Admitted to a good liberal arts college and the free honors program at my city's public university. I'd prefer the LAC's academics/culture, but I barely grasp the meaning of 230k. Consciously, all I'd like in this life is to open the floodgates of my sternum and let that primordial silvery stuff inside out to mix with the equivalent fluids that sit in others' guts, dormant until piqued by the prospect of combination. But considering the more frugal choice stings my pride sharply. How do I deal?
Because liberal arts education is yet another thing that’s free to those who can afford it but very expensive for those who can’t, the real question isn’t about school but about yourself. The question is:
Do you care about the whirl of experience more than you care about the comfort and leisure that would make that sort of life a pleasure?
Because if you do liberal arts right, you’ll become a roulette ball that never settles. For the rest of your life no identity will seduce, no doctrine will persuade, and no accomplishment will reward. You will not win because the momentum of intellectual greed bends everything into a circuit.
If Faust and Paradise Lost don’t read as cautionary tales to you; if you’re okay with seeming like a loser to everyone around you and—inwardly—even to your deepest self, then do it.
You’ll be in debt either way: better to yourself than Sallie Mae Cocksucker.
This 32-year-old man was an ambitious and creative mathematician whose life was geared to a weekly psychophysiological cycle. Towards the end of the working working week, he would become fretful, irritable and distractible, ‘useless’ at anything save the simplest routine tasks. He would have difficulty sleeping on Friday nights, and on Saturdays would become unbearable. On Sunday mornings he would awaken with a violent migraine, and would be forced to remain in bed for the greater part of the day. Towards evening he would break out in a gentle sweat and pass many pints of pale urine. The fury of his sufferings would melt away with the passage of these secretions. Following the attack he would feel a profound refreshment, a tranquillity, and a surge of creative energy which would carry him to the middle of the following week.
How best to avoid describing myself in terms of the culture—in my case: books, movies, games, art—that I like? (Without doing Wittgenstein's mutter-about-my-increasing-stupidity thing?)
I think that it’s good to remember the distinction between the things that lend color to your life and the pale, translucent thing to which their color is lent.
So for example, you have the Egyptian tomb that Howard Carter excavated in 1922. I get uncomfortable and excited when I think about it. I find myself imagining the plates of carbonized fruit, the mummified cats, the fillets of fish laid out to feed them—fillets that were found to have raised themselves into arches as they dried, and then suddenly to crumble into dust when they were touched.
The immense period for which the tomb’s contents stayed perfectly still gives you the sense that time has been building up inside of it. And that the silence you hear once the doors are hauled open is not a silence at all, but instead a deafening testimony that time is bearing to a secret kept for three thousand years.
The testimonies of culture deafen us in a similar way. They are loud because life is hard. They are intense because disappointment can bleach. And to the kind of person who needs to make representations of their connection to culture, these accidents can easily be confused with an essential lack of vividness.
But then I think of a moment in the tomb after the excavation was complete, after the gold, the corpses and the treasure all had been removed. In this moment a junior archeologist is alone, copying hieroglyphs from the walls. And the only thing he can hear is the sound of wooden beams that creak and pop in the new air.
Karl Marx wrote most of Capital at a side table not much larger than an open issue of TheNew York Times, feeling as he did for most of his creative life, a pain in his side that reminded him constantly of his father’s early death from liver cancer.
the phenomenon of suicide would appear to argue that even mortal life as we now experience it is too long for some people.
What the fuck is the meaning of anything? Why am I compelled to wake up and go through the daily process when I know (or at least assume) that nothing I do will matter in say a thousand years? Is my inability to seriously contemplate suicide a product of my biology or is there some greater spiritual reason? Is it silly that I feel like there should be something above and beyond the nature of my meat, which is a spectacular work of natural engineering? Finally, how many of these do you get a day?
This makes me think about what happens in a woman at the midpoint of her menstrual cycle.
A woman’s ovaries are, in life, almost completely white. They sit deep in a woman’s hips, at the bottom of her abdominal cavity. If they weren’t tethered to the uterus by a pair of strong ligaments, they would be free to move around the abdomen, rather like the testicles of a male fetus before they descend into the scrotum.
The uterus is usually folded in a deep bow over the vagina. The two fallopian tubes extend from the top of the uterus, like a person bent double but with their arms thrown back at the shoulders. At their other ends, the fallopian tubes are open to the abdominal cavity. The openings are delicately fringed with thin fingers of tissue.
By the midpoint of a menstrual cycle, one egg is about to erupt from its ovary. The egg sits in the middle of a ball of jelly about the size of a hazelnut. This is the follicle. The follicle is so large and so well-supplied with blood that it forms a black blister on the surface of the ovary. The follicle begins to digest the ovary’s surface, in order to weaken the walls of the blister. Just before the follicle bursts, it secrets a hormone that causes the end of a fallopian tube to stir. The fringes begin to push their way through the abdominal cavity and towards the ovary. Once they’ve found it, the fringes start to walk across the ovary. They know the hormone that the follicle secretes and to discover its source, the fringes taste the ovary as they move across its surface. The fringes billow out once they touch the blister and then descend on it like a curtain. The follicle forces itself out of the weakest spot on the blister’s surface. The egg in its ball of jelly flows from this hole, into the abdominal cavity and up towards the tent of red fringe the fallopian tube has erected over it.
The egg is separated from its jelly by the fringe’s delicate fingers and passed from fringe to fringe, upwards into the mouth of the fallopian tube. Grooves in the wall of the tube slowly undulate to conduct the egg deeper and deeper, until a swallowing motion along the length of the tube catches the egg and conveys it to the uterus.
In one sense this is where all of us are from, but in another sense this account is even more foreign than the most extreme alienations that geography can produce.
When I say “I’m from Boston” or “I’m from Lagos,” I mean to extend myself to other people. When I say where I’m from, I’m trying to help someone understand me. But this is not the same kind of understanding you could boast of having once you’d read how an egg gets from an ovary to the uterus. When we begin to understand another person, after they start talking about themselves, we understand them. If you read a detailed account of an egg’s ovulation, you understand what happens toit. This is the difference between talking to a person over dinner and conducting an investigation that determines if they are guilty of a crime.
As thoroughly as we study the fringes of the fallopian tube, when they taste the ovary’s surface or delicately raise the liberated egg into the swallowing throat, we are only documenting their performance to higher and higher standards of precision. And even a record of unbounded precision will never allow us to understand the egg as it is understood by the delicate fringes that search for it. When a person talks about himself, when he explains his accent, or his unexpected turns of phrase, or the blackness of his skin by saying “I’m from Lagos,” when I bow over my dinner plate to catch every word he says, he is offering and I am accepting an understanding of greater and greater depth.
This is because the kind of understanding we would like to have, for other people and for ourselves, is a mutual activity. Something is offered and something is sought. An egg extends itself and the roving fringe tastes in search of it. A black man talks about himself and I lean forward so as not to miss a word he says.
i don't know who else to go to about this. i'm just incredibly conflicted about the whole damn woody allen thing. i don't know what to think. i don't know what to believe. i've read countless articles. i'm terrified someone will ask me about it. i know it's stupid and i shouldn't care. i know there are lots of way more important problems. i don't know. i just want it all to go away. i don't even really know what i'm asking you for here.
(just between you and me, if mia farrow had in fact coached her daughter to accuse woody allen of raping her, if mia farrow had gone completely insane and was manipulating her daughter to ruin the life of her ex-partner, I’m not sure I would blame her.
yes, woody allen is not soon-yi previn’s father in any conventional sense, but soon-yi previn is unequivocally mia farrow’s daughter. and if the guy I’d left my husband for and started a new family with began to take nude photos of my 16 year-old daughter, if I found those photos cold, with no warning, if that guy then started fucking my daughter and if that guy then said he wanted to leave me for my daughter, I’m not sure I would be any more normal than mia farrow.
if mia farrow has been irradiated by Phèdre-level family strain, it would not be difficult to identify with her distress.
but this is not a parsable situation. it’s the j.g. ballard wonder years. the fact that you’re having trouble with it means that you are a normal person who is being slowly gaslighted by our psychotic media, as it insists that this situation is simple when it is not.
if you think you understand this family, you are either fooling yourself or admitting that relationships of blood and love can be a great deal more complicated than is generally assumed or permitted.)
Are your thoughts about Woody Allen any different now in the aftermath of Dylan Farrow's piece in the NYT?
If you mean different from the last post about this, I don’t think I expressed any thoughts about him as a person. There I said that celebrity was so poisonous and so malignant that it could bend the focus of a rape accusation away from the victim’s injury and towards an audience’s own feelings of betrayal and indignation. Which is a terrible insult to any victim of sexual assault, both personally and in the larger, more insidious way it dilutes our understanding of people who have been raped.
In Connecticut (where the crime was meant to have taken place) a criminal case can be brought for sexual assault of a minor at any time. A civil case, to recover damages stemming from the sexual assault of a minor, can be brought by Dylan Farrow until 2033, if I read Connecticut Statues, Vol. 13, Title 52, Chap. 926, Sec. 52-577d. right.
what do you think about the whole woody allen possibly abusing kids/gulf between his work and the person he is argument?
If there is a rape case against Woody Allen, he deserves little to none of our attention. The fact that he’ll still get it either way is a symptom of a very serious illness in all of us:
Think about what would happen if someone you knew, one of your friends, were accused by someone you don’t know of sexually assaulting a third person, whom you also didn’t know.
People ‘like’ Woody Allen because he’s an acclaimed film director.
A number of sick, sad delusions endemic to our society make people feel that Woody Allen is their friend because they ‘like’ him.
And yet we, Woody Allen’s ‘friends’, do not leap to defend him—as we certainly would one of our real friends—because we are embarrassed by the delusions his celebrity has fostered in us.
Rather, we feel betrayed. ‘How could Woody have done this to us? And after all those feelings we felt about the movies he made!’
‘In a sense,’ we think, ‘it’s almost as though we were the ones he abused.’
‘Yeah, that’s it!’
‘Woody Allen touched me! In a dark theater!’
‘Several dozen times!’
It’s revolting to watch people try and to cover this sequence up beneath high-volume outrage at someone else’s daughter having been raped. Children are raped every day, and except for a small but thankfully growing minority, nobody cares about it. That’s why they keep getting raped.
What do people really care about? Themselves—and how everything bad that happens must somehow also happen to them. People like that belong in an audience.
And there’s nothing—nothing—more typical of an audience than their heinous conviction that they deserve the milk, the butter, and the maid who churned it.
I'm 21 years old, I've never had sex or any partners of any kind. this is something I actively want, but would feel strange to actively "pursue". opportunities have never presented themselves. should I be worried? can I alleviate this situation?
I think your instinct about sex as something that feels strange to pursue is right on. Not in a moral dimension, where you might think it’s wrong or douchey to hunt for sex, but in a deeper sense of strange.
It’s a strangeness that stems from the way we’re all educated about sex as we grow up. And the fact that sex bears little resemblance to what you’re taught.
The words we reach for to talk about sex before we understand it are words that make it seem discrete and isolated. In the same way you reach up for a product on a store shelf, sex seems like something that can be acquired. An object of desire.
If you don’t have it, thanks to your education in treating anything valuable as an object, you’re impoverished. And in societies that educate people to link possession with feeling okay, nothing fills your cup with shame like being poor.
But of course, it’s dead wrong to think of your relationship to sex as nothing more than the sliding spot on a line connecting ‘Wealthy’ to ‘Broke.’ Societies like ours do something much worse than merely to instill this connection—they conceal the words by which any other picture could be expressed. These other ways are hidden by seeming strange and different. And difference, real difference, is nearly as potent a source of shame as poverty.
We’re taught to think of sex as an object of desire and so the satisfaction of that desire as something you have to ‘get.’ But in reality, sex is nothing like an ipad.
Sex isn’t an ipad in exactly the same way that being alive isn’t a substance. There is no essence of life that fills your body but which is missing from the that of a corpse. Everyone used to think that there was, that there was something you could distill out of blood or fraction off of breath, and that the presence of this substance in medicines was what lent them their power to cure. Now of course, we know that life is not an essence you could isolate into a product, but instead that it’s a process.
Same with sex. Fucking is change.
Sex is the chance to remake yourself on the anvil of nature. To remake yourself in whatever shape pleases you. It’s our opportunity to unlearn the lessons we didn’t know we were receiving. Every orgasm is a hammerblow, and beneath the sparks you are malleable. The vulnerability of being naked with another person does not come from being close to harm but from being close to freedom.
(By the way, this fact—sex as a catalyst for change—shows the true perversity of sex tapes. Sex tapes aren’t perverse because recording yourself as you fuck is wrong, they’re perverse because they imprison the people in them, people in the act of purest personal freedom, in a capsule of desperation, strengthlessness, or shame. Or, if made deliberately, worst of all: imprisoned in a crystal of loneliness, as their thirst for attention is stuffed, mounted and preserved forever.)
When it comes to wanting sex, first make sure you know what you want to be. Because sex, just like the societal educations you didn’t know you were receiving, will make you a way. And it will engrave you all the deeper for finding you blank. Because the world we live in has some deep-delving and extremely thorough ideas about what it wants you to be, and none of them involve you making up your own mind.
In Australia, opal mining happens in a fairly primitive way. The opals are formed when silicate rocks are subjected to high-temperature water, as this water snakes its way through deep-underground faults. Because of this, the opals are found stretched over a wide area as nodes in a spidery network of rock faults. This means they have to be mined with a scattershot method.
A prospector usually hooks an enormous auger to the back of a truck and drives it out to the middle of nowhere. He anchors the truck with hydraulic spikes and drills the spiral bit of the auger into the Earth. He sifts the hill of dirt and broken rocks that the augur bores up out of the shaft. And he either finds opals or he doesn’t.
This type of mining has turned vast areas of opal-bearing land into swiss cheese. Land full of vertical graves ninety feet deep and just wide enough to make sure you go all the way down. The mining has made a landscape where it’s suicide to walk around at night.
Rock salt is mined in a very different way. Geologic salt is usually laid down when an ancient sea dries up. The salt flat it leaves behind is first buried, then folded into a corrugated sheet as it is compressed and distorted by the weight of rock above it. This tends to produce huge volumes of nearly pure salt. These masses can be equivalent to a cube of salt, a half-mile on each side, just buried in the Earth.
Formations like these tend to be mined in a way that turns them into architecture. That is, the salt tends to be so extensive and so deeply buried that the only way of excavating it is to make a kind of subterranean building whose only structural material is rock salt. Salt pillars, salt arches, salt hallways and salt galleries. The miners getting what they want from the formation—by necessity—creates something else: a vast and secret building, hidden underground and given definition by what has been drilled out of it.
So you can be out there drilling dry well after dry well, flagrant in your destruction of an entire landscape. All in search of a fourth rate gemstone.
Or you can be otherwise. And realize that beneath even the most featureless Kansan field, a secret city can be excavated. Vast, unified and private. Far too majestic ever to be confused with a grave.
I'm a 30-something lawyer who's dealt with depression and suicide since I was a kid. A year ago I wanted earnestly to kill myself. I was stuck in the outlying fiefdom of a firm, with no prospects for advancement. I realized that I hated the person I had become and that I wanted to kill her. Someone linked me to your post about Trayvon Martin and then I read everything else. I resigned and now I'm typing this from the library where I'm writing my 2nd novel. I don't know your name but thank you.
this caught me at a moment of weakness, and so means a lot
the cells in your vagina that make it wet are long and thin. they align with one another so that all their tips are facing the same direction, like stacked bottles of wine. deep inside the cells, their nuclei unspool the region of your DNA that encodes the recipe for vaginal lubricant. the nucleus exposes this region of DNA as a long noose, which is found by a transcription enzyme. this enzyme makes a copy of your DNA and other enzymes shuttle it out of small holes in the nucleus. once outside of it, one end of the transcribed recipe is fed into the open jaw of a ribosome. the ribosome snaps shut and begins to read the recipe. the strand is pulled through the the mouth of the ribosome and a mechanism in the ribosome’s body reads the series of thee genetic bases that each correspond to a command like ‘GET THIS AMINO ACID’ or ‘GET THAT AMINO ACID’ or ‘STOP READING THIS RECIPE IT IS FINISHED.’
at the other end of the ribosome, a protein strand is assembled from amino acids in a long chain, the sequence of which was encoded in the recipe. the protein strand is attracted to itself in several strategic places, and as it is squirted out of the ribosome, it begins to fold into a shape unique to that sequence of amino acids.
at the same time, blood begins to engorge the walls of your vagina. so much blood flows into the vessels near the interior surface of your vagina that the vessels start to leak. serum, the watery component of your blood that is centrifuged off when you donate, starts to pour into your vagina.
back in the lubricating cells, the proteins that your DNA caused to be manufactured are piling up. the proteins have been designed to cover themselves in water molecules and expand into enormous, criss-crossing networks of protein mesh. this loose meshwork of protein and trapped water slides over and through itself very easily and dries out much less quickly than ordinary water. this is how it lubricates. the thin cells collect the proteins in large, spherical balloons called vesicles. the vesicles migrate towards the other end of the cells and, one by one, they burst through the cell wall and spray their lubricating protein into your vagina. the proteins unfurl and trap the serum that has leaked from your vagina’s engorged blood vessels, creating the well-known lubricant.
all this production is very hard on the thin cells, and after around four days their machinery starts to break down. they begin to produce incorrect sequences of protein, which in turn curl into the wrong shape for lubrication. the cell detects these errors and sets into motion a chain of events that eventually causes the DNA in its nucleus to unspool a noose containing the recipe for killing the cell it inhabits. the cell commits suicide and a new cell takes its place.
to make your pussy wet you are relying on the deaths of millions of cells who gave their lives to keep it that way. who lived and died so that when the walls of your pussy become engorged, the bloodless blood that leaks from them will become slippery and stick around.
the lesson to take from your cells killing themselves so that you can remain comfortably lubricated is to (like ezra pound) MAKE IT NEW. remember also that you’re shedding blood to stay wet.
will you repost that html giant thing where you said what kind of feminism you believe in?
Sure, but I don’t pretend to understand what something like feminism is when there are as many ways of subscribing to it as there are interested parties.
What I do understand is the incredible stability of systems when they are attacked on their own terms.
One system we all live in assumes that women can be treated as a bloc. It understands women as creatures who share a common, female essence that gives each woman her female traits. These are things like frailty, irresponsibility, vanity, and above all, the need for a type of security—emotional and material—that men are uniquely equipped to provide. The system says: ‘Act as though these presumptions were true, and I will reward all of you with an immensely stable set of relationships between men and women.’
Now, if you find these assumptions about women to be totally false and patronizing, the obvious question is: well, how do you change things? I can think of a couple of ways that people try to do this. However, most of the time they’re just engaging the system they despise on terms it can easily repel. Most of the time they’re just changing themselves and leaving the system untouched…
You could protest these assumptions simply by ignoring them. In your behavior towards women, whatever your own gender, you could act as though the woman you’re talking to is in full command of herself. As though she surrenders her soul neither to behavior pre-programmed by her two X chromosomes nor to the system’s expectations of her. That is, you treat a woman like an individual. One who is entitled to act however she chooses, even if her behavior seems to be coincident with a stereotype.
This is, I think, how a lot of men understand being a ‘male feminist’ (the term is exactly as stupid as ‘black scientist.’) The problem with this approach towards undermining the system is that any change it effects will be extremely slow. In reality, this is like trying to destroy the IRS by committing suicide as a tax protest. From the system’s point of view, you simply cease to be relevant. You might be square with yourself when you resist the system by treating every woman you meet as an individual, but your contribution to that system’s defeat and dismantlement is so minimal as to approach selfishness. Cf. the rising incidence of rape and sexual assault despite Ryan Gosling modeling the role of male feminist to the hilt. (The smugness of men who love to think they aren’t The Problem because they don’t see women only as quavering wombs perched on delicate, shaved legs is so gross as to become its own problem.)
You could protest these assumptions by pointing out their falseness, their hypocrisy and the injustice that they create.
Outside Supreme Court briefs, this isn’t even worth the effort: Any system whose benefits arise from a lie so deeply entrenched as to seem like truth (“Women are vain.”) is probably not vulnerable to points of logic.
You could protest these assumptions by violently attacking their source. You could do this in a physical (FEMEN, sometimes) or rhetorical (A. Dworkin) way.
The only way you’re overcoming any bigtime system thru violence is to defeat it in an actual land war. To the beneficiaries of a system that treats women as inferior, it would be a dream come true for that system to be attacked with physical violence. The men who benefit from oppressive systems usually have a society’s levers of power at their disposal too. And these men know that any physical attack on a system of injustice which infects their society is instantly transmuted into an attack upon that society as a whole. Which lets them call in the cops, and then Nixon gets elected and it’s sic transit Sixties and game over all over again…
Rhetorical attacks on the system are a good way to release yourself from its restrictions on freedom of thought and self-conception. But in the end, (when it comes to changing the system, as opposed to yourself) this is moving a beach with tweezers. It is possible to tilt the scales by fighting the system as it exists in individuals, but it’ll take an extremely long time for that pile of converts to lend the weight sufficient for dramatic change. (Think about how long it took for literacy rates to make newspapers into sources of political power. And that was just teaching people how to read, not the ins and outs of patriarchy…)
If you’re fortunate enough to be in a position of power, you could protest these assumptions by refusing to let them influence your authority. E.g., if you’re a loan officer or the editor of a publishing house you could resist the temptation to think ‘Oh, I’m not sure we can take on her loan/book, I think we’re supporting just about as many women as we can these days…’ and judge instead the thing itself, not the person who submitted it.
But again, tick tock. Trayvon Martin is dead because the ‘Hey, discrimination’s not cool. Pass it on!’ style of person-to-person antiracism was passed on to exactly one person too few. Similarly, in the coming year, an enormous number of women are going to be derided, harassed, or raped because the men who attack them never had their lives changed by Ryan Gosling.
Instead, you should do something with a lever:
Gandhi has something interesting to say about struggles. Very early on (1909) he pointed out that a struggle against injustice invariably wins the sort of outcome it deserves. So, the victory won by the violence of the French Revolution was The Terror. And the victory delivered by Napoleon as he conquered most of Europe—in the name of the Revolution’s ideals of liberty and democracy—was (surprise!) an Empire. Gandhi put it like this:
If I want to deprive you of your watch, I shall certainly have to fight for it; if I want to buy your watch, I shall have to pay for it; and if I want it as a gift, I shall have to plead for it; and, according to the means I employ, the watch is either stolen property, my own property, or a donation.
So, the way you fight determines the world you make for yourself after you’ve won. (Obv. Gandhi wasn’t the first to realize this, cf. ‘Live by the sword, die by the sword,’ etc.)
A trivial way of interpreting this would be to say: “If you want to change the system by policing the opinions that support it, you’re going to create a society where people have to watch what they say.” This might be true, but who cares: we’ve had political correctness for decades now and it doesn’t work. A deeper way of looking at it would be to say that it reveals a lever by which a small number of people can enormously magnify their own power. This is what Gandhi saw, and it’s what led to non-violent resistance.
In effect, Gandhi’s line about means works in reverse: What he pointed out is true not only for those who struggle against injustice but also for the system that perpetrates it. So, if there is a lie at the heart of any system of inequality, then it is the job of people who want to destroy that system not to expose the lie, but to reveal how that lie poisons every benefit made possible by it. Now, if the lie is that South Africans or Indians are inferior to the British who rule them, then Gandhi’s job is to show how any act of force undertaken against him by the British is cruel and blatantly illegitimate. This he accomplished by offering no provocation to violence and simply allowing calm and unarmed crowds to be beaten by policemen who were expecting savages. By doing this, as is well known, Gandhi flipped the British imperial system on its back and forced everyone to confront its repellant underside. And to flip something big when you are small, you need a lever.
The challenge that faces you if you’re disgusted by the system we live in is not how to explain or justify your disgust, but instead how toforce that system to reveal itself as rotten. A system of inequality has infected our society and made women less valuable than men. And I think that anyone who wants to kill this system ought to be racking their brains to find the levers that its destruction will require.
Because: a powerful machine with a great deal of momentum is all the more vulnerable, and liable to fly apart, when a wrench is thrown into it.
Is painting dead, and if so is capitalism to blame?
It would be easy to talk about ‘the death of painting’ in the sense that
nobody cares about it any more
the historical momentum that propelled its development forward from Cimabue and Giotto on down is spent
photography has made it irrelevant
long-term investment has eaten the previous understanding of a painting’s value (i.e. the physical evidence of a brilliant artist’s self-transcendence) and shit out a new kind of value, precisely determined by market forces and counted in dollars
academic painting has turned the representation of reality thru paint into such a solved game that almost any idiot who can draw can be taught to paint
but these are all easy answers.
Orozco (J.C., not Gabriel) has a line in his memoirs that’s something like,
Everything should be done against the grain and against the current. And if some moron advocates a solution that would do away with difficulties, we must crush him no matter what the cost, for civilization itself is at stake!
I think that’s basically right. Civilization or human progress or whatever you want to call it is not indexed by benefits, but by difficulties. This means that what we conventionally call ‘landmarks of development,’ like photography or higher education or modern medicine are in fact most valuable to us when we come to the edge of their power and are forced to confront the same old problems all over again.
Painting, dead or not, has a pretty spectacular batting average when it comes to depicting the fixed stars that shine down on all progress.
What are you?
The difficulty of painting someone’s portrait implies something about the the difficulty of representing a person, and this in turn implies something about how deep or profound people are. E.g. the hundred and twenty hours that Hockney sat for Lucian Freud.
And tho every selfie is a knife looking for this question’s heart, it’s never gonna reach it.
What’s the difference between going to school and learning something?
In the early 1930’s the Rockefellers paid Orozco around $7,000 to come to Dartmouth College, and he painted an answer to that question.
You’re going to die, so what’s the point?
In 1562 Peter Bruegel painted The Triumph of Death. In the very, very back of the painting, beyond the dog eating a child’s face, beyond the weeping tree where a man has been hung from a fork by a nail through his neck, just past the three crucified bodies that have been set on fire, there are two skeletons. They are standing on a cliff, arm in arm, and one of them gestures appreciatively towards the sea.
eating something soft and biting down unwittingly on a piece of metal
being shot in the head somewhere in the isosceles triangle formed by the bridge of your nose and the two corners of your mouth. bullets that enter the skull through this triangle almost always pass through the brainstem on their way out of it, interrupting the signals that control breathing and heartbeat
being present during the loading of a cremation oven in which dozens of dead housepets will be reduced to ash together
insects with mouthparts that suck or puncture
swollen and inexpressible respect for another person
bleeding that cannot be stopped
a rapaciously convincing schema for the world that dries up the flow of your intuition
freefall into poverty, as opposed to your life in it
drowning: the need to cough that can’t be answered and which grows more and more urgent until it consumes your whole awareness and you lose consciousness
that octaves of meaning and organization exist which no intuition is subtle enough to perceive nor words ductile enough to construe: that if god (among any number of other things) is real, any feature of its existence might easily be beyond our capacity for faith
your mother dying
awards, prizes and brass rings of all kinds
colicky frustration in public
vomiting in public during the daytime
the first coup of the US government
being present for a preventable death you can’t prevent
narrow passages in caves that turn out to be too narrow to go through and too tight to back out of
anyone in any position of power who hasn’t had a deliberate, private, and extended conversation with a person who is homeless
" " " " with a person who is in recovery
" " " " with a person who is on the other end of the greatest run of economic prosperity the Western world has ever experienced
big black sunflowers late in the season after their petals have withered, when the heads are so heavy with seeds that they droop towards the ground
I don't think I'm insightful enough to understand the things you say here. But I have a question. I'm scared about going abroad to get a masters because I'm afraid I'll end up alone by dedicating my 20s to study and career. It might sound shallow, but living a loveless life is no fucking joke. Is this a valid concern?
false distinction. what seems like two choices is only one prison with two ways in
either get off the treadmill or learn to live with the fact that you’re living only for yourself
One time I was in New York City with a friend. We went to the Bronx, up above Spuyten Duyvil to see someone who was housesitting.
It was about ten o’clock in the morning and the sky was low and dark gray. We arrived at the house, which was set into an odd-shaped lot. The lawn was mown and everything else was overgrown. There were bare trees whose trunks were wet. The house was a two story white-plank and didn’t have a front. We walked up to a sliding glass door on a brick pathway that had veins of moss living in the mortar.
The inside of the house didn’t have a plan. There was a long, unfinished wooden table with mismatched dining chairs. There was a wide-brimmed hanging lamp whose single bulb was quite close to the surface of the table. The gray light shone through the windows and met the yellow light from the lamp on a worn Persian carpet. The border between the two lights got lost in the pattern on the rug.
There were yellow and gray plank bookcases on every wall. They were filled with hundreds of books. The books had been in their cases for such a long time that they had taken on the soft colors that the room produced.
The three of us ate bagels, cream cheese, and smoked fish at the long table. The bagels weren’t sliced. We tore them up piece by piece, spreading the cream cheese and placing the fish on the ragged ends.
After we had eaten we got up and stood in front of the bookcases and tilted our heads to the right. We called out the titles of books we’d read and books we hadn’t. We asked if this book was any good. Sometimes we pulled out books that we had liked and read the first lines to each other.
The only way it is possible to waste being 17 is to wish that you were 18.
When you’re very young, the world is full of atmospheres instead of objects. Think about what memories of childhood are like. They’re memories of how things felt, rather than records of what happened. The red and white dimples that carpet pile presses into your bare knees. How burps smell after you’ve accidentally swallowed pool water. The static electricity that hisses and ticks as you drag your finger across the screen of a television tube. These grains of experience evaporate into the aura of what it was like to be a kid.
Then you get older. The cloud you lived in as a kid starts to fall as hail. Think about how the act of picking a movie changes. When you’re seven, the aura and excitement of WATCHING A MOVIE creeps like a fog into the act of picking one out and it almost doesn’t matter which you choose. Ten years later and you’re weighing this film against that film, comparing tenths of an IMDb star, noticing how Lindsay Lohan doesn’t look like a scuffed Barbie in it, etc.
Life starts to turn dry. The grains of experience no longer evaporate. Instead they collect into little drifts. Lots of people get stuck here. For them the drifts turn into dunes and the dunes turn their lives into a desert of happenstance.
These are the people who need a form to give their life a shape. The same way you pack beach sand into a bucket and flip it over to turn out a cylinder. (It goes without saying that this is what’s happening when you get excited after you’ve bought something.)
The point is that growing up is all too often growth in the wrong direction.
But which other way is there?
About two years before he died, Wittgenstein was talking to somebody who asked him how he could admire a person like (Cardinal) John Henry Newman, who believed in miracles (specifically the miracle of Napoleon being defeated at Moscow because the Pope had excommunicated him three years earlier.) Anyway, the thing Wittgenstein says in response is your answer—
Wittgenstein: Twenty years ago I would have regarded Newman’s action as incomprehensible, perhaps even insincere. But no more…
Somebody: But what changed in you that you no longer think so?
W.: I came gradually to see that life is not what it seems.
[very long silence]
W.: It’s like this: In the city, streets are nicely laid out. And you drive on the right and you have traffic lights, and so on. There are rules. When you leave the city, there are still roads, but no traffic lights. And when you get far off, there are no roads, no lights, no rules, nothing to guide you. It’s all woods. And when you return to the city you may feel that the rules are wrong, that there should be no rules.
S.: I still don’t understand.
W.: It comes to something like this—If you have a light, I say: Follow it. It may be right. Certainly life in the city won’t do.
how do you feel about rob delaney becoming that guy selling his new book on here?
Imagine being so beholden to alcoholism that you can work a marketing job without acing yourself. Imagine getting so drunk that you drive your car into a wall. This wreck smashes one of the bones in your arm so badly that, to this day, you have a metal plate screwing its pieces together. The wrist on your other arm is also broken.
After coming out of the anesthesia from your surgeries you’re allowed the marginal pleasure of learning you didn’t kill anyone. But immediately after this you’re swept off the table where normal people live, down onto the floor of the world. In rehab, the stigma of having failed at life pushes the baited hook of your addiction all the way into your mouth, all day, every day. For months, you learn to live with that hook in your mouth, slowly—slowly—coming to realize that the slightest swerve from a tightly defined vector of recovery will sink that hook, make its line snap taut and haul your body into a darkened corner that no one ever leaves.
Imagine putting one foot in front of the other for months on end. Imagine forcing yourself not to hope for anything except one more day without drinking alcohol. Imagine the fear of having to go back into a world where advertising sells beer by envisioning it as an unstoppable silver freight train, barreling past the crystal clear streams of the Rocky Mountains, down Fifth avenue and straight into your mouth.
Imagine strapping those spurs onto your calves that linemen use to climb power poles. Imagine driving in piton after piton and ascending a leg of the table whose edge you drove off. Imagine getting to the top by a superhuman feat of endurance. Now imagine that that’s just the start of the struggle. That baited hook is always right there, swinging back and forth at the edge of your vision. Imagine that the best you can hope for, for the rest of your time on Earth, is to have this thing making its lazy arcs on the horizon of your life. Imagine that every time you get angry, every time you feel stupid, every time you want a reward for doing something unpleasant—it’s right there next to you, bobbing at head-height.
Imagine starting to live again. Imagine getting really good at making jokes. Imagine taking that talent you always had for being the center of attention, for being quick on the draw, and taking it apart. Learning the limits of talent and the usefulness of craft. Imagine making a joke no one thought was funny and the pleasure of knowing how to fix it.
Imagine getting married.
Now imagine that you get your old job back. You work it like a farmer before steampower. You do a pointless and trivial job as well as you can, not because you love it or because you believe in it, but because it is an anchor of your sobriety. All day, every day you work on the problem of selling different teenagers the same old acne cream. Imagine coming home to your family. When you sit down to dinner, you see your wife and kids lined up around the table like little Norman Rockwells and—in that moment where all your anchors are right there in front of you and are pulling in unison—the baited hook is as far away as it is possible for it to be.
But now imagine you’re Rob.
You don’t get your old job back. Instead, you force yourself into a occupation where every time you do your job, there is a bar in your line of sight. A job where, if you fail and are publically humiliated for being boring, you are in the same room as shelf upon shelf of alcohol. A job where, even when you succeed, there’s an endless line of half-drunk gladhanders who would love nothing more than to buy you a drink.
Imagine threading that needle, night after night.
Now imagine that someone gives you the chance to tell your story. Imagine that someone wants to pay you actual money you can spend on your kids in exchange for a book that says: “Crippling alcoholism isn’t a terminal disease!”. Imagine that they want to buy advertisements on busses to promote that message. Imagine that your big, grateful face is beamed into millions of houses as you say this to talk-show hosts. Imagine that you’ve been given the chance to make the tenacious fight for an ordinary life seem like just enough.
What would you do?
I would hire skywriters out of my own pocket to sell this book.