The Vector of Sadness

From an essay about Buddhism by Adam Gopnik:

Secularized or traditional, the central Buddhist epiphany remains essential: the fact of mortality makes loss certain. For all the ways in which science and its blessed godchild scientific medicine have reduced the overt suffering that a human life entails, the vector to sadness remains in place, as much as it did in the Buddha’s time. Gotama’s death, from what one doctor describes as mesenteric infarction, seems needlessly painful and gruesome by modern standards; this is the kind of suffering we can substantially alleviate. But the universal mortality of all beings—the fact that, if we’re lucky, we will die after seventy years or so—is not reformable. The larger problem we face is not suffering but sadness, and the sadness is caused by the fact of loss. To love less in order to lose less seems like no solution at all, but to see loss squarely sounds like wisdom. We may or may not be able to Americanize our Buddhism, but we can certainly ecumenicize our analgesics. Lots of different stuff from lots of different places which we drink and think and do can help us manage. Every faith practice has a different form of comfort to offer in the face of loss, and each is useful. Sometimes it helps to dwell on the immensity of the universe. Sometimes it helps to feel the presence of ongoing family and community. Sometimes it helps to light a candle and say a prayer. Sometimes it helps to sit and breathe.

And while we’re on the subject of …

mutilating infant genitals (see my back and forth with Dennis, a reader, in the comment thread to this post): In 2014, Israel’s Supreme Rabbinical Court mandated that a woman pay $140 a day until she agreed to circumcise her son.

She just, you know, didn’t want to. Turns out it ain’t a choice.


Except that Israel does have a higher court: The Israeli High Court. And they struck down the rabbis’ ruling.

The High Court decision to stop a mother from being forced into circumcising her son upholds the principle that no state body can force its citizens into keeping Jewish law. If Israel is to keep both parts of its Jewish and democratic character, it must never tip the scales into coercive religious law, whether judicial or otherwise.



While witless religious fanatics positively thrive in …

the Israeli education system, they fare less well in Switzerland and England, where governments are starting to shut down the most reactionary and psycho (get a load of their censored textbooks!) haredi schools. Israel is afraid to do the same, since their haredi population has successfully learned at least this much: How to riot and burn down cities.

‘Haredi institutions do not teach the full “core curriculum” mandated by the Ministry of Education, instead limiting the teaching of some secular subjects, such as math, science, and English.’

Ignorant religious fanatics aren’t a good look for a democracy. But Israel (see the above absurd statement) lacks the will to mandate its mandate.

The level of haredi education is terribly low,” [Nobel Prize-winning] Professor Dan Shechtman [said], adding that he viewed the haredi education system as inferior to that of Iran.

Piling on to the absurdity are the lawsuits from various ex-haredim who enter the actual world unable to do shit, let alone get a reasonably good job.

Last year, a judge dismissed a lawsuit by young ex-haredim who left the stringent and non-Zionist Orthodox community who had sought damages from haredi educational institutions and the State of Israel for failing to provide them with the necessary education to function in the secular world.

Sorry, kids. Israel decided to pant after the most primitive forms of Judaism. Enjoy.

UD’s Sermon on Horror: Part Two.

Now back from Green Man, where UD ate a lunch (spiced chickpeas, cucumber, roasted beets, housemade pickles, lemony herbed yogurt [they substituted tumeric-tahini sauce] over organic farro) she only a short time ago would have considered, well, a horror (she’s on a health kick), I return to my sermon on horror.

Where were we? … People will flock to Hereditary, says a reviewer of this brutal horror film, because they “want to be fucked up.” No sane, rational person (you’d think) would pay money to sit through the hideous relentless dread, and the extremely gruesome visuals (I won’t describe them, but having listened to a detailed spoiler, I know what they are), this film features. But given the hype – and given the amazingly great reviews (94% on Rotten Tomatoes) – millions of people will indeed pay money to sit through this film. Many of them will want to watch it repeatedly. Because they want to be fucked up.

But what does this mean?

Put aside the obvious somatic pleasures, for some people, of lurid excitement, voyeuristic bloodlust, etc. This film transcends routine horror film payoffs. “Hereditary is far more upsetting than it is frightening.”

UD would put it this way: People want their intuition that life is a horror (ja, ja, life is much more than a horror; we’re talking here about the horror) actualized; they seek opportunities to feel the sharp actuality – visualized, narrativized, aestheticized – of what they sense to be true of human existence. They want this because most people want to feel that they are living reasonably lucid and undeluded lives – that they are not denialist cowards in the face of very difficult human realities.

There are high and low, reputable and disreputable, orderly and disorderly, ways to achieve, or feel, this actualization. UD wouldn’t be caught dead at Hereditary, but she’ll pay much more than ten bucks to attend a performance of King Lear. So maybe part of this is snobbery on her part, but more interestingly I think it’s about preferring orderly expressions of disorder, Apollonian openings onto Dionysianism, to the messy horror plenitudinis of offerings like Hereditary.

The first half of Hereditary feels like its own thing, while the second is a kind of highlight reel of things we’ve seen before, with [the director] conjuring up the specters of a half-dozen horror classics and letting them take over; by the end, the movie has become an empty vessel for its references rather than a fully inhabited drama… It’s ambitious to try to make something that balances psychodrama with paranormal activity — to draw from the DSM-V and the Necronomicon — and the ratio here is off. It’s frustrating to watch the intricate psychological architecture of Hereditary’s script collapse under the weight of gory, aggressive schlock — or else reveal itself as nothing more than a pretense for that shlock in the first place. By sacrificing subtlety and suggestion for a blunt-force attack, Hereditary reaps a cheap sort of reward.

Its intricate psychological architecture having been successfully built into a provocative and even – disturbingly – plausible house of horrors, in other words, Hereditary collapses into a wreck of genre cliches and gratuitous scary bits, or, as another review of the film puts it, a “patchwork-quilt concoction of ghoulish clichés.” Which of course the audience is ready for, because our sense of life as nothing alternates with our sense of life as far, far, too much (see my Rilke quotation in Part One). But throwing all that muchness at people risks aesthetic failure.


I think that the special horror of a high-profile suicide like Robin Williams’ or Kate Spade’s resides in our sense that their act of self-destruction somehow comprehends both nothing, and too much of everything, and thus gives us a double jolt of horrible clarity. They were blessed with over-rich lives (success, adulation, money, beauty galore galore galore), but this very over-richness maybe was part of the problem – the pure too-little (Rilke’s language) insidiously tipped over into the empty too-much, and they were drowning in it. Maybe what I’m talking about gets diagnosed as mania.

The coincidence of reading about Kate Spade’s suicide and the blockbuster new horror film, “Hereditary”…

… has had UD thinking about horror. So here is her sermon on horror.

This is Part One, because Les UDs are going out for a meal soon.

She begins with this text, from the novelist Harold Brodkey’s memoir, written as he was dying of AIDS:

Life is a kind of horror. It is OK, but it is wearing.

It is OK – that is, we can take it, we do take it; or we ignore it (“I have wondered at times if maybe my resistance to the fear-of-death wasn’t laziness and low mental alertness, a cowardly inability to admit that horror was horror,” Brodkey writes elsewhere.), or we – and this is where it gets interesting, if you ask ol’ UD – we cultivate that admission as an important awareness.

Brodkey rightly identifies his inability to admit that horror is horror as cowardly: Keep your mind in hell and do not despair is the epigraph to Gillian Rose’s early-dying memoir, and it goes to the ethical imperative, if you want to be a serious, reflective person, to evolve and sustain the double vision implicit in Saint Silouan’s famous statement.

Taking on board the horror means not merely acknowledging as fully as you can the first noble truth of suffering; it also means (I suppose this is a subset of suffering; but hold on, cuz my sermon wants to focus on our love of profoundly horrifying films) acknowledging how intimately, sickeningly, undone we are by the lifelong spectacle of just how enigmatically grotesque and grotesquely enigmatic are both grounded human existence and ungrounded cosmic reality.

I read somewhere (can’t find the source) that the best way to get through life is engrossed in “reasonably short-term, manageable anxieties.” Your kid needs to get a job; you want to pay off the mortgage in five years; you want to take fifty points off your cholesterol score. If you can manage, for most of your run, to keep your head down and contend not at all with the incommensurable violent isolating madness just over the atmosphere, bravo. Or maybe it’s cowardly. But anyway, it’s functional, and you’ll get by.

Think of all those great books about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. Most people would prefer to be John Roebling, totally engrossed for decades in iron probes, than doomed, metaphysical, Hart Crane.

You probably don’t get Chartres or the Brooklyn Bridge built if, like John Koethe, you spend extended time wondering this:

What feels most frightening
Is the thought that when the lightning
Has subsided, and the clearing sky
Appears at last above the stage
To mark the only end of age,
That God, that distant and unseeing eye,

Would see that none of this had ever been:
That none of it, apparent or unseen,
Was ever real, and all the private words,
Which seemed to fill the air like birds
Exploding from the brush, were merely sounds
Without significance or sense,
Inert and dead beneath the dense
Expanse of the earth in its impassive rounds.

Horror vacui is a place many of us have been, and fine, because the capacity to entertain the possibility of nihilism is, I think, a mark of a sensitive, educated person.

But there’s also horror plenitudinis, no? That moment in our lives, wrote Rilke, where

the pure too-little

is changed incomprehensibly -, altered

into that empty too-much.

And this is where the horror film comes in.


My opening text on that subject is this one, from one of many excited reviews of Hereditary:

Despite the challenge of watching the film, reviews so far have been almost universally glowing. Critics have lauded Hereditary’s ability to get under their skin, noting that it’s the kind of movie you just can’t shake, as much as you’d like to. The feedback suggests that people turn to films like Hereditary because they want to be fucked up

New faculty at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill must sign a “Community Life Covenant”…

… in the wake of the ongoing Professor Jay Smith… unpleasantness. Beginning in September 2019, all teaching/research hires will be asked to certify the following:

I, _______ _________, having accepted a lectureship/professorship at UNCCH, do hereby swear, with all my heart, all my soul, and all my might, the Faith Priority of my school’s major sports teams (viz., football and basketball). Specifically, I pledge strict obedience to the Gaming Imperatives issued by our coaching staff, as well as by any in-residence professional agents seeking to recruit future clients, as those imperatives relate to professors, tutors, graduate students, and anyone else in a position of responsibility relative to the education of our players.


UD thanks John.

The Divine Mystery of Sport

Lo! The People turn aside and do not attend, while the High Priests hide their ledgers and take money from slaves.

Yea though the Lord sees and is full of wrath, we can do no other for we see as through a glass darkly.

Last year’s anonymous letter spelled it out…

and today’s student sit-in at cash-machine-for-administrators Howard University shouts it out: At some point, a university becomes so squalid that its students have no choice but to take over running it from the knaves on the board of trustees. Just as seventeen year olds have to change America’s gun laws, nineteen year olds have to run Howard University.

Maya McCollum, a 19-year-old freshman who helped organize the sit-in, said on Friday that the news of [massively] misappropriated financial aid money was “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

It’s all about the culture of the school, and making sure student culture matches administrative culture. Here, there’s a terrible mismatch. The Howard student culture has long been thoughtful, subversive, principled; the administrative culture has long been what’s in it for me. And so you generate the sort of conflict we see right now.

A shining example of a complete match between students and administration is self-righteous, rapeaholic, Baylor University. Baylor just gave a gift of fifteen million dollars to the football coach who oversaw, for years, large-scale rape on the school’s football team, and who recently filed a massive libel lawsuit against the school (he eventually dropped it – I guess when he got wind of the fact that Baylor was going to give him fifteen million dollars…). Do you hear a peep out of anyone – students, faculty – about their money having gone to someone who initiated a multimillion dollar lawsuit against their school? Who looked the other way (or worse) while his players raped and raped and raped?

Baylor still faces multiple expensive lawsuits from victims of its football players… I mean, think of all the university funds it’s losing in this long disgraceful spectacle. But do you see any student protest? Even a mild letter to the editor of the school newspaper? NO. Baylor’s full of good Christian rape-apologists. One for all and all for one.


UD thanks Dirk.

God is My Broker.

Some stories write themselves.

Actually, what you’ve probably learned from reading UD all these years is that almost all stories write themselves, because human beings are limited creatures and the number of plots (conundrums) they can create for themselves is therefore also strictly limited.


The profoundly pious get rich quick crook who finally gets picked up by the police and carted away to make room for the next profoundly etc. is such an old story.

Specifically, twas ever thus: Credulous grasping god-fearing dolts find a charismatic spiritual/financial advisor who writes best-sellers with titles like The Gospel of Good Success and Entrepreneurial Faith.

The particular guy in question today even has a degree from (wait for it) the Wharton School! (Feast your eyes on America’s Richest Source of Financial Criminals.) He allegedly sold

$3.4 million worth of pre-revolutionary Chinese bonds, which were in default, to the “vulnerable and elderly.”

Southern Methodist U., one of the most pious and dirtiest universities around, had the dude on their board of trustees until recently. They dodged a bullet on that one. Maybe they knew something before the feds did — though, in fairness, they could have told the world about it and maybe spared the vulnerable and elderly their full measure of exploitation.


But anyway. Another high-toned man of god will be stepping up to the podium soon. It’s a never-ending story.

“I’ll leave my board position when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.”

Everyone’s all ooh wow ooh about St Thomas University’s CFO resigning her position at that way-Catholic school rather than leave the board of AR-15-mad Smith and Wesson. (She was given an ultimatum from the school.) Everyone’s like: Look! She chose assault weapons over a church school!

But read the fine print, kiddies. Smith and Wesson (they’ve given themselves some new all-natural name… who knows why? … it’s like… can’t remember but it’s like Gentle Valley Breezes…) pays people willing to be associated with it upwards of $100,000 a year — and you and I know what service on a corporate board entails: Two free trips to Hawaii to sit in a room for a half hour and get excited about how much shit (here, AR-15s) the corporation’s selling.

If you had to choose between actually working – as a chief financial officer – and sitting on your ass all year and still pulling in a hundred thou, what would you do? Plus you get all the free AR-15s you want.

Three rapes, two diseases.

For those keeping count, Tariq Ramadan has so far filed two disease claims in hopes of getting out of jail (MS and neuropathy); three rape claims have so far been filed against him. Expect his lawyers to come up with a third disease (UD suggests early prostate cancer) to even the score.

The Tariq Ramadan of Indian Country

Ladies, read up and understand the pattern. They’re your literary and/or spiritual heroes, and you go to them for guidance and a blurb for your book of poems and they jump you.

After they succeed or fail at having their way, they threaten your career if you tell anyone.

Yes! Utah State University Maintains the Campus-Hero’s Page of Football Player…

Torrey Green, who graduated with a top-ranked 7.0 sexual assault average, and on whom the school looks back with pride. No better time for the school to celebrate Green than now, when he’s on trial for “12 felonies — including kidnapping and rape — in seven cases, after seven women came forward saying he sexually assaulted them while he was a student in Logan between 2013 and 2015.”

Of course, they came forward years ago, but USU didn’t do anything. USU puts its resources into maintaining Torrey Green’s hero-page.


USU’s finest is facing so many charges that his lawyer, in an act of editing-for-concision that Scathing Online Schoolmarm finds commendable, asks that all the cases “be merged to avoid ‘redundancy.'”

It’s so tiresomely repetitive, the details of one (yawn) rape case after another… You’ve heard one rape case you’ve heard ’em all…

This way we’ll save time and keep the jury awake…


And after all, I mean… entre nous… it’s Utah, where a man can lose track of his sister wives… I’m sure it’ll be easy to convince a local judge that Green’s large blur of womenfolk can be herded into one trial.

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