Monday, November 15, 2010


I do not work for the CIA because I am too dumb
And I am not a Mormon
Besides my patriotism is lacking
I wouldn't have passed any of their tests
It's clear I do not work for the CIA

Do I maybe, after all, work for the CIA?
It's hard to believe I do
I begin my day later than them
And teach language at night
CIA people would be analyzing language
Arabic and Urdu and such
Documents of specs in Chinese
But me I teach language
The CIA wouldn't be teaching anything
They'd be writing up reports to answer
Yes or No Yes or No
But me I teach and joke with students
Trying always to play out the Maybe
For as long as possible

I keep to myself and drink scotch
This is very CIA
How long have I been CIA now?

I'm damn good at what I do in fact
My Chinese is better than many a fellow agent's
And my French was once good too
I still get the subjunctive wrong less often than many a Mormon
Who passes me sober in the halls at Langley

I've never been to Langley
There's no way I'm CIA
I'd have cracked under pressure sooner
And told everything I know

Though I've been under immense pressure at times
And have cracked twice or more
I've never quite told everything I know
But it wasn't because I was holding back
Out of patriotism or to protect some asset
But because I didn't quite know how to put it
How to frame it I mean
Everything I know
And sometimes I didn't even know really
That I knew it

This kind of thinking is definitely not CIA
Maybe that's why I'm such a precious asset to them
They wouldn't risk me on any small mission
Translating chatter from Urdu
Instead they coddle me
Keep an eye on my drinking
They've pared me down to one cigar a day
They're encouraging me now to find a new health club
Get back in the shape I was in
When we were winding down the Cold War

In fact I will not find a new health club
I'm tired of this far-flung Asian assignment
I want them to know it too
I'm tired of the metro ride back and forth
The students half of whom are ADHD
I'm waiting for my station chief to finally have enough of me
And drop word that I'd be better off
Somewhere with more action
Berlin or Rome
Nice would be nice
But I'd settle for Damascus or Tel Aviv
As long as it wasn't too dangerous
In short somewhere my skills can be used

Now that it's clear
I'm solid CIA
I must pay off those back taxes soon
Plan a visit to Langley
I must stop messing around with Maybe
And get back to basics
Yes or No
Me or You
One of us is in the wrong here

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

On Red State Spelling


From: . . . .
Subject: Fwd: Obama Admits/Not a Natural Born Citizen
Date: Wed, 14 Jul 2010 19:05:04 -0400

Obama Admits He Is Not A Natural Born Citizen!!!

Please read this before it is pulled off the internet!!!

Obama admist he was born in Kenya and is a Muslim. If it were Bush, we would have udder chaos! Why are we NOT dragging him out of the Whitehouse???

Is this evidence enough?

Obama admits he is not a Natural Born Citizen & Also Admits He Is A Muslim

Maybe the "Birthers" are on to something.


Watch it before it’s pulled!
* * *
Dear . . . :

Thanks for sending this. My connection here is slow, so I'll watch it when I get a chance on the computer at the office. Of course Obama was born in Hawaii.

What I like about this email forward is how it follows the usual red state spelling rules. Note that it says "If it were Bush, we would have udder chaos!" An udder is a part of a cow. I don't know if you've noticed, but there's a red state tendency to use farm terminology when something else is meant. One email talked about the Clintons in the White House and their "fowl language." Fowl language means bird language. The words wanted are "utter" (not udder) and "foul" (not fowl). This is part of the fun of reading all these Fwds!

I also remember reading one about all the "bazaar people" Obama has given positions to. I suppose we are meant to understand that the president has promoted Turkish carpet salesmen to high positions.

And in this Fwd there's the usual advice to watch the video soon--"before it's pulled!" As if our administration is regularly trolling through and deleting things it doesn't like.

"By their fruits ye shall know them," Matthew quotes Jesus saying. Yes--and by their spelling ye shall know the weight of their arguments.


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Bet you didn't know this. . .

Cucumbers are the best vegetable source of the mineral niacin, which helps maintain brain power as we age.

Eating fresh cucumber helps keep the body cool in hot weather because it provides vitamin D2.

Women who lie back with a slice of cucumber on each eye are not being foolish. Studies have shown that this simple cucumber treatment does more to fight wrinkles than most top-line eye creams.

Peeled raw cucumber with a bit of baking soda cleans chrome surfaces better than most polishes.

A pea-shaped chunk of raw cucumber held in the navel with a bandaid has been found to prevent pregnancy in blond women.

Adding a couple of slices of cucumber to your gas tank at the start of each month can decrease wear on pistons and improve gas mileage by as much as 3 percent.

The ancient Olmec civilization of Mexico used pressed, sundried strips of cucumber as paper, keeping temple records on the thin sheets. Pressed and dried, cucumber is surprisingly tough and takes ink almost as well as normal paper. A fun project for elementary school classrooms!

Cucumber juice rubbed on the face and body before sunrise can make one invisible to video surveillance cameras until early afternoon.

U.S. President Ronald Reagan did all his presidential debates with a cucumber in his pocket for good luck. He wouldn't go on stage without it.

Unpeeled cucumbers can freshen the air in closets and cabinets. Replace every couple months.

Have a job interview? Going with a cucumber up your ass can make you appear more alert and on top of things and increase your chance of getting hired by up to 40 percent.

*Information not provided by American Association of Cucumber Growers.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

FREEDOMLAND--A Painless Proposal for Breaking Up America

Hawaii will go blue, but don't worry, Sarah, Alaska is securely on the FREEDOMLAND side.
Perhaps not since the Civil War has the U.S. been as politically polarized as it is now. To listen to folks on the Right, Republicans and Democrats have radically different visions of what the country should be, and the pundits are generally in agreement about only one thing: common political ground is shrinking by the month.

The Republican Right, inching ever further rightward since the 1980s, has been driven nearly insane by the election of Barack Obama. The Tea Partyers are furious, first of all, that Obama's victory was even possible in their America. But more than this, they're angry that the new president--the cheek of it!--has actually dared enact legislation not in sync with their agenda. Such legislation must be un-American because, according to Tea Party logic, they themselves innately embody America. Energized by a media machine whipping them to a frenzy 24/7 the new American Right is not going to give up its strident platform any time soon.

The Left, meanwhile, can hardly believe there's anything serious in people who compare Obama to dictators like Stalin or Hitler. For the Left, the new American Right has gone from somewhat looney and ill-informed to full-throttle bat-shit crazy.

But the red-staters' comparisons to Stalin and Hitler are indeed serious. These people, whatever they know or don't know about modern history, believe what they're saying. And it does seem the case, finally, that there are TWO Americas out there, neither of which is likely to give up its vision.

On the one side, blue state America sees worsening problems that need a strong federal government ready to adopt pragmatic solutions. On the other, red state America sees government itself as the problem and wants none of it.

How can we resolve this conflict of ideology which, it is obvious, only gets more bitter by the month?

I call on the Obama Administration and its supporters in Congress to quickly adopt legislation that would give red state America what it wants. I'm proposing a radical transformation of the country, but one that would, if followed, allow an amicable end to the culture wars. There are two stages to my proposal:


Cut the tax rate for red state Americans to ZERO. Yes, ZERO taxes. Taxes are clearly their number one gripe and it is finally all too obvious that millions of Americans think paying taxes is unpatriotic.

According to my plan, red state Americans will no longer have to pay ANY of their hard-earned money to the inefficient, parasitic government in Washington. Along with paying no taxes, they will finally be freed from government intervention in their lives. Because along with my proposed radical tax cut, I propose that inefficient socialistic services no longer be imposed on red state Americans against their will.

Yes, there will be no socialistic public school system telling their children how or what to read. In particular, modern biology will no longer be shoved down their throats, and anything individual red state communities deem is science will henceforth be taught as such. Each school district, if not each mother and father, will have the freedom to decide what is considered science in the classroom.

But also: there will be no socialistically maintained road system and none of those state-funded socialistic flunkies called "police" enforcing the law with their government-paid cruisers. Just as red state Americans will be able to read or not read at their will, so they will be able to drive any speed they want on or off roads anywhere they want. The roads will finally be as they were meant to be: free thoroughfares through a free country.

In red state regions there will be no more government agencies enforcing food or drug safety, which, let's face it, is simply a drag on what would otherwise be vibrant sectors of the economy. The prices of drugs, no longer needing FDA approval, would surely go down, and the number of new medicines that would hit the market . . . in fact it's almost staggering to imagine. No more corrupt federal government saying what can or can't be sold as food or medicine. No more annoying ingredients labels to read. (If folks can even read because, remember, there will be no more socialistic elementary schools.)

There will also be no more government agencies enforcing unconstitutional limitations on firearms. This will be a big step forward for freedom. Red state Americans will finally be able to shoot or not shoot others whenever they want with whatever firearm they deem appropriate to their defense in each instance.

What's more, there will be no more corrupt judges "legislating from the bench" because there will be no more judges. In red state regions everything will be decided outside of court in the armed space of the public arena--in short, the way the Founding Fathers meant it to be.

These are just a few of the elements of my proposed New Declaration of Red State Independence. But remember: the key to all of this sudden freedom is quite simple: CUT THE RED STATE TAX RATES TO WHAT THEY SHOULD BE! Freedom can only flourish as a result.

Just imagine it, you Tea Partyers--ZERO sales or income tax! Your red state economies will thrive with the sheer amount of Pure Freedom let loose in the market. No more licensing for food or drugs or weapons or anything. No more driver's licenses even. No more complicated regulations on what banks or investment gurus can do with your money. And the money you earn--you get to keep 100 PERCENT of it! Which is how it was meant to be in a democracy. There will be no more government leeching off you. I can hear the hollers and hoots of approval already. Yeeehawww!


But now we come to Stage Two. At first I thought there'd be no need for a Stage Two, but after modeling some likely results of my Stage One proposal I realize I was wrong. After Stage One has been implemented, several things seem likely to happen, viz.:

1) Red state Americans will enjoy such a MASSIVE AMOUNT of SHEER FREEDOM that they will no longer be SUITED for living in or even visiting the corrupt blue state regions.

2) The newly liberated red state economies will be THRIVING so much that the disparity in economic power between red and blue state regions will make it necessary to establish safe borders.

Because of these two factors, I came to understand that a further radical step was necessary.

In Stage Two, red state America will be forcibly "seceded" from blue state America. Yes, the U.S. will finally become two separate countries. I know many red-staters will be only too glad to be free once and for all from the corrupt liberals in Washington. And many blue-staters, though perhaps more sentimental, will come to see the need to let their newly FREE red-state brothers and sisters go their own way.

The two new countries will have to be renamed, I know. I recommend calling the red state regions simply FREEDOMLAND. As for the blue state side, a name will have to be decided democratically, i.e., in the old, slow and corrupt way.

Texans and Alaskans and others have long been talking about secession. My plan, I think, is the best way to effect a final and reasonable secession without civil war.

And so to sum up: I call on the Obama Administration to enact swift legislation leading to the TOTAL FREEDOM of our Tea Party and red state brothers and sisters from the corrupt system of democratic government they now suffer so grievously and totalitarianly under.

I chose this 4th of July, our national day of independence, to make my proposal for this new and secondary independence of red and blue folks from each other. Clearly it's time we went our own ways.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Clay III.136

Scriptive Abbey. The monks and nuns are of a stunning physical beauty. They live as a co-operative, each however with his or her own room. Their bodies are covered with texts from [. . .], tattooed upon them in cuneiform script. They are dedicated to amours, study and prayer.

There are three tattoo-scribes who work in the entrance hall--the Roman alphabetic transliteration fully legible on each of their six wrists. The various pictographs or ideographs that come to be used in the increasingly scriptive text will be translated over the rest of their bodies which over time will become reference works.

Those who come to read our text pay by the hour, and must decipher it as they will, the reference works being called up to the individual rooms by patrons for an added fee. The religious pay their way being read.

Of course there will be bodies of text preferred by each patron, either for the text itself or for the ensemble of the book as it gathers the text. Patrons will have to make appointments with each book to be read, and books cannot be taken out.

With each generation the task of this reading becomes more difficult, as the script becomes more scriptive. Patrons must then arrange to meet with an older book so as to corroborate their reading of the text under scrutiny. The text as a spoken word is held in the keeping of scribes and the religious, who may, it is true, eventually lose it themselves.

Such employment would hardly succeed in America at present, though the abbey or bibliothèque or brothel may work in Paris, Berlin, or Tokyo. The book needs relatively few hours of availability in order to pay its keep, and can spend the time thus gained in study, amours and prayer.

Many a book will not allow him- or herself to be handled before he or she has been well read.

NB: Prospective books have no choice of what text or texts they are made. The tattoo-scribe chooses to copy what and where he or she will. The full text of [. . .] must be preserved--i.e. legible--in the library at all times.

Je m'adresse à Béatrice André-Leickmann, à Jean-Louis de Cénival, à Jean Bottero, à Christine Ziegler, à Ake Sjoberg, à vos étudiants, aux parisiens choisis: j'ai besoin d'artistes de tatouage, de jeunes hommes et femmes dévots, d'une grande maison pas loin du centre-ville, d'un traducteur, et de votre collaboration dans la scriptivité continuelle et progressive du [. . .], i.e. je vous prie de m'emmener à Paris pour étudier là-bas. --Eric Mader-Lin

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Clay IV.1


Knowledge: what does the word properly mean? There are ways of understanding the word that abuse it terribly, that force the word's and the world's fall further than one could previously have imagined. And these ways are now in the mainstream--they have long been so.

Many will immediately resist this writing because of what they take to be "knowledge." They will insist that any writing about our relations with God must be a kind of hocus pocus about which we should all know better. "God is dead," they echo. "We live in the twentieth century, not the Middle Ages."

I do not agree that our century knows better. I would insist we know worse. As 20th century men and women, we do know "more," in a way, but to know more, for us, is to know worse. The manner in which we know is not better. It is, for many, no longer knowledge.

Clay IV.2

Being, grace, knowledge--the three supreme gifts. Can any of them be given without the others also being given in some degree?

Clay IV.3

Revelation is never complete.

Clay IV.4

History was broken with the coming of Christ. Not just historiography, but history itself: history in its sense as referring to the possibilities and exigencies of our existence.

The coming of Christ, the realization of the meaning of this coming, have broken history. But the realization of the meaning of Christ is not complete: it goes on continuously, it goes on yet. Our lives, to the extent that we follow Christ, continue to fulfill some part of this realization.

If we are thinking aright, we recognize that "history broken" is not a closed book, but rather a deed performed by God and then given over into our hands to realize. To realize here is first to know, then to make actual our part of knowledge in the fallen world. Our knowledge and faith is made actual both through our own creative works and through what we let wither away as being of the outside, as being inessential to the work we recognize.

Clay IV.5

The question of the Fall. It is for me a question of a territory in which God's power is not in full effect, in which this power is present rather as potential, and in which, further, there is another power present. Humanity's turn away from God, figured in the story of the Garden, is always a turn toward another.

I do not believe that Creation is the work of a demiurge, but neither do I believe the Creation is entirely predestined by a God whose being is all of being. No, there is something else, an Other besides God's work, an Other that, at least as regards this territory the earth, may end up undermining this work through the weight of its resistance, the tenacity of its darkness. It is a question for me--and I do think of it in rather Manichaean terms--of a battle for the world and the souls of men. I would not, however, say with the Gnostics that the souls of men are to escape this territory, leaving it to fall into nothing. No, the material realm, this earth or universe which is the territory of God's work, is not to be abandoned in a movement of quietistic pessimism; it is not to be abandoned as garbage. That is not the goal of the battle we are in. But neither is the universe entirely good. There is a worm at the core of creation, a worm that was present at the very beginning.

The traditional doctrines are powerfully formulated as regards these questions. Nonetheless, they are not as compelling as a truth approached, among others, by the Gnostics. The Gnostics, however, have obscured the truth as well.

The truth is neither with certain of the Kabbalists who insist that God needs our constructive attention to maintain his being, nor is it with the Calvinists who insist that our being and our salvation are eternally predetermined by God.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Criticism and Philosophy

Reading Joe Wenderoth and Gary Lutz. There's a kind of septic undertow dragging in the work of both. Lutz especially is chin deep in it--his style a delicate flailing as he's dragged away in a flood of the various excreta we flush.

Lutz is the more accomplished stylist.

Both writers are sick fucks, but Lutz is clearly the sicker.

Despair and shit and the body are recurrent themes in Gabriel Gudding's work too, but somehow Gudding has none of the potty negativity of Lutz and Wenderoth. (Could we speak here of the Potty-Hegelians?)

Also reading Sir Thomas Browne's Religio Medici. Browne turns a wonderful phrase and demonstrates a generous spirit for his time and place. But intellectually Browne was a crabbed provincial next to Montaigne. (Which may not reflect that badly on Browne. Nearly everyone was a crabbed provincial next to Montaigne.)

One wonders how Shakespeare would have written had he taken up the essay as a genre.

* * *

Is it the importunity of beings that makes us yearn for Being?

There are many that would not tolerate the nagging of beings were it not that they glimpse Being and feel that part of them is grounded in Being.

But perhaps this is putting it badly. Not that "part of them" is grounded, but that some grasp of Being would, they hope, offer a ground on which they could build an edifice against the painful storms of unknowing that wrack them. That wrack us.

Is it the importunity of beings that makes us yearn for Being?

My body, with its daily nagging, is one of these beings of course, or rather is itself a panoply of beings, as is my mind, in which I am not sure where to place the "I."

Is it only this importunity, this nagging--at times merely troublesome, but finally deadly--that makes us project "Being" to begin with?

I would agree with Heidegger by saying No. Being is not merely an illusory projection, a trick of language or a dead end: to say it is is to speak from a structure that has ignored the question of Being. Not answered, but ignored.

Beings are objects of pleasure, or annoyances, or toys, or threats, or traps, or illusory, or all there is.

Being is illusory, or all there is.

Parmenides: the greatest philosopher.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Obama: Tea Partiers Understand Me

My name is Barack Osama Hussein Obama, 44th President of the United States, and I am here today to acknowledge my many abominations.

For you who have supported me, I ought to apologize for what follows. I know a lot of you have been offended by the criticisms aimed at me--the wailing on Fox News, the never-ending Tea Party slurs--but regardless of your anger at these attacks, well, the fact is things aren't always as clear as they might appear. So although many of you may feel disappointed by what I'm about to say, I'm still going to say it. I'm going to come out with the whole truth. And first of all I think it's time to admit that, yes, the Tea Partiers have more or less understood me.

Where should I begin here? I suppose I could start with one of the more serious charges. And so . . . Yes, it is true that I am a communist. A pinko. The right wing has long claimed it, and I'm ready to admit it. Though I've pretended to support the American way of life, for many years I've been secretly dedicated to overthrowing it. My goal has been to organize the laboring class into a movement strong enough to destroy the American capitalist system. I, Barack Obama, believe in the Communist Revolution.

But while being a secret communist, it's also true that I'm a slick corporate insider, a wheeler and dealer within the corporate system. Many have pointed this out, and many have attacked me for it. They point out that I've given huge handouts to big corporations, handouts of PUBLIC money, while doing nothing for the little guy. This is what all those corporate bailouts were about. The truth here is that I wasn't so much stabilizing the American economy as patting corporate cronies on the back. Because I'm a corrupt capitalist insider.

Now of course it hasn't been easy to be both a communist radical dedicated to destroying corporate America and a capitalist insider pouring cash into the same corporate America--but the truth is I've been both, as my Tea Party critics will tell you. Because I'm actually, as some Tea Party pundit might say, a COMMUNO-CAPITALIST, or an OLIGARCHO-COMMUNIST, or maybe, as Glenn Beck himself would say, an OLIGARHOLEFTY.

These are complex words, I know, but the point here is that I'm a complex guy. My goal is to undermine America whether I use my communist left hand or my capitalist right hand. Even if these two hands--well, even if they don't agree with each other.

As a communist I'm of course a committed atheist. But as the sharp analysts at Fox understand--who have never allowed mere logic to dampen their insights--being an atheist hasn't stopped me from also being a SECRET MUSLIM RADICAL. That's right. When I'm not busy promoting my deeply anti-religious, atheistic vision of society, I Barack Hussein Obama am secretly working to spread the religion of the one true God Allah, a belief I learned from my father while growing up in Kenya and which I later fine-tuned while studying in radical madrasahs in Indonesia.

You caught that, didn't you? How I admitted right there that I grew up in Kenya? In fact the birthers are right about me. My Hawaiian birth certificate IS a fake! I know this will be hard for my supporters to accept, and I know it will even be somewhat hard to BELIEVE, because, as has been pointed out, there were announcements of my birth in two different Honolulu newspapers, announcements posted right then, in August 1961. So why would there have been Honolulu newspaper announcements of my birth if I wasn't really born in Hawaii?

Well, the truth is that it's all because of the deeply anti-American and radical beliefs of my parents. That and their prenatal faith in my radical future in politics. Because thankfully my parents were wise enough to BRIBE the Hawaiian authorities and the two newspapers to FORGE all this evidence just in time for my birth--which birth happened, to tell the whole truth, in three different places simultaneously: Kenya, Leningrad, and the holy city of Mecca. Yes, I was born in three places AT THE SAME TIME, which foretold my destiny of today following at least THREE POLITICAL PATHS at the same time.

I told you I was a complex guy, didn't I?

Did I tell you I was a secret Muslim radical? That's true of course, but it's also true that I am a proponent of black Christian liberation theology. I got that from Reverend Wright in Chicago. That split I had with Wright during the campaign--that was all just for show, to help me get elected. Because along with Reverend Wright I believe the religion of Jesus is a religion of the downtrodden standing up to their oppressors. But unlike Reverend Wright, I believe this while ALSO being an atheist and while ALSO following the religion of Mohammed. Jesus is my true mentor in liberating the people, as is Mohammed, and I understand Jesus to have taught something similar to that taught by my other mentors, Che Guevara, Osama bin Laden and Batman.

I worship Allah and Jesus as I practice atheist Marxism and try to help my jihadist colleagues in the Middle East. I stand with the downtrodden against their white oppressors as I funnel astronomical amounts of cash into corporations run by these white oppressors. I don't believe in Jesus or Allah but am definitely a communist radical as I arrange these huge giveaways for American corporations that I'm also trying to destroy.

Does all this make any sense? Sometimes I'm not sure. Truth be told it's tough being me, tough being Barack Osama Hussein Obama. You don't know the half of it! I'm trying to do so many opposing things at once! How did I ever even get into all this? But this is just the way I am. And I've got to hand it to the sharp folks in the Tea Party movement for figuring me out. Because sometimes I have trouble understanding myself. Sean Hannity, those biopics you did were truly brilliant. But really--it's the Tea Partiers who've seen the REAL ME.

While we're at it I should say something about my education. Because a lot of Fox pundits seem to be really interested in this. I put it down to the following: Not having any education of their own, they're interested in how I got mine.

It's true I studied a lot of radical things in university: Marx, Che, Saul Alinsky, a lot of comic books, Mao, Mussolini, Sayyid Qutb, Danielle Steel, Bakunin. It's also true my pricey law education was paid for in ways most Americans would find objectionable. Half was paid by Havana and the other half by Saudi sheiks. Havana sometimes didn't get me the checks on time, but those sheiks--Whew!--they threw so much money my way that I still have some left over, which I've used for stockpiling euthanasia drugs so I can take part in the culling of elderly people.

Yes, Palin got it right when she said the health care reform was really about establishing death panels. I know most rational people laughed off Palin's remark when she made it, because, hey, there wasn't anything even remotely suggestive of euthanasia in the actual text of the bill. But really the laugh is on my supporters. Because it's true what Palin said. Because me and Rahm, see, we've developed this secret invisible ink. So we wrote in all these clauses about setting up death panels RIGHT UNDER THE VISIBLE TEXT OF THE BILL. Pretty sneaky and evil, huh? I couldn't have done it without Rahm. He really has the ideas sometimes.

So I'm using some of the Saudi money to stock up on euthanasia drugs so I can help out snuffing some of those grannies in D.C. hospitals. I can't wait till the invisible ink becomes visible!

Many Tea Partiers have compared me to the far right-wing dictator Hitler while others compare me to the left-wing leader Stalin. Though these historical figures were on opposite sides of the political spectrum, it's true that I admire them both because they're both so evil. Evil is just what I'm into. I'm going to destroy everything pure and good in America and I'm going to do it by using all the un-American ideologies AT THE SAME TIME. So what if the different approaches don't agree with each other? What's that to me--a man who was born in three cities? Sometimes I even get the feeling I might be SUPERHUMAN.

As for the protesters who made posters of me as the Joker--I don't really think that's apt. Maybe Rahm could be the Joker, but not me. I'm bigger than the Joker. I'm Mao and Hitler with a shot of Caligula tossed in. I'm the King of Pop returned from the dead as a leftist Tutankhamen.

It's just the plain and simple truth that I'm a communist fascist atheist crony-capitalist snooty Ivy League backstreet rabble-rousing crypto-Muslim Christian liberation theologist ACORN-pimp-managing socialist eugenicist. I admit it. The Tea Partiers, guided by the perceptive analysts of Fox News, have shown admirable logic in figuring me out. You really gotta hand it to them.

And Joe Biden--did you know he's really a Uighur Muslim trained in plastic explosives in North Korea? I bet you didn't know.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Droste Effect

I remember it was a Thursday afternoon. I'd ducked out of the office a bit early and decided to stop in at Moran's on the way home for a pint. When I walked in the door the place was strangely quiet, the barman wasn't behind the bar and the only soul in sight was an odd-looking fellow who eyed me as I sat down at the bar. After a moment he came up and sat next to me, introduced himself, and said: "You know, I think I can explain, because darn near the same thing happened to me! I remember it was a Thursday afternoon."

"What?" I said.

"It was a Thursday afternoon," he repeated. "I'd ducked out of the office early and decided to stop in at Moran's on the way home for a pint. When I walked in the door the place was quiet, the barman wasn't behind the bar and the only soul in sight was an odd-looking fellow who eyed me as I sat down at the bar. After a moment he came up and sat next to me, introduced himself, and said: 'You know, I think I can explain, because darn near the same thing happened to me! I remember it was a Thursday afternoon.'

" 'What?' I said.

" 'I'd ducked out of the office early,' he said, 'and decided to stop in at Moran's on the way home. When I walked in the place was quiet and the barman wasn't behind the bar. There was a fellow who eyed me oddly as I sat down at the bar. After a moment he came up, sat down next to me, and said: "You know, I think I can explain, because darn near the same thing happened to me! I remember it was a Thursday afternoon."

' " 'What?' I said.

' " 'After leaving the office,' he said, 'I decided to stop in at Moran's. When I walked in the place was quiet. There was a fellow who eyed me oddly as I sat down at the bar. He came up, sat down next to me, and said: "You know, I think I can explain, because the same thing happened to me! I remember it was a Thursday afternoon."

" ' " 'What?' I said.

" ' " 'I decided to stop in at Moran's after work,' he said. 'But when I walked in the place was dead quiet. There was a fellow who eyed me oddly as I sat down at the bar. Then he came up to me and said: "I think I can explain because the same thing happened to me! It was on a Thursday afternoon."

' " ' " 'What?' I said.

' " ' " 'I stopped in at Moran's after work,' he said. 'But the place was dead quiet. There was a fellow who eyed me oddly as I sat down. Then he came up to me and said: "The same thing happened to me! It was on a Thursday afternoon."

" ' " ' " 'What?' I said.

" ' " ' " 'I stopped in at Moran's,' he said. 'The place was dead quiet. There was a fellow there who eyed me oddly. He came up to me and said: "The same thing happened to me! It was a Thursday afternoon."

' " ' " ' " 'What?' I said.

' " ' " ' " 'It was dead quiet at Moran's,' he said. 'A fellow there eyed me oddly, then came up and said: "The same thing happened to me! It was a Thursday afternoon."

" ' " ' " ' " 'What?' I said.

" ' " ' " ' " 'Moran's was dead quiet,' he said. 'An odd fellow eyed me and said: "The same thing happened to me! It was a Thursday afternoon."

' " ' " ' " ' " 'What?' I said.

' " ' " ' " ' " 'Moran's was quiet,' he said. 'An odd fellow came up to me and said: "This happened to me! It was a Thursday afternoon."

" ' " ' " ' " ' " 'What?' I said.

" ' " ' " ' " ' " 'Moran's was quiet,' he said. 'An odd fellow said: "This happened to me! It was a Thursday afternoon."

' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'What?' I said.

' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'Moran's was quiet. A fellow said: "This also happened to me! It was a Thursday afternoon."

" ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'What?' I said.

" ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'In Moran's a fellow said: "This also happened to me! It was a Thursday afternoon."

' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'What?' I said.

' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'In Moran's a fellow said: "This also happened to me! It was on a Thursday."

" ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'What?' I said.

" ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'In Moran's a fellow said: "This also happened to me on a Thursday!"

' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'What?' I said.

' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'In Moran's a fellow said: "This also happened to me Thursday!"

" ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'What?' I said.

" ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'In Moran's a fellow said: "This also happened to me!"

' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'What?' I said.

' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'In Moran's a fellow said: "This happened to me!"

" ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'What?'

" ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'A fellow said: "This happened to me!"

' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'What?'

' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'A fellow said: "It happened to me!"

" ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'What?'

" ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'A fellow said: "Happened to me!"

' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'What?'

' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'Fellow said: "Happened to me!"

" ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'What?'

" ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'Fellow said: "Happened!"

' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'What?'

' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'Fellow: "Happened!"

" ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'What?'

" ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' "Happened!"

' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'Wha?'

' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' "Happened!"

" ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " 'Wha?'

" ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' "!"

' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " '?'

' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' "!"

" ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " '?'

" ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' "!"

' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " '?'

' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' "!"

" ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " '?'

" ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' " ' "!"

By this point the fellow was gesturing and shaking as like he was in a kind of fit. I didn't know if I should prod him to snap him out of it or if I should turn tail and get outa there.

The barman Niall came out just then and his eyes widened to see the man in such a state. Seems he'd seen this before, which made me none too comfortable to be engaged in this dialogue.

Finally in his swaying and gesturing the fellow bumped against me and snapped out of it.

"It was. . ." he said looking at me in fright. "It was like that for me too!"

"Gilbert," Niall began.

"Let me be!" Gilbert said. "I know what I heard and I won't be told otherwise. It happened on a Thursday right here, smack on the same hour, and the fellow went on and on til he was shaking, just like I was telling it."

Niall didn't reply, but began pouring me a pint.

"But how did it end?" I asked the man.

Niall frowned that I was pursuing the question. He shook his head and retreated back down to the store room from where he'd come.

"How did it end?" the man repeated. "How did it end, you want to know? You really want to know?"

I thought it over. My pint stood on the wood before me, a perfect head to it. Glancing at Gilbert, I could see the sweat beading on his forward, the question he had asked still in his eyes. Clearly he was burning to finish the tale.

"No," I said. "Not today. Maybe next Thursday."

Gilbert slumped like the air was let out of him. He got up and went back to where he was sitting when I came in.

* * *

The next Thursday I was there early, waiting in a corner. Gilbert was nowhere to be seen, however, and again Niall was down in the store room. After ten minutes or so a new fellow came in, gave a look round the place, and went up to sit at the bar. I started to feel a kind of itch in me, a compulsion to speak to the man, though I'd never seen him before. I got up and walked over to where he was seated. I sat down next to him and introduced myself.

"You know, I think I can explain," I began, "because just about the same thing happened to me! It was a Thursday afternoon."

"What?" the man said.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

My Guns and My Regrets

I got my first gun when I was nine or ten, a BB gun with a hand pump under the stock. It was a lousy gun. It fired metal BBs sold by the thousand in cardboard boxes, BBs which exited the barrel at such low velocity I could visually trace their arc through the air. My gun was so weak that if I was wearing jeans I could shoot myself in the leg without feeling much of anything. Even so my mother considered the gun dangerous because at close range it could doubtless "put out an eye." Close range in this case being about three inches.

Though my BB gun was weak, I certainly tried my best to kill things with it. I grew up in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, near an exceedingly placid town called Hartland (literally "Stagland," from the old word hart: adult male deer). Though the place I grew up was placid, I was not. One side of our house faced a forest and the other butted up against an 18-hole golf course. In short there were animals of all kinds to shoot at: rabbits, gophers, raccoons, chipmunks, squirrels and birds of every sort. Deer could even still be seen sometimes. I shot at all these animals, occasionally even hitting one, but none ever dropped down dead. The BBs coming from my gun were far too weak for that. Once hit, the animals would just stir, then run or fly away.

So my situation as an aspiring hunter was annoying, and it only became more so as time went on. I remember once in frustration I snuck up on our neighbor's dog, a golden retriever, and shot her in the side. She turned her head, looked at me and began to wag her tail. Not even a yelp. That was the last straw.

During the many months I hunted with that BB gun I'd managed to kill only one thing: a frog. It's true I hit quite a few frogs while down at the pond near my house, but only one had actually been slain. Probably I'd hit it at just the place where the spine was weakest. Or maybe it was already dead before I shot it.

In despair I pestered my parents to buy me a proper gun: a .22 rifle for instance.

"There's no way," my father said. "You could kill someone with a .22."

"Then how about a pellet gun?" I asked.

"You don't need a pellet gun," my mother said. "They're too dangerous."

"Mike Schroeder and Doug Omen both have pellet guns," I replied, referring to two other boys in our whitewashed, country-club neighborhood.

"They're both older than you," was my mother's answer.

"Only by one year," I said.

"Well, we'll have to think about it."

That was the answer I wanted. At my next birthday I got my pellet gun: a Sheridan rifle with a silver barrel, a high quality make in fact. It had a pump under the barrel that one could pump up to ten times. The more you pumped before shooting, the more powerful the shot would be. Although my BB gun would only make a "ping" sound when fired at a glass bottle, my pellet gun would smash the bottle outright. The killing could begin in earnest.

My first real kill was from my bedroom window, which was on the second floor looking west over a small stand of trees. Already during the BB gun days I'd made a hole in the screen so I could shoot at animals from my room. The day after I got my pellet gun I saw a woodpecker on one of the trees outside. "Rat tat tat. . . Rat tat tat tat. . . ." I took aim and shot. The bird fell to the ground. Tossing the gun on my bed, I rushed downstairs and outside to see the kill. As it turned out, the woodpecker wasn't dead. I'd only shot its beak off. I found the beakless bird flopping around on the ground at the base of the tree. What was I to do in such a situation?

I picked up the bird and held it. Its warmth and the speed of its heartbeat transmitted themselves instantly to my palm. I was surprised at how light the bird was. I held it that way for a moment. Two little drops of blood fell from its wound onto my wrist. Carefully putting the bird back on the ground, I went to get a rock. I smashed the bird with the rock, putting it out of its misery. But what to do with the corpse? Carrying it to the edge of the yard, I tossed it into the high grass.

In fact during all this there was a lump in my throat. Although elated about actually killing something, I also felt bad the animal hadn't died straightaway. I felt there was something sickening about it, that I'd done something wrong. But soon I forgot this feeling.

Over the course of the following months I shot a handful of chipmunks, two or three rabbits, countless sparrows and robins and red-winged blackbirds, a crow, two squirrels and dozens of the gophers that lived in holes and stuck their heads up along the fields edging the golf course. It was mainly while shooting the gophers that I had the company of Mike Schroeder and Doug Omen, who also lived on the golf course and whose houses were near a large stretch of field the gophers seemed to like particularly. But they couldn't much have liked that field during the first summer I had my Sheridan. I believe the three of us depopulated the whole neighborhood of them. While we were busy at this gruesome work, the fat summer-dressed golfers would yell curses at us and wave their clubs in the air because we'd hunt just off the margin of the fairways and disturb their game. Finally word of our hunting got round to our parents, who were also club members, and I was told I could no longer hunt along the edges of the golf course. So we hit the woods and went after chipmunks and birds instead.

I remember once while out hunting with Mike we cornered a squirrel at the top of a dead tree trunk. The squirrel clung tightly to the trunk, about thirty feet above us, and scurried round from one side of the trunk to the other. But Mike and I took turns shooting and managed to hit it a couple times. Eventually, weakened by its wounds, the squirrel couldn't scurry round the trunk any more. But still it clung tightly to the tree, refusing to fall. I remember how we then sunk another pellet into the squirrel's back, then another, and finally a third. It was only with the third or fourth slug sunk into its body that the squirrel's claws finally gave way and it fell down to the ground with a heavy thud. Mike and I laughed at our triumph and I carried the squirrel back home, where I intended to use a heavy-gauge wire cutter to cut its tail off. I collected them.

I think I got that first pellet gun when I was eleven. I later got another pellet gun, a pistol that used CO2 cartridges, and I also occasionally went pheasant or duck hunting with my father, when I'd get to use an actual 12-gauge shotgun.

Between the ages of eleven and thirteen, I must have killed several hundred animals and birds with these guns. Then suddenly, at age fourteen, the lump in my throat returned and I couldn't kill them any more. I even stopped fishing, which was another one of my favorite sports. I no longer wanted to kill even the fish.

By the time I reached the age of sixteen, I felt a horror of all the animals I'd killed. I remember once coming upon some boys trying to electrocute a gopher they'd caught in a wire cage. I thrashed one of them and chased the others away, finally setting the gopher free. I also mangled the cage they'd made so it couldn't be used again.

At age seventeen, just before my last year in high school, I decided to spend the summer away from home. I set up a summer job in northern Wisconsin in a resort town called Minocqua. I'd be bussing and waiting tables at one of the resort restaurants.

There was an Indian who worked in the same resort. He was in charge of the boats they rented out and he also did work around the resort grounds. He'd drink a few beers in the bar every night and talk quietly to the bartender. Once I overheard him explaining to another man that white men's hunting was a terrible thing, that it was in fact a terrible sin. When the other man left and I'd punched out I decided to talk to him a bit.

He explained to me how white men just kill animals for sport, that they have no use for the animals they kill and no respect for the animals' souls. The Indians, on the other hand, only killed what they needed and would balance the deed of killing with the proper rituals of respect. The Indians had maintained harmony with all the souls of the world's living things, whereas the white men were corrupted to their core and understood nothing about the souls. He also explained that such disrespect for the souls of nature meant that the souls of these men would end up in hell after their deaths.

I told him I had respect for these ideas, that for years I'd felt there was something sickening in killing animals just for sport. I also told him my story, how I'd killed hundreds of animals with my pellet gun when I was a kid. I told him how I'd felt sickened that first time killing the woodpecker at age eleven, but that somehow it hadn't stopped me from going out hunting again the next day. I explained about all the gophers and robins I'd shot, about how I'd cruelly sunk pellet after pellet into the squirrel's back until it fell from the tree, about how my friend and I had laughed after the kill and how I'd later cut the animal's tail off with a wire cutter. I told him about the pheasant's head that got shot off, about the rabbit I literally blasted into two pieces at close range with my father's 12-gauge. I asked him if there was something I could do to atone for all the animals and birds I'd slaughtered, if there was some Indian ritual that could set things right with nature.

The Indian took a sip from his beer and shrugged sadly. "There's nothing you can do," he said quietly, gazing at the bar. "You're going to hell."

My regrets about killing animals continued into university. I became a vegetarian my freshman year and began to study political science. And then I learned about cultural criticism and Marxism. I began to understand why the country-club neighborhood I'd grown up in had always so annoyed me: why I'd never wanted to golf or play tennis with the other rich kids but was always interested as a child in guns and hunting and later, as a high school student, in Jim Morrison and marijuana. It was the hypocrisy and inauthenticity of that ridiculous bourgeois place: the church-going hypocrites who claimed to worship Jesus but thought only about their countryside estates and their ever more expensive, ever flashier cars. All through my childhood I'd watched them out on that golf course with their beer bellies and fat asses wrapped in plaid. On Sunday I'd see them at church listening to sermons and singing hymns to an ancient Palestinian spiritual leader they claimed as their "Savior" but whose teachings they didn't make the slightest effort to follow. Even a kid like me, even a kid with the weak, milquetoast American education I'd had, could see how ridiculously out of tune it all was.

The neighborhood I'd grown up in was neither urban nor truly rural. It was that indefinable nowhere land called "the suburbs." And being a richer suburb than most, it proved to be all the more alienated from real life. It was a neighborhood where each home stood apart like a miniature aristocratic estate. This meant there were no sidewalks, no real place where the community of kids could gather. One rarely saw one's neighbors, who entered and left their houses in their expensive cars. Or if one saw them it was out on the golf course, where they pretended to enjoy themselves playing a sport that they liked mainly because of its prestige factor.

So as I continued in university I started to analyze more and more my experience growing up, the kind of culture I'd grown up in, how it had shaped me and distorted my sense of the world--or rather how it had tried to distort my sense of the world, for with my intellectual awakening I'd in some measure escaped from it. And eventually my regrets at shooting all those animals started to pale next to a different regret, one based not on things I'd done but rather on things I'd neglected to do. It was a sin of omission that began to bother me, one that could be formulated as follows: During all those years living in that neighborhood I'd had a perfectly good pellet gun at my disposal, so how was it--I asked myself--how was it I'd never thought to use that gun to sink a few pellets into the fat asses of those overstuffed pseudo-Christian slobs who showed off their ridiculous plaids every weekend on that golf course? All those fat asses bending over to take their shots and never a single shot taken by me. How was it I hadn't been smart enough then to leave the poor gophers alone and shoot the culpable golfers instead? This eventually became my central regret, and it still burns in me today.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Steiner on Heidegger

Notes on/quotes from George Steiner's book Martin Heidegger

One may get to the heart of the matter by asking: How is a page of Heidegger to be read, what orders of meaning can be drawn from it? For Heidegger it is the right asking that matters. (18)

The beginning of our asking should be treated with the same dignity as the goal we hope to reach.

One starts out on "a path." There are different paths one may start on, and one can't know if the path one has chosen will lead where one hopes. One must be sure, however, that the path is at least "in the forest"--i.e., in what is proper to philosophy and not somehow extraneous to philosophy. For Heidegger most of Western philosophy has been a matter of elaborating things extraneous to philosophy.

One does not read Heidegger so as to understand his texts if understanding means the ability to summarize or explain in different words, a different idiom. One reads so as to experience his texts, his project.

Steiner: "What blazes in Heidegger at best is a slow lightning. Heidegger would have been the first to underline the preliminary, fragmented nature of his labors. He conceived of these as a didactic, purgative preparation for a revolution in thought and in sensibility yet to come." (xxxiv-v)

Steiner takes up the issue of Heidegger's association with the Nazi movement and concludes: 1) there is no way to demonstrate that Heidegger's work in Being and Time had any direct influence on the Nazis; 2) there are in fact many areas in which Heidegger's concerns overlap with aspects of Nazi ideology; 3) the most troubling fact of all is not Heidegger's original collaboration, but his complete silence on the Holocaust after the war. (Heidegger said almost nothing about the Holocaust for the remainder of his life.)

Steiner's treatment of these questions seems at times very condemnatory, at other times even-handed: Heidegger's associations with Nazism are neither treated as insignificant, nor however are they reason to neglect Heidegger's philosophy.

Considerations on a 1955 colloquium in France: Was ist das--die Philosophie?

Heidegger's insistence on listening to etymology: "The word 'philosophy' speaks Greek." Steiner elaborates:

It is not we who are using a word that happens to be derived from the classical Greek lexicon. The power and agency of statement lie inside the word philosophia . . . . It is language that speaks, not, or not primordially, man. This, again, is a cardinal Heideggerian postulate, to which I must return. (22)
Heidegger: "[Philosophy] determines the innermost basic feature [Grundzug] of our Western-European history." Philosophy is the founding and shaping impetus of our history.

Philosophy for the Greeks was a working through of their astonishment before the question of Being/beings. Heidegger:
All being is in Being. To hear such a thing sounds trivial to our ear, if not, indeed, offensive, for no one needs to bother about the fact that being belongs to Being. All the world knows that being is that which is. What else remains for being but to be? And yet, just this fact that being is gathered together in Being, that in the appearance of Being being appears, astonished the Greeks and first astonished them and them alone. (26)
It is the task of philosophy to be, as Steiner puts it, "incessantly astonished at and focused on the fact that all things are . . . . This astonishment . . . what Heidegger will call 'the thinking of Being' . . . sets philosophy on the way toward the question of what it is that is, of what it is that indwells in all extant things, of what it is that constitutes beingness . . . ."
Socrates and Plato were the first to take 'the steps into philosophy.' This is to say, they were the first to pose the question of existence in an analytic-rational guise. Theirs is a great achievement, says Heidegger, but . . . also a symptom of decline. Anaximander, Heraclitus, and Parmenides, who came before, did not need to be 'philosophers.' They were 'thinkers' (Denker), men caught in the radical astonishment (Thaumazein) of being. They belonged to a primal, therefore 'more authentic' dimension or experience of thinking, in which beingness was immediately present to language, to the logos. Just what it signifies to experience and to speak being in this primary and 'thoughtful' way is something that Heidegger labors to explain, to illustrate, and, above all, to 'act out' in his late writings. (27)
As to the question of what philosophy is, we should not seek an answer--for to seek an answer is to guarantee a "philosophic" answer--but rather a response, a correspondence [Entsprechung]. Steiner: "A 'thinker,' as distinct from a post-Socratic or academic philosopher, is 'answerable to' the question of being." (29)

The history of philosophy is thoughtless, unthinking. Though we must engage a dialogue with "that which has been handed down to us as the Being of being," we must not do so from within the history of philosophy. Rather philosophy must be "the expressly accomplished correspondence which speaks in so far as it considers the appeal of the Being of being." (30) The summons:
Man is only a privileged listener and respondent to existence. The vital relation to otherness is not, as for Cartesian and positivist rationalism, one of "grasping" and pragmatic use. It is a relation of audition. We are trying "to listen to the voice of Being." It is, or ought to be, a relation of extreme responsibility, custodianship, answerability to and for. Of this answerability, the thinker and the poet, der Denker und der Dichter, are at once the carriers and the trustees. This is because it is in their oneness to language (to the logos), in their capacity to be spoken rather [than] to speak--a distinction that will become more intelligible as we proceed--that the truth, or can we say with Wordsworth and Hölderlin "the music of being," most urgently calls for and summons up response.

. . . Philosophy is a "distinctive manner of language," a manner that interconnects thought with poetry because "in the service of language both intercede on behalf of language and give lavishly of themselves." (32)
Heidegger was to rephrase his central question in a number of ways: "What is the Being which renders possible all being?" Steiner: "To ask why there is being instead of nothingness is to ask of the foundations (Ursprung, Urgrund) of all things. But it is also, and explicitly, to put in question the nature of the questioner himself (this will lead to the Heideggerian notion of Dasein, of that in man which 'is there'), and it comports a constant questioning of the language which enables us to, or inhibits us from, posing the question in the first place." (36) Language both enables us to and inhibits us from posing the essential questions. This is what both philosopher and poet must realize first of all.

Heidegger: "Words and language are not wrappings in which things are packed for the commerce of those who write and speak. It is in words and language that things first come into being and are." (37)

Heidegger insists that the forgetting of being is the cause of our particular dilemma. Steiner:
How did it come about that the most important, fundamental, all-determining of concepts, that of being, should have been so drastically eroded? What "forgetting" of being' has reduced our perception of "is" to that of an inert piece of syntax or a vapor? . . . To Heidegger, the history of Western civilization, seen from the two crucial vantage points of metaphysics after Plato, and of science and technology after Aristotle and Descartes, is no more and no less than the story of how being came to be forgotten. The twentieth century is the culminating but perfectly logical product of this amnesia. (38)
Steiner regrets that Heidegger neglected to use the question of music as an analogy to the question of being, as an example of an experience that we cannot summarize in other words. (43-5)

The forgetting of the question of being is now entrenched in language: it is an historical-linguistic cover-up managed through the triumphant constructions of metaphysics. Steiner: "If the 'question of being' . . . strikes us as vacuous . . . the reason is, literally, linguistic." Heidegger: "Many words, and precisely the essential ones, are in the same situation: the language in general is worn out and used up--an indispensable but masterless means of communication that may be used as one pleases, as indifferent as a means of public transport." (45)

Steiner begins an analysis of the words for being on page 46.

The Greek terms for being: ousia, or, more fully, parousia; and physis.

We have wrongly translated parousia as "substance." Parousia rather has a cluster of significations: homestead, at-homeness, a standing in and by itself, a self-enclosedness, an integral presentness or thereness.

As for physis: to emerge, to come to stand autonomously, to grow; nature.

Heidegger points out that neither term can be translated as existence, which means "a standing outside of." One may thus say that the Greek existence is almost the opposite of being. Heidegger can ground his critique of Sartrean existentialism in this etymology. Against existentialism, we must work toward a true ontology.

Steiner: "Being lives essentially in and through language. If we had no comprehension of being . . . there could be no meaningful propositions whatever, no grammar, no predications. We would remain speechless. But 'to be a man is to speak.' Man says yes and no only because in his profound essence he is a speaker, the speaker. . . . For Heidegger, to be is 'to speak being' or, more often, to question it." (50) Heidegger: "For it is questioning that is the piety of thought." (55) Steiner:
Heidegger [analyzes] what he takes to be the relation of "is" to a number of decisive "surrounding" concepts. These are "becoming," "appearance," "thinking," and the notion of obligation in "ought." This analysis is conducted via seminal passages in Parmenides, Pindar's Ninth Olympian Ode, fragments of Heraclitus, and the celebrated first chorus from Sophocles' Antigone. . . . Heidegger's return to origins, whether in the etymology of a word or in the stream of thought, is not, as we have already seen, an arbitrary or pedantic archaism (though there are elements of both in his work). It is, at its best, the expression of a deeply meditated conviction that in human thought, as in all important phenomena, "the beginning is the strangest and mightiest." (51-2)
Language is the primordial poetry in which a people speaks being. Conversely, the great poetry by which a people enters into history initiates the molding of its language. The Greeks created and experienced this poetry through Homer. Language was made manifest to their being-there [Da-sein] as departure into being, as a configuration disclosing the essent. (52)
Steiner writes on the problematic of the grounding of idealism on pages 52-3. The permanence of being vs. the flux of becoming and how thought "actualizes both being and what is opposed to being." Steiner: "That which is actually seen to be stands opposed to the changing appearance of the seeming. It is thought, not the eye, that distinguishes between permanence and motion, between essence and appearance." Thus Heidegger: "Thought is the sustaining and determining ground of being."

The metaphor of the arrow pointing upward or downward. Steiner: "As soon as being realizes itself as 'idea,' as soon as essence is 'idealized,' the arrow points upward. It points, inevitably, to 'ought,' to the category of the exemplary, the prototypical, the teleological and obligatory. In the realm of 'ideas,' essents are endowed with a purpose, a forward-directed rationality, a 'should.' This conjunction of futurity and obligation is the core of Platonic and Kantian idealism."

Steiner: "For Plato the Being of beings resides in eternal, immutable matrices of perfect form, or 'Ideas,' for Aristotle in what he calls the energeia, the unfolding actuality that realizes itself in substance. The Platonic notion engenders the whole of Western metaphysics down to the time of Nietzsche. The Aristotelian concept, with its concomitant investigation into 'first causes' and 'dynamic principles,' lays the foundation of our science and technology. [par.] For Heidegger, neither of these two legacies, the idealist-metaphysical and/or the scientific-technological, satisfies the original, authentic condition and task of thought which is to experience, to think through the nature of existence, the 'Beingness of being.' From Sein und Zeit onward, Heidegger conceives it as his essential enterprise to 'overthrow' (in a sense yet to be defined) the metaphysical and scientific traditions that have governed Western argument and history since Plato and Aristotle. Heidegger will urge relentlessly that these two great currents of idealization and analysis have sprung not from a genuine conception of Being but from a forgetting of Being, a taking-for-granted of the central existential mystery. More than this: Heidegger will seek to prove that it is the continued authority of the metaphysical-scientific way of looking at the world, a way almost definitional of the West, that has brought on, has, in fact, made unavoidable the alienated, unhoused, recurrently barbaric estate of modern technological and mass-consumption man." (28)

A long central chapter on Being and Time

Steiner: "To 'think Being' is the task of H's Fundamentalontologie, that 'ontology of foundations' which is to be distinguished utterly from the Platonic model of ideal Forms, from the Aristotelian-Aquinian network of cause and substance . . . . The 'fundamental ontology' is to replace all specific ontologies such as those of 'history,' of the physical or biological science, or sociology. . . . How does a fundamental ontology proceed? By differentiating absolutely between the 'ontic' and the 'ontological,' this is to say between the realm of external particulars, of beings, and that of Being itself. Let us note at once: the 'ontic' and the 'ontological' are as different as any two concepts or spheres of reference can be. But the one makes no sense without the other. . . . Without the 'beings' whose 'isness' it is [for us as Dasein, of course], 'Being' would be as empty a formulation as pure Platonic Form or Aristotle's motionless mover. Only by keeping this distinction sharply in mind can we ask: Was ist das Seiende in seinem Sein? In the Sophist, Plato equates this question with the attempt of mortals to wrestle with Titans." (80-1)

To repeat: "Without the 'beings' whose 'isness' it is [for us as Dasein, of course], 'Being' would be [an empty formulation]." And, according to Heidegger, it is only as Dasein that we can think Being, it is only Dasein that experiences Being as a problem. To speak in a theological register, Dasein is different from both animals and God: neither animals nor God experiences Being as a problem (though these two--presumably--avoid the problem in very different ways).

The question of Being is the problem that Dasein must wrestle with. Thus Heidegger insists that what he calls 'everydayness' and what he calls 'facticity' are constitutive of Dasein--not accidental properties added later, as if one could somehow consider Dasein abstracted from its '"being there" in the world. Heidegger uses the composite term In-der-welt-sein to stress how radically we are immersed, rooted, grounded in the world. Steiner: "[H]uman has in it humus, the Latin for 'earth.'" (82)

Theological question: But if Dasein is at its core a pre-existing soul/spirit/spark 'thrown here'? Heidegger doesn't acknowledge this of course, and he uses the concept thrownness differently. But does his very use of this concept indicate a Platonic slant? Can one speak of thrownness without also evoking the the questions: Thrown whence? Thrown whither? (Steiner notes on page 85 that for Heidegger "the notion of existential identity and that of world are completely wedded. To be at all is to be worldly. The everyday is the enveloping wholeness of being." See also p. 87.)

Steiner: "A being that questions Being by first questioning its own Sein is a Da-Sein. Man is man because he is a 'being-there,' an 'is-there' . . . . The ontic achieves Da-Sein by querying the ontological. It does so, uniquely and necessarily, by means of language. Thus, in a way that only the later Heidegger develops, Da-Sein and Sprache are mutually determinant." (82)

Steiner: "Man's being is a 'being-there.' Heidegger now expounds on the nature of 'thereness.' The crux is Alltäglichkeit, signifying 'everydayness.' All Western metaphysics, whether deliberately or not, has been Platonist in that it has sought to transpose the essence of man out of daily life. It has posited a pure perceiver, a fictive agent of cognition detached from common experience. It has disincarnated being through an artifice of introspective reductionism of the sort dramatized by Cartesian doubt and Husserlian phenomenology. This is why metaphysics has loftily relinquished the study of metaphysics to psychology, the understanding of behavior to morals or sociology, the analysis of the human condition to the political and historical sciences. Heidegger utterly rejects this process of abstraction and what he regards as the resultant artifice of compartmentalization in man's consideration of men. (82-3)

The world comes at us in the form and manner of things. The things that constitute Dasein's being-in-the-world are not just any things, but what the Greeks called pragmata and what Heidegger calls Zeug. Heidegger explains pragmata as "that which one has to do with in one's concernful dealings." His word Zeug has been translated as "equipment," "instrumentation." In German Werkzeug is "tool." Steiner: "The distinction between 'anything' and Zeug is essential to Heidegger's entire world-view." Presentness-at-hand is opposed to readiness-to-hand (Vorhandenheit and Zuhandenheit). The former characterizes the matter of theoretical study, the latter the things that are taken up. And so, rocks are present-at-hand to the geologist but ready-to-hand for the stonemason. Steiner: "That which is zuhanden, literally 'to-hand,' reveals itself to Dasein, is taken up by and into Dasein, in ways absolutely constitutive of the 'thereness' into which our existence has been thrown and in which it must accomplish its being." Heidegger:
The process of hammering does not simply have knowledge about the hammer's character as a tool, but it has appropriated this tool in a way which could not possibly be more suitable. . . . [T]he more we seize hold of it and use it, the more primordial does our relationship to it become. . . . No matter how sharply we just look at the "outward appearance" of Things, in whatever form this appearance takes, we cannot discover anything ready-to-hand. If we look at things just "theoretically," we can get along without understanding readiness-to-hand. But when we deal with them by using them and manipulating them, this activity is not a blind one. It has its own kind of sight, by which it acquires its own Thingly character.
Steiner: "Appropriate use, performance, manual action possess their own kind of sight. Heidegger names it 'circumspection.' . . . Heidegger's differentiation is not only eloquent in itself; it brilliantly inverts the Platonic order of values which sets the theoretical contemplator high above the artist, the craftsman, the manual worker." (89-90)

On pages 91-4 Steiner treats of Heidegger's understanding of the "they" and the structural foisting of responsibility in the social order--in short, inauthenticity. Steiner:
Inauthentic Dasein lives not as itself but as "they" live. Strictly considered, it scarcely lives at all. It "is lived" in a hollow scaffolding of imposed, anonymous values. In inauthentic existence we are constantly afraid (of other men's opinions, of what "they" will decide for us, of not coming up to the standards of material or psychological success though we ourselves have done nothing to establish or even verify such standards). Fear of this order is Furcht. It is part of the banal, prefabricated flux of collective sentiment. Angst is radically different. In its Augustinian, Pascalian, and, above all, Kierkegaardian sense, Angst is that which makes problematic, which makes worthy of questioning, our being-in-the-world.
Following this is a like differentiation. Heidegger distinguishes between the authentic language of Dasein, which he calls Rede, and the inauthentic language (in which Dasein is lived through the "they"), which he calls Gerede. Rede may be translated as "speech," Gerede as "talk" or "idle talk," with these two terms bordering on gossip, cliché, jargon, other such concepts. Steiner points out that there are no suitable English translations for the terms, Rede being "less formal than 'discourse,' but certainly less colloquial than 'talk.'" (94-5)

On the distinction between Furcht and Angst, Steiner writes:
Dasein "is in anxiety." Angst is the taking upon oneself of the nearness of nothingness, of the potential non-being of one's own being. "Being-toward-death is, in essence, anxiety," and those who would rob us of this anxiety--be they priests, physicians, mystics, or rationalist quacks--by transforming it into either fear or genteel indifference alienate us from life itself. Or, more exactly, they insulate us from a fundamental source of freedom. . . . Angst reveals to Dasein the possibility of fulfilling itself "in an impassioned FREEDOM TOWARD DEATH--a freedom which has been released from the illusions of the 'they,' and which is factual, certain of itself, and anxious." . . . The taking upon oneself, through Angst, of this existential "terminality" is the absolute condition of human freedom. . . . The refusal to see death as "an event," the stress on the dialectical oneness of existence and ending, arises closely and consequently from the whole construct of "being" and of "time" . . . . Without finitude there can be no truth. We are at the antipodes to Plato. (106-7)
Being and Time is a poetic work as much as a philosophical work. Or rather: for Heidegger the two inextricably overlap.

After Being and Time

After Being and Time Heidegger begins to give concealment ontological precedence over unconcealment. Steiner: "It is the mark and nature of significant truth to stay hidden, though radiant in a through this occlusion. Man, moreover, is not the enforcer, the opener of truth (as Aristotle, Bacon, or Descartes would have him), but the 'opening for it,' the 'clearing' or Lichtung in which it will make its hiddenness manifest. . . . Truth, [Heidegger says,] relates fundamentally to 'nothingness.' This 'nothingness,' however, is not nihil ('nothing'), or Vernichtung ('annihilation'). It is Nichtung, an untranslatable neologism in which 'negation' is made an active, creative force. This negation takes away from Dasein its self-evidence, its habitual inertia. It restores to Dasein its primal astonishment in the face of being. To be thus astonished is to . . . lay oneself open to the concealed presentness of the truth."

Heidegger begins to realize that in Being and Time he had fallen back into the language of metaphysics, "albeit wrenched into idiosyncratic shapes." This language cannot achieve access to the essential secret of the truth, to that hiddenness of generative nothingness at the heart of being. "If being is to be thought in depth, if Western through and society are to be freed from their anthropomorphism, from their arrogant humanism, a new kind of language must be found. Already, Heidegger is moving toward the idea that it is not man who speaks meaningfully, but language itself speaking through man, and through certain poets above all. By 1933, he is turning, increasingly, to Hölderlin." (115-6)

Heidegger: "Language is the house of Being. Man dwells in this house. Those who think and those who create poetry are the custodians of the dwelling." (127)

Steiner: "[D]welling in a house of which he is, at his rare best, a custodian, but never architect or proprietor, the thinker must be prepared to speak seldom, to speak fragmentarily when he speaks at all, and to suffer constant misunderstanding and contradiction. . . . To think fundamentally is not to analyze but to 'memorate' . . . to remember Being so as to bring it into radiant disclosure. Such memoration--again Heidegger is strangely close to Plato--is pre-logical. Thus the first law of thought is the 'law of Being,' not some rule of logic which, in any event, is a late product of the opportunistic-mechanistic impulse, incarnate in Aristotle, to classify beings, to index the world according to man's purposes and convenience." (129-30)

"It is art that allows the later Heidegger to delineate, to make as palpable as he can, the antinomy of truth's simultaneous hiddenness and self-deployment. It is art that enacts the dialectical reciprocity of cloture and radiance. . . . [The work of art conserves and gives] to Being a dwelling and a sanctuary such as it can find nowhere else. . . . Art is not, as in Plato or Cartesian realism, an imitation of the real. It is the more real. And Heidegger's penetration of the paradox leaves traditional aesthetics far behind." (134-6)

"True art, true knowledge, true technique are a 'vocation,' a 'calling forth' that imposes upon man his native 'calling.' Since Roman engineering and seventeenth-century rationalism, Western technology has not been a vocation but a provocation and imperialism. Man challenges nature, he harnesses it, he compels his will on wind and water, on mountain and woodland. The results have been fantastic. Heidegger knows this: he is no Luddite innocent or pastoralist dropout. What he is emphasizing is the price paid. Things, with their intimate, collaborative affinity with creation, have been demeaned into objects. . . . We have compelled nature to yield knowledge and energy, but we have given to nature, to that which is live and hidden within it, no patient hearing, no in-dwelling. Thus our technologies mask Being instead of bringing it to light." (139)

"The fatality of technicity lies in the fact that we have broken the links between techne and poiesis." (141)

"The nerve of poetry is the act of nomination. Authentic poetry does not 'imitate,' as Plato would have it, or 'represent' or 'symbolize,' as post-Aristotelian literary theory supposes. It names, and by naming makes it real and lasting. . . . Poetry is not language in some esoteric, decorative, or occasional guise. It is the essence of language where language is, where man is bespoken, in the antique, strong sense of the word." (145)

"Obsessed with instrumentality, with informational functionality, language has lost the genius of nomination and in-gathering as it is explicit in the original meaning of logos." (146)

Hölderlin: "Mankind dwells poetically, in the condition of poetry."

The question of Being, concealment and tautology

Steiner: "Being is not itself an extant, it is not something that can be identified with or deduced from particular beings . . . . To inquire into being is not to ask: What is this or that? It is to ask: What is 'is'? . . . Even to ask is to realize that this question has not been posed nakedly in Western thought since the pre-Socratics and that Western systematic philosophy has, indeed, done everything to conceal the question. But it is also to realize that human speech, either through some inherent limitation or because the impress of conventional logic and rational grammar is too incisive, cannot give an answer that simultaneously answers to, is authentically answerable to, the nature of the question, and satisfies normal criteria of intelligibility. This, says Heidegger, leaves only the resort to tautology. . . . [But] it may well be that the 'tautologous is the sole possibility we have of thinking, of thinking through, that which dialectics can only conceal.' We cannot paraphrase is. We cannot explicate the 'isness' of Being. We can only state it tautologically: Sein is Sein ('Being is Being')." (154) Steiner refers to the period in which Heidegger thus defends tautological thinking as a "tranquil, summarizing moment in [Heidegger's] lifework." It does seem to me however to indicate that although Heidegger has well articulated the problem he has not gone beyond an initial wrestling toward an answer. Such tautological formulae (Sein ist Sein) may stand as the best we can accomplish, but they can only be tentative. There may yet be more that language can do, if, perhaps, it stretch itself out of its current shape. Of course it is the poets that are called to undertake this deforming and reforming of language.

Is it true that only by concealing itself Being can make beings appear? That to give being to something Being itself must withdraw? The problem of this dialectic between the concealment of Being and the unconcealment of beings seems particularly worthy of thought.

Lévinas: "Being does not identify itself with [any being], not even with the concept of being in general. In a certain sense, Being is not (il n'est pas). For if Being were, it would in its turn be a being: il serait étant à son tour, whereas Being is, in some way, the very occurrence of existence in and of all beings, l'événement même d'être de tous les étants."

Richardson: "Being contracts into the beings it makes manifest and hides by the very fact that it reveals." "Being as the process of non-concealments is that which permits beings to become non-conceald (positivity), although the process is so permeated by 'not' that Being itself remains concealed (negativity)." This latter seems to me overconfident in its playing with positivity/negativity. There is something else at issue or at work.

Steiner: "To this process of concealment which brings forth openness, as the chemical medium, invisible in the darkroom, brings forth the picture, Heidegger gives the Greek name for truth, aletheia ('the unconcealed')." (66-8)

We might begin to query other metaphors like Steiner's darkroom metaphor: one of them might bring some light to the question.

Check George Steiner: Martin Heidegger at

Clay IV.6

If we assert God's omnipotence, then we might suppose that God's full and present power was withdrawn from our territory as a result of God's own will, and that this withdrawal came upon the act of creating the man of free will. This withdrawal, in some respect, would then be simultaneous with the coming into being of the man of free will.

In other words, God's omnipotence is limited by his own will: it is an omnipotence that doesn't assert itself as the absolute director of events in the world.

This is one old solution to the problem, admittedly not a very satisfactory one. Another is to suppose that God is not omnipotent, but that the world is truly a battlefield between God and some other force or forces. A third solution is that offered by the Gnostics: namely, that the world was created not by the true God, but by a deficient being such as Yaldabaoth. A fourth solution, perhaps the most sophisticated, is offered by process theology.

In any event, the assertion that "the Lord works in mysterious ways"--meant to imply that the horrors of history are all somehow part of a loving God's plan--this is unacceptable if only because it refuses to pose the question.

Clay IV.7

The first verses of Genesis suggest that God did not create the universe out of nothing. Rather the universe arose obliquely on that site where God's word met the Abyss. It is in this sense that we call God the ground of being. We may call him, to be clearer, the ground of true being.

An Other was present as the universe arose, an Other that was part of the Abyss. This Other's presence corrupted the universe to its core, a corruption reaching even the heart of men. This corruption we call the Fall, and it inaugurated humanity's fallen history.

Our fallen history led eventually to God's second act of creation, his second act of love, namely the sending of the Christ. It is this second act of creation in which we now live, and in which we place our highest hope, for with the sending of the Christ we are given the possibility, through the Spirit, of defeating that which had corrupted the first creation.

To the extent that the message of the Christ, called the Word made Flesh, touches our souls and ignites them, to this extent can we be saved. It is here both a question of our willingness to receive this gift of the Word, and to bring it to its fruition.

The future of the world is thus not entirely in God's hands. Rather the world is an embattled territory, neither abandoned by God, nor ruled by God, but at once fallen and under the dispensation of a potentially saving grace. Our words and actions are elements in a cosmic battle not only for our souls, but for the universe. This should impress upon anyone who can recognize it the true meaning of the phrase "the dignity of man." We here in the fallen world are called to complete some part of God's creation. We are nothing less than this.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Odysseus vs. Irus

ZEI students rewrite the Odyssey, cont'd. When the beggar Irus got word that there was a newcomer begging in the palace, he was furious. He came to kick out the intruder. But the intruder refused to leave! Soon it was clear there was going to be a battle of beggars. The suitors were delighted with this entertainment. When Odysseus removed his clothes, however, Irus saw his rival's muscular body. He shook with fear. But it was too late to back down.

May's Version

. . . . The suitors around them were also astonished.

"How can an old beggar have such a muscular body?" they wondered.

Those who at first wanted to see a bloody movie, Beggars' Fight, started to tremble and thought about fleeing. Of course the unluckiest of all was Irus: he wanted to run, but his feet were rooted to the spot. All he could do was cry for mercy.

"Have mercy!" he begged. "You must be an 'Odysseus' of beggars."

"You will regret your bad attitude," Odysseus replied. "You insulted me, and today you will learn your lesson--that one must show hospitality to strangers."

As soon as Odysseus finished speaking, his muscles began to get bigger; his pectorals were swelling and his arms were growing. He began almost to look like a balloon in the shape of a man. But he still continued to grow, swelling larger and larger, because he had eaten too much spinach earlier in the morning in preparation for his fight with the suitors. Swelling and swelling, suddenly BOOOM! the balloon exploded. The great hero Odysseus was dead! He had died in his beggar's disguise.

No one in the palace understood what had happened. They were all too amazed at the mystery.

Jenny Lin's Version

Indeed the fight was a cruel nightmare for Irus. At first Odysseus hit him in the face, and he nearly fell to the ground, jabbing Antinous in the arm by accident as he swung backward. When he again stood still, Odysseus prodded him in the chest and kicked him in the stomach.

"Hurray!" Amphinomus yelled and whistled for Odysseus.

"You mad fool!" Melanthius said, and kicked him. "What is Irus doing? C'mon, Irus, kick your rival!"

Irus wanted to surrender and beg for clemency. The fury surged in his heart as he was beaten by Odysseus, who finally gave him a full punch to the chest as he stood hesitating.

Irus was on the ground, Odysseus standing on him as victor.

Ariel's Version

Odysseus saw the beggar's face: it was white as chalk, and the beggar was trembling. But the suitors didn't care, they were still yelling for the fight.

Odysseus spoke to Irus: "Dear brother, let's not fight," he said. "Let's be friends. We can help each other and share what's here."

"What are you talking about, man?" Irus said. "Kill me! Kill me! You don't have to let me go."

Odysseus shook his head. "No, brother," he said, "really I want to be your friend, because I'm lonely, and you're lonely. Please, let's be friends."

Then Irus smiled. "Okay, old man," he said.

But the suitors were angry; they wanted to see the fight. They started to throw things at the two beggars. Just then Penelope appeared and told them to stop and ordered the maids to lead the beggars inside and take care of them.

Jenny's Version

"Let's fight!" Odysseus revealed his sharp teeth.

The two beggars began a fierce fight. Irus gave him a boxing, but Odysseus quickly dodged and gave Irus a sharp kick as fast as lightning. Irus fell like a hurt cat, weak and with no ability.

"You'll regret your foolish treatment of me," Odysseus said. "You'll pay for your cruelty!"

"Old beggar, old beggar!" Irus begged, grabbing Odysseus' knees. "No, no! Noble elder, please don't kill me. I have to take care of my parents and young children. Forgive my foolishness!"

"Don't worry," Odysseus said. "I will take care of them. Now you will get what you deserve."

Suddenly time stopped. Poseidon appeared with a can of spinach and said to Irus: "Irus, try this. It'll make you stronger."

Irus ate it. Almost instantly he towered up into the sky, his right foot becoming as big as the palace itself. He began to stomp on the suitors and all the people of Ithaca.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Leyner and Saunders: Two Kinds of Edge

Mark Leyner and George Saunders are the premier American satirists of the recent two decades. They are right on target in terms of what they intend to send up, and they are a riot to read: they both consistently make me laugh out loud.

There are striking differences between the two however. One difference I discovered recently is that I can maybe reread Leyner once or twice, whereas the best of Saunders' work I can return to repeatedly. Why is this?

Whereas Leyner's work is driven by cynicism, Saunders is the rare case of a razor-sharp satirist driven as much by cynicism as by warmth. This makes Saunders, for me, the greater writer. It is also, I think, the reason Saunders can capture the American idiom (the voices of different classes, professions, generations) in a way Leyner can't.

Leyner's character Mark in his novel The Tetherballs of Bougainville is a teenager only in a very conscribed Leyneresque way: it is hilarious, brilliant writing, but Mark, like Mark's dad, are both more or less Leyner himself slightly refracted. Take a Saunders story, on the other hand--"Pastoralia," or "CommComm," or the amazing Huck-inspired "Bounty"--and each character is a wonder of suffering linguistic specificity; they are palpable to the point you can see their hands gesture and feel their facial expressions as they speak.

Leyner offers off-the-wall, trenchant literary hijinks of a high order. Saunders is something different. Saunders is almost a matter of the miraculous.

Best of the Best:

Saunders: CivilWarLand in Bad Decline

Saunders: Pastoralia

Leyner: The Tetherballs of Bougainville

Leyner: My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist