Friday, July 31, 2009

Jest and the hall

I know. I hear what you're saying. I do. And I understand. It's just a game. It is, by many accounts, the dullest sport in the known universe. In the of best games, the pitchers' duals, very little actually happens besides one guy throwing a ball to another guy while this other guy from the other team swings wildly and misses. It is only a game. I do know that, and the people who play this game are just like the rest of us. If there are millions of dollars on the line, people can get caught up in the pursuit and then do anything and everything they can to make sure those dollars are headed into their own bank accounts.

So now that we've established what I know, I'll just come out and admit that the fact that David Ortiz may very well have both taken steroids and also emphatically lied about taking steroids is utterly heartbreaking. From the statement the team released yesterday, it sounds like Papi didn't know that he'd tested positive, and he left the door open for the potential that it's not as bad as it sounds. The fact that I parsed this press release on an even more in depth level than I've just explained shows just how much I want to believe. How desperate I am to believe.

The brutal truth is that I'm a hardened cynic who mostly hides his childish heart from the vicissitudes of a modern world that I'm just about resigned to assuming is hopelessly fuct. I don't take virtually anything or anyone at face value and constantly assess the angles, sifting through the psychological potentialities and the sociological datum. I use my broad knowledge of the social sciences to clearly line up the fact that humanity (as a vast and disparate society) is incapable of maintaining the spiritual levels necessary to commit fully as a society to the obvious laws of morality that are virtually unchanged the world over from religion and culture to religion and culture.

That turned into way more of a sermon than I'd intended. I'm just a little worked up about this whole thing, and it's already clear that there's no way I'll get to the brouhaha over at infinite summer about whether DFW was a genius or just a self-referential navel gazer (that was a ruthless reduction, so well...). I don't actually mean that the last statement from the previous paragraph is totally or even obviously or really true. It just seems that way sometimes, and it's also not true that, on an individual level, ethical action and character require an explicitly spiritual self or the engagement in ritualized spiritual practices. I do suspect that on a national or societal level, a real level of spiritualized (read: fully conscious and psychically synchronous) individual membership is necessary to the individuation process which might then break down the Manichean, good fighting evil in pure black and white, perspective that rises to the top of the media's main stream.

And again, that got out of control and digressive. I believe I was talking about baseball. And big Papi. The history of what David Ortiz has done in Boston is nothing short of amazing. He was one of the crucial ingredients in both World Series victories of the dawning millennium including bringing home Boston's first set of rings since 1918. A drought that is second longest in the history of baseball only to the Chicago Cubs' current run, which has now reached to over 100 years. Ortiz is quite simply the greatest clutch hitter in Red Sox history, and he seems like a really good guy. He does lots of work with kids. He gives a lot back to his country of origin, the Dominican Republic, and he has accomplished these things in a humble and seemingly admirable way.

For those reasons, he had been one of my heroes. Yes, I also know how stupid it is to project my own emotional need for exemplars onto some person I don't know who has some highly valuable skill, and I realize what it says about our society that we value so highly the ability to swat a fastball into the cheap seats. Hero worship is pretty dumb. I don't engage in it often. I had no illusions about how the presidency of Barack Obama was going to go. I am very careful about how I craft my unthinking adulation for writers after the whole Kerouac debacle of my adolescence. I don't give a flying rats arse about any other sport than baseball. I know better than to get sentimentally attached to the lives of people I don't know and can't possibly truly judge the character of thru the previously mentioned ruthless analytics.

Still, I am crushed. I let my guard down with Papi, and I do hold out the glimmer of hope that this is all some big mistake, that David Ortiz would not have lied to us. (because really, I don't care so much about the 'roids. If he had come out and said he'd taken 'em, I would probably be okay with the whole thing. Well, not okay, but I would have understood. What I don't understand is how and why he would come out so emphatically against steroids and steroid users and said so absolutely that he had never used if he was himself a user. That's either monumentally stupid or monumentally arrogant, and I took him for neither.) I want to to believe that Ortiz is clean and he actually tested positive for marijuana or even like coke or something.

In the end, it doesn't matter either what I want or how I feel. It's just a...gulp, dumb game, and my feelings are ultimately irrational and probably a tad unhealthy and certainly of no consequence, but there it is. Ortiz was a hero of mine who I choose to take on faith. I won't be making that mistake again so soon. Sigh. I need a beer. I'm gonna go watch a movie. I don't think I can listen to the game tonight.

Postscript: As if this post wasn't ridiculously long and rambling already (I didn't even get to anything of the subject matter from which the title was drawn [that would be Infinite Jest and the baseball hall of fame {and Yes, I do know I could change the title, but I really liked it and am kind of invested in it now}]), I just wanted to tell the story about how I found out, which might further explain why the whole thing was so emotional and why I can't seem to write reasonably about it now, the next day.

Yesterday, I did what it has been my great thrill to do since I've moved back to Boston. I went to a Red Sox game. There really is something special about Fenway Park. It's just a beautiful, old school ballpark, even if the seats are painfully small and uncomfortable. Watching the game live with about forty thousand others, most of whom are caught up with you in this collective feeling of hope and expectation, can be an emotional thrill ride, and we all ride together, players and managers and fans, on the affective rollercoaster that is a game invested with care, with feeling. Being at the ballpark when the Sox win is like no other feeling I've ever experienced in my life. The elation of having something you have no control over come out the way you hope it will, especially when it seemed like it wasn't going to, is an intense high. Frankly, it's better than whiskey, and I don't say that lightly.

Yesterday's game was one of those come from behind and squeak out a win right when the team needs it badly after being 3 and 10 since the all-star break kind of games. One of those games that is just purely awesome to be there for in person. The hero of the game was none other than big Papi. He jacked a three run blast deep into the bleechers behind the home bullpen, putting the Sox up by one in the 7th. They went on to score two more, and Jonathan Papelbon closed it down in the ninth after blowing just his third save in his last outing. Josh Bard hit 101 mph on the gun during the 8th, and Pap hit 99 closing. The young guns were trailing flames there at the end.

And it was a game that many around where I was sitting thought the Sox couldn't win after going down 4 to 1 in the sixth based on how they'd been playing. Johnny Lester'd struggled through 5 clean innings without being able to throw his cutter or his curve for strikes before finally buckling under with two down in the sixth and giving up a stream of hits that wound up bringing Tito trudging out to the mound to take the ball. The crowd was low, and the obnoxious drunk guy behind me had finally devolved into just cursing at the Sox batters as they went up and then down before coming to life in the seventh.

Yet they did finally come to life, and it was great. Almost magical. I was at the game with my uncle and my cousin, who were in from Missouri and going to there first ever Sox game, and we left feeling on top of the world. Then as we walked down Yawkey Way, behind one of the vendors was a television with the news about Ramirez and Ortiz crawling across the feed at the bottom of the screen. It was like being punched really hard in the stomach. The sails emptied of all wind. I just stood there staring dumbly at the screen in the midst of this huge crowd milling around in general good spirits, many of whom probably were oblivious and also probably in for the same stomach punch I'd just received.

The whole thing turned on a dime, and that's probably why I'm so worked up. The emotional high requires you to care; You have to invest the ritual, the game, with significance in order to get the feeling. It's on a similar plane with the willful suspension of disbelief required of films and novels and such. You have to suspend the rational idea that none of this matters in the least, which is the unvarnished truth of the thing. Chomsky is right. It's a distraction, a modern day version of the Roman gladiators and lion feedings.

And but so (I really love that expression of DFW's and I'm totally using it from now on), I was in that state, and not because I'm trying to ignore the world but because I don't ignore the world and am sensitive to the fact that the world is not in a happy place and maybe never was and maybe never will be. Maybe happy is not the natural thing. I don't know. I just know that there are times when the painful realities of modernity require me personally to blow off a little steam or I will go stark raving into looney tunes. It's the truth.

Wait. Where was I? Oh, right. The state of suspended rationality for the emotional experience of collective ritualized performance (or something). And so I wasn't able to rationally deconstruct the question of Ortiz's positive test before experiencing my emotional response. It was unmediated, and it hurt. So, there you have it. Wow, that was a rabbit hole. Whoops. My bad.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rediscovering what the world looks like through child-like eyes

About eight or nine months ago, my sis, brother-in-law, and I took their daughter, who was just about one at the time, for a walk in the woods. At some stage, my niece got set down on this uneven, dirt ground for what must have been just about the first time in her whole life that she'd ever tried to walk other than on the flat, even floor of a house. And she was just totally fascinated and amazed by the small pebbles and the burnt red autumn leaves, and her wonderment made me see those rocks and leaves through a child's eyes. And they were fascinating and amazing to me again for the first time in a while.

This was the experience that first leapt into my mind after this afternoon's performance of Aurelia's Oratorio. It was a kind of mishmash of theater and circus, a surrealistic circus/theater of the absurd with puppets and acrobatics and magic all coming together breathlessly. It was magic. Whatever anyone says, it was magic that Aurelia Thierree and Victoria Thierree Chaplin (yes, that Chaplin [his daughter and granddaughter]) and Jaime Martinez have created.

The performance unfolded in a cascading series of luminously ludicrous vignettes, which pile on top of each other and topple over each other as some kind of racing over-exited child with Aurelia appearing now in a chest of drawers then disappearing into the red plush curtains only to reappear hanging on a drape of curtain hanging from the ceiling. At one point, the curtains themselves were playing footsy with each other and then storming and collapsing, sending Aurelia gliding down her thin piece of curtain back smoothly to the ground of the stage.

And the effect builds slowly as you smile and clap lightly and laugh, and suddenly magic exists again in the world, and you believe as you haven't since you were just a small child that magic is real and exists and is wonderful and alive and here, now. The innocence of childhood comes rushing back into yr bloodstream. I felt like a kid again.

And I could forget for just a quick moment that a garbage truck smacked my car and took off without so much as leaving a note, and the bumper of my car is hanging diagonally attached only on the one side. I'm staring at the grill right now sitting on the floor of the living room, and the truth is I should be pissed. I should be royally pissed and stressed about what a hassle it's gonna be to get Boston Public Works to pay to fix my car, but I'm not. I'm smiling like the cheshire cat at this rediscovery of magic in the world. Tomorrow, there's time to be pissed and stressed and hassle about cars, contact lenses, and groceries, but tonight, right now, I'm going to walk along the edge of the ocean and try to see that great body of water with the eyes of a child. I think I just might be able.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Know Thyself

To return to this idea a little bit, S.B.'s (Saul Bellow's) characters do indeed minutely and perceptively deconstruct their own lives and the world at large. The problem, of sorts, is that these characters may see how they have been shady or off track or however you want to euphemize what is essentially a bit of immorality or weakness of character (philandering and cheating on wives and girlfriends in SB's and his characters' cases), but even as they see themselves they feel they are helpless to change who they are. James Atlas, in his good but seemingly overly scathing biography of SB, always comes back to this idea of the passivity that Bellow expresses. Always, no matter what the problem (and it's mostly the girl trouble) he can't change anything. He can't help that he's attracted to voluptuous younger (increasingly through his works and life much younger) women, and so because of this helplessness he gives in to the impulses.

I guess the point is that helplessness in terms of self is a put on to both the self and others. We're, none of us, totally helpless. That's not entirely true, although the absoluteness of qualifying helpless with totally makes it probably pretty close but whatever. It just occurred to me as I was reading Altas's Bellow that there is a difference between realization and actualization. Or it occurred to me that this was and is something I've long struggled with personally. I've always been really good at seeing my own faults, and I've always been really terrible at corrective action. Lately, I've been working on that, and it does seem that consciousness does play a huge role in actualizing change. You have to see yrself not just intellectually but in a more holistic way and attend to the vast corners of the conscious and unconscious.

And it's a bit of a biofeedback process as the more you are present and attend to the self the more you are able to notice and bring awareness to the problems and solutions to problems. Okay, so this is turning into self-help-like babble just a little bit so I'm gonna break off, but the essential point is good. Stay aware and in the moment and the ability to change even the most long ingrained of bad habits becomes possible. Yah.

Friday, July 17, 2009


So, one of the things (one of many things) about the writings of Saul Bellow that I really dig on is the fact that all of his characters minutely examine their own lives. They also fly from the particular to the universal quite quickly as well, but they really take to heart Socrates dictum to 'know thyself'. And it's a pretty durn good dictum if I do say so myself.

Apodictical- demonstrably true or logically certain. I've been like a peacock about the fact that DFW has barely stumped me with his big obscure words, and then I started up with Joseph Campbell and was again reminded that I am no wordly peacock.

Rachel Getting Married, written by Jenny Lumet (Sidney's daughter) and directed by the incomparable Jonathan Demme, is rough going for the first long while. Anne Hathaway's Kim is unnerving and obnoxious, and the angle on her and why she is how she is is a little bit much. But this idea of going through a trial. This idea that both in life and in (this, at least) film that if you go through and face bad shit, then the happiness that you might find on the other side is gonna be just that much better. You can't really know happiness unless you've known sadness, kind of thing. The Dostoevskyian saying that happy families are all alike but unhappy ones are unhappy in their own special ways fits here, sort of. This is probably why it was called Rachel Getting Married; so that you would be sort of constantly remembering that there is a pay off on the other side of the bullshit they're all trapped in by Kim's refusal to really confront the situation and her problems.

Obviously, having rich ass Connecticut parents and a way cool sister and soon to be brother-in-law and all their cool ass musician friends around (because let's face it; musicians really are cooler than the rest of us [and not in a hipsterish way but in a laid back way that is just so cool]) makes it that much easier to find happiness on the other side of this trial. So, you go through the uncomfortableness and you come out on the other end at one of the awesomest weddings ever committed to film and the kind of wedding I would go for where you have like 8 different bands play over the course of the night and dancing and a group of latin dancers and drummers and conga lines and all the rest. I admit I got a little misty at Rosemary Dewitt's (Rachel's) wedding vows. So, there is a pay off, and the pay off is way more enjoyable than say the wedding in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which had only silly, light-hearted one dimensional problems.

I haven't really been super engaged in the Infinite Summer other than actually reading along and occasionally checking the main posts there, but I have noticed some slight vitiriol aimed at Foster Wallace about his being showy or excessively verbose or stylistic in Infinite Jest. Mostly this seems to be related to the Wardine/yrstruly stuff, which is a little weirdly written for sure. The other two most common ideas that reoccur from the other side w/r/t Wallace enthusiasts are that you should trust Wallace and that, in the first reading, you should let his words wash over you. These two are kinda' related in that you have to trust an author to let go with them and not maintain an intellectual distance so that you don't get trapped in some whirlpool of bad writing or emotional dishonesty or whatnot. And I think the yrstruly stuff along with all the other weirdness, sci-fi, and smartness of Wallace's writing seem to me to be imminently trustworthy. While there is this recursive, post-modern, meta-ness to the whole thing and ultimately that may mean that the end of the book doesn't give us some neat, clean 'well, that's all cleared up' feeling, there is such warmth and intelligence in the work that if you are present in the moment of reading and not totally warped on 'figuring it all out' and let it wash over you, let the rhythms of his words take you along, when I do all that, I find that it's a pretty good book thru and thru and that there is brilliant insight at every turn. Although admittedly, I actually like verbosity. Henry James is a guy I can get down with. And if there ever was a writer that was a show off about how smart he was, it was James.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The connection of Churchly doctrine to basic economic assumptions

For, as in all great pagan mythologies, in the Celtic there is throughout an essential reliance on nature; whereas, according to every churchly doctrine, nature had been so corrupted by the Fall of Adam and Eve that there was no virtue in it whatsoever.
-Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology

In reading this, I instantly thought of the assumption of scarcity in economics. Did this fundamental economic axiom grow out of the Christian world view of corrupted nature? The idea that nature cannot ultimately provide us with full, absolute satisfaction, while technically sort of true, seems to be related back to the notion that the world is both corrupted and a corrupter in that there is no sense seeking this absolute satisfaction from natural sources, only the supernatural sources available through the sacraments of the church. Scrubbed down to secularity, we come to scarcity, opportunity costs, and necessary trade-offs in economic pursuit of some acceptable level of overall group satisfaction through the 'efficient' use of resources (as seen through the prism of the short-term, as human life is relatively short).

I would say that the church's super-natural is nothing more than the natural abilities of the human brain to find a certain human absolute satisfaction in the mystic experience of spirit, mind, god, what have you. Whether such abilities were crafted by some white bearded man or Vishnu or the creator's computer is beside this particular point. The point is that church dogma may have clamped down on the ability of Europe and beyond to experience the divine through the particularly wrong-headed condemnation of nature, and that this dogmatic view was quite possibly the underpinning of the probably enlightenment era idea of scarcity in political economy. Possibly. Who really knows? I just make things up as I go along.

Johnny Staccato and Herzog quotes

John Cassavetes is one of my great heroes. Opening Night and A Woman Under the Influence are two of the most destroyingly beautiful films ever made. Plus, he was notoriously difficult (supposedly punching out Stanley Kramer over creative differences on A Child is Waiting) in that he always strove to stay true to his vision of what artistry was all about. And he was a damn fine actor as well, paying for the movies he made by taking whatever gun for hire acting gigs he could get.

Johnny Staccato was one of those jobs, which paid for Shadows and was made around the same time. It only lasted for one season, possibly because it was too violent for 1959, but from the one episode included on the brilliant but canceled crime dramas DVD, it's so frickin' awesome I can't even begin. It's got to be one of the first mixed genre TV shows ever (a proto 'dramedy' if you will allow the use of such an obnoxious word), with a killer jazz soundtrack. In interviews published in Cassavetes on Cassavetes, he claimed to've wrangled with the writers quite a bit, and that it isn't entirely the show he wanted it to be. Still, I've just now gone and scoured the 'net and found a full set of the entire season from one of the auction websites because that one episode was just that good. Cass smirks his way through the whole thing with greatly silly lines, and Waldo the armchair philosopher/jazz club owner is goofily profound and also hilarious.

So, good stuff. Also some quotes from Bellow's Herzog before I return it. Bellow uses an interesting literary device by switching from third person narration to first person as Moses Herzog composes letters in his head to friends, colleagues, and dead philosophers, and the switches occur constantly for varying lengths, sometimes going back and forth in the same paragraph (the shift is acknowledged through the use of italics). It's a very effective move, giving us an apparent objective view of Herzog and then putting us in his cluttered mind. The book explores notions of sanity as we watch Herzog try to work through the tail end of a nervous breakdown over his ex-wife having left him suddenly to live with one of his formerly closest friends. 'Course Herzog is a respected professor whose written about the romantics and was in the process of writing a book about Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind. Great, deep book.

Anyway, some quotes:

So, thought Herzog, acknowledging that his imagination of the universe was elementary, the novae bursting and the worlds coming into being, the invisible magnetic spokes by means of which bodies kept one another in orbit. Astronomers made it all sound as though the gases were shaken up inside a flask. Then after many billions of years, light-years, this childlike but far from innocent creature, a straw hat on his head, and a heart in his breast, part pure, part wicked, would try to form his own shaky picture of this magnificent web.

Seeking to sustain their own version of existence under the crushing weight of mass. What Marx described as that "material weight". Turning this thing, "my personal life," into a circus, into gladiatoral combat. Or tamer forms of entertainment.

Herr Nietzsche...You make us want to live with the void. Not lie ourselves into good-naturedness, trust, ordinary middling human considerations, but to question as has never been questioned before, relentlessly, with iron determination, into evil, through evil, past evil, accepting no abject comfort. The most absolute, the most piercing questions. Rejecting mankind as it is, that ordinary, practical, thieving, stinking, unilluminated, sodden rabble

That last quote was part of the last twenty-five pages or so of the book. Most of which is in the the form of these mental letter compositions that go on and on about the state of man and society and really seem to capture to some extent the earnest existentialism particular to the early 1960's, and it's in this as well as the theme of getting out of the city and back to a natural surrounding to air out the mind, which are probably why Herzog got love from a wide audience in 1964 and became his first real commercial success.

And a line of Cassavetes' dialogue from Johnny Staccato (which I think he fought to have called just simply Staccato, which would've been a pretty killer name for a TV show):

"I know I got slugged and I got robbed. Now you're making noises as if I did the slugging and the robbing."

Saturday, July 11, 2009

In drerd aufn deck

Which is Yiddish for the middle of nowhere. Which is how I'm feeling right now. A little shipwrecked. It happens.

Back to books-Saul Bellow round two is underway with a biography, The Victim, and soon to begin Ravelstein. Victim was his second book and it's really got the sensuousness of The Adventures of Auggie March, so I was right originally in thinking that this more Earthy descriptiveness and the wandering philosophy have been two strains of Bellow's style. Dangling Man, his first, was certainly thoughtful but not overtly philosophical. Often, as with Herzog & More Die of Heartbreak, the main character is a professor or in that vein (Mr. Sammler's Planet, Humboldt's gift, etc.).

Before getting into the value of the biographical, I just wanted to mention that Atlas, the one of Bellow's biographers that I'm reading, mentions that they used to have used books in huge barrels outside of Walgreens back in the 1920's, and it made me really sad to think that the modern equivalent is racks of really crappy movies. A couple of the names he mentions Bellow reading from the "Modern Library editions" (Altas, pg. 25) are Flaubert, Dryden, Maupassant, Romain Rolland. I would be such a much happier person if I lived in a time and place where you could get used books like that cheap from a Walgreens. I'm not saying I want to go back to a time before computers and such. I just wish the two weren't mutually exclusive. Can't we have talking color pictures, the internet, and books on equal footing? Does it have to be 140 characters or Maupassant?

So the issue of biographicality. I agree with Derrida to a degree when he says that the biographical is a smokescreen in trying to understand the work of an author or a philosopher (although he may have been intending to respond to the use of deconstructionism in American literary criticism in saying words to this effect [I'm a little confused by his explanation]), but I generally find it edifying, even if it's only a fictional edification. I think it's especially important when looking at the philosophical systems any individual sets up to know a bit about that individual. It helps to see where and why their system might have holes. That's kind of, sort of part of deconstructionism. I think.

In the literary world though, it's a little more gossipy to go and read biographies of famous authors. These are the kinds of books I imagine People magazine readers would read if they read books. And I'm not ashamed to admit that I love biographies, autobios, memoirs, the whole bit. I'm incredibly nosy about the lives of people who's work I enjoy and admire. That's not to say that it's not useful to a writer to compare the life of a writer with his work. It can be helpful but is also probably not the main reason I go for the bio. I'm not immune to that more salacious curiosity. That's not to say that biographies are all gossipy and so forth. It's a spectrum for sure, but there's always that element.

And with Bellow it's about the girls. I mean, that was the thing that I was most curious about. I wanted another opinion beyond his own on his relations with women. That's the one mainstay of his work is this problem with women. And there's almost always an ex-wife or girlfriend (sometimes more than one) who treats him rottenly. You figure, either he is drawn to this type of woman or he just paints himself in a favorable light. It's probably a mixture, but clearly in Atlas' opinion Bellow always romanticizes his past and sweeps over his own flaws. Wow, that got really gossipy. I think I'm gonna break off and try this again some other time. I had intended to talk more about the intersection of writing and life, but I guess with that intro I couldn't help but go right for the idle talk.

Also, Infinite Jest. I'm at the point where the payoffs start to occur. You start to see the tapestry as opposed to just a bunch of little threads. It gets yr mind working with all kinds of conspiracy-like thoughts about what it all means and how it all really, ultimately fits together.

I do have to say, although Bellow is really a straighforward writer, there is a certain mystery to him as well buried in the philosophical musings which are not always light-bright clear. That stuff can kind of wash over you when you read it in a work of fiction, and I can imagine rereading will be eventually quite rewarding with all sorts of unremembered stuff.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Movies and baseball

Since the only things I ever post about are what I'm reading, I thought I'd get off that topic for a brief second and talk about my other two favorite things, movies and baseball. I'm watching Rachel Getting Married just now, and I gotta say I'm not totally into the drama of uncomfortableness. I do like the comedy of uncomfortableness, but that stuff's funny. Rachel is just excruciating. When it got to Kim's wedding toast, I just couldn't watch anymore. Plus, Kim's family is flawlessly perfect so far. How does such a self-obsessed, beyond obnoxious person come from such a place? I get the feeling that the perfection isn't real, and things are gonna break down at some stage, but we'll see.

Also, The Thin Red Line is one of the greatest war movies ever. Grittily real. And Nick Nolte as the coronel or general or whatever he is is just a truly transformative performance. There's a scene where he's seriously pissed and screaming into the phone, and the veins on his neck are popping out. It's seriously crazy.

And, of course, Ernst Lubitch is the master of the screwball comedy, but The Shop Around the Corner (on which You've Got Mail was apparently loosely based) is both funny and beautiful and sad all together. Really one of Jimmy Stewart's most subtle performances (Jimmy was not the most subtle of actors). And Margeret Sullivan is really wonderful. I need to rent more Maraget Sullivan movies. Plus, Frank Morgan as Matuscheck has this really pitch perfect child-like quality to him. It all adds up to a damn fine film.

Well, the Sox are in the top slot in the AL East but just barely. The yanks are breathing down their necks. The Jays are saying they'd consider trading Halladay, but I don't think the Yanks have enough to offer or the Sox would give up their young talent. If Hall went to the yanks, that would be it. Hank'd get his pennant for sure.

Now, no one wants John Smoltz to succeed more than me (except maybe Smoltz himself), but with the East such a tight division, how many sub-par outings can you allow the guy to try and turn himself into a finesse pitcher a la Schill? Especially with Buchholz burning up the rubber down in Pawtucket. Still, I have all the confidence in the world in Tito. And this has been his most creative work with the line-up since he's been the skipper of the Sox. And it's paid great dividends. Seems to be taking a page from Joe Maddon's playbook to good effect.

So, that was mostly rambling, little tidbits moreso than anything useful or considered. It's just good for me to write things down. My memory appears to be really useless. I was watching the preview for Elegy, which I saw in the theaters last year, and I was all, 'This looks so familiar. Have I seen a movie with Sir Ben and Penelope Cruz?' I still can't remember what the whole thing was about beyond a may-december romance. Maybe that was all it was about. It's weird watching something you clearly know and have seen, but can't for the life of you remember at all. I don't enjoy that, but then again having a not so good memory has it's advantages too. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind and all that. Okay, enough of this. I'm not getting anywhere.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Infinite Jest and all the rest

It feels a little weird to have exactly designated page readings for the collective read of Infinite Jest marked out to the day. Though it has got me to read the book in small bites here and there, mostly in the few minutes before I should be asleep. That way I aim for a zen aproach of non-judgement, which never totally works 'cause Wallace is so damn entertaining. Still, I can clear my mind on it at the end of the day, which sounds a little crazy when you think about the material as 'material for a book', as in the kind of material that would in general make a good novel all things being equal. In that sense, the material would not make for a light read before bed book, but he makes it work. Sure, it's huge and complicated, but it's also hugely engaging and full of humour, and he eases you in so smoothly that you barely even notice how weird and complicated things've gotten. I can see just now in the past few days why there has been talk of getting past the first 200 pages. There is a slight lag toward the 120-35 mark, and the Wardine stuff is written in a way that could be obnoxious to some.

'Course after the Sheep Man's dialogue in both Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance, Dance, Dance, which was all caps without spacing between the words (which was itself the translator's idea to signify some linguistic eccentricity Murakami used in the original Japanese), I can handle just about any level of linguistic weirdness. That stuff was obnoxious. Of course, those two books were so good otherwise that I could tolerate the sheep man stuff. In comparison the Wardine stuff so far is easy, and I feel like Wardine's story is absolutely necessary to balance out the novel and a pretty interesting one ta' boot.

So I read Jest in small bites, and I don't think about it and go to sleep. It's seems like I remember the book really well that way (either that or it's Wallace's shorter sectioning in the early chapters, which fits the modern attention span better) because I do seem to have a pretty good sense of what's going on where. The problem is more what hasn't been discovered in just the first 10% of the entire book when including the end notes, which are seemingly both important for the story and quite funny. The M.I.T. language riots set off by a debate between Steven Pinker and some made up person, I believe. Buried in the infamous endnote 24. That made me happy all day and glad I stuck it out through 24 to the end.

If I read 15 pages today, then I'll be at the 75 per week mark at 150 (second week). (editor's note [as this post was started yesterday] I'm actually ten pages behind in Jest). And this whole setting exact page and chapter designations has crept into the rest of my reading, which has actually been not too frenetic but more disciplined and therefore more successful. I've been, at least, reading, if not fully processing some heavier stuff. 'Course Saul Bellow has got to be one of the more directly philosophical successful novel writers of all time. His fiction has substantial weight, although in the existential direction which is a field both madly important and of so little practical use to the moneygrabbers of this world (in fact, it's a downright hindrance to have to think about the very thing [mortality] that you are grabbing all this money to avoid thinking about [probably]) and probably ultimately a bit on the tautological side. Okay, that was a set of bald speculative generalizations, but, well, if economists are allowed to make wild philosophical assumptions, then why not I.

Just a brief record for myself of my progress up to July 6th: half way thru W. James, One chpter Joe Campbell's Creative Mythology, two chptrs Macroeconomics (the fallacious assumptions in the field are worse than I suspected), finished Dangling Man, 1/3 thru Herzog. Going to the library today for a biography on Bellow and possibly Ravelstein. That one's gotten some interesting praise and was his last book finished at age 85 (the same year his wife gave birth to his last kid!). Anyway, this is how I'm processing the progress thru various reading this summer mainly because of the collective read. This idea of exactly scheduled reads has really got into my head, and frankly it's pretty helpful when trying to juggle multiple books.

A quick word on macroeconomics. My neighbor gave me his textbook after he took the class, and I've been reading it slowly in bits and pieces in the mornings with breakfast. Already, the clear lack of philosophic rigor is soooo apparent it's almost painful in its obviousness. I said this about behavior economics, but it's even more so true of econ proper. There were several small little assumptive choices that I picked up on but didn't register enough to remember exactly other than the writer's poor explanation of the use and value of behavior econ, but the fundamental assumption of scarcity as existing everywhere at all times because human beings can't satisfy every possible desire they might ever possibly have at every moment of their lives...You guys don't see why having that as the fundamental assumption of yr field might result in some freaked out outcomes? If you really can't see the problem here, then I really don't think there's a whole lot anybody can do about it? I mean, that is astoundingly asinine. Just astoundingly.

I can't even be bothered to deconstruct it again. I ran it in my head in a frustrated half-muttered yelling at the book while pounding the text with my finger, but I'm really not going there again. So, this next few years of intensive econ study is gonna be a slog on some levels, but necessary. Alternative economics producing a practical system and the philosophical reformation of the field proper (opening it to the social sciences [and not letting jerk-off intro writers cop to 'that's not part of the field of economics' as an excuse for ignoring the wider ranges and mountaintops of knowledge]) is work that needs to be done, and maybe I can do something useful in that direction.

So, there's all of that. Otherwise, things're good. Beautiful day, don't have to work. Going to spend some time wandering the city today and writing descriptive stuff for the real places for my novel. That'll also be good. Life is good. I feel good. Going running now.