Overweening Generalist

Monday, September 19, 2016

Decoding Chomsky, by Chris Knight

Noam Chomsky has often discussed "Plato's Problem," which he obviously finds fascinating. The problem is this: how can people know so much given a relative poverty of stimuli? Just today you found yourself talking to someone and the words just flowed out of you; you didn't have to think about them beforehand. You probably never uttered some of those sentences before, in the exact way. We all take this for granted, easily. Plato wondered about it and surmised that the reason we are able to know so much is because we already knew it in a previous life! You just talk to each other and knowledge sorta miraculously emerges via a quasi midwifery. Or rather: our forebears knew things and passed this ability to know (best example: apprehending our native language so easily) on to us. In a sense, we already "know" everything, but we need it drawn out by some...process. Today, people talk about genes. Chomsky takes Plato's "soul" and changes it to something like "biological language acquisition device," but you already knew that. (<----see what I did there?)

But this Plato Problem still seems iffy to me.

Chomsky has often written about "Orwell's Problem" too: how can people not know so many things that truly impact their lives, when the information is basically right in front of them? Noam has offered a solution to why this problem exists in books such as his famous one from 1988 (co-written with Edward Herman), Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. Very sophisticated propaganda tools have been developed during the 20th century, suffice to write, for now.

                                     Chris Knight, radical British anthropologist, studied
                                        Chomsky's works for over two decades

In the 1970s an intellectual proposed there's a "Chomsky Problem," which is this: how can one man write a massive body of work on linguistics, while never mentioning the social world or politics in those books, while at the same time issuing scads of books critical of his own country's foreign and domestic policies? In Chomsky's political books the mention of science, much less linguistics is basically zero. The writer who (as far as I know) coined the "Chomsky Problem" thought Noam's linguistic work was brilliant; his political writings were, IIRC, "naive." 

For at least 20 years I've wondered about the Chomsky Problem, but as I read more and more I came to the opposite conclusion: I thought Chomsky's linguistics were preposterous, while his criticism of the official lies of the State Department (and much much much more) were astonishingly acute.

I read books from the Right about Chomsky that were mostly ad hominem character assassinations. I've read far too many books by academics on his linguistics that see his grammar models as genius. Of course, the worldwide Left love his political books. There are at least five intellectuals who seem to have made their careers out of explaining, collecting, and championing Chomsky's oeuvre. 

George Lakoff is one cognitive neurolinguist whose work makes a hell of a lot of sense to me, and he seems to despise Chomsky. Chomsky seems to despise Lakoff. (See Randy Allen Harris's The Linguistics Wars on this, and I understand Harris has an update in the works!) Chomsky answers Lakoff's barbs by saying Lakoff doesn't "understand" his work. But Lakoff was one of the early bright followers of Chomsky's linguistics models, only to break with him - radically - when it became apparent Chomsky's linguistics would never be able to account for semantics (by which I mean meaning in language). And Lakoff (who has amassed quite a large body of scholarship himself) has barely had anything to say about Noam's politics. Lakoff is definitely a liberal of some sort...
So: Social Anthropologist Chris Knight (Wiki) has, almost miraculously, solved the Chomsky Problem. I've been trying to solve it for 20 years; I now feel the euphoria that one of us has solved it. My many blogspews here as the "Overweening Generalist" on my own attempts to solve the Chomsky Problem now seem horribly unsophisticated. And so it goes...

 Decoding Chomsky: Science and Revolutionary Politics, recently released, is an astonishingly well-written and researched volume that will probably be the most important work in the history of ideas, post World War II, that you'll read for quite some time, and I say this if only out of Chomsky's massive influence. Knight has made a stellar contribution to the sociology of knowledge, the sociology of intellectuals 1945-now, and has explicated lucidly a new and dynamite version of how the "cognitive revolution" arose. 

Knight has apparently spent the past 20 years researching this book and has managed to boil it all down to 240 pages, plus endnotes, a massive bibliography, and index. In an interview he mentioned that he'd finished a work in his field of Anthropology and hadn't really covered the origin of language in humans, because he felt he didn't know enough about the subject. Knowing Chomsky was Mr. Linguistics (having virtually single-handedly made it into a science and moving Linguistics from the Anthropology Department into the new Cognitive Science labs at your nearby Big University), he read Chomsky's linguistics in order to understand. And he ran into what I ran into: it's a cold, abstract to a painful degree, literally meaningless, an unworkable series of models that, - get this - by definition, has nothing to do with humans communicating with each other

Chris Knight says he admires Chomsky's political work, and there's no reason not to believe him; he clearly admires Chomsky's scholarship and courage in this regard. As do I. At times Knight's said there are a lot of conscientious academics and intellectuals who have criticized the US as imperial power, but no one really even comes close to Chomsky. That said...

                                    Noam Chomsky, whose linguistic models are 
                                   (finally!) seeming to be exposed as going nowhere

Anyone who has tried to follow Chomsky's many models of "Cartesian Linguistics" (AKA masochists) and thought to themselves, "Either I'm an idiot or this is a put-on, or possibly massive fraud" - that was me at one point - will know what I'm referring to: "Phrase Structure Rules," "Transformational Rules," "Grammar," "Deep Structure," the nature of the "language organ," "The Minimalist Program," "Universal Grammar," and "Merge"? All scientistic, all going nowhere, basically. (Knight runs all these down, pp. 173-179)

So, wait a minute: What? How can Noam write about lies and propaganda - which are by definition language and signs and symbols and social work among human beings - while his linguistics work has nothing to do with our social being? Because of an admitted "schizophrenic" life Chomsky admits he must lead, because, since the 1950s, he's worked in the very place that the Pentagon has funneled enormous sums of research money into: MIT. Perhaps because his quasi-kabbalistic linguistics allowed him that Ivory Tower opiate he needed to deal with the cognitive dissonance? If so, if this is anywheres near a close view of Chomsky, then it's dramatic and strange to the nth degree, no?

Chomsky once wrote an article on the fall of Barcelona in the Spanish Civil War. He greatly admired the anarchists. He had just turned 10 years old. He decided he'd rejected Trotskyism by age 12. This is an interesting fellow, eh? 

Noam had friends help him land the job at MIT, where he was able to work on the Pentagon's new idea: that computers and cybernetics and information theory would help make the world safe for capitalism after WWII. The idea that there's a language acquisition device - a very sophisticated computer - inside every human being's head? Very appealing to Pentagon folk. This was a computer whose source code must be cracked! And Chomsky's work looked like it was moving in exactly the direction they wanted. Maybe we can develop a computer that can translate any language into English; that should help in the Cold War effort against the Godless Commies. Let's let Chomsky lead a disembodied cognitive revolution. And he did. But: Noam didn't want to do any intellectual work that would help kill people in the name of Omnicorp.

Here's where adept conspiracy theorists can take this book and run with it: did Chomsky hijack linguistics and purposefully make it useless? Neither Knight nor I believe this to be true: Chomsky seems to genuinely have ideas - which seem bizarre and fruitless to me - about a sort of purity of work in "science." There's one of William James's lectures on pragmatism from the early 20th century, in which James talks about two vastly different temperaments among thinkers: the "tough-minded" and the "tender-minded." Somehow, Chomsky is the apex of "tough-minded" when doing his political work, while his Linguistics is the very apogee of the "tender-minded."

His persona as a man of conscience and political integrity seems to have been a perfect match for the Pentagon: see? The top man in Cognitive Science is free to write his books, give talks criticizing the Pentagon all over the world. Because we're a free society! 

But how does Chomsky manage this cognitive dissonance? Does he feel it? What have been the unintended consequences of Chomsky's total oeuvre? Knight answers these questions to my satisfaction. To those of you who've heard or read that Chomsky defended a Holocaust Denier named Robert Faurisson, was/is friends with former CIA director John Deutsch, and went against virtually the entire faculty and student body at MIT in defending Walt Rostow in getting his job back at MIT, even though Rostow has been nailed overwhelmingly in Chomsky's books on Vietnam? Knight satisfactorily answers these queries, too. 

As an Anthropologist, Knight treats the heavily-funded-by-Pentagon cognitive scientists as a "tribe." Why did this particular form of nonsense catch on so wildly in postwar Unistat? Knight gives a fascinating answer. If the only other superpower seemed to run on ideas based in matter (Dialectical Materialism), then what if we do away with matter? And, to a large extent, they did. Information/data is weightless, travels at the speed of light: matter is secondary. So is the Body...

Along the way, you'll learn about the deep roots of Sociobiology (and a form of scientific feminism that needs to come back from being beaten down by anti-science Leftists in academia), how a Russian Futurist/surrealist from the first two decades of the 20th century influenced Chomsky without Chomsky seeming to know about it, and much more.

If you had to ask me, what was the overall value of Chomsky's linguistic work at MIT? I'd say it was  "Don't study language using this approach! Language is and has no doubt always been a deeply social thing!"

If you're interested in politics, philosophy, and the idea of "science" being an open and public - and possibly ultimately unified thing?: Decoding Chomsky is for you. If you're already a seasoned reader of Chomsky, I feel safe to say you'll learn a few new things from this book. For me, the book spoke to my interests in the origin of language (of which Chomsky's work is literally laughable) and the fallout from the new and wonderfully interdisciplinary "cognitive sciences." Knight let me on to some reasons I hadn't even considered about why my valuation of being a "generalist" has taken such a beating since the 1950s. Not long ago I wrote a piece about why I thought Alfred Korzybski's work had waned, and Knight fills in a lot of gaps there, too. I'm interested in the history of Structuralism, the academy, "PR", mass stupidity, intellectuals, embodied knowledge, Descartes, Plato, Newton, Galileo and Bertrand Russell, the possible synthesizing of all knowledge, why many people have the idea that "science" isn't for them, the idea of theory and practice going hand in hand, and the timeless notion that ideas have consequences and one clue to this is looking at the time and place and social situation in which ideas blast off and catch on. 

So, I loved this book. My intellectual friends have already heard WAY too much about my problems with Chomsky, and I'm only so lathered up over Noam because I love him, although I know it doesn't seem like it. Ya just hafta take my word. - OG

Chris Knight's website for further ideas about Chomsky and MIT

Here's an interview with Chris Knight in the journal Radical Anthropology from five or so years ago that gives a lot of the gist and pith of Decoding Chomsky. It was this interview, sent to me by Sue Howard, that felt like a revelation: "Here's a guy who seems to have maybe solved the Chomsky Problem!" 

If you have been taken by Chomsky's ideas about language and want to remediate, some suggestions:

-The Major Transitions of Evolution, by John Maynard Smith and Eors Szathmary
-Adam's Tongue, by Derek Bickerton
-Cultural Origins of Human Cognition, by Michael Tomasello
-Philosophy In The Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson
-From Molecule to Metaphor, by Jerome Feldman
-Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding, by Sarah Hrdy
-The Way We Think, by Mark Turner and Gilles Fauconnier

Here's something many of us are looking forward to: 7000 Universes: How the Languages We Speak Shape the Way We Think, by the stellar Lera Boroditsky. Gotta wait till 2018, though...

If you're way too busy and don't think you can get to reading Decoding Chomsky soon, HERE is a pretty damned good podcast interview of Chris Knight about Chomsky, by the thoughtful and erudite publisher and science fiction writer Douglas Lain.

Post scriptum: After writing about the Two Chomskys in light of William James's ideas of the "tough-minded" and "tender-minded" I remembered I blogged on it four years ago.

                                         Psychedelische Grafik von Bob Campbell

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Surveillance in Unistat Pre-Snowden, File #23a

"Life is either a great adventure or it is nothing." (see below)
"A case can be made...that secrecy is for losers. For people who don't know how important information really is. The Soviet Union realized this too late. Openness is now a singular, and singularly American, advantage. We put it in peril by poking along in an age now past. It is time to dismantle government secrecy, this most pervasive of all Cold War regulations. It is time to begin building the supports for the era of openness that is already upon us."
-Daniel Patrick Moynihan in his 1998 book Secrecy: The American Experience, p.227

Moynihan the intellectual in the Senate. Published 10 books before going to Congress, vacillated from NeoLiberal to NeoCon. You figure it out.
Meanwhile, after the Berlin Wall came down, the intellectuals I was reading (kicked out of academia or were never part of it), or Noam Chomsky (as special case), were (mostly) predicting "Islamic Terrorism" as what the Pentagon would need in order to keep their rotten Show on the road. None of these writers I was reading were allowed on TV, so for most Unistatians, this idea didn't exist.
                                                Kathryn Olmsted, History professor at
                                                 University of California-Davis, who writes
                                                books on spies and national security issues

Earlier this year I read U.C. Davis History professor Kathryn Olmsted's book Right Out of California, which has the thesis that the Unistatian Right as it's now constituted started in the farmland of California in the Depression, because FDR's labor people realized he needed the South, so there were no protections for labor organizers of the farmworkers in California. I found it fairly persuasive, and I'm a fan of Olmsted's books now.

In this book I happened upon the story of a US General named Ralph Deman, who had accumulated a massive file on anyone he thought might harbor thoughts he might deem "dangerous," that is: anything that didn't toe the corporate state line. And he shared his files with right wing groups and the cops. (See Right Out of California, pp.151-157)

And some of us at one time thought J. Edgar Hoover was the only one. I thought so in my 20s.

*-regarding Ralph Deman, one of Olmsted's grad students responded to an email query about information sources on him. Obviously you can Duck Duck Go Deman, but Scott Pittman cited books titled Policing America's Empire and Negative Intelligence.
Esquire magazine decided to send William S. Burroughs, Terry Southern, and Jean Genet to cover the 1968 Democratic Convention in "Czechago." Genet had a line: "The danger for America is not Mao's Thoughts; it is the proliferation of cameras." (see Smiling Through the Apocalypse: Esquire's History of the Sixties, p.98)

Poet as Distant Early Warning system?
While Patty Hearst's trial was ongoing, it came out that her mother - Catherine - gave or lent $60,000 to $70,000 to a company called Research West back in 1969. What was "Research West"? It was "a private right-wing spy organization that maintained files supplied by confessed burglar Jerome Ducote." (Patty Hearst and the Twinkie Murders, Paul Krassner, p.35) There had been journalistic investigations of this, but Hearst-owned newspaper reporters were told to stop investigating, for obvious reasons. A Santa Cruz paper - the Sundaz, not owned by the Hearsts, did investigate, and found that, before Mrs. Hearst bought it, it was supported by "contributions" averaging $1000 and, well, I'll quote Krassner here on who was "contributing":

Pacific Telephone, Pacific Gas and Electric, railroads, steamship lines, banks, and [Hearst's own] The Examiner. In return, the files were available to those companies, as well as to local police and sheriff departments, the FBI, the CIA and the IRS. The Examiner paid $1500 a year through 1975 to retain the services of Research West. (p.35, Krassner)

It gets deeper and more (of course!) nefarious, but I'd like you to read Krassner's book to see how much we've missed from the Official Story.

                                        Investigative satirist and national treasure
                                         Paul Krassner

The good folks at Open Culture are currently (as of the date I'm writing this) featuring an animated 1958 Aldous Huxley predicting our world. "Dystopian threats to freedom." How alarmist! And yet...
Aldous immediately presented a threat to assholes like J. Edgar Hoover (who denied the Mafia existed, because they knew he was gay and could crush him, and furthermore, he protected and was friends with a major mobster, Frank Costello, see The Secret Histories: An Anthology, ed. by John S. Friedman, article "Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover," by Anthony Summers, 1993, pp. 192-200), and other protectors of the 1%. Huxley arrived in Unistat in 1938, and author Herbert Mitgang obtained Huxley's FBI files. "Of the 130 pages, 111 were released to me, many heavily censored. The net of them: he and his daring and original writings were watched." - Dangerous Dossiers: Exposing the Secret War Against America's Greatest Authors, pp.192-194

Mitgang surmises the FBI tried to understand Huxley's famous book Brave New World, but apparently couldn't. Most bright 10th graders I know understand it. This has always been what we're dealing with, folks: losers. Cops who profess to love the Constitution, but in reality hate every bit of it. They (not all of them, of course) seem to be carriers of what Wilhelm Reich called "the emotional plague." 

Mitgang notes from Aldous's file that Hoover and his loser cop-pals thought Huxley was a threat, largely due to his overt pacifism. Think about that for awhile. Furthermore, the FBI subjected Brave New World to "cryptographic examination," and Mitgang observes, "but nothing subversive was discovered."

[NB: A bit of divagation: The British philosopher Peter Strawson would read my judgments on Hoover and his minions (as "assholes," etc) and assert that my judgments, which merely imply that they should be held accountable, reflect attitudes which derive from my own participation in personal relationships: forgiveness, resentment, gratitude, indignation, etc. I find this a very plausible idea.- OG]
I'm a subscriber to Muckrock, which specializes in obtaining and making public government information via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Not long ago I wondered about Robert Anton Wilson's file, so I made a request and got nowhere. Then I realized Michael Morisy of Muckrock had already tried to get RAW's FBI file, and posted THIS. Note the FBI were "unable to identify main file records responsive to FOIA." ("Main file records"? What others might there be?)

Then, as we read "Congress excluded three discrete categories of law enforcement and national security records from the requirements of the FOIA." You and I wonder what this means. We can't know. We're given some bureaucratic numbers and symbols to prove that what Congress did is true. Okay. Obama ran promising the "most transparent" administration ever, and yet 'tis more Orwell: he's probably been the least transparent. What do these assholes think "Freedom of Information" means?

Stupidly, I then realized my blogging friend Tom Jackson had already covered this in 2013. (Note the one comment was from Bruce Kodish, who has self-published a wonderful fat biography on Alfred Korzybski. If you're as interested in Korzybski as I am, you must get hold of this; it's a gem and divulges scads of info on its subject, info that seems to have only been privy to Korzybski's closest colleagues.)

If you've been involved in trying to get info under FOIA, you may have acquired government files that are so redacted that what's left is meaningless. So, we go from Orwell to Kafka. If you're not convinced, look at what the FBI sent Morisy on RAW: they say records for the request might exist. Or they might not. They won't tell us.

But we can be practically certain RAW has a fairly substantial file, somewhere in the Belly of the Beast.

From RAW's introduction to Donald Holmes's book The Illuminati Conspiracy: The Sapiens System:

During my last year of employment as Associate Editor of Playboy, a certain executive came into my office one day and closed the door behind him. He told me that my home phone was tapped and that I was under surveillance by the Red Squad of the Chicago Police Force. 

I was stunned, and asked how he knew this. 

He replied that certain people in the Playboy empire had made an arrangement with a Chicago police official. The official received regular money through some circuitous route that was not explained to me; in return he notified his Playboy contacts whenever an executive of the firm was under police investigation. 

That was when I first realized how often there are spies spying on spies.

RAW finds that, because he was involved in the anti-war movement and had talked to some Black Panthers, some spook for some agency dreamed up that RAW was running guns to the Black Panthers. RAW guesses some low-level spy wanted to beef up his reports to justify his work. Later RAW found out that there were "over 5000 government agents assigned to infiltrate peace groups in Chicago alone" (p.8), and that this was all part of COINTELPRO, which was meant to make everyone in a peace group paranoid that one of another of their fellows were spies for the government, and in effect reduce the efficacy of the peace movement...because we're a "free country" and our "way of life" is so superior to the Rooskies.

RAW says no one at Playboy thought he was dangerous, and offered to support him legally if anything happened.

Then RAW became an intimate of Dr. Leary, so that file must be very thick. Or one would think. But we don't know how to ask/guess the right questions in order to obtain why they thought Robert Anton Wilson was worth surveilling/wiretapping, etc.

Through most of his time as counterculture writer and activist, RAW knew he was being spied on, but decided to be amused by it, quoting Helen Keller: "Life is either a great adventure or it is nothing."

I know all of this seems comparatively ultra-innocent in light of what we know now that we're in the Snowden Era; I just want y'all to be aware of how the Official Story about "who we are, as a nation" clashes so radically with "reality."

                                                  grafikai Bob Campbell

Friday, September 9, 2016

On Compulsive Diarists, of Which I Seem To Be One

As of yesterday, I've been "keeping" a journal for 27 years now. I've probably missed writing something for a given day maybe 20 times, probably less. It is compulsive, and obviously a habit.

I've filled cheap spiral-bound lined notebooks - the cheapest I can find at a stationery store or supermarket - both sides of the page, with lots of lists of things in the top margin of the page, little bits of arithmetic.

I'll fill one up over 11 to 16 months, find a swatch of cheap masking tape and write the beginning and ending dates on it, then plaster the tape onto the cover of the notebook, then stash it away in a closet with the others.

Sounds kinda sick? Maybe. Sounds like something Prozac might help? Maybe. After a couple of years of doing it, I went on a kick of reading all of Gore Vidal: his historical novels, his quasi-surrealist "outrageous" novels (like Myra Breckinridge, but there are others), but - and Gore would've hated to see this - I think he was a better essayist than novelist. Even though I often vehemently disagree with Vidal - especially on the value of certain writers over others - I'm always impressed with his quite great ability as an essayist.

                            Gore Vidal, who half-jokingly asserted that diarists were dangerous.
                            When he was in his early twenties he lived with Anais Nin.

And one day I was reading an essay when the topic of diarists came up. Vidal thought - perhaps this was part arch-humor - that diarists were suspect. He linked assassins (like Arthur Bremer, for example) to their diaries. People who wrote only for themselves were suspect. It hurt, a little. But I kept on.

What the hell do I write? Well, the first few years I'd write a lot, every day. Because my life seemed exciting, and I wanted to remember it. Many years later I sat down and read the things I wrote in my early twenties...and it seems like I'm reading someone else's life. Frankly, I sound like a precocious 14 year old girl. "I fixed my bike!" Exclamation points. I'd like to think I'd been putting off re-packing the ball bearings, but I probably just fixed a flat and...was glad I was able to ride again. (!)

Now, I'll often note the mundane. I'll cover four days on one page. Whether I did yoga or not, stuff I ate, people I exchanged emails with. A particular interaction with a guitar student from the day. Oh-so quotidian, and I know you'd be bored to read it.

A reader may note I used the term "diarists" in the title of this blogspew, but when I talk to my friends, I say "journal." Because I've read many famous published diaries (Anais Nin, Samuel Pepys, Anne Frank, the usual suspects) and they seem like "literature" to me. We know Nin thought there would be readers of her diaries. Having an audience in mind greatly changes the content and tone, to put it mildly. Certainly there are entries among my logorrhea that seem fit to be read by others, but when I think about it, I'm one of those compulsive jotters who's really okay with them not being read after my death. What the hell? Page through them for a day or two, have a laff, learn something new and lurid about beastly-dead Michael, then fer crissakes: burn the things for warmth. Or light.

Or just to buy space in a closet.

Okay, some of you actually liked finding great-grandma-ma's diary from the late 19th century. I get it. Do I see myself as great grandma-ma? No. But perhaps I should...

Another reason I don't call myself a "diarist" is that I used to think it gendered: women keep diaries; men write in journals. I don't believe that anymore, but I'm okay with being stuck in my ways. Also: there's a sense in which the bulk of my dull recordings of my days seems almost more like a "log" and don't even deserve the same term as what Anne Frank did.

To return to Gore Vidal's riff - which he repeated a few times - I think he has a point. When Jodi Arias was arrested she wrote a memoir (apparently) in prison, "in case I become famous." Ted Kaczynski, rather famously, had a manifesto. Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik, who killed 77 and left over 300 injured, gifted us with a 1500 page Facebook document in which he railed against immigrants, multiculturalism, how Western culture is dead, how he felt close to his "Viking" heritage, etc. He also dropped some of his charm onto YouTube, which I haven't seen. Breivik plagiarized from Kaczynski too. The unkindest cut.

Jared Lee Loughner, who shot Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and others, was found a paranoid schizophrenic concerned with the English language, alternative currencies, and a fear of mind control. He bequeathed something for us all on YouTube before heading down to the rally to shoot. (Understanding and representation of Loughner in my neural circuits are adjacent to Robert De Niro's character in Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle and secret service guys, and in a private moment, "Are you talkin' to me? And no wonder: Screenwriter Paul Schrader had Arthur Bremer in mind.)

The Virginia Tech killer, Seung-Hui Choi, sent an 1800 page statement to NBC, with a cache of personal videos and photos. He was inspired by Columbine. LAPD cop Chris Dorner, who was fired from the Ramparts division, left an 11 page manifesto about why he had to kill (it was a "necessary evil"), and he was pissed about the Rodney King incident and how he was treated by fellow cops. So he lost it. I remember watching that manhunt live on TV in Los Angeles. The cops looked about as ready to take Dorner alive as they were ready to take the SLA alive, once they were sure Patty Hearst wasn't in that safe-house in Los Angeles.

I could go on. And on and on. And you may say, "Yea, but you're talking about manifestoes and YouTube videos and Facebook rants." And I say, yea: I think social media has made a lot of people into diarists of a sort.

But really: the Vidal riff is too arch by half. Most of us do it for therapy or simply to ward off "real life" when it becomes a bit too intense. When I read a greatly abridged version of Pepys's diary a few years ago, I was struck by how often he went to the theatre and saw Shakespeare. He notes which play, and I think, "Gee, he saw Taming of the Shrew just a few months ago." But I'm like that with film noir. Read my...errr...journal and note how often I re-watched Double Indemnity or Out of the Past or The Killers or even Armored Car Robbery (saw this again two nights ago: lots of 1950 location shots near places in LA I used to live, and Charles McGraw may be the most hard-boiled actor in all of noir)...

The writer Sarah Manguso published a 93 page book about her 20+ years of compulsive diarizing, and I found this interview with Julie Beck interesting. I think Manguso's sickness (rare autoimmune disease that she wrote a book about) and middle class upbringing must have something to do with writing 800,000 words and counting. I have never counted words, not really caring. Manguso resonates with me about when she started: things in her life seemed momentous, and so much had happened to her, to her own mind. And she wanted to remember it. It is a way of dealing with mortality and memory, no doubt. She thinks keeping a diary will serve as a prevention against "living thoughtlessly." I can see that. But I'm too close to it all to be know to what extent it worked. It does provide solace amid anxiety. The word "graphomania" comes up.

For Manguso, pregnancy and its hormonal cataclysm changed her view of her compulsive diarizing: ordinary "reality" became as important as those "momentous" events, which usually, in hindsight were not so momentous. My favorite line from the interview:

Every exchange that I had with another person, everything I observed, every little throwaway moment I had on the subway observing this and that, the denseness of the experience just seemed unmanageable without writing it down.

For me, this is redolent of a Borges piece, or maybe something from Oliver Sacks.

Here's a huge difference between Manguso and me: I tend to want to "manage" my excitement over ideas I've read in books. Rarely have little impersonal moments with strangers made it into my log/journal/diary, unless they were exceptionally funny or wonderfully weird. I have witnessed verbal tiffs between friends and acquaintances and wrote what I could remember when I got home, in case anyone asks later. What did we do last Christmas? Hold on, I'll go look it up.

In the Beck interview Manguso comments on her diary book, Ongoingness: The End of a Diary, but also her other books. She says narrative, whether in reading or writing, doesn't come easy to her, hence her style. Then she adds, "and I don't need to read or re-read an entire book or re-watch an entire movie." But I love to re-read my favorite books. With each re-reading I'm able to see more and go deeper into that world. Same with films. But: I am not enamored with narrative either; I return to my books and films for mood, style, effects, form. Last night I saw Truffaut's Jules and Jim for maybe the eighth time. And still, it's only as the film nears the climax, that I'm reminded of the ending, which I remember being shocked by the first time. It's quite a climax...so why do I seem to only remember it hazily? I think because I watch it for the friendship of Jules and Jim, the depiction of countryside in France and Germany 1900-1930, French manners, the simmering mental illness of Catherine, the way they negotiate the menage, the accepted insanity of WWI and Jules and Jim being terrified they might kill each other, the interspersed file footage, the cuts and freeze frames and sheer beauty of Jeanne Moreau. The voice-over. Last night I noted that the first five minutes seem "new" to me (they're not, of course: my brain is blitzed by the romantic mood of the opening), and that the denouement seems to barely register for me.

I guess some relatively compartmentalized area of my self sees the climax, remembers the shock from my first viewing, sort of shrugs it off as "Of course you had to end a film like this that way for it to have the emotionally logical effect of such a plot, its syntax, the chaotic madness of the femme etc..." Then I quickly go back to being bathed in the incredible pathos of the film. (In truth I love Truffaut's 400 Blows even more.)

What actually happens to the characters at the end of Jules and Jim seems trivial to my emotional needs, apparently. I once worked with a librarian who could give a detailed chronological synopsis of what happens in a work of fiction, and I thought her simply marvelous for this display, so different was her mind from mine.

This apprehension of how individual nervous systems abstract signals from our environment and concentrate them: this otherness of other peoples' minds is what makes me love them. Because, somehow, perhaps my diarizing helped me in this appreciation, via personal feedback?

Finally, I put forth the idea that "social media" has made many of us diarizers. This may be part of why I don't "do" social media. I've yet to Tweet. I was on Facebook for one day. I've heard of "Snapchat" but I don't really know what it is, nor do I care.

However, I started blogging in order to see what I think about ideas, and maybe entertain certain strange minds that resonate with mine. If blogging of the OG sort can be considered social media, so be it: I do social media. But no doubt that rare handful of posts that are mostly about "me" must qualify as social media. And this post seems the most self-indulgent one I've done. I'll try to wait a long time before I write in such a personal way again. Some aspect of my nervous system seems to be pushing itself to the fore and saying "This wasn't an OG post!"

Oh, well.

Some Sources Read Just Before Writing This
"Poor Historians: Some Notes on the Medical Memoir," by Suzanne Koven
"The Pleasure of Keeping - and Re-reading - Diaries," by Elisa Segrave
"Personal Manifestos: Never A Good Sign"
Jia Tolentino's insightful review of Manguso's book about her diary

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