Overweening Generalist


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Swift/Marx/Wilson: Ironies, Paradoxes, and Satires Mordant: Some Faves

De gustibus non est disputandum, I guess it's just one of those things, but I marvel at certain stylistic flair in satire. I think a struggling composer must feel similar things when listening to Bartok or Beethoven, or a young would-be Serious Novelist when reading Joyce or Pynchon.

                                               Jonathan Swift                        

Swift (1729)
My first example is Swift's A Modest Proposal. I dig the rhythm, the build-up before the modest proposal. There certainly were major problems with poverty/overpopulation among the poor in Ireland around 1729, no doubt. And the tone is exemplary of the "can-do" spirit among the well-fed. One of my favorite devices: Swift bolsters his rhetoric with statistics, the subtext being that we're reading a rational man here. And, from the first paragraph, we know we're in the midst of a writer filled with compassion and empathy, with a foolproof appeal to the heartbreaking difficulties of Motherhood. (If you haven't read the piece, it's very short, and I know you'll read it all "eventually" but for now click on the link above and read the first paragraph, so we can all be on the same page. Thanks.)

Swift has given this a lot of thought. He wants to alleviate misery. He's a practical man, too.  He's considered others' attempts at solving the problem and thinks he has a better solution. And so, before he tells us he's going to enumerate many reasons why the poor should sell off their children to be fattened and eaten by more wealthy gentry-types, he soberly writes, "I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection." He then follows with this sentence:

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.

He just wants to "ease the nation of so grievous an encumbrance." Let's face it: a lot of these kids were born out of wedlock anyway. And you know what's really terrible? Many of these desperately poor kids are hired on as cheap labor, which, being so poor, they hardly have the strength to carry out. Eating these kids has so many advantages that Swift's argument is a slam-dunk. (To the madman who would take this seriously and not see that the real problem is vast income inequality and oppression of the church, state, and landlords...Are there such madmen amongst us? I mean besides Dick Cheney...)

Some of the benefits of this idea:

-Nine months after Lent, Catholics give birth at an inflated rate; eating their babies will lessen the number or papists in our midst.

-When the poor sell their babies for food, at least they'll have a slightly easier time paying off their landlords. The landlords have already (figuratively) devoured the parents.

-Butchers will do a bang-up biz. A kid can fatten up to 28 pounds after a year: delicious!

(As Swift cites esteemed, virtuous patriots who care about the dignity of humans, and while he keeps citing stats to bolster his claims...)

-A colleague - the same unnamed "American" who we find got his ideas from "the famous Psalmanazar"  - noted the problem of stores of venison being depleted too soon, so maybe we could eat boys and girls who have reached the age of 12 but not older than 14?: Swift is discerning: no, he's heard the boy-meat is "tough and lean" while you may as well let the girls live on, because they're almost of the age to produce more succulent meat from their own bodies. Point well-taken!

-Despite the practical reasons for not eating young teenage girls, as cited above, Psalmanazar's story about criminality - such as trying to poison the rich and powerful - should be considered if plump female teens commit such heinous crimes. Hey, it worked in Formosa...

-The argument against Swift - that he's not considered the aged, maimed, and diseased? Ah, but take this into consideration: they're already, every day, "dying and rotting by cold and famine, and filth and vermin, as fast as can reasonably be expected." Objections overruled. Swift wins this one, too. And besides, who cares really? Those losers aren't working anymore, anyway. Practicality, people!

-This new source of succulent, tender meat, will provide for a "refinement of taste" for "gentlemen of fortune in the kingdom." Who in their right mind can argue with this?

-Poor people will have a few less mouths to feed. Swift cares. He really does. Bless him!

-This whole scheme will be an economic boost to taverns, where gentlemen who "justly value themselves upon their knowledge in good eating" will gladly pay whatever is asked for that sweet sweet kid-meat.

-It will enhance the quality of marriage, something every state wants. Why? Well, for one thing, fathers will attend with much more loving care their wives who are pregnant with the cargo that will help them pay the rent in a few month's time. Wife-beatings among the poor will diminish. And who can quarrel with that?

-We all like the fruits of pig-meat: bacon, pork, etc, but let's admit it: things can get a bit dull eating pork chops and bacon day after day. And no pig is "comparable in taste or magnificence to a well-grown, fat, yearling child, which roasted whole will make a considerable figure at lord mayor's feast or any other public entertainment." Such refinement!

To sum up, Swift can see no objection to his proposal. I mean, think of the beauty of it: it provides for the poor while also relieving them. It also gives "some pleasure to the rich."

I've read this piece maybe 15 or 20 times in my life, and it's never lost its power over me. I think what I admire most is the way Swift, whose voice here seems to emanate from a completely insane man, at the same time has us on his side, because this mode of rhetoric - satire of the highest level - is perhaps the fullest response to poverty and suffering when one feels angry that we can do better. The requisite distance between the rhetoric and the suffering of humans is enough that no one can take this seriously, even if the tone and "rational" argument implore us to consider such a ghastly idea.

The Irish government made lame attempts to silence him, but his character and esteem were of such elevation that Swift continued to publish whatever he pleased.

                                                       Karl Marx

Marx (1862/63)
In the so-called fourth volume of Das Kapital, "Theories of Surplus Value," Marx discusses previous economist's ideas about people who provide productive labor versus those who provide "unproductive" labor. Adam Smith (who Marx greatly admired) thought that the unproductive were, among others: "churchmen, lawyers, physicians, men of letters of all kinds; players, buffoons, musicians, opera-singers, opera-dancers, etc." When Smith wrote men of letters and musicians, it frankly stung the OG. But "buffoons"? That one was like a punch to the gut. Anyway...All these lay-abouts were parasitical upon the labors of people who actually did real, honest work. But Marx, who knew his Swift (and everyone who ever wrote anything of interest, it seems), disagreed with the greatest classical economist of all time:

A philosopher produces ideas, a poet poems, a clergyman sermons, a professor books and so on. A criminal produces crimes. If we look a little closer at the connection between the latter branch of production and society as a whole, we shall rid ourselves of many prejudices. The criminal produces not only crimes but criminal law, and with this also the professor who gives lectures on criminal law and in addition to this the inevitable book in which this same professor throws his lectures onto the general market as "commodities"...

Think how much of our precarious economy owes to criminals! Where would judges or bailiffs or courthouse builders be without them? How about those fine men we call "police"? Jailers, makers of iron bars, gas chambers, badges and truncheons, guns, handcuffs? What about John Grisham and Perry Mason and Sherlock Holmes and The Sopranos? They'd be nowhere without the productions of criminals. Marx reminds us of all the improved and applied science that went into torture devices, and just think how good locks have become because of criminals. In Unistat, the gun trade is booming (sorry); the criminal's at times murderous contributions seems most essential to our very way of life!

The value of crime upon the way we think about morality is endlessly productive, and furthermore, as Francis Wheen writes, "The criminal breaks the monotony and everyday security of bourgeois life. In this way he keeps it from stagnation and gives rise to that uneasy tension and agility without which even the spur of competition would get blunted..." (p.78, Marx's Das Kapital)

Here's more of Marx on the subject:

Would the making of banknotes have reached its present perfection had there been no forgers?...And if ones leaves the sphere of private crime: would the world-market ever have come into being but for national crime? Indeed, would even the nations have arisen? And hasn't the Tree of Sin been at the same time the Tree of Knowledge ever since the time of Adam?

To those of my Dear Readers who find themselves unemployed, I offer Marx's riffs on productive labor here as merely a suggestion that perhaps we may frame our problems in different ways...

Wheen's slender book is one I found a delight, and he made me go back to reading Marx anew. There's a considerable take on Marx as a literary figure. Marx certainly wanted to produce something thoroughly along the lines of a literary masterpiece, but I personally would direct the reader to something like Dickens's Hard Times instead.

That said, Wheen covers the reception and attempts at categorizing Marx's sprawling work: "The book can be read as a vast Gothic novel whose heroes are enslaved and consumed by the monster they created ('Capital which comes into the world soiled with gore top to toe and oozing blood from every pore')." Stanley Edgar Hyman saw the book as a Victorian melodrama: "The Mortgage on Labour-Power Foreclosed." The book can be seen as a black comedy, with a debunking of the "'phantom-like objectivity' of the commodity to expose the difference between heroic appearance and inglorious reality." (Wheen, p.75)

Wheen notes the critic C. Frankel saw Kapital as like a Greek tragedy: fate, tragic blindness, fixated ideas, seeing the truth too late, etc. In To The Finland Station, Edmund Wilson saw Marx as the greatest ironist since Swift, as a supreme parody of classical economics texts, and that, having read Kapital, the classical economists "never seem the same to us again; we can always see through their arguments and figures the realities of the crude human relations which it is their purpose or effect to mask."

I can see you now, Dear Reader: you've gathered your family and closest friends in one room for an announcement. Everyone is whispering what it could be. Tension in the room is palpable. Finally, you enter through the very large main door into the parlor. Everyone becomes silent. All eyes are trained on your every move. You let the drama build, then finally, get down to brass tacks: "Friends, my most beloved family members...this has been a difficult period in my life, as you all know, but I've done a lot of thinking - soul-searching, if you will - and I've made a decision about what to do, and I hope you will all help me in my new endeavor as best you can."

"Well? What is it?!?!," your father shouts, not with a small note of anxiety in his voice.

"I've...decided to enter a life of crime."

                                                 Robert Anton Wilson

Robert Anton Wilson (c. 1975?)
If Unistatians follow politics to any appreciable level, you will note that our "leaders" tell us that many things must be done in the name of "national security." The very phrase has proven to carry a mass hypnotic effect of considerable heft. "We cannot tell you anything about why we might be doing something that would make Al Capone look like Laura Ingalls Wilder. Trust us: it's about national security." And that is usually that. Oh, some Nosy Parker journalists will look behind the curtain and then report what vast cool and unsympathetic beastly doings are going on in our name, but who the fuck READS anymore?

Much less: who actually cares?

And maybe it doesn't matter at all. Why? Well, maybe we've had it all wrong in the first place. And I mean all wrong: it could be that "national security is the chief cause of national insecurity." This is the "First Law" of Hagbard Celine, a real character who uses the words of his author, Robert Anton Wilson.

The Reader would do well to consult the primary text, in The Illuminati Papers, pp.118-122. Wilson's virtuoso satirical chops are on display here, but like Swift and Marx - whose writings RAW knew well - it's only because he's at pains to convey the many invasions of our "privacies" that we find ourselves in. And I assert RAW was not drilling in a dry hole, but has shown that, in this First Law ("National security is the chief cause of national insecurity") he has, as of 2013, proven to be a Prophet. RAW made this observation around 40 years ago - probably after citizens broke into the FBI office in Media, PA in 1971 - and the essay was written (possibly) around the time Watergate became a news item, and (possibly) close to the summer of 1975 Church Committee hearings that "damaged" the CIA...at any rate, COINTELPRO was at work and possibly known, this was all well before Internet and the massive We Make the East German Stasi Look Like Pikers-era of Total Information Awareness by the NSA, FBI, CIA, local police, nefarious hackers, Wall Street, Facebook, Google, the TSA...et.al

RAW's main rhetorical ploy there was one he played with verve and aplomb like Bach played the organ: the reductio ad absurdum. That is, if we took the claims of "national security" seriously in the early 1970s, it meant that  the watchers must have watchers, because who can place total trust in the first group of watchers over our security and movements? But that second group can't be entirely trusted - something corrupt might happen - so we need another "security group" to watch the second group. And while they're at it, they should probably try to watch the first, initial group of security-providers. You can see where this went. For RAW, it was satire, but with a point. For us in 2014, it's something like Nightmare Prophecy come true: the (near) total Surveillance State.

Most of you are way ahead of me, so I'll just pick one story that I've mentioned with my friends that seems to have slipped through the cracks: NSA intercepts shipments of laptops purchased online and installs malware in them.  I'm sure you guys have a "favorite" that's "better" than this one. Have at it in the comments!

O! To be able to write satire with the panache of Swift, Marx, Wilson!

Monday, July 21, 2014

On Archives: Personal and Public; Powerful and Perilous

"One's file, you know, is never quite complete; a case is never really closed, even after a century, when all the participants are dead." - Graham Greene, The Third Man

I've just finished reading a piece about how Stanley Kubrick amassed a personal archive - now housed in a climate-controlled wing of the University of Arts London - but intrepid journalist Jon Ronson somehow managed to peruse the extremely well-labeled and organized boxes upon boxes when they were still at Childwick Green, where Kubrick had lived in a rambling house in which Ronson had to drive past at least three electric gates to get to.

"There are boxes everywhere - shelves of boxes in the stable block, rooms full of boxes in the main house. In the fields, where racehorses once stood and grazed, are half a dozen Portakabins, each packed with boxes. I notice that many of the boxes are sealed. Some have, in fact, remained unopened for decades." There are letters to and from Nabokov. There are fan letters from all over the world, filed by city of origin. There's an entire room devoted to Napoleon, with seemingly every book ever written about him, and 25,000 3x5 library cards filled with notes on Napoleon compiled by Kubrick and some assistants.

About the Napoleon note cards:

"How long did it take?" I ask.

"Years," says Tony. "The late sixties."

The Kubrick Napoleon film was never made. He ended up making A Clockwork Orange instead. (Napoleon will show up later, below, in the case of Giordano Bruno.)

It's a typically fine journalistic piece by Ronson, and it fed into my lifelong fascination with personal archives, and what they mean, or might mean, both to the collector and to others. To State power.
(see Lost At Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries, pp.149-172, "Stanley Kubrick's Boxes")

Nowadays famous writers see bidding wars for their Nachlass, and it's made some writers ponder what their lives would be like once they sold their personal archives to an institution. Does it make you act "nicer" in all your emails? (The deal is: you get a sizeable sum, but must keep every scrap of writing from then on for the Institution.) What about love letters or writing that might hurt someone you love? How about what one might find embarrassing? If you opened a separate, secret email account, you are cheating the Institution and violating your agreement. You think to yourself, "Damn them! I have a life. And what sort of creep would want to go over my grocery lists?" Aye, but the Institution is backing you now; it's in their interests to play up how great you are...

Most of us who keep files about subjects we're interested in, or have built small personal libraries will not have to worry about this. Sometimes accidents happen. I remember when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's house in the hills of Los Angeles burnt down. He had built a famously large jazz record collection: all gone. He also lost priceless Korans, Asian and Middle Eastern rugs. A gentle giant of intellectual bend and perhaps the greatest NBA player ever, he always felt misunderstood and that fans loved him for helping the Lakers win games, but they thought he was a freak. The story of his house was all over the news, and for years afterwards strangers came up to him to give him rare jazz albums, which surprised him and altered his emotional assumptions about some "fans."

But Kareem's lost archives couldn't represent a threat to the State or other vested interests.

Some Countercultural Losses
I'd become aware of Terence McKenna's stupendously cool book collection. He seemed to be interested in everything that I was, but he knew more and could talk about what he knew in a way I could never dream. I thought how great it would be to meet him and be allowed to go through his library. But an accident happened at a Quizno's sandwich shop in Monterey, California, and all his rare books and personal notes were burned.

Aldous Huxley's incredible book collection, his letters, notes...all burned in the famous 1961 Bel-Air fire near Los Angeles. I've read various versions of this. Seared into memory: local TV news people were on the scene and found the Famous Man and asked him how he felt. Aldous said he felt "remarkably clean." I've yet to see if anyone had catalogued what was lost; I doubt if there was even a decent bibliography of what he'd had. Somewhat oddly, Huxley had published a piece in Vogue in 1947: "If My Library Burned Tonight." A passage: "To enter the shell of a well-loved room and to find it empty except for a thick carpet of ashes that were once one's favorite literature - the very thought of it is depressing."

Dr. Andrew Weil, involved with Dr. Timothy Leary at Harvard, lost a large collection of "books, records, papers and other items" in the flooding of his Arizona house in 2006.

Peter Dale Scott, UC Berkeley professor emeritus, poet and originator of the concept of "deep politics," which I take to be conspiracy research by people with PhDs or people who are intellectuals of some sort who question power, had all his books and notes and research burned in the famous 1991 Berkeley-Oakland Hills fire:

Now my best files from two decades
are ashes on a hillside.
-Minding The Darkness p.15

I can feel no loss
that my best political files
have all burned
if their message is too complex
even for close Harvard-educated
friends with PhDs
Minding, p.8

In 1990 Genesis P-Orridge was in Kathmandu when right wing xtians raided his house in England and stole two tons of his personal belongings, convinced he was one of Satan's great minions and out to harm children, etc. Of course Genesis is something of a magickian and musician, and very weird and very intelligent, but would never harm anyone. The police and the yellow British press had a field day with this supposed satanic cult leader. As Genesis told Richard Metzger:

And it was a Right Wing, Christian lawyer who accessed the illegal files. But they never printed an apology, they never gave me back my archive, and in that archive are many hours of Brion Gysin being interviewed, talking about his notebooks, showing things, paintings, drawings, explaining all kinds of incredible things. He's dead now. That's gone. There was a movie that Derek Jarman made when we brought William Burroughs to London. Derek filmed William all the time, went around with me and filmed everything. There was only one print of that movie and it's gone. There are Throbbing Gristle concerts that there were only one master of, gone. Just incredible stuff. All the photo albums of the children, growing up, gone. A stuffed dolphin toy, gone. The girls' Carebears videos, gone...I mean it's just incredible and it's still missing. The department of Scotland Yard was disbanded not long after, two of the detectives died within a year and now it's just impossible to find anyone who says they know anything about where everything is. Of course, we were never charged with anything, because we hadn't done anything. - see pp. 162-166 of Disinformation: The Interviews, R. Metzger. Genesis has a lot to say about personal archives.

Ed Sanders - poet-historian, disciple of Charles Olson and one of my favorite living archivists - famously did exhaustive research on the Manson murders, attending the trials, etc. He interviewed E.J. Gold, who was calling himself Morloch the Warlock in Los Angeles, August, 1970. A note from Sanders on E.J. Gold: "He speaks well, although too didactically. He is wonderful." Anyway, Gold told Sanders that some weirdos at a commune in Indio, California, where a 6 year old boy had burned down a house that "destroyed priceless unpublished Crowley manuscripts that the commune had ripped off from Israel Regardie, a well-known publisher, occultist, and Crowley scholar. He said that his group was recently robbed; among the magical addiddimenta ripped off was a polished copper mirror once belonging to Aleister Crowley." - p. 409, The Family

A word about this last: E.J. Gold was something of a prankster and may have taken Sanders for a ride here. Does anyone know more about this supposedly missing Crowleyania?

Take a gander: HERE's a Wiki for famous destroyed libraries, some done in the name of "cultural cleansing." As a pre-teen holed up in a library, I first read about deliberate burning of libraries in H.G. Wells's Outline of History, which I read all the way through three times before age 20. The case was the first one mentioned in the chart in the linked Wiki page:

While Alexander was overrunning Western Asia, China, under the last priest-emperors of the Chow Dynasty, was sinking into a state of great disorder. Each province clung to its separate nationality and traditions, and the Huns spread from province to province. The King of T'sin (who lived about eighty years before Alexander the Great), impressed by the mischief tradition was doing in the land, resolved to destroy the entire Chinese literature, and his son, Shi-Hwang-ti, the "first universal Emperor," made a strenuous attempt to seek out and destroy the existing classics. They vanished while he ruled, and he ruled without tradition, and welded China into a unity that endured for some centuries; but when he had passed, the hidden books crept in again. - p.182 of volume 1 in the 2-volume set.

A more recent take is HERE.

In the Afterlife, I imagine Plato coming up to the Emperor, now known in the West as "Qin Shi Huang," and saying, "Jeez man! I thought maybe I had some extreme ideas about controlling thought in my Republic, but you? You didn't even blink an eye, did you?"

These book-burners and book-haters and knowledge deniers are my mortal enemies yet I know they will always be with us. One wonders what a Ted Cruz/Sarah Palin Administration has in store for us. Just a couple weeks ago: "Singapore Library Will Destroy LGBT-Friendly Kids' Books at Behest of Bigot".

"Who Firebombed London's Oldest Anarchist Book Shop?"
"City Settles Lawsuit Over the Destruction of the Occupy Wall Street Library"

And so it goes...

Brief Idiosyncratic History of Authority/The Fearful vs. Mind and Books
The story of the Nag Hammadi Library is, for my purposes, the Ur-story. The Gnostic texts were ruthlessly hunted down and burned; the Church wouldn't allow any deviations from its carefully-assembled God Story. But someone collected as many of those texts as she/he could find and buried them...until they were found in Egypt in 1945. I love reading my copy of The Nag Hammadi Library, edited by James M. Robinson. It's amazing how many xtians I've met who 1.) have not heard of the gnostic texts; 2.) heard of 'em but ain't never read a one of 'em and won't be lookin' out fer 'em; or 3.) haven't heard of the texts but assume I've been duped by Satan.

We jump to the 1500s, conveniently for moi. From John Higgs's book on Timothy Leary, I Have America Surrounded: John Dee's library:

Dr. Dee was one of the leading scholars of his day, and a man who played a leading role in the development of the science of navigation. He was also court astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I, and he used her horoscope to choose the day of her coronation in 1558. He possessed what was believed to be the largest library in Britain, until the local townsfolk, believing him to be an evil sorcerer, burned it down. He was also a spy for the Crown, and was sent on intelligence missions in various other European countries. It seems fitting, therefore, that he used to sign his documents with the code "007."

1600: The Venetian Inquisition confiscated the great Renaissance mystic, humanist, magician-scholar Giordano Bruno's works. He was ratted out as a heretic. The Vatican bureaucracy compiled a large processo arguing for a mass of evidence that Bruno was a dangerous heretic. There were eight heretical propositions taken from Bruno's works that he needed to recant in order to save his neck. One of them may have been his wild idea that there may be an infinity of other worlds in the universe. (We now know this is virtually true.) Bruno at first said he'd retract his wild statements, but then changed his mind, "obstinately maintaining that he had never written or said anything heretical and that the minsters of the Holy Office had wrongly interpreted his views. He was therefore sentenced as an impenitent heretic and handed over to the secular arm for punishment. He was burned alive on the Campo de' Fiori in Rome on February 17th, 1600." Bruno's works and the Inquistion's case against him were "lost forever, having formed part of a mass of archives which were transported to Paris by the order of Napoleon, where they were eventually sold as pulp to a cardboard factory." - both quoted passages from p.349 of Frances Yates's Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition

1786: Filippo Michele Buonarruti, a most interesting figure, possibly aligned with the Bavarian Illuminati, which had been recently forced underground. Some sources refer to him as the "first professional revoutionary." Florentine police raided his library and confiscated all of his Masonic and anticlerical books. (see Music of Pythagoras, Ferguson, p.287) In the same year, in the Bavarian town of Landshut, police raided Xavier Zwack's house and a "considerable number of books and papers were discovered, the latter containing more than two hundred letters that had passed between Weishaupt and the Areopagites, dealing with the most intimate affairs of the order, together with tables containing the secret symbols, calendar, and geographical terms belonging to the system, imprints of its insignia, a partial roster of its membership, the statutes, instruction for recruiters, the primary ceremony of initiation, etc." (see The Bavarian Illuminati In America: The New England Conspiracy Scare, 1798, Stauffer, pp.180-182; 211)

1917: The Unistat government seized five tons of written material by the Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World/IWW) on September 5th. A Grand Jury indicted 161 IWW leaders "for conspiracy to hinder the draft, encourage desertion, and intimidate others in connection with labor disputes."

1975: Michael Horowitz, keeper of Timothy Leary's archives, on the "Archival Catastrophe of 1975."
Once again, this blog spew has run overtime, and if I started in on the Leary case I'd go on for another 2000 words, so maybe another day.

Final Word for Archivists
Your work has consequences. After Ellsberg, the COINTELPRO findings, continued revelations about Hoover's FBI, Assange and Snowden, do we need more proof that there will always be certain elements of the State apparatus who see free thinkers as a threat? Your work is not "neutral." It cannot be: knowledge has a social origin with social uses. There is more than enough kowtowing for The State and monied interests. Howard Zinn, who shares my fascination with Karl Mannheim's book Ideology and Utopia - the grounding text in the sociology of knowledge - says that knowledge:

Comes out of a divided, embattled world, and is poured into such a world. It is not neutral either in origin or effect. It reflects the biases of a diverse social order, but with one important qualification: that those with the most power and wealth in society will dominate the field of knowledge, so that it serves their interests. The scholar may swear to his neutrality on the job, but whether he be physicist, historian, or archivist, his work will tend, in this theory, to maintain the existing social order by perpetuating its values, by justifying its wars, perpetuating its prejudices, contributing to its xenophobia, and apologizing for its class order. Thus Aristotle, behind that enormous body of philosophical wisdom, justifies slavery, and Plato, underneath that dazzling set of dialogues, justifies obedience to the state, and Machiavelli, respected as one of the great intellectual figures of history, urges our concentration on means rather than ends. -p. 520, The Zinn Reader, "Secrecy, Archives, and the Public Interest," originally a talk given in 1970.

So: you collectors of weird books, file-stuffer of articles on Those Things That Few Seem To Notice, those modern-day Thomas Paines out there, you who care about injustice of a thousand stripes: carry on! Your work matters and has consequences, as we have seen. It's possibly powerful. I have touched on perhaps 1/30th of the "archives in trouble" notes from my own archives/research/files. I'd like to read your notes on the subject, if'n ya got any.

Other Articles and Books Consulted
"My Life, Their Archive," by Tim Parks
"In the Sontag Archives"
"Timbuktu Libraries in Exile"
Buckminster Fuller: Anthology For a New Millenium: pp.319-325, "The R. Buckminster Fuller Archives"
Huxley In Hollywood, by David King Dunaway
Investigative Poetry, by Ed Sanders
Harvard Psychedelic Club, by Don Lattin
Wilhelm Reich In Hell, by Robert Anton Wilson
My Life In Garbology, by A.J. Weberman (too many JFK assassination researchers/archivists to mention here, but sources on Mae Brussell's files and a few others are mindblowing)
Wobblies!, ed. by Paul Buhl
-at minimum five books about Philip K. Dick: theories about the break-in of his house.
The New Inquisition, by Robert Anton Wilson: see pp.83-84, about Jacques Vallee's records of UFO sightings destroyed
The Cultural Cold War, by Frances Stonor Saunders
Birth of a Psychedelic Culture, ed by Bravo: Allen Ginsberg's files on the CIA, drug busts, and sexual persecution
-at minimum four sources on how James Jesus Angleton of the CIA got hold of Mary Pinchot Meyer's diary immediately after she was murdered
Double Fold, by Nicholson Baker, a secret history of microfilm lobbyists, "former" CIA agents, and warehouses where priceless archives were destroyed

Monday, July 7, 2014

Reading David Foster Wallace and Tom Robbins Concurrently: Utter Incommensurability For Me

As a temporary detour from one of my reading projects - the entire Tom Robbins oeuvre, chronologically - I went back and read a bunch of sections from David Foster Wallace's works, because  I'd recently had a conversation about DFW's suicide in 2008, and it occurred to me that Tom Robbins - as "passe" as some readers feel his work now ( I certainly do not feel he's passe), "knew" something about life that DFW didn't.

                                                 David Foster Wallace

But this may be too facile: my diagnosis, after reading a couple of books of interviews with DFW and a terrific piece by Maria Bustillos, is that DFW may have been doomed from childhood: too much genius, too much self-consciousness and depression. In the last year of his life he tried to get off Nardil, which he'd been on since a suicide attempt, around 20 years before. Nothing else worked, he spiraled down, even with the resumption of Nardil and 12 rounds of electroconvulsive "therapy," and hung himself in Claremont, California, September 12, 2008.

In one interview he said he did LSD and "a fair amount of psilocybin in college," and smoked pot from age 15 or 16 until he got out of grad school. Why did he stop smoking pot? "I just, it wasn't shutting the system down anymore. It was just making the system, it was just making the system more unpleasant to be part of. My own system." (See Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, pp.137-139.) Wallace also had had a major alcohol problem, but "I was a sort of joyless drinker..." (op.cit, 142, and italics in original)

I cannot relate to the idea of smoking pot or drinking as a way to "shut down" my "system." I am nothing if not a joyful drinker. DFW is such a compelling figure to me that I will always know that there are people far smarter than me who are nonetheless haunted, and nothing from Big Pharma will allow them to feel unalloyed joy in simple things.

One of the many things I grapple with when I think of DFW is this feeling of the insistent, constantly surging intelligence coupled with what seems to me a horrifying level of self-doubt. I heartily refrain from armchair dipshit psychoanalysis here; in other words: I won't speculate further on the deepest levels of the source of DFW's misery.

Both DFW and Tom Robbins will be found in fat books that talk about "postmodern" American writers. Both used surrealist elements in their prose to engage their readers. Robbins was born 30 years before DFW, and perhaps many of you know about DFW's "puritan" backlash regarding Irony in our culture. (The seminal statement is probably his essay on TV, "E Unibus Plurum," collected in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again.) Although I don't see TR as an ironically-minded writer, I do see him as a psychedelic writer. DFW too, oddly, for reasons touched on above.

DFW thought irony had become toxic to our culture, but while it had been an effective mode of rhetoric for authors from the 1960s in their attacks on post-WW2 assumptions about social relations, class, conformity, and "reality," by the early 1990s it was so pervasive that it was like the old fish-don't-know-they're-in-water thing: the educated young were so ironic and hip and miserable they couldn't even see that in their constant resorting to irony, they were crying out, in effect, "I'm trapped! Help me out! This is miserable!" (5 Second clip from The Simpsons for the win!)

I consider both DFW and Tom Robbins (TR) as novelists of ideas. TR imagined a character who was so well-defined as a mouthpiece for radical environmentalism and the dangers of rampant technology that the FBI questioned him in the Unabomber case before the G-Men caught up to Ted. DFW dreamed up a character that ran an academy for tennis-playing excellence, and he was a fascist. The character jumped off the page and ran around my house, in one ear, out the other.

TR put in with unalloyed Tibetan-tinged "crazy wisdom" long ago, even before he met Joseph Campbell and toured Mexico and Central America and later even more far-flung regions of the globe. He still celebrates July 26, 1963 - the day he first did LSD - as the most important day of his life, so much so that it actuated him to quit his job by "calling in well" and saying he was staying home, and that prior to that day he had been ill.

I am holding back on willy-nilly speculations about naivete, "belief" and especially, the albatross of Ego...

I'm not sure if DFW ever got out of the country, much less his own head. And yet: he seemed to believe some of his characters had come alive and spoken to him. I believe he had tremendous capacity for empathy. Certainly DFW's forays into psychedelics did not bring about any sort of psychic "breakthrough" that they had for TR, whose overall prose style seems to represent a form of mimesis of the mind on psychedelics.

While a recurring line in TR, "The world situation was dire, as usual" doesn't indicate a non-engagement with world politics, TR still seems one of the foremost exponents of change-yourself-first in order to change the world. I see his novels as literary LSD. The difficulty, the incommensurability of this is: I see DFW's novels (and much of his non-fiction) as psychedelic too. This may have to do with the sheer burst of information-per-page encountered in DFW, and let us recall Aldous Huxley's image of "normal consciousness" as a firehose with a crink in it, so water only comes out in dribs and drabs, while on psychedelics, the crink is undone and the brain is flooded by the hose, gushing full-on, overwhelming, consciousness-expanding.

Meanwhile, DFW thought something like Freud's Pleasure Principle was a threat to Unistat minds. TV and other media and "low art" were so effective and polished and easy - giving us a constant stream of comfortable, predictable shows that didn't challenge us but still felt really good that we've become divorced from "reality" and are setting ourselves up for fascism. He was saying this in the early 1990s. In the mid 1990s he predicted ever-better viewing situations, ever-better shows - by then he'd said the commercials were better than the shows, as far as sophistication of knowing the viewers' desires - and he predicted something like Netflix. In his magnum opus, Infinite Jest, there's a film that's so entertaining - called "Infinite Jest" - that people literally cannot stop watching it, and they become comatose, and figuratively lobotomized. And Quebecois terrorists want the film to use as a terror device, but I digress...

DFW could be hilarious. TR makes me laugh out loud, too. Their innate temperaments, or dispositions, or the happy and sad exigencies of their lives larded on top of those predispositions...makes me feel the personalities of the two seem quite far apart. I find I love both men's writing, and have an idealized picture of how each guy "really is" (or was) and that I like both personalities quite a lot. I don't expect to get to know TR, who is 82 this year; I never knew DFW. I know I cannot read DFW without knowing he was always in pain, and that he killed himself at age 46. Suicide haunts the background of every reading of DFW for me. This just makes me sad.

I may be pissing some DFW fans off here, but I assert that, while he considered himself a sort of avant-garde fiction writer (who wished to redeem avant-garde too-cool-fer-skool exercises with a sort of earnest and non-ironic spiritus) first, and a writer of non-fiction pieces second, he was a better non-fiction writer. And his fiction is marvelous. NB: while he was in grad school he was smoking pot, watching tons of TV, and doing psychedelics, all the while producing his first novel, The Broom of the System, and a Philosophy thesis that had to do with Wittgensteinian ideas titled "Richard Taylor's Fatalism and the Semantics of Physical Modality." What a freaky, wonderful, genius (MacArthur "Genius" Award 1997)! What a loss!

TR thought a good TV show would be "Queer Eye For the Fungi":

DFW thought the logical endpoint of our involvement with "reality" TV shows would be something called "Celebrity Autopsy," where we watch a coroner eviscerate an actual celebrity who died, while above his/her friends and family talk about the kind of person the celebrity really was.

I end this ramble - and let's face it: it's one - with a restatement: the goofy-wise joy behind TR is infectious and makes me love life. And academia pretends he's not serious. DFW did...all that (I did not mention he wrote a math book on Cantor's transfinite sets, which led to Godel...) In premature death, young academia acted like their own Kurt Cobain figure died, and maybe that's an apt analogy. But I do think the overall worldview and tone and sentences and ideas of TR deserve more nuanced reading in this, our year of the NSA 2014CE. But they won't. And so: why? Perhaps the serious Mind of our Academy considers a brilliant, "absurdly educated" (DFW's phrase) as one of their own; TR's offerings of ways Out still just seem silly, outre, irresponsible?

It could be that something in TR's overall project may be something like the "redemption" that DFW was looking for, for us. Or not. Or...sorta? (Maybe?)

Incommensurability. I'm not sure if DFW and TR would've liked each other. I like to daydream that they would hit it off.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

On Sports Fandom

Being a True Murrkin I'm only pretending to care about the World Cup. The US could win the World Cup this year, and then again four years from now, and still, "football" would probably only attain the status in Unistat of "slightly less popular than the NHL." It's the fucked-up way we Murrrkins roll, rest of the world. Sorry about that. No offense. Don't get me wrong: anyone can see your "football" is beautiful; we're not talkin' aesthetics here, man. We're talkin' sports! Slapshots, slam dunks, 3-run homers, going for it on 4th and 4, after the Two Minute Warning. Sports is a drug, and we're mainlining it, baby. Have been since The Shot Heard 'Round The World. (<----To anyone who wonders about the psyche of Unistat: you can learn a lot from studying this 2-minute clip!)

Currently, my fave comment on YouTube about the above clip is this:

Henry Marriott
3 months ago
  The 'shot heard round the world', more like the shot heard around America and no where else because every other country hates baseball because its an awful sport! Lol Americans living in their dream world again

Let this be a warning to any readers not in Unistat. I chose/was brainwashed to follow Los Angeles area pro sports teams (Dodgers/Angels/Lakers/Kings) at an early age. I see sports fandom as a sort of disease. And yet I still "follow" my teams. Maybe I should have written it as "dis-ease."

I've been wanting to vent - or "come out of the closet" - about the enormous time I've wasted investing my emotional energies in sports fandom. But I haven't been able to. Until now. Gawd, this is difficult.

I remember the day, long ago, when I was reading a Noam Chomsky book. It was a transcription of an interview. Chomsky was discussing political ideological systems in the former (?) Soviet Union and Unistat. There are "experts" who advise the public what to think about matters too "difficult" for them to understand. At times, Chomsky has called Unistat's political experts "mandarins," the "guild structure," and "the commissar class." (Think of the NeoCons, David Brooks, Thomas Friedman, Maureen Dowd, Michael Grunwald, Jeffrey Toobin, Andrew Ross Sorkin, David Gregory, Michael Kinsley, and far too many to count, much less stomach.)

Chomsky had been trying to explain his idea of "Cartesian common sense," in the framework of citizens utilizing their intellectual endowments to truly work with others and understand the world, which is difficult in a world set up like ours is, presently. Here are the passages:

James Peck: How can common sense emerge, in this context?

Noam Chomsky: Well, let me give an example. When I'm driving, I sometimes turn on the radio and I find that very often what I'm listening to is a discussion of sports. There are telephone conversations. People call in and have long and intricate discussions, and it's plain that quite a high degree of thought and analysis is going into that. People know a tremendous amount. They know all sorts of complicated details and enter into far-reaching discussions about whether the coach made the right decision yesterday and so on. These are ordinary people, not professionals, who are applying their intelligence and analytic skills in these areas and accumulating quite a lot of knowledge and, for all I know, understanding. On the other hand, when I hear people talk about, say, international affairs or domestic problems, it's on a level of superficiality which is beyond belief.

[Chomsky then says that citizens do this because they feel they can't do anything about the problems in the world or their own country, so they invest their intellects in a "fantasy world," where nothing really matters. Skipping ahead a bit...]

James Peck: Do you think people are inhibited by expertise?

Noam Chomsky: There are also experts at football, but these people don't defer to them. The people who call in talk with complete confidence. They don't care if they disagree with the coach or whoever the local expert is. They have their own opinion and they conduct intelligent discussions. I think it's an interesting phenomenon. Now I don't think that international or domestic affairs are much more complicated. And what passes for serious intellectual discourse on these matters does not reflect on any deeper level of understanding or knowledge. 

One finds something similar in the case of so-called primitive cultures. What you find very often is that certain intellectual systems have been constructed of considerable intricacy, with specialized experts who know all about it and other people who don't quite understand and so on. For example, kinship systems are elaborated to enormous complexity. Many anthropologists have tried to show that this has some kind of functional utility in the society. But one function may be just intellectual. It's a kind of mathematics. These are areas where you can use your intelligence to create complex and intricate systems and elaborate their properties pretty much the way we do mathematics. They don't have mathematics and technology; they have other systems of cultural richness and complexity. I don't want to overdraw the analogy, but something similar may be happening here.

The gas station attendant who wants to use his mind isn't going to waste his time on international affairs, because that's useless; he can't do anything about it anyhow, and he might learn unpleasant things and even get into trouble. So he might as well do it where it's fun, and not threatening - professional football or basketball or something like that. But the skills are being used and the understanding is there and the intelligence is there. One of the functions of things like professional sports play in our society and others is to offer an area to deflect people's attention from things that matter, so that the people in power can do what matters without public interference.
-pp. 33-36, The Chomsky Reader, ed. by James Peck. There's an elaboration by Noam on this subject in Understanding Power, pp.98-101, if'n yer at all innarested.

So, here I was reading Chomsky and nodding my head, yes. I liked the idea that my seemingly clueless fellow-citizens had the capacity to understand politics, but chose not to. I took this and abstracted to the implication that some could possibly change their minds and start paying attention to what really mattered. I liked Noam's riffs about the intellectual system of kinship in non-Western societies. I of course love all of Chomsky's attacks on "experts." Chomsky all too often smears "the social sciences" as being filled with these "guild structures," which unfairly tars some anthropologists and sociologists - even a few renegade economists I like, and who are clearly not part of a "guild structure" (David Graeber/Peter Berger/Ha-Joon Chang, anyone?) - but that's Noam being Noam. He does think that just about anyone can arrive at a nuanced and informed stance about the world and domestic problems, if they practice what he calls "common sense." I desperately want to believe him. I grapple with this one, friends.

And yet, at the same time, I am following my teams, and entering into that "fantasy world" of meaningless relationships with "my" players vs. The Other Guys. It's something I think I should have dropped completely around the age of 18. However, far from it. I think I read that passage from Chomsky when I was 29 or 30. Things haven't gotten better for me, and I've learned a lot about why, which I'll get to, I promise.

Now, I had familiarized myself with Marx's ideas about "false consciousness." I had been struck by T.S. Eliot's observation about the increased interest in sports in Unistat in the middle of the 20th century: "decadent athleticism," a perfect example of Kenneth Burke's notion of effective poetic rhetoric of "perspective by incongruity." I had noted how, in the deep history of the Great Books program in Unistat, a 30 year old President of the U. of Chicago, Robert Hutchins, got rid of football at the school. Imagine being that serious about your students reading Plato, Kant and Tolstoy!

I noted how often sports metaphors were used by political "experts" and even by some of my countercultural favorites. Dr. Timothy Leary was quite mindful of the game-like aspects of social "reality" and so larded his talks and writing with sports metaphors. Leary was a good friend of Johnny Roseboro, a catcher for the Dodgers in the 1960s. I tend to think Dr. Leary also thought he could "score points" (<----you can't escape this shit in Unistat!) with the non-counterculture by using sports metaphors. I don't think it worked for Dr. Leary. When Tim talked about the role of alcohol in the territorial 2nd circuit of his 8-Circuit Brain Model, I found it wonderfully applicable to sports.

                                 I don't know who this guy is, but he's making my point.
                                 And he manages to add to my embarrassment. So who 
                                 forced me to put him here? I blame myself...

Academic Philosophers and Sports
Within the past six months, a philosopher named David Papineau made the argument that becoming a fan of a team is not like shopping for a washing machine. He wonders how fandom could be fully rational. On the other hand, he sees children as needing nurture, but favors his own kids over other children; there's no "objective" basis for doing so, but accepts that this is the way we are. All children deserve love and care, but he will concentrate on his own. Similarly, praying for your team to win just seems absurd, as if the deity would favor your team over the other. Not much rationality there.

Papineau says that humans are unique animals in that they consciously choose to tackle long-term projects, which entail ultimate goals. Such as Winning It All. Going All The Way. So, at some point, you choose a team (or inherit them from your family or friends) and the team becomes part of your Project. You become committed to your team winning, reaching its ultimate goal. Like life, there will be setbacks, and much of your fandom is a social thing. When I read Papineau's idea of "projects" - which is apparently a hotter topic in academic philosophy than I'd realized - I thought the idea of the project of being a fan of a winning team was like the project of obtaining a mortgage, getting a degree, making more money, getting better and better at the job, being a better friend, getting to be awesome at sex, learning a musical instrument or another language. (Dear Dr. Papineau or his colleagues: if I'm wrong here...?)

Another philosopher, Alva Noe, responded by alerting his NPR readers to Papineau's blogpost on fandom. Noe had warned Papineau that, when he moved to New York, he should root for the Mets in baseball, and not the Yankees, who represent everything rotten about Unistatian culture. (And I agree, but...later. Maybe.) At one point Noe says we'd like to be "admiring sporting achievement for its own intrinsic qualities," which I also agree with and it's why I now tell all my friends and family and new acquaintances that this is why my sports fandom is "ironic." That's the actual term I use. I suspect I'm trying to get myself to believe it. But most of the time, I am ready to applaud the other team, if the play is spectacular. When Lebron James has played "my" Lakers, I'm in awe of his abilities. It's aesthetically pleasing to see someone that good. I never thought I'd live to see a basketball player as good as Lebron James. But I said "most of the time." I've come to agree with Eric Simons, who in his stellar book The Secret Lives of Sports Fans: The Science of Sports Obsession, that "to be a sports fan, first of all, is to  seriously undermine your free will." (p.21, and Simon's book is far superior to the overly-analytical and not exactly down-to-earth thinking about sports and fandom that I've seen from every philosopher I've ever read on the subject. What makes Simon's book so great is his New New Journalist's generalist's approach to the topic, and just check out the index for "dopamine" or "oxytocin" or "testosterone" and "mirror neurons" and neurobiologists and primatologists, etc: this is the book on what it means to be a fan, and what makes Simon so cool is that he addresses his own sports fandom, does experiments on himself and his friends, and has a healthy sense of humor. See Carlin Wing's considerable review of Eric Simon's book HERE.)

Back to the philosophers: Noe engages with Papineau and then proffers this: "We need to give up the hyper-rationalistic demand that we justify ourselves and our commitments." For some reason, Noe doesn't cite William James or John Dewey or especially Richard Rorty, who would have said the same thing, but much earlier. (Has Noe ever "come out" as a neo-pragmatist? Inquiring minds wanna know.)

Just to drop another example of how I see the philosophers as three-quarters baked on fandom:  Recently, academic philosopher Simon Critchley wrote on soccer (what the rest of the world calls "football"), "Working Class Ballet." Critchley enjoys it, dammit. And here's a bit on how he couches his argument:

"Football is all about the experience of failure and righteous injustice. It is about hoping to win and learning to accept defeat. But most importantly, it is some experience of the fragility of belonging: the enigma of place, memory and history." Yea, yea, yea Critchley, can you move your head a bit? I think I missed the ref's call there. Was it in or out? Let's see the replay and confirm our suspicion that this ref has had it in for us from day one!

Seriously, Critchley's take is nice and all, but, like Eric Simon might say, pretty soft-core. The line from Noe about being hyper-rationalistic holds for me here. I'm most concerned with the non-sanity of fandom. 'Cuz I've been there.

Woody Allen
A longtime fan of the NBA New York Knicks, in the book Woody Allen on Woody Allen he says investing in your team - giving meaning to it all - is a microcosm of what we do with life. So here Woody seems a lot like David Papineau. But remember, this Woody Allen character thinks the most meaningful thing in life is to constantly work (!), and his favorite book is Ernest Becker's 1973 book The Denial of Death.

                    My favorite baseball player for the next 10 years, at least: Mike Trout

Sports Fandom Insanity: The Most Compelling Game, For My Money
There was a time when Frederick Exley's "fictional memoir" A Fan's Notes was the most literary account of the drug-addict-like sickness of being a sports fan. It was like The Lost Weekend with lots of sports added in. I read it with relish and wondered why there wasn't more of this stuff around. Since then, I'd like to point to the film Big Fan as a perfect depiction of the sheer un-sanity of some sports fans. This film should be seen and discussed much more in our effed-up political state (Unistat). If you're like me and wonder about why you can't...be more like Chomsky regarding sports, see this film. And be glad you're not that bad.

As of today's date, to my eyes, surpassing Exley and everyone else for nailing the craziness and complexity of the literate sports fan's..."illness"?, see the piece "Red Sox Antichrist" from Steve Almond's book Not That You Asked. Key passages: 106; 109-110; 122-123 (Red Sox fans and their alcoholic martyrdom); 123-124 (fandom and politics; it speaks to the Chomsky passages above); 125 (Red Sox fans); 133-134; 137-138, esp. bottom of 137 ("sports hangover"); 138 (sports and politics); 140-142.

Brief Note on Donald Sterling and Pro Team Sports in Unistat and Canada
Sterling simply got popped. Of yea, he was particularly egregious as far as rapacious billionaires who own sports teams go. I know people who told me about Sterling's racism 20 years ago. Team owners are some of the very worst people in the set of {humanity}. He just crossed the line too publicly, so there had to be a big show by the NBA that they won't cotton to this sort of attitude or injustice. Forcing Sterling to sell is a dramatic show, and I'm glad it looks like they'll be able to pull of off. (But my libertarian streak wonders about possible slippery-slopes here.) But it is a show. Don't get me wrong: from my knowledge Sterling is an atrocity. But the true step toward sanity would be for every team to be owned by the fans, like the Green Bay Packers are in the NFL. That would be a meaningful step. Do I think it'll happen soon? Nooooooo. Things are going to get worse, or as some of my sports fan-friends put it, "worsier."And for those of you who see Kobe Bryant's new salary/contract plastered all over the news and ask, "Where is the sanity?" Just look at Wall Street. No matter what some player signs for, no matter how "heartless" he may seem to the fans he's leaving as a free agent, for some other City's fans, he's getting what he's worth. He's an entertainer; he's not ruining lives. And for this idea about value I am indebted to Publilius Syrus, a 1st BCE Roman who said that a "A thing is worth whatever the buyer will pay for it."

Chomsky Didn't Dare Phrase It Like Prof. Carlin!
"And remember, the polls show the American people want capital punishment, and they want Social Security. And I think even in a fake democracy people ought to get what they want once in a while. If for no other reason than to feed the illusion that they're really in charge. Let's use capital punishment the same way we use use sports and shopping in this country: to take people's minds off how badly they're bein' fucked by the upper one percent." - written pre-9/11 by George Carlin, in a Swiftian diatribe against capital punishment, found in Napalm and Silly Putty, p.216

Apologia, or Just Apologies
This post was overly long, and for that I apologize yet again. I do feel a bit better, but I have a long way to go. With the dumb-world of sports fandom - aside from what Chomsky says - I'm surprised I still have the brain power to write a coherent sentence. I have only said about 3% of what I have to say about sports, which I think can be a beautiful and even noble thing. My problem is how often it misses the beauty and noble mark, and by how far. As the announcer said while watching a Mickey Mantle home run disappear into the distance: "a country mile!"

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Maureen Dowd's Edible Cannabis Freakout: Another Drug Report

Maureen Dowd was warned about ingesting THC and other psychoactive compounds derived from cannabis. Still, she ate the whole candy bar. And had what will go down as one of the Famous Bad Trips. (There's already a section on her Wiki about this.)

Okay: I did the same thing. I know exactly where she's coming from. My aunt had a boyfriend (this was around 20 years ago) who grew his own, and it was good. My sweetheart and I spent the Fourth of July with them. The aunt's boyfriend said I ought to try his brownies, which he'd just taken out of the oven. I tried one. Then he said have another. I ate that. You know the rest: about 45 minutes later, I feel IT come on. And on. And on. And more. More. I start to feel very uneasy. The level of stoned-ness was increasing, it seemed, so quickly, that it was like the feeling you get when the stereo radio was on very low and you're talking with your friends, then some song comes on that you all love and the conversation stops, you turn it up loud. And someone says "Louder!" and pretty soon the windows are shaking and you and your friends are smiling, rocking out, laughing inaudibly.

I got so stoned that, on the drive home, I confessed to my sweetheart I was freaking out. She said - she was driving, thank goddess - that I'd seemed sorta weird. I just let loose and described The Fear.

So he is putting down junk and coming on with tea. I take three drags, Jane looked at him and her flesh crystallized. I leaped up screaming, "I got the fear!" and ran out of the house.
-very early tableau from Naked Lunch, William S. Burroughs. ("Tea" here is cannabis.)

I remember expressing regret. Sweetheart said it would probably subside in a few hours. Meanwhile, "Witchy Woman" by the Eagles came on the car radio and when the solo came up, I "saw" the guitar being played: a Gibson Les Paul with a sunburst finish. It just had to be. Yea, you read that correctly: I was trippin' balls so big-time I "saw" the guitar I was hearing on the radio, a tune that was recorded 25 years earlier. I'd heard the song a thousand times. Now, the dude's vibrato was overwhelmingly psychedelic. At the same time, this was a Bad Omen: I'm trippin' on "Witchy Woman"? At this rate, Bartok would probably melt my brain. The Mahavishnu Orchestra would flatline me. Liszt would lay me out; the Goldberg Variations could prove grave. Maybe Terry Riley's In "C" could calm me, but I didn't have it and couldn't cop.

Home, sweetheart asked me to air out our camping tent, because we were due to head out to the Sierras and the Sequoia National Park the next day. It's one of those tents that are lightweight hi-tech and so easy to put up a 12 year old could do it in 90 seconds. I gave up after what seemed like an hour. I couldn't figure it out. Cannabis is really really RILLY bad - for me, at least - in executing step-by-step "rational" action. This was ridiculous.  Later, I sat in an empty room in the dark, trying to enjoy it all, wishing I had some sort of antidote. I tried listening to Ustad Shujaat Kahn doing a raga, but it was too intense.

I woke up the next day still stoned. We drove four hours into the Sierras, and I was still stoned. What a nightmare! The amount of quality bud that was dumped into the brownie mix must've been just insane.

The next day I'd returned to something like my "baseline" "normality." But I felt adrenaline-poisoned, because of the stress of having to cope with the world stoned, because clearly, I hadn't planned for such a series of psychological hurdles.

Now: I've read four or five articles about Colorado's first few months of legalization, and this seems a significant problem: the word must get out about edibles: you cannot titrate if you're new to the stuff. Of course we must keep this away from the chilluns. You think you know what a candy bar is; they've always been such comfy familiar friends.

Ingesting cannabis seems completely different to me than smoking it, and ever since this Bad Trip, I've stayed away from edibles.

I want to jump all over Dowd - who I admit I have disliked since around the Lewinsky scandal, when I first became aware of her - for being a typical East Coast pop-liberal NYT overrated pretentious idiot-journalist. She and David Brooks and Thomas Friedman make me long for a speedy, agonized Death of Giant Corporate Journalism, or their kind, at least.

Dowd was TOLD to watch it with edibles. But her Bad Trip resonated with me; I felt a sympathetic kinship when I read about her fear in her hotel room. We need massive education about this stuff. You smoke too much really good weed and have a panic attack? It will be over in an hour or two. You EAT too much powerful weed? You might be in for a doozy, friends. Eat a teeny, tiny bit, and then wait at least an hour before deciding whether you need more.

DIGRESSION: In Terry Southern's short story, "Red Dirt Marijuana," a young white kid from the South is talking with his much older friend, a black man. They have found a big flowering pot plant on a farm. The kid has tried pot before but it made him "sick"; the wizened black man tries to explain to the kid why he couldn't handle cannabis before, but might be able to now:

"Now boy, don't you mess with me," said C.K., frowning, "...you ast me somethin' an' I tellin' you. You brain is young an' unformed...it's all smooth, you brain, smooth as that piece of shoe-leather. That smoke jest come in an' cloud it over!" He took another drag. "Now you take a full-growed brain," he said in his breath-holding voice, "it ain't smooth - it's got all ridges in it, all over, go this way an' that.' Shoot, a man know what he doin' he have that smoke runnin' up one ridge an' down the other! He control his high, you see what I mean, he don't fight against it..." -Terry Southern, Red Dirt Marijuana and Other Tastes, pp.8-9

[This seems neurophysiologically suspect, but poetically true: both Dowd and I probably needed more ridges in our brains to handle it. - OG]

The other problem in Colorado seems to be exploding houses, because of people trying to make hash oil, and butane volatility. This part seems maddening to me: are you trying to tell me all the smokable Dogshit Orgasm and Jack Herer and Purple Kush isn't doing it for you? You need to risk your life and your neighbors' houses to get that righteous buzz from "dabbing"? If so, you've probably got a problem, pal. Seek help. Get outside. Stop getting high for six months, and feel the "high" of your short-term memory roaring back; dig all the complex nuances and edges of "everyday life" that you hadn't realized you'd gradually caked your cerebral cortices up with bong resin thicker than manhole covers. I've done it. When you come back six-ten months later and take a small hit of something like Kali's Shaven Vulva Grapefruit Surprise sativa (I actually made that one up...I think?), you'll really enjoy it. And you'll be acting like a decent - if freaky - Responsible Citizen.

So far, the Colorado experiment seems a smashing success, and the winds are blowing in our favor in other states. The problem with edibles is about public education. The problem with ditzy hash oil explosions seems more troubling to those of us who want more political gains with cannabis, not a roll-back. Hash-oil house explosions are bumming me out. Quit it you guys! (<----Do you think this will work?)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Western Academic Logic Has Broken Through! (Maybe?)

"An increasing number of logicians are coming to think that Aristotelian logic is inadequate." - Graham Priest, in a 2014 article I link to below.

Albert Einstein was asked to contribute an essay on Bertrand Russell for a compendium on Lord R, and  it eventually appeared in Volume V of The Library of Living Philosophers, edited by P.A. Schilpp, 1944. In "Remarks On Bertrand Russell's Theory of Knowledge," Einstein said he immediately said yes when asked to write on Bertie, because, though he didn't enjoy a lot of contemporary scientific writers, he'd spent "innumerable happy hours" reading Russell, and the only writer he enjoyed more was Thorstein Veblen (who, incidentally, forecasted the obvious state of academia today, but in 1899!). Then Einstein realized he had a lot of cramming to do: he'd limited himself to physics, and had embarked on Russell's turf, which Einstein found "slippery." It seems clear from the outset that Einstein is dubious about Russell's field - logic - and how it undergirds mathematics and (maybe?) all knowledge.

The key questions for Einstein are: "What knowledge is pure thought able to supply independent of sense perception? Is there any such knowledge? If not, what precisely is the relation between our knowledge and the raw materials furnished by sense impressions?" Einstein's essay was published in 1944.

My experience with reading on various logics is sketchy. I'm not of a logical bent temperamentally - I tend to think Rhetoric has more dramatic and personal effects, socially -  and yet I find any forays into Boolean thought, logic trees, Aristotle, informal fallacies, logical paradoxes, and how number theory fuses with logic? It's all delightful: I always cop an intellectual buzz if I get deep enough to "get lost"in it. Reading logic books feels a lot like reading linguistic books: I get to the point where all I can see in my mind's eye is absurdities, Cheshire Cats smiles floating before my eyes, the worm ouroburos eating its own tail, the seemingly surrealistic glint of reading a book about how words work, which uses words itself. A world filled with Dali-esque melting watches. For starters.

On a certain level, I think logic is bunk, or tends to the buncombe. And yet, it underpins all our advanced technology, including this thing I'm using right now to get my points across, so we must take It seriously. I think logic works fantastically well at very small levels, like logic gates in circuitry. I'm not sure it works all that well when describing society or as an approximation of the language of everyday living in the Cosmic Goof. Ahhh...but maybe I'm not reading the right type of logic? Or: how am I defining logic?

Every thought, even unconscious thought, can and has been modeled as the logic of neurons firing in a massive parallelism, involving ion channels, action potentials, axons and dendritic spines, all-or-nothing events, and, occurring in the synaptic clefts: the constant release and re-uptaking of neurotransmitting chemical messengers. I'm fascinated by the neuro-logic that does all this and creates circuits of perceptual frames commonly called metaphors, but I (logically) digress...

A pretty cool article in one of my favorite online magazines, Aeon, recently ran an essay by a philosopher named Graham Priest, and it's called "Beyond True and False,"and in it Priest argues that Western logicians, who have long dismissed Buddhist logic as mumbo-jumbo and "mysticism" have come around to an appreciation of it. The 2nd CE Mahayana Buddhist thinker Nagarjuna had insisted that "things derive their nature by mutual independence and are nothing in themselves." Any "thing" is empty, and yet it exists. We can only talk about a thing's "nature" when we include it in a field of other things. If you grok this immediately, you're the sort of person I love to party with.

Priest was one of the developers of something called plurivalent logic in the 1980s, and he asserts that neither he nor his colleagues knew anything about Mahayana Buddhist logic at the time...but their thinking had arrived at a very similar place. It's a breezy essay and delivered the reading-about-logic goods enough for me to get "high" off it. Try it, if you haven't already. It combines Buddhism and databases; what's not to like?

So, for Aristotle, there was only True or False, although I think Aristotle is more complicated than Priest lays him out here. The weird thing about Aristotle, as I continue to read him: his uber-famous book on Logic seems less nuanced about "reality" than his long, compendious and damned amazing book on Metaphysics. In his Logic, there is the Principle of Non-Contradiction (PNC) and the Principle of the Excluded Middle (PEM), which never made sense to me, irregardless the many modes I used to wrap my neurons around it. Methinks THC and CBD tend to dissolve PEM, PDQ.

Nagarjuna was working with the 600-plus year Buddhistic system of the catuskoti, or the logic of "four corners." Some statements are True, some False, just like Aristotle (it's highly unlikely Nagarjuna read Aristotle). But: Buddhistic logic had two more values: some statements are Both True and False; the fourth value was: some statements are Neither True nor False. Aristotle had actually briefly addressed the idea that a statement could be Both True and False, as if it were relatively trivial: these had to do with statements about future events. These statements violated his Principle of Non-Contradiction, so he seems to have wanted it to seem trivial.

Bertrand Russell, along with Alfred North Whitehead, had tried to use logical set theory to firmly put mathematics on a solid foundation. Indeed, the set of all sets is a member of itself; the set of all cats is not a cat, so it's not a member of the set of cats. (By the way: I find set theory a sure buzz, not unlike one small toke of very potent weed; your mileage may vary.) The problem of statements that were self-referential proved Russell's and Whitehead's undoing. Remember the Barber Paradox? Or simply the hilariously vexing problem of this sentence?:

                                            This statement is false.

So yea: let's apply Aristotle's PNC to the set of all the sets that are not members of themselves.

Well, okay, after awhile my head explodes; my consciousness becomes pixillated and then spontaneously rearranges into a collage of shards of paisleys and encaustic purples and pinks. I like it.

Back to Priest's essay: I didn't know about Relevant Logic from the 1960s, which presaged Priest's and his colleagues' Plurivalent Logic. I hadn't known about the 1905 logical proof about ordinal numbers and the limit of noun phrases in a language with a finite vocabulary, from the Hungarian Julius Konig (worth a buzz all by itself). What a cool article.

When Priest tells us that Nagarjuna said that language frames our conventional "reality" but "beneath" this is ultimate reality that we can experience only in special states - such as meditation - but we can't say anything about this "ultimate reality" because it's ineffable and that saying anything about it puts us back into conventional "reality" (<-----I have made it a practice to put quotes around the word "reality" to draw attention to the fierce contentiousness of the term)...Dude! This guy was saying this in the 2nd century of the Common Era.

So the high point (and I do mean "high") of Priest's essay was the discussion about two different ineffable "realities": 1.) the "real" one
                                2.) the "nominal" one; the one where we use language to talk about how wild and transcendent our experience was of the ineffable.

Let us apply good ol' Aristotle's PNC to the above? If it's "ineffable" we can't say anything, period, right? It contradicts itself.

Or maybe: I say all we can say is what we can say, along with lots of hand waving and gestures and hopping up and down, dancing. Jumping outside these particular logic systems (or "Jootsing" as Douglas Hofstadter coined it: jumping outside of the system) into another logical system, let us say that, under the "game rules" of Nagarjuna and Aristotle, we can speak of anything, even the "ineffable." The problem is, we might find ourselves in a straightjacket on the way to the Funny Farm. Either that or find we've obtained disciples, so may as well go for the big bucks with a New Religion.

It turns out that when you convert a logical function (which only relates to ONE other thing, such as your biological father) to relational ones (which can derive any number of outputs), you can arrive at a Six-Value Relational Logic - Priest and Co's Plurivalent Logic. In this system, statements can be:

1. True
2. False
3. True and False (EX: "Both crows and horses can fly." Or better: "This is a sentence that has twenty-three words in it.")
4. Neither True nor False
5. Ineffable
6. Both True and Ineffable (Konig's thing, as shown in the article.)

Furthermore, with relations, these values become fuzzified. Indeed, my Generalist's approach to understandings of logical systems sees Plurivalent Logic as almost the same as Fuzzy Logic, developed by Lofti Zadeh around the same time Priest and Co were doing their thang.

By the way: has anyone found a value that is Both False and Ineffable? If so, I implore urgently: send it to me via Angels and/or quantum encryption, or a secret, coded message in tomorrow's crossword puzzle. Muchas gracias.

Western Counterculture Intellects Were Ahead of the Academics? Maybe?
Jeez! I like Priest for his wowee-gee presentation of developments in academic logic in the 20th century, but fer crissakes Priest!: read Gregory Bateson's work from the 1960s and 70s: he was pushing for a logic of relations then. And Robert Anton Wilson was telling his dope-smoking intellectual readers about multivalent logics in the 1960s: Von Neumann's quantum logic of "maybe" as a third value beyond Aristotle's True and False. RAW also turned the present writer (OG) onto Anatole Rapoport's four valued logic of True, False, Indeterminate, and Meaningless. RAW also showed how Korzybski, by 1933, had developed an Infinite-Valued Logic in which we must use our wits to assign probabilities to the veridicality of statements. RAW even promulgated the logic of "Sri Syadasti," in the serious-joke religion of Discordianism, which was developed in the 1960s. Note the many-valued stoner logic there! It seems to anticipate Priest and Co's 1980s Plurivalent Logic by at least a decade. (Could it have secretly influenced the academics?) Timothy Leary developed, in the early 1970s, a type of neuro-logic that was embedded in a system of phenomenological "circuits" in human minds that developed according to genes, accidents, habits, learning, the culture a person was born into, the language they used, their education, and their openness to novelty. These counterculture thinkers noted and cited a plethora of examples on non- and anti-Aristotelian thinking that had run through world cultures, running back to Taoism and the I Ching.

So: I've seen this many times before. The longtime academic seems to either not know, or knows but pretends to not know, that things are muddied once they survey the vast historical mindscape outside their Ivory Towers. I've seen it so often I expect it. Or hell: maybe Priest is at best oblivious. Or worse: dismissive. At least Priest admits Aristotle's bivalent logic has major problems and that 1800 years ago a non-Westerner was prefiguring the thought systems that he and his friends thought they were inventing. And also, Priest is right: seemingly "pure" thought-systems in logic and math later on prove to be surprisingly useful in the workaday world in the sensual, sensory, existential, phenomenological space-time continuum.

Works Consulted:
- "The Logic of Buddhist Philosophy," by Graham Priest, Aeon.
- cool interview of Graham Priest by Richard Marshall. Priest seems pretty cool for an academic.
-The Fringes of Reason: A Whole Earth Catalog: "Beyond True and False: A Sneaky Quiz With Subversive Commentary," by Robert Anton Wilson, pp.170-173. For Generalists interested in multivalent logics, this piece complements Graham Priest's piece on Buddhist philosophy, above.
-Ideas and Opinions, Albert Einstein. "Remarks On Bertrand Russell's Theory of Knowledge," pp.18-24
-The Chinese Written Character As A Medium For Poetry, by Ernest Fenollosa and Ezra Pound (1936)
-Steps To An Ecology of Mind, by Gregory Bateson
-Godel, Escher, Bach, by Douglas Hofstadter
-Laws of Form, by G. Spencer Brown
-Fuzzy Thinking: The New Science of Fuzzy Logic, by Bart Kosko
-Prometheus Rising, By Robert Anton Wilson, esp. pp.217-252