Recent stuff.

Mar 28, 2000

All sorts of goodies have happened recently. Met some lovely girls in the last week or so. A good trend, and I certainly hope that it continues. E & A both work at an art theatre witihin a reasonable bus trip from my house. E is pretty, very charismatic and quite outgoing, willing to strike up a conversation at the drop of a hat. Made showing up early and getting stood up by the Emage crowd quite a pleasant experience, conversing with the both of them. A is more seemingly more knowledgeable, has a beautiful smile and fun wise-ass sense of humor. (I hope it continues to be fun… that sort of thing can get old if that’s all a person can do, but I think she’s pretty cool thus far.) In my pursuit of E, I begin to suspect that A is more my type. That night at the theatre, we all talked for about an hour before the movie began. (Rear Window… Great on the Big Screen, BTW). I shared pocky and cherry coke with the when the power went out, and got to spend a little more time talking with them. I went out with Cathi & Dave yesterday to see Ghost Dog (another really keen flick, I’m really beginning to love that theatre.) and A was there, but no sign of E. I chatted briefly with A, but she didn’t seem to remember me much, probably because I was with other folks, instead of solitary. C,D & I went to Thai food after, and I decided to head back to the movies after to catch the green mile, and hopefully catch E’s eye, and maybe chat the girls up a bit more. Sadly, E wasn’t there, and I arrived just in time to run into the theatre to get going with the movie. I had to step out a couple of times, as I got a Drum of Cherry coke, and the green mile has approximately five urination scenes during it’s three-hour length. I got up for that twice, the second time A noticed me, and commented… I replied “Lots of Pee scenes.” She thought I said “Lots of Pieces” at first, and I don’t even know what she might’ve thought I meant by that until I clarified. 20 minutes later, I got paged by Suzy. (Man, does she have Radar, or what?!?) And called her on the pay phone. A was still sitting on the bench there, looking a little sad, but I didn’t have the wherewithal to talk to her after gabbing with Suzy about email for 5-10 min of my movie-time. I returned to the theatre, and when I emerged at the close, A had gone home. No guts, no Glory, Scotto. I am determined now to talk with A and get her digits, now. I went out with Dan on Saturday, and met 2 great gals too… S, who looked a little too much like Brittany Spears for my taste, and R, who I’m totally taken with. Absolutely beautiful. 5’11” in flats, in her heels she was about 1 inch shorter than me, and all in proportion. Short ‘Dorothy Hammill’ haircut, brunette, narrow build but completely feminine. Knows quite a bit about pseudoscience and quackery, which is a nice break from the new-agey oddness I seem to end up talking with when I go out and about. (Might explain why I find her nearly irrisistable, beauty, grace, height, intelligence, and common sense. If she has any tragic flaws, they’re well hidden.) I fully intend on pursuing her more in-depth. The only downside of recent days was that yesterday I’d have liked to get together with emage-folk, but I didn’t hear from them until late in the day (like 5/6ish) and I was already well into the hanging out with Bohl’s, so that was out. Hopefully they’re not offended, but I don’t imagine so. They have an agenda of their own, and I’m only really included on the weekends.

Papal Apology

Mar 16, 2000

The Pope apologized for all the sins of the Catholic church. Listen, Pope, after the school girl outfits you guys invented, I can look past a few crusades, witch hunts, and inquisitions. Don’t focus on the negative things. I say next time you need to give a speech, don’t even mention that stuff, and just have 2 or 3 hundred of your 18-year-old female students come on stage and do aerobics. Even if they had panties on, it’d be a better apology than some half-dead mumbling in a language I don’t speak.

The Sky is Falling! The Sky is Falling!

Mar 11, 2000

Chicken Littles or at least, those with the brains of chickens are scooting frantically about trying to warn us all that on May 5 of this year, The World Will End. They predict earthquakes, tidal waves, volcanic activity, flooding and even ice-cap meltage on a vast scale (or, as they tend to put it, “Earth changes”, which is a term broad enough that it covers anything, pretty much, which of couse allows them to seem accurate). The reason, according to them, is that several planets in our solar system will be more or less in alignment, a pretty darn uncommon event in almost all circumstances. This alignment (or syzygy) will include our own Moon, the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn and will actually encompass a little over 25 degrees of arc, which really isn’t that significant to begin with. This alignment, according to the pebble-brained catastrophists, will result in huge gravitational tidal forces, which will of course result in… yep, “Earth changes”. Never mind the fact that the computer terminal at which you sit as you read this exerts more gravitational influence on you than Jupiter does. There are plenty of idiots out there panicking over this, and when nothing happens, they won’t learn anything; they’ll find something new to panic about.

Thoughts on the ‘Good Old Days’

Mar 1, 2000

In China, they used to force intellectuals to spend a year toiling in the rice paddies and doing the People’s Work. There is something to be said for that. Particularly if the People’s Work turns out to be surprisingly rich and fulfilling. I think that’s important… it seems to me that folks these days are more interested in the quick dollar and not too focused on what (in my mind, anyhow) should be more important. Quality of life and seeing new things in the world around you. I swear, these last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about things, and the reflections have been alternately horrible and wonderful. I’ve come to a realization that I have maybe one potential lifelong friend and even that one is iffy. My other pals will probably move on and fade out, as most people do these days. I partially blame the computer industry, breeding another race of nomads who think that staying at a company for more than 18 months is some form of stagnation. I don’t get the mindset at all. I tend to have jobs that last years on end, my longest being 6 years long. (hey I’m only 31… I’m not old enough to have been at the same gig for 25+ yet.) While I’m unsatisfied with my current occupation, I do feel that when I find the one I’m interested in, I’d like to have it locked in place fairly permenantly. I’m the same way about my friends. I feel a certain loss of connection, when I realize that 2 years from now, I might not even know where most of them will be living. I think “Why bother making any connection at all, if it’s just going to be severed once you make any progress?” Not only that, but there’s a shallowness to some of the friendships that hurts, too. When I’m a friend to someone, I’ll help them move a body. I suspect that some folks really can’t be bothered to be called on in a personal crisis… and to me, that’s what friends are. Someone that will be there for you and offer support, and you can do the same for them. Ah well, I take solace in the fact that I do have someone I can fall back on, and that I’m there for them too. It occurs to me that I don’t know where any of the living remainders of my graduating class are anymore, I just hear about it months to years later when they die, usually from accidents. Well, enough whining, on to the good stuff. I take great comfort in knowing that when it comes to relationships of a more intimate nature, I think I have it mostly worked out. I have someone who cares about me, and I care about in a more romantic way, but it’s not so close that we stifle each other, and not so distant that the caring is meaningless. A good mix, and not commonly come by. I think the trick is not to be too selfish, whether it’s the “What I want comes first” or the “Let me suck your emotions dry” sort of sidekick, of which I’ve seen way too much of in recent months. It infuriates me when I see someone I know can be civil act like a selfish jerk, at the expense of someone else’s well-being, and to someone who they claim to care about at that! I think it’s the throwaway, thoughtless stuff that gets folks into the most trouble. That to me is a sign that you really don’t love someone… I know that the person I’m with right now is caring, and thinks about what they say to express the right feelings to me, and I make a point of doing the same. Of course, breakdowns in communication can happen, but it can be kept at a minimum. Keeping lines of communication are very important, I’ve seen at least 2 marriages in recent years break up because they didn’t let their partners know what was bothering them until it was too late. Another good sign that the folks are lazy, or at least more prideful than in love is the lack of interest in seeking council of an unbiased third party. I don’t mean a friend of the couple, I mean someone trained to help both people get the best result of being together, or apart if that’s what’s best in the eyes of all involved. Hmm.. rambles. long story short. I’m lucky in love, but not in long term friendships. (outside of love, anyhow).

Foucault’s Pendulum

Feb 19, 2000

‘Listen, Jacopo, I thought of a good one: Urban Planning for Gypsies.’ ‘Great,’ Belbo said admiringly. ‘I have one, too: Aztec Equitation.’ ‘Excellent. But would that go with Potio-section or the Anynata?’ ‘We’ll have to see.’ Belbo said. He rummaged in his drawer and took out some sheets of paper. ‘Potio-section…’ He looked at me, saw my bewilderment. ‘Potio-section, as everybody knows, is the art of slicing soup. No, no,’ he said to Diotallevi. ‘It’s not a department, it’s a subject, like Mechanical Avunculogratulation or Pylocatabasis. They all fall under the heading of Tetrapyloctomy.’ ‘What’s tetra…?’ ‘The art of splitting a hair four ways. Mechanical Avunculogratulation, for example, is how to build machines for greeting uncles.’ (74) introduction The above quotation seems an apt microcosm of Foucault’s Pendulum: at once amusing, bewildering, ironic, exceedingly intellectual, and eminently dislikable. Umberto Eco’s novel, is a second expedition into the novel form by the Italian scholar and acclaimed author of Name of the Rose. This adventure is an detective story about a search for the center of an ancient, still-living conspiracy of men who seek not merely power over the earth but over the psychic, ‘telluric’ powers of the earth itself, and who in the end draw their pursuers into a circle (a pentagram?) where discovery of the truth is lethal. The story is inordinately difficult to follow — its encyclopedic richness of historical detail breaks any smooth transparency of prose — but it is not meant to be easy. Neither was The Name of the Rose, which became a bestseller, even if one wonders how many actually read all of it. Eco is an active scholar, and forges links between his academic and popular works. In a 1988 essay ‘Dreaming of the Middle Ages,’ the Italian identified ten types of nostalgic neo-medievalism. Number nine he labelled the Middle Ages of Tradition, ‘an eternal and rather eclectic ramshackle structure swarming with Knights Templar, Rosicrucians, alchemists, and Masonic initiates;’ that passage seems a prophetic formula for Foucault’s Pendulum — itself the celebration of the attempt to rediscover that world. If nothing else the work is undeniably ‘eternal’: the only reason the volume doesn’t reach seven hundred pages is because Eco declines to finish it properly. It isn’t even really a novel in the strict sense of the word, more a sort of formidable gathering of information, delivered playfully by a master manipulating his own invention — a long, erudite (if often dry), joke. plot The novel as narration is put into the mouth of Causaubon, a scholar who writes his doctoral dissertation on the Knights Templar, and establishes himself a business in Milan, styling himself a kind of Sam Spade of information (a ‘regular Joe’ Mycroft Holmes? a lean, married, Nero Wolfe?). For a price, he will track down any fact — even though he seems to know everything already (except that he is named for the scholar of George Eliot’s Middlemarch, who also knew everything though it did him no good). He accepts a job as consultant for the Garamond Press, and joins Jacopo Belbo (a commonsensical Piedmontese companion) and Diotallevi (an ex-foundling Piedmontese, who fancies himself Jewish). These three spend most of their time drunk or bored, creating parodic word-games, and ridiculing anyone who takes himself seriously. Belbo’s favorite sentence he saves for pretentiousness, ‘Ma gavte la nata,’ which means something like ‘take the cork out [of his ass] and let the wind out.’ These three — ‘clowns’ is perhaps the best word for them — in their research for a book entitled The History of Metals, advertise for manuscripts about the diabolical histories of secret societies. If the story so far seems to veer a bit, just wait — it gets better. They decide as a game to feed all the hermetic plots that ever were into their computer. The results go beyond even paranoid fantasy: the unexplained phenomena of history, they find, can be fitted into a single, cosmic plan that embraces opposites, provide better interpretations than orthodox history has of certain past events, and reveals the greatest secret of history. What every major society of Europe, from the thirteenth century onward, has wanted — Templars, Rosicrucians, Masons, Jesuits, even Nazis, we discover — is control of the Earth’s ‘telluric currents,’ the psychic forces which control the land, seas, and skies. The pre-Celts built Stonehenge; the Gothics erected immense cathedral spires; Eiffel contrived his tower. Why? ‘What need did Paris have of this useless monument? It’s the celestial probe, the antenna that collects information from every hermetic valve stuck into the planet’s crust!’ This, the ultimate conspiracy, synthesizes all possible conspiracies — though the list is so comprehensive one wonders precisely who they’re plotting against. No matter. A plot is a structure, a semiotic fabrication. Umberto Eco is a professor of semiotics, a grand master of codes, signs, and hidden meanings. The obsessiveness of the three Italians becomes contagious, and soon no single fact seems innocent. What is truly remarkable is how compelling ‘the Plan’ can seem, though the reader knows it to be false. It cannot be true; we watch, as the word processor groups together facts with its random number generator — any resulting coherence must surely be accidental. And reading the novel, it is possible to watch the three become obsessed and irrational, fabricating unlikely ‘ifs’ in order to fit missing pieces. One feels exhausted when the puzzle’s last pieces are fitted into place. ‘Not bad, not bad at all,’ Diotallevi said. ‘To arrive at the truth through the painstaking reconstruction of a false text.’ (459) the pendulum as analog Eco first heard about the pendulum (which swings in the Conservatoire des Arts et Mètiers in Paris) from a professor of civil engineering and architecture at Cornell University. The instrument, a twenty-eight kilo silver ball with a needle point, hanging by wire from a fixed point on the ceiling sixty-seven meters above, was invented by Jean Bernard Lèon Foucault (1819-68) to demonstrate the rotation of the earth; it swings perpetually, given momentum by the instability of the solid floor beneath it. The mechanism itself seems harmless, the confirmation of a comforting permanence, but turns sinister toward the end. Causaubon becomes irritated early in the novel by the indifference of passersby to the pendulum’s miracle: Above her head was the only stable point in the cosmos, the only refuge from the damnation of the panta rei, and she guessed it was the pendulum’s business, not hers. A moment later the couple went off — he, trained on some textbook that had blunted his capacity for wonder, she, inert and insensitive to the thrill of the infinite, both oblivious of the awesomeness of their encounter — with the One, the Ein-Sof, the Ineffable. How could you fail to kneel before this altar of certitude? (6) The poetry of the pendulum is the poetry of Eco’s novel, and of history itself. One writes a novel as Causaubon, Belbo and Diotallevi write their ‘Plan’ — in order to rewrite history — a history in which they then become a part. The pendulum, privileged, looms over the lunacy, scorn, and fear of the world because its point of attachment, alone in the universe, is fixed — wherever you choose to put it. This ‘centeredness’ so desired by the cabalists’ metaphysics, by Italian scholars’ cynicism, of poetry and history are only possible because of the force which maintains the pendulum. It takes over six hundred pages to get from our first view of the Pendulum to the last. These pages are crammed not with action but with information. I happened to be reading about fifteenth-century Venetian printers and was not surprised to find them there. If you want to know about the Gregorian calendar, or the theory that the Holy Grail is really St. Mary Magdalene, you will find it here. The book clearly needs an index. Perhaps Dr. Eco has already got his semiology students to work on it; as there was a little volume of metafiction to supplement The Name of the Rose, so may we expect something hermeneutic about its successor. But in the meantime, all three of Eco’s heroes discover with alarm that neither their parody nor their new-found Plan can protect them from a universe ruled simultaneously by both and neither. Diotallevi first is diagnosed as having cancer, and moralizes on his deathbed: ‘And what are my cells? For months, like devout rabbis, we uttered different combinations of the letters of the Book. GCC, CGC, GCG, CGG. What our lips said, our cells learned. What did my cells do? They invented a different Plan, and now they are proceeding on their own, creating a history, a unique, private history. My cells have learned that you can blaspheme by anagrammizing the Book, and all the books of the world. And they have learned to do this now with my body. They invert, transpose, alternate, transform themselves into cells unheard of, new cells without meaning, or with meaning contrary to the right meaning. There must be a right meaning and a wrong meaning; otherwise you die. My cells joke, without faith, blindly. Similarly Belbo meets an unpleasant fate, trapped by his own creation, the TRÉS conspiracy come to life and curious about his secret knowledge. In the Paris Conservatoire, at midnight, in the pendulum room, he confronts his fiction-turned-real. ‘Now you will speak,’ Aglie said. ‘You will speak, and you will join the great game. If you remain silent, you are lost. If you speak, you will share in the victory….this night you and I and all of us are in Hod, the Sefirah of splendor, majesty, and glory; Hod, which governs ritual and ceremonial magic; Hod, the moment when the curtain of eternity is parted. I have dreamed of this moment for centuries. You will speak, and you will join the only ones who will be entitled, after your revelation, to declare themselves Masters of the World. Humble yourself, and you will be exalted. You will speak because I order you to speak, and my words efficiunt quod figurant!’ And Belbo, now invincible, said, ‘Ma gavte la nata…’ The proximity of the pendulum’s focus, the center of the universe, ennobles and melodramatizes both. Belbo is killed, magnificently, symbolically, hung by the wire of the pendulum. Causaubon’s final monologue reflects the uncertainty with which he awaits his fate. conclusion But somehow, at the end, one is overcome by the nameless feeling of being in the presence of Bob, Pete, and Jupiter Jones rather than Dupin. The notion of equating a novel’s mechanisms with symbolic or metaphoric machinery was throughly explored in the fifties and sixties by Player Piano and Lost in the Funhouse. While this novel is indeed very rich semiotically, the overall atmosphere is somewhat more amateurish than enthralling.

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