demons). I don’t mean to say that there aren’t pretty truck drivers out there, either, but I’m aware that it’s a difficult life that wreaks havoc on the body in ways most people would rather not consider, and I would imagine that maintaining Hollywood Pretty in truck stop restrooms is not easy.

That same colleague mentioned above and I also talked about The Thing. What he said he loved about the film was how Carpenter refused to let the viewer ever know for sure if Russell’s character had been infected or not. Said colleague seemed pretty convinced he had been. Again, I’m not so sure I agree. Carpenter does a pretty effective job of both cluing the viewer in to who’s been compromised without also making it obvious (who the dog touches). Russell also unambiguously passes the blood test. It isn’t until the very end that there is any ambiguity about Russell’s status, and that’s when he and the last guy simply decide to wait where they are, which is exactly what the thing had been doing for the 100,000 years before being extracted from the ice. Also, the special effects are awesome and gruesome and disturbing.

Robocop doesn’t exactly fit the theme of my mini-festival, but it doesn’t not. I feel as though Verhoeven probably took a couple of cues from Carpenter. Robocop and Escape from New York share an awesome post-apocalyptic vibe and, strangely, a bad-guy with a high-pitched laugh. Also, Verhoeven’s use of TV news and commercials is reminiscent of similar things in both Escape from New York and They Live.

If I had seen Stargate when I was 13, it would have been the best movie ever. Russell manages to pull off suicidal father and military man by never moving his face or really ever saying much. Had he smiled (and at this moment, I wonder how much Russell’s (goofy?) smile resembles that of the character Plucky Purcell in Tom Robbins’ first novel Another Roadside Attraction), he likely would have ruined his entire performance.

I should have used the Escape From films as bookends? I liked that Escape from New York had a slightly more serious tone despite its also campiness. Its indictment of U.S. politics and (east coast?) culture are reminiscent of They Live. I read on Wikipedia that the script was written in response to the Watergate scandal. It’s oblique, but not opaque. The physical portrayal of the president made me wonder when we last had an obviously overweight chief executive. I just looked at Wikipedia’s list of presidents: Taft was huge; Hoover may have been a bit chubby.

Escape from L.A. is an indictment not only of the City of Angels but also of the film industry and especially of the so-called moral majority (I think one could make a fairly convincing argument that Carpenter at least knew about if not has read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood), but probably that’s been said a million times. It’s also an indictment wrapped in camp (the cars! a revolutionary leader named “Cuervo Jones”! Pam Grier in drag in drag!) which adds bite to the satire. Snake Plissken is obviously the one-eyed king in the land of the blind.

I should have used the different Things as bookends? No. So, the 2011 The Thing is supposedly a prequel to Carpenter’s film, but the things that would make it a prequel are haphazardly tacked on at the end and make almost no sense. The film is effectively a showcase for better special effects but contains almost none of the serious psychological tension of the original which would have made those better special effects worth the time and money it cost to make them. I will say this though, the frantically waving tentacles and the way the one infected character rubbed his face on and then into the other, non-infected character’s. . . .

A good essay writer would now use that image to say something about all the films, about how they were all about the culture wars, or multi-culturalism, or how science and society often rub each other the wrong way, and ultimately, how we can’t help but infect one another with our ideas and ideologies, but these are just notes, and this is just a blog, and I’m not a film writer or even a serious student of film–I’m just a guy who watched a bunch of films between naps during a recurrence of the mystery illness this last weekend.

books I finished in 2013

1. The Fixed Stars by Brian Conn
2. Robinson Alone by Kathleen Rooney
3. Reader’s Block by David Markson
4. I am a Very Productive Entrepreneur by Mathias Svalina
5. To Be Human is to Be a Conversation by Andrea Rexilius
6. The Meat and Spirit Plan by Selah Saterstrom
7. California by Jennifer Denrow
8. Song of Myself by Walt Whitman
9. The Art of Fielding (half) by Chad Harbach
10. The Moon & Other Inventions: Poems After Joseph Cornell by Kristina Marie Darling
11. My Brother’s Book by Maurice Sendak
12. The Hardest (Working) Man in Showbusiness by Ron Jeremy
13. Illuminatus!: The Eye in the Pyramid by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson
14. The Locked Room by Paul Auster
15. Illuminatus!: The Golden Apple by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson
16. Jesus Hates Zombies vol. 4: Yea, Though I Walk by Stephen Lindsay & Daniel Thollin
17. Eruv by Eryn Green
18. Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
19. Illuminatus!: Leviathan by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson
20. Bossypants by Tina Fey
21. A Series of Unfortunate Events: A Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket
22. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
23. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
24. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
25. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
26. Robinson Alone by Kathleen Rooney
27. Transmetropolitan: Spider’s Thrash (v. 7) by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson
28. The Portable Frank by Jim Woodring
29. Transmetropolitan: Dirge (v. 8) by Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson
30. Work From Memory by Dan Beachy-Quick and Matthew Goulish
31. Sonne from Ort by Christian Hawkey and Uljana Wolf
32. I am a Very Productive Entrepreneur by Mathias Svalina
33. Vanishing Point by David Markson
34. The Meat and Spirit Plan by Selah Saterstrom
35. Habibi by Craig Thompson
36. The Journals of Spalding Gray by Spalding Gray
37. Ein altes Herz kaspert für Annettchen by Kasper (Horst) Janssen
38. The Essential Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Waterson
39. Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
40. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
41. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
42. The Golden Compass (Northern Lights) by Philip Pullman
43. Nachricht von ruhigen Momenten by Alexander Kluge and Gerhard Richter
44. A Whaler’s Dictionary by Dan Beachy-Quick (begun in 2009)
45. An Impenetrable Screen of Purest Sky by Dan Beachy-Quick
46. Finsterworld by Frauke Finsterwalder & Christian Kracht
47. Ghost World by Dan Clowes
48. Sonne from Ort by Christian Hawkey and Uljana Wolf
49. Robinson Alone by Kathleen Rooney

a pulmonary post

The GIF of cat lungs being inflated. Then deflating. Being inflated again. Over and over forever. The fact that the creator of the GIF thinks it should be pronounced with a soft G, despite the fact that the word is an acronym, the first word in that acronym is graphic, and graphic is pronounced with a hard G. I wonder if he offers a reasonable explanation. I wonder if I care enough to check.

The GIF of cat lungs being inflated. How before the air comes, they look like bits of meat on a tray, though why that tray also has a paper doily on it . . . The GIF of cat lungs being inflated shows an image of a pair of cat lungs on a paper doily on a metal tray. Initially, the cat lungs look like bits of meat, but then the air comes, and they pop to attention. They expand. Their color lightens considerably. They look as though they might either float away or burst. Then the air is taken away and they go back to looking like bits of meat on a paper doily on a metal tray probably in a lab somewhere and why does the lab have paper doilies at all?

The GIF of cat lungs being inflated both does and does not make me feel like I felt when I wanted to be able to inhale indefinitely. I was reading Ray of the Star for the second time. I no longer wondered who Ray was. Each sentence felt like breath to me, like inhaling, like the main character was breathing in and in and in so that he could continue doing anything at all: open his eyes, drink a coffee, ring a bell, eat a pastry. Each sentence was an Einatmen, which seems strange considering how reading a sentence aloud requires exhalation. I would tap the edge of my Himalayan singing bowl and read a sentence. I would sit there and wish I could inhale and just keep inhaling and just keep inhaling.

This was all more than a year ago. I didn’t see the GIF of the cat lungs being inflated until last week. The GIF of the cat lungs being inflated both does and does not make me feel like I felt when I wanted to be able to inhale indefinitely. I did not just use copy and paste. I retyped the whole sentence. That is important. Now I’ve uncrossed my legs and am sitting up straight. I’ve taken my shoulders out of my ears. Another sip of coffee. A look around the room. To tap the edge of the Himalayan singing bowl would require that I stop typing and get up.

Dear David, do you remember the letter I sent you about breathing? No? I never sent it? Dear David, do you remember the GIF of the cat lungs being inflated? Dear David, the alternate version of “I’m Not in Love” is so much better than the version you put on the album. Dear David, we are two strangers. Dear David, you must be so tired of this by now.

The GIF of the cat lungs being inflated both does and does not make me feel like I felt when I wanted to be able to inhale indefinitely. The GIF of the cat lungs being inflated makes me sad for the kitty who died. I want to exhale to honor the cat whose lungs now mesmerize. Do we even use the word netizens anymore? Or netiquette?

Dear the GIF of cat lungs being inflated, I sat in the doctor’s office, waiting to get the results of a test I had taken a week earlier (I passed!), and saw you for the first time. You were as I have described you: red to pink and back to red and back to pink, on a white paper doily on a silver metal tray, very dead and alive, very somehow happy—

Dear the GIF of cat lungs being inflated, I wanted to show you to the doctor; I thought he would find you fascinating. In the end though, I put you back in my pocket and showed you to no one. I think I asked one person if they had seen you. They had. I have thought about you every day since that day. I am thinking about you now. I know that too much air would have ruptured you, but there was a time when I—

what I hear behind Siri’s voice/s

And right away, the computer told me the answer to the question, set the timer for thirty minutes, did so in a tone which implied it was happy to do these things, it was happy to be of service, in a tone which implied that it could do nothing other than be happy to be of service, in a tone which implied, deep in the hinterlands of that tone, deep, somewhere deep in the programming, and because computers are only as good as the humans who program them, a certain over-caffeinated, patronized, disgruntled, I-live-in-California-but-spend-all-my-time-in-a-cubicle ontology.

Do we think these things are not somehow expressed in the code that runs the things that run our lives? The number of simple traffic warning displays that have been hacked to read zombies ahead or you’re going to be late, and that we even know what easter eggs are, let alone are able to go looking for them should indicate the degree to which dissatisfaction and a kind of general powerlessness is part of everyone’s subconscious, is part of programmers’ subconsciousnesses.

I want the programmers to be contented, calm people. I want the programmers to be well-practiced in the art of meditation. I want the programmers to practice mindfulness.

If my body is made of billions of cells, and every single one of those cells (excluding, obviously, sperm cells) contains all 48 of my chromosomes, and one of those chromosomes can contain up to 440 million nucleobases, and the ordering of those nucleobases (the only good thing about the movie Gattaca was its title) is what makes me me, then I want the programmers, even though they’re obviously not writing binary code directly, to take care with each precious 1 and 0.

A friend of mine, when looking at the brand name of the relatively hi-tech trashcan in my kitchen once said, “Hmm, I expect ‘Simple Human’ is the last thing I’ll hear before I’m struck down in the coming robot apocalypse.”

It’s Those Doggone Saucers Again

If I told you once, I told you a thousand times: The goddam saucers have to match the goddam cups, and no it is not the other way around, and no, I don’t want to hear nothing about no chicken or no egg. I’m making tea. The tea goes in the cup and the cup goes on the saucer. That’s the order of it and I’ll be god damned if any child of mine is going to stand under the roof I provide and tell me any differently and what the hell do you mean, “What about the placemats?”? Can’t you see with your own stupid eyes that every placemat in this house is neutral and therefore matches everything? You think I ain’t thought this through? Just who the hell do you think you’re dealing with? And before you ask, yes, the wood of the table is also neutral, but don’t go any further because you’ll find, you little smart-ass, that it’s turtles all the way down.