A Lover's Plaint,
The Good Sir Mix-A-Lot
I am given to rotund backsides. I, duty-bound against prevarication by the strictures of honor, trust none amongst my peers-at-court can repudiate the honorarium of tumescent attention he pays when a lady, svelte of belly and plentiful of thigh, strikes his fancy. These gentlemen halt, no matter their endeavors, upon observing this lady's derriere, squeezed pleasingly and with no room to spare, into her pantaloons. For myself -- when in the presence of such damsels, my fixation is almost monomaniacal. I would not only like to engage these peerwomen in sexual congress, but also to capture the image of their orbitual posteriors for obituary posterity.
When my chums, confederates, and confidants note me in this comportment of desire, they attempt to give me pause by prophesying hexes and mongering doom. I, however, am unable to attend to their advertisements as the sapid hindquarters inspire me with a lasciviousness rather difficult to brook.
Oh woman, since it is the case that the flesh of your rump has the look and feel of something soft as felt or suede, I invite you to exploit my attentions and affections for the use of my equipage, for you are not a common whore of the street. You are something more.
I have seen these vaunted women performing saltations; such sights render me inimical to the conventional proprieties of courtship, as when a lady is glistening with perspiration, moist as the morning dew, and in such spirits as a well-bred mustang, high of blood in the mating season.
I find myself fatigued by certain recent popular periodicals, endorsing the position that buttocks of attenuated convexity are attractive. On the contrary, put the question to the representative man of equatorial complexion and, I pledge, his response will be, "The marked convexity of her buttocks is paramount!" So brethren, fellows, is your paramour possessed of adequate hips for birthing? If indeed she is pleasingly shapely, enjoin her to waggle her goodly rump.
M'lady is possessed of haunches!
Her countenance is of a sweet, angelic city; her privity of a land of hardwood trees.
It is to my preference that the anatomical oddities in question be both spherical and bountiful, and whilst engaged in bardic oratory I become enraptured, ravished, ecstatic -- all but deprived of my humanity. But soft, friend, it might be controversial, nay outrageous to opine that it would be desirous to me to retreat with this paragon of femininity to mine own abode and, so to say, make the beast with two backs, if you will.
This truth is not to be had by the blue-books of our time, and not to be found in them. The embellishments undergone by these publications in the pursuit of voluptuary delight instead give the impression of playthings.
What is wanted, on the contrary, is authenticity, density, and a preponderance of moisture. And yet not without danger, for I, the good Sir Mix-A-Lot, am often afflicted with doubt and botheration by these aphrodisiacal lures.
Even as we speak, I turn my attention to musical tableaus preferred by the occidental rabble, and in them see coquettes with thighs so emaciated that their knees percuss in the manner of bone rattles. These coquettes are less to my taste than, for example, the esteemed track-and-field athlete Jackie Joyner--Kersee.
An aside, to the women of corporeal solidity and ethereal mystery: My desire is to fornicate with you. I will neither upbraid you verbally nor abuse you physically, but it is my duty to be forthright, and therefore to tell you my desire is to fornicate with you for many hours, perhaps until the sun rises. You are sexually desirable, and I desire you sexually.
Many philistines will disapprove of my lover's plaint because they fornicate with these women in question but once; I on the other hand, due to my abundance and mesomorphism, am more inclined to create heat through repetitious rubbing of tumid flesh and the slapping of bone on bone for sustained, hedonic duration. If you, fair lady, are possessed of these qualities, demonstrate them outwardly and you will be rewarded with the ululations of even the fairest of youths.
Some men's concubines, in the pursuit of shapeliness, employ the routines of Jane Fonda, and, for the purposes of rhyme, drive popular and economical Japanese automobiles. Yet backside of the former, Ms. Fonda, is bereft of the power afforded by the locomotive engine of the latter, a Honda, and as such, the longing of my serpentine phallus is unprovoked by this undesirable want of curvature. I grant the importance of exercise, and cast no prohibitions upon it as long as it comes in the form of side-bends or sit-ups. However, I enjoin and remonstrate, to perform exercises such as those demonstrated by Ms. Fonda might have the loathsome result of slimming the callipygous fundament in question.
There may even be those diabolical tricksters and madmen who argue that sizable haunches are less valuable than lead run through the alchemist's alembic and, in their phrenzy, part with you as lovers. In a way, I even thank these men -- their castoffs are my treasure, my dread pirate's booty!
Though the aforementioned popular periodicals confuse your copious voluptuousness with corpulence, I cannot agree with this assessment. Your stomach does not protrude, but your hips and breasts protrude mightily, and I want to have sex with you. The overly-linear ladies proffered by these periodicals are not to the taste of the times; rather, a woman who has not been denied a diet high in starches and complex carbohydrates is to the liking of the modern man.
Even some men who prefer these zatfig ladies, as is proper, are nothing but fools and charlatans. Though practiced and successful in the ways of wooing, these mongrels smite their embonpoint maidens with fists. But again, the rakes' refuse is my reward, and even as the unfortunate women nurse their wounds and anoint their bruises, I anxiously approach with the intention of engaging them in prurient caresses.
In conclusion, damsels and peeresses: If your hindquarters are orotund, and you are desirous of engaging with me in lubricious and shocking contretemps, dial 1-900-Mix-A-Lot and divulge to me the perverse and demoniac motive and content of your phantasies.
M'lady is possessed of haunches.
Curated by D at 2:05 AM
In a hysterical Wired UK article about social networking called Your Life Torn Open: Sharing is a trap, Andrew Keen decries the "increasingly ubiquitous social network -- fuelled by our billions of confessional tweets and narcissistic updates -- that is invading the 'sacred precincts' of private and domestic life." He wants us to know that he thinks narcissism is bad, and that exposing strangers and would-be voyeurs to the machinations of our private lives is sacrilege, defilement of the holy ground that makes and keeps us human.
But he also wants us to know what a fucking cultured world-traveler he is, so he begins the article with this: "Every so often, when I'm in Amsterdam, I visit the Rijksmuseum to remind myself about the history of privacy. I go there to gaze at a picture called The Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, which was painted by Jan Vermeer in 1663." See, he's in Amsterdam a lot, but sometimes when he's in Amsterdam -- he'd like us to know -- he goes to "the Rijksmuseum," which, he would further like us to know, he refers to as if he only speaks with people who know what that is. It wouldn't be enough to tell us that this painting exists; he has to set the scene, placing himself front and center, standing with his fist pressed thoughtfully to his chin, contemplating reverently this monument of Great Art. Because Andrew Keen, you understand, is very sophisticated.
The painting, Keen tells us, "is of an unidentified Dutch woman avidly (?) reading a letter. Vermeer's picture, to borrow a phrase from privacy advocates Louis Brandeis and Samuel Warren, is a celebration of the 'sacred precincts of private and domestic life'. It's as if the artist had kept his distance in order to capture the young woman, cocooned in her private world, at her least socially visible." This painting, in which a girl who doesn't know she's being watched is captured in a moment of privacy, is a "celebration" of not invading private spaces. I guess you've got to show a kid what his bathing area is before you can tell him that it's wrong for strangers to touch him there. Painting is one way to do it, but I tend to celebrate this blessed sacredness by watching women towel off while sitting on a tree-limb just outside their bathroom windows.
So Vermeer's painting keeps its distance "in order to capture" this poor woman "cocooned in her private world," which is basically the equivalent of preserving the magic of its transformation into a butterfly by tearing open a chrysalis and freezing a caterpillar with liquid nitrogen. Nothing celebrates what you love quite like killing what you love, embalming its corpse, pinning it to a wall, and inviting any dilettante with enough money to fly into Schiphol International Airport to take a look.
But Andrew Keen isn't just an appreciator of the arts and a champion of privacy -- he's a student of philosophy (and an ogler of corpses) as well. Oh, and he's still a fucking sophisticated, jetsetting, globetrotting playboy, he'd like us very much to know, and he's still strongly opposed to narcissism. "Every so often, when I'm in London, I visit University College to remind myself about the future of privacy. I go there to visit the tomb of the utilitarian social reformer Jeremy Bentham." See, sometimes he's in London -- but he's in London a lot, and only sometimes when he's in London does he vouchsafe his bougie taste and sophistication, and also his intense concern over the issues of the day that will be up to him to diagnose and, if this article is successful, maybe even cure, by communing with the dead body of a man he regards as his ideological enemy. Because, you see, Jeremy Bentham didn't believe in privacy, so it's not at all creepy for Andrew Keen, who says that looking into the private lives of other people is a kind of secular sin, to stand, fist pressed thoughtfully to chin, to gander at the "glass-and-wood mausoleum... from which the philosopher's waxy corpse has been watching over us for the last 150 years." Dead people don't have private lives. You can't rape a corpse.
Keen also demonstrates that I'm not the only writer in the world who can come up with misleading analogies: The compromised "real life" we're left with after the encroachment of omnipresent digital networking "could have been choreographed by Bentham." Moreover, Mark Zuckerberg's idea of "sharing," Keen writes, "could have been invented by Kafka." I like this misleading analogy very much: "Just as Josef K unwittingly shared all his known and unknown information with the authorities, so we are now all sharing our most intimate spiritual, economic and medical information with all the myriad 'free' social-media services, products and platforms." Except for the superficial differences -- like Joseph K being denied jurisprudential due process, being forced to undergo all kinds of meaningless and bizarre rituals that make it all but impossible for him to carry on with the job he hates at a shitty bank, and, in the end, being convicted for an unspecified crime and then stabbed to death by anonymous officials as punishment for this obscure guilt -- I am persuaded. Perhaps Kafka was secretly working on a manuscript he destroyed before his death called The Social Network, in which a number of shallow-yet-clever people search for meaning in their lives, against all odds and in the face of the strangling authority of the Law of the Father.
Keen further doomsays, "Today's digital social network is a trap. Today's cult of the social, peddled by an unholy alliance of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and communitarian idealists, is rooted in a misunderstanding of the human condition. The truth is that we aren't naturally social beings. Instead, as Vermeer reminds us in The Woman in Blue, human happiness is really about being left alone." This, of course, is preposterously stupid, and is based the idea that lasseiz-faire liberty -- "being left alone" -- is the opposite of being "social." If Keen is setting himself in diametrical opposition to the sociality offered by networking, then his ideal of human happiness -- and his idea of the truth of the human condition (!) -- is that we don't want to be watched or touched by anyone. The ideal manifestation of our humanity is solitary confinement, in which prisoners suffer "memory loss to severe anxiety to hallucinations to delusions and, under the severest cases of sensory deprivation, people go crazy" (CNN). This craziness, according to a different psychiatrist, is a "a specific syndrome" due to "inadequate, noxious and/or restricted environmental and social stimulation. In more severe cases, this syndrome is associated with agitation, self-destructive behavior, and overt psychotic disorganization."
The Woman in Blue, we should remember, isn't left alone -- she just doesn't know she's being watched (by Vermeer and by us, voyeurs all). She is reading a letter, and enjoying the social contact that can be created -- miraculously -- in the void left by the absence of loved ones. Social networks, sinister as they can be, also let us feel watched by people we care about; and the feeling of their eyes on us is, not to put too fine a point on it, a reason to go on living. Keen asks, "What if the digital revolution, because of its disregard for the right of individual privacy, becomes a new dark ages? And what if all that is left of individual privacy by the end of the 21st century exists in museums alongside Vermeer's Woman in Blue? Then what?" Then we'll go on living our lives, just like they did in the "dark ages." And when the next renaissance comes, they'll have persecution and crusades, just like they did the last time. And if this is the beginning of the apocalypse, Keen will just be lucky to have blindfoldedly pinned the tale on the ass of the donkey every other fearmonger in history has missed.
Curated by D at 5:19 PM
The prose style of what is known as literary theory -- a hodgepodge of German metaphysics and French gibberish spun out by a loose coterie of gay continental philosophers, post-gendered beard-strokers, half-mad babblers, and the odd full-on hypocrite -- is about as preposterous as a three-legged triceratops gouging with its horns at a whirlwind of duck feathers. (Witness, for instance, Judith Butler's infamous Bad Writing Contest-winning sentence for 1998.)
This style is adopted, argues evolutionist-cum-jester and disliker of theory Richard Dawkins, by "intellectual impostor[s] with nothing to say, but with strong ambitions to succeed in academic life." In a legendary depantsing of theory, reformed hoaxers Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont declare that a work of uncut Theory-with-a-capital-T is lucky to squeak out "a handful of intelligible sentences -- sometimes banal, sometimes erroneous" -- like so many pearls cast before, gobbled up, and shit out by swine. Semifamous (serious) philosopher Thomas Nagel isn't sure which piston drives theory's engine more forcefully: "invincible stupidity," or "the desire to cow the audience with fraudulent displays of theoretical sophistication." In fact, no one seems to be sure whether theory is the work of a dangerous cabal hellbent on undermining the very fabric of intellectual discourse, or a b-squad of Mr. Beans whose ineptitude would almost be charming only they could stop drooling all over their MedicAlert bracelets that warn of allergies to peanuts and lawn-grass.
Indeed, the rage for order shared by these unmaskers -- this desire for words to make sense -- wouldn't be nearly as interesting if the venom wasn't in part meant to conceal the deep anxiety that perhaps there exists an almost-unimaginable third way, somewhere between diabolical evil and developmental disability -- what if this theory stuff isn't total horseshit? What if it's brilliant and I just don't get it?! When it's invoked, this anxiety is brushed aside with a mirthful chortle, as if these hatchetmen were conceding, as an afterthought, "Of course, everybody knows it's true that OJ Simpson is technically innocent, according to the Constitution -- but come on."
Noam Chomsky, who has had Serious Documentaries made about him and is referenced in Good Will Hunting, and whose intellectual credentials are therefore unimpeachable, has offered the most concise example of the confused combination of rage and insecurity, condescension and defensiveness that characterizes any really rollicking anti-theory screed: "No one who says they do understand can explain it to me and I haven't a clue as to how to proceed to overcome my failures. That leaves one of two possibilities: (a) some new advance in intellectual life has been made, perhaps some sudden genetic mutation, which has created a form of 'theory' that is beyond quantum theory, topology, etc., in depth and profundity; or (b) ... I won't spell it out." It's a dazzling rhetorical strategy -- Chomsky plays the wide-eyed naif who is loathe to think an entire international industry of professional writers, thinkers, teachers, and students is... well... it's too horrible even to say!
But if he is capable of scoring from the goalie box, he is also adept at playing offense-as-defense, crossing and striking so as not to be struck. Of seminal theory bigwig Jacques Derrida, Chomsky says, "I found the scholarship appalling, based on pathetic misreading; and the argument, such as it was, failed to come close to the kinds of standards I’ve been familiar with since virtually childhood. Well, maybe I missed something: could be, but suspicions remain." You see? Even as a baby -- or close enough -- Chomsky would have been hip to the con. Derrida's work is appalling. Pathetic. A failure. Unless it's actually really good. Doubt it though.
This dexterous double-doubt -- "is it good or does it suck, and either way, why am I so mad about it?" -- wobbles on the crux of that age-old problem, the problem which is very nearly theory's only subject of concern: Is the meaning of a given statement comprehensible in all its facets and tints, or does some of its significance evade ready comprehension? Put another way, "Does this here word-caterpillar mean something smarter than what it looks like?"
Well, in a half-assed attempt to clear up this confusion, to tear down the language barrier between self-evident Dawkinsian or readily-intelligible Chomskese and the Nonglish of English departments worldwide, I have gone beyond the pale and violated the unspoken pact that binds all of us who make our living, no matter how obliquely, through the incantations and ululations of the unkempt and savage hobo-philosophy known as high theory. I have taken it upon myself to Benedict Arnold the whole theory enterprise by translating select paragraphs by certain theoretical luminaries -- without losing an iota of intended meaning (jk lol) -- into voices that might be less alien to those casual readers repelled by theory's uncircumcised pomp and smooth-shaven circumstance. In so doing I hope to allow self-loathing positivists, pragmatists in the throes of a dark night of the soul, and scientists on their brain-period to accept the brilliance, profundity, and salubrious revolutionary power of theory, as God intended, or to reject it wholesale once and for all, without the self-conscious pussyfooting of men wearing skirts for the first time publicly.
On with the show. First, the abstruse theoreticians in their own words. Next, their words banged and yanked into the everyday speech of unicorns and pegasusi.
- Theodor Adorno, sourpuss: "Cultivated philistines are in the habit of requiring that a work of art 'give' them something. They no longer take umbrage that works are radical, but fall back on the shamelessly modest assertion that they do not understand. This eliminates even opposition, their last negative relationship to truth, and the offending object is smilingly catalogued among its kind, consumer commodities that can be chosen or refused without even having to take responsibility for doing so."
- Theodor Adorno, as translated into an embittered-but-lazy art school traditionalist: "Posers who say they care about art but really don't care about art, man, all they want to do is take, they don't want to give anything back. But they're too stupid, or too scared to be wrong, even to be mad that this gallery is showing poop sculptures and blood paintings. They just stand there looking at some installation, like some mobile made out of used tampons glued to turtle bones, and they're all, 'I don't get it.' They don't even call bullshit. They're just like 'well, that's not really my thing.' That's bullshit, man. They don't even take a stand for anything. That's why the art is dying."
- Giorgio Agamben, crypto-fascist: "Being in force without significance:...What, after all, is the structure of the sovereign ban if not that of a law that is in force but does not signify? Everywhere on earth men live today in the ban of a law and a tradition that are maintained solely as the 'zero point' of their own content, and that include men within them in the form of a pure relation of abandonment. All societies and all cultures today (it does not matter whether they are democratic or totalitarian, conservative or progressive) have entered into a legitmation crisis in which law (we mean by this the entire text of tradition in its regulative form, whether the Jewish Torah or the Islamic Shariah, Christiam dogma or the profane nomos) is in force as the pure 'Nothing of Revelation.' But this is precisely the structure of the sovereign relation, and the nihilism in which we are living is, from this perspective, nothing but the coming to light of this relation as such" (Homo Sacer, 51).
- Giorgio Agamben, as translated into a caricature of an Appalachian wingnut: "The gubmint just do what it want for no good reason. The gubmint always hangin' 'round behind you, but you can't see it, you don't know when it be making you do something and you don't even know it's making you do it. Everybody in the world being run by gubmints, and gubmints don't care none 'bout people -- just suck us dry. Everywhere in the world, Muslims and liberals and fascists and pinkos, all the same. They take away your freedoms. Gubmint's the enemy of the common man. It don't care none. Never did."
- Walter Benjamin, tragic tramp: "What does language communicate? It communicates the mental being corresponding to it. It is fundamental that this mental being communicates itself in language and not through language. Languages, therefore, have no speaker, if this means someone who communicates through these languages. Mental being communicates itself in, not through a language, which means that it is not outwardly identical with linguistic being. Mental being is identical with linguistic being only insofar as it is capable of communication. What is communicable in a mental entity is its linguistic entity. Language therefore communicates the particular linguistic being of things, but their mental being only insofar as this is directly included in their linguistic being, insofar as it is capable of being communicated."
- Walter Benjamin, as translated into a stoned dude who just put down an acoustic guitar at 3 in the morning: "It's like, we think we say stuff with language. But what does language say? What if what language says is itself. Like, do you ever feel like when you say something, it's not like you're talking with language, it's like language is talking with you? Like, what if language is like, this body, and we're all just like little cells in it. No, think about it -- like, sperm is part of us, but at the same time sperm are these little animals in our bodies. What if we're just language's sperm? So like, what we think we mean isn't really what we mean, because like we're just on a mission for language, and we can't see the bigger picture. So like, when we say stuff, we mean what we think we mean, but we also mean, like, way more. Because, like, language means all this other stuff, too."
- Paul de Man, Nazi-sympathizer who Jews sympathized with, fan of irony: "In the study of literature, the question of the self appears in a bewildering network of often contradictory relationships among a plurality of subjects. It appears first of all, as in the Third Critique of Kant, in the act of judgment that takes place in the mind of the reader; it appears next in the apparently intersubjective relationships that are established between the author and the reader; it governs the intentional relationship that exists, within the work, between the constitutive subject and the constituted language; it can be sought, finally, in the relationship that the subject establishes, through the mediation of the work, with itself. From the start, we have at least four possible and distinct types of self: the self that judges, the self that reads, the self that writes, and the self that reads itself. The question of finding the common level on which all these selves meet and thus of establishing the unity of a literary consciousness stands at the beginning of the main methodological difficulties that plague literary studies."
- Paul de Man, as translated into a middle school English teacher so careful to be precise that she almost becomes confusing: "In this class we're all going to put on different hats and go to a lot of faraway lands without leaving our seats! You're all going to have opinions about what you read. But what's funny about reading is, someone else's words are in your head! Think about that -- you're thinking in your head, but you're thinking somebody else's thoughts! That'll tickle your noodle! So we're all going to have to try to figure out what the author was trying to say in his book, and what it means to us. But also, it's important to think of what it the writer thought his book meant. So we're going to have to put on four hats in all. We're going to be reading, and thinking about what we read, and writing about what we think, and even thinking about what we think! Did that blow your mind? Believe you me, it's not easy to wear those hats all at the same time! Have you ever put on four hats and looked at yourself in the mirror? It might be a fashion no-no, but it's an English yes-yes!"
- Jacques Derrida, grand wizard of nonsensical sense: "The two concepts (friend/enemy) consequently intersect and ceaselessly change places. They intertwine, as though they loved each other, all along a spiralled hyperbole: the declared enemy (Blake declares the enemy by ordering him to declare himself: be my enemy), the true enemy, is a better friend than the friend. For the enemy can hate or wage war on me in the name of friendship, for Friendships sake, out of friendship for friendship; if in sum he respects the true name of friendship, he will respect my own name. He will hear what my name should, even if it does not, properly name: the irreplaceable singularity which bears it, and to which the enemy then bears himself and refers. If he hears my order, if he addresses me, me myself, he respects me, at hate's distance, me beyond me, beyond my own consciousness. And if he desires my death, at least he desires it, perhaps, him mine, singularly. The declared friend would not accomplish as much in simply declaring himself a friend while missing out on the name: that which imparts the name both to friendship and to singularity. That which deserves the name."
- Jacques Derrida, as translated into a teenage girl who wants you to think she's more distraught, and more thoughtful, than she really is: "Omigod, sometimes I hate my friends so much. I know it sounds totally stupid but I feel like my enemies are the only people I can trust. It's like, I trust my friends one minute but then they stab me in the back. Ashley is totally acting like we're total BFFs, but ten seconds later she went through my bag while I wasn't looking and she's using my lipgloss again without asking, which is just super disrespectful. It's my property and she doesn't even have the common courtesy to ask if it's ok, and I've already told her not to do it a bajillion times. She totally would ask if we weren't such good friends, so it's like, what good are friends anyway? But like, when Blake told me I was his worst enemy when we were playing badminton in gym, I totally trusted him. I know it sounds retarded or whatever, but it's true. It's like, at least I know where I stand with Blake. I feel like Ashley just hangs out with me because people think she's cool, she does it just to be seen with me, so she doesn't look like such a spazz like she did when she was all fat and had acne last year before I showed her how to put on foundation and not eat three Fruit by the Foots every day at lunch. But Blake like totally hates me and he doesn't even care how it makes him look. It's so honest that sometimes I almost feel like he's, like, in love with me. He doesn't go rooting through my bag and taking my stuff and pretending he didn't think I would be mad. Even if he did, at least he'd just be doing it to piss me off. He'd be thinking of me and not just how everybody thinks he's totally popular because I let him smoke with me in my car during open period. God, Ashley is such a bitch!"
Curated by D at 6:21 AM
It's interesting that people who are intellectually invested in defending evolution and denigrating intelligent design are also, in a strange way, backed into the corner of viewing intelligence as a uniquely human thing, qualitatively different (and more valuable) than whatever animates the other bits of space-junk randomly bumping uglies out there.
The design argument runs that the world has clearly been planned and built with such care that some intelligence must be in control, must have lain the ground rules and must in turn be enforcing them. Nonsense! cry evolutionists. It's perfectly plausible that it was merely a random string of events, and as we all know, on an endless timeline the infinitesimally unlikely becomes all but predestined. It's science, not intelligence! There's no wizard in the sky! The heavens are filled with trudging mechanisms, spasms of inky plasma, stars swallowing other stars and spitting out comets that crash operatically into balls of unimaginable flame in a fit of cannibalistic rapacity even more harrowing for the fact that the universe has no desires. It doesn't want to destroy. It doesn't care either way. It just destroys, because insensate things are fucking cruel. Except not really, because again, they don't give a shit.
It's odd, right? We say that there's no intelligent force governing everything, which in a sneaky way ratifies the idea that there's something fundamentally unique, special, and singular about human intelligence. Our atheism becomes a kind of self-congratulation -- we're special! -- that we're trying to critique in believers. Instead of arguing that there's no such thing as intelligence, or at least that human thought -- and life in general -- isn't qualitatively different than all the other crap that's going on, we implicitly argue that we're the only tiny pocket of intelligence for as far as the eye can see. Creationists argue that there is a god and we are created in his image; we argue that there is no god, because he would have to be created in our image it would just make too much sense and shit would be cool and nice and pleasant to live in when clearly that's not true. I mean, look around, man. Everything is a swirling mass, a primordial blob of who knows what, and we're a privileged enclave whose spasms of thought make us special, if for no other reason than the exquisite awareness of our impeding, collective doom, the fact that someday we will be washed away by the cosmic equivalent of Scrubbing Bubbles, and our recorded history will become a cold, dead monument to nothing. The power of observation will be gone, and with it will go any shred of significance, in any sense of the word.
On the other hand, we take heart by reading BBC Science articles and saying things like, "it's a statistical near-certainty that there are other intelligent life-forms somewhere in the deep reaches of space!" But we belittle people who believe -- based on what they swear is experience but what we insist is misguided faith -- that they've seen, say, a UFO. We have to say we believe wholeheartedly in the fantastically improbable, but we don't believe it cares about us, and to suggest otherwise would be lunacy. Because, again, we're the only thing in our neighborhood with the special skill to care about stuff; and even if we weren't, we're not that interesting anyway. (Narcissistic self-loathing.) If there's anything intelligent out there, it hasn't found us yet, because we haven't found it. And we're kind of the gold standard around here, I don't know if you noticed. We're kind of the only game in town.
Quantum and string theory -- not that I understand the first thing about them or can talk about them without mumbling like a nincompoop -- are fascinating in this respect: By suggesting that, say, the universe is just a tiny bubble in an endless sheet of bubble-wrap with and endless number of other sheets of bubble-wrap above and below it that an insane toddler is taking its sweet time popping, one bubble at a time, we get to imagine all kinds of insane Rube Goldbergish scenarios for the creation of the world.
If our argument, as Free Thinkers and all that shit, is that the universe makes an elegant kind of sense insofar as nearly impossible things become necessary in the long run, does it become logically necessary to suppose that at some point, a three-eyed troll in negligee named Carter Burwell once vomited up a celestial pool of filth, one lonely rising bubble of which was the Big Bang, or a Bigger Big Bang before the Big Bang that contains our Big Bang and a billion like it? And Carter Burwell is, in turn, a quivering quark in a monumental atom of gold so vast it's dense enough to make you cry and valuable enough to cause a war between a Greek in a loincloth and an Egyptian with a weird animal head, which the Egyptian wins because the Greek is crushed from out of nowhere between the thumb and finger of the lunatic toddler?
The forms bigness this big take on are predictably anthropomorphic & anthropocentric. I can't imagine the kind of new, mind-incinerating entities I hope straddle universes, and what kinds of personalities they have, and what kind of complicated things they might do that, if we had a vantage on them, would look strikingly like intelligence, except of a sort so vast that it merks humanity's like '86 Tyson did Marvis Frazier.
So I imagine awesome, slobbering babies and giant titans fighting over shiny stuff I wish I had. But this is optimism. More likely, the universe and the universes around it are cold, dark places lit up periodically with terrifying flashes of rending light none of it matters, in the scheme of things, any more than we do. Which is to say, not at all. Fortunately for us, the antidote to despair is ignoring its causes and acting like we're fucking awesome. We're so fucking smart, it's incredible.
Here's what bothers me about, but also saves me from going insane under the weight of, eternity and infinity -- it's impossible not to think of them as, respectively, A WHOLE BUNCH of time and A WHOLE LOT of space or stuff or whatever. But that's never seemed quite right to me. Eternity and infinity are the same as no time and no space; not just the biggest number you can imagine +1, but the smallest number you can imagine and then it vanishes. Absolute zero. This, to me, is a great consolation. If it turns out we're wrong -- if it turns out there's a smartypants god and he invented everything and the last will be first and the first will be last and the last and the first will be judged by their acts, it's comforting to know that an ever-lasting suffering in a never-ending lake of fire is also a never-starting suffering in a non-existent lake of fire. Hell takes so long that it's over in literally less time than an instant, the smallest division of time imaginable but even shorter; and heaven is so big it can fit in the shoe of one of the army of angels dancing on the head of a pin.
Curated by D at 11:24 PM
Speed is important to me in a really troubling way. Basically I mean efficiency, as in "requiring little time to work," but I would be wrong not to mention the dextroamphetamine salts in the generic Adderall I get from my psychiatrist who looks like a skeleton. Mentally, I am a rat-race addled working man. I just happen to have the schedule of a bum. I want to do things as efficiently as possible, with as little effort as possible, and glean maximum results with minimum expenditure. I don’t like spending a lot of time on anything except trying to absorb things – recently, it’s been podcasts about things I half-care about.
I listen to hours of podcasts every day or two. Semi-professional production values meshed with semi-articulate talkers all served over a bed of self-serving unselfconscious hypocrisy and convenient position-taking. It doesn't really matter what they take themselves to be about; that's what they all consist of. Every podcast I listen to is basically terrible, but they’re all comforting. I don’t learn very much, except by a sort of osmosis – I’m only half paying attention, and I’m not paying attention to learn so much as I’m paying attention so I don’t feel so alone. This is one of the amazing things about all new media, to me – especially new media that captures the voice or movement of another human being. I’m pretty sure we haven’t entirely learned to parse the fact that they’re not really there – it’s a presence that feels good, that takes a certain burden of solitude away. Radio, at its best, is like being told a bedtime story all day.
There is this sense of absorption – of learning without trying, of doing or being able to do without trying. This was what I was trying to do by getting lots of audiobooks and mp3 lectures about my field. I wanted to replace reading and learning via elbow grease with the facility of absorption. But it hasn’t worked for me, and it won’t. And that’s partly because I’ve come to identify literature – particularly American literature from the 19th century, the subject of the aforesaid audiobooks – with work. And work is something that I believe you should only do on the clock.
I have a more or less evil, capitalistic sense of time. I’m entering my fourth year of grad school – my writing year, in which I’m supposed to produce on my own time and with my own schedule – so I don’t have a clock. Nobody watches me, or makes me do anything, so I always have the sense that I’m shirking responsibility to do something fun at the expense of some Scrooge-ish overseer who, for once, isn’t paying attention. It's like, the only way I can make my dalliance with irrelevancy significant is by making it a romanticized "fuck you" to the powers that be -- which, make no mistake, actually exist, but also don't give a fuck what I do with my day to day. I think deep down I feel I’m cheating my employers out of something by getting paid not to do any work, and there’s something incredibly satisfying about that – I am exploiting them right back for exploiting me, the bastards.
But there’s also something absurd and pathetic about it all. It’s just such a waste, such an orgy of resentful feelings and bad faith. I don’t do anything because doing stuff is hard, and doing stuff is hard because it’s work, and it’s work because it’s what I do. It’s who I am. It structures my identity and my reality. But I hate my reality and I hate my identity and I want to escape it. How can I use literature or theory as an escape from my identity or my reality – which is WHAT LITERATURE AND THEORY TELL ME I’M SUPPOSED TO USE THEM FOR – if they’re the very things that structure my identity and my reality? I want to escape from these things, not use them to escape something else.
So I do.
I play Red Dead Redemption, which I bought for my new Playstation 3. It’s an incredibly immersive experience. It will never yield anything. But it's awful fun, though.
Yesterday I took a legally-procured Adderall. I have a medical condition, you see, called attention deficit disorder, the symptoms of which only rear their heads when there's something I am supposed to be doing but cannot do because I lack the willpower and ability to care and gumption and tenacity and sticktoitiveness. It's in the DSM-IV, look it up. I fully intended to do some work after taking said psychostimulant, but my new HDMI cables came and I just had to see how Red Dead Redemption would look on my new LCD TV without decades-antiquated component cables.
I ended up playing for 9 and a half hours or so. Finally forced myself to stop out of disgust when I couldn’t find any cougars – I’m supposed to kill two cougars with my hunting knife to become a “master hunter” – and I kept getting mauled by grizzly bears, which are entirely too stealthy and entirely too aggressive to be plausible in this fucking game.
I stopped to go to Target to buy a wrench so I could finally put together the Ikea kitchen shelf unit that’s been obstructing some pathway or other since I moved into this new apartment some weeks ago. The cheapest adjustable wrench at Target was $20, so I bought a $5 pair of non-needle nose pliers and stripped the shit out of the bolts tightening them up. So I hope I don’t ever have to take it apart, but at least I put it together, and now it stands there, monolithic, holding up my microwave, my Foreman grill, my coffee maker, and my toaster oven. A true monument to convenience. Except I accidentally installed one of the shelves in such a way as to block the outlet, and I haven’t the gumption to take it out and put it back in. I blame my ADD.
But the point of this story is that, when I drove to Target, I felt simultaneously like I was sleepwalking and like I was still playing a video game – everything felt consequenceless, and everything seemed at a remove, as if through a screen, projected onto my windshield instead of existing on the other side of it. I knew I was driving recklessly and dangerously, but I couldn’t make myself care enough to correct it. I fiddled with the radio, flipping until I found a song, not that I wanted to listen to, but that I wanted to soundtrack my experience. When I got to Target, I stared at the wall of tools long after I’d discovered that the kind of wrench I wanted wasn’t to be had, as if it was a problem I could solve if only I scoured the terrain long and concentratedly enough.
An interesting question, to me, is whether or not video games and the like are actually going to destroy the attention spans of generations to come. I guess I’m in one of the first generation of kids who never knew what it was like to write without having a word processing equivalent on a personal computer at home, and I never knew what it was like not to have recourse to, say, Microsoft Solitaire when I got bored. I have played Microsoft Solitaire for entire days, before, honing technique, subconsciously learning probability, adjusting the way I move the mouse for speed and precision. I have dreamt in solitaire. I have lived life seeing things and people as if they were solitaire cards, and as if what I was supposed to do with them was turn them over in the proper order.
The first time I took Adderall, I looked at porn for eight hours.
Adderall is a wicked drug. Some new users, yours truly tragically included, enter a state called "hyperfocus." Hyperfocus is about what it sounds like -- at the expense of everything else, you sink into the Fire Swamp quicksand of whatever subject happens to be at hand, and you don't leave until the subject or the drug is exhausted. It's a race for last place.
Adderall also makes you incredibly, preposterously, Pepe Le Peu-ishly horny.
But mainly what Adderall does is suck all the non-essential blood out of your body and send it to your brain. The effect of this is more or less what you'd expect: In the end it's something like being a late-career Philip Roth character -- desperately wanting, prurient, desiring, wanting, needing, lusting, craving. But there's just not a lot going on down there.
On the other hand, you can concentrate forever. On anything. But you don't want to concentrate on anything, because this hotshot of speed to your brain has made you into a quasi-impotent sexual dynamo -- you're like one of those Greek statues of a fertility god with the dick broke off. Pornwatching, in this state, makes you a kind of ultramodern Tantalus, reaching for grapes but not having long enough arms. There's a terrible pun to be had in there in there somewhere.
So anyway, the first time I took Adderall, I sat there looking at gallery after gallery of still shots. I decided to play a game. With most Thumbnail Gallery Post sites, certain thumbnails will redirect you to an entirely new TGP site with entirely new thumbnails of entirely new and promising galleries, which in turn direct you to new TGP yadda yadda yadda. The game I made up was to click on every thumbnail that -- at the time -- struck me as "undeniable," and only stop when I had managed to close every single gallery and every single TGP array.
I completed this mission. It is possible. It is horrible, horrible, and it takes eight hours, but it's possible. When I stopped, I started seeing porn in my life the same way I had seen solitaire years before. Everything took on a certain positional or appendagial significance that was wholly unwanted and thoroughly unsettling. When I finally went to bed, 36 hours after my first dose of the drug, I dreamt about porn. But not porn as in porn -- porn as in everything in life is porn. I was able to focus for eight hours on this thing that I really did not want to be focusing on, and for hours and hours after that it wouldn't leave my subconscious -- it provided a kind of organizing principle for my entire life.
Yet, I have trouble sitting down to read a single page, or to think about – much less write down – what’s been on my mind. The idea of paying attention to something at the expense of everything else is an almost crippling affliction to me.
When I was a kid, I had a paper route. Every morning, I would deliver 40 or 60 newspaper, and at the end of the month, I would get 40 or 60 dollars. It was a pretty shitty gig, but it gave me exactly enough money to spend exactly one entire day at the arcade. My mom would drop me off in the morning and pick me up a workday or so later. I would be drenched in sweat, almost post-coitally spent. And in those eight, ten, twelve hours, I would have participated with full focus in a fantasy world built out of pixels by other people. I would have a near-obsessive drive to correct mistakes I’d made, to approximate the goal of perfection that videogames, so much more than life, render approachable and plausible – even if, like life, they leave it lingering past the horizon of your limited capabilities. It was a state of deep concentration, totally oblivious to time or space, only interested in Street Fighter 2 or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or The Simpsons or even – and most agonizingly – that fucking machine with the tub full of cheap toys and The Claw.
I spent hundreds of dollars on that Claw, always winning an armful of stuffed creatures and cheap watches before my money was up, never feeling like I got my money’s worth, and always returning to it with a sense of indignation, as if THIS TIME would be the time I wouldn’t let the machine beat me – I’d come away on the upper hand. This is, I imagine, what it feels like to gamble – to develop an animistic relationship to “the house” that makes you resent your own (probabilistically pre-ordained) failings as the sinister machinations of some imposing but faraway intelligence. Winning becomes personal, but it’s personal against no one – it’s nothing but a measly point of pride, and your triumph wins you no plaudits and tarnishes no rival's honor.
Later, as a young teen, I punched holes in my bedroom's plaster walls – perhaps a dozen holes. Some of them were because I was growing up in small-town Iowa and the small-town Iowa girls I thought at the time were hot but have gone on to learn were on the threshold between gross and average didn't like me like I liked them; but most of the holes were punched over Mortal Kombat II for the Sega Genesis. I would come home from school, where I had been bullied and shamed in a million disparate, and always somehow novel, ways, where I'd been marginalized and made to feel insignificant – and, what’s more, like I was playing a game for which everybody else knew the rules, but they were so baroquely complex that I’d never be able to make sense of them without a crib sheet I’d never be given. And I’d come home to this box, which I’d play for hours every day, until my parents told me to stop – that is, until I realized I could just keep playing after they told me to stop and they’d eventually stop trying to get me to stop.
This made sense to me. I knew that if I honed my reflexes, learned very specific and recognizable patterns, adapted my idiosyncratic way of understanding the problem to the fully intelligible problem itself, I would end up solving it. I could win, which was a sensation I was promised nowhere else in life. Not in art or literature, not in social interaction, not in organized athletics – and I was a good athlete, goddamnit, but I was mercilessly bullied off the soccer team by a kid who was bullied so much he finally had to transfer. The big wheel keeps on turning.
I certainly couldn't hope for this kind of promised success academically. I couldn’t win at school. I couldn’t escape the sense that no matter what I did I was a disappointment to someone, that I couldn’t delegate my time in a way that would make my efforts satisfactory to everyone looming over me in judgment – a half-dozen teachers in wildly disparate subjects and two parents who only showed genuine interest when something was wildly wrong, and who brought me up to think I was at my best when I didn’t cause trouble but didn’t do anything that warranted special attention, so exhausted were they from dealing with my terrorist of a criminal of a sister.
It’s not that I particularly wanted to underachieve in school. I didn’t much care either way. But my teachers so thoroughly drilled it into my head that I was underachieving so prodigiously that my young, stupid mind only took away that I was young and stupid, and that I couldn’t really do any of the things they wanted me to do, so I should only do what I want to do. I can only assume that their attempts to shame me for putting zero scholarly effort in were intended as motivational, intended to stoke the fire of passion for knowledge they suspected burned just under the surface ashes of my cartoonishly morose persona. You should have seen my shock when I saw that my history teacher, who I’d only given the form to that morning in spite of the fact that we were supposed to give at least 2 weeks notice, gave me all 1s on a scholarship recommendation. But I didn’t catch any of these subtle signals. I thought he was just fucking with me. It was all part of the game I so stupendously misunderstood at the time, which I now take such delight in trying to decipher. I’m not sure if it’s across-the-board difficult to hint kids in the right direction, but I do know that it was impossible to hint me into doing what they wanted me to do. I wanted to be told, and no one ever told me shit -- the nudged and finessed and cajoled, and if there's one thing I've learned from my romantic life it's that I'm entirely too thick to take hints. So I did what I wanted to do.
And I wanted to play Mortal Kombat.
And when that didn’t work out the way I wanted it to, I wanted to punch holes in my wall.
This seems off the beaten track of concentration and attention span. But consider what people bemoan when they talk about the intellectual decline they see in the youth today. Great Books. Epic Poems. Ethics. Fucking Opera. Intellectual issues considered broadly, apart from soundbites or blurbs.
Youth’s inabilities are painted as a decline in the faculty to pay attention to shit we don’t care about, and have no reason to care about (or at least, are given no incentive to care about). And, what’s more to the point – these things are unpleasant. And nobody makes bones about this. Reading a Henry James novel, for the mass of men, is awful. Sure, there’s the odd odd duck who does enjoy it – and these are generally the people who try to make everybody else feel guilty for not enjoying it – but enjoyment isn’t really the game, here. Rather, it’s about tradition or heritage or genius or greatness or fucking human dignity (which I’ve always found to be a remarkably curious concept for a species whose coping strategy for dying appears to consist of forcing the aged to become senile and shit themselves and move very slowly and take very seriously things nobody else takes seriously at all.) It's about doing what people have always done, because that's just the way people do it, and it would just be a shame to lose that.
With videogames, the rewards are immediate and visceral.
They’re not, on the other hand, metaphysically satisfying. At least not when they’re your primary means of subsistence, the thing upon which your life is predicated.
But here’s the thing. NOTHING that you predicate your life upon is satisfying to the least degree. Literature is not satisfying unless it’s an escape from the horrors of your own life. Work is not a solace unless it blocks out the horrors of home. Alcohol isn’t any fun if you drink it all day, every day -- then it's just another fucking job. Vocations are miserable. But most of the people who tell us we should be doing more things that are intellectually rigorous – that require more attention, that force us to concentrate – seem to have no idea that we can immerse ourselves, life and mind and body and all, into Madden ’06 for 18 hours straight without eating or drinking anything. They have no idea that when they tell us we’re failing when we don’t learn this shit they think we should learn for the betterment of our souls even though none of us believe in souls anymore, we want to fail because what did THEY ever succeed at? I would love to be shown the generation who excelled at mathematics and concentrated on things that aren’t fun and really hunkered down to read long works of literature who didn’t, at the end of the day, feel as empty as we do, and who didn’t, at the end of the day, engage in wars and crimes and rape fantasies and wicked thoughts and petty thefts just as callow and horrifying as our own. It would give me something to shoot for.
The only problem now is, I hate all of my peers.
Curated by D at 10:05 PM
Curated by D at 2:54 PM
I'm back from Chicago after a long weekend (or a lean week) of sunbaking while watching bands that aren't quite ready for the big time play in front of many thousands of sunscreened assholes at the Pitchfork music festival, and I am just as happy as a clam. My friend J housed me as he always does: with some implausibly shaped pillows and a sleeping surface (after a manner). My favorite parts of these vacations to Chicago are always the weekdays, when he and his girlfriend are at work and I get to pad around the house siphoning oodles off his stash of PERFECTLY LEGAL DRUGS and watching grotesque effluvia on the NFL Network before popping in a Bond VHS tape on his St. Bernard-sized monstrosity of a television.
Curated by D at 10:27 PM
Curated by D at 6:41 PM