The dilemma of loving a child

Yoon Yong is edging closer to the end now. Just so you know, hagwons, in Korea, are privately run academies, which children attend as well as school. They are largely English academies, however there are math, science & art hagwons too. They fill a void school’s cannot fill due to the Korean school system not being arranged in levels of ability as they are (or were) in England, where students are placed in groups suitable to their ability. In Korea all abilities are put together in the hope that every student has the same opportunity. However, what this means is the level is set lower than a proportion of students, who just get bored. So hagwons challenge them & enable improvement. You must have money to send kids to good hagwons. It illustrates status & good hagwons can provide students a higher level of proficiency than their class mates at school, mother’s with a social milieu, teachers with jobs & business owners with a competitive though often profitable venture. In short, there are tons of hagwons.

 The dilemma of loving a child
 
…My daughter must be taught to be an individual
—I can’t bear the thought of her becoming mechanized.
 
Little Sarang bashing at an iPad & squealing
as chunky characters pop & parade | singing nonsensically.
 
She must suffer for it like me—then I’ll love her.
She’ll succeed in being unique.
 
Is it not a life of agony to be an exile in your own culture?
Dual heritage will marginalize her perhaps
 
—her English will be naturalized
which will elevate her above all the other kids.
 
That’ll irritate all the fuddy-duddy stuck-up girls
I knew in high school | who now make-up
 
their daughters like princesses. 
I won’t get those exorbitant hagwon bills.
 
She’s already on top. We are individuals against our will.
The democracy of character the cult of personality.
 
The Falun Gong of I
—our organs gauged out like a trowel foisting up a root.
                          
Beaten for blood to test the resilience of our bone & muscle
by truncheons of our own making
                                  
—our leader AWOL overseas | with a permanent Visa
& eating well | living in luxury while
 
slowly | in  pain we lose bits of ourselves
physically & then (after terms of endurance) mentally…
 

Her daughter Sarang (Love) appears in a dream

Finally pulled my thumb out & turned my computer on. So many books to read. Here we have Yoon Yong, mothering doubtfully, exposing her flaws through the flesh she has produced, as the image she produces in her dream. The biological aspect through the child image, becoming psychological to tell the identity where it falls into error. Something like that. I may have got mothering, feminism, love, dream, psychology, all of it wrong, but I could only persevere with the direction I felt, in essence, the most interesting for Yoon Yong as a fiction. Where I fall into error I have my intuitions, but I’d be more than pleased to be pointed out where else.

Her daughter Sarang (Love) appears in a dream
 
…“How many died of preventable ailments
because of a belief in transcendentalism?”
 
Her daughter with an adult’s voice
exposing flaws explaining where I steered myself wrong
 
what I could have done better | differently
—euphemisms | apothegms she couldn’t possibly know
 
at her young age—I scribbled notes but…
the pen contained only UV ink.
 
Motherhood is impossible | I worry continually
: I don’t want my Love to grow up to be someone I hate.
 
Everyone says “it just comes to you | it’s natural.”
I kept telling myself to love
 
this jaundiced looking ball of wool
& rolls of skin that cackled like a pocket radio.
 
The primitivism of it suckling hungrily at my swollen nipple
—I wanted to perform the ritual so badly
 
but it made clear to me how tainted | how cosmopolitan I was
: breast feeding repulsed me | it felt so animal.
 
Gravid | I pictured my belly’s contents
lift me out my life like a blimp filled with helium & confetti |
 
rousing me from my apathy like smelling salts |
out my very self—climbing | climbing out | skyward.
 
I couldn’t stomach Korean food during my pregnancy |
not even the postpartum seaweed soup rich in iron |
 
the olfactory idiom & lilting made me nauseous
—I craved quiche or omelet | anything yellow… 
 
 

Nietzsche’s questionnaire

Nietzsche concludes book III (268-275) of The Gay Science by posing 8 questions to himself & answering them. I found, answering them as if they were philosophically incentivized Rorschach blotches, quite revealing.
I prepared this post yesterday, it was my father’s birthday, so I sent him the questions to answer, to find out something about himself; no better day to have something of yourself revealed to you on the day you were born, right? I wish more people considered such a gift for me.

Here are the questions with my answers, I encourage you to share your own answers in the comments, & make this post more interactive, which is my intention—indulge me, for Nietzsche’s sake.

What makes one heroic? Not being tempted by convenience.

In what do you believe? That the content of character improves with the impartial harvesting of ideas, for ideas sake.

What does your conscience say? First let me wake it…it sleeps so heavily…it says… just a moment…”YOU ARE HUMAN & STILL NOT ENTIRELY AWARE OF IT. WHY?

Where are your greatest dangers? In the guilt that I deserve for the correction of other people’s ongoing errors, committed blindly.

What do you love in others? That they are capable of persuading themselves unexpectedly.

Whom do you call bad? Those who are courted by a single emotion or idea & make a passion & persona out of it.

What do you consider most humane? To listen without the urge to reply.

What is the seal of liberation? To not be ashamed to be seen with your Self.

A quality insight from Mrs. Fish

A quality insight from Mrs. Fish

“Mrs Fish had concluded her story by saying that it was a peculiar but an assured fact that some human beings seemed to be ruined by their best qualities.”

This is one of the concluding paragraphs of Delmore Schwartz’s America! America!
An insightful paradox from Shenandoah Fish’s mother, a women all the details on the ins & outs of the neighbourhood’s characters. Our instinct tells us qualities enable achievement. However, we also have this underlying sense (instinctual?) of what she means.
Mrs. Fish is referring to Sidney Baumann, the son of Mr. Baumann, a self-made door to door insurance sales man & Russian immigrant, popular in his neighbourhood, trusted, a strong work ethic, thrives in groups. A man who believes in America because it equates in his mind to opportunity; he is living proof of it, in fact. It is unthinkable to a man with his history to miss out on this opportunity, even if it was originally founded on mostly hope. We admire his dutiful character. Why wouldn’t we?

His son Sidney is spoilt. He is informed, to a media standard. He thinks he is owed something. He is finicky about what he wants to do with his life. He is a snob, lazy. His mother praises this as a “sensitivity to the finer things in life.” It is due to Sidney being able to fall back on the security of his family that mean his best qualities (his good upbringing) struggle, if not outright fail, to improve him.
This is a tough paradox to solve. It is the duty of a family to raise a child well, to see their needs are met, to instruct by example, which is what the Baumann parents do. They are pious, well mannered, respected, well-off but not excessively wealthy, they understand value & worth & they want only what they think is best for their children. Regardless, these qualities are not transferred satisfactorily to their son. In fact, he is more the inverse of their best qualities.

Mrs. Fish’s insight might be re-worded as, some people are ruined by their parents’ best qualities. Of course Mrs. Fish I doubt could possibly believe such a thing, Shenandoah is after all jobless, drifting aimlessly.

Let’s say you are part of a gang of intellectuals, a variety of people who share conversation & wine in common as the group do in Schwartz’s story The World is a Wedding.
Sidney is among them. During a comparison of contemporary America & Depression era America, the subject turns to the presidential family & the natural inclination of Trump to pamper his children by whatever means, even if they are illegal & morally questionable methods that endanger his credibility, like… say… quickly passing through business-trade opportunities for his daughter before closing them to everyone else (wink wink).
You ask Sidney:
“Does Ivanka & her siblings owe their father anything for sticking his neck out?”
Sidney replies:
“We rebel against our parents because of what they expect from us. It isn’t just love, it is a debt of gratitude. We are never, & never will any human being in the future of humanity, ever be offered the choice of being born.” Somewhat cryptic, but I think we get the jist. Even if we rebel our parents owe us, we owe them nothing for their choices.
I tell him that years ago I read a silly book by Michael Talbot called The Holographic Universe. A hodge-podge of enlightened pseudo-science & human potential, LaLa land rubbish.
There was talk of reincarnation in the book, but the system outlined, hypothesized that we choose what will be reincarnated as, so that the soul might increase its knowledge. This system enabled the soul, encouraged by will, to quest after ultimate understanding.
As a thought-experiment (which is about as useful as Talbot’s book could ever be), let’s pare his outline back a little & say, before birth we are told a little (from the environs of this pre-life state outside time & space) about what to expect from life. On the sheer scale of experience we would, ignorant, be told of the polarities that are very real pressures in life; the creeping dearth of our environment, natural beauty, how difficult a definition of nature is & the polarities this creates; the easiness of loss, the fortuity of gain; love & how its power can both leave us in rapture & despair;— in essence, how easily, based on sensory inputs beyond our control, our mood may elevate, accelerate, decelerate, evaporate & all the bits n’ bobs & in-betweens.
Wouldn’t it seem sort of overwhelming? Would the necessary consequence of this information be a ubiquitous, unquestionable, yes?

Sidney nods in agreement & jumps in…

“There is no warning, no expectation. Life is bull-rushed upon us (this is where I say, ‘this is the reason babies cry on exiting the womb’, but I don’t believe that). For not falling into line with the narrative we are incorporated into, for not meeting expectation, we are labelled disappointing.
This may not be explicit (conscious), but it is implicit (sub-conscious) as our will to independence exposes. Independence is not instinctual in humans, not if we are coddled too long, if the nest is too warm & mother-bird never teaches us the value of aerodynamics & daddy the skill of the hunt. This is why Shenandoah’s father instructed my father to send me to Chicago, out into the world to stand on my own 2 feet. It failed. The safety net was firmly secure; already I had passed the formative years without being acceptably formed for the struggles ahead.”

Sidney owes his parents nothing. He is their responsibility; if he was a mistake, he is a mistake they made & therefore must take responsibility for. If you buy an expensive object, you take care of it. A child is not an expensive object; a child (being human) is an anomaly of nature, a thing without equal in nature or objects, something that is not to be brought into the world if it must meet expectations, if it must be a slave to the ideals & expectations of parents. The world changes as the child grows & their world is not the world of their parents. A child is not an insurance policy against mortality.
I read (or watched) somewhere that the American people are collateral for the exorbitant national debt (a conspiracy); regardless of whether this is a fiction or not, it is a terrible thing to consider even the remote possibility of.

In the final paragraph of Schwarz’s story Shenandoah Fish says into the mirror that
“No one truly exists in the real world because no one knows all that he is to other human beings, all that they say behind his back, and the foolishness which the future will bring him.”

Shenandoah is as insightful as his mother. His insight illustrates something of the absurdity of expectation in an indeterminate future. He also begs us to search for what we cannot see in ourselves, what we cannot know of ourselves, what others might see & how that could & should alter us & moreover, how we are, like Mr. Baumann, tied to people for a definition of who we are (consider this in the context of his profession: he is a door to door salesman).
Not having the full picture of ourselves how can we expect to know what is best for the breathing, breathless, hungry mistake (or choice) that we have made?

Right & wrong, are clear in many respects (aside from the exceptions to the rule, which I don’t like focusing on as they set a default go-to when dealing with generalizations & end up being used for one-up-man-ship in discussions) but don’t assume they’re always straightforward, there are immensely subtle, unregistered, slow burning conclusions to the actions we take.

(I’d like to add, I am not a parent, I do not believe in these ideas, they are simply ideas to be indulged, I don’t necessarily not believe them, they are not proved right or wrong, I am merely entertaining potentials.)

The end in sight…

Last night, i went with a friend to the beach.
The few squid boats that sailed out were returning early, around 8ish.
We’d found a low bench outside the perimeters of society’s light & with a bottle of soju, a box of kimchi & veggie pancake, talked our tired into something productive & admired the uncommon sight of a few printed constellations.

We somehow got onto conspiracy theories & my friend, not knowing much about them, asked “why do they believe in such things.” Being Korean she’s had little exposure to what is, to my mind, a very Western phenomenon.

i outlined (roughly) Foucault’s power-knowledge: holding & creating the codes & keys to knowledge; there is no power without knowledge.
But, what is the control conspiracy theorists have? It is that they know something important, have tirelessly awakened to something we don’t understand, or more accurately can’t see as it is “hidden in plain sight”. They do what they do for our benefit, turning them into a conduit of truth— they’re on a moral track; fulfilling a duty to the survival of open, free society.

Going off the subject it dawned on me how erroneous we are to assume problems, with such wide reaching, immense scales can have any end in sight.

Let’s say for instance that every system of governance, politics, philosophy, religion,ideology is in itself a timeline, plotted, deterministically, in progress, towards a fateful moment in the lives of the collective that follow it & by extension (through survival of the fittest) compelling everyone else to fall in line to this track, seeing the benefit (as the adherent or faithful would see it).

Isn’t this ridiculous? It brings into sharp focus all our reasons behind why we cherish ideas, why they become personal, character shaping.
i’d say a good many people believe that what is an all encompassing process for them, seeing as, in reality, it exits in tandem with other processes, means it is unlikely there is a singular destiny. Numerous processes, always in motion together, has been the vital matter of man. Ideologies conflict with ideologies.

Our history, our ideas, are not necessarily a process of trial & error to eventually discover suitable methods for going forward to some fateful day when everything is corrected to a set of tracked demarcations. We have no destiny.
Things happened, but not for a reason.

Even peace is an ideology. There will never be peace. Never. Nor will there be a day where evil triumphs & nothing but war fills the world.
The liberal, the conservative, republican or democratic agenda will never win over an entire population. The likes of dystopian fiction will never be realized in their total form.
i’ll go ahead & wager the same for ecological issues, the world won’t end with a bang or whimper, it’ll hobble on, inconceivable moments of change may occur, but what ever volume of human content stubbornly rises against the back hand of its own stupidity, will adapt & humankind will plod on, forgetting, then becoming the mythopoeic madmen we all are, at heart & do best with our easy hearsay.

What does it mean to realize this?
For me, this is not about persuading anyone. This will not enlighten you.
i once believed, years ago, that the logical end (all evil would need to play out for this to happen) of humanity’s crises, was to just end up fully, organically understanding good; this was the only method of living that made sense. There is no waste in good, except the loss of bad.
Evil, corruption, always sacrifice something, create hardships & pain, which is wasted energy.
If there is peace & prosperity, would we really be more human by denying our coarser, more violent natures? i don’t know if this is cogent or an easy thing for good people to accept, i doubt it.
i know for me, this realization of no end in sight, emancipates me from the track of that end.
i can, with George Saunders, be free to just like everything; or not so much like, as accept it being outside my influence yet remaining within my control; if only the control is an alteration of the context of my capacity to influence. This comes frightfully close to sounding like ignorance of the difference between right & wrong, but in reality is it is a realization of limits.

Would i end world hunger, the deaths of children, the slavery of teenage girls if it meant i had to kill a single man, even a room full of evil men with the click of a lever? Sure. Sorry fellas, you’re for the chop.
However, that is a foolish thought experiment & life just isn’t that simple. The exception to the rule seldom becomes the rule.

Why this public act initiates me into some personal collusion with myself, i don’t know, it feels necessary somehow; sort of like the symbolic act of cutting the Gordian knot.
i think Wallace Stevens’ final line from his poem Parochial Theme “Piece the world together, boys, but not with your hands.” sums up what i am trying to say here. To build something with your hands means an end in sight, the mental world is always going to get revised & emotions are not built with your hands.
Oddly, i’ve never been happier with chaos. The next step is deciding what that means— i suspect, it doesn’t mean anything other than i am finally human.

Toward a Critical Habit II

V

There were 3 major terrorist incidents in England in 2017. Morally despicable acts of cruelty designed to spread panic & to inflict suffering on innocent people, & by enlarge, to terrify the country into a constant state of anxiety. The crimes were committed by a minority sample of Muslims who were radicalized because they listened to the propaganda of another minority sample of Muslims.
This has aggravated the schism in British public opinion: people who once defended their dislike of Muslims under a belief in each country taking care of their own, has become unadorned racism.
There are non-Muslims in England, organized bodies of them, who from this, deduce that the population of around 2 1/2 million Muslims in England are all sleeping terrorists. i know at least 10 people (my own aunty being one, along with her clique of equestrians) personally who believe this & have harvested the information from a wider organization of people who accept this as fact. Britain First propaganda informs them. An organization that went to refugee camps, asked Syrian refugees who could hardly speak English, where they wanted to go, when they replied England they forcibly told them not to go, then when they noted the smart phones in the refugees’ hands, quizzed them, as if they’d caught them red handed as frauds, on where they got them. It never occurred to this Britain First supporters that Syria did once have economic structures in place or that these refugees came from relatively wealthy families that could afford such objects. Nor, whether there might be an industry of used phones sold on the cheap, despite the war.
What is more absurd is how they’d fix this problem: “just send them back.” How many times i’ve asked these Britain First supporters what they’d do & received this answer is astonishing.
An insignificant amount of critical thinking exposes the immense complexity of doing this. A great many Muslims have lived in England for generations. How do you determine where “back” is for young Muslims who never visited the countries their grandfathers came from? Young people who identify as Brits. The extreme right often forget that Muslim isn’t a country. Let’s say you do have a system to decide, which is unlikely; who will pay for the transportation to return 2 1/2 million Muslims, or even half that amount? If no one, then do they expect them to be herded by force to Dover & forced onto boats? What then of European countries where they will perhaps land? Will they pick a single country to drop them all, or send vessels to the multitude of countries where Muslims live? What boats will be used & who will pay?
The logistics to successfully carry out such a ludicrous solution is fraught with difficulties; considering that there will never be a clear majority that believe this a morally just course of action; in that case, there would never be a majority vote to shoulder the pecuniary responsibility for something they find morally reprehensible.
An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, has become the apothegm of some, Darren Osbourne, for example, who took his ideology to the point of mowing down Muslims outside Finsbury Park mosque, killing one & maiming several others. He transmuted his nationalistic anger & anxiety to protect his country into belligerent action, as if there were a holy war we’d all agreed on.
The truth is that people living inside the borders of England just go about their busy, their ideologies or opinions, remaining dormant until they are provoked into use. People don’t tend to think about, or to correlate information, if they do, it is from sources similar in scope to each other. This means the dialectic in society is largely passive, then a slanging match.
i’m with Northrop Frye on the value of argument:
“I detest arguments because you’re going to lose any argument with an ideologue because you can only argue on the basis of a counter ideology, and I’m not doing that. I think that the ideologue addresses his public and wants to make a kinetic effect on it. He wants people to get out there and do something.” He goes on to say “The actual technique of argumentative writing is something I avoid as far as possible because when you argue, you are selecting points to emphasize and there can never be anything definitively right or wrong about an emphasis. It’s simply a choice among possibilities, and consequently argument is always a half truth.”

VI

Guillaume Chaslot, a computer engineer who worked on the Youtube algorithm, discovered during the 3 years he worked on & with it, that how the algorithm decides the Up Next videos in the Youtube side bar, are dangerously skewed. Search terms often lead people down a rabbit hole of conspiracy videos. His website Algotransparency, gives the likelihood of Up Next videos when we search a term such as “Global Warming”. If we do search this in Youtube we are 5.6× more likely to have a video on the predictions of Nostradamus appear in the Up Next side bar. Can you imagine what sort of effect this has on elections? How this affects learning?
A lot of people watch Youtube videos & Google is the leading search engine—Google owns Youtube, so the algorithm is probably similar. What might begin as an effort to inform yourself on an important topic, can quickly lead you down a rabbit hole of questionable authorities. Someone with poor critical faculties can be led into a belief system filled with irregularities; without defense, without critical habits, we are open to suggestion & manipulation.
i don’t believe Google is evil. i don’t think Larry Page is a bad bloke, but i do think the technology is flawed in regards to the freedom it must maintain to be what it is. In this case, we must take measures ourselves rather than place the blame on the engineers of these tools, which can be utilized for as much good as the bad habits they induce.

Conspiracy Theories are probably the most peculiar form of questionable authority. i say authority, because they have a lot of reach these days: Alex Jones as millions of listeners & David Icke sold out Wembley.
Although, in the opinion of a locked in conspiracy theorist, due to the non-conformist (& often bizarre) restructuring of what they accept as the status quo, they are in fact, hyper-critical. They are able to read symbols planted in plain view, within society; usually in advertising, Hollywood movies, subliminal messaging in popular music & the geomancy of monuments or architecture. To them, a logo may be a code that interpreted correctly, reveals clues to the agenda of the puppet masters pulling the strings. They are warring against shadowy government agencies, a global cabal with infinite resources to silence its opponents. Conspiracy theorists, interpret a wholly other narrative from the news reel of the day, because they understand reality in the context of secrecy. Their efforts to expose this puts them at daily risk, they do what they do for liberty & democracy, just like those who accuse the shamed.
One of the major anxieties of the conspiracy theorists is mass de-population. David Icke & Alex Jones frequently raise this topic. Their evidence comes mostly from the Georgia Guidestones, an admittedly peculiar monument in Elbert County, Georgia. On it are written 10 instructions, in 8 modern & 4 ancient languages. The 10 instructions are:

I. Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.
II. Guide reproduction wisely — improving fitness and diversity.
III. Unite humanity with a living new language.
IV. Rule passion — faith — tradition — and all things with tempered reason.
V. Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.
VI. Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.
VII. Avoid petty laws and useless officials.
VIII. Balance personal rights with social duties.
IX. Prize truth — beauty — love — seeking harmony with the infinite.
X. Be not a cancer on the earth — Leave room for nature — Leave room for nature.

i’ll just say something about number 1. There are 7,000,000,000 people on the planet. The extermination of 6,500,000,000 human beings is a messy business. The logistics of it, would mean, that of the 500,000,000, a reasonable percentage would need to be responsible for this. A conspiracy theorist might say the trade of labour for life, is one we already make & a work force could be selected with this promise. No doubt. However, would they have to kill us or be party to it? That’s a different conundrum. Cleaning up the already dead corpses of the entire planet is one thing but having to kill them, you have to be desensitized, propagandized and manipulated. They might say this is already being done. However the slow pile up of our bodies littering the planet & decomposing will cause famine if the select to deal with this don’t work constantly. In which case, we have an example at our disposal to illustrate the monumental strain this has on a power: the Nazi’s worked diligently to exterminate 6,000,000 over a period of a few years & it was fraught with logistical problems. & we are talking a number of much greater magnitude. How are even a million people going to clean up this? Moreover, the architects of this depopulation are supposed to be men who run businesses, whose interests are vested in manufacture & thus need a work force, on top of that, someone to buy their products. Why decimate the population of consumers? Isn’t the consumer supposed to be always right?
These are questions that are never raised by conspiracy theorists, because they want to believe. It gives them an advantage over the uninitiated, makes them feel they figured out a mystery.
Their anxieties are founded on an insanely improbable act of cruelty. But what knowledge can we harvest from merely denouncing them as crazy? It seems more profitable to be critical, then if they cannot answer us, they are forced to search themselves for a reply, from that we can put them in a position where they must interrogate their belief. That is what true criticism does: if the question cannot be answered, then there must be an attempt to uncover one.

VII

Moral obligation in public life should not begin & end with accusation, the act of the accused needs to be corrected; disciplinary action should follow. To explain what someone did wrong takes more effort than pointing a finger. The accused must be guided to understand the mechanisms & triggering of the act.
We have never been more informed, it is no excuse to blame over abundance for ignorance; that doesn’t sit well with me. Quality may be more difficult to obtain & even maintain. But if that is the state we find ourselves in, an open mind to the changing tides of information that inform a problem, should keep us alert to questioning & being questioned.
Why is critical thinking difficult for people? People are often confused about what it really is to criticize something. It is not an act of negation, it is an act of analysis, a practice of reasoning to evaluate & even classify information in order to better understand. It is not an opinion that needs to be defended with the best efforts of the ego. It is not something that shames, blames, points or belittles. It is the power of understanding. It is a device for regulating society’s behavior; for keeping an informed eye on ourselves.

Toward a Critical Habit

Tim Miller, in a recent comment, said he’d race me to an essay on critical thinking, after i said i might write an As I Please on it. This has become more than that: as i started thinking about it, more & more stuff just kept coming.
i think i’ve won Tim lad, haha.
This is the part I-IV, i will post V-VII probably Monday, as i have noted that more than 2000 words seems a bit too much, the essay runs to 4000 (whittled down from something ridiculous like 7000), after i’ve edited the crap out of it, so i thinking cutting it gives people an opportunity to read qualitatively.
i completely understand people’s reading habits online (i often want to read something but then see the length & get a little put off) & am more than happy to oblige taking out my Okkham’s Razor, or just splitting things up if it means people can read my stuff more attentively.

I

Society, in general, is not trained to think critically. Our schools are founded on monastic & military paradigms, as Foucault tells us: “…the idea of an educational ‘programme’ that would follow the child to the end of his schooling and which would involve from year to year, month to month, exercises of increasing complexity, first appeared, it seems, in a religious group, the Brothers of the Common Life.”
We are exercised. Over the last 200 years, itinerary & repetition in the classroom, have been developing us to perform the tasks necessitous to the functioning of a perpetually shifting society; preparatory conditioning for our adulthood. We are not taught, as individuals, to alter them, but to either function as a cog, or to improve them. Thinking critically isn’t essential to the mundanity of most work; satisfactory performance is; so that industries succeed & governments can rule. It is no coincidence that the layout of the classroom is similar to the office or the factory.
There is critical thinking— no quarrel there; however, it is something easily refuted on the basis of the right to an opinion, no matter how uninformed it is; in addition, it’s something misunderstood as a skill available to an elite. i can’t accept this. There is too much history behind us & too much information around us to settle for this. But really, it isn’t that difficult to take information & question it— even the child can ask why. The diallelus is a formidable tool in the arsenal of the most amateur critic, even if it does go on & on & on…

i will talk generally, the exception to the rule is too often inflammatory, standing in opposition to the general, wider effects of an event or problem. If critical thought was more habitual, the events we have witnessed usurping the front pages of newspapers over the last couple of years, simply could not have courted a majority enough to tip the balance. i doubt there’d be a schism between the EU & Britain; Britain wouldn’t be in the throes of an ideological civil war; & of course Donald Trump would not be the president of the U.S.A.
i recognize a world beyond Britain, Europe & America, but i have to limit myself.

II

i make use of criticism as it is applicable in literature. We may not realize it, but we use literary devices to tell anecdotes, the news uses them all the time to report tragic events & deceptions. The intellectual equipment available from a study of literature, its terminology, has application in society & life. i take this relationship of literature to society from Kenneth Burke.
Burke wrote an essay, which is in his book The Philosophy of Literary Form called The Rhetoric of Hitler’s Battle; one of his reasons: “There are other ways of burning books than on the pyre.”
Burke was acutely aware of how people might take his writing an essay on a sensitive subject. He stresses at the beginning:
“Hitler’s “Battle” is exasperating, even nauseating; yet the fact remains: If the reviewer but knocks off a few adverse attitudinizings and calls it a day, with a guaranty in advance that his article will have a favorable reception among the decent members of our population, he is contributing more to our gratification than to our enlightenment.”
He wrote it to explain the circumstances & events that altered Hitler’s perceptions, which spurred him to alter those of the German public; it was written to educate us, in the hope we become trained to recognize the patterns of behavior at their inception, in the unfortunate circumstances of demagoguery’s return.
An admirable attempt at a safety measure: an early warning signal for when maneuvers in politics are on the brink of taking nefarious turns.
“[And] he was helpful enough to put his cards face up on the table, that we might examine his hands. Let us then, for God’s sake, examine them. This book is the well of Nazi magic; crude magic, but effective. A people trained in pragmatism should want to inspect this magic.”
It is often too easy to misunderstand an intention like Burke’s, the guaranty in advance in the mind of a public unschooled in critical approaches, is to think there is something improper in the intention itself of wanting to say anything about a book like Mein Kampf other than, pure evil. But the fact of the matter is that this reaction, despite being correct, doesn’t help us get to the root of why it is pure evil, so regardless of it being a correct statement & warning against the book, it doesn’t necessarily end the problem of demagoguery or racism.

III

History is full of instances where the critical faculties were needed. However, i am more forgiving of the public of our past: hierarchies were more dug in theologically & more difficult to rebel against due to a lack of widely available broadcasting means to advertise & organize a will to reform. It took brave individuals to stand firm first of all, before other’s rallied behind them. There was little more than the nom de plume or guerre for protection from the tyrant.
Men in power have always sought, with systems & rights available to them exclusively, to control the masses; creating a culture & environment of suspicion, in which to question the authority meant punishment or discipline.
Reading Foucault’s Discipline & Punish we learn of the reformations that took place in the judicial & punitive systems of law throughout the 18th & 19th Centuries, into something approaching what we recognize today.
“In the old system, the body of the condemned man became the king’s property, on which the sovereign left his mark and brought down the effects of his power. Now he will be rather the property of society, the object of a collective and useful appropriation.”
Our courts have opened into social media, mutating into a form we might find fair warning against in Foucault:
“The right to punish has been shifted from the vengeance of the sovereign to the defense of society. But it now finds itself recombined with elements so strong that it becomes almost more to be feared. The malefactor has been saved from a threat that is by its very nature excessive, but he is exposed to a penalty that seems to be without bounds. It is a return to a terrible “super-power”. It brings with it the need to establish a principle of moderation for the power of punishment.”
Foucault’s historical context is different. However, our systems of social moralizing, our collective obligation, the contemporary phenomenon of shaming, for example, i imagine, would interest Foucault, especially when he explains:
“In short, the power to judge should no longer depend on the innumerable, discontinuous, sometimes contradictory privileges of sovereignty, but on the continuously distributed effects of public power.” The effects of a multitude to judge, rather than a single man, was more cost effective & far reaching. But could the masses be trusted to do it fairly & constructively?

IV

The social media channels available to us, allow for a constant clock on moral policing; we are moment by moment, updated on the conversations taking place in extensive networks & no matter where we are or what we are doing, we can respond. This public, answering on a whim, distracted by other things going on around them, are not prepared for the details necessary for interrogation; couple this with poor (if any, solid) instruction in critical thinking— it’s a recipe for disaster.
Our media sources extend to amateurism. There are amateur news shows on Youtube, a plentitude of DIY documentaries & short video analyses on popular news items, which also pop up on Facebook. The public, picks up on & moves according to the whims of itself as individuals, part of & working for, the betterment of the collective; a crowd often follows anonymous persons who bring something to their attention, with a tacit stance. The people who watch & create with these available media, believe they are doing the work of democracy, they have a right to their opinions & to broadcast them & to point the finger when someone gives them the go ahead. Because of the safety in numbers, people can rally behind this anonymous upholder of justice, they become a credibility reference to justify the ideas fused with their identity.
Justine Sacco’s story is a typical example of shaming.
Sacco, worked in PR for a New York company. She was going to visit family in South Africa. Bored, waiting for her flight, she wrote some mildly disparaging Tweets. One of these included: “Weird German dude: you’re in 1st class. It’s 2014. Get some deodorant.” This remained local to her community, which understood it in context. Another was something about crap sandwiches & bad teeth, she was in London. Her final Tweet was: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDs. Just kidding. I’m white.”
Sacco, got on her plane to no great fuss from her Tweet. During her flight, the Tweet exploded. Some internet journalist looking for a scoop picked it up & broadcast it to his flock of followers. People without any knowledge of who she was, were calling her a racist, someone even got the idea to go & photograph Justine getting off the plane, to catch her at the moment she realized she had been shamed. It was fun for the community to gang up on Justine, safe in the knowledge they were righting wrongs. It was easy too; an opportunity for people to show how morally responsible they were, by casting judgement on someone they knew nothing about.
Of course, for Justine, it was devastating. In a matter of weeks she lost her job, the respect of her family & friends; she couldn’t leave her house. She was ruined.
What she said was stupid; she acquiesced to this when interviewed by Jon Ronson of the New Yorker (whose article on Justine & shaming is worth a read). i wouldn’t peg Justine as a racist just as Ronson doesn’t. “Only an insane person would think that white people don’t get AIDS” were Justine’s first words to Ronson.
Justine’s accusers were wrong too, with the power of anonymous community behind them (just like the executioner behind his mask), to immediately punish Justine. But unlike the executioner who is guilty about his role, Justine’s accusers feel no such guilt.
They didn’t question her first, they made no effort to critically interact with her. They didn’t even make an effort to discipline her, on what amounts to a single sentence, a Tweet— they went right for the jugular.
It might have been a different fate for Justine if rather than jumping on the band wagon, her accusers asked her “What do you mean by this?” How difficult would that have been?
i do not know the mind or character of Justine Sacco; she could have lied about everything, she could be a racist. How can i know any of this? i have a small amount of information about her. So why would i go for the jugular? Why would i not keep an open mind? There is no history of Justine being part of a racist organization. No history of violence. Nothing in her past to condemn her for what she was condemned, so rashly, as being.
There is an egotism behind pointing the finger at the mistake of the shamed. We have begun to surveil each other, our moral nose snooping, not to fix the moral hiccups of each other, but only to punish for social benefit, for praise & our 15 minutes. Discipline? Of course. Guidance? Without doubt. But not a digital executioner, punishing people for a slip of the tongue.

Plagued by the fact & the facts of life

Near the end of Camus’ The Plague, Dr. Bernard Rieux says “But, you know, I feel more fellowship with the defeated than with saints. Heroism and sanctity don’t really appeal to me, I imagine. What interests me is being a man.”
After reading this, my skin & bones, the rhythms of my organs, the coursing of my fluids, became acutely apparent to me— i realized absolutely that i am a person, an individual, part of a collective, a wider community that despite the cultural nuances & affinities that set us apart, is composed of what i am composed & capable as i am capable.
Regardless of the plainness & brevity of Rieux’s discovery, it is perhaps one of the profoundest moments in literature. It has accompanied me daily since i read it some 2 weeks hence. i actually gasped, letting out a howl of joy, after reading it. It brought me closer to something i have been incapable of formulating in words, overthinking it, i had failed to give it structure & realization, until now. It was so simple, right there in the plain reflection of the word man. By which i mean a shortening of mankind.
i couldn’t have met with it at a more critical time: i have never been more intrigued by my humanity; more thankful of the sheer unlikeliness of it.
Have you ever stopped for a moment & intuited your humanity, taken the deep measure of it & noted the absurdity of being what you are, how, where & why you are? Forgotten about the influential, ancillary by-products of our humanity: God, religion, spirituality, politics; nothing of so much dilemma or purpose; just the bare fact of your existence. What i mean by the bare fact of existence, is a co-operation of intrinsic potentials for understanding the fact of life & the facts of life, not as opposing principles of a [wo]man or Man’s characteristics, but essential ingredients in the remedying of problems.
i marvel at the fluke of it, the banal miracle of it. Maybe it takes a reader to arrive at this insight; for me literature, is the purest medium for substantiating thoughts of this caliber. Culture is after all, imminent in society & whether we know it or not, informs the method by which we can understand our place in it & our creation of it.
In The Plague Rieux & Tarrou, are stand out characters. It seems no coincidence to me that their names, though physically dissimilar, rhyme. & furthermore, rhyme with Camus. They are literary aspects of Camus: one, devoted, plain, honorable, utilitarian & the other, romantic, talkative, fanciful, mysterious. Both of them saintly in their respective aspects: one unaware of it, one all too aware & searching; both with their own methodologies.
Rieux, lives according to the fact of life, whereas Tarrou lives, in pursuit of the facts of life. One is stationary, comfortable, the other, a wanderer.
People can be categorized according to these distinctions. There are those content in the simplicity of devotion to an ideal, which can be family, career (duty or calling) or faith; & those who are unsettled, always alert to the duplicity of experience & the continuity of learning through a mixture of experience & study. Both have something of the calling about them, but they breed quite different characters.
However unalike they seem, Rieux & Tarrou have a common aim: plague.
The plague, whatever metaphorical, metaphysical or pathological form it takes requires the combination & co-operation of both the fact & facts of life. Our plague in question is not necessarily one dimensional, though it may be; it may take one, or combine numerously: it can remove us from the need of one another through suspicion or fear of infection; it can be the abuse of power, to profit from catastrophe, to cause catastrophe for personal gain; the application of punishment in unequal measure to wrongdoing or the punishment of God or nature; it can be minor or major misunderstandings; the inability to love or an overwhelming need to love at all costs; it can be ignorance of your & by extension, others’ humanity—in short, it can be any problem.
There is no use surmounting a problem, without something to live for on the other side. This usually works in tandem to fill a gap left open by the problem. We may survive a terrible illness due to the skill of virologists & doctors, but it is the support, love & friendship of those around us, that give the survival meaning. This is Cottard’s major problem: he has no purpose, he is desperately in need of the Absurd, or simple human contact, which he gets from plague & which he didn’t have before plague. In tackling plague, it is more formidable a problem if the fact or the facts of life, go it alone— they must unite, & advise each other as Rieux & Tarrou, do so succesfully.
Rieux & Tarrou as archetypes of Camus, puts me somewhat in mind of William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven & Hell, for me, a crowning moment in man’s insight about himself.
“1. Man has no body distinct from his Soul; for that call’d Body is a portion of Soul discern’d by the five sense, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.
2. Energy is the only life, and is from the Body; and Reason is the bound or outward circumference of Energy.
3. Energy is Eternal Delight.”
To make the link to Camus, i’d say Rieux is the Body & Tarrou the Soul; Camus, the Energy & Reason. i suppose Northrop Frye would say this link is inevitable owing to the template of myth featuring & structuring all literature.
There similarity in character strikes me too: they were both consistent in their goals & pure in character: working & reasoning for the betterment of people. They were concerned with people & did their utmost to reform society, while simultaneously informing it.
The archetypes are not separate however, there distinction is made only when we anatomize the whole man, using a sort of mythopoeia to dissect in order to understand & formulate strategy, to counter ruination or plague. What i mean is, knowing the function & category of each part in the whole, enables us to better portion out tasks for each part, so as to deliver more effect blows to the ruination or plague.
Tarrou is not a doctor & Rieux is not aware of his saintliness, but only his duty. Together they form a formidable unit to cope with both the body & the soul of the populace.
So what am i getting at? Well, don’t be, solely a mindless body, or merely a mindful soul; fail beautifully to issue yourself the character of one who divests themselves in just the fact of life, or only the pursuit, of the facts of life. Realize your humanity in its corporeality & the extension of the uniqueness of that corporeality being a capacity to think. Thinking is an extension of humanity that is not permitted an animal. An animal reacts, it doesn’t have the means to perceptively alleviate its problems or enjoy its life with the strategies enabled by the density of a consciousness that can reason, enjoy, love, perceive & more.
It seems so daft & obvious to say all this. But i bet many people haven’t considered the uniqueness of humanity & taken that they possess a unique part of it, too much for granted. This is an error & the remedy allows us to enjoy ourselves & others with greater insight & intensity.

Facebook is not sentient

This is not a defense of Facebook, but it is a criticism of how we think about it & act in a world where it is no longer seen as a company but a silicon appendage to the functioning & entertainment of society.
i have often heard people blame Facebook, even a couple of times recently, & i too in the past have been to blame for this, as if it were an annexation to the reborn old gods, a jacked in, downloaded addition, an upgrade, broadband brained & USB ports plugged into the world, where its fingernails might otherwise be. But what use has Facebook for fingernails?
People blame it for their addiction, they blame it for its existence, for its affect on them, for diverting their attention. i sort of understand: we like a scapegoat, someone to shift the blame to, then we don’t have to take responsibility. Unloading the blame on something for our drifted attention & difficulty concentrating, makes a malady of the problem, it becomes more serious & necessitates a push to act. It’s a bit like a crime committed by a mad man: the clinically insane man who commits the crime, though guilty, is cleared of any conscious wrong doing & the efforts of the law, are to fix the man, not punish.
However, Facebook isn’t sentient, it is a tool, a system of communication that we pack with friends & loved ones & yes, new acquaintances we met in a bar in Thailand, but who we have grown weary of, because they post too many selfies, had more holidays than us, or perhaps turned out to be someone with vile & heinous opinions on matters that are important to us.
We wrestle with Facebook, we blame it yet we cannot give it up, which we again blame on its gravity, suspending us in its orbit. But this is not why we are obsessed with it, we are obsessed with it, because we are obsessed with ourselves & the ones who we love.
Facebook is not sentient, it does not have opinions, it has no regard for human dilemmas, not even Zuckerberg is Facebook, he is a man. He doesn’t think like Facebook, because it doesn’t think, regardless the emoji & the algorithms.
Facebook is not one of the new gods. We are to blame if we filled it with undesirables or if we chose to click on it & indulge in its scrolls of abundant, spur of the moment & poorly fed content. Our content, the content of brains full with the garbage of boredom. If the algorithm spews out crap, that is not Facebook’s fault, it is because you are prone to acknowledge too much nonsense. Like the brain’s plasticity for memorization the algorithm too alters with the patterns of content you choose to entertain.
Facebook allows me to meet people with a knowledge i don’t possess & i have been introduced to many poets, thinkers & what not because of the people i chose to fill Facebook with, it has been a tool for good in my case; i have managed the content, to an extent.
Living so long, far from home, i started to utilize Facebook after a few months away, because i didn’t want to sever my ties with family & friends. i could speak with people in real time, my breakfast is just before Europe’s bedtime, my evening, just after breakfast in England. It has been useful in this purpose, it has kept the bonds of friendship.
Blame yourself for your addiction, because you filled Facebook, it asked nothing of you, its mouth zipped up with code.

i don’t mean to sound angry, but i do mean to sound curt. i am thinking a good deal about responsibility these days. We enjoy a great many freedoms nowadays & need to realize where they are & what they enable us to do & how we might live our life with them. i seem to be stumbling across a lot of self imposed barriers.
As always, the comments are below to disagree or to expand the discussion.

The dogma of the fast: a catch up

The dogma of the fast: a catch up

—Olson’s manifesto projected onto now

Charles Olson begins his manifesto

[Projective] “Verse now, 1950, if it is to go ahead, if it is to be of essential use, must, I take it, catch up and put into itself certain laws and possibilities of the breath, of the breathing of the man who writes as well as of his listening.”

What grabs me is “catch up and put into itself certain laws and possibilities of the breath”— for to breathe & to follow it, extensively, is to know that we are alive at the most fundamental level & yet, the experience of it directly, to realize it apperceptively, is a profound moment— more so even than some quasi-spiritual experience. Olson, i feel, is right to point out this as the ground-up measure of the poem. For the poet, breath is the first “listening” from which issues the “kinetics” of the poem, in unison with this kinetic energy we can enter the field of composition, panting. The objects & themes that the poem treats fall into line with the breath.
My understanding of the Projective poet’s compositional template, is that it becomes a method for creating a personal condition from which to proceed with the poem— we all breathe & yet it is so automated like a mechanized Fredrik Winslow Taylor.

The poet of the new millennium breathes an air unlike any other poet that came before them: our air is no longer empty, a hive of activity— nor is it filled solely with the theoretical components of an ether; it is rather, alive with the clutter & chatter of codes, signals, waves, WiFi, & the back & forth of 10s of millions of messages, riding in & alongside these —passing through us even as we utilize & compose with them with the tools available to us—completely changing how & perhaps even why we communicate.

We could begin our own manifesto in quite the same way as Olson: “verse, 2018, if it is to go ahead…” & quote verbatim much of Olson’s manifesto & thereafter, with that in mind, we’d set ourselves plenty to get on with; we need only to alter the context to that of the current era & we’d not be denying ourselves a better course of action for taking poetry ahead ´to now.

Perhaps we’d best remind ourselves: this is the digital age & far from being an overwhelming era of myopia, we are awash with subject matter, with problems to be understood & solved, in manifold areas from tech & society to race & sexuality— pretty much everything, because we have no longer a clear precedent in history to liken the situation we find ourselves in. We cannot ignore history, however, 100 years ago, nobody grew up with a system as overwhelmingly abundant in information as the Internet.

i think of Camus’s The Plague: A section in which Dr. Rieux & Tarrou are speaking about their own reason to commit themselves to solving the plague, whatever that role might be. “Never ending defeat” informs Rieux via a daily confrontation with “suffering”; this gives him a purpose to commit to his doctoring & “common decency.” He then goes on to say to Tarrou:

“To tell the truth, all that’s outside my range. But you—what do you know about it?”
“Ah.” Tarrou replied coolly, “I’ve little left to learn.”
“Do you really imagine you know everything about life?”
Again, in the same cool manner, Tarrou replies, “Yes.”

It’s important to note Rieux’s use of the word imagine isn’t, as far as i can tell, confrontational. Rieux accept as a potential that Tarrou might be on the cusp of a complete understanding of life. In a world of finite information, despite the unlikelihood, it can be entertained, imagined even.
There was also a rumour (no doubt started by the man himself) that Byron had read every book in the Trinity College, Cambridge, library. A ridiculous rumour, but one we have to pause & think about for a moment, if only because that library at that point in the early 1800s, was finite & catalogued. Unlike now, where, if you were to have read everything, you’d have had to read every Buzzfeed article, scientific journal, Good Health magazine, Tweet &…well the list is endless, you couldn’t do it, even if you said “from today I will read everything posted or printed”, you’d need a month of none stop reading just to read all the newspapers printed. You cannot read everything that has ever been written now, you probably couldn’t in 1947 or 1805, but the conception of the idea that you could, wasn’t as ridiculous owing to the absence of two things: a computer & the Internet— a tool & its appended system, updated every split of a second.

Information abundance means quality suffers, but that is only if you do not select your myopia & concentrate— THERE LIES THE ISSUE. If we can utilize our information overload into an accessibility personalized for us by ourselves, then the variety can be managed & continue to be plentiful. Thereafter, it should be within the means of such a person, driven by their management of limitation, to deliver some of the best poetry ever written.

At this point we may take into consideration Olson’s

process of the thing [poem], how the principle can be made so to shape the energies that the form is accomplished. And I think it can be boiled down to one statement: ONE PERCEPTION MUST IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY LEAD TO A FURTHER PERCEPTION. It means exactly what it says, is a matter of, at all points even, I should say, of our management of daily reality as of the daily work, get on with it, keep moving, keep in, speed, the nerves, their speed, the perceptions, theirs, the acts, the split second acts, the whole business, keep it moving as fast as you can, citizen.”

This suits the manifesto for poetry in the digital age, absolutely bang on the space bar. The business of writing is a dogma of fast— once a technology or paragon or anything becomes established in the business of life it doesn’t quit moving for us & we shouldn’t quit for it, we have to, like space & time, move in relative succession. We are like Mobius strips with a fortune written on it, you only get one clause unless you follow the twist around. Then, we must keep our senses peeled to the goings on of ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING & make no complaint of weariness, but soak up what we can &

“USE USE USE the process at all points in any given poem, always one perception must must must MOVE, INSTANTER, ON ANOTHER!”

& i should add, when i first read Olson’s manifesto 10yrs ago as an inchoate 22 yr old, i was horrified that a poet should have to rush anything, their looking, listening or any of it. But it seems hopelessly naïve of me to have gone ahead thinking that way so long, when the business is to have our environment pitch the process to us & we abide.
Olson’s excitability is palpable & i get it now; when understood, it stops us from making excuses for not writing, it become “daily reality as of the daily work” it becomes quotidian & relevant to that, the world & its happenings become the subjects of poetry.

“So there we are, fast, there’s the dogma.”

Olson would have thrived in our short attention span economy of deliverance & reception, constantly working our way through something, skim reading like stones skipping over a pond— anticipating next. The technology in our pockets & purses, clocking in the hours of the entire world, all of recorded time, even geological & cosmic time; this auxiliary brain, monitoring us, informing us, perplexing us, emboldening us with a new quest of understanding & more besides— the dogma of the fast has never been easier to keep up with. & it is ours, it belongs to us, it is the achievement of the Millennial. To miss this opportunity is to miss the opportunity to be a generation.

—Tools of the trade

This dogma of alacrity needs a tool. The sinews of the hand do not offer the precision of the breath nor the fast we need for the quiddity of the daily business, which the Projective poet should crave. Olson’s tool was the typewriter

“due to its rigidity and space precisions, can, for a poet, indicate exactly the breath, the pauses, the suspensions even of syllables, the juxtapositions even of parts of phrases which he intends.”

It is interesting to remark that speed should be carried out on a tool that offers rigidity. Using a tool of limited capability, the poet’s field of composition is blown wide open.

In 1879, Nietzsche’s health had deteriorated. He’d resigned his philology post at Basel, at the age of 34. He was oscillating between the Mediterranean & the Swiss Alps. In 1881, his eye sight failing him, he was living in Genoa. His vision so bad, that any prolonged focus on the page brought about nausea, headaches & even vomiting. He ordered a typewriter, a Danish made, Malling-Hansen Writing Ball which had been invented by Hans Rasmus Johann Malling-Hansen. Nietzsche learned to touch type & was able to, essentially, write without the use of his sight, at least limiting its use. But the typewriter had a more subtle effect, which Nietzsche had not anticipated. His friend Heinrich Koselitz noticed

[his] “prose had become tighter, more telegraphic. There was a new forcefulness to it, as though the machine’s power, through some mystical metaphysical mechanism was being transferred into the words.”

Nietzsche himself expressed that

“Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.”

The technology itself had become a formative extension of the content.

Will Self, the English novelist & journalist (perhaps the finest England has, currently, to offer) still uses a typewriter. Self prophesied the demise of literary fiction back in 2014, in an essay i can’t find. In a recent interview he thinks of literary fiction, at this present time, as

“a kind of decerebrated chicken clucking around in the farmyard.”

Owing to the novel being an analogue technology,

“the art form was to do with the medium—the codex in which it was presented; the literary form in the age of bidirectional digital media [i.e., modern-day communication devices] cannot sustain that enclosed quality. It becomes permeable. The other is, people just can’t stay in the text any more. They just can’t read in that way.”

He’s been carping about this since writing Umbrella, picking up with Shark but really making a splash with Phone. i am pleased that he has been given a platform in recent years to talk publicly, he’s very good at it & i believe he’s doing a fine job of holding a black mirror up to the problems of now.
The text should be drafted into its jacket. Self drafts his novels first by hand before transferring the draft into a type-written form, which is then fastidiously worked on by hand, overanover againanagain. Self’s thinking, is that, only when we work on the text in this way can we know it inside out. We become familiar with our own creation. We miss no opportunity, scribbling it out, having it physically, to hand, to rectify & improve it. More importantly, the analogue process is one without distractions.

(An aside: i agree with Self in regard to prose & especially the novel. i don’t think the reader in the digital age has the patience for it when it is handed to us digitally (studies on why to follow). i don’t think this wholly applies to poetry, however. Its atomization is easily done, even if the poem is a narrative one. The reading of a journal can easily be broken down & read over a period of days, we can pick up where we left off. But a novel isn’t so easy, even with chapters, unless they are only a page or 2 each & what room does that really offer a novelist who wants to develop the narrative & characters? It still, at least to me, feels like something i need in my hand— text in a jacket. i prefer a book of poetry in my hand too, but the computer can hold my attention long enough to engage with the works of poets who publish online, whereas i would never read a novel someone sent me, on the computer. i struggle with short stories, not because of my attention span, well sort of: i just don’t think the computer is a comfortable medium for reading prose. i can about manage articles, blogs & essays, of a reasonable length.)

i’ll hazard a guess, that most writers reading this use MS Word. If you don’t use it from the off, you at least use it in a good chunk of the drafting stage, the 3rd at least, if you are a meticulous drafter, like a well behaved poet should be.
MS Word, for all intents & purposes, offers everything the writer needs to get on with the daily business of writing. It seems a match made in heaven. If you do draft with MS Word, you can brainstorm bullet points, you may even make spider diagrams, little blue bottle ideas balled up in silk. As you draft, you can simultaneously, when a sentence feels right, copy & paste it to a new page to begin piecing together your poem, structuring it on the go— the process of it actualizing under our noses, spurs us. We feel a sense of reward when our brainstorm is producing something tangible. MS Word, allows us to draft multiple personalities of the same work with the copy & paste function, like two mirrors that domino an object into infinity. If we have a sonnet in our midst, we can duplicate it should a refrain form in our mind & in no time, have the additional lines for a villanelle. Doesn’t work out, no bother: Backspace! Backspace! Backspace!
The Word processor can do anything a typewriter can & more, it sounds so obvious to say, but i marvel at maximum efficiency. The speed is unrivalled. A click of the mouse, a few taps of the space bar, enter & voila: you have physically dragged & duplicated text, gashed open a yawning abyss between syllables, left letters dangling in the void, made the text spin or spatter. We can enlarge or atomize letters or words, embolden, italicize— everything & anything in the split of a second. Hardly any exertion required. & this all allows for the work content to change, one example is disembodied voices; how many do you want? Italicize, clamp in quotation marks. You have a rich range of clear personalities all vying for control of the reader’s attention.
In addition, a wide variety of punctuation & symbol options, allow us to personalize our writing, making the aesthetic appeal diverse & even original.
The whole editorial process is clean & immediate (you can’t spell media without immediate, owww). We can chop & replace, revert & convert & each time, see our work in its upgraded body. Then there is the built-in spelling & grammar, a thesaurus too. Building our vocabulary & even giving us additional freedom to make the text variable. (Anything i missed that you find useful or is an imperative function of MS Word, please don’t hesitate to comment below.)

—Disrupt & distract: studies for the digitized Self

So what is Self’s issue, what is so distracting that he neglects to utilize a tool designed for the business of writing?

A quote by John Naughton might help, [as the technical becomes social]

“given that, we would expect to see new kinds of literature emerging, composed not by techies celebrating the wonders of digital technology but by writers puzzled or disturbed by what it’s doing to society, or by people who are on the receiving end of the disruption.”

Self is disturbed & concerned that he (like all of us) will fall prey to disruption, because technology takes prisoners. His trilogy of novels, Umbrella, Shark & Phone are, in short, explorations of the problem of technology disturbing & disrupting us into psychological malady: from the mass production of artillery shells in the trenches of WW1, which shell shocked a generation; to the dropping of the A-bomb on Hiroshima & Nagasaki, with the USS Indianapolis, which transported the bomb, sinking, causing the single largest shark attack in history (divine retribution?); to the current era of the mobile phone as an auxiliary brain & the Iraq war’s guided missiles with cameras on their nose, so that we could watch Baghdad bombed, make sure, clap along even, gawk & gasp in awe— but who was gasping in disgust? The technology left us gawping, from the safety of our homes & now, even our phones.
The computer, for Self, connected to the Internet, is an ineluctable source of distraction for someone trying to write text. We become lost in the cornucopia of hyperlinks, dazzling us with the promise of more information, tugging at our curiosity— our greatest weakness.

Let’s say, you are trying to visualize something that has popped into your head, an object, it’s physical features are fuzzy. Let’s say this object is a cycad; though it could be anything. The Jurassic flora has become significant now & you have to see the object through. So you do what any right thinking person would do in the digital age, must must must do— you Google it. However, you forget to search images, to just have a glance at it, but instead get the Wikipedia entry at the top of the search list. Knowing you’ll kill two birds with one cycad frond, you enter Wikipedia. Now you are pulled into the scrolls of information on the cycad, its kingdom, division & class, ETC ETC ETC. You gravitate to a hyperlink, the botanist who first stumbled on it, on top of all the information on the plant itself, you now have the historical endeavours of a single man (William Stranger, according to WIKIPEDIA). We are twice or thrice removed, down another rabbit hole entirely, from our original intention, which is what?
We just wanted to see what a cycad looked like, now we are reading about William Stranger, some 19 Century what not, someone, who went off adventuring, doing whatever in some place for whatever reason. We don’t take it all in, we read down the text in an F patter, skipping over sentences.
Returning to our writing, sometime after our traipsing into unfamiliar territory, we think we’ve earned a coffee. The disruption is complete.
We are all liable to this. No one is excluded. Not Mr Self, nor our geography teacher or Helen Mirren. It isn’t our fault. The Internet did it. Really. Like the mythical dog who eats homework, or the vanishing old man who leaves his fart to break just as someone walks into the toilet, leaving you to take the blame.
Nicholas Carr in his insightful The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains explains,

“The net seizes our attention only to scatter it.”

He continues, that this has

“…neurological consequences. Just as neurons that fire together wire together, neurons that don’t fire together don’t wire together. As the time we spend scanning web pages crowds out the time we spend reading books, as the time we spend exchanging bite-sized text messages crowds out the time we spend composing sentences and paragraphs, as the time we spend hopping across links crowds out the time we devote to quiet reflection and contemplation, the circuits that support those old intellectual functions and pursuits weaken and begin to break apart. The brain recycles the disused neurons and synapses for more, pressing work. We gain new skills and perspectives but we lose old ones.”

This, i’d bet, is one of Self’s concerns & what his concern is when he states that “people just can’t stay in the text any more. They just can’t read in that way.”
Now, let’s not accuse Self of saying everyone alive, at this split of a second, can’t read a book, he is not saying that, he clearly has an audience, he is published by Penguin & writes exactly what he wants to write, & that must be due to his work selling to some extent, for profit even. He is speaking generally, yes, (& about literary fiction) but nonetheless, i think there is some truth in what he says, especially when you look into the statistics of this & look at the crumbling (crumbled?) state of big book chains, like W.H.Smith. i went in there on my previous return to England & struggled to find a book. Hyperbole? Hardly. i swear, they felt hidden behind a trove of useless guff. When i found them it was the most banal selection of books i have ever come across. Better of as kindling.

(Another aside, this time, a daft aside: my horror forced me to be a bit of a dick to the cashier (not directly). When he asked us for a plastic bag charge (which i kind of agree with) i told him that

“Plastic bags used to cost nothing because of the plastic agent Imipolex G, which was cheap to make but didn’t meet modern health & safety standards.”

He looked at me as if i must be the dullest person ever. Thing is, if there were any books there, he might have read Gravity’s Rainbow & realized i was talking utter crap: Imipolex G was (as far as i know) a fictional material invented by Prof. Jamf, used to make the S-Gerat device & even Tyrone Slothrop’s synthetic penis (if memory serves). My friend afterwards looked at me oddly, until i explained my faux-boring-arse-act. Then she laughed. Reading is fun.
Waterstones has retained its dignity, thankfully, so no such prank was necessary. i just purchased a book & thanked them for not whoring themselves out with advent calendars & scented candles.)

This clearly applies to the concentration necessary for writing; the computer turns our attention, externalizing it, rather than setting us into and maintaining our internal focus. The brain’s plasticity is very sensitive, so that, even as we unlearn & acquire new habits, we can, easily replenish our old habits— they may die hard, but they can be reignited without wasting a box of matches.
Take the findings of UCLA professor of psychiatry Gary Small, who did experiments, comparing how novices & tech-savvies were affected by time spent Google searching & thumbing through web pages. He equipped the subjects with goggles (as computers don’t fit into a magnetic resonance imager) & projected images of web pages, which the subjects toggled through with a handheld touchpad. The scans showed that those who already knew how to use Google displayed more complex brain functioning than the novices.

“The computer savvy subjects used a specific network in the left front part of the brain, known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, [while] the Internet-naïve subjects showed minimal, if any, activity in this area.”

The researchers also got the subjects to read straight text in a simulation of book reading. Scans revealed no significant difference in brain activity. They had the novices go away & over a period of 5 days use the internet one hour a day. On returning, they scanned & found the same regions as the Internet-savvy users had developed extensively, from just 5 hours of internet use over 5 days.
However, the study discovered some important distinctions between brain activity during the reading of web pages & the reading of books. A book reader’s brain activity occurs in regions associated with language, memory & visual processing, but not much in the prefrontal regions, which are associated with decision making & problem solving. While the internet stimulates more activity in the brain, it doesn’t focus it for qualitative pursuits such as reading. It is evaluative, more geared for navigation & categorization than deep reading & the qualitative measure of meaning. The internet essentially overtaxes our brains, urging them to evaluate & decide rather than develop a deeper understanding of text.

“By allowing us to filter out distractions, to quiet the problem-solving functions of the frontal lobes, deep reading becomes a form of deep thinking. The mind of the experienced book reader is a calm mind, not a buzzing one. When it comes to the firing of neurons, it’s a mistake to assume that more is better.”

Explains Nicolas Carr.

What next?: buy an oar

So where does this leave us in regard to the dogma of the fast? Well, i think it is up to the poet how & what they designate to their attention. The novelist is up Shit’s Creek without an oar, if we interpret Self. Better start whittling that prose down at the inception of their career, then they might drag the attention of the digital reader into their large form worlds, their novels. MS Word, in my estimate, is a remarkable tool. i have got a pretty good handle on how to use it to best effect; in my own case: i draft out by hand, in a pocket notebook first, then into a manuscript sized book (sometimes) before transferring it to MS Word to fiddle with at length for, sometimes weeks. This balancing act between two worlds means the idea, the focus & the first step are researched & realized manually. The mechanization takes the thing out of the daily business of the thing done & into a place of duplicity & potential. The business of the handwritten draft, limits distraction, by the time i am typing up, i am seldom distracted as i am eager to see the cleanly presented text transmigrate from my chicken scratched (cerebral chickens by the way), barely legible original or draft into a cleaner & more finished text.
There is no one course of action in writing (as everyone who writes, & probably a good many who don’t, know) & the technology, subjects & sources available, enable us to tailor a process suited to our own needs. Abundance only limits those who are not intrepid enough to make choices & stick with them. We just have to remember the breath, listen to it & when distracted, note how its rhythm alters as the disruption takes charges & switch the focus on track to the dogma of fast.