Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The real McCoy, in carnis

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In case you were wondering, my story "From the Forest Itself", which I recently posted here, about the man writing his life from within that story, really was/is written on ten sheets of beige paper. Like so:

For a while, that flimsy little guy was one my best friends in the world; and he is someone I will always cherish. He is tucked safely in my letters bin.

Typically, a literary work of art is produced either in order to say something or in order to evince a certain feeling. In those cases, the potency of the objet d'art is rooted in its message or its technical skill. By contrast, the sheer existence of this story is itself the act of art. From an aesthetic perspective, I'm actually less concerned with the contents of the story than with the very existence of it as an enduring "echo" of live creativity. It is a "living fossil" of a once fully active and yet incomplete artistic effort. Even with -- or, rather, precisely because of -- its imperfections as a message or technical production, "From the Forest Itself" makes permanent and tactile the transient and intangible process of creativity.

The story exists, in human terms, as if we humans were fully constituted by the experience our parents had while conceiving us. Fortunately for us (or not), we are not defined for life by the qualitative aspects of our conception; but "From the Forest Itself" is so defined. What happened in the creative action itself formed this story's entire being. Its what is its how. It is constituted, therefore, not by what it says, how well it says it, nor even by how well it is received. Rather, it is constituted by its own existence in the moment-by-moment swirl of creativity which it embodies over the span of ten pages. While it was being written, it was "live" -- yet incomplete and unborn. Once it was written, however, it was "dead" -- yet fully complete and immortal. As ungainly as it may sound (to me and you), this story is more a metaphysical than a literary work of art.

It's official...

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This is foul!

Only to be viewed well before or well after eating.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Well I'm E.B. and I'm here to say...

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...that I got more words than a farm has hay!

Yeah, so that was me, uh, rapping. On a blog.

It's all because recently I've gotten back into the Beastie Boys. I was never out of them, I just hadn't used my iPod for a long time, and now, listening to the B-Boys in traffic makes my blood pressure that much lower... and doper, word! They had made a comeback (like L.L. Cool J's "don't call it a comeback" non-comeback comeback), but I brushed hat off as mere pop fluff, which is why I hated U2 throughout the 90's: they were just so recrudescently cool and popular that I ignored them on principle. I only got into the B-Boys in college, with Ill Communication and Check Your Head, and this based on the influence of one of my roomies who was very "with" the best in contemporary music. (Pretty much anyone born between 1976 and 1982 was "into" the Beastie Boys just because you could never shake the brass monkey, there was no sleep till Brooklyn, and you always knew you had to fight for your right to party.) When the same roommate, seeing I had taken well to the B-Boys, said I definitely had to get Paul's Boutique, I was, strangely enough, skeptical. For a new B-Boys fan, Ill Communication and Check Your Head are as close to a complete musical universe as you'd need, so the thought of interdimensional travel to a B-Boys world outside what you knew and love was, paradoxically, threatening.

It's like my past with Aerosmith. In middle and high school, I was a HUGE Aerosmith fan, and still consider them one of the greatest rock bands of the 20th century, but I have stopped buying any of their albums after Nine Lives (1997). To enter the world of Aerosmith thereafter is to enter a hall of mirrors made of overplayed soundtrack ballads that only detract from the once-whole Aerosmith cosmos you knew and loved. The same goes for me and Chicago. Once you got to know the timeless essence of Chicago from their first, truly astounding album as CTA (before Mayor Daly forced them to change their name), you could only look with horror at what happened to them in their "Karate Kid days" (i.e., the late 1970's and the 1980's). And then there's Rush, which is an awesome band, one of my favorite rock groups, EXCEPT for what they were doing -- to us and to themselves -- throughout the 1980's.

Perhaps you see a pattern emerging? Even Bob Seger and Aretha Franklin got stale in the 80's. (The former ended up becoming the voice of Chevy commercials while the latter, in a mysterious parallel, became the voice of pink Cadillacs on the freeway of love.) Country western went pop in that decade, only to be followed by mega-pop glitz country in the 1990's... much as cancer progresses from benign to malignant. Worst of all, jazz died in the 80's. Musically speaking, the only three things that redeem the 80's, in fact, are 1) the rise of indy punk & hip hop (the Clash, the Specials, the Beastie Boys, Run DMC, etc.), 2) U2, and 3) the fact that MTV made otherwise programmatic music cooler only by making programmatic music into VIDEOS. (Well, all right, Herbie Hancock's Rockit was also a saving grace.) Contemporary Christian music has only recently begun to escape from the industry boom it saw in the 80's, rife as it tends to be with the aesthetic brittleness of that decade. Lazarus was raised from the tomb but he still had to take off his graveclothes.

This is why I'm always proud to say I was born in 1979, and, I must admit, why I look down on people born in the 80's. I may have only made it by less than five months, but I can officially, proudly, say I am not an "80's kid." The 1970's may have been to the 1960's what the 80's were to the 70's, but that's just the point: even if the 70's were decadent and derivative compared to the 60's, they WEREN'T anywhere as banal as the 80's. The 80's were as aesthetically defunct as the 1990's were socially and politically self-absorbed. I can only cringe anytime I see RENT, a diabetic razzle-dazzle apotheosis of the 90's, and something that belongs in an anthropologist's curiosum as much as the Tucker. What makes RENT so arch is that it is completely self-aware as camp. It's every beat is not a pure musical production, but a mere cipher-like syllable in its tottering, operatic you-can-run-but-you-can't-hide-from-it message about the "new way of life" the 90's had finally achieved. (Robin Williams's What Dreams May Come is the metaphysical equivalent of RENT's treacly social commentary: and for that reason I hate both films to the same immeasurable degree, albeit with different organs of my soul.) The reason RENT will always be more comedic than earnest or even witty is that, if you stop to think about it, the question you must ask yourself is, "Wait, you mean I'm actually supposed to care if these people get evicted?" Their eviction would only perfect their beloved vie boheme, so let them have it. RENT is the 90's. So, in this respect, the 90's were as self-possessed as the 60's, but again, totally derivative and adolescent -- probably because much of that decade was engineered by the same generation that wished the 60's could happen again. I will say, though, that the musical value of the 90's lay in its raw passion for performance, with soul, as was the case in the 60's, just as the main flaw of 80's-music is that of Aught's-music: both are programmatic and technically sweet without any soul (think of Creed or the new Metallica).

In any case, the Beastie Boys are their own kind of pleasure, and although I did get Paul's Boutique, it took me a long time to enjoy it nearly as much as Ill Communication and Check Your Head. It wasn't until my short scooter rides forced me again and again to listen almost only to Paul's Boutique -- from the top of the B-Boys playlist each time -- that I really came to see the depth and soulful playfulness of Paul's Boutique. Now, strangely, enough, I find going back to Ill Communication or Check Your Head disappointing in comparison. Boutique is so free-wheeling and multifaceted, even if too frenetic, that the smooth, professionalism of Ill and Check are too tame by comparison.

In any case, what got me posting about all this was how many times I've heard the B-Boys say the phrase "I got more ____ than ____'s got ____!" For example, "I got more rhymes than Jamaica's got mangoes!" Or, "I got more stories than J.D.'s got Salinger!" Or, again, "I got more hits than my man Rod Carew!" This kind of comparison is a rhetorical commonplace in hip hop, I know, but I've been mostly hearing it form the B-Boys, so they've got more influence than the ocean's got salt. Er, yeah.

So, I leave the gates wide open for reader submissions: Can you think of other comparative lines like these?

I got more stress than England's got tea!

I got more books than there's s--- in the zoo!

I got more allergies than M&M's got color!

And so forth. Bring it on!

Tending the weeds, pruning the shrubs, O what a happy day

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Where would I be without you, the little people?

(Wait, don't answer that. I'd rather not know. Allow me to keep basking in my faux magnanimity.)

But seriously, FCA may not get a lot of comments -- something I've wondered at for years, and even once took a blog poll about -- but I do appreciate them when they come.

Here are two comments I recently caught sight of.

On June 2, 2005 I discussed my reservations about Palamite theology, viz., its actual distinction between God's essence and His energies. Recently, syriancatholic asked:

Does the term "Un-created energies" used by Palamite Orthodox, simply mean action of the Holy Trinity outside of the Holy Trinity?

I replied:

Technically, no, the term "uncreated energies" is not merely about the Holy Spirit's actions ad extra (i.e., in connection with the world outside the inner mystery of the Trinity). The term refers to the Palamite distinction between the complete nature of God and his pure essence. So, in a non-technical sense, you're right that uncreated energies are about how the Holy Spirit connects with us ad extra. But the energies are not just proper to the Holy Spirit; they are a fundamental characteristic of the three divine persons. Even before (in eternity) there was an "outside" to which the energies of God could relate, God's nature was both His essence and His energies. That, at least, is how I understand the rudiments of Palamite theology. But I might be wrong.

In response to my recent update of FCA's Eastern patristic florilegium on the papacy, a Michael commented:

I hope you considered the Eastern Catholic Churches when you decided to profess the Catholic faith.

Anyhow, as to the Primacy of the Bishop of Rome - I think this can be seen from many fathers; BUT these should not be mingled with SUPREMACY. These two concepts are entirely different. Most Orthodox can accept PRIMACY, they will not accept SUPREMACY - and the way that it is worded by many Latins, their refusal is quite understandable.

To which I replied:

I most certainly did consider entering an Eastern Catholic rite. But partially because of a lack of such rites in Taiwan and also because of a genuine affinity for the Roman Catholic tradition, I became a Roman Catholic. You'll notice in my initial comments before listing the patristic quotes, when I asked who else sounds like these Fathers, I said "outside of the Catholic Church," not "the Roman Catholic Church." It seems stranger to me that Eastern Orthodox can share virtually the same liturgical and canonical patrimony as Eastern Catholic rites, while refraining from the latter's union with the papacy, than that fully Eastern Catholics can have union with the papacy. Are you saying Eastern Orthodox are more Eastern than Eastern Catholics? Unless you are, the existence of Eastern Catholics in union with Rome is a peculiarity in need of much explanation for [sic] Easterns who refuse to maintain ecclesial unity.

As for the finer points of debating supremacy versus primacy, I am aware of that sometimes very casuistic distinction. I leave it to you to review the patristic evidence I've provided here and see how the Fathers parse the difference. Look, for example, at Epiphanius's, Chrysostom's, Asterius's, and especially Maximus's comments with an eye on the word "power".

And the beat goes on: Any comments you'd like to add about these annotated comments?

At some point we might reach a critical mass and descend into a self-referential madness that only a Borgesque biblioteca infinita could contain!

Is anything worse than indecision?

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I don't know. I haven't decided yet.