May 3, 2014

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May 1, 2014

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April 30, 2014

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April 26, 2014

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April 25, 2014

Anonymous said: There's an article on website The Awl right now called "The Dead Cannot Consent" which is a response to the Wallace estate's complaints about the making of this new DFW film. I was wondering what your thoughts are on the state of Wallace fans in general, given that their response to this movie is to actually decry the people who actually knew Wallace for speaking out against it?

Many people don’t know that JG Ballard trained as a physician.

There’s an early short story called The Drowned Giant. It was written shortly after his wife died while on vacation with her family, of a pneumonia that Spanish doctors were unable to cure. In this story, a 300 foot tall man washes up on the beach of an English resort town. 1964 was a fulcrum year. Ballard was disgusted by the medical profession and by himself. While his wife was still living, Ballard was bolted into a happiness that made his writing shallow. Her death thrust his three children on him in a way that made his compartment of self-satisfaction much too crowded any longer to soothe. After his wife’s death Ballard was thrown back on himself, where he nearly foundered. 

The town’s inhabitants are at first awed by the presence of a man the size of a cathedral, lying drowned on a tidal flat. But the giant quite naturally becomes an object of tourism, and even of affection. Children dare one another to climb over his face, leap across the black well of his parted lips and curl up in the orbits of his cloudy eyes. Then, as the man begins to putrefy, his flesh is stripped from his bones and sold to factories where it will be rendered into cat food and fertilizer. His penis is dug out by the root on the orders of a theatrical promoter. The promoter has it skinned, dried, and loaded onto a truck where it follows a traveling circus, misadvertised as the member of a whale. 

Whether you like it or not, whether you’re a fan or not, whether you’re tending some memorial flame or embroidering the edge of some disintegrating memory, whether you’re canning his posterity or wrapping death in chintz by referring to his suicide with despicable platitudes, if your connection to David Foster Wallace is personal in any way you will find yourself in the crowd that gathered on the beach in Ballard’s story. You are by turns deluded, callous, ghoulish, given to flabby eulogy, aroused by profit, paralyzed by glory, or worst of all, inebriated by intimacy. 

The giant is dead, and though we will continue to gather around it to suck meaning from the corpse (we are helpless to do anything else), we will find that the flesh—flesh of the body or flesh of the spirit—can be sliced only so thin before its sections surrender to transparency and finally, nothingness.  

And in the end, when only the ribs at low tide remain, when every exploitation has been undertaken and every last bubble of fruitless intimacy blown and burst, there will be what there always was—what there has always been in the face of death—the story. 

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April 25, 2014

April 24, 2014

Anonymous said: thoughts on marquez?

In that final battle, with the country at the mercy of uncontrolled and unforeseen forces of subversion, [socialist Chilean President Salvatore Allende] was still bound by legality. The most dramatic contradiction of his life was being at the same time the congenital foe of violence and a passionate revolutionary. He believed that he had resolved the contradiction with the hypothesis that conditions in Chile would permit a peaceful evolution toward socialism under bourgeois legality. Experience taught him too late that a system cannot be changed by a government without power.

That belated disillusionment must have been the force that impelled him to resist to the death, defending the flaming ruins of a house that was not his own, a sombre mansion that an Italian architect had built to be a mint and that ended up as a refuge for presidents without power. He resisted for six hours with a sub-machine gun that Castro had given him and was the first weapon that Allende had ever fired.

Around four o’clock in the afternoon, Major General Javier Palacios managed to reach the second floor with his adjutant, Captain Gallardo, and a group of officers. There, in the midst of the fake Louis XV chairs, the Chinese dragon vases and the Rugendas paintings in the red parlour, Allende was waiting for them. He was in shirtsleeves, wearing a miner’s helmet and no tie, his clothing stained with blood. He was holding the sub-machine gun but he had run low on ammunition.

Allende knew General Palacios well. A few days before, he had told [the journalist] Augusto Olivares that this was a dangerous man with close connections to the American embassy. As soon as he saw him appear on the stairs, Allende shouted at him: “Traitor!” and shot him in the hand.

According to the story of a witness who asked me not to give his name, the president died in an exchange of shots with that gang. Then all the other officers, in a caste-bound ritual, fired on the body. Finally, a non-commissioned officer smashed in his face with the butt of his rifle.

This story about the United States’ role in Chile’s 1973 coup is the first, and in one sense the only thing Americans should be reading by Gabriel Garcia Marquez right now. 

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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