Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Portable Hell, the Kind That Can Fit Comfortably Inside Your Head

Strangest days of my life: suddenly, I can read non-fiction but not fiction - what the fuck is happening to me:
The form that innovation takes within capitalism is as the continual simulation of the new, while existing relations of power and control remain effectively the same. For much of the twentieth century, novelty production, in spite of its repetitiveness and nullity, was often marketed to coincide with a social imagination of a future more advanced than, or at least unlike, the present. Within the framework of a mid-twentieth-century futurism, the products one purchased and fit into one's life seemed vaguely linked with popular evocations of eventual global prosperity, automation benignly displacing human labor, space exploration, the elimination of crime and disease, and so on. There was at least the misplaced belief in technological solutions to intractable social problems. Now the accelerated tempo of apparent change deletes any sense of an extended time frame that is shared collectively, which might sustain even a nebulous anticipation of a future distinct from contemporary reality. 24/7 is shaped around individual goals of competitiveness, advancement, acquisitiveness, personal security, and comfort at the expense of others. The future is so close at hand that it is imaginable only by its continuity with the striving for individual gain or survival in the shallowest of presents.
- Jonathan Crary, 24/7.


Charles Simic

The world is going to hell in a hurry. At my age, I ought to be used to it, but I’m not.

Perhaps ignorance is bliss, I say to myself, and think of people I know who care little about what goes on in the world. I have sympathy for them. It’s no fun starting one’s day or retiring at night with images of dead children.

When he was old, my father said that he could think of two ways to break his addiction to newspapers: enter a monastery or a lunatic asylum.

Today’s news is always old news. The innocent get slaughtered and someone makes up excuses.

The same type of lunatics who made the world what it was when I was a child are still around. Their names have changed, their nationalities and causes, too, but they are as demented and as bloodthirsty as they ever were.

To hear our conservatives talk, our problems are only moral ones: the laziness of our poor and the insatiable sexual appetite of our women being on the top of the list. Yes, of course, but it’s more than that. They just can’t close their legs.

We should demand that the servants of the rich and powerful in every walk of life wear livery appropriate to their rank, as they did in the past centuries.

I caught myself scratching my head with a match as if trying to set it on fire.

They got up and applauded the rich guy for bankrupting companies and laying off employees and crowded afterward to get his autograph.

Eighty thousand people held in solitary in our prisons. Think about that as you plump your pillow and make yourself comfy in your bed some night.

Has any country ever admitted killing civilians out of a desire for revenge? Like everyone else in occupied Europe, I hated Germans and wished them all dead. However, later on, when I saw the extent of destruction the Allied bombing had done to their cities, I was horrified by what was obviously pure malice.

Collective punishment, in which the entire population of the enemy country is targeted, so that an old man in a wheelchair and a kid reading a book in bed are in as much danger as a tank, is a vile impulse, and though it is now regarded as a violation of the laws of war and the Geneva Conventions, it has continued to be practiced long after Dresden and Hiroshima.

Taking into account unintended consequences is not regarded as a necessary component of strategic thinking in Washington. No wonder our grand project to remake the world in our own image, shape the future, and determine the outcome of history has proved to be as much of a flop as the world revolution the old commies were preaching.

“Collateral damage” is what somebody’s grandparents with their heads blown off are called today.

Of course, this is not generally how we talk about things. We practice what Ted Snider in a recent blog post called “a doctrine of historical creationism,” an interpretation of current events that is manipulated by selecting a convenient starting point for them—one that leaves out prior events and the larger setting in which they are unfolding.

There’s an authoritarian strain to this need to restrict historical precedent and turn serious issues into comic book narratives. We encounter it both in political commentary on Russia, Ukraine, Gaza, and Iran and in the way domestic issues are discussed. For people with long memories, this is not just infuriating but also terrifying.

This is a just war; we ought to remind the population of the next country we invade. People killed by our bombs can regard themselves as extremely lucky.

Portable hell, the kind that can fit comfortably inside your head, despite the vast crowds of the damned and all that fire and smoke, is what you end up with after reading the world news these days.

It’s strange that reporters continue to ask our elected representatives for their opinions, as if the rich who contributed millions to their campaigns would allow them to have any of their own.

A society like ours in which the wealthy are spending millions to prevent the minimum wage from being raised for those sinking deeper and deeper into poverty, and to sabotage health insurance coverage for those who have none, is not a society at all but a state of war, as Mark Twain would have said.

Who would have thought that people with a thorough knowledge of history and science would become pariahs among their fellow citizens?

It’s been a while since I last read anyone, aside from palpable hucksters, make an argument that the world is getting to be a better place, or that we are about to turn a new leaf in this country.

“Privatization” is what the transfer of public funds into the pockets of the few is called.
I forget: Who said, “He lives most gaily who knows how to deceive himself”?

The gourmet recipe in the dining section of the Times was Fisherman’s Beef Stew—or did I get that wrong?

A man changed himself back into a monkey through an operation and returned to live in the trees happily ever after, I once read in a tabloid waiting in line at the supermarket. I’m thinking that may not really be so bad.

May these beautiful summer days that remain pass with as little hurry as a pregnant nun going to confession.


  1. Our friend Charles Simic suggests he may possibly have made an error about where he saw the Fisherman's Beef Stew recipe, and I can confirm that I do not find a recipe by that name in the Times. One does appear, however, at the Discuss Cooking forum, where the motto is "Discover Cooking, Discuss Life." In accordance with this, poster "Whiskadoodle" not only explains that it is the addition of anchovies to a beef stew recipe that leads to the odd name for the dish, but tells us of what they did while waiting for the beef to be fork-tender, to wit:

    Twiddling my thumbs. Listening to Neil Young w/ Crazy Horse You tubes. Various newly released August 2012 concert footage playing a bunch of old and a few new songs, good sound quality recorded in Albuquerque NM, Red Rocks Co, Nevada and San Francisco. The band plays tight next to each other each venue, not spread out across a stage . They are into their own music and muse as if there is no audience. Visuals are like a Personal Concert.

  2. A man changed himself back into a monkey through an operation and returned to live in the trees happily ever after, I once read in a tabloid waiting in line at the supermarket. I’m thinking that may not really be so bad. ---Charles Simic

    i too feel the temptation, but think it should be resisted - see my previously posted commentary on the following poem

    "The Promotion" by James Tate

    I was a dog in my former life, a very good
    dog, and, thus, I was promoted to a human being.
    I liked being a dog. I worked for a poor farmer
    guarding and herding his sheep. Wolves and coyotes
    tried to get past me almost every night, and not
    once did I lose a sheep. the farmer rewarded me
    with good food, food from his table. He may have
    been poor, but he ate well. and his children
    played with me, when they weren’t in school or
    working in the field. I had all the love any dog
    could hope for. When I got old, they got a new
    dog, and I trained him in the tricks of the trade.
    He quickly learned, and the farmer brought me into
    the house to live with them. I brought the farmer
    his slippers in the morning, as he was getting
    old, too. I was dying slowly, a little bit at a
    time. The farmer knew this and would bring the
    new dog in to visit me from time to time. The
    new dog would entertain me with his flips and
    flops and nuzzles. And then one morning I just
    didn’t get up. They gave me a fine burial down
    by the stream under a shade tree. That was the
    end of my being a dog. Sometimes I miss it so
    I sit by the window and cry. I live in a high-rise
    that looks out at a bunch of other high-rises.
    At my job I work in a cubicle and barely speak
    to anyone all day. This is my reward for being
    a good dog. The human wolves don’t even see me.
    They fear me not.

    My analysis: I conclude that the cubicle dweller of Tate's poem is worse off in his current incarnation - his "promotion" to a human life has not gone well - for two reasons.

    1)His emotional needs were much better met in his life as a dog - Tate evokes this beautifully, and anyone who has loved a dog must be moved by this.

    2)Contrariwise, Tate's protagonist, looking backwards at his former happiness, has not yet grasped his current opportunity and responsibility for "the development of his soul", to use old-fashioned language.

    See the Monty Python creed - movie excerpt

    An exegesis of the above scene:

    Tate's protagonist is "reborn" into human circumstances, but he is immature in the sense that he is only reacting to, rather than mindfully and proactively responding to, his current place in the universe - he needs to be reminded of the possibility he has to "shine":

    1. Thanks much for the content. Other than a dozen or two friends like you and three or four trolls no one reads these comments, Charlie, even if I bump it. Another friendly nudge to reopen your old joint or start a new one. I'd bump you, and people - at least here - are far more likely to bump out when hovering over a link than bump in.

  3. The whole summer is a week early this year, for reasons I can't figure out. Our womens' lamentations begin a week from Monday. The relationship between the timing of the Great MoCo Chestnut Street Hoedown and the start of school is about the same as it ever was. And it's always been 9-10 days. Gotta make time for the midget wrestling AND the demolition derby, you know. What puzzles me is this: I choose to live here.

    1. Selfishly, I'm glad our women's lamentations begin soon: I get to take Planet back to Ohio by myself at least one more time two and a half weeks from now. So, dinner soon.