28 February 2008

...In which Alex resolves a pointless argument

The other night Sam (he who once posted on basketball here) and I engaged in a debate on which was the better early Today Is The Day album. He stuck to his stupid guns and remains (I'm assuming, since this was less than a week ago) convinced that Willpower is superior. I, on the other hand, am of the belief that the self-titled (Today Is The Day) surpasses its predecessor. Degenerate drunks as we are, the "discussion" trailed off into some haze mixed of Czech beer and assholery that, if not for the power of spacetime, may have continued unabated into some future that we are all better off not having ever experienced. Not that there is ill will of any sort, just that we are opinionated and rational discourse beer doth not procure.
So to Spike Lee the shit out of this, I'm gonna state my firm opinion that none of TITD's albums top Sadness Will Prevail. And in a grand gesture symbolic of where drunken arguments about music hardly ever fail to lead, I bring to you a video from that majestic double album: "The Descent"

Today Is The Day plays NYC on St. Patrick's day.

24 February 2008

The Shape of Nihilism to Come

"The favourite formula was to declare that 'spiritual' - for the naive primordial opposition of spirit and matter was still accepted in those days - had not kept with 'material' advance. This was usually said with an air of moral superiority to the world at large. Mostly there was a vague implication that if these other people would only refrain from using modern inventions so briskly, or go to church more, or marry earlier and artlessly, or read a more 'spiritual' type of literature, or refrain from mixed bathing, or work harder and accept lower wages, or be more respectful and obedient to constituted authority, all might yet be well."
- H.G. Wells, The Shape of Things to Come

This week at work I picked up H.G. Wells' The Shape of Things to Come as I put down David Ramsay Steele's Atheism Explained. The latter of these is actually a fantastic read for anyone who is interested in the philosophical underpinnings of atheism and doesn't wanted to be ranted at by Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens. Arguments and (a)theological currents I hadn't been privy to or thought of filled this book to the point where I had to put it down. Essentially it got boring because, let's face it, there are no plausible or logical arguments for God and once you've read nearly 200 pages of debunking various arguments, things start to repeat and get a bit stale. Wonderful effort, though, and provides great answers to folks who get badgered by religious people about why they don't believe.

As for Mr. Wells, he was a genius and a prophetic bastard to be sure. I think I had mentioned in a recent post my ongoing struggles to understand and get a grasp on postmodernism and the postmodern condition. I had finished Terry Eagleton's The Illusions of Postmodernism, a critical yet even-handed examination of the "phenomenon" currently en vogue, at the same time I completed Turgenev's Fathers & Sons. At some point in my mind nihilism and postmodernism entwined and I've been gasping for air ever since. I bring up Wells, and the quote above in particular, because he was a good thirty-odd years ahead of the curve with some of the descriptions of what has come to define our contemporary modernity.

Right now I'm working out some of the interconnections I'm finding between the nihilism found in postmodernism, the supposed nihilism that follows the death of God (i.e.; the Nietzchean conception), and Turgenev's conception as portrayed in Fathers & Sons. Of course, this is material that would probably fill some huge volume, so I'm not even going to attempt it here, but I'm excited about the possibilities that Wells has set up in his own "history of the future" and how it might interact with what's in my head already. That's something I'll post on when I get there.

19 February 2008

Our Modern Diet: Heavy On the Plastics, Please

It just so happens that I grew up in the self-proclaimed Pioneer Plastics City, Leominster, Massachusetts (and birthplace of Johnny Appleseed...yeah, he was real). Home to the National Plastics Center & Museum, the plastic pink flamingo, dozens of little injection molding plants and similar factories, we grew up surrounded by plastics. Leominster even has streets named for various types of the stuff. The downside to all this being the toxic wastes scattered in who-knows-how-many sites around town. Apparently we're also infamous for high rates of autism amongst kids who grew up in the shadow of the long-gone Foster Grant sunglass factory (the site is a strip mall now, yay America). My dad and his siblings used to play down in those swamps and eat the blueberries. To make a long story short, my younger brother got off pretty easy and just had some minor learning dysfunctions (and in a grand irony, is now an elementary school teacher). I am just chronically underemployed and a-motivated, though the cause is as-yet undetermined. Oh, and my stories never have a point.

Anyway, I figure this is as good a way as any to bring up some new findings on plastic containers that I just saw over at Scientific American. Around the time I entered college carrying around your own Nalgene was a bit of a fad amongst the crunchies and activist kids. I still notice folks carrying them around, attached to their belt-loops or backpacks. Not long after the trend got popular a rumour had begun that they leached chemicals into the water, though most kids passed it off not thinking much of it. Well, turns out that rumour's been proven true about eight years later. Scientists are conflicted as to how much damage the chemical (known as Bisphenol A or BPA) actually does, but it's generally agreed that continuous consumption of this is moreso bad than good. Go read the article to find out more about the studies involved as I'm not motivated enough to rehash it all here.

I personally have unverified hypotheses about the nature of our particular strain of American stupidity and our amazing levels of toxin consumption. Let's just say I've had experience with chemically-affected (not altogether negative, either) people most of my life, so I can speak with marginal authority (as I'm only a trained social scientist).

Hey, China, here's to your children's future! <<makes plastic-y fake 'clink' noise>>

13 February 2008

You Need a Bun to Bite, Benny Lava?

This is easily in the top-8 funniest things I've ever seen. Completely and totally makes up for what feels like a semi-lost day.

Absolutely Hilarious Indian Music Video - Watch more free videos

I'm really hoping my friend Justin is prancing around on some Indian hillside singing a song just like this as I type. That would really make my day.

12 February 2008

Rootless Rooted To This Router

I'm currently sitting in my room listening to self-selectable internet radio, reading a fantastic discussion on humanity and placelessness, and ruminating on critiques of postmodernism that I've been reading at work. In the past seven years I've lived in nine different apartments and I'll be moving again at the end of March (most likely and hopefully), hardly ever getting the chance to settle in before having to up and out all over again. Regardless of where I live, though it seems, I can tune in to knowledge and information distributed across vast times and spaces. At any time I can (and often choose to) disconnect from my surroundings and envelop myself in a world that I seemingly make for myself. Of course I'm not going to get into the real pros and cons of such a situation.
But what I really wonder at this moment is how I'm not supposed to feel separate and disoriented, without narrative and only the most tenuous grip on what could be considered "true" or "real." As much as these attributes seem to define the postmodern condition I can hardly help but heap barrels of disdain upon what amounts to little more than intellectual criminality and cultural hogwash.
None of us should really be posting inane diary entries for anyone around the world to read, but after spending most of our lives (at least those of us under 30 or so) being dictated to by every conceivable form of media, we'd love for somebody to listen to us for just a minute, please! If everyone else's bullshit opinion is valid and credible, surely my "educated" opinion is worthwhile, too, right?
Well, probably not generally speaking. But until we have the intellectual courage to move and think beyond tired, lazy, paralyzing postmodern theoretical drivel I'm afraid we as a technologically-connected segment of our species are confined to remain captives of this spectacle. In the meantime I've been trying to muddle my way through critiques of this state and try to make sense of a diffuse body of purposefully obfuscating, jargonistic theory that will probably only be really understood when we're dead.
So far I've found these two books really enlightening and helpful:

Christopher Butler - A Very Short Introduction to Postmodernism
Terry Eagleton - The Illusions of Postmodernism

Both explain the pros, cons, ambivalences and context of all this mental buggery. If you can relate to anything I just wrote and need help clearing your mind, I think these books are a great place to start.

05 February 2008

It's the 19th Century All Over Again...Again

I'm really on a latter-1800s kick at the moment: I finished Huysmans' The Damned last week, Zola's Germinal yesterday and just today began Turgenev's Fathers & Sons. Another way of putting it is that I'm catching up on some classics, but really, it's just this period that's having a huge effect on me. One of the major themes of the period (and these three novels do a great job of covering the disparate attitudes) is the struggle between the dawning age of science, mechanization and industry and the fading world of religion, metaphysics and romanticism.

It almost seemed for a while...well, let's face it, for most of the 20th century, that the scientific age of modernism had definitively triumphed. The world wars, communism, the rise of the technological era: for a large part of the world that romantic, metaphysical age had long since passed into history. Now I don't know if this is just a curiously American thing, but in reading these novels (as well as other bits of research) and following current events you'd be hard-pressed to convince me that we have thoroughly sloughed off the skin of the pre-industrial era. Sure, we're technologically advanced, but we're also ridiculously religious and too many people have failed to accept the non-divine revelations even of Darwin.

There is the other possibility that we've completed a circle and the scientific, progressive attitudes and successes they have brought have been turned upside-down by those who fear the soulless-ness of our modern (some might say post-modern, i don't know) age. There's a deep yearning for some return to metaphysics, some sort of spiritualism that pervades this place and I fail to be able to determine the source(s) of it. In the meantime I find myself running aghast towards other ages to find analogues, examples of this happening in the past to understand the cycles, why this is all repeating itself. For the most part things always repeat themselves and all the early religious systems recognized this (particularly the Hindu/Vedic systems), but twas all destroyed by the linearity of Christianity...

Before I ramble off into the moonlight, the original intent of this post was to write about Germinal, but I don't think any succinct reply is possible with regard to such a dense, overpowering masterpiece. The truths it contains remain relevant in our age, which says as much about Zola's awareness and ability to convey his time as it says about the failings of the industrial systems that have uplifted some segments of the world's population. Maybe the truth behind these novels lay in the dystopia of the present, the possibility of the future and the romance of an idealized past (made possible by our selective memories and amazing ability to forget). Our myths retain their power because our lives cycle, maybe spiraling ever so slightly outward, but always treading close enough to the old, worn paths that it's impossible to lose them. We try desperately to create anew without the ability to truly move away and that's why we, as a people, as a civilization, remain perpetually torn at this event horizon.

03 February 2008

JayJay, What Am I Doing?

Alright, in order to marginally level out the excessive testosterone of Super Bowl Sunday (GO PATS!), I'm gonna post about art this afternoon. However, first I have to put in a mention for the best Tom Hanks movie ever, Mazes & Monsters. The plot of this 1982 masterpiece revolves around four college friends whose love for the game Mazes & Monsters gets a little out of hand. We watched this last night after finishing our own D&D campaign and, man, it really capped off the night perfectly.

Okay, now for the art. On Wednesday I made a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art mainly to check out the Indian Art. (My friend Laurence is designing a new tattoo for me based on the bronze Nataraja sculptures of the Chola period.) Of course, my luck being my luck, the Indian and South Asian rooms were closed for Wednesday only. So to make a day of it I wandered through the European rooms to find old medieval stuff about satanism and whatnot (see my previous post on The Damned) and then traipse through the modern art wing. I took a bunch of notes on the stuff I thought was cool, so here's a sample of some things I think are awesome...

This is really the only awesome medieval/satanist thing I found, but it's super rad. That piece of paper at the bottom reads, "The Devil doesn't jest. No, the Devil [does not play games]" How fucking sick is that?! And those claws! And that skull is upside-down and there's smoke coming out of it. Conjur that, impressionists!

Pieter van Laer (Il Bamboccio), Magic Scene with Self-Portrait

Pretty much everything Joan Miró has ever done is awesome. There's some great stuff of his at MoMA, but The Met has got some winners, too...

Constellation: Toward the Rainbow (1941)

This one is older and less "out there", but is still quite striking and you can see glimpses of what his future holds...

Vines & Olive Trees, Tarragona (1919)

Now this guy, Yves Tanguy, apparently was self-taught. I guess Jimi Hendrix was, too, but Tanguy's paintings demolish any song that Hendrix ever wrote. I'll fight you if you disagree. (He's also got more at MoMA, of course, but this one might be the best anyway)

Indefinite Divisibility (1942)

And this, this one, man. I've been to The Met before and don't ever recall being so enthralled with a piece before. Hell, I don't recall ever seeing this one at all! But for Pete's sake, this is not only huge, but you could examine it for hours. It's also made of encaustic, which is a mixture of paint and melted wax, so the texture is actually reminiscent of a cave wall. It's so perfect. Please, for the love of Pete, go just to see this. Stare at it for hours. A dumb picture on my dumb site doesn't do any justice...

Victor Brauner, Prelude to a Civilization (1954)

Now get back to your american football and beer. I can't tell you how nervous I am about this Pats possible perfect season right now.

01 February 2008

Friday's Always A Good Day For Some Sabbath

I've neglected writing (and I mean really writing) the past few days for a few reasons, the main one being that my brain has been so incredibly jumbled with thoughts that I have failed to get any structure underneath or behind them. Wednesday I got a whole bunch done, primarily finishing J-K Huysmans' The Damned (Là Bas) and making an ultimately successful trip to the Met.

I guess it makes sense to start discussing the book, but I really have no idea where to start. For starters I thoroughly enjoyed the read; Huysmans' prose is phenomenally descriptive and entrancing (apparently that is a word!), bordering on the "otherworldly". I only vaguely know what I mean by this latter description, but I think it stems from the characters inhabiting a social environment far removed from the mainstream fin-de-siècle Paris in which the story is set. Detest of the modern world has lead these few characters towards infatuation with a form of "romantic medievalism" and Catholic Mysticism (otherwise known as Western Occultism). Huysmans based the main character, Durtal, on himself, and the pessimism mixed with Catholic occult obsession foreshadows the author's eventual adoption of Catholicism.

Though I am a lapsed (or shed) Catholic by upbringing, I do find elements of the occult rather intriguing: the history of symbolism and saints and sacrilege. Huysmans dutifully researched for this book and, actually, the core plot device is the production of a biography of Gilles de Rais by Durtal. I highly recommend looking into this character (I'm not going to spoil any fun here!) because he is quite interesting on his own, regardless of how his story is woven into the novel. Ultimately, what drove people crazy about this book when it was published was the description of Satanism, its rites, its culture and its connection with the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

While it may seem that I am not the type of person that would go for such an un-Naturalist work like this (and I'm a bit surprised myself), the pessimism of the main agents, their dialogue and what moves them through life transfixed me in a manner that left me ready to return to the dark ages of magic and occultism and saintly miracles. Possibly within all of us there are seeds of romanticism and assorted wonderments that need feeding. They counter the extreme rationalism of our wired world of glass and missiles and plague. Perhaps I abhor so much new age rubbish because of the methodology and not so much because of the nature of what may be unknowable to our instruments and material tools...

Hans Memling The Last Judgment 1467-71