I stole some time away to attend to Neil Gaiman's new book, The Ocean At The End Of The Lane (2013), this week. I would offer a cursory review but I am still digesting it. It might be perfect. I need to reread it to be sure but it's much too soon. It's probably perfect.
I lucked into a charming 1979 hardcover of Joseph Heller's Good As Gold (1976) — which I remembered Christopher Hitchens extolling at the close of The Trial of Henry Kissenger (2001) — at Encore Books and Records in Montreal this past April.
I thought it would serve as a nice distraction from my daily research over the past week. It's a classic satire, to be sure, but I have to confess that my reading was entirely undermined by the glut of derivative political spoofery and unwitting self-parody over the past (not quite) forty years. You know, that sensation you have watching the Colbert Report when the verisimilitude hits the right frequency and everyone, including Stephen, is uncomfortable.
Here's an example. I am not even sure this — "The Administration has decided to fight inflation by raising prices to lower demand to reduce prices to increase demand and bring back the inflationary high prices we want to lower by reducing demand to increase demand and raise prices" — passes for parody anymore. It's just news now.
I finally got around to Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man (1951) recently. The line that went on to haunt me most, among the other exemplary passages, was this:
They began by controlling books of cartoons and then detective books and, of course, films, one way or another, one group of another, political bias, religious prejudice, union pressures; there was always a minority afraid of the dark, afraid of the future, afraid of the past, afraid of the present, afraid of themselves and shadows of themselves.
Today is Victoria Day. The day most Canadians celebrate a favourite former monarch of certain longevity — one generally synonymous with a particularly virulent strain of priggishness and whose lamentable decision to place the capital in Ottawa over a more central city (read: westerly) has hampered federal politics from their inception — by consuming a stereotypical amount of alcohol in a stereotypical fashion while detonating small munitions in the privacy of their backyard.
I've always had an aversion to the private use of fireworks. There's just something disturbing about the citizens of a peaceable society willingly subjecting themselves to the isolated sounds of micro-explosions. It's basically a middle-finger to all the societies around the world whose people live in constant fear of violence — many of whom make their way to this country as refugees or immigrants in search of freedom from such brutality.
The public displays put on by communities or municipalities are entirely different matter: they're coordinated and they bring people together — done properly, they can be quite beautiful.
I know, I know; get off my lawn... just take your fireworks with you.
I am halfway through Iain M. Banks’ Culture series, having just finished Excession (1996) — not quite my favourite, The Player of Games (1988) presently holds that distinction, but a very close second.
Excession explores the Culture’s reaction to the sudden arrival of an unknown artefact beyond the known capacity of the galaxy’s leading or retired players. This presents them with what Banks refers to as an “Outside Context Problem” which he wryly describes as:
The usual example given to illustrate an Outside Context Problem was imagining you were a tribe on a largish, fertile island; you’d tamed the land, invented the wheel or writing or whatever, the neighbours were cooperative or enslaved but at any rate peaceful and you were busy raising temples to yourself with all the excess productive capacity you had, you were in a position of near-absolute power and control which your hallowed ancestors could hardly have dreamed of and the whole situation was just running along nicely like a canoe on wet grass… when suddenly this bristling lump of iron appears sailless and trailing steam in the bay and these guys carrying long funny-looking sticks come ashore and announce you’ve just been discovered, you’re all subjects of the Emperor now, he’s keen on presents called tax and these bright-eyed holy men would like a word with your priests.
The utility of such meditations is part of what makes science fiction so relevant and the contempt with which literature proper reserves for genre so reprehensible.
I read Marc Maron’s Attempting Normal (2013) last weekend.
While recounting a recent trip to the original Levi’s store in San Francisco in a latter chapter, Marc observes something crucial to our plummeting faith in institutions:
…Levi’s represented something with integrity, something American, but American in the best way possible. Something of value that lasted. Now everything turns to garbage inside a couple of years. Planned obsolescence has forever denied us the ability to believe in workmanship, institutions, and lifetime guarantees. This is true with everything from pants to marriages. And obviously life itself.
Could that be it: the reason we don’t believe in anything anymore is because we no longer build anything to last — right down to our pants?
…I enjoyed your book, Marc, are we good?
I have wanted to go on “book leave” ever since I first learned of the concept, discovering an unknown guest contributor occupying the place of a regular columnist on the New York Times’ op-ed page, during my first year of university.
I failed to understand why a writer charged with producing a couple of five to eight hundred word “hey, how about that?” / “get off my lawn” ruminations a week couldn't manage a book project at the same time but, then again, this was a simpler time — a time before blogging married into journalism and such entitlements went unquestioned. I had yet to decide which writing-related career path I wanted to pursue (first, anyway) at that point but I was absolutely certain that I wanted it to include book leave.
In March 2012, two weeks after I submitted a revised thesis proposal with designs on graduating in August, a friend invited me to join his book-length project as a co-author. I really wanted to graduate but obviously I couldn’t refuse. Everything else would have to wait; I would have to go on book leave.
We published Canadian Political Structure and Public Administration (4th edition) in January. It’s my first book. I couldn’t be more pleased or prouder.
I’m set to finish my thesis in August of this year. No harm done. And book leave was everything I thought it would be.
* * *
Dear just-before-lunch fall term civics class of 2001: I not only finished every bit of class work a full half hour before any of you but I've now officially lapped you, spectacularly.
This is a collection of irregular comments and missives on a variety of subjects, and occasional essays and book reviews. It is updated infrequently and presented without any underlying theme.
I suppose, if it had a theme, it might be "moderately disappointed" — a vague discriptor that I've been applying to myself in social networking profiles from the very beginning. It pretty much means whatever I want it to; although, I suppose the heart of it might be: one part lapsed misanthropy, one part cultural anthropology, and one part Seth and Amy’s “Really?!”.
In sum, this site is a homage to the time before the rise of the one, true social network when people maintained their own personal sites. Such sites shared a public space and afforded their owners complete control over their own content. It wasn't a golden age — there's no such thing, after all — we were just less lazy about certain things.
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