Ktismatics

31 October 2007

Biblical Thought Experiments

Filed under: Genesis 1 — ktismatics @ 5:34 am

For those of you who are interested in such things, I just wrote a post at Open Source Theology called The Biblical Creation Narratives as Thought Experiments. In it I ask the emerging post-evangelicals to consider the implications of regarding the stories about the seven days, the Garden, Adam and Eve, the Tree of Knowledge, etc. as mistaken speculations of ancient thinkers, having no privileged claim to transcendent truth. There’s a growing tendency in the post-evangelical world to acknowledge that these stories might not be literally and historically true. However, this acknowledgment gets disguised by invoking the concept of “true myth”: encoded in the details of the story are spiritual meanings that were inspired by God and endorsed by Him as true. So now I’m asking what happens if the “true myth” proposition is set aside. Feel free to comment either here or on the OST post.

29 October 2007

And You Can Quote Me

Filed under: Fiction, First Lines — ktismatics @ 11:51 am

Alone in my room, I wear a piratical black patch over my right eye. The eye may look all right, but the truth is I have scarcely any sight in it. I say scarcely, it isn’t totally blind. Consequently, when I look at this world with both eyes I see two worlds perfectly superimposed, a vague and shadowy world on top of one that’s bright and vivid. I can be walking down a paved street when a sense of peril and unbalance will stop me like a rat just scurried out of a sewer, dead in its tracks. Or I’ll discover a film of unhappiness and fatigue on the face of a cheerful friend and clog the flow of an easy chat with my stutter.

I’ve been reading some of the short works of Kenzabō Ōe, who about ten years ago won the Nobel Prize for literature. At the end of Aghwee the Sky Monster we find out what happened to the narrator’s eye, in a random event that takes place ten years after the story he tells. It’s the story of his first job.

As I had just entered college and wasn’t registered at the employment center, I looked for work by making the rounds of people I knew. Finally my uncle introduced me to a banker who came up with an offer. “Did you happen to see a movie called Harvey?” he asked. I said yes, and tried for a smile of moderate but unmistakable dedication, appropriate for someone about to be employed for the first time. Harvey was that Jimmy Stewart film about a man living with an imaginary rabbit as big as a bear; it had made me laugh so hard I thought I would die. “Recently, my son has been having the same sort of delusions about living with a monster.” The banker didn’t return my smile. “He’s stopped working and stays in his room. I’d like him to get out from time to time but of course he’d need a — companion. Would you be interested?”

I’d seen Harvey myself, long ago on TV; I too had enjoyed it. So when I returned Psycho to the library I picked up the DVD of Harvey. You could have some fun thinking about what these two films have in common. You could also make comparisons with another heartwarming Jimmy Stewart movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, on which I’d previously offered my gloomy Christmastime musings. Somewhat surprisingly, I wasn’t depressed by Harvey; I found myself charmed and amused. But an unmistakable melancholy permeates Stewart’s performance. Genteel, well-heeled, well-educated, eccentric, a bit of a tippler, Elwood P. Dowd is one of those colorful eccentrics usually found in Southern literature, though Mary Chase, who wrote the play, was from Colorado. It could be argued that Elwood can afford to spend his days at the bar chatting with friends real and imaginary, that he practices the milder Protestant virtues accessible only to the gentry. Instead I’ll just quote a few choice bits from Elwood’s discourse.

“I used to know a whole lot of dances. The Flea Hop and – and let’s see – the Black Bottom, the Varsity Drag — I don’t know – I just don’t seem to have any time any more. I have so many things to do.”

“What is it you do, Mr. Dowd?”
“Oh, Harvey and I sit in the bars and – have a drink or two – play the juke box. And soon the faces of all the other people – they turn toward mine – and they smile. And they’re saying, ‘We don’t know your name, mister, but you’re a very nice fellow.’ Harvey and I warm ourselves in all these golden moments. We’ve entered as strangers — soon we have friends . And they come over and they sit with us, and they drink with us, and they talk to us. And they tell about the big terrible things they’ve done — and the big wonderful things they’ll do. Their hopes and their regrets, their loves and their hates. All very large, because nobody ever brings anything small into a bar. And then – I introduce them to Harvey. And he’s bigger and grander than anything they offer me. And when they leave, they leave impressed. The same people seldom come back, but that’s envy, my dear. There’s a little bit of envy in the best of us. That’s too bad. Isn’t it?”

“Think carefully, Dowd. Didn’t you know somebody — sometime — someplace — by the name of Harvey. Didn’t you ever know anybody by that name?”

“No — no, not one, doctor. Maybe that’s why I always had such hopes for it.”

“Years ago, my mother used to say to me — she’d say, ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh, so smart or oh, so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. And you can quote me.”

27 October 2007

October 6, 1941

Filed under: Culture, Reflections — ktismatics @ 10:21 am

A lot was happening in October 1941. Germany began its all-out offensive against Moscow, prompting the Soviet government to move to another city and Roosevelt to approve $1 billion in aid to Russia. The Nazis executed up to 7,000 Serbs in the Krakujevac Massacre. The Reichsfuehrer SS and Chief of the German Police decreed that the emigration of Jews was to be prevented, taking effect immediately. The destroyer USS Kearny was torpedoed off Iceland, killing eleven sailors – the first American military casualties of the war. Two new Prime Ministers gained power: John Curtin in Australia, General Tojo in Japan. Disney released Dumbo.

And the Brooklyn Dodgers faced the New York Yankees in the World Series. Here’s a musical piece commemorating the fifth and final game, in which the mighty Yanks beat the lowly Dodgers 3 to 1 at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. It’s composed by Annie Gosfield and performed by Blair McMillen. If you get bored, skip ahead to about the 2:50 minute mark on the video. Whaddaya say: is this a celebration or a dirge?

24 October 2007

Our Madness

Filed under: Fiction — ktismatics @ 9:41 am

He remembered how long it had been since he last heard his mother’s voice. This last time it was through his wife that he had finally managed to learn what she had said about his dead father. When it came to talk of his father in particular, he couldn’t even recall when last he had heard his mother’s voice. When she spoke to his wife, she had apparently referred to his father as “the man.” The Man. The fat man was reminded of a line from a wartime poem by an English poet, actually it resided in him always, as if it were his prayer. Like the Pure Land hymns which had resided in his grandmother until the day she died, it was part of his body and his spirit. And the poem itself happened to be a prayer spoken at the height of the very battle in which his father had lost his Chinese friends one after the other. The voice of Man: “O, teach us to outgrow our madness.” If that voice is the voice of the Man, then “our madness” means the Man’s and mine, the fat man told himself for the first time.

– from Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness by Kenzaburo Ōe

* * *

Night falls on China,
The great arc of travelling shadow,
Moves over land and ocean, altering life…

O teach us to outgrow our madness.
Ruffle the perfect manners of the frozen heart, And once again compel it to be awkward and alive… Clear from the head the masses of impressive rubbish; Rally the lost and trembling forces of the will, Gather them up and let them loose upon the earth…

And now I hear the hum of printing presses; Turning forests into lies…

– “Night Falls on China,” by W.H. Auden

22 October 2007

Craning

Filed under: Fiction — ktismatics @ 3:14 pm

“Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” by Wallace Stevens

I
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

II
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

III
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

IV
A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

V
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

VI
Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

VII
O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

VIII
I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

IX
When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

X
At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

XI
He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

XII
The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

XIII
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

20 October 2007

Long Neck

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 12:38 pm

In my dream I was milling around in a large room along with a fair number of other people, none of whom did I seem to know. At some point I had occasion to observe myself, although I don’t recall there being a mirror present, and I realized I had an extremely long neck, maybe a foot long. It was most noticeable when I craned my head way forward: then it seemed as if my neck started farther down my back than it was supposed to. I was looking at myself from behind, where I could see that the neck was very bony, like it had several extra vertebrae. It looked grotesque, skeletal, with just a thin layer of skin stretched across it. I straightened my head up, thus tucking the neck against the spine and making it less obtrusive. As I glanced around the room I was surprised to see that many other people — though not all — male and female alike, also carried the extended skeletal neck structure, fully exposed when in the craned-forward position. No one else seemed surprised or revolted by the sight.

18 October 2007

Decipher It Till It Disappears

Filed under: Fiction, Reflections — ktismatics @ 8:27 am

When we were living in Antibes our daughter went to school with an American girl whose parents were missionaries to “post-Christian” France. The girl’s mother — I’ll call her Mary — writes what she calls literary fiction but which to my tastes seems more like adolescent Christian chick lit. Anyhow, as I was reading her first published novel I got to a wedding scene that seemed to call out for psychoanalytic interpretation. So I sent Mary an email, parts of which I excerpt here:

Maranatha loves [her father’s brother] Zane but killed him, or at least took away his potency (= psychic castration?). She hates Georgeanne, who is a competitor for Zane’s affection. On her way to the wedding she ruins her dress. She goes home, finds her mother’s white dress, and wears it to the wedding. She looks like a bride; she looks like her mother. Zane’s getting married; Zane loved Maranatha’s mother. Maranatha is twice doubled as Zane’s bride here: as Geogreanne, and as her own mother who should have been Zane’s bride.

The wedding march plays a few times but still no Georgeanne — maybe this twice-doubled girl will be the one to walk down the aisle after all? Alas, no: Zane has to marry Georgeanne, who is just a substitute for the “real” bride, who is Maranatha’s mother, who is also Maranatha. Georgeanne’s father died too: Georgeanne = Maranatha. From the back Georgeanne looks like a princess (= Maranatha). Maranatha fantasizes about the wedding cake: she becomes Georgeanne, Zane becomes [her black friend] Charlie.

The wedding is over, the cake is cut, Maranatha gets bloody stains on the front of her wedding dress, to the skin, “forever stained.” She straddles the bar, Charlie holds her by the handlebars, they nearly kiss. All very intense, very sexual, very Freudian-Lacanian.

Then there’s this old lady, Mabel. With her good eye Mabel watches the wedding, then turns and sees Maranatha as the double of her mother. Maranatha wanted to die (= her dead mother). Mabel’s spare glass eye rolls onto the floor: it’s staring at Maranatha from under the pew. She picks up the artificial eye with an aritificial flower. And now I recall Freud’s essay on “The Uncanny,” in which he recounts one of the Tales of Hoffman, the one about the Sandman, who throws sand in children’s eyes until they jump out of their heads bleeding. This too is a story of doublings, of a dead father, of a wedding gone awry. There are artificial eyes. The eye, says Freud, is the castrated phallus of the father. (Maranatha’s flower: isn’t it the female genitalia that grasps the phallus?) The Sandman is a story is built around themes of uncanniness. Freud elaborates:

These themes are all concerned with the phenomenon of “the double,” which appears in every shape and in every degree of development. Thus we have characters who are considered to be identical because they look alike. This relation is accentuated by mental processes leaping from one of these characters to another — by what we should call telepathy –, so that the one possesses knowledge, feelings, and experience in common with the other. Or it is marked by the fact that the subject identifies himself with someone else, so that he is in doubt as to which his self is, or substitutes the extraneous self for his own. In other words, there is a doubling, dividing, and interchanging of the self. And finally there is the constant recurrence of the same thing — the repetition of the same features or character-traits or vicissitudes, of the same crimes, or even the same names through several consecutive generations.

So I’m having a good time with this. Authorial intent? Who knows? Am I really a Freudian? When I read an event like Zane’s wedding I am. Over the top? You decide.

So what is Mary’s authorial response to my analysis?

Wow. That was a lot to digest. I loved your analysis! I have no idea if I thought through all you highlighted here (perhaps you’re making me smarter than I am), but I found it fascinating. When I write a novel, I feel like I’m translating what I see. The story plays itself out in front of me, which makes for very visual books (and hopefully a screenplay someday).

Yesterday a side conversation at Cultural Parody Center touched briefly on Sam Shepard. Jonquille said this about one of Shepard’s plays:

But ‘True West” is great and I’m sure Arpege Mess [nickname for another blog personality] could decipher it till it disappears. That’s what I loathe about her and traxus’s endless hermaneutics of whatever–the work disappears once it is touched by their corrupt hands…and even then they keep going… Clysmatics [that’s me] lub dat, though.

You may recall from yesterday’s post that Traxus and I engaged in a lengthy “deciphering” of David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises. Erdman wondered whether after all that interpretation I actually liked the movie (I did, very much). While I was watching I pretty much settled into the cinematic world that Cronenberg had established, not really thinking about the critical-analytic matrix in which it could be embedded. Not until a couple people wrote blog posts about the movie did I begin thinking about it in theoretical terms, and not until I had occasion to think about differences between Lacan and Deleuze did I really feel inclined to delve into serious deciphering. Once I got started, though, and in response to Traxus’s contrasting views, I found it easy to continue — one idea led to another, which brought me back to other scenes in the film, which triggered another theoretical elaboration, and so on. I stuck entirely to psychoanalytic constructs, never even touching on issues of aesthetics or politics or cinematic technique. I see Jonquille’s point: it would be possible to subject the film with so much deciphering that the film itself disappears. It’s like the photographer in the late great Antonioni’s Blow-Up trying to figure out what happened at a crime scene, only to find the scene itself transformed into an abstract matrix of photographic pixels. So if I were to watch Eastern Promises again, would my appreciation be enhanced or stifled by my having subjected it to conscious scrutiny? Would my own fiction writing become grander or more pretentious if I were to psychoanalyze my own text as I was writing it? I already do it to an extent, but certainly there are writers — like Mary — who cultivate an unconscious, non-reflective writing style. I responded to her reply thusly:

Freud presumes that a lot of our imaginings take shape beneath the level of conscious awareness. As a writer of fiction you’d hope to be able to tap into this unconscious source of creativity. Lots of writers go through lots of liquor trying to get to that level. I’m also aware that my own unconscious is shaped in part by images and ideas presented by others. Even Freud’s discussion of the uncanny is based on an analysis of Hoffman’s short story — a crafted text rather than the spontaneous verbalizations of his patients. Hitchcock movies are great examples of Freud’s death-and-doubling theme. I think especially of Vertigo, where the Jimmy Stewart character doesn’t find someone who just happens to remind him of a dead girl — she really is the same girl. So when Hitchcock creates this story is it a work of creativity, a manifestation of his own subconscious self, or the unconscious influence of outside voices like Hoffman’s and Freud’s? Anyhow, I thought the wedding scene was particularly powerful and overflowing with meaning.

And Mary said:

Maybe I’m a dry drunk! I don’t really know how to explain it other than I’m happiest when I’m writing stories. And I can tell when I’m in the zone. It’s a thrill, really.

As if I stand in awe of her creative genius. As if I’ve never written any fiction. Mary asks me to tell my wife that she’s been reading her blog — she never said anything about reading my blog. I read her book; she never asked to read my book. So that was the end of our little email exchange. And now that my blog is dead I can put it up here.

17 October 2007

Alternative Means of Interrogation

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 1:27 pm

One reason I had to quit blogging is that I don’t know how to upload YouTube clips. A couple weeks ago Ivan sent a link to an essay by Naomi Wolf about the ten steps to fascism. Here’s Ms. Wolf being interviewed by Stephen Colbert.

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Castrating Viggo

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 10:12 am

In my post-blog incarnation I’ve been hanging out on other people’s blogs. One recent conversation with Traxus at American Stranger entailed an analysis of Eastern Promises, the latest movie by Cronenberg. For me it turned into a way of reconsidering the Oedipus myth and castration, moving from Freud to Lacan to Deleuze & Guattari. Since these guys have certainly figured prominently at Ktismatics, and since maybe some of my persistent visitors have seen the movie, I’ve cut-and-pasted my comments from American Stranger.

Briefly, the story is this: A 15-year-old girl dies in childbirth in London. A nurse at the hospital, played by Naomi Watts, finds the girl’s diary, which is written in Russian. It turns out that the dead girl was raped by a local Russian mob boss. The boss’ son is an incompetent and corrupt and presumably homosexual fool, but his very professional driver (played by Viggo Mortensen) covers the son’s mistakes. The son has had a member of a rival Chechen gang whacked without his father’s permission. When the Chechens demand revenge, the father sets up Viggo to take his son’s place, having him tattooed with the marks that replicate those of his son, connoting high status in the Russian gang. Meanwhile, the diary has come to light, and through DNA testing the mob boss can be identified as the biological father, thereby establishing him as a statutory rapist of a minor and subject to arrest. So the boss wants the baby killed. Naomi tries to protect the baby, but the son kidnaps it from the hospital. Viggo happens to be at the same hospital, having survived the revenge hit by the Chechen hit men. He helps Naomi save the baby. Why? Viggo says it’s because he wants the boss out of the way so he can take over, but it turns out he’s an undercover operative of Scotland Yard who wants to put the Russian mob out of business.

That Viggo’s character turned out to be an undercover cop I thought was an unfortunate decision. How often have we seen this ploy by now, where the anomalous kind gestures of the thug turn out to be attributable to a deeper good-guy persona, and he’s being a badass in service of this higher good. If the undercover angle had been left out of the final cut and we saw Viggo do his good deeds entirely in Russian Mafia character, what then?

So we have a tough-guy Russian mobster whose heart of gold is attributable to his participation in Western law and order and the underlying morality (be nice to women and whores and babies) that it encodes. What happens if we’re left with mystery — he’s nice in some way that’s anomalous in the Western good/bad territorialization? Does it point to some sort of inscrutable otherness in the East, and is that too a cliche? But it’s not entirely inscrutable: if Viggo had, say, killed the baby himself it would have been even more strange. But we see that even the mob boss’ son didn’t want to kill the baby, so that bit of morality is presented as universal. Without the undercover cop business you’re an observer looking into a parallel Eastern reality that intersects with the West, that in its valorization of loyalty and kindness to babies isn’t completely other, but that works itself out in some way you’re never quite sure of. And Viggo: is it his other structural commitment to this foreign code or his personal agency and his autonomy from the code that motivates him? I think I’d prefer these mysteries to remain unresolved.

I wouldn’t find it confusing if Viggo exhibited some human decency which wasn’t reducible to his being under dominion of the Western higher authority. The whole story could have played out exactly as is, where Viggo justifies his actions to Naomi by telling her he wants to get the boss out of the way so he can take over. It’s a story that holds water, but you’d get a sense that there’s something else motivating him without ever knowing precisely what it is. Is it “old school” Russian values to which he’s alluded and that allies him with the curmudgeonly uncle? Is it some sort of Nietzschean will to define his own code of ethics? Enigmatic, unresolved, but not confusing, it preserves what Traxus described as “the mysterious way in which his motivations exceed all rewriting.”

It’s a distinctly low-tech movie — except for Naomi’s bike, which is a traditionally masculine machine. Viggo kind of competes with her machine, parking his limo practically right on top of the bike, and also repairing it in a manly fashion. And the tattoo apparatus is mechanical. So yeah, I can see the industrial power tools at work here, but the two “heroes” demonstrate a certain mastery of the machines.

Even though the mob boss is the biological father, by saving the baby Viggo becomes its father in reality — which is the masculine accomplishment par excellence. Likewise Naomi, though barren, becomes the mother by saving the baby. I don’t submission to the Russian mob is so much a feminization as it is a castration: a subjugation of pleasure to the Other and an inability to (pro)create. The tattoos aren’t feminine, they’re territorial markings, a renunciation of family in the name of a more powerful other. The knife slashes aren’t an invagination but a removal and a remarking, an alternative castration by another other. Even the baby of the boss is subject to castration. Both Viggo and Naomi are able to resist complete castration and so they can bear fruit, even if they aren’t biologically the reproductive agents.

Cronenberg is under no obligation to make a doctrinaire psychoanalytic movie. I’m no Lacan expert but my sense is that he degenders Freudian castration. Everyone, male and female, is subject to the master signifier. To stay alive in the game one has to renounce a measure of pleasure and power, of jouissance and puissance. To be castrated is to be neutered, whether you’re male or female. There is perhaps a movement from Freud to Lacan in the movie, from feminization to impotence. We start out with the feminization motif — the knife slice, the whorification of Viggo, the queering of the boss’ son, etc. But in fact we see the son mostly as a voyeur. He can’t seem to do anything; he can only watch others do. He can’t even kill a little baby for Christ sakes. He has been neutered by the Big Other, which very definitely takes physical form in his father. The tattoos are the symbolic order being inscribed in the body, replacing father-mother of one’s birth. The knives are an alternative symbolic order. The cops are another order, of course, to which both Viggo and the boss bow down. In obeisance to the legal order the boss even needs to chop off his own jouissance/puissance by excising his own baby. But he’s already shown that the Big Other doesn’t exist by falsely tattooing Viggo, marking him off not as a “made guy” under the boss’ protection but as a sacrificial victim to protect his own degenerate and impotent son.

The film pretty clearly establishes Viggo and Naomi as parents. Viggo wants to take the biological father’s place in the order, while Naomi by possessing the diary becomes identified with the biological mother. That they succeed in “parenting” the child is I think a further move toward what’s already been happening in the movie, redefining castration in terms of Deleuze & Guattari’s territorialization. Deterritorialization frees the flows of desire toward (pro)creation and (re)production, which we see in the last scene.

Okay, I may have been unduly optimistic in assigning the ending to Deleuze & Guattari. D&G envision a kind of utopia where reterritorialization isn’t imposed from the top-down by structure but bottom-up, with individual agency intersecting the immanent flows and continually re-marking them in an endless cycle of creation, dismantling and difference. So I was seeing the reproductive, procreative immanence flowing first through the boss and his rape victim and then redirected through the agency of Naomi and Viggo.However, I’m rewriting the last scene as if Viggo wasn’t a cop. But Cronenberg frames the story inside of structuralism, so the last scene has to be interpreted that way. And it is a very traditional-looking scene, with mommy and baby placed inside the extended traditional family. But daddy is missing — both daddies actually. Is this emblematic of the vaunted decline of Symbolic efficacy, where the master territorializers have all gone away? No: Viggo is top dog now, having somehow figured out a way either of getting the uncle back from exile or moving the whole family out of harm’s way. Viggo’s control of the symbolic order becomes transcendent — he doesn’t even have to be there to embed his little family inside the structure he has established.

The story is directly Oedipal. Viggo isn’t just competing with the boss — he is the doubled son of the boss, doing the work of the son, his body marked with the son’s tattoos. That the father sacrifices him to the Chechens is partly to protect his real son, but also to protect himself. Viggo-the-son is the threat to the king’s authority, so the king needs to get him killed off. But Viggo returns from seeming death to displace his father. He becomes the symbolic father of his father’s child, thereby surpassing the incest taboo. And in this regard it is a mythic rewrite by Deleuze & Guattari, who see Oedipus not as primal but as a micro-machinic producer of the larger symbolic order. When the social order changes, so does the Oedipal order.

12 October 2007

English Class Assignment

Filed under: Christianity, Fiction — ktismatics @ 1:29 pm

Compare and contrast James’s The Golden Bowl with McEwan’s Atonement in light of the following quote:

Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them; While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain: In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened, And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of musick shall be brought low; Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets: Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it. Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher; all is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 12:1-8)

9 October 2007

Dead Man Walking

Filed under: Genesis 1 — ktismatics @ 4:36 pm

Hey, I did say I might post a fleeting thought from time to time… Here’s something I realized today when writing a comment about the Fall on another blog:

In Genesis 2 God tells Adam that on the day he eats the forbidden fruit he will die. The Serpent says it ain’t so, that Adam and Eve won’t die on that day. Genesis 5 informs us that Adam didn’t die until hundreds of years later. It would seem that the Serpent was right, and God either lied or made a mistake. Let’s presume, though, that Yahweh was a God of his word. Man died on that day, but he didn’t literally die — he became mortal, he realized he was mortal, he forfeited his claim to eternal life, he suffered a deathlike separation from God, he died spiritually, etc. The text demands that the reader take God’s word figuratively.

Excerpts from My Books

Filed under: Fiction, Genesis 1 — ktismatics @ 10:59 am

As I was putting Ktismatics to bed, I decided to put up summaries and first chapters of the three books I’ve written so far: The Stations, Prop O’Gandhi and The Seven Creations of Genesis 1. See the top line of the blog to click to the appropriate page.

7 October 2007

Time to Go

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 6:11 pm

I’m going to stop writing this blog. I’ve got to refocus my energy and imagination on writing another book and maybe also getting the psychology practice off the ground. You’d think I’d be able to keep up with the blog around the edges, but so far I haven’t been able to do it. So I think I better put it aside.

When I started Ktismatics I decided to make it my main project for six months, the intent being to build a “platform” of popular interest in my Genesis 1 book. That didn’t work out, but I found that I enjoyed writing the posts and participating in online conversations for their own sake. Writing a book is a lonely undertaking; blogging is downright sociable — or at least it is for me. I feel like I’ve gotten to know the people who comment here, which I’ve enjoyed immensely.

I don’t have a lot of hope that my books will ever get published, or that I’ll ever attract any clients to my practice, but those are the only two possibilities I can picture right now. I’ll try to write an update once a week or so — maybe it’ll be an idea I’m working on, or a progress report on my other projects. Maybe once I shift my focus I won’t be able to manage even that much. Or maybe the idea for some new online project will come to mind. We’ll just have to see how it goes.

I’ll keep in touch with regular commenters. Sam and Ivan are welcome to carry on their conversation here as long as they like, though lately the spamcatcher seems to be losing its ability to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Thanks for hanging out with me.

4 October 2007

Collapsing the Triangle

Filed under: Ktismata, Language, Psychology — ktismatics @ 11:52 pm

We’ve been discussing Donald Davidson’s triangular epistemology whereby our awareness of ourselves, other people, and the world all hang together holistically through the intersubjective verbal interpretation of experience. Jonathan Erdman isn’t persuaded — he continues to wonder how he can ever know that the world and other people aren’t just a figment of his imagination. Jason wondered whether Erdman wasn’t being modernistic in his solipsism. I think Jason was on to something.

Maybe in modernism each of the three sides of the triangle takes its turn at trying to become the sole basis for awareness. Through Descartes rationalistic self-consciousness becomes the basis for all knowledge, leading to solipsism at the limit. In Lockean empiricism the world shapes the mind through the senses, tending toward an extreme behaviorism where the self is a product of the environment. In continental Structuralism it’s the other that creates the self through language, economics, or some other societal force.

These are perhaps the most significant “totalizing discourses” of the modern age, in which the three interrelated components of human awareness get reduced to a single dimension that effectively denies the other two. Each of these attempts to collapse the inherent interdependence of self, world and other proves absurd when taken to the limit.

Custom of the Country

Filed under: Reflections — ktismatics @ 2:28 pm

So our stuff finally arrived from France the other day. There isn’t much — we got rid of pretty much all our furniture a couple moves ago, leaving us mostly with books, china and crystal, keepsakes, clothes, and other small items. Still, it took up something like 80 boxes. When the moving men opened the wooden crate containing our boxes, we could see that it had been a rough trip. Most of the boxes were squashed and some of them had split at the seams as they were tossed between the teamsters and the dockworkers and the restless sea. But the most aggressive violators were the U.S. Customs people. They ripped open boxes, threw our stuff all over the place, broke some of it, either lost or stole some of it, then slapped their labels on the boxes proudly acknowledging their responsibility. Two boxes were missing altogether, one containing cookbooks, the other my daughter’s violin and my oboe. Hey, it’s a small price to pay for homeland security.

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