Thursday, May 28, 2020
RICHARD DAWKINS SMART, NEW BOOK SHOW AGAIN
Review of Richard Dawkins: Outgrowing God
Random House, 284 pp.
Dawkins very smart. Have new book. For teens. Teens read then they smart too.
Dawkins book have neat Idea: “Let Teens Decide For Themselves”. Teens decide. Then join Dawkins defeat dumb Christians.
Because Christians DUMB.
So I read the Dawkins new book. It come out last Fall. But I finally read now.
I see book give classic arguments EVER. They same arguments in GOD DELUSION book. Oh classic!
Here my keen summarize of CLASSIC ARGUMENTS:
If God real, why many other gods?
If God real, why bad thing happen?
If God real, why atheist good?
If God real, why universe so big?
If God real, why Jesus not teach science?
If God real, why monkey?
If God real, why He no have own God?
If God real, why bad thing feel good?
If God real, why I do bad thing go to Hell?
You see now. The Dawkins very smart. And he NOT EVEN READ philosophers he refute. It AMAZING.
So YOU. Get copy Dawkins Book and be REALLY SMART and SCIENTIFIC. DO this NOW, then you be BRIGHT.
Have some deadpan with your coffee. Check out Idiocy, Ltd. Dryest humor in the west.
With special thanks to Another Aquinas Avi.
Posted by Eric Mader at 11:20 AM No comments:
Labels: Christians, Outgrowing God, philosophy, review, richard dawkins, theology
Sunday, May 17, 2020
Lovecraft's Chinese Disciple
If these fragments were as ancient as Zhang claimed, then the piece was an equal—perhaps a usurper—of the masterpiece at Altamira. The pottery was curved slightly, making it trickier than a flat surface to grasp, and far trickier to paint upon. Yet the artisan had ingeniously exploited the natural contours of the material—the pottery, the snake thereon, twisted as one. However, during my study of the fragment, I was compelled to an emotion I could not name. Distraught, anxious thoughts bubbled to the surface of my mind. I eventually noticed that the pottery shard leached a noisome ichthyoid scent, which I instinctively loathed. –Oobmab, “The Flock of Ba-Hui”
The Flock of Ba-Hui
Camphor Press Ltd., 2020, 254 pp.
When I heard late 2019 that this book would soon be out, I imagined I’d eventually review it under the title “The Horror Out of China”. But history scooped me on that one. With the subsequent chaos caused by the COVID pandemic, the review copy sent me never arrived. Then an Amazon order I placed (on another book) never arrived. Finally, not trusting the mails, I downloaded The Flock of Ba-Hui on Kindle.
The book is an exercise in developing the Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937), the reclusive and politically obscurantist New Englander whose work launched what we now call “weird fiction”. It’s an impressive collection, showing a real mastery of the Lovecraftian gamut: the style, the pacing, the protagonists, the weird metaphysics. Though I know nothing about the Chinese author Oobmab, who initially posted these stories online, I can say one thing for sure: he’s earned inclusion with distinction in that fevered clutch of horror writers who continue to mine Lovecraft’s vision.
I. Lovecraft’s Perversities
I've not read all of Lovecraft, but know the “great texts” quite well. Though I wouldn't say I'm dismissive of Lovecraft, I find there are things incompletely thought out in his project. There's an intellectual sham of sorts at work. Already at my first reading many years ago, I was struck by a fascinating paradox in his idiom. Though an avowed materialist, Lovecraft’s vocabulary of horror leans heavily on what can only be called religious terminology: the words “blasphemy”, “blasphemous”, and “abomination”, among others, appear repeatedly to describe the cosmic horrors that menace his protagonists. And so, reading along, one is led to ask: Blasphemy against what? Or: If indeed there is no God, nothing beyond the material, who or what is there to “blaspheme”? Or again: In relation to what moral system can anything be an “abomination”?
For Lovecraft, it’s clear the “blasphemy” in question is usually a matter of the appearance of phenomena that shouldn’t be possible according to our normal understanding of 1) human history, 2) the laws of nature, 3) the universe. What Lovecraft depicts as “abominable”, then, are not offenses against God, but rather offenses against what his characters previously assumed the universe to be. Things appear that shouldn’t, or mustn’t—but appear they do. This suggests we’ve been living in a naively coddled state, an everyday blindness that refuses to see the horror that lies behind the veil we’ve put up.
Is that it then? I believe that’s the gist. Lovecraft sees any Western humanist or merely “banal materialist” understanding of our condition as naïve. He would insist—or at least he would dream—that there is more to the picture; that there huddles around us a Horrible Truth that some must finally glimpse.
What would prod Lovecraft, or anyone, to keep insisting on this, to keep dreaming it? I don’t intend to take up the question. It’s clear by the very popularity of Lovecraft’s work that there are many such dreamers. Nightmare enthusiasts, rather. But is this supposed insight into a fundamental Horror that lurks truly any more “scientific” than, say, the Catholic and Thomistic insight into a fundamental Good that lurks? I would say No, it isn’t—in fact it's arguably less scientific. But that is another topic altogether. (Any who want to see what I’m getting at might start cutting their teeth here. Not the familiar fluff you might expect, reader.)
As literary phenomenon, Lovecraft’s work is a belated and oddly science-infused iteration of the Romantic sublime. It’s just that the mind-bending cascades here are not in the Swiss Alps, and the ruins are not those of the painter Hubert Robert. Rather, the cascades boast tentacles, make eerie whistling sounds, and the ruins are underground and “cyclopean”. Ultimately Lovecraft is one development of what European writers were up to already in the late 18th century. His stories would not be possible without European Romanticism.
In a way this is to say that Lovecraft, like nearly all writers, is not so much forging an entirely new kind of literature as putting a strong new twist on what he has inherited. But is Lovecraft in fact a “strong writer”? I’d say that he’s been too denigrated by some (Edmund Wilson back in the day) but is now perhaps too worshiped by others.
One of this worshipful handful is the celebrated French cynic Michel Houellebecq. Everybody reads Houellebecq’s novels now, which are in many ways rightly dubbed prophetic, but few read the Parisian bad boy’s early book on Lovecraft. The book offers a fine introduction (perhaps telling us as much about Houellebecq as Lovecraft, but still). The Guardian posted a good selection of extracts back in 2005, which I’ll link below.
Another, more recent admirer is the philosopher Graham Harman, whose book on Lovecraft comes to the conclusion that the writer “writes stories about the essence of philosophy”. Perhaps that is a workable claim for Harman’s own philosophy, speculative realism, but doesn’t seem to make much sense otherwise. Still, I’m in no place to criticize, as I haven’t read this book, and by all accounts of it I know, Harman does offer a painstaking literary analysis of passages from the tales, showing what Lovecraftian language does. I’m confident Harman can pull this off. I have great respect for him in any case, as writer of the best introduction to Heidegger’s philosophy in English.
II. Oobmab’s Tales
The Flock of Ba-Hui offers four Lovecraftian tales translated from Chinese by the expat Arthur Meursault (author of the must-read black comedy on Chinese Communist bureaucracy Party Members) and Akira, who initially discovered the tales.
As I’ve said, Oobmab has the ethos down pat. One is thrown immediately into the Lovecraftian dilemma: researcher encounters an artefact that can’t be classified, begins to pursue answers, tantalizing clues prod him toward obsession, the site of origin is finally discovered, and the Horror slowly manifests itself. Oobmab also learns from Lovecraft the writerly insight that horror is not only a matter of the visual. Like the master, the disciple here plays on all the senses, most notably and effectively smell, in narrating what his protagonists experience. His use of the gamut of senses is in fact part of what makes him so successful at recreating the Lovecraft ethos.
The striking difference from Lovecraft is in the milieu. Rather than New England, Oobmab’s main tales unfold in Chinese locales (Sichuan, Qingdao) or Tibet. The long history of China and the Tibetan plateau provide a thick archeological texture to the characters’ quests—and no, one doesn’t have to be well read in Asian history to enter these plots; the writer sketches in his researchers’ hypotheses with a deft hand, allowing any sharp reader to follow. I’m guessing Oobmab himself is a long-time student or professor of religious or cultural history.
The title tale is the strongest of the four, with its subtle integration of folklore especially impressive. I found the third tale “Black Taisui” a close second. In all the tales but one, a similar topographical progression unfolds. So as not to be a spoiler, I won’t elaborate. Still, interestingly, the one outlier of the four tales manages to exactly reverse the topography. (This outlier also happens to be the shortest and clumsiest of the tales, giving a dashed off feel in comparison to the others. Though set in an alternate fictional geography, mention is made of the Greek philosopher Ptolemy, the painter-protagonist sports a biblical-historical name, and at one point he and his friends get high off the smoke of burning "peyote wood". But peyote is a squat, rubbery cactus. It has no wood. Luckily, this piece is an exception.)
What is the vision of the universe revealed in these four tales? Of course it is in large measure classically Lovecraftian. To the extent the tales represent his thought, Oobmab’s notion of the metaphysical limits we may touch is mainly a matter of swirling chaos and vast stretches of time, which render our human historical framework almost null. This again is a version of the sublime, of course, and although these tales work very well as tales, I don’t myself find it exactly profound as metaphysics. One wonders what this writer may go on to, if he continues to write. I think more interesting philosophical tales might be forged under the tutelage of another Lovecraft disciple, Philip K. Dick. And of course: Actual philosophy, starting with the Greeks, always beckons.
I don’t mean to presume. Still, it would be fascinating to see what a writer with Oobmab’s talents might do by attempting philosophical tales under the tutelage of the best Chinese philosophy. There is, oddly, an almost unavoidable Western-metaphysical bent to both science fiction and Lovecraftian horror. Is it because Western thought, starting with the Greeks, has gotten at certain things the ancient Chinese didn’t? Or is there something else at play here, a mere matter of intellectual colonization? Certainly literary genre is a massively important vehicle of cultural influence. One may even wonder whether strictly delineated literary genres can ever move between cultures without powerfully imparting the original culture’s metaphysical presuppositions.
Though the editing shows slips here and there, the translators have done a great job turning Chinese Lovecraftian prose into suitably purple English. The book’s retro pulp cover (which I will be able to see in the flesh when I buy a print copy) warns you of the milieu you are entering. And Meursault and Akira do deliver. At first the frame tale, which the two translators provide for Oobmab’s stories, irked me with the overly arch tone of its narrator (imagine Dan Brown narrating a meeting of the Illuminati) but by the end, given where the frame tale led, I ended up convinced. Which is to say: it gave me a good laugh. Congrats on a fine conceit.
The translators also provide notes, for any who want to further pursue Chinese arcana.
All in all, The Flock of Ba-Hui is a deeply entertaining collection of eldritch mishaps and mayhem.
Check The Flock of Ba-Hui on Amazon.
Excerpts from Michel Houellebecq’s H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life.
Check my novel A Taipei Mutt, now in second edition. The Asian capital unmuzzled. More bark, nastier bite.
Posted by Eric Mader at 11:03 AM 2 comments:
Labels: Arthur Meursault, Lovecraft, Oobmab, philosophy, review, The Flock of Ba-Hui, weird fiction
Wednesday, May 13, 2020
Idiot Appears at Shih-Da, Keeps Talking
COVID-19 notwithstanding, I was glad to be invited by Professor 蘇子中 of National Taiwan Normal University’s English Department to teach a two-hour class for their English undergrads. He wanted me to introduce my work to students, talk to them about genre, and prod them toward new ideas for writing. I gave the talk May 1, and planned to include a couple writing activities in class, of which we finished one. (No surprise there: I usually overplan.)
I’m posting my class handout, along with a few examples from the animal exercise below. Many thanks to Shih-Da for the invitation. First time teaching there.
Playing the Genre Games
Eric Mader / 枚德林 with 蘇子中教授
A Taipei Mutt
Idiocy, Ltd. (Ch. tr. 2018: 白痴有限公司)
I have worked many years on short prose writing, especially a genre often called “the prose poem”. Much of my work focuses on humor, absurdity, or breaking down borders between genres. Often my work drifts into a black humor or (intentionally) idiotic ranting. Today we’ll joke around a bit, in writing, and I hope you let your weird side come forward. Try to bring out and develop whatever crazy ideas you get. 反差萌.
I. Literature: What is literature? We all have some idea of literature, and many people will say they think literature is “boring”. There are obvious reasons for that. What are these reasons? But the truth is: We all live in language (which is the stuff all literature is made of) and one of the most interesting parts of everyone’s everyday life is how language works or breaks.
The borders of “literature” are thus wider than most people think. All of us, whether we think we like literature or not, do literature when we experience particularly strong language that breaks open the world in some new way.
II. Genre: What is genre? We know about the traditional “literary genres”, but we also live in multiple “everyday genres”, and these can be very good to use as material for writing. They can be used for literary writing, and many current writers do so.
If you want to have fun with writing, the main thing is: Write it down. Use your “everyday language” and push it into new, more revealing directions. Be satirical. Have fun with it. And: Keep an archive, even if it’s just a notebook.
1) Choose an animal, an interesting one, and write the name of the animal on your activity paper.
2) Write down five or six adjectives, verbs or nouns related to that animal: what it’s like, what it normally does, etc.
3) Write down something nobody would associate with that animal.
4) Now put your animal in some place where it interacts with humans. See if you can bring in the odd element you used for #3. What can you imagine your animal doing? Or: If your animal could talk, what would it say or what would it tell humans?
1) List five things you think are very annoying about life in Taipei. Try to list your pet peeves. Or: Five things that annoy you about: how people behave, certain laws, certain places or companies or types of people.
V. There are many ways to make a game out of writing. Go research the group OULIPO. Here’s a simple puzzle:
The pieces below were written in class. One student typed out and sent me the classroom work, the two others are from professors who attended. I post them in the order I received them. Can you tell which is the student?
A penguin was in my bathroom this morning. I discovered this after I was woken up by the sound of something pounding on the bathroom door. When I looked into the bathroom, I saw a penguin. An angry penguin. It kept running round and crashing into things. When the penguin saw me, it started to screeching loudly right to my face. I didn’t know why it was so irritated. Maybe it was the weather. I live in Taipei City, where it is 30℃ outside during this time of the year. I tried to splash some cold water on the penguin to calm it down, but that just angered it even more. It rushed at me and knocked me down. My knees hit the floor and I even got bruised. In the end I gave up. I sat down by the penguin. Somehow it started to quiet down. We just sat by each other in silence. Then after a while I realized the penguin was not moving anymore. I checked on it and found that it was dead. Maybe it was the heat. There was nothing I could do for it. I felt sad, even though I only knew him for one day. I buried him in the park near my apartment.
Do you think I am a close relative of Mickey Mouse? No! I hate showbiz. My talents are even more engaging and deadly. I like night. I am the Prince of all Evils. I like spreading diseases. I prefer being an invisible messenger of death to being the cute and smart Star-Chef in Ratatouille. Creating a small dish of delicacies does not interest me. I like things spectacular and on a grand scale. The Black Death is my signature work. Don't make me look cute and smart. That's not my style. I am a free soul. I like trespassing, breaking borders, messing things up, and exploring different spaces and realities. "Anyone can cook"—it’s no big deal. My motto is: Anyone can spoil the world.
The life of a hamster is a tragedy. To be precise, its life is a comedy for people who watch it, but a tragedy for itself, because for all the hours that it spends running on the little wheel inside its cage, it never goes anywhere. We may thus say the hamster is a tragic hero, as it has the hubris to think it could go somewhere and do something, but the reality is it will never make it. The hamster is a modern Sisyphus. Instead of forever rolling the stone uphill, it keeps jogging on the wheel. We should pay homage to the hamster!
More cowbell on 白痴有限公司
English edition: Idiocy, Ltd. Dryest humor in the west.
Posted by Eric Mader at 9:17 AM No comments:
Labels: English Department, Idiocy, Ltd., National Taiwan Normal University, writing, 白痴有限公司, 蘇子中
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