wasted time.

One of my earliest remaining memories is reading a robins egg blue hardcover copy of Winnie-the-Pooh in a crib. In retrospect the previous sentence makes me sound like a prodigy reader, which certainly was not the case. I may be better than average, but there were no literary escapades during diapers. I slept in a crib until the end of 1st grade, due to the close-quartered living situation. I must’ve been between 5 and 7; there’s also a faint light of my mother getting ready for work next to the chair that always held all the clothes that couldn’t be bothered to be put away.

Third grade my parents encouraged Jules Verne. With sixth and seventh grade came Gulliver’s Travels and Animal Farm.

I hate to say in retrospect again almost as much as this upcoming retrospection and its consequences.

A great deal of classics were read, and for that thanks go to my parents. But because of any and all issues with them that I had at the time, I would read terrible books, gaudy tales of twenty-somethings being nannys and angsty young adult novels, because I knew it would frustrate them. I would roll my eyes at their suggestions and then go on to reread the most useless texts. And now I think back and all I see is wasted time. Not necessarily wasted, because who is to say what I would have grasped and retained at the time, but I’d wager to say that something would’ve been different.

And then there’s this, ‘wasted time’. I shudder to think at all the time I waste thinking about previous ‘wasted time’. I wonder how I’ll think of such waste in the years to come.

“I need to read that”

I.

Last night my father and I watched Mulholland Drive together. Afterwards, standing at opposing ends of the kitchen, we fell into a conversation regarding the extent of interpretation one can carry out in regards to the film; and later in the conversation, in regards to paintings and literature.

I’m not the biggest cheerleader for David Lynch’s films, but I certainly don’t disparage them. He introduced notions into films that will leave him remembered as much as Fellini in the film world. But that doesn’t mean I’ll pop in a David Lynch film on my day off and enjoy myself. It’s like noticing an aesthetically pleasing woman on the subway; I won’t deny that she is beautiful, but I don’t want to take her home and show her my books. That being said, I admire his work, but the slightly formulaic (a particular formula he devised, of course) nature of his films tires me during the act of watching.

 

II.

He suggested that the first part of the movie was the ‘dream sequence’, while the second was the ‘reality’, to which I responded that the same can be said of the reverse, and if anything it seemed as though the movie attempted to expand on a non-linear notion. Breaking the audience away from the need of a one-way arrow narration and diegesis. I wasn’t trying to imply that this was necessarily the intention of the movie, but this was the sense I got from it.

After each comment I made, his response would unfailingly be “I understand that and I agree with that, but…”, attempting to justify his linear understanding of the film despite my comment that perhaps Lynch is attempting to steer the audience away from the need of linearity. It was just a very back and forth conversation, hinging on argument, just because of the haze of justification that seemed to permeate through the kitchen.

Then the conversation tumbled down a few stairs and landed upon the subject of participation in the act of watching a film versus that of reading a text. I offered the opinion that the act of reading a text requires more participation and activity than that of watching a film, at the very least due to the constructed nature of the film; it’s ready-made.

 

III.

When I tried to put it simply as “the text doesn’t really exist without the reader”, he understood it as an elementary aphorism, akin to “if a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?”

I just began reading a text that outlines reader-response criticism, and the last line of the first paragraph of the introduction went like so; “Its [a poems] ‘effects,’ psychological and otherwise, are essential to any accurate description of its meaning, since that meaning has no effective existence outside of its realization in the mind of the reader.”[1]

Now, the essentiality of the effect is a strange thing to consider, because how would one measure the effect of a text on a reader? Do different readings imply paradoxical meanings, or a methodological text?
IV.

It does stand, in my opinion, that a text beckons the participation of a reader. A participation that involves a great deal more ‘giving-up’, so to speak, than one is often accustomed in current times. A book fools you because while you may hold the entire thing in your hands, turning it round and round, flipping through the pages, feeling the veil of raised text on paper, despite any immediacy the book may present for itself, there’s an unspoken amount of time that must be devoted to this book for one to truly ‘have it’.

 


[1] Reader Response Criticism; From Formalism to Post-Structuralism, edited by Jane P. Tompkins

Crumbs and Dust

I submitted a proposal to ObjectLessons about Bread Crumbs/Bread Dust. It was passed upon, but then what good would a blog be if not a purgatory for passing over. I started becoming rather invested in my trailing of bread crumbs, so here are the piles I started building up.

Bread Crumbs
Bread Dust

In a vague sense, one may call them a microcosm of the macrocosm of the split between need and want.

Let’s put it more generally. Bread can be described as a stand-in for one of the most basic human needs. And when the need is dire, anything resembling bread to the slightest will do.

Then bread may be turned into a want, a supplement, an accessory; a fashionable baguette. But you still needthat bread; that rye, whole wheat, whatever you want to pick out from the stack behind the cashier with big, visible labels and yet you still have to ask what is available and what that one is and what that one is. It’s so important.

And yet when it comes to the remains, the crumbs, the dust, it’s brushed aside, swept into the dust pan because what use is something so fine?

Apparently in New York City the cops are allowed are ticket you for feeding bread crumbs to birds.
Simultaneously pounds and pounds are tossed and brushed aside.
None are even sprinkled upon salads or soups. And why not?

Present someone with three cookies, one of which is broken in two pieces but placed to seem together, more often than not they will pick a whole cookie. Pieces aren’t necessarily disparaged, but they aren’t particularly liked.

This looking over of pieces in favor of wholes.
Why the favor of wholes over pieces when holes are dug out in pieces?
Not to say that we should aim for wholes, but the pieces are vital.

There are many object that come with an implication of ‘dailyness’. Getting coffee, going to bed, reading the news; just to begin a short list. Now, this list may or may not have included bread, and maybe it’s the fact that now I work at an establishment called “The Daily Bread”, but there’s a significance to bread that’s suddenly become underlined to me.

Every morning on the way to work, I read from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago Volumee I. Bread comes up quite a bit, especially in the descriptions of its wet, dense existence.

Whenever I close the store, one of my duties is to brush clean the inside of the bread-cutting machine. The result each time is hillside of bread dust. And I wonder at what the prisoners in the Gulags would’ve done for this pile.

A common request that baffles me is for the baguette to be covered with two bags. Is it embarrassing for others to see your bread? Just one baguette, peeking out of a purse that probably cost about as much as the bakery.

The term “bread-winner”—the supporter, the money-maker. It’s in the form of our language.

Bread and salt are often offered in Eastern European countries as a welcome. And who can say no to that?

1917 Russia; the Bolsheviks promised “peace, land, and bread”. What more could one want? It’s been with us since we began to be creative towards our hunger. When we began to play.

Now bread crumbs are brushed aside, disposed off. Given to the birds, but even that’s frowned upon in some areas. Why not play with the leftover dust? Grind the garlic to the finest powder but when it’s collecting itself for you, it’s too much trouble.

Maybe the story of Hansel and Gretel followed its own bread crumbs to the back of our mind. How can you trust bread crumbs when any one could take them?

It could’ve been funny.

I’m currently still in the process of formulating a routine for myself. Well, I suppose I already have a routine, but it seems necessary to reframe one in which I’m not dreading every waking and sleeping moment. There aren’t too many other moments, mind you. Working for 9.5 hours, returning home, sleeping, and then returning back to work all over again isn’t even something to give a vague name to.

Pushkin dreamed: “I want to live to think and suffer!”
To Live, To Think, And Suffer.
Living encompassed by a variety pack of suffering, leaving no opportunity for the mind to wander and think for just a moment, is not quite what I would call living. Not quite at all.

This spills over past working hours as well.
Last night after I stepped onto the F train at 63rd and Lexington, after it went approximately 400 feet, after I had been working for 9.5 hours, the train stopped. Not the most unusual experience, but it stayed stopped for an hour and forty minutes. The first hour wasn’t too bad, no one really seemed to notice how long it was taking until the conductor started mumbling on the intercom about “technical difficulties” with the train ahead of us.

During this time, a woman came up to me with the question “Do you speak Russian?”
At first glance, and even second, I wouldn’t have guessed that she was Russian. But upon third and forth considerations, it was possible that she came from the Eastern districts of Russia. But how she happened to be here now, in New York City, on the F train in Manhattan, speaking perhaps a graspful of words of English, trying to get to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, I have no idea.

I tried to explain to her that the train was stopped because of “technical difficulties” with the train ahead of us, but if I ever knew how to say train in Russian, that was not the moment in which I could have remembered. All my mind could focus on was getting off of my feet and getting home, after already spending an hour on a stopped train trying not to think about having to wake up in the morning, return to work, and make coffee all over again for people who clearly just want a cup of cream to sip on.

By the time the train started moving backwards, back to the station we were only four hundred feet away from the whole time, she had chosen me as the one who could help her. She only had five dollars so taking a cab to another train station wasn’t within the realms of possibility. Since the B wasn’t running, the Q was the only other train she could take. I tried to describe to her where the Q station was, but with every word I said she returned my eye contact only with the attempt (in vain) to understand the sounds coming out of my mouth.

Finally, I just said “I’ll walk you there. Don’t worry, I can show you where the train station is”. The train returned to 63rd and Lex after an hour and forty minutes of wasted life, and we emerged from the lower levels upon lower levels of escalators. I immediately lit a cigarette, pissed off at the time spent on the train, and vaguely frustrated that now I had this woman in tow. She borrowed my lighter to light her Marlboro Light. The Q station was only about six blocks away; we didn’t speak during our walk. Could we have? Even if there was the chance of being understood, what would either of us have said?

When we got to the station she hugged me tightly and repeated “spaseeba”. I wished and searched my memory but fell short at saying “you’re welcome” in anything but English.

It wasn’t until I was finally home, in bed minutes before I would fall asleep, that I realized that I didn’t even ask her name. That’s the kind of frustration and impatience and indifference that this job is awakening in me. In any other light, that entire situation would have been comic, playful, a colourful anecdote where I happened to have an interaction with someone who wasn’t an unwelcome male chatting me up in the street. But instead it was all refracted with the tragic light of what I was unable to do.

the act of writing from notebook to macbook

When writing on a sheet of paper with a piece of pencil, it is close to impossible to see the image of one’s reflection on that sheet of paper. One may even be writing in an attempt to articulate said image.

On a type writer, the keys may shine enough to offer glimmers of a distorted mirror.

With a computer, it takes just the right angle to avoid seeing oneself. Sometimes regardless of the brightness one cannot avoid staring past the screen into this unwanted makeshift mirror.

Aiming the arrow–why write

The other morning I started filling in/out an application. It never occurred to me that both those directions would be appropriate. Regardless.

The application was for a writing mentorship. I wasn’t particularly interested in it, but I started filling it with the thought that, “Hey, if I finish it, I might as well turn it in”. I rattled off a few paragraphs for each question, but then I went back to the first question, which I had intentionally skipped to begin with because it put me on edge;

“What do you hope to achieve as a writer?”

First of all, the word achieve puts me on edge. The most in my head that I hope to achieve is to be a writer. If I were to set up goals for my writing to accomplish, then my writing would be steered towards that accomplishment. The track would be laid out and we all know how difficult it is (though not impossible) for trains to jump tracks.

However, this did bring up some thought and concern. Why do I want to write? I’ve wanted to write poetry ever since the second grade when I entered one of those scam poetry.com contests, but that’s probably/mostly because I enjoyed writing poetry. Since then my writing passes between poetry and literary criticism and philosophical sprinkling. My manuscript attempted to emphasize the relationship between text and the reader. But if the reader were to notice this relationship that I am pointing at, so what? If I go on and on about the different interpretations of a few lines in The Master and Margarita, so what? Will it be useful to anyone?

This notion of usefulness is something that I try not to think of in my writing. Because whatever I deem useful may be entirely overlooked, and the most useless words may be highlighted and examined for days on end. It betrays the idea of what a text is to try to emphasize what is useful, what should be noticed, what should be achieved through the reading.

George Steiner begins his text Tolstoy or Dostoevsky with the line, “Literary criticism should arise out of a debt of love” and the first page ends with “Through some primary instinct of communion we seek to convey to others the quality and force of our experience. We would persuade them to lay themselves open to it. In this attempt at persuasion originate the truest insights criticism can offer”.

“Debt of love” and “lay themselves open to it” I believe are two of the most important phrases in those lines. Because that is not only what a text is aiming to do, but that is what one’s own writing, whether it be creative or criticism, should aim for as well. The achievement should lie not in hitting the bullseye, but being able to aim the arrow at all, for yourself or for another.

Nietzsche’s 10 Rules for Writers

1. Of prime necessity is life: a style should live.

2. Style should be suited to the specific person with whom you wish to communicate. (The law of mutual relation.)

3. First, one must determine precisely “what-and-what do I wish to say and present,” before you may write. Writing must be mimicry.

4. Since the writer lacks many of the speaker’s means, he must in general have for his model a very expressive kind of presentation of necessity, the written copy will appear much paler.

5. The richness of life reveals itself through a richness of gestures. One must learn to feel everything — the length and retarding of sentences, interpunctuations, the choice of words, the pausing, the sequence of arguments — like gestures.

6. Be careful with periods! Only those people who also have long duration of breath while speaking are entitled to periods. With most people, the period is a matter of affectation.

7. Style ought to prove that one believes in an idea; not only that one thinks it but also feels it.

8. The more abstract a truth which one wishes to teach, the more one must first entice the senses.

9. Strategy on the part of the good writer of prose consists of choosing his means for stepping close to poetry but never stepping into it.

10. It is not good manners or clever to deprive one’s reader of the most obvious objections. It is very good manners and very clever to leave it to one’s reader alone to pronounce the ultimate quintessence of our wisdom.

26-7-14

“Speech may be sublime but there’s something in the symbols.”

“Suppose someone said: every familiar word, in a book for example, actually carries an atmosphere with it in our minds, a ‘corona’ of faintly indicated uses. —Just as if each figure in a painting were surrounded by delicate shadowy drawings of scenes, as it were in another dimension, and in them we saw the figures in different contexts. —Let’s take this assumption very seriously!”
–Wittgenstein, PI Pt.II §35

They say you can find math in nature, that it’s already there. Similarly, you can find metaphor in understanding seamlessly.

Language is a shadow–and with it come shadows.
Shadows are created by three things; light, angle, perspective.

 

Timeline of the plague throughout history

The other day I was reading up on the plague, and I realized that there wasn’t a comprehensive timeline on any single website. So I compiled the information that I could find and well, here’s a timeline of the plague for anyone else who’s interested.

430 BCE – 2nd year of Peloponnesian War. Thucydides wrote of a disease that is believed to be the Plague. Some scholars debate that it was smallpox. Killed one-third of the population in Athens.

1st Century – Rufus of Ephesus, a Greek anatomist, refers to an outbreak of plague in Libya, Egypt, and Syria

160 – Plague contributes to the collapse of the Han empires

165-180 – “Antonine” plague kills five million people of the Roman empire. Emperors Lucius Verus (in 169) and Marcus Aurelius (in 180) also succumb to the plague.

262 – A plague in Rome kills about 5000 people a day

540 – An outbreak of the plague occurs at Pelusium, Egypt.

541 – “Justinian plague” kills a quarter of the population in the Mediterranean region. 25 million worldwide. Lasted till about 750

(more…)