Feminism as a Humanism, 12 October 2015

I will be asked, be sure of that, if I am a feminist. I would say yes, as that is a part of a larger belief which is, I think, more accurate: a humanist. People are an insoluble mystery as a collective. Even groups can be as mysterious; mystery gives us a safe danger, and a righteous fear to an imagined horror. Groups are created to better understand motivation. An individual’s motivating factor can be different from that of the group, and to find out the motivation for everyone would take too much time, and would be much more difficult to malign using the worst examples of overreach and crazy possible. As PETA is discredited by the very few who throw blood onto mink coats and wrap themselves in plastic as protest, civil rights protestors’ actions are easily marginalized when one subset or individual does something wrong, burns down a building, or attacks a police officer.

Then there’s news; one in a thousand becomes the face of the majority, and a convenient face is used to lionize the entire cause. Then the motivations are assumed instead of interpreted, and the focus becomes the reaction, the protest, rather than what provoked it. And because you have a bogeyman, and bogeyman have that safe danger, you use it to terrify people into feeling threatened by all the protestors’ motivations because of the heavily amplified focus on the behavior, comments, and misdeeds of the few who can provide the safe danger those against civil rights need to scare others into thinking all protesters wish to do this and thereby rally their constituents against the push for human rights being not delegated and decided by genitalia, skin, cultures, or religion.

That is the feminism I know; and it’s not separate, a girl’s club; it’s a group of people dedicated to the idea that human beings are human beings, regardless of their sex organs or lack thereof, and should be granted the same opportunity appropriate to their ability to make the best of it with an ability not given to them by the same genetic code that changes colors of skin or sex organs; by the development and ability of character should all be afforded the opportunity to excel, not at anyone’s expense, but to everyone’s advantage; a world divided by isms and ists is not the goal; the goal of feminism and humanism is to bring about a world where there’s no need for this division, a world where no one stands to lose for who they are, where everyone stands to gain for what goodness they can bring into the world. Protestors aren’t protesting to win at the expense of anyone, they’re not fighting to win if winning is defined by the defeat of someone else. The fight is to end the fight, to show that paths to peace are forged not by the forceful paving of unnatural roads, but by frequent walks enemies can take toward a common ground, a ground where the only items on a checklist are willing, check; able, check; and human, check. We’re in this together people.

The struggle will only be a struggle as long as one side is fighting to defeat the other, while the other side is fighting to be equal – not through defeat, but through concession of the universal elements of humanity that tie us to each other, to our friends, our family, to our pets, and to this world, a world big enough for every person, every ism, every ist; a world not made for feminists or environmentalists out of the ruins of another’s world, but out of the acceptance into that world by everyone. When division ceases, there are no sides, and without sides there is no war. There’d be no need for it. I am feminist because that is worth fighting for. Victory is not measured by those conquered, but by those liberated, and the feminist movement at its best and as it is best represented, looks for the victory of opportunity, personal freedom, and the personal freedom of others to choose among freedoms, not restrictions or asterisks or exceptions for or against anyone.

Struggles might be unique to individuals, but to struggle is the condition by which peace is possible. I want to be strong so I can stand in the rain and not worry about being blown over. I want to be strong so my strength might inspire further courage to stand in the rain until no one else is forced to. None of us have a monopoly on struggle, on true faith, wisdom or belief, and there are more things that make us like one another than make us different. We all want to be loved. We all worry about our friends and families. We all struggle to put together a puzzle we can’t see. The struggle might not go away, but it is easy to push away boundaries to possibility when everyone is pushing in the same direction, as long as that direction is forward, and for the future, to pay our debts for those who stood in the rain before us, those who showed us we weren’t the only ones on eggshells, struggling to find our place in the world. We all have one, and humanism is about pushing forward to allow all to take the road they feel may best get them out of the rain. For the truth is, to stand in the rain is not so bad when you don’t have to stand alone. Feminism and humanism is thus motivated, by common and unique bonds, not to change the rain, but to make sure no one drowns and let those who stand know that someone will be there if they go under, because of how many people went under so they could stand.

The protest for opportunity and equal treatment is not the sigh of an oppressed people. The demand for equality is not a demand for the opposition’s failure. The solution is not proposed to be to another’s detriment. Civil protest is the war of the civilized; and the loudest warriors aren’t the loudest, but those who stop the most screaming. So put your war faces on and join someone in the rain. Heroes are those who help others stand. Heroes aren’t always on the news, nor do they get a citation for helping someone with their math homework. There’s no medal of honor for a mother of two raising beautiful happy and healthy children – a person this strong doesn’t need a necklace. They have guts, and guts is enough. You might get no award or medal or be praised for the simple act of helping another person, male or female, black or white, atheist or theist, but in a better world, in a perfect world, you wouldn’t have to pay a fine.

Theatre and Culture, 10 October 2015

Theatre may have started as an organizing force, an excuse for fellowship and ritual in the ancient world, such as what we know of its development in Ancient Greece. At first, it was just for men – and even when there were female characters, they were portrayed by men. Even so, it was a way for a community of shared interests, leading to more than a collection of individuals – culture. That’s a small word, culture. And vague, and hard to use in its broadest sense, in the full scope of what it offers (and what it takes).

It is the sum total of a people, their hopes and values, their fears and regrets. It does more than tie a people together. It forms the basis of a collected consciousness; it gives us heroes to admire and attempt to follow, and villains to despise and, shamefully, get a measure and bit of understanding about the darker side of human nature and ourselves. The collected mythology of a culture is a projection of their unconscious, and through that we get a glimpse into who they were. You can get a better sense of who the English were at the turn of the 16th century through the works of Shakespeare than you can from historians, since historians recount the deeds of the extraordinary, and writers recount the deeds of the ordinary as well and, ironically, it is more extraordinary to read. Shakespeare was able to use the past as a lens to focus on the very real religious schism of his age, something Kip Marlowe would do also do in his Satanic drama in Dr Faustus.

In plundering the more traditional histories recounted in Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles, Shakespeare was able to create an anatomy of the era, examining the lowborn and the high and mighty, giving the newly excommunicated England a sense of who they were and what their stories would be. ‘An island unto itself’ is vaguely reminiscent of Richard III’s line in Act V, Scene VI of Henry VI: ‘I am myself alone.’ Shakespeare did this in a way that Holinshed never could, by making history into something poetic and resonant, and–most importantly–entertaining. This is not to discredit Holinshed; I just couldn’t imagine a crowd of theatre patrons thrilling at the recitation of the following as a dramatic soliloquy:
The situation of our region, lieng ne’ere unto the north, dooth cause the heate of our stomaches to be of somewhat greater force: therefore our bodies doo crave a little more ample nourishment, than the inhabitants of the hotter regions are accustomed withall, whose digestive force is not altogether so vehement.”
Always makes me choke up, that bit about the stomaches.

The same is true of Homer and Virgil, whose characters and struggles are as revealing as Livy’s formal histories.

Future historians will learn more about the character of Americans in the early 21st century from the books of Jacopo della Quercia than traditional historians, as he is a historian Robot. He is a friend, but I say this not to kiss his ass but, as Socrates said, Game recognize game.[citation needed]. His articles and works, such as The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy and License to Quill, afford us a perspective not possible through traditional histories, and succeed as history and entertainment, offering a unique, rare insight into the character of the modern world–by using the past to look into the character of the age and toward the future, in a manner very analogous to Shakespeare; and in doing so manages to reveal the intrigue and obsessions of the modern world–in an age where we look for the truth in fiction and for the fiction in popular accounts of truth, which is often the case in a culture of conspiracy. Compared to Virgil’s Aeneid, Ab Urbe Condita Libri ain’t shit. (I apologize to any sincere Livy fan who may be reading, and Livy personally, if you’re haunting the internet looking for mentions of yourself. Egomaniac. Got nothing against you, Petronious.)

These pieces may exist outside of our influence, and are ultimately beyond our control, but when we put those pieces together, from history and entertainment and culture, the end result is a reflection of who we are; it is the building of the mirror, and it is in this reflection, these glimpses into our motivations and desires, our fears and neuroses, the impulses behind our thoughts and beliefs–this is what literally defines us. It is the microcosm, the smaller creature in contrast to the macrocosm, the larger organism that is the culture. Like life it starts with ‘I’ and ends with ‘Y’? (see what I did there? High five!) It is identity.

You gonna leave me hanging? Guys?

…Guys?

*High five*
Thanks, Livy!

Rolling, Natural Sounds in Poetry and Expression: 11 September 2015

Poetry is a method of expression. Expression, ostensibly, means to show–not say. For example, to rhyme how you feel is not poetry, or expression; it’s didactic and it’s boring. Touching on universal characteristics of the human condition is important; hope and fear, gain and loss, love and hate–it is all a part of the human experience.

          Although it is not poetic to simply rhyme how you feel in blatant statements, to overtly symbolize and make metaphor of your work is almost as bad. Symbols rely on idea association, and one of the main movements of modern art was the separate symbol from idea, idea from representation. Symbols are important, but to be obvious is to be boring. The oblique interplay of ideas allows for the reader to extract and apply allegory to their own life; allegory shouldn’t be equivocation within the poem itself.

          The best poetry not only has the ability to express without stating, but also works as a work that can successfully convey beauty with tone alone. Having fluency in another language will awaken the reader to the tonal qualities of his or her native language and, in doing so, allow them to see the beauty that certain arrangements of words can be. It has been said that ‘cellar door’ is the most beautiful word in the English language. It is unclear who actually made this claim, but once it was perpetuated by a popular Hollywood movie, it has become a go-to word for illustrating the beauty within the tone of certain English words. In writing rhyming couplets, a good way to judge the way it may sound to someone who can’t speak the language, is to see if it is possible to read the sentence as one word without difficulty. Let me offer a demonstration:

          I’m uncertain as to what makes a book on expression necessary.

          The consonant reflections do not adhere to natural vowels which would follow if the sentence rolled, in the manner I intend.  ‘Expression good’ doesn’t roll because it’s rare for a consonant, N, to be followed by another consonant, G. (It does happen, as in lingo and linguistics, for example) but adding to the diminished roll after the reflective consonant is the D that closes the sentence on a closed sound. It is a good practice in rolling to arrange words in ways that reflect single words, as in the following sentence ‘for what’ is not too far a stretch from ‘forward.’ For what I do not know the purpose for those books on prose. In the same manner, ‘purpose for’ is tonally related to purposeful; ‘books on’ is tonally related to book song.

          The sentence works as an example of smooth rolling and as an example of internal rhyme and, in addition to removing an unnecessary proposition, the line becomes more fluid, as though the words become Siamese, inseparable from what came before and what is to come after. In addition to flowing and being more lucid, it has multiple syllabic rhymes within it. ‘Do,’ (although not a perfect rhyme), ‘Know,’ and ‘prose’ connect as middle and ending phonemes and, taking away everything away from the sentence between the phoneme rhymes, the rhyming words, do the imperfect, and know and prose the perfect, you are reduced without transitions and articles to a statement: ‘Do know prose.’ Consonant pairing spread across the lines can also lend symmetry to a line: as the ‘t’ in ‘not’ presages the ‘t’ in quality. It is easy to do end-sentence rhymes of vowels, but to rhyme consonants by alliteration using internal, ellipse rhyme schemes, is much more difficult.

          End-line rhyming is the easiest form of writing poetry. But, just because it’s easy, doesn’t mean the resultant poetic expression is without value. I could make up lines of more than 20-30 internal parent rhymes, imperfect rhymes, and consonant relationships, but it wouldn’t make the statement, or expression, any more lovely. For example:

          I’m an imaginative and passionate masochist given adjectives elaborate and massive ass whoopins so bad it could land my ass back in prison. Imaginative, passionate, masochist, and adjective are three syllable perfect rhymes done over the course of the first half of the sentence. Just because of the display of rhyme ability in such a sentence is admirable, it is not necessarily a poetic sentiment. Which brings me to what qualifies as valid poetic expression.

          To be a poet, idea-object relationships have to be seen through the lens of a poet. To be a poet is to see relationships between objects and ideas that people without the poetic inclination do not. To look at a ring of smoke and see the essence of life is the type of idea-sight association that a poet would make, because there are layers to this idea. A ring is cyclical, like the cycles of life and death, the coming in and receding tide; the fact that it’s blown into being and lingers briefly before fading also links it to the idea of its relationship to life.

          It is important to keep in mind that, as important as it is to keep meter, for the sake of maintaining musical quality, nothing about it should be forced. If you are resigned to a specific meter, it is important not to be hasty in putting thought to paper. It is said that the poet Virgin, author of the Latin epic the Aeniad, wrote only two lines of poetry a day. When you’re under the impression that it is necessary to wait for inspiration to write good poetry, the best advice is to write on anyway: inspiration doesn’t always come when it is needed. If every writer who ever penned a master piece waited on inspiration for every page, the amount of masterpieces we have on record would be cut in half. Frank Herb, author of the acclaimed science fiction series Dune, said of writer’s block (I’m not aware of the price quote): the important thing is to write anyway, for when you look back, if you forgot all memory of the composition, you would not be sure which parts came to you while inspired and which came to you while uninspired. There’s something dangerous about inspiration, too.

          Inspiration should come to you as you’re working. You don’t get past writer’s block by waiting on the fence to be torn down, you have to break through it yourself by writing. If you waited on inspiration to write, you’d never get anything done. By the time inspiration does arrive, you should be too busy to notice. There is a dangerous quality to inspiration too; inspiration is like a drug, and certain drugs can lead you into self defeating cycles: professional writers will know what I mean when I refer to the re-write cycle. There is a tendency to stop while you’re in the heat of a good section to go back to the beginning and check out what you have so far. In doing this, you lose what future was going to come naturally before you stopped, and can be locked into forever trying to improve what you’ve already written. Be wary of this; it is possible to fix something until it’s broken. Jack Kerouac famously believed that re-writing was a censorship of one’s self, that re-writing was a cheat that altered the original expression for the sake of making it more decorative, more intentionally pandering to the sensibilities of one’s perspective readers. Ginsberg, author of the famous poem Howl, was always revising, always looking for le just mot (the perfect phrase, as it is said in French) and considering his success, I would not give my support to one extreme or the other.

          Another dangerous thing about inspiration is that it can lead you into tangents that, due to your confidence, will lead you so far away from the actual novel that, when working with a copy editor to produce a galley proof to send to a publish, it can look like an out of place, drug induced tangent that, in reality, was the moment you were lead astray by the confidence that inspiration can bring. Like a drug, it can convince you that you’re doing no wrong. Therefore, I would say that while inspiration is a good quality and excellent motivation, it is just as important to write logically and with a clear focus on where you’re going.

          When you go back to the beginning and start trying to improve, you begin to take the story out of a linear progression, because ideas intended to come later on are slipped in unknowingly, and as it is easy to do this, it is easy to forget what you have already said and, in all probability, have said better. Expression should be as natural as breathing; breathing is not a practiced process. Serendipity comes to those who summon her through great effort, not to those who wait on her to provide them with everything.

          Symbolism and metaphor are wonderful tools to use in poems. But the reliance on heavy, weighty symbols and metaphors, as well as the deplorable usage of using ‘like’ to relate one object’s essence to a train of thought, can trap you into expressing the ideas of symbols, instead of symbols used to represent ideas. When I say the reliance on symbolism in poetry is dangerous, I only mean to say the reliance on often used symbols to represent something is dangerous. Poetry is the expression of the personal, but it should have the touch of the universal. That’s why when I am writing I take great pains not to use ‘I’ as much as possible, to use ‘I’ in writing a poem is a way of separating your poetry from the reader. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but it keeps your writing within the three walls.

          The forth wall is the final barrier between true art and kitsch.

Essay: The Role of Art in Life and History, 18 August 2015

I once wrote that a book was a haunted house, serving to scare the shit out of complacent, naive people. And in a sense, I still think that to be true; but my perspective has changed; the perspective is change. These ghosts aren’t here to scare us; they’re here to tell us their stories, their struggles, their ideas; they’re here, living through the words, telling us they lived, telling us who they are, telling us that they lived and that their lives had value and, reassuringly, so did ours. They ask only for our time, these characters, for our sympathetic understanding.

         The reason writers write is the same reason mockingbirds sing; it’s something in our childhood, something in our coming of age, something in the enjoyment of stories and imagination; if reading is how the imagination breathes, writing is how the soul exhales. To write is to dream while you’re awake. As different peoples of our world are different and inherit different genes, different cultures inherit different stories, and as products of a unique culture ourselves, we produce stories to contribute to our culture, to intermix among the existing, more popular imaginings of better artists.

Our stories have escaped our planet, finally, and are in interstellar space. The messages encoded on Voyager 1 and 2 were message from our entire species. We wish to be remembered; this message may be a murmur, but it is the echo of our planet and our species, with one purpose, to express: Remember us. If nothing else it will be a haunting, a ghost’s way to perpetuate itself, a more eloquent ghost perhaps.

There are a variety of images and sounds, extravagant and mundane, natural and contrived—Mozart and Stravinsky, Chuck Berry and greetings in fifty-five languages. Sounds of animals are also included; for example, the record contains sounds of crickets and frogs, hyenas, elephants, dogs and chimpanzees. There are soundbytes of a kiss, a mother and a child, footsteps, heartbeats, and laughter.

It is a golden message in a bottle, a time capsule, a record of our species looking to be remembered with this encyclopedic representation of what it is to be a citizen of Earth, to be human, to be empathetic and hopeful that someday, when this Golden Record approaches another solar system, it will not only be found—it will be understood. The message included from then American President Jimmy Carter sums up the desires and yearnings of the human race to have a place in the history of the cosmos. As Carl Sagan said,

‘These are the murmurs of Earth.’ It is a beautiful summation of the highest nature of mankind. It is ambitious, noble, and hopeful.

‘We cast this message into the cosmos … Of the 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, some—perhaps many—may have inhabited planets and spacefaring civilizations. If one such civilization intercepts Voyager and understands these recordings, here is our message. This is a gift from a small and distant planet, a token of our sounds, science, images, music, thoughts and feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live in yours. We hope, someday, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope, determination, and goodwill in a vast and awesome universe.’

And through our understanding comes empathy, through empathy identification, and in that identification, we see our lives anew; forever permanent, figures drawn by words; and in this mausoleum, we live—and death for us loses all unease and fear in knowing that memories are those ghosts, and ghosts the authors of those stories, and those stories evolve into who we are, and stand in our place when our legs are too weak to hold us and, forever young, we join their company to say to you we lived and when you’re gone, we’ll welcome you to our palace, to our gallery, and the living will redraw you when you leave. They’ll resurrect you in their paint and in their ink.

Literature isn’t a haunted house, no place for a banshee; a book, a poem, a play—each is a prism, a palatial gallery of characters we love and hate and envy and desire and need, and each book is its own room at the palace, complete with its guide, complete with its perfectly framed snapshots, snapshots from all the world, from every moment of the small slit in the window we have on record for our species, every emperor and conqueror, every peasant and chambermaid, every hero and every villain, the men and women we dream of, the men and women we strive to be. You are alive, brief though it is, and when you pass into Dylan Thomas’s sweet night, there’s a place for you on the page with us, with us in the Shadow Gallery, to say not only that we lived, but in this we are alive; and in this we do not die. And for the rest of the time this little blue ball of ours keeps going and churning and the sun still shines, somewhere on a shelf, this book might one day be found, and when it’s opened, I spring to life again to say that I lived, I loved, and ,my life had value.

Writing is the chronicle of our fantasies and our lives, and within them the obsessions and passions are amplified, and we think in broader, brighter colors, in glorious Technicolor. We will rise each time that page is turned. Here, as Dylan Thomas said, death has no dominion. You can’t kill the idea; you cannot kill the living word.

Art and music and literature gives humanity to oppressed people. It lets us understand victims as they were, not as just broken people. It acts out the moral and religious schisms in our culture. It looks through the past into the present. It refines us. It defines us. It gives us a sense of where we came from, and where we’re going. It gives us heroes and comfort and passion. Art is the religion of a faithless world.

The Royal Reflection – short, 10 August 2015

1

ELANORE WAS BORN TO A ROYAL FAMILY IN THE NORTHERN-MOST TIP OF what had been Padania, in northern Italy, having come into being by accident. As Elanore lost her sight, and as she gained it inexplicably.

As an infant, before she could remember anything else, her handmaiden had burnt her eyes while straightening her unimaginable curls. And being in the part of childhood forever forgotten, she had a happy childhood, ideal, fool of love. She liked her toys, milkmaids and moo-cows. Quite happy she had been too for so long, for all her life, until she strangely woke to find a flame that seemed to speak:

“I think she’s in the country…”

Father.

She screamed as she realized what was happening. Seeing, she knew that she was seeing. It built from the center and expanded out with the width of the room, that white mantle and what a beautiful device! A clock, she’d never seen a clock, never seen a minute pass. Her father turned to face her.

When she saw him she remembered his face. Somehow, it was right. Yet everything was blinding to her there, in that moment in the morning when the sun has intruded into the bedrooms blessed with open blinds. She fled from her room into the darkened corridors of her family home, almost a castle—save for the cruddy gray bricks – this was wood, and smelled differently in different halls, having been a way for Elanore to find her way to the chamberpot room and to sit on the sell de banne.

She ran through the halls assaulted by the shapes and colors that rose out of a black mist just outside of range, a blackness she didn’t understand. Guards young and old passed the wild-eyed child as she fled that those stony corridors, lit by torches dwindling, spent as the veil of night had rose.

Nothing shook the feeling that the world was somehow wrong, the colors off; she tried to squint to take it in, subdue the light, to conquer it, to shut it off, hoping she could tame the sun, make it relent. And she came upon a mirror. It was her, she knew by instinct, as she had known her father’s face, despite never having seen it. But everything was wrong in the reflection: the eyes and hair and her complexion, chestnut colored eyes, a lovely brown, dark hair still curled – as her maid had no chance to have pressed it. She began to think – how strange! her eyes could lie, how strange a thought.

“She’s in the country…”

She heard the distant murmurs of approaching horses, her father calling out:

“Alissa!” he called. And others with him: “Signorina Alissa! Signorina!”

The retinue of men, in strange dress and manner, approached her, slowing down. The horses, what a sight! for new eyes beyond belief, such strange machines, covered in hair, larger than she’d have thought. Her father dismounted and ran up to her, pulled her into his arms and turned to walk away. He saw the mirror and turned around. He said: “So what did you think? Aren’t you the prettiest little girl in the world?”

No, she thought – she didn’t say it – she’d never thought of such a thing, a mirror that is – why would she, how? How could she have been told, and why tell the blind that such a device existed, knowing they’d never see themselves? He told her what it was, a mirror. She was intrigued and asked. “Papa,” she said, “Are there other mirrors? Better mirrors? I don’t believe it worked, the one I saw.”

“Of course,” he said. He dismissed the other men, helped her onto the horse. He made sure she was secured and hopped in front of her. .

“Hold on!” he said. She wrapped her arms around him as the horse broke into a gallop. The sky she’d often heard was full of clouds and birds was empty then and barren, an ocean she had thought, an ocean without end. And the moon hung like a thumbnail above distant treetop. They rode toward the castle and must have taken a more scenic route. She saw such things beyond belief: birds in flight, rolling hills and vineyards, bright and strange. Back in the castle she felt lost; She’d made her way around for many years without help. She held her fathers hand and he led her to a washroom. Another mirror, oblong with a gold frame above the wash-basin. Something was off; It was wrong as well. She looked away. In her father’s bed chamber she found another, a smaller vanity mirror, wrong again and so on: mirror after lying mirror; she didn’t trust the glass. They stopped for a moment in a gallery, a well-appointed, spacious room, comfortable chairs and divans. Each picture, each painting, she thought was an honest mirror, mirrors she could loved.

He introduced her to the family; his father then his uncle, distant relatives, the rest, and then her among so many, how few with that same hair and eyes, no other was a true brunette. The painting had it right, she thought, and each mirror had been wrong, imperfect glass that lied or changed to spite her. She said as much, asking her father,                                “Could you show me a better mirror?”

“A better mirror?” he asked.

“Yes,” Alissa said. “The best! Only the best. One that is as accurate as this.” She indicated the painting and smiled.

“I will in the morning, sweetheart.”

“You promise?” she asked. She took his hand and swung it back and forth. “Do you promise? Do you? Do you?”

“Yes dear,” he said. He smiled. “There is someone I can see. I promise.”

He never lied to her, and a promise she could count on, unlike her mother.

“She’s in the country…”

They were quiet at the dinner table. It was too long, she thought. The table, feeling lonely, a new feeling for the dinner table, a feeling she had not felt before. Two men in uniform stood on opposite sides of the dining table with white kerchiefs draped over their wrists, on call. She finished her meal, they took it away, and her father finished, and the table was cleared.

“Are you ready for bed?” he asked.

“Not yet,” she said. “I want to see the prettiest thing you have.”

He took walked toward her, took her hand, and said, “It’s not in the castle. But I’ll show you. You’ll love it.”

2

The night had crept up on them quietly, bathing the now dim dining hall, its candles blown out and left smoking. That candle light, those flames still seemed so personal, like living things. And she liked to watch them as her father spoke, to relive that moment when she first awoke again.

He led her from the dining hall through winding corridors with torches hanging on the walls. The shadows thrown, such strange patterns, with light and darkness split by lanterns. The castle doors came slowly slowly down and moaned. Everything seemed to make some sound or sounds, as if they spoke, not as a consequence of movement, not for her, but from personality; the doors were old and groaned but did their duty still; they had purpose, as all things did, all personable and alive. Soon they were in the courtyard, and under the canopy of distant lights, the stars! There they were, scattered in that endless ocean, stretching on and on forever, without end. A black ocean full of fire, anglerfish with entranced planets, hypnotized and trapped by its spell.

So much to take in, so very much! So much she knew she’d never know, never could know, never hear of all of them nor their names, and silent all of them, so far away like all of space and quiet, She fell asleep underneath the constellations as her father spoke, imagining those distant fires as candlelights themselves, with the same voice.

“And that is Ariene, and Toros, and Pesci there, and my sign Acquario, your mothers there, Gemelli, and yours..,”

Alissa was fast asleep. Dreaming in color, too; she was a fire like the rest; and spoke to kids as that same flame that managed to light her life, bring her the stars; among them now and uncontained by mirrors or frames unbound by math just change; never stopping endless never still. Breathing and stretching in such freedom with such relish, a longing she had never known and it went on. Sparks struck into flame and swelled orange at first then red, then white and finally blue and bright bright beyond compare it flashed and ebbed away. One after another flaring into flame and life just to subside as had all others growing faint, growing dim each light, each point she had just slept under in such peace. Each point followed in its fashion, some larger and some brighter yet none of them were lasting; finally they were far away, as far as they had been when she had listened to her father. She heard him speaking, voice of the last stars each fading, ever darker, ever gray. She woke in the comfort of her bed. She could hear father talking to someone, a woman; the voice was familiar.

Alissa heard her father say, “Whatever you ask,” he said. “It’s yours.”

The woman walked into the room. Alissa’s father followed close behind, “I have something for you…”

The woman held an object, egg-shaped on one end , straight on the other; cased in black satin, tied at the hilt with a golden tassel.

“This,” said she, “is very special, a magical object. Your father said you wanted the best of all the mirrors, best in the whole wide world, is that right?”

“Yes, ma’am,” said Alissa.

“Well,” she said, “look at this!”

The velvet sheet fell to the floor as a glittering object, mostly silver, slid from it into one hand, then to both. The glass was more liquid than solid, unusual and restless; the mirror moved—the mirror moved! Changing shapes and changing colors always shifting restless, so it seemed. The woman said, “This is a very special mirror. This mirror tells only truth, while other mirrors only show what’s real. This will show your true face no matter what, whether you wish to see it or not. It is a camaleonte, alive… Do you know that is?”

“It is a lizard,” said the princess. “A chameleon.”

“Yes,” the lady said. “This is the Chameleon Mirror.”

3

The young girl nodded.

“But,” she said, “Pardon, ma’am. Could I see it work before I try it?”

“How clever!” said the lady. She had a toothy smile. “Do you still have your dolly?”

Alissa looked around. She hadn’t thought of toys, not since she woke at least. She didn’t know how to find them, not with her eyes. She lay back as if to sleep, pretending for a moment, and replayed her usual routine. She sat up with her eyes closed then felt her way around, out of the bed across the carpet, onto the wooden floor, then to the corner. Her old toy-chest, made of soft-wood, had a cold, metallic switch and buckle. She groped about until she found a wooden doll, a dairy-made she’d never seen. She opened her eyes to finally see. The shirt was white and bilious, the dress was red and wrinkled; her shoes were black, her stockings white. Alissa walked across the room and sat down again. The lady smiled. She took the doll and said: “My daughter had one of these!”

She placed the doll in front of the mirror and – the mirror moved! The mirror moves, Alissa thought. it changed from an amorphous shade of neutral grey and blank and bit by bit became defined; sketchy at first then color sprang into life coloring the face. It looked different immediately, but Alissa didn’t know exactly why or how. There was a discomfort in the face, an emotion, a pained expression somehow. Alissa looked at the doll in the mirror, then to the real doll; at first glance they seemed the same, but the mirror gave it personality; it told the truth by some strange voodoo that the real doll for some reason could not manage. The reflection in the mirror was more true than the milk-maid’s face.

“Well?” the lady interrupted. “Would you like to see it work on you?”

Alissa thought for a moment, wondering truly, wondering what question she wanted answered; none, she thought, had troubled her before she woke to find the speaking candlelight.

“I want you to look!”

The lady’s smile faltered a bit but did not fail. She said, “Of course.”

She turned the mirror to her face. It sprung to life again, shifted from a settled palette, undefined, and bursting colors sprung from beneath the liquid surface and hurried into place, each more definitive, putting the face together bit by bit as she looked on. A lively woman appeared, not unkind nor kind, came together dot by dot, color by color until the surface settled into a stern, more wistful countenance. The face was younger, much younger, but the eyes were older, weary and tired but sharp, acute and penetrating. She became beautiful through that same magic. And Alissa took the handle but the lady grabbed her hand.

“Are you sure you want to see?” she asked. “If you look, you can’t take it back.”

And without thinking she said yes, compelled and egged on by that magic. Alissa took the handle into her hands and held it up to her face and focused. Colors rushed from the lining silver toward the center, dark colors first, the outline in dark colors then new colors softer, beige and lesser brown, each softer, more subtle shades all marching towards a growing image. And the face with currents shifting settling, colors barging into one another, merging, and finally settled. She looked into the eyes on the mirror’s face, her face. It was … was it? Was it?

“Take it away!” she screamed. “Take it away!”

4

Alissa pushed the mirror away and covered her face, holding her eyes shut tightly. Her father sat beside her. The lady – she could tell through each small sound, still at strange heights – began to redress the magic mirror. She couldn’t shake the image bu she tried, for hours hoping, praying, begging, wishing that when she slept she’d lose the image, the whole thing would go away, like a memory from childhood of a small moment, a moment no one notices or remembers; filling a bird-feed, changing the hay for the horses, something routine, something ordinary.

Her father stayed with her until the sun went down. She felt her father’s heartbeat against her shoulder, tender and supportive. She felt silly and opened her eyes. His eyes were closed, but he seemed calm. Calm enough, at least. And he put his head on her shoulder, looking, she knew, for some sort of support from her.

And she said, “I’m sorry.”

He laughed and asked:

“What did you see?”

“The painting,” the princess said. “It just didn’t seem like me.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s okay.”

She’d find out later to her shame the kind of fee her father paid for a mirror, for such magic. The price for her to get to see had cost her father’s sight. She thought back to that night with him, leading him outside into the courtyard and then on the hill under the black velvet blank full of stars. He got comfortable on his back. She wanted to show him she remembered, the stars from the night before. She put her finger on his stomach first, “I remember,” she said. She pressed into his stomach, “Here is Ariete,” she moved onward, sideways, “And Leone right here,” she kept on drawing. “Pesci of course and your sign Acquario, that’s yours and mama’s sign is here, Gemelli…”

“Wait!” she cried. “Where is my mother?”

“She’s in the country,” he said. He repeated a few more times and was quiet. She understood and never asked again. She continued with the constellations on his stomach, on his chest. And when she stopped, he said: “You forgot yourself.”

He pulled her hand above his heart and said, “Right here.”

“Toro!”

QOTD: The Difference Between Philosophy and Academics

Also for the bite-sized philosophy page, today’s question: What is the difference between an academic and a philosopher? 

Despite what some of the material on this site might suggest, I am not a philosopher. I have more in common with the potboiler writers of Astounding Fiction! (Inasmuch as I do an ungodly amount of work for wages a foreign landscaper would scoff at.) I feel I must point this out, as there is a — I think — a different between an academic and a scholar, or just someone who sits somewhere and looks at the sun and thinks … whatever it is the brightest among us think when they look at nature and unravel it. I am an academic, and I use the term to mean, “someone who is [reasonably] learned in institutions of learning.” That’s not a philosopher, and those words, philosopher and scholar, are only sometimes synonymous. The thoughts of a philosopher lead to new thoughts and even new academic institutions. Newton invented calculus, or stole it from Leibniz, who invented fucking calculus; it was a new way to measure things that had precedent in the world of academics, Euclid’s geometry, for example. Descartes would develop analytic algebra, Einstein would develop relativity, and Richard Feynmann would develop shit so far beyond genius that a modest volume (on light and its interaction with matter) could blow your mind with just a bunch of fucking arrows. 

A philosopher is a scholar who creates what future scholars will study; nothing I ever create will be studied by scholars. A philosopher is a present-tense scholar, an academic that studies the world and the people in it; as opposed to past-tense scholars, academics that study the words of the wise and contribute only to the criticism culture in art and literary circles. Anyone can learn about something that has happened, or a new language, calculus – the fucking central limit theorem if they so desired. (Give it up, you guy.) All of those subjects involve memory and its application. Philosophy draws on memory to imagine the future, to take events to their logical conclusions, to know what is happening as it happens. Thinkers do not always know what is happening presently, despite impeccable memory and clarity and wit.

A scholar, of literature or history or mathematics, can be dynamic, nuanced, and subtle, and even creative. A thinker strives to be thoughtful and understanding, and through this a thinker attempts to contribute something unique to the world of academics, a new element, like relativity or quantum electrodynamics. A philosopher is at the burden of his craft, at the mercy of the world, compelled to put each aspect of the competing dramas of a world at war into words the rest of us can understand, to help make peace with the people at war with themselves. The philosopher’s alibi is ‘Why?’ — this is a different alibi than, say, the engineer’s alibi, ‘How?’ It may me on more fertile and productive ground, but ‘How?’ to get a glass of milk is not as interesting a question as why any humans ever discovered milk was okay to drink.

The mirage, for the philosopher, is the oasis: the mystery is not the matter of simply answering it. A philosopher is not concerned with such magic, such subjective experiences: they want confusion and they will have it for, as bravery is not the absence of fear but the mastery of it, confusion is not the absence of knowing, but the struggle that must take place to allow for the possibility of understanding. An intellectual looks at the philosopher and the thinker and says, someday I’ll be like Newton, or Edison, and change the world by stealing ideas from smarter people, those suffering, miserable, desperate men and women that must know, and waste away with books and puzzles. All people of genius are similarly burdened with the madenning need to know more, to test the limits of the imagination, to push it beyond the capabilities of the rest of us, we average and unfortunate  masses, born without that spark, if only we spent our lives looking for patterns in nature, testing un-answerable questions against reason, if only we had the time to dedicate our lives to the pursuit of a new wisdom. Being a philosopher means learning the difference between knowledge and wisdom. And as I am not a philosopher, I have no answers for you. The best advice, I think, would be: think about it.

Bite Sized Philosophy started as a way for me to address broad, classically philosophical issues in shorter articles. This was to get some of my more time pressed friends into the outer realms of academia that obsess me and attempt to supply discussion or at least a conversation. One you can read on the subway, the toilet, and then forget about as easily as the last big scandal, the last plane crash or disaster, and for a moment, you can forget: the wise taste no better to worms. 

Poem: One Summer in the Sun (Shakespeare tribute!)

One Summer in the Sun

Sweet lights, sweet candle,
burning far away and slow –
Candle in our music box,
Spotlight upon this cancelled show,
Light each path that in my past
in one form or another torn,
From Yesterday 
Each new day born,
Sweet mother may it glow –
That we sweet orphans
though unimportant
have the fingertips of light to keep us
on that road.

For their summer in the sun,
one yawn before the winter’s breath,
a ring of smoke blown through the gates of nowhere.
And life, the beautiful nothing,
a candle for its own sake lit,
begins to blur and fade,
another song from the record played.
Once so great, and now so small,
now a whisper in the hall.

Once to live, and wonder why,
to rise and fall under the sky.
Summer rises;
summer sets.
One summer in the sun is all we get.
The sun will smile,
and sun will fade;
a single dash, between two dates,
poor written by the hands of fate.

One moment caught inside a bulb,
our destined hour to abide,
with all the living things trapped inside.
Lighting for but a moment,
snow scattered on the desert’s dusty face-
glimmer in the hall and go their way.

One after another, into the sky for miles;
a blind caretaker, with a hammer,
forever walks the aisles.
His calloused feet to scratch path,
to on occasion tap the glass–
releasing light back in the air,
to Saturn’s seat without a care.

Destiny behind the veil will play,
with all the vessels on the waves.
Slaves to the lighthouse, in the rain,
Miss Destiny, the ball and chain;
until she folds, and counts her pay,
and, in silence, walks away.

No more moments from the box to take,
from the fountain by the waste.
Life, brief candle,
one summer in the sun.
Tomorrow and tomorrow,
then there are none.

Life itself, a momentary scream,
amidst the sea of nothing gleamed,
a murmur in the ivy by the well,
one verse in the narrator’s Book of Tales.

The title of our story is,
“One Summer in the Sun,”
Tomorrow and tomorrow,
then they are done.
One chance to bloom,
one chance to shine;
to rise and fall under the sky.

One summer in the sun in winter’s way.
All of those who to the light have went,
when their pocket watch of time is spent,
turn brittle in the air, fall to the ground.
The sun rises.
The sun sets.
A summer in the sun is all we get.

The finish line, same as the start,
oh what a nobody has in his heart.
A thousand roads to nowhere,
lost highways to the sun.
The finish line is the same place,
the human race begun.

And in that race together,
we all finish last;
those faceless watcher’s, in the crowd,
recline their heads and laugh.
Again and again, the cars go in,
desperate circles round and round.
sometimes they brush against each other,
seldom to make a sound.
And blind they pass each other by,
in a tempest tossed around.

Before the blind man, with his hammer,
turns to face your aisle,
laugh with the best of them, and smile.
And this is just graffiti,
scrawled on time’s unending walls,
by no one left for nobody,
a fragment in the stall.
Tangles in the Earth’s coiffure,
for life— a limited time offer.

Another verse, another song,
some sort of old-time sing-along,
of pebbles lost in sand and foam,
who sing alone, and murmur make,
while they their ride on the carousel take.
And then they sleep, once more to dream-
of all the things that flashed by the screen,
patterns in the ivy and their seams,
an arabesque oft told before,
of those who run blind on the shore.
With all of them on their way to see,
the Wizard of Oz for sympathy;
the highway is long, how awful to know–
the door at the end of the road is closed.

Let the hands wind up another,
song for the music box.
And let the shadow shapes around the candle,
play till the melody stops.
By candlelight or dark of night,
their path forever paved;
every second of their life,
the same sad song is played.
Again and again we figurines spin,
a lullaby loud for no one to hear,
turns static into silence, fades,
as dust upon a mirror.

Another poor player, whose hour forgot,
those passionate words on the stage.
Another soliloquy, the sound and the fury,
bit player lines erased.
Characters live; characters lie.
Some do nothing, instead wonder why.
All of them are together lost,
together to laugh and to cry.

Some of them love,
and some of them hate;
some look out, some in.
For a moment fleeting contact made,
another to begin.
There’s no such thing yesterday,
no tomorrow, and no then–
just a now that never ends.

The Take a Penny Problem

The Take a Penny Problem – addition through subtraction.

In The Take a Penny Problem, you begin with five pennies in your possession. You place them on a table. Doesn’t matter how; just lay them out.

fivepenniesJust lay the fuckers anywhere, why don’t you.

Alright, you have five pennies – or five identical objects, preferably circular objects with a little weight. Once you’ve laid them out, arrange them to make two lines: place the first penny wherever you’d like, then place one beside it, then place another at a 90 degree angle, so that any pennies added to the row will never intersect with the other row. Now, place two pennies after the line along the x axis (horizontal) and then place one penny along the y (vertical) axis so that you have two rows of pennies. One row has three and one row has two.

pennieslistsBelieve it or not, I used Photoshop for this hunk of shit.

The problem: with your pennies so laid out, you will have a row of three along the x axis and a row of two along the y axis. To solve the problem, you must make one move and create two rows of three. The proviso here is to assume that each penny is of equal value in adding or subtracting from the horizontal and vertical rows and that they retain the same value when they’re moved. As far as I know, this problem has a simple solution. Despite this, I’ve put this question to dozens of people, students, friends, and unwitting family members.

Now, with one move you are to create two rows of three, the in a row on each axis, If you can’t figure it out, click here for the resolution. 

The Ugly Truth About Beauty (1st draft finished)

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as we all know, and what that means is merely that what appeals to one may not appeal to another. Subjectivity. Etc. We’ve all heard that at some point in our lives. And it’s true, at the risk of making beauty arbitrary without suggesting that there are objective standards – compare Venice to Trenton, New Jersey, and you’ll see what I mean. And we find beauty in many different things and what we find beautiful is as varied as we are. Something can be aesthetically beautiful. That’s fancy talk for “it’s pretty.” Without an objective beauty, the term risks becoming arbitrary. A Picasso painting, for example, can be pleasing to the eye without really making sense, simply because of its arrangement of shapes and colors. And screaming animals depicted in forms of bloody black-and-white horror overseen by an evil-eye and a ghost on top of a dead soldier with stigmata are so delightful. Oh, Picasso, you cur! How fun!

guernicaThe most brutal attack a Spanish Frenchman ever inflicted upon a Nazi.

It certainly isn’t for everyone, Picasso’s style, and I’ve actually heard someone say, “A kid could paint something like that…” Which is interesting, considering the paintings Picasso did as a kid…

earlypicasso

…makes the stuff your mother hung on the fridge look like a big pile of shit…

picassoearlyEven your Dragonball Z drawings.*

Maybe something less … Picasso-y? For the sake of whatever this argument is, I’ll post a similar painting done in a different style, a different way to communicate ideas. And that’s realism as in, ‘what it looks like when I look at it.’ This was a revolutionary concept. Art historians and Jacopo della Quercia know that Caravaggio was an extremely influential painter and had many imitators. He also killed a pimp, spread profane rumors about his rivals, and the pope sentenced him to Death. By beheading. He was still a successful painter. Here’s his Death of Mary …

caravaggio

  Originally commisioned by the Carmalite Sisters in Trastevere, it was rejected after a rumor spread that Caravaggio had used a prostitute as a model for the Madonna. Seriously.

What is the difference between Caravaggio’s realistically painted depiction of a fictional account or Picasso’s exaggerated depiction of a real event? Caravaggio used models and costumes. Picasso had no models (only lots and lots of wives) and used only his imagination. They both convey the same feelings and have a lot of things in common, despite, you know, one looking like the work of a kid…

picassokid2 His career would make more sense if he was Benjamin Button.

You can even find beauty in the most unlikely of places. Hell, for example, is a beautiful place to take in the sights, traveling on an unexpected adventure with Dante and his guide virgil, through rivers of sinners, winds of sinners, forests of sinners, the city of Dis (contains sinners) and we can travel to the heights of paradiso with Dante’s sweet sweet Beatrice. There is beauty in both journeys, to heaven and hell.

hbosch

Tonight’s nightmare brought to you by Hieronymus Bosch!

One of the most beautiful moments in classical tragedy takes place in Sophocles’ play Antigone. You might be familiar with Sophocles. He’s that guy whose play Oedipus Rex led to Freud’s creation of the Oedipus Complex, cementing the status of Sophocles’ masterpiece as a play forever remembered as, ‘The one where the guy fucks his mom.’ I understand completely. The guy fucked his mom! Besides, he could have gotten away with it. His nobility was disgust in himself. Now in Sophocles’ true masterpiece Antigone, the titular Antigone was a poor woman who went against the rules of law, the advice of her sister, and against the natural god damn biological instinct for self-preservation by openly defying a king in an era where that was very much frowned upon for the sake of her brother Polyneices’ honor. Just because her family honor was insulted, she destroys the King’s nobility and claim to the moral highground, which leads to a whole bunch of suicidin’. And she does it with a fierce kindness and appreciation for life. Murder by kindness. It’s what Polyneices would’ve wanted.

antigone

Considered the archetypal strong female character. Antigone was such a bad-ass only the strongest of men could play the role. And also, all the female roles.

What is beauty though, to me? Real talk: Beauty is the first time you felt the thrill of holding hands, the first kiss when your heart skipped a beat and your stomach fluttered, when you saw a shooting star for the first time, a speck, a meteorite dissolves away. Chopin and piano music, whiskey and wine. And art.


nunorgasmFor your patient waiting, I give you: the most tasteful depiction of a nun’s orgasm you will ever see.

The [beauty] of a picture lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer. It dies by the same token. It is therefore a risky, and unfeeling act, to send it out into the world.

markrothko                                                                 Rothko, 1958, Committing Art.

*I apologize to any Dragonball Z fan-art aficionados out there I may have offended.

If you enjoyed this essay, stick around and check out some of material that’s twice as long with half the jokes. If you liked this article, leave a comment or let me know on Twitter @MrBrandonNobles, where I occasionally say stuff about things. 

Essay: Being Human (Art and History)

Before the Epic of Gilgamesh, it is possible that we didn’t write stories. Or at least stories in that manner. Because humans had not yet settled into a sedentary lifestyle. Without settling down and ending the hunter gatherer period in our history, the ability for a story with characters and a familiar history would be impossible. Without culture, a culture to reflect and understand the mythos of a gathered people, there is no avenue for story fiction.  This [Gilgamesh] and books like it, such as Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles (from which Shakespeare himself would take historical accounts for his dramas.) Stories become possible when a people congregate and share a common history, a reference point or mythology. Without this a story, though understandable by literate people, will contain alien references and characters whose import is not known.

It is also possible that writings before the Neocene were lost during the last ice-age, which modern science believes to have ended around ten thousand years ago. Studying the ancient works of literature, such as the Vedas, Upanishads, and many other religious texts popular in the Western world. And it is true that, from these stories, the identity of the reader is forever shaped and changed either by acceptance or rejection.

Of course leading this new lifestyle allowed for humans to do more than survive. For the first time it allowed us to live; it allowed us to live in a manner not too far removed from the way we live today. And when humans started coming together, the long history of oral lit eventually became the written word, the most ancient of which is to be found on clay tablets in ancient cuneiform writing. Cuneiform was the first language system to be developed and was used by all the major empires of the era. This includes Egypt, Hattusha (of what is modern day Turkey, not the Biblica Hittites,) Syria, and Babylon. It was the diplomatic language of the period. And on these clay tablets we find the first work of fiction known to exist.

Outside of a textbook a story doesn’t need to inform or educate although they often do. From the epic of Gilgamesh we get a partial understanding of the people who lived in the area where it originated, on the land between the Tigris and Euphrates between the second and third millenniums BCE. We know the king Gilgamesh was a celebrated ruler; we know the culture was a literate one of many gods, conscious of their cultivation of the nature world. These are things we can fix historically and definitively establish. Yet in the case of Gilgamesh we are made to understand the things we cannot know, things of which we’ll never more than partially glance, and get a better understanding of what it means to be human, what it has always meant. The culture as defined by this epic reflected our will and need to understand, and was painfully conscious of what we could not, and, in its way, is an attempt to reconcile our morality.

The reason Gilgamesh remains popular among scholars is because we learn about human history; we look to the past and through that prism see our daily lives in a different, richer life– and we look to it to understand life as it was all those centuries ago. The search for the meaning of life has always began with the opening of a book, and a historical perspective from different angles offers us a larger range of possibilities and, being subjective in our sight, make the associations ourselves, as one who looks upon a cloud formation and finds the shape not in the clouds, but in themselves. ‘Methinks it looks like a weasel,’ as it’s put in Hamlet is a subtle nod about the nature of how we understand and believe and its relationship to our inner universe.    Lao Tzu, one of the trinity of great Chinese philosophers, the others being Chuang Tzu and Confucius, wrote in the Tao te Ching:, in regards to ‘the line:’ The five colors will make blind a man.” This could be said in regards to the man who, though studious, being so omnivorous in his selection of books and philosophy, knows so much that something is lost.

This also suggests that definitions (the way that can be named is not the constant way) impart a fixed idea that there are only those fixed colors, only those fixed philosophies; this obscures the infinite continuity of shades between and opposite. To know with division distracts

from the subtlety of merging; the static gaps as defined by omission take away from the eternity of f. Similarly, the mind’s sensitivity to meaning is impaired by fixed perspective based on the absence of considering gradation in respect to what it means to be human, to be separate from the animal kingdom. There is an infinite continuity of meaning and the history of literature has done well to, through writing and analysis, pull meaning because of our natural instincts and pattern recognition.

A Rorschach test may very well be meaningless in objective terms, but the way in which it is subjectively interpreted testifie to the notion that what we bring to the table of understanding largely influences the understanding we take away. Reading is a kind of re-telling – not to learn what is known, but to know what isn’t; this is the endless search all readers engage in each time they pick up another book. It is a search for what can’t be known and we’re right in the middle of it, to see for ourselves, the meaning of a story. First we need to account for the events, having first established whether it is fact or fiction, so we may be able to articulate the question raised by a character’s actions and reactions as well as the implications and consequences. We need to consider how a story is put together as well: how it uses the conventions of language, events with beginnings and endings, description, description of character, and the way in which the story reawakens our sensitivity to the real world.

The real world is a world without a plot, without conventions, unnameable world—in the chaotic world of cause and consequences, the madness and blurry character and indecipherable patterns of being. The stories that mean the most to us bring us back to our unintelligible yet immeasurably meaningful lives. The reason storytelling became so popular in human society is largely due to the satiation of our natural curiosity with the world and our suspicion and questioning consideration of how others live and feel.

The Epic of Gilgamesh begins with a prologue–a common convention that serves as a frame – and recounts the story of Gilgamesh’s life. An anonymous narrator writes, ‘I will proclaim the deeds of Gilgamesh to the world. This narrative technique is not only a way to frame a narrative; it is a way for the narrator to introduce himself and welcome us to the endless present of telling the story. All is prologue when the third person omniscient reflective is used. All is past. The story continues by explaining itself; having returned from his journey, taking respite from his labors, Gilgamesh inscribes the story about to be told on a clay tablet. This suggests that what we’re reading is a transcription that repeats an oral telling that repeats a written tale. By using the frame the narrator intends to convince us of the story’s authenticity. By calling attention to the act of telling the narrator reminds us that the truth of the story might lie in the fact of its being a story – the undeniable fact of its own narration. The frame intends to blur the distinction between the world of the story, the world of Gilgamesh, and our own. One may not, as of yet, travel into the future: but a type of time travel is taking place as this unknown narrator begins his story. The long gone bricks rise again and reassemble and from a thousand years ago the voice begins the tale:

“Look at it now, today and still, a threshold ancient; touch it; climb the wall of Uruk and walk upon it. Regard the foundation terrace and masonry. Is it not a color of burnt brick? Is it not good? The seven sages laid these foundations.”

The narrator literally builds the story brick by brick and in our minds the walls of Uruk, a city having faded into dust, rises in its prime, in its glory in our minds; as Baghdad in a bottle-the Arabian Nights-Uruk becomes immortal, a familiar setting for philologists and cultural anthropologists and linguists, living forever as the word. This is a kind of magic, as all good books are, creating fantastical situations in exotic locales with danger and excitement and the bravado of a God-king at the dawn of human history. Two-thirds God, and this is key to all that follows, Gilgamesh is a classical hero – more beautiful and courageous and more terrifying than us all and yet his desires, attributes, his accomplishments epitomize our own. And yet he is mortal; he must watch others die and someday die himself. How much more can a God-king rage against death than the rest of us, purely mortal? Reading Gilgamesh allows us to celebrate being human, being mortal, having brief lives.

The hero’s failed attempt at finding immortality, ironically, as it is to be forever alive in the dreampool of readers the world over, has thereby attained what he died without finding. How much then should a god-king rage against mortality than we merely mortals? It is in impermanence that importance is most beautifully assigned. What joy would there be in a magnificent meal if no effort was require to attain it and it never ended? The reconciliation of past and present is always present in the work;

Gilgamesh is a tyrant without restraint. He has no compassion for the people of Uruk, a king but not a shepherd. He kills his subject’s sons and rapes their daughters. Hearing the people’s lament, the gods create Enkidu; he is to be a match for

Gilgamesh, a second ‘self.’

“Let them fight and leave Uruk at peace.”

The plan works in many ways. First Gilgamesh is prevented from entering to home of a bride and bridegroom. Gilgamesh and Enkidu fight at first yet become friends. Second, they journey into the forest to face the terrible Humbaba. There they encourage each other to face death without fear, triumphantly.

“All living creatures born of flesh shall at last in the last boat of the west.. When it

“All living creatures born of flesh shall sit at last in the boat of the west. When it sinks the boat of Magilum sinks they are gone; but we shall advance and fix our eyes on this monster.”  It must be noted, to ancient cultures the West, or Western Lands, was equal to death, where one went when one died. And although eternal life is not to be found, he understands the power of story, the immortality of character, legacy, and meaning. “I will go to the country where the cedar is felled,” he tells Enkidu. “I will put my name in the place where the name of famous men are written.” Then Gilgamesh turns away from selfishness and small desires and aspires to loftier goals, goals to benefit Uruk.

His duty to Uruk can be seen from the prologue; the very first sentence testifies to the immortality of his name. The immortality of a name is less the ability to live forever than the inability to die. Gilgamesh learns the meaning of love and compassion, the meaning of loss, of growing older, and eventually accepts mortality. In following Gilgamesh, we are asked to not only take part in his adventures, but in his emotional growth and broader understanding of the world and his place in it, and through that better understand our own.

Censorship, 1 August 2015

Censorship has always been a controversial subject. So controversial, in fact, that sometimes the censorship can lead directly to the popularity of the work in question. William S. Burroughs — one of my favorite writers — had to defend his novel, the epic and rightfully historic Naked Lunch, in court against charges of obscenity. That’s right: in the 20th century, in America, a novel was being blocked from publication in the US (after being published in France, naturally) based on charges of obscenity. This led to a whole big clusterfuck (now that the F-bomb has been dropped, half of the potential readers of this article have been pre-empted out of ever reading it) becoming famous and in the process got the novel into the hands of an eager and curious public. I don’t think that’s what those guys wanted, those fuckers trying to keep this sick filth away from the children. People, presumably, who had no problem with films like Birth of a Nation — a truly dangerous propaganda piece of shit that perpetuated the stereotype of African-Americans in post-Civil War America, playing on the fears of the unknown of gullible white people and by doing this it actually was dangerous. But should it have been banned? Or censored? That’s hard for me to say.

To me the biggest problem with censorship is its looming threat over the shoulder of perspective authors, with a magnifying glass, combing through each line, each word they use, and giving the author self-doubt in the artistic realization of their story. Creating a fully realized work of art is hard enough in and of itself is without having to constantly contend with the projected pre-judgment by people who will never give it the benefit of the doubt, or at least the benefit of the doubt long enough to read it. When a writer sets out to pander from the start, the story (most often) lacks any individual color or vision, and it becomes just another blah, without real style or distinction. Of course, you don’t have to swear or use F-bombs in order to create a fully realized work of art, but censorship doesn’t start and end with swearing; the spectre of the possibility of being judged by a tendency towarfds over-sexualizing  female characters, grossly exaggerating or glorifying violence, etc., you begin to inadvertently rewrite yourself as you write, writing more rigidly and less loosely than you should. Writing should be written as it should be written. As Mozart said in Amadeus, ‘There were as many notes as were required, no more, no less.’ The idea is that art is a chiseled statue, each note in each movement being absolutely necessary as a part of the whole, each note and sound part of a larger structure, a larger picture, and when writing with someone else’s idea of your work in your mind, which is alright to do when you’re editing, is a bad habit, like smoking, and, like smoking, hard to give up.

Accepting criticism is hard, I understand that, that’s why I’ve never made any mistakes in any of my work. But you have to write with the confidence of having something unique to say, or if you want to adapt a classic story to a new setting or medium, like West Side Story uniquely did with classic Shakespeare. Worrying with the consequence of saying the odd fuck or shit here or there is damaging to your development and it affects the personality of your work. It’s not about what really will be edited by possible censors, it’s more about what’s more subversive about it all: it’s more insidious. It compromises the artistic vision of a work of art before it’s even finished and a work of art is like a submarine; once its integrity is compromised, it’s going down, and it’s taking everybody in it to the ocean floor. And if it’s going to be talked about, it will be historically, it will be discussed in the context of the heroic possibilities of it all. Self-censorship is not the same thing as restraint; indulgence and blind faith in yourself is just as bad, and temperance is a wisdom that comes with hard work and experience, and the delicate balance between bad-taste and necessity is not something that comes naturally. I guess I could say, to keep it bite-sized: be confident, but self-aware. Self-aware, don’t extend it beyond yourself; don’t let anyone – without a fair dose of skepticism – influence how you shape your vision. Besides, fuck it. It’s just art! It’s just art. 

Poem: The Glass Umbrella

We are the footprints by the Sea.
The waters come,
and waters leave.
Miss Sea, you see,
your children taken;
Children of the Sea forsaken.

See me sea Miss Galilee.
Bring back what she took from me;
bring back what you swallowed whole.
The yawning, old,
and wide mouthed urn,
lolled on, but never turned,
her deaf ear,
to me,
to hear,
my confused shouts at her.

Without a word at all to say,
she waves at the night and day.
She rolls about within a dream,
the carousel goes by overhead;
to it she turns her mirrored head.
She simply looks to it, and all,
and we, like leaves,
around her fall.

The beach we leave our footprints on,
The waters come,
and then they’re gone.
We are but footprints by the Sea;
The waves come in,
and then we leave.
Miss Sea, you see,
your children taken.
Children of the Sea forsaken.

Ancient sea, Miss Galilee,
can you see yourself in me?
As I see myself in you,
glowing white, and tinged with blue.
Can’t you see what you have done?
The lolling sea saw none.

II

“I see,” I said, and that was that;
standing at the shore of black.
I hear my own words echo back.
In those waters,
I saw me;
another reflection in the sea.

This was after ten years passed:
I returned, sat in the grass,
thinking of all who walked that shore.
Never did I see her face,
a glass umbrella had replaced,
the girl whom I adored.
My love would walk the shore no more.

But nothing else, and nothing more;
no more of who I once adored.
No more to God could I implore,
or to the umbrella in her stead.
The face of the mourning sun turned
red;
the glass umbrella, from the sea,
rolled ashore and laughed at me.
Then I knew,
and saw it all,
inside the glass umbrella fall.
I saw myself again, alone,
forever by the Sea to roam.

On that day I watched her play,
with birds about the shore.
I heard her laugh and nothing more,
as the Sea,
came and took my love from me.
Buzzards circled overhead,
like nature’s garbage men.
I heard them call,
and heard her laugh,
and felt the kiss of Caiaphas.

III

A finch had washed up in her place,
from the well amid the waste—
who floundered by the Sea,
and then flew on.
The bird fluttered for a moment,
and was gone.

As beautiful as the Sea might be,
her own face she cannot see.
In my dreams, she comes to me,
and sees her picture on the wall.
By my family, and me,
a portrait of Miss Galilee.

As wondrous as she looks, at night,
shimmering with the silver light,
she looks sadder in the dawn.
When the sun shines in her face,
when daylight takes the nighttime’s place—
she yawns again, and sighs.
Children of the Sea walk home.
Deaf, Miss Galilee rolls on.

Earlier in my life, I went,
found a home which I could rent.
I called my child to say:
“Come see me, come see the sea;
we’ll have some lunch,
then get ice cream.
You have to come;
you have to see,
the face of lady Galilee.”

IV

A while we stood,
where lolled the waves,
under a sky where seagulls played;
for her, my world, for once, to see,
the lovely face of Galilee.
From the waters, walked ashore,
played a while,
bonne nuit, amore.
She splashed about the waves, my
child,
and then she splashed no more.

I remember she flew in.
We had some sandwiches, and then,
hand in hand walked with a grin.
She laughed the day away.
She wore a blue dress, made of lace,
and had a smile upon her face.
At night she walks my dreams this
way—
for when she splashed,
that faithful day—
the Sea took her away.
The waters took my living dream,
and left me here to stay.

The Sea looked into me, you see,
and saw what she could take from me;
my dreams could not just let it be.
And when it looked, at me, it saw,
the same thing when it looks at all.

How could she tell us what she sees?
The way she sees all things go ’round,
she speaks in whispers barely sound.
She sees us dance,
and hears us call,
all at once,
but not at all.
The glass umbrella falls.

We are the footprints by the Sea;
the waters come,
and waters leave.
Miss Sea, you see,
your children taken;
Children of the Sea forsaken.

Essay – Proust’s Way: Life and Romance in a Search for Lost Time

WHEN I WAS 12 YEARS OLD I READ SOMETHING more terrifying than anything I had read before. The only book series any of the kids in my year ever read of their own choosing was Goosebumps by R.L. Stein. It was a ridiculous pop-horror book for kids. The book that would keep me up for nights was recommended by my librarian after I shared a poem I wrote. She responded with the recommendation that I read Crime and Punishment.  I was twelve. I have since reasoned that this was a punishment in and of itself.

I don’t know if individuals can explain why they like the things they like, or why red is better to most Russians than the color blue. My own theory is that after so many centuries of fighting off the most dangerous armies in history, they have ironically fell in love with the sight of blood. And to a young man, it was the first book that ever made apparent to me that murder and violence is not always motivated by clear-cut villains who sing a song to explain why they’re the bad guys.

In our culture, the villains often have their faces masked, or hidden, covered in black—or they are aliens or terrorists or, for nostalgia, communists, and they’re all reduced to identical thoughts and attitudes and looks. Dostoevsky was the first author I discovered who made the killer the main character; he made the killer a hero. I wasn’t used to that. It changed the way I looked at motivations and my attitude towards simplistic depictions of good and evil. If Dostoevsky changed the way I looked at the nature of good and evil, Proust changed the way I looked at everything.

The more I read the more enamored I was. I was very fond of the Russian literature I read; Chekov, Turgenev, Lertmentov, Bulgakov (especially Master and Margarita,) Tolstoy, Pushkin, Nabokov, and Gogol. The explosive characters, the madness, the psychological complexity, all had a tremendous influence on how I would write novels.

When I was almost finished with this book, I was fortunate enough to go through a profound moral crisis and tragedy. I was put in the same situation as Ernest Hemingway was, at twenty-five, when all the work he had to show for his entire life was lost at a train-station because of a misplaced suitcase. Everything about Hemingway’s formative years that could have given us a better understanding of his method didn’t exist.

Hemingway was the antithesis to the bombast and platitudinous method of Shakespeare and the high drama of Goethe and I never found another writer who could write so gently with such force. The most important thing about Ernest Hemingway was how he made the ordinary seem almost mythic. After I went through pupation I discovered that I had no real affiliation with post-modernism. It seemed to be more focused on what can only be called more form and less art. It was a type of masturbation, a way to use words as a maze to amaze with flair of language and verve of the freedom that came with abandoning the rules of composition. There is a freedom in that kind of work, but cleverness is no substitution for tenderness, and genius is no substitute for beauty and true poignancy.

I had been writing for twenty years when I discovered In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. The first thing to strike me was how understated and natural it all was. There was no sense of bombast or overt melodrama. It is another case in which the deepest of meaning is achieved because life is shown in all its forms and from such scenes so much can be taken.

Proust’s epic is hard to relegate to a category. If I had to say what it was about, I’d say everything; time and space, love and loss—everything in the human sphere of experience.  In Search of Lost Time or alternatively, Remembrance of Things Past, is one of the longest popular novels in history. It comes in at over 4,000 pages. And not a word is wasted.

The importance of the unimportant is a unique characteristic of the French school of romanticism and naturalism among the more prominent of French novelists; Balzac, Flaubert, Chateaubriand. Stendhal. But none of them managed to reach the  heights of literature I had discovered in Proust. It’s a cliché now to say that reading Proust will change your life. However, in this case it has become cliché because it is true. And he does it unremarkably, conversationally, even recounting the seemingly unimportant details of his house in the fictional town he made immortal at the end of The Past Recaptured. The titles are literal.

Proust was a sickly and anxiety ridden man when he turned thirty and had but one newspaper publication to his name. This was before he found himself capable of pulling such a masterful tale out of that famous teacup. In doing so he fashioned what I believe to be the best work of literature of all time. It’s all a disappearing act;  a whole life in one book, wherein there is no death; time is defeated in these silent pockets of eternity in which Proust found that precious hawthorn bush; the sound of skipping rocks, the sound of toast; the heavenly music was the fountain of not only youth, but that which he had found in his search through time and self-diagnosis—a gradual undressing of the superficial and the shallow. The layers of characters fall away until you see bone

Proust not only unmasked himself. He unmasked the entirety of human history. Along with the Geurmentes, an idolized, almost deistic conception for Proust’s French universe made immortal by his hand. Balzac’s The Human Comedy collection is more decorative, concerned more with unedited nature than Proust and external translation, settings, set-pieces; Proust’s setting is the landscape of malleable memory.

His search for immortality became immortal; it is, in this regard, a precursor to Fellini’s 8 ½; both now considered untouchable works of art, beyond reproach. Another interesting fact is the reading within Proust’s books; his characters are always in the middle of one book or another, and art and affectation in the highbrow culture of the period was ripe for satire.

In a book I recently read, Proust Was a Neuroscientist, the author [Johah Lehrer] makes a convincing case for the triumph of art over science in demonstrating discoveries of scientific truths in art long before conventional science could verify the discoveries. Proust presaged the findings of modern neuroscience intuitively. He understood the distortions and the way a building by memory could change in color, in form, in location; bringing up the obvious question as to how much of our lives are as we remember it to be. It’s a heavy question, and perhaps the most unanswerable. But tthese ideas are in the back seat, of characters and character moments. The mundane is transformed by its telling.

In Swann’s Way, a peculiar aspect of Marcel’s family is revealed: they come to dinner an hour earlier on Saturday than they do the rest of the week. It’s almost a throwaway line, but resolves itself in a memorable subplot. The lack of over-description, the lack of meaning to the overall plot, and its lack of importance is what makes it so important to consider when reading and interpreting naturalism. Despite the number of scholars who have made their careers discussing and interpreting Proust, he’s not particularly hard to interpret; it’s all right there. If you read the entire story, you’ll find the narrator happy to explain every detail of his conscience. This is what gives Marcel, as a character such nuance. It has been said that every disguise is a self-portrait. And because he says so much, he attempts to hide much more; whenever the story gets too close to the author we are deferred to another aspect of his consciousness, or another explanation. If ever a book was more adequate in describing what it is to be alive, I have yet to read it.

 

Other than that, it’s pretty good.

Essay (Literary criticism) – Lo-lee-ta: The exorcism of Vladimir Nabokov

LO-LEE-TA;

THE EXORCISM OF VLADIMIR NABOKOV

There’s no doubt that literature and writing is a form of catharsis. While that is certainly true, I believe that it can be much, much more. Not only is it a form of healing, or an escape, it can be considered an exorcism. We’ve discussed the biological nature of words and ideas and how they can possess; yet, once possessed, how does one rid themselves of this possession? As we saw with Dostoevsky, his exorcism of the doubt and sickness in himself was possible through Smerdyakov’s suicide in The Brothers Karamazov.

When artists have these addictions and impulses it is not uncommon for them to use their art as a means of exorcism, as a means of ‘killing off’ the part of themselves that returns to addiction. Lolita, as Nabokov once said, was more than his affair with the romance novel, it ‘…was a romance with the English language.’

I think it’s much more than that; it was a way for him to exorcise what he believed, either consciously or unconsciously, to be possession. Lolita was that obsession, that idea. Remember Marco Polio, I illustrated how it could be contracted, but for the purpose of this essay, how can it be cured?

In a course at Yale University in May of 2008, American Novels Since 1945, professor Amy Hungerford spent three lectures talking about Lolita, although the second was a guest lecture by Andrew Goldstone, and only freakin’ one lecture talking about a much more complex book by Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49. The first thing she discussed was Vladimir Nabokov’s idea on the autonomy of a work of art, the idea that it could be alive and, transversely, if it could be alive, it could be killed. This reminded me of another of Nabokov’s novels, Pale Fire.

Pale Fire is a lesser known work from later in Nabokov’s career, yet it is revealing. The book is framed as a 999 line poem, the eponymous Pale Fire, by deceased poet John Shade. The poem is between an introduction and a critical study by Shade’s friend, Charles Kimbote; a professor of literature and emigrant from the fictional country of Zembla.  This has a close is similar to Nabokov’s own experiences as a professor of literature and emigrant from the fictional country of Russia.

In Pale Fire you have can see Nabokov’s identification with the character of a professor. His annotations of the poem reflect his published works Lectures on Literature, in which he writes about James Joyce, Jane Austen, Gustave Flaubert, Marcel Proust, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Franz Kafka. He also produced Lectures on Russian Literature, which included Gorky, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Chekov, and Bulgakov. Nabokov was very well read. As a sensitive connoisseur of world literature and essayist, Nabokov shows his acuity and understanding; he understood that art and literature placates a myriad of human needs myriad of human needs.

The best books and works of art allow us to better understand ourselves. By casting Charles Kimbote as a professor of literature in Pale Fire, he inadvertently, albeit subtly, confesses to a guilty secret: although the main character in Lolita may not be Nabokov himself, it is, at least, the personification of Nabokov’s guilt. The confessional nature of the novel is belied by the introduction by John Ray, Jr., Ph.D; in it, a psychologist named Blanche Schwarzmann, is quoted: Blanc is the French word for white while Schwarz is German for black. For linguists, this isn’t even subtle; Dr. Whiteblack. This is thought to be a slight on Freudian interpretations of the novel. I think it could be a playful way of commenting on and circumventing any potential over-analysis of the novel’s content. Nabokov loved these little word-games: a well-known bit of trivia about Lolita is also revealing: Quilty’s mistress is also famously implicative: Vivian Darkbloom—an anagram for Vladimir Nabokov.

Although Nabokov is believed to have gotten the idea for Humbert Humbert’s unique name from Edgar Poe, which may be consciously true, nconsciously, however, I believe it to be an accidental allusion to a more subtle attribute of the relationship between the books’ characters and its author. Quilty, the eccentric counterpart, also falls in love with Lolita. The difference between Humbert Humbert’s reserved obsessions and Quilty’s obsessions are their attitudes; Humbert Humbert is ashamed of his own behavior and sees Quilty as what he is in danger of becoming: indulgent, perverse, hedonistic, and unashamed.

A hint to this possibility is easier to identify in Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of the novel, the screenplay being co-written by Nabokov himself.  Kubrick did nothing without purpose and the same is true of his shots. So when you see elements of historical importance in Quilty’s home, it is there for reason, a very precise reason. ou can see the elements of historical importance in Quilty’s home. It’s filled with the kind of artifacts one would expect to find in the home of a history professor’s house—in Humbert Humbert’s home.

The last novel I wrote was written during a tumultuous period in my life. I had struggled with addiction to sleeping pills and painkillers since my early teens and had developed a seriously unhealthy habit. The book was originally conceived about six years before it was written. The idea was to do a story about a con-man; he would go from city to city, always giving a fake name and history, and the idea for the novel was for this conman to forget which of his life stories were true and he gradually forgets who he really is.

For me, the title is the impregnation; it gestates in your mind over time. Once I have a title, the novel is conceptually complete in my head within an hour and then, once I have the book cover, to continue to metaphor, I go through a grueling birthing process. You don’t need to have an outline. The important thing is to have a sense of where you’re going, not the exact directions. What came out half a decades later was Nobody, the story of a slave who kills his master, his master’s wife, and runs away, escaping to the north. Along the way, he encounters many manifestations of his slavery.

For the purpose of this essay, I looked for (and found) a paper from a former student in which Nobody is being analyzed:

The name of the slave Neddy is taken from the Sanskrit term Neti Atma, which means Not Myself. Begins to feel guilty after seeing photos, is tormented by the memory of what he has done (murdered the Master and wife) [sic] … Neddy experiences Nirvana for the first time. … The narrative changes from straightforward prose into fragments of Neddy’s thoughts are right over another, disconnected and out of order. … Nobody is beginning to talk as his thought processes begin to break down.

Begins fabricating stories about who he is, feels ashamed (he is trying to escape from what he has done. … Halfway through the book the author began withdrawing from heroin and morphine leading [to] further paranoia and disjointed images. …

All of these obvious associations weren’t so pronounced in my mind during the writing process; none of it was directly connected to drugs; but each character that acts as an intermediate protagonist (the protagonist itself is not an external person or system) can be seen as embodying characteristics of different feelings related to withdrawal.

I’ve said that one of the benefits of schizophrenia is to understand your subconscious.

On the 22nd chapter, I took my last shot. For the first twenty-one chapters, the novel is somewhat straightforward. Once I started writing while going through withdrawals, it inadvertently became an homage to Dante’s metaphysical journey through hell. Except I didn’t have Virgil as a guide; I had one person, my editor Katie Chiles, a bed and a bucket and a notebook. What came out of that pen was not something one would consider coherent writing, but it changed my philosophy in regards to metaphysical writing in creating the inner-world of a character’s mind. When I realized how this was done, Finnegan’s Wake began to make a lot more sense.

The novel ended three weeks after I took my last shot with the Slave committing suicide. I later realized that this was a way of using literature as means through which one’s demons could be excised; it’s how I externalized the addict and killed that aspect of my character, that slave inside of me.

I didn’t think this was a common practice in art and literature. I believed that Dostoevsky’s externalizations were ways of contrasting philosophical perspectives. While that is certainly true I didn’t know at that point the extent of writing’s. Looking back with this perspective made me further consider the idea that Ivan, Dmitri, and Alyosha, as the mind, body and soul, were intended to parallel the Christian trinity. When I first shared the essay with a friend, a creative writing major, she thought the essay was incomplete. And it was. Smerdyakov’s exclusion in the representation made his character something else: it made him an antagonizing agent of the trinity and most importantly—the lamb on which all sin is leveed in order that its sacrifice brings redemption of the rest of the flock. It was a thematic echo of the Biblical account of Jesus and it made sense for Dostoevsky to draw this analogy; his whole schtick is the necessity for suffering in salvation—something even casual fans and non-readers of Crime and Punishment know about Dostoevsky by now.

Dostoevsky wasn’t fond of the epileptic bastard and atheist Smerdyakov because Dostoevsky was all of these things: he was an epileptic, his father was murdered by servants, and he was an atheist for a time. As such I wasn’t particularly proud to continue selling all of my nice things for drugs or hanging out in rundown apartment buildings where groups of less dead people robotically move from the floor to the flame throughout the day. And Nabokov, being a charming emigrate and professor in upstate New York at Cornell, surely found himself the object of attention and respect of many young and lovely female students.

In the film, the first sign of attraction occurs while watching a horror film when Lolita grabs his hand. It the book, however, the attraction begins because Humbert Humbert of which Lolita was fond. Another difference is substantial in giving credence to this theory: the hotel at which Dolores and the stage-play by Quilty, which Dolores prepares to perform at her school is called The Enchanted Hunter in the book, a reference to Humbert Humbert; in the film, the play is renamed The Hunter Enchanted. This changes the dynamic between Humbert Humbert and Dolores. The Enchanted Hunter puts more emphasis on the hunt; The Hunter Enchanted puts more of an emphasis on the hunter’s enchantment. By enchanting the hunter, it puts a distance between his condition and his goal; while in the book the focus is more on his goal as caused by his condition. In the book Lolita is only used by Humbert Humbert as a pet name, as prey; she is the object of his pursuit. In the film Lolita is a named used by more than one of the characters and the title change alleviates some of Humbert Humbert’s guilt, making the focus on Lolita as a seductress, not Humbert Humbert as a hunter. This title actually suggests she may be conscious of what she is doing, while the other title is only indicative of Humbert Humbert’s desire. With the combination of these two titles, both of them are responsible for what happens.

This isn’t just the result of Stanley Kubrick’s desire to put a personal touch on the adaptation. Nabokov co-wrote the screenplay so, while it is possible that it didn’t occur to Nabokov that Lolita was a confession when he was writing the novel, it is also possible that, upon reflection, Nabokov realized this and shifted the emphasis and blame to the object of desire.

Vladimir Nabokov was a professor of Lit 312 course at Cornell University in upstate New York. Nabokov, as an aging author and academic, would have been highly susceptible to a friendly face, a flattering young woman. Writers, more so than perhaps any other workman, are particularly susceptible to flattery. And there are some very, very lovely young ladies in at Cornell University.

It’s also possible that this assessment only serves to further demonstrate the problem with allegorical extraction and application in the interpretation of popular literature. Lolita is a great book, a work of art and, as I’ve said, the best works of art mean what we, as readers and evaluators, need it to be. And Lolita succeeds for this very reason; it reminds us that our sin is impermanent, soluble through that unique witchcraft art.

Essay: Art / Language: A Legacy from the Baroque

THE BAROQUE WAS AN ERA IN WESTERN
civilization characterized by various movements in art, literature, and popular music in which broad strokes and generalizations were replaced by intricacies, ornate and self-aware arabesques, bringing out the devil in the details. Traditional ideas were questioned, overturned, and art and architecture underwent profound metamorphoses. Men and women of great ambition fought for the most trivial of positions in what was essentially a political chessboard in which every pawn  decided to wear the clothes of a king.

The word Baroque, as is the case with all periods of note in human history, would be invented later by critics and historians. The etymology of the word has a unique history; it is a French translation of the Portuguese phrase perle barroco, which roughly translates as ‘irregular pearl,’ or more literally as ‘false jewel.’ A similar word is used in Roman dialects to convey the same idea:  barlocco or brillocco. The idea being that, as sometimes pearls are by chance and circumstance shaped differently, more common forms, having no axis for rotation, are in need of a new taxonomic classification. So the irregular forms are baroque pearls. The word’s history may have been influenced by the mnemonic term baroco which serves to denote, in the scholarly tradition, a supposed labored form syllogism.

What would lead historians to classify this period with so unique a word? Originally it was a derogatory term meant to underline what was thought to be affectation and excess, a maligned celebration of self-awareness and anaphoric abundance as opposed to clearer edifice on which stood the sober rationality of the Renaissance. It was first rehabilitated by the Swiss-born art historian, Heinrich Wölfflin in his study Renaissance und Barock; in this work, Wölfflin identified the Baroque as a ‘…movement imported into mass.’ It was a unique artistic antithesis to the edifices of art established by the Renaissance. Originally Wölfflin did not make distinctions between Mannerism and the classification Baroque as modern historians do; he also completely ignored what is now classified as the later phase, the ‘academic Baroque’ which moved into the 18th century. Writers in French and English did not begin to treat our inheritance from the Baroque period as something of great worth until Wölfflin’s study made German scholarship preeminent.

Baroque art began to take shape during the same years that the world’s expanding economies were laying the basis for the age of Western expansion in America and the high-stakes game of duck-duck-goose started accidentally by Europe as a financial pissing contest which somehow provoked the masses, the starving peasants, to rebel and kill these despotic assholes. Despite this, it was a fascinating age of richness in the arts—literary, visual, and musical. This intense circulation of ideas, happening as new national schools took form, allowed for this new age to unite a Europe in a golden age, a golden age in which none living during the age described as golden were aware of this goldenness.

Painting alternated between references to the chiaroscuro (the finer areas of shade and shadow) and the realism of Caravaggio and La Tour and a more purely baroque use of fantasy and color; architecture oscillated between the courageous inventiveness of the avant garde and the traditionalist reliance on the preservation of antiquity’s ideals and philosophies in regards to idea and execution.

In theater, the most spectacular aspects of the stage came to dominate the taste of the period, becoming the models for figurative and architectural expression. If the goal of Baroque art was to amaze the viewer, it was the world of the theater that provided its most successful special effects. This historical and artistic story is lushly illustrated with works by the greatest artists of the period; Bernini, Boucher, Caravaggio, Gainsborough, Hals, Hogarth, Poussin, Rembrandt, Rubens—along with works by minor artists who made important contributions.

The baroque period actually expressed new values in the culture of the arts. These are often summarized in the use of metaphor and allegory, widely found in Baroque literature, and in the research for the maraviglia—wonder and astonishment in the manner of Marinism—and the use of artifices. If Mannerism was first breached with the Renaissance, Baroque was an opposing force with a unique and distinct language.

The privilege given to external forms had to compensate and balance the lack of content that has been observed in many Baroque works: Marino’s Maraviglia, for example, is practically made of a pure mere form—whatever that means.

The prevailing philosophy was simple: an active fantasy and imagination should be cultured, evoked in the spectator, in the reader, in the listener. All was focused around the individual, a straight relationship between the artist and the beholder. Art is then less distant and by definition closer, closer to us and therefore more real.

The increased attention on the individual made possible new methods of approaching art, such as the Romanzo—and, in Italy, this movement was a cultural descent; some believed it to be a betrayal, disrespectful to the traditions established in the Renaissance. Apparently, an age of revolutionary and new ideas, like the Renaissance, was, without irony, used as a basis for what new art should be. This culminated in the definitive replacement of Latin by the more widely understandable and spoken dialect of Italian.

Writers in the Baroque are framed in Siglo de Oro in Spain. Naturalism and sharp criticist points of view about Spanish society are common with conceptista writers like Quevedo, while culterano authors emphasize the importance of form with complicated images and the use of hyperbaton. In Catalonia the Baroque took hold in Catalan language, with representatives including poets and dramaturgs such as Francesc Fontanella and Francesc Vicenç Garcia, as well as a unique emblem book Atheneo de Grandesa by Josep Romaguera. Spanish theater was extensively developed by authors like Lope de Vega and Calderón de la Barca. Overall, Cervantes is considered the most accomplished author of Spanish literature due in no small part to Don Quixote. In Colonial Spanish America two of the best-known baroque writers were Sor Juana and Bernardo de Balbuena.

In the Portuguese Empire the most famous baroque writer of the time was Father António Vieira, a Jesuit who lived in Brazil during the 18th century. Secondary writers Gregório de Matos and Francisco Rodrigues Lobo were popular too.

Though the Baroque era is most famous for its music, it is nevertheless an era in which many noted figures emerged. Artists such as Rembrandt and Velasquez were prominent during the period. Galileo Galilei was persecuted by the church because of his ideas regarding the universe, and prominent philosophers, such as Descartes, Spinoza, John Locke, and Voltaire also lived and died in the Baroque, and Paradise Lost and Hamlet came from the minds of William Shakespeare and John Milton, respectively.

Music from the period varies in style and comes from many different countries. There is English, French, German, and Italian Baroque music—all of which are uniquely distinct and were utterly new. There is early, middle and late Baroque music—all unique and utterly new.

When compared with its predecessors, Baroque music can be seen as being highly ornate, lavishly texturized, with sometimes affectictious intensity. The music of the period was characterized by a counterpoint and melodic line, being one of many defining characteristics of the period, including the use of basso continuo and the belief in a specific doctrine of affections. The doctrine of affections was a new way for composers to add color and personality to their compositions. Another distinguishing characteristic of the Baroque was the emphasis on contrast:  volume, texture, and pace. The Renaissance was a large-scale, rubbery portrait—the Baroque zoomed in on the picture all the way to the pores.

And finally, a sacred yet secular type of music was now in abundance and used as widely as those of the liturgical musical tradition. Imitative polyphony (more than one line of music) was still, however, an extremely important factor in writing and playing music, while the homophonic method (a musical technique that displays a vast separation amongst the melodic line and the accompaniment) was gaining acceptance and aplomb.

The homophonic style eventually became dominant in all instrumental forms. Musical works containing a continuo—in which a keyboard (usually an organ or harpsichord) and a bass instrument (usually a bassoon or a cello) helped to convey the harmonic support of chords under melodic lines.

Despite the increasing popularity of homophonic music, it occurred amidst evolving forms of polyphonic music. Similar to the composers of the Renaissance, the composers of the Baroque felt that the art of counterpoint was an essential aspect of artistry. Despite the avant garde’s freedom, formalism in imitative polyphony, cannons and fugues, were very popular; another ironic establishment based on what was meant to encourage uniqueness in the evolving characteristics of the period.

It is important to note that opera and the orchestra were both conceived during the Baroque. Around the year 1600—wherein Shakespeare was alive in England—what we know as opera came about because of the desire Italian intellectuals to recapture what they believed to be the spirit of ancient Greek drama in which music played a key role. Claudio Monteverdi’s Orfeo debuted in 1607, and was perhaps the first great opera. The characteristic homophonic musical style played a significant role in this as soloist vocals focused on the perceived listener’s concentration of a pronounced melody.

By the mid-1600s the orchestra and orchestral arrangements were evolving into a unique and insular entity and one of the offshoot animals in this family tree was the concerto. The concerto is defined by a solo instrumentalist, or small ensemble of soloists, playing in opposition to the orchestra; this fortissimo added another interesting contrast in texture, color, and volume.

Renaissance composers had invented imitative polyphony, which Baroque composers fashioned into the fugue, perhaps the most developed musical form of the era. Bach became the undisputed master of the fugue. Bach’s Invention No. 1 in C Major, written in 1723, points in the direction of all of his magnificent contrapuntal compositions.

As a composer, teacher and performer of the organ, harpsichord, violin and viola, Bach had an astonishing ability to blend a variety of national styles into existing musical forms in an accessible, engaging manner. Composing solo works for organ, harpsichord, violin, cello, and flute, Bach’s extraordinary abilities allowed him to create music that has remained popular and critically acclaimed, being also the subject of the unique and important study Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter—who approached Bach mathematically, as [Carl] Sagan did in his Voyager plates designed to represent humanity to any potential extra-terrestrial civilizations, as math is the universal language.

The Prelude and Fugue in D Major from Book II of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier provide an excellent example of his superb craftsmanship and the sort of mathematical approach for which he is now widely known among the modern intelligentsia. His Prelude grandly introduces us to the key of D Major. This sets up an expectant ear, eager for what is to follow: a spirited, complex, and eloquent fugue.

French composers of the era excelled in music written for solo harpsichord. A tradition that had begun with solo lute music was continued with the harpsichord, in some senses a mechanical lute, after the lute fell from favor at the end of the seventeenth century. They delighted in music that imitated the sounds of nature and in the character piece, that is, a musical portrait of a friend, colleague or patron.

Francois Couperin, court composer to Louis XIV, wrote charming and endearing harpsichord music which remains popular. Le dodo ou l’amour au berceau and L’evapore are excellent and characteristic examples of Couperin’s musical ambitions and sensibilities. The first is undoubtedly the musical portrait of a patron’s cherubic sleeping infant. The second would be a description of one of the ebulliently frivolous ladies of the French Court. The first piece is a rondo, a form developed during the Baroque. The first theme, or rondeau—it is here that the tune, from a popular French lullaby, is repeatedly presented alternatively with other material in the popular ABACADA pattern.

Domenico Scarlatti was a Neapolitan who spent the most important and productive part of his career in service to the Queen of Spain. He is remembered for his harpsichord pieces, as Chopin would be, a century later, remembered for his compositions for solo piano. Scarlatti’s harpsichord sonatas have an enormous emotional range, evoking lyrical mellowness, languid hours, somber solemnity, dazzling pyrotechnics, and cheerful sprightliness. Scarlatti is often considered merely the author of sonatas of insuperable technical difficulty, but this important composer’s real power lies in his dynamic strength, pouring forth in scale runs and elaborate cascades apropos to the overall harmonic richness. In this respect he is a precursor to Franz Liszt and Charles-Valentin Alkan, in his ability to create multiple melodies for soloists.

The solo sonata and the trio sonata were very popular forms of composition with Baroque composers. Consisting of one or two solo instruments supported by a continuo for rhythmic and harmonic definition, the sonatas gave ample opportunity for the soloists to show off their virtuosity. Soloists developed their technique with pieces such as The Sonatas for Violin and Continuo by violin virtuoso Arcangelo Corelli.

These pieces were published January 1, 1700, and quickly became a standard teaching tool for violin technique and musical inventiveness. Corelli’s Folia Variations offer a rousing example of the musical effectiveness of solid violin technique and of the variation form. The violin begins quietly, builds to a musical climax, and then returns to the calmer atmosphere in which it began.

This unique yearning, this striving and reaching for ever greater, more personal, more pure forms of art is behind every movement for which we have a pronoun. Biologically there may be little in our genome to distinguish us from other members of the primate family, but in the power of our expression we ascend to something penultimate to more than just an animalistic creature of instinct. This period brought admiration once reserved for frauds and magicians to genuine bringers of light, to secular prophets whose work has shaped the world and in doing so left it brighter than it was before.

Humanity wrestles with methods of expression because of what it does for our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to the world. Once something is understood the natural fear surrounding it diminishes. It is a way to bring us together. It is a unique aspect of character to set out with the knowledge that what will be for us the product of years, perhaps decades of research, drafting and revision, painful deliberation and punctuated periods alternating between cautious optimism and utter desolation, will be born into a world wherein there is a healthy and moneyed community of critics who by definition exist to pick apart the meat of what is, in a very true sense, the offspring of an artist.

Our inheritance from Baroque, that irregular pearl, that charming era replete with unique and important developments in our exploration of expression and the ways by which it can give voice to the unspoken subtleties that have no official language. The scientific, biological purpose to this—in deep time, the time-scale evolution works on—is the ability for these songs, the poems and paintings, the way they bring us together; the stories of ancient India and Mesopotamia live on in a digital, intangible library of information which cannot be burnt down—a permanent, unbreakable, fireproof Alexandria.

Radio waves have broadcast our thoughts and art into space where they continue traveling at the speed of light; perhaps it is the echo of a species alone in a quiet universe of wasted space, or a particularly loud section in the cosmic chorus: regardless, through this process the genetic and biological impulse of preservation is achieved in a way that nature has so far denied us: immortality is the reward for a life given to these pursuits, despite our ephemeral ambitions, these books and portraits and songs are love letters to posterity; a love letter to a love letter in a sea of similar songs unsigned.