Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012.12.25 — Stanley Park by Timothy Taylor: Finished & a Triptych of Small Fushigis*

Timothy Taylor
Stanley Park
Toronto:Random House Canada ISBN 9780307363596.

Began 2012.11.27
Finished 2012.12.23


I have a dream, chef and struggling restaurant owner Jeremy Papier avers. I want my restaurant to bring the hyper-industrialized, homogenized, world back to its roots: food, specifically, that which is grown locally.

And so he gets his dream when, through struggling to find his own family's roots, he begins to cook the wildlife of Vancouver's Stanley Park: the squirrels, starlings, ducks, geese, raccoons. His first park repast was with his father. They dined on the duck that his father had caught. Eventually Jeremy began to feed a collective of the homeless living in the park. His father, 'The Professor,' is a social anthropologist who, in doing this project, his last, has gone back to finish where he began his career. He is exploring his own and the city's roots by choosing to live amongst the homeless who reside beneath the forest's canopy, hidden from the city's eyes that are too busy to see them. He is exploring what it is that are the ties, the roots, that bind people to homelessness. During the course of the book, this sub-theme comments that, in some ways, these people are more closely connected to their environment, more alive if you will, than the grasping many who have big houses, but spend most of their time feeling alienated and disconnected from their lives.

But the protagonist is Jeremy, and his dream falls apart when his self-destructive impulse purchase of a $3000 knife cuts the final threads of his credit card kiting. With creditors hounding him, he turns to the international coffee czar to save him and his dream. But a czar doesn't live the dreams of others, and in an elegance only a wealthy thug can envisage, he steals Jeremy's dream and twists it into an ungrounded international smorgasbord.

What would any creative and daring Chef do to see his dream survive beneath the tyranny of the condescension of wealth?

And so Taylor writes a complex and elegant fugue that explores the roots of family and food. This is an engaging delightful and complex read. I highly recommend it.

Fushigi Triptych
During the course of my reading SP it joined me to participate in several small fushigis. Some I've already blogged. See 2012.12.15 — Bonfire of the Vanities, and 2012.12.01 — Anna Russell and Kris Boyd and Lamb Stew: Three Tiny Fushigis. But three small ones, collectively, have crept up in the final pages that have moved me enough to blog them as one.

Third One First.
… There was a great quantity of Scotch going down and many, many cigars being waved around.

Olli was offered a Scotch with this very thought, leaning back in his chair thinking about it and watching through the front window as Kiwi hailed a cab and disappeared into the night. Just thinking about that and a voice next to his ear said: "Scotch, sir?"

"What do you have?" he asked by mistake.

"Glenmorangie, Loch Dhu, Balvenie, Dalwhinnie, Glenkinkchie, Cragganmore, Oban, Talisker, Lagavulin, Macallan, Laphroaig, Connemara, Glenhaven and Sheep Dip."

They didn't even have Glenfiddich (393).
What makes this interesting is that the day before I read this I was sent out to buy a bottle of Scotch for our upcoming party. I don't drink Scotch, and so many years ago a friend recommended that a good one to have on hand for Scotch drinking guests is Talisker. Alas, my local liquor store no longer stocks it. So, after talking with the sales rep, she suggested Glenmorangie. To the best of my remembrance, I've never seen nor heard of either of these scotches before.

The Second One Second. A little earlier in the book, I read:
"It really looks . . . dramatic," Margaret said, moving on. But Jeremy just kept stroking his chin and scratching his ear, glancing around the room. He looked pale; had he lost weight? (369)
Well, earlier that day I read the stories in the WSS's weekly short story contests: Week 148: Witchcraft. In it, Tim has written an excellent story called Darrens. Here's the first paragraph:
I walk the one hundred twenty three steps from my desk by the elevators to the cafeteria and congratulate myself on not having thought about her. Unfortunately, this involves thinking about her. I touch my left earlobe with my right index finger.
Initially this wasn't strong enough to blog, even as the second of two funny fushigis.

First One Last. Okay, not the first first in this book, but the first since the last time I blogged a fushigi from this book. This one started on December 18th. Again, in the WSS, but this time in the TPBM (The Person Below Me) thread, when M posted # 2397. He wrote:
TPBM sometimes gets chocolate on the keyboard.

The following day ML called up from the living room. She was impressed by a computer tech pre-Christmas 'news' story that covered, amongst other things, a kid-proof computer keyboard.

The following day, when I recommenced perusing Stanley Park I was amused to read:
Angela's idea [for her own restaurant] was Grazer, a high-concept tapas Web bar. Satay, tofu spears, samosas and slivers of super-fusion designer pizza. Caviar and quail egg was mentioned. The Web part centred on the stand-up tables with shelves for the tapas dishes and pop-up, active-matrix, flat screens. Waterproof touch-pad keyboards (324).
By itself, not worthy of noting as a fushigi, but first of three in a row.

I debated about including this, but… well, here it is. A little earlier, on the 17th, in post #2380 of TPBM thread I wrote:
Thank you Al and Christa for your confidence in my writing! OMG, now I'm feeling so much pressure! Me and my big fat mouth! I'm having trouble breathing.... [clunk a;ldkfja;sdlkfha;sdofja;sldfjka;sdfjka;sdfjka;sdfkjas;dfjas;dlfjas;dflkasdf — oops, sorry about that. Head fell forward onto keyboard.]
End of Fushigi Triptych.

Book Review Resumes and Closes — an extended citation
Here is a passage I flagged while reading SP to include in my blog book review.
"Shitty week," Jeremy snapped. But he stopped at that, because in the Professor's eyes, those impervious eyes, there was a colour that he recognized. A shade of bruising. A shade of vulnerability. He lowered his voice. "How is Caruzo?"

"Sends his best."

Jeremy steadied himself.

The Professor spoke first. "There was a woman in the park on the day they died."

Jeremy dropped his head. God.

"She saw something that day... someone..."

Jeremy turned and stepped into the street. The Professor remained on the grass. He held the last inch of his park. "The two are meant to be together," he said, talking to Jeremy's back. "Just as the two were drawn from the same soil, so too must the same soil hold them...."

The strange words.

Jeremy spun, standing in the middle of the empty nighttime street. From her expensive apartment window high in the concrete and glass monolith behind them, had the resilient old lady of the West End risen for a nocturnal glass of grapefruit juice just then, she might have looked down and seen a small, charged scene on her quiet street. A rumpled figure, tired, authoritative, holding court on the grass by the curb, his arms crossed, his head back looking at the sky. And opposite him, a leaner, younger frame of a discernibly similar type, angular, also in black, hands in his jacket pockets rigidly, critically, dubiously. Staring at the older cast of himself.

"From the file in the library," Jeremy said.

The Professor pantomimed applause.

"And if you've read it," Jeremy went on, "may I ask why I—"

"Because you are a part of what is going on here."

Jeremy stared. He didn't want to know. He plunged.

"I accepted an offer." Even to his own ear, the words clanked coldly out into the night air between them, but he couldn't have predicted that the statement would bring the Professor's arms limply to his sides, that it would pull him a step forward. Out of the park. Onto the curb. Into the gutter. The Professor was staring at his son, his blood. Standing in the street, in the city. "Oh, you have made such a mistake."

"It's a good deal. It gives me freedom."

"Freedom. So many things done in this name."

Freedom from debt, Jeremy tried to say, but the Professor was looking past him now. Over his shoulder and up between the buildings. Beyond. He was whispering.

"Too often, I think, the desire for freedom masks the desire for destruction."

The words a thin stream. A last breath.

"You want to destroy everything around you, everything you have created for yourself or been given by others. To be free."

Tapering. Diminishing. Losing angularity, presence, power.

"Natural for you, perfectly natural," the Professor whispered. "Natural to refuse the key that is given. To be blind in the darkness of knowing. To be filled with a dark light that we must shine on the people around us. A light that makes us weep and pull down our own houses."

The wind spoke in the cherry trees, a hissing speech through purple leaves and thin black branches. The city hummed, hypnotic. Winding through the deepest part of a Wednesday night.

"Come stay with me," Jeremy said. He could hardly hear his own words. "Do your research but sleep in a bed. Write your notes at a table. You could shave."

"Stay involved," the Professor said. Back. Alert. "Stay interested."

No second for an answer. He turned. He descended the hill at a determined trot. He threaded through the cherry trees, from the branches of which hung the fruits of their joint linkage to this place.

Around the lagoon went the Professor, dwindling down, then swallowed by the darkness (195-7).

Monday, December 24, 2012

2012.12.23 — Lullaby for Pi: Movie Review

Have you seen the small independent film Lullaby for Pi? No? Well, no surprise. This joint Canada / France production (2010) has received a rating of 6.2 from a whopping 205 raters in IMDb. But, more interestingly, a total of 0 (zero) viewer and critic reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. I found a French critic's review: Nicolas Gilli, which is on a France-based web-page and is in, no surprise, French. Nothing in the (English) Wikipedia. A Google search will bring up a couple of reviews, for example, The Hollywood Reporter's castigation that LFP is
… a ludicrous romance so full of clichés and forced whimsy that it is nearly unwatchable.

Basically, this is a movie that for all intents and purposes, doesn't quite exist. I don't remember having heard anything about the movie, but came across it by accident while flipping through the movie listings on TV. And that is a shame! Okay, it hasn't gone completely unnoticed, as the tumblr people seemed to like it, and their blog is filled with images.

Synopsis: young brilliant musician goes into a deep depression with the death of his wife and stops music. Instead he spends his time in the hotel room where he first met her, waiting for her to call. A young woman, who doesn't want him to see her face and who lost several years of her youth to being in a coma, forms a friendship with him through the bathroom door. And, like magic, and with the help of the kindly chess playing hotel desk man, the two eccentric people tentatively and quirkily begin to live. He, again, she for the first time.

And it is the quirkiness that I can see being a thumbs down for some. Why? I've been struggling to articulate my thoughts, but it comes to what may be an odd split in the human population between those who delight in Magical Realism versus those who delight in cartoon violence or the un-magical realism of saccharine sentimental (happy / sad) movies. The emotional life of the characters is brought forward in the storytelling through exaggerated setting and character. So the young woman struggling to find her place in the world hides in the bathroom of the man having lost his place. Each have erected a wall between themselves and the world which, by the magic of life, is embodied in the locked bathroom door.

And thus we see a visual metaphor dance around the theme of finding/losing/rediscovering one's voice. The metaphor is re-enforced with the subplot of the young musician who has to struggle to keep his own musical voice while it is being excoriated by the good-intentioned father.

And, in the best of a magical realism typical of many Canadian writers, such as Barbara Gowdy and Margaret Atwood, the theme is explored in different ways. The young woman begins to find her voice using mute media: she uses film frames clipped from the movies she's paid by a theatre company to project and, with a kind of homage to Timothy Findley's novel Famous Last Words, journal writing on the wall of her loft that she would paint over until the day she met Sam…

This is a fun movie. The directing kept it light, and the performances by the leads are engaging and don't fall into maudlin sentimentality. Forest Whitaker as their unassuming spiritual guide was perfect in the role. The filmography is good and contributes to the story with its own subtle quirkiness. And the music is also excellent. As is noted, Charlie Winston contributes perfectly to the sound track, including Rupert Friend's extemporaneous blues/jazz 'hit' I'm in Love With a Bathroom.


Benoît Philippon
Actors: Andre Richards, Clémence Poésy, Colin Lawrence, Dewshane Williams, Forest Whitaker, Matt Ward, Rupert Friend, Sarah Wayne Callies

Finally, in the most peculiar and delightful of ways, LFP participated in a delicious as Pi fushigi on the day I watched the movie.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

2012.12.15 — The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe: Finished in 1992(?) and Fushigi*

I wrote a review of Bonfire of the Vanities on 2012.12.14 to post on Goodreads. When I wrote it I was going to leave it there because I read BotV in the early 90s and because I felt
compelled to wrote a contrary voice to the effusive praise and awards this book has undeservedly received. I finished editing and posting the 'Goodreads' review around 1am.

Before you get to read the review, however, I'll introduce the remarkable fushigi. This morning, I resumed my perusal of Stanley Park by Canadian (Vancouver) writer, Timothy Taylor (ISBN 9780307363596).
At the bottom of the page where against which my mark sat were the words Will Work For Food in italics. Here's the paragraph that that text finishes:
He stood and approached this tree-like diorama and began to examine its leaves and branches. There were childhood pictures, here. There, a wedding picture he had not seen before. The Pelikan pen itself Scotch-taped to the wall in a cluster that included a letter from the dean of anthropology approving extended sick leave. A page torn from Will Work for Food (276).
Now that, as it turns out, is a remarkable fushigi because of what I didn't include in my review of Bonfire of the Vanities.

Bonfire of the Vanities
by Tom Wolfe. Macmillan. ISBN: 9780312427573 or ISBN10: 0312427573.


Here's the review I wrote:

This was one of the few books I've read because of the chit chat around it. The movie, which I felt had potential but which I thought was ultimately a directorial failure, was the final element that brought me to pick this book up. I was curious at how the movie failed and needed to read the book to see if my impression that it was a directorial failure was accurate or not. My reading that book did not answer that question with any certainty because BotV has become one of the touch stone books marking me as an outsider to the society
within which I live. Its award winning popularity is a complete mystery to me. Poorly written, it has uninteresting characters and characterization espousing a heavy handed superficial morality — sort of. My few observations of Wolfe in book interviews did not in any way dissuade me that he is an overrated wind-bag, filled with ego and hubris and little of what I would consider critical intelligence. It struck me that he was an advocate of American hegemony both domestic and foreign.

So, with that in mind it was with surprise and even fascination that I read a Tom Wolfe encomium of American domestic practices under Reagan get severely castigated by Noam Chomsky. In his satirically way, Chomsky basically puts Wolfe's social commentary into the ranks of the rantings of a delusional apologist for the greed-based policies that successfully impoverished the majority to the benefit of the very few. So, in a perversion of a 'proper' book review, here is a taste of Chomsky chastising Tom Wolfe — note, I hadn't even heard of Chomsky before reading BotV:

What the [economic] "paradox" [in 1992 of a 'Weak Economy but Strong Profits'] entails for the general population is demonstrated by numerous studies of income distribution, real wages, poverty, hunger, infant mortality, and other social indices. A study released by the Economic Policy Institute on Labor Day, 1992, fleshed out the details of what people know from their experience: after a decade of Reaganism, "most Americans are working longer hours for lower wages and considerably less security," and "the vast majority" are "in many ways worse off" than in the late 1970s. From 1987, real wages have declined even for the college educated. "Poverty rates were high by historic standards," and "those in poverty in 1989 were significantly poorer than the poor in 1979." The poverty rate rose further in 1991, the Census Bureau reported. A congressional report released a few days later estimates that hunger has grown by 50 percent since the mid-1980s to some 30 million people. Other studies show that one of eight children under 12 suffers from hunger, a problem that reappeared in 1982 after having been overcome by government programs from the 1960s. Two researchers report that in New York, the proportion of children raised in poverty more than doubled to 40 percent, while nationwide, "the number of hungry American children grew by 26 percent" as aid for the poor shrank during "the booming 1980s"—"one of the great golden moments that humanity has ever experienced," a spokesman for the culture of cruelty proclaimed (Tom Wolfe Boston Globe February 1990) [I did a Google and found these relatively contemporary items: A Rising Hunger Among Children and Infant Malnutrition at Staggering Levels in Massachusetts.]

The impact is brought out forcefully in more narrowly-focused studies; for example, at the Boston City Hospital, where researchers found that "the number of malnourished, low-weight children jumped dramatically following the coldest winter months," when parents had to face the agonizing choice between heat or food. At the hospital's clinic for malnourished children, more were treated in the first nine months of 1992 than in all of 1991; the wait for care reached two months, compelling the staff to "resort to triage." Some suffer from Third World levels of malnutrition and require hospitalization, victims of "the social and financial calamities that have befallen families" and the "massive retrenchment in social service programs" (Boston Globe September 8, 25, 1992).
By the side of a road, men hold signs that read "Will Work for Food," a sight that recalls the darkest days of the Great Depression.(Year 501: The Conquest Continues, p280-1).
I am being a little mean here, I fully acknowledge. But in the few Wolfe interviews I saw, I found myself becoming angry that a bad writer was being heralded as a visionary and truth seeker to be paraded by the media in their campaign to mis-represent the extent of income polarity and impoverishment that is the direct result of American policies that are benefiting very few, but doing so to a staggering degree.
End of Goodreads Review

What made the highlighted text above not just a fushigi, but a remarkable one is that when I originally cited Chomsky in the review I omitted that line, and only that line. I remembered reading it, but because I was squeezing my citation I felt that that line wasn't necessary to make the point I was trying to make. I have, since then, edited the review to include it.

Post-Script 2012.12.16:
And I know this is completely irrelevant, and totally meaningless, but I have found it a little bemusing that the colour of covers of Year 501 and Stanley Park is almost identical. I have no idea why I am writing this down. When I first noticed it I dismissed that detail as trivial and uninteresting and likely to make me look like an idiot if I were to put it out here. But, each time I pick up Stanley Park to recommence my perusal — I'm now page 278 now — that thought gets into my brain and buzzes around for a while. So, I have written this post script to stop that thought from floating around and to fully prove my madness to the few who read my blog. (But then, those few will already know that I am mad.)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow: Finished 2012.12.08 & a Small Fushigi*

Benjamin Hoff, editor and biographer.
Opal Whiteley, author.
The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow: The Rediscovered Diary of Opal Whiteley. New York, Ticknor & Fields 1986. ISBN 0899194443.

   Began 2012.09.22
Finished 2012.10.14


At M's terse and cryptic recommendation I bought this book on-line. It was delivered to work and, as is her habit, when my friend BV saw it asked 'May I read that please?' She is endlessly fascinated by the books I bring to work, and has read many from my library. And since I was at the time busy reading Debt: The First 5,000 Years, I said 'Okay.'

She couldn't put it down, and proceeded to read it twice, back-to-back. It has gone to near the top of her all time favourite books list and BV has read a lot of books.

And, likewise tSCWtWG is now jostling for position in my top 50 books. Hoff's description of finding the lost book in the first place resonated with me because he has described how it is that I have found many of the books that have been most important to me in my life: a serendipity and the feeling that I can 'hear' them calling out to me to be read. And likewise, I had that feeling when I read M's recommendation, which rarely happens when I get book recommendations from people.
Hoff has created a book of strong contrasts and clashing ambivalent emotions. So strong that they make this a book hard to describe. It begins with his short biography of Whitelely, which is really more a vindication of her having been libelled and dismissed as a fraud than a biography. In doing his research Hoff came to understand that Whitelely had been willfully destroyed by a malevolent press.

Hoff's brief account left me feeling enraged by what is to me an example of a bloodlust and scapegoating by a mob of journalists that collectively decided to suspend their professional and social
responsibility in order to demonstrate that they have the power to destroy the life of someone who somehow magically embodied the magical spirit of the earth and life. The near religious zealotry of the defamation against this life-spirit reminded me of something I read in News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness, edited by American poet Robert Bly. From an 1999 English seminar I wrote about this idea:
Both William Blake and Novalis very clearly saw that a key aspect to the empiricist's "truth" was the arbitrary and hypocritical denial of the sensual part of the empirical world. That the empiricists were able to "rationally" assert this denial of life is only marginally less astounding than their being successful in doing it! This was why both Blake and Novalis stressed the sensual in their works — they knew what the empiricists were unconscious of, which is that they had arbitrary accepted Christian notions of the earth and female as vile and devoid of life. Robert Bly cites a blunt, but typical, example of the roots of that empiricism being anchored in conventional Christian mythology:
The French Priest Bossuet, writing at about the same time as Descartes, expressed in this passage one of the more prevalent Christian attitudes towards nature:

May the earth be cursed, may the earth be cursed, a thousand times be cursed because from it that heavy fog and those black vapours continually rise that ascend from the dark passions and hide heaven and its light from us and draw down the lightening of God's justice against the corruption of the human race.

[Bly continues:] This attitude was acceptable to the Church Fathers and to developing capitalism. When we deny there is consciousness in nature, we also deny consciousness to the worlds we find by going through nature (News of the Universe 9).
It is no wonder that Blake wrote "The Eternal Female groand! it was heard all over the world" or that Novalis wrote "They [the shallow men] have no idea that it is [the Numinous Night] who subtly embraces the breasts of the young girl, and turns her darkened cave into the Garden of Delight, and have no clue that you are the one ... opening the world of delight ... at the edge of the old stories..." (News of the Universe 49).

Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell and Novalis' Hymns to the Night are celebrations of all that the empiricists manage to deny in their sensual world, namely the sensual, the feminine, sexuality and the unconscious. That science is puritanical in its structure and actions can be linked straight back to the widespread acceptance of Newton's single vision which is firmly grounded in his Puritan beliefs.
Whiteley's diary is one of the most spiritual sensual examples of the written word I have ever come across, and I can't help but think that her voice was the voice of capital 'L' Life that an industrialized, greed-biased anti-life society found threatening and needed to crush.

And the connection to Blake is, on reflection, quite astounding beyond it coming to me as an out and out surprise. Blake extolled the spirituality of the physical, too. And in deceptively simple writing.

I have seen other reviewers who waffle on Hoff's vindication, perhaps falling back on the 'there's two sides to every story' rationale. But Hoff's attention to detail, combined with my having become more fully aware of the social malevolence of the press, has convinced me of the evil done to Whitelely, and that it was willfully done by an agenda-ed press with the desire to hurt.

However, once you dive into Whiteley childhood writing, the charm, the elegance, the detail, the love Whitelely has for nature is astounding. Life is more alive with her writing than I have ever experienced before. And even the word love, which has become overused in our age of Hallmark greeting cards and texting, may not describe the feeling so much as rapture: Whitely was enraptured by nature. If I could I would reproduce the entire text here, but will limit myself to a blind random pick. Well, I thought I'd do a couple, but I flipped to Chapter Twenty-One: Cathedral Service in the Barn; a Lamb for Opal, and a Lily for Peter Paul Reubens, and the first few pages of this chapter are likely enough to give you a good sense of the book. And, I suspect it will be either something you will love or hate.

Today was a very stormy day — more rainy than other stormy days. So we had cathedral service on the hay, in the barn.

Mathilde Plantagenet [the baby calf of the gentle Jersey cow, that came on the night of the coming of Elsie's baby] was below us in her stall, and she did moo moos while I did sing the choir-service. Plato and Pliny, the two bats, hung on the rafters in a dark corner. Lars Porsena of Clusium [a pet crow with a fondness for collecting things] perched on the back of Brave Horatius [the shepherd dog]. Thomas Chatterton Jupiter Zeus [a most dear velvety wood-rat] sat at my feet and munched leaves while I said prayers. Lucian Horace Ovid Virgil [a toad] was on my right shoulder, and Louis II, Ie Grand Conde [a wood-mouse with likes to ride in the sleeve of my red dress], was on my left shoulder, part of the time; then he did crawl in my sleeve, to have a sleep. Solomon Grundy [a very dear baby pig] was asleep by my side in his christening robe, and a sweet picture he was in it. On my other side was his little sister, Anthonya Mundy, who has not got as much curl in her tail as has [her brother] Solomon Grundy.

Clementine, the Plymouth Rock hen, was late come to service. She came up from the stall of the gentle Jersey cow, just when I was through singing "Hosanna in excelsis." She came and perched on the back of Brave Horatius, back of Lars Porsena of Clusium. Then I said more prayers, and Brave Horatius did bark Amen. When he so did, Clementine tumbled off his back. She came over by me. I had thinks it would be nice if her pretty gray feathers were blue. I gave her a gentle pat, and then I did begin the talk service. I did use for my text, "Blessed be the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

And all of the time, the raindrops did make little joy patters on the roof. They were coming down from the sky in a quick way.

Now is the begins of the borning-time of the year. I did hurry home from school in a quick way, in the afternoon of this day. Aidan of lona [a sheep] come from Lindisfarne has said I may name the little lambs that now are coming. All day, I did have thinks about what names to call them by. There are some names I do so like to sing the spell of. Some names I do sing over and over again when I do go on explores. I could hardly wait waits until school-getting-out-time. I had remembers how Sadie McKibben [a comforter in time of trouble] says no child should grow a day old without having a name. Now some of those dear baby lambs are two and three days old, since their borning-time.

When I was come to where was Aidan of lona come from Lindisfarne, I did tell him, "Now I have come to name all your lambs!" He did have one little lamb in his arms. He did tell me as how it was it didn't belong to anyone, and it was lonesome without a mother. He said he had thinks he would give it to me to mother. I was so happy. It was very white, and very soft, and its legs was slim. And it had wants for a mother. It had likes for me to put my arms around it. I did name it first of all — I called it Menander Euripides Theocritus Thucydides. It had likes for the taste of my fingers when I did dip them into the pan of milk on the rock and then put them in its mouth. Its woolly tail did wiggle joy wiggles, and I did dance on my toes. I felt such a big amount of satisfaction feels, having a lamb to mother. I am getting quite a big family, now.

After I did dip my fingers in the milk for Menander Euripides Theocritus Thucydides, I was going goes to see about getting a brandy bottle somewhere and a nipple, so this baby lamb could have a bottle to nurse, like other babies hereabouts. When I did make a start to go, Aidan of lona come from Lindisfarne did say, "You are not going away before you name the others, are you?" Of course I was not. And he said Menander Euripides Theocritus Thucydides was full up of milk for today, and I could bring his bottle on the morrow.

Then I did make begins to name the other lambs. They were dear, and so dear. First one I did come to, I did name Plutarch Demosthenes. The next one I did name Marcus Aurelius. And one came close by Aidan of lona come from Lindisfarne, and I called it Epicurus Pythagorus. One did look a little more little than the others. I called him Anacreon Herodotus. One was more big than all the others. I named him Homer Archimedes Chilon, He gave his tail a wiggle, and came close to his mother. One had a more short tail, and a question-look in his eyes, I called him Sophocles Diogenes. And one more, I called Periander Pindar; and one was Solon Thales; and the last one of all that had not yet a name, I did call him Tibullus Theognis. He was a very fuzzy lamb, and he had very long legs.

The shepherd did have likes for the names I did give to his little lambs, and the names I did give to his sheep, a long time ago. And today, when he did tell me how he did have likes for their names, I did tell him how I have likes for them too, and how I have thinks to learn more about them, when I do grow up more tall. I told him how I did sing the spell of the words to the fishes that live in the singing creek where the willows grow.

After I said good-bye to all the other lambs, I did kiss Menander Euripides Theocritus Thucydides on the nose. I have thinks every eventime I will kiss him goodnight, because maybe he does have lonesome feels too, and maybe he does have longs for kisses, like the longs I do have for them every night-time.

Before I was come to the house we do live in, I did make a stop by the singing creek where the willows grow. I did print a message on a leaf. It was for the soul of William Shakespeare [an oak tree in the lane]. I tied it on a willow branch.

Then I did go by the cathedral, to say thank prayers for Menander Euripides Theocritus Thucydides. And I did have remembers that this was the going-away day of Reine Marie Amelie in 1866, and Queen Elizabeth, in 1603. And I did say a thank prayer for the goodness of them. It was near dark-time. There were little whispers in the woods, and shadows with velvet fingers. I did sing, "Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus, Dominus Deus."

Before I did come on to the house we live in, I did go aside to have sees of a cream lily that has its growing near unto the cathedral. I have watched the leafing of that lily, and I have watched its budding. A long time, I have had thinks about it. Today its blooming-time was come. There it was.

I went close unto it. My soul was full of thank feels. Ever since the day when Peter Paul Rubens [a very dear pet pig] did go away, I have looked for his soul in tree-tops, and all about. Now I have knows his soul does love to linger by this lily. I did kneel by it, and say a thank prayer for the blooming of this fleur Peter Paul Rubens's soul does love to linger near. If ever I go from here, I will take with me this lily plant. I did have feels that my dear Peter Paul Rubens was very near this eventime (217-21).
This is a truly amazing book. Sorry, I'll rephrase. This is a truly amazing example of how extra-ordinary the human animal can be and just how much we miss of the magic of Life in our day-to-day existence. Whiteley is an inspiration to be more aware, more compassionate, more open to the possibility of life.

Fushigi Alert
And now for a small amusement. Opal took great pleasure in her mice friends, Felix Mendelssohn, Louis II le Grande Condé, Nannerl Mozart, and the wood-rat, Thomas Chatterton Jupiter Zeus.
Well, when I began writing this review I stumbled into an amusing blog on the harmonics of mice in, of all places, CBCR2.
Step aside One Direction and Backstreet Boys: scientists have found that mice know how to sing in harmony — and they do it to impress females.
And I understand that it is most likely the most tenuous of fushigi connections, but I can't help but think of this as a tiny musical fushigi because Opal saw music in everything, even the water of the singing creek:
I [Benamin Hoff] watched the water as it hurried along. The creek must have been bigger, I thought, before the trees in the area were removed. Before crossing the field to see it, I'd asked the man who lived in the ranch house what it was called. 'Carolyn Creek, Carolina Creek — something like that,' he'd said. He'd seen the name on a map. Caroling Creek would fit it better, I thought. It sang on in a high-pitched slivery voice, like the tinkling of little bells (337).
This is a truly beautiful, inspiring, and extremely sad read. I cannot recommend it highly enough. And, I now feel compelled to re-read some William Blake, to see just how strong or weak is the connection I intuitively made actually is.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

2012.11.24 — Jung by Anthony Stevens: Read

Anthony Stevens.
Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1994. ISBN 0192876864. [Note: the link is to 2001 edition, not shown here.]

Begun: 2012.10.29.
Finished: 2012.11.21.


Jung is a tightly written, comprehensive yet short overview of Jung's ideas and biography. Stevens managed to connect how Jung's biography influenced the
development of his ideas and how influential those ideas have been. Stevens' survey of Jung's relationship with Freud is interesting and balanced, as is his refutation of the anti-semitism charges that have floated around Jung since before the second world war.

Now after all that praise, I would suggest that Jung is a book without a really strong audience. The book is detailed enough and I suspect generally as accurate as a 3rd party biography can be. But that is its biggest problem. I suspect that many people completely unfamiliar with Jung's writings are likely to come away from this book with an exaggerated understanding of the power and range of Jung's ideas and influence and decide to not read anything else. They will not understand that the reason people read Jung is to begin the journey of self-understanding, what Jung called individuation.

On the other hand, those who are significantly familiar with Jung will not find too much new here. It remains simply a summary and review, albeit a very good one. It does have some nice quotable bits for those interested in quips or sound bites.

But what moved this book from just a solid four to five stars was something Stevens observed I had until reading it here thought that I had uniquely noticed. Thank god I am not the only one to have spotted the remarkable similarity between Noam Chomsky's linguistic theories and Jung's conceptualization of the collective unconscious and archetypes (p37). Now, it is possible that other Jungian commentators I have previously read made this connection too, but at a time in my life before I was familiar with Chomsky's linguistic ideas. But I do not remember even one such reference, and definitely haven't seen one since then. Nor have I seen anyone from the Chomsky side making the connection. (For those curious about this, a good overview of Chomsky's linguistics is Justin Leiber's Noam Chomsky: A Philosophic Overview. I have blogged my review of it here.) And in it was my first publication of my perception of the strong equivalent between Jung's collective unconscious and Chomsky's Deep Structure and Universal Grammar. (No, the writers of the Wikipedia do not make a similar claim.)

Furthermore, Chomsky completely eviscerates behaviouralist models as having been completely ineffectual at explaining anything. Jung found the idea that behaviouralism could explain the human experience as untenable as well. Here's Stevens' summary:
… An archetype, [Jung] said, is not 'an inherited idea' but rather 'an inherited mode of functioning, corresponding to the inborn way in which the chick emerges from the egg, the bird builds its nest, a certain kind of wasp stings the motor ganglion of the caterpillar, and eels find their way to the Bermudas. In other words, it is a "pattern of behaviour". This aspect of the archetype,' concludes Jung, 'the purely biological one, is the proper concern of scientific psychology' (CW XVIII, par. 1228). In a sense, ethology and Jungian psychology can be viewed as two sides of the same coin: it is as if ethologists have been engaged in an extraverted exploration of the archetype and Jungians in an introverted examination of the [biologically postulated] IRM [Innate Releasing Mechanism].

The currency of archetypal theory

Many other disciplines have produced concepts similar to the archetypal hypothesis, but usually without reference to Jung. For example, the primary concern of Claude Levi-Strauss and the French school of
structural anthropology is with the unconscious infrastructures which they hold responsible for all human customs and institutions; specialists in linguistics maintain that although grammars differ from one another, their basic forms—which Noam Chomsky calls their deep structures—are universal (i.e. at the deepest neuropsychic level, there exists a universal [or 'archetypal'] grammar on which all individual grammars are based), an entirely new discipline, sociobiology, has grown up on the theory that the patterns of behaviour typical of all social species, the human species included, are dependent on genetically transmitted response strategies designed to maximize the fitness of the organism to survive in the environment in which it evolved; sociobiology also holds that the psycho-social development in individual members of a species is dependent on what are termed epigenetic rules [epi = upon, genesis = development; i.e. rules upon which development proceeds); more recently still, ethologically oriented psychiatrists have begun to study what they call psychobiological response patterns and deeply homologous neural structures which they hold responsible for the achievement of healthy or unhealthy patterns of adjustment in individual patients in response to variations in their social environment. All these concepts are compatible with the archetypal hypothesis which lung had proposed decades earlier to virtually universal indifference.

This raises an important question. If lung's theory of archetypes is so fundamental that it keeps being rediscovered by the practitioners of many other disciplines, why did it not receive the enthusiastic welcome it deserved when Jung proposed it? The explanation is, I think, twofold: namely, the time at which Jung stated the theory, and the way in which he published it.

In the first place, throughout Jung's mature lifetime, researchers working in university departments of psychology were in the grip of behaviourism, which discounted innate or genetic factors, preferring to view the individual as a tabula rasa whose development was almost entirely dependent on environmental factors. lung's contrary view that the infant comes into the world with an intact blueprint for life which it then proceeds to implement through interaction with the environment, was so at variance with the prevailing Zeitgeist as to guarantee it a hostile reception.

Secondly, Jung did not state his theory in a clear, testable form, nor did he back it up with sufficiently persuasive evidence. His book Transformations and Symbols of the Libido in which he first put forward his idea of a collective unconscious giving rise to 'primordial images' (as he originally called archetypes) was so densely written and so packed with mythological exegesis as to make it virtually impenetrable to any but the most determined reader. Moreover, in arguing that 'primordial images' were derived from the past history of mankind,
Jung exposed himself to the accusation that he, like Freud, subscribed to the discredited theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics, originally proposed by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829), i.e. that ideas or images occurring in members of one generation could be passed on genetically to the next and subsequent generations.

In fact, the collective unconscious is a respectable scientific hypothesis and one does not have to adopt a Lamarckian view of biology to entertain it. Indeed, as we have seen, it is entirely compatible with the theoretical formulations of contemporary ethologists, sociobiologists, and psychiatrists. Precisely in order to acquit himself of the charge of Lamarckism Jung eventually made a clear distinction between what he termed the archetype-as-such (similar to Kant's das Ding-an-sich} and the archetypal images, ideas, and behaviours that the archetype-as-such gives rise to. It is the predisposition to have certain experiences that is archetypal and inherited, not the experience itself. The French molecular biologist and Nobel Laureate Jacques Monod reached an identical conclusion: 'Everything comes from experience, yet not from actual experience, reiterated by each individual with each generation, but instead from experience accumulated by the entire ancestry of the species in the course of its evolution.'

Thus, the Jungian archetype is no more scientifically disreputable than the ethological IRM. Just as the behavioural repertoire of each species is encoded in its central nervous system as innate releasing mechanisms which are activated in the course of development by appropriate sign stimuli, so Jung conceived the programme for human life to be encoded in the collective unconscious as a series of archetypal determinants which are actualized in response to inner and outer events in the course of the life cycle. There is nothing Lamarckian or unbiological in this conception (37-9).
On the day I began this book, it managed to link itself to a small fushigi involving my friend BH. For the curious you can read the fushigi at 2012.09.29 —….

Monday, August 20, 2012

2012.08.12 — Gilgamesh by Anonymous finished 2012.07.15

I recently re-read a verse translation of the Sumerian epic Gllgamesh, the ancient king of Uruk (Iraq) and his encounter with Enkidu, the man of the wilds.

Originally published circa 3000BC. This translation is by Herbert Mason.
Printed by A Mentor Book,
an imprint of The New American Library, Inc.
This edition lacks an ISBN.
[The New American Library, Inc. is now an imprint of Penguin Books.]

I first read Gilgamesh about 20 years ago — not this translation — because it was referred to as an important psychological text by mythologist Joseph Campbell and poet and social critic Robert Bly. I confess to having been very disappointed in it at the time. However, my expectations were very high because of the recommendations. And, as it turns out, I lacked
the understanding to appreciate the text, because at the time I simply did not get it.

Well, let that be a lesson. Now, older, I have grown into being able to appreciate the subtlety and psychological sophistication that Campbell and Bly (and others) were alluding to. Amusingly, I seem to be on a binge of seeing in the creative things around me endless manifestations of Zen's The Ten Ox Herding Songs, A.K.A. The Ten Bulls*.
I am being a little loose here, because Gilgamesh's journey doesn't exactly follow the Songs, but it is metaphorically very close, which is that the path to spiritual enlightenment requires getting one's feet dirty in the mucky waters of the physical universe.

[* For example, I recently explored how the movie The Devil Wears Prada is also an example, in a highly westernized disguise, of the Ten Bulls. I have blogged this argument @ 2012.08.21 — The Devil Wears Prada: A Ten Bulls Review. And, also, education critic and revisionist Sir Kenneth Robinson makes a similar allusion in his critique of education and the development or expungement of creativity in his TED talk Schools Kill Creativity.]

Here is a passage I flagged. I like it because I find it evocative and stimulating, but I am not sure what it means.
I think compassion is our God's pure act
Which burns forever,
And be it in Heaven or in Hell
Doesn't matter for me; because
Hell is the everlasting gift
Of His presence
to the lonely heart who is longing
Amidst perishing phantoms and doesn't care
To find immortality
If not in the pure loneliness of the Holy One,
This loneliness which He enjoys forever
Inside and outside of His creation.
It is enough for one who loves
To find his Only One singled in Himself.
And this is the cup of immortality! (p74-5.)
I did not come out [because of my parents' sexual desire] like you,
Said Utnapishtim; I was the choice of others (p75).
And… Well, I hesitate to write this, because it is rather odd. But, here goes. While reading this I experienced a bizarre and sad fushigi. It began with a bizarre cartoon-like industrial accident that killed someone. I heard the story on TV 2012.07.10. Here's the news item as reported in a local paper:
Man Crushed To Death by Load of Gravel at LaFarge Canada Site in South Vancouver by Zoe McKnight The Vancouver Sun July 10, 2012.

VANCOUVER - WorkSafe BC continues to investigate how a man was crushed to death by a load of gravel on a Vancouver job site this morning.

Spokeswoman Donna Freeman said the man was likely behind the gravel truck when the load elevated and the truck's back gate opened, and the load dumped onto the worker, killing him.

Provincial inspectors were called to the Lafarge Canada ready-mix cement site on Kent Street just before 9 a.m. Tuesday.
(Click here for the complete story.)

Well, the following day, 2012.07.11 I continued my perusal of Gilgamesh. And here is what I read:
It was a restless night for both [Gilgamesh and Enkidu]. One snatched
At sleep and sprang awake from dreams.

[When] Gilgamesh awoke [he] could not hear
His friend in agony; [Enkidu] still was captive to his dreams
Which he would tell aloud to exorcise:
I saw us standing in a mountain gorge,
A rockslide fell on us, we seemed no more
Than insects under it.
And then
A solitary graceful man appeared
And pulled me out from under the mountain.
He gave me water and I felt released.

Tomorrow you will be victorious,
Enkidu said, to whom the dream brought chills
(For only one of them, he knew would be released)
Which Gilgamesh could not perceive in the darkness
For he went back to sleep without responding
To his friend's interpretation of his dream (36-7).
It wasn't until after I was finalizing this blog that I linked Ken Robinson's talk "Schools Kill Creativity" to it. And I had the strangest thought: in Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh's nascent spiritual growth begins when he becomes aware of the real dirty world of the 'animalistic' Enkidu. But it wasn't enough: until Enkidu — Gilgamesh's source of grounded creative energy — was killed Gilgamesh's spiritual journey was incomplete. Very interesting.

[Fushigi addendum: 2012.08.20 9:40pm]
Tonight M, from the Goodreads book-biased social networking site, posted a top ten list of songs he would want in an iPod. It is an interesting list, and one in which I do not have even one of the songs in my 4421 loaded in iTunes or in any of my still un-'iTuned' CDs. So, I went to look to see what were my most played songs in iTunes. Here is what I posted:
Here's my list of most played songs in iTunes. It isn't quite accurate because it doesn't include all the times I actually play CDs in the car or in the stereo down stairs, but it is statistically representative! (LoL.)

   1) Bang on a Can's cover of Brian Eno's Music for Airports: 1/1 - (253 plays)
   2) Bang on a Can's cover of Brian Eno's Music for Airports 1/2 - (235 plays - not a transposition)
   3) Philip GlassSerra Pelada from Powaqqatsi - (226 plays)
   4) Philip Glass — The Title from Powaqqatsi - (226 plays)
   5) Bang on a Can's cover of Brian Eno's Music for Airports 2/1 (215 plays)
   6) Philip Glass — Anthem Part 1 from Powaqqatsi - (213 plays)
   7) Philip Glass — That Place from Powaqqatsi - (201 plays)
   8) Philip Glass — Anthem Part 2 from Powaqqatsi - (201 plays)
   9) Bang on a Can's cover of Brian Eno's Music for Airports - (197 plays)
10) Philip Glass — Anthem Part 3 from Powaqqatsi - (189 plays).

My listening practice is to listen to albums. It is a rare thing for me to put music on random by single song, or to even listen to a single song extracted from an album — or to buy anthologies — I allow radio listening to provide that. iTunes and the iPod allow for random play by album which is my default. However, I have a tendency to repeat songs that really catch my ear. For example, Chantal Keviazuk. I've listened to Surrounded and Believer 56 times from her album Under These Rocks and Stones*. But the rest of the songs on the album less than 20 plays. It is very rare for me to not delete one or two songs in an album. Off the top of my head the only example that comes immediately to mind is Africa by Toto.

*Fushigi moment. Earlier this evening I finished posting my review of Gilgamesh in my book blog. In it I include a fushigi about an industrial accident here in metro Vancouver that involved a man getting buried under a dump truck load of rocks. In Gilgamesh, Enkidu dreams that he and Gilgamesh get buried under a rock slide, and that Enkidu dies.

Okay, not sure if it counts as a fushigi or near fushigi, but while doing this posting I was playing around with iTunes. Right now, by random chance by album, I am listening to Rush from their album 'Moving Pictures'. The song that is playing is Witch Hunt.
The night is black, without a moon.
The air is thick and still.
The vigilantes gather on
The lonely torchlit hill.

The reason I included Witch Hunt is because late last night I posted a response to M's initial reaction and query regarding my Jungian / Zen movie review of The Devil Wears Prada. As I mentioned that movie in this blog post, and in my response to M I wrote the following line:

So why then are woman so enamoured of shoes? Excellent question.

Yes, shoes do represent a type of animus possession. IMO, anyway. But I am not properly a Jungian, so please take my observation with lots of salt and consider it something to moil up the clouds of understanding

Your speculation is accurate. But I would like to elaborate the discussion by noting that the Judaeo-Christian societies have been generally brutally dismissive of the feminine. With Christianity this has been despite Christ having, in his time, fully embraced female equality. This was one of the key aspects of very early Christianity that helped make it popular. However once Christianity got going the men took it over and evicted the female presence from its power structure and largely emphasized the female as evil temptress, and/or weak victim. Within the Christian ethos, a compensatory effect of the devaluation of the feminine was the increased elevation of Mary mother of Christ to the point where churches were built in her name. Pragmatically, the feminine was burnt if too powerful (Joan of Arc, witches), but when they were 'kept' or stayed in their place they were elevated to untouchable grace and beauty and the object of endless songs and poems of unrealistic projections of the ideal feminine. All this occurred before the serious elevation of the mind over matter theology that Rene Descartes and Newton successfully created and popularized, and whose social philosophy of life became the fundamental truth that 'proper' human beings used to confirm the 'truth' of what was or was not 'real'.
And so it was that I was 'forced' to post that review and the text around it. Bizarre fushigi. Bizarre.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

2012.08.04 — Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: Almost Read

Gone Girl: A Novel
by Gillian Flynn.
Publisher: Crown (Random House)
ISBN: 978-0-307-58838-8 (0-307-58838-6)

Almost Read.

GG was a rare, for me, almost-read book. Rare, not because I didn't really finish it, but rare because I began reading it because of a review.

Isn't that a curious hypocrisy?! I rarely read books because of a review, and yet here I am writing a review in a blog I have created for the sole purpose of writing book reviews! What does that say about me? I wonder. Perhaps that I am narcissistic? Or maybe, to put a positive spin on this, that I like to learn about who I am by examining my reactions to what I read. And that is something I find I am unable to do with reading book reviews. Maybe it is simply that from personal experience I trust that the universe will bring me the books I 'need' when I need them, and my reading reviews is not a big part of that process. Of course, I just about completely stopped reading reviews when I realized that the 'official' book review process through the media was largely designed to sell books and newsprint. I was becoming aware at that time that motivation in any activity is of crucial importance in creating that indefinable quality in a final product that separates the creative output from being merely adequate or good to being brilliant.

Yikes! You can tell I was not too impressed by GG as I wax on philosophically and narcissistically about reviews. Okay. Here is my review:

A few months ago, I seem to vaguely remember, I read a review of GG that caught my interest. I've long since forgotten the review, or even where I read it but I suspect it was from Powell's Books' 'Daily Dose.' At that time I reserved the book from the NWPL. I received notice of it being my turn to read it just three weeks ago. Because of the long wait I asked the representative at the checkout 'Excuse me, how many people are on hold behind me?' 'Forty-four,' she said. 'I guess my hoping to renew it is pretty much not going to happen, then?' 'Nope.' And the copy I got was obviously unsullied new, so the library has purchased several if not many copies to keep up with demand.

And so I was hoping against my experience that a popular book would be, for a change, one also liked by me. But alas, GG has re-confirmed that I am not a part of the mainstream of popular culture's consumption of fiction. (Okay, there are exceptions, such as Michael Ondaatje. But then, I imagine he sells less than a tenth of the books of a Stephen King, Jackie Collins, or Len Deighton, so even he is not really mainstream.)

GG was sharply written, meaning Flynn wrote clear well constructed sentences that painted the scene very well. And the scenery is very pretty. However, it had a kind of cleverness that struck me as being glib. Or maybe it was kind of unnecessarily mean in a way that David Letterman's humour always strikes me. And like his jokes, Flynn's writing lacked vitality, and I cannot at this time clearly pinpoint why.

I have been wrestling in my mind with this review for several days. And I keep drifting to the idea that GG lacked depth of human understanding. Flynn was trying to show psychological sophistication, but her writing did not get much deeper into the people than their skin. This may reflect her background as an entertainment magazine writer or, perhaps Flynn having accepted, either consciously or unconsciously, the philosophical belief that the expression of human psychology is delimited by personal experience instead of what a person is able to imagine.

The next bit will be a bit of a spoiler, so don't read anymore if my negative review is proof enough that GG is indeed a worth while read for you.

The marriage, under stress from failed expectations and the financial and emotional dynamics of unemployment, is celebrating an anniversary. The wife, as has been customary, sets up a treasure hunt that the husband is to solve clue-by-clue to a great surprise and celebration. That the husband has failed every previous one miserably in the past drives him to spend much of the anniversary with his best friend and business partner — they own a bar — his sister. He gets the dreaded call: OMG, the wife appears to have been kidnapped on their anniversary, but has managed to leave behind the first clue. And, OMG, it looks like the husband did it.

I just sighed a great big sigh as I wrote that, despite sighing through my initial realization while reading it that this was of course staged, and that the set-up was deliberate to bring a spark back into the marriage. So, here is Flynn's first glib act: that we the readers are supposed to realize that it was staged so that she can twist the denouement.

As I continued reading I kept hoping that the real twist would be that the kidnapping wasn't staged. But the husband's bland stupidity, despite been painted as a clever writer, left me struggling with ennui and the conviction that Flynn was setting us up for the staging.

When I came to accept that I would not be finishing GG, I cheated and jumped to the end. I wanted to see how clever Flynn really was. And the so-called double twist I discovered was when I first thought 'Yup, glib and clever, but without anything revivifying.' Yes, it was indeed staged to make the husband look like the killer, but more importantly that staging was just so the wife could stage a murder she would be able to get away with, and which would save their failing marriage.

And now I have returned it unfinished and disappointed. I had so wanted it to be better than it was. For a summer read, I do not recommend GG but would suggest perhaps Ondaatje's The Cat's Table which exceeded my expectations when I read it last year: Finished 2011.10.23.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

2012.07.21 — What Uncle Sam Really Wants by Noam Chomsky: Finished 2012.07.01

Noam Chomsky.
What Uncle Sam Really Wants.
Berkley, CA. The Odonion Press, 1995. ISBN1878825011.

Began 2012.06.23
Finished 2012.07.01

This book is Chomsky at his most accessible. The publisher claims, on the back of the book, that "political books don't have to be boring." And this one certainly isn't boring because this publisher's need for brevity has forced Chomsky to the bare bones. His sarcasm and irony are very sharp, and his details far more concise than in his full length works.

However, I do not actually recommend this book as an introduction to Chomsky's political writing because that brevity allows more easily for incredulity to become dismissive skepticism. What he writes is so far away from the official historical myths that we believe that after the fourth or fifth debunking claim he makes it becomes increasingly easy to become convinced that he is just some left-wing nut-job with a horribly over-active imagination who hates America. Yes, his claims are referenced in the back of the book. But they are not footnoted in the text, and that lapse more easily gives the cynic the mental elbow room to dismiss Chomksy's arguments and claims.

In a curious irony, and an affirmation of Chomsky's frequent observation that concision is America's most effective and widely practiced form of censorship, this book's brevity also makes it very quotable.
Free trade is fine for economics departments and newspaper editorials, but nobody in the corporate world or the government takes the doctrines too seriously. The parts of the US economy that are able to compete internationally are primarily the state subsidized ones: capital intensive agriculture (agribusiness as it is called), high tech industry, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, etc.

The same is true of other industrial societies. The US government has the public pay for research and development and provides, largely through the military, a state-guaranteed market for waste production. If something is marketable, the private sector takes it over. That system of public subsidy and private profit is what is called free enterprise (p.13).
Now I think the government and corporate leaders have recently entered the next or 4th degree of delusion — they actual have fallen victim to their own propaganda, and truly believe that the massive subsidies these groups get aren't actually subsidies. What the social critic and comic Bill Maher calls "being in the bubble."

And on Amercia's support for democracy immediately following the second world war: the CIA's first job was to subvert democracy and help ensure the installation of a fascist dictatorship response to America's business needs:
Restoring the traditional order
But far more important was the first area of Europe liberated — southern Italy, where the US, following Churchill's advice, imposed a right-wing dictatorship headed by Fascist war hero Field Marshall Badoglio and the King Victor Emmanuel III,
who was also a Fascist collaborator.

US planners recognized that the "threat" in Europe was not Soviet aggression (which serious analysts, like Dwight Eisenhower, did not anticipate) but rather the worker- and peasant- based antifascist resistance with its radical democratic ideals, and the political power and appeal of the local Communist parties.

To prevent an economic collapse that would enhance their influence, and to rebuild Western Europe's state-capitalist economies, the US instituted the Marshall Plan (under which Europe was provided with more than $ 12 billion in loans and grants between 1948 and 1951, funds used to purchase a third of US exports to Europe in the peak year of 1949).

In Italy, a worker- and peasant-based movement, led by the Communist party, had held down six German divisions during the war and liberated northern Italy. As US forces advanced through Italy, they dispersed this antifascist resistance and restored the basic structure of the prewar Fascist regime.

Italy has been one of the main areas of CIA subversion ever since the agency was founded. The CIA was concerned about Communists winning power legally in the crucial Italian elections of 1948. A lot of techniques were used, including restoring the Fascist police, breaking the unions and withholding food. But it wasn't clear that the Communist party could be defeated.

The very first National Security Council memorandum, NSC 1 (1948), specified a number of actions the US would take if the Communists won these elections. One planned response was armed intervention, by means of military aid for underground operations in Italy.

Some people, particularly George Kennan, advocated military action before the elections — he didn't want to take a chance. But others convinced him we could carry it off by subversion, which turned out to be correct.

In Greece, British troops entered after the Nazis had withdrawn. They imposed a corrupt regime that evoked renewed resistance, and Britain, in its postwar decline, was unable to maintain control. In 1947, the United States moved in, supporting a murderous war that resulted in about 160,000 deaths.

This war was complete with torture, political exile for tens of thousands of Greeks, what we called "re-education camps" for tens of thousands of others, and the destruction of unions and of any possibility of independent politics.

It placed Greece firmly in the hands of US investors and local businessmen, while much of the population had to emigrate in order to survive. The beneficiaries included Nazi collaborators, while the primary victims were the workers and the peasants of the Communist-led, anti-Nazi resistance.

Our successful defence of Greece against its own population was the model for the Vietnam War — as Adlai Stevenson explained to the United Nations in 1964. Reagan's advisors used exactly the same model in talking about Central America, and the pattern was followed many other places (15-17).
Here is another quotable passage:
Broader studies by economist Edward Herman reveal a close correlation worldwide between torture and US aid, and also provide the explanation: both correlate independently with improving the climate for business operations. In comparison with that guiding moral principle, such matters as torture and butchery pale into insignificance (p.29).
This book is full of these little gems. However they only have realistic descriptive power if you have already read enough of Chomsky to fully understand that the words 'butchery' and 'torture' are not exaggerations when applied to American foreign policy. Rather they are a kind of ironical whitewash of the breadth and scope and scale of American brutality not infrequently approaching genocidal proportions.

A fun read, but it won't give those people who are familiar with Chomsky anything new — except a source of Chomsky sound bites. And it will likely be seen by people new to Chomsky as confirmation by the skeptical that he is a fruitcake and reduce him to being merely an eloquent conspiratorialist out in the fringes.