Monday, September 29, 2008

unrated version

It may just be the current popularity of DVD ads trumpeting the special eight minutes of extra footage that were "too hot" for theaters—and my having read Anne Rice's pornographic Sleeping Beauty as a "young adult" probably doesn't help—but come on: isn't there something a little racy about this ad?  It's almost false advertising: "In this version, they TOTALLY BONE!"

Anyway, I'm sold.

whence God?

[In this excerpt from a thing I wrote two years ago, an angry antitheist (to be confused with an atheist—sure, why not) tutors a ninth-grader.]

     "Here," said P.D., "I'll tell you what to write.  Tell your teacher you were born with a special problem-solving brain, which is your evolutionary advantage—some animals have great speed, size, strength, sharp teeth, powerful jaws—what you have is a brain.  When you see a problem, your superpower is the ability to work out that problem, outsmart it.  Some animals might muscle their way through, or get away fast, or fly, or spit poison, or whatever else, but what you do is you think creatively, you see all the angles.  But just as the turtle doesn't shed her shell when there's no one around to bite her, your brain doesn't stop working when it doesn't have a problem to solve.  Take the shell off the turtle and she dies, it's not some tool she can pick up and put down, it's part of her."
     "They have female turtles, yes.  So in the end, when your brain runs out of food, so to speak, it starts to eat itself.  The classic question, the cliché, 'Why am I here?'?  Rephrase it—'What do I do?'—and that's your question, that's your evolutionary advantage, the ability to ask that question and, normally, to come up with an answer.  When you're trying to find food and shelter, Justin, when you're trying to escape from predators, the question is immediate and real.  'What do I do?'  How do I get that food from out of there?  'What do I do?'  How do I not get eaten by this thing that's faster and stronger than I am?  'What do I do?'  Some animals don't have to ask the question because they're faster, they're stronger, they've got bigger teeth—they're smaller and can hide under a leaf.  But you say, 'What do I do?'  And that's when you invent the lightsaber, and—problem solved."
     Justin laughed, very relieved by the joke.  "So," he said, "O.K., wait.  So—"
     "Then," said P.D., to Justin's evident despair, "when the problem's solved, whatever it is—when you can sit back a while, when the problem's less immediate, less clear, less direct—that's when you start looking at all of it, at everything, looking at yourself, and saying 'What do I do.'  That's why 'the meaning of life' is a shaggy-dog joke, a cliché—why it's the central question of all human existence—because it's wrong, the question is wrong, it's a question with no answer because the question itself is a misapplication of a tool, you're taking an evolutionary advantage and trying to use it to solve life in general, when that can't be solved because it's not really a problem, not in itself.  But you just go on asking the question.  'What do I do?'  What is my purpose?  'What do I do?'  What is the 'good life'?  'What do I do?'  What is right, what is wrong, what is good and evil?  And the only real answer is—asking that question is what you do.  'What do I do?' is what you do.  It's what makes you human.  If you don't use your mind, if you don't consider and contemplate, then you're not human, and you'll just die like a dog stuffed in a dog-sized cage.  But then you do also run into these questions that have no answers, and your problem-solving tool isn't designed for problems that have no solution.  So when that happens, what are your options?  Only to give up or go crazy?  Maybe instead you can redirect your efforts toward smaller, easier, made-up problems, such as—how to successfully destroy an enemy, a scapegoat—how best to serve a particular cause—or you can develop a whole philosophy whose whole purpose is to declare the problem solved, to force the case closed, like—'The answers are all in this book!' or 'Just listen to this man!' or 'this leader!' or 'dieser Führer!'—and that's why you made up God, Justin.  God is a toy mouse for keeping a house cat's hunting instinct occupied."
     Justin was fiddling with a pen and watched P.D. uncertainly.  "I should write that?" he said.
     "No," said P.D.  "You can't, I just said it."
     The two sat in silence for a few seconds, both staring at Justin's desk.
     Justin spoke: "God is a toy for cats?"
     P.D. turned to his earnest, befuddled charge who had asked this incredible question, and he thought for a second, then smiled a gentle mentorly smile and said, "Yes."

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Previously, on Alt85...
  • Further anti-Chabon insanity [here] . . . and you know what?  Short Round vows today to cut that shit out along with the rest of the opinionating [q.v.]—my apologies, Mr. C.
  • But no apologies to HSBC: we were right to give a big Al Goldstein middle finger to their craven, stupid ad [here].
  • Photos of things that exist [here and here].
  • Junk irony [here].
  • Drop the i—maybe drop the whole damned phone while you're at it [here].
  • John Lennon, David Foster Wallace, and the ongoing war against sincerity [here].
  • Short Round speaks [here].
  • The cat and the em-dash [here].
  • Fun with PowerPoint [here].

ALSO: billion-dollar scissors!

(click to enlarge...thanks, J.L.)

important PowerPoint presentation

At the school where I used to teach, there was a day of technology "workshops" that the faculty was forced invited to endure enjoy so that the Technology Department could justify its existence...

Hmmm.  Can I can talk about this without getting mad?


O.K. :  1 picture = 1,000 words . . . so let's go to the videotape!  Here's the PowerPoint presentation I created during our incredibly useful PowerPoint workshop.  Prepare to be illuminated.

[Note: I taught boys aged 14–18.  This has an effect on a person.]

Saturday, September 27, 2008

photographs of the universe

In no particular order:

A respectful disagreement.

Art is where you find it.

Why specifically build a place for the Alien to hide?

I'm a big fan of words and language, but sometimes I wish all signs were nonverbal.
[McLuhan: "Until writing was invented, man lived in acoustic space: boundless, directionless, horizonless, in the dark of the mind, in the world of emotion, by primordial intuiton, by terror..."  Schwing!]

Baby Optimus Prime.
[Thanks, W.R.!]

and another thing (x2)

(1)  In my writing I've already been trying to phase out all the italics—which I realized makes sense in dialogue or in the "mouth" of a conversational narrator, particularly if we're talking about a kid (Holden Caulfield, e.g.), but which starts to get to be a little much if you're using it all the fucking time—gets to be, like, you know...overkill.
    But so now I'm starting to think I'm overusing the em-dash—just a little.

(2)  Cats don't really have names.  A cat's name is not part of him or of his life, but rather an aspect of his relationship with a human being.  I.e., "Capt. Whiskers (ret.)" properly belongs not to the Captain alone but rather to his domestication by (or rather his self-domestication in the company of) his owner human companion(s).

a self-domesticated bookstore cat
(possibly "Wanker")

brief interview

People always ask me, "Alt85, what does it mean?" Alt's for never dirty; 85's for mostly clean.
Well, yes, they ask me that, too. And I don't really know why I keep a blog, or what this blog is for, or who's supposed to read it, etc., etc., depending on the question's permutation. My best answer (and this is true) that I'm combating George McFly syndrome, wherein one writes and writes and never shows it to anyone for fear of rejection. Put the shit on the infernet, and you can't even pretend to control how people will respond to it.
Yeah, except that in fact the "opinionating" is something I find now I want to cut back on. As I've said (in one or more of these posts, I think), I've got a tendency—we all do, I suppose, but in my case I believe it's particularly acute—to let our opinions snowball, to allow opposition to have a kind of amplifying effect on our positions, until before you know it we're arguing too damned hard, sometimes against imaginary opponents, and articulating grotesque versions of our beliefs that in a kind of argument-vacuum would probably be appalling even to us. There's something about this kind of arguing that both results from and leads to a kind of cordoning off of ourselves, a misguided (not to mention futile) attempt to divide self from universe in much the same way that the neurotic might protect himself from contamination by germs...
Yes. I've struggled with that, too, some. Who told you that?
Which of course raises the whole "how confessional?" question. One of the first blogs I ever saw, back before blog was a word, was back in 1999 or so, and I checked it out for my job... Shit, what was the guy's name? It was a diary, very '90s 'net with all the, what did they call it, hypertext?—and the guy really did fuckin' share, man, I think he even had explicit photos of himself with his girlfriend, or at least some naked ones, and I think it really was a kind of public diary. What was that guy's name? He had some weird haircut, like a kind of long straight mohawk that hung down?
Well, yes, sometimes this shit just serves to help me procrastinate. What's your point?
Two things helped me get over the germ thing. One: I was trying to decide whether to pick up 25¢ I'd dropped on the ground in N.Y.C., or rather I'd already picked the coin back up and was briefly worrying about whether to put it in my pocket where, for example, my handkerchief was (yes), and then it hit me: the only difference between the 25¢ in my hand and the assorted change in my pocket was that I'd seen the 25¢ on the ground, but you could be quite sure that the change in my pocket had been in all sorts of horrible places (e.g., the vagina of a panhandler), so, you know, I—
No, there's a story that goes along with that.
But so I'm saying that if the only difference between this 25¢ and the money already in my pocket was that I was conscious of the possible contamination of the 25¢, then I did not have to worry about it because the other money hadn't hurt me none. Two: someone told me slash reminded me lately that supposedly we're continually ingesting fæces, and at first of course my—
You haven't heard this? "If you've ever been to a restaurant, you've ingested fæces"? People are always pulling that one out.
Well, whatever. Welcome to the jungle, baby. Point being, anyway, that when I heard that—well, it was much like when I was in high school and some girl tried to turn me off Oreos by telling me that the white stuff was made of lard, and I was like, "Uh...well, then I guess lard is delicious": it hit me that if you can't help but ingest fæcal matter and indeed have been doing it for years, well, then it can't hurt to ingest fæcal matter at that level. Yeah?
O.K., well, for me it was helpful.
Fuck you, then, nobody's forcing you to read this.
Yeah, I called you fat. Look at me: I'm skinny—it never stopped me from getting busy. I'm a freak: I like the girls with the boom; I once got busy in a Burger King bathroom! I'm crazy. Allow me to amaze thee. They say I'm ugly, but it just don't faze me. I'm still getting in the girls' pants, and I've even got my own dance:


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

another take on irony vs. sincerity.


(don't click to enlarge)

This piece of—what, guerrilla art?—on either Bond Street or Great Jones makes me mad.  Slash sad.

I don't know the story behind it, I don't know the intention, but I can't help but feel that making some kind of joke—or, I don't know, statement, even—about the fact that this man, this human being with a wife and children, got murdered...  Look, I don't think I'm exactly a prude [not quite the right word] when it comes to "appropriateness" or "offensiveness," but it just seems to me that what's going on in "art" like this (which, by the way, I've seen before, this kind of bullshit, specifically with Lennon involved—and done by teenagers, and in like 1995—so A+ for originality, jackass) is a basic disregard for, or disbelief in, the reality of the humanity of other people.  So this guy was in the Beatles and he was an icon and a major public figure, bigger than Jesus etc., fine.  Also, he was a human being, and he got shot.  So what's your point in drawing a bullet hole in his head?  Is it funny?  Meaningful?  Are you trying to say, "Look, sometimes major public figures get murdered?"  Yes, thank you, we know that.

Am I being unreasonable?  Maybe I wouldn't care if it were somebody else (I'm a Lennon man, for sure)...but I'd like to think I would.

(2)  Finished rereading Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, and much but not all of it qualifies for the label "heartbreaking work of staggering genius."  To be fair, I may only be so enthusiastic because I just got walloped by the penultimate story, "Brief Interviews with Hideous Men [#20]," which I read I guess for the third time because I read it when it came out in the Paris Review before the book's publication (or at least its title, I think) was even officially announced.  A few things:

a.  That story is incredibly good, and if everything DFW ever wrote were like that, he'd make my Top Five Writers, no problem.

b.  Around page 266 I began, like the "hideous man" (like both "hideous men," making I suppose three of us) to feel rather emotional and thought I might actually start weeping right there in the tony Upper East Side paninoteca where I was having lunch.  This experience was no doubt enhanced (aggravated?) by my suddenly recalling that of course this writer killed himself, and as this story goes on—a story by the way that is all about the failure or success of our attempts to connect, truly connect with other human beings, and not just our loved ones but yes, them too—I find myself [switching into the stylistic present tense for some reason and] getting pretty much exactly the same sad/scared feeling that the hideous men are having and, given recent news headlines, what the writer himself was evidently feeling, and then just as the characters in the story and the reader too must feel very uncomfortable about being sort of bonded to this psychotic but it turns out deeply unhappy fictional character in the story, suddenly this bond turns out to be also a bond with a deeply unhappy nonfictional man who is expressing furiously in his own easy-to-misunderstand way, and what can I say? what can I say?  Every word seems dead before it "leaves my mouth" (which problem, incidentally, DFW covers in the story, too).  What can I say?  Good story.  Good story, Dave.  I wish you didn't kill yourself.  I really wish you didn't.  And can I say that and make it 100% sincere without any irony in it or melodrama or self-satisfaction or...  I mean, can you say something just frank and straightforward like, I wish that this sad man hadn't killed himself, without its sounding...

Fuck how it sounds.

c.  A while back, in one of my unjustified, irrational, and almost but not ultimately incomprehensible attacks on Michael Chabon, I quoted Pynchon's "eyes like two piss-holes in a snowbank" as an example of writing I like.  Well, here's DFW with a similar line, but different in just exactly the way you might expect from someone who, among other ways, differentiated himself from Pynchon by hanging himself and killing himself and dying by his own hand: "His eyes were holes in the world."

Can you feel that?

I 'phone, you 'phone, we all 'phone

(1)  It hit me just recently that I've gotten in the habit of referring to my desktop computer as "my iMac" and my fancypants phone as "my iPhone."  Since when did it start feeling right to refer to my tools and possessions by their brand names?  I do not, for example, print things out on my "HP Deskjet 3845" or turn on my "Scientifc Atlanta Explorer® 8300" to watch "Time Warner Cable" on my "Toshiba."  So isn't the only difference, the only reason why I feel comfortable referring to "my iPhone," that "iPhone" sounds neat and relatively noncorporate if you aren't paying the slightest bit of attention—and therefore meets all the criteria that get me particularly pissed off at advertising (here on Alt85 and, less publicly, in my own personal "private" life)?  To be fair, there is no phone quite like an iPhone [note to Apple: new jingle!], so it's arguably more important information than "HP Deskjet 3845"—but still.  I vow to make an effort to call the damned thing "my phone."

(2)  My phone has been pissing me off*—and this particular example is about the least illustrative of any I could pick because it's just about the one thing I can't actually blame Apple for—but let me just mention here (really only because—I'll be honest—I'm excited to use this simile that's coming up: wait for it) that my "Apple iPhone Bluetooth Headset" has had a tendency lately while I'm walking to sort of hang precariously out of my ear the way Ray Stantz's cigarette hangs off his lip in the "ugly little spud" scene of Ghostbusters.

That's all.

* Maybe that's the reason—not my questionable-principleda stand—why I've decided to stop calling the thing by its name.  I'm punishing it.
a "principle":"principled"::"questionable principle":"questionable-principled"—i.e., not to be confused with "questionably [as adverb modifying] principled" or "questionable [as adjective modifying] principled stand [as sort of readymade compound noun in itself, slash cliché, which of course by the way...yeah].

junk irony

I mentioned before that I think there's more than one kind of irony.  After Sep. 11, 2001, some jackass declared irony dead, and then old Michiko Kakutani hit back on Oct. 9 with a much-needed column pointing out that some of the very worst things that ever happened led to some of the greatest ironic fiction ever written, and that indeed irony has been one of mankind's greatest tools for dealing with horrific evil and devastation...  But I'm not being fair when I say "some jackass" because my whole point here is basically that the jackass and Kakutani* weren't actually talking about the same thing.

A friend (not stupid, not a jackass) recently said something about how we were headed into a new era of sincerity: basically his point was that, after years of George W. Bush, suddenly the stakes are just too high to treat everything as a joke, which is why people have gotten so serious about Barack Obama.  He (my friend, not the senator) postulated that irony might thrive in times of prosperity** and shrivel away under the U.V.-heavy light of hard times.

My response was that the irony that has taken over our society—thanks largely to the ad companies' successful cooption and conquest of the skeptical–ironic attitudes that had made Generation X so difficult to market to (q.v. e.g. Commodify Your Dissent)—was not irony but rather junk irony: a general attitude wherein nothing meant anything, everything was ridiculous, and a joke or sneer was the appropriate response to all imaginable stimuli.  This attitude, I'll agree with David Foster Wallace and with my not-stupid, not-jackass friend, is essentially problematic—pathetic, really (and I use that word here with some thought): it's a defensive posture, one of essential disengagement from reality,*** and just about as far from what I'd call real irony (what Kakutani was writing about: our best minds' responses to the World Wars, to the threat of nuclear annihilation, etc.—basically an incredibly noble, existential assault on all that arguably it is impossible to literally defeat****) as you can get.

And indeed I think I ended by claiming that there's a—what do you call it, inverse relationship?—between real & junk irony.  In a time of great prosperity, yes, I should think that junk irony might rule, but real irony might have little place; then, as things get rough, no one can afford the petty yuks and cynicisms, but true satire, a true awareness of the grotesque truth behind deceitful appearances, is all but essential.  Now that I think of it, maybe the difference between real & junk irony is pretty much the same as the difference between skepticism & cynicism...?

But so I said that junk irony was a defensive posture.  Defensive against what?

I end by putting a bit of a positive spin even on the junk—because that's just the kind of guy I am (now).  Why junk irony?  Why has our culture descended (or why had it descended, if you agree that it's now rising back out) into this kind of meaninglessness, so devoid of substance that it doesn't deserve to be called nihilism?  I submit (with Fromm) that our prosperity is largely illusory, that the good times are not so good, that people are not happy, no, not even so happy as they might sometimes seem, and that we are, in many ways, without realizing it, oppressed and kept down by forces we'd have a hard time identifying even if we were aware enough to try.  Maybe junk irony is a hobbled, half-blinded culture's try at real irony, a sign that even the dullest and deadest of us still have some sense, buried somewhere deep down, that something here just ain't right.

*  The stupidest person in New York City?
**  Side note, sort of an essay in itself: a few months ago I was sitting on the M79 and reflecting in a melancholy fashion on the question: Why Are Americans So Depressed?  And it occurred to me that maybe the reason so many of us are so miserable (and I am not excluding the ones who self-identify as ecstatically happy and content, not by a fuckin' longshot) is actually not in spite of our civilization's spectacular wealth and conveniences, and not even because of the holes and imperfections in that wealth and those conveniences or the dark underside of the same, but rather possibly because of the wealth and conveniences: human beings, arguably, are natural problem-solvers, and maybe—just as taking the shell off a turtle will kill it even when no predators are around—giving us plenty of food and shelter and nothing too serious to worry about turns us in on ourselves and just drives us batshit crazy like a dog in a dog-sized cage (to quote something I wrote a few years back).
*** One might say the deliberate affectation of what I've argued [in this post, but more so in my response to the comment on the post] DFW spent his life battling—which shows both how despicable the attitude can be and why DFW felt so strongly about irony vs. sincerity himself [q.v., e.g.].
**** This is what Gravity's Rainbow is about, by the way.

Monday, September 22, 2008

more accidental modern art

(click to enlarge)

fuck this ad

(click to enlarge)

First of all, this whole campaign, which has been going on for, what, a year or two?—drives me crazy.  The original ones were, you'd have two pairs of photos, like of broccoli and some chocolate cake, and the first pair would be labeled "Delicious" and "Disgusting," say, and the second pair would be labeled "Disgusting" and "Delicious" (and the idea was that some people like chocolate cake and not broccoli and other people like broccoli and not chocolate cake), and then it would be like, "Whatever your point of view, we're the bank for you."

Ah, hell—here's an example:

(click to enlarge)

Anyway I've loved/loathed/loved-to-loathe those ads because of their transparently despicable and totally meaningless pandering.  The ads really ought to go, "Do you prefer dogs or cats?  We don't give a shit.  Give us money!"

But those ones were like a triumph compared to this new one, which adds craven to the list of unflattering modifiers.  Unless I totally misunderstand, you've got that inflatable rat, the one unions in N.Y. put up in front of buildings and businesses they're protesting, and this time you've got three of the same thing instead of two pairs, and there's still that kind of cutesy, meaningless sentiment—"Different values make the world a richer place"—except this time, every one of the three labels is something positive.  So what are the opposing points of view, exactly?  What are the different values that enrich us all?

Don't get me wrong, I'm pretty pro-rat in this case, but I can't help but imagine that some ad guy floated the idea of a, like, "free speech, disturbing the peace" version of the ad that actually did set up a difference of opinion, and then they were like, "No, that's too controversial," but then instead of just scrapping the idea, they said, "Well, we could do a totally half-assed version, with no point and no teeth..."

To be fair, the campaign is so ridiculous to begin with that they were probably right: it doesn't make any difference.  The real effect of the dog–cat ad is to show pictures of dogs and cats; similarly, the real point of this ad is for HSBC to endear itself to New Yorkers by making us go, "Hey, I recognize that rat!  HSBC really understands me and my concerns!  I should give them money!"  I have nothing more to say about this, really, except for an at-this-point-little-more-than-obligatory fuck you to HSBC.

the one-sided war rages on

Michael Chabon, covering the Democratic National Convention in the Oct. 9 issue of The New York Review of Books [uh-oh]:

At one point [Clinton] said, "Barack Obama knows that America cannot be strong abroad unless we are first strong at home.  People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power," and I felt, for the only time before Stevie Wonder sat down behind his keyboard on Thursday night [blah blah blah], something of the shiver of pleasure that artistry induces.  (48)

Hm, yes.  Yes, O.K.—Bill Clinton's a hell of a speaker, and the sentiment behind what he said there is good, and I liked Obama's line about how the United States is "better than these last eight years"—BUT...

Come on.  This is what gives Chabon a shiver?  "People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power."  Look:
  1. Minor point: Is it technically true?  Surely what makes us great is not our power alone, etc., etc., but the choice of the word impressed leaves me a little uncertain.  People are pretty frickin' impressed by how powerful we are, and we're not exactly loved the world over.
  2. "The power of our example."  We know what's meant here, but we're a big country with a big and complicated history—not to mention the fact that, as this election demonstrates, we've got a lot of contradictory shit going on—so, to be fair, we exemplify a hell of a lot, good and bad.  Part of what I liked about Obama's line is that he was being patriotic in a very distinctly and effectively anti–"love it or leave it" way, saying America the ideal is great, and we can't let some schmucks turn America into something un-American.  Clinton's basically saying the same thing, but in a way that takes fewer risks.  But so look: all I'm saying is that if Chabon's talking about art—singling out a line spoken by someone already recognized as being a master, and basically trying to elevate it into the realm of genius—you'd hope at least for a little more clarity.
  3. "The example of our power."  What does this mean?  I mean, again, you know what he means, but this is supposed to be artistry, right?  The example of our power.  Why not just "our power"?  What does he mean by "example," here, really?  Actually, the problem with this one is basically the problem with the whole thing and the problem with Michael Chabon, so let's jump out of the list here for it, here:
Michael Chabon just likes that the words get reversed.  Am I right?  Come on, I'm right, right?  I'm totally right!  "It's the power of our example, not the example of our power!  Look look look, did you see that?  Did you see how he switched those words up, like he said it one way and then in a different order?  Oh, MAN, that was awesome!  J.F.K. did that once, remember?—so you know it's good!  Aw, man, I'm gonna be honest with you here, I'm gonna be honest: I don't really care what's being said or how well it's being said or whether it really makes any sense—I don't even care if it's particularly beautiful or poetic!—but I am just a big fan of rhetorical devices...per se, man, per se."

Fuck that guy.

cap it again

Top 16 Alt85 posts since Sep. 11:
  1. Yet another difference in the way Democrats and Republicans see the world.
  2. Looks like a nice idea, but it's just another goddamned advertisement.
  3. Somebody did something kind of cute with some subway ads.
  4. Somebody did something kind of cute with a semicolon.
  5. "It's all understandable, of course—he's the GOP nominee now, not an insurgent maverick.  Understandable, but depressing." –DFW
  6. David Foster Wallace killed himself.  Some thoughts.
  7. Somebody did something kind of cute with an ad for a TV show.
  8. Is sentimentality something it's sad we can't handle or something it's good we've overcome?
  9. What women call sex.  (They call it sex.)
  10. Some pictures of stuff.
  11. People need to start saying "schwing" again.  [Did anybody ever actually say that? –ed.]
  12. I am so glad San Gennaro's over!
  13. Products that are made and sold in the United States of America.
  14. New Yorkers never look up.
  15. A somewhat menacing message, particularly to a paranoid and crazy person.
  16. Air quotes.

(click to enlarge)

let your fingers do the talking [UPDATED]

If you hold up your fingers to indicate scare quotes ["dick fingers," as Jon Stewart called the gesture (at least McCain's usage of it) on the Oct. 28 Daily Show], and if you move your fingers while doing so, as people often do—I believe DFW refers to this as "finger flexion" in one of his Brief Interviews with Hideous Mendo you move them on each accented syllable?  This suddenly hit me for some reason: I think you do.

E.g., in that section of Hideous Men,* the hideous man in question says, "My own experience indicates that the cliché ['I can't believe my ears'] does not mean [sustained f.f.] I can't believe that this possibility now exists in my consciousness but rather something more along the lines of [sustained and increasingly annoying f.f.] I cannot believe that this possibility is now originating from a point external to my consciousness"; if you do what he does, and you hold up your fingers while you say that shit out loud, flexing the fingers the way one does as you do so—don't you flex 'em on not, lieve, poss, maybe bil, now, rig, point, tern, maybe my, and then con?

Question no. 2: Is it possible that one hand flexes differently from the other?  Question no. 3: Am I maybe making all this up?  Question no. 4: Why, I wonder?

* And by the way it wasn't "for some reason": it was because I was reading this section of Hideous Men.

thank you for your cooperation


Sunday, September 21, 2008

part of what I like about New York, N.Y.

(click to enlarge)

It's not a good picture, and they aren't particularly good buildings, but, you know, you're on some old block on your way to get Chinese food, and you look up...


Interesting items for sale in a Bed Bath & Beyond in our nation's capital:

I love that "AS SEEN ON TV" always presents itself as a meaningful endorsement of the product but in fact signifies nothing if not that the product couldn't really make it anywhere but in infomercial-world.  Or, I don't know, maybe I'm being unfair: that picture of the Bra Baby flying out of the dryer does look pretty magical.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Figli di San Gennaro, Inc.

I live in the area. Therefore this, to me, is the essence of San Gennaro:

(click to enlarge if you're gross)


bring 'em back!

America, please bring back the following expressions:

  1. Making love [see Alt85]*
  2. Man/woman [vs. guy/girl—see Fashion Futurist]

  1. Yabba-dabba-doo [e.g., "Wanna grab one more drink?" "Yabba-dabba-doo"—and but N.B.: should never be said with an exclamation point: imagine it in sort of an almost bored-sounding, Matthew-McConaughey-in-Dazed & Confused voice]
  2. Cowabunga [see "Yabba-dabba-doo"; this one, though, is more flexible and open to enthusiastic delivery and may certainly be used with an exclamation point—basically just a badly needed alternative to "Cool!" and "Awesome!"]
  3. Schwing! [both in its original usage and also just as a general expression of excitement—a synonym maybe more for "Sweet!" (which I've never been able to use without severe discomfort similar in substantive ways to—and maybe actually responsible for—acid reflux)]
Please also bring back video games like Q*bert and Ms. Pac-Man. And will you quit it with the goddamned commercials in movie theaters, already? I mean, come on!

* I'm actually not so sure about this one. But all the others—I've never been so sure about anything in my entire life.

pictures taken today

None of these pictures is special enough for its own post, but together they are going to ROCK YOUR WORLD.

DORKING.  That's what this toilet said.  And since I used it to pee in (all man-style), I couldn't help but think of the word as a suggestion for what to call what I was doing.  P.S. I have the maturity of a fourteen-year-old.

love the noun makes.  What the fuck?  What is this, Dadaist graffiti?  Is the idea here that "the noun" makes love (either a phrase or a Yodaesque syntactical fiasco of a sentence), or is it someone just sharing with everybody the fact that he or she loves the noun makes?  Because, I mean...yeah, dude, join the club.

Half-assed stache.  Somebody started into it but just didn't have the heart.

Modern art.  Not Rauschenberg...who am I thinking of?  Click to enlarge, motherfucker.

all right, all right, all right, all right, all right, all right, all right, all right, O.K. now ladies [UPDATED]

As research for my novel (yes), I asked a few women I know what their preferred term for sexual intercourse was—just to get a sense of the range.  "Most important," I said, "is the way you'd probably think of it if you were thinking to yourself, or writing in a journal, or talking to your closest friend—unselfconsciously, in other words."  The results are too interesting for me not to post, although that was not originally my intention.  (Am I turning into Philip Roth?*)  I'll update this if I get any more responses—and if you're a woman between the ages of, say, 20 and 35, please feel free to comment on this post yourself, with your own answers,** as any and all information is helpful.

So.  Without further ado


First place (by a landslide): have sex
Second place: sleep with/together
Tied for third: make love and fuck***
Honorable mention: bone [awesome –ed.]

[UPDATED 9/24/08: It's an upset!
Make love and fuck are still tied, but
pulling ahead of them into third place
is the incredible and fantastic and
previously merely honorable bone.
Good job and congratulations, boners!
Folks, you can't make this stuff up.]

* You wish. –ed.
** Particularly if you're willing to give some sort of identifying information about yourself—not your identity, of course, but your general age range, country or U.S. state of residence, level of education, that sort of thing—I suppose sexual orientation is pretty relevant, too.a
*** Very interesting!

a N.B.: I probably will not include your anonymous results in the extremely official rankings unless you contact me directly, which you can only do if you know me—in which case congratulations! and hello.

have sex sleep with make love fuck bone . . . because stupidly those key words' being in bold apparently disqualifies them from all search results.  I don't know about you, but I want to be able to find this post by searching "bone."  [10/6/08]

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

in defense of unsentimentality

David Foster Wallace wrote on a number of occasions, both in fiction and in essays, about his feeling that irony was a negative force in our society and that American culture would do well to embrace (re-embrace, I suppose) sentimentality—or at least something that risks being mistaken for sentimentality.

"The next real literary 'rebels' in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles.  Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction.  Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue.  These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started.  Dead on the page.  Too sincere.  Clearly repressed.  Backward, quaint, naïve, anachronistic.  Maybe that'll be the point.  Maybe that's why they'll be the next real rebels.  Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval.  The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism.  Today's risks are different.  The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the 'Oh how banal.'  To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama.  Of overcredulity.  Of softness."  ("E Unibus Pluram," A Supposedly Fun Thing..., 81)

It's a bold claim, and one that DFW's uninformed detractors might be surprised to hear him making.  I've always identified, too, because certainly irony is often a defensive posture and a way to avoid engaging with reality.  I have a friend who claims she can't watch Family Guy because the evil, adult-sounding, ambiguously gay baby with the football head is too disturbing: my first reaction to this is incredulity and amusement, but then—well, yeah, isn't that sort of disturbing? and isn't there something a little...let's say unlikely about the fact that seemingly no one seems to have that reaction?

I myself recall that as a boy I used to be very disturbed by scenes in movies where the bad guys would finally eat it—I remember a scene in I think it was Outrageous Fortune, maybe Risky Business, in which [SPOILER ALERT*] this guy is hanging by his fingertips from the edge of a cliff and I think ultimately falls to his death, and I was watching this and thinking, "Holy shit, that's terrible, how would it feel to be that guy?"—which of course is the wrong reaction and not at all what the audience is supposed to think...but actually rather a lot what Huckleberry Finn thinks, as it happens:

"Now was the first time that I begun to worry about the men—I reckon I hadn't had time to, before.  I begun to think how dreadful it was, even for murderers, to be in such a fix.  I says to myself, there ain't no telling but I might come to be a murderer myself, yet, and then how would I like it?" (87)  [Amazing.]

But now so isn't it actually sort of fucked up that we usually don't have anything like that reaction?—that we've become deadened, numbed, and no longer feel inconvenient emotions like that?

Sure.  But here's the counterargument:

(1) Why are we afraid of sentimentality?  Yes, the fear may be bad for us, but does it have any rational basis?  As I've blathered on about in my posts about advertising and also about politics,** we actually do live in a society in which people are trying to manipulate us.  This is a democracy (close enough), and it's a capitalist society, so we've got people on all sides trying not to speak to us, but to control us (say influence if control sounds too extreme) in one way or another.  So in fact skepticism (which, yes, has a tendency to blur into cynicism) is an extremely important characteristic to have in the United States of America.

(2) What is sentimentality?

"The part that got me was, there was a lady sitting next to me that cried all through the goddam picture.  The phonier it got, the more she cried.  You'd have thought she did it because she was kindhearted as hell, but I was sitting right next to her, and she wasn't.  She had this little kid with her that was bored as hell and had to go to the bathroom, but she wouldn't take him.  She kept telling him to be still and behave himself.  She was about as kindhearted as a goddam wolf.  You take somebody that cries their goddam eyes out over phony stuff in the movies, and nine times out of ten they're mean bastards at heart.  I'm not kidding." (The Catcher in the Rye, 181)

"He is feeling little, but he is sentimental; sentimental being used here in the sense of 'feelingless feelings,' the thought of or the daydreams of feelings, rather than felt feelings.  It is a well-known fact that many possessive, cold, and even cruel people—and the three belong together—who are not moved by human suffering that is real, can shed tears when a movie presents one of those constellations that they remember from their own childhood or that they think of in daydreams." (The Art of Being, 112)

(3) I've talked a number of times here about "junk religion," and I may have mentioned "junk feminism" once or twice as well.  If the term junk makes little sense to you in this context, you might substitute in fake or bullshit.  I submit that the real problem here is not irony, but junk irony, and that what we need is real sentiment, not junk sentiment, which I agree with Fromm*** we might just identify with sentimentality.  I think that my feelings when I saw the bad guy about to fall off the cliff were real, if misplaced, empathy; on the other hand, the way my eyes got teary when Eve saw the recording of all the good stuff Wall-E had done for her, I can't help but think that that's not empathy but a kind of narcissistic fantasy—that or the result of some very successful narrative manipulation—sentimentality, either way...

[I'm not going to proofread this too carefully because, come on, who's going to read something this long on a blog?  I remember what that well-dressed hobo told me.  You can throw in some pictures, but you can't...make them...drink...?]

* Yeah, right.
** Many of these you can find by clicking on "The Man" under "subjects" on your right.
*** Oh, surprise, surprise! –ed.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

phantom of the subway

(click to enlarge)

I think somebody tore part of this poster off and left the eye, and that's an unusually creative kind of vandalism.  [Or is it supposed to look like this?  I Googled "Brave the new world" and found nothing, and then the self-doubt started creeping in...  Anyway, I took this picture underneath Seventy-seventh Street or somewhere, and if it's just a picture of an ad the way the ad is supposed to look, then what can I say?—God damn it.]

Sunday, September 14, 2008


I've always been bothered by the kneejerk reaction a lot of people have to Infinite Jest (and indeed to a lot of "postmodern" writers, like John Barth), that it's all a big hyperintellectual scam or showoffy game without any real content or substance.  What bothers me about this is that in most cases it's simply false.  It struck me when rereading Infinite Jest this past summer how intense and personal the novel is: it's about addiction, depression, alienation, and pain—and in fact the very elements of the novel that may seem overblown or overintellectualized are themselves part of that theme, capturing a kind of solitude, a kind of madness.

Two relevant passages:

[When depressed, in the less severe version of depression] one loses the ability to feel pleasure or attachment to things formerly important...a kind of radical abstracting of everything, a hollowing out of stuff that used to have affective content.  Terms the undepressed toss around and take for granted as full and fleshy—happiness, joie de vivre, preference, love—are stripped to their skeletons and reduced to abstract ideas.  They have, as it were, denotation but not connotation.  The anhedonic can still speak about happiness and meaning et al., but she has become incapable of feeling anything in them, of understanding anything about them, of hoping anything about them, or of believing them to exist as anything more than concepts.  Everything becomes an outline of the thing.  Objects become schemata.  The world becomes a map of the world.  An anhedonic can navigate, but has no location. (692–3)

One of [Hal's] troubles with [his mother] is the fact that [she] believes she knows him inside and out as a human being, and an internally worthy one at that, when in fact inside Hal there's pretty much nothing at all, he knows.  His [mother] hears her own echoes inside him and thinks what she hears is him, and this makes Hal feel the one thing he feels to the limit, lately: he is lonely. (694)

Infinite Jest is a sad and lonely book, and we do David Foster Wallace a disservice when we treat it as only clever, only intellectual, only large.  I understand that Wallace drew the addiction theme and AA storylines from his own personal experience, and it seems all the more clear today that the focus on intense, destructive depression was also something he knew too well.  Part of the reason there was such a backlash against the book in the later '90s was that people felt it was masturbatory or even (and this kind of thinking, I'm sorry, strikes me as either ignorant or bigoted, or both) somehow guilty of oppressing the people who didn't like it.  I submit to you that Infinite Jest is not masturbatory, that it instead simply captures a way of thinking—a desperate, painful, soul-searching way of thinking—that ought not to be rejected by someone as somehow "false" just because that person doesn't happen to see the world the same way.  Taste is taste, and Wallace is not for everyone—nor is any other writer.  But Wallace, I think it's now clear, dug into himself in a way few are brave enough to do, in print or in private, and even that which may have felt cold or antiseptic to some readers was itself deeply confessional—a glimpse into a bleak and heartbreaking universe in which we are totally alone, and ultimately nothing that matters can ever be more to us than a kind of faint, flickering hologram, or ghost.'s there all the time, the feeling, and I'm totally inside it, I'm in it and everything has to pass through it to get in, and I don't want to smoke any [pot], and I don't want to work, or go out, or read, or watch [TV], or go out, or stay in, or either do anything or not do anything, I don't want anything except for the feeling to go away.  But it doesn't.  Part of the feeling is being like willing to do anything to make it go away.  Understand that.  Anything.  Do you understand?  It's not wanting to hurt myself it's wanting to not hurt.  (77–8)

Friday, September 12, 2008


I think what drives me the craziest about today's G.O.P. is the baldfaced lying, deception, hypocrisy, and incredible, out-and-out, black-is-white reversals of reality:

"Obama's politics of hope is just empty words."
–Alex Conant, R.N.C. spokesman

Empty words, yes.  This reminds me of the way the very most narcissistic people in the world are prone to accuse everyone else of narcissism—except that those people, at least, are actually delusional, whereas folks like Alex Conant are the epitome of Harry Frankfurt's philosophical definition of bullshit, where truth is not just something we need to distort, but actually something that has no meaning or value whatsoever.

Senator McCain, who himself has said that he voted with President Bush 90% of the time, is now going around talking about how change is necessary in Washington, co-opting Obama's language with none of the content.  He knows his policies are unpopular and will not win an election, so now he is just going around using words that have polled well and offering no explanation of what he even means—explanation desperately needed when the Washington he says he wants to change has been dominated for years by his own party and politics!*

To take one particularly slimy example, Sarah Palin says that the parents of children with disabilities will have a champion in the White House if she is Vice President—and she does not explain how so.  That she has a child with Down syndrome is all the information we're expected to require.  What policies is she suggesting?  In what way would a Republican administration be good for people with Down syndrome?

And then, of course, the outright lies:  Obama will raise your taxes!  (Not true unless you're making more than $600,000/year, I think it was...and unless you're in the top 20% of earners, you'll actually be paying less tax than you would under McCain!  Fact!)  Palin opposed the "bridge to nowhere"!  (First she supported it—she only opposed it after there was a national outcry, and even then she never gave back the money!)

But I'm getting distracted from the main point: empty words.  A month ago, the McCain ticket was all about attacking Obama for his inexperience and for his enormous popularity.  Suddenly, it's all about championing Palin's inexperience and trumpeting her newfound celebrity.  And does anyone honestly believe that the G.O.P. is excited to shatter the glass ceiling?  If McCain–Palin prevails in November, it will mean that issues and reality itself are meaningless, that spin and manipulation have finally triumphed definitively over democracy in the United States.

Here's a good campaign slogan:

empty words
destructive policies
Swift Boat politics
outright lies
and the end of the American way

* As Barbara Walters reportedly pointed out when talking to McCain on television, we're at almost eight years, now, of Republican executive leadership, and McCain himself has been in Congress since January 1983.  (She said 22 years, according to the article, but he was elected to the Senate in 1986; before that he was a congressman representing Arizona's 1st district.)