Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

Narratives Over Numbers?

On the Sunday when the Patriots were due to play the Ravens in their conference championship game, I picked up the Sunday Globe and saw this story about Ray Lewis. When I read the following paragraph—

But in the years since, Lewis has been a tale of personal redemption and a case study for image rehabilitation. He has become an ambassador for the game, a mentor both in and outside of his locker room, and a motivational speaker with far-reaching appeal beyond his sport.

—I knew the Ravens were going to win that game.

The funny thing was that, going into it, I had taken for granted that the Pats would win. I don’t follow sports, so this was little more than gut-level regionalism.

But when I read about Ray Lewis’ path from infamy to the brink of glory, in this his final year in the game, I realized that the NFL wanted to push a redemption story and that this narrative would be more compelling than anything the Patriots could muster (except perhaps the chance for the rest of the country to indulge in some Schadenfreude and once more exult in their defeat).

Of course, the Ravens won.

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Real Money

I remember listening to a presentation at a business meeting and the speaker talking about the gross revenues of some client or other and our comptroller turning to me and saying, “A billion here, a billion there. Pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”

I was reminded of this joke when I heard an interview Terry Gross conducted with Woody Allen in which he described his life growing up in Flatbush and, noting that most of the parents back then had lived through the Depression, said, “Nobody had any real money and everybody had to work.”

The money we make from working is not “real.” Why? Because, if you stop working, it goes away.

Of course, the realness of money that remains whether you work or not is not a qualitative realness but a quantitative realness. Such accumulated wealth far outstrips the demands placed on it by maintaining a given life style.

It is also the case that if you have enough money to maintain a given life style and, at the same time, invest a portion of the remainder, you can actually increase your wealth at a pace greater than the pace at which your expenses drain said wealth.

Money that generates more money, is real money. Money that merely awaits its inevitable exhaustion, is not.

Turning Towards, Turning Away

In the face of a traumatic event (especially one called “incomprehensible”), we either run to the facts—what happened? why did it happen? what were the causes for this effect?—covering up our feelings, our shock, our horror, our sorrow with the details, or the restless search for them.

Or we run to the future, focusing on how we’ll get through this, how we will prevent this from happening again, and how “we won’t let this define us.”

Or, oddly enough, we run towards the event itself, immersing ourselves in it, agonizing over it. But in so doing, we either ignore or forget or neglect what is actually facing us in our own specific lives. Unless you were directly affected, focusing on this is, in its own way, a kind of self-indulgence. In the name of “facing reality,” a turning away.

Thus does madness become a mirror of madness.

Reality Is My Religion

I can’t say that I believe in God, but I do believe that there is a real reality.

Yes, I’ve heard about relativity and multiple universes and even the astral plane. And, yes, I understand that seen at a certain scale, “reality” gets kind of indeterminate.

But at this macro-level, there is usually one and only one way that things are: my car is parked in my driveway; this skull-and-crossbones pin sits atop a pile of business cards; Abraham Lincoln was shot in Ford’s Theater; etc.

Needless to say, and once again depending on scale and perspective, it is not always easy to perceive the way things really are and it can be equally difficult, if not more so, to establish the way things really were in a certain time and place in the past.

In fact, it is thanks to this inherent “concrete unknowability of the real in its totality,” that I call reality my religion. Reality can be known to a degree, but not absolutely. When you cannot absolutely know something, but you assume that it is this way or that way, and in fact act, without thinking, as if it were so, then you are said to believe it is so.

Thus, I believe in reality, the really real that I cannot ever know in its entirety or infinite complexity, and I ask reality everyday to allow me to draw closer to it, to know it better and conceive it more deeply, to the real limit of my mortal consciousness and to the ultimate capacity of my mortal will.

What’s your religion?

Check Out the Levels

I have a friend who, when I first met him, spent a lot of time making trompe l’oeil drawings (well, really doodles in the margins of lecture notes he was taking).

One night he was showing us some of these and every now and again, impressed by his own ability to conjure faux three dimensionality from two dimensional lines on paper, he would exclaim, in a kind of wonder, “Check out the levels!”

Now, if you teach anything like literary theory or film studies or music appreciation or what have you, this imperative sums up your endeavor. In fact, what you quickly find is that, for many students, the fact that there are levels at all, and not just the plot and the characters, is a kind of revelation.

This revelation can quickly spread into all aspects of life and is part of the natural, cognitive maturing process, I believe. When we make the transition from childhood proper to adolescence and adulthood after, for example, a big part of that proces is the realization that our childish worldview, as complete and self-sufficient as it seems to us while we are living in it, is limited, circumscribed by our ignorance, experience (or lack thereof), and the information that our environmental wardens have deigned (or not) to pass along to us. You can see this most obviously when speaking with teens who have become aware of things that their younger siblings just obviously don’t get. Read the rest of this entry »