Saturday, September 27, 2008

Old Movies

Seven years ago, I rented Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, found it awful, and decided that all old movies were overrated. But last month, Todd insisted I watch a few Hitchcock flicks. I've seen most of the oeuvre at this point--and they're all brilliant. So I've misjudged classic cinema.

I'm watching Gone With the Wind now, which is also wonderful.

What other old movies are worth watching?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Natural Numbers

I've gotten hooked on Teaching Company lectures--they're typically about 12 hours long, covering various topics (there's a link to the left that goes to Goodreads, where I've listed ones I've completed). I'm currently on a mathematical one--the proof just given is cute:

Hypothesis: Every natural number is interesting.

Proof:

1. Suppose any natural number is not interesting.
2. Is there any natural number less than that number that is not interesting?
3. Yes?
4. Well, what's the smallest natural number that isn't interesting?
5. Now, isn't the fact that that number is the smallest number that is not interesting... interesting?

Q.E.D.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Works Cited

Dawkins speaks scoffingly of a personal God, as though it were entirely obvious exactly what this might mean. He seems to imagine God, if not exactly with a white beard, then at least as some kind of chap, however supersized. He asks how this chap can speak to billions of people simultaneously, which is rather like wondering why, if Tony Blair is an octopus, he has only two arms. For Judeo-Christianity, God is not a person in the sense that Al Gore arguably is.


Terry Eagleton, Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching

The Self

September 23rd, 2008

I had a thought while writing another entry. I imagined a drastic change inflicted on a person, such that the determinant is nearly entirely new. Picture Phineas Gage, picture Holocaust survivors, picture schizophrenics drugged into normalcy. These are changes wrought from the outside—and sharp changes, to make them clear examples—but we can picture more organic transformation.

The best example, for me and I suspect for many, is the difference between me and me ten or twenty years ago.

I don’t have much in common with him. Some threads are the same, but what he held sacred—love, God, a conviction that the world is a very cold and hopeless place—I jettisoned (sometimes I wonder if this was prudence or cowardice). When I find a piece of him, like a poem I wrote for Mrs. Taylor’s class, or a picture of me with glasses and braces, I don’t recognize it as me. The feeling’s the same as finding something similar by my grandfather; I think here is something related to me, and special because of that—but did I do it? No.

I read things from two weeks ago, and I think: “I remember writing that.” But the farther we go into past—five years, let’s say—the harder it is to identify with the author. I think, “Look how silly, or blind, or stupid he was.” If you criticize, I’ll heartily agree. And, what’s more, I won’t feel ashamed—because he isn’t me. I have pieces of him, yes, but no more than twins have pieces of one another, and I have genes from my father and mother. But twins are different, and I’m not my father, and I’m not my mother.

In the other entry, I was trying to remember a crush I had a long time ago, and I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t get into the same mindset—I didn’t know why I did what I did, what it was like to be the person who did what I did. He was so fragile, and so fervently and even sweetly in love. He went to the practice rooms in the bottom of Scales at midnight to moan sad songs. Who I was, him, he proved impenetrable to me, holding things secret from his future self, perhaps because he thought I’d judge him for it, which I would, and criticize him, which I also would.

What governs the pieces I deem me? What is the rule for which action I’ll say, “Yes, I did that, me!” and those which I’ll say, “I did that, but I was a different person.” It’s not pride—I’ll own up to plenty of embarrassing things, and eschew things that would do me proud. (When, for instance, my mom tells me the complexity of books I read at a very young age, I feel pride, but it’s the pride a parent would feel when his child does something proficient, ahead of his age.) Is it temporal proximity? But why should that be the metric?

I thought, “What if it’s voluntary? What if I select the things I want to be a part of myself? What if this happens at every moment, every second a culling of the things we will own up to, a choice made from the much larger selection of everything we might say is ours?”

So I tried it. I thought about actions I’d taken I no longer want to be my parts, and I—I didn’t let go—I abstracted, I stepped back, I looked at them the way I’d look at somebody else’s behavior: interesting, perhaps, but that’s all. And I just failed to collect those pieces.

It was, surprisingly, and I imagine deceptively, easy.

Still, a sudden sensation of novelty and relief pervades. And an almost painful sense of loss.

I’ll probably abandon this particular writing in the future.

Nozick’s theory of the self in Philosophical Explanations is similar.

Monday, September 22, 2008

More News on the Pet-Nouveau Front

Scott: It just hit me--perfect pet: the bat.
But I looked it up, and apparently they're really miserable in captivity--but I bet dogs and cats were like that too at the beginning.


Jay:
How much space do they need?


Scott:
I dunno. Maybe you can just put a little house in your backyard and get them to return.


Jay:
So if you domesticated it it might be OK.


Scott:
I don't know. I'll have to talk to a bat expert.


Jay:
yeah
But it'd be fucking awesome to walk around town with a bat on your shoulder.
Or hanging from under your arm or something.


Scott:
Holy shit. Or a little leash?


Jay:
hahah
yea


Scott:
Bumblebee Bats! How much space could they really need?



Jay:
They're small, but cool.
And they eat bugs. Also good.


Scott:
And endangered--we'd be doing the world a favor by raising more of them.


Jay:
yeah!


Scott:
Plus, it's about time we groomed a species to take over after us, you know, after we all destroy each other.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Love

September 21st, 2008

Love is a Jonestown cocktail crafted by self-conscious scientists in preparation for a wild spring break. Love is a childhood sweetness that gets thoroughly and delightfully dirty. Love is an anarchy of plumbing, tipped vats of fluid roaming the ocean-spanning interstates of arteries and barreling around the hallways of themselves to form episodic, ever chaotic, microcosmic tides, eddies, pointless, hallucinogenic maelstroms, a surf’s up around the legendary monuments of the body—smell the brain that bore the charge, hear the heart that sped it, taste the organs that thrust it home, and touch the soul that bled it—coasting on waves crashing down aortal sluices and vena cava corridors, then to feed the intricate capillaries which appear in the interstices of the flesh like forests of figure eights, invasions of tiny eels, dazzling floods of infinity symbols, to reemerge no less the potent, the colony of silly blood cells set to dance the endless jig of being, which is the spirit of that original jubilant mosh pit, populated in old by the newborn and joyous stars, the first condensate of the cosmic spittle.

Love, life’s MacGuffin, dribbled down the rim of grails, washed ashore on unmanned isles, smoothed by centuries. Love, the historiographic infection, killed its every traitor. Love seasons stories and when we dare to be so gauche as to sterilize the specimen with our spotlights it mutates its every bit, over and over, until it drips with ten thousand teratomatous purses, and even then nothing stops its reinvention until the monstrosity has becomes original again. Love is the working hypothesis of every motive and is shoved into the police lineup no matter its alibi during the night in question.

Love is Ivesian, a syncopation at its finest and a static crackle at its most common, a cross rhythm of ramming heartbeats and cash register trills, muscular explosions and our words, squeaky with tenderness then rich with hunger, and our worlds, fun with friends and then futuristic with children, who steal the torch, never realizing we purposely left the display case unlocked.

Love dies slow deaths in nursing homes, where the dementia etiolates spouses that have become as familiar as birthmarks and as old as furniture. There love melts in agonizing slowness, evaporating like the water in a forgotten reservoir, exposed to the hot and cancerous sunlight each day until nothing remains but a memory of moist earth.

Love is rationalization par excellence, a pantomime we began at the first arching electric discharge of attraction, where something about her voice or his eyes or her skin or his nose took no prisoners, sparked the gas, carved up the atoms, and started the whole corrugated self-deception apparatus bubbling.

Love is a gamble with the problem of induction, and so those who don’t feel it will say they do and those who do will say they’re not sure. Love’s fruit is sparse and often inedible, but no one seems to care and I don’t see why I should either. And so love sometimes combs the coastline, a majestic beacon that winks forever at the curtains of waves, their shuddering mass striped with the reflection of the moon like a line of scrambled, snow-colored yolk, and so we may conclude that even alone love is proud, locked in a limbo that may be a wait and may be a death sentence and may be nothing more than what it claims to be: a touch of something beautiful, hidden in the heart.

Love is my favorite irrationality.