#terrorism, Civil rights, Democracy, essay, Europe, Uncategorized

as to Robespierre…

the following is an edited & expanded version of a response I gave to a friend during a very enlightening & intelligent discussion of the historical & ethical “meaning” of the French Revolution

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as to Robespierre, I agree with you on him being a complex individual, but I don’t think he was a contradiction so much as someone who falsely believed human beings could control the development of history through compromise & constant action. He was too much theory without the introspection & introspection needed to put it into achievable action.

as to him behaving like a king or a god…. He never had as much power personally as the King did or even some of his ministers. He had to work with a powerful Comittee Of Public Safety & had to carefully juggle the needs/demands of the burgeoning proletariat & the newly empowered bourgeoises. Most of the actions that he took that contradicted his own moral & ethical beliefs he took because the People wanted them done, or at least the representatives of the People claimed it was what the people wanted or what the Republic needed.

I think his actions need to be put in context: France had just emerged, violently, from a nearly millinuim long tyrannical/feudal regime that effectively enslaved, maimed, starved & abritrarily imprisoned & killed millions over its existence. The Republic, whiche Robespierre & his compatriots, & many (but by no means all of course) of the people truly believed in, was born into immediate danger from the monarchies surrounding it & hoping to reenslave the people. Robespierre did some truly stupid & awful things, but he also set the example for a system that could aspire to rule in the name of the People instead of a the whim of one man’s, and his favorites, desires.

It of course did not work out the way it was intended, but that of course ascribes to the actors of the time a hindsight that no one possesses. Robespierre, in the end, went from being a theorhetician to a political actor, trying to preserve his ethics along the way. In doing so I think he found it was better to sacrifice his ethics for what he saw as the good of the people, & the survival of the Republican experiment.

Robespierre though, I believe sincerly, he was doing what was in the best interest of the public good & the good of the Republican system. Furthermore, he believed the Republicans system was essential to preserving the public good, to preserving any hope for a society not founded upon the divine right of kings or of the needs & rights of human beings be subordinated to the financial & social concerns of a miniscule, undeserving elite. We too often look at history as though it is a map leading us down a road to the inevitability of the present day. This is myopia common to Liberal, Conservative & Marxist historians, a failing we radical thinkers & actors should not shy away from admitting. It is one of the failings of Robespierre himself, a failure of imaginationm, of understand how there is not always one correct path. One thing Robespierre never lacked, however, was courage. One who was afraid to put his very life & morals on the line would never have written

It is time to designate clearly the purposes of the revolution and the point which we wish to attain: It is time we should examine ourselves the obstacles which yet are between us and our wishes, and the means most proper to realize them: A consideration simple and important which appears not yet to have been contemplated. Indeed, how could a base and corrupt government have dared to view themselves in the mirror of political rectitude? A king, a proud senate, a Caesar, a Cromwell; of these the first care was to cover their dark designs under the cloak of religion, to covenant with every vice, caress every party, destroy men of probity, oppress and deceive the people in order to attain the end of their perfidious ambition. If we had not had a task of the first magnitude to accomplish; if all our concern had been to raise a party or create a new aristocracy, we might have believed, as certain writers more ignorant than wicked asserted, that the plan of the French revolution was to be found written in the works of Tacitus and of Machiavel; we might have sought the duties of the representatives of the people in the history of Augustus, of Tiberius, or of Vespasian, or even in that of certain French legislators; for tyrants are substantially alike and only differ by trifling shades of perfidy and cruelty.

Is this the sentiment of a tyrant? Was Robespierre, he who desired no office or title more grand than Commitee Member & Citizen, he who died with little more than a meager pension & a pensioners flat to his name, was he this man out to “oppress and deceive the people in order to attain the end of [his] perfidious ambition”? I think not & I see no evidence in the historical record or in this man’s life or writings to justify condemning him to that political Tartarus inhabited by the likes of Stalin, the Borgia, Hitler, Ivan Grosny & so many more like them.

The Terror, that great, much maligined and mythologized means that has not yet reached  a satisfactory end, was not a paranoid purge, or genocidal rage or even a spasm of revenge against a particular class. No, it was a fever in the body politik, the stupid, desperate, sublime, but most of all sincere striving of a people trying to understand  & build an entirely new  system. The Terror was no less than a cannibalistic attempt to purge itself of its own self-loathing & self doubt, the neurosis of people who had only ever known slavery & degredation. From this struggle was born the idea of The People as a dynamic, worthy force of history & nature. Nationalism, industrial militarism, and a new form of fascism were the deformed sibilings of this great moment of self-realization, but we must, as with anything else, take the good with the bad.

There is no dialectic without dialogue between our worst & best impulses as human animals. Today, we forgive violence that frees the slave, frees “markets”, and frees “hearts and minds”; why then can’t we seem to forgive the violence that midwifed our modern world, our contemporary praxis? It is with shame that one looks back on the violent, messy origins of oneself, ones’ being. It is no different for we post-modern People, we who live in the age which copes with the dirty secret of our own conception by mythologizing it, shrouding it in fantasy and telling ourselves, “that was then, that was they; now is better, we are who we need to be…” The lie of progress, the myth of outcome, excelsior, ever better, ever brighter…all the while more and more violence & terror is needed every year just to preserve the self-concious chaos we call the Modern World; more bloodshed & brutality than a hundred Terrors. I go back to the words of Robespierre, that man call, without irony, incorruptable

From all this let us deduce a great truth: the characteristic of popular government is confidence in the people and severity towards itself.

The whole development of our theory would end here if you had only to pilot the vessel of the Republic through calm waters; but the tempest roars, and the revolution imposes on you another task.

This great purity of the French revolution’s basis, the very sublimity of its objective, is precisely what causes both our strength and our weakness. Our strength, because it gives to us truth’s ascendancy over imposture, and the rights of the public interest over private interests; our weakness, because it rallies all vicious men against us, all those who in their hearts contemplated despoiling the people and all those who intend to let it be despoiled with impunity

[…]

If the spring of popular government in time of peace is virtue, the springs of popular government in revolution are at once virtue and terror: virtue, without which terror is fatal; terror, without which virtue is powerless. Terror is nothing other than justice, prompt, severe, inflexible; it is therefore an emanation of virtue; it is not so much a special principle as it is a consequence of the general principle of democracy applied to our country’s most urgent needs

Is this not the ethos, the creed, the moral gospel of the Modern age? The pivot upon which the contemporary world turns? Why do we continue to deny our birth, our origin, our founding creed? Is it not because we can no longer stomach the face we see reflected back at us by history’s mirror?

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2016 Election, essay, Funny, Satire, Uncategorized

A Crude Speculative Freudian Sketch of Donald Trump

 

The following is

a thought experiment

derived from some musings on Twitter. Conclusions are my own & are in no way to be taken as anything more than speculation. The following should not be read by anyone (with apologies to Matt Stone & Trey Parker)

***

Mark my words, one reason Ivanka is getting a White House office is so she can more easily facilitate her affair with 

  1. Ivanka was the only child to stick by father after he allegedly raped his wife Ivana. I think they’ve been having incestuous affair for years

    I’m pretty convinced is having an affair with his daughter Ivanka, which probably started out, unfortunately, as abuse

    when she was a child, but Ivanka is now using the physical relationship w/ her father as way to leverage power for herself & her husband

    Trump relates to life libidinally; see the way he relates to & thinks of women & how he sees his business dealings as a practiced form of conquest/domination of others, witness also his obsession w/ phallic structures & possessing superficially attractive objects & people & his obsession with carrying on his (father’s) name

    Camille Paglia was derided for aptly analyzing libidanally & understanding, but not buying into, his raw psychosexual power

    Trump relates to himself as a product of his own will, he is constantly “building” himself into something more “valuable” & expanding his “brand”. His family is the ultimate product of his brand: he lives in a purely Freudian world where his sons are extensions of himself (his penis) & his daughter is the ultimate sex object (product)

    Like many narcissists he has an essentially self-loathing core & is therefore is often most truthful in his off the cuff moments in public & online, where he’s admitted, among other things, his sexual attraction to his daughter. He communicates his true thoughts through projection

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essay, Guns

NIU ’08: My Experience With Gun Violence

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I have been a life long opponent of gun culture in general & open carry/unlimited access in particular. I have studied the issue for years but one thing that cemented my hatred of guns, though, on a personal level was my experience as a student at Northern Illinois University in ’08. I lived at Neptune East Dorm, which was about 100 yards from Cole Hall, where most of the big general science classes were held on campus. I had a GEO 101 class that got out @ 2pm. I walked back to my dorm. I remember looking out my window of my dorm & seeing an armed SWAT guy and I also remember that I saw my own dorm window on my TV, live and broadcast from a helicopter camera. I ran out into the lobby just as people started streaming into the dorm. They were panicked and some had blood on them. The dorm went into lock down and I found out later that the shooting had happened at 3:05, only about an hour after my class ended. I am autistic so my feelings can be hard for me to express and to understand.

I felt numb over it for weeks but I sort of convinced myself that it had not bothered me at all but I think it sent my depression into overdrive, in an indirect way (or maybe direct? At the time I didn’t see it that way but in retrospect I can see that was probably very naive of me) & I left school soon after. It had been a while in coming, and many other things went into my decision to leave school, but I think the shooting may have made me feel unsafe. I had thoughts of being shot in my class, but didn’t talk about it because I felt I didn’t have right to feel traumatized as I wasn’t hurt and didn’t know anyone who had died very well. I also probably had a bit of PTSD-ish sort of feelings. I don’t talk about that time in my life very much anymore, but it confirmed my belief that any gun designed only to kill or maim a human being is an evil tool that has no place in a civilized society, especially not in schools.

Cole Hall was a packed auditorium classroom & I can’t IMAGINE how much worse it would have been had some open carry people decided to fire back. we can’t control the actions of people who want to do harm w/ a gun but we can make sure that guns are not readily available in public folks who are scared & filled w/ adrenaline are NOT people you want firing back at assailant. No gun class or gun range prepares someone for that sort of situation. A “good guy” w/ a gun in Cole Hall would have led to more death/chaos. SWAT is trained to be calm under pressure, especially not  Mr. Weekend Warrior who thinks his 9mm can protect everyone around him. A “good guy” w/ a gun in Cole Hall would have led to more death/chaos. A SWAT Officer is trained to be calm under pressure. Mr. Weekend Warrior is not. The NRA is wrong & only wants to sell guns to enrich its clients in the Gun and Ammunition industries. One should never have to worry if a firefight will break out during a shooting, if the guy next to you will hit you or those you care for out of some surge of macho entitlement or a misguided savior complex. A gun doesn’t make you a superhero, it doesn’t make you more responsible for the safety of others and It certainly doesn’t make you a “good guy”. So when people tell me I don’t know what I am talking about regarding guns and that I should be quiet I respond by saying: I do the research, I pay attention & I lived through a shooting.

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essay, racism

3/4 White OR How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Hate My Privilege

Polished Shoes

Polished Shoes

My Grandmother, the one I actually adore and like, is from Ecuador originally. She is a gorgeous woman, the sort of woman who at 80 still has men flirt with her & try to get her attention. She enjoys it now, I think, but she did not enjoy that attention back when she was a recent immigrant to the United States from Quito, Ecuador, in the early 60s. She fled a terrible relationship and went to the United States so that her children could have a better future away from the alcoholic, abusive male chauvinists who ran her family and her country. She struggled being a young hispanic woman in the early 60’s era Chicago Suburbs. She had to leave most of her children, my aunts and uncles, behind out of necessity, leaving them back in the country she loved but also had to flee. She worked any job she could so she could save up enough money to bring her kids over. All the while she had to fight off, literally, the lecherous advances of everyone from her managers, her co-workers, her neighbors and even her landlord. A story she frequently told us as (probably far too young) children was about whenever the rent came due her fat ugly white landlord would come and try and break down her door so that he could rape her. She laughed about it as though if it were a plot from a favorite movie, but I am sure that laughter was covering up a lot of pain and rage. She never showed that side of herself to me or my siblings or cousins though: she was always a happy, smiling, generous, boisterous and proud Latino woman who loved her grandchildren and obviously loved the life she had created for herself and her family.

She married my Grandfather, the son of a German speaking Polish immigrant, and had two more children, my father and my (full) uncle (I consider all my Ecuadorian born relations fully my relatives as well, even though technically they are “half” uncles, aunts, and cousins). My Dad was a small fellow growing up, someone who today would be the sort of adorable mixed race child who would grace a Cheerio’s commercial or star in a PBS children’s shows, but back in late 60’s-early 70’s DuPage County, looking like he did didn’t do him any favors. My Grandmother would dress my dad in small business type suits and sent him off to school with a briefcase and polished shoes. My grandmother meant well, she really did, but a little brown boy in tiny business attire made a great target for the richer, bigger, and meaner white bullies who would torment him, beat him, and steal his money every day on his way to school. My dad laughs about it now, but I am sure that experience was something akin to a living Hell. As he grew older, he began to look less “brown” and he grew into himself more, becoming a high school wrestler, started to write, and generally began embracing his strengths. Today you would have a hard time guess he was Hispanic at all, except for his ease at attaining a tan, and I know that has probably helped him in the intense and superficial sales world he has made his living in throughout his life. He can now “pass” and is more or less fully embraced by the white society that used to shun, humiliate, and torture him for the audacity of his brownness. My dad is a very open-minded fellow, very kind and also probably the least prejudiced person I have ever met. He is patient and kind with everyone, though he has told me that some of his white co-workers over the years have tried to bring him into their little “white man” club, mistaking him for someone who wants to listen to their disgusting bigoted opinions about their black or Mexican co-workers. Appearing white and being male seems to be a green light for bigots to try and rope you into their foul prejudiced worldview.

When I was born I was clearly different. I didn’t really like being around people that much, outside of my family, and I did not like to go outside of my house or yard to do things with other kids. I was quiet in public and polite to point of being strange. I liked nothing more than being in my room, reading my books, playing with my sisters with their barbies and my action figures and G.I Joe’s, coming up with ever more elaborate stories that made no sense to anyone but me. It is clear now that I was an autistic child, and now I am an autistic adult (I was not diagnosed until I was 21…mainly because I was homeschooled but also because my mom is autistic as well and we really thought I just took after her!). At the same time, I am a white, cisgender male born into the middle of the middle class. Privilege was something I was born with and that benefits me in ways small and large that I will never completely understand. I look totally white. You would never guess I have a grandmother whose first language was Spanish and who looks like Inca royalty. With my red beard, dark blond hair, green eyes and printer paper pale skin you would guess I was full blooded Nordic (I am 1/8th Swedish by the way). The worst teasing I ever got was having some brats throw pebbles at me at the play ground one time because I was a “nerd” who actually liked playing with my sisters in public. Not really a story of hardship and adversity, was my childhood.

That being said, I grew up thinking that EVERYONE had a grandmother who was brown and spoke Spanish fluently. I thought EVERYONE had Uncles and Aunties with olive skin and thick black hair. It was quite a shock to me to realize that this was not at all the case, especially not for little boys and eventually young men who looked like me. As soon as I grew old enough to have a desire to go out and do somethings in the public world, I began to realize how much a privilege my looks really were. Nothing was ever really hard for me, not getting part time jobs (even though I was and still am a terrible employee) nor getting into the school I wanted to get into. I have never been pulled over, I have never been stopped by a cop, I have never been condescended to because of my appearance, I have never been profiled in a bookstore or a shopping mall because I look like “the sort” who would shoplift. In other words, I am as much a part of the status quo as the brick post office or the VFW building: I am “normal”, I am what an American is “supposed” to look like. Being Autistic it took me longer than would otherwise be the case to realize that I was in fact “normal”: In my own mind I am such a strange, esoteric, out of place person who does not understand people. The idea that I did NOT stand out was alien to me, but I started to realize this fact as I got out into the wider social universe. White people, men especially, would assume I was “one of them” and would crack their cruel jokes about “those people” and women. Not having any sort of social filter, my discomfort and displeasure would be apparent on my face and would usually be enough to drive these sorts of people away. I am the sort of person who will tell a stranger or someone I barely know that they are “wrong” to their face. This tends to upset, or at least unnerve, a lot of people, white men especially.

I always fit in better with people who did not look like me: the Pakistani-American kids I worked with at the college library embraced me because I didn’t crack cheap terrorist jokes or make distasteful comments about Muslim women. The foreign born and foreign exchange students liked me because I listened instead of talking, and I was genuinely interested in how they viewed the world (I love geography, and I love cultural history of all sorts). I made friend with women easily because I didn’t try to get in their pants and I didn’t condescend to them. I grew up with 3 strong and independent sisters and a very feminist mother, so even IF I had had a misogynist inclination, it would have been figuratively “beaten” out of me at a young age. As it was, I never saw women as the different species that most men seem to see them as. I think my autism has something to do with my lack of prejudice: I tend to see everyone as a sort of blank face that I slowly fill in as I get to know their patterns and their quirks.

That is not to say I am some sort of perfect liberal paragon. The insidious part of privilege is that you are not SUPPOSED to be aware of it when you have it, and combined with my autistic inability to read social situations well I have certainly made some faux pas and hurt feelings in ways I will never be aware of. That knowledge depresses me (I have clinical depression so this is not altogether strange for me) and it worries me constantly; it is one of the reasons I avoid contact with many people. I hate the idea that I could inadvertently hurt or marginalize another person. I hate my privilege even while I benefit from it every day. My lizard brain, the part that seeks to avoid stress and pain, of course enjoys the fact that I can go through life as an unmolested, benignly invisible person if I so choose, but the moral me, the human me, despises that privilege and wishes that it would be wiped from the face of the Earth forever.

Today I am a Anarcho-Socialist writer/artist/editor in the working class who is generally happy and comfortable who does everything he can to make sure he does not make others feel like my dad and my grandmother felt in their respective youths. I write and I create, but what I try to do most of all is to make sure that I leave people feeling better for having met me. There is no greater gift you can give to the world than to make sure that you do not make life more difficult for others. I suppose there is more I could do, more I could say, but I am still only 28 and I have a long way to go before I fully understand myself, my world, and the privilege I inherited, like a stolen heirloom, and still use, whether I like it or not.

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Conservatism, essay

“I’m Just A Monkey on A Gun”: The REAL American Sniper

Chris Kyle at Work

Chris Kyle at Work

Is this what it has come to in this nation? Are people like Chris Kyle really supposed to be celebrated like a “hero”? Men who admitted in their own autobiography that they looted the houses and bodies of the people they killed in Iraq, who calls the people he killed “scum” and celebrates their death as a sign of American exceptionalism and a step towards more American “freedom”?

A man whose supporters attack others with rape, death, and assault threats for daring to even express dislike for a movie made about him? Is this a hero? A man who said he enjoyed killing and would do it all over again? We are supposed to celebrate that? On the day we celebrate the life of a true hero, Martin Luther King, Jr., a man killed by a sniper, a film is out in theaters about a man who killed 200 people with a rifle. There is something perverse about that. Something wrong…something sick in the American spirit that we can find room in our hearts to celebrate as heroes people who kill others in the name of a freedom that they then rail against and denigrate at home whenever someone they do not agree with exercises it in public. “Kill the ragheads!” “Death to liberals” “That feminist should be raped!”…we see this online and in person every time some one has the temerity to dare and question the conservative myth-making industry. We must move past such false heroes as Chris Kyle, abandon them and call them what they are: drones, enforcers of power and privilege, or in other words, Cowards.

The US Public has long celebrated cowards, people who do with their fists and their guns what they cannot or will not do with their minds or their hearts. It is part of our American inheritance, our Imperial ethos, the same sensibility that could turn Christopher Columbus into a hero and the Native Americans into perennial villains. It is the faulty nature of American morality itself, our collective belief that our power is good, or rage is justified, and our desires matter more than anything else.

So, in conclusion, and to put it as simply as I possibly can: If you think “American Sniper” Chris Kyle is a hero, you are morally repugnant. The man was a racist, xenophobic, sociopath mass murderer and confessed war criminal. Move on and grow up. As Chris Kyle said about himself, quoted in a profile posted on CNN, [http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/03/us/texas-sniper-killed-kyle-profile/] : “I am just a monkey on a gun.”

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essay

The New Vocabularic Life of the English Poet

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In English one can find hundreds of languages distilled, word by word, into something accessible for the poet. French has something to offer, as does Spanish, and certainly German. You will come across a Russian Samizdat or an Arabic bazaar, and many other words have been so assimilated into our common repertoire as to have lost all any timbre of foreignness to English ears. The challenge of the English poet has often been to take in this huddled lexicographic masses, yearning to breathe free, and to make them as much a part of our heritage as they are in their native tongues. This has come about through translation, inspired readings from the classics of other nations, and from sure curiosity and wonder at the variety that came, exiled, from Babel.

No language is so foreign to our own, and poses so great a challenge to art, as our own mother tongue. We have lost much more than we have gained, over the years, and we find ourselves impoverished when it comes to new way of expressing the old ideas that make up the stuff of poetics. We always look for the newest imports to carous with, but of the old friends, decrepit and left lonely lost in the pages of the OED? Old communities of ideas that were once vibrant and sensational in their own way are now lost or mere curiosities without use to the modern wordsmith. We owe it to our audience, and to ourselves, to try and resurrect some of these old terms and to breath new life into our language by recourse to what once was. It is poets who keep a language alive and vibrant for our generation and those to come and it is equally our task to make sure the work of past wordy mixture and genius and is not lost in the long shadow cast by neologisms and exotic new terms fresh from the docks.

As poet myself, and as the son of a poet, I grew up in a world where words held real value and were playthings for growing minds. As with anything one can grow tired of the familiar and the well-worn and begin to crave what is not readily accessible or easy to use. Words are the toys of the intellect and the more we collect the more, and more deeply, we can express our own thoughts and desires. No painter is content with using Prussian blue over and over again; he wishes to create with different hues and colors unfamiliar. We grow weary when we must go back to the same well over and over again and sometimes it is enlightening and rewarding to go a bit further for our mental nourishment.

So many times we look to the clouds and see planes flying there. To what do we compare them but to birds? Maybe that 747 is in fact more like a steel nepheliad, a nymph of the sky, a creature of elegance and beauty that dances between the clouds? This word does not limit our minds, as does its avian counterpart; for how many times can we sour like cranes or geese before we grow tired of imagining ourselves as fowl? Travel then to a sky painted on a grecian urn and look down from above with the eyes of fair nymphs, creatures that inspired lust and excitement in the mortal minds of the past. But do not be ashamed at not thinking of this word first of all. Such deficits of imagination instead pudify, indeed a more elegant way of describing disgust at our own alphabetical limitations. Already English is seeming less staid and more intriguing to us!

We praise eloquence when we encounter it, rightfully so because it is rare enough, but we too often associate this word with the practical use of language to inform and to enrich other minds. What of he who is equally skillful with words be whose aim is more nefarious?

Fallaciloquence is a word that is godsend when we wish to praise the pursuit of the un-praiseworthy practiced skillfully and beautifully. We have know a co-worker or a friend who seems uniquely gifted at worming his or her way out of a task or responsibility with gorgeous ease. We can now accurately name their skill and categorize their genius appropriately. Their Fallaciloquence will never again go unheralded. Our pride may begin to swell now that we have been introduced to such interesting ways of communicating, but wouldn’t it be far more colorful instead for our pride to gumfiate? It has the same meaning but has the taste on the tongue of an old vintage, a word that perhaps our great great great grandfather may have used to chastise the hubris of his boastful brother at the pub. We can transport ourselves to different times with just a few syllables and rearranged letters.

Poetry, like so many of the arts, has been dazzled by the spell of post-modern thought, the tearing apart of old forms and the rejection of traditional ideas of beauty. I say “tear away!” Reject all you will, but remember that what was beautiful was for a reason and can be again if only we revolutionize our way of constructing old forms. ABAB BCBC may seem like a chain linked to a boring and limiting past, but even this meter can be revitalized with some new choice words

 

Roses are red

And Violets are blue

Take me to bed

And I’ll love you

 

A bad poem, too cute and familiar by half, and a poor invitation to a night of carnal pleasure. But what if we play about with the words a bit? Can we find something fresh in this stale composition? Let’s try. What are roses but red? Are they titian, perhaps? And what of blue? So much blue; moods, skies, eyes. It is tiring. But perchance blue is beryl? There is a novel word! Not often we see a “y” used at such a place. So where does that leave us with the poem?

 

Roses are titian

Violets are beryl

Our love can be Grecian

And not quite so sterile

 

Is it a good poem now, with these new words? I think so. It is charming at least and suggest a ribald night ahead where boundaries may be pushed and new physical possibilities explored. You may hate it, but you certainly cannot say it is any more boring than the tired alternative. Even if it is despised by its recipient you can be sure that there will at least be some questions as to the words used, and this can lead to some rather fertile conversation! Words are too often used to introduce topics of discussion, to usher us to better and more interesting things. Words should, themselves, be an incitement to ventilation. What could be a more interesting topic at your next drinking party then the word chanticleer? Now there is a truly delectable cock tale!

Many poets get into the business to woe and to seduce, words being the ultimate aphrodisiac (get thee behind me, oysters!). To pay the perfect compliment to the object of one’s affection can be rewarding in so many ways. But there are only so many “luscious lips” and “fulsome breasts” that can rhapsodized over. But, if you were to inform your sweetheart of your appreciation of her callipygian posterior watch as her eyes widen and her breath quickens. There is praise that is not quite so cliched! And if your beloved is of the male persuasion? Fear not! Unique words of praise are not just of use in describing the fairer sex; his strong features may in fact be pulchritudinous. And why call him your lover when he could be your virile inamorato? There is no need for love and lust to fall back on boring modes of description. Even romance can be a time to exercise your vocabulary.

My advice is aimed at those of us who are poetically inclined but that does not mean that the lay person cannot get in on the word fun! We must throw out our Webster’s, or at least throw them back onto the shelf. Instead let’s bring out our Thesaurus and, even more valuable, or Etymological Dictionaries! Search the web for strange old terms, read obscure reference works, watch foreign films without the subtitles. Do anything and everything possible to expose yourself to words that would otherwise go undiscovered. Never play when  you could gambol. Sometimes we feel like a simpleton, but is it not better to be a foppotee? Always to quaeritate your own limitations. Never make the simple choice, be a sacricolist of language!

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essay, Film

RIP Harold Ramis…A Celebration of His Genius

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Harold Ramis died today at the age of 69. He was a talented actor, comedian, and writer but for me he will always be best remembered as a genius director. I could go on for pages and pages about his talent and ideas but instead I will limit myself to just a few words on what I believe is his masterpiece, the film Groundhog Day.

Everyone by now knows the plot of this great film. What people may not realize is how subtle and genius the philosophical issues underlining the plot are. It is essentially a story about a man living in a world he feels he cannot control. Phil (played by the grossly under-estimated and under-utilized Bill Murray) finds himself trapped in a time loop that causes him to repeat what may be the most banal day of his life. This film could have been nothing more than a comedy of errors that allowed Murray to run rampant through this little town using all the jokes and tropes in his bag of tricks but Ramis did not let the story go that route. Instead he gave Murray and the rest of the cast a task to explore what it means to be a human being confronted with the boring, bland and even oppressive monotony of the everyday. Ramis’ story is Nietzschean in its view of time and place, positing a eternal reoccurence of events and circumstance that starts out as comical and slowly moves on to the absurd, the tragic and then finally the transcendent.

This would not work the way it does if not for Ramis’ skill with framing scenes in such a way as to elicit a sort of cinematic/aesthetic deja vu. We do not see actors redoing scenes, we see them reliving them and in this it enhances Murray’s performance and allows him to interact with the characters in such a way as to bring out the desperation of a man who has realized that his life is a loop that is unable to be broken. We come to realize with Phil that the seemingly mystical redo of this day is not so mystical at all but just a more literal manifestation of the everyday. Nothing changes in the world, nothing except for how we react to it, the choices we make and the interactions we have with other people. For the first few days (or is it weeks, or years?) of Phil’s experience he continues to push himself to do the same thing over and over again, to try and recreate his experience from the perspective he brought to this town he did not want to visit to do a task he never wanted. But soon he realizes that he has a chance to not only change himself but to change the world around him. He learns to play the piano, he becomes an expert on the goings on of this town and its people, he makes friends, forms memories, and makes realizations about himself in relation to others. Nothing changes in the world around him but he changes, and through this he slowly begins to change the people and the world he interacts with. His interactions with his old high school chum, the insurance shill Ned, starts as a comedy of errors but Phil’s disdain for the man slowly becomes an affection that leads him to realize that in his own way Ned is trapped in his own loop. By interacting with him as a human being instead of just as an annoyance he is able to transcend the strangeness of their interactions and help release Ned from his nightmare, the everyday. This epiphany is repeated with other people, most notably his love interest played ably and believably by Andie McDowell, and most tragically with the homeless man who hides in plain sight on the margins of this little universe. He tries to help this man, to improve his life in some way, but continually runs into the true end of this endless loop: death. The man cannot be saved because this man has reached the end of his journey. Phil is thrown into a depression that is all the more profound because he once did not give a shit about anyone or anything. He tries to kill himself, countless times and in many creative and silly ways, but he cannot ever do the deed. Maybe this is because he is not ready to die? Maybe it is because he is not meant to? There is no answer to that question as there is no answer to the finality of death.

The the structure of the movie moves from cynicism to hilarity to farce to cynicism and eventually, inexorably to revelation. Not a religious experience, not some cheap throwaway message about eternal life or the inherent joy of existence. Instead change comes when Phil finally gives up trying to change the world and his circumstances and instead focuses on changing himself and being a good, compassionate friend to those around them. It does not matter in the end that they may not remember this or even reciprocate his generosity and friendship, what matters is the experience of the joy of the moment and the love of people and their flaws, stupidity, and imperfections. People are not meant to be perfected, they are meant to change. Change is not positive or negative but instead regenerative, a constant cycle of renewal and growth that, like the idea of natural selection in nature, moves the individual into greater harmony with and understanding of the world around them. The world itself, the whole, changes so slowly that it may as well be the same day over and over again. Phil embraces this and that is when he is freed from this perverse parody of the everyday.

It takes a real visionary to be able to take such a basic set of tools and turn them into something truly profound. Harold Ramis achieved that feat with Groundhog Day. Groundhog Day may be the most successful American comedy of the past 50 years in regards to its honesty, creativity, humor and craft. I try to watch the film at least once every year and I am continually inspired by Ramis’ ability to take what is essentially a ridiculous concept and turn it into a sort of  transcendent examination of what it means to live day to day and how our own choices are the main way we escape the drudgery of life. It is a perfect existentialist examination of what it means to be a person living in a world that does not change save for the actions of each person.

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