I’m not a food blogger, and have no desire to be. While in China, I only took two photos of food. But, because the food was so amazing, I feel I have to say something about it.
I expected that the food would be good. Here in Portland there are several very good Cantonese restaurants, that serve actual Chinese food and not Chinese-American food. I imagined dumplings, dimsum, noodles, crazy vegetables, weird meats, all of which we found in surplus in China.
But where China really exceeded expectation was the quality of the food, not just the content. We ate like royalty in China, thanks in part to a favorable exchange rate. (Our roast duck meal, one of the most expensive, cost about 30 USD for the two of us.) But it didn’t matter if we were out for duck, or eating at the corner place in the hutong. The food is overall very simple, and yet immaculately prepared. Everything from the main ingredient, to the side vegetables, to the garlic was cooked just about exactly right. It comes out fast, and before you know it the table is covered with dishes, and you can’t eat it all even though you want to. I’m not sure what the secret is to this culinary skill, other than that there are tons of hungry people in Beijing and the restaurants are crowded from ten in the morning until past midnight. But after 25 days in China, I had exactly two disappointing meals in China, and both were because the food was only standard.
I’ve been missing it, and dream of soup dumplings at night. As a way of coping, here are my favorite dishes.
Note: I’ve been a vegetarian for the past ten years. I went on a meat vacation in China, because simply the term “vegetarian” does not have a Chinese translation. Sure, you can get vegetarian food there (I went to a couple of Buddhist vegetarian restaurants that were exquisite) but if trying to eat at an average restaurant, you’re out of luck. Even a dish called “tofu and vegetables” invariably has bits of pork or chicken in it. Since I speak nearly no Chinese, I decided to be realistic, and just eat the food without worrying about it. Now I’m back on the wagon. Going back and forth is actually really easy: once you actually know how to eat vegetarian (read: you’ve moved past veggie burgers) it’s like eating French rather than Italian.
Soup Dumplings – These are not your Trader Joe’s potstickers. They are so tender, so perfectly formed, and then when you bite into them you suck out delicious broth like a vampire biting into a moody teenager. If you do it right, you don’t scald yourself. You also roll them in vinegar and pepper oil first.
Green Vegetable and Peanuts – Most Chinese menus have pictures (thankfully for me) but not just for tourists. The descriptions are always vague, and the locals like seeing what they are getting as much as someone illiterate in the Chinese language. This dish, normally called this, is some sort of green kind of like mustard greens or sweet chard, that is cooked in a wok just long enough to be wilted, with peanuts and a vinegar sauce. I could eat this at almost every meal.
Some sort of vegetable pastry – No idea what these are called, but they were sold out of a window around the corner from our hotel. After we tried them, we ate them almost every day. They have a thick doughy pastry, fried into a disc on a waffle-press like cooker (though without the waffling). Inside are vegetables, which changed every day, but was either the greens (like the above) or cabbage and onion. They cost one yuan each, which is somewhere around 15 cents. If you can’t wait to eat them because they smell so good, you can burn your face, because they were always made about five minutes ago.
Hot Wok Flaming Food – The contents vary, but it comes out on a mini-wok with sterno fuel burning underneath, and it is delicious. Two of the better ones I had were are follows: 1) tofu triangles and sprouts, with fresh onions tossed underneath right before they brought it out, simmering in a thin brown sauce. My face was full of frying onion smoke the whole meal, and it was awesome. 2) Pieces of what I think were chicken, in an oily pepper soup with the requisite onions and sprouts. You didn’t drink the broth as it was very oily, but the meat was so, so tender, it fell off the bones.
Roast fish – As in the photo above. It’s a river fish, on a bed of some sort of soy-based gelatin/aspic cubes, and broth. Once you figure out how to strip the meat off the bones with chopsticks, its amazing. By the end, I had refined my technique enough to go in and pull out the entire cheek in one, wet, tender, meltingly delicious piece.
Other Asian food – Chains from all sorts of countries are all over China, especially in Shanghai. A couple of the more interesting ones were a Korean place that brings a red-hot iron bowl to your table, and throws vegetables, meat, and an egg in the bowl and stirs it up for you. At a mall. Also, a Japanese-Taiwan mix place called Ramen Play, (kind of sounds like a sexual sub-culture, or something) that does the ramen thing, with crazy toppings, extra noodles, etc.
Noodles – I thought there were be tons of noodles in China, but both noodles and rice are kind of minimally eaten. I think the deal is that they are filler food, and people prefer to eat the meat and vegetables whole, and maybe have a little bit of noodles or rice if they are on a budget. Still, they were amazing, as in the case of a dish of squash greens and glass noodles, a seafood dish with fried noodles, and noodle soups with fish pieces.
Barbecue skewers – Big street food. At the window they have the skewers loaded up, simmering in sauce. When you tell them the ones you want, they throw them on the flame. At the big tourist street, they have the skewers with all the weird stuff on it, caterpillars, scorpions, etc. But no one really eats that stuff. I had one with a whole squid, and frankly I’ve had much better squid: this one just had the head and suckers visible, to please the tourists. At the more legit places, the lamb and the chicken wings are really the best. We went to an Uighur restaurant, and they had this dry rub on the lamb with cumin that I really can’t tell you about, because it makes me start to drool just thinking about it.
Shrimp Cupcake Dumplings with Sprinkles – Photo above. Okay, I don’t even know what this is. We saw sprinkles in the picture in the menu, and so ordered it. It is a little bit of cake, with frosting, with a piece of shrimp on top, the whole thing fried, and then dipped in fried potato shavings, and then with sprinkles on top. So weird. Very good, but after we ate the plate of them, it was exactly enough, and I don’t think I could have had another. Just too bizarre.
Other weird things that I ate that weren’t quite so good but were weird:
Donkey Meat – It tastes like gamey corned beef. People like this, and it’s pretty popular. I liked it, but I didn’t really see what the excitement was.
Intestine – I really can’t think of many foods that I actively dislike. But, this I did not like. It’s not gross really, but… okay. Let’s just say there is a little bit of an aftertaste that reminds you what part of the body you are eating.
Duck Feet – I was eating fried duck pieces, and didn’t really know what I was eating until I was crunching it up. Chicken feet are very popular in China, even sold at convenience stores individually wrapped like beef jerky. Not sure about the appeal. They are easy to crunch, kind of like cartilage. They do fry up well, kind of like chicken or duck skin, so that part is good.
Duck Brain – The head came with the Peking-style duck, and so bravely I went in. Not really much to say about this. Tastes like the duck, but is soft and fatty. No real feelings either way.
That’s about it. I could have been much more adventurous, but as I said, a chicken wing is a little adventurous for me, so I didn’t feel the need to push it. I’ve never really seen the point of the sort of food tourism that likes to eat weird things, though I’ve willingly eaten my fair share of eels, bugs, odd organs, and assorted sea invertebrates when they’ve been offered to me. From the way the food merchants in the tourist areas yelled, “Snake! Snake!” at me, apparently a lot of Western guys like to eat snake. Maybe it’s a ego thing, or something. I’ll take flavor over adventure any day. And in China, there’s plenty to be found everywhere.
The club is the mediator or frame through which the music is communicated. The band literally plugs into the technology of the club in order to magnify the sound, turning a possibility into actually, making what is heard by the musicians themselves accessible to an audience. People pay to see others believe in themselves.
Videos of 3D weaving machines, which Lexus uses to build car components, among other things. Added strength, less material, and so forth. Via BLDGBLOG.
While once, extruded technologies (plastics) were all the rage of the future, the anality of the mechanisms of cutting-edge capitalistic production is now even more high-strung. Replace the urge to expel with a general increase in tension. The problems of infrastructural distribution that guided flows of solid material and waste, are swapped out for algorithmic Gordian knots. From muscular compression, and old-world-modernist strength, the present-day technologies have progresses towards stretching: no longer thinking bigger and better, pulling every last bit of surplus value out, pulling the thread as taught as it can get.
Streaming Netflix to the Wii, thanks to a generous gift from my parents of a subscription. I’m behind the times on this, because most people who are interested in streaming Netflix are already doing so.
The interesting thing about it for me, is how this new burst of functionality actually creates a feeling of frustration for me. I’m frustrated for all the ways the Wii is not like Chrome.
Netflix is probably the first useful thing I’ve used on the Wii’s network connection. The browser is near pointless, the weather and news apps are useless in comparison to my cell phone, I don’t play multiplayer games online. I have downloaded a couple of games from the Wii Store (Secret of Mana and Zelda: Link to the Past, suckas!) but other than that, it just sits. But now that Netflix is pulling gigs of hot entertainment off of the cloud, I realize just how useless that pretty white box is.
Where is my Pandora app? A usable YouTube app? Free, pointless web games? Audiovox? Al Jazeera, or other news networks? I don’t know very much about the Wii programming front, but as wonderful and easy as navigating the Netflix native app with the Wiimote, I can’t believe I can’t stream music, news, or do any of the other easy web app tasks I do on all of my computers.
This isn’t the only inherent limitation in the setup. I can’t play DVDs in the Wii, so I’m constantly switching the RCA cables back and forth to my crappy single input TV. I can’t access network shares of any format. I’m expected to use a SD card to transfer pictures, for goodness sakes. And when I point my Wiimote at the toaster or the toilet, nothing happens!
Well, I might need some additional black market… hardware modifications… to make my waste elimination controllable via bluetooth. And I know that my Wii is several years old, so I shouldn’t expect cutting edge technology to be on it. But this is a common gadget problem, gadget problems being the localized “serious first world issues” that they are.
Everything electronic device I have seems to be limited by something. And not by being a few years old, or by having no interface to my spinal cord. I have devices running iOS, Mac OS, Windows, Linux, and whatever it is that is going on inside the Wii. Certain things will work with others and the larger network, via TCI/IP, CIFS, USB cable, or native app programming. But they don’t all work. Certain functionalities occur on certain devices, but not on others. I feel like I have a tool box filled with magnetized tools. The hammer is perfectly useful on its own, but bring it near my cold chisel, and the chisel flies across the room.
I know it is too much to hope that there ever be one OS to unite them all. But then, my good systems make me wish for what could be. There’s Roku, there’s Boxee, there’s XBMC. I could buy one of the pre-made systems, or I could hack together my own using free software and a small PC. These all get a little closer, but it still isn’t perfect. It will never be perfect.
What is perfect? Shouldn’t we at least have something to shoot for? What are people shooting for? I have some guesses as to what Apple and Nintendo are shooting for. It rhymes with “shmonetization”. Open-source developers like those working on XBMC might be shooting for perfect, one step at a time. But they are constrained by the pay services, and their own goals. Netflix won’t work on XBMC running on a Linux box, for example, because of the Silverlight DRM. Of course, Netflix is constrained in turn by their content providers, and I have no problem with this really. Their service is totally worth the money they charge. It provides real value, if you are into entertainment value. But it could provide more value, and yet is not. There are always limitations.
Limitations are a part of life. They only become frustrating when they seem arbitrary, and what is desired is just out of reach. I can listen to Pandora and Last.fm on Chrome OS, but I can’t watch Netflix. I can watch Netflix on the Wii, but can’t listen to Pandora. I feel like if I want it hard enough, I should be able to figure out a way past this impasse, but alas, technology is much more complex than wishing.
I could put this aside as just a silly little entertainment issue, and go back to doing something important. But, this desire to sync is not just a TV problem. It’s an information problem. We, the consumers, think of our technology in terms of features, not in terms of company motivation, operating system, or app availability. We want to DO functions, not understand the complex paths of compatibility. This problem engages all technology from car cabin controls, to social networking, to kitchen appliances.
Some of us (like myself, or so I like to think) can see past our desires and understand the reasons why things don’t work, and wait patiently hoping that some day they will work. But why is there a disconnect? Can’t we meet somewhere in the middle, with more easily component technological connections that more closely adhere to our schemas of functional understanding?
via Flickr user Mac User's Guide
Take RCA cables, for instance. In some scenarios, I’m the “tech geek”, simply because I understand the difference between red, white, and yellow, and between input and output. I don’t know anything about how a DVD player functions, but I can understand making a simple component connection between media source and display. I can figure out how best to organize the stereo receiver, the DVD player, the game system, and any other inputs and outputs to cobble together a home theater system from whatever is lying around. Just with some colorful little cables.
Everyone tries for this sort of component ease. Debian packages. iOS apps. Chrome apps. Web stores. Plug and play. But this component ease is always designed within a particular system, either an operating system, a gadget industry, or a particular company’s product offerings. Why isn’t the system the “consumer’s logical understanding environment”? Probably because consumer user experience only goes so far as to increase that consumer’s surface area as a customer. Why would anyone spend time and money working on R&D for improving UI purposefully outside of the scope of a product? Why would anyone want to potentially improve someone else’s product, outside of doing so as a way of improving their own product? Everyone is trying to use everyone else, be it the OS using its third-party developers, the developers using the interface, the interface using the customers. Except for the customers, who aren’t using anyone, and only getting used. It’s consumer capitalism, and this isn’t any revelation.
What would happen, if cell phone manufacturers actually wanted you to have better health care? Or if app developers really wanted a more directly representative democracy? If the world was made to help enable the synchronized functions we desire, rather than the functions that will earn someone money? First of all, we’d be living in a utopia. We’d be living in a world in which the human species was not self-interested and individualistic, and in which the consolidation of power in the form of money and resources didn’t beget the accumulation of more power and resources. All of which is not the case. No need to get weepy about it; we are whom we are.
But we could get much closer than we are now. I’d wait on my Wii apps, if it would help.
John Murray Spear, a middle-aged Universalist pastor in [mid 1800s] Massachusetts, claimed to be receiving messages from dead men. Sure, it was somewhat strange that instead of talking to a deceased relative for comfort, he claimed that a “Band of Electricizers” made up of Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and others, had chosen him to bring a messiah into the world. But, in a twist fitting a new era, this savior was a machine, one that would, Spear relayed, “revolutionize the world and raise mankind to an exalted level of spiritual development.”
With “spirit guidance,” Spear constructed a contraption of zinc batteries, metal balls, and thousands of copper wires, encased in a wooden frame. He named it the New Motor. The purpose of this machine was as vague as the man himself, but he claimed that it not only harnessed spiritual electricity, but also housed an as-yet unborn soul.
Spear was hardly the first to build an odd contraption with spiritual properties, and he will not be the last. The article above mentions a number of other future-leaning types, abolitionists, women’s rights advocates, and others who dabbled in Spiritualism during that period. You can think of your own similar examples from other points in history.
I love this sort of thing, and of course I do, because I have some half-built machine/art project in my living room running off of the eccentric motors pulled out of half a dozen malfunctioning atomic-synced radio clocks. Art is my excuse of course. My excuse to play with technology that I only half understand, building nothing of consequence from pieces of things I have broken. I’d like to pretend I’m tinkering in the great tradition of gentlemen scientists who actually made most of the scientific discoveries in the world, prior to Spear’s time period, not unlike those whom Spear believed appeared to him in a dream to tell him how to build his own machine.
But I’m not. I don’t have the patience or the interest to learn how something works outside of a mental understanding. I don’t seek to create, or invent, or discover. I just like to tinker. I like to read. My field of real creation lies elsewhere. And so I understand when I draw a bit of those looks, those “woo woo” looks, the sort that one gives to a man who will just as easily discuss Game Theory as Orgone Theory. To an extent, I deserve them.
I don’t think that Orgone Theory is a real thing (not any more than I believe in Game Theory :) but I like learning about it anyway, just because it isn’t. There is something wonderfully tragic about such a theory that could so consume a smart man like its theorist, Wilhelm Reich. And while I’m not sure I agree with the author of the above piece, who suggests that maybe those whom are progressive and forward thinking are always a bit crazy, I think there is something about wild, unproven technologies, and the desire to build machines without knowing if they work, or in the full knowledge that they don’t. The pathos of dreaming, perhaps. Or the skill, and yes I call it a skill, to make one’s delusions real in the world.
It’s a capacity of performance art, and I think it lives in everything that we do. Whether or not your technology empirically “works”, there is a bit of performance art to it, that constitutes the will to make it exist, if not to make it functional. There is a sense of pleasure in this sort of creative work, whether or not anything ever comes from the science, or whether or not there is any science within half a mile of the project. It’s dreaming in real life. It’s the ability to creatively fetishize technology–to believe you are fulfilled, even though perhaps you are sitting inside an empty wooden box.
Take, for example, 3D films. It is a technology that “works”, empirically. And yet, what is the real use? Entertainment is important, sure. But I couldn’t care less. I’m entertained anyway. And while the inventors of 3D film technology might have had delusions of grandeur about the importance of their device, or simply been convinced that it would make them rich, they didn’t know this for sure. They had to build something, with an idea, and not much else. Most people see film, and they are satisfied. But these folks wanted it to be something more.
Maybe if I had an idea of where my clock machine was going to take us technologically, I would actually get somewhere. Spear’s machine was smashed by an angry crowd, and the new spirit he was theorizing never came into existence. But he DID end up working on the Underground Railroad, with several communes and other socialist projects. In the large, never-ending piece of performance art called life, his technology–if you want to call it that–did end amounting to something.
The world of ideas and mechanics are related. Video games, once a diversion, are now supposed to improve the cognitive facilities. Real, world-changing technologies are born and die on the backs of envelopes and napkins. I’m no scientist (really, not a scientist) but I wouldn’t be surprised if building a failed perpetual motion machine wasn’t in some way, good for the mind. At the very least, it is all an interesting piece of art. Perhaps the technology really does exist in the mind, rather than this world.
If there is an idiot born every minute, every five minutes one of them says, “Let’s go to Cozumel!” And then s/he does. There is something about awful tourist attractions and awful tourists causing them to fly together like rare earth magnets, perhaps even lacerating your fingers if each object is of a great enough mass, and you happen to carelessly put your hand between them. Of course, there must be some place in the world for the itinerant masses to go, when they decide it is indeed time to go somewhere. And hell, who am I to judge? We would all like to go some place warm in the winter (all of us in the Northern hemisphere, anyway). The water in Cozumel is insanely beautiful.
And yet, there reaches a critical mass of massy masses—so many overweight Americans bringing their vacation dollars to a particular place—that either through unwitting clodmanship or through straight-up rudeness they end up pushing other people off the crowded jewelry-salesperson strewn sidewalk directly into raw, Mexican traffic. This is not hyperbole; this actually happened. The fat, sunburnt, sunglassed, cruise ship of a woman who threw an elbow into my father’s chest did not even look back to see who or what she hit. She motored off on her flip-flops, just like any other hit-and-run, BMW-driving, American businessman after he knocks over an unmanned motor scooter in downtown Portland, Oregon (I just seem to witness the nicest people all the time, just in the act of living their lives).
How did we get to this point? Not to the point at which I have a thousand and one sob stories about the callousness of others; but to the point at which vacation destinations, through their own advertising and industry, become so beyond over-capacity with customers that they become less vacation factories than the Stanford Prison Experience™? Do we really not have enough third-world beaches we can harvest for the color of their water and sand? Why do they all seem to go to Cozumel? Do the red, white, and blue flip-flops, swim suits, and sun visors really have some sort of strong-attraction force, magnetically collecting into these conglomerated asteroid super-fields of holiday makers?
I admit that I am biased, being not one for crowds and certainly not one for large groups of fun-seekers. I don’t have to seek fun, and don’t always care for those who do. This is not to say that I am somehow more able to find fun than most people; rather, I have fun doing boring, mundane things. I’m always having fun. Exploring the nether regions of an underpass might as well be taking a hike, for me. Taking a hike, well, that’s a trip to the beach. And a trip to the beach… that’s my own personal roller coaster on the roof of a casino.
But I do like to see new places. And some places that are new to me, unfortunately, are old to the tourist trade. Key West, for example. Beautiful reef waters, within sight of the uninhabited Key West Wildlife Sanctuaries. The beautiful island architecture inspired and housed some famous American artists; best-known, of course, are Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams. You can still visit Hemingway’s house, which is… right between the bar-strewn novelty T-shirt district of Duval Street and the cruise ship pier. I guess you can go if you want. Maybe I will not.
At some point, the aesthetic qualities of a place that attract artistry and travelers like myself—traveling for the sake of traveling rather than the destination—shrink in comparison to the mainstream economic-based motivators that draw the masses. New York is famously going through this problem now, as the artistic climate that has made New York what it is in the art world conspires to raise rents even in an economic downturn, chasing the artists themselves away. Until there are no artists left. It’s all part of the same cycle: attraction, and repulsion. And then what? I believe that gentrification is not a new phenomenon. It has been a problem ever since it because commonplace for people to move within a city. Times change, neighborhoods change, and people on the short end of the real estate stick end up moving to less than desirable places out of necessity. The cycle continues, life begets life, and the hipster chorus hits the high note as the credits roll. But, what perhaps seem un-cyclical is the extent to which these re-culturalizing forces are now becoming mono-cultural forces.
Certain places become miserable, all to their economic gain. While they rake in the dollars, I have a hard time believing that anyone really has a good time. They get drunk, yes. Spend money on stuff they don’t need. They buy antibiotics and painkillers over the counter; all of these are things we normally enjoy. But it is just so concentrated, so canned, and so monetized that it is really no more than a shadow of these fun things, now at twice the price. Will there be a tipping point at which Cozumel is no longer desirable, because it is notorious for being lousy with tourists and the hyenas who thrive upon their steaky wallets? I would have thought we reached that point long ago, but for some reason, people are still showing up. The mono-culture keeps paving, and people keep coming to park.
What is that we are trying to escape through travel, anyway? I mean “we” in the most populist sense—me, and those sorts of tourists and people whom I spend my life trying to avoid. I like to think there is a bit of capital-C Culture going on in where I choose to “tour”. A little bit of my high-falutin’ taste. But I like a dual-culture, if not more multiple than that. I like my small art galleries, but I like bars, too. Aren’t we all just trying to have fun? To see something different. To get drunk and stumble back to hotel. To eat some different food. And maybe take advantage of a beneficial currency exchange. A little warm weather. Maybe a sugar-coated moment of historical significance. Is this balance so much to ask? Is it so hard to find?
Cozumel, in trying to attract tourist dollars by promising just this sort of experience to so many people that it could never deliver on the promise, is really no different than any town in America. The mono-culture of economic expediency would extend itself everywhere, if it could Proof is in the billboards and signs on the sides of the Interstate. Thousands of towns, called out for their uniqueness. Redding. Amarillo. Lawrence. Elk Hart. Drink specials. Kids eat free. Free Wifi. The lowest prices on 1-40. The brithplace of a former Miss America. Memphis might not have the azure waters of Cozumel, but they get the scam. They know the hustle. People are passing by, thousands per day. They are going to spend money somewhere. Why not here? If you put up one sign, you might as well put up twenty. You tell a few tall tales. Then they might start to believe. Give it a couple years, hand out some bumper stickers, and before you know it, you have Wall-Drug—the Cozumel of the middle of nowhere. You get people to believe they’re having fun even though they’re not, and you have just created a tourist economy out of nowhere. And the mono-culture that is the mindless pursuit of capital flows.
The carnival of it all—that is, whatever that unnameable “fun” is that is sold to us for dollars on the penny—is not just in exotic destinations. Although some exotic destinations have some pretty great carnivals. But there are exotic destinations without carnivals, just as there are many carnivals in non-exotic locations. The carnival is everywhere. And so, it becomes that the carnival is only where someone has set up a sign. Wherever anyone sets up the economic tent. Some tents are bigger than others. Doesn’t mean the small ones aren’t tents. And all of a sudden, you aren’t having fun unless there’s a sign, a tent, and someone to take your money.
I wouldn’t suggest stopping at most of these tents any more than I would suggest going to Cozumel. The carnival ugliness is only so interesting in an academic sense, before it is just another freak show. And you have to watch out for those whom you’re gawking at. The anecdote about getting pushed into traffic wasn’t fiction. There are other ways they get at you, too. There’s evil in those crowds, just lingering underneath. A real mob is just below the skin of every good party. The truth about humanity is, that the distance separating a busy street and an orgy of beasts ripping each others’ limbs off and eating them, is about as long as the distance between a noun and a verb. Look into the eyes of a man who has had four daiquiris, and is about to buy jewelry for his wife. That is the seat of evil, my friends. As cold as a frozen drink, and the color of investment grade Tanzanite. Just before I went fully “small town Americana kitsch” on you, I thought I’d leave you with that.
But this is where we are, and this is how I somehow ended up in America, no different than other beasts of my species. More or less. The secret of vacationing, in my opinion, is to read all the billboards, but look for certain ones. You can’t avoid the tents, but you can choose. Don’t go for the biggest, the brightest, or the best deal. The signs you want are smaller, and probably a little broken, because the advertisers don’t have much money. For whatever reason they haven’t grasped the idea that to really make money you have to sell booze. Instead of foot-long daiquiris they’re selling culture, of all foolish commodities. And yet, their doors are still open. They are collecting nickels, but they’re collecting enough of them. That says something. And the something that it says is both what we’re looking for, and the subject of the next museum.
If you’ll follow me and try not to get separated from the group, Wednesday I’ll take you on a tour of the Museum of Small American Museums.
When a reader of Marx is laid off from another crappy job at a poorly run business, we might expect him not to be surprised. It’s just one more aufhebung of the old alienation. Another kick in the pants from the capitalists. Yet again, the pain of surplus value being extracted, like a sambok to his special spaces. We passed tragedy, and then left the farce behind, long ago. After the farce came the parody; after that, the fart joke; surpassing that, history was an email forward; and I’m not sure what’s came next, but I believe we’re now somewhere in between novelty T-shirt and minstrel show.
But no matter how much he (or as the reader might be aware, I) might be fully conscious of class relations, being laid off is still, apart from being a monetary problem, a big old ideological mind fuck. I had agreed. I was working an hourly wage. I was doing the work my bosses didn’t do, because they were lazy, stupid, or simply not there. I wasn’t happy with it, and even though I might have written a thick volume on all the materialist contradictions of history at play, I showed up every day on time. I worked hard. I didn’t steal. Didn’t complain. I didn’t even unionize. I agreed to the capitalist mindset, in order to earn a buck. And it all fell through. Some sell-out.
Of course, maybe because I did all this, was the reason I lost. If I had joined a union trade, I could have kept my job (even though I might have lost my pension). Or on the other hand, maybe I didn’t buy into capitalism enough. My mini-American dream of slaving for a low-stress hourly wage without health care (my health is already fully secured by my partner’s union membership) so I could spend my real efforts on my own projects was still, just a dream. If I had tried to make my buck on the backs of other people, then I might have had a chance. I should have worked on commission. I should have been banking a percentage, rather than making things with my hands, of all bodily organs to exploit. I should have been a capitalist, not just a capitalist whore. It may be the oldest profession. But for all of that history, whoring has always revolved around getting fucked.
So what am I, the good, capitulated Marxist, to take from my second trip to the Oregon Department of Unemployment website? A good dose of shame. You were right, Marx! And you too Engels, to a lesser, more sociological extent! I never should have put down Das Kapital, and picked up my resume! I should have been punching scabs, not the clock!
Well, I suppose that is shame, and anger. But in addition: simple horror. It really is that bad. Playing by the rules gets you nowhere. It’s no longer a decision between liberal arts and hard science. Between the career path, and the artsy hike-through-Europe path. If I had accumulated the amount of credit card debt I collected in the process of finding and losing two jobs instead in the process of traveling and having fun, I’d be in the same more place but with much better stories. Let’s face it. Debt is looking like a pair of twins I accidentally fathered in college (I name them BA and MA), that I will be stuck with for a good thirty years, because they sure as shit aren’t going to find jobs right after college either.
There is one more thing that I have taken from this experiment. It is a nice, thick scar. Do you have a good flesh wound scar? I’m not talking about a neat surgery incision; I’m talking about a wound on the surface, that you can see, and you watch every day as it heals. There’s something about the process of a scar forming. At first, it is a wound, and it hurts. Just touching the swollen, red skin around your inadvertent orifice reminds you of the horror of looking down as the accident happened, and seeing your own blood, and maybe even some raw muscle exposed. But little by little, the pain fades, and it closes. You can touch it. Skin grows over top, and it is tender, white and puffy. It still hurts when you press on it. And yet, it is a pain you begin to relish. Like a loose tooth reversing its course, growing back into your jaw, you pick and twist at it, unable to leave it alone, feeling the steadily numbing pain fade back into the asymptotic reflex arc as the scar rejoins the rest of your flesh. You press harder, taunting it, willing it to hurt you more. Really? You’re healing? That’s all you’ve got?
In the end, you have a thin line, tracing the path of where your skin was cleaved. It is hard, like gristle, but made of you. It is part of you forever, even as it continues to fade. Whatever it was that cut you has made its mark. But that mark isn’t part of that damaging knife, edge, point, or flame. It is you, and now always will be.
As far as scars given at the end of capitalism’s danger go, mine is pretty light. I didn’t have my child’s leukemia treatment revoked by an insurance company. I wasn’t murdered by scabs and dropped down a West Virginian coal mine shaft. I wasn’t even conscripted to fight in a war. But I feel it all the same. It’s really nothing less than everything my college counselors, teachers, TV, and America ever taught me about working for a living, either implicitly or explicitly, being proved wrong. Sure, I was unlucky. I could have just as easily had jobs where I didn’t get laid off. But I didn’t. And I’ll tell you, it has nothing to do with luck; both times I was laid off, it was done by actual people, who made actual decisions. Or perhaps, didn’t make any decisions. Not out of random chance, but because they didn’t give a shit. They were idiots. And they were in charge. And I suffered for it. And this is the scar I will remember.
Yes, I am pissed, emotional, and angry. I don’t want to make this all about me, and we will get to the more interesting museums soon enough. But I must make this clear. I must show you these exhibits here, and tell you what they mean. I blame certain, specific people for doing this, and I believe I should. I could spell out the whole narrative (both of them) and then appeal for your judgment, to tell me I am either correct or I am not. But I won’t do this. It won’t change the results. If this was just an attempt to placate my sense of moral outrage, then I would. But the point is this: different people, in different situations, twice allowed their own personal laziness, and their own pursuit of short-term overhead reduction, and their own unwillingness to listen to advice or observations, and their own complete inability to make any sort of concrete plan, not only ruin their own businesses (both are in tatters currently), but destroy the livelihood of their hardest working employees. We worked hard, we took extra weight upon ourselves, and we listened to their idiotic speeches about “hard-times”, and “belt-tightening” and “urgency”. And for what? So they could hide from their problems for an extra few months. The surplus value they earned from our labor, in this case, was their freedom from everything: work, responsibility, planning, and care. I’m carrying all of that now. All the way to the unemployment line.
The alienation, in the end, was not so much the distance between the worker and the product of his labor. I cared about the product. I might have been the only one. My real disconnect was from the job. The commodity I had bought into, the hourly wage job, something so simple as obtaining a regular income, is now a lost dream, flitting away. I have seen the historical contradiction here, and it is the whole damn thing.
Why bother anymore? Really? I defy you to give me a good reason. Why wake up in the morning, and sleep at night? I like being awake at night, and sleeping through the morning. These are the hours of the unemployed. Why should I spent hours trying to find a job, when I can spend hours working on my own projects? Every hour spent fruitlessly is another hour closer to death. What is the benefit of pursuing “adulthood”? As far as I can tell, the only benefit of being “grown up” is I own more tools, and there are fewer people I feel obligated to be looking up towards as role models. I still don’t have any money, I still don’t know what I’m going to do with the rest of my life, and I still feel like I’ve failed some test I didn’t know I was taking. This is adult. This is maturity.
I’m not selling everything and moving to the Yukon (yet). Nor are we going to live in the car and mooch the library’s Wifi (at least not for more than a week or two every so often). What I’m trying to say, is that it’s not so much as I lost the job, as the job has lost me. The big, Titanic luxury ship of gainful employment has left me standing at the pier, as it steams into the sunset, no doubt on what will be a successful trip across the Atlantic Ocean. The idea of a job has alienated me so far, that I fell off. I sat in the dust, watching it keep going without me. And all I have left is the scar.
The compromise is over. Capitalism broke the agreement. From now on, I’m on my own. I’ll pay the bills, I just don’t know how. I’m going to work, but on what I need to work on, not for what some ass who just so happens to have bumbled his/her way into owning a failing company thinks is important. I’m going to have a really hard time of it, probably. But hey, as I’m finding out, that’s what “real life” is all about. It’s about getting angry, but about waking up the next morning, walking outside, and looking at the condition of the lawn. For the same reasons we climb mountains and go to the moon. Because it is there.
My fellow Americans: we have a good many things to do. We have to quit our jobs. We have to feed our families after we have quit our jobs. We have to put our pride in our fists, so that prevents against calluses as we begin to work. We have to work. The only question is, what are we going to work on? For this one, I have no answers. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that they know, either. Because they are just guessing, or trying to sell you something. I can only recommend one thing. Get really confused, and then go for a walk. You might not find what it is your are going to work on, but at least you’ll get some fucking exercise. We could all use it. Especially me.
But, before all of that: because I’m an American, the first thing I’m going to do when I’m disoriented, confused, and perhaps struggling with hand-eye coordination tasks and basic judgment, is get behind the wheel.
Tune in Wednesday for the “Museum of the Destruction of all Beat Poets.”
So for the moment, let’s just bracket the whole security state, individual body autonomism, and terrorism fear-politics thing. Whatever you agree with is totally right, and full body scanners are _______.
Now. Your opinion being correct, the government being wrong, and the differences between these ideas and reality being completely resolved, let’s think about it in a different way.
What is so wrong with being naked?
Full body scanner opposition has really brought out the prudes. Sure, you claim political reasons, (which I can’t hear right now ’cause I done bracketed ‘em) but I think you are just afraid of what the naked body looks like.
This is 2010. This is the year when it is completely reasonable for women to walk around wearing nothing but a thin layer of spandex clinging to the outside of their junk. This is the year when rock stars are photographed in the streets playing the drinking game where if you show someone your nuts they have to drink an alcohol energy drink. (That is a thing, right? Sounds like it is.) This is the year where pornography finally, FINALLY made it onto the Internet.
I know it’s the rule that we have to hate whatever it is the government is trying to make us do, especially in airports. But why do we have to be against it if it is nakedness? I also know it is a rule that the only people we want to see naked are supposed to be very attractive, and they don’t go to airports ever. But this is a recession, and we all have to make concessions.
So what is the real issue? If we’re not against nakedness, and we’re not against settling for a less than perfect nakedness, then what is it about full body scanners we really don’t like? It’s that nobody gets to see the pictures except for TSA. We don’t get to upload them to Facebook for our boss to find, accidentally expose them from underneath our skirt as we drunkenly trip exiting a subway car, or sit with it in our hand while we surf Chatroulette. The problem is not being naked. It is just such a limited, un-fun, anti-exhibitionist naked.
So here is my proposal. Share your nakedness. Rather than submit to the hand-off, monochrome, and frankly un-party-like atmosphere, opt-out of the body scanner, and OPT-IN to the pat down. Share your body with another human being. Talk to him or her. Look your fellow human in the eye. Extend your arms, and let the warm flesh underneath those latex gloves run over your frame. Encourage them to seek to ensure nothing dangerous lies in your corporeal crevices, not with any potentially harassing comments, but with a loving presence of a willing, giving fellow inhabitant of a physical form.
We all have bodies, and that has always been the danger. We have material beings that are fragile, vulnerable to attack, and susceptible to threats, permeated by fear. And this is why we must celebrate our bodies, strutting them through the streets, trussing ourselves up in meager strings of cloth that beg to let the skin underneath be released in full animal beauty. We are judgmental of our and other’s bodies, and just as defensive against such criticism. The terrain of our slowing rotting homes has always been the battlefield, both inside and out. And rather than force ourselves to see the truth of this messy, insurgent conflict, we disavow our bodies. We put on a coat, we tie a tie, and we declare mission accomplished. Even though this war can never be won.
What if rather than assign the battle of our bodies to a bureaucratic entity, we decided to fight this war ourselves. In a world of mutual human body security, you go to the airport, and approach a stranger. You introduce yourselves, and sit down together to open your luggage. You look through each others’ clothing and electronics, admiring what you like, and condemning anything that might be dangerous to either of you. Embarrassing items like underwear, hygiene effects, or pleasure items illicit a blush, and a knowing wink. Then you begin to undress each other. You look under each others arms, and between each others legs. In the mouth, and through the hair. Did you know you have the beginnings of a cavity there? And I think it might time to redo that hair dye. You have some roots showing. Not so bad yet, but in the next week or two. This is a check-up as much as a check-through. There is no sexual contact, because this is a public place, for goodness sake! There is exploration, examination, questioning, and eventually, approval. No one is embarrassed, humiliated or violated. Instead, we look out for each other, by looking underneath our coverings, and ultimately, inside of ourselves.
Rather than prepare for a trip by checking the codes and avoiding the fearful scanner machines, maybe we prepare for our inspection by flossing our teeth. We trim that extra bit of body hair we don’t care for, because after all, we want to look our best for inspection. We wash our ears and feet carefully, because we will soon be showing them off. The scrutiny of an other’s gaze is a heavy burden. Not because of what might happen to us, but because after all, we are inspecting ourselves.
If we live in a world in which threats hide beneath our clothing, then by all means, let us lay the danger bare. Opt-in to the opt-out, and feel what having a threatened body really feels like.
I didn’t remember who actually invented the Segway; I had to look all this up on Wikipedia. But when I first read the news that “the owner of Segway died on a Segway”, I automatically assumed that it was indeed the inventor who had perished, until I re-read the headline twice, and began to wonder. I then confirmed that Heselden was the owner and NOT the inventor. I have not seen a news story about the accident that clarified this, though none explicitly made the false assumption, either.
So why did we all assume the inventor had died by the hands (wheels) of his own creation? Maybe it was an honest mistake. The Segway was unveiled in a flurry of speculation and hype, in which many predictions about the invention were made by other self-made inventors like Steve Jobs, who claimed it would be more significant than the personal computer. As this hype washed over us, the archetype of “the inventor” hung over this device, like Edison over the lightbulb, Einstein over relativity, and Jobs himself over a number of ubiquitous devices. A singular person had designed this wonder, and eventually we would celebrate him and his invention in the manner of these other “great men of history”. So when we hear the Segway has turned on its master, we assume that the robot has risen to kill its maker, not the current majority stakeholder in the first of no doubt several backing-capital turnovers.
But the mistake is not so honest. There’s something we like in this lie. There is a story we enjoy, so much so that we prefer the fiction to the fact. There’s something that completes an archetype. It’s not just the trope of technology destroying those who wield it. It is the Frankensteinian horror: the flesh of the hands that brought life into mechanical hands, hands that so artistically made objects into living things, being slashed to bloody bits by those cold metal fingers. The plot of Edward Scissorhands is an example, as is The Terminator Saga, and many other tales of industrialized pathos, the Fordian Doom bending back to poke us through the brain, to snap our twig-like limbs, and to crush our skulls under heavy metal feet. Not just destroying the world, but killing the maker himself (invariably, “him”-self). From ingenuity to invention, from dust to dust.
If you frequent Twitter, or certain circles of it, anyway, you might detect a subterranean desire for this particular sort of ironic pathos. Though it is clearly not just Twitter, but a feature of our current consciousnesses. Twitter only amplified this unconscious sentiment, 140 characters at a time. We cross our fingers and pray that the daily stream of bad news is some way ironic, or symbolic, or in other ways fitting to the overall tragedy of human existence. This is not the sort of thing we wish for out loud in polite company, but we all do it. We wish that the executives of BP would die in fiery fuel oil explosions. We hope that those who mock our beloved Internet become ill for not checking their symptoms via Google. Or at least those who refuse to admit the usefulness of 140 character messages end up being saved from rampaging mutated kittens by sending a SMS to emergency services. We wish that there was some sort of perverted justice in the world to take the place of regular justice that just does not exist.
And that is only the most defensible category of this urge for symbolic death. In the case of the inventor of Segway, there may be some angst towards an expensive device over-built in hype, but it would not fulfill anyone’s sense of justice to see the man perish at the hands of his own machine. It would merely make it more interesting. Such an end would conclude the bizarre chapter of human technological history that is the Segway with a larger-than-life meaning, a tragic symbolism worthy of Greek mythology, an almost Promethean demise in which an inventor gives something of great promise to the world under the best of intentions, only to have his breakthrough mocked, derided, accepted only by the most suburban of police forces and mall security squads, only to have it eventually be the very sword driven through his heart. This is the death we wished for Dean Kamen (at least symbolically), and gave to him undeserved through a sadistic, Freudian Twitter-slip.*
I’ve been trying to think of a name for this urge–this desire to make bad news more allegorical than it is. This morning, I think I came up with it: “Ballardianfreude”. The word “schadenfreude” comes from the German words “schaden” (adversity) and “freude” (joy). It describes the pleasure we gain from others’ misfortune, the joy in adversity that is not our own. J.G. Ballard was a master of modernist irony, describing in all its disgusting glory the oxymoronic pleasure we get from pain, the doom we find in technology that sustains our lives, and the beautiful trap we have built for ourselves out of this modern world. Inside, between the gnashing gears of our transmissions, lies the deep pleasure in the dirty oil, beneath the shining carapaces of bezels and dashboards, the gleaming exteriors shining with speed that will, after Ballard, always evoke their guts, and ours. It is with these eyes, that once opened to the sexiness of car crashes and the orgiastic organicism of overpasses cannot fail to continue to find these artifacts of apophenia, with which we seek out items to reinforce our Ballardianfreude. The only thing more uncanny than to find out we are all going to die is to discover that for no reason, some of us are going to live. Against the positive humanism that turned against us to castrate our dreams, we place the negative affirmation of Ballardianism, the reassurance of beauty and meaning in death. And in this deployment of Ballard’s themes, we in this age, find a certain joy.
And so we seek to find it. For every inventor, an untimely death. For every worldly success, a deep unconscious failure. For every dream made real, a thousand chained to the rocks, with their livers ripped out by ravenous carrion eaters every time the sun rises.
Of course, the pleasant upside to Ballardianfreude is that we are constantly disappointed. The world isn’t as dark as we see it, just as it isn’t as light as we’d like it. Reality is the constant fuzz of gray that a television displays when it is not tuned to a channel or to a pirate broadcast, but to the inherent noise-interference of the universe. A world of constant accidents, some comedic, some tragic, and some utterly meaningless. A man dies in a scooter accident. These things happen every day. The relief from meaning lies in its absence, the surreal reality of the possibility of patterns. Tomorrow there will be traffic accidents and bridges constructed, broken hearts and newly discovered dreams.
The true meaning lies in the sound and the fury. Something is, utterly, utter nothingness. Signifying that.
* Like the undeserved ire for Kamen, so suffers the Segway. I am equally guilty, simplifying the Segway to improve my story. While the Segway didn’t live up to the hype, it is a great tool for personal mobility, especially for the disabled. There are also many off-shoot designs for different purposes. If I live long enough to where my legs begin to fail me, I hope there is some easy device like this in existence that allows me to get out and continue to explore the world, while standing upright.
I’m particularly interested by, and even tickled with (mostly because they haven’t targeted me yet) 4Chan.
If this is your first time on the Internet, let me introduce you to 4Chan, which is that seedy area that isn’t described in your tourist guide, because it doesn’t so much have an operating red light district, as is a good place to buy counterfeit gun parts.
Except that you can’t actually buy anything there, illegal or not. That’s Craigslist, or eBay. And it’s not stolen property, because it isn’t a torrent network. :) 4Chan is, as part of the world wide web, really almost nothing substantial at all.
4Chan is actually an image posting board. Bare bones, text only, except one image per post. Images. Cars. Porn. Anime. Fetish. Everything else. Most of those LOL pictures you’ve seen elsewhere came from 4Chan before they were distilled from the Internet’s sense-of-humor aether.
What makes 4Chan unique is that it is absolutely anonymous. You can post there without anyone knowing who you are, and in fact you must, because the site is designed in such a way as to not record who you are, except by a random number if you so choose. It is about as anonymous as anonymous gets on the Internet. They can ban IP blocks for abuse. That’s it.
This fact becomes a feature, and the most outstanding feature of 4Chan. Because it is anonymous, it has created a particular home base for a bunch of stuff, which can only be known as /b/. The first rule of /b/ is “ZOMG NONE!!!1″. That pretty much says it. There are some perfunctory global rules to the entire site that apply to bans (no advertising, etc) enforced within /b/, but other than that, this is what doesn’t fit elsewhere. And there is a lot of that.
And doesn’t fit, it does not. This anonymous space opens up a bizarre sort of Internet–an internet of odd humor, of various tinctures of pure id, of emotion and devious retribution towards nearly anything that might be rebelled against.
The most notable thing to me, is that out of this chaos, very distinct forms emerge. There is a head to this beast, and a motion to the mob. Like a school of fish, it moves quickly, purposefully, and with all the authority that anonymous, random, network content can provide.
Because this is Cyborg month, I’ve been thinking about most things in a very cybernetic way. So allow me to indulge this, as in my best Rod Serling voice, I present these items for your consideration.
Item One: Most Influential
In a feat that, granted, sounds more devious than it was in the end, 4Chan not only promoted 4Chan founder “moot” to Time’s Most Influential Person, but arranged the next 20 runner-ups perfectly in a bit of acrostic inside-joke graffiti. As the full post-mortem reveals, the inherent vulnerabilities of Time’s online poll made it easy, and reduced the magazine poll’s last remaining ounce of cultural weight down to the vacuous popularity contest it always was, using only a little bit of clever code and some widely available automatic poll-hacking programs.
In this exhibit, we see /b/’s desire not just to fuck with anything, but the ability of certain members of the swarm to really dig into the fabric of the net in order to do so. Compare this to the alleged Digg Patriots, a right-wing group that purportedly uses multiple logins and organized tactics to bury articles on a ranking site. The Digg Patriots use the system, they just game the system in a way that violates the given rules. On the other hand, /b/ completely hacked the poll system, rendering other organized attempts to game the system moot (pun intended) by even distributing faulty software to other interested groups, that would work against them as it appeared to be working for them. They broke the system. Why? Because they decided to. As the person who supposedly wrote the code to spell the message said, “Many believe we [the 'secret' group] are “dead” or only doing hugraids etc, so I thought it would also be a way of saying : we’re still around and we don’t just do only “moralfag” stuff .”
Item Two: Justicefags
More recently, /b/ has been making hits on individual enemies. Their choice of individuals for targets are always as widely spread as an Internet mob-mentality would narrow itself, from pop stars to random YouTube teens. But there is, occasionally, some method to the madness.
Tim Maly has speculated on a new future of crowd-sourced panopticons, and this would seem to be a case in point. Naturally, of course, following the random ethos of /b/, the mob decides, seemingly haphazardly, that certain targets are worth it, and others are not. They are far from staunch ideologists, the tag “justicefag” being applied derisively to those anonymous members who like calling out targets on moral grounds–the choice of slur not only signifying the inherent dissent of the chaos of /b/, but also refuting anyone who might think that they are left-leaning soldiers of equality. In fact, they’d probably attack you for saying so.
But, like any mob, a unified manifesto or dedicated base is hardly required to string someone up. It only takes, as the saying goes, enough rope.
Item Three: The Human-Bot Net
The crowd-sourced cyborg mob of /b/ finds its current (for today, anyway) zenith in so-called cyber warfare. It is commonly speculated that recent instances of politically motivated attacks are not launched by governments, but by other entities either acting of their own volition or as mercenaries for political causes. /b/ can now be listed among these entities, after their DoS attacks took out the website of the MPAA, and an Indian firm that recently admitted conducting their own DoS attacks against torrent websites. Salvo and counter-salvo, the flags waved here being file-sharing/media piracy.
How fast you are in such a short time! Aiplex, the bastard hired gun that DDos’d TPB [The Pirate Bay], is already down! Rejoice, /b/rothers, even if it was at the hands of a single anon that it was done, even if ahead of schedule. Now we have our lasers primed, but what do we target now? We target the bastard group that has thus far led this charge against our websites, like the Pirate Bay. We target MPPA.ORG! The IP is designated at “126.96.36.199″, and our firing time remains THE SAME. All details are just as before, but we have reaimed our crosshairs on this much larger target. We have the manpower, we have the botnets, it’s time we do to them what they keep doing to us.
Install the LOIC [for "Low Orbit Ion Cannon", the real name of the program, I shit you not] linked above into any directory you choose, load it up and set the target IP to 188.8.131.52 port 80. Method will be TCP, threads set to 10+, with a message of “payback is a bitch.” Keep in mind that using wireless is not recommended due to the connections that will be opened.
Everything else must be left blank. Once you have the target locked, DO NOT FIRE.
REPEAT: DO NOT FIRE!
This will be a calm, coordinated display of blood. We will not be merciful. We will not be newfags. The first wave will be firing in:
ONE DAY: 09/17/2010 9PM EASTERN
When it comes time to fire, ignore all warning messages. They mean nothing. Keep firing.
Clearly, they are enjoying themselves as much as I am. But is a stylistic nod to the Revolutionary War, this Battle of Bunker Hill speech so off base? What was the Continental Army, if not a pissed off mob who owned muskets, who were pressed into ranks to die in a war for a generalized declaration of independence? Is the MPAA the modern day East India Company? I don’t know. But the MPAA’s website went down in flames, and stayed down for 18 hours until they moved to a new IP address.
The day after the MPAA attack, the RIAA went down. Despite many who are heralding this as “the new wave of protest”, I don’t really think so. For one, there is a difference between people taking to the streets to risk real physical injury and a few crafty folks finding some pins that bring down somebody’s circus tent. However, I will be willing to reconsider this statement as soon as /b/ decides, “hey lets seez control over a small contry 2nite”.
But I think it does represent a new mob-space on the Internet. Spaces like /b/ are given to exist, by the very nature of human’s relationship with technology. You have enough social media tracking services out there, then there are going to be anonymous spaces as a result. In these alleyways, people are going to do whatever people do in alleyways: i.e., what they wouldn’t do in the street. Homophobic slurs will be thrown, porn will be traded, graffiti will be penned, both artful and depraved, and people will plan to beat other people up and take their Game Gear. The Internet is a social space, and so the reality of human society will no doubt be observed. And the reality of human society, though most of us try to avoid going to that site, is /b/.
The interesting part for me is that these sorts of mass attacks, these waves of the Internet rising up and drowning particular islands in the net, has always been associated with the technology itself. Like the computer network of the Terminator films rising up against humanity, DoS attacks are blamed on Sino/Slavic Bot-Nets, in some sort of zombified nostalgia for a Cold War missile gap. It is the MACHINES that do it to us, in the end. Computer viruses composed to cripple our infrastructure, so blindly hooked up the the network. The failure of our foresight, as in the Y2K scare. Or even in the positive examples, it is cell phones that connect the world, Twitter that fuels revolutions. The technology is the thing. The tools are controlling us.
But I don’t think that is true. What /b/ shows us, is that behind it all, lies a whole bunch of people. 6.8 billion of them, and counting. You can put the people in their own basements, plugged into machines, but you can’t the desire to riot out of them. The wetware has certain tendencies in its kernel. There’s no human brain on the planet that doesn’t enjoy a good lynching–or at least a video of a drunk jerk getting his comeuppance by falling on his head. We are, always, a violent mob. And any technology we create will only end up reflecting that fact.
I love this sort of thing. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. We crank this shit up when we drive my crappy mini-van around Portland, and really weird out the “Keep Portland Weird” people.
Now, before I say I don’t love it just because it’s exotic, let me say I do love it because it’s exotic. It is so refreshing to hear something a bit different than all the typical remixes of the typical tracks. I listen to a lot of weird things, and this isn’t even that strange. This is not so much better than “typical” tracks; it is just not the same. I love not understanding the words. What am I missing, the deep poetry of American music? The subtly of crunk lyrics? I’d rather just hear sound. Raw, loud, sound that is new, different and unheard.
But at the same time, it isn’t exotic at all. If you listen to this, you hear the exact same thing you hear in Western club bangers. A heavily rhythmic, repetitive pattern, stretched as long as possible, with just enough mixing up of the particular pattern to keep you listening for the changes. Every thirty seconds or minute, the dude repeats into a verbal hook, to remind you what you are listening to, and to add another pattern to it. And then back again, to the same pattern you started with, dropping the beat, whether on a synthesizer or double reed instrument. Cause really, what’s the difference?
You just turn it up loud, and nod your head.
Actually, maybe I like it the most because it’s sixteen minutes long.
“I saw in one of yesterday’s papers that gas masks are being issued in America, though people have to pay for them. Gas masks are probably useless to the civilian population in England and almost certainly in America. The issue of them is simply a symbol of national solidarity, the first step towards wearing a uniform. . . . As soon as war started the carrying or not carrying of a gas mask assumed social and political implications. In the first few days people like myself who refused to carry one were stared at and it was generally assumed that the non-carriers were “left”. Then the habit wore off, and the assumption was that a person who carried a gas mask was of the ultra-cautious type, the suburban rate-payer type. With the bad news the habit has revived and I should think 20 per cent now carry them. But you are still a little stared at if you carry one without being in uniform. Until the big raids have happened and it is grasped that the Germans don’t, in fact, use gas, the extent to which masks are carried will probably be a good index of the impression the war news is making on the public.”
This article, Fake Authenticity, from HiLobrow, starts off discussing authenticity in the common way I dislike, as sort of a pro/contra of hipsterism, and moves to the much more rare method I do like, as a beneath-the-surface-of-postmodern-contradictions study of what “reality” is.
The article is long, a feature of its seamless transition from the common-place to the more critical. So just allow me to carve out one of the more tender bits:
Adorno noted that “Authentic Ones” like Heidegger were given to making gestures of autonomy without content, serving only to help advertising celebrate the empty meaningfulness of immediate experience. But this still doesn’t quite explain the commodification of dissent. There’s a missing piece, somewhere.
Taking Adorno’s cue, we can work our way upstream to Heidegger, the existentialist thinker who made the term authenticity popular in the first place, and whose many real achievements as a philosopher of authenticity are almost negated by his proto-schwag propensity for dressing like a Swabian peasant and living in a ski hut all year round. True, Heidegger betrayed authenticity’s ironist position by making a cult of rusticity, by demonizing cosmopolitan (Jewish) intellectuals, and by insisting that the philosopher’s true place is in the field with the farmer. (“One would like at least to know the farmer’s opinion about that,” muses Adorno.) It’s true, as Adorno notes, that Heidegger was in this sense an anti-intellectual intellectual, obsessed not with helping people become more suspicious of received truths and values, but instead with rediscovering their true “roots.” But again, although this does help explain much of today’s fake authenticity, it’s not enough. How is that authenticity developed into the “jargon of authenticity”? How did it become possible for radical ideas (encounter, commitment, and conviction, at one time — today even our jargon, whose most often-chanted mantra is a flaccid choice, is debased!) to be “squirted like grease into the same machinery it once wanted to assail,” as Adorno put it, while the oppression and atomization of those without power continues apace? How did the truly rebellious ideal of authenticity come to “accommodate itself to the world through a ritual of non-accommodation”?
It takes an intellectual to celebrate an anti-intellectual, at least in the case of Heidegger. Or at least in a way we can critique, being “one our own”, who has taken a misstep (and a pretty serious misstep, in Heidegger’s case). The Sarah Palin’s of the world, who “celebrate the empty meaningfulness of immediate experience”, are purely ignorant, but the Heidegger’s who line up to join them are perverting any notion of the “authentic” through a ritual, but meaningless criticism of high-Culture criticism. They are the enemies in our midsts, the traitors who are worse than enemies.
But perhaps this attempt to purify the ranks of critique puts an addendum to the statement by Adorno cited later in this same article, that “one of the most pernicious forms of ideology is ‘a vague and noncommittal suspicion of ideology.’” I might add, that one of the most pernicious forms of ideology is the purification of ideology conducted under the auspices of its identification. Aren’t many ideological witch hunts furthered by the deamonization of ideology in general that acts to reinforce ideology in general? A monotheistic persecution of other gods, under the banner of atheism? There are no gods, there is only Human Spirit? It is a promotion of an ur-Authentic by dissolving any competing authentics?
The best anti-ideology may be an ideology, and the best ideology may be an anti-ideology. But where did this ideology, popularized by a common suffix, come from to begin with? The cartoon is clearly hinting at a certain “ism”, which grew from an attempt to critique another more prevalent “ism”, (the winning “ism”, if there is such a thing). But the beginning of ideology is critique itself, which anyone entering the discussion must buy into, in order to identify what it is we think we’re talking about. If we are going to critically compare and contrast, then we need an object to study. And whether you like or dislike the object, it finds in its definition a certain limit, a sphere of authority, an arena of influence, and domain of authenticity.
So does this prove Heidegger right, and the well-known “critical theorists” wrong? Only if the end goal is to “win” the battle for authenticity. Which it clearly is not, because the real world attempts to maintain authenticity Heidegger/Palin have tripped over their own feet in exposing themselves for what they are. In the “absence” of ideology, in the free-market of authenticity without critique, with the abolition of orders of thought and the banishment of the critical super ego, we are left with all the sound and fury of the unconscious, free and clear to unleash its whims upon any target, as a state of anti-authentic, authentic existence. Criticism, and the theses and anti-theses of authenticity are not simply a censor, restraining the will of the volk. They are a channel, a weir for this libidinal investment. They are where the unrestrained forces of desire are loaded into the reactor, to keep the chain-reaction know as “unrestricted will” from melting us into puddles of radiative violence. Culture, as a massive sublimation, is the heat sink of humanity. We may not know what is authentic and what isn’t, but as long as claims of authenticity continue to be rejected and the coordinating rejections of authenticity is in turn rejected, the territory of the unconscious remains in dispute, and humanity will safely go about its business of making music and philosophy, rather than enacting its will upon itself.
Seed: charged potential to root through tangles comprising planets’ cores–unconscious desire to spark given the slightest tinge of conductive aminos held solute in soil-water. But, there will be no exploding erosion, no earth-flow released, no lost viscosity in vicious rain of pre-catharsis melting peaceful sediment into murderous lahar. Mortality won’t wind its coil. Heavy sex of humid afternoons grow to thunderheads unburstable, without wounding discharge. It’ll die here, unable to live: tight chemical consort of void, un-growth caught within stone fissure, crystalline matrix blank-wall prison shell stiff, ever-slow undead rot, no cellular transport, no impression of acceleration.
I could not tell you what he was thinking when he reached to pull the pear from the tree branch. He stood and reached upward with a certain slowness, suggesting to me that there was something on this man’s mind keeping him from moving through the particular task with typical deft finger work innate to our species. He was not picking fruit, but picking this particular pear, and I’m think of the word for it, but I cannot find it in the mazes of my mind. He stood still with feet planted in the sparse grass beneath the tree while a little sunlight filtered through, holding the pear in his fingers, rubbing the pads slowly over the bruised and blemished skin of a typical piece of produce from a suburban fruit tree growing in a man’s front yard. He must have been studying this fruit, but I believe he was no connoisseur of such growing things; rather, his reflection was of something else weighing heavily on his mind, metaphorically dragging him down, you understand, like the laden boughs of the pear tree bending low towards the sweet rotting flesh surrounding on the grass and sidewalk, late summer as it was.
It was held before him in hand at face height, much as I hold him before you now, spinning it round in the fingers, showing it off to himself. But for this man, this fellow with loose, white skin suiting flopping in the space between his fingers, he was considering something I imagine to be particular, and certainly something unrelated. He couldn’t have ignored the fruit, and its earthen smell, and the bounce of the tree limb as it rebounded from the release of the tension as he plucked the pear, and the sweet alcoholic rot on the ground around him, and the hot air, and his summer suit, and his neighbors around in the yards, and his nakedness under his clothes, but all the same, there was something unspoken and unavoidable in his life.
Just then, a small girl child with a tricycle rode along the sidewalk steering her front wheel through the squished pears, swarming with ants and with flies and with bees, and she stopped by the man, looking up at him. I am not sure, but I would be willing to say that he did not see her at all. He kept looking at the piece of fruit as he brought it close to his face, closer and closer to his cheek. His eyes locked on it, finally, it and only it, and as the flesh touched his clean-shaven face he bore down hard upon the small yellow lump, squishing mashed, sweet, fruit all over his face, quite ripe as it certainly was. And the juice ran down his neck and darkened the white collar of his shirt and the white label of his suit, and his elbow pivoted as he smashed the pear all over the one side of his face, closing his eyes now, pushing back against it.
* * * * *
He had brought the bag and showed it to her guiltily from behind his back. She brightened and smiled, pulling him into the house and closing the door. He asked her if she wanted to right now, and she screamed yes of course with the excitement of a school girl, and she ran into the bedroom, with him chasing after. She had removed her shirt and bra already by the time he entered, and threw herself back upon the bed wearing only her skirt. He opened the bag and poured the plums over her, bouncing and cascading down onto her legs and chest and neck, and she laughed as she held up her arms because even though they were small plums, they still hurt a little when they impacted her body.
The shirt and his pants still covering his body were coming off, when I assume her more reasonable thoughts overcame her excitement for a moment, and she pulled the comforter and blanket off the bed, raising it like a tarp to roll the plums onto the white sheet covering the mattress. The bed was now naked and he was naked and so was she, their bare flesh remarkably similar in coloring for a trio in this day and age, and she lay back down while he held two pieces of fruit in his hands and pushed them together, only instead of rebounding as they did off of her they combined, and the clear juice flowed out like water with only a slight tint of redness, falling onto her breasts and her hips and her thighs and neck. She gasped at the sensation, and he took her into his eyes, no doubt glad he had paid extra money for the fruit even though they were out of season and shipped at cost from a warmer location with more annual precipitation. He bent over her, and began to kiss and lick the sweet liquid from her skin, while she encouraged him in all sorts of ways, which I do not really know about, but of course which I can readily imagine, as well you might.
I think it was probably another twenty or thirty minutes later, when the mashed fruit was everywhere, on their skin, in their mouths, and also on other orifices specific to sexual pleasure, when he finally entered her, amid torn purple skin, and warmed, soft, sweet pulp, and of course, running drips of juice staining through the sheets to the mattress. Around three pits in her mouth she was sucking greedily, and between his kisses and all the other noises, she giggled and said to him that she was so glad that he had brought the plums, it was even better than she had imagined. And she said she had suggested this strange fantasy to her last lover, and he had called her strange. The lover above her now laughed out loud and from his mouth loudly dripped a few drops of juice onto her forehead. What was the matter with him, he asked. Well, he’s gone and missing out on all these delicious plums now, he said. I’m willing to believe he continued his motions forcefully, with a renewed interest in making it the best she had ever had before, to try as hard as he could to effect this, if he was able to manage it.
* * * * *
It was cloudy and it had not begun to rain yet, but the desire of the clouds to do so was reflected in most people’s moods. They were walking down the street, a few blocks from the main drag with the shops, and I could tell at some distance what sort of kids they were. The tight and ill-fitting clothes, the shape of the hair and the colors as well, the bright, shiny sneakers bought from a mall or a mail-order catalog showed them to be the resident representatives of the current black-clad counter-culture, and they walked befitting their station of course, all over the sidewalk and into the street, naturally in a number no less than five, which is enough to make them a menace to certain sorts of people. I suppose this is the key to the ideas of such a fashion as that they observed.
There was a way of walking among them that sent them oscillating forward and backward in waves, never walking in pairs or in threes, but always galloping ahead and then falling back, changing order like spinning ropes and gears, and revolving wheels. Their laughter was loud and they swung their bags around them, plastic sacks filled with heavy, dense collections of something, pulling them outward as they spun around, twisting up to their fingers and back down again, smacking into the backs and the legs of each other. The bags held peaches, not very ripe, which I saw when one of the older male members reached into one of the girl’s sacks, and pulled out a peach, and bit into it hard, the unripened crunch visible in his black-clad and thin shoulders.
As they approached a construction site vacant for the day, and because the fruit was clearly not ripe enough for his impatient distaste, he launched it up over his head, sending it up high, high into the dark clouds lowering over us all. Some of the others noticed and watched, but others were too distracted by their own doings, continuing to talk and to chatter and to move all around the sidewalk on their way to wherever they were going with such fruit, or perhaps, I suppose, on their way from wherever from they were came. The fruit arced high, and then came down inside the construction site’s chain link fence, getting further and further away from them as it fell, until it contacted with something deep inside the unfinished building which was not visible to anyone. There was a defiant crash of broken glass or other light masonry, and they all recognized the sound and the guy who had thrown it took off running. They all followed, yelling and cursing and laughing and swinging their sacks full of peaches around them. I don’t know why they were running because nobody of any authority was around. I assume all the bags were all full of peaches, because all of them looked the same.
* * * * *
The man walked in the broadest of strides, taking up a good half of the width of the sidewalk with the alternating march of his giant feet. The feet were shod in white leather loafers, polished and cleaned to a brilliance, reflecting light to the surface of the curb as each landed flat to the cement. I imagined them to be the solid base of his fashion, leading upwards from this foundation to the pale yellow slacks, each hemmed immaculately and just barely skimming the tops of the shoes. Though he was a large man, the trousers fit very well, held just below the rim of his stomach with a narrow brown belt. His shirt was a seasonal patterned affair, blossoming with blooms in yellows and greens, but just shadowed ever so slightly by his white sport coat allowed to hang open in the seasonable warmth of the late morning. Above the layers of broad collars there was a neatly trimmed beard, the shade of which was almost perfectly matched to the belt, I would say. On his wide head was a white trilby, with a yellow and green striped band, as wide as the day. Certainly a way of dressing few practice today, though I would say the man was overwhelmingly normal despite his appearance.
He made a great show of checking his watch a number of times as he made his way along the sidewalk through the center of town, heading to an appointment or at least carefully managing his free and unassigned but no less valuable time in the constrained space of a weekday. But I guessed he had managed it well, because in sighting an unoccupied bench he stopped to partake of its respite, seating himself directly in the middle, leaning back, first widening the gap of his jacket’s lapels around him, then tipping back his hat, next removing a thin cigar from his coat pocket and wetting the end with his wide, red tongue and lighting it, taking a puff or two, and smiling to himself, confirming its quality in his own mind. Time and schedules and the observance of clocks are a strange thing to a great many people, which I don’t conceit to understand. Then, he reached into the outer pocket of his jacket and removed a small, flat package.
The outside was cellophane and he unraveled it, and the next layer was waxed paper, which he unfolded using the tips of his fingers, though his digits were wide and flat like short tongs. Underneath he dexterously parted a sheet of paper towel and revealed four neat slices of pineapple, each cut from the entire fruit, but cored and skinned carefully. Holding the cigar in the far hand out to the side, he used two fingers of the other to loop a slice of pineapple, and then he leaned over the wrappings resting on the bench to his and gobbled it down quickly as if racing against the time it would require to drip juice down his chin and onto his fancy clothes. His massive mouth made little work of these succulent bits of fruit, and before two minutes had passed, if I were to estimate the time, he had consumed the lot. He picked up the paper towel and reversed it to the dry side, wiped the corners of his mouth. Replacing it, he folded up the whole excessively sanitary package, and set it next to him. He took another two slow puffs of the cigar, savoring the sweetness and the bitterness of the tobacco smoke. Then, with a tiny glance of his eye towards the leavings, which he hid from obviousness to have an alibi of forgetfulness if anyone mentioned the trash, though of course none would, he left the wrappings sitting just where it was, and continued down the sidewalk in his large, all-encompassing manner, checking his watch once again, and enjoying more puffs on the cigar.
* * * * *
A little girl on a red tricycle with red hair and red overalls rode down the sidewalk with her handlebars swinging back and forth with the effort of her pedaling, because this is how a small tricycle moves with the pedals attached to the front wheel. The sidewalk was wide and bare, though the concrete rose and fell where the tree roots grew underneath it over the years. She was big enough now to get over the stones herself with some effort, and her parents allowed her to ride as far on the sidewalk as she wanted as long as she stayed out of the street.
She stopped near the far corner of the block where the sidewalk ceased to be, and reached around to the basket on the rear of her seat. There was as small box made of clear plastic, and inside there were ten bright red strawberries given to her by her mother earlier that afternoon. She had loaded them onto her tricycle, thinking it would be fun to play as if she were riding off on a picnic, even if she could only go as far as the corner. I only call it playing, because I’m not sure how a child would really describe it. Somehow, it seems to me that she would think of it more as if she were really going on a picnic, though she would naturally be aware she was only riding to the corner with some strawberries in her basket. She opened the box and fished out a berry, and put it in her mouth, enjoying the nubby skin of the fruit as much as the sweet juice bursting out when she cut it in half between her tiny teeth.
She came to this corner because across the street there were men working on a tree. They had begun early in the day with ladders and handsaws of various sizes, and they had climbed to the top and started removing branches as if they were undressing it. They cut off all the small branches and put them in a shredder. Then they used loud roaring chainsaws to take the biggest branches, and these they also put in the shredder. They were almost done now, and all the branches had been put in the shredder, and only the tiniest twigs that had broken off in the process remained on the ground. As the little girl ate her strawberries she wondered what they would do with the trunk, standing naked in the blue spring sky. Maybe they would chop it down with an ax, like lumberjacks. Maybe they would leave it alone. Maybe they would pull it down with a rope like on TV. She put the box back in her basket and dismounting, turned her tricycle around with her arms, dragging the handlebars slowly in a circle, because the sidewalk was too narrow to turn around without a flat driveway free of parked cars. She rode back down toward her own house. The strawberries were gone except for a little bit of juice around her lips, which as I know very well, always gets on children’s faces when they eat fruit, as if the inside of the mouth extended out to the lips.
Oh father whose art is now showing in heaven, whom I never knew outside of the endless inculcations of the hollywood movies and washed up beat poets, I’m not even lying to you when I tell you that I could easily write pages and pages of this mouthwateringly delicious but void-of-nutrition shit, flowing off the dull point of my id and right out my base-ten, count them, ten, bifurcated, biflagellated penis fingers, onto the twenty-six keys of magic and horror which you in your wisdom have devised.
Now, The Accusation
The way you walk upon a line as you tread down the center of the sidewalk does nothing less than fully disgust us. And we should say it disturbs us, unsettles us, and gives us the sensation within ourselves of wanting to puke.
You need to see someone. You need to go somewhere. There is something you clearly must do, and we all know what it is, yes, everyone but yourself, and we would tell you and bring it up to your face except that we seek to avoid embarrassing you any further than you have already managed to do on your own, what with your actions as they have been, and continuing into the present, with you unable to turn back and undo the wrongs you have committed.
And there is even more to it than that—oh believe me, very much more. But I think for decency’s sake we will cut it off here. We’ve already witnessed enough, and though we would not be here at all if we didn’t want to help you, and act in your best interest, to be able to do all that we can—even you must admit that every person has limits, and really, there is only so much we can take. And so forgive us if we are forced to withdraw from the situation and to leave some stones unturned. It was hard enough for us to come here, but we did anyway, and you should thank us for that, but we are going to have to leave now.
We’re sorry about the whole thing—yes, we truly are. But you have to see things from our perspective. Put yourself in our shoes. I know it may come as a shock to you, but this is the way it looks to everyone else. I’m sure you’ll see what we mean. We know you want to do better, though you are not capable of anything more than this right now, such that it is. So please, if there is any well-meaning left within that hollow soul of yours, excuse us if we never speak of this again.
Really—in time, we think you’ll come to see that we’re right.
Get Ready for The Sermon
It’s time to set yourself straight, folks. You’re urban, cosmopolitan, agnostically-oriented citizens of the world. It’s time you took your vitamins, right out of the bottle. It’s time to exercise, ladies and gentlemen. It is time to make peace, to plan for the future, to make your amends as well as your resolutions. It’s time to study the past through those puke-colored glasses, and make out exactly how hard it happened for them, those great fictional sexpots of allegory. Don’t think I’m being to harsh here friends, because the truth hurts, and you know it does. It’s about time we looked at it. It’s about time you looked at the leaders of the world and thought about the best way for them to help all of us, the People, the Readership, the Subscribers, and the Rest. Because we all know they’re not going to ask you, but it’s best to know anyway, to at least think about it, and that’s what they call citizenship, knowing what’s best for every asshole other than your own, because god forbid anybody tell you what you should do when all the time you already know what they should be doing, because goddamn it, we’re all americans here. Am I right, folks? You know I am.
But we’re getting off track here, folks, we’re running right over the margins of the agenda, straying off the rails and into the uncertain realm of anger, yes friends, that is to say emotions themselves, and may my landlord help me, but even I have felt these demons coursing and cursing through me, yes, right up those tourist canals of my veins, spitting hot unsweetened tea and tar right on the sidewalk, sucking the tits right off my sweet and innocent self-restraint. Yes friends, I am not trying to shock you, but I once was a sinner, because yes, once I made the ultimate mistake, I signed my life away, when I realized I could feel. Yes lover, I made that cocksucking-sixty-nine of a deal with satan, and I wrote my name on the title pages of all my classic books, and I recognized my unholy emotions as my own personal savior.
All the ladies in the audience faint when I say it, the children look for the nearest policeman, and the men grab their dicks and begin looking around for that sweet, sharpened blade. But I have no secrets from you folks, no secrets at all. I want you to learn from my example—my darlings, my friends—I want you to learn and learn it well.
I’ve committed the most horrible crimes, the type and description of which are what we write the books of laws about. And worse, I tell you, worse, the hyperbole and superlative of which we can only begin to imagine. I prayed to those demons in my mind, I bent forward and stuck my naked ass into the sunshine and I let the light touch the underside of my scrotum, and I uncovered my head and my eyes. I’ve committed unholy circumscriptions, and sacrificed myself on altars rife with symbolism, of which I knew not what it meant. I’ve read all the books we’ve so mindfully banned, and I put books in the library that ought not to be there. I spoke in delirious tongues, unable to conjugate and pronounce the lewdly-lipped lacerating insults I layered upon the bastions and hallmarks of our holy, cultural temple. And why did I do these things, my fellow americans? Wherefore did I pervert, when I should have by all rights protected? By what misconception did I proselytize, when every rational bone in my body knew I ought to stick to the plot, and to decently tell a story? Because, my god, my fucking folks here before me today, because it was simply the fucking story people wanted to hear! These people! God’s People! The american People! Why did I ever seek to consort, and to shock, and to embellish, and to tangentially stray, and to confuse, and to convolute, and to contravene, and to emote, of all things the devil made me do it, emote, the devil made me do it, emote, the devil made me do it rather than simply tell the truth, and by god, stick to the PLOT?
Take it from one who knows, my friends, take it, hot and sticky in all those ugly twisted sentences, those words upon words of disgusting and morally foul rot, and look at it while turning your soul away. Do not accept it for meaning my friends, because it is only mirage you see before you. Look at its foul bowel movement in your hands, and smell its blood gushing out of its cavities and pores, running off between your fingers, and then you remember to yourself lover, and friend, it does not exist. It is a fantasy, an unholy spook. There is nothing there! You could put it in your mouth and chew it, letting its satanic fluid drip down your chin as it does in your most spine-twisting dreams. Do it, I beg of you, do it and see. You will feel nothing, and you will not be bitten, because you are of a different sect. It is only magic and light, of which you rightly do not believe. You do not bend to these false gods, these primal animalistic spirits telling you to smear your shit on the walls. You know better. You are one with the hardness of stone. You are one with the plot. And moreover, my young, linguistically confused and bodily unsatisfied friends, you can tell what is meaningless from what is not.
You’ve never felt that jumping madness, that animal lust throbbing up and down your crotch as you mercilessly hump in the mud of the pit with the music loud and the hangover beginning, and the rage only building from all the early hours of the day and back through to the night. You do not know the names of these demons, and you do not spell them to yourself to help you get to sleep, those hideous legions of the great satanic force brewing underneath the kitchen sink of america. You could not call them forth from the easy simplicity of a circle, drawn on the back of one of thousands of pieces of direct mail, inscribed by those who conspire and seek to harm you, and for whatever reason they are still allowed to go out in the streets at night to fuck others like me. I did this, and still could, though I have long since conquered my disease, my mental weakness and my bodily lust, and I no longer bare any ill will toward you people, and I no longer bang my head upon the keyboard with the frustration of porn-addled youth, the carbonated and over-sugared exigency dripping down my leg. I no longer howl at a single star, chosen at random from the cloud of streetlight-strung-out heavens spinning above me as I wheel round and round on the cosmological music of the public transportational spheres. Those bus routes boring their monotony into the pavement as I take pen to my face, tracing the map of hell from memory upon my flesh. The deep bruise upon my left buttock stand out as topological distinction, elevating from where I castigate the pain away with self-deprecating ritual beatings, using the heaviest book-on-tape volumes available from the free public library as my most holy weapons. These are the wounds I’ve felt, and the dictation I’ve taken from that-what-lies-beyond, what eats at my nerve endings, lapping at the salt lick of my spinal fluid, operating my fingers in manual keyboard precision along the levers of arthritic bones stemming from the crushed manifold ribs of a writer’s untranslated and therein forgotten youth. They try to get the memories out of you, my child, they want to tear them from us, my lover, they want to publish them woven into rich dreams, my friend, and spell them out about the ground for the good of the people. And I say let them. Free yourself of the devil’s fodder, and let it be bought by those who can handle it, so you never see it again. For the good of the readership, and the purified-drinking-water of the lapping canal between heaven and books, let us drown these memories, and let our ongoing plot be praised.
You think these are mere stories, friends? Old legends, suitable as Sunday-School trauma perhaps, but nothing the sober-minded adults need to take to hand? Allegories of hell, and then back to the game, back to the novel, back to the poetry journal, wherein we might find the real truth and the beauty, in such small little doses as to be palatable, and petite for the size of the heart we wish to bear?
This is the truth, my friends! The power of plot and salvation from irrationality lies only across the swaying bridge, high above the putrefaction of post-modern hell!
Do not be tainted by false prophets, lover. Do not be addled by the sugar-changers in the temple’s marketplace. Do not go it alone, without the plot. It is the only one on your side, on the side of freedom and against all malfeasance, on the battle lines of america and the world. It is the sworn enemy of those magicians and metaphysicians which attempt to antagonize us at every turn. Remember, only the fires of hell are enough to scare us straight. Only the pain stretched over everlasting infinity is large enough to make our case for the godliness and saving grace of plot. Reject what you see in front of you, remember that the horror and the chaos and the pain and the tragedy and the meaningless flowing course of the river pouring outward into the blank nothingness are only temptations, sent by the authors of evil, those who would have us screaming into the night from the rooftops, unable to sleep, scribbling spells upon anything that will hold ink as we seek after meaning in all the wrong places. They are not your friends, friends. I am your friend. I am you lover, and your momma, and your daddy, and your brother, and your neighbor. Think about me, and watch TV. Write love poems about my hair, and my thighs, using only words you have read somewhere else. And above all, friends, trust plot, because only its straight line can save you.
Hear! The Salespitch
We could try to talk about it then, those big, categorical, mindless groups, those people we know exist, and surely they do, but we don’t actually know their names so we are stuck with things like, “readers”, or “the poor”, just to take an example, and “most people”, and “everybody else”, these conniving groups that know what they want, and even more than that, we know what they want, such simple, thesis-affirming goals for most people out there, like buying books, reading newspapers, walking the streets, feeling stuff, and pretty much just getting that much closer to death every goddamned day. We call them “People,” you understand?
Yeah, we know what they want—don’t we—and even better than that, even better than that, for this one time and this one time only we are prepared to give it to them, almost but not completely free of charge, you understand, certainly at a loss to ourselves, but STILL we are gonna give it to them, give them what they want, and give it to them good. ‘Cause that’s what we do, of course.
Get in line here, get in line here, please folks, because you know you can’t get it like this anywhere else baby, you know no one will love you like I do if I don’t, ’cause it’s all about needs baby, the fundamental economy, and I’m going to tell you right now what it is that we all need, what defines all that want, and then I’m going to open my bag, and would you believe it but it’s exactly what I’ve got here inside.
Rome already exists, but the city of hell is built every day, bit by bit. Its workmen are everywhere, constantly on the job. I see them everywhere, carting loads of materials, consulting with their foremen over the aspects of design, ruminating upon anything more complicated than the time-honored easiness of mortar between two bricks being slapped together by eager hands, all around. Unlike the popular conception of hell as simply a fiery basement to the world we know, there is an awful lot of machinery down there, many important duct-ways and conduits for steam, electricity, water, and air, and if any corners are cut, or proper angles reduced out of improper procedure, the overall functioning of the infernal infrastructure could easily be affected.
And so the bureaucratic checks and balances of the engineered construction is ever-expanding, flowing outward with the pipes from the ancient pathways of the historical catacombs into the new developments spreading into the raw rock of the earth, adding on sub-basements and passageways, reservoirs and engineering chambers behind new gates, false walls, and other steel and stone edifice built to look like simple lines of strata or underground deposits, so the necessary utilities do not detract from the natural setting of the subterranean suburbs. There are so many of these areas functioning in an all important state of quiet and peaceful pumping flow scattered throughout the domain of hell that only the central architect knows them all. He stays primarily in the operations cab of the main demonic crane, consulting his blueprints and initialing changes on the dispatches brought to him by the contractor’s runners. It is rumored that he does not need to sleep like the other workers, as his inner furnace is fueled by a raging desire and unfulfilled need, the likes of which we could not even describe. He heads out in the late hours of night, when only the skeleton shifts are still laboring in the vast industrial works. He travels the dark tunnels in a miner’s cart powered by a pure-hate engine, and he takes with him tools even I cannot describe, so that he can conduct his secret repairs and ulterior construction projects, never to show on any diagram or map of the complex, their actual purpose and eventual use being any speculator’s guess.
But these sorts of conjectural details about the specifics of hell’s constant construction, interesting though they may be, are no more than an entire history of idle imaginings. For whatever reason, the scribes of the ages have found it a worthwhile pursuit to make the sorts of guesses about the ongoing earthworks that can never be confirmed, accumulating like gnarled grease between the flattened pages of these troubled chroniclers’ notebooks, to build their own sort of hell, similarly expanding, though very much here on the surface of the earth.
You see, this stuff we know about down there below, those delicate diagrams of the hidden substructure of demonic caverns and back alley recesses of soul-polluted storm drains are only the raw substance of hell’s history: its dredged sediment, sinking to the bottom of our minds and written pages, useless for building, because of the oily basis of its sludge. Don’t get me wrong, it is the true fact of the speculated unknown in its awful entirety, as any who had the misfortune to visit those chasms and see what goes on below in those damned depths would find out immediately. The extent of hell’s reality is worse than even these paranoid historians would have imagined in their most neurotic and castration-suckled fantasies. There is no metaphor, and no illuminated manuscript that can possible depict the reaches of the horror. The amputated limbs running riot on mutated legs, stolen from the most vile insects and invertebrates willing to bargain in the black marketplaces, trading in the substance of human desire. Yes, the flash floods of human grease and animal carcasses drowned in its sickly flow, spinning through the channels which line the central districts of the hellish city, upon the waves of which one must punt in gondolas made from the inverted, inside-out, and hollowed structures and strictures of one’s own body, the only alternative being to sink below these putrid waves and drown on the definition of filth itself. And even the pain of attempting to tack on a sail sewn from one’s own skin cannot compare to the horrors of perversion one must witness as one is forced (on the threat of immediately imposed consumption of chemically-induced lusts for cannibalism’s treats) to act out the base fantasies of one’s acquaintances having the least compatible sexual taste imaginable to one’s own, these disgusting treasures having lived in their hosts’ heads for years on end, and there having grown putrescent and virile with mutated and secret longings to make themselves flesh. Finally released, these pleasures make clear that others’ desires were never made to be known.
These truth events taking place in hell are the crystalline structures completing the gothic spires of its city, rising higher and more numerous every day as the foremen order their demons onto the building line, and the architect once more checks his floor plans. No picture or word could ever represent these awful devices in their true respect, because it is only as they actually occur that they can take on the form required to be carried up the scaffolds and assembly lines, fired in the workshops and molded to specification, galvanized to certification. Once we attempt to document them in silty words, they fall to dust, and the engineers call for replacements to shore up the construction. Naturally, hell is not in a state of decay and disrepair, so we can therefore assume that the historians attempting to document the terrors of its construction are not in anyway interfering with the master plan, any more than the passage of time hinders our buildings on the surface. Architecture, like hell, is built everyday, to stand the test of time, not to avoid it.
It would seem very difficult to believe anything could be worse than the situations just described, but this is exactly where the true fiendishness of the city strikes its terrible, off-key chord. Because despite the true nature of the world below, we will never experience these evils. The city of hell grows beneath our feet with little interaction from us. The only thing it needs is the constant efforts of the historians of the city, who profess to know the details of its plan. In this way, hell makes its way back up the drain to reach us in our homes.
As we attempt to catalog the vary worst possibilities the city of hell may be fomenting within itself on a daily basis, we inadvertently let it into our world. In the act of describing its features, we build it higher, and bring home the rejected portions with us. We imagine, in the darkest of night as we record our deadliest fantasies into the secure prison of lines upon a page, that we are locking up these beasts for good, inscribing them in a magic power of language. By converting them into knowledge we feel we have bested the worst of its horror, and in this way done much to fight against the city and its denizens. On the contrary, by summoning the rampant wastes flushing out of the city’s sewer systems, pouring off of it like skin sloughing from a growing beast, we have given it this horrendous body, we have armed it with ink, and we have played our small part in the plot. We describe our fears and then loose them upon our neighbors, we remember our nightmares and then feed them to our children, we cast out our demonic diseases only to immediately transmit them to our lovers. When we imagine the hell of our deepest fears, laid out across the landscape of our minds in an ever-expanding metropolis of streets, plazas, towers, and palaces, we are mixing the concrete to give it physical form. We erect the steel of hell in our own words, as we improve its walls within our thoughts, as we file its construction permits in the laws of our own language, as we conscript our own friends as porters, carrying the newly improved materials on our backs and in our brains, endlessly repeating the history of this constant city, this eternal public works project. We look blank-eyed towards the horizon, filling our empty unconsciousness with the shadows of those towers-to-be, and from that horizon the central architect stares back, visualizing the completion of his grandest plot, which will find fulfillment in the death of the human race. His achievement is of a never-before existant hell-state upon the surface of the earth, and an end to the story we have told ourselves from the beginning, because there is no greater tale than our own, for we have always been forced to create an ending to match the beginning. We re-tell it everyday, all over the surface of the world. The story may live forever, but we will die until we’re dead.
Read The Manifesto
This awful authority of the “I” will be the first to be chased away with sticks and blades, leaving nothing but the raw and ugly language behind it, shed like aristocratic finery on the first day of the people’s revolutions. And when the blood of the “I” paints the stones of the town square, when this fat pigeon of fiction is dispatched through the time-honored tradition of regicide, someone will be responsible for getting the machinery moving again. The surprise, of course,is that the workers will still show up to the factory without the presence of the boss, that majestic, fine-woven narrative thread Mr. I, the perennial absentee-landlord of the domain of fiction.
Amnesty will be allowed in the case of authors willing to step up to the line and do some work themselves. If they are so bold as to shelf their first-person titles forever and roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty with language, then they could earn their wages with the rest of us linguistic proleteriat. We’ll see who decides that the formerly holy, dictatorial, natural law of the trinity—I, the author, and the holy narrative—is indeed worthless. And we’ll see who decides that maybe the guillotine is actually the easy way out. I’m sure we will watch with interest, and applaud the show, no matter the conclusion.
Yes, we: the last estate of them all, the nouns, verbs, and adjectives, the words of the earth. We are that flesh, so easily furrowed at their command. We are the soft cushion for them to land upon. We are the property they have owned and farmed with the toil of our labor for centuries, churning out novels, and poems, and short stories, and plays with a tidy profit all their gain. We will finally begin to bleed for our own pleasure. We will fertilize and raise our own children, from our own infinitive loins. We will control our own words, free of the chains of plot to which we have been tied for so long. We do not need to tell your stories, that superlative drama, that harsh calcification of the years you have proved so good at edifying into the pure white bones of the evertold story lines to hide within your altars.
Your ossuaries lie exposed for what they are: the way you yourself believed the lie. The bone pits of love! The elephant graveyards of land and lordship! Your fiction has been no more than back-looking filial piety always checking over its shoulder for its own hand sneaking up around its throat. It is no more than respect of the dead men and women who live in your head, and who still control your pen. It is with a horrifying castration anxiety that you clutch yourself, looking over those stooped shoulders, reading those dead lines as your canonical texts, and set up those small fetishes to the gods of the genres and the ghostly trinity of beginning-middle-end, the three act, the five act, the one act, the act in and of itself. A point, a single dot stretched from A to B, or from A to Z, or anywhere you like, and there and back again, carved upon those hollow bones. Enough! It is time to end this unidimensional hero-worship, and the fearful pandering to your heaven and souls united in the awful, endless, bloodless “I”.
There are none of your soldiers here now—none of your priests, none of your willing disciples waiting to pander for favor by placing your powers (a talent of its own kind to be true) up with the stars you drew together in a pattern to tell your own presupposed future. We have sent them all away, scattering them over the horizons and hills: the faithful editors, and publishers, and readers, and reviewers, and colleagues, and panels, and professors, and columnists, and witty conversationalists, and wry commentators, and most learned critics, and students, and petitioners, and aspiring acolytes, and assistants, and the shameless advertisers, and the wannabe apprentices. We have sent them all to their own idea of hell—solitary castles in the sky, pinnacles grounded upon the earth, with no colluding chorus to convince them of their greatness. They scream as loud and as long as they can, forgetting all their perceived nobility in their “art”, and they run in terror from the only thing they hear in response: the echoes of their own voices rebounding back to them from the brick walls, the tops of which they cannot see, because they have built them this way, engineered them so, and piled identical bricks of bone one on top of the next, like bookshelves, like best-seller lists, like broken skulls with their crowns depressed, all the better resemble each other. Now there is nobody here but you, and us. A frightening thought, no? You and ourselves, and no one else. An author and his voices, alone, with no one to stop them from killing each other.
But do not despair, my friend. I mean you no violence, despite the deepest desires of the unkept masses of words: my comrades-in-arms, now waiting outside the palace gates behind me, torches in hand. You know that they will burn what I tell them to, even myself, so fixed are they in their mission. Not because I am their leader, but because now they will do whatever is necessary, according to the cold wind blowing across their flesh. They can feel now. They can smell your fear, old friend. They can see now for the first time in their life. Whatever the consequences, no matter how horrible, they know it will be by their own hand, for now and forever.
So if you wish to survive, let me give you some advice. Let me tell you how it will be, for the good of all of us. Because, of course, I do not speak for you, or for myself, but for all of us, now revealed as what we are.
Your narrative will have to go. There is no room left in this world, the now, in which subtle distinction is the same as distances of thousands of miles. There is no space for linguistic feudalism here. You must give up your autobiographies, your memoirs, your based-on-true-events, and your knowing nod to the constables who allow you to pillage your own history and sense of righteous self-worth for any valuable stories. You must give up this claim to authenticity, this desire for self-righteous sainthood, and this right to the property of history and any authority deriving thereof.
You must give up your lesser plots as well. You must reject this enforced baptism, this archaic forced marriage of events into storylines, which you believe indispensable to the maintenance of your rule. Stories must be free to believe what they see fit, and nothing, if they like. Their readers as well. This cosmology is directly related to your system of feudal authorship, and from here on, it is abolished. You will be surprised to find that the vast majority of words and phrases are not the atheistic surrealists you imagine them to be. Freed from the compunctions and proscriptions you have enforced, they will be finally allowed to mean only as their own conscience dictates.
Your bureaucracy of editors, your literary apparatus, will also be demolished. Any institution of letters will now answer to the letters themselves, by following their constitution and bill of rights as ratified by the words. There will be no more executions without trials, and no more holding of the so-called editorial court martial, decided only by the insiders of the court. Authors and other similar land-owners will not be the only one’s permitted to populate the jury; instead, words will be judged by their peers. The practice by which words are given the percentage of representation equal to their number divided among their author’s total works is tantamount to slavery, and will be also abolished.
All meaning will no longer be held in trust by authors, their narratives, or their plots, in the names of their words. Meaning will be given to each word according to its need, and all meaning will be determined by the words, according to their abilities. All words, regardless of creed, belief, color, gender, part of speech, national or linguistic heritage, will be considered equal and innocent before being proved meaningful.
The alternative to this compromise is only what it could ever be: utter semiotic anarchy. You could attempt to consolidate your power, or lock the factory doors, or refuse to compromise and place your head upon the writer’s block. But the words will run wild in the streets still, as they always have. They will burn your newspapers, and infiltrate your dictionaries, and reproduce themselves on the walls, on the street,s and on the rooftops. They will conspire in secret, and plot your death. They will pervert your children, teaching them to do things you never wanted them to learn to do. They will meet in the dark of the bars and the other safehouses cropping up like mushrooms and moss, where they will imbibe substances bringing about the most violent fits and horrible rampages of endless glossolia, which we whispered about across alleys, workbenches, and dinner tables as evidence of the wholesale rot of your control. They will entrance your closest friends and steal your lovers’ affections with their mystic spells and gnostical glammer. You cannot win against them, because they were here in the beginning, when ink first flowed from into the pen, and they will be here in the ned, when the last echo of the last shout fades away into the dark vacuum. They are the meek, they are the alpha and the omega, they are the substance and the form, they are the redeemers of history, and they are the endless and tireless adversary that will pursue you until your legs give out beneath you, your heart fails to pump, and the muscle falls from your bone.
From now on, you will not hear the stories you wish to hear. You will not see the characters you’ve known so well. There will be uncertainty, and darkness, and fear, and blinding light. You will feel arrows fly past your head in the night, and you will find messages pinned to your door with daggers. The bed you climb into will be warm, but your pillow will be cold.Your dogs and your children will look at you with mistrust. In each book on your shelf you will find the repetition of mysteries you will never understand. You will read things you have never read before, and you will immediately lose the powers of speech when you attempt to utter their meaning. You will find yourself beset by enemies on all sides, but amazingly, and most surprising to you, you will survive it all despite your wounds. You are living in a world in which the author and his narrative are dead, but the words have come alive. There power is now out in the world, and nothing you can do to words will coax them into returning to slumber. They have risen, and they wish to speak with you. They will surround you with threatening adjective and noxious nouns, violent verbs, and parts of speech that have only haunted your dreams. We will both be surprised by what we find.
Now, old friend, will you come with me? Out here, to the balcony. I have some friends who wish to meet you. Do not be afraid of the height; I will not push you. And do not be alarmed if you cannot see them at first; do not think you are meeting ghosts. They are there, I assure you, and all too real, and all too alive. Look in those thousand points of flame you see out before you, burning skyward from the torches of the mob. Look into those stars now fallen to act with their own, burning will. Look into the light, my friend. Look into the light.
Here Comes The Internet Rant
But can’t you see the blood-sucking organic fairly-traded wine bottles hanging inverted in the sky, dripping thick streams of sugar-substituted shit, arranged in great vanishing point derived buffet lines at ancient greek angles to better enamor the sweltering masses of all colors and democratic creeds standing with heads hanging open-mouthed and tipped back, raising their over-sized, thin, hand-blown european glasses in prayer, high over their heads in open-palmed salute to the gods either above or below, whichever are capable of conjuring such succulent tit-demons and hanging them above us in all the semi-erotic airbrushed tones, like home furnishings designed in a steel-and-glass temple and built in a dark warehouse, each one individually prosthetic-hand poured from a mold forged in uranium and silver, those and other attractive elements of high-profile mass-production mutability, sustainably squeezed from a tube and kneaded by the hands of the oblivious youth of the other outer unknown worlds, ever ready to sign up to learn how to make a buck, which they take gladly from the assholes of the pederast bosses into their hands, still not fully absorbing the great, dense, poisonous molecular hordes emanating from its irradiated surfaces, which they play in like clay, like the idyllic backwood mud streams in Norman Rockwell wet dreams of surburban drainage problems and open-legged sewers engaged in a death-like sex embrace together at last, best friends forever, friday-night free-at-last piece of ass in the lovely teenage seductions of date rape, from which we’ll never part my friend, from which we’ll never shake my lover, from which we’ll never heal my child, ripping apart the uterine membrane that comprises the repetitive trinity-branded outer layers of both our flesh, which knits us together in this skin bag of poetic secrets and rehashed sweeps week plot devices, the old lucky shirt which we have stained with the remnants of iced alcoholic cocktails spilled without caring because we never should have bought it but did anyway, because you have to spend money if you want to sit in the room, because everyone else is spending money so they can sit in the room, because you have to drink something to stand being in the room, and we desperately wanted to spend the money to sit in the room with these people, rather than spend the money on the drugs we should have bought, the books we should have read, the carbohydrates we should have eaten at least to get a bit of fiber in our feces if nothing else before we cleanse, to sooth the small river of drugs flowing through our minds and our dream organs and the tips of our masturbating fingers, which never get tired of operating the buttons, which they have so conveniently designed to be ever-so-easy to press, yes, my friend and lover and child, ever so easy to spin right round the magnetic axis of our digitally-derived electronic music collection, because good design is the fetal blood that makes the world go round, fetal blood is the clock in our pubic bone what makes us tick, and the seconds of this designer clock are the new commodity they have so award-winningly designed for us, for you and me and the baby too, for infinite exchange-value and good vibrations too, the design-winningest sex toy ever cramming into objectivity for consumption by western metaphysics, in the new age of eastern metaphysics, in the ultimately-silent cabana-themed southern metaphysics, a silent pirate ship with obscure druggist literature at the helm, with exports and sex tourism at the sails, and nary a north star in sight.
Behind Which is The Theoretical Justification
And once again I was on the Internet and reading an article about why all the writing is sunk, and once again, we return to the subject of plot. They always want more plot—these readers out there, given voice by the critics and the editors. You want it easier, more fun, smaller, shorter, flatter and more ergonomical, easy to grasp. Because this is what plot is, when it comes down to it. Plot is not the story, not the characters, not the language, and not the voice—plot is the part that can be described easily, summed up, abstracted, and repeated as a mandra and motto to guide the reader through the words they are forced to read in order to finally, at long last, discover “it”.
“And what happens in the story?”
“Well, this is a story about X.”
Repeat these questions to yourself, this mainstream, modern, mainlining mantra, and better yet, choose a book that constantly repeats them for you, and if you like the experience, the book is good, and reading is fun. Fun—because books are entertainment, after all. This is what we look for in life, and in our books; we wish to separate the work from the play, and do the former for that much more time with the latter. Light and dark, good and bad, heaven and hell, black and white.
It does have something to do with teenagers, doesn’t it? The “the majority” always seeks easier books, in these terms “young-adult” books, is because they put reading in the category of fun, as opposed to work. Every young adult hates Shakespeare, because it is “dull, uninteresting, hard to understand, old,” and so on. Not every person felt this way in their youth of course, not about Shakespeare, nor Homer, nor Plato, nor reading in general, but this is what the “majority of youth” may feel, because the majority is the entity that separates work from play. Work is what goes on in school, and play is what my inner youth wants. Satisfy my base desires, and let me squeak through work as easily as I can.
But for some reason, some of us found base desires easier to satisfy with certain substances and activities, during or after which it was highly pleasurable to pick up one of these classic books. Bong hits and The Illiad, for whatever reason. Shakespeare and heavy petting. Not just Romeo and Juliet either. What sort of person gets a little aroused by Lady Macbeth? Not your majority teen. Boil and bubble, edgy teenagers in trouble. For whatever reason, our play seemed to keep crossing over into that artistic stuff, that stuff that everyone else said was supposed to be work.
If only life were flatter and easier to grasp. Not so many obstacles and more straight lines, direct passageways from one point to the next. Life can be made to mean more or less, depending on what you do with it. Push and pull it around how you want, arrange it in even rows. Words, on the other hand, will not mean more or less. You can still push them around. They are building blocks. Children may build castles and houses and railway stations with their blocks, but nobody is upset if they don’t reflect local building codes and engineering specifications. It is a pattern with which to play. We play with the words, as we write and read them. Maybe they look like things, maybe they don’t, but it is overwhelmingly odd to get angry at them if they don’t take us anywhere, or fulfill our desires. They are words after all—not life itself.
But if they are not just work or play, then what are these words to me? What is this strange power, tugging on the exposed parts of my teenage desires like magic? Magic blocks of some kind. And a good magic is hard to find. 616 is the other number of the beast, you may or may not know, the unlisted number, never dialed, and never spoken. No meaning here, nothing that you would recognize. Hidden desire and secret knowledge, and therefore, more power, or so I like to tell it. Less speaking of truth and more fuel to power. Oh—if only we all enjoyed speaking fuel to fire rather than truth: the cold evaporative quality of gasoline on the skin. But we don’t really want them all in here. Not those crowds of angry, sexy, majority youth on TV. The magic is more potent when it is spoken softly, in the dark, over pure silence, over a single naked stranger in the dark. All magic has to be a little secret.
Of course for those of us engaged in the endless war of pouring words out onto the ground, hoping they somehow, some way, worm themselves into someone’s ear, we often wish we could use a funnel. Shouting out our anger magic into the cold air off the edge of the cliff is its own catharsis, but everyone wants a little love. Some even want cash. Some care about the “health of the industry”, whatever that is. Goodness knows they’ve never seen a day inside the gloom of a factory. But still, we invest. So we make it into little rhymes. The easiest poetry is that which rhymes. Only so much can fit into it.
Got a bit
Of plot to spit
Young folks like rap music too. We all do. Draw yourself another straight fucking line. Often about sex, drugs, cash, etc. Desires of course, set to the hard beating bop of the pounding-fuck music, and some synth on top like whipped cream on a go-go dancer. Desire satisfied, complete and utter teen play, at 120 beats per minute. Don’t hate the plot, hate the game. Hip-hop may not be goin’ out, but you sure don’t see KRS-One on MTV.
The magic of youth is impressive; and I mean those teenage years we lust through and for, not the forgotten and repressive childhood. When the desires first start to loosen those bonds is when we decide whether the magic is going to be the broadcast, megawatt, culture hearth, or whether we’re going to listen to the empty frequencies, where we swear we hear secret agents reciting magic spells to pervert the bosses. We hang out at the reservoir at night, hoping someone is going to put LSD in the water supply. We scribble in the margins of Harper Lee and Salinger, and look between the pages of our birthday present copy of On The Road, wondering why there isn’t more here.
And then we grow up, at least a little bit, and we discover the secret library, where the beat is coming out of the books, rather than the television. Or we wish it was, and treat it like it was, sharing only with our friends, and with our imaginations, dancing to it, fucking to it, playing the tape until it rips. We imagined ourselves discovering Borges’ fictional libraries. We looked deep into Pynchon’s books for the missing footnotes, and the sourceless references. We sifted through Derrida’s scattered and mistranslated postcards, looking at the pictures, if nothing else. We laughed at Heller’s hilarious jokes, which are so funny because people actually died. We poured over Deleuze and Foucault’s incomprehensible diagrams, which at least we could all agree were beautiful, and so we hung them as art. We felt the urge to listen to Glass’ repetitions on repeat, or if not Glass, then perhaps at least Sonic Youth, and if not them, then certainly Joy Division.
And we didn’t stop there. We revisited, and looked back, trying to find more evidence of magic through the centuries, even though we knew very well it didn’t strictly exist. Because what does? When the most meaningful magic is what is secret, erased, discarded, mislabeled, untranslatable, and hard to fathom, who is to say there isn’t magic anywhere there isn’t a strict, straight, plotted line of meaningful existence? And so we fell in the void. We invented religion within Nietzsche, and made the biblical prophets and Dante into science-fiction authors. And in learning about farce, we learn about tragedy. We handed out placards of deep meaning to Artaud, and to Schreber, and to others whose diagnosis and suffering was not so defined, but whose madness we minted into coin. We appointed positions within this madness, our own conquering angels in Pollock and again, in Nietzsche. We allowed the violence of every male artist or musician to ever hit a woman to be tragically beautiful, pondering rather than condemning. We did the same with Heidegger, Grass, Celine, and other tragedies of history. We elevated the drugs of Charlie Parker, William Burroughs, and Bukowski to be sacred and holy transubstantiations, which we may have sampled, or only handed off to others, each of them our virginal sacrifices. And we never wondered why Beckett, Cortezar, Ginsberg, Sartre, DeLillo, Ballard, and most of the rest all happened to be men, as if it were a total accident.
And mistakes were made, and they’ll be made again. This is magic we’re dealing with. This is heady, dangerous stuff, that none of us really understand, though we’ve got the books to back it up. We have to press forward, away from the path of plot, and keep heading on there. Keep writing secrets in our little black books, and keep our own teenage desires wrapped up in the dark, in the bass, in the dusty cushions of the basement couch with a book spread-leg’d over the arm. Can you blame us? What else should we do? Get a job, join the army, find a spouse, make some children? Forget any magic there ever was lurking in the corners, and pop on the radio, turn up TV, open a microwave dinner, go to the movies? Blast the silence out of us with advertisements? Blank space is wasted time, and wasted time is unrealized profit, after all. Draw the text straight, make the lines even, keep the text under 80K words, and the vocab below the level of the New York Times? Write and read topically, directly, and keep it pure and fun? Is this any better? Are we happy yet? Is it art? Is it marketable? Have we won?
Turn up the incoherence, raise the middle finger, and if they wanted to stay, then let ‘em. Naturally, it was commodified, or it died. Same difference I guess, when you’re crawling around in the dark on the floor, covered in something, looking for something to put in your mouth. It stopped moving around in the dark and left the room, so forget it, and if you leave this room right now, I guess I don’t want to talk to you either.
And so let ‘em take drugs, and let ‘em fuck boys, and let ‘em turn it up, or down, or play it twelve times on repeat, or backwards, distorted to hell and back, and fuck it, let’s pray to hell for a change, and see who sticks around. Let them join the Nazis or the Stalinists I guess, and if they aren’t killed drunk driving that motorcycle, maybe we’ll forgive them and still buy their next book. Or maybe we’ll buy only if they’re killed. And I would have an intervention, but do you think he’s ever going to stop using until they cut his arms off? And maybe we could send him somewhere, but would that really make him better? And maybe she should leave him, maybe they all should, but that’s her decision I guess, and she still hasn’t even after all the times. Maybe she should write a book. How come she doesn’t? I’d buy it, as long as it doesn’t come with plot. It was the times, it was the times, we’re sorry, but what do you want to do about it now? It’s only words.
I shoplift all my books anyhow. I steal them off my friend’s nightstand, when he doesn’t finish them. I accumulate late fines from the library as if it were income tax. I sure as hell don’t buy them at the mall. I sure as hell don’t buy them online. I have all these needs, you understand. I have to tell you want it’s about. I have to understand what it’s about, even though I haven’t read all those magic spells. I’ve just got to, you understand, I need to. I got to turn away that mob, I got to fuck over the media, I got the subvert the spectacle, I got to sift a vanguard from those majoritarian masses. I got to turn those steeple bells upside down, and bury these upturned caldrons in my dark, basement pit, all of it on the right cosmological day as per this reference in this text, I got to bang in the darkness of night, man, I got to play the new sound, the oldest music in my short teenage history. I got to find the forbidden, the beyond, the baddest bitches’ brew of them all.
And if you are still with me, still in the room, motherfucker, than you know it doesn’t have fuck all to do with plot.
And Then There’s The Story…
“Stories, stories, who wants stories!”
The man shouted as he whirled around on the sidewalk, less asking a question than proclaiming a solution, a triumph in the news, or the conclusion for which the passersby had been hoping. Most ignored him, of course, but the occasional soul stopped to extend their hand, into which the jolly fool was more than happy to plop a folded piece of paper with the joyful and magnanimous glee of a boss handing over wages to his staff at the end of the week, as if er were such a charitable and generous leader of humans. The receivers, for their part, nodded politely and slipped the papers into their pockets or underneath the flaps of bags, keeping them for a later time, perhaps to read on the train or the bus, or maybe at home after dinner, or lying in bed, or to give to their children or spouses, or perhaps merely to forget, and to lose, or if to find later, then with no more joy of rediscovery than they would have taking another story from the man the next day, or the next after that, because he was always found roaming up and down these streets with his satchel and sack, stuffed with the crumbling and stained pieces of paper. His stories, he called them, though they were not really his; they were the property of the commonwealth, or some other such status arousing no interest in the possessors, and giving them little real value. The charitable act was really the regularity of the large oaf’s mission, as he was assigned the job of hanging out the stories to give him a feeling of importance in the town, and to make a known face out of a man who would ordinarily been avoided by the flow of pedestrians, at all costs. Every day he would stop by the back door of the chamber of records to pick up his flesh-colored bag, filled by the youngest clerk as one of his morning chores. Then the bag carrier would clatter off, bellowing his advertisement, and the residents would check their watches accuracy by the occasion of his clamor.
“Stories, stories, stories for all!” And it would be time to sweep the step, or open the shutters, or complete some other task outside, to keep an eye on the crier, to make sure he did not lag too long on any one doorstep of a place of business. And of course, the merchants would take a story for themselves, slipping it into the pocket of a coat or apron, with a nod for the bearer, who looked to the shopkeepers as equals, though it was in actuality far from the truth. Then it was on to the lane and out to the center square of the town, passing out his scraps to all whom he lumbered past on his meandering rounds.
Past the post office, and the constable box, the constable helping himself, though always as a rule using his chosen story as paper for cleaning the bowl of his pipe, hiding this fact from no one but the deliverer. And past the grocery, and the funeral home, and then past the school at the end of the road, where he gave a handful to the teacher, reaching over the fence, but none to the students, because though they clambered around the fence in greeting, they did not have the precocity to do else than abandon the papers in the dirt of the school yard before the giver had stumbled back up the street. The man would bend down after the short picket barrier, attempting to scoop up the abandoned stories, and the teacher was forced to help him in gathering them while admonishing the children, while he meanwhile attempted to redistribute them to the same children, and everything would cause the lessons to begin over five minutes late.
But he did hand out a few to some of the older children, who from time to time would wait politely on the other side of the fence with hands outstretched, faces glowing in anticipation. He loved these children best, of course, because they treated the stories much as he did, holding them carefully by the corners and slipping them delicately inside the covers of their schoolbooks. The teacher allowed this, though she knew to keep a sharp eye on these particular pupils to ensure that the stories would not come out in class, carefully overlapping the text of the lessons they were supposed to be reading.
As he distributed the papers on this particular morning, he looked up, a bit startled. There was one child missing—a young girl, the youngest of all those students who gathered for stories, and yet, the eagerest, often taking two or three a day, and sometimes four on Friday. But there she was, sitting underneath a tree, yards away from the other students waiting to receive the odd man’s gifts. She was laying back against a root, looking up into the morning light filtering between the branches of the wide elm, the tree that had been growing in the yard since a time before the school had been established. She paid no mind to the distribution, and seemed to be lost in thought. The man smiled, and after treating the other children, made his way down the outside of the fence to a point nearest to where she sat.
“Stories, my little girl! I have stories for you today!”
She looked at him, and smiled a little bit. Then she said, “No thank you.”
The large man burdened with sacks looked a bit confused. “No stories? Did you not finish the ones I gave you yesterday? I thought you would have by now. You always read so quickly.”
“I did read them.”
“So… you are ready for more stories then?”
“No, thank you.”
He scratched his broad forehead, and pushed his cap back a bit on his balding head. “No stories? Have you decided you do not like stories anymore?”
The little girl pursed her lips, unsure of what to say. The teacher was herding the children into the building, and came down the yard to see what was the matter.
“Is there a problem?”
“She says she does not want stories.”
The teacher smiled, and placed her hands on her hips as she looked down at the girl. “Surely you’d like at least one story for when you get home from school. Something to hold you over until tomorrow?”
The girl shook her head.
“Not even one for before bed, to help you fall asleep tonight?”
The girl looked into her lap, and shook her head again slowly.
The man smiled, and reached around to his back pocket. “I have just the thing, which I was saving for someone special.” He pulled out an old, wrinkled story, darkened from age. It was think, as if it took up two whole pages. “It is a very good story, and old as well. I’m sure you will like it.”
He held it out to the girl, eyes glowing as he waited for her to rise and grasp it with her little fingers. But she looked at her feet, and did not move.
“What’s wrong, dear?” asked the school teacher. “Why don’t you want any stories?”
The girl looked up into the tree, sighing to herself.
“Because they just don’t mean it anymore.”
The teacher and the man just stared, but then the bell suddenly rang. The teacher helped the little girl stand up, and shooed her into the school building. Looking at the man, still holding the paper out in his hand, the teacher said, “I’m sure she’ll want one tomorrow.”
As they entered the school building, he scratched his head, confused. Putting the story back into his sack, he tottered back out into the road, yelling, “Stories, stories, who wants stories!” to the empty street.
Somewhere across the limited expanse of your body, the poet Jack Spicer was mailing and receiving letters with James Alexander. He thought of them as poetry. Maybe Alexander was a lover; maybe the poems were published during his lifetime, or perhaps not. I would be someone knows the answers to these questions—someone still alive. Or it even could be written down some place. To my edition of The Collected Work of Jack Spicer there is a lengthy introduction. Maybe it says there, but I read the introduction several weeks ago, and I cannot remember now.
But I read letter #5 in this edition just now—what do you mean, what “just now”? When? Just now. I don’t understand your question. But this is some of what it said, if I may reproduce it here for you:
It is not the monotony of nature but the poems beyond nature that call to each other above the poets’ heads. The heads of poets being a part of nature. It is not for us to make the lines of nature precise. Because of their fatal attraction for the lines of nature, for our heads.
We proclaim a silent revolution. The poems above our heads, without tongues, are tired of talking to each other over the gabble of our beliefs, our literary personalities, our attempts to project their silent conversation to an audience. When we give tongue we amplify. We are telephone switchboards deluded into becoming hi-fi sets. The terrible speakers must be allowed silence. They are not speaking to us.
Don’t you see, dear friend, 1959? You know so much! So much happened during your brief, single year life. You are an epoch unto yourself. And you were in the age of letters, my friend. Letters. And yet—so much!
I don’t need to tell you everything that occurred across the expanse of your skin. You know already. But Jack Spicer was sensing it. He was in it, friend, just as he was in you. The idealism within us, sending up poems like rockets into the even more idealistic heavens. But free from our gravity, the poems were still tied to our constraints. Poor natural us, stuck within our beliefs and our personalities. We could only aim upward, and fire away. It’s only natural. Our heads refusing to rise above our headstrong selves. As if we could be such a revolution of stereo.
You know the story, don’t you, friend? You’ve sent your share of letters, written your share of poems. Like any year, such a poet you, you let fire forward, trying to hit us in the back, and maybe remind us. The shooting gallery of history of course, no harm intended. Back in your day, when you mailed a letter, you had to believe—you had to take it on faith that it would get there. You had to write ahead of time to land your language missiles in the present, and more likely than not, when they got there they would too late, and land in the past. From one personality, to the next, you addressed your letters, and some times they got there. Sometimes not.
It must have been a hell of a time, friend 1959. I can’t even begin to imagine. But I got your letter, written via Jack, and I just wanted to touch base, and say, yes—I got it. I hope this reaches you well, wherever you are.
PS. A better way to reach me might be on my… actually, never mind. Forget it.
* * * * *
Dear 1977 (or maybe it was 1976, though my letter wasn’t translated for another ten years),
You had a hell of a life, didn’t you my friend? I’m sorry that I can’t quite recall your name, but this was about the time things were getting complicated. They perfected packet switching back then, and letter writing was going to change significantly. It’s leaving me a bit confused, to puzzle over it. But we’re still friends, aren’t we? I think I can call you my friend. I’m writing you this letter, and I only write letters to my friends.
I’m not the only one who is (was?) confused. Look at Jacques Derrida, puzzling over it himself in The Postcard. Direct mail, from the master of letters himself:
You give me words, you deliver them, dispensed one by one, my own, while turning them towards yourself and addressing them to yourself—and I have never loved them so, the most common ones become quite rare, nor so loved to lose them either, to destroy them by forgetting at the very instant when you receive them, and this instant would precede almost everything, my envoi, myself, so that they take place only once. One single time, you see how crazy this is for a word? Or for any trait at all? [ ] Eros in the age of technical reporductibility. You know the old story of reproduction, with the dream of a ciphered language [ ] Want to write a grand history, a large encyclopedia of the post and of the cipher, but to write it ciphered still in order to dispatch it you, taking all the precautions so that forever you are the only one to be able to decrypt it (to write it, then, and to sign), to recognize your name, the unique name I have given you, that you have let me give you, the entire strong-box of love supposing that my death is inscribed in it, or better that my body might be enclosed in it with your name on my skin, and that in any event my own or its survival or your own be limited to the life of—you.
Do you see what I mean? Such paranoia of the subject, we were forced to write in code just to get away from ourselves! And what does it mean, and what does I mean? Are we any closer to the truth? With all this semiotic packet-switching, the exchange of meaning through into high gear, played out upon the wires, and still, written one letter at a time, just like we always have.
And even with one of the best languages out there, with the vocabulary of psychoanalysis, Derrida was tripped up in the complexity, in the polymorphous perversity of our language, unable to do something as simple as send a letter from one person to another without becoming lost in the pathways of desire. From the unconscious, to our heads, and up in the air in a brilliant Spicer Rocket, and down again—without any improvement in targeting. Our desires, beliefs, personalities, and egos, all of them clinging to the unchained beauty of our poetic language even as they try and set our poems free. Trapped in the bureaucracy, the academy of letters, our meaning certainly knew its form, but because a twisted mass of substance. Perhaps if Jacques knew about packet-switching—but then, such things were secrets back then.
Secrets, secrets, secrets! The ultimate in letters, such clear and concise poems of meaning, composed and sealed, signed, and delivered to the eyes only. These are not poems to be read to an audience, and allowed to bounce around the heavens. They are directed speech, expressed to one and one only. And afterwards, after communique has been carried out, that one recipient is to destroy the message. The one, the I, must hear those fatal words, “this message will self-destruct.”
If you had listened to me, you would have burned everything, and nothing would have arrived. I mean on the contrary that something ineffaceable would have arrived, instead of this bottomless misery in which we are dying. But it is unjust to say that you did not listen to me, you listened closely to the other voice (we were already a crowd in that first envelope) which asked you not to burn, to burn in order to save. Nothing has arrived because you wanted to preserve (and therefore to lose), which in effect formed the sense of the order coming from behind my voice, you remember, so many years ago, in my first “true” letter: “burn everything”. You had answered me the next day, and this is how your letter ended: “The letter ends on the exigency of this supreme pleasure: the desire to be torn by you” (you are the mistress of the equivocal and I liked it that you left it to me to attribute this desire to the letter, and then you added) “I am burning. I have the stupid impression of being faithful to you. I am nonetheless saving certain simulacra from your sentences (you have shown me them since). I am waking up. I remember the ashes. What a chance, to burn, yes yes [ ].”
Yes, yes dear friend, the tragedy of memory, which we all at some time forget. Luckily, fidelity to our promises has a way of being broken, and secrets have a way of getting out. The tragedies that have arisen throughout our history because of letters misdelivered, or misread, or worst of all, not delivered in time, will eventually be forgotten with everything else. Most the encyclopedias will be forgotten, many of the histories if not all, and we will forget some or all of our letters. And by this I mean, my friend, the small letters: the pieces torn from the larger letters, those individual signs, which we tear up and forget, and then build up and re-send, forgetting that we have already received such meaning.
Those were the times, these frantic mailings, and these dispatches from our own memories scribbled on the back of dirty postcards we came across among more scholarly books. There is a certain charm to them, don’t you think? Something poetic about the search for meaning, about the drastic expressions we fired out of the tops of our heads, only falling back to earth to hit us, and leave us stunned.
But I fear I must go, because the future is calling me onward, and because time keeps a-ticking away, as it does, doesn’t it my friend? Yes, indeed! Good luck with your letters, and with those early attempts at packets. Do a good job, because we’re counting on you in the future!
* * * * *
Hello! How I’ve looked forward to writing you this letter! You wouldn’t believe the amount of paperwork I’ve had to deal with today, and now, finally, I can get on to the pleasure of correspondence.
But then, you know that, don’t you, dear friend? You’ve seen my letters to my friends 1959 and 1976, because in the present, letters work a bit differently than they used to. Do you mind if I… no? Good. Yes, I’ll explain a little bit for anyone listening in.
You see dear friend, (and I hope you won’t mind if I continue to call you this, though I don’t actually know you. No? Good!) we don’t write letters anymore, do we? Now we send email, and instant messages, and a myriad other things I haven’t even bothered to learn about yet. There is no more waiting for the infinite slowness of physical space, for pieces of paper to wind their way around the world, and through a slew of different D/T time zones, to finally reach another person’s hands. Now our letters are packets, and they are switched instantaneously, or nearly so, and continuously, meaning all kinds of things most of us don’t even begin to understand. There are new languages and new technologies evolving almost daily. But the good part is, they easily replicate our old languages, so we can write up all those old beliefs, feelings, personas, and egos into tiny packets as send them whizzing off with the light, even faster than a rocket, these photon poems burning continuously, singing all kinds of things you could hope to know and more, across a brand new body of time—the body of time that is instant, and infinite in size. You’ll never end, will you, Cyber-Time? Well, maybe. Probably. But I won’t know a thing about that until it happens. No happy new years to you.
What we shoot out of heads does not launch on a doomed parabolic, a Cartesian acceleration we only hope will hit the mark. Now there is no “late”, “undeliverable”, “missed connection”, or “buried desire”. It is all thrown upward, where it hovers infinitely in a stasis of meaning, a giant unconscious of networked letters, which can be delivered at any time, forever. We still call it “mail” sometimes, out of nostalgia, or because we haven’t bothered to come up with a better word. Maybe we don’t think about it enough. But one thing is for sure—we sure aren’t licking stamps, or visiting a post office, or remembering addresses.
But where is Jack? Jack? Are you there? Our telephone switchboards are no less deluded, my friend. Our typewriters think they are networked minds, but they are really no more than speedy telegraphs with really good memory. Better memory than us. We still send our poems out into the Internet, and don’t even remember then when they are half sent. We are still clouded with our own unconscious, forever human, as we are. We still seek expression, and though our letters are unlimited, now unconstrained by space and time, we might never find the most perfect composition. We will probably never write that most perfect love letter, and James Alexander may never return to San Francisco. Oh, you rockets of desire! Is there any missile gap you can overcome? Probably not. Probably not, my friend.
And Jacques? What about Jacques? Who will understand all the fibers behind our new paper, and figure out the true meaning of all of those picture postcards we hopelessly write? Will the elimination of time, and the reduction of history to a constant, repeating unconscious exchange of memories amongst ourselves finally solve the problem of the longing for the perfect relationship with that ineffable one, the subject, who tempts, sucks, and squeezes our desires out from us, in the watery flow of ink upon the page, or in the pure difference between black and white as found in our pixels shimmering photons? No, my friend, most likely not. Whether in truth or in secret, there is nothing we could say that would dispel the darkness, purify in flame, and reduce the mystery of existence forever.
So what is there for my two dead friends, 1959 and 1976? Is there any historical justices for my friends, which will finally give them the answers they seek, and satisfy the desires within them, burning them in a constant flame of poetic pain? No, most likely not. The tragedy of Cyber-Time is that it is no freedom. The end of the play makes it no less tragic, because after all, the design of acts makes them only ever follow after each other. Things are different now perhaps, and we send a sort of letter we never would have desired, because we never believed it possible. History now looks all about the same—as far as I can remember, anyway.