“Convincing” Love Stories Monday, May 19 2008 

It has been said (Vanity Fair) that Lolita is, “the only convincing love story of our [the 20th] century.” Something ought to be done, not because there is anything wrong with Lolita (far from it), but because everything deserves peers. One might say the 20th century is over, true but its products (us) and its precepts remain yet to be replaced with new bodies or new ideas. Intellectually and biologically we live in the realm of Hitler and The Red Menace. Do we, the last gasp of fertility from a fading era have anything to say before our tired bones crumble and our tired mouths shut themselves forever. There is time for one last convincing idea. What should it be?

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Alcohol Monday, May 19 2008 

I’ve long believed that alcoholism was more severe, more pandemic during 18th and 19th centuries in “beer countries” such as England, Germany, and the Netherlands than in “wine countries” like France and Italy. The mass production of hard liquors like gin, whiskey, and all those other types of whiskey that are supposed to be different than whiskey combined with urban life is why I think alcoholism became what it did at that time. But why I’m more severe for the beer? I always chalked it up to cultural differences in the way that pre-industrial “soft liquors” were consumed, beer as a drink for the sake of itself and wine usually as part of a meal or event . So, when hard alcohol is introduced in abundance the one group is more likely to drink it frequently, independent of cause, and the other not. Make sense, right? Excellent material for my prejudice against masculine/populist icons like blue jeans and beer.

But today I was reading the wikipedia article about gin and I saw something interesting to add to the theory. Apparently gin was often made from crops grown for beer that failed certain quality standards. The implications are obvious and adds an economic dimension. I could now argue that with the introduction of grain based alcohols the beer countries produced an abundance of hard liquor as a profitable by-product of the brewing process. Throw in means of production and some other Marxist hoo-hah and you are well on your way to a credible piece of historical sociology. I could research this, see if I am right, do up what in the big-city college world we call a “paper” but that is something I will not do.

I feel the social sciences and the natural sciences for that matter suffer from what Nietzsche criticized philosophers for in Beyond Good and Evil: “Collectively they take up a position as if they had discovered and reached their real opinions through the self-development of a cool, pure, god-like disinterested dialectic… basically they defend with reasons sought out after the fact an assumed principle” Meaning that these sort of ideas don’t arise out of an examination of the world, but does pretend to. The scientific method essentially amounts to picking your favourite idea and then trying to shoehorn in some evidence around it rather than looking objectively at events and then drawing some conclusion. That’s why I love literature, because there is a greater emphasis on hypothesis, on simple claim making. Sure, there is that boorish bit about backing up what you say about a book with examples from the text that I have always hated. If the author is allowed to simply state an idea about the world I have never understood why the student or the critic cannot do the same about a book. Or for that matter why we can’t do the same about chemical reactions, or crime, or whatever.

The best book about alcoholism and the period I described that I’ve read is, ironically, a French novel: Emile Zola’s L’Assommoir (apparently untranslatable but the copy I had was called The Drinking Den, and others might be called The Dram Shop or just use the French title.)

Hyperforms Monday, May 19 2008 

I rely too much on summary when writing. The first rule of good writing is show, don’t tell, but I love to tell, I am dying to tell. Summary is where the magic happens. It has a way of distancing the reader from the action in the same way that the character is distanced from his/her life (if only in that I am making the decisions for them).

Pre-Marxist German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach posited that gods are an anthropological reflection of the society that creates them. He examined Hegel’s (probably the most current and authoritative at the time) conception of the Christian god. God through Hegel is a completely ideal form and history acts itself out as his separate will. Imagine the flow of a river and imagine the fish may swim in anyway they desire, yet in sum toto they contribute foremost to the flow of the river no matter their will. They act as sites of resistance or enabling for the inevitable current. To Feuerbach the god of Hegel is pregnant with its opposite (atheism, mechanism) because the Hegelian god is completely ideal he has no presence in this world and it operates on independent principles. Reflecting back on the society of the time we can easily see how the change of operant principles emerges in this concept. Countries could be governed by a high will, represented usually by a constitution or monarch, wherein the citizens were free to do this or that work and support this or that cause so long as it was within the confines of the path set out by the high will. Nationalist power or freedom, for example.

Feuerbach’s gods are hyperforms of different human concepts, useful and interesting. It’s easy to understand this idea of hyperform (my term) by examining the Greek gods of old. Each is a particular aspect of life (both in general and specific to that time) given personae to represent that aspect. The genius in this is the often arbitrary and emotional nature of these personae. As science progressed gods had to become more consistent, more perfect because the attributes they represented became full of laws. Gravity, for example, was found to behave as gravity must behave. Therefore a god of gravity could no longer allow temper or fancy rule his projection of gravity into the world. So the perfect Christian/Muslim god arises, who can exist singularly and manage the puzzle pieces of the world without nuance and inconsistency. His hydrogens will always have one proton and his monsters are created in the mutable hearts of men.

The problem with this lies in separating the society of men from the hyperforms of the natural world. Society and our psychologies are in a constant sort of flux that colors events as we see them. The events of a life are imperfect and random because they are the manifestation of a horrid mixture consisting of work, emotion, place, time, and coincidence. Yet physical processes such as chemical reactions are viewed only as consistent, rule-bound. So there’s a disconnect between the perfect hyperform of god (all of this applies to atheism as well because to mechanists the universe will operate on similarly rigid and unassailable scientific principles whether or not they are the result of a god) and the anarchic nature of life and society.

As a result of the sciences the old gods lost their utility as descriptors for the universe, but that was not their only purpose. The Greek pantheon had interactions among themselves and among people rather than apart from them. They, and other gods of the sort, remain useful as literary objects. I can think of no better hyperform for modern sexuality, for example, than Poseidon. He exists in the fertile, yet mysterious realm of the sea procreating all manner of dark and tentacled monsters (We can easily recognize AIDS in this way, tentacles substituting for those troublesome, destructive strings of RNA). He draws men away from their homes and into his bounty with the promise of a better life. And so on.

Tying this back to writing I think it can be helpful, at least for self-reflection, to think of myself as a hyperform of my own psychology. The universe in which my characters operate is after all one created by my own conception of the world. Fiction takes a particular kind of narcissism to produce (and memory a very common kind) anyway so why not? Usually the purpose of fictions is transmission of that psychology rather than self-reflection (masturbation?), but I am not as old as real writers, transmitters, so I do not know myself as well. Besides that I am really the only one reading. So I notice this summary, this distance from life and I can see it in my own life. I imagine being born again as an iron-plated chess king, capable in many ways but weighted down with armour. It’s 30 moves to make it a draw, can I make that many hops, and hopes before I lose it all?

Goals Monday, May 19 2008 

Often enough adopting a goal requires the concession that life is unacceptable as it is. Higher education is the perfect example. For students in contemporary times college has a different social and psychological function; it is the means of access to a certain kind of life (rather than a certain kind of knowledge). We have come to the conclusion that our lives will only be complete in some future scenario. Not only that but also that our work in the present will not lead to that completeness but the mere opportunity to attain it. We are larvae waiting for a transformation.

What happens in the time of caterpillars is always meaningless to a certain degree, as what is good can (supposedly) be held and what is bad can be erased when the new lifestyle begins. To get by in this state people create situations with low consequence thresholds: relationships tend toward the less intimate, money is wasted, and alcohol is consumed to excess. I posit that the young are not reckless because they think they are invincible but rather because to a certain extent they believe what they doing is transitory, worthless and there is freedom in that. Naturally this can extend to identity as if what you do now is without value (or of mediated value) it should follow that how you are is similarly without value. How can we derive worth from a temporary lifestyle that we treat as the germ of future happiness? How can we see ourselves as valuable as we are rather than as embryos of our future selves?