Death hath wrought a pernicious dent in the erudite and intellectual world; Hitchens will not be one to be soon forgotten, nor ever replaced (but emul...moreDeath hath wrought a pernicious dent in the erudite and intellectual world; Hitchens will not be one to be soon forgotten, nor ever replaced (but emulated, definitely). Let me stop you before you roll your eyes. Yes, I am providing my belated, unasked-for, and pedantic tribute to the late Hitch, but this is as appropriate of a forum as any to do so, right? Indeed, I read this magnificent little collection of letters of advice written to no one in particular (but everyone) in modest and solemn remembrance.
I listen to Hitchens’ lectures and debates as if they were my favorite records. Instead of singing along to the Bad Romances and the Mmmbopies, or whatever you kids are listening to nowadays, I am obdurately testifying along:
“…what matters most… the pursuit of liberty, freedom. And that these things are incompatible, completely incompatible, with the worship of an unalterable celestial dictator; someone who can watch you while you sleep and convict you of thought crime, and whose rule cannot be challenged.”
“It’s not moral to lie to children. It’s not moral to lie to ignorant, uneducated people and tell them that if they only believe nonsense, they can be saved.”
“Bear in mind that you are only dust, as the Christian book says, or you are only fashioned from a clot of blood, as the Quran says; bear in mind that you were convicted and found guilty, before you were conceived, of crimes in which you couldn’t possibly have been involved, and you have all the burden of proof in your own defense, and you’ve been found guilty. But… to make up for that rather horrible indictment, you can be reassured that the entire cosmos is designed with you in mind. False consolation. And that he has a plan for you, on the condition that you agree to be a serf. Forever.“
I imitate these and many other lines in my best terrible British accent with as much seemingly effortless acumen as I can muster for an audience of my two dogs (both of whom are now atheists and contrarians as well). However, this is not strictly an anti-religious polemic like his acerbic, if slightly inferior god is Not Great, but a multifaceted deconstruction of conventional wisdom and reverence. There are fringe views that deserve to be marginalized, and then there are dissenting views which need to be heeded, or at least considered. Nothing Hitchens says can be shrugged off, and if one tries, they will end up looking even dumber than they did when they became recipients of his critical wit in the first place. Happily, the intellectual public mostly embraced this public intellectual, and realized his worth in a miscellany of areas. As much as I love his railings against religion (around which most of his debates are centered), it is too bad that some people think that was the sole domain of his brilliance (or according to his detractors, his calumny/misguidedness). His reflections on literature (specific pieces, or in general), history, travels, and encounters, are absolute treasures. One should envy the experiences of this man; well, most experiences.
Among the things to admire in him is his lack of hypocrisy. One cannot suggest that he ‘dishes it out but can’t take it’. As he states in the preface, “I attack and criticize people myself; I have no right to expect lenience in return.” He prepares for, and anticipates attacks on himself; and throughout his career (and life), he has addressed them head-on. The day of his death, I heard more about his being known for his assailment of Mother Teresa than anything else in his distinguished career from the major cable news networks. Luckily, the likes of Joe Scarborough and Sean Hannity don’t get to determine the legacy of this man; at least not for anyone who knew him, or followed his work.
Format: Mr. X, the student, (i.e. us), is allowed the privilege of absorbing all the knowledge and nuance that only Hitch could articulate to this effect. How happy I am that these letters were not exclusive to his students (but how sad am I that I was not among them). Several brief correspondences with a hypothetical, representative student, whose responses are assumed, or left out, advise on what it is to be a contrarian. It is not a matter of being the stand-out dissenter, but the nuanced thinker. (At least that’s what I gathered). Don’t accept anything because someone tells you it is so. Take advantage of your faculties and seek the truth out for yourself.
The Advice (In Conjunction With My Own): Consensus isn’t always trustworthy. Appealing to experts has its values, I feel, and I don’t think Hitchens disagrees with that insofar as dispassionate research reveals the evidence, but in matters of, say, policy, and more pertinent to this third letter, idolatry, the arguments from authority and consensus are not sufficient (nor are they particularly helpful). Disputations are an essential part of crawling toward truth, but let us not get caught up in tautology. It does no good to say either something is true or it is not true. Both of those possibilities are true, and each party in a disagreement can infer as much. Not everything is up for debate, however, as observational evidence cannot be reasonably misconstrued as falsehood, unless we disagree on what observation and evidence are. And around we go.
More to the point at hand is the inauspicious concept of Nirvana; sheer nothingness, or mindless ‘bliss’, which renders discovery and thought useless, or at the very least unnecessary. We shouldn’t, I don’t think, desire suspension, or termination of the intellect, regardless of the ease it may bring us. “And the pleasures and rewards of the intellect are inseparable from the angst, uncertainty, conflict and even despair”. This shouldn’t come off as an anti-existential way of thinking, I don’t think. Moss can be existential in practice. Rocks may very well be experiencing Nirvana. I’ll keep my intellect as long as I am able to (in the service of existential thought, of course). Thinking may cause discomfort, or unease, even unhappiness but that is no excuse to eschew it in favor of becoming a breathing inanimate object.
The evasion of verbal conflict is a silly thing. I thought trying to solve problems with words was a good thing, but now even that makes the tender-hearted cry and plead for peace and compromise. My own bit of advice would be: do not ever agree to disagree. Always state your case if you have one and if you are serious about it. When one engages in combative dialogue (I say combative because vehemence in debate is no vice either) it is important to know exactly whom with one is engaging. Go find a sparring partner. Go on! Play devil’s advocate if you’d like, or just rant and rave with a like-minded cohort.
Wasn’t that refreshing? If not, tell me why I am wrong in thinking that argumentation is a common good.
Nuance or Obfuscation? Some Improvised Examples: -He burned a Quran, what did he expect? He knew there would be violent reaction and he did it anyway. This implicates him in the subsequent riots and murders. He should be more sensitive and show more respect to the sacredness of people’s beliefs.
-I’m not anti-gay, I’m pro-family.
-Providing abortion services is akin to murder. I sympathize with victims of rape, but we shouldn’t punish an innocent unborn child for the actions of their father (said actions being conception of the child through non-consensual intercourse). We already have one victim (of rape). Let’s not add another victim (of in utero murder).
When such stances are being taken, it may be an apt time to whip out Occam’s Razor and do some slicing-and-dicing in the name of common sense. Force them to say what they really mean, and deflate false gradations with the art of “simple… elementary principles”.
Out of Context and Incorrect Citation: Like Karl Marx’s famous Religion is the opium of the people statement (often assumed to have appeared in his Communist Manifesto, when it really appears in A Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right), Hitchens’ Antitheism remarks are very poorly understood and unjustly used to discredit him as a credible critic of religion. The word antitheism smacks of a shaking-ones-fist-at-the-sky quality and Hitchens’ detractors are quick to point this out. The problem is that, much different than rebellion for its own sake, Hitchens backs it all up with historical (and anecdotal) proof. Seek out and criticize each example on its own terms, sure, but don’t bring up the old dross of ‘he is just angry at God…’ Admittedly, you’d think a statement like ‘I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches , and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful’ to be contained in a more histrionically titled book, like ‘god is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything’, but, like those who would talk about Marx’s opium quote as if it were some kind of Communist slogan, we can confront those who talk about Hitchens’ antitheist quote as if it were a way to ride on the coattails of other recent popular critics of religion, because it was written years before, and his later book on the subject was an extrapolation of this point (in that respect, I must say, it is not much like Marx’s quote).
Self-criticism: I am told that my neutral face is a pissed-off face. I often appear uninterested (often enough, I am), in what other people are saying to me, or I am insufferable and condescending. So, like Hitchens, whose face apparently forms an unintended sneer, I don’t fit the old description of a gentleman: one who is never rude except on purpose. So be it. But when I am talking, especially to someone who may very well know more than me about any given subject, I go over each sentence that may escape my lips, in my head (this also depends on my blood-alcohol level). I have been proven wrong before, and I have changed my mind about things of which I have not been proven wrong. There is no shame in this, and nobody needs me to reassure them of that. What is shameful though, is holding a minority viewpoint and conceding to your detractors on that basis. In this area, I am not as confident as the man who wrote “Have I ever thought I might be wrong? Yes, sometimes and briefly”, but I hope I am wrong in thinking I will never be.
Anticipated, if Unlikely, Outside Criticism: “This isn’t a review. You quote Hitchens too much. If I wanted to read Hitchens quotes, I’d buy a book of Hitchens’ quotes”, to which I respond, as Hitchens says, “You… noticed that I make liberal use of extracts and quotations, not just to show off my reading but also to enlighten my text and make use of those who can express my thoughts better than I am able to.”
Bonus For Those Who Have Made it This Far: Is it not time (in fact, well past time) to dispel of any notions of race or ethnicity between humans? The discoveries of Darwin, Crick, and many successors since, have allowed, nay, required, us to view every human as a member of only one giant race. Race is the most arbitrary way of dividing humans that is still in such common practice. Perhaps all the hip, young people are even past the need to rationalize racism away; if so, bring it up to your brother-in-law in Arkansas, to shut him up. I will not be able to say this any better so, again, in his own words:
“The ability to discriminate is a precious faculty; by judging all members of one ‘race’ to be the same, the racist precisely shows himself incapable of discrimination.”
Let this be a voice in the back of your head whenever you, or someone else, describes someone in terms of ‘racial identity’, or when ‘identity politics’ is brought up.
I Now Leave You With This:
“Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect them to live for you.”
I am not sure if I would ever wholly embrace any ‘words to live by’, but if I did, the words above wouldn’t be a poor choice. I am saddened only in that there can be no more contributions to the world from the pen of the man who wrote them. Methinks it is time to pour myself some Johnnie Walker Black (neat) in his dignified honor (not to be construed as worship).
Reviewing this book from my standpoint will probably be as functionally useful as explaining to my devout, border-line senile great-aunt Edna why I ab...moreReviewing this book from my standpoint will probably be as functionally useful as explaining to my devout, border-line senile great-aunt Edna why I abandoned the family tradition of Norwegian Lutheranism for methodological naturalism/ critical inquiry, proceeding to suggest such an outlook to her in her twilight years, and perhaps just as surreal. Even reading it seemed rather evil-twin-like of me.
If I ever mention that I read this book to some bottom-feeding bookstore lady who would gasp and go into a tizzy about how she cried and cried and now just can’t wait to go to heaven and sit in Jesus’ lap like little baby Burpo, I may go the intellectually rapacious route and destroy her just as she thought she found a kindred spirit; using such deliberately incendiary terms as brain rape, wish-thinking porn, and credulity stroking, or I may just smile, and in a most covert fashion, spit out a sardonic ’see you there’. The scenario is all too possible, because it's selling better than most science books.
This book is for the minds of those who are capable of taking it seriously. Even going from Mitch Albom, or Rhonda Byrne to this, one might notice a spike in eye-rolling and scoffing and ‘you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me'. Several years of prodding parents and all we get from the kid is ‘Jesus has pretty eyes’, ‘I saw mommy and daddy praying for me at the hospital while I was being operated on’, ‘I saw grampa in heaven, but he wasn’t wearing his glasses’, ‘mommy, I had a sister but she died in your belly; she’s in heaven too’, and Heaven’s lighting system is different from what we’re used to (probably not fluorescent; that’d be hellish), or something like that. That last one might actually be from Mitch Albom or Don Piper; all this middle-America, low-brow nonsense tends to coagulate into one heaping pile. I have to wonder if these people know that their books aren’t impervious to the secular world. Those who don’t forego their critical faculties are going to get their hands on this. I would honestly love to meet a skeptic who had a change-of-mind (or heart?) after reading the Burpos' tale. But then again, the family has made a pretty penny, so they probably don't much care. Oh, and in case you feel they need further support, or if you think you might need further inspiration (or if your kids do), you can get your hands on this.
Face Value: Assuming Mr. Burpo is telling the brimming, scrupulous truth to the best of his abilities (of which there is reason to doubt), those abilities seem to be lacking. He was utterly astonished at everything his son said regarding heaven. Every description corresponded rather well with the white-jumpsuit-with-wings-on-an-endless-expanse-of-giant-inflatable-fun-bounce-clouds-whilst-singing sort of cliché that we were forced to imagine in Sunday school. Or was it more like the garden of Eden, with a landscape that only the most austere of ethereal suburbanites could maintain? With the knowledge that his son Colton was never pronounced clinically dead (he wouldn't have gotten away with suggesting that), he never treats this toddler's testimony with a smidgen of skepticism or scrutiny. Isn’t Mr. Burpo familiar with the adage/ 90’s television series kids say the darndest things? But perhaps the Bible is right when it declares "...unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven". Hey, what a great tagline for the book! (I wonder if it ever comes up in the contents...) However, I do not recall an affirmation of heaven being "like a mustard seed".
Literary Quality: N/A viz. there is none to speak of. (Are we sure the kid himself didn’t write it?)
Am I still talking about this? This book was so stupid I nearly fell off my chair/veered off into a ditch/ spit out my coffee/ wrecked my segway/ whatever else Mr. Burpo claimed he nearly succumbed to each time his son said something that his young mind ‘couldn’t possibly have known’, or about what heaven was like, in attempts to convey bewilderment and profundity, which were definitely not mundane hyperbole…
But Hey: If for some ungodly reason this didn’t convince you that heaven is for real, perhaps this one will (conveniently published not long after Mr. Burpo’s tale):
If none of this curbs your doubt; if, indeed you are incredulous in accepting a preacher's relaying of a child's testimony, well, there may just be no saving you. Perhaps we should all pray for a near-death experience ourselves.(less)
I wonder what this unpublished archive Bukowski left behind looks like. Do you suppose there was a filing...moreOpening thoughts concerning this collection:
I wonder what this unpublished archive Bukowski left behind looks like. Do you suppose there was a filing system, or a cache? Or was everything scattered about on the floor, beer and wine stains and cigarette ash obscuring words, a few pages stuck in cracks of his desk, maybe a lingering poem up on a blade of the rickety ceiling fan (which was still softly rotating)?
These are ‘new poems’, but everything is new when it is first written. I don’t know over how long a period these were composed, but I have a feeling they were actually towards the end of Bukowski’s life. His common themes were present, but they seemed even more urgent and stressed. I say this because of messages like this:
of course, anything can kill you and something eventually will.
who’s that? nobody, kid, somebody dead like Chopin or our old mailman or a dog,
“I’m not panicking,” I said. “death doesn’t mean shit to me. this is coming from some place that I don’t understand.”
It’s dangerous to present excerpts from poems. Who knows what the context is? But this sort of nihilism and death-obsessed simplicity is all-permeating and so being, it is what I will primarily be focusing on.
Some thoughts (or rather explanations) on some selected favorite poems of mine:
and poems have it too:don’t worry, Dostoevsky, it begins as he proceeds to list several things that have been around for a long time, including himself. What this means, I am not quite sure. Is it a comment on Dostoevsky’s irrelevance (not to suggest he is)? Is it a note on immortality and the lasting element of great things? Are these the most pretentious speculations on a single, short poem ever documented? The answer to at least one of these questions is probably ‘yes’.
hello there!: A short expression on being prepared for death with an analogy about women’s kisses. Who among us cannot relate?
here we go again: The title of this one really says it all. Revisiting death and relating it to women and the inexplicable ability to stay happy despite everything that should bring him down. I don’t know if I possess this ability (with the exception of the moments of surging euphoria that never seem to last), but it’s something to consider when one’s non-existence is preponderant in the mind.
alone in this chair: Ok, so most of Bukowski’s titles say it all. Hell is everywhere and all we can do is have another cigarette.
the “Beats”: Who doesn’t like a good berating of Kerouac and co.?
hello and goodbye:The mundane and tedious tasks of life. Everything is stupid. Diseases exist. Is that not enough to loath existence? As he appropriately points out:
there’s no escaping this, we just have to take it, accept it— or like most— not think about it. at all. I find that last option to be hideously, depressingly difficult. Ostensibly, so did he.
my cats:I have dogs, not cats. But this spectacular adulation of these creatures could evoke respect from anyone.
As promised, more on death:
I will discuss some of the last poems collectively as they seem to prepare us, more and more, for death. For our deaths, but also, retrospectively, for his (from our points of view), and most of all, for his own, regardless of if anyone would read a single word of this collection. Seeing as how titles can explain a lot about his poems, I will list some of these last ones, and encourage you to read them (unless you can’t handle the pain and musings along with which you can practically hear the accompanying sad-sax music).
Here they are:the disease of existence, two nights before my 72nd birthday, have we come to this?, older, closing time, everything hurts, cancer, blue, twilight musings
The titles alone speak horrible truths; inescapable truths, which we, as mortal beings cannot dwell on, but absolutely must. One can feel the man who wrote these slipping away as the pages run closer and closer to the back cover. Love him, loathe him, everyone can empathize with everyone (and Bukowski was among everyone) because we will all be gone, now or then, sooner or later. We are all ”practicing, polishing up for that end”. But take heart, we can live on through our work. We can be as lively and wild as Beethoven is now, 100 years after his death. Every breathing thing that can grasp the concept of death should find this collection prescient, and even if you think it shouldn’t qualify as poetry, it is absolutely poetic.
What is the only answer worthy of consideration when we idiotically and pathetically and solipsistic-ally ask ‘ why me?’ when our time is soon to come? It is, of course, ’why not?’
Is this too depressing for some? Almost certainly. But I take a sort of abstract comfort in it all, and Bukowski, I think did as well, and now that he is dead, we can talk this way about him, and that’s how he remains lively and wild, like Beethoven. Doom and gloom are essential, but Bukowski did not grab us by the wrist, drag us into the darkness and then die without at least guiding us in the general direction out. There is both room and warrant for such recondite, I won't say acquiescence, but recognition in the pallid face of the inevitable. Read this collection, and see if you agree. Read this collection if you are at all like me.
Thank you Bukowski, thanks you old fart, for helping me cope with existence.(less)
Recovering: This demented piece of pornographic pulp continues my quest for much masochistic reading which might suggest more about me than the man who...moreRecovering: This demented piece of pornographic pulp continues my quest for much masochistic reading which might suggest more about me than the man who wrote it.
Lee is a prolific raconteur of the severely fucked-up. Straightaway, this tale provides us with such pleasant transgressions as meth abuse, incest, and murder, proceeding quickly to treat us with something much more mind-bogglingly (ew, bad choice of words) deplorable. For the sake of common decency I will not describe what a header is, although the word itself may bring something to mind (ick, stop it!). This is not the first time Ed Lee has explored this great hillbilly pastime. (There is a full novel entitled ‘The Header’, for which there have been two sequels and a film adaptation; I will not be seeing it. Well, maybe).
There is more to the story, but not much. Told from a few different perspectives, and forcing me to assume the roles of none-too-relatable shit-kickers and obese simpletons through the narrative, a backwoods woman has a chance encounter with a writer at a Best Buy and gets him to recite a Lovecraftian chant of necromancy into a voice recorder. This chant is later utilized during the climax, er, yeah, climax. Anyway…
Psychobabble: What Lee is attempting to beget here is a visceral reaction to something that he is well aware would not be considered, or even thought of by a mentally sapient person (not least of all because it is sexually impractical to an astounding degree). His career is that of a literary psychopath, and I’m sure this is a title of honor for him, and I am not without a certain degree of respect. I may be too morbidly curious to give up on Lee altogether, but this was gross, and quite memorably so. (less)
What is it, in our day-to-day lives, that prevents us from stepping back—perhaps lowering the arm presently occupying (or occupied by) some gadget—and...moreWhat is it, in our day-to-day lives, that prevents us from stepping back—perhaps lowering the arm presently occupying (or occupied by) some gadget—and examining the aspects, and indeed limitations, of humanity? We have stuff to do. Time is money. We’re not getting any younger and our daughters have ballet rehearsal at six and oh shit we forgot to pick up our jacket from the dry-cleaner! Is there still time? Nope—I suppose we’ll just—oh wait, it’s our wives/husbands texting us, telling us we’re out of Cheez-Itz®, Clorox® disinfecting wipes, Charmin® Ultra Soft toilet paper, Crest® Extra Whitening toothpaste, and Jif®, not Skippy®, Jif® creamy peanut butter and could we please pick all that up at Wal-Mart® on our way home from our cubicle under which a flickering light we have been complaining about for two weeks has yet to be replaced?
Is this what happiness feels like? Are these facets of the good life? Would we even think about these things, and does any of it matter? Were commerce, the stock market, credit default, et al inevitable? Are we sacrificing happiness for goodness, or vice versa? Can we achieve both? Is one dependent on the other?
If Grayling is correct in stating that philosophy is “opposed to on-size-fits-all nostrums, to authorities ancient and modern who claim to have all the answers”, I think the world at large, and American society in particular, could benefit greatly from a restitution of many such schools of thought. Philosophy is not dead, as Stephen Hawking inappropriately proclaimed, because thinking is not dead. Hawking said this in a rather different context, but without a philosophical curiosity, our everyday lives would still be overcast with shadows of general ignorance, because from whence came the drive to the development of our scientific methods? Discovery is a philosophical endeavor accelerated now by scientific tools, which we acquired by our philosophical quandaries on the nature of things. There are many questions which do not yet have answers, many answers which should continue being questioned, and perhaps even questions which have not yet been asked.
These multifarious, bite-sized essays deliver quick bolts of thought and, importantly, don’t purport to arrive at unassailable truths (even if well-established facts do factor into his quandaries). Neuroscience, for example, is a vast frontier in its infancy which, in time, could erode certain notions about various aspects of the mind, and solidify others. Grayling wonders what implications could be discerned regarding morality and relativism if so-called ‘mirror-neurons’ in the motor cortex can be shown to influence one’s social behavior (with some researchers already proposing a link between mirror-neuron dysfunction and autism). We’re largely treading on speculative and hypothetical ground when it comes to neuroscience, and should be cautious, but moral philosophy should take great interest in this developing field. This specific subject is covered by Grayling in little more space than I have just provided it, and its conciseness has the added benefit of making for a terrific discussion starter for groups and classes, as any of the subsequent essays would. Morality and ethics play parts in several of the entries, as one might expect (moral hypocrisy, Darwinian ethics, human rights, poverty, self-abusive religious practices, water use and conservation, business and profit, remorse), and far from using these terms interchangeably, he scrupulously includes a discussion on the philosophically loaded terms, morality and ethics, and suggests that, for instance, pundits and politicians should be more restrictive in their use of the word moral, because “ethics includes morality”, but I wonder if ethics shouldn’t supersede morality, not only putting an end to the confusion, but also to do away with the buzzing mosquito of religious insistence upon objective morality, the exceptions upon which they are of course equally insistent. Could this be beneficial, or detrimental? Perhaps, after all quibbling, a pragmatic Aristotelian view is superior, if only everyone could agree that “doing one’s moral best” is as easy as being honest and forthright, but who knows how much this flies in the face of human nature?
Interlude: (Don’t get me started on hypochondria versus valetudinarianism because I’ll start naming off all the terminal conditions and viruses with which I have convinced myself I am afflicted. Much appreciated.)
But other questions on health are less anxiety-inducing, such as the benefits of laughter (being a necessary response to the absurdity of life), abstaining from food (specifically calorie-intake, to promote longevity) and the harmful effect of restrictive drug laws, which is important to consider because if addicts could be directed on how much could be administered before it becomes a lethal dose, treatment would conceivably be easier, and they would at least be conscious (recognizing that, as with alcohol, there will still be abusers) of its dangers because it could contain those medical directions right on the box of narcotics (oh, and that drug war is a right fucking mess, isn’t it?)
Those familiar with Grayling’s philosophical canon will know that a frequent target of his critical inquiry is religion, and one of his longer essays in this collection is on the intersection of science and religion. He defines his terms in using science, specifically, in this case, referring to Darwinian evolutionary theory, and religion, or ‘religious belief’, ascribing to it “any belief in the existence and activity of supernatural agencies, or one such agent (a ‘god’), either in the universe or outside it (‘outside it’ because allegedly outside space and time) but somehow operative in or on it.” He stakes his territory on matters such as these, and becomes more tendentious, and I support him in doing so, but we must be willing to hear what others would define religion as, or entailing, provided it’s nominally coherent. This definition however, is simple and clear enough to work with for his piece. A lot of theological and pseudoscientific rhetoric finds its way into the science-religion debate, and it never seems to clarify whether science is of their god, or whether it’s just wrong and heretical. Most educations religionists claim the former now, but go on to deny a plethora of established scientific discovery, most notoriously evolution, but also, and more immediately dire, climate science, because, you know, ‘God destroyed the world with a flood once, and He said he wuddn’t gon’ do it agay-un’, so we’ve got nothing to worry about. Relax.
In short (nudge, nudge), anything discussed in this book could be, and has been, the subject of many exclusive tomes, but it wouldn’t hurt to read one of these daily (if you have time to take your vitamins and brush your teeth, you have time to read one in the morning) and bring it up in conversation with someone along the way, or return to this thread and discuss any specific entry (many of which I haven’t even mentioned), and hopefully they will do the same, and we can be more thoughtful in our daily, wind-and-grind existences that get so tedious we forget to ask ourselves what we’re all doing here anyway. (less)
This book didn’t mean anything. Books that don’t mean anything have no right to exist. To exist is to possess meaning. Meaning cannot exist without ex...moreThis book didn’t mean anything. Books that don’t mean anything have no right to exist. To exist is to possess meaning. Meaning cannot exist without existence. Existence is what gives meaning its meaning, and its existence. This book is meaningless, therefore nothing exists (especially not this book).
An Interesting Production: A man undertakes a particularly futilemeaningless endeavor to discover the origins of a fetish film. He encounters many eccentricmeaningless characters with ponderousmeaningless theories about existence and what everything means and stuff. Lots of other crazy shit happens.
Location, Location, Evocation: Have you been here before? Have you made love on the shore of that small island? Have you seen that (I-swear-to-god-that-exact) boulder in your dream? Have you been served by an egg-laying, pseudopodinous potato lady in that diner? Have any meaningless events ever lead you somewhere you know you had been before? Have you ever recognized something you have never seen before? Have you ever seen something or someone somewhere and said to yourself ”I shouldn’t be here right now”?
Analytical Meaninglessness: We are pattern seeking creatures with aggravating limitations on understanding. It infuriates us when we experience something we can’t quite piece together, especially when there seem to be hints that suggest some sort of cohesiveness is there to be discovered. It makes us feel like this:
Everything has to mean something; it just has to! If it can’t be figured out, accompanying it is sheer madness and chaos. If even one thing (such as this graphic novel, or a David Lynch film, or a devastating tornado) can’t have any meaning ascribed to it, existence itself as we ‘understand’ (wink wink) it is in jeopardy. Perhaps this book is precisely the anti-revelation we need.
Personal thoughts that won’t mean anything to anyone, including myself: -As a Midwesterner, the idea of a Paul Bunyan Funeral Home threatens of a strange cathartic dread as inexplicable as the idea of a Paul Bunyan Funeral Home. (I wonder if the Coen Brothers wish they had thought of that…) Presumably incidental, Clowes may have thought some kid with fond childhood memories of eating breakfast at a certain restaurant in the Wisconsin Dells who has been obsessed with death and mortality since his aforementioned childhood would read this work and innocuouslymeaninglessly ruminate over these elements.
-What do you suppose the chances are that radical feminists will form some kind of—nah—nah, forget it.
-Harum Scarum—like Helter Skelter—murder—cults—maybe? What does it mean, damn it!?
Wrapping Up/An unwillingness to continue on in such obnoxious tedium: Do people know what they mean when they say ‘there was an incident’? If something can be defined in two different ways with opposite meanings, such as ‘an individual or isolated event or occurrence’ and ‘something appertaining or attaching to something else’, then describing or explaining anything (meaningless or otherwise) is just as meaningless as that which we are attempting to describe or explain. (You’re still with me, right?) The takeaway is everything or nothing, at bottom or from up top.
P.S. Somewhere in the mesial guts of my review I discovered Fargo was playing on the television machine. I’m going to watch it. This is absolutely true. Try and tell me that doesn’t mean anything.
Nietzsche is said to have said that he wished to say more in a couple lines than most philosophers could say in an entire book. The scheme may very we...moreNietzsche is said to have said that he wished to say more in a couple lines than most philosophers could say in an entire book. The scheme may very well have been met by the great 19th century thinker, as each sentence could be dissected and interpreted in such ways that they beget numerous debates and discussions still. Sam Harris has expressed no such ambition, but if there is a modern philosopher/scientist to whom such a description could be accredited, it would be him (although he may be less difficult to take in than Nietzsche). The straightforwardly named Free Will could prove to be one of the more important books (or pamphlets) written in the coming years. The recent onslaught of neuroscience books may seem fashionable; an intellectual fad of sorts (as much could be said for the so-called new/neo-atheist ‘movement’ for which Harris was arguably the progenitor), but the merits and contentions of Dr. Harris cannot be chalked up to barren hype. Within his own lifetime, it is not unreasonable to think we may see a book entitled Why Sam Harris Matters (No, not by me, yet) being published. Perhaps he is destined, er, headed for a Nobel Prize. (Hey, it’s likelier than a Templeton Prize).
Controversy: What would the implications be if the scientific consensuses become one of “free will is an illusion”? After all, the notion of free will has long been a definitive characteristic of what it is to be human. Given how many people still reject scientific consensus on matters like evolution, it is safe to assume that such a declaration would not change society at large w/r/t their belief in free will. Some significant portion of the population wouldn’t even find out about the shift, I’d wager. Free Will is largely assumed from the outset. We (or they) initiate conversations on morality with statements like “because we have free will, we…”, and “Free will has allowed for us humans to…”, and my favorite “God gave us free will so that we may choose…” It is used as a tool in a debate about morality, accountability, and responsibility, when it should often be part of the debate itself. Classical moralists (as I refer to them as) seem to think that the aim of those who would argue against the existence of free will is to absolve heinous murderers, rapists and other criminals of any wrong-doing. The problem in this sort of criticism is immediately apparent. Ask anyone (free will advocate or not) if they would feel comfortable with a known serial rapist/murderer/human-organ-collector/explosives-enthusiast/psycopath living across the street from them. The answer would invariably be NO, or perhaps, WHAT THE HELL KIND OF IDIOTIC QUESTION IS THAT? To seriously answer otherwise would itself be indicative of psychopathy. What makes people appeal to such paranoid accusations, as if neuroscience is all a conspiracy to set Charles Manson free? The emotional responses we have to murder are as hard-wired into us as digestion and waste excretion. The desire for vengeance when we feel wronged is entirely natural, but this has no particular bearing on what ‘motivation’ there was on the part of the offender. Free will, in the context of anti-life activities, is an excuse to justify why we want retribution, but to put it as simply (and boldly) as I can, we don’t need an excuse for these desires. Solidarity and empathy account for much in these matters. We empathize with family members of murder victims because we don’t want our loved one taken from us in such a manner. This all seems rather obvious, but people talk about justice as if it depends on punishing people for having the minds they have, which, ultimately, may have been no more capable of choosing to do what they did than we have to sleep when our bodies (or brains) tell us we are tired. We would still have a duty to keep offenders of livelihood and civilization away from functional society. (“If we could incarcerate earthquakes and hurricanes for their crimes…”, we would). Not to dwell too long on the point, but the objections of this sort are purely emotional, and that is justification in-and-of itself for wanting to kill someone for killing someone else. In a roundabout way, it further proves the absence of free will. Do we have control over how we feel about people? Do we really, as religious moralists assume, have the power to forgive? The problem, as Harris points out, is that we have absolutely no say in who we are. We are born with all the proclivities that we will come to live with, whether it be a dormant neurological disorder that will spring up in our thirties, or a predisposition for cancer that develops a tumor in our frontal cortex and could fundamentally ‘change’ who we are. Psychopaths don’t choose to be psychopaths any more than people with down-syndrome choose to have down-syndrome.
Questions to Consider: If we had free will, would we ever be able to do what we did, when we could have done something else instead? Did I have a choice to phrase that question differently? If I went back and changed the way I phrased the question, did I have a choice to keep it as it was? Did you have a choice to read it? Once you read it, do you have a choice to forget it? Are you asking yourself if I have a choice to shut the fuck up? Did you have a choice about whether or not you asked yourself that question?
A Coming Intellectual Feud? Harris ensues a friendly dissent from philosopher Daniel Dennett and the compatibilists, who “generally claim that a person is free from any outer or inner compulsions that would prevent him from acting on his actual desires and intentions.” Whatever we ‘decide’ to do is determined by something that we could not have ‘decided’ to think, or on past events which are already done and irreversible. To make it clear, we are incapable of doing anything which does not occur to us to do. Harris has received much criticism from Dennett’s students and fans. Hopefully I can look forward to a debate between the two greats.
Choosing to Conclude My Thoughts: Where do our ideas come from? When we have good ideas, it cannot be said that we chose to have them. The depressing loathsomeness which shadows a good idea that doesn’t last long enough to make it on the page occurs because that idea had nothing to do with me as a conscious agent determining which thoughts to hang on to and which to dispose of; leaving only the memory that I had a good idea, without allowing me to process again what that idea was. (If this review sucks, the above sentence is my excuse as to the reason).
I can’t think of anything else to write about this book at the moment, and can’t wait to post it any longer, “and where is the freedom in that?”
Have you indulged in this sub-sub-genre phenomenon of sub-literary lunacy known as bizarro fiction and thought to yourself, wh...more The Conflict Defines Us…
Have you indulged in this sub-sub-genre phenomenon of sub-literary lunacy known as bizarro fiction and thought to yourself, what on earth…?. Have you read stories about mythic dildos, midget revolutions, fetuses with superpowers, or literal Nazi assholes and thought I’m all for honest titles but give me a fucking break! Initiating yourself in bizarro is a little like a tickle in the back of the throat that demands a nice thorough clearing, except all of a sudden and without explanation you have cut your own throat and are plunging your fingers into the wound in an attempt to scratch the itch. It's a frustration that takes superfluously extreme measures. I’m not personally knocking the genre in theory, as I think there is much fun to be had in pushing boundaries and traumatizing unprepared readers, but my point in this introduction is that if you find this horror-humor-surreal-absurdism mash-up to be execrable or stupefyingly silly, I implore you to give JRJ a read regardless. Why? Let’s take a look:
First of all, being seen with this book in public is highly empowering. Exhibit A:
Everyone else at Starbucks will be reading the latest derivative piece of erotica pulp and you can laugh at their sexual naïveté and comparatively banal prudishness. There are consequences to sex and we are all examples. We all originate as goopy freeloaders until we violently, dangerously, and painfully force our way into the world to perpetuate the cycle of infection all over again. How different are we really from ringworms and nematodes? Exhibit B:
Second, the cover is waxy feeling with hints of velvet decay, ever-so slightly fibrous, like a nice ripe peach (perhaps with signs of mold), and damned if the contents weren’t just as juicy (and repulsive). Also, it features slightly misleading yet not inappropriate cover art by the child-digesting, parasitic fever-dreamer Alex Pardee of nightmare Urkel fame. Exhibit C:
The stories deal with extremely vulnerable and often quite pathetic people whose fates range from inauspicious to kill me now. Some of them address my daily phobias/apprehensions with shocking profundity to rival the best of mortality-obsessed poets. We are products of chance, and chance is all we have to thank each moment we continue breathing, just as chance is all we have to blame when we cease to do so. An insurmountable amount of factors are clashing together around you each moment to permit your livelihood, and if one of those factors is late, or if another factor shows up early, you are gone. The micro-scale fears of getting into a car, or getting out of one at the wrong rest stop, to the macro, universal doomsday scenarios of outbreaks and pandemics are treated with equal trepidation because it does all come down to personal death, whether yours or those whose deaths would personally affect you, or would be tantamount to your own. Each story dooms us as conception did. Whether it’s a penis-flaying parasite that couldn’t be crueler if it was capable of sadism, a revenge-seeking apparition, or a possum crossing the road that sends your four-wheeled steel death trap spiraling into the embodiment of unimaginable carnage; whether a seductive hustler you mistook for your soul-mate, a sweet taste on the lips that signifies the consumption of you and your child’s intestines, or a powdered curse that results in fingers underneath your scalp, you were born only for that conditional overture.
Departure: I don’t know if I’d label it a gripe, but including an extended version of a previous story (but with more character development, Portland flavor, Shaun Hutson references, a vagina dentata nightmare, and a smattering of prostitutes), in that same collection is odd, and gives me anxiety. This is a bonus, a B-side, along with co-authored stories and a true-ish story about the Mars Volta, so I shouldn't complain, but part of the writer’s job is to edit and revise until they are satisfied with the final draft, or that it is at least fit for publishing, or not, whatever. But you stick by it. Some editors will pervert your story, and interpolate words of their own initiative which you would never use (I know I’m not the only one with this experience), but two editions of one story in one volume upset the compulsive agent in me that will not allow the eschewing of a single page from my reading enterprise. I made a commitment dammit, and if I skip one page of one book, I might as well skip all pages of all books and never read again; all of these restored texts and updates and revisions and expansions and add-ons and companions and unabridgements and unexpurgations and fragments and prefaces and unrated extended additions with thirty more minutes of outrageous footage we couldn’t show you in theaters are enough to do my tiny mind in. Get that annotated Hawthorne out of my face! What can I do to relax? I know. I’ll go listen to The Velvet Underground; one of my favorite tracks, Heroin. Actually, I think I prefer the demo version with several takes in which Lou Reed demonstrates how inconsistent he can be with his voice recordings and I can wonder why he settled on the modulation he did for the official recording and… forget it. Where are my cigarettes and Valium?
Jack Ketchum praises this collection as both entertainment and literature, and I most certainly agree, and would add that it is a wise preliminary (or reaffirming, for those like myself who consider these matters and dangers often) briefing on the unforeseen but ever-present inevitability of anything that could possibly ever happen. (less)
Despite its exposure and fame, I managed not to acquire any knowledge of this phenomenon prior to cracking the spine for the first time...moreAm I too late…?
Despite its exposure and fame, I managed not to acquire any knowledge of this phenomenon prior to cracking the spine for the first time. The cover might as well have a Mr. Yuck sticker on it with that pendant and stupid crop-circle design that gives the mind-mirage of a story about child secret agents or something, like James Patterson for kids, or some Alex Rider nonsense. This was sufficient enough for quite some time to repel me. But now, let’s see what we’ve actually got here:
Kid’s book about continentally broadcasted snuff film. Go on…
I refuse (as best I can) to hold young adult fiction to a different standard than all other fiction. A younger demographic should not garner leniency or its corollary prejudice, critical brashness. I am not exemplary in keeping with this sentiment as my own predilections after experiences with household titles of the ‘genre’ like Twilight, and to some extent (apologies Hogwarts alumni) Harry Potter had become those of jadedness. I have been harboring a mentality of ‘kids-today’ intransigence (never mind that I was in fifth grade when the first Harry Potter book was published). So, I have a low standard for popular pre-teen series (I’m not suggesting this is anything more than incidental, but this realm tends to be dominated by female authors) and have come to expect scant substance in plot or character development. However, having indicted myself on that front and prefacing with that rather obvious point, I am pleased to say that I do not think Suzanne Collins treats her readers—young ones in particular—like idiots. Many of her readers were mere toddlers or infants on that infamous day in September of 2001, and have grown up in a world that is very distinguishable from the world we knew before; some are younger than the ongoing war in Afghanistan. They are coming of age in a world of increasing uncertainty, of static fear, and a minimal amount of hope. I was going to attempt to avoid any mention of the film, but allow me to offer one quote from the supercilious ‘President’ of Panem, Coriolanus Snow: "Hope; it's the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective, a lot of hope is dangerous.” Spoken like a true (and intelligent) dictator. Saddam could have learned something if only he’d clutched to power (and life) in time to hear it. This book speaks to the grimness of our future, hunger being something not many middle-class Americans (future Panemans?) consider very often. I’m not saying prophecy is at work, but the hardships and plights of these fictional citizens are not implausible in a foreseeable future of such scarce food, resource, and egis. As for ‘The Games’, just what would it take for a society to descend into such madness? Don’t get ahead of me. I won’t get too far into this, but there are risks society is comfortable with for the sake of entertainment right now, ladies and gentlemen. Has anyone died for our entertainment? American Football, UFC, Boxing, Professional Wrestling, NASCAR; I know I am not the first to suggest this, but I can hear the scoffs already. These enterprises don’t cite death as the objective of the game. But ask yourselves how many fans two-hand-touch football would have (HEADLINE: LOUISIANA SAINTS PLAYERS OFFERED $10,000 TO SHOVE OPPOSSING PLAYERS), or UCC (Ultimate Cuddling Challenge [okay, that’s essentially what the UFC is]). When something ‘goes wrong’ in these competitive sports, we talk about how sad and shocking it is, until we blithely sit down for the next game/match. I’m not making a social statement (although I could easily do without any of the aforementioned forms of entertainment) so much as suggesting that considering ourselves more civilized because we don’t intentionally kill people for entertainment purposes any longer may be slightly delusional. However thin and sophomoric this analogy may be, we do want real violence with real consequences for real people in our entertainment. It’s been inherent since, well, boredom (a pesky consequence of consciousness). I apologize, but this had to make it into a review somehow, sometime.
In Defense of Inspiration and Doing Things That Have Been Done Before: Dystopian and post-apocalyptic scenarios in literature are nothing terribly groundbreaking any longer, but I haven’t heard too many critics making the claim that this book ‘rips off’ Brave New World or 1984. What else is there to focus on? Ah, yes, a pitting-against-each-other of young people with no personal qualms or vendettas against one another for the entertainment and disillusionment of the general populace who are collected, or “reaped” in a public display of revolutionary peacekeeping dominance and subjugation. What does that remind us of? Oh, right! Say it with me everyone! Battle RoyaleAncient Roman Gladiatorial Combat! (I won’t get into this again). Indeed there are blatant literary hack jobs, for which the words ‘inspired by’ may absolutely not be applied. There are also retellings (Ulysses and O’ Brother Where Art Thou are masterful and imaginative in their own respective rights without even needing to evoke anything Homeric). We recognize the source, judge with equanimity, and conclude based on what they bring to the story, or what source elements they use to enhance or upgrade their own story. We do not (I speak optimistically) fling accusatory excrement of imitation or fraudulence simply because comparisons can be drawn between something and something else. I cannot speak as to whether or not Collins drew any direct inspiration from Koushun Takami (or Ancient Rome), but this book appears to be neither a hack job nor a riding-on-the-coattails of anything that preceded it.
O Katniss! My Katniss!: Spoilers may follow, but I am reasonably sure that I am the last person on Goodreads to read this book, so…
"This is an okay place to die” the refreshingly imperfect heroine thinks to herself, arousing unexpected affection from yours truly. In this particular instance, she makes the best of the environment she finds herself in as darkness seems to be closing in on her. If there is ever that chance that it will be the end, it is easy to focus on what could be the last scent, or sensation one experiences. The fatigue, the accumulated stress and piled-on pain, the anguish and concealed desperation (not to mention the sleep deprivation the night before ‘The Games’ begin). It is all conveyed by Katniss with such vulnerable clarity that simple human empathy is only the first stage in coming to relate to her. Her second-guessing w/r/t everything Peeta says, or does (including saving her life) is significant beyond the context of wanting to survive. Her anxiety over these matters is no idle inner monologue, but validates for us our precarious dispositions when considering ulterior motives when someone pays us a kindness. These neuroses are not always justified, but they are unavoidable as dictated by our nature; one of those refreshing imperfections I was referring to above.
I will gloss over the less-than-necessary love triangle aspect as it seems to be the prominent point of ridicule for the more ‘serious’ readers (albeit I could think of reasons to defend it). The first person narrative grants us privy access to Katniss’ every thought, but the ending of this first installment is one of romantic ambiguity nonetheless. We haven’t learned Peeta’s true feelings by this point either, but I am among the, shall we say, more mature masses that cares naught for this—what I would deem—subplot. Katniss doesn’t need a man, but she is allowed to fall for one if her emotions and hormones so incline her to. Katniss is not out for blood; she is a reticent, unintentional badass, which is the only kind worthy of the title.
Some Complaints (not involving love triangle): I made a joke as I neared the end of the novel. “When do the vampires come in?” I cynically asked. Little did I know that werewolf-like creatures were soon to make their debut. I didn’t hate the implementation (and it was better than what the film did), and upon realizing that they were, in fact, the reanimated, mutated corpses of her former adversaries (and sweet, furry little Rue), Katniss was provided with further existential speculation. Did these creatures want revenge, did they possess the memories along with the molecules of their (former?) selves, or are they autonomous killing machines? Also, what the hell happened to them after they scampered off? Perhaps I’ll find out. But!... but, beyond that it came off as more teen-pandering fantasy fare that detracted from the realistic elements I had hitherto gotten used to. I realize the novel is often classified as sci-fi, but this stretched the limits of my suspension of disbelief. Muttations; I suppose the pun works, though.
Then, when ‘The Games’ are finished and Claudius Templesmith revokes his previous announcement that two winners will be allowed (dun, dun, dun!) and Katniss has the brilliant idea of a faux-suicide-pact, prompting Claudius to revoke his revocation in a graceless sort of wait, just kidding, fine, gosh! way, it just didn’t work. I understand it was meant to transmit humiliation for ‘The Capitol’, but it really came off as Collins pulling off a last-ditch effort at a final twist (of the most expected and trite variety). Unless it was meant to be religious satire (Abraham, Isaac, a goat, God, you know) it was not a particularly meaningful note to end the violence on. No gasps were induced. A yawn was too much to muster.
I’ll cut myself off there with those couple examples. The book has flaws, but they were not so numerous or egregious that it ruined the overall experience. The writing quality has its flaws just like the plot, but it’s pretty damn good for the most part. It is mostly straightforward storytelling, but doesn’t slouch on elegant, effective prose that youngsters can understand: "I enter a nightmare from which I wake repeatedly only to find a greater terror awaiting me. All the things I dread for others manifest in such vivid detail I can’t help but believe they’re real.”
A Quick and Concluding Thought on Politics: I can’t help but think that the political allegory, which can be interpreted into any narrative, is rather overstated, if not mostly unfounded (to say nothing of the liberal-conservative ‘debate’ since the film’s release of whose ideals it best represents). The things I discussed in my opening statements are not inherent in this story, rather what I gathered when I read into it. They logically follow, I believe, from what the story itself forthrightly presents us with, but to read this as some kind of WARNING for our future, save for the conceivable degeneration of risk-taking entertainment into near-deliberate killing, is sailing out to sea a little bit. I may be starting to contradict myself, so I will take my leave.
May the force be ever with your favor. Oops… (less)
A Gothic Western? Really? Pretentious much? What were you Brautigan, one of those writers who said ‘I write so-and-so books, but with a so-and-so twist...moreA Gothic Western? Really? Pretentious much? What were you Brautigan, one of those writers who said ‘I write so-and-so books, but with a so-and-so twist’? I mean, seriously, give us a bre — oh! Hey, so yeah, a gothic western. Spot on. Who knew one could be so apt in labeling their work. My apologies. Well done.
Having A Go at One of Those Superficially Clever, Show-offy-but-in-reality-rather-hokey-and-stilted-and-at-bottom-irrelevent Mash-up Comparative Descriptions That Critics Tend to Enjoy Implementing: Imagine if Cormac McCarthy and Kurt Vonnegut travelled back in time to assassinate Jesse James only to find that Mary Shelley had already travelled forward in time and was using his body for scientific experimentation, and Robert Louis Stevenson was… probably somewhere near… like in the basement, with his chemicals… hearing bits and pieces… eh, forget this. It does have in common some of the comic simplicity of Vonnegut, dreary dialogue involving cowboys, sort of like McCarthy, and indeed a science-gone-wild gothic aspect not entirely unlike Frankenstein, but those are just some things that came to my mind viz. it doesn’t smack of a rip-off at all. It’s easy to read, elegant in its lack of verbose adornment, and it is wonderfully entertaining.
Main Characters and About Them: Cameron counts. Greer fucks. Cameron fucks too though. Cameron and Greer also both kill people. Miss Hawkline fucks. Magic Child fucks. Miss Hawkline and Magic Child also both want to be rid of an evil (or at least highly inconsiderate) entity that dwells beneath their house. Cameron and Greer also both want to kill this entity because they will get paid. But sometimes both Cameron and Greer and both Miss Hawkline and Magic Child would rather fuck or eat than kill the entity. Cameron counts everything; shots fired, hoof clops clopped, silverware. If there are amounts of things, he’ll count them. When he is counting the amount of times someone does something, he always anticipates it to be done 1 more time. He expects to count to infinity, all the time. There is no expectation of a cut-off point for Cameron, and numbers are everything.
The House, What Surrounds it, and What is Contained Within it: (view spoiler)[Multiple chimneys of billowing smoke make the Hawkline house appear as a mini-factory of industrial dread. Frozen ground surrounds it on account of the ‘ice caves’ beneath it. Chemicals-cum-shadow/light-cum-monster inadvertently originated by professor-cum-elephant foot umbrella stand. Seemingly more inconvenient than dangerous, such a creation can cause reality not to fit its definition. In the end, we have confirmation of what we all know already; whiskey solves all problems. (hide spoiler)]
Writing this review is preventing me from getting fucked. I’m going to go get fucked. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Complaints (Not About the Book): The wonderful thing about literature in our modern era is that one can feel a...more If Horror can be a genre, so can Madness.
Complaints (Not About the Book): The wonderful thing about literature in our modern era is that one can feel almost elite, sophisticated, and elegantly antiquated by the mere mentioning of a writer who isn’t a pundit, a preacher, or a reality-television star. (I can only speak for my country, the U.S.A.). Reading, among a significant amount (if not a majority) of my generation is viewed as a vestigial and archaic entertainment. (And it’s so boring and time-consuming). If you want a book deal these days, you’d best have had sex with a household name, had a toddler visit heaven, or create as creepily ‘alluring’ of a teen male character as you can.
But, and this part isn’t a complaint, and it is also getting to the book on which I am going to speak, the wonderful thing about underground literature, particularly literary terror, is that there is so little to prepare one for what is in store for them. Scarcely is there a possibility of eavesdropping in a coffee shop (as I am wont to do) and hearing a conversational fragment at all similar to “…but Lovecraft wasn’t space-pirate sci-fi, or Victorian gothic horror. He broke the mold of his time. He was oceanic terror. He was inescapable dread. He was Cosmic Indifferentism…”, let alone something like “…but Hamantaschen is no mere disciple of any forebear of any genre. He is uncompromising psychological carnage…”
ATTENTION: The author, as well as the editors of this volume would like you all to be aware that the stories contained within are about something. It is imperative for all involved in its publication to stress the seriousness, the darkness, the realness of each of these stories.
Whatever I am to make of such an announcement—whether it’s the poor actor-cum-amusement park ride operator delivering a warning before entering a rickety, cheesy tunnel of fog machines and rubber skeletons on strings and recorded shrieks, or I am being genuinely lead by an impossibly cold hand into a cerebrum-liquefying abyss—I just hope I get my (space)time’s worth.
The Substance and The Scares (Of Both Personal and More Universal Natures): Dangerous infatuations can take over your life, and the object of your affection could end up crawling around on your bedroom ceiling like a spider. You can ignore all the signs of doomed love-struck youth until transmogrification occurs to shatter your perception of the world forevermore. I apologize. Let’s get less obscure. Modern references to things like ‘Hot Topic’ and ‘Facebook’ were initially a little off-putting, but ultimately contributed to the turmoil as it added some unexpected contiguousness to the not-quite-explicitly-describable Lovecraftian horror of yore, and that’s just the first story.
Switch gears to sexy, mechanical, rapist traps and a parasite that serves as an antidote to despair. Switch again to sentient turds and extra-terrestrials for which we are comparatively no more than recipients of redirected sunlight under a Fresnel lens. These are such cataclysmic and traumatizing things that we can all nod to each other in silent agreement that it is indeed quite creepy, or all-out horrifying , or would be, granting we were involved in, or bore witness to, such things.
‘A hunter from the darkest wild, makes you feel just like a child.' I apply this line from Jumanji because it represents how some of the imagery in this book created a worm-hole from my childhood to the time of the very sentences I was reading and sucked my fears of prematurity through, preserved and perfectly intact, to supplant my imagined bearded-machismo. With this admission in mind, I present to all of you the story entitled Come In, Distraction, in which “…diseased men swing… across their apartments like monkeys with vines for arms.” Wait… what did you just read? You read what I read. Let’s go back. “…vagina carved out like a Halloween pumpkin,” got that; kiddy stuff, how about “…igniting the discarded skins of the dead,” nice try, but I have a manly beard! And then “…like monkeys with vines for arms.” Help. M-m-mommy. Instantly and without warning, the very first image I remember being utterly terrified by. Behold:
There you have it, my most primal fear; overly extended extremities, stalks, limbs, and so forth. These sanity-compromising details seemed to validate and rationalize my fears of yesteryear in a profoundly cathartic way. I asked the author if any memories of youthful cold sweat went into his work and if he ever writes to unnerve himself intentionally. His response was publicly posted, so I trust he won’t mind my retyping it here:
“. . . I don't write to unnerve myself, and I don't really get unnerved, unfortunately (I'd like to!)… childhood fears. Well, blindness has always been a childhood -and, unfortunately, adulthood - fear of mine, and I incorporated that into "Sorrow." I don't subscribe to the idea that writing about your fears 'purges' then(sic) in anyway; but they do become recurring themes, as they tend to cluster up the ol' medulla oblongata.”
I think that is well put, and when I spoke of the catharsis of childhood fears, it was not to imply that it would be useful in any way to, say, visit the spot where someone you knew was murdered and write about how you feel while you’re there. I don’t subscribe to that either. What Mr. Hamantaschen did for me wasn’t an encouraged confrontation with my past, but an unguided, lucky excavation into the ol’ medulla oblongata.
So, I got a little personal there (as forewarned above), a trifle cathartic, and it was good. I do hope others can relate, but I’d be disappointed if everyone could. This is how I’m bringing it back around to the seemingly tangential preface I gave to this review.
Alas, A Few Complaints (Now About the Book): Grading something with English paper criteria (to which I hope my reviews are not subject), one would have to take into account the distracting, but not destructive, amount of typos in this book. I support independent publications whole-heartedly, but this could have used another thorough proof-reading from somebody, perhaps anybody. A couple of these stories may have been more miss than hit for me. Wonder being one of them, rather pettily angsty as it was, and Sorrow Has Its Natural End, which had an ending worth the read, but which took its time in commanding my captivation.
But all in all, this guy makes the cut, to say the least. This is a terrific debut collection of stories from such a young author, with such seemingly boundless imagination, and I will follow his writing career, assuming and hoping he continues on with one, with great interest and anticipation. (less)