The Tiger Manifesto

Criticism with claws

Month: August, 2012

Why I Care About Humans

Choosing a title for this collection of musings proved a trying task. I finally put my paw down and chose “Memoirs of a Culture Stalker” because culture is always elusive. It cannot be caught, but leaves many signs of its going. Further, culture is also dangerous prey, a complicated chimera with many parts. Some of these are benign, others beneficial, and others malign. Stalking culture is therefore dangerous, and the stalker must be careful at all times to keep its quarry in sight. Chasing culture is chasing a rainbow: it is chasing something that exists outside and within at the same time.

Set the stage. You are a person living in a college dormitory/residence. Sometime each morning, you awaken and feel compelled to sit up. Do so. Assess the world around you. Since you occupy physical space, you have to be somewhere. You already know when you wake up that you are lying in bed. That bed is not on the floor, is not made of plastic, metal, or straw but of a mix of natural and synthetic fibres and wood held together with metal screws. Alarms sound in your head. After rewinding your brain, you recall that the alarm is coming from a clock. Tuesday. Unlike a tiger, you are diurnal and walk and eat under the sun. Breakfast is taken on a table, dead and not alive, usually barely resembling the plants and creatures used to make it.

Two hours, at most, have fled since you awoke. Not a single minute, no not one, has been free of human culture’s footprints. Perhaps you sense where I am leading and protest that you could have been on a wilderness retreat, a hermetic journey into a great old-growth forest sentineled by oaks and owls. There, you might think, the stalking ends and your quarry no longer leaves its trail. However, even there the trees are not without names, the sounds of the owls reach human ears, you leave footprints or shoeprints in the ground. When there is no name for a strange insect, you describe it as red, blue, short, long, spiky, good, loathsome. Isolated from others as you might be, you were born of a mother and learned your language, and cannot escape human culture.

Human culture is not merely inward or merely outward. That is, culture cannot be limited to a song, a style of dress, a word, a book, or a method of building a bed. Culture does indeed produce those objects, but culture is not only a set of things. From within the depths of your mind, culture envelops all thoughts, all dreams, all motions, the very way you see. What do you look at? What do you find beautiful? Perception is, in some sense, everything we have. We know nothing that we cannot perceive in some fashion, not with any level of certitude. This is why culture is so important: it is everything around us, and everything in us. Culture is humanity. As a tiger, humans are important to me because they are hunting my kind to extinction, squeezing us out of the world and turning us into their own cultural objects.

Where does the dodo live today but in human culture?

Soon the tiger may exist only in the imagination, in pictures, and in stories. This is why I spend all of my time contemplating and recording these matters. For you, culture is in everything. Interpreting the universe is the work of the human. No other part of creation is capable of doing this, save for the occasional sapient tiger.

Songs on the radio are not accidents. They are made with a purpose. It is the solemn and joyous work of this tiger to help you learn the language of why. Why was this made? Why is it the way it is? Why do I reject or embrace it? This does not mean removing joy, fun, or the immediate enjoyment of the song. It does, however, imply that such reactions are incomplete, that there is meaning in culture and that not all of it is good–or bad.

To borrow the motto of a human writer, we swim in interpretation. Tigers are better swimmers than humans, but we don’t let that get to our heads. Let’s swim together, not drifting in the current or wasting our time pretending we can still go back to shore.

Editor’s Note: Migration and Notes on a Regular Schedule

Your editor and tiger whisperer will be spending the next few days becoming acclimatized to college life again. As such, there will not be a post until Wednesday.

Wednesdays and Fridays will become the regular day for updates for the foreseeable future. This is subject to change because of schoolwork and writing two articles per week for the paper. For now, however, the plan will be thus:

Wednesday will be Cultural Artifact Day. I’ve contacted Alexius and he is fine with regulating his schedule this way. So, on Wednesdays, I’ll be posting a review or some opinion piece about a piece of culture, whatever it might be.

Fridays will be Narrative Days, when Alexius tells us about his week in tiger heaven and what’s been going on on his side of the astral vale. There may be some cultural musings, but the focus will largely be on Alexius himself.

I am excited to make this transition, and this will help me make the blog less chaotic. Thank you for bearing with me.

ParaNorman

ParaNorman

I envy humans. Their lives are so rich and full. Routines are broken, and basic urges can be resisted. One day, a person can be stalking around their haunt, snacking on derelict snack foods from the pantry, and the next day the very same person is out swimming in a pool or living in a new house. This might be why there are so many films made about humans, whether dead or alive. Today, I watched one of those films about people.

Let’s situate ParaNorman in context. It’s an animated film, albeit one whose animation is handcrafted rather than processed in computers. It was also made in the United States for wide audiences. Animated films for wide audiences in the United States follow a very narrow subset of film tropes: they are intended for children and star youthful protagonists with distant, dead, or terrible parents, their supporting casts are lined with broadly characterized bit players mined from set stereotypes, and they tend to have a dramatic three-act plot that is leavened by broad comedy.

ParaNorman fits the mould precisely. In addition, it slots into the gothic-comic stop motion niche in animated film. Corpse Bride, Coraline, Frankenweenie, and Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit all established and defined this space. On a plot level, ParaNorman is unremarkable, in some ways adroitly conventional. In such a meticulous medium, however, details tend to matter more than generalities. It is in the details that this film pulls off a satisfying but incomplete triumph over its genre straitjacket.

Norman, a young boy living in the aptly named Blithe Hollow, Massachusetts has a different perspective on life than the average citizen. Namely, he can see ghosts. The town, whose Puritan founders were responsible for hanging a witch, now survives by commercializing its grisly past for the tourists. Considered a freak by everyone from his classmates to his own father, he lives a lonely life watching horror flicks with his deceased grandmother and stoically enduring his daily ridicule. 

From this premise, the first-time writer Chris Butler (previous work includes art design for Coraline and Tarzan 2) sets up his plot as a narrative about fear and the long shadow cast by the sins of the past. It seems that the witch who was executed cursed her accusers. Norman’s strange and estranged uncle Mr. Prenderghast insinuates that the curse is real and that it is the young one with the spiky hair alone who can suppress it. Much of the running time is taken up by a tame zombie movie that makes up for its lack of horror with grotesque wit. There are some choice moments, the best of which involves the slow advance of zombies and a bag of chips. It truly comes alive, however, after a late shift in tone and emphasis that brings the whole affair to an oddly affecting conclusion. There are too many limp action sequences and tame scares that don’t work on seasoned hunters, but the pacing is overall well-balanced if not exactly brisk.

Visual and aural design are all impeccable. Each new set and situation reveals new wonders of production and puppetry. Characters are memorably constructed visually, their faces fluidly animated, the visual gags illustrated with panache. The final sequences are especially stunning. There is very little to fault in the overall presentation, as even the special effects are seamlessly integrated into the three-dimensional . LAIKA studios does not match their moody and dreamlike work on Coraline but this is by far the most rewarding aspect of ParaNorman. 

I wish American mainstream animation could get over its apparent inability to consistently foster more than one story archetype. LAIKA studios has, however, pulled an original film out of a dusty template. The result dazzles the eye and pleases the intellect just enough to keep the ghosts of conventionality at bay.

The Masked God Approaches

My last missive indicated that, because I am in tiger heaven, I am more or less obligated to believe in a god of some kind. That being true, I had little evidence even here that a god existed.

My Arrival:

Evenings up North are vanishing. It’s the winter, and this old tiger doesn’t know he’s going to die. His only human friend says you can’t be ready for death. The tiger likes that idea. It was a surprise. Death was much like a tiger or a human: a surpassing hunter, so fleet that it could pull the rug out from under a spider. As a tiger, he saw a lot of not-being. Even in the suburbs, under the auspices of civil government, a panthera tigris needed to kill. Birds and bank robbers, squirrels and shoplifters all down the hatch.

Older bones swapped themselves in for the young ones. It was a relay race where the slowest, most haggardly runner finished. His reward was oblivion. The tiger appreciated the joke. As a young one, he laughed at what he would become. Even as the brightest, most formidable horizon approaches, the tiger’s body becomes less able to appreciate it. Its eyes dim, so the light passes for a glow stick. Its ears decay, and the gongs of heaven strike as a plastic triangle. Its memory fades, and it does not remember its predecessors on the race.

Tiger heaven picked up the old tiger by the neck, like a mother. He waded out of a pool and shook off his fur. Other tigers were stalking, idling, climbing, mating, strolling. Tigers are not meant to be together. Except in the afterlife, or so it seemed.

The Masked Man Approaches

I outgrew my wide eyes. They’re still open, but look narrower by comparison because I’m so much bigger than I was. Now there is a hole in the open space, the only structure in all of tiger heaven. Blank-faced red bricks line its sides, with windows peeking like arrow slits through the façade. A town house for a tiger so reclusive he would rather spend all eternity alone than watch the bacchanal outside.

I was listening to the next album up for review. At that point, he approached. A throng of tigers surrounded him. No surprise. From the top of the house where my listening space is, he looked human. Like me, he stood on two legs. Unlike me, he wore full clothing and had no claws nor stripes. What stuck out most about him was the way he walked. Nothing about that shruggy gait or restless twitch resembled the proud and disaffected stride of cat kind. A human to be sure, and probably pathetic.

How did he get in here?

Talk to Him, You Dolt

Knock knock. You know the joke. At once I could see that he was no one to be trifled with, though he seemed friendly. Having read the title of this missive, you know that he wore a mask. What he said first, however, is the main point of this.

“Alexius, it’s me, Jon.”

I could not have expected this. I looked at him more closely, though, and it began to make sense. There was no face behind the mask, or none the figure would reveal. He wore a hooded sweatshirt backward. Because it was too big for him, the sleeves drooped down and covered his hands except for his fingertips. Headphones were wrapped around his neck like necklaces. Inside the hood of his sweatshirt, there was the key to his success in finding his way here. A pair of tiger dolls, twins, their eyes black and dead, but cute, rested there, staring outward.

It became far easier to communicate with the outside world. This was a mere tool of Jon’s, not a medium or a projection, exactly, but more of a symbolic representation, a communiqué in visual form. Heaven was becoming more bearable by the day. When he left, he left with a small rush of air. Not enough to clear away the aggregate mustiness of the house, but invigorating nonetheless. I went back upstairs and prepared right then to write better and more incisively. Nothing could defy me now.

Newsboys: “God’s Not Dead” Song and Video

Newsboys

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_OTz-lpDjw

I’m giving you a special insight into the mind of a talking tiger. That does not mean that this is the only way to find out about the nature of our fearsome and reclusive species. Observe the common housecat. You are on the Internet, so you are no doubt intimately familiar with felis catus, the common domestic cat. Truly, if you desire to discover the tiger way, the housecat is your field of study. For once, idly watching videos on the Web can be a genuinely educational experience. Tigers and housecats have a whole host of commonalities, from basic anatomy and genetics to irritability. Some would say, “Well, tigers are filthy and despicable man-killers while my cute cat Honorius wouldn’t hurt a fly.” Total nonsense. As a matter of fact, housecats probably have more of a taste for human flesh than I do. The only difference is that tigers can eat humans if we want. It’s a nice, if unpleasant, fallback to use instead of succumbing to starvation. Look, the point is this: nine and a half times out of ten, the demeanor and behavior of Li’l Snuffy is going to match up to that of a Bengal tiger. It’s only where our size and lack of social graces come in that we have much to dispute, and we can chalk most of that up to breeding and lack of education.

Sitting in my townhouse, I was pouring myself a hot Bengali drink–it was carbonated, which I found plain odd–and I came upon a perfect example. If you’re the religious type, watch your cat on holy days and worship days. Observe it all day and make careful notes and come back to me. Do this for at least a month of worship days and then send the results to the only townhouse in tiger heaven. Let me ask you something, since I believe this will be obvious: did your cat or cats show any interest in attending religious ceremonies? Did Tipsy raise her irate little paw and decry you as a heathen for using a pair of scissors on the Sabbath? Has your pious tabby lodged a complaint to your local religious leader because you broke a fast by eating instant ramen before the sun set, and you justified it by saying you were on vacation and home was a time zone ahead so it was technically still keeping fast? Does your cat go around door to door draped in holy vestments and proclaiming the sacred Word? No, the answer is no.

Be blessed by the cat priest.

Not your cat.

Because I was a tiger, raised as a tiger in the wild before I learned how to speak and became literate, I too was raised as what one might call a natural tigerist. So forgive me if I am somewhat unqualified to offer my feline opinion on the Newsboys. The Newsboys is a group of fresh-faced Australian pop musicians who make what is called Contemporary Christian Music or CCM. In the wider music world, CCM has probably the worst reputation of any genre this side of American brostep or nu-metal.

When I invited a group of tiger acquaintances to my townhouse here in tiger heaven, I played them some records from the pile that could be connected to this genre¹. The reaction was muted. Most of the tiger simply shrugged and went back to sleeping or munching on flavored salmon eggs that I keep in a bowl. It’s difficult to say if they were bored, but they were certainly indifferent. Now, my human medium grew up thinking the Newsboys were pretty cool. They could put on a decent show and made infectious pop tunes that weren’t too offensive to the intellect and had a bit of class. It has been quite some time since either I or my human medium has had much chance to listen to them, though. Because my book is still young and vital, I wanted to make the first two reviews set the tone for most of the later entries. Most of what I’ll be reviewing will be fairly obscure and in genres that do not have enough of a following for tracks to get millions of views on Youtube.

The song in question today is “God’s Not Dead.” Normally, there would be no need to separate a song from its music video because good songs usually have good videos. That written, this is an average song with a video that might redefine my entire categorical understanding of terrible music videos. To be brief, it is a video so despicable it almost registers between my pointed ears as a satire of this sort of music. Some secular humanist with an acrid wit and a fondness for CNN produced it, or so this tiger is convinced.

First, the song. I have considerably less to say concerning it than the video. Newsboys has always occupied a neutral zone between rock and pop music, a place where both traditions surrender their sundry mutual grievances and play kickball together. This is an absurd way to state that Newsboys is bouncy but toothless, conventional but competent, Christian but not so much so as to not appeal to the generic market for inspirational music. Listen to “God’s Not Dead” while brushing your cat or cleaning her bowl and you might wonder how this isn’t a Coldplay song. The current incarnation of Newsboys share with those unfashionably popular Brits a certain expressive, pseudo-sacramental style of rock music that both happened to pillage from Bono’s closet on the same night in the mid-1990s. Vocalist Michael Tait also sings Coldplay-esque jumbled metaphors, squishy soaring choruses, and banalities that Chris Martin has turned into his bread and butter².

The song is about exactly what I thought it would be about, and communicates it predictably. True to the chorus, the band asserts that their “God’s not dead, he is surely alive/He’s living on the inside/Roaring like a lion.” This is problematic in a few ways, but there is nothing egregious about it. The cadences and melody sound mellow over the gently chiming guitars and marginally rocking rhythm section. It offers reassurance to believers in God and tries to mount a revolution. As a call to generic revival, it does a serviceable job. Newsboys has written better, and the CCM world is full of songs like this that are leagues more offensively brainless. For a tiger, it’s far from wild enough to be charming, fascinating, or conducive to tiger-jamming on the dance floor. Nor does it have any pretensions of being anything other than emotional fodder for Christian youth rallies or pleasant road-trip material for the contentedly square among us. If that assessment reads as condescending, then that is because I am a tiger, and come by my imperious arrogance by birthright³.

We reach a transitional point in this review. So far, the song looks competent but only barely interesting enough to merit comment. Without the charming and affecting illustration of your cat wandering around in priestly garb, this might as well be a wasted post. Mistake me not: this review is about to metastasize. Not only do I have nothing positive to write about the music video for “God’s Not Dead,” but it calls into question every solitary ounce of respect I have ever had for Newsboys. Because I am a pacific and meditative cat, I will use my claws to dissect this video in as much detail as possible to expose the rest of the world the viscera, the mortified innards of this soulless production.

The video begins with a few shots of New York City. You see the Empire State Building, and then cut to the streets of what looks like Manhattan judging by the sheer volume of shiny glass and the Mamma Mia! billboard ad smiling from the background of one shot. An unseen female news announcer then intones with deadened professionalism that “Scientists have announced that, based on their research, they have concluded that God is a myth.” As she speak this last phrase, the lower body of a hip teenager walks by, and in his hands is a newspaper (First blatantly nonsensical shot.) whose headline blares GOD IS A MYTH.

Our editor, evidently enraged by the very thought of a young person reading such a headline, cuts to a black background onto which slams the title of the song in enormous bold red letters. This is the first time watching the video that I purred with humorous delight. This is because these bold red letters are nearly identical to the bold red letters Kanye West has been using to market preview tracks for his vanity label collaboration album Cruel Summer. This is no idle jest. Please deign to compare the two below. The shadowing is even suspiciously similar.

New God FlowBold and Red

Who knew that hip-hop’s reigning emperor of artistic glitz and a CCM group could have such similar tastes? However, I might be making too much of this; the lyrics haven’t even kicked in yet.

After the letters fade away we cut to the interior of a coffee shop frequented by numerous youth all reading–and I smile again–newspapers. Luckily, however, the GOD IS A MYTH crowd is being watched over by the man in the foreground. Who could he be other than our leading man Michael Tait. As the electric guitars rev up in the background, he gives them a look not of disapproval but of total confusion. he holds this quizzical countenance for several seconds until we cut to Newsboys’ drummer Duncan Phillips banging on a kit. Locations are difficult to discern in the video, but it seems as though Tait and the rest of the band are playing a gig at the café. This is only my humble tigerly assumption, though. For all I know they could be playing in a totally separate time-space pocket where only the laws of music video editing and gravity apply.

More location shots of Manhattan’s skyline and hurried pedestrians whiz by interspersed with footage of the band playing and Duncan Phillips making goofy faces while playing the drums. Now comes the meat of the video, which purports to give us a taste of cosmic information and psychological warfare. Arrayed on the battlefield are, on one side, the dark forces of rationalism, the secular media, and questions. On the other side is the stalwart Newsboys and their army of sympathetic bloggers and Twitter members spreading the good news by hook and by crook to disperse the cloud of confusion.

I have a feeling this will not go well.

Firing the opening salvo in this war of words is the army of doubt. We get our noses rubbed in some more atheist newsprint before cutting to a billboard that states, in the same Kanye bold print, that there is “NO EVIDENCE THAT GOD EXISTS.” Let us interpret that for a moment. Since I live in a literal subjective afterlife, I can hardly agree with the statement that there is no evidence for God or the supernatural. For you humans however, it has to be conceded that there is no empirical evidence for the existence of anything that operates contrary to the laws of nature. Science cannot and never will find God. Despite what some on both sides of this debate claim, science is simply not equipped to find the divine, nor to conclusively disprove it. I would say that not accepting God because of a lack of empirical evidence is, sadly to me, completely reasonable. I believe in God, as does my human interpreter, but not based on any facts or objective knowledge. Faith is a cliff dive into fog, a valiant but frustrating embrace of the absurd and uncertain. There are certainly aspects of life on Earth, especially subjective experience, that defy rational explanations, but this particular thread will be resolved in the video in the most superficial and, to be honest, insulting way possible. Keep that billboard in mind as we proceed.

No Evidence

Burn it into your brain.

Shift now to a series of people with downcast faces staring at blank screens. For our benefit, the editor has plastered the screens with mocked up images of news websites declaring things like “God is Dead,” “Man is just another animal,” “Everything came from nothing,” and “How Can A Good God Allow Evil?” The last message is particularly disturbing to the man viewing it, who is so shocked by the question of theodicy existing that he whips off the sunglasses he was wearing indoors.

Glasses on...Theodicy slam!Weirded out!

Before covering the inevitable counterattack, let’s go through these one by one. First for scrutiny is “God is Dead.” In the video, this is juxtaposed with an old print of Jesus carrying the cross on the way to his crucifixion. I am not sure if the creator of the video was referring to the twentieth century “death of God” debate or just to Jews and others who deny that Jesus was resurrected. The “death of God” debate took place from the 1960s and later and from my knowledge of human history seemed mainly to centre around whether the secularizing West was losing a sense of the sacred and transcendent in life. Many theologians abandoned a transcendent God and, like J.J. Alitzer, redefined theology as theopoetics, and redefined religion as an encounter with an immanent God in a community of believers. These ideas of God owed more to Hegel than Augustine.

Why do I write this down? Of what value is this exposition of somewhat obscure theological and philosophical debate? Well, it’s mostly to show that this video has no business throwing around terminology like “death of God” because it’s a music video for a danceable pop song, not a doctoral thesis or even a serious blog post. It’s fluff. Spiritual fluff, but fluff nonetheless, and while the song itself plays in generalities and goes for the heart, the video throws caution to the wind and turns the song into a cure-all for doubters of all stripes. Clearly, someone was not taking this seriously enough. More likely, they just used the phrase to refer to those who deny the resurrection of Jesus, which is a more simple but still fairly touchy subject outside of a Christian market.

Next we have “Man is just another animal.” Well, from a taxonomical standpoint, that statement is totally sound. We are able to move, we reproduce sexually, we are consumers who metabolize nutrition that we have to find and imbibe. Nothing would prevent a Christian, at least a reasonable one, from assenting to the fact that we are animals. The real rub comes in at the word just. From a traditional Christian perspective, we are not just animals but are animals with a special access to the divine. We are self-aware and God-aware, the crown of creation and the stewards of the Earth. There is a special role and responsibility for humans beyond our role as consuming animals. Secular humanists would certainly agree on many of those points, though from a non-theist perspective. The video’s answer to this statement is also forthcoming, and is much the same response it gives to the first question.

Third is the quotation that made me gag on my dining room table, which I was chopping up and eating out of sheer boredom. It gave me splinters I was laughing so hard. “Everything came from nothing.” Read Genesis, video director. You know what ex nihilo means? God created everything from nothing in the most dominant interpretation of that account! A non-theistic idea of the creation of the universe depends on there being, in some sense, something from which the universe emerged, even if that something was unclassifiable as energy or matter as we now know it. I am not sure what the video is even getting at here. I suppose it’s questioning the idea that whatever was in existence before the Big Bang did not come from anywhere and was not guided by anyone. It just was. The way it’s worded, however, it comes off as the worst thing a CCM song can be: Scripturally ignorant or at the very least gravely confused.

Genesis

How can you call yourself a Christian without knowing Genesis?

The last question is possibly in the top three most debated questions in the history of thought. Everyone questions why people suffer at some point. Faithful people in the Bible were fraught over this idea. Several books of the Bible are defined by angst over this, including Psalms and Job. One problem I have with inspirational music of all persuasions is that it often papers over the big questions–hell, any questions at all–and presents whatever it has to sell as certain and individually comforting. Christians can have a kind of claim to certainty, sort of, but the religion of Jesus is neither comforting or soft. To live in faith is to live in doubt. What infuriates me is that the target audience of this video is Christians who are living in uncertainty, who have perhaps asked these questions to God or to others. People with real doubts are not swayed by inspirational songs. This video is more a soft pillow for those who are already certain, or who play with doubt but don’t really feel it. That means that this video is totally without purpose except as a sleepytime tonic for people who have never even met an atheist much less sit perched on the edge of becoming one because of the news media. 

Finally, we are ready to move on. After the montage of doubters has gone by we get yet more shots of the band and New York until we get to the response. And this is where I stopped laughing at the video and became totally enraged. I admit the rage was fleeting and shallow but it was not the response the video was calibrated to elicit. If “God’s Not Dead” the video left the questions hanging, and called the people to trust in God and persevere in their calling despite their stumbling blocks, I would give it a pass. I would congratulate it for its willingness to grapple with issues and acknowledge their significance. I might purr on it a few times (Strictly exhalation. Only small cats can purr while inhaling.) but we save that for special occasions. The video instead attempts to give pat, clear answers to these questions. Now, let us record their responses and see how much pandering the director and his crew managed to wedge into this abomination.

Initially, the counterattack is vague, taking the form of a blogger writing a post entitled “WE ARE MADE IN THE IMAGE OF GOD.” Fine sentiment, I’m sure. Then the man who read “Everything came from nothing” replies with a tweet of his own. Cleverly, he writes, “everything came from SOMETHING!” (sic), leading us all to imagine the kindergarten-level back-and-forth “Yes he did, no he didn’t” tone of the ensuing online debate. So far, the Christian reply has been weak, even when bolstered by the Newsboys’ watered-down rock and roll. Let’s move on and see what else is happening on the front lines.

In response to the theodicy question we get sunglasses man, confusingly, reading an article on the same news site that reads, “God Gave Us Freedom To Choose, Man Chose To Do Evil.” A Calvinist would complicate that by saying that God planned the Fall and uses suffering as a part of his whole plan for the universe, that God’s reasons for doing so are a mystery, and that our only proper response as humans is to cope with and assuage God’s suffering while accepting his grace. Social and cognitive science, meanwhile, cast significant doubt on any claim that humans have free will that is not determined by genetics, social circumstances, and a million other forces that act on us every day. Also, how does the position that suffering was caused by our free choice to sin square with the fact that humans were suffering and dying for hundreds of thousands of years before civilization sprang up? But such nuances are difficult to shoehorn into a headline, begging the question once again: why did they do this?

At last, Michael Tait engages the enemy in battle, striding over to an unsuspecting youth  and throwing down a newspaper that is identical to the one’s we’ve been seeing but has the song’s title printed as a headline instead. Aside from the logistical and logical problems with this, which are not actually problems because it’s meant to be more poetic and generalized than plot-driven or logical, what does this solve? So far, the video is putting forth the notion that the best response to doubt is to simply proclaim the opposite of doubt as loudly as possible. That changes nothing and solves nothing. It’s less a clever riposte and more a loudmouthed denial that the question matters or that it might be hard to solve.

I was telling you to keep the billboard in mind. Right now, you can recall it and the “man is just an animal” quotation, because it’s time for the answer. Unfortunately for the quality of the debate it’s another bromide. Some seconds after the newspaper gauntlet throwing, we cut to a group of people watching television somewhere. Another newscast, of course, this time one that is reporting “Complexity Of Life Points to Design.” Although not the absolute worst bit of creationist nonsense it could have (mainly because there is so much to choose from) this is still noxious. Complexity is easily understood without the need for an instantaneous creation of all species simultaneously. Darwinian evolution accounts for the complexity, similarity, and diversity of life far better than intelligent design. Further, this says nothing about whether humans are just animals or not, or whether God is personal or triune or whether God even cares about us. A designer merely implies Deism or even some kind of extraterrestrial intervention. It takes a leap to get from that to Christianity. We still have nearly two minutes left, friends. Tigers, for all their faults, are patient and thorough.

Tiger being thorough and patient.

What’s this? I see that the rest of the video is totally non-objectionable. That is correct. The great cosmic war of ideas has resolved itself, leaving nearly two minutes of filler content featuring a Christian rock concert and more shots of Manhattan. I suppose that means there is no more prey to digest. What have we learned from this? Mostly that music video producers, and people in general, should stop assuming that we can throw out cliches and half-truths and expect to stand up to any level of scrutiny. No one has all the answers, no not one. As a tiger, I’m the first to admit to loving my own self-aggrandizement and hubris. It is one thing to have faith; quite another to think that because you have faith it gets you off the hook for thinking.

Notes:

1. This included dcTalk, Audio Adrenaline, Avalon, Amy Grant, and even a few early Newsboys records.

2. Though I did not meant that literally, I want to clear up the confusion. We all know that bread and butter is far too bold and spicy for any Coldplay member. They normally subsist on frozen dough and celery gruel with all the salt extracted from it.

3. Tigers receive a special commendation through their mother’s bloodline that allows them to claim superiority over all other beings. One of the many advantages of being a tiger.

Editor’s Note: Personal Address to Third van Reken

To those who came to this blog from the digital aether: thank you for reading this blog. It’s my vision to spread the writings of Old Alexius to as many people as possible. He was an inspirational figure in my life and I would not have half the powers of discernment and commentary that I do without him. Yes, he was no titan in any field the star of no story but his own, but he had a charm and incisiveness all his own. So, thank you. That said, this post is primarily meant for those coming to this blog from the group of peers that attend college with me in the flesh. I won’t have you prosecuted for snooping or write letters to your parents, so please read if you find the address below interesting. For now, however, this editor’s note is specifically designed for those who know me in person.

On to business, then.

Dear Residents of Third van Reken, Peers and Fellow Students,

To those who do not know me, let me introduce myself. I am Jonathan Hielkema, and I will be your cultural discerner. That means I am responsible for monitoring and improving the cultural life of the third van Reken community. I will be organizing events around culture, fostering, leading, and participating in conversations about culture, and being your resource for culture on the floor. That being said, you’re probably curious about who, exactly, this masked man (And I mean that sincerely. I will be wearing a mask and a bit of a costume while mediating culture for you.) is. Who is he to tell me what movies are better than others? That is not my job. My job is to tell you what art is most important to me and offer up my opinions, not to turn you into a drone, as much as my megalomaniacal tendencies tell me to do the latter. I will offer up this short description.

I am an American/Canadian double citizen who identifies as Canadian in most circumstances. I was born and baptized in the Christian Reformed Church but am at most a reluctant Calvinist who believes in inclusive, if not universal, salvation. To me the Bible is useless without the guidance of the Holy Spirit in reading and interpreting it (and everyone interprets using their outside experiences. Some will just deny that they do it.) I’m interested in attending and possibly joining the Religious Society of Friends. Creationism and intelligent design are less theories than abject fantasies that make no sense to me. Kierkegaard was right when he wrote that doubt is the natural reaction of the rational mind to faith; I experience profound doubt every day but persevere in my leap of faith. I vote for Liberals in Canadian elections and hope to become a member of that party when I can live in Canada full time again. I wear hats, love reggae, hip-hop, jazz, and rock music, enjoy a good red wine every now and then, read history books and literary fiction along with many newspaper comics, play casual volleyball and weird experimental video games, draw and paint a little, write short stories and have a couple of unfinished novels, and hope to become a history professor. For superficial profiles, that is about as good as it gets.

I intend to offer up in this post a vision for the floor community this year. I wish to express nothing more or less than my deepest and highest hopes for the state of community living and engagement, conversation and fellowship on this floor. These hopes apply for us as a community of persons living in proximity, as a collective of dedicated students who collaborate and compete, and as a fellowship of fellow seekers and declared followers of a distinct religious vision. Recognizing that each person has more than one facet, and that even the most single-minded organizations reflect a diversity of opinions and stances, I will address all of these in turn as best I can. As befits my position as a cultural discerner, I will be biased toward addressing the cultural component of all of these manifestations of the group.

We all share a common living space, constantly in contact with one another. Whether we are sitting in silence, conversing humorously or seriously, or going out to eat together, there is no escaping the commonality of our living situation. Not entirely. I hope that within this locale we can all relate in grace and civility and understanding and navigate the tension between our commitments to ourselves and to the group. Last year, I observed a hospitality and welcoming spirit that, whatever its origin, was conducive to healthy living. Maintaining that should be a high priority. Our interactions around culture, however, tended to be rather monotonous. One of the benefits and detriments of the honors floor is that it attracts many like-minded individuals. This was noticeable especially when it came to the kinds of popular culture that were celebrated and discussed on the floor.

Properties and characters associated closely with geek culture and childhood were, frankly, covered to death, and it felt as though there was little oxygen for discussions and events that did not align with this view of culture. Part of my job as cultural discerner, as I see it, is to break down barriers and harmful stereotypes around certain forms of art. College is a great leveler, and I hope that as a discerner I can provide a forum for all of us to share our own likes and dislikes, even those that are very unpopular with others on our floor. Bringing out these differences will both remind us all that people are a diverse group and teach us how to deal with differences in opinion even over subjects that can seem trivial.

Therefore, as we form a community of unique persons, I hope that we emphasize mutual respect and allow room for people to seek their own way in any area, including but not limited to cultural preferences. Even in such a warm and welcoming setting, there can be a tendency to give in to fear and avoid discussion of our differences. Luckily, I think we have a core group of combative and confident people whose commitment to academic rigor should carry over into normal relationship. This is my hope: warm respect, lively and respectful debate, and a conscious effort to make room for all points of view.

People who choose this floor do so intentionally, and often because they want the company and support of people who share their academic skills. Most of us think of ourselves as highly intelligent and “good at school.” What is crucial in this environment is to recognize that all of us come from different academic backgrounds–some went through public school their whole lives, some toiled in private academies or Christian private schools, and others never walked into a school building their whole life. Where and how we were educated in our childhoods shapes who we are today, and this needs to be recognized when considering our respective strengths and weaknesses.

Always in communities, especially of an academic persuasion, there lurks an element of comparison and competition. We compare ourselves to others and want to be better than they are. This is not only prideful and counterproductive, but plain silly. Never make achievement in academics the sole object in your life. I need to tell myself this every minute of every day, but eventually it will sink in. This is not to encourage backsliding or malingering, but honest work that is joyous and not stressful, and does not punish the body for the sake of a number. Sleep enough and play enough to stay balanced. I do not exercise, but I eat well. It is infinitely better to do both.

Let us also recognize that this college we attend allows us to calibrate the level of stress in our classes. None of us are martyrs carrying a uniquely heavy burden on the way to some special enlightenment. We are people who can make the choice to lighten our course load and free up time for reflection and more individual work if we want to. Most of us, being honors students, feel enormous inward and outward pressure to do many things excellently. I would challenge that. The honors floor is a place for deep study and community, not superficial overachievement. Education is first a tool of social and personal improvement. If all you’re getting from college is a degree and the dwindling promise of a better middle-class life, then I would suggest you reconsider your place on the honors floor. Some would cushion that previous statement by saying that there is nothing wrong with seeking a steady job and a good life for them or their notional future family. I will say that if that is your goal, then you are mistaken about what this singular life of ours is really about.

Seeking after money and comfort and status are anathema both to my understanding of the Christian calling and to the mission of this floor. That some jobs are more lucrative than others is something we have to deal with, but the mission of a doctor, accountant, engineer, or lawyer is not their money but the service they offer other people. Perhaps I can only write this because I am a history and Japanese double major with totally uncertain job prospects and an internal acceptance of my probable future poverty and struggle. That said our areas of study are so valuable in their own right that in an ideal situation we should all be free to seek knowledge where we might without fear or anxiety, and I pray that we can all adopt a little of that perspective when approaching our unknowable futures.

Finally, we are also a group of students who identify with a particular religion. Calvin College adopts not only the obligations of a university–encouraging free thinking, promoting excellence, adding to the world’s body of knowledge and seekers of knowledge–but also of a Christian institution–advocating for Christians in the world, serving its community, and providing a safe haven for religious inquiry and the practice of a common faith. Though many of us will come from a specific denomination within the Church, all of us will have different upbringings and understandings of what our faith means in our lives.

Part of the reason that I feel this way is that I suspect that beneath our adherence to a common faith lies a whole host of individual experiences and trials. I also find talking about faith and theology fascinating, and wish we could directly address such topics. Most of all, I want all of us to come to honest positions on God that we can hold to with integrity, whether our parents, friends, or school holds those views or not. This may be difficult and require charity and compassion and listening, but the rewards could be immeasurable.

To complete this letter, I extend a warm welcoming hand to the incoming first-year students as well as any sophomores who might join us throughout the year. Returning residents, thank you for showing your appreciation of what the floor has to offer. Thank you for believing in this floor. We might not have a concrete theme, but I think we can be an example for the whole campus of how to construct a devoted and dedicated Christian community that neither rejects the world nor swallows it without consideration. When we approach culture, we should employ all the faculties we would normally devote to school work. Does that mean we have to take everything seriously? Yes, it does. That does not imply not having fun, however. God’s world is a playful and joyful one, and reveling in that is no bad thing in itself. What we watch, listen to, and play affects us, shapes how we view the world. So have fun, but be careful. That is, I suppose, the central message of this entire letter. I hope we can dance on the edge of the cliff without either quailing or falling off the edge. Might be a bit dramatic, but these are our lives we are playing with. We can only be totally certain of having one, after all, and what could be a more tragic waste?

Shabazz Palaces: Black Up

Black Up

And as my only human friend, I want to give you a bit of advice, tiger to man. Treat your life like it’s the only one you have, because what comes after is more likely to either be nothing or something unbearable. In some ways, I wish I were just being mulched up and digested by some cross-eyed antelope. At least in that ignominious end there is some poetic justice. This is just an absurdist joke.

What isn’t an absurdist joke? Imagine this is a real joke:

Q. What’s harder to find than a unicorn?

A. A dragon smoking a cigarette.

Actually, now that I think of it, that might be absurdist, just a little. OK, let’s revise.

Q. What’s harder to find than a unicorn?

A. A good rap album.

That’s not a real joke. Plus I know that it’s not true, because on my desk right now is Shabazz Palaces’ album Black Up. This is a real treat, people, a real winner. How can this be so? What mechanisms are at work here to make this specimen a good album? Because it’s not every day you come across a good album, especially not here. So what makes a good album? The only way my tiny brain can think of to explain it is to compare and contrast.

Here’s another good album:

Art by Takashi Murakami

It’s called Graduation and it was released by Kanye West on a major label last decade. I know, the cobwebs on this puppy are pretty thick and tangled. It is, as I previously said, another example of what we in the critic business call a good album. Why do I bring it up? Well, because everything that makes Graduation work are pretty much the opposite in Black Up. Yet both are good. How to account for this? First, let’s see what this beast is saying:

Kanye West’s album, despite being a rap album, features the artist it’s catalogued under more than other people. So you get a lot of Kanye West rapping and producing, putting down tracks and digitizing them together. Graduation works for the same reason that his other albums work: Kanye West made them. To be more specific, the appeal and quality of the album depends not so much on great flow or lyricism–West has a lot of the latter but is inconsistent and has a fairly weak ability to spit verses smoothly–but on just how completely he recognizes his weaknesses as both an artist and a human being and builds something great out of them.

Part of the way he does this is through phenomenal production. Kanye’s beats are fat and lush. Graduation makes no apologies for what it is, and what it is is almost freakishly well-arranged ear candy. Songs shine so bright it’s no wonder the bear on the cover is tripping. Moving through a song on this album is like walking through a strobe light tunnel: mentally overpowering but indisputable awesome. Kanye writes with a mixture of crippling self-doubt devoid of humility and proud bravado bereft of any confidence. Despite the fact that at the time Graduation was released Kanye was living it up spending more every day than I ever did in my entire life (having no house helped), he makes himself into a weird human museum piece, a schematic with big neon labels and cross-sections detailing all of the telltale features of his peculiar species. He’s obsessed with all the things he doesn’t have and blithe about what he has. But what really sells it is the naivety, the wide eyes he seems to have. When he’s enjoying himself, it’s without regard for modesty. When he’s weeping or complaining about something, you don’t get any filter. It’s pure, 24 carat Kanye for fifty-four minutes. And that’s why it’s so great.

What about Black Up, the ostensible subject of this review before Kanye came in and interrupted it? Well, simply reverse much of what I just said. Actually, you can learn almost everything about the differences between them by looking at their covers. Really look at them next to each other. Stare, human. Stare. Done now? For the next, say, five minutes or so, write a report detailing what you think the differences will be.

(Five minutes pass.)

And…time!

What did you produce? Let’s see it here.

“What I think Shabazz Palaces’ Black Up Sounds Like in Comparison to Kanye West’s Graduation Based on the Album Covers, by Jonathan Hielkema

Ishmael Butler, a rapper from Digable Planets¹, designed his cover as a black square. That is its founding principle. Blackness. Even the yellow pseudo-Gothic lettering is not so much a pure yellow but a kind of muted gold, suggesting the idea of opulence without being at all ostentatious. The whole cover is centered around a small diamond, and the overall design is highly attractive while making use of only a few elements.

The music within is murky and disorienting. For awhile, the listener will likely stumble through it, since its grooves are obscured and jagged. With Kanye’s Graduation cover, there is an ironically self-aware wide-eyed awe. This is utterly absent from the sheer curtain of black, which suggests a dimmer outlook. There is also the sense that Black Up will represent a monolithic statement, perhaps sticking closer in style than Graduation, which suggests a more riotous or celebratory atmosphere, from the title to the festive color of its surreal figures.”

Not bad. If you had actually written that, you would have gotten an “A.” Black Up is every milligram as unapologetic and idiosyncratic as Graduation, but without all the ostentation. Jazz and pitch-dark dance music infuse the production with a snappy verve despite the almost oppressive minimalism of the atmosphere. Many of the vocals sound like echoes, and the rapping is precise and flows with the obtuse beats remarkably well. Both the lyrics and music are ruthlessly Afrocentric, chanting “black is me, black is you, black is us, black is free” while the beats call to mind furtive dances in the dark and the spacey futurism of Sun Ra².

When I think of Graduation, I think of experiential, sensory words with many syllables. Words like “glittering,” “ostentatious,” “superficial,” “pleasurable,” and the like. The experience is all set out and defined for you, a banquet or gaudy feast. Black Up conjures up evocative monosyllables: “bleak,” “bold,” “stark,” “dark,” and on and on. Shabazz Palaces is all about sketching and evoking emotions and letting the appearances take care of themselves. You get the sense that the album was meticulously created, but its final minimalism makes it seem more organic. Kanye is, mostly for the better, deeply interested in the superficial and glitzy, and Black Up has none of that. The album is easy to imagine in cube form: an imposing, in-your-face metallic black cube. Unless you throw it out you can’t ignore it. It’s sitting in your room and if you don’t somehow learn to love it it’s going to nag on you all the time. There was nothing like it in the jungle, let me tell you³.

So what makes both of them good when they’re opposite each other? Perhaps I’ll tackle that sometime in the future. It’s only the most pressing and persistent question in all criticism. An afternoon should do to solve it.

Notes:

1. An alternative rap group that mixes jazz and hip-hop. In it, Mr. Ishmael Butler is joined by Doodlebug and Ladybug Mecca.

2. A Saturnian philosopher/practitioner of a mysterious and little-heard musical form known as jazz, which may come up later in this book.

3. The closest thing to a black metal cube in the rain forest is a panther, which is a pitiful excuse for a big cat. Why settle for less? Though, I do admit, I wish there were black tigers.

A Conversation Overheard Outside My Window

I pulled a rare curiosity out of the album pile today, so you’ll be hearing about that later. First, I must tell you about my day.

When I woke up, I had been sleeping for twenty hours straight. It’s the air here. I haven’t put in a request for an air conditioner, and I feel foolish for feeling uncomfortable in heaven. So I sleep all day–the sun never sets, it only changes color from a dark red hue in what I call morning to fiendish yellow and then back in what I call evening.  At “night,” I shut my eyes under a blanked, head pressed straight against a gigantic pillow. Evidently, the white-suited upper bureaucracy of tiger heaven thinks we all actually enjoyed living in sticky heat our whole lives on Earth. My eyes are too sensitive to light to keep the illusion, but it helps. Last “evening,” I poured myself out of bed and opened the door to be greeted by the chief requisitions officer.

I think Mr. White Shirt was there to scold me for being such a shut-in. This is because his tone met my hearing in a rather harsh way, and his demeanor was stiff and formal. Definitely not the usual posture of a heavenly functionary. The reason I couldn’t tell for sure was because there was a pair of tigers standing just out of view to the side of the house. They had my attention from the beginning, and though I’m slightly guilty for eavesdropping, I have decided to tell myself not to feel guilty. This is one reason I doubt that this is really heaven. Another was this conversation:

(I’ve named the two tigers Tiger A and Tiger B for convenience’s sake; their genders are irrelevant, because it’s a bit of a free-for-all up here and even we tigers have a difficult time distinguishing voices when there are no smells to help.)

Tiger A: Can you believe how many rats I ate today? My stomach was the size of a blimp

(One more quick interruption. If it makes it any better, imagine these tigers roaring and growling casually to each other. Having trouble doing that? It sounds a bit like the purr your cat makes after murdering your neighbor’s dogs/children. Too gruesome? Pour yourself some sedative herbal tea and fall asleep on the couch. You won’t remember a thing in that pretty little head if you add enough sleeping pills.)

Tiger B: I actually like shoving them into my head through my ears and then waiting for them to run around in my brain for a few hours. Then, when they suffocate and die of exhaustion, I shake my noggin and let them glide down the brain stem and into the S-curve of the spinal column.

Tiger A: That would explain your camel hump.

Tiger B: It’s made me very popular with a certain class of people.

Tiger A: Are you even going to just eat again?

Tiger B: What would be the point of that? We’re tigers. What are we going to do for eternity? I’ve already fallen into the habit of eating off my own paws every morning. It’s not pretty.

Tiger A: Hey, don’t sweat that stuff. You’ve still got more dignity than the stepladder cats.

Tiger B: That stuff is just gross.

(At this point, I think I understood the reference but my accuser in the white work uniform didn’t, because I felt the urge to throw up a bit. He didn’t seem to notice.)

Tiger A: Amen to that.

Tiger B: What are you doing for the rest of today?

Tiger A: The sun never sets here. I was thinking of being devoured again and taking a snooze inside another tiger’s stomach. I’ve only done that about five hundred times.

*End conversation.

Were it not for my music, and this outlet to the other world, I don’t know how I would be able to live here. New hypothesis: this is actually tiger hell. I’m working on it, but I think finding evidence for it will be difficult. Don’t fail in reproducing these words. You were my only human friend.

Kishi Bashi: 151a

Art for 151a featuring a tiger.

Choosing an opening for this book was a task that has taken all my energy in the afterlife. The other tigers mock me, call me cruel names. I am fortunate that none of the them knew me in life, or they would call me a traitor and hang me from a tree. Tiger afterlife is a cruel holding place, and I am glad that I can wander through my memories, past and future, through this outlet. Even discovering that I could understand human speech after devouring that language professor¹ was less comforting than this book is to me now. I languish in doldrums, with nothing but flawless and sumptuous jungles shining with God’s good light. All the tigers want to do is hunt the lead-footed deer and drink from the water of ecstasy while reveling in their kills. Maybe sometimes they’ll break up this careless and dull routine with some carnal cavorting, but even that grows wearisome to watch, particularly for an enlightened tiger.

When I put in a request for albums at the afterlife head office, they were baffled, first because even most afterlife tigers can’t speak. It doesn’t quite work that way normally. But since I could talk, they granted my request and gave me a small, well-furnished townhouse. Inside there is the best sound system on the planet as well as a sturdy but minimalist wooden desk and thousands of animal skin pages to fill with writings. The first album I pulled off the pile attracted my eye because it had a tiger on the front.

With no further adieu, and with tigers attempting to scent mark my brick siding, I give you Kishi Bashi’s 151a.

Violins are funny instruments. Tigers cannot play them, so there was no point in me trying to learn² how when I was on Earth. Many humans use them to make beautiful music, however, or at least to try. Kishi Bashi is one of those people. Using some of the same digital looping technology as Owen Pallett³, he nonetheless comes forward as a developing new voice in the baroque pop⁴ style. Despite the obviousness of the studio prowess necessary to pull off an effort like this, it manages to sound relatively organic. If this is so, however, if we are to think of the album as organic, then it is a peculiar organism indeed. Given his background in the flamboyant and poorly-named Athens, GA band Of Montreal, his surreal lyrical style and liberal use of pop ornamentation are no surprise.

Unlike the more addled and nihilistic Of Montreal, however, the songs here are infused with a sonic hope, even as lyrics can descend into the despondent. Most of the time the meanings of his songs are gleaned more through impressionistic storytelling than easily identifiable words. His beautiful voice is enough to carry his leaping melodies, though some of the songs feel burdened by some of the production pomp. Instruments come through clearly but the entire atmosphere is dreamlike. Lyrics are often difficult to understand, especially when our leading man employs his falsetto, but lyrics sheets are mostly optional if you’re like me. The dominant mode for the album is instrumental excess. Guitars, drums, the violin (sometimes played in fiddle style) and even harpsichords show up. Perhaps the best track is “I Am the Antichrist to You” which has a dark and profoundly melancholic streak that balances out the more obviously joyous tracks.

The album is at its most beautiful in songs like “Antichrist:” weird and quiet, with a romantic intimacy rather than a communal clapping party. The latter are fun, too, but not nearly as interesting. One major complaint: no songs about tigers? Despite the clearly tiger-focused album art? Is he saying that he is a tiger? That the music inside resembles a tiger? Perhaps that is unknowable. And that song with the country fiddles? It’s fun, but I’m glad it’s the shortest track on the album. The whole record is rather short and light, but these are mainly virtues. It might be worrying that I don’t crave more after listening to it, but that might be too subjective than even a blog review should be.

Let’s mark this one as the solo debut of a promising new talent who will hopefully continue including my noble species in his album art.

Notes:

  1. This is linguist and professional tiger hunter Harleen Kaur-Douglas-Jones, a twice-divorced academic who hunted to get her blood flowing. Alexius devoured her after she harnessed him with a tracking collar so she could shoot him in the face later on.
  2. Tigers cannot play the violin because their claws would snap the strings. It’s tragic but true.
  3. A Canadian violinist whose fans accuse our subject here of ripping him off. As a tiger with a lot of ripping experience, let me tell you that these accusations are mainly unfounded.

Editor’s Note: Preface

Old Alexius is a figure that most have either not found or have found uninteresting. Most have not found him because, as legendary figures go, he is relatively new. His accomplishments are also insistently minor. When the world prays for a miracle, it yearns not for such petty miracles as an Old Alexius. There’s no point in going halfway if you believe in such things. No one, late at night, posits the notion of a talking tiger and then through divine will seeks to make that possible. None except, we suppose, for Old Alexius himself. Surely, though, if a talking tiger is thought of as a mediocre miracle, then he is still a miracle.

I met Old Alexius in person as he was entering the sixteenth and final year of his life. In a coat of decaying stripes and with loose teeth falling at a slow drizzle from his mouth, he was not the picture of majesty that first piqued my interest more than a decade ago. Nonetheless, we struck up a relationship waiting for a delayed Go train out of Toronto headed to some remote exurb where the two of us both lived. From this remarkable coincidence was spawned a yearlong correspondence. During this time it became quite apparent that I was the only person to take anything other than a purely scientific or charitable interest in him.

Gradually we won one another’s trust, until, before he died, he committed me to revealing a book of insights he had written. As always, he was self-effacing and claimed it was nothing of significance to anyone other than himself. “A collection of trivial musings and trite observations” was the way his lawyer described it. After his death, I attended the funeral and afterward received the book in the mail from his lawyers. Inside there was nothing. Blank page after blank page. I called his lawyers, inquiring if this was a mistake or a sick joke. They told me to wait, because Old Alexius hadn’t lived long enough to make the world ready for his writings. This plainly did not square with the tiger’s denigrative characterization of his own work, but I kept it on my desk as a memento nonetheless.

After a year of waiting, one day I opened the book on a whim and found that the first page had been filled in. I examined it closely and found the handwriting unmistakably resembled Old Alexius’ erratic and scratchy script. I took it to a forensics lab and it was confirmed. I wondered if I were being possessed late at night and, somnambulant, wrote this down unconsciously. I set up a surveillance camera, watched for many nights, and found this was not the case. Every morning, regardless of whether I had been sleeping or not, another page filled up with more and more ink. When I accepted this, more or less, and began reading it, I discovered an intimidating truth.

They were reviews and thoughts based on future events. Albums not yet released, films still in production or only released overseas, commentary dated well in front of its apparent time of writing.

What, then, is this blog? Well, it will be a few things. First, and most essentially, it will be a record of what I found in the completed book. I feel obligated to report the tiger’s work, despite how paranormal its creation seemed. Second, I will use it to tell you a little about Old Alexius’ life, as much as I can. To his writings I will add only scant editorial comment to clarify aspects of his biography and to situate you, the reader, in the mindset of this formerly majestic talking beast. This is a venture of little renown and even less importance, but I find a trace amount of nobility and solace in the notion that my friend’s strange and prescient work will find an outlet, however, humble, in the world.

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