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20th of March 2017 15:46

I was walking along 14th street and in one of those old red fire signal boxes (I guess that's what they are), someone had emptied out the box part and installed inside a death mask, brightly painted in pastels, both uncanny and festive. At the bottom was scrawled the name of the artist and "'05," because there is no wrong time for self-advertisement. I was taken aback at first but then amused (I was waiting at a crosswalk so had some time to stare at it.) And while staring I kept thinking that it would, or should, start moving, mouth words at me. Like the talking computer terminals in that Doctor Who episode.

But I realized as I thought this, that if this did happen, if this art piece would start talking, I would be first taken aback but then amused --- amused not that something otherworldly was happening, but the opposite: amused at the ingenuity of the artifice. The movies and TV shows I've watched have prepared me for it; it wouldn't be anything new; the interest would be in the new context not in the spectacle itself. And I thought, must there have been a time when seeing something new and strange would be an actual surprise, suprise that then maybe years later would be replicated on a screen: not movie magic in real life, but real magic on a screen. Not that one should ever believe in magic, but that our spectacle-saturated world has precluded even the possibility of something unexpected happening. A talking face in a fire call box would not ask me to rethink my conception of reality, just to look for the artifice that would confirm my belief in reality. But artifice implies truth, a substrate of authenticity that artifice serves to occlude. In a world where we are taught to never believe our eyes, what do we believe in? Our beliefs. But if all is artifice, how are beliefs ever going to be adjusted?


Baudrillard anticipates a post-fact society, does Baudrillard anticipate fake news and the media echo chamber? Sure, nothing's new. If anything what's new is that in general we don't realize it's old. The internet has a veneer of newness that is trusted more than the old racisms and tribalism that it is re-offering. Maybe when people are more used to social media it will start to lose its enstupifying powers. Maybe the current abuses of narrowcasting and talk radio will be seen in the future as irresponsible. Like when civilians in the 50s tried to use nuclear radiation to grow better garden plants. Or, this is a new normal, and all sides will simply have to get used to exploiting it. And I mean all sides. The Bernie bros were just as fast and loose with facts as the conservatives.

The fact that the left gets most of its news from comedians probably doesn't help much. Is sarcasm the crutch of the left as indignation is of the right?

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3rd of January 2017 13:42

On one end is solipsism, mistaking the whole for the self, and on the other end is mistaking the self for the whole, identifying with one’s role. Loving the prison. Which seems a sin against selves and prisons. I suppose I worry exclusively about this end now. I suppose I miss worrying about solipsism. Now? There’s too hard a line. Too much stuff. So, worry about the role. It’s worrysome! You can spend days, weeks, at forgetting. And what does remembering get you? Some existentialist chops, so old it smells like leather oil and just-emptied ashtrays. And I suppose what they say is that loving the prison is a step, a first step, at dissolving the prison. But it seems a betrayal. A betrayal to the largeness of what could have been. And I’m betraying enough as it is.

Earthly ambition seems counterpoised to spiritual. But art is communication, right? Any job consists of communicating, over and over, one’s potential worth (and this particular job particularly); one tries to do this while listening/communicating other things. But one’s energies are expended treading water. Rising waters, they say. Who knows. I liked myself more as a hardheaded moocher. Though no one else did.

To communicate a sense of vastness, first poison yourself dead of completion.

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19th of November 2016 12:24

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10th of November 2016 23:01

There is a crack
a crack
in everything.
That's how the light gets in.

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6th of March 2016 18:16

I do feel it, sometimes, in the arts library, in the architecture building, the weight of it, the building, its bones, though I never was much a fan of that brutalist chic, maybe, though at least it's not that faux-old awfulness on display everywhere else, at least, but inside the building, in the basement, under these bones, these concrete bones, I feel it, sometimes, the building, as if everything could burn away, glass wood and books, people, there would still be these bones, weighty, fragile in the way large things are fragile, an old elephant of raw stone, scored with ridges, like nerves, like skin, like bones, sad and old and heavy, made of gravity, made to be unmade, but for now made.

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3rd of February 2016 12:10

Fun with Pragmatics

Grice's On Meaning shows that there are two definitions for "means." 1) The natural: "X means P," where P is a natural consequence of X. 2) the non-natural (meansnn): "A meansnn something by X". Meansnn has to do with the interpretation of intentions, and is cancelable. Grice's example is "The three rings on the bell mean the bus is full," which can be cancelled by then saying "But it isn't in fact full." Natural "means" by contrast is not cancelable. You cannot follow "Those bumps mean measles" with "but he hasn't got measels."

In terms of literary studies, writers often use the two versions of means interchangably, or, worse, argue from one to the other. One can argue, for example, that a Marxist or a Freudian reading of a text is looking for natural meaning: "X means P by virtue of class struggle, or sexual repression, etc." This says nothing, however, about the text as a speech act.

Meansnn is about representation or communication (depending on whether you're reading Searle or Grice). Let's say an ecocritic argues that Moby Dick has a meaning of industrial capitalism as a good or a bad. Does this also say that Moby Dick meansnn to disseminate the notion of industrial capitalism good/bad? Does this say that Melville as author is concerned with industrial capitalism good/bad? Does this mean that a reader of Moby Dick must engage with industrial capitalism good/bad? These are all things of interpretation/representation, which have to do with intention, which is not the domain of natural meaning.

Then again, Meansnn simply brings the uncertainty of other minds into the sentence-level structure of language. Is Moby Dick a thing towards which we should have speaker uncertainty, or, instead, a vast yet theoretically understandable complexity? Is it the speech act of a person or instead a cultural object, within which and out of which proceed myriad strains of meanings and intendings?

Then again again, treating the text as a cultural object tosses aside everything art about art, the fact that it is made, by a human, in an act of representation/communication. The difference between Moby DIck and a tree or the MTA Transit System, is that in Moby Dick, to mis-apply Searle, the illocutionary act is achieved by getting the audience to recognize that it is the author's purported intention to perform that illocutionary act. While the MTA may have meaning, the representation/communication (meaningnn) of Moby Dick is a function of how much we believe that the author believed that we would believe it to be an act of representation/communication. This same would also apply if, say, an artist (a discrete speaker) put an MTA subway map in an art gallery.

Then again again again, is this just inventing a discrete author-actor when what is more interesting to talk about is an assemblage of actors, including but not confined to psychological pressures, cultural mores, generic considerations, audience expectations, the nonhuman, etc? What makes a single human mind more interesting to talk about, given the uncertainty involved and the remove at which the mind is from us? Human agency is fascinating, but how does it escape being seen, in the end, as a weak illusion in the face of the world-world?

I've been arguing for a rhetorical interpretation of the lyric, which presupposes communication which presupposes a communicating actor. The trouble is largely that I know many people will already disagree, and many will already agree, and I want to know what the difference between them is.

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12th of January 2016 15:36

I had some difficulty getting into the album. It seemed a little disparate. It was hard to find the connecting thread, and with such a short album (only seven tracks) that seemed important. The title track is gorgeous, with its vaguely middle-eastrn nods, its mysticism and fanaticism. Given the rumor that Bowie said, in passing, that the song is "about ISIS," it's tempting to read the song as an allegory of the Sunni/Shiite conflict:

Something happened on the day he died
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried
(I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)
Someone, somewhere has experienced true insight (the "solitary candle"), but he has passed and now all we have are preening, false prophets: "You’re a flash in the pan / I’m the Great I Am."

But in the context of the album the track felt out of left field. For good reason, it turns out, since most of the tracks were written for different things. "Blackstar" was written as an intro for Johan Renck's crime miniseries The Last Panthers, which premiered in October. (The opening credits sequence is trying very hard to be True Detective.) "Sue (or In a Season of Crime)" and "'Tis Pity She' Was a Whore" both came out in 2014, in different arrangements (a larger orchestra previously, just the McCaslin quintet on the album). "Sue" is a retelling of John Ford's Tis Pity She's a Whore, while "'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore" is a WWI story. Confusing, yes. "Lazarus" was written for the play at NYTW. "Look up here, I'm in heaven." The play has been sold out the whole time I've known about it, though briefly a few $1,000+ benefit tickets were available. I have friends who've seen it, but not close enough friends that I could ask them about it without getting jealous. "Lazarus" was being worked on after his diagnosis, so the claims that it is his swan song are well-founded, if a little overstated. Is it a song for Thomas Jerome Newton first and David Bowie second? Or typical line-blurring between persona and person?

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8th of January 2016 16:48

working on StW 5

I think, a lot, these days, about the internet of the early 00s. Like a wild west of creativity and exuberance. Ridiculous and endearing. Did we stop sharing things because the internet changed or because we changed?


16th of September 2015 16:24

Like the decayed and crumbling trees of an ancient forest, rent and shattered by wind and storm, the hypothetical philosophies, which have hitherto cumbered the civilized world, are unable to resist the elements of experimental and logical criticism; and sooner or later must succumb to their assaults. The axe is uplifted for a final stroke - it is about to fall upon the primitive sphere of the earth, and the blow will surely “cut the cumberer down!”

-The Flat Earth Society Wiki

How wonderful to find that there are not only one, but two separate Flat Earth Societies, each running a (near) identical wiki with identical frontmatter.

I read through almost the whole wiki the other night, fascinated by these scientific arguments flying in the face of scientific observation. How all the citations are to forum members identified by their handles ("Dark energy is a vector field" -- TheEngineer) or to the founder, Samuel Rowbotham, noted quack and philanderer, known by his mid 19th-C handle "Parallax." That "cumberer" quote also appeareth early in Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, suggesting a conflation of scientific empiricism and religious polemicism. But Flat Earth was always a religious institution, as much as the current wiki denies it.

I remember a long time ago, maybe as a teenager, accidentally stumbling onto something on late night TV, some unknown channel, a British man talking very staidly about scientific facts. It took me a while to realize it was flat earth propaganda which somehow made it onto American late-night TV. The only part I remember vividly is the man sitting on a spinning merry-go-round, not the kind with horses but the playground type, talking about how the round earth theory states that we at every moment are hurtling through the cosmos at breakneck speeds, rotating and orbiting and orbiting galactically and so on, and as the merry-go-round slows and comes to a stop he says, "and yet, on a calm day, we can stand still without even a hair being put out of place by the wind."

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18th of July 2015 12:32

I'm not going to lie, a part of me was hoping New Horizons would bring back something beyond amazing, like a space station or a beacon or a sign saying "Keep it up, we're just a bit farther!" Not that what it did return isn't still amazing. But there was that child's hope. Maybe it's video game logic again, the feeling that the further out we go, the rewards and difficulty should increase exponentially. And Voyager's ready to bounce against the invisible nose of space-whale-god any day now, and it'll wake up and say "Fine, you woke me up. First species to beat me in arm wrestling gets immortality. Wait, no, immortality is terrible for a species. First species to beat me in arm wrestling gets cosmic consciousness. And some cookies."

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16th of July 2015 14:55

A reading last Tuesday --- this short play is a loose adaptation of The Bacchae through absurdism (director described it as "like Beckett... for kids!"). I'm still editing it, but I'm curious as to what you all would think of it.

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