13 January 2007


Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 11:34 am

“Now this is an American thing,” our 14-year-old daughter announced as she held up a bag of Slim Jim® brand beef jerky.

“No duh,” I remarked in my usual kindhearted fatherly way. Our Christmas care package had finally arrived, and my dad knows his granddaughter’s tastes in snacks. As you might have guessed, beef jerky isn’t a French thing.

“No, I mean this.” She read the product packaging to us:

Craving the big taste of real beef with the spicy bite only Slim Jim® offers? Slim Jim Beef Jerky combines whole strips of premium beef, bold special seasonings, and then slowly smokes it to deliver a jerky unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. This intensely flavorful jerky takes beef to a whole new level – the way only Slim Jim can!



12 January 2007

Empty Speech

Filed under: Ktismata — ktismatics @ 3:51 pm

All speech calls for a reply, says Lacan. I shall show that there is no speech without a reply, even if it is met only with silence, provided that it has an auditor.

What happens when the subject of psychoanalysis opens his mouth? The first thing to make itself heard is the void. The subject perhaps is hiding something or is unaware of something; what comes out is empty speech. So you start analyzing the subject’s behavior looking for clues to what is not being said. But then the analyst has to talk about it, and the subject becomes the listener, and now who’s the analyst? But if in response to the subject’s empty speech the analyst remains silent, doesn’t it inevitably trigger frustration, aggression, regression? Maybe not, says Lacan:

Shall we ask instead where the subject’s frustration comes from? Does it come from the silence of the analyst? A reply to the subject’s empty speech, even – or especially – an approving one, often shows by its effects that it is much more frustrating than silence. Is it not rather a matter of a frustration inherent in the very discourse of the subject?

Empty speech isn’t inauthentic; rather, it’s the authentic expression of a self that is itself empty. In trying but failing to speak, the subject arrives at the frustrating realization of the profound silence that lies behind his words. The aggression that ensues is directed not at the analyst but at the self that can communicate only its own emptiness.

Mallarmé says that we typically use language as if it was a coin worn smooth which we pass back and forth in silence. That’s okay with Lacan:

Even if it communicates nothing, the discourse represents the existence of communication; even if it denies the evidence, it affirms that speech constitutes truth; even if it is intended to deceive, the discourse speculates on faith in testimony.

The analyst’s job is to understand the emptiness, to figure out where the meaning lies:

He takes the description of an everyday event for a fable addressed to whoever hath ears to hear, a long tirade for a direct interjection, or on the other hand a simple lapsus for a highly complex statement, or even the sigh of a momentary silence for the whole lyrical development it replaces.

Psychoanalysis isn’t popular in America, especially the kind that begins with a silent response to the empty speech of a hollow self. Even Woody Allen seems to have gotten up off the couch. As Lacan observed more than fifty years ago:

It appears incontestable that the conception of psychoanalysis in the United States has inclined towards the adaptation of the individual to the social environment, towards the quest for behavior patterns, and towards all the objectification implied in the notion of “human relations.”

I wonder if postmodernism will lead to an American revival of psychoanalysis. Or will psychopharmacology render both speech and silence equally obsolete?


11 January 2007

Conversation Gap

Filed under: Ktismata — ktismatics @ 3:26 pm

If you already know everything I know, there would be no reason for me to talk or for you to listen. If it’s impossible for you to know anything I know, there would also be no reason for me to talk to you. Conversation exists in the gap between perfect knowledge and perfect ignorance. To ask questions in conversation is to close the gap.

What can we say about what is never said? Silence is the space occupied jointly by what we already both know and by what neither one of us can ever know. To ask questions in silence is to open the gap.

10 January 2007

The Necessity of Extreme Unpleasantness

Filed under: Ktismata — ktismatics @ 2:38 pm

“Why do two people as different as Bertold Brecht and Martin Heidegger, both key figures of German art and thought of the twentieth century, share the feature of being extremely unpleasant! Is this a mere idiosyncratic coincidence, or does it indicate some kind of necessity?”

I wonder what necessity Zizek has in mind. Being German? Being a key figure of art and thought? Brecht was a socialist who fled Germany when Hitler assumed power; Heidegger was a Nazi party member. Brecht wrote plays, Heidegger wrote philosophy. If you work long and hard enough at something that’s intellectually difficult, maybe you can’t help but turn into an asshole eventually. Zizek must think so:

“It is impossible to endure the exteme effort of thought all the time – we have to have an easy place to escape to.”

Does Zizek worry that he has become an unpleasant person? Or is he just asking for reassurance that he’s not? Or does he feel guilty about spending too much of his own time in the easy escapes? It’s funny to read his stuff: he vacillates wildly in his attention span, from Hegel and Kierkegaard and Lacan to Johnny Cash and Steven Spielberg and Mel Gibson. But then it all ends up in his book somehow – doesn’t that turn even his easy escapes into hard work?


9 January 2007

Retrospective 2005: Perfect Exile

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 6:51 am

At the end of 2005 I was starting to work on the Genesis 1 book. But I was also writing journal entries. Here’s stuff I was thinking about on the brink of 2006:

If it was to be the one thing in all the world I could do… what would it be? Regardless of response from or participation by the world, in perfect exile, with only the ghosts of legendary fellow travelers to keep me company, what is it that I would do?

I would write books — assuredly. But what else, if anything, would I put out there, perhaps as a lure to the spirits of the imagination? Would it still be the Salon? And what version would it be this time? Whom or what would I serve?

To understand anything at all demands that I make passage through the wretchedness to some other waters in which the free and open spirit can breathe. Not success, but rather some profundity of obscurity that renders me invulnerable. Not gripped by my irrelevance, but where I fully regard everything and everyone as irrelevant to my own personal plenitude.

If I could appeal to the greatness of man’s imagination… To create great ideas, great fiction and nonfiction, whether written or lived. To uphold the dream of an openness of life and of the spirit. Where, this time, do I begin? Can I stay the course, out of some sort of duty – or perhaps destiny? What is the work?

7 January 2007

Retrospective 2005: Prop O’Gandhi

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 11:53 am

Toward the end of 2005 I was finishing off a new second half to my second novel. Most of the book takes place in the States, but here’s a segment from near the end that reflects my current glamorous-type Riviera habitat.

Muñécar brought the outboard back to life and eased the single-master into the harbor. He dropped his cigarette overboard, and a blunt black snout knocked it violently across the oily surface. Soon he had passed beyond the buoys, beyond the smell of fried fish and diesel fuel, and into the channel, where the dimly-lit fishing boats drifted silently toward a distant dawn. He could still hear the band playing on the big cruise liner docked at the edge of the deep water, but he didn’t look back. His eye followed the swift arc of the searchlight as it swept across the vast and empty sea.

Muñécar steered down and around the point, the industrial suburbs and warehouses merging into the haze as the little boat moved steadily away from the coastline. Farther out a widely-spaced caravan of freighters passed from right to left in stately procession toward some distant marketplace. Muñécar cut the running lights and set a heading that would slice straight across their path.

Not since he was a boy had Muñécar been all the way across. He had left with his father and brothers and sisters, at night and undetected, then as now. They had come to find the mother and to bring her home, but soon the father abandoned his search. Though he was the oldest, Muñécar made no silent pledge to the younger ones, and when the father too did not return there could be no mistake as to where the oldest son’s responsibilities lay. Now they were as grown as they needed to be, none lost but one and that through the fault of no man. There came a day when Muñécar realized that his small life could no longer keep him roped to these shores. Through unlikely yet persistent channels an offer had been made, and with it the tacit understanding that, whether accepted or no, the offer itself would change everything. And so he had made it a point of honor not to choose, for to choose was to acquiesce. Instead he would entice other forces, vast yet capricious, to choose him.

There may never come a time to say my farewells, he realized; never a time to settle accounts; never a time to pass a man’s wisdom on to those who care but little and who remember not at all. If there be a final reckoning let it come now, for I see as clearly this night as I have seen before or am likely to again. Gently lifting its mighty arms the sea bestowed its pardon in groanings too deep for words, and he went on.

At midnight Muñécar shut down the motor. He had brought plenty of fuel and provisions, more than enough. He went below and, crouching in the cramped quarters that were his home more often than not, he pulled a blanket off the cot. He climbed back up topside, where he wrapped himself against the chill of the open sea and smoked. There was no hurry; if all went well he would travel at his ease all the next day, finishing the crossing before dawn of the third day. The sea was calm, the air all but still, the vault strewn with stars. Once he had traveled into the far north and from a glacier-carved inlet he had watched the northern lights pulsating across the sky. He wondered why, in all his years sailing these warmer waters, he had never witnessed the phosphorescent shimmering of the nighttime sea, its countless teeming microcscopic creatures wriggling and spawning in profligate wonder. He slept and dreamed of music.

At dawn he ate coarse bread and thick ham and yellow plums. He drank boiled coffee and he smoked, and afterward he set the sail. With the boat passing lightly across the barely-rippled surface, Muñécar considered his options. He could return to the place of his birth, but would anyone know him? His father’s sister, stern and serene, who had mended his clothes and corrected his lessons; her well-kept home, the laundry strung across the whitewashed courtyard; the cousins, with whom he passed long afternoons planning and executing innocent intrigues – relics of another life altogether, a life that had unfolded in a timeless repetition of other lives equally distant from his own. Of course he could pick up his own life again, pay the necessary visits and tributes in another town on another shore, but what was the point? He had never really chosen it and, though he was good at it, for some time Muñécar could see that the old life was flaking away like a coat of weathered paint.

The sun came up strong and Muñécar stripped himself naked. He bated a couple of fixed lines with smallfry and set the lines off the starboard bow; he checked the ropes and windlass; he oiled the motor; he swabbed the galley and toilet in the little compartment below decks. Then from the curve of the prow he dove, the chill water washing him clean. He surfaced immediately; with practiced assurance he grasped the rope ladder as it passed within reach and he hoisted himself back aboard. For a long time he lay motionless as the sailboat moved under him, as the wind and the sea moved the boat under him.

No storms impeded Muñécar’s passage. When later in the afternoon a dead calm settled in he furled the sail and pressed the starter and continued on his way. A few working ships passed but none approached within hailing distance; there were no other small craft. Despite the ease of his journey, Muñécar by midafternoon found himself dozing: no more wine for me today, he told himself; perhaps no more ever. An hour later he shut down the engine and went below, out of the sun, where he stretched himself out on the cot. He heard the drone of a small aircraft passing low, and as he waited for it to circle back he fell asleep.

It was dark when he awoke. He looked at his watch in astonishment, for he had been asleep nearly ten hours. He pulled on a pair of shorts and clambered topside, bumping his already-aching head on the low hatchway. Sea calm, wind light, sky clear – just as before. He was behind schedule now; he’d have to run three-quarters throttle if he was going to make landfall by sunrise. The motor was reliable and surprisingly powerful; still, who would care if he came in late, or tomorrow, or never for that matter? He opened the first-aid kit and pulled out a packet of aspirin powder and poured it onto his tongue, savoring the astringency.


6 January 2007

Retrospective 2004: Exceptionality & The Hole in the Whole

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 3:13 pm

For me the end of 2004 marked the beginning of an extended depression. In June I finished my first novel, The Stations. Hoping for some useful feedback before sending it off to an agent, I asked several friends if they wanted to read the book. They said sure; I figured they’d all be finished reading within a month or two. Wrong. One finished in 4 months, another in a year, the others never got past about the second chapter. Meanwhile I’d finished the first draft of a second novel, called Prop O’Gandhi. In mid-October I sent both books to an agent (a friend of a friend) with no one other than my ever-supportive wife having read either one. Three months later (2 years ago yesterday) I got the bad news: too “experimental.” No agent has looked at either novel since. Here’s some of my journal from December 2004.

People don’t pursue the exceptional. Why not? Don’t know what to do. Afraid. Can’t see it. Cultural counter-pressure. Can’t engage. Not chosen. Don’t know why. Don’t see interest from other people. What, psychologically, does it take to engage relentlessly in the pursuit of the extraordinary?

Possible book topic: “Writing for an Imaginary Audience.” This idea has everything to do with motivation for starting and persisting on an exceptional course. Are you doing it to please, to get a big payoff, to be personally validated? Are you elite or just an oddball? How long can you stand the isolation? Is it good or bad for you, for the work? What happens when you leave the community of competitors and go it alone? How much trouble do you take to assess whether anybody likes what you’re doing? Do you need to be needed?

Does a thing exist if it isn’t seen? How many realities can one thing possess, if reality is bestowed by the audience? I would be picking up the Postmodern thread by pursuing this course: reader in the text, etc. From the reader/consumer’s perspective, there is “creative” reading, deconstruction, etc. I’m oriented on the writer’s side of the transaction, and from the writer/creator’s perspective it’s a different set of issues. Does my work point beyond me to an Other, beyond itself to a Consumer? Or does it point iconically to a Reality in which reader and writer can participate? Dunno.

* * *

Is every creation the cutting out of something from the undifferentiated whole? The hole is the evil twin of the creation; it is the complementary destruction of the whole, the hole in the whole. The hole is the double of every creation. The hole then becomes the template for duplication of the creation. What once was part of the whole has been isolated; the hole has become the pattern for what has been excised, the form for simulacra production.

A creation carves out from the whole an awareness of something that had already existed beneath conscious awareness. It leaves a hole, and so the first instinct is to stick the creation back into the torn fabric and sew it up; to de-create the creation. But once the creation catches on, it is the hole that forms the template for duplication, not of the whole, but of the separate piece. When the template becomes frayed, the dupes become distorted. This needs more thought.

* * *

Why do none of the ideas grab me these days? Nothing has momentum: it all feels old and forced. But there’s nothing else to take its place. When is it time to force something to happen? This seems to violate core principles of Portality. The better advice seems to be: be alert, then move when you see an opening. But you might already have to be in motion.


5 January 2007

A Couple of Updates

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 4:19 pm

The 23 December overflow from the Jesus Creed blog continues, albeit at a slower pace, here. 68 comments and counting!

I wrote the beginning of a story called The Seven Scrolls and posted it on my blog here. Three days later I posted the same story at Open Source Theology and added a couple more installments to it as comments on this post.

Retrospective 2003: The Stations

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 2:20 pm


In the fall of 2003 I started writing a novel. At first I called it Daughter of Man’s Tale; later I renamed it The Stations. I had started writing a novel in 2001 and abandoned it; now I found I could salvage some of what I’d written before and work it into the new novel. After the New Year I started what would be the next to last section of the completed novel.

Here’s the first draft of my first day’s writing in 2004. Reading it over I’m surprised at how little editing I did of this segment. Prop Hanley is the narrator; he’s traveling with Mrs. Dervain. They’re discussing two handwritten copies of a Notebook that’s recently come into Prop’s possession…

I could talk about pulling into a big-city European train station after dark, about being the obvious American muscling his ridiculous backpack through the clattering narrow corridors of a commuter-jammed Metro, about hustling through the third arrondissement in a thin Mediterranean jacket trying to outrun the raw discomfort of a late winter evening in Paris. But to talk about such things would mean conflating that night’s experience with other nights, constructing a theoretical Paris evening out of memories decoupled from the specific memory of that particular night, when Mrs. Dervain and I reached the end of the run from Toulouse.

None of the charms of Paris, none of its irritations, registered in my awareness during that short stay. I had become a pretty nonobservant traveler generally speaking. After awhile, even the world-class cities begin to meld into one city. When I had been a businessman, hopscotching across the interminable and anonymous American urban zones, I had come to feel at home in the zone of blasé indifference that surrounds all professional travelers. I had thought I would never feel that way about Europe. I was wrong.

There is a long and narrow corridor connecting every place with every other place, equipped with machinery of movement on which you, the traveler, gain passage. All along the corridor you find places to eat and meet and drink and sleep, arenas to watch the staged spectacles of history and art and sport. You are seduced into believing that you have been to many places, whereas in fact you’ve never left the corridor.

“Okay,” I said to Mrs. Dervain, probably over yet another kir aperitif, “I’ve read the Notebooks. Where do we go next?”

“Patience, Mr. Hanley. I did say that you would know, didn’t I? What did you make of the Notebooks?”

The two Notebooks, one weather-beaten and mildewed almost to illegibility, the other looking as though it had been written yesterday, had exerted an initial disorientation. Soon, however, I began to read the parallel texts with amused satisfaction, until I got to the brief passage appended to Mrs. Dervain’s copy. Then I realized that I wasn’t quite grasping something.

“It’s an alternate reading of the first part of the book of Genesis,” I said matter-of-factly.

“Very good, Mr. Hanley. Although that’s fairly obvious, isn’t it? Yet I suspect you have attained a degree of familiarity with the holy texts of our civilization. Not many have, you know. Go on.”

“Obviously the strangest feature of the Notebook’s exegesis – it presents the Biblical story of creation from the point of view of the creator, or creators. It’s like the writer is trying to learn about himself by reading the book of Genesis. And also,” I paused to clarify my thinking, “it’s like the writer is using the Bible to teach his fellow gods about themselves.”

“Good again. Now.” I remember Mrs. Hanley suddenly turning toward the window at this point, as if she had recognized someone walking by. I looked too; evidently whatever had distracted her attention had already passed. “Why would Geraldo Rodriguez and I both have a copy of this same document?”

Apparently the same document,” I corrected.

“Apparently, then, if you like. Why?”

“Because,” I began slowly, then consciously paused before continuing, “because this version of the story has attained some kind of canonical status within the Pilgrimage?”

“Yes.” She said no more.

“What do you mean, ‘yes’? Where did it come from? Who wrote it? How is it disseminated? What’s it for?” I wasn’t really irritated or impatient, not at all. I felt confident and in control. I knew things about the Notebooks that Mrs. Dervain did not.

Mrs. Dervain responded without hesitation. “You wrote this Notebook.”

I was stunned. “How did you know that?”

“I wasn’t certain until just now. But,” she looked quickly toward the window again, “you didn’t write it exactly this way, did you?”


3 January 2007

Retrospective 2001 continued: Time Out!

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 6:11 pm

In 2001 our daughter was in the third grade. Putting your kid in “time out” was a popular form of discipline then — it probably still is. Time out extracts the kid from the social situation in which the “not okay” behavior took place. It gives the kid a chance to cool off and to reflect on what she did wrong. When the kid was ready to act appropriately again, time out would be over.

I started thinking about all the possible things a kid might think about while in time out. The result was a cartoon called “Time Out!” which I distributed weekly to our daughter’s friends’ parents. I had some hopes that the cartoons would lead to interesting discussions about parenting, expected impact on kids’ behavior, and so on. Alas, no: the cartoon remained cheap entertainment. Here’s Episode Three, the last one before Christmas break…


2 January 2007

Retrospective 2002: Portals

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 9:52 pm


At the end of 2002 I was thinking about the Portal as transition between Alternate Realities. More than once I’ve tried to go back to these ruminations and remember just what it was that grabbed me. Here’s my journal entry from 30 December:

Is there a Different way to encounter Reality? Is there a way to encounter a Different Reality? These aren’t the same question; however, they may be interdependent. To encounter a Different Reality requires that you become a Different Self.

The Portal is the place where you become, and encounter, Difference. You pull your Self apart from the Reality of which you are a part. In that Separation you encounter another Self, and another Reality. Self and Reality relink with each other: the Interval. Or perhaps the Interval is the process of going over, permanently, to a Different Self and Reality. Or not.

For Transubstantiation to work, the Object becomes two substances. Bu so too does the Subject. To partake of the Body and Blood, you either share in the Life or in the Death. These are two alternative Realities, which require two alternative Selves: the New Self, which you put on, which you are transformed into; or the Old Self, which is Death.

The Praxis requires you to set your Self aside and to set your Reality aside. You thereby encounter either a new or an old (dead) Reality, a new or an old (dead) Self.

In the Portal, the one becomes two, then remerges into a Different one. A Self of two natures emerges, which is uncanny. And a Reality of two natures also emerges, uncanny. You separate and double, as does the Reality. Then either your live Self merges with live Reality, or your dead Self merges with dead Reality. Three Selves; 3 Realities! Square, New (alive), Old (dead). Not body, soul, spirit – square, alive dead!

Can you experience these splits of Self and World, these doublings and triplings of Self and World, the Mystical Union of a Different Self and a Different World? As Paul did; a different law at war within his Self, another Self. A spawning ground of other Selves and other Realities. To feel it that way; to drop the unified Self aside, along with unified Reality. To know that Self and Reality must be pried apart in order to jump tracks. There it is! A way of the Portal! Yes, is it so?

Is this the Pragmatics of Delirium? Or at least, what the Pragmatics is to achieve? Splitting, doubling, mystical union – Biblical stuff.

Not Medieval, but Postmodern. A Destruction and a Creation, that leads to Emergence. New Life, not oneness with the Old through death.

Or is this the Terrible Mystery? Death and life must double, separate, merge.

People can potentially run many versions of themselves. You get a glimpse of a doubling or a tripling, a multiplication of Self. The danger is trying to balance them all – you become fragmented, divided within yourself. Resoluteness!

There isn’t a permanent supply of Bread/Body in transubstantiated state. It comes into being temporarily, then it is eaten: merged with Self. Miracles are required; Portals open and close.


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