Before you speak, ask yourself, is it kind, is it necessary, is it true, does it improve on the silence? -Sathya Sai Baba

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Feeling sorry for myself

Sometimes, when I read John Crowley, I despair of ever writing a novel. My thinking is not broad, or deep, or organized enough to ever put together the moving parts needed to make an entire world move and live, and breathe and sing. I am work-shy, and impatient, and do not have the stamina to bring anything to completion, except by showing up every day. The only thing I have to offer is the ability to show up every day. My dogged refusal to stop.

Monday, April 16, 2012

New Aesthetics and Object oriented philosophy

Warren Ellis's thoughts on New Aesthetics. The interesting part for me was the philosophy of "speculative psychology" (basically the "science" of discovering, as Ellis says, "what makes rocks sad.").

It's atavistic, but it gets at a very fundamental idea by the back door, as it were. We are conscious, and we are made of the same stuff that the universe is (in different proportions, obviously), therefore, since everything is connected (not in a metaphysical sense, but actually) the universe is conscious, through us. We are the consciousness of the universe. Objects may not be sad or happy or nonplussed or whatever else, but we are. We give meaning to the universe, and therefore the universe has meaning. Or meanings.

Half-baked meanderings. Caveat emptor. No warranty is expressed or implied.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Kids these days - on irony and loving what you love

This article in The Awl about embarrassment at one's previous taste in books makes me want to stab somebody. In case you're too goddamn lazy to click a link and skim a few paragraphs, the gist is they ask a bunch of moderately famous people what book they cringe to remember they loved.

My wife is friends with a couple of people who are like this. There's a constant stream of apology for enthusiasm and a winking cynicism towards even the most mundane of pronouncements, as if to stem the criticism they know they deserve for being so bold as to have an opinion about something. The problem with having an opinion, btw, is the inevitable retraction you have to issue when it turns out that your opinion was wrong, or that your tastes were underdeveloped, or that you were simply immature.

Wait! It turns out you never have to apologize for the things you love. The world is difficult enough without having to second-guess yourself for what you enjoy.

There are an entire section of people I know who do everything ironically, and I'm sick of it. I repudiate irony. And not in an ironic way, either. I renounce it. I deny it. Love what you love, please! Look with forgiveness upon the folly (if it indeed can be called folly) of your youth. We do not condemn the child who stumbles and weaves as he learns how to walk. We don't fault the kid who likes candy just because he can't appreciate a spicy chili, a good beer, or a stinky cheese.

Love is the only thing that really teaches us anything. What we enjoy in youth is a stepping stone to future pleasure and knowledge.

As John Crowley says, "What makes us happy, makes us wise." Don't miss the chance at wisdom by short-circuiting joy now.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Review of Chronic City, by Jonathan Lethem

No, really! What if it's all just a, you know, simulation, or whatever? Like The Matrix, right? So we're all just brains in a jar. I mean, how would you know?

Chronic City is aptly named, no coincidence, I'm sure. The characters spend almost their entire narrative life stoned out of their minds in an alternate reality Manhattan full of mysteries and strange phenomenon. Escaped tigers roam the streets, destroying buildings and (possibly) enacting the agenda of the powerful rich Mayor (modeled on Bloomberg), conspiracies seem to crop up at every turn, and the very fabric of reality is called into question. Just like you used to do in your dorm room between epic bong rips.

Chase Insteadman, a bland actor, almost aggressive in his deference, wanders through this buddy-movie of a book, learning a sort of pop-culture midrash from his new friend Perkus Tooth, and trying to find consolation as his fiancee, Janice Trumbull, languishes in orbit, trapped aboard a malfunctioning space station. The story of the lovers separated by an unbridgeable distance has captured the nation, distracting them from wars about which they no longer wish to read.

The love letters between Janice and Chase (all one way, since Chase isn't allowed to write back) provide the emotional center to this otherwise fuzzy, and fuzzy-headed, book. Lethem has an amazing way with a sentence, and his missives from the doomed station are poignant and beautiful (Janice calls herself Chase's "lostronaut"). But they aren't enough to give weight to a story that is essentially about the weightlessness of the artificially created worlds with which we pull the wool over our own eyes.

Ultimately, the shaggy dog story winds up connecting the dots and revealing the story beneath the surface, but there's such a lethargic movement to it that it's difficult to care. The stakes are too low.

The island of Manhattan, almost a character in itself, is well drawn and it's obvious that Lethem is working from a very detailed internal map, both of places and of ideas. Just what we're meant to gain from all the pop-culture and worlds within worlds is another thing entirely. Even though parts of it read with the obsessiveness and wackiness of Pynchon, there's very little of Pynchon's urgency in this book, nor is there the languid discursiveness of summer, urgent in it's desire to negate urgency. No, this book seems locked in stasis, a winter book, a letter from the coldest part of the year, where it seems impossible to believe that the ice and snow and darkness will ever end. That makes for a very particular kind of read. It's all good enough, and in places it's great, but it's so downbeat that it's hard to work up a lot of enthusiasm. It simulates, almost too well, the sensation of being just too stoned to care.