Subtrahend


Friday, June 24, 2005

    · Even some opponents of excessive library scrutiny are concessive. In the Washington Post, "If some terrorist checks out a book about how to make an atomic bomb, that might be legitimate for the government to know, and they can get a search warrant or a subpoena the way we've done it throughout American history," Nadler said. "Otherwise, what you're reading is none of the government's business."

    Is that how Pakistan got its first nuclear weapons? By having their boffins check out some books at the Karachi Municipal Public Library? I saw a movie called Seven, in which the police track their killer by investigating his reading material. I am afraid to say I think the reasoning illiterate, since surely a serious student of bloody mayhem would have his own private collection of books on the topic? Even special ones, ordered from weird book dealers? Public libraries, on the other hand, tend to collect only material for which there is broad public demand. Not crazy specialized stuff (which they discard if not enough people read it).


     — posted by Paul | at 3:17 PM | |

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Friday, June 17, 2005

    · Someone was asking about the Cape Breton Gaelic newspaper Am Bràigh; I found its online version. Very interesting, lots of stuff, my goodness ... and Celtic music, and, and baking and games and various activities ... Zzzzzz. But féach ar sin: níl aon focal as gaeilge ann! Cad tá suas le sin ar chor ar bith?


     — posted by Paul | at 4:55 PM | |

Thursday, June 16, 2005

    · An Evening at the Explorers' Club


    "I wonder if Simon has anything prepared. You know --"

    "Yes, if he'll come in with something to show up Alfred again."

    "Last week it was a good-looking girlfriend, this week, who knows?"

    "Maybe he'll arrive by helicopter," said Hogg, "That would be something."

    No one replied. After a moment's silence, Hogg looked around and said:

    "I said, Maybe he'll arrive by helicopter. Anyone think he might do that?"

    "No", came the laconic and somewhat negative reply.

    "I don't know," continued Hogg. "Maybe in the future everyone will --"

    "No."

    At that moment Alfred came in wearing a fine silk hat, to everyone's delight.

    "Beautiful! they said. I haven't seen a tile like that since --"

    "Me neither, where on earth did you find it?"

    But before everyone could have his say, Simon made his entrance. On his head, a silk hat, almost identical to his rival's, but many times larger, at least four feet tall.

    "I guess this contest is over," said Simon, "and we'll have to think about our voyage to the centre of the earth. And this time let's be serious."


     — posted by Paul | at 5:09 PM | |

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

    · The worst job might be having to go through the "suggestions" every month. Sure, it might be fun the first few times—all the wacky people with their sense of fun—but probably it would become so enervating that you would get ulcers just thinking about it.

    While it is true that some people write pleasant and complimentary things, these people are, unfortunately, crazy. There are no two ways about that. Just think about it for a moment: there they are, minding their business, and somehow they decide to submit something nice for the "suggestions" box. What would make anyone do that other than incipient mental problems?

    Actually, you just have to look at some to get an idea. Signs of mental disturbance are:

    • Neat, microscopic, yet rotund handwriting.
    • Giant smears of crayon.
    • Stuff that has lots of abbreviations in it.
    • Everything else.


     — posted by Paul | at 3:24 PM | |

Thursday, March 03, 2005

    · Once again, we here at Subtrahend try to encourage young poets by semi-occasionally publishing their works, unbeknownst to them:

    The Entire Score Has Been Re-orchestrated by Me

    Waiting around for the King of Albania
    Thinking I might replace him if things got rough.
    Waiting in a room on tape for solo voices
    Something I almost got in the mail.

    Elsewhere things were taking shape
    And moving, yes, moving in every current
    And I wanted to know how far
    And where they were.

    That would have been good, but now,
    A time for refection, I hear the whine
    Of moving parts somewhere, outside,
    Or most likely in my head.

    — Pierre Drano.


     — posted by Paul | at 12:05 PM | |

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

    · His effects were transparent and I was tired of them. He thought those stupid Mooooobius strips (or whatever) meant something; he thought sex meant something; he thought anyone's doing anything meant something; he thought television meant something. He was always trying to uncover the unique in the ordinary (and vice versa), and usually in a powerful way. He tried to be passionate and provocative, and then, finally, he went and did something or other with language and ritual, and that was the last straw: I had to slap him. Three, four times. And then I had to slap him some more. I had to slap him back and forth. It was a job of work.

    "Stop it", he said.

    "No," I said, "I don't think so. I think we're just beginning to get somewhere".

    Despite myself, I end up imagining him at his desk, transcribing some notes and thinking: "This really seems to make no sense, but I think if I insert some commas it will at least be easier to read. And if I take some commas out, it will become a poem. And now I will go and teach others to do the same."

    Certain corrosion-
    resistant steel sheet
    products originating in or emanating from
    the United States
    of Amerika

    - he writes, feeling good about the enjambement. It's so good when things work out. Emanating?

    Of course, these were all his just-in-time poems. Yes. Centralized planning, decentralized initiative. Produced on demand. Immediately disposable. Both the poems and the paper they are printed on can be tossed and recycled without qualm.

    He persists in sending me these poems. They would seem to concern some emotional contretemps he is supposed to have had. I can't tell, a woman that dumped him, something like that. It sounds at first as if he has been dumped by a series of women, and has done nothing in life other than get dumped, but a closer reading suggests that perhaps the culprit is a single woman acting alone. There's usually the name of some artist or poet stirred in. Dante. Cézanne. Chekhov. Then, a little way below the poem, the name of the place where it is meant to have been written, in italics: Bangkok. Prague. Uttar Pradesh. London. Did he go to all those places? I have to ask. What for? To write poems? Sometimes the date is noted there as well, as if that might add poignance for the knowledgeable reader. Sometimes famous bombings and massacres are dropped in. That's a bit like adding barbecue sauce to an otherwise tough and bland piece of charred stuff. It's a bit like one of his non-viable metaphors.

    The poet lives in some place that you'll have heard of and enjoys parenting with his partner, So-and-So. Yet his book is dedicated to someone described as "my lover and companion". What if his partner finds out about this lover and companion? She might be too busy parenting to read any of his dumb books, of course, but you never know when even the dullest person will surprise you, and it turns out they can pick up a book and read it. Let's not rule out the possibility that perhaps this lover and companion is actually his wife; he may just feel uncomfortable saying that. (Legal implications).

    The poet teaches at the University. So there. He teaches creative writing. It's not that difficult. Give it a try. Lenin said that in the future a cook would be able to run the country, or something, and that everybody would be famous for fifteen minutes, so what's stopping you? Here's a good idea for a poem: refer to yourself as "i", use the present tense, talk about something disturbing that happened to you.

    He blames foreign intelligence operatives for the world's problems, and is very concerned about the world. All death and pestilence is obviously caused by the enemy. If there is anything to get angry about, it is the enemy. The enemy may be known among you because his value system is all screwed up. When will people learn? one asks oneself with a knowing but rueful shake of the head, time and again.

    He gets angry with television and the media. "They keep selling us things!" he cries in anguish. It's horrible, horrible, the way people buy and sell things and get rich, it shouldn't be allowed.

    Angry, and just a little depressed, because once again the machinations of foreign intelligence operatives and their dupes are apparent in the latest deeds of our government and in events worldwide. It's sad, really.

    But every evening ends with wine and Thai food at somebody's really nice apartment. What's a man supposed to do?


     — posted by Paul | at 12:43 PM | |

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The Subbasement


Bibliography


  Old Books
... without the dust

 

 


· Ors, Eugenio d', 1882-1954. Oceanografia del tedio; Historias de las esparragueras. Madrid: Calpe, 1921.

Eugenio d'Ors was born in Barcelona in 1881, studied law and philosophy, became an art critic and essayist, and gradually developed his own peculiar ideas, exemplified in this delightful, short work, which he wrote in Spanish (rather than Catalan) around 1919. The Spanish Civil War caught him in Paris, where he remained for the duration. Though not an activist, he would have been unwelcome at home because of his Catalan sympathies.

The author, or a character referred to throughout as "Autor", opens his story by explaining that his doctor had instructed him, for the sake of his health, to do absolutely nothing. He's not even alowed to think about anything. "Ni un movimiento, ni un pensamiento!", the doctor says. He therefore spends all his time in a lawn chair looking at clouds, wondering about scents that waft past, in short, doing nothing. And yet everything, in a way. It's a wonderful story about inaction, just the sort of thing for someone who spends a lot of time looking at weblogs.

· Tabori, Paul. The Natural Science of Stupidity. Philadelphia: Chilton Co., 1959.

The author, who was born in 1908, discusses stupidity. He explains how the Yap people of the Pilau Islands use stone disks, some of them the size of millstones, as currency. The largest stones are more like real estate: you could buy one, and your wealth would be ensured. Then he goes on about King Solomon's mines, which he connects with this passage in Kings I, 9.

He has a lot to say about popular beliefs, crazes, and things. It's a shame he wrote long before conspiracy theories really came into their own.


   
  

  Georges Duhamel
Select Bibliography

 

 


Duhamel, Georges, Le desert de Bièvres. Paris: Mercure de France, 1930.

—, Biographie de mes fantômes, 1901-1906. Paris: P. Hartmann, 1944.

—, Chroniques des Pasquier. Paris: Mercure de France, 1933-

—, Essai sur le roman. Paris: M. Lesage, 1925.

—, Fables de mon jardin, suivi de Mon royaume. Paris: Mercure de France, 1961.

—, Israël, clef de l'Orient. Paris: Mercure de France, 1957.

—, Les plaisirs et les jeux, mémoires du cuib et du tioup. Paris: Mercure de France, 1946.

—, Récits des temps de guerre. Paris: Mercure de France, 1949.

—, Souvenirs de la vie du paradis. Paris: Mercure de France, 1906.


   
  

Annals of Public Neurosis


  Peace Tricks
April 2002

 

 


"The month-long standoff at Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Ramallah compound looked to be nearing its conclusion as U.S. and British security experts arrived in the region to implement a U.S.-brokered plan."
—CNN, April 29, 2002.

The current talks between the U.S. and everyone else seem to be even more impenetrable than usual, probably because it's difficult to imagine what they might possibly have to talk about. Surely they have exhausted every topic, scoured every useless path many times over, checked and re-checked even the most unpromising approaches? In which case these talks most closely resemble a kind of obsessive-compulsive behaviour, enacted in the curious privacy of public life. We've no idea what they're saying, or what they really want, but we get daily, even hourly reports of this activity of theirs. We don't get the details, or even the gist, of what was discussed, but we are assured that some talking is going on, and that there will be more talking later.

Patients who show signs of obsessive-compulsive behaviour typically find themselves incapable of getting important things done—or even of confronting their most pressing problems. They therefore busy themselves with something they can do effectively, often to the exclusion of all else. Tidying up the bus shelter, making absolutely sure they take x number of steps before opening the front door, and so on. Obviously, the significance of the activities performed can vary: some things are a fairly useful by-product of otherwise misdirected energies; others are of rather doubtful value, at least to the secular world. So it is with political discussions and "U.S.-brokered" peace plans. Some do produce unusual fruit, though not always the expected one, while others have a more magical quality, as if the participants were involved in some sort of Hermetic, alchemical work designed to bring about peace by causing it to be acted out in a symbolic drama.


   
  

Almost a Complete Thought


 

 

 


· Watching a movie. Wait! Is the guy screwing up my correct view of things? Or was my view untenable to begin with? Certainly he can point to his successful career as proof of some rectitude. But maybe he's so clever, so cunning, that he succeeds in the teeth of madness. A prosaic blend of fantasy and reality!


· I was watching some crime show. The crime has already been committed. Snazzy men and women arrive at the crime scene and take swabs, wear rubber gloves, pose in their outfits. Wait, is this a fashion show? Meanwhile ... let's look at this corpse really closely. Dear me. Ugh, can we stop looking at that for a bit? It's a pretty horrible crime. And so messy!

"Look, Lt. I've been examining some filth and discovered who the 'perp' is."

"Good. Let us now set our jaws grimly."


· I read somewhere that when you are watching TV, your brain is less active than when you are asleep. I find this bizarre, because I often dream that I'm watching TV.


· Most movies are much better with the sound off, so you can make up your own, more entertaining dialogue. Also, it starts to get intriguing. You end up wondering what's going to happen next, because all sorts of inexplicable things keep happening.


   
  

Stories


  A Story
Subtitle

 

 


It's too bad. If I could think of a story offhand, I would write it in this space; that's what you would be reading. Instead, there is only this inconsequential, self-regarding excuse for not being able to come up with anything.

Of course, I think the reader is doing very well so far. Remarkably well. I thing the reader comes out of this whole thing smelling like a rose. He has done his job. No, the reader is above reproach. His record is unblemished. Some readers even go that extra step and look for coded messages in the few paragraphs made available to them. That shows resourcefulness, valour — I think.


   
  

  Reveille
A Miniature Fascist Dictator

 

 


There was a miniature Fascist dictator in the departure lounge of the airport, Ted noticed. About four feet high, eighty pounds, sallow complexion, neatly trimmed black moustache, wearing a khaki uniform of some kind.

Was he planning a small Putsch? A Measure? What pint-sized dreams of conquest did he have? "Our National party is stronger - we are in no way diminished," he may have imagined himself saying. "Now, if I say to you that our Party's goal is nothing less than to revendicate that which we have lost, that which is historically our due; to reclaim our patrimony ..." Is that what was going on in his head? Was he on his way somewhere, or coming from somewhere? Going into exile, or returning from it? Escaping? Seeking?

Ted decided to follow him until he could come up with some further course of action. But the man wasn't really doing anything. Just wandering around with a container of coffee, keeping an eye on the brown satchel and shopping bags he had left on one of the naugahyde-and-aluminium benches. He paused in front of the windows that looked onto the airfield. His nostrils flared at the sight of massed passenger aircraft. Then he sauntered over to the other side of the lounge and studied some posters. Ted pretended to inspect a model lobster trap in a display case nearby.

They toured the lounge in stages and, even before the small man glanced back at him, Ted was already lost in thought beneath an departure-and-arrivals screen. "Am I supposed to do something?" he wondered. "Is there some history going on here, somewhere?" But how would one know?

Ted then discreetly followed him back to the coffee bar. Apparently he wanted another coffee. There were several customers before them, and in the time it took for them to be served, Ted was almost able to identify the small man's scent: Lancôme for Men? His choice of coffee, too, was unusual, a decaffeinated Ethiopian flavour. He went back to his original bench. Ted loitered just behind him, undecided. Unprepared. Shall I say something? What's he doing?

Looking at his ticket again.

Sipping his coffee, sucking a great deal of air between pursed lips just over the steaming surface of the coffee. Too hot.

Consulting the contents of his satchel once again, just to verify that he had everything he would need for his trip. Ted, peering over his shoulder, caught sight of a volume of Pablo Neruda, Jane Eyre, and a stuffed toy rabbit.

Putting his coffee down, digging with both hands in one of the shopping bags, the one that had some sort of environmentalist logo on it. Nous recyclons!

Recovering a pair of sunglasses. Putting them on! Expensive ones!

"Excuse me - okay if I sit down?"

"Eh? Oh, please. Yes, yes - you are quite welcome."

Ted sat down wearily. "I've been travelling all day, I hope you don't mind."

The other nodded rapidly. "It is very tiresome, all this travelling," he said. "I myself have been up since very early, making connecting flights. And still my day is not over."

Ted seized the thing roundly. "What sort of business are you in, if it's no harm to ask?"

"I am a consultant. Specialising in pharmaceutical trade." The little dictator removed his sunglasses and began to polish them on his handkerchief.

Well, at least he wasn't a jack-booted thug!

"I am not used to talking to fewer than five thousand people at a time", he continued, "for fear of being misunderstood. However, I shall make a beginning.

"It is horrifying to think of the consequences of chance. One man begins a great career as an officer in the European Theatre; another, no less gifted, has his head blown off as soon as he steps out of the landing craft. Why does that happen? Who is to blame? Who will account for it?"

Here the little man swigged his coffee. Ted noted that his hair, seemingly dark brown, was really an artificial boot-brown colour. Ted formed a reply: "Well, I suppose it would depend how you look - "

But the other man was not to be denied: "It is no accident that the corporate hegemony of a small group of - "

Ted sprang into action. More on that next week.


   
  

  Fun at Home
A Pious Memory

 

 


When Chris heard God had invited Himself to the party, he thought it was all over. There was probably no getting around it, though. "What they do on tv", said Bill, "is invite a Catholic priest, a Rabbi, and a minister as well. To sort of get their collective spin on it."

"But this isn't a tv show", said Chris, "it's a party. A little get-together for a bunch of friends, some of whom are leaving in a couple weeks. And anyway, that approach always comes off as a tired, unfunny joke, predictable, you know...I don't know why everyone acts as if tv meant something."

"Yeah. I had this dream I was watching tv last night. But then I realised dreams are kind of like tv, only not as good. We'd better go to the liquor store."

"Just let me get my coat."

God phoned around 8:00 to say He would be along soon. "Want me to bring anything?" he asked.

"Just yourself, man," said Chris. People always brought too much junk. There was always a surplus of snack-food bags and dip the next day.

"Okay", said God. "After all, I am That Am, you know."

People started turning up a little later:

"Sheila!" said Chris, greeting one of his guests, "So you managed to find the address."

"Yeah - sorry I'm late, but - "

"No problem. So, are you excited about your new job?"

"Yes, it's - "

"Dirk!" said Chris, greeting another guest, "Glad you could make it, are you excited about the new job?"

"Well - it's kind of not what I'm looking for, but it's in the right area. And I didn't want to have to move to - "

"And your girlfriend? Is she ...?"

"In Norway." And he began to look as if he would like to scowl, but instead turned to the consuming business of installing some cans of beer in the fridge. Other people skulked around the kitchen. A party had erupted.

A little later Chris noticed God levelling a tequila shot and saying, "I'm gonna have a wicked case of the guilts tomorrow."

God put cucumber slices over his eyes and said, "Look at Me. I am become weird."

Around 2:00 am God hooked up His guitar and started playing "Stairway to Heaven" really loud. Most of the people who had fallen asleep woke up and staggered back to the party. He played pretty well. Then He segued into "Born to be Wild", which He played rather better. The sheer noise was an audial colossus, making the dishes tremble even in the kitchen.

"Get Him out of here, the man's an animal," said Bill.

Chris looked at God from the door into the kitchen. "Oh, I don't know. I don't think he's going to do anything too serious."

"No, I mean the noise. The neighbours'll be like - "

"Any problem?" asked God. He was coming to get some more wine. Since He was no longer playing the guitar there didn't seem to by any need to admonish Him.

A little later something happened. But was that before or after the police dropped by? And later still, God was found lying in the driveway. They carried Him into a bedroom.

Is He ok?

Did He hurt himself?

In the morning they opened the bedroom door to find He had gone.

"Now what do we do?" asked Chris.


   
  

  At the —
History of Painting

 

 


I am confronted with a roomful of wild canvases, one every three feet or so. I should like to be able to make something of them, of each one, I am eager to look and see. I so want this to be a happy occasion, matching the success of my haircut, clean shirt, and the perfectly-lit, high- ceilinged gallery in which I find myself. The first work is a smear of toothpaste on a background of tar. Okay, I'll come back to it. The next one is a painting of a doll with severe injuries. I would rather not look at that for too long. Next: a smear of something on an untreated canvas. This is interesting. What is that stuff? Has it been melted on? Next: a big smear on a big canvas. It is faintly s-shaped, like a meandering river of industrial waste through an indifferent wilderness. I suspect that polysaccharides have contributed to the very exciting texture. But once again we are confronted with the work.

A man behind me starts explaining the historical phonology of Tibetan, making it all a bit clearer by citing some examples from Proto-Tibeto-Burman, and a few moments later I am smoking a cigarette outside somewhere.


   
  

  Fifty Toyes
A Story for Children

 

 


Before B. retired to his room for the rest of his life, people kept coming up to him and complaining, "I've run out of ideas. I don't know what to think about any more," and he would reply, "How can I help? Why would you think I could help? I haven't had a thought in years. I have stared into space, chatted with people I supposedly know, watched tv, read weekly news magazines. I've watched grown men play with each other as a form of entertainment. I haven't really had to think. Moreover, I am retiring now because of a general lack of benevolence. Also, I can't find my umbrella, which makes my going out a non-starter, kind of. I may set fire to a bundle of words and pour a can of emotions over them later, so - drop in whenever. I would enjoy the company. You know." All this to forestall the observation that he was, himself, lazy and indifferent, or was merely hiding from something. Of course he had books and a tv, so what harm could there be in not going anywhere? However, reasonable people can no longer hope to get very far by argumentation that appeals to reason, since they are probably arguing with unreasonable people, as statistics can be made to show. And as he thought this, it occurred to him: compiling statistics was one of the innumerable things he could do now, in the freedom of his room.


   
  

  Anne of Green Gables
A Part of Our Heritage

 

 


Anne of Green Gables. Anne of Green Gables. Anne of Green Gables. Do people never tire of that? Anne of Green Gables. Based on the novel Anne of Green Gables. I assume there was such a person, once: Anne of Green Gables. I sort of wondered about her after I had heard the name for, oh, the ten thousandth time. I read somewhere that "Anne of Green Gables is a trademark and a Canadian official mark of the Anne of Green Gables Licensing Authority Inc." So you see? If you were thinking of calling your novel Anne of Green Gables, don't. You understand why that would be wrong, don't you? People would accuse you of trying to "cash in", so to speak, and that would tend to cast a mercenary shadow over the spirit of Anne of Green Gables. The argument of the novel Anne of Green Gables is as follows: some people want to adopt a boy who can help out on the farm; they are disappointed when they get a girl instead. This girl is Anne Shirley, later to be known as Anne of Green Gables and, later still, as a trademark and a Canadian official mark of the Anne of Green Gables Licensing Authority Inc. She has red hair and freckles, she is irrepressible, and she proves to be just as good as any boy, in fact much, much better. This bodes well for the whole community. That's the whole plot. Probably quicker to identify it by its children's literature motif number.

The book could have been called Anne of Green Gables Makes Her Bones, but that makes for rather a long title. It could have been more interesting, though: Anne would be the village drunk, stealing other women's menfolk, dealing drugs, and coming home in the morning to threaten her foster parents with the .22 and demand money. Eventually she gets an important job in the government through some people she used to party with. But this is not what happens in Anne of Green Gables. Nowhere do you hear of her being an alcoholic, or having her neglected children taken into charge, or her endless squabbles with social services, or her many appearances in court accompanied by a different leering car thief each time. None of that appears in the novel Anne of Green Gables, or in any of the other canonical Anne books. Why is that?


   
  
· Here you'll find rather more irrelevant mini essays, roughly categorized somehow. I wish I could be more clear.

· Bibliographical Notes
— Old Books
— Duhamel Bibliography
· Annals of Public Neurosis
— Peace Tricks
· Almost a Complete Thought
· Stories
— Reveille
— Fun at Home
— A Story
— At the —
— A Story for Children
— Anne of Green Gables
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