Thursday, August 16, 2007

Apropos of Nothing

Recently I encountered these lines from a poem by Elizabeth Bishop:

'Love's the boy stood on the burning deck
trying to recite, "The boy stood on
the burning deck." Love's the son
stood stammering elocution
while the poor ship in flames went down.'

Lizzie B really nails something here, I think. So often in the tumult of various situations (not just "love" -- with which I have zero acquaintance) we fall back on staid preconceptions of what we're supposed to do or think or feel, and in so doing we sometimes neglect the reality at hand. Bishop's image of the boy standing on the burning deck trying to recite, "The boy stood on the burning deck" is just perfect.

Heidegger articulates a perhaps similar concept called das Man or the "they" -- which roughly (really roughly) describes the tendency of human beings to accede to default modes of existence without examining these modes or truly appropriating these modes for themselves. However, whereas the boy's trouble in the poem seems to have its origin in his over-intellectualizing the situation, the "they" is associated with unreflective absorption which has not yet heeded the call of anxiety.

Let's hear about your music idea.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Hal also conveys alcoholism

Well, apparently there was a German howitzer called "Big Bertha" which demolished Belgian forts in Liege, Namur, and Mauberge, which was named for the manufacturer's wife. I think the reputation grows from there, along with general associations of big, manly Central European housewives with rolling pins and penchants for brandywine. Also, if you wikipedia "Big Bertha," along with the guns, you get a story about a bass drum built for UofC which was contaminated during the Manhattan Project, then decontaminated, and is now apparently at UTexas, and there's some asinine frat-boy story. This may be a microcosm of Wikipedia as a whole.

Also, I think the "B" gives the name it's heft... Betty is hardly any skinnier. But, like, Martha, that's not a fat name... and I can't think of any "er" names right now.

Anyways, I thought I mentioned to you what I indulgently call nominal determinacy, the tendency for people to grow into the name they are given. This is of course totally absurd, but that hardly seems to be a criticism anymore, anyways. But yes, naming your child is like the second act of parenting, its essential to get it right. Of course, the notion that one can get it right is probably why I will be one of those awful parents who simultaneously squash their children while inspiring irrational devotion, but still, at least, you have to pick a name cognizant of three facts:

1 - They will be mocked sometime between the ages of 7 and 12 with this name. This inspires regularity, so that you know your child's tortures are of the bland, generic kind, which, like undercooked gruel, can only serve to strengthen the child's resolve.
2 - This is the name you have to be able to deliver with vindicative fury and righteous anger upon your child's transgressions. This prevents the use of French names... try scolding Remy or Guy. Conversely, how do you even pronounce Archibald but with a sneer? One can escape this, of course, by the use of properly pretentious middle names. Even a name as flaccid as James can be declaimed successfully if properly buoyed. James Winston Marlborough, your insulting lack of table etiquette almost makes me as ill as your sickly sister, Minnie.
3 - This name will appear on their office door, so proper selection of initials is key. If I may humbly submit as an example, HTP. All three are of equal width in most typefaces. The symmetry of the T, as well as its air of elevation, makes it a strong candidate for a middle initial. Compare with, say, IFB. There is a strange sense of the medical about these initials, and the weight of the F and the B almost completely overshadow the I.

It's a daunting task. Happily we've no reason for innovation.

On the fatness front... I was thinking- doesn't being fat affect a lot more people's lives a lot more negatively than drugs? What if we legalized marijuana, made the use of all sorts of food additives illegal, and declared a War on Fat? Ban Bertha as a name. Replace Little Debbie with Little Doobie. This is totally a good idea.

Also, yesterday I have a great musical brainstorm, which is actually a terrible idea, but once I have some freetime in early September, I'm going to spend it on this. I'll explain tomorrow.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Is Your Baby's Name Too Fat?

Yeah I guess I was being melodramatic regarding the things you mention. It really doesn't discomfit me a whit to look at Greek or Roman art sans classical worldview or Pound sans fascism.

I think you're essentially correct to distinguish religious dogma from religious experience. This would allow a secular-humanist appreciation of religiously-bound art and literature without committing to the dogmatic trammels of their creators/co-religionists. You seem to further characterize the type or religious experience necessary as a "cognizance of the infinite" or "shared sense of being human" -- both of which phrases I like and think are fascinating. Basically I like your solution although I still have serious reservations.

However, rather than share these (boring) reservations, I've decided to change the subject entirely in order to talk about something else of equal weight I've been pondering recently.

Whenever I hear the name "Bertha," I can't help but think of a fat person. Why is this? Is it the sound of the word (e.g., the rounded "er" sound)? Or is it the way our culture presents people named "Bertha" in movies and television? A combination of the two?

If I named my daughter Bertha, would she be prone to sweller up like a pumpkin? Are names determinative of the entities they name, or are they content-less labels affixed at random?

More importantly, should we be giving our children "thin" names? The thinnest name I can think of is, "Splivka," but that's probably not a real name because I just made it up. What are some real thin names? Meredith? Victoria? Maximilian? What are some fat names? Fanny? Molson? Pieface?

William sounds thin, but Billy sounds fat. A paradox?

I wonder what connotative baggage "Hal" carries -- I mean, besides the murderous-computer baggage.

Friday, August 3, 2007


Sorry! I rather forgot about this. I'm afraid I've just not had the mental stamina to summon up a strong response to your question... so it will stick to vague statements and generalities and precept-ish nonsense. Albeit all true.

My first question upon rereading your post is that it's odd that you fixate so much on the possibility of intellectual dishonesty in enjoying a work of art made for religious reasons. Does it vex you to look at Greek or Roman art without their worldviews? I don't know how much exposure you have to European takes on "Eastern" religion, but what does it mean to read a German who has sort of adopted a cloak of Buddhism? How do you read any of the grotesquely authoritarian authors in European history?

Now, I grant that there's a difference between caring that Pound is a facist and caring that a Mass is, um, a mass... but is it so much of a difference? I suspect that this is where the discomfiture arises... religion (among other things, but religion most pointedly) seems to object to being considered abstractly. One can imagine "Suppose I thought..." just about anything, but what about the idea that such supposition is, of itself, wrong? (It's dubious that this is what religion demands, but it's not outside of religion, either. That is, most religion admits of sinners, but it won't admit that you didn't sin).

Only, I don't think that's right at all. Because the religious experience precedes dogma. And this, I suppose, is why I find your fixation curious, why I don't see why you're over-concerned about your Moabite's dishonesty. I think it's pretty clear that what you object to in a Dawkins is the sense one has that no one will, on their deathbed, read The Selfish Gene, but God only knows how many people have read Boethius, that it somehow fails to resonant with the vagaries of sentience- fear of death, loneliness, time, love, hate, and so on. Incidentally, having only read bits of Dawkins, I don't know that he isn't actively trying to do that. "Oh, loneliness is evolution telling you to reproduce! Hate is you killing babies so there's more food for your genes!" My genes are vomiting.

So, can you read Tolstoy without selling everything you own? Of course! It's entirely possible to have an honest and authentic interaction with art without subscribing to its creator's dogma, what's necessary is the shared sense of being human, which, I'm of late given to suspect, is cognizance of the infinite (or, rather, lack thereof. Knowing that there is a limitless potential subjective experience which is of value solely by virtue of its existence which is beyond what anyone does accomplish, and yet, in principle, not beyond what one could accomplish). I occasionally am given to fright that someday by some scientific tyranny we may be forced to admit to a perfect knowledge of how our minds work, and then I suppose life is as trite as The Matrix, but that won't happen, actually. Thank God.