1.30.2012

We Are Infinite

We are temporal creatures. And life, well, life is temporal: it just keeps happening. That seems silly when I write it as it seems so obvious. And yet so much of how we think about things excludes time, excludes change. We think about change as something that happens after the fact rather than change being the fact. 

We are always and already changing, transforming, evolving at every moment in multiple ways — our bodies, of course, as blood and oxygen and shit pass through our veins and intestines and noses and lungs and skin is sloughed, continuously; and the rest of us, too, as moods and desires shift relentlessly.  Just think about your day: you are constantly, relentlessly, ceaselessly thinking, feeling, becoming something different — or at least I am.

Now, geometry deals with shapes in space. But what happens when time enters the equation and becomes constitutive of space? When change becomes constitutive of a shape, of an object?  That is the domain of calculus. 

And calculus gives us something incredibly interesting: the infinite series. That is, it gives us particular trajectories of infinity, different things winding and meandering and drifting infinitely in their own way.

So think about this. As we are temporal creatures — as we are always and already changing — we are not set in stone.  Our identities are not this or that per se; our identities are this trajectory of becoming, this infinite series.  Consider someone's life, all the ways that person went, all the different twists and turns — of spine, mood, liver, skin, diet, attitude, career. 

Time makes us unpredictable (within limits) and uncertain. But does it make us infinite?  I mean, sure, we are a series but we end in death, don't we? What makes us infinite?

Well, do we end in death?  And, no, I'm not talking about heaven or hell but I am talking about a kind of afterlife. I am talking about the way we live on — in effect, in affect, in the memories not only of individuals but in the memories of the world itself.

Think about it like this.  A star explodes in some distant galaxy. This explosion sets off a series of events throughout the cosmos as matter is fundamentally realigned, even if only very slightly.  That star may be gone but its effects live on, infinitely, as its very being has reshaped the cosmos forever.

Well, we are all stars and, yes, one day we explode but that does not mark the end of our series, only an inflection point within its infinite trajectory.

1.25.2012

The Joy of Thinking (Differently)

Here's an easy exercise. Look around the room and choose anything you see, anything you think of.  Me, I'm looking at my set of keys. 

Now start listing all the ways this thing — my set of keys — can be categorized, thought, imagined, all of its uses, all the ways it connects to other things. My keys, for instance, are little knives; symbols of discovery; symbols of enslavement; a literal weight on me; a plethora of opportunity and possibility; the limitation of my possibilities; envelope and box openers; a child's toy; a dangerous child's toy thanks to the lead; a collection of like things; a security blanket when I'm out and about, that jangle and jab tethering me to place and vehicle; the history of keys, of secrets, of private property; children's games of secret passageways; a sign of adulthood (my beast does not carry keys; at what age will he have his own key, I wonder).

What else?

Each thing — visible and invisible — exists within multiple categories, multiple series, multiple networks.  Most things have a more or less prescribed use: this is what you do with keys, silly man, you open doors.

Inventors, of course, find different uses for known things.  This is amazing: they find life, extend the thing, create new worlds from the old world.  It is nothing less than a miracle.

Artists do the same: they literally have us see anew. Take something as simple as Starry Sky: doesn't Van Gogh teach us to see the sky — something we see everyday — again and anew, as if for the evry first time?

Reading — interpreting, perhaps, but I don't like that word for a number of reasons — can do the same thing. It can take a known object and make it unknown and then known again as something new. It is truly incredible: I can read some words on a page that make me see something I've always seen, understand something I've always understood, as if seeing it for the very first time.  What was dead is summoned to life, to new life, to new possibility.

This is the way I experienced when I first read Michel Foucault's History of Sexuality v1.  I was someone who believed that sexuality was a vital force that the powers that be repressed, beginning with the Victorians. Such and such culture or such and such historical period were certainly more liberated than we are.  Indeed, like so many others, my understanding of sexuality was defined by the figure of repression/liberation. 

Until I read Foucault who told me that repression was, in fact, another form of power — that power does not only restrict, it constructs.  Look, Foucault says, look at how often and how much the so-called repressed Victorians talked about sex — relentlessly.  They were so obsessed with sex they covered the legs of pianos out of discretion. 

Oh, man, when I read that the whole world yawned anew.  To have such a hallowed idea, an idea that I didn't even realize I had because I simply thought it was true, to have such a thing so completely re-organized, redistributed, a whole new sense of it forged was invigorating, intoxicating,  making me delirious with possibility.  The whole world — every thing, every idea, every person — could be read from multiple angles and perspectives, redistributed and recast and repeated and become something new.  The universe becomes uncanny at its core, always shifting and realigning depending on how you look at it.

To think different, to think differently, is to create life.  It is the ultimate joyful act — to read critically is to perform Whitman's great line: urge and urge and urge/always the procreant urge of the world. 

If all things are multiple, are nodes with different series, then to forge or discover these series is to breed life. 

1.24.2012

What is Political?

When I was a kid, I was what I considered "political" — I read The New York Times, I was in touch with the Communist Party, I read Che and Lenin (sort of), I was a conscientious objector (under Reagan, to get Federal student loans, I had to register for the draft. How creepy is that?), and sought to lead a revolution in my high school (somewhere, there is video of me ranting into a microphone on a window ledge to a group of no doubt confused fellow students; to complete the picture, I had a substantial jewfro: see above).

Some time in my sophomore year of college, thanks to a heady concoction of Nietzsche, Foucault, and LSD, I abandoned this political stance.  I may have had my formal reasons for doing so but it came down to the fact that is just felt false — because it was false, even if it felt so real. Bathos is a bitch like that. I was regurgitating ideology, repeating familiar narratives with their compelling but cloying sentimentality — Why can't we all be free?

As an adult — or whatever it is I am at 42 —,  I once again consider myself political. But in a very different way.

At first, my politics began as local, everyday action.  I began driving like there were other people on the road, letting in drivers pulling out of driveways. And I've always been civic minded — heeding line etiquette, giving up my seat on BART for anyone in need, offering to help the blind.  But I began to see such actions as political, as shaping the way people interact — and isn't that politics?

But there are other things, too.  In conversation, I try to avoid cliches or letting other people utter them, steering the dialogue into uncharted territory.  Because it is cliche that shuts us down, keeps us in the familiar world of what was rather than the emerging world of what might be at every moment. I taught for many years, doing my darndest to foment the best kind of revolution: a revolution of generous multiplicity. I write, of course, trying to steer thinking into new territory — and mostly to foster a love, or at least an appreciation, for thinking differently.

(Writing this now it seems so, well, lame.  Hmn.)

And then there are structures that coerce us, discourses that define us, often without our even knowing but just as often while thoroughly aware and annoyed and frustrated. I negotiate the discourses of masculinity, work, fatherhood, adulthood, son-hood, ex-husbandhood, etc. We are each nodes within networks that exceed us, ways of thinking and talking that are taken for granted as just the way things are, just what we do and hence are the very (insidious) structures of power.

This yields a very real politics of me, the politics that I am.  I am — and methinks we all are — a veritable polyphony of voices, attitudes, beliefs, actions.  Everything I do negotiates and distributes so many different factors — my sense of authenticity, my conscience, my desires, my fears, everything I've ever thought, been taught, believed.  All of my — all of our — individual reckonings of our histories is a making of history, is political.  Everyday, in multiple ways, we wrestle these discourses.

In the dating world, for instance, there are certain assumptions about what a relationship is, how it should proceed: drinks, a meal, sex, meet friends, go away together, move in together, get married, breed.  Now, we may not all do this or want this. But you can't deny that this is an assumption which means any deviation from it becomes precisely that — a deviation rather than, say, the particular way a relationship may function.

Burroughs says that what we call politics is just the matador waving his red flag and, bulls that we are, we charge only to meet air.  Or, if we're lucky, we nail the matador in the ass.  But the bull fight doesn't change.  Isn't it obvious by now that voting for one douchebag is the same as voting for any of those douchebags?  (Douchebag is, without a doubt, one of the more hilarious words.)

If we see politics, then, as happening at the level of discourse — the level of how we talk about things, what we consider true and what we consider deviance — then art, film, the media in all forms is political from the get go.

So it's not that the political is solely personal or private.  On the contrary, politics is the way the individual meets the world — meets others, meets ideas, meets him or herself. 

This would shift political thought and political commentary rather dramatically.  Rather than asking yourself, "Who will I vote for?", ask yourself,  "What assumptions do I make as I wake and ready myself for the day? As I consider my future, my history, my love, my life?"

Philosophy and art and critique are the real politics.  Which explains why they are never taught and are shit on so thoroughly. 

1.22.2012

Screed

The most exhausting aspect of life — and the reason I spend most of my time alone — is the endless negotiating and parrying of the dominant discourses.  Yes, I know my use of "discourse," not to mention "dominant," pegs me as an academic asshole (when, in fact, I'm just a quasi-academic asshole).

But, first of all, discourse is the right word here.  And, second, that's precisely my point!

Everything we say and do positions us, vis-a-vis both ourselves and others, in some way. And this way is not thoroughly creative: we don't express ourselves from the well of our individuality onto a blank slate eagerly awaiting our words and thoughts. No, we speak within a field of expectations that are rarely explicitly prescribed — and are prescribed all the more ardently by not being explicit.  They are the terms of discussion, the very manner we assume to address each other, imagine each other — not to mention imagine ourselves.

Just look at auto correct. I can barely write a word without the engine thinking I've erred.  Just now, it turned "dick" to "duck."  This is not a spelling correction — some Apple slave writing that program assumed that people don't use the word dick so, well, they must have meant duck.  But you know what? Some of us never say the word duck but do say dick with some frequency.

Discourse is an infinitely complex auto correct program.  If only I could fire the fucker who writes it.

Cursing is one of those issues for which I am often put on the spot to defend but the other asshole questioning me doesn't have to defend his lack of cursing. I, for one, am suspicious of those who don't curse. But that somehow only makes me more of an asshole.

Years ago, after being asked not to swear in the classroom by none other than the esteemed radical philosopher, Judith Butler, I wrote this piece.  Years later, I get a call from a reporter at CNN writing a piece about profanity on television.  She had plenty of people to speak out against it — most notably, some creepy parents group — but couldn't find someone in favor of it.  Her Google search yielded my blog and so I became the sole defender of profanity. And, to the journalist's infinite credit, she made me look like the responsible, good parent. A small victory! Here's her article >>

Now, look at this comment on a blog entry of mine that appeared on Thought Catalog: "Not voting," writes this discursive enforcer, "is painfully ignorant and irresponsible."  Jesus! It was not an article about voting; it was an article about anonymity. But this bozo slips immediately into the accepted discourse about such things — voting is a matter of knowledge (hence my ignorance) and ethics (my irresponsibility).

Voting may not be the best example as more and more people are coming around to its futility (although the point in my article was not the futility of voting but the humiliation of voting). The discourse is changing, albeit it slowly. But my point is not that voting is good or bad but that there are ardently prescribed terms about the subject so that when I say something tangentially about it, it stirs the enforcers who don't have to say anything other than that one line: Not voting is painfully ignorant and irresponsible.

That's one of the great benefits of being enmeshed within the terms of a discourse: you don't have to work very hard.  Why? Because what you say is so obviously true.  The fuckwad who questions my cursing doesn't have to say squat but I have to defend myself.

To voice a different opinion takes an incredible expenditure of time and energy — and still inevitably ends badly.  Foucault understood: the will to truth is the most insidious mode of power.

Now take romantic relationships.  Think about all the different kinds of romantic relationships there could be. Now consider what you expect from a relationship — date, spend the night more and more, meet friends and family, move in together, marry, breed.  I mean, it seems so obvious, right?  Any attempt to alter this course means that the person is probably hung up, has issues, is afraid of intimacy, or the one I get all the time: I'm jaded.  It's not that I've been through these things, that perhaps I know something. No, because I question the prescribed teleology of romance, I'm jaded. It's so fucking infuriating. 

This is what we have to negotiate when dating — not a world of endless possibility but a tightly prescribed set of rules reinforced by an infinity of movies, songs, magazines, and people's true feelings.  And that's what makes discourse so difficult to change, to combat: the believers really believe! And there is nothing necessarily wrong with this.  What's wrong is when one trajectory becomes the only trajectory.

Of course there are some who follow different paths. But those people, and anyone who imagines a different order of things, are deviating.  They are choosing what we call alternative paths.

But aren't they all alternatives? Can't we begin from a more generous place in which we create our own course of things?  Can't one desire intimacy but not want to live together?  And can't one just do that without having to justify, argue, plead, explain for hours on end?  If one just follows the path, well, there's no work to be done — just stick to the treads.  But, fuck, try to deviate and, man, it's exhausting! It's as Nietzsche says: saying no saps one's vitality. 

This is the way of all things — the way we talk about movies, politics, ideas, travel, the way we talk about talking, tv, love, lust, porn, booze, drugs, life, kids, parenting, family, friends. There are such aggressively enforced rules about how we discuss these things, how we think these things, how we act.  I can't have a discussion about some idiotic film and whether it was good or bad (thumbs up/thumbs down is the best we can do in the form of film critique?). I can't listen to casual jokes about "Republicans" — as if we're all on the same page, nudge nudge, wink wink.  I don't assume that kids are the most wonderful thing in the world and should be paid attention to every moment; that tv is dumb and reading good; that the news matters at all; that my home team is the team I want to win; that Fox News is evil (it's all the same drivel to me); that tears are less aggressive than yelling; that I must have a career; that...that...that...

Travel is one of those things white liberal middle class folks just assume is a good thing.  But you know what? I don't really like traveling.  It's exhausting — I don't know the language, the money, where to shit, get a glass of water, eat.  The most banal tasks of life become difficult and I am reduced to an infant.  Don't get me wrong: you like traveling, go for it.  My point is this: your love of travel should demand as much of a defense as my disinclination for it.  

Constantly having to explain myself is simply exhausting. So I spend most of my time alone. And try, however meekly, to change the discourse to be more generous, to begin from a place less ardently prescribed.

No doubt, were this piece to appear on Thought Catalog, I already know what the comments would say: You're such a snob. You're an elitist. Hopefully, at least one would say, You're an asshole. 

Goddamn, the anti-intellectualism of this country will be — nay, is — the death of me.

1.17.2012

Feeling the Cosmos Seethe

Everyday, all day, there are so many distractions — conference calls and meetings, bills, traffic, people.  We get so wrapped up in our day-to-day nonsense — does she like me? What did that text mean, anyway? I pay how much for cable? Man, that driver's an asshole! Is that a bump on my lip?

It is tempting to succumb to this barrage and begin to think that these are the things that really matter. Maybe they're not distractions at all; after all, this is what life has to offer.  If I can figure out what she means in that text or can let the asshole driver know he's an asshole or if I google that bump on my lip for the next four hours then maybe, just maybe, I'll feel good and be right with the world. 

But, more often than not, these day-to-day thoughts and events are irrelevant anxieties — at least the anxiety is irrelevant.  We — or perhaps I should just say I — expend too much energy a) on things that don't matter in the least; and b) on things that my energy expenditure cannot affect. In both cases, thinking about these things, negotiating these things in the endless babble in my head, is a drain on my vitality.

This is not to say that the day-to-day matters of life don't, well, matter.  Of course they do.  We live in the day-to-day world; we live with our desires and people and drivers and work and bills. We can certainly streamline the amount of bullshit we have to deal with but we'll still have to deal with some of it.

At so least once a day, I try to feel the cosmos seethe.  I try to quiet my neurotic head and feel — know — that I am just so much stuff in the endless mish mash of stuff and that this mish mash is infinite, streaming from the atomic to the cosmic.  All the nonsense of the day falls away like so much sloughed skin or like an ox who, with a shake of his rump, sheds the flies from his hide. 

Now, this is not an earth shattering observation. People meditate. But, to me, this is different.  It's not an emptying of the mind; it's not a stillness.  On the contrary, it involves putting myself in the cosmic swirl, amidst its ebbs and swells, its harmonies and dissonances, its resonances, its complexity.  I imagine meditation to involve a simplification of life (I will be the first to admit that I may be way off on this front). And there's nothing wrong with such a gesture — it's just not what I'm talking about now. What I'm talking about is mixing it up with the delirious complexity of it all, the infinite collisions and collusions, the ricochet and marbling of matter both visible and invisible. 

It's as if I shed my humanity, for an instant, and participate in the world as dust and leaf and am suddenly privy to the infinitely elaborate mechanics of the universe.  It's not that I become nothing; it's that I become this thing amidst the everything. 


1.15.2012

Anonymity Freaks Me Out

The first and only time I voted was in the 1988 presidential election.  I clearly remember walking in that little private wank booth and looking at this strange paper on which I was to mark my selection for this or that candidate.  I remember feeling so small, so irrelevant, the process so dehumanizing. I was a nick on a prepopulated page, the same as every other: a nick in a series of identical nicks. 

In an effort to overcome my reduction to a number, to reclaim my sense of humanity, I wrote in my choice for president: my grandather, Isidore Englander.  It was reassuring to see my handwritten scrawl on this institutional document and to see a name so close to me, so absolutely idiosyncratic.  I was confident that this would be Gramps' sole vote. This paper would not be one among many; it would be singular. 

I never voted again.  More than the irrelevance of the act, it's the demand for anonymity that turns me off.  Give me a chance to stand up and voice my opinion, declare my decisions before the masses, and I'd consider voting.  But walking into a beaded room bereft of the should-be carnal candy? Eeesh.

I have the same experience when buying things. The exchange of money for goods is prescribed in such a way that seller and consumer need not exchange anything else. This coldness, this reduction of ourselves to mere function, freaks me out. I just can't do it. I need to have some kind of personal contact — a quick joke, a non-consumer query, a smile, something that acknowledges our respective selves.

Mind you, this is not noble of me. On the contrary, it's often obnoxious and certainly narcissistic. Some checkout dude at Walgreens shouldn't have to suffer through my idiotic banter just to help me alleviate my angst. 

Breaking personal boundaries is more difficult in the anonymous super stores. These places breed anonymity.  Once inside, we become consumers, shopping to some prescribed algorithm. And the employees have no investment whatsoever; they barely acknowledge you. Their only desire is to get the fuck out of there as quickly as possible.  What do they need, not to mention want, with my anxious interpersonal invasion?

Perhaps there is a freedom to such anonymity. By agreeing that we're just numbers to each other, we are left alone to do as we will— no need to pass moral, religious, or aesthetic judgement on others. You do your thing; I do my thing. And so it goes.  There's no need for things to get personal. 

This is one thing I enjoy about politeness — it allows strangers to be strangers with the least amount of friction.  Sometimes, we need things from each other or, in this crowded world, we bump into one another — a simple "excuse me," "thanks," or "please" makes the interaction run smoothly.

Still, I have this deep seated desire to break through these barriers, to risk judgement in order to enjoy a whiff of intimacy, however slight. In that moment, there is the possibility of wonder, of the heartfelt and the hilarious, the witty and the surprising.

But that's not why I do it. My need cannot be justified by anything other than itself: anonymity freaks me out.  It's as though I need the world to recognize me, not just this body, but me. Perhaps if those around me see me as an individual — not as just another customer, consumer, or constituent — then I'll be better tethered to the earth, less likely to slip into the ether unnoticed.

Ah, yes, this is it: anonymity smacks of death. And, egomaniac narcissist that I am, I believe my individuality will be enough to keep me alive.  But only if everyone notices. 

1.14.2012

Teaching the Way of Words

If words are not (only) tools to state facts and ideas but are themselves bodies that are as true and delirious as the world itself, then perhaps we need to rethink how we teach operating with words and how we operate with them. 

Mind you, I taught comp at Cal for 7 years, more or less. I've seen what the kids of California have been taught about language, what they think counts as a good paper. Needless to say, I hope, this is not to knock my students of old. It's to knock the diverse powers that be who teach this nonsense.

Oh, man, I wish I had some say in the public school syllabus, in how reading and writing are taught. My goal would be to teach students to go with words, not just use words.  I would teach that words are not there to express truth per se but to express life itself in all its glorious messiness.  


First of all, no more outlines. Outlines are hierarchies that reinforce the view that words are just there to give flesh to truth, to ideas.  Outlines show one logic, one way grammar — the grammar of hierarchy. And while hierarchy plays some role in thinking and writing, rarely is it a good master grammar. There are so many ways to present an argument, so many ways to make one's way through an idea or three, that to limit it to hierarchy is to limit thought itself.

Use, instead, what I call an argument map.  The emphasis here is on the flow between points, how you move from one idea to the next.  Notice that there's still some hierarchy as there's textual evidence for each point. But rather than cascading top down, this encourages a lateral movement through ideas.



Freewriting.  This is such an excellent exercise. Give students a question, any question. And ask them to write immediately and without stopping for, say, 10 minutes or so. Oh, man, the prose and ideas that fall from their pens! All of a sudden, prose that was once stilted and awkward flows with vision and feeling. Ideas that were ill-conceived and half-baked take on a hue of wonder and discovery. 

Read aloud.  It's important to understand, to experience, the sensual resonance of words. An excellent way of doing this is to read aloud. And be dramatic. Let the words move you. Let them choreograph your breath, your emotion, your rhythm.  

Teach sense, not meaning. The brilliant Lohren Green argues that the dictionary is an odd beast: it delivers the meaning of all words in the same voice.  Butterfly, doodle, widget, concrete, robust, this are all defined in the same tone and timbre: cool, subdued, even. But does "any of numerous diurnal insects of the order Lepidoptera, characterized by clubbed antennae, a slender body, and large, broad, often conspicuously marked wings" really let you grasp butterfly?  And so Green wrote a different kind of dictionary, a poetical dictionary, that defines each word according to that word.  Bleak is, well, bleak; acrobat plants its landing; purple is verbose; glee leaps with delight; doodle meanders around the page.   

To understand sense is to understand the many and diverse aspects of a word — its meaning, its connotation, its rhythm, its weight, its mood and character, its networks within language and beyond.

Imitate other writers.  This is a classical exercise: write as others have written and, in so doing, find your own voice.  I used to make students write like Ginsberg in Howl or Nietzsche in everything.  This shows you possibilities of language, what's possible, by making your body literally move through different mechanics, different senses.  

Listen to other languages.  It doesn't matter that you can't understand the words, the meaning.  William Burroughs says the best way to learn a language is to grasp its rhythm — everything else will fall into place.  To begin with rules and meanings is to miss language all together.  To hear a language you can't understand is akin to listening to music — you hear rhythm and tone and sound, not concepts and referents.

I, for one, love American English because it can be soft — tuft, symphony, loquacious — and hard — book, finger, fuck.  French is so soft, all vowels, skipping quickly off consonants. This lets the French have a word such as jouissance but when it comes to angular anger, well, French must be content with a scowl: "va te faire enculer," while beautiful, just doesn't do what "you fucking fuckpig" does. There's that great scene in The Matrix 2 in which Lambert Wilson describes cursing in French as wiping your ass with silk.



The point, in any case, is this: words need to be reckoned, to be heeded, just as anything does. We have to learn to feel them in our mouths, in our minds, in our loins and bellies, see how they operate, hear how they resonate. 


1.04.2012

Effable

There is a common perception that there are certain things and experiences that words can't touch. These things and experiences, we imagine, are sublime, tearing at categories and sense and hence words.  Any attempt to speak such things, we presume, is not just futile but sacrilege — as if words sully the divine perfection of the experience.

But I think this view does not quite grasp what words are, what words can do, and how they stand towards and with the world.  Words don't name things. Or, rather, they don't only name things.  Words are themselves experiences that at once construct and tear at categories, sense, and perhaps themselves. 

Words are not just the way we order the world. They are the way we re-order the world, over and over again. When we speak and write well, we are at the border of sense and non-sense, the world coming in and out focus, in and out of chaos, in and out of order. 

I want to suggest, then, that while certain things and experiences may be unnameable, they are not ineffable.  Words are events that interact with other events.  When we speak some sublime experience — an experience that cannot know categories or concepts, an experience that is utterly itself, sui generis and infinite — we don't necessarily domesticate its unwieldiness. We don't necessarily categorize it, move into the realm of the known, into the realm of safe knowledge. We do not necessarily profane its sanctity.

Words are not just sounds and marks. Look at these words here. Look at the spaces between the letters, between the words, between the paragraphs: there is space. The same is true when we speak (at least usually; sometimes, I do drone on and on).  Silence and emptiness is an essential aspect of language.  

When we use words well, we put them in flow with the world — with its knowledge and its sublimity, its sounds as well as its silence, with its order, its chaos, its moods and affects, its things and facts. Language can be as delirious as experience.  Isn't this one task of poetry? In this sense, everything is effable, even if many of the best things are unnameable. 

1.02.2012

What's Your Time?

New Years Even, 7:40 pm, I'm standing at the ocean's edge which simultaneously marks the edge of this silly city. The ocean seethes as it will — it may be infinite and seem eternal but we see it fluctuate with the moon and the weather.  We see its mode of temporality, how it distributes time: waves are a kind of metronome, keeping a cosmic beat.

Out in the middle of the ocean are several barges headed for the East. They move so steadily, so defiantly, so mercilessly — like the ocean, in a way. But in much more manageable, human terms. Where the ocean relentlessly verges on the sublime — precisely because it's relentless — barges I can think.  I can grasp weeks and tons.

Above, planets and stars wink from past centuries.

Large rocks budge, a tiny bit, over centuries. To us, they just sit there, enduring. But slowly, they are eroding and moving.  I wonder if, to them, time flies.

Dunes line one perimeter of the beach, coming and going with the winds but over months, years, decades.

There are people scattered about the beach, huddled around bonfires. They seem as though they're in for the long haul, relatively speaking — until the early morning.  The barges are in for a longer haul; the dune and rocks, an even longer haul; the ocean, well, it seems to exceed the haul.

These bonfire people enjoy a time so different from the time of the commute when everyone moves with such purpose and speed.  They'll kill you if you get in their way.

Make your way through a city any day and see all the micro temporalities — the strollers, the sitters, the sleepers, the coffee drinkers, the runners, the cars, the freeway.  Cities are assemblages of so many different times, most accelerated but still with great, with endless, variation.

I can see Bergson's duration so clearly: time is not outside of us, an abstraction that moves steadily and geometrically around its circle.  No, time is itself a dimension — I see it, know it at this moment: all these different temporalities, all these different durations, are time happening right now — a now that is all these different times, all these different nows, these nows that are different speeds and distributions of before and later.

Deleuze asks us to look at a moving image of, say, a man walking a dog by a river in the mountains. See all the different times: the time of the man, of the dog, of the river, of the mountains. All images have multiple times.

My friend, the poet Lohren Green, takes time to think, to write — it's as if he has bovine digestion, moving ideas through four stomachs.  Me, I've always been fast: I write fast, think fast, digest food fast. When writing Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze was the slow one, Guattari already having moved on to the next connection, the next node. Neither speed is better or worse: they simply (or not) mark our respective temporal tendencies.  

Time is all the times of all the different things, each thing happening in its time, enduring as it endures.  Time is not a neutral abstraction.  Time is an infinitely variegated becoming.  This world and everything in it is in motion, happening, changing. This world and everything in it — including everything invisible such as moods — happens, changes, transforms, always and already.

In Burroughs The Place of Dead Roads, Kim Carsons advises would-be gunfighters, "Always take your time." It's not necessarily about being the fastest; go faster than your speed and you'll shoot your foot or fumble all together.  Of course, if the other guy's time is faster than your time, you're done for. But then you were done for before the shoot out even began.

So the question is: What's your time?

1.01.2012

Talking to Other People

How are we to speak to others?  This may sound like a silly question but talking to people who are different is difficult. We don't share the same codes or the same referents. Which is to say, we talk about different things and we talk about them in different ways. We all have different things we think are even worth talking about. And we have different ways we like to talk about these things — what's interesting, what's exciting, how much to speak about how shitty vs. how cool something is, etc.

Like some others I know, I often feel a bit removed from the facts of the day. I am conversant in the code of white middle class so-called liberal urban people: I know how to speak like them, more or less. But I don't share many of the same referents. We consume, metabolize, and discuss, different things.

I don't know much about what people call politics. I don't know the names of lots of countries. Which I thought I did but people keep saying names of places I've never heard of.  It might be that all my geographic knowledge stems from fourth grade and due to various political events there are now different countries.  Either that, or I really never knew.  And while I do watch some of the television programs — man, there has really been a revolution in serial tv shows — I don't know many others and even fewer movies that are out now. And this ignores the manner in which people talk about movies and politics and such, what counts as judgement, as critique, as insight.

And so when I'm talking to people outside my thoroughly vetted community — a very small community, mind you, of approximately three people —, I often find myself at a loss as to how to speak to them, not to mention what to say to them.  Just look at how people respond to me on Thought Catalog.

Now, for the most part, I can usually avoid speaking to people about anything that matters. This, however, gets trickier when it comes to meeting women.  I often feel like Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm trying to pick up a girl in a bar.



But, despite my apparent if not rampant narcissism, my point is not to write about me.  My point is multifold, so it's not really a point at all, I suppose.  I am interested in how we can speak to each other despite our differences.  And I'm interested in the ways an interest in what McLuhan calls the environment makes social life difficult.

Ideally, we would speak to each not despite our differences but with and of our differences. We'd approach each situation not demanding or assuming that it conform to our conversational standard.  We'd not stick to our guns too adamantly. But nor would we abandon our likes and dislikes too readily. We'd be ready, poised for what of interest might come and what of interest we might add.  We'd inquire; we'd listen; we'd instruct; we'd hold forth: we'd converse.

There is a beautiful and complex ethics here, a posture that demands we be at once sure and open.

But what's really tricky, the thing I struggle with the most, is finding the right tone of voice to use when speaking with other people who don't share this same ethical posture (an ethical posture I only sometimes wear, to be sure).  When I hear someone talking about, say, Barack Obama, I'm not quite sure how to respond. But what I'm feeling are the following things, all at once: I don't care at all; I wish we would talk about something else; I have a bit of disdain for the conversation and those who are participating; I hope I learn something I don't know; maybe I'm wrong and they're right; I could do with another drink; Kierkegaard was right; what the fuck do I know, anyway?  

How, I ask you, do I express all that?