Writings and Letters

A blog oeuvre… a "bloeuvre"

Quotidian Relics

Just the other yesterday, I finished Walter Benjamin’s One-Way Street. It’s a wonderful collection of the man’s kaleidoscopic analyses of modern life in 1920s Berlin. He bounces from one subject to the next with all the grace and flow of an eclectic dancer. And like all good dancers, through his movements you recognize and cherish his brilliance.

Many sections of the work stand out to me, but I couldn’t help but dwell on his reflections on stamps, postmarks, and postage by and large. As he puts it: “To someone looking through piles of old letters, a stamp that has long been out of circulation on a torn envelope often says more than a reading of dozens of pages.”

For Benjamin, it’s not just the brunt of obvious historical linkage, holding a piece of the past in your hand, but the whole social and historical contexts interweaving in the moment. What’s on the stamp? A country, a castle, a king? Who created it? Who sanctioned it? What does the image convey in itself to the viewer? What is its significance in the system of postage? What do these links to the past tell us about ourselves? How do they affect our social imaginary?

Even the trivial postmark holds some weight to him. The variety of postmarks, the way they alter the image “[placing] a halo about the head of Queen Victoria” or “[giving] Humbert a martyr’s crown.” Or just the way they messy up the once pristine stamp with their sinuous lines, covering faces and bifurcating lands like earthquakes. Think of the lowly artists who were commissioned to create these works, what must they think of it now? Is the work tarnished after the black marking, or was it tarnished the day its creator signed the contract?

Just briefly interacting with these simple pieces of paper, conjuring up all these wonderful thoughts, creating this “stamp-language,” it is no wonder Benjamin concludes this section of One-Way Street with a lamentation. He sees the coming future of telecommunications: telegraphs, telephones, radio, etc.: as the great destroyer of stamps, postmarks, postage, like winter to flowers. “It will not survive the twentieth [century],” he closes the essay.

Benjamin got me thinking about this account I follow on Twitter. (Now that’s a helluva sentence!) Postcard from the Past (@PastPostcard), provides images of postcards sent over the years (mostly the 50s – 70s) from (mostly) British travelers and a brief out-of-context sentence the messenger wrote. The comedy or quaintness of each post is often spot on, but what attracts me to these posts is something similar to Benjamin and his stamps. I get to thinking: Who were the photographers who took these images? What about the people/locations trapped in their images? Who commissioned these postcards? What was the purpose? What does one make of postcards of abandoned English castles, sweeping landscapes, locals dressed in traditional ethnic attire? What did the manufacturers want the consumer to think about these images? What was it about these postcards that the senders felt compelled to buy and send along? These questions persist, but they tend to circle the drain of commerce. Capital tends to behave like an undercurrent at each modular point, interweaving the subject/land to the artist/photographer to the stamp/postcard to the consumer/sender, on and on.

Benjamin recognized this with the stamps. It was why he foretold of its demise at the hands of the more efficient telephone, et al. Capital does not care for the well-articulated illustration on the stamp or the essentially captured moment through the lens. Accumulation is king. Craftsmanship be damned!

And so, in the great empty time of modernity, these objects of the past are in direct threat of being discarded and forgotten precisely because of their perceived uselessness. In the world of capital, if a market-based value cannot be extracted from it, what use is it?

But it is important to remember that the accumulation of wealth did not produce these small works of art, neither did it create the wit or beauty of the words written on them, or the thoughts conjured up by the likes of minds like Benjamin’s. We must not accept the ground offered before us in these circumstances. The stamps, the postcards can be of great use to us still for whatever reason works for us in the moment. Because in these moments with these artifacts, as banal as they may be, they still contain great depths of our humanity.

And so it’s important to hold onto these items. Because we need to be constantly reminding ourselves of this simple fact: Humanity presses on. Not because of capitalism, but despite it.

 

Race and Truth (Or… More Bullshit Science is Supposed to Prove…)

PREVIOUSLY on Iaian’s Brain:

“Christ, I haven’t been paying attention to current events too closely. What have I missed? Let me just check what’s going on at The New York Times Op-Ed, that usually gets my blood boiling. Oh, what’s this? ‘How Genetics Is Changing Our Understanding of ‘Race’‘? Yes, yes this’ll do.”

And now the exciting conclusion:

Folks. There’s just no such goddamn thing as Race. Good night!

I really shouldn’t have to go further, but apparently scientific racism just never dies. (Andrew Sullivan certainly doesn’t seem to want to let it.)

So let me try to briefly roll up my sleeves and handle this. Because… nobody asked and it’s my site, I can do as I damn well please!

Firstly, what do I mean by Race and why capitalize it? I’d like to distinguish “Race” as a Platonist-like concept of something that exists in itself outside human intervention, as opposed to “race” which is a social construct that has deep historical and cultural roots. I flatly reject Race and any attempts to prove its existence through biological (or any other) means. Though I still recognize race as a real theory made by humans from beliefs and events with real-life consequences.*

In Dr. Reich’s first piece, he would like to have the reader believe: “it is simply no longer possible to ignore average genetic differences among ‘races’.” Furthermore, the consensus to the contrary held amongst those in the genetic and biological and sociological and humanities circles is dangerous because it: “denies the possibility of substantial biological differences among human populations.” (Italics mine)

What’s it all mean? Well, basically, Davey here wants us to believe that our genes can signify certain Truths about our Races—even when it comes to intelligence. (If your ears are already tingling, that’s because you’re picking up on the dog-whistle racism.) How does he reach such a “seismic” conclusion? You see, kiddo, he did a study a bit ago where some folks with prostate cancer had genes that linked back to West Africa. If genetics can be signifiers for certain things like diseases, why not intelligence? he says.

Hmm… there’s already a few problems. 1) There’s no such thing as Race. 2) Genes are simply an instruction manual to tell our body how to work; this runs the gamut, but they do not tell us to “be white”… that’s the job of society. 3) There’s no such thing as Race. 4) Simply because some gene(s) is found in West Africa does not mean it cannot be found elsewhere and the fact that Dr. Reich has not looked into this (or at least did not share his findings in his op-ed) and is quick to want to call this a racial trait should cause the reader’s bowels to inflame with dubiousness! 5) There’s still no such thing as Race. 6) Genes can be influenced by their environment. So even though a gene can be traced back to a certain region, it might not matter when the there and then of West Africa and the here and now of the United States are so vastly different and have different impacts on said gene. 7) Say it with me: “There’s no such thing as Race.” 8) Let’s jump to the glaring dissimilarities between using genes to track diseases like cancer and drawing the conclusion the same can be said for the social construct called “intelligence”. How does one describe intelligence? Is it like the lump of malignant tumor in your prostate, or more so a language classification of how society describes certain people with certain abilities in certain categories that are (to say the least) limited in their scope (I’m looking at you IQ tests!). Is racism a sign of intelligence? Are we more-intelligent white European descendants genetically predisposed to thinking we are racially superior to the rest? Dear Brutus, was it actually written in our stars all along? 9) There’s no such thing as Race! 10) The reader should be highly skeptical of anyone who tries to synthesize the very complex interplay of genetics into old social, historical tropes like “race” because… 11) And this is the most important point, there is no such thing as Race.

Now. I want to say I don’t think Dr. Reich is a eugenics-thumping racist. In fact, he really tries to distance himself in his second article and lame mea culpa/attempt to save face. He attempts his best to state his case again that he really doesn’t believe in the kind of old-fashioned Race all those Nazis and white supremacists were talking about. He’s a different kind of racist—I mean!—he sees a very narrow and specific understanding of how genetics can point to something he’s calling Race… but he doesn’t want us to worry about it. He makes this most breathtaking claim at the end: “…we do not need to be worried about what we will find because we can already be sure that any differences will be small…”

Uh-huh. Well, David. If your foregone conclusion (which has not been verified or agreed upon by any respected person in any related field) is so small and need not worry us (gee, one might want to say it’s… “negligible”), then… WHY THE FUCK WOULD YOU WRITE THIS HUNK OF INCHOATE, UNSUBSTANTIATED DUMPSTER TRASH IN THE FIRST PLACE?!

Why, why you see it’s because Dr. Reich wants to protect us… from the racists!

The problem with this logic is that you’re continuously going to have to find buttresses against racists as long as they are still around. Racists gonna be racist. And if you say something like: “Actually, I think genetics do prove ‘natural’ disparities between human groups—like Africans and Europeans, etc.—and we can call these different groups ‘races’. And even though the results aren’t back from the lab, and might not be in for a while (or if ever), and even when they do come in, the disparity will be insignificant, and though I’m going off a very myopic sample base and drawing large conclusions my body of evidence can’t cash, I feel comfortable presenting my opinion and using my title of ‘Harvard Geneticist’ in The New York Fucking Times**… and also plug my book.” you are doing a real shit job of what you are purporting in the first place.

Case in point, Dr. Reich’s article was picked up by Andrew Sullivan, who then began soft-pedaling his eugenics claptrap again. I’m sorry, Andrew, black people just aren’t innately inferior to whites. I know your (and my) ancestors raped and pillaged and exploited nearly all of Africa for a few centuries, but that doesn’t lead to any useful conclusion of European (aka white) supremacy over Africans (aka urbans, err, I mean blacks), unless the conclusion you are trying to draw up is a racist one. Then, yes, I suppose I see how that’s quite useful. But you really have to work hard to make a whole group of human beings seen as lesser than you. It just doesn’t come naturally!

To let my pragmatic self take the wheel for a moment, what’s the cash value of an article like Dr. Reich’s? What use does it have for our social project? If one purpose is to engender a social imaginary that sees people of all colors as equals in an effort to combat the awfulness of racism, how does an article like this, supporting an unproven half-thought really get us there? As it stands, I don’t see how Dr. Reich’s stated opinions can help anybody but those who believe in some essential qualities of certain human beings that can be distinguished and help reify their imagined prejudices.

Ladies and gentlemen. Children and gimps. I know we all long for some answers in this deeply irrational world. I know we’re all just looking around, trying to make sense of why things are just so, and how incredibly easier and more satisfying life would be if we just had some core truths we could rely on. Sadly, it just doesn’t work that way. And when we lean too heavily on a tool of understanding like science to try and prove something True like Race, we’re only inviting ourselves to further bathos, disillusionment, and frustration. And more importantly, we’re elongating the agony of those who have socially and historically suffered for long enough.


I’d like to recommend a few books for Dr. Reich and anyone else out there that might be curious to learn about how silly, but violently dangerous, the concept of Race is. These books have helped me along the way.

  • The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter
  • Racecraft by Barbara J. Fields and Karen Elise Fields
  • Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi

*It was brought to my attention that my use of Race in the original version of this piece did not offer a clear explanation of what I meant. This paragraph is an attempt to rectify that mistake.

**And shame on The New York Times. They pulled this kinda shit about fifteen years ago when they released some useless chart that misrepresented our genetic differences and ignored our overwhelming similarities. This kind of half-assed journalism really takes the wind of the Integrity Sails. [Nell Irvin Painter, The History of White People, New York: W.W. Norton, 2010), p. 393]

What’s the Title? Tittle? Title.

We got stuck out near the desert with a flat tire. I was staring off at the sun and wondering why they say: “Caught a flat.” Why is that a turn of phrase? Term of phrase? Can that be right? Can it? What’s the term of a phrase? Fuck. What’s a turn of one for that matter. This language makes no sense. Who’s idea was the English?

Next thing I knew Merle was cursing the, uh, the… “Hey.” “What?” “What d/ya call that thing? Spigot?” “Spigot?” “Yeah.” “Who you calling Spigot?” “No. That thing.” “This?” “Yesh.” “I’m using it.” “What’s it called, a spigot?” “What’s a spigot?” “That’s my point. What the hell is that thing called?” “Aw hells bells, this thing here? It’s a doobermeringue.” “You’re shitting me.” “Like… literally? No.” “Of course not, unless we’re talking literary-rally fictionally. Then yes.” “Ah, you mean metaphorically.” “Do I?” “How the hell am I supposed to know? Aw, dammit! I swear—by the Stallions of the Valkyries!—I will shoot you in your stupid iron-wrought face, you goddamned double-crossing criss-cross abomination!” “Me, or the spigot?” “What. In the hell. Is a spigot?” “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. I don’t know what you’re working with over there. I think the actual name for it is ‘spigot.'” “What origin is that from?” “Huh?” “What human spit that out of their mouth when they saw whatever the hell a spigot is? Hounds of Love! this thing is really driving me nuts.” “Merle, you’re loosing me.” “You mean losing.” “Hmm… no I think I mean loosing.” “Huh?” “What?”

She went back to cursing at the metal apparatus… and I was trying to figure out if I was upset with her for having a man’s name. Was it her fault? She was a legal adult. She could change it if she wanted. What’s that saying: What’s in a name? Does that apply here, can I applicate it, is it applicatory to the application of… “Hey, Merle.” “What?” “What’s in a name?” “Letters, what else?”

Why did I say “legal adult”? As opposed to an illegal one? I suppose I don’t know what one would look like. A child? “Hey, what’s an illegal adult?” “I don’t know. What?” “No. It’s no joke. I’m asking.” “No joke? This goddamned tire is no joke.” “Of course, but what’s an illegal adult?” “A criminal. What else?” “Hmm… no I don’t think that’s what I’m getting at.” “Getting to. And we’re not getting anywhere if this abortus of a doobermeringue can’t help me take these goddamb niblets off the tire!” “Sure, sure, of course we agree, but I think my point is that—Wuthering Heights!—it’s too damm hott!! to think.” “You’ve got one too many consonants.” “Where?” “Right…     here ^” “Ah, I see. I was kinda going for an affect.” “You mean effect.” “I really don’t know. I’ve never known. They can both literally—like literary non-fiction, real deal Magillicutty—be the same thing.” “You mean mean the same thing.” “What’s the difference?” “Well… being and meaning are rather different aren’t they?” “Are they? Like if they are the same thing, then why would they mean different things? Like what does Heidegger have to say about all this?” “No, that’s Being. We’re talking about being.” “So many B/beings!” “Tell me about it. Hegel, too. Only with ‘negativity.’ The negativity of a negativity is a negativity with low-grade high-functioning anti-social attention-seeking personality disorder, but it always bends towards positivity.” “So says you.” “Yeah, it’s a flab-nasting wonder any of this gobbledygook has been able to pool into some sort of logical coagulum. Seriously, think about it… Diamond Dogs! I think I got it.”

I took a picture of her after she finished changing the tire. “I’ll post this. I’m so proud of you. I want to share this will all my friends.” “Oh yeah, post it where?” “Instachatty, TwertFace, they’re all the same… Booktwart…” “Very cool.”

Then we got the hell out of there.

Anyway, what was my point?

Deep Historical, Intellectual, Political, Social Significance in the Picayune, or… “Covfefe”

It started in the wee hours with a tweet. If the last word of the preceding sentence doesn’t tip one off, what follows should be of glaring unimportance. Then again, Twitter has never had a direct feed to the id of a sitting President/Prime Minister/Royal Figure/Dictator/Etc. until fairly recently.

But there it was, sprung into life like a gadfly from the bowels of a dying mule:

“Despite the constant negative press covfefe”

It was a typo. An honest mistake that humans, because of their proclivity to err, make. Anti-45ers had a good laugh at the author’s expense. Even those on the right (or at least the Anti-anti-45ers) were able to make some jokes, too, though pointed at their opponents.

Yet, in the growing spastic shitshow that is the White House, we sit front-row to the unyielding horror of ineptitude playing out before our eyes as the knell of decency and hope for good governance play throughout the theater.

A Clockwork Orange

Me. Every day.

For we are witnessing the dumpster fire that is our nation’s political system, and the Fourth Estate’s coverage of it, unfolding further. Case in point, the White House had an opportunity to confirm what we all knew, make light of it, and move on. But that didn’t happen. Instead, under directions from the Oval Office no doubt!, that poor man-sized baby Sean Spicer doubled down on the illusion of 45’s infallibility: “The President and a small group of people know exactly what he meant.”

This hurdled sections of the nation into an unnecessary state of confusion. It left the possibility open for meaning. Thus, devoted masses of 45 were whipped into a frenzy to defend their fearless, persecuted leader. They plunged into the deepest historical and linguistic waters to vindicate the author. One could say they “covfefed” with the dearest conviction.

Then, evangelical Trump-supporter Joshua Feuerstein went on the other festering wound of American culture to tell his audience of 45’s greatness: (https://www.facebook.com/joshua.feuerstein.5/videos/1041724925930189/)

The “researcher” (Dianne Marshall) Feuerstein cites does indeed claim to have solved the mystery of “cuvfefe.” In fact, according to Marshall, covfefe is: “an Antediluvian term for ‘In the end we win.’ ”  Sadly, she never provides any evidence to support her claim.

Anyway, we all know it’s bullshit because it was a typo, but that didn’t stop Marshall from writing such claptrap, or Feuerstein from publishing this misinformation to his audience (the video topped over two million views), promulgating the mystery of “covfefe” and the myth of 45’s greatness.

So why still focus on this? Well… apart from it being an obvious insult to history and intellect, and a continuation of this hardcore political lampoon, there is also a deeply troubling element of a cult of personality solidifying here. His voters are turning into believers in the idea of a Trump. And there is no limit to their faith. Once this idea ossifies in their minds, there will be very little to reverse it. As Weber pointed out, the charismatic leader has authority over his supporters in part because they have chosen to believe in him.

If the implications of this don’t terrify you, you probably think Comey is the reason Clinton didn’t win.

Infinite City: Kids Swimming (Outskirts of New Helm City Park)

42Kids

George Bellows

You came across a large group of kids playing about on and jumping off a derelict pier. You were walking along the path through the park as you do. The one that takes you along the outer reach of the park and exposes you to the ocean at times behind the thick vegetation. On days when the weather permits, like today, you prefer taking a slow walk up and down the path. You enjoy the songs of the finches and crossbills, and seeing the blues of male kingfishers in the sun. It helps you with your thoughts. Nature keeps you kind company as you wrestle internally with the eternal question. Today, you sat at your preferred bench. It proffers all the Flânerie the most-stunning view in the park to your mind. Yes, most like “Off Punk,” a point on the bayside of the park which gives the viewer a stunning look out at Hemlock Bay and the skyline of the city. Towards night is the best time to view. But everyone knows this. That is where the dilettantes and uninitiated visit and crowd around before park hours close. But here, on this nameless bench when the wind blows just so to push the cedar branches away, you can see down the slope at the brush below, which bleeds into the long beach shore that hugs the coast, and past it rise the crafted red and grey rock walls shaped by erosion of the vast blue ocean stretching out into the great beyond. Verily, there at dusk, no sight can best it. The rocks focus the eyes towards the horizon where, on certain days in the spring, the sun sets just so beautifully in line of your view. The daylight fades, triggering the colors in the sky to turn like leaves in autumn and reflect off the waters below. It all culminates to some unmeant telling moment, intensified by its transience. You capture this portrait for only a second or less at a time as the wind dies back down.

But today, you didn’t have the time to sit and wait, and it wasn’t spring. You only sat to catch your breath. It became a tiring walk up the incline towards that perch. As you rested with your thoughts, you heard noises. At first, it was curious, for you could not locate the familiarity. You looked around, but saw not another faces. It was communal like the birds. Sounds of distant play. But it was all too human. You got up from the bench and followed the calls. You realized they were coming from off and below the path, down towards the shoreline. You reached a certain point and left the trail, pushed your way through the shrubbery and came near the cliff’s edge. And there, to the east, you saw them. The children at play.

You counted thirty or forty so. They collected around the ruins of the abandoned pier as bees around an exposed nest. A great hive of spirit at play before your eyes. Some dove into the waters splashing those already in. Two of the bigger ones were swinging little ones in sequence. The Heaved swam back to the broken pier and pulled themselves up. A dark trail of saturated water formed on the deck stretching from the point of their reentry all the way back to the two Heavers. It was a whole organized state of affairs. An unspoken competition of frolic at work to see who could be flung the highest and farthest. Some lounged on the discolored boards, whose remnants of green paint withered to the edges and corners where agency and time had not yet effected them; their skin grew pink or darker in the sun. One relieved himself on a section of the pier where the boards had been removed exposing the ocean below. Another smoked a cigarette. Some were clothed. Others were not. Others more were transforming from one state to the next, or the latter to the former. A mix of fully-formed and maturing adolescents acting as it came to them on a sunny day in summer. This boho leisure class enjoying their current state, appearing to have slipped the bounds ever so briefly, to have escaped the atmosphere and felt the great beyond before retrograde clasped on and pulled back hard. To do so, though, is illusory. For appearance is all that there is. But it was quite beautiful to view, you know, perhaps (though not only) because it was so fleeting.

City Map 

CityMap

Berserks:

  1. Gorgon’s Alley
  2. Greenland
  3. Bloomland
  4. Oldsland
  5. Koossen
  6. Bayland
  7. Midland
  8. Renaissance (Ghettoland)
  9. Beauté (Booty, Bay-B)
  10. Hearts
  11. Parkland
  12. New Strip
  13. Deebs
  14. Oceanland (Ass End)
  15. Bergland
  16. Subland (the Sprawl)
  17. Riverland
  18. Coastland
  19. Charles
  20. Paladin Heights
  21. Links Island (Posh Town)
  22. Tri-Island (Posh-Annex) with Roosevelt, Lincoln, and Washington Islands

Major Parks and Islands, etc.:

  • A) Ludwig City Island Park
  • B) Hans-Johanns City Island Park
  • C) Chinnemuuk City Island Park
  • D) Othahathaway City Island Park
  • E) Bay City Park
  • F) Pearl Coast City Park
  • G) Founders City Park
  • H) Rutherford Chauncey Horthwright Welcoming Island Park
  • “NE” – North Eye Island
  • “SE” – South Eye Island
  • “NP” – Mond River Park, North (North Park)
  • “SP” – Mond River Park, South (South Park)
  • “WEB” – W.E.B. Du Bois Park
  • “PP” – Charles Prick Park (the Prick)
  • “NHP” – New Helm City Park
  • “OP” – Olympia Park
  • “KTMRP” – King Thelonius Mountain Range Park
  • “AP” – Arcadia Park
  • “R” – Roosevelt Island
  • “L” – Lincoln Island
  • “W” – Washington Island

The Lost Footage of ‘The Secret Life of Arabia’ (Or… Making Shit Up to David Bowie Music)

A footnote from David Bowie’s upcoming biography:

One of the more remarkable tidbits from this time was what Bowie stumbled upon at a run-down bookstore in Neukolln. In the bookstore, Brian Eno recalled was named “Schau und Kauf” next to a hookah bar the two frequented, Bowie came across a film can tucked underneath a dilapidated book shelf and a mound of novels about the adventures of tax attorneys, and a collection of medical studies on methamphetamine. The can contained a large quantity of captured film. On the label, in faded blue pen, the title read: “Das Geheime Leben von Arabien

Bowie brought it back to his apartment to watch and soon realized the film contained unfinished scenes from a silent era German film. He went to the local West Berlin library and found the film was supposed to be the masterpiece of Walram von Kleistpark, who started his career as Fritz Lang’s cinematographer before directing several successful German films. It turns out the movie was a total fiasco, which lost its funding fairly soon into production, and stopped completely after Kleistpark went mad.

SecretLifeofArabia

Believed to be the original movie poster for the film, Das Geheime Leben von Arabien.

 

Fascinated by the scenes, Bowie was inspired to write a song in the film and director’s honor. After two days in the studio, and some argument with Eno, the song was finished and officially ended the album.

“I loved the song. I just wasn’t sure it fit with what we were doing on ‘Heroes‘ but David was convinced. He was obsessed with the song because of the movie. He loved that movie. About twenty minutes of barely-coherent scenes, but I remember him taking it everywhere. He thought it was a sign. I saw it as a cry of desperation. Anything to take his mind off the withdrawals. Plus, he was heavily into shamanism at the time. Who wasn’t?” Eno remembered. “In hindsight, I think he was right. It counterbalanced the darker elements and tones of the album. It gave it a hopeful ending, which was ironic and fun because the film—from what I remember—ended badly.”

Bowie had given the footage to Nicolas Roeg with the intention of having it edited and used as the music video for the song. However, soon word reach the Kleistpark Estate which promptly sued Bowie and RCA for copyright infringement. In an out-of-court settlement, the footage and edited video were handed over to the Estate; in exchange, the song could remain on the album provided it was not released as a single. The Researcher was able to visit the Estate’s archives and view the taboo music video. It is a wonderful tribute to Kleistpark’s vision and enhances Bowie’s work tenfold. It is a shame that, like the unfinished masterpiece, the video will never see the light of day.

However, the Researcher was allowed to take and publish notes from the viewing party. If you listen to the song, these transcripts match well with it…

0:00 – 0:18 Open on a vast ocean of sand, the camera slowly pans down to see our hero (Buckaroo) as a spec riding across the desert plain. It pushes in on him and as he grows we watch a trail of dust climb to the sky behind him. As the guitar trickles eight seconds in we cut to his face: determined, heartbroken, angered: he strikes his cyborg camel (Anstrum) and a fat cloud of sand kicks up behind them as his one-humped steed bursts into hyperdrive. The drums make a fill. Cut to: a older man in all black (Arabia) sitting at a bank teller’s desk. His feet kicked up on the table and he is slicing into a large apple with a larger hunting knife. Signs of violence surround him: bullet holes in the wall, possible blood spatter, papers everywhere. We see the juice from the fruit bleed onto his black glove. Meanwhile, three men stand in the middle of an abandoned dirt street in apparent anticipation of our hero.

0:19 – 0:28 A montage of images: a close-up of Arabia, his scarred face with a smile; Buckaroo looking off in the distance, stoic, handsome; the young heroine (Nova) hiding herself underneath an umbrella, it looks like concave rose, silk ruffles environ the rim of the florally decorated canopy, it shields her pearlescent skin, which glows slightly throughout the monochromatic film; large bags of money; a snake slithers through a human skull on the dirt.

0:29 – 0:55 Buckaroo walks through a crowded bar. Heavy drinking. Harlots laugh and seduce their clients. Opium plumes in the foreground. Two cowboys choke each other in the corner. A man clings to a chandelier. Slowly people make note of him. He’s infamous. Whispers go around. A knife is pulled and man leaps out at his back. He catches sights of the assailant in the bar mirror and shoots the man without ever fully turning around. The man slowly drops to the floor. Buckaroo then locks eyes with Nova as Bowie sings: “Then I saw your eyes at the cross fades.” Quickly cutting to Arabia’s eyes as he watches from his table above. He’s intrigued by the newcomer.

0:56 – 1:40 Another montage: Buckaroo and Nova sit underneath a palm tree at an oasis; he tries to show her how to shoot, she seems to be very clumsy with his gun, but then she surprises him twice: revealing she has a pocket pistol, and she’s a very good shot; Nova introduces Buckaroo to Arabia; a budding friendship between Buckaroo and Arabia on camelback and arm wrestling while the chorus of Bowie moans/bellows: “The Secret Life of Arabia”; a train heist; Nova confesses something to Buckaroo; the camera pans across a group of native-looking mole people on their knees, terror on their faces; Arabia pulls Nova in closely and kisses her hard on the mouth, we see her hand reach for her pocket pistol only to be halted by Arabia’s hunting knife that comes into frame tapping her hand still; Buckaroo is double-crossed by some of Arabia’s goons, the edit cuts back and forth between his eyes and theirs, and again we hear: “The Secret Life of Arabia”.

1:41 – 1:57 We return to the oasis where we saw Buckaroo and Nova fall in love. He leaps from Anstrum and rushes toward Nova. As he gets closer, his steps slow. We see her laying near the spring water. Her back is to us. She seems to be asleep. We witness his fear as he reaches out for her. His hand on her shoulder, he turns her over. She is lifeless. Dark rings around her neck. We close in on Buckaroo and Nova from above and he lifts his head to the us and cries along with Bowie: “Arabia!” Cut to—

1:58 – 2:57 Buckaroo races through the desert. The next moments are inter-spliced between past and present as Bowie continues to call out “Arabia!” met with his whispers of “secret, secret.” Two riders from Arabia’s gang catch up to Buckaroo on their mechanical camels, guns drawn//Arabia and Buckaroo are standing at the base of a waterfall of oil//amidst gunfire, Buckaroo slides underneath Anstrum and takes out both riders//small children with pipes stretching out of their backs work in some kind of jewel field//the three men from earlier have readied themselves behind overturned wagons//a bank teller sits with his hands up as a silhouette consumes him//a sniper shot takes out one of Anstrum’s front legs crashing the beast head first to the sand, propelling Buckaroo through the air, but it is to his advantage as he shoots the three men hiding behind the makeshift barricade while passing over them//Arabia’s black glove is removed and rests near a grotesque skeletal hand, meat and machine construct the dorsal exterior of the hand and small ribbed tubing runs along and around the raw bone fingers that tap on the hardwood//Buckaroo crashes to the dirt and rolls, just missing another bullet from the sniper; he lies still for a moment until he catches a glimmer from the sniper’s rifle and fires; we see a man fall from the water tower in the distance.

2:58 – 3:45 With the music at full tilt, the camera tracks Buckaroo as he walks solely through the dead street. Bowie mimics his calls for “Arabia!” He beckons him to come out and fight. We are behind him as he stands in front of a building from the street, a sign reads “BANC,” it is torn from the hinges and lays upside-down, bullet holes mark the front of the building. Then Buckaroo suddenly, inexplicably jolts forward and falls over himself. In confusion, we follow the camera as it slowly turns revealing Arabia standing on the veranda behind Buckaroo, smoke rising from his gun. He smiles. He walks slowly down the stairs and the camera steps back and away. The music comes to a breakdown and we hear Bowie hushing our protests. All we can do is watch in helpless horror. Our hearts cling to every frame as we recall the old German proverb: “Die Hoffnung stirbt zuletzt.” We see our hero crawling on the ground reaching for his gun. Arabia walks calmly up to Buckaroo and kicks the gun further away. He turns Buckaroo on his back, then stands above him. The images edit back and forth between our two characters as Bowie reminds us the true moral of Kleistpark’s fable: “Never hear, never seen; secret life, ever green.” Their faces grow larger and larger in the frame. Buckaroo’s in great pain and anger. Arabia’s still at first, but we see for a moment a look of sorrow before a smile breaks out as the blurred image of his pistol comes into view. Then fade to black.

…Conquista Todo

El Hombre Que Cavó las Tumbas

 

The sun crawled toward the horizon causing the sky to turn a hideous cerise. As was unlike the occasion for the season, the wind could barely be detected in the treetops of the adjacent forest. Storm clouds held off in the periphery leaving the farmland exposed in the light, saturated red. The heat from the day was held captive in the thick moisture of summer air. The atmosphere was held in heated suspension above the fray. The chorus of the chicharras ran through the small village, whose emptied and silenced dirt streets echoed the haunting call. Now was the time of day when the sounds and smells of a tiny community entered its crepuscular stage. Instead, what was heard was the lamentations of women, the crepitation of conflict, and the scant laughter of men.

Junior Teniente Coronel Antonio Luis Roman stood atop an M1 Abrams, one of many gifts from El Padre to the military. The hunter green and black striped mechanical juggernaut sat humming amongst the crops, the words: EL QUE TRAE LÁGRIMAS: hand-painted in white, the letters quickly applied and thence inchoate, giving way to an impression that they were melting in the tropical fever. JT Coronel Roman observed the landscape; his paunch looked ready to burst through his olive green shirt darkened by sweat. The top half of the shirt was unbuttoned (against protocol) exposing his browned skin and dark wiry chest hair. A pearl neckerchief found itself wrapped loosely around his glutted throat. It had small lines of roses diagonally printed across it. Antonio’s mother gave it to him before he went off to war.

Sargento Solos walked up to the feet of EL QUE TRAE LÁGRIMAS with a man in tow, held at gunpoint. He stood at attention and saluted. “Report,” the JT Coronel said. “Eighty to our fifteen currently. Most have fled into the trees. The rest are being handled.” JT Coronel Roman nodded. He then acknowledged the stranger standing next to Solos. The man wore an old t-shirt and shorts. He wore one flip-flop. His clothes were filthy, covered in dirt and a small trace of blood. He had a cut above his left brow; the blood coagulated into black crust along his rough, wrinkled eggplant face. JT Coronel Roman observed his cut. The man would not take his eyes from the earth. He was one of these outback bastards of the old world. The roots of his blood dug much deeper into the soil of the country than Antonio’s.  Heart of the jaguar. Soul of the raptor. The rest of the nationalist claptrap that was well familiar to him. The enchanted history El Padre invokes so often in his speeches. He came across so few of them in person. They regulated themselves mostly to the pastoral regions of the state, not urban locations like the capital where Antonio grew up. Though there was Chacha. She was part of his boyhood. She was half nativo.

The sergeant spoke: “This was the man you requested.”
JT Coronel Roman asked the man. “Hablas mi idioma?”
“Si.”

“Good. What is your name?” The man was silent. JT Coronel Roman looked to Sargento Solos. Solos asked the man in his natural tongue. Still silence. Solos grew enraged. He got in the man’s dark face, pressing his finger into his soiled shirt. He pointed back to JT Coronel Roman and flailed his hand about some more. The man remained mute. Antonio held up his hand to pause the sergeant. “You do not have to give me your name. But you do understand what I am trying to do here, don’t you?” The man stood still and remained focused on the ground. Antonio continued: “We have been given very explicit orders from the President himself that this area is to return to the order of the state once and for all, and to remove any belligerents in the process with the utmost hostility. Allies are to be pardoned and returned to the capital.

“On the one hand, you have assisted us in the duty of disposing of the traitors’ carcasses as well as leading us to the sites where our fallen brothers lay. For that, I could see to your absolution. On the other hand, Sargento Solos and his men here inform me you were seen burying soldiers of the state, while the terrorists stood idly by. It appeared you were operating in conjunction with the enemies of the state. This is punishable by death. So now you see the predicament I am in, no?” Silence. Antonio sighed. “You do not have to speak, but I will have to assume the worst as a precaution.”

The sun began to sink behind the tops of the trees turning them a dark green and casting the men in pale light. JT Coronel Roman watched what little of the man’s face he could witness appear to struggle with thought, or transforming such thoughts to words. Perhaps he did not know enough of the state’s language to translate his consciousness. JT Coronel Roman signaled to Sargento Solos who roughly translated to the man in his old tongue. The flamethrowers walked up to the tank. One of them said they were ready. The colonel approved their mission and they turned toward the village.

“I did what you asked,” said the man in the language Antonio understood.
JT Coronel Roman shared a look with Solos. The man’s gaze still did not break with the dirt beneath him, but his body implied a tremor. Sweat passed along his face; his hands clenched the sides of his shirt.
“Yes. You did. But you also aided the enemy. You see, don’t you?”
“I did what you asked.”

He wasn’t saying it as a question but JT Coronel Roman wondered if he meant to. It would have been understandable. It may have been all the JT Coronel was capable of repeating, too, if… well… but that was not the case. For only one was holding the gun, and in that moment history was on his side.

“If you were in my position, what would you do? Would you let a potential enemy of yours escape? If so, how would you explain that to those you answered to?”
Silence.
“I see.”
“I did what you asked.”
“Indeed. But one good act does not undo a bad one. If you have supported the terrorists up to this point, one afternoon of assistance does not change this. You agree, no?”
“I never hurt anyone.”
“That does not matter here. You did not kill these men. No. That is probably true. But you did dispose of them as if in alliance with the terrorists. And if you are not responsible for it well then, who is, hmm? This did not start because of you, yet here you are, in the middle of it. You are a participant. You may not be responsible, but you are guilty. And although the punishment for the guilty and the responsible should be different, here, now, it is not. We have orders after all. I believe you understand. I will promise you this, I will have them make it quick.”

JT Coronel Roman waved his hand. Soldiers grabbed the man and brought him to his knees.

“You will be cursed,” the man said. He looked up at Antonio. His eyes were beautiful, and filled with pity.
Junior Teniente Coronel Antonio Luis Roman laughed. He pointed to the horizon.”When the sun rises again, there will be nothing here to remember. Just crops and ashes. People will come and know there was a story to be told, but no one will know where to start it, just that they came after the end. And in one-hundred years time, I and all my deeds will suffer the same fate. So, we are all cursed, my friend.”

The sun was nowhere to be seen, but its light still fought back the darkening sky. The heat remained unbearable. A single crack split the air and then disappeared into the homogeneous sound of the chicharras’ chorus that enveloped the land.

… Conquista Todo

El Pueblo

Once during the war, what my people now call La Agitación Civil, there was a small farming village unfortunately located in an important part of our country. The village was situated in the Valle del Universo, the cultural and historical birthplace of the nation, where the farmers tended the valuable soybean crop. It was also strategically located near the edge of the forest where the government believed a majority of the EEP guerrillas lived and operated.

Due to the soybean crop, the nation’s primary agricultural export, the land was of immense importance to the government. It was estimated that prior to and during the war, the soybean was almost as valuable as the country’s oil and iron ore, approximately responsible for three-fourths of all agricultural exports. (Not until the Great Chinese Panic would it lose its value.) As such, the EEP would perform small attacks to either steal harvested crops, or set fire to large sections of the farmland, often killing off many of the National Army (EN) soldiers in the operations. Since the Villalba-Peña government was fighting factions in practically every region of the country, the EN was not as effective in eradicating any of the factions. By the time the war reached its second year, and all sides realized the end was nowhere near its point, the EEP changed its tactics slightly. It focused on the export business, too, and stopped burning the lucrative crop.

It planned mostly successful missions to kill off EN soldiers and leach large quantities of the soybean crop through the blackmarket, which in turn funded its resistance. Due to the unorganized, chaotic command of the EN (by the President himself), it took sometimes as long as a month before new troops could return to the area and reclaim control of the land. This way, the village changed hands on a regular basis throughout the war. On one or more occasions, the EN would overrun the guerrillas and lay claim to the territory in the morning, only to lose it again that very night.

This carried on for some time.

President Villalba-Peña was convinced the reason for his army’s consistent failures and constant back-and-forth was because the villagers were assisting the EEP. The truth behind this was a little different and more difficult to determine. Setting aside strategy and just focusing on the relationship between the guerrillas and villagers, the complexities reveal themselves through the horrible poetry of this conflict. We will never know exactly how these farmers viewed the fighters on either side, or the war that pitted them in the center of a maelstrom.

In truth, they were most likely relieved when the EEP stopped burning the crops, which drove them into further debt with Monsanto and threatened to destroy their homes and livelihood; but this did not mean a majority of the villagers favored the guerrillas, especially to the point of becoming militarily involved. No, some were likely sympathetic to the revolutionaries while others were nationalists. At least one or two sons must have been drafted to protect the government, while others (including daughters) ran into the forest to join the resistance. More so, they were almost certainly concerned whether the drought would extend into its eighth year, or if those goddamned langostas would make their way further west through the valley towards their crop. They probably hoped that year would be a little less hard than the previous one, fully expecting the opposite.

They existed in the world at a time that was much like the rest: cruel and indifferent about it: and their lives ended in much of the same way as all the other nameless faces positioned out in that vacuum of the empty past. They suffered at the hands of the human struggle and their voices were never heard. Their stories will only be remembered through the conjuration of history.

And yet, this does not make their lives any less real, or what happened to them any less wrong.

Personal Crisis in “Politics, Saviors, and Political Culture”

In Robin Marie’s brief, but wonderful post on the romanticism of individuality in the American Mind (by looking at the Hunger Games and The Man in the High Castles series), she calls for us to abandon: “our fetish for extraordinary individuals and learn, instead, that a durable collective freedom can only be won, indeed, collectively.”

The whole piece is worth a read and nicely intersects with where my head has been at (off and on) for the past year or more. There is something deeply troubling with a tradition of messianic fantasies shared by members of the political Left, Right, and Center. But as I’ve thought more about the subject, it is not only the image of a singularly championed individual that should frighten us, but the few who have the engines of power (fueled by massive amounts of capital) to steer this nation, too.

I was thus inspired to write the below comment (oddly enough, while listening to Tangerine Dream’s “Loved by the Sun” on repeat). There were a few questions I posted, and I’d like to open the floor to any reader. Give it some thought, and if you care to share, please do.

Another wonderful post.

“… suggesting that individual moral intuition will always be superior to the morality of collective reasoning and effort.”

Or the morals and ethics of a few to the many. I lately find myself in a bit of a cognitive feedback loop on this subject… or maybe it’s a reoccurring waking nightmare? In an age of Citizens United, the political arena seems to pit David Brock and his “do-gooding” liberal billionaires against the Koch Bros. and remaining members of the Legion of Doom. And there appears to be no end in sight to this political-financial arms race playing out in our elections across the nation—not just congressional or presidential elections, but the state level, too.

And I have serious doubts/fears about putting hope into the hands of either of these wealthy cadres. Regardless of where one finds oneself on the political spectrum, this current landscape should be downright disconcerting. And yet, when I hear dear friends/family members comment on how they (as Trump supporters) are OK with antithetical billionaires running their respective cabinets because: “that’s how the Founding Fathers intended it to be: disinterested elites to govern the flock” or some liberal pals of mine talk about how billionaires like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg need to “get off the sidelines” and really combat the “new red menace” I wonder if the terror on my face quite aptly describes the situation in its entirety.

At this point, I usually scramble for some solace from the past, anything to beat back the creeping despair. I like to think about the Gilded Age (very simplistically, I confess) and how movements arose from such inequality that gave rise to better living conditions (granted much later, and often not enjoyed by those who suffered then), labor unions usually come to mind first. But I quickly remind myself that in today’s world such social apparatuses are on life support.

In light of this, the image of the messianic individual (from the left or right) is quite appealing to a society that is reeling from anxiety and has little agency other than to shack up with one side funded by millionaires/billionaires or the other—which only intensifies your call for small-d democracy and durable collectives.

But… to get back to history…

What example(s), if any, of the past can be used for this goal? What was a durable collective that “worked”? How did it come to be, what was the context of its genesis and success?

critical-theory

Hollywood in the 24th Century… a report by TMZ

cruise-pitt-lrg

03/05/2329

Both “Tom Cruise 3000” presented by Dynamic Cybernetics® and Johnny Pitt were arrested late last night after the two created mass chaos on the streets of New Sunset Blvd.

The two got into a scuffle outside the Hustler’s Cafe restaurant when they both drunkenly confused each other’s date (Taylor Swift clones) for their own. It seems the centuries-old feud between the two Mega-Level-A-List celebs finally reached its boiling point on the sidewalk outside when ALLEGEDLY “Tom Cruise 3000” presented by Dynamic Cybernetics® chased after Johnny Pitt and accused him of unlawful possession of his girlfriend. Johnny Pitt is then said to have told “Tom Cruise 3000” presented by Dynamic Cybernetics® that he was mistaken, just like his decision to star in the 264th reboot of the Spider-Man franchise (which was re-rebooted8.045 the year before, starring Johnny Pitt)–zinger!

The two have been bitter rivals ever since Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt genetically spliced their DNA together to make one super-human actor. According to his doctors, and generals at the Pentagon, Johnny Pitt: “has super-human abilities, anti-aging qualities, teeth that can bite through steal, bullet-proof skin, etc.; he also is 60% more handsome, 19% better at acting, and 35% less likely to throw a phone at his wife.” Regrettably, they added: “One downside was we couldn’t reduce his child abuse statistics. An unfortunate side-effect is that those attributes were enhanced.” In fact, Johnny Pitt is known to have an insatiable bloodlust for his offspring.

Before the genetic merger, “Tom Cruise 3000” presented by Dynamic Cybernetics® was the only authentically enhanced actor in Hollywood. Most actors from the 20th/21st Century who can still be seen in the hard or soft rebooted mega-films of today live on through copyrighted CGI ownership. We all know about the recent Sony hack scandal (now believed ALLEGEDLY perpetrated by Warner Bros.) and their loss of over 250 copyrighted celebrities (including all of Johnny Pitt’s ex-wives). Or the Great Disney-20th Century Fox War of 2323 that claimed the lives of over 250,000 interns, the bloodiest studio war in this nation’s history.

“Tom Cruise 3000″ presented by Dynamic Cybernetics® was unique because he was actually not dead. Turns out audiences love not-dead actors from the 20th/21st Century. With the body of a Dynamic Cybernetics® VK-450 (powered by Ford Motor’s Thermal-Nuclear power) and synthetic skin, the only organic part of his body is his head—making him legally, technically still a person. And with Dynamic Cybernetics® patented skin rejuvenation grafting**,”Tom Cruise 3000” presented by Dynamic Cybernetics® will always look like that fresh-faced twenty three year old of the Top Gun years. Though according to eye-witnesses last night, his latest grafting session ALLEGEDLY didn’t go so well—somebody should get their money back!

Needless to say, when Johnny Pitt came on the scene, he immediately became “Tom Cruise 3000” presented by Dynamic Cybernetics®’s main competition and the two have been bitter rivals ever since.

Apparently, the world of Hollywood is not big enough for these two global superstars, and that played out on New Sunset Blvd., which might have to be called New New Sunset after the reconstruction that will be necessary to fix what the two celebs destroyed.

The city is estimating roughly $4 billion dollars in damages and a death toll that keeps climbing.

No one could be reached for comment except the generals at the Pentagon. “We’re monitoring the situation very closely, but overall we’re pleased with the results.”

 


** The patented skin rejuvenation grafting technic takes skin cells and grows a whole new face in a petri dish until cultivated to look like the younger desired self. Then the old face skin is removed and the “rejuvenated” face skin is grafted onto the skull. A surgery to replace deteriorating skin has to happen about every six to twelve months to maintain proper facial continuity.