Sunday, April 24, 2011

Notes from Crime and Punishment:

Rabelais, encyclicals, leitmotif, fustian, chintz, titular "councilor", pg. 11-12: "compassion ... forbidden", pg. 182: "Now for the Kingdom of light...", pg. 254: "Lycurgus"pg. 286: "the servants say he 'read himself silly'", pg 314: "Freedom and power, but the main thing is power.", pg 338: Gogol?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

reading: One Hundred Years of Solitude

I've been reading A Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I can't do it justice in the way of praise.

Here are some of the notes I've jotted down about it. I keep a blank paper for a bookmark, and I jot stuff down as I read. This tiny list of quotes do not even begin to tell the magnificence of this novel, but these are simply a few random quotes.

Page 104: the explanation of Liberals and Conservatives:
"Since Aureliano at that time had very confused notions about the difference between Conservatives and Liberals, his father-in-law gave him some schematic lessons.

The Liberals, he said, were Freemasons, bad people, wanting to hang priests, to institute civil marriage and divorce, to recognize the rights of illegitimate children as equal to those of legitimate ones, and to cut the country up into a federal system that would take power away from the supreme authority. The Conservatives, on the other hand, who had received their power directly form God, proposed the establishment of public order and family morality. They were the defenders of the faith of Christ, of the principle of authority, and were not prepared to permit the country to be broken down into autonomous entities."
Page 179:
"And then he would sleep like a stone that was not concerned by the slightest indication of worry."

Page 185:
"The certainty that his day was assigned gave him a mysterious immunity, an immortality for a fixed period . . ."
Page 202:
“The parish priest began to show the signs of senility that would lead him to say years later that the devil had probably won his rebellion against God, and that he was the one who sat on the heavenly throne, without revealing his true identity in order to trap the unwary”
page 208:
"Cease, cows, life is short."
page 212:

Taken out of context, it won't mean much, but the pages leading up to this passage makes the passage itself reveal the most beautiful woman in the world (in the mind's eye). It is difficult to explain:
"... and then she uncovered her face and gave her thanks with a smile. That was all she did. Not only for the gentleman, but for all the men who had the unfortunate privilege of seeing her, that was an eternal instant."
page 214:
"It seemed as if some penetrating lucidity permitted her to see the reality of things beyond any formalism."
page 216:
" . . . the secret of a good old age is simply an honorable pact with solitude."
page 220:
"The only candle that will make him come is always lighted."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

words I wrote down while reading THE SECRET HISTORY

Here are some words (and a sentence) I wrote down while reading The Secret History, by Dona Tartt:

Lycidas
The Phaedo
ebullient
celadon
Persephone
"Any action, in the fullness of time, sinks to nothing" (nahil sub sol novum)

words

loafers, fortify, rimbaud, malthus,Knossos, Gregory of Tours, steelwort, P G Wodehouse

Friday, April 08, 2011

Unfocused Rambling for Friday

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves."
— St. Paul


I am getting old and cynical. I've seen too many things to believe in anything anymore. The endless days, sunrises and sunsets I've never seen, but the day between, sunny or cloudy, getting and spending, watching television and driving here and there.

This life, whatever it is, this biological spasm that is a human being, with thoughts and memories and ideas about "who" it is and what it is supposed to do is nothing. This machine made of meat, eating and breathing and sleeping ... what is it for? What is this creature, what is this result of biology? Why does it exist? I am simply a mammal on a planet hurtling through the void of space under a thin layer of atmosphere, guided and commanded by my stomach, to get along in a world full of funny monkeys who make funny monkey rules.

Speed Buggy and Grape Ape

Lonely dirt roads lie in monochrome between black silhouettes of winter trees under slate gray skies. There wait silent afternoon rooms with shafts of sunlight illuminating motes of dust, the dry aging grandparent, waiting for a phone that will not ring, waiting for a visitor who will never arrive. There stands the homeless man in the future, thinking back on comforts lost, shivering on an autumn evening sidewalk. A television babbles names and events I no longer recognize. The news seems to have happened a thousand times before. There are men and women much younger than I in places of power doing cruel funny monkey things. They are mouthing slogans and writing funny laws. They doing foolish things, they are demonizing their brothers and sisters, as if all of the history books in the world have been ignored, cast aside, and held in contempt. As if their Christ wasn't watching from above. How will we treat the poor? Will we throw them to the wolves? Will we make their poverty a crime?

Are the troubles of this world any different than they have ever been? Are the solutions so unique that we can't figure them out? For every hungry child, somewhere in a bank vault, or on the hard drives of a bank computer is a hundred thousand dollars. For every homeless child there is a million pounds of gold in an underground vault.

What sad song could sooth this digitized heart? What synapse could ease this addled mind? What angelic spirit will descend on these well-heeled monkeys with their fascist madness and remind them that whatsoever you do to the least of your brothers and camels and needles and whatnot? Can the Beatitudes be made into a vaccine against heartless greed and wholesale corruption?

Gomer, Genie, and Dr. Smith.

We are head down at our keyboards, adding to the Internet hive-mind while a child goes hungry. Our comments are witty avatars of the deeper meaning of ourselves. Our neighbors are strangers and our countrymen are enemies. We bomb and kill and scheme while in Africa, our little brothers and sisters are starving and freaking out with guns and machetes, yet we do nothing, because although the world has gotten very small, we cannot hear their cries over the sound of our big screen televisions and our shiny new phones.

But we can hear that sweet crude, the ghosts of dinosaurs and ancient trees crying out to us to save it from its underground tomb, to free it so that it can breath itself through our cars and jets and boats into the atmosphere, so that someday it can burn the atmosphere away, and all the monkeys will fry in the sun and freeze in the winter when the fossil exhale has burned away the insulation.

Lawrence Welk and Jerry Mathers.

I lost the thing in my brain that allows things to be filed in the credulous column. My credulous column is gone. All of our heroes are frauds. Anyone who would change this system is swallowed up, compromised, fed talking points and their lofty ideas are reasoned down by the system. The system in place transcends leaders and revolutionaries. A corporation is a person, but it cannot go to jail. It has no sympathy for the weak. It is the perfect sociopath. A government is a living entity with no soul, but a survival instinct as real as that of a viper. If God is real he has forsaken us. He has turned his head and moved on to a different planet. We are on our own, forgotten. No one is driving the bus.

John Wayne and Paul Lynde.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

REBECCA BLACK'S "FRIDAY" AS AN EXAMINATION OF THE EXISTENTIAL YOKE OF TIME ON MODERN MAN.

by

Dan Manning

In this essay, I will demonstrate the deeper meaning of the lyrics of Rebecca Black's widely panned "Friday." Much has been said about this young woman's debut single, much of it negative. I propose that this is not a shallow, poorly produced bubble-gum pop tune, but a deep analysis of man's existential conundrum, addressing the relentless passing of time, cultural pressures on modern man, and the nihilistic existence that is modern life.

Let us examine the first line of the song:
7am, waking up in the morning
Here Miss Black points out the inexorable grind of modern life. Why does she have to wake up so early? What demands force us to be awake so early in the morning, when you should sleep late? Throughout the world, mankind is on an endless, relentless treadmill of activity and toil. Everyone must get up in the morning and be a "useful" part of society. Rest and idleness is frowned upon. School for children, work for adults. Everyone is expected to be up in the morning. Only the idle rich and the unemployed get to sleep in; both groups have nothing to offer society, so they are cast off. So Miss Black must get up in the morning, although, as everyone knows, it is better to sleep late, as the Beastie Boys explained in "Mark On The Bus" on their 1992 album Check Your Head:
"...you should sleep late man, it's much easier on your constitution..."
But Miss Black cannot sleep late, man, and the stress of social pressures is already pressing in, as she states in the very next line:

Gotta be fresh, gotta go downstairs
Why does she "gotta" go downstairs? Through her offhand, almost throw-away line, she reveals much. She does not want to go downstairs and face another day, but she must, and not only must she "go downstairs," she has to "be fresh" while she does it. What demand is there that she be fresh? For whom must she be fresh? She must be fresh for a society that demands not only freshness, but also a "positive attitude". Despite all the decay around us, declining standards of living, greed and corruption in our social institutions, high unemployment, and a bleak future for young people, she is still expected to be "fresh". No one is allowed to look sad or be grumpy. Everyone must be "upbeat." Read Brave New World for a deeper examination of this social norm.

The next line is very revealing:

Gotta have my bowl, gotta have cereal

Like an animal to the trough, she must scoop her bowl of chemicals into her face. There is no time for a real breakfast. There is no time to interact with her family, which is not mentioned in the song at all. Where are her parents? They too are on the treadmill of getting and spending, too busy to sit with their daughter even for a few minutes to talk. Perhaps they will text each other during the day. Miss Black must be educated so that someday she too can ignore her offspring. "Gotta have my bowl" could also be a subliminal reference to drug use. Does she need to have a "bowl" of marijuana to help her cope with the stresses of modern life? We may never know. Either way, her breakfast is brief, and here we come to the crux of the song, the most damning lyrics of all:

Seein’ everything, the time is goin’
Tickin’ on and on, everybody’s rushin’
The crushing drumbeat of time is relentless. Here Rebecca Black says a great deal about society in just a few concise words. Everybody is rushing. Everyone today is in a hurry to be somewhere, to do something, to communicate some idea. We expect instant gratification, we expect instant communications, and we have no patience for anything that might slow us down. Her family is yoked with the burden of the clock, constantly rushing them to the next thing, to the next meeting, to the next class, to the next job interview, to the next stoplight. Look how we drive: on the freeway we race to be in the front of a pack, and if we get in front of that pack, we accelerate to run down the next pack of cars, as though there is some "front" of everything. Miss Black's family, in this song anyway, is simply described as "everybody." Our families seem like "everybody" sometimes, but as soon as Miss Black leaves the house, she joins the throng, the family of mankind, to rush to her next appointment:

Gotta get down to the bus stop
Gotta catch my bus, I see my friends (My friends)
I had to consult the video to understand what happens in these two lines. Miss Black reluctantly goes to the bus stop, where the institutional system will swallow her up. Had she taken her place on the bus, her individualism would have immediately been diminished as she is forced to conform to rules and regulations, schedules and seating charts. It is only the arrival of her friends in a convertible that saves her from having to enter the dark maw of the bus's interior, where in the dim light she would be seated next to the random bits of humanity that makes up a student body. School is an artificial social situation, where individuals are thrown together in ways that they would normally never accept.

But the arrival of her smaller circle of friends, with a means of transportation to the school, relieves her of this burden, and she joins them, but not before making a serious decision: Which seat should she take?
Kickin’ in the front seat
Sittin’ in the back seat
Gotta make my mind up
Which seat can I take?
This is a puzzling stanza, because really, what difference does it make? Just get in the car. At least you're not on the bus next to the runny-nosed kid with the Pokemon cards, right? But after further consideration, her conundrum seems important. Even within her small circle of friends, there is a pecking order of some sort. We all favor some friends over others. Should she sit next to the boy in the back, possibly leading to some sort of romantic encounter? Her question, in context of the video, seems more baffling because there are only two bucket seats in the front, and the front passenger seat is already occupied. Does the girl in the front seat have such low self-esteem that she would let someone kick her out and make her sit in the back? I will defer such arguments, and take the lyrics without the context of the video. Her choice, or her need to think about the choice of what seat to take also speaks to the love affair American culture has with cars. To ride in the front is "cooler" by far than riding in the back, and riding "bitch" (in the middle seat) is no fun at all. So her choice is relevant in today's society. But whatever choice she makes, she'd better make it quick, or she will be late for school.

It’s Friday, Friday
Gotta get down on Friday
Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend, weekend
Friday, Friday
Gettin’ down on Friday
Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend
This stanza is the heart of the song, and it speaks to the grind that is the other four days of the workweek. It speaks to the eternal alternation of labor and rest that is our American system. But how does one even know it is "Friday"? The arbitrary naming of the days of the week, the division of years into months, and months into weeks, and weeks into days is completely artificial. How does one "know" the name of the day? All of society must agree to these arbitrary conventions. We are trapped by an artificial division of time, a schedule that everyone must follow. And how does the "weekend" come about? It was only through the labor movement in the 1920s that we enjoy our weekends, and it wasn't recognized nationwide until 1940. But why is everybody "lookin' forward to the weekend, weekend?" Was this not already covered by Loverboy in their 1981 treatise, "Working for The Weekend" off of their smash hit album Get Lucky?

The lyrics that follow are more puzzling:
Partyin’, partyin’ (Yeah)
Partyin’, partyin’ (Yeah)
Fun, fun, fun, fun
Lookin’ forward to the weekend
The ancient craving for the bacchanal is no less prevalent today than when it was prohibited by the Roman Senate in 186 BC. Miss Black expresses man's craving for release from the stresses and banality of modern life, a need to be exalted, to be carefree and surrounded by trusted companions and accepted by one's peers in a spirit of friendship and celebration. Here she expresses the same sentiment found in countless country and western songs. The repetition of the word "fun" has been mocked by countless Internet kibitzers, but is it not an expression of man's universal search for happiness, even a moment's respite from the stresses of survival and acceptance in a world increasingly uncertain, where all of our pillars of civilization look less stalwart than they were in the past, and where strife and war seems on the verge of tearing civilization itself apart? Can Miss Black be blamed for her cries of adulation for the bacchanal?

Less than thirteen hours later, Miss Black's dream is made reality. The school day is completely skipped in her narrative, and she is with her friends:

7:45, we’re drivin’ on the highway
Cruisin’ so fast, I want time to fly
Fun, fun, think about fun
You know what it is
I got this, you got this
My friend is by my right
I got this, you got this
Now you know it
Again the nod to America's car culture. We identify with cars. The linear movement through space over time gives us a sense of power and clear purpose. She reaffirms her confidence in herself ("I got this") and her confidence in her companions ("you got this"), but what is the "this" that they have control of? Is she expressing her confidence that she and her friend can make manifest the "fun" they are so intent on having? Does it not throw a question about the certainty of the fun they are going to have? Is there a risk that they won't have fun?

There is an apparent contradiction in the above stanza that must be addressed: Why would she want time to fly? If she is having fun, if her abandon is complete, if she is enjoying mindless frivolities with her close circle of friends, one of which is seated at her right hand, as the Son of God is seated at the right hand of the biblical God, then why would she want time to pass even more quickly? The answer is clear. She speaks to the fact that even in our celebrations, we are thinking about the next thing, the next appointment. We are always mindful of time. There was a time before mankind divided the day into hours. There was a time before clocks, when men lived in harmony with nature. Miss Black points out that we are all slaves to time, even in our moments of abandon and joy.

Yesterday was Thursday, Thursday
Today i-is Friday, Friday (Partyin’)
We-we-we so excited
We so excited
We gonna have a ball today

Tomorrow is Saturday
And Sunday comes after...wards
I don’t want this weekend to end
Again Miss Black examines even more deeply the trap that is arbitrarily divided time. She cannot escape the measured movement of time. The stresses of Thursday are still in the back of our minds; the failures and triumphs follow us into the weekend. The loose ends of the workweek bedevil us, even as we seek joy in our abandon. Why are the revelers so excited? Because their time of celebration is fleeting. The weekdays have encroached so close upon Friday, and there are only two days left before the workweek starts again. Monday lurks like a specter on all of their frivolity and joy. Her determination to "have a ball" today underscores just how little time she has. Everyone must schedule their fun around the immovable Monday that follows all weekend activities. The weekend can be unpredictable; the weekend is an open canvas of unknown possibility. The work week is so predictable, so soul-crushing in its predictability, one has to rush, one has to hurry to get as much fun as possible packed into three days (or two, if you have to go to church!) that we run about, we scurry about hurly-burley, trying as we might to capture as much unpredictable fun as we can, but there is never enough time! How succinctly Miss Black has put it! From the mouth of children, there is Wisdom! The above stanza has been universally mocked. Why does she rattle off the days of the week? It is so obvious! But is it? How often do we consider how we are all cruelly bound to the Wheel of Time? When do we examine the short span of time we have here on this earth? She expresses her wish that the weekend would never end. Have we not all thought that at one time or another? Have we not all looked on Monday as a kind of dread?

Despite the deep, meaningful lyrics, this is a horrible, horrible song. I watched as much of the video as I could stand to get an idea of what everyone was complaining about, and indeed, there is much to complain about. But even in this atrocity that is the video "Friday," there is much that can be learned.

About Me

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I am the author of 8 books: Android Down, Firewood for Cannibals, Brain Giblets, The Cubicles of Madness, Booze and News, Get Your Zen On, Zen Happens, and most recently, Robot Stories. I live and write in Michigan. My website is at danmanning.com

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