The view from 1984

I’ve been browsing around in Marc Aramini’s Between Light and Shadow: An Exploration of the Fiction of Gene Wolfe, 1951 to 1986. In his discussion of Free Live Free, he quotes a couple of passages that have gained force in the years since the year the novel was published. I thought I’d put them here, a bit more fully.

A history of America, delivered by a man in a duffel coat near the end of the story:

“Our country was founded on the principle of the destruction of the wild by the civilized. Let me … go back thirty thousand years before Christ, when the ancestors of the Indians crossed what are now the Bering Straits to occupy what some people have called an empty land. Those Indians represented civilization. The beavers felled trees and built lodges, but the Indians killed the beavers and skinned them.

Barnes said, “Then the whites came and skinned the Indians.”

“Precisely. But the frontiersmen who destroyed the Indians and their culture were destroyed themselves, with their culture, by the settlers who followed. Those settlers lost their farms to the banks, and the banks sold them to companies who have brought the advantages of corporate existence—immortality and amorality—to agriculture.

“In the cities, the same thing occurred. The early city of independent shops and restaurants is properly being displaced by one of the chain outlets, so that progressively greater control is exercised. Perhaps none of you have ever understood before why they are called that—chain outlets….

“You see the progress? The old stores had to sell things their customers wanted. As they’re eliminated, the need for their type of slavery is eliminated, too, and the chains can sell whatever they want. Their customers have to buy it because there is nothing else to buy. I ask you, all of you—how often have you gone into W. T. Grant’s and found there was nothing at all you wanted?”

And:

“The Indians used to be Americans—that’s what an American was. Then the trappers were Americans, the Americans of their day. Then the farmers, with their buggies and plow horses and white clapboard houses. Even today when you look at a picture of Uncle Sam, you’re seeing what those farmers were like dressed up to go to the county fair. Only farmers aren’t real Americans any more. Neither are Indians. Poor bastards of Indians aren’t even foreigners, and we like foreigners more than Americans, because foreigners are the Americans of the future. The trappers are gone, and pretty soon you’ll be gone too.”

After further provocation, one of his audience responds:

“… I am a gypsy and a princess. And a dupe, because you have made me one. But I will speak for the Indians too, because they were nomads when they were shaped by their own thoughts and not by yours, and we are nomads now, who will remain so though you will slay us….

“You have overcome us, but you have not conquered us. To conquer us you must beat us fairly, and you have not beaten us fairly, and so you have struck us to the ground, but you have not won. To conquer us, you must have dignity too, and for that reason you have not conquered us. A man may flee from a wasp and be stung by the wasp, but he has not been conquered by the wasp; it remains an insect and he is still a man. You deck yourselves like fools and chatter and hop like apes, and your princes marry whores. That is why even those you have crushed to dust will not call you master, and none will ever call you master until you meet a nation more foolish than yourselves.”

Earlier in the book the gypsy does some “catoptromancy.” She explains, “… what I have done is the verso of necromancy; I summoned the spirits of the unborn to reveal the future.” According to her,

“The greatest event of the coming decade will be the quadrumvirate. Four leaders, unknown today, shall unite to take political, financial, artistic, and judicial power. They shall create a revolution in thought. Many who are now rulers shall be imprisoned or exiled. Many who are now powerless shall rise to places of great authority. The rich shall be made poor, and the poor rich. Old crimes, now concealed, shall be made public, and their perpetrators given to the people as to a pride of lions. The four shall be hated and idolized, but their rule will not end within the period specified by my prediction.”

It’s time for the quadrumvirate to reveal itself.

Noise and pessimism

It is no coincidence that, as our culture has become stupider, it has also become noisier. Here’s an 1851 essay by Schopenhauer. He focuses on the wanton cracking of whips; I wonder what he would have said about subwoofers.

On Noise

Kant wrote a treatise on The Vital Powers. I should prefer to write a dirge for them. The superabundant display of vitality, which takes the form of knocking, hammering, and tumbling things about, has proved a daily torment to me all my life long. There are people, it is true — nay, a great many people — who smile at such things, because they are not sensitive to noise; but they are just the very people who are also not sensitive to argument, or thought, or poetry, or art, in a word, to any kind of intellectual influence. The reason of it is that the tissue of their brains is of a very rough and coarse quality. On the other hand, noise is a torture to intellectual people. In the biographies of almost all great writers, or wherever else their personal utterances are recorded, I find complaints about it; in the case of Kant, for instance, Goethe, Lichtenberg, Jean Paul; and if it should happen that any writer has omitted to express himself on the matter, it is only for want of an opportunity.

Continue reading “Noise and pessimism”

February miscellany

Maureen Mullarkey defends — sorta — the Vatican’s 2020 creche:

However off-beat the interpretation or craftsmanship, the Abruzzo portrayal is as innocent of blasphemy as a Lego Nativity. It is the departure from expectation—from the protocols of established iconography—that offends critics. Falsely accused of irreverence, its installation in St. Peter’s Square insinuates an intention that the project never held….

Agreed, Abruzzo’s Nativity was unsuited for solemn display in the Vatican. Both site and timing were malapropos. Nevertheless, all the artillery fired at it should have been aimed more accurately.

***

Everything you need to know about Netflix:

The Netflix warning about a documentary concerning a man who beat women to death has two warnings: “Nudity, Smoking.”

***

Shamus has as clear and lucid an explanation of the GameStop business as you’ll find anywhere:

People called this a “David versus Goliath” type situation, which for me conjures up the image of a middle schooler vs. a linebacker. But in terms of weight class, this is more like a regular-sized dude versus Godzilla. Maybe David didn’t totally kill Goliath today, but given the extreme size differential I think cutting Goliath in half is pretty damned impressive.

***

(Via Dale Price.)

… and that’s enough reality. Now for silly nonsense.

Continue reading “February miscellany”

Today’s useful word

Fraudulum

And so I propose the FRAUDULUM. It is the smallest unit of fraud. I define it to be the amount of fraud that is taking place when a husband tells his wife that the pants do not make her ass look fat. When you call a company and their recorded message tells you “Your call is very important to us,” that is 2 or 3 fraudulum. When the gas company calls and you tell them the check is in the mail, that is a dozen fraudulum. A dozen dozen fraudulum is a gross fraudulum, and that’s when a politician tells you “I feel your pain.”

(The proper response to anyone who says “I feel your pain” is “Hand me a baseball bat and I’ll validate your feelings.”)

Rehashed, reheated

The authoritative fall-of-civilization end-of-the-year roundup is Dave Barry’s, but there are others worth reading.

Titania McGrath:

The world finally accepted that there are more than 400 genders, and that all of these have been persecuted throughout history. Even the ones we invented last week.

Intersectional feminism triumphed over transphobia. All of a sudden, major companies were using phrases such as “menstruators”, “vulva owners” and “people with a cervix”. All of which is far more respectful to women: or, as I like to call them, bipedal gestation units.

David Thompson:

As the coronavirus pandemic tightened its grip, we learned, via an immensely woke Brooklynite podcaster named Billy, “What it’s like to isolate with your girlfriend and her other boyfriend.” And in the pages of The Atlantic, we were told, by Natan Last, a Brooklynite and graduate of Columbia, that crossword puzzles are one of “the systemic forces that threaten women.”

Comforting thought

David Deavel:

One friend told me a couple years ago that her persistent fears about the collapse of civilization had eased once she had realized that it had collapsed already.

***

Unrelated: what’s going on with John C. Wright’s website?

Update: The site is back, at least for now. Apparently there was some site migration issue.

Update two: Sometimes it’s back, sometimes not.

End of the year drivel

Gee, what a thrill it’s been. Not every generation has the privilege of living the prologue to a dystopian novel.

A year ago, I didn’t think I could possibly ever have a lower opinion of the intelligentsia; I was wrong. To all the petty tyrants and their toadies, all the experts, all the journalists and pundits, all the criminals in office, all the profiteering oligarchs, all the sanctimonious scolds and everyone else who has made this such a remarkable year, I have one thing to say: go to hell.

Enough of that. On to the stuff that mattered in 2020.

Music

The non-classical album I found most interesting this year was Atomic Ape’s Swarm (2014). The tunes range from quasi-surf to near-Klezmer, plus a quirky Django Reinhardt cover; if I had to name a genre, it would be the conveniently vague “cinematic.”

Gryphon’s Reinvention (2018) was a pleasant surprise but ultimately a disappointment. Three of the original quartet reformed a few years ago and drafted another trio of musicians to fill out the ensemble. However, the missing fourth member, Richard Harvey, was the best composer of the bunch, and he is missed. Reinvention is pleasant music, nicely arranged and well-performed, but the melodies don’t remain in my ears after listening. There’s nothing comparable to “Midnight Mushrumps,” “Estampie” or “Ethelion.”

Otherwise, I mostly listened to classical keyboard music: Bach’s forty-eight, Beethoven’s thirty-two, Alkan, Debussy, Szymanowski and Scott Joplin.

There was no Winfield this year, and no concerts worth attending in the area. There were frequent outdoor luncheon performances of lukewarm jazz during the warmer part of the year at the coffeehouse on the corner, which I did not appreciate.

Anime

I didn’t watch anything released this year, and watched very little overall. I did sample several episodes of Irresponsible Captain Tylor, which I’d been meaning to investigate for years. Amiable flake Justy Ueki Tylor joins the space force seeking the easy life, and through a bizarre sequence of events gets command of a battleship. It’s not clear whether he’s a genius or an idiot (probably the latter), but he survives and prospers by being luckier than Milfeulle Sakuraba. It’s a funny show, but Tylor remains a flake, and I lost interest.

Other arts

Nothing worth mentioning.

I’ll write about books later.

Wordplay

Winter thus far has been mild here, with little snow and ice. Nevertheless, I’m in the mood for an old favorite by the lunatic from Idaho.

Winter is icummen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm.
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
Sing: Goddamm.

Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
An ague hath my ham.
Freezeth river, turneth liver,
Damn you, sing: Goddamm.

Goddamm, Goddamm, ’tis why I am, Goddamm,
So ‘gainst the winter’s balm.

Sing goddamm, damm, sing Goddamm.
Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM.

I particularly like how Pound exploits the rhymes to make the pleasant word “balm” sound like an obscenity.

Another nice word that sounds like an obscenity to me nowadays, for other reasons: “safe.”

Odds and ends

While the point of the Hololive phenomenon eludes me, I do like the video of marching VTubers that Pixy found. In particular, I enjoy the tune, “みっちりねこマーチ,” or “MitchiriNeko March,”1 by one Chiemi Takano (Joedown). It reminds me of the Kuricorder Quartet in a playful mood. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find a recording of it in the USA. The video is based on an earlier one featuring cartoon cats.

***

Today’s useful phrase: “platitudinal capacity.”

Though he hailed from the dusty plains of Oklahoma, Kendall himself was certainly no rube. He worked his way onto the faculty of Yale, where he profoundly influenced Bill Buckley among others. But while he had the intellect to work at the highest academic levels, he had neither the temperament nor the platitudinal capacity. Yale eventually paid him to forfeit his tenure.

***

Years ago, when I finally had a computer at home with Photoshop, I thought that I would at last be able to make color prints of the pictures I take. Ha. Thanks to the machinations of printer manufacturers, the final destination for all my photography is digital files. The article focuses on HP, but I can state that Epson and Canon are no better. I print maybe a dozen pages a year, and those are rarely pictures.

(Via American Digest.)

Continue reading “Odds and ends”

Notes and a word

Joseph Moore:

I think genius is as common as dirt, but needs proper conditions to flower. I think this because of the recurring historical phenomenon of little nothing cities or cultures reaching insane flowerings over short periods of time with small populations – how does one explain Athens or Florence? The density of true genius over a few centuries or even a few decades in those places surpasses the genius of, say, the entire Islamic world over a millennium. Genius has to be lurking, and thwarted, everywhere.

Altitude Zero:

The more levelheaded ones, like Obama and Biden (back when he was more or less sentient) and Hillary most certainly want power for power’s sake, but that’s not true of the Antifa types, and the Junior Volunteer Thought Police, and the BLM types. I mean, look at these people; they are, almost to a man (or woman) stunningly ugly, obviously mentally ill, or twisted in some odd sexual way. These are the people who were made fun of,who didn’t get asked to the prom, who never had a date in their lives, who got locked up for being a bit too friendly with the kiddies, or with the sheep…

These people want revenge, not just on the normal, well adjusted people they had no hope of being, but on the Universe itself. Edmund Wilson, himself a leftist, noted uneasily that almost everyone he met at his first Communist Party meeting was ugly or deformed in some way. Things haven’t changed, it seems.

Moore, again:

In the fevered imaginations of the Left, the Spanish Inquisition looms large. Yet, over its whole centuries long existence, the Inquisition didn’t kill or torture as many people as Pol Pot, Mao, or Stalin did in a routine day. And that was centuries ago. Unless we want to consider Communism and its conjoined twin National Socialism as religions – I would be down with that – religious persecutions in the West are ancient, comparatively minor (e.g., Salem witch trials), or both.

Today’s useful term: FAUXVID.

Notes from all over

Here’s a motive for one of great crimes of the 21st century:

Wealth increase in the pandemic for founder/CEOs of
Amazon: $91 billion
Walmart: $38B
Google: $37B
Microsoft: $33B
Facebook: $28B
Nike: $8B
Apple: $8B

Small businesses: collectively lost over $200 billion

We’re witnessing a record wealth transfer

Amazon: profit up 100%
Walmart: profit up 80%
Target: profit up 80%
Lowe’s: profit up 74%
Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, Google: stock at record high

Small businesses: 21% closed; revenue for rest down 30%. They’re gonna go extinct in the lockdown without help.

(Via Clarissa.)

Continue reading “Notes from all over”

Trapped in an alternate universe

We’ve been living in a counterfactual world since at least 1960. Nixon won the election, but in our space-time continuum, Kennedy was inaugurated president. It looks like we’re at another inflection point. So, what now?

Francis X. Maier:

What may be coming our way is an odd kind of “new colonialism,” with flyover country—that Dark Continent formerly known as places like Kansas, Alabama, and Tennessee, largely inhabited by reactionary troglodytes—reduced in effective power to mission territory for our enlightened coastal elites; who, after all, are much smarter than the rest of us and have the expert skills to run our complex technocracy.

And of course, they’ll do all this unselfishly, heroically really, for the benefit of us natives.

Severian:

What’s going to come of the electoral mess? Nothing good, as we’ve discussed ad nauseam. The likely outcomes — the ones produced by humans, excluding meteor strikes and plagues and other acts of God — range from “bad” to “inconceivably horrible.” There really aren’t any Forces of History, my friends, but something out there wants what it wants, and what it wants, apparently, is rat utopia, the kinder gentler police state, Karen uber alles. Even the increasingly unlikely event of a total Trump victory in the courts only delays it a few years, tops. We all know which way the world is heading.

So… what do we, as individuals, DO?

Tend your gardens. Raise your children. Be loyal to your friends. Pray. Meditate. Read the great books, view the great artworks while that’s still permitted. Enjoy your time in the sunshine, because that’s all any of us ever really get in this world. Amor fati.

See also Edward Feser.

Today’s quote

TS:

The larger issue is that Trump is an unwitting revealer of character – just ask the many “journalists” who have been outed as frauds and hacks by him. You could call Trump a one-man honest-broker detector, a tester of character, like whether your house can stand up to really strong winds. In Catholic parlance, Trump is a near occasion of sin for reporters.