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Desiderata for a Good Novel

Looking at a good novel like Finnegans Wake it has some admirable features: i)Vico cyclometer — i.e. depending upon whether a civilization reading it is in a stage of myth, heroic epic, or rationality, or second barbarism the novel will present differently ii)in a made-up language that it teaches the reader iii)in an interesting shape that says something about the theme of time and temporality viz. circular.

Another good novel, Gene Wolfe’s Urth Cycle has good features, namely i)model of temporality based upon modern understandings of time ii)profound and self-reflective musings upon the relationship of religion and the imagination iii)subversion of the relationship between the idea of literary character and human character iv)ultimate metaphor for what it is to live a life.

Novels can do a lot. If I ever write one I’d like AT LEAST for it to accomplish being:

i)a self-diagnostic tool for the Cosmic Anthropos ii)in a new language that it teaches you iii)consistent time paradoxes iv)subvert yet re-create the reciprocal relationship of psychology/character creation v)entertaining!

That said a good start would be to develop a novel that provides a new mythology for the human race, is in a language that does not depend exclusively upon Western languages, and is a RELATIVISTIC Vico cyclometer

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An Introduction to Manicasa Danshon Wigge

A lot of people who wanted to get an introduction to Manicasa Danshon Wigge didn’t even now the first thing about procuring such an introduction, but procured one they did, because he (or she) would arrange to be present in their lives, but unobserved, or perhaps, unthematized — a collection of coins in the back of a drawer, the play of light from the sun on a cloudy day, a memory that presented itself as a forgetting but was a memory clear as a bell all the same — they didn’t know that these were their opportunity to be introduced to Mr. MDW, they didn’t know I’m telling you with every last droplet of my eloquence — but HE knew, and was able to take them and split them right in two, brushing to one side the part he did not wish to meet, and grabbing the chickens’ heart between his fingers — “how do you do?”

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Living on Mount Everest

A child raised on the slopes of Mount Everest knows the mountain is big, but he thinks Mommy and Daddy are big, and the tree in his yard, and the school. It is only when he grows up and moves away and finds that as far as his feet can carry him the mountain still looms, while Dad and Mom and tree and schoolhouse become first specks and then vanish, that he realizes how big it is. It is the same way with the basic fact of our lives: that we were born. That is Mount Everest. And what are Mom and Dad and tree and house, the things that seem big but vanish to insignificance?

Everything else.

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Which is Heavier, a Pound of Feathers or a Pound of Lead?

The answer is supposed to be: they weigh the same. A pound.

But it seems like feathers are light, and a pound of feathers would be easier to move. Maybe “heavy” means: possessing heft. Hard to heave. Hard to give the old “heave-ho.” So the pound of feathers might be lighter than the pound of lead.

Or maybe the pound of feathers is impossible to heave! Unless they are squashed together in a sack somehow, large quantities of feathers are neither heavy nor light. They’re not heavable. Moving them is a complex engineering challenge, much more so than lead. So the question of “which is heavier” has no answer. Or the answer is “What do you mean?”

But what about the response — heavy doesn’t mean “hard-to-heave”. Heavy means — if you put it on a scale what would the scale say? That’s the know-it-all answer that the asker of the trick question has in his back pocket.

So on the know-it-all’s construal the question “which is heavier a pound of feathers or a pound of lead” is about what scales would say. What the question really means is “If you took an amount of feathers that caused a scale to read “one pound” and the amount of lead that caused a scale to read one pound and put them on two scales, which scale would read more?”

Could that be what the question means?

Obviously not! Because the answer to the question “Which of two scales that read the same would read more?” is obviously neither! That’s not a trick question.

And the question “Which is heavier, a pound of feathers or a pound of lead is a trick question.

So the know-it-all is wrong.

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Family of Rocks

If you are dealing with anxiety here is a trick. On Sunday go outside and find a rock. Give the rock a name. Let’s say Adolpho. Bring Adolpho into the house. If you are able to take a bath or a shower take a bath or a shower with Adolpho on your naked leg, at one of the joints — either where the thigh meets your pelvis or the crook of the knee — it doesn’t matter. Say “Adolpho I love you but…” and now tell Adolpho what his problem is. I said Adolpho’s problem is he is angry at squirrels. Perhaps because one time one of them used him to crack a nut, and didn’t offer to share, and now whenever he sees a squirrel he thinks, one of those selfish creatures who doesn’t care about me. And you say “This week we are going to work on that Adolpho. I love you, but we are going to make friends with squirrels, you are going to forgive squirrels. You are going to not have a problem with squirrels.” I picked the squirrel thing but you can pick a different problem that the rock that you love has.

Every day bring some more rocks into the family. They don’t have to be rocks if you live in a place where there aren’t any rocks or if you don’t like rocks. They could be coins, or pieces of fabric, like rags, or even just a clump of dirt with grease on it, it doesn’t matter. Just give them names and decide how they fit in your family. Maybe the clump of dirt with grease on it is Adolpho’s Dad! He doesn’t know why his son is so upset about squirrels. Why should he? He is sad because he misses being in the Army.

You take Adolpho into your home, washing him in the crook between your thigh and your pelvis, or in the back of your knee, whispering encouragement to him before you sleep and after you wake up on Sunday. On Saturday you have a family meeting. And everybody gets to say their piece.

“Fuck you, Adolpho!” says the dirty rag his mother. “I’m tired of your bullshit!”

“Why don’t you pay attention to me — I am the one who could die around here and nobody would notice and nobody would even care!” screams Lisa Doane, Adolpho’s adult sister who is a dime. “Nobody cares about me! I could be dead! I could be dead.”

“Are we still talking about this squirrel shit?” says a clump of dirt that is falling apart and just held together by grease. “I’m telling you back in Kuwait…”

And then you say “Enough all of you! I’ve had enough! I’ve had enough!” and you pick them up one by one, after opening the window and throw them as hard as you can, putting your hip into it, swinging with your whole body, until everyone of them, last of all Adolpho the rock who hated squirrels is gone.

And that night you sleep calmly, oh so calmly, you can’t remember a time when you slept so well.

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Lou Reed and John Phillips

-John Phillips left New York to go to California and sing popular songs about nonsense. Lou Reed wouldn’t go because he wanted to be real and gritty. But who was more gritty, Lou who stayed in gritty NYC or John who went to California to make money and do sex crimes, selling songs about nonsense?

-Lou?

-No. The one who seemed LESS cynical was REALLY, MORE cynical.

-Huh!

-Huh is right. New one. A guy who tries to stop being human and a guy who says, don’t stop being human, you’re a human. Who is more human?

-The guy who says don’t stop being human you’re a human.

-Wrong. It’s the other guy. Cause it’s a very human thing to want to not be human.

-Interesting.

-The guy who says everything is love and the guy who says everything is conflict, who is more full of conflict?

-Fine. The love guy. Cause he’s going to go around conflicting people to get the to agree with his love bullshit thing.

-Yes.

-Is it always the opposite?

-Yes.

-Always?

-What did I just say••••••?

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Thoughts on Rabbis and Golems

The very best rabbis make the worst golems.

A good golem is a mixture of crude image and an ineffable name of God. So a rabbi who drops the ball can sometimes get the mix wrong, or make the image too crude, or not crude enough, of the name of God, too ineffable or not ineffable enough.

While a rabbi who is not thinking too hard, and just making a golem according to the recipe, can sometimes get out of his head and just do it. He slaps the clay together so it looks crude but not too crude, he looks in the book and grabs a name that you can’t say but is obviously a name of God, ba-da-bing ba-da-boom and there’s your golem.

Somebody told me once that these bad rabbis who are good at making golems actually don’t know that’s what they’re doing. They don’t think they are making a crude image of a man — they think they are making a good image of a man. They don’t think they are handling the ineffable name of God just right, so they stand on the molecule-thin membrane separating saying from not saying. They just think it’s ok to write down one of the supernal names of God and stick it in a pile of wet clay because they want to make a golem, and don’t even realize the contradiction at the heart of their project.

To which I say, I don’t know if such people exist or they don’t, but if they do, they’re not rabbis.

They’re golems~

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Nude Killers on Rollerskates

I asked a friend of mine who has some experiencing writing and publishing books if he had any advice about titles, and in particular if there were any mistakes to be avoided.

He paused and thought. “Well,” he said “I would avoid the mistake made by the author of “Death on America’s Highways”.

“You mean the collection of heartwarming memories of the author’s Gram in Yorkshire?”

“The same. “

“Are there any other poorly titled works you’d suggest I take under advisement as a lesson in what not to do?”

“There are indeed. I think “Rambles Through My Library” was a very poorly titled work.”

“The autobiography of a man who spent seven years a hitman in the Camorra? I read that. I agree.”

“And “Scratched: The Hideous Underworld of People Who Force Others to Have Sex with Tigers” — that was ill-titled in the extreme.”

“The history of math in Holland in the 60s?”

“Yes. I could think of a dozen better titles for that one.”

“Exactly. Like “Arson at 20,000 feet!”

“Or “A Nipple Ring for Constantine. Or even the simple title “Patton:A Biography” or “How to Care for an Ailing Cat.”

“Who do you think was the best title of our generation?”

“Well the best and worst were the same man, that author who titled all his works the same thing: King Without a Crown. So King without a Crown for example–

“His saucy limerick?”

“Yes. Ill-titled. King without a Crown–“

“His opera about the birth of Gauss?”

“Execrably titled. But King without a Crown on the other hand–

“His vignettes about sailboats in New York City Harbor in the 1940s and 50s?”

“The same. Now, there was a work with a good title!”

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Dog Honey

When I was a kid and I got sick I had a friend who used to bring me tea sweetened with “dog honey.” Okay he was not my friend, he was my father. Okay, honestly, my Mom said he was my father, but I truly doubt it — that woman lied a lot!

When he got very, very old and couldn’t get out of bed and wondered if I should confront him that dogs don’t make honey. I wondered even if I should pick at the issue with the tip of a finger! “What are dogs?” I asked him the morning of the day he died. He didn’t answer much, not ever, and certainly not then, but I think he said, if I remember correctly (and I truly doubt it — my memory lies a lot!) dogs are the ones that walk.

Luckily in my job in the decades after that I had access to a computer which had Internet and I could do a little research on what it was that walked, what were the ones that walked, and I learned that bees (the ones that fly) are not the only ones that make honey! I was a lucky boy! Fine, man. But ants make honey, earwigs make fun, lacewings make honey (okay they fly) and something called Stellar’s Boring Beetle makes enough honey to feed a brood of grubs.

COULD THAT HAVE BEEN WHAT MY FATHER MEANT BY DOGS? The ant, the earwig, the lacewing (well probably not cause it flies) or Stellar’s Boring Beetle?

Maybe dogs do make honey, if that is what he meant by dogs! And then I could be happy again, and not worried all the time! Lucky boy! I could be! Lucky man! And somebody would finally want to marry me, cause I wouldn’t be broody and anxious all the time.

But nobody wanted to marry me it turned out because I have a gigantic nose. And also gigantic ears. And an annoying personality (constantly asking for reassurance and then making fun of whatever reassurance you provide). The trifecta of not-want-to-be-married-to-that traits! Poor me! Also self-pity. Ears, nose, personality, self-pity. The Four Unmarriagable Traits.

So I turned lonely. And lacking anybody to attack I turned inwards. I attacked my Comforting Idea. Because, why the fuck would he call Stellar’s Boring Beetle a “dog”. Because it walked? Because it made honey? But my Dad was an unemployed paper box salesman! He didn’t have a computer with Internet! He didn’t know about obscure beetles that could make honey to feed its brood of grubs!

Oh Shiva, Lord of the Dance! Tell me, what is sugar? What is sweet? Is sweet whatever keeps the cell alive?

Is the love of the dog that brings comfort to us a form of sweetness?

Is the love my friend — or perhaps father — brought to me — sweet?

Was he the dog?

Was that his honey?

Oh Shiva if you know the answer to these questions, send me an email, or an old-fashioned letter with a stamp on it, or a text, or a divine signal, of whatever kind you choose, even if it is one that someone like me will almost certainly miss, having my mind on lower things, like a moment that is a bit more peaceful than its fellows, or the whir of insect wings in the early morn.

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Rabbi Abulafia and the Marsh Demon

i

My teacher Rabbi Jose had been Rabbi Abulafia’s student when Rabbi Jose was sixteen and Rabbi Abulafia was very, very old, so because I was able to study with Rabbi Jose in his old age, I am now, despite the fact that I am no rabbi but a dealer in cardamom and other exotic spices, the most enlivened ring in the chain of rings that leads back to the Great Magnet himself, Rabbi Abulafia.

When my father expelled me from my house for challenging him and I took to the roads and slept behind bushes, with no companion but an empty stomach and the rain, and the stars, I went to the house of Rabbi Jose for wisdom, and, since wisdom although free, is never dispensed without a test, he challenged me.

This was his challenge: “A master of the old days yclept the Divine Empedocles taught that the two great principles are Love and Strife. Could this be right? Show your work.”

And this was my response to the challenge: “Empedocles could not be right. Because if we love strife, then that love of strife is strife, and if we contend with strife, then that strife with strife is love. But the love of strife and the strife with strife, are both strife, and we know this. But we could not know this, if it were true, as the Sage Empedocles would have us believe, that the sum total of all there is is love and strife.” I slept by the fire with the other students and ate a bowl of porridge the next morning, because my answer pleased Rabbi Jose.

ii

Although it pleased him, it did not please me. I felt I had won my night by the fire and my bowl of porridge, and the praise from the master, by a trick. I spoke words that perhaps answered the Rabbi’s question, but I did not understand them, I was as it were, a man who pays a debt with an envelope under seal, whose seal he does not break, and who therefore cannot truly feel the debt has been repaid — because what if within the envelope was not a bill of tending, but simply a request for mercy?

“What troubles you, Chaim Menashe?” asked Rabbi Jose that evening as I mopped the floor of the kitchen where his enormous cat lay stretched out poring over its seemingly fruitless studies.

(The rabbi placed its food in front of it arranged in the forms of the letters of the alphabet; he hoped to teach it to read.)

I wondered whether I could be honest with him. The night was cold and I did not welcome another pillow of stone, or supper of air.

But why my conscience asked me go into the house of truth if one wishes to lie?

I told the Rabbi the truth.

“I do not truly understand the problem with the views of the sage Empedocles on Love and Strife.”

“Let me tell you a story.” said Rabbi Jose.

iii

During his last days Rabbi Abulafia entered into a battle with the Bishop of Rome, who styled himself the Papa, or “Pope”. Each of them had a a covy of assassins who wove in and out of the camps of the other leader, pressing here, testing there, looking for an advantage. If Abulafia’s men slew the Pope, he would become Pope. If the Pope slew Abulafia he would gain access to his library, including the Tome of the Angel Raziel, and he would be able to storm Heaven.

One night as Abulafia reclined in his tent, taking accounts of the Pope’s movements from his spies, and plotting his possible location on an immense chessboard, two hundred squares at one side, his servants rushed in to announce the arrival of a visitor. A tall young man, fair of countenance, with long beautiful red hair and a single mustachio curling over the left side of his nose, offering his assistance. He had a map of the sewers of Rome and would lead the Rabbi himself to the privy of the Bishop, there for to slay him. “A moment, my friend.” said the Rabbi and left the camp.

The Rabbi strode into the throne room of St. Peter’s basilica and sought out the Pope. The Pope’s swissguards pointed their halberds at his throat. “Shall we slay him, Pontiff?” they inquired. “The Book of the Angel Raziel will be in your hands tonight, and by dawn tomorrow you will sit triumphant upon the Throne of Heaven!”

“Wait.” said the Pope, because although evil, he was wise. “Let us here what he has to say.”

“Bring him to me!” shouted the Rabbi.

“Who?”

“The beautiful young man who came to you offering his assistance! The one whose mustache curls under the RIGHT side of his nose!”

The Pope’s Swiss guards brought forth the man. The assassins of the rabbi brought forth his man. They were both tied together to a black rooster and burned, as they burned it smelled like marsh gas — they exploded in a puff of pestilence and were gone.

“What manner of شعوذة shueudha was that?” asked the Pope of the Rabbi.

“These creatures are generated by the pestilence of the soft rises outside your city. They are marsh demons. When strife occurs they offer themselves to both sides as helpers.”

“Why both sides? Why not the side of evil?”

“They know that whenever two sides contend to the death that is evil enough for them. They do not need to choose which is evil or which is good, Pontiff. They know one side or another will win, and when that happens they will have the trust of the ruler. If you had won, that demon would have been sitting on the throne of God himself come dawn.”

“And if you had won, Rabbi?” asked the Pontiff.

“Something far far worse would betide.” replied Abulafia.

iv

“And so I ask you, Chaim Menashe” said Rabbi Jose were the pair of marsh-demons lovers of strife, or strivers against strife?”

“I don’t know.” I answered.

“And did the Rabbi and the Pontiff in standing up to the tricks of the marsh demons, show that they loved each other? Or that they loved something, more than they loved their strife?”

I was silent.

That night as the enormous cat lay by the fire, purring and twitching and forgetting its lessons, I packed a loaf of bread and left the rabbi’s house. I knew that I was a base creature, not worthy of knowledge, and knowing that I resolved to pursue wealth instead. I decided to go to sea and travel to Damascus, where I would live by selling spice.

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