Monday, April 23, 2012

The System is a Broom

And so I've returned to my adulterer.

Two years ago I read Infinite Jest, the sprawling cataclysm of a novel that ate my appetite for euphoria and displaced my conscious thoughts for the better part of two months. Now I have seeded myself deep within the chasms of his first novel: The Broom of the System.

David Foster Wallace, the genius behind the agony of my ecstatic reading adventure, hanged himself in 2008. This is the seminal reason, beyond the limits of Jest itself, that I find my relationship to his work so hopelessly unnerving.

It starts as such: Wallace's characters are often frustrating, but surely drawn specimens of three-dimensionality which hold within them the promise of potentials realized and hopes metastasized into clear and sufficiently satisfying denouements. Build on top of that frame, a world that seems to be a mocking, yet complex and perhaps inexhaustible mirror of our own. Both the worlds of System and Jest take place in a parallel North America, where certain deeds have soundly changed the way reality is scoped. For instance, the major fantastical element of Broom is that the landscape of Ohio was altered in the late sixties. You see, the people of that time needed someplace to go that would be, in a word (not my word, of course, but his), sinister. So, a giant desert was imported into Ohio. Although one of the climactic scenes of the story takes place in said desert (in earnest I can't really call it climactic -- just one of the last major scenes, let's say), the desert serves no tangible purpose, I reckon, than to play a little bit further with the notion of other.

This too is where I find myself both nursing and vomiting (out from) the tit of Wallace's milk product.

Self and other.

The Broom of the System strings violent on the themes of linguistic controls on our understanding, and the irreconciableness of self and other.

Most stories, as the likes of Charles Dickens firmly implanted into our collective conscience, wrap themselves up neatly in the end. That is to say... they have an end. That is to say further, an end that is something more than the mere stopping of ink on page after page, but rather, an emotional/artistic end. Wallace denies us this. One may not find this particularly surprising when in one sees the era in which Wallace writes (the nineties, give or take), but I myself felt like I deserved one for my steadfast endurance through Jest. One feels like such a thing is owed after 1200plus pages.

Why is there no ending? Is it merely a matter of the genre, of postmodern literature? I resoundly say no. I will defend my sweet, sweet adulterer!

Wallace gives us no ending because to do so would be to conflate self and other: in this case the other being either him (the writer) or the story itself. THERE CAN BE NO CONFLATING! If there were, his premise would be soundly revoked and he'd appear to be another mere pawn of hypocrisy. No, this cannot be the way.

Consider the most telling of his characters (and non-coincidentally, funniest) in Broom. Norman Bombardini is a grotesquely rich man; rich in wealth and flab. His wife gives him one year to lose 100 pounds. Bombardini does not lose weight -- in fact he gains some. Consequently, the wife leaves. This sets Bombardini on a new target of exploration. With all his wealth, all his money and power, Bombardini couldn't control that which he desired to control: namely, his wife. This, he realizes, is the problem between self and other. He is self. She is other. The self has no control of the other. What then is the solution for one resolved to no compromise and no defeat? -- Answer: the absorption of the other into the self. This is Bombardini's solution and he will stick to it. He will absorb his wife. How? - you ask. --Answer: he will eat himself into the other.

No, Bombardini has not decided to become a cannibal... at least, not initially. He is not planning on simply eating his wife, and thus absorbing her in that manner. No. That would not suffice, for, although he may reconcile himself to her 'other' in that way, he still has loads of other others out there to contend with. His music then, is simply to eat.

Bombardini will eat himself into infinity. He will eat until there is no other to contend with. He will eat until he absorbs everything which isn't yet called himself.

Sure, it's a silly premise, and we naturally rationalize his philosophical altruism away by our understanding that obesity leads (rather quickly, we might add) to death. Furthermore, to seal our case, once one is dead, one cannot continue to eat, and thusly, Bombardini is fated to fail at his inglorious attempt to rid the world of its otherness.

To move forward towards the more specifically relevant, there's the central relationship of Rick Vigorous and Lenore Beadsman. Rick proclaims incessantly to himself and to others that he is irrevocably, absolutely, and eternally in love with Miss Lenore Beadsman. Lenore is his girlfriend, and we understand that they've been going together for sometime, but although Lenore, initially on the surface seems to like being around Rick, she won't ever spew out those three important words, "I love you." Rick is ruined by this. He begins to focus his neuroses on his shortcomings: his small penis, his bald spot, his jealousy etc ad adsurdum infinitum.

Rick sees himself as forever locked aware from Lenore, unable to attain interpenetration into her being: she is forever apart and other from him. This very notion drives him mad. Note: it should be added here that Rick is very likely additionally trapped because his "love" of Lenore seems in and of itself to be something apart from Lenore. He doesn't treat her the way someone who actually loves some other should act: that being the eternal interest and adulation in the actions, thoughts, and mundane movements of the other itself -- rather, Rick seems be engaged with some illusory version of Lenore -- the Platonic Lenore.

This separation between self and other that lies so centrally in The Broom of the System is what both attracts and repulses me to the writing of Wallace himself. He is absolutely wholly other and unapproachably gone. I have no hope of being able to define the man or consolidate (CONFLATE!) him into a tangible, viable, usable philosophy. Nope. Never.


A short word about dichotomy.
Since this notion of  self and other has arisen,
I logically think about dichotomies; 
the most mysterious of which is that which is presented to us in the Bible. 
Manichaeism: that gnostic religion of dichotomy and duality,
is obviously a heresy. 
We Christians do not hold to that prognosis of the world.
And yet,
there's this problem of the Devil.
It's so easy for us to fall into a sensation of:
God v. Satan
Me v. The Devil.
And yet,
this cannot be true.
The devil is not on equal footing with God or man.
Shucks, I have not the energy to inquire further. 
The limits of my body (which in a way is an other outside of myself as well)
have burdened me enough.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

In Haste: A Mighty Wind

Whilst bellowing little ruptures of insanity during today's annual allocated time for last minute tax payment hell, I decided to try and alleviate my burden by inviting Christopher Guest into my home once more.

A Mighty Wind is not my favorite of Guest's mocumentaries, but it's a pleasant voyage, never slugging the viewer with anything approaching real drama. It's like taking a melatonin. It giggles down and soothes the innards without ever a stir.

Perhaps because it's Sunday, perhaps because my job is about concentrating on similar issues, or perhaps it's simply an open point of comparison that could be connected to many-a topic and concern, I found the delightful jettison of a folk reunion concert to be in concert with the big and little C(c) c(C)hurch.

Church. What is it, exactly?

Folk music. Exactly what is it?

At the end of the day, Christianity has a litany of forms and delegates, all wanting and eager to exclaim their methodology as the most profound, the lightest and purest. This is an overstatement, of course, but it's close enough to a reality to make due.

The film centers around three groups coming together to play at this reunion night. One group is disparage by the others as a "toothpaste commercial"; they are seen as something less than true folk.

Then there's the male trio that seem overly nervous and conceited. They go on-stage as if they're the true form of the genre, but after a guffaw or two, they end up leading their audience in a round of animal quacks and quirks. It's ugly and trivial.

Finally comes the duet of Mitch & Mickey. When they come on, everyone listens. There's no bickering over these two. They are folk, everyone sees that much.
After the twosome perform, all the performers take the stage to sing the movie's namesake. They do so gaily and wonderfully.

This is the Church. I hope.

We have many differences, and sometimes we descend into pettiness or even vile sin, but we are brothers and sisters. We are singing the same genre.

These thoughts are not profound.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Mindshot: Cool Hand Luke

I'm unaware of the name of today. I'm sure the Catholics have come up with some intriguing, archaic name for it. Today is Saturday. Unlike most Saturdays, today is the Saturday after Good Friday, that one that comes before Resurrection Morn. Some 2000 years ago, our Savior lay dead. All day.

What a strange day. A day without God.

What did that feel like? Imagine Jesus's disciples walked and moved and operated in shock that day. My guess is that the whole world did -- that everything was more or less paused, like on a rainy day in Spring.

Holidays of anticipation strike within me a vibrancy that perhaps the holidays of celebration don't exactly enact. It's hard to celebrate Easter when we still live in a world of groaning. It's hard to worship the Savior's birth in peace when Caesar still rules the Earth. That's why hymns like, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" move me greatly. I feel the tension; the consuming need for relief.

Today, so that our hearts are ready for tomorrow, the day of remembrance of the Great Resurrection, the day the Story changed forever, let's focus on our great need for Him.

Listen here to Sufjan Steven's desperate prayer, Oh God, Where are You Now?: here.

Lukas Jackson, the famed protagonist and namesake of the magnificent Cool Hand Luke, lives in a world where he needs God to save him. Because the film is a film, and not this life, we are left perhaps void of hope. The call for help, the call for a Great Comforter, the call away from loneliness, remains stoically unanswered.

Living in prison, amongst 49 inmates, Luke decides to become his own Savior. He plays this role for the people, and for himself.

The most remembered scene of the film revolves around a brave schoolyardesque bet: can Luke eat fifty eggs in an hour. Can Luke cement his role as prophet and jailhouse priest by performing such a feat; such a miracle?

He does. He eats the fifty eggs just in the nick-of-time. And, as a consequence, his body lay strewn on the table, already showing off his Jesus-like instrument of salvation in the form of his pose.

But Luke is wholly man, devoid of God, devoid of spiritual power.

The pains and evil calculations of the world along with all of its bosses will weigh Luke down, so much so that he will try for escape one, two, three times. He will give his life on the third.
Long after the miracle of the fifty eggs, after Luke is captured after escape a second time, we begin to feel that this story will not end well. We begin to see the signs of fatigue, the palm readings that foreshadow that our hope in Luke may be in vein. Whence Luke is carried into jailhouse for that fateful second time, his jailbird followers surround him. They are excited that their prophet and priest has once more returned. They are eager to place a crown on his head and exult him as their king. He recoils and shouts brazenly.
Stop feeding off me!
The most pivotal scene of the film comes but a few seconds later, wherein the men sit for lunch. One by one Luke's disciples take a spoon of food off of his plate. Luke sits miserable, too destroyed by the world to respond. They scoop and scoop and scoop. Luke had just reprimanded his flock in the previous scene to not look to him for their vicarious freedom from enslavement, now they respond by literally doing the very thing Luke had told them to figuratively stop doing. They've lost faith in him. He wasn't the answer they wanted.
Christ often left the myriads to be alone. He prayed. On the night of his betrayal, he prayed and cried and bled as he spoke to God. He asked for another way. He didn't want to die. Perhaps, in his human body, he felt too frail to take on the batterings of man. He yearned for another way.
Three times during the film we see Mr. Lukas Jackson call upon the Lord. Each time he looks up towards the heavens. Each time he asks,

Where are you now?

Oh God! OH GOD! Now I ask, two thousand years after you saved me from destruction, where are you now? How much longer must we play the game? When does the story end?

We die for you, Lord. Either by will or by fate, we die for you.

Come Lord, end the story. Make the first last and the last first. Make the heavens to descend. Bring the new earth. Bring the fire and the Spirit. Bring peace forevermore. Bring your presence in your fullness. Sit on your throne in Jerusalem.

God! Save the Lukas Jackson's of this world! Save me as you once did. Save me again and again and again. I don't deserve it. I am little.

God! Where are you now?

God! We feed off you, for there is no other.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come, Prophet, Priest, and King.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Being and Thought

 All the dragons are dead. They died centuries ago.

Enter, Melancholia.

Lars Von Trier's newest cinematic effort has perhaps the most intriguing premise of all his films, and yet, is the hardest to concentrate on when in fact it reveals itself. In candor, I admit I found myself somewhere fastened between numb thoughtlessness and lapses of sheet boredom as the thin story saw itself through to something of a justifiable stopping point.

If taken as a story about plot, about motion, about the collisions of masses, then the film is a failure. For most of my viewing expedition I rendered my experience of the film as just that, a failure.

But the mere thought of dragons have reconciled me once more.
I should explain.

Last week I found myself in a verifiable debate with a young, rambunctious Slovenian chap in the mountainous confines of the town of Trenta, the place from which my fiancee claims her 'Slovene parents'. I was inquiring of the lad why nearly every culture throughout history has some sort of dragon lore. The boy lobbied back with the return question,

What does it matter whether dragons are real or not?

I was dumbfounded. Who would ask such a question? Of course it mattered, dammit! But the boy continued to pontificate. He spoke of the line between dragons living in reality or living merely in imagination as remarkably thin and rather unsubstantive.


Enter again, Melancholia. We are witnesses to the inevitable and oncoming collision of another world colliding with our own. This is no Armageddon or Deep Impact. There is no daring escape. There is no last minute salvation. This is Von Trier. So what follows is the study of discoordinated people. Moreover, our attention most clearly lies with a woman who suffers from some deep demon of depression. For her, whether it be her psychosis or a cataclysmic event, it doesn't matter; it's the end of the world.

This is where we can be snookered. We can be deftly led to believe that perception is reality.

I write these words here because we know deep down that reality is something greater, something beyond the scope of mere imagination. This is true because we invent dreams and visions, while the Lord has created reality. Our devices are merely artistic renderings of the physical. Shadows. We make shadows.

When we confuse shadows for substance, we confuse ourselves and follow dark paths. I've been reading through Metaxas' biography of Bonhoeffer, and the obscene craziness of the Third Reich. The only way any of us can fathom that masquerade is if we examine it with something of a comical lens -- meaning, an air of incredulity. While reading about the madness of King Hitler, it strikes me as some sort of Shakespearean ballad, wherein the good guys keep losing to the myriads of poisoned-minded crowds. In Hitler, a nation learned to exchange truth and substance, for dreams and illusions.

When we say that the dragons of reality don't matter, then we undermine God's creation, by stating that our own sub-creations of thought are just as eternal. They are not.

My friends, if God created dragons, then they are a something to be marveled at for generations. If they are merely an invention of the mind's imagination, then I'll just let Game of Thrones deal with them. They kill everybody off on that show anyway.