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Over the last couple days, I have been drinking an herbal tea that contains Senna Leaf (Cassia Angustifolia), which a roommate had brought in with a large variety of other tea leaves. The front of the box was marked in all caps: REGULAR STRENGTH and DIETARY SUPPLEMENT. I had expected that like many other teas, the latter description was simply a palliative term that attracted individuals looking for anything that mentions “diet” as a means for weight loss.

However, after waking up with intense abdominal pain this morning and several rounds of diarrhea, I realized that I was not shortchanged on the concept of DIETARY SUPPLEMENT.

I have always kept an interest in oral supplements: as a child, I would start ingesting whatever new age pills that my stepmother stocked every few months; St. John’s Wort sticks in my mind. With the odd name and the very ambiguous benefits that the bottle implied (as some kind of treatment for depression), I became an optimistic skeptic for the supplement and others. A few years ago, I found online communities revolving around these treatments and member’s own cocktails for a supposed healthier life. The term was “Nootropics”, a fancy word for cognitive enhancers. Not only was St. John’s Wort the tip of a very large iceberg, it was at times barely registered as a legitimate substance compared to others.

To ingest selected parts of nature and gain physical or mental benefits — is that not the dream of an age (more than two thousand years old) seeking immediate effects over long-term processes? And it continues to be a dream: read into a nootropic substance long enough and all are validated and invalidated at the same time, creating enough doubt that I don’t fly out of my room to purchase a couple bottles, but instead keep reading about new developments in studies and individual stories.

Start from the benefits and drawbacks of St. John’s Wort (via NCIH):

“St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), a plant that grows in the wild, has been used for centuries for mental health conditions. It’s widely prescribed for depression in Europe.”

One starts with validation: “widely prescribed in Europe.” The dream appears! Society has deemed this ingestable substance as worth prescribing, worth speaking of in the same sentence as a treatment for something.

“St. John’s wort isn’t consistently effective for depression. Do not use it to replace conventional care or to postpone seeing your health care provider.”

And then the dream dissipates: “not consistently effective.” For all of its wide acceptance, studies put the supplement just above a placebo. And then:

“St. John’s wort limits the effectiveness of many prescription medicines.”

So at its worst, St. John’s Wort does do something; it can have the surprising effect of dampening the benefits of pharmaceutical medicines. And that’s the magic of nootropics: it does everything and nothing and sometimes exacerbates. It is akin to the old gods and the new: vengeful, merciful, loving, and most of all: ambivalent.

Despite my push-pull relationship with nootropics, I am still fascinated with the dream. So I ingest psyllium husk dietary fiber and take multivitamins and take laxatives: I want that immediate effect, and I know that these do something physical. I can feel my insides crawl and settle, my urine change colors. I am fascinated with my changing self, my changing excretions because of these supplements. They are beyond magic: they are real, passing through my body and taking their toll, positive or negative. They are the elementals of earth, allowing me to have one iota of understanding of the unknowable: my physicality, my mentality.

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In mid-May of 2018, an internal video from advertising-technology company Google leaked to the public. Produced by Nick Foster, the design head of Google’s experimental lab X, the video dove into a thought experiment: if all of one’s actions online can be recorded, could they be synthesized to better inform future generations’ own? The video analogized this digital ledger with a genetic organism, which — like the physical gene — may have the inherent drive to reproduce itself. So Google must jump in, ready to guide the digital gene — a supposed template for future digital/physical lives — with advanced tools to point out good behavior in purchasing and daily habits. Essentially, Google may reinvent itself as a morality company, with its advertising division the key to a higher human and better future.

What if the ledger could be given a volition or purpose rather than simply acting as a historical reference? What if we focused on creating a richer ledger by introducing more sources of information? What if we thought of ourselves not as the owners of this information, but as custodians, transient carriers, or caretakers?

Foster appears to ignore that the drive of epistemology and philosophy and betterment is in fact the Historical Reference — that is, the millions of textual and oral histories that are sifted and filtered to produce a certain narrative line, enabling a sequence of events to be intelligible. And doubly ignored: that (the) Historical Reference(s) are ceaselessly given purpose — for better or worse, as we can see in the successes and follies of humankind; the cruelty, breakthroughs, wars, and genius inherent to giving volition to ideas concocted from the Historical Reference. We have never stopped being the custodians, transient carriers, and caretakers of the Purposeful Historical Reference, sweeping away whole histories inconvenient or unintelligible — that we now sit on the Historical Reference, pockmarked with miles-wide and pitch black holes resulting from our faithful — fateful — custodianship over the ugly and bad and beautiful and good.

I find Foster’s willful ignorance admirable and innocent, the musings of an egomaniac that has discovered blessedness in their techno-idealisms. He believes that an advertising-technology company, doing what they do best — selling ads — could unlock the secrets of “depression, health, and poverty.” Who knew that making the Historical Reference — richer — also known as throwing one’s own two cents into the ocean — could finally break open the nut of the silent, the internal afflictions that don’t speak through digital purchases or relationships or movement. With this video, Foster has already contributed a huge insight for future healthcare: depression buys bananas too!

Since 2010, I have dabbled in various aspects of computer technology; I built PCs from scratch, engrossed myself in the basics web dev files, or deployed small Raspberry Pi servers for storage or computation. It was always a wonder why I couldn’t tie these features together: I could understand the 101 of programming, of hardware and software architectures, and dealing with the funnels and tunnels of internet-based applications, but I did not know how to make a program, a self-contained block of code that could do something unique for myself. I was a scriptmonkey, which had its own delights and challenges, but nothing compared to the rigors of creating an application.

Over and over again I would start the education process over again, attempting to seek the one key that would “tie it all together”, but it never clicked. What was missing?

Rigor had much to do with the issue. I am one that loved to learn, to bask in theory and implement architecture as thought — but not as product. The dirty little details of gluing together several useful scripts together escaped me not because I wasn’t being taught the process, but because my personality simply didn’t warrant my mind the allocation of resources to think about it. So I hovered in the high-levels, of REST architectures and JavaScript 101s and articles about the differences between new and old languages. The discovery and wonder never ceased — I am an ignorant fool with just enough knowledge to be impressed but never involved.

The services I have provided to clients reflect these subconscious values. My output has been guidance at strategic or tactical levels, but the technical always fell short. I was a glue between directors and programmers, but not between program modules. Is this a curse or the benefit of specialization? I hate not getting every iota of knowledge out of the topics I love, growing up believing that love was complete understanding — feeling out problems on an empathetic level, not just sympathetic.

The question I have for the future: embrace my weakness, grow stronger in what has benefitted from focus, or pinpoint these issues and direct my energies on mitigating my shortcomings?

Choices were refreshingly narrow during my work with AmeriCorps. I only had to think about getting out of bed, navigating my team’s issues, doing grunt labor for FEMA, and finding something to do after work. My chores had to do with relationships  — for as complex as the human psyche is, at least my shovel only had one direction to dig. Now the shovel has split since the program has ended, and I will continue working with FEMA as a writer for their “self-improvement” program. A dream job for the productivity-minded in me, but the end result of submitting improvements into the abyss of U.S. bureaucracy is existentially questionable at best.

So I must turn inward as I seek direction in the short-term. My creativity must also be destructive for caution of stony corners. The world is so wide, and the walls are so tall, and I must only go the way I have destined myself to. But it is so easy to wallow in complacency; that is why my heart flutters, as comfortability in long bursts weakens the soul and I must reflect on what muscles have withered and which have strengthened. I am 24 years old and with so many possibilities brought about by opportunism and privilege and luck and outlook. If I see the end already, I must have done something terribly wrong.

Fortunately, I see no end but a beginning. So let’s begin!

Goals

I have for so long wanted to bury myself with a pen and paper, but the computer is the tool for the future. My approaches to philosophy have hit bedrock — I need to look far and wide for bits of knowledge that perk the ears and bring new insights to how one becomes what they are.

Machine Learning – Natural Language Processing (NLP)

How fascinating that an algorithm can now be trained! It learns to improve its given task —  the key to understanding human interaction and communication is learning how one expresses themselves. Natural language Processing began with a very utilitarian purpose: to determine sentiment out of sentences. This allows media companies like Facebook and Amazon to understand the ins and outs of the consumer.  Product reviews, political statements — all will enable natural language processors to predict behaviors of consumers and place advertisements or create whole products that will satisfy them.

But the subject as consumer is but one approach to utilizing NLP. Can we utilize these processors to help us understand ourselves as learners, as intellectual bodies? Already algorithms have insights into how short and long-term memories help contextualize the meanings of words and sentences. Can these breakthroughs be used to understand how one can improve themselves, or possibly augment themselves into something different? So many questions! The answers will arrive as statisticians and mathematicians and programmers band together to create algorithms that will push the qualitative sciences further than they ever have: the archaeologists and anthropologists of the future will laugh at the second-hand ways their progenitors felt for conclusions.

Music Production — Footwork and Dance Genres

I’ve spent years dabbling in music production, utilizing tools like iPad apps and Logic Pro X to compose pieces that seemed larger than the tidbits I added within them. The future of music is transcending economic value and that’s where pure alienated creativity can enter. Uncaring about marketability, likability, accessibility; the future artist will develop works unto themselves. The modern art market has already moved into this unintelligibility — and look at how the common people sneer! They look back toward classical ages for their validated art, willingly contorting for the aristocracies and bourgeois that determined what is artful. Thus the individual creator can produce in peace, unbounded by the common and mundane and attract only the cows that wish to look from the ground.

Philosophy and China

Perhaps my goals are to pre-empting the rolling of the ball, looking for what the future will hold for those untimely ones. The present is unendingly fascinating as it overcomes itself. These skills I want to build are to enhance what I have right now, to augment myself into a hybrid of my contemporary and futuristic natures. Perhaps my goals will lead me astray, into the dead-ends that I for so long have dreaded. But that is why I focus on destructive forces, not just creative! To say Yes is to say many small No’s, and I will continue to transform my Yeses based on glistening principles, water-like and ready to flow uphill in any size or shape.

China has become my second-greatest uphill struggle. For I must recognize a national externality of myself in order to appreciate the strengths that the country represents, as some of those strengths are hitherto considered not only weaknesses but evils to Western society, and especially American. And there I find my largest obstacle to overcome, to bridge Western and — not Eastern, but — Chinese thought into the future of international relations. For the philosophy of the future is more than internationalist, it is a globalist beyond the hollow word it is now. It is an immoral, ecstatic globalism that I am predicting, and with countries like China to embrace. But there are so many obstacles that will allow this reality to become; so I must read further into the China question, for it is not the nation that is important, but its philosophy, which has hints of an unheard of futurism, and I want to capture this.

Conclusion

Three pillars of thought: scientific and technological, creative and destructive, philosophical and international. For 2018, these are the themes I want to better understand, the themes I want to tie into one larger framework that I will keep to myself but unleash bits of as time passes. My present is captivating, with so many actors on the stage, with entertainments beyond what Hollywood could provide. The future is thus no less engrossing, and that is where we immoralists, globalists, ecstaticists will thrive — a narrative beyond survival or existence but of excess — in knowledge, manipulation, and self-discovery.

Richard Howard is receiving a Paris Review lifetime-achievement award

In celebration of Richard Howard’s upcoming award, the Hadada, The Paris Review brought together the thoughts of fellow poets and past students:

American poetry has almost always been forward-looking. But Richard is looking, thinking backward. He made himself up under the European wing of American literature. – Mary Jo Bang (poet, former student)

I’ve been aware of Richard Howard solely as the de facto translator of philosopher and literature critic Roland Barthes, who has been hugely influential on my life and work for several years now. Howard’s updated translation of Mythologies was the voice with which I was introduced to Barthes. Soon after I read Camera Lucida and the self-titled Roland Barthes I could almost picture the author sitting next to me as he ruminates over flittering topics and small pleasures. There is a warmth in the voice, a sincere curl in the lips, and an all-inclusive introversion that gives so much muted emotion but never enough for someone to let go with full satisfaction.

I take for granted the role of the translator – that Barthes’ English voice may be completely alien to his French. Fundamentally, the near God-like power of Howard — perhaps more of a prophet than the deity itself — should mean that I have always had this poet-translator sitting next to me all the time, carefully and patiently detailing the efforts of Barthes, who had died nearly forty years ago. For all the distance that the philosopher had put into his writing, Howard was able to eek out an aura that is only accessed in the mythologies of warmhearted movies of bittersweet loss and narrated journaling.

The comments found in the Paris Review article move me in their nostalgia, but also in their outlining of Richard Howard’s “process” (at least in my eyes) — to translate words is one thing; to translate emotions is on a whole other level. My goal, for now, is to understand Howard’s written voice in his poetry and other translations, and discover which myth — the Philosopher or the Poet — I had really taken to heart.

 

L’amateur – The amateur

The Amateur (someone who engages in painting, music, sport, science, without the spirit of mastery or competition), the Amateur renews his pleasure (amator: one who lives and loves again); he is anything but a hero (of creation, or performance); he establishes himself graciously (for nothing) in the signifier: in the immediately definitive substance of music, of painting, his praxis, usually involves no rubato (that theft of the object for the sake of the attribute); he is – he will be perhaps – the counter-bourgeois artist.

Roland Barthes