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Friday, January 29, 2010

01/29/10

A frantic journey to the library turned up two treasures: an Updike book about a doubting, sex-crazed minister and Einstein's theory of relativity. In the one, I have a familiar voice I've grown to love, and a descriptive power I've not encountered in anyone but Nabokov. In the latter, I'll probably understand a fraction, and be able to apply none of it, save for some of the most esoterically banal conversation-stoppers I can muster for future cocktail parties.

I do love Updike though. Part of the draw to him is in the spiritual depth of his novels. The experience of an Updike novel is uniquely visceral and the details are powerfully vivid and dynamic. But there's always more. Many have remarked that no one does sex like Updike. True. No one does doubt like Updike either. He has a way of charting the motions of the soul within the context of a terrifyingly mundane and secular world. The lusts seem to act as extensions of the spirit in an Updike novel. We are always reaching for that ultimate point of contact only to find it shattered by a paradoxical sense of isolation. Adultery is the theme running rampant throughout all of Updike's prose. It serves as a metaphor for our own wanderings away from our true source of light.

Updike used to read from Karl Barth's commentary on Romans every night before he went to bed. He never tired of citing Kierkegaard and Barth as the vital sources of inspiration for his work, the set of coordinates by which he operated. His books are profoundly existential and profoundly theological. His characters are always trying to stay in motion, to stave away inertia. They are always trying to crowd away their emptiness with voluptuous bodies. Ironically, this ends up compounding the problem.

I am grateful to return to this most Christian of contemporary writers.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

01/23/10

My father-in-law reminded me of my sustained absence on this blog; my initial hope was to make it a daily discipline. Still, good intentions are harder to come by these days...

I've been somewhat depressed and vexed the past couple of days. The question of vocation looms large in my mind. Having recently graduated from college, I'm certainly not alone here. Many of us are trying to lay low while this wounded economy slouches toward some kind of recovery. My own qualms regard my particular calling. A "calling" is now a well-worn cliche, tread by many a preacher and evangelist, but the term is not yet so muddied as to be incommunicable. By calling I mean a particular line of work peculiar to my talents and proclivities that will serve in some small way to further the kingdom of God.

I called my Dad in an inspired fit of self-pity. He drew my attention to my motives and after I was done blushing, he proffered Proverbs 3:5-6. Familiar verses which I had yet to truly consider, much less implement in my own life. I've been reading them every day and attempting to understand what it means to not lean on one's own understanding. If that sounds like an oxymoron, I'm in good company with many esteemed theologians, though they would probably call it a paradox. At any rate, I won't be content to settle for anything less than a life of service to Christ.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

01/19/10

A more somber post.

I can't strive with Nabokov any longer. I'm forsaking Ada for now; I sense an alarmingly hollow sound behind all of the elaborate ornamentation. The excess of details isn't enough for me. I guess I'm realizing that moral backbone is important to me in the fiction I read, attractive as the idea of gloriously useless writing is.

I'm spiritually restless at the moment. A man with whom I work laid his hand on my shoulder recently and told me to listen to God. Amazing how little of that I do these days. I'll spend hours venting to God and devote not a second to opening my ears or heart to Him. As I press on these days, I'm rapidly coming to the realization that most of this world revolves around the question of what one values. Put simply, we do what we value, we forsake what we don't. That's a frightening thought for me.

The only way to communicate value then is to point toward what one values with one's own actions. The immanence of Christ's love won't be comprehensible without physical and verbal demonstrations of it on a daily basis, communications of its value. I just finished reading an essay by Marilynne Robinson on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His sole purpose in life was to communicate Christ's immanence to us through his actions. If we value Christ, we will act as Christ did to the best of our limited abilities. Every day, we're bombarded with a deluge of values that we're supposed to accept without question. Value-judgments are constantly made for us. I guess, I think I need to pray for the discernment to distinguish were my priorities as a follower of Christ lie.

Monday, January 18, 2010

01/18/10

An unfaithful diarist fesses up.

Currently reading Nabokov's Ada along with Boyd's book. The experience is quite enlightening since this enchanting little fairy-tale is nearly incomprehensible without some sort of Virgilistic guide.

Boyd points out that one aspect of Nabokov's flashy style that is frequently glossed over is his exploration of consciousness; that is, our awareness of individual and disparate things. The reader will be treated to a sprawling sentence where the author weaves seamlessly in and out of the character's head. Long parenthetical digressions make their way into the mix and disparate facts and characters who you'll never meet again throughout the coarse of the book pop out like party favors. As Boyd sees it, this testifies to Nabokov's desire to present the world as being comprised of individual entities. He will zone in on a particular detail and elaborate extensively and exhaustively, all the more if the detail is superfluous because it illustrates the nature of our world. These details are like an independent set of coordinates mapping out a radically heterogeneous world, hence the fact that Nabokov liked to compose his stories on note cards. These note cards were like individual specimens, slides in a lab. Here is our literary taxonomist. So, with Nabokov you have a collection of powerful details, each of which could stand alone. The result can be somewhat disorienting for the uninitiated.

I'm on the fence about a lot of this. I admire Nabokov more than most novelists right now, but it's hard for me to see any great spiritual depth in all of this splendor. Boyd's arguments are compelling and much more discerning than my own, but I still feel a remarkable impoverishment when I read Nabokov. When I read Lolita (not his best work in my opinion) for instance, the one redounding thought I had was, "He wrote this because he could and for no other reason." I think Nabokov would like that answer, but I'm not sure I do. Nabokov was fond of castigating many of the Russian masters, chief among them, Dostoevsky. As I grow older, I'm more and more drawn to the admittedly clumsy but always rich, novels of Dostoevsky, novels that assure me there are other worlds than this.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

12/15/10

After a night of processing and self-flagellation, I'm willing to declare myself a fan of the film "World's Greatest Dad." Not an easy film to watch by any stretch, this outrageously black little gem will take you places you probably haven't been since "Spanking the Monkey."

We join an English teacher who is actually a failed writer, desperate for fame and recognition. His son, to put it mildly, is the spawn of Satan, and can't seem to engage with anything that isn't Orphic. When a perverse accident interferes with this little freak's respiration, our failed writer seizes the opportunity to unleash his creative forces and to make a saint of Satan.

Though the film boasts some of the most memorably juvenile dialog you've heard since the last "South Park" movie, its themes are so deeply complex that we are forced to look beyond the surface. Robin William's character is exploiting his own son's death for money and fame, and who could blame him? We the audience are accomplices to the extend that it's hard to find fault with him for what he's done. His son is probably one of the most unsympathetic characters we'll ever see. But the film demonstrates brilliantly what the mystique of death and a little poetic license can accomplish. The son functions as the scapegoat initiating all of the redemptive themes in the film, hence, some of the guilt we feel about endorsing William's creative drive in the film.

It's a touching movie for all that, and the scene where William looses his son is painful to endure. Fine acting all around and a good soundtrack. Some of the lines truly are funny, even if they do make you cringe.

And another thing. Here's a little aside to all of the prudes in the audience. A casual glance through the foolish reviews posted on Amazon.com illustrates some rather interesting inconsistencies. For one, people have repeatedly complained about the language. It's excessive, crude, vulgar--nobody talks like that, it makes the film loose credibility. Such people are more than happy to turn the other cheek for some of the most aberrant behavior ever captured on screen in films like the "Hangover," or "Pineapple Express." Also, the vigilantes like "Batman," "Iron Man" et all. take many more liberties than Williams' sad character ever will in the film. In fact, being an opportunist is usually smiled upon in America's business circles, but somehow, this film seems to be hitting the sanctimonious nerve in a lot of people. It's ludicrous and hypocritical. My own theory is that many of you feel guilty for secretly supporting Williams' decision.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

01/14/10

I've begun reworking a short story I've been toying with for about three years. I have yet to hash out a pattern for my work (my fiction). The plan now is to devote the first hour of my mornings to this task. This is generally the time when my mind is at its very best. After that, tasks like tying one's shoes begin to take on the significance of joining the Human Genome Project for me. If I exhale successfully, it's sure evidence that I should be rewarded the Noble Prize (that wasn't another tired Obama joke).

No truncated passage or version of the story will be on display here. I share Nabokov's disdain for displaying a work in progress. Apart from that, I have nothing more in common with my favorite writer, excepting my grumpy and irascible nature... I do plan on providing occasional updates on the work as a means of accountability. What I will say in all seriousness is that I truly am beginning to see this as what will emerge as both my purpose and my vocation, as something that is vital to me.

The story is, I think, a good exploration of some of the conflicted themes that have most troubled me over the course of my short life. I tend to see conflict as one of the central motions of all great fiction. I should specify: by conflict I mean a deep dialectical schism in the soul of the writer himself. The writer is usually torn between many themes tugging at his heart. The greatest battles and wars within fiction are waged within the heart of the author himself. Blame Bloom for this conflict-centered approach, but it's proven to shape much of my thinking. I also think a writer ought to nurture a fierce and fearful sympathy. The kind of sympathy that drove Cormac McCarthy to write a story with a necrophiliac for a hero. Read Child of God and you will feel the radical and merciless sympathy of one of America's most gifted living writers. The only character I care about in any book is the writer himself. Nabokov again: "A writer's readers are his greatest creation." Some say Shakespeare created us all. I know Who created me, and I intend to know that author more deeply every day.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

01/13/10

I'm headed to the Seeking7 conference in Birmingham Alabama this afternoon. I'll be traveling with my HandsforChrist employer, Richard Duhe.

The conference will cover a variety of topics, ranging from current scientific issues to radical Islam, but the thread running through all of the sessions is the issue of contemporary apologetics. Mr. Duhe flies out on a business trip tomorrow, so we'll only be attending one session unfortunately.

Apologetics seems to be becoming more of a contested field these days. Many wonder whether it is counterproductive, or, worse yet, whether it represents a compromise. Should we not meet our critics on their own terms and turf? Would it be more honest to offer the Gospel and nothing else, Christ alone?

For starters, I think that this is a false dilemma. Developing cogent arguments for the faith, and relying on philosophical conventions to do so hardly constitutes an evasion of any kind. Theology relies on the rigor of logic for its own development. Even the most existentially ecstatic of theological thinkers have had recourse to some kind of philosophical discipline at some point. Moreover, we have scriptural evidence--not simply from that fated Acts passage, but from the very fact that a third of the Old Testament is poetry--that Scripture used cultural conventions to make the Gospel credible to a hostile audience.

Another thing, refusing to engage our critics communicates an attitude of both cowardice and hostility. If we summarily dismiss these men, how is that showing them love? You may reply that we ought not to scatter our pearls before swine, but to say that would be to reinforce my point. These men care enough, whatever their motives are, to hurl critical missiles this way. If we refuse to accept the challenge we send a message of complacency, cowardice and hatred. They won't go away, you know.

I'm fond of quoting I John 4:1 as my favorite apologetic apothegm. These men are the spirits of the age and they must be tested. As Larry Taunton of Fixed-Point Foundation has said in an interview on my blog, these men already have an immense audience and lavish media attention. They have the spotlight.

Is the Gospel sufficient? I say yes with reservations. It is sufficient for those already indoctrinated. For those who don't know, it's lunacy. That is its glory. The Gospel changes and inverts everything. Nietzsche would have said it "transvalues" everything. In order to lead these men to the way of the cross, the empty tomb and the resurrection, we must establish some common ground initially, and then, quite simply, pray for a miracle because any shrewd Christian knows that no elaborate logical construction or syllogism is going to lead anyone to God. The Holy Spirit must sow the seeds in their heart, Christ must compel and the Father must welcome them into His arms in His own good time.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

01/12/10

It's always disheartening to see an actor you love in an uninspired film. Last night, my wife and I rented "500 Days of Summer." Joseph Gordon Levitt became my favorite actor after I witnessed his awe-inspiring performance in "Mysterious Skin." But this little sleeper left much to be desired.

For starters, Zoe Deschenell is cast as the same character she always plays; a free-spirited, fun-loving and somewhat wayward girl, who hides her vulnerability from all but the most privileged of people. Also, the sonorous narrator of the film warns us that this is no love story; it is, and it's one you've seen many times. In many ways, the film seems to be a reworking of "Annie Hall," only with a change in setting. The usual qualms are on the table. Profound questions like, "Is there even such a thing as love?" and "Is Ringo Star the greatest of the Beatles?" Too much name-dropping goes on, by the way. Every five seconds we get a Smiths reference, or a Bergman ode. Think of a pretentious friend who majored in English and is fond of quoting Milton at cocktail parties--me for instance.

Anyway, at the end, there is a hint of hope. The hero, realizing that Deshanel's character (Summer) is a manipulative user, finally ditches her for a better girl with the hysterically-contrived name, Autumn.

Levitt is great as is to be expected. The film, for all its weaknesses, does boast one of the best couple's fights I've seen. Summer doesn't want to "label" the relationship, Levitt, who has grown tired of the irksome play, declares, "I have a say as well, and I say we're a couple goddamn it!" It is a powerful scene, and the only good one the movie has to offer.

The only other strength of the film is Levitt's awesome vintage wardrobe. His outfits are much more inspiring than the script, or the immensely over-the-top soundtrack. Give this one a pass.

Monday, January 11, 2010

01/11/10

David Bentley Hart--a personal favorite of mine--in his essay Notes on John Paul II's Pontificate 2001, recalls the tragic schism between the Western and Eastern branches of the church. Hart, himself a conservative Eastern Orthodox proponent, seems to hint that, not only is a more unified approach necessary, but that an ecumenical effort on behalf of the global church may well be needed.

According to Hart, we are confronted with three major religions: Christianity, Islam and mindless consumerism. Islam, in its most radical presentations, has a dogmatic license for violence at its disposal. Consumerism is nothing more than a sort of "comfortable nihilism," and a belief in nothing. Think of "Family Guy"; nothing is sacred.

The church may well be compelled to mobilize despite its many theological squabbles. There are hints in the essay that we are drawing inexorably close to events of cataclysmic proportions, but Hart is too subtle to be overt here. Hart is not without his own qualms of course; he is a scholar after all. He has some rather unflattering words for John Calvin and his followers (I'm among them, so reading those passages is humbling to say the least). But these are strange times, and Hart's words sound a note that is not so much radical as necessary. We no longer have the luxury of wasting words over the works of dead theological thinkers. In the wake of modernism, the church has often appeared dissolute and defunct, and internal struggles have done nothing to fortify the edifice, well-intentioned as they may seem. Hart seems to be saying that our collaborative efforts at evangelism and the Gospel imperative incumbent on all Christians just may aid us in leaving these shrill battles behind.

May God grant us the strength, maturity and the courage to make it so. We shall need plenty of all of three if we are to meet our most callous of critics.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

01/10/10

On certain days, when I'm at work, my personality seems to enter a vacuum and I become capable of nothing but monosyllabic grunts. Sometimes I simply revert to sign language, though owing to my ignorance of this communicative field, I usually end up making some obscene gesture when all I meant to imply was: "take good care now, and look at that beautiful sky up there!"

Let me share with you another language of my own invention. Well, perhaps it's not really a language, more of a sub-language, or sub-narrative, so to speak. It's my own method of clandestine insults, or covert insults. Exhibit A: "Have a good afternoon." Think about it. I'm restricting my good tidings to a very minuscule portion of the day, think of a small cheese wedge or portion of a pie. In essence, I'm saying, "hope your afternoon's great, but may the rest of your day be a raging inferno of pain and misery." This last portion is implied of course and it takes a certain amount of subtlety or sadism to appreciate. You can go too far. Don't say, for instance, "Hope you have a great hour," or "Have a wonderful minute Mam." Such remarks are apt to cause perplexity in the dull, and offense to those with shrewd sensibilities.

"Have a good day," when it is placed alongside that immense cyclical beast we call life, begins to appear both banal and offensive, so even here, you have an opportunity for some well-placed infective if an offense has been done to you. Another way of classifying all of this might be the "colloquial insult," a piece of everyday nonsense with a hidden poison or bomb. So, now that all of you passive-aggressive satirists are armed to the teeth, have a good afternoon....

Saturday, January 9, 2010

01/09/10

James Cameron's "Avatar" may make others recall their first "Star-Wars" experience, but it made me think of Northrop Frye...

After overcoming the nearly irrepressible desire to grab onto the iridescent 3D foliage, my lackluster sensibilities began to kick in. I'm not interested in Cameron's less-than-subtle political undertones, but I'm very interested in the mythopoeic aspects of this film.

We have, first of all, the garden of Edenic beauty, inhabited by a race both respectful and reverent of its resources; there is also a "tree of life" borrowed, it seems, directly from Genesis. Frye would call this classic pastoral imagery, though we have none of the traditional animals since this is another world than our own. Another thing Frye would say is that this is an analogical world presented in high mimetic form: "We find here the emphasis on cynosure or centripetal gaze, and the tendency to idealize the human representatives of the divine spiritual world, which are characteristic of the high mimetic. Divinity hedges the king and the Courtly Love mistress is a goddess; love of both is an educating and informing power which brings one into unity with the spiritual and divine worlds."

If you've seen the film, you'll know that the romantic subplot of the film follows this little formula nearly to a t. Another way of looking at it is to see in it the classical Romeo & Juliet motif running through the story; two star-crossed lovers from warring kingdoms coming together for the sake of their mutual love.

The humans in the film are another matter. Coming to colonize this Edenic heaven, they bring all of the steam, smoke and smog of the Waste Land at their heels. The massive space-ships, and heavy-duty industrial equipment are certifiable "Leviathans" in their own right. We should have in mind Eliot's Waste Land, Browning's Child Roland, Dante's Inferno etc. Their (humans of the corrupt corporate world) only goal is to plunder the world of its natural resources and leave, to destroy Eden and the "Tree of Life." They carry with them an entourage of all of Frye's demonic imagery: "the demonic human world is a society held together by a kind of molecular tension of egos, a loyalty to the group or the leader which diminishes the individual, or, at best, contrasts his pleasure with his duty or honor." Again, if you've seen the film, this will sound strikingly familiar.

I was being coy by the way, Frye was the last thing on my mind as I took in this visual feast. Do yourself a favor and go see it.

Friday, January 8, 2010

01/08/10

Got the aforementioned book, much long-winded discussion is sure to follow...

Snow fell, people panicked, there was a twenty-seven car pile-up near the airport. Having spent the past five days exhausting the subject of the weather, that's all I'll say. If a new Ice Age is upon us, I'll be the first to redirect the discussion to the question of whether postage stamps are mightier than the sword.

I'm celebrating my wife's birthday today, because I've been locked in the safe for the past week. I bought a bottle of Chianti which keeps giving rise to the rather disturbing proposition that I should also prepare some fava beans, along with the organ most compromised by alcoholic consumption in the first place. Also, I've procured some crackers and a cheese that's been tortured through several seasons of decay until it has, quite literally, come back to life; it informed me that it was from Ireland.

I plan on reading Nabokov's Ada before delving into Boyd's book; it would be like jumping ahead to the answer key on a crossword puzzle. Lately, I've been hitting a dry spot with the novels I've begun. I attempted to reread Moby Dick but ended up impaling myself on a harpoon in the process. I also tried Millhauser's Martin Dressler. It's good, but not as spell-binding as Millhauser's books usually are. Works of literary criticism have been the only imaginative ventures I've been able to manage as of late. Ada, with its labyrinthine plot-twists and intricate textures should prove as fine a study as any, and I may have recourse to a harpoon in the process, but at least I have Boyd's cheat sheet.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

01/07/10

Now that we're up to date...

I'm actually considering purchasing Brian Boyd's literary connect-the-dots, Ada: The Place of Consciousness. It's a sure-fire proof that I'm a firm vulgarian; I also used to think that colloquial titles such as Mr. and Mrs. were conferred by Universities.

Boyd's most recent ideas on the "evolution" of fiction are apt to enrage me. The quotation marks demonstrate my hatred of that word--in its scientific and ideological sense--being connected in any way with artistic creation. A great work of art is a marvel of consciousness as Dr. Boyd's title suggests, and a scandal to any of Darwin's manic disciples. There is simply too much to reduce here, which is why, incidentally, I'm beginning to grow impatient with Frye. What does he hope all of this literary taxonomy will accomplish? By becoming an inveterate archivist, will we better discern the mysteries of artistic genius? And by the way, make no mistake, there is such a thing as a genius, tropes concerning the "death of the author" notwithstanding. There are people who possess a peculiar point of vantage that makes most of our conceptions concerning the world appear as opaque as a black and white film. Not that "Citizen Cain" isn't great.

Anyway, I think I'll get the book, since it was written years before Boyd became deluded by decadent and atavistic thinkers...

01/06/10

I feel like Gogol's mad diarist because today is clearly the seventh. But since I've elected to make this mundane blog a daily discipline--which incidentally explains many of its deficiencies--I will operate under the delusional premise that today is not today, but yesterday.

The past few nights I've been cloistered away in the cash-office hermitage. I'm a slow financial scribe, but so far, accurate. These things take time. Admittedly, this is not the area of my gifting; that would be mapping the mental phenomena of tree sap. Since my thumb is attached by nothing more than a glorified piece of sackcloth, I've found thumbing through copious amounts of bills to be a tedious task. By the end of the evening, my hands are so black you'd think I'd traded my profession for that of a chimney sweep, and that I'd emerged from a furnace and not a cash room.

Snow has been promised today, which means that every sensible Georgian will be on the hunt for those two most perishable of items: bread and milk. If a true and impending cataclysm ever makes its way to this state, the natives will subsist on nothing but mold and cottage cheese and probably mutate into some inconceivable abomination of nature.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

01/05/10

Reading Frye's Anatomy of Criticism.

The tentative system proposed by Frye involves locating a series of organizing principles within a given literary text. These he terms archetypes. Archetypes are usually fairly conventional features shared throughout world literature. An example would be representations of food throughout the world. This will have a resonance no matter where we find it displayed because of our dependency upon nutrition. It's not too much of a stretch to see these images cropping up in myths of fertility gods and the like. Symbols act in much the same way for Frye. A symbol at its core, reduces to a simple structure which he calls a monad. All of these operate as a set of coordinates whereby we may classify, categorize and file away what we read. Sounds quite taxonomic doesn't it? Well, it is. Some of us may even remember that dismal poetic scheme in the "Dead Poets Society", which Mr. Keating has his class tear up. But Frye's proposal is much more imaginative than his structuralist interpreters would have you believe.


Frye seeks to import scientific rigor to the admittedly less precise field of literary criticism. In this manner, he hopes to ensure a higher level of precision in our appraisal of literature. This is also a more objective approach to the text.

I'm only half-way through the book, so bear with me here, but one of the more interesting proposals that Frye makes is that literature should be studied as an isolated phenomenon. Literature forms its own universe and the network of texts by which it is constituted are insulated against all historic contingencies. This is a world onto itself. Importing other disciplines into the field such as anthropology, psycho-analysis and philosophy is counterproductive at best. In order to study literature, the proper study is just that, literature. Another example provided by Frye is of abstract paintings which seek to represent those geometrical shapes residing at the core of representational paintings. This is the way he views archetypes.



Fascinating thoughts...

I'll try to share some of my own when I finish.

Monday, January 4, 2010

01/04/10

Fatigue is shutting down my mental faculties. I woke up this morning at an hour that would incense a rooster. With my thumb wrapped up more warmly than I was, I sailed off to work amid some arctic winds that had me convinced I'd never be able to have kids.

As I said, my mind is going to the place that Frank Black talked about in that Pixies song. Time to stop.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

01/03/10

Reaching down to peel a sticker off of the grocery store floor, I had placed my hand on the underside of the metal counter to steady myself. One day, there'll be a market for discarded banana stickers, I just know it! As I gripped tighter to prepare to bring myself back to an upright position, I slid forward simultaneously and opened the crease in my thumb like a book. It was a squirter.

In the wake of the "Twilight" franchise, I'm sure there's a market out there for this prodigious stream evacuating my finger. I should have gotten a vial and soled it to a "vegan" vampire, or at least, one attempting to wean himself off of blood.

Well, I painted a door frame, the wall and much of the floor with my biological ink. After haphazardly wrapping my finger in gauze, it now looks like a Minny-mummy attached to my hand. Anytime the finger throbs I have a crazy urge to build it a sarcophagus; I've settled for decorating it with crude hieroglyphics.

What's the moral here? I should have settled for falling on my face. Guess it's either my teeth or my hands. Maybe a better question is, when attempting a complex task like the one mentioned above, which one of my limbs is most expendable?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

01/02/10

Marilynne Robinson has a seemingly outrageous thesis in an essay ironically entitled "Facing Reality." The title is ironic because Robinson is identifying our modern conception of "reality" as one of the most popular fictions currently on the market. Another way to say it would be that this new reality is our new mythology, bequeathed to us by our modern predecessors. She has in mind men like Freud, Marx and Darwin. Her thesis: "I suggest that, for us, the sense of sickness has replaced the sense of sin, to which it has always allied, and that while we are acutely aware of the difficulties surrounding notions of good and evil, we ignore, though they are manifest, the equally great difficulties surrounding notions of sickness and health, especially as these judgments are applied to behavior."

Quite a lot is packed into this little quotation. On the one hand, we seem to have an innate sense of something that is deeply conflicted, both in ourselves and in the world we inhabit. Some have termed this fear that precedes fear, anxiety. It's a "weasel-word" nowadays that's become the stand-in for any behavioral anomaly or non-physical malady affecting the mind. But what is it? Why are our cabinets filled with Valium? Most importantly, why have we projected this deep-seated dread onto the world? Robinson contends that this tendency manifests itself whenever we attempt to strip all of the outward appearances of things in order to view the depravity we knew was there all along, why we feel compelled to focus all of our critical insight on history's "dirty laundry" and nothing else.

I'm not immune to this epidemic, and in many ways, I see myself and much of what I've written and said in the past few years as symptomatic of it. Reading Robinson has been a sobering experience for me, and probably a much-needed corrective to much of the poison upon which I've become intellectually dependent. I can't close any better than she did in her essay, so I'll share it with you: "This being human--people have loved it through plague and famine and siege. And Dante, who knew the world about suffering, had a place in hell for people who were grave when they might have rejoiced."

Friday, January 1, 2010

01/01/10

Strange to see the date above.

Last night, working the front desk, I was reminded of one of the more dismal distractions practiced by many: gambling.

Every night, a motley crew of familiar faces limp up to the desk with a plethora of numbers racing through their fevered skulls. You'd think they were Pythagorean ecstatics but not so; they're simply in search of a wealthy deluge. They hand me stacks of tickets and listen with avid attention to the sounds the machine will make, either confirming that they've stumbled by blind chance upon a winning number, or that they've committed their hard-earned dollars to a vortex.

This is all they know. One gentleman will talk of nothing else. From the numbers on the tickets, he's worked out an intricate system of discernment when it comes to winning tickets. If he'd put some of this speculation into a discipline like quantum physics, he'd probably solve the problem of the nature of a singularity. Nothing else is worthy of discussion in his mind.

I have decided to crown this crew with the rather unflattering title, the Lottery Fiends.

I should mention also that this crowd is highly superstitious. If I sneeze they line up to get the ticket I sneezed on. Once, I faked an epileptic fit and dissolved into a paroxysm of contortions and foam and soled five hundred dollars worth of tickets. If the lights in the building flicker, they all become convinced it's a sign from God that they're meant to spend the rest of their days in inviolable decadence.

One lady crawls up to the counter in a walker and has two telescopes attached to her glasses, and an oxygen tank that requires an auxiliary tank to pick up the slack. I wonder whether she has the time to spend her millions. Perhaps it's just the thrill of emptying your pockets.

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