Letters to the Ethical Spectacle

The Space Shuttle Columbia exploded at around 9 this morning. Naively I had never expected that another shuttle would be lost in my lifetime; I vividly remember the day the Challenger exploded sixteen years ago. All day long we watched the same image on television of the curling plumes of smoke as the fragments fell. Today we saw similar footage again.

My initial reaction was despair; convinced in the 1960's that humans would one day live and work routinely in space, it never occurred to me that the effort, which had always seemed noble and necessary, might one day either crash in flames or peter out in budget deficits and a lack of will. I was astonished that we got to the moon by 1969, so much sooner than seemed possible-- and equally astonished that we stopped going. When the Challenger blew up, mingled with the grief was the selfish sense that my last chance of going into space had died with Christa McAuliffe, that mission's "schoolteacher in space." Today, I wondered for a few minutes if we would stop flying the shuttles, if we would even try again, with all the problems we are facing here on earth.

Later, I thought that there is no exploration without loss. It is only in a childish and litigious turn of our culture that we have become entirely risk averse. I hope we will continue going, that we will not stop no matter what happens, driven by the beauty of the enterprise if nothing else.

I can be reached as always at jw@bway.net.

Jonathan Wallace

Spectacle Letters Column Guidelines. If you write to me about something you read in the Spectacle, I will assume the letter is for publication. If it is not, please tell me, and I will respect that. If you want the letter published, but without your name attached, I will also respect that. Starting January 2003, I will not include your email address unless you ask me to. This is in response to many of you who have expressed concern that spammers are finding your email address here. Flames are an exception. They will be published in full, with your name and email address. I have actually had people follow up on a published flame by complaining that they thought they were insulting my ancestry privately. Nope, sorry.

A whole lotta love in this room
You sir are perhaps the biggest narcissist on the Internet. I'm sure you are a most milquetoast of sorts who imagines his pen is a mighty sword. More like a dull butterknife by most estimations I would bet. We all know your type, the gutless wonder behind the desk with the dictionary.

Scott Hartwell awanderingscot@hotmail.com

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Who cares if you hate Stephen Spielberg? Why would you hate the man's work in the first place? He is brilliant. He is undoubtly the best director of our time. You make accusations about him that he never stated himself or his films. You have way too much time on your hands.

Nicer people
Dear Jonathan:

Just giving you spontaneous e-kudos for the great job you do, JW. The Spectacle should be better known. I certainly do my share of spreading the word.

Peter Stanislaw

Dear Jonathan,

I read your article Fractured Fairy Tales, its still puzzling this form of writing...are there any instances of hypertexts in the writing of Wilson Harris ? I'm trying to find some comparison to go by. The only similarities I can conjure is improvisation as in so called free music and Jazz or the avant garde. Why would a writer use this type of hyper/text when its very confusing to the reader. Now that gets into whether the reader should be given footnotes or as the old expression goes 'make it simple and plain', a lot of Jazz musicians will argue its not their responsibility to coach the audience in what they are trying to play...the texts or music speaks for its self...either you like it or you dont. In certain theatrical works I've seen there had been no narrative , main theme, or focal character(s). I my/self prefer certain types of music, poetry, theatre that gives me a challenge, puts a spell on me, certain painting has a Voodoo effect, the music of Albert Ayler is such an example of doing away with basic musical roadmaps, guideposts. A lot of the music I still dont like , but I still buy it after twenty years, its not about liking or dis/likes...Wilson Harris has the same effects within his psychical spheres, layers of magical realism. Right now I'm trying to deal with Jean Rhy's "Wide Sargasso Sea", there is a video about Rhy's Sargasso, sometimes when I cannot read the book , I've been able to get/more or de/code things through Seeing it perform. I would appreciated some feedback and other comments relating to hypertexts in certain fiction.

Sincerely, Edwin Wilson

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Twelve Ideas About Five Ideas About Ulysses.

Hello there.

1) Seeing the Circe chapter as a product of Stephen's arrogance seems a bit odd given that so much more of it features Bloom than Stephen.

2) Can't you get off on the carnivalesque nature of Circe? Don't you find the exposure of Bloom's secret, masochistic fantasies (and especially his image of himself as a butler, politely escorting Boylan to Molly's boudoir) a vital, funny, and precise rendering of Poldy's inner workings? Surely, the masochistic stuff in Circe refers back to many of Bloom's characteristic tropes in earlier chapters, and as such is both aposite and funny?

3) The quotations from the chapter you give as examples of Joyce's tendency to "vain and infantile torrents of words" - read them aloud. In fact, do this with great swathes of Ulysses. If you don't find this to be a pleasurable activity, perhaps Joyce just isn't your man. An infantile pleasure in the sounds of words, the noise of non-words, the suggestivity of assonance, and even nonsense - none of these are unique to Joyce.

4) As to the quote about the cracked lookingglass of a servant being the symbol of Irish art, I feel you may have missed an irony here. Just before Stephen uttters this line, Buck Mulligan refers to "the rage of Caliban at not seeing his face in a mirror...if Wilde were only alive to see you," both quoting from Wilde and, like the show-off he is, attributing it. Stephen's response re. the cracked lookingglass is also a crib from Wilde (or rather a paraphrase, from The Decay of Lying, where the character Cyril says that treating art as a mirror "would reduce genius to the position of a cracked looking-glass). Mulligan, not being quite as well-read as he thinks he is, doesn't spot the quote and, delighted with it, urges Kinch to sell it to the Englishman Haines. And as for Stephen/Joyce setting his own art in opposition to that which currently existed in Ireland (particularly the likes of Yeats, Synge and the other Irish Revivalists), it's no secret that this is exactly the opposition that Stephen/Joyce wanted to make - to create in the smithy of his soul the uncreated conscience of his race, and so on.

5) The closing chapter contains eight sentences - not one.

6) Your contention that "the novel begins with a somewhat conventional narrative voice" is, I feel, a little short-sighted. Certainly, the initial style is somewhat conventional in relation to many of the later chapters in Ulysses. And certainly the internal monologue via free indirect stream of consciousness style is indeed somewhat conventional in 2003. This wasn't the case in 1922, when Joyce could only point to Dorothy Richardson and Dujardin as precursors. In fact, viewed in its proper context, the style of opening chapters is far from conventional. If it seems so now, surely that's a product of its influence. I don't think you'll find many 19th century realist writers adopting the narrative style found in the opening chapters of Ulysses. In fact, the style of the early chapters was seen as quite revolutionary and experimental enough by contemporary readers, thank you very much. The idea that these opening chapters demonstrate Joyce's mastery of the 19th century style is very dubious indeed.

7) "Matters important to him and no-one else"? Then why are you reading this book? What is it you want from a novel - only matters that are important to you? Well, write your own, surely. Also, I'm not sure your contention that these mysterious "matters" that Joyce "goes on about for a hundred pages" are important to no-one other than James Joyce holds water.

8) The idea of art as a mirror of nature founders on the basic truth that reality and writing are two separate categories of thing. Only a complacent nineteenth century patriarch, sucking on his pipe, would assume that there is one form of language that can claim absolute authority over all others in presenting reality. Joyce doesn't reel off his parodies, stylistic experiments etc purely as a self-pleasuring exercise. In the different modes he uses, Joyce is able to show that language itself is implicated in reality-construction. Thus Gerty McDowell's soupy narrative voice, the alternate belittling and giganticism of the double-act of narrators in Cyclops, the frankly hilarious cliches that drag Eumaeus down, and the chilly brilliance of Ithaca, conflating the scientific and the religious (in catechismal form) only to surpass both, and of course Molly's lovely last word. These are there for a purpose, and are also extremely good to read, packed with some of the funniest bits of business in the novel (check out the mock seance at which Paddy Dignam makes an appearance from beyond the grave, in the middle of Cyclops: "Before departing he requested that it should be told to his dear son Patsy that the other boot which he had been looking for was at present under the commode in the return room, and that the pair should be sent to Cullen's to be soled only, as the heels were still good. He stated that this had greatly perturbed his peace of mind in the other region and earnestly requested that his desires should be made known. Assurances were given that this matter would be attended to and it was intimated that this had given satisfaction." If Joyce is indulging himself, he invites you to indulge also - why won't you?

9) Not all Joyce imitators are as good as Joyce? Well, breaking news there. As your example of Magritte shows, the original artist isn't to be blamed for his less talented imitators. Why bring it up then?

10) "Cumulate" isn't a word. "Accumulate" is.

11) The idea that the "facts" about Bloom are scattered randomly through the book is just wrong. A close reading will reveal that the patterning of information (about Bloom and, indeed, everything else in his fictive world) is very consciously and artfully done. Given the seven years Joyce worked on the book, would you expect otherwise? I don't take you as one of those who think the book "a big put-on" (or you'd have no interest in any modernist art, would you?)

12) "Joyce's and Proust's novels would in fact work better as hypertexts than as conventional ones." No, they're not. Of all the millions of people who have read Proust and Joyce, there can't be more than two or three hundred who even know what hypertext is. Does this mean no-one has really enjoyed or understood these works before now? Or is this just a bit more revolution-on-the-net propaganda? The structure of the chapters in Ulysses is not random. Certainly you can read it in any order, with each chapter acting as a discrete unit. But read only that way, and not from start to finish, diminishes a great deal of the pleasure. You see, somehow, through all the Joycean fireworks, the repeated and astonishing attacks on reality that proliferate in the book's second half, a story is unfolding all the same, with characters we care about. Joyce is hinting that although we humans may often have difficulty in seeing reality as it is, due to the inaccuracy of perception, language etc, there definitely is a reality there to see, and it does contain real human beings, who's predicaments are seen as important. This is one of the biggest tricks Joyce pulls off in Ulysses. Read in the wrong order, you miss it all and see the book as just a compendium of one odd Irishman's thoughts.

Cheers now,

Richard Evans

Thanks you, Jonathan, for all the work you have put into this remarkable, refreshing and informative site.

Sitting in the observation seats here in Atlantic Canada, we watch your country with interest and, frequently, disbelief. What is presented as fact by your media is often mistaken for what is (which it often is not), or for what is the will of your people (which after years of study I am still trying to gauge.)

Your selfless devotion to Truth and "seeing rightly" are what the citizens of your country need most in these troubled times. I salute you for your efforts in this regard.

Best,Ron MacInnis
Nova Scotia, Canada


I have been reading some of your articles latley and they have fasinated and entertained me a great deal. Iam a sophmore in high school, and I have been asighned a report on Deism, (somehting I had no idea even existed). And now after reading alot of your articles, I have not only come across enough information to give me a good understanding of the subject, but I hvae also come across subjects that intrest me, and impact my world view and life. I live in Bangladesh, and we are extreamly isolated form the modern world, and I have just discovered that the moder world exists on the interentet. Last night I shed my belief in god. With it I shed a bit of my spirituality and hope. Hope that there is somehting more to this, hope that we have a greater purporse, becuse this is not that great, if not terrible, there are good momnets, but life today has become pointless, and passionless. I do not necessarily miss the idea of god, but it has been carved into my brain form the beginging of my life, and "God" has been everywhere, espetially here (a very Muslm country, every spot of land is soaked in Islam) But God has never ment anything to me. I spent 16 years believing somehting, without questioning it, and now i have come to the conclution, that at this point in my life I have not met god, experienced god, and therefor I dont know wether he/she/it exists. Only form the memes of others have I been able to find suficent proof, which is no longer enough. Im young and I have alot to learn, and maybe I will change my mind one day, but for now Iam bare, and I feel free without the constant overshadowing of religion. It has cluttered alot of space in my head untill now. You are probably wondering why im sending you this, and im about to get to that. The universe keeps bending and expanding, nature keeps crossing its own limitations (set by human beings, who are so asured in themslves they can even define natures limitations!), there are probably aliens that are far more developed then we are, and the governments (espetially America) know the answers to alot of lifes mysteries. So why cant this truth be shared? Why cant we be enlightened? Why must we suffer us prisoners of our own ignorance, an ignorance that is a great investment and oportunity for Governments. You must understand that in Bangladesh, we are untouched by Western ideas, and we are forced into spending our long boring days, pondering, and analyzing and digging. So this is where I have dug myself to. And iam stuck. I don want tu to stick ideas in my head, but I would really like some feedback, from someone outside this cacoon.

Thank you Katty

Dear Mr. Wallace,

I'm a great fan of the Ethical Spectacle, so I've been disturbed to find myself unable to access it for the last several days. I've been going through the archives of the Spectacle, and been mightily impressed by the quality of thought and writing there, even though I sometimes disagree with the content and conclusions I find. Suddenly, I can't access the Spectacle. Is there something wrong with the site, or do you think the problem is at my end?

Thanks, Rob Berra

The Spectacle was offline for an unknown amount of time, as much as a week, during January, because the domain expired....Network Solutions did not send my hosting service the usual reminder, and neither of us had it calendared. I am very fortunate no-one hijacked it during that period. Everything is back to normal now.


While surfing, I found your website, www.spectacle.org, and felt compelled to tell you it was/is a serendipitous event. I have spent about an hour reading on your site and will return to read it all! It is funny how our backgrounds are drastically different and yet, while trying to get a handle on what its all about, we have independently come to many of the same conclusions.

Regards,Thom Riddle

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I found Things Fall Apart enlightening. I like the idea that we live an "as if" life. That conclusion explains a lot about human behavior. I particularly liked the idea that self-deception is an evolutionary tool. I thought the very same thing but hadn't quite have it straight in my mind until your article came along. The evolutionary self-deception idea I have been dwelling on is "all men are created equal", a self-deception that changed the world. As Eduardo Giannetti suggested in his book "Lies We Live By: The Art Of Self-Deception", self-deception motivates us to take risks and explore new horizons that we would otherwise not. Also the self-deception of all me are created equal can be an inoculation again others trying to deny one's basic human rights. We develop through perverse means and self-deception is such a means.

Dear Jonathan:

I enjoyed your essay "Clueless". But I'd like to raise one issue. You say:

"it was a fascinating act of cluelessness and of political theater to select Henry Kissinger as the chair of the commission to investigate the events of 9/11."

Am I alone in thinking Henry Kissinger was an excellent selection? Because who else knows better about the planning of secret bombings and how they can be hidden from government detection, than Henry Kissinger?

I'm somewhat serious here. Perhaps the best person to investigate a pack of wolves, is not a sheep, but a master wolf. There is indeed a deep issue, as you pose with your example regarding John Gotti investigating the Russian Mafia. But which is better - a person with a very low chance of finding the truth but will tell it if found, versus a person with a very high chance of finding the truth but can't be trusted to tell it? This isn't an easy question to answer, and it's the stuff of which political thrillers are made.

If ex-poachers make the best game-wardens, do war-criminals (no ex-) make the best terrorism-investigators?

Seth Finkelstein

Dear Jonathan,

I enjoyed reading Towards a One Party State. You explained many aspects of our political system with which I am dissatisfied. My question is, so what do we do now? Who is going to step up lead us forward? Who's got the vision?

It's reassuring that there are others who see what are the real problems with our system of government.

Thanks.Cathy McGuire

Dear Editor:

Mr. Hogan and I have debated the issue of whether the Racak Massacre was a hoax on the Antiwar web site. I don't think a CONCLUSIVE answer is possible either way myself. We still don't know who sank the USS Maine either. I wish we knew for certain. But we don't. I don't have all the relevant evidence, the autopsy reports, etc. So some ambiguity remains with Racak. However... here is a HOAX I am almost 100% certain of. It is the Trepca Crematoria Ovens Hoax. This was like the anti-Jewish PROTOCOLS OF THE LEARNED ELDERS OF ZION. It was a racist hoax! But more than that. It was a racist demonization and an incitement to genocide by our beloved GOVERNMENT and media. We can pretend our government/media do not lie to us and manipulate us, etc., but is that realistic?

At any rate, I have enclosed in the ATTACHMENT an article on the TREPCA HOAX. You may do what you wish with it. You can post it on your site if you want...or not. But I think this is ONE hoax we can prove 100%! And it really establishes the MO for all the hoaxes....

Best regards,Carl Savich