Thursday, December 20, 2007

Renegade Science: Carl Sagan

The Aracibo Radar Telescope, Costa Rica

Last night was the 11th anniversary of the death of Carl Sagan. He was seemingly everywhere during the '70's and '80's, a popular media figure, affable and engaging. Even when stricken with cancer he continued his work of putting a human face on scientific endeavours, particularly space exploration. His novel "Contact" was adapted for a film starring Jodie Foster, with a remarkable ending sequence depicting the First Contact with an extra-terrestrial species in profoundly personal terms.

While no renegade in the strict sense of the other scientists in this series of posts, it is important to remember Sagan's early contributions to global warming theory, and perhaps more importantly, his sense of priorities: science, for Sagan, was never an end in itself, but rather a means to understand and appreciate the mysteries of nature.

The following is a tribute excerpted from the Carl Sagan site, found here:

"His thesis included his discovery of the surprisingly high temperature of Venus and his correct explanation that it was caused by a runaway greenhouse effect. Early on he began to wonder what would happen if our own moderate greenhouse effect here on Earth were to intensify as it had on Venus. He became one of the first scientists to sound the alarm on global warming and other forms of inadvertent climate modification, including the potential consequences of a major nuclear war which he named "nuclear winter."

It was nearly fifty years ago that Carl began his life-long research on the origin of life and the search for life and intelligence elsewhere in the cosmos. Back then, research on the latter subject was effectively a form of professional suicide. The scientific community viewed it as a subject beneath its dignity. Only a handful of courageous scientists, Carl among them, dared to jeopardize their careers by doing such research. Today as the numbers of newly discovered extra-solar planets steadily mount, the field of astrobiology flourishes.

Even earlier, the notebooks he filled in his teens were suffused with a passion for the values of science and democracy. He viewed the error-correcting mechanisms built into both the methodology of science and into our constitution as being on a par with the domestication of fire, the invention of agriculture and writing; among the most precious innovations ever devised by our species.

In this society dependent on science and technology, he thought that it was critically important for science to learn to communicate its insights, values and methods to everyone. At a time when "reputable" scientists rarely if ever ventured before the public, he was willing to risk his career for that also. One such effort, his 1980 "Cosmos" television series, has now been seen by a billion people worldwide. Parts of it will be broadcast in North America at 8pm EST on Christmas Day on the Discovery Science Channel. On Tuesday evenings at 9pm EST, starting January 8, 2008 the whole series will begin to run again. "Cosmos'" enduring world-wide appeal is another testament to his prophetic vision.

He believed that science must always remain scrupulously faithful to the most rigorous possible methodological standards but that we shouldn't shrink from the spiritual implications of its insights. He dreamed of a civilization rooted in our dawning understanding of nature, where skepticism and wonder went hand in hand. He didn't want to humiliate or demean the believer. He was always ready to communicate."

Friday, December 14, 2007

Renegade Science: Loren Eiseley

2007 marks the centennial of the birth of anthropologist and ecologist Loren Eiseley, who's popular writings helped to inspire the environmental movement. The following poem is from his collection "The Lost Notebooks of Loren Eiseley."


I have envied the hawk's breast
enduring the great heaven;
all wild wings and the stubbornness of rock yielding
no foothold but to eagles.
The serenity of stars over chaos
is worthy remembrance
and the peace of an old planet
forgetting the troubled footsteps of men...
I have envied
even, at times,
the stony security of a snail
locked in his narrow house.

But I have pondered and not understood
earth that endures spoiled cities
in preference to white deserts and the stars.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Renegade Science: John Lilly

ACCOUNTS OF DOLPHIN RESEARCH IN 1957 "If one works with a bottlenose dolphin day in and day out for many hours, days and weeks, one is struck with the fact that one's current basic assumptions and even one's current expectations determine within certain limits the results attained with a particular animal at that particular time. This effect, of course, is quite commonly found with one's peers in the human species.

"This working hypothesis of an advanced capability raised our index of suspicion and in turn sensitized our minds and methods to new sources of information. It was this subtle preparation of the mental climate which allowed us in 1957 to listen to some rather queer noises that the dolphin was producing in the laboratory and to review them very carefully on the tapes. Because the possibility of a very large brain capacity and because of musings about the possible areas of achievement already realized in this species, but as yet undiscovered by us, our minds began to open.

"This opening of our minds was a subtle and yet painful process. We began to have feelings which l believe are best described by the word 'weirdness.' The feeling was that we were up against the edge of a vast uncharted region in which we were about to embark with a good deal of mistrust in the appropriateness of our own equipment. The feeling of weirdness came on us as the sounds of this small whale seemed more and more to be forming words in our own language. We felt we were in the presence of Something, or Someone who was on the other side of a transparent barrier which up to this point we hadn't even seen. The dim outlines of a Someone began to appear. We began to look at this whale's body with newly opened eyes and began to think in terms of its possible 'mental processes,' rather than in terms of the classical view of a conditionable, instinctually functioning 'animal.' We began to apologize to one another for slips off the tongue in which we would call dolphins 'persons' and in which we began to use their names as if they were persons. This seemed to be as much of a way of grasping at straws of security in a rough sea of the unknown, as of committing the sin of Science of Anthropomorphizing. If these 'animals' have 'higher mental processes,' then they in turn must be thinking of us as very peculiar (even stupid} beings indeed.''

An account of the mimicry phenomena with Elvar and other dolphins:

"The repeatedly painful and humbling part of this experience that we as human beings had felt that man is at the top: we are alone; yet here is an 'animal' which was entering into that which was peculiarly human; i.e., human speech. At no matter how primitive a level he was entering into it, he was taking Step 1.

"To convey to you our sense of wonder and yet the sense of the uncomfortable necessity of continuously reorganizing our basic assumpltions is difficult. We gambled on Elvar's taking the first step and he did. (We haven't done as well with his delphinese language.) He impressed us with the fact that he took the first step to repair a gap of at least 30,000,000 years in a few weeks. He may be skipping some of the belabored efforts of the human race for the last 40,000 years to achieve our present degree oi articulate speech among ourselves. Maybe he is not skipping Maybe he is just beginning what Homo sapiens went through 40,000 years ago. And he first did it when and only when we believed he could do it and somehow demonstrated: our belief ta him."

"These experiences illustrate the thesis that one can protect one's self by maintaining one's ignorance by belittling disturbing experiences? Or one can newly recapture sensitivity and be openminded (even painfully so) and discover new facts. Discovery, in my experience, requires disillusionment first, as well as later. One must be shaken in one's basic beliefs before the discovery can penetrate one's mind sufficiently above threshold to be detected A certain willingness to face censure, to be a maverick? To question one's beliefs, to revise them, is obviously necessary. But what is not obvious is how to prepare one's own mind to receive the transmissions from the far side of the protective transparent wall separating each of us from the dark gulf of the unknown Maybe we must realize that we are still babies in the universe taking steps never before taken. Sometimes we reach out from our aloneness for someone else who may or may not exist. But at least we reach out, and it is gratifying to see our dolphins reach also, however primitively. They reach toward those of us who are willing to reach toward them. It may be that some day not toa far distant we both can draw to an end the 'long loneliness,' as Loren Eiseley called it."

from John Lilly's homepage

Renegade Science: John Lovelock

Photo from Greenpeace via BLDG BLOG

The following is excerpted from what I thought was a rather fascinating Rolling Stone profile of of controversial environmental scientist James Lovelock, who argues that climate change is now irreversible:

Lovelock's cottage in the woods is a world away from South London, where he grew up with coal soot in his lungs, coughing and pale and working-class. His mother was an early feminist; his father grew up so desperately hungry that he spent six months in prison when he was fourteen for poaching a rabbit from a local squire’s estate. Shortly after Lovelock was born, his parents passed him off to his grandmother to raise. "They were too poor and too busy to raise a child," he explains. In school, he was a lousy student, mildly dyslexic, more interested in pranks than homework. But he loved books, especially the science fiction of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.

To escape the grime of urban life, Lovelock's father often took him on long walks in the countryside, where he caught trout by hand from the streams and gorged on blueberries. The freedom and romance Lovelock felt on these jaunts had a transformative effect on him. "It's where I first saw the face of Gaia," he says now.

By the time Lovelock hit puberty, he knew he wanted to be a scientist. His first love was physics. But his dyslexia made complex math difficult, so he opted instead for chemistry, enrolling at the University of London. A year later, when the Nazis invaded Poland, Lovelock converted to Quakerism and soon became a conscientious objector. In his written statement, he explained why he refused to fight: "War is evil."

Lovelock took a job at the National Institute for Medical Research in London, where one of his first assignments was to develop new ways to stop the spread of infectious diseases. He spent months in underground bomb shelters studying how viruses are transmitted -- and shagging nurses in first-aid stations while Nazi bombs fell overhead. "It was a hard, desperate time," he says. "But it was exciting! It's terribly ironic, but war does make one feel alive."

...Lovelock's colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, struggled to design instruments to test for life on the Martian surface. Lovelock, as usual, took a different approach. Instead of using a probe to dig up soil and look for bacteria, he thought, why not analyze the chemical composition of the Martian atmosphere? If life were present, he reasoned, the organisms would be obliged to use up raw materials in the atmosphere (such as oxygen) and dump waste products (like methane), just as life on Earth does. Even if the materials consumed and discharged were different, the chemical imbalance would be relatively simple to detect. Sure enough, when Lovelock and his colleagues finally got an analysis of Mars, they discovered that the atmosphere was close to chemical equilibrium -- suggesting that there had been no life on the planet.

But if life creates the atmosphere, Lovelock reasoned, it must also, in some sense, be regulating it. He knew, for example, that the sun is now about twenty-five percent hotter than when life began. What was modulating the surface temperature of the Earth, keeping it hospitable? Life itself, Lovelock concluded. When the Earth heats up, plants draw down levels of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases; as it cools, the levels of those gases rise, warming the planet. Thus, the idea of the Earth as superorganism was born.

The idea was not entirely new: Leonardo da Vinci believed pretty much the same thing in the sixteenth century. But Lovelock was the first to assemble all the existing thinking into a new vision of the planet. He soon quit NASA and moved back to England, where his neighbor William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies, suggested that he name his theory after Gaia, to capture the popular imagination. When established scientific journals refused to touch his ideas, Lovelock put out a book called Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. "The Gaia hypothesis," he wrote, "is for those who like to walk or simply stand and stare, to wonder about the Earth and the life it bears and to speculate about the consequences of our own presence here." Gaia, he added, offers an alternative to the "depressing picture of our planet as a demented spaceship, forever traveling driverless and purposeless around an inner circle of the sun."

Hippies loved it. Darwinists didn't. Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene, dismissed Lovelock's book as "pop-ecology literature." British biologist John Maynard Smith went further, calling Gaia "an evil religion." In their view, Lovelock's concept flew in the face of evolutionary logic: If the Earth is an organism, and organisms evolve by natural selection, then that implies that somehow the Earth out-competed other planets. How is that possible? They were also troubled by Lovelock's suggestion that life creates the condition for life, which seems to suggest a predetermined purpose. In the minds of many of his peers, Lovelock was dancing very close to God...

Friday, November 30, 2007


For a short time during the early 1940s, Lake was considered one of the most reliable box office draws in Hollywood and was also known for her onscreen pairings with actor Alan Ladd. At first, the couple was teamed together merely out of physical necessity: Alan Ladd was just 5 feet 5 inches (1.65 m) tall and the only actress then on the Paramount lot short enough to pair with him was Lake, who stood just 4 feet 11½ inches (1.51 m). They made four films together.

A stray lock of her shoulder-length blonde hair during a publicity photo shoot led to her iconic peekaboo hairstyle, which hid one eye, and was widely imitated. During World War II, she changed her trademark image to encourage women working in war industry factories to adopt more practical, safer hairstyles.

Although widely popular with the public, Lake had a complex personality and acquired a reputation for being difficult to work with. Eddie Bracken, her co-star in Star Spangled Rhythm was quoted as saying "[s]he was known as 'The Bitch' and she deserved the title." In that movie, Lake took part in a song lampooning her hair style, "A Sweater, A Sarong and a Peekaboo Bang", performed with Dorothy Lamour and Paulette Goddard, although some of Lake's vocals were dubbed.

Lake's career stumbled with her unsympathetic role as Nazi sympathizer Dora Bruckman in 1944's The Hour Before the Dawn. During filming, she tripped on a lighting cable and her second child, William, was born prematurely on July 8, 1943, dying a week later from uremic poisoning. By the end of 1943, her first marriage ended in divorce. Meanwhile, scathing reviews of The Hour Before Dawn included criticism of her unconvincing German accent, which was said to have interfered disastrously with her acting.

Nevertheless, Lake was making $4,500 per week under her contract with Paramount when she married director André de Toth in 1944. Their son, her third child, André Michael de Toth III, was born October 25, 1945. Lake is said to have begun drinking more heavily during this period and people began refusing to work with her. Paramount cast Lake in a string of mostly forgotten films. A notable exception was The Blue Dahlia (1946) in which she again co-starred with Alan Ladd (who reportedly was also less than fond of her). During filming, author Raymond Chandler referred to her as "Moronica Lake". Paramount decided not to renew her contract in 1948.

Her fourth child, Diana de Toth, was born October 16, 1948. Lake was also sued by her mother for support payments that year. After a single film for 20th Century Fox, her career collapsed. By the end of 1952, she had appeared in one last film (Stronghold, which she later described as "a dog"), filed for bankruptcy, and divorced de Toth. The IRS seized the remainder of her assets for unpaid taxes. Lake resorted to television and stage work, and in 1955, married songwriter Joseph A. McCarthy.

After breaking her ankle in 1959, Lake was unable to continue working as an actress. She and McCarthy divorced, and she drifted between cheap hotels in Brooklyn and New York City and was arrested several times for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct.

A reporter found her working as a barmaid at the all women's Martha Washington Hotel in Manhattan. At first, Veronica claimed that she was a guest at the hotel and covering for a friend. Soon afterward, she admitted that she was employed at the bar. The reporter's widely distributed story led to some television and stage appearances. In 1966, she had a brief stint as a TV hostess in Baltimore, Maryland, along with a largely ignored film role in Footsteps in the Snow.

Her physical and mental health declined steadily and by the late 1960s Lake was in Hollywood, Florida, apparently immobilized by paranoia (which included claims she was being stalked by the FBI).

She published her autobiography Veronica amid much publicity and positive reviews. With the proceeds, Lake co-produced and starred in her last film, Flesh Feast (1970), a very low budget horror movie with a Nazi-myth storyline.

She then moved to the UK, where she had a short-lived marriage with "English sea captain" Robert Carleton-Munro before returning to the U.S. in 1973, having filed for divorce. Lake was immediately hospitalized and although she is said to have made a cheerful and positive impression on the nurses who cared for her, she was apparently estranged from her three surviving children. She had no guests or visitors and was destitute again.

Lake was 53 when she died of hepatitis and acute renal failure (complications of her alcoholism) near Burlington, Vermont. Her ashes were scattered off the Virgin Islands. In 2004, some of Lake's ashes were reportedly found in a New York antique store.

Lake has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6918 Hollywood Boulevard for her contributions to the motion picture industry.

"I wasn't a sex symbol, I was a sex zombie."

Via Wiki.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The military copies art, again

In 1999 Australian performance artist Stelarc demonstrated modified bodily agency through his invention of the Exoskeleton, a mechanical hydraulic and electronic extension of his body, which changed the nature of his mobility and in various experiments, expanded the ability of his individual digits on his hands to grasp finer and smaller things through mini digits on the tips of each.

I'm not sure how long this video will be available, but CNN has a video report on a Utah company, Sarcos, which is manufacturing exoskeletons for military use, and the report is chock full of unqualified fascination and celebration for the developments. In the absence of Stelarc's uncanny emphases on the distortion of the human element in such hybrids, this report on Sarcos seems like a commercial for ED-209, the fictional robotic law enforcement robot that went awry with murderous malfunction in the film Robocop. Anyway, check out this link to the hyped-up next generation military technology for robotic hybrids for military use. No mention of cost, or the effect on the human operator over time, but something tells me a day spent in the exoskeleton leaves the operator somehow changed.

Here's Stelarc demonstrating his Exoskeleton in 1999. Keep in mind that he typically drives the legs and other attachments with voluntary muscles from unrelated places in his body. For example, his third hand, which he performs with often, is driven by abdominal and leg muscles, not by his arm or hand muscles.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sjöwall and Wahlöö

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö are a well-known husband-and-wife team of detective writers from Sweden. As a team they planned and wrote a series of ten novels (police procedurals) about the exploits of detectives from the homicide section of the Stockholm police department. They also wrote novels separately. For the Martin Beck series, they plotted and researched each book together, and then wrote alternate chapters.

From the beginning, the pair planned the series as a sequence of ten novels, collectively titled The Story of a Crime. The novels revolve around a team of police investigators, led by Martin Beck.

Roseanna (Roseanna, 1965)
The Man Who Went Up in Smoke (Mannen som gick upp i rök, 1966)
The Man on the Balcony (Mannen på balkongen, 1967)
The Laughing Policeman (Den skrattande polisen, 1968) (Edgar Award, Best Novel, 1971)
The Fire Engine That Disappeared (Brandbilen som försvann, 1969)
Murder at the Savoy (Polis, polis, potatismos!, 1970)
The Abominable Man (Den vedervärdige mannen från Säffle, 1971)
The Locked Room (Det slutna rummet, 1972)
Cop Killer (Polismördaren, 1974)
The Terrorists (Terroristerna, 1975)

Per Wahlöö described their goals for the series as to "use the crime novel as a scalpel cutting open the belly of the ideologically pauperized and morally debatable so-called welfare state of the bourgeois type."

The series is noteworthy for how the lives of its characters change over the books. Beck gets divorced, Kollberg quits the force, a third detective gets killed. The leitmotif of the series, written from the authors' clearly defined socialist viewpoint, is to indicate how Sweden, as a country which champions social democracy, nevertheless has the same problems of inequality and crime as other capitalist countries. The political events of the times often play a significant role as backdrop for the plots, such as the Greek dictatorship, the Vietnam War, and so on. Because the authors intended the books as a critique of capitalist society, all the titles in the original edition were given the subtitle "report of a crime"; on purpose an ambiguous phrase.

The final novel of the series,The Terrorists, was not finished when Per Wahlöö passed away in June 1975, so Maj Sjöwall had to finish it alone. During Wahlöö's illness, which eventually led to his death, he sat up writing day and night in order to finish the book before it was too late.

The above is lifted from the rather uninspiring Wiki entry here. The grand finale of the series is memorable: Beck and his paramour, at home playing Scrabble, as Beck spells out, for the final line of The Terrorists,

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Surveillance Camera Players

"At around 11 pm on Tuesday 10 December 1996, six members of the Surveillance Camera Players (Michael, Katie, Bill, Susan, Lisa, and Orrin) performed most of Art Toad's special adaption of Alfred Jarry's play Ubu Roi in front of a surveillance camera in Manhattan's Union Square subway station. At the same time, three other SCPers (Grrrt, Michelle and John), as well as several on-lookers, watched the play on one of the station's closed-circuit television monitors. Unfortunately, the SCP were unable to secure a video camera, and so the performance went undocumented.

Though the play contains only nine short scenes in Monsieur Toad's version, the Players were not able to perform it completely on that day -- which was the 100th anniversary of the very first public performance of Ubu the King -- because, at the conclusion of Scene Seven, they were asked to stop and to move along by two utterly humorless New York City policemen, who just did not care that Scene Eight was the one in which the Bear (Orrin with a funny hat) fights with and is killed by Ubu's Man.

Surveillance cameras, though obviously designed to monitor and relay what they "see," are not allowed by law to monitor and relay what they "hear." (Conversations are "truly private" or "more private" than visual appearance and behavior in the eyes of the law.) And so any performance by the Surveillance Camera Players has to be a silent one. By rendering -- reducing might be a better word -- all of the dialogue in Ubu the King to a few expressions that would be clearly visible if printed on hand-held cards designed to look like the speech bubbles in comic strips, M. Toad succeeded in creating a script that could be used by the SCPers. But no "violence" was done to Jarry's play, which is already filled with comic-strip moments in which two-dimensional elements take the place of three-dimensional ones (e.g., the stage direction that the Russian Army should be a single actor carrying a name-tag about his or her neck that says, "The Russian Army").

The SCPers who performed the night of 10 December carried with them bags stuffed with all the costumes, name-tags and printed speech balloons that they would need to play their roles (two or three per person). All of these props were either scavenged or created during the two work sessions that the Players held in advance of the actual performance, which was, incidentally, their very first. Unfortunately, there was no dress rehearsal, and so the first and only performance of the play took too long (long enough to draw the attention of the cops). None of the props were lost during or after the performance, so the play can be staged again at any time.

Perhaps needless to say, King Ubu himself -- or, rather, the SCPer who played him and was dressed in a tunic bearing a huge spiral on his big, fat belly and a green cone on his pear-shaped head -- walked the streets of Manhattan for hours before his appearance in front of the camera, the subway riding public of New York City, and the NYPD. In full attire, he attended a rather pointless talk given by Peter Lamborn Wilson, and made a comment during the discussion session afterward. Ubu even stopped to have dinner at the restaurant in Greenwich Village called the Paris Commune, at which he was recognized and toasted in his native French."

The above is from the Surveillance Camera Players homepage, via Ballardian.

Friday, November 16, 2007


It's hard not to identify with this song. It is sincere, intelligent, and original while capturing the zeitgeist all at the same time...but even still...I'd rather listen to N. Young's Barstool Blues...

Here's the guy who rapes him in the song:

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

About the Weather

photo via

"The weather is variable
so are you;
but I can't do a thing
about the weather."
Howard Devoto/"About the Weather"

This post is a request for contributions to an informal, "alternative" biblography of non-fiction and fiction titles addressing nature/ecology/the environment.

Please post your recommendations (with notes if you'd like) in the comments, and I'll ammend this post as needed.

Just off the top of my head, I'm going to start with these titles:

The Burning World/J.G. Ballard
Ballard's vision (in slow motion) of a global drought, published in the early '60's.

The New Organic Grower/Eliot Coleman
The very well-written "bible" of organic farming; one could literally start their own farm based on the information here.

Typhoon/Josheph Conrad
A novella portraying the sea as implacable Other; do we really know nature differently today?

The Lives of Animals/J.M. Coetzee
An exploration of the ethical questions surrounding vegetarianism, with the emphasis on animal cruelty.

Stones of the Sky/Pablo Neruda
His final volume, written while he was dying of cancer, consists of these thirty love songs to the Earth. This book has stayed with me, over the years, in a way that few others have.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

La Rabbia

Writer John Berger is nearly 80 years old. He doesn’t have time to waste, and in his new collection, Hold Everything Dear: Dispatches on Survival and Resistance, nothing is wasted. So when on page 85 Berger directs us to Pasolini’s obscure documentary montage La Rabbia (Rage), we follow…

"La Rabbia, I would say, is a film inspired by a fierce sense of endurance, not anger. Pasolini looks at what is happening in the world with unflinching lucidity. (There are angels drawn by Rembrandt who have the same gaze.) And he does so because reality is all we have to love. There’s nothing else.

His dismissal of the hypocrisies, half-truths and pretences of the greedy and powerful is total because they breed and foster ignorance, which is a form of blindness towards reality. Also because they shit on memory, including the memory of language itself, which is our first heritage.

Yet the reality he loved could not be simply endorsed, for at that moment it represented a too deep historical disappointment. The ancient hopes which flowered and opened out in 1945, after the defeat of Fascism, had been betrayed.
The USSR had invaded Hungary. France had begun its cowardly war against Algeria. The coming to independence of the former African colonies was a macabre charade. Lumumba had been liquidated by the puppets of the CIA. Neo-capitalism was already planning its global take-over.

Yet despite this, what had been bequeathed was far too precious and too tough to abandon, the ubiquitous demands of reality were impossible to ignore. The demand in the way a shawl was worn. In a young man’s face. In a street full of people demanding less injustice. In the laughter of their expectations and the recklessness of their jokes. From this came his rage of endurance."

At time when our media/political establishment is engaged in equivocations regarding the practice of waterboarding, it follows that narratives which mystify the fundamental injustices of the current, global dispensation (which are, as any Palestinian schoolchild can tell us social, political, economic and historical in nature) must be held to account, for we, like Berger, have no time to waste; we have only time for family and friends, for the for the children that suffer in innocence, for the poor, for the dispossessed, for animals harvested for food cruelly and wastefully, and for narratives that, in however small a way, resist the dominant culture. Many might disagree, but my feeling is that cinema (and fiction), at this historical juncture, must count for something.

I wonder whether we might still engage the films that matter, films like The Passenger, like La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, like Radio On, like Lombardi’s Ojos Que No Ven, like Chris Marker’s Le Jette, like anything by Bresson, like Roeg’s Walkabout, in terms that abide, rather than mystify.

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Cat-Raphael

Gottfried Mind/"Katzen"

In the course of (Gottfried Mind's) narrow, indoors life, he had worked himself into an almost paternal relation with domestic animals, especially with cats. While he sat painting, a cat might generally be seen sitting on his back or on his shoulder; many times he kept, for hours, the most awkward postures, that he might not disturb it. Frequently there was a second cat sitting by him on the table, watching how the work went on; sometimes a kitten or two lay in his lap under the table. Frogs (in bottle) floated beside his easel; and with all these creatures he kept up a most playful, loving style of conversation; though, often enough, any human beings about him, or such even as came to see him, were growled or grunted at in no social fashion.

His chief diligence and most careful elegance he brought to work in the painting of his beloved cats. He had both the art to seize the general nature of this animal and to reflect the specific character of each. The sycophantic look full of falseness, the dainty movements of the kittens, several of which are sometimes painted sporting round their dam—all this, in the most multifarious postures, turns, groups, sports, and quarrels, is depicted with a true observance to nature.

On Sundays and winter nights, Mind, by way of pastime, used, out of dried, wild chestnuts, to carve little cats, bears, and other beasts, and this with so much art that these little dainty toys were shortly in no less request than his drawings. It is a pity that insects, such as frequently exist in the interior of chestnuts, have already destroyed so many of these carvings.

At the Barengraben (bear-yard) in Bern, where a few live bears are always to be seen, Mind passed many a happy hour. The moment he made his appearance, the bears hastened towards him with friendly grumbling, stationed themselves on their hind feet, and received, impartially, each a piece of bread or an apple out of his pocket. For this reason, bears, next to cats, were a favourite subject of his art; and he reckoned himself, not unjustly, better able to delineate these animals than even celebrated painters have been. Moreover, next to his intercourse with living cats and bears, Mind's greatest joy was in looking at objects of art, especially copper-plates, in which, too, animal figures gave him most satisfaction.

from a Wikipedia article on 18th century autistic savant artist Gottfried Mind, who was known as the Cat-Raphael.

Earthquakes, Cars and Architecture

Stephen Wiltshire

Wiltshire's "Times Square" (Oil on Canvas)

Stephen Wiltshire MBE, (born April 24, 1974) is an accomplished architectural artist who has been diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder. Stephen's interests are: earthquakes, cars, and architecture, in that order.

Stephen Wiltshire was born in London, England, to West Indian parents. He was mute and at the age of three was diagnosed as an autistic. The same year his father died in a motorcycle accident. At the age of four, Stephen was sent to Queensmill School in London where he expressed interest in drawing. He began to communicate through his drawings. At the age of 8, he began to draw imaginary post-earthquake cityscapes and cars.

Teacher Chris Marris began to encourage his drawing and with his aid Wiltshire also slowly learned to speak at the age of 9.

At the age of ten, Wiltshire drew a series of pictures he called a "London Alphabet", a sequence of drawings of London landmarks, one for each letter.

When Wiltshire was part of a BBC programme The Foolish Wise Ones in 1987, viewers phoned in, expressing interest to buy his work. A collection of his works, named Drawings, was published that year.

Wiltshire has become a popular artist. He can look at a target once and then draw a very accurate and very detailed picture of it. He once drew the whole of central London after a helicopter trip above it. He can also make imaginary scenes like St. Paul's Cathedral surrounded by flames.

In 2003, there was a major retrospective in the Orleans House gallery in Twickenham, London.

Stephen's work has since been the subject of many TV documentaries; neurologist Oliver Sacks writes about him in the chapter "Prodigies", in his book An Anthropologist on Mars.

His books include Drawings (1987), Cities (1989), Floating Cities (1991), and Stephen Wiltshire's American Dream (1993). His third book - Floating Cities (Michael Joseph, 1991) - was number one on the Sunday Times bestseller list.

In May 2005 Stephen produced his longest ever panoramic memory drawing of Tokyo[1] on a 10 meter long canvas within 7 days following a short helicopter ride over the city. Since then he has drawn Rome[2], Hong Kong[3] and Frankfurt[4] on giant canvasses.

In 2006, Stephen Wiltshire was awarded an MBE for services to art[5].

In September 2006 Stephen opened his permanent gallery in the Royal Opera Arcade[6], Pall Mall, London. He resides there two days a week working on commissions, chats to visitors or just draws for fun.

article via Wikipedia

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Clearing of the Northwest Passage

photo via BLDG BLOG

Faithfully supported by the Bush administration, corporations like Shell Oil were expediting plans to prospect and develop Alaska's continental shelf, littering the Beaufort Sea with drilling ships and wells, supply ships and barges, airplane and helicopter racket, blasted-out harbors, ice-fortified steel piers, and hundreds of miles of pipe—not only an immense increase in contamination and disturbance but an incalculably risky project that threatened to overwhelm the adaptive capacity of the indigenous sea hunters and an entire precious ecosystem already seriously under stress from Arctic warming.[2]

Environmentalists are quite aware that despite society's desperate need for clean energies, carbon fuels will drive the world economy for years to come, and political pressures for ocean drilling may be insurmountable. But the risks of ecological disaster from irreparable accidents such as oil spills in Arctic seas are truly enormous, which is why critics feel so strongly that the oil industry's ambitions are premature at best and at worst reckless. In addition to severe operating and maintenance difficulties in fierce Arctic conditions—never satisfactorily tamed even on land—any offshore drilling operation would have to deal with freezing ocean storms and shifting ice and four bitter months of winter darkness.

When one considers the more than four thousand spills--over one a day--recorded by the oil industry in its land operations in the last decade, and keeping in mind that offshore hazards are far greater, the inevitable accidents seem certain to accumulate into an ongoing and permanent calamity. A black effluvia of crude petroleum and drilling mud and chemical pollutants would spread inshore, suffocating plankton and invertebrates and bottom-dwelling fish and poisoning great stretches of Arctic coast with a viscous excrescence. The same toxic mixture will blacken the drifting ice, fouling the pristine habitat of Arctic birds, the Pacific walrus, four species of seals, and the beleaguered polar bear, while contaminating the migratory corridors of the white beluga and endangered bowhead whales—all this defilement made much worse by the grim fact that no technology has ever been developed for cleaning up spilled oil in icy waters. Even in spills in temperate waters, such as the Exxon Valdez disaster, only an average of less than 15 percent is ever removed.

via the NYRB, read the rest here.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Let's Get High, Together

James Chance/"I Can't Stand Myself"

David Bowie/"Stay"

Super Furry Animals/"Slow Life"

Mouse on Mars/Mycologics

My Bloody Valentine/"Soon"

Friday, October 26, 2007


I'd like to pose some questions for FI staff/FI readers that may help fix the immediacy of this catastrophe in individual experience before it fades or becomes crusted over by journalistic/political viewpoints. Feel free to answer one, all, or none of the questions in the comments section. But we'd be stoked just to hear about anything.

how did the fires start?

what was the true cause(s) of their start?

how did the fires develop through time (when and where did the first one start and how did it lead to the others)?

what are the unique qualities and attributes of these fires (as opposed to other fires in history)?

what objects are connected and related to the fires?

how can we use these fires and apply them to our lives?

what will be the results and effects of these fires?

what do these fires explain and prove?

what will be the end or future of these fires?

what is the best opinion or attitude to take towards the fires, and what is the cause/motivation of this opinion?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


ash in the pool

ash in the pool part II

ash on the car

ash on the land

Kali gets her way

weird sun

Monday, October 22, 2007


Thurston Moore's been a role model for freaked out kids into underground music, writing, and art for decades cause he's living proof that you can build an exciting life out of those interests. As a singer/guitarist of Sonic Youth he somehow launched strange open tunings, feed back, noise, and surrealistic imagery into pop culture without suffering in alienated obscurity. Vice Magazine is running a series of episodes on their internet television channel documenting Thurston's record label Ecstatic Peace. The first episode focuses on his archives of rare literary magazines he's collected over the years with some indirect help from college English departments.

watch it here

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Thursday, October 18, 2007

You're all my bitches, now

Lenin breaks it down:

The arrival of the 'barbarians' (the term widely used, without irony, after 9/11) not only gave masculinism a fresh lease of life against what are perceived as the decadent, feminising years of the Clinton administration; it gave a floundering Bush the chance to foster paternal projection by feeding us with baby talk, in the manner of Reagan. This is the significance of 'The Hug', the stage-managed encounter between Bush and Ashley Faulkner, photographed by her Republican father and sent to some people who rapidly dispersed it among 'close friends, whereupon it found its way through all the usual right-wing outlets and then the mainstream media. Bush, it transpired, was the Daddy of the nation, and his hugs would become legendary, even after he had presided over the contrived destruction by neglect (and then seige) of New Orleans. I have written before about how nationalism relies on familial (patriarchal) metaphors, and anyone who wants to understand the regressive tendencies of nationalism need only consult Peter Blickle and Uli Linke. American nationalism has emphasised these trends, despite the occasional nod to diversity. It is instructive to see Faludi's discussion of Bush going through his reassuringly fatherly routines: he discusses his favourite gun, stages photoshoots while swinging axes and chainsaws, catches big fat fish. "Protection fantasies," Faludi says, have become ubiquitous. Thus, Kerry repeatedly poses with a rifle (not unlike this man in a way), and photograghs of this are used on electioneering leaflets with the slogan 'Kerry Will Protect Ohio'. Pollsters and PR men seemed to decide that venturing into the wild and killing animals proved manhood: and Americans wanted nothing more than a big fat manhood hovering over them.

The tension in this concrete silence

Vassily Grossman

Please note this passage, from John Lancaster's LBR review of Vassily Grossman's epic Life and Fate:

That greatness is to do with scale. This is one of the hardest qualities to demonstrate, and it is made harder by the unpyrotechnic flatness of Grossman’s writing; although it has its virtuosities and set pieces, these are at the level of the character sketch rather than the brilliant sentence or flashy paragraph. Once you get used to this, it comes to seem a virtue; there’s no writerly showing-off. What there is is an immense depth of feeling and experience.

In addition to his wartime adventures, Grossman knew the Ukraine; the world of factories, where he had worked; the world of science, from his training as a chemist; the world of the Party ideologues, and the world of those they cajoled, arrested and interrogated. He knew prisoners, snipers, starving old ladies, Slavophile bigots, commissars, collaborators, every flavour of ordinary soldier, tankman, fighter pilot, nurse, power-station worker, Tolstoyan, drunk, and cross teenage daughter. His experiences of Soviet society had an immense range, and he tried to get all of it into Life and Fate. The novel gives an extraordinary sense of intimacy with an entire culture.

One test of greatness in fiction is unflinchingness, and Life and Fate is utterly unflinching, taking the reader both into the prison camps of the Soviet state and the death camps of the Nazis: the latter journey, accompanying a young boy, David, and the woman who looks after him on the journey, Sofya Levinton, I found that I could not reread. The horror is all the more real because we have actually witnessed the gas chambers being built, and an inspection visit by Eichmann.

"A small surprise had been laid on for Eichmann and Liss during their tour of inspection. In the middle of the gas chamber, the engineers had laid a small table with hors d’oeuvres and wine. Reineke invited Eichmann and Liss to sit down.

Eichmann laughed at this charming idea and said: ‘With the greatest of pleasure.’

He gave his cap to his bodyguard and sat down. His large face suddenly took on a look of kindly concentration, the same look that appears on the faces of millions of men as they sit down to a good meal.

Reineke poured out the wine and they all reached for their glasses, waiting for Eichmann to propose a toast.

The tension in this concrete silence, in these full glasses, was so extreme that Liss felt his heart was about to burst. What he wanted was some ringing toast to clear the atmosphere, a toast to the glory of the German ideal. Instead, the tension grew stronger – Eichmann was chewing a sandwich.

‘Well, gentlemen?’ said Eichmann. ‘I call that excellent ham!’

‘We’re waiting for the master of ceremonies to propose a toast,’ said Liss.

Eichmann raised his glass.

‘To the continued success of our work! Yes, that certainly deserves a toast!’

Eichmann was the only man to eat well and drink very little."

A Song from Under the Floorboards

Documentary filmmakers Molly Bingham and Steve Connors mine a seam on the NYT video Op-Ed webpage (here via UTube); watch closely people--this is how it's done.

Here's a link to the NYT page

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Salvation Mountain

Docufiction by Harold Jaffe

Jesus came to him in the cab of a Datsun long bed pickup.
Gloomy Monday, ten minutes before midnight, March 3, 1973, St. Johnsbury, Vermont.
Dewey Birdsong was parked in his truck because he’d run out of money and had no place to go.
He usually made enough to get by shoveling snow in the long winters.
But this winter was uncommonly dry so he couldn’t afford to rent a room by the week as was his custom.
It was cold in the truck and he couldn’t sleep.
To keep his mind off the cold he prayed to Jesus, which he’d done before on occasion.
This time he prayed aloud, insistently.
Finally he dozed and he dreamed.
It was not a dream but a vision.
Lord Jesus came to him and said:

Go to the end of the earth and construct a mountain to testify to me.
It will be called Salvation Mountain.
But first you must learn to fly like a bird.
Three days later Dewey, with borrowed money, was driving west.
He stopped in Newton, Iowa, where he got work as a farmhand along with room and board.
In his spare time he set about building a hot air balloon so that he could learn to fly like a bird.
He spent seven years building the balloon mostly from nylon scraps and Styrofoam plastic harvested from dumpsters.
Painted bright orange, the balloon bore the billboard-sized message that God is Love, which Dewey inscribed in black latex house paint.
The problem was the balloon was about nine stories high and Dewey could not get it off the ground.
So he bid farewell to the Iowa farmer, his employer and landlord for the last seven years.
He mounted the balloon on an old Ford flatbed truck and drove west to the most desolate place he could find that was still more or less inhabitable.
The southeast tip of California.
An outpost called Slab City, in the Mojave Desert, between Niland and the
Chocolate Mountains, a few miles east of the massive inland Salton Sea.
There he tried again to loft the balloon and this time was successful.
He steered it to the Salton Sea, then farther west to the Pacific.
Then he turned the balloon around and headed back east where it suddenly lost altitude and plummeted to the hard desert floor.
Amazingly, Dewey survived unhurt.
Dewey said, “I just rutted out here, so I figured I’d stay put.”
Having flown once, Dewey Birdsong ceased working on the balloon and turned his full attention to constructing a mountain in the slabs of the Mojave Desert.
Located on the former Camp Locust Marine Corps base due east of Niland, Slab City received its name from the cement slabs which were all that remained from the former base buildings.
The slabs made convenient parking blocks for RVs, SUVs pickup trucks, and abandoned school busses.
Between November and April more than 3000 “snowbirds,” pensioners, and assorted misfits are drawn to the ungoverned life in the Slab City desert.
They don’t pay taxes or fees of any kind.
Who would pay for squatting at the end of the earth, where summer comes in March, lasts through October and the temperature climbs to 115 degrees?
Where there is no electricity, running water, sanitation, or medical facilities.
Where the stench from the decomposing sea is close to overwhelming for miles around.
During World War 2, General Patton used the desert base for war games to simulate the African campaign he would wage against Rommel
Later the crew of the Enola Gray would practice for Hiroshima by releasing dummy A bombs into the Salton Sea.
Though the base that occupied Slab City is abandoned, the US army still drops bombs at a desert “test site” three or four miles away.
Bombay Beach, the bereft hamlet north of Niland, takes its name not from its Bombay, India-like setting on the fetid sea but from the bombs that explode intermittently to the east.
Dewey Birdsong was fond of saying that he had difficulty drawing a straight line.
But after Jesus came to him in the Datsun long bed pickup on that freezing Vermont night he became infused not only with God but with an architecture that testified to God.
Dewey said that even now, twenty-six years after beginning the construc-tion of Salvation Mountain, he never knew what he was going to paint or sculpt until he held the paintbrush or chisel in his hand and Jesus instructed him.
Occasionally he would have to appeal out loud to Jesus to guide his hand.
Nonetheless, after working on the mountain for three years it collapsed in a wind storm.
Instead of giving up, Dewey cleared away the debris and began again substituting clay for sand and making other construction alterations deduced from his failure.
Dewey said, “With Jesus in me I can make a hundred mistakes and start all over with exactly the same enthusiasm.”
The mountain, which testified to Jesus, Dewey constructed out of straw bales covered in adobe, that is, a mixture of clay soil, chopped straw, and water.
With house paint he painted phrases from Scripture, biblical injunctions, birds, flowers and allegorical figures; layer on layer in a delirious medley of colors.
Dewey estimates that he’s used about forty thousand gallons of paint, all donated.
Seventy-five-years-old now, he still wakes up at five am, drinks a glass of water and gets to work.
He climbs the ladder and hoists bales of hay into large clefts in the mountain which he then cements with adobe.
In one large cleft he actually managed to insert the ruins of a mature ironwood tree, roots and all.
It functions as a buttress for the adobe overlay.
Still on the ladder, Dewey paints and sculpts his biblical quotations, flowers and symbolic figures on to the adobe.
He works until 11:30 or so.
The rest of the day is given over to reading scripture, feeding his animals (cats and dogs that people abandoned), greeting and giving tours to visitors.
If it cools off a little at dusk he will work on the mountain for another hour and a half or so.
A twenty foot stone cross painted bright pink marks the highest point of Salvation Mountain.
The centerpiece, just beneath the cross, is a massive red heart with the multicolored message: JESUS I'M A SINNER, PLEASE COME UPON MY BODY AND INTO MY HEART.
Dewey carved steps into the mountain’s side for pilgrims to scale and examine the display from different angles.
He constructed kivas or grottos at the base of the mountain, where pilgrims can rest away from the sun.
He himself lives in an old Dodge pickup with a shell, which was donated.
He still owns the Ford Flatbed truck which he drove west from Newton, Iowa.
Someone also donated an ancient school bus and a bicycle.
Another Samaritan donated a moped.
Dewey has painted and inscribed all of these vehicles with colorful biblical quotations and commands.
Dewey Birdsong, in his wide-brimmed straw hat, is tall, rail-thin, slightly stooped, with an eagle-nose, deeply sunburned face and illuminated blue
eyes under shaggy white brows.
When he talks with you in his soft voice he tends to look over your head, beyond you.
Despite the onerous work and his advanced age his long hands are slim and mostly unlined.


Dewey, you dreamt of Jesus in your Datsun pickup on the other side of the continent nearly thirty-five years ago.
That, you’ve said, marked the beginning of your quest.
Do you still dream of Jesus when you sleep at night?

Jesus is with me all day while I work.
At night I’m so bone-tired that I sleep very deep.
But I also float.

In what sense?

The way it is when I climb the ladder with the bale and the
Only there’s no ladder.
And I don’t feel any of the weight of the bale and the clay.

Jesus is levitating you, making you float?

Yes sir.
It feels real nice.

Jesus does not tell you what to paint on the mountain the following morning?

No, huh-uh.
That comes when I’m on the ladder working.

How does Jesus communicate to you?
Through words?

Not exactly.

The Slabs draw a lot of different people.
Snowbirds, the homeless, even some dangerous types.
Outlaws and bikers, militia.
How have the people in and around the Slabs responded to Salvation Mountain?

Oh, real good.
Lots of Christian folks have expressed themselves very positive about the mountain.
Even the non-believers, they’ve been supportive to the mountain.
Folks buy me coffee and donuts in the restaurants.
People buy me groceries.
I don’t ask.
I can turn my back and there’ll be some groceries and two cans of paint right next to my truck.
See, it ain’t me.
It’s God’s mountain working through me.

I didn’t see a church in Niland or Bombay Beach.
Where are the nearest evangelical churches, Dewey?

Well, there’s one up in Mecca, just north of Salton City.
Another down there in Brawley.
But I’ve never went.
My church is right here.

Your mountain.

Jesus’ mountain.
I’m just real fortunate he chose me to build it.
Because without him I could not even draw a straight line.

Why do you think Jesus chose you rather than, say, an artist or
sculptor with knowledge and experience?

I’ve asked myself that same question.
I always kinda figured that God scraped the bottom of the barrel to have me build his mountain.
Maybe he just wanted to prove he could pick somebody that really couldn’t do it and then make him do it. [laughs]
Man, I was here without state permission.
The county didn’t never give me permission.
I had no right to be here at all.
But God got it done for me.
I think maybe to testify to his faith in poor folks.
The poor and the ignorant, like me.
Was it eight or ten years ago that county supervisors called
Salvation Mountain a "toxic nightmare” because of the leaded paint you used?
They talked about bulldozing the mountain and burying it in a hazardous-waste site on an Indian reservation in Nevada.
Has that problem with the supervisors been resolved?

Oh, sure.
Senator Barbara Boxer wrote to the supervisors on behalf of the mountain.
So did twenty-five museum directors from acrost the country.
You see, I never knew much about politicians.
But I knew they have a lot of power.
They just come in here like a fifty ton bulldozer, with lies, and they didn’t care.
They thought they could push me over easy because I’m clumsy, awkward, I’ve got no money.
But once they realized they were wrong, they backed off.
I still believe American politicians are better than in most countries.

I know you paint and sculpt every day.
Do you eat every day or do you sometimes fast?

I eat, but not much.
I used to fast but now I don’t have the strength to fast after climbing the ladder and working in the sun.
It gets pretty darn hot out here.

What do you eat?

Pretty much what good folks donate.
Whatever groceries I find by my truck, that’s what I eat.
I never fussed about food, even when I was young.
I never had enough money to fuss.
I never went to school the way everyone does these days.
I was ignorant, like I said.
I’m still ignorant.
But I love Jesus and through his grace I am building this mountain.
But it is actually Jesus building it with my hands, you see.

You’ve become famous, Dewey.
Salvation Mountain is reproduced in art books both in this country and Europe.
You receive hundreds of visitors.
They give you donations.
What do you do with the donated money?

Well, I used to keep it in my truck.
But then I was robbed a few times.
[smiles and shrugs his shoulders]
Now I have it in a bank down there in El Centro.
Do you want to see a book?
They just sent it to me, a big art book.
From Germany.

I’d like to see it..

See, there is Salvation Mountain on the cover.
And inside there are five more pages of the mountain from different angles.
Full color.
The photographers--two of them from Germany--were here for three days.
They stayed in a hotel in Calipatria.

Near Mexicali?
Where the state prison is?

There’s a fancy hotel down there.
Holiday Inn, I think it is.

Handsome book, Dewey.
Very nice presentation of the mountain.
Taschen--they’re a well-known publisher.
Did they pay you?

It don’t matter.
I have all the money I need.
More than I ever had, because I was always real poor, you see.
I don’t have a lot of expenses.
Except for my teeth.
I have this new set of teeth that I got done in El Centro.
What do you think?

They look good.
How do they feel?

They feel good.

You have a new set of teeth and you’ve become a world-famous artist.
You don’t mind that designation—artist?

At first when someone even mentioned me being an artist I’d correct ‘em.
No, no, that ain’t me.
But then it happened so often I got to feeling I should feel good about it.
Shoot, I don’t care what people call it.
If they want to push the mountain as art, boy, I’m glad you like that artwork. [laughs]
Just so “God is Love” is up there and folks can come and draw their own conclusions.

What about apprentices?
There’s so much interest in what you’re doing, I’m sure you can get some young people to help you with the hoisting and heavy stuff.

That’s true.
The heavy work is harder for me than it used to be.
Well, I did have a couple of young fellows volunteer to help me and they came from up there in Oregon all ready to do the heavy work.
Except one of the boys brought his mother with him.
She was a very religious lady, she took one look at the flowers I painted in all them colors and she scolded me.
She said: “You got to take them flowers down because you can’t preach Jesus pretty.”
“If you truly love Jesus,” she said, “you are going to be persecuted and people gonna hate you.”
Now that didn’t hit me good.
Jesus is a beautiful spirit so I always thought it is right that I preach Jesus pretty.
So what I done after she scolded me is I just started putting more flowers than ever on the mountain.
I guess I’m stubborner than a mule.
You tell me I can’t so something, look out. [laughs]
See, I’m such a loner it’s almost embarrassing.
I don’t know how to explain that really.
I love people, but I’ve been out here a lot of years and I hardly know anyone’s last name.
I love to smile at them and thank them for bringing paint and groceries.
But when I get too close to folks, they sort of want me to do it their way.
And most of the time their way is right.
But I still like to do it my way.
I’m-a-gonna make lots of mistakes, but let me make them with God lookin’ over me.

So you work alone.
But you and Salvation Mountain are all over the virtual world.
You have your own web site and blog, right?

Some young people from the LA area came up with the idea and I said fine, as long as they took care of it.
Which, I guess, they’re doing.
I don’t have a computer myself, but folks tell me it looks real nice.

It does.
You’re even on YouTube, videos of you constructing the mountain.

That’s what they tell me.
It makes me happy to hear because not everyone can make it all the way to the Slabs to see the real thing.

Do you think that all the interest in Salvation Mountain has to do
with a renewed interest in Jesus and the word of God?
Or does it have to do with the oddity of a person erecting a colorful mountain in a remote desert at the “end of the earth”?

I don’t rightly know.
I hope it’s about Jesus, because without him the mountain wouldn’t exist.
But it may not happen right away either, this true appreciation of Jesus.
As long as it happens sometime and Salvation Mountain is still standing.
You asked before about the donations.
Where the money goes.
About every dollar that’s donated I put back into the mountain.
The more it expands, the more it needs to be maintained, you see.

How much larger is the mountain likely to get, Dewey?

That depends on Jesus.

Terror Chic

These photos were from a Sept. '06 Vogue Italia series by superstar fashion photographer Steven Meisel (he shot Madonna's "Sex" book). Given the lack of controversy surrounding these images, one must assume that they fall within the norms of the dominant culture. Meisel has refused to comment on these photos.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Freaks and repressive state apparatuses

Here is Erik Sprague, a former doctoral candidate and philosophy degree holder, known around the world for his amazing transformation from man to lizard as well as his modern sideshow performance art. A proud freak. Personally, I'm not a big fan of the nose flossing, or other sideshow undertakings Sprague does in his act, but he is clearly a thoughtful agent of change and his discussion of the medical procedures behind his body modification project is rich with observations about the social importance of regulating the human body. In particular, his filed teeth and bifurcated tongue have caused a movement to form around writing laws to make such body modifications illegal, thus invoking and Althusserian repressive state apparatus to protect us from turning ourselves into lizard people.

While Erik Sprague occupies the low culture sideshow stages, his high culture colleagues, Strelarc and Orlan, among others, explore related boundaries in their surgical interventions, which are displayed and exhibited in gallery spaces and universities.

Here's Lizard Man speaking about his origins and some of the procedures.

Monday, October 8, 2007

"Walter Benjamin"

"Walter Benjamin" is drawn from a series of Harold Jaffe's docufictions called OD, which addresses well-known humans who have died of an overdose of drugs either intentionally or inadvertently."

Found dead in his room from a deliberate overdose of morphine in the French-Spanish border town of Portbou, after the group of Jewish refugees of which he was a part was intercepted by the Spanish Police on September 26, 1940. The group was attempting to reach Portugal, “officially” neutral in the Allies-Axis war.

He had a peculiar gait, described by an acquaintance as “at once advancing and tarrying, a strange mixture of both.”

Was it a “mixture” or a contradiction?

Was it contradictory or dialectical?

Was it impulse or calculation?

Was it another display of Benjamin’s much-commented-on-complexity?

With something of the comic, tragic and idiot-savant in the pot?

He thought of himself as a collector.

Walking aimlessly through Paris, collecting impressions.


He read very widely, of course, but the books he meticulously collected were to be admired, not read.

When someone entered Derrida’s library and inquired whether the philosophe had read “all those books,” Derrida replied softly: “I’ve read just four, but very, very carefully.”
Benjamin collected objects that struck his fancy, with a keen eye always for the object’s non-usefulness.

He collected quotations all his adult life, pausing to write the words into a little book he carried in his breast pocket.

Wrote with his left hand.

Born on July 15, 1892, in Berlin.

The city he loved was Paris.

The first theoretician of the flaneur was Baudelaire, whom Benjamin admired and addressed in writing.

But how did Benjamin win over Bertolt Brecht, the most irascible artist-intellectual in Europe?

With the possible exception of Thomas Stearns Eliot, who because of unceasing constipation and his elevated caste, feigned patience.

Except, perhaps, towards Jews and Irish Catholics.

Walter Benjamin was a non-Jewish Jew.

Rather like Kafka with whom he identified.

Benjamin evidently never crossed paths with Eliot, who mostly remained in Britain, handling money, editing his literary journal, having quiet breakdowns . . .

Eliot, bent over his turtle soup, spoke softly, unctuously.

What little walking Eliot did made him think of fame and prayer.

Flanerie signifies a rich even delirious passivity, not thinking of anything in particular.

Hannah Arendt speculates that Benjamin was pursued by the “bucklicht Mannlein," the little hunchback of bad luck, well-known in German fairy tales.

At least in the ways of the world, Benjamin seemed incapable of making the right choice.

The little hunchback was always there pointing in the opposite direction.
When Benjamin refused on principle to compromise, he should have compromised.

When he suspended principle for the moment and did compromise, he need not have compromised.

He manifested potently (impotently) what he subtly demonstrated in both Proust and Kafka: that place at which weakness and genius coincide.

According to the sympathetic Hannah Arendt.

I nearly said “syphilitic Hannah Arendt.”

But that would have been Benjamin, wishing to be promiscuous but incapable, becoming syphilitic on his first deviation, which itself would be less than successful.

Lacked the thrusting power of his hero Brecht .

Lacked the courage (if that’s what it is) to enact his deviations as his hero Baudelaire enacted his.

He rarely completed what he set about.

What little he did complete was to him unsatisfactory.

Unsatisfactory as well to his student turned mentor/monitor, Adorno.

Another compulsion to flanerie was his, as it were, benign incapacity to locate himself.

He made a point of not going to the restroom while dining out for fear of not being able to find his way back to his table.

Which reminds us again of Kafka, born nine years before Benjamin, on July 3, at a period when the art of fasting had some purchase.

Moreover the most successful fasters had impresarios to present them to a restless public which naturally became more engaged the closer the hunger “artiste” approached death.

One such artiste, known as K, was especially refined at his craft and had established the Central European record of 42 days of fasting.

More than 42 days was unlawful because of the prospect of suicide, a prosecutable offence throughout Europe at that time.

K displayed his wasting self in a portable cage, barred, on a floor covered with grass, with a wooden bench and a low door at the left back corner which opened to a basin for excretions.

These of course became negligible as the fast extended.

The hunger artiste in his portable cage was transported from hamlet to hamlet, with an occasional stop in a city.

Sophisticated city dwellers for whom time was money tended to favor death itself rather than near-death, such as the hunger artiste presented.

At the termination of a successful fast there would be a small celebration.

Someone would play the tuba.

A pretty girl in a swimsuit secretly holding her nose would lead the rickety faster from his straw pallet to a table outside the cage bedecked with food.

For the artiste this was an intolerable moment.

The very thought of food made him dizzy with nausea.

Finally he would be prevailed upon to nibble a piece of bread, sip a thimble-full of mild tea.

Because of cultural factors not directly relevant to this discourse, the cynical attitude of the cities spread to the hamlets.

The general public grew more impatient with hunger artistes, as they did with other “performers” who, so to speak, toyed with death without actually dying.
As a result, K, in the 19th day of a new fast, awoke one dawn (he was never a sleeper) to find himself without an impresario.

After some nervous days, K hired himself out to a traveling circus, whose impresario could not be called enthusiastic.

To win him over, K offered to present his art for no pay, since his needs were minimal and money, of which he had little, meant to him nothing.

The graver difficulty was that the circus impresario had, he claimed, just one vacant cage, which was conjoined laterally to the cage of a young panther.

All night the hunger artiste listened to the panther pacing and growling.

In the day he smelled the raw meat and heard the panther savaging it.

Still he continued fasting, the sole occupation he knew.

Circus-goers, though not many of course, would pause by his cage, watch him for a brief time, occasionally comment.

The children would sometimes point at him then look at each other.

Usually these were nuclear families passing or returning from the fierce carnivores’ cages.

After several weeks the circus impresario removed the panther from the cage adjoining the artiste to a more spacious cage farther away.

The cage adjoining the faster’s cage remained empty, and as a result fewer and fewer viewers paused there.

After a time nobody paused by the faster’s cage.

Because the circus was otherwise thriving, nobody seemed to notice, until one day an overseer saw that not just the panther’s previous cage but the faster’s cage were empty.

An attendant was summoned to clean and prepare both cages for a newly captured brace of Bengal tigers.

As he was raking the straw in the faster’s cage he uncovered the faster himself, now shriveled to the dimensions of a starving child.

The attendant grinned vacuously at his discovery.

With what remaining strength he had, the artiste, without food for nearly fifty days, feebly motioned to the attendant, who squatted and, still grinning, lent an ear.

Before expiring, the enfeebled hunger artiste scratched out this almost inaudible whisper: I never wished to be a celebrated hunger artiste. I just could never find anything I wanted to eat.

Walter Benjamin did not deliberately kill himself with an overdose of morphine, as was widely reported.

He shot morphine into his left thigh because he never found anything else he liked to inject into his left thigh nearly as much.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

It's a Drive-In Saturday

Ziggy-era Bowie as futuristic Teddy Boy in drag, from his very fine LP Aladdin Sane


Ray Davies sings his paen to virginity lost to an affectionate transvestite.

The Colossus of Maroussi

Raconteur, beggar, censored novelist and occasional pornographer; Henry Miller's name came up of over pints of Newcastle with Trumanwater last night. Trumanwater is the only person I've ever met, besides myself, who's (nearly) read Miller's "Rosy Crucifixion" trilogy. I can't believe it's been almost 30 years since Miller died.

Henry Miller was an inspiration to me as a younger man, appealing strongly to my sense of romantic adventure, and portraying the life of the literary artist as funny, sacred, sexy, desperate and very much worth pursuing. No writer has made books, writers and writing seem so vitally important, so invested with the well-lived life. A generation ago, Miller was caught in the crossfire of the PC wars, and his reputation has suffered; many now see him simply as a sexist fool, but this is a grievously unfair caricature: while he does, without apology, embody the working class sexual attitudes of his milieu, there is far more to him as an artist.

What follows are the opening pages of Miller's lyrical and in some ways profound Greek travelogue The Colossus of Maroussi

had it not been for a girl named Betty Ryan who lived in
the same house with me in Paris. One evening, over a
glass of white wine, she began to talk of her experiences
in roaming about the world. I always listened to her with
great attention, not only because her experiences were
strange but because when she talked about her wander-
ings she seemed to paint them: everything she described
remained in my head like finished canvases by a master.
It was a peculiar conversation that evening: we began by
talking about China and the Chinese language which she
had begun to study. Soon we were in North Africa, in the
desert, among peoples I had never heard of before. And
then suddenly she was all alone, walking beside a river,
and the light was intense and I was following her as best
I could in the blinding sun but she got lost and I found
myself wandering about in a strange land listening to a
language I had never heard before. She is not exactly a
story teller, this girl, but she is an artist of some sort be-
cause nobody has ever given me the ambiance of a place
so thoroughly as she did Greece. Long afterwards I dis-
covered that it was near Olympia that she had gone astray
and I with her, but at the time it was just Greece to me,
a world of light such as I had never dreamed of and never
hoped to see.

For months prior to this conversation I had been re-
ceiving letters from Greece from my friend Lawrence
Durrell who had practically made Corfu his home. His
letters were marvellous too, and yet a bit unreal to me.
Durrell is a poet and his letters were poetic: they caused a
certain confusion in me owing to the fact that the dream
and the reality, the historical and the mythological, were
so artfully blended. Later I was to discover for myself
that this confusion is real and not due entirely to the
poetic faculty. But at the time I thought he was laying it
on, that it was his way of coaxing me to accept his repeated
invitations to come and stay with him.

A few months before the war broke out I decided to take
a long vacation. I had long wanted to visit the valley of
the Dordogne, for one thing. So I packed my valise and
took the train for Rocamadour where I arrived early one
morning about sun up, the moon still gleaming brightly.
It was a stroke of genius on my part to make the tour of
the Dordogne region before plunging into the bright and
hoary world of Greece. Just to glimpse the black, mys-
terious river at Dômme from the beautiful bluff at the
edge of the town is something to be grateful for all one's
life. To me this river, this country, belong to the poet,
Rainer Maria Rilke. It is not French, not Austrian, not
European even: it is the country of enchantment which
the poets have staked out and which they alone may lay
claim to. It is the nearest thing to Paradise this side of
Greece. Let us call it the Frenchman's paradise, by way of
making a concession. Actually it must have been a para-
dise for many thousands of years. I believe it must have
been so for the Cro-Magnon man, despite the fossilized
evidences of the great caves which point to a condition of
life rather bewildering and terrifying. I believe that the
Cro-Magnon man settled here because he was extremely
intelligent and had a highly developed sense of beauty.
I believe that in him the religious sense was already highly
developed and that it flourished here even if he lived like
an animal in the depths of the caves. I believe that this
great peaceful region of France will always be a sacred
spot for man and that when the cities have killed off the
poets this will be the refuge and the cradle of the poets
to come. I repeat, it was most important for me to have
seen the Dordogne: it gives me hope for the future of the
race, for the future of the earth itself. France may one
day exist no more, but the Dordogne will live on just as
dreams live on and nourish the souls of men.

At Marseilles I took the boat for Piraeus. My friend
Durrell was to meet me in Athens and take me to Corfu.
On the boat there were many people from the Levant. I
singled them out immediately, in preference to the Amer-
icans; the French, the English. I had a strong desire to
talk to Arabs and Turks and Syrians and such like. I was
curious to know how they looked at the world. The voy-
age lasted four or five days, giving me ample time to
make acquaintance with those whom I was eager to know
more about. Quite by accident the first friend I made was
a Greek medical student returning from Paris. We spoke
French together. The first evening we talked until three
or four in the morning, mostly about Knut Hamsun,
whom I discovered the Greeks were passionate about. It
seemed strange at first to be talking about this genius of
the North whilst sailing into warm waters. But that con-
versation taught me immediately that the Greeks are an
enthusiastic, curious-minded, passionate people. Passion
--it was something I had long missed in France. Not only
passion, but contradictoriness, confusion, chaos--all these
sterling human qualities I rediscovered and cherished
again in the person of my new-found friend. And gen-
erosity. I had almost thought it had perished from the
earth. There we were, a Greek and an American, with
something in common, yet two vastly different beings. It
was a splendid introduction to that world which was about
to open before my eyes. I was already enamored of
Greece, and the Greeks, before catching sight of the
country. I could see in advance that they were a friendly,
hospitable people, easy to reach, easy to deal with.

The next day I opened conversation with the others--a
Turk, a Syrian, some students from Lebanon, an Argen-
tine man of Italian extraction. The Turk aroused my an-
tipathies almost at once. He had a mania for logic which
infuriated me. It was bad logic too. And like the others,
all of whom I violently disagreed with, I found in him
an expression of the American spirit at its worst. Progress
was their obsession. More machines, more efficiency, more
capital, more comforts--that was their whole talk. I asked
them if they had heard of the millions who were unem-
ployed in America. They ignored the question. I asked
them if they realized how empty, restless and miserable
the American people were with all their machine-made
luxuries and comforts. They were impervious to my sar-
casm. What they wanted was success--money, power, a
place in the sun. None of them wanted to return to their
own country; for some reason they had all of them been
obliged to return against their will. They said there was
no life for them in their own country. When would life
begin? I wanted to know. When they had all the things
which America had, or Germany, or France. Life was
made up of things, of machines mainly, from what I
could gather. Life without money was an impossibility:
one had to have clothes, a good home, a radio, a car, a
tennis racquet, and so on. I told them I had none of those
things and that I was happy without them, that I had
turned my back on America precisely because these things
meant nothing to me. They said I was the strangest Amer-
ican they had ever met. But they liked me. They stuck to
me throughout the voyage, plying me with all sorts of
questions which I answered in vain. Evenings I would get
together with the Greek. We understood one another
better, much better, despite his adoration for Germany
and the German régime. He too, of course, wanted to go
to America some day. Every Greek dreams of going to
America and making a nest egg. I didn't try to dissuade
him; I gave him a picture of America as I knew it, as I
had seen it and experienced it. That seemed to frighten
him a little: he admitted he had never heard anything
like that about America before. "You go," I said, "and
see for yourself. I may be wrong. I am only telling you
what I know from my own experience.""Remember," I
added, "Knut Hamsun didn't have such a wonderful time
of it there, nor your beloved Edgar Allan Poe. . . ."

There was a French archaeologist returning to Greece
who sat opposite me at the table; he could have told me a
lot of things about Greece but I never gave him a chance;
I disliked him from the time I first laid eyes on him. The
chap I really liked most during the voyage was the Ital-
ian from the Argentine. He was about the most ignorant
fellow I have ever met and charming at the same time.
At Naples we went ashore together to have a good meal
and to visit Pompeii which he had never even heard of.
Despite the overpowering heat I enjoyed the trip to
Pompeii; if I had gone with an archaeologist I would
have been bored stiff. At Piraeus he came ashore with me
to visit the Acropolis. The heat was even worse than at
Pompeii, which was pretty bad. At nine in the morning
it must have been 120 degrees in the sun. We had hardly
gotten through the gate at the dock when we fell into the
hands of a wily Greek guide who spoke a little English
and French and who promised to show us everything of
interest for a modest sum. We tried to find out what he
wanted for his services but in vain. It was too hot to dis-
cuss prices; we fell into a taxi and told him to steer us
straight to the Acropolis. I had changed my francs into
drachmas on the boat; it seemed like a tremendous wad
that I had stuffed into my pocket and I felt that I could
meet the bill no matter how exorbitant it might be. I
knew we were going to be gypped and I looked forward to
it with relish. The only thing that was solidly fixed in my
mind about the Greeks was that you couldn't trust them;
I would have been disappointed if our guide had turned
out to be magnanimous and chivalrous. My companion
on the other hand was somewhat worried about the situa-
tion. He was going on to Beyrout. I could actually hear
him making mental calculations as we rode along in the
suffocating dust and heat.

The ride from Piraeus to Athens is a good introduction
to Greece. There is nothing inviting about it. It makes
you wonder why you decided to come to Greece. There is
something not only arid and desolate about the scene, but
something terrifying too. You feel stripped and plun-
dered, almost annihilated. The driver was like an animal
who had been miraculously taught to operate a crazy
machine: our guide was constantly directing him to go to
the right or the left, as though they had never made the
journey before. I felt an enormous sympathy for the
driver whom I knew would be gypped also. I had the
feeling that he could not count beyond a hundred; I had
also the feeling that he would drive into a ditch if he
were directed to. When we got to the Acropolis--it was
an insane idea to go there immediately--there were sev-
eral hundred people ahead of us storming the gate. By this
time the heat was so terrific that all I thought of was
where to sit down and enjoy a bit of shade. I found my-
self a fairly cool spot and I waited there while the Ar-
gentine chap got his money's worth. Our guide had re-
mained at the entrance with the taxi driver after turning
us over to one of the official guides. He was going to
escort us to the Temple of Jupiter and the Thesion and
other places as soon as we had had our fill of the Acropo-
lis. We never went to these places, of course. We told him
to drive into town, find a cool spot and order some ice
cream. It was about ten thirty when we parked ourselves
on the terrace of a cafe. Everybody looked fagged out
from the heat, even the Greeks. We ate the ice cream,
drank the iced water, then more ice cream and more iced
water. After that I called for some hot tea, because I sud-
denly remembered somebody telling me once that hot
tea cools you off.

The taxi was standing at the curb with the motor run-
ning. Our guide seemed to be the only one who didn't
mind the heat. I suppose he thought we would cool off a
bit and then start trotting around again in the sun looking
at ruins and monuments. We told him finally that we
wanted to dispense with his services. He said there was
no hurry, he had nothing special to do, and was happy
to keep us company. We told him we had had enough for
the day and would like to settle up. He called the waiter
and paid the check out of his own pocket. We kept prod-
ding him to tell us how much. He seemed reluctant as hell
to tell us. He wanted to know how much we thought his
services were worth. We said we didn't know--we would
leave it to him to decide. Whereupon, after a long pause,
after looking us over from head to foot, scratching him-
self, tilting his hat back, mopping his brow, and so on, he
blandly announced that he thought 2500 drachmas would
square the account. I gave my companion a look and told
him to open fire. The Greek of course was thoroughly
prepared for our reaction. And it's this, I must confess,
that I really like about the Greeks, when they are wily
and cunning. Almost at once he said, "well, all right, if
you don't think my price is fair then you make me a
price." So we did. We made him one as ridiculously low
as his was high. It seemed to make him feel good, this
crude bargaining. As a matter of fact, we all felt good
about it. It was making service into something tangible
and real like a commodity. We weighed it and appraised
it, we juggled it like a ripe tomato or an ear of corn. And
finally we agreed, not on a fair price, because that would
have been an insult to our guide's ability, but we agreed
that for this unique occasion, because of the heat, because
we had not seen everything, and so on and so forth, that
we would fix on thus and such a sum and part good friends.
One of the little items we haggled about a long time was
the amount paid by our guide to the official guide at the
Acropolis. He swore he had given the man 150 drachmas.
I had seen the transaction with my own eyes, and I knew
he had given only fifty drachmas. He maintained that I
had not seen well. We smoothed it out by pretending that
he had inadvertently handed the man a hundred drach-
mas more than he intended to, a piece of casuistry so
thoroughly un-Greek that had he then and there decided
to rob us of all we possessed he would have been justified
and the courts of Greece would have upheld him.

An hour later I said good-bye to my companion, found
myself a room in a small hotel at double the usual price,
stripped down and lay on the bed naked in a pool of
sweat until nine that evening. I looked for a restaurant,
tried to eat, but after taking a few mouthfuls gave it up.
I have never been so hot in all my life. To sit near an
electric light was torture. After a few cold drinks I got
up from the terrace where I was sitting and headed for
the park. I should say it was about eleven o'clock. People
were swarming in all directions to the park. It reminded
me of New York on a sweltering night in August. It was
the herd again, something I had never felt in Paris, ex-
cept during the aborted revolution. I sauntered slowly
through the park towards the Temple of Jupiter. There
were little tables along the dusty paths set out in an
absent-minded way: couples were sitting there quietly in
the dark, talking in low voices, over glasses of water. The
glass of water. . . everywhere I saw the glass of water.
It became obsessional. I began to think of water as a new
thing, a new vital element of life. Earth, air, fire, water.
Right now water had become the cardinal element. See-
ing lovers sitting there in the dark drinking water, sitting
there in peace and quiet and talking in low tones, gave me
a wonderful feeling about the Greek character. The dust,
the heat, the poverty, the bareness, the containedness of
the people, and the water everywhere in little tumblers
standing between the quiet, peaceful couples, gave me the
feeling that there was something holy about the place,
something nourishing and sustaining. I walked about en-
chanted on this first night in the Zapion. It remains in my
memory like no other park I have known. It is the quin-
tessence of park, the thing one feels sometimes in looking
at a canvas or dreaming of a place you'd like to be in and
never find. It is lovely in the morning, too, as I was to dis-
cover. But at night, coming upon it from nowhere, feel-
ing the hard dirt under your feet and hearing a buzz of
language which is altogether unfamiliar to you, it is mag-
ical--and it is more magical to me perhaps because I think
of it as filled with the poorest people in the world, and
the gentlest. I am glad I arrived in Athens during that
incredible heat wave, glad I saw it under the worst condi-
tions. I felt the naked strength of the people, their purity,
their nobility, their resignation. I saw their children, a
sight which warmed me, because coming from France it
was as if children were missing from the world, as if they
were not being born any more. I saw people in rags, and
that was cleansing too. The Greek knows how to live with
his rags: they don't utterly degrade and befoul him as in
other countries I have visited.

The following day I decided to take the boat to Corfu
where my friend Durrell was waiting for me. We pulled
out of Piraeus about five in the afternoon, the sun still
burning like a furnace. I had made the mistake of buying
a second class ticket. When I saw the animals coming
aboard, the bedding, all the crazy paraphernalia which
the Greeks drag with them on their voyages, I promptly
changed to first class, which was only a trifle more expen-
sive than second. I had never travelled first class before
on anything, except the Metro in Paris--it seemed like a
genuine luxury to me. The waiter was continuously circu-
lating about with a tray filled with glasses of water. It was
the first Greek word I learned: nero (water) and a beau-
tiful word it is. Night was coming on and the islands were
looming up in the distance, always floating above the
water, not resting on it. The stars came out with magnifi-
cent brilliance and the wind was soft and cooling. I began
to get the feel of it at once, what Greece was, what it had
been, what it will always be even should it meet with the
misfortune of being overrun by American tourists. When
the steward asked me what I would like for dinner, when
I gathered what it was we were going to have for dinner,
I almost broke down and wept. The meals on a Greek
boat are staggering. I like a good Greek meal better than
a good French meal, even though it be heresy to admit it.
There was lots to eat and lots to drink: there was the air
outside and the sky full of stars. I had promised myself
on leaving Paris not to do a stroke of work for a year. It
was my first real vacation in twenty years and I was ready
for it. Everything seemed right to me. There was no time
any more, just me drifting along in a slow boat ready to
meet all comers and take whatever came along. Out of
the sea, as if Homer himself had arranged it for me, the
islands bobbed up, lonely, deserted, mysterious in the
fading light. I couldn't ask for more, nor did I want any-
thing more. I had everything a man could desire, and I
knew it. I knew too that I might never have it again. I
felt the war coming on--it was getting closer and closer
every day. For a little while yet there would be peace
and men might still behave like human beings.

We didn't go through the Corinth canal because there had
been a landslide: we practically circumnavigated the Pelo-
ponnesus. The second night out we pulled into Patras
opposite Missolonghi. I have come into this port several
times since, always about the same hour, and always I ex-
perienced the same fascination. You ride straight into a
big headland, like an arrow burying itself in the side of
a mountain. The electric lights strung along the water-
front create a Japanese effect; there is something im-
promptu about the lighting in all Greek ports, something
which gives the impression of an impending festival. As
you pull into port the little boats come out to meet you:
they are filled with passengers and luggage and livestock
and bedding and furniture. The men row standing up,
pushing instead of pulling. They seem absolutely tire-
less, moving their heavy burdens about at will with deft
and almost imperceptible movements of the wrist. As
they draw alongside a pandemonium sets in. Everybody
goes the wrong way, everything is confused, chaotic, dis-
orderly. But nobody is ever lost or hurt, nothing is stolen,
no blows are exchanged. It is a kind of ferment which is
created by reason of the fact that for a Greek every event,
no matter how stale, is always unique. He is always doing
the same thing for the first time: he is curious, avidly
curious, and experimental. He experiments for the sake
of experimenting, not to establish a better or more effi-
cient way of doing things. He likes to do things with his
hands, with his whole body, with his soul, I might as well
say. Thus Homer lives on. Though I've never read a
line of Homer I believe the Greek of to-day is essentially
unchanged. If anything he is more Greek than he ever
was. And here I must make a parenthesis to say a word
about my friend Mayo, the painter, whom I knew in
Paris. Malliarakis was his real name and I think he came
originally from Crete. Anyway, pulling into Patras I got
to thinking about him violently. I remembered asking
him in Paris to tell me something about Greece and sud-
denly, as we were coming into the port of Patras, I under-
stood everything he had been trying to tell me that night
and I felt bad that he was not alongside me to share my
enjoyment. I remembered how he had said with quiet,
steady conviction, after describing the country for me as
best he could--" Miller, you will like Greece, I am sure of
it." Somehow those words impressed me more than any-
thing he had said about Greece. You will like it. . . .
that stuck in my crop. "By God, yes, I like it," I was say-
ing to myself over and over as I stood at the rail taking in
the movement and the hubbub. I leaned back and looked
up at the sky. I had never seen a sky like this before. It
was magnificent. I felt completely detached from Eu-
rope. I had entered a new realm as a free man--every-
thing had conjoined to make the experience unique and
fructifying. Christ, I was happy...