The Man From Primrose Lane by James Renner

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Man From Primrose LaneThe au­thor of this book, James Renner, is a friend of mine.

Reading this book is like watch­ing a freight train bar­rel to­ward you and be­ing un­able to move, while re­mem­ber­ing a time in your past when you watched a freight train bar­rel to­ward you, only to wake up to find out there’s a freight train bar­rel­ing to­ward you.

This is the kind of novel that should ap­peal to any­one, and the in­gre­di­ents it con­tains that aren’t to your taste should be more than made up for by the things that are. There are three acts with a few in­ter­ludes, and by the third act, I was so hooked that I read the last 100 pages in a sit­ting.

It is a deeply per­sonal, emo­tion­ally-charged mur­der mystery/​thriller about an in­ves­tiga­tive journalist/​writer and his search for a se­rial rapist & mur­derer of lit­tle red­headed girls. Sorta. If Raymond Chandler had writ­ten it, that’s all it would be about. It’s also a novel about how in­ter­nal dark­ness cre­ates ex­ter­nal demons. Partially. If Stephen King had writ­ten it, that’s what it would be about. But James Renner wrote this, so it’s about those things, and much more; ob­ses­sion, re­demp­tion, fate, phi­los­o­phy, fu­til­ity and hope in the face of it. There are also plenty of easter eggs for folks who live in or are fa­mil­iar with Northeast Ohio.

This isn’t nor­mally the kind of novel that I read, so it took me awhile to get in the groove with the in­tri­cate de­tail and char­ac­ter­i­za­tion sup­plied dur­ing the ini­tial ex­po­si­tion. I found my­self won­der­ing if all this de­tail was truly nec­es­sary (it is), then that ground­work starts pay­ing off over and over again. I had to keep putting the book down to calm down, such was the deeply per­sonal im­pact that the char­ac­ters ac­tions have upon each other. The struc­ture of the ex­po­si­tion places events that oc­cur at very dif­fer­ent mo­ments in the past and fu­ture con­cur­rent to each other. This re­sults in two things: 1) over­whelm­ing dra­matic irony and 2) the novel be­comes some­thing akin to time travel, ini­tially sim­i­lar to the way that Gene Wolfe’s Peace is a time travel novel.

So if you want your heart-strings tuned, some ex­er­cise for your adrenal glands, your tear ducts flushed, your ac­tion packed and your food thought­ful, read this book.


Saturday, 19 November 2011

What hap­pens when you take apart a ra­dio? You get pieces of a ra­dio and no mu­sic.

He found it half-buried in the sand.
It looked like an old ar­gu­ment.
It still glowed green when he 
plugged it in and for a mo­ment
all was well.

But its sta­tic ate at talk
like ocean surf eats sand yet 
un­pleas­ant so many
short stac­cato bursts from
gulls claim­ing turf clam­or­ing
for that bro­ken re­ceiver re­vealed by

His wife said it’s bro­ken.

To fix it
he plants tran­sis­tors
in his brow fur­rows tongue be­tween
teeth tip out of mouth the
chance of rain con­cen­trate ear perks
for the sound of un­furling first sprouts
the year it takes the earth to ex­hale.

His wife can tell
his scent has changed re­placed by
the tang of hot wiring above his eyes a range of an­ten­nae move when he is not
speak­ing he never speaks now nor
goes to field or shore any­more his eyes
cen­ter­screen dots 
of an old TV

a night ar­rives-
he dies star­ven eyes blinded with tears
his widow un­screws his head and throws
it from the win­dow to shat­ter among
the thyme. Just enough peace for one 
last night in his arms. 

The next morn­ing her gar­den is filled 
with ra­dio tow­ers, red lights
wink at her from the clouds.

Her foot upon a first strut-
hand upon a stan­chion-
she does not climb but turns
and stum­bles over 
a hill to

they used to
the sea.


Thursday, 17 November 2011

A part of this view­ing listCriterion Collection Spine #53: Akira Kurosawa’s Sanjuro.

At first watch, this film is more comedic and less com­pelling than Yojimbo. At its essence, this is a buddy flick, but Sanjuro has a dou­ble hand­ful of im­petu­ous id­iots to wran­gle in­stead of just one. Because of this, Sanjuro’s ut­most ca­pa­bil­ity stands out at all times. He comes across as an uber­men­sch ronin who’s so bored with be­ing a badass that he helps out these bum­blers just to en­liven his day. This might ac­tu­ally turn the film from a com­edy into a satire.

I would make the ar­gu­ment that there is an im­plicit cri­tique of Japanese so­cial struc­ture here, all the mun­dane samu­rai are the me­dieval equiv­a­lent of mod­ern salary­men and they all want to be like the boss­man, Sanjuro. He, on the other hand, is self-prim­ing and au­tonomous. Because of this, he is filled with a kind of whim­si­cal con­tempt to­ward the other samu­rai who place worth on things ex­ter­nal to them­selves. This is a lonely place for Sanjuro, and would ir­rev­o­ca­bly darken the tone of the film if not for the pres­ence of Mutsuta’s wife. She’s the only other non-vil­lain­ous char­ac­ter who has the same sort of self-pos­ses­sion, and her peace with her­self is a marked con­trast to Sanjuro’s dis­con­tent. He rec­og­nizes this, and the re­fine­ment of her per­son­al­ity gives Sanjuro a foun­da­tion from which he can launch his fury.

The re­cip­i­ent of this ire, and the only other char­ac­ter Sanjuro in­stinc­tively re­spects, is the other au­tonomous ac­tor: Hanbei Muroto. Though forced to kill him, Sanjuro has no de­sire to do so, and the film ends as he con­tin­ues his search for a group of his equals.

Postmodernism is Dead! Long Live Holism!

Friday, 4 November 2011

I’ve never liked post­mod­ernism and I’ve been wait­ing quite some time for the next or­ganic, era-bound, ar­bi­trar­ily-as­signed “-ism” to show up. I’ve fi­nally no­ticed it, and I ex­pect other folks have as well. I don’t know if it has a name yet, but I’ve ar­bi­trar­ily as­signed it with the han­dle Holism.

First, Postmodernism

Since, philo­soph­i­cally speak­ing, post­mod­ernism acts with in­her­ent sus­pi­cion to­ward mean­ing, un­der­stand­ing, and epis­te­mol­ogy, the nat­u­ral re­sult of de­con­struc­tion is a lack of mean­ing and un­der­stand­ing, and a dis­re­gard for epis­te­mol­ogy. Postmodernism used to be the idea that you could un­der­stand some­thing bet­ter if you took it apart. It still is, aca­d­e­m­i­cally speak­ing. But pop­u­larly, it has has be­come the idea the idea that you don’t need to un­der­stand some­thing if you can take it apart. Everything can be sub­jected to spin, mean­ing is fun­gi­ble.

In this way, every thing, every method of know­ing or ounce of mean­ing be­comes fun­gi­ble, spinnable, and ca­pa­ble of be­ing dis­re­garded. Of course, all of this was pos­si­ble be­fore post­mod­ernism, but the cherry on top is that post­mod­ernism ba­si­cally le­git­imizes and en­cour­ages this sort of disin­gen­u­ous­ness.

This has so in­truded upon every bit of mod­ern liv­ing that it has re­sulted in a steady un­steady­ing of mean­ing as a con­cept. No things have mean­ing. Heyho, ni­hilism. We are adrift. Before post­moder­nity, we would nav­i­gate by the stars. Now we lis­ten to peo­ple dis­cuss what na­gi­va­tion and stars re­ally mean. Now we look so closely at a pointil­list paint­ing that we see only dots. We used to step back and see a field of wild­flow­ers. What hap­pens when you take apart a ra­dio? You get pieces of a ra­dio and no mu­sic. By it’s very na­ture, post­mod­ernism is de­con­struc­tive, not con­struc­tive. I’m quite de­lib­er­ately avoid­ing bandy­ing words about, here. These speci­fic words mat­ter. A philo­soph­i­cal pur­suit that is in­ter­ested in tak­ing things apart rather than putting things to­gether is mas­tur­ba­tory.


We’ve been stuck in this mas­tur­ba­tory realm of post­mod­ernism for decades; we’ve for­got­ten about mean­ing and ne­glected to teach oth­ers how to de­rive mean­ing on their own, about the ne­ces­sity of a long view, di­a­logue, in­ter­ac­tion and shar­ing of ideas with each other. Instead the goal is to be the best one at talk­ing past whomever we’re talk­ing past. We are sur­rounded by un­nat­u­ral food prod­ucts that are as­sem­bled rather than grown or hus­banded. We de­con­struct nat­u­ral habi­tats to ex­trude their fun­da­men­tal parts, and then dump the un­wanted fun­da­men­tal parts, or their processed residues back into nat­u­ral habi­tats. We cre­ate artis­tic state­ments that are so ab­stract or ironic that they are im­pos­si­ble to pen­e­trate. We cre­ate tele­vi­sion shows that are com­pletely scripted and call it re­al­ity. We only like things iron­i­cally, be­cause sin­cer­ity as­cribes mean­ing to­ward what we hold dear. We have a dem­a­gogic “news” pro­gram said to be a “No Spin Zone”, which, as disin­gen­u­ous as the name is, ad­mits to the per­va­sive­ness of spin (the fun­gi­bil­ity of mean­ing) in all as­pects of our in­for­ma­tion con­sump­tion. We cre­ate strange and fan­ci­ful fi­nan­cial in­stru­ments and eco­nomic mod­els that have no mean­ing when sub­jected to the slight­est ex­am­i­na­tion and that, when they fall apart, ruin the lives of every­one ex­cept the ma­gi­cians who made them. If any­thing, the burst­ing of the hous­ing bub­ble proved the bank­ruptcy of post­mod­ern ac­tion. The fun­gi­bil­ity of mean­ing means that peo­ple has no mean­ing.

Now, Holism


The re­ac­tion to this dearth of mean­ing is Holism. Just as Postmodernism was a re­ac­tion to Modernism, Holism is a re­ac­tion to Postmodernism. The Holists live in the bombed-out rub­ble of the post­mod­ern land­scape, pick­ing up any puz­zling but likely chunks of jet­sam they come across and try­ing to cob­ble to­gether some sort of mean­ing out of it all. Any item, song, phi­los­o­phy, skill, ethic, eco­nomic mode or moral code is just as use­ful as any other for con­struct­ing mean­ing in this space. This isn’t an in­no­cent ig­no­rance; there is knowl­edge about what caused this, and an im­me­di­ate and in­ter­nal­ized re­jec­tion of en­gage­ment with the meth­ods that cre­ated the rub­ble. Holists are con­cerned with sin­cer­ity, and rather than re­gard­ing all things with some level of sus­pi­cion, the de­fault is to keep an open mind, to provide the ben­e­fit of doubt, rather than its detri­ment. (The ben­e­fit is doubt­ing your own as­sump­tions. The detri­ment is not lis­ten­ing to oth­ers’.) Because of this open-mind­ed­ness, these er­satz mean­ings are able to ac­crete into some­thing greater than the sum of its parts and sur­pris­ingly im­pen­e­tra­ble to de­con­struc­tion.

The #oc­cupy move­ment is the man­i­fes­ta­tion of Holism that first made me no­tice what was go­ing on.  It is an er­satz boat that floats. It is an ac­cre­tion of var­i­ous mean­ings around a theme they all hold in com­mon: “Postmodern politico-cap­i­tal­ist eco­nom­ics has said we aren’t. Here we are.” The ba­sic re­fusal of oc­cu­pa­dos to en­gage with post­mod­ernists on post­mod­ern terms re­sulted in the ini­tial “mean­ing­less move­ment” me­dia spin. Media is not ca­pa­ble of defin­ing a gestalt. They’ve lost the knack. The oc­cu­pado-holist voice says to post­mod­ernists (par­tic­u­larly bankers & politi­cians): “We’re not talk­ing to you, be­cause when you say things, you don’t mean them.” Where “mean” here ex­ists both in its nor­mal us­age and in the epis­te­mo­log­i­cal terms de­scribed above. Occupados know that post­mod­ernists speak from the wrong side of their mouths.

Holists are ur­ban farm­ers and whole foods folks, peo­ple who want to en­gage in nu­tri­tion on a fun­da­men­tal level. Holists are green folks, who see the ne­ces­sity and ben­e­fit of pre­serv­ing nat­u­ral or­der. Holists cre­ate art and craft from scrap out of a need to cre­ate. Holists have game & craft nights, bike rides and potlucks in­stead of watch­ing TV. Holists find sin­cer­ity to be more ful­fill­ing than irony. Holists share among them­selves and work with al­ter­nate eco­nomic mod­els be­cause they don’t have faith in tra­di­tional means. (And, of­ten enough they don’t have the money or the means in the first place).

So. What? (-ism)

Holism ap­pears to be a move­ment by those who have noth­ing to cre­ate some­thing of mean­ing. “Nothing” is de­fined in as broad or speci­fic terms as you care. Holists don’t care what terms you use. Holists are not fo­cused on talk or ar­tic­u­la­tion so much as ac­tion and cre­ation. I ar­bi­trar­ily as­signed the name of Holism, be­cause these peo­ple are con­cerned with all the gestalts that have been ne­glected due to decades of post­mod­ernism. Holism takes it all in and ac­cepts, whereas post­mod­ernism took it all apart and re­jected even the pieces. Though post­mod­ernists said the paint­ing was just a bunch of dots, the wild­flow­ers were still there. Just be­cause the ra­dio is in pieces doesn’t mean you can’t make your own mu­sic out of the parts.