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Gonna bite my tongue and stay clear of Crowley's Krauss grousing. This side the great watershed our differences make little difference. And a lot of that little comes down to a sort of allegiance to the terminology you're accustomed to.

The person you might be can't speak to you, but you're ready to hear the unspoken words. In what isn't words you hear them, including what within words isn't word. In your own, too: the best thought is active sonar.

I'm liking all this novel-reading. Certain great stylists talk to your life less stupidly than you do. You hear your life talk back, are amazed that it can, then that you can understand it, then that life's been speaking to you. You start to say something back.

The air is dense with what we might fill it with. Not the surface of the air but the middle. That great weight in the middle of emptiness. All on us. Too much. That much on you you run crabwise seeking an end to the burden, hoping the pressure will fall on the place you just were.

The air united us just as much cold. But the warm air we're happy to share. Cold breaths are cones to outer space, seem like just you and all nothing. In the warm you're in something smaller and greater, where you don't know where it starts, what else it might encompass, where it's taking us.

Past a point you age more than a day per day, more than that each tomorrow. Life's a leap where you find you were only a handful of sand right as you start to come down, getting a faceful of you in the face. You know that you're you now - now it's you you leap from.

I've never told women to smile but the smiles of some are all of my memories. I hang from them, fall from their absence. Maybe I want them rare because I need them real. This is the value of blushing, how it's earnest as agony. A blushing woman's smile comes always just in time.

Sleep melts the world but the world's already melted - it's us that recongeal it on our waking way. Sleep knows better, so any sleep that makes it into waking instructs us effortlessly. The melt isn't pell-mell, but currents. Long, tangled weeds that share a tending.

I never know whether to knock barriers of sympathy down, what they might be holding up, out or in. I know I was once unaware how many are there. I don't think they're any weaker now I've mapped so many. They're just as electric to contact. But now, even joined up, they seem shorter. Perhaps it's me, that I've drifted above and a bit to the side.

What unifies us is weak, they say, what drives us apart violent, decisive. And they're right, they're always right. But who can remember decisions, and who stays with violence when something else offers. The weak thing pulls on, rain or shine. And what if instead we said gentle?
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The dream people returned and refused to have sex. So I began asking questions.

"Where does God go when he doesn't exist?"

They said search my life for change, buy a payphone and ask him. When I called I heard mostly nasal white noise, some crying. A few attempts at responses all trailed off in vague, high-pitched whimpers. He sneezed and all the earpiece points flared flamelets. Tiny burns on my head were my answer, they told me after. Circles, like derelict cells.

"How are why and how both why?"

They consulted together a moment and bought me a cheap finger trap. They had me put my index fingers in, put my hands on a block, chopped the trap in three with a D shaped knife. A two-nailed finger island rolled out of the middle one, pointed up and downtown. I knew this part of me would be gone if I looked in either direction, that I'd forget where the other end had pointed while looking away. This was a choice. I called God again for advice but he wouldn't exist. I looked downtown. A parade went between one building and another, both vast, just twenty feet apart. You could never see a whole float at once. Each was swamped in, surrounded by barefoot paraders. The wheels were circles of feet on sticks. All paraded because they had feet and by means of feet.

"When will time run out of me?"

They mixed for cookies in a bowl with a hole in it. A sad snake of dough found the floor. Its toe turned and spiraled as more dough came out. It went into a grate and disappeared. Four years later it popped out another near me while I watched a saddening baseball game. It was black with soot, sprinkled with white dots and bearded with nasty accretion. It wagged its tip at me in solemn warning. The nitrates in my hot dog then glowed with such malice I threw it away. Every day since which I've lived forever.
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I wonder if we'd have come up with god without dreams. It's not really important whether we actually have some mechanism of speaking to ourselves in dreams, or instead our attempts to understand what's happening in them allow us to interpret order into our own detritus, during or after immersion. Either way you get the prospect, memory, expectation of a written world, albeit a crazy, hazy, fragmentary, protean one. Designed-looking experiences. Before we accepted it was us we must have thought it was something else messing with us, some thing or things that knew about our days - giving us the concept of a not-us that was both in us and outside us. But even with that discarded it gets us used to the notion of designed worlds, message worlds, experiences as balls thrown for us to catch. Who we are when we're not there, the other night meat. Imagination we control, and anyway it's barely happening, is underwater water coloring, but dreams provide the full sensory range, or anyway narrow our consciousness past remembering what parts of the sensory range might be missing.

We need to make totalizing statements but we need to compartmentalize them. Out here and in there aren't disconnected, but there's a ferry, two planes and a yak ride between them.
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Kafka's Diaries, July or August 1912:

The invention of the devil. If we are possessed by the devil, it cannot be by one, for then we should live, at least here on earth, quietly, as with God, in unity, without contradiction, without reflection, always sure of the man behind us. His face would not frighten us, for as diabolical beings we would, if somewhat sensitive to the sight, be clever enough to prefer to sacrifice a hand in order to keep his face covered with it. If we were possessed by only a single devil, one who had a calm untroubled view of our whole nature, and freedom to dispose of us at any moment, then that devil would also have enough power to hold us for the length of a human life high above the spirit of God in us and even swing us to and fro, so that we should never get a glimmer of it, and therefore should not be troubled from that quarter. Only a crowd of devils could account for our earthly misfortunes. Why don't they exterminate one another until only a single one is left, or why don't they subordinate themselves to one great devil? Either way would be in accord with the diabolical principle of deceiving us as completely as possible. With unity lacking, what good is the scrupulous attention all the devils pay us? It simply goes without saying that the falling of a human hair must matter more to the devil than to God, since the devil really loses that hair and God does not. But we still do not arrive at any state of well-being so long as the devils are within us.
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Though, re. Wilbur, from Remembering Elizabeth Bishop:

RICHARD WILBUR: The only time that I remember Elizabeth being undelectable, being cross with me, was on the day of a party at John Brinnin's house. When we had taken to the out-of-doors and were having drinks and would soon move on to croquet, Elizabeth took me up on it when I mentioned that we had just been to church. She said something like, "Oh dear, you do go to church, don't you? Are you a Christian?" I said, "Well, yes, going to church, I am likely to be a Christian." Elizabeth said, "Do you believe all those things? You can't believe all those things." I said, "Like most people, I have my days of believing nothing, and I have my days of believing much of it, and some days I believe it all."

Then Elizabeth began mentioning points of Christian doctrine that she thought it intolerable to believe. She said, "No, no, no. You must be honest about this, Dick. You really don't believe all that stuff. You're just like me. Neither of us has any philosophy. It's all description, no philosophy." At that point Elizabeth shifted to talking about herself and lamenting the fact that she didn't have a philosophic adhesive to pull an individual poem and a group of poems together, but she was really quite aggressive at that point. It surprised me because of her bringing up, [from which she] had many Christian associations, cared about many Christian things. and had got [them] into her poems here and there. I think that's what she was left with, the questions, if not the answers, of a person with a religious temperament.

Relevant comparisons: "I shall say what I think - had Shelley lived he would have finally ranged himself with the Christians..."

And: "Melville, as he always does, began to reason of Providence and futurity, and of everything that lies beyond human ken, and informed me that he had "pretty much made up his mind to be annihilated"; but still he does not seem to rest in that anticipation; and, I think, will never rest until he gets hold of a definite belief. It is strange how he persists - and has persisted ever since I knew him, and probably long before - in wondering to-and-fro over these deserts, as dismal and monotonous as the sand hills amid which we were sitting. He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other. If he were a religious man, he would be one of the most truly religious and reverential; he has a very high and noble nature, and better worth immortality than most of us."

Bishop found her philosophy in description, like Shelley, like Melville--though the latter two loved to editorialize also (nothing wrong with that). And none of the three believed, not on any day at all.

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Charles Augustine Briggs, a 19th-century pioneer of modern biblical scholarship, declared that by sweeping away the “rubbish” of centuries of biblical interpretation, modern scholars would finally “recover the real Bible.” Professor Kugel admires the audacity and genius of scholars like Briggs, but he believes that in their contempt for the “rubbish” of ancient interpretation, modern scholars have let the “real Bible” elude them. They have been left, instead, with “the raw material that made up the Bible.”

Orthodox Judaism as existentialism? I have noticed that a surprising number of Christians back into Grand Inquisitor land, when their arguments get exhausted.

Although I guess it isn't necessarily existentialism. Perhaps he really thinks this specific group of interpreters, rather than their ancestors, read the right God through the wrong texts. But if you can do that, why not through any text? Through the world? Presumably that's the contradiction he doesn't want to face: if error->truth, why that error only? I sometimes think my Episcopalian upbringing must have been a nail through the shoe, not the foot; Gore Vidal says somewhere that Episcopalians find talk about God impolite. I guess that was my sense of it, on Sundays: here's where we say these particular things, then sing these other ones, and now there are some strange stories, and now we listen to the priest tell some wry anecdotes and exhort us to be a little nicer, and it's meaningful that we do all this but no one quite remembers why, and now there's coffee cake. Whereas with Catholic school, and what experience I've had with these new-style Christian cultists...

Kugel has got me wondering this: has a story been told where a Protestant type decides to seek truth, finds his way blocked by a greedy and powerful Catholic authority, defeats this authority, who, dying, reveals that he has told, guarded, exploited these lies only because he has seen the truth behind them, and it is [awful/nothing/not worth knowing], and his demiurgency was for the protection of others from this fatal discovery, and the Protestant listens but goes forward into _________? Because I feel this story has been told, I just can't think where. The handling of Ivan in general? The Wizard of Oz and Oedipus Rex wander close; Julie suggests Miss Lonelyhearts, though that's not quite what Shrike's up to, and also Wise Blood, which I've not finished. Maybe Shelley, actually, at least as viewed by De Quincey. Maybe Cities of the Plain, The Blood Oranges, "Old Mortality"? None quite exactly. Maybe history.
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Kugel is annoying me. On Adam and Eve:

A. He dismisses the rather highlighted point that God might have been lying about killing Adam and Eve if they ate the fruit. They do, and he doesn't, after all. Kugel's concern is what early Jewish and Christian interpreters did with these problems--their deciding a day was 1000 years, their various weird casuistic takes on the justice of God's verdict--but surely a textual overview of the passage would help first? Either the story is about God sucking (see his subsequent alarm that they might eat of the tree of life, hence his exiling them--tellingly absent from Kugel's abstract of the story), or it is about knowledge of the world creating death--by creating knowledge of death. Why is he going out of his way to avoid critiquing early religionist logic? Is there some set of relativist anthropological writing principles I'm ignorant of?

(Anyway, doesn't the very presence of a tree of life imply Adam and Eve aren't initially immortal? Either: 1. they've been eating of the life tree, and God wants them to stop now that they're Knowers, because otherwise they'll rival him; 2. they've been mortal, and he didn't have to worry about their eating the life-fruit before because they were too dumb to even know about it (was the serpent, too?), but as Knowers are a threat.

Because if they are initially immortal without fruit help, and become mortal only when they fall, it's odd for God to have put a life tree in the garden anyway, since it's only of use to the God-cursed and/or knowledge-cursed, who he wants to die. So, unless the garden was there before God...)

B. He then blames the NOTION, rather than term, of 'original sin' on Christians right after quoting 2 Esdras/4 Ezra (surely BCE): O Adam, what have you done? For though it was you who sinned, the fall was not yours alone, but ours also who are your descendants.

And this is across, like, three pages.

Is it just me or is Bible scholarship that doesn't point out that God is a dick, at least in the many places where he is a blatant dick, pretty useless? Reminds me of Kafka's dog's interpretive blind spot, and the maze-wilderness it makes of his world.
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What Cosmic jest or Anarch blunder
The human integral clove asunder
And shied the fractions through life's gate?

Whatever brute and blackguard made the world.

There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.

The something that infects the world.

The sound was behind me instead of before,
A sleepy sound, but mocking half,
As of one who utterly couldn’t care.
The Demon arose from his wallow to laugh,
Brushing the dirt from his eye as he went;
And well I knew what the Demon meant.

Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat and live for ever--

And surely your blood of your lives will I require: at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man, at the hand of every man's brother will I require the life of man.

Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language: and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.

Though thou art worshipped by the names divine
Of Jesus and Jehovah thou art still
The Son of Morn in weary night's decline
The lost traveler's dream under the hill.
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He made them out of (either) himself or what was not his. If the one, how could they be poor unless he too was poor, as maker or material? If the other, how could they be poor unless as made or in what they had been always? If poor from always, though, poor in respect to what they could have been if cut from other cloth, or poor in respect to what he would have had them be, or how? Not poor from their own substance (to their own substance), then, no matter how it was, or if so only as things fall from themselves where necessary elements fail. The problem, thus, for them, was come of him, or come of the failing elements. It was as though he had himself ever only been the failure of elements, at least to them--and, time deferring to time, thus came they to regard him.
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Nagel on Dawkins:

All explanations come to an end somewhere. The real opposition between Dawkins's physicalist naturalism and the God hypothesis is a disagreement over whether this end point is physical, extensional, and purposeless, or mental, intentional, and purposive. On either view, the ultimate explanation is not itself explained. The God hypothesis does not explain the existence of God, and naturalistic physicalism does not explain the laws of physics.

One of Dawkins' (and of course not just his) objections to the Argument from Design is that, if one argues that sufficiently improbable complexity in something requires its having been designed, then the putative designer must have also been designed, since the ability--combined with desire--to design an improbably complex thing must itelf be improbable and complex. So if the designer is God, He would have had to have been created by God+1 etc., which is theologically irritating to say the least.

Nagel implies that Dawkins' physical reductionism is just as arbitrary as the theists' stopping at God+0. He feels The Argument from Design doesn't point to a greater complexity, but to an aphysical concept of intention, which cannot have the traits of causedness or complexity, or for that matter simplicity. I don't think Dawkins, though, has any trouble with such a concept: he has trouble with elaborations on this hypothetical intention. The elaborations are the God Dawkins is damning, not Husserlian scaffolding. That a consciousness would want to cause complexities, would do it for reasons, have memories or projections or opinions, a nature--that's the complication that snags the conclusion in the premise.

A God who has the purpose of judging our behavior, now that's complex and improbable--presumably requiring His own creators' needing such a God...though their need can be neatly explained by Dawkins' empirical theory of accretive mock-design. Dawkins, after all, does not claim that ultimate explanations themselves need to be explained; his argument is not self-defeating, and thus is not parallel to the theists'. Nagel is in turf-war mode, is I think the issue, and need not be--here anyway. Dawkin's argument attaches to mental complexities, sure, of created and creating man and God, but doesn't care about the physicality of too-pure-to-be-called-pure consciousness and intention. They may be local, they may be foreign. No matter. The devil is in the (presence of) details.

Trying to think of some phrasing that inflicts Nagel's attempted irony back on him but that's not the lesson here. And I barely got out all that stuff.
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Troubling, to me, is the permission slip God. Because of this one you let yourself feel, be connected, know or not have to know, remember or forget. The gaze of this being is a country, and you while in it are well and unalone.

It's a gift you're giving yourself, but could you let yourself without a) the social sanction, b) an image and a history that, carefully, make as little sense as life, c) the anthropomorphosis of cosmic extremes? To dial that down: without God, his clout, story and size?

Yes, in the broader sense of "could"--within imaginable human capacity. A and B are available to godless organizations, and hopefully B could be modified to "as MUCH sense as life" as people start to get it. C you might not need at all, given basic logical training; anyway, a toothless or not-quite-believed version should be possible, such as one of the more humanistic Gnostic cosmologies.

Do you need an organization or anyway group? I think this is the miserable part. We probably do, almost all of us. And absolutely all of us would benefit by it. The most crucial handle our evolutionary plan has on us is shame: the shame of the many to say anything, the shame of the few who do say to say anything new, the shame of the marginal newsayers to say anything true, the shame of the five-per-generation truesayers to say anything loud. Escape, not to another world but to perspective on our own, is disenabled by this inertia. And that escape is all we need at all.
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The thing I hate most about religion is how, when you scratch adherents, you find at the bottom some kind of misguided existentialist defense.

I don't want to live in a world where...If there is no God then nothing means...I refuse to believe that there isn't something out...

A. You have the power to lie but not the right. Keep desire and belief separate.
B. Everything means, and that is clearly the problem you're having.
C. Quit moving the "something" bar. Anything you've ever called something is something.

Creating meaning by an act of will is no cooler when there's precedent either. Q. How can everyone throughout all history be wrong? A. Have you examined All History lately?

At least it makes me feel...

It stops you feeling more.
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My God, He made the world and all its ways,
And me, and pulled a wife from out my side.
He guides me with His love through all my days;
And still when dead with Him will I abide.

My God made all the world except one bit,
An evil preexistent, an awryness
With place in me as well. Destroying it,
I do His will and join Him in His highness.

My God made not the World, for It is He,
Or She, as I should say, for out of Her
Are born all things that are, and what will be
Comes ever out of those things once that were.

Our God made not the world. It is another's,
And we, since come of God, are strangers here
And lost to pain. Remember, we are brothers.
Remember to forget and never fear.

My God is dead, or gone I know not where
And I until my death am gone likewise
And after it will see what isn't there
And never more this agony of eyes.
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from Theism, John Stuart Mill

The belief, however, in human immortality, in the minds of mankind generally, is probably not grounded on any scientific argu­ments either physical or metaphysical, but on foundations with most minds much stronger, namely on one hand the disagreeableness of giving up existence, (to those at least to whom it has hitherto been pleasant) and on the other the general traditions of mankind. The nat­ural tendency of belief to follow these two inducements, our own wishes and the general assent of other people, has been in this instance reinforced by the utmost exertion of the power of public and private teaching, rulers and instructors having at all times, with the view of giving greater effect to their mandates whether from selfish or from public motives, encouraged to the utmost of their power the belief that there is a life after death, in which pleasures and sufferings far greater than on earth, depend on our doing or leaving undone while alive, what we are commanded to do in the name of the unseen powers. As causes of belief these various circumstances are most powerful. As rational grounds of it they carry no weight at all.

That what is called the consoling nature of an opinion, that is, the pleasure we should have in believing it to be true, can be a ground for believing it, is a doctrine irrational in itself and which would sanction half the mischievous illusions recorded in history or which mislead indi­vidual life...
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To the Accuser Who Is the God of This World, Blake

Truly, My Satan, thou art but a Dunce,
And dost not know the Garment from the Man;
Every Harlot was a Virgin once,
Nor can'st thou ever change Kate into Nan.

Tho' thou art Worship'd by the Names Divine
Of Jesus and Jehovah, thou art still
The Son of Morn in weary Night's decline,
The lost Traveller's Dream under the Hill.

This is one that commits itself to your memory after a couple readings. The fourth line is the most poignant I've ever read.

The Traveller's Dream is, I take it, an anxious one; but something about the phrase always makes me think s/he's dreaming of home. Fits in well enough with Blake's nickname for the Accuser, Nobodaddy. Is dreaming of home then the problem, the one problem? Causing religion, jealousy, prejudice, smug pretension to knowledge? Son of Morn = Lucifer, but what is the weary Night's decline? The hour approaching dawn, one would think. The morning star is tugboat to the sun's rise. So, evil is the harbinger of good? That seems unBlakean but this was always his problem, accounting for the dirt on the toe. Misinformation isn't necessarily self-correcting.

Or could Son of Morn mean something different? Something useful, even glorious, earlier on, that no longer is but is still taken to be. Are these lines somehow recapping the close of Auguries of Innocence:

God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in the Night,
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of day.

The world without Imagination is Night...whatever Imagination is. The power of the mind to brighten the world, I suppose. But surely this requires catalyst or agency in that world.

Son of Morn...the popular vision of God creates havoc when separated from the human imagination, when not recognized as a glory belonging to the mind. But is still a glory. Satan is a Kate./?/! Is Blake forgiving the Demiurge?

I'm musing aloud unhelpfully and clearly missing something crucial. This poem is right in the middle of just about everything.
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Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor chapter was assigned for a class I'm in, to illustrate the problem of evil, the argument that evil disproves a God worth the name, the counterargument that free will necessitates evil, the countercounterargument that free will is worthless next to safety and certainty. I'm not sure I agree that this was the best text for it, it falls apart into paradox at several ends as Dostoevsky had the unique novelistic virtue of seldom agreeing with himself. But maybe it was the perfect text for this reason, casting students adrift in the chaos of wish and debate, feeling the importance of resolution but clueless as to how to resolve. I'm not sure the second text chosen, Billy Budd, is a logical next step. At any rate it's not great Melville, though any Melville is great (caught some Dostoevskyitis).

Anyway as the atheism loophole gets me out of the problem of the problem of evil, I find myself meditating in class on how many of the great 19th century writers tackled God, Jesus and The Devil as characters or rewritable forces. Especially interesting is that all five of the great public novelists of the latter half drag Jesus to their party. I think of Bloom's expression, "pulling oneself up by one's own root" and the real audacity of these projectmakers, raiding every source of power in their attempt to remake the world in and through books.

George Eliot just translated Strauss's Life of Jesus and Feuerbach's Essence of Christianity, as well as some tonic Spinoza. These were her only book-length works until she turned to fiction in her late thirties, though, so they weren't exactly side projects or work for hire. Starting out in a hothouse Christian environment it was necessary to get the refutation exactly right, not just to free herself but to retain the power of her earlier convictions in that freedom. You have to deny God in favor of something better or your eye stays on the backdoor, a la Wordsworth, Hemingway etc. etc. etc. And it takes some sharp searching to find what's better than God.

In Brothers Karamazov Jesus shows up in the Grand Inquisitor chapter, and the Devil has one to himself toward the end.

Dickens retells the Gospel stories at length in a book for children.

Tolstoy does the same in his Gospel redaction, and is a less subtle influence on his neo-Tolstoyan Jesus.

Victor Hugo doesn't use them as characters in his novels, as far as I know, but wrote hundreds of pages of narrative poetry about the rehabilitation of Satan, Jesus' life, the many faces of God.

These four guys exemplify pretty well the main deathtrends of Christianity: crazy faith, vague faith, self-denying secularization, and spirituality.

Of course the Romantics took their shots at the gods a generation or two earlier. Goethe's Satan inspired Byron's, who shows up in the plays Cain and The Deformed Transformed. Jesus is a character as well as a human state in Blake, as are several good and bad versions of God. Shelley's Jupiter and Cenci are both Jehovah and Devil, and his Prometheus can be taken as a revised Christ. I think Keats' god poems are mostly about art (though so is religion). The Devil is never far off in Hawthorne's tales, but I think the camera only catches him in Goodman Brown. Though I think the most diablified character in literature must be the exploding lawyer in Bleak House.

And before them Swedenborg, Milton, Dante et al. all grabbed the reins of the religions of their fathers. It all seems more drastic in the post-Enlightenment though. For an artist, God has to be a given, a corpse, or a puppet. You're either a child playing at His forgiving feet or his supplanter. By artist I mean organizer of the worlds of the world.


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