Al Sarrantonio’s “The Cult of the Nose” has been following me around all day.  Appropriate, since the story is about a secret cult that shows up at massively traumatic events.  People in catastrophic photos are wearing fake noses.  The protagonist tracks them down.  I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s obvious how it has to end.  The story makes me think of two things.  First, structure.  Massumi calls structure that place where nothing happens.  The Cult of the Nose is structure, and the story comports to that theory of how structure works.  Second, why Nose?  Is it because the nose is a hindrance?  It shadows our eyes, it is a permanent blot that we somehow learn to deal with.  It’s obtrusive, and a cult that wears a fake nose which is larger than actual noses must be especially competent or powerful to embrace such a handicap.  That’s the Nose on the field of vision.  But there is something else, dealing with smell and its primacy and/or subsequent downplaying.  Not sure.  yet.

Germany and Argentina played to-day.  The intersections of these two is rife for more conspiracy theories.  Watched for Noses.  As well as Martin Borrman.

Even though I read a lot of Zizek, I am not intolerant of multiculturalism.  I do see proof of the argument that it’s counterproductive, but rarely.  And it does make us feel better about ourselves; there is value to that.  However.  The emphasis FIFA puts on ending racism seems overly cynical to me.  Racism is a problem among futballers and their fans.  It makes sense to reach out and try to prevent these racist outbursts, but these measures are too demonstrative.  I wonder if they are so demonstrative precisely because those in charge are either racist or see the problem as too big to overcome and so they do it as a distancing move.  I may be cynical, but this distancing move of the over-the-top protest is a more insidious cynicism.

Sarrantonio, Al.  (2010).  The cult of the nose.  In Gaiman, Neal and Al Sarrantonio, eds.  (2010).  Stories: All-new tales (304-312.)  NY: William Morrow.

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I’m not sure it qualifies as a distraction, since the series of interviews done by The Believer are writers talking to writers, usually about writing.  Reading this stuff is necessary to be a writer.  Meh.  In any case, this morning I read “Vendala Vida talks with Shirley Hazzard.”  Hazzard is a voracious – and vicious, if you believe Graham Greene – writer, and she had some of the better stuff to say in this series of interviews.  The one that left me stunned was, “one wouldn’t dare put into a novel the amount of coincidence that occurs in life itself.” (100)  What stuns me about this is how true it is.  My life has been ful of coincidence and my biggest complaint with stories is how full of coincidence they are.  I should probably temper my ‘bullshit’ threshold.  As long as the line between coincidence and deus ex machina remains solid.

I have also been catching up on The Office.  Netflix streams it, so the cost is sunk if I watch it or not.  Some episodes bore me, but some are great.  The best portion of the show is Michael’s hatred of Toby because Toby is the one person that constantly calls Michael on his silly inappropriateness.  Which brings me to a thought about politeness.  Slavoj Zizek:

Are not all good manners based on the fact that “what is said is not what is meant”?  When, at a table, I ask my colleague “Can you please pass the salt?”  I do not say what I mean.  I ask him if he can do it, but what I really mean is that he simply should do it.”  (13-14)

It’s not the most persuasive of examples, but it does get at what he is trying to claim.

Hazzard, Shirley.  (2003).  Vendela Vida talks with Shirley Hazzard.  In V. Vida, ed.  (2007).  The Believer book of writers talking to writers (97-109). San Francisco: Believer Books.

Zizek, Slavoj.  (2010).  Living in the end times. London: Verso Books.

Sometimes, critique of ideology is just a matter of displacing the accent.  Fox News’s Glenn Beck, the infamous Groucho Marx of the populist Right, deserves his reputation for provoking laughter –  but not where he intends to do so.  The dramaturgy of his typical routine begins with a violently satiric presentation of his opponents and their arguments, accompanied by a grimacing worthy of Jim Carrey; this part, which is supposed to make us laugh, is then followed by a “serious” sentimental moral message.  But we should simply postpone our laughter to this concluding moment: it is the stupidity of the final “serious” point which is laughable, not the acerbic satire whose vulgarity should merely embarrass any decent thinking person.

Zizek, Slavoj.  (2010).  Living in the end times. London: Verso Books.  4, footnote 2.

Slate’s Daniel Engber has a nice article up on Slate.com about why we root for underdogs.  I have always been fanatical about rooting for the underdog when a team I am not a fan of is playing.  I had always thought this was my mechanism of making sure I was fanatical either way when watching a contest.  I attributed that need to a sense of functionality, that if I did not care about the outcome then the time invested watching the contest was wasted.  Ursa taught me about the notion of slack, undermining this utility orientation.  I like that, but how then do I reconcile that thought with the impulses inculcated within when a team of which I am a fan of is playing?  Being a fan, fanatical, is, after all, the very standing in opposition of sense, of slack in this instance.

All of this takes me to the portion, even if tangentially, of Engber’s article that struck me the most: the Marxist criticism of The Underdog.  It’s the same myth as the American Myth, that the poor and the marginalized can rise above the odds.  So then I should reject my stance of rooting for the underdog.  Maybe instead I ought to embrace the Yankees as the uber-Capitalist.  A stance of overidentification.  I reminded here again of Zizek’s illustration of overidentification: M.A.S.H. (Robert Altman: The Player) vs Platoon (Oliver Stone: Natural Born Killers) .  Both are anti-war but the comic criticism pales in comparison to the overly violent Platoon.  I can live with being a cynical Yankees fan, of course, that’s easy since I do not purchase team paraphernalia, even of the teams of which I am a fan.

After all, this sort of overidentification can serve as part of what needs to be done: a patient ideological critical engagement.  Since the Zizek seal has already been broken (I am working through a new, to me, Zizek book, as if it was not obvious) I will cite him directly:

We should learn here from the failures of twentieth century Leftist politics. The task is not to conduct the castration in a direct climactic confrontation, but to undermine those in power with patient ideologic-critical work, so that although they are still in power, one all of a sudden notices that the powers-that-be are afflicted with unnaturally high-pitched voices.  (2009, 7)

Zizek, Slavoj.  (2009).  First as tragedy, then as farce.  London: Verso Books.

Dinkytown
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To-day’s short story is from the same anthology as yesterday’s, M. Szereto’s Getting even: Revenge stories.  Tony Fennelly has a funny story about killing an Aries (“How to kill an Aries”) using his self-centeredness and recklessness against him.  It’s funny if only because I know people like this (I wonder when they were born as I have some curiosity in astrology even though I do not [want to] believe.)

My main issue with this story and much contemporary fiction in general is that authors tend to neglect buyer’s remorse (the mechanics of desire.)  Plans are put into place and they come to fruition.  Sometimes there are unintended consequences but these effects are about the contingent and precarious nature of living and acting socially.  While these questions are valuable, an even more valuable question is the remorse people feel when they actually get what they want.  Thomas Jefferson once said, “the best way to convince someone they are wrong is to let them have their way.”

The main character in this story is happy when her plan comes to fruition.  She just killed her husband and while her life will be better off for it, she should, while still in the hospital, be struck with a sense of loss and “what now?”

I am reminded of one of my first assignments as a Beltway Boy.  Once a year in Morgantown there is a block party near the university, not unlike the one recently held here in Minneapolis, and the police decided this particular year to break up the party even though there had not been a single complaint.  Not unlike last week’s Dinkytown “riot”, we need to notice the increased deployment of this term by the police, the police were overly hostile and caused more damage than there would have been by allowing the party to party itself out.

The police had overstepped their bounds and a lesson needed to be taught.  Soriano has a friend who played football as a Mountaineer, and this friend’s sister was married to brute of an ass who was also one of the very cops that over-reacted, laughing as he shot drunk college students with rubber bullets.  He was the obvious choice for a lesson.  ‘Metaphoric condensation’ is how George referred to it.  I was surprised that George, a terse bowtie wearing famous pundit, read Zizek.

We broke into the house late one night as they slept and using chloroform we put Nikesha into a deep sleep.  Soriano and I pulled Elliott, bound and gagged, onto the porch.  We sat him down and George talked to him.

“Do you know who I am?”  Elliott shook his head affirmatively.  “Good.  Then you know that I am conservative and the last person to think these kids ought to have the run of the place.  When police officers act stupidly the way you did you make it harder for all of us.  You embolden the liberals.”  George always over-enunciated and even his attempts to use the vernacular still sounded prissy and over-educated.  “Now you can tell people we were here, but nobody will believe you.  You may end up receiving a Section Eight.”  Elliott sighed and looked down in what appeared to be acquiescence.  “Good.  Here is how you should have handled the student riot.  You should have brought in a fire truck and sprayed cold water over the top of the crowd.  It was cold that night and they were drunk.  Drunk people like to fight but they hate to be cold.  That would have been the humane thing to do.  You will remember that, will you not?”  Elliott nodded.  “You need to also be nicer to your wife or we shall return.  Do you understand?”  Elliott nodded.  We left him on the porch, bound and gagged for the neighborhood’s amusement as Nikesha was still been asleep well after sunrise.

The plan went off without a hitch and yet I felt guilt and a complete lack of satisfaction.  Eventually we had to pay Elliott another visit, before the next year’s block party so the effectiveness our plan was never tested.  However, the Morgantown PD have never rioted before while responding to the block party and yet that potential sign of success does not squash my sense of buyer’s remorse.  Sadly the Minneapolis PD now has some answering to do for their over-reaction last week.  What is even more sad though is the Star Tribune’s purchase of the PD’s spin of necessity and restraint.

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Church of Scientology of Hamburg (Scientology ...
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One of the eternal follies of old age is the delusion that you have a duty to record your insights into the nature of humanity before you perish, overlooking the fact that they are already common currency in every bar or taxicab in the world.

Thanks to Alfred Armstrong over at Odd Books for this flash in the pan brilliance.  The problem though is that old people know their wisdoms are common currency, they just want affirmation, to shock the youngins and/or want attention.  Spouting this craziness is just more fun.  When with a certain close group of friends we tend to become verbally rowdy and say things we would never actually say becasue we either do not believe them, are not creative enough when sober and/or do not care enough to fight our way past the knee-jerk reacting liberals up here in the tundra.

In any case, I think I may start writing about conspiracy theories.  These people seem to have a ton of fun and I want to join in.  Being the kook in the corner at a party might be a neat place for once.  9/11?  Inside job.  Autism?  Vaccines.  Vatican? Mouth piece for gloabl elites controlling all the money.  It is already more fun.

Plus, what better way to discount them when I decide that I’ve had enough fun?  For example, Scientologists.  Downtown a few days ago there was a protest across the street from the Scientology institute (institute?).  The people were in masks, they need to be anonymous because the Church of Scientology is known for being super letigious against protestors, handing out leaflets and carrying signs.  Meanwhile there was a guy acors the street rightin front of the place dressed in a coat and tie.  He would stop passerbys and talk to them.  He came off as a sincere Scientologist.  Too sincere.  He was very creepy and I think he was actually protesting by over-identifying and turning people off of Scientology: “if that guy is one of them, then I want no part in it.”  Zizek talks about this, somewhere (I am currently being lazy), in the context of resisting militarism.  He claims Platoon does a better job than M.A.S.H. because of this same over-identification strategy of resistance.

I like that logic, but I wonder how effective either can be as a stand-alone strategy.  The uberScientologist may push people away but do they actually think less about the group without knowing there is a criticism as well?  MLK needed Malcolm X.  Young people need old people if only for their reactionary sentimentality that drives progress and a disdain for traditions.

BTW, if Scientologists are not Christians why do they display a cross?  Does the cross make them appear to be less non-Christian than they are?

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I have just started reading the new Roberto Bolano book, 2666, the very one that is making all kinds of waves for its immanent changing of literature.  I will make some comments here as I work through it.  It is a massive tome so it may take me some time, but I guess that is then why god invented the ‘next item’ button at the bottom of the RSS viewer.

In his introduction of Liz Norton, Bolano says that she does not have the drive present in the other three characters.  My ears always perk up when I cross this word because of its complex and ubiquitous presence in psychoanalytic literature.  Drive, according to Zizek, “persists in a certain demand, it is a ‘mechanical’ insistence that cannot be caught up in the dialectical trickery: I demand something and I persist in it to the end.” (1998.  Looking awry.  21)

I will probably butcher the theory here, but the demand is, in short, the opposite of desire.  We are driven to something not because we are told to want it and not because we are told to not want it.  The drive harkens back to the fundamental lacuna.  It is this reference that makes Zizek and Bolano arrive at the same conclusion: drive is in opposition to “the word life [hence ‘death drive’], and, on rare occasions, happiness.” (Bolano, 2004, 8)  The obvious difference though is that Zizek believes true happiness is best found by following the drive and enjoying the symptom, whereas Bolano has set up the binary in the other direction.

Needless to say he has already struck upon some ground that is both deep and also treacherously close to the jagged rocks lurking below the waters.

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