Saturday, July 28, 2012

Old Orchard Beach

White Rabbits of Oblivion

The white rabbits of oblivion kept their game face on as the experiments continued. And though hope was in short supply during those long days and nights when, at a moment's notice, they would hear sudden footsteps in the hallway,  and be stricken with dread over which scientist would be the one to snatch them out of their cages with those thick plastic gloves and place them in some artificial, grassy environment only long enough to calm them down until the next injection....It would have seemed quite necessary for some creature or entity, caring, sentient, feeling voice to speak up in protest at the thought of such callous research, but you'd be amazed how little publicity these rabbits generate despite their good looks, their innocent mien, their gentle ways...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Nothing = Almost Something...

Readers of Plato and Parmenides will no doubt find these remarks tedious and derivative nevertheless....Have you ever wondered how "nothing" (when we start talking about it) is somehow more than just plain nothing as long as someone notices it, that it's really "there" somehow by virtue of being "not there." By making it part of our vocabulary, we give it a kind of substance that it's not supposed to have...The absence becomes like a presence so to speak. This ultimate vacuum, this vapid place-holder known as the "empty set" takes on a weird in-between status. Zero-when-seen counts for more than zero-unseen. For example, when someone says to you: "What's wrong?" and you say "Oh, nothing..." there's still something to that, because nothing in such a case has been mingled with a situation. True, there is nothing wrong, but the aforementioned "nothing" cannot refer to a total, all-encompassing black hole. Or, if someone says "What are you feeling?" and you say "Nothing, really..." you're still making room for a space, a mood, a state of mind apart from anything else that could be bothering you). And if someone further challenges you by inquiring: "What are you doing with your life?" and you reply: "Nothing, I tell you! Nothing!" there's more to the story than just that. But if someone gets really brave and declares that "there's nothing behind the material universe, so just get used to it!" Well - are we just going to stand there and take that at face value? I think not...Leibniz in his modern continuation of the metaphysical conversation, spoke freely about "potential beings" - non-entities not quite existing but possessing an aptitude for existence. If that doesn't sound weird then nothing does. These would have to be distinguished (I suppose) from absolute non-entities - if there are any! - that have neither the power nor the inclination to show themselves...

Monday, July 23, 2012

To be wise...

"To be wise, however, soberly to anticipate what might lie in store, was truly no easy task, for it was as if some vital yet undetectable modification had taken place in the eternally stable composition of the air, in the very remoteness of that hitherto faultless mechanism or unnamed principle - which, it is often remarked, makes the world go round and of which the most imposing evidence is the sheer phenomenon of the world's existence - which had suddenly lost some of its power, and it was because of this that the troubling knowledge of the probability of danger was in fact less unbearable than the common senses of foreboding that soon anything at all might happen and that this anything - the law governing its likelihood becoming apparent in the process of disintegration - was leading to greater anxiety than the thought of any personal misfortune, thereby increasingly depriving people of the possibility of coolly appraising the facts." - Laszlo Krasznarorkai

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Time for Some Good News...

It's the middle of summer for heaven's sake! I'm getting desperate for a happy headline...

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before...

Something happened at a theater in Colorado. This wasn't the first time...Repeat atrocity in a new venue. At first glance, the suspect seemed too calm and intelligent to have committed such a heinous crime as this; it was hard to place him as "just another" cold-blooded killer or deranged lunatic,  but on the other hand, he fit the profile, that dreaded profile, of a quiet, subdued, loner that no one really knew, a guy whose life was coming unglued in his early 20s, a ticking time-bomb waiting to explode.  Yet still one has to wonder: how does a guy who graduates from college with highest honors in neuro-science come to this? How does a person endowed with superior intellectual gifts, who at one time was in possession of a conscience and a high degree of self-restraint, even a reputation for wit - an actual sense of humor - which would suggest some semblance of joie de vivre, get lost in a fantasy world to such a degree that he ends up identifying with an arch villain, and then enters a theater to mow down other young people who would most likely tend to be on his wavelength, who would be most sympathetic to his plight? And so it remains a mystery why and how so many young caucasian males seem to fall into this trap - assuming as I do that they don't begin life this way - only to end up ruining their own lives, while trashing the lives of others at random for no discernible reason. He apparently had lost the capacity to see outside himself....And the victims? We have their faces, their stories to remind us that something is deeply amiss in Gotham, in the heartland, in the rest of America...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Socratic Fool

Once upon a time there was a Socratic fool who went around the marketplace conversing with various people, asking them about their most cherished beliefs and annoying most of them as he went. The problem with this fool was his stubborn resistance to the wisdom that others tried to impart to him.  People, typically old and established types, would go on and on, explaining in depth their prodigious knowledge and expertise on a particular topic (usually one associated with money-making or a respectable career-choice), sharing the wisdom that they had accumulated over a lifetime and offering up as well a smattering of "truths" and "life-lessons" that were as plain as day. Perhaps on occassion the conversation would shift into a discussion of justice or the meaning of piety or the essence of courage or the optimum social order. And when the fool pressed for definitions and clarifications, the old men would hand them out somewhat flippantly as if they were beside the point. But as they did so, the fool typically sat silent, scratching his nose and crunching his face up into a skeptical grimace. "What's the matter," they would say. "Can't you see that what I'm telling you is true? Why are you looking at me that way? Are you dense or something???." The fool would then reply: "Do you think that what you're telling me is so true because you have studied the subject in depth or because there are no contrary opinions that contradict your testimony or is it because your opinion is most familiar to yourself and therefore you have become comfortable and complacent with it such that any other point of view would seem too exotic and foreign to your own tastes." Usually, when the fool reached this juncture in the conversation, the other person, brimming with anger and discontent, would yell back at him: "So... my wisdom is not good enough for you - eh? So I can't provide you with adequate definitions?  Okay, why don't you give me some real answers then! Can you do that - FOOL? But the fool only smiled and said in his irritatingly slow drawl: "I have no answers to replace your answers. I have only my paltry knowledge that I am ignorant of those things which you claim to be quite sure of..." "Oh!" replied the other person haughtily, "so what you have to offer is mere ignorance and absence of knowledge. Your wisdom is the wisdom of the empty set. Thanks a lot fool! That's very helpful. Now we can rest content with NO ANSWERS and nothing to live by. Now we can teach the younger generation to be skeptical and non-committal, adopting surly, snarky postures so that they too can end up nay-saying everything that the older generation has to offer while affirming NOTHING themselves!" "Perhaps you have misunderstood," said the fool. "It is not ignorance as such that I offer to my fellow interlocutors. It is knowledge of such ignorance. We humans understand ourselves only by knowing the limits of our knowledge. Is that so wrong?" "Yes, it's very wrong," the  old man would reply. "What you're doing is very wrong. Because you show our opinions to be very provisional and dispensable - relevant for a day perhaps, for this time and place, but otherwise obsolete. Your words are like dynamite in the marketplace. Once people get exposed to your decadence nothing will remain sacred. We will turn into a bunch of ironists and aesthetes who don't take ourselves seriously at all - who speak only for the sake of amusing ourselves and others! Is that what you want?" The fool thought to himself. Hmmm. The original Socrates was trying to inject logic and rigor into the conversation, but this old man seems to make a good point. What has Socratic logic wrought over the course of many centuries? And what is the alternative? Enlightenment was exciting in the beginning...But what happens after everything has already been critiqued ahead of time?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Melancholy of Resistance

This is the title of a dazzlingly surreal novel by Hungarian Laszlo Krasznahorkai about the mysterious events surrounding the arrival of a circus in a small Hungarian town. There is also a movie based on the book entitled: Werkemeister's Harmonies. Haven't seen it yet... 

Recent Conversations with Fate

Me: "And so, Fate, as I was saying just a moment ago, I've decided to go ahead with my decision."

Fate: "Well, if you're sure about it, then I suppose there's nothing I can do to change your mind..."

Me: "What? You want to change my mind all of a sudden? I thought we were both good to go on this."

Fate: "Don't let me stop you, my friend. What's done is done."

Me: "It's not too late. I haven't done anything yet. I've merely decided."

Fate: "Okay then. That in itself is a victory of sorts."

Me: "Are you mocking me again?"

Fate: "Not in the least..."

Me: "Well - I thought we were working together on this project. Basically, I'm simply trying to unravel your most recent bit of cryptic advice."

Fate: "Am I so hard to understand? And besides, do you really need to consult with me to see clearly what options remain available."

Me: "Of course I need your help. I have a tendency to overlook certain possibilities."

Fate: "Additional options...More to choose from...More to get confused by perhaps."

Me: "But your job would simply be to point me toward the right option..."

Fate: "And wouldn't I be cheating you out of a certain type of experience if I did just that?"

Me: "Oh I see. You want me to feel the excruciating weight of confusion, panic, uncertainty..."

Fate: "No. I simply don't want you to feel forced into something that doesn't feel right to you."

Me: "Well I've got news for you Mr. F. I'm getting sick and tired of your non-directive therapy. Just tell me what to do. Just give me some answers."

Fate: "Sorry that's above me pay-grade. The person you really want to speak with about that is named..."

Me: "Stop right there. Look now. I'll talk to whomever want to talk to me. But right now we're having a conversation and once again, it seems, we've hit a brick wall...which leads me to suspect that you really do want me to fail. You'd like nothing more. It's entertainment for you and your ilk. I'm like some bug, some plaything that you taunt for your own amusement - which, if you ask me, is really twisted."

Fate (smiling): "I've afraid you're getting the wrong idea. This little conversation of ours may be strange or a trifle unusual, but that doesn't make it bad. Despite these little circumlocutions we seem to keep falling into, I actually think we're making progress."

Me: "Do you get what I've been trying to say for the past 10 minutes? I don't want a pile of needless options. I'm looking for the one option that I MUST embrace. And up until just 10 seconds ago I thought that I had found it."

Fate: "Until I..."

Me: "Until you..."

Fate: "What?"

Me: "You're causing problems. It would be easier to just treat everything you've said as mere random verbiage."

Fate: "Fine. Go ahead and insult me."

Me: "You see... I really don't have to do this. It's just that it represents something entirely new for me, a major switch, a new path, a new enterprise."

Fate: "Fine. Then it's decided."

Me: "Or else...I could just go back to my old old dreary life...where I refuse to venture out into the unknown forest with my pack of bread crumbs and a compass on my cell phone..."

Fate: "You know what. Your persistence has paid off. I'm going to give you a final answer."

Me: "About as clear as the Oracle at Delphi I bet..."

Fate: "You should not go back to your old life."

Me: "Really? So you agree that I'm doing the right thing...[pause]...or do you mean that I should repudiate every aspect of my former persona and begin again from scratch as if it were the year zero? Is that what you mean."

Fate: "Just what I said before. Do not go back to where you were before."

Me: "But that would be impossible. You can't step into the same river twice..."

Fate: "Exactly my point. Embrace the new. It may look the same, but it's not..."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Wild Bunch Redux (or another first attempt at pure pulp fictional product)

Trudging slowly along the uneven sidewalk, entering the edge of the common, that formerly benign gauntlet where college students and other vain loiterers huddled on benches or sprawled out on the dry grass eating their lunches, staring off into space, Herbie and I were resisting the urge to fall into yet another long, drawn-out conversation.  We were in no hurry to meet up with our "counterparts" at the local theater in the mid-morning hours well before the first matinee. Our counterparts were two tough, hard-edged ladies of indeterminate age - somewhere between twenty and thirty-five, calloused, worldly, practical, cordial, known for their love of art, architecture, ballet, music, botany, wild and domesticated animals, clothes, food, shopping, sociology and various subliminal forms of gossip. What we had in common with them is somewhat hard to explain. I guess you could say we shared a knowledge of this postage-stamp sized village of ours, this remote little college town; we had a weird familiarity with this forlorn place in which none of us had grown up but to which all of us had been drawn because of that once-touted institution of higher learning that, despite falling into disrepute over a scandal involving special privileges and misuse of finances, had still managed to graduate some of us while squashing the rest of us, and handing us a bill. We made up part of the residual "youth population" that had yet to move on. What was keeping us here? Probably the appeal of our familiar turf along with a healthy dose of anxiety about the next stage of life. Dug into our present routine, we had become almost too adept at keeping the future at bay. Today had its own share of drama in store for us. There was going to be a show-down of sorts with another posse made up of assorted mangy antagonists known collectively to us as the Drips. The aforementioned clique was a typical bunch of snobs devoting their energies to cutting down a few notches, despite our attempts to avoid all confrontation. We were the self-proclaimed Dregs who had clobbered them not only in certain spontaneous debates over music and movies, but in multiple rounds of Frisbee Golf and our own make-shift version of Lawn Bowling. We had tried to avoid the fated encounter with Queen Veronica and her posse at high noon as it were, but negotiations had broken down during the last chess game we had consented to play. They beat us at chess - so what? But it was their continued, ridiculous arrogance that demanded a response - that warranted a resistance of a kind - even if that meant - some sort of physical exertion that resembled violence. Herbie was unusually calm, considering the occasion. And yet, as I usually did, I sought to forestall with words, to use conversation as my buffer. I wanted to blot out this dreaded encounter from my mind so I launched into another one of my obsessive rants. "I think I know why people talk," I said. "Why people talk?" "Yeah - I know why talking is necessary for humans." "Oh. Is this a new revelation on your part?" "Well - it sort of just came to me yesterday - although I know I'm probably borrowing the insight from some earlier thinker." "Is that so?" "Yes - it is." "So what have you discovered?" "About our need to speak. Well it's simple really. I think it was Kojeve who said that people talk to give voice to their discontents." "Discontents." "Yes. Suffering promotes good conversation.  Extended pleasure renders us mute." "So to be perfectly happy...means we wouldn't want to say anything? What ever happened to wanting to share one's joy and excitement with someone else?"Well - it's just that we have more of a need to complain or if not that to report to another on the imperfections that surround us." "But people talk all the time - and they seem to be enjoying themselves..." "Right you are. It can be quite enjoyable to drone on about misery and injustice." "But you're saying if there we no problems...if everyone had everything they wanted...then..." "We simply smile back and forth - gesturing - using our bodies to communicate. No need to get so worked up as to call our vocal cords into action..." Herbie grew suddenly quiet, then looking around, he whispered: "You don't really hate her do you?" "Hate her? You think I was the one who started this feud?" "That doesn't answer my question. Do you actually hate her or any of them?" "You mean Veronica?" "Yeah." "Yes, Herbie, I 'm afraid she's pushed me over the edge. What am I supposed to say - that I find her mildly annoying? That would be somewhat dishonest of me." "Do you hate Jackie and Greg?" "Blind followers..." "Do you hate Mac and Zadie?"   "Those two are harder to categorize...They're snoots, no doubt. Heads in the air. Ridiculous posturing. But as to what they really believe...I wish they'd declare themselves more overtly. They're somewhat hard to figure out. I detect signs of rebellion in them...but they won't come over to our side..." "And what about M&M - our trusted allies?" "Our counterparts - use the correct terminology - what about them?" "Do you really respect and admire them so much more than the others." "I respect whoever is allied with me - buster, whoever gives me the time of day and doesn't sit around mocking me and my abnormally prescient insights." "And do they really support you the way you describe it?" "What has gotten into you Herbie? Are you suddenly suspicious of everyone? Meredith and Maureen are solid. They support us...they're on the level. Can't you tell that much at least." "You see them as supporters. Okay. But don't you think on a certain level it's all just entertainment for them? How much do they really have invested in all of this?They just want this fight to continue to keep growing..." "Well, if they love the drama of it then so be it. That doesn't necessarily compromise their support." "You think that." "Listen man -  the battle lines have been drawn. It's a matter of not allowing ourselves to be disrespected, not being outplayed by a bunch of pompous, insufferable, overrated snooty snoots. We can all agree on that." "And don't they say the same about us?" "What they say about us is WRONG. Fool. That's my point. They are painting a false picture of us - and I refuse to let that keep happening." "They have a right to their opinion, dude." "They have no right to slander us and spread lies and tarnish us." "Who else is paying attention?" "That's irrelevant, Herbie. I'm acting on principle here."

Monday, July 16, 2012

Hippies Use Side Door...

Was this sign ever used???

Theory of Improv

According to my teacher, the theory of improv (a.k.a. improvisational theater) can be reduced to two words: "Yes, and..." Always begin by affirming (somehow) what your fellow actor has said or done; next try to add onto it in a way that expands the scene and changes the dynamic. Nay-saying is a definite no-no. When an actor discounts or rejects an idea that someone else throws out there, this is known as blocking. Blocking is like a conversation-ender. It effectively brings the scene back to square one. Improv is sort of like quilt-building. It requires a duo or an ensemble to create something as a spontaneous patch-work. It's all good.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Metroland by Julian Barnes

I started this novel yesterday. It's about these two British youths who love to make fun of people - especially bourgeois types. The goal is to scope out an "authority figure" or  some "uptight bloke" and then figure out a way to "pulls their chain." Sort of reminds you of Holden Caulfield - only more self-consciously European. Everyone's a phony, blimey.  But it looks like one of these characters is going to break ranks and actually grow-up. Hurray for that!

Japanese Alphabet

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Visions of Summer in Provence

Summer conjures up dreamscapes like no other season. People often speak of that timeless sensation that you can get on a sunny day in July (if you're not in the middle of a heatwave). And if you're wondering where on earth such  colorful vistas actually exist, the answer is: Provence - in the south of France. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

I'm reading this book currently. It's about three aimless Americans exploring North Africa in the 1940s - after the war, who end up feeling alienated from the indigenous French/Muslim culture that surrounds them and confused by the unforgiving desert terrain. Sort of reminds me of a combination of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises and Camus' The Stranger.  Was there a "lost generation" following on the heels of WWII? Apparently so...

Monday, July 9, 2012

SAT Words that begin with: "Q"

quackery n. Charlatanry
quadrate v. To divide into quarters.
quadruple v. To multiply by four.
qualification n. A requisite for an employment, position, right, or privilege.
qualify v. To endow or furnish with requisite ability, character, knowledge, skill, or possessions.
qualm n. A fit of nausea.
quandary n. A puzzling predicament.
quantity n. Magnitude.
quarantine n. Enforced isolation of any person infected with contagious disease.
quarrelsome adj. Irascible.
quarter n. One of four equal parts into which anything is or may be divided.
quarterly adj. Occurring or made at intervals of three months.
quartet n. A composition for four voices or four instruments.
quarto n. An eight-page newspaper of any size.
quay n. A wharf or artificial landing-place on the shore of a harbor or projecting into it.
querulous adj. Habitually complaining.
query v. To make inquiry.
queue n. A file of persons waiting in order of their arrival, as for admittance.
quibble n. An utterly trivial distinction or objection.
quiescence n. Quiet.
quiescent adj. Being in a state of repose or inaction.
quiet adj. Making no noise.
quietus n. A silencing, suppressing, or ending.
quintessence n. The most essential part of anything.
quintet n. Musical composition arranged for five voices or instruments.
quite adv. Fully.
quixotic adj. Chivalrous or romantic to a ridiculous or extravagant degree.

Sunday, July 8, 2012