Saturday, August 30, 2008

Reflections: Night Sweats for Johnny Mac

Here is one worry with which Barack Obama does not need to cope as a result of choosing Joe Biden as his running mate. To wit:

It is Rodak’s 23rd Law of Popular Culture that:

Of any woman who has posed with a motorcycle, nekkid pitchers exist.

And further that:

Any such pitchers that exist will emerge to be posted on the web.

This is an age-old law -- much, much older than motorcycles. For instance, the lady whose lovely form adorns my previous post provides alluring proof of this Law of Nature. In her day, of course, there were not yet motorcycles upon which to pose. When she graced the earth with her beauty, the clue was provided by having had one’s portrait made riding a strong stallion astride, rather than sidesaddle. Posing in a state of nature was as certain follow as night the day.

Sleep well while you can, John McCain; the wheels of that Big Chopper, Fate, are inexorably turning.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Readings: Frot with Pain

In my previous post I wrote that I would be following up with some excerpts from Jack Kerouac's Buddhist notebooks which resonate with the excerpts from Cervantes and Plato offered there. The first of these is:


which is the analog of the circular motion described by Plato.

Next is

Society is a system of lures,

which relates directly to Plato's cautionary

When a man is always occupied with the cravings of desire and ambition, and is eagerly striving to satisfy them, all his thoughts must be mortal...

which insight is reflected in Kerouac's desperate pledge:

No more the cupidity and self caress of “hearing about me” in articles of critics and chitchats of friends---The complete cessation of all striving and effort in the system of lures which is the society of the world…

Finally, Platonism and the Buddhism in which Kerouac was striving to immerse his pain share the concept of reincarnation, of the incorporal soul being lured back into time and materiality by the lust for flesh that is perhaps the most potent of all the appetites aroused by the five senses. Thus Kerouac wrote:

A B C’s of Truth:-

A Creamy thighs of beautiful young girl =

B Baby crying because it doesn’t want to be born =

C Corpse decaying in grave

Seen from this perspective, time is merely an aspect of the pain it takes, after innumerable tumbles down the fleshly chute into error, to finally turn the soul away from that vision of opening thighs and the musky, pheromonal fragrance that escapes along with the siren song of a narcotizing moan. Time, duration, is as illusory and unreal as the flesh into which we plunge again and again, only to have it melt away into the void of eternity: Où sont les neiges d’antan?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Readings: The World Is Too Much With Us

Compare the wisdom of Don Quixote below to the excerpt from Plato's Timaeus that follows it:


In response to hearing the confession of a character driven into a life of banditry “by a lust for vengeance,” Don Quixote says, “once a man recognizes his infirmity and consents to take the medicines prescribed by his physician, he has taken the first great step toward health. You are sick; you know your infirmity, and God, your physician, will apply medicines that, provided you give them time, will certainly heal you. For sinners who are men of understanding more easily mend their ways than fools, and as your superior sense is manifest, be of good heart and trust in your recovery.

Now, Plato:

When a man is always occupied with the cravings of desire and ambition, and is eagerly striving to satisfy them, all his thoughts must be mortal, and, as far as it is possible altogether to become such, he must be mortal every whit, because he has cherished his mortal part. But he who has been earnest in the love of knowledge and of true wisdom, and has exercised his intellect more than any other part of him, must have thoughts immortal and divine, if he attain truth, and in so far as human nature is capable of sharing in immortality, he must altogether be immortal; and since he is ever cherishing the divine power, and has the divinity within him in perfect order, he will be perfectly happy. Now there is only one way of taking care of things, and this is to give to each the food and motion which are natural to it. And the motions which are naturally akin to the divine principle within us are the thoughts and revolutions of the universe. These each man should follow, and correct the courses of the head which were corrupted at our birth, and by learning the harmonies and revolutions of the universe, should assimilate the thinking being to the thought, renewing his original nature, and having assimilated them should attain to that perfect life which the gods have set before mankind, both for the present and the future.

Plato speaks of "the revolutions of the universe" as being the motion "akin to the divine principle within us." Circular motion, rather than linear, is the motion that moves us towards peace of mind and salvation. One who is "driven into a life of banditry by a lust for vengeance" is one who has lost control, who is moving forward, not through exercise of his own will, but "driven" like a farm animal.

It is our appetites, whether for vengeance, fame, wealth, power, food, copulation, entertainment, or even spiritual greatness, that prod and lure us ever further away from "the divinity within" us. This divinity is our sun, around which we must orbit, and the pure light energy of which is our proper and perfect food.

I have been reading Don Quixote, the Timaeus, and Jack Kerouac's Buddhist notebooks, Some of the Dharma, simultaneously. As Kerouac studied the Buddhist scriptures with a patently desperate yearning toward enlightenment, he was struggling against--and repeatedly defeated by--his appetites for fame, success, booze, sex. A subsequent post will excerpt and reflect the pain inflicted by Kerouac's inner contradictions. It is relevant, for the sources of his pain are the sources of ours.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Quote du Jour: And then she said...

"Men always think other men are assholes," X says, coldly. "It's surprising how often they're right."

~ Richard Ford, The Sportswriter

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Rants: Lies, Damned Lies, and Book Tours

There is evidently a considerable number of bozos out there who still can't bring themselves to believe that the Bushies would actually LIE this nation into war. A corresponding note resonates in the assertions of a statistically significant number of trusting souls who continue to maintain that John McCain and his Republican cohort are running a dignified and honorable campaign. Persons of this mind-set should merely consider the book The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality that is atop the best-seller lists—due to bulk sales to fascist front organizations.

This "study" is more accurately a propagandistic screed, full of outright lies about Obama--lies that are being easily disproved both in print and over the airwaves of the broadcast media. But the book was never written and published with the expectation that many people would actually read it. All that was ever intended to result from its publication is that it would be talked about on television. The obvious lies, because of their “controversial” nature, would receive the most discussion. The sought-after result would be that even in being debunked by the so-called “liberal media” those lies would grow legs and thrive through wide dissemination. This pure, grade-A bullshit would be believed by many of the credulous rubes on the idiot fringes of the electorate, because those lockstep legions all “know” that the card-carrying liberals debunking them are in the tank for Obama: the media figures doing the debunking become the liars, while the author of this pulp fiction becomes the brave voice of truth crying out in a liberal wilderness.

And next consider the book’s subtitle: “Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality”. The “leftist” candidates in the two presidential campaigns prior to this one were Al Gore and John Kerry. Do I need to say more about the patent libel of characterizing liberal politics as a personality cult? And in this round Obama’s main competition was Hillary Clinton. Throughout the early months of campaigning it was endlessly reported and widely held to be most evident that precisely Hillary Clinton’s personality was her greatest liability.

So this book is another glaring example of the Conservative Way, boyz and grrrrls: Create a useful lie and float it out there. The bleating merinos in their pseudo-patriotic, conformist stupor will gobble it up like the sweetest clover--or poppies...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Readings: Staunchly Equivocal

At the conclusion of this post, I wrote:

“I am hopeful that Murdoch, herself being the author of some really kick-ass novels, will pull art's fat out of Plato's fire by the end of the essay.”

I have since gone on to other essays, and other books, without ever tying up that loose thread. To do so, it would seem to be sufficient to merely let Murdoch put the matter to rest with the closing paragraph of the essay in question, “The Fire and the Sun”:

Plato feared the consolations of art. He did not offer a consoling theology. His psychological realism depicted God as subjecting mankind to a judgment as relentless as that of the old Zeus, although more just. A finely meshed moral causality determines the fate of the soul. That the movement of the saving of Eros is toward an impersonal pictureless void is one of the paradoxes of a complete religion. To present the idea of God at all, even as myth, is a consolation, since it is impossible to defend this image against the prettifying attentions of art. Art will mediate and adorn, and develop magical structures to conceal the absence of God or his distance. We live now amid the collapse of many such structures, and as religion and metaphysics in the West withdraw from the embraces of art, we are it might seem being forced to become mystics through the lack of any imagery which could satisfy the mind. Sophistry and magic break down at intervals, but they never go away and there is no end to their collusion with art and to the consolations which, perhaps fortunately for the human race, they can provide; and art, like writing and like Eros, goes on existing for better and for worse.

Murdoch kind of fudges it in the end, don’t you think? She seems to be saying, You can have art, but be aware, at the same time, that all art is essentially an idolatry, the aesthetic consolations of which are a stumbling block to the pilgrim on the way to perfection. Art is for individuals who are willing to make compromises with Existence and to settle for second best; it is not for aspiring saints.

Art: Murdoch voted for it before she voted against it.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Readings: The Calming Voice of Reason

Included in the summer reading assigned to my daughter for a freshman seminar in which she will participate beginning with the Fall Quarter was Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World. Once she had finished it, I picked it up and started reading. Near the beginning of the second chapter I came across the following, and it occurred to me how accurately Zakaria nails some of the types whose xenophobic hysteria I have tried to highlight in previous posts:

A cottage industry of scaremongering has flourished in the West—especially in the United States—since 9/11. Experts extrapolate every trend they don’t like, forgoing any serious study of the data. Many conservative commentators have written about the impending Islamization of Europe (Eurabia, they call it, to make you even more uncomfortable). Except that the best estimates, from U.S. intelligence agencies, indicate that Muslims constitute around 3 percent of Europe’s population now and will rise to between 5 and 8 percent by 2025, after which they will probably plateau. The watchdogs note the musings of every crackpot Imam, search the archives for each reference to the end of days, and record and distribute the late-night TV musings of every nutcase who glorifies martyrdom. They erupt in fury when a Somali taxi driver somewhere refuses to load a case of liquor into his car, seeing it as the beginning of sharia in the West. But these episodes do not reflect the basic direction of the Muslim world. That world is also modernizing… . The reactionaries in the world of Islam are more numerous than those in other cultures… . But they remain a tiny minority of the world’s billion-plus Muslims. And neglecting the complicated context in which some of these pseudoreligious statements are made—such as an internal Iranian power struggle among clerics and nonclerics—leads to hair-raising but absurd predications [pp.14-15]

So much for that voice crying (wolf) in the wilderness.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Rants: Liberal Media Bias Rampant

This morning, the ABC network show This Week with George Stephanopoulos, in its “In Memoriam” feature, perpetrated a blatant liberal media bias event when it gave the recently deceased comedian, Bernie Mac top billing over Russian dissident and world-class author, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn was sandwiched between Mac and an entertainment producer, coincidentally also named Bernie.

Solzhenitsyn, who was clearly many times more important to the fall of the Soviet Union than was, for instance, Ronald Reagan, was remembered by ABC only by listing his name and flashing a photograph that was obviously chosen to make him look as much as possible like a shaggy backwoods hermit in the mold of Rasputin. There was no mention at all of why Solzhenitsyn even warranted being listed on the obituary roll.

While I may not have fully agreed with everything Solzhenitsyn wrote or said over the years, I agreed with most of it. I clearly remember being greatly affected by reading his classic novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich as a teenager.

It should go without saying that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was easily the most important figure to have died since ABC last aired its “In Memoriam” segment. It is true that for decades his legacy has been distorted and misused by the forces of reaction in this country, even as those same elements ignored his strong criticisms of the Western zeitgeist. That said, the off-hand manner in which his passing was commemorated on This Week this morning was inexcusable.
Update: When I wrote this post earlier today, I made a superfluous and unflattering editorial comment about the departed Mr. Mac. I have since discovered that he was apparently an iconic figure to certain elements in our society, at least one of whom took umbrage with my remarks. I have, therefore, with no apology, removed that clause from the sentence.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Readings: The Heart of the Matter

At about this time last year I was finishing up my slow, but extremely rewarding reading of Simone Weil’s two-volume Notebooks. A couple of random posts that I put up on my then brand-new blog during the time of that reading can be seen here and here. From these it can be discerned why reading the Notebooks soon branched off into readings of the Bhagavad-Gita and Plato’s Republic.

It happens that the anthology of Iris Murdoch’s writings on philosophy and literature which includes the essay “The Fire and the Sun” (about which I have recently posted below) also contains a review by Murdoch of Weil’s Notebooks. It is a short, dense piece which briefly lays out some of the recurrent themes of Weil’s thought as picked out by Murdoch in her reading. It occurred to me in reading the review that these identified insights could profitably be listed as bullet points, as I will do below. Of the Notebooks, Murdoch writes that

We are presented with a psychology whose sources are in Plato, in Eastern philosophy, and in the disciplines of Christian mysticism, and yet which bears upon contemporary problems of faith and action.

It is here that the bullet points may begin:

  • The soul is composed of parts, and justice, and also faith consist in each part performing its own role;
  • 'The baser parts of myself should love God, but not too much. It would not be God';
  • We do not know what we are -- (the lesson of psychoanalysis);
  • Until we become good we are at the mercy of mechanical forces, of which 'gravity' is the general image;
  • If we give more than we find natural and easy we may hate the recipient;
  • A sufferer communicates his suffering by ill-treating and distressing others;
  • All beings tend to use all the power at their disposal;
  • 'A virtuous action can degrade if there is no available energy at the same level';
  • We make advances by resisting the mechanism: but there is no reward;
  • Energy and imagination are on the side of the low motives;
  • To resist gravity is to suffer the void;
  • During our apprenticeship good appears negative and empty;
  • We are helped by meditating on 'absurdities which project light';
  • When we truly realise the impossibility of good we love it, as we love the mysteries of a religion;
  • It is upon meditation and not action that progress depends;
  • 'Action is the pointer of the balance. One must not touch the pointer, but the weights';
  • 'People suppose that thinking does not pledge them, but it alone pledges us';
  • It is of no avail to act above one's natural level. (Lesson of the Bhagavad-Gita.)

Any one of these items could launch a long discussion; in concert they compose a world-view and the basis of a spiritual existentialism that has affected me as the thought of no other “contemporary” thinker.



Readings: Americana Unplugged

Featured in the August 4, 2008 issue of The New Yorker magazine is a book review by Judith Thurman of Brenda Wineapple's new critical study White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Included in the review is the following:

As Emerson's friend Samuel Ward observed in a letter to Higginson after reading Dickinson's poems:

She is the quintessence of that element we all have who are of the Puritan descent pur sang. We came to this country to think our own thoughts with nobody to hinder. ...We conversed with our own souls till we lost the art of communicating with other people. The typical family grew up strangers to each other. ...It was awfully high, but awfully lonesome.

This is meant to enhance one's understanding of that strangest of all American geniuses, but I found that it struck a sympathetic chord in me that provided a flash of insight into my subjective place within that particularly stark and flinty American angst that informs the national character.