— O, I say, here’s a fellow says he kisses his mother every night before he goes to bed.
The other fellows stopped their game and turned round, laughing. Stephen blushed under their eyes and said:
— I do not.
— O, I say, here’s a fellow says he doesn’t kiss his mother before he goes to bed.
And, of course, all the other fellows laugh at poor Stephen again.
This traumatic (and funny, if one allows oneself to be cruel) episode in the life of Stephen Dedalus was nonetheless formative: he thinks to himself that since Wells is in third of grammar and ahead of him in that subject, there must be some grammatical reason the fellows laughed at both of his answers.
Of course, the reader (presumably) understands that Wells was merely teasing Stephen, and the fact that he changed answers to try and avoid being laughed at was what was so funny to the fellows.
But back to this episode being “formative”: since opposite answers were both found funny by Wells and the fellows, Stephen assumes that this must be reflective of some quality of grammar that he is not yet familiar with. I.e. he assumes it to be a peculiarity of language itself causing his schoolmates to laugh at him, rather than simple adolescent cruelty.
But I suppose I am getting ahead of myself a bit.
In this post, I intend to review James Joyce’s first (and most accessible, so I’ve read and been told) novel, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.”
As usual, I’m not really following any sort of set approach toward reviewing this novel. I would not turn this blog post in for any English class, is what I mean to say, and I don’t recommend using it as a source, should any undergraduate happen to come across it while desperately searching for sources to use for a comp paper.
At any rate, here goes:
The key to “understanding” this novel is mentioned right there in the title: it’s a “portrait.” Id est, it is not an “adventure,” or a “romance,” or even a “detailed character study.” It’s a portrait (actually five of them), “painted” not with oils or watercolors (or what have you) but with words.
The “artist” is the author, James Joyce. I.e. this novel is semi-autobiographical. It’s not clear to what extent the protagonist Stephen Dedalus “is” James Joyce, and I do not intend to investigate this right now, as I do not especially care to.
The novel is, at the risk of sounding trite, beautifully written. Joyce has a reputation for being “hard to read;” I can state with confidence that the only “hard” part of reading this novel came at the very beginning. I have attempted to start this novel a few times over the years, actually, but only made it past the first few pages on my most recent attempt.
Just for the heck of it, here is how the novel opens:
ONCE upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo. . . .
His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face.
He was baby tuckoo. The moocow came down the road where Betty Byrne lived: she sold lemon platt.
O, the wild rose blossoms On the little green place.
He sang that song. That was his song.
Following this odd opening, the focus of the novel shifts for a moment to a brief reflection upon the sensations and smells involved with wetting one’s bed, how the protagonist(which at this point is known only as “baby tuckoo,” which may or may not also be the name of some character in a children’s story that is never actually told all the way through)’s mother and father have different smells, to another center-justified song/poem that’s all “tralalala”s, to the protagonist’s Uncle Charles and Dante clapping for him, as he dances to the tralalalas.
Please understand that the wonky punctuation I just used was intentional. It was an attempt to restate (or “re-paint”) the first page of this novel, to tell what is happening, to illustrate it for you, the person reading my blog.
Please understand that it is very difficult to do this. And if one approaches this opening page the way one approaches an ordinary novel, i.e. by trying to impose a definite narrative structure upon it, with one thing happening first, then another thing happening because of the first thing, etc., one is only going to frustrate oneself.
And one is being obtuse as all get out when one does so: to repeat, the key to understanding this novel lies right there in the title: it’s a portrait.
And to repeat, I attempted to force a narrative structure onto these first few pages a few different times, and to be clear, I was being obtuse in doing so.
One does not (necessarily) wonder, when looking at a painted portrait (or even a photograph), “What was the subject of this portrait doing right before this portrait was painted/taken?” Portraits are of course representative of a definite moment in time, and if one looks closely one can make guesses as to what the subject was up to before the portrait was painted/taken, as well as what the subject may get up to afterwards, but ultimately those things are irrelevant to the portrait itself.
At any rate I could go on and on waxing poetic (or trying to) about that sort of thing; trust me when I tell you that in order to appreciate this novel, one should think of it as a portrait… just like the title says.
But a portrait of what, exactly?
As alluded to before, the novel is split into five chapters, each one essentially being a glimpse into the consciousness of Stephen Dedalus at various points in his life, with each successive chapter jumping ahead a few years. The first one, what with the wetting the bed and the moocows and whatnot, takes place when Stephen is very young. It begins before he’s even started school, then progresses through to a couple events that took place during his first year at a Catholic boarding school.
“Hold on,” you may be saying. “That sounds like a plot to me. What about all that guff about how there’s no narrative and whatall?”
Well, yes, there are events that take place, but they are loosely connected at best. The connections have as much to do with the words used to describe them as they do with the events themselves.
It was nice and warm to see the lights in the castle. It was like something in a book. Perhaps Leicester Abbey was like that. And there were nice sentences in Doctor Cornwell’s Spelling Book. They were like poetry but they were only sentences to learn the spelling from.
Wolsey died in Leicester Abbey Where the abbots buried him. Canker is a disease of plants, Cancer one of animals.
Later (or maybe even before, I don’t remember for sure), a Mr Casey is said to have a pouch of silver in his throat, but Stephen knows this isn’t actually true. The mention of cancer indicates to the reader (and to Stephen) that Mr Casey has cancer, though it is never explicitly said that he has cancer.
I apologize for being unsure of the chronology of the novel there. The novel features countless internal references such as that one, references that construct Stephen’s consciousness as well as the reader’s appreciation of the novel itself. Like, well, like life, these references are not all organized in bullet points, separated and independent of each other. The meaning of one thing depends on the context of another, the difference between them, the sameness of them.
It is very difficult to describe this novel without falling into the abstract. And while there are passages that could be described as “abstract” in this novel, it would be erroneous to describe any or all of this novel as “abstract.” Every word, every fragment of verse, every oddly-placed punctuation mark, every latin phrase, all of these things were put there with a specific and definite (i.e. “not abstract at all”) purpose: to take the reader into the mind of the protagonist, to allow the reader to see the world through his eyes, to feel and think what he is thinking.
But I can’t tell you that without using abstractions. A more skilled reviewer could no doubt do a better job of explaining what I am attempting to explain, but no matter how skilled the reviewer or how accurate the review, it would not match the esthetic (sic) experience of reading the novel.
So let me just summarize a few things that happen:
Midway through the novel, when he is sixteen, Stephen’s thoughts turn toward the romantic. He has a love interest who appears at various points in the novel, but he has trouble connecting with her in any meaningful way. He is afraid to even kiss her.
Meanwhile, he consorts with prostitutes. For a brief period in the novel (there are no graphic scenes in the novel, for the record), he’s bounding around the red light district like Randy Pan the Goat Boy.
At any rate, I am going to come back to this post later. I will publish it as-is, and continue from here later.
So it’s later, I suppose. The first part of this post was published on March 9, 2018. It is now March 20 of the same year.
I was listening to a lecture by Alan Watts yesterday, either this one or this one (for the record, those titles have very little to do with what he was actually lecturing about; they were created by the person running the “Alan Watts Wisdom” YouTube channel to draw in clicks, I assume), and at one point in one of those lectures, or possibly even one I listened to a few days before, he vocalizes “tralalalala” while talking about how when we humans were born, we were unable to perceive any distinction between ourselves and the world around us.
I have no idea whether Watts was a Joyce fan, but when I heard him say “tralalalala” it made something click in my brain regarding the novel I am reviewing in this post:
As I mentioned, there is a poem/song on the first page of this novel that features some “tralala”s. Here it is, just for the heck of it:
There’s another poem that comes right after that, and I think it’s also key to understanding Stephen Dedalus’ character development across the literary “portrait”. It appears on the second page of my copy of the novel, so I guess I didn’t think about it when I was writing the first part of this post. It’s easily visible here, and anyways I will also post it here for the heck of it, along with the prose that comes before it:
Uncle Charles and Dante clapped. They were older than his father and mother but uncle Charles was older than Dante.
Dante had two brushes in her press. The brush with the maroon velvet back was for Michael Davitt and the brush with the green velvet back was for Parnell. Dante gave him a cachou every time he brought her a piece of tissue paper.
The Vances lived in number seven. They had a different father and mother. They were Eileen’s father and mother. When they were grown up he was going to marry Eileen. He hid under the table. His mother said:
—O, Stephen will apologise.
—O, if not, the eagles will come and pull out his eyes.—
Pull out his eyes,
Pull out his eyes.
Pull out his eyes,
Pull out his eyes,
And I “apologise” for perhaps being a bit scatterbrained with my approach here, but getting back to what I wrote at the end of the first part of this post, there comes a point in Stephen’s life when he consorts with prostitutes. The novel doesn’t explicitly say how many (or give any lurid details as to his actual dalliances, as I think I already mentioned), but it is hinted at that there were quite a few of them. And to repeat, these dalliances occur when Stephen is 16.
Not long after these dalliances are mentioned, there’s some sort of “retreat” or something at Stephen’s Catholic boarding school. And it isn’t an especially enjoyable sort of retreat, it’s more along the lines of a “scare the shit out of the students with threats of fire and brimstone” sort of retreat.
This is, in my opinion, perhaps the most tedious section of the novel. The “stream of consciousness” style that floats from scene to scene is held fast for several pages, just as Stephen’s attention is held fast to the sermon being given by the priest at his school’s retreat.
I won’t quote from it directly, but the gist of his sermon is that all of the students present are sinners who must confess their sins or face eternal damnation. This sermon has a profound effect on Stephen, one his friends take note of. He becomes withdrawn (even more than usual), he doesn’t act like his usual self, and so on.
The sermon compels Stephen to confess his sins regarding his red light district adventures, but fear of retribution outside the confession box (or even just being seen differently by whichever local priest he might confess to) prevents him from confessing at his school. So he sets out walking, and he keeps going until he finds a church in a working-class part of the city. He confesses to the priest there, who is somewhat shocked by his confession, being that Stephen is only 16. Nonetheless the priest absolves Stephen of his sins and advises him to try and curb his appetites regarding prostitutes. Which Stephen presumably does: in the glimpses of his life shown in the novel, he doesn’t go to the red light district and prance around like Randy Pan the Goat Boy anymore.
This, I just realized (I can be dreadfully slow on the uptake at times), hearkens back to the “Apologise, pull out his eyes” poem from the very beginning: if he doesn’t “apologise” for his sins, he fears he will be punished for them.
This is central to Catholic theology, as well as Christian theology in general. I am not Catholic, so I can’t speak personally to the ins and outs of Catholicism regarding this issue, but I was born and raised Southern Baptist. And despite the many differences between those two denominations, the idea of confessing one’s sins and asking for forgiveness is key to both of them. Southern Baptists don’t require “confession” per se, but the same basic idea is there.
Getting back to my mention of Alan Watts, Watts once spoke about how we adults see children dancing. If a child is simply dancing, with no reason to dance other than the fact that they enjoy it, it’s much more pleasing to watch. We adults can see that they are dancing simply because they enjoy it, that doing so brings them immense pleasure, pleasure that is not dependent on the approval of whoever might be watching.
This is quite different, Watts says (and I agree), than telling a child to dance, encouraging the child to dance a certain way, praising them when they dance the way we want them to and scolding them when they don’t. When this occurs, Watts says, the child has lost something: they are no longer just dancing because dancing is fun, they are dancing for adult approval. And furthermore the adults know that the child is not dancing just to be dancing, which causes them to lose some appreciation for the child’s dance: they recognize that the dance is not an expression of pure “joy” or whatever, but rather an expression of yearning for adult approval.
For the record I am not particularly compelled to watch children dance, nor am I expressing disapproval toward anyone who sends their child to a dance studio for lessons. I just recognize that the metaphor of the child’s dance used by Watts applies to this novel. Especially when you also include Watts’ idea that very young children have no conception of being separate from the world around them. The parents’ intervention regarding telling the child how to dance represents the beginning of the child seeing himself/herself not as part of a unified world, but as being something separate from it. Whereas the child once danced with no idea that his/her dance was even noticed by anyone, he/she now knows that other people are watching. The steps and gestures that were once done for their own sake are now being done for the appreciation and approval of others.
This may seem contradictory: if the child recognizes there are other distinct personalities in his/her world, it may seem that this is more of a “unified” view of the world than the child had prior to recognizing this. And in a way, it is, and to be clear this recognition is an essential part of growing up and functioning in the world, and is not a “bad” thing at all.
But to Watts’ Taoism-influenced view, the recognition of the self as something separate from the rest of everything is itself the separation. To Watts’ view, and to the view of many Taoist sages, Zen Buddhists, Hindu mystics, and others, this separation is merely an illusion. I.e. we humans are not actually a thing apart from the universe we inhabit, we are in reality a manifestation of it.
Therefore, the abbreviated life story of any given “sage” or “Buddha” or whatever might go something like this:
1. Birth – has no conception of “self,” sees no distinction between self and the world.
2. Childhood – interacts with adults and other children, develops idea of self as distinct from others and from the world.
3. Adulthood – develops and hones self, experiences both positive and negative things as a result of being oneself.
4. “Sagehood” – recognizes that this “self” is an illusory construct, seeks to dismantle this construct and examine it, so that he/she might return to a more natural/innocent/whatever state of being.
I am not sure whether Watts (or any Taoist, Buddhist, Hindu, et al.) would approve of that little summarization, nonetheless there you have it. And before anyone starts to think I have gone completely off-topic here, I posit that Stephen Dedalus’ progression as a human being follows this pattern pretty darn closely. Although I wouldn’t necessarily try to claim that he is any sort of “sage” at the end of the novel.
But that might be due to the fact that “adulthood” is only beginning at the end of this novel. At the end, Stephen begins to reject all of the things he has been taught, and makes what he (and many readers) considers to be an incredibly profound proclamation. To wit:
—Look here, Cranly, he said. You have asked me what I would do and what I would not do. I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it call itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defence the only arms I allow myself to use—silence, exile and cunning.
And that is, in all honesty, a pretty brave and “sage-like” thing for a young man to commit to. It’s been quoted a gajillion times by internet intellectuals as a motto, one that echoes the libertarian manifestoes of Ayn Rand and others.
It’s unfortunate that Stephen’s success or failure in this enterprise is not expounded upon in this novel. Perhaps I will find out more about it when I read Ulysses, though I would probably do well to review Homer’s Odyssey first.
At any rate, and admittedly this is a bit childish of me, the reason I named this post what I did was that at the beginning of the last chapter, before Stephen makes his grand individualistic proclamation, his mother was giving him a bath. I have no idea how common it was for 20-year-old men back then to be bathed by their mothers, at any rate the grand individual was getting his ears scrubbed by his mother not too terribly long before deciding to eschew society and unwittingly become an idol to many Individualists on the internet.
Which probably merits a Freudian analysis if anything ever did, hardy har har. But I have no interest in pulling that thread, so I’m not a gonna.
I am just gonna come right out and say it: I am a pretty big fan of “The Big Bang Theory.” People bash that show a lot, and often with good reason… but so what? I like it. It isn’t the greatest TV series of all time or anything, but it’s a funny enough show, and I like the characters (and even relate to them on occasion), so I like it.
Before I go on, I should say here that I have a great many things in common with the online atheist community. For example, I agree 100% that religion has no place in government, and that science education should not be compromised in any way because of anyone’s religious beliefs. To their credit, nobody in this loosely-organized online community disagrees with these ideas.
But there’s definitely a lot of disagreement in this community… and a lot of it is pretty silly, in my opinion. Many of the best things in life, like it or not, are completely irrational. Love, for one. Whether it’s a sad little crush yours truly still clings to, or the desire to legally bind yourself to one sexual partner for life (at least nominally), “love” doesn’t exactly make rational sense, if you think about it very much.
That’s not to say science can’t “explain” what “love” is. It can, or at least it can in a post hoc sense. I.e. science (ideally) can tell you after the fact *why* you’re attracted to this or that person (a lot of it depends on personality types), and it can predict to some degree which type of person you’ll be attracted to, but it can’t really predict which individual/s you’ll “fall in love” with.
Some of them even attempt to correlate “science” with the way they treat other people. For many people in this online community, “political correctness” is somehow antithetical to science. If you discourage the use of slurs and epithets, these people believe, then you are (somehow) moving society backward instead of forward.
There was this episode of Night Court where Bull wrote a book. It was like his life story or something.
Anyways he went around trying to sell copies of it, but nobody wanted to read it. And as it turned out, he had paid some shady publisher like $1500 or so to print up a bunch of copies.
I think Harry was all, “Bull, you mean to tell me *you* paid the publisher to print your book, and not the other way around?”
That was back in the late ’80s, early ’90s, maybe. If I am remembering that episode right, which I may not be. Not sure if this is the episode I am thinking of or not.
But yeah, I self-published a novel like a year and a half ago. It didn’t cost me anything, though. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing is a free service. Had Kindle been around way back when, Bull wouldn’t have gotten conned by the one guy.
Or maybe he would. I dunno. There are still pay-for-publishing services out there, and while I am confident they are not all shady as the one guy on that one episode of Night Court, I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to print up a bunch of copies of my novel, at least not right now. If I ever have a few grand I don’t mind losing, well, maybe.
I can order single paperback copies of my novel from Amazon, anyways.
Anyways, as promised (what, you didn’t read this post? Shocking. 😉 ), I am going to review my own novel, “The Path UPWARD,” one chapter at a time. Since there are 25 chapters in that novel, there will be 25 posts in this series. (26, actually, if you count “part zero,” which is linked to above.)
So here we go:
Each chapter begins with a quote from a character in the novel. My intent in doing this was to introduce various characters and themes, as well as to advance the plot. This technique has been used fairly often, I think, notably in Frank Herbert‘s “Dune” novels. When I started “The Path UPWARD” I had recently read the first four “Dune” novels, and I guess my use of quotes was an homage to Frank Herbert.
Here is the opening quote:
“Anyone who thinks God doesn’t exist has never had the… experience of meeting Him.”
– Bahbi Singh, second grader at Joe Osterman Elementary in North East, Pennsylvania
It should be noted up front that “Bahbi” is not, as far as internet research has led me to believe, an actual name. I just made it up. It is, however, quite similar to the Hindi word “Bhahbi.” I found that out about halfway through writing the novel, and considered changing “Bahbi” to something else, but decided to leave it in. Since it isn’t a real name (as far as I know), I hoped that anyone who tried to look it up would find the same things I did, and if they were to do so, this would lend uncertainty and ambiguity to the narrative.
The opening quote was designed to do that, as well. In fact, the genesis of this entire novel came about when an older relative who is much more educated and well-read than I am happened to mention the concept of the “unreliable narrator” to me in an online conversation.
The things F. Darryl “Pink Floyd” Mullin talks about in the first chapter and the rest of the novel are all true, at least from his point of view, but he makes fantastic claims and (as the reader sees later) sometimes has to retract certain things.
Might be worth mentioning that the opening line, “My name is F. Darryl Mullin,” is an homage to the first line of Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick”: “Call me Ishmael.”
And yes, referencing famous literary novels (and yes, I consider “Dune” to be literary, at least the first one) in my own obscure, self-published little novel is more than a little pretentious. I accept that, and I would encourage anyone who puts a sincere effort into their artistic pursuits to do the same. I.e. don’t sell yourself short, don’t compromise your vision just to make it more palatable, and strive to place your work alongside the work of people who inspired you.
Not that I think “The Path Upward” is on the same level as “Moby-Dick” or “Dune.” It isn’t, and I don’t.
And to be honest, I am the last person in the world you should be taking advice from, if you want your work to sell.
Herman Melville died in obscurity, I think I read once. I probably will too, but that doesn’t mean I am as good a writer as Herman Melville. But since I am drawing parallels between him and me, here’s one more: the Wikipedia article linked to above says that people initially confused Ishmael and Melville, because “Moby-Dick” is a first-person narrative.
At any rate, I would like to state this up front, before I go any further: I am not F. Darryl Mullin, and he is not me. He is a fictional character in a novel I wrote. I will get back to that novel now:
The first chapter sets the scene a little, and it reveals the basic premise of the novel: a small Indian child (Bahbi Singh) with a gift for physics has created a teleportation device. This device allows people to go to the afterlife and then return to the real world. The narrator of my novel is writing a book about Bahbi and his device.
Chapter One also mentions that Bahbi is (or believes himself to be) the reincarnation of a white American physicist named Herbert Klimpton. Klimpton built a device similar to Bahbi’s in the 1950s at Los Alamos (in the context of the novel), but Klimpton’s device failed to bring him back to the real world, and he got stuck in the afterlife.
He managed to get himself reincarnated as Bahbi Singh and build a better version of his device. The details of how Klimpton was reborn are fleshed out in a later chapter.
Anyways, it’s a pretty good novel. You should read it.
I have decided to add a new category to my blog called “Poimes.” I have had a lifelong habit of writing poimes — sorry, “poems” — and never sharing them with anyone. For various reasons I would rather not talk about, I have gone through stages where I don’t write poetry at all; nonetheless, poetry is something I tend to come back to as a means of emotional release, if not creative expression. It isn’t really “expression” if I don’t share them with anyone, I mean.
So anyways, I am gonna write some poimes. Sonnets, specifically. The first one will be a Shakespearean sonnet, but I reserve the right to use other sonnet forms later.
I prefer to use accepted forms for my own poetry, simply because doing so requires a little more thought on my part. As a lifelong fan of not only poetry but also hip-hop and rap music, it’s not difficult for me to rhyme words in my native language of English. It is, however, a good bit more difficult to put rhyming words into a specific form.
…and as anyone who has ever read my blog knows already, when writing prose, I have a tendency to just yammer on and on and on. So instead of doing that here, I will just go ahead and get on with it.
One more thing: like my M*A*S*H blog post, I will add to this post (and possibly others like it devoted to different poetic forms) over time. I guess for posterity’s sake (or whatever), I will add the date at the end of each sonnet.
These sonnets will be numbered, but the reader should realize that “Sonnet 1” does not mean “the first sonnet I ever wrote” or “the most important sonnet on this page” or anything like that. “Sonnet 1” simply means “the first sonnet I wrote after deciding to devote a blog page to sonnets.”
I have no clue how many sonnets will end up being here; if and when they are ever organized (and/or collated with existing sonnets) I reserve the right to order them (and edit them) however I see fit.
Blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda.
A lovely woman: red hair and eyes of green,
(Or blue?) Her stare conveyed some dark emotion,
Bejeweled daggers aimed at me, it seemed;
Who she was, I’ve not the foggiest notion.
I stood there wanting just to order coffee.
There in the line behind her piercing eyes;
I met her gaze, but couldn’t shake it off me
She seemed to know me, somehow, and despise.
Perhaps I misinterpreted her meaning.
Perhaps she simply didn’t like my shirt.
There wasn’t much to use by way of gleaning;
But her lovely eyes seemed aimed at me to hurt.
Perhaps it was opinions writ online
That set her iron conscience against mine.
I haven’t shown her the love she deserves, ’tis true,
Nor learned as much from her as I should know.
I often ignore her needs when I’m not blue;
Yet she’s been with me too long to let her go.
I keep her in her place, when I don’t feel
The selfish whim to hear her prattling tones.
They remind me of the fact that I am real,
A thing not hard to forget when one’s alone.
Once, a fit of drunken rage did nearly wreck
The humble affection she so selflessly gave.
I slung her ‘cross the room and cracked her neck
And nearly sent her early to the grave.
But all that’s in the past, behind us far:
My Yamaha, she’s been a great guitar.
Music soothes the savage beast, ’tis said.
‘Tis so: often have I sought succor in sound
Drowning sorrow’s weight upon my head
With tunes my listening ears have sought and found.
And too, I have been known to make my own
With cheap guitars, fake drums, as well as keys;
Over the years, much progress has been shown
I know much more than just the chord of G.
But lately my own body doth protest
My limbered fingers’ reach for chords to make.
The tendons in my elbow are a mess;
I cannot play a song without an ache.
For now I’ll listen, rest and maybe sing,
And for my elbow, maybe yoga is the thing.
An existential dread doth plague my soul.
Uncertainty’s feeble digit stabs my chest,
Taunting me and claiming I’m not whole.
Prithee, I beg, canst thou let me rest?
“No,” saith the poet and prophet of literary fame
(the Bard of Democracy, whose name you surely know);
“Soul is body, body and soul the same,
You fear because you’ve let your body go.”
“Get up and work,” the poet’s ghost did say,
“At what, it matters not especially much.
Make your body strong through work (and play)
And thereby quell uncertainty’s frigid touch.”
And thus the lesson learned from Leaves of Grass:
There comes a time to get up off one’s ass.
‘Tis not a thing requiring that much effort:
To dash off lines conforming to some scheme
Invented by some long-dead poet, tethered
To love’s undying death and money’s green.
A poet’s just a cobbler of sweet phrases
Meaningless in any concrete sense.
Behold: “the maiden’s breath like wine’s impatience,”
Does this mean one should hand the girl a mint?
Or does it speak to some unspoken feeling?
One often felt but seldom e’er expressed?
So difficult to say, it sets us reeling,
And often leaves us lonesome and depressed.
And so the poet spends his precious time
Forcing these absurdities to rhyme.
Just in case you’re part of the 99.999% of all humans who have never read anything from my blog before, allow me to take you on a brief tour:
There are (currently) five major categories of articles (Books, Humor, Movies/TV, Philosophy, and Politics), although there is significant carry-over from one category to the other. Some of the “humor” articles have political references, some of the “politics” articles have jokes, etc.
Also, it should be noted that “Philosophy” is more or less my default category. I used it in place of “Musings” or something, I suppose, and many of the articles in that category are just me rambling about whatever happened to be on my mind at the time. You may have noticed that this article is categorized as “Philosophy,” well, that’s just my go-to category.
I am not a philosopher, is what I am telling you. And I don’t really have a well-defined “personal philosophy,” but it’s somewhere along the materialist spectrum, though I am not sure exactly where.
Perhaps you can tell me… here are a couple of “musings” I wrote that at least use the word “materialism” in them:
Moving on, my “personal philosophy” also includes a heaping dose of nihilism, but I would not describe myself as a “nihilist” per se. I.e. I agree that morality and “meaning” and that sort of thing are not an intrinsic part of human existence, but that is not (is *not*) to say that I don’t place any value on morality, nor do I contend that life has no meaning.
On the contrary, I contend that morality and “meaning” are two of the most valuable things about life as a human, it’s just that each individual person has to work those things out for themselves. People aren’t born with moral values encoded into their DNA, I mean. Morals are things people are taught by other people, and they vary significantly from culture to culture and person to person.
My own sense of morality was taught to me by my parents, grandparents, other relatives, friends, and so on as a child. And after that, by various books I’ve read, TV shows and movies I have watched, people I have interacted with from different backgrounds than mine, and even through music I listen to.
That particular song (click the link in the previous paragraph) helped me distill my own sense of morality down to one question, one I ask myself whenever I consider any issue, whether it’s a political issue or whether it’s something mundane, like whether to kill a non-poisonous spider I find in the house or just catch it and take it outside. That question is, quite simply:
“Does this cause harm?”
In the case of a non-poisonous spider coming into my house, the spider itself is not causing any harm, beyond giving me a temporary surprise/scare when I first see it. But ignoring it could lead to a spider infestation in my house, which could potentially be harmful… or at least gross.
So, the way I see it, this non-poisonous spider is not causing any harm now, but just leaving it alone *could* cause harm later. So naturally, I want to get rid of the spider.
So what should I do? I see two options:
1. Squash the spider.
2. Catch the spider (these things work amazingly well, btw) and take it outside.
Both of these options eliminate the potential harm of a spider infestation, but are both of these options harmless?
No. Option 1 snuffs out the life of a harmless spider, who didn’t do anything other than startle me. Option 2 gives that spider a chance to set up shop elsewhere and perform its tiny little spider function of catching and eating insects, who, unlike the harmless spider, may end up biting me.
So squashing the spider directly harms the spider, and has the potential to harm me. There’s no way I know of to calculate the actual odds that a spider I don’t squash will end up catching a mosquito (e.g.) that would end up biting me (those odds are pretty low, I would imagine), nonetheless, that spider can’t catch anything if I squash it. And mosquitoes carry diseases, in case you forgot.
So anyways, I generally try not to squash spiders that aren’t harmful to humans. Though I don’t hold anything against anyone who does, for the record.
Getting back to the point, my “philosophy” posts aren’t always about philosophy. But I like to at least tell myself that my own “personal philosophy” bleeds through, and that the reader will at least get some semblance of it as they read. The things I write about are meaningful to me, and hopefully they’ll find their way to at least a reader or two who can also derive some meaning from them.
Back to my flirtations with nihilism: the things that I find “meaningful” are only “meaningful” because I find meaning in them. On some level or other, I choose to assign “meaning” to them, or else they remind me of other things or people that have given my life meaning.
I regret that I can’t write the previous paragraph any better than that. I am not a philosopher, to repeat yet again.
And since this particular aspect of my personal philosophy is also political, now is the perfect time to mention that I am also a feminist, and as I mention in the linked article, I don’t ever expect anyone to talk me out of that, though you are welcome to try.
For all practical purposes, I am a Democrat. In my personal life, I definitely have libertarian leanings, but I do not support the Libertarian Party in any way, shape, or form. (See here and here.)
That second article is one that could fit into the “humor” category (unless you support the Libertarian Party, I guess), but none of that stuff is inaccurate. Exaggerated a little, maybe (*maybe*), but not inaccurate.
And yeah yeah yeah, I know: not everybody who votes Libertarian just does it because they want “legal weed” or whatever. But there are a great many Libertarian voters who were attracted to the party because of things like that who don’t realize that the LP’s economic policies are further to the right than those of the GOP.
And just in case you didn’t realize this, DEMOCRATS are responsible for marijuana decriminalization, nine times out of ten. Gary Johnson’s medical marijuana initiatives in New Mexico were significant, but that goofy-looking SOB is also a big supporter of private prisons, which incarcerate thousands and thousands (and thousands and thousands) of non-violent pot offenders.
So yeah, I am a Democrat. And I am all for legal weed, for the record. And yeah, I have something of a personal vendetta against the Libertarian Party: they tricked me into supporting them briefly a few years ago. I went around telling people I was a “Libertarian” without really looking into their actual platform, and I am willing to bet there are a lot of people like that.
As to the Green Party, strictly going on ideology, I am probably a little more closely aligned to them than I am the Democratic party. But I can’t support them in good conscience because, quite simply, they have no chance whatsoever of making any sort of actual impact on the nation… other than (like the LP) taking votes away from Democrats.
Here’s another key aspect of my “personal philosophy”:
Ideology < practicality.
For example, the Green Party and I would both like to see single-payer universal healthcare become a reality in the USA. The Green Party and I agree that the ACA is far from ideal, in that it maintains a largely unnecessary (and arguably parasitic) corporate entrenchment in people’s lives.
Ideologically, the Green Party and I agree on the healthcare issue. But practically speaking, the ACA enabled millions of people in the USA to get healthcare when they had been denied it before. And practically speaking, for me to vote Green in the last election would have put those people’s healthcare in jeopardy, simply because a vote for the Green party would have been ipso facto a vote against whichever major party ended up losing the election.
Let me explain that:
There were four candidates in the 2016 election. Only two of those candidates (Trump and Clinton) ever had any chance of winning. I know that, you know that, and every American voter with any connection to reality knows that.
President Trump got 46.4% of the popular vote. Clinton got 48.5% of the popular vote. Trump won because of how the electoral college works.
Just for the record, no, I am not going to blame third party voters for Trump’s victory, even though I am well aware of the results of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, and possibly other states that went to Trump by a narrow margin, where that margin was smaller than the percentage of third party voters. Johnson got way more votes than Stein in all those states, and to assume a Libertarian Party supporter would vote Democrat over Republican is a seriously misguided assumption. LP economic policies are not all that different from Trump’s, whether Libertarian voters like it or not.
As a sidenote, pay attention to how my “ideology < practicality” statement is essentially reversed in that article; i.e. the author admits that LP goals are being realized under Trump but insists that his personal ideology insulates him from being compared to Trump, and that simply because the author defines Trump as “aggressive,” that means he can’t be a Libertarian. But I will save that rant for another post. 🙂
Getting back to numbers, let’s ignore the electoral college for now and just think about a hypothetical election with four candidates, one where two of the candidates have no chance whatsoever of winning. For convenience’ sake, let’s just say that there are only 100 voters voting in this election, and we’ll round off Trump’s percentage to 46 and Clinton’s to 49. The remaining 5 votes will be split between the other two candidates. And just to avoid confusion (since the winner of the popular vote in 2016 isn’t President), let’s just call the candidates A, B, C, and D.
Follow me? OK:
Candidate A has 49 votes. Candidate B has 46 votes. Nobody has voted for C or D yet, let’s say, but the five people who haven’t voted haven’t decided who they will vote for, and none of those 5 voters wants to vote for A or B. All 100 people are required to vote in this scenario.
Assuming that the 5 remaining voters vote for candidate C or D, candidate A will win the election. And while those 5 votes were made with the intent of supporting candidate C or D (and made in good faith), the practical effect of those votes is to support candidate A’s victory.
It’s not quite the same as “support,” but it isn’t quite the same as non-support, either. If, hypothetically, candidate B is ideologically closer to candidate C or D, supporters of candidate C or D *could* have voted for candidate B, and thereby put a candidate in office that would support at least *some* of the things they cared about.
Look, I apologize for going on and on about this. If it wasn’t something that happens over and over again in presidential elections in this country, I wouldn’t flipping have to keep going on and on about it.
The sad truth of the matter is that *if* Donald Trump is still President in 2020 (and he probably will be) and *if* he runs for re-election (and he probably will), chances are he’s going to win.
I am basing that assumption on the fact that Republican voters vote Republican no matter what…
And also on the fact that “the left” is hopelessly divided in this country.
And during that election, there *will* be third party candidates, and they *will* be telling you, the voter, to “vote your conscience” when you go into the polls.
I would absolutely encourage you to do exactly that, with one addendum:
Voting third party (i.e. supporting a candidate with no chance of winning) in an important election, one that will have a huge impact upon the nation, is not “voting your conscience.”
It’s voting your ego.
Yuh-huh, it is, too.
And that’s all I am going to say about that right now.
To say that I have a weird sense of humor would be an understatement. I mean that sincerely. I have been told I have a “dry” sense of humor many times in my life, and more than one person has compared me to Stephen Wright, though that’s more due to my general low-key demeanor than anything else. (He’s way funnier than me, is what I am telling you.)
Anyways, I find funny what I find funny. I think this is hilarious, and I think the same thing about this.
You may not find either of those things funny… and if you don’t SCREW YOU!
I haven’t written as much in this category as I should have. I spend more time than I should watching TV and playing on the internet, and not enough time reading books. Nonetheless, every now and then I guess that’s a good thing. Or maybe it’s not. I still haven’t written part one of this series, which is going to be me reviewing a novel I wrote.
Yep, I wrote a novel. You ought to check it out; it’s pretty good, if I do say so myself.
And on to the last category, probably my personal favorite category, “Movies/TV”.
And before anyone who didn’t click the “Marxist critique” hyperlink in the last paragraph gets confused, no, I am not a communist. All I plan to do regarding Trailer Park Boys is take a largely superficial look at the socioeconomic aspects of the show, how Ricky, Julian, and Bubs et alia function in the arguably minarchist environment of Sunnyvale Trailer Park, and how Sunnyvale relates to the rest of Canada, etc.
It’s going to be fun… at least for me, ha ha.
And if anybody is wondering why I intend to inject politics into an awesome and funny show like Trailer Park Boys, first of all, I am not injecting or otherwise putting politics into anything. Politics are already there, I just intend to take a look at them and tell you what I see.
Everything is political, on one level or another. Including apathy toward politics.
So anyways, thanks for reading, and I hope to see you in the comments section. For the record, I allow all comments from actual people. I delete spambot comments, but I allow literally everything else, including personal insults against me.
So… if you read something here that just really makes you mad, don’t hesitate to say so.
My libral letfist cousin done prety much quit this web blog here, says it don’t make no money, says he dont figure its gone to.
Hell, I could of told him that. Aint nobody care about no leftist junk on no web blog. He aint as bad as some, though. I seent this one letfist tried to tell me Presdent Trump got a Russian women to use the bathroom on him.
Can you magine? Them letfists is weird, man. How you even come up with something like peein on somebody?
ANd now theys trine to say Trump had a “affare” with some porno actress!
Its like they caint just let the man be President! I mean it ain’t like we got BARRY SOTERO in there no more, trine to put good folks like me in the poorhouse and take are guns!
Yall no who BARRY SOTERO is, don’t you? Why, hes’ the one past Obamacare and done bout ruint the hole country! Ya’ll might not no this though: lots of folks (hell, everbody dang near) thanks BARRY SOTERO was from Kenya. I bleeve that was a onist mistake, but I seent this youtube videa what said the real truth of the matter is that BARY SOTERO was a alien.
Like not a laien in the cents of like somebody from a nother country, like a alien from space.
And you might thank I’s line, but I aint’. Feller on that vidya said BARRY SOTERO come from somewhere out past the Soler Systeme, and he was trine to make poeple uset to aleins, and thats’ why he was always trine to pass “universal helthcare”, so when he went to the docter the docter’d no how to cure what ailed him!
And BARRY SOTERo was trine to take are guns, because when the rest of the aleins comes, they aint’ want us to have no way to fight back!
and KILLERY, dont’ get me started! She aint’ no laein (far as i no, ha ha) but shes’ a dang site worser then BARRY SOTERO even if she aint’.
Her and “SLICK WILLY” went around killen poeple left an right. You member BENGAHZI? KILLERY set up them poor solders, just so them Mulsims could kill em dead! And SLICK WILLEY sittin there laughin the hole time!
ANd PIZZAGATE wudnt’ no conspericy! Them DEMOCRAPS went in there and filed in that dungein usin alein technoligy, hollygrams and that sort of stuff!
I feel sorry for them letfists, whut caint’ see the truth!
Trine to say Trump had a affare with a porno women! And sayin he said this porno women looked like his daughter!
Where them leftist come up with this sort of stuff? Like they ain’t got nothin better to do than try to defame a honets man lik Donald Trump!
I hope Donleld Trump cleans house on em! Get all them librals and leftis out of the govmnet. Then maybe Ill’ be able to afford to go to the docter agian.
My dang inserents went up this pass month. I ain’t sure I can afford it no more, to be honest.
And it ain’t Trump done it. No sir.
My “leftist lebral” cousin tried to tell me it was cause subsidys from the govment got cut by Trump, whys’ my insurence went up, but that aint’ the truth .
Truth is, BARRY SOTERO and KILLERY got in with the aleins, and they dont’ want nobody like me round when the invasein starts. So theys’ gone cut me off my insurence, and try agiain to take my guns away!
I would have to do more research to confirm this, but the type of “materialism” I was referring to in that post most resembles dialectical materialism, but I am not confident that I would necessarily agree with everything in that particular philosophy.
In fact, what I am talking about might better be described as physicalism rather than materialism. I am honestly not sure.
At any rate, what I was (and am) talking about is the idea that everything in the universe is explainable through “material” or “physical” terms. And yes, that includes all types of “spiritual” and/or “supernatural” experiences.
My use of “quotation marks” there should not be misconstrued as reductive. I am not trying to delegitimize anyone’s subjective experiences, nor am I trying to say that things like religion and “spirituality” are useless.
On the contrary, I think both of those things can have an enormously positive effect on people at the individual level, and as long as religious people don’t try to force any of their views on other people, and as long as those views don’t oppress anyone within the religious group in any way, I have no problem whatsoever with anyone’s religious views.
Religion (and membership in any other sort of ideologically-based group) provides its adherents with a sense of community, a common set of values and beliefs, and so on. To repeat, I think that membership in such groups can have an enormously positive effect on people at the individual level. And heck, it can have an enormously positive effect at the group level, also…
Have you ever heard anyone say (or have you ever said), “I want to feel like I am part of something bigger than myself”?
That feeling, I would venture, is one that is common across all religious and/or ideologically-based groups. It’s also, I would venture, a feeling that is common to all (or at least most) human beings. The desire to feel connected to something or someone outside of and separate to one’s own physical self.
I certainly have this desire. And I have come to realize that my relatively recent (like in the past few years, I mean) attraction to various strains of materialism is a product of that desire.
This may not be immediately apparent — it wasn’t immediately apparent to me, at least — based on that last post I wrote. Someone could easily read that post as “human beings are just physical things, thoughts and emotions are just the result of physical processes, nothing means anything, we’re all gonna die” and not see anything more than that. That’s my fault; actually after publishing that post I remembered that I didn’t post it last July because it might be interpreted like that, and I didn’t quite know how to articulate how and why I didn’t intend for it to be interpreted that way.
I am not sure I can articulate it now, but I am gonna try:
I think it goes back to a phase I went through a decade or more ago when I was fascinated with transcendentalism, specifically its attempts to integrate/appropriate various spiritual traditions into one philosophy. This led me to Taoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, though only in a philosophical/intellectual sort of way. I never converted to anything — in “the anthropological sense,” I remain a Southern Baptist — but philosophically (and more importantly, politically), I have very little in common with most Southern Baptists, beyond “love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Anyways, I have personal views and beliefs that prevent me from being able to honestly say that I adhere to 100% to any of the various philosophies and/or religions I have listed so far. I don’t quite “belong” in any of those groups.
That’s not me trying to prove I am special, or that the objections I have to various aspects of these philosophies and/or religions make me “unique” or something. I am just relating to you, the reader, that I don’t feel especially “connected” to any ideologically based group… although I am certainly “more connected” to some than I am to others.
So, what’s a person to do, once he (or she) has explored various philosophies, gone by various labels (I used to tell people I was a “Taoist,” for example), and subsequently found that he (or she) doesn’t quite “belong” in any of them completely?
Especially when this person acknowledges fully that he (or she) *wants* to belong to a group, because as mentioned above, group membership can have an enormously positive effect on one’s life?
Should he or she start (or join) a group of philosophical misfits, whose only reason for belonging to the group is that they don’t belong in any other group? Sure, one *could* do that…
Or, one could attempt to do what I am attempting to do, though I admittedly am not doing a very good job of explaining what I am trying to do: put every philosophy and every religion under one umbrella.
I wish I were able to articulate it better than that, but alas, I’m not. Let me try again:
The desire to feel connected to something larger than oneself can be satisfied (or perhaps “realized”) without even bothering to join any group. (And yes, I borrowed this idea from someone else.)
You *already are* part of something larger than yourself. You are part of the whole of humanity. You are a member of a species that inhabits the planet Earth, which is part of a solar system, which is part of a galaxy, which is part of the universe… which may be only one of many universes.
You are part of that. The process that produced lil’ ol’ you began around 13.8 billion years ago. It will keep going a looooooong time after you’re gone. After I’m gone; after everyone currently living is gone.
At any rate, that’s what sits at the heart of my own personal attraction to materialism: the desire to feel “connected.”
Does that make *any* sense whatsoever? Honest question.