Sep 30, 2003

My appearance in The Piano Man
There's an old man sitting next to me
Making love to his tonic and gin

He says, "Son can you play me a memory
I'm not really sure how it goes
But it's sad and it's sweet
And I knew it complete...

My friend laughed. That's Silliman, he said.

I'm an old man, I said, and grinned. Though I kinda think I would have remembered the song and begun to sing it for the guy.
Two Papers
To read Mencken on his days as a hoofing-it reporter is to see him drunk with the hard-bitten romance of the job, belying Mencken’s formation as a newspaperman. Mencken paid his dues as a reporter, capitalizing on the speed, the accuracy, the precision and even the style he learned working the typewriter in a Baltimore newsroom. He spent 35 years working for newspapers, and claimed to have never regretted the choice. It was a role that shaped every part of him:

"I chose newspaper work without any hesitation whatever…I have never regretted my choice. More than once I have slipped out of daily journalism to dally in its meretricious suburbs, but I have always returned repentant and relieved, like a blackamoor coming back in Autumn to a warm and sociable jail. It was the printing press that left its mark, not only upon my hands, face and clothing, but also upon my psyche."

One can’t give meaningful answers to questions about what one indubitably knows, one can only insist. That which cannot be doubted cannot be explained. If one knows immediately and givenly, one can only insist that one knows in answer to any question. There are no public reasons for a thing totally grounded. An idea with grounds is one that cannot be explored, having no (public) reasons. An idea that can be appealed, justified in the third person, cannot be indubitably grounded. We can only talk about public knowing; we can only talk about knowing that is a public function.
When the third person asks if I’m doing okay, I don’t have an answer any more. My claims and protests fall flat, and all I can say is I thought I was doing okay, but maybe I’m wrong.
State of the blogs
At some point, someone needs to work up a list of all the hillsdale blogs. I think Farnham has the fullest list, but there are a few strays, at least, not a part of the community proper.

Seraphim seems to be going through a funk. He says it’s seminary but I really know that it’s a funk and he’ll come out of it for a week and a half of blogging we wouldn’t want to miss. I mean, does he really want the first word of his last post to be “phew”? Maybe Jared can stage a takeover.

Apparently all blogs in Japan are down, because all the one’s I read are. Berek? Where are you and when will the technical difficulties cease?

Gideon Strauss is down? Come back Gideon. Come back.

All of ontoblogical is down, which ought to teach the reformed bloggers something about centralization. Hopefully, it’ll be up soon. Nathanal Mosely, Mr.-engaged-to-the-no-longer-writing-Sarah-J, wanted to let me know he had nothing to do with the down server, had failed at urging Sarah to write, and agreed that Sarah’s probably not going to blog anymore. I’ve agreed not to lynch him, but we are planning a bare knuckle fight in some harbor dive in the near future. You’re all invited.

My sister, an ontoblogical refugee, has set up camp over at Apparently she didn’t stop writing for any silly reason like a down server, so she’s got a bunch of new material over there.

Every so often, someone who has no blog and who I’ve never heard of posts a comment. Which is always cool and weird and suspicious. Suspicious as in, which one of my regular readers is putting me on?
What I'm not saying
It doesn't exist. Because I didn't write it here it doesn't exist.

Of course, that also means I've split myself again and it was exactly that schizophrenia I wanted writing to solve.

Because it does exist, and it exists as me but not here. And I was all here, but then I was dividing and tearing and now...

It’s probably not that bad though.

Crazy rides rockets
Who has a magic wand
Empty out your pockets
Words without a song

I myself have found a real rival in myself
I am hoping for a re-arrival of my health

Sep 28, 2003

A damn good hat
It was the hat, the Tom-Waits-style, straight-out-of-Dylan’s-basement-tapes, odd-little-hat-tilted-on-my-big-head-with-a-five-of-diamonds-stuck-in-the-band-because-that’s-not-a-lucky-number hat.
“I’ve got a question for you.”
“So. Can you have Christian morals without Platonic forms, of some sort?”
“Sure. You don’t need forms of categories. I just go with the conception of morals as preferences – “taking money from a blind man’s cup is wrong” is a statement like “artichokes yuck” – I just say that God has moral preferences and God’s preferences matter.”
“Wow.” He sits hard back in his chair. "I didn’t think you would have an answer. That was really good.”
Old fish limping
Metzger welcomes Bethany by talking about the Hillsdale Blog Circle (TM) games. Da Metz says my game (clearly a harder one than the Metz, Prizio or Bethany games) is “What the Hell did Silliman just say?” and then he links what I consider to be some of my coolest posts: My conversation with Greyhound is one of my favorites. I'd forgotten these two ** gems. This is the classic Silliman.

Sep 27, 2003

And you read those words
I was looking for poetry/ that night/ between the thunder and the siren/ as you read/ against the rain/ against the names of Ginsberg and Lawrence/ as sweat began to smell on my body/ and you read those words/ I read these/ and there was poetry/ though no one reads poetry/ against the ocean of rain/

Kerouac at your fingertips/ Spicer in my hands/ and we laugh/ you laugh/ the jazz of it all/ you read J. Alfred Prufrock/ he reads the OED/ aloud/ cheap gin and cheaper wine/ a hundred visions and revisions/ do I dare?/ this poem/ written on newspaper/ is a tribute to that one/ against the rain/ in the night/ reading poetry/.

Sep 26, 2003

Derrida is said to be very sick and dying of cancer.

Sep 25, 2003

In a good way
The oddness of having two philosophy professors talking about me at a postmodernism and religion conference at Villanova.
"I write because...? I write because             in writing I am not alone."
Boyd does a weeks worth of blogging.

Sep 24, 2003

Roughly linguistic things
- Antonio Zampolli, a major pioneer in the application of computational techniques in literary and linguistic research, died in late August.

- Dave Frank, this year's editor of Hillsdale's literary magazine, gave me a collection of his poems from this summer called Prose poems then when we were never meant. Favorite lines so far:
    "I want to let the girl in the apple red lipstick know I haven't noticed her,"
    "I think I'll call you up tomorrow and make you feel half-bad about the whole thing,"
    "I keep to myself my own mine sitting on the half-ledge of the heart healthy food shoppe by the half-friends I do my half-smiling at so they don't think I'm unappreciative, but I hang it like out-to-lunch note and head back to my thoughts thinking about you."

- Where Derrida says "You can't ask that question," Wittgenstein says "What does that mean?"

- I convinced my philo professor, Dr. Stephens, to buy a copy of Space Between Words so that I can borrow it. I also introduced him to the experimental novel I'm reading, House of Leaves. He said he's embarrassed his student is "more up on the literary scene" than he is. It's a stretch to say that I'm up on "the literary scene" but it's still cool.

- In the last two days I've worked on two papers about pre-Socratic philosophers I've never read, for a class I don't have.
My ghosts don’t go around rattling chains or saying boo, but just sort of wander to the sink for a drink and then go on saying things they think sound cool.
Color of deluge
Noah Greene, offically one of the cool Hillsdale freshman, has a blog over at live journal. I don't know if his blog's any good, and he wasn't so cool as to know what he's doing is called blogging, but he's still officially cool.

Sep 22, 2003

Space Between Words, a book on the end of scripta continua and the begining of silent reading, appears to be something that will have implications on many things I'm interested in - deconstructionism, linguistic functionalism, and poetry, for starts.

A radio interview with the author, Paul Saenger, mentions that oral societies have no word for 'word', that continuous script must be read aloud, the role of the Irish attempting to translate the truly foreign latin.

Judging by the reviews** it's mostly a history tracing the introduction of spaces into language, a move by the Irish monks in translating Latin that lead to the end of an oral world and introduced silent reading and, actually, the concept of 'word' as some sort of individual part of language.

I think one could actually claim, if Saenger is right, that language came before words.
Catching the joke
We wandered, the three of us, talking into the night as sleep crept slowly, behind a local school, past 1 a.m., to a playground.

In the playground in the night, talking of gods and madmen, I joined again the merry-go-round, for the first time in 12 years: spinning, standing, walking, not getting dizzy.

I was 6-years-old again.

We stood atop a large wooden playground dump truck, my roommate and I, knowing again the feeling of boy-in-a-sandbox. Kicking a stray ball, rubber half-flat, as high as I can, I watch him try to catch it and kick it back.

I am grinning - blond hair blown - delighting incarnate - head thrown back in laughter - secure enough to swagger, wink, and laugh - catching the joke of the common things.

I tell them I feel like I did when I was six, and they laugh. I grin and they know how good it is to be six, untied shoes flopping on the pavement.

We find our bag of tomatoes, red tomatoes grown full on Ohio vines. It begins to rain, fat drops dancing down.

Rain spills down the sky; tomato spills down my chin. I turn my face to the sky and chuckle.
Torn fragment found in a newly bought book
by to
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en in


Sep 19, 2003

...eerie flutter in one simple word - perhaps your word - flung down empty hallways long past midnight.
Watching a little television last night – a rare occurrence since my weekly intake of TV is nothing – I was surprised to find the commercials are the best part of television.

From a cinematic standpoint, a lot of them are really artistically done. The commercials show cutting edge cinematography, with a lot of interestingly shot pieces. I couldn’t find any shows that seemed like they could have been shot by, say, an art film director. But the commercials…

And then I was channel surfing between commercials.
Watching someone try to talk to me while getting distracted by Tom Waits, Mule Variations, playing softly in the background is pretty funny. Finally, after forgetting words and sentences in what she was trying to say, she asks, "what is this?"

Sep 18, 2003

Descartes is dead, and other continuing observations of philosophy

273. If I met the evil genius, I'd buy him a beer.

274. How would anything be different if a lover turned out to be without a Cartesian mind, granting outward equality between the mind-ed and the mind-less? How important are minds, really?

275. One knows pain iff one "knows pain."

276. The Silliman Uncertainty Principle: If thought is certain, it is unthorough; if thorough, uncertain.

Sep 17, 2003

Bethany succumbs
Everyone, welcome Bethany Boyd to the Hillsdale Blogging community.

I met Bethany in Continental Philosophy and out first conversation, if I recall, was trying to figure out Sartre's talk about self existing in manifesting against other.

Now she's a good friend, and some of us seem to always be drifting to her house down the street to drink gin or wine and philosophize on her lawn.

She's a graduated philosophy major, postmodern, my roommate's girlfriend, mostly an Anglican, has appeared on this blog namelessly, and is generally really really cool.

Plus, she can't help herself and has started a blog.

Sep 16, 2003

The girl with the carnation
The cross recessed around the Antiochian Church twice, circle the congregation held high in a bed of red carnations, incense clanging, followed by a crowd of school children with long stemmed carnations.

Turning with the cross, bowing, and crossing myself backward, I watch as the children passed. Rows and rows of Antiochian children pass, little boys beating each other about the head with flowers, girls talking quietly and twirling their red flowers.

A girl turns, walking by my pew, and a white smile breaks upon her little brown face as she smiles back at me. Her eyes lose contact with aisle as she locks on my face and smiles… smiles… smiles…

She passes my pew and the next, her brown eyes and curly brown hair taking on her consuming 5-year-old smile.

She turns to her friend, pokes her, says something, looks back at me and smiles.

I don’t know, maybe she smiled at me because I was alone and obviously not from that close parish. Maybe, maybe she just looked at me smiling at the little girls with flowers, twirled her carnation and smiled.
Provisional thinking
An exploration of provisional thinking, starting from a Sept. 4 Sociology of Knowledge class with Dr. Peter Blum. Some of this is directly taken from notes, some from the post-class discussion and some from later thoughts.

There is something about Nietzsche’s method/way and its un remittance, its constant suspicion, that makes for a rigor that is an objectivity, not in the root sense but in that funny way of being a detachment. It is a kind of rigor that gets to a sort of detachment that doesn’t view from outside or inside, but is a getting-past the objective/subjective dichotomy. Or maybe this is simply a replacement of that distinction. This provisional thinking moves away from the need to be a view from nowhere and yet still can maintain a detachment by the way of being never settled, by always continuing.

To flesh out this idea of the provisional, a provisional text is one where each new paragraph is allowed the possibility to rewrite, to reframe, the entire text. And yet, even that paragraph is provisional, allowing the next paragraph the possible potential to rewrite/reframe the entire text. Speaking provisionally allows us to narrate and avoid the meta-narrative which is a finalization.

A provisional inquiry is an inquiry in a way that is fully aware it is provisional, in always being open to further inquiry. For Nietzsche this is an ever-suspicious thinking. Being provisional, our ever-suspicious dialogue is never in search of the given foundation, never attempting to grasp an infallible hook from which everything can depend, but is more deeply rigorous. Our model for thought isn’t a foundation or a hook – the unshakable we can always rely on – but say a city map with a constant flow in and out of a center but not causation from the center. We can use the image of “turtles all the way down” but this is still an appeal to foundationalist imagery. To seek to speak provisionally is to reject the possibility of an “all the way down.”

This constant non-finalizing, this suspicion and always-formulating, move us to a rigor of thinking that lets us think under and before, rather than merely after. This seems to be in the same direction as Heidegger’s always-formulating of a question. This is a move to tear down the narrow rationality that was a mere depending deduction from the given of Reason or Logic. We are looking for thought that can claim to be thorough, not certain.

This strongly leads to a set of questions about the role of doubt, especially doubt as the right cause for action (belief, prayer, forgiveness, etc).

Sep 13, 2003

Post Collegian
The first issue of the Hillsdale Collegian under my editorship was published Thursday. It went really well, with only three major disasters and all of them solved enough that we made it to the printers by 12:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

I put 12 hours into the paper on Tuesday, and 11 on Wednesday, which is only a little more than I was doing as News Editor and also rougly equal to what I was doing as editor of the Peninsula College Buccaneer.

My editorial team is a lot more cohesive than I expected (ie, it's not sarcastic to call them a team) and they're learning fast. My worries about how well they'd do and how well they'd work with me seem to be put to rest.

My redesign of the banner has received raves - it really brings the paper out of the circa 80s design and gives us something late 90s - and our new printer is fantastic, giving us a lot of service and really sharp printing.

If you want to take a look at some of the articles and art we're running, the new Collegian web site, designed and run by Dan Greene (a fellow Hillsdale student and the guy who helped me set this blog up in the first place), is now up.

Sep 10, 2003

Highlights of the last week
Because it's good to count

I sang the Gloria with one of my closest college friends.

A professor walked in on my explanation of Sellars and said “that was what he’d been trying to say in the last two class periods.”

I developed a clever sentence and table to explain the concept of “knowing” as linguistic rather than given.

A professor told me that if anyone disagreed with my lecture on New Urbanism they should go suck eggs.

I stayed up way too late with my roommate and his girlfriend talking about the importance of doubt to true Christian action.

A woman who tried to destroy me for five months was totally vanquished and has passed from my life.

I received more support and good work in 24 hours than in an entire semester last year.

The collection of music I've put together since mine was stolen a year ago was described as "awesome."
Answering a question she once asked
The Southern Baptist janitor who’s always listening to loud gospel music while he mops the student center around my office just gave me a long talk about salvation.

It was an intense run-on of scripture references oddly juxtaposed, Baptist hymn lyrics meshed together and rephrased sermons explaining the need to “come out of Babylon my people,” reject all these New Age philosophies about how “if it feels good, do it,” the dirtiness of us all, the uselessness of knowledge when compared with wisdom-which-only-comes-from-God, the wrongness of the crucifixes because “the cross wasn’t pretty,” how any man stranded on a desert island with a bible would come to the right doctrines, and the final “standing before a holy God.” It all ended with a question about how I’d answer that judgment-seat question.

He gave me a track entitled “If you died today, are you 100% sure that you would have a home in heaven?” and told me to ignore the church stamp on the back, because this was about God, not his church.

I tried to tell him a few times that I was a Christian, but either he didn’t believe me or didn’t think it mattered.

The last time I talked to Don, in the late spring, he warned me off coffee, saying it was evil and worldly habit.

I’m not sure what marked me as “non-Christian.” The coffee? The music? The smoking? My reference to Anglicanism?

So now I’m sitting here drinking black coffee and listening to my newly acquired album, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and trying to decide how not to be cynical about this.

In about four hours I’m going to Holy Communion and will pray the ancient liturgy of the English Catholics. Tomorrow afternoon I’m going to read Sellars, Wittgenstein and Marx. Tomorrow night, after the Hillsdale Collegian is sent in to the publishers, I’m going to go have a beer.

So now I sigh, not in cynicism but in the pain of knowing everything he said and knowing it as something I’m out of. It’s everything I rejected and yet, dammit, it’s still back there as a coming from. I sigh because I know that I’ll never be able to explain to Don or Jonathan or Mari or Regina or Blair why I hear them and still left, why, why, why, I can’t explain it to them. They’ll never understand why they didn’t fail and yet I’m praying to saints, avidly reading postmodern philosophy, and all the rest of it.

I look past the janitor, explaining a logical point that doesn’t work, and see my own ghost.

I smile sadly at Silliman-past and wave my hand in a full and empty gesture, hoping he’ll know my meaningful look is to tell him to dance, tell him to drink in the poetry of the mountains, tell him the scandalized looks are only beginning, and tell him to keep reading that strange array of books that stretches across everything the library sees fit to contain.

Because you aren’t crazy, and you are.

Because you do understand, and that’s why you don’t.

Because, yes, you are preparing for something and it’s a dancing they don’t know.

Because she’s going to keep her daughter away from you and, actually, it has to be that way.

Because you’re going to go breath smoke where “there be dragons.”

Sep 9, 2003

Rising from doubt
Faith means that there are times when faith is overcome.
    - Irving Greenberg

Sep 8, 2003

This is an excellent source for New Urban information - including projects, articles and people involved.

Maybe more on this topic later.

Sep 7, 2003

Gesture without motion
Reading Graham Greene's novels I find myself befuddled: how can someone with such a grasp of the quiet motivations of men have such a poor ear for their dialogue?

He really does have well developed characters. Castle in The Human Factor, the whiskey priest in The Power and the Glory, Quixote and Sancho in Monsignor Quixote, all of them are vivid characters for being quietly and softly drawn.

Yet … yet, his dialogue is thick lipped. His men say "I did indeed" where others would say "I did." Perhaps he writes like people think they should sound …
"Wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy"
One poet's list of the Ten Essential 20th-Century Poetic Statements.
When a shadow’s not a metaphor
You’re always so certain, she said
which was true for being wrong
I am Doubt Quixote
my doubt itself doubts
an ever-dripping nose
blood-shot eyes just a symptom
Nimrod’s not the warrior he pretends
when a shadow’s not a metaphors
Grendel lives below
with a single tear

Sep 6, 2003

Bootlegging makes it big.
Wittgenstein the poet
"Philosophy really only ought to be written as a form of poetry" - LW
Is it important to Wittgenstein’s genius that he wrote in the form that he did? If he had beaten his form into a line – straightening out the criss-cross of remarks moving in all directions over the same material – would he have been able to revolutionize philosophy twice?

What is the importance of Wittgenstein as a poet?

Sep 4, 2003

In flight from idols
An idol is an icon that has ceased to be an icon, being an allusion that has stopped alluding, a symbol that has fallen to a fetish.
Professorial flourishes II
My journalism prof., Tracy Simmons, worked on this Canterbury-style account of the California recall elections, reworking the Sacramento Tales into Middle English.

Sep 3, 2003

Professorial flourishes
Notes from a Dr. Jim Stephen's class.
Reading Wilfrid Sellars' Empiricism & and the Philosophy of Mind and talking about his attempt to counter the characteristic Western philosophic move of foundationalism, he writes the word "wrong" on the board, and then for emphasis he dots the i.

Tracing the history of philosophy on the board, he draws unbroken line from Plato to Kant, a split left to the logical positivists and a wild scrawling line right goes to "metaphysical hyperspace or wherever it is that Hegel lives."

Sep 2, 2003

The rain is gray, rhythmic and cooling – calming.
How to travel, Dale Keiger style. A few of my favorite tips:
      "Always ask yourself, I wonder what’s down there? Then go."

      "Bring too many books. Then visit local independent booksellers and buy more, so that when you hoist your luggage at the airport on your way home, you’ll think, Jesus, how many goddam books are in there?"
The pathetic prophet
A strange tribute to Lester Bangs, because there’s more than a little of him in me.

Lester Bangs was an artist. He knew the art of words. His words were dancing magic and all sorts of writers want to write like him; they just don’t want to be him. Because to be Bangs is to be a monster: lonely, wounded, teary and always pathetic.

Bangs, the gonzo-style nod-to-the-Beats rock critic who wrote for the early Rolling Stone, Creem and others, was the living conflict between the artist as monument to excess and the artist as monster.

Reviews of the man’s work (he had "a quick wit, a wandering style, and a gift for coining flawless phrases" including "punk rock") are often lose their way, wandering to speak of his excess and the sloth and the inspired mess (He was a romantic in the gravest, saddest, best and most ridiculous sense of that worn-out word or ”a junkie genius; a big, stinky bear who popped pills and wrote all night long”The excess can be romantic, and is often sold that way, but it’s also the sign not of genius but of pain.

Some of the lines between Dionysian and monster are hard to draw. The image of Bangs as a disheveled writer who wasn’t clean and traveled with a rope-tied suitcase on a cross-country greyhound is awful and romantic, terrible and heart-warming. In the same way, the acceptance of Kerouac’s driving search and of Ginsberg’s poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz is this attempt to justify the uncomfortable and the terrible as romantic.

It’s the intertwining of the monster finding bohemian romance and the bohemian being a fumbling romance-less monster. These are the flea-infested lies that take us from the dirt and the pain to the glory of the dirt and the pain.

This is the monster trying to convince himself that this smell is romance.

Bangs was played excellently by Philip Seymour Hoffman (an actor who always plays great monsters in Almost Famous, with that balance of dazzling art and curl-into-a-fetus pain and, as the Hoffman’s Bangs character calls it, uncoolness. Hoffman shows Bangs in the completeness of loneliness and suffering, in the full grasp of artistry.

In the final analysis, the one each writer can only bear to peak at and then bury in sad-eyed and lying layers of romantic drivel, Bangs was pathetic, demon-driven, sloppy, and lonely. He doesn’t cut a dashing figure, or a bold figure, or a manly figure.

He was a man in a messy apartment hung-over and chain smoking and trying to achieve art. He was a man who died at 33-years-old in '82, reportedly from an overdose of Darvon. He was a man sitting alone in the dark trying to write in such a way that it would take away his pain.

He was creepy, drunk, fat, smelly, obsessed and frantic. Calling him "fragile hearted" can’t overlook that. These were not extraneous fact: it is directly related to the same reason we can still read him today. He was a word magician and that’s exactly why he wasn’t happy and if he’d lived and found fulfilling love a normal life, then the word-magic would have ended.

Brilliant was, as always, predicated on tortured.

He was a monster and to be a monster is to be a legend, and yet to be breathing fire. A monster carries the attraction of romance and the taste of it all, but is ultimately just a monster alone.