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“this is not a detached dissertation but an exploration of my origins, an indirect attempt at self-definition” —Octavio Paz

What Just About Everybody Gets Wrong (Including the Angry Atheists)

Religion need not start with belief, but rather with an understanding that encounters with holiness in the world demand— and have always demanded— a metaphorical structure to contain them and give them meaning.

– from What the Angry Atheists Get Wrong, by Scott Korb and Peter Bebergal

Certain ideas have been stewing lately in my mind, and several events have transpired to put them in the brew together. Two events have been primary, though. The first is that someone dear to me recently sent some Christian tracts in an effort to reconvert me to Christianity, after my abandoning it some years ago and their having recently deduced my absconding. I know the attempt is well-intentioned, and, though I couldn’t help feeling incredulous and insulted at first, the gift ultimately made me want to explicate my own philosophy. I wanted to know if I could explain ‘what I think about myself and about the world’ clearly and thoroughly enough for someone who is the utter inverse of me philosophically, with utterly different presumptions about ‘oneself and the world,’ to understand. So I sat down to explain why I was not a Christian, how the doctrinal specifics of Christianity versus everything else are hardly a matter about which I am concerned or capable of being persuaded to accept when I don’t believe in God in the first place, etc. In trying to explain all this, though, I ran into wall after wall— all my words were inadequate, incorrect, mis-representative; or I was forced to understand more rigorously exactly how various beliefs of mine coalesce in order to explain or modify them. The other event was that, while attempting all of this, a friend of mine wrote a post in which he discussed William James’ essay “The Will to Believe,” and how his own definition of faith and belief has been changing recently in a way that remarkably paralleled my own.

The two extremes— learning how to express my current beliefs, with the aid of someone coming from a similar position, to someone coming from a position I once held but that is now utterly foreign— along with the reading I’ve been doing recently, has proven a very interesting dynamic. One of the many things I’ve come across that were striking in their relevance or eloquence was the article from which the opening quote is taken.
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Filed under: Religion, Tangents

Kenneth Goldsmith

Kenneth Goldsmith is an itch I can’t scratch. That’s probably exactly what he wants to be, too. So I think I’ll try to figure out why he itches me and what about his work I need to unpack to scratch. I don’t remember where I encountered him first, whether it was UBUweb, PennSound, the Poetry Foundation’s blog, or heaven knows where else, but he’s an artist I haven’t been able to shake.

The issue, see, is that Goldsmith really does for language, for speaking, and for writing the exact same thing that Cage did with the audience in 4’33’, Eno did with a broken leg and a too-quiet record player, and Warhol did with Marilyn; and this is a very conscious effort for him. He’s reiterating what Duchamp did with the infamous urinal, Magritte did with “The Treachery of Images,” etc. The examples are countless. What I find conflicting about this is that Goldsmith isn’t really catching us up to what’s happening now. Thus, it annoys me that Goldsmith is considered so profoundly avant-garde, and not in the sense of the “anyone can do it” dilemma. Because yes, anybody can transcribe all the text of one day’s New York Times. Authenticity is not the issue, a tenet Goldsmith so conveniently founds his ideas on. He’s being blatantly unoriginal, not only in the fact that his works are direct requisitions of other texts, but that his ideas are nothing more than the past century’s theories of visual and musical art applied to text.

On the other hand, I think Goldsmith’s work is fascinating and necessary. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Goldsmith, Poetry, Tangents, Writing, , , ,

A Static Picture of a Moving Target

I’ve uncovered a conflict of interests between my own acts of writings and the desire to write, which even now has reared it’s head with that phrase “acts of writing.” Harold Rosenberg coined the phrase “action painting” to describe the work of abstract expressionists produced from, as he described it, their perception of the canvas as “an arena in which to act,” and I am enticed by this conception of one’s ‘canvas.’ I would like to, and to some extent I do, view each blank page as a medium on which I hope to record the condensation of thought and image into the form of words, and I think, perhaps, that is why I feel Walcott’s “terror at the blank page”: my records are perennially unfaithful to their originary action, and it is a lie which I am still understanding how to bear. I do not yet understand how to make my lies tell the truth; they announce themselves as lies with the fervent bluster of a televangelist, unknowingly incriminating themselves with their own eagerness to be presented to an audience, even if the audience is rarely anyone other than myself.

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Filed under: Tangents, Writing

The Nature Channel Through The Window

I’ve been living in San Diego for three weeks, and I’ve seen more wildlife in that timespan than I would have ever thought possible after moving to “the city.” One of the first nights Andy and I were in the new house, we heard this awful racket coming from outside. On going outside to check, two cat-sized critters scampered in opposite directions out of sight along the fence between our house and the apartment next door, one stopping behind a tall shrub (that goes higher than the fence line). I eased my way around the side, but it being dark, I could barely make out what it was, so I sent Andy inside to grab a flashlight while I kept an eye on its position. As I watched, it crawled into the shrub and perched on a branch to turn around and look at me, but I still couldn’t quite make out the shape. Andy got back with the flashlight and, on shining it into the bush, I was met with the beady black eyes and grey snout of a possum, sitting mouselike on its haunches in the middle of the shrub. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Tangents

Liberalism Today, with tangents

Long story short: when I asked why, my Aunt said she got rid of broadband because she didn’t know how much “memory” it used on her computer, and thus installed AOL instead— this story reminded Sam of the recent AOL lawsuit settlement, in which AOL “‘vigorously denies any liability in relation to these allegations’ [and] has agreed to settle the claims to avoid the ‘undue burden and cost of further litigation and to resolve an ongoing matter'”(*). Essentially, “Shut UP and we’ll pay you! We’re losing anyway.” I responded sarcastically, “Damn capitalistic bureaucracy!” and rounded the corner to head to the water-fountain saying quasi-sarcastically, as an afterthought to no one, “And assorted other ‘liberalisms…'”

Now I know the horse has rotted away and been beaten into a pile of skeletal debris by now, but this is a perfect example of how fluid language is, how it can carry multifarious meanings playing on all different both auditory/vocal and semantic/textual levels. It is also a perfect example of how (this horse it still rotting— sorry) the extreme conservative movement has been so successful: by redefining ‘liberal,’ a word already carrying several definitions ranging from “showing or characterized by broad-mindedness” to “a person who favors a political philosophy of progress and reform.” And now including the recent definition that shares a cabin with “Commie” and its ilk. I was reminded of a passage that struck me as particularly poignant (and prescient, though I’m too young to judge the political climate of 1996— especially the national status of a movement in which I was involved almost exclusively— I am not willing to risk venturing forth my shaky and incomplete conception of the past thirty or so years of political history) from the Derrida reader I picked up recently: Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Derrida, Tangents

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