Michael met Eugene a quarter century ago. At that time, he was pursuing what turned into his last corporate career. His work as a senior software analyst demanded no more than a few hours of his time every day. He had no ambition to apply himself beyond the call of duty. Continue reading bad company I
It is the 22nd of April, 2002. Michael has seen Rachel twice. The first time, three days earlier, he tried to reconnect her with Mischa. Rachel would have nothing of that. She never considered herself his girlfriend anyway. It was all his doing. Rachel was confused after her divorce. She fell prey to a smooth operator. She regrets it deeply. Mischa was really disgusting. He has no spine. She wanted Michael to be careful with a “friend” like him.
Michael and Rachel were sitting in her car. The car was parked downhill from Michael’s house. Michael’s faithful dog Cosmo was having an anxiety attack. He was trying to get out of the house to warn Michael. Cosmo clawed a hole through the garage door. Michael’s neighbor Tony came out to intercept Cosmo. His warning went unheeded.
Rachel is talking to Michael again. She wants to apologize for being too blunt and even rude. She is not sure why she is being that way. She feels that she has to be like that. Maybe she is like that because she wants to be completely real. Maybe she thinks that Michael is deep and brave enough to handle any sort of truth. Michael knows that she respects him, right?
But Michael has too much of a spine. Rachel is concerned about his lawsuits. Rachel is concerned about Min Zhu threatening Michael’s life. She thinks that life has a lot more to it than being a warrior fighting unpleasant things or unpleasant people, no matter for what reason. She thinks that family is one of the most meaningful parts of life. She is hungry for love. She has failed to make it in her first marriage. She is looking for another chance. But she does not see how a sweet family can be built upon the atmosphere of fighting and the danger caused by it. Michael must have been a spoiled rich kid living for pure ideas. Rachel does not think that that is a wise way to live in the era we are living in now.
Rachel wants nothing from Michael now. She likes him, she liked him the first time she saw him. He is an attractive man. But she wants to be friends with him only, at least for now. And that is it.
Rachel opens her legs. The computer beeps. Isabelle wants Michael’s attention. She wants to come over. There are no strings attached. Michael looks at Rachel. There it is, free cheese in the mousetrap.
0. December 28th, 2004, 19:52 PST. Rachel calls again. She wants to be Michael’s friend. Nothing going.
1. In the course of working on a client project through a sleepless Thursday night on August 22nd, 2002, Michael looks up Rachel’s address on the Internet. (Theretofore, they had met exclusively at Michael’s Hollywood Hills hovel.)
2. On Friday morning, Michael rides his red Ducati 916 to beautiful downtown Santa Ana. The site indicated in the phone directory is a commercial building dedicated to art and food, one worse than the other.
3. Daunted by the apparent lack of residential spaces, Michael orders a double espresso and inquires about living arrangements. The barista directs him to an awning that conceals the locked entrance to the grad student dorm.
4. Navigating through two locked doors in his finest Soviet street urchin fashion, Michael knocks on the third one to pay Rachel an unexpected visit.
5. A bleary-eyed, red-lipped visage of East Asian pulchritude greets him, startled but not displeased.
6. Michael enters Rachel’s abode and invites her to join him downstairs for his and hers espressos.
7. Alternatively, Michael offers to join Rachel in bed.
8. Two minutes later, Michael enters Rachel.
9. Five minutes later, Rachel comes and instructs Michael to hurry up.
10. Michael complies.
11. Rachel informs Michael that she has a new boyfriend scheduled to arrive from China with matrimonial intent.
12. Michael’s rooster sings on Friday, August 23rd, 2002, at 09:35 PST. He offers himself to Rachel as an alternative, delivering the first marriage proposal in his life, though expecting full well that the offer of his hand would be summarily declined by his prospective spouse.
13. Rachel summarily declines.
14. Michael feels relieved.
15. Michael and Rachel have breakfast downstairs.
16. Michael reminds Rachel that she owes him a serious drinking session.
17. The next morning, Rachel shows up on Michael’s doorstep.
18. Rachel reaffirms their sordid affair having been superceded by an as yet unconsummated relationship leading to an arranged marriage. Michael feels depressed owing to romantic rejection compounded by sleep deprivation.
19. Michael and Rachel share an omelet with smoked Scottish salmon, Maui onion, and heirloom tomato, washed down with a bottle of Alsacian Gewurtztraminer.
20. Rachel requests that Michael fuck her for the last time.
21. Michael complies all day long.
22. Rachel informs Michael of her matrimonial philosophy, wherein sex counts for 75% of success. Speaking from sketchy past experience, Rachel allows that her marriage to another Chinese man might depend upon the digital and oral alternatives to the phallic conveyance for her gratification. Michael and Rachel negotiate cordial post-relationship terms.
23. Michael and Rachel eat pho noodles and watch an appropriate video, Birthday Girl, wherein a mild-mannered geek finds the object of his true love in a pregnant Russian bimbo in cahoots with a couple of extortionist thugs.
24. Michael delivers additional breakup party favors.
25.Michael and Rachel doze off.
26. Rachel leaves Michael forever in the morning.
27. Rachel calls Michael for help in the afternoon.
28. Michael composes a modest masterpiece of sexual manipulation, attached below.
29. Rachel calls Michael in the morning to thank him for his letter.
30. Rachel asks Michael for a date.
31. Michael thinks about eternal recurrence.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org Mon Aug 26 15:10:20 2002
Date: Sun, 25 Aug 2002 18:16:49 -0700 (PDT)
From: Michael Zeleny
To: Rachel W… , Rachel W…
Cc: Michael Zeleny
Subject: Another Angle
In keeping with your desires, I have closed the book on the possibility of our long-term romantic involvement. Since you have expressed a desire to be friends, and manifested a need for having me as a friend, I amplify and expand our last conversation herewith.
To quote somebody I no longer talk to, you can bullshit others all you want, but you better not bullshit yourself while at it. When called upon to apply his own principle at home, the author allowed that we all are delusional in one way or another. I both endorse the principle and agree with the excuse. The overarching rule is philosophical: nothing in excess, including moderation. Alas, your life is replete with violations of this rule. For all your positive talk, the emerging professional pattern is one of many credentials accumulated to no productive end. As you account for it, your career always proceeded as an adjunct to your marriage. This is a common situation, for which you cannot expect any special accommodations. Under similar circumstances, real estate sales remains for a good reason the #1 traditional career choice of the American divorcée, leveraging the mind control skills accrued in a failed marriage. I respect your ambition in choosing an alternative professional career path. But as we both know, graduate school is of limited utility as a refuge in life’s passages.
Sooner or later, the schooling comes to an end, and your bills come due. Part of the reason for my willingness to advise you in this transition is my personal history at a similar stage. You remind me of me a few years back — overeducated, undercapitalized, full of ideas, short of skills. Through a series of peripeties and personal connections both beneficent and malign, I am managing to get back on my feet a scant nine years after graduation. You would be well advised to learn from my experience. Get to work and stay at it. Make a real career plan and follow through. Give up useless distractions to focus on achievable goals. Cultivate relations to help you along the way. Be aware of your assets and liabilities. Be able to negotiate and deliver quid pro quo. Look sharp, stay alert, listen to people’s needs, and be willing and able to fill them to mutual advantage. These lessons extend into the personal domain. First and foremost, try to understand your own needs as a woman, while accounting for your assets and liabilities. For example, if marriage is your true goal, think of it in terms of staying married rather than getting married. As you know, the deck is stacked against you, since second marriages fail on an order of magnitude more often than first marriages. As with all human endeavors, unrealizable expectations are the primary cause of failure. These include denying your own interest in sex as the foundation of marriage, dreaming up alternative ways of satisfying your sexual desires, and last but not least, deluding yourself about the matrimonial motive. As in science, the simplest explanation is the most plausible one. If a ticket to the land of opportunity is your most readily convertible asset, you would be foolish not to assume it to be a primary motivation. Far be it from me to discount your innumerable feminine charms. But the scenario that you have sketched leaves no room for their proper appreciation, just as it leaves no room for assurances of any matrimonial basis other than immigration expedience.
I hope that my bluntness does not foreclose your benefiting from this advice. Life is too short for pointless politeness. Having moved past pleading my romantic case, I find myself concerned with your standalone well-being. I welcome your calling for my aid and assistance at will.
cordially, — Mikhail Zeleny@math.ucla.edu
7576 Willow Glen Rd, Hollywood, CA 90046 323-876-8234 323-363-1860
All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter.
Try again. Fail again. Fail better. — Samuel Beckett
In their discussions of logic and set theory, Willard Quine and Alonzo Church distinguish between a paradox, an affront against unschooled intuition, and an antinomy, an outright contradiction, an offense against the laws of reason. Both of these predicaments are rooted in classical antiquity. The term aporia (literally, “no way”, or “cul-de-sac”), derived from poros (passage), already occurs in the writings of Democritus. Plato relates it to dialectic. The aporetic situation arises as an intermediate consequence of elenchus, the Socratic method of eliciting truth by means of brief questions and answers. One characteristic instance witnesses Socrates eliciting doubts from his interlocutors by being more in doubt than anyone else. (See Meno 80c.) Continue reading mise en abyme
On the 19th of April, 2002, Michael meets his cyberstalker. At first, he has trouble recognizing her. Michael first met Rachel on New Year’s Eve of the year before. He made dinner for his friend Mischa K. Michael brought Isabelle. Isabelle was back in Los Angeles for the holidays. She had been Michael’s friend with benefits since 1998. Michael and Isabelle met through an online dating site. She had left town two months earlier to sell Chinese antiques in Maryland. Isabelle was engaged to be married. She wanted to be with Michael for the holidays. Michael’s friend wanted to be with Rachel. At 40, Mischa was getting past his prime as a musician and ladies’ man. Both Rachel and he were recently divorced. They had been seeing each other for six months. They exchanged affectionate words. Mischa was eager to settle down. Rachel was hungry for distraction. She was despondent over the failure of her marriage. She never stopped talking about it. They parted on bad terms.
Michael recalls all that as he sits across the table from Rachel. He also recalls Mischa’s complaints. Michael wears ballistic armor under his motorcycle jacket. He carries a gun. Five months earlier, his life had been threatened in the name of Erin’s father Min Zhu, and his billion dollar company, WebEx. Michael is suing the Zhus and WebEx. He has no doubt that the man capable of raping his daughter would have no qualms about executing his threats. He has no room in his life for another bitter, hysterical, manipulative female.
Félicien Rops, L’Incantation, 1896
Musée provincial Félicien Rops, Namur
Dépôt de la Communauté française de Belgique
Descartes’ magical motto, larvatus prodeo, resonates with reason of classical antiquity. Eubulides of Megara, the contemporary opponent of Aristotle, and very likely the most accomplished inventor of puzzles in the history of logic, bequeathed to him the philosophical concept of the larvatus: Though I know my father, though he is the masked man, I still may fail to know the masked man, I still may fail to know my father as the masked man. Their schools disagreed on the way of solving this paradox. Both the peripatetics and the Megarians understood that all knowledge referred to universals. But the former insisted further that such universals were both physically and logically inseparable from the concrete particulars that exemplified them. By contrast, the latter posited an unbridgeable chasm between the real thing and its ideal representation. Eubulides pointed out that the true object of my knowledge is my father’s representation, or his eidos. In so representing, the eidos enjoys no physical link with the material presence of its representandum, the object being represented. Thus it it need not manifest itself coevally and contemporaneously with the representandum. Aristotle maintained that all corporeal presentation necessarily coincides with cognitive representation by every universal exemplified in the representandum so presented. For him, therefore, the failure of my father’s palpable presence to guarantee my recognition of his person, was an acute embarrassment. Continue reading under the mask
On the 3rd of April, 2002, Michael receives an anonymous email. The woman feels awkward writing to him. She couldn’t help being curious about him. He is very active on the net. His writing is quite sharp. So there it is. She starts out by writing the first email to him. No, he did not know her, and she was not a fan of his. But Michael must trust her that there is no bad intention here. She is not as knowledgeable as Michael, but the curiosity has led her far in the path of life. And the experience of pain and joy made her even more curious. She likes the Samuel Beckett quote stuck under each of Michael’s Usenet posts ― “All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” She is not interested in discussing deep theories based on books. She wonders how Michael thinks about the simple questions. What does he think or like about life? Is he happy? Is chasing happiness the purpose of life? Is he in love now? How much does it mean to him to love and to be loved? She has a restless mind. Too much thought and too much feeling has exhausted her. She is not sure whether following the flow equals giving up or being wise. Is Michael just as lost as everyone? Is life a drama full of sorrow?
Michael is not in love at this time. Much of his own lasting puzzlement is due to trust misplaced in the wake of failed romance. All the same, he stakes his chances on the risk of personal betrayal, even when safety lies in petty mistrust. As Beckett says, repeat failure is a given; the challenge is to fail better each time. His problem with settling is that routine wear and tear make daily failure ever worse. So following the flow is not his strong suit. He is not sure whether to count himself as happy, but a lasting sense of integrity allows him to defer this question past the span of his petty sorrows. As the Greeks said, let no man be called happy in his lifetime. Maybe the legacy of his finest failure will suffice as the final answer.
Michael would like to continue this conversation. He asks the woman to tell him about her curious experiences.
Georges de La Tour, Woman Catching Fleas, 1630s
Oil on canvas, Musée Historique, Nancy, France
Michael’s mother Maria has Alzheimer’s. She was widowed on March 1st by an apartment fire of mysterious origin. The fire started right next to her couch. Instead of alerting Michael’s father Isaak, Maria repaired to the bedroom. She laid in bed by his side reading her book. Meanwhile, the fire was smoldering and gathering force. Her husband spent eighteen days on life support in a burn unit. Michael spent most of that time living and sleeping next to his deathbed.
Michael sleeps furtively, in snatches. After briefly falling asleep in the reclining chair, he dreams of his father. Isaak’s face is smooth. His skin glows. He wants to stay, but he must be going. Nothing Michael can say or do will change that.
Edvard Munch, By the Deathbed, 1895, oil on canvas, 90x120cm
Michael dreams of his mother. He is riding his motorcycle down Sunset Blvd at night to pick up Maria. She has once again wandered away to Beverly Hills. Instead of finding her on the agreed upon streetcorner, he comes across a paddy wagon. Maria’s voice comes from the back. The constables act like a couple. Michael asks them to release his mother into his custody. They refuse. Michael gets the male officer in a headlock. He draws his gun. The female opens the container at gunpoint. His mother is inside. She rests in a white cardboard box. She has shrunk to the size of a wizened doll. Her lips are moving. Michael hears nothing.
Edvard Munch, Night in Saint Cloud, 1890, oil on canvas, 64.5x54cm
|RADICALISME. D’autant plus dangereux qu’il est latent.
RADICALISM. All the more dangerous when it is latent.
— Gustave Flaubert, Le Dictionnaire des idées reçues
Complementing his treatment of mimesis, Erich Auerbach’s 1944 essay “Figura” lays down a classic account of figurative meaning. According to Auerbach, “figura is something real and historical which announces something else which is also real and historical. The relation between the two events is revealed by an accord or similarity.” Thus figurae connect persons and events as symbolic links in a providentially understood historical sequence. Thus the world recounted in the Bible remains imperfectly revealed. Every pivotal historical moment therein is understandable as a figura perpetually pregnant with meaning, yet always resistant to maieutic, the Socratic midwifery that might deliver full figuration a later historical moment. Within such moments history itself, with all its concrete force, remains forever a figure, cloaked, forever inviting and forever requiring the final disclosure, the final demystification, yearned for by the author of the Book of Revelation. As such, figurae are identifiable only in retrospect, when a type, or promise adumbrated or constituted by an earlier event or person is fulfilled or realized by its anti-type, a later event or person. Accordingly, in order to approach an understanding of the figurative meaning of the bad glazier and his bohemian tormentor, we must achieve two tasks. The first is to provide a retrospective account for these characters as realizing a prior historical promise that inheres in the locus classicus. The second is to define their fulfillment by the ensuing turn of historical events that comprises their locus modernus.