The flea is with us

71Ew4KATtbLIn the foreword to his excellent and now near classic 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman argues that it was Aldous Huxley and not George Orwell who recognized the greater danger to our modern society. “But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think . . . What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no reason to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.” I would accuse Postman of prescience, given the overwhelming onslaught of irrelevance in this age of the internet, if it were not already true, as he well documents, in those tamer times of television and the three major networks. Now, thirty years hence, I fear the damage is wholly done. The flea is with us.

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Stewing on the ambiguities

The American dream may not be what it once was, but it is still there.

Entering small towns, from California to Maine, you may be struck by how similar they appear, displaying again and again the natural gallimaufry of a single culture that spans a continent. But this awareness is even greater when you stop and speak to the people themselves. Some of this continuity is frozen in the outward brass of the chain stores, of course, but it goes far deeper. The culture you can still find beyond the suburbs was not invented by Ray Crock and Sam Walton. Most of these people are conceived and raised to a behavior that is at once sweet and pleasantly sour, churned by the dash to butter as well as buttermilk. read more…

The Old Corner Bookstore

The matter is not that this place is now a Chipotle. The Old Corner Bookstore, as much as ‘Ye Olde Sweete Shoppe,’ was debauched generations ago and made to serve whatever interest was literally afoot at that moment in time. The iconic site, a beautiful vernacular Eighteenth Century brick building on a corner of Boston nearly across from the equally historic Old South Meeting House and about a block from where Benjamin Franklin was born, has long been shadowed on all sides by the assembled monstrosities of Nineteenth and Twentieth century architecture. The fact that a fairly decent chain of Mexican food restaurants has chosen to lease the physical space where Thoreau and Emerson and Longfellow once argued the particulars of the New England Renaissance is incidental in the greater scheme. After all, where are the bones of Paul Revere’s horse now?

But Rhian Sasseen picked up the story for The Millions and there it is, photo and all,  and in some visceral way the image begs for our attention. At least it does for me.  The abscess of pain which is the cause of my frequent complaint about the death of the bookshop is instantly tapped. I could go on about the importance of the bookshop to our culture as the key to any sort of livable future as much as a touchstone to the past that has made us. But is that really the matter?

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About the weather

A recent calculation of the ‘big picture’ in cosmic theory has the universe pulsing in an endless series of entropic expansions and contractions. When things reach a certain maximum (minimum?) of composition and the black holes go ‘pop,’ and disappear, it all starts over again. Nifty. Someone or ones will get a Nobel prize for physics and the world we can know (as opposed to the ones we can’t) will go on: governments will tax and pillage while people try to find some measure of happiness with the part of this universe that is theirs; thugs will rape and kill and wars will be fought over religions both political and metaphysical; and the weather will turn and twist over an Earth we pretend to understand, for reasons we have not yet fathomed.

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What lies beneath

The quiet you’ve heard from this place was just the sound of me lying low.

For about a year and a half I have been writing ‘The knight’s tale, a novel of the future.’ And now it’s done.

Though not quite the largest single work I’ve ever attempted, it is close to that, and easily the most complicated. The story was in fact pulled from a much larger epic first begun in 1976, which has occupied thousands of hours of my life in the years since. Over that time many aspects of the original concept were altered. The natural growth of scientific knowledge forced some of this. But more importantly, I have changed, and thus the way I saw the story I wanted to tell mutated. read more…

Journey Man

Sitting in the cab of a small car, alone for many hours and over many days while traveling cross-country, will produce a lot of rethinking of old problems and the discovery of more than a few new ones. In that enclosed space, I have come to the not so subtle realization that writing (and reading) is very much like traveling. An exploration. In fact I write by question, from inquiry to inquiry, like a journey with no absolute course.

“Why did he do it?”

“Why wouldn’t he?”

“But how?”

I do have a purpose, an ultimate goal, but I tend not to pre-determine its length or breadth until a shape has been conjured out of an accumulation of questions and answers–words chosen one by one for how they illuminate the path ahead. I think it’s the way many writers do it. read more…