Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Playlist, Christmas Musings

Today I slept late and woke to the intoxicating aroma of turkey and stuffing in the kitchen. Every year on Christmas day my grandfather wakes at some ridiculous hour to begin preparations for dinner. I suppose the intention is to counter the potential atrocity of eating 'too late' in the evening (something he's always sharply rejected); instead, we invariably end up eating at about 3:30 in the afternoon. But you'd never catch me complaining about this.

After dinner today, we watched Burn After Reading, the new Coen Brothers film, and drank sparkling wine (my brother opting instead for beer). Then we slowly withdrew to our respective corners of the house. I spoke to my mother, wished her well, and she reminded me to open the presents she sent. (This is a story unto itself: annually she sends me and my brother an incredibly large box, meticulously wrapped, with an abundance of love and a taping job bordering on the insane.)

Anyway, I wonder what I'll be doing for the rest of the night. I had some thoughts about going to Christmas Mass last night, but where would I go, and why? It was just a thought, I didn't follow through, and I'd probably feel ridiculously out of place. Instead I tried to write some poetry, thought tenderly about what this time of year means for me, and read a page of an Adorno essay. Then I turned to some songs, and found myself reading a terrific blog about Leonard Cohen, which in turn inspired "Hallelujah" on my own playlist below.

The story of Leonard Cohen is a familiar one, with special pertinence this year. Cohen was born in Montreal to a middle-class Jewish family in the thirties, and his first volume of poetry, Let Us Compare Mythologies (1956), was published while he was still an undergraduate. After a bit at Columbia University he migrated to the States, to try his hand and guitar as a folk singer. Years of touring, five years of solitude as a Buddhist monk, and various publicly announced financial disparities later, here we are, wrapping up a year of unexpected Cohen revival. 2008 marks covers of "Hallelujah" making the UK Christmas charts #1 and #2, Cohen's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and his first live tour in 15 years.

Unlike some of my good blogger-friends, I don't have any truly touching stories about my experiences with Cohen. (Well, maybe one, which I'll get to.) His music wasn't of my generation; and thus I can't tell you much about the days I spent smoking cigarettes in the morning, listening to "Bird on a Wire" with an old girlfriend named Marylou, even though I'd love to. In truth, I came to Cohen through a friend who's now living, where else, in Montreal. I remember seeing a copy of "Songs of Love and Hate" perched by his record player, the white block letters swollen with profundity in their surrounding blackness. Later, I think the progression naturally went from Dylan to Cohen, and I think the first song I really got into (with the exclusion of Buckley's version of "Hallelujah") was "I'm Your Man". Something about the synth line, the off-putting moonly jig of the thing, and the unrelenting woos of a desperate wise man. Since then, I've come around to holy jems like "Chelsea Hotel No.2", "Suzanne", "Stranger Song", and of course "Hallelujah".

"Hallelujah" is timely to write about because, for one, it resonates on the religious front, and thus well with Christmas, and two, because it's simply a mind blowing, holy (in the broadest, most artful sense of the word) song. It took Cohen two years to write it. The first line's a reference to I Samuel 16:23 in the Bible, and it sets the tone for the rest to come:

I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, Do you?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor Fall, The major lift,
The baffled king composing hallelujah.

The baffled king composing hallelujah. From the age of ten to fourteen, I lived in Montreal with my father. I have various memories of him, but one in particular recalls the big Gothic churches the city boasts. For a few years on Christmas Eve he would take me to midnight mass, and I would sit there watching the procession, vaguely bored, but also intrigued enough by the ceremonial spirit that seemed to echo like sound around the cavernous worship room. Afterward we would simply walk home, trudging through the fresh snow, maybe sipping a hot chocolate on the way. I'm not sure what my father was trying to get across on these single-night-of-the-year expeditions; but looking back, I don't know if I can resent him for it. We might have talked about mass, about religion. I don't remember these possibilities. What I do remember is simply going, willfully going, maybe out of a certain curiosity we both shared. A joint sense of trying to orient, of trying to comprehend holiness and sanctity, on the holiest night of the year.

On one of the last occasions that we spoke, I wrote him an email outlining, in arduous and probably aloof terms, some of my passions, recent doings, etc. I glossed over my ever evolving appreciation of music, and certain musicians. In response, he recommended listening to a "Canadian musician from Montreal" named Leonard Cohen. I read the words with painful vexation and offense. To nobody or myself I concluded: of course I know who Leonard Cohen is; shows how anachronistic and failing your perception of your own son is. Looking back, I wonder if that reaction was more a measure of my own shortcomings. Tonight, wherever he is, I think I'm big enough to appreciate the difference, and start awing at sanctity again. I am ever grateful for his presence on me in childhood, and his hard and silent lessons. Hallelujah.


Destroyer - Every Christmas (2000)

Harold Arlen & Leo Reisman's Orchestra - Stormy Weather (1933)

The Chairs - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (Neutral Milk Hotel Cover)(2008)

Matt Pond PA - Snow Day (2005)

Frank Sinatra - White Christmas (1957)

Leonard Cohen - Hallelujah (1984)

Bob Dylan - Absolutely Sweet Marie (1966)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Boogie-woogie

I've moved. Visit me here.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Coming Soon

A blog on the Ryan Adams/Sarah controversy. Hoop-la.

Infinity Blues #1

If someone out there could score me a copy of Infinity Blues for Christmas, I would be forever happy. According to Cameron Crowe, it's "soul poetry of the highest order". What is it that makes him tick so?

Monday, December 1, 2008

I Dream a Highway Back to You

Walking down the street tonight, I was seized with a metaphysical joy. It was the sense of being-in-time, of being at home with the self, that time to time descends upon us. As I walked, the melodies of Motown classics and The Byrd's stellar Sweetheart of the Rodeo filled my head. Some of the houses on the street were gorgeously decorated for the holidays; one had put lights on a huge tree in the lawn, which looked splendid. I thought about my weekend, its joys and faults: eating extravagant thanksgiving food; singing and playing music in the warmth of an isolated, golden-lit cabin, with the outside splash of black blue sky.

What matters about these occasions isn't that they are perfect. What matters is that they are done.

I thought about my friends. I thought about their lives, what I know of them, how much. How much I will never know. What is told, what is not, what comes out here and there, like an inappropriate comment, or a twitch of the limbs. I wondered at the phenomenon of our friendship(s), and how I could lick them up. I also thought of other people in my life, status ever-pending, status ever-steadying. I even tried to dream of them, but found my will no match for my mind. I thought about my desires, my longings, the acute form that they take. To desire another human being in the aching metaphysical sense, what does it mean? Why them and not another? I thought: it is easy to find something physical in another. All too easy to work from the rash, empirical perspective of the physical, and even to be granted its various satisfactions. The challenge has always been to find something more. It is the old saying I heard from the mouth of a wise man: that anything worth anything takes time, sacrifice, and labour.

I see that as I mature, this task of finding something more becomes deeper, more blanched with worth, weight, and potential obscurity. Sometimes it is when we reach that we do not find. I try to prepare for this possible outcome. I try to take the mysteries and the fleeting moments of clarity in kind.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Many Lessons of Janet Jackson

I like Janet Jackson. Listening to her songs is like being winded with the realization that your parents are cool. It hits you out of nowhere: you grew up with them, couldn't bare publicly being beside them, and then one night you smell pot in the hallway, and hear the Zombie's "Time of the Season" emanating from their bedroom.

Even casually listening to Janet's stuff will sway your opinion of her. Take the song "That's the Way Love Goes", an infectious number from 1993's self-titled janet. Under the pretense of a song about the way love 'goes' (works?), what we get instead is a lesson about the way a successful seduction works, with the female vocalist literally seducing another party to the point of physical contact and (presumably) climax. No, I'm not making this up. Read on, dear reader!

But more than that, Janet's portrayal of the whole liaison is absolutely unflinching in its explicitness. By god, who would have thought she could be so naughty, so attractive in her naughtiness, and so unabashedly awesome about the whole thing?

Consider the lyrical content.

The chorus, which begins the song and is repeatedly after each verse and pre-chorus goes:

Like a moth to a flame
Burned by the fire
My love is blind
Can't you see my desire?


So love is "blind" here: exactly like a moth compelled to a flame, only to be burnt by its core. Therefore, the moth itself, being the vehicle of love, is also blind: otherwise why would it go to the flame? ...The lesson (and it is a true one, at least in theory) is that love is outside of the jurisdiction of reason. It is unconditional. To mix reason with love would be to condition, or to limit it, to give it form and compass. But already that would not be love: it would be something reduced in scope, something close, but no cigar. It would be like paradise or heaven with gates (why does heaven have gates? isn't this self-defeating?).

The way to think about love is to see it as governed by desire, which is explicitly unreasonable. Love is blind; it will hurt you, it hurts the moth; but the moth is still thrust irrationally towards the flame. In other words, Janet's philosophy on love is that it is fundamentally masochistic. It hurts, we will hurt, and nevertheless. It is like the wistful dictum John Cougar Mellancamp coined with his popular song, "Hurt so Good."

And so Janet's seduction ensues, when she sings:

Come with me
Don't you worry
I'm gonna make you crazy
I'll give you the time of your life


and:

I'm gonna take you places
You've never been before and
You'll be so happy that you came


I won't get in the way of a liberal interpretation of the word "came" here. But given consequent lyrics, it seems more and more probable. The explicitness of the liaison comes to a head when Janet sings:

Come closer
Baby closer
Reach out and feel my body
I'm gonna give you all my love
Oh sugar don't you hurry
You've got me here all night
Just close your eyes and hold on tight

Oh baby
Don't stop, don't stop
Go deeper, baby deeper
You feel so good I want to cry


After hearing those words lodged into a catchy pop song, one is apt to reevaluate. Again, the penetrating masochism (pun intended). But how to evaluate this clear coital scene? Why do I find myself admiring, appreciating Janet's words?

The answer, I want to propose, is that it is almost as if (in this moment) Janet Jackson, or the female voice-character of the song, stands in for the everyman's perfect woman. What man wouldn't want to hear this at the moment of absolute commune with eros? With the body of another? But the more disturbing question: what about its violence, the self-confessed pleasure of the violence, stirs? How is this pleasure the same or different from other kinds of pleasure? What does this indicate about gender relations?

By golly, who would have thought Janet could offer so much in a single song!

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Mind's Eye

Was I impetuous? Appropriate?

The operations of the human mind reveal themselves when they do not ask to be revealed. They reveal themselves when coerced by necessity; within the instance of sudden confusion, the snap of a finger, the flicker of a flame. When we do not have time to think, the mind thinks for us. Who is doing the thinking in this case?

I am amazed at how quickly I can act in these situations. Almost without thinking, the words, the mood, the answer, comes to me. I am steering course somewhere, I am settled without knowing what or where I am settling. Knowing, and yet not knowing: two levels operating at once. Is it the spirit of survival that kicks in?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Shenanigans

"A poetic philosopher or a philosophical poet are my favourite kind of both." Robert Frost

Sunday, November 9, 2008

On Musical Commodification

For reasons that don't even make sense, I'm insulted when bands I've had some stake in get 'big' and are suddenly taken up by x, their girlfriend, and everybody else with some alleged interest in pop culture. The latest example of this appears with Kings of Leon, who, it seems, have become the new 'it' band. And by 'it' I mean 'in' for the mainstreamers, and (by default) 'out' for the hipsters.

But actually (and this isn't just said out of spite) the new album is really terrible, indisputably so. What was once a uncompromising sound driven by its propensity to be ballsy and melodic has wallowed into pure arena rock trash. Think of a lovechild between U2 and the American South, with absolutely no sense of cause or substance, and you're beginning to flesh out the songs that make up KOL's latest effort, Only by the Night.

In fact, The Culture of Me conveys the right sentiment when they say:

"What's happened to our boys from the South, the saviors of so-called "southern-sleaze-rock", Kings Of Leon? The Followill clan have gotten all gussied up in a Metallica-sell-out-shout-inducing garb and haircuts [...] We've never been fully behind this band [...] and now we're totally fine leaving them alone"


The epitome of this obscene appropriation of KOL comes to me, case and point, from an observation today on Facebook. Someone's recent status update proclaimed: "(name) loved the kings of leon and her hot boyfriend". Leaving aside the ambiguous effect of the past tense and the second object of the sentence (probably not intended), the implication here seems to be that the person in question recently went to a KOL show and "loved" it. Well and good. But in fact KOL have never been a 'The' band; and hence the "The" that prefaces Kings of Leon here seems quite aloof and unknowing. Not to criticize at all: but what kind of a love employs itself in such an (arguably) irredeemable blunder?

Maybe I'm just being an unfair sour puss about this; but as someone who truly takes pride in cultivating a relationship with music, there is something inherently peril about (even) a minute detail as this.

So what is it all about? Why do music enthusiasts sour at mainstreamers, the bands that 'go' mainstream? For one: the feeling of insult when a band becomes a cultural commodity (I use Marx's language to stress what is, in fact, going on) is in part due to the dispersal of the private 'mine' into the public arena. In other words, mass culture appropriation strips me of what was once personal and privately mine, an article of my identity, by opening it and allowing others the liberties offered me. Notice, that it is definitely a question of rights: the insulted party complains, 'why should everyone be given equal right(s) to this?' ...'What right do you (the other) have?, to interact with what is mine?'

And so it is likely that mass appropriation comes to seem like treason from a certain point of view. Is that right? A plot against the sovereignty of a certain someone? In a certain way, yes, I think. But in another way this justification seems unsatisfying. It is true that the sovereign in question believes him/herself sovereign only because they have hitherto had the 'right', the 'rite of passage' to the fruits of the thing itself. But when these titles are questioned by others who declare sovereignty as well (is not every claim about art a kind of claim to sovereignty?--to 'being in charge' by 'knowing something'--about something?) the question of politics arises.

On the other hand, I don't care much that someone else could listen to KOL's back catalogue. It might give them the background to reevaluate, even agree with me. What I want, ultimately, is to be told or given reward for the original quality of my judgment; or for the band itself to be represented in a fashion that (in my view) does not conflict with its artistic candor. To sum, if artistic appropriation into the marketplace is often a sorry enterprise, riddled with disingenuiousness and laze, then musical elitism is a fortiori a selfish one. The question really is: when is selfishness a virtue?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Opium Tea

Down at the port I watch the boats coming in.
Watching the boats coming in can do something to you.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Blog About Blogs #1

I waver with the demands I place on this blog. Often I struggle with the specific question of appropriateness. Thoughts go something like: is what I say appropriate for this space? Is it adequate? Does it represent me appropriately, to my own self-realized tailoring? Would I have it as I have my coffee, constant and unflinching, or as I have my wine, often based on occasion (...oh, a house party? probably not red, then, for fear of stained teeth, etc.)

Sometimes I want to present it as one presents a resume: professional, pointed. So that there can be no margin for failed intentions (think J.L. Austin's infelicities) and thus no margin for semantic disagreements on the part of my readers. In this perfect case, one can simply see how serious I am about all of these things that purport to take up residence in my life. It is an act of prompting, of scripting, of seducing, is it not, that I take you through?

Other times I simply wish to write and break with the context and character of this production. Erase the tapes, I say! Delete the files, and throw the cabinet out the window! Play jazz! But this method (which can feel really great) is sometimes thwarted by other said method (censuring method?), especially when it veers its head as the result of alcohol foul-play, ie. becomes a drunken-mc-confessional blog. In fact, I confess that I have even gone so far as to post things, and then only later remove them, for the sake of something I'm not sure I can even put my finger on. An indication, perhaps, that blogs are not diaries, and could never pretend to be. And yet while this is perhaps obvious, we still treat them as such. This is a drawer in my room.

I don't quite know where I'm going with all this; but I'm tired, so I guess I go.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Diary of a Good Read

Moments ago, I finished my latest Coetzee enterprise, Diary of a Bad Year. Upon completion, I experienced the kind of Aristotelian catharsis reserved to the writings of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. It is that good. To leave aside the theoretical questions this volume suggests (and they are huge, and vast), its ethics and thematic concerns are enduring and epic. The story of an old man, managing himself in the twilight of his life. How to manage sexual attraction, how to move beyond it? How to still remain relevant, and not fade away into forgotten obscurity? How to be preserved, in relic and spirit? How to understand the fundamentals of our existence: love, compassion.

Something has been purged in my mood. Note to self: the requirement, the aim or measure, of all great art.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Ethics of Passivity

He is listening to his music player, waiting for the usual bus to take home. Two women sit to his side. It happens swift; a panther pouncing on its prey. Forearms tighten around his neck. Shock. Tightening. The body, not the head, repulses unsuccessfully: the instinct for life, the dying flicker of a flame.

He wakes, and slowly regains himself. His wallet and his phone are gone. Pieces of him are amiss. Why has no one yet stirred to help him, if not moments ago during the assault, now? He who has just been seriously harmed and violated in the middle of a bus station? Where are we, and what have we come to, that someone should experience a traumatic event under the public eye, and not even be regarded? To be passively disregarded? In these circumstances, what kind of person could remain self-interested, distant, and feign shameless ignorance? Oh Bartleby, Oh Humanity!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Fragment from a Work of Fiction #1

On the question of sex, he quite freely surrenders. It is not that it baffles him. On the contrary; in good Freudian form, he has always believed in something essentially primitive about sex. The mechanics of desire, he agrees, are inseparable and considerably more complicated. But let sexual relations be sexual relations if motivated by mutual desire. By mystical desire. Why go through pains to sublimate or disavow such things? He sees that such a treatment of sexuality is often at odds with a certain concept of courtship, not to mention the institution of marriage. Nevertheless, he imagines women submitting themselves to its uncomplicated practicality, to its swift efficiency and precision, as if to escape the unendurable nature of sexual ambiguity. Let us simply do the deed, he might say. What more can I give you, but this body, which you already are or are not predisposed towards? And if not: then let us shake hands and be on our ways!

In fact, he knows that human relations are not so forthright and easily rendered. As much as he might like to exercise them in the vein of happy transaction (a business transaction?), he does not, present or past. People are not machines. He has had serious engagements with women which he feels have obdurately shaped him into the person that he is. Recognizing their contributions, he appreciates these former friends and lovers with unfailing gratitude, and hopes they feel much the same. Nevertheless, he accepts that were he to fall back into favour with them, if only serendipitously for a single evening, he would exercise no restraint on carnal desire. For as long as youth and beauty remain, he pays homage to them. Youth and Beauty. The moving forces of the old masters, from Holderlin to Tolstoy. They would have surely done the same, would they not? Was it Wilde who said that we bow to beauty because we tacitly recognize its capacity to destroy us?


Sunday, October 5, 2008

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Dusk Fell Today...

At the behest of a friend, I am reading Coetzee's Disgrace. Thus, I am being faithful to them both. There is wisdom in his words. The writing is pure in substance, profound, and poignant. Like the poetry of Pessoa, or Leonard Cohen. Quietly staggering. I spoke to a professor today. Slowly, I resign to the idea of being out of the academy for a time. Dusk fell today as I hopped out of the streetcar, home from work. A heavy coolness filled the autumnal air, and made me think of winter.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Incipient Thoughts on Slow Man

I recently found myself in the heat of a workshop on J.M Coetzee's most recent novel, Slow Man. The workshop was headed by foremost literary critic Derek Attridge (cf. "The Singularity of Literature") who among others offered an account of the text that inspired subsequent study on my part. From a theoretical perspective, Slow Man is exciting because it begins rather conventionally, and suddenly trails off into a theory-themed bazaar, showcasing with seeming ease devices such as metafiction and free indirect discourse. But the real excitement here is that Coetzee has creatively spun these themes in such a way as to give them new and enhanced meaning.

Slow Man tells the story of Paul Rayment, an aging (but by no means decrepit) man who suffers a serious bicycle accident and must cope with the amputation of a leg. For assistance in the early stages of recovery, he hires a series of house nurses, until, of course, he desperately falls in love with one of them. The shocker comes when the reader determines (maybe here, maybe there) that in fact Paul is a character in another character's fictional story. That is, Elizabeth Costello literally writes Paul and his drama into existence. More, she places herself in her own narrative, so that within Paul's world she randomly shows up and refuses to go away. The result is an imbroglio of metafiction and confusion. An unnamed narrator tells the story of Paul and Elizabeth; Elizabeth tells the story of Paul; Coetzee tells the story of Elizabeth and co.

But what is possibly more appealing than this house of mirrors is that Paul (who never realizes his own artificiality) perpetually ostracizes Elizabeth by telling her that she is an outsider, and that she should go away. In this sense, Slow Man is more than metafictional; it is metacritical. Characters themselves literally seek to banish their author. In so doing, they argue for some bizarre notion of autonomy. At the same time, it is Elizabeth who is authoring these character sentiments (and noting her disagreement with them). In these ways, this kind of metafiction seems a step up from, say, the metafiction of Nabokov. There (in Lolita, for instance), metafiction worked to rupture narrative structure and truth-orientation; now it works masochistically: Elizabeth writes about her own self-willed exile, and disparate character responses to her own story; J.M. Coetzee writes more enigmatically about the punishment of the author by his own characters. We are thus left with a plethora of high-stake questions.

It is frequently asked if authors owe, or are responsible, for the actions of their characters. Ought we hold authors responsible for the ethics of their characters? Slow Man effectively reverses this arrangement. Ought we to hold characters responsible for authorial actions? Do characters have an ethics of their own, that is always at odds with the author's? When authors often say characters merely 'came to them', what is meant by this? Is possession or divine intervention exempt from the logic of responsibility? Are some authors just fated to be wed to certain characters, to certain themes, like a bad habit?

Hopefully these questions will initiate more.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Black Sea

One clear night while the others slept, I climbed

the stairs to the roof of the house and under a sky

strewn with stars I gazed at the sea, at the spread of it,

the rolling crests of it raked by the wind, becoming

like bits of lace tossed in the air. I stood in the long,

whispering night, waiting for something, a sign, the approach

of a distant light, and I imagined you coming closer,

the dark waves of your hair mingling with the sea,

and the dark became desire, and desire the arriving light.

The nearness, the momentary warmth of you as I stood

on that lonely height watching the slow swells of the sea

break on the shore and turn briefly into glass and disappear...

Why did I believe you would come out of nowhere? Why with all

that the world offers would you come only because I was here?

- Mark Strand

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Well, by darn, I feel like the boy who goes away to school, and comes back for the holidays. Except it isn't the holidays, because I'm always here, even if not, because this is a home of sorts, and we're always returning to homes.

Today I learned about the 'missed connections' feature of craigslist. If you don't know what this is, check it out at http://toronto.en.craigslist.ca/mis/. Essentially, it's a virtual confession box for people to confess and proclaim their 'missed connections' with people and pedestrians they know nothing about, but casually interact(ed) with somehow in the course of their day. This is all about those strangers (or not-so-strange-strangers), those momentary and instantaneous proximity infatuations, and the hope that they will fortuitously read about your experience, share it with you, and (presumably) get back to you about it. How interesting is this phenomenon?

One thing the 'missed connections' forum really seems to indicate is that there is something noteworthy (literally) about these fleeting social interactions. There is also a kind of universal quality to them: each confessor experiences a kind of 'spontaneous connection', presumably verging on the transcendent. Or, perhaps more accurately, the fantasy of a connection. This isn't quite 'love at first sight', although it seems to be irreducibly related to it (and yet, always reduced to it). But it is the kind of mind-blowing experience we're not wont to have within the quotidian. And yet, what is love, if not the momentary and exhilarating dedication felt during one of these moments? Can't the stranger's eye glance stir more in me than the words on my lover's lips?

There is also the sense that every 'missed connection' is in another way a perfect connection. Hence its pellucid idealization. Missed connections contain the necessity that they are always also unmissed. But what language are we speaking in when we are beguiled into believing that they are mutual? How do we ever know? At the moment of fully appreciating, of feeling a dialogue with another, I am actually in harmonious dialogue with myself. I come to terms with my experience of and with the other, even if no such thing has happened at all. But then the internal conviction must be that, yes, in fact, such a thing has happened. I have experienced something rare and mystical with another human being. It has happened against all odds. It is extraordinary.

Finally, these confessions are always highly literary. To recount these experiences is to be a story teller and a poet. "You crossed the street, and your hair was blowing subtly in the wind"; "I let you try on the medium sized shirt, but it was a little too big; I offered to order you a smaller one...; you didn't leave your name and number", etc., etc. What kind of story would a compilation of these encounters be?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Are we ready to affirm that Hitler was an enemy because his story hadn't been heard?

Slavoj Zizek, In Defense of Lost Causes
Tonight's musical accompaniment, in no particular order: Dengue Fever (Dengue Fever, 1993), Nina Simone (Live at the Village Gate, 1962), The Dave Brubeck Trio (Time Out, 1959), Cut Copy (In Ghost Colours, 2008). There's something in the air tonight: the lights are on, and I'm alone, but at ease with the sounds. A general blog about happenings, random and foreseen. New (old) people inhabit my life once again. The experience is precisely like listening to an old song. It is fresh with excitement and ambiguity, but the melody and time signature doesn't change, and any novelty quickly becomes mired with repetition, and a history so sure of itself it croons of tragicomedy. The rules were set from the beginning, and we are just typing along, acting like we'll hear new things, or interpret new meanings. So one wonders...and wonders. I am dancing for two, then, and one of them is myself. But he isn't always fair, and I know that. And he isn't always content, either, juggling Kant's superego of duty, and his own apparent lack thereof.

On the other hand, new faces: they glow in the center of pictures, and sprout like flowers on the page. My friend, the poet, in a small enchanting bar on Ossington. New friends, drinking ideas and red wine in an Indian restaurant on Bloor. Sitting and laughing in the delicate darkness of the park at moonlight. All of these things, and more. An unwritten book of possibilities. The desire to do, to experience, to take these in, the people, the moments, ad infinitum. But always conditions! Conditions of time, of format, of design. And who am I to say, or question, or desire?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

What is it to be caught at the back end of a memory?

Our elders often say that age brings with it the rediscovery of youth: a newer, fresher appreciation of childhood, of innocence, etc. As if to be old, in turn, is to learn how to be young; or rather how to treat the property or period of life we call youth. The theme is recurrent in the work of W.G. Sebald. As doctor Selwyn descends deeper into his own existential crisis, he opens the door to his earliest experiences as a child, and they offer him something.

I walked past a park today that recalls many childhood memories. This withstanding, I confess that such a place rarely to never presses itself into my mind. But today I thought about this park, and its infamous tunnel, "Medusa's Cave", a name that to this day perks middle school students' ears in the surrounding schools. As a public schooler, the journey through Medusa's Cave epitomized the move from youth to young manhood: one went in a boy, and came out a step closer to something else. With a girl clinching your arm, all breath and cheerful fret, who couldn't agree it was thrilling? As I walked, I remembered the times I myself had stumbled through the cave, and the people I had stumbled with. I recalled the delicate sound of moving water, the reverberation of voices as they echoed through the vast darkness, the looming threat of an unexpected encounter. I even remembered a girlfriend standing next to the entrance one mellow summer evening, her outline perfectly traced into the landscape of a mental photograph. When people describe experiences with the dead, with ghosts, they may indeed only be using a trope to describe the experience or play of memory. Memory is always the true ghost, since it alone can be shown to haunt and leaves psychical imprints. And though it may never compete with the immediacy of the senses, it strikes stronger in its absence. I turn to Sebald:

"On the morning of the 23rd I took the train from Zurich to Lausanne. As the train slowed to cross the Aare bridge, approaching Berne, I gazed way beyond the city to the mountains of the Oberland. At that point, as I recall, or perhaps merely imagine, the memory of Dr Selwyn returned to me for the first time in a long while. [...] And so they are ever returning to us, the dead. At times they come back from the ice more than seven decades later and are found at the edge or the moraine, a few polished bones and a pair of hobnailed boots." -- The Emigrants

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The other day I stumbled on a charged (and hence interesting) writing sample topic. See below. Today I stumble on the strong words of a man I admire. I fell asleep in the living room with the computer screen and his email glaring at me.
A morning with the genius that is Nico.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A double whammy: internet access, and a new job! I want to be positively mystical in my approach to these new worlds.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The other day I stumbled on an charged (and hence, interesting) writing sample topic. I was reading Jonathan Culler's newest volume of essays, The Literary in Theory, and I was struck by an insight he outlined in a piece about the resistance to theory. After noting that this resistance may come in all shapes and forms, Culler posits a particularly cutting insight: that the resistance to theory is often no more than a resistance to theory's reputation as an 'insurmountable' discipline. The argument goes: to do theory is to admit its un-doability, not only on the conceptual level, but also on the material one...since there is simply an overwhelming proliferation of texts today, theoretical ideas, etc., etc., that one couldn't possibly be expected to engulf and digest.

Regardless of whether or not this is true, Culler distinguishes it from the traditional English canon. A half-century ago, being a competent English professor was about knowing a/the English canon (having knowledge), of, say, Shakespeare, Milton, etc. But the English canon had (and has) other assets: it remains precisely that which sets the guidelines or limitations to English as such, and it could therefore be appropriated by English professors to distinguish and define their occupation and (more importantly) competence. Today, however, with the incorporation of many discursive disciplines previously outside of the English department (viz., postcolonial theory, feminism, marxism, psychoanalysis, etc.), the situation complicates itself. Not only do these areas of study snatch the emphasis away from the English canon (what theoretical student has time to read the classics today?) but they also question the canon's departmental authority and conceptual stability. Why emphasize the 'classics' today, over anything else written 'in' or about English or literature?

Not only this, but these questions collide with force of controversy because they touch on a phenomenon exploding within English departments the world over. How to reconcile a former system of professorial competence (knowing the canon), with a new one (a background in contemporary theory)? Is, or should their be, some new concept of English professorial competence? What to do with the many professors of the New Critical era, who, in ways, have archives of knowledge unavailable and overlooked by 'theory' professors, but who themselves are ignorant to many contemporary theoretical concerns? And finally, how does this disputable gap ultimately effect the well-being and performance of the student, who no doubt is neither simply neutral nor bias to this departmental conflict?

My plan is to allegorize these themes in a work of literature, maybe even two, and to play out interpretative consequences. Alas, I am currently waiting for my own professorial confirmation. I can't foresee what he will say to me about all of this. But hopefully it will be dashing, and daring--because truly, what is the point of all otherwise?

Ultimately, the interesting thing is that there is a more than good chance some professors reading this paper will be in the very position(s) my essay seeks to analyze/scrutinize(?). This spells out to either my permanent disbanding from academia, or maybe, if I've tapped into something, future possibilities.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

You worry that I will leave you
I will not leave you.
Only strangers travel
Owning everything
I have nowhere to go.

Leonard Cohen
Sometimes I think: the city is a lonely place, and it follows you wherever you go. You're in the hub of millions and you're still alone, without a face to share a thought with. Everyone is too busy being busy, which becomes a prime-time absurdity. If I could only accept, without being forced to accept. To be forced to accept is human, but to accept before being forced to accept is divine.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

More thoughts about numbers, inspired by a true friend, in the course of a stroll down on Front Street, and then through the Village and Cabbagetown. On the one hand, there appears to be a narrative that separates 1+1 from 2. '2' just is, taken solely and completely as a conceptual entity. It needs nor demands no examination. But 1+1 tells a story of progress; it is linear, and progressive. How do we get from the narrative of 1+1 to the non-narrative of '2'?

Since as far as I can see, numbers have lavished a specific social privilege. They fashion the seal of genius. The prodigy is always a prodigy of numbers: the miraculously gifted mathematician, the divine mark of prodigy. Not to mention the unconditional emphasis put on numbers in the scientific and political arenas (is not a 'good' politician a person of numeric know-it-all?). But why has number always constructed and defined genius? What else has number revealed or concealed? And why does number invariably seem to situate itself outside of human discourse?

One point in favour of the primacy and independence of number (from human discourse) seems to be that number is based on the concept of station and sameness. Number has to be the same, always--it cannot change. This is apparently why number earns grounding where interpretation or language does not. Language and words, as we know, clearly evolve. But the classical idea (indeed the only idea) of number is that it does not: number cannot, since to evolve would be to lose its only definitive quality, sameness of identity. In short, a number that changed wouldn't be a number at all. It would be nonsense. '2' always has to be '2', and this is why the matrix of number and calculation 'works'.

At the same time, the idea that number is a system of sameness goes hand in hand with number as a priori, or at any rate, fixed, Transcendental, Platonic, Logical, yadda-yadda-yadda capacity. But in fact if we think of number as a product of human discourse, as a consequence of the arbitrariness of the sign, we are forced to see that it is not so different from the character of apparently otherwise 'interpretation'. Nietzsche himself suggested this, and de Man took it up in Allegories of Reading. The concept of number, the system of arithmetic, geometry, etc., are systems that have been designed by us--and hence are systems with definite scopes. They only compute within their given, assigned laws--possibilities of conditions. They indeed may have infinite, inconceivable figurations--but these too are conditions embedded within their logic of occupation. One way to boil this down, or another way to perhaps name the problem, would be to ask: is the number '2' singular? Viz., is it a single entity? How could it not be? And yet, how could it be? At what point, and why, does math value the alleged singularity of '2', over its heterogeneity? And if it does not, then how could we even talk about the concept of '2', which already calculates and accounts for its dissimilarity? I have been rushed, but I hope this gets the ball rolling for future thoughts.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

There is something eternally romantic about postcards, and receiving them. But their contexts have to be sealed and satisfied. One has to obey the postcard procedure. But in so doing, the postcard becomes so much more. It transcends itself. Imagine if we could all speak the way postcards do?
The other day I was Huckleberry Finn. I sat and laid with my legs stretched out on the grass, my hands padded into it. I pulled some weeds, and chewed on them at the ends, because they tasted like nature. And then I disappeared.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Reading "The Practice of Everyday Life" by Michel de Certeau based on a friend's recommendation. The argument for human creative sovereignty in the face of mass consumption and production is warm and optimistic. The writing is deeply poetic and precise.

I've recently come into experiencing good reggae music, and I hope to begin a modest but meaningful collection of it. I bought an album yesterday that is very good.

Went out last night, to Toby's with Valentine, and then to Victory Cafe, and then to Sneaky Dee's. Met some new people, which was very nice. If summer is this way, I won't mind it at all.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I still haven't got internet. Why is everything a question of money? Saw Kingwell and Gladwell last night--both very interesting. Have been settling in, I suppose--if that means spending a ton of money and hoping to somehow dry out until the next payday. I'm going to buy new headphones so I can be musical again. Have been going to parties, get togethers, things like this. Have been riding my bike competently around Toronto, and drinking my coffee from Manic.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Today I thought about numbers. I do not know much about them. They have never be very kind to me. But they are very mysterious. I thought about the number '4', and what it means to call something '4'. I also thought about how the concept of number could be conceived in poststructural terms. Some of my general musings were: how is number determined? How is it allegedly and possibly beyond determination (viz. the determination of discourse)? How could '4' already be other to itself, self-divided, not '4', structurally, etc., and how (if this could be demonstrated) has this instability been dealt with historically?

When we generally think of a number, say, '4', we think of a uniform measure of determination--a specific quantity, discernible by virtue of its pattern or sameness. This must be repeatable, since it is repetition which provides the basis for its identity. '4', whatever else it may be, is a system of arrangements, the sum of which is contained and containable within the blanket concept named '4'. But '4' is actually nothing concrete, and nothing tangible. (In reading this, it was precisely this italicized sentence that my brother pronounced his severe disagreement with its contents.) In a certain way, I argue, '4' has never been demonstrated, except by analogy. There are infinite ways to show '4': '4' is 1+1+2, or 2x2, or -8/-2, and so on and so forth. But where and what exactly is '4' itself in all of these arrangements? In other words, where could '4' be shown to exist, or where does it exist, without the imposition, the imprint, of something posing as '4' (1+3, for instance), which stands in for '4', which constitutes '4' and assumes its name? The answer is, of course, nowhere.

Some conclusions. This is how I can presumably say that '4' is already other to itself. With all of the nonsense and ambiguity implied: '4' is never '4'. Just as Freud demonstrated that we are all strangers to ourselves and to our consciousness, by virtue of the radical otherness otherwise known as the unconscious, here too we see numbers working in the same way, as having a similar unconscious, that both eludes our clear understanding of the concept, since it endlessly complicates it, and perverts its contents to us. '4' is never '4': '4' is always a metaphor for an abstract idea, an ideal, say, of order, or correspondence. Because, again: you can't show me '4' without showing me something else: and so it appears that not only is '4' an abstract label, but indistinguishable from something else, something not '4'.

But always '4', always '4'. At the same time, of course, one naturally thinks (but why is this particular thought natural, as oppose to the other) : that in all cases one has done nothing but show '4', each and every time! '4' has consistently appeared everywhere, with pure and proper consistency, the consistency and analyticity of science. Of course, of course.

So '4' is always '4' and apparently never '4'. You might agree with me on this, or you might not. I won't mind. But here. It shows itself precisely in the Marxian observation of the economy of exchange. Here's how exchange works: something is exchanged for something else. Meat for money. But they are converted or exchanged through an abstract (let's not forget) system of equivalence. Meat and money are taken as the same, when they are, in fact, not. Or, rather: exchange politics declares meat and money the same, while meat and money are not the same. Are they the same? Exchange performs magic and miracle: it establishes paradox proper. So too with '4'. '4' and '3+1' are not the same: and yet they are, of course, always. They are depicted as equivalent. The hundred dollar question, of course, is whether this sameness or equivalence is outside of human determination, or whether it is instead an effect of discourse. My question, the same one, to the prodigious reader would be (and which no doubt sounds ridiculous and absurd, but I desire to question precisely these things): aside from everything you have ever learned about numbers, and looking simply at what I write, and the concepts as they are given, in what way is 3+1 the same as '4'? At what point does 3+1 become '4'?

The experience with number for Kant and the empiricists was as follows: the question or problem was always a coin toss between number as synthetic (Kant) and number as analytic (Ayer and co.). In other words, is there something mysterious, something more added to 3+1 to make it '4', or is '4' simply imbedded in 3+1. Today we are no doubt accustomed to thinking the latter. In fact we don't even think it. We don't need to. Set theory and analytic philosophy are prefaced on derivation and 'truth' preservation. Any idiot knows 3+1 is 4. It has to be. But what if we said that the solution to the synthetic/analytic problem consisted in precisely its non-solution? Or: what if we said that Kant and others were mistaken to focus on such as a 'problem' or an antinomy altogether?

I want to go on with this, and I feel I have much more to say, but alas, I've written myself tired. To be continued?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The more one reads, the more one sees how peculiar and manipulated the literature emphasized at the undergraduate level truly is. Everything we read at the university has been contaminated by them, by 'it'. So much the less for all my literary admirations, and the authors that have penned them. So much the less for Kant, Hegel, Adorno, Marcuse, Marx, Plato, Derrida, Hawthorne, Milton, Austen, Nabokov, James, etc. ad infinitum, whose faces and work has been defaced and de-worked by the abstract concept and tyrannical reality called the university.

Come to think of it, I regret not conceiving to write an undergraduate paper on precisely this university 'contamination factor'. But what precisely contaminates? Is it the universality of the whole thing? The ugly trinity of mass-promotion, production and consumption? And why don't these authors have any say?

Seemingly, all of this falls under an ancient schema. To extend anything, to 'hyper'-ize it, through hyperbole, metaphor, duration, popularity, is always to subject it, in another way, to its opposite. Hyper-izing shrinks in another way. This is of course the brilliance of satire, comedy, and irony, and the way that mass-media and capitalism and its offshoots work (for instance fashion culture, etc.). Jonathan Swift succeeds in his claim that we should "eat children" precisely because of his hyper-izing, hyper-emphasizing, which shrinks the 'reality' or 'literality' of the claim and makes it recognizable as something else. But unforeseeable historical aporias result from hyper-izing, and they are irreducible. (1) One can 'extend' or hyper-ize without knowing. It can happen outside of knowing. And (2) Hyper-izing itself equally undermines knowing. Therefore, it cannot even really be said that we know or understand 'hyper-izing', since (it) by definition is inconceivable. The history of the metaphor, satire, irony, language, politics, etc., etc., has been to suppress this unknowability for the known. But in truth there is nothing hierarchical about irony. To privilege the supposedly 'true' or 'figurative' over the 'literal' is to err twice, because we are no longer even dealing with these terms, but the incalculable itself.

We cannot but calculate the incalculable. That is to say: calculate the incalculable, and simultaneously fail to calculate the incalculable. This is what it means to live and to think, and to experience the fleshly paradox par excellence. This is why these processes will always be subject to heterogeneity, and hence 'error', violence, or polysemy, if we still wish to pejoratate these things. 'There is no outside the text' means: there is no outside of this paradoxical calculation.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Moving always implies self-reflection and bittersweet life-summing. I ask questions like: where am I at? Where have I come from? Where am I going? I ask these, I address a certain somebody, as I stare at the accumulated keepsakes around my soon-to-be 'old' room. Moving likewise implies a certain anxiety. Will I be able to manage my finances? How much will I have to work? Will I be able to work? What does the future hold? All of these expectations. All empty, and full. I wonder what it would be like to have no expectations. I think of that great song on Beggars Banquet. But to be human is to have expectations, always empty and full.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

A post for Fernando Pessoa and co., whose poetry never fails to sear me and turn me inside out with its staggering brilliance.

I'm sorry I don't respond
But it isn't, after all, my fault
That I don't correspond
To the other you loved in me.

Each of us is many persons.
To me I'm who I think I am,
But others see me differently
And are equally mistaken.

Don't dream me into someone else
But leave me alone, in peace!
If I don't want to find myself,
Should I want others to find me?

Fernando Pessoa-Himself
26 Aug 1930

Very recently, I must confess that many of the themes outlined in this poem have struck a personal chord with me. Let me tell you a story. Since time immemorial, I have been known to random affiliates, and even close friends, as 'the guy who is best summed up as looking really young'. More often than not, this goes hand in hand with being 'cute'. This sorry tagging continues to follow me, and indeed, seems to be really 'me' in some 'perception-is-all' corny existential way. Anyway, this judgment, which comes to represent my whole person, is by no measure new to me. But neither is the fact that I've always been extremely ambiguous towards it. I've always shuddered a little when best friends (with no cruel intentions), have called me "little buddy" or something like this. And even more recently, and doubtless more powerfully: it turns out that a Facebook photoalbum dedicated to someone else is also implicitly dedicated to me, by metonymically linking me in its title with 'little boys'. Two words come to mind: yes. Nice. My responses to these sorts of judgements have always been: fury, anger, shame; and then: indifference, and finally comic relief. When I come to my wiser self, I realize: what matter? The last time I saw my father, he was half a century old, and could pass for thirty five. Good for him, and I hope it'll be me! Rather that then something else. Plus, unforeseen perks to looking young--powers and persuasions even. So I sit on my rock, because I can't do anything else, and try to be content with the pros. Before some asshole, myself included, comes to kick me off of it again.
I try to keep you updated. I am moving, working, and waiting. For what, precisely, I couldn't say. To set my things up, to have some fun, to work, to stop waiting. My landlord is really nice; very talkative, too talkative, but it can't be considered a fault. I am mentally calculating exactly what I'm going to need to buy, etc. Some kind of clothing dresser. Rugs for the floor? A rice maker, and a new coffee maker. I'm looking forward to doing research and academic work at home. Oh, and it turns out I am going to have to get internet, 'officially', as they say. That kind of sucks. I have to go. Greetings from wherever I am.

Friday, April 25, 2008

For whom do I write for?

I write with two hands. A little elegant, a little drunk, like the neon lights from the backseat of a taxi cab. Anxious arms? I fear I do not know how to spell. Even the word 'spell' looks strange to me, when I find the time to look at it. I look at it, and how foreign? The strange design, grapheme, symbol, gram. How can someone, anyone, have their own hand, unique, stylized, and yet communicate the universal symbol (both the universal and the symbol), the grapheme, in short, language as such? How can I maintain my writing is not just meaningful, or literate, but legible? Why and how is legibility ensured, in typeset (font? font type? font style?) or otherwise? What does font today, the hand of the machine, computer, print, etc., conceal or suggest? Can I be known through my font? What do different font types suggest? Legibility opens this question: how is form read? How is it passable, iterable, readable? But when I say ghggmgjewhn is it legible? Can I interpret it, like your thoughts, like your many moods, that always move me? Is it like the breeze or the sun to me? What is the depth of this symbol? I want to ask: what is the meaning of nonsense? Is nonsense still legible?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

An eventful day. Many vibrant conversations: the taxi driver, whom I stole from the other taxi driver, wanting to have a smoke with him. I apologized. The man who showed me 909 Dundas Street W.--a silent conversation, to be sure--but of course the eyes say it better, with more precision. With Downes: about my paper; about keeping in touch. There was no pull towards anything outside of work (why would there be?) but he said he'd help with the writing sample. I sensed something. No, I must be mistaken...In retrospect, disappointed about my paper for Cobb. Not enough time. I had to climb out of the window. I can only hope his passion won't wane. But all in all--very good spirits. Spoke to John Howard, in hopes of getting Jay a job. Now it is in his hands. Someone will be pleased. It will doubtless be good for him. Went to the gym. Then shopping--because I felt right for a reward. A Muddy Waters album. The girl smiled when I asked about the Woody Allen selection. A golden cardigan, with an interesting button-up v-neck collar. Indie. Summer. Handed resume in to bookstore. Nothing until August. But it's a shot in the dark, anyway. Listening just now to Kozelek's "Have You Forgotten". Timeless. I hold it in my hands. The theme of the song is evidently about falling out of love, or forgetting to love yourself.
But anyway, what is love in the first? This love that we all speak of, that we endorse, historicize?
Sometimes I wonder if former lovers did me in. Closed that door. I heard Ethan Hawke say it in Before Sunset, and I clung to it--soaked it in. At the same time, mostly or always I just can't understand people in heavy relationships. What is lost, what is gained? I can't for the life of me understand the economy of human relations.

Monday, April 21, 2008

I haven't slept for many hours. I'm sitting in the buttery. I handed the paper in. It wasn't spectacular. It wasn't bad all things considered. Now I'm listening to 'Tangled Up in Blue', the ny sessions version. I am looking at a new potential home this afternoon. I am excited. I have to keep my eyes open. I bought some Badiou. I was told bring my resume. I think I will.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

saw you on the sidewalk sister
walking home alone
you got the blues from working
right down to your bones

won't you please tell me sister
did he send you on a ticket?
yeah, even alone?
did your mama let you go?
ya you're all alone.

my my my my my
my my my my my

you're stuck out all alone.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A single email that makes me live again! And mine, so much weight, so clumsy! And this, three sentences of life and all the living! A shared "phew!"; a common bond, a smile or grin (so I imagine, not without flattery), and a lifting of barriers. Success! And I was, in a matter of speaking, (but what isn't?) dying! God save the professors that appear to have something of a personal affinity for me! God save the 'dear' and 'best'! Just over thirty words--save them!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Russell's Paradox signifies the analytic concession to continental philosophy.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

When I read Stanley Fish's blog (see side links), I see that there is something hopelessly youthful about this blog, something only the self-indulgence of my age could ever possibly permit. I don't presently care to talk about American politics over the politics of the soul. I will talk about them both, and juggle them with the tenacity and ignorance of a young man in the density of a crowd, knowing that I held my banner firm and high, in penetrating but narrow earnestness.
So far today I have written roughly six or seven decent sentences on an ongoing paper, in a new library. I went to work, but before stopped at Sammy's Diner downstairs for a cup of coffee and something sweet. It was impeccable coffee: the best butter pecan blend has to offer. And the music I heard coming out of the speakers when I sat down--oh the music! Dirty-down country blues, fine for morning and the dance floor in the evening. Some people of alleged wisdom (self-help gurus?) have told us that happiness can only be found on the 'inside'. On the contrary: who needs an interior, an interior 'wisdom', what is an interior, to the magnificent stimuli around me? I smell the air; feel the lady of spring tip-toeing up the stairs; I hear the organs, and the baritone, and the jazz piano, and I am blissfully satisfied.

The point being: you send the gift: I am liberated, like sun, like the leaves.

Friday, April 4, 2008

I'm so fucked, head too deep, drowning. And all I wanted to do was impress you.
3 June 1977

and when I call you my love, my love, is it you I am calling or my love? You, my love, it is you I thereby name, is it to you that I address myself? I don't know if the question is well put, it frightens me. But I am sure that the answer, if it gets to me one day, will have come to me from you. You alone, my love, you alone will have known it.

we have asked each other the impossible, as the impossible, both of us.
"Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich," beloved.

when I call you my love, is it that I am calling you, yourself, or is it that I am telling my love? and when I tell you my love is it that I am declaring my love to you or indeed that I am telling you, yourself, my love, and that you are my love. I want so much to tell you.

Jacques Derrida, The Post Card

Monday, March 24, 2008

look at us.
I'm frozen, and you're dead.
And I love you.
It's a problem.
I lost you when I got into that car.
I'm sorry.
Do you remember what you told me once?
That every passing minute
is another chance to turn it all around.
I'll find you again.
I'll see you in another life,
When we are both cats.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Writing, when it happens, amidst the toil and tear, and the hours of seemingly wasted concentration, feels very good. When words are friendly, I am too.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

I can't presume to write an essay if my margins aren't straight. I can't presume to write if my margins aren't straight.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

I walked past two police officers today casually leaning over a guardrail. One of the officers looked especially informal. I was struck with the thought of how easy it would be to yank the gun from his side. I might even say there was a sudden impulse to do it, if only because it seemed so easily done. These strange thoughts that I have.

I bought Zizek's Ticklish Subject today. It's his most 'serious' rebuke of poststructualism, deconstruction, etc. "A spectre is haunting Western academia," Zizek writes, "the spectre of the Cartesian subject". Thus, by confronting pretty much every discipline that roots for the de-centering of the subject, or bases itself in such, Zizek aims to reconstitute a nuanced kind of Cartesian subjectivity, vis-a-vis Badiou, Lacan, etc.

I continue to buy scholarly books by the bundle, in first-rate bourgeois yuppie fashion. I reflect on this with strange ambiguity, yet I am content with my ever-expanding personal library. My bookshelf has especially filled out this year. It is colourful, bold, and proud. I find myself often gravitating to its mystery, for reference or examination purposes.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

In a sore coincidence, it turns out my close allied music player has presently rendered itself unusable due to another technical difficulty, viz. dysfunction. I am now computerless and music-less. Sounds, every day sounds, reach me as they never have. I hear new rhythms, I make them, when I walk through the slush at school. But they are not always welcome sounds, and I quickly grow tired of tired substitutions. I am particularly lonely when I come home at night, and reflect on the empty quietness of my day. These odd circumstances have curiously painted me blue. I am not lonely, though in ways I feel quite alone.
Daisy Miller is the one I pine for.
She puts me out, and lets me in, dog in the manger that I am.
She gleams with incommensurate allure, strolling through the hotel garden at Vevey,
the busy streets of Rome.
I take her picture, but it doesn't last:
the want to capture proves mockery in its covetous task.
Daisy Miller, with her white muslin dress,
the height of high end American fashion.
It is Daisy, flower of flowers, spring of springs, and her alone, that I pine for.
She moves, and I move, and I am hers:
a twinkle in her eager eye, a vessel in her sea and sky.
She is beauty, fair and square. And lust, douced lust,
ferociously erupting everywhere.

She is not uncultivated, though I've called her that.
She is neither innocent, though I've also called her that.
The truth is that my Daisy Miller evades the bodice of description,
the corset of tight explanation.
I have no vocabulary, no lexicon for her;
no way to reconcile the mystery, when she asks,
"what's in a name?"

And though I've found myself in others, and hurried to the task--
never else in Zurich, in Geneva, or even all our rapturous world--
have I come across the singular haunting of a certain Daisy Miller,
and had to do the impossible: that is, say goodbye, to her, to all, to this;
and so to that I raise my glass.

Friday, March 7, 2008

My laptop is in the shop. I feel disconnected. So I write to you on a foreign machine, of which I know nothing.

I saw Bon Iver (French, meaning 'good winter') the other night at Lee's. He's something else.

I read Daisy Miller for the first time, and pleasantly enjoyed it. Maybe just because I have a peculiar affinity for most names in the text. Daisy Miller. Mr. Giovanelli. Winterbourne.

I started thinking seriously about the summer, and where I'm going to live. Sometimes I'm nostalgic, even for the future. What does that mean?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Is anything better than Twin Peaks humour?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

I watched my dog, Rascal, have a horrible, paroxysmal seizure last night. There was nothing we could do, finding him too late, already in the heat of it. His body convulsed as if it wasn't his. We put a pillow by his head so that he wouldn't bang it on the ground or the wall. Afterwards he laid for a few minutes, just breathing really heavily, various parts of his body quivering, me afraid he would go back into it and bite off his tongue, which was hanging out as if unused and unplaceable. Then he got up, out of himself, to try and walk it off, only to fall clumsily and tragically against the sides of walls, and all over the ground. We tried to stop him from hurting himself, but he needed to walk it off, or come to, and wouldn't be pacified. I felt strangely helpless, standing there, watching the death that was lingering in the room. My dog is sick, and it was sad to see those ailments doing these things to him. Seeing him scramble and stagger across the room, dizzy, falling, failing, had a strange effect on me. I've never been proximately close to death in my life; I haven't had any good friends die, or anyone that I was remotely close with in the family; I've never experienced death at all, really.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

I'm sure I'm my blog's most avid reader. An essay is haunting me. I recently came across this song. It's gorgeous. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbZ4puGvb1s

Monday, February 18, 2008

Listening to Calexico's version of "going down to acapulco" makes me nod with wistful melancholy. I want to accept life's strange and beautiful mysteries with wild and delusional exuberance. I want to smile simple at the things I don't know, and can't understand. I want to melt in past-life ecstasy when I see an ancient friend, when I smell the perfume of a lush, uncompromising memory. I want to drink wine with all of these things, with days, old and new, so that I could meet you like I have so often in midnight reveries.

I'm going down to Rose Marie's
She never does me wrong.
She puts it to me plain as day
And gives it to me for a song.

It's a wicked life but what the hell
The stars ain't falling down.
I'm standing outside the Taj Mahal
I don't see no one around.

Goin' to Acapulco
Gon' on a run.
Goin' down to see some girl
Goin' to have some fun.

Now, whenever I get up
And I ain't got what I see
I just make it down to Rose Marie's
About quarter after three.

There are worse ways of getting there
And I ain't complaining none.
If the clouds don't drop and the train don't stop
I'm bound to meet the sun.

And if the well breaks down
I just go pump on it some.
Rose Marie, she likes to go to big places
And just sits there waiting for me to come.

Goin' down to Acapulco
Goin' on the run.
Goin' to see some girl.
Goin' to have some fun.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


Tonight I went to a philosophy symposium on the topic of love. The speakers were mildly entertaining--the exception being, of course, Professor Kingwell--who was in characteristically fine form. Before beginning proper he reminded us that traditional symposiums involve drinking, and, on the pretense, presumed to pull a flask out of his pocket, sipping it back for the course of his discussion. It was charmingly audacious, irresistibly admirable even. That and his exceptional discussion, which I do not have the time to sketch out, reminded me how lucky I am to be able to participate in such matters.

Afterwards (alone), I went to see the new Bob Dylan-based biopic I'm Not There. It was everything I'd heard; in short, brilliant, although I can certainly see why some might not find it very appealing. First of all, if you're not acquainted with both key earlier Dylan documentaries (Scorsese's No Direction Home, and Pennebaker's Don't Look Back), you will miss a number of key details, since much of the film is in fact a direct imitation of scenes from these two documentaries. Also, if you're expecting a classic documentary aiming at some truthful or accurate portrayal of Dylan, this (again) may not be up your alley. I'm Not There is an eccentric, creative analysis of "Bob Dylan" the concept: it leans heavily on the poetic, presenting a number of mini narratives all loosely based on some aspect of Dylan's life. It emphasizes, above all, the notion of identity self-division (hence the various Dylan 'personae' that each represent a significant fiber of his 'person'). The outcome is a fictional film that comes paradoxically closer to the 'truth' of Dylan's identity than its predecessors, precisely by emphasizing the inability to capture any singular Dylan identity. And this is not inconsistent with the attitudes and actions of Dylan himself, who has always told one story: namely that there is only story, an irreducible story, with many actors and players, whatever we may like to say otherwise.

That being said, I won't deny that I'm Not There is a film for a very particular breed of Dylan fanatic. It isn't without irony that this film will garner more attention from twenty-something postmodern bohemians then the generation of fans that once claimed Dylan as their own. But director Todd Haynes must have known this. It's a pretentious film, for a (let's face it) pretentious artist, geared towards a pretentious public. But those interested will not leave the theatre without many rewards.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Reading forces me to juggle psychoanalysis and deconstruction, which are in many ways different sets of axioms positing the same thing. For one, psychoanalytic-materialist inclinations are particularly tempting, because the content remains straightforwardly permissible. A theory of psychic self division, irreparably at odds with the social. Sublimation (psychic activity that does not aim at the immediate satisfaction of the drives, but rather, social advancement) necessarily entails psychic repression, viz. individual regression. There is thus a fundamental undecidability that pertains to the psychoanalytic intention: the setting free of man, the unleashing of repression, the death of the superego, and the accepting of repression as the necessary price for the progress of civilization. If psychoanalysis offers the deconstruction of the subject, and the limited but limitless gap between subject and object, deconstruction offers the deconstruction of ontology, and general designation, as demonstrated through the (material) medium of language. Deconstruction qua the literary, ontological unconscious.
"Hegel was among the first to interpret the geographical triad Germany-France-England as expressing three different existential attitudes: German reflective thoroughness, French revolutionary hastiness, English moderate utilitarian pragmatism; in terms of political stance, this triad can be read as German conservatism, French revolutionary radicalism and English moderate liberalism; in terms of the predominance of one of the spheres of social life, it is German metaphysics and poetry versus French politics and English economy [...] And -- to reach an even more intimate domain -- do we not encounter the same semiotic triangle in the three main hairstyles of the feminine sex organ's pubic hair? Wildly grown, unkempt pubic hair indexes the hippie attitude of natural spontaneity; yuppies prefer the disciplinary procedure of a French garden (one shaves the hair on both sides close to the legs, so that all that remains is a narrow band in the middle with a clear-cut shave line); in the punk attitude, the vagina is wholly shaven and furnished with rings (usually attached to a perforated clitoris). Is this not yet another version of the Levi-Straussian semiotic triangle of 'raw' wild hair, well-kept 'baked' hair and shaved 'boiled' hair? One can see how even the most intimate attitude towards one's body is used to make an ideological statement." (Slavoj Zizek, The Seven Veils of Fantasy)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


My father, the photographer.
How much in passing glance, a careless trifle! These little treasures make a mystic out of me.
A samba for the quiet night.

Thursday, January 31, 2008


how to define a feeling if not for its fleeting?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Unsettling, and somehow intriguing.

Sigmund Freud -- dies bravely by asking his physician for a lethal dose of morphine.
Ernest Hemingway-- rests a shotgun (bought at the then sporting-goods store Abercrombie & Fitch) on the floor in his hallway with the double-barrel to his forehead, and ends his life. His father also committed suicide.
Ludwig Wittgenstein-- three of his four brothers committed suicide.
Walter Benjamin-- Death unclear, although suicide heavily suspected; while fleeing from the Nazis he dies in 1940 after taking morphine pills.
Gilles Deleuze-- Suicide after struggling with severe lung cancer and a tracheotomy. Throws himself out of his apartment window.
Nick Drake-- Suicide, probably drug overdose.
Hunter S. Thompson--suicide, gunshot.
Vincent Van Gogh; Virginia Woolf; Sylvia Plath; the list goes on and on.

If great minds often endorse suicide, what does this add to its reflection?
I realized recently that I have stopped spending money on things that were once quite important to me. Now I spend it on books I see in the literary criticism section of the bookstore. So I gave my brother a hundred dollar bill, and told him to buy me those grey jeans that I eyed the other day.




Saturday, January 12, 2008

Both Stylus and Pitchfork rated LCD Soundsystem's "All My Friends" as the top song of 2007.

Friday, January 11, 2008

When I don't look too hard, I can see there are angels surrounding me.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

A casual reading of the opening pages of Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality seriously jeopardizes and even humiliates the popular contemporaneous disavowal of Freud. I am reminded of how much he was able to throw light on; how much he contributed towards contemporary theory, and how silly and ignorant the common complaint, always a marred, grotesque misinterpretation, is. Right off the bat in The Sexual Aberrations, he questions the generally thought absence of childhood sexuality, and the traditional narrative of love: namely that two people of opposite sex are irresistibly attracted under the eventual pretense of reproduction. Freud points out that this narrative, is, well, just a narrative.

To enhance this claim, he draws on, for instance, the figure of the homosexual, to question not just its assumed deviance, but the reality of sexual identity and even gender. He notes the hermaphrodite, psychical hermaphroditism, drag, etc., to determine that the object of our sexual desire is in no way related to a sexual instinct (what we are attracted to). A male can be attracted to a male with female characteristics. A male prostitute dressed in drag may well be a sexual object for another male. In Greek times, for instance, men were sexually attracted to boys precisely because of their gender duality.

This said, equating sexual instinct with object is as problematic today as ever. And yet we continue to run its course: to be straight (sexual instinct) is to be attracted to the opposite gender (object), and so on. This makes me wonder how much we've really advanced on this front.




Thursday, January 3, 2008

Ours is a history of awkward confrontations. Not even of the pleasant kind. I don't suppose I'd change it now, even if I could.
Down the street the dogs are barkin'
And the day is a-gettin' dark.
As the night comes in a-fallin',
The dogs 'll lose their bark.
An' the silent night will shatter
From the sounds inside my mind,
For I'm one too many mornings
And a thousand miles behind.

From the crossroads of my doorstep,
My eyes they start to fade,
As I turn my head back to the room
Where my love and I have laid.
An' I gaze back to the street,
The sidewalk and the sign,
And I'm one too many mornings
An' a thousand miles behind.

It's a restless hungry feeling
That don't mean no one no good,
When ev'rything I'm a-sayin'
You can say it just as good.
You're right from your side,
I'm right from mine.
We're both just one too many mornings
An' a thousand miles behind.


I bought a new phone today. I'm no match for salespeople. In the end, I didn't buy a product; I bought a person. She was enthusiastic and informative (to speak of her positive aspects) and that mattered most.

The business of buying a phone today is hardly desirable. I myself felt like a dismissible product as I glared through the glass counter. People stood around and beside me; they flogged in front of me and asked my sales representative silly questions even as I was clearly in the middle of a business transaction with her. Worse, she even accepted such breaches of social etiquette, casually, without even asking pardon, only to return to me momentarily. At such moments I feel replaceable. I do not feel comfortable in highly crowded, obnoxious environments of this sort.

Speaking of etiquette, I have often noticed these and similar acts of poor social etiquette around me. I enjoy priding myself on a certain level of civil courtesy. It makes me feel good. People say holding the door open for a stranger today is in ways almost always interpreted as a violent act, as if the performance of an old gesture of civil courtesy now suggests its opposite. This may be true. But it isn't always true. All the same, it would be nice if people were generally more courteous. There's a real sense that we've lost something there today. Oft I've seen an interesting person, maybe a dandy on the street, maybe a woman of breathtaking beauty, and wanted to stop and initiate some sort of interaction. One never knows: this person could have been special to you, to me. But in much more than most cases, I'll never know. In this way, the city can be awfully cruel.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Surfing at Midnight. Tonight I speak in lost tongues. A momentary reflection on shame, which is distinct from guilt. Shame carries with it a public connotation: one may be shamed. To be shamed, to experience shame, is always to be disgraced or condoned in the public sphere. All this requires is the opinion of another. Guilt, in contradistinction, breathes in the private, in the person, internally. Yet the two bleed into each other. The best shame, if one may judge it positively, is that which induces its private corollary. Ought one submit to this suicide? At times, I have been shamed. I continue to be shamed. And what is shame, shame itself, but a civilian opinion? A fable told with the air of wisdom, the wisdom of a supressant morality? What God would enforce shame in the wake of a radical freedom? In the presence of its only true radicalness, its own disavowal? What kind of tradition brands this violence shameful as oppose to triumphant? What tradition continues to confuse the two, or label them, one way or another? The argument justifying postlapsarianism speak for itself. To violate the law was always to redefine it and be the law: to pull the mask off its own contradictions. How do you prove shame? And guilt, must we bear the weight of that eternal world too?

So don't ask me. Not that you've ever. I'm not going to be your stock character of shame. Nor will I adhere to a guilt I cannot identify with.

Monday, December 17, 2007

I let the holidays in last night. I found them on the street, in the window shops. They were in the snow that gently fell on my nose. I stepped outside of myself, but it wasn't enough. Sometimes it makes me regret.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The argument, which purposes nothing short of the end of history, comes together brilliantly in Structure, Sign and Play. This is perhaps the most concise and levelling discussion I've ever come across. I place Derrida on the same footing as Freud and Marx. There is nothing short of a revolution there.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

I'm a sucker for a great folk-rock song. None of this indie-folk on steroids stuff.
There's no such thing as a 'new' experience, by definition. One can't have one. It's a contradiction in terms. Therefore the whole discourse, the whole premium put on "experiencing new things", etc., etc., is flawed and as consumable as the culture that creates it. To have an experience, any experience, it must be iterable. One must be able to 'have' it before it can be had. Otherwise it wouldn't be such. And actually, we have a term for such strange cases: trauma. This was one of Freud's great insights. For Freud, trauma is, by definition, the experience you can't have. Hence, one rejects it altogether. It is not a recognizable experience, and as such, is no an experience at all. This is why trauma always involves a blocking out on the part of the subject: a repression, a mental absence, in which cognition literally fails to account for the information brought to it.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I am very content with the new Radiohead album. For reasons that may be entirely contrary to several other fanatics. Everyone ought to support this album. I don't quite feel like labouring through a organized analysis, so here are some thoughts off the top of my head.

Hail to the Thief was a new place. But it wasn't comfortable. The juxtaposition of Radiohead's alterego, pining rock band on one hand, and sophisticated, droned, dark, morose, electronica outfit on the other, was forcibly pushed together. An alloy that didn't sound as if it fit. In Rainbows is also a new place. It's a "rainbowy" place. The alterego fusion works here. It isn't uncomfortable, or forced. It's smooth. House of Cards reminds me of The Clash. It's an isolated island in Thailand. The sun is shining. There are clouds and storms, but the harmony between them is most important. This is Radiohead stepping outside of that canon which is "Radiohead", by writing something of a more conventional pop song. But not conventional in the Bends kind of way; there are things here (where? here. hear.) that the Bends could only dream of. Jigsaw could pass for a Broken Social Scene song. Various songs hint at moments in OK COMP and KID A, but then quickly morph into something new and exciting. Faust Arp sounds like something off of Sgt. Pepper's. In Rainbows is perhaps the closest thing they've ever made to a comfortable album. Comfortable in its simplicity, serenity, design. There isn't the paranoid edge of earlier work (this is in part a lie; of course it's kind of bleak, I mean it is Thom Yorke); but instead a kind of comfort, serenity, at-peace or-coming-to-terms-with-itself. This is unpleasant for many die hard fans. I don't know why. Does the lack of past dread suggest a larger lack, a weakness in the album, or in fact a PRESENCE of a new found maturity for Radiohead? Songs are discoveries outside of the dark clouds of the past. They are, quite simply, "in rainbows". As an album, I think "In Rainbows" is in many ways the most intelligible thing Radiohead could have done to remain relevant today.

It turns out I have deceived myself and my reader and written something of an analysis despite my objecting to. What to do.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Critics are beine revisionist about Ryan Adams. You should be too.

Last night I caught him at Massey Hall. The show has since inspired me to delve into his intemperate catalogue, an activity that is proving very fruitful. Some notables include: "If I'm a Stranger"; "Dear Chicago", and "My Winding Wheel".

The relationship between quality and quantity is delicate in art. Often we are inclined to agree that quantity pollutes. What is privileged is always a singular. Hence, the Mona Lisa over Cecilia Gallerani. (This seems like a formulation of Saussure's principle of difference...artwork obtains meaning precisely because it detaches itself from every other piece of art. And yet at the same time, exists, within an economy of meaning that is historically and socially contingent.) More interesting: not only are singulars privileged within a given canon, or context, but also seem to be given a special cult-like status in examples of extreme singularity. For most people, da Vinci is that guy that painted the Mona Lisa. That is all. A whole life dedicated to art, and this is the end result!

Whereas singularity and minimalism is privileged, excess breeds social suspicion, and even condemnation. Ryan Adams fall under this backdrop. He's consistently put out an album a year since 2000, culminating in the eye widening release of three full length albums in 2005. Is it eye widening or eye narrowing? He's the fucking Derrida of the music world! It's no wonder his albums have often been criticized. Who doesn't feel threatened by weight of this alleged prodigy?

Ushering at Massey Hall has its benefits. Before the show started, before anyone was even in the theatre, I had the opportunity to sit down and watch Ryan Adams and his band setup, soundcheck, etc. And what a memory it will be. If there is something like a "rockstar" archetype, or caricature, Ryan Adams hit it, and passed it, with flying colours. He was a fucking diva, and it was captain fantastic to see this fantasy-archetype actualized, the man behind the music. Who, it is true, swears profusely into the mic, wines like a baby and a punk to the sound technicans, and even submits to the hilarious reality-tv show-like scenario of his band comforting him therapeutically on stage. (I distinctly remember Ryan pressing his palms to his temples at one point and declaring that he was "just so fucking stressed out". To this, the other guitarist responding, "keep it together, Ryan, we're almost done with this tour")

If that's not rock and roll, I don't know what is. A lot of my coworkers were really affected by his attitude, and this seemed to permanently change their attitude towards him and his music. As if being an asshole actually cheapened his music. I just laughed, and got my kicks out of it. But it's a good question. Do artists' actions or personalities ever cheapen their art? Really good question. But one in which I nevertheless answer in the negative. For me, the artist as a person has no bearing on the artifice. Funny enough, this is often the argument I find myself applying when asked to explain my adoration for Tom Cruise. "But he's CRAZY!" Libby says. I smirk, and agree: you're probably right, Tom Cruise is two-ways sideways off his rocker. But then artists have never shyed away from the concept. All the more power to him! When an artist produces art, that is, when they are either in the realm of performance or create something performative, the significance of their idenity ceases with the origin of their art. What becomes significant is the identity of their art. Hence, what should I care about Tom Cruise the person outside his art, in relation to Tom Cruise the artist, and the work that he does in character? What rationality links these two? What rationality disqualifies one on the other?

To be strict about it, this logic entails me to abandon even my claim that I like Tom Cruise. This indicates that I like something about him independent of his art (which I happen to, but that's neither here or there). I can only say that I like Tom Cruise's art. And yet, it appears I can't even say that. If the author of the art is, in fact, the art itself (Barthes's turn), and the art must be judged on its own grounds, then what I like strictly isn't Tom Cruise, but the character Bill in Eyes Wide Shut. David Aimes in Vanilla Sky. Because, in a sense, Tom Cruise is not any of these, and thus it makes no sense to compare him to them, or to rate him by them.

Still, how ridiculous is it to think that saying 'I like Tom Cruise' on artistic grounds is an identification fallacy? I want to say I like him for his art. Just like I like Ryan Adams, for his art, and his amazing ability to be that pretentious rock and roll asshole archetype. I don't know how to end this long post, so I will just refuse to make any attempt to. And now observe how me and language are steeped in contradiction. Thanks for reading.