David Fos­ter Wal­lace: Fate, Time, and Language

The philosopher Richard Taylor began his argument in favor of fatalism utilizing six presuppositions commonly accepted at the time. Fatalism, the notion supporting the theory that human beings have no control over the future, was not a new idea in the 1960s. Hell, even Aristotle argued about the existence of free will.

Anyone who remembers 11th grade American history class recalls the smug predestination philosophy of the Puritans. And then there’s the idea of God’s will, which one can substitute for fate in any argument. Simply put, your choices are not YOUR choices because you have no power to determine the future. It is what it will be. Stand back and watch the waterfall flow uphill. Fatalism supports the notion of the inevitability of actions. Some religions see it more as God’s Master Plan, the universal purpose of man. But however it’s discussed, it comes down to predestination vs. free will and the topic is fascinating.

An Essay on Free Will

That David Foster Wallace found fatal flaws in Taylor’s argument while in college. His monograph against Richard Taylor’s philosophical journey through abstract thinking is presented in a new volume just off the press from Columbia University Press . The work seems significant because it opens up discussion. If we don’t talk about an idea, consider the object, we stagnate. Right?

The notion of free will confounds us all. It’s everywhere, this discussion, even in Quantum Mechanics.

Edited by Steven M. Cahn and Maureen Eckert (with intro by James Ryerson and epilogue by Jay Garfield), Fate, Time, and Language contains Taylor’s original work and other philosopher’s responses to the work. Reyerson’ opening essay discusses how Wallace’s philosophical bent affected his later fiction writing.

This is not a quick read. When discussing the book with my husband recently I said, “It will take me a year to read and understand this book.” Surprised, he responded, “But you read The Da Vinci Code in one evening.” It is one thing to read a book and another to comprehend it. This book must be savored and taken in slow small bites with each thought chewed thoroughly before swallowing. It’s a fairly short book, just over 250 pages but length does not determine thought. Before I delve into Taylor and other philosophers, I want to remind my mind (!) how to construct symbolic arguments. I enjoyed symbolic logic classes at ECU. Constructing page after page of proofs – it makes me understand why Caroline loves math… The thrill of the equation? The joy of proof?

As 2011 progresses onward ever forward, I will construct a weekly dialog about Wallace’s “great skepticism of abstract thinking made to function as a negation of something more genuine and real.” Apparently, according to the book’s press release, Wallace was “especially suspicious of certain paradigms of thought – the cerebral aestheticism of modernism, the clever gimmickry of postmodernism – that abandoned the very old traditional verities that have to do with spirituality and emotion and community.”

Is it just me or can you see a real opportunity to explore free will and the arts? Does free will demand art? Is art the product of free will and on thusly to a wondrous series of internal dialogs.

To seek to reproduce and/or discuss the relationship and influence of logic, language, and the physical world to art “movements” — fluXus, synthetism, futurism, lyrical abstraction — the myriad opportunities for discussion daunt and inspire. Does a particular work or movement reflect the passionate precision of the artist? Or does it merely contain an exterior dialog in which one (the artist/s) acts in response to some irrefutable fatalistic logic of destiny?

The semantic tricks which lie at the base of Taylor’s argument bring Wallace’s work into the foreground of discussion of the absence or existence of free will. I see myself spending a lot of quality time in personal reflection – considering whether or not my handiwork is my own or is subject to some predetermined force.

It’s a parallel synchronized random thought integrating itself into my creative demeanor. What does logic dictate? Where does my (or for that matter, your) art originate? If one does not have to power to influence the future or to direct one’s own actions, what purpose is art?

Meanwhile, it’s time to re-read Infinite Jest with new eyes and consider how Wallace’s essay influenced his fiction. It’s a very cerebral future for me — but is the outcome predetermined? If it is — then you already know if you’ll come back and read more about my journey in David Foster Wallace’s refutation of the argument in favor of fatalism. This volume of essays must truly confound those who loved Wallace and mourn his death… perhaps his suicide was the ultimate expression of free will?

Stay tuned for more…

Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will

by David Foster Wallace,
Edited by Steven M. Cahn and Maureen Eckert; Introduction by James Ryerson and Epilogue by Jay Garfield

Paper, 264 pages,
ISBN: 978-0-231-15157-3
$19.95 / £13.95

December, 2010
Cloth, 264 pages,
ISBN: 978-0-231-15156-6

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Recognizing rules and limitations

I learned to apply Cesar Milan’s dog rehabilitation techniques to humans. To be calm and assertive… it works out well, most of time.

Other lessons I’ve learned this year:
Don’t believe a fellow who tells you not to tell anybody. There is no such thing as an inside tip. If it’s inside, it stays inside; if it’s told, it’s outside. Gypsters don’t confide secrets. Don’t believe her because she is a woman. There are successful saleswomen who wear jewels and mink coats at the expense of the housewives of this country.

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300 Pound Jaywalker in a Blonde Wig

A Beaufort County commissioner was heard allegedly bullying a 911 dispatcher.

Here is the entire recorded conversation:

Dispatcher: “Beaufort County 911, where is your emergency? Hello?”
Hood Richardson: “Round black woman walking down the middle of the…”
Dispatcher: “You saw a…”
Hood Richardson: Inaudible
Dispatcher: “You saw a black woman walking down the middle of the street?”
Hood Richardson: “Hello?”
Dispatcher: “Yes, this is the Sheriff’s Office. Can I help you?”
Hood Richardson: “You’ve got a 300-pound black woman walking down the middle of the street in front of Frank’s Pizza with a blind stare.”
Dispatcher: “Okay, let me transfer. Do you have uh…”
Hood Richardson: “You can just deliver the message.”
Dispatcher: “No sir. I’m going to…no sir, I want you to…”
Hood Richardson: “I’m Hood Richardson, Beaufort County Commissioner. You’ll hear about this tonight if you don’t get off your butt and do your job!”
Dispatcher: “You’ve got a black woman that’s walking down the middle of the street at Frank’s Pizza correct?”
Hood Richardson: “That’s right.”
Dispatcher: “Okay and what is she doing? And you said something. Does she have a blonde wig on?”
Hood Richardson: “A blind stare walking down the yellow line.”
Dispatcher: “Thank you. I’ll pass it along.”
Hood Richardson: “Bye.”

Beaufort County Commissioner Hood Richardson called the sheriff’s dispatcher Monday afternoon, to report a woman walking in the middle of the street in downtown Washington near Frank’s Pizza. The problem was that the woman was walking within Washington city limits.


IUOMA Novel – collaborative work?

val macewan There’s a video of the collaborative novel’s progress thus far. oops, I lied, the link died, let me see if I can repair it. This is an update post and the update isn’t functioning. Read on, it will mayhaps become interesting.

If the video is not available, we have incredibly wonderful options. My dad loved Dean Martin. My mom thought Frank Sinatra was a punk. Really. She said that, Ruth did. I admit to listening to Sinatra but I hate to wait until she died at 93 to crank it up in our house (she lived with us for 20 years).

So let us just Move on. Dot. Org. (more…)


An Artistic Legerdemain

9 - the artWork continues on the Ann Head but progress is slow.

This sore throat/fever/aches and pain – stuffy and I can’t rest syndrome is for the birds. My sedentary days make the dogs nutzo bazooms because I won’t take them for a walk until the sun goes down and the air is cooler.

My little household fills quickly with internal squalor as my health declines. Rob [my muse] remained home last night as The Assemblagist ventured out into the public domain to seek inspiration and comfort amongst friends and family.

While the opening act proved sufficient to reduce my ill-gotten cold symptoms, by the second hour my throat began to its quick descent into complete oblivion as my tonsils and adenoids became visions of past infections.

That lobotomy sure worked swell, Bob.

That lobotomy sure worked swell, Bob.

Today is fit only for mild artistic endeavors and lots of fruit smoothie consumption.

With hopes for improvement upon the ‘morrow, I leave you for now, dear friends. (Does morrow need a ‘?)

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Holler. Hollerin’. Yelling too.

Bee Baby Jumps on iTunes!

Bee Baby Jumps on iTunes!

holler: [v] bawl, call, cheer, complain, cry, hoot, howl, roar, scream, screech, shriek, shrill, squawk, squeal, ululate, vociferate, wail, whoop, yap, yelp:  Roget’s Thesaurus [or the sound one makes when one makes a high score on BeeBabyGames.]

I’ve told you about the Pantego Mud Run, one community’s answer to fund raising for their volunteer fire department. Driving through a mud pit might be lucrative fun, but Spivey’s Corner, North Carolina, [population 49?] sponsors the self-proclaimed National Hollerin’ Contest, a fire department fund raising tradition since 1969. Held every summer on the third Saturday in June, the National Hollerin’ Contest is one slam-damn good time. It’s so fun, it’s listed in the book 100 Things to Do Before You Die, Travel Events You Just Can’t Miss, right along with Mardi Gras and the running of the bulls.

The residents of Sampson County, North Carolina don’t want you to confuse hollerin’ with yodeling. While similar in its vocal intentions, the two differ in technique and sound. The roots of hollerin’ in Sampson County can be traced back to the 1700s when men rafting logs down the waterways to Wilmington would holler’ back and forth to each other to request aid or to notify other rafters of their presence.



Dinah’s Landing

Photo by Val MacEwan

Washington NC Waterfront Sunset Progress

Roads change. Back in the late 1980s, I raised two girls and a garage full of critters on a  slice of the eastern shoreline called Dinah’s Landing. We lived in company-owned housing, a small prefab 3 bedroom, 2 bath home on a Weyerhaeuser pine seedling nursery. The house sat across from the nursery office under a canopy of Loblolly pines and live oaks.

The road to the nursery was paved with “reject”, a peculiar mixture of fossils and clay — the byproduct of the phosphate mine owned by PotashCorp (Saskatchewan CA company, and one of the largest holes in the US)  across the river in Aurora NC.  It’s an asphalt-covered road now.

[Reject is described more fully later on in this essay.]

Let’s move on, shall we?

How it was : Dinah’s Landing Road, 1989

A tobacco barn, built before the Depression and covered with political signs hawking candidates from the 1980s, leans precariously toward the highway at the turn-off to Dinah’s Landing Road. The three mile stretch of road is barely visible from the highway. It’s just a narrow slice cut through tobacco and corn fields. Most of the people traveling over NC Hwy 264E to Cape Hatteras will drive right by and never see the turn-off. Few will feel the urge to turn down this North Carolina farm road. It ends abruptly at a small public access boat landing which gives the road its name, Dinah’s Landing Road. This is where the locals launch small, pretty sunfish sailboats and modest fishermans’ jon boats. Three miles of unpaved incongruous lifestyles; where agriculture concerns co-exist in fragile harmony with upper middle-class urbanites that are hell bent to retire amid Loblolly pine and cypress on the banks of the tan colored water of the Pamlico River.



Oh yes, he did. Bee Baby Games

Bee Baby Games by Valerie and Robert MacEwan

BeeBaby. Creepy assemblage, true. But oh so wonderful as she flies over your head, raining art detritus down upon your head.


I created BeeBaby a while back. It seemed a simple creation. An assemblage inspired by a headless yard ornament and a doll baby given to me by my almost 100 year old neighbor Velma. Not an” almost neighbor”, although now she’s a neighbor of memory, but “almost 100 years old” at the time.

Robert turned BeeBaby into an app.

An odd game  using my assemblage art.

We’ll make more games.

Check out BeeBabyGames.com . It’s just a beginning.

Bee Baby Jumps on iTunes!

Bee Baby Jumps on iTunes!

Soon to be a legend.

Next on tap: Donna Brander’s TangleInk.com games.

We’re waiting for Apple approval. You think you know Find It? ha!


The Pantego Mud Run

mudrun3Volunteer fire departments, especially rural ones, often have to resort to some creative fund raising activities. Turkey shoots are a real popular cash cow. No, they don’t actually shoot birds, they compete for accuracy shooting at targets. Winner gets a cash prize. And there are fish fries and pig pickin’s (barbeque). Dinner goes for about $5 a “plate”, as they call them, even though they’re served in Styrofoam tri-sectioned containers.


Plate sales reach epic proportions during lunchtime when volunteers will deliver the meals to businesses. To be a good boss around here, you need to be willing to shell out a few bucks every time the Bunyan or Clarks Neck Fire Department has a barbeque, and buy all your employees a plate. Then you tip the volunteers about ten bucks for driving out to your place of business, telling them to “put this in the kitty, and tell Bobby Earl that Rufus said hey and bought 16 plates.” The cheap skates call in the orders, have the employees pay for their own meals but allow someone to “take off from work” to go pick up the plates. Then the employer gets credit for buying the meals, even though it didn’t. Comes off as a real Daddy Warbucks. No lie, I had a boss who did that.



Close Your Eyes and Remember #1

favurlClose your eyes.

Think on this.

Imagine the Seventh Grade back when we had Junior High Schools.
(If you’re too young to do this — you can still read on, just think back to your youngest teenage years.)

Not middle schools. Back when the US still had a designated involuntary delineation of time called “Junior High “, 7th – 9th grades were completed and then you entered High School as a sophomore for 10th – 12th grades of study. Do we even still say that? Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior — when we talk about high school years?

Back in my day, the “close my eyes” day, freshman year was the top of the walk. The goal of every new-teen. My parents, and many others, considered ninth grade a pivotal year.

Baby Boomer? You know what I’m talking about here. (more…)