A friend of mine mentioned this morning that she’s working on essays, something I wish I was working on, too. My excuse is that I’ve never really gotten bit by the journalism bug (and though I enjoy research, I find myself flitting from interest to interest too often to do anything real about it), or that I don’t know where I’d try to publish things, and really any number of other excuses, but anyway, it reminded me that I have this languishing blog here, so —
All of my friends are doing Tarot. This is only a slight exaggeration. But it’s Tarot and astrology and it’s storytelling and I enjoy that piece of it. But though discussions of who or what is in retrograde admittedly fly far above my head (up in the astral plane, ha, ha), I enjoy the discussions and lately they have been about spring. I’m usually "wrong" about the coming spring. I’m a real downer about spring; I won’t trust that we’re out of winter up here in New England until it’s maybe the middle of May. I haven’t lived here long enough to have this suspicion unconfirmed. I also don’t (usually) mind winter. But there are maybe good things in the cards. The horoscope app I’ve been encouraged to download (again; I think I had it briefly in 2018?) says "Do:" "friendship bracelets," "playgrounds," and "postcards," at least playgrounds sounds like spring, and I’ll take it.
This winter has been a long one. No cozy warm bars in which to drink dark beer and shout about Bolaño, no winter group rides on frozen lakes or through snowy singletrack, no horrifically wet and cold commutes to complain about, and as the weather today in my part of the world is going to be in the fifties, tomorrow the sixties, Alia and I picked up a (free!) picnic table yesterday and put it in the yard, the CDC has said some encouraging things, Alia’s parents and my mother and remaining grandparents have all gotten their first doses of the vaccine, things are frankly feeling… spring-like. And I’ll take it. I mean, I still think we’re going to get more cold weather and snow in the coming weeks, but I’ll take it.
I was thinking I might write something coherent, but I’m losing interest in that the more this goes on. This feels relevant, however: it’s hard to pay attention and sustain focus at the best of times, and though the pandemic has obviously worsened this tendency in some ways, as the late Mark Fisher reminds us:
The consequence of being hooked into the entertainment matrix is twitchy, agitate interpassivity, an inability to concentrate or focus….What we in the classroom [and elsewhere] are now facing is a generation born into that ahistorical, anti-mnemonic blip culture — a generation, that is to say, for whom time has always come ready-cut into digital micro-slices.
I’m a middle-late millennial, meaning that I can remember a time before cell phones and the internet, but it wasn’t a lot of time, per se. And I do have some questions to post to Fisher’s characterization above (and in the book more generally, though I do mostly agree), but there’s something to it. And the constant stream of Jesus-what-the-fuck news that predominated 45’s presidency and remains — though muted — now, certainly exacerbate the problem.
I was thinking about this morning as I was reading more of Brecht on Theater, realizing that:
I need to return it to the library today
The epub version I have of it is not only the wrong edition, but also has been nearly entirely retranslated (for the worse, in my very uneducated opinion)
I prefer the sections that are shorter to the longer ones, and that maybe I could not give a great summary of what I’ve read at the end of each essay.
I’m still gleaning things, and I think I could still argue about it and characterize it if I had to (at least: I still seem to be able to do that with a similarly attentive reading of The Second Sex for book club), but a part of me wonders if the reading I’m doing is any good at all: I’m reading so many different things concurrently and quickly, because every day there is something else I want to read.
(In truth, I think this is all fine, really, because I’ll remember what I need to remember and I can always return to it, and it’s not like I’m an academic anymore, just some shithead writer trying to write things — and write fiction, no less! But I was thinking about it.)
For fun, here’s something from my journal, furthering the Capitalist Realism line:
I don’t disagree with [the book] but I also don’t know that I like reading it (though it really is a very very easy read), and furthermore, I don’t know what I am to feel about postmodernism anymore, or rather, my relationship to it. Maybe it’s the post-post thing, wherein there is no credulity in the "reality" of the various symbolic systems, but rather an acknowledgement — regardless of their fictitiousness — of their efficacy and power, which is to say: maybe we need to treat them more along the lines of a kind of ontological fictionalism. If I were still doing philosophy I think that’s where one might have to take it.
I think that’s still right, though I need to work out the details more. I was very into fictionalism near the end of my undergraduate studies, and I still think there’s a lot to it. I also appreciate that it’s dissatisfying, but I do think it marries well with something like Foucault’s "archaeology," if one were trying to ground truth-statements to something that can avoid accusations of relativism. But then, really what I need to do is try to read Brandom’s Making It Explicit again, which I was woefully underprepared for when I tried in undergrad (the fact that I was in a relatively major depressive period at that time also did not help).
I’ve updated the reading page, kind of.
Here are some fun quotes from my reading of late:
Rarely does an interviewer ask questions you did not expect. I have given a lot of interviews and I have concluded that the questions always look alike. I could always give the same answers. But I believe I have to change my answers because with each interview something has changed either inside myself or in the world. An answer that was right the first time may not be right again the second. This could be the basis of a book. I am given a list of questions, always the same; every chapter would contain the answers I would give at different times. The changes would contain the answers I would give at different times. The changes would then become the itinerary, the story that the protagonist lives. Perhaps in this way I could discover some truths about myself.
But I must go home—the time approaches for the interviewers to arrive.
God help me!
The Art of Fiction No. 130
Hugh put one foot up on the parapet and regarded his cigarette that seemed bent, like humanity, on consuming itself as quickly as possible.
Under the Volcano
In the old days there was no more need for the artist to bother about science than for science to concern itself with him. But now he has to, for science has progressed so much further. Look at an aeroplane, then look at a theatrical performance. People have acquired new motives for their actions; science has found new dimensions by which to measure them; it’s time for art to find new expressions.
Salesman all over the world are trained according to its principles to influence their customers' behaviours; they learn by rule of thumb how to provide new needs for their fellow men. (Example: a man goes into a showroom, mildly infected, and comes out, severely ill, in possession of a motor-car)
But, bad as it may sound, I have to admit that I cannot get along as an artist without the use of one or two sciences. This may well arouse serious doubts as to my artistic capacities….But in my view the great and complicated things that go on in the world cannot be adequately recognized by people who do not use every possible aid to understanding.
That last Brecht quote may deserve some comment. I think it’s nice, though I cut out a lot of the paragraph in there (thanks, quad-ellipses), but the intervening was basically just romanticization of poets. It reminded me that, in theory, I also do computational stuff, but we both know that I haven’t done much of that lately. Partly it’s been that the novel is consuming and I only have so much time, and in part it’s that the last big thing I was working on — a quarantine-themed variation on Perec’s The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise — hit something like a spiritual roadblock, but like the essay thing, it’s a good reminder to return to it… nobody wants to pay me a salary and benefits to work on this stuff, right?
In any case, I do believe very much in adapting the "sciences" (broadly construed) to art — in fact, I made the prompt for this next issue of Response math, or well, math and an engraving, I guess (and the math was light to be honest, but still) — and [insert inappropriate rant about writers myopically writing only about being writers, etc.].
That said, I have been awash in novels, lit crit, and philosophy lately, so who the fuck am I to talk?
I don’t know — I ran out of steam (blame the lunch break). Here’s a picture of our cat:
What I could have should have done was tie everything back to Tarot, about prompted storytelling and using external promptings to guide the work that you were going to do anyway, and tie this into how the coming of spring puts an extra spring in the step (HA!) towards the multitudes of work, that the prospect of warmer weather and more sunlight means that there may yet be some awakening in the work too, etc., etc., etc. I find, with the above re: attention and focus and so on, that a lot of the writing I’m doing now is putting things in comments like:
// THERE SHOULD BE MORE WRITING HERE BUT WHAT?
// something more here, but I don't have the brain tonight.
// more things
But hey: it’s a "practice" not a "product," and at least this week there is forward motion: and this, too, I will take.