Archive for September, 2010

Interpreting the World (part 2)

September 24, 2010

Again, from If on a winter’s night a traveler:

It is that time of day when droves of employees leave the overheated offices, button up their overcoats with their fake-fur collars, and pile into buses. I blink, and they have vanished; only some scattered passersby can be discerned, far off, in the deserted streets from which I have also scrupulously eliminated automobiles and trucks and buses. I like to see the surface of the street bare and smooth as a bowling alley.

Then I abolish barracks, guard houses, police stations: all people in uniform vanish as if they had never existed. Perhaps I’ve let things get out of hand; I realize that firemen have suffered the same fate, and postmen, municipal streetcleaners, and other categories that might deservedly have hoped for a different treatment; but what’s done is done; no use splitting hairs. To avoid trouble, I quickly abolish fires, garbage, and also mail, which after all never brings anything but problems.

I check to make sure that hospitals, clinics, rest homes have not been left standing: to erase doctors, nurses, patients seems to me the only possible health. Then courts, with their complement of magistrates, lawyers, defendants and injured parties; prisons, with prisoners and guards inside. Then I erase the university with the entire faculty, the academy of sciences, letters, and arts, the museum, the library, monuments and curators, theaters, movies, televisions, newspapers. If they think respect for culture is going to stop me, they’re wrong.

Then come the economic structures, which for too long a time have continued to enforce their outrageous claim to decide our lives. What do they think they are? One by one, I dissolve all shops, beginning with the ones selling prime necessities and ending with those selling superfluities, luxuries: first I clear the display windows of goods, then I erase the counters, shelves, salesgirls, cashiers, floorwalkers. The crowd of customers is momentarily bewildered, hands extended into the void, as shopping carts evaporate; then the customers themselves are also swallowed up by the vacuum. From consumer I work back to producer: I abolish all industry, light and heavy, I wipe out raw materials and sources of energy. What about agriculture? Away with that too! And to keep anyone from saying I want to regress toward primitive societies, I also eliminate hunting and fishing.


Interpreting the World

September 11, 2010

Excerpt from Italo Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler (the title of which was, quite unfortunately, the inspiration for a Sting Xmas album):

“And every Wednesday the perfumed young lady slips me a hundred-crown note to leave her alone with the convict. And by Thursday the hundred crowns are already gone in so much beer.  And when the visiting hour is over, the young lady comes out with the stink of jail in her elegant clothes; and the prisoner goes back to his cell with the lady’s perfume in his jailbird’s suit. And I’m left with the smell of beer. Life is nothing but trading smells.”

“Life and also death, you might say,” interjected another drunk, whose profession, as I learned at once,was gravedigger. “With the smell of beer I try to get the smell of death off me. And only the smell of death will get the smell of beer you, like all the drinkers whose graves I have to dig.”

I took this dialogue as a warning to be on guard: the world is falling apart and tries to lure me into its disintegration.

(btw, “trading smells” = gross)

Wikipedia Entry of the Day: Usher of the Black Rod

September 9, 2010

Small differences between Canadian and U.S. government:

The Usher of the Black Rod of the Senate of Canada (often shortened to Black Rod) is the most senior protocol position in the Parliament of Canada.

The office is modelled on the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod of the House of Lords of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Black Rod leads the Speaker‘s Parade at the beginning of each sitting of the Senate[1] and oversees protocol, administrative and logistical details of important events taking place on Parliament Hill, such as the opening of Parliament and Speech from the Throne ceremonies.[2][3] Upon the appointment of the first woman to the position of “Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod” on October 20, 1997, the title was changed to “Usher of the Black Rod”.[4]

Have We Ever Been Modern?

September 8, 2010

From We Have Never Been Modern by Bruno Latour:

Look for the origins of the modern myths, and you will almost always find them among those who claim to be countering modernism with the impenetrable barrier of the spirit, of emotion, the subject, or the margins. In the effort to offer a supplement of soul to the modern world, the one it has is taken away — the one it had, the one it was quite incapable of losing. That subtraction and that addition are the two operations that allow the moderns and the antimoderns to frighten each other by agreeing on the essential point: we are absolutely different from the others, and we have broken radically with our own past.

And, later:

We have been modern. Very well. We can no longer be modern in the same way.

Wikipedia Entry of the Day: Cockaigne

September 8, 2010


Cockaigne or Cockayne (pronounced /kɒˈkeɪn/) is a medieval mythical land of plenty, an imaginary place of extreme luxury and ease where physical comforts and pleasures are always immediately at hand and where the harshness of medieval peasant life does not exist. Specifically, in poems like The Land of Cockaigne, Cockaigne is a land of contraries, where all the restrictions of society are defied (abbots beaten by their monks), sexual liberty is open (nuns flipped over to show their bottoms), and food is plentiful (skies that rain cheeses).