Let the Good Times Roll

 

But when people say,
Did you always want to be a writer?,
I have to say no!
I always was a writer

Ursula le Guin

When I ask people ‘So, what’s your image of a writer?’, usually they talk about a guy. Even the women I ask, they tend to talk about a man. I don’t comment as it ruins the experiment, but blogging about it here, I guess that’s the image that gets grandfathered into our brains in a male-centric culture when we are young and impressionable. But that’s not all. If you do an internet search for ‘writer images’, they are mostly male. Then, I ask ‘So what else comes to mind?’

They usually report their writer-image is a kind of intense tweedy type. They see him wearing a jacket with elbow patches, or with swept back greyflecked distinguished hair, writing at a desk. Oh, also our literary type is also usually an academic working on a university campus teaching literature, not working in a bar or stacking shelves in your local Tesco.

I don’t buy this description. Firstly, I know as many women as men who are writers. Also my image of a writer is not so high profile. Maybe she’s out of shape from poor diet and zero exercise. Maybe my imaginary writer drinks too much and is stressed out from all the hours hunched in front of a computer working with little return. Maybe some of my imaginary writers are loners, starving and depressed in a windy garret tapping out another tome, perhaps. Or, addicted, perhaps heavily so.

Another writerly image that crops up is that of the performing artist. If you attend open mics or literary evenings, (which can be really good if you get good writers onstage), your image is of a writer is one standing up in front of a audience of forty or fifty in some back room of a bar or club performing.

Then we come to images of the mature and accomplished artists, also and very importantly, they are being paid for what they do. They have published well. Good times. Every artist worth their salt deserves this. But does that happen? Does every accomplished artist who produces good work get paid what they deserve? Of course not, and for a reason. I mean we think of art in terms of every other item produced in society. It is generally held that the laws of supply and demand determine quality. In other words, if you are a crappy writer, people won’t read you or publish you and thus, in true Darwinian mode, you get cut from the herd and become an editor. If you are hot (in the sense of being modern and contemporary and zeitgeisty and talented), then talent will out. Right? Well, I don’t think so. A twenty or thirty minute perusal of the quality of writing in a typical bookstore or library anywhere, will quash any such ideals. The rules of market economics do not apply when it comes to art, as opposed to in life.

So I moved from bookstores to the internet in my search for an answer to the

le guin
URSULA LE GUIN

question of what happens to literary talent. I read forums and Wikipedia and blogposts and in the end just for giggles I did a random google search for ‘literary rejection letters’, and one of the first that popped out was a letter Ursula K le Guin got back in ’68. Here it is:

Ursula K Le guin rejection letter

Now I am a fan of this writer. This particular novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, which found a home elsewhere, is now regarded as a masterpiece, a trailblazer of feminist writing, a work which made a real contribution to the SF genre. It wound up winning the Nebula award, selling over a million copies and establishing Le Guin’s reputation. Reading this letter, and a few others, as well as considering the cloud of negativity surrounding writers beginning and trying to develop their careers, at this stage I confess I began to think a bit negatively about the struggles of newbie writers.

By this I mean – consider if Le Guin had given up with her novel after such a rejection. left hand darknessImagine if she decided instead to quit and run a pub in Lesser Chipping Buckworth (no such place), or took to the countryside in married dejection. Consider all the people she inspired, all the changes she wrought to peoples minds and hearts. I mean, we are talking here of a serious loss. But it didn’t happen, which is good news. On the contrary, millions of people are glad she went on and became the icon of SF writing she remained her entire life, and thereafter.

 

My point is, its easier, so far easier if we had a society that valued and nurtured new writers and artists instead of regarding them as dropouts or lazy or damaged dreamers, people who do not ‘pull their weight’. Having a really good writer in the family should be seen as like having a doctor or a politician or a business person in the family. How many aspiring writers have had to face the ire and disapproval of families and friends and the weight of societal judgement because they wanted to do something creative with their lives? The effects of such disapproval can be overwhelming.

Take disapproval. I mean, its such an innocuous sounding word, ‘disapproval’.  It whips up images of ones sainted great aunt clattering teacups and shaking her head as she tut tuts ones use of bad language or smoking weed out the back garden. This is different, though. Here I mean the kind of life altering cultural disapproval which though all pervasive, can be rather hard to pin down. Its the disapproval you get when turning up in church drunk or your mobile phone going off during a production of Hamlet, except much, much worse.  This is how one gets cut from the herd. You know they don’t want you yet you don’t know how you know that, or indeed what to do. For writers, type of disapproval can last a lifetime. It leads to deep self doubt. That in turn leads to a negative self image, which leads to depression which leads to self destructive behaviours. This is where the trouble starts. Self destructive behaviours borne of depression and self doubt are very painful indeed. Depression has certainly a marked chemical or genetic component, but it also has a societal aspect, a marked societal aspect. Our pain is framed by our world. If this pain goes on long enough, it naturally leads to one seeking relief. I’m talking here medicating such pain with drugs and alcohol. Too much medicating psychic pain with D. and A. often (not always though) leads to addiction. After that there’s nowhere to go but down. It can start a negative toxic spiral downwards into the kinds of dark places I have seen the finest talents dissolve.

So to go back to Le Guin for a moment. Ursula Le Guin getting those Novels published, especially The Left Hand of Darkness, was good for her and good for us all on levels we can begin to fathom anew. She had a brilliant career, and that brilliance shone long after she left us. In contrast I think here of other writers and artists who needed to get the good news of acceptance, not simply a publishing deal but the good word from society at large that what they were doing had value, yet didn’t. Their story did not end with good news. It was sad, bad news.

So we here not talking about simply giving our writers an encouraging hug. This is more like a ideological endorsement of the profound value of our creative communities, a value that includes a monetary value (sometimes very substantial) but an educational, political, and entertainment value. Books and art itself start conversations that change things, sometimes forever. Wherever we see repression of art we see the beginnings of a repressive society that kills the spirit of humanity and produces only propaganda and junk thinking. I am thinking of Donald Trumps killing off major arts grants at the beginning of his benighted presidency.

But here in Ireland the government, the Arts Council, and the Irish Writers Centre have a new initiative for established writers, whereby they can access social welfare payments and don’t have to hide the fact they are writers, or any other types of subterfuge. The full text of the pilot initiative is here. Its been taken up and established now a year later.
Now there are a few problems with this initiative. For instance the text states one has to be ‘genuinely seeking work’ in order to avail of the scheme. Does this mean the work of being a writer is not genuine work? What if you need something like the dole to finish a work that is of the quality of The Left hand of Darkness? Are we seeing shades of the old prejudice against the struggling writer, seen as a kind of layabout who will eventually shape up and see that real work lies elsewhere? Its one of those subtle indicators that might be worth looking at down the line.

Another problem with this otherwise laudatory scheme which is far sighted and worthy of promotion is the very questionable criterion of having to demonstrate that you earned half of last years income from writing. I doubt if there are many writers who need the dole to finish their books will be able to show that. In fact in Ireland unless you work round the clock doing gigs and writers in residence contracts as well as whatever royalties you earn will be able to demonstrate that level of income.
But those caveats aside, its good news. Its a sign, as the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar said:
“Ireland is world-famous as a haven for art and artists who are central to our culture. This reputation for artistic achievement is part of our global USP. Promoting Ireland as a home for art and artists is central to my plans to double our global footprint in the years ahead. I believe it is only right that we allow for some flexibility within the social welfare system to allow artists to access social welfare supports when they need them. Up to now, artists have found it difficult to access social welfare and of course many artists take on extra jobs to support their livelihoods.

“Following extensive work between both Departments, with input from the Arts Council, this new mechanism will allow artists to be classified as self-employed for the purposes of accessing social welfare supports. The normal checks and balances will apply to ensure the initiative is not open to abuse, but my hope is that this will make it much easier for professional artists to access social welfare supports when they need them.”

(See here for further context) There is information on the scheme here and further information here.

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The Length of a Piece of String

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I am a bit worried about what I am writing at the moment.  People see me spend long stretches working, and ask me in a roundabout way actually I am working on, and I don’t really want to say.  There are two reasons for my uncool evasiveness. Firstly I only have a few central ideas and a new raw stylistic idea for what I am working on, and the newness of these ideas are a little scary. So my evasiveness is borne of insecurity.

Secondly the actual plot of what I am working on is something of a moving target these days. this also is new. Generally,  I am the type of guy who sits down, makes a plan, then executes it. I mean its not that I usually know every plot move, but I generally know. So I am doubly insecure, in as much as I am not sure where I am going or how long it will take.

This leads me to the third question I get asked:

‘When are you going to be finished?’

‘How long is a piece of string?’ I say, meaning I don’t know and I worry when actually I will be done.

 

function-arclength
length of string….

 

 

My novel started out as a nice respectable middle aged crisis type book with a few literary and thriller elements attached. Now, three major drafts later and three years later, it has become a monster. Now its got more to do with horror and thriller elements than the tame reflective rather self absorbed piece I started out working on. And as I go through drafts and as it subtly changes me, I become more and more uncomfortable with how raw and visceral the book is becoming.

It also makes me think about the art and craft of writing. Where am I going with all this work, all this drafting and redrafting and rewriting? Is there a point when one runs out of ideas, a limit to the amount of books your produce before you begin to be a cliché? Someone who produces a slim tome every eighteen months to keep up with contract requirements? What’s the point of writing?

I don’t have and don’t really want an answer to that question. But I do think once you learn about writing, the craft, how to plot, how to pace, the elements of story, using different types of styles for differing elements of a text, you find that having the craft is not enough. One wants to go deeper, certainly I do. One throws away language games and well worn plot clichés to get at the core of things.

I think that writing is an act that leads one to shed elements of a false self and it leads you to ones core, that’s if you want to go there. J D Salinger famously stopped publishing because he wanted his writing to be as free of the demands of others as possible. The thread or piece of string one leaves down as one journeys through the labyrinth of words is just long enough to get to the centre. That’s how long the string is.

Interview Day and Keeping Going

Ever since I read Virginia Woolf’s A Room of Ones Own I knew I wanted nothing more than a quiet room of my own, a stipend or wage of sorts, and enough time and space to write, or more properly to think. All that seems a little crazy on paper, but it was where I was at back then. Decades later it hasn’t changed. In fact, having seen what fame and money has done to writers and artists of various stripes and persuasions, success in that sense is a fate I fear as equally as my ego and insecurities desperately long for it. So today, with these concerns buzzing away in my mind, I went over to University of Limerick to do an interview for a month long course  in CELTA or the certificate for English language teaching (I am not really sure what the ‘A’ stands for) but its a qualification enabling me to teach English in pretty much any country in the world. There is naturally a downside to doing this expensive course, that is, if I pass the interview. Its is more than full time. I was warned by my interviewers that I will spend hours each night doing course work, along with the regular nine to five schedule, along with Saturdays and early morning meetings. This means I have to forego this book I am working on, which is a big worry. Will I lose the ‘gist’ or thread of ideas I am drawing from while I am engaged in working for this qualification? Will I write differently after all this linguistic analysis? I often think of what Ozzy Osbourne said when asked why he never learned to read or write music. He said that after a while he took the advice of friends never to learn, as the music he was involved in making might actually be ruined by learning the formal rules and procedures of music writing. It sounds rather counter intuitive. But now I know what he means. Time till tell.

Popcorn and Cat Memes and the Passing of Time

Its good to begin with a joke or a parable. I don’t like gimmicks, but I got two little stories.

This is one I heard today while listening to a website called You are Listening to Deep Thought. I  heard it as I was trying and failing to move forward on the latest draft of the book I am working on. I don’t know who the speaker was, but I enjoyed the story, so I am sorry to whomever I am appropriating this fishy tale from. It’s about two fishes swimming along in the deepest part of the ocean, and, as they swim along, they pass an older, bigger fish, who says “Hi Guys, how’s the water for you today?” The two fish pass on and then after a while stop and turn to one another and ask “What the hell is water?”

I chuckled when I read that. Good stories like that come and go all the time. The ones that stay with us have something clever and funny and poignant to say. Like the idea of being surrounded by something so all pervasive, so all consuming, that you don’t even see it or sense it or count it into ones worldview. Like the catch phrase “The Matrix Has You”  But what is the matrix?

In the 1999 movie The Matrix, a hacker learns, to his world-shaking shock, the true nature of reality. He learns that everything he thought was real was actually fake.  He realizes his lifelong sense of alienation was a true gut instinct. He learns there really is something fundamentally wrong with the world. That’s interesting. Its clever and poignant. It’s also shocking. The knowledge that things you thought were true and real are really unreal stays with you and changes you perhaps forever.

Here’s another parable I like. Its a Japanese proverb that says that we have three faces. You probably heard it before. I did too. Only recently it struck home. So, anyway, we have three faces. The first ‘face’ is the socially or culturally accepted mask we wear when we are out in society. The second one is the one we wear with our family and our intimates. The third one, this is the most secret one. This third self is one inside, the secret self, the truest one, that few ever see. I like that idea too.

The idea that we have secret selves appeals to me and is shown to be true over and over, by life, if not by science. The other idea, as depicted by the fish story, I love too. These two little stories merged in my mind – (1) the idea we are surrounded by a world we don’t see but affects us all the time, and that because of (1) we are (2) wearing masks that are not our truest selves.

Of course that could be all nonsense. Except, well, its not. We have an online world now, one where we interact and use every day, sometimes for long hours. Imagine if we actually added up how many hours a day we spent online. I did, and the number shocked me. It was a world shaking realization of the amount of time I was wasting. I realized just how addictive Facebook can be. In a sense, as there are billions online, on and off Facebook, we don’t realize its an addictive practise. Its also true that who we are offline is very often nothing remotely like who we are on for instance, Facebook, or Tinder, or Twitter.

It’s interesting too, that this online self is the one subject to so much scrutiny and manipulation by security services and marketing analysis and advertising targeting by Facebook itself and companies like Cambridge Analytica. On Facebook, you and I are the product. Our Profile is sold every time we are targeted with an Ad or a political post or we join a group. Each time we make a click or a like we get a little endorphin or dopamine kick. That’s the addictive effect, the need for stroking which is satisfied with a like, or even a love.

Online there’s so much to read, see, and experience. Yet we have so little time. In the ever shortening attention span of online life, we get three minute videos, witty pics, specially edited punchy journalism, and cat videos. Its catered to us, all based on previous reads or clicks or comments. We get summaries of movie plots and animal videos and bits of news and jokes and memes and cartoons.  We are amused. We read or click or comment, and that gets analysed and calibrated. And on it goes.

The benefit the online user gets for being on Facebook is stroking, the sense of belonging, amusement, love, distraction and the ability to comment and at times debate. Online, especially, there seems to be an increasing polarization and entrenchment of views, possibly because Facebook or Twitter isn’t really an arena for dissecting and carefully discussing incredibly complex multifaceted ideas be they political, religious, scientific, philosophical, or literary. It leads more often than not to misunderstanding and polarisation.

Facebook was formed in a dorm room by a gifted hacker who wanted to compare photographs of people who were pretty and who were not. It has grown and changed and evolved and enriched him beyond anyone’s wildest imagining. Facebook is a place for people to meet. Facebook is popcorn. Its too simplistic a vehicle for self expression. This is why, I think, one is left with a mask on when one goes online and its so easy to misinterpret things. I’m relieved, despite my present state of headachy withdrawal, to have left it behind me.

On Being Who We Really Are

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Pictured in 2017 in Karpacz Poland

I hate sharing personal information. I feel deeply uncomfortable doing so. But it is important. So here goes. I happen to be a writer. This is not by choice. I tried everything not to be a writer. In my early youth I tried a career in religion, which gives one access to lots and lots of books, which is very cool. It also gives one a room of one’s own, also cool (ask Virginia Woolf), an  opportunity to meditate (which I like a lot), a very comfortable middle class existence (I’m from the middle classes), as well as a comprehensive training and educational background (I took full advantage of all available libraries). I was not good at attending college, but I did okay with exams. I was expected to be an academic. But I wanted to write, which is not the same thing. I found it difficult to fit into any one academic discipline. I would also like to lightly mention in passing that my brand of religiosity included my joining a monastery, running retreats and giving sermons and being generally incredibly busy with people, which was very difficult for me. I was an odd monk, I must confess. I didn’t like the costume (originally what is now a monks robe was originally the normal clothing of peasants – the hood being a sack for your stuff). I thought it rather elitist and divisive. Also on a general level both back then and now, one would never think it, but I wasn’t comfortable around people. I also found I could be too blunt for people. I offended folks by my excessive straightforwardness, which was taken the wrong way quite a lot. The other thing was I could not stop writing. Poems, articles, stories, essays – I couldn’t stop.  Then after a few years I stopped believing in God, which was a devastating and deeply depressing experience. Christianity, at a certain point made no sense. It had its origins in older religions, which in turn had its origins in older myths. It was all clearly made up. I found my true calling was to atheism and publishing poor quality youthful short stories and poems. I quit being a monk. I tried academia but disliked both it and academics. I married, and then, to support my new marriage, I tried being a respectable civil servant with a good job and a house and a pension and serious prospects in the field of computer programming. Though I had hardly seen a computer before becoming a civil servant, I found I had a talent for programming them. I loved taking them apart and reassembling them. I had fun with technology. I used trawl thru computer junk, build a PC, and give them as gifts to friends and people who needed them or didn’t have a personal computer of their own. I also took full advantage of the company library  and I learned a few programming languages and made a bit of money. The thing was I still longed to write. Actually at the time I was writing, particularly Sci-Fi, but it wasn’t enough. It was hunger inside me to do more and be more, and though I was naturally good with languages, though I could put ideas, even coded ideas, together easily and quickly, I simply could not take the soul crushing drudgery of working in a corporate setting. The dishonesty, the politics, the lack of challenge, and most of all having to deal with people on a day to day basis, which is by no means my strong suit, I began to drink heavily, and it was a miracle I wasn’t fired for being repeatedly drunk on the job. I remember coding multi-million pound systems while being drunk. I remember compiling reports for accountants, or even writing reports, again while being ‘compromised’, a euphemism one hears in US cop dramas for being under the influence. I was becoming addicted. I found a few brandies relaxed me sufficiently to focus on the task at hand without being unduly anxious while in the company of others, which I disliked. I was earing a lot of money, more than my boss at the time. A therapist I had at the time challenged me. She said if I continued drinking and coding, alcohol would destroy my mind. Those were her words. I realized my misery, my depression and hopelessness I was dulling with drink. I was also becoming very unhappy in my marriage. So I quit. I sold my house and made some money, bought another house, became a landlord, and, with no prospects I started writing novels. My wife at the time started publishing my own work and those of other writers. For the most part my books did modestly well. I had found who I was. I was a member of the tribe of writers. I think this is a crucial thing. Every person needs to find who they truly are, especially as an artist. And we are all artists, everyone. Its not a New Age  blanket terms like, for instance, us all being ‘beautiful and unique snowflakes’ or ‘find the genius inside you’. No. We are all creative beings, potentially. Again my trouble being around people reared its head. I was swamped with people. Readings, writings, publications, trips to other countries doing launches and so on, began to take their toll on me. My marriage began to really crater. My wife at the time had her own troubles, deep troubles, and I found no matter what I did I could neither help her or myself. I suffered a major depressive episode and after three years and several disastrous misdiagnoses and horrible medications on the part of therapists and psychologists, I left my wife. Then she took her life just under a year after I left. The horror. As I said in her obituary, this is the single greatest loss of talent and potential the Irish publishing scene has suffered in a generation. It came as a devastating shock to me and to those who loved her, a sorrow of immeasurable proportions. I did not understand her condition. In the aftermath it has been explained to me. Now I understand. I have moved on. But I have not forgotten. Now I continue to write, because I am a writer. This is my story. Tell someone yours today, or even write it down. I find it horribly difficult, but its liberating.

David Foster Wallace – Infinite Jest…..

I remember coming across the book, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace when helping a friend move back to the states. I had never heard of David Foster Wallace, only heard of Infinite Jest thru Hamlet, and the doomed princes comments about gambolling with Yorick.

davidfosterwallace1

And then, as I shifted boxes and made suggestions about storage, I saw this big blue book, clearly unread as the spine was uncracked, sitting on top of a box of books. I saw the title and the blue cover and knew I wanted to read it. I kind of stopped helping my friend at this point, pulled the book out of the box, read a few pages of it and saw it was unlike anything I had come across before. It was full of puns and cross references was filled with footnotes and end notes and self referential ironies. Once I started reading I couldn’t put it down. I think I have re read it at least three times in print form and once if not twice as a talking book. Yes, I stole that book, and I feel guilty.ob_1d8d46_forster-wallace-infinite-jest

Like all great works, I.J. deals with the big themes – life, death, and particularly about the purpose and meaning of existence in a hyper competitive capitalist culture which has lost its centre, its community, and a shared sense of meaning. Despite how funny it is, Infinite Jest gives a rather bleak picture of the society it depicts in terrifying parodic detail. It is a world of competition without purpose, knowledge in vast ocean sizes without wisdom, wit without compassion, words without connectedness, and human beings living intensely atomised lives. It’s amazing really, considering its thematic purposes that Wallace succeeded in making such a funny book. Wallace used comment that one of the great powers of the literary artist was the magic of words, that as we do not really know what actually goes on in each other minds and lives, we can, though the power of the written word in fiction; connect with the lives of others.

As Dave Eggers comments in one of the introductions to the book, the book itself is ‘drum tight’- meaning it’s a coherent whole despite is hugeness, is a mix of vast erudition and ready accessibility, and absolutely doesn’t need any kind of specialized knowledge to read it. This is more or less true, but the problem with Wallace’s thesis about our disconnectedness from others – how we are irrevocably alone and atomised and do not and cannot know the minds of others, how our languages are private and the interpretations we have of each other’s linguistic structures is at best based on a kind of complex guesswork, is based on something of a human rather than philosophical error. Wallace seems to exclude the power of love and sex to fuse people, to unite one with another. Without this highly unphilosophic and ephemeral human element, this visceral experience of the senses and sensual experience of others, we truly are alone, and to theoretically exclude this in a work of art is to somewhat undercut the human experience in the world and the power of the novel. Along with the sensual and aesthetic world, there is also the power of the imagination, the intellectual ability we have to visualise worlds and the ability we have to visualise what others are thinking or feeling. This kind of knowledge is one level the most unverifiable, but equally the most indispensable. It is the foundation for all advancement in knowledge, and something one is surprised Wallace does not assume seeing as he was both a philosopher and a logician.

As a focus for what passes as a plot (Wallace added three hundred footnotes to deliberately subvert the notion of a conventional plot in Infinite Jest, while still retaining a cohesive whole in the novel) in this monstrous book, we have the Samizdat, or the piece of art known as the Infinite Jest, a movie so deeply entertaining as to render its consumer lifeless and catatonic, has gone missing. I immediately thought of Monty Python’s killer joke sketch – the joke so funny it was employed as a weapon by British military. This Infinite Jest has gone missing and is being searched for by Canadian Terrorists who wish to undermine the entire fabric of the new American society by acquiring the master redistributable copy of the movie and releasing it. One wonders if these Quebec Separatists had considered the consequences of the Samizdat getting back home to Canada. Fighting these Quebec Separatists is the American intelligence agency, the Office for Unspecified Services, who are also trying to get their hands on the Infinite Jest.

So who made the movie Infinite Jest? How did it come into existence? In the opening sequences we have a scene where a doctor is rendered catatonic by the movie. Someone mailed the movie to him, (actually it was Orin – the Incadenzas eldest son). The name, by the way, comes from Hamlet in that oft quoted scene spoken by the melancholy prince about Horatio:
I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of Infinite Jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one now, to mock your own grinning? Quite chap-fallen? (Act V Sc1)
The central concern to Infinite Jest the book is also Hamlet’s central concern. The world has fallen out of joint. Beneath the Infinite Jest is infinite sorrow, a world of endless distractions amusements and addiction, and eventual effective recovery without any real reason for going on.year if the infinite jest

But anyway, in looking for the origins of the Infinite Jest, or the Samizdat, one encounters the mind boggling array of characters that parade through this fascinating book, and there’s no escaping either the vastness or the detail with which Wallace delightfully writes. There are dozens of characters in this novel which focuses on the notions of addiction, vision (so many references to optics lenses, vistas, precise descriptions of machineries, the human body, tools, movies, screens, the authors dextrous use of terms and colloquialisms are always a delight), family, depression, film, politics, and human isolation (the book is suffused with scenes of its characters alone in vast complexes, either taking drugs, or distracting themselves from their intense aloneness. Its size and complexity, its forensic descriptions of the absurdly unnecessary complex machinery of existence, implies and shows the infinite near inescapable matrix that is existence in the late twentieth century, the layers of competitive demands placed upon the young American to be someone, to become someone, to achieve, to become part of the world of demand and supply, to meet goals and to continue the work, the endless work of building the infinite complex of technocratic industrial economy, for the Academy and the Recovery clinic is the world writ small, and within this world there is an infinity. Wallace is obsessed with infinity, there are circles intersecting circles within the book, infinite skies and infinite tennis, infinite addictions

But I digress somewhat. The Samizdat was made by James Orin Incandenza Jnr, optics expert and film maker, and founder of the Enfield Tennis Academy during a brief period of sobriety before he microwaved his head thus committing suicide. Leadership of the Academy passed on to his wife, the tall domineering perverse sexually voracious beautiful Avril Mondragon Incandenza. Her son, the one who most reminds one of the author, is Hal Incandenza, the pot smoking prodigiously gifted tennis player who has memorized the Oxford dictionary, has a love for all things intellectual, and is deeply unsure of his own gifts, and later of his own sanity. He winds up later on in the second of the two main institutions in the novel: The Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House, founded by Don Gateley, murderer, former Demerol addict, and thief, also (because of his size) at one stage an excellent football player. Another deep connection between the Academy and the clinic is the fascinating character of Madame Psychosis, or Joelle van Dyne, Lead character in the Infinite Jest movie, she who resides at the clinic and was the main protagonist in the movie made by the founder of the ETA, J. O Incandenza. Hal, as his brilliant mind fails him and his addictions subsume him, winds up in the clinic.

The fact that the book takes place at a time set in the future where even the measure of time is a corporate advertisement after President Limbaugh was recently assassinated and the calendar sold to the highest bidder (Year of Glad, Year of the whopper, Year of the depend Adult Undergarment), gives one a queasy feeling of hysterical disturbance. Add to this that much of the North East of the former United States and parts of Canada is a kind of wasteland (called the Great Concavity or Great Convexity – depending on whether you are geographically, and its getting positively bizarre. Finally imagine you are living in the former USA and it is now a part of the new super state known as ONAN (Organization of North American Nations) or Canada, and one is getting into the nether regions of absurdity, rather like our present time. It also means that this is both a novel based on the present and extended into the future, as well as being a damning condemnation of the society that the author lives in. Like all powerful novelists, Wallace avoids propaganda and diatribes, and though one is touched by the horror of the emptiness his literary double, Hal Incandenza experiences throughout the book, an emptiness one is tempted to postulate as a reflection a certain absence of any kind of emotional or cultural core in the world in general, but this is never explicitly stated, one is never in the world of self pitying self indulgence, no sentimentality, and the humour is raw clear and is both funny and intelligent.

Central to his concern are the nature and purpose of competition and excellence, the experience of addiction, family relationships, human isolation, and the meaning of suffering, but more than anything Infinite Jest is about a father James Orin Incandenza, trying to help his son, who feels nothing inside, no sense of any kind of interiority. Again we have the parallels with Father and Son, the dynamic of a ghostly father seeing his son as a wraith, and trying to communicate something powerful and healing to him.

As a set of intersecting descriptions of lives that have neither a classic depiction of an opening drama, a series of unfolding plotlines, a compelling third act, or a cathartic moment at the end, the novel draws to a close with the ghost of the father seeking to heal the son, Hal, through the Infinite Jest. The movie was mad for and it’s meant to work only on Hal, to make them feel something inside, akin to the electroshock treatment that Wallace himself received to try to get him out of the horrific depressions he suffered which eventually led to his suicide. If one does not have Hal’s psychology, ones reaction to the movie is counter therapeutic. Instead of kick-starting one, it renders one catatonic. The movie thus fails to move Hal as he never sees it. So things get worse, and he winds up in the clinic. As he devolves into mute non communication, Madame Psychosis, or Joelle van Dyne comes to see him and tells him of the furore around the movie, and Hal has nothing left except his tennis. His father’s ghost possesses Ortho “the darkness” Stice ( a close friend of Hal who, chucklingly, is also known as the Wraithster, also known as ‘the guy with the trusty huge head’) – so we have a bizarre scene of dead father possessing his son’s opponent in the Whataburger tennis finals, a weird connection between father and son through a beloved sport, a kind of meaning and language and interface emerging in the balletic movement of racket and ball and players across a court in the game of tennis. So something true and lasting is achieved beyond the cold logic of winning or losing. Let’s hope Hal felt it.

 

Facebook and Wasting Time.

reality check ahead

Facebook is like the Hotel California. You can never leave. Rather than leaving or deleting, a number of events made me ‘discontinue’ my Facebook account.

1.  The politicization of Facebook.

Facebook was originally designed as a social media platform, somewhere folks of all stripes can connect. Mark Zukerberg also saw huge potential down the line for selling advertising as soon as people adapted to Facebook and saw it as an extension of their friendship circle. Sadly those innocent days of mere data analytics and targeted advertising are gone. Aside from every intelligence agency and advertising company and multinational corporation being all over Facebook friendsphere, the amount of political rants from varying sources, from all sides of the political divide has made even the most dispassionate and objective bystander hard pressed to maintain their objectivity and enjoy surfing and commenting on Facebook. The era of Trumpism, with its extreme divisiveness, misogynism, racism and xenophobia, and its consequent political fallout has made it impossible to enjoy any kind of social media, except if one enjoys rants and calls for political change and bitter disputes. If one adds this to the ongoing data harvesting, the analytics and psychological profiling, Facebook has become an arena for at times extreme social experimentation, targeted advertising, and monitoring of users. Nowadays elections are staged on Facebook (recently a US congressional hearing  heard how approx. 10 million people in the U.S. saw at least one of the 3,000 political ads bought by accounts linked to the Russian government)

*For more information check out the Steele Dossier

*See here for a CNN discussion of hacking. Note how blame is being shifted to Russia. http://money.cnn.com/video/news/2017/10/01/facebook-information-warfare-rs.cnnmoney/

2. Too Many Friends.

Facebook allows for 5000 ‘friends’ – which is an absurd number that serves Facebooks advertising and analytics more than the user. At the point of exiting Facebook I had about 4700, and I was beginning to think it was a bit nuts. Studies show that anything more than 150 friends and your brain can’t take it – 150 being the number beyond which groups begin to have real difficulties in social cohesion  Robert Dunbar,  an anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist, noticed a correlation between brain size and a persons capacity to sustain friendships. See this pic:

friends_dunbar

 

This friendship capacity is directly related to the size of ones neo cortex, depending on the primate. There are four main circles of intimacy, the largest number of deep intimates we can handle being about five. Dunbar goes on to speculate that the evolution of language comes directly from the notion that the alternate to language is social grooming, meaning time spent stroking and engaging in physical rituals. Someone told me recently we share 97% of our DNA with our chimps.  Amazing how similar the pic below is with a few guys down the pub after a couple of pints. I can’t show a pic of humans because well, it might cause offense. But google a few pics under the search protocol ‘pals having pints down the pub’ and see what I mean.

 

chimp-group1

Talking generally and humour especially, enables one to reach more people more efficiently, otherwise we would be half our times grooming and stroking others. So having a thousand or two thousand ‘friends’ is an illusion.  All one is doing is giving Facebook more data, and indeed any company using Facebooks phenomenal freely acquired data horde.  What keeps friendship alive is not online interaction, it’s human interaction.

See also this excellent article

3. Facebook is Time Consuming.

In 2016  Mark Zukerberg reported a profit margin (net) of $1.6 billion, and mentioned in passing that the average user time spent daily on Facebook was 50 minutes. In 2014 it was 40 minutes. We spend about three hours watching TV and movies, and about 19 minutes reading books. Looking elsewhere, according to comscore more than 14% of our total time spent online is spent of Facebook with an overall score of 1650 million users – per month. This is followed by 55 million monthly users (Instagram) followed by Twitter and Snapchat. Moreover, in an age of increasing atomization and isolation, Facebook gives one the illusion of intimacy. The most powerful virtual tool right now is the Facebook ‘Like’ button. One ‘ Like’ and you get a little endorphin kick. Its a form of stroking, as Dunbar describes it. A dose of Oxytocin (aka the ‘hug drug’).  Facebook gives all the appearance of being addictive.  See also Some Notes on Facebook

 

4. We are being watched.

Xkeyscore is an interesting program. It was developed by the NSA, is a meta search program, and has over 700 servers in over 150 sites across the planet.  It is largely a passive search engine but has associated programs such as QUANTUMINSERT, QUANTUMHAND, QUANTUMTHEORY and others that allow for both active intervention and a deep dive data harvesting. Anything you do on Facebook, Google, and other social media platforms comes under the purview of these powerful and evolving programs.

“Beyond emails, the XKeyscore system allows analysts to monitor a virtually unlimited array of other internet activities, including those within social media.

An NSA tool called DNI Presenter, used to read the content of stored emails, also enables an analyst using XKeyscore to read the content of Facebook chats or private messages.”

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/31/nsa-top-secret-program-online-data

5. Facebook is addictive.

See here for more information.