Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Three Portraits of the Underworld

From an early sketch for the Arcades Project, quoted in the NYRB (Walter Benjamin):
"One knew of places in ancient Greece where the way led down into the underworld. Our waking existence likewise is a land which, at certain hidden points, leads down into the underworld -- a land full of inconspicuous places from which dreams arise. All day long, suspecting nothing, we pass them by, but no sooner has sleep come than we are eagerly groping our way back to lose ourselves in the dark corridors. By day, the labyrinth of urban dwellings resembles consciousness: the arcades ...issue unremarked onto the streets. At night, however, under the tenebrous mass of the houses, their denser darkness protrudes like a threat, and the nocturnal pedestrian hurries past --unless, that is, we have emboldened him to turn into the narrow lane."
From "Kubla Khan" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:
But oh ! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover !
A savage place ! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover !
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced :
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail :
And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean :
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war !
From Virgil's Aeneid, Book VI:

Talibus orabat dictis, arasque tenebat,
cum sic orsa loqui vates: `Sate sanguine divom,
Tros Anchisiade, facilis descensus Averno;
noctes atque dies patet atri ianua Ditis;
sed revocare gradum superasque evadere ad auras,
hoc opus, hic labor est. Pauci, quos aequus amavit
Iuppiter, aut ardens evexit ad aethera virtus,
dis geniti potuere. Tenent media omnia silvae,
Cocytusque sinu labens circumvenit atro.
Quod si tantus amor menti, si tanta cupido est,
bis Stygios innare lacus, bis nigra videre
Tartara, et insano iuvat indulgere labori,
accipe, quae peragenda prius. Latet arbore opaca
aureus et foliis et lento vimine ramus,
Iunoni infernae dictus sacer; hunc tegit omnis
lucus, et obscuris claudunt convallibus umbrae.
Sed non ante datur telluris operta subire,
auricomos quam quis decerpserit arbore fetus.

Monday, January 28, 2008


Here are three quotations on the subject of solitude from Montaigne, Goethe, and Pascal.

From Montaigne's Essais:
"The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself."
From Dichtung und Wahrheit, Book 15:
"The common destiny of man, which we all have to bear. . . . We may grow up under the protection of parents and relatives, we may find support from brothers and sisters and friends, we may be entertained by acquaintances and made happy by beloved persons. But still, the finale [das Final] is always that man is thrown back upon himself, and it seems as if even the Deity had taken such a position toward man so as not always to be able to respond to his reverence, trust, and love -- at least not precisely in the moment of urgency."
From Pascal's Pensees:
"I know not who put me into the world, nor what the world is, nor what I myself am. I am in terrible ignorance of everything. I know now what my body is, nor my senses, nor my soul, not even that part of me which thinks what I say, which reflects on all and on itself, and knows itself no more than the rest. I see those frightful spaces of the universe which surround me, and I find myself tied to one corner of this vast expanse, without knowing why I am put in this place rather than in another, nor why the short time which is given me to live is assigned to me at this point rather than at another of the whole eternity which was before me or which shall come after me. I see nothing but infinites on all sides, which srround me as an atom, and as a shadow which endures only for an instant and returns no more. All I know is that I must soon die, but what I know least is this very death which I cannot escape."

Friday, January 25, 2008


Here are some "notes" towards the creation of a manifesto for a publication, Errata, with which I am affiliated. I began them a long time ago, but only recent rediscovered them while cleaning my room.

auto-da-fe to our own narcissism

crippling [crossed-out] fidelity

oral stage --> genital sexuality
Clearly I was going important places in these notes.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Finals always cause me to make terrible puns

Sadly, they all only make sense to computer science types, because I don't have time to take fun courses. I do distinctly recall in yon days making terrible puns during the aural part of my music final... but alas, nevermore.

As an example: when I elided part of a proof in my class on Languages & Type Systems, I wrote "I'm tired of this, so I'm going to stop typing," which is funny, because I may have been referring to typing at my keyboard, or the activity of typing a program.

Or, just this moment, which inspired me to make this post, I made a positively inane joke, which relies on the fact that a tree is a graph that has like 50 or so (I exagerrate, but there are seriously a lot) definitions, or, anyways, necessary and sufficient properties, one of which is that it is a connected graph where all nodes are connected by a unique path.

"the path is unique because we live in Treeville [the professors gave the town this name in the problem. I'm not completely crazy. Right?], where every path is unique, the well-known Montessori school of urban development"

My favorite thing about this torturous pun is that it contains within itself yet another pun, urban development vs. child development, as well as the fact that I am given to suspect on no solid basis whatsoever that most Montessori schools are in urban areas (or maybe suburban? Anyways, not rural), which is even worse than the original pun. Eventually I will manage a meta-metapun, to encode within a pun a pun about encoding puns in puns. With any luck, it will be while discussing either language, puns, or encodings. I will then be filled with a beatific calm at the orderly, self-referential, complete structure of the universe. Then either a car horn will honk, a window slam, or a little kid will do something very unstructured and capricious, like burn a house down because she hasn't yet learned that fire burns things, and I will be glad that that grotesque sham of reality is just the overambitious dream of a generally overwhelmed little brain. I'll be more glad for a fire extinguisher, but the metaphysical shock is welcome.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Whenever people talk about the death penalty, I feel sad

Take this, for example, from the BBC:

"Hanging causes a fracture between the second and third cervical vertebrae, fracturing the joint, tugging the spinal cord, damaging the brain stem and causing the heart to stop. Still common in many parts of the world, it's nevertheless an exact science - if the rope is too short, the prisoner may not die instantly; too long and he may be decapitated. The latter seems to have been the case last year in the botched hanging of Saddam Hussein's half-brother "

What are they talking about? You're KILLING someone. How is DECAPITATION a "botched hanging"? Also, what is "seems" about this? HE WAS DECAPITATED. This is not, um, something one need speculate about.

Also, inevitably, the wonderful world of internet comments leads to a barrage of alternately "The death penalty is wrong, and I will argue this with a grotesquely smug tranquility, peon," and "These inhuman criminals need to be tortured! You're all effeminate anti-globalization communist hippie gay fags," statements. I like how this underscores that the internet is probably going to be the underpinning of our future surveillance society, because, otherwise, you can't buy things safely on Amazon, and the RIAA/MPAA can't sue you for using P2P, and you might be a terrorist, anyways. I hate that word SO MUCH!

*rant elided

(I have decided to start using this as short hand for my getting irrationally upset about a triviality).

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Those Were The Days

It's not nostalgia, it's a Cream reference (yes they were).

Our best HvH ever!

The Joy of Education


Dearest IV,

My idea of education is that everyone should be able to hit a target, solve a differential equation, and read Latin. If you’re not learning how to do these things, you’re basically wasting your time at college. The Greek word paideia…the advent of humanism…blah blah blah…the liberal arts…at last the development of the modern university. Let the game begin. You have to choose three things that comprise your idea of education. They shouldn’t be too specific, too general, too useless, too useful, or too boring (like “principles of accounting”). The only real requirement is that they be interesting. This game is endless fun and an art unto itself. You can have as many ideas of education as you want. My idea of education is that everyone should know how to build a sundial, talk about the significance of Hamlet, and outwit a wild dog.
So, how about it? What is your idea of education?



Fearful-of-family-canidae III,

Solve a Diff Eq? Those guys you just look up. Speaking of which…
My idea of an education is that one knows which reference books one ought to own, one never mistakes the case of their pronouns, and one has at least 500 good quotations at hand (digits of pi only count if you know more than 10). This game is endless fun. After all, if we say ask what an education consists in, are we not questioning the validity of the university as a whole? Might we judge the administration’s efficacy with annular Princeton Survivor on that weird little island in Lake Carnegie, augmented with a wild pack of family dogs?
Yes, but the dogs are proving hard to find. In the meantime, we can pack in as many references
as possible, sort of a self-consciously erudite VH1 special. This is, after all, how most people our age experience life, to greater or lesser degrees of self-consciousness (and, inversely, self-importance). Or maybe I just get called Mr. Boston way too damn often. Stupid show.
Te toca a ti.



HP: Everyone should know how to fly a plane, make a speech, and hold a wineglass.
HP: Everyone should know how to string a fishing lure, what heroic couplet is, and how to blow smoke rings.
HP: Everyone should know how to throw a dart, how an engine works, and the true meaning of grief.
HP: Everyone should know how to discipline a child, roll a joint, and deliver a compliment.
HP: Everyone should be able to read a topographical map, mix a martini, and know how to break into a door with a credit card.
HP: Everyone should know how to throw a punch, appreciate Symbolist painting, and navigate by the stars alone.
HP: Everyone should know how to smoke a pork shoulder, pray, and play the piano.
HP: Everyone should know how to write a love-letter, hitch a ride on a sea-turtle, and the strange history of cheese.
HP: Everyone should be able to waltz, shotgun a beer, and put on lipstick.
HP: Everyone should be able to train a monkey, speak the truth, and drive a car at 150 MPH.
HP: Everyone should know how to make a good paper airplane, use chopsticks, and use a camera’s flash correctly.
HP: Everyone should be able to pull a tooth, fold a flag, and insult every manner of European in his own tongue.
HP: Everyone should be able to iron a dress shirt, argue vehemently for or against the serial comma, and gut a fish.
HP: Everyone should be able to wear heels with aplomb, administer CPR, and have a good knowledge of the Pre-Socratics.
HP: Everyone should know how to palm a coin, fold a napkin, and write a webpage in XHTML/CSS.
HP: Everyone should know how to charm a cobra, deliver a baby, and have a discreet affair.
HP: Everyone should be able to make a pizza, triangulate, and tie your shoes with one hand.
HP: Everyone should know the science of rhetoric, how to see through a blindfold, and the fundamentals of tannery.
HP: Everyone should know the difference between emperor and monarch butterflies, epees and foils, and nu’s and v’s.
HP: Everyone should know the difference between a secret and a mystery, an acid and a base, and a rabbit and a jackrabbit.
HP: Everyone should know the difference between sleet and freezing rain, chasms and abysses, and African wild dogs and jackals.
HP: Everyone should know the difference between liquor and liqueur, a shilling and a farthing, and a Yankee and a goddamn Yankee.
HP: Everyone should know how to drive a stick-shift, the meaning of the word flux, and the lives of at least 5 English monarchs.
HP: Everyone should know how to weave a fine quilt, throw a party, and give a eulogy.
HP: Everyone should be able to type at least at 30 words per minute, know what ibid. means, and know how to use the safety on a gun.
HP: Everyone should know how to communicate in semaphore, the perfidy of Portuguese sailors, and be familiar with the mass cultivation of tobacco.
HP: Everyone should know how to calculated an expected value, the primary agricultural product of their home state, and the number of national championships their alma mater
has won in football and basketball.
HP: Everyone should know how to treat the homeless with respect, savor the sunset, and stage a coup d’etat.
HP: Everyone should know how to braid hair, how to bowl a strike, and at least three stupid gimmicky methods of opening a beer bottle.
HP: Everyone should know how to make spaghetti, juggle medicine balls, and drive a car ... at the same time.
HP: Everyone should know how to open Starburst in their mouth, read in a mirror, and use sign language ... at the same time.
HP: Everyone should know how to amuse strangers, impress girls, and urinate off a moving bicycle ... at the same time.
HP: Everyone should know how to tie a shoe one-handed, dance en pointe, and drink a flaming shot ... at the same time.
HP: Everyone should know how to sketch a model, escape from a hospital, and the cool parts of the Bible.
HP: Everyone should know how to read palms, pick pockets, and cross-dress convincingly.

Dearest IV,

Clearly my education is a failure since I can only do two things from the entire list. Also, I think the fact that eight of the things we came up with are drug-related speaks plenty about the state of collegiate education. And despite the inclusion of a few “feminine” things like braiding hair and weaving quilts, I also wonder if this list isn’t maybe a little sexist. Or maybe I’m sexist for seeing this list as sexist using outdated characterizations of the masculine and the feminine? Ultimately, I’m left with questions. For instance, what the fuck is flux? And is there actually a difference between a rabbit and jackrabbit? Why are you obsessed with being able to
tie your shoes one-handed? I still wish I knew how to outwit a wild dog more than anything.



Fretful III,

I readily admit to the list being sexist, but that’s only primarily because I am. Why is that? I suppose it’s because, in main, my education has been the long accumulation of tricks, habits, orthodoxies & iconoclasms, and an ever-increasing sense of failure. When, after all, what you’re actually supposed to be learning is how to ask questions well, how to deal with other humans as
such, and how to doubt effectively without completely losing trust and faith – well, that last point a lot of people get pissy about, but however much it ires the stubborn, we spend the vast majority of our time reasoning via appeal to authority, whether or no it’s The Authority. So, maybe education is just learning to fail catastrophically and gracefully, with well-rolled joints and well-tied shoes.



Thursday, January 10, 2008

Two Quotes Apropos of Dean's Date

"But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved."
-Matthew 24:13

"Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit upon his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats."
-H.L. Mencken

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Thank God that debacle of a year is over

And this year, we get to vote for our government representatives. Huzzah!

So, tonight, after watching that travesty of a Rose Bowl, my parents' friends' daughter brought a PS2 and this singing game which was a lot of fun. I discovered that, despite all having lived through the '80s, almost none of them knew the Talking Heads song Burning Down The House. But everyone knows Cheap Trick, apparently. Interesting. Also, I couldn't convince anyone to sing along to Creep. Finally, the 2nd Killers album is still atrocious.

I also discovered (technically today) that there is no better thing than being woken up by your acid dropping friends at 5 am who show up with White Castle. It's like Santa Claus, only with funny stories and really strange tics.

Also, my little brother is in Rome with the school band at the moment. Being the littlest brother is entirely unfair, I must say.

Finally, I love how the new year makes all the prognosticators come out of the woodwork and write stupid articles about the number of things that will be important next year. Unless there are percentages and confidence intervals, you're as trustworthy as that kid who apparently spammed everyone's Princeton email account with a YouTube video. Who does that?