April 21, 2014

April 12, 2014

April 11, 2014

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April 9, 2014

Anonymous said: 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.

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April 5, 2014

April 2, 2014

Case 68

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. 

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March 30, 2014

March 26, 2014

kenbaumann said: 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.

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March 25, 2014

Anonymous said: if you could, would you live forever?

Karl Marx wrote most of Capital at a side table not much larger than an open issue of The New 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.

And anyway,

the phenomenon of suicide would appear to argue that even mortal life as we now experience it is too long for some people. 

And anyway, 

kites don’t work without the string…

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March 17, 2014

March 14, 2014

Anonymous said: feminist literature recommendations?

any literature is feminist if at the end of the book you feel as though you, mute though you may have seemed, can speak with the fluency and conviction it takes to be a real person

Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson worked for me.

March 4, 2014

March 4, 2014

March 2, 2014

On April 14th, 1919 the sister of Marcel Duchamp, Suzanne, married one of his closest friends, the painter Jean Crotti. Marcel’s wedding present to the couple arrived by mail three weeks later. It was a letter that contained a set of instructions for a work of art his sister and brother in law were to make. His letter said to take a geometry textbook, to open it, and then to bind it with wire to the metal railing of their apartment’s balcony. It was to be left out in the weather until it learned the facts of life.

That’s you and all of us. We have ideas about beauty, axioms that describe how faces ought to look and even rules for the right texture of skin. But right now, as you’re reading this, rays from space are entering your body and destroying the elasticity of the collagen in your skin. With every smile, with every expression of disapproval, you are stretching proteins that, thanks to this cosmic barrage, will no longer return your skin to its original and attractive tension. Wrinkles come from emotion and the particles shed by dying stars.

Beauty is a game that does not permit those who can compete to retire as champions. What do you do when you’re faced with a game that no one can win but which everyone feels compelled to play? What’s the point of squeezing yourself for the rest of your life in order to contribute your several drops to the ocean of human knowledge? Or culture? Duchamp was in Buenos Aires when his sister was married and he wrote a letter about how any game a person felt compelled to play was also a game whose rules anyone could change.

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February 27, 2014

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