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.