Category Archives: Wtf did I just read?

The assignment

The assignment was as follows: write something. The specifics were utterly unimportant; the point was to produce discourse of sufficient quantity and coherence to qualify as a text. The one demand was that the text began and ended. That was the assignment.

Yet, as you learned more about the topic, you found that your desire to produce discourse on that topic diminished. The more you learned, the less your will to in any way share what you knew. Knowledge corresponded to despondency to such a degree that, eventually, the very thought of communicating became an abstract blank. It became a very specific form of aphasia – the thought of saying anything at all on the subject became so alien it had to be approached through elaborate frameworks which ought to indicate something, but didn’t. As knowledge accumulated, your very being turned into an avatar of indifference.

At its worst, it started to creep into communication as such. Words became meaningless, emotions faded into tenuous notions, shared understandings into unverifiable rumors. Significance vanished, and the possibility of communication with it.

Yet. The assignment had to be completed. The task done. The words worded.

Then the indifference reversed. If nothing mattered, then it didn’t matter which words were worded, and thus any arbitrary assemblage of words would make do.

Thus, you worded your salvation.

Ghost ordinances

It is common to assume that ghosts are the spiritual remains of those who are unwilling or unable to move on. Exactly where this moving on is supposed to go is unknown and in dispute, but the general assumption that some portion of the dead do not undertake the journey is widely held. The dead are supposed to go somewhere, but ghosts for whatever reason do not.

A less examined assumption about ghosts is that they are the spiritual remains of a person, whole and entire. It stands to reason that this assumption is not to be taken for granted, and that ghosts in some sense are what the dead left behind when they left. The old adage that you can’t take it with you comes back to haunt us, as it were. There is no reason to assume that the afterlife requires each and every aspect of our mortal countenance brought along. Shedding excess mortality would, when seen in this light, be a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

This opens up for the possibility of unrelenting ghosts of uncured toothaches haunting unsuspecting and unlucky survivors. Which does, to be sure, reframe the common wisdom that prevention is better than cure.

The elder gods

There are gods. In general, they don’t do very much, and most of them only do one particular thing. The process of who gets to do what is rather intricate and heavy on the backstory, but it usually ends up with someone being the god of this, someone else being the god of that, and so on until you end up with the god of all other miscellaneous things that are not the domain of the other gods.

It is strongly discouraged to question why this is. For one, the aforementioned backstory will be related to you, in detail. Second, the celestial bureaucracy has had more time to sort out the finer details than you can imagine. If you have things to do and places to be, just accept the things related as given and move along.

It is assumed that the elder gods are more powerful than their newer counterparts. Knowledge is power, and knowledge is gathered by being around and doing things, which is the general activity of gods, regardless of age. Thus, having been around longer equals roughly to being more powerful, on general principle.

You already know this, of course. Hearing that the gods are angry is enough to make you quake in your boots with fear right and proper. Hearing that the Elder Gods are angry is enough to make you forget that quaking is an option, fearing that they will find out where you are by listening for your boot noises.

Hearing that the Elder Gods are angry at you in particular is bad news bears all around. Especially the Elder Gods of Bears.

However, there is a limit the power of elder gods. It is not that they themselves age and lose potency over the years – as you have seen, it’s quite the reverse. The gods are, however, made in the image of those who created them. And if we go far enough back into our ancestral history, we find gods created by ancestors who had almost, but not quite, developed a sense object permanence.

Knowledge is power, which means that your best bet is avoiding the really really old gods. If they can’t see you, they don’t know you’re there, which means they can’t be angry at you.

Even if they are old bear gods.

Repetition and difference

Economists phrase mass production in terms of “economies of scale” and “efficiency gains” and suchlike. While they may have a point in alternative ontologies, they fail to catch the essential necessity of having many non-unique things at many places at the same time. Without them, our world would end, and chaos would ensue.

In those alternative ontologies, there would be what me might call “object consistency”. That is to say, things continue to exist even if no one was actively perceiving them. An absurd notion, to be sure, but such is the nature of things that are not. You and I, for as long as we or someone else can retain the thought, know that things are not so, and that our society is based on the fact that everything looks just the same. A house is a house is a house, and as long as they all remain identical, they will remain in being.

Economists do get some things right – such that demand creates supply (how could it not, seeing that demand is a prerequisite for the thing existing on a fundamental ontological level?) – but these absurd notions have to go. They are pure speculation with no bearing on our reality, and frankly it is embarrassing to have our prestigious academy associated with these ridiculous ideas. The economists have to face reality – for the sake of all of us!

Executive reality dysfunction

You walk along the streets of your city. Everything seems to be going on as usual – the machinery of reality is grinding yet another ordinary day into being. You walk past everyday people doing everyday things in everyday outfits, thinking everyday thoughts. Nothing stands out.

Until you walk past a circle of robed and hooded chanters worshiping what appears to be a floating whale of immense proportions. It is both suspended in the air and immersed in immense quantities of water; as the chant drones on, it moves to and fro with lazy aquatic motions.

A grizzled old sea captain walks past, scoffs at the spectacle, and mumbles something about Ahab not standing for this, should he ever return. You stop to ask what he means, but before you get a word in, a song starts to play on the radio. It’s a song you have not heard for years, and it has no reason being on the radio. Ever.

It is a lo-fi parody song you and your friends recorded when you were eleven years old. You only ever saved it on one cassette tape, and you lost that one years ago. How and why it came to be played here, you will never know.

Whilst in shock over this nostalgic auditory invasion, a scent catches your eye. It reminds you intimately of your childhood, and of all the times you fell asleep thinking about how life would be when you grew up. It is a strange timeloop, you remembering you thinking about you remember you, all referencing the same temporal spot, and it floors you hard enough that it takes a while to realize that a scent caught your eye.

And with that, the experience ended. You are suddenly back in reality, among everyday people doing everyday things. Nothing in particular is going on, and no one acts as if anything in particular has happened for a very long time.

You wave at the whale, just in case, and continue on your way.

The many ways of not saying something

“I didn’t say that.”

“I didn’t not say that.”

“I didn’t not not say that.”

For every statement made, there are equal and opposite statements not made. There are also statements of varying middling oppositionality that are not made. And, to be sure, there are statements that are not not made. And not not not made.

The difference is intentional. That is to say, it has to do with intentionality. Which is easiest to see when it comes to what is actually said – the speaker intended to use those words that were indeed used. The intention to say them existed, and this intention was acted upon. Clear-cut intentionality.

Not saying something, on the other hand, is a tricky business. Mostly, the difference comes down to whether it was not said intentionally, if it was intentionally not said, or if it was unintentionally not said.

Things that are not said intentionally are usually covered by saying other things. Corporations and their PR spokespeople are good at this kind of thing – they are very definitely not saying that the recent layoffs were made in order to promote the profits of a few remote shareholders who do not even know which continent the local community is located on. They use other words. They use a lot of words that very clearly communicate that they have every intention of saying everything but that.

Intentionally not saying something is related, albeit different. In its most benevolent form, it is refraining from speaking in favor of listening to what someone else is saying. In a more cruel form, it is withholding information in some fashion. Most of the time, it is a general postponement of statement until a more suitable time can be found. There is something to be said, but not here and now.

The last kind is difficult. And obvious. It wasn’t said – whatever it is – because it never entered the mind of the speaker to say it. There never was a possible intention to say it, and thus no possible intention to not say it. It was not said, but it was also not not said.

That goes without saying.

Nuanced strategic communication

All communication happens within a context. This statement might seem obvious, but it is worth pondering it for a moment. It means that there is no such thing as communication as such, pure communication – there is always a context to it, some prior set of conditions that needs to be understood in order for the message to make sense.

Thus, we need to be aware at all times of how we present whatever it is we intend to say. The message will intrude into a context which will, inevitably, color whatever our message happens to be. We might intend to say one thing, but our actions will intend us into a social situation where we have suddenly said too much and understood nothing at all of what we just said.

This is important. Ponder it for a minute. Figure your place in things.

Keep pondering.

You’ve done the ponder? Okay. Let’s turn our attention to how we can put this to use.

One way to put it to use is to assume that others are putting it to use. Which they are, whether they know it or not. It is a fundamental part of the ability to understand social situations, and the human mind is eerily adept at picking up even the subtlest hints and acting accordingly on them. They know what’s what and who’s who, and will figure it out soon enough by just observing your moves.

I can see that you are thinking what I’m thinking. That there is possibilities to this.

That we should go to random people’s doors, bang on them with determined enthusiasm and shout the most outlandish statements, so as to kickstart this inherent ability to understand social situations. Seeing as they will assume that we are banging and shouting with an intention of getting a message across, they will immediately conjure the most elaborate backstories for our actions. We will make sense, even though we do not make sense.

I suggest the phrase “Okay! Okay! You win! I’ll sell the rubber duck factory! But only because of the kids, you hear me?!”

Happy banging!

Municipal lines of flight

The shortest distance between two points is a line.

This might not seem like much, but it has serious and far-reaching implications for policy-making everywhere. For instance, it might seem like a good idea to connect everything with lines.

Thus, regulations are put in place to ensure that such connectivity happens. Subtle encouragements and cooperative ventures are set in motion, nudging actors ever so subtly to line up, and hopefully acting as examples for others to follow. Direct action turn to indirect output, and like ripples on the water, the straight line turns rather fuzzy.

Then, the policy efficiency buffs get a hold of this notion, and things get better. The shortest distance is a line. From this would follow that it would be faster with two lines, fostering faster travel from place to place. The regulations are ever so slightly altered to promote more lines. The subtle encouraging and nudging momentums into a new shape. Direct action finds itself indirectly backtracking itself in an effort to keep up.

Over time, reforms are made, recursively recurving this process, turning the straight line into a very complicated doodle of impressive expressionistic value.

As you might imagine, nothing is so simple that it cannot be transformed into a traffic jam. –

So then I said – what was I saying?

Discourse acts in many ways as a social marker. By adopting (or not adopting) certain words, turns of phrase or other distinct linguistic behaviors, a writer can create a persona suitable to whatever situation zhe might stumble into. Take, for instance, these wordings:

These words embody a rich tradition of stories, myths and legends. To fully comprehend them, we must take into account the complex context in which we find them, and negotiate the contradictions found in the struggle to adapt to modern life. It is against the backdrop of this interlocked weave of traditions we must understand contemporary expressions such as this. Identity is not static – it is an ever changing dynamic formed by the constant struggle for recognition, compromise and respectability inherent in the very act of being social in a multicultural world.

As you might imagine, such wordings signal a strong “HELLO FELLOW HUMANITIES SCHOLARS” to those who identify themselves as such. To others, it does not. To yet another other, it signals, but fails to garner the desired response, as they do not identify with the group. And so on.

Let’s look at more words:

The logos of any given piece of text is usually secondary with regards to its ethos. The persuasiveness follows not from the argument that is being made, but rather from the implied personage that must be understood in order to grasp the text. Both the persona of the writer, and the second persona of the reader – the social setting and the shared doxa that inevitably must follow from the text being as it is. The text not only tells it like it is, it also tells it like we – writer and reader – are. Logos might be the focus of philosophers, but for the reader, ethos and pathos reigns supreme.

The rhetoricians among you will immediately feel at home in these words. Everyone else will probably wonder what the deal is with logotypes.

Let’s keep at it. More words:

The author function does not, as a matter of course, need an author. It functions autonomously, whether or not there is an actual someone behind the discourse. This is the root of fiction, and it is also the root of lying: it is the act of saying things as if there is someone saying them. Which there might or might not be. On the one hand, the author might author something that functions very well without further participation, perpetuated by the continued reading of others. On the other hand, it is possible to author a person into something zhe only becomes aware of ex post facto – such as when someone is informed that he or she is a certain gender.

Foucault would most likely object to being the subject. But the first three words signals all too clearly in which manner the other words are to be read, and thus they are. By those who can read such signs. The rest most likely tried to make some sort of sense out of this dysfunctional wordplay.

No reason to stop now. More words:

Grammar is prescriptive. Not in the sense of what you can and cannot say – grammar always finds a way to mean something, even if it is socially useless. No, it proscribes the limit of what metaphysics can be, and thus places an invisible filter over the world. Between you and what you can think – and, more importantly, express – there is language. While it does not make it impossible to express things, it does make it that much harder, and various workarounds have to be employed to describe certain features of the world. Poetry being the prime example, where the rules of grammar are broken in such a way that language cannot but produce the intended meaning. Seeing as we don’t speak in poetry in our everyday being, the things we tend to say form what is easy to think – and there we have the prescrivity.

The social markers are. They are in the world, dasein, for everyone to see. And to shake your metaphysical sticks at.

Now, for the last set of words:

Why can’t people just say things straight, by saying what they mean and meaning what they say?

Because words don’t say what you mean, and they definitely don’t mean what you think you say. Whoever you are. –

Learning by recipe

Okay. Recipes. Let’s start out easy, begin from the basics, learn slow, take the bottom-up approach. One step at a time. Nothing fancy-pancy. Just follow the recipe as it is written. We’re learning, by doing.

Aight. Recipe book. Let’s read and learn.

Spiced chicken

Buy a chicken from the local market. Be sure to wake up early – the competition for the best chickens is fierce, and you want to get to it before the crowd arrives. If possible, try to engage in friendly chit-chat with the farmer – it is usually possible to negotiate a better price if you make a good impression –

…maybe not just yet. Let’s move on.

Plum pie

The best time of year to plant plum trees is in the spring. Plant them on the south side, where they can get plenty of sun and –

…maybe something more immediate would hit the spot.

Ice cream sorbet

This can’t go wrong.

Milking a cow takes practice. First, make sure you feed it adequately. Neither quantity nor quality should be lacking – what goes in also goes out. Then, make every effort to provide an environment that enables –

…that’s it. I’m ordering a pizza. Why didn’t anyone tell me it was going to be this hard?