Diary, 6/15 to 6/18/19

Copyright 2019 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved


{6/15/19}  Weight 222.6.  Defective breakfast yesterday, and Taco Bell.

I read some of Georges Bataille:  Visions of Excess last night.  As I expected, it’s quite weird, but much of it was also dull and obscure.  I most enjoyed the selection “Sacrificial Mutilation and the Severed Ear of Vincent Van Gogh.”  It tells not only of the famous Van Gogh incident, but also of a man who chewed off his own index finger, persons who put out their own eyes, and of human and animal sacrifice generally.  The stories were fascinating, the generalizations were not, and that was also true of the few other pieces I read.  For instance, “Materialism” was a bore even though I consider myself, in part, a materialist.  “Eye” was about the eye-slitting scene in the Andalusian Dog movie by Dalí and Bunuel—which I’ve seen, but I didn’t know Bunuel was involved.  On the whole, I’m somewhat disappointed with Bataille, though I’ve read only perhaps half a dozen of the mostly very short pieces, and maybe half of them were worth reading at all.

More interesting has been Stephen Jay Gould’s magnum opus:  The Structure of Evolutionary Theory.  I’m 130 pages into the thousand-page bulk, and while the lengthy preview-summary was at varying distances over my head, the reconsideration of Darwin’s Origin is getting into the nitty gritty of the theory and is quite interesting (a rather colorless word that I already used in this paragraph, but I can’t think of a more accurate, uh, word).  I’m not reading many pages at a time, but given that it’s my “before-sleep reading,” I’ll keep plugging away.  Of course, very little of it will stick…

Let’s see.  Gould has repeatedly stressed the threefold nature of Darwin’s theory, which he calls “agency,” I think “scope,” and something else.  “Agency” refers to individual organisms as being what is selected as the target of natural selection, as opposed to whole species, or organs, or clades.  What I’ve called “scope” refers to natural selection being the only mechanism causing diversification of species—in other words, it’s sufficiently powerful as an explanation, according to Darwin, that no other mechanism need be considered.  The third thing escapes me at the moment.

What else?  Most recently, Gould discussed the evolution of sterile offspring as it relates to “agency”:  how can the evolution of sterile offspring in bees occur as the result of selection of individual organisms?  Darwin argues that it is the queen’s fitness that evolves because of the sterile workers, as though workers were mere extensions of the queen, as with the nests of birds (nests are not selected, so workers are not selected—birds and queens are selected).  So the whole bee colony is considered a superorganism, and selection “agency” remains the individual queens rather than being “group selection.”  Well, it is what it is, and whether it is queens or colonies that are selected seems to me a matter of semantics; but, clearly, I am remembering, which question was the point of going into this detail.  And I remembered a lot of the Bataille without making an effort.  Almost every time I bother considering in detail whether I am actually remembering what I’ve read, it always turns out that I remember—perhaps less than I might hope, but generally more than the thoughtless impression comes up with, i.e., nothing.  So maybe I can quit whining about this, at least.

A few pieces of music are so magical, such a perfect expression of some mood, that you can hardly believe it.  The two-minute “Aquarium” section of Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saëns, which I have on infinite repeat right now, is one of these.  It’s like you have wandered into the most beautiful garden imaginable, and it’s full of fairies, and you don’t doubt for an instant that it is all real.  And when this piece is used in a movie soundtrack, as I think happens in Moonlight Kingdom, it’s utterly convincing and wonderful.  The “O Fortuna” of Orff’s Carmina Burana has this kind of perfection in a very different mood.

Well, I watched Witness, with Harrison Ford and Kellie McGillis, groaning all the way.  I felt no chemistry between the leads.  It’s so slow.  And this movie, full of music videos and missing dialogue, wins an Oscar for the screenplay?  Ridiculous.  Videohound gives it 3½ bones; I’d call it 2½.  The scenery is nice and the music isn’t bad, but overall it’s a big meh.


{6/16/19}  Weight 222.6.

Dreamt about an Amish boxing match between a short, gray-bearded black man and a tall young white guy who couldn’t hit his opponent.  Anything more is forgotten.

Went against my conclusion and was arguing with Pablo about our coming doom.  He was more concerned about Trump.

Hemlock Club today.  Woohoo.

Later.  J and I talked for a while, but I can’t remember what about.  He gave me a copy of Brook Lundy & Duncan Mitchell:  The Official Compendium of Snark.  L showed up and talked about welding, and J gave him another copy of that book (he’d gotten two at B&N).  L read the whole thing, laughing all the way.  Then he gave it back to J.  When Pablo arrived, J gave him the book, then we played Scrabble and I won.  I felt sharp throughout.  None of us is very good, we never get the 50 point bonus, a thing that can be worked for, which I think is what the tournament players do.  I’m uncertain how to do it, but I suppose one wants to get rid of “difficult” letters and keep “easy” letters, making this not one’s primary goal, but a goal near the top.  Perhaps focusing on long suffixes like “tion” or “ing” would help, eventually leading to a seven- or eight-letter word.  Alternatively, collecting letters to make a short prefix and suffix, like “un-” and “-ed.”  Exchanging tiles is also something we never do.  But I don’t think I’ll work on improving my strategy—if I get too good, they won’t want to play.  Pablo would play better if he didn’t give up so easily sometimes.  But neither of my opponents can match my focus, I think.

Made an extremely annoying discovery:  my probation-required identity card has gone missing, another result of my visits to the Credit Union, because I had it out with my DL when I was there.  This is like inconceivable, like when I lost my bus pass a couple of months back.  I went through my trash because I thought I might have tossed it along with the mail addresses that I’d collected as “proof of residence.”  I can surely get another one by going to the Sheriff’s office, grr.

Paging through Noam Chomsky:  What Kind of Creatures Are We?, I am persuaded that I need to make these thoughts my own.  I discussed it here on 3/12/19 but didn’t write a review.  On the same date I wrote this on the title page after reading it:  “A rich and stimulating book, even brilliant—a claim I can’t really make until I feel that I understand it fully.  That will take a second reading, at least.  Very rewarding.  The Intro, however, seems unnecessary and unhelpful.”  The Intro is by Akeel Bilgrami and is actually called a Foreword.

Two statements from the start of (Chomsky’s part of) the book:  “I will consider three specific questions, increasingly obscure:  What is language?  What are the limits of human understanding (if any)?  And what is the common good to which we should strive?”  (Noam Chomsky:  What Kind of Creatures Are We?, Columbia Themes in Philosophy, Columbia University Press, New York, 2016-2018, pb, p. 1.)  And,

“Throughout, I will be discussing what seem to me virtual truisms, but of an odd kind.  They are generally rejected.”  p. 2.

As these quotes suggest, at least, Chomsky here is going at some of the roots of human knowledge and society with a jackhammer, and at the least raising a lot of dust.  So to speak.

It was distressing to see how little of this book “stuck”;  that is, not a damn thing.  I never should have laid it aside for three months.  There are no Chomsky quotations in my CQ; I’ve been slack about that because it’s just difficult to type from a book in my setup.

Reading Nietzsche’s aphoristic Human, All Too Human has me wanting to write an aphoristic book.  As it is, I tend to write aphoristically at times.  I wrote these two on the bookmark I’m using in the Nietzsche:

  • If it takes ten thousand hours to become an expert, in how many things can one become expert?
  • Plants—some, at least—can learn. So what?

And my A-List is more or less eight pages of aphorisms.  I could cull many more, obviously of varying quality, from my diaries.

Nietzsche’s “aphorisms” are much longer than my examples, sometimes running to more than a page, so I’d have to call the new ones “Nietzschean Aphorisms” or something, if I want to follow my model.  The Intro to H,ATH mentions several other aphorists, including Schopenhauer, Kafka, Walter Benjamin, Elias Canetti, and La Rochefoucauld, who I could draw on for inspiration and quotes.  I even have a book of Schopenhauer’s, Essays and Aphorisms, from Penguin, but it doesn’t include the mentioned Aphorisms for Practical Wisdom.  Since I haven’t read most of the book I have, I’ll try to avoid rushing right out and getting AfPW.

I could do worse than becoming a “10,000-hour expert” on Nietzsche, since I’ve read most of his books at least once already, and I’m sort of itching to read them all again.  Writing Nietzschean Aphorisms at the same time—slowly and thoughtfully!—makes some sense.  It would also be ideal grist for the Hemlock Club mill.

This kind of project becomes semi-possible because of my recent total distaste these days for news of the kind I’ve been mass consuming for over two years because Trump.  In fact, it’s really very possible because it will be a natural outgrowth of writing I’ve been doing for just about ever.  I could even start by simply retitling my A-List.

If I read ten pages an hour, 10k hours is 100k pages, or reading the Nietzsche books I have about fifty times.  I might read more than 10 pages an hour; despite reading every day and sometimes “all day,” I don’t trust my impression of this—and of course it depends on the book.

Okay, maybe I’ll have to shoot for a 1,000-hour expertise…

Am I a 10,000-hour expert in anything?  Possibly games, possibly English literature are my two most-hour expertises.  I shudder to think of how much Shakespeare, Austen, Hardy, Eliot, and Dickens I’ve read, though I’m very deficient in poetry.

Since I changed “chess” to “games” above, I’ve no doubt that I’ve spent at least 10k hours playing.  Not sure if that counts…

I wonder how my hours on Edgar Rice Burroughs, Mickey Spillane, H. Rider Haggard, Ian Fleming, A. E. van Vogt, and so on, compares to the English Lit.  As for philosophy, not even close.

Have I watched 5,000 movies?  I can’t guess.  10k hours masturbating??

Am I never going back to news?  As I’ve often noted, I cannot predict my own behavior in any deep sense.  By which I think I mean, predict future interests.  I had thought I was totally burnt out on Shakespeare, yet seeing Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet kindled a little smoke at least.  When I tried to watch the Ian McKellen Macbeth a year ago or so, I couldn’t get through it; but I loved Gielgud’s Ages of Man DVD more recently.

I sorta can’t get enough of Gielgud, he’s that “gud.”  Aphorism?  No.


{6/17/19}  Weight 222.2.

Sorta depressed this morning.  Feeling hungry and old and not wanting to face the unforgiving trike.  The usual Weltschmerz, but also feeling oppressed by unread books.  Wanting to get rid of all these poetry books, then sitting down and looking at a few of them, and finding that I can’t get rid of any of them.  Discovering forgotten volumes of Coleridge, Bly, the Housman that I acquired and read half of, after having read the whole of Shropshire Lad.  Chekhov’s Plays—I’ll never read that!  But back on the shelf it goes, placed properly now with the other plays—Rostand, Marlowe…I actually got rid of three slim books of plays a couple of days ago:  Beckett, Genet, and Thornton Wilder that I’ll never regret losing.

I shouldn’t have turned on the news, even though it’s not another new horror story, just something about Elizabeth Warren in the polls—not fake news, but phony, unimportant news.  I turned it off.

Looking at my World Book Encyclopedia, brought home six weeks ago with great labor on the bus, subsequently a disappointment, and knowing that the library has another complete set, one year newer than mine.

Mental challenges:  the Chomsky I talked about yesterday, and Wittgenstein’s Culture and Value, and Nietzsche, all in a stack next to where I sit, while on the other side is Science and Sanity that I’ve neglected for two weeks or so, then all the heavyweights on my so-called desk which has turned into a messy, catchall inefficient bookshelf.

I’d like to think that I don’t have “just any poetry,” but only those titles that have meant or might mean something to me.  Perhaps the Beat Reader and Women of the Beat Generation, for me, are “just any poetry.”  And the Spoon River Anthology and the Cummings oddity—these might go, the first because it bores me, the last because I don’t know why.  So if I got rid of these four books—Pablo would be glad to get them—what of it?  Six empty inches on a bookshelf, while I contemplate getting the two or three feet of Yale Shakespeare.  Closer to two, I guess.  While I “intend” to read Romeo and Juliet, though not all the way through…

Three books on publishing that I bought at B&N, all around the same time, now a year older and soon to be two years (Writer’s Market and Guide to Literary Agents and one on self-publishing that’s more like ten years old).  These could easily go, yet I would want them again later maybe.

A whole small shelf of quotations books.  16, 18 inches or so…make it 16.  I never use them, but someday might want to look something up, or browse something tasty from, I don’t know, Maya Angelou?  Who I’ll never read because she bores me.  If I were sensible I’d clear the whole shelf, keeping just the MLK speeches.  Quotations books are a kind of cheat, to make one look like one has read Maya Angelou and found just this perfect quote, saving it for just this occasion.

I’ve got one half-shelf of stuff I’ve read recently, or stuff I started recently, and don’t want to put elsewhere, but I don’t know why.  Some sense, I suppose, that “I’m not done with it yet.”  Lying crosswise on top of these is the Haiku Reader that I got a week ago; there’s no room among the poetry.  I certainly could get rid of the Blake, but it’s tiny, thin and tall, and wouldn’t help.

Then there’s the top shelf:  empty of books because the pictures on the wall, my only surviving serious drawings, hang there and I don’t want them covered.  There is, literally, no other living room wall space where they could hang effectively.  As it is, there’s stuff on that shelf, clutter, that spoils any good effect.

Meanwhile, millions are on the march in Hong Kong.  Literally millions.  Why aren’t we doing that?

Al Shabab (sp?) claims responsibility for a bombing, I suppose over the weekend.  You hear about these things all the time.  But I have no idea why this group is doing this.  What are they protesting?  This gets very little attention from MSM, so in a way, it’s propaganda.  We’re getting the effect, but not the cause, so there is no way to understand, no way to take sides.  And yet, if there were an hour long special on Al Shabab, would I watch it?  Highly unlikely.  Surely there’s some middle ground.  The bombing without the claimed grievance does not inform me.

So, after a poor breakfast because the water is off and I can’t wash dishes to do eggs, I’ve decided to get rid of the Blake, the Spoon River Anthology, the Chekhov plays, and E. E. Cummings:  A Miscellany Revised, which is mostly fluff pieces from Vanity Fair and other mags, plus a few sketches and odds and ends of poetry and playwriting.  The Blake is America:  A Prophecy and Europe:  A Prophecy.  Blake did some good things, both poetry and art, but meh.  Also getting rid of most of the other books I’ve mentioned as possibles, though not the Beats, plus the Library of America Ben Franklin volume (I never finished the Autobiography that I started a couple three months ago).  Also, the rest of the van Vogt has gone into the closet, filling a second shoe box, there to remain more or less until death unless I read some more or move or get climate-changed out of here.  That made space for my overflow philosophy, which threatens to become half of my library because it’s what I buy most of, these days.

The CDs also pile up, and are even harder to get rid of.  I mean, I have Tchaikovsky’s Manfred, which doesn’t do much for me, but have I given it enough tries (two or three)?  Should I get rid of the unexciting recording of Carmina Burana (Eugene Ormandy, I think) and so have none?  Same problem with the Rite of Spring that I have.

I seem to be in a good mood now, I’d guess because of breakfast and caffeine; no doubt playing the soundtrack of The Magnificent Seven has helped.  I’m doing laundry (it’s in the dryer), the water is on now, yada yada.  Pablo is coming over to do his laundry, hopefully before noon (it’s now 9:55).

He did come over towards noon, and around 2:30 he wanted to watch “fifteen minutes” of news.  As it was getting towards 3:00 and the news was still on, I was bitter and complained that I should not have allowed him to talk me into putting news on.  It was upsetting, depressing, about Trump, a story I go into below.

Shouldn’t I be on a street corner somewhere with a “Never Trump” sign?  Or, better, “Climate change will kill you all”?  I guess that I’ve given up such thoughts, but giving them up doesn’t mean that they don’t come back.  Guess I’ll read Nietzsche and end up in a nap.

Kenny Ausubel, head of Bioneers, speaks approvingly of astrology and says that conjunctions of Neptune and Pluto herald (cause?)  major changes in human society or history or something, i.e., revolutions.  This is seriously disappointing.  A quote from Nietzsche is directly relevant, and I think quite devastating:  “…he deceives himself, and shows the same pride as astrology, which thinks the heavens revolve around the fate of man.”  (Human, All Too Human, #4)

Pablo said to me today, and I think he’s said it before, that “Trump is a Russian agent.”  Who can take such a statement seriously?  Well, watching Rachel Maddow this evening, I’m hearing that the first thing Trump did when in office was to try to lift sanctions against Russia; he was unable to do so.  Now I’m hearing that “Pentagon and intelligence officials” are unwilling to tell things to Trump because they fear that he will immediately pass them along to Russia.  If that’s not acting like a Russian agent, then I don’t know what the difference is.  Trump’s response was to call the NYT “traitors” and a danger to the U.S.  I’d laugh at him if he weren’t so dangerous.  There’s nothing funny here.

I had to turn on the news, didn’t I?  Yeesh.

Miserable hot evening, 9:12 at night, 89° outside, 84° inside.  I’m going to bed with a book and a fan.


{6/18/19}  Weight 222.8.

“Climate change?”  “Climate catastrophe?”  “Climate doom?”  I’m going with “climate doom” from now on.  Or perhaps “our climate doom.”  But “climate doom” ignores the other horrors:  dead zones, acidification, and plastic in the oceans; species extinctions; pollution that doesn’t affect the temperature; overpopulation…have I missed any?  Which gives me “our doom.”

4:50 am.  78° inside.  I slept six solid hours with the fan blowing right on me.

Many dreams last night:  1) A car had been moved to the third floor of someone’s house, to preserve it against flooding.  There was a difficulty about removing it because building codes had changed since it was put there.

2) Two clowns walking among a crowd, through a rural area or woods.  They discuss whether to put on their makeup, and so start entertaining, or wait until they arrive at their destination.  It begins to snow.

3) Discussions among some people about the payments they got ($88) for car repairs.

4) Earth begins detecting TV broadcasts from another planet, their early days of TV like ours.

Nietzsche talks about dreams being the source of metaphysics:  that is, dreams teach us a difference between appearance and reality, which thought becomes elaborated into various systems of metaphysics, which he rejects as “error”; yet, who can deny that there is a difference between appearance and reality?

For once I’m up early enough to catch the 5:00 showing of Democracy Now!  My 15 minutes of news for the day (just their “headlines”).  I wonder what keeps Amy Goodman going.  Perhaps it’s just her job.

Well, that was depressing.

The good thing about less TV is more writing done.  Which suddenly seems a stupid thing to say.  It’s kind of incredible that there were years when we [the wife and I] didn’t have any TV at all, by choice [because newborn child].  Now I’d worry that I was missing the coming doom and new current horrors.  So I’m sorta afraid not to have TV because “I need to monitor the deteriorating situation.”  I put quotes around that because it’s sorta tongue-in-cheek; yet it’s all too true.  Is this my descent into madness?  Or is it simply an appropriate response to now?  [“Sorta” is becoming a habit, borrowed from Daniel Dennett; not sure I like it, it seems an affectation.]

Caught a few minutes of a movie, Nicole Kidman in The Others, which was a spooky ghost story for a few minutes, then turned stupid; anyway, I think I saw it before.

Now 5:50 and I want to go back to bed; I’d do better to go to the trike, but I won’t.

So I hustled to get out of the house to catch the 6:05 bus, returning twice to collect hoodie and phone, got to the stop in time, but there is no 6:05 bus.  Because Pablo drank my last diet Dr. Pepper yesterday, I thought I’d make an early trip to McDonalds for crappy breakfast with overpriced orange juice, and stop at FoodMaxx on the way back.  So I’ll go at 6:30, after verifying the bus schedule.  Or maybe I’ll eat at home, sensibly.

While the Bloatus pumps bullet after bullet into the body politic, the Democrats wave their hands to keep the flies off the rotting remains.

Copyright 2019 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

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