Archive for the 'Literature' Category

Reason for leaving academia #545

The neuroscience delusion: “Dreams of explaining or even overthrowing Western capitalism by unmasking its discourses of power through an embittered analysis of Shakespeare look simply daft. The reign of Theory seems to be over. Unfortunately the habit of approaching literature through ideas assimilated uncritically from other disciplines, and of examining individual works through an inverted telescope, has not yet been kicked.”

Lawyers for non-representational art!

I love the legal disclaimers at the beginning of novels that say “Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Well, so much for the preface to The Portrait of a Lady: “Recognising so promptly the one measure of the worth of a given subject [of fiction], the question about it that, rightly answered, disposes of all others–[is] is it valid, in a word, is it genuine, is it sincere, the result of some direct impression or perception of life?…The spreading field, the human scene, is the “choice of subject”; the pierced aperture, either broad or balconied or slit-like and low-browed, is the ‘literary form.'” Those little disclaimers are ideological dynamite, like the bloated pig corpses stuffed with explosives that sappers used to dig under the walls of enemy castles during the Middle Ages to bring them down. It looks like the legal profession is not in favor of realism in fiction. Any resemblance to “persons…events or locales”? Wow, what does that leave? Allegories, like the medieval stories about Piety, Chastity, Jew-Baiting and Witch-Burning traveling to Paradise together, or perhaps reverse Aesopian fables, where the human characters actually represent animals? In any case, novelists often like to pleasure themselves with endless debates about whether their work is any longer “relevant” in the wider world. I say their irrelevance is contractually mandated. Aren’t “unflinchingly true portrayals” inherently a breach in code?

Life stretched thin

If the basic desire of man, as Miguel de Unamuno contends, is personal immortality, and immortality consists of the endless repetition of a person’s thoughts on to eternity, then he comes as close to realizing his dream in Del sentimiento trágico de la vida as anyone probably should. How many different ways can you possibly say “I want to live forever”? Personally, I don’t know what I’d do with eternal life. Generally, I take it as a premise in life that you shouldn’t long for those things which you can have no possible knowledge, evidence or report of, not because they’re impossible but because how do do you know that they’re really all that great? Anyway, if everyone’s existence has a certain finite value and you were to divide it by an infinite length of time, its value at any given point in time would come so close to zero as to make no odds. I call it the Mick Jagger Principle, since he’s basically lived an eternity in rock-star years. Surely I’m not the only one who would respect him a lot more if he had had the dignity to choke to death on his own vomit at 28 like Hendrix? Not that any of this will probably dissuade those hell-bent on immortality (so to speak), but, to paraphrase Douglas Adams, those that most want to live forever are probably those that you’d least want to actually do so.

Leaving the scavengers

Studying literature at a place like Harvard makes a contradictory impression: on the one hand, everyone is secretly proud of themselves for fighting their way to the top of the little academic mound they’ve chosen as their target, even if they would never be so vulgar as to say so and even if for reasons about which they’re honestly unclear; at the same time, there’s something unmistakably secondary about the role of someone that earns a living from commenting on literature. The old notion of critics’ materials being books and writers’ materials being life is too simplistic by half, but holds an underlying truth; even when writers are pillaging each other’s works shamelessly they generally take care to conceal the theft, or at least that concealment is often intrinsic to the nature of literature. And even when they hardly bother, like T.S. Eliot, the work still somehow transcends this fact; for critics this almost never works. You might claim that the values of our culture are all backwards for demoting the value of the interpreter and the commentator in favor of the “originator” and the declaimer, assuming this even halfway-accurately describes the relationship between critic and writer, but at any rate that’s the way it is, and personally I can’t accept the back-seat role even if it means job security from now to senility, and if that means exiling myself from academia at the exact moment that everyone around me seems to have signed themselves over to it then so be it.

It’s a funny thing, though, this cultural mythology of the writer as some sort of primal creating agent. At the height of the Romantic vogue in the 19th century, when every writer who could afford a black frock-coat and a couple of inappropriate affairs was proclaiming themselves to be a totally unique, individual creative mind, untrammeled by social convention or cultural influence, damned if the images and poses of themselves that they promoted didn’t all seem to look alike: same long hair blowing in the wind, same waterfalls or cliffs to brood over, same rhapsodizing about birds and flowers.

Maybe the same goes for women. For all the talk down the ages about love is a totally singular, unique affinity between souls, I have to say quite honestly I’ve never yet had a girlfriend or other love-interest that didn’t leave me still dreaming of finding one more beautiful or kind-hearted or interesting. You might say I just haven’t met “the One” yet, but then again evangelical Christians say the same thing to us infidels about God. Maybe the one will lead me to the other, as in The Divine Comedy. Or maybe this whole idea of total exclusivity in love is partly to blame, as in the Chinese equivalent for “the grass is always greener on the other side,” which goes (or so at any rate I’ve heard): “everyone else’s wife is more beautiful.” And really, how do you think it would affect your relationship with your best friend if you knew that having them as a friend automatically precluded having any other friends? Well, that’s life. The problem with aspiration as a condition is that, like a sign pointing up, it’s always relative. Once you’ve climbed some height there’s always more.

Does this make me a polymath?

In the spirit of Curt’s post from April and my own post from last November, here’s a rundown of a few of the things I’ve been reading the last few weeks:

  • God’s Debris, by Scott Adams. Billed as a thought experiment masquerading as fiction, the Dilbert creator’s first foray into “serious” writing is kind of silly. The entire book consists, basically, of a near-omniscient old man questioning his naïve interlocutor’s assumptions about the universe. It raises some legitimate questions, but provides no really satisfying answers, sort of like a late-night discussion between stoned philosophy majors. In fact, that may well have been Adams’ inspiration. On the plus side, it’s free and short.

  • A Mathematician’s Apology, by G.H. Hardy. Considered by many mathematicians as the definitive justification for doing pure mathematics, Hardy’s book stands out as much for his bitterness at the age-related decline in his mathematical faculties as for its defense of mathematics. That’s not to say that the book is without merit; Hardy’s justification of mathematics on purely aesthetic grounds is about as well-stated as I’ve ever read and certainly all subsequent such arguments owe a heavy debt to this book. Unfortunately, Hardy’s aforementioned bitterness, coupled with his rather heavy-handed elitism, occasionally makes reading the Apology feel like listening to your grandfather talk about the merits of rap music. On the other hand, the Apology also gains a certain anachronistic appeal due to developments since its publication in 1940: one of Hardy’s primary justifications of pure mathematics in general and especially of his own field, number theory, is that such pursuits will never yield any military applications (this was especially relevant, of course, in 1940). Of course, with the rise of public-key encryption since the mid-1970s, this is now an absurd claim: modern encryption is intimately connected with and derived from advances in number theory (including some of Hardy’s own results) and it would be rather difficult to argue that encryption doesn’t have military applications.

  • Free Culture, by Lawrence Lessig. A fascinating book, as much for the historical context it provides to the current copyright debate as for its supposedly radical suggestions for altering copyright law. Lessig makes a compelling case that the conception of property rights embodied by current copyright law and organizations like the MPAA is both inconsistent with American tradition and indeed quite intellectually extreme. While I have considerably mixed feelings about his proposed solutions, I think he does an admirable job of arguing that there is a serious problem and that it doesn’t just have to do with intellectual piracy. In fact, my biggest complaint about the book the excessively insular tone it takes towards its readership; apparently, Lessig seems to think that the only people who care about these sorts of issues are “crunchy lefties”, even though he’s intellectually aware that his argument is more broad. See, e.g. the following quotation:

    But there’s an aspect of this story that is not lefty in any sense. Indeed, it is an aspect that could be written by the most extreme pro-market ideologue. And if you’re one of these sorts (and a special one at that, 188 pages into a book like this), then you can see this other aspect by substituting “free market” every place I’ve spoken of “free culture.” The point is the same, even if the interests affecting culture are more fundamental.
    Still, it’s a good book and it’s a free download, so there’s no reason not to check it out.

  • Tartuffe and Other Plays, by Molière. Aside from “The Misanthrope”, I’d never read anything by Molière until this book, but I’d been increasingly coming across references to him in other reading. Unfortunately, I don’t speak French nearly well enough to read this in the original and Frame’s translation is, to put it bluntly, crashingly inelegant, but enough of Molière’s genius managed to survive to make reading this book eminently worthwhile. While “Tartuffe” is obviously the most famous of these plays, the ones that held the most (admittedly, somewhat anachronistic) appeal for me were the two responses to critics of “The School for Wives”: “The Critique of The School for Wives” and “The Versailles Impromptu”. What’s perhaps most amazing about these plays is that they work (at least as literature; I don’t know how well they would hold up in the theater) despite how absurdly meta they really are. For example, a one-sentence summary of “The Versailles Impromptu” would probably be something like the following: A play written and produced on short notice at the behest of the king about the process of making a play on short notice at the behest of the king in which the playwright/director/lead actor decides to take the easy way out by producing a satire of the criticism of his satire of the criticism of his satire of over-protective and jealous husbands. That such a thing is even coherent, let alone enjoyable to read, is as impressive a testament to Molière’s skill as anything I can think of.

  • Hacker Crackdown, by Bruce Sterling. The sci-fi writer’s foray into journalism yields an interesting history of both hacker culture and the legal backlash against hacking in the early 1990s. One word of caution: this book was published in 1994 and deals primarily with events that took place before 1992, so if you’re looking for something about Internet-era hackers, you’ll have to go somewhere else. That being said, it’s still surprisingly relevant to the modern day, especially with regards to the heavy-handed approach taken by law enforcement and big business (AT&T and the Baby Bells in the book, ISPs and music labels today) in dealing with illicit online activities. When Sterling talks about the “purely theoretical” (and quite extreme) damages invented by BellSouth for the posting on various bulletin boards of one of their internal documents or of the indiscriminate confiscation of computer equipment that was demonstrably unrelated to that crime, it’s hard not to see parallels to more recent events. Another free download.

  • Letters to a Young Mathematician, by Ian Stewart. Stewart says that

    Letters to a Young Mathematician is my attempt to bring some parts of A Mathematician’s Apology up to date, namely those parts thatmight influence the decisions of a young person contemplating a degree in mathematics and a possible career in the subject.

    For the most part, he succeeds admirably. Stewart really does do a pretty good job of explaining just what, exactly, it is that mathematicians do, though of course his descriptions are most directly relevant to his own field (complex dynamics and dynamical systems). One major advantage Stewart has going for him is that he’s a very engaging writer, the sort of guy who seems like he’d be a lot of fun to have a beer or five with. This quality is especially apparent by contrast with Hardy, who would probably be appalled by the mere suggestion that he would be the sort of person to have a casual beer with the likes of you. I would definitely recommend Letters to a Young Mathematician to anybody who is either interested in pursuing a career in mathematics or who is just curious what the hell those mathematicians are up to, though I would warn any potential readers that Stewart’s basic conceit (i.e. that this is a hypothetical series of letters to an up-and-coming mathematician, starting when she’s in grade school and ending when she gets tenure) gets old after a while.

  • Glasshouse, by Charles Stross. One of the big complaints about Stross’ last sci-fi book, Accelerando (yet another free download), was that it was, in the end, about an upload culture and that, once people stop being human, they stop being interesting. In particular, by the end of Accelerando, the protagonists live in a culture so technologically advanced that physical death is meaningless provided you back up regularly, physical bodies are as interchangeable as clothing and distance is something understood in the abstract but essentially meaningless. As a result, there’s not exactly a lot of drama in people’s lives. In Glasshouse, Stross manages to re-inject some human interest into this universe by addressing the most obvious potential wrench in the works of the idyllic setup in Accelerando: data corruption. The protagonist of Glasshouse is a veteran of the most destructive war in human history, a war neither he nor anybody else quite understands or even remembers because it was fought against a nebulously-defined group of Luddite fanatics who figured out how to selectively delete people’s memories, especially those related to what the war was about. Now that he’s accidentally signed on for a purported psychology experiment run by those same fanatics in an inaccessible station literally in the middle of nowhere with access only to supposedly late-20th/early-21st century technology, with no offsite backups and stuck in the body of a petite woman, it all boils down to whether he can figure out what’s going on and beat down the bad guys before he is, truly and permanently, killed. The somewhat artificial addition of traditional human fears and anxieties like death, body image and social norms into the post-human milieu makes for better drama and setting most of the action in a more-or-less recognizably turn-of-the-21st-century environment lets Stross shift his attention from producing technical fireworks to actually writing the story. Of course, it also allows him to make fun of the more ridiculous aspects of our own society, which is always good for a few laughs.

  • Finally, some articles of note.

    First, for research-related work, there’s:

    For teaching:

    For fun:

    Short Story:

Past perfect

The most distinctive quality of history is that we know how everything turns out. In one sense this is obviously untrue, since many events or sequences of events begun in the past have yet to be completed, and in any case the division between an event and its consequences that lead one after another up the present and will surely trail on into the future is always to some extent arbitrary. But the sense of the finality of history does not depend upon actual knowledge of the events of the past; even someone living in profound ignorance of all that has gone before must sense in some instinctive way that everything that has happened has somehow led up to the present moment. In this way memory flattens both the anxieties and fears and hopes and ideals that normally animate our minds. One can look back to a gentle landscape of memory now blessed, through hindsight, with an absence of all fear, only to be remonstrated a moment later by the realization that the cloudy utopia of hopes for the future has hardened into the persistently ideal-resistent present (pace Hegel).

There is, in short, nothing in history that can redeem us from the suspicion that our lives are perhaps entirely mechanical affairs, a simple matter of robotic cause and effect. This is the peculiar fatalism of history, propogated upon the absolute necessity that, under certain circumstances, one thing leads to another. Thus it is not just that things happened a certain way but that, really, conditions being as they were they had to. This is the inviolable hand of sufficient cause. David K. Lewis had to defend the notion of alternate universes totally bereft of contact with our own simply to justify the validity of the counter-factual, the notion of “alternative history.” But the sheer counterintuitiveness of this suggests that imagining an alternate present, as opposed to alternate futures, is always bound to be a travesty of the facts.

Yet what redeems history is its connection to the present, to the seeming possibility of exerting some influence upon the workings of the world in the act of passing through time. Everything has its sufficient cause, even personal motives, but it is in no way demonstrated that human actions are rigidly dependent upon the totally predictable, insensate causality of other objects. It is, in fact, the very quality of life that they do not seem to be.

But history still impresses us, not just by the seeming inevitability of the progression of things but also of their ending. It seems to be the universal experience of ideas that they originate in the long distance of anticipation, perhaps fleet briefly into a physical existence in a passing present and then recede from view as they are done away with, even as the totality of creation renews itself. And even in existence one seems to encounter what Joseph Conrad called the inevitable degradation of the ideal through its realization. And even anticipation is really a vision of the past reconstructed and rearranged. The study of history, then, is bound to lead to suspiciousness of any ambition to transcend the progression from future to past through the very thin barrier of living moments. This is why the heroes of a Walter Scott novel, such as one I have just completed, Old Mortality , are never the idealists, who are fanatics in their belief in the absurd notion of being able to find a refuge from time in some imagined living eternity after death. His heroes are rather the stoics who attempt to impress some personal mark of honor or virtue onto the passing moments. For any attempt to found an ideal upon the hope of actually living wholly enveloped within a continuing and undiminishing present, safe from decay or decline, is bound to failure. It is only by focusing on the quality of individual moments, on rendering them valuable in retrospect, rather than on their doubtful perseverence, that life is rendered equanimious, the past satisfying for having been well used rather than discomfiting for being gone.

Reformation or Renaissance?

I often hear people claiming that what Islam really needs is a Martin Luther or a Reformation. I wonder if they really know what they are calling for. In my opinion the so-called Islamists today in many cases have a lot in common with the Protestant Reformers of the 16th century, for they were the major fundamentalists of that era (of whom, let us not forget, the Puritans were an offshoot). In terms of inter-confessional hostility often not a great deal distinguished the Protestants and Catholics of the era, and the Catholics certainly committed their share of heinous crimes: the Spanish Inquisition, the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, and the Spanish campaign of extermination in the Netherlands spring to mind, to say nothing of the atrocities perpetrated in the New World. But for the most part, except in Spain and the Balkans, where old conflicts with Muslim states continued, it was the Protestants who reawakened religious fanaticism and a spirit of sectarian rancor which had been largely absent since the days of the late Roman Empire. Of course the Protestants had legitimate grievances, but many of the abuses that they wanted to “reform” were of an opposite nature from those condemned by liberal society in religious fanatics today: venality, corruption and a conspicious lack of moral austerity. The Catholic Church had entered a decadent stage, and it is not hard even to identify the liberal Western society of today more with it than with the Protestant fundamentalists who challenged it. Indeed, Islamists often follow an analogous course: they deplore the corruption and venality of leaders of the Muslim world (although there is nothing analogous to the formal institution of the Church in Islam), they arrogate to themselves, not to the clerical authorities, the authority to interpret scripture, and they preach a general return to the austere holiness of the nascent days of the faith. The Reformation and the Renaissance arose from a somewhat similar revolt against ossified social institutions, particularly the Catholic Church, and a desire to bring power back into the fold of common humanity, but the viciousness of the religious wars and persecutions sparked by the Reformation vitiated to a considerable degree the achievements of the Renaissance in beating back dogmatism, and the Reformers returned an intransigent militarism to intellectual life. What Islam needs is not a Luther but an Erasmus, or better yet a Rabelais.

My adventures in la-la land

I’ve been reading a lot lately, along with trying to pass my comps., drinking heavily and generally being gnawed by random anxiety about my future. Here are a few of the things that I’ve read in the last month or so:

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller: An astonishing book. In my view it might be the pinnacle of what we somewhat amorphously call “existential literature.” The intellectual framework is not as profound or awe-inspiring as Kafka’s works, but in terms of blending absurdist grotesquery with genuinely funny (yet insane) comedy in the way so prized by existential writiers I would say it easily surpasses them, and infinitely more so than Beckett and the other theater of the aburd writiers, who I am convinced are only regarded as humorous by literature grad. students. Until quite near the end the writing is so dense, with usually at least three inspired non-sequiters leaving off in three different directions per paragraph, that it almost seems to bristle on the page. I think implicit in what I have already said is that that quality of perfectly intricate yet completely arbitrary structure, which is what I mean by an “existentialist” style, goes way beyond simple anti-war satire. One has the impression that each character embodies some particular form of insanity that overlaps with and conflicts with all the others. It’s what I imagine Nietzsche had in mind when he talked about “das Krankenhaus der Welt” (the world is a sick-room). I don’t know why Heller hasn’t had a more prodigious career; it might be becaus of what Gary Shteyngart had in mind when he said something to the effect that the satire in Catch-22 was so thorough that in a sense everything else Heller wrote was redundant.

The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare: a frustrating reading experience. This is the only nihilistic Shakespeare play that I have ever read (well, maybe Timon of Athens, but it’s been so long that I don’t remember it well). The set-up is a cynical stock scenario, as further evidenced by the generic title, and there is not a single genuinely sympathetic character. They are all casually brutal egotistists thinking only of their own emolument, and the conclusion offers a suitably callous lesson in dominance and submission. And my complaint goes beyond simple feminist issues: the wife who gets subjugated is just as disagreeable as her husband, and the outcome is no more inherently unjust than two dogs fighting over a bone. Feminists who dismiss Shakespeare as a typical 16th century misogynist are overlooking the vast differences between this play and the infinitely more sensitive later works. Shakespeare writing this play is probably somewhere in the nature of Robert De Niro appearing in Rocky and Bullwinkle, and I would guess that they were inspired by similar motives. Shakespeare in fact seems to resort to sabotaging the message of his own play with, for example, the bizarre frame device, which implies that the whole thing is just misleading entertainment for stupid oafs.

I Malavoglia (translated into English, for reasons that entirely escape me, as The House by the Medlar-Tree) by Giovanni Verga: the polar opposite of Catch-22, although equally tragic. As opposed to fantastically elaborate human-made contrivances of misfortune causing the misery, it re-captures all the sense of fatality and inevitability of Greek tragedy, but in a realistic manner, as it tragedy is brought about not by the gods but by elemental nature. Verga was the founder of what is called in Italy verismo, perhaps the most purely realistic of all the 19th century styles of realism. It shows everyday life not for aesthetic effect like Flaubert or in the spirit of pseudo-scientific experimentation like Zola, but simply in the nature of a kind of intimate journalism. The machinations of the scheming, selfish residents of a little village in Sicily flicker away in the foreground while in the background, related in an understated manner that barely mentions more than the facts, unfolds the enormous tragedy of a stoic, saintly family, the Malavoglias, who earn their living by fishing. More than half the family is wiped out one by one: lost at sea, killed by a cholera epidemic, arrested or degraded into prostitution. The family, however, as the title implies, due to gigantic sacrifice functions as a single unit, and thereby Verga conveys the communal nature of primitive human life. This is because he intended the novel to function as the first volume of a sort of symbolic history of humanity (which he never completed), showing its progressive individuation and refinement.

Apologia pro Vita Sua by John Henry Newman: a perplexing book. Cardinal Newman was probably the most notable convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism in 19th century Britain, and since previous to that he led the Oxford movement which sought to impose “high Anglicanism,” which was essentially identical to Catholicism except for in loyalty to the pope, on the Church of England, he not entirely unfairly fell under suspicion as the purety of his motives before conversion in trying to bring Anglicanism in line with Catholicism. This book is his attempt to refute the charge and prove his own honesty. I suppose that I was expecting a personal reflection on, as the back cover suggests, “the very nature of Christianity and its place in the modern age.” And it is…but only for the last 35 pages. The first two hundred treats the whole issue of loyalty to the Churches in question as a minor technical point, and goes about laying out the evidence for his changing attitude with the banal thoroughness of a legal brief. Then at the end, when he decides to defend the Catholic Church as a whole on ethical and social grounds, the narrative leaps to another level and becomes quite fascinating. The suppose the problem in the first part is the disquieting feeling one gets from theology in general, that sense of massive disproportion as he implies that his, and everyone else’s, immortal soul depend not (or at least not only) on moral conduct but on a correct opinion regarding some obscure and incomprehensible metaphysical point. But when he steps out away from the interminable and pointless academic debates and starts meditating on the real value of things he gets much more interesting and even his writing style becomes greatly more poetic and compelling.

Tensor algebra love poetry

One of the books Curt gave me for Christmas was Stanislaw Lem’s The Cyberiad, which is a wonderfully fantastical collection of related short stories. Here’s a couple of selections:

Read the rest of this entry »

I believe…

“I,” she told him, “can believe anything. You have no idea what I can believe.”


“I can believe things that are true and I can believe things that aren’t true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they’re true or not. I can believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and Marilyn Monroe and the Beatles and Elvis and Mister Ed. Listen—I believe that people are perfectible, that knowledge is infinite, that the world is run by secret banking cartels and is visited by aliens on a regular basis, nice ones that look like wrinkledy lemurs and bad ones who mutilate cattle and want our water and our women. I believe that the future sucks and I believe that the future rocks and I believe that one day White Buffalo Woman is going to come back and kick everyone’s ass. I believe that all men are just overgrown boys with deep problems communicating and that the decline in good sex in America is coincident with the decline in drive-in movie theaters from state to state. I believe that all politicians are unprincipled crooks and I still believe that they are better than the alternative. I believe that California is going to sink into the sea when the big one comes, while Florida is going to dissolve into madness and alligators and toxic waste. I believe that antibacterial soap is destroying our resistance to dirt and disease so that one day we’ll all be wiped out by the common cold like the Martians in The War of the Worlds. I believe that the greatest poets of the last century were Edith Sitwell and Don Marquis, that jade is dried dragon sperm, and that thousands of years ago in a former life I was a one-armed Siberian shaman. I believe that mankind’s destiny lies in the stars. I believe that candy really did taste better when I was a kid, that it’s aerodynamically impossible for a bumblebee to fly, that light is a wave and a particle, that there’s a cat in a box somewhere who’s alive and dead at the same time (although if they don’t ever open the box to feed it it’ll eventually just be two different kinds of dead), and that there are stars in the universe billions of years older than the universe itself. I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn’t even know that I’m alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of causal chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck. I believe that anybody who says that sex is overrated just hasn’t done it properly. I believe that anybody who claims to know what’s going on will lie about the little things too. I believe in absolute honesty and sensible social lies. I believe in a woman’s right to choose, a baby’s right to live, that while all human life is sacred there’s nothing wrong with the death penalty if you can trust the justice system implicitly, and that no one but a moron would ever trust the justice system. I believe that life is a game, that life is a cruel joke, and that life is what happens when you’re alive and that you might as well lie back and enjoy it.”

— Neil Gaiman, American Gods, pp. 393-4