Friday, July 27, 2007

What could have motivated the distinct contemplations on a whole skeleton and the separated bones?

memento mori, originally uploaded by tempophage.

"My wife was disgusted. My daughter was fascinated.

The relation of the order of the nine stages in the Nakamura version to textual sources has been interpreted variously. The order of the stages of decay in the handscroll is as follows: (0) predeath portrait; (1) newly deceased; (2) distension; (3) rupture; (4) exudation of blood; (5) putrefaction; (6) discoloration and desiccation; (7) consumption by birds and animals; (8) skeleton; and (9) disjointing.

The closest match of the order of decay in the Nakamura version is to the description of the Discourse on Mahayana Meditation and Contemplation, but with a few differences. An image of the newly deceased was inserted as the first stage of the Nakamura version, and to limit the total number to nine, the ninth stage of bones being parched to dust was omitted.

Another, more significant, difference is found in the eighth stage. According to the text, in the stage of dismemberment, "the head and hands are located in different places, and five organs are detached from the body and shrunken." The Nakamura version does not show the stage of dismemberment. Instead, it displays two different forms of bones in the eighth and ninth stages: a whole skeleton and a disjointing of the bones. Thus, the key to interpreting the divergent order of decay in the Nakamura version lies in the reason for articulating two forms of the skeleton and omitting the stage of dismemberment.

As we have noted, descriptions of the nine stages of a decaying corpse are found in many Buddhist sources. The texts vary in their ordering and description of the decomposition process, but three share an identical sequence: the Discourse on Mahayana Meditation and Contemplation, the Discourse on the Great Wisdom, and the Explanations of the Doctrines on Meditation for Enlightenment (Japanese: Shakuzen haramitsu shidai homon, Chinese: Shichan bolomi cidi famen, by Zhiyi, 568-75). The lack of consistency among the surviving documents may indicate that the order itself was not critical. While the subtitles given to each of the nine stages vary among the sources, the designations share similar meanings for each of the relevant stages, with one obvious exception.

Some sources specify one stage relating to bones, and others include two such stages: a whole skeleton and disjointed bones. For sources mentioning a single stage of bones, the texts refer to either a whole skeleton or disjointed bones. For sources that give contemplations on two stages of bones, the whole skeleton and the disjointed bones are designated as distinct objects for meditation in two sequential stages. In these sources, the stage of dismemberment is omitted to allow for the inclusion of two contemplations on different forms of bones.

What could have motivated the distinct contemplations on a whole skeleton and the separated bones?

From The Art Bulletin, The March, 2005: Behind the sensationalism: Images of a decaying corpse in Japanese Buddhist art by Fusae Kanda

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

"The object impinged on my periphery."

Bone bird pecking at a skull, originally uploaded by mossko.

A dispatch from Ambassador G.:

From the book Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain by Michael Paternini:

(Harvey is the mentally deranged doctor who, years ago, stole the brain of Albert Einstein. Paternini accompanied him cross country on a road trip towards the end of his life, after he had been persuaded to return to the brain. Yes, this is a true story of the real world that we actually do live in.)

"A present?" says Burroughs, switching again, dissolving as suddenly into some ecstatic state of childhood. Wayne is in his forties, though wearing anoversized fatigue jacket--the uniform around here--and with his dark sweep of hair, he appears both younger and dwarfish. He leads the writer back to theDynachair . "Well, well, what could it be?" A happy soft-shoe. Harvey, too, is suddenly piqued, and sits with raised eyebrows--curious cat.

"We'll call it the Bone," says Wayne, disappearing into a dark corner of the house to retrieve it.

"The Bone!" cries Burroughs. "The lovely, lovely Bone!" Harvey is confused now, looking back and forth between Burroughs and Wayne, as Wayne gently places a huge wrapped object on the coffee table. Wayne reads a letter that accompanies it, from an anthropologist who found the following item while trekking in the Southwest. In describing the moment of discovery, the anthropologist writes something like "The object impinged on my periphery." And Burroughs gets stuck on that, starts repeating,"Impinge-on-my-periphery! Impinge-on -my-periphery! Impinge- on-my-periphery! " Then he falls on the gift with greedy hands, disrobing it in a crinkling fury, to reveal--what else?--a large brown petrified bone.

When Harvey sees it, he yells, "IT'S INFILTRATED WITH CALCIUM!" As if it's about to explode, and we all need to take cover. But having worked Harvey up into a climactic frenzy, Burroughs himself has disappeared into a mellow, post-coital reverie. "Absolutely magnificent," he whispers, far away, caressing it. "Feels like linoleum."

Monday, July 16, 2007

Novels of Postmodern Sensibility: The Core Canon of Slipstream

From Slipstream by Bruce Sterling:

This genre is not "category" SF; it is not even "genre" SF. Instead, it is a contemporary kind of writing which has set its face against consensus reality. It is a fantastic, surreal sometimes, speculative on occasion, but not rigorously so. It does not aim to provoke a "sense of wonder" or to systematically extrapolate in the manner of classic science fiction.

Instead, this is a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility. We could call this kind of fiction Novels of Postmodern Sensibility, but that looks pretty bad on a category rack, and requires an acronym besides; so for the sake of convenience and argument, we will call these books "slipstream."

"Slipstream" is not all that catchy a term, and if this young genre ever becomes an actual category I doubt it will use that name, which I just coined along with my friend Richard Dorsett. "Slipstream" is a parody of "mainstream," and nobody calls mainstream "mainstream" except for us skiffy trolls.

Nor is it at all likely that slipstream will actually become a full-fledged genre, much less a commercially successful category. The odds against it are stiff. Slipstream authors must work outside the cozy infrastructure of genre magazines, specialized genre criticism, and the authorial esprit-de-corps of a common genre cause.

The Core Canon of Slipstream

1. Collected Fictions (1998), Jorge Luis Borges
2. Invisible Cities (1972, trans 1974), Italo Calvino
3. Little, Big (1981), John Crowley
4. Magic for Beginners (2005), Kelly Link
5. Dhalgren (1974), Samuel R. Delany
6. Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories (1995), Angela Carter
7. One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967, trans 1970), Gabriel Garcia Marquez
8. The Ægypt Cycle (1987-2007), John Crowley
9. Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology (2006), John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly (eds.)
10. The Complete Short Stories (2001), J.G. Ballard
11. Stranger Things Happen (2001), Kelly Link
12. The Lottery: And Other Stories (1949), Shirley Jackson
13. Gravity's Rainbow (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition) (1973), Thomas Pynchon
14. Conjunctions: 39, The New Wave Fabulists (2002), Peter Straub (ed.)
15. The Metamorphosis (1915), Franz Kafka
16. The Trial (1925), Franz Kafka
17. Orlando: A Biography (1928), Virginia Woolf
18. The Castle: A new translation based on the restored text (1926), Franz Kafka
19. The Complete Works of Franz Kafka
20. V. (Perennial Classics) (1963), Thomas Pynchon
21. Nights at the Circus (1984), Angela Carter
22. The Best of Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet (anth 2007), Kelly Link and Gavin Grant (eds.)
23. The Heat Death of the Universe and Other Stories [UK title Busy About the Tree of Life] (coll 1988), Pamela Zoline
24. Foucault's Pendulum (1988, trans 1989), Umberto Eco
25. Sarah Canary (1991), Karen Joy Fowler
26. City of Saints and Madmen (coll 2002), Jeff VanderMeer
27. Interfictions: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing (anth 2007), Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss (eds.)

via Beyond the Beyond

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Monday, July 09, 2007

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Independence Day: Final Revolution

There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution.

- Aldous Huxley, Tavistock Group, California Medical School, 1961.

(via Cyrano)

Amazon Link: Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Jim Woodring: The Curled Tail of Conscience

From The Woodring Monitor

Our conscience is not the vessel of eternal verities. It grows with our social life, and a new social condition means a radical change in conscience.

- Walter Lippmann (1889–1974), U.S. journalist. A Preface to Politics, ch. 6 (1914).

Amazon Links:
A Preface to Politics by Walter Lippmann
Seeing Things by Jim Woodring

From Wikipedia: Walter Lippmann:

It was Lippmann who first identified the tendency of journalists to generalize about other people based on fixed ideas. He argued that people—including journalists—are more apt to believe "the pictures in their heads" than come to judgment by critical thinking. Humans condense ideas in to symbols, he wrote, and journalism, a force quickly becoming the mass media, is an ineffective method of educating the public. Even if journalists did better jobs of informing the public about important issues, Lippmann believed "the mass of the reading public is not interested in learning and assimilating the results of accurate investigation." Citizens, he wrote, were too self-centered to care about public policy except as pertaining to pressing local issues.

[...] Lippmann came to be seen as Noam Chomsky's moral and intellectual antithesis. Chomsky used one of Lippmann's catch phrases for the title of his book about the media: Manufacturing Consent.

From Noam Chomsky Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley:

C: In fact, the structure of the news production system is, you can't produce evidence. There's even a name for it -- I learned it from the producer of Nightline, Jeff Greenfield. It's called "concision." He was asked in an interview somewhere why they didn't have me on Nightline, and his answer was -- two answers. First of all, he says, "Well, he talks Turkish, and nobody understands it." But the other answer was, "He lacks concision." Which is correct, I agree with him. The kinds of things that I would say on Nightline, you can't say in one sentence because they depart from standard religion. If you want to repeat the religion, you can get away with it between two commercials. If you want to say something that questions the religion, you're expected to give evidence, and that you can't do between two commercials. So therefore you lack concision, so therefore you can't talk.

I think that's a terrific technique of propaganda. To impose concision is a way of virtually guaranteeing that the party line gets repeated over and over again, and that nothing else is heard.

Q: This is why so much of your work in the area of politics has been focused on what you call "manufacturing consent," meaning the framing of issues, the way topics are put off the table for discussion. So in the end, what your work suggests is that in coming to understand that, then there's hope for understanding the problems we confront.

C: Oh, yes. Actually, I should say, the term "manufacturing consent" is not mine, I took it from Walter Lippmann, the leading public intellectual and leading media figure of the twentieth century, who thought it was a great idea. He said we should manufacture consent, that's the way democracies should work. There should be a small group of powerful people, and the rest of the population should be spectators, and you should force them to consent by controlling, regimenting their minds. That's the leading idea of democratic theorists, and the public relations industry and so on, so I'm not making it up. In fact, I'm just borrowing their conception, and telling other people what they think.