My technique is don’t believe anything. If you believe in something, you are automatically precluded from believing its opposite.
When I speak of poetry I am not thinking of it as a genre. Poetry is an awareness of the world, a particular way of relating to reality. So poetry becomes a philosophy to guide a man throughout his life…. [With poetry, one] is capable of going beyond the limitations of coherent logic, and conveying the deep complexity and truth of the impalpable connections and hidden phenomena of life.
It’s possible, in a poem or short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things—a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring—with immense, even startling power.
I want to live happily in a world I don’t understand.
Ambivalence is the way we recognise that someone or something has become significant to us. This means that we are ambivalent about ambivalence, about love and hate and sex and pleasure and each other and ourselves, and so on; wherever there is an object of desire there must be ambivalence.
We have two universes: the modern, open ‘risk society’ versus the safety of the old secluded universe of Meaning–but the price of meaning is a finite, closed space guarded by unnameable monsters.
Limit everything to the essential but do not remove the poetry.
Once I was struck by a car in the street. I was walking. And for maybe two seconds I had the impression that I was dying and it was really a very, very intense pleasure. The weather was wonderful. It was seven o’clock during the summer. The sun was descending. The sky was very wonderful and blue and so on. It was, it still is now, one of my best memories.
[Foucault’s] will to know was unflinching and unrelenting. Pushing his mind and body repeatedly to the breaking point, he set a standard for the philosophical life that would be dangerous, if not impossible, for most human beings to emulate. If nothing else, his lifework, I think, proves the wisdom of Nietzsche’s adage that the ‘love of truth is terrible and mighty.’
Gradually it has become clear to me what every great philosophy so far has been: namely, the personal confession of its author and a kind of involuntary and unnoticed memoir.
It is not far-fetched to suppose that there might be some possible technology which is such that (a) virtually all sufficiently advanced civilizations eventually discover it and (b) its discovery leads almost universally to existential disaster.
When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme’s propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell. And this isn’t just a way of talking— the meme for, say, ‘belief in life after death’ is actually realized physically, millions of times over, as a structure in the nervous systems of individual men the world over.
If, as they say, I am only an ignorant man trying to be a philosopher, then that may be what a philosopher is.
Of what use is a philosopher who doesn’t hurt anybody’s feelings?
History is a child building a sand-castle by the sea, and that child is the whole majesty of man’s power in the world.
As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.
Most writers — poets in especial — prefer having it understood that they compose by a species of fine frenzy — an ecstatic intuition — and would positively shudder at letting the public take a peep behind the scenes, at the elaborate and vacillating crudities of thought — at the true purposes seized only at the last moment — at the innumerable glimpses of idea that arrived not at the maturity of full view — at the fully matured fancies discarded in despair as unmanageable — at the cautious selections and rejections — at the painful erasures and interpolations — in a word, at the wheels and pinions — the tackle for scene-shifting — the step-ladders and demon-traps — the cock’s feathers, the red paint and the black patches, which, in ninety-nine cases out of the hundred, constitute the properties of the literary histrio.
[T]here have been times when we’ve been working on a program and when we are at a very mature stage and we do have solutions and you have that sinking feeling because you’re trying to articulate the values to yourself and to others just a little bit too loudly,” he said. “And you have that sinking feeling that the fact that you are having to articulate the value and persuade other people is probably indicative of the fact that actually it’s not good enough. On a number of occasions we’ve actually all been honest with ourselves and said ‘you know, this isn’t good enough, we need to stop’. And that’s very difficult.
I love making the stuff, that’s sort of the core of it. I love creating the stuff. It’s so satisfying to get from the beginning to the end, from a shaky nothing idea to something that’s well formed and the audience really likes. It’s like a drug: You keep trying to do it again and again and again. I’ve learned from experience that if you work harder at it, and apply more energy and time to it, and more consistency, you get a better result. It comes from the work. I remember seeing this thing, a documentary about a Los Angeles coach [John Wooden], the guy who coached UCLA to huge wins, so they couldn’t be beat for three seasons. He’s a very legendary coach, but a very unassuming guy with thick glasses. They just won and won and won. They talked about the difference between him and, like, Bobby Knight and Vince Lombardi. He didn’t make winning speeches. He never made speeches about being winners and being the best, like, ‘This is our house,’ that kind of horseshit. Never said it. He said that to focus on that, to win, win, win, is worthless. It just has no value. He’d address all his players in his little voice, 'If you just listen to me, and you work on your fundamentals and you apply yourself to working on these skills, you’re probably going to be happy with the results.’ I think about that all the time.
I listened during the last election cycle to the rhetoric about small town values and where the real Americans live. I thought to myself, ‘I’ve never heard such bullshit in my life.’ Rural America’s not coming back. That idea was lost with the Industrial Revolution. And yet with more than 80 percent of Americans living in metropolitan areas, there are still demagogues who want to run down the idea of multiculturalism, of urbanity, being the only future we have. We either live or die based on how we live in cities, and our society is either going to be great or not based on how we perform as creatures of the city.
A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: for life is short.
I’m fanatically reluctant to say that fiction ought to do one thing rather than another. I do know what I want from fiction. I want it to exhilarate me, to unbind my eyes, to murder and resurrect me, to harm me in some fruitful way.
I have this new initiative in my life, and I’m trying to push my colleagues to do it, too, where I want to work less and think more. In a given month, I do a lot of very mediocre stuff, but once in a while I come up with a really good idea. Maybe I’ll come up with two in a month. Those two inevitably happen when I’m either falling into a nap, or coming out of a nap, or waking up slowly on a Saturday morning. I’m trying to engineer more of those in my life. I’m trying to encourage more people to have naps because, hopefully, more people will have these brilliant ideas.
In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.
It’s not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It’s the manager’s job to make it safe for others to take them.
Perhaps more significantly, places of employment and spaces of work would seem to be supremely relevant to the bread and butter of political science: as sites of decision making, they are structured by relations of power and authority; as hierarchical organizations, they raise issues of consent and obedience; as spaces of exclusion, they pose question about membership and obligation. Although impersonal forces may compel us into work, once we enter the workplace we inevitably find ourselves enmeshed in the direct and personal relations of ruler and ruled. Indeed the work site is where we often experience the most immediate, unambiguous, and tangible relations of power that most of us will encounter on a daily basis. As a fully political rather than a simple economic phenomena, work would thus seem to be an especially rich object of inquiry.
You sell your expertise, you have a limited repertoire. You sell your ignorance, it’s an unlimited repertoire. [Eames] was selling his ignorance and his desire to learn about a subject, and the journey of him not knowing to knowing was his work.
It is almost banal to say so yet it needs to be stressed continually: all is creation, all is change, all is flux, all is metamorphosis.
There are more things to alarm us than to harm us, and we suffer more often in apprehension than reality.
I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s. I will not reason & compare: my business is to create.
I believe that truth has only one face: that of a violent contradiction.
Design is an iterative process. The necessary number of iterations is one more than the number you have currently done. This is true at any point in time.
For most human makers of things, the incompleteness and inconsistencies of our ideas become clear only during implementation.
The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.
Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit, all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided. It’s the sound of failure: so much modern art is the sound of things going out of control, of a medium pushing to its limits and breaking apart. The distorted guitar sound is the sound of something too loud for the medium supposed to carry it. The blues singer with the cracked voice is the sound of an emotional cry too powerful for the throat that releases it. The excitement of grainy film, of bleached-out black and white, is the excitement of witnessing events too momentous for the medium assigned to record them.
What is happening to me happens to all fruits that grow ripe. It is the honey in my veins that makes my blood thicker, and my soul quieter.
The instinct of nearly all societies is to lock up anybody who is truly free. First, society begins by trying to beat you up. If this fails, they try to poison you. If this fails too, they finish by loading honors on your head.
Xerxes halted his unwieldly army for days that he might contemplate to his satisfaction the beauty of a single sycamore.
It is a fault to wish to be understood before we have made ourselves clear to ourselves.
My emotional life: dialectic between craving for privacy and need to submerge myself in a passionate relationship to another.
Like the generations of leaves, the lives of mortal men. Now the wind scatters the old leaves across the earth, now the living timber bursts with the new buds and spring comes round again. And so with men: as one generation comes to life, another dies away.
All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous unpremeditated act without the benefit of experience.
The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and somthing else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.
In an instance where something looms on the horizon as imposingly as does computer technology, we should be organizing scouting parties composed of nimble representatives from different tribes–e.g. sociology, anthropology, psychology, history, economics, philosophy, engineering–and we shall have to adapt to continual change.
The flaws are part of it. That’s the poetry.
You get up early in the morning and you work all day. That’s the only secret.
Here I became aware of the world’s tenderness, the profound beneficence of all that surrounded me, the blissful bond between me and all of creation, and I realized that the joy I sought in you was not only secreted within you, but breathed around me everywhere, in the speeding street sounds, in the hem of a comically lifted skirt, in the metallic yet tender drone of the wind, in the autumn clouds bloated with rain. I realized that the world does not represent a struggle at all, or a predaceous sequence of chance events, but the shimmering bliss, beneficent trepidation, a gift bestowed upon us and unappreciated.
[T]he new motors of power – finance and the technical systems that run it, algorithms that try and read the past to manage the future, managerial systems based on risk and ‘measured outcomes’ – are not just obscure and boring. They are almost impossible to turn into gripping narratives. I mean, I find them a nightmare to make films about, because there is nothing visual, just people in modern offices doing keystrokes on computers.
Scorsese once told me, ‘The things you do poorly are as much a part of your style as the things you do well…’ Which was totally true, and oddly reassuring.
I’m no prophet. My job is making windows where there were once walls.
Believing in monogamy, in other words, is not unlike believing in God.
We do not ‘come into’ this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree.
Why do so many forces resist our sustained fulfillment? Why is conventional marriage so much damned work? How has the incessant, grinding campaign of socio-scientific insistence upon the naturalness of sexual monogamy combined with a couple thousand years of fire and brimstone failed to rid even the priests, preachers, politicians, and professors of their prohibited desires? To see ourselves as we are, we must begin by acknowledging that of all Earth’s creatures, none is as urgently, creatively, and constantly sexual as Homo sapiens.
And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself. I find my thoughts drifting to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well, when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.
Men who are brought into labs and have their masculinity experimentally ‘threatened’ react in patterned ways: they are more supportive of violence, less likely to identify sexual coercion, more likely to support statements about the inherent superiority of males, and more. This research provides important evidence of what men perceive as masculine in the first place (resources they rely on in a crisis) and a new kind evidence regarding the relationship of masculinity and violence. The research does not suggest that men are somehow inherently more violent than women. Rather, it suggests that men are likely to turn to violence when they perceive themselves to be otherwise unable to stake a claim to a masculine gender identity.
It is true for me, as for so many countless others, that librarians saved my life, my internal life.
To those human beings who are of any concern to me I wish suffering, desolation, sickness, ill-treatment, indignities – I wish that they should not remain unfamiliar with profound self-contempt, the torture of self-mistrust, the wretchedness of the vanquished: I have no pity for them, because I wish them the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not – that one endures.
What depends on me and is the core of my freedom is the relationship I have with what happens to me. Am I able to welcome unconditionally what is given to me? Amor fati. The Stoic school teaches me that it isn’t first about changing, but mainly to learn how to welcome and accept. My freedom stands there. In all things, in every moment “bear and forbear.
Clearly the couple form as currently practiced is an ambivalent one—indeed, a form in decline say those census takers—and is there any great mystery why? On the one hand, the yearning for intimacy, on the other, the desire for autonomy; on the one hand, the comfort and security of routine, on the other, its soul-deadening predictability; on the one side, the pleasure of being deeply known (and deeply knowing another person), on the other, the straitjacketed roles that such familiarity predicates—the shtick of couple interactions; the repetition of the arguments; the boredom and the rigidities which aren’t about to be transcended in this or any other lifetime, and which harden into those all-too-familiar couple routines: the Stop Trying To Change Me routine and the Stop Blaming Me For Your Unhappiness routine. (Novelist Vince Passaro: “It is difficult to imagine a modern middle-class marriage not syncopated by rage.”) Not to mention the regression, because, after all, you’ve chosen your parent (or their opposite), or worse, you’ve become your parent, tormenting (or withdrawing from) the mate as the same-or-opposite-sex parent once did, replaying scenes you were once subjected to yourself as a helpless child—or some other variety of family repetition that will keep those therapists guessing for years. Given everything, a success rate of 50 percent seems about right (assuming that success means longevity).
Every kind of ignorance in the world all results from not realizing that our perceptions are gambles. We believe what we see and then we believe our interpretation of it, we don’t even know we are making an interpretation most of the time. We think this is reality.
I call a theorist someone who constructs a general system, either deductive or analytical, and applies it to different fields in a uniform way. That isn’t my case. I’m an experimenter in the sense that I write in order to change myself and in order not to think the same thing as before.
Instead of shooting arrows at someone else’s target, which I’ve never been very good at, I make my own target around wherever my arrow happens to have landed. You shoot your arrow and then you paint your bulls eye around it, and therefore you have hit the target dead centre.
I am the least difficult of men. All I want is boundless love.
When confronted by a sour note… the [musician] gets nowhere by forcing. The mistake has to be treated as an interesting fact; then the problem will eventually be unlocked.
If one looks at the history of debt, then, what one discovers first of all is profound moral confusion. Its most obvious manifestation is that most everywhere, one finds that the majority of human beings hold simultaneously that (1) paying back money one has borrowed is a simple matter of morality, and (2) anyone in the habit of lending money is evil.
Literature is life’s long-lost twin, its evil double, its hidden velvet lining, its mournful ghost.
People say to me, ‘Oh, you’re so prolific.’ God, it doesn’t feel like it — nothing like it. But, you know, you put an ounce in a bucket each day, you get a quart.
What does it matter how cultivated and up-to-date we are, or how many thousands of books we’ve read? What matters is how we feel, how we see, what we do after reading; whether the street and the clouds and the existence of others mean anything to us; whether reading makes us, physically, more alive.
Let us create vessels and sails adjusted to the heavenly ether, and there will be plenty of people unafraid of the empty wastes. In the meantime, we shall prepare, for the brave sky-travellers, maps of the celestial bodies.
I can’t tell you the number of times I have started shooting a film knowing I didn’t have the money to finish it. I meet people everywhere who complain about money; it’s the ingrained nature of too many filmmakers. But it should be clear to everyone that money has always had certain explicit qualities: it’s stupid and cowardly, slow and unimaginative. The circumstances of funding never just appear; you have to create them yourself, then manipulate them for your own ends.
Her not having a body is just an exaggeration of the limit given to all relationships; the fight we always have: of how to be together when we are created separate.
The body and its parts are a river, the soul a dream and mist, life is warfare and a journey far from home, lasting reputation is oblivion.
Works of art can fail so easily, it is so difficult for them to succeed. One man will fall silent because of his lack of feeling; another, because his emotion chokes him. A third frees himself, not from the burden that weighs on him, but only from a feeling of unfreedom. A forth breaks his tools because they have too long been used to exploit him. The world is not obliged to be sentimental. Defeats should be acknowledged; but one should not conclude from them that there should be no more struggles.
When I speak of poetry I am not thinking of it as a genre. Poetry is an awareness of the world, a particular way of relating to reality. So poetry becomes a philosophy to guide a man throughout his life…. [With poetry, one] is capable of going beyond the limitations of coherent logic, and conveying the deep complexity and truth of the impalpable connections and hidden phenomena of life.
There is one particular day we spent together, having sex and swimming in the sun, that years later is still my shining image of eternity: I could live happily inside that day forever.
Words make me wet. I have dedicated my life to words; I believe in the value of words, the value of print, and that books and magazines matter, even in the face of all evidence to the contrary. I prefer reading pornography to watching pornography. I want words inside me.
As I tell our people constantly: we’ve all learned to answer email on Sundays, but none of us has learned to go to the movies on Monday afternoon.
The disruptor wins by being mediocre where it is a sacred duty to be exceptional, and embracing profanity where saints are blinded by their own taboos.
Whenever I’m in a relationship I feel as if I’m being unfaithful to myself.
An optimal sexual encounter is the paradigm of productive play; the participants potentiate each other’s pleasures, nobody keeps score, and everybody wins.
(in the oral phase, to love is to devour; in the anal phase, it is to master or destroy…)
Life is short, art long, opportunity fleeting, experience treacherous, judgment difficult.
Love dares the self to leave itself behind, to enter into poverty.
Early Internet pioneer David Hughes concurred: ‘When every person on this planet can reach, and communicate two-way, with every other person on this planet, the power of nation-states to control every human inside its geographic boundaries may start to diminish.’
I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
Once technology finds it’s way into mass communities it ceases to amaze, ceases to be seen as technology at all, it becomes a regular part of the tapestry of life. In truth, our most common reaction to technology is to focus on its failures, the frustrations, what it can’t do or what we’d prefer it to do. Showing people smiling at their device as it reminds them about the arrival of their taxi is disingenuous. By isolating, understanding and portraying a partly broken space we are on the way to creating a more credible future.
This is a cultural movement that embraces technology, transparency, and collaboration, and in the process replaces institutions with networks.
The Aztec word for the psilocybin mushroom was teonanacatl, which means literally ‘god’s flesh’.
We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world.
The anthropologist Clifford Geertz wrote that ‘man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun.’ That is, the world we live in is not really one made of rocks, trees, and physical objects; it is a world of insults, opportunities, status symbols, betrayals, saints, and sinners. All of these are human creations which, though real in their own way, are not real in the way that rocks and trees are real. These human creations are like fairies in J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan: They exist only if you believe in them. They are the Matrix (from the movie of that name); they are a consensual hallucination.
As a poet I hold the most archaic values on earth … the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth, the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe. I try to hold both history and the wilderness in mind, that my poems may approach the true measure of things and stand against the unbalance and ignorance of our times.
If you are in school today the technologies you will use as an adult tomorrow have not been invented yet. Therefore, the life skill you need most is not the mastery of specific technologies, but mastery of the technium as a whole - how technology in general works.
We must do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living. We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian-Darwinian theory, he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors. The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those that cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.
The State will of course try to slow or halt the spread of this technology, citing national security concerns, use of the technology by drug dealers and tax evaders, and fears of societal disintegration. Many of these concerns will be valid; crypto anarchy will allow national secrets to be trade freely and will allow illicit and stolen materials to be traded. An anonymous computerized market will even make possible abhorrent markets for assassinations and extortion. Various criminal and foreign elements will be active users of CryptoNet. But this will not halt the spread of crypto anarchy.
I was a loser, most concerned with making a living. It took me 30 years to understand… I had to reinvent a system, find a way out, and set some rules that could work for me and a few others. I guess in the end that’s what we all are trying to do.
RP: Presumably the company found your notorious working habits - the late starts, non-arrivals and all-nighters - pretty baffling.
PS: It baffled Pentagram when I was there, it baffles me actually, and of course in America, with the American work ethic, it’s just unheard of. I have a real problem with going to work for the sake of going to work. When I have to produce something, I do it. When I don’t have work to realise, I’m looking for what to do. In a way, I work all the time, but I’ve never disciplined myself or been in a situation that disciplined me into going to office at 9.30 in the morning and staying there until six o'clock and then going home.
Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.
We’ve been led into a culture that has been engineered to leave us tired, hungry for indulgence, willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have. We buy so much because it always seems like something is still missing.
Western economies, particularly that of the United States, have been built in a very calculated manner on gratification, addiction, and unnecessary spending. We spend to cheer ourselves up, to reward ourselves, to celebrate, to fix problems, to elevate our status, and to alleviate boredom.
Godless mysticism cannot escape the finality of tragedy, or make beauty eternal. It does not dissolve inner conflict into the false quietude of any oceanic calm. All it offers is mere being. There is no redemption from being human. But no redemption is needed.
In his ‘Future of an Illusion,’ Sigmund Freud argued that the faithful clung to God’s existence in the absence of evidence because the alternative – an empty void – was so much worse. Modern beliefs about economic prospects are not so different. Policy makers simply pray for a strong recovery. They opt for the illusion because the reality is too bleak to bear. But as the current fiscal crisis demonstrates, facing the pain will not be easy. And the waking up from our collective illusions has barely begun.
Your analysis suffers from the hereditary weakness of virtue. It is the work of an over-decent man … One has to be a bad fellow, transcend the rules, sacrifice oneself, betray, and behave like the artist who buys paints with his wife’s household money, or burns the furniture to warm the room for his model. Without such criminality there is no real achievement.
I love vulgarity. I am very attracted by bad taste–it is a lot more exciting than that supposed good taste which is nothing more than a standardized way of looking at things. If the art world rejects me, all I can say is, ‘Good luck to the world of art.’ If I look for a real point of view, I’m not going to start by looking at what art will accept so I can conform to that.
To begin with, you long for money. Then you develop a liking for work. Work has a much stronger flavor than money. Ultimately, money is nothing more than a symbol of independence.
Work on good prose has three steps: a musical stage when it is composed, an architectonic one when it is built, and a textile one when it is woven.
There is practically nothing that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper — and he who considers only the price is that man’s lawful prey.
The idea is to die young as late as possible.
There are no more doubts. It means that little guy that sits on my shoulder, the guy in the red suit with the pitchfork and the pointed ears and the tail, that little guy that’s on your shoulder that once in a while used to whisper in your ear, you know, ‘You could be really wrong about this.’ That guy isn’t around anymore. I brushed him off. Everything is very clear: what I need to do, why I’m on the planet, the best way to accomplish it, what is a distraction, what helps me focus. Everything is really there.
The question we have to begin to ask ourselves is not how do we employ all the people who are rendered obsolete by technology, but how can we organize a society around something other than employment? Might the spirit of enterprise we currently associate with “career” be shifted to something entirely more collaborative, purposeful, and even meaningful?
Instead, we are attempting to use the logic of a scarce marketplace to negotiate things that are actually in abundance. What we lack is not employment, but a way of fairly distributing the bounty we have generated through our technologies, and a way of creating meaning in a world that has already produced far too much stuff.
When a Framingham resident became obese, his or her friends were 57 percent more likely to become obese, too. Even more astonishing to Christakis and Fowler was the fact that the effect didn’t stop there. In fact, it appeared to skip links. A Framingham resident was roughly 20 percent more likely to become obese if the friend of a friend became obese — even if the connecting friend didn’t put on a single pound. Indeed, a person’s risk of obesity went up about 10 percent even if a friend of a friend of a friend gained weight.
A city is many things, but mostly it is a place in which the inhabitants are free to have desires and express them to one another, even if they cannot fulfill them.
The goal of the future is full unemployment, so we can play. That’s why we have to destroy the present politico-economic system.
In the Greek Narcissus myth, the young man is captivated by his reflection in a pool of water. Marshall McLuhan reminds us that Narcissus was not admiring himself but mistook the reflection in the water for another person. The point of the myth for McLuhan is the fact that ‘men at once become fascinated by an extension of themselves in any material other than themselves.’
It’s just an accident that we happen to be on earth, enjoying our silly little moments, distracting ourselves as often as possible so we don’t have to really face up to the fact that, you know, we’re just temporary people with a very short time in a universe that will eventually be completely gone. And everything that you value, whether it’s Shakespeare, Beethoven, da Vinci, or whatever, will be gone. The earth will be gone. The sun will be gone. There’ll be nothing. The best you can do to get through life is distraction. Love works as a distraction. And work works as a distraction. You can distract yourself a billion different ways. But the key is to distract yourself.
Now we look back on medieval peasants and wonder how they stood it. How grim it must have been to till the same fields your whole life with no hope of anything better, under the thumb of lords and priests you had to give all your surplus to and acknowledge as your masters. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day people look back on what we consider a normal job in the same way. How grim it would be to commute every day to a cubicle in some soulless office complex, and be told what to do by someone you had to acknowledge as a boss—someone who could call you into their office and say “take a seat,” and you’d sit! Imagine having to ask permission to release software to users. Imagine being sad on Sunday afternoons because the weekend was almost over, and tomorrow you’d have to get up and go to work. How did they stand it?
If you’re trapped in the dream of the Other, you’re fucked.
Late modernity is a period of social change prompted by the need to cope with the risks generated by modernity itself.
We’re writing things that we can’t read, (…) We’ve produced systems of such complexity that they’ve all been written by humans but they are totally illegible to any human on earth, and yet their effects are quite tangible.
There are some things which cannot be learned quickly and time, which is all we have, must be paid heavily for their acquiring. They are the very simplest things and because it takes a man’s life to know them the little new that each man gets from life is very costly and the only heritage he has to leave.
I was reminded of the well-known story of Alexander the Great and the Dervish who refused to prostrate himself as the King of Kings went by. Alexander sent for him and asked why he had failed to show respect. He answered:
“I TOO AM A KING OF KINGS”
“Then where is your army? There is no king without an army.”
“I HAVE NO ENEMIES AND I NEED NO ARMY.”
“Then where is your treasury? Every king has a treasury.”
“I HAVE NO WANTS, SO I NEED NO TREASURY.”
This story shoes in an exaggerated opposition the two aspects of freedom: the freedom of having everything, and the freedom of wanting nothing.
Man is not what he thinks he is, he is what he hides.
An unhurried sense of time is in itself a form of wealth.
What was observed by us in the third place is the nature or matter of the Milky Way itself, which, with the aid of the spyglass, may be observed so well that all the disputes that for so many generations have vexed philosophers are destroyed by visible certainty, and we are liberated from wordy arguments.
There are some works so luminous that they fill us with shame for the meager life to which we are resigned, that they implore us to lead another, wiser, fuller life; works so powerful that they give us strength, and force us to new undertakings. A book can play this role.
It is understandable that design wants a seat at the table in corporate decision-making. But designers need to find ways to provide value to clients without devaluing themselves. If we believe in the value of design for business, we need to be honest about the complexity, creativity, and uncertainty involved in great design. This means not cheapening design by reducing it to a mechanical process. It means casting a critical eye on ‘the research.’ It means accepting that the most important information is not always quantifiable.
You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird… So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing — that’s what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.
think about what the tools of the future might look like and then imagine what they can build using these non-existent technologies
The designer shouldn’t think of a simple dichotomy between errors and correct behavior; rather, the entire interaction should be treated as a cooperative endeavor between person and machine, one in which misconceptions can arise on either side.
…a personable diplomat who is equally at home in a high-level conference with the president and in a technical discussion with the operator of an eight-thousand-ton press.
The advancement of the arts from year to year taxes our credulity and seems to presage the arrival of that period when human improvement must end.
A talent for speaking differently, rather than for arguing well, is the chief instrument of cultural change.
When belief and opinion are suspended, the mind has nowhere to rest. We are free to begin a radically other kind of questioning.
This is a philosophical question: when people program — i.e. decide on which set of possible options they should make available — they express a philosophy about what operations are important in the world. If the philosophy they express is on anything like the level of breathtaking stupidity that the games they play and the internet conversations they have are, then we are completely sunk. We are victims of their limitations. It’s as though we’re using a language that has lots of words like ‘cool’ and ‘surf’ but not one for ‘organism’ or ‘evolve’ or ‘synergy’.
Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.
There is strong archaeological evidence to show that with the birth of human consciousness there was born, like a twin, the impulse to transcend it.
Hard it is on earth…
Wind-time, wolf-time, ere the world falls
Nor ever shall men each other spare.
I have never been able to understand what he meant by his life…. Why was he so disappointed with everybody else? Why was he so interested in the river and the woods…? Something peculiar here I judge.
Nevertheless, throughout this entire pilgrimage, as reflected in his religious and philosophical thinking, man’s technological triumphs have frequently been at odds with his hunger for psychological composure and peace. Thus the epic journey of modern science is a story at once of tremendous achievement, loneliness, and terror. Odysseus’ passage through the haunted waters of the eastern Mediterranean symbolizes, at the start of the Western intellectual tradition, the sufferings that the universe and his own nature impose upon homeward-yearning man.
We are rag dolls made out of many ages and skins, changelings who have slept in wood nests or hissed in the uncouth guise of waddling amphibians. We have played such roles for indefinitely longer ages than we have been men. Our identity is a dream. We are process, not reality…
The specialized perish with the environment that created them.
Culture replaces authentic feeling with words. As an example of this, imagine an infant lying in its cradle, and the window is open, and into the room comes something, marvelous, mysterious, glittering, shedding light of many colors, movement, sound, a transformative hierophany of integrated perception and the child is enthralled and then the mother comes into the room and she says to the child, “that’s a bird, baby, that’s a bird,” instantly the complex wave of the angel peacock irridescent transformative mystery is collapsed, into the word. All mystery is gone, the child learns this is a bird, this is a bird, and by the time we’re five or six years old all the mystery of reality has been carefully tiled over with words. This is a bird, this is a house, this is the sky, and we seal ourselves in within a linguistic shell of disempowered perception. What the psychedelics do is they burst apart this cultural envelope of confinement and return us to the legacy and birthright of the organism.
If a man could understand all the horror of the lives of ordinary people who are turning round in a circle of insignificant aims, if he could understand what they are losing, he would understand that there can only be one thing that is serious for him – to escape from the general law, to be free. What can be serious for a man in prison who is condemned to death? Only one thing: How to save himself, how to escape: nothing else is serious.
[Foucault’s] thesis: there is no essence, telos, or purpose in the self which could be realized though a well-ordered society and hence no self-alienation in the existing order; but every order, by creating a self appropriate to it out of the raw material available, simultaneously organizes and subjugates the self.
“But Damasio sought out patients who had suffered brain injuries that prevented them from perceiving their own feelings, and put this idea to the test. The lives of these patients quickly fell apart, he found, because they could not make effective decisions. Some made terrible investments and ended up bankrupt; most just spent hours deliberating over irrelevant details, such as where to eat lunch. These results suggest that proper thinking requires feeling. Pure reason is a disease.”
–Boston Globe: Hearts & Minds
“Thinking begins only when we come to know that reason, glorified for centuries, is the most stiff-necked adversary of thought.”
“But now imagine that we are debating the merits of a proposed change in what we tell our kids about right and wrong. The neurobiologists intervene, explaining that the novel moral code will not compute. We have, they tell us, run up against hard-wired limits: our neural layout permits us to formulate and commend the proposed change, but makes it impossible for us to adopt it. Surely our reaction to such an intervention would be, ‘You might be right, but let’s try adopting it and see what happens; maybe our brains are a bit more flexible than you think.’ It is hard to imagine our taking the biologists’ word as final on such matters, for that would amount to giving them a veto over utopian moral initiatives.”
–Richard Rorty, Born to Be Good
“We have to learn to think differently–in order at last, perhaps very late on, to attain even more: to feel differently.”
I don’t feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am. The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in the beginning. If you knew when you began a book what you would say at the end, do you think you would have the courage to write it? What is true for writing and for a love relationship is true also for life. The game is worthwhile insofar as we don’t know what will be the end.
…there could be no happiness, no cheerfulness, no hope, no pride, no present, without forgetfulness.
A poet might say that God made forgetfulness the guard he placed at the threshold of human dignity.
Technology was not given so humankind could ride roughshod over nature and wreak irreparable changes. Rather, technology is to draw out the hidden essence of all nature so that it can sparkle with new purpose. Technology is not to enslave and command life but to draw forth the infinite possibilities locked within all life and to open new realms of significance. Thus it is that we need to heed the message of life and nature and to create new interfaces infused with nature’s wisdom.
Words depicting nature’s changing hues in grass and trees sound dainty and weak, but that very frailty is what allows the perfect infiltration into the innermost recesses of human sensibility. A thin needle threaded with the supremely delicate thread of a color’s name flawlessly stitches one subtle portion of our perceptions to another.
We are not the same folks who marched out of Africa. Our genes have co-evolved with our inventions. In the past 10,000 years alone, in fact, our genes have evolved 100 times faster than the average rate for the previous six million years. This should not be a surprise. In the same period we domesticated the dog (all those breeds) from wolves, and cows and corn and more from their unrecognizable ancestors. We, too, have been domesticated. We have domesticated ourselves. Our teeth continue to shrink, our muscles thin out, our hair disappears, and our molecular digestion adjusts to new foods. Technology has domesticated us. As fast as we remake our tools, we remake ourselves. We are co-evolving with our technology, so that we have become deeply co-dependent on it. Sapiens can no longer survive biologically without some kind of tools. Nor can our humanity continue without the technium. In a world without technology, we would not be living, and we would not be human.
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from nature.
Every great poet creates his poetry out of one single poetic statement only … The poet’s sole statement always remains in the realm of the unspoken. None of his individual poems, nor their totality, says it all.
In America, wilderness symbolizes the founding myth of the nation, part and parcel of the epic struggle of the (white) inhabitants of the New World to make the land their own, to prove that they really deserved it. Wilderness then, is a cultural, i.e. human creation, a mirror in which we think to see nature but onto which we in fact project our own unfulfilled longings.
Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.
The man who is intoxicated with life does not pass judgment, does not seek to come to a conclusion, does not impose his message on the world.
The ability to make many small mistakes in a hurry is a vital accomplishment for any society that intends to be sustainable. It’s not necessary that every experience be sensible, logical or even sane–but it’s vitally important to register, catalog and data-mine the errors.
The Web is a layer of veneer over 20th century industrialism. It’s still a thin crispy layer, like landlord paint. It’s a varnish on barbarism.
If it is true that the self is not a thing, but a process, then it is also true that that the tragedy of the ego dissolves, because strictly speaking, nobody is ever born, and nobody ever dies.
I am seventy-eight years old, I don’t know anything anymore about America today. I see it on TV, but I am not living it anymore.
Before technology, tyrants, barbarians, and warriors dehumanized their victims with fists and stones. It doesn’t require sophisticated tools to dehumanize your fellow human—a glance or a kick does it as well. It is not technology that is dehumanizing. It is the technologists, or rather the processes that technologists use, that create dehumanizing products.
The true history of the mind is not preserved in learned volumes but in the living mental organism of everyone.
Thus shall ye think of all this fleeting world:
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream;
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.
Thoughts arise not to be collected and cherished but to be dropped as though they were void. Thoughts arise not to be collected and cherished but to be dropped as though they were rotten wood. Thoughts arise not to be collected and cherished but to be dropped as though they were pieces of stone. Thoughts arise not to be collected and cherished but to be dropped as though they were the cold ashes of a fire long dead.
I believe that by eliminating purpose, what I call awareness increases. Therefore my purpose is to eliminate purpose.
The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative on the day after the revolution.
Not one sound fears the silence that ex-tinguishes it. And no silence exists that is not pregnant with sound.
I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time–when the Unites States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.
[Wabi-sabi] nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.
So I kept writing through the summer, and in August the baby was born and I’d cradle him in my left arm while writing melodies at the piano with my right, and I said, let Osiris the keeper of the gates be my witness, other songwriters may go soft when they get to be parents but I am going to keep going all the way down into the inner darkness, it will set a good example for the baby, and besides, what am I going to do, suddenly start writing songs about cute things instead of songs about how to wrest cries of triumph from the screaming places? Please. May the baby grow up to spit in my face if I should pose that hard.
What does it matter how many lovers you have if none of them gives you the universe?
…unspeakably more depends on what things are called than on what they are.
To say she was seduced by the snake or longing for absolute knowledge or in search of immortality are posterior analytics. Isn’t the simple fact of the matter that she was bored? Adam had just performed the primordial act of naming, had taken the first step towards imposing on the wide-open pointless meaningless directionless dementia of the real a set of clichés that no one would ever dislodge, or want to dislodge–they are our human history, our edifice of thought, our answer to chaos. Eve’s instinct was to bite this answer in half.
Great art is when you come across an object and you have a fundamental, personal, one-on-one relationship with it, and you understand something you didn’t already understand about what it means to be alive. That’s why people with loads of money want to possess it. That’s why it’s worth so much fucking money. But it isn’t. They want to possess it. But they can’t. Throw money at art, you get nothing back. You die.
Art is a liaison between some sort of deranged mentality and others who are not going through it.
Where the moralist would be filled with indignation and the tragic poet with pity and terror, mythology breaks the whole of life into a vast, horrendous Divine Comedy. Its Olympian laugh is not escapist in the least, but hard, with the hardness of life itself–which, we may take it, is the hardness of God, the Creator. Mythology, in this respect, makes the tragic attitude seem somewhat hysterical, and the merely moral judgment shortsighted. Yet the hardness is balanced by an assurance that all that we see is but the reflex of a power that endures, untouched by the pain. Thus the tales are both pitiless and terrorless–suffused with the joy of a transcendent anonymity regarding itself in all of the self-centered, battling egos that are born and die in time.
The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.
Before I studied the art, a punch to me was just like a punch, a kick just like a kick. After I learned the art, a punch was no longer a punch, a kick no longer a kick. Now that I’ve understood the art, a punch is just like a punch, a kick just like a kick.
True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care—with no one there to see or cheer. This is the world.
But he [Bishop Wilkins] also created a beautiful word, a word that’s a poem in itself, full of hopelessness, sadness, and despair: the word neverness. A beautiful word, no? He invented it, and I don’t know why the poets left it lying about and never used it.
The isms go; the ist dies; art remains.
Irony in place of balls, balls in place of brains
Brains in place of soul, where is the soul?
Where is the love, where am I?
We shall go on for quite a long time talking of books and writing books, pretending all the while not to notice that the church is empty and the parishioners have gone elsewhere to attend other gods
Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.
To be engrossed by something outside ourselves is a powerful antidote for the rational mind, the mind that so frequently has its head up its own ass—seeing things in such a narrow and darkly narcissistic way that it presents a colo-rectal theology, offering hope to no one.
Be brutal with the past, especially your own, and have no respect for the philosophies that are foisted on you from outside.
Don’t ask, observe. Understanding your users is the foundation of the design process. Take the time to observe people in the context where your design will live. What job are they trying to get done? How are they doing it right now? What frustrates them?
Prototype, test, iterate. Use rapid prototyping to quickly test assumptions. The wisdom of the designer must be verified against real-world use.
Everything is user experience. UX must be a deeply-held perspective that fundamentally shapes the work of the product team. Every point at which a customer interacts with a product must be designed with care.
The eye was born, knowledge was born, wisdom was born, science was born, light was born.
The role of design seems to be to make the world a better place. It’s as if designers have all sworn an oath never to think a bad thought. We seem to have this blind optimism about the future and about technology. Designers somehow automatically think that design is neutral and implicitly good.
At the seashore, between the land of atoms and the sea of bits, we must reconcile our dual citizenships in the physical and digital worlds.
The subject who has traversed the fantasy, for Lacan, is the subject who has not ceded on its desire. This desire is no longer fixed by the coordinates of the fundamental fantasy. S/he is able to accept that the fully satisfying sexual object, that which would fulfil the sovereign desire of the mother, does not exist. S/he is thus equally open to accepting that the big Other, and/or any concrete Other supposed by the subject to be its authoritive representative(s), does not have what s/he has ‘lost.’ Lacan puts this by saying that what the subject can now avow is that the Other does not Exist: that it, too, lacks, and what it does and wants depends upon the interventions of the subject. The subject is, finally, able to thereby accept that what it took to be its place in the order of the Other is not a finally fixed thing. It can now avow without reserve that it is a lacking subject, or, as Lacan will also say, a subject of desire, but that the metonymic sliding of this desire has no final term. Rather than being ceaselessly caught in the lure of the object-cause of desire, this desire is now free to circle around on itself, as it were, and desire only itself, in what is a point of strange final proximity between Lacan and the Nietzcheanism he scarcely ever mentioned in his works.
A shambling wreck of an album, Big Star’s Third/Sister Lovers ranks among the most harrowing experiences in pop music; impassioned, erratic, and stark, it’s the slow, sinking sound of a band falling apart. Recorded with their label, Stax, poised on the verge of bankruptcy, the album finds Alex Chilton at the end of his rope, sabotaging his own music long before it can ever reach the wrecking crew of poor distribution, indifferent marketing, and disinterested pop radio. His songs are haphazardly brilliant, a head-on collision between inspiration and frustration, and the album is a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, each song smacking of utter defeat and desperation. The result is either one of the most vividly emotional experiences in pop music or a completely wasted opportunity. While the truth probably lies somewhere in between, there’s no denying Third’s magnetic pull — it’s like an undertow.
…four hundred years after the invention of perspective drawing, three hundred years after projective geometry, fifty years after the development of CAD computer screens, we are still utterly unable to draw together, to simulate, to materialize, to approximate, to fully model to scale, what a thing in all of its complexity, is. We know how to draw, to simulate, to materialize, to zoom in and out on objects; we know how to make them move in 3-D space, to have them sail through the computerized virtual res extensa, to mark them with a great number of data points, etc. Yet we are perfectly aware that the space in which those objects seem to move so effortlessly is the most utopian (or rather atopic) of spaces.
If the whole fabric of our earthly existence has to be redesigned in excruciating details; if for each detail the question of good and bad has to be raised; if every aspect has become a disputed matter of concern and can no longer be stabilized as an indisputable matter of fact; then we are obviously entering into a completely new political territory. As every one of you knows too well, it is the perverse character of all ecological questions that they branch out in all sort of counterintuitive ways. It is probably of ecology that St Paul was talking when he said: “I don’t do the good I wish to do and I do the bad that I hate”.
We know that whenever we prepare to change our fixtures from incandescent to low energy light bulbs, to pay our carbon expenses, to introduce wind farms, to reintroduce the wolf to the Alps, or to develop corn based fuel, immediately, some controversy will be ignited that turns our best intentions into hell. And we are no longer able to stop the controversies by stating the undisputable facts of the matter because facts are constantly disputed.
To me, art almost always speaks more forcefully when it appears in an imperfect, accidental, and fragmentary way, somehow just signaling its presence, allowing one to feel it through the ineptitude of the interpretation. I prefer the Chopin that reaches me in the street from an open window to the Chopin served in great style from the concert stage.
The core skills of design are synthesis, understanding people, and iterative prototyping.
Who has not asked himself at some time or other: am I a monster or is this what it means to be a person?
The urge for good design is the same as the urge to go on living. The assumption is that somewhere, hidden, is a better way of doing things.
The spirit now wills his own will, and he who had been lost to the world now conquers the world.
I love my Kindle. It’s crude and ghosty and imperfect and the keys are like sandpaper and the whole thing has the responsiveness of a fax machine or someone with a Sunday morning hangover. It’s endearing in that way, reminds me of the technology I grew up with.
When learning, you must know how to make the clear distinction between what is ideology and what is genuine knowledge.
Be fully aware of the difference there is between making a compromise and compromising yourself.
Your about to be published autobiography stops in 1982. What have the readers missed?
Nothing! People who reach their goals are very uninteresting. What could I have written about the last 20 years? I met a lot of awfully boring Hollywood bimbos. I earned a lot of money. I fly only first class.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think of yourself as having a relationship with God?
CARSON: No. But that’s not bad. I think in the last few years since I’ve been working on this opera and reading a lot of mystics, especially Simone Weil, I’ve come to understand that the best one can hope for as a human is to have a relationship with that emptiness where God would be if God were available, but God isn’t. So, sad fact, but get used to it, because nothing else is going to happen.
what country girl seduces your wits
wearing a country dress
not knowing how to pull the cloth to her ankles?
…I am my remembering self, and the experiencing self, who does my living, is like a stranger to me.
In another paper, titled ‘Boys Will Be Boys,’ they showed that men acted on their useless ideas significantly more often than women…
The power of random anchors has been demonstrated in some unsettling ways. German judges with an average of more than fifteen years of experience on the bench first read a description of a woman who had been caught shoplifting, then rolled a pair of dice that were loaded so every roll resulted in either a 3 or a 9. As soon as the dice came to a stop, the judges were asked whether they would sentence the woman to a term in prison greater or lesser, in months, than the number showing on the dice. Finally, the judges were instructed to specify the exact prison sentence they would give to the shoplifter. On average, those who rolled a 9 said they would sentence her to 8 months; those who rolled a 3 said they would sentence her to 5 months; the anchoring effect was 50%.
Quality deals with the judicious weighing of relationships, with balance, contrast, harmony, juxtaposition, between formal and functional elements—their transformation and enrichment. Further, it is concerned with ideas not techniques, with the enduring not ephemeral, with precision not fussiness, with simplicity not vacuity, with subtlety not blatancy, with sensitivity not sentimentality.
So we should make light of all things and endure them with tolerance: it is more civilized to make fun of life than to bewail it.
The four most over-rated things in life are champagne, lobster, anal sex and picnics.
So you must match time’s swiftness with your speed in using it, and you must drink quickly as though from a rapid stream that will not always flow.
In the The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen writes about how the values, opinions, and attitudes of the founder spread through an organization, eventually forming the core of the company’s culture:
In the formative stages of a company’s processes and values, the actions and attitudes of the company’s founder have a profound impact. The founder often has strong opinions about the way employees ought to work together to reach decisions and get things done. Founders similarly impose their views of what the organization’s priorities need to be. If the founder’s methods are flawed, of course, the company will likely fail. But if those methods are useful, employees will collectively experience for themselves the validity of the founder’s problem-solving methodologies and criteria for decision-making. As they successfully use those methods of working together to address recurrent tasks, processes become defined.
Once members of the organization begin to adopt ways of working and criteria for making decisions by assumption, rather than by conscious decision, then those processes and values come to constitute the organizations culture.
Caterina Fake takes this idea further in her excellent blog entry, Killing the Abraham:
I call the founder, founders or founding team of a company “The Abraham”. The Abraham influences all that follows, sets the vision and direction for the company, and the Abraham’s mores, habits, preferences, flaws and prejudices are often built, consciously or unconsciously, into the fabric of the company. This influences the products and services, first and foremost. But the Abraham also influences everything from company HR policies, the kinds of employees that work there, its investors, its customer service and even its logo and office decor. You can often tell what the founder cared about, and didn’t care about.
There’s a lot of glory in being the Abraham – you’re the father or three religions after all. People follow your lead. But most founders aren’t thinking about this when they start out, they just like making things, have a vision of something new. In dreams begin responsibilities, as Delmore Schwartz wrote. Abrahams are often called upon to do difficult work, thankless tasks, and sometimes, terrible things, as when god asked Abraham to kill his own, firstborn son, Isaac. Steve Jobs was rightly praised for his ability to “Kill his babies” – that is, disrupt himself. We may be taking the metaphor too far here, but hey. Let’s.
To what degree is the success of a business tied to the ability of a founder to embed his or her values and beliefs in the “children” they beget?
We are prone to think that the world is more regular and predictable than it really is, because our memory automatically and continuously maintains a story about what is going on, and because the rules of memory tend to make that story as coherent as possible and to suppress alternatives.
I was in the Berkshires this weekend for my friend’s wedding. The morning of the ceremony, I had a few hours to waste in my hotel room and ended up on YouTube, watching video after video of Steve Jobs. Each of these clips was a small peek into his thinking along each stage of his life and career.
Afterwards, I started to think deeper about the interesting problems that are up for grabs in my field right now. I tried to structure my thinking in a way that would allow me to get a new perspective. The most important question seemed to be this: what do I view as foundational that’s actually the result of the thinking of the past? (“Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.”)
From this question flowed a handful of very interesting and subversive thoughts. I started to realize how much of what I do and believe is actually open to questioning, debate, and innovation. I think it’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking the future will arrive as the result of linear improvements on the current state of things. In fact, the future will undermine the foundation we stand on today.
The need to go astray, to be destroyed, is an extremely private, distant, passionate, turbulent truth.
In Holland, we have two words for design. One is vormgeving; in German formgeben. And the other word is ontwerpen; in German entwurf. In the Anglo-Saxon language there’s only one word for design, which is design. That is something you should work out. Vormgeving is more to make things look nice. So for instance, packaging for a perfume or for chocolate in order to make things fashionable, obsolete and therefore bad for society because we don’t really need it. While ontwerpe means, and the Anglo-saxon word, but its stronger, means engineering. That means you as a person try to invent a new thing—which is intelligent, which is clever, and which will have a long-life. And that’s called stylistic durability. It means you can use it for a long time.
The term ‘design’ is worn out and has lost its attraction. We have to redefine it and associate new meanings with it.
The memory of 9/11 has been irrevocably poisoned; it has become an occasion for shame. And in its heart, the nation knows it.
In addition, says Mr Andreessen, there has recently been ‘a massive brain drain from Boston to the Valley, which has all but gutted Boston as a place for high-tech entrepreneurship’.
Big type, even huge type, can be beautiful and useful. But poise is usually far more important than size — and poise consists primarily of emptiness.
If we could just pile features one on top of the other, we wouldn’t have to do design. Design is what you do when piling elements onto each other doesn’t work. It’s the process of identifying and resolving conflicts.
When you’re young, you look at television and think, There’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That’s a far more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastards!
I listened during the last election cycle to the rhetoric about small town values and where the real Americans live. I thought to myself, “I’ve never heard such bullshit in my life.” Rural America’s not coming back. That idea was lost with the Industrial Revolution. And yet with more than 80 percent of Americans living in metropolitan areas, there are still demagogues who want to run down the idea of multiculturalism, of urbanity, being the only future we have. We either live or die based on how we live in cities, and our society is either going to be great or not based on how we perform as creatures of the city.
Functionally speaking, the use of analog metaphors are at best limiting, and at worst, misleading. I expect that my digital and networked content has new and superior capabilities compared to that of my physical and unconnected content. The new interfaces that are needed to support these emerging interactions continue to break down the usefulness of any surrounding analog metaphors, if they aren’t outright hindered by them. For so much digital content, there is no good metaphor to render anymore – the content is just information, text and images – so new approaches to visual UI design are needed. In an age where our interactions are information-based rather than tool oriented, a visual communication language that is hinged on arcane artifacts is no longer relevant. The value of interfaces today is the information it wants to present, not the physical vessel that the information once resided.
Have the women in your life been a source of your strength or weakness?
LC: Good question. It’s not a level playing ground for either of us, for either the man or the woman. This is the most challenging activity that humans get into, which is love. You know, where we have the sense that we can’t live without love. That life has very little meaning without love. So we’re invited into this arena which is a very dangerous arena, where the possibilities of humiliation and failure are ample. So there’s no fixed lesson that one can learn, because the heart is always opening and closing, it’s always softening and hardening. We’re always experiencing joy or sadness. But there are lots of people who’ve closed down. And there are times in one’s life when one has to close down just to regroup.
…to do something and do it again, from morning till evening, and then to dream of it at night, and to think of nothing except doing this well, as well as I alone can do it. When one lives like that, one thing after another that simply does not belong to such a life drops off. Without hatred or aversion one sees this take its leave today and that tomorrow, like yellow leaves that any slight stirring of the air takes off a tree.
Longing is the agony of the nearness of the distant.
Art is longing. You never arrive, but you keep going in the hope that you will.
“We want to decipher skies and paintings, go behind these starry backgrounds or these painted canvases and, like kids trying to find a gap in a fence, try to look through the cracks in the world.”
The experience of beauty makes me aware of absence. What I experience, what touches me, entails both joy and pain. Painful is the experience of absence and pure bliss the experience of a beautiful form that has been ignited by the feeling of absence. In the words of writer Martin Walser: ‘The more we miss something, the more beautiful may become that which we have to mobilize in order to endure absence.’
‘I have two female ideals. If I can’t find my noble, sunny ideal, a kind and faithful woman to share my life, then I won’t put up with anything halfway, anything lukewarm! I would rather submit to a woman with no virtue, no fidelity, no compassion. Such a woman in her selfish grandeur is also an ideal. If I can’t enjoy the full and total happiness of love, then I want to drain its torments, its tortures to the dregs; then I want the woman I love to mistreat me, betray me, and the more cruelly the better. That too is a pleasure.’
Seneca asked us to think of ourselves like dogs who have been tied to a charriot driven by an unpredictable driver. Our leash is long enough to give us a degree of leeway, but is not long enough to allow us to wander wherever we please. A dog will naturally hope to roam about as it wants. But as Seneca’s metaphor implies, if it can’t, then it’s better for the animal to follow obediently behind the cart rather than dragged and strangled by it.
FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – is a great motivator of human behavior, and I think a crucial key to understanding social software, and why it works the way it does. Many people have studied the game mechanics that keep people collecting things (points, trophies, check-ins, mayorships, kudos). Others have studied how the neurochemistry that keeps us checking Facebook every five minutes is similar to the neurochemistry fueling addiction. Social media has made us even more aware of the things we are missing out on. You’re home alone, but watching your friends status updates tell of a great party happening somewhere. You are aware of more parties than ever before. And, like gym memberships, adding Bergman movies to your Netflix queue and piling up unread copies of the New Yorker, watching these feeds gives you a sense that you’re participating, not missing out, even when you are.
News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress. Everything else is advertising.
The soul has no secrets that conduct does not reveal.
The only laws of matter are those which our minds must fabricate, and the only laws of mind are fabricated for it by matter.
In 1857 naturalist Gerard Kreff on an expedition in the Australian outback caught two rare bandicoots. Desperately hungry, he ate them. They were, he later discovered, the last pair.
‘Nature has put man at woman’s mercy through his passion, and woman is misguided if she fails to make him her subject, her slave, no, her toy and ultimately fails to laugh and betray him.’
The attempts to keep art special become increasingly bizarre. This was a theme of a talk I gave at the Museum of Modern Art in New York as part of the HIGH ART/LOW ART exhibition.
Looking around the show during the day, I noticed that Duchamp’s Fountain – a men’s urinal basin which he singed and exhibited in 1917 as the first ‘readymade’ – was part of the show. I had previously seen the same piece in London and at the Biennale of Sao Paolo.
I asked someone what they thought the likely insurance premium would be for transporting this thing to New York and looking after it. A figure of $30,000 was mentioned. I don’t know if this is reliable, but it is certainly credible. What interested me was why, given the attitude which which Duchamp claimed he’d made the work – in his words, 'complete aesthetic indifference’ – it was necessary to cart precisely this urinal and no other round the globe. It struck me as a complete confusion of understanding: Duchamp had explicitly been saying, 'I can call any old urinal – or anything else for that matter – a piece of art’, and yet curators acted as though this particular urinal was A Work Of Art. If that wasn’t the case, then why not exhibit any urinal – obtained at much lower cost from the plumber’s on the corner?
Well, these important considerations aside, I’ve always wanted to urinate on that piece of art, to leave my small mark on art history. I thought this might be my last chance – for each time it was shown it was more heavily defended. At MoMA it was being shown behind glass, in a large display case. There was, however, a narrow slit between the two front sheets of glass. It was about three-sixteenths of an inch wide.
I went to the plumber’s on the corner and obtained a couple of feet of clear plastic tubing of that thickness, along with a similar length of galvanized wire. Back in my hotel room, I inserted the wire down the tubing to stiffen it. Then I urinated into the sink and, using the tube as a pipette, managed to fill it with urine. I then inserted the whole apparatus down my trouser-leg and returned to the museum, keeping my thumb over the top end so as to ensure that the urine stayed in the tube.
At the museum, I positioned myself before the display case, concentrating intensely on its contents. There was a guard standing behind me and about 12 feet away. I opened my fly and slipped out the tube, feeding it carefully through the slot in the glass. It was a perfect fit, and slid in quite easily until its end was poised above the famous john. I released my thumb, and a small but distinct trickle of my urine splashed on to the work of art.
That evening I used this incident, illustrated with several diagrams showing from all angles exactly how it had been achieved, as the basis of my talk. Since decommodification was one of the buzzwords of the day, I described my action as re-commode-ification.
Journalist: ‘Can you describe the genesis and working-out of a poem based on an image that most people would simply pass by?’
Philip Larkin: '… I can’t understand these chaps who go round American universities explaining how they write poems: it’s like going round explaining how you sleep with your wife.’
It is impossible that happiness and yearning for what is not present should ever be united.
And one should bear in mind that there is nothing more difficult to execute, nor more dubious of success, nor more dangerous to administer than to introduce a new order to things; for he who introduces it has all those who profit from the old order as his enemies; and he has only lukewarm allies in all those who might profit from the new.
On Saturday I gave a quick, 10 minute overview of grid systems in web design at the D8 conference. The conference was a blast, and it seems like our goal of matching students with startups was a success. I personally recommended that one startup give a recent graduate a call on Monday about a full-time position.
The feedback I received on twitter about my talk was that people wanted to hear more about certain topics such as vertical rhythm and alternatives to the 960 grid. If only there was more time! I’ll be teaching the next session of thoughtbot’s Design for Developers workshop later this month where we’ll teach more about grid systems along with other foundational ideas in visual design.
Below are some resources that should help you learn more about grid systems.
The rules you grow up with are what make you, as a person and as a designer. The trick is to remember, every once in a while, to fuck them up a little.
The experiments also revealed a rather surprising effect: both men and women found it easier to have an orgasm when they kept their socks on.
Our electrically-configured world has forced us to move from the habit of data classification to the mode of pattern recognition. We can no longer build serially, block-by-block, step-by-step, because instant communication insures that all factors of the environment and of experience exist in a state of active interplay.
Remember, you’re not selling out, you’re blowing up. Think in terms of hip-hop, not indie rock.
Mamihlapinatapai is a word from the Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuego, listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as the ‘most succinct word’, and is considered one of the hardest words to translate. It describes 'a look shared by two people with each wishing that the other will initiate something that they both desire but which neither one wants to start.’
If we’re going to try to explain the mystery of where ideas come from, we’ll have to start by shaking ourselves free of this common misconception: an idea is not a single thing. It is more like a swarm.
The former CEO of Coca-Cola, Roberto Goizueta, recounted that, when his company entered the Chinese market, it was discovered that the phonetic pronunciation of the company name translated as ‘Bite the wax tadpole’. The problem was identified before major production began and the ideograms on packaging were sensibly adapted to mean 'Tasty and evoking happiness’.
Most companies (including web startups), he said, are looking to ‘wow’ with their products, when in reality what they should be looking for is an 'of course’ reaction from their users.
Indeed, in my eyes indifference towards people and the lives they lead is the only sin a designer can commit. Design that does justice to the intended function comes about from the intensive, comprehensive, patient and thoughtful examination of life — the needs, wishes and feelings of people.
To design is to think.
When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.
He almost singlehandedly convinced business that design was an effective tool. […] Anyone designing in the 1950s and 1960s owed much to Rand, who largely made it possible for us to work. He more than anyone else made the profession reputable. We went from being commercial artists to being graphic designers largely on his merits.
…ethics and aesthetics have a common semantic root that should be respected.
True architectural style does not come from a conscious effort to create a particular look. It results obliquely–even accidentally–out of a holistic process.
The builder of an American colonial house in 1740 did not think, as we often do today, “I really like colonials, I think I’ll build one.” Rather, houses were built sensibly with the materials and technology available, and with an eye sensitively attuned to proportion, scale, and harmony. Colonial windows had small, multiple panes of glass not because of a desire to make a colonial-looking window, but because the technology of the day could produce and transport only small sheets of glass with consistency. Shutters were functional, not decorative; they were closed over windows when needed to provide shade from the sun. The colonial architecture that resulted from these considerations was uncalculated: Early American houses were colonial because the colonists were colonial.
Introduced in 1935, Kodachrome is the oldest mass-marketed film for still images. Yet the public was slow to adopt it, in part because it was expensive but also because color photography was, for a long time, regarded as “unreal” or “less than truthful.” In one of his essays on photography, John Szarkowski remarked that in The Wizard of Oz, released in 1939, the reality of Kansas was shown in black-and-white whereas the fantasy of Oz was shown in color. In magazines of the 1940s and 1950s only advertisements were in color, he added. “Those magazines that believed that it was their function to tell the truth did not consider the possibility that the truth might be told in color,” he wrote, referring to Life magazine. It took relentless Kodak advertising campaigns to change people’s perception and to impose color photography as an acceptable reporting medium.
When he finds a female, he bites into her skin, and releases an enzyme that digests the skin of his mouth and her body, fusing the pair down to the blood-vessel level. The male then slowly atrophies, first losing his digestive organs, then his brain, heart, and eyes, and ends as nothing more than a pair of gonads
] for those
I treat well are the ones who most of all
] harm me
] you, I want
] to suffer
] in myself I am
aware of this
I recently finished work on a one-page site for the Boston Android User Group.
After reading Designed by Peter Saville several weeks ago, the idea of referencing classic design in contemporary contexts was fresh in my mind. Below is Jan Tschichold’s famous poster from 1928 along with Peter Saville’s poster from 1978 that was inspired by it. I wanted to pay homage to both these pieces with the site.
A constraint of this project was that it would be handed off to a developer who would need to be able to edit the site with nothing more than a text editor. I let the type be the focus of the design, using variation in size and spacing to structure the page. The site is set in the lovely open source typeface Prociono by Barry Schwartz.
Design is choice. The theory of the visual display of quantitative information consists of principles that generate design options and that guide choices among options. The principles should not be applied rigidly or in a peevish spirit; they are not logically or mathematically certain; and it is better to violate any principle than to place graceless or inelegant marks on paper. Most principles of design should be greeted with some skepticism, for word authority can dominate our vision, and we may come to see only through the lenses of word authority rather than with our own eyes.
The best graphics are about the useful and important, about life and death, about the universe. Beautiful graphics do not traffic with the trivial.
Painting is special, separate, a matter of meditation and contemplation, for me, no physical action or social sport. As much consciousness as possible. Clarity, completeness, quintessence, quiet. No noise, no schmutz, no schmerz, no fauve schwärmerei. Perfection, passiveness, consonance, consummateness. No palpitations, no gesticulation, no grotesquerie. Spirituality, serenity, absoluteness, coherence. No automatism, no accident, no anxiety, no catharsis, no chance. Detachment, disinterestedness, thoughtfulness, transcendence. No humbugging, no button-holing, no exploitation, no mixing things up.
If life is so purposeless, do you feel that it’s worth living?
Yes, for those of us who manage somehow to cope with our mortality. The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning. Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a leaf; but as they grow older, the awareness of death and decay begins to impinge on their consciousness and subtly erode their joie de vivre, their idealism–and their assumption of immortality. As a child matures, he sees death and pain everywhere about him, and begins to lose faith in the ultimate goodness of man. But if he’s reasonably strong–and lucky–he can emerge from this twilight of the soul into a rebirth of life’s élan. Both because of and in spite of his awareness of the meaninglessness of life, he can forge a fresh sense of purpose and affirmation. He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can sharp something far more enduring and sustaining. The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept that challenges of life within the boundaries of death–however mutable man may be able to make them–our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.
But in the nearer future, humans will evolve in 1,000 years into giants between 6ft and 7ft tall, he predicts, while life-spans will have extended to 120 years, Dr Curry claims.
Physical appearance, driven by indicators of health, youth and fertility, will improve, he says, while men will exhibit symmetrical facial features, look athletic, and have squarer jaws, deeper voices and bigger penises.
Women, on the other hand, will develop lighter, smooth, hairless skin, large clear eyes, pert breasts, glossy hair, and even features, he adds. Racial differences will be ironed out by interbreeding, producing a uniform race of coffee-coloured people.
In the real world, white is always contaminated and impure. It is no more than a vestige, a sign pointing towards its origins. White is delicate and fragile. From the moment of its birth it is no longer perfectly white, and when we touch it we pollute it further, though we may not realize it. Yet, all the more because of this, it stands out clearly in our consciousness.
Many the peoples many the oceans I crossed –
I arrive at these poor, brother, burials
so I could give you the last gift owed to death
and talk (why?) with mute ash.
Now that Fortune tore you from me, you
oh poor (wrongly) brother (wrongly) taken from me,
now still anyway this – what a distant mood of parents
handed down as the sad gift for burials –
accept! soaked with tears of a brother
and into forever, brother, farewell and farewell.
Thus I have not the courage to rise up before my fellow-men as a prophet, and I bow to their reproach that I can offer them no consolation: for at bottom that is what the are all demanding—the wildest revolutionaries no less passionately than the most virtuous believers.
There is something uniquely convincing about the perceptions that occur to you when you are in love. They seem truer than other perceptions, and more truly your own, won from reality at personal cost. Greatest certainty is felt about the beloved as necessary complement to you. Your powers of imagination connive at this vision, calling up possibilities from beyond the actual. All at once a self never known before, which now strikes you as the true one, is coming into focus. A gust of godlikeness may pass through you and for an instant a great many things look knowable, possible and present. Then the edge asserts itself. You are not a god. You are not that enlarged self. Indeed, you are not even a whole self, as you now see. Your new knowledge of possibilities is also a knowledge of what is lacking in the actual.
…questions concerning couples cannot be separated from relationships of justice or the feeling of injustice, nor from the question of the specific injustice involved in abandoning somebody. In other words these are political questions, although they are often sidelined in love affairs.
…morality lies neither in the choice of acts, which are, so to speak, what we are capable of–we do our best–but in what we say, our way of taking care of our language, which then shapes our way of taking care of others.
Some fall in love with women who are rich, aristocratic or stupid. I am attracted by those who mysteriously hold out a promise of the integrity which I have lost.
Yet evolution has equipped us with bodies and instincts designed only to get us to a reproductive age and not beyond. ‘We get old because our ancestors died young,’ Weiner writes. 'We get old because old age had so little weight in the scales of evolution; because there were never enough Old Ones around to count for much in the scales.’ The first half of life is orderly, a miracle of 'detailed harmonious unfolding’ beginning with the embryo. What comes after our reproductive years is 'more like the random crumpling of what had been neatly folded origami, or the erosion of stone. The withering of the roses in the bowl is as drunken and disorderly as their blossoming was regular and precise.’
It is now the capitalist who says, ‘Workers of the world, unite!,’ the better to dissolve those 'inefficiencies’ in the labor market (that is, high wages) that arise from political boundaries. The slogan once expressed a hope to organize a body of workers who were dispersed and hence exploitable, whereas now it captures the desire for a mass of 'human resources,’ exploitable because undifferentiated.
Let us assume that people will be allowed to read [my work] in about the year 2000.
On any given day, a quick glance at Techcrunch will be proof enough that a large number of entrepreneurs are eager to replicate the success of sites like Twitter, Foursquare, and Groupon by copying their business models and making slight alterations. Not that there is anything wrong with that. The concepts that these sites have made popular (microblogging, check-ins, group buying) have become integrated into other successful startups.
But I’m convinced that there is room for another type of startup: those that are more about the humanities than technology. Or better put, are an intersection of the two, with the humanities in the starring role and technology made its faithful servant. One part Dada and one part Jonah Peretti.
For me, the most interesting moment in Steve Jobs’ presentation that unveiled the iPad was a slide he showed at the end, that stated Apple saw itself at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts. But if you listen to his comments, it’s obvious that Steve’s using “liberal arts” very loosely (one might even say liberally). He explains the term as describing Apple’s goal of making their products accessible to everyone who picks them up. That’s good user experience, not the liberal arts. (I also can’t help but think that Steve was hinting at another goal: making Apple the dominant supplier for the artifacts of the “liberal arts”: music, movies, and books.)
Despite my breathless comments before its release, I haven’t bought an iPad and have no plans to. If I were to pick one reason, it would be this: I still buy and read paper books. Until I can get the complete works of Nietzsche in a beautifully typeset, DRM-free digital edition that I can share with whomever I please, I’m going to abstain. I don’t think eBooks on the iPad represent innovation in the humanities; they are just faster horses.
We need startups in the humanities precisely because a corporation – even one I admire as much as Apple – should not be trusted as the gatekeeper of the humanities. We need startups that push up against and break down boundaries. True innovation will not be a centralized distribution channel, but a revitalizing of culture produced at the edges, in opposition to, and as correction for, dominant culture. In other words, doing what great art has always done.
Who’s going to start and fund these startups? It might be out of place to seek VCs for these ventures, but I’m convinced that there is a large audience of both artists and technology-minded people who would love to work together. I am one of them. Let’s start a conversation.
This post started as an email to Caterina Fake, whose quick response encouraged me to re-write it for a general audience.
Never did I trust Fortune, even when she seemed to be offering peace. All those blessings which she kindly bestowed on me – money, public office, influence – I relegated to a place from which she could take them back without disturbing me. Between them and me, I have kept a wide gap, and so she has merely taken them, not torn them from me.
There is nothing dreadful in life for the man who has truly comprehended that there is nothing terrible in not living.
This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says no rational being
Can fear a thing it cannot feel, not seeing
that this is what we fear - no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.
— Philip Larkin, Aubade
Designer’s block may only occur if a designer deliberately aims to create something original and extraordinary.
The performance connected me deeply to past memories, evoking kindred forms of indescribable emotion. I was reminded of what I found as a child to be the most profound experience possible – watching the sunset in isolation on the beach. Waiting in the decaying light to be the only body left on the long stretch of sand, I would revel in the cascading shivers that would crawl down my back as water evaporated from my skin and I wrapped myself more tightly in a towel. Facing the sublime extension of the sea, I remember becoming enveloped in a comforting and serene form of abstract loneliness, an empowering type of isolation devoid of any tinge of yearning or melancholy.
If you train people to do one thing (recognize shapes, solve math puzzles, find hidden words), they get better at doing that thing, but almost nothing else. Music doesn’t make you better at math, conjugating Latin doesn’t make you more logical, brain-training games don’t make you smarter. Accomplished people don’t bulk up their brains with intellectual calisthenics; they immerse themselves in their fields. Novelists read lots of novels, scientists read lots of science.
In truth, our belief that the market could fund new music was always as illusory; European touring, heavily state subsidized, has been the real economic motor of experimental jazz/new music for decades, the light at the end of the tunnel of months of scarce and/or poorly paid NYC gigs. The fact that access to Europe was easier and cheaper for NYC musicians than for their LA counterparts is an important factor in the historical productivity of the NYC new music scene as compared with the West Coast.
As it now functions, [Wikileaks] is primarily hosted on a Swedish Internet service provider called PRQ.se, which was created to withstand both legal pressure and cyber attacks, and which fiercely preserves the anonymity of its clients. Submissions are routed first through PRQ, then to a WikiLeaks server in Belgium, and then on to ‘another country that has some beneficial laws,’ Assange told me, where they are removed at 'end-point machines’ and stored elsewhere. These machines are maintained by exceptionally secretive engineers, the high priesthood of WikiLeaks. One of them, who would speak only by encrypted chat, told me that Assange and the other public members of WikiLeaks 'do not have access to certain parts of the system as a measure to protect them and us.’ The entire pipeline, along with the submissions moving through it, is encrypted, and the traffic is kept anonymous by means of a modified version of the Tor network, which sends Internet traffic through 'virtual tunnels’ that are extremely private. Moreover, at any given time WikiLeaks computers are feeding hundreds of thousands of fake submissions through these tunnels, obscuring the real documents. Assange told me that there are still vulnerabilities, but 'this is vastly more secure than any banking network.’
Whatsoever of it has flown away is past.
Whatsoever remains is future.
The entire impulse behind Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iBooks assumes that you cannot read a book unless you own it first – and only you can read it unless you want to pass on your device.
That goes against the social value of reading, the collective knowledge and collaborative discourse that comes from access to shared libraries. That is not a good thing for readers, authors, publishers or our culture.
I never understood alienation. Alienation from what? You have to want to be part of something in order to feel alienated from it.
But there are no measures of ‘unaided’ ability, nor are we really interested in them. There are some people who can remember long columns of figures and others who are good at adding and multiplying large numbers in their heads. So why do we give written I.Q. tests, which, after all, are simply giving the crutch of paper and pencil to people who do not have the 'unaided’ ability to do mental arithmetic? Indeed, why do we allow people taking mental tests to wear eyeglasses, if we are interested in culturally unmodified 'naked’ abilities?
In order to establish oneself in the world, one does everything one can to appear established in it.
One deceives oneself when one believes that only the violent passions such as ambition and love can triumph over the others. Laziness, however languishing it may be, is nevertheless often the master of them; it usurps all the designs and all the actions of life; it destroys and consumes insensibly the passions and virtues in life.
Design is…the originality that repeatedly extracts astounding ideas from the crevices of the very commonness of everyday life.
[Mankind’s] self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.
In medieval Japan, poets and Zen priests directed the Japanese towards aspects of the world to which Westerners have seldom publicly accorded more than negligible or casual attention: cherry blossoms, deformed pieces of pottery, raked gravel, moss, rain falling on leaves, autumn skies, roof tiles and unvarnished wood. A word emerged, wabi, of which no Western language, tellingly, has a direct equivalent, which identified beauty with unpretentious, simple, unfinished, transient things. There was wabi to be enjoyed in an evening spent alone in a cottage in the woods hearing the rain fall. There was wabi in old ill-matching sets of crockery, in plain buckets, in walls with blemishes, and in rough, weathered stones covered in moss and lichen. The most wabi colors were grey, black and brown.
A lump rises in our throat at the sight of beauty from an implicit knowledge that the happiness it hints at is the exception.
I had a teacher I liked who used to say good fiction’s job was to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. I guess a big part of serious fiction’s purpose is to give the reader, who like all of us is sort of marooned in her own skull, to give her imaginative access to other selves. … We all suffer alone in the real world; true empathy’s impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character’s pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with our own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside.
What will the hipsters be remembered for? The last few months I have raised this question in Brooklyn, on the sagging couches of its Brownstones and over the din of the glowing jukeboxes in its dives. The most common answer is ‘Nothing.’ New York Rock? So much retread. The hipsters’ championing of vintage clothing? Sorry, you can’t be remembered for remembering. The embrace of white-trash chic–trucker hats and so on? Interesting but evil. Though not authentically evil. The hippies had Charles Manson, one friend noted. 'We haven’t even produced a decent serial killer.’
I had the misfortune to be nourished by the dreams and visions of great Americans–the poets and seers. Some other breed of man has won out. This world which is in the making fills me with dread. I have seen it germinate; I can read it like a blue-print. It is not a world I want to live in. It is a world suited for monomaniacs obsessed with the idea of progress–a false progress, a progress which stinks. It is a world cluttered with useless objects which men and women, in order to be exploited and degraded, are taught to regard as useful. The dreamer whose dreams are non-utilitarian has no place in this world. Whatever does not lend itself to being bought and sold, whether in the realm of things, ideas, principles, dreams or hopes, is debarred. In this world the poet is anathema, the thinker a fool, the artist an escapist, the man of vision a criminal.
Not every day of your life are you going to wake up and the clouds are going to part and the rays from heaven are going to come down and you’re going to write a song from it. Sometimes you just get in there and force yourself to work and maybe something good will come out of it.
When ecosystems change and inflexible institutions collapse, their members disperse, abandoning old beliefs, trying new things, making their living in different ways than they used to. It’s easy to see the ways in which collapse to simplicity wrecks the glories of old. But there is one compensating advantage for the people who escape the old system: when the ecosystem stops rewarding complexity, it is the people who figure out how to work simply in the present, rather than the people who mastered the complexities of the past, who get to say what happens in the future.
A designer is often easily baffled by a question: “And what if your customer is smarter than you?”
Designers tend to possess a strong belief that they are artists and their creative ideas are not subject to criticism. Most web designers known to the author mistake their craft for an art. To make it worse, they consider whatever they’ve done valuable just because they’ve hatched it out.
A bottle–one of the ideal objects–is shaped like that not because some designer suddenly felt his left ball itching and had a creative urge to make a bottleneck narrow, but due to the fact that cork was expensive and had to be used wisely.
As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing.
Up to the age of 25, you read wholesale & in a mercenary way, to “acquire” a possession, to build a “literary culture”, & do not tend to re-read except when necessary. After 25, you lose your hang-up and start re-reading –and it is precisely what you re-read that reveals your literary soul, what you like.
If you have plenty of money, the best consequence (so they say) is that you no longer need to think about money. In the future we will have plenty of technology — and the best consequence will be that we will no longer have to think about technology.
We will return with gratitude and relief to the topics that actually count.
Are you just going to find another overweight underachiever to be inappropriate with?
The items that you use incessantly, the items you employ every day, the normal, boring goods that don’t seem luxurious or romantic: these are the critical ones. They are truly central. The everyday object is the monarch of all objects. It’s in your time most, it’s in your space most. It is ‘where it is at,’ and it is 'what is going on.’
What type of ambience do you try to create?A quiet sense of order but without it feeling restrictive. I feel that as the world continues to fill with clutter at such a disconcerting pace, good design has the task of being quiet and helping people generate a level of calm that allows them to be themselves.
I know a lot of people who are in our position, who used to work for The Man or whatever, and now are making records or making films or designing clothes or creating products or screening posters or any of a million other things. And all of them, without exception, all say exactly the same thing and they say it in exactly the same words: ‘I should have done it sooner.’
How do you see your own place in the scheme of things?I look out at the world and I see chaos. And that’s kind of the formula for being an outsider. You don’t want to be an outsider, you want to belong and you’re burdened with these human frail ties. You need companionship; you need food and drink; you need a nice place to sleep; you want to be understood even though you’re doing something that’s a little difficult; you want your work to be appreciated; you want to be loved. We’re burdened with this. But what we’re doing is we’re creating something that is a little bit scary to most people. It challenges their view of the world. Most people think the world is a perfectly ordered place and they love it. The outsider looks at that and goes, ‘Man, this is chaos. This makes no sense at all.’ And then, they try to tell the truth. And they’re compelled to tell the truth. They can’t help but tell the truth by some inner sense of responsibility.
Czech President Vaclav Havel and U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright Visit the Knitting Factory
NEW YORK - The Knitting Factory in New York City is always ready for anything when John Zorn plays. But Zorn’s Chamber Masada found some most unusual guests in the audience for the second set on Thursday night, May 15. Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson played host to Czech Republic president Vaclav Havel and his new wife and U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright and their entourage.
Havel, in town for talks that may bring the Eastern Block into NATO, contacted Lou Reed prior to his visit to arrange a bit of sightseeing and clubhopping during his New York sojourn. Reed, who has been seen numerous times recently at the Knitting Factory as both performer and spectator, contacted Knitting Factory founder Michael Dorf to arrange a special reception for Havel. Dorf let John Zorn know what would be happening in advance, and plans were made. The Knitting Factory was crawling with secret service before long, and the best was yet to come…
Little did anyone know that Havel and his wife, escorted by Reed and Laurie Anderson, would also invite Secretary of State Madeline Albright, holder of the third highest office in the country. Ms. Albright and Havel immediately engaged in animated conversation, whereupon Zorn, from the stage, peered up to the balcony and said, “You up there, shut the fuck up, listen to the music!” whereupon conversation did in fact cease.
Needless to say an international incident did not occur. Everyone reported having a terrific time and enjoyed the music greatly. Even Zorn knew it had been an historic occasion, and gave Dorf a wink on his way out the door.
This music is for the world to enjoy. It’s not elitist in any way. I want everyone to enjoy it. But I understand the reality that it’s challenging music and not everybody can enjoy it or appreciate it. Not everybody has the time to do the thinking and do the work to unravel the mysteries that are being presented in these concerts and on these CDs. It’s not an easy thing. And people have enough problems in their lives that they don’t need further problems. But I do champion the fact that this music is important and that the world is better for its existence and that, in some small way, it represents a cry of freedom in the dark ages.
John Zorn: I think the idea of an artist standing outside society is still alive. I think it’s an important role. It’s always been an underappreciated role, we become victims, we become targets, because our lifestyle has to be different in order to get the job done. And we make a lot of sacrifices to do what we do.
Interviewer: I totally agree, but some artists have accepted the society’s values, and just amplified them.
JZ: That’s the road to hell, if you ask me.
People talk about what I wear, how I talk. I’m a down-to-earth person like you, who’s going to tell it like it is. If someone’s jiving me, I’ll say, ‘Fuck you, you’re jiving me.’ And people are threatened by that. And then they think you’re some obnoxious asshole, when you’re just someone who is very straight about shit. People are interested in people, is that what it is? Why aren’t they interested in the work? People come to my house and it’s like, where’s the furniture? I don’t have any furniture. If you want to sit, you sit on the floor. It’s a small place, covered wall-to-wall with books, CDs, records, movies, everywhere, and that’s it. They freak out-what’s going on here? I can’t figure this out. There’s no kitchen, there’s no place to welcome a visitor. I say, 'This is where I live.’
A number of other famous rabbinical scholars disagreed with Rabbi Eliezar’s views in regard to a point of ritual law. “Rabbi Eliezar said to them: ‘If the law is as I think it is then this tree shall let us know.’ Whereupon the tree jumped from its place a hundred yards (others say four hundred yards). His colleagues said to him, ‘One does not prove anything from a tree.’ He said, ‘if I am right then this brook shall let us know.’ Whereupon the brook ran upstream. His colleagues said to him, ‘One does not prove anything from a brook.’ He continued and said ‘If the law is as I think then the walls of this house will tell.’ Whereupon the walls began to fall. But Rabbi Joshua shouted at the walls and said, ‘If scholars argue a point of law, what business have you to fall?’ So the walls fell no further out of respect for Rabbi Joshua but out of respect for Rabbi Eliezar did not straighten up. And that is the way they still are. Rabbi Eliezar took up the argument again and said, ‘If the law is as I think, they shall tell us from heaven.’ Whereupon a voice from heaven said, ‘What have you against Rabbi Eliezar, because the law is as he says.’ Whereupon Rabbi Joshua got up and said, ‘It is written in the Bible: The law is not in heaven. What does this mean? According to Rabbi Jirmijahu it means since the Torah has been given on Mount Sinai we no longer pay attention to voices from heaven because it is written: You make your decision according to the majority opinion.’ It then happened that Rabbi Nathan [one of the participants in the discussion] met the Prophet Elijah [who had taken a stroll on earth] and he asked the Prophet, ‘What did God himself say when we had this discussion?’ The Prophet answered, ‘God smiled and said, My children have won, my children have won.’”
At this point I can no longer avoid giving a first, provisional statement of my own hypothesis concerning the origin of the “bad conscience”: it may sound rather strange and needs to be pondered, lived with, and slept on for a long time. I regard the bad conscience as the serious illness that man was bound to contract under the stress of the most fundamental change he ever experienced—that change which occurred when he found himself finally enclosed within the walls of society and of peace. The situation that faced sea animals when they were compelled to become land animals or perish was the same as that which faced these semi-animals, well adapted to the wilderness, to war, to prowling, to adventure: suddenly all their instincts were disvalued and “suspended.” From now on they had to walk on their feet and “bear themselves” whereas hitherto they had been borne by the water: a dreadful heaviness lay upon them. They felt unable to cope with the simplest undertakings; in this new world they no longer possessed their former guides, their regulating, unconscious and infallible drives: they were reduced to thinking, inferring, reckoning, coordinating cause and effect, these unfortunate creatures; they were reduced to their “consciousness,” their weakest and most fallible organ! I believe there has never been such a feeling of misery on earth, such a leaden discomfort and at the same time the old instincts had not suddenly ceased to make their usual demands. Only it was hardly or rarely possible to humor them: as a rule they had to seek new and, as it were, subterranean gratifications.
All instincts that do not discharge themselves outwardly turn inward—this is what I call the internalization of man: thus it was that man first developed what was later called his “soul.” The entire inner world, originally as thin as if it were stretched between two membranes, expanded and extended itself, acquired depth, breadth, and height, in the same measure as outward discharge was inhibited. Those fearful bulwarks with which the political organization protected itself against the old instincts of freedom–punishments belong among these bulwarks–brought about that all those instincts of wild, free, prowling man turned backward against man himself. Hostility, cruelty, joy in persecuting, in attacking, in change, in destruction—all this turned against the possessors of such instincts: that is the origin of the “bad conscience.”
The man who, from lack of external enemies and resistances and forcibly confined to the oppressive narrowness and punctiliousness of custom, impatiently lacerated, persecuted, gnawed at, assaulted, and maltreated himself; this animal that rubbed itself raw against the bars of its cage as one tried to “tame” it; this deprived creature, racked with homesickness for the wild, who had to turn himself into an adventure, a torture chamber, an uncertain and dangerous wilderness–this fool, this yearning and desperate prisoner became the inventor of the “bad conscience.” But thus began the gravest and uncanniest illness, from which humanity has not yet recovered, man’s suffering of man, of himself–the result of a forcible sundering from his animal past, as it were a leap and plunge into new surroundings and conditions of existence, a declaration of war against the old instincts upon which his strength, joy, and terribleness had rested hitherto.
Never trust a man on the subject of his own parents. As tall and basso as a man might be on the outside, he nevertheless sees his parents from the perspective of a tiny child, still, and will always. And the unhappier his childhood was, the more arrested will be his perspective on it.
This vile, unhappy race, barely different from the apes, which nevertheless carried within it such noble aspirations. Tortured, contradictory, individualistic, quarrelsome and infinitely selfish, it was sometimes capable of extraordinary explosions of violence, but never quite abandoned its belief in love.
And sexual auto-affection, that is auto-affection in general, neither begins nor ends with what one thinks can be circumscribed by the name of masturbation.
‘Did the God really mean…?’ it asks the woman. A question opening uncertainty into the web of being. A question, indeed, is the first non-divine act, and, as such, it may reveal something intrinsic to action.
Freud makes it seem as if prohibition is strictly opposed to the enjoyment of the drives. In fact, quite the opposite is the case. External prohibition secretly sustains fantasies in which full jouissance is possible (for instance, fantasies of, as Lacan calls it, the “jouissance of the Other”). External barriers to impossible jouissance relieve the subject of the burden of having to discover that enjoyment fails, that drives are constitutively dysfunctional, being caught-up in an ineliminable antagonism plaguing the very essence of enjoyment itself.
If without love we’re losers and our lives bereft, how susceptible we’ll also be to any social program promoted in its name. And not only the work ethic: take a moment to consider domestic coupledom itself. What a feat of social engineering to shoehorn an entire citizenry (minus the occasional straggler) into such uniform household arrangements, all because everyone knows that true love demands it and that any reluctance to participate signals an insufficiency of love.
Romantic love was invented to manipulate women.
‘Imagine what a blow it would have been to our institutions if it had been shown that, at the highest level of state, officials had plotted for sordid political ends?’ said Lionnel Luca.
One of the questions that the death of David Foster Wallace asks us to consider: has something further happened in the world that makes it harder for a sensitive and intelligent person to want to stay alive? There seems to be a conspiracy against genius in our time.
The death of David Foster Wallace seems to speak to the difficulty of life itself. Depressed or not, brilliant or not, are we living in a time that makes it hard for us to find the things that allow us to want to stay alive?
And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass
Freud came to believe that in our time the possibility of simple natural love between human beings had already been abolished.
For one might say that a gift that could be recognized as such in the light of day, a gift destined for recognition, would immediately annul itself.
So, when I say ‘For every argument there is an equal and opposite one,’ I am in effect saying 'For every argument I have considered, which purports to establish something dogmatically, it seems to me that there is another argument purporting to establish something dogmatically, which is opposite to it, and which is equally plausible or implausible.’
You are a victim of the rules you live by.
Lacan’s definition of love (‘Love is giving something one doesn’t have…’) has to be supplemented with: ’…to someone who doesn’t want it.’
To a student who wanted to know where I stood with regard to the author of Zarathustra, I replied that I had long since stopped reading him. Why? “I find him too naive…”
I hold his enthusiasms, his fervors against him. He demolished so many idols only to replace them with others: a false iconoclast, with adolescent aspects and a certain virginity, a certain innocence inherent in his solitary’s career. He observed men only from a distance. Had he come closer, he could have neither conceived nor promulgated the superman, that preposterous, laughable, even grotesque chimera, a crotchet which could occur only to a mind without time to age, to know the long serene disgust of detachment.
What we call ‘normal’ is a product of repression, denial, splitting, projection, introjection and other forms of destructive action on experience. It is radically estranged from the structure of being. The more one sees this, the more senseless it is to continue with generalized descriptions of supposedly specifically schizoid, schizophrenic, hysterical 'mechanisms.’ There are forms of alienation that are relatively strange to statistically 'normal’ forms of alienation. The 'normally’ alienated person, by reason of the fact that he acts more or less like everyone else, is taken to be sane. Other forms of alienation that are out of step with the prevailing state of alienation are those that are labeled by the 'formal’ majority as bad or mad.
The body manifests the stigmata of past experience and also gives rise to desires, failings, and errors… . The body is the inscribed surface of ideas… the locus of a dissociated Self… and a volume in perpetual disintegration.
Art, which puts us on the path of complete destruction and suspends us there for a time, offers us ravishment without death.
I often dream about falling. Such dreams are commonplace to the ambitious or those who climb mountains. Lately I dreamed I was clutching at the face of a rock, but it would not hold. Gravel gave way. I grasped for a shrub, but it pulled loose, and in cold terror I fell into the abyss. Suddenly I realized that my fall was relative; there was no bottom and no end. A feeling of pleasure overcame me. I realized that what I embody, the principle of life, cannot be destroyed. It is written into the cosmic code, the order of the universe. As I continued to fall in the dark void, embraced by the vault of the heavens, I sang to the beauty of the stars and made my peace with the darkness.
In this passage from sun to sun, his days were organized according to a rhythm whose deliberation and strangeness became as necessary to him as had been his office, his restaurant, and his sleep in his mother’s room. In both cases, he was virtually unconscious of it. But now, in his hours of lucidity, he felt that time was his own, that in the brief interval which finds the sea red and leaves it green, something eternal was represented for him in each second. Beyond the curve of the days he glimpsed neither superhuman happiness nor eternity–happiness was human, eternity ordinary. What mattered was to humble himself, to organize his heart to match the rhythm of the days instead of submitting their rhythm to the curve of human hopes.
Paul Slazinger says, incidentally, that the human condition can be summed up in just one word, and this is the word: Embarrassment.
Love crops up quite a lot as something to sing about,
cos most groups make most of their songs about falling in love
or how happy they are to be in love,
you occasionally wonder why these groups do sing about it all the time -
it’s because these groups think there’s something very special about it
either that or else it’s because everybody else sings about it and always has,
you know to burst into song you have to be inspired
and nothing inspires quite like love.
These groups and singers think that they appeal to everyone
by singing about love because apparently everyone has or can love
or so they would have you believe anyway
but these groups seem to go along with what, the belief
that love is deep in everyone’s personality.
I don’t think we’re saying there’s anything wrong with love,
we just don’t think that what goes on between two people
should be shrouded with mystery.
Indeed, although erotic activity is in the first place an exuberance of life, the object of this psychological quest, independent as I say of any concern to reproduce life, is not alien to death.
Kiss me again, rekiss me and kiss me
Slip your frigid hands beneath my shirt
This useless old fucker with his twinkling cunt
Doesn’t care if he gets hurt
How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life… you start with the little things. The shelves, the drawers, the knickknacks, then you start adding larger stuff. Clothes, tabletop appliances, lamps, your TV… the backpack should be getting pretty heavy now. You go bigger. Your couch, your car, your home… I want you to stuff it all into that backpack. Now I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office… and then you move into the people you trust with your most intimate secrets. Your brothers, your sisters, your children, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your girlfriend. You get them into that backpack, feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. All those negotiations and arguments and secrets, the compromises. The slower we move the faster we die. Make no mistake, moving is living. Some animals were meant to carry each other to live symbiotically over a lifetime. Star crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not swans. We are sharks.
If something is to stay in the memory, it must be burned in: only that which never ceases to hurt stays in the memory.
The entire inner world, originally as thin as if it were stretched between two membranes, expanded and extended itself, acquired depth, breadth, and height, in the same measure as outward discharge was inhibited.
In the teeth of a trap
The paw of a white fox
And on the snow, blood
The blood of the white fox
And in the snow, tracks
The tracks of the white fox
Who escaped on three legs
As the sun was setting
A rabbit between his teeth
The exemplary figures of evil today are not ordinary consumers who pollute the environment and live in a violent world of disintegrating social links, but those who, while fully engaged in creating conditions for such universal devastation and pollution, buy their way out of their own activity, living in gated communities, eating organic food, taking holidays in wildlife preserves, and so on.
In order to achieve serenity, the sceptic started philosophising about the fact that he evaluated his sensory images, and realised that some were true and some were false. He then fell into contradictions between equally good arguments on either side, and not being able to decide one way or the other, he suspended judgment. Finally, suspension of judgment led by fate to serenity in matters of opinion. Someone who believes that anything is objectively good or evil is perpetually disturbed. When he lacks the things he thinks good, he thinks he is being tormented by things which are objectively bad, and he strives after things which are good (as he thinks). But when he has obtained them, he falls into even greater disturbance because of his irrational and immoderate elation; and fearing a reversal of fortune, he does everything to avoid losing the things which seem good to him. But the person who has come to no opinion as to which things are objectively good or evil puts no effort into avoiding or striving after them. This is because he is in a state of serenity.
To stay in one’s room away from the place where the party is given, or away from where the practitioner attends his client, is to stay away from where reality is being performed. The world, in truth, is a wedding.
I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I can’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ‘til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. V.
You sentimentalized the aesthetic experience with this girl–you personalized it, you sentimentalized it, and you lost the sense of separation essential to your enjoyment. Do you know when that happened? The night she took the tampon out. The necessary aesthetic separation collapsed not while you watched her bleeding–that was all right, that was fine–but when you couldn’t restrain yourself and went down on your knees. And what the hell compelled you? What lies behind the comedy of this Cuban girl taking a guy like you, the professor of desire, to the mat? Drinking her blood? I’d say that constituted the abandonment of an independent critical position, Dave. Worship me, she says, worship the mystery of the bleeding goddess, and you do it. You stop at nothing. You like it. You consume it. You digest it. She penetrates you. What next, David? A glass of her urine? How long before you would have begged her for feces? I’m not against it because it’s unhygienic. I’m not against it because it’s disgusting. I’m against it because it’s falling in love.
I’m so afraid of losing something I love, that I refuse to love anything.
Today my friend Eli said the same thing, without the metaphors. He told me: “I woke up this morning, and I didn’t even get out of bed. I just felt awful. I jerked off for the usual 20 minutes, but I couldn’t even maintain a real fantasy.”
I lick the ice cubes from your empty glass
The sharing of art is a precursor to the sharing of other human experiences, for what is pleasurable in art becomes thinkable in life.
All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.
The idea, for example, that each particular erases
the luminous clarity of a general idea. That the clown-
faced woodpecker probing the dead sculpted trunk
of that black birch is, by his presence,
some tragic falling off from a first world
of undivided light. Or the other notion that,
because there is in this world no one thing
to which the bramble of blackberry corresponds,
a word is elegy to what it signifies.
We talked about it late last night and in the voice
of my friend, there was a thin wire of grief, a tone
almost querulous. After a while I understood that,
talking this way, everything dissolves: justice,
pine, hair, woman, you and I. There was a woman
I made love to and I remembered how, holding
her small shoulders in my hands sometimes,
I felt a violent wonder at her presence
like a thirst for salt, for my childhood river
with its island willows, silly music from the pleasure boat,
muddy places where we caught the little orange-silver fish
called pumpkinseed. It hardly had to do with her.
Longing, we say, because desire is full
of endless distances. I must have been the same to her.
But I remember so much, the way her hands dismantled bread,
the thing her father said that hurt her, what
she dreamed. There are moments when the body is as numinous
as words, days that are the good flesh continuing.
Such tenderness, those afternoons and evenings,
saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.
Serendipity is looking in a haystack for a needle and finding a farmer’s daughter.
For the world to be interesting, you have to be manipulating it all the time.
I’m not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn’t take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.
I am enthusiastic over humanity’s extraordinary and sometimes very timely ingenuities. If you are in a shipwreck and all the boats are gone, a piano top buoyant enough to keep you afloat may come along and make a fortuitous life preserver. This is not to say, though, that the best way to design a life preserver is in the form of a piano top. I think we are clinging to a great many piano tops in accepting yesterday’s fortuitous contrivings as constituting the only means for solving a given problem.
A dictum he quotes from a favorite philosopher, the second-generation Cartesian Arnold Geulincx (1624–1669), suggests his overall stance toward the political: ubi nihil vales, ibi nihil velis, which may be glossed: Don’t invest hope or longing in an arena where you have no power.
Head tries to help heart.
Head tells heart how it is, again:
You will lose the ones you love. They will all go. But even the earth will go, someday.
Heart feels better, then.
But the words of head do not remain long in the ears of heart.
Heart is so new to this.
I want them back, says heart.
Head is all heart has.
Help, head. Help heart.
It was a tremendously painful thing to do, especially in the beginning. It’s like in the everyday world, you’re just plugged into all the possibilities. Every time you get bored, you plug yourself in somewhere: you call somebody up, you pick up a magazine, a book, you go to a movie, anything. And all of that becomes your identity, the way in which you’re alive. You identify yourself in terms of all that. Well, what was happening to me as I was on my way to Ibiza was that I was pulling all those plugs out, one at a time: books, language, social contacts. And what happens at a certain point as you get down to the last plugs, it’s like the Zen thing of having no ego: it becomes scary, it’s like maybe you’re going to lose yourself. And boredom then becomes extremely painful. You really are of your own being. But when you get them all pulled out, a little period goes by, and then it’s absolutely serene, it’s terrific. It just becomes really pleasant, because you’re out, you’re all the way out.
To see is to forget the name of the thing one sees.
We live in a time not of mainstream but of many streams, or even, if you insist upon a river of time, then we have come to delta, maybe even beyond delta to an ocean which is going back to the skies.
In his forty-third year William Stoner learned what others, much younger, had learned before him: that the person one loves at first is not the person one loves at last, and that love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another.
What immediate comedy and horror would result if a machine were plugged into our brains, beaming up on a PowerPoint screen all the thoughts we were having as we navigated the agenda; it would show our sexual fantasies, longings and despair while a little more sand trickled from the upper chamber of life’s hourglass until we finally reached point 9.8 on the agenda.
Being a writer, in my experience, means putting up with an inner voice – a maker of sentences – that is always clamoring to be heard. More and more, I find myself listening for the moments when that voice lapses.
I prefer to think that the paradox of death is the source not of despair but instead of the limited hope that is allotted to us as human beings. We cannot live forever, to be sure, but neither would we want to.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
–Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
Men at forty
Learn to close softly
The doors to rooms they will not be
Coming back to.
Bookshops are a valuable destination for the lonely given all the books that were written because authors couldn’t find anyone to talk to.
Impeded aggressiveness seems to involve a grave injury. It really seems as though it is necessary for us to destroy some other thing or person in order not to destroy ourselves.
I am so tired of being told that I want mankind to go back to the condition of savages. As if modern city people weren’t the crudest, rawest, most crassly savage monkeys that ever existed, when it comes to the relation of man and woman. All I see in our vaunted civilization is men and women smashing each other emotionally and physically to bits, and all I ask is that they should pause and consider.
You might say there are two kinds of writers: those who keep a journal in the hope that its contents might someday be published, and those who do not keep a journal for fear that its contents might someday be published. In other words, no journal-keeping by a writer who harbors any sort of ambition is going to be entirely innocent. The complicated, somewhat voyeuristic thrill the reader might derive from seemingly prying open the author’s desk drawer is therefore, to a certain extent, a fiction in which both parties are complicit.
In essence, Basinski is improvising using nothing so much as the passage of time as his instrument, and the result is the most amazing piece of process music I’ve ever heard, an encompassing soundworld as lulling as it is apocalyptic.
This is not ambient music… . This is natural music: music created from the elemental forces of life and as a testament to those forces. This is the sound of entropy, the sound of life as it decays and dies before our ears. And like all living things, these sounds struggle and claw for life with their last, dying breaths.
I’m definitely a dandy, and I’m melancholic. It’s just part of my nature. I grew up pretty much miserable, from day one. Either wished I was dead or I had never been born. [Laughs] I think everybody has that, it’s part of our loss of being human. It’s something everyone can relate to. I’m not trying to be popular or anything; this is just what I do, and it’s what I like to listen to. It’s just a part of me.
While we spent years trying to detect the real prejudices hidden behind the appearance of objective statements, do we have now to reveal the real objective and incontrovertible facts hidden behind the illusion of prejudices? And yet entire Ph.D programs are still running to make sure that good American kids are learning the hard way that facts are made up, that there is no such thing as natural, unmediated, unbiased access to truth, that we are always the prisoner of language, that we always speak from one standpoint, and so on, while dangerous extremists are using the very same argument of social construction to destroy hard-won evidence that could save our lives.
Once, on the first day of class, Angela Carter, who taught at Brown, was asked by a student what her own writing was like. She carefully answered as follows: “My work cuts like a steel blade at the base of a man’s penis.” The course turned out not to be oversubscribed.
Q: I saw you doing a MTV video countdown years back and when you had to introduce a video from U2, you rolled your eyes in apparent sarcasm as you talked about the band. As a U2 fan, I always thought that was hilarious. Did you just never get them or their music?
A: While I applaud Bono’s humanitarian efforts with great admiration, I think the music is for those who have lost their will to rock.
On another occasion, I was living in a villa in the suburbs, alone with a dog, a couple of cats and their kittens, all black. The mother cat could not feed them. One by one, all the kittens died. They filled the room with their filth. Every evening, when I arrived home, I would find one lying stiff, its gums laid bare. One evening, I found the last one, half eaten by the mother. It stank already. The stench of death mingled with the stench of urine. Then, with my hands in the filth and the stench of rotting flesh reeking in my nostrils, I sat down in the midst of all this misery and gazed for hour after hour at the demented glow in the cat’s green eyes as it crouched motionless in the corner. Yes. And it is just like that this evening. When we are stripped down to a certain point, nothing leads anywhere any more, hope and despair are equally groundless, and the whole of life can be summed up in an image. But why stop there? Simple, everything is simple, the lights alternating in the lighthouse, one green, one red, one white; the cool of the night; and the smell of the town and the poverty that reach me from below. If, this evening, the image of a certain childhood comes back to me, how can I keep from welcoming the lesson of love and poverty it offers? Since this hour is like a pause between yes and no, I leave hope or disgust with life for another time. Yes, only to capture the transparency and simplicity of paradises lost—in an image.
What is your earliest memory?
My mother naked. Disgusting.
In the depths of my heart I can’t help being convinced that my dear fellow-men, with a few exceptions, are worthless.
When I see a couple of kids
And guess he’s fucking her and she’s
Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm,
I know this is paradise
Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives –
Bonds and gestures pushed to one side
Like an outdated combine harvester,
And everyone young going down the long slide
To happiness, endlessly. I wonder if
Anyone looked at me, forty years back,
And thought, That’ll be the life;
No God any more, or sweating in the dark
About hell and that, or having to hide
What you think of the priest. He
And his lot will all go down the long slide
Like free bloody birds. And immediately
Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:
The sun-comprehending glass,
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.
The schools of Hillel and Shammai disputed two and half years whether it would have been better if man had or had not been created. Finally they agreed it would have been better had he not been created, but since he has been created, let him investigate his past doings and let him examine what he is about to do.
Whatever happens, I don’t want to lose you as my friend.
I promise… I will never be your friend… no matter what… ever
If we fuck I’m gonna feel like shit tomorrow.
That’s okay with me.
A great many religions saw history as a cycle, not as a narrative of progress. And that’s also true for the philosophies of Egypt and ancient Greece. Most ways of giving meaning to human life have not involved the idea of betterment and improvement. But when I put this forward, the naiveté and the innocence–and I might almost say the parochialism–of most liberal humanists, leads them to say, ‘Well, if I believed what you believe then I wouldn’t get up in the morning.’ To which my response is, 'Well, maybe, you shouldn’t. Maybe the world would be better off, maybe you would better off, if you had a time of quiet reflection.’
Now that I am a tenured professor of philosophy, and thus may resign from service in my profession’s pep squad without fear of losing my salary, I’m going to come right out and say it: after all this time as a student, and then as a graduate student, and then as a professor of philosophy, I still have absolutely no idea what philosophy is, and therefore what it is I am supposed to be doing.
I strove with none; for none was worth my strife,
Nature I loved, and next to Nature, Art;
I warmed both hands before the fire of life,
It sinks, and I am ready to depart.
What would humanist pornography look like? Chances are that even the most adamant defender of the charms of adult material would struggle to find much evidence of compassion or affection in today’s relentlessly lurid output. Contemporary pornography informs us of one thing above all else: sex is a type of work, just like any other. What matters most is quantity–the bigger the better. It is not for nothing that one of the most successful sex videos of all time, starring Annabel Chong, features 251 sex acts performed with approximately 70 men during a ten hour period. Contemporary pornography is realistic only in the sense that it sells back to us the very worst of our aspirations: domination, competition, greed and brutality.
But what if there was another history of porn, one that was filled less with pneumatic shaven bodies pummelling each other into submission than with sweetness, silliness and bodies that didn’t always function and purr like a well-oiled machine? The early origins of cinematic pornography tell a very different story about the representation of sex, one that suggests a way both out of the rubberised inhumanity of today’s hardcore obsession but also out of the claim that pornography is inherently exploitative. What if porn stopped being such a brute and actually started to deal with the question of pleasure?
My concern at times is nothing more than establishing a series of practical conditions that will enable me to work. For years I said if I could only find a comfortable chair I would rival Mozart.
Don’t you understand, Mr. King? I am Iraq. This flesh, this pearlescent lipstick, the bundling of my bosom under secret snaps and fabrics. Every war is fought for virgins, for delusions of the innocent made corruptible. I am the daughter of the president of the United States of America, the sweet nexus of all imperial pornography. If you dream of defiling me, sir (as you do), war must be made on the barbarians.
Given the Aristotelian success of both the remote and the immediate past, it is not time to face the possibility – even the probability – that the essential Platonic notion of the ‘inner self’ is misconceived? There is no inner self. Looking 'in,’ we have found nothing – nothing stable anyway, nothing enduring, nothing we can all agree upon, nothing conclusive – because there is nothing to find. We human beings are part of nature and therefore we are more likely to find out about our 'inner’ nature, to understand ourselves, by looking outside ourselves, at our role and place as animals. In John Gray’s words, 'A zoo is a better window from which to look out of the human world than a monastery.’ This is not paradoxical, and without some such realignment of approach, the modern incoherence will continue.
We live with [doubt] every single microsecond of every day. I’m constantly in doubt about what I’m doing, I’m constantly tortured, and that’s why I say happiness is irrelevant. Happiness is for children and yuppies. I’m not striving for happiness, I’m trying to get some work done. And sometimes the best work is done under doubt.
… the metaphysical mutation brought about by modern science leads to individuation, vanity, malice, and desire. Any philosopher, not just Buddhist or Christian, but any philosopher worthy of the name, knows that, in itself, desire – unlike pleasure – is a source of suffering, pain and hatred. The utopian solution – from Plato to Huxley by way or Fourier – is to do away with desire and the suffering it causes by satisfying it immediately. The opposite is true of the sex-and-advertising society we live in, where desire is marshaled and blown up out of all proportion, while satisfaction is maintained in the private sphere. For society to function, for competition to continue, people have to want more and more, until desire fills their lives and finally devours them.
I want someone who is fierce and will love me until death and know that love is as strong as death, and be on my side for ever and ever. I want someone who will destroy and be destroyed by me. […] I would cross seas and suffer sunstroke and give away all I have, but not for a man, because they want to be the destroyer and never the destroyed.
Have you ever been in love? Horrible isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. You build up all these defenses, you build up a whole suit of armor, so that nothing can hurt you, then one stupid person, wanders into your stupid life… You give them a piece of you. They didn’t ask for it. They did something dumb one day, like kiss you or smile at you, and then your life isn’t you own anymore. Love takes hostages. It gets inside you. It eats you out and leaves you crying in the darkness, so simple a phrase like “maybe we should be friends” turns into a glass splinter working its way into your heart. It hurts. Not just in the imagination. Not just in the mind. It’s a soul-hurt, a real gets-inside-you-and-rips-you-apart pain. I hate love.
Every system has two sets of rules: The rules as they are intended or commonly perceived, and the actual rules (“reality”). In most complex systems, the gap between these two sets of rules is huge.
We would prefer to live under the false assumption that the rules by which we live are given circumstances rather than realize they are creations of human beings and utterly up for discussion. Just as we understand our technologies to be limited by the software with which they are packaged, we understand our world as limited by the social and economic codes currently in operation.
In a world where no one is compelled to work more than four hours a day, every person possessed of scientific curiosity will be able to indulge it, and every painter will be able to paint without starving, however excellent his pictures may be. Young writers will not be obliged to draw attention to themselves by sensational pot-boilers, with a view to acquiring the economic independence needed for monumental works, for which, when the time at last comes, they will have lost the taste and capacity. Men who, in their professional work, have become interested in some phase of economics or government, will be able to develop their ideas without the academic detachment that makes the work of university economists often seem lacking in reality. Medical men will have the time to learn about the progress of medicine, teachers will not be exasperatedly struggling to teach by routine methods things which they learnt in their youth, which may, in the interval, have been proved to be untrue.
One of the saddest things is that the only thing that a man can do for eight hours a day, day after day, is work. You can’t eat eight hours a day nor drink for eight hours a day nor make love for eight hours–all you can do for eight hours is work. Which is the reason why man makes himself and everybody else so miserable and unhappy.
All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind.
Whenever I start thinking of my love for a person, I am in the habit of immediately drawing radii from my love–from my heart, from the tender nucleus of a personal matter–to monstrously remote points of the universe. Something impels me to measure the consciousness of my love against such unimaginable and incalculable things as the behavior of nebulae (whose very remoteness seems a form of insanity), the dreadful pitfalls of eternity, the unknowledgeable beyond the unknown, the helplessness, the cold, the sickening involutions and interpenetrations of space and time. It is a pernicious habit, but I can do nothing about it. […] I have to make a rapid inventory of the universe, just as a man in a dream tries to condone the absurdity of his position by making sure he is dreaming. I have to have all space and all time participate in my emotion, in my mortal love, so that the edge of its mortality is taken off, thus helping me to fight the utter degradation, ridicule, and horror of having developed an infinity of sensation and thought within a finite existence.
When you make love to a woman you get revenge for all the things that defeated you in life.
I had to realize that the male idea of successful love is to get a woman into a state of secure dependency which the male can renew by a touch or pat or gesture now and then while he reserves his major attention for his work in the world or the contemplation of the various forms of surrogate combat men find so transfixing. I had to realize that female-style love is servile and petitionary and moves in the direction of greater and greater displays of servility whose object is to elicit from the male partner a surplus–the word was emphasized in some way–of face-to-face attention.
If the muse comes to your bedside, don’t tell her you’ll fuck her later.
Amidst the attention given to the sciences as how they can lead to the cure of all diseases and daily problems of mankind, I believe that the biggest breakthrough will be the realization that the arts, which are conventionally considered ‘useless,’ will be recognized as the whole reason why we ever try to live longer or live more prosperously.
All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
The obligation to national allegiance and sacrifice is simultaneously lifted from finance and industrial capital and applied all the more fervently to workers, parents, teachers, journalists, and consumers. Capital can invest anywhere; consumers should buy American. Corporations must expand internationally; workers must organize to keep foreign workers and products out. Consultants can advise any owner anywhere about anything; teachers and journalists much preach national virtues. Products and advertising are to be subjected to minimal regulation; media programming must embody the virtues of the nation.
Those who take the meat from the table
Those for whom the taxes are destined
Those who eat their fill speak to the hungry
Of wonderful times to come.
Those who lead the country into the abyss
Call ruling too difficult
For ordinary men.
There comes a point in life where you either accept whatever you’re doing and just exist, or stop talking about what you used to be and do something completely different.
GO ALL OUT IN ROMANCE AND LET THE CHIPS FALL WHERE THEY MAY
My father is dying, and my mother
has never been so in love. It’s not
over death she’s swooning;
it’s the sweetness that has softened
him. She lotions and socks his feet, shaves
his cheeks so he’s fresh for their evening
date in the dusk-quilted bed, the oxygen
tank murmuring in the background.
As she fine-tunes the tubes in his nostrils,
she smooths his wisps, sighs, “Oh, sweetheart.”
The hills step off into whiteness.
People or stars
Regard me sadly, I disappoint them.
The train leaves a line of breath.
Horse the colour of rust,
Hooves, dolorous bells —-
All morning the
Morning has been blackening,
A flower left out.
My bones hold a stillness, the far
Fields melt my heart.
To let me through to a heaven
Starless and fatherless, a dark water.
Complaining is silly. Either act or forget.
After the services were over and the few mourners had gone, he stood alone in a cold November wind and looked at the two graves, one open to its burden and the other mounded and covered by a thin fuzz of grass. He turned on the bare, treeless plot that held others like his mother and father and looked across the flat land in the direction of the farm where he had been born, where his mother and father had spent their years. He thought of the cost exacted, year after year, by the soil; and it remained as it had been–a little more barren, perhaps, a little more frugal of increase. Nothing had changed. Their lives had been expended in cheerless labor, their wills broken, their intelligences numbed. Now they were in the earth to which they had given their lives; and slowly, year by year, the earth would take them. Slowly the damp and rot would infest the pine boxes which held their bodies, and slowly it would touch their flesh, and finally it would consume the last vestiges of their substances. And they would become a meaningless part of that stubborn earth to which they had long ago given themselves.
I’ve noticed how many of the people who consider themselves to be more radical than the liberal standard do not work in political theory proper but, as it were, hide themselves as literary critics or philosophers. It’s as if their radicalism is an excess which requires them to change genre.
In bed next to a girl he loves, he forgets that he does not know why he is himself instead of the body he touches.
Do you want me to tell you something really subversive? Love is everything it’s cracked up to be. That’s why people are so cynical about it. It really is worth fighting for, being brave for, risking everything for. And the trouble is… if you don’t risk everything, you risk even more.
If I am no longer concerned about ‘what will be’ but about 'what is,’ what reason do I have to keep anything in reserve? I can at once, in disorder, make an instantaneous consumption of all that I possess. This useless consumption is what suits me, once my concern for the morrow is removed. And if I thus consume immoderately, I reveal to my fellow beings that which I am intimately: Consumption is the way in which separate beings communicate.
One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.
All of [Houellebecq’s] work focuses on the antimony of love and sexuality: sex is an absolute necessity, to renounce it is to wither away, so love cannot flourish without sex; simultaneously, however, love is impossible precisely because of sex: sex, which ‘proliferates as the epitome of late capitalism’s dominance, has permanently stained human relationships as inevitable reproductions of the dehumanizing nature of liberal society; it has, essentially, ruined love.’ Sex is thus, to put it in Derridean terms, simultaneously the condition of the possibility and of the impossibility of love.
You are the person most likely to kill yourself violently and on purpose. Suicide rates have risen dramatically over the past 50 years. Worldwide, deaths from suicide now outnumber deaths from war and homicide together: the World Health Organization estimates that each year around one million people — predominantly men — kill themselves. The true number is probably higher, because for many countries there is no data. In some countries, suicide is now among the top ten causes of death. For the young, worldwide, it’s in the top five.
If there is a state where the soul can find a resting-place secure enough to establish itself and concentrate its entire being there, with no need to remember the past or reach into the future, where time is nothing to it, where the present runs on indefinitely but this duration goes unnoticed, with no sign of the passing of time, and no other feeling of deprivation or enjoyment, pleasure or pain, desire or fear than the simple feeling of existence, a feeling that fills our soul entirely, as long as this state lasts, we can call ourselves happy, not with a poor, incomplete and relative happiness such as we find in the pleasures of life, but with a sufficient, complete and perfect happiness which leaves no emptiness to be filled in the soul.
The ancients hardly saw themselves. Today we see ourselves in all positions. Hence our self-horror and self-disgust.
Many are making love. Up above, the angels
in the unshaken ether and crystal of human longing
are braiding one another’s hair, which is strawberry blond
and the texture of cold rivers. They glance
down from time to time at the awkward ecstasy—
it must look to them like featherless birds
splashing in the spring puddle of a bed—
and then one woman, she is about to come,
peels back the man’s shut eyelids and says,
look at me, and he does. Or is it the man
tugging the curtain rope in the dark theater?
Anyway, they do, they look at each other;
two beings with evolved eyes, rapacious,
startled, connected at the belly in an unbelievably sweet
lubricious glue, stare at each other,
and the angels are desolate. They hate it. They shudder pathetically
like lithographs of Victorian beggars
with perfect features and alabaster skin hawking rags
in the lewd alleys of the novel.
All of creation is offended by this distress.
It is like the keening sound the moon makes sometimes,
rising. The lovers especially cannot bear it,
it fills them with unspeakable sadness, so that
they close their eyes again and hold each other, each
feeling the mortal singularity of the body
they have enchanted out of death for an hour or so,
and one day, running at sunset, the woman says to the man,
I woke up feeling so sad this morning because I realized
that you could not, as much as I love you,
dear heart, cure my loneliness,
wherewith she touched his cheek to reassure him
that she did not mean to hurt him with this truth.
And the man is not hurt exactly,
he understands that his life has limits, that people
die young, fail at love,
fail of their ambitions. He runs beside her, he thinks
of the sadness they have gasped and crooned their way out of
coming, clutching each other with old, invented
forms of grace and clumsy gratitude, ready
to be alone again, or dissatisfied, or merely
companionable like the couples on the summer beach
reading magazine articles about intimacy between the sexes
to themselves, and to each other,
and to the immense, illiterate, consoling angels.
Twenty years of song writing have now passed and still the void gapes wide. Still the inexplicable sadness, the duende, the saudade, the divine discontent persists and perhaps it will continue until I see the face of god himself. But when Moses desired to see the face of god he was answered that he may not endure it. That no man can see the face of god and live. Well, me, I don’t mind. I’m happy to be sad. For the residue cast off in the search, the songs themselves, my crooked brood of sad eyed children, rally around, and in their way protect me, comfort me, and keep me alive. They are the companions of the soul that lead it into exile, that sate the overpowering yearning for that which is not of this world. The imagination demands an alternate world, and through the writing of the love song one sits and dines with loss and longing, madness and melancholy, ecstasy, magic and joy with equal measure of respect and gratitude.