Archive for August, 2014

The Melancholy Of Anatomy: Word II

[see first The Melancholy Of Anatomy: Word I, here.]

“George, don’t make no full moves. Please make it quick, fast and furious. Please. Fast and furious. You get ahead with the dot dash system. Oh, oh—dog biscuits! And when he is happy he doesn’t get happy. No hobo and pobo I think he means the same thing. I am a pretty good pretzler. Don’t put anyone near this check. In the olden days they waited and waited. I don’t want harmony. I want harmony. There are only ten of us and there ten million fighting somewhere of you, so get your onions up and we will throw up the truce flag. The sidewalk was in trouble and the bears were in trouble and I broke it up. You can play jacks and girls do that with a softball and do tricks with it. I take all events into consideration. No. No. And it is no. It is confused and it says no. A boy has never wept nor dashed a thousand kim. I am sore and I am going up and I am going to give you honey if I can. Mother is the best bet and don’t let Satan draw you too fast. They dyed my shoes. Open those shoes. I know what I am doing here with my collection of paper. Come on, open the soap duckets. The chimney sweeps. Talk to the sword. French-Canadian bean soup. I want to pay. Let them leave me alone.”

—among the last words of Dutch Schultz

Even here on the tubes, human beings strive to use language—words—to communicate with one another.

Not everybody thinks this is a good idea.

William Burroughs insisted that language is a virus from outer space, one that is up to no good. For “a virus operates autonomously, without human intervention. It attaches itself to a host and feeds off of it, growing and spreading from host to host. Language infects us; its power derives not from its straightforward ability to communicate or persuade but rather from this infectious nature, this power of bits of language to graft itself onto other bits of language, spreading and reproducing, using human beings as hosts.”

Leonard Schlain, meanwhile, argues in The Alphabet Versus The Goddess that language rewired the human brain, shifting dominance from the “feminine” right hemisphere to the “masculine” left hemisphere, thereby allowing brutal patriarchies to supplant worldwide more pacific matriarchal cultures.

Schlain’s brainshower seems to fit with Burroughs’ blood-curdling description of how the alien language virus reproduced itself in early ur-humans:

[A]lterations in inner throat structure were occasioned by virus illness . . . This illness may well have had a high rate of mortality but some female apes must have survived to give birth to the wunder kindern. The illness perhaps assumed a more malignant form in the male because of his more developed and rigid muscular structure causing death through strangulation and vertebral fracture. Since the virus in both male and female precipitates sexual frenzy through irritation of sex centers in the brain the males impregnated the females in their death spasms and the altered throat structure was genetically conveyed.



The Melancholy Of Anatomy: Work

When I think of antiquity, the detail that frightens me is that those hundreds of millions of slaves on whose built all citiesbacks civilisation rested generation after generation have left behind them no record whatever. We do not even know their names. In the whole of Greek and Roman history, how many slaves’ names are known to you? I can think of two, or possibly three. One is Spartacus and the other is Epictetus. Also, in the Roman room at the British Museum there is a glass jar with the maker’s name inscribed on the bottom, “Felix fecit.” I have a vivid mental picture of poor Felix (a Gaul with red hair and a metal collar round his neck), but in fact he may not have been a slave; so there are only two slaves whose names I definitely know, and probably few people can remember more. The rest have gone down into utter silence.

—George Orwell

The Melancholy Of Anatomy: Real II

[see first The Melancholy Of Anatomy: Real I, here.]

When we broke for lunch, he sat down at the piano in his living room and played let's crawlwhat he said was “the music of the spheres,” based on his theory that the distances between the planets can be patterned on or related to the spacing between the keys on a piano.

Leaving that evening, I commented on the beautiful post-dusk grey light. Walter responded, “And this is the exact level of light that is broad daylight on Saturn.”

—Michael Ondaatje, The Conversations

The Melancholy Of Anatomy: Feel

He moved his arms and his legs. He opened his eyes.

He looked about the room.

He tried to stand, but he lacked light wash 1equilibrium and coordination.

He opened his mouth. He made a gurgling noise.

Then he screamed.

He fell off the table.

He began to gasp. He shut his eyes and curled himself into a ball.

He cried.

Then a machine approached him. It was about four feet in height and five feet wide; it looked like a turret set atop a barbell.

It spoke to him: “Are you injured?” it asked.

He wept.

“May I help you back onto your table?”

The man cried.

The machine whined.

Then, “Do not cry. I will help you,” said the machine. “What do you want? What are your orders?”

He opened his mouth, struggled to form the words:


He covered his eyes then and lay there panting.

At the end of five minutes, the man lay still, as if in a coma.

“Was that you, Frost?” asked Mordel, rushing to his side. “Was that you in that human body?”

Frost did not reply for a long while; light wash 2then, “Go away,” he said.

Then Solcom asked the question:

“Did you succeed, Frost?”

“I failed,” said Frost. “It cannot be done. It is too much—”

“Too much what?” Solcom asked Frost.

“Light,” said Frost. “Noise. Odors. And nothing measurable—jumbled data—imprecise perception—and—”

“And what?”

“I do not know what to call it. But—it cannot be done. I have failed. Nothing matters.”

“What were the words the Man spoke?” said Solcom.

“‘I fear,'” said Mordel.

“Only a Man can know fear,” said Solcom.

“Can a machine turn itself inside-out and be a Man?” Solcom asked Frost.

“No,” said Frost, “this thing cannot be done. Nothing can be done. Nothing matters. Not the rebuilding. Not the maintaining. Not the Earth, or me, or you, or anything.”

Then the Beta-Machine, who had read the entire Library of Man, interrupted them:

“Can anything but a Man know light wash 3despair?” asked Beta.

Mordel did not hesitate:

“He spoke to me through human lips. He knows fear and despair, which are immeasurable. Frost is a Man.”

“He has experienced birth-trauma and then withdrawn,” said Beta. “Get him back into a nervous system and keep him there until he adjusts to it.”

“No,” said Frost. “Do not do it to me! I am not a Man!”

“Do it!” said Beta. 

“Transmit His matrix of awareness back into His nervous system,” ordered Solcom.

“I know how to do it,” said Mordel, turning on the machine.

“Stop!” said Frost. “Have you no pity?”

“No,” said Mordel, “I only know measurement.”

”  . . . and duty,” he added, as the Man began to twitch upon the floor.

—Roger Zelazny, “For A Breath I Tarry”

The Melancholy Of Anatomy: Real

When Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned in the Tower of London, he occupied himself with wrong & rightwriting a history of the world. He had finished the first volume and was at work on the second when there was a scuffle between some workmen beneath the window of his cell, and one of the men was killed. In spite of diligent enquiries, and in spite of the fact that he had actually seen the thing happen, Sir Walter was never able to discover what the quarrel was about: whereupon, so it is said—and if the story is not true it certainly ought to be—he burned what he had written and abandoned his project.

George Orwell

The Melancholy Of Anatomy: Wind II

[see first The Melancholy Of Anatomy: Wind I, here.]

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?

—Job 38:1-2

Once upon a time my daughter was transformed into a hurricane.

Rude and abusive things were then said about her.

Such as: “despite becoming a monster [a monster?!], she will not pose any danger to land.”

Of course not. She’s always been a good girl.

As a hurricane, my daughter blew with winds of about 125 mph. Seems a fair breeze. I presume that all water creatures—birds, fish, boat-people—had sense enough to steer clear, as she churned through the Atlantic.

Because I live in the age of Science Men, I know that wind is a “meteorological phenomenon.”

The flow of gases on a large scale. Movement of air in bulk. Generated by pressure differentials. Deflected by the Coriolis effect. Etc.

I know that wind no longer has anything to do with bumptious folk like Boreas, or Njord, or Fujin, this last the venerable Japanese deity who let the winds out of his magic bag in order to clear the primordial world of mist. I know that Stribog may be the Slavic grandfather “of the winds of the eight directions,” but I also know the guy was placed in a Home, long ago, and no one really pays attention to him anymore. These days it’s all about specific heat, equations of motion, anemometers, and the Magnus effect.

But you know: why not both? Why can’t a hurricane be both an area of low atmospheric pressure, driven by the release of large amounts of latent heat of condensation, and also a pissed-off dude with a hundred hands and fifty heads, whipped into the world from the stormy pit of Tartaros?

Or my daughter, turning over in her sleep, in dreams venting spleen at the hoary-handed robber barons of Kaiser?


The Melancholy Of Anatomy: Word

We are told, in the very first words of the Gospel According To all it isJohn, that:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

But we are not told what that Word is.

I know what that Word is.


When I Worked

August 2014
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