Laureate

Here is a litmus test for cultural intelligence:  If you think Bob Dylan can’t sing, you fail. There is singing, and there is singing.  Listen to  ‘House of the rising Sun’, on his very first album.  He really can sing.

Malcolm Gladwell speaks of innovators, people who are always different.  They wear odd clothes in ways that others don’t and wouldn’t.  They start fads, but they don’t follow them.  They never follow the herd.  Whatever it is that makes most people want to be like others, and join in with others, they don’t have.  It is a life strategy.  Think about it.  Always being different avoids comparison.  You can win when only you are playing.

What others think about me, or feel about me, that’s so irrelevant.  Anymore than it is for me, when I go see a movie, say Wuthering Heights or something, and have to wonder what Lawrence Olivier is really like.”

This is Nobel Laureate, Bob Dylan. He still insists on being him, whether you like it or not. He has a born focus  on his own, inner experience, and with his trained skills of melody and lyric, he expresses what he finds there.  He wants no contrivance, no preconceived, or planned song. He doesn’t want us to understand him.  He doesn’t think we should try to understand him. He just wants us to listen to the songs.  “It’s all in the songs.”  He wants us to be open to what they do to us, not what we are told to think they mean, or are supposed to mean.

If a song moves, you, that’s all that’s important.  I don’t have to know what a song means.  I’ve written all kinds of things into my songs.  And I’m not going to worry about it – what it all means.”

Hey Mr. Tambourine man/ Play a song for me/Take me on a trip upon your magic swirlin’ ship/My senses have been stripped/My hands can’t feel to grip/My toes too numb to step/wait only for my boot heels to be wandering/I’m ready to go anywhere/ I’m ready for to fade/Into my own parade/Cast your dancing spell my way/I promise to go under it.

I can write a song in a crowded room.  Inspiration can hit you anywhere.  It’s magic.  It really is beyond me.”

My songs are personal music, they’re not communal.  I wouldn’t want people singing along with me.  It would sound funny.  I’m not playing campfire meetings.”

My hearts in the highlands with the horses and hounds/Way up in the border country far from the towns/With the twang of the arrow and the snap of the bow/My heart’s in The highlands, can’t see any other way to go

“John Donne, the poet-priest who lived in the time of Shakespeare, wrote these words, ‘the Sestos and Abydos of her breasts.  Not of two lovers, but two loves, the nests’.  I don’t know what it means, either.  But it sounds good.  And you want your songs to sound good.”

Nobel Prize in Literature, 2016.

The Texas School Book Depository

the evidence does cast enormous suspicion on Oswald. . . . leave him looking guilty of something.  The evidence does not, on the other hand, put him behind a gun in the sixth-floor window.”   Anthony Summers

At 11:45 am, Oswald’s co-workers on the sixth floor took the elevator down for lunch and to see the motorcade, leaving Lee without an elevator. His last words to them were: “Guys how about an elevator?  Send one of them back up.”

At 11:45-11:50 am, Book Depository foreman Bill Shelley saw Oswald near a phone on the first floor.

At 11:50 am Charles Givens saw Oswald reading a newspaper in the first floor lunch room.

At 12:00 noon, Bonnie Ray Williams went  up to the sixth floor to eat his lunch, he stayed there until 12:15 pm.  He saw no one else while he was there. The remains of his lunch – chicken bones and lunch bag – were found  after the assassination.

Between 12:00 and 12:15 pm, Junior Jarman and Harold Norman confirmed going thru the second floor lunch room, and remembered that there was “someone else in there”. During interrogation, Oswald remembered two Negro employees walking thru the lunch room while he was there.

At 12:15 m, Arnold Rowland, while standing outside across from the School Book Depository,  saw two men in the sixth floor windows, one holding a rifle across his chest.  Rowland pointed them out to his wife.

At 12:35 pm, on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was assassinated. His motorcade was five minutes late.

I asked him what part of the building he was in at the time the President was shot, and he said he was having lunch about that time on the second floor”.

At 12:37 pm, Marion Baker, a motorcycle policeman riding just behind the President’s car, thought the shots came from the roof of School Book Depository.  He raced over and into the front door of the building, less than one and a half minutes after the shots were fired.  He tried to use the elevators, but they are both stopped on the fifth floor. On the second floor, he encountered a man with a coke walking away from him.  He called him to stop.  Mr. Truly, the building supervisor, caught up just then, he had been racing ahead of Baker to the top floors.  “That’s Lee Harvey Oswald, he works here”.  Oswald was calm, no sweat on his brow,  not short of breath.

At 12:40 pm, right after watching the motorcade, and the shooting Victoria Adams rushed down the back stairway of the Texas Book Depository,  “to see what was happening”.  She had been working that day on the fourth floor of the School Book Depository.  She saw or heard no one on those stairs, the stairs a sixth floor gunman would have had to use to escape.

Photojournalist James Altgen took a famous photograph of the motorcade, with the front door of the School Book Depository, in view, behind, just at the time of the shootings.  There is a small man in the doorway, shirt half open, leaning to look out.

Is… that …man . . . Lee Harvey Oswald?

 

 

Anti-Philosophy

after all, he seems to have a lot to say about what can’t be said.”  Bertrand Russell.

Ludwig Wittgenstein came from a  very wealthy and talented family of Vienna, in the time before WW I, a family of musicians, professors, and  suicides. He went to grammar school with Adolf Hitler.  His sister helped Sigmund Freud escape the Nazis.  He fought in WWI, reading Tolstoy’s Gospel in Brief while voluntarily manning the very dangerous point, on the front.  Beethoven was his hero.  He was precocious in math, and was fascinated by logic.  This led him to Bertrand Russell and Cambridge University.

Intensely introspective, he would scrutinize his own mental processes to find the unacknowledged assumptions that underlie our thinking and the subtle ways that logic fails. He would puzzle over nuances in words and speech, things subconscious to most of us, and search for  hidden patterns in mathematics, and in language, all to learn the limits of human reason and communication.  He wanted to know how we know what we know, to ultimately know what can  be known. . . the whole point of philosophy.

He was tortured by the riddles in logic that arise with self reference, the great stumbling block in Bertrand Russell’s attempt, in Principia Mathematica, to derive all knowledge from first principles of logic. Is the set of all sets, itself a set?

With his spooky certitude, mesmerizing stare and relentless argumentation, Wittgenstein was considered brilliant. He became sure that philosophical questions were merely linguistic puzzles, and that language, with its confusions of perceptions and conceptions,  hopelessly impaired thought. Truth can only be known by experience, not with thinking, and only shown, with art, but not with description. Thought and speech are mere ‘social games’ for living a social human life, something, sadly, he himself was not much able to do.

For a time, he side-lined all of conventional philosophy.  Give up on philosophy!

“Whereof one can not speak, thereof one must remain silent”.

He lived an eccentric, solitary life, spending much of his time in a remote cabin in Norway. At one point he gave away all of his enormous wealth, and lived in near poverty.  He was always feared going mad, that he might commit suicide.

Here, in Ludwig Wittgenstein, are the tell-tale signs of schizophrenia, a condition of constant and oppressive self consciousness, with a frightening confusion of ideas and reality.  A loss of one’s sense of self connection, a disorder of self reference, like the paradoxes of logic that so obsessed him.  Is my thinking about myself, also my self?

“Sometimes my ideas come so quickly that I feel as if my pen was being guided.

Mental illness and genius aren’t the same thing.

“He has penetrated deep into mystical ways of thought and feeling, but I think (though he wouldn’t agree) that what he likes best in mysticism is its power to make him stop thinking.”  Bertrand Russell.

In his time, there was no treatment. He tried, with philosophy, to think his way out of thinking too much.

 

 

I am a Ghost

 

I don’t really know what the interior of anybody else is like – I often feel very fragmented, and as if I have a symphony of different voices, and voice overs, and factoids, going on all the time, and digressions on digressions…”  David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace was always Meta-thinking – thinking about thinking.  He could be very insightful, and engaging, and interesting, and yet also get lost in recursions and riddles of semantics, and in puzzles of grammar.

He lived inside his head.

He would talk about the “special sort of buzz” logic gave him, how often “a gorgeously simple solution to a problem you suddenly see, after half a notebook with gnarly attempted solutions, you about hear a click“.

Boredom was terrifying.  He would suffer severe writer’s block. He had this ever present, oppressive mental feeling of something not right, that he wasn’t really, somehow. . . him. . . a menacing, unconnected feeling inside.

Being a person felt like being a ghost.

Substance use gave him great RELIEF. Intoxication helped him feel whole.  He became addicted with a natural ease.

At a Kenyon College commencement, speaking to a literary audience of avid readers and writers, he tried to warn them about the dangers of the mental life:  be careful! mentation isn’t all it is cracked up to be! you can be a fish swimming in water, and not know what water is.  Stay grounded in simple truths.  Somehow they are really true.

The word despair is overused and banalized now but it’s a serious word, and I’m using it seriously.  It’s close to what people call dread or angst, but it’s not these things, quite it’s more like wanting to die in order to escape the unbearable sadness of knowing I’m small and selfish and going, without a doubt, to die.  It’s wanting to jump overboard.”

Julian Jaynes famously noted that the mind of Achilles, in the Iliad – a mind solely and completely in the present – is very different from the mind of Odysseus in the Odyssey – a mind scheming to manipulate appearance and orchestrate the future. Sometime in antiquity, the human mind changed.  It may have been writing, and the emergence of the reading mind.  With reading, we grow the power of imagined experience.  With  some, like David Foster Wallace, it can go too far, it can be too much.

In his writing, his characters are not centered, his plots are disjointed. There is lack of structure, with endless digression and foot notes.  His writing is more psychiatric exposition than literature.  He does convey for us his lost, unmoored, painful experience of being. That is his sad contribution.

He waited two more days for an opportunity.  In the early evening on Friday, September 12, Wallace suggested that his wife go out to prepare for an opening…After she left, he went into the garage and turned on the lights.  He wrote her a two page note.  Then he crossed through the house to the patio, where he climbed onto a chair and hanged himself.”

Coastal Journey

Our solar system is not a perfect clock. There have been 16 ice ages in the past million years.

“Small variations in the tilt of the Earth on its axis and variations in the planet’s elliptical path around the sun are all that is necessary to plunge the planet in and out of the freezer. ”   Tim Flannery.

Some 120,000 years ago, modern humans migrated out of Africa, and we kept going, first into the middle east, then on to southeast Asia, (with a detour down into Australia), then up the eastern Pacific to the Bering Strait,  and finally into North America.  By 15,000 year ago, we reached the tip of South America.

We evolved in Africa, from a hairy, tree climbing, social primate ancestor.  Somehow, over time, we lost most of our hair, gained a lining of body fat, developed upright walking, a descended larynx that enabled speech, special sweat glands for  thermal regulation, and a diving reflex for swimming.  We became more like sea mammals,  more suited for water than the forest or savannah – dolphins are our close cousins in intelligence and communication.  The whale is the only other mammal to have menopause.  Where and when this happened is a mystery. The Afar Triangle of northeast Africa, on the way out of Africa, may have been a vast, flooded wetlands.  We may have had to swim our way out of Africa.

We followed the coastlines, along the beaches and up rivers, as sea gatherers and fishermen.  Food was plentiful, rich in value, and easy to harvest.  The travel and protection were easier.  We love the beach to this day.

Our journey was during a perilous geologic time.  A warming earth was melting ice, rising sea levels, lifting and shifting tectonic plates,  causing earthquakes and volcanoes. Released by the loss of the weight of the great ice sheets as they melted, continental plates heaved, and the moon pulled stronger on the increased tidal waters.  The Pacific tectonic plate, being the largest and thinnest – only 2.5 miles thick –  moved and cracked the most, aggravating the ‘ring of fire’ of volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunami’s that batter all the coasts of the Pacific Ocean.

As modern humans arrived along the South East Asian coast, some 70,000 years ago, the shallow, continental Pacific Sundra shelf  waters were flooding, and a great volcano –  perhaps the greatest ever volcano – Toba – in Indonesia on the island of Sumatra, erupted.  The massive blast of volcanic dust blackened the sky, creating a volcanic winter and  mass extinction.  Human life all the way  back to Africa was nearly extinguished.

The surviving humans were pushed inland and north, and eventually into the New World.  Floods, tidal waves, receding waters and volcanic explosions filled their prehistoric consciousness.  This has carried on to our day, in the creation stories of the world, told by their descendants.

The myths are not myths, they are history.

In the beginning the world was in water, and there was darkness.  And then light came to the sky, and then the sun appeared and separated the earth from the sky.

 

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