Archive for March, 2007

Introducing…

March 30, 2007

sammyseal.jpg

Sammy the seal. That’s his name…Really…I’m not making it up. A lovable denizen of Fisherman’s Wharf just down the way, which also features the delectable ocean delicacies of Barb’s Place. Sammy, I believe, is quite well fed. Like a sea dog. Still, he is a creature of another realm. This is clear when he looks up at you hopefully, but also warily, from under the water…For a long, long time…

On My Desk, Vol.2

March 29, 2007

OK, so this may not become a monthly feature, but it’s always fun to turn to inanimate objects lying around as a source of inspiration — particularly when they can be so animating. This venue has always been a bit bookish, so if that’s not your thing, just keep moving…

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Confessions, trans. J.M. Cohen (London: Penguin, 1953 [1781]).

This has been compared to St. Augustine’s work of the same name as a groundbreaking piece of autobiography. There’s certainly some damning evidence of Rousseau’s contradictory conduct in this work. And yet, a couple of paragraphs in particular are fascinating to me, illustrating two interesting themes — Rousseau’s early education and the impact of the novel on it (this as irony, for he is an educational philosophy pioneer) and his “conviction” that he was, in some sense, “born” a romantic. To wit:

“I felt before I thought: which is the common lot of man, though more pronounced in my case than in another’s. I know nothing of myself till I was five or six. I do not know how I learnt to read. I only remember my first books and their effect upon me; it is from my earliest reading that I date the unbroken consciousness of my own existence. My mother had possessed some novels, and my father and I began to read them after supper. At first it was only to give me some practice in reading. But soon my interest in this entertaining literature became so strong that we read by turns continuously, and spent whole nights so engaged. For we would never leave off till the end of the book. Sometimes my father would say with shame as we heard the morning larks: ‘Come, let us go to bed. I am more of a child than you are.’

In a short time I acquired by this dangerous method, not only an extreme facility in reading and expressing myself, but a singular insight for my age into the passions. I had no idea of the facts, but I was already familiar with every feeling. I had grasped nothing; I had sensed everything. These confused emotions which I experienced one after another, did not warp my reasoning powers in any way, for as yet I had none. But they shaped them after a special pattern, giving me the strangest and most romantic notions about human life, which neither experience nor reflection has ever succeeded in curing me of.” (pp. 19-20).

Rousseau: A self-confessed self-deluder…And the culprit? The novel.

Eric T. Jennings, Curing the Colonizers: Hydrotherapy, Climatology, and French Colonialism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006).

Looks interesting. This is “homework” for me — as I have been charged with producing a credible response to it. I’ll surely read it first. Since I haven’t yet, all you get is an intriguing title…

Richard M. Fried, Nightmare In Red: The McCarthy Era in Perspective (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).

An old “textbook-y” thing I was thumbing through today. Good introduction to the history of McCarthyism and its associated hysterias — enough at least to know why Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss are important figures in U.S. history. Actually, that sells this little well-written book short…

George Sarton, The Life of Science: Essays in the History of Civilization (New York: Henry Schuman, 1948).

This is “old school” history of science, written by one of the field’s conceivers. In this work, one of many, Sarton tackles Ernest Renan’s crisis of faith in the mid-nineteenth century and his subsequent devotion to science (and positivism), the deeply artistic dimensions of medicine, and the history of East-West cross-fertilzation in scientific ideas. In this light, perhaps it is no surprise that he dubbed the classic journal in the field Isis. Fine, maybe it has something to do with the symbolic relationship between science, knowledge and light. But still, you see in Sarton’s writing how he could become pretty enamoured of the ancient symbolism. It makes him fun to read. That, and the fact that he appears to know everything.

Kathleen Taylor, Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

I ran into the hardcover version of this at the library when tentatively investigating Cameron and the Allen Memorial Institute (see “mind control”), so when I saw it in softcover the other day I thought it deserved another look. Looks quite exhaustive — something to digest over a few months…

Arthur Koestler, The Roots of Coincidence (London: Hutchinson, 1972).

A writer and promulgator of alternative thought, Koestler has since lent his namesake to a premier parapsychology research institute at Edinburgh University. This book is in parts physics, parapsychology, Jungian synchronicity and, like most of the rest of his non-fiction, a stand-up critique of mechanism and reductionism as “thought styles”. Koestler is probably best understood as a vitalist. His book The Sleepwalkers (1959) is a monumental classic in the history of science — Koestler’s take on Kepler gives the famed mathematician’s life deep nuance, suggesting that in spots he was as sensitive and self-reflexive as someone like Rousseau. How romantic…

A theme emerged from all of these books, somewhere between romanticism, education and programming. I’ll just write that off as a synchronicity. This list is also a little shorter than the last one, but I have an excuse since most of my books are elsewhere, gathering dust. Hey, it’s better than “my dog ate it.”

A Sailor on the Seas of Fate

March 28, 2007

Anybody remember Elric? The ultimate anti-hero, a degenerate albino aristocrat and warlock wandering a dreamy, non-sensical land with his big black soul-sucking sword, Stormbringer. Classic stuff by way of Michael Moorcock.

My sailing was by bike this afternoon. The old girl has snazzy new tires from Tioga, and was just humming along sunny and breezy Dallas road. Found myself all the way out at the Oak Bay Marina, sitting on a park bench by the water, listening to the wind whistle and murmur through the masts and wires of all the docked sailboats. A strange kind of music. I smell the sea just remembering it…

Up the steep winding back way to Gonzales Hill, where the breeze was really blowing up through the strait. Then it was down and back past Beacon Hill park, where I ran into Irina taking pictures. There were some dudes pulling off gnarly riffs with these gorgeous contraptions half way between a windsurfer and a parachute (a parasail?). I want one. Looks unbelievably dangerous…

windsurfer2.jpg

Nice to get back on the bike and move around a little. I think the sound of cycling — the comings and goings of the Doppler Effect — may be the most amazing part of it. Just like the sound fate. Whoosh….

New…

March 27, 2007

Space to expand horizons…

Welcome one and all, old and new. So, you like?

Lake Effect

March 25, 2007

By the shore of Comox Lake last weekend, on a hazy afternoon. The day before, on the way up island, we found Cameron Lake in an odd still just before dusk. The air was moist and motionless — not a hair’s breath of wind. A mirror to the otherworldly. The most serene of moments. Stillness and low overcast ceiling made for fascinating imagery…Irina is again the one to credit.The reflections were immaculate…And the little fluffy clouds hanging just above the lake…Completely surreal. Being, moment, mood, medium. All in symmetry.More icon than image…Green and sensual…Umm…

Spring: Or, Storming the Archive

March 21, 2007

Since we’re all vernal-like today, but yesterday it was windy, wild and splashy out here…I decided to storm through some old stuff. Found this ominous haiku, totally out of harmony with the first day of spring. To me, it’s just a nice contrast to all the daffodils and rhododendrons and other flowery things too esoteric for my feeble brain to identify popping out of every nook and cranny around here. What, do I look like a Druid to you? Anyway, here it is…

Cloud

Dark nebulous form
Bringer of uncertainty
Everlasting storm

N.B. Please also consider this a comment on recent suggestions that cloud seeding would be a good way to combat global warming. Though, sadly, in this zany techno-world of ours, that seems like one of the more well thought out ideas…

Global warming be damned…Bring on the sunshine…

Time’s Arrow

March 20, 2007

When conceived, I had energized ambition for this title. It involved the idea that dinosaurs are relatively new. Not in reality (they are ancient, pre-human beasts), but in our reality. Until about 175 years ago, nobody had any idea what a dinosaur was, or how important they could be to our symbolic understanding of the Earth’s history. Reading about 19th century geology (again…) reminded me how central the question of the age of the Earth and the origin of life was to this time, and how inaccurate most speculations of the period were. This had to do with a lack of knowledge about the basic building blocks of our physical world. When physicists started figuring out these nuts and bolts in the early 20th century, the Earth (and the universe) became a whole lot older. Suddenly dinosaurs, initially confusing and controversial, were tools. They became iconographic symbols of our brief history here…Saint T. Rex of the church of science.

But they were always there, long before found. Dragons, we used to call them. Ancient and always chasing their own tail. Evocative of the mandala and the ouroboros — symbols of the cycle of life. They existed across cultures; the Chinese (or Oriental) dragons — long, sleek and whimsical — tied symbolically to aspects of nature (wind, water, etc..). Amazing this. Jungian. Our collective unconscious has a memory of these ancient ancestors. They are no longer seen as simple lizards, either, thanks to books like Robert T. Bakker‘s The Dinosaur Heresies: New Theories Unlocking the Mystery of the Dinosaurs and Their Extinction (1986), which helped inspire Jurrasic Park (1990), the popular novel by Michael Crichton.

I remember being young and curious reading Bakker around 1990. I thought his fascinating revelations (about the idea, for example, that many dinosaurs may have been warm-blooded) weren’t even remotely reflected in the hackneyed pulp-matinee movie versions of the archetype…

Time is like that…Cruel. It wears away at your sense of fantasy and whimsy. If you let it.

But, of course, only if you let it, forgetting the amazement that is the world, its constantly evolving nature, and the never ending sense of discovery that comes along with living. Rather I recall — as I did recently reading about the discovery of dinosaurs in the early 19th century — that science can be a source of new and transformative ideas. Like technology, which we shape to our purposes but which also shapes us, science is a feedback mechanism of knowledge. It spawns new mindsets and perspectives, stimulating some of our deepest reflections on life’s meaning. Science is also ever-changing and transitory, and engenders unstable mindsets as a collective neurosis. This is why it’s a poor interlocutor for belief, which it comes into conflict with. Reflecting on how relatively “new” some of these notions are gives us an illuminating (if oblique) way to understand the disparities (even within us — for, surprise, Bakker is also a Pentecostal preacher…).

And yet, to find a balance between “facts” and a sense of wonder is essential in our time. It may be the only thing that keeps us from winding up on the pointy end of time’s arrow. Like the dinosaurs…

Leisure

March 15, 2007

Admittedly, I would rather have passed it over and gone on to something else. But, of course, I can’t. When someone comments to me that “I long for your life of leisure,” I pause. They are completely entitled to their feeling, of course, and it probably comes from a place and has a very different meaning than I think, but it gets my back up.

You see, I used to wish I was/had someone/something else. Our whole society is built around these kinds of wishes. All societies are. Those desires, and their repression or sudden release (usually in an orgy of death), is society (thank you, Freud). That comment was society.

Why? Well for the best reason of all — judgment. We make basic judgments in perception all the time (“Umm…I think it’s too far to jump across that puddle…”). But what is “basic” and what is “perception”? Suddenly the whole idea of judging takes on a complex air when the net is cast wider. It’s “human nature”, we say…Everybody does it. A cornerstone of modern selfhood, this kind of judgment. And bourgeois, too (as in fairly universal and seemingly innocuous). Even people raised by wolves can figure it out…

That’s fine, but why do it out of context (in both senses of the word)? You see this blog, a snippet, and it appears “leisurely.” Does that constitute a life of leisure? Besides, what is leisure? I once remember pouring through somebody’s reader for a class on the “history of leisure,” and like so many other things, found it to be, unsurprisingly, largely socially constructed. Ancient Greeks and late 19th century Victorians, for example, differed widely on the idea. It’s not a static concept.

But it has a value, and to me that value is high. Maybe it’s high because I am a lot of the time…Whatever…Makes me see things at odd angles…Peering into the negative space a little. This doesn’t always feel so leisurely…

I’ve come to the increasing realization that it really (and I mean truly) doesn’t matter what people think. I used to care…Quite earnestly and with deep repressive impulses, about this thing we call “society.” But my experiences have been too aharmonious, too incongruous, to believe all that much in all of it. I shouldn’t have done what I did in life, I probably shouldn’t be here (but where else would you be, they’d all say?), but I am. If that means that I walk and sit on the beach and write and ruminate, then so much the better.

I’m not a rat and I don’t race. And if I did, you’d lose anyway…


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