Friday, November 30, 2007

Three Attempts at Aphorism

1. Philosophy -- the cure is worse than the disease.

2. Where there is perfume, there is syphilis.

3. Everybody loves sarcasm.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Apropos of Nothing, II

Chapter I of The Life of St. Teresa of Avila is titled,
"How the Lord began to rouse her soul in childhood to a love of virtue, and what a help it is in this respect to have good parents."
As soon as I read that it was like I felt a pang of boredom.

UPDATED: I spoke too soon. Looks like St. Teresa was feeling some "pangs" of her own.
"Beside me, on the left hand, appeared an angel in bodily form, such as I am not in the habit of seeing except very rarely. Though I often have visions of angels, I do not see them. They come to me only after the manner of the first type of vision that I described. But it was our Lord's will that I should see this angel in the following way. He was not tall but short, and very beautiful; and his face was so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest rank of angels, who seem to be all on fire. They must be of the kind called cherubim, but they do not tell me their names. I know very well that there is a great difference between some angels and others, and between these and others still, but I could not possibly explain it. In his hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he pulled it out, I felt that he took them with it, and left me utterly consumed the great love of God. The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this intense pain is so extreme that one cannot possibly wish it to cease, nor is one's soul then content with anything but God. This is not a physical, but a spiritual pain, thought the body has some share in it -- even a considerable share. So gentle is this wooing which takes place between God and the soul that if anyone thinks I am lying, I pray God, in His goodness, to grant him some experience of it."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Bittersweet Bowl of Memory

One of the canonical examples of wish-fulfillment happened when Freud observed his daughter Anna Freud, who later became an eminent psychoanalyst in her own right, cry out while sleeping, "Stwaberries. Anna Fweud. Puddin!"

In one of those leaps of brilliance at which we can only marvel, the brave scientist deduced that she was dreaming about strawberries and pudding.

When I was growing up, I had similar dreams that my family had finally purchased the "sugar cereals," as my parents called them, which I so desperately craved.

I would lie in bed thinking happy thoughts about the delicious bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Fruit Loops I would shortly be enjoying. Only to awake to the grim reality that it was just a dream and that there was nothing but Mueslix in this forsaken house.

Well I can buy all the sugar cereal I want now.

Sigmund died in 1939.

Eat your heart out, Anna Freud.

Three Memories by Hal Parker

[Note that this post was written as a prank by the other Hal, -HP, 2010]

1. North Carolina. Growing up in the rural western reaches of North Carolina exposed me to many of the hardships of the all but lost rural agrarian section of American society. The hard manual labor from sun-up to sun-down, grimly winning from an unyielding Earth only so much food as was absolutely necessary to feed ourselves and our livestock, and growing tobacco on every other possible inch of land. The locusts had emphysema for miles. But there were fun times, too. The locusts had emphysema.

2. Being the youngest of three brothers brought its own hardships, too. Most poignant was the time that my oldest brother told me that I killed Ma by being born and that he'd tried to treat me like a brother for all those years but he couldn't do it anymore, he just couldn't do it, and then he charged me with the rake. The rake's progress was happily arrested by the beatific vision of my mother's ghost. Or, anyways, that's how I remember it. I don't know why I was in the hospital, though. Or why I went away to school later that year.

3. I loved trains. Model trains, real trains, abandoned, rusty trains full of stray cats and pet snakes, the low pedal tone of a distant freight rumbling through the Appalachian foothills, coins flattened by a train's passing. I didn't much like the hobos, though. They would ask me funny questions, and their eyes were always a dull red, like they hadn't slept in days. Or maybe they were zombies. That would explain the time one chased me with a rusty spoon.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Three Memories by Hal Pratt

[Note that this post was written as a prank by the other Hal -- HP, 2010]

1. Evanston, IL. That's where I'm from. It's the place from which I set out and to which I may one day return. Where is Evanston? It's in Illinois, "The Corn State." When most people think of Illinois, they think, "That's the 21st state to enter the Union," but did you know we grow a great deal of corn? Soybeans, too. In my first grade class there was a picture of Abraham Lincoln on the wall. He looked so sad. As a youngling I swore I would get myself a hat like that. Years ago I saw such a hat on sale, but I didn't buy it. I had grown up.

2. The summer of 1999 was a summer of baseball and math problems. We ate corn on the cob and played with autistic children. Other stuff too, probably, but whatever. Of course not everyone ate their corn on the cob. Some people ate it on a plate with a fork, but we looked at those people askance, even the autistic kid. All in all, it was a really hot summer.

3. My favorite movie about corn? Definitely Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest. It's a bittersweet coming-of-age film about being on your own in the big city. It's a film about brotherhood and a film about America, but more than anything it's a movie about the wayward fortunes of the little vegetal bloodcult that could.

Here's a painting I made about my feelings toward the film:

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Three Thoughts

1. Middlesex is a terrible book. It's a lifeless puree of Roth, Rushdie, and Marquez, and this is especially unfortunate since Eugenides' first book, The Virgin Suicides, was singularly brilliant. Middlesex takes up a challenging subject only to dispatch it in the most frivolous way possible. In my opinion, the really monstrous thing about Calliope Stephanides is not the wasteland of her insufficiently-developed genitalia, but the wasteland of her insufficiently-developed inner life.

2. Sweet potatoes are healthier and tastier than regular potatoes. Why, then, do we eat regular potatoes at all? I submit that we should make a total switch in our national diet.

3. The new advertising scheme for Herbal Essence boasts that it's, "so good it will put clean thoughts in your head." But does anyone remember the old advertising campaign with the beautiful woman in the shower washing her hair and making "orgasmic" sounds? That campaign was so good. Why on earth would they change it? It was the kind of thing for which people in the ad industry won awards and exchanged spontaneous back-slaps. The new campaign is, by contrast, reminiscent of some 19th century admonition against masturbation.

Friday, November 23, 2007

A Lichtenberg Smorgasbord

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799) was, by all accounts, a pretty neat dude. A buddy of Kant and Goethe, he was an eminent physicist and mathematician, a formidable satirist and critic, and an all-around beau esprit. Kotzbue wrote a pamphlet denouncing him. Nietzsche praised him as one of the few Germans worth reading. He had many affairs. I've been reading his "Trash Notebooks" -- a collection of brilliant, cynical aphorisms in the tradition of La Rochefoucauld. The man is just pure gold. Here are some representative excerpts from the Sudelbuecher:

"I have always found that so-called bad people gain in one's estimation when one gets to know them better, and good people decline."

"There are very many people who read simply to prevent themselves from thinking."

"The noble simplicity in the works of nature only too often originates in the noble shortsightedness of him who observes it."
"Such people do not really defend Christianity, but they let Christianity defend them."

"Woe to the genius in countries where there are no earthquakes."

"Much can be inferred about a man from his mistress: in her one beholds his weaknesses and his dreams."

"Of all the animals on earth, man is closest to the ape."

"People often become scholars for the same reason they become soldiers; simply because they are unfit for any other station."

"What you have to do to learn to write like Shakespeare is very far removed from reading him."

"The metaphor is much more subtle than its inventor, and so are many things. Everything has its depths. He who has eyes sees all in everything."
This one particularly applies to precepts in my experience (Overhead in PHI 302, Girl: "I think Aristotle was kind of a snob"):
"A book is like a mirror: if an ape looks into it, an apostle is unlikely to look out."
Took me awhile to get this one:
"What leaning on your right elbow means after you have been leaning on your left for an hour."
"Why are young widows in mourning so beautiful? (Look into it)."
I don't get it:
"She stood there beside him like an Etrurian lachrymatory, a Dresden milk-jug beside a Lauenstein beer-mug."

Monday, November 19, 2007

For Willem

"The ass seems to me like the horse translated into Dutch."
-Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Halla Back

When you describe someone as "nice," aren't you basically saying, "I have nothing interesting to say about this person."

It seems to me that niceness is a quality which emerges only in the absence of other qualities.

Nice is boring. Cows are nice. But you can't get drunk with cows, you know?

Anyway, many of the best people I know are assholes.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Ecrasez Le Prince!

OK, there's no way I can even begin to respond in any kind of systematic fashion to what you wrote, so instead I will contribute a few things, some serious and some light, which in aggregate and combination may shed some light on the pas de deux and experiment in narcissism that is HAL VS. HAL.

1. First, I would like to quote in full the Lichtenberg epigram to which you allude.
"Everyone should study at least enough philosophy and literature to make his sexual experience more delectable."
-Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Notebooks
Fantastic, obviously. But this is no idle quotation. I think it raises the question of what is the proper value and function of knowledge in the context of a well-lived life. Admittedly, Lichtenberg seems to have a louche idea of what constitutes a well-lived life. Nevertheless, his impulse to seek an ultimate context for the pursuit and use of otherwise hermetic and lofty disciplines strikes me as correct. (Also, his louche idea of what constitues a well-lived life strikes me as correct).

2. You take offense with the perceived mendacity of Anscombites who deploy the rhetoric of feminism or medicine in order to bolster items from a preordained religious agenda. So do I. In fact, I believe I kind of started this whole thing with an email about that article to the nass masthead, reproduced below:
"Yet another stunningly disingenuous column from an Anscombite. This one claims that Princeton misstates the risks of sex because it fails to inform students that women are in fact commitment-zombies who are constitutionally unable to have casual sex. According to Dr. Miriam Grossman, it's science, ladies -- "oxycotin" specifically.

What irritates me about these articles is the dishonesty and disingenuousness which underwrite them. They have no true interest in science, and they have no true interest in feminism. Rather, since a morality derived from a religious world-view has become the love that dare not speak its name, they scavenge through the leavings of other fields, desperate to find anything which will prop up the crumbling edifice of conventional religion. How pathetic."
Now this was an email written in the intensity of private communication, so I don't know if I would put it in exactly these terms on this blog, but I think I still agree with what I wrote. These Anscombites try to come across as helpful and secular-rational, but all we see is dishonest and cowardly.

3. Is religion at root an individual or social phenomenon? You seem to side with individual, but I think the contemporary individuality of religion is to some extent a defense mechanism against the soulless materialism of modern public life. Also, we should examine to what extent our conception of the individuality of religion is due to the advent of Protestantism, as opposed to something intrinsic to religion itself. There are of course pre-Protestant examples which are emblematic of the individuality of religion -- e.g., Saul of Tarsus.

But, let's not shortchange the communal, social aspect of religion. One of the most greatest sociologists of all time, Emile Durkheim, thought that religion was exclusively a social phenomenon. Think of how central "church-going" is as opposed to scripture-reading to a religious population.

Here are two counter-arguments to the charge of Anscombe mendacity:
4. All our beliefs are overdetermined and underjustified. We somehow assemble bodies of beliefs which put forth the semblance of coherence, and we live under the spell of this coherence. Nobody does anything for purely religious reasons, and everything contains an admixture of everything else. Therefore, we should demand a motley justification of our ways adequate to the motley disposition of our beliefs.

5. Christians believe that God designed the universe. If this is true, won't the other disciplines (non-theological ones) be ultimately engaged in elucidating this design? We should expect biology, history, etc. to confirm theology because all of these things are ultimately the study of God and God's own in different ways. Leibniz, in his book, Confessio Philosophi compares philosophy to the activity of polishing a mirror the better to reflect the truth of revealed religion.

Lastly, consider the Scholastic credo, "intellego ut credam" - -"I understand in order to believe." This kind of dovetails with (4.) -- we believe what we believe not for simple reasons we can lay out, but rather based on the turbulent inertia of existence. Some intellectual arguments lead us to religious conclusions. Knowledge, science, medicine -- these are only expedients for living -- or if your name is Georg Christoph Lichtenberg -- expedients for fucking.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Chapter LC: Wherein our protagonists recall their titular argument

It's a bad sign for my stability that, having encountered the word 'titular' with more-than-average frequency over this weekend, I still feel compelled to misread it as referring to boobs. Namely, me.

Anyways, so, dialogue!

In yon days, there was an entertaining bit of polemicism regarding everyone's favorite application of latex since we started coping with stress with sex as opposed to gum chewing:

There are so many things to make fun of here that I pondered creating photocopies and having impromptu breakfast seminars to put together a small journal which would be called:

"The psychosomatic risks of sex on college campuses: A study of how 20-somethings are pathologically incapable of making healthy decision, and are otherwise stable and boring to write journals about"

This would actually just be an amalgam of funny stories, prurient drawings, and various re-write of messer Nava's column in different contexts (for instance, a re-imagining of it as a Senate oration by Cato.

"With a serious and concentrated effort, the campus can raise even greater awareness about the psychosomatic risks of casual sex, and destroy Carthage."

In the interests of avoiding any confusion with an un-self-interested me, I would also like to add that there are HUGE psychosomatic risks of casual abstinence. Or, as we discussed on the Nass-list, one should only read just enough philosophy to enjoy sex, and not so much that one becomes incapable of it. No one warned 15-year-old Hal!

However, while this would have been fun (but it was probably more fun to just suppose doing it and then write the above, since it involved no work), the thing that really vexes me about that column, or similar columns about euthanasia, abortion, the death penalty, and just about anything else that involves coitus or killing as a matter of public policy (except, apparently, wars and economic sanctions, because moral indignation is only ok when it involves things with personalities, and not populations), is the obnoxious, characteristically post-Vatican II religious conservative tendency to phrase arguments whose motivation is ideological in terms of the very disciplines which said conservatives hold in suspicion.

That is, for instance, that Prince column is upset at the university for distributing condoms to students because sometimes students use them in ways that they really, really regret afterwards. Now, I'm personally as excited about chlamydia outbreaks and unintended pregnancies as the next Manichaean desirious of the end of the human race, but, um... seriously. The only possible objection anyone could have for free prophylactics is religious.

Whence my irritation. If you object to the University's distribution of condoms because you feel that any behavior which encourages sin is intrinsically sinful, that's actually a completely valid position. There's nothing a priori wrong with theocracy; in fact, if you think about it, if one could create a valid theocracy, it would be an ideal government (since, an ideal theocracy would, definitionally, order the world as your favorite omnipotent deity deems best, and, being omnipotent, if'n yfod deems it best, it, uh, is best). However, happily, this ideal is purely theoretical, since yfod is not my favorite omnipotent deity (mine likes pecan pies much more than yours does), so in the meantime we get to continue to make shit up and hope we're vaguely approximating the desires of an unknown mysterious power.

So what bothers me about what I'm terming closeted theocrats, (yes, I'm suggesting that they all have self-loathing homosexual fantasies, and continue to elect representatives with self-loathing homosexual tendencies, purely because this amuses me) is that, instead of making perfectly good arguments that limpidly demonstrate the significant metaphysical distance between themselves and everyone else, they try to pretend that for the same reason that, um, sane people have determined that you should do things so that you don't cause the number of babies or parasites increase at undesired rates, you actually SHOULDN'T do these things. I imagine there are two reasons:

1 - Demonstrating inherent flaws in your opponents argument that end up proving your own point is like every debater’s wet dream.

2 - They're a few too few degrees of academic separation away from Niehaus, who's all into this natural law, you can use logic alone to demonstrate the superiority of religious positions.

Now, I'm going to use point 1 in my objection to point 2. In doing so, I will be horrendously lazy and sloppy. This is where you come in, Hal, and try to make me more cogent. We might need to give Stefan temporary posting privileges, too.

I hate hate hate people who try to make religious points without starting out from religion. I think it's patently dishonest to say "Now, I think I should act this way because Hell is scary as fuck (no one should act according to this, but yeah), but you should just be swayed by the cleverness of my arguments. Also, my really snazzy outfit." It's also not useful. As far as I'm concerned, the power of any religious argument stems from one of two sources:

1 - Religious experiences (which are, a priori, incommunicable, so, um... you actually are just supposed to pray for other people to have them. See how that works?)

2 - Extensions of religious experiences to prefer a religious world (that is, and I'm badly stealing from my memory of Schleiermacher, religious experiences are intensely personal, but give birth to a desire for intersubjective experiences, or, are the vehicle for such experiences, insofar as they are possible on Earth, and as such, a community of people who have/are having such experiences would try to shape the outward fashion of their world to facilitate such experiences in those who have not had them).

So, basically, if you're going to say that people shouldn't use condoms for casual sex because they shouldn't be having casual sex because it reduces the partner to an object of desire and pleasure, and reduces the self to an unrational animal which must be satiated, robbing both of the more full and valuable life-experience which would be otherwise had, um, just say that. (This is my argument for why no one should listen to music I dislike. It's sadly uncompelling, however, since said music seems to be a pretty big barrier towards getting wasted and dancing and subsequently hooking up with someone. Fuck you. I'm going to listen to Anthony Braxton now, out of spite).

If people naturally came to behave as religion would have them behave by the use of reason in the absence of a religious experience, what would religion be? Why would we even bother with it at all? There OUGHT to be arguments and contention between the religious and the non-religious, signs of contradiction, and so on. This is the self-defeating part of the closeted theocrat’s position, and the one that angers me as a religious person… I like my religion. I find it extremely useful and valuable. I don’t share it nearly as much as I should, though. Do you know why? Because these guys are stigmatizing it, by first pretending that it’s unnecessary to draw conclusions from it, and avoiding doing so because they expect these conclusions will then be rejected out of hand. That is, the CT’s avoidance of explicitly religious arguments concedes that, yes, it is not valid to use your religion as a basis for behavior in the public sphere. Plus, they have really stupid positions. Vexing in the extreme.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Three Memories

1. When I was five years old, for reasons quite inexplicable I poured a glass of milk over my younger brother Rob's head. Rob started to cry until I told him, "you're the milk man, Rob." For reasons that are again quite inexplicable, Rob stopped crying and instead began to dance in the pool of milk spreading across the kitchen floor, proclaiming in song his newfound title. Our babysitter quit the next day. I consider this Rob's finest moment.

2. One night sitting at the dinner-table, my parents began to question my brother and me as to our doings that day at elementary school. To their mystified consternation, I refused every attempt at inquiry and declined to say anything about my day. At last I explained, "I just don't see how it's any of your business."

3. Ted is bragging about gullible he is. Rob and I both claim to be more gullible than Ted. Ted volunteers that when people tell him that "gullible is written on the ceiling," he waits until they leave and then checks just to make sure. We are impressed.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Rock Lyrics

I was listening to !!!'s Myth Takes, specifically, the track 'Sweet Life,' and I noticed that the chorus, which is fantastic, has the following lyrics:

A! A! B! B! C-C! D-D! C-C-D-D! C-D! A! A! B! B! C-C! D-D! C-C-D-D! D-D! A! A! B! B! C-C! D-D! C-C-D-D! C-C! A! A! B! B! C-C-C-D-! C-C-C-D! C-C!

Now, my first instinct was to memorize this sequence since it's kind of interesting and cool. Then I thought "What the hell? Why is this so cool?" And I decided that it, like most lyrics in rock, by which I suppose I here mean music in which the frontman is lionized and cool, are cool inversely to their intrinsic value as words. Now there are patently good lyrics- due to predilections of the moment, I immediately think of either the Kinks or Smiths (I actually think I might try to make this predilection permanent. I can think of worse things that first thinking of the Kinks and Smiths), but, then, Morrissey or Ray Davies are, by any standard, atypical. "What she asked of me at the end of the day, Caligula would have blushed." Yeah.

But, in general, you have someone shouting "Shout!" or letters from the alphabet or "BABY" or just making breathy noises evocative of lung disease and/or sex. Which is what you would expect because, part of the mystique (aside from tight, tight pants, which I still don't get. Autoerotic asphyxiation? I dunno), is the elevation of the banality. This isn't at all an elitist thing, either, if you're going for a reaction from a crowd, you have to aim at crowds, and if the reaction you're aiming at is dancing and enthusiasm and irrationality, banality is precisely what you'd want to achieve. Or, even, if you do have interesting lyrics, the singing's going to obscure them in the interests of the above considerations.

It reminds me of when, in 7th grade, our jazz band director was trying to convince us all to play fewer notes, which is, I think, a pretty universal 7th grade jazz band experience. You're just old enough to have started listening to jazz (and yet, ostensibly, you've been playing it for two or three years. And people wonder why school bands sound as they do...), and you notice "Wow, these guys play really fast!" because you don't know enough to pay attention except for when that's happening, and you think that's what you're supposed to do, so your teacher has to remind you that a) you sound terrible, and b) the cool parts are actually not the fast parts. Or, as my instructor said, people go nuts not when someone's flying through scales, but when they land on a high note and sit there. Of course, that's not interesting or intelligent, but everyone goes "Oh." It's universal. It's engageable.

Anyways, so I want to see a rock band that isn't They Might Be Giants do children's albums because really, the writing style of Eric Carle and Eric Hill (If I told you that was the pre-eminent Brill Building songwriting team of 1958, wouldn't you believe me? You're too credulous. And you don't know enough about Brill Building pop) is begging for a funk/electronica adaptation.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Late Night Walks

Princeton is a strange place, because it's very pretty, although, at the same time, deeply flawed. No good central location, no indelible image, except maybe Blair Arch, but that's auxiliary, or Nassau Hall, which is on the edge of campus. Anyways, it was designed piecemeal and redesigned haphazardly, one of those every-three-years-we-have-a-new-five-year-plan-I-use-too-many-hyphens things.

But if you wander around it at night, very late, it all works wonderfully. Maybe it's because of the lighting, which is far too light-polluting, but, I mean, it's NJ, does it matter? or the eerie quiet (tho less eerie than the sunrise quiet bussle, which is just energizing), the, in main, absence of squirrels and abundance of delicious and cute and fluffy bunnies, the relative enlargement of buildings in darkness, the absence of idiot skateboarders... I dunno. Maybe they surrepstiotiously play special infrasound frequencies during the night time so you feel differently to encourage work-abetting insomnia. But anyways, wandering around at 4 am is way more fun than it should be.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Tooth Brushing

My new toothbrush has small rubber parts that massage my gums, and make me feel vaguely insouciant. This has had the unexpected effect of making me purposefully eat foods that make my teeth dirty that I might have the excuse to brush them. The candy/dentristry conspiracy theories of my youth have returned with greater force. This is the most poignant example of Nietzche's eternal return in my life.