Saturday, July 11, 2009

On compassion, or the lack thereof excerpt from...
Zeno's Conscience
by Italo Svevo

I was unable to offer him any comfort. It really offended me that he should believe himself the unluckiest man in the world. This wasn't an exaggeration: it was an outright lie. I would have helped him, had I been able to, but it was impossible for me to comfort him. In my opinion, even someone more innocent and more unlucky than Guido doesn't deserve compassion, because otherwise in our lives there would be room only for that feeling, which would be very tiresome. Natural law does not entitle us to happiness, but rather it prescribes wretchedness and sorrow. When something edible is left exposed, from all directions parasites come running, and if there are no parasites, they are quickly generated. Soon the prey is barely sufficient, and immediately afterward it no longer suffices at all, for nature doesn't do sums, she experiments. When food no longer suffices, then consumers must diminish through death preceded by pain; thus equilibrium, for a moment, is reestablished. Why complain? And yet everyone does complain. Those who have had none of the prey die, crying out against injustice, and those who had a share feel that they deserved more. Why don't they die, and live, in silence? On the other hand, the joy of those who could seize a good part of the food is pleasant, and it should be displayed in broad daylight, to applause. The only admissible cry is that of the triumphant. The victor.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Want more Whitmore

This guy's good. (At least, this song is fantastic; I haven't heard the rest of his catalog.) Additionally, Live with Jools Holland is good--I wish we had him instead of MTV or VH1. Ahh, but then I'd be without train wrecks such as Flavor of Love, and would therefore miss out on the spawning of I Love New York, and would therefore miss out on the spawning of Real Chance of Love, and would therefore miss out on the spawning of... But that's life, isn't it? No. No, it's not.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The best laid schemes o' mice an' men

When I returned home to my apartment on Monday night, after an utterly failed attempt at studying for Wednesday's final exam (the final exam that marked the end of my second year of medical school), I made myself uncomfortable on my notoriously uncomfortable couch, the bane of my existence, but my perpetual best friend and reliable scapegoat. As it turned out, my scapegoat proved to be not the only wildlife in the room: from the corner of my eye, a flash of motion. A quick turn of the neck, and my eyes followed to behold a mouse in its unsure, timid flight across the carpet, stopping and going without apparent purpose. I rose to my feet, the intention to kill apparent in my ascension, and the mouse fled, but met a dead-end (oh, if only it had truly been a dead end!) in an already-worn--but I hesitate to say dirty--pair of boxers left on the floor days before. On the boxers was a repeating pattern consisting of the onomatopoeia "Pow!" printed inside a small cartoon explosion, underneath which the mouse was momentarily trapped, trying this way and that way to escape its sudden imprisonment. The stage was perfectly set. A boot-laden foot raised then lowered with gusto on top of the tiny animal was the only action required to find the equilibrium of the moment. The blood of the mouse adding a livelier shade of red to the cartoon explosion as it slowly made itself visible between the fibers of the "Pow!" was all that was needed to complete the scene. The mouse's eyes would close, followed shortly by my own as I went to bed, like two curtains ushering in the conclusion of darkness.

But the boot-laden foot was not raised nor lowered, and the mouse escaped, proving my foresight to be in vain. The delay! I delayed! Why? Well, the boxers had been predominantly white, save for the pattern, and how could I possibly wear previously-bloodied boxers?

So for now, disequilibrium, as I wait for the mouse trap to announce the end with a different onomatopoeia: "Snap!"

Monday, April 13, 2009

Going home

In light of the conclusion to another tax season, which, in a family where both parents are tax professionals, has historically served as an unofficial family holiday, I'm heading home to the farm in Missouri this weekend. I confess that I enjoy songs that in some way express the tension between home and adventure, stasis and growth, the roots and the branches. In an attempt to add flesh to that personal enjoyment, a couple brief examples:

My Daddy told me, lookin' back
The best friend you'll have is a railroad track
So when I was 13, I said I'm rollin' my own
And I'm leaving Missouri and I'm never coming home

- Tom Waits, "Bottom of the World"

Because this veil, it has been lifted
Yes, my eyes are wet with clarity
I've been a witness of such wonders
Oh, I've searched for them all across this country
But I think I'll be returning now to the town where I was born
And I understand you must keep moving, friend, but I'm heading home

- Bright Eyes, "The Big Picture"

Since I recently turned 25, I was able to rent a car for the purpose of my travel for the low, low price of $11/day. I'm reaping the benefits of my old age by not having to include a "young driver surcharge" in my Priceline bids. As I've always loved driving, not having a car of my own around Chicago is occasionally a bit of a drag. I used to love having the freedom to just drive--granted, it isn't as much of a "freedom" in a large city, and it doesn't give the same kind of pleasure. But the open roads between Chicago and home will be just right, and, as our good friend Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes sings on his solo album, "Washed under the black tar, gone beneath my wheels, there's nothing that the road cannot heal."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

On art and the artist: embracing the everyday excerpt from...
"Tonio Kroger"
by Thomas Mann

Tonio Kroger sat in the north writing to his friend Lisaveta Ivanovna, as he had promised he would do.

"My dear Lisaveta down there in Arcadia," he wrote, "to which I hope soon to return: here is a letter of sorts, but I am afraid it may disappoint you, for I propose to write in rather general terms. Not that I have nothing to tell you, or have not, after my fashion, undergone one or two experiences. At home, in my native town, I was even nearly arrested...but of that you shall hear by word of mouth. I sometimes now have days on which I prefer to attempt a well-formulated general statement rather than narrate particular events.

"I wonder if you still remember, Lisaveta, once calling me a bourgeois manque? You called me that on an occasion on which I had allowed myself to be enticed by various indiscreet confessions I had already let slip into avowing to you my love for what I call 'life'; and I wonder if you realized how very right you were, and how truly my bourgeois nature and my love for 'life' are one and the same. My journey here has made me think about this point...

"My father, as you know, was of a northern temperament: contemplative, thorough, puritanically correct, and inclined to melancholy. My mother was of a vaguely exotic extraction, beautiful, sensuous, naive, both reckless and passionate, and given to impulsive, rather disreputable behavior. There is no doubt that this mixed heredity contained extraordinary possibilities--and extraordinary dangers. Its result was a bourgeois who went astray into art, a bohemian homesick for his decent background, an artist with a bad conscience. For after all it is my bourgeois conscience that makes me see the whole business of being an artist, of being any kind of exception or genius, as something profoundly equivocal, profoundly dubious, profoundly suspect; and it too has made me fall so foolishly in love with simplicity and naivete, with the delightfully normal, the respectable and mediocre.

"I stand between two worlds, I am at home in neither, and this makes things a little difficult for me. You artists call me a bourgeois, and the bourgeois feel they ought to arrest me...I don't know which of the two hurts me more bitterly. The bourgeois are fools; but you worshipers of beauty, you who say I am phlegmatic and have no longing in my soul, you should remember that there is a kind of artist so profoundly, so primordially fated to be an artist that no longing seems sweeter and more precious to him than his longing for the bliss of the commonplace.

"I admire those proud, cold spirits who venture out along the paths of grandiose, demonic beauty and despise 'humanity'--but I do not envy them. For if there is anything that can turn a litterateur into a true writer, then it is this bourgeois love of mine for the human and the living and the ordinary. It is the source of all warmth, of all kindheartedness and of all humor, and I am almost persuaded it is that very love without which, as we are told, one may speak with the tongues of men and of angels and yet be a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal.

"What I have achieved so far is nothing, not much, as good as nothing. I shall improve on it, Lisaveta--this I promise you. As I write this, I can hear below me the roar of the sea, and I close my eyes. I gaze into an unborn, unembodied world that demands to be ordered and shaped, I see before me a host of shadowy human figures whose gestures implore me to cast upon them the spell that shall be their deliverance: tragic and comic figures, and some that are both at once--and to these I am strongly drawn. But my deepest and most secret love belongs to the fair-haired and the blue-eyed, the bright children of life, the happy, the charming and the ordinary.

"Do not disparage this love, Lisaveta; it is good and fruitful. In it there is longing, and sad envy, and just a touch of contempt, and a whole world of innocent delight."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The all-nighter: tools of the trade

Material to be covered:
Clinical pathophysiology and therapy for all things pertinent to diseases of the endocrine system, liver and biliary tract, central and peripheral nervous systems, psychiatry and rheumatology.

Large beef fried rice (1)
Cinnamon raisin bread (1 full loaf)
Quarters for vending machine-derived liquid rejuvenation (1 pocket full)
Baby carrots (1 large bag)
Apple (3)
Toothbrush and toothpaste (1 pair)
Razor for morning shave (1)
Stick of deodorant (1)
Eye drops and contact lens case (1 set)
24/7 library (2)
Fortune cookie (1)

"It's nice to be remembered, but it's far cheaper to be forgotten." This seems negative, and therefore will be taken as a bad omen.

Study and eating time left as of this posting (10:15pm):
10 hours and 15 minutes

Exam duration:
5 hours

Time left as of this posting until I leave for Israel for spring break:
41 hours and 45 minutes

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A final moment of procrastination before my final exam

My final exam for the winter quarter is this week. Just one exam, but it is five hours long, so I'll still consider it finalS week.

Naturally, I've been procrastinating a fair amount, but I'm trying to buckle down as of today and power through until the exam. Starting after this blog, of course. A few of my wastes of time over the past few days have included:

- Re-reading a good portion of Zeno's Conscience by Italo Svevo;
- Reading a few interesting articles, including one in which I learned that the average American, when all requirements are accounted for, gets the equivalent of about 40mpg walking, and as low as 10mpg walking if one has a very meat-heavy diet. It's actually really fascinating;
- Getting into an absolutely hilarious blog called Hot Chicks with Douchebags, which I highly recommend;
- Typing out and submitting a bunch of lyrics that were missing from lyrics websites. Man, now that's getting desperate for procrastination.

And, of course, I had a good friend from college in town for a conference with whom I was able to catch up along the way. That's not procrastination, just a very pleasant something-else-to-do.

In only a few days, I'll be heading to Israel for a second time. I leave the day after my exam, and will be there until March 30th. Here's to good times just beyond the horizon!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Waxing poetic, waning motivation

In light of today's mid-March flurries and my lack of desire to brave them, I've composed a poem:

"Snow Day? Missed Meeting"

Flurries today—curious.
Furious I was when I heard of this.
(But stealthily it became a mist
As soon as the freeze could not persist;
Cats feet came and cats feet went,
And with them went my last defense.)
Yet injuriously I demurred a tryst,
As there I lay in lazy bliss:
With eyelids closed, my heater hissed
My poor excuse for abstinence,
So that only I appeared remiss,
Left hoping not to be dismissed
—A fear of professors’ omnipotence
To punish my careless countenance.
Now only of this do my hopes consist:
Their very sweet kiss of ambivalence.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Let's all leave the theater excerpt from...
The Man Without Qualities, Part 2: Pseudoreality Prevails
by Robert Musil

Ulrich presented them with his scheme for living the history of ideas instead of the history of the world. The difference, he said to begin with, would have less to do with what was happening than with the interpretation one gave it, with the purpose it was meant to serve, with the systems of which the individual events were a part. The prevailing system was that of reality, and it was just like a bad play. It’s not for nothing that we speak of a “theater of world events”—the same roles, complications, and plots keep turning up in life. People make love because there is love to be made, and they do it in the prevailing mode; people are proud as the Noble Savage, or as a Spaniard, a virgin, or a lion; in ninety out of a hundred cases even murder is committed only because it is perceived as tragic or grandiose. Apart from the truly notable exceptions, the successful political molders of the world in particular have a lot in common with the hacks who write for the commercial theater; the lively scenes they create bore us by their lack of ideas and novelty, but by the same token they lull us into the sleepy state of lowered resistance in which we acquiesce in everything put before us. Seen in this light, history arises out of routine ideas, out of indifference to ideas, so that reality comes primarily of nothing being done for ideas. This might be briefly summed up, he claimed, by saying that we care too little about what is happening and too much about to whom, when, and where it is happening, so that it is not the essence of what happens that matters to us but only the plot; not the opening up of some new experience of life but only the pattern of what we already know, corresponding precisely to the difference between good plays and merely successful plays.


...with contemporary commentary...

What can be said that hasn't been said already? Turn on the TV, and you see a show--whether you're watching a sitcom or the news, even when the news is simply a direct feed to political happenings: a show. And as a show, the plot becomes paramount. This is old and forgotten news by now, but it really irritated me when, following Obama's town hall forum a few weeks ago when one woman requested help from homelessness and a man requested a job, the President AND the public mobilized to address these concerns. Nothing more than a transient show, a play-along to the plot, of course. We're unexpectedly confronted on national TV with a homeless woman, a woman pleading for help from homelessness, and we respond as if she's the only example of the problem, as if we had never heard of homelessness before and we find it so appalling that we must wipe the blight from the Earth at one fell swoop. Or, more accurately, we feel the need to try to fool ourselves into believing that we've actually helped, that the problem has gone away. Are we really that easily fooled or delusional? If we aren't, why do we even go through the charade? Could we not live with ourselves if that woman wasn't given a place to live, yet feel good about ourselves since she is, even though so many more like her (or with stories far more compelling than hers) are out there? I'm sure I'm not the only one who's tired of the theater. Perhaps if the stage weren't our impetus for action, we might actually achieve some real gains. The curtain closes, the lights go out, and the problem disappears--or so we're anxious to believe.

This reminds me of a related point--related in my mind, at least. Such a theater production more deeply entrenches a problem rooted in any number of things before this. Put most basically, as Maynard James Keenan sings on Tool's first album, Opiate:
Consequences dictate our course of action
And it doesn't matter what's right;
It's only wrong if you get caught.
What's wrong with this? So long as the rules are written well enough to elicit the "proper" consequences to any given action, we should be okay. But what if the rules and their respective consequences are insufficient? The lyrics continue:
If consequences dictate my course of action,
I should play God and just shoot you myself.
Obviously this is an extreme. The point is that what's right no longer matters in this scenario; it's only the relative cost or benefit of an action, irrespective of its rightness. We're guided not by the rightness or wrongness of an idea, but by the common perception of any given act, because perception to a great extent dictates consequences--and I use the word "act" deliberately here, as in many respects the acts become theater. It's all perception, not substance. But I'm repeating myself.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

What is money, and where does it come from?

For all the talk about the economy today, and of debt in particular, one subject of immense significance that goes essentially unmentioned is monetary policy. Please do yourself the service of watching this video, which serves as a primer to the monetary system that is currently in place, not only in the United States but globally. If this is something you've never read about or looked into before, I think you'll find it especially fascinating, and you'll undoubtedly be left with a vastly different perspective on our current economic circumstances.

You may want to follow the link to watch the video so that you can see it in a larger window.

"Money as Debt"

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Story of Byron the Bulb excerpt from...
Gravity's Rainbow
by Thomas Pynchon

In the spring, when the winds at Peenemunde had shifted around to the southwest, and the first birds were back, Pokler was transferred to the underground factory at Nordhausen, in the Harz. Work at Peenemunde, after the British raid, had begun to fall off. The plan—again Kammler's—was now to disperse testing and production around Germany, to prevent another and possibly fatal Allied attack. Pokler's duties at the Mittelwerke were routine: materials, procurement.  He slept in a bunk next to a wall of dynamited stone painted white, with a bulb over his head burning all night long. He dreamed that the bulb was a representative of Weissman, a creature whose bright filament was its soul. They held long dream-dialogues whose substance Pokler could never remember. The bulb was explaining the plot to him in detail--it was more grand and sweeping than Pokler could ever have imagined, it seemed many nights to be purely music, his consciousness moving through the soundscape at bay, observing, compliant, still precariously safe, but not for long.

----Fast-forward 200-something pages----

Now it turns out that this light bulb over the colonel’s head here is the same identical Osram light bulb that Franz Pokler used to sleep next to in his bunk at the underground rocket works at Nordhausen. Statistically (so Their story goes), every n-thousandth bulb is gonna be perfect, all the delta-q’s piling up just right, so we shouldn’t be surprised that his one’s still around, burning brightly. But the truth is even more stupendous. This bulb is immortal! It’s been around, in fact, since the twenties, has that old-timery point at the tip and is less pear-shaped than more contemporary bulbs. Wotta history, this bulb, if only it could speak—well, as a matter of fact, it can speak. It is dictating the muscular modulations of Paddy McGonigle’s cranking tonight, this is a loop here, with feedback through Paddy to the generator again. Here it is,


Byron was to’ve been manufactured by Tunsgram in Budapest. He would probably have been grabbed up by the ace salesman Geza Rozsavolgyi’s father Sandor, who covered all the Transylvanian territory and had begun to go native enough to where the home office felt vaguely paranoid about him throwing some horrible spell on the whole operation if they didn’t give him what he wanted. Actually he was a salesman who wanted his son to be a doctor, and that came true. But it may have been the bad witch-leery auras around Budapest that got the birth of Byron reassigned at the last minute to Osram, in Berlin. Reassigned, yes. There is a Bulb Baby Heaven, amiably satirized as if it was the movies or something, well Big Business, ha, ha! But don’t let Them fool you, this is a bureaucracy first, and a Bulb Baby Heaven only as a sort of sideline. All overhead—yes, out of its own pocket the Company is springing for leagues of organdy, hogsheads of IG Farben pink and blue Baby Dye, hundredweights of clever Siemens Electric Baby Bulb Pacifiers, giving the suckling Bulb the shape of a 110-volt current without the least trickle of power. One way or another, these Bulb folks are in the business of providing the appearance of power, power against the night, without the reality.

Actually, B.B.H. is rather shabby. The brown rafters drip cobwebs. Now and then a roach shows up on the floor, and all the Babies try to roll over to look (being Bulbs they seem perfectly symmetrical, Skippy, bud don’t forget the contact at the top of the thread) going uh-guh! uhhh-guh!, glowing feebly at the bewildered roach sitting paralyzed and squashable out on the bare boards, rushing, reliving the terror of some sudden blast of current out of nowhere and high overhead the lambent, all-seeing Bulb. In their innocence, the Baby Bulbs don’t know what to make of this roach’s abreaction—they feel his fright, but don’t know what it is. They just want to be his friend. He’s interesting and has good moves. Everybody’s excited except for Byron, who considers the other Bulb Babies a bunch of saps. It is a constant struggle to turn their thoughts on anything meaningful. Hi there Babies, I’m Byron-the-Bulb! Here to sing a little song to you, that goes—

Light-up, and-shine, you—in-cande-scent Bulb Ba-bies!
Looks-like ya got ra-bies
Just lay there foamin’ and a-screamin’ like a buncha
little demons,
I’m deliv’rin’ unto you a king-dom of roa-ches,
And no-thin’ ap-proaches
That joyful feelin’ when-you’re up-on the ceilin’
Lookin’ down—night and day—on the king-dom you sur-vey,
They’ll come out ‘n’ love ya till the break of dawn,
But they run like hell when that light comes on!
So shine on, Baby Bulbs, you’re the wave of the fu-ture,
And I’m here to recruit ya,
In m’great crusade,
Just sing along Babies—come-on-and-join-the-big-pa-rade!

Trouble with Byron’s he’s an old, old soul, trapped inside the glass prison of a Baby Bulb. He hates this place lying on his back waiting to get manufactured, nothing to listen to on the speakers but Charleston music, now and then an address to the Nation, what kind of set-up’s that? Byron wants to get out of here and into it, needless to say he’s been developing all kinds of nervous ailments, Baby Bulb Diaper Rash, which is a sort of corrosion on his screw threads, Bulb Baby Colic, a tight spasm of high resistance someplace among the deep loops of tungsten wire, Bulb Baby Hyperventilation, where it actually feels like his vacuum’s been broken though there is no organic basis…

When M-Day finally does roll around, you can bet Byron’s elated. He has passed the time hatching some really insane grandiose plans—he’s gonna organize all the Bulbs, see, get him a power base in Berlin, he’s already hep to the Strobing Tactic, all you do is develop the knack (Yogic, almost) of shutting off and on at a rate close to the human brain’s alpha rhythm, and you can actually trigger an epileptic fit! True, Byron has had a vision against the rafters of his ward, of 20 million Bulbs, all over Europe, at a given synchronizing pulse arranged by one of his many agents in the Grid, all these Bulbs beginning to strobe together, humans thrashing around the 20 million rooms like fish on the beaches of Perfect Energy—Attention, humans, this has been a warning to you. Next time, a few of us will explode. Ha-ha. Yes we’ll unleash our Kamikaze squads! You’ve heard of the Kirghiz Light? well that’s the ass end of a firefly compared to what we’re gonna—oh, you haven’t heard of the—oh, well, too bad. Cause a few Bulbs, say a million, a mere 5% of our number, are more than willing to flame out in one grand burst instead of patiently waiting out their design hours….So Byron dreams of his Guerrilla Strike Force, gonna get Herbert Hoover, Stanley Baldwin, all of them, right in the face with one coordinated blast…

Is Byron in for a rude awakening! There is already an organization, a human one, known as “Phoebus,” the international light-bulb cartel, headquartered in Switzerland. Run pretty much by International GE, Osram, and Associated Electrical Industries of Britain, which are in turn owned 100%, 29% and 46%, respectively, by the General Electric Company in America. Pheobus fixes the prices and determines the operational lives of all the bulbs in the world, from Brazil to Japan to Holland (although Philips in Holland is the mad dog of the cartel, apt at any time to cut loose and sow disaster throughout the great Combination). Given this state of general repression, there seems noplace for a newborn Baby Bulb to start but at the bottom.

But Phoebus doesn’t know yet that Byron is immortal. He starts out his career at an all-girl opium den in Charlottenburg, almost within sight of the statue of Wernher Siemens, burning up in a sconce, one among many bulbs witness the more languorous forms of Republican decadence. He gets to know all the bulbs in the place, Benito the Bulb over in the next sconce who’s always planning an escape, Bernie down the hall in the toilet, who has all kinds of urolagnia jokes to tell, his mother Brenda in the kitchen who talks of hashish hush puppies, dildos rigged to pump floods of paregoric orgasm to the capillaries of the womb, prayers to Astarte and Lilith, queen of the night, reaches into the true Night of the Other, cold and naked on linoleum floors after days without sleep, the dreams and tears become a natural state…

One by one, over the months, the other bulbs burn out, and are gone. The first few of these hit Byron hard. He’s still a new arrival, still hasn’t accepted his immortality. But on through the burning hours he starts to learn about the transience of others: learns that loving them while they’re here becomes easier, and also more intense—to love as if each design-hour will be the last. Byron soon enough becomes a Permanent Old-Timer. Others can recognize his immortality on sight, but it’s never discussed except in a general way, when folklore comes flickering in from other parts of the Grid, tales of the Immortals, one in a kabbalist’s study in Lyons who’s supposed to know magic, another in Norway outside a warehouse facing arctic whiteness with a stoicism more southerly bulbs begin strobing faintly just at the thought of. If other Immortals are out there, they remain silent. But it is a silence with much, perhaps, everything, in it.

After love, then, Byron’s next lesson is Silence.

As his burning lengthens toward 600 hours, the monitors in Switzerland begin to keep more of an eye on Byron. The Phoebus Surveillance Room is located under a little-known Alp, a chilly room crammed full of German electro-hardware, glass, brass, ebonite, and silver, massive terminal blocks shaggy with copper clips and screws, and a cadre of superclean white-robed watchers who wander meter to meter, light as snowdevils, making sure that nothing’s going wrong, that through no bulb shall the mean operating life be extended. You can imagine what it would do to the market if that started happening.

Byron passes Surveillance’s red-line at 600 hours, and immediately, as a matter of routine, he is checked out for filament resistance, burning temperature, vacuum, power consumption. Everything’s normal. Now Byron is to be checked out every 50 hours hereafter. A soft chime will go off in the monitoring station whenever it’s time.

At 800 hours—another routine precaution—a Berlin agent is sent out to he opium den to transfer Byron. She is wearing asbestos-lined kid gloves and seven-inch spike heels, no not so she can fit in with the crowd, but so that she can reach that sconce to unscrew Byron. The other bulbs watch, in barely subdued terror. The word goes out along the Grid. At something close to the speed of light, every bulb, Azos looking down the empty black Bakelite streets, Nitralampen and Wotan Gs at night soccer matches, Just-Wolframs, Monowatts and Siriuses, every bulb in Europe knows what’s happened. They are silent with impotence, with surrender in the face of struggles they thought were all myth. We can’t help, this common thought humming through pastures of sleeping sheep, down Autobahns and to the bitter ends of coaling piers in the North, there’s never been anything we could do…Anyone shows us the meanest hope of transcending and the Committee on Incandescent Anomalies comes in and takes him away. Some do protest, maybe, here and there, but it’s only information, glow-modulated harmless, nothing close to the explosions in the faces of the powerful that Byron once envisioned, back there in his Baby ward, in his innocence.

He is taken to Neukolln, to a basement room, the home of a glass-blower who is afraid of the night and who will keep Byron glowing and on watch over all the flint bowls, the griffins and flower-ships, ibexes in mid-leap, green spider-webs, somber ice-deities. This is one of many so-called “control points,” where suspicious bulbs can be monitored easily.

In less than a fortnight, a gong sounds along the ice and stone corridors of Phoebus headquarters, and faces swivel over briefly from their meters. Not too many gongs around here. Gongs are special. Byron has passed 1000 hours, and the procedure now is standard: the Committee on Incandescent Anomalies sends a hit man to Berlin.

But there something odd happens. Yes, damned odd. The plan is to smash up Byron and send him back right there in the shop to cullet and batch—salvage the tungsten, of course—and let him be reincarnated in the glassblower’s next project (a balloon setting out on a journey from the top of a white skyscraper). This wouldn’t be too bad a deal for Byron—he knows as well as Phoebus does how many hours he has on him. Here in the shop he’s watched enough glass being melted back into the structureless pool from which all glass forms spring and re-spring, and wouldn’t’ mind going through it himself. But he is trapped on the Karmic wheel. The glowing orange batch is a taunt, a cruelty. There’s no escape for Byron, he’s doomed to an infinite regress of sockets and bulbsnatchers. In zips young Hansel Geschwindig, a Weimer street urchin—twirls Byron out of the ceiling into a careful pocket and Gessschhhhwindig! out the door again. Darkness invades the dreams of the glassblower. Of all the unpleasantries his dreams grab in out of the night air, an extinguished light is the worst. Light, in his dreams, was always hope: the basic, mortal hope. As the contacts break helically away, hope turns to darkness, and the glassblower wakes sharply tonight crying, “Who? Who?

Phoebus isn’t exactly thrown into a frenzy. It’s happened before. There is still a procedure to follow. It means more overtime for some employees, so there’s that vague, full-boweled pleasure at the windfall, along with an equally vague excitement at the break in routine. You want high emotion, forget Phoebus. Their stonefaced search parties move out into the streets. They know more or less where in the city to look. They are assuming that no one among their consumers knows of Byron’s immortality. So the data for Non-immortal Bulbsnatchings ought to apply also to Byron. And the data happen to hump up in poor sections, Jewish sections, drug, homosexual, prostitute, and magic sections of the capital. Here are the most logical bulbsnatchers, in terms of what the crime is. Look at all the propaganda. It’s a moral crime. Phoebus discovered—one of the great undiscovered discoveries of our time—that consumers need to feel a sense of sin. That guilt, in proper invisible hands, is a most powerful weapon. In America, Lyle Bland and his psychologists had figures, expert testimony and money (money in the Puritan sense—an outward and visible O.K. on their intentions) enough to tip the Discovery of Guilt at the cusp between scientific theory and fact. Growth rates in later years were to bear Bland out (actually what bore Bland out was an honorary pallbearer sextet of all the senior members of Salitieri, Poore, Nash, De Brutus and Short, plus Lyle, Jr., who was sneezing. Buddy at the last minute decided go to see Dracula. He was better off.) Of all the legacies Bland left around, the Bulbsnatching Heresy was perhaps his grandest. It doesn’t just mean that somebody isn’t buying a bulb. It also means that somebody is not putting any power in that socket! It is a sin both against Phoebus and against the Grid. Neither one is about to let that get out of hand.

So, out go the Phoebus flatfoots, looking for the snatched Byron. But the urchin has already left town, gone to Hamburg, traded Byron to a Reeperbahn prostitute so he can shoot up some morphine—the young woman’s customer tonight is a cost-accountant who likes to have bulbs screwed into his asshole, and this john has also brought a little hashish to smoke, so by the time he leaves he’s forgotten about Byron still there in his asshole—doesn’t ever, in fact, find out, because when he finally gets around to sitting down (having stood up in trolleys all the way home) it’s on his own home toilet and plop! there goes Byron in the water and flusssshhhh! away down the waste lines to the Elbe estuary. He is just round enough to get through smoothly all the way. For days he floats over the North Sea, till he reaches Helgoland, that red-and-white Napoleon pastry tipped in the sea. He stays there for a while at a hotel between the Hengst and the Monch, till being brought back one day to the mainland by a very old priest who’s been put hep to Byron’s immortality in the course of a routine dream about the taste of a certain 1911 Hochheimer…suddenly here’s the great Berlin Eispalast, a booming, dim iron-trussed cavern, the smell of women in the blue shadows—perfumes, leathers, fur skating-costumes, ice-dust in the air, flashing legs, jutting haunches, desire in grippelike flashes, helplessness at the end of a crack-the-whip, rocketing through beams of sunlight choked with the powdered ice, and a voice in the blurred mirror underfoot saying, “Find the one who has performed this miracle. He is a saint. Expose him. Expedite his canonization…” The name is on a list the old man presently draws up of about a thousand tourists who’ve been in and out of Helgoland since Byron was found on the beach. The priest begins a search by train, footpath, and Hispano-Suiza, checking out each of the tourists on his list. But he gets no farther than Nurnberg, where his valise, with Byron wrapped inside in an alb, is ripped off by a transsectite, a Lutheran named Mausmacher who likes to dress up in Roman regalia. This Mausmacher, not content with standing in front of his own mirror making papal crosses, thinks it will be a really bizarre kick to go out to the Zeppelin field to a Nazi torchlight rally in full drag, and walk around blessing people at random. Green torches flaring, red swastikas, twinkling brasses and Father Mausmacher, checking out tits ’n’ asses, waistlines ‘n’ baskets, humming a clerical little tune, some Bach riff, smiling as he moves through the Sieg Heils and choruses of “Die Fahne Hock.” Unknown to him, Byron slides out of the stolen vestments onto the ground. He is then walked past by several hundred thousand boots and shoes, and not one so much as brushes him, natch. He is scavenged next day (the field now deathempty, columned, pale, streaked with long mudpuddles, morning clouds lengthening behind the gilded swastika and wreath) by a poor Jewish ragpicker, and taken on, on into another 15 years of preservation against chance and against Phoebus. He will be screwed into mother (Mutter) after mother, as the female threads of German light-bulb sockets are known, for some reason that escapes everybody.

The cartel have already gone over to Contingency Plan B, which assumes a seven-year statute of limitations, after which Byron will be considered legally burned out. Meanwhile, the personnel taken off of Byron’s case are busy tracking a long-lived bulb that once occupied a socket on the porch of an army outpost in the Amazon Jungle, Beatriz the bulb, who has just been stolen, mysteriously, by an Indian raiding party.

Through his years of survival, all these various rescues of Byron happen as if by accident. Whenever he can, he tries to instruct any bulbs nearby in the evil nature of Phoebus, and in the need of solidarity against the cartel. He has come to see how Bulb must move beyond its role as conveyor of light-energy alone. Phoebus has restricted Bulb to this one identity. “But there are other frequencies, above and below the visible band. Bulb can give heat. Bulb can provide energy for plants to grow, illegal plants, inside closets, for example. Bulb can penetrate the sleeping eye, and operate among the dreams of men.” Some bulbs listened attentively—others thought of ways to fink to Phoebus. Some of the older anti-Byronists were able to fool with their parameters in systematic ways that would show up on the ebonite meters under the Swiss mountain: there were even a few self-immolations, hoping to draw the hit men down.

Any talk of Bulb’s transcendence, of course, was clear subversion. Phoebus based everything on bulb efficiency—the ration of the usable power coming out, to the power put in. The Grid demanded that this ratio stay as small as possible, that way they got to sell more juice. On the other hand, low efficiency meant longer burning hours, and that cut into bulb sales for Phoebus. In the beginning Phoebus tried increasing filament resistance, reducing the hours of life on the sly and gradually—till the Grid noticed a fall-off in revenues, and started screaming. The two parties by and by reached an accord on a compromise bulb-life figure that would bring in enough money for both of them, and to go fifty-fifty on the costs of the antibulbsnatching campaign. Along with a more subtle attack against those criminal souls who forswear bulbs entirely and use candles. Phoebus’s long-standing arrangement with the Meat Cartel was to restrict the amount of tallow in circulation by keeping more fat in meat to be sold regardless of cardiac problems that might arise, and redirecting most of what was trimmed off into soap production. Soap in those days was a booming concern. Among the consumers, the Bland Institute had discovered deep feelings about shit. Even at that, meat and soap were minor interlocks to Phoebus. More important were items like tungsten. Another reason why Phoebus couldn’t cut down bulb life too far. Too many tungsten filaments would eat into available stockpiles of the metal—China being the major world source, this also brought in very delicate questions of Eastern policy—and disturb the arrangement between General Electric and Krupp about how much tungsten carbide would be produced, where and when and what the prices would be. The guidelines settled on were $37-$90 a pound in Germany, $200-$400 a pound in the U.S. This directly governed the production of machine tools, and thus all areas of light and heavy industry. When the War came, some people thought it unpatriotic of GE to have given Germany an edge like that. But nobody with any power. Don’t worry.

Byron, as he burns on, sees more and more of this pattern. He learns how to make contact with other kinds of electric appliances, in homes, in factories and out in the streets. Each has something to tell him. The pattern gathers in his soul (Seele, as the core of the earlier carbon filament was known in Germany), and the grander and clearer it grows, the more desperate Byron gets. Someday he will know everything, and still be as impotent as before. His youthful dreams of organizing all the bulbs in the world seem impossible now—the Grid is wide open, all messages can be overheard, and there are more than enough traitors out in the line. Prophets traditionally don’t last long—they are either killed outright, or given an accident serious enough to make them stop and think, and most often they do pull back. But on Byron has been visited an even better fate. He is condemned to go on forever, knowing the truth and powerless to change anything. No longer will he seek to get off the wheel. His anger and frustration will grow without limit, and he will find himself, poor perverse bulb, enjoying it…


Laszlo Jamf walks away down the canal, where dogs are swimming now, dogs in packs, dogs’ heads bobbing down the scummy canals…dog’s heads, chess knights, also may be found invisible in the air over secret airbases, in the thickets fogs, conditions of temperature, pressure and humidity form Springer-shapes the tuned flyer can feel, the radars can see, the helpless passengers can almost glimpse, now and then, out the little window, as through sheets of vapor…it is the kind Dog, the Dog no man ever conditioned, who is there for us at beginnings and ends, and journeys we have to take, helpless, but not quite unwilling…The pleats in Jamf’s suit go weaving away like iris leaves in a backyard wind. The colonel is left alone in Happyville. The steel city waits him, the even cloud-light raising a white streak down each great building, all of them set up as modulations in the perfect grid of the streets, each tower cut off at a different height—and where is the Comb that will move through this and restore the old perfect Cartesian harmony? where are the great Shears from the sky that will readjust Happyville?

There is no need to bring in blood or violence here. But the colonel does have his head tilted back now in what may truly be surrender: his throat is open to the pain-radiance of the Bulb. Paddy McGonigle is the only other witness, and he, a one-man power system with dreams of his own, wants the colonel out of the way as much as anyone. Eddie Pensiero, with the blues flooding his shaking muscles, the down, mortal blues, is holding his scissors in a way barbers aren’t supposed to. The points, shuddering in the electric cone, are aiming downward. Eddie Pensiero’s fist tightens around the steel loops his fingers have slid out of. The colonel, with a last tilt of his head, exposes his jugular, clearly impatient with the—

Friday, February 27, 2009


And so it came to pass that the one who sought isolation was to be made a circus sideshow, and such were the times that sideshows were to be made the main act. Side shows were nearly all anyone had anymore. Light flooded into the woods in a fashion much brighter than the moon had intended for the nightscape, meant as much to illuminate every grain of so-seen rustic dirt and stone as to illuminate the story of the recluse, the beast, the illuminated himself. The dirt and stone were mere symbols of the unbearable withdrawal that was meant to be called to the minds of the soon-to-form throngs of viewers, the coagulating masses—“How could someone live like this?” they would question in unison. And it was by choice? But surely no one could choose such a thing for himself: the legends must be true; the fool had gone crazy after the war, that half-wit-or-less; this isn’t a man at all, but an animal; no, lower than an animal, because he could have chosen differently. Opinion was being formed even as the cameras had yet to cross the arc of the hill.

Perhaps what will be missed in their minds is the reversion, this man’s use of a cave as a fig leaf. He had eaten the fruit long ago and had begun to see the Eye of God upon his nakedness—but shame and embarrassment at his nakedness were not his, rather an indignation that he should be looked upon at all in such a way without invitation. The Eye compelled him to cover himself, yes, but he had seen what the wind, thick with messages, endless and seemingly incoherent messages, had blown upon those who didn’t seek shelter, an air itself so heavily clothed in messages that everyone could not help but wear them themselves. Oh, it wasn’t nakedness he was fearful of, it was the wrong wardrobe being thrust upon him, clothes that did not fit and were not his; it was the lack of awareness of being clothed and with what clothes and from where simply because they were convenient and would shield one’s flesh from the wind—this is what he feared. Of course no one saw the fig leaf in the cave, or the cave in the fig leaf. It took me until now to see it myself.

He preferred the stale air of his cave to the turbulence outside, his cave the physical manifestation of his awareness of the turbulence, as if he had willed the cave into existence; he preferred the air that he alone had been inhaling and exhaling for years. Somehow it was never exhausted or unbreathable, as a mountain spring draws its source from some great unseen depth within the stone without running dry, and indeed makes the gulfs and oceans jealous with its purity. He breathed this air deeply now as the rabble approached, as if to intoxicate himself with its richness, to become so sedated so as to ruin whatever grand moment of discovery the cameras were craving.

The lights penetrated yet more deeply the trees and undergrowth, surging forward as a wave and blazing paths through the forest, paths quickly swarming with the cameras, microphones, wires and their affixed hands, feet and mouths with ears oddly small. It was a surreal and unnatural sight amongst an unfamiliar backdrop. Such places were meant to be manufactured for film; the untouched was not meant to exist today except for as a stage. But maybe by the mere presence of this swarm it became manufactured, a transformation thrust upon all things within the Eye. These foreign hills, undeveloped and living in the past, lived underneath a sky teeming with passing signals, and had the whirling images and sounds not penetrated the foliage? Surely it had all been absorbed, the trees succumbing to a photosynthesis that has folded like the flock to incorporate the images and sounds into their very fibers so that the trees would sprout leaves of proportions too perfect to have been formed by nature herself. Yes, that’s how it would work. Subtly. Trees sway with the wind, too; the winds blow through them. Why should they remain unaffected? But the place, like the person it housed, resisted change and resisted the flood of lights and of the excited rabble of the surging reporters, each vying for the most favorable position from which to capture—and indeed it was to capture—something as yet uncaptured in as majestic or dejected a vision as possible to create the desired storyline; an angle chosen for the story dictating an angle for the cameras, for the lights, for the glitz and glamour or fritz and horror, whatever was decided; it’s all to become the template for everyone’s reality at the expense of the recluse—a nightmare for him, and for me.

At least, I’d like to believe that the trees lifted their roots to protect the man, tried to trip the reporters and smash their cameras, to strangle the advancing pseudopodia of the Great Amoeba. But the trees were unchanged by the always-growing buzz in the air; neither did they try to stop the invaders nor did they bow to their advances. They could neither be pulled into the fold nor could they rebel against it. They simply stood by, idle and complacent spectators to an assault, bearing dumb witness to this new onslaught as they had to the occasional blast of dynamite in the search for coal and again to the staccato cracks of gunfire during the Civil War many years before: yet another ring, not unlike any of the others in their trunks, unrecognizing and mute, unconsciously gained. The trees could offer no defense; only the cave remained, and it had already been compromised by loose lips. I would say that the man will soon be discovered, but he had already been discovered with the first words confirming his very existence in a plane more tangible than legend. Even as I hoped and tried to fool myself into believing that he would be spared the embarrassment—that I would be spared the shame of his embarrassment—I knew that headlines and articles were being written, that graphics were being designed, that endless monikers were being contrived in order to bring this recluse into the fold, for no one could be allowed out. Someone who had so consciously and devoutly resisted his integration could not simply be made an object like the rest of us, but rather a centerpiece so that he could not once again withdraw: a spectacle. He would be followed, stalked endlessly into tirade and resignation, into ebb and flow, through every turn into obscurity, into death and beyond. The record would not disappear. The Eye would move cicadically unto its next repast but it never forgets; what it sees is digested into Zeitgeist and transformed into archetype, into the foreknowledge of the next generation and every generation to come, the recluse’s own reality being contorted further with each retelling, each retelling a reformulation because the old must become new again to be resold. And so I had become his original purveyor. A slip of the tongue turned to a lashing of the tongue, a whip toward subjugation into the Great Circus of sideshows.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

It's actually all in my head

Throughout the winter, in order to keep my shaved head warm, I wear my super-stylish and studly hat. It does a fair job of protecting me from Chicago's sometimes-abrasive elements (although my earlobes, jutting out from beneath the hat, are susceptible to the cold). And yes, I know that it's a girl wearing the hat in the picture, but give me some credit: it's a unisex design. You can look it up for yourself.

The problem is with the camouflage. It scares people, because they can't see it, and therefore can't confirm that the top of my head is actually there, either. My medically-minded classmates all fear I have anencephaly. I assure you, however, that I do not; instead, I have a complete cranium. Fortunately for me, my mother's prenatal nutrition was replete with folic acid. Fear for me no more! Now, behold the double entendre of the title.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

We've gone ape!

Ain't this some monkey business. A cartoonist attempting to play off of the recent chimpanzee attack in Stamford, Connecticut wanted to connect a few dots with some recent political plays. The cartoon, shown below, depicts a chimp shot dead by the police, with one officer suggesting someone else will have to be found to write the next stimulus bill--a stimulus bill so ill-conceived, as far as I'm concerned, that it must have been written by a bunch of monkeys. But I know I'm not alone. Before this cartoon came out, I had heard that common idiom purveyed by many pundits and talking heads in our esteemed media. I wish I had paid more attention then, simply to see if by chance any of those same pundits are now among the throngs claiming this cartoon is a racist attack--or worse, a blatant invitation to assassinate President Obama, as still others have suggested. The point is that when the stimulus bill was being debated and finalized, many of us who are profoundly discontent with this legislation equated those responsible for it with a bunch of monkeys. That was fine. No one complained or claimed that it was racist rhetoric. Why? Because it's a common idiom. So monkey see, monkey do: a cartoonist employs this acceptable language in a cartoon format within the contemporary context of the recent chimp attack and a ridiculous stimulus bill. And now it becomes unacceptable? Even evil? I don't think so.

Furthermore, it's been frequently pointed out that Obama did not write the stimulus bill, anyway, that it was an assortment of other Democrats. This is true; let's be accurate here.

The fun part is that Obama's appointment to Attorney General, Eric Holder, recently said, "Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and I believe continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards." You know, he's probably right in many ways. The question is: who can blame us when even a benign cartoon--one not at all implicated in race--is demonized along with its artist as racist? How are we to even begin a dialogue in such an atmosphere?

I would say we should cut out these ridiculous knee-jerk responses, but that would only be part of the solution. Those responses are fed and supported by a conflict-driven media; where conflict doesn't exist, one must be created. The human ego has a hard time turning down the opportunity for a national podium, so naturally when it's offered on the condition that it participate in the conflict, it's difficult to resist. Can't we all just stop monkeying around?

(Edit: My blog seems to be cutting off the edge of the cartoon. Just do a Google search for chimp cartoon and you'll see the full thing, if you've not already.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

An inaugural dedication

In dedication to today's inauguration and our 44th president, here are a couple brief passages from Hermann Broch's The Sleepwalkers that I feel read well together.

"The patience with which mankind suffers the authority of logic is simply inexhaustible and can be compared only to the imperturbable patience with which it submits to the art of medicine: and just as the human body confides itself to the most nonsensical medical cures, and is actually cured by them, so reality submits to the erection of the most impossible theoretic structures,--and so long as the theory does not itself declare its bankruptcy it will be supported with confidence, and reality will remain tractable. Only after bankruptcy has been openly declared does man begin to rub his eyes and look once more at reality; only then does he seek the source of knowledge in living experience instead of in ratiocination."

"We know too well that we are ourselves split and riven, and yet we cannot account for it; if we try to cast the responsibility for it on the age in which we live, the age is too much for our comprehension, and so we fall back on calling it insane or great. We ourselves think that we are normal, because, in spite of the split in our souls, our inner machinery seems to run on logical principles. But if there were a man in whom all the events of our time took significant shape, a man whose native logic accounted for the events of our age, then and then only would this age cease to be insane. Presumably that is why we long for a 'leader,' so that he may provide us with the motivation for events that in his absence we can characterize only as insane."

Here's to our newest leader and his accompanying furor--and, of course, to its inevitable bankruptcy. Let's hope for it to strike sooner rather than later, so that perhaps we can finally--after an increasingly disconnected and ethereal political unreality--find the ground upon which we can build a true foundation.

Buzzkill Bill

On beauty...and its cruelty?

From Part 2 (Fire - The Descent) of The Death of Virgil by Hermann Broch. The formatting you see here is the formatting in the book, as it was translated from the original German. The only formatting change I made was inserting a few partitions in the verses for ease of reading. Give it a try; it's an interesting read, even if I did a little splicing in parts, as indicated by the [...].

[...]: knowledge of beauty was lack of knowledge, perception of beauty was lack of perception, the one without vantage of thinking, the other without the full measure of reality, and in the rigidity of beauty's equilibrium--rigid the floating balance between thinking and reality, rigid the reciprocity of question and answer, of askable and answerable from which the world was born--the flood-scales of inner and outer worlds were brought to a standstill, becoming in this rigid balance the symbol of a symbol. [...]: illuminating the night, illuminating the world, beauty spread to the borders of unbounded space and, immersed with space in time, carried on with time through the ages, it became the ever-enduring now, giving boundaries to boundless time, the perfect symbol of earthly life limited by time and space, revealing the woe of limitation and the beauty of life on earth;
thus in mournful sorrow,
thus beauty was revealed to man,
revealed in its self-containment which was
that of the symbol and of equilibrium,
the self gazing at beauty and the beauty-filled world
enchantedly facing each other,
each a-float in the place allotted to it,
both limited, both self-contained, both in equilibrium
and therefore balanced in their apposition in the space common to both:

thus was revealed to man
the self-containment of earthly beauty,
the floating expanse and the magical beauty
of self-contained space, borne on and benumbed by time,
incapable of renewal by the question,
incapable of expansion by knowledge,
the constant completeness of space held in balance
by the influence of beauty within it, yet without renewal or expansion;

thus space in its completeness and self-containment
revealed itself in every one of its parts, at every point,
as if each of these were its innermost core,
revealing itself in every single figure, in every thing, in every human work
as the symbol of its own spatial finitude
at the innermost limit of which every created thing annuls itself,
the symbol annulling and subliming space, beauty annulling and subliming space
by the unity maintained between its inner and outer boundaries,
by the infinitude of the self-containing boundaries,
infinity--but bounded, the sorrow of man;

thus beauty was revealed to man as an occurrence on the boundary,
and this boundary, the inner like the outer,
the boundary of the remotest horizon or that of a single point,
was spanned between the finite and the infinite,
utterly remote while still on earth and within earthly time,
yea, bounding time itself and causing it to linger,
space lingering at its own border with time, but not annulling time,
this being but a symbol, an earthly symbol of time's annulment,
a mere symbol of death's abolishment, not the abolishment itself,
the boundary of human life that never reached beyond itself,
wherefore it was also the boundary of inhumanity--

thus it was revealed to man as an event of beauty,
revealing beauty for what it was, as the infinite in the realm of the finite,
as an earthly sham-infinity,
and hence a game,
the game of earthly men amidst their earthliness, playing at eternity,
the symbolic game on the periphery of earthly life,
beauty the essence of the play,
the game that man played with his own symbol in order that
symbolically--since otherwise it was impossible--he might escape his fear of loneliness,
repeating the beautiful self-deception again and again,
the flight into beauty, the game of flight;

thus there was revealed to man the rigidity of the beautified world,
its incapacity for all growth, the limitation of its perfection,
this world which survived only by repetition and
which, even for this sham-perfection, had always to be striven for anew,
it was revealed as the play of art in its service of beauty,
as art's despair, its despairing attempt
to build up the imperishable from things that perish,
from words, from sounds, from stones, from colors,
so that space, being formed,
might outlast time
as a memorial bearing beauty to the coming generations, art
building space into every production,
building the immortal in space but not in men--
wherefore it lacked growth,
wherefore it was bound to the perfection of mere repetition without growth,
bound to an unattainable perfection and becoming more desperate as it came nearer to perfection,
constrained to return constantly into its own beginning which was its end,
and hence pitiless,
pitiless toward human sorrow which meant no more to art
than passing existence, no more than a word, a stone, a sound, or a color
to be used for exploring and revealing beauty
in unending repetition;

and thus beauty revealed itself to man as a cruelty,
as the growing cruelty of the unbridled game
which promised the pleasure of infinity through the symbol,
the voluptuous, knowledge-disdaining pleasure
of an earthly sham-infinity,
hence thoughtlessly able to inflict sorrow and death,
as happened in the realm of beauty at the remote periphery,
accessible only to the glance, only to time,
but no longer available for humanity and the human task;

thus beauty revealed itself to man as the law that lacked perception,
beauty in its abandonment proclaiming itself as a law unto itself,
self-contained, inextensible, incapable of development or renewal,
pleasure the rule of the game,
self-gratifying, voluptuous, unchaste, unchangeable,
the beauty-saturated, beauty-saturating game in which
beauty was at play with itself,
passing the time but not annulling it,
playing out fate but not controlling it,
the game that could be repeated endlessly, continued endlessly,
yet one that had been destined from the beginning to be broken off,
because only humanity is divine;

and thus the intoxication of beauty revealed itself to man
as the game forlorn from the outset, forlorn
in spite of the eternal balance in which it is established,
in spite of the necessity which compelled it to be resumed again and again,
forlorn, because the unavoidable repetition brought with it
the unavoidable loss,
forlorn, because the intoxication of repetition and that of the game
were inevitably reciprocal in their affects,
both caught in the twilight,
both subject to lapse,
both without growth though assuredly waxing in cruelty--
whereas the truth growth
the increasing knowledge of perceptive mankind,
undeterred by lapse and freed from repetition, unfolded itself in time,
unfolded time to timelessness, so that
time, as it consumed all lapse by force of growing reality,
might break through and pass beyond boundary after boundary,
the innermost like the outermost, leaving behind symbol after symbol,
and even though it left the final symbolic nature of beauty undisturbed,
untouched the necessity of its consummate harmony,
yet the earthly quality of this game had nonetheless to be uncovered,
the inadequacy of the earthly symbol be revealed,
the sadness and despair of beauty laid bare,
beauty stripped of intoxication and sobered,
its perception forfeited and itself lost in impercipience,
and with it, the sobered self,
its poverty--,

[...] and in a flash he perceived that the bursting of the beautiful was caused by nothing but naked laughter and that laughter was the predestined explosion of worldly beauty, of which it had been an attribute from the first, inherent in beauty forever, shimmering out as a smile at the unreal borders of utter-distance, but bawling out noisily on that curving horizon which marked the turning point of beauty's duration, breaking out as the booming, thundering demolishment of time by laughter, as the laughing, demonic force of complete destruction, laughter being the necessary counterpart of world-beauty, the desperate substitute for the lost confidence in wisdom, the end of the intercepted flight into beauty, the end of beauty's interrupted game; oh sorrow for sorrow, making game with the game, pleasure in the very expulsion of pleasure, a doubling of sorrow, a doubling of the game, a doubling of pleasure, this was laughter, a constant flight from the haven of refuge, beyond the game, beyond the world, beyond perception, the bursting of world-sorrow, the external tickle in masculine gorge, the cleaving of beauty-fixed space to a gape in the unspeakable muteness of which even the nothing became lost, enraged by the muteness, enraged by the laughter, divine even this:
the prerogative of gods and men was laughter,

Then it goes on to discuss "laughter: the language of the pre-creation" and its provocation of "the final and ever-valid reversion, the reversion into a boundless realm without knowledge, without name, without speech, without connection, without dimension, the partitions tumbling down, the intuitions of the gods thrown in with that of men, breaking down their common creation but also laying bare the nature of the ageless pre-creation."

To add another (far more brief) perspective on beauty, even though it's not truly that consistent in theme, here is a snippet from The Man Without Qualities, written by Broch's peer, Robert Musil. The quote is spoken by Ulrich in Part 2, Pseudoreality Prevails:

"Extract the meaning out of all literature, and what you will get is a denial, however incomplete, but nonetheless an endless series of individual examples all based on experience, which refute all the accepted rules, principles, and prescriptions underpinning the very society that loves these works of art! In the end, a poem, with its mystery, cuts through to the point where the meaning of the world is tied to thousands of words in constant use, severs all these strings, and turns it into a balloon floating off into space. If this is what we call beauty, as we usually do, then beauty is an indescribably more ruthless and cruel upheaval than any political revolution ever was."

Currently listening to: "Winter Wonderland" by Animal Collective
Previous activity: The Daily Show
Next thing on the agenda: maybe a little Robbins Pathology

Monday, January 05, 2009

"This too was sleep"

...from Part 1 (Water - The Arrival) of The Death of Virgil by Hermann Broch. I suppose this is what happens when someone truly feels driven to write.

In truth, nothing earthly might abandon sleep, and only he who never forgot the night within him was able to complete the cycle, to come home from the timelessness of the beginning to that of the end, beginning the orbit anew, himself a star in the constellation of time's orbit, arising from dusk and sinking into dusk, born and reborn nocturnally out of the night, received by day whose brightness has entered into the darkness, day, taking on the habit of night: yes, so had his nights ever been, all the nights of his life, all the nights through which he had wandered, the nights passed in wakefulness for fear of the unconsciousness that threatens from below the night, for fear of the unshadowed light from above, fearful of forsaking Pan, full of a fear that knows of the peril of twofold timelessness, yes, thus his nights bound to the threshold of the double farewell, nights of the obstinately enduring universal sleep, although people rioted on the squares, in the streets, in the taverns, blindly remaining the same in town after town from the very beginning, the sound of their tumult echoing here inaudibly from the reaches of time and therefore all the more keenly recognized, this too was sleep; although the mighty of the world were being toasted amid a surf of torches and music in hall after hall of feasting, smiled at by faces and more faces, courted by bodies and more bodies, they also smiling and courting, this too was sleep; although the bivouac fires were burning, not only before the castles but yonder too where there was war, at the frontiers, at the night-black rivers, and at the fringes of the night-murmuring forests beneath the rutilant roar of the attacking barbarians breaking out of the night, this too was sleep, sleep and more sleep, like that of the naked gray-beards who in stinking hovels sleep the last remnant of wakefulness out of themselves, like that of the sucklings who dreamlessly drowse away the misery of their birth into the sullen wakefulness of a future life, like that of the enslaved chain-gang in the ship's belly who lay stretched out like torpid reptiles on the benches and decks of coiled ropes, sleep and more sleep, herds and more herds, lifted out from the indiscriminateness of their ground-soil like the ranging mountings of the night at rest on the plains, set into the unchanging matrix, into the constant regression which is not quite timelessness but which reproduces it in every earthly night; yes these nights, so had they ever been, so they were still, and so this night also perhaps enduring forever, night on the tilted threshold of timelessness and time, of farewell and returning, of herd-solidarity and the loneliest utter-loneliness, of fear and salvation and he, thralled on the threshold, waiting night after night on the threshold, blinded by the twilight at the rim of night and by the dusk at the world's edge, knowing as he did the experiences of sleep, he had been lifted into immutability, and as he was taking shape there he was hurled back and aloft into the sphere of verse, into the interrealm of wisdom and poetry, into the dream that is beyond dream and touches on rebirth, the goal of our flight, the song.

Currently listening to: "Aenima" by Tool
Previous activity: A little reading in The Death of Virgil
Next thing on the agenda: Some premature boards review