Posted by: Dan | May 22, 2017

In Which I Encounter An Old Acquaintance

(Last weekend, while doing some late night walking to clear my head, I encountered the same old man I met one night on an overpass in Sarnia.  We fell into conversation and didn’t take long to pick things up somewhere around where we left them five years ago.  I’ve tried to record some of what he said here.)

God, he said with a blink and a nod, is always playing catch up with the devil.  All these people talking about the miracle of god taking on flesh, of god becoming one of us, of god being with us, two thousand years ago in the hill country of Galilee, they forget a lot.  They forget that, thousands of years before Galilee, the devil walked into a garden and crawled out on his belly.  Not the belly of an angel or a demon or a spirit or a god, but a belly with flesh and meat and blood—a belly that rose and fell like the tides, like the stars, like civilizations.  And where were the people?  They were hiding because they could not bear to be in the presence of a god who came to them like a god.  God came in all god’s glory and the people hid.  The devil came in flesh and blood – as one creature among others – and the people spoke and ate with him.  It was the devil who taught god that you had to take on flesh if you want people to listen to you, if you want people to believe in you, if you want people to love you, instead of fear you.  This is why people who dream of becoming gods become monstrous—lightning bolts on their collars and “Gott mit uns” on their belt buckles.  Don’t aspire to godliness.  Become demonic.  God still has a lot of learning to do.  And when god does catch up, he usually gets it wrong anyway.  The devil came to us with the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil – that’s some good eating there – but god comes fumbling around a few thousand years later trying to get in on the show and asks us to mouth his body and suck his blood.  Fuck off, man.  God is like a child abuser who expects his grown up children to toast him at his birthday party every year.  Merry Christmas and all that shit.

Besides, so far as I can tell, god comes and goes—the devil abides.  Here’s the proof of this: people call the Holy Spirit the Paraclete, the comforter and counselor, but, who is it is that is always there for us when we are frightened and afraid and angry and sad and desiring and longing and hoping and wondering?  It’s always the devil.  When you are most alone and vulnerable and unsure of what to do, it’s the devil who is with you.  And it’s the same when you’re at the highest points, when you are elated, when you feel most alive, when you are standing on the mountaintop—it’s the devil who is at your elbow ready to celebrate with you.  God?  Give it a couple centuries or millennia and god might show up for the funeral or the party, and come busting in with some kind of shitty gift he picked up on the way, and when he gets there he’ll be confused and not understand why there is a desert where the city you lived used to be.

He paused to drink the rest of his beer.  But, look, I said, don’t you think you’re being a bit harsh?  Isn’t all of this a little too jaded?  Aren’t these games we play with god and the devil just the expression of an impotent cynicism?  I’m tired of being cynical.  I want something more innocent.

Innocence, he said.  Let me tell you about innocence.  Innocence is the one thing I can think of that you gain only in the act of losing it – and most of us lost it before we were even born.  I could argue that I lost mine when my father was abused as a child but, really, we could trace this back to the beginning of time.  We all lost our innocence as soon as we – us, all of this – came into being.  The fall didn’t take place in the garden.  That’s just god’s way of blaming the devil.  The fall took place as soon as god said “let there be.”  We can never go back to being innocent.  The dream of innocence is the dream of inexistence, it is a memory we carry with us from the time before time, the time when we were not.  It’s what our bodies, our cells, our genes, remember of the nothingness we used to not be.  You can never go back to being innocent because being is not innocent.  And once you are, you cannot not be.  Even the dead are not innocent.  As Euripedes said, “Never that which is shall die.”  Which is why, of course, our rituals around death are premised upon the need to try and ensure that the dead rest in peace.

What do we know of the dead or death or what comes after?

We are the dead.  We are what comes after.

And death?

Death, he said pulling another beer from his bag, is not the kind of thing about which one can speak cleverly.  Or at all.  But here’s another thing, the devil died before god.  First, the devil was demoted from the Lord of Hell to being the prosecutor in god’s law court or a transient demon without any final resting place.  The Nazis said the devil was gassed in a shower at Auschwitz and the Americans said the devil ate three bullets with his forehead in a compound in Pakistan, but I think he died long before that.  I think the devil died at Golgotha.  God has yet to follow suit.  He’s that kind of bastard.  Even when he dies he fucks it all up and resurrects himself and turns even the suffering of the oppressed into some kind of road to glory and wealth and conquest.  Streets of gold and rivers of blood.  Hallelujah.

But you said before that the devil is always there for us – for better or for worse – and now you say the devil is dead.

Some dead do not rest in peace.

And the difference between this and a god who resurrects himself?

Is the difference between those who wish to ascend to heaven and those who choose to remain in hell.  Heaven is for the selfish.  Hell is for lovers.  And that’s why god can fly away into the clouds after flirting with our suffering, and it’s why the devil, even though he is dead, continues to haunt us.

Posted by: Dan | May 13, 2017

April Reviews

In April I read four Books (Living at the Edges of Capitalism; Vertigo; The Skin; and The Passion According to G. H.) watched three Movies (Black Sunday; Beyond the Black Rainbow; and The Bird with the Crystal Plumage) and two Documentaries (Hotel Terminus; and Newtown).  I wanted to write detailed reviews of some of them, especially the first book, but I am up to my ears in other projects at the moment so these are even more inadequate than my already inadequate reviews.  A star system is looking more and more appealing all the time…

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Posted by: Dan | May 12, 2017

It Was the Whining of the Dog

It was the whining of the dog that he heard.  The dog whining, just outside the door.  He could, and he did, picture it with its muzzle thrust down into the floor, between its front paws, and its eyebrows raised in that way dogs raise their eyebrows when they have their chins down but are looking up at you.  Its tail was wagging in that way dogs wag their tails when they are sorry even though they can’t figure out what they did wrong.  Whining, and the thump, thump, thump, of the tail as it hit the wall that separated the bedroom from the upper hallway.  It wasn’t the hands on his body (although hands on bodies are not soundless).  It wasn’t the fingers in his mouth and around his throat (Eric Garner, he remembered, could still speak even when he couldn’t breathe).  It was the whining of the dog.

He wanted to comfort the dog and explain to it that it wasn’t the dog’s fault and he wanted to give it a treat and he wanted to take it with him when he left but he didn’t know leaving and he didn’t know speaking and “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay,” he thought over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, and the whining of the dog.  And “I’m sorry, too,” he thought, and he raised his eyebrows and tried to look up but he couldn’t.

Alex and Louis Grave

These are the faces you want to remember from this post.

1. The Butcher of Lyon

The past is never dead.  It’s not even past. ~ William Faulkner

Towards the end of Hotel Terminus, Marcel Ophuls interviews Ute Regina (or is it Regine?) Messner.  It is difficult to discover anything about Ute or her husband Heinrich (Heini?) or their family.  Their presence on the internet is practically nil.  I was able to find only one undated photograph of them together in Bolivia.  One wonders what Heinrich was doing with the German community in Bolivia but no answers are forthcoming.  What one finds about Ute are references to one or two documentaries and in a few press releases related to her presence at her father’s trial.  About Heinrich, I could find nothing.  Is he the Austrian Olympic skier of the same name, about whom one can only find records of his ski results and nothing at all about his personal life?  That Ute was reported to live at an Austrian ski resort at Kufstein, where her husband worked as a teacher makes this a tempting proposal.  When Heinrich Messner, the alpine skier, retired from professional skiing, he taught at a ski school, but Wikipedia says this school was at Steinach am Brenner in the Austrian province of Tyrol (a one hour drive from Kufstein) so it is hard to know what to make of this, if anything.  Were this to be a Borgesian tale, and perhaps in a way it is, one could also mention a Reinhold Messner – another mountaineer from the Italian Province of South Tyrol (which, one soon discovers, may be the same place as the Austrian province of Tyrol), whose picture, speaking at an event nine years ago in the Kufstein Arena, can also be found online.  Reinhold’s father, Josef Messner, like Heinrich Messner, is reported to be a teacher.  I could find no pictures of this Josef (was Josef one of Heinrich’s names?), although I did discover a Franz Josef Messner who, of all things, was a leader of anti-Nazi resistance in Austria and who, after being betrayed, was sentenced to death in the gas chamber at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp.

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Posted by: Dan | April 7, 2017

Last evening, it began to snow.

gottmituns

Last evening it began to snow.  The snow fell until this morning, a slushy combination of water and ice, falling more in globs than flakes, that never quite turned into rain because a cold north wind was blowing and causing the temperature of the air to drop by about six degrees.  Walking into the wind, shortly before noon, wearing long johns, gloves, and a balaclava, I felt as though I was journeying through the heart of winter.  For the last few months, it appears as if the seasons are blurring together and moving rapidly in and out of each other.  Time has become confused.

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Posted by: Dan | April 2, 2017

March Reviews

Barely discussed in this post: 7 Books (The Mush Hole, On the Natural History of Destruction, The Silent Angel, Satantango, The Failure of Nonviolence, They Chose Life, and The Evidence of Things Not Seen), 5 Movies (The Love Witch, Moon, Goodbye to Language, Get Out, and The Tribe); and 5 Documentaries (Just Do It, The Sorrow and the Pity, The Eagle Huntress, I Am Not Your Negro, and The Russian Woodpecker).

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Introduction: “A Magnificent Work”

On November 6, 1944, the Most Reverend P. Carrington, Archbishop of Québec and Metropolitan of the Anglican Church of Canada, wrote to the Secretary of Indian Affairs to express his dismay that the federal government was considering altering the dynamics of the Mohawk Institute – a residential school for Indigenous children located on the Six Nations reserve outside of Brantford, Ontario.    For a century, the school Principals had been Anglican clergymen nominated by the New England Company (NEC) or the Anglican Diocese of Huron but the Department of Indian Affairs (DIA) was seeking to change that.[1]  Archbishop Carrington writes:

I am informed that the Department is considering the idea of radically changing the whole character of the School by putting it under a Layman as a Principal…

I was very much shocked when I heard of this proposal to bring to an end a religious and educational tradition which has been established for so long, and I am sure that Anglicans generally throughout Canada would hear of this decision with regret and amazement.[2]

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Posted by: Dan | March 4, 2017

February Reviews

Briefly discussed in this post: 5 books (one on apocalyptic stuff, another Sebald, dipped my toes into Lovecraft, failed to empathize with Didion, but smiled through Tiqqun); 2 movies (artsy French thing and indie thriller thing) and 6 documentaries (mixed bag of nuts here… with emphasis on the word nuts…).

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Posted by: Dan | February 4, 2017

January Reviews

Kinda, sorta, but not really reviewed in this post: 8 Books (the last two in Ferrante’s Neapolitan series, two by Krasznahorkai, one by DFW, a tract by The Invisible Committee and a tome by Badiou, and, last by not least, a really beautiful one about trees); 4 Movies (they all ended up being kinda scary); and 8 Documentaries (which are all over the map).

This month, I’m going for waaaay shorter reviews.

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Posted by: Dan | January 27, 2017

To be Open without being Annihilated

I watched a documentary last week that included some clips from Geraldo Rivera’s career-making 1972 short, “The Last Great Mistake,” about the way mentally handicapped kids lived in an institution on Staten Island called Willowbrook. I did not expect these clips. I was not prepared for them. They were amongst the most devastating and heartbreaking things I have ever seen. Something broke inside of me when I saw them and it hasn’t knit itself back together again. This happens to me sometimes. Sometimes I become so overwhelmed by the violence of our world, as that violence ends up being encapsulated in this or that event — Indigenous children frozen in the snow trying to find their way home, Nazis using dogs to chase down little kids outside the camps, a baby scalded with coffee and left to die three days later in his crib, and now these kids naked and wailing and flailing and covered in feces in darkened rooms where the curtains were never opened, some clustered around a couch, some curled up in fetal positions on the bathroom floor, some isolated in dark corners, naked and sitting bent over hugging themselves because they are sad and they are scared and they are alone and there is no one else to hug them – that I feel like something snaps and disappears.  Something inside breaks and goes away for awhile.  And I also want to disappear, go away, stop.  Which is not to say that I want to die but that I don’t want to know anything anymore, I don’t want to say anything anymore, I don’t want to do anything anymore.  I want to lay down and stop talking and not get up for a very, very long time.

I want to cry and not be comforted until these things never happened.

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