Positive Finality

A fine specimen of the positive finality motif is the stage suicide. Here is what happens. The only logical way of leaving the effect of the end of the play quite pure, i.e. without the faintest possibility of any further causal transformation beyond the play, is to have the life of the main character end at the same time as the play. This seems perfect. But is it?… Generally speaking the best way out is the pistol shot, but it is impossible to show the actual thing – because, again, if treated in a plausible manner, it is apt to be too messy for the stage. Moreover, any suicide on the stage diverts the attention of the audience from the moral point or from the plot itself, exciting in us the pardonable interest with which we watch how an actor will proceed to kill himself plausibly and politely with the maximum of thoroughness and the minimum of bloodshed…We are left thus with only one possibility: the backstage pistol-shot suicide. And you will remember that, in stage directions, the author will generally describe this as a “muffled shot.” Not a good loud bang, but “a muffled shot,” so that sometimes there is an element of doubt among the characters on the stage regarding that sound, though the audience knows exactly what that sound was. And now comes a new and perfectly awful difficulty. Statistics – and statistics are the only regular income of your determinist, just as there are people who make a regular income out of careful gambling – show that, in real life, out of ten attempts at suicide by pistol shot, as many as three are abortive, leaving the subject alive; five result in a long agony; and only two bring on instant death. Thus, even if the characters do understand what happens, a mere muffled shot is insufficient to convince us that the man is really dead. The usual method, then, after the muffled shot has cooed its message, is to have a character investigate and then come back with the information that the man is dead. Now, except in the rare case when the investigator is a physician, the mere sentence “He is dead,” or perhaps something “deeper” like, for instance, “He has paid his debt,” is hardly convincing coming from a person who, it is assumed, is neither sufficiently learned nor sufficiently careless to wave aside any possibility, however vague, of bringing the victim back to life. If, on the other hand, the investigator comes back shrieking, “Jack has shot himself! Call a doctor at once!” and the final curtain goes down, we are left wondering whether, in our times of patchable hearts, a good physician might not save the mangled party. Indeed, the effect that is fondly supposed to be final may, beyond the play, start a young doctor of genius upon some stupendous career of life-saving. So, shall we wait for the doctor and see what he says and then ring down the curtain? Impossible – there is no time for further suspense; the man, whoever he is, has paid his debt and the play is over… So we come to the very curious conclusion that a really ironclad tragedy, with no possible chink in cause or effect – that is, the ideal play that textbooks teach people to write and theatrical managers clamor for – that this masterpiece, whatever its plot or background, 1) must end in suicide, 2) must contain one character at least who is a doctor, 3) that this doctor must be a good doctor and, 4) that it is he who must find the body. In other words, from the mere fact of tragedy’s being what it is we have deduced an actual play. And this is the tragedy of tragedy.” – From a lecture delivered in 1941 at Stanford by Vladimer Nabokov

Dear Mystress Serpent

Note: in this post, I linked to a picture I found on Google, which, all unknowing, came from here. Imagine my distress when the link turned into a somewhat sinister graphic accusing me of theft! Anyway, I changed the link and wrote the adorable Mystress Serpent an appropriately contrite missive, which I reproduce below:

Dear Mystress Serpent:

1. Finding artwork on Google, presumably accessable to all, posting a link to it (which was not an image source link, but merely a direction) is not theft. However, I have changed the link in question so it no longer goes to your rather accusatory and hurtful graphic. (Luckily, I was only slightly traumatized by it.)

(Formerly the “esoteric” link. There are lots of other alchemical graphics on the web.)

2. You need to give Google a hard time, as apparantly they are getting into the secret, esoteric parts of your website, possibly using the Goetia. (or Gooetia)

I suggest you complain to Google employee Mr. P. Friedman. (Note, dear Mystress – if you complain unto Patri Friedman, forget not thy whip, to paraphrase Nietzsche.)

3. In recompense for this inadvertent “theft”, I will point out that I have written a scholarly and informative series of comments on the “alchemical marriage” and sex magick in general, to be found here.

Feel free to incorporate my comments in your coursework: they will undoubtedly prove very therapeutic.

4. A question: my friend lung has expressed, after seeing your website, the desire to become a Fire Serpent Tantric Dominatrix. “lung is kind of rubbery” says the adorable strategic weapon “and she can set things on fire.”

For obvious reasons – radioactivity being not the least of them – I feel this is not an appropriate career choice for the small, but dangerous little creature, and perhaps a few gentle and tactful words from you might discourage her. (or it, or them)

(Actually, I am pretty sure lung has no real idea what a dominatrix actually does, and merely wants to induce people to get her more donuts. lung loves donuts!)

Sorry about the link!


John “Esoterically Challenged” Sabotta

P.S. I’ve also posted this letter to that hotbed of Anarchism, no-treason.com, as a mark of, uh, semi-submission.

Web Design Is The Cyber Future

Chris Onstad, the creator of Achewood, discusses the joys of web design. All too accurately.

Maybe I’ll get back into web design.

I’m thinking of getting back into web design. It’s been a few years, and the kids probably know a few more tricks than I do, but I have one thing they don’t: I could not possibly care less about web design.

That’s right. You want your logo to spin in a circle and twist itself inside-out for twenty seconds before people can get to your splash page? How about this instead: bgcolor=#CCCCCC. That is “portable across platforms.”

You think it would be great to have a Flash movie play in the center of your splash page, and “maybe have a guy do kind of a ‘Matrix’-thing?” This is the sound of me stapling a picture of Keanu Reeves to my invoice. I made you a table where border=5.

Actually, I copied the code from somebody else.

You want the navigation buttons to change color when the mouse rolls over them? And maybe make a little “plink” sound? That’s called Javascript. I have no idea how it works. I made your buttons out of blue underlined text. The “Contact” one is actually a “mailto” command. On the house, compadre.

Look, I didn’t go to college for this. You couldn’t, when I was in college. We would spend hours, hunched over our NeXT boxes, trying to figure out why BRs would behave as Ps in certain TDs. We learned nothing and were paid nothing. Excite was still called Architext. I know this because I used to get stoned with one of the founders. I said hi to him at the mall last week and he looked at me like I was crazy.

Hm, a “chat room.” Yes, I think that everybody who comes to your model railroad website will want to sit around alone in your chat room. One thing I could also do, though, is design a link to “Yahoo Chat: Small Trains.” For the link, I can create little right-arrows using two “greater-than” signs. Or maybe I will use the guillemot right ASCII character. That’s a premium character, and rather volatile cross-platform, but breathtaking when executed correctly.

What? You want your website to automatically play a 2kb MIDI of “Oh My Darling Clementine” when it loads, and for the background to be a tiled animated GIF of an American flag? And for the header to be H1 size? Okay, I think I have that template. I may have to “back it up” off of an old hard drive. I charge $150/hr, and I don’t have a phone number.

More Distant Than Heaven

The viewpoint expressed in the following excerpt is one I do not necessarily accept.

Nevertheless, the seemingly backwards peasantry Carlo Levi writes about knew right from wrong, rejected a cruel and unjust war in Ethiopia and displayed kindness towards the persecuted while their betters rejoiced in the dubious glories of Benito Mussolini’s Fascism.

In these latter days of the Law, in which I observe supposedly enlightened individuals wallowing in displays of vile racism, dishonest and malign stupidity and moral cowardice – it’s not nothing. How could people with such a poor philosophical and political background be better than the shining lights of freedom and liberty on our futuristic World Wide Web? What’s gone wrong?

Something, I suppose, for the planners of floating cities, free-state projects and liberty-providing enterprises to think about. Or not. As if it mattered.

“Everyone knows” they said “that the fellows in Rome don’t want us to live like human beings. There are hailstorms, landslides, droughts, malaria and…the State. These are inescapable evils; such there always have been and there always will be. They make us kill off our goats, they carry away our furniture, and now they’re going to send us to the wars. Such is life!”

To the peasants the State is more distant than heaven and far more of a scourge, because it is always against them. Its political tags and platforms and, indeed, the whole structure of it do not matter…Their only defense against the State and the propaganda of the State is resignation, the same gloomy resignation, alleviated by no hope of paradise, that bows their shoulders under the scourges of nature.

For this reason, quite naturally, they have no conception of a political struggle; they think of it as a personal quarrel among the “fellows in Rome.” They were not concerned with the views of the political prisoners who were in compulsory residence among them, or with the motives for their coming. They looked at them kindly and treated them like brothers because they too, for some inexplicable reason, were victims of fate. During the first days of my stay whenever I happened to meet along one of the paths outside the village an old peasant who did not know me, he would stop his donkey to greet me and ask in dialect: “Who are you? Where are you going?” “Just for a walk; I’m a political prisoner,” I would answer. “An exile?”(They always said exile instead of prisoner.) Too bad! Someone in Rome must have had it in for you.” And he would say no more, but smile at me in a brotherly fashion as he prodded his mount into motion.”

…The deities of the State and the city can find no worshipers here on the land, where there is no wall between the world of men and the world of animals and spirits, between the leaves of the trees above and the roots below…

…”Too bad! Someone had it in for you” You, too, are subject to fate. You too, are here because of the power of ill will, because of an evil star; you are tossed hither and yon by the hostile workings of magic. And you too, are a man; you are one of us. Never mind what motives impelled you, politics, legalities or the illusion of reason. Such things as reason or cause and effect, do not exist; there is only an adverse fate, a will for evil, which is the magic power of things. The State is one shape of this fate, like the wind that devours the harvest and the fever that feeds on our blood. There can be no attitude towards fate except patience and silence. Of what use are words? And what can a man do? Nothing.
– from CHRIST STOPPED AT EBOLI, by Carlo Levi

Empire of Dirt

“The structure is a full-scale replica of England’s famous neolithic Stonehenge. A Quaker pacifist, Hill was mistakenly informed that the original Stonehenge had been used as a sacrificial site, and thus constructed the replica to remind us that ”humanity is still being sacrificed to the god of war.” – Maryhill Museum

S. and I visited that Stonehenge (the one on the Columbia) years ago (after a road trip where we looked at big dams and the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. In those days S. dressed in her Tom Wolfe-esque white suit and vest and, I – well, I looked like I always do, which is nothing worth mentioning.

The sun was going down, and when I noticed the plaques I got the creepy feeling that some, at least, of the people mentioned were actually buried somewhere on the grounds, although in fact that is not the case.

Thinking that gave rise to private unspoken and unpleasant speculations on what you might expect to happen if you did bury someone under a replica of Stonehenge, and so on, and so forth.

S. – descendent of Mormon sorcerers and gunfighters, philosophy and mathematics major and former punk rock girl, well versed in matters exoteric and esoteric – was unconcerned about either the living or the dead, however.

( Mr. Ludlow’s comments, as reproduced in the Wikipedia article, can only be described as “shabby”, considering how well Ludlow – awful journalist and opium addict – was treated by Rockwell and others while in Utah. Prudently, Fitzhugh Ludlow waited until he was well away from Zion, West, before indulging in his nasty mischaracterization. )

( When accused of shooting Lilburn Boggs, former Governor of Missouri, Porter’s defense of the alleged assassination attempt was, “He’s still alive, ain’t he?”)

Five Grams In The Back of Jon Henke’s Head

After all, his rights are “sorta up for grabs”, are they not?
From one of Mr. Henke’s loathesome posts at qando.net, quoting another dirty swine by the name of “Max Borders”:

[This] means that the moral status of those outside of our political “rights compact,” is sort of up for grabs. Notions of rights outside of our political regime become a fabrication of foreign policy expedience or PR-speak — and are often necessary and useful ones as in the case of human rights.

(From the Nikolai Getman Collection)

This is one of the few paintings in the collection that depicts an event or circumstance which Getman did not actually witness. It is dedicated to Aleksandr Getman, the artist’s brother, who was executed on December 1, 1934—more than likely having been led down a dimly lit corridor and shot in the back, in a basement where few were likely to hear. Aleksandr Getman was among a group tried as spies and dissidents operating out of Leningrad. All the victims of this trial were later reportedly rehabilitated—that is, had their names and public standing restored. The artist is intent on seeing his brother’s name restored officially and publicly. His campaign to thus memorialize his brother has so far been frustrated, however, both by the Soviet government and now by the Russian government.


In love with Love, again.

Anyone who has read Ayn Rand’s Anthem will recognize the scene in which, in the nightmare Dark Ages world of the future, Courtney Love invents the glowing neon heart lamp and restores technological civilization, while also wearing a see-through blouse. Reason is triumphant!

(Click to enlarge.)

(Lynette said that this would make Kennedy feel better. It certainly makes me feel better, although dear Courtney does seem a little scuffed up in this pic.)

An unexpected reunion

From J. Cassian’s blog, February 30 (Note: You’ll have to scroll down to the entry titled “A Short, Short Story” on Sunday, January 09, 2005):

For as he was being laid in his grave in the churchyard, she said: “Now sleep well, another day or ten in the cool marriage bed and don’t let time seem long to you. I still have a little to do and soon I will come and soon it will be day again. What the earth has yielded up once more, it will not keep a second time either,” she said as she walked away and took one last look around.

Happiness has nothing at all to do with it

Josephine Hart on Iris Murdoch.

I don’t think I ever recovered from reading A Severed Head. Its main character, Honor Klein, strode with me through the streets and down the corridors of my school, fierce and dangerous – my kind of woman. A woman who, in reply to her lover’s question: “Shall we be happy?”, had the sheer daring to say: “Happiness has nothing at all to do with it.”

It should be noted, that among other things, A SEVERED HEAD is about a fierce and dangerous person wreaking havoc among these kind of people. – Palmer Andersons, all.



For all, for all I thank you:
For the secret pangs of passions,
For the bitterness of tears,
for the poison of the kiss,
For the revenge of enemies
and the calumny of friends;

For my soul’s ardor wasted in a desert,
For all the things that have deceived me here.
Just make it so that from now onward
Not for too long I’ll keep on thanking you.

Mikhail Lermentov, 1840

(Translation courtesy of Alexei, the Russian Dilettante