“Man has won a battle against chaos”


“The poet delights in disorder only. If it were not so, the most poetical thing in the world would be the Underground Railway.”
“So it is,” said Mr. Syme.
“Nonsense!” said Gregory, who was very rational when anyone else attempted paradox. “Why do all the clerks and navvies in the railway trains look so sad and tired, so very sad and tired? I will tell you. It is because they know that the train is going right. It is because they know that whatever place they have taken a ticket for that place they will reach. It is because after they have passed Sloane Square they know that the next station must be Victoria, and nothing but Victoria. Oh, their wild rapture! oh, their eyes like stars and their souls again in Eden, if the next station were unaccountably Baker Street!”
“It is you who are unpoetical,” replied the poet Syme. “If what you say of clerks is true, they can only be as prosaic as your poetry. The rare, strange thing is to hit the mark; the gross, obvious thing is to miss it. We feel it is epical when man with one wild arrow strikes a distant bird. Is it not also epical when man with one wild engine strikes a distant station? Chaos is dull; because in chaos the train might indeed go anywhere, to Baker Street or to Bagdad. But man is a magician, and his whole magic is in this, that he does say Victoria, and lo! it is Victoria. No, take your books of mere poetry and prose; let me read a time table, with tears of pride. Take your Byron, who commemorates the defeats of man; give me Bradshaw, who commemorates his victories. Give me Bradshaw, I say!”
“Must you go?” inquired Gregory sarcastically.
“I tell you,” went on Syme with passion, “that every time a train comes in I feel that it has broken past batteries of besiegers, and that man has won a battle against chaos. You say contemptuously that when one has left Sloane Square one must come to Victoria. I say that one might do a thousand things instead, and that whenever I really come there I have the sense of hairbreadth escape. And when I hear the guard shout out the word ‘Victoria,’ it is not an unmeaning word. It is to me the cry of a herald announcing conquest. It is to me indeed ‘Victoria’; it is the victory of Adam.”
—G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)

Ursula K. Le Guin, 1928-2018

The first Tao Te Ching I ever saw was the Paul Carus edition of 1898, bound in yellow cloth stamped with blue and red Chinese designs and characters. It was a venerable object of mystery, which I soon investigated, and found more fascinating inside than out. The book was my father’s; he read in it often. Once I saw him marking notes from it and asked what he was doing. He said he was marking which chapters he’d like to have read at his funeral. We did read those chapters at his memorial service.
I have the book, now ninety-eight years old and further ornamented with red binding-tape to hold the back on, and have marked which chapters I’d like to have read at my funeral.
—Ursula K. Le Guin, “Introduction,” Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching: A Book About the Way and the Power of the Way (1997)

To live till you die
is to live long enough.
—Ursula K. Le Guin, w/J.P. Seaton, trans., Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching: A Book About the Way and the Power of the Way (1997)

On hyper-racism & speciation, pt. 3

I’ve successfully avoided a promised post on hyper-racism in the Book of Mormon & the same topic as it touched upon the Land/Shutdown LD50/New Centre rumpus. [Edit: This was cleaned out of my drafts, & the last reference has not aged well over the course of eight months.] Both require nimble scrambles up a slippery slope that bottoms out on stupefaction.

So imagine my surprise to find a Marxist poet implicitly making the distinction I tried to make explicitly with my earlier post: that race, as a proxy for speciation, is now firmly downstream of class or SES. That’s what Damn the Caesars does, fusing Marx & Darwin (in a paragraph that has an oddly alt-right texture):

Fuck Trump. Until he and the whole of his genus are entirely removed from the sanctuary of political power they presently inhabit, how can this not be the first and most enduring concern of any reasoning US citizen? Fuck Trump and fuck every intellectually underdeveloped cretin associated with that fascist, racist, trans-hating, woman-hating, billionaire rapist. There can be, as Margaret Thatcher so memorably insisted, no alternative. Out or holocaust. For anyone sensitive to instant-by-instant developments across the past year there can be no purchase whatsoever that resides between these two positions. We know what this is. We have known all along. Fuck the fascists.

(My emphasis.) Here not merely a separate species, like Homo bourgouis, but a separate genus: completely dehumanized! That “there can be no purchase whatsoever … between these two positions” is astute. The dialectic fails & that’s okay. There are moments when synthesis is neither needed nor wanted. The alternatives are the blockchain metaphor of a hard fork and the biological metaphor of speciation. The latter won’t remain a figure of thought; it is the shape of things to come.

20 Lines a Day: Houston

Its suburbs, Katy to be precise: sprawling gated communities, fenced-in subdivisions, country clubs. Some of the best square-foot-per-dollar value in the nation. The scale of the destruction—the amount of raw materials needed to replace, say, the bottom two feet of drywall & insulation in one 2,200 square-foot home, multiplied by thousands—stupifies. If Irma is bad, a third of the U.S. drywall market will be eaten up by Texas and Flordia. Every yard is piled high with torn out drywall, insulation, flooring, cabinets, furniture. Anything resting below the ~2-4 ft. level has been thrown out or is due to be thrown out once the occupants return. Piles as high as my head, dripping chalky water into the gutters. Piles slowly collapsing under their own weight as the rot of their component parts intensifies. Piles of moldering carpet—these piles lower because the weight of wet carpet makes it hard to throw higher than five feet—you can smell at the end of the street. Everywhere the marks of the flood’s high point. I see it on cars, many having been completely submerged, their paint now scored by dirt, their windows fogged up, their insides covered with an eighth of an inch of mold. (The drive back consists in large part of passing tow trucks loaded with scrapped cars still dripping muck from their wheel wells.) On bookcases leaned against trees, on busted brick walls, on the banks of water hazards at the country club. Everywhere mildew and rot, American flags, Red Cross trucks passing out hot meals to demo crews, good Samaritans doing the same. Voiding your bowels while mucking out a single story McMansions gets tricky: with the bottom four feet of interior walls stripped to the studs, there is little privacy to be had.

On hyper-racism & speciation, pt. 2

On hyper-racism & speciation, pt. 2

Do not, gentle reader, think that I’ve forgotten about my earlier unsavory post on this subject, or my equally unsavory commitment to a post on “hyper-racism” in The Book of Mormon.

I haven’t forgotten. I’m actively avoiding it, so I don’t have to write sentences like these:

“[ineffectual prepositional clause of moral handwringing], there is a wealth of textual evidence, especially for Mormons, suggesting that otherness, racial paranoia, discrimination up to the point of genocide, and neo-speciation—that is, exit pursued at the genetic level, either through isolation & time, gene-editing, or divine intervention—these are capital-D Divine tools used to achieve the ends of providential Xtianity. God smirks (yes, He smirks) when he reads (yes, He reads) a passage like the following, from Parkman’s The Oregon Trail (1849),

For the most part, a civilized white man can discover but very few points of sympathy between his own nature and that of an Indian. With every disposition to do justice to their good qualities, he must be conscious that an impassible gulf lies between him and his red brethren of the prairie. Nay, so alien to himself do they appear, that having breathed for a few months or a few weeks the air of this region, he begins to look upon them as a troublesome and dangerous species of wild beast, and if expedient, he could shoot them with as little compunction as they themselves would experience after performing the same office upon him.

“because his plan of cursing Native Americans with a sore cursing, so that ‘they shall be a scourge unto thy seed, to stir them up in the ways of remembrance,’ is working out just fine.” I don’t want to write stuff like that.

But I should at least, in light of recent news that the first human embryos have been edited in the U.S., draw your attention to poet Ronald Johnson, and his farsightedness when he said that “the old God may have had his home in church, but the new one lives at M.I.T.

He’s right. Except that he’s wrong—the location has changed, but it’s the same God up to his old tricks. Any guesses on who’s going to get scourged?

Elder Dr. Faustus

On the trail of Mormon qabbalism (this, not this), or perhaps on the edge of it’s abyss. Either way, it is an occulted thing (MORMON QABBALISM = 299 = ABYSMAL DARKNESS) that rarely emerges from the brume. But sometimes it does:

I am profoundly grateful for the law of tithing. … It is so simple and straightforward. It consists of 35 words set forth in section 119 of the Doctrine and Covenants. What a contrast with the cumbersome, complex, and difficult tax codes with which we live as citizens.
—Gordon B. Hinckley, “Of Missions, Temples, and Stewardship,” General Conference, October 1995, Priesthood Session. (my emphasis)

In case you, gentle reader, think I’m making more of this than there is, consider two injunctions from Doctor Faustus, to whom Mormon qabbalism is joined (MORMON QABBALISM = 299 = DOCTOR FAUSTUS): “These are but shadows, not substantial” & “Be silent then, for danger is in words.”

Inside-out vs. outside-in, pt. 3

Alastair Reid‘s bio, from the back of Ounce Dice Trice:

Alastair Reid is a poet, translator, essayist, and scholar of Latin American literature. He had been on the staff of The New Yorker since 1959 and has translated works by Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges. Among his many books for children are A Balloon for a Blunderbuss, I Keep Changing, and Millionaires (all illustrated by Bob Gill), and Supposing (illustrated by Abe Birnbaum). In 2008 he published two career-spanning collections of work, Inside Out: Selected Poetry and Translations and Outside In: Selected Prose. [my emphasis]

Cf. Since I know nothing of Reid except his Borges translations & the book quoted above, here’s cento of outsides for rapid orientation: Continue reading “Inside-out vs. outside-in, pt. 3”

Inside-out vs. outside-in, pt. 2

Emerson is matchless for telepathic reading experiences.* Not the sense that a book, or the human being behind it, is addressing you. Not even that you, and you alone, are directly hailed by it. But the sensation of someone else reading a script that you wrote, controlled by thoughts of yours that never quite became words in your head. (“Unexpected majesty” gets at it better than “alienated majesty.”)

And it happens in such a way that a response from you is no longer required. It is preempted. All you can do is enjoy that realization. Occasionally you can document it.

On January 19th I wrote:

Perhaps the need to write comes not from the subject matter, from its importance working outside-in, but from vanity, from the inside-out.

On January 20th, I read:

The difference between talent & genius is in the direction of the current: in genius, it is from within outward; in talent, from without inward. Talent finds its models & methods & ends in society, and goes to the soul only for power to work: genius is its own end & derives its means and the style of its architecture from within & only goes abroad for audience or spectator, as we adapt our voice & our phrase to the distance & to the character of the ear we speak to.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson, from “Journal E” (1841), Selected Journals 1820-1842 (2010; my emphasis)

While my preoccupation with the theme of inside-out vs. outside-in needs further meditation, this is a start. With telepathic reading, the secrets inside ourselves are out on the paper in front of us, and those of others outside ourselves are interiorized.

*Rarely  has it happened to me outside of Emerson. Once recently: watching Matthew Barney’s River of Fundament. I know Mailer’s Ancient Evenings well, but I was repeatedly unsettled by how closely Barney’s adaptation met my desire for what scene or image should come next. Barney, I learned later, based his film more on Harold Bloom’s review of the book, one of my favorite Bloom essays, than on Mailer’s novel, which is where the shared orientation of our thoughts probably starts.

Wright on alt-right Austen & Bloom

Not that I read The Chronicle, but:

Other alt-right partisans pay backhanded compliments by emphasizing Austen’s singularity as a celebrated female novelist. In a post that debuted in 2012 on Alternative Right and has since been lauded as an alt-right “classic,” the “manosphere” blogger Matt Forney mentioned Austen as an outlier from the norm of female mediocrity: “Virtually all great leaders, thinkers and artists were men. Aristotle, Galileo, Michaelangelo [sic], Napoleon: all men. Not to say that all women are incapable of artistic, scientific or military talent; every so often, we get a Marie Curie, a Jane Austen or a Joan of Arc.” Here the alt-right finds common ground with the literary gatekeeper Harold Bloom; in his best seller The Western Canon(1994), Austen is one of four women on a list of 26 most influential authors. According to this formulation, Austen is not a trailblazer for the female authors who followed in her wake, but rather a rebuke to women who have not reached her level of achievement.
—Nicole M. Wright, “Alt-Right Jane Austen,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (12 March 2017)

The purchase on reality offered by extrapolating from taste—particularly shared ones—is dubious.* But to draw distinctions that leave Norman Thomas voters lumped together with the alt-right is to lose contact with a considerable portion of external reality. When it hinges on Jane Austen, it’s probably one of the more mannered forms of psychosis, and not necessarily a bad response to our long march through the Chaotic Age.

Bloom makes no such “rebuke” argument. If it’s statistics that damn him, he gives her better odds in the actual chapter on Persuasion:

Henry James insisted that the novelist must be a sensibility upon which absolutely nothing is lost; by that test (clearly a limited one) only Austen, George Eliot, and James himself, among all those writing in English, would join Stendhal, Flaubert, and Tolstoy in a rather restricted pantheon.
—Harold Bloom, The Western Canon (1994)

33.33% is less rebuke-y than 15.38%.

*The exception that proves the rule: people who enjoy Rilke are reliably boring. (And seven times out of ten, despicable in some minor way.)

On hyper-racism & speciation, pt. 1

As a preliminary to an exploration of “racism” in The Book of Mormon (spoiler alert: God, not a fan of human reproductive autonomy, is hyper-racist), some news on the progress of hyper-racism—

Tinder has been operating a members-only version of the platform called Tinder Select, which is meant to serve only the elite users on the app, including CEOs, super models, and other hyper-attractive/upwardly affluent types. … [I]t doesn’t seem like Tinder is using Tinder Select as a way to build hype, but rather as a truly stealthy layer of the platform for the most attractive, eligible 1 percent. After all, six months (at least) seems like an inordinate amount of time to test a product without announcing it.

—along with a compact anatomy of other elite dating apps.

Normally, I’d post this as a comment to xenosystems.net (XS), probably right here, but the threads over there have recently become a little, uh, puerile. Instead, here it is, befouling my nice new quotey-quote blog with a rather batrachian and underlit topic. Which means I should give some context for those who don’t read XS.

Hyper-racism is not super-racism, as in an escalation of conventional, ordinary, existing racism. It’s not even racism, in the sense of discrimination or prejudice. What it is is “assortative mating on the basis of SES [socioeconomic status],” the differentiation of the rich by means of sexual selection. Aided by technology, it’s accelerating toward speciation:

Assortative mating tends to genetic diversification. This is neither the preserved diversity of ordinary racism, still less the idealized genetic pooling of the anti-racists, but a class-structured mechanism for population diremption, on a vector towards neo-speciation. It implies the disintegration of the human species, along largely unprecedented lines, with intrinsic hierarchical consequence. The genetically self-filtering elite is not merely different—and becoming ever more different—it is explicitly superior according to the established criteria that allocate social status. … If SES-based assortative mating is taking place, humanity (and not only society) is coming apart, on an axis whose inferior pole is refuse. This is not anything that ordinary racism is remotely able to process. That it is a consummate nightmare for anti-racism goes without question, but it is also trans-racial, infra-racial, and hyper-racial in ways that leave ‘race politics’ as a gibbering ruin in its wake. [My emphasis.]

The fingers of the WEIRD, or the cognitive elite, or the 1% (whatever grouping of the haut monde you prefer) are poking their way into the stranger realms of biopolitics, one right-swipe at a time.