5.30.2011

The End of the Subject is Not the End of Me

There is no such thing as postmodern— at least not from the perspective of postmodernity. The will to take different things, group them together, and assign them one identity is precisely the will postmodernity critiques.

Postmodernity — whatever that is — is often accredited with undoing truth and the subject. But this is a simplistic reduction. Just as there are individual thinkers with individual world views — Deleuze is not Derrida is not Foucault is not de Certeau is not Guattari — there are different ways of constructing the individual.

Which is to say, just because one might suggest that there is no subject per se — that is, a subject that is self-identical, univocal, and metaphysical (an invisible Being) — does not mean that one is suggesting that there is no form, no identity at all. That would be silly.

The question is not whether there is a subject or not but in what ways can we conceive of the individual.

For instance, why not an individual that is always becoming? Becoming is not the eradication of borders; it's the putting on motion of borders. To consider the individual as a becoming rather than a being is to move the individual from geometry to calculus, from stasis to motion.

A becoming, then, is stipulated, a shaping, a trajectory: I go like this. Like what? Like this.



Let's begin, then, by considering the individual a differential equation: limited but infinite.

And why not networked? Just because I am made of different things, just because I am intersected by threads from elsewhere, doesn't mean I am not singular? I am this node.

Yet I am not just not a node. I am a productive cog: I make sense of these diverse threads in this way. Because I am a thread, too — a shaping of this world, an ever-moving zone of the cosmos, at once constitutive and constituent.

So just because I am not a fixed Being doesn't mean I am not me: I am this becoming node, this inflection of the cosmos.

5.29.2011

Putting on the World

I've long loved this phrase — putting on the world. I just found an essay I wrote on it for a journal; the editor, understandably, didn't like it. I'm not sure I like it but I like much in it, an attempt, often failed, to write that insane middle voice where inside and outside fold through each other and where clothes and flesh share a common territory.....

There is, alas, no naked body. Every fold of our flesh is an inflection, an argument, a stance — our skin creases in the way our bodies make sense of sun, laughter, wind, and words. The curves of our spine, the turns of our heals, the rhythm of our gait, the manner in which we comport are made by the world while in turn making the world.


When we squint in the glare of the sun, we are putting on a star. When, over time, we hunch to meet the endless demand of the screen, we are literally putting on labor and pixel. When our hair is mussed by the breeze, we are putting on the wind. And, in so doing, we become the world.


Our frames are looms. We are tailors, all; our bodies, drapes of being.


Skin, bones, clothes — every layer, every fold — are negotiations, intersections, encounters with the world and all its atmospheres: sex and heat and grass and age and speed and weight and love and angst and barometric pressure and desire. We are always threaded through varied networks — social, physiologic, economic, sexual, natural. We put on the world, or at least pieces of it, to make our way.


Every garment, ever wrinkle, stitches us to the fabric of the world, is a stitch of the world.


Now consider all the accoutrements of fashion, of label and style and purse and belt and cap and coat, and watch as they weave us laterally across and through the social fabric while negotiating very private experiences of temperature, gender, comfort. Every blue jean, sweater, sock, and underwear is an inflection of the cosmic network — a network that is as affective as it is somatic, as personal as it is cultural, as private as it is social.


Suddenly, the act of getting dressed seems impossibly complex. Yet being nude is being dressed, too, and so we have no choice: to live is to put on the world.


This and that adornment — and we are always already adorned — are weaves of the world. Tie, coat, shirt, shoe; smile, mullet, wrinkle, stain; posture, gait, temper, tempo: this is our fabric of being, a patch in the cosmic twill. Every layer of us — from pants to pore — is a putting on of the world.

5.26.2011

The Pleasure of Proliferating Perspectives

When I was in high school, my American History teacher — the late, great Robert Tucker — had us read Gabriel Kolko's essay on the formation of the USDA in which Kolko claimed that the USDA and its dispensation of approval — those assuring gradations of meat — were not born of consumer advocacy but were in fact a foil of the meat industry, an industry suffering due to Upton Sinclair’s "The Jungle" which exposed the grotesqueries of meat packing.

The USDA, then, was not only not there to protect my fellow citizens and me — it was in fact an elaborate abuse of governmental ethos, a ploy to move product, a product which may very well be harmful to the very citizens the USDA was nominally formed to protect.

At first, I thought I was attracted to this act of revelation, the truth unleashed from the dissimulation of authority. But that was not it at all.

What attracted me, what sent my heart a flutter, was the radical shifting of perspectives. Which is to say, it was not the new perspective per se which interested me: it was the very act of seeing things differently.

It took me some time to realize that I was not in accord with the revisionist Marxists. They wanted to reveal a perspective, their perspective. What I wanted, however, was to have that moment — that moment when the world rearranges itself before my eyes, reorganizes itself into new configurations, that glorious moment when the world is born anew, when everything I thought was the truth turns out to be just another configuration, that moment when the dead world is reanimated — I wanted that moment again and again and again.

And this is what I love so much about taking up new and different philosophers: I want to see the world utterly anew. I want to have everything I know, my ordering of the universe, to be reassembled — Nietzsche's biting reversals and insistent physiology; Hegel's schizo chorus comedy of errors; Kant's mad mad rational wacky architecture; Derrida's pedantic double gestures; Deleuze and Guattari's intensities, folds, and planes of immanence; Bergson's endurance and flash of intuition: I want them all.

I'm not looking for the right one: they're all right in their way. No, I don't want what's right: I want the pleasure, the delight, the delirium of all those different ways.

Each thinker gives me a different way of making sense — and the more I read, the more I digest them, the more this multiplicity plays through my head, through my eyes, through my blood and guts.

And so then I can see the world in radically disparate ways all at once, an endlessly shifting series of planes of understanding, the world aligning and realigning itself at infinite speed. It is a an exquisite vertigo, a thrill of relentless (re)creation, an erotics of the world folding over and through itself. And I love it.

5.22.2011

On Assayas' "Boarding Gate"



Olivier Assayas' "Boarding Gate" is exquisite, smart, and devastating. It is beautiful and reminds me of Wong Kar Wai's shots of Hong Kong — the lights, colors, reflections. Some might find the film difficult or slow; it does not give us the back story; things are not explained. We are privy only to the relations on screen, all of which assume events that have happened but which we will never know or witness.

The story, for Assayas, is irrelevant because this is not a story about people. It is a map of relations and the terms of the those relations. And the new terms, the dominant terms, don't give a fuck about sentiment or the past. The film gives us the malaise, the daze, of contemporary global capitalism — jet lag, capital exchange, identity blurred then phased out entirely. If it can't be exchanged, it isn't.

We're never quite sure what is being made and sold — what's legal and illegal becomes irrelevant: it's all the flow of money and goods. Such is the economy of quantity, of impersonal exchange, cash as the ultimate abstraction that effaces affect and, in the end, personhood.

And poor Asia Argento (Sandra) — the last stand of humanity, of passion, of affect. She feels, she longs, she loves, she pines. She is certainly immoral if not amoral. But in the world of capitalism, these things mean nothing. She thinks she's playing one game but there's another game she doesn't ever understand or even see — the game of capital exchange, the devastating indifference of it all, the even cool calculating will to more, to profit, to quantity.

In "Post-Cinematic Affect," Steven Shaviro does a good, thorough reading of the film. But he reads the end of the film quite differently that I do. For Shaviro, her restraint affirms her humanity over and against the dehumanizing will of capital exchange. The blur at the end is her choosing another line of flight.

I read it quite differently: the blur is her disappearance. There is no place for her passion, her lust, her rage in this world. The economy of quantity has eclipsed the economy of affect. She has been used; they are done with her; she is disappeared. The final shot of this film rips my heart and soul out every time.

5.20.2011

The Terrible Truths About San Francisco

San Francisco is, alas, not a city. It is a large, filthy village. Not many people live here. BART — the train that connects this podunk town to other podunk towns in what's called The Bay Area — stops running at midnight. At midnight, yes, that's right.

Restaurants close at around 9; they'll kick you out if you're still eating come 10.

Did I mention that this city is filthy? And I mean not just filthy but fetid. It's all the moisture in the air coupled with the astronomical homeless population: it breeds the most grotesque disease. The Bubonic Plague is back — in SF. I'm not kidding.

It's not a friendly city. As it is overrun with 26 year olds, it has that very particular post-collegiate angst. People go out in cliques. Rarely are these cliques penetrated. In my brief time in LA, everywhere I went, people would look up to see....if I was a star. Still, they actually made eye contact. Not in SF. Lord knows what might happen should you lock eyes with a stranger. (Now try being a single guy. In SF, the women prefer online dating to real space encounters. Eeesh.)

The whole city is organized like a college campus with its egregious sororities and fraternities. Somehow, if you live in a certain neighborhood, it means you are a type — a Marina girl, a Mission hipster, a Noe Valley yuppie (which is ironic as the new SF hipsters are the new yuppies — they don't work for banks, as they did in the 80s; they work for Apple — corporate lackies who party).

The thing about 26 year olds is that they feel like they're the first to discover whatever it is they've discovered. Raw food! French press coffee! Pho! While I enjoy the excitement they feel at their discovery, their self-righteousness undoes said enjoyment.

Of course, I came here 20 years ago, when I was 21 and it was amazing — cheap and filled with freaks. Now it's freakishly expensive and all those young 'uns? They work for Google (or Apple or Yahoo or Genetech; there is an endless parade of corporate buses barreling up and down Guerrero headed to or from the Peninsula on a daily basis).

Don't get me wrong. There are some things to love about this city. The sky, for instance, is fucking amazing — impossibly close and ever aswirl. And the ocean is right there. And, yes, there is a lot of good coffee. A lot. It's silly, in fact, how much good coffee there is — and each shop is owned and managed by those 26 year olds. And the food: I can get locally grown, organic produce, meat, and cheese on nearly any corner of the city. That is amazing and not to be taken for granted.

But, fuck, it's such a socially and culturally limited town that it distracts itself with 10 million breeds of kale and an equal number of coffee roasteries. If we keep eating, maybe we won't notice that we live in a filthy village of anxiety riddled 20-somethings.

Ah, maybe I'm just a curmudgeon. Maybe I've outgrown this dirty playground. Thing is, I'm stuck here. Suddenly, I feel like Joseph Garcin.

What, Where, and How is Power?

My problem with conceiving of government as the source of power is that the government rarely, and only tangentially, coerces my body. Taxes, registering for the draft to get student financial aid (that was 1987: Reagan!), street lights, traffic laws in general: these are government actions that directly coerce my body.

But, on a day to day basis, there are a wealth of other sources that literally move me physically, affectively, emotionally. Right now, there are two dominant forces in my life that affect what I do, feel, and think on a near minute-to-minute to basis: work and child.

Work tries to occupy most of my time and head space — it wants me to think about it. This is why I have never had a job job — somewhere I had to be five days a week by 9:00 am. That kind of all consuming coercion seems completely insane to me. And yet this is what people do everyday: they go to work for somebody else, their time utterly consumed and defined by the demands of a corporation.

And it is these same people who read newspapers, follow elections, have opinions on things like capital punishment and abortion. As if power existed elsewhere! As if the real power was not right in front of them — in the alarm clock shrieking in their ear, in the blue screen that blurs their vision, in the demands for profit that drive the company and the culture as a whole!

The belief in a power that exists elsewhere — in Washington, for instance — is part of the power structure of business. The news distracts you from the glaring reality that your life is accounted for by your boss and the demands of Capital.

The other great source of power that defines what I think, do, and feel on a near minute-by-minute basis weighs 48 pounds. But it's not that the boy coerces my actions — although he does — it's that the terms of contemporary parenting coerce my actions. Of course I have to do certain things as a parent — feed the beast, take him to the doctor, get him to school, read to him, play with him. This is part of the power dynamics that flourish in any relationship.

It's the meta-terms of what it means to be a parent that drive me particularly crazy. I am referring to what Foucault calls discourse — the discourse of contemporary parenting. That is, the things that we can say, feel, and so as parents vis-a-vis our children. (That's for another post.)

My point is this: Power, as Foucault says, comes from everywhere. It is not something that exists out there, that comes from the top, that is enforced by police (although it's that, too.) Power is what makes you move, physically and emotionally. It's the relentless homogeneity of affect that streams from the news leaving people anxious and afraid. It's the relentless Hollywood cliches that leave people feeling insufficient (and bored! so fucking bored!).

This is not to say that we need solely to focus on the particularities in front of us — my kid, my job. No, it's to say we need to move from these particularities — what's right in front of us — to the structures and flows of power that generate this coercion. Our job is not to fight the Man. Our job is to look for ways to rearchitect the flows.

5.19.2011

What is Politics?

I was a history major in college. Mostly, this was because my high school history teachers were smart, Marxist revisionists so we read insane books. (It turned out I was actually interested in interpretation, not history, but it took me a few years to figure that out.) I entered college with all these AP credits in history so, well, I continued with it as a major.

But I was immediately disappointed. Every class seemed to talk about wars, treaties, governments, presidents, great thinkers, great books. It all felt so, well, wrong to me. I kept telling my advisor that I wanted a different kind of history — what people thought, felt, how they lived, dreamed, conceived of the world. The History of Great Men and Great Moments was so full of shit, so out of touch. Who the fuck cared what these rich motherfuckers were up to? And that was when I read Foucault and everything changed.

I've had the same frustration with the assumed model of the political. We imagine that governments do things that matter, that dictate how things go. They 'choose' a system such as capitalism, socialism, communism. And we live within this system. We might try to change it but this change focuses on them — on legislators and senators, on public policy and elections.

But I can't but think that this is just not how things work. I see a people — some population stipulated by place — as a networked engine, a system of production. What does it produce? Itself.

I am looking for a model of the political that sees the world in terms of thermodynamic flows of energy, distributions of desire, will, capital. Governments and laws and police and corporations: these are constitutive and constituent of this great social engine. But they do not determine it.

To focus on politicians as the source of power is, as Burroughs says, to be the bull charging the red flag only to meet air. It is a distraction, a diversion from the flows of power and desire and capital that actually define the everyday, that define and create the social body.

I'd like to see these thermodynamic maps of behavior around the world, map how these flows are distributed, what kinds of circuits and feedback loops there are, what kinds of temperatures and valves exist to make this or that social-body-engine.

We don't choose a system. We are a system.

This has enormous implications for those interested in changing the terms of this life we lead.

5.13.2011

My essay on the end of times via "Inapprorpiate Thesaurus"

There is an eschatologic strand that has run through our culture for eons and runs through our very private sense of self. There is a deep ambivalence about it: "Holy shit, I don't want it all to end!" And, in the same breath: "Please, let it come down — all of it. This life it too much."

Speaking of the end of times wreaks of nihilism, of a death wish — the ultimate death wish.

But of course it is obvious that the life we lead, here in the US, is unsustainable....

Read the rest here >>>>>

Memory Happens

Memory and recollection are not the same thing. A recollection is an image that makes its way through consciousness somehow. Memory, however, is everything — from the millisecond to the epic — that has happened to you. And is still happening to you.

This is to say, you are not just this vessel to whom things might or might not happen. You are something that has always already had something happen: there is no pre-experience self. What it is to be a self — whatever that is — is to be something that interacts. The self, then, is an event — not a thing but a happening.

In this sense, a self is an infinitely vibrating collection of events — or the traces of events. I want to say that you are all the events that have ever happened to you as experienced by your particular constitution, your particular metabolism. What the fuck does that mean?

Well, it means you experience things — a meal, sleep, a conversation, eight million conversations, glances, whispers, sighs, dreams, burps, breaths, kisses, hallucinations, loves, fears, cuts and bruises. All of these things reverberate throughout your very constitution — some of these events move very slowly, some very fast; some in even rhythm, some syncopated, some in 7/4; some of these events resound, others tail off in a whimper. All of this activity — all of these reverberations, this incredible calculus of events — is memory.

And this memory is you.

Memory is not a past event. It is a present event. Or, rather, it is the persistence of an event. Memory is how you know how to tie your shoes, brush your teeth, how you know what you like and don't like; it's how you think and what you think. This is quite different from a recollection which is a more or less discrete and conscious event. Memory endures, necessarily.

And is in relentless flux. After all, all those events are still happening to a greater or less degree of intensity. Some events skip across consciousness, hitting down here and there every few years. Some are tightly knit balls that rumble and roll, day after day, through our very becoming. Some are like scents that drift by.

The very manner of these events is still being worked out — right now, by you, in you, as you. This working out is you. Which is not to say that we are always wrestling our pasts. No, it's to say that we are always living through our pasts right now — and that our pasts are living through our now, through us.

Memory is not something that is, some static repository. It's not a library; nor is it an archive. Memory is a living thing. Memory is something that happens.

5.10.2011

Philosophy and Life

The relationship between philosophy and life is not always comfortable. Sometimes, it seems like philosophy is some mad abstraction, an insane series of propositions that have nothing to do with life. Monadologies, disseminations, dialectics, moral imperatives: they can seem at such a great distance from eating, fucking, working, sleeping, at such great remove from day to day existence.

To this, I have two responses. On the one hand, there are those philosophies that — at least to me — are insane abstractions — Hegel, Kant, and the rationalists. They do so many bizarre, beautiful things, as if they're forging the most intricate Calder mobile ever, all gossamer and thought. In this sense, these philosophies are immediate in the same sense that a Calder or Pollock or Matthew Ritchie is. They insist as affective forces only the affect comes from concept rather than percept.

And then there is the philosophy towards which I gravitate — the phenomenologists, existentialists, and much of what's happened since. Bergson says he wants a philosophy that is absolutely at one with the particular thing, a philosophy that, in some sense, becomes that thing — or becomes with that thing. It is philosophy as drape of the world, not in the sense of covering it but in the sense of moving with the world's every move. A philosophy of agility and precision. A philosophy of infinite generosity, lending itself absolutely to the world.

Both of these visions of philosophy are quite different than an ideology or code — philosophy as mandate. That shit's just plain old strange — and, I want to say, is not philosophy. It's, well, ideology or morality. The question, then, is not: Does Nietzsche think I should do x or y? That is silly ideology. As Nietzsche says, the greatest gift a student can show him is to walk away or slay him. It is not to follow him.

When I taught MFA students, I did not teach them theory to be applied to their art. I taught them moves, possibilities, that were in the philosophy much as if I were showing them how Mondrian approached geometry or Klee the line. Theory, in this case, does not sit above the world; it does not explain the world: it is of the world, goes with the world, nudges the world and is nudged back.

After spending time at a good museum or gallery — after seeing, say, 3 or 4 works of art that rock your world — you see the world a little differently. Van Gogh makes me see the world as so much viscous: the world is thick with itself. Matthew Ritchie teaches me to understand the speed and complexity of the emergent world. A philosopher does much the same thing: after reading one, you see the world anew. And that is fucking glorious.

Philosophy is not something one lives by — that's religion, that's ideology. No, philosophy is a) something one might do (I do it! Sometimes!); and b) it is something that one goes with, one engages.

5.04.2011

All These Possible Lives At Once

I am increasingly aware of how much life takes place in the middle. It's something I've intellectually understood — or thought I understood — or even professed — but it's only just coming home to roost.

The middle is that place that is neither here nor there, that is both here and there. It is between you and me, between world and me, between words and me. Rather than understanding myself as either an actor or an object — one who does or is done to — I am beginning to understand myself as one who takes place in between myself and the world. I am beginning to understand myself as a sort of cog within a vast cosmic engine. (And, no, I'm not high right now.)

An idea comes over me (oh, god, I love that expression almost as much as I love that sensation — the erotics of being entangled, enmeshed, permeated, penetrated by an idea). It takes possession. And suddenly it — or is it I? — begin making connections between this and that. It — or is it I? — begins rereading the world, seeing it again, seeing it anew. To wit, the idea of the middle, of the in between.

Language, of course, always takes us out of ourselves, coerces us with its vocabulary — we choose words from what's out there; its structural grammar; and its syntax of sense. For instance, once you begin a sentence a certain way, there are only so many options left as to where it can go next. The grammar leads us down certain paths. So just as we speak and write, we are spoken and written.

Even the imagination takes place in the middle. And this never ceases to surprise and amaze me. After all, the imagination seems like that place of absolute control, that infinitely private domain where I am god and civil servant, able to carry out any deed in any fashion. But this is not the case, at least for me.

My imagination feels its way. Which is to say, it doesn't make its way. It usually begins with some kind of phantom that sits at the periphery of my consciousness — a flicker of a possibility, a fragment of an image. I go to it and begin exploring where it might take me — not where I might take it. Oh, I'll try and move it this way or that. And sometimes it seems to heed my will. But this is not an obedience to my will but an extension of that phantom, of that possibility: it goes like that.

This is so abstract. So let's take the example of an erotic fantasy I might have about a woman. In my imagination, the two of us can't do any old thing. The canvas of my imagination is neither blank nor limitless. On the contrary, it is highly stipulated. Feeling its way, my imagination tries to kiss her — but, no, no kissing here. But, for some reason, I can kiss her neck. On my imagination goes, seeing what's possible — a fondle, a grope, a lick. At each point, the scene works itself out, an ongoing negotiation.

But aren't I the director, actor, and producer of this scene? Well, yes, I am. But it turns out that being those things does not give me absolute control. A film is not that different from my imagination: it happens in the middle, between actors, writers, directors, producers, set designers, wardrobe, make up, and so on.

Even the subject of the fantasy, of the imagination, is not up to me alone. It comes to me (as it were)! And I love that — I love when I find a woman in my imagination. How did she get there? Well, through some kind of affective resonance, some kind of harmonic convergence. Perhaps she's an actress. Perhaps she's a coworker. Perhaps she's someone I just met in a bar. Perhaps it's someone I've known for ages. Suddenly, there she is. In my head!

This is all to say that I can't snatch any old woman, plop her into my imagination, and have my way with her. No, it is an event that takes place in the middle, between her and me.

I like to think that these negotiations in the imagination are real negotiations that remain virtual. And so the line that separates the real from the virtual is not the same as the line that separates the real from the unreal. Because the virtual is real, too.

And so I believe that imagination, fantasy, is a possible world in the Leibnizian or Borgesian sense of the word. It is a kind of virtual parallel (or aparallel, it depends) life. So rather than these limitations to my imagination being frustrating, I find them beautiful: all these lives, both virtual and real, streaming out of me.

All these possible lives at once.

5.03.2011

Towards a Middle Voice

Generally, I am quite enamored of the English language. It enjoys such a range of sounds and modes of expression, from the Romantic softness of herbaceous to the angularity of the Germanic finger. The French avoid consonants with a strange vigor: Va t'en faire enculer — which is deeply perverse in both meaning and tone but still lacks the satisfaction of a good ol' English Fuck you you fucking dickbag!

But English can be frustrating, as well. We have these subjects — I, we, you, he, it — who must do things — run, fuck, love, kiss — often to other things — him, it, her, them. As Nietzsche argues in "On the Genealogy of Morals," this posits a doer behind the deed, an actor who is distinct from his actions. He uses lightning as one example. To say that lightning strikes is to suggest that there is such a thing as lighting that doesn't strike — which is absurd. Lighting is that which strikes. (For Nietzsche, the invention of this doer behind the deed — the invention of this human subject — was perpetrated by the slaves (read: Jews) as a way to hold the noble and strong morally responsible for being noble and strong. The basis or morality, then, is subjectivity.)

English has a hard time speaking the deed, articulating the event. We can speak actively — I love you — or passively: I am loved. But it's difficult to speak in a way that is neither active nor passive, that is both active and passive: loving. Which is to say, it's difficult to speak with the world because either we're doing things to it or things are being done to us.

Rumor has it that ancient Greek has a voice that is neither active nor passive called the middle voice. I can't vouch for the veracity of this because I tried learning Greek one summer — 10 hours a day, 7 days a weeks, 12 weeks — but only lasted three days before I began weeping uncontrollably. I'm not kidding.

French likes to use the reflexive quite a bit — Je m'appelle (I call myself), Je m'assieds (I sit myself down). Reflexivity is not the passive voice but it is an odd construction that creates a circuit of subject and object wherein the subject is doer and done — but still not the need.

We do this in English, sometimes. One of my favorite expressions is: "I'm enjoying myself." What a beautiful sentiment! What a perfect circuit!

But, again, this is not the middle voice in which the moon moons (please, no Heidegger) or even better: just, mooning.

This lack of a structural middle voice doesn't mean we can't write and speak in this middle voice. It just means we need to work a lot harder. It means we have to make words do things, rupture their referential function and introduce their performative function. When done right, subjects, verbs, and objects give way to the very action of lightning, of mooning, of Danieling.

5.01.2011

It's All in the How

My friends I watched this as comedy. Even the cover is hilarious. The point being: a thing flourishes in its use, not its self-declaration.


In The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau argues that the notion that power works top down — the message is declared and people succumb — is simply wrong. He refocuses our attention on the singular moment of consumption — the housewife perusing the shelves for wares, the pedestrian walking the streets, the Native Americans praying. De Certeau argues that as individuals, we make use of the so-called system in creative ways, in ways that often undermine the claims of power, in ways that further our own being rather than the presumed agenda of power.

He gives the example of Native Americans under Spanish rule, forced to pray in a Christian manner. From the outside, it looks like the Natives have been subdued, converted, that they've seen the light. On the inside, however, they continue to prey to their own idols using the figures of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

De Certeau's point is that power can declare any message it wants, disseminate its mandates through the media. But at the point of consumption, we do all kinds of things with these messages.

When I was in college, my friends and I would pick a movie and decide it was a comedy. The one I remember the clearest is "Clan of the Cave Bear." Holy shit! For the first 3o minutes of the movie, we laughed uncontrollably hard — it was, by far, the funniest film ever made. Of course, it did not see itself as a comedy. But, in our use of it, we turned it into one.

Why only the first 30 minutes? Because sustaining that diligence is fucking exhausting. The film just keeps coming in its inane seriousness and to continue to metabolize it as comedy wears the body down. Plus, the pot wears off. (Drugs are a very good, very important way of shedding habit to see things anew, to put them to new use. This is one reason for the so-called war on drugs — which shouldn't be called a war because wars end (Carver, "The Wire").)

This is the way we watch television all the time — we watch it ironically or as a kind of pornography or or or or.... Just because someone watches this or that says nothing about that person. What matters is how they watch it.

I was out with a friend last — smart, cool, all good things — who informed me that she hates the word "joy." It's too self-help, she said. Me, I don't hate any word; I love them all — even words I don't enjoy saying. What interests me is the way a word is used. Sure, shmucks use all kinds of words badly — so badly it's enough to make us hate them. But that's not fair to the word. The word is a person like anyone else. It can do all kinds of things — if you know what you're doing.

Don't blame the word. Blame the speaker. When you see a word being misused, rather than avoid it, you should swoop it up and save it, use it in a more interesting, more engaging, fresh manner.

After all, what is more glorious than a word or phrase, long hackneyed to death, suddenly sprung to life?

We Are Things Among Things

In Matter and Memory, Henri Bergson claims that everything — everything! — is an image. That is to say, everything — everything! — is something that is perceived and made sense of. This includes our bodies, our nerves, our brains. Yes, our brains. The brain is not something that is distinct from the world. It is made of the same stuff of the world. It is stuff just as a piece of paper, a flower, a mug are stuff. Ideas, too — and notions, thoughts, dreams, concepts: they are stuff, too, even if invisible. This different stuff enjoys different properties, different ways of going, but they are not, in Bergson’s words, different in kind but in degree of complexity.


It's all just stuff interacting with other stuff. There are all kinds of interactions between all kinds of things — collisions and convergences, merges and synergies, ricochets and meldings.


At our best, we are productive cogs, productive nodes in the ever emergent network of the cosmos. We don’t want to be masters. We don’t claim to be experts. We aim to be amateurs at play in the world, Hunter Thompson spending a year riding with the Angels only to get stomped. We will get dirty. We are dirty, in the best sense of the word.


We often find ourselves nudged this way and that by the flutter and flurry of stuff. We are clumsy, more or less helpless, bouncing, ricocheting, drifting. But then there are those times when we somehow shift our posture while we are still being nudged — while we are still bouncing, ricocheting, drifting — and we are no longer passive. Nor are we truly active. At these moments, when we take on the world, when we take up the world, we are moving with the world, living through the teem and for every nudge we, too, nudge.


Think of it this way. A pool ball can simply be at the mercy of the cue. Or it can actively be moved by the cue, take its hits, live through its momentum.


Making sense of the world is not a matter of standing apart from things. We are things; things are things. Making sense is an encounter between such things. Just as wind rustles leaves and leaves, in turn, inflect the wind; just as concrete and a glass vase enjoy a tense relationship; just as light and lens interact just so to make images; just as coffee makes my body and thinking faster; so we go with the world, things and things together.


The reader, generously, lends the world his body. And the world, in kind, returns the favor. It’s all stuff going with the stuff.