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Angels and Demons in Fancy Dress

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In case any of you are wondering... Yes, I could just post my political columns here, but I'm trying to generate hits for dear Will's blog. So...

New column! Hot off the, er, press? Go to www.todayslies.com now!!

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It's been pointed out to me that I should remind people, from time to time, about my weekly column. So, er, yes, go ye forth to todayslies.com and gaze upon the outpourings of my righteous indignation. You can find my posts under the link "Aaron's Latest Weekly."
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What does the mainstream news media have in common with a Happy Meal? Go see my weekly column at http://www.todayslies.com/ to find out!

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...like Stranger Than Fiction.

I've a friend who chided me years ago about not owning any "fun" music. But Requiem masses, I argued, are fun. This was the era of intermittently applied liquid eyeliner and evenings spent in living rooms whose designs revolved largely around velvet and dried roses. Even then, though, I knew there was something other than irony and moroseness pulling me through my days. Okay, so sometimes I'd black out the windows, burn all my writing, and listen to "Something I Can Never Have" on repeat. But more often, I'd find myself impressed by the moon and a splash of color in the evening sky and the gamboling of squirrels and foolish dogs and all the evidence of a world and all its fleeting things at play. Sometimes in my fervor to formulate, to express, or worse, to figure things out, I forget that most essential tactic of surviving one's own life. Noticing not only beauty, but pointless, seemingly ordinary, inexplicable moments of just-rightness.

I don't know why, but this lovely, foolish, funny movie really tickled that too-often-dormant noticing-self awake this evening, and I feel I want to dance in the rain and relearn French and play the guitar with clumsy earnestness. I want to taste food for more than the second or two it takes to choke it down. I want to read and converse and versify like words and images are food. 

I rail on and on about unnecessary exclamation points, but sometimes they're preferable to a third of a page of footnotes and caveats. 

Anyway, if you're in a mood to not-be-cynical, do yourself a favor and watch this movie.

Current Mood:
touched touched
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As those who know me well can attest, this is a nearly inexhaustible source of interest, speculation, and discourse for me. I'm not offended by opposing points of view-- only by cruelty and self-righteousness. And I have to say, in response to the spate of triumphant atheist manifestos that have been getting so much press of late, that I am no more impressed by this lot than I am by any other fundamentalist group. I find the triumphal mood of the more strident reductive materialists all the more perturbing because, in my view, they share the most fundamental and harmful values of monolithic religions as they have been too often interpreted and applied in recorded history. 

The unstated assumption of both of these "opposite" views is that all of reality exists in merely human terms-- that, in other words, there is exactly one inclusive existence, and that it is ultimately perceivable by human senses (albeit with the aid either of holy tomes or technologies aimed at extending those senses) and that whatever that "isness," well, is, it is ultimately describable, comprehensible, and transmittable in those same terms. And, I'm sorry, I've seen this point of view in practice, I've argued both for and against it, but at this point it seems to me utterly worthless. Where does it get us? The idea that human beings are separate from, or superior to, all other life in the universe has got to be one of the most destructive fallacies in the history of our brief time on this small, small world, and I wish we would throw it in the trash heap before it kills us all. 

And I must say emphatically that rational empiricism and its descendent thought-forms are no less guilty of this than any institutionalized religion. For those who point fingers at the Inquisition or the more violently-oriented fundamentalist movements of the contemporary world, I would remind them of Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot; for those who lampoon Christians' belief in the imminent Passion, I would point out that millions of people believe that unrestrained population growth can be solved by space exploration (do the math, folks...) This point is constantly glossed over by the atheist camp: people believe in Science. They understand it as well as the average Christian understands the Book of Leviticus or the Revelations, yet they believe in it. There are bound to be those who say they do so because it works. Well... is utility the same thing as truth? Is that how we define it? Because on some levels, prayer works; meditation works; ritual works. The fact that these tactics do not work in the same terms as science or technology does not make them worthless. 

If I want to fix an automobile, or remove an appendix, or go to the moon, yes, I'll take Science for $500, Alex. But if I'm looking for a way to contextualize the beauty of the moon or the pain of grieving or the strangeness of observing oneself observing oneself, I'll take mythology, poetry, art, ritual, and jumping naked over bonfires. I don't find much of the ecstatic in purely rational approaches to reality. But-- and here is the crucial distinction I'm trying to draw-- I don't begrudge anyone who finds rational narratives sufficient. I only resent the point of view that I am a deluded fool for continuing to seek clarity and meaning in a way that makes sense to me. 

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Why is it that so many film directors seem to gradually-- how do you say?-- lose touch? Is it self-satisfaction? Diminishing passion or perspective? Laziness? Or is it ambition turned against itself, like an axe that's been sharpened to the point that it careens off its intended target? I fear it's not just excess of digital effects, explosions, Eddie Murphie in latex, or fat jokes that make many movies so difficult to endure; sometimes, it's the seemingly frantic desire to impress the audience with artistic earnestness.

I'm trying very hard not to be pointlessly mean about this, but I have to admit that on some very fundamental level, Across the Universe really pissed me off. The aforementioned "earnestness," splashed with toddler-ish fervor all over the screen, seems paradoxically insincere. Is it because she's still trying to make movies like a puppeteer that we get so many bloodless simulacra of dramatic situations? At times the film reminded me of adaptations of venerable adventure literature or legend-- say, First Knight or the risible Disney Three Musketeers-- whose screenwriters seemed to have once heard of characters like King Arthur or D'Artagnan, or merely to have seen someone in a slutty Gwenevere costume at a Halloween party, and subsequently thought, "Hey, I could write a movie about that..." Clearly Julie Taymor heard tell that Vietnam was scary and bad, and she's had flashbacks of young love, and she has perhaps purchaed a tie-dyed tee-shirt for nostalgic purposes, but otherwise is at a loss to actually create a single dramatic situation that does not lean heavily on painfully out-of-context Beatles music and soulfully pretty young people to supply the sentiment. Sigh. That was bitchy. But... come on!!!  

To be clear: it's not that I don't appreciate Taymor's enthusiasm. I loved the audaciousness of her Titus, even if I find the more MTV-ish sequences a little embarassing. I also find much of her staging ingenious and visually arresting. It's just that, to paraphrase Sunday in the Park with George, I find all her work is "more and more about less and less."    

Current Mood:
bitchy bitchy
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 Or, musings on the Glass Bead Game. 

Have you ever finished a book and thought, "This is not a good novel. I had to force myself to pick it up. I thought I would never finish. But damn, I'm glad I read it"? The last time I felt this strongly, I had just thrown The Fountainhead across the room. The crucial difference is that I suspect Hermann Hesse was essentially a brilliant, lonely, very sad man, while I think Ayn Rand was merely hateful and psychotic. 

But that's a different story.

The Glass Bead Game shares many of the questions and preoccupations that run through Siddhartha (a book I worshipped for many years, but with which I have recently become somewhat, how do you say, impatient?)-- principally the search for a still, joyful center in the midst of a mad, mad world in which even the most well-meaning tend to do as much harm as good. What sets this book apart is Hesse's growing suspicion that there is something essentially inadequate about the solitary mystic or yogi; isn't there something cheap about seeking enlightenment by simply leaving the world? Cloistered spirituality not only does not advance the cause of humanity at large, he seems to be saying-- rather, there is something fundamentally incomplete about it. There's something suspect about concluding that the world is "mere" illusion, Maya, a cavalcade of empty, dying images leading us around and around like a certain malevolent piper. Sadly, I don't think he ever really gets at what that unsatisfactory something is. To me, it's bound up in his attitude toward people. Everyone in his novels who is not the protagonist is either a saintly exemplar of spiritual fulfillment or a prop symbolizing humanity's foolishness. Women, in particular, seem to represent nothing more than obstacles standing in the way of perfect joy. People as real (and, in a way, divine) beings simply do not exist in these books. This is... frustrating. I think of the many other writers I used to admire, and how little value they seemed to place on the human being sharing the room with them: Henry Miller, Friedrich Nietzsche, the "great" American playwrights (sorry, maybe this is just a phase, but lately O'Neill and his imitators simply nauseate me)... There's a level of contempt built into this idealized search for Truth, Experience, Wisdom, Power, or whatever that I can no longer rationalize away. Perhaps part of my frustration stems from how very hard I worked to emulate such thinkers for so many years, to value Truth and Beauty above the ordinary world and its inhabitants, as though these were somehow separate things. Now I wonder what the value is of an ethos that does not honor the complicated, frustrating, occasionally terrifying, but unmistakable divinity of all human consciousness. Of all being, for that matter.

But I have spiraled away from the topic, I fear. As is so often the case, the first reaction is the most difficult to articulate. I can't seem to wrap my arms around it. I may stammer a while and grunt and make obscure gestures until the moment passes.

What I'm trying to say is that this book got me thinking hard about my own approach to spirituality in the context of my relationship with my dear friends, other human beings, and the world at large, and the conclusions that I came to made me deeply uncomfortable. On that level, it's a great book, even if I don't think it's a particularly good novel.

Be splendid and joyful.

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"Stretch out with your feelings." As I think happened fairly regularly with the original three Star Wars films, George stumbled, sprawled, took a table and several small children with him, and landed face first into a pile of transcendent truth (or, applicability, if you will) with this line. It could be taken as a compact bit of character development/background information-- Ah, I get it, Jedi are sort of psychic. But the idea of reversing the usual literalist flow chart of perception-- human beings as protoplasm, jittering after one bit of stimulus after another, while somehow experiencing an accidental emergent phenomenon known as "consciousness"-- has profound potential to alter consciousness without herbal or pharmaceutical aid. Spend a day actively taking note of everything beautiful. The usual things might pop out more forcefully-- clouds, trees, happy dumb dogs, that sort of thing. But the surprising thing, for me, is how this practice erodes the conventional categories of beauty in favor of something more immediate, and seemingly just beyond grasp. I saw a dead rat lying beneath the tracks today, and was fairly flabbergasted to discover that there was something poignant about the image-- its fur, its little mouth, the repose of it, the imagined movements of its body in another time. The last struck me as particularly significant. Seeing with better eyes means breaking down not only the blinding prism of the expected and the perfunctory, but the idea of time as linear, absolute, and utterly confining. Thinking of ourselves as "luminous beings" may not endow us with super powers, but it can make both the immediate and the continuing experience of existence seem much broader, richer, stuffed with possibility and meaning. Whether one wishes to attach a particular religious or spiritual point of view to this sort of devotional activity is, to me, beside the point. Think of it as applied whimsy for the purpose of artful living, if you prefer. Or, hell, say that there's a core of inconceivable joy behind everything. That'll show 'em. My main point (if you can call it that-- perhaps my cudgel knob, but that sounds unduly suggestive) is that every act of perception seems to include an act of will; we must be prepared and emotionally available either to see a thing, or to fully absorb the surprise that accompanies the truly unexpected. For me, this means deciding to see a great deal more of the world around me, but also of what is a half step to the left and two seconds ago. It means listening when the gods or my active imagination speak, and also arguing and telling them to fuck off when they're not nice. It means treating the act of perception like an act, and deciding whether it's a good one, or boring, or overly hammy. It means going just a little crazy, in order not to join the world's sizeable coalition of the totally insane. 

I really think that the blast shield on Luke Skywalker's head (in star wars, when he's practicing with the remote) has a lot in common with Plato's cave, or with the Witch's underground lair in The Silver Chair, or any other stifling suggestion of flatness. We're talking about the land of "merely," "just," and "only," all the killing words that say, nothing beyond my expectations is of any importance. Do a collage and see how everything can connect. Share a dream with someone a thousand miles away. Or get yourself a lightsaber that says "Bad Motherfucker" (it's the purple one). Get medieval on the ass of non-seeing. 

But these are the ruminations of a sleepy/dopey dwarf-person (not really a dwarf).

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I have, in my day [because I am ninety-seven years old] spurned cordless telephones, email, cellular phones, and various x-degrees of separation friend-sites. I've always blamed this discomfort with technological communication on my incurable Amishness (though, mixing metaphors, I told one dear Journal-ite that I was too "monkish" to indulge in blogging of any kind)... But lately I've come to suspect that my virtual reticence is symptomatic of a larger, often harmful tendency toward cave-dwelling, I-have-nothing-of-import-to-say syndrome, and general leave-me-alone-ishness. Zounds. I am calling down the moon and all her celestial friends for a sea-change. I light my candle and de-hibernate my laptop in one intoning breath. I utter a yawp to all of my blocked and frustrated beloveds who think that they are crazy for wanting to create beautiful moments on our little blink-and-you'll-miss-it world. Be seven years old for five minutes. Yon stick on the ground is Excalibur. Patience, friends, I may rave on like Buddy Holly. 

Act as if.

Current Mood:
contemplative contemplative
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