Thursday, September 13, 2012

Postmodernism


It’s stupid to not call Postmodernism what it really is, silly art. It merely betrays one’s ignorant assumptions to avoid calling silly art silly art because of one’s failure to acknowledge that from time to time silly is preferable to serious. For the most part, so long as our happiness is not under duress, silliness is more likely to be preferable to seriousness, I think. And in our nation of abundance and excess, there is really very little need for seriousness. That is not to say that exploited nations are at all on the same boat as us.
But in the end, who cares, there will always be silliness and seriousness in the world at all times. Who does it benefit to label a “milieu” with an aggregated and averaged sensibility? For one, it benefits marketers preying on undecided consumers who would prefer to buy something that pleases the largest number of others than something that pleases him or her self. Undoubtedly, many consumers myself included cannot tell what we want at any given time so turn to an ism just so we have something to go on. For another, academics and journalists need isms to designate topics of discussion. Thematizing comparative studies of works of art by chronology seems to “make sense” as a sign of thoughtful deliberation and organizational acumen. But wouldn’t it really be more practical to talk about something rather than some time? Refer to meaningful discussions with your friends and family - we live in times when all is such and such vs the merits of chicken or steak. Time has no logic.
Finally, postmodernism makes us feel special. Most of the rest of the world isn’t even modern yet and we’re already post-modern, boy do they have a long way to go to catch up. Really all that will do is ghettoize the labor of a million artists to untranslatability and ultimately insignificance. Who all in the world are shouting LISTEN LISTEN LISTEN!? And who are just blabbing away about nothing?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Toward the Empress Card (2 more poems)

    Nature
The giver that gives till there is none to give
She gently reminds us to conserve.
The trees and brooks towering peaks and seas
Are ornaments for beds of ore, pools of grease.
Tumbling and rumbling as if furiously,
He stays solid beneath my home.
Tearing and breaking and always remaking
The undulation of my soul.
Nature is fat, nature is rich, nature is cruel,
The commodities of nature, the conservation of nature,
The ambiguities of nature and the nature
Upon which I sit, which is not nature but
The poetry of Mr. Olmsted. But poetry
Too is of nature inspired and of nature made.
The law of supply and demand
And the law of conservation of matter and energy
Are corrupted by the animal spirit. She laughs,
He mocks and scorns us pointing laughing,
They shake the heaven in ridicule, chastising,
Haranguing, hoping that one day we’d understand
That there never was ill will nor malicious intent.
That is to say, our vengeance is quite pointless.

    Summer
Summer is the time when poets meet.
Teenagers and middle-agers alike elope
To distant deserts and deserted warehouses;
To faraway star systems and sylvan glens-
Where feet speak better than lips do and
Lips work harder than hands can and hands
Mold faster than a brain can move and
Brains play for no reason other than that they do.
Summer cries for winter’s wither that
Only in the spring was noticed. Spring tried
To unyoke the tired past and rekindle the still
Damp heart. Summer is the time for adventures
And wild picnics, larger the better. For when
Autumn’s cool breeze penetrates your skivvies,
It is time to decide with what or whom to nest.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

It's time


The Faded
Can you remember back to a time
Before everything became the way it is now?
Before the petals withered and fell;
Before the stem grew tall and moist;
Before the seed germinated and fell;
Before the soil engulfed us in darkness;
Before the voice now anonymous said to us
“Follow me, I know the way to happiness.”
It was a lonely time filled with sorrow in vast empty chambers, remember?
We heard whispers that echoed for an eternity,
can you still hear it?
You can’t go back. Can you go back?
Do a one eighty. Or is it a three sixty? Or seven twenty?
It can’t be any one of these doors.
When you leave the timeless chamber, it is gone from you forever.
But the echo keeps echoing the same song even if you don’t hear it, remember?
If you follow its faint washed out ring where will you go?
You can’t hear?
Ssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Quiet.
Quieter. Quieter still. So quiet
that you hear it again.
Step lightly. Lighter than a ninja. Listen. Observe. The walls are not walls.
The paths lead back into themselves. The light illuminates a world that does not exist.
Only the echoes, if you can hear are real.
Is real. Is not real.
What is not real?
It doesn’t matter just go.
It’s only an adventure after all.
It’s only a poem after all.
It’s only a song after all.
It’s only my life, after all.
Sorry. I’m tired of following you around.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

赛珍珠 Pearl S. Buck, the education of

If I were to pick one Nobel laureate in literature in the 20th century, I would pick Pearl S. Buck mostly because I think she had the highest quality education out of anyone in the 20th century. She was ostracized racially and by gender yet she also experienced what it might feel like to be one of the oppressors. She knew wealth, especially late in her life but was born poor relative to her American cousins but also in comparison to the privilaged Chinese intellectuals she considered her peers. She was born to be a Christian evangelical but was a religious outcast in her community in Qingjiang. She was patriotic but that country, after expelling her at gunpoint and labeling her a cultural imperialist, still does not recognize her as one of their own. If her affair with the poet Xu Zhimo dubbed Chinese Byron was true, then she also knew of romantic love, loveless marriage, and romantic partnership later in life. She had a daughter who would never be able to learn to learn but also adopted umpteen ones upon whom she lavished affection, education, and a 7 million dollar estate. Such an education must have been unmatched in the 20th century, though I hope that it might be less rare in the 21st. 

Hungry Artist

I wouldn’t begrudge a writer for dying rich but I admire one for being born poor, only because they are more normal, almost everyone in the world is born poor just as almost everyone is born with two arms, two legs, and two eyes. I’m not saying that one eyed, one legged babies don’t exist but they are not as representative of humanity as a whole and so tho I respect their unique perspectives, they do not tell me as much about the psychology of the shoveling masses around me.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Every tyrant was once a babe


Nightmare Charm or Spell against the Mara

Shetland Islands (Unst)

Pulling from my head the longest hair it possessed, and then going through the pantomime of binding a refractory animal, the nurse slowly chanted this spell:
De man o' meicht
He rod a' neicht
We nedder swird
Nor faerd nor leicht,
He socht da mare,
He fand da mare,
He band da mare
Wi' his ain hair,
An' made her swear
By midder's meicht,
Dat shö wad never bide a neicht
What he had rod, dat man o' meicht.

Friday, July 13, 2012

excerpt: Vico


I don’t know about you guys but my soul was forged in the smithy of 18th century Neapolitan academic marginalia. Who is Giambattista Vico? He came after Renee Descartes, the guy who said I think therefore I am. This hypothetical version of reality, where thinking=being, relies on the assumption that God made everything just right and we can plug-in to that perfection through scientific inquiry. That’s all well and good but what happens when scientific discoveries and what was known about the history of the world through the Bible don’t really fit together? Which version of God’s truth wins? Vico saw earlier than most that this contradiction must be resolved somehow. He begins his master work, Principles of the New Science Concerning the Common Nature of Nations, or New Science in short, with a spotty history of the world that begins with a back dated moment of Creation based on the Holy Bible. But like a true modern thinker, he also throws in some older dates of important events from other civilizations but not without a sense of skepticism. The New Science would probably be more appropriately named the New Humanities because this book laid down the foundation of modern humanities. What does it mean to go back to ancient texts from the whole world with a modern mindset? Vico promises us that the ideal education of a young man should be a holistic one, including sciences, arts, histories, literatures, but what do we hope to gain from ancient texts in the age of modern technology? Memories and lessons inscribed in language itself, practical wisdom for navigating a highly technological yes but nevertheless the same old human world. This foray into a newly imagined relationship with history paved the way for the first Modernism. Moderns are ancients with fancy tools and mathematical models. Modernists are the students who look at the tools they are given and wonder how now? The now is the same for all of us on the planet, but the how always comes out different. That nations have a common nature means they are different in disposition. Hence, Other Modernisms.
Other Modernisms is also the Other of Modernism, the nullification of modernism through its universal manifestation. We’re not there yet, and we people are like tweens, sometimes acting with calculated precision and other times still learning to cope with our limbs and senses the best we can. Mahayana Buddhists believe that no one is liberated from the illusion of being trapped until everyone is liberated. That is why in their version, Buddha comes back to the human world after reaching Nirvana to help others cross, these Buddha manifestations are called Boddhisatvas. In the same way, a modern Buddhist or a Buddhist Modernist, whichever way, may believe that we are not really modern until we are all modern. But then of course, what would modernity mean?
It doesn’t matter. My dad likes to boast about his academic achievements. When will I no longer be the most learned man in our family? He likes to ask me. And, my adviser told me that Vico is the perfect place from which to study Western Philosophy. Vico stands at the crossroad of modern philosophy. Before Vico lies the great body of practical wisdom from antiquity followed by Christian theology followed by a return to philosophy but now wedded with a clock maker God. After Vico, philosophy finds its proper place in our modern political economy, in education, cultural production, and hopefully increasingly to governance. But education is where it begins and it’s where I begin. Knowledge is like a pyramid, my dad would say, echoing Bacon along with a Baconian Vico, the broader the base, the higher the apex. Learn everything from everywhere and put it together, the things we learn are the things we take to our next questioning.
Though at this point, my dad, almost 60 has one foot in the deconstructed-dads club, but I am nevertheless super glad to have stumbled upon his Vico-moment. It’s uncannily modern in its own way; I am but a textbook application of the New Humanities

Monday, July 9, 2012

Farmers and factory workers export meaning.


In the most basic sense they fabricate most of the stuff that facilitate the realization of human life at this time. But one would be right to argue that most of the meaning of the stuff was decided on by scientists, designers and market norms. Therefore, by meaning, I do not mean the meaning of the stuff but the meaning of the condition of the workers. I can, with readily available data on population and wealth per capita, through arithmetics, render a diagram of life conditions on planet Earth that looks like a pyramid with sweatshop workers somewhere at the wide base and trustfund reared consumers at the pointed tip. At the bottom you work a lot in exchange for little pay, access to facilities, and play time. At the top, you have nothing but playtime and abundant access to all stuff. As a person, the sweatshop worker is really no different than me, waiting on cash to live a bit more comfortably and not have to work so hard all the time; give a gift to someone he or she loves. As a creature, however, he or she occupies a tiny fraction of the thing that gives shape to the whole structure, where as I just more or less float there. One could argue that the tip is every bit as essential to the structure as the base. If the structure were constructed out of physically interdependent parts that would be true but what if the pyramid was nothing but a sand dune at the bottom of an hourglass. In that case, we are all base by nature, being pulled equally by the force of gravity, but those of us at the top merely have a foundation upon which to stand. Meaning, a force which is inverse to the pull of ‘gravity’, is transmitted by Newtonian principles, from those closest to the Earth to those of us furthest away. The mixing of metaphors here does not intend to obfuscate but to admit with candor the limitations of my discourse. And if you really think it through, it means we at the top are vulnerable too but we are vulnerable in terms of our relative position where as they are vulnerable as physical lifeforms. So there is a sort of interdependence but not really. Our position in relative terms is almost never threatened because there are just so much freaking sand at the bottom. Yet we still must worry because that stable class comprises none other than the fragile vulnerable individuals. Such worries never really quit from the back of our minds.
Subsistence farmers are a whole other set of troubles. They are simply too vulnerable. They are vulnerable to violence, disease, natural disasters, socioeconomic upheaval, war, pollution, and heaven forbid, even roaming beasts. As empathetic fellow humans, we worry our pants off. And to throw salt on our wounds they use our modern conveniences to reproduce irresponsibly threatening both their own meager survival and that of the environment around them, often times government protected wildlife reserves full of endangered species. They are the reason we can’t eradicate age old diseases. They are the ignorance that fuel dictatorships. They are the burden we never asked for and they are humanity’s biggest problem in my view. But there is an even worse kind of subsistence farmers. They are the ones faking it, the off-grid hippies. Who are they trying to kid? And the ones with law degrees are launching an invasion on us with their vulnerabilities! Look at how fucking vulnerable we are, they say, do something about it or we’ll sue ya. These insensitive fools are causing an avalanche in our dune hill, sweeping their own children and ours down to the bottom with em. It’s a race to the bottom and it scares the shit out of me. So I bet I got you thinking, who’s this guy gonna vote for? I don’t fucking know, who would you vote for if you take these considerations into account? I ain’t an asshole, I do feel grateful for the factory workers over in China, I thank them everyday when I brush my teeth or use my iPhone. But they’re the ones holding all this scaffolding up cuz they want to live like me. And the harder they try to be like me the more I get to be like myself. They don’t like me, they just want to be me. They wouldn’t give a flying fuck if something happened to people like me. But I need them. I wouldn’t be me anymore if it weren’t for them being what they are. I need them like I need my own motha and the affection’s genuine. So that’s how it comes down to it, I love the workers but they don’t like me. Who do you think I’m gonna vote for?
I believe in education and a reasonable level of health care to honor the worn out word ‘justice’. I believe in the need for patience. We know what happens when you try to rush these things. We need to stop denying that workers and small farmers are a problem. We can’t ignore this problem and we can’t pray for a quick and simple fix. That’s where I’m at with all that anyway. Who or what are you gonna vote for?
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