Wednesday, April 29, 2015

M is for Man of La Mancha

Sub-title: "I was a Teenage Carrasco."

Man of La Mancha has been a popular Broadway musical since before I was born, and it was based (in part) on a novel that turns 400 this very year.

You might be wondering where the manifesto is, here.  It's not the play.  I'd like to make the case that its most famous song, The Impossible Dream, contains lyrics worthy of nailing up on a church doorway.

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong
To love pure and chaste from afar
To try when your arms are too weary
To reach the unreachable star

The original story of Don Quixote was often slapstick and sometimes a bit cruel.  However, playwright Dale Wasserman's take on the conjoined lives of Miguel Cervantes and his fictional knight became something sublime.  The play contrasts the lives of two people: one successful and "sane" -- but cynical and selfish -- and the other "insane" but also kind, magnanimous, and super-inspiring to those around him.  Who's to say that the first one has more of a right to make his way in the world than the second one?

The second one, Don Quixote himself, sings The Impossible Dream as an encapsulation of his chivalric quest.  The repeated impossibilities in the lyrics make it seem he already knows that his worldview is out of step with everyone else's.  He doesn't care.

This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far

To fight for the right
Without question or pause
To be willing to march into Hell
For a heavenly cause

For people my age, and a bit older, this song a bit of an old cliché.  We heard the likes of Robert Goulet and Jim Nabors belt it out on TV shows, after all.  But it was the 60s, and unrealistic idealism was in the air.  I wonder if the sky-high hopes of the Space Race were an inspiration for the lyricists.  This song was also was my first peek through some narrow cracks in a completely rationalist point of view.

I was first introduced to Man of La Mancha in a high school English class.  Our teacher (who was something of a 60s throwback himself) gave us all copies of the script, assigned each kid to a role, and had us read it.  When the script called for the songs, the teacher played them from a vinyl record of the original cast recording -- so we wouldn't embarrass ourselves trying to sing.

I was a bit upset with this whole situation at first, since I was type-cast (ever the science geek) as the rationalist villain of the story, Dr. Sanson Carrasco.  But, if you're familiar with the play, you'll know what I mean when I say this was a mirror that I needed to be faced with.

I'm not sure if I live my life up to the ideals of this song, but I strive, I strive.

And I know if I'll only be true
To this glorious quest
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I'm laid to my rest

And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star!

Monday, April 27, 2015

L is for Luke

This is a slightly weird one.  I'm not on Tumblr, but I do browse a few interesting accounts.  The informal Star Wars themed manifesto that I'm about to re-post (or re-blog, or re-tumble, or whatever those darned kids are calling it these days) came from a pair of people whose only names I know are their Tumblr handles.  It's long -- and there's some salty language ahead -- but if you're a Star Wars fan, it's worth it.

First, someone named fialleril posted the following, in response to a challenge to provide the "Top Five Things About Luke Skywalker:"
Okay friend, well I hope you are prepared for an explosion of feelings here.

1. His character arc. I adore Luke at all stages of his character development (and tbh I really have no patience for people who talk about “whiny Luke”). I love him because he goes the whole journey - from this relatively inexperienced, but still profoundly earnest young man to someone who is wise and compassionate and absolutely himself. I love that his journey is hard-fought. He’s a fundamentally good person, yes, and that’s one of my fave things about him too, but he’s not this naturally all-forgiving incarnation of compassion. His compassion is burning and hard as the twin suns, and he works at it, makes a conscious decision to live that way, and has to keep re-making that decision, over and over and over again, often in the face of what everyone around him is telling him. And he makes that decision because he’s been through the depths, because he survived the annihilation of self that was Bespin for him, and he came back out from the underworld, carrying with him the knowledge of death and resurrection. He has one of the best executed mythical story arcs out there.

2. His earnestness. I mentioned that above, too, but I gotta mention it again. I really love characters who are just unapologetically decent, earnest people - people who care, people who dedicate themselves wholeheartedly to what they believe in, people who are idealistic and live their lives in that idealism, who are often wrongly assumed to be naive or foolish or unrealistic because they choose to believe in the goodness of humanity. Luke is all of those things, and often in spite of what quite a lot of people would consider evidence to the contrary, and I love him for it.

3. His goofiness. Characters who are all of the things listed above and also enormous dweebs are my greatest weakness of all. I said that the scene where they’re captured by Ewoks and Luke is just giggling behind his hand as Threepio insists he’s not allowed to impersonate a deity is one of my favorite Luke scenes ever. I was not exaggerating.

I don’t think Luke is much of a prankster, though he probably enjoys other people’s pranks. But I do think he’s probably (in)famous for his ridiculous puns. Han is constantly groaning about it. Leia is more likely to sigh fondly and say, “Well, that’s Luke.”

Things only get worse when he starts chatting more regularly with his father’s ghost. (Anakin’s jokes are awful. And I have a headcanon that ghost!Anakin, who is finally free for the first time in…ever, has really cut loose and is probably the kind of overly intense, overly dweeby person who’s just so awed by life and existence and everything that he’s caught in a state of constant wonder. And terrible jokes. But I digress.) Anyway, sometimes Luke passes on Anakin’s jokes, which always make Leia groan even more, and Han just stares incredulously every time, like, “Darth Vader told you that joke?! I refuse to believe that. It’s a fucking terrible joke.”

Then eventually Han and Leia have kids and Luke becomes the cheesy-but-awesome uncle, which is literally everything he ever wanted out of life.

Oops, I guess this became a headcanon entry. Oh well!

4. The way he interacts with Artoo and Threepio. Luke never seems to think of them as “just droids.” Even when he first meets them, he treats them like people with their own thoughts and experiences - thoughts and experiences that he is genuinely interested in learning about. His relationship with Artoo undergoes a character development arc all its own, just like his relationships with the biological characters, and I adore that. The way they talk to each other is just wonderful.

5. Luke is more Jedi than the Jedi. Or, to put it the way I’ve been saying it for years (and wow, it really is years now, what a horrifying thought!), he’s the only one who ever really gets it.

Say what you will about Anakin in AOTC, but I actually really like his definition of compassion there. And he claims it’s central to the Jedi way of life, but the cold hard truth is that we don’t see any prequel era Jedi ever actually living that way. Compassion is hard, so much harder than fighting, or even than controlling your own feelings. Compassion is knife-edged and burning like the sun, because true compassion makes you see - the other, and yourself.

In the first numbered point I talked about the journey into, and back out of, the underworld. In some ways I think Luke is the only one of the Jedi who actually makes the anabasis, the journey back from the depths. Everyone else gets stuck in that place of death. Anakin’s stuck-ness is most obvious, but Obi-Wan and Yoda, too, are trapped and largely powerless in their respective exiles. There’s no way forward for them. They can teach Luke, but all they can teach him is what they know, which is a binary, Dark and Light, good and evil absolutes, the fullest and final expression of which is Obi-Wan’s flat-out admission that they’ve trained Luke to kill his own father, because that’s the only choice.

None of the Old Republic Jedi ever could have done what Luke does, which is to throw away his sword and stop fighting. And I love that THAT is the moment when he says, “I am a Jedi” - that moment in which he is, in so many ways, acting least like the Jedi of old. There he is, a Jedi confronted with two Sith Lords, and his greatest action is to refuse to fight. Something that would have been literally unthinkable for any of the Jedi of the old Order. But not just “I am a Jedi,” no, he says, “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” Everything about that statement is like a perfect antithesis of the old Jedi Order, from the words he says to the actions he takes along with them.

“This weapon is your life,” says Obi-Wan, and he makes it sound like a common Jedi aphorism. This weapon is your life, and Luke throws it away. Because Obi-Wan and Yoda and all the other Jedi were good, and they were wise, and they had millennia of tradition, and they were wrong.

So Luke throws away his lightsaber and rejects the binary understanding of reality, and that’s when Luke names himself, both a Jedi, and his father’s son.

And the thing is, he’s right. He is a Jedi. If compassion is central to a Jedi’s life, Luke Skywalker may very well be the only Jedi that has ever been.
- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Wow.  Very cool.  Harry Knowles kind of foreshadowed some of these sentiments in a quote that I once posted here, but this went much further.

Back on Tumblr, someone named karigan-gladheon (whose account doesn't seem to exist any more?) made a pithy, but insightful follow-up comment:
Also Luke setting an example which makes other people feel compassion:

Han Solo, no-strings-attatched smuggler who risks his own life because of that stupid boy with his stupid ideals who somehow became his true friends.

Fucking Darth Vader, children-murdering super evil villain, who cannot stand to see his boy die who so long ago was the proof of Anakin Skywalker’s love and dreams.

And Mara Jade, brain-washed professional assassin, who somehow can’t go through with killing that one annoying farmboy who keeps offering her options and second chances and friendship and is so kind even though actual people aren’t supposed to be like that.

Luke is a fucking Disney princess and his super power is love.
- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Need I say more?  :-)

Friday, April 24, 2015

K is for Kipling

"Do you like Kipling?"
"I don't know, you naughty boy; I've never kippled."

Today's manifesto is a well-known poem.  Well-known?  Probably well-worn and cliché, to lots of people.  It's Rudyard Kipling's If—  (The only work of art I know with an em-dash as part of its title.)

Though lots of people leave off the dash

I'm sure that many see it as dated and utterly Victorian, but I'm still charmed by it.  The poem is framed as advice given from father to son.  Each stanza starts a thought, then pauses to start another.
If you can keep your head when all about you
  Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
  But make allowance for their doubting too;
You'll see where these thoughts are headed at the end.  But before then, the stakes get raised.  Critics have made hay about the stereotypical English upper-class stoicism that Kipling suggests be the proper response to life's troubles...
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
  And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
  Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
  And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
  And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
  And never breathe a word about your loss;
...but in some arenas of life we could probably use more of this grown-up approach.  There's more, but it's the last four lines that are the most memorable.
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
  With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
  And -- which is more -- you’ll be a Man, my son.
I didn't learn about this poem until I was about 21, when I saw it referenced in a slightly mopey 1980s comic book story about how the Flash's sidekick was having a tough time living up to the glory of his superhero mentor.  It was kind of silly and melodramatic, but at least the "sixty seconds worth of distance run" was a decent fit with super-fast-running costumed capers.

Even more recently, I discovered another poem -- similarly full of lines that start with "If..." that is quite inspiring, too.  In 1945, Alma Androzzo wrote a song called "If I Can Help Somebody."  It was later made famous by Mahalia Jackson and several other popular singers, and it inspired Martin Luther King Jr. throughout his life.
If I can help somebody as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody with a word or a song,
If I can show somebody he is travelling wrong,
Then my living shall not be in vain.
. . .
If I can do my duty, as a good man ought,
If I can bring back beauty to a world up wrought,
If I can spread love's message as the Master taught,
Then my living shall not be in vain.
Does it have anything to do with Kipling's poem?  Not really, but when you look at them side by side, they serve as two neat "bookends."  Remember the two extreme impulses of manifestos that I've been thinking about?  "Do your own thing" versus "Be nice to one another."  These two If's certainly personify the two extremes, don't you think?  (Long-time readers will know that I'm a sucker for these kinds of quasi-symbolic idea pairings...)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

J is for Jerry Maguire

At the beginning of Cameron Crowe's 1996 movie Jerry Maguire, the main character stays up all night to write a mission statement (more a manifesto than a memo) about the future of his business.  It takes him by storm.
"I am not a writer but I can’t stop from writing this. It is something pure, from the deepest part of me."
Of course, he gets into trouble after he impulsively makes a few hundred copies of it, complete with the Holden Caulfield-esqe cover, and distributes it to everyone at his sports agency company.

In my opinion, the movie kind of goes downhill from there.  But that first scene grabs me every time.  Only recently I learned that Cameron Crowe actually wrote the whole mission statement, not just the snippets that we hear on screen.  You can read all 5,600 words of it here.  It's really quite good.
How can we do something surprising, and memorable with our lives? How can we turn this job, in small but important ways, into a better representation of ourselves? Most of us would easily say that we are our jobs. That’s obvious from the late hours we all keep. So then, it is bigger than work, isn’t it? It is about us.
How do we wish to define our lives? 
The lesson Jerry learns, which gets him into all that trouble, is that quality matters more than quantity, and people matter even more.
The answer is fewer clients. Less dancing. More truth. We must crack open the tightly clenched fist of commerce and give a little back for the greater good. Eventually revenues will be the same, and that goodness will be infectious. We will have taken our number oneness and turned it into something greater. And eventually smaller will become bigger, in every way, and especially in our hearts.
True confession time.  I've had a text file sitting on my computer called "quo-vadis.txt" for almost 10 years.  Every so often, I think of something to add to it... one more little snippet about where I think my own professional field should be headed.  The bullet items are in the second person imperative, addressed to future-me.  Maybe to future-us.  Here's how a few of them begin:
  • Give...
  • Rail against...
  • Don't half-ass...
  • Be wary of...
Someday I plan to get myself into trouble, too.  I'm with ya, Jerry.

Let us start a revolution. Let us start a revolution that is not just about basketball shoes, or official licensed merchandise. I am prepared to die for something. I am prepared to live for our cause. The cause is caring about each other. The secret to this job is personal relationships.

Monday, April 20, 2015

I is for Independence

I think today's post might be the most explicitly political of my A-to-Z series, but since the topic is about 240 years old, I don't anticipate it stoking up much heated partisan argument....

It may be naive American parochialism, but I have an unabashed love of the Declaration of Independence.  Although it's been drilled into the minds of schoolchildren for centuries, it's still very much a fiery manifesto.  Have we always upheld its words?
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
No, but our own failures should not detract from the worthiness of the ideal.  The original abuses that led to rebellion and revolution were laid out "to a candid world" in the Declaration, and capped with an air-tight conclusion,
A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Although on the face of it this conclusion may not be controversial, it's the application that's tricky.  What happens when some people think the situation applies, and others don't?

Thomas Jefferson wrote the original draft of the Declaration in June of 1776, and the Continental Congress in Philadelphia proceeded to do lots of editing by committee.  That's not usually a good thing.  However, it did prune away some of his more flowery flourishes (like shouting "our everlasting Adieu! eternal separation!" to Great Britain).  Unfortunately, the need for compromise between all 13 colonies also pruned away Jefferson's strong language against slavery.

My own connection to the events of July 4, 1776 is inevitably tangled up with the celebration of the U.S. bicentennial in 1976.  For those of you who weren't alive or old enough to know, the bicentennial was everywhere.  As a 9 year old kid, I couldn't help but get swept up in it.  Around that time I grew to love the musical 1776, which attempted to tell the story of the drafting and adoption of the Declaration as accurately as possible... with people breaking into song and dance for no reason.

Whovians will know that Ben Franklin there was the narrator of Tom Baker's imported adventures on PBS

Being that the bicentennial was also taking place within a decade of the Apollo moon landings, the patriotic imagery kind of got mixed up a bit.  At times it seemed like we were we celebrating our ultimate independence... from the Earth's gravity!  :-)  Still, I loved the lunar-themed reverses of the silver dollars from that era...

And how could I forget the anthem of the time, written (ironically?) by two Brits for their American friend's newly formed tennis team?  I've always identified with the lyrics -- especially since I spent many of my formative years in Philadelphia itself.  The analogy between America's independence and the hard-won freedom of a lone young person, striking out into the world, has always been with me.

The whippoorwill of freedom

Friday, April 17, 2015

H is for Hacktivism

Over the last few decades, computers have changed the world.  Later in this challenge I'll have at least one more post about how they might continue to change our lives in the fuuuuuture, but for now I'd just like to look back.

The highly individualistic "hacker ethic" is something that's attracted manifesto writers since the early 1980s.  Combine a love of sharing and openness with pie-in-the-sky dreams about changing the world, and you've got a perfect storm of virtual optimism.  Back in 2013, I discovered some early manifestos that took the form of magazine ads.  Another early codification of this ethic was set down in writing in Steven Levy's 1984 book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution:
  1. Access to computers -- and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works -- should be unlimited and total. Always yield to the Hands-On Imperative.
  2. All information should be free.
  3. Mistrust authority -- promote decentralization.
  4. Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not criteria such as degrees, age, race, sex, or position.
  5. You can create art and beauty on a computer.
  6. Computers can change your life for the better.
Right about the same time, Richard Stallman (sometimes called the last of the old-school hackers) began the GNU project...

...which of course came along with its own honest to goodness manifesto.  Stallman's purpose was to use grass-roots collaboration to create quality free software that wasn't beholden to corporate interests:
I consider that the Golden Rule requires that if I like a program I must share it with other people who like it. Software sellers want to divide the users and conquer them, making each user agree not to share with others. I refuse to break solidarity with other users in this way. I cannot in good conscience sign a nondisclosure agreement or a software license agreement.
It becomes more manifesto-ish when the ultimate societal goal is revealed: increasing everybody's leisure time!  :-)
In the long run, making programs free is a step toward the postscarcity world, where nobody will have to work very hard just to make a living. People will be free to devote themselves to activities that are fun, such as programming, after spending the necessary ten hours a week on required tasks such as legislation, family counseling, robot repair and asteroid prospecting. [...] We have already greatly reduced the amount of work that the whole society must do for its actual productivity, but only a little of this has translated itself into leisure for workers because much nonproductive activity is required to accompany productive activity. The main causes of this are bureaucracy and isometric struggles against competition. Free software will greatly reduce these drains in the area of software production. We must do this, in order for technical gains in productivity to translate into less work for us.
In subsequent years, Stallman came to realize that people came to have different expectations of the word "free," so some clarifications had to be made to the manifesto.
When we call software “free,” we mean that it respects the users' essential freedoms: the freedom to run it, to study and change it, and to redistribute copies with or without changes. This is a matter of freedom, not price, so think of “free speech,” not “free beer.”
See more details here.  I'm not sure I understand all the nuances.

Of course, a wild west mentality can produce black-hatted villains alongside the white-hatted heroes.  We're all familiar with the bad stuff that can be done with computers.  However, dipping our toes back in the original wellsprings of idealism can remind us why the wildness was (hopefully!) worth it.

No gnews is good gnews

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

G is for G'Kar

Back in the 1990s, I was a big fan of the sci-fi TV show Babylon 5.  It was a weird show... part action adventure, part philosophical and political intrigue, and part break-your-heart melodrama.  It pioneered the use of long, planned-out story-arcs that are much more common these days.  Creator and writer J. Michael Straczynski also loved him some long, eloquent speeches that could double as manifestos.

Toward the end of the series, the main characters were involved in creating a new Interstellar Alliance, to help rebuild the galaxy after some awful wars.  It was natural that they turned to the tragic, messianic figure of G'Kar to write the preamble to their new constitution.

Without further ado, let me give you G'Kar's "Declaration of Principles:"

The universe speaks in many languages, but only one voice.
The language is not Narn, or Human, or Centauri, or Gaim, or Minbari.
It speaks in the language of hope.
It speaks in the language of trust.
It speaks in the language of strength and the language of compassion.
It is the language of the heart and the language of the soul,
But always it is the same voice.
It is the voice of our ancestors, speaking through us,
And the voice of our inheritors, waiting to be born.
It is the small, still voice that says
We are one.
No matter the blood
No matter the skin
No matter the world
No matter the star,
We are one.
No matter the pain
No matter the darkness
No matter the loss
No matter the fear,
We are one.
Here, gathered together in common cause, we agree to recognize this
singular truth and this singular rule:
That we must be kind to one another.
Because each voice enriches us and ennobles us and each voice lost
diminishes us.

We are the voice of the Universe, the soul of creation, the fire
that will light the way to a better future.
We are one.

What more can I say?  In the dark days after 9/11/2001, I posted excerpts from the above on an old web page of mine.

- - -

Oh, I can say one more thing:  Another reason that I loved this phase of Babylon 5 was that the Interstellar Alliance ended up being the new home of the Rangers, an elite chivalric order of space-faring warriors.  Sorry Klingons, the Rangers were just too cool for school...

Entil'Zha veni, baby

Monday, April 13, 2015

F is for Futurism

‘Let’s go!’ I said. ‘Friends, away! Let’s go! Mythology and the Mystic Ideal are defeated at last. We’re about to see the Centaur’s birth and, soon after, the first flight of Angels!… We must shake at the gates of life, test the bolts and hinges. Let’s go! Look there, on the earth, the very first dawn! There’s nothing to match the splendor of the sun’s red sword, slashing for the first time through our millennial gloom!’

Whoa... Although I had heard about the Italian Futurist movement of the first few decades of the 20th century, I'd never read Tommaso Marinetti's 1909 Futurist Manifesto.

I'm not sure why, but I feel like a better person now, for having read it.

Does it make much sense?  Not really!  The art and architecture that eventually bore the name "futurist" developed more slowly... It took a while for the raw feelings of the manifesto to gel into a distinct visual style.

The manifesto proper was a list of 11 points, embedded in the midst of Marinetti's first-person bombastic stylings.  Here are the first five:
  1. We intend to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and fearlessness.
  2. Courage, audacity, and revolt will be essential elements of our poetry.
  3. Up to now literature has exalted a pensive immobility, ecstasy, and sleep. We intend to exalt aggressive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap.
  4. We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath—a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.
  5. We want to hymn the man at the wheel, who hurls the lance of his spirit across the Earth, along the circle of its orbit.
The succeeding points took a slightly darker detour, wherein war ("the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers") was exalted and these young turks reveled in the destruction of the old (museums and libraries!).  But this was all prior to the Great War, and in some parts of Italy the weight of history can be quite heavy.  Should they be forgiven?  Maybe not -- Marinetti ended up supporting Mussolini quite strongly -- but in 1909 it was all quite honest and fresh.  Let me skip to the 11th and final item in the manifesto:
11. We will sing of great crowds excited by work, by pleasure, and by riot; we will sing of the multicolored, polyphonic tides of revolution in the modern capitals; we will sing of the vibrant nightly fervor of arsenals and shipyards blazing with violent electric moons; greedy railway stations that devour smoke-plumed serpents; factories hung on clouds by the crooked lines of their smoke; bridges that stride the rivers like giant gymnasts, flashing in the sun with a glitter of knives; adventurous steamers that sniff the horizon; deep-chested locomotives whose wheels paw the tracks like the hooves of enormous steel horses bridled by tubing; and the sleek flight of planes whose propellers chatter in the wind like banners and seem to cheer like an enthusiastic crowd.
The remaining parts of the manifesto talk a lot about how the oldest of their cadre is just turning thirty, and that in ten years they expect the next generation of revolutionaries to put them out to pasture.  A bit Logan's Run I think, but again, I'm swept up by their passion.
You have objections?—Enough! Enough! We know them… We’ve understood!… Our fine deceitful intelligence tells us that we are the revival and extension of our ancestors—Perhaps!… If only it were so!—But who cares? We don’t want to understand!… Woe to anyone who says those infamous words to us again!
Lift up your heads!
Erect on the summit of the world, once again we hurl defiance to the stars!

Friday, April 10, 2015

e is for edward estlin

The lower-case in the title is in honor of poet e. e. cummings, who often preferred that typographic format.  Most people wouldn't consider him in the same breath with the word "manifesto,"  but have those people ever read the introduction to his 1938 edition of Collected Poems?
The poems to come are for you and for me and are not for mostpeople.

-- it's no use trying to pretend that mostpeople and ourselves are alike. Mostpeople have less in common with ourselves than the squarerootofminusone. You and I are human beings; mostpeople are snobs.
His style takes some acclimation, but his intent is soon clear.  A quick reading might make you think he's being a bit snobbish himself, but I think the main goal is intimacy... it's just you (the reader) and him (the writer) and you've shut everyone else out of your conversation.  And the main thing he's telling you (yes, you!) is that you've got to remain open to the possibilities.
you and I are not snobs.  We can never be born enough.  We are human beings; for whom birth is a supremely welcome mystery, the mystery of growing; the mystery which happens only and whenever we are faithful to ourselves.  You and I wear the dangerous looseness of doom and find it becoming.  Life, for eternal us, is now; and now is much too busy being a little more than everything to seem anything, catastrophic included.
Manifestos are all about a better, more intense, more real future, and he paints that into his word-picture, too.
Miracles are to come.  With you I leave a remembrance of miracles: they are by somebody who can love and who shall be continually reborn, a human being; somebody who said to those near him, when his fingers would not hold a brush "tie it into my hand" --
I have a feeling that he's quoting some actual artist who may have said something like that.  The ultimate ginger, perhaps?  Searching the interwebs for this quote just gives me back this essay.

I referred obliquely to Doctor Who with my Van Gogh link up there.  As one gets to the end of this slightly garbled manifesto, it increasingly reminds me of the Doctor's wide-eyed, unblinking perspective on the universe...
nothing proving or sick or partial.  Nothing false, nothing difficult or easy or small or colossal.  Nothing ordinary or extraordinary, nothing emptied or filled, real or unreal; nothing feeble and known or clumsy and guessed. [...] Never the murdered finalities of wherewhen and yesno, impotent nongames of wrongright and rightwrong; never to gain or pause, never the soft adventure of undoom, greedy anguishes and cringing ecstasies of inexistence; never to rest and never to have: only to grow.

Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question

Epilogue:  I couldn't have written this post -- which mentions e e cummings, intimacy, and gingers -- without thinking of something, someone very specific.  So I might as well spill the beans.  Yes, it was a girl (a redhead more ginge' than Amy Pond or Geri Halliwell) who first got me interested in this strange poet.  If I ever get back to that fiction piece that I started tinkering with last fall, you'll see her immortalized as a Nobel Prize winner.  :-)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

D is for Dorian Gray

True confession time: I've never read Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray.  I enjoyed Wilde's Importance of Being Earnest, and have heard great things about his only novel.  (Though some online plot summaries make it sound like a veritable chemistry lesson of Victorian potions and poisons.)

After the novel initially appeared serialized in a magazine, Wilde republished it in 1891, putting back in the naughty bits that the magazine censors cut out.  He also added a manifesto-like preface, which I'll include first as a verbatim page view -- to preserve his strange indenting typography -- then later call out some choice quotes.

All art is immoral, but you should still click to enlarge.

I find it a bit incoherent and dream-like, but I think that's part of Wilde's overall charm.  This preface sounds a bit like a mathematical proof, which starts out with a postulate,
The artist is the creator of beautiful things.
and ends up with a conclusion,
All art is quite useless.
Q.E.D.?  But there are winding byways in between that shouldn't be missed, such as...
All art is at once surface and symbol.
Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.
Those who read the symbol do so at their peril.
Wise words for all works of art, and for Biblical exegesis, too!  :-)

Wilde also treated this fugue-like series of propositions as a quasi-legal defense of his subject matter, which tended to go beyond the prudish norms that were supposed to constrain a respectable upper-class artist like himself...
No artist has ethical sympathies. An ethical sympathy in an artist is an unpardonable mannerism of style.

No artist is ever morbid. The artist can express everything.

Thought and language are to the artist instruments of an art.

Vice and virtue are to the artist materials for an art.
My favorite part, about critical responses to art,
Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital.
When critics disagree, the artist is in accord with himself.
kind of sounds like something that Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O'Toole) would have said in his memorable soliloquy from the end of Pixar's Ratatouille, doesn't it?

I aim to be in accord with myself.

Monday, April 6, 2015

C is for Closer to the Heart

Long-time blog readers will know that I'm a die-hard fan of the Trio from Toronto... the Three Men of Willowdale... the prog-rock band Rush.  Their music is great, but the main draw for me has been the lyrical literature of Neil Peart.

Peart has written thousands of words of song lyrics, and tens of thousands of words in his autobiographical books.  Today, though, I'm focusing on one of his shortest songs -- and one of the few on which he collaborated with someone else on the lyrics (more on that below).  It's the opening number of Side 2 of their 1977 Farewell to Kings album, "Closer to the Heart."

And the men who hold high places
Must be the ones to start
To mould a new reality
Closer to the Heart

There's certainly a manifesto-like feel to it, right?  Crafting a new reality is pretty monumental, and it makes some sense to look to the experts -- the people in the know (not necessarily the people in power) to get it started.

The Blacksmith and the Artist
Reflect it in their art
[They] Forge their creativity
Closer to the Heart

Here Neil harkens back a bit to his quasi-Objectivist roots (i.e., songs like Anthem) to sing the song of the sole auteur, reaching for lonely pinnacles of creativity.  But I think he had broadened his perspective a bit by this time, since the next verse says that

Philosophers and Ploughmen
Each must know his part
To sow a new mentality
Closer to the Heart

I don't think he went to the opposite extreme here, despite the fact that it kind of sounds like "from each according to his ability; to each according to his need."  (And you may still be surprised that I used the letter "C" for this song and not that other famous manifesto!)  But no, it's still individuals he's championing here, and the point of "the Heart" is to work together harmoniously and freely...

You can be the Captain
I will draw the Chart
Sailing into destiny
Closer to the Heart.

Thus, I guess it's only fair that this song be one of the few lyrical collaborations that Neil Peart has undertaken.  The album credits a friend of the band named Peter Talbot with writing the first verse, and then Neil filled in the rest.  I couldn't find much about Peter Talbot online, but I did find one site that claimed he is the same person as John Michael Talbot, a wizened Christian evangelist and songwriter.

I can't vouch for the truth of it, but the timing is about right... he's close to the same age as Peart, and he put out a solo album titled A New Earth the same year that "Closer to the Heart" was written.  (Oh, and when did famous atheist Neil Peart decide to release the single?  Christmas Day 1977!)  A quick look at John Michael Talbot's life and work also conveys a mystical and visionary side, for which Neil has shown some appreciation.  Although the sentiment behind Revelations 21:1 (where "a new earth" probably comes from) is probably one with which Neil Peart doesn't agree literally, it certainly shares the renewal-vibe of this righteous manifesto of a song.

From: The Word and the Pictures, Vol. 2

Friday, April 3, 2015

B is for Ben Franklin's Virtues

After the last post's defiant anarchism, let's calm down a bit.  And there's no better guide to moderation and joviality than Poor Richard himself.

I say the above with a bit of tongue in cheek, since Benjamin Franklin had his own troubles and excesses.  But he spent a lot of his life thinking about the best way to live.  At the tender age of 20 he composed a list of 13 "virtues," and he spent many of his remaining days checking off lists to see how well he lived up to them.

FYI, I've loved the above portrait, by Joseph Duplessis, since childhood... I still have a three-ring binder with this on its glossy cover.  (Hey, it was the 70s... bicentennial fever was everywhere!)  Anyway, that subtle smirk is just so him.  The gold frame that houses this painting in the New York Met is etched with just one word of description: "VIR."  Latin for da man, of which Ben was a unique archetype.

His list of 13 virtues aren't quite an official manifesto, but I'm sure they can be as inspiring and life-changing, if put into honest practice.  Here they are:
  1. Temperance: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  2. Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  6. Industry: Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice: Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. Moderation: Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
  11. Tranquillity: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. Chastity: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
  13. Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
You can track them yourselves with some modern technology.  Numbers 4, 6, and 11 are particularly troublesome for me.  By the way, you may not have ever heard the word "venery" before reading number 12; I hadn't.  The primary definition is blushingly obvious, but I think it's kind of interesting that a secondary definition is "the art, act, or practice of hunting; the sports of the chase."  Ol' Ben was definitely known to enjoy that art, act, and practice.  :-)

Franklin also tried to order the hours of his days toward specific ends:

I particularly am fond of his morning question ("What good shall I do this day?") and evening question ("What good have I done to-day?").  I wish you all voluminous answers to these, if and when you ask them of yourselves.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A is for Anarchy

Here we go...

The Anarchist Manifesto was written in 1850 by French thinker Anselme Bellegarrigue, just a couple of years after the publication of another famous political manifesto.  Whether or not it was a direct counter-response to Marx and Engels, I'm not sure, but I definitely sense some tension.

Bellegarrigue's manifesto was quite an individualistic and defiant screed.  In my theme-reveal post, I contrasted two basic urges of many manifestos: do your own thing versus be nice to one another.  There's no ambiguity about which side this one is on!

However, Bellegarrigue did try to be careful about definitions.  He started by flat-out rejecting the common interpretation of Anarchism as an incitement to chaotic violence.  In fact, he turned that stereotype on its head by saying that civil unrest was the direct result of governments exerting too much power.  These opposing syllogisms say a lot...
Who says anarchy, says negation of government;
Who says negation of government says affirmation of the people;
Who says affirmation of the people, says individual liberty;
Who says individual liberty, says sovereignty of each;
Who says sovereignty of each, says equality;
Who says equality, says solidarity or fraternity;
Who says fraternity, says social order.

By contrast:

Who says government, says negation of the people;
Who says negation of the people, says affirmation of political authority;
Who says affirmation of political authority, says individual dependency;
Who says individual dependency, says class supremacy;
Who says class supremacy, says inequality;
Who says inequality, says antagonism;
Who says antagonism, says civil war,
From which it follows that who says government, says civil war.
Nope, he didn't like any societal rulers, "from Aaron right up to Monsieur Bonaparte."  He even distrusted the idea of an elected government of representatives...
What is the voter expressing when he drops his ballot paper into the box? By such an act, elector is telling the candidate: I give you my freedom, unrestrictedly and unreservedly; I place at your disposal and abandon to your discretion my intellect, means of action, possessions, revenues, activity and entire fortune; I surrender to you my rights of sovereignty.
I shouldn't have been surprised that his libertarianism became a bit libertine (and thus echoed Rabelais' and Crowley's "Do what thou wilt"):
I am encapsulated within the span of my existence, and the only problem I must resolve is the problem of my well-being. I have but one doctrine and that doctrine has but a single formula, and that formula but a single word: ENJOYMENT.

... Does my selfishness do you some harm? If you say no, you have no grounds for objection, because I am at liberty in respect of anything not likely to do you harm. If you say yes, you are cheats, because my selfishness is nothing more than my assertion of self-ownership, an appeal to my identity, a protest against all overlordship. If you feel harmed by the carrying out of this act of self-possession, by my assertion of rights over my own person ... you are acknowledging that I am your possession, or, at the very least, that you have designs upon me.
For me, this brings to mind Ursula Le Guin's 1974 novel The Dispossessed. Reading this novel was the first time I got my head around the idea that this kind of anarchist society might possibly "work" in practice.  Of course, there's a loooong way to go between might possibly and would actually.  :-)