synthetic zero


April 28, 2007

Ruthie's Double has a beautiful post today:

My ballet teacher just left. He said that dancers believe when they dance they are controlling their bodies. What they really are doing is controlling the audience, and controlling the space. Thus, in arabesque, the most expansive pose in ballet, a quick flick of the gaze above the horizon line opens the space of eternity for the audience.
Opening the space of eternity for the audience: nothing is more important, actually. The odd thing is, though, whether it actually opens for a given person is so dependent on many factors, all of which are ultimately incredibly specific to the person, the moment, the context.

Meanwhile, Bill Moyers comes out of retirement, much to everyone's relief. His new show is available online --- I highly recommend it. We need people of his caliber paying attention and using their voices --- so profoundly rare right now. Retirement? It's passé. We're living longer, so there's hardly a need to retire so young.

April 27, 2007

In Portland, mostly to see PDX Fest, organized by Matt McCormick, but also just to remind myself of the fabulousness that is Portland.

April 26, 2007

Acceptance is often misunderstood as a sort of passivity or resignation. Accepting things as they are, however, is not to say being in a static state: in fact, it means a dynamic and engaged participation in the way things are. What we normally do in response to a situation (whether we deem it "good" or "bad") is immediately disconnect from it; if it is "bad", we wish it were some other way than the way it is, and therefore refuse to engage with it as it actually is --- if it is "good" we wish for it to persist forever, even though such things are always transitory. Acceptance, however, really involves facing things, good or bad, and allowing them to be what they are, which is to say, transient, and perhaps quite unsatisfactory.

If you don't accept a "bad" situation, for example, for what it is, then it is difficult to impossible to effectively deal with it: one must recognize how it actually is, including the worst aspects of it, before you can work with it --- failing to do so, engaging in denial, is a perfect way to assure failure. (As a tangent: something about this reminds me, somehow, a great deal of our current Administration's tactics in nearly every area). Acceptance is not stasis: in fact in the sense I am discussing it, it is by far the most dynamic and fluid stance one can adopt. It is dynamic without being forced, or driven by a sense of lack: that's the paradox.

Acceptance, however, may include accepting even failure --- but in any event it is always better to accept the situation as it is, whether there is room for improvement or not --- than to pretend it is something other than what it is.

April 25, 2007

One of my favorite quotes from Martin Buber's I and Thou:

At times when man is overcome by the horror of the alienation between I and world, it occurs to him that something might be done. Imagine that at some dreadful midnight you lie there, tormented by a waking dream: the bulwarks have crumbled and the abysses scream, and you realize in the midst of this agony that life is still there and I must merely get through to it --- but how? Thus feels man in the hours when he collects himself: overcome by horror, pondering, without direction. And yet he may know the right direction, deep down in the unloved knowledge of the depths -- the direction of return that leads to sacrifice. But he rejects this knowledge; what is "mystical" cannot endure the artificial midnight sun. He summons thought in which he places, quite rightly, much confidence: thought is supposed to fix every-thing. After all, it is the lofty art of thought that it can paint a reliable and practically credible picture of the world. Thus man says to his thought: "Look at the dreadful shape that lies over there with those cruel eyes --- is she not the one with whom I played long ago? Do you remember how she used to laugh at me with these eyes and how good they were then? And now look at my wretched I --- I'll admit it to you: it is empty, and whatever I put into myself, experience as well as use, does not penetrate to this cavern. Won't you fix things between her and me so that she relents and I get well again?" And thought, ever obliging and skillful, paints with its accustomed speed a series --- nay, two series of pictures on the right and left wall. Here is (or rather: happens, for the world pictures of thought are reliable motion pictures) the universe. From the whirl of the stars emerges the small earth, from the teeming on earth emerges small man, and how history carries him forth through the ages, to persevere in rebuilding the anthills of the cultures that crumble under its steps. Beneath this series of pictures is written: "One and all." On the other wall happens the soul. A female figure spins the orbits of all stars and the life of all creatures and the whole of world history; all is spun with a single thread and is no longer called stars and creatures and world but feelings and representations or even living experiences and states of the soul. And beneath this series of pictures is written: "One and all."

Henceforth, when man is for once overcome by the horror of alienation and the world fills him with anxiety, he looks up (right or left, as the case may be) and sees a picture. Then he sees that the I is contained in the world, and that there really is no I, and thus the world cannot harm the I, and he calms down; or he sees that the world is contained in the I, and that there really is no world, and thus the world cannot harm the I, and he calms down. And when man is overcome again by the horror of alienation and the I fills him with anxiety, he looks up and sees a picture; and whichever he sees, it does not matter, either the empty I is stuffed full of world or it is submerged in the flood of the world, and he calms down.

But the moment will come, and it is near, when man, overcome by horror, looks up and in a flash sees both pictures at once. And he is seized by a deeper horror.


April 24, 2007

Ruthie's Double is back! Even better than before.

April 23, 2007

Pamela Druckman writes about the varying rules of infidelity in different world cultures. Some of the more revealing things she discovers: while the United States is by far the most disapproving culture when it comes to affairs, we engage in them with the same, or even slightly greater, frequency as, say, the French. Another interesting fact is that men and women under 40 have equal rates of infidelity.

Americans have gotten more permissive about practically every mainstream sexual issue in the last 30 years -- from divorce to homosexuality to cohabitation to premarital sex to having kids out of wedlock. But our thinking about adultery has become even stricter since the '70s. ... It's kind of the last great sin in America.


April 22, 2007

Some people like to say that the difference between Buddhism and Christianity is that in Buddhism, there is a great nothing, and in Christianity, there is a great something. But it's far more subtle than this --- in Buddhism, the great nothing and the great something are seen to be the same thing; "form is emptiness, emptiness is form." The negative formulations of Buddhism are more well-known ("the self is an illusion", etc.) but the positive forms are equivalent. To say the self does not exist is also to say that we are coextensive with everything. To say that everything is empty is also to say that everything is everything.

April 21, 2007

At some point I want to write more about the parallels and differences between Buddhism (and similar schools of thought and practice) and postmodernism, as I began to discuss below regarding Baudrillard's death. The parallels between Buddhist epistemology and the arguments of many postmodern writers are quite uncanny; Madhyamika philosophy, in particular, is an exceptionally precise and complete deconstruction of, among other things, any correspondence theories of truth, and comes very close to, without reaching, nihilism --- a similar characterization can be made of postmodern thought (but I would deny that postmodernism is nihilism, despite Baudrillard's self-identification as a nihilist --- because nihilism is, in its own way, a somewhat ironically absolute position, which I think is actually itself anathema to the thrust of postmodernism). One difference, however, I would like to point out; postmodern approaches tend to emphasize the unfindability of a ground on which one can build truth; Buddhists agree that the ground cannot be found in the sense of describing or conceptualizing it (and this is what makes it difficult to create a "fundamentalist" Buddhism --- though some sects have tried), but they would assert that because we ARE the ground, there are certain ways we can access, non-conceptually, that which is beyond any constructed world or picture. (By "access non-conceptually" I don't mean access in the sense of transform into a concept --- although concepts, also being part of the ground, aren't exactly excluded from this, either --- it's more a matter of being the ground having implications even in the world that we see and understand: the construct is affected profoundly by the ground, even if the construct isn't itself ever identifiable as the ground.)

So, Buddhists would agree that what we experience, see, conceive of, even to the point of space and time, physical objects, etc., is in some sense a constructed world (and in this sense they come quite close to Baudrillard's idea of hyperreality), but they would say the fact of being, which goes beyond the constructed world and into a sort of timeless ground, also has implications for us as human beings. It induces, in a strange way, certain things which cut across every constructed picture, whether we believe in it or not; one can come up with words for these things (which of course are inadequate); for example, "compassion" would be something most Buddhists would argue arises from the nature of this ground, regardless of the constructs we adopt. Of course, the idea of "compassion" is itself just a construct, but they would say this construct, nevertheless, in some inexpressible way, comes out of something which is not in itself constructed.

April 20, 2007

Some people I miss very dearly, and I think they may have disappeared forever. But people can and do come back.

April 19, 2007

I think that leadership is largely about recognizing that you have nothing: and giving it away.

April 18, 2007

Why are the school shootings in America always in small towns or suburbs far from urban centers?

April 17, 2007

Been going to kung fu class --- haven't done martial arts regularly for years. It feels good to be back, practicing martial arts, even with my creaky body. Familiar, invigorating. It's kind of weird, though, that Shaolin, which started out being the first Zen (Chan) temple in China, reputedly started martial arts in order to help monks have the fortitude to meditate, now is mostly about kungfu, and only a little about meditation (though I have heard they are trying to revive the meditation aspect). Also, in a coincidence, just finished American Shaolin, written by a friend of Sue's sister, Lilian, who spent two years in China studying kungfu at the original Shaolin Temple. Very amusing, even if sometimes over-the-top, book.

April 16, 2007

Alyse Emdur (who is 23 years old) sent me this link to the "real PacMan" a while back, saying that it reminded her of her youth. Of course, this reminds me of MY youth, too, even though my youth and hers are separated by a large gap. Maybe growing up with video games is one thing that really characterizes the generational split that I feel seems to have happened just around my year --- that is, I've noticed I have more, culturally, in common with people younger than me (even a LOT younger) than even people just a few years older. We seem to share certain things --- growing up with video games and computers (though I'm old enough to remember the Atari...) is one of them.

April 15, 2007

"The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work... when you go to church... when you pay your taxes."

April 14, 2007

It's not so much giving up in the sense of relinquishing any sense of what might happen in the future, but rather giving up a single-pointed emphasis on achieving a specific result; not fatalism, but rather letting go of a particular outcome. Moreover, we tend to hold on not only to the idea of some future goal, but also are unwilling to risk change. Yet, ironically, being open to the possibility of losing anything and everything allows you not only to take the risks necessary for growth and change, but also increases ones appreciation for (and access to) what you already have.

April 13, 2007

Lee Iacocca gets mad. I've never been a big fan of Iacocca. He supported George W. Bush in 2000, and even in 2006, supported the Republican candidate for governor of Michigan, Dick DeVos. However, what he has to say about this Administration is hard to argue against:

Am I the only guy in this country who's fed up with what's happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can't even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, "Stay the course."

Stay the course? You've got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I'll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out!

You might think I'm getting senile, that I've gone off my rocker, and maybe I have. But someone has to speak up. I hardly recognize this country anymore. The President of the United States is given a free pass to ignore the Constitution, tap our phones, and lead us to war on a pack of lies. Congress responds to record deficits by passing a huge tax cut for the wealthy (thanks, but I don't need it). The most famous business leaders are not the innovators but the guys in handcuffs. While we're fiddling in Iraq, the Middle East is burning and nobody seems to know what to do. And the press is waving pom-poms instead of asking hard questions. That's not the promise of America my parents and yours traveled across the ocean for. I've had enough. How about you?


April 12, 2007

Meanwhile, Amber writes about Jean Baudrillard's death last month:

Baudrillard is dead. The prophet of simulation is dead. But in the age of simulacrum and simulation, can one really die? Baudrillard is a mere image now, but was he (or we) ever more than an image shimmering in the desert of the real?
What is the real? Baudrillard's beautiful thesis was:
Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory - precession of simulacra - it is the map that engenders the territory and if we were to revive the fable today, it would be the territory whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map. It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges subsist here and there, in the deserts which are no longer those of the Empire, but our own. The desert of the real itself.
What is inherently interesting about Baudrillard's idea is that the symbols no longer refer to the real; they are themselves pure simulation, disconnected from the real. We have, therefore, not one reality, nor even one simulation, but in fact an endless precession of signs, which in their combinations of simulation and reference, create a glittering matrix of interweaving simulations with none which are themselves the ground. The ground cannot be found in any of the signs --- which is to say, there is no simulation which can act as a definitive stand-in for what was once called "the real".

But. There is one small caveat which I would like to add --- and this is a point of some controversy. "The real" has long been thought to be something that one could, in theory, refer to --- and I think Baudrillard is correct that this is not a possibility, in the sense that there cannot ever be some sort of correspondence between a sign and its "referent" as a means of inferring truth. In this sense, the idea of truth cannot be ascribed to any sign system in the sense of a correspondence theory.

However, and this is the controversial caveat I need to insert here: there is, nevertheless, a fragmentary quality to every simulated world. That is to say, simulations themselves are not closed, which is to say, they have gaps. One can change from one simulation to another; it is possible to replace a simulation; to end one and start another, to relate to and participate in more than one at the same time. Can one exist not as an identifiable world, but as the transcendence of every simulation? That is to say, that which cannot be directly referred to, that which is outside every simulation --- a ground, so to speak, for being (that word which one might be loathe to utter, lest it resurrect the tattered remains of the real)... but not a ground which can be identified?

I would say: yes. We can BE that which is beyond all simulation, that which allows us to recognize that every simulation has gaps, has tears, so to speak, without ever admitting to the possibility of actually saying what that "being" is. In this sense, truth is still banished from discourse, and perhaps with it "the real" in the ordinary sense, but being remains, big as ever: in fact bigger than is possible to conceive. It is this last step which I think is the characteristic of the age to come, as well as every age we've ever participated in, in the past.

April 11, 2007

It seemed like it would never happen.












April 10, 2007

We have a strange relationship to food in America --- a tremendous emphasis on being thin, dieting, etc., yet it's demonstrably the case that dieting and all that entails not only doesn't work in most cases, it's dangerous to your health. My mom is fond of Mireille Guillano's view that this stems from a fundamental misconception that we Americans have regarding our relationship to food. Rather than going on weird "diets" and obsessing about food, instead eat for pleasure, go ahead and eat rich foods and desserts and so forth, just savor every bite. If you eat what you like, and avoid the "dieting" mentality, it is far more likely that you'll end up naturally eating in a healthful way; if you're enjoying your food, then you don't need to eat as much of it to be satisfied. It seems like obvious common sense yet it is a wisdom that seems to escape us here. (Also: if you gradually lower your intake of food, rather than suddenly as in going on a diet, then your stomach actually shrinks, causing you to feel full sooner --- without any need for contrived measures whatsoever). We Americans tend to treat food as fuel, sustenance; whereas Guillano believes we should celebrate food, and eat for pleasure.

April 9, 2007

I think one of the chief impediments to love is that we can hardly believe we are worthy of it. We think there must have been some sort of mistake, or perhaps some ulterior motive. This may eventually come to light, we secretly fear. But can we just let love be what it is?

April 8, 2007

The woods up in Irvington are quite lovely to walk in.

April 7, 2007

One of the most beautiful poems ever, by Rumi. Katharine sent this to me; she has been having intense realizations recently. She said it expresses it very vividly. I shed tears of happiness reading this...

My Worst Habit

My worst habit is I get so tired of winter
I become a torture to those I'm with.

If you're not here, nothing grows.
I lack clarity. My words
tangle and knot up.

How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.
How to cure bad habits? Send me back to you.

When water gets caught in habitual whirlpools,
dig a way out through the bottom
to the ocean. There is a secret medicine
given only to those who hurt so hard
they can't hope.

The hopers would feel slighted if they knew.

Look as long as you can at the friend you love,
no matter whether that friend is moving away from you
or coming back toward you.

Don't let your throat tighten
with fear. Take sips of breath
all day and night, before death
closes your mouth.


April 6, 2007

I want to go see GrindHouse --- I'm actually not a fan of horror or gore, but I am a fan of Tarantino's genius, and that's enough for me. Plus, while I'm not as big a fan of Rodriguez, Rose McGowan with a machine gun stump for a leg --- it's to die for.

April 5, 2007

Heather Anne and I had tea today and we were remarking on how strange it is that people often find it nearly impossible to let go of an idea, or a world view, even when they are presented with overwhelming evidence that contradicts the premises of their world. The problem is not that they don't recognize the contradictory nature of the evidence; it's that their minds are inured to simply moving within the confines of a small number of degrees of freedom, and because of this they would rather construct rationalizations and epicycles to preserve the latticework of their perspective than move contrary to that. Heather Anne mentioned how much she loved reading Flatland --- I think it should be required reading for most anyone.

April 4, 2007

Google Desktop is now available for the Mac.

April 3, 2007

Check out Miranda's new book site which Heather Anne Halpert called "the best website ever." (Which is high praise coming from her, as she's a professional user interface designer/architect!)

April 2, 2007

FuckedCompany 2.0: April Fool's joke. The thing is, though, the Web 2.0 boomlet is still not crashing yet, in fact it's far from over. It's very hard to hire (as I have been discovering) and it's easy to get hired. Eventually there will be a crashlet to go with this --- but the industry I think is maturing. The crashlet will be a lot less traumatic than the last crash, though, I think.

April 1, 2007

I just got back from Toronto. Caroline A., who is from Montreal but currently lives in Toronto (and she actually loves Toronto), sung this Radio Free Vestibule song to me about the city:

I don't want to go to Toronto
I don't want to go
All of the blocks are square
None of the streets are twisted
None of the streets are paved with bricks
There's too many elevators in Toronto
Not enough stairs in Toronto
Not enough stairs
All of the food in Toronto is made of edible oil products
They don't have bagels in Toronto
They have doughnuts
Doughnuts made of edible oil
I don't like doughnuts
They don't have bagels
I don't want to go to Toronto
People don't have faces in Toronto
They have cigarette ads instead
They listen to your phone calls
There's a tower in Toronto that controls people's minds
It's illegal to possess brightly coloured balloons in Toronto
Illegal to own brightly coloured balloons
All of the children in Toronto must wear suits
Even the girls
Three piece suits
The buildings in Toronto have no windows
I don't want to go
Everyone lives in sub-terrainian caverns
Filled with doughnuts made of edible oil
I don't want to go
Nobody goes to the bathroom in Toronto
They have a special operation
They have it removed surgically
There's a tax on all wicker goods in Toronto
There's huge buildings with no windows
And streets with no curves
And inside you find little girls in suits
Running around with black balloons
And munching on edible oil products
The kids don't have names
They have numbers which are assigned to them at birth
They're called three hundred and eighty seven point seven
Four hundred and twelve point nine
And they all have cigarette ads instead of faces
I don't want to go to Toronto
I don't want to go
I have plenty of wicker goods
I don't want a tax on my wicker goods
I like going to the bathroom
I don't want to go the hospital
I don't want to go to Toronto
I don't want to go
Do I have to go to Toronto?
Do I?
Do i have to go?
I don't want to go
Do i have to go to Toronto?
I don't want to go