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Archives for March 2012

Felix Culpa

The latest Kierkegaard Newsletter is out, and includes some timely meditations for Lent. Here is the opening paragraph from a review of a new book by Jason Mahn.

“O happy fault, which merited such and so great a Redeemer!” is the joyous fifth-century Easter-Eve exclamation which resounds throughout Jason Mahn’s perceptive and theologically sensitive exploration of the felix culpa in the writings of Søren Kierkegaard. There are, as Mahn astutely elucidates in this admirable work (and as I also emphatically concur), few thinkers who possess Kierkegaard’s talent for transmuting the darkest night which is ostensibly furthest from redemption into an occasion for the dawning of faith. Kierkegaard’s works, as Mahn perceptively reads them, provide us with ‘an existential via negativa through which he labors to revive the possibility of faith.’ However, this ‘existential’ dimension does not, Mahn argues, lead so much to the Angst of modern existentialism as it does to the sacred praise of early Christianity. In this I am again in sympathy with the theological anthropology Mahn proposes: while Kierkegaard is clearly a progenitor of existentialist philosophy, his own source of ‘existential’ pathos can be discovered within the archives of devotional Christianity.

Read the whole thing here.

How I Broke My Arm

When the landlord of the building gave me the basement apartment, he said, “Be sure to check out the bar right above you—my brother-in-law is the owner and they serve a great steak. Tell him I sent you. And you should visit the barbershop on the other side of the building; my nephew owns it, and I’ll tell him you’ll be stopping by. But you don’t need to go up to any of the floors above, and in fact it’d be great if you would just stay out of the lobby altogether—it’s really for the people in the building.”

So I got the haircut, and it wasn’t bad, and I had the steak, which was pretty good, which in fact you might even say had me—coming back for more, that is. It was the during the third or fourth charbroiled that I met the fourth member of the family reigning at 111 Furth. Now, when it comes to socializing, let me say that I’m all for it. I no longer wish to leave early, slamming the door behind me as I go, and in fact I plan to stay here drinking until they turn off the lights. Getting back to the event under consideration here, I saw no reason to get a nice girl mixed up in the whole lousy business. But she, all curls, pearls and swirls, simply would not let up. Well, she didn’t much like the basement, what with all the oil and the machine parts lying around, on account of it was my job to fix ’em. And she lived in the building, too—had somehow talked the old man into giving her one of the studios with a view of Elliot Bay. So you can see the problem in all this, I’m sure.

Hell, I’m going to stop right there; the story tells itself, really. That’s how I broke my arm.

“Do Pre-Persons Dream of Algebra?”

Well, look at that, Alphonse (and other attempts at getting at the infinite mystery and fragile pricelessness of personhood through fiction) isn’t kid’s stuff, after all… At least, not if we’re to believe what the esteemed and delightfully grumpy Thomas Fleming has to say about Philip K. Dick…

image credit

 

Note to Marketing Dept.: Cross Lawrence Block off Blurb List

Once I’d established a firm no-blurbs policy, life became simpler. I had a ready response to requests, and over time editors and publicists got the message. The volume of ARCs decreased sharply, and what got through was easily handled and dismissed. The downside, of course, was that periodically a good friend would write a book I really liked, and I had to deny him some heartfelt public praise.

I broke my own rule a couple of times. Two friends each self-published a book of poems; while I couldn’t imagine how my endorsement could boost their sales, I saw no reason to withhold it. (And I did in fact like the poems.)

WAIT. There may still be hope. Potter? O’Brien? Have our people been in communication with this guy’s people?

This is actually a fascinating story of the role that a particular writer played in Block’s own writing career, and I encourage you to read more: No, I won’t give you a blurb. Here’s why.

The Tax Code was only a practice swing…

If it weren’t so purdy, it’d be enough to make you…um, sick.

P.S. Note the presence of the IRS – like a radioactive isotope emanating it’s own brand of death deep in the heart of the beautiful monster’s heart…

 

Korrektiv Kinescope: John Kennedy Toole: The Omega Point

“From the beginning, John Kennedy Toole was a stand out — an exceptional child, student, teacher, soldier and, in the end, novelist. Although his initial attempts to publish the now famous novel were met with rejection, in 1981, twelve years after the author’s suicide, A Confederacy of Dunces was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, thanks in part to the extraordinary efforts of Walker Percy who received the manuscript from Mr. Toole’s mother, Thelma Toole, a character as rich and complex as any in the novel.

“Thelma guides us through the author’s early years as he skips grades, graduates from Tulane University with honors at age 20 and flies through a Masters program at Columbia in one year. She is there for his beginning and for his end, and in that journey is revealed a unique relationship that ends in Thelma taking center-stage, a part for which she had yearned and prepared all her life.

“And what stresses and cracks in his heart led Ken to a dead-end road on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, just a few miles from home, a few minutes from his family?

“Why here? Why now?”

H/T: Mark Maier

Video Version

A Special Report

Date: 2/30/12
From: J.D. Powers and Associates
To: Korrektiv/Gerasene Field Operations
Re: Food Product Storage-Yield for Market Resampling: Extract
CC: National Automobile Dealers Association (McLean, Va.)
For Abstract: Access University of Michigan Microfilm Case Batch #44c-11-42.7

[extract begin:] J.D. Powers and Associates estimates that density and frequency of peanut-shard and related edible detritus present in a given American automobile is determined by the number of cylinders of the vehicle in which the peanuts have been placed according to the “hot/cold cushion-storage format” (a technical term indicating the manner and position of the food substance in and around the driver’s and passenger’s seats respectively). According to J.D. Powers, at least 8.2 units (per 8 oz. package) of peanut-shards are present at any given time in this format per every two cylinders to a car’s engine.

On the other hand, the global marketing firm also notes that the presence of other food substances in this format* tend to skew downward in both frequency and density depending on whether the vehicle in question is equipped with manual or automatic transmission. For instance, whereas a sing hand and unencumbered inscisors are the only industry-rated requirements for the interfacing necessary to initiate consumption of peanuts delivered through the tube-sleeved payload packaging unit,  two hands are the minimal industry-rated requirement for releasing the fried tuberous product known as the “French Fry” from its payload platform, thereby accessing and applying its gamut of nutritional benefits. But this product, J.D. Powers notes, has an average baseline which demonstrates only a mild, though noticeable, differential between the consumer habits of those who drive vehicles equipped with automatic transmission and those who drive vehicles equipped with manual transmission. The differential is, of course, wider when others, especially adolescents, are present in the vehicle.. Not surprisingly the rate at which this differential widens corresponds exponentially to the number of so-called “children” in the vehicle in question. 

On the other hand, the report continues, the remnant particles of artificial confectionary known as the “Suzie-Q” were found to trend highest in consumption rates among drivers of vehicles with automatic transmissions and lowest among those who drive manual transmissions. Most secondary studies suggest that the prerequisite dexterity necessary to interface with the product’s packaging AND the generally entropic design of the product itself serve as inherent disincentives to apply the nutritional benefits [sic] of the product at any level, thus removing the possibility of remnant particles playing a larger part in yielding significant behavioral analysis.

At the other end of the spectrum, in an almost mirror image of the Suzie-Q’s trending patterns, remnant particles of the porcine by-product known as “La Tonita Chiley-Limon Chicharrones de Harina” were as greatly favored by the drivers of vehicles equipped with manual transmissions as they were disliked by those who drove vehicles with automatic transmission, with dramatic aberrations found only among those vehicles of either design with tires requiring an inflation of 75 PSI or higher. [end]

*Other formats for food particle/remnant storage, not considered in this research, include the wet/dry vessel containment (i.e. cup-holder) storage format, the vital-document insulated manual/digital garment-storage compartment-storage format**, and the more recently innovated solar-heated sun-visor wedge-storage format-cum-heat convection process.

**J.F. Powers and Associates is preparing a separate but related study on the thermal resistance (R-Value) of various fiber-based material in protecting consumable food products stored in the glove-compartment. The study will include but not be limited to analyses of the following: insurance ID cards, registration documentation, prophylactic packaging material, plastic-coated playing cards, feminine products, and/or official state documents recording the historical incidence of legal infractions and violations in circumstances involving both excessive acceleration and prolonged stationery tendencies.

Holy Mother, Thank You So Much.

Special Cross-Platform Promotional Supplement Feature

Speaking of vaultless ambition and bottomless sloth: baby has a blog.

Vaultless ambition;

bottomless sloth.

Aegypta

Jamaal, your sister was a cat and she killed me.
In the dark shadows she played with kingdoms
And I said I had only come to meet someone.
Then she pursed her lips and I knew I was mortal.
I said I had come for some sun and fun –
I had only come to shed some light on a shady deal.

Yes, I was there sipping seawater from a jar,
Tracing the ascendancy of a goddess.
Her luxuriant walk was a long slow century
As she dragged my eyes along the line of my hat brim.
I said I had come for the market price.
Your sister killed me, Jamaal, and she was a cat.

Carthage and its carnage bristled with industry;
A plague of things came from the boats in port
From wide, filthy decks lying dead off a sandbar
Flocks bleated out husky songs to Mecca.
But all that was behind me with the storm
Of dysentery for the moment subsided.
A million passages across fresh-fed water
Led to reenactments of Pharaoh’s humbling:
Pilgrims swarmed like flies around the mouth of the Nile.
Gnats and locust matted the sails of river dhows
Until a cough of wind finally promised land.

Shady and nameless, I wandered narrow ways
Past buckets of steam and meat, puke, spices and mint.
I dealt in a delicate trade of porcelain,
I traded bold disregard for a taste of gold.
How easily, so I have shown you, Jamaal,
Each can break: one in the hand, one the soul.
I was a careful man with foolproof eyes;
You would not find me wandering anywhere
But down the busiest streets in this ancient city.
That night was no different, that old Cairo night,
Held in the wet warm grip of a trembling night sky.
That night was the same, that Egyptian night,
Filling with smoke, light and celluloid wings.
But that night, too, the city was clever with eyes
Conspiring so with chance in the truck of pleasure,
Tricking my soul in the business of ruin.

* * * * * *
Bemused by conviction, buried in desire
(Like electric L.A. seen from afar
On a balcony in suburban Burbank),
The city asserted seduction without purpose.
I made a cantina on a busy corner,
A coarse place harried with worn out welcomes,
Full of tourists and turbans; – there was your sister
While I, in fine white linen and local silks,
Represented the best in tropic composure
To endure a few lantern hours of low-lit sweat.
A portable transistor in some dark corner
Played songs, most of which I could not translate,
From the tiny mouth of its transmission.
But, clawing through the noise, Gilberto sang softly,
Ah, Love is the saddest thing when it goes away . . .
I liked that foreign something under her voice,
Something husbanding a candid lyricism.
There was the squalor and my own lights to go by . . .
And your sister killed me. She was a cat
With scarab eyes crawling slow and gleaming
Like the clear ripple of cataract tides
Drawing thin the muddy river’s recession.
But now she was suddenly flooding out into
And turning the screws of my vanity,
Irrigating the dry sinews of my heart.
I was there to lift a few dishonest dollars
From a hieroglyph or cracked monument,
Practice a few queer traditions for good appearance
And get back to my hotel room in time to count
My winnings, make a survey of my ransoms,
A quick synopsis of curses and kings,
A perusal of split stone and forgotten time.
I was there to order drinks and smoke leaf
By the hour, not to cower at statues and sand.
I was not there, Jamaal, to die so carefully.
The sand and balanced stone of a thousand years
Have nothing on your sister, to whom, even so,
After Carthage, I came (as recommended by
A friend and partner). So it was to be,
So you said, The Purchase Of The Season:
Her face is dark porcelain – to stare at her is to
Stare at the night! Ah, her skin shines a gold
Of the rarest kind! Go at once! She will give you
All of it and more! Go now! To think about it
Is to lose! Go! She awaits your every move!
Her love, it is porcelain-fine! . . . . Ah, but her soul
Shines like gold! . . . All of it and more! By the buy, Jamaal,
She killed me well before the morning came,
Well before the first king stirred in any kingdom.

Well before the first fly stirred in any kitchen
Her tracks covered themselves in the cool shifting sands,
Faded like the importance of empty coffers,
Hiding from the hot justice of the rising sun.
To look at pyramids is to think a long time,
So do me a favor, Jamaal, and go to hell.

When I was in old Cairo, my old friend,
I found your sister alright – she  felt exactly like
The slim horn of a golden moon piercing
My porcelain breast as it dipped to the farthest dune.
Expenditures were easy, money no object;
The thing was finished, liquidated in no time.

Jamaal, it’s quiet beneath the pyramids tonight,
All except for a wind – or something like a wind
Shifting in the spirit of profit and loss;
The desert is the business now, and business is good.
After all, sand supplies a great demand . . .
Perhaps I should feel betrayed, my old friend. Perhaps I should.

I only feel silent. I hear wind, her profit,
Or I hear something very like the wind, my loss.
A silent partner of the night, I rest
In the peaceful counting house of sand grains and stars.
Now the dunes arch their backs against the sky
And the desert stirs with the steady purr of aeternity.

Further Fallout From Mike Daisey’s Fabricated Apple Story

Now I don’t know whether or not he really killed a hooker at the MacDowell Artist’s Colony. Trust is such a fragile thing.

Second Coming Alert

Readers of Percy’s The Moviegoer probably remember the following passage:

An odd thing. Ever since Wednesday, I have become acutely aware of the Jews. There is a clue here, but of what I cannot say. How do I know? Because whenever I approach a Jew, the Geiger counter in my head starts rattling away like a machine gun; and as I go past with the utmost circumspection and with every sense alert—the Geiger counter subsides. (The Moviegoer)

I’ve always thought that machine gun was a poorly chosen metaphor, especially for the way it’s mixed with the much better metaphor of the Geiger counter. But he continues, making it clear that this is not (as a woman I once spoke with thought) some weird species of anti-semitism. Quite the opposite, I think:

Jews are my first real clue.

When a man is in despair and does not allow in his heart of hearts that a search is possible and when such a man passes a Jew in the street, he notices nothing.

When a man becomes a scientist or an artist, he is open to a different kind of despair. When such a man passes a Jew in the street, he may notice something, but it is not a remarkable encounter. To him the Jew can only appear as a scientist or artist like himself, or a specimen to be studied.

But when a man awakes to the possibility of a search and when such a man passes a Jew in the street for the first time, he is like Robinson Crusoe seeing the footprint on the beach.(The Moviegoer)

Fast forward twenty years, when one of the more memorable passages from the Percy’s fifth novel, The Second Coming, has protagonist Will Barrett speculating on relations between the local Jewish population and the majority population around them.

Did the growing madness have something to do with the Jews pulling out? Who said we could get along without the Jews? Watch the Jews, their mysterious comings and goings and stayings! The Jews are a sign! When the Jews pull out, the Gentiles begin to act like the crazy Jutes and Celts and Angles and redneck Saxons they are! (The Second Coming)

I was reminded of all this when I read the following headline at the Der Spiegel site online: “More and More French Jews Emigrating to Israel”.
As noted in the first paragraphs of the article, this is so the rise in violence against Jews in France, and Europe more generally:

More and more French Jews are buying homes in Israel amid fears of rising anti-Semitism in France. Many complain of being harassed in public and feel the country is no longer a safe place to raise their children. In the wake of the Toulouse attacks, the wave of emigration is only likely to increase. (Spiegel Online)

“What’s the big deal?” says a hypothetical America Firster (Or EuroFirster, as the case may be). “They need to make up their mind about what country they want to belong to anyway. They have their own country, let them run it. They’ve been running ours for too long now.”

Well, the big deal should be obvious, I think. But in case it isn’t, here is the next paragraph:

Many must have been reminded of the treatment of Jews under the Third Reich. Shortly after the attack on a Jewish school in the southern French city of Toulouse on Monday, school principals in the city walked into classrooms and asked the Jewish pupils to come forward. “We ask you to leave the class and join the other Jewish children, who are in a locked and safe location.” (Spiegel Online)

I felt a distinct chill as I read this. Not because of yet another reference to the Third Reich, allusions to which are now de rigueur for just about any political argument, on either or any side. It was the segregating of the other Jewish children in a locked and safe location. What exactly constitutes “safe location” these days? Well, read on:

It was intended as a precaution in response to a request from the Jewish community. But it also highlights the degree to which many Jews in France feel that they are a threatened and increasingly excluded minority. Every year, these feelings prompt thousands to take a dramatic decision, namely, to pack their belongings and move to a crisis zone: Israel. They feel safer there.(Spiegel Online)

So: an increasing number of Jews feel safer in the Middle East than they do in Europe. In Israel, where just a few years ago there seemed to be a suicide bombing every couple of days, and even now appears to be on the brink of war with Iran. Of course, Mohamed Merah shooting up a Jewish school in Toulouse isn’t exactly a suicide bomber, but I don’t know how much comfort we should take in the fact that it was the French police who took him out. Some, I suppose. More notable, pace Will Barrett, is that more and more Jews are choosing to take up residence in a different polity altogether.

There are levels of craziness, after all, and it isn’t just Celts and Saxons, or in this case but not really, Gauls. And craziness requires some kind of general agreement about what constitutes sanity. There seems to be less and less of just this sort of agreement these days, and, more important in the long term, what manner of culture supports it.

There are strange and difficult times ahead.

A Ferlinghetti of the Mind

From The Writer’s Almanac:

It’s the birthday of poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti (books by this author), born in Yonkers, New York (1919). His father, an Italian immigrant, died before the boy was born and his mother was committed to an asylum while he was still an infant. A French aunt took over custody of young Lawrence and moved him to France. After a few years, they returned to New York, where his aunt got a job as a governess with a wealthy family. Then his aunt took off, abandoning her nephew, but the family liked the boy so much that they took him in.

Ferlinghetti had access to good schools, went to college at the University of North Carolina, and then joined the Navy during World War II, where he was the commander of 110-foot ship. He said: “Any smaller than us you weren’t a ship, you were a boat. But we could order anything a battleship could order so we got an entire set of the Modern Library. We had all the classics stacked everywhere all over the ship, including the john. We also got a lot of medicinal brandy the same way.”

After the war, he went to the Sorbonne, and then settled in San Francisco. He loved the North Beach neighborhood, full of Italian immigrants, and he decided to open a bookstore there. In 1953, he opened City Lights, a bookstore and publishing house, which made its name printing Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl.” Ferlinghetti did not publish his own book, A Coney Island of the Mind, but New Directions did in 1958, and it sold over a million copies.

Ferlinghetti wrote: “I have a feeling I’m falling / on rare occasions / but most of the time I have my feet on the ground / I can’t help it if the ground itself is falling.”

Otto Zehm in Heaven

Zehm could blow you away on the guitar … During breaks at work,
he’d regularly buy everyone on the cleaning crew something to eat—
“a candy bar or anything else you wanted” … he always came to work
with a two-liter of Pepsi and a gallon of milk. “He said it kept his hair
shining and flowing.”
—The Inlander

He wears a crown and plays guitar and hands
out Snickers bars to anyone who looks
like they might like one.
They didn’t have Snickers bars in heaven
when Otto arrived,
but now they do.
They didn’t have Diet Pepsi, either,
and they still don’t.
Otto said that wouldn’t be necessary.
But they do have milk,
by the gallon,
and the gallant cows they get it from
moo and murmur in harmony
when Otto plays his guitar—
his hair shining and flowing—
they moo like angels might
if angels could be cows,
they moo like Eddie Van Halen’s guitar would moo
if it were made of magic cowhide,
they moo and wail and their mooing
and wailing shake the mountains of heaven
when Otto plays the guitar,
the guitar that Jesus gave him
on the third day,
the day he was released from his chains.

When Otto looks through the mists of heaven
down into the realms of earth,
he sees his mother and smiles.
And he sees the turmoil,
the fretting and stealing,
the anxious knuckles, the discolored teeth,
the paychecks and the ATMs,
the St. Patrick’s Day parades
with officers in polished uniforms.
He sees the souls of his friends
and the soul of a girl named Amber,
the confused and clamoring
souls of our city, the city of man.
And he sees the dark soul
of the man who murdered him,
brooding in a garden in a back yard.
The man waits on the word prison
and eyes the turning spindle of obstructed justice.
Otto sees this man,
sees him clearly sometimes,
and his radiant soul is moved
with pity. His guitar cries out to this man
and the cows of heaven moo and give their milk.

[See also Justice for Otto Zehm is close at hand]

Korrektiv Policy

…as rendered by Waiting for Godot‘s Vladimir and Estragon.

Vladimir:  Our aim was only ever to make people laugh.

Estragon:  Or cry.

Vladimir:  Which amounts to the same thing.

Old News

So the San Diego Reader, which pays my salary, has just undergone a website overhaul, and now offers something like an archive.  Well now, looky here, a profile of William Murray, Jr., who wrote The New Yorker‘s “Letter from Paris” for 25 years or so.  I liked writing this one.  The man had an original Arno on his wall, and a hell of a career to boot.