coronavirus blues

Daydreaming in aisle five

toothpaste and shampoo

silent sparkling commerce

air conditioned

red arrows on scuffed white tile

a guide in the labyrinth

whole aisles are wastelands

handwritten signs: OUT OF STOCK

no one looks at me

not masked employees

shuffling

ignoring everyone

afraid

not shoppers

some unmasked

aggressive

center-of-the-universe

others kind, warm

smiling behind masks

at the absurdity

a blackbird loops above the bakery

scouting crumbs

I’ve been here too long

they don’t have what I need

 

back in the car I

sanitize

mask down

never dreamed I’d need

masks for my family

 

through deserted streets

atomic sunlight

paranoid and guilty

for what I might now carry

 

portrait of a mute

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There he was, pale faced and morose. Nobody like him anywhere. Beneath the white lamp glow, sullen there with his stack of blank papers, which would be creased or imperfect if only he didn’t fill them so quickly, if only the pages remained longer in his care, beneath his pen and his scrutiny.

What is the measure of a man? Is it in his handwriting? A person’s life displayed before the discerning reader, as if in a crystal ball. Wade’s short bursts of near-perfect proportionality were written hastily, without error, as if the author, given to spasmodic and obsessive episodes with the pen, always knew where his pen was headed. As if the pen cast a sweeping glance like headlights upon the fibers and terrain it was soon to illuminate. As if the driver of that pen, omniscient and aware of his fate, preferred to follow blindly rather than see his journey.

Galeano on Marx

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14 March : CAPITAL — In 1883 a crowd gathered for Karl Marx’s funeral in a London cemetery — a crowd of eleven, counting the undertaker.

The most famous of his sayings became his epitaph: ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.’

The prophet of global change spent his life fleeing the police and his creditors.

Regarding his masterwork, he said: ‘No one ever wrote so much about money while having so little.’ Capital will not even pay for the cigars I smoked while writing it.’

 

From Children of the Days: A Calendar of Human History, trans. by Fried, Mark. Penguin Group, New York, 2013: 85.  

Dialogue with Nietzsche, c. 2020

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Nietzsche: For the New Year: I still live, I still think; I must still live, for I must still think.[1]

T: The new year will be one of intense thought paired with increased mental rest. The idea is to continue expanding the intellectual rigor—more study and writing—then periodically scram (more often). The last thing I want is to end up like you, looking up from a pile of horse shit.[2]

[laughter]

Changes in mind and body strike in real time, not arbitrarily. Waves of thought inundate my mental shoreline, but I must continue—how else to improve on yesterday? Then take pause to quiet the mind after high tide. Each day is a lesson in writing: reflective, creative, wasteful. Advance yesterday’s intent and record its progress. Every day for decades. A different page on the calendar does not change it.

Nietzsche: The best author will be he who is ashamed to become one.[3]

T: I’ll never be ashamed and I’ll never be the best. We’ve both written ridiculous nonsense in our lives, but all I’m ashamed of are the early works and their palpable infancy. Where is your shame, dear teacher?[4]

Nietzsche: The happiest fate is that of the author who, as an old man, is able to say that all there was in him of life-inspiring, strengthening, exalting, enlightening thoughts and feelings still lives on in his writings, and that he himself now only represents the gray ashes while the fire has been kept alive and spread out.[5]

T: We writers are ash before the creative process, a storm of fire in the midst of the work and ash once again when the work is complete. The energy used to create the work is powerful enough to spawn something immortal. For somehow, in creating an object of the intellect, as you wrote: “I am of today and before, but something is in me that is of tomorrow, and the day following, and time to come.”[6]

And yes, live! Today is an opportunity and tomorrow will be another, shall you find good fortune to arrive upon its shore.

Nietzsche: Be of good cheer; what does it matter! How much is still possible! Learn to laugh at yourselves as you ought to laugh![7]

T: Laughter is undoubtedly the skeleton key for this labyrinth. Reference your example of the Dionysian impulse within us: yearning for what makes us feel good and perform at our best.[8] Look to your student Foucault who embodied it as a life philosophy. Just as with you and extremes of the mind, Foucault surrendered to physical extremes. My (more) moderate perspective reminds me that laughter is responsible for the best memories of my brief life, and that if I were to chase an extreme, marry myself to it entirely without fear of residual repercussions or side effects (e.g., you: terrible death, Foucault: terrible death[9]), it would be a life of laughter. Laughter is death’s most formidable adversary.

Nietzsche: Living—that is to continually eliminate from ourselves what is about to die.[10]

T: The human experience is living in a house one block from train tracks upon which trains traverse a hundred times a day, sirens blaring at all hours, shaking the room and waking the sleeper just as she falls asleep, finally.[11]

Nietzsche: The thinker, as likewise the artist, who has put his best self into his works, feels an almost malicious joy when he sees how his mind and body are being slowly damaged and destroyed by time, as if from a dark corner he were spying a thief at his money chest, knowing all the time that it was empty and his treasures in safety.[12]

T: Many of my edges at age 40 are yet smoothed from genetics and (relative) youth but most are visibly chipped and cracking, some damaged. I’m not ashamed or prideful of my imperfections but have always been aware of my mortality. Close proximity to death as a child wired my brain to expect to die at any time, anywhere—especially in the home. It’s no wonder I isolate myself and carry a notebook to ponder mortality like a friend or adversary (selfsame).

Nietzsche: A person needs to learn much if he is to live, to fight his battle for survival…[13]

T: One survives by learning to adapt. If you don’t adapt, you don’t survive. But we always need more critical thinkers, people who yearn to continue learning as they age. These individuals feel responsible for examining the human condition and improving it. Perhaps it is their responsibility—who else will do it?

Nietzsche: There is much that is difficult for the spirit, the strong reverent spirit that would bear much: but its strength demands the difficult and the most difficult.[14]

T: You can’t set examples if you’re afraid of responsibility.

Nietzsche: Anyone and everyone wants to lie back in the shadow of the tree that the genius has planted, while avoiding the hard necessity of working for that genius, of making him possible.[15]

T: It’s about inspiration, willpower and ability. Do average people feel inspired into action? Do they have the willpower to act? Are they able to act? For as you once wrote: “One must speak to indolent and sleepy senses with thunder and heavenly fireworks.”[16]

I look to you and the other sages to help me understand the current state of global affairs. I want to know what motivates people and why. American politics are a mess and it’s the same just about everywhere. Perhaps the fissure between core ideals has become too large to traverse. It’s an era of intense bickering and stubbornness, of falsity and lies. It’s difficult for anyone to discern the truth. People have thus perpetuated the falseness and lies, which have evolved into something greater than the lie tellers.

Nietzsche: The greatest labor of human beings hitherto has been to agree with one another regarding a number of things, and to impose upon themselves a law of agreement, which is indifferent to whether these things are true or false. This is the discipline of the mind that has thus far preserved mankind, but the counter-impulses are still so powerful that one can truly speak of the future of mankind with little confidence.[17]

T: Confidence has lapsed with the destruction of institutions—it’s been a steady erosion. People have become comfortable with their supposed leaders behaving in opposition to established norms of decorum and respect, but also in opposition to fundamental principles. They have become accustomed to false representation. Their president in America lies and steals, he works backchannels and shouts and pushes buttons and has amassed a squadron of blind followers who believe the lies or at least tolerate them. It’s unclear how the fanaticism reached such elevated levels—do they actually believe the lies (are they duped), or do they hate the other ideals so much as to become responsible for their own blindness?

Nietzsche: Fanaticism is the sole volitional strength to which the weak and irresolute can be excited, as a sort of hypnotizing of the entire sensory-intellectual system, in favor of the over-abundant nutrition (hypertrophy) of a particular point of view and particular sentiment, which then dominates […] When a man arrives at the fundamental conviction that he requires to be commanded, he becomes a believer.[18]

T: You used believer there in the context of Christianity, but it applies to any fanatic belief (blindness).[19]

Nietzsche: Belief is always most desired, most pressingly needed where there is a lack of will: for the will […] is the distinguishing characteristic of sovereignty and power. That is to say, the less a person knows how to command, the more urgent is his desire for that which commands, and commands sternly—a god, a prince, a caste, a physician, a confessor, a dogma, a party conscience.[20]

T: I’d like to continue this discussion again once I’ve reread your later writings like The Will to Power, The Antichrist and Twilight of the Idols. Perhaps in the spring. Until then I’ll use your teaching and the teachings of others to navigate this terrain and find a pathway through. I can carry the light that you and the others kept aflame. Thank you as always.

_______________________________________

[1] Nietzsche, Friedrich, The Gay Science. Trans. by Common, Thomas. Barnes & Noble Books, New York, 2008: 133.

[2] Nietzsche famously collapsed in Turin, Italy on January 3, 1889 after witnessing a horse flogging. He collapsed at the horse’s feet, beginning his descent (ascent?) into madness and subsequent death.

[3] Nietzsche, Friedrich. Human, All Too Human. Trans. by Zimmern, Helen. Barnes & Noble Books, New York, 2008: 107.

[4] T: My teacher should be ashamed of his misogyny. It’s easy for me to critique the great thinker more than a century removed, but his view of women is misaligned, at best. One reason for this is undoubtedly his soured relationship with Lou Salomé, a female intellectual he admired and fell in love with. In 1882, Nietzsche, along with his friend, philosopher Paul Rée, assembled an intellectual trio with 21-year-old Salomé. Nietzsche fell for Salomé straight away and at least three times proposed marriage to her. Salomé rejected Nietzsche’s advances and ultimately began romantic relations with Rée, leaving Nietzsche alone, in anguish.

[5] Human, All Too Human: 113.

[6] Nietzsche, Friedrich, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Trans. by Martin, Clancy. Barnes & Noble Books, New York, 2007: 112.

[7] Thus Spoke Zarathustra: 251.

[8] T: Nietzsche’s dialectic of Apollo and Dionysius in his book The Birth of Tragedy is basically this: Human life is a continual struggle between two internally competing instincts, or powers—Apollonian (rationality, lightness, structure, harmony, restraint) and Dionysian (madness, chaos, drunkenness, ecstasy, creativity).

[9] T: Nietzsche had at least two strokes following his collapse in Turin, and he died (aged 55) from pneumonia 19 months after falling at the horse’s feet. Michel Foucault, 20th-Century philosopher, died of complications from AIDS in 1984 (aged 57) after admitting to rampant unprotected sexual encounters with men in San Francisco and elsewhere in the early 1980s.

[10] The Gay Science: 41.

[11] T: In early winter 2019 I moved to such a spot. Now, after a few months next to the train tracks, I feel a Dionysian urge to destroy the trains and smother their hellish screams that cannot be escaped at any hour. Lying awake in the darkness I calculate the men or women responsible for the blaring horns and I design the most violent stratagems upon their very lives.

[12] Human, All Too Human: 113.

[13] Nietzsche, Friedrich, Anti-Education. Trans. by Searls, Damion. New York Review Books, New York, 2016: 54.

[14] Thus Spoke Zarathustra: 25.

[15] Anti-Education: 14.

[16] Thus Spoke Zarathustra: 82.

[17] The Gay Science: 65.

[18] The Gay Science: 182.

[19] fanatic: a person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal, especially for an extreme religious or political cause. New Oxford American Dictionary, 3rd Edition. Oxford University Press, 2010.

[20] The Gay Science: 181.

Tim Parks on consciousness

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If the mind is marooned in the head, pulling levers and pushing buttons (alone or in a team) to tell the body what to do — then our knowledge of the outside world will always be suspect. How can I know a world if I’m not part of it, if I’m stuck in Plato’s cave unable to experience the reality without, if I’m seeing colors where there are no colors, smelling smells when, as Galileo would have it, there are no smells?[1]

  1. The popular and orthodox view [of consciousness]: It is produced by your brain and exists exclusively in your head. This is supported by almost all neuroscientists and many philosophers. Most textbooks give this view as proved.
  2. The minority enactivist view: Consciousness arises from our active engagement with the world and requires both subject and object to happen so that conscious experience is extended through the body and into the environment. This view is supported by some philosophers and a few neuroscientists.
  3. The minority Spread Mind view: Experience is made possible by the meeting of the perceptive system and the world, but actually located at the object perceived, identical with it even; in short, experience is the same thing as the object.[2]

The present orthodoxy is that there are black holes, but no smells. We are in the Platonic cave and need instruments of every kind to look at the higher reality outside, even though what we actually experience are only readings on instruments. We are trapped on one side of a Cartesian duality wondering what’s on the other, constructing a hypothetical ‘reality’ in figures, predictions and ideas.[3]

While the brain may be ‘responsible’ for the pain we feel in other parts of the body, it is apparently immune to pain itself. You don’t feel a scalpel cutting into it.[4]

Consciousness is all change, accumulation, dispersion, things that unexpectedly remain active, or repeat themselves, over years and years, a few words a teacher said at school, still very much in hearing range — things you thought had gone but suddenly come back — the smell of a certain red sauce they poured on ice cream in your infancy wafts by you fifty years later at a street corner [in a far different place] — and things you imaged would remain, must remain, they hurt so much or give so much pleasure, and yet are quite gone, or so it seems; in fact there must be many such things you don’t even know you’ve lost; you performed them once, then never again.[5]

[1] Parks, Tim. Out of My Head: On the Trail of Consciousness, New York Review of Books, New York, 2018: 32.

[2] Ibid, 129.

[3] Ibid, 156.

[4] Ibid, 207.

[5] Ibid, 267.

for CR

tentacles1

I keep his letters close, rereading

so not to forget

reading and rereading

his poems

lamplight dimmed

justice is a concept

for philosophers

our human heroes

die prematurely

slowly

but always die

alive and breathing in their works

a return to emptiness

staggering vitality

it’s the writing life he

wants for me

it’s what I want for myself

also for him to live

in books and human tissue

in garden-side conversations

yielding bounties:

encouragement

humor

inspiration

words often evade the novelist

this does not excuse him

from honing the craft –

language for the living

and the dead

he must remain open

receptive to the world

imagination engaged

use your gift, he said

listen to life’s

lost songs and last chances

cherish everything

live the writing life

Dreams, by Eduardo Galeano

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7 November

One night in 1619, when Rene Descartes was still quite young, he dreamed all night long.

As he told it, in the first dream he was bent over, unable to straighten up, struggling to walk against a fierce wind that propelled him toward school and church.

In the second dream a bolt of lightning knocked him out of bed and the room filled up with sparks that illuminated everything in sight.

And in the third he opened an encyclopedia, looking for a way to live his life, but those pages were missing.

*Trans. by Mark Fried

Sergio Pitol on books

The book accomplishes a multitude of tasks, some superb, others deplorable; it dispenses knowledge and misery, illuminates and deceives, liberates and manipulates, exalts and humbles, creates or cancels the options of life. Without it, needless to say, no culture would be possible. History would disappear, and our future would be cloaked in dark, sinister clouds. Those who hate books also hate life. No matter how impressive the writings of hatred may be, the printed word for the most part tips the balance toward light and generosity. Don Quixote will always triumph over Mein Kampf. As for the humanities and the sciences, books will continue to be their ideal space, their pillars of support.

 

Pitol, Sergio, trans by George Henson. The Magician of Vienna, Deep Vellum Publishing, Dallas: 6.