Modern Arcana Not Responsible for Broken Windshields, By Tom Wingerd: Book Review

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Image from the FEMA Photo Library.  Picture taken by Win Henderson.  Public Domain.

 

In Modern Arcana: Not Responsible for Broken Windshields, Tom Wingerd writes about relationships–not the sort that exist between family and friends, but the sort we all have to everything and everyone. Wingerd writes: “Your house, car, office, city are all affected by your daily interactions in space.” He states further, “Your life is the combination of your movement through space, and the ripple impact of every one of your actions…”. These are weighty pronouncements, but they don’t come across as such in the book.

Mr. Wingerd offers prescriptions for existing in an interrelated universe. With each of his statements he provides a pictorial representation of the concept. The effect on the reader is not one of complements but of exponents. This may be by design or it may merely prove his thesis: everything we see and do, everything that exists, affects everything else. Mr. Wingerd has an analytic approach to his subject. Some of his propositions are structured as mathematical formulas and, he makes clear, these formulas operate in a relative universe.

Though this is a book with a philosophical perspective, Mr. Wingerd at times adopts a light tone. He writes, for example, about his bisexual wife and gay son. A few pages later he admits that his son isn’t “real” but is a “six year old figment of my imagination, named Orion”. In another segment he advises:

Trust your heart first
Your brain second
And your
Genitals
Well
They’ll do what they want anyway.

Before I began reading Modern Arcana: Not Responsible for Broken Windshields, I didn’t pay much attention to the title. After finishing the book I googled the phrase, “Not Responsible for Broken Windshields”. It turns out this is a statement likely to be found on the back of trucks that spew window-shattering debris. The driver’s message is clear: I’m not responsible for how my existence, how my behavior, affects you. Mr. Wingerd’s book is a refutation of that notion.

I enjoyed this book and I related to the author’s mindset. His pictures are as evocative as his words. The book would be a stimulating read for anyone who is inclined to be philosophical. It would be a great gift for someone who is not philosophically inclined, especially if that person is likely to post a sign that asserts: “Not Responsible for Broken Windshields”.

 

A. G. Moore October 3, 20017

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Maxwell Corydon Wheat, Jr.

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This thirty-page book will be sold at cost in the United States. 

 From the Introduction

I met Max when he already had achieved a certain notoriety. It was incongruous to me that the peaceful, soft-spoken man I beheld could be the cause of controversy. But it was exactly his peaceful nature that gave rise to offense.

Maxwell Corydon Wheat Jr. was Poet Laureate of Nassau Country, New York. This is the sort of honor that usually attracts little attention, outside the poetry community. But that’s not how things worked in Nassau County.

The County Legislature decided Max was not worthy to be Poet Laureate, because he had written a book about peace in a time of war.

Max’s nomination was rejected. This slight suggested that, not only did the bureaucrats know little about poetry, but they also had a poor understanding of poets.

The poetry community dismissed the dismissal. They crowned their laureate, who had earned his title through acclaim and accomplishment. Hence, Max, a quiet, slight figure with a steady gaze, became the center of controversy.

Max was my teacher. He led a group of Taproot writers. That’s what he called all of us, no matter our skill level: everyone was a poet and everyone was a writer. Over time, this proved true, to varying degrees, for those who persevered under his leadership.

Each voice in the group was given a moment in the spotlight, and each was respected. The only exceptions to this rule were when voices were raised in hatred or anger. Neither of these sentiments survived long in a group led by a man of peace.

Max held his sessions in the fall and spring. When time came to sign up for a session, I’d go down the first day I was allowed. His class was so popular that it might be oversubscribed and I’d be shut out. However, there was little danger of that. Though the door might be officially closed to late entrants, I can’t recall a time when Max turned someone away.

There was, for example, the day a distracted woman wandered into our room. None of us knew her. She was looking for another event and accidentally stumbled upon our class.

A chair was empty, so she sat down. She even joined in the discussion, as I recall. Max didn’t suggest that she was unwelcome, or in the wrong place. When she left, he didn’t chuckle derisively, as some might have been tempted to do. We took our lead from his behavior, as we always did.

That episode captured Max’s strength, and his character. He filled the room with grace, the grace of kindness and generosity. And he had the strength to enforce this environment, by example, and by instruction, when necessary.

I learned to write under Max’s tutelage. Before I entered his class, there was so much I didn’t know. He never let on, as I floundered in those early days. My confidence grew and his lessons took root. It is rare that I write a piece now, and Max’s hand is not on it.

There was a time when I had little patience for poetry. It seemed a self-indulgent art with little objective value. I still don’t write poetry, despite Max’s best efforts, but my ears, my eyes and my heart are open to it.

For the last few years I’ve been writing nonstop–books, blogs, reviews. There is a sense of time running out, but there’s more than that. Max helped me to find my voice and to develop the belief that I can do it, that my effort is valid.

Thank you, Max, for everything. You were an artist, a peacemaker and a teacher. You are missed.

The Tightrope of the Absurd: A rational Spirituality for the 21st Century and On being Human

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Sisyphus, by Titian, 1548-1549. Copyright Expired

By Sybe Starkenburg

The Tightrope of the Absurd is not light reading. I actually began to write about the book before I had finished reading because I wanted to lodge a disagreement with the author. That’s a good thing. A great book is not one that I agree with. It’s one that makes me think, that expands my universe of observation and consideration. The Tightrope of the Absurd does that.

An example of my philosophical falling out with the author follows: Mr. Starkenburg states that “Good is everything that benefits mankind…” and that “the main value of life is life itself”. I took exception to this proposition because I found the two parts of this statement to be in conflict. It struck me, as I read, that the human race is essentially parasitic on earth, that humans are inimical to earth’s existence. It can be argued that, as humans evolve, we consume and destroy the planet that sustains us. Our predatory relationship with the host planet is so extreme that many scientists believe space travel is an imperative. We look forward to leaving this dying orb and colonizing others, so we can feed off them, and move on again. Just a thought I had. Mr. Starkenburg’s book does that to me–makes me think.

Mr. Starkenburg is a well-read man. He brings together ideas from some of the most profound thinkers through the ages. A few to whom Mr. Starkenburg gives deference, I consider to be lightweights, or even disreputable. One of these is Ayn Rand. Mr. Starkenburg and I can disagree about that. What matters is that I care to disagree, that I’m moved enough by his suggestions to take exception to them.

The essence of Mr. Starkenburg’s argument, as I understand it, is this: The only path to humanness, to being truly human, is through rational, conscious and deliberate thought. Religion, in his view, is not rational but is based on belief and custom. Religion, he suggests, is an obstacle to achieving humanness.

Mr. Starkenburg evaluates the need that religion seems to fill in people’s lives. One need, or hunger, that it satisfies is the search for meaning. Can life have meaning without religion? In response to this question, Mr. Starkenburg cites the philosophies of, among others, Jean-Paul Sartre and Viktor Frankl. Sartre asserts that life has no essential meaning, but is merely improvised. According to him, none of us has a script. We merely respond to circumstances as they arise. Frankl, who survived a Nazi concentration camp, suggests that meaning can be found in life but only if it is lived in a way that is true to each person’s intrinsic nature: Be True to Thyself

Weighing the philosophies of Jean-Paul Sartre and Viktor Frankl is an interesting exercise, no matter the outcome. That’s the value I found in The Tightrope of the Absurd. It wasn’t in the strength of Mr. Starkenburg’s arguments, although he solidly supports every position he holds. The value was in the way he built those arguments, the wide array of material he brought into the discussion, and the place he left for me to agree or disagree.

It would be impossible in the space of a short review to do justice to Mr. Starkenburg’s book. To sum up, anemically: Sybe Starkenburg offers a moral and philosophical thesis about how to have a full, thoughtful and positive life. He suggests that empathy is a critical component to this life, empathy not only toward people, but toward other species.

Not everyone will enjoy this book, but readers who are open to new perspectives probably will. And if they are, like most of us, beset at times by a vague uneasiness about existence and religion, this book may suit them. It will not answer every question, but it will address the urge to find answers. It will offer ideas about how to think and where to search for answers to questions that are pushed to the back of the mind. Mr. Starkenburg would surely recommend that these questions be welcomed, because they won’t go away. They’ll lurk in the background and influence every other area of life until they are confronted rationally, consciously, and deliberately.