Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Where, I Hope, You Will Soon Find Me

Menri Monastery is dedicated to the preservation of the Bon religion. It is devoted to the religious training and practice of a new generation of students who will be responsible for keeping the indigenous Tibetan spiritual and cultural traditions alive.

From The Monastery of Christ in the Desert Abbot's Notebook

When I returned from Mexico last week, I brought with me His Holiness, the 33rd Menri Trizin, the Abbot of the Bön Monastery of Menri in northern India and the religious leader of all Bönpo people throughout the world. Three monks came with him at that time: Chongtul, Jamay and Chime Yungdrung.

Since the year 2000 our Monastery has had a very special relationship with the Bönpo and with the Monastery of Menri. Every year we have some kind of exchange of monks between our Monasteries. This began in the year 2000 with the arrival here of Sogyal and Dugsay, two young monks of Menri. After a month with us, they returned to their Monastery of Menri. Then their Abbot, His Holiness, wrote to me asking if I would come and visit them and bring with me two young monks from Christ in the Desert to spend some time with them. After finding a benefactor who would be willing to fund such an interchange, I did go to Menri in 2001 and took two young monks with me.

Connections and reconnections abounding...

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The Eighth Amendment, "Double-Think" and Nostalgia for the Middle Ages

An excellent and comprehensive article on torture by Joan Dayan in the Boston Review (via BoingBoing):

In Furman v. Georgia, Justice Brennan argued that there could be cruelty far worse than bodily pain or mutilation. It was not just “the presence of pain” that proved the significance of the Eighth Amendment but the treatment of “members of the human race as nonhumans, as objects to be toyed with and discarded.” The ominous leeway of American legal rules—from slave codes, to prison cases, to the Bush administration’s torture memos—redefines these persons in law. That redefinition—the creation of a new class of condemned—sustains a metaphysics that goes beyond the mere logic of punishment. Once you create the category of the stigmatized, whether they are called “terrorists,” “security threat groups” (gangs in our prisons), or “security detainees” (prisoners in Iraq), the use of torture can be calibrated to the necessities of continuously evolving and aggressive security measures.

[...] When does an emotional scar become visible? To make it visible is to stigmatize, yet only certain kinds of stigmatization are recognized: those that accord with the substandard of what prisoners are assumed to be. They are all bodies. Only some are granted minds. And who is to decide? The unspoken assumption remains: prisoners are not persons. Or, at best, they are a different kind of human: so dehumanized that the Eighth Amendment no longer applies. The naked pyramid of flesh in Abu Ghraib, the kneeling and shackled bodies, blindfolded by blacked-out goggles and hooded in Guantànamo, sanction degradation. Such inhuman treatment, however, is made lawful when our government refuses to recognize that “cruel, inhuman, and degrading” treatment has a precise meaning, when our current courts continue to ignore obvious violations of human dignity and worth. In a penal system that has become instrumental in managing the dispossessed, the unfit, and the dishonored, such phrases as “minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities” or “the “basic necessities of human life” prompt us to reconsider the meaning of “human.”

In case you are curious, here is the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

More from the Dayan article:

While Brennan and Marshall sought to make the Eighth Amendment a prohibition against degrading and inhuman punishment, Chief Justice Burger’s dissent in Furman (joined by Blackmum, Powell, and Rehnquist) has set the tone for its recent interpretation. Burger explained that “of all our fundamental guarantees, the ban on ‘cruel and unusual punishments’ is one of the most difficult to translate into judicially manageable terms.” This unmanageability, what Burger described as “the haze that surrounds this constitutional command,” invites rhetorical slippage in defining the limits of torture, and, at its extreme, allows the complete evasion of actual harm done.

And from Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, the definition of "double-think":

The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. ... To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies—all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.

Finally, from one of my favorite over-the-top radical authors, Mark Crispin Miller, an interview concerning his recent book, Cruel and Unusual: Bush/Cheney's New World Order:

I argue that Bush & Co. is the anti-Jefferson. This regime is not conservative, but represents a radical subversive movement -- one now largely in control of all three branches of the government, and also dominant throughout the press. What ultimately drives them is irrational. Sure, they're in it for the money and the oil; but that's not all that's going on here. They're neo-Calvinists, quite clearly working toward the imposition of theocracy on the United States, and then on the whole world. (Although mostly atheists and Jews, the Straussian types around Rumsfeld and Cheney are fine with that agenda, as they believe that theocratic government is best, because it makes the populace compliant.)

[...] And in fact we are now dealing with an adversary whose world-view is opposed to ours completely. They are nostalgic for the Middle Ages, or at least for the colonial theocracies of the 17th and early 18th centuries. They value faith over reason. So those who have dragged this nation into war against Islamist terror think exactly like Islamist terrorists. Whatever creeds they think they follow, what really drives both groups is paranoia. Each side wants to replace the other, either through annihilation or conversion. Certainly the Busheviks are fired up with old Crusaders' zeal

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Thursday, October 28, 2004

On Madness and the Devil

While I was out at the Monastery in the Desert, I re-read Thoughts in Solitude by Merton and Grammars of Creation by George Steiner. The resonance between those two books was simply astounding. Combined with the daily liturgy, primarily the Gregorian chanting of the Psalms, and the violent beauty of the Chama river canyon, the overall effect upon me can only be described as having my bones slipped out of my skin and burned in the unbearable laughter of God's absolute presence.

I started out with Merton, so it makes sense to return with him also. From Thoughts in Solitude:

The desert was created simply to be itself, not to be transformed by men into something else. So too the mountain and the sea. The desert therefore is the logical dwelling place for the man who seeks to be nothing but himself - that is to say, a creature solitary and poor and dependent upon no one but God, with no great project standing between himself and his creator.

This is, at least, the theory. But there is another factor that enters in. First, the desert is the country of madness. Second, it is the refuge of the devil, thrown out into the "wilderness of upper Egypt" to "wander in dry places." Thirst drives men mad, and the devil himself is mad with a kind of thirst for his own lost excellence - lost because he had immured himself in it and closed out everything else.

So the man who wanders into the desert to be himself must take care that he does not go mad and become the servant of the one who dwells there in a sterile paradise of emptiness and rage.

And while I may have raged, there was nothing sterile or paradisical or empty about the desert I wandered though. Nevertheless, the devil attended to me also. He loves those violent Psalms.

Friday, October 15, 2004

The Wisdom of the Desert

For those who have asked "Why?" Here is Thomas Merton from The Wisdom of the Desert:

"The flight of these men to the desert was neither purely negative nor purely individualistic. They were not rebels against society. True, they were in a certain sense "anarchists," and it will do no harm to think of them in that light. They were men who did not believe in letting themselves be passively guided and ruled by a decadent state, and who believed that there was a way of getting along with slavish dependence on accepted, conventional values. But they did not intend to place themselves above society. They did not reject society with proud contempt, as if they were superior to other men. On the contrary, one of the reasons why they fled from the world of men was that in the world men were divided into those who were successful, and imposed their will upon others, and those who had to give in and be imposed upon. The Desert Fathers declined to be ruled by men, but had no desire to rule over others themselves."

And from an article specifically about Christ in the Desert:

"The desert setting of the Chama Canyon is the site of a new monastic foundation. The place was chosen with careful deliberation, and it is admirable. Thirteen miles by dirt road from the nearest highway, the monastery rises at a point where the canyon narrows and the road vanishes into rock and brush. The monastic church, designed by the Japanese architect, George Nakashima, fits perfectly into its setting. Stark, lonely, stately in its simplicity, it gazes out over the sparse fields into the widening valley. The tower is like a watchman looking for something or someone of whom it does not speak. One of the important "works of mercy" which a monastery can contribute to the world of our time is precisely to share with thoughtful people an opportunity for silence, reflection, and quiet discussion of important issues. A monastery is not a place were a few men retire to deepen their own experiences of the meaning of life; it is also a center where others can come to re-adjust their perspective. While not blindly rejecting and negating the modern world, the monastery nevertheless retains a certain critical distance and perspective which are absolutely necessary as mass society becomes at once more totally organized and more mindlessly violent. In its firm assertion of the basic human values as well as of God's message of salvation, the monastery bears witness to the most fundamental and most permanent truths of life. It remains a sanctuary where both monks and retreatants, Christians, believers in other faiths and those with no religious belief at all may experience something of that "peace which the world cannot give." But even if no one else knew of the existence of such a place, the monastery would still fulfill the purpose of its existence by singing the praise of God in the wilderness."

For more, goto:

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The Wired Nation: 1980

Came across this under the heading "6 Outrageous Plans That Didn't Happen" in The Book of Lists #2 by Irving Wallace et. al.. Pretty amusing:

In his book The Shadow Presidents, author Michael Medved related the extreme disappointment of H.R. Haldeman over his failure to implement his plan to link up all the homes in America by coaxial cable. In Haldeman's words, "There would be two-way communication. Through computer, you could use your television set to order up whatever you wanted. The morning paper, entertainment services, shopping services, coverage of sporting events and public events.... Just as Eisenhower linked up the nation's cities by highways so that you could get there, the Nixon legacy would have linked them by cable communications so that you wouldn't have to go there." One can almost see the dreamy eyes of Nixon and Haldeman as they sat around discussing a plan that would eliminate the need for newspapers, seemingly oblivious to its Big Brother aspects. Fortunately, the Watergate scandal intervened, and Nixon was forced to resign before "the Wired Nation" could be hooked up."

Phew. Sure am glad that "Outrageous Plan" never happened.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Wolcott on Fire

Damn, James Wolcott is on fire these days. Writing like a Hendrix guitar solo that stretches a sweet smile across the skull. Rave on, James, rave on.

On Bush: "His lies and failures have fed thousands of graves, and filled thousands more hospital beds with bodies and psyches that will never be whole again."

On the Pundits: "Here we have multimillionaire pundits who pride themselves on being knowledgable, articulate, capable of taking issues and personalities apart and examining them from different angles and reassembling them--and they swoon over someone who is none of these things, like intellectual jocksniffers in a locker room listening to some athlete grunt platitudes. They use words for a living, but distrust any politician who treats words with care, or even acts as if words might have meanings. Bush throws words as if they were rocks picked up in a playground, and they treat him like Roger Clemons."

On Bush's supposed earpiece: "When he turns his head to the right, he hears the voice of Karen Hughes telling his tie gives him secret powers. When he cocks his head to the left, he hears the voice of God telling him that Democrats are a race of devil-men. And when rotates his head semi clockwise and pauses, he hears the ruby-lipped, husky-FM-radio voice of Sister Cocaine telling him she knows her baby would like a taste of her sweet white goodness, yes he would, you know you want it, baby, Sister Cocaine make you feel so fine...and so on, as he begins to sway on his feet and a strange smile strays across his face."

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Don't Think of an Elephant

There is an interesting PDF download of an excerpt from George Lakoff's book Don't Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate at

"Framing is the conservatives' most important weapon. Framing is critical because a frame, once established in the mind of the reader (or listener, viewer, etc.) leads that person almost inevitably to the conclusion desired by the framer, and it blocks consideration of other possible facts and interpretations."

"Remember, don't just negate the other person's claims; reframe. The facts unframed will not set you free. You cannot win just be stating the true facts and showing that they contradict your opponent's claims. Frames trump facts. His frames will stay and the facts will bounce off. Always reframe.

If you remember nothing else about framing, remember this: Once your frame is accepted into the discourse, everything you say is just common sense. Why? Because that's what common sense is: reasoning within a commonplace, accepted frame.

Never answer a question framed from your opponent's point of view. Always reframe the question to fit your values and your frames. This may make you uncomfortable, since normal discourse styles require you to directly answer questions posed. That is trap. Practice changing frames."

Sounds like an application of General Semantics ( me. There is a good bit in Korzybski's The Effect on Perceptual Processes of the Language System:

"Perhaps a story from the European underground under Hitler would be a good illustration. In a railroad compartment an American grandmother with her young and attractive granddaughter, a Romanian officer, and a Nazi officer were the only occupants. The train was passing through a dark tunnel, and all that was heard was a loud kiss and a vigorous slap. After the train emerged from the tunnel, nobody spoke, but the grandmother was saying to herself, “What a fine girl I have raised. She will take care of herself. I am proud of her.” The granddaughter was saying to herself, “Well, grandmother is old enough not to mind a little kiss. Besides, the fellows are nice. I am surprised what a hard wallop grandmother has.” The Nazi officer was meditating, “How clever those Romanians are! They steal a kiss and have the other fellow slapped.” The Romanian officer was chuckling to himself, “How smart I am! I kissed my own hand and slapped the Nazi.”

Obviously it was a problem of limited “perception,” where mainly “hearing” was involved, with different interpretations."

Thursday, September 30, 2004

You think it can't happen here?

A vital addendum to my last post, via roman candles and carefully selected garbage: there is a proposed piece of legislation, HR10, that will legalize what is being phrased (in a typically insulting euphemism) as "extraordinary rendition." What this means is that "suspects" can be deported to countries that use torture as a means of interrogation. Check out the links above for more information about the bill and what you can do.

Better to be burned by tyranny, than to live with tyranny

While working on a book about poets and artists working under the pressures of censorship in totalitarian regimes, risking imprisonment and torture for their art, I came across a few articles of, I hope, interest. Mainly concerning Sirjani and the Declaration of 134 Iranian Writers:

If he were alive: Interview with Ali Akbar Saeedi Sirjani's daughter:

"When I think that he spent the last days and months of his life in captivity and under torture and that they changed his words and his writings, it makes me sick to my stomach. I tremble at the thought of it. But I remember his famous verse, beh yek baareh jaan dar setam soukhtan maraa behtar az baa setam saakhtan. (Better to be burned by tyranny, than to live with tyranny.)"

Emblematic, I believe, of what it is to live as a true poet in these times. But when the tyrants are concealed, where do you stand? I ask this not to take anything away from the horror and oppression experienced by Sirjani; rather to simply remark that tyranny has many faces.


"It is our firm belief, nay, a conviction which constitutes one of the basic values of a free society to which we are wedded under our Constitution, that there must be freedom not only for the thought that we cherish, but also for the thought that we hate."

I love that adverb "nay," how it hammers down the strident conviction in that beautiful sentence.

Exiled Iranian poet finds sanctuary in Ithaca: Reza Baraheni:

"Sometimes they raped the men. Sometimes they actually tortured them to death. The torture chambers were one of the most horrible places you could possibly see," he said.

But he credits these imprisonments with focusing his writing. “There isn’t a single significant writer in Iran who has not gone to prison and has not been tortured and has not interrogated himself or herself,” he said. Baraheni added that that self-interrogation helped him to write honestly and openly."

Baraheni was a founding member of a group formed to promote freedom of literary expression and the establishment of a writers' union in Iran. He played and was vital in the “Declaration of 134 Iranian Writers,” written in 1994, which called for the end of literary censorship in Iran.

Baraheni translated it into English and smuggled it out to the West.

According to a 1999 Toronto Star article, the response from the Iranian government was swift. Ali-Akbar Saidi Sirjani, a classics scholar and critic of the clerics, was found dead. So was Ahmad Miralaie, translator of Octavio Paz.

I try to imagine what it must be like to live under a government where, first, such a Declaration must be written and, second, smuggled out of the country.

Declaration of 134 Iranian Writers:

Our unity with the aim of creating a professional writers’ association in Iran is the precondition for our independence as individuals. All writers must enjoy the freedom of conscience to create their own work, criticise and analyse the work of other authors, and to express their experience and beliefs. Since people are responsible for their own political beliefs and social actions, the writers’ general agreement in dealing with the common problems of all men and women of letters does not mean that individual members shall be held responsible for other members’ individual deeds and actions.


The declaration was issued in reaction to massive attacks from the Islamic Republic's leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i and conservatives-controlled mass media, which repeated Khomeini's sinister declaration of "We shall break the pens".

The assassination of the imprisoned author and historian Sa’idi Sirjani in the same year proved this to be no an idle threat. Mr. Sa’idi Sirjani allegedly died from a heart attack while in a "safe house". The same diagnosis was made for Ahmad Mir Ala’i, a distinguished translator, whose body was found in the streets of Esfahan in 1995.

The authors Gholam Hossein Sa’edi and Ghaffar Hosseini died under comparable mysterious circumstances in 1996.

Publishers were neither spared: Ebrahim Zaalzaadeh, journalist and Editor of Ebtekar publishing, was the next victim on that year.

"We shall break the pens." Goddamn, how that raises the rage within.

A storyteller and his times: `Ali-Akbar Sa`idi-Sirjani of Iran:

"As for my banned books, I really fail to see where in them there is an assault on Islam, or on the basis for an Islamic government. I am by nature averse to hypocrisy, falsehood, discrimination, and injustice, and this aversion shows through my writing. If, God forbid, such vices have penetrated into the organs of the government, they could be remedied when they get an siring. The main problem is that in the present government, criticism of any office-holder is viewed as "questioning the regime" and undermining the foundation of Islam. This then becomes a pretext for suppression, strangulation, and the outcome that we are all witnessing. I deeply believe in all that I have put in my books, now banned, and the paper turned to pulp. And I would be willing to answer for them in any court of law. If my writings are against Islam or a truly Islamic government, why do the authorities behave in such an unethical manner in my case? Doesn' t the country have laws and courts?"

There is a parable in the opening pages of "In the Tattered Sleeve" which tells of a man dispossessed of his wealth and belongings by a powerful local dignitary, once again in the author's hometown of Sirjan. The destitute man appears at the local bazaar every day to recount the injustices he has been made to suffer. Thanks to the influence of his oppressor, he is soon arrested and publicly flogged for falsely discrediting a local luminary. Gholam-'Ali, determined to tell the story of the injustice done to him at the marketplace, next incorporates his story in a song-and-dance performance much like those of village madmen. When the police attempt to silence him again, local shopkeepers and peddlers intercede, stating that the man may be insane and that, after all, he is only performing a comical act.

The Death of a photojournalist: A Spark for the Democratic Movement

When in April 1995, Saiid Emami, the deputy of the Ministry of Information of the Islamic Republic sat in the meeting of the executives in Hamedan Province and with an air of pride and vanity described how he killed Saiidi Sirjani the dissident writer in prison, he was so sure of their power in hushing the opposition that he did not really care that his speech had been recorded. In the same meeting he proudly confessed to his close ties with the secret services of the European countries and assured the audience that the opposition outside the country will be killed too. At that time the cause of the death of Saiidi Sirjani was announced as heart attack, the same cause announced for the death of many other political activists and intellectuals killed in prisons and nobody inside the country could dare to doubt the verity of these announcements. The Islamic Republic did not allow the inspectors of UN and of other organizations to visit Iran and called them US servants and their annual reports received only a few cold lines from the Foreign Ministry of the Islamic Republic.

Four months after Saiid Emami's speech, the Ministry of Information moved to enact the plot of murdering 21 Iranian intellectual writers intending to travel to Armenia; it only failed because the tyre of the bus got stuck to a large stone! I was in that bus and we all were taken to a prison in Aastaara - a border city in the north of Iran- where one of the deputies of Saiid Emami threatened us that if any news of this story got around, they would do to us what they did to Saiidi Sirjani.

Borges wrote: "Censorship is the mother of metaphor."

So, finally, from the Borges story, The Man on the Threshold:

"It is well known that there is no generation that does not include in it four upright men who are the secret pillars of the world and who justify it before the Lord: one of these men would have made the perfect judge. But where are they to be found if they themselves wander the world lost and nameless, and do not know each other when they meet, and are unaware of the high destiny that is theirs? Someone then reasoned that if fate forbade us wise men we should seek out the witless. This opinion prevailed. Students of the Koran, doctors of law, Sikhs who bear the name of lions and who worship one God, Hindus who worship a multitude of gods, Mahavira monks who teach that the shape of the universe is that of a man with his legs spread apart, worshippers of fire, and black Jews made up the court, but the final ruling was entrusted to a madman."

Here he was interrupted by people who were leaving the ceremony.

"To a madman," he repeated, "so that God's wisdom might speak through his mouth and shame human pride. His name has been forgotten, or was never known, but he went naked through the streets, or was clothed in rags, counting his fingers with a thumb and mocking at the trees."

One final comment: There is nothing in-print in English, that I could find, by Sirjani. I plan to check the University libraries and will post anything that I might find. If only to offer slight counter to the sorrow in Sirjani's statement: I deeply believe in all that I have put in my books, now banned, and the paper turned to pulp.

Friday, September 03, 2004

James Wolcott

The only reason to buy Vanity Fair is for the James Wolcott articles. Now he has a blog: I love Wolcott's style. Check out this beautiful bit on Zell Miller:

"The blue eyes of wrath. The gnarled hands gripping the air as if clutching a liberal in a lethal chokehold.

Zell Miller did not disappoint millions of disenfranchised Americans with Confederate flags decorating their basements when he delivered his rousing speech to the Republican National Convention last night.

His inner Bunsen burner was still ablaze when he hit the cable news shows afterwards to unlease additional Zellfire. There he met resistance. On CNN, Wolf Blitzer, in an apparent research mixup, asked actual reportorial questions regarding Miller's contradictory statements over the years regarding Kerry etc, and the old boy began babbling like Lionel Barrymore. Worse was to come on Hardball, where Miller had a complete cheddar cheese meltdown."


Sunday, August 15, 2004

A Couple of Good Pieces

1.) (via Metafilter)

P.J. O'Rourke interviews Colin Powell. You know where they both come from and the interview is like two old buddies fishing (or jacking each other off), but interesting...

P. J. O'ROURKE: In terms of non-zero-sum thinking, is our country in the unique historical position of wanting other nations to be as powerful as we are?

Powell looked at me over the top of his glasses.

SECRETARY POWELL: Wanting other nations to be as powerful? No, I wouldn't say that. I think our historical position is we are a superpower that cannot be touched in this generation by anyone in terms of military power, economic power, the strength of our political system and our values system. What we would like to see is a greater understanding of power, of the democratic system, the open market economic system, the rights of men and women to achieve their destiny as God has directed them to do if they are willing to work for it. And we really do not wish to go to war with people. But, by God, we will have the strongest military around. And that's not a bad thing to have. It encourages and champions our friends that are weak and it chills the ambitions of the evil.

A deputy secretary interrupted. "That's good," she said. "Did you just make that up?"

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah. Not bad, eh?


In glaring contrast, "by God," to this peppy optimistic banter about "destiny as God has directed," I submit:

2.) NOT ONLINE In this month's Vanity Fair (September), there is an excellent article by Niall Ferguson (I recently read his two-volume biography of the Rothschilds) called The Monarchy of George II. It is a fascinating and humorous comparison between GW and Henry the V. Also, the James Wolcott piece Color me Khaki is, as always, the main reason to buy the magazine. I've happily transcribed a bit of Wolcott for you:

"As the aftermath to September 11 has shown, the unified spirit of W.W. II is all in our mouths. Americans extend homage to the notion of sacrifice through ceremonial gestures without having or wanting to inconvenience our huge butts in the slightest. We pay lip service to honoring our troops in Iraq while keeping them past their enlistment dates (and hauling thousands of reserves out of civilian life through involuntary call-up), and keeping the flag-draped coffins of the dead off-camera, and deploying units stationed Stateside as photo-op backdrops in presidential campaigns. A country that is told during a time of war to go out shopping, do nothing to reduce fuel consumption, and stock up on duct tape is a country that no longer has a serious leadership class and a serious citizenry."

Friday, July 30, 2004

Peter Lamborn Wilson: The Song Where Everyone is a Singer

Highly recommended. His ideas inform much of my current project, from the Mailing List to Poetic Terrorism to my "Anti-capitalism."

An Anarchist in the Hudson Valley
in conversation: Peter Lamborn Wilson
with Jennifer Bleyer
July 2004

A few choice quotes:

On computers: You’re slumped in front of a screen, in the same physical situation as a TV watcher, you’ve just added a typewriter. And you’re "interactive." What does that mean? It does not mean community. It’s catatonic schizophrenia. So blah blah blah, communicate communicate, data data data. It doesn’t mean anything more than catatonics babbling and drooling in a mental institution. Why can’t we stop? How is it that five years ago there were no cell phones, and now everyone needs a cell phone? You can pick up any book by any half-brained post-Marxist jerkoff and read about how capitalism creates false needs. Yet we allow it to go on.


On art: Now, about art in the service of the revolution: There is no art in the service of the revolution, because
if there’s no revolution, there’s no art in its service. So to say that you’re an artist but you’re progressive is a schizo position. We have only capital, so all art is either in its service or it fails. Those are the two alternatives. If it’s successful, it’s in the service of capital. I don’t care what the content is. The content could be Malcolm X crucified on a bed of lettuce. It doesn’t matter


On Terrorists: Certainly, these Islamic fundamentalists are of no interest intellectually. They have no ideas, they’re not anti-capitalist; they love technology and money. Ideologically, they’re not offering any alternatives to anything. By and large, they’re an imagistic froth that has very little to do with most people’s experience of Islam. In their manifestations as tiny terrorist groups, they don’t have much of a social role, only as symbolic figureheads, and that’s why their actual support in the Muslim world is rather shallow. Right now it depends largely on the fact that the Bushies have made the name of America stink forever in the nostrils of the world. When I was traveling in the East, I was always amazed at the unearned reservoir of goodwill toward Americans. It existed everywhere. Now I reckon they’d throw rocks at you.


On Romanticism: The early German Romantics have been forgotten as a source for our movement, especially from an artistic point of view. They informed all the art movements since then, the ones that tried to do what Hegelians call the "suppression and realization of art"—suppressing art as an elitist consumption activity of the wealthy, suppressing it as something that alienates other people who aren’t artists and makes them less important or less significant, and somehow universalizing it. That’s the realization or art, so that somehow or another everyone is an artist or some sort, fully free and encouraged to be as creative as possible. There’s no privileged position to the art that ends up in galleries or museums. That would be the suppression and realization of art, and that was basically a Romantic program and a program of every avant-garde art movement since then. They’ve all begun by saying, "We hate art as alienation, we want to restore it somehow to the kind of universal experience that we sense, for example, among a tribe of pygmies, where everyone is a singer and no one leads the singing." That goal has been there for every single art movement since Romanticism.


On art: Small groups should do art for each other, and stay out of the media as much as possible, and this will eventually cause a buzz and make people want to be part of it.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

They will be architects building on the ruined foundations of the world

An excellent, if troubling, article, Body of the Nation: Why Women Were Mutilated in Gujarat by Martha Nussbaum.

I hold Martha Nussbaum in the highest regard. Her use of the amazing Ernst Junger in a decisive quote is a resounding testimony to taste and brilliance.

The events described lead to a rather disturbing dissonance with Camille Paglia's claim that what we need in contemporary Cultural Critique is less France and more India - but it remains a statement that I am still strongly in agreement with.

With its hallucinogenic pantheon of deities, most of whom are still actively worshipped, and the mind-blowing creativities evidenced in Bollywood, to the imminent ecological crises, and the abysmal ethnic and sexual conflicts burning like wildfires through the ancient lands, India stands an ominous portent of things to come. A God imprisoned in a cage and set to fire, a thousand arms flailing, a hundred heads screaming, bones burning like stars.

Friday, July 16, 2004

The Dog at the Temple Gate

Still relentlessly pursuing my ever approaching, never touching Purity.

It is interesting (and I mean this in the same way that the Chinese meant it: as a curse) how a thing that is only 75 percent pure does not suffer too much damage to its integrity if it suddenly becomes less pure by 1 or 2, even 5, percent. But a thing that is 95 percent pure is almost absolutely polluted by a change of only .25 percent. Lest you think that I am become emptied or hole-y, most of my issues these days are with food and drink.

Because of some newly discovered intolerances, I have nearly adapted to a vegan diet. I have become increasingly rigorous (read:religious) about the purity of what goes into my body - like a dog sniffing out the unfaithful in front of the temple.

Naturally, at least to me, this dog has not been content to merely hang around the gateway to my gut. There are emotional purities such as devotion and love, mental purities such as honesty and integrity, and spiritual purities such as hope and ritual that are all being watched over and "sniffed out" for "pollution."

I am reminded often of Wendell Berry's essay "Standing by Words" which discusses the relationship of a Human Being to Words:

"When we reflect that 'sentence' means, literally, 'a way of thinking' (Latin: sententia) and that it comes from the Latin sentire, to feel, we realize that the concepts of sentence and sentence structure are not merely grammatical or merely academic - not negligible in any sense. A sentence is both the opportunity and the limit of thought - what we have to think with, and what we have to think in, It is, moreover, a feelable thought, a thought that impresses its sense not just on our understanding, but on our hearing, our sense of rhythm and proportion. It is a pattern of felt sense."

And, "Love makes language exact, because one loves only what one knows."

This relentless need of mine for purity is a desire to "make language exact", to "purify the dialect of the tribe". For me, this Purity (becoming one thing) leads to Simplicity (being one thing, being one) which leads to Grace (being loved). There is a noted passivity to the action, a necessary silent stillness.

Within this silent stillness, I listen for Grace. But, as I indicated above, it is "interesting" how the calculus of purity becomes increasingly vulnerable to pollution.

Opening the Flesh to the Silence
Being Still with the Blood
Waiting for the Bone
To reveal me
To Grace.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Slight Manifesto

My obsessive question of how or what or why one might create in the face of evil, under the shadow of terror and knowing the blackness of our time has led me to the work of Arthur Szyk.

The editorial cartoon (with all that it implies as an illustration of current social and political themes, necessarily topical) takes on more weight over time (providing that it maintains relevance) and approaches the gravity of Allegory. Szyk's work most certainly has this weight, whether it be in "The Anti-Christ" or "Satan Leads the Ball", packed as they are with a Dantean "high gossip" or the more artistically accessible "Book of Esther" or "Uriel Acosta".

I imagine that 2000 years from now, the circles of cultural literacy that contains Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini will be the same ones that, for us now, contains Caligula, Atila the Hun and Ivan the Terrible. Who will remember the particular "horror" of their lives and times? It all fades into a historical caricature, more often than not, inaccurately drawn. It is a sad truth of this immediate Media(-ted) age that so much of the hard-won wisdom of our culture slips over the horizon of understood reference at an ever increasing rate. Who has "at hand" the knowledge of those contemporaries of Dante that populate the Comedia or the layered satirical references in Swift?

The point is that the "art" (those essential core meanings) of the work endures, transcends the occasion of it creation. From where we now stand, upon the pounded earth of a new millennium, the work of an artist such as Szyk reveals, I believe, something of a "transition point" according to contemporary relevance. Although the horror of his subject has not at all become ameliorated by time (it will only be forgotten, never accepted), the beauty of his work is not as deeply overshadowed by the conditions of the moment.

As far as my own current project is concerned (acknowledging its privileged context), this relevance is extreme: if, as George Steiner remarks in Bluebeard's Castle, "in locating Hell above ground, we have passed out of the major order and symmetries of Western Civilization", then the artistic imperative (I stress: for me) is to use Hell's language - be this literal or visual - to indicate a "way out" through the transcendent qualities of Beauty.

Beauty, whether it be in Hell (Bosch) or Heaven (Michelangelo), burns with the same quickening Pulse within us. That I choose to hold high the Beauty of the Skull over the Beauty of the Rose is not indicative of an inner cynicism or pessimism with regard to human "Being," rather it is the hard and relentless understanding that without the dream of Heaven (read: beauty), Hell has no power over the human spirit.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Becoming Finished

Isn't it strange to become "finished" towards a particular author? I always remember a statement by the under-rated mystery writer, Ross MacDonald that he could often "get around" a certain author after a time, see where they were coming from, what they were up to with their words. But, said MacDonald, he could never "get around" Faulkner or Shakespeare.

It takes me a long time to get around an author, especially if they have guided or taught me something vital. It's funny: I kept up a rather one-sided relationship with the most influential teacher I had in high school until he died. (His English Class used S. I. Hayakawa's Language in Thought and Action - essentially a primer for General Semantics. Beautiful.) I clung to Colin Wilson for years after I realized that he was just re-animating the dead-horse of the Outsider over and over. I read all of the galloping ghosts of the vital-will-to-power-Shavian-Life-Force just within the reach of our all too human habituated robot selves. I flogged myself like a true penitent for some time. I still cannot sell off my collection - which is substantial. Turner, Campbell, Paglia, Berry, Read, Dahlberg, Borges, Steiner all hold hallowed places. Their books line my shelves like old friends/teachers. I often re-read these days, mostly with a smile that would make Cervantes proud: How I tilted towards those windmills and kicked the spurs deeper.

After years of working in the book mines, I figure, with typically truistic wit, there are The Books and then there are The Books About Them. Primary and Secondary texts, if you will. (I say this and immediately become Hegelian in considering a synthetic Third Book. Grammars of Creation being such a beast for me.) As much as I have derided the Derridians, I have such a love of the Secondary. Those Who Can't that sing the praises of Those Who Can. A fascinating tension. I have always had a goading shame when I realize that I have read dozens of books about a Book that I have never read.

But to finally read The Book! Ah God, I tell you: to remember hellish scenes from the Aenied, sublime passages of the Divine Comedy, the laughter in the Quixote, elegant tracings in Descartes, Zarathustra and Heidegger, the illuminations of the Gita, Dhammapada, the scope of Les Miserables... I could go on preaching to the choir, if not the Preacher; but it is these read memories that enrich the meaning of my being to the core.

Still I am ashamed of what I have not read: Grossman, Broch, Sholokhov, Chekhov, Solzhenitsyn, Dostoevsky, Mishima, Kawabata, Mahfouz, Kazantzakis and, even Dickens all gaze down from my shelves with haughty reproach. I deliberately avoid their spiny stares as I sneak through a Gibson, Crichton, Dan Brown or a Dan Simmons. I cannot read more than a few "shallow" books before I am compelled by some internal exorcist to return to the "depths." (The Power of George Eliot compels you! The Power of Goethe compels you!)

Yet, I am such a fool at times. I've probably told you ten thousand times that I define wisdom as doing something stupid ten thousand times and then, on the ten thousand and first time, not doing it. It takes a lot of "experience" for me (more shallow books than I care to admit) before I start back towards the Buddhistic Right Depth.

This "wisdom" that seems to come from simply enduring existence reminds me of the old Chinese curse: may you live an interesting life. All too often these days (the ten thousand iterations having come to term on quite a few items of late), I notice the sticks and paper mache before I see the magic of the dragon. And this is not to say that I haven't found those sticks and colored pieces of paper enormously (in the Strunk and White sense) interesting. But Goddamn, how I long to see the dragon, the real fire breathing, flying, fucking THING and believe...

I hasten to add that I am no cynic: I love the revealing "wisdom" that endurance has brought to me, even more the wisdom of intensely lived existence. However, I have no enthusiasm or energy for the bounding, wide-ranging distractions of my puppy-dog youth - all that ass-sniffing and cat-chasing. An old dog dreams of all the bones he buried and the day he'll dig them all back up. Let the cats fuck all night, it's not even worth a Goddamned Bark.

My immersions and glancings into popular (better perhaps contemporary) culture leave me with the chemical after-taste of snack food in my brain, a near-constant sense of dissatisfaction and still abiding hunger. But I am happy for this. For my mental plate is full of meat and bones. More than I can ever consume/digest in my life. A shipwrecked survivor on a deserted island with the carcass of a white whale. All for me. The oil-soaked brain alone will take me years to chew up.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

The Fire

I've been busy: working out my re-considerations regarding natural language as a form of crypto-text to be de-cyphered (technically, decoded is perhaps more accurate - but there is something there even at an alphabetic level, where cyphers work). There is a fascinating book by John Irwin called American Hieroglyphics, The Symbol of the Egyptian Hieroglyphics in the American Renaissance, in which he speculates upon the influence that the decipherment of the Egyptian hieroglyphics had upon Emerson, Thoreau, Poe, Whitman and Melville, to name but a few favorites. There is a telling quote by Emerson from Nature:

As we go back in history, language becomes more picturesque, until its infancy, when it is all poetry; or all spiritual facts are represented by natural symbols. The same symbols are found to make the original elements of all languages... A man's power to connect his thought to the proper symbol, and so to utter it, depends upon the simplicity of his character, that is, upon his love of truth and his desire to communicate it without loss. The corruption of man is followed by the corruption of language.

Further on is this from Poe's "The Literati of New York City:"

The supposition that the book of an author is a thing apart from the author's self, is, I think, ill-founded. The soul is a cipher, in the sense of a cryptograph; and the shorter the cryptograph is, the more difficulty there is in its comprehension -at a certain point of brevity it would bid defiance to an army of Champollions.

This, of course, brings to my mind that master of cryptic brevity, Heraclitus, and his foremost interpreter, Heidegger. There is an absolutely crucial essay for me in Heidegger's book, Early Greek Thinking: The Dawn of Western Philosophy, entitled Alethia. It is, essentially, an exploration (although in the Heideggerian world, it would perhaps be more aptly termed a "penetration") of Fragment B 16 of Heraclitus. One particular translation for this fragment is:

How can one hide himself before that which never sets?

The original greek fragment contains the word: aletheia - which we have no word for in English, but which might be roughly rendered as "unconcealed." (Many translators simply use the word, "truth" - which is a violence.) The etymology is revealing. a- is used a an alpha-negation and lethe is "forgetfulness". Recall that the Lethe is one of the rivers that flow through Hades. Called the River of Oblivion, the shades of the dead had to drink from this river to forget about their past lives on earth. Following this, aletheia is an un-forgetting. Heidegger comments:

But what does 'forgetting' mean? Modern man, who puts all his stock into forgetting as quickly as possible, certainly ought to know what it is. But he does not. He has forgotten the essence of forgetting, assuming he ever thought about is fully, i.e. thought it out within the essential sphere of oblivion. The continuing indifference toward the essence of forgetting does not result simply from the superficiality of our contemporary way of life. What takes place in such indifference comes from the essence of oblivion itself. It is inherent in it to withdraw itself and founder in the wake of its own concealment. The Greeks experienced oblivion, lethe, as a destining of concealment.

When I first read this years ago it was as if my own thoughts were being perfectly expressed for me. The Holy Fools journey to the Godshack to find the Bones of God and the Godskull was my own idiosyncratic working through of the "oblivion" of my life and times. Later in the Bone Carver series, the Bone Carver states:

Yessah, you most certainly did forgets. But you knows that I is a most forgiving soul. I sure enough all ways forgives what you might forgets.

In fact, on one level, the entire Bone Carver series is an exploration of the dialectic of for-giving and for-getting - two of the most cryptic words in the English language. And, for me, intimately bound up with aletheia. Here is the key to the mystery of the Fugitive Gods, to the crippling seductions of the Time Slut, to the nature of the Bone Carver, indeed the the bone itself. You see, the living bone is always hidden within the flesh. Death "reveals" it, decrypts it, unconceals it. The Godskull is the un-hidden, un-forgotten, aspect of God's being in our consciousness.

More beautifully and wonderfully poetic Heidegger:

We are too quick to believe that the mystery of what is to be thought always lies distant and deeply hidden under a hardly penetrable layer of strangeness. On the contrary, it has its essential abode in what is near by, which approaches what is coming into presence and preserves what has drawn near. The presencing of the near is too close for our customary mode of representational thought - which exhausts itself in securing what is present - to experience the governance of the near, and without preparation to think it adequately. Presumably, the mystery that beckons in what is to be thought is nothing other that essentially what we have attempted to suggest in the name the "lightning." Everyday opinion, therefore, self-assuredly and stubbornly bypasses the mystery. Heraclitus knew this.

My recent forays into the history and methodology of cryptography and codes has only furthered my conviction that what separates us from the transcendent and overcoming mystery of God, better aletheia, is merely the thinest of veils. Upon this is projected the ephemeral and sorrowful dreams of our named and faced lives. Like small children - or most of the idiot vulgar - in a movie theater, we come to believe that what is up there on the screen is more real that our own lives. But it is only a trick, an illusion. The projection that I am working to see through these days is language - even more the spirit that informs the language. I go back again and again to Govinda from The Foundations of Tibetan Mysticism:

If we reproduce in our intellect experience which according to their nature belong to other dimensions, we do something comparable to the activity of a painter who depicts three-dimensional objects or space on a two-dimensional surface. He is doing this be consciously renouncing certain qualities belonging to a higher dimension and by introducing a new order of tonal values, proportions and optical foreshortenings, which are only valid in the artificial unity of his picture and from a certain point of view.

The laws of this perspective correspond in many ways to the laws of logic. Both of them sacrifice qualities of a higher dimension and confine themselves to an arbitrarily chosen viewpoint, so that their objects are seen from only one side at a time, and in the proportions and foreshortenings corresponding to the relative position of the viewpoint.

The use of logic in thought is as necessary and justified as the use of perspective in painting - but only as a medium of expression, not as a criterion of reality. If, therefore, we use logical definitions, as far as possible, in the description of meditative experiences and of the centers of consciousness, with which they are connected, we must regard these definitions only as the necessary springboard towards the understanding of the dimensions of consciousness of a different nature, in which the various impressions and experiences of different planes or levels are combined into an organic whole.

It amazes me how many congruencies there are between Tibetan Buddhism, Heidegger, Heraclitus and my own spiritual pathways. I am attempting to understand the essence of the human experience of the infinite within, the non-language or un-language of god. This is more than a mere translation or rendering, it is a spirit (Geist) moving beneath the surface of words. It is, if you will, the decrypted meaning indicated by every "true"/ "authentic" mystic and poet.

Just listen to Rilke, even through the encryptions of translation and time, and you can hear Heraclitus and Heidegger and all the singers of Upanishads and Vedas, the Buddha, Novalis and Holderlin and the Holy Fool - even the whispering decay of the Skull of God:

Where slowly from the long-forgotten,
Past experience rises up within us,
Perfectly mastered, mild and beyond measure,
And realized in the intangible:
There begins the word, as we conceive it,
And its meaning quietly surpasses us -
For the mind that makes us lonely wants
To be sure that we shall be united.

These sublime words trembling within the fragile skeleton of grammar sing of something beyond, more, deeper, further, something un-sayable but with more "reality" than any word can hope to capture. I imagine most words like tiny gnats trying to drink in the ocean. But Rilke's words and language are filled with aletheia, a palpable sense of remembering, of un-forgetting, of un-hiddeness, great beasts of Being slowly emerging into the clearing of our consciousness. And I stand here waiting and watching, knowing with no doubt, that this is the purpose and meaning of my life. To turn away, to become distracted, to lose my sense of presence, is to lose everything. To not maintain the discipline and rituals that hold me in this sacred place, this crucial clearing, that I am now within would make me less than nothing, an abomination, a true oblivion.

I once wondered what kind of belief it took to hold your hand in the fire until all of your flesh burned away and not for one instant waver or doubt. Now I know.