Deconstructionist pt. V

 

 

 

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The wall opposite the hearth pulses light, my head and shoulders cut sharply in shadow. I am a man, former architect. Everything else is mystery. Warmth from the fire marches over me, into me. I stare into it, captivated by its light and color, its disorder. In the next room a harsh rectangle of silver light is etched into the wall. I rise and walk toward it. The glass is cold and fogged. Beyond are white-capped trees and snowy rooftops, glinting particles of light. Bookcases dominate the wall opposite the window and I stand before them as if naked before strangers. They know me but I don’t know them. I don’t even know myself; the books are supposed to remind me. I take down a large, handsome volume: Frank Lloyd Wright, Architect. I open to a random page by the light of the window and begin reading.

Page 161: Throughout his life as an architect, Wright attempted to relate the spaces and forms of his designs to the structures and materials with which they were made. Wright believed this was essential if his buildings were to be edifying for those who inhabited them: aedificare, the ancient word for building, means both to edify (instruct) and to build (construct) with an ethical intention. Wright engaged in a constant search for a comprehensive order that would encompass both composition and construction, an order similar to the fusion of structure, material, form, and space that he found in his studies of nature.

I remember nothing of my career, my creations. Reality is dreamlike. Events and situations unfold then wash away entirely. A warm breath on the window fogs it. Nearby a radio plays a man’s voice. Twenty-eight degrees, he says. The book is filled with large photos and I admire them. I am often angered by the memory loss, saddened, fatigued, but fortified by the notion that I might uncover the hidden jewel to unlock everything. The answers are buried inside me, inside the books.

Page 87 – As we have seen, Wright’s public buildings invariably focus on introspective, top-lit central spaces, protected by solid walls that deny eye-level views outwards. Introverted at ground level with their closed exteriors and open centers, these buildings are vertically oriented, opening up and out, directed towards the sky.

Trankworth—I remember the name but nothing else. I built it. Perhaps it was a success. It does not matter. It’s a ghost that haunts. Surrounded by ghosts, I am also a ghost. I stopped writing when days passed after adding nothing to the pages. Nothing to recall into print. I often smile but not in moments like this, by the window with a book, nor at the hearth, watching the flames. The souls of the ancients remain alive in the flames, and to flames I shall also go.

Page 63: With his statements, and more importantly with his own design works of this period (c.1908), Wright sought to reclaim ancient architecture for those who would examine it analytically, searching for the underlying principles that shaped it; to accomplish this he could not allow ancient architecture to be claimed and defined by those merely seeking models for copying.

A man’s legacy is his contribution to history. His history is what he leaves behind. The world of light beyond the window seems an abstraction. So much history. I once moved through that world a claimant. The weight of the world belongs to each inhabitant. I don’t remember why I built but there was a purpose. The man on the radio says, probably a good day to stay inside

Page 225: Approaching [Taliesin West] through the desert, we first see it silhouetted against the low mountains immediately behind, its materials and colors drawn from the material site itself, and its broken, serrated profile intended to merge with the desert.

The window is cold, my legs are tired from standing. I return the book to the shelf. My arms sigh in relief. I revisit the hearth and poke the logs. I know how to do this. I watch the fire and merge with it. Silence and stillness weave a path and time escapes me.

The wall opposite the hearth pulses with light, my head and shoulders cut sharply in shadow. I am a man, former architect. All else is mystery. Warmth from the fire marches over me, into me. I stare into it, captivated by its light and color, its disorder. I am tired. In the next room a harsh rectangle of gray light is etched into the wall. I rise and walk toward it. The glass is cold and fogged. Beyond are white-capped trees and snowy rooftops, glinting particles of light. Bookcases dominate the wall opposite the window and I stand before them as if naked before strangers. They know me but I don’t know them. I don’t even know myself; the books are supposed to remind me. I take down a small, neat volume: The Poetics of Space, by Gaston Bachelard. I open to a random page by the light of the window and begin reading.

Page 43: There is nothing like silence to suggest a sense of unlimited space. Sounds lend color to space, and confer a sort of sound body upon it. But absence of sound leaves it quite pure and, in the silence, we are seized with the sensation of something vast and deep and boundless.

I know silence. I know it in spaces and in myself. I am a house, my life is a home that has been rearranged beyond comprehension. A light burns eternal in its attic-a sole occupant there hard at work. Papers and debris scatter the floor endlessly. The worker is confused and loses time. He loses focus. Again he is lost.

Page 15: The house we were born in is more than an embodiment of home, it is also an embodiment of dreams. Each one of its nooks and corners was a resting place for daydreaming. And often the resting place particularized the daydream. Our habits of a particular daydream were acquired there. The house, the bedroom, the garret in which we were alone, furnished the framework for an interminable dream, one that poetry alone could succeed in achieving completely.

Beyond the window men and women move about the world with their memories intact, accessible. Perhaps they take their memories for granted. I don’t remember if I did or not. Perhaps Bachelard can tell me, or one of the others. Shapes and angles, those were my life. Principles, ideals, realism—and their invaluable synthesis. Now what is my life? The enduring change of the seasons, the endearing breath of night. Absence populates most everything. Biology is my only schedule.

Page 41: Winter is by far the oldest of the seasons. Not only does it confer age upon our memories, taking us back to a remote past but, on snowy days, the house too is old. It is as though living in the past of centuries gone by.

The window is cold and my back is tired. I return the book to the shelf, my elbows sigh in relief. I revisit the hearth and carefully add a log. I know how to do this. I watch the fire and merge with it. Time escapes me.

 

Works
Bachelard, Gaston, The Poetics of Space, Beacon Press, Boston, 1958.
McCarter, Robert, Frank Lloyd Wright, Phaidon Press Limited, London, 1997.

 

 

 

Institutionalized

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…I’ve stayed in all types—fancy hospitals, but mostly non-descript hospitals of ill repute. Most are run by condescending men and women dressed as business executives, with methods to match. Hospitals are not all the same, and I’ve slept in them all. There are big, airy, clean places, and there are the opposite. Places with cigarette butts swept into corners, rats and roaches under the bed, human shit on the walls. Some hospitals allow pets. Those places are privately owned. Many places you’ll see the patients and nursing personnel all drugged beyond words, and if you watch closely you’ll see facility staff jaunting tiled corridors they’ve just swept to perfection only to sneak about rooms they shouldn’t. I knew nurses who’d arrive at work some days gentle and tender and other days gritting teeth and grabbing patients roughly, with meanness. I’ve seen all kinds of meanness. One place I lived brought in a clown with a cartful of iced cream every summer. The patients lobbied to allow the clown and his cart year-round, a request the director denied outright. He wouldn’t hear of it. The patients orchestrated clandestine meetings at night by candlelight and organized in solidarity against the director. Patients who otherwise bickered and hated one another united to subvert the director, to sabotage his hospital. Then suddenly the director was transferred to another hospital as often happens and a new director was installed in his place. As a sign of good will from the director to his new patients, the clown was immediately allowed to peddle from his cart even in winter. Gone was the focus of the patients’ anger and frustration. The energy that unified them was replaced again by boredom, pettiness, lassitude, and the banality of living each day of one’s life in a hospital, where the pulse of life is one of military or prison-like rigidity. Doors open and close and people move through them. Voices scatter and retreat. You only know what day of the week it is by the smell emanating from the kitchen. I’ve slept in government-owned hospitals where people buy and sell drugs in plain sight. Staff, patients, visitors. The patients sometimes disappear from those places. They exit unseen in the night or they don’t wake in the morning because someone put them to sleep. I don’t want to be one of them and that’s why I write this, that’s why you’re reading these words. My story is like all others: it requires a voice to tell it, to leverage my life in the eternal war against the abyss. How do I mean? One hundred years is about as long as a person can expect to live under the most favorable circumstances. Earth is about four-point-five billion years old, and that’s just a fraction of what astronomers estimate to be the age of the universe. O, the brevity of our existence! The clock on the wall and the device in the pocket are constant reminders of how soon you’ll depart this place and how insignificant you are. Each day the sun rises and you’re older than you were—another giant step toward the vast expanse. In a house broken by violence I was a slave to time, conscious of its brutal inflexibility, its moments of intolerable duration. It’s the same in all the hospitals I’ve lived since. Only reading and writing eliminate time from my awareness. Only through reading and writing I can learn about the world and my purpose. Why bother to live without purpose? Knowledge and creation buoyed me up above the depths. I had to understand why I was the way I was but more importantly, I had to create something to speak for me following my departure.

Conversation with Voltaire c.2016

Voltaire

T: You ask what is tolerance? Tolerance is an objective.

V: It is the natural attribute of humanity. We are all formed of weakness and error: let us pardon reciprocally each other’s folly.[1]

T: Easy for you to say. Things are tense here. You’re dead. I have a daughter now. The world is more confusing each month. I pace indoors, my mind a temple of intensity. Sleep is a luxury I cannot afford. I’d rather study and write—do my part to help solve our problems. Thus I look to sages like you for guidance.

V: It is said the present gives birth to the future. Events are linked to each other by an invisible fate.[2]

T: If this is a renaissance, it’s a morbid portent. It is as if the world is sick. America itself is ill with pervasive discontent.

V: There is no other remedy for this epidemic illness than the spirit of free thought, which, spreading little by little, finally softens men’s customs, and prevents the renewal of the disease.[3]

T: I agree, and in light of current events, in which communities of peace officers roam American neighborhoods like armies, in which whites can’t even agree that or are afraid to exalt that BLACK LIVES MATTER, another remedy beyond free thought is respect for our fellow men and women and the infinite potential inside them, for as you once wrote, “We should say to every individual: Remember thy dignity as a man!”[4] For I wake each morning and read the newspaper and often I cannot sit. I am physically pained at what I read.

V: This feeling of pain is indispensible to stimulate us to self-preservation. If we never experienced pain, we should be every moment injuring ourselves without perceiving it.[5]

T: Fanaticism has kidnapped the minds of men and women. Since we invented religion we have murdered in the name of it, and we continue to do so. Such fanaticism has spread into the political realm. Anger and fear dominate. People are afraid that if they don’t assert their convictions, they will be victimized. Moderation has evaporated in the overabundant breath of rhetoric. The people’s politics are exclusive rather than inclusive, derisive rather than unifying. History has shown us that such moments are regrettable.

V: Show these fanatics a little geometry, and they learn it quite easily. But strangely enough their minds are not thereby rectified. They perceive the truths of geometry, but it does not teach them to weigh probabilities. Their minds have set hard. They will reason in a topsy-turvy way all their lives and I am sorry for it.[6]

T: I’m not sorry for them. They get what they deserve. In America they only have two choices, candidates who appear at first glance to be siblings: A woman who, according to federal investigators, has been “extremely careless with information” at her privileged disposal, and a man who has been openly and dangerously intolerant of people that do not look or think like him. They pander and feed the public narcotic doses of false promise. These are perhaps the most tepid of charges against them.

V: So tell me, you who have travelled, who have read and observed, in which state, under what kind of government would you have liked to be born?[7]

T: I wave no flag and never will. I would have liked to be born WITH a government rather than UNDER one. The older I become, the more oppressive the weight of that government, the more necessary to shrug it from atop me.

V: Laws have proceeded in almost every state, from the interest of the legislator, from the urgency of the moment, from ignorance, from superstition, and have been made at random, irregularly, just as cities have been built.[8] In general, the art of government consists in taking as much money as possible from one part of the citizens to give to the other.[9]

T: I’m afraid the stakes are much higher than money. Western culture’s priorities are grossly misaligned. Emphasis is erroneously placed on sports and entertainment and the people are utterly disengaged until a horror seizes their attention.

V: But where are they to be found who will dare speak out?[10]

T: They’re everywhere, unfortunately. What they have to say is often more harmful than helpful. I dare speak, but who will listen? For “it is far better to be silent than to increase the quantity of bad books.”[11]

V: It is impossible for society to subsist unless each member pays something toward the expenses of it, and everyone ought to pay.[12]

T: Yes, but “try to arouse activity in an indolent mass, to inspire a taste for music and poetry in one who lacks taste and an ear, and you will no more succeed than if you undertook to give sight to the blind.”[13] In people’s certainties of their beliefs, they stop searching and their ideas stagnate, become a cesspool. They are certain of their beliefs and that is enough; little else matters.

V: If you’d asked the entire world before Copernicus if the sun rose and set that day, everyone would have answered: We are absolutely certain of it. They were certain, and they were mistaken.[14]

T: All the more important that “[we] boldly and honestly say: How little it is that I truly know!”[15] Rather than shout their beliefs over another’s, why do they not close their mouths and listen? Why do they accuse rather than acknowledge?

V: This is the character of truth: it is of all time, for all men, it only has to show itself to be recognized, and one cannot argue against it: A long dispute means that both parties are wrong.[16]

T: So “who shall decide between these fanatics? The reasonable, impartial man who is learned in a knowledge not of words, the man free from prejudice and the lover of truth and justice—in short, a man who is not a foolish animal, and who does not think he is the angel.”[17] As I said, I look to you, but you were no angel. Harsh words against Muslims and Jews populate your texts.

V: It takes 20 years for a man to rise from the vegetative state in which he is in his mother’s womb to the state when the maturity of reason begins to appear. It has required 30 centuries to learn about his structure. It would need an eternity to learn something about his soul.[18] In the land of where the monster reigns, almost everyone is blind.[19]

T: I wonder what I do not see. Monsters abound in plain sight. Each week strikes a new terror worst than the last.

V: If there were only two men on Earth, how would they live together? They would assist each other, annoy each other, court each other, speak ill of each other, fight each other, be reconciled to each other, and neither be able to live with nor without each other.[20]

T: Some fighting is understandable, but why so freely kill each other? Across the world innocents are murdered as a means to an end, to espouse a statement or idea. Why not verbalize those statements and ideas? Why the fear of black men on behalf of the American police? And why the murderous retaliation upon the police when such actions force us retreating backward?

V: It is forbidden to kill.[21] To murder our brethren, can there be anything more horrible throughout nature?[22] We are told that human nature is perverse, that man is born a child of the devil, and wicked. Nothing could be more foolish. You are all born good. Witness how dreadful it is to corrupt the purity of your being. All mankind should be dealt with as all men individually.[23]

T: Still, there is too much. At times I am beaten down with it.

V: There is infinitely less wickedness on Earth than we are told or believe there is. There is still too much, no doubt. A melancholy mind which has suffered injustice sees the Earth covered with damned people.[24]

T: I don’t see them as damned. But “more than half the habitable world is still peopled with humans who live in a horrible state approaching pure nature, existing and clothing themselves with difficulty, scarcely enjoying the gift of speech, scarcely perceiving that they are unfortunate, and living and dying almost without knowing it.”[25] I’d like to help them find their voices. I’d like to level the playing field.

V: As men have received the gift of perfecting all that nature has granted them, they have perfected love.[26]

T: They have not perfected love. They have not perfected anything. Perfection does not exist. Perhaps it is all we can do to continue down this path of inquiry and reflection. Rest not, my dead friend. Your ideas are wide awake and eager for an audience. The fire burns inside me so it must burn elsewhere.

July 2016

 

Works

Besterman, Theodore, editor. Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary, Penguin Books, 1972.

DuMont, E.R, editor. Philosophical Dictionary, from The Complete Works of Voltaire in 43 Volumes, St. Hubert Guild, 1901.

Redman, Ben Ray, editor. The Portable Voltaire, Viking Penguin, 1949.

 

[1] Redman, 212.

[2] Besterman, 109.

[3] Besterman, 203.

[4] Redman, 228.

[5] DuMont, vol. IX, page 265.

[6] Besterman, 189.

[7] Besterman, 192.

[8] Redman, 224.

[9] Redman, 225.

[10] Redman, 224.

[11] Redman, 223.

[12] DuMont, vol. X, page 174.

[13] Besterman, 76.

[14] Besterman, 106.

[15] Redman, 225.

[16] Redman, 198.

[17] Redman, 198.

[18] Redman, 160.

[19] Redman, 162.

[20] DuMont, vol. XIII, page 104.

[21] DuMont, vol. XIII page 106.

[22] DuMont, vol. XIV page 198.

[23] DuMont, vol. XIV page 215.

[24] Dumont, vol. XIV page 219.

[25] Redman, 225.

[26] Besterman, 30.

Zero K: The Master Speaketh

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Every time another Don DeLillo novel is published I wonder if it will be his last. He is 79 this year, the author of 16 masterful novels, three plays, and a story collection. I eased into his latest novel Zero K with the master’s age in mind, reading gingerly at first, cautious; it pains me to imagine DeLillo’s mighty pen reduced by the erosion of age. But soon I’m reading at that familiar tempo that lives in his novels, a pulse of language that carries the reader through, slowly, returning over almost every sentence to examine the breadth and beauty of them.

Just as the pulse of language runs through each novel, there’s also a feeling, an ethos of paranoia, intelligent detachment, but also something unique to each work. White Noise makes us afraid and self-aware, Great Jones Street isolates us. We are particles adrift in the great expanse of Underworld. All DeLillo’s works carry an electric hum, Kubrickian overtones, post-modern antiseptic, and the desperate search for perfection. Zero K is no different. What makes it unique among DeLillo’s works is its ability to pull humanity from inhuman subjects and abstract space. It’s largely a novel about science, or cryogenics, in particular. From the book jacket:

Jeffrey Lockhart’s father, Ross, is a billionaire in his sixties, with a younger wife, Artis Martineau, whose health is failing. Ross is the primary investor in a remote and secret compound where death is exquisitely controlled and bodies are preserved until a future time when biomedical advances and new technologies can return them to a life of transcendent promise. Jeff joins Ross and Artis at the compound to say “an uncertain farewell” to her as she surrenders her body. 

“We are born without choosing to be. Should we have to die in the same manner? Isn’t it a human glory to refuse to accept a certain fate?” 

These are the questions that haunt the novel and its memorable characters, and it is Ross Lockhart, most particularly, who feels a deep need to enter another dimension and awake to a new world. For his son, this is indefensible. Jeff, the book’s narrator, is committed to living, to experiencing “the mingled astonishments of our time, here, on earth.” 

Don DeLillo’s seductive, spectacularly observed and brilliant new novel weighs the darkness of the world—terrorism, floods, fires, famine, plague—against the beauty and humanity of everyday life; love, awe, “the intimate touch of earth and sun.” 

But as with all DeLillo’s novels, it’s about so much more. It might not be his final novel but it is one of his best. DeLillo masterfully weaves readers through themes of suspension (physical and metaphysical), re-immersion, immortality, and our growing dependence on technology. But there’s also something soft at work here, burrowing, delicate as human flesh. There is love and grief and human sacrifice. The novel cuts but kisses our wounds. And I’ll probably not forget it for months.

virtual voyeurism

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“Bite the serpent’s head off!- so it cried out of me; my horror, my hatred, my loathing, my pity, all my good and bad with one voice out of me.” – Nietzsche, Zarathustra

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Today’s video games are hyperrealist and meticulously designed cinematic experiences. The first-person shooter (FPS) is the second-most popular video game genre[1] among gamers, and FPS games possess some of the most profound examples of hyperrealism. The violence in these games is astounding. One of the gentlest people I know freely heaps bullets onto her virtual enemies as often as her personal schedule allows. A woman who wouldn’t hurt a fly in non-virtual reality eagerly awaits loading her latest game to dissolve her enemies with an impossible array of virtual gunfire. It’s fun, this recklessness. It’s also morbid. I eagerly seize the control, wondering why I enjoy playing these games or watching others play them. What instinctive horror does this virtual violence satisfy?

[1] https://www.statista.com/chart/3599/americas-favorite-video-game-genres/

Ourselves

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…as we proceed across fenced-in ghetto landscapes and through urban and suburban war zones infested with drugs and weapons designed to infiltrate homes like cockroaches; as we proceed through flooded wastelands comprised of failure—failure of the community, of elected officials, failures of mothers and fathers—a tangled mess of failed systems with THIS PLACE (and places like it) as the webbed epicenter; as we proceed through blighted examples of failed capitalism, failed cold-war policy, failed environmental and social policies, and failed educational infrastructures; as we proceed through desolate, insignificant prairies reserved for shattered generations of people, through packed penitentiaries full of history’s patsies; as we proceed we must look closely lest we overlook the mirrors of time, for EVERYWHERE we find ourselves.