19 February 2018

THE GOOD CITIZEN'S ALPHABET

I have tried unsuccessfully to write a short comment on the philosopher Bertrand Russell.  It just isn't possible.  He was born in 1872 and died in 1970 and encompassed in one way or another everything important or un- over the course of his 97 year life.  Wikipedia lists his main interests as follows:

Bertrand Russell - looks a treat, eh?
Epistemology
Ethics
Logic
Mathematics
Metaphysics
History of Philosophy
Philosophy of language
Philosophy of logic
Philosophy of mathematics
Philosophy of mind
Philosophy of perception
Philosophy of religion
Philosophy of science

And I think they fell short.

He influenced everyone in the late 19th and all of the 20th centuries.  He influenced everything you and I know.

But enough of that for now.

I went looking for some books by Alfred North Whitehead in an old bookstore on the Oregon Coast recently.  (Incidentally I guess, Whitehead co-wrote the foundational work on a mathematical system for logic with Russell called the Principia Mathematica in 1913.)  I didn't find any Whitehead, but I found The Good Citizen's Alphabet instead.

This book, it is felt, will supply a lacuna which has long disgraced our educational system.  Those who have had the largest amount of experience in the earlier stages of the pedagogical process have in a very large number of cases been compelled to conclude that much unnecessary difficult and much avoidable expenditure of school hours is due to the fact that the ABC, that gateway to all wisdom, is not made sufficiently attractive to the immature minds whom it is our misfortune to have to address.


Now that's a dry humour.

So, in 1958 Bertrand Russell wrote and published a new guide to the ABCs which he apparently thought would fill a massive hole in the modern curriculum.

With illustrations by someone named Franciszka Themerson, Russell churned out captions for a new primer on the English alphabet.

Each cartoon illustrates a letter of the alphabet with a wry description of the appropriate word by Russell.


VIRTUE - Submission to the government

or

LIBERTY - The right to obey the police

and

CHRISTIANITY - Contrary to the gospels

In the late 1950s, before the revolutionary 60s, this had to be considered more than a bit subversive, though I doubt it made it beyond the reading lists of what we might call The Intelligentsia (horrible word.)

This last one is for the DT and the rest of his idiot isolationist buddies.

XENOPHOBIA - The Andorran opinion that the inhabitants of Andorra are the best



Art by Ben Jennings

18 February 2018

FASHIONABLE NONSENSE

(I promised this a few weeks ago and, as per my MO, got distracted.)

Subtitled Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science, the two physicists who wrote this book nail the exact point they are trying to make.  This isn't meant to be a takedown of Postmodernism or Deconstructionist, Formalist, Marxist, whatever-ist Theory (always a capital 'T'.)  Contra the many accusations against them as being reactionary, Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont are making a specific claim:

We show that famous intellectuals such as Lacan, Kristeva, Irigaray, Baudrillard, and Deleuze have repeatedly abused scientific concepts and terminology:  either using scientific ideas totally out of context, without giving the slightest justification... or throwing around scientific jargon in front of their non-scientist readers without any regard for its relevance or even its meaning.  We make no claim that this invalidates the rest of their work, on which we suspend judgment.

In case you missed it, that 'suspension of judgment' is a bit sniffy.  They don't buy the Postmodernists any more than they buy, say, the Flat Earth Society argument.  But that's for another post.

Later in the book they point out some validity to postmodernism and Theory:

Let us start by recognizing that many "postmodern" ideas, expressed in a moderate form, provide a needed correction to naive modernism (belief in indefinite and continuous progress, scientism, cultural Eurocentrism, etc.)

Still a bit sniffy, but a good attempt at being fair.

These names probably mean nothing to most people, but they strike fear into the hearts of poor, stupid, ignorant wannabes like myself.  To my eternal shame, I have spent many hours desperately trying to understand these writers, and others who, according to Sokal and Bricmont, are hoaxes as far
as their claim to valid physical science is concerned.

So what?  Another ivory tower debate amongst feuding intellectuals?  Who cares?  Well, I care.  But I care because these poseurs have colored almost all literary commentary and academic discourse for the past forty or fifty years.

I was given a copy of The Dancing Wu Li Masters years ago.  It had already become popular amongst the Eugene counter-culture, faux-intellectual set and I was chided for being years behind the perennial philosophy-justified-by-quantum-mechanics crowd.  This book has little or nothing to do with the Postmodernists of Sokal and Bricmont except that it appropriates valid, proven science to justify ideas that completely outside the purview of physics and mathematics.  It was easy to see through the bullshit of the perennial philosophy crowd, but it was harder for me to debunk the academics who did the same thing for an obvious reason:  I wanted to believe.  I wanted to understand and incorporate their ideas and techniques into my own novice thought.  I tried.  I really, really tried.  But I failed and was ashamed that these difficult and esoteric ideas were beyond me.

Sokal and Bricmont
The first inkling I had that maybe, just maybe I couldn't understand because there was nothing to understand was when I asked a trusted academic mentor about Julia Kristeva.  He had assigned a, thankfully, short piece of her writing to a class of undergraduates and we tried to read it.  When asked what her thing was all about, he rolled his eyes and told us that the piece he had assigned was relatively easy compared to much of her writing.  That was it.  No more discussion.  I should have realized then that he was warning us away from a powerful faction in the English department who would have us believe that his was the NEW THING and we had better get on board.

He was right.  This has become the thing in academic literary fashion (though it may have already lost its lustre and is showing its age - which is my way of saying it's being replaced by new fashions and new trends, but not necessarily better ones.)  But for a time criticizing Theorists was professional suicide.  And ignoring Postmodernists in a public literary review brought a storm of criticism.  So much so that novelists began thinking there was something to all this and started writing novels adjusted to the fashionable nonsense.

What is worse, in our opinion, is the adverse effect that abandoning clear thinking and clear writing has on teaching and culture.  Students learn to repeat and to embellish discourses that they only barely understand.  They can even, if they are lucky, make an academic career out of it by becoming expert in the manipulation of an erudite jargon.

The Deconstructionists had done their damage.  The wreckage will clog novels for years, unless it has already destroyed readers who are tired of it all and given up on 'serious books.'  I hope not.  Come back.  There is much to see here and much to read that hasn't been adulterated.

But back to the point - that is, Sokal and Bricmont's accusations against these, and other writers.

The notion of constructibility implied by the axiom of choice associated to what we have just set forth for poetic language, explains the impossibility of establishing a contradiction in the space of poetic language.  This observation is close to Gödel's observation concerning the impossibility of proving the inconsistency (contradiction) of a system by means formalized within the system. (Kristeva 1969)

This is a verbatim transcript from one of Julia Kristeva's books.  Compared to some passages you could almost make yourself think you understand what she means.  But the guys claim otherwise:

In this excerpt, Kristeva shows that she does not understand the mathematical concepts she invokes.  First of all, the axiom of choice does not imply any "notion of constructibility"; quite the contrary, it allows one to assert the existence of some sets without having a rule to "construct" them...  Secondly, Gödel proved exactly the opposite of what Kristeva claims, namely the possibility of establishing, by means formalizable within the system, the system's consistency.

I will happily, joyfully admit that I barely, barely comprehend what the physicists are telling me any more than I comprehend what Kristeva claimed.  We cannot know everything.  But there are reasons to be more amenable to the physicists and mathematicians here than to the literary theorists.  First, because they are arguing from their own specialty and second, because Kristeva abjured many of her own theories later.  Not all of them, but enough to indicate that she knew she was bullshitting.

The issue is not that their theories are difficult - there are many difficult things I cannot understand -but that they openly and boldly absconded with ideas from the physical sciences that they didn't remotely understand and grafted them onto their own writings in a way intended to intimidate readers.  As Sokal and Bricmont point out, "Not all that is obscure is necessarily profound."  Clear thinking and clear writing would go much further in promoting the good ideas of postmodernism than the co-opting of concepts that are inappropriate to literary theory.

One final thing.  The genesis of this book was a long, detailed parody of a certain kind of postmodernism that Alan Sokal submitted to a respected postmodernist journal called Social Text.  The article was heavily footnoted (for gravitas) and referenced and the journal, unwittingly, published it as a serious academic work.  Titled (no kidding) Transgressing the Boundaries:  Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity, the inevitable discovery of his little joke caused a firestorm of controversy in academic and intellectual circles.  He had scammed the scammers and they didn't like it one bit.

One more final thing.  In the Epilogue to Fashionable Nonsense they write, "It's a good idea to know what one is talking about."  I certainly haven't always followed that warning, but then I make no claim to intellectualism or even good writing.  I try, but sometimes I can't help myself.

From the pages of Fake News here's a nugget from Quartz, one of my favorites:


Donald Trump is the ultimate postmodern presidential candidate - and he's been a long time coming

The Dwarfish Thief is the ultimate Deconstructionist - for him all Truth can be denied and denounced and reconstructed to fit his truly weird worldview.  It is horrifyingly effective - ennui has set in and it is so discouraging and exhausting to challenge all of his bullshit that we begin to give up and let him have his way.  Sokal and Bricmont, and others, remind us that the fight is worth it.  Like handling a toddler, the ultimate weapon is simple consistency.  DT won't ever grow up, but we maintain our dignity and sanity when we firmly and consistently tell him that despite all his tantrums, 'No means no.'  We will still be saddled with a snivelling snot, but we just might sideline the fucking bully and recover civilization.  Well, a boy can dream...

FOUCAULT'S PENDULUM

Everything is connected.
Foucault pendulum in Musée des Arts et Métiers

This is the mantra of every conspiracy theory.  Everything can be made to fit.  Everything is explainable.  And everything is connected.

In my callow undergraduate years my university bookstore had many, many displays dedicated to Umberto Eco's wildly popular novel The Name of the Rose.  Being a know-it-all and general smartass, I refused to consider reading anything that came off a bestseller list.  This thing looked like trash of the worst sort in my idiot eyes. 

Hmm....

It only took about a decade before I found myself settled in a movie theater expecting to be bored stupid by a film version of Eco's novel.  I was gobsmacked.  Now I had to find a copy of the book.  There was no way any book could possibly be made into a good film that was that good.  Clearly the film, described as a 'palimpsest' in the opening credits had vastly improved the novel.  But the movie, as good as it was, presented but a rough sketch of this very good novel.  Vastly more complex, more captivating, and more everything than the film, Eco's book was an epiphany of sorts.  A medieval murder mystery, set in a monastery where a convocation of religious orders is set to convene, with a book somehow killing people - I had just been told off for being a literary snob. 

Umberto Eco
So, Eco followed up with the Pendulum.  No more medieval monks - at least, not as characters - but still obsessed with books Eco was (he is reported to have had a private library of 50,000 books in two houses.)  Told in a massive flashback, his protagonist hides in the Musée des Arts et Métiers waiting for an occult congregation of characters themselves obsessed with a vast pan-historical conspiracy to control the world by the Templar Knights, the Rosicrucians, the Freemasons, the Illuminati, Cabalists, Cathars, Opus Dei, Gnostics, the Elders of Zion and so many others that the critic Anthony Burgess suggested the book should include an index so it could all be followed by the reader.  Casaubon,  Eco's protagonist, tells the story while hiding and waiting for representatives of the various Occult Masters, the Diabolicals, to arrive and fulfill The Plan.  There's a problem though.  Casaubon and his friends Belbo and Diotallevi invented The Plan, the detailed conspiracy theory describing the occult effort to control the world.  Using manuscripts collected from would-be authors who have brought their finely-honed insane researches into occult conspiracy to the vanity publishing house where they work, the three friends have concocted their own version of the conspiracy which they call The Plan.  But the insane who actually believe there is a real plan have caught wind of The Plan and believe it to be the thing they have all been searching for. 

Knight Templar and Knight Hospitaller
When we traded the results of our fantasies, it seemed to us - and rightly - that we had proceeded by unwarranted associations, by shortcuts so extraordinary that, if anyone had accused us of really believing them, we would have been ashamed.  We consoled ourselves with the realization - unspoken, now, respecting the etiquette of irony - that we were parodying the logic of our Diabolicals.  But during the long intervals in which each of us collected evidence to produce at (our) meetings, and with the clear conscience of those who accumulate material for a medley of burlesques, our brains grew accustomed to connecting, connecting, connecting everything with everything else, until we did it automatically, out of habit.  I believe that you can reach the point where there is no longer any difference between developing the habit of pretending to believe and developing the habit of believing.

Casaubon so describes the logic of The Plan, their Plan and how even the three friends forgot, sometimes, that they were themselves pretending.  He is beginning to realize the danger in what they are doing.  It is a moment of unnerving clarity and prescience.

Eco was so often asked what he thought of Dan Brown, that he eventually read The Da Vinci Code out of a sense of self-preservation. 

"I was obliged to read it because everybody was asking me about it.  My answer is that Dan Brown is one of the characters in my novel Foucault's Pendulum, which is about people who start believing in occult stuff.

-- But you yourself seem interested in the kabbalah, alchemy and other occult practices explored in the novel.

No.  In Foucault's Pendulum I wrote the grotesque representation of these kind of people.  So Dan Brown is one of my creatures."

I certainly couldn't explain or describe the plot of the Pendulum any better.

But now we descend into the mind of the master conspiracist himself.  The Dwarfish Thief carefully patches together a web of conspiracies against him.  It never occurs in that wee little shriveled walnut that he's just a shit and those 'fakers' are simply telling the Truth about him.  Nope.  It's easier to believe in conspiracies than to face reality.

So, DT, put on your tinfoil hat and protect yourself from the microwave rays being focused on your head by Obama, the NYT, the FBI, NPR, the CIA, the Muslims and all the others who are out to get you.  And don't bother to pick up Eco's fine book.  You can't read and wouldn't understand it anyway.

17 February 2018

THE PYRATES

George MacDonald Fraser will most likely be remembered as a screenwriter:  Octopussy (007), The Three Musketeers (1973), The Four Musketeers (1974), Red Sonja and Force Ten From Navarone among them.  But he should be more widely revered for this comic send-up of a genre that is already viewed as something of a joke.  There are great pirate novels out there that now go mostly unread - does anyone get to read Treasure Island now?  I doubt it.

Fraser ends his chapters by intruding into the narrative with cliffhanger observations and possible plot twists.  But it's all in good fun.  As he points out repeatedly, this whole thing, no matter how grim it looks for his hero, will eventually end happily.  That's not the point.  Or, at least, it's the point in-so-far as he is bashing the genre about and poking fun at the ridiculousness of it all:

A comfortable and loving note on which to end our second chapter.  But sterner matters await us.  Avery, his hair brushed and his heart pure, is about to set off on his perilous mission to Madagascar -- will his path cross that of Black Sheba when they ship her to the Indies?  And what o' Blood, caught in the acts of abduction, seduction, marking his cards, and causing malicious damage to beer crates?  He is right in it...

Fraser punches the card for every element of the swashbuckler story: pure-hearted Avery (our hero), backstabbing Blood (the anti-hero and on-again, off-again villain), the West Indies pirate cohort (the Coast Brethren - pirates cooperating is just one of Fraser's little jokes), and a number of heroines all set on the conquest of Avery's physique.

Captain Avery was everything that a hero of historical romance should be... and he knew it.  The sight of him was enough to make ordinary men feel that they were wearing odd socks, and women to go weak at the knees...  there was beneath his composed exterior a hint of steely power, etc., etc.  You get the picture.
     For the record, this wonder boy was six feet two, with shoulders like a navvy and the waist of a ballerina;  his legs were long and shapely, his hips narrow, and he moved like a classy welterweight coming out at the first bell.  His face was straight of the B.O.P. cover, with its broad unclouded brow, long fair hair framing his smooth-shaven cheeks;  his nose was classic, his mouth firm but not hard, his eyes clear dark grey and wide-set, his jaw strong and slightly cleft, and his teetth would have sent Kirk Douglas scuttling shamefaced to his dentist.  His expression was at once noble, alert and intelligent, deferential yet commanding... sorry, we're off again.

This is Fraser's utterly hysterical and intentionally broad style of humor.  It works on us like Avery's everything works on every female in the story.
No idea what the medals are all about, but there they are...

Fraser adds a page or two of historical references alluding to real characters who could have been, kind-of bases for the characters, but it's all part of the joke.  This lot is beyond history, genre and belief.  You have just got to love 'em and move on.

The tale is the typical one of a secret, utterly critical mission for the pure Avery to complete in order to maintain the power of the monarchy and keep peace throughout the Seven Seas.  It must go completely wrong in chapter one leaving Fraser and his hero an unbelievably brief four hundred pages to sort out.  Books like this one, if there are any others, are sleep-stealers.  You won't want to quit even as your spouse is complaining that you keep laughing out loud (which is keeping him or her awake) and your reading light is annoying.  Ignore them.  But give them the book after you are done and allow them to return the favor.

Talented, deft, quick-witted writers who can handle this kind of thing are few and far between.  Treasure them when you find them.  This is the book someone should have spent a fortune making a movie out of instead of the endless Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.  There apparently is a TV movie from 1986 but I doubt it is much good.  Who knows?  Maybe...

One last taste of Fraser's humor here to set you off (I hope):

At this point they were interrupted by the little Welsh pirate who, in his capacity as shop steward of the local branch of the Amalgamated Brotherhood of Piratical Operatives and Filibusters and Allied Trades, was eager to see Avery enrolled in that powerful offshoot of the Coast Brethren...
     "Them other bastards been gettin' at you, isn't it?"  he demanded.  "Them from the CBI (Co-operative Buccaneers International) an' NUPE (Nautical Union of Piratical Employees), eh?  You don't want no truck wi' them, boyo - the CBI's just a neo-fascist gang of boss's blacklegs what'd sell their bourgeois souls for so-called alleged professional status an' a couple of expense-account noshes at the Nombre Dios Hilton..."

Thank you Mr. Fraser.

The Dwarfish Thief probably thinks he has a sense of humor, but doesn't know we are laughing at him not with him.  Trite?  Perhaps.  But I end here with an autopsy of the tyrant's humor courtesy of W. H. Auden

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in Armies and Fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

Epitaph on a Tyrant





24 January 2018

THE HAUNTING


NYT Obituary

Dear Ursula,

Please don't rest in peace.  Haunt us every day of our miserable existence in your novels, poetry and essays.  Please don't leave us in peace.  We don't deserve it.  Please make our lives difficult.  You told us that 'comfortable' will eventually kill us.  It's unfair because you have done your bit - you wrote the books and now it's our turn to understand and evolve.  You hoped we would, but I wonder if your stubborn realistic sensibilities make you despair of our chances.

So, now we go back and re-read over and over.

I think I saw your star tonight.  Now if I can only learn its true name.

















18 January 2018

...and further more

I don't think I've done this here before, but... well, here it is.

Stephen Fry is just effin' brilliant.

On a lighter note, here is a comic version of some of the same ideas:

Tim Minchin's Thank you, God.  (Sorry, you'll have to go to YouTube on your own for this one.  The fuckers won't let you have the irl any more - unless there's a way to get it that I don't know about, which is likely.)  Go watch it, please.

Not surprisingly, I am very disconcerted by current reports (which confirm suspicions long held) that the DT is functionally illiterate.  Remember, the failure or refusal to read is really just the practical side of being unable to read.  The man doesn't read.  Even the most digested, regurgitated, condensed, simplified, text is beyond his comprehension.  This isn't good.  I stand by my contention that being unable to read means he is unable to write which means he is unable to think.  There's no doubt he can react.  He does that incessantly.  But he can't think.  Not Max Headroom, not Black Mirror, not any dystopian hyper-television reality you can name prepared us for this:  a world leader who hasn't the ability to think.  His own son says Trump sees everything through green lenses.  That is, in the context of money.  We used to call that greed or venality and, at least, publicly hold it in contempt.  Think of our purported veneration for the bible verse,  "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil."  And remember the woman in Dickens who annuls the marriage agreement with Scrooge because "...another mistress has supplanted me."  When he asks, she says "a golden one." 

We have always assumed that our leaders are cunningly brilliant and have abilities to be evil masterminds, but we never thought for a minute that they would be imbecilic know-nothings.  His own staff refers to him as a "fucking moron," and "uninformed."  We think of evil as being cunning, attentive and able to out-maneuver us intellectually.  We thought we would be led by the nose, our stupidity used against us.  And maybe that has happened, but not in a way anyone would have guessed.  Trump reminds me of no one more than Chance in Being There (the book or the Peter Sellers movie) who rises to the heights of power through the misinterpretation of his intellect by all those around him.  And remember Chance's obsession with television?  "I like to watch..." he says.  The overtones of voyeurism are played out explicitly in the movie when he watches his friend's wife masturbate - at least, until he is distracted by the television again.

But behind him stands the evil that is Mike Pence.  And that also terrifies me...


11 January 2018

TWO BOOKS

I don't believe I have done this before, but this post rolls two books into a similar idea.  The first, Fads & Fallacies In the Name of Science by Martin Gardner was revised and re-released in 1957.  It was a popular account of nutjobs, cranks, scam artists and snake oil salesman all of whom used bogus science to make their claims.  Garner was also the writer of the Mathematical Games column in Scientific American for more than twenty five years.  He was a recognized authority on the Victorian author Lewis Carroll and published The Annotated Alice (both the Alice in Wonderland books) which Wikipedia claims sold more than a million copies.

The second book is less accessible and perhaps the more important of the two.  Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science by the physicists Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont is a carefully crafted challenge to a number of famous post-modern thinkers who have "...repeatedly abused scientific concepts and terminology:  either using scientific ideas totally out of context, without giving the slightest justification... or throwing around scientific jargon in front of their non-scientist readers without any regard for its relevance or even its meaning."

I would like, quickly, to talk about Gardner before taking on Sokal and Bricmont.

Martin Gardner's book is interested in 'cranks' (his word) who essentially make up scientific theories out of whole cloth, usually inventing words, forces, cures, equipment, etc. to make their reputations in the orthodox scientific community and make their fortunes from the gullible.  It is only fair to point out that most of them are sincere in their beliefs that they are truly revolutionaries fighting the entrenched dogmas of science, like a modern Galileo.  But sincerity does not equal truth or reality.  With the exception of a borderline case or two in the book, these people were delusional.

"The modern pseudo-scientist... stands entirely outside the closely integrated channels through which new ideas are introduced and evaluated.  He works in isolation.  He does not send his findings to the recognized journals, or if he does, they are rejected for reasons which in the vast majority of cases are excellent.  In most cases the crank is not well enough informed to write a paper with even a surface resemblance to a significant study." 


Gardner outlines five tendencies of the pseudo-scientist which feed his paranoia that only he is right and all the establishment is wrong.

1)  He considers himself a genius;

2)  He regards his colleagues, without exception, as ignorant blockheads;

3)  He believes himself unjustly persecuted and discriminated against;

4)  He has strong compulsions to focus his attacks on the greatest scientists and the best-established theories;

5)  He often has a tendency to write in a complex jargon, in many cases making use of terms and phrases he himself has coined.

The book runs to twenty five chapters on some of the most widely known nonsensical theories of the 20th century.  Unfortunately, while the book is sixty years old, I think every one of these ridiculous ideas is alive and lively today.  Flat-earthers, ETs, dowsing rods, pyramid theories, Atlanteans, anti-eyeglass 'doctors', Scientologists, Orgone machines, ESP and clairvoyance, reincarnation theories, diet and medical hoaxers, and so many more thrive in the face of all the evidence arrayed against them.

Unfortunately, the book is quite dated, both in tone and in information presented.  An updated version by a science writer of Gardner's stature is due (if it hasn't already been published.)  The chapter on Lamarckian evolutionary theory and Lysenkoism is just too simplistic and even juvenile for a current reader.  It isn't exactly wrong, there is just nothing there for a reader who now has decades of information regarding genetics and double helix under her belt.

"It is now known that the units of heredity are submicroscopic bodies called "genes," carried within the sperm and eggs.  Each new animal has a combination of genes acquired from both parents.

There are many reasons for thinking this the basic process by which evolution works."

Sure, but I think my 9-year-old granddaughter could probably explain it in better detail.  But the book is just four years after the discovery of the double helical structure of DNA, so... I should get off my high horse.

But the chapter on Lysenkoism is painful for another reason.

The Soviet Union denied genetic evolution for decades in favor of Lamarckianism which claims that you may inherit characteristics that your parents developed.  If your children develop stronger thumbs from thousands of hours of texting, they will not pass that on to their children.  A giraffe, to use a more common example, who stretches their neck to reach high leaves does not bequeath that trait to their offspring.  But ideology prevailed.  The Soviets believed that in order to create a stronger race through Communism, then their 'improvements' on their people must be passed on to their children.  They would gradually grow stronger and better and smarter generation by generation.  It sounds ignorant enough to be irrelevant, but the Soviet government decided that all other theories of evolution were a product of the degraded Capitalist and had to be abolished.  Scientists lost their positions at universities and were often sent to Siberian Prison Camps.  Everyone who showed any tendency against Lamarckianism were destroyed, all in the name of ideology.  The crackpot Lysenko became the leading authority on evolution and heredity.  His rise to the top had disastrous consequences - it literally killed perhaps millions.  Because heredity by natural selection was denied, for example, varieties of crops could never be improved through cross-breeding.  30 million people starved.

"But on the whole, in contrast with other countries and other ages, our science is enjoying a relative freedom that (until very recently, at least) is perhaps the greatest in history."

Even in the mid-50's you can tell that Gardner knew something was amiss.

"Scientists in hundreds of universities and institutes are working with unrestricted vigor on projects of their own choosing...  it is unthinkable that the President or Congress would make a decision about a scientific theory, then proceed to purge from their posts all who disagreed.
     Let us hope that Lysenko's success in Russia will serve for many generations to come as another remind to the world of how quickly and easily a science can be corrupted when ignorant political leaders deem themselves competent to arbitrate scientific disputes."

HIV research, stem cell research, global climate change research, vaccination research, evolutionary
biology programs have all suffered interference by politicians driven by ignorant constituencies and religious dogma and the overwhelming interests of business.  Researchers routinely lose their funding and sometimes their academic positions, institutions and universities are bullied by stupid and poorly educated politicians or worse, by people whose primary motivation is morally and intellectually bankrupt religious belief.

One last thought from Gardner on aliens, teleportation and the hysterically funny Charles Fort:

"Not only are people teleported off the earth, Fort thought, but perhaps inhabitants of other worlds are teleported here.  They would be throwbacks - men with affinities for our barbarisms.  "They would join our churches... They'd lose all sense of decency and become college professors.  Let a fall start, and the decline is swift.  They'd end up as members of Congress." "

Well, the limitations of the medium demand that I withhold Fashionable Nonsense for another post.  This has been longer than I anticipated and I don't want to try your patience.  So, here's a reprieve until tomorrow.

But as a last thought:  the Dwarfish Thief is ideologically vacant.  There's no there there.  As it all crumbles I will be watching and thinking: 'What the fuck have we done?'

Vandalism n.:  action involving deliberate destruction of or damage to public or private property.

Vandalocracy n.:  government by vandals.

01 December 2017

MANUSCRIPT SAID TO BE HANDWRITING OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE IDENTIFIED...

I don't have a problem with any particular conspiracy theory.  I have a problem with all of them.

According to the political scientist Michael Barkun, conspiracy theories rely on the view that the universe is governed by design, and embody three principles: nothing happens by accident, nothing is as it seems, and everything is connected.  Another common feature is that conspiracy theories evolve to incorporate whatever evidence exists against them, so that they become, as Barkun writes, a closed system that is unfalsifiable, and therefore "a matter of faith rather than proof".

Wikipedia

(So sorry, but I need to add a note regarding 'falsifiability,' a concept which I did not grasp well when I originally wrote this post.  In essence, falsifiability allows a theory (in the scientific) sense to be overturned if any evidence discovered contradicts the original idea.  In practice, scientific theory doesn't exactly work this way all the time.  Occasionally, dependent upon situation, contradictory evidence can be set aside if the theory is compatible with all other current scientific theory.  For example, the apparent error in Newton's theory as demonstrated in the orbit of Mercury was simply set aside for 150 years and Newton was accepted as accurate.  It was assumed some other as yet unobserved phenomenon was responsible for the Mercury orbit hiccup.  Einstein's theory of relativity came along and very accurately described why the Mercury observation seemed to be in contradiction to Newton - case solved.  Conspiracy theory will always "evolve to incorporate whatever evidence exists against them."  There is not a mechanism in Conspiracy theory which allows contradictory evidence to be set aside temporarily until a more complete picture can be completed.  Doubt is never allowed.  All phenomenon are always accounted for.)

It's a relatively simple idea, but conspiracy theories are an antibody of their own obsession.  By that I mean that all conspiracy theories can be refuted by pointing out they are themselves a conspiracy. 

(We're going to resort to the initials CT from here on so I don't have to keep typing the same phrase repeatedly.)

CTs simply require the cherry-picking of facts to fit in a rigid irrefutable framework.  Theorists are trying to evangelize others into a faith which believes - completely sincerely - in its own reality.  Of Barkun's three principles of CT, I think the third is the most critical.  Everything must connect in the limited universe of the theorist.  Any contravening facts or theories are dismissed as untrue and part of the conspiracy against their special knowledge, or as Barkun points out, theorists conceive of a way to incorporate apparently contradictory evidence into their own faith.

This is untenable.  If a CTheorist can say that all my evidence is part of the conspiracy, can't I, in turn, say that all their evidence is part of another conspiracy against my theory?  Simply put, a CT is always, always, always the end of the debate.  Global Warming CTheorists claim that all published evidence and argument against their position is just part of the conspiracy - that is, all scientists are in on it for their own gain, whatever that may be.  Mightn't the other side say, "No.  All your evidence are a different CT to discredit our idea of Global Warming for your own gain."  If your 'theory' is always unanswerable in these terms, then it isn't a true theory.  It's a faith that brooks no disagreement - nothing else can be said on the matter.  CTheorists believe themselves to be the only critical thinkers and all the rest of us are mindless sheep believing the propaganda of our overlords.  It is the rejoinder of the true believer to insist, "I have perfect insight and everyone else is deluded."

(I don't have time or space right now to outline the epistemological nature of empiricism and scientific theory, so I'll just repeat the Wikipedia entry on the basic elements of an actual scientific theory:  1)  It makes refutable predictions with consistent accuracy across a broad area of scientific inquiry;  2)  It is well-supported by many independent strands of evidence, rather than a single foundation;  3)  It is consistent with preexisting experimental results and at least as accurate in its predictions as are any preexisting theories.  I might add that its empirical evidence is not singular, but repeatably observed my multiple researchers.)

CTheorists also have a 'psychological' problem though.

According to Anthony Lantian of France's Universite Paris Nanterre and his co-authors, people are drawn to conspiracy theories because of an underlying need for uniqueness.  In other words, a need to be different from other people by embracing beliefs that are out of the ordinary. Just as this need for uniqueness can cause people to develop unusual hobbies or seek out experiences that set them apart from the crowd, conspiracy believers adopt unusual beliefs about the world that make them feel special or above average.

Romeo Vitelli
Psychology Today

Once the masses are converted to their position, the CTheorist is lost.  She has surrendered her unique position of moral authority against the ignorant crowd.  It is the Christianity conundrum:  believers are on the narrow moral path while everyone else is on the wide road to hell.  If too many people begin agreeing with their position on the moral high ground, then something has gone wrong and suspicion develops.  By definition their position must always be a minority one.  It is the same with CT.

But back to my major area of fun with CT:  the Shakespeare Conspiracy.

In short all its varieties say the same essential thing:  The man from Stratford (the conventional author of the Poetry and Plays) cannot be the real thing.  Whether the actual author is purported to be Francis Bacon, Robert Burton, Kit Marlowe, Queen Elizabeth, the Earl of Oxford - Edward DeVere, the Earl of Derby - William Stanley, or anyone else, it couldn't have been the Man from Stratford.  Conspiracy adherents have included Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud, Ignatius Donnelly, SCOTUS Justices, etc. etc.  Bluntly, they were all wrong.
 
 The full title of the book for this post is, MANUSCRIPT SAID TO BE HANDWRITING OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE IDENTIFIED AS PENMANSHIP OF ANOTHER PERSON -
Mystery of "Sir Thomas More" Document Unravelled. 

It is just one of a number of such, usually, self-published books on the various conspiracies I have picked up over the years.  They are equally self-important, pompous, faux-academic (whether arguing handwriting, numerology, circumstance, historical monument, graphology or text,) and thoroughly convinced of their truthiness.  They hotly deny it, but their point of departure from the Stratfordians (like me) is snobbery.  'No mere middle class, bourgeois son of a tanner could have produced these glories.'  But I have pointed out before that the Aristocracy has not produced one iota of creditable art.  The only possible exception is Montaigne, and he is the exception to everything.

Mr. Edwin J. Des Moineaux, author of this particular tome - well, it's actually only thirty or so pages - is unabashed.

We make no apology for again considering the Bacon-Shakespeare controversy.  In discussing the greatest of literary problems, we are not exhuming dry bones nor attempting to revivify the skeleton of a dead issue.

Ah, from the start, this is a critical issue, and no mere academic debate.  It is crucial to Western civilization.  It is no less than "the greatest of literary problems."  Well, ok then.  

Sir Francis Bacon

The question as to whether the most sublime literature, excepting the Bible, ever penned by human hand is the work of a frivolous jester or that of a profound philosopher;  the creations of an un-tutored descendant of peasant ancestry or of a cultured scion of aristocratic lineage; the fruitage of a mentality devoid of constructive thoughts or of a mind pregnant with prophetic anticipations...

(I just love that word, fruitage.)

Dear boy, take a pill or a drink and sit in a dark room for a few hours until you calm down.  Think of your heart, man!  This isn't good for your blood pressure!

Unfortunately this goes on for several pages before he gets to the point. 

To the end of time "Shakespeare" will be read.  As long as the world goes 'round, seekers for the truth will scrutinize the personal history of the supposed author and study the controversy.

Interesting, considering he is claiming to lay the whole issue to rest in his little book.

We believe that the identity of the writer of the script reproduced and described above is so apparent that further dissection and lengthy comment would superfluous.  A more detailed and elaborate analysis could be made, and more specimens of penmanship shown, but the writer (of this book) is confident that the exhibits herein are sufficient for the purpose of this monograph.

"Chandos" portrait of WS... maybe
 Apart from his tendency to refer to himself in the third person, he is utterly sane.  Well, perhaps not.  But he is convinced that he has done the work, proved the point and can rest throughout eternity (as long as "Shakespeare" will be read, he says) knowing that he has overthrown doubt.

Well, we add this little pamphlet to the DJT on the shelf marked "Fake News."  It doesn't belong there, but at least you know where to find it:  alongside all the other CT.

One last quote from Neil de Grasse Tyson:

A conspiracy theorist is a person who tacitly admits that they have insufficient data to prove their points.  A conspiracy is a battle cry of a person with insufficient data.


Hey ho...

THE ECCHOING GREEN

The, apparent, misspelling in the title is sic.  That is, as it stands.  William Blake wrote it as such. 
William Blake
Dismiss it as the convention of the era (late 18th c.)  Not important, but I knew it would bug you.

The Sun does arise,
And make happy the skies.
The merry bells ring
To welcome the Spring.
The sky-lark and thrush,
The birds of the bush,
Sing louder around,
To the bells chearful sound.
While our sports shall be seen
On the Ecchoing Green.

So, first stanza done.  It seems like the pastoral poem it purports to be, but do be careful.  Blake will sucker-punch you given half a chance.  That is, he is the opposite of Wilde's 'sincere poet.'  "All bad poetry is sincere," Wilde said.  And I have extrapolated, "All sincere poetry is bad."  This isn't sincere poetry in the least.

It all seems so lovely and village-y.  The sun comes up;  the skies are happy;  the bells ring merrily;  the birds sing - oops, problems here.  The birds seem to be singing louder to drown out the bells.  Nature vs. church bells?  Hmm... could be difficult.  But, ah, our sports are to be watched on the Ecchoing Green.  Everyone is out playing 'sports' on the Green, or common.  But, uh - hate to be difficult here, but why are they 'ecchoing'?  There seems to be a hollowness or emptiness in which presumably happy noises are just echoing.  Oh, yeah.  Nothing has happened here.  Nothing is happening here - it's empty.  The sports shall be seen, but they haven't yet been played. This gives the shivers like we might get inside a large empty house:  the walls echo back at us, our loneliness becomes a kind of claustrophobia, we begin to hear things and see things, our mind plays tricks on us, the urge to run out is almost unbearable.  Echoes are usually heard in 'Nature' where there is a stony canyon to endlessly repeat ever-fading calls that we make.  Echoes always imply a deadness or empty space that can only be filled with the falling repetition of our voices.  That repetitious mode should make you shudder too.  The endless round of the same activity, robot-like, reminds me of the automated house at the end of  Bradbury's Martian Chronicles - it goes on and on of itself after the human population has been burned away.  It's an uncanny loop that is intended to creep us out.  What kind of zombie robots are these who arise every shiny (and every day seems shiny in this weird world) day and go to the same place and do the same exact thing?  It almost sounds like a job in the post office.... ignore that.  Eww...

Old John with white hair
Does laugh away care,
Sitting under the oak,
Among the old folk.
They laugh at our play,
And soon they all say.
Such such were the joys.
When we all girls & boys,
In our youth-time were seen,
On the Ecchoing Green.

The Ecchoing Green engraving
So sweet!  The old people sit there in the shade laughing at our play.  They sit under the oak which symbolizes age and strength and wisdom.  That's nice.  But Old John is laughing away care.  What care?  Is our play somehow the image of the difficulty of life?  The oak also symbolizes power and sovereignty.  That gets to be a problem again for us.  Are the old people running the show and laughing at our 'play,' our attempts to be in charge?  'They laugh at our play,' is it an admiring laugh, as implied by the line, "When we all girls & boys'?"  Or are they mocking us?  Remember, these are 'our sports' they watch.  I have to wonder if these 'old people' are siphoning off the energy of the children, like the billionaire who gets transfusions of infant blood to attain immortality.  They in turn remember their own days when they thought they were in charge and were, perhaps, mocked by their elders.  That is worse and worse, for it reminds us that this a never-ending cycle.  It isn't a Spring-time renewal so much as an endless illusion of youth and power.  We may feel young and sprightly and sporting, but it's all been done before and you are in for the same disillusionment that these old people experienced.

And, can I point out, the extremely weird punctuation of the stanza?  Why the full-stops at the end of "And soon they all say."?  And, "Such, such were the joys."?  These would seem to me to be modifying the thought of the preceding line, "They laugh at our play," and the following line, "When we all girls & boys," but Blake seems to be saying something else.  What?  Suddenly I have to ask who is the 'they?'  And why is the "Such such..." line set out as complete?  I am starting to feel like I am in one of those fever dreams when the laughter turns from joyous to menacing, with faces distorted and fading in and out of focus.  Say the word "they" with all the sarcasm you can muster and feel the change in the emotion of the line.  Try the "Such such" phrase with all the dismissiveness in your body and see how it becomes an evil sneer.  The old people were, in turn, once watched on the Ecchoing Green.  The voyeurism of the whole thing makes one more than a bit paranoid:  who's watching?  what particular pleasure, and of what kind, are they getting?  is this the 'child of an abuser often becomes an abuser themselves' thing?  Don't those old people have something else to do than watch little children play?

Well, maybe I am reading too much into it.  Let's look at the final stanza - which I will insist on pointing out is the third.  It is a holy number, a perfect number;  a completion, if you will.

Till the little ones weary
No more can be merry
The sun does descend,
And our sports have an end:
Round the laps of their mothers,
Many sisters and brothers,
Like birds in their nest,
Are ready for rest;
And sport no more seen,
On the darkening Green.

Jump to the end with me, "On the darkening Green."  Can you feel the sun sinking and the impending "sport no more seen, On the darkening Green" that makes me want to run home and hide under my covers?  Remember that feeling, that sadness at the end of a day of play when it was time to quit?  To watch all your friends fade away into the night to their homes?  Did you not feel that this day would never happen again?  That impending sense of things winding down forever haunts the language of the poem.  As for text issues, notice how the two Ands start the lines about ending things.  As the rest of the stanza is about winding down, these two lines end the activity and the watching.  No more twilight, just dark night.

Could there be something horrible happening in those closed-up homes, behind those homely doors?  Does the death-like horror of the end of the day cast its shadow on you as it does on me?  It makes taking the next breath a struggle.  It seems so domestic and so ominous all in the same moment.  How lovely that the children will go home to their mothers to rest, like the little birdies...  But look at the man in the second engraving ordering the children away.  The children with their angelic halos around their heads are like Adam and Eve being cast from the Garden of Eden by God and surrounded by a tree.  And why is the 'Eve' figure reaching for that fruit while the God/Father figure has his back turned?  The sun descends, the sports end and we all go home.  But remember the things that go bump in the night "On the darkening Green?"

It feels like the beginning of a David Lynch movie.  All is sunlight and bright green lawns being mowed by happy fathers.  Tulips blooming in front of white picket fences.  But the camera goes deeper and deeper - there is dirt and bugs and worms and decay and darkness under it all.  Aren't I just the cheery one today...

It's late.  The darkness pushes at the windows and doors.  The little electric lights seem wan and weak.  I feel the shadows trying to seep in through the cracks.  Darkness reigns and will eventually crush out all the light.  Civilization wanes in the face of the mongrel hordes, before the barbarian onslaught from within.  We are our own worst enemy and The Dwarfish Thief leads us in our hatred of all that is literate and light and orderly.  Nuance and subtlety are lost.  And it will begin again tomorrow, only with less light, less cheer, more chaos, more pain.

Maybe there never was a bright, shining moment of enlightenment, but there should have been.  Instead of this abattoir, there should have been...

Good night.

30 November 2017

BARTLEBY THE SCRIVENER: OR, A TALE OF WALL STREET

First things first:  I think I mentioned my acquisition of a Folio Society copy of Herman Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener.  It's actually Bartleby, Benito Cereno and Billy Budd in a single 1967 edition by the specialty publisher.  Folio Society books are a treat.  Not often valuable as collectibles because owners keep them in pristine condition and they are not that hard to come by and they are always reprints of existing texts, these books are beautifully bound, remarkable illustrated and slip cased.  In short, they are gorgeous and I love having them on my bookshelves.

With the exception of Captain Ahab from Moby Dick, I don't think Melville's characters are Shakespearian.  They just don't have that depth and breadth of fleshliness that a Hamlet or Falstaff, or even the 'lesser' characters, have.  But they are never less than memorable.  I could name a dozen from his novels and short stories that entirely encompass my brain.  Perhaps none more so than the hapless Bartleby.

... Bartleby had been a subordinate clerk in the Dead Letter Office at Washington, from which he had been suddenly removed by a change in the administration... Dead letters! does it not sound like dead men?  ...Conceive a man by nature and misfortune prone to a pallid hopelessness, can any business seem more fitted to heighten it than that of continually handling these dead letters, and assorting them for the flames?  For by the cart-load they are annually burned.  ...On errands of life, these letters speed to death.        

Ah, Bartleby!  Ah, humanity!

This dreariness, this 'pallid hopelessness' bemoaned by his employer is just what he had employed Bartleby for in the first place.  A scrivener is a copier, a drudge who, in the days before computers and copiers and all that paraphernalia, did the odious job of hand-copying legal documents in dim, cold offices for hours and days and long-lifes.  Remember Bob Cratchit from A Christmas Carol?  Bob was a scrivener, a copier.  Even the medieval monk who copied manuscripts from morning 'til night was less a drudge than these poor men.

It is, of course an indispensable part of a scrivener's business to verify the accuracy of his copy, word by word...  It is a very dull, wearisome, and lethargic affair.  I can readily imagine that, to some sanguine temperaments, it would be altogether intolerable.  

Bartleby's employer, nameless by the way, is a lawyer of the dreariest sort.

I am one of those unambitious lawyers who never address a jury, or in any way draw down public applause;  but, in the cool tranquillity of a snug retreat, do a snug business among rich men's bonds, and mortgages, and title-deeds.

Not a representative of the accused nor a prosecutor of the charged, he is the epitome of dullness.  Imagine composing and then copying out documents of some five-hundred pages (according the testimony of said attorney) of these mind-numbing papers.  It is too horrible to contemplate...

...unless you may already be an employee of the Post Office...

This is where my limited abilities fail me...  When...  This story makes me...  What do I...

I'm just lost.

Bartleby is hero/nemesis/fear/daemon all in one.

"I would prefer not to..."  Not just a statement of revolt, but a personal philosophy.  He's also tells his unnamed employer, "I'm not particular..."  when offered a number of possibilities which will salve the conscience of the lawyer.  He is refusing to participate.  In this article from The Atlantic Monthly, Jonathan D. Greenberg notes that Bartleby seems to never accept payment for the copying he does;  he doesn't accept a charitable handout from the attorney, nor does he accept the special meals offered to him once in prison.  He simply refuses to participate in the whole squalid affair of life.

This is the thing that consumes me, honestly.  The thing of today, the Capitalism, the acquisitiveness, the puritanism, the ethos doesn't recognize any standard apart from its own.  Everything is about the  money, but "money" is just a marker, a word for a way of thinking.  This way of thinking substitutes one "value" for all the others.  No other is even conceivable to that woman on your left, that man on your right.  What Bartleby does and says is so radical because it simply sets an alternative standard and follows it to the death.  Was it worth it?  Can you see how that question retools the Bartleby Imperative ("I would prefer not to...")?  The question restores the 'property value' of how we look at the world.  We don't have the vocabulary to, what? accommodate Bartleby, to even quantify someone who doesn't want to participate.

Of course, there is a problem here.  We are all Capitalists because we live in a thoroughly capitalist world.  Even those who claim to be Socialists/Communists/Libertarians are Capitalists.  They have no choice.  They have to participate at the level to which they have been born.  The same is true for Christians.  We are all Christians because we exist in a completely saturated Christian world (read Kierkegaard for the implications thereof.)  Both the Capitalist and the Christian ethos are utter failures, but that doesn't absolve us of operating as if they worked.  They both collapse and fail daily, but they define the zeitgeist and we are of our era.  (Not incidentally there is a book to be written - if it hasn't already - about how the two have morphed into a single hydra-headed beast.)

So, Bartleby arrives at the law offices apparently in response to an ad.  He is hired as a copiest and given a desk in the corner.  Soon his presence becomes slightly annoying to his employer and a screen is erected to make Bartleby invisible.  Outside the window of his makeshift cubicle is another wall just three or four feet away.  The sun makes it way dimly down the shaft offering little light and no warmth.  After a short time, Bartleby refuses to perform his scrivener's work, "I prefer not to."  But he also refuses to leave the office and soon it becomes apparent that he is also living there.  The lawyer in position of the office makes what look like charitable attempts to help Bartleby find other work, lodgings, etc.  Money is offered him which he simply ignores.  But the charity of the boss begins to look like something else quite quickly.  It starts looking like simple bribery to make an uncomfortable reality go away.  How much charitable giving is the salving of pierced consciences hoping to make people invisible so the business of business can continue?

You are outraged now?  It's unfair to color generous impulses in shades of self-interest?  We all want to help the unfortunate.  But motives are a strange and unpleasant business.  Self-delusion on a personal and corporate level is an endless loop, a ouroboros consuming its own tail.

None of us is truly self-aware.

Pity would be no more,
If we did not make somebody Poor:
An Mercy no more could be,
If all were as happy as we.

William Blake's speaker in The Human Abstract sounds profoundly charitable and humane until:

And mutual fear brings peace;
Till the selfish loves increase.
Then Cruelty knits a snare,
And spreads his baits with care.

Less pretty, I think.  But still, it's a dodge.  His speaker sounds quite righteous - at least to begin with - until the 'self' prefix is added:  self-righteous.  So how do we get around it?  How can we be honestly charitable and still believe in the utopia of equality?  Simply, we can't.  We must be both and take the responsibility.  Timothy Morton would say that we must admit that we put those people on the street;  that we make people poor;  that it is us that makes bad things happen.  He isn't saying we all need to feel guilty all the time;  in fact, that is just another dodge.  But we need to acknowledge complicity (a big word these days which our Dwarfish Thief (remember?) ignores at his own peril.)  We are Capitalists (see above) and Christians (again, above) and that makes us responsible.

But back to the plot.

Eventually, after much pleading and threatening and phony soul-searching, the lawyer pulls up stakes and relocates to avoid Bartleby who steadfastly remains in the office.

Of course, the police are called and Good Ol' B ends up in prison.  Eventually, still refusing to participate, Bartleby dies of starvation.  Grim, eh?

The price for non-participation may be death.  And non-participation may not be possible at all.  Is it always, as with Bartleby, a kind of self-slaughter?  Don't forget, I'm the guy who liked Scrooge better before the ghosts.  All he wanted was to be left alone.  The solitary individual is anathema to a Capitalist society.  We all know that the introvert is constantly at war with those who think they just need a good night out.  But the private individual is a reader, a lone person with a book who contributes nothing to society and who may not, per Harold Bloom, be a good citizen at all. 

A Tale of Wall Street it is.  And a Rorschach test, too.  How will you read this short story?  In the end I think the tale is more about B's employer, the hapless lawyer.  His response or reaction to Bartleby's "I prefer not to" is more to the point than the original refusal.  Rebelling against participation is, of course, a kind of participation.  Refusing, for example, to consume is itself a kind of consumption.  It is consumerist.  That is, it becomes a kind of ideology that claims to deny ideology.  It says not "what kind of person would I be if I bought those Nikes and wore them to work?"  but, "what kind of person would I be if I refused to buy Nikes and wear them?"  Bartleby is more than that.  Or less than that, if you like. 

Clearly this very short book fusses me endlessly.  I am not certain that I have enlightened anyone as to why that is or what it could mean to me, but there it is.  I am reduced to near incoherence by Bartleby.

Here we are at the "fuck Trump" moment in the post and I don't know how to say it more emphatically than I already have.  Melville's little book will of course go on the shelves of the presidential library, and will be ignored.  It is a coded book that the Dwarfish Thief doesn't have the cipher to decode.  He simply wouldn't understand the words.  His vulgarity and avarice block him from the most minimal engagement with this text.  The Twitter library, which is in the making, is in its very being all about participation. 



They got there before me.

16 November 2017

OH, DEAR GOD...

"I often carry things to read so that I won't have to look at people."

Charles Bukowski


"A book worth reading is worth buying."

John Ruskin


"If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads."

Ralph Waldo Emerson


"Sometimes, looking at the many books I have at home, I feel I shall die before I come to the end of them, yet I cannot resist the temptation of buying new books.  Whenever I walk into a bookstore and find a book on one of my hobbies - for example, Old English or Old Norse poetry - I say to myself, "What a pity I can't buy that book, for I already have a copy at home."

Jorge Luis Borges

Bookworm by Carl Spitzweg

I won't pretend... When I bashfully confess to having bought more books, I am lying.  There is nothing bashful about it.  I am not ashamed or embarrassed.  I don't feel that my overloaded and groaning bookshelves at home condemn me.  It bothers me not in the least that I have purchased books which I may never read.  I am quite frankly Proud.

I love books.  I love the stories and the characters, the fiction and the non-fiction, the bindings and the dust jackets.  The odd and the strangely bound, the deckled edge and the heavy paper, the colored headbands and the publishers' pages.  It's all a glory and I love it.

Today's purchases included Six Memos for the Next Millennium by Italo Calvino who is woefully underread in America.    It's a First Edition with a dust jacket that has a slight tear that I will carefully repair and cover in mylar.

Robert Frost
I bought a First Edition of The Poetry of Robert Frost.  It's the first comprehensive edition of that
American Treasure's work.

There was apparently at least one book by Harold Bloom that I didn't own.  Jesus and Yahweh:  The Names Divine from the personal library of the publisher Thurman R. Poston is now added to my collection.  It's another First Edition and in pristine condition.

I mentioned Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum in my previous post and realized I no longer had a copy.  (Where did it go?  Sold to buy something else?)  Anyway, it isn't a First because I probably couldn't afford a good First, signed.  (ABE Books lists it starting at $140.)  So I bought that.

For my wife, I purchased a British First Edition, signed (!) of Dick Francis' Proof.  It's a beautiful clean copy which adds nicely to her collection (though, on my bookshelves, of course... I'm sharing!)

Finally, to add to my collection of obscure Shakespeare conspiracy books, I came across Manuscript said to be Handwriting of William Shakespeare identified as Penmanship of Another Person by the previously unknown Edwin J. Des Moineaux published in 1924.  (The honourable Mr. Des Moineaux was apparently a publisher and lithographer/engraver.)  It seems to be a self-published volume in brown paper covers, with unnumbered pages running to about 30 or 40 total.  It has an exquisite tissue paper protective sheet bound in over the publisher's page which is embossed with a web and spider design.  It also boasts of being 'An Entirely New Phase of the BACON-SHAKESPEARE CONTROVERSY' and claims the 'Mystery of "Sir Thomas More" Document Unravelled.  I love the self-importance and pomposity of these anti-Stratfordians - they demand such acknowledgement and laurels from us for having exposed the horrible conspiracy surrounding the authorship of the Plays and Poems of Good Will.

So, more books.