In Samuel Beckett’s 1957 play entitled “Endgame” four characters are placed within a triple-walled, minimalist stage. Although the characters seem to be the last remaining people on earth (with the exception of the young boy who briefly appears outside of the walled interior), they each seem to resist any and all physical, human contact with each other. Each potential touch and interaction between the characters is mediated by a prop, so that each point of contact only takes place when two characters touch the same object (barrier) that lies between them. It is my contention that Beckett deliberately eliminates any bodily contact in order to further emphasize and solidify the sterility present within this environment.

you know when you’re washing the dishes

and you find a tall glass

and it’s got a milk spot encrusted right down in the very bottom of it

and in the very center of it

and it’s there and it’s impossibly stubborn

because you’ve neglected your dish washing duties for the last four days

even though you generally don’t mind doing the dishes

it being a meditative task with the water running and all

usually while listening to My Bloody Valentine

or something equally as transcendent as Mingus

and smoking a nice bowl of Purple Nurple

and drinking a tallboy of cheap cold domestic beer while you’re doing the dishes

just to give an extra semblance of significance

and something perhaps bordering on semi-fun

to the utter banality of things

to the existential banality of repetitive patternistic things

not giving it any more significance than God would give it

for God’s sake

but still, an extra semblance of significance

to consider this mundane practice worthy in this very moment in time

this exact moment in time never to be again in the history of the planet


and you can’t quite reach this awkward spot of dry rotten milk

because your hand is too large and it’s a very tall slender glass

and you know, it’s like you know, it’s like a highball glass, you know

like something that Ava Gardner would have drunk a Sea Breeze out of


and so you’re forced to become ingenious about it all

and you, being a tool-using human and all of that

thusly pull a dirty knife up to the fore

and push the sponge down into the glass

and stab at it with the butter knife

and push the tip of the knife down

into the bubbly center of this murky universe


and you scrape it around down in there

round and round in jerky little circles

with the Brillo side of the sponge doing a lot of the work

you being temporarily happy that the Brillo texture was created

for a job just such as this one

for the abrasiveness needed in a situation just like this one


and you pull the sponge out, figuring you got it all out

with your forced agitation and your fading punk rock ethics

and you rinse the glass to still find

to your giant dismay

a miniature Antarctica

still down in the center of this glass


and so you take a hit of your tall boy and you really hunker down

to get this very insignificant yet crucially important task accomplished


and you fuck the sponge this time and just go right at it

with the sharp point of the knife in the bottom of this tall glass


and you have a go at tipping the glass up

and you look at it in the light

and scrape scrape scrape in mappy little lines

where strange formations continue to hold down in the bottom of this unusually tall glass

formations of an almost human nature


and you feel like you’re holding an upside-down bell

and you’re ringing with the ringer like a monk or a priest


and you mumble under your breath of quickly dying breaths

the consciousness of the Never-again, the consciousness of the Ever-again


and the snow star palm tree perspires with the impassioned tears of California Jesus

and the workers are going home, the workers are going home


and  you feel like you’re almost hip to the salt and pepper of things

and to the lion and the gazelle of things

and you can actually hear stars falling gently into a glass ballerina box


and it reminds you of getting the last bit of mayonnaise

down in the very bottom part of the jar when making a sandwich late at night


and it’s that sound, that sound, I tell you old sock

that fucking distinctive tinkling sound of stainless steel on glass sound


and so you’re very thorough and thoughtful with the ringing of this bell

because you wouldn’t want to crack it


like that bell in Philadelphia

or God forbid, have to rinse the soap off of it once again


like if there was a spot being missed, like missing a spot, like an errant spot

that wasn’t being tended to properly

like all of your other neglected personal duties

like all of the dust bunnies underneath your bed

and your unpaid student loan tickets

and the remiss phone calls to your schizophrenic mother

and the forgotten spiritual obligations in your terribly non-obstructive life


however you feel confident that something positive could now be happening

something positive, something illuminating, something absolutely worthy of living


but the joy, the joy, the Non-Ultra Joy

creates the perilous threat of a slippery glass

and one careless move

would make this whole mission completely moot and senseless


and so you pump up the H knob with the scalding water of Los Angeles

jettisoned with an added force straight down into the center

the center of a blown glass bottom being laced and concentrated

with the power and the diligence of clear hot hydrogen bubbles


and you raise the chalice up, up, up toward the light

and you finally gaze upon only clarity and purity

and the right side of cleanliness and godliness

and you finally give the glass its rightful dripping rest

onto the Swedish wooden dish rack


and you take a hit of your tallboy

and you feel good for following through on the small stuff


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This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 17th, 2009 at 8:36 pm and is filed under Nihilism, Poetry, Transcendence. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your

I’ve been noticing with greater and greater alarm that atheism is getting more and more popular in literary and academic circles. In fact, the majority of writers and scholars believe that anyone who believes in God must be naive and stupid. You aren’t smart enough, aren’t sophisticated enough to realize that God doesn’t exist and that life is pretty much shit. As the old saying goes, misery loves company. Now I don’t claim to be some highfalutin intellectual (fingers corn cob pipe thoughtfully for effect) but my great grand-daddy left me with at least this much sense: anything that makes you miserable ain’t all that good.

What an assumption! I know, right? I’m just as sure that all atheists aren’t miserable as I am that all believers aren’t happy. However, I can honestly say from experience that many (not all) of my atheist friends seem to wear their unhappiness like a badge. They consider their terrible lots in life to be irrefutable proof of how “real” they are. This is an old idea really, suffering being equated with authenticity. As a survivor of many forms and flavors of abuse, I personally think there is nothing noble about suffering, especially when it’s self-induced. It just sucks.

I see the core of this issue as being about the concept of newness, modernity. The idea of God is ancient, so it’s not cool anymore. Cool or not, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any truth to it. At some point in time if I shit on a canvas I might have gotten a gallery show because it was new, but that wouldn’t mean I’m a better artist than someone who could actually paint. For God’s sake people, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you believe there are some things that endure the test of time than who better than the G-O-D?

The literary and academic worlds are supposed to be a haven, a forum for all thoughts and ideas so what’s up with all this judgment? I’ve heard intellectuals call religious people closed-minded but isn’t it just as closed-minded to say something definitely doesn’t exist as it does? I think of the professor who has the courage, yes the courage to believe in a higher power, and the subtle and maybe not-so-subtle flak he/she might take from his/her co-workers, and it makes me sick. But not too sick because like time, God heals all wounds. Awesome.

I guess this is just another case of the old pendulum swinging back the other way again. Once upon a time people were crucified for not believing, now things have reversed and the faithful are ostracized for believing. See? I could have used the word “crucified” but no, I’m not some crazy, religious nut. Nor do I think I am right. I just think God exists insomuch as you let God exist, so hey, maybe it’s a good idea to try cracking the window open a little now and then, eh? I believe in spirituality more than some bearded, old, moody, white man in the clouds, and that spirituality has organically lead me to believe that if there wasn’t some kind of divine goodwill out there, that shit would be a lot worse than it is now. If you think that makes me crazy, well then put me in a sundress, slap my ass and call me Sally, I’m crazy.

Let me just anticipate one question: How can I believe in a God, all-knowing and all-powerful, when everything is so terrible? Well, sorry to bum out your bummers folks, but things are actually pretty good. Ah, I can almost feel the screams of protest! Why look at healthcare and Iraq and the corporations and all that. Terrible situations, agreed, but guess what, it could be a lot worse. The U.S. is a culture of complaints for which I partially blame Jerry Seinfeld and his weak, Satanic little observations, as well as a sensationalist, emotion-preying media. No, the sad truth for anyone out there addicted to the victim identity is this: everything’s okay. Life is hell only insomuch as you let it be. And I really think that is a significant part of people’s problem with faith; if there is a God than woah, what do you know, things might actually be alright.

The fact is that if I were to publicly announce that things are actually okay in some of the more popular intellectual hangouts (coffee shops, bookstores, etc), I would probably be verbally abused. Why I wouldn’t be surprised if the sexual practices of my own dear, sweet mother were called into question. My own flesh and blood mother, the very woman who brought me into this precious, wonderful world. Think about that a second.

 

 

With the twentieth century only now starting to recede into the distance a little bit, spending a little time working out what one doesn’t believe in somehow seems to be a better use of time than deciding what one does.

For what it’s worth, here’s my five so far:

Nihi List Five

1. Boundless individual economic mobility

2. Crab sticks

3. Guy Ritchie

4. Twittering as an art form

5. Hypnotism

“It’s easy to be cynical,” people say. Does it follow then that being a nihilist is like falling off a log?

Rejecting all systems of belief or belonging on the basis of their existence, no matter how attractive or unattractive they might be?…

I don’t know about you but that sounds pretty difficult to me.

100% pure negativity has got to be pretty exhausting. How does the average nihilist get up in the morning? Do they have to set fire to the sheets to give themselves an impetus to get out of bed? (On the wrong side, obviously.)

Maybe the true nihilist never sleeps, just so he can pack the maximum amount of swingeing spite into the day.

Those same people who tend to profess a disbelief in everything also say, “do what you want as long as you’re happy”. It’s the ethics of the Knightsbridge Hippie:

Place yourself at the centre of the universe!

Choosing a position in the middle of opposing forces and seeking to balance their flow through the body is the first principle of the physical expression of the doctrine of Taoism: ‘Yang’ approximate to the tendency to disperse, and ‘yin’ to the tendency to gather.

The movements of Taoism’s physical mode of expression—the ancient art of Tai Chi—attempt to describe this circuit of equal and opposite intensities in physical space with as little entropy as possible. Yet, it’s still almost impossible not to regard the Self as the epicentre of the flux.

Bertrand Russell’s view of Taoist precepts was of a system describing, “production without possession, action without self-assertion, development without domination”. Especially now, in the age of ‘free’ content, producing anything without a specific, fixed place for it assured is to be subject to the same kind of Janus-faced condition:

The maintenance of a dedicated passion and zealous commitment to a piece of work and a blithe indifference to whether or not anyone might ever value experience of it at some time in the near (or distant) future.

As Captain Beefheart so sanguinely said (from his position as a professional musician),

“Music should be free, because from where I got it, I didn’t have to pay for it.”

Photo by Carl Van Vechten (CC)

Writing for Esquire in 1936, F. Scott Fitzgerald mentioned the necessity of accommodating two equal and opposite ideas in the head at the same time (appoximate to Keats’ ideas of negative capability), commented on here by Allen Ginsberg in an interview with John Lofton from Harper’s in 1990:

“…the quality of a very great poet like Shakespeare was his ability to contain opposite ideas in the mind without an irritable reaching out after fact and reason. Meaning that that part of the mind which judges, and irritably insists on either black or white, is only a small part of the mind. The larger mind observes the contradiction, and contains those contradictions. The mind that notices that it contradicts itself is bigger than the smaller mind that is taking one side or the other.”

But doesn’t even that place the writer’s Ego at the centre of things?

Paying even scant attention to the media, it’s tempting to think that maybe all that any of us has ever been, or can ever aspire to be, is an acted upon product of economic propensities: Skills, qualifications, career choices; relationships and peers even start to seem like nothing more than signs and signifiers of an upset balance of payments, or the almighty Budget Deficit inscribed in human flesh.

Is there more to life than this, and more importantly, is anyone writing about it, now that Vonnegut, Deleuze, Guattari, David Foster Wallace, Hunter S. Thompson and J.G. Ballard are all dead?

The Occam’s Razor of Thatcherism/Reaganomics and is that it’s foolhardy to believe in anything other than yourself. But what happens when the individual realises he is no longer his own hero?

A lot of Chuck Palahniuk’s work is about the necessity of finding something larger than the self to believe in, and to hitch the wagon to, (especially ‘Fight Club’). As many contemporary writers and theorists have pointed out at length, the mind has a desire for belonging, if not a desire to be led (the source of and inherent attraction of fascism, and the psychological explanation of religion), but can anyone point me in the direction of any writers that have really addressed the problem of distortion by the writer’s Ego as the point of reference for everything?

Until we get past that, aren’t we all doomed to repeating the same literary mistakes of the last hundred years?

IMAGES: Screen grab from clip of ‘The Big Lebowski’ posted on youtube.com, all others used under CC Creative Commons licence.

An open letter to Julie, the girl who dumped me right after the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded:


740pxchallenger_explosion



Dear Julie,

We dated briefly in the fifth grade, and on January 28, 1986, you broke up with me. We were sitting in the Presentation Area, adjacent the library, and we had just finished watching the Space Shuttle Challenger explode. It ascended from the launchpad at Cape Canaveral, and seventy-three seconds later, the whole thing went up in a massive fireball, killing everyone aboard. The room was silent, and our teachers started crying. And then your friend Marianne walked over to me and handed me a note that said, “Hey … You’re dumped.”

I’m not the type to hold a grudge or anything, but I always felt like that was really insensitive timing.

Cordially,

Brad Listi
Los Angeles, CA



An open letter to Jeffrey Dahmer:


Jeffreydahmermugshot


Dear Jeffrey,

You worked at the Ambrosia Chocolate factory in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, during the early 1980s. I read about it somewhere not too long after you were bludgeoned to death in prison. My second-grade class went on a field trip to the Ambrosia factory in 1982. I often wonder if you were there at the time of my visit. I wonder if we saw each other in the hallway or something. And naturally, I wonder if you looked at me and decided that you wanted to eat me and keep my skull as a souvenir.

Sincerely,

Brad Listi
Los Angeles, CA



An open letter to John Walker Lindh:


Walker_enlarge

 


Dear John,

You were born in 1981. Whenever I hear of adults who were born in the 1980s, it makes me feel old. You’re twenty-six now. And you’re in prison. I can’t think of anything worse than being twenty-six and in prison. I hope you’re not going insane.

I just reread your personal history online, and I have to admit, I find it pretty stunning. It’s hard to believe you started off in Marin County and wound up fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan. It’s a massive statistical unlikelihood—which I suppose is part of the reason why you did it. For a teenager raised in Mill Valley, moving to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban has got to be the ultimate in youthful rebellion.

You must have been really pissed off at your parents.

At the time of your arrest, you were twenty years old.

When I was twenty, I was taking bong hits in a Boulder basement, listening to Dark Side of the Moon while watching The Wizard of Oz.

People, generally speaking, are pretty stupid at the age of twenty. I know I certainly was. And I imagine that you were, too.

To be honest, I think you might have set some kind of record for misguided youthful indiscretion. If there were some sort of measuring device that could calculate this kind of thing, I’m almost certain that you’d rank right up near the top.

A lot of my friends lost their shit in college, but nobody grew a beard and moved to Afghanistan.

Kindest regards,

Brad Listi
Los Angeles, CA

P.S. Forty is the new twenty.