Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Fairies on Ferries: Commuting

While sunset is her favorite time, Elise also likes it's opposite: dawn. On brisk mornings, when the fog clears away on the sound, but lingers over the Kitsap Peninsula, you can sometimes see her flying out to meet the Kaleetan to pick up a shift.

Happy Birthday, Arthur

Arthur Schopenhauer: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
In my younger years I got a bachelor's degree in Philosophy. While the school I went to was (at the time) very analytic in its culture, I was allowed a great degree of freedom to study continental philosophy: mostly because I speak and read German very well, and Germany dominated continental philosophy from the 18th Century up through the 20th.

This means I got to know Arthur Schopenhauer fairly well. I will not go too much into his philosophy here, because regurgitation is something I find boring to do and read. 

I had issues with Arthur during my undergrad years because of his rather nasty attitudes toward women. It took me a long time to realize through the lens of Nietzsche (himself a misogynist) as to how emotional damage and prejudices can infiltrate even the most rational of thought systems.

For example:
“The fundamental defect of the female character is a lack of a sense of justice. This originates first and foremost in their want of rationality and capacity for reflexion but it is strengthened by the fact that, as the weaker sex, they are driven to rely not on force but on cunning: hence their instinctive subtlety and their ineradicable tendency to tell lies: for, as nature has equipped the lion with claws and teeth, the elephant with tusks, the wild boar with fangs, the bull with horns and the cuttlefish with ink, so it has equipped woman with the power of dissimulation as her means of attack and defence, and has transformed into this gift all the strength it has bestowed on man in the form of physical strength and the power of reasoning.” 
Charming, eh? As so often with angry men, there is a lot more, but I will stop there. No wonder he died alone, never married and was frustrated in his dealings with women all his life? Perhaps he hated only Hegel more.

As I got older, I realized that while wrong-headed, he did have one amazing insight buried in all that vitriol. "as the weaker sex, they are driven to rely not on force but on cunning"

Poor Arthur hated women so much he never really applied his own Principle(s) of Sufficient Reason to question why women were "the weaker" sex, but the insight into how someone deprived of power is despised for her survival tactics struck a chord.

Today, Schopenhauer's bleakly pessimistic (yet very Buddhist-friendly)  philosophy strikes similar harmonic chords in me: that we are all driven by the false alignments of desire and the representations we create that render us incapable of satisfaction and happiness, leading to Blind Irrational Will doing what it does best.

I think it's useful to consider Vorstellung here. It is in the title of his best known work Die Welt als Will und Vorstellung. It is the "presentation" of the world to us. Put-before-us is a way of translating it. It is what our sensory apparatus and minds are constantly doing. It's why it's so easy to create illusions. As an idea, it's really an ancient one, but neuroscience is finally learning how to explain the old wisdom.

But really, in the above passage, it's the idea of power that grew and blossomed. Follow it from Ida Wells, and through de Beauvoir up through to contemporary thinkers such as Crenshaw, and it is more important than ever, especially when we consider resentment as a complicated, manifold power relationship between people.

I am not saying these thinkers were influenced by Schopenhauer directly. Such precise genealogy is not in my interest or purview. Consider it more of a zeitgeist that has been growing.

I wonder:

In this day, would Arthur have been a callow little troll? An angry yet intelligent, sexually frustrated white man hiding behind the Internet with personal issues that are inextricably bound up with the culture he lives in and its definitions of gender, success and worth?  Would he have sought the solace of an automatic weapon to take revenge?

More importantly, could he have overcome all of this and let it go as the core of his philosophy suggests?

I like to think of him as the eccentric, but essentially peaceful man who lives in the same building that I do. We need to say hello. Perhaps talk about his poodle or something at Cal Anderson park and start the long respectful path to understanding one another in this irrational world.

I have no answers, only the suggestion that you read  more and consider it yourselves.

For a good place to start… Feminist Perspectives on Power: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Ouroboros I

public domain image of ouroboros
We must learn to doubt, and so doubting becomes doubtful.

This process not only becomes manifest in language—the circularity of the above statement becomes almost comical—but also in the knowledge of our senses.  Escher remains delightful because his work takes us back to when we delighted in illusion.

What fascinates me more is how much—without questioning—we do such epistemology.

Consciousness is forever eating its own tail.

*Ouroboros image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Fairies on Ferries: Elise

wood-cut illustration style of fairy sitting on sun deck of Washington State Ferry at Sunset. Fairy is dressed in Ferry Worker uniform, and has Japanese maple leaves for wings.

Sunset is a good liminal time for meeting fairies on the ferries. I met Elise one evening on the way to Bainbridge Island. She likes to pet dogs on the sundeck, and will take a picture of you and your loved ones with Seattle or Mt. Rainier in the background so you don't have to take an awkward selfie and look foolish. If you want to really get in her good graces, simply leave a Mighty-O cinnamon doughnut out as an offering. Just don’t leave your bags unattended or she’ll throw them off the boat.

Elise said that unlike many of her kind, Inland Boatelves have no aversion to iron or steel, which makes sense if you spend a lot of time on the MV Tacoma and other ferries. When I asked about her wings she said that she was born without them. When she came of age she picked two leaves from her favorite tree—a Japanese maple in the University of Washington Arboretum—and whispered a spell over them and placed them on her back. The rest is magic of course.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Cherries and Worms

Woodcut-style cartoon of two women. One is holding up a bunch of cherries the other has a large earthworm coming out of her mouth. Worm looks like it is considering the cherries.
Stupidity is doomed to cower at every syllable of Wisdom.


How can a worm even know the color of cherries?

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Tall Glass of Water

a glass of water
Sometimes a glass of water in the desert is only that.

It is not evidence of a fountain, a well, nor oasis.

It is a glass of water.

I cannot bathe in it. I can't lie down next to it at night and enjoy the coolness it brings. I cannot sail away upon it.

But how much more important it is in a desert, rather than in some saturated place.

Here, I don't notice the glass of water, which is it's own unique event. I ignore the world it reflects and refracts. The swirl of aeration within. How it tastes.

It keeps me alive for one more day, and I should be grateful for its passing.

Life on the edge

Cartoon-image of young tanned woman in a bikini crouching at the edge of a precipice.
Life on the edge, what we call yearning—at that age when we first learn to love—hurts.

I remember:

That when I leap, I die. I die when I retreat from the brink as well.

But is death in different ways the same thing?

Or merely the same word?

I could say change but as an abyss, change does not have the same depth.

If I move back—that is only in language because the back I return to isn't. Coming here, to this place— has changed everything.

Or rather, everything dies in this moment.

I was and remain afraid to jump because I would look foolish.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Remainder

Paul Constant writes a fascinating behind the scene take on remainder tables and the books that grace them at The Seattle Review of Books. The story is of Mark Mouser who is retiring from the venerable University Bookstore here in Seattle.

It's very much worth a read.

Mark and Paul's handling of this made me grateful, especially when the discussion comes around to authors finding their books on the table. Robert Michael Pyle is quoted as being not one of the upset authors who feels that the remainder table gives "second life" to a book.

I'll add a bit to that.

As a struggling, largely unknown writer I dream of being on the remainder table! After all, it means I at least got published and maybe someone else is going to read my book, and that is what it's mostly about for me. I long ago gave up any notion of making an actual living at this vocation. But when someone I don't know mentions me, or that they liked a particular line, I feel wonderful. Not because it stokes my ego although there is some of that to be sure.

No! It's that fragile, unforeseen connection I've made with another human being. I felt this long ago reading other writers, and occasionally I get to share that with them. Louise Erdrich being a prime example. I got to meet God once when She was at Seattle Arts & Lectures and She was as inspiring, intelligent, gracious and beautiful as her novels.

Have I bought some of her books on remainder? Of course. When I wanted one, and I didn't have a lot of money (see "struggling" aspect above). So if you are a writer on a tight budget, (and I know few who aren't), remainder books can help fill the gap between buying new and the library. (Both highly recommended as well.)

And there is the serendipity that Mouser mentions in the article as well. You never know what you'll find there. A chance discovery that Amazon's algorithms still can't match, as far as I'm concerned.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Hard at work

Wood-cut-style cartoon of woman asleep in bed.

In the morning, I paraphrase a fragmentary metaphor that explains how important sleeping is.
"Even when I am fast asleep, my soul is hard at work to make something of the world."
Is the world absurd because we use metaphors to explain and vindicate it? Sleep is not Work, nor is it Rest, per se. How can I say it is easy or hard when I don't remember most of it?

So I lie a bit without thinking, even though supposedly I am. Isn't Sleep lying without thinking? Part of the time, anyway.

But I want you to know Sleep is important so I choose words (which are a translation) that do something in this conversation. Are we in agreement? That Work is valued?

What is the world I am making? Another question. And yet when I compare the worlds of my life—waking or sleeping—I don't remember either of them save mostly in abstraction, which is here in these words: alien sticks and curves in the realm of a God I cannot name.

I do not really need to. I'd like to go back to work.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017


Even in the coldest part of February, you mourn a time. Was it when you could drag your sleeve through the wine and fumble for the rolling glass?

When it broke, it looked like ice upon the rocks.

Or when the singers weren't all married yet? When being by yourself was lonely?

If was that time. The sea has risen and the coastline less intricate.
I regret I never set foot upon the shore.