tom moody

anti-natalism (Ligotti vs HBO)

HBO's True Detective, Season 1, famously featured some dour anti-natalist philosophy spoken by detective Rustin Cohle, played by Matthew McConaughey:

I'd consider myself a realist, alright? But in philosophical terms I'm what's called a pessimist... I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware. Nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself - we are creatures that should not exist by natural law... We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self, that accretion of sensory experience and feelings, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody's nobody... I think the honorable thing for our species to do is to deny our programming. Stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction - one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.

McConaughey's portrayal of Cohle as a humorless, self-pitying character makes the above lines sound even more bleak than they read.

Several commentators picked up on the connections of this spiel to horror author Thomas Ligotti's book The Conspiracy against the Human Race (in fact, it could be said that HBO put Ligotti "on the map").

What's missing is the sly humor of Ligotti's writing, a kind of eye-twinkle as he dishes out an escalating series of unsayable propositions. For example, this excerpt from Conspiracy:

Consciousness is an existential liability, as every pessimist agrees -- a blunder of blind nature, according to [Norwegian philosopher Peter Wessel] Zapffe, that has taken humankind down a black hole of logic. To make it through this life, we must make believe that we are not what we are -- contradictory beings whose continuance only worsens our plight as mutants who embody the contorted logic of a paradox.* To correct this blunder, we should desist from procreating. What could be more judicious or more urgent, existentially speaking, than our self-administered oblivion? At the very least, we might give some regard to this theory of the blunder as a "thought-experiment." All civilizations become defunct. All species die out. There is even an expiration date on the universe itself. Human beings would certainly not be the first phenomenon to go belly up. But we could be the first to precipitate our own passing, abbreviating it before the bodies really started to stack up. Could we know to their most fine-grained details the lives of all who came before us, would we bless them for the care they took to keep the race blundering along? Could we exhume them alive, would we shake their bony, undead hands and promise to pass on the favor of living to future generations? Surely that is what they would want to hear, or at least that is what we want to think they would want to hear. And just as surely that is what we would want to hear from our descendents living in far posterity, strangers though they would be as they shook our bony, undead hands.

The darkly comic image of the bony undead handshake (twice repeated) makes the unsayable more hearable. True Detective writer Nic Pizzolatto softens the message by giving laugh lines to Cohle's cop partner, Marty Hart, played by Woody Harrelson. As Cohle expounds his grim philosophy in the front seat of their police car, Hart answers with "Hmm, that sounds God-fucking-awful, Rust" (IMDb) and "Let's make the car a place of silent reflection from now on." (IMDb)

Another example: here's Cohle talking about his own experience of fatherhood. The daughter he speaks of was killed by a hit and run driver while she was still a toddler:

Think of the hubris it must take to yank a soul out of nonexistence into this... meat, to force a life into this... thresher. That's...
So my daughter, she spared me the sin of being a father.

Bu-u-u-mmer. Again, this does no service to Ligotti, who has wit. Discussing the same undiscussable notion Cohle throws down, Ligotti notes, in Conspiracy:

Almost nobody declares that an ancestral curse contaminates us in utero and pollutes our existence. Doctors do not weep in the delivery room, or not often. They do not lower their heads and say, "The stopwatch has started."

As previously noted, The Conspiracy against the Human Race is a weirdly inspirational book. It is liberating to consider the idea that suffering, guilt, and egomaniac striving -- the "tragedy of human existence" -- began because at some stage in our evolution we acquired “a damning surplus of consciousness" and "life....overshot its target, blowing itself apart" (the latter phrases are Zapffe's). Unlike Cohle (and Pizzolatto), Ligotti readily acknowledges that his own theories may be a perverse symptom of this evolutionary mistake. By writing a book on anti-natalism, he is engaging in artistic sublimation, which is one of the means by which humans "smother consciousness" and its attendant paradoxes,* according to Zapffe. This sublimation may be useful to readers or it may just be another story we tell ourselves. From endnote 3 of Conspiracy:

Under the collective designation of “constructivists,” philosophers, sociologists, and other authorities working in a range of fields have variously deliberated on the fabricated nature of our lives. Examples: P. L. Berger and T. Luckman, The Social Construction of Reality, 1966; Paul Watzlawick, ed., Invented Reality: How Do We Know What We Believe We Know?, 1984; Ernst von Glasefeld, Radical Contructivism: A Way of Learning, 1996. For book-reading intellectuals, this idea is just one of many that fill their days. Its import, however, is not often shared with the masses. But sometimes it is. An instance in cinema where fabrication is hypothesized to be the cornerstone of our lives occurs at the end of Hero (1992), when the character referred to in the title, Bernard LePlant [played by Dustin Hoffman -TM], passes on some words of wisdom to his previously estranged son. “You remember where I said I was going to explain about life, buddy?” he says. “Well, the thing about life is, it gets weird. People are always talking to you about truth, everybody always knows what the truth is, like it was toilet paper or something and they got a supply in the closet. But what you learn as you get older is, there ain’t no truth. All there is, is bullshit. Pardon my vulgarity here. Layers of it. One layer of bullshit on top of another. And what you do in life, like when you get older, is -- you pick the layer of bullshit you prefer, and that’s your bullshit, so to speak. You got that?” Despite the cynicism of LePlant’s words, the object of his fatherly lesson is to create a bond between him and his son. (Hollywood is heavily invested in plotlines in which a broken family is “healed.”) This bond is reliant on the exposure of life as bullshit and is itself bullshit -- since one can have no basis for preferring one layer of bullshit over another without already being full of bullshit -- which makes LePlant’s case that “All there is, is bullshit” without his being aware of it, which is how bullshit works. This is not the message the moviegoer is meant to take away from the mass-audience philosophizing of Hero, but there it is anyway.

*The "paradox" (one of many) Ligotti refers to: "We know we are alive and know we will die. We also know we will suffer during our lives before suffering -- slowly or quickly -- as we draw near to death. This is the knowledge we “enjoy” as the most intelligent organisms to gush from the womb of nature. And being so, we feel shortchanged if there is nothing else for us than to survive, reproduce, and die. We want there to be more to it than that, or to think there is. This is the tragedy: Consciousness has forced us into the paradoxical position of striving to be unself-conscious of what we are -- hunks of spoiling flesh on disintegrating bones."

- tom moody

September 4th, 2017 at 1:47 pm

Posted in books, films

sphere diptych


acrylic on canvas, photocopies on stretcher, polaroid, scanner, GNU image manipulation program

- tom moody

September 3rd, 2017 at 8:01 am

profile in courage

Blogger-turned-mainstream-pundit Josh Marshall writes a long editorial alternately excoriating and sucking up to [Eric Schmidt's company] in the wake of the Barry Lynn defenestration. Apparently he doesn't know that this person named Snowden and certain other critics demonstrated that [Eric Schmidt's company] crossed the "evil" line quite some time ago. Thus TPM, Marshall's magazine, is still dependent on ad revenues and email services from [Eric Schmidt's company]. From the concluding paragraph:

So we will keep using all of [Eric Schmidt's company]’s gizmos and services and keep cashing their checks. Hopefully, they won’t see this post and get mad.

He's joking but not really. Even if you don't take their money or use their cruddy email, they can punish you by denigrating your search cred. Some blogs won't even mention [Eric Schmidt's company] by name. Is this bad? Yes.

- tom moody

September 3rd, 2017 at 7:52 am

cannibalized parts


acrylic on canvas, polaroid, scanner, GNU image manipulation program

- tom moody

August 30th, 2017 at 1:27 pm

zucker-eyeballs valuation

Those hoping that Facebook might actually die have assumed it would happen because "the kids" moved to another platform, as happened with MySpace. Ten years later, here we all are...
Financial pundit Mark St. Cyr thinks it might happen for a different reason -- advertiser disillusionment. He compares turn-of-the-millennium AOL with present-day Zuckerland and sees many similarities on the ad-oversell front.

Facebook is, for all intents and purposes, an advertising tool for advertisers only. It derives nearly all its revenue from advertisers. i.e., If there’s no advertisers buying on Facebook – there’s no Facebook. Regardless of how many free “users” sign up.

Pretty simple construct, but imperative to truly contemplate because it’s not that FB provides anything that people truly need. It’s just an outlet connecting eyeballs. And it is those “eyeballs” which are the product. And as soon as advertisers begin regarding 2 Billion eyeballs as being not worth more than two-red-cents, because nobody is buying? That’s when $Billion dollar valuations begin to plummet.

"Plummet" is a word that looks nice in proximity to "Facebook." Hey, we can dream, can't we?

- tom moody

August 30th, 2017 at 1:27 pm

the CEO's window


An office in the Wall Street area -- an e-marketing startup that launched last year -- has its personnel on display to pedestrians, goldfish-bowl-fashion.
Behind one window you see staffers sitting at long tables, working at their PCs. Another window shows us the CFO and/or CTO, working two to an office.
And finally, the CEO's room, where he can be seen pacing around, talking on his cell, or seated, staring at a computer screen with feverish concentration.
On his window ledge, slightly recessed below street level, he has arranged his public-facing decor: a guitar with an American flag facade, and stacks of books, with Risk to Succeed and Think & Grow Rich topmost on the stacks.
This is not invented -- this is an actual photo of a real place.

[edits after posting]

- tom moody

August 29th, 2017 at 12:58 pm

Posted in photos - cell

internet meta-scholarship: ""

Wikipedia's entry on French composer Hector Berlioz contains a footnote (note 16) to support the statement that Berlioz's parents "disapproved" of his abandonment of medical studies in favor of music.

The footnote link takes the reader to a Wayback Machine-archived page on Berlioz from, a quasi-encyclopedic entry with no sources given.

What is A website formerly run by the Karadar Bertoldi Ensemble, a piano and violin duo based in Italy. A bio of the violinist, Sibylle Karadar, appears on another site.

At least one critic satirically complained that was scraping content on classical music from all over the web and passing it off as original. See Brief Outline of How to Steal, by Karadar eventually migrated content to is now a parked domain with a fake blog in Italian; is a portal page for people interested in auto accessories ("car radar" -- get it?).

- tom moody

August 28th, 2017 at 8:26 am

color study


acrylic on canvas, transparency, color Xerox, scanner, Linux MyPaint and GIMP

- tom moody

August 26th, 2017 at 2:29 pm

Notes for a Daniel Albright bio

Notes for a biographical sketch on the late Daniel Albright, literary critic, musicologist, and theorist of historical Modernism. Albright's Wikipedia entry has a short bio and publication list. Below is a capsule discussion of his career highlights, from web and printed sources. Some additional documentation is still needed.

Yeats Scholar

Albright's advisor at Yale [needs source] was Richard Ellmann, author of Yeats, The Man and the Masks (1948), a pivotal Yeats biography [New York Times], and The Identity of Yeats (1953), a book-length analysis of the poet's style and themes. Albright wrote of Ellman: "A conversation about a poem of Yeats' with Richard Ellmann was like a stroll through a forest with an agreeable companion who not only knows the names of every bird, bush, lichen, and bug, but also hears sounds usually audible only to bats." [W. B. Yeats, The Poems (J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd, 1990), page lxx] Albright's scholarship continues Ellmann's biographical reading of Yeats, a complex endeavor since Yeats reflected on his life very indirectly in his poems, through symbols and personae.

Albright's first book The Myth against Myth: A Study of Yeats's Imagination in Old Age (Oxford University Press, 1972), for example, discusses how Yeats' later "realist" poems such as "News for the Delphic Oracle" and "The Circus Animals' Desertion" re-interpret themes and images of earlier, more self-consciously mythic works such as "The Wanderings of Oisin." Quibbling with some of the book's readings, Frank Kinahan's review in Modern Philology concludes with strong praise: "Albright is a close and sensitive reader of poetry, and there are exegeses here leaving you nodding Yes till your neck aches." Kinahan concludes: "The years to come will show us that Yeats in his twenties and thirties was always on the verge of becoming the realist that an older Yeats became. And it is work like Albright's that is helping to bring that realization about." [Modern Philology, November 1975, p. 214 -- JSTOR.]

In 1985, Albright published a review in The New York Review of Books (subscription-only) of the Richard Finneran-edited Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, a comprehensive 1983 volume based on the Macmillan edition. Echoing criticisms of Yeats scholar A. Norman Jeffares, Albright took Finneran to task for preserving Macmillan's ordering of the poems, in particular placing that long but seminal early poem "The Wanderings of Oisin" at the end of the book. This was originally done by Macmillan in the 1930s for commercial reasons: the publisher felt that prospective buyers, browsing in bookstores, might be put off by a long poem at the beginning. Albright made the case for a pure chronological ordering of the poems, especially since Oisin's themes reverberate throughout the later work.

Albright also criticized Finneran's reluctance to use biographical interpretations in his scholarly glosses:

[T]he chief curiosity of the commentary of the new edition is its omission of biography. I doubt that any annotator on earth besides Professor Finneran would consider it irrelevant that “Upon a Dying Lady” (1912–1914), a poem rich in circumstantial detail, is about a real woman, Mabel Beardsley, the sister of the artist Aubrey; but her name is omitted from the gloss, which instead talks about Petronius Arbiter and a warrior mentioned in the Rubáiyát. World history, literature, orthography are real to Professor Finneran; individual lives are not.

From this background eventually emerged Albright's own definitive Yeats edition, The Poems, published in 1990 in the Everyman's Library series (J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd.). The book restores the chronological ordering of the verse, and contains several hundred pages of critical analysis, including biographical references lacking in the Finneran edition. As noted on Albright's website, The Poems was "edited with a view to presenting a close approximation to the 'sacred book' Yeats hoped to bequeath to the world" [Panaesthetics] -- that is, more like the essential volume under discussion during Yeats' lifetime, before those marketing considerations intervened during the Depression and became codified in subsequent editions. Harvard professor Philip Fisher described The Poems as "[one] part Yeats, [one] part line-by-line commentary with wonderful mini-essays by Dan Albright on every topic in Yeats." [YouTube of Albright memorial]. Fisher laments that the book disappeared from the shelves but that's only true for the American paperback edition: Dent still offers it in hardback in the UK.


Albright was a literature professor at the University of Virginia when he published his third book, Representation and the Imagination: Beckett, Kafka, Nabokov and Schoenberg (1980). The Schoenberg chapter prompted an unsolicited offer [needs source] to teach at the University of Rochester, with Albright acting as a kind of liaison between the department of English and the Eastman School of Music. [Wikipedia] At Rochester, Albright published Untwisting the Serpent: Modernism in Music, Literature, and Other Arts (University of Chicago, 2000), recently described by Adam Parkes as "an astoundingly original rewriting of Lessing's Laocoön (1766) in Modernist terms":

Lessing famously divided spatial from temporal arts. Albright, however, conjectured that the division of the arts might be restated "not as a tension between the temporal arts and the spatial, but as a tension between arts that try to retain the propriety, the apartness, of their private media, and arts that try to lose themselves in some panaesthetic whole." To illustrate the latter, Albright examined the "aesthetic hybrids and chimeras" that resulted from artistic collaborations involving significant musical experiments in different media. While he recognized the value of attempts by various artists and critics to separate the arts, Albright's preference for the panaesthetic was clear...

Untwisting relied on analysis of specific historical collaborations among artists (Cocteau, Picasso, and Satie in Parade; Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thompson in Four Saints in Three Acts; Antheil, Léger, and Murphy in Ballet Mécanique, and many others) to show how the respective media in those pieces clicked or clashed. Discussing these components required stepping outside the usual province of the literary critic; that is, Albright had to be just as adept and informed in making judgments about music and art as he was in evaluating writing. As it turned out, his talent for close reading of poems extended to scores and timbres sufficiently to dazzle musical solons, despite a few complaints about his assumptions and definitions.

"What the author refers to variously as fixed figures, fixed elements, ostinati, and pattern units -- all musical motives that repeat -- leap to the foreground of almost every analysis in this book," Ruth Longobardi wrote in Current Musicology, no. 74 (Fall 2002), pages 212-213, "and yet Albright never explicitly explains how to tell the difference between repeating motives that are dissonant and those that are consonant, or between those that are mimetic and those that are abstract." Nevertheless, she writes, "his inquiry into different types of artistic collaboration is extremely valuable to musicology, since what it offers that field, frequently insulated from other disciplines, is a new path by which to enter an interdisciplinary consideration of Modernist music dramas."

In Kurt Weill Newsletter (Vol 19, No. 1, p. 18 - PDF), David Drew wrote: "Albright well understands that 'paying attention to the text' is a discipline whose exactions are multiplied in proportion to the complexity of the interdisciplinary context. And yet: 'this book tries to please by holding up to the light the fugitive but powerful creatures born from particular unions of music and the other arts.' It does please; or when it doesn't, it stirs things up, which is just as good."

Several reviewers were intrigued by Albright's discussion of surrealism in music, and his identification of Francis Poulenc as a key figure. "Before the recent publication of ... Untwisting the Serpent," writes Jonathan D. Kramer in his book Postmodern Music, Postmodern Listening (Bloomsbury, 2016), "there was little serious discussion of surrealism in music (although informally calling certain music surreal is certainly common enough). Music has been assumed not to have gone through much of a surrealist stage." Kramer admires Albright's cross-disciplinary consideration of surrealism in musical theater, but believes Untwisting is "most in [its] discussions of Poulenc’s specifically musical surrealism." He quotes these words of Albright's from Untwisting (page 287):

I understand Poulenc’s manner of quotation -- and he was a music thief of amazing flagrancy -- not as a technique for making pointed semantic allusions, but as a technique for disabling the normal semantic procedures of music. … Poulenc is a composer of surrealizing misquotations.

Oliver Charles Edward Smith's treatise on Poulenc in Cogent quotes liberally from Untwisting as a "comprehensive study of surrealism in music" (while noting that Adorno was the first to apply the "ism" musically). Both Smith and Kramer favorably cite Albright's explanation of the apparent conservatism of musical surrealism in comparison to surrealism in the other arts, noting these passages from Untwisting (pages 289-90) [Kramer's ellipses]:

Surrealism is a phenomenon of semantic dislocation and fissure. It is impossible to disorient unless some principle of orientation has been established in the first place. … In other words, you can’t provide music that means wrong unless you provide music that means something. … The surrealism of Poulenc and his fellows didn’t try to create a new language of music -- it simply tilted the semantic planes of the old language of music. Just as surrealist paintings often have a horizon line and a highly developed sense of perspective, in order that the falseness of the space and the errors of scale among the painted entities can register their various outrages to normal decorum, so surrealist music provides an intelligible context of familiar sounds in order to develop a system of meanings that can assault or discredit other systems of meanings.


Untwisting the Serpent limited its cross-disciplinary analysis to specific examples where musicians, artists, and writers collaborated. In Albright's 2014 book Panaesthetics: On the Unity and Diversity of the Arts, he  "developed a more expansive and philosophical version of his arguments by ranging across the entire history of the arts." [Adam Parkes] In his last book, Putting Modernism Together (2016), Albright renewed his pursuit of specifically Modernist forms of aesthetic hybridity. [Ibid.] But whereas Untwisting deliberately cut across what Albright called the "various isms that both organize and perplex the history of twentieth-century art," the final book "confront[ed] those isms head-on, and recalibrate[d] the earlier account accordingly." [Ibid.]

Additional Reading

Panaesthetics website -- site for Albright's next-to-last published book, Panaesthetics, serves as his personal site, posthumously maintained

Harvard Crimson obituary -- "whimsical English and music teacher" seems like faint praise for an influential thinker.

Remembrance of Albright by Andrew Goldstone, author of the book Fictions of Autonomy, in particular, how Albright inspired Goldstone's research.

- tom moody

August 24th, 2017 at 9:01 am

Posted in books, theory

parasitism 2.0


For years we netizens have had the "404" page to tell us a site is down. Now we have Silicon Valley companies such as the above "adding value" to a still completely functional process. Someone got paid to design this page and come up with these pedantic and redundant explanations. An economy of uselessness rides on top of the regular economy.

- tom moody

August 22nd, 2017 at 7:18 am

Posted in computers-R-stupid