Monday, December 27, 2010

Paper, Scissors, Rock — Continues With Some Nice Writing & Tiny Fushigi*— 2010.12.27

I'm still not sure if I really like this book or not, but there are bits that are very good indeed.

I came across the following lines that resonated with me:

Eldest son of the eldest son in the autumn of a patriarch. Rational learning. Roles born into. And she, the connection to the ground. Roots, emotion, feeling.

In a strict patriarchy, men and women are opposites. Strength is a characteristic assigned to men. Weakness is a characteristic assigned to women.

Weakness is vulnerability.

Strength is invulnerability.

In a strict patriarchy, men maintain power through not exhibiting weakness. Women maintain vulnerability through possessing and acknowledging emotion.

In a strict patriarchy, some opposites attract.

Others remain in opposition.

Cowboy Stories. In the bones.

In a changing society society, those losing power cling to its harshest forms. Those who move beyond those forms live with a strength drawn from abandoning the logic of opposites(68).
And it wasn't until I began posting the above, and saw how it looked that I realized that it has managed to entangle itself in a poetry fushigi.

goodreads there has been an intense discussion on a thread about what is and is not, properly, a poem. That discussion began with Shannon Marie's request for a critique on her poem 'Yes I want []', and the question she subsequently posed asking if it was a poem. Here's her very powerful (maybe) poem:
Yes, I want to be [ ] for the rest of my life. I want to feel empty in the acid of my center, never leaving the [ ] satisfied, with my gut broken into no boundaries and slushy beheadings. I want to see my collarbones there through the lens, gazing fondly at me, my parents and friends as they rack the rest of my protection around what matters most: my squishy paste heart, the tendons of my lungs extending their branches in the tundra undone. I want the world to accept me in this form I desire, collected inside, pressurizing my chamber till I’m blue in the face. I want to live like this because I know what it means. I know what it breathes, if breathing exists here at all. It chokes me without pain, lifeless death of a migrant maid in a rich man’s vacation rental no one ever sits in. Lying on the floor, carefully positioned with head resting on outstretched arm above her head, so as to not raise suspicion, Breaching every boundary a maid could ever see, by dying in the living room, a virgin un-believed. Yes, I want it, I want [ ] so no thing can ever touch me, never again being [ ] in my life.
The discussion meandered around it being/not being a prose-poem, prose, poem ad infinitum. I suggested that it was a koan, and thus moved it into a category outside of being either prose or poetry.

So, what makes this a fushigi?

Well, it is most certainly a tiny one, but what makes it a fushigi is that while participating in an intense discussion about what is and/or is not a poem, this book I am reading,
Paper, Scissors, Rock is written in a style that by one of the definitions would categorize it as a poem: specifically the method of breaking the lines on the right, which stood out to me when I blogged the citation above, even though it is more pronounced on the printed page. And even when I read that definition I did not make the association to this book. So, I have participated in a great discussion about what is a poem while unwittingly reading a prose-novel that is by someone's 'proper' definition of a poem, probably a poem. The universe is trying to make a point, I think, that writing is what it is.

And what is even funnier, is that I began this post because of Ann Decter's ideas, the style of presentation, and prose. "In
 a changing society society, those losing power cling to its harshest forms. Those who move beyond those forms live with a strength drawn from abandoning the logic of opposites," is a lovely bit of prose. (Or is it poetry?)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Paper, Scissors, Rock — Continues with a Fushigi* Cave — 2010.12.19

I began Paper, Scissors, Rock on 2010.10.06. I just finished Part II "Evidence," and though I had strong ambivalence about this book when I began it, it is beginning to grow on me. In the closing balance of Part II the description of the general strike was very compelling. The moving between perspectives and time worked very well.

But I have come to blog the 2nd fushigi this book has provided within  30 pages. It begins with my reading, this afternoon, an e.mail that I received from MH, a Goodreads friend, two days ago:

Within the e.mail MH links me to a story she wrote, called 'Bear.' It is an excellent short story about a woman living with a golden furred bear in a cave. I highly recommend it. It has some very nice imagery, and a great feel to it. For example:
Day Twenty-one

I’ve set up housekeeping and Bear loves to watch. I made a pine broom. I sweep the hard dirt floor. There are bones from the bodies of small animals that came here to be eaten. Bear is happy about this. He tells me this by carving an X on one of the tiny skulls. He says that a mountain cat must have lived here and that her maternal power and the power of her eating small animals fill the place. All of this is still in the cave and don’t I feel it?

“No,” I say.
Later, after eating supper, I picked up Paper, Scissors, Rock and finished the balance of Part II "Evidence." This is a well written chapter that culminates with a general strike being broken in small town Canada by government sanctioned and paid violence. The actions within this chapter switch between the denouement of the strike being broken and the experiences of the narrator in a later time reflecting on it — the writing is complicated. However, it closes with:
Jane runs a hand across the soft moss and remembers. Removes her shoes and lays her feet on the moss. Remembers. A cave. The cave. She scrambles down the path to the water, turns left and leaps from rock to rock. Up behind the old pump, climbing, childlike. Hand food hand foot. Sliding sideways on her ass. A cleft in the rock. The cave. Gene. Gene is here, somehow, in the cave. She climbs in. A cleft in the rock. Slate. Lava rock. Cold. Cool moss beneath her. Soft.
"Gene," she says, faltering. "I found the cave."
... Listen. "You are lost and gone forever, dreadful sorry, Clementine." Up up up sky and trees.
Safe cave.
Cheek against. Stone. Cold.
Tonight maybe Jane will walk to the phone booth across from the beach, put in the quarters she has been saving and call the wild woman, back here in the big city where everything is always happening. Maybe Jane will tell her about trees and children, moss and caves, about Clementine and her father. "Who knows," says Jane quietly, 'maybe she'll be listening"(57).

So, as you can see, there is the nice 'cave'-link in the two stories. But also a bit more. In Paper, Scissors, Rock Jane is to 'call the wild woman, ...'[my emphasis].

From 'Bear' there is a similar description given to a women. From "Bear", picking up from where 'Bear' left us.

No,” I say.

Bear will not let me take the bones out of the cave. He lets me arrange them in a pattern around the cave’s perimeter. He says he never thought of that and that I am a clever witch.
And finally, while the writing between the two snippets is very different, you will find that the feel is similar in a way. Not the same, but that they evoked, for me anyone, a similar feeling.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Paper, Scissors, Rock — Begun with, No Gout About It, a Fushigi* — 2010.12.06

Last weekend I bought from my local used bookstore, Renaissance Books, Paper, Scissors, Rock.

Ann Decter.
Paper, Scissors, Rock.
Vancouver: Press Gang Publishers, 1992.
(Now McGilligan Books.)
ISBN: 0889740402.

It was one of those strange finds, in that I was in a part of the store I don't usually visit, but when I did this book jumped out at me — and not because it was at the right eye-level or because of the cover - which I couldn't see when it caught my eye. I walked to the area, glanced at the top shelves, lowered my eyes and 'found' this book. I bought the book without even looking at one word of it, or even the cover, because it being there 'for me' was a fushigi*-like incident that had its nascence the previous Friday at work.

On that particular Friday it came to pass that a rather unpleasant job assignment-choice needed to be made between my self and a co-worker who doesn't like to make choices. Without thinking about it, the 'game' Rock-Paper-Scissors popped into my head. I have no idea why. I mean, I've always found the concept fun and open to the possibility of abetting synchronistic happenings, but I don't remember having used it to make a decision at work ever. Now that seems unreasonable to me, but I certainly haven't used it since beginning my current job 10 years ago. Anyway, perhaps my unconscious saw R-P-S (Jan-ken-pon) as a quick way to avoid the whole time consuming see-sawing about who would get the worst job tug-o-war. I am too busy at work right now to waffle around false-sincerity delaying the making of a choice that may have more unpleasant consequences for the one person than the other.

Now things get funny, because my co-worker claimed to have never understood R-P-S!??! Note, he didn't say "I've never heard of it," but "I don't understand it." 
"Okay," I say without, I hope, any real condescension, "I'll show you." ¶ "But I don't understand it." ¶ "No problem. Rock is represented by a closed fist." I show him, "and paper by a flat hand and scissors this way." ¶  He shakes his head. "I just don't get it." ¶ "Scissor cuts paper, so scissors 'beat' paper. Paper covers rock, so paper 'beats' rock, and rock breaks scissors, so rock 'beats' scissors." ¶ "I don't get it." ¶ "Okay. Trust me. When you do it, you'll get it. On the count of three, with your hand, pick 'rock,' 'paper,' or 'scissors'. I'll do the same, and whoever wins gets to pick first." ¶ "I don't get it." ¶ "Just do it!"
And he did — and his rock beat my scissors. Sigh! (Doubt if he 'got it,' though.)

Anyway, that night while driving home on my usual route I noticed a sign that had two of the three R-P-S words. The only reason I noticed them was because of my co-worker's over wrought reaction to understanding, let alone playing, R-P-S. Nothing special in that, but simply that my mind-eye noticed something I've driven by many times, and never noticed before.

But then the following day I found the book Paper, Scissors, Rock. So, I bought it.

Yet another prompt to blog yet another fushigi came Wednesday. I drove to a work related lunch meeting within the city of Vancouver at a place I'd never been to before. While driving home, I was amused to see a window sign that also had two of the three R-P-S words in fancy yellow print: Paper Rock Bar & Grill. Today I went to find it on Google Maps. Très amusant because the Google Street View almost showed it — from the one angle it was blocked by a lamp standard, and by the one shown the angled window partially cuts off the word 'Paper'.

But I've attached its curriculum vitae:

Thus, on Wednesday, following all the prompts I was perceiving, I began to read the book.
So far it is not in a writing style I like — lots of short, even one word sentences, heavy with meaning.
For example:
The former Mountie praised the investigation. It took the RCMP sixteen years to bring two of the four white men to trial. One was convicted. The woman on the radio offers a list of people the Inquiry should be speaking to. Listening to indigenous people. The Inquiry has only spoken to four. And twenty-nine whites.
Screamed so loud through fifteen years of silence.
They can't even find injustice, Jane thinks; how will they ever find justice?
Home sweet home.
Hate. Sophia used to talk about hate.
Hatred, she said. A Sophiaword.
"Hatred," Jane says aloud, and thinks about a glass of scotch, two ice cubes floating. About the soft skin of a faraway woman, the firm thighs of a once-upon-a-time man (25).
But even all of that wasn't enough to get me to blog this as a fushigi, however — albeit, it had become a book to blog because I had in fact begun to read it.
No, the final straw in getting this blog done today as a fushigi was what I read in it this morning. On page 34, on a list of shops visited during a typical morning shop was a bread place called 'Oscar's' — just before reading about Oscar's breads I'd turned off the TV after having watched Cesar Milan take into his pack a dog named Oscar. But even that wasn't enough. No, the final kicker was 14 lines later, on the same page:
"Hi, Doc."
"Hello ... Pin in his left elbow."
"Mornin', Doctor."
Nod. "Gout."
"Gout? Like Henry the Eighth gout?"
"Ssshhh ... gout. Swelling of the joints...(34)."
And the reason that that was the straw that broke my fushigi back is because after eating some purine rich foods — smoked salmon, pickled herring and shrimp — at my business lunch Wednesday, I began to notice the preliminary signs of a gout attack Thursday, and by Friday morning I was hobbling around with a bad gout attack in the metatarsal joints, which is, for me, typically where I will feel it. Now, if you have read this far, please tell me how many times in a contemporary novel have you read the word 'gout.' How many times have you read the word 'gout' in a contemporary novel while experiencing a gout attack? Think about.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters of George Orwell V2 — Re-Visited 2010.12.07

Begun 2009.03.28

I took with me Orwell's Collected Essays when I ventured out this morning because I was my wife's chauffeur and I knew I'd have some down time. While I waited for her, I let my fingers take me to '36. Review of Burnt Norton, East Coker, The Dry Salvages by T.S.Eliot(272-79).
Orwell gave these poems a mixed to negative review, comparing them unfavourably to Eliot's earlier works. He suggests that Eliot sold out to religion, as he grew older, as an aid to coping with the meaningless of life with which he had struggled. Nothing too 'shocking' in that, but what really caught my thoughts was the subtle acuity of Orwell's well written reading-between-the-lines. It was so good, I here share an extract from it.
So long a man regards himself as an individual, his attitude towards death must be one of simple resentment. And however unsatisfactory this may be, if it is intensely felt it is more likely to produce good literature than a religious faith which is not really felt at all, but merely accepted against the emotional grain.
... Mixed up with [these poems being about certain localities] is a rather gloomy musing upon the nature and purpose of life, with the rather indefinite conclusion I have mentioned above. Life has a 'meaning', but it is not a meaning one feels inclined to grow lyrical about; there is a faith, but not much hope, and certainly no enthusiasm. Now the subject-matter of Mr Eliot's early poems was very different from this. They were not hopeful, but neither were they depressed or depressing. If one wants to deal in antitheses, one might say that the later poems express a melancholy faith and the earlier ones a glowing despair. They were based on the dilemma of modern man, who despairs of life and does not want to be dead, and on top of this they expressed the horror of an over-civilized intellectual confronted with the ugliness and spiritual emptiness of the machine age. ... Clearly [his older] poems were an end-product, the last gasp of a cultural tradition, poems which spoke only for the cultivated third-generation rentier for people able to feel and criticize but no longer able to act. E.M. Forster praised 'Prufrock' on its first appearance because 'it sang of people who were ineffectual and weak' and because it was 'innocent of public spirit' (this was during the other war, when public spirit was a good deal more rampant than it is now). The qualities by which any society is to last longer than a generation actually has to  be sustained — industry, courage, patriotism, frugality, philoprogenitiveness — obviously could not find any place in Eliot's early poems. There was only room for rentier values, the values of people too civilized to work, fight or even reproduce themselves. But that was the price that had to be paid, at any rate at that time, for writing a poem worth reading. The mood of lassitude, irony, disbelief, disgust, and not the sort of beefy enthusiasm demanded by the Squires and Herberts, was what sensitive people actually felt.
It is fashionable to say that in verse only words count and the 'meaning' is irrelevant, but in fact every poem contains a prose meaning, and when the poem is any good it is a meaning which the poet urgently wishes to express. All art is to some extent propaganda [my emphasis]. ...
But the trouble is that conscious futility is something only for the young. One cannot go on 'despairing of life' into a ripe old age. One cannot go on and on being 'decadent,' since decadence means falling and one can only be said to be falling if one is going to reach the bottom reasonably soon. Sooner or later one is obliged to adopt a positive attitude towards life and society. It would be putting it too crudely to say that every poet in our time must either die young, enter the Catholic church, or join the Communist Party, but in fact the escape from conscious futility is along those general lines. There are other deaths besides physical death, and  there are other sects and creeds besides the Catholic Church and the Communist Party, but it remains true that after a certain age one must either stop writing or dedicate oneself to some purpose not wholly aesthetic. Such a dedication necessarily means a break with the past...
Eliot's escape from individualism was into the Church, the Anglican Church as it happened. One ought not to assume that the gloomy Pétainism to which he now appears to have given himself over was the unavoidable result of his conversion. The Anglo-Catholic movement does not impose any political 'line' on its followers... In theory it is still possible to be an orthodox religious believer without being intellectually crippled in the process; but it is far from easy, and in practice books by orthodox believers usually show the same cramped, blinkered outlook as books by orthodox Stalinists or others who are mentally unfree. The reason is that the Christian churches still demand assent to doctrines which no one seriously believe in...
I do not know, but I should imagine that the struggle with meanings would have loomed smaller, and the poetry would have seemed to matter more, if he could have found his way to some creed which did not start off by forcing one to believe the incredible (275-8).
A very interesting comment. And, in a curious fushigi*-ness, the section I emphasized corresponds to a comment a made in the web based social group, Goodreads to a poet-wannabe. It involved the purpose of poetry being (or not being) to impart a message:

I elaborated later on:
¡ POETRY ! group. Nov 29, 2010 09:54pm
And I feel the impulse to comment on your question, with acknowledgement to and affirmation of Julie George's comment — we — meaning the readers — are the message. The need for language to speak a common language is essential to understanding, of course, otherwise words would be gibberish (or babel, if you prefer). But beyond what I am tempted to call 'basic' understanding skills, language of the heart and soul speaks to the individual's heart and soul uniquely. One person's sea of love is another's wave of virility.

I have put this as a fushigi because Orwell takes a stand 180 degrees from my argument in the comment he made about writing, as I've emphasized above. So, who's right? Both? Neither? I am tempted to suggest that capital 'L' Life has no problem at all holding contradictory truths simultaneously, and that it is only the limits of rational mind that finds this problematic. And by a great leap of irrational argumentation, I suggest that Orwell's argument, in contradicting my — and, let's face it, not my argument but that of the Taoist philosophers — is in fact the Taoist contention that Tao is beyond words truthful or false:

If words were satisfactory, we could speak the whole day and it would all be about the Way [Tao]; but if words are unsatisfactory, we can speak the whole day and it will all be about things. The Way is the delimitation of things. Neither words nor silence are satisfactory for conveying it. Without words and without silence, our deliberations reach their utmost limits.
     — Chuang-Tse

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance — Begun 2010.12.05

I stumbled across this in one of my local used book stores late this summer, and have now followed through on my resolution at the time to not just put this one in the book shelf.
 It has been a while — early this year — since I read Chomsky. (Except for the excellent The Noam Chomsky Lectures, which isn't by Chomsky.)

New York: Metropolitan Books — Henry Holt and Company, 2003. ISBN:0805074007.

Evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr ... 
... made the rather somber observation that 'the average life expectancy of a species is about 100,000 years. ¶We are entering a period of human history that may provide an answer to the question of whether it is better to be smart than the stupid. The most hopeful prospect is that the question will not be answered: if it receives a definite answer, that answer can only be that humans were a king of 'biological error,' using their allotted 100,000 years to destroy themselves and, in the process, much else. ¶The species has surely developed the capacity to do just that, and a hypothetical extraterrestrial observer might well conclude that humans have demonstrated that capacity throughout their history, dramatically in the past few hundred years, with an assault on the environment that supports life, on the diversity of more complex organisms, and with cold and calculated savagery, on each other as well (1-2).
Those who want to face their responsibilities with a genuine commitment to democracy and freedom — even to decent survival — should recognize the barriers that stand in the way. In violent states these are not concealed. In more democratic societies barriers are more subtle. While methods differ sharply from more brutal to more free societies, the goals are in many ways the similar: to ensure that the 'great beast,' as Alexander Hamilton called the people, does not stray from its proper confines. ¶Controlling the general population has always been a dominant concern of power and privilege, particularly since the first modern democratic revolution in seventeenth-century England. ... Almost three centuries later, Wilsonian idealism, as it is standardly termed, adopted a rather similar stance. Abroad, it is Washington's responsibility to ensure that government is in the hands of 'the good, though but the few.' At home, it is necessary to safeguard a system of elite decision-making and public ratification — 'polyarchy,' in the terminology of political science — not democracy (5). 

To see the debate Chomsky had, November 26, 2003, with Washington Post readers about Hegemony or Survival, click this debate transcript link.

The Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters of George Orwell V2: Visited 2010.12.04

The other day I dipped into Orwell's Collected essays. I first opened it 2009.03.28, with full awareness that this was a book to be dipped into when whim fancied it. 
Penguin Books 1970. (No ISBN in my copy.)

My whim took me to an interesting page because it, fushigi*-like, ties in with the economics course I am writing. The course, which I've called it 'Economics Demystified,' [link not live to the web yet], has been contracted by my local Continuing Education program. So I'm now moiling over the course details, and a part of that moiling has resulted in my including on the course's web page that I'm creating, a page called 'Found Economics.' As a result of my little dip into Orwell, I have now, with chance and fingers, found my second inclusion:
The history of British relations with Mussolini illustrates the structural weakness of a capitalistic state. Granting that power politics are not moral, to attempt to buy Italy out of the Axis — and clearly this idea underlay the British policy from 1934 onwards — was a natural strategic move. But it was not a move which Baldwin, Chamberlain and the rest of them were capable of carrying out. It could only have been done by being so strong that Mussolini would not dare to side with Hitler. This was impossible, because an economy ruled by the profit motive is simply not equal to re-arming on a modern scale. Britain only began to arm when the Germans were in Calais. Before that, fairly large sums had, indeed, been voted for armaments, but they slid peaceably into the pockets of the shareholders, and the weapons did not appear. Since they had no intention of curtailing their own privileges, it was inevitable that the British ruling class should carry out every policy half-heartedly and blind themselves to the coming danger. But the moral collapse which this entailed was something new in British politics. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, British politicians might be hypocritical, but hypocrisy implies a moral code. It was something new when Tory M.P.s cheered the news that British ships had been bombed by Italian aeroplanes, or when members of the House of Lords lent themselves to organized campaigns against the Basque children who had been brought here as refugees (365-6).

I consider this a fushigi* because not only does his critique of capitalism correspond with one of the arguments I will be presenting in the course, but more amusingly it absolutely corresponds to my first 'Found Economics', which came from Bill Bryson's Made in America
The dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki marked the end of one war and the beginning of another: the cold war. The cold may not have generated a lot of casualties, but it was nonetheless the longest and costliest war America has ever fought. War was unquestionably good for business – so good that in 1946 the president of General Electric went so far as to call for a 'permanent war economy.' he more or less got his wish. Throughout the 1950s,America spent more on defense than it did on anything else – indeed, almost as much as it did on all things together. By 1960, military spending accounted for 49.7 percent of the federal budget – more than the combined national budgets of Britain, France, West Germany, and Italy. Even America's foreign aid was overwhelmingly military. Of the $50 billion that America distributed in aid in the 1950s, 90 percent was for military purposes (p300-1).
With these two ideas juxtaposed, I will be generating an optional short essay question comparing the ideas these quotations are presenting.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Shakespeare's Flowers — Finished Re-read 2010.12.03

This is a nice little read. It is always pleasant to read Shakespeare, of course, and this is a very small collection — which leads to my one quibble, which is that I keep thinking when I finish it that this could be a bit longer. (That is a bit mean-spirited on my part, because I haven't actually done the real research required to confirm this, but I can't help thinking it.) But the collection is excellent, even so, so it gets ☆.    

William Shakespeare.
San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1995.
ISBN 081180836X

Included is one of my favourite little poems from A Midsummer Night's Dream:
Be kind and courteous to this gentleman.
Hop in his walks, and gambol in his eyes.
Feed him with apricots and dewberries,
With purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries;
The honeybags steal from the humble-bees,
And for night tapers crop their waxen thighs
And light them at the fiery glow-worms' eyes
To have my love to bed, and to arise;
And pluck the wings from painted butterflies
To fan the moonbeams from his sleeping eyes.
Nod to him, elves, and do him courtesies (3.1.156-166).