Archive for June, 2011

18
Jun
11

COSMIC BUMMER


The end of the world – the destruction of human civilization and perhaps the planet – is a terrifying and sad but-not-so-unlikely possible outcome of history. But even if it were inevitable, there are ways by which I can talk myself out of believing the death/fail of humanity is the end of everything. Life might arise on other planets. Perhaps the majority of those instances also end in apocalypse, but only one needs to survive long enough to fulfill the potential of the exploration of space and time for life to be considered a success. However, even if life arose on every planet and all life were to lead to an immortal spacefaring race of beings, there would remain what strikes me as the grimmest of eventualities: The decomposition of the order of the universe and destruction of all that the past amounts to by some basic feature of the universe.

Astrophysics provides a few such theories of eventual universal annihilation: The cold death, the big crunch, and the isolation of all particles.

In the cold death, all matter eventually settles into its lowest energy state, perhaps after being sucked into black holes and regurgitated through Hawking radiation as they evaporate.

The big crunch (which has been decreasing in popularity for a long time) posits that the energy density of the universe is great enough that gravity is able to pull all matter back on itself, with everything getting smashed together in the end.

The last possibility hinges on the existence of the “dark energy” force that is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. If it does exist as we theorize, it may very likely cause all the bits of matter to accelerate away from each other, with the furthest bits going first; The galaxies that the Hubble can just barely see disappear, then the closer galaxies. For a time it would be just our galaxy in the universe, then our solar system, then just the inner planets, then just the earth and the moon, then just the earth, then just us floating in space, then just our molecules, then just our atoms, and finally just their constituent particles, each locked away in their own eternal solitary universe.

So even if we were to solve the problems of today, there lies a distant hurdle that any part of the universe would have to clear in order to avoid the fate of death.

12
Jun
11

Gass and Barthelme (tiny dissertation excerpt)

As most of you know, I’ve been neglecting to post on Ghost Island because the vast majority of my critical writerly energies are going to work on my increasingly sprawling and unruly dissertation.

In the hope that there is some crossover interest between readers of this blog and my intended dissertation audience, I’m going to sometimes post some excerpts of my draft if and when they feel like they make sense cut out of context.

Here’s a short one from the chapter on Donald Barthelme’s book, The Dead Father:

William Gass, in a review of Barthelme’s collection Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts, observed that,

Dreck, trash and stuffing: these are [Barthelme's] primary materials. But not altogether. There is war and suffering, love and hope and cruelty. He hopes, as he says in the new volume, “these souvenirs will merge into something meaningful.” But first her renders everything as meaningless as it appears to be in ordinary modern life by abolishing distinctions and putting everything in the present. He constructs a single plane of truth, of relevance, of style, of value – a flatland junkyard – since anything dropped in the dreck is dreck, at once, as an uneaten porkchop mislaid in the garbage.

This analysis is as true for The Dead Father as it is for Barthelme’s stories. Of course, this does not mean simply that the beautiful, meaningful, and affecting aspects of his fiction are simply devalued and stripped of their power to impact the reader. That he works with trash does not make of Barthelme’s books undifferentiated garbage fields. Barthelme, Gass argues, “has the art to make a treasure out of trash to see out from inside it, the world as it’s faceted by colored jewelglass[.] A seriousness about his subject is sometimes wanting. When this obtains, the result is grim, and grimly overwhelming.” Here and elsewhere in his essay, Gass draws his readers’ attention to various “treasures” and “grimly overwhelming” passages Barthelme has assembled. These are often short outcroppings of text – a sentence, a paragraph – in which Barthelme’s freewheeling play in his piles of language-dreck crystalizes into a stunning moment, some heavy, arresting instance of art not so much shining through as arriving, unexpected and inevitable.

Note: The Gass quotes are drawn from the essay The Leading Edge of the Trash Phenomenon, which is found in his book Fiction and the Figures of Life.

08
Jun
11

Clear Magnetar

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