Wednesday, March 26, 2014

alternate definitions (III)

While reading, one of the things I like to collect are definitions―alternate, non-literal, or poetic.

Sometimes an author's words are a few steps removed from what I've fashioned out of their provisions, sometimes not. (For more on this, see my first selection of alternate definitions.)

Credits can be found at the end.

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"Why do we call all our generous ideas illusions, and the mean ones truths? Isn't it a sufficient condemnation of society to find one's self accepting such phraseology? ...I know how names can alter the colour of beliefs." ―Lawrence Selden in Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth (1905)

Cool: a posture which indicates that one has made all the judgments that matter in life and made them correctly; irony that has been frozen over time

Funeral: the final buttress against chaos

Grandeur: height directly proportional to how far one can fall

History: a special genre of story-telling that uses narrative to give form to ideals

Humans: technological devices invented by ancient bacterial communities as means of genetic survival

Liberal: someone who leaves the room when an argument is about to turn into a fight

Love: the byproduct of trust and joy

Mass murder: one of the inevitable side effects of technological progress

Multiculturalism: the psychopathic version of cultural pluralism

Playpen: euphemism for cage

Satisfaction: a horse people should not mount if they want to do some galloping

School: a factory for the manufacturing of credentials

Stock market: a device for measuring optimism

Television: a mindless creation that has run amok since the moment a network executive with the soul of a ribbon clerk discovered there were enormous profits to be made by paying heed to Henry Ford's old adage that "No one ever lost money underestimating the taste of the American people."

War: the form nostalgia takes when men are hard-pressed to say something good about their country

In order:

Mark Edmundson (Why Teach?); Don DeLillo (White Noise); David Graeber (Debt: The First 5000 Years); Neil Postman (The End of Education); John Gray (Straw Dogs); Garret Keizer paraphrasing Saul Alinsky in "Loaded"; Eric Kandel (The Age of Insight); John Gray (Straw Dogs); Neil Postman (The End of Education); Gore Vidal (Palimpsest); Robert Walser (Jakob von Gunten); Mark Edmundson (Why Teach?); Richard Rodriguez, "Disappointment"; Harlan Ellison (The Glass Teat); Don DeLillo (White Noise)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Fable

Once upon a time, an asteroid large enough to make all life extinct was headed in Earth's direction. The size of Texas, they said, if you were from North America. Or the size of France, Ukraine, Botswana or Afghanistan, depending on where else you were from. Perhaps this was an exaggeration, some said, but it was Coming Right For Us!, everyone said, with an uncharacteristically communal air. A direct hit.

People were scared. If such a thing could wipe out the dinosaurs, they thought, just think what it could do to us! A summit was called, and soon it was decided that there was a reasonable chance for survival if some missiles were shot up into space. Not to blow up the asteroid―it was much too large―but to deflect it. Nuclear missiles, they said. The only kind strong enough. With something like this, they said, you don't want to take any chances.

The United States decided to launch three missiles, each from a different location. Better odds, they said. China made their own calculations and decided to launch three of their own. Better odds, they said. Russia joined in too. Hearing this, the United States added six more for good measure. Even better odds, they said.

To help conceal the dread, the event was marketed as a sporting event. The commercials buzzed. Who was going to make contact? Who was going to land their bomb in the end zone? Who was going to save us all? Bumper stickers were printed, pressed, and stuck. Meteoric dance moves were invented for the upcoming celebration. When not frozen with fear, people were in a generally positive mood.

The Nights of Nights, as it was marketed, finally came. A satellite with a special camera was sent up just for the event. (The money spent wasn't argued over because secretly no one thought it would matter in the end.) People in the dark half of the world peered up at what promised to be a spectacular sight, while people in the light half kept their fingers crossed and tuned in to the live stream brought to them by innumerable sponsors. A select few others who had not heard of the event lived the Night of Nights just like any other.

On 15 channels there was nothing to be seen but the blackness of space and the dim shimmering stars. Experts and pundits chattered, made predictions, and kept things moving. The remaining channels continued on with their usual programming.

Onscreen, a blazing light could be seen growing larger and larger inside the frame of the television set. The increase in size of the asteroid was frightening, the pundits said, as it approached with tremendous speed. The experts gave a few relevant figures.

Soon the asteroid passed the calculated point of no return, the pundits noted. The missiles, which were pre-programmed to launch, lifted from the Earth. Three from the United States, three from Russia, and three from China. A moment later the United States launched six more, each a few seconds apart.

Sitting in front of their television sets, people watched silently. The missiles soon entered the frame, shooting up from the bottom of the screen. Following them were large tufts of smoke. Better than any Hollywood movie, a few pundits remarked.

The asteroid moved closer. The picture was pristine. In the coarse, churning surface of the ominous rock, malevolent faces appeared for a instant, then vanished, only to appear again in a somewhat altered form as the asteroid slowly rotated. (Had there been a psychologist present, he could have explained what all of this meant.)

The asteroid and the missiles blazed toward each other as if magnetized.

Then: a flash. And another. Then another.

Some of the missiles―whether through malfunction or miscalculation―detonated just before hitting their target. White smoke slowly filled the black space while various people argued over what was happening and who was to blame for whatever it was that was happening.

The rest of the missiles, the world saw, had missed their target. The asteroid emerged forcefully from the icy smoke.

People gasped. Others wept. Some screamed. A few committed suicide.

But a few moments later people noticed that the asteroid had missed its target, as well. Dipping near Earth, it somehow escaped the planet's pull.

People cheered. Others kissed. Some wept. A few committed suicide.

Meanwhile, the radioactivity from the detonated missiles created a dark cloud that blocked out the sun and slowly rained poison down over the planet. Within a decade, all intelligent life on Earth was extinct.

Friday, March 14, 2014

affinities XVI

I. Leashed

A dog struggles against a retractable leash while a man―pressing the retract button―waits patiently for his pet's inevitable return. The small dog braces itself against the road as it's pulled; children watch, laughing gleefully as Jep, the main character, watches them watch.

Life as amusing spectacle, man as lazy, spoiled observer―or flâneur. Paolo Sorrentino's The Great Beauty (2013)

Accompanied by music, an old man walks slowly across the frame as his struggling dog―which might as well be a small boulder―is pulled along behind him. The audience watches in a state of amused horror; the dog, yelping, is tangled in the leash, and probably not very recently. The man is too old to hear or notice, and too feeble to do anything about it even if he did.

Life as tragicomic opera, man as sisyphean protagonist. Roy Andersson's You, the Living (2007)

II. Unleashed

Mon Oncle (Jacques Tati, 1958)

Le Quattro Volte (Frammartino, 2010)

Thursday, March 06, 2014

What's the World Coming To!?

"All that is said by any of us can only be imitation and representation." ―Plato (Critias, 360 BCE)

"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." ―Ecclesiastes 1:9 (between c. 330–180 BC)

"That which comes after ever conforms to that which has gone before." ―Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (c. 161–180 CE)

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Ancient graffiti from Wadi Rum in southwest Jordan [via]

west bank graffiti, camel, vandalism, ancient graffiti
West Bank wall graffiti [via]

sex ad,  Ephesus

ancient sex ad, ancient brothel ad, coarsening culture, ephesus
Ancient ad for a brothel in Ephesus. The ad includes a heart, a cross, a woman’s head, a foot and cash. It has been translated as "turn left at the cross roads where you can buy a woman's love." [via]

penis graffiti, ancient graffiti, pompeii, jokes, penis humor, coarsening culture
Ancient graffiti from Pompeii [via]

graffiti, coarsening culture, bathroom graffiti, bathroom stall, penis humor, penis graffiti, jokes, bathroom humor

first selfie, old selfie, coarsening culture, technology, internet humor, internet culture, robert cornelius
Robert Cornelius’ self-portrait: The First Ever “Selfie” (1839) [via]

old graffiti, vandalism, name signing, carving name, ancient monument, victorians, abu simbel, coarsening culture, rameses
Victorian graffiti on one of the statues at the Abu Simbel temple complex built by Rameses II [via]

graffiti, monuments, desecration, coarsening culture, spray paint, old graffiti, vandalism, nothing new, pyramid
Pyramid of El [via]


Sketch for Luncheon on the Grass (detail). Claude Monet, 1865

cat gif, rainbow, cool gifs, proto gif, zoetrope disc, technology, dumbing down, technology, animated gif
Cat GIF [via]

proto gif, internet humor, technology, animated gif, old gif, gifs, cool gifs, early gifs, zoetrope disc
Proto-GIF. Zoetrope disc, England, 1870. [via]

omg, winston churchill, coarsening culture, technology, first use of omg

winston churchill, omg, first use of omg, lord fisher, coarsening culture, technology, internet slang, letters
1917 letter from Lord Fisher to Winston Churchill [via]

hair cut shapes, shaved heart, duchamp, star, punk, hairstyles
marcel duchamp, star, head shave, haircut, pipe, punk, early punk
Marcel Duchamp, 1921 [via]

random text message, ur, abbreviations, coarsening culture, technology, bad spelling, ezra pound

ezra pound, letter, idiosyncratic spelling, early text, texting, text msg, coarsening culture, technology, text abbreviations, sarah perkins cope
Ezra Pound, from a letter to Sarah Perkins Cope, April 22, 1934

first lady, telegram, twitter, coarsening culture, technology, eleanor roosevelt
Eleanor Roosevelt telegram, 1945

hillary clinton tweet, coarsening culture, technology, twitter, telegram, first lady

wonka meme, draft meme, coarsening culture, technology, fantasy football meme,

early meme, proto meme, fuck the draft, internet humor, protest poster, vietnam, draft meme
Fuck the Draft poster / meme (1968) [via]

photo overlay, old picture, new location, technology, landscape, rene magritte

rene magritte, technology, the human condition, photo overlay
Rene Magritte, The Human Condition (1935)