Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Dream Architecture

This started out as a long response in the comments section of this recent post, but it immediately became worthy of its own post.


I read a great article on Finnegans Wake a while back (same article discussed here and here) in which a whole class that was studying the book found the Wakean replication---or dream distortion---for each of their own names.

It's a weird and interesting characteristic about the book that you can find something that at least sounds like or in some way resembles your name somewhere in there. My favorite instance of this is Marshall McLuhan mentioned as "Meereschal MacMuhun" on pg 254.

Seana had commented that she was under the impression the title "A Building Roam" had been adopted from a Joyce phrase somewhere. It wasn't. Not as far as I know, at least. I tried a few searches in the Wake Concordex to see if there was anything that came close to "A Building Roam" and found this great sentence:

"Within was my guide and I raised a dome on the wherewithouts of Michan: by awful tors my wellworth building sprang sky spearing spires, cloud cupoled campaniles: further this." - FW pg 541
Beautiful. Let's break it down right quick: 
  • Within was my guide and I raised a dome on the wherewithouts - corresponds to my being self-compelled by the guide within to emigrate from New York a few years back, and throughout the roam thus far I've established myself, set up shop, or "raised a dome" in a few different locations amid the wherewithouts.  
  • my wellworth building sprang sky spearing spires -  refers to the Woolworth Building in downtown Manhattan, the same majestic old building under which I stood daily during four years of college, awaiting the express bus to bring me home to Staten Island. Also, the awful tors or "awful tours" are the often rough, stressful patches in my travels thus far. 
  • cloud cupoled campaniles - a cupola is a dome on a building and campanile is Italian for "bell-tower" (The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a campanile), confirming for us that the whole sentence is about buildings, architecture and growth. 
  • further this -instructions to roam, to keep moving, keep growing

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Sound is God



Any producer who incorporates samples of Alan Watts is cool in my book.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Early Season Baseball Ponderings

The baseball season is barely one-tenth of the way through, still far too early to make any solid judgments but there's been plenty of interesting developments to watch thus far. In the three full weeks of watching games (I haven't been able to watch any of the NHL or NBA playoff games so I've settled for absorbing tons of baseball on MLB.tv) I've caught a bunch of interesting observations.

Though I'm often clicking through various concurrent games depending on the situation, competitiveness, team interest level, etc of each one, I do often find myself deciding to stay put and watch one baseball game in its entirety. It's often said that you see something new any time you watch a baseball game---in other words, no matter how many games you've watched, something will occur that you've never seen and it's often something memorable. A couple weeks ago, I was watching a Saturday afternoon game between the Tampa Bay Rays (a team I'm quickly becoming a fan of) and the Chicago White Sox. In the bottom of the 4th inning, Tampa starter Wade Davis got himself into a jam walking the bases loaded with two outs. Lucky for him, the batter he was facing was the #9 hitter in the White Sox lineup.

He thew a biting fastball up and in shattering the bat of Brett Morel who followed through with his splintered lumber and managed to pop the ball up just barely over the pitcher's head and beyond the mound at such a perfect and unintentionally soft velocity that it plopped down onto the grass untouched by the onrushing middle infielders. I've never seen such an occurrence, a perfectly lucky little blip in the expected outcome of things. It was like a pinball that manages to get lodged into some perfectly unreachable, almost structurally defective spot in a pinball machine. And a run scored on the play which loaded the bases once again, this time with the leadoff batter coming up for the White Sox. Alas, the Sox counterproductively put one of the worst hitters in baseball at the very top of their lineup so up steps slappy out-machine Juan Pierre to presumably kill his team's big rally and let the opposing pitcher escape unscathed. That's what I thought would happen.

Instead, Pierre took a mighty swing at the first pitch he saw and clocked a liner to right field that looked to possibly be a homerun otherwise an off-the-wall extra base hit that would clear the bases. Suddenly across the screen, in full horizontal hoverance above the warning track dirt, rightfielder Sam Fuld launched and about 3/4ths of the way through his flight managed to grab the flying orb in his outstretched glove. Inning over, three runs saved. It has to be on the short list of greatest catches I've ever seen while watching a game and it was especially shocking because of the above described circumstances.


Rob Neyer wrote a nice piece on "The Legend of Sam Fuld" the other day, noting his penchant for acrobatic catches. Looking through the video archives of Fuld's many highlight reel catches, though, it appears he's got a certain flair for the dramatic, often diving or sliding when he doesn't really have to. Having said that, the catch in that White Sox game is still one of the best I've ever seen.

*   *   *

As of this morning, the New York Mets have the worst record in baseball. They're off to a terrible start on the year and they've lost 9 out of their last 10. Most of that can be attributed to their terrible pitching, they've given up more runs that any team in the National League thus far, they've also looked atrocious in the field, dropping or completely missing easy fly balls in key moments.

The offense has been terrible as well, but I'm happy to see that Carlos Beltran has returned to his awesome self, hitting .286/.355/.554 thus far, after a bunch of knee problems had left his future in doubt before the season. The 33-year-old Beltran won't be galloping around the pastures of centerfield anymore and he seems to have put on some weight, but the guy can still hit and that's great. If he stays healthy and keeps hitting like this he'll almost certainly be traded away during the season and I'll be sad to see his Mets career come to an end without him ever getting to avenge that horrible swingless strikeout to end the Mets' World Series run in 2006. But at least he'll probably go out on a strong note and escape this festering team.

*   *   *

Through some sort of glitch in the system, I managed to scoop up righthander Dan Haren very late in my fantasy draft this year. That glitch seems to mirror the real life one in which somehow, in a league where durable, effective pitchers are such a rare and treasured commodity, the Angels picked up Haren last year for spare parts. Haren has been superb thus far this year. In four starts he's got a 27-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio and he's thrown a few gems, including a one-hit shutout of the Indians (the highest scoring team in the league right now, for what it's worth). His approach has been fun to watch, as he operates with emotionless precision, carving through batting orders and looking away heartlessly after a hitter flails at strike three and marches away frustrated. He looks extremely confident in his stuff, throwing lots of changeups and darting splitters. Don't be surprised if he reels off some crazy 15-2 first half, this guy has always been that good.

*   *   *

That we're talking about the Cleveland Indians at all is an example of how small sample sizes can be deceiving but, to be honest, they're kicking ass thus far. After 18 games, they're tied for the best record in baseball and they've got by far the best run differential in baseball. I can promise you they will not maintain that pace but, still, it counts for something. As I noted in my AL Central preview, this is a team that can score some runs, and they've got the best offense in the league thus far in the young season. And they've done it thus far without strong output from their two best hitters, as both Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana have struggled thus far.

Similar to Carlos Beltran, I'm particularly glad that Grady Sizemore has made his way back and didn't seem to lose anything along his journey through the underworld. The former face of the franchise and projected superstar hasn't played at full strength in two years and yet he came back this week looking as good as ever. In his first game he smacked a homer and a double then went 3 for 5 with a walk and a double in his second game. He's still only 28 and so this could be the beginning of Sizemore's second career.

*   *   *

One thing that's always great to observe as the season takes shape is the emergence of rookies. Three rookie pitchers have caught my attention early on:
  • Zach Britton of the Orioles has shown a composed presence for a 23-year-old rookie and the lefty has been a groundball machine, relying mostly on a hard sinker. A lefty with a 6/2 K/BB ratio and a bunch of groundballs, he looks like a star in the making.
  • Kyle Drabek has been talked about as a prospect for years now and his major league performance thus far hasn't disappointed. Wearing jersey number 4, a rare pitcher with a single-digit jersey number (though I'm not sure why that's so uncommon), he's been solid for the Blue Jays thus far. He's walked a few too many batters (15 in 25 innings thus far), but he's had great stuff and doesn't look the least bit flustered out there. I watched his first game this year and he was virtually unhittable against the Twins. He went 7 innings and gave up one hit while inducing 11 ground ball outs.
  • There's not much incentive to watching the Seattle Mariners these days but big righty Michael Pineda is worth a look. He's only had three starts thus far but there have been flashes of dominance from the 22-year-old. In his second career start, he pitched into the 8th inning against the Blue Jays and struck out 7. He relies almost entirely on a fastball-slider combo, not much in the off-speed department. The fastball sits in the high-90s and the lanky 6-foot-7 hurler has a very smooth, easy throwing motion. It's extremely early in the season and even earlier in this guy's career, but he already looks like a great complement to combine with King Felix atop that Seattle rotation for years to come.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Improvements


I'm going to be experimenting with some new title banners atop the blog to try and liven things up a little bit and take this blog to the next level. The new graphic is courtesy of my girlfriend's dad, Luther, who is a highly talented graphic designer. And, just in case anybody is wondering (like he was) what the title actually means, read this post. The title contains various meanings, some of which I'm only realizing as we go along.

The image you see in the background of the banner is from M.C. Escher's Metamorphosis II, a long and mesmerizing panel displaying a drawn out story of growth and evolution (building). In my San Diego apartment I had the full drawing (about 10 feet long) displayed across the top of my living room wall but it was destroyed when we made the move out here so I'm paying homage to that wonderful piece of art here for "A Building Roam," a title that certainly conjures evolution and architecture.

You'll also notice that I've incorporated a widget from Amazon.com on the sidebar displaying all of the books I'm currently reading. If anything sounds interesting, please feel free to go ahead and click on the books in the widget because anything purchased through there will be of benefit to me and it would be greatly appreciated.

I've also added a new feature lower down on the sidebar displaying the most popular posts in the brief history of this blog. It's got a few of my favorites in there and, if you haven't already seen that stuff I highly recommend you give it a look to get a good feel for what this blog is really concerned with.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

China Gates



It was through Madlib and his cosmic experimental jazz that I first heard of Sun Ra and now I'm finally starting to get into Ra's music. I first heard this obscure track from Ra on an out-of-print mix by Madlib called the Mind Fusion series.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Free Manny!


Two of my favorite sports entities have decided to hang it up. Controversial-yet-comical baseball slugger Manny Ramirez abruptly retired this weekend after learning of a failed drug test (his second one) and, rather than sit out with a 100-game suspension, the 39-year-old superstar decided to end his baseball career. At the same time, the basketball writing collective known as FreeDarko made their final blog post today and have decided to disperse as well.

I arrived very late to the Free Darko party, only hearing about them 6 or 7 months ago when I picked up their first book, The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac. I quickly devoured that book (read my review here) and joined the chorus of ardent admirers of these basketball philoso-aestheticians. I'm still in the midst of reading their second book, The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History, but I can say that I've frequently found myself bestowing laudatory praise upon it, describing it as literally one of my favorite books ever. Everything about that book is wonderful.

Their two incredible books sprung from the writing on their blog freedarko.com and the huge following they attained. As the main components of the FreeDarko collective (the writer known as Bethlehem Shoals and the artist Jacob Weinstein) have now decided to go on to other pursuits, the website and the legendary title associated with it have now called it quits. It's terrible news, especially since I only just recently started checking their work, and it will surely affect my appreciation for the NBA. If you're at all curious what they were all about, you should read their huge final post in which everyone who's ever written for the site describes what FreeDarko meant to them.

*   *   *

I wish the FreeDarko guys would have drawn up an image of Manny Ramirez. In my sports-watching life, I've never seen anyone like him. He would step up to the plate wearing the baggiest uniform you've ever seen, his beard all scraggly with a huge wad of gum or tobacco in his cheek, his enormous sleeves covering most of his muscular arms, and an unbelievably long hairdo of dreadlocks upon which his batting helmet barely fit. He was a mess. And yet when he swung a baseball bat, all those loose, scraggly items were seemingly shed in a supernova display of pure symmetrical, mechanical brilliance. The man was born to hit a baseball and for his entire career, he did it about as well as anyone ever has.
But he certainly wasn't born to be a public figure. He was childish, pouty, lazy, and not very articulate. As great a player as he was, he is viciously hated upon by a good number of sportswriters and he's an extremely polarizing figure among baseball fans.

He never played for any of my favorite teams, but I always considered him one of my favorite players because it was such a joy to watch him play. He started out as a showy masher of baseballs, frequently hitting loud homeruns and remaining in the batter's box to admire them. With the powerhouse Cleveland Indians of the 90s he went to the World Series and led the league in slugging a couple times before signing with the Red Sox. He became one of the most popular players in baseball with the Sox and eventually led them to their first World Series title in 86 years with a second title coming three years later.

In his last few years with the Sox his hair grew longer and longer into tweedy dreads and his threads got increasingly baggy. His cap and his helmet always popped of his head when he ran for a flyball or rounded the bases and he dragged around his shaggy clothes like a kid in a ghost costume. Baseball purists hated him.

I see the Manny experience as a wonderfully colorful and quirky episode in the game's storied history of characters. When he was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers he exploded upon the National League (hitting .396 over the final two months of the season) and elevated his star status even higher while carrying the team to two consecutive NLCS matchups with the Phillies. It became a national news story when the team asked him to cut his hair which was getting out of control.

Everything about him looked sloppy, baggy, disheveled, except for his perfect swing which would often lead to a crisp "thwack!" and a lifted line drive. That's what I've always found so intriguing about him. No matter how dumb he seemed, no matter how crazy his hairdo, or how loose-fitting his uniform, the man could always crush a baseball with the utmost powerful precision (an achievement not nearly as brutish as it sounds---in fact, it's probably the most difficult thing to do in all of sports). And he knew it.

Although there are actually two other big hitters with the same last name (Aramis and Hanley Ramirez, all three of them unrelated) and the same penchant for admiring their homeruns, I've never seen anybody make such a comical show of himself at the plate after a homer as Manny. The one that sticks out in my mind is a game-winning smash against the Angels in the ALCS when he simply stood in the batter's box with his arms straight up in celebration before finally jogging slowly around the bases while chaos ensued in the stands.


I was really looking forward to watching how things would unfold with him playing in the AL East again, battling his old foes (and friends) as the Tampa Bay Rays' designated hitter but he has suddenly departed. We'll never get to see Manny hit a baseball again because he somehow managed to fail a drug test for the second time in three years. At the very least, his departure is perfectly Manny. Controversial, puzzling, stupid, and shocking. Sticking it to the man without any regard for how badly it hurts his fans. Only this time, we won't be able to forget about it all while watching his pretty swing.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Underrating Ulysses: Ineluctable Modality of the Ignorant

Today, Slate published a piece by a Mr. Ron Rosenbaum entitled "Is Ulysses overrated?" in which the author attempts to argue that Ulysses is indeed overrated and that the public shouldn't care to read it at all except for one chapter: "Ithaca," the penultimate episode of the book. In a sloppy rendering of the Ithaca chapter's Q&A format, Rosenbaum had this to say about the greatest novel of the 20th Century:
Ulysses is an overwrought, overwritten epic of gratingly obvious, self-congratulatory, show-off erudition that, with its overstuffed symbolism and leaden attempts at humor, is bearable only by terminal graduate students who demand we validate the time they've wasted reading it.
My initial reaction to this was seething anger and I'm still pretty annoyed about it hours later. My feelings are best expressed by Ghostface Killah's words, "I should slap fire out his ass, snap his bones in half and watch the stock market crash." What annoys me so much about it is that Ulysses is in fact so badly underrated and under-read that it isn't often discussed at any length in the mainstream media except for Bloomsday or on the rare occasions when a new book about how great Ulysses is manages to penetrate to the surface of mainstream consciousness. So when I come across an article in a magazine as widely read as Slate that attempts to deter the public from reading a book that is already being read by almost nobody, it has a tendency to really piss me off. Especially when the author clearly contradicts himself and doesn't seem to know what he's talking about.

While he lambasts Ulysses for being an "overwrought, overwritten...show-off [of] erudition," he praises the two most overwrought and overly erudite chapters in the book: Ithaca and Oxen of the Sun. He describes Ithaca as "the one chapter you should read before you die" and also mentions that he loves the Oxen of the Sun episode, calling it "skillful and funny." While these two are also my own personal favorites of all the 18 episodes, they are without a doubt the most difficult to read---they're both densely packed with tons of obscure vocabulary words and absurdly long sentences written in purposely overdone erudite styles. If you subtract those two (plus the Scylla and Charybdis episode which Rosenbaum also speaks fondly of), the rest of the book is not so dense at all. In fact, much of the remaining material is in the same basic style of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man which Rosenbaum "loved."

Thus, in his half-assed essay he's completely contradicting his own argument while altogether ignoring some of the most fun-to-read and brilliant material in the book like the Lestrygonians chapter (with Joyce's wonderful paragraphs on food and eating), Sirens (written in the form of a Bach fugue), Cyclops (the book's funniest chapter which also expresses Joyce's staunch pacifism), not to mention the brilliant passages brought about by Nausicaa's style of tumescence and detumescence.

To say that the book "is bearable only by terminal graduate students who demand we validate the time they've wasted reading it" is not only a jerky remark but it's also frighteningly anti-intellectual. I've never been to graduate school, never even read Joyce in school at all (nor was I an English major) and I got through the book in a span of two months and have continued to pick it up to read bits and pieces nearly every day. I'm not a scholar or a professor, it's just a damn good book. As many of the comments on the Slate piece attest to, it's also a book that gets better and better each time you read it. One of my favorite responses to the piece was this one by someone named Brian South: "Don't you dare. Ulysses is like a puzzle whose picture changes every time you put it together. It's genius in every way."

Unless it's universally hailed as the greatest novel in the entire cosmos, Ulysses can never be overrated because it already doesn't get nearly the praise it deserves. Think about it for a minute. It is a comic epic that zooms in to the details of one single day in a modern city, encompassing nearly 800 pages, essentially exemplifying how a single atom can contain the entire universe. Over all those pages and the book's 18 episodes (each written in a different style) somehow there are constant connections, synchronicities, and cross-references all across the book, a book that Joyce wrote by hand over a period of seven years. Every word is placed for a reason (Frank Delaney's excellent podcast really goes deep into that aspect). The detail, conception and execution of its macrocosmic and microcosmic structure is unmatched in literary history (except for maybe Finnegans Wake). And the key point of it all is the affirmation of life as it is (Yes!) with other key elements like love, compassion, and the timeless essence of everyday life emphasized as well. In a jocular, parodic, mock epic comedy novel.

All of that, plus the book is purposely designed to try to make its reader smarter, like an encyclopedia or a dictionary.

And this guy is calling it overrated?!?!

Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion and there are certainly folks who would agree with Mr. Rosenbaum. His piece was inspired by a list that recently appeared in The Telegraph indicating the 50 books that folks should NOT read before they die, with Ulysses number-1 with a bullet. The Telegraph list was written in an obnoxious, incendiary, and aggressive manner that makes it seem like either an April Fool's joke or a shock piece meant to stir up responses. In any event, the Telegraph list and Slate's article are a disservice to the public, especially coming at a time when Joyce's works of genius are being coveted more and more by the Ivory Towers of scholasticism and usurped from the hands of the everyman it was written for. Ulysses already has an unfortunate reputation for being largely unread by the general public, so when these widely read publications decide to publish articles on it they ought to make sure the writer knows what the fuck he's talking about so they don't continue to dissuade people from approaching this incredible book. "For the rest let look who will."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Potent Quotables: Hum of dynamos

Stumbled upon this quote today while looking through some books on Ulysses.
For her, it was one of the moments when we are reminded that our lives are not in our keeping, and that whatsoever is to befall us originates in sources beyond our power. Our wills may indeed reach the length of our arms, or as far as our voices can penetrate space; but without us and within us moves one universe* that saves us or ruins us only for its own purposes; and we are no more free amid its laws than the leaves of the forest are free to decide their own shapes and seasons of unfolding, to order the showers by which they are to be nourished, and the storms which shall scatter them at last.---from The Mettle of the Pasture by James Lane Allen
*In Ulysses pg 242, Stephen walks by a powerplant and hears the electric humming which brings about this thought: "Throb always without you and the throb always within."

The quote is taken from a book review Joyce wrote in 1903.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Joyce in Rome

It's been two full months now since we arrived in Austin and I haven't found a job yet. During this whole time I've been doing everything I can to hone my writing craft and get in tune with the creative flow. I've had a difficult time, to say the least. My recent post on the Three Stages of Creative Struggle was born out of my reflections on this inner battle. As easy as a life of writing all day may seem, and as much as I've always hoped to achieve such a lifestyle, it certainly ain't easy. I've spent much of the last four years being stuck languishing in office jobs I wasn't interested in, now that I'm free I find there's more pressure than ever to produce.

I have a tendency to be tough on myself and, along with that, I'm always comparing myself and my abilities to the author of anything I happen to read. This is dangerous because there are so many great writers out there but it's especially bad when one spends so much time reading James Joyce, arguably the best writer of the 20th century if not the greatest ever.

So I recently decided to take a look at what was going on for Joyce when he was 25 years old and it turns out he wasn't exactly thriving. Joyce had rather haphazardly moved his family (wife Nora and baby Giorgio) from Trieste to Rome where he was to work as a bank clerk but the job was mind-numbingly boring and he detested the ancient city ("Rome reminds me of a man who lives by exhibiting to travellers his grandmother's corpse"). Unhappy, the young Joyce was constantly imbibing all the money he earned from the bank and struggling to feed his family. For a while he was even teaching English lessons after his shift at the bank and then meeting his wife and son for dinner after 10 o'clock. After about six months of living like this, he officially decided he couldn't take Rome or the bank job anymore, writing to his brother Stanislaus:
I have come to the conclusion that it is about time I made up my mind whether I am to become a writer... I foresee that I shall have to do other work as well but to continue as I am at present would certainly mean my mental extinction. (Ellmann pg 240)
That's exactly how I feel when I'm stuck languishing in some accounting job I don't really want to do but nevertheless go along with so I can pay the bills. He continued:
It is months since I have written a line and even reading tires me...I have gradually slid down until I have ceased to take any interest in any subject. I look at God and his theatre through the eyes of my fellow-clerks so that nothing surprises, moves, excites or disgusts me.
This reminded me of a paragraph I had just recently read in Finnegans Wake where Shaun is talking to his brother Shem (who's a version of Joyce himself, Shem being short for "Seamus" which is Irish for "James") and it also seemed to relate to the way I feel right now.
You, let me tell you, with the utmost politeness, were ordinarily designed, your birthwrong was, to fall in with Plan, as our nationals should, as all nationists must, and do a certain office...during certain agonising office hours (a clerical party all to yourself) from such a year to such an hour on such and such a date at so and so much a week pro anno..." (FW pg 190)
Miserable with his bank job, Joyce gave notice that he was quitting, and then made several unsuccessful attempts to find a job in another city. While he was constantly being turned down, his first book, a group of short stories called Dubliners, was being rejected by publishers and his wife was flipping out that their impoverished life needed to become more tolerable. Joyce made one last attempt to find a job and failed. Then to top it all off, his wife was pregnant again. He eventually just said "screw it" and decided to move back to Trieste even though there was no position for him there. On the night before they were to leave, Joyce got extremely drunk in a cafe with a couple of random low-lifes. He had just received his final paycheck from the bank job and in his stupor he happened to show off the contents of his wallet. When he walked out of the cafe, the guys he was drinking with knocked him out cold and took all his money. Thankfully, there was enough money left inside the house that the next morning Joyce was able to hop on a train with his family and get the hell out of Rome.

Needless to say, my life as I'm currently living it is not nearly as bad. I don't have any extra mouths to feed and, though I haven't worked in two months, I had enough money stashed away to serve as a parachute for my financial descent. I always say that I'm really amazed nobody has made a movie about Joyce's life yet and reading about his Rome sojourn not only confirms that sentiment but it actually serves as an inspiration. If he could persevere through all that crap and continue on his creative path, surely I should be able to defeat my own inner demons and carve out my creative projects, whether I'm working in a crappy office job or not.
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