The Why
of Whys
Each month we offer our readers
a puzzling if not impossible thought,
the why and the where and the who
of who we might think we are ...
deep questions sketched out to befog and fuddle the mind.

The "Paradox of the Month"
is now a staple of our magazine, continuing, presumably,
to confuse or derange our readers.
Here are a dozen or so that
continue to make us wonder
what it all means. And why.

We list them here in declining order of mystery.

The Hole
The Shoe

One day I went to the dentist. Over the radio they said
it was the hottest day of the year.
However, I was wearing a jacket, because going to a doctor
has always struck me as a somewhat formal occasion.

In the midst of his work, Dr. Heyman stopped and said,
"Why don't you take your jacket off?"
I said, "I have a hole in my shirt and that's why I have my jacket on."
He said, "Well, I have a hole in my sock, and, if you like,
I'll take my shoes off."

--- Silence
John Cage
Edited by Kyle Gann
©2011 Wesleyan University Press

Let There
Be Light
At first there was nothing.
Then God said,
"Let there be light."
Then there was still nothing ---
but you could see it.
--- From Rock Gardening in
the Ukraine

The Bomb Today
At the end of the neolithic age, we have the Bomb as environment. The Bomb is not a gimmick or a gadget. It is not something that has been inserted in the military establishment more than automation is something that is now being inserted into the industrial establishment. The Bomb, like automation, is a new environment consisting of a network of information and feedback loops.
The Bomb, as pure information, consists of higher learning. It is, as it were, the extension division of the modern university in its highest research areas, creating a very tight environment indeed.
--- From Understanding Me:
Lectures and Interviews

Marshall McLuhan
©2005 MIT Press

The Benign
Indifference of
The Universe
I, too, felt ready to start life all over again. It was as if that great rush of anger had washed me clean, emptied me of hope, and, gazing up at the dark sky spangled with its signs and stars, for the first time, the first, I laid my heart open to the benign indifference of the universe.
To feel it so like myself, indeed, so brotherly, made me realize that I'd been happy, and that I was happy still. For all to be accomplished, for me to feel less lonely, all that remained to hope was that on the day of my execution there should be a huge crowd of spectators and that they should greet me with howls of execration.

--- From The Stranger
Albert Camus
Stuart Gilbert, Translator
©1946, Alfred A Knopf
A Testament
"I consider Mr. Maxim to be one of the greatest benefactors the world has ever known."
"You have prevented more men from dying of old age than any other man that ever lived."
--- Lord Salisbury,
in a dinner held in 1900
to honor Hiram Maxim,
inventor of the machine gun,
as quoted in the
London Review of Books,
10 January 2011

The Earth,
The Sky
and Molly

God has a wife called Molly,
together they made mankind.
They like to say they're lesbian
for God has a feminine mind.

He once had an affair with Mary,
it didn't last that long,
they had meant to have a girl
but then it all went wrong.

So Molly went off with an angel
and dyed her hair bright pink,
she left a note for God
saying she needed time to think.

But now they're back together,
they cancelled the divorce,
she forces him to go to church
and he cooks of course.

Molly has a husband called God,
they live above us all.
Even though she straps him to a cloud,
he's certain he will fall.

--- From Looking
Through Letterboxes

©2002 Caroline Bird
Carcanet Press
12-16 Blackfriars
Manchester M3 5BQ

According to the American Animal Hospital Association, 80 percent of American pet owners consider their pets to be their children rather than "companion animals," a point of view that provides the organic pet food industry with a large potential market. Every year Americans spend four times more on pet food than on baby food. In America, there are 70 million pet cats, 60 million pet dogs, 10 million pet birds, 5 million pleasure horses, and 17 million exotic pets such as rabbits, snakes, rats, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, mice, and skunks.
In addition, although they are not yet sold in Whole Foods Markets, organic worms are available for environmentally focused fishers. Currently available are organic red wigglers and European and African night crawlers. The African variety is touted as a "good trolling worm" but is not recommended for ice fishing.

--- From America's Food
What You Don't Know
About What Your Eat

Harvey Blatt
©2008 MIT Press

The Creative
Plenty of postwar writers, from J. D. Salinger and Vladimir Nabokov to Thomas Pynchon, had little or nothing to do with writing programs. Nabokov taught a course on the novel at Cornell, in which Pynchon was a student, but he never taught creative writing.
Harvard once considered hiring Nabokov to teach literature; Roman Jackson, then a professor of linguistics there, is supposed to have asked whether the university was also prepared to hire an elephant to teach zoology.
--- From "Show or Tell"
Louis Menand
The New Yorker
June 8 & 15, 2009

Learning to Love
Dick Cheney
New York Times: What do you think about when you meditate?

Robert Thurman: Usually, some form of trying to excavate any kind of negative thing cycling in the mind and turn it toward the positive. For example, when I am annoyed with Dick Cheney, I meditate on how Dick Cheney was my mother in a previous life and nursed me at his breast.

New York Times: You mean you fantasize about being breast-fed by Dick Cheney?

Robert Thurman: It's a fantasy of releasing fear and developing affection. It's a way of coming back to feeling grateful toward him and seeing his positive side, finding the mother in Dick Cheney.

--- From an Interview with Robert Thurman,
The New York Times Magazine
29 June 2008

Snake Pit
Easy to invade and occupy, difficult to subjugate and rule, Afghanistan remains a poisoned chalice for whichever of the great powers takes it on. The Russian empire failed to digest the portions of Muslim Central Asia and the Caucasus it did swallow during the 19th Century: most of Russia's contemporary problems with terrorism stem from those acquisitions.
"You can rent an Afghan, but never buy him" still remains the traditional local aphorism most applicable to would-be Central Asian conquerors.
--- From "Snake Pits"
Robert Carver's review of
Shooting Leave by Robert Ure
TLS 12 February 2010


It is believed by most that time passes.
In actual fact, it stays where it is.

--- Zen Master Dogan
As quoted in
The Armillary Sphere
Ann Hudson
(Ohio University Press)

The Beating
Of the Heart
Eleven times the muscle of my heart contracted while I was writing the four words of the preceding sentence. Perhaps six hundred times since I began to write this little chapter. Seven hundred thirty-two million, one hundred thirty-six thousand, three hundred twenty times, since I moved into the hotel. And no less than one billion, sixty-seven million, six hundred thirty-six thousand, one hundred sixty times has my heart beat since a day in 1919, at Fort George G. Meade, when an army doctor, Captain John Frisbee, informed me, during the course of my predischarge physical examination, that each soft beat my sick heart beat might be my sick heart's last.

Having poured my drink, I may not live to taste it, or that it may pass a live man's tongue to burn a dead man's belly; that having slumbered, I may never wake, or having waked, may never living sleep. Having heard tick, will I hear tock? Having served, will I volley? Having sugared will I cream? Having eithered, will I or? Itching, will I scratch? Hemming, will I haw?

--- From The Floating Opera
John Barth
©1956 Bantam Books


David Lawley, in his new biography, tells one of the great stories of Prince Tallyrand. "A Jacobin radical bursts into his study during the Terror and Tallyrand gives him a glass of cognac, which he immediately starts to guzzle. Tallyrand stops him: 'No, no, no, that is not the way to drink cognac. One does it like this. One takes the glass in the hollow of the hand, one warms it, one shakes it with a circular motion to liberate the scent, then one raises it to one's nostrils, one breathes it in."
"And then?" sighs the panicked visitor.
"And then, Sir, one puts one's glass down and one discusses it."

--- David A. Bell
From a Review of Napoleon's Master
David Lawday
LRB, 16 November 2006

Sylvester Stallone

"Yo. I'm astounded by people
who take 18 years to write something.
That's how long it took that guy to write
Madame Bovary."

"And was that even on the best-seller list?
No. It was a lousy book,
and it made a lousy movie."
--- Sylvester Stallone
As quoted by
Sara Peretsky
Booklist Magazine,
1 May 2003

Umberto Eco
On Lurid

"Pornographic movies are full of people who climb into cars and drive for miles and miles, couples who waste incredible amounts of time signing in at hotel desks, gentlemen who spend many minutes in elevators before reaching their rooms, girls who sip various drinks and who fiddle interminably with laces and blouses before confessing to each other that they prefer Sappho to Don Juan."

"To put it simply, crudely, in porn movies, before you can see a healthy screw you have to put up with a documentary that could be sponsored by the Traffic Bureau."

--- Umberto Eco
"How to Recognize a Porn Movie"
From How to Travel with a Salmon
and Other Essays

William Weaver, Translator
©1995 Minerva Press
Cited in Images of Bliss
Murat Aydemir
(University of Minnesota Press)

Nuts to Bridge

A composer friend of mine who spent some time in a mental rehabilitation center was encouraged to do a good deal of bridge playing. After one game, his partner was criticizing his play of an ace on a trick which had already been won.
My friend stood up and said, "If you think I came to the loony bin to learn to play bridge, you're crazy."
--- Silence
John Cage
Edited by Kyle Gann
©2011 Wesleyan University Press
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