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Showing posts from 2013

Might reading harm?

who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you
... - ee cummings


One might spend one's life reading about living, without actually living. (Man.) The easy response is don't tell me what living is and is not, I can decide that for myself thanks.
Maybe a lifestyle centred on reading encourages a false sense of superiority - or a false sense of the power of reason. (The original sin of philosophy: to mistake philosophy as essential to good action.)
More generally, you might think of reading as parasocial, involving false, dubious interaction with someone you wouldn't much identify if you met them without the filter of composition. Or worse, a replacement for live discourse which hides the ad hoc, underdetermined, unpersuadable nature of even highly intellectual encounters.
There's a Latin phrase I like a lot - Aut tace aut loquere meliora silencio, 'be silent or say something better than silence' - and maybe this goes …

mathematical desire

(c) Randall Munroe (2010)

Model of romance for you. Say there are two functions: A(y) – how attracted person x is to person y, and R(y) – x's respect for y.
Then, two composite functions with each other:
R(A) - how much respect x has given a degree of attraction, and A(R) - how much attraction x has for a given level of respect.
If we assume that they aren't symmetrical (that people can have non-monotonic functions), then romantically active people all fall into 2 or more of 8 exhaustive romantic functions:

[If A(y) goes up --> R(y) goes up]. R(A) is proportional: x is ruled by beauty's halo.
(X is shallow.)
More eye pop, swell chest[If A(y) goes up --> R(y) goes down]. R(A) is inverse: The mind's revenge.
(X is sadistic.)

More eye pop, shrink chest[If A(y) goes down --> R(y) up]. R(A) negatively inverse: Hm!
(X is maybe insecure?)

Less eye pop, swell chest [A(y) goes down --> R(y) down]. R(A) negative proportion: Reverse halo.
(X is nasty-sha…

on not finishing books

Sometimes I don't finish books because I've become someone else in the interim and don't share their goal of reading it. Any book that takes more than a week is liable to fall foul of young people’s mutability in this way.

A lot of what we read is just to say we’ve read it - they are plugs for gaps in cultural armour. We fail to see these through because they are interminable – cf. Gibbons’ Decline and fucking Fall – and because our motive’s so base in the first place. The act of plugging could be noble – the will to improve oneself – but it's more often the ignoble fear of looking ignorant (rather than the excellent fear of being ignorant). The educated world keeps up an arms race in which indifferent bystanders are gunned down by fully-auto sneering, where books are secondary to the concept of themselves. This side of ‘literary’ culture, call it the consumerism of the immaterial, is scarcely different from more obvious consumerism about designer labels and very lar…


The particular is much less good than the general: look how much smaller it is.
Independence is necessarily nationalist.
Independence is divisive. It can only put up arbitrary walls.
Scottishness is an insular and bigoted thing.
Very Scottish art - set here, with Scots phonemes and concerns - is insular and uninteresting. (Unlike British or Greek or Indian art, which can be universal.)
Abandonment of Scotland is virtuous: it’s transcendence.*
How we imagine our groups is irrelevant to improving the world. Nation is only a delusion.**
Of course self-determination is secondary to welfare!
The big one was my conflating an opposition to Scottish nationalism with a contempt for Scotland. It was also very stupid to overlook how self-deprecation – being an anti-Scotland Scot – tied in to a wider devaluation of Scottish things. This actually put me in line with the British elite, like so many other ‘individualist’ Scots in history. Overcompensating, á la Trainspotting.

* But “In all parts of histo…

Been reading, Q3 2013

(c) Denis Frémond "Rue des Boutiques Obscure"

Dead confused in September: read three people with absolutely different politics, one after another. First, Clive James, who in latter years is the consummate droll liberal railing against both wings of partisans: he’s against celebrity culture, Ostalgie, and anti-American critical-theoretical cuteness, but also ‘clash of civilisation’ nonsense, socially destructive austerity and conservatism in the arts.

Next, James Kelman. Kelman’s what I call a liberationist, a beautiful and extreme sociologised Leftist focussing on society’s failures, exclusions and legal crimes, who demands much of themselves and everyone else (but who does so via a terrible error: reducing the world whole to politics).

Lastly, John Gray, the really disturbing wildcard. Technically a (radical) conservative, Gray actually agrees with no-one. He is anti-Communist in the highest degree, but anti-torture, anti-war, anti-Thatcherism, anti-Hayek too(!) His dre…

Mnemonic for Kahneman's Three Divisions of the Mind

Otto's secret author of
much of what you think;
Connie cannot rouse herself
unless he's on the blink.

Econ's cold and maximal
a lucid heart of glass;
Zappa's contradictory,
inconstant, foiling Nash.

Remmy is deluded, or,
creative with the past;
Esper suffers greater thus
and flies off, Otto-fast.

(I should really use "Tass" instead of Otto but that ruins the last line.)

magic rationalism

Say you're a magician. Say you know that most things can be controlled with magic, but say each spell takes ages to learn - decades, say. What to learn first? How to produce terrifying fireballsimmense speed? understanding of aliens?

No: as every child knows, you wish for more wishes first. Immortality would be best, obviously, but no-one knows that one yet, so you take those cheap potions of minor fortituderecall and wit that are around. At the same time, you target your own willpowermemory, reading speed, and read other wizards getting to the point of spell-books, saving years. Most of all, you learn the hard spell that makes you as right as you can be: strict conscious and unconscious reason.

leaving home miscellany

(c) Roddy Macfarlane (2012)

Beauty... You came back. But I didn't notice. I was too busy defining myself.
- Carter Ratcliffe

Five years in Aberdeen; I was transformed here. It's enough to make you grateful for the pathologically dark cold, the fish stink, and those that fled sinking economies for this raft of fossilised sun-sludge. Aberdeen is a test of character. There are so many cliches about why it's a shit place that valuing it, choosing it, does say something about you. Everyone grumbles about the town - its insane weather and uniform architecture, its oilmen and lack of clubs. The difference between you as incomer and you as settler is if you see past this to quieter facts: the pride and persisting difference of the place. You earn your affection. If you disagree, go watch this and then talk to me.

(Anyway towns are like multiplayer games - their worth depends more on who you're playing with than the game.)


When is …

bookshop miscellany

(c) Beatrice Warde (1932)

What's the Hamlet of scifi? (Not the 'greatest and most complex work in its field': the book which earns you disapproval if you admit to not having read it.) Brave New World? Do Androids Dream? Dune? Gravity's Rainbow? It's hard to imagine anyone making fun of you for not having read 2001. So, is scifi less centralised and hierarchical, then? Maybe. Maybe the scifi world is just yet to have its Robert Hutchins, the fossilising stipulation. Maybe I've just not spent enough time around the geek equivalent of academic snobs: convention attendees.


Scandinavian countries are the least violent places in the world, all hovering around 0.5 murders per 100,000. But their crime fiction - unusually pessimistic, lonely, and depraved even for crime fiction - has been taking off like nobody's business. How long will it take for the entire population to be fictionally murdered?

Peter Singer

Speak now of the soul's ratchets and the stirred Stakhanovite silt
of the bed of this generation. of pitiless benevolence.

Ratchet, reason; ratchet, ruck;
Progress slow through dry valleys, slow as

Fate; despicably kind. vegan cynic,
now shame meagre wealth,

Now balk at cost of consistency
now strike, wages of sin;

Now maximise like fatcat
now route cold virtue road;

Now niggle, now coin
now manumit the tenderloin;

Now not sit still
to tunes ignored.

I have been reading, Q2 2013

New Zealandish propaganda about New Zealandish propaganda (1917)

"Poetry presents the thing in order to convey the feeling. It should be precise about the thing and reticent about the feeling - for as soon as the mind responds, connects with the thing, the feeling shows in the words; this is how poetry enters deeply into us. If the poet presents directly feelings which overwhelm ... they cannot strengthen morality and refine culture, set heaven and earth in motion and call up the spirits!"

– Wei Tai (C11th)

Was in a sciencey mood. (This makes my ravishing encounter with Rorty - the greatest of the irrealist literary crusaders - more notable still.) Science is most easily taken in via sweet funny geeks - so I returned to scifi for the first time in years. Poetry overtook me mid-May. Been active, but the increase in reading is really just redistribution, taken from my crash news diet and cutting down on my beloved web aggregators (3QuarksDaily, Wood S Lot, and Arts & Letters…