Last time around, I mentioned how one of the reasons I'm so twitchy about the turning of spiritual guidance into dogma is the way such things can be seized upon by powers-that-be to reinforce their status quo.Read more
You don't have to dig very deeply to find rank pessimism these days. Between reports of ocean acidification and the melting permafrost, it isn't hard to find people who put very low odds on the human race surviving the century. Maybe even the next few decades are a tough bet.
Confronting this stuff, as a single and relatively powerless human being, is paralyzing and depressing. It reminds you that you are not only merely one person among teeming billions (who pays attention to one grain of sand on the beach?), but that talk of taking control of one's life seems a brutal joke in the light of such facts.
On the one hand, it's impossible to function if you think about it. On the other hand, if you don't think about it, then you are making that many more excuses to let things fall to pieces.Read more
A casual statement by my friend Steven Savage stuck in my mind: "There's something to how writers are more than writers, and fail themselves by only being writers."Read more
One of the admirable consequences [of the reunification of Germany] is a flourishing cultural life no longer dominated by the notion of the artist as public conscience. Considering that, as we have lately seen, the artist is typically no more effective a vehicle of public conscience than the next person you pass in the street (and in Grass's case much less so), that's probably just as well.
I had to wrestle with this one for a good long time: why would Kamm believe artists might be no more effective a vehicle of public conscience than anyone else? I suspect the answer lies in that while many artists are known for being politically outspoken, they are not always also known for being astute.Read more
Ozick has always been a great guardian of distinctions — between the major and the minor, the high and the low. Her fear is that our ability to make such distinctions is rapidly eroding, that we are in danger of forgetting why Henry James is better than comic books, or why Austen’s novels do not belong in the same realm as chick lit.
The word that jumped out at me there is "better". It's something of a stacked-deck argument to say Henry James is better than comic books, because the former has the advantage of time and critical history on its side and the latter do not.Read more
We can learn to understand that just because someone doesn’t believe in God or Buddha, they’re not necessarily a bad person. We can also learn to understand that just because someone does believe in God or Buddha they’re not necessarily an idiot.
This is a splendid distillation of a position I've been working my way towards for a long time now. Belief or nonbelief isn't absolutely correlated with good behavior; it's all in how you use it. If you use it to build bridges with fellow men, it doesn't matter if your last name is Sagan or Merton.Read more
Another busy week — much work on MeTal, on Always Outnumbered, etc. Still reeling from one horror after another — the Nice massacre, the failed Turkish military coup (another case of there being no real good guys on either side here). Let me turn my attention instead to an old creative dilemma: When do you stop entertaining an idea for a creative project, and just cut your losses.
More details: If you keep an idea kicking around too long in your head, doesn't it run the risk of becoming one of those bewhiskered old things that is more a remnant of a person you once were and are no longer, and not something you can do justice to now as you are?Read more
About two weeks ago, I stopped reading Facebook entirely.
I dropped an email about this to some people I was close to, encouraging them to stay in touch. I didn't delete the account, because I have a number of pages I manage that I do want to keep there, for the sake of both exposure and avoiding having them squatted by someone else. But I logged out of it on all my devices, removed the app from my phone, removed the bookmarks from my browser, and let out the deepest sigh of relief
Two weeks later, the most immediate effect I have noticed is that I feel like have my brain back.Read more
I once read an interview with experimental percussionist Z'ev about the problem of making music with technology that's critical of the world that produced said technology — "you're like, stuck!" he quipped. The very act of trying to critique what's around you ends up glorifying it, making it seem cool — the same problem François Truffaut had with war films. But every now and then someone cuts through the crap: Oliver Stone made Platoon, and as Roger Ebert pointed out, it did not make war seem like fun. And drummer Keith Leblanc, of the original Sugar Hill Gang and its spinoffs, including the industrial-funk machine Tackhead, made the drum-machine and sampler workout Major Malfunction, and it manages the neat trick of being a product of the very technology it's designed to critique without seeming hypocritical about it.Read more