Feb 28, 2005

Mad dog

The little Ann Arbor art museum has on a show of 20th century art. More of a montage, really, than a show. It was very scattered, an eclectic assortment of Picasso's and second-name abstracts where any sense movement of 20th century art is missing and garishly supplemented back in with contextless posterboard quotes that sound pompous and have a look of get it? get it?

A Japanese family was laughing and wisecracking at their side of a cell phone conversation while one of the women video taped her husband standing still between two paintings.

There was a little black and white drawing of a dog, done by a Mexian artist contemporary to Diego Rivera. He might have been a muralist. I don't know and I don't remember his name. The dog's coming at you leaning in a lunge at the end of his chain. He's teeth are out, barking and spitting. He's a crossbreed, a matted-hair mutt, a cur and his eyes are rolling wildly out of sync with the left eye dialated to a dot rolling up and the right staring straight and mean.

I hate dogs. Mostly because of dogs like this one mad, enrarged with violence, chain-pulling fence-jumping ghetto dogs always mean. Because of country dogs killing to kill kill for the feel of blood. Bad tempered foul mooded cur sons of canines always snarling, always wanting to bite.

I hate dogs, which they know and while you're telling me to pet your pet and telling your pet it's okay he's a friend he goes barking into a low throat growl as old as emnity and the hair on the back of my neck rises.

Still, I felt like that dog. I felt cranky, in a bad temper foul mood of blood, teeth, spittle and mad rolling eyes. We were two of a kind that would have killed each other, given the chance.

Feb 25, 2005

Just happened to be feeling that way without warnin'

I'm going to Ann Arbor for the weekend. Three reasons: 1. to talk to Prizio about a "eulogy of God" reading list and perhaps project, 2. to get out of Hillsdale, 3. to do a relaxed bit of homework in AA's internet cafe and wander around her streets and bookstores broke.

Of interest:

-Adam Prizo and Gail Armstrong on writing and the question, what are you trying to accomplish?
- My uncle on cyberpunk's Bruce Sterling.
- Jeremy Huggins' picture writing project.
- Jim Wallis and Chuck Colson debate what it means to be pro-life.
- Old Crow Medicine Show

Expect a bit of writing this weekend.
Eidetic: I-'det-ik, adj., marked by or involving extraordinarily accurate and vivid recall especially of visual images; of visual imagery of almost photographic accuracy.

[German eidetisch from Greek eidos]

Feb 23, 2005

Wendell Berry

Woke up this morning thinking of a chicken scratching dirt, for no apparent reason except the sun was out like a promise of a day for sitting on the porch.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Wendell Berry, last few days, and in the last few posts. I’ve been thinking about how to use technology conscious and and concerned about its reshaping of society, about sense of place and our relations to it, about a Berryian sense of ethics (running in my mind with a Girardian/Foucaultian concerns of violence and power and a Derridian hope for the impossible), ethics as personal responsibility for and an attitude of humility towards my world.

You can dismiss Berry and his agrarianism as romantic, as caught in daydreams of a dead age, but that reading’s cheap, I think. It’s misdirected. Berry’s project isn’t about a radical and fanciful reshaping of the world, isn’t a Moaistic sort of endeavor, isn’t about recapturing an imagined epoch. Berry’s project is about the indivisibility of the world, and about attempting to approach the world with a sense of stewardship and responsibility. To call it agrarianism, even, is a misnomer, for it’s not about living in the country but about living.
Hear the world

Andrew Sullivan is worrying about the iPod people, the growing technological retreat, and society being eaten by isolation.

Feb 22, 2005

Sense of place

I met my dad crossing the line into Arizona, in the night, sitting high on the hard jostling seats of the Penski cab. I knew who he was as a person there, what he was and what it meant to be a man. He was telling me stuff, stories and thing’s he’d read and how he liked to drive and always thought maybe he’d become a trucker and I was watching him shift, watching him drive drinking from a two liter Coke lit up by the green glow of the dash board lights. He told me he’d had motorcycle, a Norton he was riding on an Indian reservation road and he came over a little rise and the road was all washed out. Laid the bike down, wrecked it way out in the middle of nowhere. He walked out. He told me he’d had a job at a gas station, one point, but they fired him when he wouldn’t take the night shift the morning he came in and found the night guy dead and his dog too. Didn’t want the job, he said, I figured there’s always something else.

Which is what we were doing there – moving on to something else. I was 9. He was 42, with everything he owned packed in the extra-long truck moving his wife and four kids to Texas, betting it’d be better there. He was moving for a better place, a better country.

We sat the atlas out on the bed, gathered for a leaving-Texas family meeting, out on the green king-sized comforter, and looked at the country all laid out in interstates and US routes and state-shaped boundaries. The whole thing was laid out open and we could choose, we could go anywhere. What about Minnesota, we said, what’s that like? What about Arizona, Idaho, Virginia, and we’d trace the little lines tying them together.

It was there, looking at the atlas, that we knew we were from somewhere only until we were from somewhere else. We knew we were mobile, movable, free to pick up and fly and land anywhere, call anywhere home. We didn’t have roots, we had an anchor.

You can get to know the road, moving; it has a sense to it. The highway’s a shape shifting community. The truckers are there, living there, and the cars flow in and out together, through motels and gas stations. Traffic drifts and merges. Everyone’s moving, directional together, a society communing in its mobility. And when the night comes cloaking over the curves, you pull in behind a pair of road-tracing taillights measuring turns, two of you settling into a tandem touching out the reflection of the yellow line. You work the road together, co-op it, and them there’s some unique-named exit numbered by the miles to the state line and he pulls off. He gets off, leaving you to watch the speedometer alone. You try to think he’s just getting gas, finding restrooms, that he’s still thinking of hours termed in miles, still thinking of ‘there’ as ‘out there’ but no, no he’s probably pulling home.

He’s probably picking up a pile of saved mail and yesterday’s doorstep-stacked newspapers covering statutes at the city meeting. He’s probably left you, gone home, forgotten you to tumbling towards the hour-mile marker and the state line. And that was it, the never-constant community, the mobility that is Amer’ca. You had it, for a moment following taillights, and you lost it at the last exit.

What we’ve lost, he says, is a sense of place. Gotta find it again, get it again. At some point we gotta stop. Stop moving, stay, plant ourselves down and learn the seasons of the creek out back and learn the names of the trees and plant some trees. Since we weren’t given a place we’ll have to stop and claim one, be claimed by one. We have to stop and listen, until we can hear it when we close out eyes.

It gets to be hard to explain where you’re from, when you’ve moved a lot. It gets to be hard to explain why you’re where ever you are, when you’re talking to people who’re there because they’ve always been there and you’re there because you’ve never been, until now. The guy at the bookstore said to come back, tell him how the book was. Not from here, I said, I’m from there, but that’s just for now. My brother’s here. Not from here, but here.

Didn’t mean to pry,
he said.

No, no, it doesn’t matter. We’re just a family that moved a lot, growing up, and grown up we’ve just kept moving.

I’ve driven or ridden from Seattle to Philadelphia seven times in the last three years, which works out to a trip short of the length around the globe. First time I saw the continental divide I was listening to a Vegas musician talk about Kennedy and Hendrix and what kind of drugs they serve in heaven. One time I listened to a construction worker with a leprechaun tattooed on his neck talk to the just ex ex-con till they got off in the Columbia to get a beer. I shared a hamburger once with a guy describing the restraining harnesses he used to transport violent criminals. Watched a kid said he was going to Maine videotape Iowa with a homemade camera. One time a smoke jumper told me about his mom.

My friends leave for Europe, Africa, the Middle East but I just keep going back and forth between borders. You really ought to go, they say, but they can’t see it, I can’t see it. Somewhere you gotta stop. Some place you gotta sense, listen.

I think I’ll be taking the greyhound again this summer, out to Washington to see my family, see my sister before she leaves for Austria, and back again to Philadelphia. A six day ride. Mostly of silence. Six days of sleeping in my seat and the seat next to me, of reading and looking out at the farms and fields coming up. The bus a ride from east to west to east listening to strangers talking in the quiet dark, talking on the bus station curb in the morning in North Dakota, talking over accidentally shared meals on Formica tables back of a truck stop. I want to rest on that ride until again I lean my head back on the slightly rumbling seat, close my eyes, and hear this place.

Feb 19, 2005

"MEMORY is like a weird city, he said, when you're in it, the street names keep changing, or the signs disappear. You try to find your way back but you're never sure which direction you're goin in."
          - Vincent Czyz
              from Adrift in a Vanishing City
Proposal for an independent study with Dr. Blum on Death of God Theology:

Primarily, I’m interested in studying the posing and answering of the question I’ll provisionally phrase, “How does one respond to the absence of God?”

I’m proposing a consideration of “Death of God theology,” from Nietzsche’s tale of a madman shouting “God is dead” to Derrida’s analysis of the deconstruction of presence, and the “death of the author” as it might apply to God. I imagine the class divided into three parts:

1. Nietzsche and Kierkegaard.
        a. Jewish approach, esp. Martin Buber’s Eclipse of God.
        b. Protestant approach, esp. Thomas Altizer.
        c. Catholic approach, esp. Graham Greene’s “Catholic Agnosticism.”
3. Derrida.

Secondarily, I’m interested in (re)looking a few key scriptural stories that concern doubt or absence (Job, “doubting” Thomas’ doubt, Jesus on Golgotha, and the martyrdom of the three Hebrews in Daniel) and also exploring the way the Death of God questions are related to the more traditional questions of theodicy and God’s existence.

Feb 18, 2005

I presented my WRF article on Cyberpunk fiction and changing dystopian fears to Hillsdale's Fairfield Society tonight.

Feb 17, 2005

College radio guy

The song would end and he'd let the dead air in. I'd listen and there'd be dead air hanging, hanging, static silence mounting until I'd be looking at the radio and wondering if he was coming back at all and then he'd come in low and slow saying, yes indeedy.

Yes indeedy, yes indeedy,
he'd say. It was his catch phrase, his trademark and he'd say it in every space until you wondered did he say it at home, picking up the newspaper in the morning, brushing his teeth at night. He'd say it and say it until the college radio guy with his Sunday night Jazz program and long dead-air punctuations became, to me, the yes-indeedy guy.

I listened to him on the slow spaced Sundays at the Texaco while the whole town went home for the 'Igles' game and I'd stock shelves a little for Monday or put my feet up on the counter, pushing back my chair to read my novel appointed for the evening and put him on the radio, un huh, yes indeedy.

Maybe I listened as much for him as the music, his mellow fad of one, to his easy haphazard cool. My radio propped in the window with the dial turned down way way low to his show, I'd start to pick it up, it was catchy, saying along, yes indeedy, yes indeedy, yes indeed.

Feb 16, 2005

Beethoven and a little carnival polka

I should be playing the organ.

I should be playing the organ because it's the completion of this scholasti-monasti-cism of sleeping on floors and manipulating the minutiae of matrixes and participals.

Or because I'd play it at night in a dark house until the cupboard cups began a steady rattle and the neighbors called complaining of creepiness and black cats started crossing each others paths.
Apparently two percent of journalists and other Editor & Publisher readers believe Bob Woodward's inside unidentified Watergate source "Deep Throat" is Pope John Paul II.

Feb 14, 2005

Three articles of interest
I could never make up my mind what I was interested in, and philosophy enabled you to be interested in anything.
        - Harry G. Frankfurt (of article #3)

1. What is the possibility of a Christian left in America?
        "'In the end neither political party is going to be happy about having a real conversation on moral values.' [Jim Wallis] criticized the political 'right' for using their political in a crass and narrow manner, and argued that liberals have been dismissive of religion, or suggesting that it should at least be kept private. 'I say to the Dems', where would we be if Martin Luther king kept his faith to himself?'"

2 . The figure of Jesus the Prince of Peace in Islam. (via SMJ)
        "Approaching the Christian icon (of the Virgin and child), Muhammad covered it with his cloak and ordered all the others washed away except that one."

3. Not the truth and not a lie: a philosophical investigation of bull shit. (via PK)
        "Any culture and he means this culture rife with [bull] is one in danger of rejecting 'the possibility of knowing how things truly are.' It follows that any form of political argument or intellectual analysis or commercial appeal is only as legitimate, and true, as it is persuasive. There is no other court of appeal."

Feb 12, 2005


When I was 9, we moved to Texas to join a Christian commune. I've talked about it before, in fragments like one on praying, and will continue to do so. I don't want to talk about it as a whole, as an entire story, because it seems to sweep too much of it away, package too much of it in a box that can be disregarded.

A big chunk of my childhood is there, though. So I end up talking about it. At least in bits and pieces and images of five years where I was growing up.

It seems I can't talk about it, and I can't not talk about it. When we were out, before we moved away when we were friends with this circle of ex-fellowship people, the best times were when we didn't need to talk about the past and the pain, but just sort of all knew. Christianity Today wrote a piece on the group that, if it doesn't show they're a cult, shows the attraction, shows what we saw and why we went to Texas when I was 9.

Feb 10, 2005

To dust return
Ash Wednesday in the desert

We lay on the ground, under the dried out rubber tires of the truck parked in the back lot of the desert. Grease smudged our arms and faces and we lay in the dirt out past Joshua Tree at the far end of our first road trip after the end of our first year of college.

Wrench, he said, and we pulled it from the tangle of tools in the box and passed it to his hand, waiting stretched out there, grease caught in the lines of his palm. Cars don't last long, driving the desert. The sand blows into the engines swabbing out the oil and wearing out the gears. We were down there to pick up this truck, a sea-colored blue truck with its sides shot with rust and windows scratched up by blowing sand.

I don't remember what we were fixing, now. Something minor that still took us most of the day, my best friend and I sitting in the sun-wasted dirt watching the paint-peeled trailers parked up against little cacti-growing hills and playing gopher to the car-wash mechanic friend of my dad's who'd crawled under to help us.

I was tracing slow lines in the dirt with my finger and I took the sand in my hand, spread my fingers and shook it. It sifted, sliding through, spilling back to the ground in a little pile.

It wasn't sand, really. There was no dust in the dirt there, only little round rocks.

This is supposed to be the desert, I said. Where’s the sand? These are like mini-pebbles, or teny rocks.

The wind, he said, the wind blows it all away.

We rolled our windows down to the evening, on our return, back again north, feeling the dryness of the day, of the desert, on our skin as the red of our burnt arms mellowed in the wind. He hung his left arm our the window as he drove, and I hung my right out mine, looking to the round-blown hills and wondered if the dust was blown out there, resting out there in drifting piles.

Feb 9, 2005

You go that while when I go this way

The three little girls, 9 or 10 or 11 wearing red and mini-hoop earings, start practicing dance correography in the Denny's booth when their parents begin to fight.

Okay, says their father, show us your sign language alphabet.

Feb 8, 2005

Notes on intellectual corruption by totalitarianism
Continuing the beginning of a project

How does one separate the artists and thinkers who were seduced by or flirted with Fascism and Communism from those whose art and thinking became totalitarian?

Cases to consider: Howard Fast, George Orwell, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Ezra Pound, Martin Heidegger, Philip Johnson.

Possible directions towards an answer:
- Did they choose their politics over everything else?
- To what extent do they back away from the totalitarianism and to what extent do they take responsibility for it?
- Are the politics added on the aesthetic or does the aesthetic come out of the politics? Alternately, can the aesthetic be separated from the totalitarianism?

These are only preliminary directions to pursue, and not entirely satisfactory.

We must, at every point, recognize that one's politics, particularly, rise out of the situations and the thoughts of one's times and that for much of the world for much of the 20th century, Communism and Fascism seemed the only political options.

Let's recognize also that unless the artist or thinker can dismissed and discarded as a hack, a propagandist merely, their relationship to totalitarianism will always be problematic and troubling. Yet, the test for continuing to inquire into their works is not correctness or, worse, purity, but the work's ability to be interesting.

Also, last night I came across Gulag : life and death inside the Soviet concentration camps, a photographic history in the library. 550 photographs taken from official files and private collections, collected from the unplanned and unsystematic yet absolutely harrowing documentation of Soviet Russia's prison system. It is, actually, the simpler photographs, the almost unconscious ones, that break your heart: perfunctory mug shots taken of individuals who had their lives taken away by a utopia nightmare, massive railroads and canals photographed, like they were constructed, with no thought to costs in human life and despair.
Hurly burly: n., a disorderly outburst or tumult, a malicious hullaballo.

Feb 7, 2005

In the morning
It's raining today, drizzling pock mark in the snow.
The soundman

What I remember is his hair. Long, over his shoulders and down to the middle of his back, blond with streaks of brown, scary strung-out-on-something hair.

The edges of his jeans were frayed stringy over his black boot heels hooked on the braces of the stool he sat on, squatting there back of the county fair pavilion at the board of knobs. He closed his eyes, bent his head and rocked and swayed with the noise of the white boy plugged-in blues, flicking burnt out cigarettes into the cut short grass.

Daddy, I said, pointing what’s that guy doing?

Him? That’s the soundman, he said, or yelled because it was really loud, too loud for four kids with one in a stroller.

Mom never liked the blues but she was humoring dad, who never really listened to music when I knew him, letting him enjoy it and he’d talked about the one thing he wanted to see at the county fair was the guys playing the blues. We sat in the back on the grass and dad got a mmm mmm mmm look on his face and started swaying and mom said maybe she’d take the stroller and walk around a bit. I watched the soundman.

He talked to a guy wearing a guitar and a girl came by, leaned on the table for a while and sat on his lap. The next band came out, white guys with long hair and blue jeans over boots, and when they hit the first electric chords the soundman shouted oh yeah! He put his foot on the ground, resting one hand on his stretched out knee, bouncing his boot to the beat.

He recalibrated the turning of the knobs, and flicked a flame from his lighter to start another cigarette.

Feb 6, 2005

I'm having trouble finding space to write - not mentally but physically. Give me a minute to figure this out.

Feb 2, 2005

Lucien Carr, the Beat catalyst who introduced Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs to each other, who said he supplied the roll of paper and the idea for the speed-written On the Road but never wrote anything himself, dies at 79.

May he rest in peace.