‘The Sacred Vomit of Martianus Capella’ by J.B. Usher

jb usher image

A year ago, I wrote a brief essay where I reflected on creative ways to instruct and teach such as The Compleat Angler with its Socratic Dialogue on fishing or the injection of poems and anecdotes into David Arora’s mushroom identification handbook All that the Rain Promises and More. These peculiar alternatives that provide enlightening and entertaining ways to teach beyond rote memorization is what perked my interest when I came across a description of  De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii or “On the Marriage of Philology and Mercury” by fifth century writer Martianus Capella (translated by William Harris Stahl with E.L. Burge). As its title suggests, the book tells the story of the god Mercury marrying Philology, a mortal woman who ascends into godhood at the beginning, and the following marriage ceremony featuring the various members of the Greek pantheon in attendance. It’s in the ceremony where Capella’s intentions for this story are revealed; the narrative itself being a framing device to expound on the learning found in the seven liberal arts: grammar, dialectic, rhetoric, geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and harmony. Each chapter introduces a personification of each art as a goddess attending the wedding who then gives a speech on their respective allegorical representation; i.e. the goddess Grammar gives a speech on the lessons of grammar. Such a creative pedagogical method enticed me to hunt down the complete text.

Read More »

‘Blood-Soaked Buddha/Hard Earth Pascal: The Finest Attitude Pamphlet’ by Toom Bucksaw

KUDkhRhi

Philosophical writing sucks, and reading it often feels like wading through a molasses of obscurantist bullshit from another planet. Which is why when Noah Cicero quotes the likes of Sartre and Nietzsche in his newest book, Blood-Soaked Budda/Hard Earth Pascal, I could hear a mental train that used to be running so smoothly come grinding to a halt.

Blood-Soaked Buddha is a Buddhism-flavored collection of philosophical musings by someone who is essentially an average Joe. Noah Cicero quotes and refers to several texts of Buddhist and Western origin, but a reader of philosophy doesn’t become a worthwhile philosopher because of how many books he’s read. Noah Cicero knows this. Blood-Soaked Buddha is a brief, physically unimposing, unpretentious and, most appealingly, self-conscious book.

“I am writing this for no reason.

I don’t know if I have a right to write this book, or if it’s even permissible.”

These are the first lines of this book. This is the perspective from which it is written. And it is our perspective.

Noah dispenses blasts of thoughts and insights whose occasional lack of novelty is always charming, never frustrating. The lack of conceit in his voice renders even his intellectual duds endearing rather than insulting. Blood-Soaked Buddha is the philosophical book we would write, if we had to. But could most of us deliver the most pedestrian of platitudes in such a way that it feels like a rejuvenating breath of cold air coming down from a mountain, as Noah does? I don’t think so.

Blood-Soaked Buddha isn’t an abstract book about bodies and spaces and the fundamental matter of human existence, at least not when it’s at its best. It’s an attitude pamphlet. It’s the voice of a friend who read a lot of interesting books and has a new mindset he’d like to share with you. Rarely do Noah’s findings cut deeper than learning to appreciate the world around you for what it is, while it is; allowing things to pass; and having respect for perspectives other than your own. But when it comes to these kinds of ideas, I can’t think of a better medium to absorb them through than a modest 4×6 book of 191 pages, written by a voice that strikes such an incredible balance between the knowledgeable and the humbly knowledgeless, the spiritual and the tangibly applicable.

Occasionally he gets lost in a rabbit hole of his own design, attempting to codify various cliques of people and set in stone their universal traits, attempting two proofs of God (though still with the disclaimer that he’s doing it “for fun”), or declaiming lengthy fables to illustrate easy-to-grasp human weaknesses. Can we blame him? These aren’t the failings of a professional philosopher, some lofty, powdery intellectual. These are the failings of one of us. I’m much more interested in watching one of us try and fail two proofs of God than I am in reading anything in any philosophical canon. Not every writer can skate by being light on revelation by publishing in pamphlet-size and downplaying their own significance in a prefatory note, but Noah Cicero has done it.

“What if you had to live for eternity with your current shitty attitude?”

This is the only thing it says on the back cover of Blood-Soaked Buddha, and the central question of one of its most compelling moments. What if you got to heaven and could only find things to complain about? What if you got to Hell and met a new friend?

A copy of Blood-Soaked Buddha in your bag is a good step on the road to becoming the person who meets a friend in Hell.

‘Smith’s First Book of Poems Too Good for Snappy Headlines’ by Ray McKenzie

ESmith-cov-lg.jpg

Has anyone ever told you a story that failed to impress? They probably tried to save face with something like, “you should’ve been there” or “you’d get it if you knew So-And-So”. Among the stories told in this collection, there is not one such failure. This book takes you there, makes it so you know So-And-So. This book is the barstool, low lighting, and neat whiskey that facilitates—nay, necessitates—good storytelling.

Unruly is a spirited introduction to Elysia Lucinda Smith, who she is, what it means to be her. It chronicles the halcyon days of youth, and juxtaposes them with the challenges that, upon reflection, make us who we are. In terms of VH1 programming from the 90s, this book is equal parts Unplugged and Behind the Music.

Unruly gets you familiar with Elysia in a transparent way. I wish more people I know would write books like this so that I could keep them on my shelf and give them a read through at my leisure. If I’m a creep for wanting to keep my friends on a shelf like one of those Christmas elves with the spindly limbs and the painted face, then so be it. If I share a few lines, maybe you’ll understand my obsession with Smith’s work.

Read More »

‘The New Rupi Kaur Book Has Good Parts’ by Toom Bucksaw

fall-preview-the-sun-and-her-flowers-by-rupi-kaur

When I started reading this book, I didn’t like Rupi Kaur any more than you do. I think anyone who’s reading this site probably has the same idea of her that I had, an idea that isn’t entirely inaccurate: that Rupi Kaur is a sham writer of trite, pithy poems that aren’t worth the mostly-blank paper they’re printed on. As I sat downloading a copy of her latest book, The Sun And Her Flowers, probably chuckling with self-satisfied irony, I had very low expectations, likely no greater than yours. I had no great awakening while reading this book – none of my troubles were danced away in a field of sunflowers – but this new Rupi Kaur book… it has good parts.

Read More »

‘Why Won’t You Play With Us?’ by Calvin Westra

1-rfmtMLVsFzXQ5wFAATfxqA

Them, or Ils in the original French, is a mumbling hour and a half film. Set in a cavernous and probably drafty country house in the Romanian countryside, two French lovers go to sleep like any other night but are awakened to revving engines outside and what follows is a cat and mouse game full of creaking staircases, jarring noises, screams, and dialogue so sparse you could probably skip the subtitles and still follow the plot.

Them tricks you into sitting on the edge of your seat, setting your drink down, and folding your hands in your lap by the time the opening credits have finished. Before the French lovers, before the haunted house, a mother and daughter drive down a secluded road after dark. The car breaks down. Mom pops the hood. Screams. Steps. Strangling. Finally, a hand hits the window and slides down slowly.

What do these two women have to do with the story? Not a thing, aside from to show you immediately and viscerally that there is some Other hiding out there that will strangle you and your daughter when the engine overheats.

Read More »