Archive for ‘uphill’

April 15th, 2016

In which a city that never sleeps burns out.

It’d seem a simple force of nature if not for the presence of so much un-naturally stamped in blue-gray columns and rows ’round the rotting monuments of this mass they’ve had the gall to call metropolis. The life, at night, is not a wave, not a pulse, there’s nothing resembling life amidst the artifice of fun strung out of tiny concrete blocks and confused bands offering grotesquely butchered tributes to the lovely people who live somewhere else. “Let’s Dance” has a bad trip on a fucking bongo drum while half its words are lost in mumbling over the emitter’s disinterest, enthusiasm miraculously rediscovered once the murder’s over and he can insist everyone clap because, please keep in mind, he’s working. We leave them a love note on a napkin and pour ourselves back into the swamp, knowing full well that’s the best show on tap that night.

Downtown beautiful buildings sit plumply in their pastry case and cast their glitter on the water; still, it’s silent except for the garbage trucks and folks who follow them, groupies of the grunts and squeaks and smells of twelve million people’s worth of junk. Their parties do not don the contemptible pretense of not starting ’til the day’s clock has run itself out, and I suspect whatever they’re drinking is superior to the club sludge. I suspect their conversation, for being mostly absent, outshines the paying sort too. There’s no circus here to run to, but pools and pools of “fuck it” with open invitations to join in. Just a toe.

The barrios they say are full of things to see. And it’s true for a week, for a glorious week in which you’d think what you’re seeing is a grand edifice that must house even greater things. And on the eighth day, you will see the light, and it will not be good. For there’s nothing inside aside from endless “todo bien?”s and incomprehensible failures, people with no idea what they’re doing or why but they’ll demand your respect (in words alone of course). Wouldn’t you like to support them? Wouldn’t you like to sit there, in the windowed cell they’ve got, and pretend with them that jack shit is just sublime?

There are no horses at the hippodrome, all they’ve got are slot machines. “The Palace” here is a beautiful old building full of tents that sell knockoffs of boring brandname clothing, littered with disused racecars and plastic booths where no one waits to “service VIP clients”. Shops along the main avenues keep their doors permalocked and post-it note plastered, please press the buzzer and wait five minutes for entry, for the sake of “seguridad”. I used to ask the keepers what they were securing themselves from. The answer invariably was that nothing really happened.

Nothing really happens here. I’ve never fallen out with a city so fast, a curious thing to me. Over the last year it’s become clearer the problem is all the pretending, which could’ve been fun in itself if it were about anything other than having fun. The only way to enjoy yourself here is to go out knowing you’re to entertain yourself, to reflect on nature, to push something until you’re completely exhausted. Nothing here will impress itself upon you, in other words. You must impress yourself upon it.

It’s hardly the worst problem to have, until you miss the old gods of your youth and can’t help yearning for someone talented –at anything that’s real– to take you somewhere routeless.

November 11th, 2014

Thinking you can infer the meaning of new words: still eviling strong

There’s a certain amount of danger involved in living in a place while you’re a little short on the language’s vocabulary. And by danger, I mean hilarity, and an occasional healthy dose of humiliation. In my early days in Romania, this most famously manifested in my asking a fish vendor if he had any sidewalk for sale, as I wanted trout and figured that “trotuar” word I’d heard a couple of times and not picked up might’ve well been a cognate. I thought his dumbfounded look might’ve gone away if I pantomimed troutness and repeated the word emphatically, but alas, the eyebrows only inched higher.

Last week, and now en espaƱol, the dangerous word was “ciego,” which I hadn’t seen nor heard before reading it in the title of a local theatre. Some guy’s name, the unexamined idea went in my head. The description promised mystery theatre at midnight, with some sort of special effects. What could go wrong?

Finery was donned, tickets were bought, and it wasn’t until my companion and I were sitting in the theatre lobby waiting for the thing to get started in that inexplicably inescapable Argentine limbo of a quarter hour stuffed between the stated start and the actual start (I suspect it has something to do with consumption or manufacture of dulce de leche though, like everything else here) that the question was raised: did I know what “ciego” means?

Because it means blind. Blind theatre. I’d never heard of such a thing. “Who figures a theatre show’s going to be for blind people?! Do you know what the odds are on that?!,” I offered jokingly under the deadpan glare of companion, who had just translated a billplay schpiel about how the whole thing would be dark, with no visual component, and we would instead “smell” and “feel” the show. We would experience things long forgotten, it boasted warned.

I love theatre, but like loving anything, this doesn’t include necessarily enjoying every potential offering in the vein. Walking out is the proper response to a performance that isn’t up to scratch1. But what if you can’t walk out without actually stopping the show? That, much moreso than the thing dubbed “entertainment,” was the real experience on offer.

Entry to the theatre involved being lined up in brief, queued conga-lines that were led past heavy drapes into a pitch black room. Cannot-see-your-hand-an-inch-in-front-of-your-face, honest pitch black. My line progressed through the darkness what felt like fifty meters or so, stopped, and someone’s hands grasped my shoulders and pushed me down onto a chair. I heard a few other lines being brought to sit in a similar fashion while I screwed my head around in search of some sort of bearings (out of which I got nothing other than a sense that the ceiling was high), and then the show which did not show anything started.

The notion goes that they who lack a given sense are more perceptive with the faculties they do possess. This notion has not reached the Buenos Aires Theatre for the Blind. The first span (there were a total of five of these; I didn’t have much of a sense of time other than the whole thing seeming to take more than the half hour anticipated when going in –it turned out to be an hour and a half long) was composed principally of cacophany, brutal and jarring as fuck. Cessna engines grazed overhead with what sounded like a foot or so’s clearance. Marching bands entered from the right, proceeded in front of me, exeunt left.

Spans two through five included being surrounded by coffeehouse patrons excitedly spanking teacups with spoons while jets of steam tortured milk into foam and the room was painted with oil of cinnamon. Thrown in here and there: police sirens and someone by the sound of it recently impaled ass through mouth with a stake being dragged by my feet (grasping my shins desperately), a chinatown parade consisting of symbols and badly-cooked eggrolls, “rain” falling from plant misters to the face in a tumultuous storm of spray me with that shit again and I’ma show your crotch my six inch stilettos you motherfucker, and a stunted copulation between a woman who hadn’t been laid in decades and a man who interrogated mattress springs for a living, all punctuated with visits from the scalper-cessnas. There was a dialogue apparently fumbling at tying these together but the gulf between my Spanish and these folks’ sanity ne’er was cross’t.

A door was opened, light was thrown onto our unhappy little galley, the five-foot hole in the audience that’d served as a stage revealed. It was a blissful relief to see again, and to walk out of there, the warm conviction of needing to do better research washing over me. I’m fairly certain these people imagine what they offered was a night of entertainment2, but the real thing paid for here is persuasion: 1. it must suck being blind; 2. seriously, no really, look up those words you don’t know, smartass. Nature will find a way to piss on your face.
***

  1. Regardless of it supposedly being “impolite.” On the contrary, it’s beyond rude to suggest to the company that a stinkorama smells of roses by sitting through the whole thing and clapping on cue. You wanna perform? Get on stage. The audience ain’t the place. []
  2. Sure, some semblance of art could be pulled out of all this, the struggle to follow a story through unpolished means creating a change in the beholder etcetera, but I’d just as well argue the artistic merit of being hit with a bag of oranges. It could be done. This wasn’t it. []
September 26th, 2014

If at first you don’t succeed, scoop it into the garbage and ask how many cups of stupid you threw in there.

I made a failed cake yesterday. I loathe few things more than failed foodstuffs, but like most anything, they require a bit of failure now and then to season a person into sanity. It was a pineapple upside-down cake, and while a specific procedural error led to the failure, the real cause of the soupy, inedible (but still quite deliciously fragrant, because fuck me) disaster that flowed out of my pan was a momentary preference for not thinking.

In general I don’t use recipes when cooking, though only yesterday did I really understand why. Inasmuch as a recipe presents itself as a complete set of instructions and a material rider, it offers a replacement for thinking, if you’re prone to succumbing to that sort of thing. So a recipe for pineapple upside-down cake that calls for fresh fruit and doesn’t mention the need to wring the juice from the cut pieces nor to evaporate extra juice with a long, slow, caramel-covered sauna over low flame is a recipe for sludge –similar to the substance occupying the space between your ears as you mindlessly list-check and step yourself along.

Here’s version one, in all its abortive glory:
bad cake

The conversation upon opening the springform went something like this:

Person Promised Cake: “So…how many cups of water did you put in here?”
Me: “…water?! There’s no water.”
PPC: “You put some water in here. Some liquid with water in it.”
Me: “Uh, well the caramel had like a tablespoon of cognac in it…the batter had around four.”
PPC: “Nah, you put like a cup of water in here.”

I was incredulous and combative until the virgin pineapple was finally dragged on stage. This’d be another symptom of eschewing thinking for the instructions. It didn’t call for a cup of water, I didn’t just randomly throw uncalled for things in, obviously I didn’t put a cup, a whole cup, even, of water in there! Except I did, because the poor pineapple is simply going to do what it does without a care for what should be or what someone else assumed it’d do.

It’s not that cooking can’t be learned in the presence of recipes, just as it’s not true that math can’t be done with calculators. The problem is that relying on such things to do one’s thinking for oneself is a quick ticket to amorphous mush, of whatever kind follows from the inputs. I never knew what the fuck I was doing with basic math until I stopped using calculators and did things in my head, and I only learned how to cook well when I became actively engaged in making new things, which absolutely as a first step requires thinking. Faking understanding with tools may go unpunished for a while, especially in an environment marked by mickey mouse tests and tasters and “scores” that reflect what should be rather than what is. Math, cake, or anything else, though –it’ll fall apart at some point, and the more you seek to find fault with the tools rather than with yourself, the worse it’ll be.

Here’s version two, which landed upside down cake firmly in my repertoire:
good cake

It’s a banal accomplishment in the grand scheme of things, but served as an important reminder of the wasteful stupidity of tuning out, and of the pernicious poison of poorly-chosen submission.

September 26th, 2013

Your Feelings are Out to Get You

I couldn’t tell you when it happened, exactly, and in truth there’s no reason to suspect that its growth was unlike the spread of a fungal colony; deep underground somewhere, the notion that what people “feel” could possibly bear as much as or more importance than what they think (assuming they actually possess the ability) acquired more and more mass, sending poisonous mushrooms above ground here and there until at some point those enjoying the forest found themselves knee-deep in rot.

“I feel that you are wrong.” “I feel that the company owes us retribution.” “I feel” this, “I feel” that, and it’s almost never about anything to do with that amorphous realm of emotion in which expressing a feeling could be at all relevant. It’d seem that people are being taught that their feelings matter so generally and in such an unexplained and imprecise manner as to lend credence to this idea –or moreover, this feeling– that there’s no real need to consider facts, to understand context, or to otherwise engage in thought. An alternative or even cooperative explanation could of course be that this broken feeling is simply never checked, or at least, not enough, by others (such as, for instance, parents, teachers, and others tasked with responsibility for the education of children).

An early lesson I struggled with was the notion that my feelings do not matter. On the first pass, it was knee-jerking. It sounded felt like a personal insult. Surely how I felt was important, not only to me but to those around me. I was a person, my feelings shouldn’t be hurt or denigrated! But these very feelings were a kind of blanket spread over the truth: a feeling doesn’t matter within the context of thought, and has no impact whatsoever on anything at all unless I choose to act upon it (which in turn is no guarantee that an impact will be made, and it’s even more unlikely said impact will affect anything other than my –you guessed it– further feelings). This isn’t because I am more or less x than anyone else. It’s just what it is.

Now, I could certainly construct a false sense of reality for myself in which my feelings mattered very much, dictating what was correct and what was not, along with a laundry list of shoulds and becauses and on and on. And while I’m certain that a growing number of people (and especially those who have excessive time for musing over such things because they’ve been born into situations that do not require them to focus instead on how to get what to eat) are constructing these false realities for themselves out of a desire for emotional comfort and a sense of control, this construction in fact produces the exact opposite.

For even if one endeavors to surround oneself with like-minded feelers who “support” each others’ “rights” to these feelings in an attempt to reduce the checks that reality itself will impose, there’s no absolute escape from reality, leaving aside the gray areas of actual brain damage and the like. In fact, the more ardently someone works to weave this blanket, the more disruptive such inevitable checks will be, and the more those feelings will be hurt.

This problem constitutes reason enough to acknowledge that while feelings may be felt, they have no bearing on the truth. But it is far from being the only, or even the largest, problem. Relying on feelings to perform as one’s compass has the nasty, ultimately life-destroying effect of keeping people from learning. After all, you cannot very well understand something new if the fact that it’s new and so disrupts your feelings results in your rejecting it outright. Moreover, there’s little if any learning to be done in life without the involvement of some agent; a teacher, a writer, a drill sargeant, someone has disseminated information that’s graciously been made available to you. There’s no guarantee you’ll “feel” that this agent is kind or considerate or understanding or whatever it is you liked about your kindergarten nanny. And again: that doesn’t matter. If you go through life selectively reading, selectively hearing, and selectively thinking you’ll end up living a far weaker, blander, emptier, and hurt-filled life than you reasonably could have, no matter where you started, no matter what other circumstances were present for you.

Your feelings, should you attempt to position them as anything more than that, should you attempt to impose them over the truth, should you abuse them as shelter, will necessarily hurt you. The next time you find yourself beginning an argument with “I feel…”, literal or not, consider whether this shroud of yours is worth sacrificing the bliss of learning, knowing, and of being real.

October 25th, 2012

The Pedagogy of the Oppressed

The title is shared with a book I picked up on my last visit to Northern California; my Dad had reserved a shelf of his bookcase to volumes that had been owned (and predictably underlined, highlighted, and margin-noted) by my late Grandfather, who was a school principal and a professor of education. In fact, I picked it up pretty much for the sake of the title, perhaps a flippant or indulgent act; it seemed exotic, something to flip through now and then. Since I’ve had it I haven’t done much of any flipping, but the title has worked its effect on others, recently calling attention to itself when used as a hard surface on which a business acquaintance signed some papers. After the book’s political slant (if such a slant is to be found –the book remains unread) was jokingly called into question, and in the course of my recent return to the study of basic chemistry, the words “pedagogy” and “oppressed” have begun to take on increasingly relevant meaning for me.

Why? Because pedagogy, at least in my experience –which is limited to three albeit second and third-tier universities, and a great deal more independent study–, is suffering an intolerable and frankly disgusting state. Because the oppressed aren’t limited to what we in the first-world countries imagine is the third-world, but in fact is making quite a meal of the world at large, at least in terms of education. The proof, if you want it, is anywhere you’d care to look; it’s in the general public having little to no clue about such basic things as the order of the planets in our solar system or how to make change without a calculator, it’s in the recurring dramas of altered standardized test scores and the failure of entire swaths of adolescents to pass exams. More importantly, it’s in the fact that apologies are made in lieu of actual teaching.

Apologies to the emotions, apologies to catalogued and medicated “conditions” based on those emotions or even the lack thereof, apologies to the attention span and to the desire for speed and ease. Much of modern education seems to lean towards this culture of apologetics, from the book I remember my Dad picking up in his post-graduate days many years ago (Statistics for the Terrified) right on down to the infuriating line I came across an hour ago after trusting a chemistry resource for a few chapters and finally discovering it was uselessly apologetic: “Why does this matter? What significance do electron shells have on the fact that “you’d rather be fishing”?

Maybe it’s supposed to be funny. I’m not fucking laughing. The idea that those who have tasked themselves with teaching should take into account, and should actually cater to this modern state of affairs in which students can’t be assed to actually learn something entirely undermines, at least from my point of view, the task of teaching in the first place. I understand that educators are more often than not held accountable for the performance of their students, and that the path of least resistance may well be the path that leads to a decent living, some comfortable shroud of prestige, and the ability to move upward into some ivy-covered leather-loungered candyland of “the real thing,” where you can have a lab or a grad student and maybe find someone who shares your ultra-specialized interests. But as with pretty much any other widespread issue in which standard practice has gone to shit, those who are practicing thusly, for any reason whatsoever, are a large part of the problem.

Which isn’t to say that the onus is completely on the educators. It’s on everyone engaged in the act of learning, no matter their position or angle. As a reformed undergraduate earning straight As after a slew of failures, I quickly picked up on the fact that gorging on properly formatted bites of information and storing them for a few days was perfectly adequate for getting the grades and the certificates and the praise. Years later, I realize that I didn’t learn anything at all, really, other than the system itself. And I’m far from being alone; following the system is an educational problem old and widespread enough to be a major topic in this pedagogy I’m describing. And if I reference Chomsky here and his discussion of the problem of obedience to the system outperforming meaningful learning, would I actually help anybody learn anything, or would I just be sending the right signal of systemhood to obedient compatriots?

As far as I can see, there are two equally important, and importantly interdependent, beasts to approach if we’re interested in liberating ourselves from the oppression of modern pedagogy. The first is arriving at the purpose of learning. Of all the many things in this life that are subjected to our “shoulding” indoctrination, learning takes a backseat perhaps only to religion. Some of us are told that we should learn because it’s what everyone else does, or because if we do it, we’ll get a reward such as more money or the approval of other people. Some of us are told that we should learn or else we’ll get into trouble. Few of us are told that if we learn, we’ll actually become functional human beings. The purpose of learning isn’t to pass someone else’s test, or to become certified. It isn’t to get more money (and in fact, as countless people have discovered, the route of learning to get more money is frequently derailed by the costs of that route). The purpose of learning isn’t to impress your friends or to “become an expert” or any other trashy carrot on a stick so often dangled in front of us as children (or adult children). The purpose of learning is to fucking learn. It’s not glamorous, it’s not material, and for both of those reasons it has nothing at all to do with a cap, a gown, a piece of paper on your wall, or a piece of paper in your wallet. And the conclusion isn’t that it won’t actually win you anything. It will. It will win you the most important thing of all: your self, your personhood, your ability. I suppose you don’t have to want that. But if you don’t, by no means should you go through the motions of learning as though you’re doing anything other than contributing to the stupidification of the entire human race.

The second beast is understanding what learning is, and how to do it. This is what you’re supposedly being taught as a child. Supposedly, it’s the foundation you’re given before you breach into specific subjects. Unless you’re one of the modern elite, though, and I do mean elite, as in the ability to master any subject you’d like and disseminate it correctly and meaningfully for any given audience*, you haven’t actually gotten it. Alternatively, through some unfortunate miracle you could arguably have gotten it but are so lazy or apathetic you haven’t put it to any use. Learning is a process, obviously, and requires the location and verification of reliable sources, which is a far more difficult task than it would seem. Wikipedia is not a source. Encyclopedia Britanica is not a source. The vast majority of university courses are not sources nor do they actually provide you with them. This isn’t easy to accept in a world where we’ve been taught that you can Google something and “learn” it. Nevertheless, if you wish to learn you must identify the actual learning of actually learned people. As a consequence of our modern problem, this usually means that you’ll have to look back several decades if not centuries, if not millenia. You want seminal pieces. You want thoroughly unbiased peer review. And you need to be able to cross-check, and to test. When you find truth, then, you must toil to understand it, until you can fit it into your own tree of knowledge, so that it can rationally interact with everything else you’ve learned in this manner. It’s a bitch. It’s also the only way. No, you won’t ever “finish,” but if you’re particularly lucky you might stand a chance at discovering something, at contributing to our knowledge.

Certainly, and most importantly, you will without a doubt lead a more fulfilled, more capable, and more meaningful existence, whether you’re rich or poor, whether you’re fat or thin, whether you’ve suffered a little damage from today’s bullshit or you’ve been digging through it for years. Confronting both beasts requires a great deal of honesty and discipline on your part, and you’ll also need plenty of patience. There’s no fast-track, no accelerated option. It is what it is, and at times, like me, you’ll realize three chapters into what you thought was an already-verified source that you’ve been fleeced yet again and you’ve got to go back to the drawing board because the world is so freaking full of this apologetic half-assed approach to learning, and jesus h. christ enough already! Stand your ground, this is what we are fighting for. There are those who believe, either in a nod to the ancient ideas on pedagogy or because of their own idiosyncrasies, or both, that you will have to be physically beaten, starved, and put through the ringer in order to do this. It is my deep and earnest hope that this isn’t actually true. It’s also my deep and earnest hope that in my lifetime learning will be accomplished not with whips and chains, nor advertised with cars and houses and social labels, but will become again the natural and meaningful pursuit of people.

When my Grandfather was still alive, I was sadly still meandering through today’s broken system, and I never really made the effort to get to know his perspective on learning or to talk to him about his experience. This article is dedicated to him; a reminder to myself of the time I’ve wasted, and of how many great unknowns still and will ever lie ahead.

*Yes, this exists, though I’ve only met one such elite and have sacrificed much to even gain access, and I’m not at this point convinced that there is more than one such person on this earth, though I have my hopes and suspicions.

September 27th, 2012

This is it

Boredom. Depression. Malaise. The sense that time’s just passing, the thought that It has designs on you, is going to fuck you up, maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, maybe just as soon as you stop thinking about it. Worse yet, the idea, able to manifest itself spontaneously if only you look around you or examine your life, that you’re no good. You’re not enough. You’re older than you used to be, and still…you aren’t who you thought you’d be, you haven’t gained the certifications or the trophies or the unspoken recognition of your peers. It’s not that nothing seems worth doing, but moreover that you don’t feel suited to any task. You don’t want to do that which you perceive you’re “supposed to” (and even if the overall goal is something you’d like to reach, there’s too much banal or impossible shit to do before you can get to the point), and the rest, well…you play at hobbies for a while but the feeling that you’re getting nowhere burns in around the edges until you’re left clutching the largest available piece of ash.

It lasts for days, weeks, months even, for all you know this is all there’ll ever be; how many truly old people have you seen who seem still to be entrenched in this? Apathetic, or sad, disinterested, the external decay visibly outpaced by the rot within.

You are fucking yourself over. Some people, books, ideologies would have you believe that you’re lacking the principal ingredient of living, of being human, but that isn’t exactly it. You have the material. What you lack is the catalyst. The stuff of motion, the essence of getting it done. Sure, there’s some treacle of it here and there, you manage to go on breathing, you scrape by enough to ensure that you don’t actually die of this. But you’re cheating yourself out of volume; you’re starving yourself on crackers and sugarwater though your pantry is full.

The fact that you have gotten through whatever has come your way to get to where you are now, however undesirable or inadequate, is a useful proof of your possession of the material you need to ascend the bullshit existence you’ve created for yourself. You aren’t broken, you aren’t wasted, and if anything is actually fundamentally wrong with you, either it’s not strong enough to kill you outright or else it’s young and small enough to be rooted out before it conquers.

You do not need a special thing. There is no car, no pill, no outfit, there is no diet or manual or salve that will suddenly activate your abilities. Living, actually living, is something you could do if today you threw out everything you owned. In fact, getting rid of things is more productive for this task than acquiring them; you can treat yourself to things once you’ve built yourself into a functional, truly alive person –someone who’s able to use things correctly rather than to instill in them some hope of inward personal change.

And there’s no pep talk or fortune cookie that will activate you either. Even if this post itself appears to be some aside between me and you, fashioned to make you feel better; it’s not. Fuck you. People in the business of making you feel better by saying nice things, by motivating you, are either con men (consciously or not) out to get your money, or else they’ve made it their job to train draftees and recruits. I’m not selling anything, and it matters neither to my purse nor to my person whether you ultimately succeed or fail. What matters to me is truth.

So, have it. The only thing you truly need is the decision. Mind you, acknowledging its veracity and acting accordingly is implicit in making the decision: you are going to live. Not half-heartedly, not with a but or an unfortunately. You’re going to do it, that which you do, fully, with everything you’ve got. Your body will ache. You will sweat into your eyeballs, you will cry, you won’t always sleep, it’ll seem like you’ve been working at the same goddamned thing for so long a monkey in an empty room could have by now produced what you’re trying to make. You’ll keep doing it, more diligently, you will go on.

And though you may never get those certificates or trophies, though other people may leave off their silent non-recognition of your greatness in favor of outright mockery and scorn, you will know that none of that matters one whit. You will feel every movement, your muscles shivering in bliss, you will taste every bite and catch every note, your palate distinguishing between things you never before knew existed, you will understand essences and so intuit specific facts. You will live.

May 1st, 2012

The Epistle Dedicatory to Arthur Bingham Walkley

I first read George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman, A Comedy and a Philosophy, starting sometime in 2010, and was not finished with the play until sometime (quite late) in 2011. I’m a slow reader, it’s true, but the time I took was more a reflection of the challenge presented by the piece’s opener, that being, the Epistle Dedicatory to Arthur Bingham Walkley. It was the first such letter I’ve ever come across, and probably the most instructive piece of literature –if a letter can really achieve such a thing– I’ve ever read.

Never has a text provided such a vocabulary lesson (inchoate? purlieu? saveloy?) cum reading list (Piers Plowman? Pendennis? Bleak House?). Never has a text slapped me with so many What?!s and Who?!s, or given me so many occasions to realize, after dissolving into a fit of frustration with page-long sentences peppered with references of a cultural club of which I clearly was not a member, how incredibly well a point had been made, or an idea had been phrased.

Still, I suspect I’ve done a sort of intellectual weeding in the garden of this text, pulling out the tougher bits, without having taken a seat to really admire the flowers, so there’ll be another reading in my future. Or possibly five.

Seeing as Trilema is holding a festival of readings from the letter, I’ve recorded a short clip. Luckily I was able to find a paragraph that didn’t contain any French or Latin, thus saving myself the embarrassment of trying to pronounce either.

Listen if you like.