“Knowledge is knowing
what something is
and what it is not.”
— Breuk Iversen
IN OTHER WORDS: IF YOU ONLY KNOW WHAT SOMETHING IS, you only have half of the whole picture in mind. If you also know ‘what something IS NOT,‘ you have both sides of the picture which is a more COMPLETE and optimal understanding of a person, place or thing.
The year may have been 1997-98. I was walking down Broadway, Union Square with my soon-to-be ex-wife and a beautiful book cover caught my eye. The book was on a card table, that folds up like a suitcase. Books were being sold by a very scraggly looking gentleman.
He appeared as though he had a rough life but seemed very well-read. His brow was deeply furrowed and seriously dressed in way too much clothing for the weather of the day. The outfit was complete with an angry personality disposition and in an inappropriate—for the weather—wool-knit hat.
One may assume by his curled brow, he was at worst duly well-read, and at best— a true lover of books—caringly not about about what people thought of him. He seemed way above all that. He sells books to reach and teach real people things that they already know, things they think they know, things the don’t know that they know, and things they only profess to know.
Perhaps I was fascinated by his attitude. I do appreciate a deeply, angst-ridden demeanor especially from an avid book reader.
He seemed like a type of Keat-worthy intellectual who had purposely opted to live— ‘outside of the box’ —by choice AND not by happenstance. I imagined that he would also be the type to read Freud and Joyce and never struggle over what Gertrude Stein’s or Miller’s subtext was. He seemed smart and confident enough to decipher, destroy, and know ‘all the codes’ one would need to accomplish such a thing.
I could guess this because the other books on the table were polically serious, politically compelling and mostly non-fiction. If he had found these books in the garbage, he was quite selective about the integrity of his heavily curated selection. This went beyond certainty.
I somehow felt a little sense honor purchasing a book from him and hadn’t the nerve to indicate that this book was selected simply because the poinent and beutiful graphic on the cover.
“Never judge a book by its cover” was a meme that I was raised with. Many of us were. I do remember this quote coming to mind that day.
Here I was doing it the “judging a book by loving its cover” thing. I felt like a shallow, surface level, superficial ass.
“How much?” I asked.
He squinted at first, looked me in the eye for a few seconds and then gave a small but approving smile at my selection. He held up his fist, facing me, fingers clenched with all but his index finger extended skyward.
He charged me only $1. The price tag on the cover said: $3.
I had no idea what that was all about and somehow just wanted to purchase the book, escape to the park in my visually-driven shame. I was silently becoming embarrassed for wanting to purchase the book only because the cover looked cool.
• ♠ •
Maybe a year or so later, one weekend, I passed the little book on the bookshelf in my home library. I snapped it open and started reading a page in the middle of the book. A few seconds later, once the sentences had seeped in, I was like “WTF!!!” is this?
I flipped to other pages which were even stranger:
THE NEW HISTORY
The New History was the record of the expression of demographically significant preferences: the lunge of demography here as opposed to there.
THE DECLINE OF ADULTHOOD
In the New History, nothing was judged—only counted. The power of judging was then subtracted from what it was necessary for a man to learn to do. In the New History, the preferences of a child carried as much weight as the preferences of an adult, so the refining of preferences was subtracted from what it was necessary for a man to learn to do. In the New History, the ideal became agreement rather than well-judged action, so men learned to be competent only in those modes which embraced the possibility of agreement. The world of power changed. What was powerful grew more powerful in ways that could be easily measured, grew less powerful in every way that could not be measured.
The most powerful men were those who most effectively used the power of adult competence to enforce childish agreements.
I thought for a few moments that it was a collection of strange, political poetry. After flipping through, maybe four or five more pages, I was floored. I was shaking a little on the inside. It was chilling and heart-pounding.
Oddly, this essay/book, “Within The Context of No Context” is one of the most cited and important works on American cultural criticism ever. Google it if you like.
Ten or so full readings later, I decided to completely shift my professional life course, move to Williamsburg and alert the American people of the subversive scam that had been played on them.
I attempted to do this through:
1) Starting an art movement called “Offal“.
2) Self-publishing a magazine called: 11211.
This gave my design career a new life and personal life a new sense of purpose.
For all intents and purposes, I was fairly unsuccessful in doing this on a mass scale but did, however, affect a small community of artists and writers in Williamsburg | Brooklyn—in baby steps.
My little grand scheme may have worked, then 9-11 happened and patriotism became all the rage again.
Unhinging the beliefs of a populace is serious business, especially in the church-state arenas. This type undertaking is best NOT left to the novice.
* * *
Anyway, if you like or love your happy life, just the way it is, don’t to read this essay. If, however, that you somehow feel there is something a little off with the culture, feel free to read the PDF at your leisure (the link to it is below).
This is for those that wonder about the undergarment of American life, consumerism and suspect something is a little off about the All-American Dream.
Here’s the original article as printed in The New Yorker back in 1980.
The actual power of the essay is that it unhinges the truths behind the fictions. George Trow’s ability to deconstruct the American culture with pinpoint accuracy is unparalleled. Within The Context of No Context reveals the unique and startling effects the media has had on the mass psychology of a modern American population but its most poignant points address the mindset of prolonged exposure collectively and usurp it, piece by piece, bit by bit.
The effectiveness of his work is to be experienced first hand. Explaining it is of little to no value. When his perspective is allowed to be understood rather than judged, it unravels the deep subconscious implants and exposes them for what they are.
This happens much like the man behind the curtain in the classic,
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Frank Baum, the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, knew, even way back then what was what. : ))
Thank you for reading.
Enjoy the spring.
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