Spooky Special: The Journey of the Prideful Atheist Through Hell in “The Brothers Karamazov”

The Grand Inquisitor by Ilya Glazunov. Illustration to Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov

I recall cozying up by the radiator with The Brothers Karamazov that nass Hamburg winter with much joy. Being the last book Dostoyevsky would ever write, I wasn’t surprised that it seemed an even greater reflection on death and morality than any of his other works. But surprise or not, to see him address what I consider to be among the first order of philosophical questions with such intent and specificity, I felt grateful that he was spared the worst of the gulag.

At the same time, some of the beautiful novel’s passages jumped out in the eerie style of deja vu. Oftentimes, the acclaimed writer’s perspectives on those themes played out through the brothers’ conversations just as they might in my own heart and head. I was closer to St. Petersburg than I had ever been and looking out at the dark Tor zur Welt (“gateway to the world” as Hamburg is known) to feel the philosopher’s gaze from Nevsky cemetery was a truly psychological experience. I felt as if I were listening to a ghost.

And, surprisingly, the novel stood out to me as parallel to horror in more tangible ways. While we tend to think of horror as fantastical or mythical, Dostoyevsky’s realism spares nineteenth century St. Petersburg no romance: it’s all serfdom, disfigurement, destitution, crime, and insanity. The novel is more than a horror show without the monster and spirits of an Edgar Allan Poe story (fantastic as those stories are). So I figured I might share the lesser explored with a quick passage: Alyosha’s anecdote of the atheist gone to hell. Not only does it come to us from a novel not typically classified as horror, but the passage evokes a more untapped fear, the existential.

In it, the youngest and most devout of the legitimate Karamazov brothers, Alyosha, shares an old monks’ tale with his atheist brother, Ivan. I find the legend more unsettling than other manifestations of hell. As Alyosha notes, the idea of hell as a spiritual pain is played out. Myths of physical pain are more interesting and sensible. And myths of physical pain other than the lakes of fire are perhaps even more likely to inspire existential dread.

“There is an anecdote precisely on our subject, or rather a legend, not an anecdote. You reproach me with unbelief, you see, you say, yet you don’t believe. But, my dear fellow, I am not the only one like that. We are all in a muddle over there now and all through your science. Once there used to be atoms, five senses, four elements, and then everything hung together somehow. There were atoms in the ancient world even, but since we’ve learned that you’ve discovered the chemical molecule and protoplasm and the devil knows what, we had to lower our crest. There’s a regular muddle, and, above all, superstition, scandal; there’s as much scandal among us as among you, you know; a little more in fact, and spying, indeed, for we have our secret police department where private information is received. Well, this wild legend belongs to our middle ages—not yours, but ours—and no one believes it even among us, except the old ladies of eighteen stone, not your old ladies I mean, but ours. We’ve everything you have, I am revealing one of our secrets out of friendship for you; though it’s forbidden. This legend is about Paradise. There was, they say, here on earth a thinker and philosopher. He rejected everything, ‘laws, conscience, faith,’ and, above all, the future life. He died; he expected to go straight to darkness and death and he found a future life before him. He was astounded and indignant. ‘This is against my principles!’ he said. And he was punished for that … that is, you must excuse me, I am just repeating what I heard myself, it’s only a legend…he was sentenced to walk a quadrillion kilometers in the dark (we’ve adopted the metric system, you know) and when he has finished that quadrillion, the gates of heaven would be opened to him and he’ll be forgiven—”

“And what tortures have you in the other world besides the quadrillion kilometers?” asked Ivan, with a strange eagerness.

“What tortures? Ah, don’t ask. In old days we had all sorts, but now they have taken chiefly to moral punishments—‘the stings of conscience’ and all that nonsense. We got that, too, from you, from the softening of your manners. And who’s the better for it? Only those who have got no conscience, for how can they be tortured by conscience when they have none? But decent people who have conscience and a sense of honor suffer for it. Reforms, when the ground has not been prepared for them, especially if they are institutions copied from abroad, do nothing but mischief! The ancient fire was better. Well, this man, who was condemned to the quadrillion kilometers, stood still, looked round and lay down across the road. ‘I won’t go, I refuse on principle!’ Take the soul of an enlightened Russian atheist and mix it with the soul of the prophet Jonah, who sulked for three days and nights in the belly of the whale, and you get the character of that thinker who lay across the road.”

“What did he lie on there?”

“Well, I suppose there was something to lie on. You are not laughing?”

“Bravo!” cried Ivan, still with the same strange eagerness. Now he was listening with an unexpected curiosity. “Well, is he lying there now?”

“That’s the point, that he isn’t. He lay there almost a thousand years and then he got up and went on.”

“What an ass!” cried Ivan, laughing nervously and still seeming to be pondering something intently. “Does it make any difference whether he lies there for ever or walks the quadrillion kilometers? It would take a billion years to walk it?”

“Much more than that. I haven’t got a pencil and paper or I could work it out. But he got there long ago, and that’s where the story begins.”

“What, he got there? But how did he get the billion years to do it?”

“Why, you keep thinking of our present earth! But our present earth may have been repeated a billion times. Why, it’s become extinct, been frozen; cracked, broken to bits, disintegrated into its elements, again ‘the water above the firmament,’ then again a comet, again a sun, again from the sun it becomes earth—and the same sequence may have been repeated endlessly and exactly the same to every detail, most unseemly and insufferably tedious—”

“Well, well, what happened when he arrived?”

“Why, the moment the gates of Paradise were open and he walked in, before he had been there two seconds, by his watch (though to my thinking his watch must have long dissolved into its elements on the way), he cried out that those two seconds were worth walking not a quadrillion kilometers but a quadrillion of quadrillions, raised to the quadrillionth power! In fact, he sang ‘hosannah’ and overdid it so, that some persons there of lofty ideas wouldn’t shake hands with him at first—he’d become too rapidly reactionary, they said. The Russian temperament. I repeat, it’s a legend. I give it for what it’s worth. So that’s the sort of ideas we have on such subjects even now.”

“I’ve caught you!” Ivan cried, with an almost childish delight, as though he had succeeded in remembering something at last. “That anecdote about the quadrillion years, I made up myself! I was seventeen then, I was at the high school. I made up that anecdote and told it to a schoolfellow called Korovkin, it was at Moscow…. The anecdote is so characteristic that I couldn’t have taken it from anywhere. I thought I’d forgotten it…but I’ve unconsciously recalled it—I recalled it myself—it was not you telling it! Thousands of things are unconsciously remembered like that even when people are being taken to execution…it’s come back to me in a dream. You are that dream! You are a dream, not a living creature!”

“From the vehemence with which you deny my existence,” laughed the gentleman, “I am convinced that you believe in me.”

“Not in the slightest! I haven’t a hundredth part of a grain of faith in you!”

“But you have the thousandth of a grain. Homeopathic doses perhaps are the strongest. Confess that you have faith even to the ten‐thousandth of a grain.”

“Not for one minute,” cried Ivan furiously. “But I should like to believe in you,” he added strangely.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brother’s Karamazov

Reel Rookie: A Triple Feature (Birdman, Whiplash, and Raging Bull)

*Spoiler Warning* I would suggest watching the movies before reading criticism if you get upset about spoilers.

Birdman and Whiplash

The 2014 Oscar for best picture was undoubtedly one of the tightest races in years. Having recently watched both Alejandro Iñárritu’s Birdman and Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash back-to-back, I feel comfortable stating that as a fact. While Whiplash won that year and set my expectations high, Birdman impressed me just as much. Iñárritu’s take on magical realism, his attempt at a single illusive long shot, etc. carried the same torch of high artistic pursuit that Whiplash had set ablaze with its emotive acting and nine minute drum solo. In all, I can neither overstate my praise for these two films nor what a unique and significant experience a back-to-back viewing was: like Riggan’s alternate universe and his contrasting reality, the two films meld together as one.

Besides recency effect, I believe a number of factors contributed to my proclivity for comparison and eye for continuity. For one, all of Birdman is pushed along by Antonio Sanchez’s fantastic, jazzy, drum score. When viewed after Whiplash, it’s almost as if Andrew’s final solo never ends. The setting, though, is what really ties the films together. Both take place in New York city and let that dictate much of dialogue, premise, and theme. Indeed, just as Andrew and Nicole reflect on the big apple, Sam and Mike discuss their love-hate relationship with the place while the city’s passersby shout up obscenities. Most significantly, New York is the place of great expectations. There is only one place for Riggan to be on the most prestigious stage in the world, New York. For Andrew, the city is certainly a border of musical fantasy. He seeks greatness in a college with no shortage of great musicians and in a city with no shortage of great colleges for music.

That brings us to discuss theme. While Riggan and Andrew perform on vastly different stages, each shares the ambition to make something of themselves beyond what their critics reduce them to. And both of them have plenty of critics: Fletcher and family, the New York Times and alternate ego. As both protagonists struggle to make it big in the world, we might say they are both dramas and coming-of-greatness stories. Yet both Chazelle and Iñárritu break up that dramatic theme with comedic elements. We would be missing something to not catch the witty and humorous dialogue and the comments of those passersby in Birdman. We might also be viewing Whiplash too seriously if we don’t find some humor in Fletcher’s creative insults. In that, it might even be said the two films share in a second genre, dark comedy.

By all of that, I cannot recommend watching these two films in a double-feature enough. In a strange twist, the two top contenders for the 2014 best picture each seem a retelling of or homage to the other.

“It was you Charley. It was you.”

Raging Bull and Birdman

Speaking of homage, I think we ought to address Birdman in relation to a much older flick, Martin Scorsese’s knockout tragedy Raging Bull. In the final scene of Birdman, Riggan removes his surgical tape and bandages to find his new nose. While a lot of movie buffs were quick to point out the beak-like appearance of the bandages and his new appendage (a symbol of Riggan’s crossover into super-hero territory among other interpretations), I think another angle might be considered. If you look through the mirror at the terrible, misshapen nose, you might see the prosthetic that Robert De Niro wore in his portrayal of boxer Jake La Motta in Raging Bull. Especially considering the over-the-shoulder mirror shot, I sense a tip of the hat from Iñárritu to Scorsese. Also keeping in mind that in the final scene pictured above, La Motta is a washed-up boxer about to perform Budd Schulberg’s On the Waterfront (not unlike Riggan’s life being a former blockbuster superhero turned Broadway director), I really sense a tip of the hat. What is certain though, is that film is a powerful thing. Here, if my theory holds any weight, we have a second degree of homage for De Niro’s performance is itself an ode to Marlon Brando’s.

Mirroring Livy: The Parley of Scipio and Hannibal

Mars – the Roman God of War

Setting the Stage

From the disastrous Battle of Cannae in 216 BC, few Romans escaped. Among them was Scipio Africanus, then only a Tribune. The two Roman Consuls who oversaw the battle foolishly took their places on the left and right flank, seeking glory in the cavalry battles and lending no eye to the heart of their army.

Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca, born in his father’s tent on campaign, deployed his army with a weak center to encourage the Romans to take ground. Lacking strategic supervision the Romans charged through Hannibal’s center, only to find themselves enveloped and eventually completely surrounded. What took place following the blunder was a mass execution of 20% of Rome’s male fighting population. For comparison, France and Germany both lost a smaller percentage over the entire course of the First World War.

As miraculous a loss it was, venerable Rome raised more armies to wage war. Chief among all Romans, the model of that Republic’s values, was Scipio. He not only wished to carry on fighting, but would raise his own army and head for Africa. Nearly 20 years later at the Battle of Zama, he earned his title “Africanus.”

By way of Roman historian Livy, we already have a dramatization of their parley at Zama but I have decided the epic moment is worthy of a reboot. Like most reboots, I fully expect this to be the worse, but it won’t keep me from expressing my admiration for the two Homeric heroes of their age.

The Parley of Millenia

Scipio rubbed some of the warm North African sand between his hands. He wanted to feel it once before it turned into the familiar crimson sludge. As he mounted his horse, he reassured himself it would run red that day.

Across the flats in Hannibal’s camp, the aging man was struggling to understand why he had called a parley. Had he really lost so much of his youthful spirit that he would bend his knee like Priam as the senate asked him to? Would another battle really make or break his name?

But there was little time for thought. After a short ride, Scipio dismounted and the decades’ old mistake stood before Hannibal. At Cannae the green Roman would have only watched the Generals’ parley from among the foot soldiers, comfortable the Triarii would have his back. Today he stood upright with the dignity of a man who was all the talk of the known world.

They stared intently at each other for a few moments, undoubtedly noticing one another’s scars. One each across cheek, arm, calf. Were they to remove their breastplates, probably across the chest too, right above their noble hearts.

The advisors and guards gathered around and joined in the silence, taking in the uncanny experience: first meeting between the generals who could be father and son. If only for their eyes of ambition, loyalty, and boldness; if only for their scars, it was difficult for the onlookers to distinguish which general was theirs.

Hannibal, despite his profession, was never one for bad blood at a parley. In fact, Hannibal even admired Scipio and his daring so he decided to open amicably, “Before we speak of terms…would you tell of your escape from Cannae?”

Scipio was surprised to hear such a question from the general and, hoping to lightheartedly set the tone that he would not consider peace, obliged through cliche, “I had business to settle with Carthage, as you know.”

The Romans laughed but Hannibal, unsure whether Scipio was being braggart or humorous, tightened his gaze.

The Roman had not come to piss off an illustrious veteran before battle though. “No.” Scipio continued, “That campaign season, I had taken a liking to one of the consuls’ horses. I remember feeding him every night, at great risk mind you, when the consul went off to his tent. During the battle, my dear friend found me, a mortally wounded consul hanging over him. The old fool collapsed at my feet.”

Hannibal chuckled with the room at the unbelievable escape, finally getting an answer after all the years. In good spirit he asked, “And even then, you were general enough to know the day was lost without him? Why did they not let Tribune Scipio ride the horse that day?”

Flattered and surprised at the veteran’s manner, Scipio could not help but let out a short chuckle of his own before returning to the reality that this parley was only for blood. On the other hand, the advisors enjoyed the laughter and took up with hope that an agreement might be arranged.

But Hannibal, like Scipio, turned business-like and carried on, “It’s odd though, you’ll allow me, that my father thought he would have the honor of finishing business with Rome. And I recall the war cries of his army and my own childish inventions: I hoped Rome would be my war someday, Scipio.”

He stood meditatively as Hannibal closed, “But the difference between my father and I, between you and I, Scipio, is that I was only a boy then. Today, as the elder man, I call for us to put away our dreams and speak consequentially. As far as this parley goes, the Carthaginian senate thinks it the sensible option for both Rome and Carthage that we consider peace. What say you?”

Yet Scipio’s response fell on the room with the reality there would be no talk of peace from him. He spoke slowly and manneredly as if telling an old friend how he had let him down, “If only for the oddity that General Hannibal now speaks of consequences, the war on his side of the sea.”

Hannibal, gesturing up at what might have been his father’s campaign tent and then at Scipio, matched his pace, “Of course. But allow me to remind you of your side of the sea.”

All the tent took direction from Hannibal’s hands and listened attentively to what the old soldier had to say, “The senate cannot be swell with your private army, Scipio. They fear the man with the markings of a tyrant, your private army the grossest mark. Yet perhaps you ought to consider your place on this side of the sea as well. Today we have the numbers we didn’t have at Cannae. But believe me, every veteran from Cannae joins us today. It would be senseless to leave so much to fate.”

Scipio was at peace with fate however. The gods wouldn’t have spared him if he were not fated to win the day. And as he planned to please Mars, he believed he would please the senate, “Destiny today will make the senate swell.”

“Well, I assure you plenty of other arrangements might make them swell. We have yet to even discuss terms of peace,” Hannibal added to no avail. Scipio stood in silence, his head down but still determined to win his as Hannibal had.

The Carthaginian looked down in thought and back up at Scipio, at the uncompromising and ambitious look of a man seeking glory and vengeance. As if accosted by Athena, in a moment Hannibal felt his old spirit and decided not to try for peace anymore. He hoped no one would let the senate on that he did not try so hard to convince Scipio. “So there is nothing for it then?” Hannibal asked.

Scipio held his reply for a few seconds to convey his respect and consideration, “Nothing for it but the gods.”

Sure now that he would wield his old sword but utterly accepting and unafraid, Hannibal inquired, “So be it. But assure me you won’t personally be routed again today?”

And now the Carthaginians had their laugh.

Scipio reflected a second on that day, the late afternoon lending the Carthaginians such long shadows that all his comrades perished in the dark, “Even noble Hector ran from the wrath of Achilles at first.”

The Carthaginian smiled in mischief, “If I am Achilles in your comparison, we should have a battle for the ages.”

All the young men now looked after Scipio, unsure whether the parley might have fair closure, even if they were to give battle later that day.

“A battle for the ages,” Scipio finally gave him with a nod.

Business seemingly closed, the men awaited dismissal but the two generals still stood looking at the other as if in admiration. Inquisitive old Hannibal had one more question to break the silence, “Before you are off, you must let us know if you still have that old horse?”

Scipio smiled at the thought, “My fateful horse? He lives the idyllic life of a retired Roman soldier. He’s probably out grazing the countryside now.”

And the old general let out a sigh, seeing the want of that life on Scipio’s face, thinking of all the years of war and the battle before him, “Believe me, I envy the old horse myself…”

So in only a few minutes the parley was bygone, perhaps one of the shortest in history. But the two old enemies channeling the character of Hector in only a few minutes, it remains the parley of Millenia.

Reel Rookie: Some Recent Films


I figured I would share some movies I just recently watched. You see, I haven’t felt motivated to watch something new in a couple months. But suddenly, my old passion for film stood over my shoulder and I decided not just to watch something new, but some older black and white films I had yet to see. That was especially strange to me because I have greatly admired some black and whites but would never choose them over something in color. I guess that’s worthy of documentation these days. Here they are.

The Killing by Stanley Kubrick – At only an hour and twenty minutes, you won’t endure pain for too long if you hate it but I doubt you will. For being near seventy years old, it feels as fast paced and modern as a Tarantino flick. And come on, it’s mobsters trying to rob the track. I was disappointed to think that only Scorsese and Coppola made mob flicks. But Kubrick too?

Sunset Boulevard by Billy Wilder – I thought Mulholland Drive was the only great film named after a street in LA. It was good to see that it’s not, especially considering my fascination with the city skyline I could see on a clear spring evening as a boy. As far as the film, it’s a movie lover’s movie, much like Mulholland Drive. You can get a taste for the Hollywood of DeMille’s era, if it ever ended, as the protagonist struggles through his relationship with a washed up silent film actress of the good ole’ days. But don’t worry. It’s not a silent film itself and should still be of interest to the person who doesn’t love movies (though I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t). For now, know that Sunset Boulevard makes enough noise. Its dark turns can keep your eyes glued to a black and white screen.

Citizen Kane by Orson Welles – Geez, I thought I was making a mistake putting this one off for so long. But its story is a tragedy of such proportion that I now wish I had never watched it. “Rosebud” is enough to bring a tear to anybody’s eye. No, seriously, this film in all its glamor and glory will put you down for at least the rest of the day. Once you pick yourself up though, you will recall it with only the utmost respect. Not even considering that it was released the same year Pearl Harbor was bombed, this is a true standout in all film and art. Follow Kane who leaves his family’s destitute life in Colorado to be a truly affluent man…only to slowly devolve into a shallow existence.

Plane Strangers: A First Class Experience

Anyone seen this episode?

I travel a lot but not for work. I travel to get away from work. Well, this is anonymous so I guess I can be honest: I travel to look like I got some place other than work to be…friends and family to see. In reality, they’re strangers now. I moved to another state a few years back but, to be fair, I have been trying to see them as often as I can so that I don’t drift any farther away.

As you can probably already tell I’m a lonely person. Maybe laziness is my problem. I don’t want to take the time to meet new people? That’s besides the point though. I’m a lonely person. Airports and airplanes are the loneliest of places to me. You look around and everyone is with their friends and family with some place to be. And if they’re alone, they’re probably traveling for business, right?

Being that those places are so much lonelier, they often push me past my armrest and the fake sleep, impel me to make conversation with strangers. Over the years I have had some interesting talks. I won’t bore you with all the stories but a recent one struck me in a sentimental way. I was heading to my hometown and decided to upgrade to first class to see if it was worth anything. My finding: maybe.

A lot of connected people tend to sit up there. If you are looking for a job or a business deal you would probably do well to upgrade. The affluent type tends to be pretty outspoken and confident too. They’re ripe to give you advice if you need that. Or, it might be worth it if you’re just lonely. They’ll talk to you.

I sat next to the retired owner of a pretty major construction company. He was probably about 60 but pretty savvy for his age judging by the iPad and AirPods he put in the front pocket. He was definitely surprised to see a younger face being that the front of the cabin is normally occupied by older folks who recognize the business value of first class; or, the retired folks who just want that frivolous extra foot for $70. I found it strange myself that he didn’t stick his feet out any more than he would have in the back of the cab. He was retired too so he didn’t have any need for business in seat 2A.

We made some small talk at first. I saw he was reading a book on his iPad and asked him about it. Some shitty book about the Republican era of Rome but we hit it off talking about all the old emperors. He told me I ought to visit Rome if I ever got the chance. I told him I had already been. From there, he asked me why I was going home. I spoke in cliches, albeit truthful ones,

“A good friend passed away. There isn’t a better reminder to try and make well by the people back home. Ya know, you never know.”

That’s the funny thing about cliches too. You hate to hear advice from a friend or father in the form of cliches, as if they’re just brushing you off with quick answers but, damn, they’re cliches for a reason.

It certainly touched Jim’s heart. He was on his way to see his estranged son. He must have told me two or three times to treat my folks to dinner. I only found out his name when we finished taxiing to park by the way. You know how when you have a conversation with a stranger and you’re unsure if they want to know your name, if it would be strange to ask theirs even though you won’t meet them again? Yeah, I figured I should make sure to get Jim’s name.

That’s the story of why airports and airplanes are the loneliest places. And, I suppose, the story of why first class might be worth it: as if an episode of the Twilight Zone, you may see a ghost, an older version of yourself sent to affirm your departure…from the airport, that is.

Dedicated to my friend, Kyle, who will be writing part two of this series

Songs of Ages: “Casey’s Last Ride” by Kris Kristofferson

A Last Ride

A New Series

From time to time, you hear a song that flows like pure unadulterated art…a song that might even impel you to look up the lyrics. That is certainly the first thing I do when the guitar strings hit my heart strings. What I have found over the years of that practice is a goldmine of politics, poetry, and philosophy. Now, I do not want to condescend, but I think generally the artistry of music, like movies, is lost on many people. Unfortunately we can come to look upon those things as entertainment alone, something that just sounds good. And music does, indeed, fall under the broad jurisdiction of the entertainment industry, not the art industry. Sure that could well be a matter of linguistics, but when in doubt…

So I think it fitting to open a new series on this blog dedicated to music: Songs of Ages we’ll call it. Perhaps what we have said that most people ignore the art of music might be a bit far-fetched. Regardless, I would enjoy bringing light to music that hasn’t been so heavily scrutinized. Not to mention this blog is partially about me branching out my writing.

That lengthy explanation out of the way, like most things that I do here, I will preface by stating my credentials: I have no musical credentials. So enjoy and thanks for tuning in.

London Americana

Today we will attempt to explicate what I find to be Kris Kristofferson’s most somber and subversive piece, “Casey’s Last Ride. You see, Kristofferson is widely regarded as a country artist and, being that he is a former army helicopter pilot, a modern day cavalryman, I wouldn’t expect less of him. Yet his days stationed in Europe were undoubtedly influential for, in this piece, we find the cowboy’s guitar strumming in no place other than the London Underground. The setting, though, is only the first of things to shatter our expectation of what a country song is. Casey, the very subject of the song, is really a nobody. This, amongst the metal absurdity of the city, hits like an overdose of reality which is particularly shocking to listen to…especially for newer generations like mine overloaded with upbeat pop-country.

Setting the stage for that OD, I think if anyone were to listen to “Casey’s Last Ride,” they would instantly classify it as a country song by ear: it comes together quickly with Kristofferson’s drawl, the slow rhythm, and acoustic twang. Nonetheless anyone who deeply listens to what that drawl is communicating, can see this is not an average country ballad. Generally we can note that Casey does not have any lines of his own. He is only spoken of by the narrator and spoken to by his old flame. Perhaps I’m going out on a limb but I think characters in country music tend to be boldly outspoken, be they a hell raiser, sheriff, or just a rigid old country inhabitant. Consider Charlie Daniel’s protagonist Johnny, who challenges the devil himself, in “The Devil Went Down to Georgia;” consider the players in any Marty Robbins Song or Johnny Cash’s unnamed personae. They might not all have lines, but their actions speak for them and their rigid (im)morality.

In Casey’s instance, we find that he does not stand tall on either side of the law, figuratively speaking. He does stand on the right side of the reflective paint in the Subway. He “minds the arrows” like everyone else. Really a standout nobody in the world of country music figures to remember. Perhaps he is even a coward if we are to consider a couple things. First that he “ignores the fatal echoes of the clickin’ of the turnstiles and the rattle of [its] chains” and, second, that the fatal echoes represent some sort of call to action.

His lack of voice in this country tune lends confusion to his meeting with his old girlfriend as well. We do not see Casey give in to her seduction as we might expect but, significantly, we don’t hear him reject it either. He is just gone…gone to what might be the physical embodiment of the country, “the Golden Crown” or our figurative saloon. There, we see a fragile shell of the brazen saloon our dads might know from 50’s westerns. At the counter, the song comes full circle and affirms any suspicion of Casey’s inconspicuousness: “Seeing his reflection in the lives of all the lonely men // Who reach for anything they can to keep from goin’ home.”

Now, all this comparison is not to say that all country music is cathartic or happy. Rather, I find that “Casey’s Last Ride” stands in stark contrast to my impression of country music which is more positive (especially considering my generation as previously mentioned). On the other hand, I have read that some people consider country music generally depressing. This, I would assume, is an older mentality. Regardless, I think the song has something to offer anybody. No matter how sad your country music is, you don’t often see a completely voiceless subject. And no matter your generation you don’t know of a story in London set to the tune of country music.

An Update: Future Plans and the Letter Series

Many red devils ran from my heart
And out upon the page,
They were so tiny
The pen could mash them.
And many struggled in the ink.
It was strange
To write in this red muck
Of things from my heart.

XLVI, The Black Riders and Other Lines by Stephen Crane

First of all, I want to say a huge thanks to friends, family, and strangers who have looked at my site. It does me a lot of good to have a dialogue about what I write or, at the very least, to have my writing in the open. For twenty years teachers have asked “who is your audience?” I’ve always replied that it was just them! Finally, my audience is something more than that and can strike the fear of God into me. I can’t become a better writer by sitting in my cave, talking to myself, and spilling beer over the next draft. No, talking with you and the newfound accountability an audience carries has breathed some life into me.

Speaking of which, I have had no life for criticism on reading and films in a couple months. To start, I have only conquered a couple new books and films this year. Crime and Punishment, Barry Lyndon, Lolita, and Eyes Wide Shut are all works of art that live in my heart now. What better way to discover what I have learned than to let the red devils run from my heart onto the page? It’s strange indeed.

So there is that and my university experience was probably 95% in literary criticism. As a result, I have found that style of work beyond university to be a bit exhausting and creative writing all the more exciting. And that brings me to the next section of this check-in.

Being a rookie to creative writing, letters have been a relatively quick and painless process to try my hand at creative writing and see a finished product. In homage to Seneca’s letters to Lucilius, I intend for each to read as an essay from an older man to a younger man. In this sense, they are familiar to me. I’ve written hundreds of essays yet, this time, it has to be my own philosophies and I have to learn how to characterize. They are like training wheels for creative writing.

Nonetheless, I believe I will rekindle my passion for criticism soon (maybe return to a half-finished copy of Hard Times and The Temple of the Golden Pavilion too) and I hope to continue my letters series and eventually move into more ambitious creative projects like short stories. That being said, let me know what you want to read! I owe it to you for your kindness.

In closing, thanks again and I hope you’ll stick around.



Letter VI to Alex: Drug War and “Peace”

Perhaps Martin Scorsese’s beautiful homage stole away some attention from Goodfellas‘ punchline


I like to think that philosophy is far loftier than politics and that I am a philosopher, not a politician. But then I forget that she, philosophy, is the governor of all things…even the lowly and corrupted politics of the world. So today you will have to entertain me as I step down from my pedestal and talk about the drug wars.

Isn’t it repulsive that the majority of Americans have been manipulated to the opinion that drugs ought to be legal? While I generalize for brevity’s sake (of course those opinions have their minutiae), I feel impelled to take some time to remind others the cost of their junky fun. You see, I read a news story that the Cartel murdered a 10 year old boy’s father in front of him. Following that, they flayed the kid’s chest open while he was still alive, cut out his heart, and ate it in front of him. I don’t think I need another daily excerpt from Mexico to illustrate my point but, rest assured, there’s dozens of those stories a day.

But we all knew about those stories, right? No. The answer is to legalize and regulate, right? No, I don’t think so. Who is idiotic enough to believe these cartels, well-oiled machines as they are, would let a government condescend to them and “legalize” them? With their money and power, they legalized themselves. And so they operate out of legitimate dispensaries now in addition to the underground ones so many college kids get their kicks from.

There was another article. A woman watched her husband blowtorched alive. Is there such a thing as regulating that kind of bloodlust? Is it in our conscience to tax that? And by the way, since when have Americans ever trusted the government to do right by their tax money. I guess it’s alright if it legitimizes a heathen’s hobby.

So what for it then? The drug war was a failure and peace is a compromise of our moral integrity. Not to mention the latter option won’t bring any rest to the Mexican people as the cartels continue to fight one another, extort the common people caught in their crossfire, and suck all humanity from the land. I couldn’t tell you for certain though I believe Americans should be made aware of their dollar’s life…from their parents hand, to the middle-man, the cartels, and down the river of blood.



By the way, I figured I would send you something online as you have for me. Look up “Cartels National Parks.” You’ll find plenty.

Letter V to Alex: A Humbled Prayer from East of Eden


I have been thinking further on the losses inherent in impiety. Do you ever lament that certain things were not sown into you as a child? Take the belief in the soul, the afterlife, and deity. It seems, at random, the gardener gently waters some by those beliefs to full bloom while others are condemned to remain small seeds, unsure and afraid of even the soil that has borne them. You see, how much anxiety would have been spared me were I always to have attended church?

With the philosophical pain that has charged my veins, I might pridefully conjure up a comparison to Socrates’ allegory. But we must recall that only the enslaved claim exaltation. I won’t deny though, be it my shackles or the blinding light, much of life has felt an aching purgatory…nihilism creeping over the horizon some mornings instead of our lofty sun.

Still, the sun also rises beyond paradise. When you lose a friend and mentor of such magnitude that you must get down on your knees and say a prayer, you break through a set of definite chains…those of self-pity….and feel the grace of the gardener.

Always cherish your friends and family.



Letter IV to Alex: On Original Work, Organic Thought, and Collective Unconscious

Gerard van Honthorst’s “The Death of Seneca”


So there is already quite a bit of writing on the philosophy of video games then? It is always disappointing when you believe you have something original–a potential article or thesis–and you find someone beat you to it. When the idea came to you organically, that is…without any knowledge that it already existed, you are likely to be so distraught as to craft conspiracies that someone traveled to the future and stole it from you. So it was when I found so many of my organic ideas unoriginal.

There is an optimistic angle to those situations though. It’s important to compare yourself to those at the top of the podium and realize whatever metal you wear is not much less worthy than theirs. Silver and bronze are not worth much less than gold. And you must not forget that you ran the same course to the same conclusion that they did. If you did not fare well on this one, on this day, perhaps you will fare better on the next course, on the next day.

But so many of us racing the same track? Perhaps this common predicament is a testament to collective unconscious and the lunacy of “organic ideas” and “original work.” Perhaps it is a testament that the truth lies dormant in all of us just waiting for the right catalyst to bring it up to the surface. In that sense, there is no race to be had but for false medals. Certainly this was Seneca’s thought when he reminded us the truth belongs to no one.