Canes pugnaces, Ontology, Truth

Shi Tzu, Cosmic Yak Dog

If Shi Tzu were bred by Tibetan Buddhists to resemble lions, why do they look like yaks? In the way finches inflamed Darwin, this query awakened Petronius Jablonski from dogmatic slumbers. His Eureka! is mankind’s gain. Excerpted from his Odyssey of Historic Proportions and Priceless Treasure of Philosophy:

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I empathize but disagree with the Reader’s pragmatic reaction.

“Scholar, of what import is the Shi Tzu’s origin? One can scarcely accommodate the joy and gratitude their company invokes, much less murky historical references. If the phylogenic tree bore any resemblance to reality, man and Shi Tzu would stand coequal, far above monkeys and dolphins. The dog may be our best friend, but the Shi Tzu is our allegiant peer. What more needs to be said?”

Dear Reader, knowledge of Shi Tzu history is an intrinsic good and thanks to my fruitful meditations is murky no more. According to the traditional legend, Tibetan Buddhist monks bred them to resemble lions. Folklore alleged that the Buddha traveled with a little dog who could transform itself into one. This is suspect for six reasons. First, Buddha was a great philosopher, perhaps the first rigorous empiricist; he was not a wizard. The urge to deify great philosophers can be very strong, but Hume and Schopenhauer should be the first choices.

(It is not impossible that one day legends about Zeus and I will abound, starting innocently as factual accounts of our daily wanderings through Pulaski Park and growing into wild tales of his metamorphosis to a great cosmic yak.)

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Second and most importantly, the Shi Tzu does not look anything like a lion. How to account for the discrepancy between the traditional legend and the contemporary reality? I here offer four plausible accounts. The most tenable was conceived during Sandy’s exposition, the deliriant properties of which rendered me more prolific than an oracle.

It is conceivable that the monks began with sincere intentions of breeding lion dogs, which they presented as oblations to the Chinese emperor (perhaps the great man who destroyed the flying machine). The folklore surrounding magic pups probably intrigued him. Different sects of monks, not unlike car dealers hoping to allure customers, vied for his favor.

As we all know, craftsmanship leaves when the bottom line enters. Breeding became sloppy. At least one sect of monks lost its tenuous grasp of teleology. When quantity replaced quality, as it invariably does, they produced a batch of dogs not only distinct from, but superior to the lion dogs of their competitors.

“But how could such dogs be presented to the emperor?” the Reader asks.

Beyond certainty, the following conversation occurred (in Mandarin, of course).

“These dogs you present to me, they look not like lions,” the emperor says, stroking his long wispy beard as he scrutinizes two puppies playing at his feet.

The nervous monk, dreading this response all the way from his mountainous village and through the palace strewn with Shi Tzu poo, experiences the first in a series of life-saving inspirations. “No, your highness,” he says with a deep bow. The palace eunuchs inhale in unison. “These two are not lion dogs.”

They are not?” the emperor asks in justified horror. To defile the breed is a crime against the emperor, the Buddha, and a harbinger of certain doom.

“They are yak dogs, highness,” the monk says. With head still bowed he sees the feet of the guards approach the throne. “Highness, the yak has true Buddha-nature and is the persevering friend of man.”

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The Shi Tzu — Yak Smoking Gun

Eunuchs and guards stand immobile but their eyes bounce wildly, seeking attestation from one another. Within the context of another religion, such talk would be deemed blasphemous.

“And the lion?” says the emperor. The creases across his forehead bode ill for all three visitors.

“The lion is holy, highness,” the monk says, trying to ignore white sparkles twinkling around the hem of his red robe. They subside with deep breaths. “But he spends his days in indolence, sleeping and fornicating. He is not the friend of man; he eats man. The yak spends his life humbly lessening backbreaking toil. And like the Buddha, the yak causes no sentient being to suffer. The lion, despite his holiness, inflicts terrible suffering on sentient creatures every day of his life.”

“How is it I have never heard this teaching?” says the emperor.

“Highness, teachings are so many that a thousand monks in a thousand years could not learn them all.”

One of the little yaks pees on the emperor’s foot. The monk closes his eyes. He opens them at the sound of gasps. The emperor is on his knees, delicately petting the puppies. “Go, wise monk, bring me more yak dogs.”

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In Search of Proust’s Basset Hound

Why is Maestoso The Dachshund Following You?

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Canes pugnaces, Schrodinger's Dachshund

The Danzantes of Monte Albán

Would its victims find comfort from knowing it became a tourist spot?

One glimpse above Monte Albán reveals a Copernican revolution of the idea that the moon is a light in the darkness. A slice of dead tissue clings to the black hide of an omnipresent being. Like some curio forgotten in an attic, a temple molders on a hilltop. Its ornate construction stands as a reminder of how little the past can teach the present. Between fits of mad laughter it calls, “Someday you and everything you love will be as irrelevant and forgotten and unfathomable as this.

The Mantis wanders the ruins by day, treading the same ground where priests in fish and bird masks once adjured gods more humanlike than one of love and mercy: gods sadistic, gods insane. Per his secret instructions he studies mysterious carvings, the Danzantes, templates of the human heart to which all literature and philosophy and art are footnotes.

“They weren’t dancin’ for fun,” she told him. “Look at the ones holding their guts in their hands. You didn’t want to get caught alive by the Zapotecs. They were into some wild-ass shit back then. Check out the altar. That wasn’t for sacrificing chickens. Don’t worry, we’ll be checking your thoughts so you don’t have to do nothin’. This is a total promotion. And quit wearin’ green.”

With polite obstinacy he spurns vendors who offer “authentic relics” made of baked manure. “No gracias,” he says, waving a bony finger. Not lost but found in the silent majesty of this crypt of a civilization he spends his days in pursuit of phantoms, guided by a phantom map and at the behest of connections linked by the unrelenting velocity of phantom logic. But his joy is real. Amid dark stains of misery, smeared within a pastiche of solemnity, hilarity, and tedium, the newfound purpose adds a streak of gold to the collage of his life. And like all men he mistakes the fleeting nuance for the color of the underlying canvas.

Meme researcher Delores Locascio writes, “Some memes brush against reality. How many have we seen involving Monte Albán? Princess Nica is the latest of many. This ceremonial altar has several hundred carvings known as Danzantes. The first archeologists to discover the site assumed the figures were dancing. In a sense they were. The Zapotecs depicted rival chieftains being tortured to death, many castrated. That wasn’t a symbolic flower carved between the legs of one figure; it was blood gushing from a hole. Several of the stones depict women with strange objects protruding from their eyes. Archeologists assumed from their vestments and jewels that they were priestesses. As we’ve seen, others claim they were entities the Zapotecs encountered in mirrors and made sacrifices to (until they ran out of victims).”

Schrodinger’s Dachshund is more like a collection of mysteriously connected stories than a conventional novel. Jablonski’s lyrical prose turns creepy during the second-person POV parts. What’s it about? You find yourself in the Bosch-like parallel universe of Cudahy, Wisconsin. Good luck. Jablonski doesn’t hold your hand. It’s like he’s sharing as much as he can, hoping you’ll figure it out because he can’t. This has a way of making these characters come alive. Highly recommended, but this taste is acquired. Not to be mistaken for genre espionage or sci-fi (or anything). This is plain weird! Magic anti-realism? Backhanded compliment time. It’s a showcase for Jablonski’s freaky powers of description. It’s a dark, funny, bizarre book with disarmingly vivid prose.” Goodreads

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Who is Maestoso and Why is He Following You?

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Canes pugnaces

Schrödinger’s Dachshund

A Novel of Espionage, Astounding Science, and Wiener Dogs

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“Jablonski’s first novel reads like a surreal existentialist crisis, a stream-of-consciousness narrative that employs secrets and intrigue as a driving, page-turning force. We follow blogger Zelda Alpizar, who occupies her time decoding and researching the latest cultural memes and viral sensations. She becomes embroiled in a scheme to turn humans into storage devices for code. Also wrapped up in the plot are two test subjects: security guards Alex Jitney, whose ‘milky pallor and nondescript features might instigate regrets that humans aren’t reptilian,’ and ‘too nice for his own good’ Travis Olkeshevski. And then there’s Maestoso, the titular Dachshund, who moves ‘like some sausage hovercraft.’ These characters go through private trials and tribulations, discussing matters of sex, memes, and science, as they move inexorably toward the endgame. … Jablonski is able to inject a sense of immediacy and intensity in the story by using sparse description that suggests more than it tells. … An engaging narrative.” – Publishers Weekly

“The unusual style packs a wallop, pulls you into its rhythms and edgy approach. There is some bold imagery throughout. The prose is a rich cream. … No words are wasted. … It’s the strong writing that pulls you along. Brief jabs of sentences impart lots of information with a unique sentence and paragraph style. The prose is one-of-a-kind. … You feel interested and curious, and also a bit unwelcome — as if you need to expend lots of energy to decode the secret to unlock the gates. … The pleasure is in the writing.” ABNA 

Jablonski’s writing has been described as “poking fun at literary fiction, science, and Philosophy, in the way Douglas Adams spoofed sci-fi.” He is not convinced this was his intent.

The paperback is preferred. When you position it upright Maestoso’s eyes follow you around the room, anticipating your actions with some canine analogue of foreknowledge, disarming at first then strangely serene. Purchase several as guardians or talismans.

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Who is Maestoso and Why is He Following You?

Spy by night, blogger by day, Zelda Alpizar becomes infected by a contagion known to civilians as guilt, forcing her to choose between following orders or intervening to save two watchmen. Their trance-like lethargy makes them the ideal storage drives for a detonation code. Decrypting it could have lethal side-effects. Though the most important thing Zelda will ever find, the boundary between good and evil is of little value in a place where the only legend reads Here There Be Monsters. 

Security guards, harbingers of dawn, are they not warriors? Beneath the polyester Travis and Alex consist of flesh and blood. A predator stalks them, more implacable than skateboarders. Putting your tax dollars to work, the NSA discovers that human storage devices offer greater security than digital ones. Dead drives tell no tales. Like all their secrets it’s soon available to the highest bidder. When Zelda infiltrates a secret society lending this service to terrorists, she sees how the private sector can be almost as wicked and incompetent as the government. 

They should have chosen a more secure password. “Mary Weatherworth” is also an adult actress beloved by security guards, and an urban legend reputed to appear in mirrors when summoned thrice. Busy lady. This ambiguity entwines discrepant parties in strange ways. Connected to them all by one degree of separation, the sausage link in a karmic chain, Maestoso the Dachshund waddles across this remorseless battlefield, observing the chaos, perhaps resolving it. Avoid eye contact. You don’t want him inside your head.

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Chapter 1: Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Park Here

The equation proves what is about to happen is impossible. George checks it again: New Lexus + first one here = VIP. At a locked door in underground parking he turns his back to a security camera and picks up a phone mounted above an ashtray. Ten rings. Twenty. Fifty. Seventy. He stares at his watch. Is the minute hand speeding up or are its measurements askew in this concrete cave?  

“Lodestar securitah,” says a voice in mock Southern drawl.

“Good morning. Could you please unlock the lower level?”

“Kindly turn and face the camera, sir.”

Window to an infernal soul, evil orb of black acrylic, the all-seeing eye examines George. If only he could clarify the matter by pointing to his car, the way a teacher knocks on the board for emphasis.

“I am not supposed to open it this early, sir.”

“I have work to do.”

“Very well, but I must request a slight favor in return. I could never permit another man to remain beholden to me.”

George leans against the door. His distorted reflection on the dark globe looks back like some doomed foretoken bidding him to take any path but this. “What kind of favor?”

“On third shift a man starts to think he’s wandering this vale of tears all by his lonesome. That is a heavy burden to bear. This cruel isolation has robbed me of life’s simplest pleasures. A vicarious taste of your joy would nourish my soul. If you could be so kind, a festive dance will raise my spirits and reconcile me to my duties.”

The parking lot grows hazy. An evil wizard appears and demonstrates to George how two drops of mercury plus two more equals one. But he’s only warming up. Another fundamental truth is questioned: “VIP? Are you sure?”

“I am particularly fond of that Travolta gentleman in Saturday Night Fever.”

“I don’t have to put up with this.”

“Kind sir,” says the voice in perfect semblance of wounded hospitality, “I offer to do you a favor and you insult me. Where I come from one kind deed begets another. Yours will be the pappy to mine, which makes us cousins. Do you see how we are all connected? Your dance will serve a greater good.”

“Travis, unlock this door.”

“Do I have to come down there again?” says a voice devoid of Southern gentility, posing an issue not covered in Dealing with Difficult People seminars. George braves an inner storm. A smokestack of lightning reveals distant shapes on the horizon of Time. Long ago mankind began a game by filling the roles of king of the jungle, beast of burden, and everything in between. Now a lowly watchdog refuses to play make-believe. Unlike the strength of a wild animal, George’s power is dependent on the acquiescence of others. Their consent creates it. And in its absence …

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He points to the ceiling with his left hand and brings it down to his right pocket while performing squats. Endorphins percolate. Explanations vie for dominion. Maybe his car resembles a Toyota on the monitors. Maybe these cruel rites are endured by VIPs everywhere. Maybe this world is the discarded draft of one that eventually turned out better or at least no worse.

“Sir, I regret to inform you that my spirit remains earthbound. I feel forsaken as ever, orphaned from the human family.”

To the routine George adds a move from the Hokey Pokey, incorporating his calfskin briefcase. As though awaiting judgment from the cyclopean ruler of this underworld, he stops and looks up at the globe.

The click of the parking door, is it not the whispered yes of a reluctant lover? He drops the phone and seizes the knob before Travis can lock it, avoiding a scenario that could involve something even less desirable than a festive dance — assuming the predictive veracity of events from last week.

In the elevator, the tireless optimist perched on his left shoulder puts everything into perspective. “Be grateful he’s just a guard. A simple twist of history could have made him an emperor, or a conquering general, or a gym teacher.” The pessimist who once mounted the other shoulder but jumped to his death during the dance offers no counterpoint.

George peels a sweaty strand of hair off his forehead and enters the throne room of Travis the Terrible. A massive boom box broadcasts the roar of demons and the grinding of machines. Clown-sized sneakers tower over the sign-in log atop the desk. George scribbles his name and ID number like some vanquished statesman signing a treaty of unconditional surrender. A ring of cigar smoke halos his head. And another. And another. He coughs and waves them away and looks at four monitors inside the desk. Three are split-screen. One provides a full view of the parking door, his Gethsemane.

On a leather throne suspiciously similar to the CEO’s sits Travis Olkeshevski. Behind Ben Franklin glasses, ravenous green eyes devour all assumptions about the corporate pecking order. “Good morning Mr. Merkel,” he says, stretching. The seams of his shirt threaten to burst in protest. A layer of baby fat rests on a foundation of bone and muscle that makes the Neanderthal appear ectomorphic. “Have a nice day, sir.”

George enters one of the elevators behind the desk and inspects his reflection on the shiny panel above the buttons. His eyes watch his eyes watching his eyes. The regress spirals through a brier maze where gargoyles shield their faces from territory they guard but cannot bear to glimpse. With a world-weary disgust most men need sixty years to develop he kicks the faux gold paneling. “Life doesn’t change after grade school,” he says, as though past, present, and future aren’t descriptions of the same stinking beast from blind men. When the doors open he shuffles down a long bright corridor, immersed in the very important thoughts of a VIP.

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About Petronius Jablonski

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Canes pugnaces, Existentialism

In Search of Proust’s Basset Hound in the Library of Babel

The Library of Babel contains all possible books — every combination of letters and punctuation marks. You can check out only one. The choice is obvious. Hurry. It’s a big place and there’s no catalog. The chances of finding it are astronomical. Most books contain nothing but gibberish; trillions more involve vampires. But you’re feeling lucky.

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“The unicorn impaled the elf on its horn, thereby expunging him from the memory of elves.”

It’s a children’s book by Cormac McCarthy. Your niece would love this, and it would prepare her for life better than most of its condescending ilk. Keep looking. Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas as written by Dostoyevsky? Meh. You want something sublime, the greatest story never told. Put The Decline and Fall of the American Empire by Gibbon back. Slow down at a car wreck instead.

There will be many alternate versions of In Search of Lost Time, some the same as the familiar one except for a single punctuation difference, others with unusual variations where Marcel doesn’t go to bed early. (No, you’re not looking for the one where he falls in love with cannabis instead of hawthorns. Think big.)

Why Proust? It’s the sorcerous powers of description. You don’t need to keep a flow chart of the characters or study the Dreyfus affair. You want to read how the moon in the afternoon sky is like a beautiful actress who sneaks into the audience to watch a portion in which she does not have to appear. Virginia Wolfe said the best thing about life is reading Proust. That ignores some conspicuous contenders, but he’s the only writer who cracks the top five. There’s only one way it could be improved and you don’t have to feel like a Philistine for saying this.

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Other patrons rush past you, some deranged. They’re not homeless; they live here. Most have never seen a book containing a coherent word and you’re holding The Bridges of Madison County as written by Faulkner. Who knew Robert and Francesca had such rich inner lives? Don’t wave it around. Some of the residents believe there’s a Man of the Book who knows where everything is. Being mistaken for him will only slow you down.

One patron stops and tells you he’s read the completed versions of Dead Souls and The Castle and a readable one of Atlas Shrugged and Animal Farm by Peter Singer. He obviously hasn’t spoken to anyone in ages. Is anything worse than listening to someone blather about his favorite fiction? He says Douglas Adams’ version of “The Library of Babel” is an improvement, but The Hitchhikers Guide as written by Borges is too short, little more than an outline. He starts to summarize the true account of what caused the Big Bang but his phone chimes and he has to take it.

It’s been a long day. You heft a few safeties in case you can’t find The One: your biography as written by Plutarch, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Henry James, Newton’s response to Einstein, War and Peace by Laurence Sterne.

Stop. Back up. On the top shelf of the previous hexagon. Open the book. Marcel’s potty training a puppy with copies of Le Figaro all over the floor. Read how it galumphs through Combray and Balbec, growing into its tree stump feet, not quite keeping up with the growth of its ears:

“Basset Hounds, followers of the scent from a golden age, keepers of the promise that reality is not what we can see, companions to our children, guardians of our homes, prodigal sons of Saint Hubert, beloved ones of Napoleon III, their consummate loyalty and stoic tolerance a beacon, do they not speak with the voice heard by Augustine: ‘We are not God, but He made us’?”

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If that sentence has a verb it’s wearing camouflage. Score! You found the alternate version where Proust dumps Albertine and adopts a dog. Credit where it’s due: the original is beyond praise until The Captive and The Fugitive, when empathy fatigue sets in. Obsessive jealousy over your girlfriend’s girlfriends? Death, where is thy sting?

Skip ahead a few pages. Make sure this isn’t a version that turns to gibberish. “Children of wolves, abandoning their family to join the children of apes, shifting their shape to guide and protect them, enabling the transcendence of the apes, as though both blueprints were left out in a storm, smearing the designs as if some careless chronicler neglected to fix the boundaries, the ink of which was not indelible and remains wet, our relationship becoming one of mutual dependence, yin and yang, synergistic, not that of gods and pliant subjects, our paths crossing then merging in the manner of two themes converging in a symphony.”

No writer had more aptitude for canine phenomenology, a talent never realized in the original, two volumes of which were devoted to cursing the daughters of Gomorrah and fearing the conspiracies of their evil coven. It’s more than a stretch for anyone who grew up reading Penthouse. In the Babel version he turns his attention to seeing the world through his dog’s nose. Watching the dog nap, he wonders if its dreams are governed by scents the way its waking life is. There is an entire universe humans cannot access. We are illiterates surrounded by the classics. Delusions of our central importance are no compensation for the inability to smell rain before a storm, to read the history of a trail, to smell the spiced opiate of an excited mate.

Who but Proust can show the elasticity of Time, how it travels faster for dogs. In the span of a decade he changes little but his dog grows old. The difference between our concept of mortality and a dog’s awareness of its increasing feebleness is a difference of degree. They know something’s happening. Death approaches with a drunken swagger. We all hear it.

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Basset Hound Copyright Sharon Cummings

Remember the part in the original when you had to put the book down? After his grandmother dies he returns to the seaside resort they visited and the immensity of the loss hits him like some agoraphobic horror of empty space and all the grief you ever felt in your entire life returned. In the same way, only Proust could do justice to the heart-gouging agony of losing a dog, how it hurts worse than losing a person. (Shhhhh. You’re not supposed to say that.) Maybe he could tell us why. Hopefully your answer is wrong, that the worst dog is better than all but a few humans. Don’t bet that he disagrees.

Perhaps their time together gave him vicarious access to a world of joy unmitigated by anxiety, a paradise free from regrets of the past and fear of the future, a place outside Time. The madcap ecstasy a dog feels upon greeting its master, which human joy approaches it? The pleasures of the mind that allegedly make us superior are the ones that spoil the intensity and appreciation of bliss. How many systems of meditation are concerned with focusing on the all-encompassing nature of Now, the default state of mind for dogs, the one humans are programmed to avoid? Good luck attaining it by non-vicarious means.

Proust eventually came to a dim view of friendship, wondering how a man of Nietzsche’s intellect could have held it in high regard. This was only because he didn’t have the ideal friend. In the version you’re carrying, he does. Instead of slouching through a lull, this draft hits its stride, galumphing like a Basset Hound.

The first volume just turned one-hundred. Read all of them, even though he’s not accompanied by a faithful pooch. Some people have shattering religious experiences from Proust. Join them. This six pack version remains the gold standard, though the new Penguin one is not bad. This online version is great for work (if not the best thing about work).

Read Hitchens’ article: “We know from Proust’s haggard original editors, as we do from the memoirs of his naive and devoted housekeeper, that the first manuscript might have come from someone more than half insane, including as it did interpolations, marginal additions, excisions, scrawls, and—the worst sign of all—strips of fresh paper stuck at odd angles onto exhausted pages.”

The average page contains sentences like these:

And just as the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little crumbs of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch themselves and bend, take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, permanent and recognizable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann’s park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and of its surroundings, taking their proper shapes and growing solid, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea.

Sweet Sunday afternoons beneath the chestnut-tree in our Combray garden, from which I was careful to eliminate every commonplace incident of my actual life, replacing them by a career of strange adventures and ambitions in a land watered by living streams, you still recall those adventures and ambitions to my mind when I think of you, and you embody and preserve them by virtue of having little by little drawn round and enclosed them (while I went on with my book and the heat of the day declined) in the gradual crystallization, slowly altering in form and dappled with a pattern of chestnut-leaves, of your silent, sonorous, fragrant, limpid hours.

The places that we have known belong now only to the little world of space on which we map them for our own convenience. None of them was ever more than a thin slice, held between the contiguous impressions that composed our life at that time; remembrance of a particular form is but regret for a particular moment; and houses, roads, avenues are as fugitive, alas, as the years.

***

Jablonski is the author of An Odyssey of Historic Proportions & Priceless Treasure of Philosophy.

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Face-Melting Excerpt

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