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Archive for February 2009

children shouldn’t smoke

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photo2

Someone recently told me – with all or at least some of the prefacing requisite to such a statement – that I am a bit childish about work. It is not simply that I grumble about having to do things that I don’t want to do. It is that I literally at this point won’t do them. That’s not quite right. I will do them, but I do them incredibly slowly, sulkily, inefficiently. I will read a review copy of a mongraph that should take me a night or two to finish over the course of a month, more than a month. I will allow to weigh down upon me and my time until the people around me are staring in amazement: how can you still be reading that? What else have you been doing? I answer: nothing, nothing – I have been working on nothing but this. And they shake their heads, make prefatory statements about the fact that what they are about to say comes only from a caring and respectful place, and then they will call me a child – a child in a hulking man’s body, but a child nevertheless.

One of the reasons that I smoke, aside from the heroin-level addictiveness of nicotene, is because it gives me leave to stroll around the neighborhood, thinking about the things I’d like to be writing instead of the work that I’m actually doing back in my office. Today I have been thinking that I’d like to write a piece about the essential if vaporous difference between the sort of life one lives as a semi-bourgie intellectual in London vs. the one that one lives (that I might have lived in New York). The essential, the vaporous. I am not talking about playgrounds and the difference between Sunday Lunch and Sunday Brunch, although of course those things have something to do with it too, are contributory factors or maybe symptoms. It’s hard to know the difference between the one and the other.

So I smoke and I think about that and then I go into the student shop and buy the papers and some mints to hide the tobacco stink when I get back to my department, the hallway, my office. It’s just the sort of thing for Journal X I think. They would love the geography involved, and I am singing a song that their readers, demographically, would want to listen to. Perhaps I should write a bit and send it on to Y.

Back to the monograph now, and my desk, and my fancy computer. The blog allows the smokebreak to linger, to materialize itself. It is definitely a cheaper habit and less carinogenic, literally if not metaphorically.

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February 23, 2009 at 11:23 am

Posted in me

liebster vater, cher père, dearest father, дорогого отца, 最亲爱的父亲

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I am right now reading Kafka’s letter to his father. A few reactions, right in the middle of things:

  • If one has father issues (as I most certainly do, no did, no do, no did), one reads this perhaps as I do: with a voice inside saying things like No, it’s not like that. That’s close but it’s more like this. Which is a strange effect, when reading a “literary” text. I don’t, you know, do that with novels, or any other text I’ve ever read.
  • Therapy helps. Whatever I said in the previous point, I feel a bit distant from the intensity from this sort of letter, which is a good sign, I am sure. Proper psychotherapy helps, I am a big advocate.
  • This is the first time I am reading some Kafka that I actually feel like the text in question should not have been published. It feels like reading a very great man and writer on his very worst day. Perhaps it should have been published pseudononymously. Perhaps I won’t finish it because perhaps I shouldn’t finish it.
  • Father issues only get stranger and tougher – sorry to be obvious – when you are a son and then you have kids yourself, become a father yourself. As then you read a document like this from both sides of the “dearest,” don’t you.
  • One bit that’s particular poigniant to me is the bit about the verbal abuse of others. I understand just what he’s saying when Kafka writes the following:

    Your extremely effective rhetorical methods in bringing me up, which never failed to work with me, were: abuse, threats, irony, spiteful laughter, and—oddly enough—self-pity. I cannot recall your ever having abused me directly and in downright abusive terms. Nor was that necessary; you had so many other methods, and besides, in talk at home and particularly at the shop the words of abuse went flying around me in such swarms, as they were flung at other people’s heads, that as a little boy I was sometimes almost stunned and had no reason not to apply them to myself too, for the people you were abusing were certainly no worse than I was and you were certainly not more displeased with them than with me. And here again was your enigmatic innocence and inviolability; you cursed and swore without the slightest scruple; yet you condemned cursing and swearing in other people and would not have it.

I suppose that this is just the type of post that would have to go if I put my name on the blog, eh? You’re right, all of you – fuck it. The name stays off.

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February 23, 2009 at 12:50 am

Posted in kafka

ridge running in north london

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I’ve been working way too hard this term. Since I had my daughter, I’ve made a point of taking weekends off from work. Somehow, this time around, it seems like I’ve been in the office almost every weekend at least for part of the time. Not nice. But this past week was “reading week,” the equivalent of “spring break” but not (for one thing, a lot of my students actually do seem to spend the period reading, which is rather amazing. It’s the exam culture over here, among other things, which merits another post altogether….) so I’ve been able to do normal stuff on weekends for at least a few days.

One of the big thrills about the prospect of moving over here was the amount of travelling we’d be able to do. I mean, we have a kid, but still – not having to do a long haul flight to go to all of these places is a big thrill. But in just over a year, we’ve been to…. Belgium. And the grand list of extra-London places we’ve visited in the UK still comes to Edinburgh and Cambridge, the latter visited (god!) twelve years ago.

We’ve been busy. London’s very very big, so you don’t easily get bored with it during your first year or so. So, despite the fact that we had freetime and no obligations during the last two weekends, we travelled a grand total of approximately six miles, there and back, there and back, in search of leisure activites. Today we went to Hampstead via Hampstead Heath.

To get to the Heath from where we live you can either take two buses, or one bus to Archway and then walk the rest of the way. We chose the latter, and when you do this you walk right past the southern side of Highgate Cemetery, where of course Marx is buried. I’ve done it countless times, but I’ve never gone in. I’m not even sure where the entrance is, but it’s definitely not on the Archway side. Not sure what it is about author/thinker sites that puts me somewhat randomly off them or onto them. I’ve walked up the side of a mountain to see Joyce’s grave in Zurich. I’ve skipped a day in Paris to go to Rouen to see the hospital where Flaubert grew up. When I was a kid, my wife and I drove to Lowell and saw Kerouac’s grave. But in college I lived right next door to Emily Dickinson’s house for three years but never visited it, not a single time. Hampstead, which I lived in for the first several months of my time here, has stuff that people flyover to see: Freud’s house, Keats’s house, etc. I’ve visited none and neither. I’m not some sort of bonfire of the fallacies type – I’m increasingly interested in artist’s lives, especially their material lives (money, where they lived, the actual writing process, where they wrote) and the relation to the works.

I’m closing my eyes right now and trying to decide if there was any literary site I could see anywhere in the world what would it be. I can’t think of a single place. I do like walking past lots of literary sites in a day without going in them, like today, so I guess I’d just choose that.

Ah, here’s one side of Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath. My first experience of North London, the place where I now live, came with a shocking surprise. Before my trip out for my job interview, I’d never really left – as most tourists don’t – central London. But the day before my interview (terrible jinx faced and beaten in doing this, and as a baseball player of yore, I am a deep believer in the jinx) I wanted to walk around to see some neighborhoods where we might actually live were we to move here, as I’d be flying out the morning after and so there’d be no time. Naively, I visited St. John’s Wood and Hampstead. Look, I’m sure lots of people coming to New York to live are thinking, dunno, the East Village and Brooklyn Heights or something before they see the pricetags hanging from the doorknobs. And in fact we did end up living in a subleased place in Hampstead to start, so it all worked out in the end. (Also, that night was the first time I met IT and Owen Hatherley in the flesh, at the New Piccadilly, soon sadly gone… So it was a big day for me…)

Anyway, what was the surprise? North London is fucking hilly. Rather mountainous, actually. That day I took the Jubilee Line from St. John’s Wood to Finchley Road, as it looks on the map like an easy stroll from the later to Hampstead, half-a-mile tops.

But in reality, it’s like half-a-mile over and half-a-mile straight up. Anyway, that was my first brush with a geographical formation that I deal with now every single day. My block is relatively flat, but the block to a south rises I’d say 15 stories from one cross street to the next. It’s just a continuation of the formation that makes Parliament Hill a hill. Here’s wikipedia on it:

To the north of the City a ridge capped by sands of the Bagshot formation forms high ground (in places around 130m) including Hampstead Heath and Highgate Hill. The ridge continues eastwards in the London clay to Crouch Hill and Queen’s Wood. To the south, fingers of the ridge run down towards Primrose Hill and Parliament Hill. This ridge is a surviving area of Tertiary rocks younger than the London Clay, surrounded by former routes of the Thames where much younger deposits overlie the clay. Smaller outliers of younger Tertiary high ground exist to the west of the main ridge including Harrow Hill where Bagshot sands survive and at Horsendon Hill and Hanger Lane, where the Claygate Beds of the top of the London Clay formation are capped by much younger gravels deposited by the Thames.

Yep, that’s my ridge. Anyway, Marx used to bring his family for picnics on Parliament Hill, which wasn’t far from his house (no longer in existence) located in the interstitial space between Kentish Town, Belsize Park, and South End Green – Gospel Oak.

We wanted to have lunch at an embarrassing place that I cannot name in Hampstead (no, not McDonalds, better than that, more um French. But fuck are the Croque Ms ever good, and the Hampstead one is the only branch  I’ve found that will serve you a Stella en pression, that is to say in proper portions) but were hungry upon arriving at the Heath so we stopped at the pleasantly obsolescent (they’re tearing it down, I overheard) cafe near the PH tennis courts. My daughter’s doll took an awkward looking nap on the table.

There was some sort of gigantic cross country meet (is that the right word here?) on at the Heath today. It was very odd to see, here, now, since I went to tons of these when I was in high school as my best friend was a big time long-distance runner. I remembered today that we used to egg each other on, not very helpfully, to get disastrously drunk the night before our biggest games / meets, my baseball games and his meets. And I remembered that both of us plunged toward mediocrity, probably blowing chances of scholarships and so on, as we moved from our early high school careers toward the end. Monstrous and sober sophomores turned into middle-of-the-pack seniors, but we filled bucket after bucket with puke in my basement. My hand-eye coordination got shakier and shakier; he tended more and more to get cramped in the middle of races. Demon drink! He still runs. I can’t find an email address to contact him at, but I find reports of the races he’s run for a major NYC running club.

Feel like I’ve said this before, but my favorite thing about the lower end of Parliament Hill fields, where the playgrounds are, is the fact that the Overground runs right next to it. You can almost feel like you’re in proper Europe, Europe proper, pushing your kid on a swing with a council-cafe bought latte in your other hand as a blue and gold Overground train shuffle by just beyond the fence. I missed the picture that got it all in – you’ll have to do with an image of a train idling at Gospel Oak station.

People famously fly kites from the top of Parliament Hill as it is very very windy there. We forgot the kite today, so we did not.

When you leave Hampstead Heath to the south, you enter a really lovely area called South End Green. If it weren’t for school complications that we were saying today we should have just gotten over, we’d probaly be living in a flat there instead of the house here. It’s fucking lovely, one of my favorite parts of London. Walter Gropius and László Moholy-Nagy both lived there at one point, among many many others. Hard to explain just why, beyond that, it’s so attractive to me – it’s still expensive, it’s full of American expats (yuck!), it’s underserved when it comes to life-necessities, and the transit is poor. Instead of an explanation of why I love it so much, despite its flaws, you’ll have to do with the photo above. It’s a branch of Le Pain Quotidien, which is a poshish chain, Belgian not French, that moved into this corner after a fancy burger place closed just as we were moving out of the area. That’s not what’s important. What’s important is that this was the location of the bookshop where Orwell worked and about which he wrote “Bookshop Memories”:

But as soon as I went to work in the bookshop I stopped buying books. Seen in the mass, five or ten thousand at a time, books were boring and even slightly sickening. Nowadays I do buy one occasionally, but only if it is a book that I want to read and can’t borrow, and I never buy junk. The sweet smell of decaying paper appeals to me no longer. It is too closely associated in my mind with paranoiac customers and dead bluebottles.

Next we went to Hampstead village proper, had lunch; went to the Waterstones, where I bought Kafka’s Letter to my Father, which somehow I’ve never read but really should; checked prices on a venue for our daughter’s birthday party (wtf? a venue? what happened to some cheapass pinup pin-the-tail on the donkey scotchtaped to the wall and two cans of juicy juice set out on an unclothed table? ah, kids today) but I forgot to take pictures. This despite the fact that Hampstead is the only place where I myself have ever actually recognized a celebrity other than Peggy Noonan (another long story) – but not long ago I saw Russell Brand (for the benefit of Americans who won’t – and shouldn’t – know who he is) eating brunch at a cafe by aforementioned Waterstones. I have no doubt at all I’ve seen lots of them, but they’ve mostly remained, as it were, in the optical unconscious because I hate celebrities. But on the way home I got a shot of Royal Free Hospital, which is a brutalist masterpiece, and apparently the first hosptial designed (in Europe or the world I am not sure) with the aid of CAD. Ah, computers should berth us when we are sick, as only they really know how it feels.

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February 22, 2009 at 12:49 am

Posted in london, photoessay

last in a series of posts… you’ll see….

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Ah, there’s no way that you could have known, but if you just read the previous post about Dickens, you just read not simply a post but an experiment in blogging. Surprised? I bet you are! And as the title of this one suggests, just as that was the first of a new set, this is the last of an old set. Now you’re confused as well as surprised. Sorry!

Long story. I doubt you’ll read to the end, but I’ll tell you anyway.

Little known fact: I’ve been blogging longer or way longer than anyone on my blogroll with the possible exception of Kotsko and definitely (I think!) Ftrain, who barely blogs anymore, and I’m not sure he ever considered what he did “blogging” anyway. I’ve changed blog addys at least twice that I can remember. There was an original site under my real name that I got rid of when I first heard the siren shriek of the job market during, I think, my second or third year of grad school. (I believe that the google trove for my real name still includes my listing on a very early blogroll at Crooked Timber, believe it or not, as well as some snarky comments in response to a post on Judith Butler…) My second was called, er, Cultural Revolution – that’s the reason why some people still call me CR, which was my handle at both Long Sunday and during the Holbonic Wars at The Valve. Now this one, which I acquired to lose the old name (look, I’d just come back from China when I started the other, which really is the opposite of an excuse, I know…) and so that I could have a free and clean wordpress.com account.

I have, to date, posted 63 posts considering whether I should take down the blog or not, unless I missed a few or ten. Now look, it’s a form that I love, and that has won me some very good friends, and that has in fact served as a useful public notebook for coming up with ideas for work (my semi-started second big academic project, which has to date yielded me several good conference papers and served to do the job that a second project needs to do at job interviews, was wholly born on here….)

In fact, it’s safe to say – and this is a big statement, but a safe one, I am pretty sure – that my little lived existence right now, today, would be much less full and exciting if I didn’t have the blog. Let’s leave it at that.

On the other hand, and its a big other hand, I am – you may be surprised to learn – an extremely perfectionist writer in my real life. Not in some ways, ways that really matter. I’ll never send out a manuscript again without paying a copyeditor to work it through or doing it myself, I can be a bit sloppy. Not that sort of perfectionism, unfortunately, but I want things that I write to be really smart and perfect. Really really smart and perfect actually, as far as the ideas go, the articulation of the ideas, the relevance of the ideas, you get the picture. Basically, I pretty much refuse to write unless I am overturning some major received idea or preconceived notion about an issue – unless, that is, what I am writing can be considered groundbreaking work. I have broken major ground with Conrad, I have sort of broken ground with Joyce, and I have a piece still in the can about Joyce that I know breaks some serious fucking ground, but I am resistant to publishing it despite spontaneous offers to do so after verbal delivery of said piece as it’s almost the only unpublished thing in the book I’m working on, which given a summer’s work (and proper copyediting) will break reasonably big ground, I think, in the study of modernism in general. Unlike on the blog, I am also not a self-indulgent writer – in real life we’re talking. Above all, I am an exceptionally slow writer. Slow slow slow. But it’s worked for me, in some ways anyway, some very material ways, so far.

Now, maybe you can see where this is going. The blog provides a space for me to write in a way that I don’t normally allow myself to do. I can’t keep a journal – I’ve tried since I was a kid and it just makes me feel sort of schizophrenic, writing things for which I am the only audience. On the blog, I can write at speed, I can be sloppy and self-indulgent, write misery memoir bits to see where they take me, take up unpromising leads and add no value but still post them, etc etc etc. And sometimes they pan out! But, given my natural tendencies as far as writing goes, there’s a bit of grate and spark that happens after, some uncomfortable friction, when I look back at what I’ve done on here, whether a few minutes later or the next morning for a few months hence.

This makes me uncomfortable. Perhaps you’ve noticed the number of retracted posts lately. That makes me uncomfortable and is a sign of underlying uncomfortableness as well. Not good! I’m uncomfortable enough as it is – I don’t need to go looking for new delivery systems and means of self-infliction, for god’s sake!

I’ve come to realize that the problem might not be with blogging itself. I am not going to take the blog down; I probably won’t ever. I have been talking this over with people and stewing in private moments about it this week, and finally tonight I’ve come to a conclusion about what to do.

I am tempted to stick my own name up on the blog. Ooooooo. Yep I know.  I know. I know what you’re thinking: yeah, maybe, um, yeah, maybe you should think twice about that, given, erm, content and quality. I know. But let’s do a breakdown of the ups and downs:

Contra:

  • I could get in trouble with my job. Now, this is England, and things aren’t so terrifying as they are in America, and probation’s not tenure. But still, at the place I’m at, there remains a possibility that writing stuff could get me called into an office of some sort, somewhere. There’s non-blog precedent that’s rather scary etc.
  • Anxiety about getting in trouble with my job, in times like these particularly, could stop me from writing, well, not just about some things, but about anything at all.
  • The stuff that I write off-blog seems to be good. At least some have thought so. I’m going to water my corpus down, turn it to mush, front the back and back the front, all not nice!
  • I find it therapeutic and sometimes interesting to write about myself, even in a personal, perhaps uncomfortably personal way. That will certainly come to an end with the end of pseudonymity.

Pro:

  • I will feel tons more pressure to write only good things on here, things that I would be proud of in real life. Therefore there will be higher quality, if lower quantity, and I won’t (probably) feel that grating embarrassed feeling the morning after anymore.
  • I won’t write about myself anymore. Which I shouldn’t do and I’ve been told, repeatedly, I shouldn’t do. Or at least not the way I generally do.
  • My readership will likely spike. Watch. It will. I’ll report back, but you’ll see…
  • My wife’s principal argument, as she is a proper writer and blog-averse, and who gets paid for her work: that though it is properly communist or whatever to do as I do, it is insane to write without name attached, as nothing will ever come of it. I actually, for better or worse, hear what she is saying here.

There’s more to include in the lists, but I’m getting tired, so let’s wrap up. I am scared to do it, and scared to lose my pseudoblog, but I am thinking it might be best. So, here’s the deal. I’m not ready to take the leap just yet. But from the Dickens post forward, not including this one, and for an indefinite period, I am only going to write things on here that I would consider acceptable if this weren’t a pseudoblog, if my name were on the masthead. I’d love to hear what any of you think about what I’m thinking. But I figure it’s worth a trial run, at least. And at least it will clear out the mainpage before colleagues and students (and oh christ family????) start coming around and finding notes on my early-mid-life crisis or therapeutic epiphanies and so on….

(Ooof. Family. Jesus I forgot about that. There’s a chance they might not really understand google yet. Let’s hope. Maybe this will be healthy. Does wordpress.com include an IP blocker? Does anything? Oh lord…. My god, it’s one thing to write Safe for Work, another thing to write Safe for Mom and Dad…. I’ll ask at therapy on Tuesday….)

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February 21, 2009 at 1:09 am

Posted in blogs, me

fallen women and aggregate fiction

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John Bowen in the TLS on a new book about Urania College, a “refuge for fallen women” that Charles Dickens established in Shepherd’s Bush in the 1840s:

Hartley is fascinated by the lost “Casebook” in which Dickens recorded the stories of all the Urania women. They were obliged to tell him everything and, even if they sometimes lied or omitted things, it would still be an extraordinary document to read, for Dickens, we know, gained people’s confidence readily and was a deft and accurate reporter. Hartley has hunted widely, but the book probably went up in smoke in the great bonfire of his papers that Dickens lit one afternoon in the garden of Gad’s Hill. I think she overstates the case when she describes it as Dickens’s “ur-text, the book behind his other books” or posits that in filling it in he was writing “his sixteenth novel, but one he knew he could never publish”. She is on surer ground when she draws parallels between Dickens’s work at Urania Cottage and his own secret autobiographical writing. For, as he first imagined and then created the home for these young victims of bad parents or bad luck, he was also quietly exploring his own escape from childhood poverty and the street-life of nineteenth-century London. However different the successful and prosperous middle-aged novelist was from fifteen-year-old Emma Spencer, already a veteran of the Clerkenwell Workhouse and the Field Lane Ragged School when she arrived in Shepherd’s Bush, he also strongly identified with her and her kind. “A sloppy education”, he wryly confided to Miss Coutts, “is a kind of bringing up, that I think I can thoroughly understand.”

This is most clear in the dual obligation – storytelling, followed by silence – that marked the new beginning. Urania women were obliged to tell their story to Dickens but, once they had done so, were forbidden ever to refer to it again, either to each other, the staff at the home, or in their future lives. The parallel with the ways that Dickens handled his own family’s shameful secrets is striking. After John Dickens was freed from prison and the twelve-year-old Charles was released from Warren’s Blacking Warehouse, the Dickens family never spoke about the events again. His parents, Dickens wrote, were “stricken dumb upon it. I have never heard the least allusion to it, however far off and remote, from either of them”. He, by contrast, did tell the story but, like the Urania women, only to a single ear, that of his friend John Forster, who revealed nothing until after Dickens’s death. Telling the story once, then silence and a new start: for the Urania women, as for Dickens himself, a unique, taboo-breaking act of narration would act as a bridge to a new life.

All very thrilling, the proto-psychotherapeutic approach cum content-collection thing, the male author with notebook amid teenage fallen women (that he’s saving, that he’s transporting) thing.

But more pertinently, this semi-novelistic “Casebook” also would seem to provide one sort of model for the aggregate fiction (should I call it “aggregated realism”?) that I’ve been on about lately, no?

If I lived like Alain de Botton, I might might be tempted to throw myself into rewriting the Casebook as a historical novel at once accurate and blissfully anachronistic. It’s a fantastic idea, and if you have tons of free time, there – it’s yours. Credit me where the credits go. But given my lack of time (all that Dickens to teach, among many other things, all that other stuff to research), would be tempting in the shape of an updated and/or even dystopian model, that is if the dystopian genre hasn’t fizzled under the candlecap of the dystopia now were about to live through…

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February 21, 2009 at 12:03 am

the mystical physiology of advertising

with 2 comments


Interesting article in the NYT about an exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs on French TV advertising.
But one thing in it has left me intrigued and confused. The guy speaking in the following paragraph is the “chief creative officer for Havas, the country’s second-biggest advertising agency”:

Or as Mr. Séguéla formulated the situation: American commercials go from the head to the wallet, British ones from the head to the heart, French, from the heart to the head. That accounts for why, as in a classic French commercial for Canal Plus, the French pay television station, a man describes a movie about emperor penguins in Antarctica to a woman who pictures hundreds of Napoleons sliding around the ice. Or why, in an ad for Air France, sexy models use clouds as pillows, clearly not dreaming about low fares and on-time departures.

Could be that I’m that I’m again taking throwaway langauge too seriously, but I’d love to understand what all of the head-to-wallet, head-to-heart, heart-to-head stuff really means. The idea that there are national trajectories to ads, or even to the little plots that constitute ads, is too attractive not to wonder about for a bit…

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February 19, 2009 at 2:11 pm

Posted in ads

the rhythm method

with 3 comments

One of the many things I’ve been figuring out lately about myself is what to make of my religious upbringing. That sounds wrong: “religious upbringing.” Makes it sound like we sat around discussing Bible stories at night instead of watching TV. Wasn’t like that. But I did go to Catholic school from the age of 3 till 18. 16 years of religious education, that makes. And I attended Mass, weekly, from 3 or so until 17, when I got my driver’s license and I could claim I was going to church and instead go sit around in exotic Barnes and Nobles scattered around northern NJ. I most definitely, and thickly, went through the whole I am going to hell, definitely going to hell. I promise I’ll never lock myself in the bathroom again and do that to myself. I am going to hell phase. Not nice! Horrible at the time, then came to seem trivial and cliche a bit later once I’d “lost my faith,” now seems more serious and deformative than I had thought, those early years of sexual efflorence while still under the chastening, condemnatory wing of Jesus H. Christ.

It’s funny. During a moment of real stress the cause of which I can’t quite put my finger on now, I started going to Mass again for a week or two during my second year of grad school. Talked to my wife about converting, even. (There was a funny scene where I tried to explain to her why she couldn’t go up and receive communion with the rest of us Catholics – she still thinks I’m crazy, but when we talk to other Lapsers they agree that, no, I told her the right thing). I can’t remember now what this was about – I think it was an intellectual crisis of some sort but it remains hazy.

But then again, on the other hand, there’s this sort of thing:

…I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

I always listened quite closely when people told me to listen. Quite a lot of Catholic education is self-contradictory, equivocating, incoherent. You’d put your hand up and ask, But father, does that really mean that rich people basically can’t go to heaven? I mean, if that’s what Jesus is saying, it means that… and they would sort of brush you off and say that it’s a lot more complicated than that. Or sometimes, they’d have a well-prepped response to blur things out a bit. “Rich” doesn’t mean “rich” in the sense that we think it… Etc… It was a frustrating, confusing experience for someone with a predilection to very, very careful reading and taking things very seriously in general.

Even though there’s no heaven, and no kingdom of god, I happen to believe, no know, that Jesus was right about the rich man. This is how the religious stuff has stuck on me, absolute rules and imperatives unanchored by any visible system of reward or punishment. Ads without products, in a sense. But true to the first and basic a priori of religion itself, just because this seemingly necessary structure of consequence is invisible doesn’t mean it’s not there… It may be all the more there because I can’t touch it, edit it, argue with it….

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February 19, 2009 at 11:46 am

Posted in selfcriticism