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Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

The Man Who Died

The Man Who Died
D.H. Lawrence

The Man Who Died
I’m not completely sure what to make of this one. It’s not that I didn’t understand the book — I feel like I have a firm grasp on the story and the subtext — it’s that I’m not sure that I understand why Lawrence wrote the book. It doesn’t really strike me as the type of story that would be contained within a man, just waiting to be released. And it doesn’t strike me as the type of story that a man would write with the intent of startling or educating an audience. It’s also not a story of particularly intentional beauty. So my wild, uneducated, and uninformed guess is that it was something of an experiment for Lawrence, an attempt to tackle something that was wandering around his head one afternoon. And I think that the book’s length — weighing in at just under 100 pages — seems to support the theory. I’ve done some writing, and I’ve got some idea of what it’s like to sit down at the keyboard with an idea, and to gently launch a story out into the water like a tiny boat, just to see where it lands. And once the boat touches the opposite bank, or gets swept away out of sight, you put out the lights, and wander upstairs to sleep, and don’t think about it any more.
As it happens, The Man Who Died is beautiful, but I don’t think it’s because Lawrence set out with any particular goal to make it so. I think that it’s just how the boat happened to drift. It seems to set out with some dim idea of exploring the beauty of being alive, the beauty of being in human flesh, and to intersect those ideas with a dim idea of what it must have felt like for the resurrected Christ to find himself once again walking the earth in human form. It briefly follows the “post-retirement” career of Christ, the healing and acceptance of his corporeal form, and his exploration of what it really means to be alive and in a human body. And then, either satisfied or frustrated with the exploration (I won’t speculate which), the story rather abruptly stops. And, much as I imagine Lawrence must have done when he finished writing it, I then laid the book gently down, and went to sleep.

Artificial Life: An Overview

Artificial Life: An Overview
Christopher Langton (ed.)

Artificial Life: An Overview
I think that in most disciplines, few qualities are as consistently valuable to a rational individual as the trait of skepticism. Which is not to downplay the value of faith or idealism — such things are the fervor that give birth to new ideas. The problem is that faith and idealism are seldom stalwart enough parents to rear those ideas from their infancy into maturity, nor are they objective enough to effectively defend those ideas from that which would threaten them. That sort of discipline requires not fervor but discipline, not faith but doubt. No idea can come into any sort of fullness until it has been tested against a sufficiently icy blast of skepticism, and emerged stronger for having done so.
The science of artificial life is still very much in its infancy. Much of the writing done on the subject suffers from the wide-eyed idealism of the youth of an idea, the sort of youth that tugs on one’s sleeve and tries to persuade by strength of conviction, rather than by strength of maturity. That’s not a bad thing necessarily; it’s probably an inevitable thing for any science that hasn’t had time to calm itself down and truly ponder the long road ahead.
Many of the essays in Artificial Life begin to make efforts at that ponderance. There is still some of the ecstasy of youth present, but it begins to be dulled, or (at the very least) to become focused. It begins to set aside some of the passion of apologetics, and to get down to the messy business of performing actual science. In short, it begins to acknowledge its own skepticism, begins to retract indefensible grandeur in exchange for small, documentable steps. And it is these tiny, defensible steps, coaxed on by the governess Skepticism, that will carry the science forward.

Moving On…

Times are a-changin’ for Old Man Viking. I’ve been accepted to the master’s program in Science and Technology Studies at Virginia Tech, and have quit my job and moved to Virginia. I’ll be starting classes in about a month, and have a new address:

308 Washington St. SE
Blacksburg, VA 24060.

I’m looking forward to a couple of years of richness of spirit and poverty of pocket. Many thanks to all of you who helped the event come about.
In other news, the lovely Cheesehead is back from her trip around the world, and promises to take up much of McViking’s time between his retirement and his re-introduction into education. This is the sort of thing that makes grouchy old McViking very, very happy.
Finally, this weekend saw not one, but two Les Savy Fav shows come through the area. DJ Phatty Snax and myself attended both, and some decent pictures were taken at the Black Cat in Washington, DC. The shows themeselves were, of course, positively flattening. The Apes opened both shows, and were also outrageous and fun. Thank goodness for ear plugs.