Jun 29, 2009

Mad Farmers

"So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor ...

"Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns."

-- Wendell Berry

"In the 1960s, a group of businessmen bought 16,000 acres of swampy bottomland along the Ouachita River in northern Louisiana and built miles of levee around it. They bulldozed its oak and cypress trees and, when the land dried out, turned it into a soybean farm.

Now two brothers who grew up nearby are undoing all that work. In what experts are calling the biggest levee-busting operation ever in North America, the brothers plan to return the muddy river to its ancient floodplain, coaxing back plants and animals that flourished there when President Thomas Jefferson first had the land surveyed in 1804."

-- The New York Times
To be open

An anecdote: When I was at the newspaper, I did an interview with a man who wrote about UFOs and abductions, conspiracy and paranormal theories. We talked about his philosophy of science. While interviewing him, I had this incredible sense of liberation, and I remembered why I loved journalism. Or, more, why it is good for me. In college, in politics, philosophy and theology, I would have had to engage this man as a combatant. I wouldn’t have convinced him or changed him, of course, but I would have argued with him and disagreed with him. I would have had to take a position and fight him. I would have fought him and would have tried to eviscerate him, not just making a point but making it so he was humiliated, frustrated, feeling like a little boy who pissed himself during recess.

I would have done this because I am mean, because I was afraid it would be done to me, and because I believed the rightness of my idea was so assuredly right it justified everything. I would have done this in the name of an abstraction.

As a journalist, though, the rightness or wrongness of what he thought was irrelevant, and I was just interested in his story, and what he thought, and all I needed to do was hear him. I gave up fighting and felt free. I wanted to hear him, and know him, and understand him. I wanted to tell his story, whatever it was.

He had a smooth head, a Voice-of-God voice and shiny eyes; he believed he had secret knowledge, but he was willing to share it with me. He said he thought the world was weirder than we were usually willing to admit. He said we had to be open, and I said I agreed.

Jun 26, 2009

He could not tell it in any other way 1

It was so biblical: the burning heap in the plain. The car skeleton burned black, but was not consumed. It burned, smoking greasy, billowing like a bridge into the sky. The smoke stretched all the way along the highway where we drove, and we drove and watched it. The sky was blue and blank. The road shimmered straight, boiling with mirages. The ground, as we came down the last line of New Mexico mountains and drove into the desert plain, seemed to be a vacant endlessness, seemed like this indelible emptiness, like it would always look like an eye without a pupil.

We saw the smoke and saw the backed-up line of cars. We stopped, idling in the line, in the exhaust and sun. We watched the sky and it was so biblical, and it was without meaning. Once, everyone we had known knew they had heard the words of God. God had spoken to all the men and women of the fellowship, all the men in shirt-sleeves and plaid and the women in denim and dresses. He had spoken to them and moved them, taught them to talk in tongues and prophecies, condemnations and ordered instructions. But now we didn't believe that. And we were leaving there. And even if they had all heard the voice they thought they'd heard, how would they know or could they know how to tell it from lust and desire, anxiety, self-preservation and selfishness, guilt, dread and all the confused and crowded impulses that don't even have names? How would anyone know the difference between God talking and random things, meaningless and horrible things happening? Even if God wanted to talk to us, who are we to think we'd understand? Even if He said our names, said them slowly and softly, how could we hear that?

So we were leaving. We drove through weedy Texas flatland and we saw the Grand Canyon again. We went into New Mexico and saw the road side stands advertising turquoise and teepees. We saw the brick pyramids in the park, imitations of older ones which were once understood as saying something. We drove that road West and we came down into the desert and saw the burning car. All the paint was peeled from the car, the tires gone and upholstery gone and the gray shell burned and burned. We watched it, watching without interpretation. It was a freak accident. It was randomness and nature and natural violence, and if God could speak, wouldn't it sound like this? It meant nothing, but it looked like the message of a speechless, frustrated God, frustrated and angry at being unable to express Himself. It was like what an all-powerful something would say if He wanted to say something and didn't know how and so now there was fire and smoke, an image with force but not meaning, violence but no signification.

We watched it, driving slow by the biblical burning wreck in the desert, and then as we watched it started to hail.
Stop the Fascist BNP

'The Detective uses crime scene tape for a bookmark': Newspaper blackout poems
Cheever and O'Conner, 'The Swimmer' and 'A Good Man is Hard to Find'
Partying with Johnny Depp (profile as access jaunt and status flaunt)
Hitchens on Fairlie and the idea of the 'gentlemen delinquent'
The 'secret' history of getting high in America
'Park theory' and New York's newest park
Balko on criminal justice and civil rights
The conventions of stripper memoirs
Ray Bradbury and the love of libraries
The spiritual profile of gay Americans
A summer of David Foster Wallace 1 & 2
Stoned wallabies making crop circles
Man-crushing all over 'Bill' Buckley
Obama to face death penalty cases
Michael Jackson is dead. Rest in peace.
Michael Jackson was commerce's slave
'We thought Mike would save us all'
The end of American rest stops (?)
The misidentified 'face of freedom'
Zizek's lectures on Communism
Leon Trotsky's exile and last days
Trolls are a danger to democracy
Denis Johnson's 'Nobody Move'
Why Martin Heidegger matters
George Orwell's tobacco habit
Francis Ford Coppala at 70
Martin Paar's photography
A guide to films from Iran
Living with Martin Amis
Cheever's The Swimmer
Islam and the pirates
Writing about sex
Reviewing Wilco
Lincoln's youth
The shark ethic prevails

He sat at the table alone.

He sat at the table alone at the party, surrounded by other people's empty glasses, and he thought about smashing things. He thought the glass would smash nicely. It would crush in his hand. He thought he could take that tall glass there and smash it, swing like a hammer into the table and feel the blood and break, the sharp singing shatter. The rim at the bottom would roll jagged away. No one was talking any more. Everyone was shouting, shouting, shouting out responses to shouts they couldn't hear. He thought he could crush the chair he was sitting in, crumple the legs, and he could grab the table from the end and slam it down so the joints popped and cracked and the thick wood would splinter. He thought he could throw something as hard as he could at the wall and it would hit and explode, broken pieces blowing out everywhere, a flower of glass in the air.

He didn't know why he came to these things. He always thought he'd feel better, feel connected or interested or anyway less alone. And instead it was this. This stupid rage, sitting at an empty table with destructive fantasies and dirty dishes.

Jun 24, 2009

Phone call
I won't write my poem till I'm in my right mind.
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
          -- Allen Ginsberg, America

Jun 22, 2009

A commitment

His SWAT shirt sleeves were rolled up to show the tattoos. The were mean tattoos. Police tattoos. They were tribal tattoos twisted up his massive muscled arms, barbs and thorns and thrusting pricks meant to look scary when he kicked down your door.

He carried himself like a wrestler. He inhaled through his mouth, always tensed in his shoulders and knees. He flexed his chest when he breathed.

The duplex door was bent back. Busted open. One hinge was wrenched back, the metal twisted and discolored from the yank of the force of the big SWAT bust. The other hinge was ripped, screws sprung off and wood splintered, door jam stripped naked. Inside the carpet was dirty, rusty brown. The couch was sagging and gray and the blinds were broken and the walls were all dingy except for a spot where a picture wasn't hanging any more. The room was the color of a dirty leak. Six or seven kilos of saran-wrapped weed were sitting on a card table, each one looking lumpy, like a rectangle with tumors.

The SWAT kid stood guard. He had a semi-auto machine gun in his hands and a big belt, military style, with another gun and hand cuffs, a radio, ammo and a flash light that looked like an arm and a fist. He looked like a cop who liked to kick down doors, and you didn't get tattoos like that if you wanted to rise in the ranks and one day run the department. This was a commitment to muscle, a calling to be meat, to be brutish, big and brawling and SWAT forever. His head was shaved. His head was massive: He was massive, filling the broken duplex door as he breathed and flexed his chest.

"Captain" he said. He called it out. "Captain!" he said, and his voice was high and accented like silk, "did you see those puppies in back? What's gonna happen to them, Captain? Can I take one of them puppies?"
wooden face

The first of a series of old men carved in pine. Dimensions roughly 2 x 4 x 8.5 inches. Carved completely by hand with two knives and a gouge. Full view here.

Jun 19, 2009

For the Hopwood Memorial

The first time we went to Hopwood together, we walked through a field, following a little path from her apartment and cutting through the tall grass. The grass was completely wet with dew. With each step we shook the overgrown weeds, knocking down every drop until our pant legs were soaked when we got to the church.

Standing at the stairs, outside the church that morning, I didn’t want to go in. Dew-wet pants seemed like a good enough reason. Surely the people of Hopwood wouldn’t welcome some stranger with wet legs dripping on their floors. Of course it wasn’t the pants, really; that was an excuse. Truth was, I was afraid. I was, emotionally, lost in the tall grass.

We were just starting to date then. We were starting to see if our two worlds could come together. Both of us were pretty nervous, that first time, afraid of rejection and judgment, of finding ourselves pushed apart, isolated, unwelcomed. She was worried he would hate the Christian Church, and the people she loved, and would hold some social blunder or stylistic statement against them, and against her. I was afraid that the church wouldn’t welcome me, with my questions, doubts and distrusts, that I wouldn’t be the kind of Christian they wanted, or that she wanted either. So we stood there, at the door, totally terrified. And then we heard the people singing.

That might have been the Sunday when Tim Ross talked about “thin places,” places where heaven is close to earth, where not much separates the one realm from the other. He said the church is a thin places, where worlds can be joined. It might have actually been another Sunday when he said that, but we remember it as that first one where we came together, because even with the opening hymn, heaven broke through.

When we came out of the weeds and opened the doors that morning we found a people singing, a warm people, a welcoming people. We found a people who, instead of pushing people apart, pull them in, saying “come, be a part of us.” We found a people who aren’t naturally united coming together as one people in this very thin place: professors and students; intellectuals and laborers; innovators and traditionalists; those who love simplicity and those who love liturgy; natives and transplants and foreigners. Hopwood became a thin place for our two worlds. Divisions that had existed ceased to be real, when we went to Hopwood. Differences disappeared, grace reigned, love dwelled, and we both opened up, like the big doors at the front of the church on Sunday morning.

This is just our story, another anecdote in a long history, but we can’t help thinking it gets to the truth about Hopwood. Every memory we have serves the same point: Hopwood brings worlds together. It is a place where we are close to God because we are close to each other. We remember Tim was surprised to find he’d quoted Wendell Berry four times in one sermon, remember Jana singing, remember Cheryl crying when she talked about the students of Spain. We remember Robert Sheilds’ communion meditations, and of course James’ prayers. We remember these things and all of them repeat the point. Hopwood is a place where love is lived, where the Kingdom comes as we welcome each other. Hopwood is a place where you can come out of the tall grass and open up and hear the singing.
As the spirit moves

Girl in red

Flower seller

Why 'Ulysses?
Winton's Breath
Joe Klein in Iran
Obama and Rawls
Copycat book titles
Free John Hinkley?
Poetry's life of grime
Man liberated by typo
Remembering Trilling
The garden as protest
Flannery & the peabiddies
What's next in El Salvador?
Advertising sex in London
Free books: an experiment
Twitter and the revolution
Poetry and politics in Iran
Dear Pixar, from all the girls
Increase of apocalyptic aggression
Harold Bloom reads Blood Meridian
The newsweeklies attempt to evolve
A real history of Soviet spies in America
John Paul George and Ringo archetypes
Is the internet good for writing? Is college?
University's cutting their German programs
Concerns about street photography
Worlds' most fascinating tunnel networks
Cormac McCarthy's career-long obsession
Author as brand and book cover blandness
The director, the CIA, the past and the way forward
Authors and characters they'd like to take to the beach
McCarthy's Blood Meridian a "dark mirror of the Bible"
St. Augustine's enduring significance and the Beatles and Bono
Dan Baum's short career at the New Yorker (an essay in tweets)

Jun 17, 2009

... Fr Antonio, a little old priest with a falcon called Rodrigo, who didn't hunt pigeons, partly because Fr Antonio was now too old to accompany the raptor on his forays, and party because, after an initial period of enthusiasm, the priest had begun to have doubts about using such an expeditive method to be rid of birds which, in spite of their shitting, were God's creatures too.

        -- Roberto Bolaño, By Night in Chile
The Girl in the Zebra Dress

Jun 15, 2009

They are stuttering the name of God

This, this, this is Sodom and Gomorrah

He shouts and paces the space on the English street, stomping and shouting and waving the red-bound Bible and pacing like something is about to break loose. People turn to watch him, this wild man who calls up metaphors of animals and anger, and he shouts to them and at them and tries to get them to hear.

"This," he shouts. "This! This, this is Sodom and Gamorrah!"

The St. Martin's market is mad. Cultures are clashing there and the people are surging and swarming over the streets and the stairs, the squares and the stalls and the mall. On one end refugees are performing outside the art museum, singing "Aye yay, aye yay" and beating on drums while goth kids gather like debris in the park where the grass is gone. Down the street a man plays a horn while another man plays another horn and a drunk man dances with a sash that says "cancer research." A street performer juggles. A woman smokes with her daughter. A bobbie eats yogurt and an old man talks too loud on his phone. In the underground stalls a 300-pound woman sells sex-fantasy wear, a woman in a burka shops for high heels and there's Indian silk for sale and Iranian rugs, a pile of probably pilfered watches and cell phones and hats and Bob Marley's face on a bong. A bookseller sells romances out of shoe boxes. An English couple with faces each 100 years old shout out a seller's song which sounds like it's ancient and like it was just invented today: She shout-sings "12 eggs, very large eggs -- ONLY A PO-ouND!" and he shouts in an upswing "oh my gOSH!" She shouts and waits a beat and he shouts an answer and then she shouts again:

12 eggs! Very large eggs!
-- oh my gOSH!

12 eggs! Very large eggs!
-- oh my gOSH!

In a book store coffee shop a girl reads psychology notes and looks out a glass window -- an archingly sleek and modern glass window with the message TRANSPARENCY! MODERNITY! CATHEDRALIC UNDERSTANDING! -- and out that glass window is a very old church that looks like a fortress, complete with stone parapet spires. At another table at the coffee shop a girl starts a story that's supposed to be funny and it starts "so last night I had a one night stand and this morning when I woke up I just let go a fart."

Outside the preacher paces and shouts, paces and repeats his sound-byte sermons and says "worship the most-high God! Worship the most-high God! Worship the most-high God -- this, this, this is Sodom and Gomorrah!"

That's probably not the perfect city to pick to compare to when you're preaching in a city center, because there were no preachers sent to the cities in the plain. There were angles there, but no message, no preacher, no salvation coming and no order to repent. In Sodom and Gomorrah in the scripture, God decides to destroy and then he does. There's a man who wants to save the cities in the story and he makes a bet with God, but he loses his bet on goodness and God wins and gets the destruction he wanted. He wastes the city with salt and falling fire. This man, though, this preacher in Birmingham preaching Sodom and Gomorrah and saying SodomanGomorrah like it's one word in his West Indies accent, he believes we can still repent. He still believes in grace and hearing, salvation and turning and kingdom coming and peace and so he preaches out of a hope, even if it's hidden by the faces he makes and self-righteous sound of shouting.

He'd probably do better to compare the city to Ninevah. In Ninevah one prophet said God is full of anger, and great in power, and will by no means clear the guilty, and another said, Who knoweth whether God will not turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we not perish? In Ninevah, the prophets didn't always know what they were saying. The prophets were sometimes surprised. The prophets were often mad, pacing and waving, stamping and acting like animals about to break, floods about to rampage, the holy spirit about to speak. In Ninevah, the prophets didn't bet on the goodness of mankind, but they preached and they hopeed in spite of themselves. They never expected the reception of grace, the open embrace of peace and love, justice and forgiveness, goodness and understanding, and they were sometimes surprised. They stumbled to say what it was they wanted to say about God, stuttered to say he was righteous and far away, far above all others and all powerful and knowing and mighty and above all the things of men and beastial things and above other kinds of kings and gods. They spent a lot of time trying to say what it was they wanted to say about God. They yawped and hooted, trying to say. They bawked and howled, cawed and cockadoodle-dooed. They didn't always know what it meant.

In Sodom and Gomorrah the cities were silent and doomed, laying in the plain, vulnerable and in the way and no one there tries to say anything about God. In Ninevah, there's chatter and tumult and people talking and trying to say. Sometimes they say it like "blood." Sometimes like "love." So the pacing preacher would have been better to compare Birmingham to Ninevah, if he was going to pick a city out of the prophets. In Birmingham he is shouting out about the most-high God and another man is up on a step ladder taking questions about God. His Bible is flopped open and young men in sunglasses and polo shirts and young men in mohawks and big boots challenge him, saying to their friends "ask him this, ask him this." A soft-eyed West Indian is wandering around saying the spirit was moving, saying how it is moving and he didn't believe it until it moved through him. In Birmingham people are trying to say. They are stuttering the name of God there. They are taking it in their mouths, like the Eucharist. They taste it on their tongue and they taste something more, some unarticulated more. A Muslim man sits at a table with books offering answers and he sit there with a quiet, long-day smile. His books say they have 96 answers about Islam and offer solutions and explanations for how Muhammed was proven a prophet by the Jewish and Christian bibles. A black Muslim with newspapers pursues black men and women while they are shopping, pushing the papers on them, leaning in earnestly to say why they ought to understand and how they ought to understand the rightness and the righteousness of God. In Birmingham a Marxist man is shouting out about a con, calling on the working class to come together and really see, and that is the stammer of the name of God too. The refugees sing "aye yay, aye yay" and a wide-eyed, red-eyed man blows a trumpet to the tune of All the Saints, accompanied by recording on a little plastic speaker.

The Saint Martin's market is mad. Groups of girls wander around in unexplained costumes of fairies and princesses. Old men make jokes which are probably meant to be obscene but which don't make any sense anymore. People, non-stop, get their picture taken next to a misshappen bull. A man with a funny-looking head sells balloons and a farm girl, looking saggy and bored, sells cherries. An withered Iranian man watches his hats like they might walk away and another man eats a mango and another says "let's go, come on, lets go." On the stairs in the street by the church people stand and talk and sit and smoke and walk, endlessly streaming both ways. Inside the mall the escalators endlessly cycle on all three floors, the left side down and then up and then down and the right side up and then down and then up. Each side is stuffed with people, lines of people, never-ending amounts of people passing through the center of the city. The people move in groups and clumps and the metaphors that come to mind are mostly of water, floods and streams and waves, swells and spills and seas, but especially floods, with the people covering everything, walking everywhere, filling the spaces up to the edges and over too. The people overwhelming. The people deafening. The people masses moving without apparent order, their motion like swelling and sound a sweeping a swirl a roar of words.

And maybe the question for the preaching man is what does he say in the face of this, this facelessness and this feeling of flooding, this human race endlessly pacing by him as he tries to say something, tries to talk into the push of people so overwhelming they can't be characterized except by recourse to metaphors of floods and faceless washes. And what do you say? What do you say if you're selling shoes or eggs, coffee or an old church, sex fantasies or God, politics or any answers at all? Even God sometimes stutters and stammers at this. In Ninevah, God said, Behold, I am against thee, and he called himself the Jehovah of armies. He said I will uncover thy skirts upon thy face, and I will show the nations thy nakedness and defile you. And also in Ninevah, God also repented of his armies, his dreams of destruction and rape, his rage and his promises of shit and shame. He repented and said, I sayeth I love these people, I forgive and give grace and I care about them, even though I don't know them. But, as the prophet said in the ancient seaport city, who knows what God will say. We can only say what we will say, as we try to articulate and answer these faces, as we pace up and down in the square or wander around down there, in Birmingham, at St. Martin's, watching and saying "this, this, this ..."

Jun 11, 2009



Jun 10, 2009

The architecture of private spaces

1. After the polls closed he didn't answer the phone. He sat in the dark in the big house, the brick house on an acre-and-a-half of uncut fescue, a ranch-style house with high ceilings and hallways without pictures and empty, echoy rooms, and he listened to the phone as it rang and then stopped, rang again and rang and then stopped. The next day he didn't go to work.

2. He wore hawaiian shirts and a mustache and he collected antiques for his vacation home, finding them and buying them on his ever-lengthening lunch breaks and storing them in his editor's office, in there with the stacks of newspapers and the broken TV, the old computer, the slumping manila files, and the artwork which was never hung on the wall. He never said anything about his personal life, but he acted like a man in exile.

3. He realized it while shifting into fifth, while settling into a stretch of interstate, while the road's hum in the hollow cab switched to a lower pitch (the pitch of a raspy kazoo). He hadn't talked to anyone in three days.

4. In the hotel room above the conference hall, above the big ball room where christian kids sang songs and above the pool where fat kids swam and girls walked in new swim suits and where there would be a baptism later, he looked out the window at the snow and he said he couldn't do it, couldn't do it, couldn't make it work. She said his name and said, look at me. I need you to look at me.

5. He carved duck heads and attached them to wooden golf clubs, so the head of the club was the body of the duck. He called them putters. He didn't think they were cute anymore and he'd tell you he hated them, but he had 20, 25 of them carved, a flock of the fat ducks on a shelf.
Monster face

All human activity is a cry for forgiveness -- Karl Barth

Infrastructure for souls
An ant under a microscope
Tom Waits talks about LA
Tom Waits collaborates with tapes for Dylan
Treating bookshelves as art
A soundtrack for Cormac McCarthy
Malcolm Gladwell, the outsider
The case for a journalism of frustration
Mythic image of the century: car crash
Biography of Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Conservatives win in European election
A fence of bees, defense against elephants
Writerly advice, like, "write about a real boy."
Labour Party a tragedy of shakespearian proportions
Iggy Pop on French lit and death's prelude
How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll
Architecture and theory of public spaces
Gideon Strauss: What do US Evangelicals need?
The self-destructing Labour Party -- a history of the story
Military spending increases with "war on terror" justification
Let the rich bury the rich. All I can do is destroy their language.
Anxiety and influence and designing books for David Foster Wallace
David Foster Wallace and the escape from fraudulence and despair

Jun 8, 2009

Counting soup cans

He opened a can of soup and fed it to his children. He split it between them. They ate it and afterwards he put the spoons and the bowls, the can opener and the dirty can in the sink. He let them sit in the cold water.

The trailer was dark. The winter was cold like a ringing in your ears, and Alan brooded. He was a burly man, with a beard and a face for a scowl. He said nothing for days. He watched his dump truck, idle outside, costing him money every day, money he couldn't pay until there was work.

He opened the soup and set the empty can on the counter, next to the others, the cans in a row. His wife bought the expensive soup, the good stuff with the famous name and the commercials where children all laugh and smile and the world is very warm. He didn't think they could afford the soup and wondered what it added up to, these cans, lined up empty, bright paper torn at the edge where the opener bit and ripped.

He couldn't say he couldn't afford the soup. Rent was due on the fifth.

He stayed in the trailer for days, in the dark of that winter. Inside, he felt clenched up. He felt like he was so cold inside he could take only shallow breaths. The silence rang like something dying in his ear. He cut open a can, another soup can, and divided it with a spoon.

The soup company said it was fraud that made the man poison his children. He lost his truck, while waiting for trial. The trailer was repossessed too. His wife went back to Ohio. Even if they'd considered giving him bail, he would have had nowhere to go.

When they sentenced him, on the 14th floor of the federal building, in a room of honey-colored wood and bold blue carpet, the verdict worked out to a hundred years for every can of soup.

Jun 5, 2009

Attempt to surrender

He would like to be a saint or at least a buddha. He would like to be kenotic, empty of everything and still inside and at peace. He would like to give up, give up, give up the illusions he has anything he could hang on to, or any power over anything, any control. He would like to let it go, lose, be a loser like Jesus, and just get off this merry-go-round.

One time, he remembers, and this was really like his coming of age, the moment when it happened, he embarrassed his dad. He didn't mean to, but he did. What he did was he beat him. They were arguing, father and son, son who was too much like his father. They were having an argument and he made this move where the logic clicked and his dad was suddenly floundering, powerless, gracelessly foundering like a fat cow. His father's face went red. His father seemed to suddenly swell with anger and then explode, impotent, over everything. He watched the old man rage. The old man old now, in this red-faced sputter, demanding respect and other things which can't be demanded. He watched, silent inside his own head, zen still like a weed which knows no fear of a storm, and as he watched he thought, this man is powerless, but he didn't know it until now.

He watched a lot of men, growing up: Old men; working men; men with authority and without it; men who felt powerful and confident and spoke with a timbre of assumed triumph, and also men who rattled with fear and feelings of failure, who were racked by paranoia, conspiracy and suspicion. He saw a monk who spent his meditation time thinking about monastery politics, a drunk who was always ashamed, a rock star who wouldn't call his brother and another man, a business owner, who always wished he was the man his father was, because his father didn't care. He met these men and saw these men and he thought, all of them are afraid. All of them are afraid they're powerless and afraid they'll be found out, afraid they'll find out they're really fools, foolish and angry, lashing out without any effect, all their efforts running down the gutter and swirling into a drain. He watched them, growing up, and he thought about it and thought, it would be better just to admit you had no power.

He thought he would like to just surrender, to be a buddha about it. He thought he'd like to give up, like the martyrs who just accepted and said, so I lose, so I die, so this is how it is. He thought if he could do that, then he wouldn't be angry anymore, and he would be okay. He thought would like to be okay.

Then he heard an old woman say sharply, "Young man! Young man! I said I wanted paper bags!" The conveyor belt, engine grinding and burning, was backed up with groceries.
Ich bin König

Jun 3, 2009

"For [Ludwig] Wittgenstein, the point of the philosophical “conversation” was to address confusions intrinsic to his reader’s language and way of life. Rather than one 'philosophical method,' he advanced in the Investigations a variety of techniques for addressing various confusions, 'like different therapies.'

"[David Foster] Wallace attempted to enact such a conversation in his art. He would borrow from the Investigations not only themes—solipsism, language, meaning—but also the theoretical bulwark for a literature that was simultaneously challenging and therapeutic in the Wittgensteinian sense. The therapy was necessary and even urgent for a readership which, Wallace believed, had internalized not only postmodernism’s theoretical prejudices but also its involute habits of thought. The millennial subject was addicted to the same pathologies he was desperate to escape; nowhere was this more evident than in the difficulty literary critics had in responding meaningfully to Wallace’s books. What Wallace wanted to 'share' most was a way out. But he would start with his readers, in the middle. The maze of contemporary thinking would have to be dismantled from within."

-- Jon Baskin, on David Foster Wallace's attempts to escape and be a human being.
Accident man

He couldn't draw people. He could draw cars, though, and anything geometric. Captain Cash liked cars and he drew cars and crashes. He would draw them with circles and squares, rectangles, triangles, and oblongs. He liked to graph the simple shapes onto the accident reports. When Captain Cash was called out to a scene -- midnight on the highway, dusk on a backroad, Friday evening at a red light or Saturday across a median -- he'd measure everything and draw it all. He'd sit in his cruiser with the dome light on and he'd graph it all out.

He was a lanky old man with long teeth, big hands and glasses exaggerating his eyes. He had a country way of shouting. He'd get excited and say "ha!" really loud. Sometimes he'd get excited by accidents, especially if something strange happened, like a little Honda was cut in half by a speeding BMW, or a pickup hit a sedan and bounced and hit both sides of a bridge and flipped exactly like a pool ball in a trick shot. He'd get excited. He'd say, "look at that!" And the other officers at the scene always avoided him. The commanding officers looked at him, ecstatic over the wreckage, and they would think there was something really wrong with him. He got off on accidents; it was unsettling. The younger officers always thought of the captain as someone who was sick from all his years on the job, gone loopy and morbid with all the crashes he'd seen. Captain Cash was just a little too gleeful or giddy or something, standing there with his accident graph, grinning and saying "see this?" So they avoided him. It was like he didn't know accidents were awful, but of course he did, it was just that of all the accidents that make up life, these were the ones where he could calculate everything, shout "ha!" and say, "see?" It wasn't that he liked the mess, but that here, at these scenes, he could be in control.

Captain Cash didn't set out to be an accident man. But he liked accidents, liked understanding them, and he was never very good with people. He couldn't handle confusion, ambiguity and feelings. He needed the explanations of points of impact, mass and speed and malfunction. For him, anything that wasn't physics was "operator error," and fault was always officially assigned.

He'd show up at the scene, any scene that was serious, and he'd measure everything, fill out the report and make an accurate accident map. He'd show driver one and driver two, who was where and what went wrong. He'd put in the details for the report for the files and he'd draw it all. All the chaos, all the physics of rubber smearing on the road and metal twisting into metal, the science of glass smashed, pieces flung, plastic cracked and air bags exploded, all of it he graphed with simple shapes. All of it he understood. All of it he measured, recorded and calculated. He'd start with the simple shapes and make all of it make sense. He couldn't draw people though, so he'd draw stick figures to show where they were when they died.

Jun 1, 2009

MOST people don't relate to hyenas. You say "hyenas" to them and they give you a long stare, as if you're talking about a mythical beast -- which it practically is nowadays. The more enlightened might remember the old nature shows where the hyenas gang-pile a corpse or disembowel the newborn wildebeest and devour it in ragged bloody lumps before the awareness has left its eyes, but that's all they remember, the ugliness and the death.
            -- TC Boyle, A Friend of the Earth

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