Tuesday, December 06, 2005

by the ferry

In 1932 in April a small boy and his mother and father waited on an Oakland, California pier for the San Fransisco Ferry. They boy, who was almost four years old, noticed a blind beggar, huge and old with white hair and a beard, standing with a tin cup. The little boy asked his father for a nickel, which the boy took over to the beggar and gave him. The beggar, in a surprisingly hearty voice, thanked him and gave him back a piece of paper, which the boy took to his father to see what it was.

"It tells about God," his father said.

The little boy did not know that the beggar was not actually a beggar but a supernatural entity visiting Earth to check up on people. Years later the little boy grew up and became a man. In the year 1974 that man found himself in terrible difficulties, facing disgrace, imprisonment, and possible death. There was no way for him to extricate himself. At that point the supernatural entity returned to Earth, loaned the man a part of his spirit, and saved him from his difficulties. The man never guessed why the supernatural entity came to rescue him. He had long ago forgotten the great bearded blind beggar and the nickel he had given him.

I speak now of these matters.

Philip K. Dick. Prologue, Radio Free Albemuth. 1985.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

somewhere in eternity

AFter Babel argues that it is the constructive powers of language to conceptualize the world which have been crucial to man's survival in the face of ineluctable biological constraints, this is to say in the face of death. It is the miraculous - I don't retract the term - capacity of grammars to generate counter-factuals, 'if'-propositions and, above all, future tenses, which have empowered our species to hope, to reach far beyond the extinction of the individual. We endure, we endure creatively due to our imperative ability to say 'No' to reality, to build fictions of alterity, of dreamt or awaited 'otherness' for our consciousness to inhabit. It is in this precise sense that the utopian and messianic are figures of syntax.

George Steiner. Introduction to After Babel. 3rd ed. 1998. p. xiv.

at the foot of the table

Lastly, a true critic in the perusal of a book is like a dog at a feast, whose thoughts and stomach are wholly set upon what the guests fling away, and consequently is apt to snarl most when there are the fewest bones.

Jonathan Swift. "The Tale of a Tub". The Tale of a Tub and Other Works. 2006.

faculty lounge

There are no 'theories of literature,' there is no 'theory of criticism'. Such tags are arrogant bluff, or a borrowing, transparent in its pathos, from the enviable fortunes and forward motion of science and technology.... What we do have are reasoned descriptions of processes.

George Steiner. Introduction to After Babel. 3rd ed. 1998. p. xiv.

my mahogany desk

In time there was a day that extinguished the last eyes to see Christ; the battle of Junin and the love of Helen died with the death of a man. What will die with me when I die, what pathetic or fragile form will the world lose? The voice of Macedonio Fernándes, the image of a red horse in the vacant lot at Serrano and Charcas, a bar of sulphur in the drawer of a mahogany desk?

Jorge Luis Borges. Labyrinths. 1964. 243.


Full fathom five my father lies,
   Of his bones are coral made.

Those are pearls that were his eyes.
   Nothing of him doth fade

But doth suffer a sea change
   Into something rich and strange.

The Tempest. I:ii

in the live-action theme park

"Because what is truth? Truth is that thing which makes what we want to happen happen. Truth is that thing which, when told, makes those on our team look good, and inspires them to greater efforts, and causes people not on our team to see things our way and feel sort of jealous. Truth is that thing which empowers us to do even better than we are already doing, which by the way is fine, truth is the wind in our sails that blows only for us. So when a rumor makes you doubt us, us up here, it is therefore not true, since we have already defined truth as that thing which helps us win. Therefore, if you want to know what is true, simply ask what is best. Best for us, all of us. Do you get our drift?"

- George Saunders. Pastoralia. 2001.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

herdsmen on the plain

The first of the herd began to swing past them in a pall of yellow dust, rangy slatribbed cattle with horns that grew agoggle and no two alike and small thin mules coalblack that shouldered one another and reared their malletshaped heads above the backs of the others and then more cattle and finally the first of the herders riding up the outer side and keeping the stock between themselves and the mounted company. Behind them came a herd of several hundred ponies. The sergeant looked for Candelario. He kept backing along the ranks but could not find him. He nudged his horse through the column and moved up the far side. The lattermost of the drovers were now coming through the dust and the captain was gesturing and shouting. The ponies had begun to veer off from the herd and the drovers were beating their way toward this armed company met with on the plain. Already you could see through the dust on the ponies' hides the painted chevrons and the hands and rising suns and birds and fish of every device like the shade of old work through sizing on a canvas and now too you could hear above the pounding of the unshod hooves the piping of the quena, flutes made from human bones, and some among the company had begun to saw back on their mounts and some to mill in confusion when up from the offside of those ponies rose a fabled horde of mounted lancers and archers bearing shields bedight with bits of broken mirrorglass that cast a thousand unpieced suns against the eyes of their enemies. A legion of horribles, hundreds in number, half naked or clad in costumes attic or biblical or wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniform still tracked with the blood of prior owners, coats of slain dragoons, frogged and braided cavalry jackets, one in a stovepipe hat and one with an umbrella and one in white stockings and a bloodstained weddingveil and some in headgear of cranefeathers or rawhide helmets that bore the horns of bull or buffalo and one in a pigeontailed coat worn backwards and otherwise naked and one in the armour of a spanish conquistador, the breastplate and pauldrons deeply dented with old blows of mace or sabre done in another country by men whose very bones were dust and many with their braids spliced up with the hair of other beasts until they trailed upon the ground and their horses' ears and tails worked with bits of brightly colored cloth and one whose horse's whole head was painted crimson red and all the horsemen's faces gaudy and grotesque with daubings like a company of mounted clowns, death hilarious, all howling in a barbarous tongue and riding down upon them like a horde from a hell more horrible yet than the brimstone land of christian reckoning, screeching and yammering and clothed in smoke like those vaporous beings in regions beyond right knowing where the eye wanders and the lip jerks and drools.

Oh my god, said the sergeant.

-Cormac McCarthy. Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West. 1985. p. 51-53.


Eighty percent of everything ever buit in America has been buit in the last fifty years, and most of it is depressing, brutal, ugly, unhealthy, and spiritually degrading - the jive-plastic commuter tract home wastelands, the Potemkin village shopping plazas with their vast parking lagoons, the Lego-block hotel complexes, he "gourmet mansardic" junk-food joints, the Orwellian office "parks" featuring buildings sheathed in the same relective glass as the sunglasses worn by chain-gang guards, the particle-board garden apartments rising up in every meadow and cornfield, the freeway loops around every big and little city with their clusters of discount merchandise marts, the whole destructive, wasteful, toxic agorphobia-inducing spectacle that politicisans proudly call "growth".

- James Howard Kunstler, The Geography of Nowhere (1993). p. 10.

Friday, June 17, 2005


My Lord, she continued, Tin Head is just startled to pieces when he don't see that steer. He thinks somebody, some neighbor don't like him, plenty of them, come and stole it. He looks around for tire marks or footprints, but there's nothing except old cow tracks. He puts his hands up to his eyes and stares away. Nothing in the north, the south, the east, but way over there in the west on the side of the mountain he sees something moving stiff and slow, stumbling along. It looks raw and it's got something bunchy and wet hanging down over its hindquarters. Yah, it was the steer, never making no sound. And just then it stops and looks back. And all that distance Tin Head can see the raw meat of the head and the shoulder muscles and the empty mouth without no tongue open wide and its red eyes glaring at him, pure teetotal hate like arrows coming at him, and he knows he is done for and all of his kids and their kids is done for, and his wife is done for and that every one of her blue dishes has got to break, and the dog that licked the blood is done for, and the house where they lived has to blow away or burn up and every fly or mouse in it.

There was a silence and she added, That's it. And it all went against him, too.

That's it? said Rollo. That's all there is to it?

- Annie Proulx, "The Half-Skinned Steer". Close Range: Wyoming Stories (1999).

Thursday, June 16, 2005

atlantic city

On my way out of town at quarter after seven in the morning, a young pump jockey at the gas station on Arkansas Avenue - across the way from the disintegrating, boarded-up rail terminal - told me that he had just been cursed out by an Ohioan who didn't like the New Jersey state law that forbids motorists to pump their own gas. "Losers ain't too polite," he observed. He mentioned that another man had lost $20,000 at Trop World a few hours earlier and had to be dragged out of the casino kicking and screaming. I asked if this happened a lot. "Man," he said, "there's a whole world of losers out there, and sooner or later they all end up here. Only they don't think they're losers. When they find out it's, like, the surprise of their life".

- James Howard Kunstler, The Geography Of Nowhere (1993). p. 238.