Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Posts Tagged ‘existential dread

Thank God It’s Monday Links

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* I have a pair of appearances in the new Eaton Journal of Archival Research in Science Fiction: one the transcript of the archival research panel at the last ICFA, and the other a writeup of the Octavia E. Butler papers at the Huntington. Boing Boing liked it, so should you!

Islam and Science Fiction: An Interview with Muhammad Aurangzeb Ahmad.

* Deadline extended: “In More’s Footsteps: Utopia and Science Fiction.”

* There’s only 37 stories, and we tell them over and over.

* The reason for the season: China Miéville: Marxism and Halloween – Socialism 2013.

* African American Review has a special issue devoted to Samuel R. Delany.

The layoffs and program reductions will save Rider close to $2 million annually once the changes take effect next school year, the university said. The university has a $216 million operating budget and faces a current deficit of $7.6 million, a school spokesman said.

In the Midst of Union Battle, Duquesne University Just Laid Off All but One of Its English Adjuncts.

* O Adjunct! My Adjunct!

The Philosophy of Adjuncting: A Syllabus.

“This is going to be like a combination of fantasy football and which body part can you live without.”

* There is no college bubble.

Study on online charter schools: ‘It is literally as if the kid did not go to school for an entire year.’

* A Florida college will force job applicants to bid salary.

* What I Learned From Cutting 300 Pages Out Of My Epic Trilogy.

* The Secret Lives of ‘Star Wars’ Extras.

School and prison, school as prison, yes. But the most troubling possibility, I think, is school or prison. By using this locution, I don’t intend to invoke the uplift narrative that posits education as a means of avoiding criminality or, really, criminalization—a narrative that the “school-to-prison pipeline” concept has already undone. The or of my “school or prison” marks not a choice between alternatives but an identity produced through the indifferent interchangeability of functions.

* Arbitration is terrible.

The more unequal your society is, the more your laws will favor the rich.

* Haruki Murakami’s Monopoly. And why not: Selections from H.P. Lovecraft’s Brief Tenure as a Whitman’s Sampler Copywriter.

How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Revived Modern Myth-Telling. The Catholic Fantasies of Chesterton and Tolkien.

“It Follows”: Contemporary Horror and the Feminization of Labor.

53 years after his firing, college professor gets apology.

Penny booksellers are exactly the sort of weedy company that springs up in the cracks of the waste that the Internet has laid to creative industries. They aren’t a cause; they’re a small, understandable result. Penny booksellers expose the deep downside to efficiency capitalism, which is that everything, even literal garbage and rare high art, is now as easy to find and roughly as personal as a spare iPhone charging cable.

The Winner of the Latest GOP Debate Was, Hands Down, Patton Oswalt.

We must resist the market forces destroying our universities.

George Romero digs up a lost scene from Night Of The Living Dead.

* Teach the controversy: “The destruction of Alderaan was completely justified.”

* And while we’re at it: Jar Jar Binks was a trained Force user, knowing Sith collaborator, and will play a central role in The Force Awakens.

This Chart Shows How The US Military Is Responsible For Almost All The Technology In Your iPhone.

* Chimera watch: A Man is His Son’s Uncle, Thanks to a Vanished Twin.

* Crisis in the ACC.

Google, Tesla, others wait for DMV’s self-driving rules.

Bikini islanders seek US refuge as sea levels threaten homes. But it’s not all bad news! No, Climate Change Won’t Make the Persian Gulf “Uninhabitable.”

* It really depends what the meaning of “interdisciplinary” is.

* I’ll allow it, but listen, you’re on very thin ice: Wes Anderson would like to make a horror movie.

Things My Newborn Has Done That Remind Me of the Existential Horror of the Human Experience.

After 40 Years, Dungeons & Dragons Still Brings Players To The Table.

* Really now, don’t say it unless you mean it.

* Huge if true: Milwaukee County Sheriff Predicts Black Lives Matter Will Soon Join Forces with ISIS.

* Ethics 102.

* And there’s nothing sweet in life.

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Written by gerrycanavan

November 2, 2015 at 9:00 am

Posted in Look at what I found on the Internet

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A Very Special Second Helping of Friday Links

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* A new Kelly Link story at McSweeney’s. It’s a very Merry Christmas indeed.

Serial decided when it would end, so it could continue. What’s the Verdict? Racism and the Case against Serial. More on That Later: The Truth about Serial. I don’t want to brag guys but I solved this whole thing yesterday in just one tweet:

* Silent Spring: Autism linked to 3rd trimester pollution exposure.

Why Many Inner City Schools Function Like Prisons. School Segregation, the Continuing Tragedy of Ferguson.

Over the past two weeks, I have fluctuated between anger and grief. I feel surrounded by Black death. What a privilege, to concern yourself with seeming good while the rest of us want to seem worthy of life.

Your Waitress, Your Professor.

My perhaps naïve hope is that when I tell students I’m not only an academic, but a “survival” jobholder, I’ll make a dent in the artificial, inaccurate division society places between blue-collar work and “intelligent” work.

* The best thing on the Internet today: Pulp Nintendo 1, 2, 3.

* You’ll never get me into one of those things: the transporter is real. 

* John Protevi has another good post on the situation at Marquette for those following this story on which I am not commenting (am not commenting, AM not commenting, am NOT commenting…):

As to Marquette’s current course of action, I find it troubling, but I would hazard a guess at to their motivations, based on a presumption that university administrations use a risk management rationality: MU may think that their risk of losing a Title IX suit or OCR complaint claiming that they did nothing when a student was subject to the creation of a hostile work or education environment was greater than the risk of their losing a wrongful discipline case by McAdams, as well as the cost to their reputation if people cast this as an academic freedom issue and the cost to their donor base by alums who take McAdams’s side.

The above is an explanation, not a justification. The university’s risk management calculations might converge with normative values if one feels that a claim of academic freedom does not excuse the creation of a hostile environment for a student.

* Gritty Realism, Snowpiercer, and the Tedious Trauma of the Real. I’m just glad we’ve finally found a scenario where rotating enslavement of children is the progressive solution.

* Who do you think would win if Batman fought Superman?

* And Merry Christmas, just kidding: Santa’s real workshop: the town in China that makes the world’s Christmas decorations.

Christmas decorations being made at a factory in Yiwu city, Zhejiang province, China - 15 Dec 2014

Tuesday Morning

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* Yeah, so it’s fair to say Mitt Romney’s been having a pretty bad week.

Stealing magic has become a commonplace crime. Teller, a man of infinite delicacy and deceit, decided to do something about it.

* Don’t say it unless you mean it: NASA developing a real warp drive.

Kenya uses a science fiction book to teach children ethnic tolerance.

* By 2020, two-thirds of U.S. jobs will require a college degree. It’s almost as if all the recent hooplah about not going to college was totally ignorant of the actual economic realities in the U.S.

* And in sad news: Newborn Loses Faith In Humanity After Record 6 Days.

“This shatters all previous records,” University of Chicago psychologist Douglas McAllister said Monday. “In all of documented medical history, there is no case of a newborn taking less than four months to develop the mental faculties required to grasp the full extent of this existential nightmare we call life on earth.”

 

What are the Humanities Good For?

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Written by gerrycanavan

March 26, 2010 at 8:47 am

Two Tragic Tastes That Taste Tragic Together

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Two recent headlines tugged at my heartstrings: Could ocean acidification deafen dolphins? and Ancient tribal language becomes extinct as last speaker dies. Naturally the universe has found a way to combine these into a single, terrible Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of Tragedy.

For the last 12 years, a single solitary whale whose vocalizations match no known living species has been tracked across the Northeast Pacific. Its wanderings match no known migratory patterns of any living whale species. Its vocalizations have also subtly deepened over the years, indicating that the whale is maturing and ageing. And, during the entire 12 year span that it has been tracked, it has been calling out for contact from others of its own kind.

It has received no answer. Nor will it ever.

Written by gerrycanavan

February 6, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Infinite Jest #8: Brains, Rats, Happiness, and the Problem of Atheism

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The spoiler line sometimes makes it difficult to write these Infinite Summer posts; the thoughts for this one have been percolating for a few weeks but we were never quite where I wanted to be in the book before discussing them. Like Daryl Houston, a lot of my thoughts on this second reading of Infinite Jest are crystalizing around the Steeply/Marathe discussions of the Entertainment, which now seem to me to be organization points for many of the book’s broader philosophical themes.

One of the major existential problems being confronted in IJ is the tragedy of embodied consciousness. It’s laid out explicitly for us in this week’s section beginning on 470, which discusses the (real-life) experiments surrounding the discovery of the p-terminal in the brain:

‘Older’s earliest subjects were rats, and the results were apparently sobering. The Nu—the Canadians found that if they rigged an auto-stimulation lever, the rat would press the lever to stimulate his p-terminal over and over, thousands of times an hour, over and over, ignoring food and female rats in heat, completely fixated on the lever’s stimulation, day and night, stopping only when the rat finally died of dehydration or simple fatigue.”

That pleasure resides inside the brain is, of course, the materialist nexus that links the MacGuffin-like search for the Entertainment with DFW’s ruminations on the nature of addiction—both hypertrophic stimulations of the pleasure center that cause abject misery and death.

Scientific materialism sticks a dagger through the heart of humanism, a spike in all our brains. If we are (just) brains, then we are (mere) machines. Highly, indescribably complex machines, sure, but machines. And this can only be understood as a deeply dehumanizing loss for a culture that is so steeped in its own sense of spiritual exceptionalism. It is the ultimate reduction in status. The things that make us feel human—love, music, passion, art—now threaten to recede to nothing after a century of materialist triumph, replaced instead with raw mammalian instinct: a new vision of the human as oversized rat running a maze to pull a lever and get a treat.

Atheism, which is necessarily materialist, necessarily carries with it the bleak and terrible suspicion that you might not even exist in any meaningful sense—a suspicion that, if we are lucky, we don’t find ourselves dwelling on for all that much of the time. It’s this baseline existential dread that fuels our contemporary anxieties about Pavlovian behaviorism, brainwashing, pharmacological happiness, and soulless bodysnatchers—concepts which threaten us with frightening dehumanization only insofar as we admit they have us pegged.

Isn’t happiness-in-a-tube still happiness? Why not chemically synthesize love? Are not the bodysnatched content, better at being us than we are, with none of our squishy excess?

Why not watch the Entertainment?

It’s the sublime terror at the Nothing at the core of our existence that plagues Gately whenever he tries to get his hands around the Higher Power demanded by AA (see 443 [on which, Daryl notes, Gately feels like a rat] and 467). Wallace, in the oft-quoted Kenyon commencement speech, seems to really believe that belief in some sort of Higher Power is necessary for any sense of fulfillment, though he tries to leave the details as open as AA does:

In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it J. C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some intangible set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things—if they are where you tap meaning in life—then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already—it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, cliches, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power—you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart—you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.

For Wallace, the only way out of the trap of embodied consciousness—of being a rat pulling its pleasure lever—is to reassert the existence of transcendent value not as a matter of proven epistemic certainty but as a radical and rational choice against basic human frailty. The speech goes on:

Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing. And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default-settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the “rat race” — the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.

I know that this stuff probably doesn’t sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational. What it is, so far as I can see, is the truth with a whole lot of rhetorical bullshit pared away. Obviously, you can think of it whatever you wish. But please don’t dismiss it as some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this is about morality, or religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions of life after death. The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head.

Of course the tragedy informing all our readings this summer is that DFW didn’t make it to 50. He died when he was 46. And when we read Infinite Jest I think we must do so with the recognition that we have lost the infinite thing and it is not coming back. I don’t equate this recognition with unconsciousness or automatism—because the sad truth is that even when you set out to worship transcendence you cannot escape the fear that the thing you worship is actually tiny, and a lie, and just inside your head. I don’t think we can just fool ourselves into living as though God had never died; I don’t think we can play pretend. As an atheist in that nihilistic Gately sense—as someone who does not worship and cannot believe, not even as a life-saving performative choice—it seems to me the terrible first step is to face things as they are, in all their unhappy finitude. The miracle of life comes not just despite this, but out of it.

Garfield

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For someone who doesn’t have much use for Garfield, I seem to wind up linking to Garfield stuff a lot. Today’s entry is Garfield Minus Garfield, “an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolor disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life.”

A similar effect has been achieved in the past simply by removing Garfield’s thought balloons.

Neither, however, holds a candle to the best work Jim Davis ever produced, the only remotely interesting Garfield comic ever, in which Garfield finds himself driven insane by loneliness while he starves to death in an abandoned home in a Jon-and-Odie-less future. This really happened.

Written by gerrycanavan

February 26, 2008 at 8:52 pm

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