August 11, 2005

I could not love the world entire

Smacks of unusual caution, Lisa Brotman, 1996

* Andrew Gordon recounts smoking dope with Thomas Pynchon. [via] excerpt:

"One friend, a woman graduate student, noticed me carrying V. and said, 'Oh, are you reading that? I know the guy who wrote it.' I was naturally skeptical about her claim and asked if this mysterious Pynchon really existed and if he was a man or a committee.

"She said she had met him in Berkeley in 1965 and that they stayed in touch. She asked if I minded if she sent Pynchon my paper. I gave her a copy, suspecting that it would vanish into a black hole.

Several months later, she mentioned that 'Tom' had read my paper and liked it, thought it a lot more perceptive than the reviewers' comments. I thanked her but still wondered what kind of game she was playing.
"This man, who was introduced to me as Thomas Pynchon, appeared to be in his late twenties. I'm six foot one, but he was taller than me, about six two or three. He wore a corduroy shirt and corduroy pants, both green, and a pair of those brown, ankle-high suede shoes known as desert boots. He was lean, almost emaciated, and his eyes were wasted. His hair was thick and brown and he had a ragged, reddish-brown soupstrainer mustache; I wondered if he had grown it to hide his teeth, which were crooked and slightly protruding.

"Pynchon was evidently a man of few words. I wanted very much to talk with him, to sound him out, at least to get him to laugh, but as we sat on the floor and passed around buzz bombers and grew progressively more zonked, he didn't say much, just listened intently as our hostess and host and I talked. The conversation was disjointed, grass talk consisting of little bits and revelations (Leslie Fiedler had just been busted for possession of marijuana) and silly stoned jokes, like the one about the woman who traded in her menstrual cycle for a Yamaha. I thought of Pynchon as a Van der Graaf machine, one of those generators that keeps building static electricity until a lightning bolt zaps between the terminals.

"All of a sudden, he pulled out of his pocket a string of firecrackers and asked, 'Where can we set these off?'

"'Why don't we blow up the statue of Queen Victoria?' I replied.

"'O wow, man, have you read that book?' Pynchon said. He'd caught my allusion to Leonard Cohen's novel, Beautiful Losers, recently released in paperback. Cohen's hero actually does blow up a statue of Victoria, a typically sixties symbolic gesture. I was pleased to finally get a response from Pynchon, yet I still felt like the overeager grad student trying too hard to impress the Prof.

"There were no Victorian monuments to explode in Berkeley, so we drove instead to the Marina and set off the fireworks by the Bay. We walked by the water, past junkpiles, setting off cherry bombs and running like hell. A midnight ritual: four heavily stoned people hearing the snap, crackle, and pop, watching the dazzle against the black mud and the midnight waters. At that moment, halfway around the world in Vietnam, equally stoned soldiers were probably admiring in the same way the rocket's red glare.
"According to the novelist E. L. Doctorow, 'history is a kind of fiction in which we live and hope to survive, and fiction is a kind of speculative history, perhaps a superhistory' (False Documents 25). Vineland is such a superhistory; it provides a countermyth to pose against the official stories, writing our times more truly through the play of imagination. In all his fiction, Pynchon has helped to create and to recreate our history. He has also helped me to write myself."

* Widespread Ignorance. excerpt:

"President Bush has endorsed the pseudo-scientific notion of 'intelligent design' (ID) and declared it to be a legitimate alternative to the theory of evolution. This is not surprising, as he has always maintained that "the jury is still out" on the question of evolution.

"But the jury is not out -- indeed it was well in before President Bush was even born -- and anyone familiar with modern biology knows that ID is nothing more than a program of political and religious advocacy masquerading as science.
"Whether a person is religious or secular, there is nothing more sacred than the facts. Either Jesus was born of a virgin, or he wasn't; either there is a God who despises homosexuals, or there isn't. It is time that sane human beings agreed on the standards of evidence necessary to substantiate truth-claims of this sort. The issue is not, as ID advocates allege, whether science can "rule out" the existence of the biblical God.

"There are an infinite number of ludicrous ideas that science could not 'rule out,' but which no sensible person would entertain. The issue is whether there is any good reason to believe the sorts of things that religious dogmatists believe -- that God exists and takes an interest in the affairs of human beings; that the soul enters the zygote at the moment of conception (and, therefore, that blastocysts are the moral equivalents of persons); etc. There simply is no good reason to believe such things, and scientists should stop hiding their light under a bushel and make this emphatically obvious to everyone.
"Clearly, the commonplaces of language conceal the vacuity and strangeness of many of our beliefs. Our president regularly speaks in phrases appropriate to the fourteenth century, and no one seems inclined to find out what words like 'God' and 'crusade' and 'wonder-working power' mean to him. Not only do we still eat the offal of the ancient world; we are positively smug about it. Garry Wills has noted that the Bush White House 'is currently honeycombed with prayer groups and Bible study cells, like a whited monastery.' This should trouble us as much as it troubles the fanatics of the Muslim world."

* I Want to Know, by the fugs. about it ed sanders says, "Waiting for a bus on Second Avenue, some lines from charles olson's great poem, 'maximus from dogtown -- I' came to mind: 'we drink/or break open/our veins solely/to know...' I began to sing it on the bus and by the end of the trip I'd finished 'I Want to Know,' which right away we recorded at RLA Studios."

* "To explain why we become attached to our birthplaces, we pretend we are trees and speak of our 'roots.' Look under your feet. You will not find gnarled growths sprouting through the soles. Roots, I sometimes think, are a conservative myth, designed to keep us in our places." -- Salman Rushdie


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