11.11.2018

This


My first, and for now only, tattoo, inked on my arm last month on my 49th birthday. This is one of only two things I know will persist with me over time (the other is my love for my son).

This is not a beautiful word. It lacks the lusciousness of luscious, the mellifluousness of euphony, not to mention the euphony of mellifluous. It doesn't enjoy the crisp rigidity of a good fuck; nor does it skip down the tongue as dolorous does. In fact, it's a rather awkward word, lisp-like in its utterance while being conspicuously inconspicuous on the page. Few notice and not one lingers over this.

But what this lacks in sumptuous and emotive texture, it makes up for with subtle conceptual complexity — or, rather, its resistance to concept all together. For this will not be generalized and it refuses to travel. In fact, it is that which can never be generalized, insisting on itself to infinity. This is always this.

And yet it is so supremely generous. For while this is always this, this is always different. At one moment this is that and, in the next, it is something else entirely — all while remaining this.

The linguists Emile Benveniste and Roman Jakobson refer to words like this as indexicals. Charles Peirce does, too, but I came to it through Benveniste and Jakobson and feel like I owe them something, to thank them. Mind you, it's not a moral obligation. Despite no longer being an academic and hence having no need to cite my sources, I still drop names in my writing — not to prove my erudition or substantiate my claims but as a conjuring of cohorts and their concepts, a territorialization, forging a conceptual-affective space — even if only temporarily, an Andy Goldsworthy sculpture that's there then gone. Anyway, an indexical doesn't have a fixed referent such as, say, dog or love. It is a function: the act of designating within a given event.

I is another indexical. I obviously doesn't mean Daniel Coffeen; I is a function that designates a speaker or writer who is doing something. When I say I, I designates me; when you say I, it designates you. This makes for a constant slippage when reading someone else's I. In some unavoidable sense, when you read I, you become I. And so when I'm reading the I of, say, Kathy Acker, I become Kathy Acker; I repeat Kathy Acker just as Kathy Acker's own I will never have been her own. 

When I was reading Acker some 26 years ago, I was struck by her relentlessly unreliable pronouns: he would become we, she, I. The experience was exhilarating, delirious, liberating as my very identity became scrambled in the act of reading. This is the case with all writing to a greater or less degree. When we read someone else's writing, we inhabit and are in turn inhabited by the metabolism of another — or others. Reading and writing take us astray of ourselves. Of course, most books work hard to confirm themselves and their readers. And most readers seek such confirmation, nodding their heads in agreement as they make their way. But this demands an active repressive mechanism as you have to work not to become the I of another, forgetting that when you read I, you become I.

Despite the best efforts of most teachers and dictionaries, language is a living creature that undoes all it inhabits. For there, always in its midst and letting it operate, letting it be used in everyday life, is the indexical. And there, among the indexicals, is I: a blank spot of no, and every, identity. That which anchored Descartes — that I that thinks — and which we imagine as being the home of our ego is, in fact, an opening occupied by whomever. I is not the site of identity's confirmation; on the contrary, I is where and how identities bleed, mingle, overlap, become undone only to be remade again as something different.

Language is filled to the brim with words that have referents — pixel, purple, fecund, absurdity, nomenclature, fetid. But indexicals punctuate our dictionaries with these gaps, these revolving doors. I, this, here, now: these words only come to fruition in their use, coming out of someone's mouth or scrawled across a page. They are essentially temporal (what structuralists call diachronic rather than synchronic). They refuse to be generalized; they don't have traditional definitions. They are functions that designate radical particularity, that articulate thisness, the haecceity of life.

For Benveniste, indexicals are what allow us to occupy language. The I, he argues, is a portal that allows speakers and writers to enter the linguistic code and wrap it around themelvses, to inhabit language from the inside. "Language is so organized," hew write,  "that it permits each speaker to appropriate to himself an entire language by designating himself as I." Without the I, language would be a closed system, all the words already defined, all communication existing at level of generality, all words already defined — and we'd be looking at it from the outside. But I lend(s) language temporality, opening it up to the flux of the world, to the event of life as we crawl inside its code and (re)create from within.


One reason I never got a tattoo is I couldn't imagine anything persisting with me over time. All is flux, I figured, and as my skin relentlessly shifts and sheds, it articulates the flux of life perfectly. There was a moment when I first came to San Francisco, in 1991, and considered getting a tattoo of an old fashioned typewriter. It seemed romantic and cool. But I knew then that that romance might fade; that, in fact, I'm not one for the typewriter; I'm a word processor guy who enjoys cutting and pasting. And I couldn't think of anything that I believed would persist for me through time. (Mind you, that was my criterion for a tattoo; people get tattoos for all sorts of reasons.)

But then last month, on my 49th birthday, I got my first tattoo. It is one of only two things that will inevitably persist for me, with me, as I age. The tattoo, on my left bicep, is one word written in my own handwriting: This. 

This is always and necessarily this. It persists and yet, generously, is always different. It is at once stubborn and absolutely open minded. It is the articulation of life's relentless internal differentiation, an articulation of the one principle-that's-not-a-principle that will always drive me: difference. It is in my own handwriting as every this is different; I didn't want the generalized formality of a pre-formed font. That would belie the thisness, the haecceity, of this. It is this as written by this hand in this moment. And yet, while particular to that moment of inscription, this remains ever changing, ever adapting to the here and now. 

This remains this, an event of repetition, ever re-creating itself in the moment without relying on an idea, concept, or thing. This forges itself with itself, as itself. While the word dog relies on something else — namely, a dog that is not present — this relies on nothing else, needs nothing else, to give it meaning. It forges its own meaning from within its environment, as part of its environment, an autopoietic act of self actualization creating meaning from within the event, as the event of designation. It's astounding!  A miracle! This is the call of radical affirmation, the great Yes-sayer that is always content with itself, with its place in the world. It never looks elsewhere to confirm it, define it, to give it meaning. This is always this — and that is enough. As Alan Watts might say, this is it.

I would never have a word on my body that was declarative, constative, referential — that needed something else to give it meaning. I didn't want my favorite Nietzsche quote or my favorite Nietzsche concept, amor fati, inscribed on my body (not that there's anything wrong with that; it's just not for me). While amor fati says love fate, this performs the love of fate.

People sometimes ask me why I got this tattoo. Which is hilarious to me as it is its own best explanation that, in the end, refuses any why. Of course, I could tell them about Emile Benveniste and indexicals or about my history with the word (it's the key to the title of my dissertation, Read This Text). But all that backstory is just the placard next to the painting, avoiding what's before us, avoiding the insistence of life happening here and now, turning a deaf ear to the perfect eloquence of the event emerging in the very act of reading what's scrawled across my admittedly skinny bicep. All there is is this.

11.07.2018

Attraction


This is what attraction can look like. This bridge and that wind are all up in each other's business. It's downright erotic and certainly intimate. Which is why it behooves us to consider our attractions. What gets all up in your business?

I never cease to be amazed by attraction. I am drawn to you — but not her, her, or him. I'm drawn to this book, these ideas, these foods but not those. What propels me, draws me in, this way rather than that?

You go to a new school or college or an office or a party. There are lots of people there, any of whom could be your friend. But you end up spending time and creating relationships with only some of the people. No doubt, there are certain obvious cultural forces at work. In a new environment, we tend to tend towards people who look, act, and talk like us — people of our class and race.

But clearly that doesn't suffice. There were certainly lots of middle class Jews where I went to college — I think it was 30% at the time — and yet I only ended up being friends with a small number of them. What was it about those people?

Well, everyone has certain energetic harmonies and rhythms of intensity. This need not be so woo woo. We all have a certain speed and tolerance for noise, talking, bursts of enthusiasm and such. I know that the speed with which I talk coupled with a relentless will to wit — if often failing — and a certain emphatic umph repels most while attracting others (just look at the reviews of my lectures). This all speaks to certain metabolic propensities. While, like chocolate mousse, I am too much for some, I hit the spot for others (though usually, as with chocolate mousse, in small portions).

Of course, these energetic and rhythmic convergences change shape over time. We've all had this experience: we are smitten with someone and their energy only to find weeks or months later that, well, it's just plain old fucking annoying. And, by the same token, there are those we pass over for seeming too boring only to find, with time, that their quiet articulates a simmering, even seething, cool that fits quite nicely with one's own way of going, thank you very much. We are all temporal creatures, ever in flux.

All this is to say that attraction happens at the level of bodies, between and among flesh and its style, its mode of operation. Just as comets and space dust are drawn just so by other celestial bodies, we are drawn by our own constitution — by our physical and affective comportment, our visible and invisible shapes — towards some bodies and not others (while some repel us, like magnets flipped the other way). 

What goes between people and people goes between people and food, music, books, ideas. I remember when I was working out my doctoral field of study, "20th Century French Literary Theory," with the fantastic Charlie Aliteri, he suggested I read Maurice Merleau-Ponty's essay, "Cézanne's Doubt." Which I did. I then proceeded to read pretty much everything Merleau-Ponty wrote (even reading much of it in French just to be saturated). It stirred me, lit me up, drew me in and set me free. When I next met with Prof. Altieri, he was flabbergasted by what I'd done. "Don't you find him too priestly?" (I think that was his word but don't hold me to it.) But more than his words, it was the look on his face, as if I loved eating something he found vaguely repulsive, bowl after bowl of tripe. Some tripe is ok, his look said, but that much? What kind of person are you?

(I feel the same about Hegelians and Heideggarians. Actually, I feel that way about most people who are an anything; my own appetite tends towards the hodgepodge rather than allegiance to any one thinker. In any case, I always looked suspiciously at people who studied Hegel in depth. What kind of body, I'd wonder, is attracted to Hegel's ponderous System and its magical dialetic or the downright humorless Heidegger? How do they digest all that? I imagine it's how some people feel looking at the ducks hanging in the windows of Chinatown. Who's eating that? (I love that duck, mind you, and I love it hanging in the windows.).)

In any case, my point is this: attraction is an ethical act. We judge people for the things that attract them. Indeed, Nietzsche would say we should. How can you trust — how can you enjoy — someone who reads British philosophy? For Nietzsche, we are the things that attract us. A "well turned out" man, Nietzsche argues, instinctively chooses what's best for him. We surely know the opposite: those who return over and over again to the very things making them sick — Doritos, abusive partners, drugs. Which is all to say, the things that attract us speak about us, reveal us. Attraction is the silent but audible sound of our way of going in the world. We can say all kinds of things, do all kinds of things, pose all sorts of ways. But attraction happens in the midst of, and despite, our best pretenses.

Attraction is an immanent operation. It happens between and among these bodies right here, right now, doing this or that. Of course we rely on allopoietic operations — external knowledge and codes such as morality and laws — to make selections about people, food, art. But such external terms do not determine attraction. Attraction is autopoietic: it happens within this sphere, between these bodies, as these bodies. As with gravity and magnetism, the event of attraction is a complex calculus of bodies in motion interacting with each other at various levels and points all at once. It's not conscious or active per se. Attraction happens behind our backs, as it were, without our knowing (our grammar articulates this passivity well).

This makes attraction so intimate. It calls to us from the literal fiber of our being. This is why we often get nervous approaching someone to whom we're attracted: our very comportment is shaking. Think of the comet being drawn inextricably into the sun, all the feelings it must feel — the delirium, joy, fear, relief. Indeed, what could be more profound than being attracted to another human being?

I'm constantly surprised that articulating one's attraction to another is often met with recoil and even anger (although when attraction is one-sided, it can be menacing and hence the real fear people have when someone comes on with them).  You just want to fuck me and that's it? Don't you respect me for me? That retort is, to me, insane. If I'm attracted to you, I'm attracted to you. I don't separate your body from your mind, your wit from your waist, your ass from your ideas. You are this way of going that includes wit, waist, ass, calves, humor, scent. And I'm digging it.

But we are plagued with the residue of inane dualistic, nihilistic thinking that believes attraction is physical, animal, hence fleeting and less important than the rationality of our souls. But attraction is more of a gestalt operation: we are drawn to the manner of a thing. Mind you, this doesn't mean all attraction is eternal, divine love. That's absurd. But it does mean attraction is always a force to reckon — and not to be dismissed as just attraction. We can believe someone is attractive based on their body and not their style — or the other way around. But when we're attracted to someone, it's body and style. It's the way it all hangs together, even if not in equal proportion. You can't separate the visible from the invisible, the body from the way of going. 

I often take inventory of the things that attract me such as my long time propensity for bourbon and then the shift to tequila, then gin, then tequila again, and back to whiskey. In that trajectory, I see my body, my self, navigating my place in the world. When young, the weighty viscosity of bourbon grounded my skinny, wiry ways. As I aged, such a tether became too much so I reached for the ethereal ebullience of tequila. When my stomach began to burn with tequila's heat, I turned to gin's harmony with ice. And now, feeling a certain will to slow wisdom, I enjoy whiskey's thick legs. These were not conscious moves; they were my body being pulled this way and that to keep me healthy.

Needless to say, not all the things that attract me fuel me; on the contrary. Some people have offered that my attraction to alcohol is an ill formed instinct, keeping me sick and subdued. Navigating attraction and appetite — which is to say, living — is not a science. We feel our way through it. So to take account of one's attractions is to take account of oneself. As I move beyond booze to food, places, activities, art, and relationships, I begin to get a pretty good picture of how I go in the world — and where the operation is ailing me. For the things that draw us in articulate us, form us, hedge us, kill us — or fuel us.

While attraction will have its way, this doesn't mean you can't change what attracts you. It takes discipline but you can shift your instincts, train yourself to be healthy, to be vital. This doesn't mean choking down wheat grass or kale smoothies because you heard they're good for you. That's not disciplining your instincts; that's listening to some blogger. No, training your instincts means not adhering to some external code but listening more closely, more attentively, to one's own metabolism.

I see attraction as a gift never to be taken lightly. As we're hurtling through this world, making so many decisions, navigating cars, kids, money, passwords, mothers, loves, some things emerge and call to us. That's the universe whispering to us, tapping us on the shoulder, all come hither-like. Attraction is a cosmic come on.

10.31.2018

On the Unregistered Podcast with Thaddeus Russell



I had the supreme honor and pleasure of talking with a brother from another mother, Thaddeus Russell who wrote this book.



This book is a sheer joy for me as it gives these sharp, smart, hilariously surprising and refreshing interpretations of American history. His book grew out of frustration with both the Great Men of History — presidents, wars, corporations— and it's so called improvement, the Great People of History — civil rights leaders, important women, productive African-Americans. For Russell, both models focus on people who want power and ascribe to disconcertingly similar forms of good behavior, good citizenship, good workers (eeesh!). And hence neither talk about pleasures — sex, booze, music, leisure — or more involved understandings of freedom.

This is what interests him: freedom and pleasure. So Russell looks and focuses elsewhere — to the pleasures of sex and booze and jazz and so to prostitutes, slackers, drunkards, and gangsters. And finds that it's these people who have, for the most part, defined and created the American freedoms we cherish such as having sex (other than in marriage) and weekends off from work.

That's all I'll say for now. I highly recommend it for the supreme and all too rare pleasure of reading someone who's lit up and talking about things you think you know but in such a fresh, generous, and surprising way.

And if you read his story about his run-in with academia, you'll begin to understand my excitement over crossing paths with him.

10.05.2018

Intuition


Massage is a surprisingly complex art. You may know everything there is to know about the body  — muscles, tendons, and ligaments; joints, fascia, and nutrition — but that doesn't tell you about this body lying naked before you. How do you know where to touch? How deeply? With what intensity and speed? When do you move on to somewhere else? How do you know? How can you know?

Now, I don't know squat about anatomy. But I love giving massages for precisely this reason: it demands an immediate mode of knowing. I don't rely on textbooks or specialized knowledge. Of course, I know bodies in general; I know my body; I've touched many bodies. And that forms a kind of general and historical knowledge. But other than my history, all there is is me and you — preferably naked. I have to lean into the demands and desires of your body, feeling for what feels good and right to me as well as you. And then I do indeed know how to touch you, where to touch you, with what rhythm, speed, and intensity.

Sure, at times my attention may wander and I'll dig into a scapula too intently or linger too long or too lightly on your neck. At these moments, I am not reading your body; I'm thinking about tomorrow or Nietzsche or if my bananas are too mushy. When I am not heeding the moment, I rely on knowledge — it's good to always massage the scapula — rather than immediate knowing. We all know this experience from getting massages — when it becomes mechanical and rote. Ah, but when I'm present, there is a silent yet audible conversation that takes place between your body and me, guiding my hands here then there. And we both know it.

Ever watch a hitter step to the plate in baseball? He knows that pitcher is going to be throwing such and such pitches at such and such a speed. But then that hitter has to take that knowledge and be ready for whatever comes his way. Watching a great hitter is incredible. You see how his body moves with the pitch, feeling for its trajectory, how it's going to break. He participates with the way of the ball coming at him.

This is knowing rather than knowledge — an act rather than a fact. If knowledge with its categories, genus, and species is three-dimensional, this mode of knowing is four-dimensional. It's an action, a doing, a reckoning of this moving world while moving oneself. It is temporal. And while invisible, the information I am reckoning is not esoteric; on the contrary, it is radically empirical, tending to experience as it's happening. There is no reflection and little associative thinking. There are, however, demands and requests of bodies.

Two modes of knowing, then. One that is categorical, general, and static; and one that is immediate, particular, and active. I am calling this second kind, intuition.

Intuition is knowing of, and within, the invisible world, the play of energies and forces — cosmic, animal, vegetal, geological, atmospheric — that stream through all bodies. This includes affect and mood as well as linkages, the modes by which a body assembles itself — the style of a body, how it goes in the world, its rhythm, speed, and shape, its tendencies and propensities, the manner in which it carries these limbs, ideas, words, scents, desires through the world. These are essential pieces of information that express themselves all the time in all bodies. So while I see your body, its skin and limbs, I also sense a wealth of other information that is at once invisible and palpable — your affective state, your mood, your style.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, the French phenomenologist, claims that when we perceive something, we entwine with it. So when I see, say, a pear, I take up the pear as the pear takes me up. Which is to say, perception is not a cold process; it is friction filled, a palpation. Sight, too, is a mode of touching the world. For Merleau-Ponty, the very possibility of perception is that I am not distinct from the world — a subject with consciousness who sees objects. No, I see objects because I am object, too, because I am something that can be seen. Seeing, as with all perception, is what Merleau-Pointy calls a chiasm, an intertwining in which seer and seen swap places over and over. Perception is immersive.

This is true of invisible states such as energies and affects. When we perceive something, we entwine with the mood and way of that thing at that time, in those conditions. We're always doing this. We say, This place has a funny feel; let's get out of here. Or we feel a distinct attraction to certain places, things, people, ideas, a pull that cannot be quantified or even seen but that is no less real for it. On the contrary. We feel our way through this world as much as we know our way through this world. Intuition is this feeling-as-knowing.

Intuition, then, is not not thinking. It is not intellectual reflection in which, for instance, you try to understand the Kantian sublime. But once you understand what the heck Kant is talking about when he talks about the sublime, this does not mean you know Kant. Because a philosophy, like everything else in the universe, is not made of facts and figures, concepts and quantities, alone. A philosophy is a way of metabolizing the world, distributing the world. It proffers a vision of this universe and how it all works. It has energy flowing through it; it is affective; it enjoys a style.

When I was in grad school, I did a semester reading Kant's Critique of Judgement. I'll be honest: I could not figure out what Kant wanted from me. I could understand what I was reading; I could even discuss his ideas. But I could not figure out his shtick, his style, his vision of the world. So one night I did what I'd often do at such moments: I'd put the book before me and smoke a joint. This allowed me to both pull back and zoom in, to see how the pieces fit together as well as comprehend the micro-movements of his thought. And I'd wait for that moment which would come in one feel swoop and there, before me, would be Kant in all his mad reasonable glory, trying to make the world into this rational machine which made his vision all the madder.

This is why Bergson calls intuition the most reliable philosophical method — not the pot smoking necessarily but intuiting what a philosopher is up to. Or what anything is up to. "Intuition," writes Bergson, "is a method of feeling one's way intellectually into the inner heart of a thing to locate what is unique and inexpressible in it." He maintains that all philosophy stems from an initial intuition about the way of the world; the philosopher then spends the rest of her life trying to express it analytically. But the only way to understand it is to be done, at some point, with analysis and move into intuition. Shitty academic philosophy analyzes ideas, parses concepts, groups thinkers and ideas. There is little appetite for intuition in academia. That's why most academic writing is dead on arrival.

Intuition, says Bersgon, carries us into the interior of the thing. From the outside, we can analyze and size up: she's 5'3", long dark hair, hearty laugh, very flexible. But, even if I've physically entered her, this analysis doesn't carry me into her interior. This is not how we enjoy people. We feel our way through the social, pushed and pulled by a variety of invisible forces, finding ourselves face to face with this or that person and then feeling our way into them, with them, through them, of them. We entwine with their way of going and find a flow, a fit — or don't, and we move on.

As Bergson claims, this is a radical empiricism, a tending to what it is here and what is happening. Intuition demands participating in duration, in different durations, in the durations of the things at hand (duration is Bergson's word). When I go to Ocean Beach here in San Francisco, I perch myself amidst the juncture of all these different durations — the eternal flux of the ocean and sky, the steady hum of cargo ships, the frantic follies of dogs and children, the urgent anxiety of cars, the formations of pelicans, the darting of plovers. And me and my time, my speed and rhythm, my duration entwining with the times of others forging a complex temporal symphony, filled with dissonance and extraordinary harmonies. To intuit is to participate in the world, to lean into its nudges, its tugs, its repulsions. Intuition is a mode of going-with.

This is not to disparage analysis and intellectual reckoning. It is necessary and can be quite beautiful. And the fact is analysis and intuition are always inter-related, interdependent. Just look at this essay. At times, I analyze intuition, doing my darndest to explain it, to explicate its parts and functioning. And then I reach an end of such thinking and I move into a different mode of knowing as I try to intuit intuition, feel for how it operates, how it goes in the world.

The relationship between analysis and intuition echoes the relationship between the visible and invisible. There is some purely physical element of a body that we can talk about. And yet all bodies have some affective state, some invisible forces at work running through them. And while we can talk about affect and forces free of bodies, they swirl in and around and with bodies all the time.

Intuition is a mode of knowing the invisible states and forces of the world. To only think analytically is to ignore the vast amounts of information that this world offers. Isn't this why we find stock photos so boring and bereft of life? I'm sitting here looking for a picture of a massage and all I can find are these clichés that analyze a massage, showing me the veneer, showing me what is visible but missing the invisible all together, what is interior to a massage, what is qualitative rather than quantitative.  Intuition is what lets an artist find that interior and create something alive, a critic reckon a text from the inside out, a student understand a philosophy's demands, a cook assemble a meal that simply flows. And it is how you learn to touch the naked body lying before you.

10.02.2018

Walking with Moods, Curves, & Inflection Points

I just spent the last few hours walking through San Francisco's Golden Gate Park — a ridiculously, generously fecund place to stroll. As I made my way from the buffalo — yes, there's a buffalo paddock in the park — down different paths, over knolls and knells, until I came to the Pacific Ocean screaming its glory, I was struck by the continuous modulation of mood that that park, as well as any walk, affords.

Any walk, every walk, is a stroll through and with a modulation of mood. Sometimes, a mood may persist over a long stretch. I find this to be particularly true when I hike as the space tends to be less urgently variegated. But GG Park, as in a city, enjoys relentless shift of foliage, sky, curve, incline, and inflection. Which is to say, as I walk, I rise and fall, walk through a breadth of trees and plants and flowers from all corners of the globe, find myself in wooded enclaves only to turn into the yawning sky and blaring sun as a path curves this way then that. All of this shifts the mood.

What is mood?  Well, I see it as the affective state of the visible world. There are such and such leaves, lighting, scents, colors, textures. We readily record all that with our senses; all of these elements are quantifiable. But they all also have qualitative states. This leaf is soft and welcoming; that one, edgy and shy; those all play together; these others loom large as individuals. Or the play of sun: the melancholia, the exuberance, the sharp edge, the dull glows. Now combine the leaves and the play of sun — not to mention the sounds, birds, insects, decaying stumps — and you get an assemblage of qualities all working in some kind of concert that forges a certain....mood, a state that is as historical as it is immediate, the entire history of a place or thing coming to bear upon the senses and upon sense itself, ghosts playing in the leaves and shaping the now just so.

And of course there's you: you bring so much to the situation. You bring all your knowledge, history, and enculturation, all your assumptions and associations about what makes something melancholy or exuberant, not to mention how you're feeling that day. We all know that when we're depressed, it casts a pall over everything we see just as when we're joyous, everything seems to rejoice.

And yet mood is not subjective. You do not just invent the melancholia of the sun from the depths of your being. Mood is a conspiracy of states that exists out there in the world, as the world. It may run through you but it doesn't only live inside you. Mood is expressive. You are not simply subject to it; nor do you determine it. You live through mood in the middle voice — neither active nor passive, both active and passive. You only know the mood as you are a participant within it, as much determining it as it is determining you. Of course, this mutual determination is rarely equal. Sometimes, your shitty mood overwhelms a place just as the intensity of a place can overwhelm you. In any case, mood envelops as it emerges.

Every time I'm walking through GG Park, I am struck by the play of curves, both horizontally and vertically, and the way this shapes the tenor of the day. The pleats of a curve distribute time, and hence mood, very differently. Consider the straight, clear path: you can see indefinitely in front and behind you. The path stays with you, never out of sight, just as the future yawns before you without surprise. There it is! And yet you quite literally see time receding; you see and feel your past moving away from you. The effect, and affect, is a play of inevitability and all that existentially entails.

Now consider a sharp turn. You have no idea what's around the corner. It could be people, animals, oceans, a cliff, a meadow, sun, shade — you can't know until you make the turn, forging anxiety, anticipation, excitement, even if muted. And then once you make the turn, your past vanishes in one fell swoop, as if it were never there.

And then there is what I call the Hockney curve (David Hockney loves to paint this curve). It is gentle, steering you towards a future that is unknown — you can't quite see around it and yet it's coming gently, generously.  Meanwhile, the past recedes at the same clip — with no real urgency, what's behind you falls away. This curve tempers intense mood shifts.

David Hockney

On my walk today in GG Park

And then there are inflection points — dramatic shifts in mood and, usually, terrain. Picture walking through San Francisco's Union Square with its Saks and Apple and Tiffany's down Geary Street, past the fancy hotels, when you suddenly find yourself in the Tenderloin — yes, that's the name of the neighborhood — with its abundant abjection. People lying in the street, some shooting up, some lying in vomit. This is a common experience in America's city: turn a corner and everything changes.

Or walking west in GG Park and soon the road widens, the sidewalks exand, the trees reach higher and then, like a miracle, there it is: the freakin' Pacific Ocean staring at you from around the bend. Everything changes in that one moment. Every time, it simultaneously takes my breath away and fills me with its briny air. It leaves me winded — deflated and inflated at the same time.


Once I walk to the ocean, leaving the park behind, I am in a totally different moodscape as the infinite stretches out ahead of me, seething, and the sky, freed from the trees' framing, is allowed its full extension.


Inflection points abound, even if less dramatic than the ocean's emergence. We know inflection points in all aspects of our lives — that moment when water boils, when satiety hits, with coffee kicks in. And we know these inflections points in mood as we make our way. Turn this way and suddenly everything is frantic, tumultuous, hurried. Turn that way and the day takes a deep breath.

I like to take what I call mood walks. They are best done alone so I'm not distracted by the niceties of the social. But mood walks can of course be done in tandem; that might make them even more complex. In any case, as you walk, lean into the micro moods. Note the way you feel, the way the place feels, as you move past that house with its manicured lawns, then that with its broken crap on the stoop, then past that alley that wreaks of piss. Feel the way the speed and noise of the traffic shapes it all. Let the sky impinge upon you, conspiring with people and places and machines to make the day feel just so.

As Michel de Certeau writes in his incredible book, The Practice of Everyday Life — in his chapter entitled "Walking in the City": "The panorama-city is a 'theoretical' (that is, visual) simulacrum, in short a picture, whose condition of possibility is an oblivion and a misunderstanding of practices." That is to say, when we picture the city, we picture pictures of the city splayed before us as if in a map. But our experience is always particular as we only see what we see from our vantage point at this moment with these things, these scents, this digestion, this dappled sunlight — what de Certeau calls this practice, this doing. Yes, our experience is historical and this history shapes our moods. But our history, like our vantage, is perspectival, local, particular, and always coming to bear within this now.


Such is all experience of walking, not to mention living. We are always enmeshed, enveloped in moods we shape and which, in the same breath, shape us. It is incredible to me how mood is not spoken of more, how it has not become a science. Lohren Green's Atmospherics is the closest thing I know to reckoning mood as knowledge. And, of course, Bruno Schulz's The Street of Crocodiles.