The following text comprises an email exchange between Boone Spooner and Ricky Opaterny. The exchange began on 15 March 2001 with the intention of posting it here for you. It will end when we get tired of it and decide to do something new. The emails below are real, as are the email addresses. You may find them funny and laugh if you wish. The use of possibly funny and long email addresses is not ironic. It does not represent a mockery of the medium of email or of strange email addresses that represent something other than a person's name or of people who use such email addresses. We are simply using long email addresses because it is possible to use them. Hiding under such addresses and pseudonyms is not a critique of the anonymity afforded by the Internet. It does mean that we don't want to send these emails. That we are ashamed of sending them and wait and wait wanting to not send them or to change something or bury them in nuclear waste or at least move them to the trash can. (Sorry, we do not have recycle bins on our clearly superior brand of computers.) But that does not mean that we never meant to send these emails or that we shouldn't have sent them because they were going to send themselves, anyway. This also means that we believe we are inevitably bound to fiction and that honesty and fiction are not separate.
It must be awfully difficult to take showers and wash dishes without water in your apartment. I picked up a couple bottles of Evian yesterday. I can send them by boat if you want. Do boats go from Toulouse to Barcelona? Have you ever seen the boats that children sail in the Luxenbourg Gardens? My friend Sunil wants to get one of them souped up with an engine? I think he'll win the race if people actually race, which I don't believe they do because competition is supposedly a bad thing that should be reserved for football and games of that sort, and be kept as far away from children as possible, which is impossible, and certainly should be kept away from a twenty-something male whose toy boat happens to have a gas engine powering it, while the children in the park only have sails and sticks.
So I was in Paris last week--the first time I've ever been there with really nothing to do, but that's okay because Paris is the best city in the universe for idling. I was at the Village Voice (I just returned a book to them, something about math that they sent me in place of Rick Moody's collection Demonology) and the customer in front of me in line started asking Mike the owner if he knew anything about something called "goog." He kept repeating the word, saying that he heard it's good for academic research. Finally, I picked up on the meaning: google.com. I had one hell of a time explaining the difference between google and yahoo and everything else to this man, all in French. You'd think that computer/internet vocabulary would be taught to first year French students before the body parts or food or whatever topics of vocabulary they cover. Anyhow, he finally asked me if it's good for serious research. I was, to borrow a word, nonplussed. Here's this guy that fucking teaches at the Sorbonne or something and he doesn't know how to research? Of course, I then had a very difficult time explaining that the resources I use are probably not available to him. Does Internet access even exist at the university here outside of the California office? This limited access to knowledge and information is certainly not limited to France. I mean look at all the services we get for being students in California: CDL, Lexis, MLA, OED, it goes on and on. And why are these services essentially exclusive to universities? Is it simply the capitalist acknowledgement of information's power--setting a price for access to it? Is it that combined with the assumption that nobody outside of the university system wants this stuff? Quite possibly. Every time I go to a library specifically for some rare manuscript or book or whatever, people always seem puzzled if they force me to reveal that I am not a graduate student and that what I am doing has absolutely no relation to school. Oh, how we desperately need to revive philomathy!
I have been wondering recently why all of the guests who come here to speak about literature and such are like 50 years old. I don't get it--where are all of the young people? Why are they discouraged from this? Actually, we had a pair of surprise student speakers at Mirail today. They announced some protests and the strong possibility of a student-led strike.
Why are they striking? Students don't have enough time to learn the material; they are too pressed to learn too much too quickly and, therefore, fail.
How do they plan to solve this problem? By going on strike.
Yes, I know that; but what are they striking for? To translate the French term, which breaks about every English rule for grammar and style: desemesterization.
How will this absence of semesters (year long classes) solve the problem mentioned above? Nobody seems to know.
A girl complains that the strikes are never planned properly; they are too spontaneous and uncoordinated. She refuses to go on strike like this. Another girl says that she can't miss school or else she will be even more pressed; thus, the strike will magnify the very problem that it attempts to solve.
I can empathize with the abundance of work and the short amount of time with which to accomplish it. I mean I've read 36 books so far. However, only eight of them have had any relation to my classes at Mirail. Again, the problem seems to be similar to that in the US: people don't know how to educate themselves. So when the institution fails them, they try to reform it. Or at least that is the case in France, where students decide to go on strike. On the other side of the balance there are people like me who have renounced the institution. It seems to me that you can either have your strikes every year and your political revolutions every 50 years or so, or well...what is the solution? America doesn't seem to have it; anyhow the point is that once education becomes institutionalized, it becomes, to some degree, tainted. Obviously, we need this; but the point of school should be to teach people how to teach themselves so they no longer need to depend on the universities and the semesters or the non-semesters or whatever it is that people here think they're going to get out of this nonsense.
How is Gravity's Rainbow coming? I wish I had my copy here; it would be good reading for the plane to the US. I guess I'll have to go with DeLillo's Underworld instead. Did you keep the Paul Simon album? What is P,S&W an allegory for?
I'm going to respond to you in no particular order, mostly just to get the easy questions out of the way. I might play the Devil's Advocate. In most of those cases you will be notified by my use of a make-believe alternate personality of mine aptly named Tim, who we will consider the devil and will be the orator. In other cases, you will know that Tim is talking because you will get upset. Just remember, anytime you are upset, it is Tim talking. (P.S. Now that I look at this thing I have written, I'm not sure that anyone part of this 2977 word email has anything to do with what you wanted to know.)
BUT, before I start, here is what I did last weekend.
Friday night nine Kiwis (people from New Zealand, you probably knew that) came to Barcelona to visit Lori and I. We had a great time. This weekend was "Las Fallas," a really huge party that takes place in Valencia- for no apparent reason. (I have just gotten jam on the keyboard, from eating Marks and Spencer's English muffins. Its rather sticky, and cleaning has caused a whole bunch of lllllll's to run down the page. I have erased them for your convenience though.) Any way, we went to Valencia, and didn't sleep at all.
To get there we had to sneak onto the train because it was reservation only, and all the tickets were sold, I suppose. It was great fun. Having no seats, we spent the entire time in the dining car, drinking, talking, and making fools out of ourselves (which is actually the only way to travel with Kiwi's, because they are literally impossible to embarrass, and therefore completely easy about making fools out of themselves. It's also a lot of fun, I found out, to constantly be foolish.) When we arrived at Valencia, we were immediately immersed in hoards of people. I mean, there were millions of people there. It was insane. It was also the second time this year that I have eaten McDonalds, something else that Kiwis are relentlessly unembarrassed about. We then bought out the pastry store- but not of pastries- of wine, beer and Cava (champagne). We had backpacks, thank god. For Las Fallas hordes of artists unite to create huge apparitions, or statues, that are usually caricatures, out of paper, Styrofoam and other stuff. Then they burn them (I didn't get to see that, it happens Monday night, and we had to leave.) These are really expensive and beautiful things, and they burn them! That is the whole point it seems, build to destroy- renewal or something, maybe a welcome of spring? So everyone parties, and throws firecrackers, and gets drunk, and takes pictures, and stays up all night, and just a big, great party. Everyone says that the Spanish really know how to party. Now I know why. My new Kiwi friends (I only knew one of them before this) asked me to translate English pick-up lines into Spanish, something that is a lot harder than it seems. Many times I had to act as the middleman, pointing at someone while saying "He wants me to tell you that you make him wish that he could actually speak Spanish to you." I'm not sure if this is really a great pick-up line, and it was kinda hard to translate, seeing as I'm a first level Spanish speaker.
Altogether though, it was a really great time. I have tons of pictures to show you, but that means that you will have to come down to Barcelona again.
Moving on to your questions. Gravity's Rainbow is a bitch. Does this guy even know how to write short sentences? Seriously, was he trying to make this book incredibly hard? Are you sure that Proust has the longest sentence ever record? If he does, then I'll bet that Pynchon has the record for the longest sentences to ever have been put one after the other after the other etc. You could borrow my copy, but I'm sort of midway, floundering and trying to figure everything out, unable to really keep going at any reasonable pace, but unable to stop because I'm interested. I didn't get the Paul Simon album, it's too much money, and besides, you bought it, now I can just copy it for the price of a Mini-disc. Oh, and I have no idea what P, S &W stand for, maybe Paul, Strunk and White?
You do know that your arguments stem, in a way, from those that have been fought for many years? Wordsworth and Coleridge (you'll have to excuse me if I'm getting the names all mixed up, about who, what, where, when and why. I studied all this a few years ago, and it being a really big book, and me being really interested in other stuff, I didn't pay as much attention as I should have. But, the point is valid, more or less) fought about the origin of education? If I remember correctly, it was Wordsworth who believed that education came from nature, and Coleridge that argued books and experience. That might be completely wrong, you should do some research (no pun to your email intended here) on this. I have it all at home somewhere, but I find that, like France, there aren't any good research facilities here in Spain, go figure. I'll have to read up on this later. Anyway, the question is where should we get our knowledge. Should we ingest from what is around us, all the time? Or should we learn by being taught, selectively etc. I think we should, and can do both.
You think that the institutionalization and the capitalization of education have deprived us of real knowledge. You tell me all the time that no one is reading what he or she should be reading. That school should be teaching us how to teach ourselves as opposed to teaching us how to depend on them being taught I suppose. Why are all these people following the rules, you ask? And more importantly who is making all these rules that everyone is following? Perhaps you want no rules, but isn't that just the same as having one big rule (that there are no rules), except that a whole bunch less shit actually gets done?
Tim might say that you could only learn by example. You need to be lead before you can learn how to lead yourself. You can only learn how to teach yourself how to learn, by learning. So maybe the institutions are all right, they are just doing what they have to do in order to club people into learning. A good saying goes that, "a person is smart, people are stupid." And maybe that's why the institutionalization of education is necessary. For a person, a good example might be someone who has never had a strawberry before. At first they have no desire to taste that delicious, red, tart yet sweet fruit. They know nothing about that little lonely fruit, so they know nothing about it seduction. So they go to a university, and there they are given a whole bunch of the little guys, and forced to eat them, told they will be having a strawberry test later that month. After one, or maybe a zillion, or maybe not ever no matter how many they eat (maybe they find they are not strawberry lovers, and instead find that they love to eat mangos or whatnot, and follow the mango eating courses), they soon learn to love them, and then crave more. Perhaps they even learn that they want to try other colorful fruit, as in they have learned how to teach themselves. Is it that we need the desire to learn, or that we have the desire but lack the dedication? Maybe people can't ever teach themselves, and even your outside reading, and renouncing the institution is in fact only following the faint footsteps of someone that has been there before, and are only a part of another, just less known institution. Or maybe you are, in fact, just ahead of all these other people that have enrolled themselves, or been enrolled by whomever else, in universities and do not need the constraining rules that others depend on for now.
I'm not exactly sure. I do see that you aren't either, since you haven't provided an answer to your own question, much the same as the lost French student you interviewed. I think that people sometimes fight because the feel that things are wrong, and even if they don't know what it is, they know that now is the time to stand up. I am pretty sure that something like that should have happened at the Mirail long ago. Although I must admit that I am confused about their desire to change the semester to quarter thing. Don't they realize that quarters go faster than semester? Or do they want something else? If I were them I would try to get a date settled on when school starts and ends before I worried about how much time they have to do whatever. Interestingly, I thought that the class loads were pretty light at the university, when I was there. Has something changed? But I do agree with you, that education is a complex manner, although not necessarily that people don't know how to educate themselves. Everyone has an interest.
Education is not about how many books you read, or how fast you've read them. Think about the fact that many of the authors you have read went out and did stuff, not reading. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if many of those authors were much less well read than you yourself. I have met people that know everything about sailing and about boats. They could tell you the history of every part on their boat, but they couldn't tell you a thing about calculus, or Henry Adams, or when France had its grand revolution. Could you name every part of a 37-foot long yacht in less than five minutes? I couldn't. These people are experts in what they love. They are educated. They are researchers, and philanthropists and great. I congratulate them for doing what they love, and being happy, and being good at it all. And you know, I don't think that one of them has ever wished to access Lexis. So what? What if they did go to college, and now play baseball for a living, never reading a book again in their life, but coaching a team six times to the World Series? What if they didn't go to college, and never read a book, and just lived in South Africa cutting back the jungle, throwing dice at crap tables and just being damn happy? Are they missing out? They might say that you're missing out. Hell, maybe I am missing out!
There are so many types of people, with so many interests and ideas. Where has education been tainted? I need examples and didactics. Is education only information, or is it the how to become interested in getting information?
To answer you: Information is power. Information is money. Look at Gates, he says the way to win is to have a bigger, better, faster center to get, hold, and keep information. What is war fought over? Religion, sure, Money, all right, but really, at the bottom, underneath all the propaganda and bullshit, it's information. Who has the rights to what information, how much is it all worth? Free information means a collapsing economy, the eventual destruction of a society that is built upon barter. Why do you buy the books you do? Why do you pay library fees? Why pay anything? For the information that you do not have. If you were able to just, whoop, there you have it all the information you ever wanted! Why would you ever need anyone else, or anything else? You pay for your clothes because you don't know how to make them yourself, or because their information is better than yours-That is that they are more a la mode (meaning they get better and more current information than you on what is cool) or they know how to make them cheaper (they have better and more information on who, what, where, when is a cheaper way to make clothes, and the information on how to do it all). Everything is information. You know this.
I would love to have "life's little handbook of all the information you will ever need to know", but I don't, so I pay to see and learn what I can, bits and pieces at a time. Of course capitalism is acknowledging information's power. Its always has been, its just that no one really cares to do anything about it. Or that they don't have enough money to buy the information they need to actually do anything about it. What do you mean that no one wants any of "this stuff" outside of the university? What stuff are you talking about? Access to a few research facilities? For what? These are book/literature things mostly. Are you criticizing the world for not wanting to read, or for not wanting to research? Or is it not wanting to research things to read? What is true research, and is it really better than true experience? Can the man or woman that has read a thousand books describe the "day breaking like a heart" better or not than the one who has seen it? Who is better, the sculpture that has loved the body and lived in it, or the sculpture that has researched it? I can't answer all that. All I really know is that everyone is interested in something, and that is where they should put their heart, whether it means researching it, living it, writing about it, or just plain doing it with zest. If they are not, they are wasting our time, their time.
Alas, I agree that knowledge shouldn't be limited. I don't like it at all. But how, in a society that is built upon this limitation, are we to do anything about it? What are copyrights for, and patents, if not to make money and limit information? Oh, it is all so complicated, and how we wish that we could redesign the system! But we are young! So we have time, although maybe not all the information we need to do it. Let us put up in arms, and try to do this I say. But I am a little lost in all this. It is a mad rant that really has no focus. Should we be young voices in this old crowd? Everyone tells me that we are the future here to save the old from the past. My grandfather tells me that his generation has made the mistakes that we will have to repair.
The young should have a voice. And maybe, maybe, that is really American to say that. Maybe this is what has been bred into us, and not just institutionalization and capitalism. Maybe our free culture and true lack of an extended history will enable us to do things that others can't do. Europe, so strong in culture, and so proud of their history may be unable to break free of those things they are so proud of. Even the younger people are stuck in it. They are bred into it; they cannot escape it no matter how hard they try because it is them. We are different. Are we different? We are young people from a young country that has been fighting culture and history from its very first declaration. Should we live up to this Ricky? Should we try to free information, fight against the institution, get in front of people and talk about literature, or the world, or colors we like? Yes. I'm sick of people telling me how it is. That some races of people are like this and some like that. That some systems of government are better than some systems like that. That smoking indoors is okay, but running in the streets is just not done. I want to step up and say, "I think that this book was great. I think that this tree is beautiful and I love you all," and be accepted. I don't want to be ignored because I am young and foolish. It is beautiful to be young, and better to be foolish. If we are wrong, if two plus two doesn't equal five, then who cares! What a beautiful mistake. To have been wrong! To laugh at it, to enjoy it! To make so many more mistakes! To learn; to see that information. To listen to those older, those who have made those mistakes before and then ignore them! Make those mistakes again. Oh! The blatancy of it! The beauty of it! The thrill that I feel that maybe we are all wrong, and all learning so much, about us, and them, and everyone. And it's all hypocritical, yet all right. Its all wrong but its okay, we won't have to define it, there's no need. It's Distopia and we are swimming in it. We are sunbathers in hell, and we love it-we are happy as sinners here. Eeeeyyyeee!
So, anyway. I'm glad that you had a great time in Paris, capitol of nothing to do-ness. I don't think that you should worry about the water, it only took us three days to get turned back on. We really rocked the Spanish system, demanding that it be done so soon, can you imagine! We were dirty for a few days, showering at the gym when we could. And your right, those dishes do stack up!
Talk to you soon.
To be continued....