Enfolding (a poem)

for Sarah Johnston – happy birthday

There were ideal forms once,
seen in a past life.
Brought forth by strokes,
short graphite lines adding up,
forming the ideal that once was –
my hands tire.

And these varied flavors,
sour and sweet and fresh,
that last one perhaps
above all. Again I find
that key element, no
collapse into sameness,
but even the tongue
needs parsley.

We think beauty arises
from the earth’s green,
or the mist’s gray.
But I know what
would sustain
my vision,
my feeling,
and it would not be me,
or it.

On "The Prestige"

Note: This essay relies on spoilers. If you have not seen “The Prestige,” which has a mystery that unfolds throughout it, do not read this essay.

for Elizabeth Wolcott

The “two” magicians that drive the plot of this movie are mirrored by scientists Tesla and Edison. It is that association between Hugh Jackman’s aristocrat, who has all the showmanship, with Edison, and Christian Bale’s “natural” magician, with Tesla, that leads me to think the characters are purely symbolic.

The key is understanding how they are literally fragments that need to be added up in order to get a complete picture of man. The rivalry in some ways is so ludicrous it is inconceivable anything like it could ever start; the lack of concern for women in both their lives – what does love mean until the very end, really – makes one wonder if we’re looking at tendencies more than characters on-screen.

The argument that these characters are fragments of wholes goes like this: If you try to blame Hugh Jackman’s aristocrat for being murderous and obsessed, you then have to see Christian Bale’s unlikeability at the beginning of the film. He might have been responsible for the death of Jackman’s wife; he certainly is killing birds to do magic tricks, and he prizes secrets more than his wife. His “natural magicianship” is the driving force behind the rivalry. Jackman’s grief turns to envy not merely in the face of having lost a wife, but potentially losing everything: is it possible to be content being a second-rate magician when someone potentially responsible for the death of one’s wife is out there, being the best?

And if I try to defend the aristocrat, likewise, I find that his blatant copying and other crude attempts at revenge motivate Christian Bale’s character(s).

So let’s say this: Instead of taking one side or the other, let’s assume both these characters, together, represent something whole. After all, even in fraternity Christian Bale’s character is split so badly he is responsible for the death of his wife. And Jackman’s obsession allows him to almost completely forgo love. He knows the risk in sending his later assistant out, and takes it, and lets her go be Bale’s mistress when confronted with the failure.

Jackman says at the end that Bale didn’t understand that this was about “wonder,” that life is bleak if not for these magical moments where you forget what is real. Everyone knows it’s a trick; the point is the cynicism, though, not being present front-and-center.

That’s half-the-truth about the relevance of magic.

The other half is at the beginning of the movie, when Bale is whining about tricks not being ambitious enough. If people are to keep paying attention, then more has to be sought and done.

The conflict is between new vs. old. It is no coincidence Jackman is an aristocrat. The old is preserved by what people don’t know, and that people reverence the old in large part because they stay – sometimes willfully – ignorant. We see Jackman destroying himself quite literally at the end, but remember what that’s a product of: the new came into this world cloned.

The old, while relying on duplicity, cannot carry it to the extent where it would continuously mesmerize, because awe isn’t really the purpose of the old. The old may use awe, but its concern is with preservation, and a wholeness that is absent man if he strives for the new. Notice that Jackman doesn’t like getting his hands dirty, and he only starts the massive killing after the encounter with Tesla, who is the scientific counterpart of Bale’s character.

The duplicity of the new is what forced the old to take such amazing risks and not care. After all, the key to the new is single-mindedness at the price of splitting the self. To be whole, we have traditions, that allow us to engage a number of issues without thinking about them fully all the time. Even if we’re not religious, it is impossible to be wholly skeptical – I can’t even prove I have a hand to myself, etc. If you were to try to be wholly skeptical, you’d have to split yourself and pretend like there was no difference. One part of you would ask away and challenge, and another part would deal in the real world, sustaining both parts.

The price of willful self-deception for the sake of independence, of course, is an impossibility to love. We can say that Jackman doesn’t love, either, but that’s not quite true: the reason why we flock to the old is for the sake of love. The new is unloveable in its shiftiness and continual challenging and paranoia. The old exists so we can be at rest for just a second, not merely in motion always. Jackman’s aristocrat stops loving because of the new/old conflict, not because he’s an asshole and always was one.

So far, this sounds like a defense of one character. It isn’t meant to be, it is more meant to get at the bigger theme about science and magic. Magic is what is best about science, in a way. It is what science does that really makes us joyful – it’s not that we understand that drives modern life, but that we get so much cool stuff from people tinkering around. The showmanship matters just as much as the actual product.

And yet, that conflict – the conflict between honor and knowledge – not only divides the self, but divides society. And it literally takes an end to magic – the significance of the end of the movie is the impossibility of both main characters to perform their tricks, tricks that were ostensibly about transportation, but relied on self-aggrandizement, the marking of the world with more of one than is needed – to see why society and wonder and daring all exist: the future doesn’t lie in our toys, but in those we may actually love.

Further comment: This movie is too dark for me to recommend, and while the themes are incredible and thoughtful, the lack of a moral center and the emergence of a happy ending by accident speak to me of “nihilism.” This is a very, very scary movie for me; there are no heroes, only victims, and who knows what sort of father Bale will be at the end, really.


Thanks to all of you who have been standing by me as I go through personal stuff that is not worth dwelling on. I got several calls last night to check up on me, and I realized that I was very, very lucky to have the friends I have, and I need to be there for all of you more.

I feel very good, even as it looks like this is over, and am very hopeful towards the future.

"The Soup," Gary Soto

The Soup
Gary Soto

The lights off, the clock glowing 2:10,
And Molina is at the table drawing what he thinks is soup
And its carrots rising through a gray broth.

He adds meat and peppers it with pencil markings.
The onion has gathered the peas in its smile.
The surface is blurred with the cold oils squeezed from a lime.

He adds hominy and potato that bob
In a current of pork fat, from one rim to the other,
Crashing into the celery that has canoed such a long way.

Spoon handle that is a plank an ant climbs.
Saucer that is the slipped disk of a longhorn.
Napkin that is shredded into a cupful of snow.


2:10 looks peculiar – it looks like a Bible verse. And given the primordial meaning of the word “soup,” and the orange arising from grayness – bright order from disorder, perhaps we should look at the relevant verses from Genesis. Here is Genesis 2: 9-12 —

9 Out of the ground Yahweh God made every tree to grow that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the middle of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

10 A river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it was parted, and became four heads.

11 The name of the first is Pishon: this is the one which flows through the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold;

12 and the gold of that land is good. There is aromatic resin and the onyx stone.

Now, notice what “Molina” is doing. He’s drawing what he thinks is soup. He’s drawing a meal, something that might satisfy him. But this meal is not a meal, the colors and textures must symbolize all sorts of stuff.

What does it mean for an onion to smile, and gather peas? I suspect the lines of the onion are like the 4 rivers, branching out, feeding the Earth, giving it the greeness of the peas. Further, note the blurring of the juice of the limes; the grey before is becoming greener, ever so slowly. Hominy and potato – gold and brown – correspond roughly to gold and resin – and the grayness of onyx could be the clearness and density of pork fat.

Now comes the twist on the Genesis story. I don’t see anything, looking forward into Chapter 2 of Genesis, that leads me to think of a canoe or celery, except the emergence of man – man is he who can canoe. But why celery?

I think celery canoeing down a river is the very subtle image of a snake. Notice how the snake emerges from the mingling of the images of man and the Creation process mingling.

And it is after this snake image, notice, that we move from the soup altogether, to those things which dispense the soup, allow it to be consumed. The sin of Eden, I think, is man claiming complete dominion, and Soto seems to be saying that such a claim was inherent in God giving dominion from the outset. Like ants, we try to get mastery over this handle that could stir the soup, but we’re really just insects that will spoil it. The disk of a longhorn is a grotesque image, suggesting that an animal was a cut up not for its meat, but for one shapely part. And finally, the napkin shredded into a cupful of snow suggests that our purity has completely gone away, as the warmth of Eden has been ecplised by our coldness, and the only thing filling the cup is the shreds of what was our dignity at Creation.

I’m not a Pittsburgh fan…

262 — The number of yards Oakland was outgained by Pittsburgh in the Raiders’ 20-13 win over the Steelers. Pittsburgh had more total yards (360-98), first downs (15-9), a far better third-down conversion rate (7-of-19, compared to 1-of-11), the time of possession battle won by ten minutes — and they couldn’t beat what had seemed to be the worst team in football. Of course, Pittsburgh also beat the Raiders in interceptions thrown by their quarterbacks, 4-1 … and that was the ballgame, as Oakland returned two Ben Roethlisberger interceptions for touchdowns.

– from Manic Monday by Doug Farrar on Foxsports.com

One of the things about the blogosphere is that it gives one the chance to be vocal when one needs to be.

I’m not a Pittsburgh fan. But there is no way Roethlisberger should have been back as soon as he was brought back from a motorcycle accident and appendix surgery. What if he got injured these past few games? The idea that his being back is in any way a respectable coaching and managerial decision is ludricrous.

Further, when he’s throwing 4 interceptions and not looking like himself at all and Pittsburgh is losing to what could be the worst team in the league, by far, doesn’t that necessitate a QB change? I mean, it’s not like there’s anything one is trading his health for – it’s not like he’s helping Pittsburgh win.

To not be a hypocrite, I should charge Andy Reid with staying with McNabb too long last season, and Gruden with letting Simms’ spleen get busted. Let me be clear where I stand: Football’s a tough enough sport, where one’s health is in jeopardy continuously. Fine. That doesn’t mean that one should be out there half-dying and playing the game. One doesn’t totally trade one’s health even in the Armed Services for a potential good; a commander that routinely ordered his men into enemy fire for the scarcest of goods – and, by analogy with Steelers, for no good at all – would not last very long.

So, for Bill Cowher and all of you in Pittsburgh management: Grow up and stop this macho crap. Your team sucks because you can’t watch out for your own players’ health, and you have an overly inflated opinion about just how much glory you’re getting for an awful lot of guts being spilled for no reason.

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