postcards from yoknapatawpha

All of us failed to match our dream of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible. In my opinion, if I could write all my work again, I am convinced that I would do it better, which is the healthiest condition for an artist. That’s why he keeps on working, trying again; he believes each time that this time he will do it, bring it off. Of course he won’t, which is why this condition is healthy. Once he did it, once he matched the work to the image, the dream, nothing would remain but to cut his throat, jump off the other side of that pinnacle of perfection into suicide. I’m a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And, failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.

William Faulkner on his writing (1956)


"The ugly fact is books are made out of books," he says. "The novel depends for its life on the novels that have been written."

Cormac McCarthy, "The New York Times" (1992)

the rule

If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?

No Country for Old Men (2007)


Sleep is the most innocent creature there is and a sleepless man the most guilty.

Franz Kafka, "Letters to Milena" (1920)

spectacles by snapchat

The reigning economic system is founded on isolation; at the same time it is a circular process designed to produce isolation. Isolation underpins technology, and technology isolates in its turn; all goods proposed by the spectacular system, from cars to televisions, also serve as weapons for that system as it strives to reinforce the isolation of "the lonely crowd." The spectacle is continually rediscovering its own basic assumptions ­­and each time in a more concrete manner.


The spectator's alienation from and submission to the contemplated object (which is the outcome of his unthinking activity) works like this: the more he contemplates, the less he lives; the more readily he recognizes his own needs in the images of need proposed by the dominant system, the less he understands his own existence and his own desires. The spectacle's externality with respect to the acting subject is demonstrated by the fact that the individual's own gestures are no longer his own, but rather those of someone else who represents them to him. The spectator feels at home nowhere, for the spectacle is everywhere.

Guy Debord, "The Society of The Spectacle" (1967)

for em

Bitch, real Gs move in silence like lasagna
Dwayne Michael Carter Jr, "6 Foot 7 Foot" (2011)

for emma

I have buried you
Every place I've been
You keep ending up
In my shaking hands
Justin Vernon, "Song for a Lover Long Ago" (2006)


She smiled and looked at me. She took a cigarette out of her small bag and lit it with a lighter.

“Sometimes when I look at you, I feel I’m gazing at a distant star,” I said. “It’s dazzling, but the light is from tens of thousands of years ago. Maybe the star doesn’t even exist anymore. Yet sometimes that light seems more real to me than anything.”

Shimamoto said nothing.

“You’re here,” I continued. “At least you look as if you’re here. But maybe you aren’t. Maybe it’s just your shadow. The real you may be someplace else. Or maybe you already disappeared, a long, long time ago. I reach out my hand to see, but you’ve hidden yourself behind a cloud of probablys. Do you think we can go on like this forever?”

“Probably. For the time being,” she answered.

“I see I’m not the only one with a strange sense of humor,” I said. And she smiled.

Haruki Murakami, "South of the Border, West of the Sun" (1992)

common people

Rich people are the most boring people in the world. They smell, look and smell alike. They all fly British Airways and party in St. Barts. The middle class is much more diverse. Luxury brands are able to go global faster because rich people aspire to the same things.

Scott Galloway, "The Four Horsemen" (2015)

midnight on sunset

I chime in with a
"Haven't you people ever heard of closing a goddamn door?"
Panic At Disco, "I Write Sins Not Tragedies" (2005)

one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.

Mark Twain, "The Innocents Abroad/Roughing It" (1869)

sorry for the delays. i been out and about. adventuring.


"Once the rockets are up
who cares where they come down
that's not my department,"
says Wernher von Braun.
Tom Lehrer, "Wernher von Braun" (1967)


I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.

J.B.S. Haldane, "Possible Worlds and Other Papers" (1927)


A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside of us.

Franz Kafka, "Letters to Friends, Family, and Editors" (1904)

texas holden

Is that why war endures?

No. It endures because young men love it and old men love it in them. Those that fought, those that did not.

That’s your notion.

The judge smiled. Men are born for games. Nothing else. Every child knows that play is nobler than work. He knows too that the worth or merit of a game is not inherent in the game itself but rather in the value of that which is put at hazard. Games of chance require a wager to have meaning at all. Games of sport involve the skill and strength of the opponents and the humiliation of defeat and the pride of victory are in themselves sufficient stake because they inhere in the worth of the principals and define them. But trial of chance or trial of worth all games aspire to the condition of war for here that which is wagered swallows up game, player, all.

Suppose two men at cards with nothing to wager save their lives. Who has not heard such a tale? A turn of the card. The whole universe for such a player has labored clanking to this moment which will tell if he is to die at that man’s hand or that man at his. What more certain validation of a man’s worth could there be? This enhancement of the game to its ultimate state admits no argument concerning the notion of fate. The selection of one man over another is a preference absolute and irrevocable and it is a dull man indeed who could reckon so profound a decision without agency or significance either one. In such games as have for their stake the annihilation of the defeated the decisions are quite clear. This man holding this particular arrangement of cards in his hand is thereby removed from existence. This is the nature of war, whose stake is at once the game and the authority and the justification. Seen so, war is the truest form of divination. It is the testing of one’s will and the will of another within that larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select. War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence. War is god.

Brown studied the judge. You’re crazy Holden. Crazy at last.

Cormac McCarthy, "Blood Meridian" (1985)

crazy, yes. stupid, who knows

We are all agreed that your theory is absolutely crazy. But what divides us is whether your theory is crazy enough to be true.

Quantim physicists Niels Bohr's reply to Pauli's new unified theory (1958)

ariadne's thread

If, in some cataclysm, all scientific knowledge were to be destroyed and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis (or atomic fact, or whatever you wish to call it) that all things are made of atoms---little particles that move around in perpentual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence you will see an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imaginationg and thinking are applied."

Richard Feynman, "Feynman Lectures on Physics" (1964)

black and white and

The difference between journalism and literature is that journalism is unreadable while literature is unread.

Oscar Wilde, "The Function of Criticism" (1891)

trap ease

No doubt, many students of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish esoterica will claim that my literal reading of their scriptures betrays my ignorance of their spiritual import. To be sure, occult, alchemical, and conventionally mystical interpretations of various passages in the Bible and the Koran are as old as the texts themselves, but the problem with such hermeneutical efforts— whether it be the highly dubious theory of gematria (the translation of the Hebrew letters of the Torah into their numerical equivalents so that numerologists can work their interpretive magic upon the text) or the glib symbol seeking of popular scholars like Joseph Campbell— is that they are perfectly unconstrained by the contents of the texts themselves. One can interpret every text in such a way as to yield almost any mystical or occult instruction.

A case in point: I have selected another book at random, this time from the cookbook aisle of a bookstore. The book is A Taste of Hawaii: New Cooking from the Crossroads of the Pacific. Therein I have discovered an as yet uncelebrated mystical treatise. While it appears to be a recipe for wok-seared fish and shrimp cakes with ogo-tomato relish, we need only study its list of ingredients to know that we are in the presence of an unrivaled spiritual intelligence:

snapper filet, cubed 297
3 teaspoons chopped scallions
salt and freshly ground black pepper
a dash of cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic
8 shrimp, peeled, deveined, and cubed
½ cup heavy cream; 2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 teaspoons rice wine; 2 cups bread crumbs
3 tablespoons vegetable oil; 2 ½ cups ogo tomato relish

The snapper filet, of course, is the individual himself— you and I— awash in the sea of existence. But here we find it cubed, which is to say that our situation must be remedied in all three dimensions of body, mind, and spirit.

Three teaspoons of chopped scallions further partakes of the cubic symmetry, suggesting that that which we need add to each level of our being by way of antidote comes likewise in equal proportions. The import of the passage is clear: the body, mind, and spirit need to be tended to with the same care.

Salt and freshly ground black pepper: here we have the perennial invocation of opposites—the white and the black aspects of our nature. Both good and evil must be understood if we would fulfill the recipe for spiritual life. Nothing, after all, can be excluded from the human experience (this seems to be a Tantric text). What is more, salt and pepper come to us in the form of grains, which is to say that our good and bad qualities are born of the tiniest actions. Thus, we are not good or evil in general, but only by virtue of innumerable moments, which color the stream of our being by force of repetition.


That such metaphorical acrobatics can be performed on almost any text—and that they are therefore meaningless—should be obvious. Here we have scripture as Rorschach blot: wherein the occultist can find his magical principles perfectly reflected; the conventional mystic can find his recipe for transcendence; and the totalitarian dogmatist can hear God telling him to suppress the intelligence and creativity of others. This is not to say that no author has ever couched spiritual or mystical information in allegory or ever produced a text that requires a strenuous hermeneutical effort to be made sense of. If you pick up a copy of Finnegans Wake, for instance, and imagine that you have found therein allusions to various cosmogonic myths and alchemical schemes, chances are that you have, because Joyce put them there. But to dredge scripture in this manner and discover the occasional pearl is little more than a literary game.

Sam Harris, "The End of Faith" (2004)


Christian faith requires that faith persists in the face of the impossible, and that humans have the capacity to simultaneously believe in two contradictory things.

Søren Kierkegaard

Let me give you an example though, the thing that I think is most defining and most importantly, who we are. And it could be stated in this fairly abstract sense here: of a circumstance where the less it is possible that something can be, the more it must be. What do I mean by this?

Let me make this a little less abstract here, and frame it within a certain type of theology with a whole notion of not only being able to hold a contradiction in your head, but the very contradictory nature of it is what makes it vital and essential and a moral imperative.

Let me give you a more explicit example of it. This is a catholic nun named Sister Helen Prejean, and what she has done is spent her entire life ministering to the needs of men on death row in a maximum security prison in Louisiana. Some of the most frightening nightmarish humans who have ever walked this earth, some of the most deplorable people out there, and naturally, endlessly, she is asked: "How can you spend your time doing this with people like that?" And she has always had a very simple answer, which is: "The less forgivable the act, the more must be forgiven. The less loveable the person is, the more you must find the means to love them." And as a strident atheist, this strikes me as the most irrational magnificent thing we are capable of as a species.

And it's in that realm that we go so far past the fact of the ways in which we can do special things with theory of mind and empathy and culture and all of that, and it's this simple trade that moves us, we are not just the unique-ier than any other species out there, we are the unique-ier-est, simply because of this property of us.

And this one does not come easily. And on a certain level, the harder this is, this contradiction, to take the impossibility of something to be the very proof that it must be possible, and must become a moral imperative, the harder it is to do that, the more important it is...

There's a very clear conclusion that you have to reach after a while, which is: At the end of the day, it's really impossible for one person to make a difference. And thus, the more clearly, absolutely, utterly, irrevocably, unchangeably clear it is that it is impossible for you to make a difference and make the world better, the more you must.

Robert Sapolsky, "The Uniqueness of Humans" (2009)

catch all

Why bother with newspapers, if this is all they offer? ... Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuckoffs and misfits—a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo-cage.

Hunter S Thompson, 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas' (1971)


I guess what I meant is that you are better off doing nothing than doing something badly. But the problem is that bad writers tend to have the self-confidence, while the good ones tend to have self-doubt. So the bad writers tend to go on and on writing crap and giving as many readings as possible to sparse audiences. These sparse audiences consist mostly of other bad writers waiting their turn to go on, to get up there and let it out in the next hour, the next week, the next month, the next sometime.

Charles Bukowski (1989)

patch 1.0

the original software patch

Small corrections to the programmed sequence could be done by patching over portions of the paper tape and re-punching the holes in that section.

Mark I Exhibit, Harvard University


Not long ago, several veteran homicide detectives in Detroit were publicly upbraided and disciplined by their superiors for using the office Xerox machine as a polygraph device. It seems that the detectives, when confronted with a statement of dubious veracity, would sometimes adjourn to the Xerox room and load three sheets of paper into the feeder.

"Truth," said the first.

"Truth," said the second.

"Lie," said the third.

Then the suspect would be led into the room and told to put his hand against the side of the machine. The detectives would ask the man's name, listen to the answer, then hit the copy button.


And where do you live?

Truth again.

And did you or did you not kill Tater, shooting him down like a dog in the 1200 block of North Durham Street?

Lie. Well, well: You lying motherfucker.

In Baltimore, the homicide detectives read newspaper accounts of the Detroit controversy and wondered why anyone had a problem. Polygraph by copier was an old trick; it had been attempted on more than one occasion in the sixth-floor Xerox room. Gene Constantine, a veteran of Stanton's shift, once gave a mindless wonder the coordination test for drunk drivers ("Follow my finger with your eyes, but don't move your head ... Now stand on one foot"), then loudly declared that the man's performance indicated obvious deception.

"You flunked," Constantine told him. "You're lying."

Convinced, the suspect confessed.

David Simon, "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets" (1991)

student of history

One of the reasons to study history is so that you're not always making Hitler analogies.

David Frum (2017)

do submarines swim?

We have very little information about what 'thought' is, in fact, it's not very clear how you could have such information. But the mass of our information about thought is about what we get by looking at language, so that yields the suggestion that Humboldt took to an extreme that they are the same. But, again, you could introspect if you like. It's the only kind of evidence we have. Doesn't look like as if they are the same. There seems to be lots of kinds of thought that never can get articulated. And I don't see to reason to doubt that some of kind of thought is going on with organisms that don't have language.

You know, in computational cognitive science there's a big enterprise, which in my view is a total waste of time, which goes back to a misreading of a very short paper by Alan Turing back in 1950. Alan Turing, great mathematician and founder of modern computational science and so on, had a paper called the something like "Do machines think?" and he devised the test, now called the 'Turing test', he called it an 'Imitation Game' and what he's been interpreted as arguing, he didn't say it, is that if a machine (machine means program, not a physical computer), if a program can pass this test that will show that it thinks.

If you're an employee of IBM you get paid to construct Watson and other huge programs that are supposed to pass the test. And you can get a hundred thousand dollars if you construct such a program. But there's one line in Turin's paper which seems to have been ignored, what he said is the question whether machines think is too meaningless to deserve discussion.

And he's right. The question whether machines think is like asking whether submarines swim, if you want to call that swimming, yeah they swim. If you don't want to call it swimming they don't.

But these are not factual questions, they are questions about how we only use the word. Now there is something going on that we loosely referred to as 'thought' that we don't know much about what it is. And will never find out as long as attention is restricted to what's accessible to consciousness.

Some of you may know that there are recent experimental results showing that the decisions about say, motor action, like whether to pick [something] up, that the decision is actually made microseconds before you are aware of making the decision. That has been misinterpreted as an argument about freedom of will. it has nothing to do with freedom of will, what it means is that decisions are made in a way that's inaccessible to consciousness.

Noam Chomsky (2014)


Sometimes science is more art than science, Morty. A lot of people don't get that.

"Rick and Morty" (2015)

11 11 11

I glanced at my watch. One minute to 11:00, thirty seconds, fifteen. And then it was 11:00 a.m. the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. I was the only audience for the greatest show ever presented. On both sides of no-man’s land, the trenches erupted. Brown-uniformed men poured out of the American trenches, gray-green uniforms out of the German. From my observer’s seat overhead, I watched them throw their helmets in the air, discard their guns, wave their hands. Then all up and down the front, the two groups of men began edging toward each other across no-man’s-land. Seconds before they had been willing to shoot each other; now they came forward. Hesitantly at first, then more quickly, each group approached the other.

Suddenly gray uniforms mixed with brown. I could see them hugging each other, dancing, jumping. Americans were passing out cigarettes and chocolate. I flew up to the French sector. There it was even more incredible. After four years of slaughter and hatred, they were not only hugging each other but kissing each other on both cheeks as well.

Star shells, rockets and flares began to go up, and I turned my ship toward the field. The war was over.

Eddie Rickenbacker, soldier and witness to the end of the first World War (1918)


Imagine a room awash in gasoline and there are two implacable enemies in that room. One of them has nine thousand matches, the other has seven thousand matches. Each of them is concerned whose ahead, whose stronger. Well that's the kind of situation we are actually in. The amount of weapons that are available to the United States and the Soviet Union are so bloated, so grossly in excess of what's needed to dissuade the other, that if it weren't to tragic it would be laughable.

Carl Sagan (1983)

there there

What was the use of my having come from Oakland it was not natural to have come from there yes write about it if I like or anything if I like but not there, there is no there there.

Gertrude Stein, "Everybody’s Autobiography" (1971)