One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was the Colossus of Rhodes, an iron-framed and brass-covered statue of the titan and sun god Helios, which stood in the harbour of Rhodes, Greece. Built in 280 BCE, it was the tallest statue of its time at 70 cubits high (about 33 metres or 108 feet). Contrary to popular depiction, it likely did not straddle the mouth of the harbour. Nonetheless, it would have been an impressive sight to any sailors approaching the city. Greek myth animated another bronze colossus in Crete named Talos: either Hephaestus or Daedalus made the automaton on Zeus’s behalf in order to defend Europa, queen mother of Crete. He had one vein in his metal body, which ran from his neck to his ankle; it was fastened shut with a single nail. When the Argo approached, with Jason at the helm, Talos tried to repel it and Medea used her sorcery to dislodge the nail. His ichor ran out of him like molten lead and he died. The Cretan word talôs is equivalent to the Greek hêlios, meaning the Sun, which is the subject of the Colossus of Rhodes. Much later the Romans made further bronze colossi: the Colossus of Barletta, the Colossus of Constantine, and the Colossus of Nero.
I feel like I live inside a colossus of this type: a brazen image of myself, physically idealized, well-proportioned and gargantuan. It is hollow, and I stand inside it with the clear understanding that I am supposed to grow into it. I am supposed, somehow, to fill this statue so that it is merely my own skin. But I have no sense that this thing is possible, nor how to achieve it if it is. Instead I try to operate the colossus and speak from it like a puppeteer. Relying on the full extent of my scant ingenuity I try to create the illusion that I have done what I am supposed to do, or at least that I am in the process of growing into it. But I know better. I have made no gains in that direction. From within, the colossus rings as empty as it ever has.
Let this first sentence serve as a content warning for an extended discussion of suicidal thoughts and depression. If you are here looking for the undiluted saccharine, try this instead. Still, there will be pictures of and there will be affection for bunnies.
In the summer of 2015 I graduated from my MLIS program at UBC and, as you may already know, went to live with my brother and his wife in Toronto, Ontario. They owned–indeed, still own–two rabbits who I was excited to spend more time with: a bedraggled and affectionate cloud named Delphie and a distrustful half-dwarf named Baxter. To my great surprise, they had a third rabbit living in the bathroom when I arrived: a tiny starved white-and-caramel lop with outsized ears and feet.
Aswan as a bathroom bunny. Picture copyright Christian Hendriks, 2015.
My sister-in-law had been walking home from her studio and found someone giving her away on the street, with a carrier and a bag of pricey rabbit pellets. Concerned that she would wind up in a stew pot or with some family incapable of caring for her, she took the little rabbit home. According to that previous owner, who could not bring her with him to his new condo, her name was Aswan. Continue reading
A Minor Experiment in Gender
While shopping for my mother’s Christmas present last December, I was in one of those seasonal pop-up stores that appear in malls in November and saw Katerina Plotnikova‘s 2017 Enchanted calendar, pictured here:
Reader, I wanted it.
I wanted it, but I felt foolish for wanting it. I wanted it, but I hoped no one would catch me wanting it. I wanted it, but I thought that if someone knew I wanted it they’d think I wanted it out of some sort of sexual deviancy: maybe I have a thing, they’d think, for pubescent girls with animals. I wanted it, but I knew that I wasn’t supposed to want it. This sort of thing was for women, and only certain kinds of women.
Let’s sit a moment with those thoughts I was having. For a man to want this calendar, for a man to exit his clearly defined gender roles so much as to purchase this calendar, would mark something more than the mere gender failure I mentioned in the last post. Only the most preposterous and heinous kind of mentality could explain it: possibly bestiality, probably pedophilia, certainly hebophilia. I don’t think I was wrong to feel that such an attitude exists outside myself, in Fort McMurray or in the Western world broadly. But it’s ridiculous! I wanted a calendar, nothing more, but certain arbitrary rules about taste meant that expressing this want would bring down on my head a set of questions which, although triggered by my violation of a gender norm, far exceeded those gender norms in scope and severity.*
I bought the calendar.
A Warning to My Younger Self
After a very stressful day at work this summer I sat on the bench at the bus stop with my face in my hands, cradling a headache. Then a horn honked and I looked up to see the driver shout “Loser!” from his passing pick-up. I had assumed that he assumed I was homeless and hung over or something of the sort; at any rate, it had been such a long time since anyone had called me a loser that I’d forgotten how one was supposed to feel about it.
A few days later I told one of our summer students, who has chosen the pseudonym Avicenna Nightingale, about it as I happened to be on the same bus as her after work. She suggested he didn’t take me for drunk.
“It was probably because you were waiting for a bus,” she said. She was a local so she probably knew this sort of thing better than I did.
“Yeah, like, ‘Where’s your truck, son?’ Was he driving a souped-up pick-up?”
“Was he wearing a black t-shirt a size too small to show off those guns?”
“Don’t you know only losers take the bus?”
(Read Part 1 first.)
Source: the LAMP at flic.kr/p/ejNXiW
Having read his book, I had expectations about which theological world(s) W. Paul Jones’s Theological Worlds Inventory would place me in. World 3—that of T. S. Eliot’s “hollow men,” of people who feel like they might be wearing a mask over a personal emptiness—had most appealed to me in the book. Immediately on reading about it I felt an overwhelming recognition that I felt when reading about neither World 1 or World 2. (This was itself a bit of a surprise: based on the book’s introduction, World 3 did not look promising.) I had expected World 2 (animated by a conflict between violent chaos and small bastions of peace) to follow it fairly closely, and then World 4 (concerned with personal sin and forgiveness) a bit after. I did not expect to have much in common with World 1 (haunted by the universe’s apparent meaninglessness) or World 5 (characterized by unremitting suffering and endurance).
So while I was not surprised that the Inventory placed me high in World 3, I was surprised that it placed me just as high in World 5. (World 2 followed close, and Worlds 1 and 4 were equally and very far behind.) Indeed, the results are a bit flat and I think there might be problems with the Inventory itself, but on reading the descriptions in the Inventory I’m inclined to agree that I’m just as much an inhabitant of World 5 as World 3. I’ll discuss this in detail toward the end of the post; first, I want to look at the Inventory itself and the reasons I think it has problems.
One of my various hobbies is collecting models of human development, either on an individual psychological basis or a social civilization basis. In particular, I’m interested in the move between what I once would have identified as modernism (or absolutism) and postmodernism (or pluralism). I very recently stumbled on another example at David Chapman’s “Developing ethical, social, and cognitive competence,” written in October 2015. I’m not wholly convinced by it, but it does seem intriguing. Moreover, it seems to mirror, with significant differences, various ideas I’ve had on this subject; for instance, a while ago I was worried about academia’s ability to shepherd people into the final ideal stage of personal epistemology.
I am writing this post mostly to a) mark that it came into my attention and b) share it with you, in case you want to follow along with my stumbling attempts at improving my epistemology, ethical philosophy, and political philosophy.
Selves as systems
Categories as patterns (and, using Chapman’s terms, nebulous ones)
Ethics as ungrounded
Christian Hendriks 2016; the view from work at about 2:00 pm.
Yesterday afternoon I left work with a colleague in response to a voluntary evacuation order for my neighbourhood, Thickwood Heights in Fort McMurray, Alberta. The wildfire situation evolved and we reacted; last night I spent the night with that colleague and her family in Conklin. I am now in Edmonton. At the moment I am exhausted and anxious, but I wanted to share some impressions while they are fresh, before I forget. This will be edited, somewhat raw, disorganized.
a) You’ve seen the images and videos, I’m sure. If you haven’t, #ymmfire on Twitter is your best bet. I have some photos but nothing so dramatic as what you’ve seen. Personally, the scariest moment was not the most photogenic: we were stuck in traffic on Confederation Way while quite a piece behind us we could see flames above the trees on the crest of a hill. I saw a man on TV last night saying that what was strangest was the combination of the sense of urgency with the need for patience and the general inability to do anything.
Christian Hendriks 2016
Every third Saturday of the month I intend to re-post something I wrote for one of my assorted old blogs or tumblogs. This time I look at “Book-Eaters and Titanomachy” from The Thinking Grounds, which concerns some metaphors for reading and learning I was exploring at that time.
Image source: Harris County Public Library at flic.kr/p/fksxun
Book-Eaters and Titanomachy
TW: a brief discussion of cannibalism
Back in November, I posted the following to Facebook:
Does anyone else find themselves, at times, thinking, “I ate that book,” rather than, “I read that book”?
Eating a book, for me, is different from reading it. If you read a book, you look at the words, understand them, and recognize the whole book as an object. If you eat a book, you do all of that, but then you also internalize it, assembling its ideas and perspectives into yourself. Moreover, you bring those perspectives into yourself as one perspective among many, and you do not take it as is; you fix it, alter it, improve it, nuance it, cut out the stuff that doesn’t work, fit it into your framework. It may challenge you, but after you’ve responded to its challenge, you then challenge it. You internalize it, but you also tame it. If you merely internalize it, and you let it take you over, you did not eat the book, but rather the book ate you.
(Today, I was thinking of a book, and then imagined telling someone, “I ate that book,” and it was weird but also made sense to me.)
At around the same time that I started Accidental Shelf-Browsing, I banned myself from commenting on any blogs or articles except my own.
Source: Rico S at flic.kr/p/8RjcsM
I did this for two reasons: first, I did not trust myself to represent myself in public to a standard high enough for my tastes (especially as I’m coming into the job market looking for a career); second, I could tell that worrying about discussions in comment spaces had a negative impact on my productivity and mental health. Of course, I have replied to comments here and in specific social media venues, but those were not part of the problem.
As with previous daydreams, feel free to contact me if you feel like helping make any a reality.
Photograph my own, 2015.
Image source: Stephen Topp at flic.kr/p/99k7v6
I like collaborative projects, so long as the participants have a high degree of autonomy and have earned one another’s mutual respect. For instance, I have long had daydreams of participating in a group blog, especially an interfaith blog. I think that would be fun; it would be more fun, too, if we created for ourselves characters in the style of tabletop RPGs. I could be an Anglican druid, for instance, while other participants might be atheist paladins, Muslim bards, Roman Catholic warlocks, or Buddhist clerics, according on our temperaments. Every other week one person would pose a question—“What role does confession play for you, in your tradition?”—and the other participants would have two weeks to respond, or something like that. I also have a habit of starting collaborative projects before I have more than one or two collaborators, which goes about as you’d expect.