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


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.