Writings and Letters

A blog oeuvre… a "bloeuvre"

Mistaking the Kratos for the Demos

There are many things that can be said about the recent events in Bolivia. A few things that must not be contended: It was a coup. It was politically motivated. The violence that has followed the coup (particularly against the indigenous peoples of Bolivia) is a clear violation of human rights. 

The recent events have also provided an opportunity to think about how democracy (or perhaps more accurately, power) operates.

Benjamin Kunkel posted the below thought (he later deleted it, though I’m not sure why) to which Chris Hayes responded with:

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Hayes’s response is a particular strain in liberal thinking. The idea being: democracy levels the political field and allows the sovereignty of “the People” to be expressed. If the People want a neoliberal leader or a conservative, etc. instead of a leftist one, then so be it. It’s a fine thought, but deeply flawed in its understanding of power and particularly how power is transferred.

This thinking fundamentally disregards the role (political and monied) elites play in the wielding and passage of power and how elites influence or (as we’ve seen in Bolivia) sometimes coerce the political course of the state.

Turn in any direction and we see the multifaceted ways the power of the elites and the privileged is used to rule over the majority of people in society. We see most eligible voters (especially those of lower social, material, and political classes) are disenfranchised, disincentivized, and discouraged from participating in politics and achieving their political and material interests. Voting is made odious and fair proportional representation is a far-off fantasy not even yet dreamt of in the social imaginations of most citizens. Actual attempts to bring about parity in both political and economic ways are met with outright hostile responses by the ruling members (or sadly, just those above the bottom rung) of society. Any actors outside of neoliberal or conservative (or simply put: capitalist) strains of thinking are ridiculed and questioned by corporate media outlets and their pundits (or perhaps more accurately: sophists), who take their time and effort to speak out from their very largely read or viewed soapboxes; they are undermined either by members of opposing parties or within their very own, and attacked by monied elites via funding and support to opposing candidates in every available election. The values or propositions of a more collective, social living are not taught or often ever considered in the education systems, even at tertiary levels, which themselves continue to deteriorate as the private is prioritized over the public to the detriment of those who cannot afford to access the evermore-exclusive modern society.

Notice, I’m not even referencing Bolivia in the above paragraph, or any of the other like-states that have suffered from the long, sordid history of tampering by the United States. I’m only speaking of the United States itself and its “democratic values” when it comes to more egalitarian practices.

To put it simply, if we look at the current state of affairs and evaluate them in a theoretical vacuum, we do a great disservice to understanding power and those (very few and select) in our daily lives who use it to their own advantage. And much more practically and importantly, it allows atrocities like the coup and subsequent racist violence in Bolivia to be seen as abrupt contingencies of the time rather than what they are: concerted actions taken by politically motivated actors keen on achieving a specific goal.

To lose sight of how power operates and its impact on politics is only to the detriment to the very people liberals like Hayes are so keen on elevating.

…Conquista Todo: “Welcome Home”

We sat underneath your pergola eating fruit. You were going on about the war and I lay there staring up past the intricate latticework of wooden beams into the green canopy above. Through the spaces of the criss-cross, I watched tree branches convivially wave back and forth. They played in the wind, flitting back and forth, and made sunlight dance with shadows on your face. The way the light and darkness shifted on your face underneath this green layer reminded me of the jungle; it reminded me of Raoul.

I lit a cigarette and thought of the guerillas. I thought about my time with them for those three long years. How I contracted every known tropical illness and probably a few yet known, almost died of dysentery twice. I remembered following them on mission after mission, an endless routine of deadly raids and sabotages; I recalled the firefights most vividly, the exhilaration and terror as the bullets tore like sparks of lighting through the air above us; how the sound of warfare made me feel so alienated, hunched down and surrounded by the hollers of the dying. I remembered being hunted. I remembered fleeing with the platoon at night while the soldiers tracked us down; I remembered being shot, laying there in the dark muffling my cries of agony while a bean-counter worked on my wound; I survived; I went back out on the patrols; I witnessed them chase down a retreating soldier, I witnessed their war crimes; I got horribly lost in the confection of the slaughterhouse. Some of it I captured, most of it I did not.

Raoul knelt above the reach and was playing with some guppies trapped in a small pool. I stepped into the water. Small plumes of sand kicked up every time my feet touched the soft bed below. The water was unseasonably cold, which the natives considered the sign of a good coming harvest. Most of those natives had been either killed off or relocated from these lands during the nearly thirty-years war. The few remaining family clans lived there illegally and tried to avoid the Army and guerillas as much as possible. Their absence, yet known presence, added to the haunted quality of the jungle. Many of the soldiers would talk to me and each other about how all the blood from the war, the violence, the utter animus seeped into the jungle and rotted the soil and trees; “the spirit of the jungle was forever changed.” Some would laugh as they told me this. It was their punchline to a joke I did not understand. The only kind of humor that can come from a warzone. Others lit cigarettes as incense candles and planted them at the base of the tree and said a little prayer to their ancestors and the jungle to forgive and protect them.

Over three years inhabiting the unholy grounds, we grew comfortable with the cursed setting, and the longer we spent there, the more we began to feel as though we were part of the jungle and knew it as part of our own body. It was why they were so successful in their raiding missions and (when necessary) retreats. They could just vanish and were never taken by surprise. They knew the jungle and it knew them and sided with their cause. So it was safe out on the reach.

I took photos of men replenishing their canteens and cooling their bodies down. I took shots of men taking buckets of water into their porous caps and rushing them atop their heads. A small waterfall of river water cascading down their faces. Young men standing near the water, holding their rifles, laughing and nodding. The Lieutenant smoking a cigarette and discussing the map with his staff.

Raoul kept trying to catch a guppy in his hand. He had this silly way about him. He was a child, no more than twenty. He was a farmboy by nature. Conscripted into the local guerilla outfit when he was twelve or thirteen. He didn’t really know. It had been a while since he had seen a calendar and he wasn’t taught to keep track of time the way people in the city did. His family called it tiempo de tierra. He had been with the men for four or five years, give or take one or two. He joined the rebels with his older brother, Eduardo, who died a few months into their first year. Miliaria. It was a powerful loss for Raoul. It hardened him. Made his resolve even more intense. But he was still a farm boy at heart. He was in many skirmishes, but still a farm boy. He fired guns and burned crops, exploded bridges and destroyed supply lines, but still a farm boy. Lost a few fingers, bit off in a card game gone bad, killed the family of the leader of a pro-government village in front of him before immolating the hysterical man. Raped a few women. Killed livestock for sport. Ate rotted food. Got dysentery. Gave it to me. Cried for Eduardo in his sleep, cried for his mother and father and his other siblings. Sang revolutionary songs with a blithesome timbre. Played with guppies in a reach. 

I wonder if people who visit the Museum and see the original hanging on the wall also see these things in Raoul’s face like I do. Events make a person. History poorly remembers them. Undoubtedly, the folks who have bought the mass-produced versions of his playful moment to hang in their hallways or living rooms, or the people flipping through their magazines and stumble upon him in the Madison Avenue advertisement don’t see it. They don’t see him. They see a kid playing in a pool of water with an assault rifle strapped to his back, his smiling face turned profile so you can observe his gaunt features and lacking teeth. Regrettably, that’s what I had seen at first when I was freezing him in time.

Worst of all, the only context that offers any nuance to his existence and endears him to the masses is the last event that had the most impact on his life.

Shortly after I took that photo, Raoul was shot dead. A sniper had fired a 7.62 bullet through the left eye socket. It ripped through him so quickly… I didn’t take a photo of the aftermath.

“What are you thinking about?” The sound of your voice and the roar of the cicadas retrieved me from the battlefield. I was lounging again in your hot backyard. Your dog looked up at me with its tired, drooping eyes for a moment and then went back to sleep. The ice in my cocktail shifted and clinked.
“Nothing much… The war.”
“Are you thinking about the boy?”
“In a sense.”
“It’s a real shame. All that bloodshed. He lost his life—and for what? The rebels’ government has fallen and the ruling class is back in power again. Utterly meaningless.”
“Meaningless. Hmm… have you ever heard the story of the Battle of Bergamo? During the French Revolution? No?”

“During the War of the First Coalition, Napoleon cut his teeth as a general of the Army of Italy. Northern Italy was seen as a secondary front, but Napoleon essentially leads the ragtag Army to not only crush the Italians (or more precisely the Piedmontese) and the Austrians down there, but he totally ends the fucking war which eventually sets everything else into motion and sees him become Emperor and completely wreak havoc on Europe, upending the old feudal and monarchal ways of living, etc. etc. It all started with his planned invasion of Northern Italy.

“But that’s not what I’m talking about. It’s actually right after the war. As this first campaign has wrapped, and the treaties have been signed, a regiment of the Army of Italy and a regiment of the Habsburg-Austrian Army stumbled upon each other outside the small town of Bergamo. Now, sadly, word had not yet spread to the generals in command that the war was over. So the French general (I don’t remember his name and it’s not important to my point) sets up his men and cannons on one side of this river… I forget the name of it as well.

“Anyway, the French are all set up on one side and the Austrians on the other of this river and the only way across for several miles is this one bridge that maybe, maybe fits four or five guys across and is over a hundred yards long. So essentially, these two regiments, which were actually larger than a typical size but I’m not going to get into why, they start blowing the hell out of each other while one side or the other keep making charges to get over the bridge day after day after day. One squad of young men after the next trying to rush across that bridge to the other side to break through the enemy and seize the day. But because both had equal strategic strength, both remained at a gory stalemate. The French would try to take the bridge, be stalled and then have to retreat; then it was the Austrian’s turn; both sides were encouraged to charge every time because they thought they finally had the advantage. The only real result was one row of young men, farmers, tradesmen, fathers and sons being gunned down after the next on that bridge. Each day brought the stench of sulfur and rot, great clouds of gunpowder obscuring the sight and burning their eyes, a cacophony of artillery and musket fire, and the screaming, the horrible screaming. Again and again, until at dusk when they called a ceasefire in order to retrieve their dead as to relieve the tremendous burden of all those corpses on the bridge.

“On the last day, the French general was preparing one last assault attempt on the Austrians. He had lost a majority of his troops and the will to fight on was waining. But honor and duty compelled him to try once more to seize the bridge and win the battle. It was as he planned his men’s last death march that a courier arrived to inform him the war was over. As he and the other Frenchmen exited their tents that morning, they were welcomed to the sight of a vacant bank on the other side of the river. The Austrian’s had a faster courier and left in the night. The Battle of Bergamo was over. No one won.

“All told, over five thousand soldiers lost their lives on an undecided fluke battle that was commenced a week after the war was over. Almost no one remembers it and certainly none of their names…

“Now. Tell me one more time about Raoul’s meaningless life.”

I’ve Been Reading John Ashbery Lately

We sat on your makeshift couch in your calico brick apartment and talked awhile. I remember asking you how your bisexuality was going. “I’m in between legs at the moment,” you said. I didn’t quite understand, but then it sank in and I gave you one of my “a-ha!” laughs. You appreciated the effort. We talked and talked and talked and you smoked inside because “Fuck the police” and we got drunk on your cheap wine. Your teeth were a hideous violet. I think to tell you this but then forget until now. I twirl my hair and remember my dad always yelling at me for doing it. “You’ll pull your hair out!” I tell you this. You laughed at his stupidity, then paused and delivered: “Wait. It can’t, right?” You cackled the way you do when you’re high. It makes me laugh. Your head kicked back and cast a shadow against your juandicing wall (darkening pale maize due to your indoor habits). Your arms were crossed, your body arched back and contorted along the contours of the ha-ha wall of pillows. Your yellow teeth faded in and out with the tungsten of the room. Your cigarette still burned between your fingers, crossed like legs. I watch the ashes cascade like fallout over you.

“Relationships are toxic these days because people are too afraid to love and don’t have the time to be,” I say. I heard it on a podcast the other day, but most of the people at Sharon’s uptown party don’t know this.  “If that were only half of it,” you said.  You were sipping on Sharon’s expensive wine. You smoked another cigarette, different from your typical brand. You had sunglasses on. You were drunk. You weren’t high. You laid on the floor and kept inexplicably circling your two arms stating you’d been pilloried, but I think you meant to say dizzy instead. I think about my ex. I imagine sunshine, a beach, smiling, delight, pleasure, and how much better it all is without me. I look at you and your twirling propellers and giggle.

You told me about how you used to create fake sites like: http://www.itsthetruth.com or http://www.whatweusedtoknow.com and send clickbait ads to conservative hangouts with titles like: “Something Millennials Are in a RUDE Shock For” and “Seven Things MILLENNIALS Don’t Understand that Boomers Never Forgot” with images of laughing hipsters or the American flag. “Of course, what they didn’t realize,” was that they’d followed a link right to pictures of Tub Girl.

I like to run. I joke with my friends that: “It’s good for me because I like to run from my problems. The only problem is I run in circles.” I like the joke. It’s stupid, like me. Most people laugh to be kind. But in honesty, it is the only time I get to think and melt fat. I take a strange pleasure in feeling the pain from running. It reminds me of death and how incredibly terrified I am of it. So much so, I eat carrots and peanut butter five times a week for lunch and run to turn my solids into air. It’s a queer sensation, to feel this gelatinous glob of waxen and fluids moving about in sharp pains, and burning and hurting just to work off half that mini-cupcake you ate three weeks ago. All in the futile attempt to forgo the inevitable, or at the most humble: prolong the expiration. I suppose this isn’t very original, not even unique. Everyone fears it. But everyone must go through with it. What do they say? That and taxes, right? I don’t run because of taxes, though. My asphyxiating debt? Sure. My modest cash depleted by The Rentier Society? Why not? My payments and payments and work for more money, and more payments and more work, and nothing quite seems to assuage anything and there is no help in sight, and I’m feeling extra, extra smol and I want to rip off my head, but why don’t I just go for a run instead?! Yes, definitely! —– (You laughed at me for running, you know. You said I was buying into the health culture industry. “Hook, line, and sinker.” Cackle, cackle, cackle. Your burnt blonde hair ruffled. Your mucilaginous belly wiggled and winked at me. You thought non-consumption was still part of consumerism. “We’re trapped in that sense and we need to come to terms with it.” Cackle, cackle, cackle.)

You once cried on my chessboard bathroom floor. Your face was slick. You put my okay wine into the toilet and a little on the tile. I kneeled down next to your slack body and rubbed your arm. You kept going on about apocalypse and how you didn’t think you could go on. You kept shaking your head. “Vicegrip” was thrown around a lot. I think I understand. I’ve been there. I’ve read Sartre; I’ve read Beckett, Kierkegaard, well the Oxford Encyclopedia version, but I basically understand his point. Existentialism. I know you. I know what you’re going through, I’ve been there myself. It’s tough, but hey, you’re tougher. Just get back out there, just get back out there and give it all ya got! You can do this, I believe it; I believe in you! I hand you some toilet paper. You accepted and shyly, poorly cleared your nose. I stood up to give you some time and space and you looked at me the way you do when I’m making a mistake. You lit a cigarette. You smoked and laughed. “You idiot. You big, dumb idiot.”

I remember you telling me you could never respect a man who took Thomas Bernhard seriously, but you’d let it go because you also understood it was too chic to bag on him now. “And the chicest move… is to never be chic.”

Music played inside the artless room. You were laying down, near the window. I sat next to you. “I wish I had a smoke.” Your teeth were terrible. I nodded and shrugged. You turned your attention back to the music. It reminded you of another song and you started to try and tell me about it. “It’s one of those good ones I like. You know, ‘the sad ones’…” That’s what I used to call all the songs you adored about the menace of suburbia and cancer of our existence. “… I was listening to this song and it just really struck me… But… you know the problem with music I also realized is… that it doesn’t have as much revolutionary power. You know, John Berger, the other poet guy I like, was wrong… Music ain’t got it… Shit. No art does. We’re just going on and on… and we’re thinking this shit we throw out there makes any difference… Goll-ly. We’re screwed, man. This is Hell. We’ve all died and are now experiencing Hell… It’s all pointless… It’s all so embarrassing…” And then you nodded off to sleep. It was a very long day in a very long year.

I’ve been reading John Ashbery lately. I like his work. I like the way he uses imagery, his focus on the inexorable engine of time and its soft killing way, the haunted acknowledgment of death. It’s this recognition of our horrid inconvenience that makes his tributes to banality so welcoming. He makes the plain a carnival, the pointless and frustrating unique and special. And that makes me think of you. And I start to miss you again. But then I go for a run…

Work for Love

Music is often a gateway drug for me to entertain certain (otherwise) malformed intellectual thoughts. And because I have a blog, I can post about them with little sense of shame or restraint.

Case in point, Ministry’s “Work for Love”.

Ministry is one of the more curious bands from the 20th/21st Century. They started in the New Wave tradition during the 80s and then quickly (de)evolved into an Industrial Metal group by the early 90s—two genres of music most people might find rather disparate. Quite frankly, they were ahead of NIN by a few years. They were one of those bands that contributed to, but missed out on, the historical contingency of their scene. Some may call them “ahead of their time” … I wouldn’t, but some may.

That’s not what I want to talk about, though. They wrote this song (off their first album) “Work for Love” and it has really stuck with me. Not necessarily for the song, per se, but what it conjures within me.

It is a fine toe-tapper about one man’s attempts to woo a woman. The steps he goes through to win her love are compared to the rigmarole one goes through to obtain and maintain a new job: he fills out paperwork, supplies a resume, interviews for it, works overtime to prove himself. This analogy got me thinking about our modern-day pursuit of love. And more precisely about it in an age of capitalism.

Now, I wanna preface the rest of this extempore think piece by acknowledging, in general, there are many elements that affect relationships, our search for them, and our concepts of love and whatnot. But one not nearly discussed as much as I’d like to see it (even in leftist circles) is the effect capitalist hegemony has on our love lives (or lack thereof).

In a world that puts such emphasis on exchange-value, individuals’ behaviors and mindsets become overwhelmed by a sense of worth. This sense in a capitalist society hinges on their individual contribution to capital. Are they doing their part to generate more profit? More accumulation? If not, they must not be a very “productive” member of society. With so much focus on capital accumulation, generating profits, growing business, making money, etc. etc. it’s no wonder the first two questions one tends to get asked in the United States are: Who are you? and What do you do? Depending on the answer to Question No. 2 and the other person(s), the rest of the conversation may or may not run so smoothly.

This commodification of human agency has a direct impact on the psyche of every person and can be spotted in all aspects of human life. Dating, relationships, concepts on love are no different.

The toxic sense of worth and its impact on how we perceive ourselves and others in relationships can be perhaps best-experienced on any of the wide selection of dating sites out there on the Internet. On these digital landscapes, which further alienate people into their hyper-specialized hovels, algorithms ask you to analyze and promote yourself, to demonstrate in so many words and images who you are and what value you bring to the table. The whole process is meant to showcase your individuality or… personality, but it only succeeds in further stripping your humanity away by dividing you into vast sub-categories only to be reconfigured into your online avatar. You are no longer human. You are a height and a weight with likes and dislikes who is funny and smart and good-looking but not too much of those things as to be intimidating or “unobtainable.”

This binariazation dehumanizes you and prepares you for the second stage: you and your ersatz profile enter into “the free-love market” as both customer and commodity. You judge and are judged based on the standards of a market-driven consumer society. Being a can of soup is bad enough, but what is worse is understanding that the large “variety” of potential partners has nothing to do with them and everything to do with what the sites’ algorithms say who you are. So if we are all cans of soup in the eyes of the market, then what is it about us that is endearing or our relationships that make them worthwhile?

Adding insult to injury, none of this was set up in the name of love, but profit. That two strangers may end up meeting and enjoying each other’s company (let alone fall in love!) is of absolutely no consequence to the creators of Match, OK Cupid, Tinder, Bumble, etc. etc. That you are on it is all that matters. You being on it drives profit for them. Your work to find love is generating free labor to them to increase their bottom line! (Incidentally, this is the case for Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. etc. YOU are the one driving the insane capital surpluses of these companies.)

Mind you, capitalism has and will continue to destroy peoples’ lives (including the quest for a meaningful relationship) without the aid of dating websites. And people have and will continue to have issues when it comes to dating with or without it. However, what capitalism does so effectively (and these “networking” sites exacerbate) is further the erosion of social-building scenarios and environments pivotal to human happiness, replacing instead with privatization, individualization, and alienation from one another into all these situations where we see each other as either competitor, tool, or product.

So ask yourself, when every aspect of your life can be tarnished by capitalism (even the search and experience of love): is it worth it?

Where is The Point?

I was walking through Trafalgar Square, listening to a little Billy Shears. It was a mild day. The sun blasted me with radiation and I felt the tinge on my skin. After a long winter, it was nice to feel something on my face other than a hollowing chill. Stunted cars passed along the periphery and occasionally squawked back and forth to each other in their abrupt shrieks as they drifted on. I walked in the opposite direction, silent, high. I was thinking about what I usually do: the past.

Out ahead, I noticed some chalk graffiti. The crude calligraphy acted like a type of timestamp. Not in world-time, but human. The curves and dashes of the individual letters were larger than necessary and left too much space between. The fast and loose execution implied hesitation, lack of assurance and practice. I thought of a child. A little boy with his pink/red chalk crouched over and writing these words and symbols. Just two words over and over again: “The Point” and above it was an arrow pointing in the direction I walked, north.

What was the child trying to tell me? I wondered. The Point was just ahead. As I continued on and the cars passed I came upon another message. It was The Point again, but it was upside-down and the arrow suggested the other direction. Had I passed it? Had I, indeed, missed The Point?

I continued on and was soon greeted by another sign. This time I was informed The Point was actually across the street, or perhaps was the street itself. Are you trying to kill me? I asked the imaginary kid in my head. He smiled and shrugged his shoulders and I kept going on my way.

Then the messages grew more cryptic, frantic, irrational. Arrows large and small, pointing in all different directions, The Point appeared everywhere, ending with a large bullseye with “THE POINT” at the center. Was this The True Point?

I was reminded of the games I used to play as a child. We used to gain such pleasure out of our absurdist forms of play. Children are quite good at it. Even if they cannot provide an entire conceptual apparatus, their little brains do make note of the irrationalisms around them and the frantic effect this perceived nature carries out. It is quite silly, isn’t it?

After a little while longer the graffiti failed to reappear and I was alone again with my thoughts. I realized I hadn’t seen any of these drawings when I walked south only a few minutes earlier. Or at least I didn’t remember them. How could I have missed it? What would have been my interpretation of The Point had I come across the bullseye first? What if I had witnessed the boy? Was it even a boy? Was it a child? What made me think of it as such? Who will know any of this once these rain clouds overhead unleash their payload and wash away any record of the intellectual footprint?

I suppose my word is the best we’ll have to go with then. But it was there. Just over there. The Point.

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