Thursday, June 30, 2005

Mark Helprin: Horses will rear up when they see him

Harvard Magazine: Literary Warrior: Mark Helprin's fictional marvels and political heterodoxies by Craig Lambert

Helprin in his study, backed by his impeccably organized wall of books
Photograph by Jim Harrison

I urge you to read the entire article. A couple of choice excerpts:

No living authors influence his writing, Helprin says. Instead, his lodestars include Dante, Shakespeare, Melville, Mark Twain. There are indeed echoes of Twain in his new novel, Freddy and Fredericka, due out this summer. It narrates the journey of a wayward British royal couple rusticated to America, where they travel incognito and survive hilarious adventures that read, as the dust jacket has it, “as if de Tocqueville had been rewritten by Mark Twain (with a deep bow to Harpo Marx).”

Helprin is a classicist. He believes in history, tradition, and eternal verities. He values aesthetic symmetries and the literary forms the centuries have passed down to us. To Helprin, the principles of modernism are fatal to art, and he has no truck with the avant-garde. “The avant-garde are frauds,” he bluntly declares. “Modern literature is all cool and detached, even though a lot of modern writers are passionate about their politics. To me, passion should be for literature, and reason and detachment for politics.


Consider the following collection of snapshots from Helprin’s unwritten memoirs. His godfather was the celebrated photographer Robert Capa; Helprin served briefly in the British Merchant Navy and the Israeli army and air force; he can voluntarily raise or lower his pulse, he says, by 20 beats per minute; he met Malcolm X twice, and Martin Luther King Jr. once—the latter at Christmastime, alongside an enormous bowl of shrimp (“We talked about shrimp,” Helprin says). In Copenhagen, a violent, screaming Judy Garland occupied the adjoining hotel room; in Montreux, his balcony was next to that of a gentlemanly Vladimir Nabokov. In 1987, Helprin was in Los Angeles to sign a motion-picture deal for Winter’s Tale with Columbia Pictures president David Puttnam. He let Jane Fonda go in before him and lost the deal because Puttnam was fired just as Fonda left the office. (Helprin has small esteem for the Hollywood business model, which he calls “equal parts wild animal, tyrant, agitated psychotic, and the kind of snake that is rumored to enter the house through the toilet.”) He saw the Queen Mother process down a seedy back street in Ossining; in 1973 he warned, through channels, of the impending war against Israel, but Moshe Dayan wasn’t listening to an enlisted man. He disarmed a huge, drunken, knife-wielding lout on the New York City subway. His languages include Latin, French, Italian, Hebrew, Arabic, and German. Helprin’s hero is Winston Churchill, and in 2001, when he and family traveled to London, within 15 minutes of arriving in South Kensington they found themselves waiting to cross a street alongside Winston S. Churchill III, the hero’s grandson and namesake. Helprin used to do dangerous things, like mountain climbing, parachute jumping, and running along the tops of moving freight trains. He once ran a double marathon of more than 50 miles. In addition, “He attracts madmen,” says his wife, Lisa. “If we were separated while shopping and there was a commotion somewhere in the store, it always involved Mark. Horses will rear up when they see him.”

(via Arts & Letters Daily)

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Frederik Ruysch: Vene, vidi et judica nil tuis oculis

I first encountered the works of Frederik Ruysch at the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health's amazing Dream Anatomy website with this startling image:

Alle de ontleed- genees- en heelkindige werken...van Fredrik Ruysch . . . . Vol. 3
Amsterdam, 1744. Etching with engraving. National Library of Medicine.
Frederik Ruysch

The brief description on the page only deepened the enigmatic nature of the piece:

Ruysch festooned infant skeletons with various objects, organic and non-organic, and arranged them in landscapes of body parts.

Alle de ontleed- genees- en heelkindige werken...van Fredrik Ruysch... vol. 3
Amsterdam, 1744. Etching with engraving. National Library of Medicine.
Frederik Ruysch
More description:

Ruysch’s "repository of curiosities" included displays of infant and fetal skeletons, placed in landscapes of human and animal body parts. This ghastly musicale is notable for its morbid whimsy.

"Festooned infant skeletons?" "Landscapes of body parts?" "Ghastly musicale?" Who was this gentleman, Frederick Ruysch?

The always enlightening Wikipedia indicated that:

Frederik Ruysch (March 23, 1638 - February 22, 1731) was a Dutch doctor and anatomist, remembered for his developments in anatomical preservation and the creation of dioramas or scenes incorporating human parts. [...]

He built up a "repository of curiosities" and later sold it to Peter the Great for a reported 30,000 guilders. He immediately began anew and this collection was sold to another royal after his death. While some of his preserved collections remain, none of his scenes have survived. They are only known through a number of engravings, notably those by Cornelius Huyberts.
Further Googling took me to The Zymolglyphic Museum which has some more etchings and a brief biography similar to the above. There was, however, a bit more:

A second arena of creativity for Ruysch was creating natural history assemblages to decorate the tops of jars of preserved animal specimens. None of these assemblages or the dioramas are known to have survived to the present day. However, Ruysch had a third medium, which was the preservation of decorated babies in jars. The story of these works and haunting photographs by Rosamond Purcell are found in "Finders, Keepers: Treasures and Oddities of Natural History".

Following up on this, I found the Kunstkamera site which contained a few of these babies in jars.

The collection of F. Ruysch:
Undivided twin, one is the parasite of the second's body.

The Kunstkamera site also supplied more biographical information:

In 1717, while in Amsterdam, the tsar bought another large collection, that of Frederik Ruysch.

Tsar Peter I attended Frederik Ruysch's anatomical lessons in the winter of 1697 - 1698. These classes were given at the anatomical theatre in Amsterdam's Weight House for several days in succession, until the cadaver began to decompose.

Frederik Ruysch also devised a way to conserve parts of the body for longer periods. He created wet and dry preparations by injecting the blood and lymph vessels with a special liquid of secret composition.

"See for yourself", was his motto. In other words: not to believe anything based on another's authority, without having seen it with one's own eyes. The motto in his guest book was "Vene, vidi et judica nil tuis oculis" (Come, see and judge, believe only your own eyes).

The collection of F. Ruysch:
Child's head.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Arundhati Roy: The Most Cowardly War in History

Arundhati Roy received the Booker Prize for literature in 1997.
Presently, one of the most eloquent voices for the global justice and anti-war movement,
she was also awarded, among many others, the Sydney Peace Prize in 2004,
and the Lannan Cultural Freedom Prize in 2002.

I am almost always interested in reading poltical commentary from novelists and poets. Most often it is fairly amusing in the sense that it conveys a perspective so detached from the truth, that you wonder what the air must be like up in those Ivory Towers. Occasionally, it is penetrating and eloquent. But it is always fascinating in how it opens a perspective into the author's Work. Regardless, no contemporary politician can turn a phrase such as this (which was "the hidden smile" moment for me):

If in the era of the multinational corporate media and embedded journalism anybody can seriously hold this view, then we truly do live in the Age of Irony, in an age when satire has become meaningless because real life is more satirical than satire can ever be.


Opening Statement of Arundhati Roy on behalf of the jury of conscience of the world tribunal of Iraq.

Istanbul, Turkey - This is the culminating session of the World Tribunal on Iraq. It is of particular significance that it is being held here in Turkey where the United States used Turkish air bases to launch numerous bombing missions to degrade Iraqs defenses before the March 2003 invasion and has sought and continues to seek political support from the Turkish government, which it regards as an ally. All this was done in the face of enormous popular opposition by the Turkish people. As a spokesperson for the jury of conscience, it would make me uneasy if I did not mention that the government of India is also, like the government of Turkey, positioning itself as a ally of the United States in its economic policies and the so-called War on Terror.

The testimonies at the previous sessions of the World Tribunal on Iraq in Brussels and New York have demonstrated that even those of us who have tried to follow the war in Iraq closely are not aware of a fraction of the horrors that have been unleashed in Iraq.

The Jury of Conscience at this tribunal is not here to deliver a simple verdict of guilty or not guilty against the United States and its allies. We are here to examine a vast spectrum of evidence about the motivations and consequences of the US invasion and occupation, evidence that has been deliberately marginalized or suppressed. Every aspect of the war will be examined - its legality, the role of international institutions and major corporations in the occupation, the role of the media, the impact of weapons such as depleted uranium munitions, napalm, and cluster bombs, the use of and legitimation of torture, the ecological impacts of the war, the responsibility of Arab governments, the impact of Iraqs occupation on Palestine, and the history of US and British military interventions in Iraq. This tribunal is an attempt to correct the record. To document the history of the war not from the point of view of the victors but of the temporarily - and I repeat the word temporarily - anquished.

Before the testimonies begin, I would like to briefly address as straightforwardly as I can a few questions that have been raised about this tribunal.

The first is that this tribunal is a Kangaroo Court. That it represents only one point of view. That it is a prosecution without a defense. That the verdict is a foregone conclusion.

Now this view seems to suggest a touching concern that in this harsh world, the views of the US government and the so-called Coalition of the Willing headed by President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair have somehow gone unrepresented. That the World Tribunal on Iraq isn't aware of the arguments in support of the war and is unwilling to consider the point of view of the invaders. If in the era of the multinational corporate media and embedded journalism anybody can seriously hold this view, then we truly do live in the Age of Irony, in an age when satire has become meaningless because real life is more satirical than satire can ever be.

Let me say categorically that this tribunal is the defense. It is an act of resistance in itself. It is a defense mounted against one of the most cowardly wars ever fought in history, a war in which international institutions were used to force a country to disarm and then stood by while it was attacked with a greater array of weapons than has ever been used in the history of war.

Second, this tribunal is not in any way a defense of Saddam Hussein. His crimes against Iraqis, Kurds, Iranians, Kuwaitis, and others cannot be written off in the process of bringing to light Iraqs more recent and still unfolding tragedy. However, we must not forget that when Saddam Hussein was committing his worst crimes, the US government was supporting him politically and materially. When he was gassing Kurdish people, the US government financed him, armed him, and stood by silently.

Saddam Hussein is being tried as a war criminal even as we speak. But what about those who helped to install him in power, who armed him, who supported him - and who are now setting up a tribunal to try him and absolve themselves completely? And what about other friends of the United States in the region that have suppressed Kurdish peoples and other peoples rights, including the government of Turkey?

There are remarkable people gathered here who in the face of this relentless and brutal aggression and propaganda have doggedly worked to compile a comprehensive spectrum of evidence and information that should serve as a weapon in the hands of those who wish to participate in the resistance against the occupation of Iraq. It should become a weapon in the hands of soldiers in the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Australia, and elsewhere who do not wish to fight, who do not wish to lay down their lives - or to take the lives of others - for a pack of lies. It should become a weapon in the hands of journalists, writers, poets, singers, teachers, plumbers, taxi drivers, car mechanics, painters, lawyers - anybody who wishes to participate in the resistance.

The evidence collated in this tribunal should, for instance, be used by the International Criminal Court (whose jurisdiction the United States does not recognize) to try as war criminals George Bush, Tony Blair, John Howard, Silvio Berlusconi, and all those government officials, army generals, and corporate CEOs who participated in this war and now profit from it.

The assault on Iraq is an assault on all of us: on our dignity, our intelligence, and our future.

We recognize that the judgment of the World Tribunal on Iraq is not binding in international law. However, our ambitions far surpass that. The World Tribunal on Iraq places its faith in the consciences of millions of people across the world who do not wish to stand by and watch while the people of Iraq are being slaughtered, subjugated, and humiliated.
(Thanks Wade.)

Monday, June 27, 2005

The Long Tail: Signal to Noise Discussion

Had a short discussion the other night with some friends (that eventually became distracted and drowned out by "noise") about why there are no "equivalents" to John Stuart Mill's On Liberty being published today.

The argument turned to an issue explored by the late Neil Postman in his excellent work Amusing Ourselves to Death. He points out some of the fundamental differences between the vision of the future proposed by George Orwell, in 1984, and Aldous Huxley, in Brave New World:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared that the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.
This brought to mind a fascinating discussion on signal vs. noise and filters on Chris Anderson's blog, The Long Tail (which is an exploration of issues surrounding his ground-breaking article of the same name in Wired):

Is the Long Tail full of crap? by Chris Anderson

One of the most frequent mistakes people make about the Long Tail is to assume that things that don't sell well are "not as good" as things that do sell well. Or, to put it another way, they assume that the Long Tail is full of crap. After all, if that album/book/film/whatever were excellent, it would be a hit, right?

Well, in a word, no. Niches operate by different economics than the mainstream. And the reason for that helps explain why so much about Long Tail content is counterintuitive, especially when we're used to scarcity thinking.

First, let's get one thing straight: the Long Tail is indeed full of crap. But it's also full of works of refined brilliance and depth--and an awful lot in between. Exactly the same can be said of the Web itself. Ten years ago, people complained that there was a lot of junk on the Internet and, sure enough, any casual surf quickly confirmed that. Then along came search engines to help pull some signal from the noise and finally Google, tapping the wisdom of the crowd itself to turn a mass of incoherence into the closest thing to an oracle the world has ever seen.

On a store shelf or in any other limited means of distribution, the ratio of good to bad matters because it's a zero sum game. Space for one eliminates space for the other. Prominence for one obscures the other. If there are ten crappy toys for each good one in the aisle, you'll think poorly of the toy store and be discouraged from browsing. Likewise it's no fun to flip through bin after bin of CDs if you haven't heard of any of them.

But where you have unlimited shelf space, it's an infinite sum game. The billions of crappy web pages about whatever are not a problem in the way that billions of crappy CDs on the Tower Records shelves would be. Inventory is "non-rivalrous" and the ratio of good to bad is simply a signal-to-noise problem, solvable with information tools.

Which is to say it's not much of a problem at all. You just need better filters, such as recommendations and good search engines. The fact that screens 10 and beyond of your Google search results are unhelpful doesn't matters because screens 1-3 are so useful. The noise is still out there, but Google allows you to effectively ignore it. Filters rule!

The following is this expressed graphically. As you go down the Long Tail the signal-to-noise ratio gets worse. Thus the only way you can maintain a consistently good enough signal to find what you want is if your filters get increasingly powerful.

This leads to the key to what's different about Long Tails. They're not pre-filtered by the requirements of distribution bottlenecks and all that entails (editors, studio execs, A&R guys and Wal-Mart purchasing managers). As a result their components vary wildly in quality, just like everything else in the world.

One way to describe this (using the same language of information theory that brought us signal-to-noise ratios) would be to say that Long Tails have a "wide dynamic range" of quality: awful to great. By contrast, the average store shelf has a relatively narrow dynamic range of quality: mostly average to good (there's some really great stuff, but much of that is too expensive for the average retail shelf; niches exist at both ends of the quality spectrum).

So tails have a wide dynamic range and heads have a narrow dynamic range. Like this:

Note that you have high-quality goods in every part of the curve, from top to bottom. Yes, there are more low-quality goods in the tail and the average level of quality declines as you go down the curve. But with good filters averages don't matter. It's all about the diamonds, not the rough, and diamonds can be found anywhere.

Before I go on I should say a word about the confusing terms "high quality" and "low quality". They are, of course, entirely subjective. Here are some examples of criteria people might use to value content:

"High quality":

  • Addresses my interests
  • Well made
  • Fresh
  • Substantive
  • Compelling

"Low quality":

  • Not for me
  • Badly made
  • Stale
  • Superficial
  • Boring

Note that all of those are entirely in the eye of the beholder; there are no absolute measures of content quality. One person's "good" could easily be another's "bad"; indeed, it almost always is. I like economics papers, but I have friends who like Maxim. They find my stuff boring; I find their stuff superficial (except for those Jessica Alba pics).

This is why niches are different. Your noise is my signal. If a producer intends something to be absolutely right for one audience it will by definition be wrong for another. The compromises necessary to make something appeal to everyone mean that it will almost certainly not appeal perfectly to anyone--that's why they call it the lowest common denominator.

Is South Park badly made or brilliant? Once upon a time some network exec had to answer that question for all of us before it could get distribution. Cable lowered the bar and now Netflix and the web are lowering it further. In a Long Tail world each of us answers the quality question for ourselves and the marketplace sorts it out.

All this leads to three counterintuitive lessons of the Long Tail.

  1. Niche content can be of higher quality than hit content.
  2. It doesn't matter how much junk there is around those gems; with good filters, the average level of quality is irrelevant.
  3. You can charge more for high-quality niche content because it is so well-suited to its audience.

More on the signal/noise debate from the Long Tail
Change This PDF of The Long Tail

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Logo History: Starbucks

From DeadProgrammer's Cafe:
The book had an old engraving of a two-tailed mermaid. It reminded me of the Starbucks Siren, but back then I did not realize that the original Starbucks logo had a slightly altered version of that engraving in the original brown cigar band-shaped logo.

source for starbucks siren

Notice that the graphic designer removed the belly button, the unattractive shading around the bulging tummy of the 15th century siren and merged the tail-legs to remove the suggestion of naughty bits. The logo Siren also smiles a little while its 15th century doppelganger is looking rather grim. Other than that it’s clear that this is exactly the image that he or she was using.

old starbucks siren logo

According to “[Starbucks] mark consists of the wording “Starbucks Coffee” in a circular seal with two stars, and the design of a siren (a two-tailed mermaid) wearing a crown”.

Here’s the “cigar band” logo from which I took the image above. The original hippie Starbucks owners did not sell espresso drinks, but mostly sold coffee beans, tea and spices. Today Starbucks sells liquor and ice cream, but no spices if you don’t count the cinnamon gum and the stuff on the condiment table.

older starbucks logo

The next, more familiar green iteration of the logo has a more attractive stylized siren. The chest is hidden, but the belly button is still there.

old starbucks logo
Here is the current logo. They cropped the siren image so that only a hint of the tails is visible. I asked hourly partners at Starbucks and friends, and none of them could figure out what those things to the side of Siren’s head were.

Lately I’ve stopped seeing pictures of the Siren on Starbucks mugs - they seem to favor just the word “Starbucks”. I also started seeing the new type of the siren as part of store decoration and on coffee packaging. She only has one tail. I guess the family-unfriendly image of a fish-woman spreading her tails is on its way out.
(via BoingBoing)

Also check out the excellent article:
The Endicott Studio Journal of Mythic Arts: The Mermaid by Heinz Insu Fenkl:

As some readers may know, Starbucks had to change their corporate logo because some consumers found the suggestive split tail of their topless siren too lurid and sexually suggestive. A simplified logo was introduced, hiding the siren's breasts under waves of hair, and that in turn was cropped and enlarged so the split in the siren's tail would no longer show. The only indication now that the female icon is a sea creature is in the wavy lines, which originally were part of the representation of the two tails. And yes, although the image is that of a split-tailed sea creature, it is a siren. More specifically, it is a double-tailed siren, a baubo siren, which The Woman's Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects points out, is "a cross between a mermaid and a sheila-na-gig" and is found as a decorative motif in many European churches and cathedrals. "Her suggestive pose, like that of the sheila-na-gig, referred to female sexual mysteries in particular." [...]

[...] And so the Starbucks logo is a brilliant piece of design, which, oddly enough, resonates with much of what I've discussed above. The original logo made quite explicit that Starbucks was using the lure of female sexuality to draw the customer to their coffee, but now you can see that the coffee is linked to the double lure of ultimate wisdom and the pleasures of the flesh. The name of the company, about which there is relatively little deep inquiry, actually makes the connection even more interesting. Apparently, the owners of Starbucks originally wanted to call their company "Moby's Coffee," referring to Moby Dick, the great white whale in Herman Melville's classic novel (which is read as a Christian allegory, the whale representing Christ). But bringing up the image of a giant whale was deemed potentially unattractive for coffee drinkers. And so a new logo was designed, but the name "Starbucks" maintains the connection to Moby Dick—Starbuck is the name of the coffee-drinking first mate from Nantucket, the only man who challenges the mad Ahab.

And finally, Kafka:

Now the Sirens have a still more fatal weapon than their song, namely their silence... Someone might possibly have escaped from their singing; but from their silence, certainly never.

Cartoonist Kieron Dwyer Sued By Starbucks
At a meeting during Comic-Con International, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Board of Directors voted to support cartoonist Kieron Dwyer's defense of a suit brought against him by the Starbucks Corporation (Starbucks v. Dwyer, C00 1499). Starbucks is suing Dwyer for copyright and trademark infringement of its "mermaid" logo, a parody of which appeared on the cover of Dwyer's Lowest Common Denominator #0. Dwyer contends that his drawing is a legitimate parody and, as such, protected by the First Amendment.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Peter Lamborn Wilson: Crisis of Meaning

Product currently available online

I realize that this post seems dated, but there is a contemporary relevance that I find compelling - at least enough to post it here. [With curious typos preserved because I couldn't find a "corrected" copy.]

Crisis of Meaning
by Peter Lamborn Wilson

[The author was in NYC from Sept. 9th to Sept. 15th and this piece was written in the week after the attack.]

A few days after the event, the New York Times ran an interesting article on the advertising "industry" and its crisis. Not only zillions of dollars a day etc. etc., but a weird effect: suddenly it seems impossible to have advertising at all. It seems massively "inappropriate" to move product as per usual with shrieking & insinuating, mocking & sneering, prurience & peeping; with hate & envy masked as fashion, with greed thinly disguised as freedom of choice.

Death and tragedy occur every day, every minute, not only in the former Third World, even in New York, even in America. Why hasn't advertising ever seemed shameful to anyone ever before? The media - which cannot utter a sound without puking up a cliché - speaks now of the waking of a sleeping giant (meaning that we will no longer tolerate terrorism etc.) - but what was this sleep? And what does it mean to wake into a feeling of shame?

Last week, it seems we were willing to admit that our highest social values could be expressed in price codes (the "mark of the Beast" as the cranks say, the "prophets of doom"). This week, we feel shame. In a Times interview a fashion designer expressed doubt that her work had any significance and wondered if she could go with it.

The fashion industry is also ashamed; Hollywood is ashamed; even the news media expressed some fleeting longing for decorum & dignity & decency.

Are we supposed to feel this shame over our triviality, our meanspiritedness, our PoMo irony, our consumer frenzy, our hatred of the body and of all nature, our obsession with gadgetry & "information", our degraded pop culture, our vapid or morbid art & lit, & so on & so on? - or should we defend all this as "freedom" and our "way of life"?

Our leaders are telling us to return to normal routines (after a decent period of mourning) in the assurance that they will assign significance to the event, they will embody our hate & desire for revenge, they will mediate for us with the forces of "evil". But what exactly is this normal life to consist of? Why do we feel this shame?

Schoolchildren (again according to the Times) ask their teachers what it means that the terrorists were willing to die, to kill themselves; and their teachers evade the question, saying that "we don't understand." And the ad execs, they don't understand either - they're bewildered. Awake but confused by a crisis of meaning. Last week all meanings could be expressed in terms of money. Why should 5000 murders change the meaning of meaning?

A hyper-fashionable Italian clothing company uses death to sell its products. Photographs - even huge billboards - showing people dying of AIDS or waiting to be executed - designed to sell woolly jumpers. In this life as normal? Should we return to it?

For a few days no music was heard in the streets. No thumping bass speakers rattled the air, no chants of hate for women & queers, no "Madison Avenue Choirs" hymning the celestial delites of commodities or vacations in the midst of other peoples' misery.

For a few hours or days there appeared no official spin on the event, no slogan/logo in the media, no interpretation, no meaning. We watched the cloud drift around the city, first to the East over Brooklyn then up the west side of Manhattan, finally over the east side as well. With the smell and the poisonous haze around the moon came a nightmare abut the occult significance of the cloud: - angry bewildered ghosts in a vast white cloud. And we breathed that cloud into us. We'll never get it out of our lungs. What the cloud wanted was an explanation, a meaning.

But next day the spin was in, the media had found or been given its a ndreds who died trying to save thenswer - "Attack On America", our freedom, our values, our way of life, carried out by "cowards" who were nevertheless not "physical cowards" (as some official explained in the Times). Perhaps they were moral cowards? He didn e our faculty and students of colo't say.

Why do they hate us? A few people have asked but received no coherent answer. Do "they" hate "us" because we use of 75% of the world's resources even though we only constitute 20% of its population? because we bomb Baghdad & Belgrade without risking even one American life? because we export a vapid sneering meanspirited culture to the world, video games about death, movies about death, TV shows about death, commodities that are dead, music that kills the spirit? because we've made advertising copy our highest artform? because we define "freedom" as our freedom to rule & be ruled by money?

The politicians have told that "they" envy us and our way of life and therefore wish to destroy it. Envy - yes, why not? The whole system of global capital is based on envy. It has to be. No envy, no desire. No desire, no reason to spend. No reason to spend, implosion of global capital, q.e.d. But then why should the ad execs & fashion designers & sports teams & entertainers feel this strange unaccountable shame?

And why should the terrorists have been willing to die just because they envy our wealth & our way of life & our freedom to buy, and spend, and waste? What does it mean?

After the Holocaust (or Hiroshima, or the Gulag) certain philosophers said that there could be no more art or poetry. But they were wrong apparently. We have poetry again. It may not mean the same thing it meant before. It may not mean anything. But we have it. And who could have dreamed at the gate of Buchenwald or Treblinka that one day we would have - Nike ads or sitcoms about lawyers?

Is any meaning going to emerge from the 9/11 event? Without meaning tragedy ends not in catharsis but simply depression, endless sorrow. Our leaders "seek closure" - perhaps by killing many Afghan children - perhaps by a new Crusade against the Saracens - and of course by a return to normal. We'll show "them" - by refusing meaning. We will sleep because it is our right not to awake to confusion & shame.

Our sleep will be troubled. We'll have to "sacrifice a few freedoms" to protect Freedom. We'll have to fear & hate. But within a few weeks or months we will have buried even the fear & hate, rather we will have transformed all that emotion to the Image, to the Evil Eye of the media, our externalized unconscious. We'll have sitcoms again and gangster rap and arguments about our right to download it all for free into our home computers. We'll get those airplanes flying, once again polluting "our" skies with noise & carcinogens. We'll overcome our shame. And that will constitute our revenge. That will be our meaning. Our morality.

Francisco Goya
El sueno de la razon produce monstruos
The sleep of reason produces monsters
Etching with aquatint

More Peter Lamborn Wilson and Hakim Bey at

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the Air

orson welles eye and I

I am a devoted fan of all things Wellesian. For some time, I have hungered for online audio files of the old Mercury Theatre on the Air radio recordings. A while back, I discovered the wonderful site, The Mercury Theatre on the Air, but was frustrated with the slow download times (to save on bandwidth, the Webmaster explained). However, on a recent return, I was delighted to discover that he now has all of the mp3s for download as a torrent file.

This includes: 45 Campbell's Playhouse productions, all 7 audio-chapters of Les Miserables, 7 Mercury Theatre on the Air productions as mp3s and 10 as RAM files, a short piece on Welles Meets Wells, "a radio special about the Mercury Theatre on the Air hosted by Leonard Maltin, featuring interviews with the surviving members" (which is amazing), a rehearsal of The 39 Steps and a priceless mpeg4 video of the famous all-black Macbeth.

There is also a wealth of excellent information on the Mercury Theatre on the site, including a history and complete show lists.

It is like Christmas.

Other sources:
Laughing Bone Archives: Father Mapple's Sermon
Wikipedia: Orson Welles
Critique Magazine: Orson Welles, the New Deal, and the Mercury Theatre on the Air

Addendum: From the FAQ regarding copyright:

Who owns the copyright on these shows?

Copyright on old radio shows is an extremely hazy area. Nobody seems to know who owns the rights to these broadcasts, and a good argument could be made that they’re public domain. A couple obnoxious individuals over the years have claimed that they own the rights to certain shows and have threatened to sue collectors and webmasters that have made episodes of the shows available. Tellingly, they’ve never actually taken anyone to court, and have only relied on bluster to assert their ownership.

For further exploration of these issues, please see the OTR Law Journal.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Heidegger on Film: The Ister

From the Chronicle of Higher Education:
Time and the River (and Heidegger):
Two Australian filmmakers tour the Danube to unlock the mysteries of one of the 20th century's most influential thinkers


What are viewers to make of a three-hour film about the German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) and the legacies of human development along the Danube River, technology, and violent ruptures in recent European history from the Holocaust to the collapse of communism to the breakup of Yugoslavia?

David Barison and Daniel Ross are finding that their 189-minute opus, The Ister (First Run/Icarus Films), has been winning rave reviews and awards in several countries since its debut last year -- including the French Association of Research Cinemas Prize and the Quebec Film Critics' Association Prize. Through its showings at film festivals and conferences, the ambitious project about what the Australian filmmakers describe as "the history of philosophy itself, as it struggles to conceptualize the ideas of existence, lineage, and progress that underpin European civilization's image of itself -- often at the cost of brutal, bloody exclusions" is reinvigorating a conversation among philosophers and historians of ideas as well.

The Ister takes its name from an 1803 poem by Johann Christian Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843), about which Heidegger gave a series of lectures in 1942. The poem is among the "hymns" written by Hölderlin to glorify the philosophical legacy of ancient Greece through a mystical meditation on the Danube. (Istros was the river's Greco-Roman name.) In "The Ister," Hölderlin locates sources of natural divinity and community -- as well as the haunting presence of the gods of antiquity -- in the Danube.
via Arts and Letters Daily
Also: From Rouge: The Ister: An Excerpt From Novi Sad to Vukovar