A lot of people in my apartment were pretty worried that the people in the apartment next door were part of a hive mind; ie that they had no sense of individuality, any more than your heart has a sense of individuality and wants to wander free of your body and take a package tour to Peru, no your heart doesn’t know what it’s missing or probably even more accurately your heart isn’t the sort of agent that could be missing out, it’s just part of something bigger, like the the second letter e in the word “eye”. Anyway Bruno thought that the people next door viewed themselves like that, or maybe that they were like that and didn’t view themselves at all, and the mother who stayed up late washing her husband’s underwear and got up early making sandwiches for her six children was so subjugated that she didn’t even have a separate consciousness, or maybe she never did? Maybe Ruth Feldman was just a shape Bruno could dimly perceive in the stone of that next door family as Michelangelo could glimpse the borning Moses in the quarry a shape that had never chosen to be or do, an eddy in a stream of biological and cultural messages proeeding from past to future, that someday might be a person. “You’re full of shit, Bruno.” I said “Ruth Feldman is nothing like that. I know Ruth Feldman because my mother was like that. She made her choices.” “Hey don’t talk about her like that.” said Bruno “She’s my mother too.”
After I flunked out of college I was ashamed to tell my Mom and Dad so I got work doing temp typing and clerical for a reinsurance firm. I made $14 an hour which was enough for a sublet with an insane woman who thought she had bugs under her skin and who once tried to seduce me. But this blog post is not about that stuff which is pretty personal. It’s about two mean bosses I had, Mr. Hanft and M. Waldvogel.
Mr. Hanft would yell at me because nothing I said was accurate enough. He would ask me questions and he never liked the answers. Those answers don’t answer my questions! he would yell. He looked a little like Beefsteak Charlie. He yelled at me for not knowing the difference between a hyphen and a dash. He yelled at me a lot. My response to his yelling was to pretend that nothing mattered to me, a strategy that I employ to this day. It’s a pretty good strategy because if people think nothing matters to you sometimes they will let up a little. It’s not a perfect strategy because if you pretend long enough you start to think nothing matters to you and you can get depressed. Or maybe what I did was confuse “nothing matters to me” with “I’m afraid that if something matters to me I’ll get yelled at”. Probably the second one.
M. Waldvogel’s job was to evaluate how much catastrophe insurance to provide to different businesses around the country. So he’d travel around (I don’t know how? Corporate jet? Something.) to different places like a sports arena in Houston and write down on a piece of paper with a fountain pen 1.2 B — which meant one point two billion dollars catastrophe insurance. Bear in mind this was reinsurance — Safr Re was not supplying insurance to the sports arena but insurance to the insurance company that insured the sports arena. In the event there was a massive hurricane (which there in fact was) and the insurance company was unable to pay its policies (which happened) Safr Re would insure the insurance company and pay up (it did. You thought it didn’t? Oh ye of little faith in the reinsurance industry!)
M. Waldvogel would yell at me for never actually saying anything clear enough to get in trouble. My job was to take his scribblings and turn them into a report summarizing them. Anytime I would write the report he would look at me, pause a long time and then as he was striding out the door say “Kaplan, you’ve given me nothing! I don’t need you to tell me what I already said!”
Anyway these were two mean bosses.
Up in the air above, a monkey.
Down below, a gopher.
In front, a Bitter Blocker.
In back, a Slimy Stalker.
To the left, a Leftpard.
To the right, a Right Whale.
How to get out, when past, present, and future are thoroughly besieged and totally invested?
Nothing to do but put your head down and BULL YOUR WAY THROUGH!
The library at my old temple had a few peculiar books in it. In order to save time I am not going to tell you the titles.
The first book is about a bunch of children who are both seduced and menaced by fairies. As they go deeper into their mysterious old house they learn that they themselves are the fairies.
The second book is about a spy trying to uncover a ring of anarchists. As he uncovers the first anarchist he learns that the anarchist is actually an agent provocateur who is posing as an anarchist in order to uncover the ring of anarchists. Ultimately they learn there is only a single anarchist in the world and that the king of the world has deliberately sacrificed himself in order to save the single anarchist from his own refusal of love.
The third book is about a little girl who dreams that she is in a world just like this one, but simultaneously more beautiful and more terrifying. At the end of the book she wonders whether the king of the stupid, crazy and hilarious characters in the book is actually dreaming of her.
The fourth book is about heroes on the planet Mercury who fight villains, but once they defeat the villains they decide that nothing in life is more interesting than the fight, so they return to the beginning of their war and begin it again.
Obviously these are all one and the same book.
Obviously they are offering different solutions to the same problem, with the twin caveats that, firstly, while they disagree on the nature of the problem so deeply that in essence you can say they are solving four completely different problems, and secondly, that the solution they offer is at its root, exactly the same.
Obviously we are all writing the actual book of which these books are merely smudgy copies, and doing it with what you might call real life — loves and hopes, fear and despair, anger and loneliness, beauty and trauma, meeting and departing.
What you might call real life that is, if you had never read these books.
Temporal engineering like most things creates problems in location A at the same time as it ameliorates problems in location B. Consequently the evaluation of a temporal engineering solution often hinges on taking steps to oneself be in location B and avoid as best one can being in location A. In the case of energy production, the TE solution was to find micro-thin slices of oil or other hydrocarbons in the past and extract them, allowing them to be burned in the present. If a nano-second sized time slice was extracted from the interior of a tank of gasoline in 1974 for example, the gasoline before and after the extracted slice would still burn, but with enough time slices aggregated in the present, you could drive your car. The unintended consequence of temporal oil extraction however was as follows: extracting a nano-second of oil from a past historical period would inevitably take along a substantial proportion (up to eighty percent) of the rest of the universe at the time of the extraction and this residue or “slag” would then have to be stored somewhere.
But if solutions generate problems, so, often as not is it the case that problems generate solutions. Universe-slag (US) could be stored in storage units yesterday. Because yesterday had already passed, the problems of locating storage units now, in terms of cost and inconvenience, could be ameliorated, and yesterday could be packed with storage units across the length of the Earth, and many units deep.
The student who is attentive to my dialectic will anticipate the result. Did the solution of storing US yesterday generate a concomittant problem? Indeed it did, and praise to that student for his or her attentiveness. The proliferation of slag-storage yesterday created anxiety today. Because the human brain structure evolved, lo and long ago upon the hominid-rich Serengeti, to use the past to construct feelings of the future. Yes, the storage units were in yesterday and yesterday never becomes today, but the simple human brain, evolved as it did for long-lost simpler times, simply did not know that. The human brain, fool that it was (although to be fair a bit brighter than liver and kidney) created anxiety about what would happen if those over-brimmed and ever-more-over-brimming storage units ever arrived like poor relations with valises full of sterno and crockery in the present, and demanded to be put up and put their feet on the tea table!
New problem — anxiety about yesterday’s storage unit. New solution? Take that anxiety, remove it from the brain, and store it a moment from now.
That solution worked and generates no problems. Right now it is calm. At this moment we are calm.
All is well, chief. All is well.
But the very next moment, may it never come — ANXIETY!
I just got back from the American Society of Existential Phenomenology meeting in New York City. Wayne Martin was presenting a paper on the will in Luther, but this inspired me to read an earlier paper of Wayne’s on “Manic Temporality’. Francisco Gallegos of Wake Forest University also presented a paper on moods. It got me thinking about the intersection of three different phenomena: mood, narrative, and temporality.
Mood is easy to get a handle on if we contrast it with emotion. I could hate a person or be jealous of a person or angry at a person. Mood in contrast is not focussed on a specific person or event or thing. Mood is the background emotional color of everything I experience. If I’m in a sunny mood, everything seems hopeful. If I’m in a bitter mood, everything seems like a waste.
But when we look at a mood like anxiety or depression or panic, what really seems to get warped into a particular shape is our experience of time. In an anxious mood, all future possibilities seem both desirable and scary. In a panic the future seems inaccessible and all that exists is an intolerable present. As Wayne Martin points out in his paper on manic temporality, when we are manic all future possibilities seem very good, although vague. I think love is a form or mania focussed on a particular person; that person seems to be the gateway through which a bounteous, exciting future makes itself present. And as we would expect mania has its corresponding temporality in depression — the future seems hopeless. And romantic love has its corresponding form of depression which we call heartbreak — the only possibility of happiness lies in the other and that is impossible.
Moods it seems to me (and this is developing on a theme from Francisco Gallegos) carry with them a characteristic narrative. That’s because narrative, according to Aristotle structures events in a particular way — it makes us focus on events that turn things from bad to good or from good to bad (peripateia/reversal of fortune) and on events that cause us to understand ourselves and our situation in a new way (anagnorisis/removal of ignorance).
Together mood, temporality, and narrative reinforce each other to define our lives.
Supposing somebody didn’t know what an analogy was? How could he find out?
Could somebody explain it to him by an analogy? Could somebody say “Look –an analogy bears the same relationship to the thing I am analogizing as does a dream of a river to our waking fear of death, an image in a mirror does to the thing mirrored, tears do the overburdened heart?
How could that help? Because it would seem to understand the analogy, the person would have to understand what an analogy was already, and thus it would be useless.
And yet we are not born knowing what analogies are.