Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Short Reviews for Books Read in 2013

In loosely chronological order...

1. Masks of the Illuminati by Robert Anton Wilson
This was my first experience of RAW's fictional work and I enjoyed it thoroughly. A very entertaining, smooth read, this story takes place in the early 20th century and stars none other than James Joyce and Albert Einstein teaming up to help a distressed man who fears he's been the victim of a conspiracy perpetrated by Aleister Crowley. It reads like a detective novel, the clues generated through flashbacks and chewed on by our sleuths, two of the greatest geniuses of their generation, drawing the reader into its mystery until a somewhat ridiculous, confounding (though humorous) conclusion. The novel's shifting writing style often mimics the various styles employed by Joyce in Ulysses and there's even a subplot here of the young Joyce, thanks to his conversations with Einstein on relativity, fully conceiving his grand idea for a new book that would become Ulysses. Joyce describes his idea for "A multi-dimensional, multi-level, multi-meaningful book. A puzzle-book, one might say---and what could be more appropriate to our times, when all the best minds recognize increasingly that our existence is a profound puzzle?" (I read this book along with Tom Jackson's reading group over at his site Go here to see more about the reading group.)

2. Neuropolitique by Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson
A collection of essays from Leary mainly from the early-1970s, this features a wide array of pieces mostly written while in prison. I most enjoyed his overview of what occurred during the 1960s and early 70s which morphs into an incisive (and humorous) condemnation of the system of glorifying crime and punishment in the US, eventually covering his arrival and assimilation into maximum security prison culture, being in a cell next to Charles Manson, and working a deal with law enforcement to shorten his sentence. There are also essays on the 8-circuit model of consciousness (including one written by RAW) and space migration. My favorite aspect of Leary's spiel tends to be his view of DNA and evolution and I love the way he ties space migration into this. He likens space migration to "the movement from marine to amphibian life or from reptile to mammalian." Why don't people say this kind of stuff anymore? The quality of the pieces definitely seems to tail off towards the end but this book is worth reading for the first half. (This also seems to be the only Leary book without his enduring wide grin on the cover. He means business here.)

3. Info-Psychology: A Manual for the Use of the Human Nervous System by Timothy Leary
Continuing my foray into the life and work of Leary (temporarily put on hold at the moment as I work on some big writing projects), this was the book that always seemed most appealing to me since it's Leary's own introduction to the 8-circuit model of consciousness, which RAW so perfectly examined in his book Prometheus Rising. While it has its bright spots, I found this book lacking in many respects (including its physical appearance, the New Falcon re-issue feeling cheap with rigid, stiff paper). While it gave me a better understanding of the overall picture, especially the higher four circuits, the book doesn't make the ideas seem very intriguing at all and even frequently refers to other books of his for further elaboration (whereas I thought this was the key text). At the same time, its subtitle claims it to be a manual but there really isn't anything interactive here, unlike Prometheus Rising which is a book that can literally change your life. You also get a clear sense that Leary was still hammering out some of the details of his model while writing this book, the re-issue even has an awkward set of footnotes at the end suggesting alternatives or retractions for the preceding material. This is another book that Leary wrote while in prison and, while the ideas and insights are staggering at times, it all seems a little disorganized. I don't blame him.

4. Quantum Psychology by Robert Anton Wilson
This is essentially the sequel to his classic Prometheus Rising. Here RAW makes use of the worldview(s) suggested by discoveries in quantum physics and attempts to work these into our experience of everyday life, with lots of interactive exercises that would work best in a group setting. (Once again, Tom Jackson's RAW-focused website had an online reading group for this one.) While there's certainly plenty of fascinating and important stuff here with RAW's usual combo of Zen parables, historical anecdotes, and hard science examining things like psychosomatics, relativity and the 8-circuit model of consciousness, I managed to breeze right through this book without too much of it really sticking in my head. Maybe I'll need to read it again with a more focused attitude and willingness to try all the exercises.

5. The Book of the Breast by Robert Anton Wilson
I picked up the original version, a hardcover edition with pictures, published by Playboy Press (it was later revised and reissued by New Falcon under the title Ishtar Rising). It's one of RAW's earlier works and provides an interesting glimpse at the period when he worked as an editor with Playboy. The subject matter is anthropological and very sophisticated for a book published by Playboy, it reminds me Joseph Campbell's books with its insights developed by a combination of psychology, history, poetry, art, myth, and sociology. At the same time, any regular reader of RAW's works will notice his prose feels a little bit different. Probably due to some combination of the intended audience, the era, the publisher, and the stage of his craft, the writing occasionally tries too hard to come across as hip and cool, man. Ya dig?

6. Baseball Prospectus 2013
This annual stalwart took a major dive by changing its structure, junking its unique, creative essays for a boring, uniform style. Wrote a full review here. Thankfully, they've considered the harsh feedback and are going back to the fun style.

7. Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth by Buckminster Fuller
A very short book but not a very quick read. The eminent architect-engineer-poet Bucky Fuller conveys his thoughts in a dense manner, heavy on metaphors. Great insights, though, and certainly a book that arouses one's optimism as he asserts the essential truth about our global problems---that they are entirely solvable if we restructure our attitudes.

8. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Somehow I'd never before read this classic, so a friend insisted I borrow it. What a beautiful prose stylist, this Vonnegut guy. I zoomed straight through this excellent and hilarious story of the misadventures of some American POWs in the German city of Dresden toward the end of World War II. A quirky, spectacularly awkward soldier/time-traveler/dentist named Billy Pilgrim is the star of the show and Vonnegut has fun with his pathetic hero. The prose is very simple, poignant, plain, practical. Repeated motifs like the simple phrase "So it goes" give the novel a vital continuity. With the firebombing of Dresden at its epicenter (in which an entire city was reduced to ashes, killing more people than the bombing of Hiroshima), the depiction of the horrors of war is piercing and unsettling but not overly teary or sentimental. Vonnegut's curt prose lets the reader fill in the blanks. Definitely a book to be read multiple times through one's life.

9. Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build your routine, find your focus & sharpen your creative mind by the team at 99u
This little book speaks perfectly to my struggles as an aspiring writer---it's a collection of essays on how to remain focused and manifest your creativity in an era of technology and distractions galore. What it all seems to boil down to is showing up every day, never waiting for inspiration, instead getting your ass to the desk and working. The name for their website comes from the Thomas Edison quote, "Genius is is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration." Basically, put your nose to the grind and work. Highly recommended book for all creative people out there.

10. Joyce's Book of the Dark by John Bishop
I'm almost done with my second reading of this book. Began it last December upon completing Finnegans Wake and, when my attempts to write a summarizing review failed, I had to jump back in and read it again for a better understanding. It's a vast and rich study, a dizzying deconstruction of that most obscure of books, Finnegans Wake, and it may actually be one of the all-time great works of art criticism. In an attempt to explain just what the hell Finnegans Wake is, Bishop begins with Joyce's own frequent hints that it is a book of the night, of the sleeping state, and then proceeds to wrap an astounding array of material from the Wake around his argument through increasingly fascinating chapters, hammering home his points thoroughly and highlighting the deep mysteries of our nightly descent into unconsciousness. His analysis includes large etymological flowcharts, illustrations and diagrams, and even giant maps representing the domain of a sleeping body ("Nocturnal Geography" he calls it). It's definitely not an easy read, but it's arguably the best book ever written about Finnegans Wake and contains some of the most unique and well-argued takeaways from Joyce's puzzling masterpiece I've thus far encountered. Look out for my full review coming soon at my other blog Finnegans, Wake!

Honorable Mention:
The Graphic Canon Vol. 3: From Heart of Darkness to Hemingway to Infinite Jest

Putting it down here because I haven't read this one in its entirety. Not even close. It's an enormous
book, sort of like an illustrated almanac of 20th century literature featuring a wide array of artistic styles. This serves as both a grab bag of visual candy and a nice primer to the best literature of the last 100 years. It's got just about everything from Joyce and Yeats to Pynchon and Wallace, Aldous Huxley and Hemingway, Kafka, Faulkner, Eliot. You name it, it's here. More importantly, the artwork is awesome. Sometimes it's in graphic novel form, other times weird, trippy, psychedelic paintings, or sharp colorful computer-generated graphics. It's a perfect book to leave out on a coffee table and flip through randomly. So much good stuff here, you'd probably never get through it all.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Indian Well with Escher-esque Stairs

Via New Scientist:
Between AD 600 and 1850, more than 3000 step wells were dug, by hand, in the Indian provinces of Gujarat and Rajasthan. Many of them had intricate staircase designs, peppered with shrines and balconies on which to linger in the afternoon heat. They reach deep underground and provided insurance against the region's fluctuating water supply.
The stairs guided local people – women, mostly – down to the water that seeps in from nearby aquifers. During the rainy season, the wells fill up, but in the dry season, you would have to lug containers up and down the entire well. This particular well, Panna Meena ka Kund near Amber Fort in Rajasthan, has eight storeys. According to local tradition, you must use different sets of stairs to climb down and climb out. The photograph was taken by Edward Burtynsky for his latest exhibition, Water, which opens at Flowers Gallery in London on 16 October.
You can find some other jaw-dropping photos from Burtynsky's Water project at his website. Here's another one I really like (of a Colorado River delta in Baja, Mexico):

(Photo Credit: Edward Burtynsky)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Finding Glimmers of Hope in Another Lost NY Mets Season

All hail Lagares, the biggest bright spot on another losing team.
Another New York Mets season is about to be put in the books and with it a few negative streaks are extended. It's the team's seventh straight season missing the playoffs, their fifth straight season with a losing record, and the third consecutive losing finish under the promising, stats-savvy front office led by general manager Sandy Alderson.
While it's become an overdone cliché to mock the misery of the Mets franchise, this hapless 70-something win season offered glimpses of realistic hope for the near future and was actually quite entertaining to follow throughout the year as a devoted fan. I watched nearly every game of theirs throughout the spring and summer, only losing touch with the team as they fell into a late summer funk which coincided with an injury to the team's best hitter, David Wright.

Eclipsing any other story about this year's team was the ascent of Matt Harvey to superstardom. The 24-year-old starter spent a large chunk of the season pitching as well as anyone in baseball and even got to start the All Star Game in Queens but succumbed to an elbow injury in late August, sending Mets fans into a deep depression.

Beyond Harvey's five-month flirtation with the Cy Young award, there are still reasons to see this Mets season as a step forward for the franchise.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Picasso's Guernica

I recently re-watched one of my favorite films of all time, Children of Men, and the appearance of Picasso's Guernica caught my eye. (In the film we see the original 20 ft x 10 ft masterpiece serving as a mural in a character's dining room.) I've since been reading up on this painting a bit and watching documentaries about it.

Inspired by the despicable bombing of a civilian Spanish village by German and Italian planes in 1937, the shattered, sharp, and screeching imagery gives a unique, haunting depiction of the horrors of war. With the recent stream of bullshit pouring out of American media and government concerning the desire of the United States to drop bombs on Syria (drop bombs on who?), I've thought about this painting a lot.

A tapestry of Guernica hangs inside the United Nations building and in 2003, while Colin Powell and American military officials gave a press conference detailing the urgent need to invade Iraq (in the name of "freedom" and "peace" of course), the tapestry was covered up by a large blue curtain so as not to appear in the background. Don't want to give people mixed signals, I guess.

From Wikipedia:
Guernica has become a universal and powerful symbol warning humanity against the suffering and devastation of war. Moreover, the fact that there are no obvious references to the specific attack has contributed to making its message universal and timeless.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Saturn Returns

There have been a few periods of long neglect in this blog's three-plus years of existence, but none which have coincided with as much prosperous real life activity as this past month. And in the midst of not getting anything posted here, lots of ideas have piled up so I'm now hoping to get back to writing here, getting some posts churned out.

First, a bit of catching up.

I completed my 28th journey around the sun recently and had a pretty relaxed, subtle, though lengthy and memorable birthday celebration. Most importantly, I had quite a miraculous and mind-blowing synchronicity/serendipity occur.

On the eve of my birthday, during a rare rainy night in Austin, I ventured over to one of my favorite sources of sustenance, a cafeteria-style eatery called Casa de Luz. Casa de Luz is a special place, essentially a restaurant in the middle of a holistic integral health center. Always seemingly buzzing with a positive spiritual vibe. Of course, the food is very healthy---all macrobiotic. And one always tends to meet interesting people there. Whenever I go there by myself, I seek to sit next to a stranger and engage them in conversation. Twice this has resulted in meeting people who were essentially exactly who I needed to meet at that moment (one a prize-winning poet who strongly encouraged my writing and another a master physical therapist who eventually gave me much-needed gratis treatment on my bum knee).

This time, as soon as I walked in I spotted a gorgeous young woman sitting alone at a big table and immediately decided I had to join her. I asked if I could sit with her and she said yes, we got to talking, and it turns out she was originally from Staten Island, less than 3 miles away from where I grew up. As soon as she mentioned where she was from, my head virtually exploded and pretty much everything since that moment has felt like a dream. Still, almost four weeks later, I'm trying to assimilate how all of it can be real.

In all my travels and with all the people I've met since leaving home five years ago, I don't recall ever meeting anyone else who actually grew up in Staten Island (though I do have a friend in Austin who lived there for four years), so the fact that a beautiful woman who I'd---admittedly somewhat courageously---approached on the eve of my birthday happened to be from there struck me powerfully. Like I said, Casa de Luz is a special place.

We hit it off immediately, conversing for almost 2 hours (she's not only beautiful, but intelligent, funny, artistic) and then exchanged contact info before leaving. The next day was my birthday but since it was a Thursday, I'd held off on making any major plans until Friday night. Seeking to reenact the great vibes I'd felt with her the night before, I contacted the gorgeous Staten girl to see if she'd like to have dinner again that night. Alas, she had plans but quickly arranged for us to go out on a specified night soon afterward.

So I spent the day of my 28th birthday floating along the river on a paddle board, swimming, and then later went to an art museum with a friend. After the museum we went to get some dinner and, sure enough, there was the same Staten girl sitting in the restaurant with her friend. We were actually born in the same hospital, played basketball for the same church as kids, and have many other hometown connections, but for the first 28 years of my life we never met. Then we met twice in the span of 24 hours surrounding my birthday, deep in the heart of Texas.

We've gone out many times since, each date better than the last.

*   *   *

Adding intrigue to the powerful events that occurred around my 28th birthday is the idea of Saturn's Return which I was just recently informed about. The planet takes approximately 28 years to revolve around the sun so around the time of one's 28th birthday, the planet returns to the spot where it was at the time of their birth. This is said to be associated with major transitions and important changes in one's life. I think I can vouch for that.

*   *   *

The birthday celebration lasted for about five days, all told. Nothing wild, just spending time with friends, hanging out and doing Austin things. During the weekend, I got to go see one of my all-time favorite baseball players, Manny Ramirez, ply his trade for the local minor league team.

Now 41-years-old and somewhat desperately hoping to make it back to the major leagues after being essentially blacklisted for a while (and finding brief success and renewed stardom in Taiwan), the
slightly heavy-set Manny drew lots of excitement from the crowd, most of whom seemed there to see him play. Batting cleanup and serving as the designated hitter, we only got to see him on the field when he came to the plate four times.

Sitting just a few rows behind the home team's dugout, my first glimpse of the notoriously childish Manny was perfect: he stumbled stepping out of the dugout toward the on-deck circle and immediately went to swipe at a teammate who'd tried to trip him. He was like an exaggerated comedic stage actor. Wearing the same number 99 on his back that he'd donned while taking the major leagues by storm in his stint with the LA Dodgers, it was a bit disheartening to see his trademark long dreadlocks completely shaved off. He now sported a shaved head, following closely to the Texas Rangers' organizational policy of looking clean-cut.

Though he only got on base once via a walk, there were some moments of excitement when he'd take a mighty cut and foul a pitch back. This is, after all, a man with 555 career homeruns, certainly one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all-time and here he was playing in a little ballpark against scrubs in Round Rock, Texas. The crowd loved every minute of him being on the field. So did I.

His finest moment came in his first at-bat when he crushed a very loud line drive to deep right-centerfield that would've been a double except for a great running catch by the center fielder. Otherwise, his beautiful swing often seemed a millisecond too slow. Right before we decided to leave, we stood on the concourse watching his final at-bat. Next to us, a Mexican family was screaming encouragement in Spanish at him and the sunset made the sky a gorgeous pinkish orange. The former star swung late on two fastballs which loudly cracked the catcher's mitt and there was a slight tint of worry in the focused crowd. Our hero may really have lost it.

He caught up to the next fastball, but smacked it for a fly ball to center field. An easy out and that was it. Today, the Texas Rangers officially released Manny and it's quite possible we'll never see him play baseball in the United States again. If so, I'm thankful for the birthday gift of getting to see the notorious star from Washington Heights taking one last at-bat as the sun set on his colorful career.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Further (Belated) Bloomsday 2013 Thoughts: A Quick Look at the Rumbold Scene

Despite the air of its lofty reputation being one of haughty, high-brow, ivory tower academic density and seriousness, Ulysses is a damn funny book.

I'd like to briefly illustrate its humor by highlighting a favorite selection---a satirical vignette depicting a hanging---from perhaps the funniest chapter, known as the "Cyclops" episode.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Discovering New Old Minds: Remedios Varo and others

Personaje Astrale by Remedios Varos (1961)
Somehow I've only just recently heard of this woman. The internet is a glorious place.

Remedios Varo Uranga (December 16, 1908 – October 8, 1963) was a Spanish-Mexican, para-surrealist painter and anarchist. She was born María de los Remedios Alicia Rodriga Varo y Uranga in Anglès, a small town in the province of Girona, Spain in 1908. Her birth helped her mother get over the death of another daughter, which is the reason behind the name.
While I only see one mention of Salvador Dali on her wiki page (noting that she attended his alma mater, the San Fernando Fine Arts Academy in Madrid) she was born only 4 years after him, was a fellow Spanish surrealist painter, and her work certainly bears a slight influence of his.

Even better: Dali had the exact same history behind his birth. His parents had a previous child named Salvador Dali who died before the age of two so nine months later they had another baby boy and named him Salvador Dali.

Definitely need to pick up a book on Miss Remedios Varo soon. She's my kind of thinker:
"Varo was influenced by a wide range of mystic and hermetic traditions, both Western and non-Western. She turned with equal interest to the ideas of C. G. Jung as to the theories of G. I. Gurdjieff, P. D. Ouspensky, Helena Blavatsky, Meister Eckhart, and the Sufis, and was as fascinated with the legend of the Holy Grail as with sacred geometry, alchemy and the I-Ching."
*   *   *

Some other new old minds I've recently discovered and taken an interest in...

Benjamin Lee Whorf
Benjamin Lee Whorf (April 24, 1897 – July 26, 1941) was an American linguist and fire prevention engineer. Whorf is widely known as an advocate for the idea that because of linguistic differences in grammar and usage, speakers of different languages conceptualize and experience the world differently. This principle has frequently been called the "Sapir–Whorf hypothesis", after him and his mentor Edward Sapir, but Whorf called it the principle of linguistic relativity, because he saw the idea as having implications similar to Einstein's principle of physical relativity.
Throughout his life Whorf was a chemical engineer by profession, but as a young man he took up an interest in linguistics.
Whorf discovered that the Native American Hopi language seemed to have no concept of time as a series of discreet events, that they were experiencing everything as one event.

Fred Hoyle
20th century English astronomer who coined the phrase "Big Bang" although he strongly rejected the theory. As Wiki explains carefully:
While having no argument with the Lemaître theory (later confirmed by Edwin Hubble's observations) that the universe was expanding, Hoyle disagreed on its interpretation. He found the idea that the universe had a beginning to be pseudoscience, resembling arguments for a creator, "for it's an irrational process, and can't be described in scientific terms" (see Kalam cosmological argument). Instead, Hoyle, along with Thomas Gold and Hermann Bondi (with whom he had worked on radar in World War II), argued for the universe as being in a "steady state". The theory tried to explain how the universe could be eternal and essentially unchanging while still having the galaxies we observe moving away from each other. The theory hinged on the creation of matter between galaxies over time, so that even though galaxies get further apart, new ones that develop between them fill the space they leave. The resulting universe is in a "steady state" in the same manner that a flowing river is - the individual water molecules are moving away but the overall river remains the same.
Hoyle also rejected the theory that life had originated on earth, postulating the idea of panspermia, essentially that small pieces of life are flying around the universe on meteoroids, asteroids, etc. As he said it once:
"If one proceeds directly and straightforwardly in this matter, without being deflected by a fear of incurring the wrath of scientific opinion, one arrives at the conclusion that biomaterials with their amazing measure or order must be the outcome of intelligent design. No other possibility I have been able to think of..." 
Of course, Hoyle was a staunch atheist, a Darwinist, etc. but scientifically the only conclusion he could derive was that an intelligence had purposefully designed DNA and spread it throughout the universe.

Edgar Mitchell
Edgar Dean Mitchell, Sc.D. (born September 17, 1930) is an American pilot, retired Captain in the United States Navy and NASA astronaut. As the lunar module pilot of Apollo 14, he spent nine hours working on the lunar surface in the Fra Mauro Highlands region, making him the sixth person to walk on the Moon.
Okay, so he's an astronaut. Big deal.

From an interview:
SET  In 1971, as you pulled away from the Moon and made your way back to Earth, what did it feel like to be in the space between worlds?

EM  I’ll have to set up the story for you just a little bit. The spacecraft was oriented perpendicular to the plane that contains the Earth, the Moon and the Sun. Not flying perpendicular to that plane – but moving through it back to Earth. The spacecraft was rotating to maintain the thermal balance of the Sun. What that caused to happen was that every two minutes, with every rotation, we saw the Earth, the Moon and the Sun as they passed by the window. The 360-degree panorama of the heavens was awesome and the stars are ten times as bright and, therefore, ten times as numerous than you could ever see on a high mountaintop on a clear night. It was overwhelmingly magnificent.

SET  What were you thinking then?

EM  I realized that the molecules of my body and the molecules of the spacecraft had been manufactured in an ancient generation of stars. It wasn’t just intellectual knowledge – it was a subjective visceral experience accompanied by ecstasy – a transformational experience.

SET  You were raised as a Southern Baptist and studied as a scientist. Then you had this visceral, spiritual experience in space: how did you reconcile this with your upbringing and training?

EM  The experience in space was so powerful that when I got back to Earth I started digging into various literatures to try to understand what had happened. I found nothing in science literature but eventually discovered it in the Sanskrit of ancient India. The descriptions of samadhi, Savikalpa samadhi, were exactly what I felt: it is described as seeing things in their separateness, but experiencing them viscerally as a unity, as oneness, accompanied by ecstasy.

SET  Can you speak to the division that is often drawn between science and spiritual experience, between the material world and consciousness?

EM  The materialist worldview says that everything is due to the bumping together of little atomic structures like billiard balls – and consciousness is an accident of that encounter. The opposite extreme is the idealist interpretation, which has been around since Greek times or earlier. It says that consciousness is the fundamental stuff, and matter is an illusion, a product of consciousness.

Science and religion have lived on opposite sides of the street now for hundreds of years. So here we are, in the twenty-first century, trying to put two faces of reality – the existence face and the intelligence or conscious face – into the same understanding. Body and mind, physicality and consciousness belong to the same side of reality – it’s a dyad, not a dualism.

Okay, one last Mind, whose theories tie together nicely with what Fred Hoyle said above.

You rang?
Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky (17 September 1857 – 19 September 1935) was a Russian and Soviet rocket scientist and pioneer of the astronautic theory. Along with his followers, the German Hermann Oberth and the American Robert H. Goddard, he is considered to be one of the founding fathers of rocketry and astronautics. His works later inspired leading Soviet rocket engineers such as Sergey Korolyov and Valentin Glushko and contributed to the success of the Soviet space program.
Tsiolkovsky spent most of his life in a log house on the outskirts of Kaluga, about 200 km (120 mi) southwest of Moscow. A recluse by nature, he appeared strange and bizarre to his fellow townsfolk.
While conjuring up new scientific plans for rocketry, astronautics, and space stations at the turn of the 20th century in his secluded log house, Tsiolkovsky had some other brilliant, profound, unflappably optimistic ideas. He strongly believed the human race would advance toward colonizing the Milky Way. As he wrote in his 1928 book The Will of the Universe. The Unknown Intelligence:
"The finer part of humanity will, in all likelihood, never perish---they will migrate from sun to sun as they go out. And so there is no end to life, to intelligence and to the perfection of humanity. Its progress is everlasting."

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Further Bloomsday 2013 Thoughts, Part One

Marilyn reading the famous final chapter of Ulysses, the Molly Bloom soliloquy.

Last Wednesday (a few days before Bloomsday), at the invitation of the Austin Film Society, I attended a screening of the documentary "In Bed with Ulysses" which tells the story of James Joyce writing and publishing Ulysses. While it was refreshing and often entertaining to witness the story of Joyce creating his epic and rising to fame (and notoriety) conveyed through cinema, I found the film lacking in many respects.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Potent Quotables: Woven into Nature

"Our skin shares its chemistry with the maple leaf and moth wing. The currents our bodies regulate share a molecular flow with raw sun. Nerves and flashes of lightning are related events woven into nature at different levels."
- Richard Grossinger, Planet Medicine

"I am part of the sun as my eye is part of me. That I am part of the earth, my feet know perfectly, and my blood is part of the sea. There is nothing of me that is alone and isolate, except my mind, and we shall find that the mind has no existence by itself, but is only the glitter of the sun on the surface of the waters."
- D.H. Lawrence, Apocalypse and the Writings on Revelation

(Taken from Rob Brezsny's excellent book Pronoia is the Antidote for Paranoia.)

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Some Brief Thoughts on Ulysses for Bloomsday

Image by Yuri Beletsky, from Astronomy Picture of the Day site.

"The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit." - Ulysses

One of my favorite chapters in Ulysses is known as the "Ithaca" episode, the penultimate chapter of the book, where the prose turns into a scientific Q & A catechism featuring lengthy ruminations by the main character Leopold Bloom on things like water and the cosmos. A particularly beautiful passage has Bloom considering the connection between woman and the moon:
What special affinities appeared to him to exist between the moon and woman?
Her antiquity in preceding and surviving successive tellurian generations: her nocturnal predominance: her satellitic dependence: her luminary reflection: her constancy under all her phases, rising and setting by her appointed times, waxing and waning: the forced invariability of her aspect: her indeterminate response to inaffirmative interrogation: her potency over effluent and refluent waters: her power to enamour, to mortify, to invest with beauty, to render insane, to incite to and aid delinquency: the tranquil inscrutability of her visage: the terribility of her isolated dominant implacable resplendent propinquity: her omens of tempest and of calm: the stimulation of her light, her motion and her presence: the admonition of her craters, her arid seas, her silence: her splendour, when visible: her attraction, when invisible.
Today is Bloomsday, commemorating the day on which James Joyce's most famous novel takes place. It's also Father's Day which is fitting because, perhaps more than anything else, Ulysses is about the meaning of fatherhood and paternity, the "consubstantiality of the Son with the Father."

The book begins with three chapters focusing on Stephen Dedalus, a 22-year-old intellectual and schoolteacher (representing young Joyce himself) who's still mourning the death of his mother who died months prior and has left the home of his family mainly because of their abusive, alcoholic father. Stephen is kind of a mess; while he's certainly brilliant, he's stuck in a self-destructive binge-drinking, homeless, depressed situation.

The rest of the book introduces us to Leopold Bloom, the novel's great comic hero, a 38-year-old father and husband whose relationship with his wife was scarred when their infant son died shortly after his birth 11 years prior. The couple hasn't had sex since then and they sleep head-to-foot in bed. His wife Molly ostensibly cheats on Bloom when he's not around. On this day, June 16th, he's aware of a tryst that is to occur at his home in the afternoon and purposely procrastinates and stays away from home all day to avoid it, finding himself in an array of urban adventures and confrontations. (Notice the opposition to Homer's Odyssey where Odysseus fights to return home to his chaste wife who's been rejecting suitors.)

Throughout the afternoon, the paths of Bloom and Stephen weave and intersect like a caduceus, each appearing in the background of another's scene until the explosive center of the book where the sympathetic Bloom decides to follow a drunken Stephen toward Dublin's brothel district to try to save him from ensuing danger.

In discussing Ulysses, people often describe it as a normal, mundane day in the life of one Jew in Ireland named Leopold Bloom. I strongly disagree with this description. While, yes, Bloom runs some errands and does everyday things like defecate, urinate, masticate, masturbate, he also attends a funeral (which leads to deep consideration of life and death), suffers the sadness of knowing his wife is cheating on him that very afternoon (haunting his mind all day), visits a woman in the hospital who's been suffering through a terribly painful labor (his appearance coinciding with a successful parturition), and saves a precocious but wayward young man from getting his ass kicked or going to jail or both.

And this son in search of a father figure and father in search of a son theme echoes all throughout the book from the very first chapter onwards.

It is toward the end of the text, in the Ithaca episode, after Bloom has brought Stephen home to help him recover from his intoxicated misadventures with some hot cocoa and philosophical dialogue, where the two characters become, as Joyce described them, "celestial bodies". Astronomical and scientific jargon-laden prose intricately (yet somehow poetically) describes their experience as they stand out in the backyard urinating underneath the stars.

I'll have more to say about Ulysses and Bloomsday later on. For now, I've got to call my dad and then go host a little Bloomsday gathering at a local coffeeshop.

*   *   *

EDIT: Have to add another favorite passage from Ithaca, from a section of about four pages worth of Bloom (the science enthusiast as opposed to Stephen the poet-artist) ruminating deeply on physics, the cosmos, "the condensation of spiral nebulae into suns," etc. After his thoughts have zoomed out into an increasingly expanded perspective, he then focuses back on the earth and the unfathomable, perhaps bottomless depths of the microcosm:

Were there obverse meditations of involution increasingly less vast?
Of the eons of geological periods recorded in the stratifications of the earth: of the myriad minute entomological organic existences concealed in cavities of the earth, beneath removable stones, in hives and mounds, of microbes, germs, bacteria, bacilli, spermatozoa: of the incalculable trillions of billions of millions of imperceptible molecules contained by cohesion of molecular affinity in a single pinhead: of the universe of human serum constellated with red and white bodies, themselves universes of void space constellated with other bodies, each, in continuity, its universe of divisible component bodies of which each was again divisible in divisions of redivisible component bodies, dividends and divisors ever diminishing without actual division till, if the progress were carried far enough, nought nowhere was never reached.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Five New Hip Hop Albums Reviewed

Reviewing a handful of records from the first five months of 2013 that have occupied my ears...

The Psychic World of Walter Reed - Killah Priest

A 41-track encyclopedic masterwork from arguably the most gifted lyricist under the Wu-Tang umbrella, PWOWR is Priest's tenth album, a double-CD overflowing with a bewildering variety of mystical/cosmic/occult/street poetics. We get the full range of Priest's writing abilities in this massive collection: intricately weaved story tracks, intensely destructive battle raps, acapella spoken-word poetry psychic trips, certified Wu bangers, cinematic tours through dark electro-dystopian futures and uplifting journeys through the interstellar psycho-spiritual domain of the Wu tribe's articulate shaman.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

"Brilliantaire" by Killah Priest

As I'm in the midst of hammering out a piece covering a few of my favorite hip hop albums of the year thus far, here is one of the finest tracks from the album I'm most enamored with, Killah Priest's vast mystical galaxy of lyrics entitled The Psychic World of Walter Reed.

This track represents the album as a whole as it features the oft-repeated imagery of traveling into the cosmic depths of inner space and becoming in tune with ancient spirits while composing his poetry.

"Then I recline so I can see the design
before he said close your eyes cuz what we need is your mind
and the rhyme, like a storm as the currents blew me on
thru gases, I saw places where planets were born
and the voice that spoke to my ghost majestic
let's show you the essence, let's reveal to you the presence"

"With rare paint, beads, water or oil
saint, holy man, beggar or royal
angels, devils, or aliens
which do you believe in more?
do you receive or restore?
do you want peace or war?
do you wish to live free or by law?
it gets deep to the core
we perform prayers, fasting, and charities, go on pilgrimage
but do we know what real healing is?"

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Retracing Recent Ramifications of Thought, Part 2 (Room 237 and beyond)

"What do we know about what we put into anything? Though people may read more into Ulysses than I ever intended, who is to say that they are wrong? Do any of us know what we are creating?" - James Joyce
I've been remiss not to have mentioned Room 237 on this blog yet. I first learned of this film last October when Chuck Klosterman wrote a review for it at Grantland and began: "I just saw a documentary that obliterated my cranium. It's the best nonfiction film I've seen all year." From there I was compelled to read every Room 237 review I could find, then searched desperately for a way to see it (unsuccessfully until just a few weeks ago), and have frequently been bringing up the film as a conversation piece with friends.

Room 237 quickly turned into a mini obsession for me because the premise of the film---creative interpretation of art---aligned exactly with what I've been pursuing for a couple years now. It is a documentary by Rodney Ascher exploring alternate interpretations of Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film The Shining through the voices of five people outlining their own unique theories. Their analysis, through which they verify a specific subjective interpretation by pointing out numerous correspondences throughout The Shining, is exactly what Salvador Dali referred to as "paranoiac critical analysis," a critical approach I've written about here and in my monograph on Dali and James Joyce.

As the ultimate auteur who carefully pieced together every single element that appears on screen, Kubrick's artistic style lends itself perfectly to this type of deep analysis. Microscopic scrutiny of minute elements reveals a wealth of possible meanings. Hence, the cans of Calumet baking powder displayed in some kitchen scenes hints at an underlying theme of Native American genocide, or so argues Bill Blakemore. Frequent occurrences of the number 42 allude to the Jewish Holocaust since Auschwitz opened in 1942 says Geoffrey Cocks, a noted scholar on Nazi Germany who sees the film through those goggles.

Juli Kearns, with a New England accent sounding a lot like Doris Kearns Goodwin (of Ken Burns Baseball documentary fame) graphically outlines inconsistencies in the architectural arrangement of The Shining's Overlook Hotel, indicating a spooky morphology in the building itself. Colorful Kubrick obsessor John Fell Ryan chuckles through his discussion of minor continuity errors which are, he argues, edited that way intentionally to add a further element of eeriness and subtly shock the viewer's unconscious. The most compelling (and initially ridiculous) argument in the film is made by Jay Weidner who posits that The Shining is Kubrick's confession that he helped the American government fake the Apollo 11 moon landing.*

*Though he makes it clear he is not stating the moon landing didn't occur, only that the footage was faked. Here's my take, for what it's worth: I had heard this Kubrick moon landing conspiracy theory prior to seeing the film and brought it up in a late night outdoor discussion under a full moon with some folks. They knew all about it already. A Houston native told me the story of growing up attending high school with the children of NASA employees, they told him the moon landing footage was indeed faked but we absolutely did go to the moon. The real footage was burned up in the Earth's atmosphere upon return, they said. That Kubrick was working closely with NASA on 2001: A Space Odyssey (a film featuring plenty of moon surface scenes) all throughout the 1960s adds to the intrigue of this whacky idea. True or not, it has to be the coolest conspiracy theory I've ever heard.

The entire documentary is presented through a cut-up of scenes from The Shining and various other film clips with voiceovers of the analysts detailing their stories and ideas. We don't see any of the usual documentary-style scenes of sedentary people talking and there's no narration aside from the interviewees telling their stories and theories. This immersion into the worlds of the obsessed observers actually brings the film some humor as the speakers occasionally go off the edge in their theories (most memorably when it is asserted that the face of Kubrick appears airbrushed into the clouds during the opening sequence).

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Retracing Recent Ramifications of Thought, Part 1 (VALIS, Duality and Finnegans Wake)

"Each of us has within us a secretly potent pantheon. The unconscious sends all sorts of vapors, odd beings, deluding images up into the mind–whether in dream, broad daylight, or insanity; for the human kingdom, beneath the floor of the comparatively neat little dwelling that we call our consciousness, goes down into unexpected Aladdin caves. There not only jewels but also dangerous jinn abide: the inconvenient or resisted psychological powers that we have not thought or dared to integrate into our lives. And they may remain unsuspected, or, on the other hand, some chance word, the smell of a landscape, the taste of a cup of tea, or the glance of an eye may touch a magic spring, and then dangerous messengers begin to appear in the brain. These are dangerous because they threaten the fabric of the security into which we have built ourselves and our family. But they are fiendishly fascinating too, for they carry keys that open the whole realm of the desired and feared adventure of the discovery of the self. Destruction of the world that we have built and in which we live, and of ourselves within it; but then a wonderful reconstruction, of the bolder, cleaner, more spacious, and fully human life–that is the lure, the promise and the terror, of these disturbing night visitations from the mythological realm that we carry within.
- Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

New track: "Pyramid Builders"

 Pyramid Builders [feat. Heaven Razah, Kevlaar 7, & Illy Vas] by Zagnif Nori

"Who wanna build as the Olmecs did?"

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Book Review: Baseball Prospectus 2013

For the last ten years, each February has brought a new edition of the Baseball Prospectus annual book to my doorstep. Covering every team and every player with essays, statistics, and commentaries, it's always a treasured new arrival which I somehow manage to devour entirely, all 500+ pages of it, within a few weeks.

While it has the physical appearance of a college accounting textbook, the BP annuals have always been known to be densely stuffed with great writing. The statistics serve as the structural spine of the book but the essays and player commentaries are always the highlight, making it so addictive to read for a baseball nut.

This year's edition made some unwelcome changes to the formula, though, and as a big-time baseball obsessive and Prospectus geek, it's a major disappointment. The BP venture has seen lots of turnover in its writerly ranks over the last 5 or 6 years with the style and content they produce gradually evolving away from what made them so successful in the first place.

Monday, April 8, 2013

2013 MLB Season Preview Part 6: NL East

The expected ascent of Harper into the Trout-ian stratosphere at age 20 figures to be one of the game's biggest stories this year. (Getty Images.)

1. Nationals
PECOTA: 87 wins
My pick: Over

This 87-win projection is one of the oddest numbers spit out by PECOTA as the consensus among fans and experts is that this is the best all-around team in baseball this year. I'm inclined to agree with the latter as no other team is so well-stocked with talent in every area of the roster (manager included) as this year's Nationals. They won 98 games last year with a good Pythagorean record to back it up (in other words, they weren't especially lucky) and look to have greatly improved in the offseason.
Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, back-to-back #1 picks and two of the planet's true phenoms in any sport, are only now just starting to hit their stride. Harper is an early (and seemingly easy) MVP candidate as he enters just his second season at age 20. Those two are surrounded by an infield of power-hitters who are notably great defensive players, the rotation behind Strasburg is stacked, the bullpen's deep enough to withstand inevitable injuries and/or regression, and oh yeah Bryce Harper could go all Mike Trout on us this year. 90 wins easily, possibly somewhere closer to a 100.

Monday, April 1, 2013

2013 MLB Season Preview Part 5: NL Central

Continuing our series of predictions for each division, this time I'll keep the comments short as the season is already under way and these need to get finished.

NL Central
The Astros are no longer around to serve as a punching bag for the rest of the division, but the story here remains the same: a battle for first between the two teams who wear red. 

1. Cardinals
PECOTA: 83 wins
My pick: Over
Yadi shall lead the way for the Cards.

A very strong offensive team with one of the top hitting prospects in baseball (Oscar Taveras) still stuck in the minors waiting for a spot to open up. They'll score plenty, it's just a question of whether the rotation holds up without stalwart Chris Carpenter around. They've got a few young pitchers who'll end up either in key relief roles or starting, I think it'll all work out fine as one of the game's best catchers Yadier Molina will be behind the plate to guide the new blood.

2013 MLB Season Preview Part 4: NL West

NL West

1. Giants
PECOTA: 85 wins
My pick: Over

Two World Series victories in three years and their core is both intact and only now starting to reach their prime. As good as the Dodgers look on paper, I'll still take this group over them.

The decline of Tim Lincecum is disheartening but the rotation still features two top notch aces in Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. The Giants were lucky enough to make it through the whole year without any injuries to their starting pitchers, only 2 games were started by someone outside of their regular 5-man rotation. That's not likely to happen again.

With a strong defense, great starting pitching, versatile bullpen, good tactical manager, and a lineup that was actually one of the best in baseball last year, the Giants are primed for another run into the playoffs. They're the best team in this division, though the competition promises to be tougher than in recent years.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

2013 MLB Season Preview Part 3: AL East

It all boils down to whether this guy is on the field or not.
AL East

1. Rays
PECOTA: 87 wins
My pick: Over

Joe Maddon's squad ended last year with the run differential of a 95-win team but underachieved to the tune of 90 wins, just short of the playoffs. Despite trading away a key contributor in James Shields and losing B.J. Upton, this team actually might have improved. New shortstop Yunel Escobar upgrades what's long been a key weakness, while newly acquired outfielder Wil Myers is projected to be an elite all-around slugger whenever the team decides to let him play in the pros (certainly this year at some point). 

The pitching staff lost a big-time innings-eater but the organization already had an overflowing supply of young starters to work with, hence the need for a trade. Even without Shields, their rotation runs 7 or 8 deep right now. This team can pitch. It's the lineup that could potentially be a problem. Evan Longoria tends to miss too many games, Myers is currently being kept in the minor leagues for money reasons, Toronto's discarded keystone combo (Escobar and Kelly Johnson) could easily falter, they're getting no offensive value from the catcher and first base spots, and newly-minted centerfielder Desmond Jennings is still unproven. Even with so many question marks, this should still be the best offense the Rays have had in a few years. With Longoria playing at full strength, I think they'll edge out Toronto for the division and be a good bet for the World Series.

Friday, March 29, 2013

2013 MLB Season Preview Part 2: AL Central

Snoop Lion in the house.

Continuing our quick rundown of each division...

AL Central

1. Tigers
My pick: Even

They spent most of last season figuring things out, not solidifying first place until late September despite being the odds-on favorites to run away with the division. Once they settled in (and patched a major hole at second base), they were dominant on their way to the AL pennant.

With free agent Torii Hunter and a recovered Victor Martinez joining the star trio of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Austin Jackson, this is a much deeper lineup than they've had in recent years. Despite the Triple Crown performance by Cabrera, the team only put up 726 runs last year, their lowest total since 2005. They should easily exceed 800 runs this year.

The rotation is loaded, led by last year's top 2 strikeout pitchers in the American League with three above-average starters behind them. This could easily be the best starting staff in the AL. The bullpen situation is unsettled but there are enough good arms (Coke, Dotel, Albuerquerque, Benoit) to get by. They should run away with the division from the start this time and compete again for the AL championship.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

2013 MLB Season Preview Part 1: AL West

And another new season begins.

This will be the fourth time in this blog's history that I'll be writing up a division-by-division baseball preview. Each time in the past I've gotten at least a couple predictions dead wrong. Last year, for instance, I had the Nationals finishing in last place and the revamped Marlins winning the NL East. Instead, the Nats won 98 games and the division while the Marlins imploded with a 69-win last-place disaster season.

All of which is to say: don't take this too seriously. No matter how well you know baseball, it's impossible to predict the outcome of a six-month-long season with any sort of accuracy. This format is merely the most convenient for discussing each team's chances. I like to yap about baseball and looking at each team's projected record represents a good starting point.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

On the Lofty Potential of the Human Brain

Stephen Wiltshire draws a city from memory

Soaking in certain books and lecture materials (mainly revolving around the works of Robert Anton Wilson and Timothy Leary) over the last few weeks has had me often floating in a deep, blissful and prolonged appreciation and consideration of the human brain, nature's astounding biocomputer.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Cassiopeia and Tycho's Star in Ulysses

One of the websites I visit regularly is NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day page. Last week this magnificent image of the so-called Heart Nebula appeared:

It was noted that the Heart Nebula appears in the constellation Cassiopeia, a name which immediately rung a bell as it recurs in the thought streams of the two main characters in Ulysses: "delta of Cassiopeia." While that phrase has occasionally echoed in the back of my mind the last few years, I never took the liberty to find out what exactly it means and why it pops up a few times in Ulysses. I frequently find that, when dealing with the art of James Joyce, there's always a reason for the recurrent phrases. They always mean something if not multiple things. Every microcosmic grain, when closely examined, tends to open up a new world.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

NHL 2013: The Truncated Season at its Midpoint

Nobody is catching Jonathan Toews and the Blackhawks.
It's about that time for me to compose some thoughts on the current NHL season and its combatants. My hockey fanhood seems to peak each year right around the midpoint of the schedule, slowly trailing off into the spring as baseball begins and the combo of stretch-run NBA, NHL, and a fresh baseball season becomes too much for me to keep up with all at once.

For now, I'm intensely following the lockout-shortened 2013 NHL season and greatly enjoying it. The condensed 48-game schedule has teams only playing opponents from the same conference and lots of games going on virtually every single night. This feels like the way it should always be. Both the NHL and NBA (and MLB, for that matter) badly need to shorten their regular season schedules but with massive amounts of TV revenue flowing in, that's just not going to happen.

Since we're dealing with a relatively small sampling of games (just a handful of teams have reached the 24-game halfway mark at this point), I'll try to keep this short.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

An Eclectic Array of Bullet Points

Limiting myself to just one picture to sum up this weird post.
My writing has begun to fall off the rails a bit the last few weeks as I've been drawn in many different directions by a combination of life events (all good ones!) and overindulgent devouring of my favorite types of brain food. The latter is always the source material for my writing but instead of taking the time and focused energy to express my thoughts about these things I've been just been consuming it all. In an attempt to start bringing balance to this gluttony, here are some words on the extremely varied things I've been spending so much time gobbling up the last few months.
  • The Coolest Game on Earth: The return of hockey sucked me in immediately and I've been closely following the new NHL season ever since. While the lockout that wiped away half the league's regular season was an ugly and embarrassing disaster for the sport, the actual gameplay on the ice hasn't suffer from it one bit. Hockey is still amazing to watch. Perhaps more than ever. (I can't help but watch anytime it's on---a game currently plays in the background as I type this.) Similar to the NBA's lockout-shortened season last year, the abbreviated schedule feels easier to digest. I'm of the opinion that every sport, with the possible exception of the NFL, has an overly long and drawn-out schedule that badly needs to be pared down. A 48-game NHL regular season (in which each team only plays opponents from their own conference) seems perfect. It bears mentioning that the sportswriting conglomerate site now features two great hockey writers in Katie Baker and Sean McIndoe whose work has been contributing to my intense interest in the sport this year. To be posted here soon will be a large post of all my thoughts on the NHL season thus far.
  • Spring Has Sprung: The arrival at my doorstep of Baseball Prospectus 2013, the annual season preview book, has officially signaled the beginning of spring and the return of the beautiful outdoor game. I love watching and keeping up with the NHL and NBA but inevitably each year when the new BP annual shows up and Spring Training begins, my baseball obsession quickly stirs awake from its winter slumber, making it hard to maintain any balance in my sports fanhood. For the fourth time since this blog's inception, I'll be putting together my own season preview/predictions for each team in the weeks to come. Also, expect a critique of the BP annual soon as the phonebook-sized text which I look forward to reading every year made some major changes, mostly for the worse.
  • "Yeah I'm Underground/ Straight Outta the Bat Cave": Two new hip hop albums have brought me lots of audio ecstasy already this year. The latest offering from Bronze Nazareth and his Detroit-based Wisemen crew is a solo album for the group's dynamically grimy and gravelly-voiced flow master Phillie entitled Welcome to the Detroit Zoo (produced and directed by Bronze). A pure album in every sense of the word, it is front-to-back filled with quality tracks, not a single bad beat (as per usual with Bronze & crew), and maintains a thought-provoking theme variously inflected throughout: that of captured animals in zoos being a metaphorical equivalent to "what it's like to be a n**** in America" as the oft-quoted Katt Williams has it. After two full months of constantly listening to and never getting bored with that album, another long-awaited record has just recently reached its release. The mesmerizing psycho-cosmic-occult-spiritual-street-poetic mysticism of Wu-Tang tribe shaman Killah Priest bursts forth through a massive 41-track collection in his most ambitious project to date, his tenth studio album, a double-cd entitled The Psychic World of Walter Reed (aka PWOWR). I'm still absorbing it, but will soon have lots to more to say about it as well as a full review of Phillie's album.
  • Engaged in Guerilla Ontology: Inspired by the ongoing reading group over at the Robert Anton Wilson fan blog, I've been reading RAW's historical fiction novel Masks of the Illuminati. Through his always refreshingly smooth and creative prose, Wilson weaves a strange tale of secret societies, occult magic, astral projection, and global conspiracy with a thoroughly spooked main character who happens to cross paths with two of the greatest minds of the 20th century, James Joyce and Albert Einstein (at the earliest cusp of their fame), who are compelled to help him solve his harrowing dilemma. As always happens when I indulge in reading RAW's books closely, weird yet innocuous synchronicities keep popping up around my life lately.
  • Finnegans Everything! I've got a new favorite blog and, as you can probably ascertain from reading this space, it's a weird one. Entitled Groupname for Grapejuice (a phrase from Finnegans Wake), this blog uses a mix of comparative mythology, occult knowledge, numerology, and some subjective free association to engage in what I can only call synchronicity detective work. The process might rankle the corduroys of the average skeptical rational materialists, but for me, having often indulged in this kind creative associative detective work myself, it's a delight to read. If you any interest in Finnegans Wake, synchronicity, numerology, Kabbalah, or conspiracy theories, then I can't recommend this blog highly enough. While the synchro-knots revealed can be a little scary sometimes, it's a good kind of scary, the kind that shakes up your world view, forcing you to reorganize your reality tunnel. Healthy mental exercise. Robert Anton Wilson would've loved it. In addition to that, I spent a month obsessively reading arguably the best critical work on Finnegans Wake called Joyce's Book of the Dark by John Bishop. It's an incredibly dense, information-filled book and so my attempt to summarize and review it has been a difficult one, but I'm about halfway done with that review piece so expect to see a big post on that soon at my other blog. My friend Gerry Fialka, who runs the long-standing Marshall McLuhan/Finnegans Wake Reading Group in Venice, California recently published a superb article weaving together a variety of threads, the associative style of which will appeal to anyone who derived intellectual pleasure from this specific bullet point.