Monday, May 14, 2012

Joy and Pleasure

Reading Facebook posts tonight and I'm struck, again, by the wave of posters with captions.  Who started this shit and can we make it stop?  Probably not.

Well, okay.  Here's what I'm noticing.  At least from my Facebook friends, most of the posts are bitter, mean, sarcastic, devoid of joy and boring.  Most of them suggest that our current political situation sucks.  Now, to be fair, the one's that say that opposite are equally annoying.

Now, what annoys me - the cause for this post - isn't that I agree or disagree with any of them in particular.  It's the utter lack of joy in so many of the posts.  They seem to want to paint the world as one big pain in the ass - one evil place to live where only politicians get their way.

Okay - so they're kind of right.  The rich do win.  Politicians are bought and constantly lie.  All this is true, but yet I'm left with a sorrow that goes beyond the political situation.  Are people not experiencing joy anymore?  I mean even when we were in huge - literally - World Wars - there was joy in the literature.  I mean read the existentialists carefully.  Kafka is hilarious - Camus is always affirmative.  Beckett - well, okay - I don't know, but fuck it I love the guy.

But when I look at these posts tonight - I don't care about the political side - what I'm sad about is an utter lack of joy.  The world IS.  We need Nietzsche in these times.  Whatever it is - say YES.  Hate politicians - fine - hate the president - fine - but please find some moment for joy and pleasure.  The world gives.  The world is illuminated.  The world is also a totally fucked-up place - but let's not forget the former because of the latter.  (And this is not some statement about "balance."  I mean something far simpler.)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Jerry McGuire and Truth

So the wonderfully cute kid in Jerry McGuire utters three truths: the human head weighs 8 lbs, bees and dogs smell fear, and my neighbor has three rabbits.

What's interesting about this, to me anyways, is that they are all true but true in really different ways.  The first statement is true by way of average.  Maybe nobody's head has ever weighed 8lbs, but the average of all  human heads is 8 lbs.  And then there's other interesting questions about who's head counts as human.  I would guess that figure does not count infants' heads as heads.  But we get what is meant - the statement works.

The next claim is basically universal.  We assume ALL dogs and bees smell fear.  Of course there are always outliers, but ostensibly they are so small as to be explained - like people who can't see colors.  Though, there's a huge and really interesting assumption about fear being something you can smell.  What a bizarre and extremely cool idea.  I can smell your fear, literally.

Finally, my neighbor has three rabbits.  This is by far my favorite of the three.  Not just because it's the funniest.  Well here's the thing: it's the funniest because it's local.  So the idea, what makes it humorous, is that we think Truth should not be local.  However, this proves the opposite point - Truth is more exact exactly when it's local.  So while my neighbor might not have three rabbits - in fact they don't - they have a litter of loud, hellspawn kids who embrace life in a way that is beautiful despite my dislike for their kind.

So Truth is complicated.

The little kids declarations are the most interesting part of this movie, which has one of my least favorite ideas of love: you complete me.  Disgusting.  I want to date people who are already whole.  It's sweet; it's sentimental.  But I don't agree with it.  However, I love that kid explaining Truth.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Ideology is the death of thinking. One of the great ironies is that one of the most ideological philosophies is Marxism - which, of course, is based on materialism. In fact, more often than not, I find most of the ideological critiques to be based on a sort of crank-turning nihilism that is always moving-towards-death.

This is basically in response to Coffeen's post about the manner in which someone should critique. Being in academia is an existence that fluctuates between utter boredom and sublime enthrallment. I love when I hear critiques that make something old look new - something familiar look weird. What I hate, despise is critiques that squash difference. "Hey look how this is about my theory too." Now, to be fair, I've done this too. For quite a number of years, everything I saw was proof that Heidegger was correct. But I think, I hope, I've grown out of that.

Perhaps the problem is that academia thinks it's job is about changing something - fixing the evil capitalist, racist, sexist ideologies that exist. Now - to be fair - we have helped that, a little, maybe, I think. But what we should be about is making texts exciting - making people want to read these texts that make us think and rethink. There's no reason to tell a person what a text must mean - but there is nothing more beautiful than showing someone how a text can mean - how it can go and hopefully how it can go in many different ways simultaneously.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Bikers and Irony

The standard sort of conversation that was discussed following the death of David Foster Wallace was that his project was an attempt to combat irony. In fact he often mentioned that post-modernism had ran its course and in a wonderful essay on television and US Fiction, he argues that irony is simply not good for the soul.

I say that to say this: Bikers are not ironic. There can be no hipster biker. I recently played two gigs for a set of bikers and we played, well, Biker Music. So I'm playing some tunes that I don't really care too much for - songs by people like Kid Rock, for example. However, while I was playing them - to quote a line from a piece of ironic fiction - I had what alcoholics refer to as a moment of clarity: the people listening to these songs, really like these songs. They are meaningful to them and they see nothing wrong with enjoying music that reflects and reinforces a world they understand.

I don't mean this to sound condescending - in fact I mean the finger to basically point back at me - "my people," liberal academics or whatever group I am also in. Basically, what struck me as both sad and illuminating is that none of my friends - myself included - can listen to a lot of music without a stance of irony - a subtle sneer. I have friends that love to point out that the song by Alanis Morissette misuses the word "ironic."

Where this gets complicated is that I have to admit I get a certain amount of joy out of sneering at a few things - Irony is almost a default position and I don't think it's always a bad thing. In fact, a lot of times I think it's a great thing, but I do ultimately agree with DFW that if everything becomes irony - if everything is always-already a parody, something is lost and that loss is hard to articulate but easy to feel.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

On Choice

And so my students, in general think of themselves as radically free-willed individuals. They make choices. They do shit. And they are right, up to a point. The problem is an extension of my last post - our American ideology and even down to the grammatical structure of our language suggest a subject spewing his will all over the object world.

But the world fights back. Reality has its own structure - now you're part of reality, obviously, but you don't control the structure of the world; however, you do contribute, alter, play with, and do all kinds of other things to help that structure be a structure.

So what tends to happen, as I see it, is that things that appear as choices have pull, have a sort of ontologic and even theologic magnetism. For example, I could choose to not use the internet tomorrow, but I would constantly feel it working on me, trying to seduce me. And like most people, I actually don't have the choice, unless I don't want to be capitalistically viable, to not get online. I teach - I check email. I fucking hate email, but I must check it and respond to it, no matter how poorly written it is. On the plus side, student emails are often a good source of interpretative practice in making meaning - or making mean, which is what I seem to be doing now.

Point being - you aren't in control. You are always-already responding. However, you have some control. You can usually choose a more or less meaningful response. I mean sometimes you're just sort of screwed - if the cop asks me why I was speeding - I don't have much room for meaningful response. I think the correct answer is something like "I'm sorry - I'm dying - I'm on my period (which I doubt would work for me, though in a transgendered, hyper-politically correct world, who knows), I am in need of evacuation and so forth. But usually, one has choices, in fact, usually one has too many choices.

But this in itself is still part of the system. If I'm hungry I have lots of choices; however, I don't have choices that aren't there. If I want fastfood I'm in luck in my town; if I want Thai food I'm not. So the choices are always-already limited by the environment.

The point is pretty simple - you aren't in control and neither is the "world." What you are involved in is a constantly evolving negotiation of possibilities.

Okay why does this really matter? Well I am thinking of this in terms of the larger framework of Global Capitalism and something occurred to me in the reading and thinking about Don Delillo's amazingly smart novel Cosmopolis: sometimes the very notion of free-will turns back on itself in weird and violent ways.

In America we are constantly taught an ideology of autonomy. You are you - I am me - and we are not connected unless we choose to be. (Sounds like a bad nursery rhyme) So if this is the ideology that's being manifested it means that outliers - Occupy (Wall Street and so forth) people (who I always pulled for) and extremists like the Unibomber (who I didn't pull for, but will say he's more interesting than most terrorists - not sure that's worthy of an award though) actually contribute to the ideology of choice, which creates the idea that we have a functioning democratic system. "How can you say people don't have power - look at all those protesters?" But those protesters, since they don't have the resources to radically change the global, end up reinforcing the system they are so very mad it. And to be clear - I want them to keep it up, but strategy is more important than ever.

Finally, just to be appropriately recursive: did I have a choice to write this? Yes. Sure. I could have not written it. However, did I feel compelled? Yes. Am I responding to the world? Yes. Perhaps the most appropriate term is neither free-will or determinism, but rather the old, wonderful religious term: vocation. Vocation means that the world calls and you choose to respond. But it's not one choice among many - the choice is to "become who you are" or nihilism. Perhaps not that drastic - but perhaps THAT drastic.

Oh - and nothing is behind anything - that one is still coming in full, and partially implied here.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Metaphysics of The Sentence

If you read people like Derrida eventually you're going to run across the idea that the English language - or languages in general - are always/already involved in metaphysics. Now as a philosophy undergrad, I didn't really understand that. It sounded correct, but I couldn't quite grasp it.

Well years later, I finally gave the lecture on the metaphysics of the sentence, assuring myself that I might, maybe, know what the hell that means.

So one of my students in ENG 111 (Expository Writing) asks me about my PhD. And I go - well my focus is Rhetoric and Literary theory. I'm interested in the theoretical. And I go - here's an example.

And I write this: "Bob hit the ball."

Well we could diagram it - or point out that it's Subject-Verb-Direct Object. But, I say, that would be boring. (Now for teachers out there - I do teach them this stuff, but it's not what I care about.)

So I go English language is active/violent by it's construction. (Violence being used loosely) English is always an active subject knocking about in a passive world. It's the metaphysics of our grammar. And, well, it's both good and bad - easier to understand if you put the subject early in the sentence, but always implying a world that's not active which is philosophically, well, wrong.

And I get blank stares from lots - which I would have also given this stare in their position. So I give them the counter example - and I'm proud of this one: Yoda. (This one's for you Phillip)

Yoda is basically a Buddhist and hence he speaks in basically passive voice. Yoda would say something like "Hit the ball I did." Now, we usually just laugh and go "That's how Yoda talks." But it's not an accident. Yoda is talking in a way that conforms to his metaphysical understanding of the world. Yoda thinks the whole problem is a bunch of active subjects thinking they beat up on and manipulate the world of objects. And perhaps we should learn something from him - perhaps not adopt his rhetoric, but embrace the lesson that is metaphysically behind it. (Next time we'll discuss how nothing is being anything. Or something like that.)

Wrote an essay I did.

Friday, February 24, 2012

On Mythology

And so I waste too much time on Facebook. Lots of that time is spent talking to genuine, real-life friends, basically using it as something like AIM with a message board. But one of my other voyeuristic habits is reading friends' political debates. I can't help it. I am a post-modern Jimmy Stewart from Rear Window.

And the conclusion I've came to is this: there should be a new discourse called "American Mythological Studies." Now America, as is often pointed out, is not an old country. The one time I was in England - specifically Oxford - I remember often thinking: "this Church is older than my country." But at the same time, countries aren't people, so perhaps the metaphor of growth is problematic. For example, I don't care how old Germany is/was, Hitler was not a good idea. (And damn you Heidegger for complicating my philosophical career.)

Okay, but my point. Our mythological creatures are often referred to as "Founding Fathers." These are our Greek Gods. I guess Jefferson might be Zeus. And let me be clear, I think the greatest and coolest thing about our country is that we are the only country - I think - that was founded by intellectuals. I mean that's really fucking awesome.

However, they were not Gods - they were men. And they were men with interests. Now if they are Gods, then by definition whatever they say is true by fiat. So it's popular in political debate these days to just quote a founding father and using that as evidence that you are correct. This is insane, obviously, because it assumes all the founding fathers agreed on everything. But worse than that it's problematic because it assumes that didn't have real, serious problems.

I think it was Jay, though it might be Madison, that said (I'm paraphrasing from memory) "The people that own the country should run the country." That's not democratic. Obviously everyone knows about the owning of slaves. Now, let's be fair, i.e., respect, revere the brilliant things and dismiss the backwards ideas. But let's admit it's insane that there was ever a time when people in power did not want to keep their power.

The latest and most interesting example is Ronald Reagan. He's become a mythological figure in 30 years. Usually that takes many hundreds of years. I guess technology has sped up everything so much that it has caused dromoscopic delirium.

Reagen the person simply isn't what's being referring to by the current all-too-popular conservative signifier "Reagan." That signifier has become totally post-modern, referring only to itself, not to anything in the world. I feel it's without point to push this argument - but if you disagree, look it up. I still believe that things happen in the world that can be described more or less fairly. If the world is nothing but rhetoric - and I'm getting a PhD in Rhetoric - then we are, to use a technical term, fucked.

Now every act is rhetorical - everything is a gesture - a way of making meaning, but that doesn't imply there isn't a world out there that we share. In fact it's the opposite: only because we share a common world can we gesture to each other in the first place. Communication assumes a common world. We share it and let's learn to share it more honestly.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Technology as Theology

I was talking with some sharp colleagues today and we were discussing technology. By far the philosophy of technology is my favorite thing to think about these days. And I'd been trying to formulate a thought for a while: what is the position of the internet in relationship to Heidegger's four-fold.

Heidegger says that objects, any THING, gathers the four-fold. The four is earth, sky, mortals, divinities. Heidegger claims this is what makes a thing a thing.

So here's his example: a jug. The jug comes from clay. Clay is nurtured by the sky, rain and what not. Then we pour wine in the jug and we get together and toast to the gods. (All toasts are to the gods - it matters not if you are an atheist.) So we have earth, mortal, sky, gods.

Okay - this all made sense to me - I wrote my thesis on Heidegger and Beckett. But during that process I could never figure out how the internet gathered. I got the earth and sky and the mortals, but I could never figure out the place for the gods.

Today in conversation the thought came together and I sort of blurted out - I imagine, until they read this it might have appeared I had worked this thought out - the internet is theological. It is both everywhere and nowhere and it has all "knowledge" contained within. (omniscient, omnipresent, as omni-benevolent as any other god, I guess) Technology has become theology. I'm not even sure that's hyperbolic. Perhaps - but I doubt it will be for long.

I can imagine living without a computer. I love it. But I don't require it. (well I do for work but not for ontological well-being) In a major sense I still see it as a tool. The generation after me, does not see the split between reality and virtual reality. I actually think they are probably more correct, but it will probably take someone from my generation to articulate it, only because we intuit a difference.

If I was looking for evidence it would be this: watch someone who is in their 20's lose their phone. They immediately experience despair. My generation often laughs at this - I mean I'm not much older - I'm 31, but I was right on the cusp; I remember not having the internet - not having a cell-phone. My generation doesn't feel as ontologically dependent. We still believe we are "selves" that use technology. The younger generation see themselves as technological beings. They are cyborgs. It just turns out that cyborg doesn't look like the movies told us it would. And make no mistake - I'm becoming cyborg - it's just going to take longer.

The architecture of my day has changed profoundly in the last 15 years. I didn't have email until 1999 - my Freshman year at college. Before that I got on the internet occasionally, but mostly found it slow and annoying. Now I wake up, check my phone, go to the office, check my email - check 4 or 5 standard internet sites, look at Facebook, scoff at Facebook, post on Facebook, and then teach.

If the architecture can change that quickly - I mean seriously, nobody my age would have ever guessed in 1995 that people would actually start sending typed script again - who knows what's going to happen in the next, say 5 years. But I know that technology is driving itself and it's agenda is unclear - is technology the kind of thing that can have an agenda? Well if it's a theological being, perhaps. Why can't objects have agendas? Magnets prove this all the time. They relate differently depending on how you turn them. They are objects that have orientations - that's close enough for me. To figure out, say, how to make a battery work you must assume that the object has it's own set of desired relations to other objects.

Certainly a lot to think about. I will leave with this - when I watched The Matrix I thought the only character that made any sense was the guy who decided to go back into the Matrix - he sold out his buddies and in the scene I remember he's eating a steak. He says something like - I know it's not real - but I experience it as real. So what's the difference. That is the merger - in that moment the real and the technological - the theological and the biological in some sense seem to come together, just not in the way anybody ever imagined. At this point the appropriate pill might just be Valium. I kid. Sort of.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Kurzweil, Immortality, and Meaning

So watching Transcendent Man, the documentary about Ray Kurzweil's idea of The Singularity is a sublime experience in the truest sense - a total mix of awe and terror. Kurzweil supposes that we will be able to avoid death and aging via technology, specifically, I think, Genetics, Nanotechnology, and Robotics. The Singularity is a metaphor, as I'm understanding it, for a total intertwining of man and machine. We will be cyborgs and we will be happy about it.

Except we won't. Meaning is dependent, causally determined by finitude. Let me explain: for any event to be meaningful it must be caught up in risk. One of the meta-risks is that you will only have so many events - you may never have this experience again. So if we live forever, which means we obliterate the very notion of Time, how does any event mean anything? What difference does it make what happens? It will happen again, and again, and again.

Essentially, I think Kurzweil, if he could accomplish what he has set out to accomplish, would actually cause the very thing he wishes to avoid: the destruction of meaning. Kurzweil obviously thinks when you die, all meaning goes away. However, he doesn't seem to realize that it's only because of death, because it is an always-already present reality for us as mortals, that anything can mean in the first place.

So it is the final irony that death, the ultimate end of meaning, at least for the person who's dying, is also the very thing that constituted the possibility of meaning.

But everyone should watch the documentary - Kurzweil is exactly the kind of mad scientist whom I can't help but love.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Culture and Reality

So I'm taking a Cultural Studies class in Graduate School. And so far the class is wonderful, but nothing frustrates me more than the concept of "Culture."

My favorite professor in Graduate School - well at least this go around (I did MA work in Boone where I met the incomparable Orus Barker) - is Dr. Stephen Yarbrough, who I think is brilliant. He has a wonderful book called After Rhetoric. In this book, well he does a lot of things, he takes Donald Davidson's critique of language, at least as understood by a certain brand of postmodernists and applies it to culture.

Okay, so here's Davidson's quotation.

"I conclude that there is no such thing as a language, not if a language is anything like what many philosophers and linguists have supposed. There is therefore no such thing to be learned, mastered, or born with. We must give up the idea of a clearly defined shared structure which language-users acquire and then apply to cases. And we should try again to say how convention in any important sense is involved in language; or, as I think, we should give up the attempt to illuminate how we communicate by appeal to conventions."

Now, what Yarbrough does is substitute the word "Culture" for "Language." So he thinks neither Culture nor Language is what a group of Post-Moderns thought it was. That is to say, there is no medium between you and the world, between you and the Real.

So why does this matter? Well, it seems to me that if we assume a medium, whether it be language or culture, what you are ultimately saying is that Reality takes place inside your noggin. And that means you're a Cartesian. And well, that means your wrong.

Our reality is, OF COURSE, conditioned by culture, but to suggest that that means we have no access to The Real is really problematic.

I experience Reality. I don't experience a Representation of Reality. And that simple fact makes this whole thing quite a pickle.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Right-Wing Postmodernism

I've been thinking about this one for a minute.

In the beginning of Chuck Klosterman's last book he quotes an unnamed Bush administration official saying something along the lines of this: See we act and you try to study that reality. But we create reality. So while you're studying, we'll act again and create another, new reality and then you will study that.

I think the "you" is directed at a journalist, but it could be extended to academia with little problem. What's interesting about the post and the Right in general today is that they have become full-fledged post-modernists.

Now Right and Left are weird terms and I'm not always sure exactly what they mean - but that's for a different post. Right now, let's just go with the broad, general understanding of the terms - meaning the way they are thrown around in popular culture, whereby Noam Chomsky is Left and Bill Buckley is Right.

Okay, so as an academic who identifies with Postmodernism it seems apparent to me that Postmodernists tend to be leftwing. In fact that's almost universally the case because Right Wing people find Postmodernism to be a variation of Relativism and hence immoral and something to fight.

Okay, all that makes sense except for the way the two sides use Rhetoric. The Right is using a far more sophisticated PoMo rhetoric and has been, at least since the Bush administration - basically since I've been following politics closely. By that I mean they embrace the idea that language does not simply describe reality, it produce reality. They have often taken a Left-Wing academic model and used it on a political level.

See the Left Wing academics, people like me, have often said things like we need more voices in the canon of literature. We have too few people of color and women speaking. Now nobody thinks we should throw out the greats - they just mean we should add to the list. Make it more inclusive. (I like most people get tired of this argument if it ever suggests that diversity for diversity's sake should be incorporated. But I don't actually hear people in my world making this argument - I just hear it described that way by people not in my world)

Anyhow, so the Right started using the let's-include-more-voices when it came to things like Global Warming - issues that don't have a lot of disagreement among experts.

But the Left-Wing Politicians (as opposed to Academics) do not embrace Postmodernism. Instead, they all sound like Enlightenment Rationalists. Believing that Truth is out there and if it's just described well enough - in the form of Policy - that people will change their minds. However, that aint how minds change.

And one would think the exact opposite - that The Right - to combat Relativism would seek Truth, instead of believing it can be created linguistically. However, it seems the two sides have somehow flip-flopped.

This is weird and bad for The Left. The Right continues to understand Rhetoric better and the outcome cannot be good if you're a Leftist. If you're on The Right. Keep it up. You're winning.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Old Fiction - Riffing on Beckett

Riffing on Beckett

Always the same – sometimes different, but basically the same. Always the frustration and anxiety, always the fear of ridicule by contemporaries. Must write about something. Could write about nothing. Cannot write about writing - tired worn out, muck on boots, metafiction. Nobody likes shit-kicking metafiction anymore, even in the slippery-when-wet halls of academic discourse where people used to find it witty and insightful – a comment on the fractured nature of contemporary consciousness living in a post-industrial age, coming to grips with the society of the spectacle, like mirrors in a funhouse, always reflecting, refracting, laughing – nope, can’t go there anymore, too pretentious even for the pretentious. Question: How come this insurgence of pretentious metafiction happened at a time that corresponded with the death of the author, birthplace of the equally pretentious post-modern? Is it possible that metafiction is a reaction, a psychological condition whereby an author, attempting to live, thrive and survive, will not only reinsert himself in the text, but assert that he knows, is fully cognizant of, his insertion back into his own text? Related question: Should Barthes have refused to sign his name to his text, after he claimed that there was no author to be found in or behind the text? What matter who’s speaking. No matter, but somebody is speaking. But who is this somebody – that is the question we always get to. No answer. Never an answer. No matter no answer.

Like wiping shit off boots, shit still ends up somewhere. What matter who’s shit. No matter, still shit.

Today, unlike the destructive and insincere days of meta this and post that, we are interested in real things – authentically real, quantitatively verifiable, easily understandable and applicable datum, that has been known to be real and to predictably work, unless at really teeny, tiny, sizes, where nothing works or pretends to or makes any sense anyways. Some people say the teeny-tiny things do make sense, but what do they know – they have shit on their boots like the rest of us. Maybe the muck – that is what we can all turn to – the muck on our boots is the one real thing we can count on in this god-forsaken (literally and figuratively) world of authentically verifiable people writing themselves both into and out of their writing like some kind of high-tech revolving door, where one is both the operator and the operated. Kill god, replace with people, some assembly required.

Back to the drawing board. New beginning – Need a story. Things must happen. Events must be meaningful – lives will be changed.

Tom and Dick were sitting in the muck firing AK 47’s at a rebel insurgence. They were close friends, brothers in arms, and would die for each other. Don’t know enough about war. But war’s real if anything’s real, Baudrillard said so and he says the real is vanishing. Real go poof. Do they really use AK-47’s anymore? I don’t know enough about war. War stories are meaningful, people cry their eyes out, especially people who were really in the muck – they get together with their friends, those that co-habitated in the muck laden muck, and talk about old times in a meaningful and moving way.

New story. Tom and Jane were having moving and meaningful sex, outside in the grass, next to a tablecloth, one of those that’s red and white in a checkerboard pattern, but where both red and white bleed into each other, (maybe revise word “bleed”) under a tree, next to a picnic basket, contents emptied. After completing the moving and meaningful sex act Tom commented on how he felt all mucky from rolling around in the dirt and what he could use was a beer. No, no beer. Tom can’t drink beer - if he drinks beer he’ll turn into an alcoholic and morph into an abusive miscreant causing pain to both his woman and his child, which must now be born from Jane’s womb as they just had moving and meaningful sex, implying a child, as opposed to unmoving and meaningless sex, which would have no child-bearing obligations. But they can’t have meaningless and unmoving sex as this must be a meaningful and moving story.

Tom sitting all alone in a dimly lit, smoke filled apartment, together with vermin that usually remained out of sight, let out an expectorant cough, causing slimy colored microscopic bacteria to be propelled out of his mouth. Tom was sick and drunk – he had been drunk for a long time, ever since Jane took his son, and ran out to live with her mother in Nebraska. Tom has revelatory moment upon running out of liquor, as his body begins to feel hollow, whereby he believes his pernicious past can be overcome via hard work and determination. Tom turns his life around – stops drinking… Why does he have to stop drinking – how about a flair of originality – Tom keeps drinking, but is fine – he is given a rare gift, by divine forces, to live a meaningful drunken life. No, nobody will ever buy that – alcoholism always equals destruction, except when Humphrey Bogart is a detective.

Tom was a hard working detective on the case to find his son, who had been kidnapped and held for ransom by Dick, his former partner. Tom goes from place to place, asking witty, insightful questions with hidden intentions, all the while being flirtatious with the females, all of which are attractive, and drinking expensive whiskey or brandy from carafes. Well this won’t work, Humphrey Bogart has already done all of this shit – I need a meaningful and moving story, also containing originality, as to give me a sense of self-hood – I must be able to say, “I wrote this witty, and insightful story, originally told, full of moving and meaningful events.”

Dick, Tom’s long lost brother, was having an affair with Jane, Tom’s fiancée. Neither Tom nor Dick knew about each other. Jane knew about both, but was unaware of their kinship. When Dick discovered that someone was sleeping with his fiancée he plotted a complicated, yet believable murder, which he got away with. However, after a while it was revealed to Dick, via the court, that his brother had been murdered and that his brother had managed to accrue a substantial number of debts, which could not be expunged, and would have to be paid by Dick’s closest living relative, Tom. Tom had to slave away day and night paying off Dick’s debt, which he felt obliged to, being as though he now knew he had killed his brother. Then, about nine-months later Jane has a son. Tom forces her to have a paternity test; he says he needs peace of mind – he does not get peace of mind when he finds out that Jane’s son is not his son, in fact he is the uncle. When the boy grows up he begins to be suspicious, and discovers what happened, in a believable yet obscure way and then vows, in a samurai liked manner, that he must assert revenge. But now it’s become Hamlet, and Kurasawa already did Japanese Shakespeare, though I don’t think he did Hamlet. But I don’t want to do Japanese/American noir-ish Shakespeare – I want to do something deep and meaningful, yet personal. Besides this story is getting too far away from the muck – the one thing we’ve all decided is real and worth fighting for.

Dick and Tom are kids, playing in the muck – throwing muck back in forth, becoming consumed in muck, when Jane comes. (Maybe, less muck in revision – but we’ll keep it in for now) Jane is carrying an AK 47 that she had obtained from her dad, who obtained it while he was in the muck in Vietnam. She lays waste to both Dick and Tom, who hold each other, proclaim their child-hood love for each other, then die face down, together, in the muck. Original, moving, but we need a moral. Maybe the moral is not to play with AK 47s. A reasonable moral, but not quite good enough – we need hidden, understated, meaningful, full of complexity because humans are complex, morality. New moral: You cannot transcend the muck.

Day 1, Birthday. And Stuff

Every Spring semester starts right around my Birthday. That sucks. That could be the end of this post, but it won't be. I don't really take much stock in Birthdays. But I'll be 31, which feels closer and closer to the inevitable adulthood - a classification I refuse to accept until absolutely necessary.

So for my birthday I will do what I have tended to do over the last 3-4 years. I will go to Chad's amazing restaurant - The Steele Pig. I will eat and drink and then walk over to my local watering hole Local Joe's, have a couple drinks and go home. No big deal. But I love every minute of it.

That's what I've learned in my 31 years - well almost 31 - I still have a couple hours. You must embrace the minutia. Today was day one of teaching and I was making that same point. I said something akin to "I have a pretty bleak worldview, but I'm a fairly happy person. And what you have to do is to learn to make the everyday count." Most of my week is already planned out - I know how tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday will basically look.

Friday I have a cool gig at a place called World of Beer - played there once before and I really enjoyed it. This time, just like last, I have this drummer that's from Mars - Shedrick Williams. I've played with a lot of drummers but I can say he's right up there with my favorites - honestly probably him and Brandon Allred - another monster player who I don't play with a lot anymore, but can play drums as well as anybody.

Anyhow, so I have no real center to this post - just thinking about day-to-dayness - the way most of the world seems boring and uneventful. I think that's the question though - how does one still live meaningfully in a world that's repetitive.

Hopefully, I'll have something more substantial soon - just sort of worn out tonight - my thinker is broke - taught 4 classes today.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Weird Experience of Authorial Absence

And so I'm rereading all this stuff I've written over the last several years tonight - sharing many pieces with a former student of mine and I'm struck by how much I love what I had to say. And then I'm struck by how much I don't recognize who's saying this stuff.

It's really weird to enjoy one's own writing. Well let me rephrase. I have a hard time admitting that I enjoy my own stuff. It feels ego-driven and pushes hard against a very sincere desire I have to be humble. Somewhere in between those two is my desire to appear humble. But that's a whole other conundrum.

So I'm reading old short-stories - these uber pomo pieces that have no soul, but lots of heart. I'm happy I wrote them, even though I can't imagine writing them today. Well, not exactly. I've always been drawn to the post-modern form of story writing. Most of this has to do with one interview about 13 years ago when DFW mentioned Donald Barthelme's story "The Balloon." So I immediately went out and got a copy of Barthelme and started reading. That led to Barth. That led to Pynchon. Then to Gaddis - who I still haven't finished and Delillo - who I've read a ton of books by - always from start to finish.

When I had to take Comps in my M.A. program one of my fields was Literary Theory and the topic I wanted to write about was the nature of the author. Being a good student I had read my Barthes and Foucault and Derrida and I knew that the author's head wasn't something I had access to. However, I argued that the authors who most tried to prove this point ended up being the authors who were easiest to recognize. I mean I know Beckett by smell. I can taste a sentence by Derrida. Essentially, what I was saying is the more you try to disappear, the more you appear. Which, and I didn't get this at the time, is exactly the point the people I thought I was arguing with were making. At least I think.

So what I noticed today, rereading short stories and essays that I wrote is that I didn't always recognize "me" in the piece. At times I was dumbfounded - what the hell does this mean? At other times I was in awe of a particular sentence - oh that's nice - I can't believe I wrote that.

What's so strange is the absence I felt when reading. I know the words didn't come from the ether - I wrote them. But I wrote them at a particular time, under certain circumstances, while dealing with particular issues. And I don't always remember what they were. What we have, at the end of the day, is text. And text, words, gestures, figures are beautiful - the saving grace. Without them we not only lose the past, we lose the present, and hence the future.