Monthly Archives: April 2007

King Vishvamitra

“Who through millennia of self-torture acquired such a feeling of power and self-confidence that he endeavored to build a new heaven—the uncanny symbol of the most ancient and most recent experience of philosophers on earth: whoever has at some built a “new heaven” has found the power to do so only in his own hell” (Genealogy of Morals, Third Essay, Section 10).

Our administered science and technology does not require ascesis, however. To master, but not to use. I wonder about the conservation of energy in mnemotechnics—is the pain required to assemble a technology of forgetting equal to the pleasure gained by its use?

M. R. James and the Sibyl

I wonder if Eliot had read this piece [JSTOR] by M. R. James in the Classical Review?

He notes that the sibyl had dried up like a grasshopper and wouldn’t be in an “ampulla” otherwise, a detail I’ve always found myself dwelling on when I’ve taught the poem.


I would like to write a history of apriorism in science and also among the coalition of insurance mid-execs and Carl Hiassen characters seeking the election of Bush tertius (known, colloquially, as the “Jebusits”); but none of this is as likely as it may now seem.


Sea Creature, Very Angry

Agoraphobe Harold on Twin Peaks mentions the orchid’s labellum before a moment of melodrama.

Via Scott McLemee, I learned of George Scialabba’s site, which contains, I think, all his published writing and is well worth reading. “Apriorism” came back to mind after reading his review of Menand’s The Metaphysical Club.

Dreams and Memory

I can no longer remember whether or not I dreamed about Charles Whitman last night, or, once I heard about the horrible shootings at Virginia Tech, I somehow mixed that association with my increasingly vague memory of the dream during the day. The impression I have of the dream is that I thought it was terribly important to tell someone who Whitman was, or to make him understand that I knew who Whitman was.

I believe I first read about Whitman in a Stephen King novel, or perhaps Danse Macabre. The invention of premonition—its folk psychology—is, I assume, well understood; but I wonder if someone has examined how mass media influences or creates it by managing trauma.

Giving Thanks

Atlanta is a beltway town—it is defined by the interstate, known as the Perimeter, that encircles it. It has a notoriously paltry system of public transportation. The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, or MARTA, operates two rail lines, which form a cross whose ends extend, at most, a few stops past the Perimeter. Most communities have no access to it, and there are prejudices against it. (You don’t have to be in Atlanta long before someone relates, ruefully or conspiratorially, an alternative source of the acronym—“Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta.”) Decades ago, residents of two counties surrounding the city voted down an extension of the MARTA system. Ninety-four per cent of Atlantans commute by car, and the city has the highest annual per-capita gasoline costs in the country. According to the last census, the travel time in Atlanta grew faster in the nineties than in any other American city, and it’s getting worse. Travelling ten miles can take forty-five minutes.

From Nick Paumgarten’s There and Back Again.

At a mildly brisk walk, it now takes seven minutes to go from house to classroom. When I lived near the Clifton and Ponce intersection, it took at least thirty minutes in average morning traffic to drive five miles to Georgia Tech (this is in-town traffic, mind you.)

Some Teaching Notes

I have three back-to-back classes this semester. Yesterday, I taught Endgame, “To Room Nineteen,” and an exercise about mapping social space (pp. 195-200 of Fieldworking, to be exact.) There was nothing particularly depressing about the last one, of course, but I think most will agree that the first two aren’t pick-me-ups.

So I was thinking about existential despair and the problems of communication and memory. (Clancy [a rising video star] and I have also been watching the second season of Twin Peaks.) Via Semi-dispensable PTDR I found Margaret Boden’s review of Douglas Hofstadter’s latest book. I had discussed the “voluntary autistics” in Greg Egan’s Distress as a way of outlining bad-faith empathy and solipsism in Beckett (counterintuitive? you should have been there!), and the patterned preservation that Hofstadter discusses is almost exactly the opposite of what you find in Beckett. I think the idea could even help us make sense of Twin Peaks: the show doesn’t take place in Laura’s mind, but Laura’s fragments in imperfect memories attempt to understand their existence (the fragments) via dream-logic and association. From their perspective, it is perfect and whole. From ours, Système D.

Caught up in the Action

I’ve been cursed.

I cannot exorcise Glenn Frey’s “The Heat Is On.” I found it on youtube, this video from a more innocent era where it was modish to wear white sneakers with jeans and a sports coat, and played it for Clancy, who loved it.

Now, as I’ve been composing a paper all day on the uses of some new literary theory, it haunts me. I’m always interested in people’s opinion of The Eagles and their ejecta (“heat,” remember). Not by accident did the Dude hate them, and I think Christgau’s a bit too bilious to get it—though undoubtedly well intentioned.

My theory’s (not my literary theory, which is actually more of a technical issue in narrative analysis than anything else) that sometime in the early seventies it was the David Geffens—not the Robert Johnsons—who went to the crossroads (think any L.A. locale from Gaucho). The Eagles, Guns and Roses, Nirvana, etc.