Archive for March, 2016

Canals On Mars

“History does not repeat itself – it is historians who repeat one another.” – anon

In 1907 the elder, esteemed American astronomer Percival Lowell claimed to have discovered canals on Mars. He proposed that these “canals” were a last gasp effort of a dying civilization to reroute water from Martian ice caps onto a drying, desolate landscape. Lowell made detailed drawings of these patterns he called “canals” and as a result of his scientific reputation and social status, his exciting idea spread quickly. The wide publication of Lowell’s carefully observed drawings and theory the origin of Martian canals stimulated the imagination of millions of newspaper readers on both sides of the Atlantic including many science fiction writers. The existence of Lowell’s “canals” could not be corroborated by other astronomers and his theory was soon discredited.  Lowell was actually seeing the shadows of blood vessels cast on the retina of his own eyes from his small telescope eyepiece.

This story is ripe for wisdom-mining. There are no canals on Mars; there ARE canals on/in our eyes. Others find it annoying when we make Lowell’s mistake of thinking our canals ( the ones we see on Mars or anywhere on Earth, in our souls, out among the stars) are everyone’s canals if only other people would bother to look as closely as we have looked. When discussing canals ( ideas, beliefs) approach slowly, begin with a hint, you may find a like mind and most likely you will not, if not, let it go. Your canals are yours. Everyone has his/her collection, their canal-baggage aka their mythome, belief system, prejudices, habits, enthusiasms, trails of success / failure, often anxious to share.

Many successful writers latch onto an underclass that they proceed to exploit in their art. Bertolt Brecht exploited the proletariat workers of the world like the good Communist he was. John Steinbeck exploited the unfortunate Okie immigrants seeking work in California. Thomas Mcguane exploits the small town hapless businessman, doctor or rancher of disintegrating prospects. The effective memoirist exploits their own family.

Brecht patronized his oppressed, exploited workers from the vantage point of a comfortable, well-educated member of the bourgeoisie he and his fellow avant-gardists scorned. Brecht exploited the working class as much as any industrialist. The abused worker was his lab rat for his own aggrandizing  theatrical experiments. The workers of the world were Brecht’s “canals on Mars” the burst blood vessels through which a writer sees his subjects. The most successful author is always slumming. Never write of or above your psychic or social station i.e. don’t write about people happier or wealthier than yourself. When a writer of the upper class turns to write about his/her poor little rich people – look out! Literature is in the works – see: Tolstoy. This is AOK,  not criticizing, just noting.


JB Questions-Observations:

  1. Eight-oar rowing, the most communist in spirit of any sport given its requirement of total subsumption of the individual for the good of the whole enterprise yet competitive rowing has been nurtured in the heart of the Capitalist upper class by the WASPiest of young men and women, destined to the highest levels of Capitalist leadership.
  2. Bertolt Brecht wrote one great play ( adapted) “Threepenny Opera” and one great song lyric “Mack the Knife” the rest is agitprop.
  3. Socialism is sharing of wealth created by all members of society. Capitalism is the hogging of as much wealth as one can get away with and if laws interfere, change them – see: Bill Clinton and friends-Glass Stegall. Feel the Bern !
  4. Brecht’s “Epic Theatre” is Agitprop at its best but agitprop nonetheless. Agitprop = AGITationPROPaganda, a didactic theatrical form meant to instruct audience ( usually poorly educated)  on the value of Communism.


March 19, 2016    2:37PM

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JB reading: “The Empire of Cotton-Sven Beckert, “The Georgetown Set” Gregg Herken, Bertolt Brecht-His Life, Art and Times”-Frederic Ewen

“Power develops at the intersection of network paths not at the endpoints”

– Sven Beckert

Rhizome: An elongate, horizontal, subterranean plant stem possessing nodes.

Rhizome (Gilles Deleuze def. + -): “The rhizome presents history and culture as a map, a wide array of attractions with no specific origin, no beginning-no end-always in the middle between things, ceaselessly establishing connections between semiotic chains, organizations and power in art, science, politics and social struggle.” Note: Every walk of life is a rhizomic realm, threads of significance, web of meaning. Webs among the cells of the brain tracking webs perceived in the world of all else.  All higher education is about introducing one to the working ( fashionable)  rhizomes of a chosen field – the Kool Aid-catechism-central dogma. Walk the dogma or change majors.  Look for new connections in rhizomes that overlay one another i.e. vertical nodulation: air travel with textile trade networks and internet links. The little-noted but all-pervasive vertical threads – three dimensional fabric – a cube of cloth ( ideas, tropes, patterns, networks) length, width and height – see: 3-D chess game.  Trade routes-nodes, vacation routes-nodes, mosquito vectors.

Dendrite: Threadlike extension of a neuron branching into treelike structure. The dendrites comprise the receptive surfaces of the neuron conducting impulses toward the neuron body and out through the axon. One neuron ( of ten billion in the human brain) has up to 100,000 dendritic spines.

Rhize (JB neolog): A single filament in a Deleuzian rhizomic socio-politico-historic network – Examples

  1. The path of an airliner from Los Angeles to Nashville is one rhize.
  2. A cool shoes meme travels its Gladwellian path from Harlem to the rest of world
  3. The concept of Containment ( of the Soviet Union) from the mind of U.S. foreign policy guru George Kennan through the minds of State Department and CIA officials and toward the democratically elected leaders of Iran, Guatemala, and Chile, most notably reified as containment failed abysmally in the Vietnam War of 1962-1975.
  4. The idea “All men are created equal” rooted in ancient Jewish wisdom and found in texts of 17th century English thinker John Locke influenced Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin’s reading intersected with Locke’s actual role in the drafting of “The fundamental Constitution of Carolina” for his patron Lord Shaftesbury’s pioneer residents of Colonial America. “All men are created equal” has been a potent rhize whose power was manifest in the fact of the American Civil War.

Mythome-Part One ( JB neolog via Ferdinand Saussure and Roland Barthes,) As in Biome, Bacteriome, Virome i.e. the whole shebang of a given system – myth in this case. The dense fog of ideas comprising our shared consciousness. Our mythome is the entire realm of socio-religio-legal, ethical, moral-scientific, art-making, war-making belief, i.e. the three dimensional tangle of our shared existence as it is woven up, down and around and through Global Capitalism-banking-manufacturing-marketing and entertainment. The colossal rhizomic mat from which we try to derive a meaningful life is our mythome.

Mythome-II There is a grand game of musical chairs with worker exploitation as the empty chair. The music of profit-seeking plays, populations stir, protest, vote, elect, strike and the ogre rises and shifts to a new population. The filled chair is the nation most willing to allow the exploitation of its workers. From 1840 to 1862 it was the USA – South; today it is Pakistan, Indonesia and Mexico. Read the label on your T-shirt for the latest victim-nation.

Mythome-III The Capitalist world, after 250 years, is running low on victim nations and will look to the prison population of economically viable nations for its factory workers. Millions of prisoners will be sorted into two groups: the well-behaved pliable workers and irretrievable unfortunates who will remain in their cells. The prison labor force will work for 35 cents an hour building our cars, airplanes, appliances, brooms, and toys. By the year 2025 all factory work will be done by prisoners and robots. Asians and Mexicans will have priced themselves out of the market.

According to Deleuze, the rhizome has no particular beginning or end thus any power of place occurs at the intersection of two or more rhizomes or the place where one small rhizome hits a larger one. Imagine the dendrite of a neuron that has been untapped for the first 20 years of life, growing into and linking up with an old neuron in action since birth with its billions of connections throughout the entire nervous system connected to all sense and memory. In 1825 New York City already had been a vital american rhizomic link to Europe and the rest of the world for 150 years. With the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, as NYC was linked to the bountiful heartland of America, New York City became a nodal point and rapidly developed into “The Big Apple” – a burgeoning metropolis of international scope. From bustling end point to globally influential node. Before the Erie canal, New York City was a rhizomic endpoint; after the canal it was a node on a mighty rhizome.

It is counterintuitive that a node would have more clout than an endpoint but it is the multiplicity of linkages at a node that generate power and influence. People who cultivate the most links with others thus making their dinner parties nodal events, make themselves powerful nodes in their political milieu. The artist plys his working existence in a studio or at a desk alone with his / her muse – isolated endpoints, whereas the savvy, influence-hungry journalist plays out his craft at vociferous dinner parties, raucous gatherings of influencers seduced by excellent cuisine, lubricated with lip-loosening alcohol, debating the future of America. This dinnertime as path to power trope is examined in detail in Gregg Herken’s book “the Georgetown Set” A potent slice of 25 years of American foreign and domestic policy worked out at such social gatherings in the homes Washington DC’s political players, from the CIA, the State Department and The Washington Post and other DC power centers.  

A playwright who directs his own work and that of others is at the intersection of enormous rhizomic energy radiating from other playwrights, actors, producers, set designers, newspaper critics, audiences. The chances of career development are multiplied geometrically from such involvement – see: Bertolt Brecht at early career when pivoting from starving unknown writer haunting cafes of Munich  to the hottest theatrical celebrity in Berlin, Germany’s largest city and capital. There is another rhizomic tangle at work as the playwright sorts through the work ( a variety of rhizes)  he/she absorbs in their local theaters, combined with poetry, plays, novels and political events not to mention one’s own hormonal allotment creating energy, anxiety and rebellion.

JB Miscellany:

  1. Writers forget that writing is the residue of thought and feeling and fact – it is nothing much itself.
  2. When a person says, upon returning from travels “I caught a bug in Mexico, Greece, Uganda, France, Siberia, wherever, perhaps they always carried that bug in their bodies along with ten million other species of microbe at work around the globe and in our bodies 24/7/365. It was their immune system that took a hit in said foreign locale due to lack of sleep, excitement, too much drink, airport stress etc. the bug was in them all along but dormant until stress set in to compromise immune system.
  3. History valorizes those who shock, not those who love. You love literature, you’ve read the canon and loved much of it, memorized dozens of passages and poems and written intensely-crafted poems and novels yet remain obscure with cash-flow challenges – shocked anyone lately? Adults consider the source when shocked – it is typically left to youth to be shocking, as adults tend to look stupid or crazy. Young people are expected to shock us in new and possibly constructive ways: see: Einstein, Picasso, Braque, Duchamp, Kirchner, Brecht, Warhol, Schnabel, Basquiat. The delivery system of  shock is typically an outsider struggling to come to grips with a corrupt establishment. Mature adult artists get the big picture and make a living serving the beast ( Global Capitalism) in one way or another, teaching, selling insurance, writing ad copy, doing corporate architecture ( isn’t all architecture corporate or one degree of Kevin Bacon removed?) . You did your shock and awe phase during your wild, wooly twenties when no one was looking. Note to artistic self for next life – go to art capital, duke it out with less shocking-destructive peers and prevail for patronage, fame, wealth and the history books.
  4. When early 1950s foreign policy guru George Kennan’s “Containment” philosophy ( contain the Soviets) slowly and painfully morphed from push to shove in Vietnam during JFK’s 1960s, the Containment trope disintegrated as an ugly, stupid, contagious frog got boiled in the jungles of South Vietnam, revealing its wormy, rotten essence i.e. contain until it gets difficult then just let ‘em run all over you – who will care? What’s so bad about Communism anyway? The Vietnam War shed a harsh light on Kennan’s big idea from the beginning of U.S. involvement ( JFK’s 20,000 troops). Containment was unprincipled at its core thus not worth fighting and dying for. Containment was nebulous, too abstract and it involves policing state ambition not defending one’s land / honor / founding Enlightenment principles of life, liberty and property. Containment, at its root in Vietnam, was always a violation of our deepest principle of sanctity of property. That American policy makers would give a damn whether Vietnamese become communists or receive aid from generous neighbors (Chinese) was always secondary to our hallowed first principles stated so clearly by Thomas Jefferson in our “Declaration of Independence” Sixty thousand U.S. soldiers dead – what a fucking waste serving a rotten rhizome that wormed its way through the consciousness of The Georgetown Set from 1950 to 1975. Bobby Kennedy put it best: “Jungle Rot”
  5. We live in a culture of leftovers – Commodity Capitalism. Mechanized societies with global rhizome networks of trade do the killing, thieving (of land and health) we make the laws that suit us, valorize the philosophers who explain us, sanctify the religious leaders who give us the moral go ahead. We defend the trade routes and finance all of the above. You – the world’s 90 percent slave in factories, as juridical bureaucracies ensure that you keep your mouth shut, work hard and go to church, reaping your small benefit from menacing paternalism.
  6. According to Yale professor emeritus of Literature Harold Bloom author of the iconic text for all creative types: “the Anxiety of Influence”, every writer of note wrestles mightily with poetic precursors, for Bertolt Brecht his primary “foes” were Rimbaud, Baudelaire and Verlaine. Brecht’s “B” team was his immediate  precursors  Richard Dehmel, Detlev Liliencron, Otto Bierbohm and the metaphysical clown Karl Valentin. These men were as Woodie Guthrie and Alan Ginsberg to the emerging Bob Dylan in the early 1960s. Valentin was the cudgeled hero ( see: Charlie Chaplin)  trickster – the Apollinaire of Munich, melancholy clown.
  7. Cubism, Dada and Expressionism were the youth movement of a new, 20th century. Interesting that they are visual arts whereas the youth movement of the 1960s was dominated by music, perhaps Pop Art was a youth movement of pre-boomer generation.
  8. The shark was a recurring motif in the work of Brecht: see: “Mack The Knife”
  9. Compare and contrast Bruckner’s “Wozzek” and Budd Schulberg’s “On the Waterfront” the “I could’ve been a contender” theme.
  10. Brecht strikes one as an All-American ( though German) intellectual-artist-cowboy. Brecht loved America and the idea of the natural man as opposed to romantic man. Natural man is of the Earth not of the spirit. He is sweat, snot, blood, guts, semen, tears, sex, fist-fights, wrestling, eating, running, smoking, eating more, rebelling, bitching about the bourgeoisie – those slightly older folks locked into the Capitalist mythome trying to make a living.
  11. Might perforin ( pre-forming protein) release be a mechanism for branching in trees?


March 10, 2016    7:52 PM


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