The Entrance of Suffering

“Man has places in his heart which do not yet exist, and into them enters suffering, in order that they may have existence.” ~Leon Bloy

In Lawrence Durrell’s Justine, the first of The Alexandrian Quartet tetralogy, the narrator recalls having once been told, “‘There are only three things to be done with a woman…[y]ou can love her, suffer for her, or turn her into literature.'” Perhaps, though, these are stages or different ranges on the same spectrum of light.

Ever since she first walked into one my classrooms two years ago, I have been joyfully burdened with her charm, exceptional beauty, and intelligence. What a fool was I to think that the gulf in age, native language, and culture could be bridged by my will to love. Given who she is, not much was needed to give this man enough pieces to construct something akin to hope.

She claims that I know her well and that she trusts me, and this emotional couplet scares her. She tells me that she wants distance, and I tell her that she will have it. Cyril Connolly writes, “There is no pain equal to that which two lovers can inflict on one another. This should be made clear to all who contemplate such a union. The avoidance of this pain is the beginning of wisdom.” She must be, at her young age, far wiser than I ever will be.

Connolly continues, “[W]e should marry only when the desire for freedom be spent.” My desire, after years of half-hearted dissolution is spent; hers must continue to burn.

Not having been given the full opportunity to love her and refusing to suffer for her without the consolation of her warmth, I will turn her into literature. Not that I intend to model characters after her, but her large, luminescent brown eyes and animated facial expressions will leave their indelible impression–a stamp of the heart–upon everything that I do. At an age now that leaves me little energy and desire to feel this way about someone else, she may benefit from the accidental nature of time to remain the one that I continue to carry with me for the remainder of my life.

Through the alchemical  process of art, I can transfigure her through literary permutations, into a love that, for all my longings, would never have been realized had we actually come together as lovers. Returning to Durrell, he writes, “For us artists there waits the joyous compromise through art with all that wounded or defeated us in daily life; in this way, not to evade destiny, as the ordinary people try to do, but to [fulfill] it in its true potential–the imagination.” I can idealize her in a way that I would not dare do were I with her.

The only problem with this: you cannot hold an idea.

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Roaming Millenial Just Roamed into My Heart

Though I have heard her nom de Internet from alt-right bloggers, I had never watched one of her videos until recently. (Full disclosure: I did not know that RM was a woman–and quite a woman.) The above video appeared in the “Up next” column while watching this Lauren Southern video.  Intrigued by the title, I clicked on the racial bait, and, (mixed) baby, I am so glad that I did. Being Eurasian myself, I am usually interested in hearing/reading about the Eurasian experiences of others, especially when they are easy on the eyes and soft on the ears. I immediately connected with her pointing out that, while this seems not to be the case with most Eurasian children, she is the product of a Caucasian woman/Asian man coupling, as am I. In her case, people usually assume that her mother is the Asian in the relationship. I suppose that there is a certain level of racial security in the West in such an arrangement. While I have not experienced this too frequently, given that most people who currently know me know who my father is or simply look at my last name, my brother has commented on having had people ask him this while he was working in construction–when they were not assuming that he was an illegal Mexican worker. This is another point that I really enjoyed about this video: though neither my brother nor I look Mexican, much like with RM,  since people often have only three categories of racial reference in their daily experiences: white, black, and Mexican, they assume that we must be Choice C.

Having bounced back and forth between Canada and China, RM grew up in diverse environments, leading her never to feel as if she did not belong because she was surrounded by others who may not have “belonged” (*not her words*–my interpretation). She does admit that her experiences were very different from what she would have likely experienced had she grown up in Missouri, where she would have been a lone exotic (a description she does not mind, so we are cool) flower. She maintains that biracial children who feel identity torn are more than likely children who would be insecure regardless and often use being biracial as a way of acquiring victimhood status. While she may very well be correct, given our tendency to use anything we can to acquire more leverage in the social dynamic realm, I believe that we must look at the studies that reportedly correlate biracial identity with depression or behavioral problems. The presence of studies that support this theory cannot be wished away (for example, here  or here or here). I have also seen a study–that I cannot currently locate–that claims that the evidence is conjectural, arguing that biracial children experience the same type of identity-formation struggles that are common to monoracial children and adolescents.

Perhaps, as a result of identity-formation struggles, biracial children may develop a type of anti-fragility that may suite them well for this coming world of racial swirls, but this development depends upon a willingness to accept the fact that they are biracial and, thus, must acknowledge all the possibly disparate or grafted limbs of their family tree. Those biracial children who suffer from depression or mental illness may suffer because this is an existentially ancestry.com-esque task they are not able to do. (Any discussion that it is not fair to ask children to do such is meaningless in my way of reckoning, given that, strictly speaking, it is not fair to bring children into the world and to ask children to suffer anything, which is the inevitable result of living, regardless of who one is racially.) Returning to RM, while I agree that biracial children should not project themselves as victims, RM’s denying that there may be profoundly powerful and common struggles for biracial children strikes me as naive.

Recently, I publicly defended an obviously troubled young biracial man (black/white mix) who was found guilty of spray painting, of all things, anti-black graffiti (along with swastikas) at a predominantly black school. Given that he is a legal adult, he was looking at possible hate crime charges. I must admit that I did play the identity-confusion card in order to make my case that he should not be charged with hate crimes but rather should be treated as one in need of therapy. As far as I know, no hate crime charges were filed, but I do not know if my public defense played any role in the matter. While this young man may be juggling any number of issues, I cannot help but believe that his biracial identity played the determining factor in his choice of vandalism literature and its location.

While I do believe that biracial and mixed-race children face unique identity-formation struggles, I agree with RM that regardless of one’s identity, other children (and childish posters online) are going to find whatever they can to exclude one from the tribe and make one feel inherently inferior. I gleefully imagine the Caucasoid conniption fits that she must have given any ideologically-driven viewers when she stated that she hopes to have a big brood of mixed babies. (However, I greatly doubt that such viewers would turn down a wild night in Shanghai with her, though only for non-procreative purposes we are assured.)

All this to say: RM, if you ever come across my ‘umble blog, let us start making babies.

 

 

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Adbusters Keaton Human Comedy Show

In grad school, I was a consistent reader of the Canadian critique of consumer-culture monthly Adbusters. (I even sported a pair of its black high top uh-swoosh shoes–the anti-brand brand.) I found–and still do–that much of its Marshall Mcluhan-inspired media-scrutiny savviness paired well with a traditional worldview. Then taking Mcluhan’s communique that media is the message (or massage), Adbusters took on a decidedly sleeker look that I found jarring with its emphasis. In addition, an increase in a tone of self-importance and urgency often makes a casual reading exhausting. Still, when Adbusters is spot on, it is spot on. The current issue, “God, I’m Lonely,” concerns topics near and dear to my shrinking heart: automation and transhumanism.

In a snippet from Yuval Harari’s Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, we can sneakily and freely read: “Liberals uphold free markets and democratic elections because they believe that every human is a uniquely valuable individual, whose free choices are the ultimate source of authority. In the twenty-first century three practical developments might makes this belief obsolete: 1. Humans will lose their economic and military usefulness, hence the economic and political system will stop attaching much value to them. 2. The system will still find value in humans collectively, but not in unique individuals. 3. The system will still find value in some unique individuals, but these will be a new elite of upgraded superhumans rather than the mass of the population.”

Even though one may believe, as I do, that democracy is the god that failed, one cannot deny that democracy is the reigning ethos in the West, the prism through which the light of our modern values is refracted. All institutions, movements, ideas, and actions are, consciously or not, viciously or not, judged according to how well they further the spread of democracy.  However, as we have seen, though, with greater economic dependence for the individual qua individual comes a myriad of additional ways that such an individual can be used and abused, economically, socially, and militaristically. (E.g., Given that women can now vote and compete on a, more or less, level playing field in the marketplace as self-contained atomic entities without the safety net of a family, well, by golly, they should be able to die on foreign soil in order to spread democracy to lands that still may not allow their women to join the military.) As I gather from this snippet, the author maintains that we may see the implosion of democracy as individuals begin to lose their economic and militaristic value because of automation and the rise of non-conscious but “intelligent” robots–using intelligence to denote the ability to set up, appraise, and complete tasks. What I also find interesting, though this is not explicitly developed in this short passage, is the paradox of democracy: for all the touting of the uniqueness and importance–if not sacredness–of the individual, in democratic societies people have value collectively, not individually. What will happen for democratic societies when people en masse begin to lose their value? Hariri speculates that we will see the corollary rise of unique individuals, but not in meritocratic sense; rather, what we will see is the rise of humans who through fortune will have the means by which they can transform their brains and bodies into highly efficient quasi-machines.

In a speculative piece by the chief editor, Kalle Lasn (KL), the emergence of our aquatic ancestor species onto land is labeled the first migration. The second migration, according to Lasn, is “abandoning the physical world and moving into a virtual one.” Whether one adheres to the evolutionary narrative, I believe this analogy is still very compelling. We are now at another watershed moment (see what I did there?) at which the choices we will be forced to make will determine what it means to be human and whether we want to stay merely human. Given, perhaps, that there is nowhere to go biologically, we must necessarily look to technological augmentation/”improvement.”  Such technologically-aided development may lead to a supra-species, a more purely effective and affecting species. Interestingly, were one to espouse eugenics for the purpose of fashioning a more racially pure breed, the enlightened world community would be in an uproar. However, holding the banner of the inevitable march of scientific progress, we can employ a similar breeding program.

Apart from this curious inconsistency, where could the rise of a supra-species lead? Another contribution from the magazine ponders the possibility:   “The new projects of the twenty-first century–achieving immortality, bliss and divinity [ahem, Ray Kurweil]–also hope to serve the whole of humankind. However, because these projects aim at surpassing rather than safeguarding the norm, they may well result in the creation of a new superhuman caste that will abandon its liberal roots and treat normal humans no better than the nineteenth-century Europeans treated Africans.” I take issue with the claim that abandoning our liberal roots will lead a new type of hierarchy. Instead, I think holding onto our liberal roots is that which will lead to such a fate. The essence of liberalism is a denial of the bonds found both in nature and in society. Liberalism proclaims that as atomic individuals we contractually choose into what bonds we want to enter, and we dictate the terms of the contract. Is such thinking not at the heart of transhumanism? (It definitely is at the heart of our current transgender madness.) Human nature is now treated as another contract into which we have entered and may have served us well, but we still remain free to dissolve this contract if a better option arises, and if life is understood strictly in materialistic terms, on what basis could one argue that it would be better to limit oneself to the current biological paradigm? For example, if learning a language becomes a matter of inserting a chip into our brains, why go through the years of grueling work in order to achieve fluency? Simply for the sake of the authentic experience? Why treat with respect people who may choose to remain merely human? Such people may come to be viewed and treated in the same way that racists and sexists are currently treated in liberal societies. Simple experiment: try reverting, as I recently have done, to a non-smart phone. Yes, there have been those who have admired my lifestyle choice, but I wager that the general response is one of incredulity. Why give up the good things that technology can give us? Anyway, back to the quotation: on what basis should we expect a superhuman breed to treat us unenhanced people with any more respect than we have historically treated those races of people thought to be inferior or still treat non-self-conscious animal species? What if the new breed of people, horror of horrors, is intelligent enough to see the weaknesses of a liberal democracy and then seeks to correct it, primarily by imposing a new caste system in which those of us who are too poor to/choose not to purchase enhancement stand the most to lose?

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Not My Symbols

Sam Francis—if the name registers with you, then you either relish his intelligently impish indictments of modernity or take offense at his studied lack of contemporary political sensibilities. Either way, you cannot in good faith deny the crispness of his prose and the lucidity of his thought. In a collection of his essays entitled Shots Fired: Sam Francis on America’s Culture War, though several essays were published more than twenty years ago, their vitality and pertness remain. With “In Defense of Symbols: Southern and Otherwise,” though the reference in question concern the Confederate flag in relation to the South Carolina capitol, one can easily extrapolate the rhetorical force and apply it to the recent removal of the Confederate statues in New Orleans. With customary insight, he writes that “while many Americans seem to think of the flag controversy simply as a Southern or racial issue, the truth is that it is a national issue, one that concerns them as well, and…the attack of the Confederate flag and Confederate symbols is merely a prelude, a kind of dress rehearsal, for a larger and even more radical attack on all the symbols of the American heritage and America civilization” (278).  In other words, those who want to remove all vestiges of Confederate history are, in actuality, seeking to rewrite or erase American history.

In line with the therapeutic society that we have become, there has arisen the belief that if history is not affirmative (read: offends group du jour or reminds group du jour that it once also committed vile acts or reveals to group du jour that it may be achievement-deficient in some area or another), then it must be negligible and, thus, removable. Granted, histories and mythologies serve many of the same ends, primarily helping a people group better understand itself—or at least understand itself in an idealized manner. This will ineluctably lead to whitewashing of star group’s atrocities and the, uh, blackfacing of competing groups’ attempts to survive and thrive. Perhaps the problem lie with a history that tries comprehensively to reconcile groups that differ radically in regional origin, temperament, and views of the good life. Referring, once again to the movement to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina capitol, Francis writes, “What is also going on with the attack on the Confederate flag, on the part of groups like the NAACP and the blacks it represents, is a kind of racial secession from American society” (285). I cannot pretend to understand what a black feels—if anything, in all honesty—when he/she sees the Confederate flag or the Mississippi flag; perhaps if I were black, I would want to remove all instances of St. Andrew’s Cross as well. The point, though, is not for us to try to walk a mile in another’s skin everytime someone gets offended; rather, the piercing point is to recognize that perhaps different races/cultures cannot fundamentally understand each other in significant areas. This is not to say that different groups cannot live together in at least the semblance of neighborly peace, but this peace may exist only when there is a clearly dominant group at the head of the table and when the other groups know their respective places at said table. Such a dining arrangement is what we are seeing upset in the US. Conviviality abhors a vacuum, so more and more groups are vying for fuller plates and glasses and shinier silverware and more advantageous seating arrangements. (Okay, I think that I have extended this metaphor meal as far as it can go.) Okay, one more: more and more groups are now demanding that they decide the menu options.

In a way, I would prefer groups to declare boldly secessionist intentions, rejecting the social and governmental services from a country they find hostile. Yet, as Francis notes, this is not what we are seeing: “[M]any of the blacks are not really announcing their secession from the nation. What they are announcing is their intention to reconfigure the nation, to use political power based on their own racial solidarity to redefine the nation and its heritage in terms that will be acceptable to them. At the same time blacks also demand racial integration, affirmative action, and reparations, they are also demanding that the whites with whom they are to be integrated and from whom they are demanding special privileges give up their own symbols and heroes…” (285). While I think that what Francis writes about blacks still applies, any number of racial and sexual “rights”-interest groups could be substituted. Though we are seeing more and more groups demand sundry forms of exclusivity (e.g., campus days without whites [whiteout?] or all-black dorms), as far as I know such groups are not rejecting the benefits of the reigning regime, such as subsidized housing, Medicaid, school breakfasts and lunches, TANF, food stamps, police protection, etc. Minority groups do not want to start ex nihilo, and who would? Imagine Survivor on a national scale. Rather, they want to move into existing institutions and make them their own, either through legal channels or through demographic changes. As it is, whites seem more than willing to accept displacement. If a racial awakening ever occurs, though, the fallout—mostly for minorities (until whites become the minority group, I suppose)—will not be pleasant. Can we say “greatly unpleasant”? Truth be told, I want to see neither white displacement nor racial war. However, for as much as I used to shake my head at the idea, perhaps secession movements along, very roughly speaking, ethnic lines may be the only way to avert a truly great unpleasantness. However, this is all provided that a wave of grace is not, graciously in the fullest sense, unleashed upon this country like a spiritual Hurricane Katrina. For, as St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us, it is the nature of grace to unite, but nature of matter to separate. This climate of constant differentiation, especially given the underlying ferocity that often accompanies it, reveals a spiritually parched landscape indeed.

The real question: will robots care what color we are when they conquer us?

 

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The Experience Machine

I had originally planned to refer to a textbook reading that I use for a class of mine in order to supplement this submission, but I must go where there is wi-fi, and the Muse has now struck, yet I am without the textbook (and there is, for once, a really cute girl in the coffee shop, and I want to indulge the fantasy that I will meet the woman of my dreams in a coffee shop, though I have not had the best success approaching women in coffee shops). Actually, I could probably find it online, but the Muse is telling me to keep moving my strong and nimble fingers. Yes, my divine dear.

Robert Nozick, in his “The Experience Machine,” invited us to join him in his philosophical laboratory back in the 70s (I bet it had plush carpeting and a velvet portrait on the wood wall paneling) for a short but strikingly provocative thought experiment. He asked to reader to consider whether he/she would opt out of actively participating in society in order to connect to a machine that is capable of producing the most elaborate, intense, and satisfying virtual reality (he did not use that phrase, though) experiences while sustaining that person’s bodily functions. This person could elect to spend several months at a time hooked up to this machine, and choosing the fictive fantasy for the next merry mind go-round would take only a few dreadful minutes in real time. Nozick then proposes three reasons why people may not choose such an intellectual incubation: one, we want to do, actually, certain things–not just experience the simulacra of having done those certain things ; two, we want to be, actually, a certain way; three, this would limit us to a man-made reality.

I tell my students that this has to be one of the most important (and prescient) pieces that they will read, given the very great likelihood that they will be confronted with this choice within their lifetime. One only has to look at the boundaries continually being pushed by virtual reality technology to see that odysseys of this sort await us in the electronic ether. Perhaps one need not do even that much. If one looks up from one’s own glowing smart phone screen to acknowledge others, one will find that every one else is still looking at his/her screen. In that way, we have already entered and limited ourselves to a man-made reality. My students usually give the answer that I think they believe I want to hear: “Oh no, how horrible–we would never do that,” they defiantly declare as they text under their desk top. However, usually one or two students is bold enough to admit: “Yeah, I’d try it–I mean, why not?” I admit, I walk that line of inquiry, too.

Most of us have already come to accept a simulacrum of life. Though the preview of this would have horrified my 90s self, I am now perfectly satisfied communicating with people via text messaging. In fact, as with many, I suspect, I often prefer it to actual face-to-face conversations, especially when I feel obliged to contact people whom I would rather not encounter in any significant manner. Perhaps the fact that I inconsistently blog is another sign that I have come to accept a simulacrum of life. While I realize that ever since the invention of symbols, a certain immediacy and rawness has been eliminated from our daily encounters. (John Zerzan wept.)  The textual transmission of knowledge can now be outsourced to media other than rather limiting auditory exchanges, allowing for a greater dissemination of knowledge and, well, civilization. This is not quite what I mean. Once again, referring back to my 90s self (who only occasionally wore flannel), I would have been disheartened to think that I would come to a point where I would often rather proffer ideas and debate them online than, say, sitting at a coffee shop or a bar. Given that I presently have this online outlet, I now almost grow embarrassed when serious discussion arises in public when, with my younger self, it was once the only conversation that I wanted to have in public.

Further in the article, Nozick upped the antagonistic ante when he asked if a transformation machine would be more tempting to those who may be able to resist the experience machine. Once again, prescient. With transhumanism poised to become a bigger topic of concern than what another trans word currently is, this is another choice that people will soon enough have to confront. Who would not be tempted by the option of implanting a neural lace, allowing one’s brain to function as a spongy conduit for the Internet? If thought that I could acquire mastery of Latin or Japanese through mere technological implantation, say sayonara to declension drills. (The aforementioned sentence may go down as one of the favorite lines I have ever written.)

Most troublesome, to me anyway, is the conclusion that now seems inescapable: many people will need to be pacified through experience machines in order to keep them from flesh and blood violence or mischief, especially with the great robotic displacement of humans that is coming to a factory/fast food joint/law office/school/truck near you.

By the way, I think coffee shop girl is sporting a ring.

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Into Great Regrets

Reportedly, director Philip Groning had to wait sixteen years before he was given the green light to film a documentary on the Carthusians. Their founder’s, St. Bruno’s, feast day is my birthday, Oct. 6th, so perhaps that is why I have felt an affinity for this spiritually spartan order for as long as I have known about them. I purchased his documentary Into Great Silence as soon as it was made available to an American audience. Of course, now you can watch the entire deal on YouTube. For me, the most moving sequence features close-up profiles of several of the monks. One can also watch it on, wait for it, YouTube. A few look uncomfortable; a few look almost confrontational; a few look confused; a few of look bored: such a penetrating look at the humanity of men who have removed themselves from society, for all of them possess a dignity and authenticity that is lacking in most of our lives. Whether you believe or not, these are men of whom the world is not worthy, for they pray daily for the salvation of the world and do their penances accordingly. Whenever I watch this clip, I am reminded of how I have wasted my life. I, perhaps, could have been one of them, praying for the salvation of the world. Perhaps it would have amounted to nought, but what else have I done with my life? If I were ever to encounter one of these men outside his monastery, I think that I would immediately break down and fall down at his feet and ask him to pray the prayers I can no longer pray.

This other clip features the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. This trailer comes from the documentary Outcasts and shows the friars doing what they do best–corporal works of charity (there are also a few scenes of Adoration for those racialist trads wary of corporal works of charity for brown people). While I think that any sensible Catholic (or bad Catholic or simply a Catholic-minded person) would support a return to the Latin Mass and better catechetical formation, it does not seem like such is coming, scattered young stud traditional seminarians aside. Furthermore, Islam is poised to surpass Christianity as the dominant religion. Transhumanism and robotic automation will challenge all our conceptions about the limits and distinctive value of humanity. Perhaps the only way that Christianity will persist is through a combination of the Carthusian and the Franciscan models: silence, prayer, penance, and corporal works of charity. Oh yeah, and much, much suffering.

If I have learned nothing else from Catholicism, it is this: suffering is not without value. For this alone, I could never go back to Protestantism, for there is no true place for suffering in that scheme. If salvation is a sealed deal, then why in heaven or hell would God allow for suffering? To aid sanctification that is utterly divorced (heh–Protestants) from justification (and, thus, not that essential)? To manifest his Jewish sense of superiority and lack of empathy? This applies especially to Calvinists. Y’all keep your Five Points of Calvinism; I would rather rest on the five wounds of Jesus.

In addition, if there another thing that I have learned from Catholicism, it is that true obedience means complete motherfucking submission to the will of God. Protty pastors can still marry and have children–how sweet. Not so for those truly called by God; you must forego the comforts of the marital embrace and the hope of children. Also, as evidenced from social media, too many self-professing believers think that they can baptize their selfish and hedonistic lifestyles because they are elect or made a profession of faith when they were five. I mean, so you may wear immodest clothing and bathing suits, take extravagant vacations and live beyond your means, idolize social media, watch whatever the hell you want on TV, get drunk regularly, treat most people like shit, support bombing those poor fuckers who live in countries that should not even be included on maps, and give or receive the regular blowjob, the precious blood of Jesus makes it all good. No wonder more and more people are walking away from the faith of their fathers.

Look at what happens when I get a few drinks in me: I start blabbing about a faith that I no longer practice and criticize those who do not live their convictions. True, sugar tits, my hypocrisy knows no bounds.

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Crime or the Noose

The title bears no substantial connection to this submission except that this paraphrased snippet has been taken from the portion of Sade’s Justine set in the epigraph of Durrell’s Justine.

Justine is the first novel in British writer Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet. T. S. Eliot spoke very highly of Durrell, so that is the only argument I need–or that you should need–to read his work.

Two passages early on in the novel have arrested me: “Our common actions in reality are simply the sackcloth covering which hides the cloth-of-gold–the meaning of the pattern. For us artists there waits the joyous compromise through art with all that wounded or defeated us in daily life; in this way, not to evade destiny, as the ordinary people try to do, but to fulfil it in its true potential–the imagination.”

How perfectly fitting. Life is a sackcloth covering that hides the cloth-of-gold whose pattern can only be appreciated upon reflection–a transformation of experience into art. Far be it from a still somewhat sober me to claim that anything I write can be called “art,” but this is why I write: I fumble and bumble through my daily life, and only upon rhetorical reflection am I able to detect the graceful patterns that are hidden in my clodhopping ways or the barbarous ways of life.

Next: “Like all egoists I cannot bear to live alone….”

Yes, despite my not conceiving of too many people in my state possessing a more interesting personal library than I do, I still persist in leaving my study to socialize. (Namely, I have not found a way to get cute cocktail waitresses to work in my library, paying them only in witticisms.) For that matter, why blog when I could spend the time more profitably reading? I am an egoist. This reminds me of something that Walker Percy said (and I paraphrase): writers are egoists by nature because they believe that they have something worthwhile to say.

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