Sunday, March 30, 2008


Here's a picture. Click for full size. Isn't it awesome? I would like to know what you think, maybe I'm just too enamored with my own ideas. Its just that this picture has so much detail, it has clear shapes and lines, it has life and motion but no faces or personalities to overpower the plain ordinariness of it. Best is that this photograph was an accident! I had been snapping away at an eagle and just waved the camera at this cat and triggered the shutter. I totally missed the cat, I wasn't even looking the viewfinder. There is nothing of 'artists intention' in this shot, no skill of mine. My intention had been to lazily snap a cat portrait, and if I had been successful, the result would be average and forgettable. I have lots of cat portraits I never look at they're so boring.

But I wonder if my enjoyment is also accidental. Does anyone else like this picture, or it is good for me because I know what lies outside the picture: My parent's farm. And I know where the cement came from, why it has white stuff stuck to it, what the cat looks like, the source of the clod of asphalt and the straw. Is the eye appeal in those specifics and what they symbolize, or is it in the image itself; the hint of cat, the geometry of beveled and stained cement, decaying straw mixed with gravel?

Only you can say. I don't know. There are many things I don't know, and as such lack makes itself aware, I must address it somehow. How does one live with unfinished, incomplete, unproven concepts? Sometimes we use worry. Sometimes we ignore it. Or let anxiety destroy our abilities. I don't know how to approach the unknown. But I'm going to try to be calm about it. - yet I can't imagine how it must be to not have God to trust in. Must be horrific.

Grady Houger ~ It will be very interesting to see how long it takes to get tired of looking at this picture.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Mental Shifts – Interlude: Masked Moon Rising

Are philosophy and fiction writing conflicting interests? I am interested in pursuing philosophical truths, reaching for accurate theoretical models and glimpses of absolute truth. With fiction writing, I occasionally have to blink myself awake and remember that the individuals and their concerns I'm dealing with are not real people, that none of their existence is real, yet I can immerse myself it it to the point of forgetting.

Getting lost in a manufactured world ... striving for true understanding beyond illusion; It is a careful mix to be had. In fiction it is easy to create statements about reality that have little truth value outside the made-up world of the book. Well crafted books present themselves as identical to our human reality. Fiction can indeed illustrate truth, but a model of untruth can be indistinguishable. Well made stories play on human emotions so well that their truth message can be internalized before any analysis of its accuracy can be done, and many people seem disinclined to analyze what they consume as entertainment. Analysis generally disrupts that entertainment.

This issue makes it easy to see why Plato's writings are so critical and suspicious toward fiction. It's moral value is problematic, in practice easily promoting vice.

I have only my inclinations to speak from, and as I have stated, they are divided. Even so, I do not think fiction should be rejected in pursuit of a firm understanding of truth. An individual should practice judiciousness in selecting fiction that will be beneficial, and those who create fiction should do so honestly striving to write truth. In saying this, I'm really only speaking to myself, since there are many conflicting reasons people write, and my 'ought to' doesn't go very far against them.
I wonder about the dynamics of my making statements, which are my synthesized conclusions put down and shared as somewhat inaccurate text. My personal experience is the source of what I say, but life experience is quite unique, and despite being almost impossible to communicate, it's somehow general enough that people can relate. My experience of returning to this university, going to buy books, urban driving, listening to non-mainstream indie music on the radio, constant rain and snow today, sitting in my condo typing and looking out at the raindrops landing in the puddle on my deck: That's a few of my current environmental influences, but you can only think of them by remembering similar memories of yours. It's not the same. My understanding of the dichotomy between philosophy and fiction isn't the same as yours, but that doesn't matter, because our understanding of the English language and cultural background is similar enough that people reading this are likely to understand what is written here even if they do not write fiction and have not read Plato. The meaning is attained by a shared understanding of language. The language itself is only important in that we have a sufficiently similar definition for the word 'beneficial', and that our understanding of grammar is the same.

Since the particular language could be a different one and this bit of writing would still work between members of that culture, this sort of explanation puts the power of meaning onto the string of signified elements that the words represent. Reading and processing those symbolic textural units builds a concept in your mind similar to the one I intended to write.

What's the point of all this? I do not know. I'm just talking about the recent thoughts I experienced concerning fiction and philosophy, and then used that in a nebulous bit of textual analysis theory. Almost everything I stated was based off of what I learned or had to read for the literary critical theories class last quarter. But why am I writing? Somehow it seems important to talk about what I think. But writing about why I'm writing and about what I'm thinking is confusing. It leads to my current college malady of seeing everything as symbols and then connecting those to each other and everything else. Its a mind crushing mess, but fortunately I can always choose to stop writing. Also, I got Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Wererabbit from the school library to watch as soon as I'm done writing this.

Grady Houger ~ done!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Text as fuel for Whatever fire you throw it in

This is an essay I turned in for a college final. It will maybe get a good grade, mainly because this teacher grades most graciously. It is written to a professor having spent the whole quarter discussing the definition and function of literature, so it's referencing a lot of theory. I think the general point is clear though, and slightly controversial, so see what you make of it and drop me a note of how you disagree. This is also an example of how much my essay writing sucks. It's barely passable for this class, but the structure and clarity are not professional.

Literature can be any written, or just printed work, because any sort of printed material can be defined as literature under specific theories. There are just so many diverse opinions about literature that somebody can find meaning in things others overlook. The back of my dry erase marker board cleaner bottle says this:

Directions: Erase marks before
applying cleaner. Spray surface.
Wipe with soft cloth

Are these intellectually, philosophically meaningless industrial directions, or can they be a satisfyingly ambiguous poem? The physical placement of those words matter; are they on a bottle or in a poetry book? The readers receptivity matters, and their education. The social institutions of publishing and taste determine whether this 'poem' comes to view at all. The original anonymous Message Stor employee who authored the directions doe not matter, but the person who prints it as a poem becomes its author, contributing the aesthetic vision; or at least they are the one who takes the effort to bring this passage into an existing aesthetic community.

Some other people, existing in as contemporaries to the person who would remix cleaner directions as poetry, are not at all a part of that community of poetic appreciation, and will give no meaning-valuation to the poem if they saw it. This other person belongs to a separate community which has no vocabulary or consciousness of textual interpretation or the function of poetry. This person is watching a YouTube video: the techno remix of the weeping Brittney Spears fan saying 'Leave Brittney alone!' This watcher is enjoying the work of an author who added music and blinking colors to clips of the original speaker's rant to produce a result that cruelly mocks the original author and is simultaneously a hilarious pop-culture social commentary. Now both the YouTube watcher and the found poetry person are bringing knowledge external to the text in order to appreciate the construct. So arguments for 'anything as literature' require the reader to contribute much of the meaning, and this can operate without the participants awareness.

A more traditional definition of literature makes it out to be only the most exemplary of a societies texts; the texts that are bold, unique, unparalleled in communicating (with artistry) the values and ideals of that culture. Such texts function by telling the reader the content more than requiring the reader to provide meaning. In other words, the text contains an internal logical pattern of conceptual units rather than the reader taking the textual elements as referents to external structures. Traditional texts where generally designed this way, by authors for readers, both agreeing that this is how the text should function. The works that last (having to be repeatedly recommended across generations) have a deep complexity and/or representational authenticity new generations recognize. With this definition of literature there must be a category for what it excludes; hack writing or pulp fiction. These texts are derivative, sensationalist without skill or artistic quality. But such unlauded texts remain in demand alongside 'better' ones, both the antique and newly written pulp. Is this only because there is such a shortage of literary murder-mystery detective novels?

Since both high and lowly rated texts have popular appeal, it is hard for me to think there is much validity to any one persons definition of literature, particularity my own. It becomes a preference based on specific goals. There are just too many systems of reasoning and too many different reasons people read and comment on texts. Literature is just communication people value. I personally find myself valuing texts for wildly conflicting reasons. While I could talk about the particulars of why I read the Bible, and also a comic strip about a girl who gets turned into a zebra demon, I think the real distinction between definitions of literature is that exclusive ones seek to find a unifying element that solves the question permanently, and inclusive definitions are based around the lack of knowledge and lack of fixed points of reference. By points of reference I mean things like our society no longer evaluating things on the basis of their compatibility to Biblical teaching, or Marxist doctrine, or a particular academic authority. (Nor is there any agreement on an established aesthetic quality.) I think this is all right, because instead of reflecting some sort of group unity, it is based on the natural lack of agreement people have.

There are many reasons for writing and reading things, thus people create their reasons why they do so. What is key is that the defense of personal selection comes AFTER enjoying those selections. Or, in a more serious academic context where enjoyment may not be a highly valued quality, it is a logical and/or ideological constancy that predates building a theory. Interestingly, only in specific contexts do people produce defenses for their choices:

academic settings where the construction, workings and effects of textual communication are studied.
cultural debates considering the moral fitness of texts.
publishing industry discussions of texts as business opportunities.
These three settings are occasions where texts are used in conjunction with some other purpose. The people purchasing commercial fiction or writing texts aren't usually doing so according to a theoretical framework, nor are they required to defend them. Instead there is a desire to consume (or produce) a particular sort of construct, and if doing so necessitates an explanation or defense, a person will get one.

Texts are as disparate as the stars in the sky. All quite different, in placement, of various types but little of that is important to people who look up at the night sky. Most people just enjoy the lights, or perhaps use them for navigation. Its the same for books. People study and categorize texts, or just read them without any formal purpose; everyone according to the use they will put the text to.

Any use can be fitting, effective within that persons personal and cultural situation. A person may be interested in the history of some time and place, so the concerns of that place and the beliefs and experience of the author will be useful in understanding a text produced then. After all, people create texts for their own reasons and since the text survived it must have some relevancy or merit. If the persons use is to illustrate the state of society, then a text can be analyzed for a particular viewpoint; gender, race, economic theory. Text itself is just fodder for where ever a persons mind wants to go. Like the trees much text gets printed on, texts get ground up or cut apart and shaped into many uses. The original tree does have an effect on the product, just as the text can only say so much and no further. Wood quality, strength, biological structure (thus color and sound), limit what the results can be. Texts, as trees grow according to their own biology of existence, wild according to the weather, or carefully planted and pruned ones. What is done later with their lumber does not always follow the occasion wherein they where originally formed.

Grady Houger ~ 1184 words.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Lemon tree

Thus far in my university experience (6months, 6 classes), I have found the faculty to be fair and knowledgeable when it comes to Christianity as an influential world religion. Being exposed to favorable attitudes toward Christianity from non-believers (most of whom seem to be devout pluralists who will treat any other religion with equal respect) I have noticed how limited my own religious knowledge is outside what I specifically believe.
For instance, when discussing a book’s religious references in a small class group, a Mormon classmate knew quite a bit, but wasn't familiar with the specifics of Catholicism. I knew a little bit of that, but for a separate class project (which I got to use my religious beliefs in) I found I didn't know how to spell Protestant and didn't know what it meant!

Do you know the origin and meaning of Protestant?
Seeing as how I am one, this was a problem. There’s a good article (meaning well designed and understandable) in the online Catholic encyclopedia if you google Protestant.
Basically, during the Reformation the groups formed around teachings against Catholic Church practices of the day were ‘in protest’ to it, so they where the protest-ants. I didn’t realize till I had to spell it that the regional pronunciation of is Prod-ist-ent not Pro-test-int. It’s became a label not a descriptive word.

It was kind of disappointing to be named in opposition to the existence of some other group. I’d rather have a group name that stood on its own principles. Oh well. What I should be more active in is learning the formal positions of other sects and faiths. Within the specific band of Christianity I adhere to I feel well educated. There is lots of historical teaching and evidence to be learned for other positions as well. Some education minded Protestant Evangelical American Christians may know our own beliefs and doctrines well, but it would be good to know other things, such as the religious history of America’s Revolutionary war. I heard an interview on NPR of a book on this topic, and it sounded quite interesting in that a lot of common assumptions about the constitution, the founding fathers, and England aren’t correct. Should I believe that author’s analysis of the origins of religious freedom in America? Not without reading his book, and looking for myself at the original documents.

We should be carful in what we say and believe if we haven’t studied a topic in depth.

Grady Houger - know thy origins

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


Can we see our self? Only one narrow prospective directly, the parts our eyes can reach. I can't see my back. I can only see it reflected in something external to me. Fortunately our mirror technology is quite accurate. But for what we are as a nation, or a society, or as human creatures; Stories are that we can look at to see a reflection of what we are.
But how distorted is that story-image of our nature? It may be beautiful, maybe enjoyable, but not accurate.

Grady Houger