I should also add that Stephanie has a great post about fleeing a religious childhood. Maybe if I get my act together I can cobble some thoughts on my own flight from an extremely Catholic childhood and adolescence.
What I think the religious right has been trying to do this last week, consciously or sub-, is to "shock and awe" those who disagree with them. To almost try to create both a numbness and an inevitability in the minds of its opponents; to soak the mass culture with blood cults and crusades.
Leon Wieseltier's review of The Passion illuminates (I haven't seen the movie itself, so I can only really comment on the meta-movie of the Passion that all of the citizens of this country seem to be extras in):
"Critics who have a problem with me don't really have a problem with me and this film," [Gibson] told Diane Sawyer, "they have a problem with the four Gospels."
Belief, a theory of meaning, a philosophical convenience, is rarely far away from cruelty. Torture has always been attended by explanations that vindicate it, and justify it, and even hallow it. These explanations, which are really extenuations, have been articulated in religious and in secular terms. Their purpose is to redescribe an act of inhumanity so that it no longer offends, so that it comes to seem necessary, so that it edifies. My victim of torture is your martyr.
They're setting the table, looking for knife-edge angles to eviscerate secularism. If you live in, say, a gated community in a Houston suburb, these fundamentalisms of both religion and capital (and the intersection between the two) are no doubt welcome. And, really, what do they (and their superchurch proxies) care if the emphemera of "rights" are trampled on? The hereafter awaits. The phrase "Kill them all, let God sort them out" wasn't engendered in the cauldron of Vietnam, or by the current governor of California, but in the Cathar crusades. Its Mel Gibson-like pithiness is, no doubt, purely accidental.
"a dissidence unprepared for the vigor of its opponents"
Diffusionism is kind of like the science fiction of archaeology (in a variety of ways).
(And how do you leave What We Know For Sure About Art when you are What We Know For Sure About Art, that bad light, those muddy streets, that ice? --Joe Ahearn)
(It's very difficult to second-guess cultural development, because you are basically declaring that you are outsmarting and out-creating every other intellectual, critic and artist on earth. But outguessing a culture INDUSTRY, that's a different matter. Anyone can outsmart a businessman. --Bruce Sterling)
What Chris and Matthew have said about idiosyncrasy and the market. Great stuff.
What I worry about is how apprenticeships in the field can become mediated by purely market-driven forces. Where the fiction becomes a mere weapon in that tactical arena. There are many other ways to "succeed"--to sustain oneself with both language and an audience--but if there's a monoculture (do x, y, and z, or at least persevere to, and then you've "made it"; otherwise, things get a little, well, suspect), it can potentially distract a younger writer from finding the materials (aesthetic and otherwise) that will sustain the writing life in the long run. As well as resisting succulent formulas, which is certainly not easy. But the formulas exist for a reason; they're the lubricant that makes the vast majority of the whole shadow economy of writerly activities possible.
Formulas are most deadly when they seem to enliven a story, when pathos seems to come into play, in between the words. But in the rush to market, to market, the emotive quality of a story can morph into mere emotional quantity, a checklist of character physiogomy. Which might be "good enough" to be published--all of the characterization bases have been covered, after all! But sometimes the difficulties of storytelling are in themselves valuable, and in those long silences and tight knots, we might find configurations of word and thought that don't conflate "writing better" with "writing more sellable material." And especially with writers just starting out, there have to be alternative strategies, which don't involve obsessing about one's raw ambition, at least presented. Otherwise, the entire field becomes daytrading in a house of cards.
The following is an illuminating passage from Nick Piombino's essay "Writing and Persevering" (in regards to poetry):
We move forward by means of revolutions and resolutions and we sometimes go right by what's apropos. This is because the group has resolved together to decide what is true and sometimes the united mind is wrong. Sometimes a long look back can help, but most often an individual poet will detect by means of some kind of visionary process the direction away from the now paralyzing misapprehension which led to less vibrant states of being. This kind of apprehension is rarely fashionable. And we must have fashion.
This does not leave us with a point. Rather, it leaves us with a cloud--a blurry cloud of thought. We're back where we were when the impulse brought us here. There is a common ground in such shared confusion which may be better than shared delusion.
In this imaginatively malnourished era (both in our society's lack of imagination and the imaginitive ways in which our society keeps us malnourished), perhaps, in order to tell the stories we need to tell, our stories must at times become commercially awkward, maladjusted, and even asinine. I don't think there are any easy answers. I don't know any one method for writing that is surefire. I'm just saying that no one else really does either.
"...The phenomenology of writing has nothing to do with the book. To talk about a chair: How is a chair a chair? To talk about a book: How is a book a book? But that question doesn't get to: How is writing writing? Writing has nothing to do with publishing as we define it...the publishing we idealize, however, is a conflation of conversation and of the document. I am not arguing that publishing is awful, just that we could dispense with market-ability and open the discourse a bit, publish more and more often, if it weren't for the desire to be popular and correct and memorialized." (from Dagzine)
"Honest books make the reader honest, at least by luring into the open his hatred and aversion which his shy prudence otherwise knows how to conceal best." (Nietzsche)
Not that I really have any inclination to attend, but I just love how the corporate sponsor of the Mythic Journeys conference is...Krispy Kreme?!? Maybe they can get Penske Automotive for next year's conference.
On this weblog, I usually don't go Silliman (which isn't a denigration; just an acknowledgement of a mode of blogging technique). But I'm seeing Jarnot's latest poems wending towards John Clare. Mr. Clare had to deal with Enclosure Acts, the deracination of the English countryside, and the shambles of unfair economic system learning to haunt him. This is a poem written for his son, late in the elder John's stay in the asylum:
To John Clare
Well, honest John, how fare you now at home?
The spring is come, and birds are building nests;
The old cock-robin to the sty is come,
With olive feathers and its ruddy breast;
And the old cock, with wattles and red comb,
Struts with the hens, and seems to like some best,
Then crows, and looks about for little crumbs,
Swept out by little folks an hour ago;
The pigs sleep in the sty; the bookman comes--
The little boy lets home-close nesting go,
And pockets tops and taws, where daisies blow,
To look at the new number just laid down,
With lots of pictures, and good stories too,
And Jack the Giant-killer's high renown.
For Jarnot, the rust belt often lurks around the edges of the pastoral. She notes:
While there have been many occasions during my life when I have been asked to account for, explain, and even apologize for the various phases of my sometimes delusional, sometimes politically incorrect, and sometimes vulgar identity metamorphoses, I have always believed that it has been just such unruly behavior patterns that saved me from an otherwise dull life and possibly an untimely demise in the semi-rural, semi-suburban hell of my childhood. There are few aspects of my identity not formed out of that escape. What I learned from those early heroes was what I had intuited from childhood, that one's identity existed as one's invention, and that as a creative person, one's identification and explanation of the self might always be in flux, like the whole of the universe is in flux, existing as a place of multiple possibilities, dependent only upon one's attentions to the messages arriving from the outside.
In "Indian Hot Wings" (dedicated to George W. Bush), the chickens are (a) nearly phoenixes, (b) the roosters and hens clucking around the edges of our memory from Old McDonald-esque children's books, and (c) the commodities of Tysonian agribusiness at the same time:
The chicken wing factory is lit up in flames
and the flames are the wings of the little hot chickens.
The little hot chickens are the lampshades of the night
glowing inside the burning of dawn.
The dawn light is chicken-light for little white chickens.
The chickens are white like the glowing of coal.
The coal light of chickens are the white light of chickens.
The chickens are burning and bright in the sun.
The sunlight and lampshades are brighter than chickens.
The dreams of the chickens are bright as the sun.
The chickens are filled with the hot coals of lampshades.
The chickens are burning, the chickens are done.
Both poets are elegiac on the possibilities of how we fare at home.
I've finally broken down and joined the cool kids and have a Quicktopic for Ptarmigan. The Klink Family commenting for Ptarmigan 1.0 was, er, interesting to say the least (including frequent, not unkind, posts from Nala Del Blanca, my inverse self, which I swear I had nothing to do with). After awhile it started getting weird (bad weird) and I shut it down. But, Quicktopic is easier to manage, I think, and why not. Why not. Considering that 70% of my hits come from people googling the word "ptarmigan" (for which this blog is, crazily, #1), I really don't know what will fall out of the woodwork.
The Lisa Jarnot reading on Sunday night was great. Speedboat Books is a much needed venue in St. Paul, a superb space. If you haven't picked up Black Dog Songs, her latest book, do so. I'm not being incredibly cogent but it's still early.
National Dungeons and Dragons Meetup Day falls on the 14th of every month. Valentine's Day. Never has there been a more succinct, yet apt, description of myself at 17.
Brilliant article I found here; read the whole shebang...
The key bit:
...politics isn’t so much about politics as it is an opportunity to “feel political” or engage in “recreational indignation” (as John McWhorter puts it). Being disciplined enough to focus on taking power isn’t anything they are really going to try to be capable of. When anyone suggests that they stop partying and start applying themselves, they complain that exerting this sort of disciplined approach is not only, “no fun”, but exactly what they are fighting against in the first place. ...
In order to be disciplined enough to win at politics; you have to be able to defer gratification. In order to be able to defer gratification, you have to be sure enough of your goal, and motivated enough by your principles, to be willing to sacrifice the "having fun" part. When you have spent too many years not deferring your fun, it’s hard to stop and learn to be disciplined again. Left political organizing tends to attract people rebelling against the idea of delayed gratification, against the idea of discipline. The Dean campaign was all about itself and people having fun. That isn’t what political campaigns are for.