Wednesday, February 28, 2007


From Sigmund Freud, "The Uncanny," tr. James Strachey:

The theme of the ‘double’ has been very thoroughly treated by Otto Rank (1914). He has gone into the connections which the ‘double’ has with reflections in mirrors, with shadows, with guardian spirits, with the belief in the soul and with the fear of death; but he also lets in a flood of light on the surprising evolution of the idea. For the ‘double’ was originally an insurance against the destruction of the ego, an ‘energetic denial of the power of death’, as Rank says; and probably the ‘immortal’ soul was the first ‘double’ of the body. This invention of doubling as a preservation against extinction has its counterpart in the language of dreams, which is found of representing castration by a doubling or multiplication of a genital symbol. The same desire led the Ancient Egyptians to develop the art of making images of the dead in lasting materials. Such ideas, however, have sprung from the soil of unbounded self-love, from the primary narcissism which dominates the mind of the child and of primitive man. But when this stage has been surmounted, the ‘double’ reverses its aspect. From having been an assurance of immortality, it becomes the uncanny harbinger of death.

Monday, February 26, 2007


I went to a talk yesterday by Norman Fischer, who among other roles is the teacher for the Everyday Zen Foundation. The talk was about consciousness, which I gathered is something like the river--everyone and everything is in the river; when the water goes over the falls we see the individual drops for awhile, then they fall into the river again. Consciousness (though not individual consciousness) goes on after the individual dies.

During the Q and A session, Norman mentioned being with people when they die and simply marveling at their bravery. How do they do it? Yet they do. They are unimaginably brave at that moment. I had a similar experience when my father died. It was a terrible moment, but I was so proud of him.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

This changes everything

There are two secrets to cooking tofu so that it is not gelatinous and upsetting: use the extra firm kind (that much I knew) and *get the water out of it.* You have to slice it thinly then set it on paper towels or dishcloths for at least half an hour, pressing the water out occasionally. Then when you sautee it, you get that nice golden crust with the non-repulsive interior that I've always admired in Chinese restaurants. This changes everything. Tofu stir-fry at last, plus tofu cacciatore, tofu piccatta...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Sort of getting Jane Austen

I never got Jane Austen. People I respect rave, and dare I say fantasize, about her novels, but I have never been able to get through them without almost screaming from boredom. It seems the people who love her are in it for the social rituals--the subtle gestures, the blushing approach by the punch bowl. How restrained people were in her time! How nice it must have been to have those social forms like balls and visiting cards to adhere to--especially because dating is such a morass now. None of that ever appealed to me. Also supposedly she is a razor-sharp satirist, but I never saw that either. Only people yacking, accidentally offending each other, making up in some fashion, getting married.

But. I have to teach Pride and Prejudice for my class on imitating life. Austen is the great builder of characters; everybody says so. So I am tackling the book again, and for the first time I really do see the satire, which is startlingly acid. There is outright loathing for Mrs. Bennet and for any kind of silliness or pretension in women. I gather Austen believed women did not have to be defined by mental frippery, even in her relatively unliberated time, so that's a good thing. But is hers a feminist perspective? Men seem to get off easier, at least in the beginning. Elizabeth's ability to win Darcy's admiration, as well as her alliance with her father against her mother, are key selling points for her character early on. Perhaps the idea is to reassure women that they need not be foolish in order to win husbands--but there's no suggestion they can make it in the world without men.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Lesson in mindfulness

Yesterday I arose from meditating with a very clear plan for dealing with my bedside lamp problem. For years I have struggled with this thing, which looks like a lamp from the future, sent back to our time through some sort of cosmic garbage chute that opens onto Ikea. I decided that because the prongs of the plug don't fit in the wall socket, I would *squeeze them together with my fingers* as I shoved it in. The shock was like a wire snake racing up my arm.

I remember reading a poem years ago about a man who, deep in the throes of depression and alchoholism, gets the idea of thawing the frozen cap on his car's gas tank with a lighter. He catches himself walking toward his car, lighter aloft, thinking, "flame melts ice." Fortunately he stops himself and lives to tell about it. I pulled my stunt supposedly in the throes of mental clarity, and did not stop myself. But I was lucky. I'm still using the lamp, though, with a power strip.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Why Cosmos still rules

Cosmos is still the best work of popular astronomy I've ever come across. As I dozed off last night during the NOVA: Origins DVD, I figured out why. It's the stories. More specifically, Carl Sagan weaves history, science, literature, and religion together in a way that proves his point: we are all interconnected. We are part of the cosmos, we are in the universe--our stories, our bodies, our science. He does it without becoming mystical or religious, but he takes the time, for example, to illustrate artificial selection with a live-action recreation of the Tale of the Heiki. Japanese fishermen's reverence for the tale explains why for centuries they have thrown back crabs that look like they have a samurai's face on their carapace. The crabs survived and reproduced, evolving more and more uncannily samurai features.

On the other hand, NOVA, and the earlier Expanding Universe DVD (featuring the ominous, sandpapery narration of John Hurt) only show you "what happened." This blew up, that blew up. They have great CGI recreations of astonomical events, but no analogies. No connections. The universe is just another movie we watch on a screen.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The real American right

Spurred by scathing reviews of Dinesh D'Souza's new book, radical rightists all over the country are showing their true colors. As Digby says, since 9-11 they've been demanding that we appease the terrorists. And now D'Souza says,

I would rather go to a baseball game or have a drink with Michael Moore than with the grand mufti of Egypt. But when it comes to core beliefs, I’d have to confess that I’m closer to the dignified fellow in the long robe and prayer beads than to the slovenly fellow with the baseball cap.

In the NY Times Michiko Kakutani says he "often sounds as if he has a lot in common with those radical Middle Eastern mullahs." As do many, many others. I say let them come out of the woodwork and declare themselves.