Saturday, January 7, 2017
Sunday, February 2, 2014
Sunday, March 20, 2011
“PARTS and WHOLES evolve in consequence of their relationship, and the relationship itself evolves. These are the properties of things that we call dialectical: that one thing cannot exist without the other, that one acquires its properties from its relation to the other, that the properties of both evolve as a consequence of their interpenetration” (Levins and Lewontin 1985:3).
It is the eloquence with which such bias is expressed that makes it so compelling ... that is, corroborates my belief ... that is, the belief that enables my mind, in its relentless inquiry into self, other, and their boundaries (if any) to enjoy repose and the unique satisfaction of binding together diverse ideas in a unified package. Well, unified? Or at least cinched up with the "thread that runs so true" so that in at least some little corner of the growing global thermodynamic chaos, my personal "maelstrom of perpetual disintegration and renewal" has a thought. That is, my brief seeming local negation of entropy enjoys a unique state for a few seconds (and that's all it takes) that I am one with the truth I seek. That is, I experience a hypergnostic surge of confidence that I am or were or will be. All vanity.
Saturday, February 5, 2011
Brain Keenan, a teacher from Belfast working at the American University in Beirut, was abducted by Muslim terrorists in 1986 and released in 1990. As a hostage, Keenan later reported, he felt he was being stripped “of every sense and fibre of body and mind and spirit that [makes one] who we are” (quoted by Richard Hutch in SOUNDINGS, 2001). During the isolation of his incarceration, Keenan imagined he was visited by several people, most particularly Turlough O’Carolan, the legendary, 17th century father of Irish music. He later wrote that “If [O’carolan] hadn’t been in the cell, I might still be locked up. It’s somebody to talk to, it’s somebody to focus your mind on, it’s something to keep yourself sane or insane …” (p122). These seemingly pathological experiences helped Keenan sustain his identity. BUT isn't pathology supposed to compromise or erode one’s competence, not sustain it? While we play with words, Keenan sought to survive, to maintain creative control while enduring brutal incarceration. This spontaneous experiment with the boundaries of reality might resonate with those who undertake a spiritual quest.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Life seems stuffed between two great holidays ... entre les fêtes ... the interlude between semesters has been since childhood signified and celebrated by Thanksgiving and Christmas. This year, the annual family feast table was cleared, we got to reviewing Christmas stuff to scatter around, mount on the tree ... faded photos of children as infants, crusty old souvenirs, some glistening artsy ornaments, and the family decorates the tree.
And this calls my attention to stuff I've taken for granted: I look around as though in a stranger's house (a touch of jamais vu) ... at stuff on bookshelves, corners, the garage ... these artifacts depend on me! Only I see the connections ... the coherence I see breathes life into them. Soon enough we --the stuff and I-- will be redistributed according to some apparent law of nature throughout the universe, only a little different than perhaps 50 years ago. Again I think, maybe I can make sense of things this year. If they were in just the right order, I would be in just the right order, and then the universe, and I can rest, untroubled by this impending disintegration.
THIS clutter is my extended phenotype, less a wunderkammern than one of those crabs (Macrocoeloma trispinosum nodipes) that covers itself with living camouflage from its environment: the serendipitously encountered sponge, or coral, or anemone. Each piece of clutter is a little house some vulnerable part of me lives in. To this point I might be a pathological collector, good at rationalizing my place in the spectrum of dysfunction ... not quite fatally retentive or so encrusted that I'm paralyzed ... but a little like that miniscule creature that creates and then becomes part of its own geology ... like corals and foraminifera –the stuff of white cliffs or the Parthenon or Michelangelo’s Pietà -- or Ernst Haeckel’s radiolaria (icon for this post).
OK, so maybe they're simply the bricks of a little house that shelters me, at least for a while … or (speaking of dwelling in dreams) each is one of the thousand points of light that collectively constitute an imagined memory … or a dream … and losing any one could unravel the whole ... like a subtle memory loss … loss of self! Is that why I’m so enchanted by some arcane words … “redintegration” --the pulling together of vast collections of memory precipitated by a single key recollection, or “pareidolia” -- a tendency to perceive meaningful patterns in the midst of random or ambiguous stimuli.
OK, I’ll clean up the damn garage, but in my heart am I really making room for new stuff? Is giving stuff away disloyal? Maybe I'm giving the best old stuff more room to breath. Am I thinking about this too much? Is my confidence in my intuitive impulses waning?
But wait! There’s more! (a favorite line from 3AM TV commercials)
“Disorganization” is a formal term for clutter in some circles (seems oxymoronic but I appreciate the power of alternative perspectives here) and there is actually a National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization, according to a New York Times article last Nov 3 [link] .
Their research director, Catherine Roster, related the relevant fact that “professional organizers frequently urge clients to photograph objects they have trouble letting go of, as an assist to “dispossession.” Aha! We can exchange the image and the object ! I’ve been leaning towards a new camera … this seals the deal.
(I do appreciate the resonance between picking and choosing words for a problematical post and reorganizing the garage)
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
As they put it, when a crystal made of cobalt and niobium was chilled to almost absolute zero its atoms arrayed themselves in in long, parallel chains. “Because of a quantum property called spin, electrons attached to the atom chains act like tiny bar magnets, each of which can only point up or down.” Then, a powerful magnetic field was ‘applied perpendicular to the direction of these electron "magnets". Patterns appeared spontaneously in the electron spins in the chains – in a simplified example with three electrons, the spins could read up-up-down or down-up-down, among other possibilities. Each distinct pattern has a different energy associated with it. The ratio of these different energy levels showed that the electron spins were ordering themselves according to mathematical relationships in E8 symmetry.”
Monday, November 16, 2009
“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is itself to succumb to the violence of our times. Frenzy destroys our inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.” -- Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
So stop, center, focus ... I can't center everything, and yet "Centering [is] that act which precedes all others on the potter's wheel. The bringing of the clay into a spinning, unwobbling pivot, which will then be free to take innumerable shapes as potter and clay press against each other. The firm, tender, sensitive pressure which yields as much as it asserts." --Mary Richards, Centering: In Pottery, Poetry, and the Person.
Okay, so learn something ... make connections: "The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers by base minds. There is only one thing for it then - to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you." --Terence H. White, The Once and Future King
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Every educated Somali, Jeffrey Bartholet writes, knows what happened at Dul Madoba in 1913: “ Some have memorized verses of a classic Somali poem written by the mullah [that prevailed over the British there]. The gruesome ode is addressed to Richard Corfield, a British political officer who commanded troops on this dusty edge of the empire. The mullah instructs Corfield, who was slain in battle, on what he should tell God's helpers on his way to hell. "Say: 'In fury they fell upon us.'/Report how savagely their swords tore you."
“Many Somalis would come to think [the mullah] mad in another sense—that he was touched by God.... “It's impossible to gauge the impact the poem had on the thinking of Somali fighters [then and now]. … In an age before television, the Internet, and streaming video, the mullah used poetry as a propaganda tool, both to gain sympathy and to terrify his foes.
Today poetry is also written and recited by bin Laden and just about every other Qaeda leader with a following. The poems proliferate on jihadi Web sites.” (from his essay, “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (Newsweek, Oct 12, 2009; http://www.newsweek.com/id/216509/)