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Monthly Archives: August 2015

Just finished “The Way Things Were,” by Aatish Taseer. It’s the story of an upper-class Indian living in New York who gets word his father, a scholar of Sanskrit and minor raja, has just died. He must bring his father’s ashes back to India, where he finds himself grappling with his, his family’s, and his country’s intertwined histories.

If that strikes you as thin gruel for a narrative, you’re right. The book is grievously afflicted by Litfic Fear of Plot. It’s more an extended collection of interlocking character sketches than anything. The last 200 pages or so dribble out, and the end contains no real resolution, redemption or climax.

Despite this, I enjoyed much of TWTW. The writing is gorgeous. Taseer can craft a great sentence, and is skilled at deploying little moments of insight. The central theme of the novel is “What does mean to be Indian?” and while there’s no answer (that would smack far too much of plot), there’s a lot of interesting discussion along the way. Taseer talks at length of the connections between languages, literature and life, a subject I love to see.

TWTW might be tough for those without a background of Indian history since the early 1970s. If you’ve never heard of the Emergency, the 1982 Blue Star troubles, or the early 90s reforms & the Ayodhya demolition, much of the book will read as gibberish. Taseer’s practice of throwing untranslated Hindi into his dialogue probably won’t help. But if you have an interest in Indian culture, where it’s been and where it’s going, the book has many valuable insights.

While up at the Lake last week, it struck me as odd: those atoms have formed themselves into a medium of life that is a tree. And those atoms have formed into a medium of life that is moss. And so on and so forth, and some atoms ended up forming a medium of life that is me.

And it seemed like there should be a lounge somewhere, where atoms in between mediums would meet and take a load off. Some are smoking. There’s coffee/tea/hot chocolate.

“What’s your next assignment?”

“A dog. Welsh terrier.”

“Wish we could trade. I got grass again. I’m so frickin’ sick of plants.”

At one end of the lounge is a desk. Some very overworked bureaucrat atoms man the line, passing out the slips that tell the atoms where to go.

One lone atom picks up its new assignment, and hoots.

“DUDE! PANGOLIN!”

There is no shame in creations unseen by any other human, because God sees all. And though a thousand Henry Dargers die unknown, God sees their works, and better, sees not just what was made, but what was intended, in full glory, the Ideal of every work. God’s libraries & galleries are eternal and unlimited, and He takes a pleasure there that no mortal can possibly comprehend. Through Him our art shall be exalted, and given back to us, a gift to a gift, one Creator to another.

Dishonesty is not one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

Nor is it forbidden in the Decalogue. Now “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” is traditionally interpreted as forbidding lying, but that requires a skooch. There’s no nice and direct “Thou shalt not lie.”

The reason it bugs me is that, once you’ve noticed it, it seems almost premeditated. Deliberately leaving a loophole. Like the codifiers were nervous about cutting off too completely the option of deceit.

I used to think Pride was the root of all sins, since it requires putting one’s own wants before all other things. I guess that from a psychological viewpoint, one could still make a case for that, but it ignores that fact that some great sinners have been very humble people, thinking all for their causes and never for themselves. In practice, lying is often the first sin. The addict who says they don’t know where that wallet went. The spouse who neglects to say just how much time they’ve been spending with the co-worker. Lies provide a cover for other sins to grow, until such time as those sins are too large to conceal, and the initial lie can be discarded like a husk.

Where condemnation of lying really sticks out is in Revelation. I don’t know what happened to John of Patmos, but he makes sure to stress that “and all liars” are among the eternally damned. I think somebody hurt him bad once, lied and broke his heart. That’s what lies do.

Regardless of what might be down on paper, God sees our lies and the hurt they cause, and He remembers.

I’ve had some odd headaches lately. The doctor said “I’d like to get a look at your brain.” So she strapped me to the gurney and fired up the ol’ rotary saw.

No! Nothing of the sort! She said “We should get an MRI.” This morning, bright and early, I reported down to the Imaging Center, and entered the machine.

I went into this curious. I have some tendencies toward claustrophobia, but not much. I figured I could hack it, and I wanted to see what it was like. The radiologist offered me music through my headphones, because, she warned me, it would be noisy. I declined. I wanted to hear the forces around me.

(They tell you to keep your eyes shut through the process. You need to keep your head absolutely still, and even blinking would disrupt their scan. I have to wonder if this is actually medically necessary, or if they just tell people that to cut down on the occurrences of screaming panic. Or both.)

The sounds were found music, experimental electronic music such as on the Seastones album. At times, in the tube, I felt like I was inside a dot matrix printer, or a classic video game. The sound became 80s music, which turned into a Bach crescendo. Then it would vanish, leaving me in silence as sudden as Elijah’s, but always, underneath it all, came the distant Pacing Sound, the drummer of this band, the heartbeat of the machine.

You go into the tube, into the dark, and in the tube is only you and magnetism and God and music.

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.

I think the atomic bombs were the natural culmination of World War II. The War was the worst thing that has ever happened, the single most terrible event in human history. To read its million-page history is to discover depth after depth of the human condition, endless subbasements of evil, and every time you think you’ve hit the bottom, it gets worse. Horror upon horror, abomination upon abomination, piling into a tower up to the blood-red sky. Of course it ended with a great advance in human evil, a revolution in human evil. It’s only appropriate.

The question “Should the United States have dropped the bomb?” misses the point. The war was Gehenna. From the very first day, it was Gehenna. Gehenna is the natural home of abominations, and there abominations multiply.

The Bomb was the gangrene gift of the war, the death egg. It’s like such unspeakable horror had to give birth to some token of itself, some breakthrough in human evil that would stay hanging over us always. As if the work of World War II is incomplete while a single human lives, so it reaches out with tainted arms into the future to destroy everything.

“Amazing tradition. They throw a great party for you on the one day they know you can’t come.”
-Jeff Goldblum in The Big Chill

I have a morbid streak. A big one. It’s a running joke in my family. And I’m getting to the stage of life where, when peers die, they seem less aberrations than pioneers. Thus in recent years, I’ve found myself asking frequently “How would I eulogize (insert name here) at their funeral? How could I sum up how marvelous a person this is, everything they meant to me, everything I loved about them?”

It occurs to me: maybe it would better to say these things now, while (insert name here) is a position to appreciate them. I could post them here on this blog, in the face of God and all the world.

There’s a problem in that. If you tell someone, “Hey! I wrote a eulogy for you!”, no matter how grateful the person might be to hear the sentiments conveyed, there’s going to be an undercurrent of I ATEN’T DEAD. Instead I’m dredging up a very old Greek word: panegyric. My panegyrics will not follow the ancient and strict rules for the form. I’ll just be saying what I want to say. But the intent will be the same: to sing praises, and to convey the great worth of the subject.

This is not entirely risk free. Eulogists don’t have to worry about their subjects objecting. If you set out to praise a person and ascribe to them elements they don’t feel are accurate, it could hurt. Should I say the wrong thing, I hope the object of my praise will take it in the spirit in which it is intended. I do intend to run these past the person before I post them.

These will not be exhaustive of all the people I know. I will be writing them at random, as the Spirit leads me. If I don’t write one for you, then I assure you, I love you and admire you. Please don’t assume otherwise. It may very well be I can’t find the words to convey what you mean to me. I might in time.

I don’t even know when I’ll write the first one. Watch this space.

The Onion AV Club interviewed Jennifer Beals, star of Flashdance et al, and she very succinctly stated an important aspect of the problem of celebrity:

Because as I’m watching the film and people are reacting to the character on the screen, I’m realizing that more people are engaging with her than know me, and she is in some ways more real than I am to those people by virtue of this focus. I knew intuitively that people were going to confuse her for me and me for her, and that that wasn’t true, and that that wasn’t real. So in a moment of existential crisis, I found myself in the bathroom. I locked myself in the bathroom of the theater. Because they had, like, one little room where you could lock yourself in. My brothers had to come get me. [Laughs.] Of course, the surest way to free yourself from an existential crisis is through comedy, so they made me laugh, and I got over it and went and celebrated the film. But it was hard. It’s hard to be in the center of anybody’s gaze, you know? It’s hard to be the center of attention.

It’s like having a evil twin. The problem’s worst for actors–because the twin has your same face and voice–but it applies to all celebrities to some degree. There’s another of you, wandering about, and what they do defines you.