looking for a new way, again

Searching for alternatives, pt 1

I am rambling through a variety of media, looking for different ways to of thinking about the current state of things, since the world seems pretty bleak and, more importantly, limited in terms of our ability to respond, individually or collectively. First, I should really identify some of the factors responsible for this boxed in feeling.

The ossification of the internet is one such factor, as many have noted—the promise of the early internet was that ideas which challenged that status quo would have a greater chance of being heard, and assessed, and discussed, and anyone could, theoretically, join in the conversation. The internet was supposed to be a digital commons, an agora, and it was, for a while. Then the usual, capitalist thing happened: something that should be considered a public utility became viewed as a source of profit, and the bloodsuckers came. The tragedy of the commons is not that humans will simply deplete the resources of a shared space, but that a small group of bad actors will deplete these resources and move on, absent some kind of restrictions on allowing this to happen. This is what has happened to the internet, thanks to things like search engine optimization, which limits the reach of smaller voices (like this blog), the proliferation of bots, AI generated content, and host of other factors, all of which have had the effect of making the internet feel more like watching an endless infomercial, rather than participating in a conversation.

The grinding catastrophe that is climate change is another tragedy wearing down people’s ability to think of other possibilities, other ways of being. I grew up at the tail end of the Cold War being the great existential threat, and remember the surge of hopefulness that followed the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Climate change is even more monolithic, and more glacial (dark pun intended) in pace, so expecting some great event that might mark our emergence from its shadow seems even more unlikely. Add a pandemic to the mix, and, well, it is not hard to see how a general malaise has settled in.

I am glossing over so much here: how social media and cell phone tech have managed to short circuit most of our attention spans, let alone ability to read and process information, political balkanization and the rise of far right extremism—I could go on, and then I could point out all the man ways our world is so much better off than it was even just 30 years ago, but the knot I am trying to untie is the one that inhibits people from thinking about other ways to live and think about the world.

I can, of course find dozens of ready to wear alternate lifestyles available for purchase with a simple search query, which pretty much sums up the situation. Then again, even before the internet, most people sucked their cultural water from the same hose, and all of the meandering complaint I have just foisted would apply just as well to 1980, or 70, or even the 60s. I cannot speak to the state of things before the advent of mass media, maybe that is the next direction my reading should take.

In any case, there are so many other ways to be, and searching them out and thinking about them is one way to resist. It’s the way I learned, anyhow.

the too much

I’ve been catching threads of commentary about the state of human culture–global culture, since that is what we talk about, now that the internet has stuck us all in one room. Anyway, threads about how we are in a period of ennui, or imaginative recession, the idea that we have access to so much and nothing is worth doing, that everyone is exhausted and no one can summon the imagination to do things differently. This essay by Dimiter Kenarov is a good example of what I mean: https://www.switchyardmag.com/issue-1/bulgarianfrontier, and has some excellent photos to boot.

I noticed this phenomenon creeping in before the pandemic, and before social media began to limit self-expression so profoundly, but now it seems like it has entered the zeitgeist, as we once called it. And that is a good thing, because that means things are changing, because the zeitgeist is always a little behind the actual spirit of the age. Once we get to the point where some loose consensus is reached about the shape of the world, it becomes clear that said shape actually dissolved into something else, and here we go again. What is this new turn? I can only hope it involves another surge of creativity and imaginative exploration of possibility, but in case it is not, I am going to spend a few weeks searching for alternatives to the current bowl of broth, as Kenarov put is (borrowing from Thomas Mann), and remembering that “searching” is not something affixed to the word “engine” without limiting the potential for surprise.


I’ve been enjoying 130 poems by Jean Follain quite a bit, ripe with poems like this one:

Signs for Travellers

Travellers in the immense spaces
when you see a girl
twisting in her resplendent hands
the long black fleece of her hair
and what’s more
when you see
near some gloomy bakery
a horse lying dead on the ground
by these signs you’ll know
you are where humans live.

(Translated by Christopher Middleton, Anvil Press 2010)

Oh yeah! The Blog…

I have had to find new ways to carve writing time for myself out of the very packed days I am living, and remembered I started writing here in 2008–good lord, can it really be that long? Well, sure. time marches on and all that. And I do want to get back to watching the 100 movies with my love, but I fear that may be even harder to accomplish. Might have to just soldier on with that project myself (read that in a whisper, so Comfortina does not find out).

But first: Engine Summer. I read Little, Big, and found it alternately hypnotizing and annoying, so I put off Engine Summer (by John Crowley) for a bit, and once I did, well, it has been knocking around my head the way the best books do, coaxing new dendrites into being. It’s a pastoral post-apocalyptic novel, devoid of zombies or feral gangs or really much violence at all, thankfully, but still manages to be almost unbearably sad by the end, and moreso upon reflection. I just finished Riddley Walker (Russel Hoban) before starting this one, and that, too, was all embracing (once I got the hang of the invented dialect), but also was much more typical of the genre in terms of the brutality of the humans who lived in the shadow of the fallen civilization. Why so many post-apocalyptic novels? T’was not an intentional selection, I just had the books in a pile, though they certainly do resonate with news of climate change growing more and more dire, and the general shrug that most people have adopted as their standard response to the crisis. Anyway… Little, Big was something else, and I won’t spoil it by revealing more of the story. Sad and beautiful, it is.

This Too…

A strange sensation accompanies me these past few weeks, a feeling that I am burdened, but not in the more familiar, immediate ways—too many bills, too much work, too much time wasted. The burden I am aware of now I have been aware of before, in flashes: the burden of my species. Much the way … Read more

Movie 87: Gertrud

Manly Footwear: There is a light snow falling outside, lovely and gentle the way snow can be, a new President was just inaugurated, the dogs are sleeping, and I’m sitting by the window trying to figure out Gertud. Not that the movie is unintelligible, or even opaque, the way avant-garde films often try to be—the … Read more

Movie 88: A Man Escaped

Manly Footwear: I am not surprised I’d never seen this film, or even heard of it except in the most tangential way, but I am a little chagrined, because it is not only stylistically remarkable, it is morally edifying to watch, not something I can say about many of the movies on the list of … Read more

Movie 89: Annie Hall

Manly Footwear: My first reaction to seeing this movie on our list was a pleasant wave of nostalgia, followed quickly by a discomforting reminder of the Troubles Woody Allen has had in his personal life, and finally the realization that I don’t really know what happened with regards to his daughter Dylan, and will never … Read more

Movie 90: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Manly Footwear: I realize this might sounds batty, but this John Ford Western reminded me of Howard Zinn’s book, A People’s History of the United States. It is the story of a the end of one kind of masculine, American archetype, and the rise of another, but also it is about how the latter archetype–the … Read more