New month, fresh start. Last month, a number of disruptions knocked me off a pretty delicately structured work schedule. Some were good disruptions, like last-minute paid editing, and my second COVID shot (at last! not easy as a foreigner), which hit hard for two days but also reminded me of how rotten the real business had been last year. (Two people in my Canadian circles, mid-60s with high-risk profiles, got COVID last month and had cases that have us all very thankful they were triple-vaxxed first.)
Other disruptions had to do with my abiding post-COVID exhaustion: frustratingly low energy levels and difficulty sustaining workout gains that I’ve been trying for the last year to fix without much luck. This is a form of long COVID, but I’m not keen to have that label as part of my identity for life. That’s why this month’s Threedom finds me doing something a little more extreme. June 2 will find me on day four of one of the most reckless eating plans that exists: the longterm water fast.
Now, when I say “reckless”, I mean that quite a few people try to use water fasts to lose weight, because, hey! If you’re not eating any food, you’re going to lose a lot of weight, right? Well, sure, some do. But the vast majority regain that weight and then some after the fast, because the body’s a pretty smart cookie: when it goes through a period of deficiency, it comes out eager to protect against future deficiencies. It doesn’t know you’re, say, trying to trigger autophagy to improve recycling and repair of damaged cell systems, including the mucked up immune system that might be responsible for your longterm exhaustion. It just thinks, ACK, FAMINE IS UPON US, and pads up for the next possible famine the moment food is in abundance again, if you’re not super careful about how you return to regular eating routines.
So today I’m going to reflecting on fasting as one of my “threes” (I promise, in very serious ways—remember, I spend a lot of time with street folk here), but since disordered eating is no laughing matter, I wanted to give folks a head’s up. I can also promise that I’m not going to go into my plan’s specifics (again, that can be triggering for some), except to say that I’m absolutely keeping heart and gallbladder health in mind with respect to daily supplements, and will absolutely stop the moment it feels dangerous. I’m very much looking forward to eating again, and wouldn’t be trying this if the exhaustion issues weren’t driving me to desperate measures.
In lighter news… oh, goodness, it’s difficult to find any these days, isn’t it? There’s plenty of worldly grief to go around. We’re in the middle of a major European war coming up on its 100th day. Meanwhile, plenty of other civil wars, occupations, and local genocides persist. In India, the ethnic-cleansing engine of Hindutva hatred for Muslims just keeps winding up, when climate change already promises a forebodingly bad summer for that region. Global food distribution networks are in severe peril, which will exacerbate famine and disease in already hard-hit regions like Yemen, and have ripple effects felt by more secure countries, too. Gas prices and other costs of living have already surged everywhere, and Western inflation rates are at dangerous levels with respect to another major recession soon being upon us.
And amid all of this? In places like the US, pettier cruelty keeps showing up in its political priorities instead. It’s just such a heartbreaking culture of death. Meanwhile, in Colombia, a very messy first presidential run-off has placed a candidate with many similarities to the last US president / Ontario’s premier in a position to win in June’s second run-off. (It’s down to him and Petro, a leftist that all other rightwingers, now absent their first choice in Fico, will do anything to keep from office. Interesting times ahead!)
I don’t want to suggest that the world is worsening, though. There’s a reason that almost every generation of Christians, for thousands of years, has had a distinctive end-times movement believing that the second coming of Christ was right on hand, clearly foretold by the signs and portents of their respectively struggling ages. We all want to believe that the breaking point might actually be reached in our lifetimes, because then at least there’d be some reprieve from it all, no?
But I think it’s more accurate to say that folks today are more acutely aware of the immensity of everything going wrong, all the world over, than prior generations ever could have been. (Thanks, World Wide Web!) And that’s tough. It’s tough to be a creature advanced enough in sentience to be able to recognize so much that’s going wrong in the world, without being able to do much about it.
So. We do what we can, where we can.
Which is part of why I’m doing something very foolish this month—in the hopes that an extreme fast will give me the energy to do more again in the months to come.
If not? Well, then I’ll scale back personal expectations, but still keep trying.
It’s really all that any of us can be expected to do.
If you donate to UNHCR, World Central Kitchen, Medecins sans frontieres, Amnesty International, bail funds, local food and/or diaper banks, or any number of victim relief funds for people directly affected by climate change, gun violence, and/or state oppression… thank you. Whatever your site of contribution, thank you for doing what you can, where you can, in the ways that make the most sense to you.
As of writing this, I’m still dealing with the struggle of international payments. My first payment for my work at OnlySky was unfortunately returned to sender before it could even make it to my Canadian bank, and we’re still trying to figure out what ridiculous excuse the SWIFT system has for not being able to get money from California to Ontario. (Not actually surprising, though. I have never had a smooth transfer process for a first-time sender or recipient.) In the process, though, I learned that SWIFT has vastly slowed down in efficiency during this war in Ukraine, so in general expect up to ten business days before receipt of outstanding transfers.
This is why I remain tremendously thankful to folks who support the work via Patreon and Ko-Fi. I am so impatient to be able to make any kind of financial gain again, but… some years, my friends. Some years are really tough.
In any case, last month I revised my subscriptions list, keeping the core four: monthly digital storage, annual Duotrope (for submissions monitoring), annual domain name, and annual SFWA membership, along with one movie channel subscription and a CounterSocial Pro account ($5 a month) to round out my “entertainment” with some of the savings made by wiping out all the creative services I was using for other projects. (When I have more stable income, I’ll return those tools to the fold.) For now, I also rely on a Patron for my Microsoft Office account, which they generously provided through a family plan account—so, every bit has helped, and I do not, will not, could not forget all of your patience with the whole mess of this journey.
Are you receiving the care you need as well? Do you feel you have folks you can talk to, places you can turn? I’m hoping that renewed energy levels will make it easier to keep up consistently with folks in need in my circles, but also, if you’re ever struggling, I hope you know that solidarity is there for the asking from my side.
As ever, then, wherever this month’s update finds you: be well, be kind to yourselves, and seek justice where you can.
(Oh, and sing it from the rooftops wherever you find it, eh? We could always use a little more positive reinforcement that all that is awful in the world isn’t all that exists in the world, after all.)
Table of Contents
Three story ideas
Medieval aliens (S1)
All-consuming rituals (S2)
Alternate histories of the 20th century (S3)
Three forms of infinity
“The Book of Sand” by Jorge Luis Borges (I1)
Everything Everywhere All At Once (I2)
Three articles of note
“No Way Out But War” by Chris Hedges (A1)
“Is Everything Political?” by Justin E. H. Smith (A2)
“Philosopher of the apocalypse” by Audrey Borowski (A3)
Three thoughts on fasting
“Ayunar” vs. “fasting” (F1)
40 days and 40 nights (or, the “infinite” in mystic fasting) (F2)
Prison fasts the world over (F3)
Three miscellaneous items
A quotation (M1)
TIL (Today I Learned): offhand factoid edition (M2)
TIL (Today I Learned): weird historical event edition (M3)
M1. A quotation
"If space is infinite, we may be at any point in space. If time is infinite, we may be at any point in time."
—Jorge Luis Borges, “The Book of Sand”
A1. “No Way Out But War,” by Chris Hedges
There’s an anecdote in film circles that imagines a viewer who has only ever seen one film—say, Finding Nemo—and who, upon viewing a second film, then waggles a finger at the screen and says with great authority, “I’m getting strong Finding Nemo vibes from this one!”—or, conversely, “Well, it’s no Finding Nemo!” Though the anecdote arises to comment on ill-informed art critics, its core principle holds in every facet of our lives: we interpret all new data in light of the old.
Another classic way of saying this is that “when you’ve only got a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” which is a bit closer to the brutality of the topic at the heart of Chris Hedges’s “No Way Out but War”, a commentary on the militaristic core of US policy. I don’t “follow” Hedges; like many of the readings I mention in these newsletters, they come to me secondhand, from various info silos in my life. But this piece offered a striking argument about the state of the US “forever war”. Specifically, that
[U.S. constituents] are paying a heavy social, political, and economic cost for our militarism. Washington watches passively as the U.S. rots, morally, politically, economically, and physically, while China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, and other countries extract themselves from the tyranny of the U.S. dollar and the international Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), a messaging network banks and other financial institutions use to send and receive information, such as money transfer instructions. Once the U.S. dollar is no longer the world’s reserve currency, once there is an alternative to SWIFT, it will precipitate an internal economic collapse. It will force the immediate contraction of the U.S. empire shuttering most of its nearly 800 overseas military installations. It will signal the death of Pax Americana.
Democrat or Republican. It does not matter. War is the raison d'état of the state. Extravagant military expenditures are justified in the name of “national security.” The nearly $40 billion allocated for Ukraine, most of it going into the hands of weapons manufacturers such as Raytheon Technologies, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing, is only the beginning. Military strategists, who say the war will be long and protracted, are talking about infusions of $4 or $5 billion in military aid a month to Ukraine. We face existential threats. But these do not count. The proposed budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in fiscal year 2023 is $10.675 billion. The proposed budget for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is $11.881 billion. Ukraine alone gets more than double that amount. Pandemics and the climate emergency are afterthoughts. War is all that matters. This is a recipe for collective suicide.
It’s a painful read in many ways, because Hedge’s decisively brief and fact-forward sentence structure adds a certain absolutism to the argument, which goes on to counter the usual you might have seen around the war in Ukraine. Hedges, in essence, argues that the singularity of focus on total war as the only plausible solution has so utterly impoverished domestic discussion about how to govern for a better world that a) bizarrely enough, the only thing approaching coherent dissent comes from the bonkers world of Republican officials still stumping for the last president, and b) Biden’s overwhelming financial commitment to Ukraine is making it easier for local fascist movements to rise in the fall election and coming years.
(I bet you can see why I was drawn to this piece now. I do enjoy a good argument that compels me to evaluate my knee-jerk discomfort with its premises and conclusions.)
This week for OnlySky, I published a piece on “personhood” as a legal concept, which brought similar thoughts about our too-narrow sociopolitical discourse to the surface. There’s such a vague, overconfident idea that we “know” what a person is, when the concept on a legal level could not be any more complicated or mercurial. So where does our overconfidence come from? How do we get to the point where we think that our ideas about a given problem are just “common sense truth”?
While defining a legal person for that article, I also found myself outlining how the U.S. Constitution is fairly distinct in its focus more on negative rights (i.e., protections from the state and other actors) than positive ones—which also goes a long way to explaining why the country’s politics favour viewing the world in such relentlessly adversarial terms, instead of cultivating deeper senses of mutual support and care.
Either way, Hedges’ article paints a pretty bleak picture of the state of political discourse in the US (and beyond it: we’re all still so often sucked into its void of binary debate on key social issues, no?). Folks weren’t exactly wrong to call Hilary Clinton “hawkish” in the lead-up to the 2016 election; the country under Clinton and Obama and now Biden, as under Bush Sr. and Jr., has been pretty darned uniform in its embrace of a neoliberal and military-industrial-complex baseline for state policy. And yet, how can any of these politicians not be?
The whole country has been watching more or less the same sociopolitical movie play out since Reagan, at least. Even if the world were to show it another “picture”—as is happening with environmental crises that care not a whit for US ideas of manifest destiny, and within other surging nation-state powers, too—from whence would its politicians find the social vocabulary to grapple with that new narrative on its own terms?
I1. “The Book of Sand” by Jorge Luis Borges
It takes a great and seasoned writer to recognize that a story about infinity should be about two pages long, and no more. Fortunately, Borges was just such a writer.
In a scant few paragraphs in “The Book of Sand”, he describes a man in Argentina visited by a Scottish salesman of Christian Bibles—and one book more, a “Book of Sand” so named by its previous owner, an “untouchable” in Bombay who saw this Book of Books as a talisman. The book has no beginning and no end, its pages forever added to and disappearing, and although the narrator at first covets the piece, which he tucks “behind the volumes of a broken set of The Thousand and One Nights” and from which he tries to record choice sections, his obsession with it becomes too great, so he decides to hide it even from himself in a nearby library.
As you can hopefully see, then, from my summary of a summary of infinity, Borges makes many deft creative choices in so short a story to convey a fuller world than any of us can hope to process. We cannot fully grasp infinity, and yet, we walk through infinities every day. I cross a room—an infinite series of successively smaller half-fractions surmounted. I draw an eight on its side—infinity named without needing to be named in full. I make a pie—infinity in a circle defined by pi. (Okay, okay, bad pun, bad pun.)
This curious phenomenon is of a piece with how we handwave vague convictions about the world in general: somehow encompassing enough of sprawling topics in offhand words, phrases, and actions to carry on from one moment to the next. Is it any wonder that some of the most prominent Western theologians, from St. Augustine to Alvin Plantinga and onward still, put such stock in the idea that our ability to recognize our understanding of the world as fragmentary is proof that there must be a greater whole from whence this lesser understanding arises?
That part of the argument carries well enough, mind you; it’s only the idea that the existence of imperfect reasoners (us) similarly guarantees the existence of a perfect reasoner which utterly falls apart under closer scrutiny. But what a dull and frustrating possibility that must be to entertain: the idea that it is perfectly possible for the highest forms of reasoning in this cosmos to be flawed, fleeting subjectivities. That the best we humans can do is to gesture at complete knowledge—or even, as Borges’s little tale suggests, to hold it in our hands—without ever being in a position to grasp it in full.
One of the cleverest parts of Borges’s tale, of course, is the fact that he references two other books that already gesture at the idea of containing everything: the Christian Bible (with its great I AM, the Alpha and the Omega), and The Thousand and One Nights (numbers in the 11, 101, 1001, 10,001 sequence invoking infinity in many Arabic cultures). In this way, he makes the titular Book of Sand, ultimately lost in a distant library, somewhat moot. All books, all text, might well contain the infinite.
If only—oh, if only!—we knew just how to look.
F1. “Ayunar” vs. “fasting”
Recently, one of my friends on the street here took sick. He’s somewhere in his early thirties, with a child who stays with the mother, and out every night very warmly greeting folks outside the metro with a bag of candies and a welcome fist bump if no one is able to offer coin. He was able to get a medical appointment and a prescription of antibiotics to deal with the pain in the side of his gut, and now awaits a blood test.
But it was with a rueful laugh that he told me he wasn’t sure if he was taking his medication right, because it was prescribed to him as something to be taken with meals, and well, “yo ayuno más días que no”. Technically, we’d translate this as “I fast more days than not,” but the word “fast” has such a different significance in English.
They should be the same, right? After all, the English “breakfast” is literally the meal that breaks the fast, and the Spanish “desayuno” is the same, “des” for the cancellation of “ayuno”, the fast. But in practice, the verb ayunar more often means “to go without food”, which has far less of the level of control we ascribe to fasting in English.
Fasting, in English, invokes diets, spiritual service, and forms of protest. It has those significances in Spanish, too. But listening to my street friend talk so casually about “ayunando”, the same way the friend whose family I was supporting through the worst of the pandemic (with my patrons’ help: thank you!) was also “ayunando” more days than not, reminds me of an added cultural complexity to any food choice I make for myself. Namely, my food choices are choices. And even in my lowest seasons, I have far more choices than most in everything I do.
In F2, I talk about some of the ways that fasting manifests in stories of holy action—but foregrounding the actually hungry, the routinely starving, feels like the least I can do first. Indeed, there’s something quite unsettling to me about treating as extraordinary an action that most people have no choice but to take up every day (and we’ll get back to this, in F3, when I reflect on protest fasting). I doubt my friend on the street knows about the potential autophagic benefits of his normal and unavoidable “lifestyle” of routine starvation. I also doubt that he has magnesium and potassium at the ready, as I do, to counteract any damage to key muscle tissues in the process.
More to the point: I am sure as heck not going to tell him that I’m fasting. (The sheer decadence and gall of telling someone that I’m currently playing at a fraction of his life’s hardships!)
But that’s just it, isn’t it? The aim here isn’t to agonize over having choices that others do not; it’s to learn to sit steadily with the discomfort of having more choices than others, even as still others have more choices than me.
Choice is a gift. And the more we exercise our own, the more we should realize that one of the best things we can do is to extend that gift to others, too.
S1. Medieval Aliens
This month I’ll finally be sending short stories out again, after a frustrating pause in my ability to finish any science-fiction tales to my satisfaction. Even drafting them was a bit challenging, because I would easily grow fatigued when writing fiction in a way I didn’t feel when writing nonfiction—as if the urgency of the latter was making it hard to see the point of the former. But then, even when drafted, the pieces weren’t satisfying me. This didn’t mean they weren’t well constructed. I just… wasn’t ready to let them go. Something was bothering me about them, and until I figured out the something for each piece, in my draft folder the work would stay.
Now, however, I seem to have reconciled my misgivings with writing fiction when there’s so much nonfiction to be written as well (and for a platform with a more immediate feedback cycle, to boot), and ideas are pouring out. I hope this bodes well for the month’s writing! But if not? Eh, I’m not one of those writers who worries about someone “stealing” my ideas, so I’d like to share the three concepts at the tippy-top of my head these days.
The first comes from reading a conversation on 3BrothersFilm on Memoria (discussed in I3) between two of the brothers. The film review site (and podcast!) is run by a dear friend of mine and his two brothers, and although the three share certain overarching outlooks and franchise preferences, there are also significant differences in each brother’s experiences that make for thoughtful and stimulating exchanges. Without being too reductive, when I read Aren’s work, I expect a lot more interest in how the plot, performance, and directorial choices create moving and meaningful spectacle; when I read Anton’s, I anticipate a more structuralist reading of story informed by broader industry-reception details and with a sharp eye for elemental cohesion; when I read Anders’ pieces, I know to expect assessments of how well the work plays against interpretations of ritual and wonder in the director’s canon, in contrast to the broader filmic universe, and in relation to the world of the viewer. (Again, not to be too reductive. Everyone contains multitudes.)
What was fun about this interview, though, is that Anders and I recently had our own conversation about Memoria, he as a studied film scholar, and I as an appreciator of the director’s work and also as a person residing in Colombia, where Memoria was filmed. And in our conversation, we travelled ground that made more sense considering our affective relationships, but then I was reading him chat with a brother, Aren, who had a very different background to the work. Consequently, their conversation prioritized other facets of the film, including a deeper dive into the science-fictional element of the piece on the level of spectacle and in relation to broader filmic trendlines. And that was surprisingly generative for me, but mostly because it felt like a counterpoint to the preceding chat I’d had.
Simply put, a comment in their conversation about the highly modernist use of aliens in most contemporary cinema played really well off my preceding discussion, in which we’d been talking about narrative immersion not just in Memoria but also The Northman and all other films by Robert Eggers, a director with deep fealty to fully encapsulating the world as it would have been experienced by the people within it. Memoria is not quite that film (as I’ll get into later), but discussing the contrast between the two with Anders, and then reading his remarks about the limited role for other forms of alien presence in a chat with his brother around Memoria, just entrenched a desire to write a piece that actually does deal well with aliens in another era. And not as angels and demons, as they are also often presented in medieval-era films and fiction, but as something else. Something both clearly atypical to folks of that era and also, not entirely without their own narrative conventions.
It’s going to be a quiet piece, as the best uncanny fictions often are, and involve a medieval rural-middle-class household with problems of its own and a set of remote neighbours who have been living just a bit beyond the main town for as long as the child of the house can recall. Obviously, readers will catch on quickly as to what the neighbours really are, but to the child and its parents, other stories will have rapidly enfolded these unusual citizens within more comprehensible parameters for the era.
The challenge, of course, is going to be the research that this will involve—many fun little rabbit holes to go down while triple-checking key details!—but if I can pull it off, I’ll have a nice little piece to consider sending to Asimov’s or F&SF in a few months’ time.
Sometimes people foolishly ask writers where they get their ideas—so congrats, you have a longwinded answer for this one! From a movie-review roundtable about a Thai-directed contemporary film set in Colombia that I read so potently close to another filmic conversation that all the mess of cinematic chatter came together to form one abiding conviction: I should write medieval alien SF. Obviously, right?
(Don’t ask authors such silly questions, is the real moral of the story here.)
I2. Everything Everywhere All At Once
Speaking of unexpected twists and turns, I watched Everything Everywhere All At Once last month, and managed to go into the experience knowing only that it starred Michelle Yeoh and involved a multiverse in peril. Not an easy feat, considering that everyone was gushing with praise about the film!
Without spoiling the piece, I’ll say that it wasn’t the film I expected—not a grand adventure through time and space, so much as a story (like this year’s Turning Red) centrally focussed on the repair of a broken mother-daughter relationship. That said, the use of the multiverse trope was still quite logical within that context: the daughter, depressed and overwhelmed by the inability to imagine any future, in the entire cosmos, where she wouldn’t be depressed forever, is crying out through that same endless cosmos for her mother to provide a universe where things can get better again.
Beyond how well the film treats bilingualism (i.e., very well, with an effortless body of code-switching not only across but also within English and Mandarin, depending on social context) and the multigenerational immigrant experience (at least, from its reception among folks I know in various Asian diasporas in North America), Everything Everywhere… also pairs its themes well with its character arcs. While the daughter is reeling suicidally through all possible futures, none of which has any hope in them without her mother’s more overt acceptance and commitment to being with her in the journey through young adulthood, the mother (Yeoh) is locked in to a single timeline, a single way to be miserable and resigned to nothing ever getting better.
This juxtaposition offers tremendously potent narrative fodder, as the mother needs to learn to broaden her horizons while the daughter needs to know that one steady path can still be found through all the chaos. For all the goofiness of the multiverse jokes in this film, the film’s core message was familiar (Carl Sagan’s famous “For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love”), and in that way might easily have disappointed folks more interested in a truly ambitious look at what living in a multiverse might entail. However, the concentrated focus on just this one family’s healing—while “small” in some ways—also contains an infinity all its own.
There is so little we can do and be for the whole darned world.
But there is also almost no limit to what we can empower or erase in the people nearest and dearest in our lives. What will we choose for ourselves?
A2. “Is Everything Political?” by Justin E. H. Smith
I love reading pieces I don’t fully agree with, but which clearly come from a questing and thoughtful place. I found all that and more in a recent substack essay by Justin E. H. Smith, “Is Everything Political?”, which chafes at some of the ways our current timeline seems to be hemming in a fuller range of possible positions and ways of talking about the world.
Smith’s baseline subject-position differs a bit from mine—his cosmology is more religious, which gives him a higher valuation of ritual—but one thing we absolutely share is the difficulty of finding where we fit in. I, too, am both considered far too radical by conservative types, and far too conservative in some ways by liberal types—in large part, because those two poles are not the only poles; and yet, both groups do enjoy living in a political economy that likes to treat all our policy positions and philosophical standpoints that way.
Smith writes, for instance, that,
These then are my deepest convictions: human beings are inextricably mixed up with the “dark matter” of nature; as Joan Didion understood (of women only, but the point is to some extent universalizable), to be a human being is to have a sense of “that dark involvement with blood and birth and death”. If you are a Christian, you will see this involvement as the source of sin, but whether you are Christian or not, whether you call it by this name or not, if you are honest with yourself you will understand that the greater sin still is to refuse to recognize the way this involvement compromises any effort to lead a life that is entirely exempt from blame to the extent that it concerns itself only with the approved instances of blood and birth and death and has nothing to do with the prohibited ones. It’s all prohibited, and it’s all unavoidable; and the sanest human cultures are the ones that process this paradoxical predicament through ritual — through the form of rationality that lies deeper than any rationalization in language.
As you can see, Smith’s language is deeply religious, and yet… also not that far removed from the ways I talk about similar. How much difference is there, really, between the above words and those by Iris Murdoch, who in The Nice and the Good has a character explain,
Human frailty forms a system, Jessica, and faults in the past have their endlessly spreading network of results. We are not good people, Jessica, and we shall always be involved in that great network, you and I. All we can do is constantly to notice when we begin to act badly, to check ourselves, to go back, to coax our weakness and inspire our strength, to call upon the names of virtues of which we know perhaps only the names. We are not good people, and the best we can hope for is to be gentle, to forgive each other and to forgive the past, to be forgiven ourselves and to accept this forgiveness, and to return again to the beautiful unexpected strangeness of the world.
(I think the older I get, the more I realize that Iris Murdoch has had the greatest influence on how I think about my own writing and humanism. I may well adore Dostoevsky’s work and his struggle between polarities, but it’s Murdoch’s welcoming approach to all the traditions and mythologies we use to abide in this mess of a world, which promises so much grandness yet delivers on so little of it, that seems to have stirred in me the strongest sense of calm about infusing every form of prose with philosophy.)
On the one hand, this acceptance of complicity, which Smith and I absolutely share, is a radical act and concept. On the other hand, it makes us both far less interested in drawing stark tribalist lines, and more cautious around even the well-intentioned people who do. Many of those well-intentioned line-drawers are on the “left”, which makes my reluctance (speaking now only for myself) to fully distance myself from the greatest transgressors something of a betrayal of liberal ideals. I believe firmly in my shared humanity with all our worst offenders. And with the people who hate me. As such, I always seek to strengthen my ability to sit with the discomfort of holding even diametrically opposed experiences in tension.
Is there a “side” that perfectly suits this inclination? Probably not. It is too conservative-sheltering for some, and too radical for others.
But hey! Not ever neatly fitting in is its own delightful form of tension, no?
And I’m thankful for the chance, through this essay by Smith, to see the struggle with that tension through a different vantage point as well.
M2. TIL (Today I Learned): offhand factoid edition
When I was younger, I used to make a very common mistake when it comes to scientific advocacy: I would excitedly share new data without realizing that most people forget the importance of replication studies. Very dangerous mistake, because I’m sure it a) gave the impression that I was delivering Absolute Fact, and b) that I believed the new intel was Absolute Fact.
As I’ve grown, though—and as I’ve written about at OnlySky—I’ve realized that most people who claim to be rationalists and empiricists are not. Many folks have a handwavy view of Science that could easily be mistaken for a Platonic ideal, when science is really two things: a process embarked upon by flawed human beings, with self-correcting mechanisms that can take generations to do their work, and the sum total of data around which we have been able to create falsifiably robust theories to date.
So, I’ve become more cautious about sharing new scientific data in turn. I think it’s neat, personally, to see what directions our current research is taking—but if it hasn’t gone through rigorous falsification testing and replication studies, I’ll keep the niftiness of our current scientific adventures to myself.
And this TIL (today I learned) fact is absolutely part of why it’s so important to keep an eye out for falsification events, and failed replication studies. In 1988, a 64-meter radio telescope in Australia first detected some mysterious emissions. These short radio signals were only a few milliseconds long, but they persisted even well into the 2000s, and no one could figure out where they were coming from. They were called Perytons, after a mythical creature that casts the shadow of a man, because scientists were pretty sure they were man-made, but they also had a signature that resembled a natural phenomenon: specifically, the dispersion of an astrophysical pulse through cold plasma. Where on earth were they coming from?
The answer came in 2015, in one of the most amusing entries I’ve yet read in a formal academic science publication:
A microwave door, which when opened prematurely, when the telescope was aligned at just the right angle to be receptive to radio emissions during the machine’s magnetron shut-down phase, produced the bizarre data.
We have done amazing things as a species—discovered incredible truths, and advanced truly wondrous technologies. But we must never ever allow the sum total of existing data obscure the fact that we are all still very fragile individual beings in a tremendously complex system. Someone simply heating up their laboratory lunch can easily mislead us all for decades—and that, too, is just part of the scientific process.
F2. 40 days and 40 nights (or, the “infinite” in mystic fasting)
Fasting is, of course, a significant part of many spiritual and religious histories. When I was in Canada, I used to marvel at the men working in my favourite shawarma shop over Ramadan, when they couldn’t eat or drink from dawn until dusk for a month. This is done that Muslims might remind themselves of their equality under Allah, a humbling of the rich through bodily frailty with the poor. Many Muslims also follow their Prophet’s counsel to dry-fast every Monday and Thursday, and the day before Eid Al Adha. This advice follows what we now call a 5:2 intermittent fasting protocol (five days eating, two days abstaining): not the first time that religious recommendations for health bear out in secular studies.
But to go without food and water from dawn until dusk while cooking food for others? That was what astonished me, but those men did it with such joy. Later on, I’d realize that what made this possible was the community aspect: fasting as a group, as a community, is far easier than trying to abstain in the company of people who do not. They suffered together, and ate in abundance together. In this way, fasting proves an easy, cheap way to build camaraderie.
Unsurprisingly, then, Christian-Biblical fasting is done in remote places—the only way to avoid the sins of the world and/or the pressure of others. It is implied that Elijah not only went without food for forty days, but did so while on a journey, after being expressly told by an angel to eat to ready himself for the ordeal. Likewise, Christ is described in three gospels as being led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where he ate nothing for forty days and then was hungry. (I mean, obviously, but it’s striking that Matthew and Luke stresses this last part. I think it adds something to the frenzy of the coming spiritual mission.)
It’s actually a bit curious that the three gospels referencing go to such lengths to assure readers that Christ wasn’t alone—identifying him as tempted by the devil there, attended to by angels, and in the company of wild animals—but I suppose if they just listed that he was grappling with the devil, there would be some aspersions cast on his character, as a creature having “fallen in” with bad company. Having the angels and even the beasts of the wild at his side through it all seems like way of saying that his integrity could be vouched for all the time.
Today, of course, Catholics can take up the 40 days of fasting, too, during Lent. Most “give up” something else—a habit, a crutch, a behaviour—but some might opt for a fuller abstention on eating as well, by consuming just one full meal a day, and two smaller nibbles that don’t together equate to another meal. Mostly, though, the faith offers more moderate food restriction plans: no meat on Fridays, and caloric restriction on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (or for the full period between Christ’s death and resurrection, depending). And, of course, these acts are done in and for bonding with community—ergo, the reason that Ash Wednesday is preceded by Shrove Tuesday (a.k.a. pancake day!), when folks eat in abundance together.
The idea of doing something in units of 40, as happens frequently in the Bible, is strongly connected with the idea of undergoing an ordeal—and yet, when it comes to fasting in many spiritual communities, the idea is that it’s less an ordeal and more a chance for purification. Many religious edicts based on bodily cleanliness were practised long before formal studies could pinpoint the positive mechanisms associated with each rule. (For instance, not eating pork was extremely good counsel in a climate where the meat easily spoiled.) Some obviously see the scientific soundness of many older religious choices as proof of divine intervention—but I definitely trust in the capacity of ancient humans also being able to note what did and didn’t work well for themselves.
Because of religious histories of fasting, though, we now have easy test groups to assess the value of different forms of abstaining. And more importantly, we also have a clear illustration of what makes a fast succeed or fail: the surrounding culture. If you’re in a space conducive to supporting you in that fast—whether it’s a community of fellow-travellers, or in the company of angels and wild animals in the wilderness, or on a solo journey from one place to another—you’re more likely to succeed.
But in a world that now snacks routinely (whereas we didn’t before the 1960s), and frequently encourages eating out or indulging in office treats, our food culture significantly differs. Is it worse? Eh. I’ll say that our priorities, in terms of partaking in communal practice, have simply changed. If you want to do something that goes against what the majority are doing, you’ll probably need to withdraw or find a community all your own. So it goes.
S2. All-consuming rituals
Earlier this year, I drafted a few stories that were not science fiction. One of them, a work of mainstream literature, is I think one of the best stories of that type I’ve ever written, and I dutifully sent it off to The New Yorker in early March. Tomorrow (June 3), I reach the 90-day marker of “no response” that signals, for this lofty magazine, rejection. Alas. A story sale to The New Yorker would have meant an absurdly high sum of some $7,500USD (for contrast, the highest I could make in SF is 10 cents per word, so around $2,000USD is my sci-fi story cap, for a piece at 20,000 words)… and I really think I had written a story that could have fit perfectly in The New Yorker’s pages.
But I also know that The New Yorker is a crapshoot, focussing centrally on established writers and maybe pulling one or two stories, tops, from its around 40,000 slush submissions every year. (When I say that writing is a lottery, this is really what I mean.) So! Tough luck. But when tomorrow hits, I can safely resubmit my story to another venue (haven’t decided which yet), and wait another 3-9 months for rejection there.
However, when I first drafted that story, I was also working on another mainstream piece… and having a great deal of difficulty with it. I have to confess, I have the toughest time writing stories with female protagonists—but not because I can’t actually write the characters. I just chafe the most, when writing them, at the idea that readers will view the work as somehow more autobiographical than all my stories with male or nonbinary protagonists. They shouldn’t. All of my protagonists have a slice of me—but still. I get itchy when trying to write that particular slice of me.
Even worse, this second story, like many of my stories, was based on a personal feeling that I wanted to explore in fiction. I’d been experiencing a compulsive behaviour while working through grief and detachment from community this past December and January. I kept repeating a specific task, over and over and over, and yet, many times when I did the task, I wasn’t even focussed on it. I often even forgot that I’d just done it, and would do it right away again. And that fascinated me. It was clearly a coping mechanism, but the way it engulfed everything felt like potent territory for narrative exploration.
I just didn’t like the draft, though, so I put it aside. Why didn’t I like it? Well, because when I write a story based on a feeling, I usually try to find a completely different context for that feeling. I love trying to build up justification for that same feeling in entirely distinct environments. This gives me a greater lock on what the feeling means, what it does, and what it entails. Narrative exploration achieved!
And yet, that wasn’t the tactic I’d taken with this story. Instead, I’d written it… very close to reality. Not a work of memoir, or biography! Still fiction. But fiction that actually does cut close to my real life. And although I’ve read tons of mainstream lit that does likewise—male authors in particular, inserting themselves left right and center in polished short stories in The New Yorker among many other prominent venues—it still feels… different for me. And that was especially true for this one story about a feminized person with a compulsive coping mechanism in response to loss.
Now, partially that’s because I really don’t resonate with feminized portrayals of myself, even though I don’t try to hide the fact that I inhabit a feminized body. It just feels like, by writing a mainstream lit story of this type, I’m complicit in doing what the world around me already does: take one look at my feminized appearance, slap “woman” onto me, and dump a whole slew of gender stereotypes to match.
And we hates that. We really, really do.
But this is all psychological, isn’t it? I have a mainstream lit story that conveys a meaningful truth about human experience. And I know that it’s not really any more personal than any of the other stories I write—especially not the ones with crankypants protagonists of the enby or male persuasion who also deeply reflect my experience. I know I’m just self-censoring because I hate the idea that, in sharing it, I’m giving people license to think they know me.
Nevertheless, I put the story aside. I followed one of my first three rules of writing: “Let any given story go; if the theme is true, it will come back to you.” And… it did! Because last month, the first science fiction story I finished this year has a female protagonist. A cranky and neurotic one, too! A woman who also has compulsive behaviours, and who surrounds herself with neurotic rover-bots as well. And I’m quite satisfied with it. I’ll be sending it out soon.
Once it’s out, though… I think I’ll finally be ready to go back to that other draft, and more fearlessly revise it and send it out, too.
I used to self-censor… oh, so much of my writing. Every now and then, I still do—but I think I’m getting better at listening to the underlying problem, when it arises, and in doing the creative work necessary to make sure that censorship is more of a delay than an absolute end. (Fingers crossed, at least—for this story, and any others like it, to come after.)
A3. “Philosopher of the Apocalypse” by Audrey Borowski
Have I been a bit too focussed on Hannah Arendt in these newsletters? Fine. Let me broaden my horizons a bit with “Philosopher of the apocalypse”, an Aeon article on her once-husband Günther Anders. I’m only being a bit glib, too; I’m quite fascinated by the cyclicality of history and the abundance of evidence that we’ve been through so much of our vital sociopolitical revelations come before. And, well, WWII is really where the vast majority of theorizing about the capacities of human beings for indifferent cruelty and self-destruction came to a head. Most strikingly, though, is that it’s also an era that has been thoroughly studied, and thoroughly mythologized, and yet… what have we actually done with the lessons it so abundantly taught?
As the author, Audrey Borowski, summarizes early on,
Anders set out to theorise those disasters and the impact of technology on modernity and the human condition, in particular technology’s gradual domination over all aspects of human activity – the commodification, dehumanisation and even derealisation of the world that had resulted from that domination.
And if you haven’t heard of him? Well, that might be because of what one critic calls his “unsparingly critical pessimism”, the likes of which lead him to conclude
that the more “our” technological power grows, the smaller we become; the more unconditional and unlimited the capability of machines, the more conditional our existence; the more machines connect us by virtue of their very existence, the more we are also singled out as being expendable and inadequate.
This observation is uncannily of a piece with the failed promise of digital technology in more recent years. The internet promised boundless possibility, a new global age of connection with one another like no other. A heightened state of democratic practice! All knowledge everywhere at one’s fingertips! A truly enlightened and superior general populace.
What we have, of course, is new silo-ization, and just enough global knowledge to remind us of how helpless we are to enact deeper changes everywhere that needs them. We can see the lines of power in our cultures more clearly than ever—indeed, have trouble missing them, because of how often some choose to keep posting on Twitter—and are simultaneously left acutely aware that, until a very few select people decide to make other choices with the lion’s share of the world’s wealth and capabilities, the rest of our outcomes in this socioeconomic nightmare are not in our control.
Because that’s the trick of this digital enterprise, isn’t it? Just as it was the trick of all modernizing technologies come before. There’s a flavour of inevitability to all of it, the pull of progress that insists this is the only path we have to walk down.
But what if it isn’t? What if accepting the parameters of modernizing tech is a choice we make, when we could instead make another? As Anders notes,
The whole world, in so far as it is offered, preestablishes the actions, opinions, feelings that we take into consideration, in short: our entire lifestyle, that our obedience is ensured without our needing to perceive an order as such. Consuming what is free is our obedience, as is delivering the order we receive.
But how can we envision other choices, when this is the background noise that consumes our lives? It’s certainly not easy. I routinely wonder if I could have “checked out” sooner—but I haven’t even fully checked out now.
I started out in a household of great violence and fear, habituated to want to appease, to feel a failure if I couldn’t fix everything for my family, to feel like my very existence had brought nothing but more sorrow into the world… and even though I did try to leave—first for university, which just left me awash in guilt for the siblings I’d left behind; then for Victoria BC, which I left in part because my sister had had her first child very young, and my parentification instinct still ran deep—it wasn’t enough. It was never enough.
The next time I leapt, it was years later, after my nephews were all a bit older, and after trying to no avail to make a go of it within a culture that just didn’t reflect my values, surrounded by many people who’d prefer to see me laid low than to build something better with me.
And… I still haven’t completely transitioned. I cannot sustain myself here without threads of assistance from the best parts of my life back in Canada.
So, on the one hand, yes, I fully appreciate Anders’s point, that our systems create an illusion of inevitability that obscures the fact that we are choosing compliance with injustice every step of the way.
But also… are we actually in any sort of a position to choose differently? When we’re only as free as the systems we find ourselves in? When our ability to do more in the world is not just shaped by whether a distant billionaire makes better choices, but also by the people we live alongside, and their willingness (or not) to break out of a given status quo?
I’m sure there were more people with whom I could have found fellow-travellers interested in building better than what we had. I just didn’t find them.
And yet, for all that I still struggle, just by reaching a little for something new, I know that I’m now in a better position to connect with similarly questing folks all over.
We are all complicit in dread systems.
But we can choose to become co-conspirators, too, in ever so much more.
F3. Prison fasting around the world
Obviously, when I first started thinking about fasting, my mind was drawn to Steve McQueen’s Hunger (2008), a film about the 1981 Irish prisoners’ hunger strike. Michael Fassbender played Bobby Sands, a member of the IRA who staged the second such strike for his fellow prisoners, who were all being treated as common criminals instead of as political prisoners (with the different rights afforded to such people while incarcerated). Sands, aged 27, died after 66 days in his hunger strike. Nine other prisoners died over the seven-month ordeal, along with sixteen prison officers during related protests over their treatment. For this film, Fassbender also fasted, on a 900-calorie-per-day diet that saw him drop 42 pounds to a low of 127. (And it shows; his frame is frighteningly gaunt in the film.)
Today, hunger strikes are still used by prisoners around the world: in Egypt, Iran, India, and Israel, among others. (And also, by asylum-seeking Kurdish refugees in Poland: a different sort of brutal confinement on the border.) There’s a sense of community built in the course of the ordeal, but it’s also a clear sign of desperation: prisoners already have so little to begin with, so to refuse what little they have is really to say “I would prefer nothing, I would prefer death, over continuing in this way.”
The longest ongoing hunger strike might be Khalil Awawda’s. A 40-year-old Palestinian, he was at 84 days a week ago, in administrative detention in an Israel prison, and had long since lost the ability to move outside of a wheelchair. I haven’t seen any updates more recently on him; I have no idea if he’s been force-fed or died in his effort to call attention to the unjust nature of such detentions.
But it is life and death, especially at these extended levels of fasting. Is it “by choice” for political prisoners? That’s debatable. I imagine that, for many, this feels like the only tool, the only form of expression, left to them. It’s not quite the same as folks on the street who “ayunar” simply because they do not have the money for food—but in many parts of the world, spiritual despondency and political desperation can certainly feel just as inescapable.
(To say nothing of the number of people who, laden with extreme health problems, are also driven to fasting as a way to heal their bodies before their maladies end them—but we’re going to avoid that slice of things here, because that’s the sort of thing someone should be talking out with their medical professional, not hearing from me.)
Suffice it to say, there are many very serious reasons that people are driven not to eat. That I can choose—and indeed, I do choose—to not eat for a spell myself is itself a sign of great privilege, which I do not take lightly. Whatever we choose to do in life, if it does not deepen our appreciation for the opportunities we have, and the fragility and injustice of life in general, then maybe it could use a bit of a reframe.
I’m certainly thankful for the reframe that seems to be coming with mine.
M3. TIL (Today I Learned): weird historical event edition
Probably because I’m fasting, I’m rather fascinated right now by the difference between “willpower” and “delusion”: a very fine line, as history abundantly teaches. “Willpower” is supposed to be a virtue, but any virtuosity associated with that term depends on the reason for one’s willpower. Is it virtuous to find the willpower to kill other people? En masse, even? Yea, though one’s stomach might turn and one’s mind might cry out for revolt?
Obviously not. And likewise, it’s not a good idea to value doing something to one’s body just to prove that one can surmount every warning sign the body is putting out. It is not virtuous to overcome hunger pangs, anymore than it is virtuous to suppress the desire to speak out when one feels that an injustice cries out to be named. (Or when an opponent has you in a really tight BJJ lock—just tap out, you fool!)
But we do so love the idea of being in control of ourselves, do we not?
Especially because history abounds in stories of susceptibility to mass panic. I was recently listening to a depressing series about the Satanic Panic in the 1980s and early 1990s, which has an awful origin story in the form of a disturbed mother who was hyperfixated on her toddler’s digestive health, to the point that she was checking his posterior daily and then… spiralled into creating grand stories of a male daycare worker sexually assaulting said child. The police literally had to shop around to find a pediatrician with very little experience with actual sexual assault cases who would support her molestation claim. In the process of sending queries to the neighbours, they spread the paranoid idea that male daycare and preschool workers were all in on this, a vast underground network of sexual assault and trafficking in service to a cabalistic need to torture, rape, and kill children to achieve greater power in the world. It didn’t matter, either, that the children themselves disagreed that they’d been harmed; the parents and children’s counsellors pressed and prompted and created play-games that distorted real and imaginery events until they convinced these children that they’d been assaulted—easily one of the most sordid, reprehensible things a person can do.
…But also, not entirely unsurprising, because once a person makes a claim, they’ve begun to stake their reputation on that claim. The origin story ends very badly for the first mother, along with the poor careworker accused of sodomizing her child and others, and along with the original child himself. And to top it all off? The whole mess of a North American episode is backstory to today’s version of the same paranoid delusions through QAnon.
The humanist lesson in it, though, is an important one: We are all very suggestible creatures, far more than we want to believe. (And if you want a somewhat funnier example, to wash away the bile of that horrific episode in recent history, I recommend reading up on “Koro”, a syndrome that caused Singapore’s “pecker panic” of 1967, when hundreds of men were suddenly convinced that their penises were receding into their abdomens: readers, they were not—but the fear was real for a season!)
What do we do with that knowledge? Well, I’d suggest that we tread a little more lightly both when looking to give ourselves high marks for willpower and when leaning in to the outrage of a given moment. It can be a good thing to abstain, just as it can be a good thing to be swept up in a specific movement or event. But—it really is context specific. Make sure you know full well the ideological waters in which you swim.
S3. Alternate histories of the 20th century (S3)
Recently, a fellow writer specu-lamented about what the world would look like today if we hadn’t tripped into World War I. If the European empires hadn’t collapsed in such a dramatic way, with so immense a human toll, and with such a devastating impact on the trajectory of scientific and technological advancement. We certainly wouldn’t have had a spotless century—the Russian revolution would still have happened in some form, and local genocides would have continued apace, and the struggle for colonial emancipation and a break from imperialism into some deeper measure of democracy would have been hallmarks of the era no matter what.
And yes, without the arms race of war we wouldn’t have developed the necessary rocket technologies for space exploration as quickly. For all the dreadful pharmaceutical and other biochemical outcomes of our last century, we would also have come upon many of today’s medical marvels at a far slower pace. Nothing is every cleanly divided in human history: great discoveries and advancements relentlessly emerge alongside our most unconscionable species-wide trespasses.
(And in the process, give many to wrongly believe that it is only through war and trauma that the good in life also emerges. Not so, but it’s easy to be thusly deceived by our having direct access to only one historical timeline.)
I responded to that fellow writer by pointing out some of the histories of the 20th century that would persist even without World War I, and in the ensuing conversation with him and one another, the gentle idea of writing alt-history of the 20th century came up. And yet, like so many things in a writer’s life, inspiration can never be cleanly attributed to just one source. Around the same time, I’d also read about a moth species that hadn’t been seen in over a century, with the last sighting occurring in 1912 in Sri Lanka. I shared the news item as a #StorySeed: Is it possible that other species get to be time travellers? We just didn't make the cut?
This ties into my thoughts about Borges, actually, because just as “The Book of Sand” is rightly a story of infinity some two pages long, so too does 20th-century alt-history feel very much like something that should be sketched out lightly, with all the impressionistic weight of a moth flitting through time.
One of the great mistakes I make—and perhaps others make, too—is in trying to pack a story, like a life, with everything, just to reach the idea of everything. We can’t help it, maybe, we creatures that see horizons far beyond our fleeting lives: we want to do and say and be everything for the time we have.
But what if the most extraordinary manifestations of the infinite come from recognizing and embracing the little infinities in our finite lives?
Every time I cross a room, I defeat Zeno’s paradoxes. Every time I make a choice in this life, I have the ability to do so while acknowledging the vast range of options I’m chosing from. And every time I write a story, I’m making a key concession: that there are an infinite number of word combinations to choose from, and that this, right now, in this fleeting moment, will be mine.
Isn’t that fantastical enough?
I was very much looking forward to Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria, the Thai director’s first film set outside of Thailand, and… in Colombia, of all places. Apichatpong’s films all explore liminalities, but without exoticizing the mystic; the liminalities in his pieces are natural extensions of what it means to be a perceiving agent in our so-often-estranging world.
In Memoria, Tilda Swinton plays a woman who cannot sleep because she keeps hearing a loud sound that she cannot place. That’s the thrust of the piece, and please look with suspicion on any review that tries to weave a deeper plot out of this. She’s a Scottish ex-pat who generally lives in Medellín, but who spends this film in Bogotá, visiting her sick sister in hospital, and then with the sister’s family once recovered, before travelling with a research team she meets in hospital to a small town (Pijao), where she has a conversation with a man who may or may not be an older version of the younger man who tried to help her identify the sound in a Bogotano studio. (They share the same name, Hernán Bedoya, and Apichatpong is no stranger to filming stories with multiple lives.)
This film is easily the richest auditory experience I’ve had with cinema in a very long time, as the director does not rely on a soundtrack and instead enhances our attention to every natural (and surreal) sound we come across in our everyday lives. The whole piece is a form of abstention from anything but listening, and calls upon us to realign ourselves with the practice of paying attention to the world in which we belong.
The choice plays nicely, too, against the slipstream sense of self that emerges in our protagonist’s conversations with those around her. Jessica routinely finds that her sense of the world and its histories is displaced—a conversation with her sister that feels so meaningful at the time is forgotten by the sister soon after; a person that Jessica thought dead turns out to be alive; she speaks to a young Hernán in the city and an older Hernán in the countryside, where their memories blur together and she witnesses him literally die in his sleep and come to life again.
Our sense of self is such a commodity that we in the West hold to tightly, dearly, when really we are as much a fluid experience of the world as anything else it contains. What grounds us? What gives us to believe that we belong to a particular place or stream in the vastness of the cosmos? Why, our immediate connections to setting and one another, of course. The misleading concreteness of sensation in the world.
And yet… I was amused, when watching Memoria, to realize that Apichatpong had nonetheless managed to transplant his own, distinct way of being onto the Colombian landscape. The whole staging of this film didn’t feel very Colombian—too much focus on small, enclosed spaces, when the landscape invites vista. It felt Thai. It felt of a piece with all his other films. And even the use of language in this film was uncannily un-Colombian, because while I had no problem listening to this film in its predominantly Spanish language, I was still thrown by how slowly everyone was talking, and at such an even keel. Bogotanos do not talk like that in real life.
What a splendid contrast this makes for, though: a director creating a beautiful piece on liminality, a piece that invites the sublimation of the self into the wide, wondrous world of surrounding sensory detail… but who, in the process, is very clearly placing his distinct stamp on the whole experience.
So… are we not still individuated beings after all? With individual experiences of giving over to something more immense, more infinite, more inexplicable than mere narrative can ever hope to attain?
I have no interest in locking in an answer. I just think it’s a joy of a question that this film, and others like it, seek to ask.
May you all find questions and tensions worth dwelling upon as well.
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