Tuesday, January 7, 2014


This image doesn't have anything to do with the content below. Sorry.

ITEM #1: I was being just a little facetious in the last post. I'm not against tourism or traveling (I'm occasionally guilty of it myself), but I think the quixotic twentysomething high fructose attitude misses something. I think the experience of "travel" as described in that pic (by the text, irrespective of the image) is qualified by three things: work, weirdness, discomfort. Traveling (really traveling) can be edifying, but the full experience of going beyond your boundaries means coming up against work, weirdness, and discomfort. It has to be unnerving and unpleasant, at least on occasion. You haven't really left your comfort zone until you've found yourself wanting to go back at least once. If what you call Travel is lacking work, weirdness, or discomfort, it's not the authentic specimen. It might be Tourism, Visiting, or Just Passing Through, but I doubt that it's Travel.

Here's that Emerson quote in a bit more context, from "Self-Reliance:"

It is for want of self-culture that the superstition of Travelling, whose idols are Italy, England, Egypt, retains its fascination for all educated Americans. They who made England, Italy, or Greece venerable in the imagination did so by sticking fast where they were, like an axis of the earth. In manly hours, we feel that duty is our place. The soul is no traveller; the wise man stays at home, and when his necessities, his duties, on any occasion call him from his house, or into foreign lands, he is at home still, and shall make men sensible by the expression of his countenance, that he goes the missionary of wisdom and virtue, and visits cities and men like a sovereign, and not like an interloper or a valet.

I have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe, for the purposes of art, of study, and benevolence, so that the man is first domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat greater than he knows. He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things. In Thebes, in Palmyra, his will and mind have become old and dilapidated as they. He carries ruins to ruins.

Travelling is a fool's paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.

ITEM #2: Right, right. New calendar year. I am listing these "resolutions" so I'll be on record saying I intend to do them.


A History of the Warfare Between Science and Theology in Christendom, Andrew D. White. Title might be self-explanatory. The two-volume magnum opus of Cornell University's founder is full of chapter titles like "From Creation to Evolution," "From Magic to Chemistry and Physics," and "From Signs and Wonders to Law in the Heavens." Meaty!

Science and the Modern World, Alfred N. Whitehead. Attempt #3. This time I do it for real. This time I will be taking notes and pounding espresso shots every five minutes. (Fun fact: Science and the Modern World was the densest object conceived by humanity until the existence of neutron stars was proposed in 1934.)

Cryptonomicon, Neil Stephenson. After bugging me to read it for years, my old man finally got fed up and slammed a copy of Cryptonomicon into my hands on Christmas. Guess I have no excuses now.

White-Jacket, Herman Melville. Why yes, I do intend to eventually read Herman's whole extant body of fiction. If I could get away with digging him up, propping him up on an easy chair in the living room, and sharing brunch with him every morning, I'd do that too.

Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy. Been too highly recommended by too many people not to vault towards the front of the queue.

At least two novels written in the last five years. I'm open to suggestion.


Publishing (A): My goal is to get at least three (3) pieces of short fiction published in the next year.

Publishing (B): I have a novel-length manuscript called "All the Lonely People" that I need to deal with. I've compiled a list of forty more people/places to send it two for a second round of pitching, bringing the total close to a hundred. If there are no takers this time around, I'm just going to self-publish the damn thing and get on with my life (even though I'd rather clamp jumper cables to my testicles than take that route again).

MOTHER 3 writeup: I'll be honest. I have no interest in video game crit lately. Don't ask me why; I don't know why. My brain turns into a lighter without any flint when I try to do it. But I haven't given up on taking on MOTHER 3; it represents unfinished business. (I am also willing to finish covering the Legacy of Kain pieces, but my asking price is $300 per game.)

Start on a new novel?: I see a conflict of interest between this and the first item of the next section. 

Begin titling blog posts like Upworthy articles: See above. 


Quit smoking. Right, right. Again. It's only been a month and a half since I relapsed, and I'm already at the stage where I can't have a cig without UGH GROSS WHY AM I DOING THIS flashing through my mind at least once. It comes sooner and sooner every time.

Learn how to forage. Too many of my hobbies and interests are cloistered in the intellect. I want to cultivate a skill that has some practical value, that gets my hands dirty, and that yields something physical and usable for my trouble. My lady friend is a veteran chef, and I've lately been indulging in fantasies where I vanish into the woods and reappear with a wheelbarrow full of edibles that she converts into meals. It's a beautiful dream, but I'm not deluding myself: I fully expect I will poison us both at least once. Hmm. Guess I'll have to add a few field guides and biology textbooks to that reading list, huh.

Start keeping a dream journal. Doubt I can actually make a habit of it, but it's something I'd like to do.

Learn to love myself. Yeah, nope. Don't see it happening. Maybe I'll just settle for learning to like everyone else a little less.


  1. Nice resolutions. I got the "other" half of War & Peace for Christmas myself (this baby's too big for one paperback to handle).

    Legacy of Kain, legacy of schmain. What's the going rate for another Final Fantasy article? (Final Fantasy XIII-2 or XIV or... Dissidia) I'm willing to put twenty bucks in the pot.

    1. I might *consider* doing Dissidia if PSP emulation is up to it. But I'm not sure if it would be worth expending so much time to produce a piece that will in all likelihood amount to "this is so stupid i hate this why did they make this why am i doing this."

    2. I played and really liked FF XIII and I couldn't take Dissidia for more than 15 minutes. Exercise caution.

    3. I'd sooner recommend playing Bravely Default as part of a Final Fantasy retrospective. From what I found playing the demo, the game feels more like a Final Fantasy game than any since FFX. Not that you seem likely to continue the series (and I wouldn't blame you if you didn't).

    4. For what it's worth, I thought Dissidia was a lot of fun. I played the "expansion pack" Duodecim, though. What can go wrong? As a mishmash of the whole series, it has a ton of likable characters, the best music in videogamedom and a huge amount of content. They even added a roguelike-ish mode. This wasn't a rush job. It's "some kind" of fighting game, though, so anyone expecting a pure RPG will be disappointed.

      The story though... I hope you love charaters being reduced to one quirk, people going on about the power of love and stupid quid pro quos leading to allies fighting each other. Either skip videos or say goodbye to your sanity.

    5. Adam: Hm. I might actually consider checking out Bravely Default if I had the hardware to play it on. I'm still on a self-imposed freeze.

      Paul: That's one of the reasons I'm reluctant to play or write about Dissidia. I'm going to have to watch the videos and I'm going to have to review the videos, and I'll eventually have to spend a lot of time and effort finding ways to dump on them. I'm really not in the mood.

  2. I'd love to read that Mother 3 crit

  3. Your bit about foraging raises the issue of how/why people seem to reject modern society and overvalue outdated ways of living. The advancement of technology should, by rights, make our way of living easier and free up our time for intellectual pursuits. Instead we’re working harder than ever, we elevate horrible people and generic schlock in our culture, both the Left and the Right have their pet peeves about science and technology, and there’s a never ending mindset that things were better when they were simpler, when in reality life was harsher, people died more often and things were just all-around more miserable.

    “Oh, isn’t so horrible we’re all wired and spending our time online instead of working with our hands or getting back to nature?” Fuck no, it’s not horrible. We should be elated to be alive right now, enjoying the best standard of living ever. The reason we aren’t, the reason we always get this “Technology is bad, we need to simplify our lives” bullshit is because we squander the opportunity we’re given. The inventor of the television dreamt that people could use it to learn Greek or Latin in their own homes. Instead we got Gilligan’s Island and Duck Dynasty. http://www.cracked.com/article_17186_6-geniuses-who-saw-their-inventions-go-terribly-wrong.html

    That’s not a failing of technology. If anything it’s a failing on our part. We’re given an easier life than our ancestors had, but we don’t take advantage of it to develop ourselves intellectually. Instead we think we’re supposed to keep doing things as people to, and if we deviate we’re somehow failing. We as a people aren’t growing to meet the potential we’re establishing for ourselves.

    Foraging does not have practical value because we have farms and long-distance travel to bring food to us; other people can make a living doing work so that we don’t have to, freeing up time for us. And that’s a good thing! Why do people have to think this is bad?

    And this seems too on-the-nose to not bring up http://www.theonion.com/articles/grueling-household-tasks-of-19th-century-enjoyed-b,1519/

    1. When you say "develop ourselves intellectually," I wonder what you mean. I'm curious as to why expanding one's knowledge and depth of experience with the contents of unanthropized spaces (for lack of a better term) shouldn't qualify as intellectual development.

      I like the idea of going out into the woods (which I regularly do anyway) with a purpose other than meandering and zoning out. I like the idea of trying new foods. I like the idea of becoming better acquainted with the plant kingdom. And I like the idea that it could turn into a collaborative hobby with Hannah. ("Hey, look at these delicious leaves and roots I found! Let's cook and eat them for dinner!") Even if it won't eliminate my trips to the supermarket, I don't see why that would make the experience any less edifying.

      I understand (and often share) your frustration with the pop-primitivist scene, but I do believe there's more than just a kernel of truth in the admonition that the modern affluent lifestyle alienates people from the things that sustain them. And I don't think that wanting to dabble in skills that went missing during industrialization necessarily amounts to a wholesale rejection of modern civilization or a denigration of its benefits.

      (though i often do worry about the costs of these benefits, particularly in terms of atmospheric carbon accumulation. if i am ambivalent about modern civilization, it is primarily because of the sustainability question.)

    2. There's more to being human than developing oneself intellectually and doing things with pratical value (whatever that means)?

    3. If you're talking about eating dirt and getting stung by bees, foraging might be your prescription!

  4. Definitely read Cryptonomicon. It may take you some time, but it is entirely worth it. Furthermore, I'm a big Neal Stephenson fanboy, and I subscribe to the belief that if you can push your opinions on people before they have enough data to form their own, you can leave them with preconceptions for years to come.

  5. In addition to Cryptonomicon, check out Stephenson's Zodiac. It's quite uncharacteristic in that it's a comparatively simple thriller about environmentalism and chemistry, but it's really good. I reread it many times over the past 15 years, and I don't like many books I enjoyed when I was 16 anymore.

    Definitely was not written in the last five years though. Hmm. I just recently got through Warren Ellis' Gun Machine and that was pretty good. As a bonus it's set in Manhattan, which pleasantly surprised me (I was actually looking for it when I was there but couldn't find it in shops; clearly I should have looked in the tourist sections).

    1. I don't read much sci-fi, but I really dig stuff that was written before the rise of the Internet. A futuristic world without futuristic iPhones just doesn't compute at this point.

      Speaking of Warren Ellis, flip through X-Men 2099 if you ever get a chance. It's actually not that great, but I'm pretty sure Ellis was working on the Marvel 2099 titles before he began Transmet (which is something I still have yet to read in its entirety), and the worlds appear quite similar.

    2. Zodiac is from 1988, that's barely even during the rise of PCs. Hyperbole, but certainly so little so that at one point you get an explanation that the actual computer is the funny box under the monitor. Gasp! Insofar as it can be called sci-fi the science involved is almost exclusively chemistry.

      You might enjoy Snow Crash as well. Actually you might enjoy Snow Crash more - there's a lot being made of the fact that in the future it describes, everything is just a franchise up to and including sections of suburb. Maybe "enjoy" isn't the right word here. It's got not so much a daft ending than a disconcertingly abrupt one, though, and personally I just like Zodiac better for its 1980s thriller vibe.

      Don't get me started on Ellis' worlds, I don't think the man is physically capable of not having vast information networks directly integrated with the human brain in his stories. (I, uh, may have sort of written a diploma thesis on that at some point.)

  6. I just finished EL Doctrow's new book "Andrew's Brain." I liked it a lot, and at 200 pages, it's not a super punishing read.

    1. The reviews suggest that it's trippy and flawed. Sounds up my alley!

  7. The thing about 'developing intellectually' doesn't just apply to individuals, but society. When you brought up the idea of learning to forage it called to mind various other quasi-related ideas beyond your own thing.

    I wrote an entire rant, but frack it I don't want to post a 700 word comment. Basic thing is, I think we - the affluent enough First World - have things so easy for us that we could challenge ourselves to a significant degree, but instead we choose to idealize simplicity (without giving up modern convenience) and the familiar.

    Your pursuit of foraging may be the exception to all the bullshit I was thinking of when I was ranting, but it doesn't negate my general issue.

  8. I'd also recommend Blood Meridian. That was the first book I read this year, and I doubt I'll read any other ones this year that I'll like more than it. I wasn't too impressed by McCarthy's The Road, but Blood Meridian surprised me.

    1. Hmm. I can't promise it will be the next novel I read, but it's definitely towards the front of the queue.