Monday, August 20, 2007

For Just Enough Reasons

For just enough reasons, this is the right piece of music today.

Ben Folds: "Still Fighting It"

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Beautiful Feet

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Cheney: War in Iraq Equals "Quagmire" and "Too Many Casualites"

This 1994 clip (source: shows V.P. Cheney openly acknowledging administrative awareness that two of the big problems with the war in Iraq were likely outcomes of an invasion. So, what changed administrative perspective? Really ... what prompted the change?! Isn't that a question needing answers before the next election?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Ant Works

For Mother's Day I received an "ant farm" from my son and a Canon digital movie camera. Their gifts inspired my first movie project: a condensed-time recording of the work these ants did to compose their world. Watch the tunnels take shape, see the frenzy of their first feeding, and then watch at the life of the environment begins to fade. Note: these ants were native to my geographic region and were released shortly after the point of the film where you see it end.

This project represents a number of firsts for me: a first ant farm, a first movie camera, and a first-time use of Windows Movie Maker. I can see room for improvement, but I'm thrilled to have completed the project.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Sun Gazing

Bemidji, Minnesota
August 8, 2007

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Pure and Calm Friendship that Reading Is

From Marcel Proust, On Reading, trans. and ed. Jean Autret and William Burford:
No doubt friendship, friendship for individuals, is a frivolous thing, and reading is a friendship. But at least it is a sincere friendship, and the fact that it is directed to one who is dead, who is absent, gives it something disinterested, almost moving. It is, moreover, a friendship unencumbered with all that makes up the ugliness of other kinds. Since we are all, we the living, only the dead who have not yet assumed our roles, all these compliments, all these greetings in the hall which we call deference, gratitude, devotion, and in which we mingle so many lies, are sterile and tiresome. Furthermore--from our first relations of sympathy, of admiration, of gratitude--the first words we speak, the first letters we we write, weave around us the initial threads of a web of habits, of a veritable manner of being from which we can no longer extricate ourselves in ensuing friendships, without reckoning that during that time the excessive words we have spoken remain like debts which we have to pay, or which we will pay still more dearly all our life with the remorse of having let ourselves refuse them. In reading, friendship is suddenly brought back to its first purity. With books, no amiability. These friends, if we spend an evening with them, it is truly because we desire them. In their case, at least, we leave often only with regret. And with none of those thoughts, when we have left, that spoil friendship: What did they think of us? Didn't we lack tact? Did we please?--and the fear of being forgotten for another. All these agitations of friendship come to an end at the threshold of that pure and calm friendship that reading is.

reposted from Jenny at Light Reading

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Professor Godwin

I used Meez to build this animated avatar of "Professor Godwin." Now ... what interesting ways will I be able to use this in my work at Purdue?

Saturday, August 04, 2007

No Stones

"There was soil above his grave with flowers growing out of it and a maple tree reaching down to it, and the roots and flowers offered his corpse a path out of the grave. If her father had been covered with a stone, she would never have been able to communicate with him after he died, and hear his voice in the trees pardoning her."

The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Kundera 1984)

Being Stuck in Kitsch

Some years ago, in a class on postmodern theory, the mention of “kitsch” was frequently made, often tagging an idea for dismissal. The word was new to me at the time, and a fellow grad student defined the concept as all that is garishly common – “kewpie dolls, for example,” she said.

Milan Kundera visits the notion of “kitsch” in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, noting first its origin in German during the romantic mid-1800s and then recalling its initially metaphysical meaning (in true Kunderian style) as “the absolute denial of shit, in both the literal and figurative sense of the word … excluding everything from its purview which is essentially unacceptable in human existence” (248).

The “good life” I have romanticized for so long might be considered “kitsch” when that “quoted” aspiration idealizes a life without shit. When such is the case, “kitsch” will be celebrated, installed in ceremony, institutionalized, nationalized, and reinforced with every Hallmark© card the U.S. Postal Service can deliver. Kitsch can only be kitsch when it draws on the shared feelings and basic images held in common by the mass of people – the unusual situation does not qualify. Kundera writes, “The brotherhood of man on earth will be possible only on a base of kitsch” (251).

I have lived most of my life stuck in “kitsch,” denying shit, and sending too many Hallmark cards prescribed by duty, drenched with a secret panic/hope. I have been properly enthusiastic at parades, big games, and holiday gatherings – doing my part and being appropriately pissed off or sympathetic when others failed to do theirs. I’ve believed it a show of strength to achieve and protect the middle ground, a place of balance and inclusion, the eternal smile … the land of “kitsch.” I hear the Land of Oz, Gatsby’s east-egg almost-yesterday-again hope, and his faith in a world “founded securely on a fairy’s wing” as I write these ideas. I want to believe in kitsch, and I still resolvedly do – for better or worse, but I’m ready to embrace the shit now, too – the kid that won’t talk, unexpected debt, an unruly body, and returning to grad study when I have no confidence at all I can find a way through.

This is not a self-medicating, “truth-telling” move – a jail of its own in so many other ways, but a move to dump the work of shame, reduce the sense of “audience,” and affirm the greater satisfaction to be had in the absence of performance – a life broadcast only in the soothing tones of kitsch.

“As soon as kitsch is recognized for the lie it is, it moves into the context of non-kitsch,” Kundera writes, “thus losing its authoritarian power and becoming as touching as any other human weakness” (256). Human weakness throws a much more interesting and inviting party; “proper” and “model” behavior is a lie at its base, a boring albeit profitable lie in its ability to undergird economic well-being and stabilize identity. Happiness is anchored in repetition, and shit blows every stable pattern to hell and back on a regular basis. It’s not necessarily a pretty site when that happens, but it’s real. Today I’m trading in “happiness” for interesting, challenging, and overwhelming shit. It keeps me alive. Tomorrow I’ll be tired of real and long for a bit of “happiness” again, but I’ll get over it. The best stories are dipped in shit.

Kundera writes that “the longing for Paradise is man’s longing not to be man” (296). Today I embrace my skin.

Kundera, Milan. The Unbearable Lightness of Being: A Novel (Perennial Classics). New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 1999.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York, New York: Tandem Library, 1999.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Some Things Never Change

Tommi (1982)

Tommi (2007)

Dominion: A Moment of Perspective

The refreshingly civil Houyhnhnms from Gulliver's Travels + recent Christopher Hitchens discussions (God is Not Great) + the increasing discomfort I've had in knowing (almost) more than I want to know about the Bush administration (An Assault on Reason) = the thought that we might want to reconsider the whole notion of "dominion" altogether.

From The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Kundera 1984)

"The very beginning of Genesis tells us that God created man in order to give him dominion over fish and fowl and all creatures. Of course, Genesis was written by a man, not a horse. There is no certainty that God actually did grant man dominion over other creatures. What seems more likely, in fact, is that man invented God to sanctify the dominion that he had usurped for himself over the cow and the horse. Yes, the right to kill a deer or a cow is the only thing all of mankind can agree upon, even during the bloodiest of wars.

The reason we take the right for granted is that we stand at the top of the hierarchy. But let a third party enter the game - a visitor from another planet, for example, someone to whom God says, "Thou shalt have dominion over creature of all other stars" - and all at once taking Genesis for granted becomes problematical."

This clip from Instinct (Anthony Hopkins and Cuba Gooding Jr., Buena Vista Pictures, 1999) caps the conversation for me.


Suffering Vertigo

"Anyone whose goal is 'something higher' must expect some day to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? ... It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves."

The Unbearable Lightness of Being
(Kundera 1984)

Thursday, August 02, 2007

An Academic Education

Mr. Antolini offers Holden Caulfield thoughtful and considered counsel in the closing chapters of Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye that has camped out in the back corners of my attention since finishing that read more than a month ago. This passage speaks to me ... about residing in the state of "student," the gain(s) of continuing education, the compelling feeling of necessity for driving on. There is a part of my humanity that comes alive for me only through the kind of rigorous study I must engage at the academy. Maybe Mr. Antolini articulates a bit of that for me.

"I hate to tell you," he said, "but I think that once you have a fair idea where you want to go, your first move will be to apply yourself in school. You'll have to. You're a student - whether the idea appeals to you or not. You're in love with knowledge. And I think you'll find .... you're going to start getting closer and closer - that is, if you wantto, and if you look for it and wait for it - to the kind of information that will be very, very dear to your heart. Among other things you'll find that you're not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You're by no means alone on that score ... many, may men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily some of them kept records of their troubles. You'll learn from them - if you want to."

"I'm not trying to tell you," he said, "that only educated and scholarly men are able to contribute something valuable to the world. It's not so. But I do say that educated and scholarly men, if they're brilliant and creative to begin with - which unfortunately, is rarely the case - tend to leave infinitely more valuable records behind them than men do who are merely brilliant and creative. They tend to express themselves more clearly, and they usually have a passion for following their thoughts through to the end. And- most important - nine times out of ten, they have more humility than the unscholarly thinker."

"Something else an academic education will do for you. If you go along with it any considerable distance, it'll begin to give you an idea what size mind you have. What it'll fit and, maybe, what it won't. After a while, you'll have an idea what kind of thoughts your particular size mind should be wearing ... You'll begin to know your true measurements and dress your mind accordingly" (189-90).

Salinger, J.D.. The Catcher in the Rye. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1991.