Wednesday, January 21, 2009

minding heaven and hell


Flat minds in a bony shell
mostly tend to dream of hell,
but when brain cells start to leaven
they start instead to dream of heaven.
In the brainflesh they are cloven,
vibrating while the chords they thrum
accompany old texts, unproven,
pointing towards kingdom come.

The world is flat, Tom Friedman claims,
perhaps that’s why it clearly aims
to lead us all to hell. If round,
it might have raised us from the ground
to reach a heaven men conceived
as plausible when they believed
the world was flat, but since it’s not,
keep cool, since it is getting hot.

Inspired by a poem, “Last Robot Song,” by Robert Pinsky, in the January 26, 2009 issue of The New Yorker, which follows an article “The Dystopians: Bad times are boom times for some,” by Ben McGrath:

A year and a half ago, Dmitry Orlov, a forty-six-year-old software engineer from Leningrad, sold his apartment and bought a boat, on which he and his wife now live, in Boston. Orlov moved to the U.S. when he was twelve, and returned to the Soviet Union for the first time in 1989. Over the course of several visits, he observed the social effects of the Soviet economic breakdown. His 2008 book, “Reinventing Collapse: The Soviet Example and American Prospects,” identifies the ingredients of what he calls “superpower collapse soup”—a severe shortfall in production of crude oil, a worsening foreign-trade deficit, an oversized military budget, and massive foreign debt—and he argues that the U.S. is not only vulnerable but likely to fare worse. Until recently, Orlov identified the readers of his book, and of a blog he maintains, Club Orlov, as belonging to one of three basic cultural categories: “back-to-the-land types,” “peak oilers,” and all-around Cassandras, or doomers. But in the past few months, he has acquired a fourth audience, composed of financial professionals, who have been bolstering his “gut feeling that the United States is bankrupt.” One of Orlov’s greatest fans is the author James Howard Kunstler, who also writes a weekly blog column. His latest contribution to the doomersphere is the novel “World Made by Hand,” set in the post-collapse future. The writer met with Kunstler in Saratoga Springs, where he lives. In Kunstler’s view, the American economy since Second World War has essentially been one of continuous sprawl-building, and, given what we’ve built, it amounts to “the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world.” Thomas Malthus first lent rational philosophy to the apocalyptic inklings of religious prophets with his “Essay on the Principle of Population,” in 1798, and secular doom booms have tended to coincide with periods of political upheaval or economic breakdown ever since. The Malthusian movement has expanded with time into a kind of peaknik diaspora. Peak oil and peak carbon (i.e., global warming) are the heaviest. The bank and auto industry bailouts have thrust a new concern to the front: peak dollars. Jim Sinclair, a currency and commodities trader, is the king of goldbugs, an intermediate class of doomer. He posts daily commentary on his Web site, Mentions Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of the best-selling book “The Black Swan,” about the inevitability of unforeseeable events. Three days after the Presidential election, Kunstler addressed the audience at a Vermont Independence Convention, sponsored by the pro-secessionist group Second Vermont Republic. Mentions Gerald Celente, Kirkpatrick Sale, Chellis Glendinning, Lynette Clark, Rob Williams, Thomas Naylor, and Dennis Steele.

The second half of “Last Robot Song” reads as follows:

Mind, mind, mind;
Itself a capable vibration
Thrumming from here to there
In the cloven brainflesh
Contained in the helmet of bone—
Like an electronic boxful
Of channels and filaments
Bundled inside its case,
A little musical robot

Dreamed up by the mind
Embedded to the brain
With its blood-warm channels
And its humming network
Of neurons, engendering

The resident baby god—
As clever and violent
As his own instrument
Of sweet, all-consuming
Imagination, held
By its own vibration,

Mind, mind, mind pulled
Taut in its bony shell,
Dreaming up Heaven and Hell.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 1/21/09


  1. I like both versions of the poem. Gershon's is heavier on the humorous aspects of having our own instrument which can create heaven and hell for our own private amusement. The part about unproven texts is not the least of the argument. But putting personal delusions aside, I think I fall into the Cassandra category, with a heavy dose of peak oil, made yet again more worrisome, when Nouriel Rubini starts to reduce his claims of imminent doom; but maybe that was just one of his optimistic days. It all tends to remind me of my favorite new saying: "If you're going through hell, keep going."

  2. I love the first 4 lines.
    flat minds > [flat earth] > hell
    warm mound of growing yeasty mind > [round earth] > heaven.

    Maybe you could recite the first stanza to me ... I'm not convinced that "cloven" and "unproven" rhyme.