The Devil for Conservatives

Saul AlinskyBill Maher has a great take-down of the conservative obsession with Saul Alinsky. For those who don’t know him, Alinsky was a community organizer from the 1930s through his death in 1972. The Right (Reich?) would have you believe that he was some kind of radical, but he was anything but. I think there are two reasons that conservatives are so into him. First, he wrote Rules for Radicals. This book was very popular among student organizers in the 1960s. But what is more important, the book has been very popular among conservatives from the 1980s up to the present. I figure that they just project their own lack of any ethics onto poor Mr. Alinsky.

The second reason that Saul Alinsky has turned into the Devil for conservatives is that when he was younger, Barack Obama was a community organizer. And as all conservatives know: anything Obama does is by definition evil. Therefore, Alinsky is evil. I know the logic is twisted: Obama is evil because he follows Alinsky who was evil because he was a community organizer and we know community organizers are evil because Obama was once one. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that Obama is evil because of everything he’s ever done. And because he is a follower of Alinsky. Even if he isn’t. And in that case: he’s evil because he isn’t!

Lucky Again

PanhandlerAs I continue to struggle to memorize Lucky’s Speech from Waiting for Godot, there are two things on my mind: panhandlers and changes in absurdist theater.


Lucky’s speech is of great value if you wish to navigate the great cities of America and avoid panhandlers. There is nothing like talking to yourself to keep panhandlers—who are generally rational and know that crazy people are both dangerous and unlikely to contribute—from bothering you. But what to say? “As a result of the labors left unfinished crowed by the Acacacacademy of Anthropopopometry of Essy-in-Possy of Testew and Cunard” of course! Trust me: I do it all the time. It works great.

Stage Directions

When I was still a boy, I discovered Eugène Ionesco’s plays like The Bald Soprano. And I loved them because I was young and pretentious (unlike now when I’m not young). One thing that bothered me was how much shouting was in these plays. The most common stage direction was “shouting.” But other than the filmed version of Rhinoceros, I had never seen any of the plays. And there was very little shouting in Rhinoceros.

The stage notes before Lucky’s Speech are definitely in this tradition:

Lucky pulls on the rope, staggers, shouts his text. All three throw themselves on Lucky who struggles and shouts his text.

That’s two references to shouting here! And yet, this is never the way the speech is given. This is clear in the following clip that was based upon Beckett’s notes from a production that he directed:

I think the whole “let’s have people shout on stage” aspect of absurdist theater was only thought to be a good idea as long as no one was performing the plays. Once the plays were performed, it was clear that even in revolutionary theater, you still want emotion and nuance.

The image in this article is a detail of an image (partially enhanced so you can read it) from the article Broke-Ass Career: Panhandling. It is well worth checking out, if only for the pictures.

Fragments of Reality

Fragments of a Hologram RoseWilliam Gibson’s brilliance was to take the sex out of William S. Burroughs. For years, I thought that Gibson had combined Burroughs and science fiction, but this isn’t true because there really is no science fiction in his writing. Sure: he pretends to write science fiction, but it is really all about the mind. And that had been the trend of the most interesting science fiction from its beginning. Certainly no one would have been ready for Gibson without Philip K. Dick.

I like Gibson’s writing. Still, I think his best work is his earliest, and not because it is what I first read because it isn’t: Fragments of a Hologram Rose. (It’s on line, so go read it now.)

Is it too obvious to note that the narrative is fragmented? The story depends upon ASP (Apparent Sensory Perception) machines that allow people to play back the sensations that others have recorded on tape. The narrator tells his life’s story in the context of a relationship that has just (God help me!) shattered. After she leaves, he goes through her remaining stuff and finds a hologram of a rose and an ASP tape that she recorded before she knew him. He destroys the hologram by putting it in the disposal unit where it “emits a thin scream as steel teeth slash laminated plastic and the rose is shredded into a thousand fragments.” Then he plays his girlfriend’s ASP tape and for a few moments he is able to be her, even if he cannot be with her.

That sounds like the point of the story, but it isn’t. It is the opposite.

Parker lies in darkness, recalling the thousand fragments of the hologram rose. A hologram has this quality: recovered and illuminated, each fragment will reveal the whole image of the rose. Falling toward delta, he sees himself the rose, each of his scattered fragments revealing a whole he’ll never know—stolen credit cards—a burned out suburb—planetary conjunctions of a stranger—a tank burning on a highway—a flat packet of drugs—a switchblade honed on concrete, thin as pain.

Thinking: we’re each other’s fragments, and was it always this way? That instant of a European trip, deserted in the gray sea of wiped tape—is she closer now, or more real, for his having been there?

She had helped him get his papers, found him his first job in ASP. Was that their history? No, history was the black face of the delta-inducer, the empty closet, and the unmade bed. History was his loathing for the perfect body he woke in if the juice dropped, his fury at the pedal-cab driver, and her refusal to look back through the contaminated rain.

But each fragment reveals the rose from a different angle, he remembered, but delta swept over him before he could ask himself what that might mean.

What that might mean is that there is some reality that undergirds all of our fragmentary perceptions. Or it could be that reality is nothing more than the sum total of all of our perceptions. Thus it could mean that reality is absolute or relative. That’s a very powerful (and frustrating) way to end a story. No doubt Beckett would have been proud.[1]

[1] Beckett lived long enough not only to read this short story that was published in 1977, but to read it in Burning Chrome, Gibson’s book of short fiction published in 1986. But somehow I think he never read it. Beckett died at the end of December 1989.

Quixotic Justification

QuixoticThe word quixotic means “foolishly impractical especially in the pursuit of ideals.” However, when I think of Don Quixote, this is not what I think. Instead, I think of wonderfully twisted logic to justify crazy behavior.

There is no better example of this than in Chapter 21 of Don Quixote. In it, a barber is traveling to work on his mule. On top of his head, he wears his wash basin to protect his head from the rain. However, Don Quixote sees this and thinks that it is the mythical helmet of Mambrino.

He must have it so he charges the unfortunate barber. On seeing the insane man with the lance attacking him, the barber flees, leaving his “helmet” and mule behind.

This would be a perfect triumph for Don Quixote, except that Sancho insist upon injecting reality into the conversation (just like a 17th century liberal):

“What are you laughing at, Sancho?” said Don Quixote.

“I was just thinking what a big pate that pagan had who owned it, for this helmet looks exactly like a barber’s basin.”

Normally, Don Quixote fights more with Sancho. In this case, he immediately provides a justification:

“Do you know what I think, Sancho? I think that the famous piece of that enchanted helmet must by some strange accident have fallen into the hands of someone who did not know, and was incapable of estimating, its worth, and who, seeing that it was of the purest gold and not realizing what he was doing, must have melted down the other half for what he could get for it, while from the remaining portion he fashioned what appears, as you have said, to be a barber’s basin…”

This is the same line he gave in Chapter 8 after mistaking the windmills for giants. Or Chapter 18 after mistaking the sheep herds for armies. Or… Don Quixote always has a reason for why he was not wrong.

And that is the way it is in life. It is only by denying responsibility that we can continue on making the same the mistakes. If Don Quixote admitted that he has a tendency to see things that aren’t there, he would have to conclude (as he does at the end of the book) that he really needs to be cared for. But he doesn’t, and that to me, is the essences of quixotic.[1]

[1] That does not change the meaning of the word, of course. If you use “quixotic” in that way, people will either think that you are ignorant or as crazy as Don Quixote.

Isn’t it strange that the “x” is pronounced “j” in “Don Quixote” (as usual, more reasonably in Spanish where is it spelled “Don Quijote”) but “x” in “quixotic”? It’s enough to drive you crazy.