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Thursday
Dec202012

Zen Christmas Blues

 

 

Printmaker Peter Miller the other day posted a photo of the stone basin at Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto, which carries an inscription: 'Even if I have nothing, it is enough.'

What if this message translates to say that we should gratefully accept all that comes our way this Christmas? Acceptance is the Zen of things: acceptance of the universe and acceptance of THAT which makes it tick.

Peter said he had long cherished this notion of sufficiency and gratitude, adding he purchased at the temple, for 800 yen, a medallion to remind himself of the practical message contained in the kanji. "Then I lost it," he said. "Really. I packed the medallion in my suitcase carefully, but on my return it wasn't there. Thereby illustrating in an unintended way the wisdom of the inscription."

You cannot walk the path until you first become the path.

Let's consider also this bit of seasonal Western wisdom: "He sees you when you're sleeping."

Can we say, now that we are big children, that this Xmas jingle about Santa coming to town confers a slightly discomforting thought? Who wants to be seen while sleeping? And let's admit, while full of good cheer, as piles of bygone Christmases stack up, that we find the holiday season to be no longer the same bumper-car jumbalorum of joy that it once was.

Do we outgrow the wonder? Can we find it again? Show us a kid on Christmas Eve who doesn't channel all their love, hope and joy in the direction of the all-knowing, roly-poly, Saint Nick. Who, as a child, isn't lost in the Lapland of their Christmas dreams or, alternatively, can't be coerced by the threat that you'd better not cry, you'd better not pout ... but be good, for goodness sake?

Goodwill to All

Today, we find our fondest memories of Christmas past are slippery and elusive, untrustworthy even - just like the memory of a carefully packed Ryoanji medallion.

To be honest the manger nativity birth-of-little-Jesus version of Christmas never really resonated with us. The images of cattle lowing, shepherds or even wise men did not enthrall. Personally, the Saint Nick version of Christmas always carried more magical weight than the nativity. Santa bestowed a spirit of generosity, of giving, and good will toward all. I still like to place Santa at the centre of my nativity scene (Jesus is there too) and surround him with plastic dinosaurs, knights and Corgi cars.

When I was last in Bethlehem you could not buy a wooden Santa, sleighs or reindeer - only angels and mangers, and chubby little Jesus's carved from branches of olive trees from near Gethsemane.

Which is a shame. Because at Christmas who cannot imagine iconic Rudolph, lightbulb nose in the air, his icy reindeer breath billowing atop the snowy shingles? We listened under the warm blankets, so still, for the stealth sound of Santa negotiating our chimney, magically sliding past the crematorium of the gas furnace, to leave large boxes under the glittering tree. Oh yes, we were far too wired for sleep. It was Christmas Eve and our hearts were luminous.

But consider this warning: "He knows if you've been bad or good. He knows when you're awake."

Let's not belabour bad or good. You have a conscience of your own. But being awake is a prerequisite for no-mind satori. And I imagine that state to be a place where tigers worship flying lords a-leaping, where no smoky breath can disturb the deepest dust that lies buried therein. I imagine it is where all the peace, calm and serenity in every person of every nook of Earth is mustered and illumined, trumpeted and glorified; where we can bathe in clean rainforests festooned by snow pillars, where we are serenaded by ice wolves who howl across crackling firelight blizzards. And I imagine this is a place where we may raise a glass to toast the thunderclaps, and fill our cup to the brim with love; where we find flashes of fat-bellied mirth as our cockles warm under the ridge of the pipe and the blankets of the sleigh, bells jingling as we are drawn forward, accepting, hopeful, surrounded by gay lumberjacks named Spruce.

 

                                                     ll

Perhaps, though, you are the sort of Christmas celebrant for whom neither satori nor Zen nor even Santa will keep your toddy hot. Let's say you are moved by the traditional birth-story, the shepherds and manger.

If so, then let us offer the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. It is a fine little midwinter yarn that was consigned to the Apocrypha, discarded long ago by church leaders because it was insufficiently contemporaneous and too finely graphic and literary to be Biblical.

What happened is Joseph ended up with Mary after taking a pass on five other virgins: Rebecca, Sephora, Susanna, Abigea, and Cael. The Pseudo-Matthew version of the birth narrative reports: "they cast lots among themselves what each virgin should do, and the purple for the veil of the temple of the Lord fell to the lot of Mary." One thing begat another, as they say, and later (omitting some details in the interest of brevity) en route to Bethlehem to answer the census, an angel appeared and the expectant Mary was guided to refuge in a dark cave. The birth was entirely impressive: "The light from God so shone in the cave, that neither by day nor night was light wanting as long as the blessed Mary was there. And there she brought forth a son, and the angels surrounded Him when He was being born. And as soon as He was born, He stood upon His feet, and the angels adored Him, saying: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good pleasure."

Joseph wasn't present for the actual birth though. According to this version of things, he took off to find a couple of midwives. But shepherds saw angels and there was a Big Star – bigger than any seen before.

Gold, frankincense, myrrh

 

The manger thing happened on Day 3: "And on the third day after the birth ... the most blessed Mary went forth out of the cave, and entering a stable, placed the child in the stall, and the ox and the ass adored Him. Then was fulfilled that which was said by Isaiah the prophet, saying: The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib. The very animals, therefore, the ox and the ass, having Him in their midst, incessantly adored Him."

A few more things happened on the third fourth fifth and sixth days after the birth and then something a bit nasty happened to Jesus on the eighth day. And then, jumping to the second year: "Magi came from the east to Jerusalem, bringing great gifts … one gave gold, another frankincense, and the third myrrh."

Merry Christmas

 

Later, as Mary, Joseph and young Jesus fled to Egypt to avoid the wrath of Herod and the slaughter of the innocents, they stopped by a cave to rest: "And, lo, suddenly there came forth from the cave many dragons; and when the children saw them, they cried out in great terror. Then Jesus went down from the bosom of His mother, and stood on His feet before the dragons; and they adored Jesus, and thereafter retired."

Pseudo-Matthew goes on, with much emphasis on adoration and the earthly beastiary: "Lions and panthers adored Him likewise, and accompanied them in the desert. Wherever Joseph and the blessed Mary went, they went before them showing them the way, and bowing their heads; and showing their submission by wagging their tails, they adored Him with great reverence. And Wolves shall feed with lambs; the lion and the ox shall eat straw together."

 

With this in mind let's eat turkey together with stuffing, and plum pudding together with gratitude, and lace it all with acceptance as we muddle through another holiday while tinkling the keys to the tune of the Zen Christmas Blues, which this year ends with the traditional appeal to each of you Dear Friends ... "Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Night."

 

(Top Image: Zen Christmas Blues by David Roberts w/c on a card; Inside image: Starry Night by David Roberts w/c on a card)


 

Monday
Nov192012

The Fakir of Wolseley

Early on May 15 1919 in the neighbourhood known as Happyland (which later became Wolseley - neither happy nor unhappy due to Restoril and Xanax) a man, posing as a monk, was nabbed in the act of deflating bicycle tires and opening the diaper flaps of idling dray horses.

 

For weeks, Happyland-Wolseleyites had glimpsed the miscreant and there was a whisper campaign where he was dubbed "The Barbarian" or "The Anarchist". Some suspected he was a Bolshevik since that word was in vogue. It was thought a few of them had infiltrated from far away and were trying to lure young sons into the ballet.

They caught this barbarian-monk very near the spot where the Westminster Tot Lot and the Organic Planet Worker Co-op exist today but for reasons of national security we are unable to be more precise, or even to disclose how we came on this info.

Suffice to say the rogue claimed complete innocence, pleaded for mercy and said he was just going door-to-door canvassing for alms. But really, there was little doubt in the minds of most that he was a disturber of gumbo-grade excrement. Besides, no one had really even heard of alms since the term for this, in Happyland, was baksheesh.

He was caught when an observant Wolseley gardener, peering from behind her cannabis and rhododendron bushes, saw that the Rasputin-like sneak had the only wheels with air. Everyone else's had been deflated.  And she reported smelling a horse-dung vapour trail mere footsteps behind wherever he trod. The rogue also was also wearing that weird purple robe you see on monks today when they stand together in unity with Justin Trudeau in Myanmar, which was then Burmese territory of British India and no Trudeau had been elected even for the first time.

 

Anyway the purple robe was a dead giveaway when you really stop and think about it.

And so folks knew intuitively that the erstwhile monk was a ne'er-do-well. And when he made the mistake of rapping on the ornate oak door of the home of Charles Frederick Gray the jig was sauced. "Begging for arms? I'll show you arms!" Gray poncified, as he also happened to be the city's mayor. And so, because he was empowered to do so, Mayor C.F. Gray called in the fire brigade. (And when you look in the history books you discover there was something going on between third parties and the mayor and fire brigade at the time.) But then C.F. Gray also ended up reading the Riot Act, because he was empowered to do so. And one thing led to another. And the good people of Wolseley (aka Happylanders) felt empowered and so gave the monk-poser all the alms he could beg for alright. They fastened that rogue-culprit-monk right then and there to a wide Wolseley elm - so that he might contemplate through the day the suffering they might later inflict on him.

Now it remained early in the a.m., remember, and so off was the direction in which most of the Wolesleyers fucked, as they travelled to work and then arrived against the granularity of others who were not working that day, it being the apex of a general strike. Still, the Happylanders huddled together and pondered what to do with the rogue. "Look at the hook on that Bolshie - he's one of those foreign fakirs," suggested the mayor. "For sure this is the son of a daddy-fakir and mother-fakir," agreed the educated water-cooler crowd who gathered at City Hall, not just a few Happylanders among them. And the bunch of them got whipped into a bit of a froth over the whole thing. "The eyes. Like those of the football club manager," said one frother. "He likely does capital markets business at Deutsche Bank," whispered another.

An aperitif; Winkler sausage


So on and so forth, back and fro-to. Until finally the majority of Happylanders decided the best course would be to throw the son of a mother-fakir into the Assiniboine River after they got home from work, had an aperitif, dinner, and laid on his every bone a good beating. This was justified seeing as how monk hook-mother was probably from the North End, anyway.

And this is where it got interesting. Because it was precisely then – high noon - that the local ice wagon driver (who sold harpitars, Fuller brush and Avon products, Singer sewing machines, Colliers Encyclopediae, MSG-free Winkler sausage and vacuum prototypes as well as ice blocks) was driving his cool wagon along the Wolseley rues and vards. The ice-vendor saw the misbegotten monk tied to the elm tree and quizzified him.

"So what's on you mother-fakir? You feel me? Why are you tied to this tree?"

Incidentally, the iceman-Fuller etc wore a strawberry-hued cap with a vacuum cleaner advert that said: Filter Queen Sure Sucks. Who could dare say that he was not the sharpest sword in the celestial armoury?

"Ah, some men have put me here because I won't accept their money," explained mother-rogue monk-poser think-ahead sneak.

"What do you mean, you won't take their money? And why do they want to give it to you?" asked icicle-Fuller-feely man, his eyes narrowing.

"Can you not see from my Trudeau-appealing robe that I am a contemplative? They are trying to corrupt me. Godless bunch these Wolseleys."

"I feel you," said iceman, who had a suggestion and a plan. And so he unbound the poor fakir from the elm tree and they changed places.

Later, following an aperitif, dinner, and a few digestifs, a crowd gathered beneath the phattest neighbourhood elm for an early evening beating and river-tossing. They put a sack over the head of the Fuller-ice-sausage-feely guy. Down to the riverbank among the scrub-oak branches which rose all scraggly like the arms of the crucified, they dragged their victim.

 

And together they tossed him into the Assiniboine.

Now in 1919 the Assiniboine River was at its highest and swiftest since 1883 when everything got disrupted by Krakatoa, the sky turned a queezy purple, and Charles F. Gray's second cousin Marvin strangled the six starlings. So ice-man drowned.

The day followed the night and Wolseleyite-Happylanders were amazed to see the rogue-nosed barbarian-mother enter their hood on an ice-wagon with all of this Avon-Fuller vacuum paraphernalia dangling out all jingly-jangly.

"Where have you been and where did you get that fabulous MSG-free Winkler sausage?" they asked.

"In the Assiniboine are kindly spirits who reward all who jump in and 'drown' in this manner," said the rogue, taking a swig of bottled Avon-water.

In almost less time than it takes to tell, all of Happyland dashed to the Assiniboine and leaped in.

And this was how the anarchist-monk son-of-a-mother-fakir took over Wolseley. THE END.

 

Reader Note: This blog entry was updated 2017, first published here 2012.

 

(Top Image: Man With Blue Thoughts 14x11 w/c, by David Roberts; Inside image: Sea and Stone 12X16 w/c India Ink by David Roberts)


Wednesday
Nov072012

A Seriously Happy Man

The world's happiest man is Matthieu Ricard, a 66-year-old Tibetan monk and geneticist.

We have no word on the world’s happiest woman. If you know her, grateful that you might tell us, so we may name her here.

But the discovery that the world’s happiest man is a Buddhist monk is a broad and roomy thing. We're intrigued by the enormity of the questions raised by this finding and feel compelled to stab at answering some of them, however tentatively.

What happened is that neuroscientist Richard Davidson wired up Matthieu Ricard's skull with 256 sensors to measure the monk’s meditative brain activity. This was part of a larger experiment where scientists scanned the brain waves of several Buddhist monks as the monks meditated.

Here’s how the Agence France Presse reported things:

"The scans showed that when meditating on compassion Ricard's brain produced a level of gamma waves - those linked to consciousness, attention, learning and memory – ‘never reported before in the neuroscience literature,’ Davidson said.

"The scans also showed excessive activity in Ricard’s left prefrontal cortex compared to the right, giving him an abnormally large capacity for happiness and a reduced propensity towards negativity."

Limited happiness

Sorry, can we disrupt this trainwreck of a thought? Don't you wonder what's meant when they say someone has "an abnormally large capacity" for happiness? One may suppose that if you were an inmate at Turkey’s Diyarbarkir Prison in the 1980s and were about to be immersed in the ritual excrement bath before having your genitals savaged by the warden’s specially-trained German Shepherd, your capacity for happiness, no matter how abnormally large, would be feeling a bit shriveled.

But to suggest our capacity for happiness is to be inferred by wave activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, is absurd. This is why so much of neuroscience seems like reductionist junk and quackery.

Let me say clearly: there can be no limit to human happiness.

"When meditating on compassion" – this is another phrase in the news story about Matthieu Ricard that piques my curiosity. I’m left to conclude that this likely refers to the Theravada practice of Mettā, which is the cultivation of loving-kindness. You receive suffering, you send happiness.

Mindfield

And I wonder what is meant by gamma waves being "linked to consciousness…" How are they linked and what is meant by consciousness in this context, exactly? This is such a mine field, I almost typed "mindfield".

Someone once said consciousness is like the Trinity; if it is explained so that you understand it, it hasn't been explained correctly. In the case of neuroscience it seems consciousness means any state other than being asleep, comatose or dead. A pretty low standard, wouldn’t you say? Consciousness is a slippery thing, but other definitions at least imply a level of intentionality. As psychologist George Miller said 40 years ago it’s a term that covers everything from phenomenalism to panpsychism: "'Consciousness' is a word worn smooth by a million tongues. Depending upon the figure of speech chosen it is a state of being, a substance, a process, a place, an epiphenomenon, an emergent aspect of matter, or the only true reality."

Now in the AFP story, Ricard says that meditating is like lifting weights or exercising for the mind.  He said anyone can be happy by simply training their brain.

"Try sincerely to check, to investigate," Ricard said. "That’s what Buddhism has been trying to unravel — the mechanism of happiness and suffering. It is a science of the mind."

"It's a wonderful area of research because it shows that meditation is not just blissing out under a mango tree but it completely changes your brain and therefore changes what you are," the monk told AFP.

These are fascinating statements, begging to be deciphered: anyone can be a seriously happy man. I wondered about the interchangeability of brain and mind in Ricard’s usage but then realized that for him (unlike the neuroscientists) consciousness is not seated in the brain. Although consciousness can be apprehended by mind – no mind. In other words, as soon as you think you have it, you don’t. Consciousness vibrates with infinite energy, everywhere. Consciousness infuses all. And what the scientists measure is not consciousness. What they measure are brain waves.

Ricard, incidentally, grew up among the Paris intellectual elite as the son of celebrated French libertarian philosopher Jean-Francois Revel and abstract watercolor painter Yahne Le Toumelin. So I’m predisposed to like the guy. A prominent monk in Kathmandu's Shechen Monastery, Ricard divides his time between isolated meditation, scientific research and accompanying the Dalai Lama on trips to French-speaking countries. Plus, he has written a book Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill which I have not read and so cannot properly recommend.

 

I am very grateful to Matthieu Ricard for submitting to a brain scan and for leaving me to ponder again the nature of happiness. For what it’s worth, I don’t believe we can think our way to happiness. Happiness is an experience not an idea. Winds of consciousness may billow the sails of our mind but the winds are not summoned by the power of intellect.

It has a lot to do with intention. Let us observe, though, that happiness is not the exclusive domain of Buddhists, who are killing and terrorizing Muslims in Myanmar at the moment, expressing ethnic intolerance – some of which is being instigated by those in maroon. No happiness there.

But, I defer to the Buddhists who have it right in the mathematical sense that I am a new person, recreated in each moment. So there is no self to fix on, and what makes me happy now may not make me happy later. My happiness, if it is to endure even for an instant, cannot be attached to anything. Only by virtue of intention and detachment do I experience the ever-present happiness which permeates everything and which is available to us all – in limitless supply.

It is in doing nothing that I see everything is done.

(Top Image: A Seriously Happy Man 11x15 watercolour by David Roberts; Bagan 15x11 watercolour by David Roberts; Rangoon Colonial 15x11 watercolour by David Roberts.)

 

Friday
Oct122012

Objets Trouvés

 

What on earth is everyone looking for? Cooking recipes? God? Snow tires? Love? Big questions. I'll suggest not all these things can be found online. Whatever you are looking for, you must not have it or you wouldn't be looking.

 

Here's some news: humans have a rapacious appetite for online information but fewer are looking now than were looking a year ago. A big shift has occurred in the digital space, a development that offers a foreshadowing of what's next. Core organic searches across the Internet dipped four percent year over year, representing the first decline in total search volume since such data was first collected in 2006.


Novelty and serendipity

This dip in organic search queries demonstrates a remarkable movement away from our use of desktop platforms to mobile apps. And lazy, but naturally curious beings that we are, we allow some of these smart and beautiful mobile apps – Prismatic comes to mind – to do our searching for us, via algorithm, based on our interests. I love Prismatic, by the way, for it's smartness of form and function, for its consistent relevance, and for its continuous provision of novelty and serendipity. It's the general interest magazine of the future, customized to my idiosyncrasies.

 

Marengo

Google though, which answers more than a billion search queries daily, remains my workhorse. When I want to know the population of Ouagadougou, who played the mellotron on King Crimson's album Lizard, the action of a prehending monad in the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, the route of the Austrian advance in the Battle of Marengo, or why I am hardwired to deceive, I consult Google, Google scholar, Google blogs and G+ where the returns are consistently useful, multiplicitous and give me some confidence in their accuracy – although not entirely - and this is an important issue for another day.

 

When I want to have fun, indulge, goof off, or just enjoy the many varieties of driftwood and objets trouvés the digital ocean delivers to my little stretch of beach, I use Prismatic.

 

Does the shift to mobile mean that search is ultimately a declining business? Should the robots and crawlers of Bing, Dogpile, 你就知道 or Mamma.com put down tools?

 

A decline in overall organic search requests could simply mean that four percent of humans who were looking for something a year ago have found what they were looking for. And so they have consequently stopped searching. Or maybe they are still looking but with reified technology at their disposal.

 

Here and there

Most people, it seems, are just searching for Justin Bieber anyway. And that is fact which, in itself, says much about a lot. If you reside in Aleppo, or Mogadishu, or if you are a native of Burundi or Burkina Faso with low internet penetration, or your income is akin to the average Bangladeshi, then you likely have neither time nor inclination to search for much of anything beyond the next meal.

 

For the rest and blessed of us, if we are looking for insight into digital democracy we go here. If we want to see how the 10 best skies in art relate to the Wine of Silence we can read that here. If we crave an unusual restaurant serving two-headed fish we will find a link at the bottom of this thing, here. And if we want to know something about the Higgs Boson, coon hunting, or how it feels to be taken in the rapture, then go here.

 

But what if we are looking for something still deeper? The hero pursues his quest, ultimately, for no reason other than to realize his destiny. What if we want real answers to serious questions? Where do we find enduring happiness and meaning? Who are we, with the wind blowing on our face? Where do we go when its time to engage the luminous in the eye? This is when we put the iPhone in our pocket, power down the desktop or laptop, pat the dog, count our blessings, hug our beloved and find that all we seek is already found.

 

(Top Image: Objet Trouvé (Found Object) 11x15 watercolours and India Ink by David Roberts

Lower Image: Nothing Exists Alone 24x18 watercolours by David Roberts)

Wednesday
Oct102012

It's Cool to Be Cruel

City Hall is corrupt. The police chief is lazy and self-serving. Church leaders fulminate against nothingness, to no effect. Well-greased property developers stage phony religious miracles to promote the grand opening of the new shopping mall. The utility company tries to boost revenue at the local power plant by blotting out the sun.

Sound familiar?

The place is Springfield of course - not to be confused with the Rural Municipality of Springfield, which skirts the Manitoba capital, but rather that fictional, all-too-nasty, ultrasymbolic urban playground of television's The Simpsons.

"The Simpsons is the deepest show on television," observes Carl Matheson, head of the philosophy department at the University of Manitoba.

Meaning: ill advised

Matheson put forward several arguments in support of such cultural gravitas in a paper published more than a decade ago: The Simpsons, Hyper-irony, and the Meaning of Life.

And while I first wrote about Matheson's observations at the dawn of the millennia, today I feel more serene about the future of all our planet's shivering denizens, despite seeing local conditions morph from the metaphorical to the material.

Consider Matheson's blunt, post-structural dissection of our meaningless, corrupt, self-absorbed, urbanized world of a decade ago: if The Simpsons's world-view resonated for you back then then perhaps you were a cynic. Or at least a critical realist, or a good pessimist, or a phenomenalist.

Matheson suggested the world of The Simpsons is nihilistic in the extreme. And as such, it is good for us. This meaningless world is a bleak one - as bleak as the world of Dickens was in his time - but nonetheless very funny.

Indeed, he said that today's philosophers should spend more time examining our popular culture if they hope to parse the intellectual underpinnings of the age. As such, The Simpsons is the ultimate metaphorical archetype of our time, because it aptly reflects today's tendency toward nihilism and the consequential loss of any overarching moral law.

The show, starting its 24th season in 2012, remains a metaphor for society at large, offering us the chance to laugh at ourselves. It may also lend an opportunity to snatch some fleeting sense of meaning out of nothingness, although this is not necessarily advised.

Moral interregnum

Indeed, we might use the Simpson family as a focal point of contemplation, a kind of study guide to help understand the extent to which our modern world is ensconced in an intellectual and moral interregnum, where the old values are dying and the new cannot be born.

And even here, in a world devoid of ultimate meaning, there is an all-too-human quality. "The Simpsons," Matheson says, "consisting of a not-as-bright version of the Freudian id for a father, a sociopathic son, a prissy daughter, and a fairly dull but innocuous mother, are a family whose members love each other. And, we love them."

But despite the fact The Simpsons sometimes mimics a moral agenda, we should not be fooled. In fact, The Simpsons does not promote anything, because its humour works by putting forward positions only in order to undercut them. "This process of undercutting runs so deeply that we cannot regard the show as merely cynical; it manages to undercut its cynicism too."

Crisis of authority

For example, take Scenes from the Class Struggle in Springfield (from the series's seventh season). Marge Simpson buys a $90 Coco Chanel suit. Wearing it, she bumps into a friend, who's suitably impressed and invites Marge to the posh Springfield Glen Country Club. Bent on climbing the social ladder, Marge hauls Homer and the rest of the family to the club. Ultimately, they reject membership just as (unbeknownst to them) the mucky-mucks at the club are ready to bring them into the membership fold. Despite hints to the contrary, there is no moral lesson here. Nada. This is hyper-irony.

Matheson notes that most of today's comedies are a different kind of funny from those of decades past. In the sixties, seventies and eighties, TV invariably promoted some kind of moral agenda, or at least reflected the prevalent cultural mores of the time. But we now live in a crisis of authority. These days, it's cool to be cruel. Immanuel Kant's moral law is as dead as God, maybe deader.

In the face of this, we rely on our own cultural products to construct a kind of quasi-meaning.

Matheson does not contend that the makers of The Simpsons intended the show primarily as a theatre of cruelty - although that is quite likely.

"Despite the fact that the show strips away any semblance of value, despite the fact that, week after week, it offers us little comfort, it still manages to convey the raw power of the irrational (or arational) love of human beings for other human beings, and it makes us play along by loving these flickering bits of paint on celluloid who live in a flickering, hollow world. Now that's comedy entertainment."

A slightly longer version of this appeared in The Globe and Mail in October 2000 (you could write long for newspapers in those days) and it was later reprinted in The Simpson's Archive. Top Image: Big World 6x6 w/c on canvas David Roberts 2009.