Hard Quorn, part I of II [Chronicles of Dis-/Infection, 2018oct]

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Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please. – M. Twain

The old saying is funny even if you are a member of the offended party: How do you know someone is vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll ****ing tell you. This is not an article on the benefits of veganism or the controversies it’s aswirl in. The idea is to explore the borderland where contemporary diet fads meet the post-truth age.
In the Trump era, post-truth is on an inexorable rise. No amount of in-depth research is allowed to stake out a bigger claim to truth than a celebrity’s spur-of-the-moment tweet. What bigot would trust Galileo over NBA player’s Kyrie Irving’s conviction that the planet is flat? Everything is epistemologically equal: science and religion, journalism and hear-say, experts and dabblers shake hands while facts ride off into the sunset. Post-truth covers a lot of ground from cries of Fake news! to circumstantial shitstorms to the surge in Flat-Earth disciples.

However, the term is often used in a media setting where it marks a changing of guards. The story approximates this: Whereas once a few, near-oligopolistic outlets and publishing houses ruled over what is considered fact/general knowledge, nowadays the media has diversified so vastly that the one-time arbiters of accepted knowledge have lost their monopoly. A multi-platform democratization of information and truth has taken place in the course of which the scientific and journalistic standards for fact-finding have often been left in the dust.

Without any scientific studies or statistics of my own, not even SurveyMonkey, I have noted that this new media landscape seems to give rise to a salient specimen of journalist: the *self-experimenter. From presidents they have learned that news and facts are created in the wake of whatever the messenger chooses to type. Rather than long-winded interviews with experts, much preferable to phoning authorities or questioning witnesses, the new journalists create the content by performing the experience/experiment themselves. This one-person-outfit has the added benefit of efficiency. In the post-factual era of obsolete stats n=1 is as good as n=100’000. The journalist becomes a method actor who takes risks, deprivations and bodily modifications upon herself to give the reader/consumer news they can identify with, lit af facts to be woke to. Plus the spectacle of getting there. The dividing line between these nouveaux newshounds, popular bloggers and (amateur) YouTubers on similar trajectories towards truth is fuzzy at best.

The *self-experiments, oftentimes ego-investigations, are diverse but they usually boil down to a forced march through a conspicuous aspect of pop culture. E.g.: one year of playing Fortnite two hours a day (I personally topped out at three minutes); half a year of only drinking water and eating kale; another half a year without alcohol (ouch! nooh!); four months without smartphone (followed, I assume, by a year without a job); a full thirty-one days in the middle of summer without any kind of media – the list goes on.

 

The last one I came across, particularly revolting, was a 5760N.Y. bloke who inspired by men’s man psychologist J. Peterson, decided to go on a ten-day beef bender. It sounds too terrible to be true: only salted cow-meat and water for a week. There were pictures of this Gabbat guy with piles of T-Bone steaks packed in styrofoam piling up on his arms…to boost credibility? Because that is the other side of the one-person experimental media: Where does showmanship end and reality begin? What self-flagellation are the journalists able to endure and readers/viewers willing to tolerate? Suddenly the freedom from facts risks becoming an enslavement to spectacle.

Undeterred by all of the above, I took note of the fact that among the many experiments conducted, veganism although an over-the-top trendy topic is missing. This is because going vegan is itself considered to be a test. That is setting the bar low considering that even celebrities of maximum materialism subscribe to the animal-free lifestyle. Moreover it neglects the plethora of vegan meat surrogates and the unpredictable, fascinating effects they might have on one’s metabolism when consumed exclusively. Inspired by the Guardian’s A. Gabbat I resolved to go him one better: ten days of only consuming one single vegan meat surrogate [plus water]. The better to compare if the effects would be equally awful. Thus my torment took its course.

 

Day One: Restriction of Choice
Part of the idea behind a monomaniacal project is that there will be no more pain of choice. Instead everything is reduced to a simple everyday ritual so that the individual becomes an accessory to the objective. When I found myself, as often before, standing in front of the Migros’ fridges’ Quorn/Cornatur/Soy section where all the flesh substitutes hang, I was unpleasantly surprised, how varied they actually are. And this, mind you, is leaving aside Anna’s Best devilry of vegan delicacies (Vegio Raviolone Spinat, Taboule Oriental, Vegi Dim Sum Shao Mai, Couscous African Rub, etcetera). If you filter the Migros product range through the vegan sieve, you still end up with 330 products. So I had to make a ten-day-proof decision. I coughed up three criteria:
A – It should be very meat-like to emulate all those other challenges.
B – It should be crude and un-scrumptious to give my experiment a high degree of difficulty (disqualifying, for example, Cornatur Grill Ribs)
C – If there is no heater or micro-wave present, I should be able to face my demons and eat the (un)bloody thing raw. Without getting into serious gastrointestinal troubles.
Dear reader, I stood in front of the fridge a very long time indeed; the shelf-stackers must’ve begun musing on what mischief I was up to. Which indeed I was. Ultimately, I decided on spending the next 192 hours exclusively preparing, devouring, digesting and expelling whatever would be left of Cornatur nuggets. Coarse enough. In hopes of not looking stone crazy in front of tellers who I see twice a week, I only buy three packets and swear to space out my purchases across different branches. To be clear, I fundamentally like these nuggets but I was going to find out just to what degree exactly. (Day One, later: For dinner I limit myself to five nuggets. I almost make the grave mistake of covering them in Ketchup, violating my self-imposed code of conduct. Or as the cool French folks call it, my deontology.)

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Day Two: Entering The One Dimension
I get up early to pre-fry my nuggets. There are two kitchen-nooks at our school but given the hellish miasma that would be caused if all teachers willing to were to cook, boil, sauté and whatnot, the more straightforward approach is to ban it. So I have to do it at home. Already I run up against the difficulty of my inexistent rule book: I don’t want to burn the nuggets but I don’t want to besmirch their purity either. And 06:30 is not the time to go on a wild goose chase for precedents by my siblings in the spirit. Nor do I know of any canon for *self-experimentation. I decide that one spoon of olive oil per four nuggets is the permissible and maximum amount of admixture with any other, foreign nutrients.
In the lunch hour I eat my eight nuggets. Usually there are nine but this one is different, just my luck. Then I drink my glass of water feeling that some of the E461 and sesame seeds might still stick to my gullet. Another glass, to be safe. This one-dimensional lunch of Cornatur is neither good nor bad, it simply is. Thereby perfectly reflecting the existentialist mood of
Mondays. Nor do I feel anxiety about doing this for another nine days, I just will. Everything is as it should be, except for the kids on lunch hour giving me amused, befuddled looks. I wave them off in my perfectly neutral Swiss voice „It’s an experiment. I have to research how long a person can survive on Veggie nuggets (the colloquial term)“. Laughter and a bedlam of questions ensue.
In the evening I decide to stick with five nuggets to establish a routine. My girlfriend shakes her head vehemently, she’s already deeply pissed about what I’m doing no matter what ingenious explanation I produce. Her luscious salad makes her look right and me feel wrong.

 

Day Three: Our Lady of The Fridge E. Kla
I wake up and immediately feel that something is off. Leaping off the mattress I make a dash for the toilet but instead of the expected landslide there is only a long, low, rumbling f***. I exhale down below and spatter residuals for a good ten minutes waiting for a fecal deluge that never happens. Then I make ready to take a shower but my cellphone, sometimes smart, sometimes spooky, informs me that I am a good two hours away from the start of my habitual snooze’athon. My other half, not necessarily better just different and a fitful sleeper at the best of times, lets it be known that she is entirely unhappy with this experiment. Without asking for it, she has become an uncontrolled variable, as unscientific as any post-truther could hope. I feel bad but I also realize: control variables are out of fashion anyway.
As I fry the Cornatur nuggets in crepuscular light, I am assaulted by a first sense of unreality: Again? This? I am one of those neurotic people who extremely self-consciously keeps changing up his routines, brands of beer, running routes and whatnot in hopes of squeezing a pulpy diversity of experiences out of life’s orange. This vegan monotony is counter-intuitive. I get the heat and timing perfect: the nuggets are golden.
In a state of dissatisfaction I have lunch. Feeling empty after nine nuggets, I quaff 1.5l of H2O. I cannot deny it, things are going badly already. For the lunch kids the novelty of my experiment has worn off. Instead they are trying to get me to play Fortnite with them; they sing its high praises but I only know so because of the adjectives they use, the nouns describing their virtual slaughters are alien, impenetrable.
In the evening we have to do a bit of grocery shopping; the possible wordplay isn’t lost on me. My variable half informs me that she demands I see the doctor later in the week to get a full check-up, threatening to kill me if I die of a heart-attack or the like. I inform her that according to Gabbat this is in the playbook anyway: the doctor, all that medical fake news. Then I stand in front of that fridge again. One of the female employees is smiling at me but I can tell it’s not flirty; she, her tag names her E. Kla, looks at me then glances at the Cornatur Nuggets, then back at me, smiles and disappears in a poof to reshelf elsewhere in a microcosmos full of forbidden delicacies.
At home, 7 pm, I prepare my nuggets in a flight of dark desperation. Subjective feeling: bad but survivable. Gut feeling: one solid block disconnected from the rest of my body. Instinct: For heaven’s sake Themba, break this off immediately!

 

Night of Day Three: Congress In Session
I stand at the lectern in front of the semi-concentric crowd and try to speak; in theory I have something important to say, something that would automatically cause world peace, somehow, but I’ve forgotten the precious words. I gaze out into the tiers of the UN general assembly, there are cows, dolphins, human beings, a walrus that looks like D. Trump and a sizable faction of fowl, they’ve all begun chanting into my silence. I listen up: COR – NA – TUR! COR – NA – TUR! COR – NA – TUR! …over and over again. And they are pelting me now with I don’t know what. I pick up one of the projectiles: an orange, marzipan M. Instead of waking up I absquatulate into a less threatening, less symbolic, less memorable dream. Later I do wake up after all, too early again, for my ten minutes of porcelain-seated flatulence.

 

Day Four: In Reference to Sustainability
This is my life now: nuggets, nuggets, nuggets. I stand in front of the four gas cookers and blast away, wondering how often and voluminously I may toot before our kitchen is consumed in a bright ball of fire. Basic physics. I feel horrid, I feel like I can’t feel the inside of my tummy. But then I wonder if I was ever able to feel the stomach itself, the lining of the gut, etcetera? The sounds of the flatulence, mine, are unfamiliar: a mean and high-pitched susurration as from arrogant air that resents joining other air. This is self-abasement begging for a reason. Even as a *self-experimenter I can still recall my journalistic motivation: at least one soul better read this silly article.
As I toss the folded carton into our recycling box and study the other three pieces already piled there, the question of sustainability reasserts itself. Why would a vegan product dedicated to the survival of our planet come double-wrapped in plastic then carton? They could print all the relevant product info on the black plastic or transparent cover, goodbye colorful cardboard. But paradoxically a plastic-only package would obviously look less environmentally friendly, especially when lacking the greenness of the carton. I shake my head as if to make all of this go away.
Teaching German, helplessly trying to convey grammatical basics and futile calls to the doctor, eat up my morning. On the fifth attempt when it’s time for a quick-fast lunch, I get through: booked solid for the week. I plead and implore while placating my insensate belly with my free left hand. The assistant, as is her wont, distrusts my claim to urgency. At last I resort to alternative facts, claiming I’ve been struggling with heart palpitations all night and morning. Which I fear soon enough will be true for real. I get an appointment for the following day, the halfway point, the point of no return. After that there are only twenty minutes left for my meal, I blaze through the Migros nuggets. An awful idea, as I come within an inch of reversing the lot of them. I am now officially and non-absurdly afraid that I might myself become a human Cornatur nugget.
I spend the whole afternoon in extreme light-headedness and as punishment for my Pinocchio phone-call, I experience what feels every bit like palpitations proper. Between lessons I send my girlfriend a lovey-dovey WhatsApp that in retrospect could be decoded as a goodbye message. I feel panicky. I curse myself. I fear my teenage anxiety might resurge. I spend a few of what are arguably the worst hours of my third decade in life.

When I come home I lie down, the feeling has been inverted and I feel unspeakably tired. I lie down on the couch and drop into a blackness out of which I am woken by my girlfriend. The gym? Not in a million million years. I try watching John and Tyrion for a while but slip into a fitful half-delirium instead. Around eight’o’clock I rise back to a semblance of wakefulness, stagger to the bathroom, spew vile matter for a while, then squirm my way bedwards. At some undefined later point in time Nomhle’s worried face swims into view and I try to assure her that everything is fine by which I mean to convey I will not die within the next 12 hours. Trying not to cause a mess in our bedroom, I repress the contents of my stomach, the notion of a five-nugget dinner and my subjective reality itself. I sleep horribly, as does my far superior half.

 

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[…stay tuned for part II folks!…]

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Finally FARTlek’d again [Chronicles of Dis/Infection, 2018oct]

Red is a benevolent dictatorship. – J. Jannard

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Yesterday at long last went back to running a Fartlek. A what? A fart leak? The word could hardly be more amenable to childplay, to crude speculation. It could even be a fart lick, a hairdo reminiscent of flatulence – the banal possibilities are endless. [Honorable mention: fart lag – the time that elapses between the issuing of gastrointestinal fragrances and their olfactory reception/critique.] What it is, as far as I know [one could look it up with three clicks, couldn’t one? But this is somehow beyond me, presently], is a running practice in which one fixes on a salient object of the landscape and then runs towards it at competition pace. Or even faster. Then chills out for a while at a low tempo. The idea of competition pace doesn’t make too much sense in my case, as the only way I can imagine entirely ruining the joy of running would be to actually participate in a competition, surrounded by a horde of hundreds.

And so then anyway, you fixate on the object and you dash towards it. The idea being that the target awakens an animal impulse of chasing down prey. Which it, surprisingly, 100% does. More philosophically speaking, this intermediate objective is, unlike one’s usual goals in life, almost immediately attainable [in my case at a distance of maximally 500-600 meters]. The visual attainability creates a disproportionate amount of extra motivation. One feels oneself flying towards the chosen objective, who knows, it might yet evaporate into sweet nothingness. Fartlek has a further upside: while running is a simple, elemental joy one is nevertheless sometimes overcome by the sense that it might lack something vital: the ludic element. By running a Fartlek, a playfulness is reintroduced to the act of loping: a random target, a mad dash and the subsequent exhilaration of getting there first [though there is no rival in sight].

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However, this does not mean the FARTLEK is free of complication.
First of all: what target might be fixated? Some prominent feature of the landscape? But there are so many! A random time interval? But that’s so mechanistically anti-ludic! I then struck upon the genius notion [concept would be overselling it] of selecting a red object. Instantaneously, the world turned into a runscape peppered with red objects along every line of sight: the red stop signs, the sidewalk bush engulfed in scarlet berries, the old lady stuck with only carmine-colored clothes, the ever obnoxious red sport cars, the suddenly surprising number of red houses [whereas I used to imagine the preferred national color of multi-unit abodes is a dirty yellow], URS aka unidentified red stuff, etcetera. It would be best to choose another color but red so captures the imagination.
Thus I fix my sights on a red thingie and make a dash for it, realizing that FARTLEK is much tougher than I had imagined, especially as I don’t know what kind of intermittent speed I can aim for without shutting my legs down in no time. Whenever I was on my slow recovery canter another 1000 scarlet targets immediately beckoned. Fortunately, on the fifth stretch of increased tempo, I realized the chosen finish point [a provocatively protruding rose blossom] was by far too far away. Sure enough at that very moment a guy dressed in red jeans and a white-and-red-striped shirt riding on a vulcano-red Vespa came speeding my way, to the pre-lactic rescue, I dung you not.

 

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Says Wiki: Fartlek, which means “speed play” in Swedish, is continuous training with interval training.[1] Fartlek runs are a very simple form of a long distance run. Fartlek training “is simply defined as periods of fast running intermixed with periods of slower running.”[2] For some people, this could be a mix of jogging and sprinting, but for beginners it could be walking with jogging sections added in when possible. A simple example of what a runner would do during a fartlek run is “sprint all out from one light pole to the next, jog to the corner, give a medium effort for a couple of blocks, jog between four light poles and sprint to a stop sign, and so on, for a set total time or distance.”
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A Radically Condensed Version of Recently [Chronicles of Dis/Infection, 2018sep]

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But epistemology is always and inevitably personal. The point of the probe is always in the heart of the explorer: What is my answer to the question of the nature of knowing? – G. Bateson

I have been wondering if everything that I usually have taken pages and pages to write on can be boiled down into two, three, four sentences? Let’s see.

 

One of the Guardian feathers claims that DT [his full name is difficult still to deal with, to acknowledge] is a laughing stock who demands or invites laughter, otherwise there would have to be tears. To the best of my understanding the man has been a source of constant distraction, in particular to US media. He has managed to vacuum attention by the news people, the way YouTube, Instagram, Fortnite, etc all have managed to do with the rest of the sub30?, sub40?, sub50?, sub something population for a good while now. It is difficult to to name a single piece of substantial policy attached to the man, rather than the names swirling with him in fecal cyclones: Putin [both in the English and French pronunciation], Stormy Daniels [haha], Manafort, Omarosa [two names or one?], etcetera.shot_1282759129
Extrapolating from personal experience, it also seems that the standards for factualness have loosened incredibly. What seems to get lost, day by day, cry by cry of „fake news“, is the ability to assess a source’s veracity. The convergence of Trump and the Post-Truth era cannot be a coincidence, rather, they seem a perfect epistemic storm.

 

Sometimes, now, I find myself paying attention to my heart. Is the rhythm okay? Does this pulse rate seem normal? Is there not some diffuse pain on the cardiac side? How long can I sleep on my left side before I can be accused of trying to purposefully precipitate a heart attack?
I am going on forty and, slowly as well as suddenly, the heart seems like it might not be the most reliable organ in the game. An acquaintance of mine died from cardiac arrest a few years back; rather horrifically as the emergency room folks sent him back home with a chest ointment that only forestalled his death for a few hours. Supposedly the pain and fear in this kind of death is horrible.
The heart, man.
In a way I feel bad for it. It never ever gets a break, it has to fulfill its job every second or so. Even the thought of that non-stop activity is exhausting. If anything it is the heart that deserves a rest and yet that is the very last thing anybody wants. Instead, laying up anxiously at night, I find myself giving little pep-talks to it: yes, everything fine; just keep going; good, good work, keep it up, absolutely keep it up; etcetera. I will say this: The heart is a lonely engine.

 

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post-script: There has been no writing of blogs lately because of the texting of longer things. And the illusion accompanying this has been the same one can assume it is for most in this situation: that the everyday concerns that get worked through in a blog will somehow find their way into the longer thing. The truth is, in my case, that this happens but never in a satisfactory way, neither for the long nor the absent short thing. The one ends up unbiddenly invaded, the other missing altogether.

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To the Amalfi Coast and back again, pt. I [chronicles of Dis/Infection]

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What the interval between the date of the first entry in the diary and the present date makes abundantly clear is that I must have and in fact absolutely did violate one of those… axioms guiding the production of passable journals/diaries. Either the entries were too lengthy or they were too abstract, too far removed from the daily, awkward business of being myself. I suppose I did violence unto both at once. At any rate, here I type, ready to redeem myself accompanied by the clanging of the worst church clocks known to humankind (that of Albori, Costa Amalfitana, exclusive to Sunday’s one would hope).

 

For the glorious summer of 2018 we decided to visit the Amalfi Coast. As good a decision as that is turning out to be (don’t count your hatched chicks b4 vacation’s end) I am still at a loss to reconstruct it retrospectively. The initial destination was Southern China. But eventually we caved in to the realization that we wouldn’t be able to handle the heat. Which makes me wonder how exactly we imagined a destination south of Napoli to be more clement at the same time of year (which by the way, thus far, improbably, it is). At any rate, we quickly agreed that it had to be Southern Europe. Given our mild penchant for sustainability, the requirement was a location decently attainable by train, leaving in our blinkered view, Spain, Southern France and Italy. The google pics of the Eastern two-thirds of the Iberian Peninsula couldn’t get either of our juices flowing, it’s as if we could see through the thin veneer and right into the black heart of EU austerity. As for the Côte d’Azzure, I’d only just visited it the other year.

 

So Italy. Personally, having read the first installment of Ferrante’s tetralogy, I was chomping at the bite to check out the environs of Naples. Which looking back again was not the brightest thinking: the combination of summer heat and big city might is a good predictor of infernal temperatures. Thus we ping-ponged around different cities in the vicinity, trying to find a consensus and finally struck mutual-acceptability gold on the Amalfi Coast. It’s funny how compromises can turn out to be such great solutions after the fact.

 

Friday we geared up with a vengeance or rather with a sense of apt minimalism; travelling light is often made out to be some kind of deal but it is only the opposite, travelling heavy, which is a big deal. In terms of nuisance value, in terms of belly-aching about what one might have forgotten, in the sense that about two hundred meters after exiting your appartment stage right, you, as well as your sore shoulder, start berating your former self about eternally repeating the same mistake, namely lugging along half the household – it turns out, they have certain stuff at the destination too. But that far from the home and with the departure time of the train/plane hollering at you from afar it’s too late for turning back. Next time, surely.

 

 

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Anyway, however light I decided to travel, an outlandish idea did for some reason occur to me. The siren call of the Mediterranean heavily suggests one should get one’s behind in the water (though nowadays a terrible trivializing aura of western pamperedness hovers over drifting in that particular sea for no particular life-or-death reason) and while, on many previous occasions I’ve let weaseled out of the sea’s magnetic pull, I have yet again decided to do better this summer. But why should venturing into the watery depths be “doing better”? It so happens that the grandiose vista of the endless water inspires in me a profound sense of dread and inadequacy and imminent drowning. What can one body of water amount to in the face of all that vastness? What idea was I referring to at the start of this paragraph? Bringing along my lifejacket, which is voluminous and retina-ending orange and which can only reasonably and also lunatically be transported by wearing it. Fortunately for everyone involved, I didn’t go through with it. Not only did I anticipate a most uncomfortable train trip but also, again, in this age, baselessly wearing a lifesuit is in supremely bad taste.

 

Early Saturday we jackknifed out of bed, eager for Southern Italy, wine, sun, unlimited, mouth-watering pasta. That’s another good thing about summer, it makes it so damn effortless to get up unreasonably early in the morning: A) the accursed heat makes you wake up in the early morning hours anyway B) It’s bright around 5:30 and if you happen to have to go to the toilet around that time you usually catch such a fist of photons to the head that sleep is far-fetched for the next hour or more. C) it’s summer, you’re supposed to squeeze the last drop of pulp out of every living minute because, as in Westeros too, Winter is on our f###ing asses and closing in fast. Curse these lines in mid-October, why don’t you.

 

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Along came the first big coincidence. There at the far end of the train platform, sure enough, stood my aunt and her boyfriend, two olks in their early sixties to early seventies as eager for the world and its mysteries as a person can ever be. The way I remember it my aunt was literally hopping up and down when she saw us. I wasn’t exactly in a people mood; mornings i prefer refering to myself only, easing into the day and the strangeness of living in linear time. Then as we boarded the train my cousin, his wife and their two young daughters (around 5 and 9ish, the latter effervesenctly precocious, the former somehow fitting my mental image of an adorable raggamuffin, such a strange word). Though all headed for Milano on the same train, we only shared the compartment for little more than an ebullient half-an-hour. Certain kids combine a cleverness and zest for life, so unadulturated, that you get sucked right into that same mood as though just around the corner lay another one of the world’s fantastic gems. And you can find it together, by talking, by laughing, by thinking about the way things are and the way they might be. Which is exactly what we did. Don’t torture me with a topic, life was our topic. Though, to make the account perfectly frank, I thought the wife got slightly annoyed with having a seven-year-old-thirtynine-year-old plunked down next to her on such an early hour in the morning. Also, you probably romanticize children a lot less after you have spent years and years in their immediate, chaotic, sleep-depriving vicinity. Such is not yet my/our lot; though we’ll be opening the factory gates in about a week to see if we can make a splash in the progeny-manufacturing business. A turn of phrase, this industrial analogy, that hardly ever fails to cheer people up. Maybe because it foreshadows the hard work that lays ahead if the pilot model is a success.

 

Somewhere along the rails in Ticino we started a game of chess with our new set. Hand manufactured in Germany, fabulous knights looking precisely equestrian and highly-defined queens where you can see the goddamn tins [in a fork, yes but what might be the word for this in a crown?] the tin-like regal protrusions in the crown, a board of no loose parts, not a rickety joint, unseamly seam or whatnot, just bonafide Teutonic woodwork perfection; invisible magnets too somewhere in all that smoothly honed wood. It makes a difference, it does. The figures draw your attention and thereby rope you into the game. You don’t want to loose one, they’re simply too nice. And you know exactly where everything is; it seems like suddenly only “mate” in three is possible, not two, you would see two coming from a long way off between all those lovingly manufactured pieces. In Germany. Who exactly in Germany? I imagine a pot-bellied man behind a mustachio, or a nimble spinster, laboring away late nights in an old woodshop in Nuremberg, untroubled by the city’s ghosts of the past. His or her only duty being the absolute perfection of whatever piece he/she is working on at that exact instant. A skill deep inside the hands, centuries old, time-sanded.

 

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We played and it was probably the longest game we’ve played. Neither was willing to give up so much as a pawn.

After arriving in Milano we chilled out on one of the platforms, keeping our distance from the frenzied crowd. You have to pass through a security, airport type gate to get to the cooler cafes and we didn’t fancy risking our connection to Naples.

 

Have you ever been on a FrecciaRossa? These trains are pure public transport loveliness. They have fine gradations of class which I won’t claim to understand but they appear to be on par with the subtleties of the English social class system. At any rate, Business Special features wide, thick, automatically adjustable leather seats that suggest you ride the Freccia to the tip of the boot and then back into the Piedmont. Back and forth, without cease, in that magnificent cradle of leather. To subtract from the perfection, a group of US boyscouts immediately plunked themselves down across from us. It is shameful but my mind seems to have really hard time dividing out the madness and animus I feel bestir me every time I watch a piece of news on the United States of Trump and Police Brutality, from the actual people. This is in itself utterly crazy but I swear I can sense the afterimages of the Carrot-in-Chief mess with my emotional center as I encounter entirely blamefree, perfectly nice and jovial citizens from the land of severely limited opportunities. And it takes about five minutes or so to sort the mess out and get back into beginner’s mind modus, sociopsychologically speaking.

 

These were some fascinating scouts I tell you. First thing they wanted to do, withouth having seen our set, was play chess. I associate the boyscouts with strictly practical, outdoorsy pursuits and imagine a little pack of boys that couldn’t be bored more to deathly than by the confinement a train ride imposes. Leather lavishments or no. Instead, the two sitting opposite us immediately took out their books (Ready Player 1, HH’s Guide 2 the Galaxy) and set about reading like two literary fiends, like their very salvation depended on a reading rate of about 20 pages an hour or more. It felt like they were trying actively to demolish all hoary cliches about their allegedly smartphone addicted generation in one cataclysmic bout of hyper-reading. Also, just to cement an old-school notion of boyscouts, they were supernaturally polite, firing off rounds of“Thank you”s and “I do ever so humbly apologize”s the way other kids in their demographic parentheses might shoot off “like”s, “lit”s and “woke”s and whatever other bumfokked empty signifiers might presently be en vogue. They were so nice, they were literally compensating for centuries of humankind’s evil-doing, revoking the ills of the two WWs just by being decent little troopers on their very most oustandingly excellent behavior. It was life-affirming.

 

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ahhh, so this is the badge you are enobled with for early-stage literamania

 

And here’s the other thing though. The train trip from Milano Centrale to Naples is maybe five or six hours and the two kids just kept at it till Rome and beyond. At least three hours of solid, I-couldn’t-care-less-where-the-bathroom-is reading. Boyscouts. It eventually eventuated that they are Swiss-American, explaining why one of the patches of the littler boy simply read “Deutsch”, which I took to mean that he mastered the survivalist skill of this forest tribe’s tongue. Indeed, both spoke Swiss-German, and whatever initial air the blonde, lanky kid had at first exuded was instantly annihilated under a carpet-bombardment of good manners.

 

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Again, I think these were slightly strange boyscouts. There was none of those older, father-figureish, what-the-devils-are-you-up-to-now-Franz figures within admonishing shot? Just those two paragons of civility and readerly enthusiasm and seated somewhere behind them, their chess-playing pack comrades. Plus –  don’t wait for it – their mother! Fawning over them like newborn pups. It was too strange to even really get a handle on: A) Why were these two entirely unalike looking guys brothers? B) Why was a mother, an ultra-protective and smooch-engulfing one, accompanying these little lads who where supposed to be part of a mildly paramilitary organization, highly specifically established and designed to inculcate in young souls and appreciation of the parent-free wilderness and their ability to survive within it in the absence of the societally sanctioned authority figures. The mother, cooing and kissing, was the antithesis of what this should all have been about, the grand trip to a camp in Naples (imagine!) as one of their kiddie-fist-sized patches (a spewing volcano w the name of the city beneath) proclaimed. At one point, yours truly defecates you not, the mother bent down towards the smaller, sterner of the guys, Seahawks-totem cap pulled down low who squirmed away – whereas she kept relentlessly approaching, puckered mouth outstretched before her like some space-station docking device and the young lad continued his evasive maneouvers, eyes bolted to the pages of his sci-fi novel. To hilarious, comical effect. The boy’s head was eventually solidly pressed against the lower edge of the chair’s arm and, with nowhere else to left to move, the maternal mouth approaching, he launched the ultimate weapon remaining in his arsenal: a wordless, sideways death-stare at the Moms. Who went in for the kill regardless. What a scene! Had I been socialized 15years later, I might have recorded the whole thing on my smartphone.    

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Inficted [chronicles of Dis/Infection, Apr2018]

 

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It’s all about baby steps and trying to figure out how to slowly, elegantly become an adult. – Selena Gomez

I have a certain thick, cubic quantum of respect for people who go about the business of living seriously and straightforward. It awes me to behold these special specimen of the human species who do not care to resort to irony or fiction because, whatever it is they are doing, it is serious enough to hold their attention, to hold its own weight. No bullshit that needs rhetorical or emotional camouflage.

These people are magnificiently rare – I think.

It doesn’t meant they have to operate in this mode (serious, fiction-free) all the time. But that is their main – what is it – momentum, vector of impulse….brunt. I want to say brunt. Their lives are interesting to them, what other people tell them matters deeply, going to the cafe on the corner, drinking a Cappuccino or even a tea and watching the crowd, all of this no netflix series can compete with in a million million years. Never mind cellphones. People with two sets of names, one before and one behind the camera? These serious, adult-grade peeps don’t care. There is no conceivable need for the satirical remark, the imaginary lives, the complex cosm of make-believe, what happens daily to these stern hominids and their significant others is all that matters. Just come home and think about what happened today and what they should do the next day. Like: The taste of life is in the living.

I wish to be more like that, less subservient to fiction, to “I didn’t really mean it”.

Someone on the other end of the world, on the other end of time, scribbles a few pages and here I am, reality-jaded, reading it. Like it’s the most important bloody thing – friends and relatives somewhere on the backburner.

Come on! Get out! Converse!

Because how many times can you be sitting in a living room peering into another living room without getting stuck in the middle? Whatever that means.

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Ferrante选择 [chronicles of disinfection/消毒编年史 2018]

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There is a glaring, elementary and demotivating difficulty, I think, in writing non-fiction. That is, to pick a subject one truly has something to write about and with which one wishes to engage with at, at least, a subcutaneous level. Posed like this, the problematic issue appears to be nearly identical with any self-motivated writing, fiction or science, poem or diary. The page is white in the beginning, open to billions & billions of topics, formats, narratives, metaphors, ideas and sequences of arranging the alphabet’s letters, spaces and punctuation marks – no pressure, one is doing this under one’s own volition. You can, at any moment, bugger off and do something else. Netflix’s Ozark and Crash Course (CC Philosophy, but I’m considering that series on movies) seem particularly germane, not to mention that pile of books out of which the silent letters Bolano and Barthes and Brandon mock one’s every attempt to even string together half a paragraph. A Google Drive’s Untitled document, no stress, comrade. Or maybe all the 压力/pressure in the world taking the innocent guise of a white page asking a primordial question to the soi-se-pensant/考虑一下自己 writer: Is anybody home, cognitively speaking? And if so: Got anything interesting to say?

So why would non-fiction make the original problem of choice any more difficult (in my equivocating opinion)? Because it implies that you get to choose from (see title!) two fundamentally different but totally interconnected topics to write about: yourself or the world, subject or object, 精神或世界, consciousness or matter, becoming or being. In good old post-Kantian Western epistemology these are, of course, as mutually exclusive as it gets. Though I hasten to say that Speculative Realism and OOO have taught us that there exist entirely different philosophical approaches to reality than that poor old Königsbergian dichotomy.

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Still, being only the layest of philosophers and my dire little brain being  overtaxed by the idea of what the being-like-somethingness of a neutrino or table might be like, I go back to the initial bifurcation: world or self.

Dispatches from the realm of the latter, to me, are shaded in  many hues of egocentrism, hedonism, navel-gazing and all those other unpleasant activities stereotypically associated with the selfie-generation so that, as best as yours truly can, one might try to steer clear of it. Even if all the “I”s in a text show what a hash one/I has/have made of it. To be honest, there is another option, the entirely acceptable diary form [significant sequential daily events combined with brief contemplations] but I have never been able to muster enough discipline to put down the words that matter every day.

Ahhhh, lovely diaries, dear diarists…. For some idiosyncratic, fuzzy reason, I can’t diss/count diaries as strictly automaniac; there’s too much of the historian and serious self-psychoanalyst in them to be purely a hedonic project.

So what remains is only the world/世界, which is, as we’ve known for quite a while not enough. Wordplay aside, it is in considerable excess of enough. Still, the same might be said of ideas for a story that can pop into one’s head in the course of a week….how is this non-fic global affairs situation any different? Why would choosing in this case be any more challenging? Exactly because of that, “affairs“, the natural-seeming importance of the bread-and-butter reality, grand everybody-afflicting shenanigans of the 21st century…. as soon as I start thinking about these matters….. hmmmm…… the exterior state of affairs, the world at large, I come under the pressure-cooker impression that there is something at stake. It matters, flying f###s are generously dispensed. What? It’s not a matter of  lives, nor even government funds or nuclear warfare, nothing as realpolitikaly dramatic, but quite simply relevance itself. There is, in me, a normative perception that I should, if at all possible, try to select something of contemporary relevance. This criterium of writing about issues that matter, topics close to the heart is not so as to lure an unsuspecting reader with clickbait, nor to demonstrate that I am fashionably coxa [i.e. hip ….anatomical, haha] but so as to connect, in a meaningful way, with what I believe to be sorta relevant….out there.

The implied risk is that I choose incorrectly; but this notions is in itself absurd because the act of choosing to write, putting pen to paper, digit to key, is already a decision. A decision that one will write what one chooses to write, which the reader can only refute by being a not-reader. The free choice of writing follows George W. Bush‘s timeless dictum “…but I’m the decider. And I decide what’s best…”

Even if I happen to scribble about something that might strike a zeitgeist’s nerve or is in tune with my pyramid of writerly needs then the next obligation is that the text being created, apart from its speculative passages and flights of hypothetical fancy, aligns factually with what is in fact out there. I don’t believe we are in the post-factual era at all; perhaps falsehoods and badly researched texts have become easier to spread and are, in certain circles, more readily accepted but there exist perfectly intact scientific and journalistic standards for what constitutes facts, theory, plausibility. The fact that they are provisional, as is everything else, does not mean they cannot be put to serious scrutiny by experts. And this necessity for truthfulness is quite scary. Wikipedia or no, the idea of adhering closely to facts and truths in my writing spooks me; not simply because I’m not any good at in-depth research but also because my mind, as best as I can tell, heavily favors confabulation, fantasy, the fastest possible flight from reality, as soon as it sets down on these here empty pages. Digression too, evidently. Following a trajectory is hard.

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So then, given the, i think, patent, basic and demotivating difficulty of non-fic, I was very surprised when I began reading the Ferrante  Guardian blog this weekend and saw how easily this luminary of the written word handles the matter. As far as I can tell, she is a fiendish genius when it comes to mixing the “real” of personal biography with fictionalized stories into a blend in which one cannot be arsed to parse out one from the other (if there were even the slightest benefit in that; unless, of course, you’re an Oral Historian [dude, don’t look at me, that’s what they bloody call them] of 20th century Napoli). However, the blog texts are anchored solidly in the conventionally real – Ferrante recalls personal episodes and then contemplates their relevance in terms of fiction, language and, at times, philosophy. She makes her arguments dance like those elaborate Bali shadow puppets, telling the story of the point within the space of four or five paragraphs. And even while she is animating her argument by means of the laser-cut, baroque, long-limbed, supple figures, she manages to splice in her hallmark lyricism. (It rises from the page like a hot day on the dusty alleys of Naples, dreaming up a new design for a pair of leather shoes.) Seemingly effortless. To describe it without quoting Ferrante is a helpless undertaking….but her concise, elegant strides across a topic are captivating indeed.

 

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2018一月/frag02

Bildergebnis für nuclear button

 

Your unclear button is bigger than mine. And more paradoxical.

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