Retrospective: 24 March 2009: “Blood From the Shoulder of Pallas”

[To view the post in its original context, click here. One of the things I like best about this post now, several years later, is the broken image link.] [text from Watchmen; images borrowed from the internet] "Is it possible, I wonder, to study a bird so closely, to observe and catalogue its peculiarities in such minute detail that it becomes invisible?" "I believe that in approaching our subject with the sensibilities of statisticians and dissectionists, we distance ourselves increasingly from the marvelous and spell-binding planet of imagination whose gravity drew us to our studies in the first place." "Until we transform our mere sightings into genuine visions; until our ear is mature enough to order a symphony from the shrill pandemonium of the aviary; until then we may have a hobby, but we shall not have a passion." "unwittingly refined from the original gleaming ore down to a banal and lusterless filing system." "We were not twitching nervelessly in stifling, stinking darkness, head first down the gullet of the swooping horror, our tails dangling pathetically from that vicious scimitar beak for hours before finally our hind legs and pelvic girdle are disgorged, our empty, matted skin curiously inverted by the process." ". . . antique and functional stretches of descriptive prose which nonetheless conveyed the violent and terrible essence of their subject matter effortlessly."

Retrospective: 01 September 2008: *Not* What I’ll Be Reading

[To view the post in its original context, click here.] Here is a reminder that the first installment of This Is Not a Reading will take place on Monday, September 15th. You should come. Here is something I worked up for the reading and then decided against using: Using the words "Reading," "Rainbow," and "Lburton," I made this chart:
book: R(18) E(5) A(1) D(4) I(9) N(14) G(7) page: L(12) B(2) U(21) R(18) T(20) O(15) N(14) line: R(18) A(1) I(9) N(14) B(2) O(15) W(23)
So, for instance, I went to the 23rd line of the 14th page of the 7th book whose author's last name began with the letter G (that book being Ferdydurke by Witold Gombrowicz), and found "them with my whole body, but he sat down, so I too had to sit down." I then, for the sake of meaning and ease, copied out the whole sentence connected to that line:
At the sight of this horribly banal and utterly commonplace Form I threw myself on my texts, covering them with my whole body, but he sat down, so I too had to sit down, and having sat down he proceeded to offer me his condolences on the death of my aunt, who died long ago and whom I had totally forgotten.
After I collected all seven lines/sentences, I deleted and rearranged and deleted some more, and came up with the following paragraph (but sadly no more, which is why I don't think I'll be reading this at the not-reading):
My grandfather waits, as the reader must have guessed, in the monastery library. Was there, or was there not, any possibility of breaking the muddy, ominous sort of peace? If there was, the question was how to go about meaning it. And now, as he looked up into his own, he thought for the thousandth time how his heart ached with love. But Mr. Krap tells me that the whole issue’s been reopened, and that its most universal effect is deception; but even its most particular effects have something of the same three local tycoons. At the sight of this horribly banal and utterly commonplace form I threw myself on my whole body. But he sat down, and having sat down he proceeded to offer me his condolences on the death of my grandfather who waits. And during this hiatus, the last of a muddy, ominous sort, I had better get round to describing him. I found no trace of Adso’s manuscript. It was obvious. The resistance of the committee to Mrs. Silver’s smiling face—how pretty she was, how sweet and gentle and full of kindness, and I just met the whole railroad issue, and Bernick’s in conference with the same character. So I too had to sit down, and having sat down long ago, I had totally forgotten.
Instead, I think I'll be reading from a longer piece written with a smaller rainbow. You should show up and find out what happens!

Retrospective: 19 June 2007: The Shortest Distance Between Two Points

[To view the post in its original context, click here.] Last Thursday, as I went about my normal reading of things on the internet, I was stopped by the phrase "quantitative social scientists" in a post on boingboing.net. It stopped me because just the day before, Cat and I had been talking about how sociology is portrayed by the media. (She and Kate are engaged in an informal research project about how sociology is represented specifically by the AP. Their results so far show that when the AP quotes a sociologist, that sociologist is more often than not foreign, and when not foreign, from an east coast, Ivy League school) Boingboing.net does produce some of its own content, but is mostly just a funnel/filter of the internet as a whole, and provides links (connections) to other things. So I followed the link provided by the good folks at boingboing to the original story, and was lead to a blog by Danah Boyd called "apophenia." Next to the title of the blog was a definition: apophenia: making connections where none previously existed Those of you who know me know that the above definition has more or less been my working definition for the word paranoia since 1995, and is mostly based on the following quotation from Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (I first read the quotation as a epigraph to "Rivkala's Ring" by Spalding Gray, a monologue I performed my junior year of college):
If there is something comforting—religious, if you want—about paranoia, there is still also anti-paranoia, where nothing is connected to anything, a condition not many of us can bear for long.
This "new" word, apophenia, which is better defined as "the spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness of unrelated phenomena" (K. Conrad, 1958), might appear to pose a serious problem to both my long-held definition of paranoia and my mostly tongue-in-cheek theory about the place of paranoia in liberal arts education, however, some further reading over at languagehat.com mitigates that threat. The main argument at languagehat (or at least the one that appealed to me and my interests most directly) is paraphrased thusly:
    -If the base definition of paranoia is the finding of connections where none necessarily exist, why do we need this word? -Well, since most people hear the word paranoia and automatically think "a psychosis characterized by systematized delusions of persecution or grandeur," then we need this word to differentiate between paranoia as defined by most people, and paranoia as defined by people who think they understand the inner- or under-machinations of a mental disorder better than most people. -Okay, cool.
So, let me please herewith say that I am retaining the definition, but changing the word. My mostly tongue-in-cheek theory becomes one about the place of apophenia in liberal arts education. Our lives continue unabated as though absolutely nothing of any consequence has happened. I end with a bit of apophenia for you to chew: A little over three years ago, I wrote a series of memos (nos. 180-184) (within the larger series of memos) about Spalding Gray, paranoia, and quitting smoking. That memos 180, 181, 182, 183, and 184 should also deal with the cessation of smoking is interesting in today's case because Cat has spent the last five years studying that very thing and how it is portrayed in the media.

Retrospective: 26 February 2006: The Sum of the Remainders

[To view the post in its original context, click here.] “What is interesting, as always, is the aftermath.” —Ben Marcus, The Age of Wire and String 1 Home 1.1 He sighed as he placed his left index finger on the light switch and looked down at her. 1.2 She closed her eyes and turned her face away from him as he obliviously dug his thumbnail into the rind of the orange. 1.3 They didn’t feel it move through them, but they saw the stain as it began to spread. 2 Work 2.1 Not noticing the puddle of water at his feet, he prepared to press the buttons required to receive a candy bar. 2.2 He looked his boss squarely in the eye, and said, “Good morning, Sir.” 2.3 She hit the send button. 3 At Large 3.1 He took the very center of the french fry between both forefingers and thumbs and squeezed, causing the hot center to squirt out like pus from a pimple. 3.2 They shook hands and agreed that perhaps everyone else was quite foolish for not listening to their warnings. 3.3 As she stepped from the curb, she sneezed.

Retrospective: 24 March 2005: Why is the Rocket Going Nowhere?

[To view the post in its original context, click here.] “And he sensed percolating from the kitchen, humble, squalid, time-marking human thought, marking time in one spot, always in one spot, going round and round, in circles, as if they were dizzy but couldn’t stop. as if they were nauseated but couldn’t stop, the way we bite our nails, the way we tear off dead skin when we’re peeling, the way we scratch ourselves when we have hives, the way we toss in our beds when we can’t sleep, to give ourselves pleasure and make ourselves suffer, until we are exhausted, until we’ve taken our breath away. . . .” —Nathalie Sarraute [see also: memos 104 11_04_03, 108 11_10_03, 110 11_13_03, and especially 117 11_24_03] Here is an excerpt from my unfinished novel Zen Arcade: As he was walking into the kitchen, he decided the project of building a human shell from dead skin cells was no different from the man who had decided to record every minute of his life in a diary. In Adam’s mind, the man had started out writing things like “walked from the desk to the refrigerator, poured myself a glass of milk, drank it and walked back to the desk,” but had soon realized he was leaving things out, things like picking up and opening the milk carton, placing it back in the refrigerator, and closing the refrigerator door. The realization that he was leaving some things out led to other realizations, which led to writing things like “unconsciously sent a message from my brain to my right leg, the muscles in that leg contracted to lift my leg and move it forward,” and on and on until eventually, the only thing the man would have been able to write was “I am writing the sentence I am writing right now. I am writing the sentence I am writing right now” over and over and over again until he died. Adam thought that sounded very much like eternally pushing a boulder up a hill, always up. And so the same with building a human shell one sloughed cell at a time. As soon as you had found and placed one cell, 20 more would have fallen off. His original estimate of seven years as the project’s duration had been way off. It was probably something more like seven factorial, or—once again, it was too early for math, and so he focused on making some coffee. He was daily amazed that the coffee pot his parents had bought before he was born was still working, as he had been through at least three tape-recorders in that time, and he used the tape-recorder far less frequently than the coffee pot. He picked the coffee pot up. He took off the lid and put it in the sink. He reached into the pot. He extracted the stem and the basket. He set the pot down. He disengaged the stem from the basket and placed it in the sink. He took the lid off the basket. He placed it in the sink. He opened the cupboard door under the right-hand side of the sink where the trash can was located. He knocked yesterday’s grounds into the trash. He placed the basket in the sink. He turned on the water. He adjusted the faucet so that the water was just a little hotter than comfortable. He rinsed the lid. He placed it in the drying rack. He rinsed the stem and placed it in the drying rack. He rinsed the basket’s lid. He put it in the drying rack. He rinsed the basket. He thought, What is today? Is today the day I wash everything with soap and water? He put the basket in the drying rack. He turned off the water. He picked up the pot again, and dumped its contents into the sink. He watched the day-old coffee as it swirled down the drain. He thought, Now certainly I have deposited skin cells onto the lid, the stem, the basket, and the basket’s lid, and those cells will get mixed into the coffee I will drink, and then. . . . I would have to strain my urine. That wouldn’t work. Of course, none of it would work. The only feasible way to perform the task of building a human shell was to be dead. If he were dead, he would no longer be sloughing off skin cells. At least, he thought, in this thought process, the boulder rolls back down the hill. He put the coffee pot under the faucet, and turned on the hot water. He filled the pot about half-way. He swished the water around in the pot. He turned the pot over and dumped the dirty water down the sink. He watched the water go down the drain. He righted the coffee pot. He turned the faucet’s handle all the way to cold. He turned the water on and filled the coffee pot up to the prescribed line. He turned the water off. He removed the pot from under the faucet, and set it back on the counter. He grabbed the stem from the drying rack. He grabbed the basket with his other hand. He placed the thin part of the stem into the receiving hole in the basket. He placed the basket-stem combination into the coffee pot. He opened the cupboard just above and to the left of the sink. He grabbed the canister of coffee. He put it on the counter. He pried off the plastic lid. He set the lid down. He reached into the canister. He grabbed the plastic measuring spoon inside of the canister and lifted. He dumped the little bit of coffee grounds in the spoon back into the canister. He liked to start with an empty spoon. He dug the spoon into the coffee, leveled the amount by wiping his finger across the top of the spoon, and dumped the coffee grounds into the basket. He dug the spoon into the coffee, leveled the amount by wiping his finger across the top of the spoon, and dumped the coffee grounds into the basket. He dug the spoon into the coffee, leveled the amount by wiping his finger across the top of the spoon, and dumped the coffee grounds into the basket. He dug the spoon into the coffee, leveled the amount by wiping his finger across the top of the spoon, and dumped the coffee grounds into the basket. He dug the spoon into the coffee, leveled the amount by wiping his finger across the top of the spoon, and dumped the coffee grounds into the basket. He dug the spoon into the coffee, leveled the amount by wiping his finger across the top of the spoon, and dumped the coffee grounds into the basket. He put the spoon back into the canister. He put the plastic lid back on the canister by pressing down all the way around the edge. He put the canister back in the cupboard. He closed the cupboard door. He grabbed the basket’s lid out of the drying rack. He fitted it over the basket. He grabbed the pot’s lid from the drying rack. He pushed it down on top of the coffee pot. He plugged the coffee pot in. He opened the cupboard he had just closed, and took down his mug. He set it next to the coffee pot. He closed the cupboard. He sat down at the kitchen table. He waited.

This Blog’s 10th Anniversary

Hello. If you're still here after all these years, congratulations! However, because this has become such a sporadicly updated thing, unlike other, different blogs I run, I have considered, on this, this blog's 10th anniversary, shutting this here thing down, posting a farewell post, linking to the other places online where I am more active. But as this auspicious date has approached, that thought has become less and less attractive because even though I only sporadically post, even though I allowed the counter to break and stay broken so that now I have no idea who, if anyone, is visiting at all, even though this site was subject to a pharma-hack and it took me a long time to fix it, even though it often seems to me as though I don't really care about this site as much as I used to, it is still a record of some of my thoughts and has been for ten years now. And, unlike other blogs I run, I host this one myself, meaning that the content belongs to me, rather than some large corporation in California or NYC. So, even though the heyday of the blog is perhaps long past, I'm going to let this thing here limp along for a while. And hey, let's considering the Beckett tagline again, limping along is perhaps the only way to do this at all, the only honest way. So here's what I think I'll do: The next ten posts will be a curated collection of the last ten years of this blog, one post from each year. Let's see what happened.

You Can’t Get There From Here by Jason

Love can be manufactured. A body can be manufactured. Sensation can be manufactured. There is the body. There are the body’s processes. There is the reality of touch. Sight is a kind of touch. We have learned not to trust our sight. That touch is a reality would seem to contradict this. Mobs with axes, pitchforks, and torches are performing touch. Mobs with axes, pitchforks, and torches are performing a kind of love, an erotics of fear. The assistant is usually overlooked, has a life of its own, wants also to be the actor, the processor, the manufacturer. When the assistant is not overlooked, it becomes the mob’s love object. How dare anyone manufacture? How dare anyone love? Hey . . . Jason_youcantgettherefromhere

My Struggle vol. 2: A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard

This book, which manages to balance a compelling and relentless narration of one life’s quotidian minutiae against the rather less quotidian thought processes that attend those minutiae, or at least the author of this book (and that is another interesting tension: the book purports to be the life of its author, therefore to be the author itself in some ways, but the back of the book says fiction, and of course it is) is convinced that examining minutiae destroys the very thing which one wanted to examine in the first place. It is as though the atoms of our lives are given weight by the protons of our thoughts and the electrons can either have location or velocity, but not both. In fact, the author says so multiple times:
p76 “Or was it perhaps that the light which illuminated the world and made everything comprehensible also drained it of meaning?” p414 “The eye which gave meaning to the world was a constant possibility, but we almost always decided against it. . . .” p487 “This was the problem with all representation, of course, for no eye is uncontaminated, no gaze is blank, nothing is seen the way it is. And in this encounter the question of art’s meaning as a whole was forced to the surface.” p503 “But the stars twinkle above our heads, the sun shines, the grass grows and the earth, yes, the earth, it swallows all life and eradicates all vestige of it, spews out new life in a cascade of limbs and eyes, leaves and nails, hair and tails, cheeks and fur and guts, and swallows it up again. And what we never really comprehend, or don’t want to comprehend, is that this happens outside us, that we ourselves have no part in it, that we are only that which grows and dies, as blind as the waves in the sea are blind.”

Black Hole by Charles Burns

A picture of a white slit. A picture of two bones tied together at a 120º angle. A picture of a broken bottle. A picture of a rip in the skin? A picture of the moon. A picture of a slit in a foot. A picture of a marijuana bud. A picture of a sharpened stick. A picture of a half-eaten burger. A picture of a tab of acid between two strips of tape. A picture of a sprinkling of stars. A picture of two thorny twigs intertwined to make a slit shape. A picture of a broken double popsicle. A picture of a tiny-toothed mouth (sideways slit). A picture of a picture of Rob. A picture of sperm cells swarming around a giant egg. A picture of a friend chicken leg. A picture of an orange. A picture of a flaming slit. The End. “Is it a mirror? Just a crack at first . . . a thin sliver of light. . . . and then it spreads, opens up. I don’t understand. Why does it have to be like this? Why do I have to go through all of this shit?” One hemisphere composed of an orange, a pipe shaped like a compact skeleton, shreds of paper, bits of bone, a length of rope or some segments of worm, a tail or a vine, a bottle cap, dried leaves, a book of matches, a bag of weed, a twig or two, a broken bottle. Another hemisphere composed of the moon, a cigarette, a picture of Rob, twigs and leaves, shards of glass, a bone with a bit of string tied around it, a baloney sandwich with one bite missing, a frog, a handgun. Our galaxy is a slit and a spiral at the same time.