Apr 28, 2011

Pale King's dull stretches

I don't know who the "we" is in NPR's John Powers' statement "some parts [of David Foster Wallace's The Pale King] are so dull we assume that, had he lived, he surely would have cut or improved them," but I'm not sure that's right.

Given how much of the book is about boredom and tedium, how central that is and how that seems tightly connected to what Wallace was doing, and how that dullness was, in a sense, for him, the location of exactly the question he was trying to pose and answer about how one ought best to live in this world we inhabit, it seems possible, actually, that, had he lived and actually finished this novel, the boring bits would have been substantially expanded.

"The entire ball game, in terms of both the exam and life, was what you gave attention to vs. what you willed yourself to not" (12).

"The idea's that a wiggler, a rote examiner, is sitting poring over 1040s and attachments and cross-filed W-2s and 1099s and like that. The setting is very bare and minimalistic -- there's nothing to look at except this wiggler, who doesn't move except for every so often turning a page or making a note on his pad .... He sits longer and longer until the audience gets more and more bored and restless, and finally they start leaving, first just a few and then the whole audience, whispering to each other how boring and terrible the play is. Then, once the audience have all left, the real actiion of the play can start" (106).

"As for myself, I had trouble just paying attention, and the things I can remember now seem mostly pointless" (157).

Working in wood


Apr 27, 2011

Prepositional directions in which texts are tossed

Al Mohler is clearly a smart guy and he makes his living communicating, so, honestly, the cliche really bugged me: "Throwing the Bible under the Bus."

He couldn't do anything more interesting with that phrase?

Mohler gets to it about half way through a blog about Christians who are aruging for theistic evolution, and then likes it apparently, and uses it several more times.

Most of the argument and half of the substance, really, is hanging on his bus cliche.

Mohler misrepresents, I think, what the so-called BioLogos people believe about the Bible. There are numerous problems that I see with their logic and their argumentation, but Mohler picks differnt things entirely, some of which aren't acutally BioLogos people's positions. But then, Mohler has made a certain kind of creationism a necessary doctrine for Christianity and very much pushes this dichotomy where either one believes in this doctrine exactly or in none of the Bible at all, and so the post itself is pretty typical of the by-now very hashed arguments and very, very tired debate.

But really, "under the bus?"

We couldn't come up with anything more interesting than that? Play with it a little, maybe, do something a little more clever?

And really, if one did throw a Bible under a bus, wouldn't the Bible be fine? I mean literally. The bus would just pass over it, it sitting there like nothing happened. Even if on of the wheels hit the book, it'd maybe leave a mark, but you could still read it and the binding would probably be mostly OK.

If it was one of those big Bibles, of course, like a pulpit Bible or a big family one, the bus would be what you'd have to worry about.

From a bus or at a bus would probably be more damaging prepositional directions to throw a Bible, actually. Pages might be bent.

But a Bible could pretty well withstand under just fine.

But then maybe Mohler's Bible is just particularly fragile.

Apr 26, 2011

Faces of the Civil War

[Two unidentified soldiers in Union uniforms holding cigars in each others' mouths] (LOC)

The Library of Congress is looking for help identifying nearly 700 tintypes from the Civil War. Pictures can be found here, along with more information. 

Apr 25, 2011

The tricky part to reading Columbus

In the cowboy books of my childhood, the natives regularly referred to the whites as having "white eyes and speaking with forked tongues."

The forked-tongue thing, as I understood it, was supposed to be a double reference to snakes and to double speaking, saying one thing and meaning another or saying two things at once, two different things at the same time. When someone "speak with forked tongue," in the fake-pidgin of these books, what is said can't be trusted, or at least can't be taken as plain and at face value.

Christopher Columbus' diary is like this.

Apr 24, 2011


Blindfold queen

Apr 23, 2011

Religion & marketplace pop quiz

What percentage of Americans think capitalism is consistent with Christian ethics?

How to watch Treme

Scene: A busload of people come up the New Orleans street and see a circle of men on a corner, singing. The bus driver asks, what's going on here? Please, he's told, leave us alone. Please go away. He is made ashamed of wanting to watch, ashamed of his own curiousity, and leaves.

Scene: A journalist asks a question. It's probably a stupid question, but to be fair, he's asking it because it's been asked and he doesn't know the answer, so it's an honest question, at least. He does want an answer. The local gets spittle-flecked angry, and tries to destroy the journalist's camera.

Scene: Three kids have come from Wisconsin to help after Katrina. They're asked, what do you know about the real New Oreleans. They say, nothing, really, we just wanted to help. Then they're ridiculed.

Surely some number of viewers of David Simon's Treme were from Wisconsin and felt the unnecessary dis of that scene. Same with the people who flocked to the city to do what they could with their time and their money to help after the levees broke and the president did his fly-by. According to the show, your compassion was met with ridicule. Also, if you didn't rush to the aid of the flooded city, you should be ashamed.

And if you've ever gone to visit New Oreleans, this show says you're an imbecile. And if you haven't, you're a cretin.

Every time the viewers are represented on the screen, they're basically bashed. Best I can tell, Treme is the first show in the history of shows that doesn't want to be watched.

Apr 19, 2011

Baby on a train

& to the children

Apr 14, 2011

In the morning the shells will wash up on the shore

I read somewhere once that "hippie fashion" was kids making a pastiche out of the clothing bins of history.

Which is true of history, too. A lot of times.

It's the past presented as now. Now dressed up in vintage uniforms for reenactment of battles where we all know who won and how the cannons boomed, but will do again anyway, and try to understand again and anew, understanding ourselves of course, only in cipher.

It's been interesting, following the conversation about the Civil War now, 150 years after it begun, to see how it's still with us, in bits and pieces, threads and themes.

Apr 9, 2011


To be ethical verbally

Stylistically, there’s something constant in David Foster Wallace’s work, which can be found in his non-fiction and fiction pieces, which can be found here too, even when Wallace is writing in a voice that isn’t the one that comes to him most naturally. I don’t know exactly what it is called but it is a hyper-accurate, very technical language. The sense, which Wallace conveys with this almost-sometimes-stilted voice, is of someone struggling to express what’s hard to express, what’s delicate, struggling to do justice to the complication — a very careful, cautious, circuitous way of speaking (common in therapy and the best of continental philosophy), which is sometimes criticized as obfuscationism but is, in fact, normally an attempt to be ethical verbally, to be fair to that which is not simple.

To me it seems like it’s the texture of Wallace’s writing, but while this texture is vital to the kinds of questions Wallace asks in Oblivion‘s “Mister Squishy,” or Brief Interview with Hideous Men‘s “The Depressed Person,” it didn’t have to happen here, in “John Billy."

Read the rest of "Notes on reading David Foster Wallaces short story John Billy" @ TheThe Poetry

Apr 7, 2011

Rick Santorum's secular pluralism

Something that's often missed in talk about the Christian Right is the way it's not theologically monolithic. For a group that sometimes seems intent upon some kind of Bible-based law, or at least a governing Christian consensus, there is actually a really wide range of conflicts about the right way to be Christian and debates about what the Bible (simply and literally) says.

Conservative American Christians may agree on something like abortion, or homosexuality, but those are only public, civil morality issues*. On another level, though, a level which they think of as more essential, they're hotly opposed to each other.

Apr 6, 2011

Prayer pop quiz
Adherents of which American religious groups are most likely to experience "a definitive answer to a specific prayer" on a regular basis?

Apr 2, 2011

Ways to go

Home again ... and soon to start new things ...