brothercyst: July 2006

Monday, July 31, 2006

morality & religion continued

In response to Ned Vizzini's comment to my last post here.


Well, you have "pre-moral intuitions" and then you have self-created standards, which at a basic level may be motivated by pure self-interest ("_______ is bad/good because it hurts/helps me") but which at a more developed level will make judgments by considering the interests of others, making relative distinctions, and recognizing degrees of possibility ("______ would be wrong because the great suffering it might cause to person A seems to outweigh the relatively minor happiness it will definitely cause for person B and for myself").

The latter (the self-created standard, as I'm calling it) is based on a combination of reason and assumption. It is necessary to make certain basic assumptions that we take for granted in daily life - among them: that suffering is bad and pleasure is good, that there are degrees of suffering and pleasure, that an individual human life has some inherent value, and that the exterior world exists independent of oneself - and then apply those assumptions to observations of the world, using reason to establish internally consistent moral standards and to judge human actions accordingly.

(Why moral standards should only apply to human actions rather than, say, the actions of animals or of nature - say, the weather - is a discussion in and of itself.)

This seems to me the most intellectually rigorous and personally defensible way of applying moral standards to one's own life, but it is of course problematic. A malicious or mentally unsound person might make a moral defense of acts that seem appalling to a rational mind. Thus the need for a rule book, as I earlier referred to holy texts like the Bible/Quran/whatever. But why can't the rule book be civil law?

The law, in my opinion, does not (or should not) dictate morality. It should acknowledge certain basic (re: useful) assumptions - like the inherent value of human life (in other words, the right to life/liberty/pursuit of happiness) but after that simply set out necessary guidelines for the smooth functioning of society. We can't have people running around killing each other and taking each other's things and driving without licenses because all those things are in different ways disruptive to the processes that keep civil society functioning.

So if we have the law, why is religion so necessary to so many people? What is it about the idea of a supernatural origin that has such enduring appeal?

All this is written pretty much stream-of-consciousness during my lunch break. Apologies (to any of the few people who may read this) for glossing over certain nuances and surely missing others entirely.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

passing thought on the moral poverty of religion

Back in New York.

Was in airports for days, seemed like. And in Maryland. Basilica. National Cathedral or something.

Organized religion represents a moral failing. It relieves the adherent of the responsibility of making moral judgments and distinctions. Actual judgments, that is, not just checking the rule book.

You have a book that tells you, "This is right, this is wrong." (Or, more accurately, you don't really even read the book, you just obey sanctified middlemen who says, "The rule book says this is right and that is wrong," even if their interpretations of the rules are questionable.)

Because the book lays out the rules, you don't really have to observe the world.

There's no reason to observe actions and their effects and consider consequences and contexts and process that information and conclude "This is beneficial/right/good" or "This is harmful/wrong/bad."

And continue observing and constantly revise your conclusions based on new information.

In an ideal world, that's what would happen - every person would be actively engaged in meaningful moral reasoning.

Of course, that would be exhausting. And many people have limited intellectual faculties.

That's why we have organized religion.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

on the subject of cat power

(which is probably of interest to no one reading this except me)

i have been alerted to the existence of a most remarkable video in which a possibly drunk Cat Power raps karaoke-style along with Eminem's "The Real Slim Shady." awesome!

here it is.

Here is something I believe

Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes is one of the great artistic achievements of the last half-century.

Alex Remington has written a post about this.

Alex also loves Doonesbury, which I think is boring, but I agree with him wholeheartedly about Calvin and Hobbes.

Just go read what Alex wrote, it's more comprehensive than anything I ever write on this site (or have for a while...I'm spending all my time on "actual" writing.)

I started reading King Dork by Frank Portman, which has been praised by everyone from Bookslut to, uh, other places...even has a blurb from Ned on the back. Seems good so far.

Finished writing a sex scene from the novella I'm working on last night. Sex scenes are tough to write.

Nabokov thing

I want to go to Russia.

Addendum to the previous post

Handsome Boy Modeling School's track "I've Been Thinking" featuring Cat Power from the album White People is one of my favorite songs.

Cat Power/Chan Marshall.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

talent is attractive

I was listening to the songs "Werewolf" and "Maybe Not" by Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power on repeat for about two weeks while I worked on something I've been recently writing.

Chan Marshall is gorgeous.

She's playing tonight at a place called Hiro which is not far from from my apartment, and I don't have tickets.

Fuck, I want to go.

And, oh, another one. That last one is possibly slightly not safe for work. Hard to tell. Sexy either way.

Monday, July 24, 2006

the weather indoors

I feel dazed... my brain feels like the bags of wet meat they throw on the sizzling metal stovetop at the gyro cart. Several days of lethargy.

Today marks one year that I've worked at the place where I work. It's comfortable but I feel like I'm undercover. When I got this job I couldn't believe it.

Toxically humid air... it's disgusting.

But not as disgusting as a fat girl who loves gossip.

I feel totally nocturnal and I resent being awake during the day.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Not a whole lot to say right now.

I would go to a pool party in Brooklyn but the fucking L train is not working.

Who needs terrorists to shut down public transportation for a whole summer when you have the MTA.

I feel tired and disinclined.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

epigraphs from Fires

I knew what it was, but I pretended not to; I refused to look at it, and put it out of my memory.

- The Confessions of St. Augustine

In the end, he had to rescue himself from Mann Gulch by asking to be transferred to another ranger district. It had got so that he could not sleep at night, remembering the smell of it, and his dog would no longer come in but cried all night outside, knowing that something had gone wrong with him.

- Young Men and Fire
Norman Maclean

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

new elimae

Look, a story.

In the July elimae.

Is it also a fragment of a novella?

It might be.

Midnight Picnic.

Which will be incoherent and disastrous to anyone but me.

Also, a tentative release date for Fires is known. Will announce it soon.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

first Impetus Press book available for pre-order

The first novel being published by Impetus Press, Jennifer Banash's Hollywoodland, just became available on Amazon. Its official release date is in August, after being pushed back from earlier this summer while press stuff was being prepared.

You can go pre-order it there.

I encourage you to do so.

I've been looking forward to reading it for a long time.

This fall, you'll also be able to pre-order/buy some other Impetus books from Amazon - Jaime Clark's Vernon Downs, Kate Hunter's The Dream Sequence, and, in early winter I think, Fires.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Crumb wrote a comic about P.K. Dick.

Cool. Go here to read it.

Thanks to a friend for pointing it out.

(He also points out - since I recently mentioned Hogg - an interesting essay on the same book.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Identity Theory

Look, a story.

I like Identity Theory, I'm glad they published this.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Haneke, Cache

I'm going to talk stream-of-consciousness about a couple of great movies and give away some details about their plots, probably.

A couple years ago, I saw Michael Haneke's Funny Games, a film about a pair of killers who trap a family in their vacation home and toy with them.

The film is less about this nominal plot than it is about film violence in general - the complicity of an audience watching, and enjoying, cinematic violence. Often you watch film violence or sadism with the expectation that eventually advantages will shift and the villains of the film will suffer at the hands of their victims. This reversal absolves you, the viewer, of guilty pleasure you may have experienced while watching the initial orgy of violence.

(For recent examples of this sort of thing,
Hostel and The Hills Have Eyes are pretty textbook. These films show you that it's all right to enjoy limb-hacking revenge.)

Haneke's Funny Games gets worse and worse, and you're waiting and waiting for the family to outwit their tormenters so you can feel okay about watching.

Then they seem to - for just a second. And what Haneke does after that distinguishes Funny Games from any horror movie I've ever seen. It turns the violence against the audience - it tells you that you will not be allowed to feel all right about anticipating violence, and it reveals the uncomfortable meaning of a moment early in the film when one of the killers (who at the time seems to be no more than a friendly neighbor) turns slyly toward the camera and, quickly but unmistakably, winks.

I'm thinking about Funny Games because I just saw Haneke's latest movie, Cache. The best movie I've seen in a very long time. It won at Cannes last year but I hadn't had a chance to see it in theaters. Too bad, because it is awesome - less shocking but more complex and intelligent than Funny Games.

On the surface it is a much more sedate and domestic film. There is no torture and very little violence, but a slow, terrible sense of menace builds throughout. All the images have a minatory stillness.

A wealthy man named Georges lives with his wife in a nice house in France. One day they begin receiving ominous videotapes of their house. (I know what you're thinking - Lost Highway. But no, this is a much smarter, better film.) Eventually the videos show other things, too - a mysterious apartment building, shots of the country house where Georges grew up. Drawings appear - a child spitting up blood, a bird without a head. Georges begins to suspect a culprit.

Clearly the videos and drawings have something to do with an incident from his childhood, an incident which reflects what Haneke regards as France's provincial racism toward its Algerian immigrant population. Georges' unwillingness to recall the incident seems to mirror France's desire to forget the drowning of 200 Algerians in the 1960s during a demonstration.

And yet... the person who Georges believes to be the stalker apparently isn't... and as the film goes on, Haneke seems less and less interested in revealing the culprit... and finally (I'm giving something away here) the film ends with no clear answer as to who's been recording and sending the tapes.

It's as if they came from no one, as if history is generating a record of itself.

Here is the most subtle, remarkable thing: the shots from the videos that appear on Georges' doorstep are indistinguishable in quality from filmic shots from Cache itself.

So you'll be watching a establishing shot of Georges' house, say, or a POV shot of someone walking down a hallway, something that seems to be "part of the movie" and suddenly the image will pause or begin to rewind. Or Georges will receive a tape which shows an image that you've already seen as part of the film proper - as if the characters are able to watch scenes that took place earlier in the film in which they exist. The horror of being observed, of everything being known. On the videotapes, the camera often seems to be located where its subjects should have been able to see it. No one ever sees.

Most chilling are the final shots of the film. The two most important of these are static, just like the videos. One shows (subtly, in the corner of an image that is compositionally designed to pull your eye away from the crucial information) two characters who should not know each other, and whose acquaintance can only be a consequence of Georges' denial of what happened when he was a boy.

The other, preceding shot, shows what happened in Georges' childhood (a child being literally dragged out of a promising life and into a different, hopeless one) and it also tells you something else: someone or something was watching even then.

Friday, July 07, 2006

random excerpt because i feel like it

from an old story. the narrator is 20. he just strangled an old friend behind his house.

Monday, July 03, 2006


a moment from the novel.

click, then enlarge for big.

weekend, beckett, nightmares, .38

Spent a large part of this weekend writing a scene of a story where a little kid gets drowned. Midnight Picnic.

Then I had a nightmare about drowning and another one about being in high school, which is its own special kind of nightmare. The nightmare involved having to take chemistry again and there were lobsters in the classroom.

One night this weekend I saw a writer get drunk and fire a .38 revolver at a bush beside a Manhattan street at 5 a.m.

Last week I went to an event for Beckett's 100th birthday; it kind of reminded me that Beckett, while probably an intellectual giant, also kind of sucked. That nightmarishly boring section from Malloy about sucking on pebbles...Jesus Christ.

I am also writing a sequence, this weekend and now, involving a helpless alcoholic. I haven't drunk at all in five years... it's strange to remember what it was like not only to drink but to drink to excess. No other drug really approximates alcohol.

Increasingly I am obsessed with saving money. I spent less than twenty dollars this weekend, which is amazing in Manhattan, and ten of those dollars were for a cab ride home after I hurried away from the gunshot on Saturday night.

Also, I am at work.