Friday, December 31, 2010

A New Chapter

As the sun goes down on the final day of the year 2010, I'm researching and preparing for a new chapter in my Roam. Early next year, my lady and I will be moving to Austin, Texas. The Texas part does not sound appealing at all. Though I've never been in the state, its reputation doesn't make it a sought-after destination for me, especially not one I'd like to leave California for. But, the more I read about the city of Austin, the more eager I am to get over there.

The main reason for the move is my girlfriend's desire to attend a culinary school situated over there but it seems my own situation has had its walls cave in to the point where I've been desiring to get up and escape to somewhere else for months now. There's no doubt that I absolutely LOVE California. There is also no doubt that I cannot afford to live here right now, especially at a point where I'm ready to dive fully into my writing and see what comes of it. I also do not want to stay in one spot right now, I'm 25 and I want to see the world, experience different places, learn how to support myself as an adult in different environments, before settling down in one city, however beautiful that city may be.

I plan on writing a big post devoted to all the things I'm going to miss in San Diego. I feel like I haven't even scratched the surface of this city's treasures since I've been here and so, as a goodbye campaign, we're planning on taking a couple weeks to just see and do everything that we can here before heading eastward.

That fact, that I'm going a couple time zones eastward now bothers me a bit. After living in the Eastern time zone my whole life, California felt like Never, Never Land. I was always able to comfortably watch the entirety of any live sports game without having to stay up past 10 PM and, more generally, it always felt special being among the last people in the contiguous United States who get to see the sun before it sets each day. Right now, as I type this it's 4:30 and still light out. My livingroom window, which faces directly south, shows the bright glimmers of the sun's rays breathing their last breath of 2010 all over the small courtyard of my apartment complex.

At first, the prospect of heading back eastward felt like going backwards. In 2008, I escaped Staten Island and traversed westward across the whole country to settle in the most southwestern corner of the map and I had fantasies of moving further out to Japan after that. Instead, I'm going back eastward to be immersed in the middle of the mix again. Reading about things like the "Keep Austin Weird" campaign, the city's proud status as the Live Music Capital of the World, and some other cool facts on Wikipedia (voted as the city with best people in Travel & Leisure magazine), I'm able to be much more accepting and even excited about trying out the new city.

Apparently, Austin is also the most active metropolitan area in the US when it comes to reading and writing blogs and, as I plan to take this blog (and my writing overall) to the next level in 2011, what better location could I choose as the center of my activities?

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Plenty of great happenings happened in 2010, not least of which is that this blog grew greatly in readership and content. I started it in late 2009 but barely wrote in it. It was 2010 when things really took off and I was mentioned on ESPN.com and the James Joyce Quarterly website. The posting content has slowed down a bit since then as I've devoted more of my free time to studying Joyce and watching too much basketball while my un-free time was spent at an increasingly stressful and low-paying job. Well, I'm quitting that job next week and will be devoting much work and attention to this site next year, especially once we get settled in Austin.

Here are the main writing projects on the agenda (what you might call "The 2011 Writing Projects on Which I Plan to Labor Resolutely"):

1 - The completion and presentation of my essay concerning James Joyce-Salvador Dali-Jacques Lacan. I am in the final stages of studying for this and will then bring it all together and submit it for presentation at the 2011 North American James Joyce Conference (for which, hopefully, I'll get to come back to SoCal). You can check out the early epiphanic realization that led to this essay if you read this post and scroll down a bit.

2 - My in-depth, chapter-by-chapter breakdown and study of Ulysses. I've been talking about this ever since I finished the book exactly 364 days ago. I've got plenty of notes already put together for it but still have a lot more work to do on it and this will be what I imagine I'll be working on most of the time in Austin. No matter how huge or awesome (or lame) it is, I will be posting the entire thing on this blog. People have told me that I shouldn't, that I should try to protect such work and copyright it, but I consider it to be a warm-up to the rest of my writing career. Same thing with the Portrait essay that's on here (and which is the prelude to the Ulysses project). I want to provide a full, in-depth, free online source to help people read and understand Joyce's amazing book. You can bet that I'll also be drawing in much of my other interests (like hip hop music) for the study and so it'll be a unique and entertaining experience.

3 - A possible book project with two of hip hop's best current lyricists. I won't delve into it though until it's official. But it's up there on the immediate agenda.

4 - When those things are done, the composition of my novel A Building Roam will then begin. The book documents my journey from growth in New York, migration to California, flutterings and sputterings in California, and eventual rise to artistic glory in....wherever the hell I end up.

5 - Of course, while all that is going on I will also stay active on here writing about sports, music, literature and a bunch of other stuff. With the addition of my iPad, I will try to document the move to Austin as much as I can because I imagine it'll be pretty exciting.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas thoughts

Typing this on my new iPad while in bed right now. Technology is amazing. Accelerating at an absurdly rapid pace. Watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button tonight and have remained in a bit of a reflective haze afterwards, seeing my life (past, present, future but especially the present) with a bird's-eye view. This led to a realization that Christmas is (for me at least) a marker of time, the conclusion of a chapter and the opening of a new one, more so even than New Year's.

The celebrated birth of baby Jesus in a manger, which by our calendar would have occurred at the exact instant that the year 1 BC turned into Year Zero AD, seems largely forgotten as the mythological meaning behind this yearly winter ritual of ours. The origin of December 25th as the celebration date, adapted by the early Christians so as to draw in followers of the (at that time) popular Mithraic cult, is also completely buried underneath the sands of time. One can make a convincing argument that Christmas is becoming nothing but an extremely powerful and pervasive marketing tool.

Around the age of 18 or 19, I went through a period where I totally rejected Christmas and everything it stood for, told my family not to get anything for me, that there was no reason to go out and have to buy me gifts and that I wouldn't be doing so for them. This lasted a couple years. All the glittery, childish memories of my Christmas past had been stepped on by cold reality, rationale, and reason. I started thinking and talking about how absurd it was that Christmas is always shoved in everybody's faces even though there are Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and many more religious groups that don't celebrate the holiday.

It was only very recently, last year in fact, that my perspective on the Christmas season and celebration completely changed. For Christmas in 2008 my parents flew me back home to New York and I enjoyed the opportunity to see and catch up with everyone in my family, but it didn't renew my so-called Christmas spirit at all, really. It just brought back memories. But last year, spending the whole season out here in San Diego and getting a full glimpse of this city's manner of embracing the holidays, plus enjoying my first ever Christmas away from home here with my girlfriend (who made every effort to assure I had a nice Christmas), I came to a new realization.

There is an undeniable beauty to the atmosphere of the Christmas season. Everything seems imbued with a sense of the magical and timeless and this is a good thing, something that has been disappearing in our modern industrial society but which was an integral part of our history. As I said above, the holiday season and Christmas have also transcended the church celebration of Christ's mythological birthday. It's as though the story of Santa Claus with his elves and reindeer in the North Pole has become its own Christmas myth, one that you need not be Christian to celebrate. Yes, of course it's totally fake, but we're talking about the realm of myth here. When considered, I think it's a beautiful thing that the season emphasizes giving and being thoughtful about others, trying to surprise those you love and make them happy. It's especially refreshing that we use this Santa Claus myth to encourage children to "be good for goodness sake" with the promise of reward for it.

The commercialization and overzealous promotion of Christmas is discomforting if not painfully annoying but if you can somehow manage to strip all of that away and see the holiday for what it really is, a season of selflessness, you'll realize there is something very special to this holiday and much potential in it. The glittery timeless realm created by the season lingers for a couple of weeks and when it's over, there's a sense of waking up, of rebirth, closing one chapter and starting a new one. The days will now start getting longer and we all have new tools (gifts) to help us get by with. You can bet this technological wizard wand, the iPad, will be immensely helpful as I continue on my own personal journey.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Macrophenomenal

For a variety of reasons (didn't have a TV or internet for a while, was focused on other things, etc) I drifted away from serious NBA fanhood during the last couple of years. While I managed to get into the playoff games and especially (with a die hard Lakers fan for a co-worker) the Finals, I had drifted away from reading about the happenings of the sport and watching any regular season games.

I've spent the last few months trying to get caught up.

The most glaring thing that slipped past my radar during that time is an extraordinary book entitled The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac written by the collective of minds that publish the blog FreeDarko. The book was released in November 2008 so of course I'm very late to the party but I must sing its praises anyway. I cannot remember the last time I was this blown away by a book of any kind, not just a sports book.

It looks beautiful, with hardcover binding (no annoying dust jacket) and glossy pages each of which has the color and eye-catching presentation of a children's book. Read the words in it, and you'll see it's actually a book for adults, particularly those who enjoy and follow the game of basketball. For basketball fans this is a tablet descended from hoops heaven.

The vision presented by the creators of this book portrays the NBA and its stars in what would be best be called mythological terms. When I was first flipping through it, I was actually reminded of Joseph Campbell's work. If that sounds a bit over the top, the writing does seem to maintain a humorous tongue-in-cheek backdrop the whole time while still casting its subject in a mythological and analytical light, throwing in references from the whole history of culture. The Almanac is a study of today's game broken up into six chapters, each devoted to an archetype like Master Builders (Kobe, KG, Tim Duncan) and Destiny's Kids (LeBron, Chris Paul). Each chapter contains three sections spotlighting players that embody the given archetype while each respective player has a "Spirit Animal" in their jocoserious profiles along with comparable players and other traits.

The players are described through essays, artwork, graphs, comparison, stats, and it all goes together perfectly and looks great.

While the writing is intelligent, clear and condensed, and the artwork is worth the price of the book, it is the presentation of the stats that is perhaps the most amazing thing about this book. I'm admittedly a stats geek when it comes to sports. Have been for many years. But I've never seen any book or website that presents the numbers in as cool and sleek a fashion as this book. The first chapter has a beautifully colored and very understandable graph distinctly showing how Kobe Bryant's 81-point game outdid Wilt Chamberlain's famous 100-point performance. Lamar Odom's uncommon variety of skills is highlighted in an extremely creative, brilliant graph comparing him to pretty much every other player in the league. Pictures painted with numbers and math.

Above all, though, this book is about style and it is a wonderful celebration of it. The opening pages display FreeDarko's "Periodic Table of Style" with symbols to represent each part of a player's game, representing "exactly what occurs in an instant revealing style as a mix of the physical, emotional, spiritual." Each player's section features a different Style Guide breaking down step-by-step their signature moves. Tim Duncan's is perhaps the best of these as his two-page centerfold guide breaks down the "fundamental mechanical concepts" of his post moves. Amar'e Stoudemire's explosive array of dunks are also a Style Guide highlight.

My favorite chapter is the one highlighting two relatively unknown players (the only chapter that combines two players); enigmatic, awesome, yet frustrating peacocks Josh Smith and Gerald Wallace. These two are given the FreeDarko treatment to the highest and most aesthetically pleasing degree, with a splendid, intensely colorful image of them in the style of Mayan art, a sleek and colorful graph of beads that displays their unique batch of skills, a short-but-sweet Style Guide, and a marvelous mandala inspired by the Aztec's calendar system depicting (of all things) the results of Hawks-Bobcats games.

Other highlights include the "Lunacy of Artest" displaying the moon's phase during some of Artest craziest moments, the Yao Ming aggression chart comparing the layup/dunk ratio of NBA big men, the appreciation of Rasheed Wallace (with cryptic Wu-Tang reference included), the whole Amar'e chapter, the LeBron James essay, the "Alchemy of [Gilbert] Arenas."

If there's an NBA fan for whom you need to buy a gift this year: get them The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac. It is a masterpiece. It doesn't matter if someone has just a small seed of basketball interest, this book will make anybody appreciate the NBA more than ever.

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The FreeDarko peeps collaborated with Adidas for some commercials last year and the result was a couple of pretty damn cool videos. Check 'em out.





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The crew has also just released a brand new book all about the history of the NBA. It's one of the top things on my Christmas list. Check it out here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Parsing Quashed Quotatoes

The newest volume of the London Review of Books features a great article all about Finnegans Wake. It is available for free at this link. With the release of a new updated edition of James Joyce's crazily brilliant dream book (which I mentioned back in March), Michael Wood examines the eternal appeal of this strange book while also reviewing the new version which contains over 9,000 corrections (though mostly minor ones). He also makes an entertaining comparison between Joyce and Lewis Carroll, with Joyce coming out on top because while Carroll "has a taste for sheer absurdity, the collapse or travesty of plausible meaning," Joyce does almost the opposite, constructing towers of meaning that are almost unfathomable. "Joyce, as far as I can tell, wants only to multiply meanings, and believes they will never end. We might miss a few, or a lot, and he himself might not always know what they are. But they’ll be there, and some day someone will find them."

(That last quote reminds me of the interpretation of the Wake described by John Bishop in his fantastic book, a procedure of divination similar to that of the I-Ching. The Western version of this approach is known as Sortes Virgilianae (Latin: "Virgilian fortune-telling") and it usually involves opening a book by Virgil at random and then interpreting it in relation to one's own situation. Bishop demonstrates that the Wake actually endorses this type of interpretation of itself.)

After reveling in the words of the Wake and the newest edition of it, Wood also takes the opportunity to review another new book all about the Wake. This new book revisits and re-examines the first ever attempt at explaining Joyce's book to the public. In 1929, a group of writers and intellectuals including Samuel Beckett, Stuart Gilbert and about a dozen others put together a volume of essays defending the brilliance of Finnegans Wake (which at that time was still being published serially under the title Work in Progress in a literary magazine) with the perfectly Wakean title Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination for Work in Progress. A group of 14 different scholars gathered together to critique the original Exagmination with the hindsight of over 70 years of Joyce studies and interpretation. (It must be noted that Joyce still spent another 10 years writing the Wake after that Exagmination had come out and stuck in a few puns mocking the title of the volume.) This volume, put together by Tim Conley, is cleverly entitled Joyce's Disciples Disciplined and it is, sadly, very expensive.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wu-Tang's Future Ringz

My brain has been a blob of mush lately and it's been hard to squeeze out any good writing so, while I try to get back on track and put together some material worth posting, I'll quickly share this.

Cilvaringz, the first and only European Wu-Tang affiliate (he is of Dutch Moroccan descent) has gained a reputation in the Wu community for sparking controversy with strong words for the United States and Israel in some of his music, but he's also known for being a masterfully gifted musician who represents the future of the Wu-Tang sound.

His first album, simply titled I (the Roman numeral 1 not the letter "I"), gave most Wu fans flashbacks to the mid-90s golden era with its sharp production interspersed with the wisdom of kung-fu flicks. It featured verses from Gza, Masta Killa, Rza, Raekwon, and numerous Killa Beez with beats provided by Ringz himself as well as Rza, 4th Disciple, True Master, DJ Mathematics and Bronze Nazareth.

Having just finished touring with Method Man and Redman throughout Europe for the whole month of November, Cilvaringz decided to briefly bless fans with a quick peek at the vaults. He posted a 24-minute video previewing instrumentals for upcoming Wu-Tang projects (among them Raekwon's upcoming album and Gza's Liquid Swords Pt. 2) and most of the beats are outstanding. Particularly in the middle of the session, there are a few instrumentals that are as cinematic as anything I've ever heard in any musical genre. Check it out:



My favorites are at the 5:00, 6:30, 9:10 (!), 12:20 (that ought to be the theme for the next Christopher Nolan Batman film), and 16:10 marks.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Hot Stove Ashes: Examining the Adrian Gonzalez Trade

The cold, fact-based, objective viewpoint:

Adrian Gonzalez was inevitably going to leave the Padres after the 2011 season. With his relatively cheap contract expiring, he would be on the market next winter looking for a new contract worth upwards of $20 million a year. There was simply no way the Padres, with their low budget ($38 million last year, second-lowest in baseball), could afford to pay him that much.

So general manager Jed Hoyer had a choice: either trade the team's best player or hold onto him and let him play out the season before he departs for greener pastures next year. Had he chosen to keep Adrian for one more season and then watch him leave, the Padres would've received a couple of compensatory draft picks for next year's draft. Instead, Hoyer swung a deal with his former employer to bring in a goodie basket filled with hand-picked minor league prospects. It looks like he made a good choice.

The return for giving up the Padre superstar consists of three Red Sox minor league players and the tenebrous "player to be named later." Having served as general manager Theo Epstein's righthand man in that vaunted Boston think tank for the last seven years, Hoyer knew exactly which players he wanted to take from them as these are the kids he originally studied, scouted, drafted and foresaw excellence in to begin with. Hoyer had also brought along the Red Sox director of scouting Jason McLeod when he moved over to San Diego so they certainly had an intricate knowledge of their bartering partner's goods.

Overall, the package looks great although each of the players are still in the stage of development.
  • Casey Kelly was the top pitcher in the Red Sox farm system, a righthander with great stuff and superb fielding ability (he played shortstop in the minors up until last year), he's still only 21 years old and will probably begin the season playing in Double-A but look for him to get some starts for the Padres later in the season. 
  • First baseman Anthony Rizzo was actually directly compared to Adrian Gonzalez by ESPN's Keith Law who noted that Rizzo played in Portland last year at age 20 (Gonzalez also played in Portland at age 20) while putting up slightly better numbers than Gonzalez in fewer plate appearances: .266/.344/.437, 34 doubles, 17 home runs in 573 PA for Adrian versus Rizzo's .263/.334/.481 with 30 doubles and 20 home runs in 467 PA. 
  • Reymond Fuentes is a speedy outfielder, seemingly the type of player the Padres should try to fill up their roster with since they play in such a huge ballpark where speed (on defense and the basepaths) is more valuable than usual. Fuentes is the cousin of Carlos Beltran but doesn't have quite the well-rounded skill set of his major league relative. He's seen as a high-average, speedy guy with great range which sounds a lot like current Padre farmhand Luis Durango but, again, that kind of player is worthwhile for the team that plays in Petco.
Leaving all the emotional stuff aside, this looks like a great move for the Padres. Listening to Hoyer as a guest on Darren Smith's XX1090 radio show during my drive home from work today he compared the deal to the Texas Rangers' sending Mark Teixeira to Atlanta for a bunch of prospects in 2007. Neftali Feliz and Elvis Andrus, who were acquired as prospects in that deal, went on to become big contributors to the major league team that made it to the World Series last year. He also asserted the organization's new emphasis on building a rich farm system that can consistently develop good young players and I think this haul is a great starting point.

Right now, though, these facts are about as easy to swallow as a handful of cold ashes for a Padres fan.


The warm, nostalgic, subjective San Diegan viewpoint:

So if these prospects pan out, develop and become stars in the majors, will we have to watch them leave for more money too?

Adrian Gonzalez was an absolutely perfect fit for the San Diego Padres. A Mexican American who was born and raised here in San Diego, he is an all-around awesome player who enjoyed playing here and, in a perfect baseball world without financial competitive advantages, he would have played his entire career in a Padre uniform, had his name right up there with Tony Gwynn for all the career batting records and eventually had a teary-eyed gray-haired goodbye years from now with his jersey number retired.


Gonzalez wasn't drafted by San Diego and he didn't begin his career here but he made a name for himself and became an established major leaguer and, eventually, a beloved superstar here. After being acquired from the Texas Rangers in 2006 at the age of 24, Gonzalez quickly became the team's best hitter in his first full season at the major league level. From there he had five straight seasons in which he barely missed a game, played superb defense, and slugged over .500 playing half his games in a ballpark that hitters despise.

Ultimately, though, he played too well as he ascended to the ranks of the best players at his position. With Mark Teixeira signing a monster contract for 8 years and $180 million and Ryan Howard raking in $125 over 5 years, the San Diego first baseman's worth went up. His agent started sending clear signals that there would be no "hometown discount" for the Padres to re-sign him. And now, just like that, he's gone. Off to the Red Sox where he'll battle the Yankees and appear on ESPN all the time. For a Padres fan, this tastes like burning ember ashes. Or like your girlfriend dumped you in the morning and could be seen in the passenger seat of her new boyfriend's Porsche that same afternoon.

Yankee fans don't experience that feeling. Even when a player reaches his twilight, when he thinks he's worth a whole heck of a lot more money than the team wants to pay, there's no worry from the fans. As devastating as it must be for a Padres fan to watch their favorite player (the team's best player) leave while in his prime, it's all the more painful that, simply because of geographical location, other baseball fans don't ever have to worry about such a thing.


My own viewpoint:

Just like with Billy Beane in Oakland, it'll be fun to follow this Padres team as Jed Hoyer tries to build an organization that can compete consistently with a low payroll while constantly losing their best players to higher bidders at the height of their talents. I was impressed with the deal he made to bring in Cameron Maybin from Florida, only giving up two fungible relievers. The signing of Aaron Harang also looks nice but that stuff is slim pickings compared to the Gonzalez deal. The outcome of that trade will be forever linked with Jed Hoyer and his legacy or lack thereof.

"You Can't Handle the Truth!"

"Something might be true while being harmful and dangerous in the highest degree. Indeed, it might be a basic characteristic of existence that those who would know it completely would perish, in which case the strength of a spirit should be measured according to how much of the 'truth' one could still barely endure---or to put it more clearly, to what degree one would require it to be thinned down, shrouded, sweetened, blunted, falsified."
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil Aphorism 39

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Braindrizzles

My favorite musical group of all time, the Wu-Tang Clan, is performing right now and I reluctantly gave up on attending the show after getting over to the venue and seeing the line spanning all the way around the corner. Really, though, for a number of reasons I was at least ambivalent and at most uninterested in going to see the Clan in concert and seeing the humongous line just solidified my apprehension into nonattendance.

I've been physically ill, just feeling cruddy and cloudy with a boogery head cold and a combo of other ailments for the past 7 days, most likely brought on by the stressful work environment I'm in each day. Pretty much every day at work features me having to ward off angry vendors to whom we owe tens of thousands of dollars and tell them "we just don't have it" and variations of that pathetic statement. The owner, who is also my co-worker, is a trampled man. His company is crumbling to dust before his very eyes.

I actually saw Wu-Tang perform live here in San Diego exactly two years today and it was a spectacular show. My reluctance to go see them again though is partially because of their never changing up the set list when they perform together as a group; they play the same exact tracks every time. All the mid-90s classics. Never any more recent (last ten years) material. Plus my favorite member, The Rza, won't be performing on the current tour because he's in China directing his first movie, The Man with the Iron Fist starring Russell Crowe.

If one of the members was performing solo or alongside some of the lesser heard but highly skilled Killa Bees then I would be a lot more eager to see it because they would certainly delve deeper into their vast catalogue. I'm glad to hear that 1990s Wu affiliate La the Darkman is one of the opening acts on this tour, though. And I heard he performed this classic song at the San Francisco show on Thursday:


It'd be really special if he got the chance to perform this relatively obscure Wu gem with Masta Killa and U-God, "Element of Surprise" produced by 4th Disciple:




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R.I.P. to the great Ron Santo who died at the age of 70 yesterday. The should-be Hall of Fame third baseman was a Chicago Cubs legend. He suffered from diabetes which eventually led to him having both legs amputated but he was still always a mainstay at Wrigley Field. Sad to see him go.

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I received a phone call while still in bed sleeping this morning from my friend and co-worker informing me that the Padres had officially traded hometown hero and superstar Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox. I'm shocked at how quickly it happened but it really seemed inevitable. Gonzalez is one of the best players in baseball right now and he was entering the last year of an extremely underpaid deal, while it was becoming more and more clear that there was no way the Padres would be able to re-sign him with the money he'd inevitably demand on the market as such a great commodity. It's sad because he's a San Diego native of Mexican-American descent which makes him a perfect fit here but such is the business of baseball. The Padres don't have much money (though I'm not sure why) and he was going to undoubtedly command a huge contract.

The Padres' GM Jed Hoyer is a former whiz kid from the Red Sox front office and so we can be confident that he knew exactly which minor players to snatch up from his former team in return for this most precious trade piece. According to Marc Hulet from FanGraphs, the new arrivals from the Sox already slide right into the top 5 prospects in the Padres system.

While I'm glad I got to attend so many Padres games this summer and see one of the best hitting Padres of all time lead his team through a pennant race, I'm not quite as emotionally attached to the players as some of the Padre diehards and, objectively, this seems like a great deal for the situation they found themselves in. It will be fun rooting for Adrian to kick the Yankees' asses. But I wish this deal didn't have to happen.

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For the last few weeks I've been absorbed fully into the happenings of the NBA, watching multiple games every night. Having watched games featuring almost every team in the league, I'm starting to wonder if there are any truly boring teams to watch. There doesn't seem to be right now as even the crappiest teams have a player or two who's worth watching. The best example of this is the perennially pathetic Los Angeles Clippers who have become must-see TV for me lately with rookie Blake Griffin exploding onto the scene with nightly highlight reels of him doing things you normally only see in NBA Jam or old Shawn Kemp highlights.



Even the Knicks, that formally destitute, dilapidated franchise I've always rooted for but most recently shielded my eyes from, seem to be crawling out of their years in the sewer. Mike D'Antoni has the offense clicking, playing fast-paced, exciting and high-scoring basketball while Amare Stoudemire is settling into a consistent streak of awesomeness and starting to have great chemistry with new point guard Raymond Felton. The Knicks are actually fun to watch.

The NBA world was abuzz all week about LeBron James' return to Cleveland to play his former team but after the bullshit about his famous powder toss and the player introductions, there was really nothing special to the game at all. The Heat absolutely scorched a clearly inferior team right from the start and that was the end of it.

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I've been reading and loving two excellent but very different basketball books lately, The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac and Pro Basketball Prospectus 2010-11, and I will write a review for them soon. I can't speak highly enough about both of them. In the Macrophenomenal book, the team over at FreeDarko uses sleek artwork and graphs to examine the culture and essence of the contemporary NBA and the Prospectus book is an absolute gem, reminding me of Bill James' Baseball Abstracts. Glad to see this infinitely awesome sport inspiring such great material.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Salvador Dali's essay "The Conquest of the Irrational"

[As I am still in the midst of doing research for my upcoming essay on James Joyce and Salvador Dali (the focus of which can be found inside this piece), I would like to share the following essay because it is a very important part of that research. This is Dali's theoretical introduction to his paranoiac-critical method. It is a very scholarly, sometimes overindulgent piece and, if you haven't read any of Dali's writings before, you'll soon realize that he wasn't simply a painter, he was a polymath. The essay was written in 1936 in French and this is a very rare English translation of it. I must give credit to the translator, Joachim Neugroschel, and the only existent source for allowing me to reproduce it here in a format that I think is a bit easier on the eyes. I've also included some of my favorite paintings from Dali that are good representations of this paranoiac method he so decadently describes below.]

THE CONQUEST OF THE IRRATIONAL
by Salvador Dali 


THE WATERS WE SWIM IN
We all know that the brilliant and sensational progress of the individual sciences, the glory and honor of the “space” and the era we live in, involves, on the one hand, the crisis and the overwhelming disrepute of “logical intuition,” and on the other hand, the respect for irrational factors and hierarchies as new positive and specifically productive values. We must bear in mind that pure and logical intuition, pure intuition, I repeat, a pure maid of all work, in the private homes of the particular sciences, had been carrying about in her womb an illegitimate child who was nothing less than the child of physics proper; and by the time Maxwell and Faraday were at work, this son was noticeably weighed down with an unequivocal persuasiveness and a personal force of gravity that left no doubt about the father of the child: Newton. Because of this downward pull and the force of gravity, pure intuition, after being booted out of the homes of all the particular sciences, has now turned into pure prostitution, for we see her offering her final charms and final turbulences in the brothel of the artistic and literary world. It is under cultural circumstances like these that our contemporaries, systematically cretinized by the mechanism and architecture of self-punishment, by the psychological congratulations of bureaucracy, by ideological chaos, and the austerity of imagination, by paternal wastelands of emotion, and other wastelands, waste their energy biting into the senile and triumphal tastiness of the plump, atavitic, tender, military, and territorial back of some Hitlerian nursemaid, in order to finally manage to communicate in some fashion or other with the consecrated totemic host which has been whisked away from under their very noses and which, we all know, was nothing but the spiritual and symbolical sustenance that Catholicism has been offering for centuries to appease the cannibalistic frenzy of moral and irrational starvation.

For, in point of fact, the contemporary hunger for the irrational is always keenest before a cultural dining table offering only the cold and unsubstantial leftovers of art and literature and the burning analytical preciseness of the particular sciences, momentarily incapable of any nutritive synthesis because of their disproportionate scope and specialization, and in all events totally unassimilable except by speculative cannibalism.
 
Here lies the source of the enormous nutritive and cultural responsibility of Surrealism, a responsibility that has been growing more and more objective, encroaching, and exclusivist with each new cataclysm of collective famine, each new gluttonous, viscous, ignominious and sublime bite of the fearful jaws of the masses wolfing down the congested, bloody, and preeminently biological cutlet of politics.

It is under these circumstances that Salvador Dali, clutching the precise apparatus of paranoid-critical activity, and less willing than ever to desert his uncompromising cultural post, has for a long time now been suggesting that we might do well to eat up the surrealities, too; for we Surrealists are the sort of high-quality, decadent, stimulating, immoderate, and ambivalent foodstuff which, with the utmost tact and intelligence, agrees with the gamy, paradoxical, and succulently truculent state proper to, and characteristic of, the climate of moral and ideological confusion in which we have the honor and the pleasure to be living.

For we Surrealists, as you will realize by paying us some slight attention, are not quite artists, nor are we really scientists; we are caviar, and believe me, caviar is the extravagance and the very intelligence of taste, especially in concrete times like the present in which the above mentioned hungering for the irrational, albeit an incommensurable, impatient, and imperialist hungering, is so exasperated by the salivary expectations of waiting, that in order to arrive progressively at its glorious conquests close by, it must first swallow the fine, heady, and dialectical grape of caviar, without which the heavy and stifling food of the next ideologies would threaten immediately to paralyze the vital and philosophical rage of the belly of history.

For caviar is the life experience not only of the sturgeon, but of the Surrealists as well, because, like the sturgeon, we are carnivorous fish, who, as I have already hinted, swim between two bodies of water, the cold water of art and the warm water of science; and it is precisely due to that temperature and to our swimming against the current that the experience of our lives and our fecundation reaches that turbid depth, that irrational and moral hyperlucidity possible only in the climate of Neronian osmosis that results from the living and continuous fusion of the soul’s thickness and its crowned heat, the satisfaction and the circumcision of the soul and the corrugated iron, territorial ambition and agricultural patience, keen collectivism and vizors propped up by letters of white on the old billiard cushions and letters of white on the old millyard Russians, all sorts of warm and dermatological elements, which, in short, are the coexisting and characteristic elements presiding over the notion of the “imponderable,” a sham notion unanimously recognized as functioning as an epithet for the elusive taste of caviar and hiding the timid and gustatory germs of concrete irrationality, which, being merely the apotheosis and the paroxysm of the objective imponderable, constitutes the divisionist exactness and precision of the very caviar of imagination and will constitute, exclusively and philosophically, the terribly demoralizing and terribly complicated result of my experiences and inventions in painting.

For one thing is certain: I hate any form of simplicity whatsoever.

MY FORTIFICATIONS
It seems perfectly transparent to me that my enemies, my friends and the general public allegedly do not understand the meaning of the images that arise and that I transcribe into my paintings. How can anyone expect them to understand when I myself, the “maker,” don’t understand my paintings either. The fact that I myself, at the moment of painting, do not understand their meaning doesn’t imply that these paintings are meaningless: on the contrary, their meaning is so deep, complex, coherent, and involuntary that it eludes the simple analysis of logical intuition.

In order to reduce my paintings to the level of the vernacular and explain them, I should have to submit them to special analyses, preferably of a scientific rigor and as ambitiously objective as possible. After all, any explanation occurs a posteriori, once the painting exists as a phenomenon.


My sole pictorial ambition is to materialize by means of the most imperialist rage of precision the images of concrete irrationality. The world of imagination and the world of concrete irrationality may be as objectively evident, consistent, durable, as persuasively, cognoscitively, and communicably thick as the exterior world of phenomenal reality. The important thing, however, is that which one wishes to communicate: the irrational concrete subject. The pictorial means of expression are concentrated on the subject. The illusionism of the most abjectly arriviste and irresistible mimetic art, the clever tricks of a paralyzing foreshortening, the most analytically narrative and discredited academicism, can become sublime hierarchies of thought when combined with new exactness of concrete irrationality as the images of concrete irrationality approach the phenomenal Real, the corresponding means of expression approach those of great realist painting — Velasquez and Vermeer de Delft — to paint realistically in accordance with irrational thinking and the unknown imagination. Instantaneous photography, in color and done by hand, of superfine, extravagant, extra-plastic, extra-pictorial, unexplored, deceiving, hypernormal, feeble images of concrete irrationality—images momentarily unexplainable and irreducible either by systems of logical intuition or by rational mechanisms. The images of concrete irrationality are thus authentically unknown images.

Surrealism, in its first period, offers specific methods for approaching the images of concrete irrationality. These methods, based on the exclusively passive and receptive role of the surrealist subject, are being liquidated to make way for new surrealist methods of the systematic exploration of the irrational. The pure psychic automatism, dreams, experimental oneirism, surrealist objects with symbolic functioning, the ideography of instincts, phosphenomenal and hypnagogical irritation, etc., now occur per se as nonevolutive processes.

Furthermore, the images obtained offer two serious inconveniences: (1) they cease being unknown images, because by falling into the realm of psychoanalysis they are easily reduced to current and logical speech albeit continuing to offer an uninterpretable residue and a very vast and authentic margin of enigma, especially for the greater public; (2) their essentially virtual and chimerical character no longer satisfies our desires or our “principles of verification” first announced by Breton in his Discourse on the Smidgen of Reality. Ever since, the frenzied images of Surrealism desperately tend toward their tangible possibility, their objective and physical existence in reality. Only those people who are unaware of this can still flounder about in the gross misunderstanding of the “poetic escape,” and continue to believe our mysticism of the fantastic and our fanaticism of the marvelous. I, for my part, believe that the era of inaccessible mutilations, unrealizable bloodthirsty osmoses, flying visceral lacerations, hair-rocks, catastrophic uprootings, is over as far as experimentation goes, although this era may quite probably continue to constitute the exclusive iconography of a large period of surrounding Surrealist painting. The new frenzied images of concrete irrationality tend toward their real and physical “possibility”; they go beyond the domain of psychoanalyzable “virtual” hallucinations and manifestations.

These images present the evolutive and productive character characteristic of the systematic fact. Eluard’s and Breton’s attempts at simulation, Breton’s recent object-poems, René Magritte’s latest pictures, the “method” of Picasso’s latest sculptures, the theoretical and pictorial activity of Salvador Dali, etc .... prove the need of concrete materialization in current reality, the moral and systematic condition to assert, objectively and on the level of the Real, the frenzied unknown world of our rational experiences. Contrary to dream memory, and the virtual and impossible images of purely receptive states, “which one can only narrate,” it is the physical facts of “objective” irrationality with which one can really hurt oneself. It was in 1929 that Salvador Dali turned his attention to the internal mechanism of paranoid phenomena, envisaging the possibility of an experimental method based on the power that dominates the systematic associations peculiar to paranoia; subsequently this method was to become the frenzied-critical synthesis that bears the name of “paranoid-critical activity.” Paranoia: delirium of interpretative association involving a systematic structure—paranoid-critical activity: spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based on the interpretative-critical association of delirium phenomena


The presence of active and systematic elements peculiar to paranoia warrant the evolutive and productive character proper to paranoid-critical activity. The presence of active and systematic elements does not presuppose the idea of voluntarily directed thinking or of any intellectual compromise whatsoever; for, as we all know, in paranoia, the active and systematic structure is consubstantial with the delirium phenomenon itself—any delirium phenomenon with a paranoid character, even an instantaneous and sudden one, already involves the systematic structure “in full” and merely objectifies itself a posteriori by means of critical intervention. Critical activity intervenes uniquely as a liquid revealer of systematic images, associations, coherences, subtleties such as are earnest and already in existence at the moment in which delirious instantaneity occurs and which, for the moment to that degree of tangible reality, paranoid-critical activity permits to return to objective light. Paranoid-critical activity is an organizing and productive force of objective chance. Paranoid-critical activity does not consider surrealist images and phenomena in isolation, but in a whole coherent context of systematic and significant relationships. Contrary to the passive, impartial, contemplative, and aesthetic attitude of irrational phenomena, the active, systematic, organizing, cognoscitive attitude of these same phenomena are regarded as associative, partial, and significant events, in the authentic domain of our immediate and practical life-experience.

The main point is the systematic-interpretative organization of surrealist experimental sensational material, scattered and narcissistic. In fact, the surrealists events during the course of a day: nocturnal emissions, distorted memories, dreams, daydreaming, the concrete transformation of the nighttime phosphene into a hypnagogical image or the waking phosphene into an objective image, the nutritive whim, intrauterine claims, anamorphic hysteria, deliberate retention of urine, involuntary retention of insomnia, the chance image of exclusivist exhibitionism, an abortive act, a delirious address, regional sneezing, the anal wheelbarrow, the minute error, Lilliputian malaise, the supernormal physiological state, the painting one stops oneself from painting, the painting one does paint, the territorial telephone call, the “upsetting image,” etc., etc., all this, I say, and a thousand other instantaneous or successive concerns, revealing a minimum of irrational intentionality, or, just the opposite, a minimum of suspect phenomenal nullity, are associated, by the mechanisms of the precise apparatus of paranoid-critical activity, in an indestructible deliriointerpretative system of political problems, paralytical images, questions of a more or less mammalian nature, playing the role of an obsessive idea.


Paranoid-critical activity organizes and objectifies exclusivistically the unlimited and unknown possibilities of the systematic association of subjective and objective phenomena presenting themselves to us as irrational concerns, to the exclusive advantage of the obsessive idea. Paranoid-critical activity thus reveals new and objective “meanings” of the irrational; it tangibly makes the very world of delirium pass to the level of reality.

Paranoid phenomena: well-known images with a double figuration—the figuration can be multiplied theoretically and practically-everything hinges on the paranoid capacity of the author. The basis of associative mechanisms and the renewal of obsessive ideas permits, as is the case in a recent painting of Salvador Dali’s, the presentation, in the course of elaboration, of six simultaneous images none of which undergo the slightest figurative transformation—an athlete’s torso, a lion’s head, a general’s head, a horse, the bust of a shepherdess, a skull. Different spectators see different images in the same painting; it goes without saying that the realization is scrupulously realistic. An example of paranoid-critical activity: Salvador Dali’s next book, The Tragic Myth of Millet’s “Angelus,” in which the method of paranoid-critical activity is applied to the delirium fact that constitutes the obsessional character of Millet’s painting.


 The Angelus (1859) by Jean-Francois Millet 


Archeological Reminiscences of Millet's Angelus (1935) by Salvador Dali

Art history must therefore be refurbished in accordance with the method of “paranoid-critical activity”; according to this method, such apparently dissimilar paintings as Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, Millet’s Angelus, Watteau’s Embarkation for Cythera actually depict the very same subject matter, that is to say, exactly the same thing.

THE ABJECTION AND MISERY OF ABSTRACTION-CREATION
The flagrant lack of philosophic and general culture in the cheerful propellers of that model of mental deficiency that calls itself abstract art, abstraction-creation, nonfigurative art, etc., is one of the authentically sweetest things from the viewpoint of the intellectual and “modern” desolation of our era. Retarded Kantians, sticky with their scatological golden means, never stop wanting to offer us on the new optimism of their shiny paper, this soup of abstract aesthetics, which in reality is even worse than those colossally sordid warmed-up noodle soups of neo-Thomism, which even the most convulsively famished cats wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. If, as they claim, forms and colors have their own aesthetic value beyond their “representational” value and their anecdotal meaning, then how could they resolve and explain the classical paranoid image, with its double and simultaneous representation, which can easily offer a strictly imitative image, ineffective from their point of view and yet, with no change, an image that’s plastically valid and rich? Such is the case with that tiny ultra-anecdotal figurine of a sprightly reclining pickaninny in the style of Meissonier; the boy, if looked at vertically is merely the ultra-rich and even plastically succulent shadow of a Pompeian nose—highly respectable on account of its degree of abstraction-creation! The ingenious experiment of Picasso simply proves the material conditional nature, the deifying and ineluctable nature, in regard to the physical and geometric precisions of aesthetic systems, biological and frenetic systems of the concrete object. Since I feel inspired to do so, permit me to speak to you in verse:

The biological and
dynastic phenomenon
that constitutes the Cubism
of
Picasso
was
the first great imaginative cannibalism
surpassing the experimental ambitions
of modern mathematical
physics.
Picasso’s life
will form the not yet understood
polemical basis
in accordance with which
physical psychology
will reopen
a gap of living flesh
and obscurity
in philosophy.
For because
of the anarchic and systematic
materialist
thought
of
Picasso
we shall know physically
experimentally
and without the
“problematic” psychological innovations
with a Kantian flavor
of the “gestalt-ists”
all the misery
of
objects of conscience
localized and comfortable
with their cowardly atoms
the infinite and
diplomatic
sensations.
For the hypermaterialist thought
of Picasso
proves
that the cannibalism of the race
devours
“the intellectual species”
that
regional wine
soaks
the family fly
of the phenomenologist mathematics
of
the future
that there is such a thing as extra-psychological
“strict figures”
intermediary
between
the imaginative fat
and
the monetary idealisms
between
transfinite arithmetics
and sanguinary mathematics
between the “structural” entity
of an “obsessive soul”
and the conduct of living beings
in contact with the “obsessive soul”
for the soul in question
remains
totally exterior
to the understanding
of
the
gestalt theory
since
this theory of the strict
figure
and structure
has no
physical means
allowing
the analysis
or even
the registering
of human behavior
with regard to
structures
and figures
objectively
manifest
as
physically delirious
for
there is no such
thing now
as far as I know
as a physics
of psychopathology
a physics of paranoia
which might be considered
simply
the experimental basis
of the coming
philosophy
of the
psychopathology
the coming
philosophy of “paranoid-critical” activity
which some day
I shall try to envisage polemically
If I have the time
and the inclination.

HERACLITUS’ TEARS
There exists a perpetual and synchronic physical materialization of the great semblances of thought such as Heraclitus meant when he intelligently wept his heart out at the self-modesty of nature.
The Greeks realized it in their statues of psychological gods, a transformation of the obscure and turbulent passions of man into a clear, analytical, and carnal anatomy.

Today, physics is the new geometry of thought; and, while for the Greeks, space such as Euclid understood it was merely an extremely distant abstraction inaccessible to the timid “three-dimensional continuum” that Descartes was to proclaim later on, nowadays space has, as you know, become a terribly material, terribly personal, and terribly meaningful physical object that squeezes us all like real blackheads.

Whereas the Greeks, as I have said above, materialized their Euclidean psychology and feelings in the nostalgic and divine muscular clarity of their sculptors, Salvador Dali, faced in 1935 with the anguishing and colossal problem of Einsteinian space-time, is not content with anthropomorphism, libidinous arithmetic, or flesh: instead, he makes cheese. Take my word for it, Salvador Dali’s
famous melted watches are nothing but tender paranoid-critical Camembert, the extravagant and solitary Camembert of time and space.

In conclusion, I must beg your pardon, before the authentic famine that I assume honors my readers, for having begun this theoretical meal, which one might have hoped to be wild and cannibalistic, with the civilized imponderable factor of caviar and finishing it with the even headier and deliquescent imponderable of Camembert. Don’t let yourself be taken in: these two superfine semblances of the imponderable conceal a finer, well-known, sanguinary, and irrational grilled cutlet that will eat all of us up.

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