A GARDEN

In my mind I have created a garden
populated with insects who don’t bite
and birds who don’t shit on my paper when I write
there is a lily pond, with frogs who know Bach

However, they keep quiet. This is my refuge
where nothing pierces through the surface
every ripple is merely the smile of an admirer
every distortion the promise of a silence

I sit at a table, turning all that I see
into bold and brazen words; forever
in love with language, forever beholden
to her blossoms, that lie rotting at my feet

A GARDEN was originally published on Meandering home

Advertisements

Writing exercise #1: Deconstruction

Just for fun writing exercise, this time about a religious Ph.D. candidate in philosophy and what he had to say about Christopher Hitchens. His article can be found in crisis magazine. Please be candid with your comments and lay out to me where grammar and rhetoric are still lacking

I would like to exercise and exorcise the vacuity in a pompous text that I found on the Internet, attacking the Dear Leader of my cult, the late Christopher Hitchens. The author of this text is Sean Haylock, a philosopher who ‘found home’ to Christ, writing in the only publication crisis magazine. He opens his piece with an apology for the fact that he had been ‘taken-in’ by the ‘bravura bombast’ of the Hitch. The superfluous alliteration warned me from the very first sentence that the piece would be tough to digest because this author had been too eager to produce resounding phrases, rejoicing as it were in beautifying his grammar rather than submitting it to critical analysis.

He purchased God is Not Great to the visible dismay of the cashier of his local bookstore? What kind of self-hating bookstore is that, where an employee shows dismay when a customer purchases a product that is sold there? When he reportedly ‘devoured it in a fit of scandalized glee’, as if the book was on the Index and he sought the excitement of doing something forbidden, lacking access to pussy – I got the picture.

The PhD-candidate continues with an admittedly well-chosen adjective, debonair, but he overdoes it. Of course Hitchens could ‘pitch you into elated laughter’ with ‘bawdy asides’, but he uses this description to obfuscate the untruth that follows: “if you were on his side, of course”. What nonsense! There have been many believers who laughed out loud and visibly enjoyed the man’s great taste and eloquence in debate. An example might be Tony Blair. Now our author has ‘shifted against him on most matters that he cared about’. There is only one matter here: the existence of a supernatural being. Or are you saying that you shifted against him on matters such as genital mutilation, climate change, honor killings, homosexuality? All ‘matters’ were Christopher quite simply held the right view, and I would defend these views against everybody who things otherwise.

The next paragraph opens with the baffling claim that Hitchens was above all an entertainer, supported not with arguments but with a supposedly witty comparison. Hitchens has a larger than life character and effortless erudition (another irritating alliteration). A man who consistently fought against the delusion of religion and held contrarian views informed by his own rational considerations alone, not by an authority, wants to convince, not to entertain. It is a gross and quite unforgivable insult and, of course, a counterproductive way of neutralizing the force of Hitchens’s arguments.

Next we must ‘acquaint ourselves with the private being that dwelt in the shadow of that vivid façade’ because that private being, ‘in its frailty and nakedness and immutable beauty is wat matters most about each person’. I used to call this the moralistic rape of your audience. Add in a tear-jerking sentence and another blatant and for religions authoritarians very convenient lie, namely that only the person matters. God damn it, what matters is what the man said.

Once the sluices to the ad hominem are opened wide, the mud starts flowing. About the claim that Hitchens would be a narcissist our author writes “there is some truth in that”. How can he know? For all I know the man was eloquent, don’t conflate the two because it might haunt you one day, when you gain an ‘undaunted style’ or even or the ability to think for yourself, the latter faculty conveniently dismissed as ideological idiosyncracies. Next, our author uses the anecdotal evidence that he doesn’t feel trusted as a reader, that there is the ‘distance of lacquered artifice’. He missed the ‘intimate contact of souls’ that he yearns for as a religious person and because he didn’t feel good about the packaging, he disposes of rational argument altogether. But what our zealot dismisses as ‘arrogance parceled out in witticisms’ is the heart-felt indignation over the horrors committed in the name of religion. The next untruth this self-righteous scribbler feels the need to proclaim is again an ad hominem, saying that simply because Hitchens is capable of the art of polemics, he couldn’t do justice to matters of moral consciousness? Our benighted Christian forgets that the allegedly objective moral truths his tribal faith claims to know must be independent of our own morality, in fact Christianity depends for a large part on the idea that crooked men have the ability to see the light and be reborn in Christ. The atheist, of course, is not only crooked but should be confined to hell and eternal damnation. Apparently, it is only by denying truth and humanity in everybody else that Christians can uphold the consistency of their narrative. The all-encompassing inclusion of the loving father-god is predicated on the exclusion, and if (indeed historically whenever) they get away with it, extermination of infidels. But enough. In the same paragraph, our writer dares to doubt Hitchens’s personal integrity, as if eloquent rebuttals are in any way comparable to the indoctrination of faith and the mutilation of genitals. Another vile smear, and he isn’t done yet.

It gets worse. This bloke calls Hitchens a demagogue and a charlatan because he deployed rhetoric with passion and vehemence. This is a non sequitur if there ever was one. He accuses him of using ‘flashy rhetorical gambits’ without any real argument. That gambit goes “that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence”. It is ‘redolent of verificationism’ and would lead to obscurantism, while Hitchens would be not aware of the ‘developments in the twentieth century’ of the philosophy of science. These ‘developments’ are of no importance to the argument at hand, but just serve, again, to obfuscate that our author has just attempted to perform a sleight of hand. Of course the right to assert something without evidence is no greater than to dismiss it. This is precisely what guards us against obscurantism. Besides, Hitchens was well aware of Karl Popper, thank you very much.

Our bigot continues, just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse. After saying that Hitchens is worshiped or even idolized, he calls his agonizing struggle with cancer and his death ‘humiliating’. Humiliating to whom? To your heavenly father, whose sordid morals you see so proudly vindicated? How dare you! Yes, he was an iconoclast made icon, and imitated (not emulated) by the young. So what? You didn’t present one single argument in your confused and stilted rant.

Lo and behold, the next paragraph presents the accusation, again phrased in meanspirited suggestiveness, that Hitchens’s ‘inability to offer more than the most perfunctory denunciation of Ayn Rand’s philosophy is significant’. No it isn’t. Since when do deranged philosophies like Ayn Rand’s deserve more than perfunctory denunciation and derision? There is a reason why Hitch didn’t rebut such repugnant sophistry and it is not because of a lack in his thought or ‘wild imbalance in his priorities’. It is because Ayn Rand’s reasoning does not exculpate, motivate and perpetuate suffering the way the ‘reasoning’ of religion does.

It gets more preposterous. He claims, again without even a shred of evidence, that Hitchens wasn’t able to see the ‘penetrating and insightful exploration of the mystery of transubstantiation by [Christian philosopher] Elizabeth Anscombe. It is allegedly beyond Hitchens’s intellectual powers, which is, given Christopher’s resume, an adventurous claim. And frankly, why in the hell would Hitchens, or anyone, occupy themselves with the turning of a loaf of bread into the symbolical (pardon, real) body of Christ? Anscombe’s beautiful and ‘penetrating’ analysis doesn’t make this bronze age buncombe any more true, just like Hitchens’s rhetorical tour de force doesn’t alter the meaning of his arguments.

In yet another bewildering paragraph, the PhD-candidate continues to say that Hitchens’s sense of dignity is perverse because he refuses to pick truth over consoling lies. It’s more of the same smooth pulpit talking, really, and as vacuous as everything we’ve read before. The idea of a god figure as necessary condition for ethical behavior (compassion) is briefly invoked but of course not supported with any arguments because there exist none.

In his closing phrase, this light-weight verbal pugilist delivers yet another underhand blow by saying that for Christopher the world was a debating hall, an arena, an editorial page, a stage, while for Christians it is a gift that is ‘bewildering in its excess and perplexing in its simplicity yet undeniably precious’. Perhaps the author, who refuses to come down from his moral high horse, has never heard Hitchens saying very similar things about the bewildering beauty of the universe, the mind-boggling idea that we can see billions of years in the past or that our bodies are host to billions of fellow organisms. This vengeful Christian denies Hitchens the full extent of his own emotions by saying his world view was ‘only black and white’, and he has to do this because he himself logically depends (in fact: believes that his life depends) on a world view that is strongly authoritarian and must deny others soul and sanity. I cannot personally feel anything but disgust about such a lazy and cowardly assessment that, as I’ve sufficiently shown, is devoid of arguments.

This is empty language, comrades. I fear that such a PhD-candidate will eventually receive his doctorate and continue to fabricate the sophisms he needs in order to support his ‘faith’. We need to call this bluff and we need to make it very clear that the purported rationality of such people’s arguments is in fact a dangerous quagmire that, unlike Socrates, deceives the youth into renouncing the capacity to think for themselves.

Writing exercise #1: Deconstruction was originally published on Meandering home

Writing. Laughing.

What is the value of writing? Thinking, shared. The ability to think old thoughts again, sharpen them, create a monument for our live thinking that otherwise would exist only as marginal comments to whatever circumstances we’ve concentrated our thoughts on. Systems of thoughts can be dangerous; history is full of examples. See the system of the bible, promoting human superiority (“and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth”, Genesis 1:26).

Deconstructive writing, that French fashion that had to be ahead of its time – is not really possible as much as it is necessary today.

I have an intuition about what this life is all about. It has a lot to do with the ability to laugh deeply, genuinely, affirmatively, to laugh in unison with the universe.
The philosophical idea of the universe “observing” itself through humanity as ultimate goal and final act of history in Hegel is, in my view, the ultimate consequence of abstraction running wild. It’s where the doctrine of “everything is connected with everything else” ultimately leads us, pretending to actually have words for everything. Abstraction, and the creation of concepts, has been divorced from the realm of tools and given an ontological quality just because we think it has. Of course, this is not the place for simplistic Hegel-bashing, and you probably need a couple of thick volume to spell out all the consequences and “trap” him like a rat in a cage. Hegel himself famously said that philosophy is the struggle against the primitive abstract thinking of subjectivists. To me, that sounds like a carpenter saying that carpentry is the struggle against the functionality of his tools – saws, hammers, screwdrivers, or words. It makes no sense. Words are abstract. Thoughts, however holistic and all-encompassing and overwhelming they might be, are arrangements of words, subtle interplays made of the elements with which we represent and figuratively “grab” the world. Why are we still bashing the early 19th century protestant think er? Because we can learn a lot from it. From observing his neat system that claims to accommodates the structure of everything we can dream of, and from observing the son of my brilliant bald Hegel professor who had Down’s syndrome (the son, not the professor), I felt this is not my playground. But I still feel the importance of this pivot, or prism, in thinking: the self-relation of our minds.

I said I have an intuition and I feel like being a bit more verbose about it than I usually am. So far what we’ve got is that the self-relation of our minds has to be accommodated in our lives – in our everyday life – by bouts of deep and sincere cosmic laughter, rather than by academimics carving out nifty formulations like Ich=Ich, Id, Es, and a lot of much longer intellectual circumcisions.

What does any of that have to do with why I like writing so much? I feel that our faculty of laughing can benefit from writing and the whole tradition of letters. How? I don’t know of course, that’s because I haven’t done too much of it yet. The laughing somehow lets us fully “be” without the need of that complete grasp of the world. Laughing is, again here’s my intuition speaking so don’t expect much of an explanation, a detour to taking up our humble place in the universe. It is how we can make our scientific and philosophical ignorance bearable.

I have this very sophisticated philosophy in mind, with said form of laughing at its heart, as some sort of sacred entry point of thinking. As a tangible manifestation of self-reflection that as such can be acculturated as a sacred act, an act of reaffirming a fine tradition of thinking that let us admit we don’t understand how history, or the mind, works. That doesn’t need to pretend this in order to “save” its very foundations (Hegel). It would be an open-minded philosophy, indeed anyone who can experience this existential laughter can be a philosopher. And to be a philosopher means to be inquisitive, to have all the answers to the big questions while knowing they are makeshift answers, and above all, to make others laugh.

Rabat Ville.

Is there a way to express this unmediated experience? What we are looking for is a description of the places we visit “as they are” or at least as they appear to the newcomer. Playing ignorant, peeling off the layers of knowledge that have shaped our world. So I want to be able to describe the swelling crowd walking slowly on a big avenue here in Rabat, without knowing they came from the afternoon prayer. It was about one o’clock and the sight was magnificent. Uniformed men, businessmen, men with boots and men with sandals, some carrying a little carpet, parading back to work. I was the only one heading in the opposite direction, towards the Gare Rabat Ville to have an afternoon coffee and write these lines, and I had a peculiar feeling of unlawfulness as I walked up against the stream and smiled forth at everyone.

In the Kasbah of Tanger.

Even though these tales are not intended to behave like a guidebook, and I am embracing imperfectionism more than ever, some coordinates are needed to keep the reader’s eye. Isn’t this part of a “travel blog”, an account of what I did, where I went, and how I felt in the process? One of the most rigid, hence boring, literary forms – and what is my sputtering protest against it? Does it make any difference being a protocynical countercultural literary snob guising as an adventure traveler embracing larger than life?

It is precisely because these lines don’t need a reader, they are detached of pretensions feigning detachment even of intentions, that its author can breath in the moment. C’est maintenant: les sonnes, les couleurs.

We are going to live in Rabat for a month or two, or in a city within a one-hour radius (that includes Fes and Casablanca) – writing. And never will I sell my soul to the wish of the publisher (sell anything to anyone?) much rather I keep lacing the words into traces of the absurd, the enigmatic that is perhaps our only intimate connection.

Well done, boy. Où sont mes copains, Nietzsche, Dostojewski, les maîtres d’intensité dans l’écriture?

Rabat Ville.

Is there a way to express this unmediated experience? What we are looking for is a description of the places we visit “as they are” or at least as they appear to the newcomer. Playing ignorant, peeling off the layers of knowledge that have shaped our world. So I want to be able to describe the swelling crowd walking slowly on a big avenue here in Rabat, without knowing they came from the afternoon prayer. It was about one o’clock and the sight was magnificent. Uniformed men, businessmen, men with boots and men with sandals, some carrying a little carpet, parading back to work. I was the only one heading in the opposite direction, towards the Gare Rabat Ville to have an afternoon coffee and write these lines, and I had a peculiar feeling of unlawfulness as I walked up against the stream and smiled forth at everyone.

Even though these tales are not intended to behave like a guidebook, and I am embracing imperfectionism more than ever, some coordinates are needed to keep the reader’s eye. Isn’t this part of a “travel blog”, an account of what I did, where I went, and how I felt in the process? One of the most rigid, hence boring, literary forms – and what is my sputtering protest against it? Does it make any difference being a protocynical countercultural literary snob guising as an adventure traveler embracing larger than life?

It is precisely because these lines don’t need a reader, they are detached of pretensions feigning detachment even of intentions, that its author can breath in the moment. C’est maintenant: les sonnes, les couleurs.

We are going to live in Rabat for a month or two, or in a city within a one-hour radius (that includes Fes and Casablanca) – writing. And never will I sell my soul to the wish of the publisher (sell anything to anyone?) much rather I keep lacing the words into traces of the absurd, the enigmatic that is perhaps our only intimate connection.

Well done, boy. Où sont mes copains, Nietzsche, Dostojewski, les maîtres d’intensité dans l’écriture?

August 29. Young woman and the sea.

A short retreat is what I need. I am working on a perfect spot. A Greek island, the quietest of the Sporades, and I hope to catch up with my writing. It’s just a feeling of being “on schedule” and I won’t bother you with it. If there is something interesting to say I’ll say it. But since it has become too much of a play, there might lay a virtue in silence today. A silence taught by the pretty face of nature surrounding us. A silence that doesn’t lull your mind to sleep but keeps her awake as a pair of eyes on a sunny afternoon, with their lids tense.
We do nothing. I write many hours. I would have loved to explore the island, go on a tour, feel the wind in my hair, that sweet symbol of freedom. But there is something deathlike in the air; nobody can do anything about it.
The young woman and the sea.
She takes a few steps into the water and we see her standing there, long curly hairs reach her shoulders, playing gently in the breeze that comes from behind the island. We think she is contemplating the sea and it seems to us some sort of communication is taking place between the young woman and the sea, some invisible exchange of thought that make us step back in reverence. All of a sudden she disappears into the waves and a short moment later we see her black hair that is wet and straight now moving off the coast. The young woman stays in the water for a long time and we we cannot help feeling a slight shiver traveling over our back when we think of how her back must be cold and her skin wrinkly. But even from a distance we can see her smile and then, as sudden as she went into the water, she comes back. We drape a towel around her shoulders and see how she smiles in a way only the sea can teach us.