12.25.2015

Holy Cow, or Understanding Nietzsche and Deleuze & Guattari as I Stare at the Buffalo

For cows, their bed is their food is their home.
Such equanimity! I see why some consider it sacred.

It's Christmas, my favorite day of the year — no obligations, nowhere to be, no one wants anything of me. So, as I've done for decades, I went to Golden Gate Park and sat with the buffalo. Yes, there is a.... pack? a herd? a bunch of buffalo in a large pen in the middle of the park. So I sit down on a bench and just watch these buffalo sitting there. I wasn't the only one.

We think about viewing animals and nature as a way to know and learn. We study them. But there's always another way of looking that participates in the becoming of that thing, the way of that thing. To watch a buffalo is to take in this enormous, impossible equanimity, to entwine with it, to ride buffalo becoming, even if just a bit.

Man o man, these animals are cool. No sudden movements. No pacing. No hunting. They sit there, utterly content (more or less). Sometimes, they stand up and eat the very thing they're sitting on. No need to forage: their bed is their food is their home.

And it suddenly struck me why, to some, the cow is a sacred animal. Of course it is! What greater example of equanimity is there? What greater expression of absolute peace with the world? What a beautiful will: the will towards, with, of cow-becoming.



Above the buffalo, I watched two hawks hunt. They were clearly hunting together, moving together, surveying the fields, navigating the winds. Everything they did was in some kind of conjunction with each other as well as with the ground and wind. It was so clearly a machine, a system distributed along diverse and shifting lines (unlike, say, a factory, conveyor belt, or train).

Two systems — the buffalo and the birds of prey — sharing this space with such utterly distinct wills, distinct ways of operating. Buffalo are so terrestrial. They don't go with air and wind too much. Meanwhile, these hawks glide so effortlessly through space, just modulating their position to veer this way or that.

Of course, not all cultures consider the cow sacred. I think of the Ancient Egyptians, of whom I know nothing, and their worship of the cat. Oh, jeez, cats are clearly incredible — solitary, strong, poised, slick, quiet, stealth, content but in a way so different than the cow.

Two wills, then: one worshipping the cat, the other worshipping the cow. I suddenly understood both Nietzsche and Deleuze & Guattari in whole new ways. For Nietzsche, we are our wills to power — how we make sense of the world, the very modes of knowledge, the things we decide to study and how we study them, the ways we distribute ourselves socially, the way we make sense of the infinite, of power, of our desire. We are not doers; we are deeds. Will is not something extraneous to us, something added to the body. We are this or that will to power: the will to cat, the will to cow, the will to skinny Hebe saying all kinds of things.

Religion, then, as a desiring machine, a way of channeling, cutting, condensing, distributing desire, an entire schema of codes and art and truth all expressing — creating — this desire: this desire to be cat, to be cow, to be skinny Hebe.

I've always loved the mountain lion. I've yearned for its independence, its solitary contentment, its strength and poise. Which is to say, I've always leaned into cougar-becoming. But watching the buffalo today, I want that equanimity amidst it all. I feel a will to cow coming on.

12.18.2015

Teacher as Host, Teacher as Life of the Party

When I was teaching, if you looked out over the classroom, everyone was seated quietly. And there, at the front of the class, was this lunatic with a nose prancing, screeching, talking and talking and talking, yelling, banging the table, moving, laughing, telling stories, interrupting movies and conversations to add his two sense. I staged an environment in which I was the life of the party, goddammit!

It's what I did naturally but there was a method to the narcissism. It was a gangbusters approach: if only I'm ardent enough, insistent enough, I'll get this understanding into their heads, their bodies, their lives. There's at once a violence and a generosity implicit in the method just as there is always violence and generosity in any pedagogic situation — the generosity and violence of giving (it's there, more subtly, in gift giving, as well).

My son is at a new school — new for him as well as new in general, its first students started in 2011. It takes a different approach to pedagogy. They call their teachers "collaborators." The space itself is something to behold: 62 kids aged 5-18 broken into "bands" of around eight students, each inhabiting a cubby, a tree house, a loft amidst this warehouse. There are drills and saws and nails available; there's a computer lab; there's a small kitchen; there's a cork(ish) board floor with mats available for tumbling and such.

This is one angle of my son's incredible school, Brightworks. 

The school and its teachers — its collaborators — create an environment for learning. There is no set curriculum but there are themes (called "arcs"; this year's is Rocks, Seeds, and Humans). They learn how to work together on projects; to plan and distribute responsibilities; they have a lot of work they do alone but for which they usually submit proposals that are then critiqued by peers and collaborators. Which is all to say, the school plays host. 

One result, as far as I can tell, is that there are many lives of the party. The school seems filled with characters, students and collaborators alike, each doing their own thing while interacting with everyone else. There is no center, no gatekeeper of knowledge or grades (there are no grades per se, of course).

Two approaches to pedagogy, then: life of the party and host. No doubt, there is a cultural heritage of the former and a cultural bias for the latter. Schools are generally architected to have one teacher in the middle running the show; one problem that arises is that that teacher is bored or insane or vapid or stupid. And then the whole things goes to shit. We've all had those classes; no doubt, I've been that insane, stupid teacher.

Today, we have less tolerance for the one who would hold forth. We live in a culture of "likes" in which very few are willing to take center stage. And those who do are, more often than not, attacked mercilessly. We like to think, not erroneously, that everyone is special, that every person learns differently, that kids should be empowered to learn as they wish and want and are so inclined.

I don't disagree with either position, either model. And at a certain point, these two blur just as all dichotomies blur. I like to imagine that in my narcissistic ramblings, my insistence on my own voice being heard, that I created a certain environment, that I hosted a certain kind of party where learning could (and hopefully did) happen. Yes, it revolved around me. But I wasn't the cool, kick back host who sat in the corner sipping his Rémy with sycophants gathered at his feet. I tried to be the life of the party who touches everyone, influences everyone, gets everyone engaged, laughing, learning. Frankly, it's exhausting.

The host model takes a different approach. It puts in its work behind the scenes, before everyone's arrived, putting everything in its place, making snacks and drinks readily available, putting cocktail tables in just the right place.

Now, were I ever to host a party (which would mean I'd have friends: see earlier post on the inhuman social), I'd buy a bunch of booze, put out cups, and set everyone loose. And then, no doubt, I'd parade about holding forth on this and that.

The host model seems more efficient. Most notably, it's replicable. It doesn't turn on the personality of one person. But it also relies on the motivation and energy of the student which might very well be absent or in short supply. Then again, that's always the case, always a possibility.

When we think about teachers, we imagine lives of the party, even if they're often a tad curmudgeonly. I'm thinking of John Houseman in The Paper Chase and of Socrates, of course. And even Jesus, who could be a bit cranky. Which is to say, we imagine the teacher as a kind of storm, a whirling dervish, a strong personality. Kierkegaard argues that the teacher is everything (for Kierkegaard, that is what makes Christianity Christianity: if Socrates was a mid-wife, bringing about what we already know, Jesus is the essential factor that makes rebirth — repetition — possible. See his Philosophical Fragments).

But Brightworks, my kid's school, enacts a different model all together. They architect then hang back a bit, steering here and there, nudging but not dictating. Which can be hard for me at times. Often, my boy reads me his homework and, well, I take to it with said whirling, hurling questions, giving lectures, offering different models, poking and prodding with a certain vehemence. Which my self deprecation tells me is wrong but all my pedagogic instincts tell me is good and right.

Alas, like most things, I suppose the best pedagogy takes place within a well hosted environment punctuated now and again with a life of the party: a welcoming environment accompanied by a host not unafraid to demand you try his cocktail (to extend the metaphor, however awkwardly).

And yet the two modes involve fundamentally different modes of training with different sets of expectations, different ways of assessing success. But what is success in education, anyway? For me, it was always a mind blown, a new life view inaugurated — which I believed I could bring about through a relentless show. But surely there are other metrics and other ways.

12.12.2015

The Inhuman Social

When I'm at the ocean, I don't feel asocial. On the contrary, I'm enmeshed in elaborate conversations of the best sort.

When I was younger, I had a group of friends, a whole crew, a bevy of boys and girls with whom I hung out constantly, drinking, goofing, doing what we did. In college, I had more or less of the same — except that I was living alone. Even in the dorms as a freshman, I had a single room. I remember that I was shocked that I got it — the single room, that is — as I knew there weren't many available. But it turns out most people, especially college freshman, don't want to live alone — which I found weird. This should have been a sign. That and my love for Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling which finds Abraham alone on the mountain top, alone in the world, alone except for god, except for his living in the infinite.

Anyway, as college progressed — or, rather, happened, progress being such a loaded word — I found myself more and more alone. I'd sit in my studio way off campus reading and writing. I had friends still but I became less and less part of a group per se. It was all too much for me; I'd short circuit when in groups.

And so I came West (relatively speaking). And as I happened — progressed being such a loaded term —, I found myself alone to a startling degree (startling for some, that is). I really spend most of my days and nights alone. Where am I gonna go? Shopping? To the gym? Nah. I just stay home. No roommates, no neighbors, a 12 year old boy twice a week (my son, you pervs!), an occasional client call, a date once in a while.

But I do go to the beach several times a week. It's the only place I feel at home. What might strike some as strange is that I don't feel alone there. On the contrary, I feel immersed, enmeshed. Only it's not in the living social: it's in the undulations of the clouds, of the atmospheric cosmos. I go there to socialize with the atmosphere which is, alas, quite plucky. Those clouds have a lot — a lot — to say. And yet they leave me my space, sorta (they do surround me, weigh down upon me).

The atmosphere is not static. It's in a state of constant flux, more or less agitated, fast, sedentary. When I sit and walk along the ocean's edge, I feel like I'm in the best possible conversations. There's no bullshit. Or, well, there might be but it's always from me and the ocean and the clouds call me on it in the most generous way. I fuckin' love those clouds! Those waves! When I'm there, I feel like I'm socializing. I'm going with them, leaning into their ecstasy, their melancholy, their weight, their flux.

Which just goes to show there are different registers of the social. I want to define the social as "going with" rather than as solely human. There are all kinds of things to go with as well as different registers of the human social. I've known people — always women, for some reason — who love going on date after date garnered from the world wide web. That's a kind of social for sure. I've also noted that most of those people burn out: reckoning a new person every day who might or might not want to touch you, fuck you, love you is downright exhausting (for most people — to each her own metabolism, always and of course).

In Year of the Dog, Mike White gives us a character who does not operate well with humans and knows something's wrong. She assumes that something is her. The people around her are not bad; they're just, well, human. But with dogs, she feels right and good; she feels alive. And so she abandons the human world for the world of animals.


I know many people who love plants. To them, a perfect day is meandering through some luscious place — Mt. Tam, China Basin, wherever. They feel good going with the vegetal, with its pace and demands. Others I know love the birds — the soaring and sounds and plumage. I get it; I get it all. But I'm sticking with the clouds for now. Im sticking with that view, every night, from my bedroom window of the greatest party imaginable. And, if I'm so inclined, I can sass it up with some Bibio or Bruce or Broken Social Scene or nothing at all but the hum of life.

Some people really prosper online, on the Facebook and Twitter and such. Social media has really stretched, complicated, and complemented what we think of as the human social. As catfishing and all that testify to, people want to feel connected, even to strangers, even strangely, even if all it is is a strange mix of texts and emails. It feels like life. It is a kind of life. (This is not to belittle social media at all; as one who spends most of his time physically alone, I've known a wide variety of so-called virtual experiences, from the friendly to the sexual, that have resounded for me in profound ways.)

For me, it all comes down to what Nietzsche taught me, perhaps his greatest lesson: be in an environment in which you, in which I, can say Yes as much as possible. For me, so much of the social is filled with No — Don't cut me off, douchebag driver; Does this meeting have a purpose?; Are you really playing this insane game to make me jealous?; and so on and so on and such. But the clouds and the ocean have me saying Yes over and over and over: a persistent hum of affirmation. Sure, sometimes I say No, especially to the wind. The wind can be so rude, after all. But then I just go inside and, voilà, I'm not saying No anymore.

I could of course change myself so I'm saying Yes to whatever comes my way. This is what religious practice would claim to offer. If I meditated and were grounded, I could change myself so as to welcome any and all, including traffic, the wind, manipulative would-be lovers.

But, then again, I am this engine. I am this body, this metabolism, this way of going. And, yes, I work to optimize my engine. But I also know how my engine likes to run — and that's with clouds.

12.07.2015

In the Seam of It All: On Reading "Short Flights" (A book of aphorisms)

 
This new book of aphorisms is an incredible, dizzying, disorienting experience.
 Like the form itself, this book leaves the reader in a strange, in-between state, immersed and enmeshed within the seams where words, sense, and concepts flow.
Check it out.


You might think that reading a book of aphorisms would be a quick, lighthearted affair while reading, say, Moby Dick demands a serious commitment. But I'm here to tell you that reading a book of aphorisms is dizzying (in the best sense — after all, who wants to read something that reassures? Shouldn't the best things dis- and re-orient?). 

Sure, one aphorism might be quick. (Of course, that one aphorism might linger, persist, resonate, alter, stymie, confound, grab, anger, frustrate enlighten, and/or liberate you over the course of your life.) But an entire book of them, from a breadth of writers — 32, to be precise — from an even greater breadth of perspectives and sensibilities is, well, a thing of another order. 

An aphorism is a strange beast. In the exquisite introduction to Short Flights: Thirty-Two Modern Writers Share Aphorisms of Insight, Inspiration, and Wit, James Lough gives us a learned and poetic survey of the form — a brief history (befitting the topic, no doubt) along with an attempt to define and develop a taxonomy for this oft-forgotten form. After all, is an aphorism only defined by its brevity? Well, obviously not. Must it contain wisdom? Perhaps. How about paradox? Often, it seems. 

Indeed, Lough argues that the aphorism is not a simple declaration or even platitude. In his words, it must twist — in word, in form, in sense, in expectation, in perspective. As he claims, "A strong aphorism seduces, surprises, and sinks in....It needs a reversal, or more generally, it needs to bear the double footprints of a thought retracing itself. A good aphorism's doubleness is what makes it pop. It undulates, airborne in two quick arcs — one up, one down — and snaps at the end with a wicked crack."

I want to say, yes, there's that doubleness but there might be even more twists, more directions than two — not just a doubling but a proliferation, a birth of trajectories, tangents, curves, an entire calculus of sense. The thing that, for me, makes this book so great is each contributor writes a pithy introduction to his or her take on the aphorism. That's 32 different perspectives on what the damn thing even is, creating a kind of meta-aphorism, a folded, twisting definition that contains multitudes (pace Whitman). 

The effect is origami-like. All these folds, pleats, twists! Some deploy the form to grasp at concepts and truths, picking up where the discipline of philosophy has proven inadequate. For others, it emerges from quiet, meditative exploration. Some need the brevity for the sake of quotidian convenience. Some question the prejudice of the aphorism's objectivity, pushing the aphorism towards the more familiar form of personal poetry and imagistic memoir.

And yet, even then, the familiarity will not stick. Aphorisms are nomadic all the way down. They refuse to stand still. They flourish in the seams of form, between and amongst and within philosophy, poetry, meditation, koan, joke. An aphorism is all those things and none. It may reach for wisdom, for truth, for empathy, for sympathy, for compassion. And yet again, it may persist right where it is, neither ascending nor burrowing but content in a kind of formal acrobatic sense making: This! Here! Now!

The effect of reading them is equally nebulous, multiple, and disorienting. Unlike, say, a philosophic tome — Kant's Critique of Moral Judgment or even Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals — the aphorism is on its own, adrift. It has no other context, no place to call home. It's not part of a system; it's not a stone within an edifice of one ideology or other. Sure, we readers may afford an aphorism a temporary resting site as the words seem to buttress some notion we already have. But that aphorism isn't there to confirm you or your beliefs; it's not a platitude or cliché. Despite its brevity, or precisely because of its brevity, its twist, its doubleness, its multiplicity disallow easy conforming to the ready-made world. 

It even resists authorship. No doubt, if we take the aphorisms of one writer together — as this book does for 32 different writers — we begin to see a style, a belief system, a world view emerge.  Ashleigh Brilliant (now that's a name!) has a taste for paradox — "There's only one everything"; Sharon Dolin evokes memoir and image — "Old woman on the road. Back bent. Nothing left to carry but her life"; HL Hix undoes final truths — "Our inability to entertain a multiplicity of ideas simultaneously, we call 'truth.'" 

But aphorisms don't necessarily want to be collected, to be taken together, to be unified. That is their power. They stand alone. But they're not hermetic. On the contrary, they find their very lifeblood in the seams of energy that flow between form, senses, truths, words, and disciplines. As such, they are generous, even if often quite dangerous. 

And this makes reading a book of aphorisms from different writers an incredible experience. Identities blur, even if great names are attached. Most conspicuously for me, it was my identity as a reader that blurred the most. As Lough points out, aphorisms play with perspectives. Who speaks in an aphorism? Who is the we? Who is the you? The I? From where does the aphorism usher its insight? In what tone is it scribbled? The aphorism is a rhetorical minefield (pun intended?). 

Take this one from James Richardson: "Of all the ways to avoid living, perfect discipline is the most admired." Who speaks? And what's the critique? Who does most of this admiring? Us? Him? You? People in general? The answer, it seems, is all and none. The aphorism hangs there, or better, flourishes there in the in-between, in the seam of perspectives.

Or this, from James Lough: "I'm anxiously awaiting the response to a text message I haven't sent yet." The I is Mr. Lough, perhaps, but it's also me just as it's not me but some other I, some I I don't want to be but often am. The phrase drifts among possible and actual I's, refusing to settle, claiming all and none as it own.

Then this one from Yahia Lababidi: "Envious of natural disasters, men create their own." In what voice is this delivered? Is envy good? Bad? Both? Neither? Is this wisdom? Observation? Something to be heeded? Known? Once again, the aphorism finds its power by claiming none and all, by drifting in the seams.

All these perspectives literally splay me. They disembody me, taking me out of myself, sending me adrift into a place of impersonal becoming, a place where knowledge is no longer mine — and is all the more resonant for it.

This is a book of folds, of multiplicities that in turn folds and multiplies you. To read this book is to be swept up in flows that exceed, surround, and ignite you. The sensation is uncanny, familiar and unfamiliar, as you take leave of yourself and join a kind of cosmic, inter- and intra-human becoming. To read this books of aphorisms is to flourish in the seam of it all. 

11.27.2015

Cleanliness, Stench, and the Seams of the Social, or Living Amidst Yourself


I spend a lot of time at home, alone. I work from home so am here all day, for the most part. I don't really like going out and seeing people very often so, most nights, I'm home alone. Two nights a week, my son sleeps here. Otherwise, not many people enter my house. (I suddenly feel like I'm writing a distinctly ill-advised dating profile.)

As I spend a lot of time here, the house literally becomes an extension of me, and me of it — a nuptial, as Deleuze and Guattari might say. I love that figure of the nuptial. It's not desire that brings these things together, although there is desire to be sure. Nuptial articulates a more technical coming together that is still sumptuous, with a hint of the unruly within the union-that-is-not-a-union (a nuptial is not a merging, a becoming one; it is a 'bloc of becoming' constituted by multiple bodies. Their 'famous' example is the wasp and the orchid). It's an odd word to say. Nuptial. It feels like it should be dragged out longer, have more syllables. For all those vowels, it's somehow slurred, that t at times becoming a ch as the finale alternates between an upward swing — nuptOOal — and a collision of consonsants, nuptchl. The concept and action involves both, not without a certain eroticism running alongside and within other intersecting economies of connection and interaction, a more or less involved intertwining along the limits of bodies that is intimate, fundamental, even if tangential). Where was I? Oh yeah: so my house and me, a nuptial, yes. The smells of my body, my sweat, my soap, my cooking, my whathaveyou pervade the space as the space affords opportunity and architectures of engagement. I wear this house like this while it bears me like this. Visually, there are signs of me everywhere — scraps of paper, uncashed checks, old receipts, scribbles of my work, my writing, the bureaucracy of everyday life. There are tidbits of food, crumbs of gluten-free bread, stray leaves of baby arugula, lost peas, a dusting of coffee grounds.

Which is to say, I live thoroughly with myself. Sometimes, it feels like I've peed on the walls and in every corner, marking the space unquestionably as mine — both a proud planting of a flag and a desperate, weak and sad attempt to claim a piece of the world. (Actions and things are multivalent.)

There is a tipping point, of course, a juncture at which my residue turns fetid. Rather than articulating my vitality, the delicious leftovers, they become malodorous markers — and progenitors — of my disease.

Some people are very clean. They eradicate every sign of every event that transpires in their house. They make the bed after they wake; they fold the towels after showering; they wipe the counters clean, put the dishes away, sweep the floor after every meal. They even put their clothes from the day away. This last one confounds me. Clothes that are worn but not dirty need a weigh station, a purgatory, some place to linger, to air themselves out, to ready themselves for the next wear. You can't fold them up and put them in the drawers; they have too much of the the city and me on them. But leaving them about on the floor just means they'll accumulate more schmutz (without the benefit of even wearing them). And yet they're not so dirty that they need to be washed (not to mention washing wears clothes down). So I strew them — strew is an awesome verb! — in a laundry basket.

Anyway, the will to clean so fervently seems to me like a kind of self-loathing, a will to wash oneself away from the world. On the other hand, stewing in one's own fetid self isn't exactly a sign of vitality. It usually speaks to a certain malaise, a self-immolation by one's one stink.

This becomes more complicated once people start to enter the house for this or that reason. When friends come to stay, I am sure to clean the bathroom and kitchen; it'd be rude to inflict them with my various stenches. But I don't scrub, dust, shine, and polish. What about when my son's friends come over? I don't want to scare them with my filth. We all remember being in certain people's houses and knowing a cleanliness and filth limit. On the other hand, these kids are 11 so what do I care?

Women are another matter all together. I briefly dated a woman once who kept her place spotless — and commented upon it repeatedly. She actually asked me that were she ever to visit my place, would she be grossed out? It made me see my house in a whole new light, tidbits of my grotesquerie everywhere. Rather than face this, or feel this, I stopped seeing her.

One's clothes and house mark these practical, palpable junctures — seams, to borrow Lohren Green's word — of the private and public, the personal and the social. Words do, too, of course but in a more abstract way. Home and clothes are borders that have more borders — walls, doors, closets, drawers; underwear, pockets, wallets, purses — all marked with our mortality. They involve a fine and relentless, if unnoticed, patrolling.

I definitely enjoy living amidst myself. Yes, it sometimes — well, often — goes too far, turning my life into decay. But I like the faint smell of my sweat in the pits of my shirts; I like the crumple of the blanket that warmed my feet on the couch the night before; I like the books I'm reading out and about, transmitting their promises and possibilities. I don't want to put my life away after using it. I'm just not sure anyone else wants to see — and smell — all that. And so I spend a lot of time at home, alone.

11.19.2015

What Do You See When You Consider the World?

Making sense is cinematic.
I see a multi-screen production — no reel here.

There are so many ways to parse events, to distribute bodies and their relations. Take what we call the news and bombings and such. The media try to establish a particular frame of causes and effects. Meanwhile, Facebook feeds offer alternate causes and effects.

There is, alas, no right or singular way of making sense of things. Events are multiple. How we distribute them, make sense of them, depends on our metabolism (our humors, inclinations, speeds), our circumstances (from cultural and historical to immediate things like hunger and the need to pee), our point of focus (from right in front of my face to the sprawling horizon of the cosmos).

What do you see when you see the world? Where is your point of focus? How do you see things going together, coming part, co-mingling? How do you distribute the flux? And what does it look like? Feel like?

Me, I see flux as the condition of the world — a great, indifferent stream of all things. Nietzsche sometimes calls this Nature. It is what happens beyond good and evil, outside of any science and human knowledge, everything aswirl — rocks, ideas, planets, gamma rays, tequila, love, that itch on my right shoulder blade, cars, consciousness (whatever that is), kids. I see an endless morphing into different shapes, bodies attracting and repelling each other, often without ever coming into direct contact (an orbit, for instance, is a kind of attraction between two bodies which may very well occur without either knowing about the other. The Earth just thinks: Weeeeeeeee! Watch me go round and round! Meanwhile, the sun thinks: Man, it's hot! Watch me fly through space! I wonder what all those rocks out there are doing?).

This flux coheres and gives way, in the same breath, to this moment, this moment, to this writing, this itch, this feeling, that feeling, this idea, this life happening now: agua viva. I don't see consciousness as something different than this stuff; it's part and parcel. And yet it's not material. Mind, consciousness, whatever we call it, exceeds me, streams through me, animates itself in me, as me, just as it streams through the sun and Pluto and you. And yet it is not one thing, either. There are planes of the invisible, architectures of affect, fluxes of forces, some of which we are aware of, most of which we are not but that we nevertheless live through, necessarily — sun flares, smells, gases, magnetisms of all sorts, pushes and pulls, tugs and gropes of trees and pollen and moods and ideas.

What do you see when you consider the world?

Philosophers, of course, paint us elaborate pictures of what they see — only they do it in concepts and words. Each philosopher sees something different and asks us to see like that. Bergson says that when we read philosophy, we're coming to an intuition of what that philosopher intuited, what she saw, what she sees, how she distributes the world, the flux, bodies, affects, relations. Other artists literally paint the picture. See? There's what I see. Writers do it with affect and character and plot and rhythm and syntax.

People do like to distribute the world into buckets. Dualities, for instance, are quite common: body/spirit, temporal/eternal, good/evil, signifier/signified, subject/object. These make a certain sense in the abstract. They sure make things easier to talk about. The structuralists distinguished between diachronic and synchronic language: language as a system and language as a spoken, actual event. This made it easier to talk about language as a thing separate from its use. Then Derrida came along and said: Wait, uh, isn't language always already spoken? Is there any language that isn't? Where would that be? There's nothing outside the text. Which is slightly different than, yet related to, Alan Watts coming along and saying: This is it.

I've never felt dualities. I feel multiplicities ricocheting, marbling, mixing, boinging all about — in me, as me, around me, with me. The structure of dualities seems like an idea, a configuration, that has no real relationship to experience. Or at least to my experience.

And yet the possibility of duality is one way to configure things, to make sense of things. As such, it is something, too, that is part of the ricocheting, marbling, co-mingling, attraction, repulsion. Which is really weird: amidst infinite multiplicities and differentiations, there is also a more or less rigid duality  — at least as an idea, as a moment within the flux, as a possibility. Stillness, in a sense, as a movement within movement.

Making sense is a kind of cinematic act, putting together all these images into a moving sequence of relations. Maybe stillness is the long take, Tarkovsky. My cinema doesn't run on a reel, going from here to there. It's a multi-screen production without an arc and with characters who morph into other creatures, human and not, living and not. Which is why I've always felt at home reading Burroughs.

11.06.2015

Sense & Sentence


We take sentences for granted. Of course we write in sentences. It's how we make sense to one another. Or, well, that's not quite right as we don't always speak in sentences and we understand each other, more or less. So we demand that we all write in sentences because, uh, hmn, uhhhhh...why?

The sentence is a sense machine, a technology that takes up various elements — doers, actions, qualifiers, objects — and distributes them in a certain relationship. In its rules of operation, there are agents independent of action — the I is distinct from the seeing, running, reading — that do things to and with and for and toward the world. These terms of distribution and operation are themselves premised on certain assumptions, for instance, that doers and actions are in fact distinct.

Nietzsche says this a lie. The agent and the action are not separate; there is no doer behind the deed. In his example, the lightning doesn't strike. Because what would lighting be if it wasn't striking? You can't separate lightning from striking. And yet that is precisely what the sentence mandates we do. In Nietzsche's grammar, lightning lightnings Or, better, just lightning — as a gerund, an action as a form (and vice versa). 

But if you were to write that, your teachers and everyone else for that matter would correct you. That's not a proper sentence, the comments would read in the margins. The demand to write in sentences is a demand to make a certain sense that is linear, in which distinct bodies do things to other bodies. To write in sentences is to forge an entire cosmos with its own ideology, its physical and ethical laws, its own proscriptions and way of meting out justice (those red marks on your school essays!). But there are other universes of sense with different laws and different ethics.

William Burroughs refused the sentence as the dominant mode of sense making. His sentences sometimes lack subjects or verbs; subject and verb don't always agree; sentences meander without finishing. Often, he writes in fragments, word-images, a kind of collage: Outside a Palm Beach bungalow waiting for a taxi to the airport. My mother’s kind, unhappy face, last time I ever saw her. Really a blessing. She had been ill for a long time. My father’s dead face in the crematorium. “Too late. Over from Cobblestone Gardens.”

Poetry, of course, rarely operates with sentences. See how ee cummings breaks sense in order to create friction as words starts to collide, running into commas, the order of sentences giving way to the poignancy of desire, of longing. The experience insinuates itself into the exposition, making the linearity stop and present itself as immediate and palpable.


i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite new a thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body.  i like what it does,
i like its hows.  i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones,and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which i will
again and again and again
kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,
i like, slowly stroking the,shocking fuzz
of your electric furr,and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh….And eyes big love-crumbs,

and possibly i like the thrill

of under me you so quite new


This all makes different sense. As David Theruailt (read his great blog), Sean Ziebarth (his prodigious blog), and I were discussing the other day over a leisurely crab cake conversations Mermen posters and pedagogic allusions, fragments offer a sense of sense that often feels right, that articulates the fragmentation of thought and life and meaning and experience that we all know so well. And yet we continue to teach the sentence as if it were the only way to write and, well, make sense. As if everything ordered and in its place were somehow edifying rather than stultifying.

But what if we taught writing differently. What if we focused on different architectures of sense —  conceptual, narrative, affective, purely linguistical or rhetorical (such as repetition, alliteration, and the like), through associations of form, meaning, history. What if we taught the rhythm of sense making that moves between and among meaning and mood, affect and association. What would its pedagogy look like? What new kinds of comments would show up in the margins?

Mind you, I like the sentence. Besides being highly effective for a certain mode of exposition, I like it precisely because of its strictures, because it sets limits. Which is a constant challenge: how do I make this sentence work, wind, fly, meander, drift? How do I make this linear trajectory multiple? How can I take in this technology and put it to other uses?

The sentence, then, as one mode of sense among many. Too much fragmentation and we enter chaos — not necessarily nonsense but no-sense. Nonsense can be affective, effective. No-sense is a still birth. It's a subtle balance, this sense, perched as it is on the frontier of form and becoming, shape and movement, chaos and order.

Burroughs always traveled with his writing tools: a typewriter, a box of writing cut up into pieces, and a pair of scissors. Sense is not always linear as the sentence imagines it. Sense goes in different directions, often all at once. It stops and starts again. It folds and breaks and leads us astray in the best possible way. It at once provides footing and undoes that footing. Which is what all great writing does. It doesn't just lead from subject through verb to object. It situates us at the cusp of chaos, running the seam of flux and form.

11.01.2015

The Horror of Beginning a Film, or The Limits of Sense

The beginning of movies holds a particular horror. The film has to go from zero — literally, a blank screen — to some kind of form, some kind of sense, in a flash. This space is absolutely uncertain, a nowhere, a no-sense, an abyss. Sitting in the audience, we reach, grab, and grasp as we try to assemble sense from the flickers before us, looking for a way in, something to stand on, some way to orient ourselves so we can say, perhaps silently to ourselves, I know what's going on here. 

The movement from no-sense to sense yawns with the possibility of infinite nothingness — and worse, infinite no-sense. It's one thing to face the black abyss. But it's another thing to be given something that you know should make sense, something that has apparently been created with the precise intention of communicating sense, and it still doesn't cohere into anything you can grasp, that you can recognize. Something is happening but you don't know what it is. This is madness, sense perception without sense, and it's terrifying.

We all know people who can't stomach this fear. They immediately begin asking questions: Who's that? Why's she doing that? What's going on? This seems to inspire universal hatred. Which makes sense. After all, what is life if it's not the very act of forging form from the flux, making sense from the no-sense? And to have someone else clinging to us for life is literally unbearable; it's the tug of the drowning pulling the rescuer under. 

Hollywood films, aware of this and having no respect for the intelligence of its audience, work hard to mitigate the horror of beginnings. Before the film is even out, studios plaster the world with ads and press releases, with talk show appearances and press screenings, all this to orient the audience before the film has even started. So when we go in, we already know what to expect. Oh, this is a romcom! A robot action packer! An indie drama? These designations come with certain modes and methods of assembling sense that are more alike than they are different; Little Miss Sunshine shares the same structure as The Rock (although The Rock is a far superior film). 

But this passage from no-sense to sense is never univocal. And there are infinite paths to sense, to all the different kinds of sense — conceptual, affective, local, fleeting, universal, transcendent. And, to make it more complex, that initial blank screen will never have been blank. It is always already filled with cliché, with inherited knowledge, with modes and signs of sense that are well worn, familiar, that come pre-packaged as sense-packages so we, the audience, don't have to do any work. The sense comes pre-cooked. 

The filmmaker has so many ways to go. She can give us a sense we think we know and then disrupt it — Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. Or she can make the terms of sense making part of the sense making, as in Scream. Evil Dead 2 disrupts sense making, giving us local moments of sense that defy expectation — the room of objects laughing and our hero, at first disturbed, begins laughing as well, going with the event rather than fearing it until we in the audience do the same, laughing with the madness of it. (Horror movies have a license to play with sense making in Hollywood that other films don't seem to.)


The avant-garde, of course, loves this moment, this movement from no-sense to sense. Think of the beginning of Un Chien Andalou. It opens with the classic text, cliché of clichés, "Once upon a time...." And then we see a man sharpening a blade; he looks up at the moon; suddenly, there's a woman's head which he grasps and, holding her eye open, slices her eyeball with the blade. This is the figure of avant-garde sense making: forging gaps — literally cutting the tissue of sense. 


For me, great films are a bit horrific in that I know there's a sense there but I can't find it quite yet. This is in fact the entire logic of David Lynch's films: there is a sense, a logic, but it will forever elude you. He doesn't just give us nonsense or no-sense. He gives us images that do make sense on two orders: local and obtuse. That is to say, the images make a kind of local coherence, never adding up to a concept or clear narrative turn but offering an affective coherence, even if complex and multiple. 

And then he does something else: he gives us the sense of a sense we'll never understand, a logic that eludes. The end of Lost Highway finds Robert Blake whispering in the ear of Bill Pullman. They know what's happening. But we don't. Nor does Lynch, we presume. But there is a kind of master logic that will remain forever off screen, out of view, beyond our comprehension. 

This entire discussion begs the question: What is sense? I want to say that it's a cohering into a this that is multiple and may even be infinitely complex but which nonetheless is a this not a nothing. This this can cohere via a concept — all these different things are dogs or modernist art or love — or via a local magnetic pull, as when an asteroid collides with a planet. Sense can be affective — all these things feel this way. Sense is a form amid chaos, however nebulous. 

But to enjoy this kind of sense — these nebulous, less familiar modes of coherence — demands a certain generosity. Yes, the filmmaker forges a certain coherence. But so do we as viewers, as readers. Some watch Lynch films — or Cassavetes' or Marc Lafia's or Buñuel's — and they turn away, as if there were nothing there, as if no sense was being made. Not me. I want that sense that is precarious, tenuous, that comes into being as readily as it dissipates. There is a riskiness there — a fear, perhaps, but a thrill, a delight, a surging, an urging, a procreant urge of the world, life risking itself to be interesting, to be beautiful, to tease and dance at the limits of chaos and order — to play at, and with, the limits of sense.

10.24.2015

In Defense of Gesticulating


I move my hands when I talk — a lot. That is, I move my hands a lot when I talk. And when I talk a lot. But, really, whenever I talk.

I never really thought about this. It's just what we do. I come from a family of gesticulators hailing from a city of gesticulators. So it wasn't until I found myself in San Francisco, then teaching at Berkeley, that said gesticulating became apparent. I'd like to say it made me feel like a linguistic acrobat but, alas, the reality is I suddenly felt like a clown. Or like I had some psycho-physical disorder in which my hands and arms and sometimes whole body twitched and contorted as I spoke.

Mind you, this didn't stop my emphatic gesturing. On the contrary, and perhaps as a sort of rebellion, my gestures became more pronounced, more elaborate, enjoying greater scope and physicality. There have certainly been spilled coffees and cocktails, the occasional face, ass, shoulder, and breast bearing the brunt of my gesticulations. So it goes. I do always turn with a befuddled, dazed, and sincere apology as I smack flesh or cup.

But this is how I talk. It's even how I write. As I inscribe these very words, my hands tends to linger, shake, and gesture as they approach the keyboard, as if to coax meaning from the pitter patter of keys and their attending pixels. For me, as for those in my family and from the New York of old — I can't and won't vouch for present day Manhattan and I am pretty damn sure no one in Brooklyn is gesticulating — the kids these days fear the emphatic, at least in words, preferring to let their facial hair speak for them — for me and whence I come, language is embodied and meaning is gestural.

Usually, people like to think of language as a tool set: I'll pick up this word to designate this meaning or sensation. But that's just not how language works. As Merleau-Ponty, the great French phenomenologist, tells us, we have this language as we have legs and body; we reach for a word as we reach for an itch. Language runs through us as oxygen, gin, toxins, and what have you runs through our veins. We cough words, breathe sense, speak gestures.

Meaning is an event, not a designation. Which is to say, meaning doesn't only predate our occasion, our being on the scene. We make meaning; we conjure meaning. And this is a physical, affective, and conceptual enterprise all at once. To reduce language to mere designation, to reference, is to miss not just the nuance of meaning but the joy, pleasure, and erotics of communication.

To speak is a come on — to others, to cashiers and OK Cupid would-be dates and friends and the world itself. It's to conjure, billow, and bellow swells of inflection. We steer meaning as we steer the world and steer ourselves and are, in turn, steered. We don't just point elsewhere when we speak and write. That's what zombies do; that's a living death. No, we living beings forge the world through gestures semantic, physical, and affective.

Language is odd like that. I, for one, love the act of summoning words to the page and throat and ear. Language, as Barthes tells us, is lined with flesh. Nabokov knows this well just as all great writers do — Borges and Melville and Junot Díaz and TC Boyle and ee cummings and Lisa Robertson and Tom Wolfe and Hunter S and Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg and, at his best, Walt Whitman and, of course, Emerson and Clarice Lispector and Luce Irigaray.  I always found Judith Butler's writing rather arid and bereft of such gestures but, when studying Hegel with her, I was most struck by her subtle and nuanced gesticulations as she moved through the Phenomenology in person.

To speak and write is, at the same time, to conjure and create. It's not just to designate and point. When we speak, we bring forth everything that has been in order to inflect it just so to make new meaning, new sensations and affects. And this act is as conceptual as it is physical. So of course I move my fucking hands as I speak: I'm making the world here.

We lean into meaning, into the world, with our bodies and our shoulders and words and grammar, with our stomachs and hands. As we speak, we move meaning around, distributing affect and sense. This takes words, sure, but it also takes hands and limbs and everything else. This shit ain't easy. Making meaning is a demanding act, a gestural act, a gesticulation within the fray and flux of it all.

So, yes, I move my hands as I speak and even as I write. Because the right inflection of the world is hard come by. It's earned through participation. When I move my hands this way and that, I'm weighing words and their meanings and their moods; I'm moving them about, literally, even if they're invisible; I'm conjuring and creating with my toil and sweat, with my inflection at once linguistic, verbal, semantic, and physical; I'm summoning a turn of phrase and steering it into the goddamn world; I'm feeling the impact of a trope, my hands and limbs so much collateral damage or, better, an emphatic umph animated by sound, sense, and affect. Of course I'm using my hands! I'm using everything I got. What are you doing?

10.20.2015

The Impossible Seduction of the Uncanny


I vaguely remember the first time I tried to watch Cassavetes' Faces. I was younger but not that young — maybe 24. I had an ill constituted cinematic appetite and couldn't stomach it at all. It was pure chaos to me, at best, harassment at worst. Years later, I'd try again. The results were some variation of the first.

And then, one time, I saw the film. I actually saw it. I saw what it wanted, what it was doing, its terms of operation, its promises and threats. And, suddenly, it was the greatest film I'd ever seen, changing the very definition of film for me, the very mode of what an encounter with art constituted, recasting the limits of what film could do — and, of course, what I could be, film as a mutual becoming.

The question that intrigues me is a rhetorical one: Why did I watch it again? What compelled me to review something that I'd repeatedly rejected?

Often, I encounter something and dismiss it with hardly a moment's recognition. Flipping through TV channels, I can safely and swiftly say No to nearly everything on screen. Walking through a museum, I glance at, then summarily dismiss, nearly everything in the collection. Same goes with the radio. Often, my boy will play me some rappy anthemic pop diddy and, within seconds, I know it's of no interest to me (think: the Fast & Furious 7 soundtrack — mind you, I like the film, not the music).

But note how I dismiss things so readily: they fit neatly into a bucket whose contents I know — "rappy anthemic pop diddy." I size it up too quickly; I already know it. There's nothing new there. Or at least I think there isn't (I could be wrong). Needless to say, everything has a way of bleeding, of undoing categorical boundaries. But they don't do so with much vigor or interest. Deleuze would call this cliché. They are stillborn, dead from the get go.

And then there are things that I engage — that I watch, read, or listen to — that are odd, new, creative and yet which I immediately love. These are special things that operate along similar frequencies as I do. And so, when I engage them, there is a certain harmonic convergence: it hits my wavelength and, just like that, I'm flowing with it as if I'd always always known it — as if were part of me. I get its moves, even its most strange ones. I felt this way about the painter, Matthew Ritchie; about Broken Social Scene's album, Bee Hives; about Borges.

This is extraordinary: to always have known something that is itself emergent, alien, odd. I don't know them because they're cliché; I don't know hem because they're culturally familiar. I know them because, impossibly, I've always known them. They are new, creative acts, fresh trajectories within the cosmos. But operating along a frequency I occupy so it feels like home, as if we were made of the same stuff.

But then there are those things, like Cassavetes' Faces, that don't immediately resonate with me. I don't recognize them as either cliché or harmonic convergence. They are alien, other, almost repulsive. And yet, despite my initial distaste, I return to them. Why?

It's an exceedingly odd rhetorical juncture. I know that thing and yet I don't. It's eerie. And what's even stranger is that, despite that initial rejection, I am drawn on. If I were to eat a chicken salad sandwich that made me feel bad, I would not continue eating. That would obviously be insane. And yet I watched Cassavetes' Faces, which nauseated me, again — and again. What's the difference? What draws me on? Draws me in? Why do we engage with things again, things we've rejected?

Just as the thing rejects us, denies us, eludes, something else draws us on — some alien seduction. This is the uncanny, at once familiar and unfamiliar, known and unknown and seemingly unknowable.

The uncanny is an odd and complex temporal fold. The future state of my enjoyment and knowledge presents itself now. Here is this thing that I don't know, I can't recognize, but which I always already will have known. It is not a now or a later. It is a later which, once reached, will become an always have known.

This is different than harmonic convergence which is an impossible now — an emergent now that has always already been, an unknowable that I've always already known. The experience of harmonic convergence is the experience of a brother from another mother or, for that matter, from the same Mother, from the same source: we are made of the same stuff.

But the uncanny is not made of the same stuff. It is alien. But it is an alien which will become part of my source, will become my Mother. At this stage of my life, I can't imagine Faces not being born of the same stuff that I am. It has become constitutive of me, of who and what I am, of how I go. In this sense, the uncanny inaugurates a repetition, the end state becoming the opening state.  The uncanny is the ultimate gift, taking me astray of myself in order to become myself.

10.14.2015

Commentary on Commentary



The other night, I'm sitting alone at this exquisite neo-crafty-kid Portlandesque bar cum restaurant — a bar to me, a restaurant to everyone else — and, as I looked around and saw the different faces and bodies and groups — all these postures and gestures and moods — I was overcome with a desire to tell everyone what I saw. You have a great face, sir. Oh, look at you lady, so lovely, so calm, so generous. You, you look so nervous. Relax. You, dude, what's up with with the douchey thing? It's weird. And so on and so forth.

This was not a will to judgement. I had no desire to condemn or even asses anyone for that matter. I just wanted to inform them, in total benevolence, total naivete, total innocence, like a weird big nosed Jew angel.

And yet it was more than that  — whatever that is, and I'll return to it in a moment. This will to commentary was my pleasure in being able to enjoy the undulations of the scene.  There was so much nuance, so much rise and fall in these faces and encounters, these local reckonings bearing their histories and futures. I liked just being able to ride the crest of that energy. I felt like I could float on it, lie down and be carried along its eddies, flows, and stillness. Commentary, then, as surfing.

And surfing the undulations of it all, not just the social. As I left the bar, which happens to be mere blocks from the beach, I walked into the sun setting over the Pacific. And I wanted to comment on that, too, to tell the wind and the sky and the ocean what was so charming and annoying and beautiful and odd about everything they were doing.

As I got to the beach, people were sitting, as if in a sandy theater, eyes glued to the screen of the horizon. I kept looking all around, turning about, riding the scene of the ocean, wind, sand, social, city. I loved how people looked as they looked. I loved the way the sky over the city shifted. I felt that steady wind pick up speed with the descent of the sun, as if the sunset itself were suddenly blowing into me. And through it all, I wanted to give my commentary! And, frankly, I'm pretty sure I was muttering out loud.


There is this incredible pleasure in letting the event guide, not as detritus caught up in its fray, but as a body that's navigating the ebbs and tides of it all. This surfing is not a quiet surrender; it's a continuous articulation, in every sense — affective, linguistic, physical. The event summons and declares certain words through me. I'm the conduit that Burroughs imagines himself to be: words come, we write them, say them, offer them. Commentary, then, as an inflection point, a seam forming between (and amongst) my body and the world.

No doubt, my will to commentary is a will to a certain kind of control. I am somehow not implicated; I just ride along as jetsam, gossamer, barely palpable wisp of a presence to others. But of course the commentary undoes that invisibility, it announces and implicates me. Commentary is a weird kind of participation. 

Which makes me think about sportscasters. They have this very peculiar job to announce and comment on an event that you're seeing. What's beautiful about it is precisely that challenge: What posture towards the event will the commentator take on? What stance? The worst announcers, and there are lots of them, tell you nothing new or, worse, tell you things that sour the event. Joe Buck, from Fox, loves to do this, at least in baseball: he points out who's failing (rather than who's succeeding and why). To hear his commentary is to hear a sick body at work, reacting poorly to the world and forcing his ill constitution on as many people as possible. I truly believe that a bad sportscaster should face criminal charges for sickening the world.

But the best sportscasters add this beautiful inflection of the event. They somehow magnify, repeating the event's physical visuality in words. It's a kind of echo but it has style, a distinctive and productive way of repeating what just happened. I can hear Jon Miller announcing as Gary Sheffield was at bat. Miller, in his focused intonation, observes, "Sheffield, menacingly shaking his bat...." What a beautiful read! And what a great contribution to the event — that word, "menacingly," so perfectly uttered. In that instant, Miller's commentary stretched the event somewhere I hadn't at first noticed — Sheffield's menacing stance — but forever shaped my way of perceiving not just that at-bat but all at-bats, forever.

I love that at-bat is a noun.

But it's not just his interpretation. More often, it's his emphatic repetition.  He make home runs somehow more — more exciting, more explosive. He makes the pitches bend a little more, curve a little more, snap a little more. Which is to say, commentary doesn't need to go unexpected places. Sometimes, it amplifies, vivifies, vitalizes. And what's better than that?

10.11.2015

The Legitimization of Knowledge, or Why I Don't Like "Medical" Marijuana


I've read about, and had a variety of people talk to me about, the newfound therapeutic efficacy of MDMA, aka ecstasy or molly or whatever you want to call it. And while I welcome the medical establishment and the culture at large embracing this oft considered party drug, it seems to me that anyone who's ever taken it would reply with a decided Duh!

There is this peculiar movement afoot, from the rise of medical marijuana to organizations like MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) and non-profits such as EmmaSofia, to justify the use of certain drugs. Big Medicine steps in, runs studies, and more often than not comes to conclusions that anyone and everyone who's ever taken the damn things already knows.

This is not a surprise as we always privilege experts and quantified studies over actual experience. What's funny is picturing this scene. Picture these doctors feeding MDMA to people and watching them roll, talking to them as they roll (Now how do you feel?), taking notes (Patients are smiling grotesquely). And then declaring: Whoa! People who were once low and blue are now happy and full of vim! Then they put some numbers to their experience — The quotient of happiness among patients in Class B increased significantly, over 40%, in Trial 1 — and, suddenly, we all "know" that MDMA can make you feel better.

Again, Duh! We give credence to someone watching an experience over someone having the experience. And yet the watchers — the clinicians — are noting the experiences of the users. There is no so-called objectivity. All there is is a filter — an often well paid filter — whom we "trust" even though he's never taken the damn drug! It's strange and funny to me that we're trained to trust people who don't experience something over people who do experience it, including ourselves. 

I can understand tests that measure and assess damage to body organs. This is something that can actually be quantified. Creatinine levels in users rose by 5% (note: I made that up). Ok, thanks to a study, I know something in general about how MDMA affects the kidneys or liver or jaw. Still, it might not affect you or me like that. And correlation is not cause — maybe the increase in creatinine was due to the doctors stressing out the users' buzz. Nevertheless, it's something to pay attention to and I support as many studies as whoever wants to fund them.

But when it comes to behavior, well, that's a hard thing to quantify. How do you measure someone's happiness or, for that matter, their suffering? It is a qualitative experience that is lived through from the inside out. Which is to say, it's the user's experience, not the doctor's.

Still, the world does reveal itself. We generally know when someone is happy or not, content or not, agitated, anxious, melancholic, depressed. Unfortunately, many of these words have been hijacked by the medical establishment. Depression is no longer a state but a condition. Like the designation pervert, "depressed" pervades someone totally. Which is absurd. In the harrowing, dark waters of feeling depressed, we also feel joy, ennui, happiness. I'm not going off on a tangent (but what if I were? So what? What constitutes sense here?). I'm suggesting that we've all come to lean unthinkingly on a certain way of making sense of states of being that can be a) dangerous; b) absurd; and c) sometimes useful.

I come back, then, to the present trend towards the legitimization of drug use. Many in my world hail this as a good thing. See? We were right! MDMA (or pot or acid or psilocybin) are good for us! I get that, I do. But I already knew that! How? From experience! I don't need some Big Pharma funded study to tell me what I already knew, what was so goddamn hilariously obvious to anyone and everyone: MDMA makes you feel great! Even afterwards! That's the whole fucking point!

So, yes, it's great from one perspective that people who live in certain states can get their weed without too much hassle (although it was easier, in many ways, before these laws). And I love that people who are suffering and might never have encountered MDMA can enjoy it and enjoy life.

But, of course, if it hadn't been illegal in the first place, they'd probably have already known about MDMA, taken it, and avoided years of suffering. Letting the medical establishment be the determinant of experience, legitimizing experience, makes things generally worse for everyone.

The how matters. That is, how we've come by so-called legalization shapes the discourse itself, shapes experience, shapes how we think and talk about things. Yes, we can go to weed shops and there are more and more studies on the efficacy of CBDs and in Marin shrinks can prescribe MDMA (so I hear). But does putting all this under the aegis of the state sponsored corporate apparatus (and the corporate sponsored state apparatus) really serve our interests?

I think I'd rather have a different discourse of legitimization and have these drugs remain illegal than enjoy the privileges of a medical marijuana card (if I did). At least, that's what I think I think.

10.07.2015

The Technology of Making Sense



Think about how you make sense of things. Often, we try to pinpoint things, recognize them, name them. Oh, this is post-goth industrial noise pop. This is neo-noir. That's feminist. Or not. This is a certain technology, a certain mechanics of sense making, that assumes things are instantiations of bigger things. I am a man (so some say); man is type of human; human is a species; and so on, I suppose, but I'm not sure where it ends. Life? God? The cosmos?

Anyway, sense making is not a natural thing per se. It is constructed in the same way that Deleuze and Guattari suggest that desire is constructed. There are what they call fluxes — emergent flows — that are cut and distributed by machines. The act of making sense by categorizing or knowing something is just such a machine. It's a kind of technology that is taught in schools as just how we do things. Now, Bobby, can you put all the red blocks in the red bucket?

This seems innocuous enough, perhaps, but it is built on a vertical architecture, a hierarchy, a pyramid in which less and less is on top and it's the top that's in control. Sound familiar? It plays itself out in social dynamics (the leader of the group), knowledge economies (the expert knows; we don't), and of course in politics: the buffoons at the top make the laws as dictated by the ones on the very top — the uber rich.

In school, we learn two methods of sense making: deduction and induction. Deduction begins with a general rule or axiom and then derives and discovers subservient truths. In rhetoric, this is taught as the syllogism; in philosophy and math, axioms and their proofs. (I know some mathematician somewhere is reading this and yelling that I said something wrong.)

And then there is induction in which we begin with the particulars and climb and build our way up until we've constructed a category, principle, or axiom. In inductive reasoning, the final resting point is not as sure footed as it is in deductive reasoning. After all, it's not built on self-evidence but on transient, empirical evidence which, alas, we feel we can never finally trust.

Nonetheless, in both deductive and inductive reasoning, the architecture is built on a vertical axis. We move down from general principles to examples or else we move from particulars to general principles.

But, it seems to me, there are other axes of sense making such as horizontal associations (that are not siblings — that is, that are not secretly the same). Many years ago, some friends and I built an associations engine that linked art and artists across all disciplines — fine arts, TV and film, philosophy, puppetry, music, design — to each other. We created a vast taxonomy broken into disciplines and movements and time periods. But then we also built a keyword system of concepts and affects — delicious, erotic, repetition, repetitive, in your face — that forged non-didactic, non-categorical connections, associations that sprawled sideways rather than up and down.

I imagine, and try to operate with, a technology of sense making that is free to sprawl every which way. Rather than limiting sense making to categories, we open it up to the inchoate, the affective, open it up to fluxes. I think of Lohren Green's Poetical Dictionary which defines words by their pronunciation, etymology, established definition, and affective resonance. He doesn't see these things as opposed or in any way interfering with each other. He follows where the word goes — which takes him along vertical, horizontal, and every which way paths. The result is not nonsense; nor is it ineffable. On the contrary, it's quite articulate albeit in a slightly different tongue than we're used to (the traditional dictionary has an all too familiar, exceedingly arid tone).

Kids make sense differently, especially before they've been trained to use a hierarchical technology of sense making. Just think back when you were a kid and all the odd things you thought — the ways you mixed up and combined words, the ways you linked things together. This is what I think of when Deleuze and Guattari say the flux — these smears of associations that create sense, that are sense, but never cohere into a concept or category. The sense remains at the level of dreams.

William Burroughs considers his dreams his education. The films of David Lynch forge all kinds of sense that are not linear, hierarchical, or conceptual as they enact a certain dream cinematics. Buñuel, of course, did the same but he enacted bourgeois culture along the multi-axes and fluxes of dreams.

But as kids go to school, the machine cuts these fluxes. Suddenly, kids enter middle school and they become know-it-alls. No, Dad, that's not a cumulus cloud! Duh! As kids are rewarded for their ability to put things in buckets, they abandon their sprawling poetic sense making and flaunt their ability to classify. This is what we teach them it means to know. Education becomes the process of domesticating the wildness of their thinking, turning those insane, private, ineffable images into social, public, accepted knowing.

It'd be nice to teach a different mode of sense making, deploy a different technology, a different architecture that moves according to different mechanics and dynamics — a sense making that's allowed, and encouraged, to be weird.

9.26.2015

Empiricism is Transcendence, or Look! The Universe is Thrown


I took this from my bedroom window while writing this. 
Look at the universe — look at invisible space — bend.
Space is not the background. It's all inflected.




The west coast sky of the United States — at least between upper Oregon and Half Moon Bay — has been outrageous as of late. Yes, that's kind of an absurd thing to say as the sky is always exactly as it should be — outrageous. But, holy moly, it's been really and truly incredible recently.

I've been lucky to enjoy the sky for extended stretches, with no distractions — no emails or phone calls, no conversations or traffic. Just sitting there, safe and sound, beneath, below, and within the sky, watching. How's that for an excellent day — I spent several hours looking at the sky! That's a good god damn day.

Anyway, I'm sitting there watching the sky and this particular distribution of clouds and I see something amazing: I see the curvature of not just the earth — but also the earth — but the curvature of the space around us. I see space bending!

Now, it's tempting at times to imagine the earth as this body that's in space. We're on solid ground, suspended in even and continuous, if interrupted, space. But what is space? Is space the background or canvas on which we hang our planets and stars and solar systems, the empty place we fill with our structures of knowledge? Space is the blank spots, the playing field. So we imagine.

But I'm looking at the sky and, well, it doesn't seem even at all. It doesn't stretch out evenly in all directions. The thing we're suspended in — if we're to continue with that figure, which has all kinds of problems — is not uniform. Space is not blank at all. The damn thing is bent! All that yawning sky, that space, is not a great openness. It's filled with planes — planes I can't see but whose effects I can see (that is, the clouds and trails don't just drift any old way; they drift along what the great poet and sophist, Lohren Green, might call a seam). 

Just look at the freakin' clouds! They don't fill space evenly or randomly. No, they drift along one level plane, like the cool kids on the mezzanine at the party. 

And it's a plane that bends! The vanishing point of this plane is not the same as the vanishing point of the earth — the horizon. But both sure move along what are obviously planes. And obviously along planes that are related to each other in some complex, mutually inflecting way.

Space is not geometric; it's, at the very least, calculaic. It is bent, everywhere, all the time, in infinite curves. Space is thoroughly internally differentiated. How do I know? Look at the fucking sky!

If you literally look up from daily demands and anxieties — jobs, rent, traffic, girlfriends, boyfriends, parents, children, tv shows — you see the cosmos bending with the force of enormous, twirling, spinning bodies. The universe is thrown. It's big banging all over the place, at different speeds, at different angles, along infinite and intersecting planes, creases in the cosmos, pleats in the universe — all these crevices and niches, canals and alleyways, hills and valleys of the goddamn universe. The universe is San Francisco (geographically).

To see the world is to be outside yourself. To see is to take in the world and, at the same time, to let the world take you in. To see is not to just be the seer; to see is to be seen. A condition of seeing, of taking in the world, is that you make yourself something that can be seen and taken in. This is the mechanism of life — sight, sound, touch, taste, smell. You only see because you can can be seen; smell, because you are something that is smelled; touch, taste, and hear only because you're tasty, smooth, and loud.  

When I'm looking at the sky, I move along with the big banging planetary bodies moving along this infinitely variegated and inflected universe. I'm seeing that which means I'm experiencing that. As that space bends with forces and bodies so vast and swift, I tilt with it, even if ever so slightly. 

Empiricism is not a dead end road of numbers and knowledge, a means to an end, a resting place. Empiricism is participation. Empiricism is keeping your fucking eyes open for whatever and however it all comes, or not. Empiricism means moving along the planes of the cosmos with the speeds and pulls of bodies vast and swift. Empiricism is the way to transcend the ego and become with the world.

9.20.2015

The Dupe of Looking Inward, or Wisdom Lies in Empiricism



So I'm standing in front my bathroom sink the other evening, the night getting deeper and darker, and as the water ran, I felt a bit discombobulated. My first instinct, at least at this point in my life, was to try to ground myself. And, for some insane reason, this translated into me closing my eyes, or it felt like I closed my eyes, and launching into some insane inner monologue — or would that be a dialogue? — in which I tried to convince myself to be present. What a demented thing to do! How the fuck am I supposed to be present when I'm interrogating myself, talking to myself, judging myself for feeling discombobulated.

And then I opened my eyes and saw the water running. I reached into it, cupped it, immersed my face in it. And then I was present. And then any disorientation, anxiety, discombobulation vanished in one great, silent woosh!

The image of the searcher, of the seeker, plagues us. We imagine that the person who looks for answers, who asks the so-called deep questions — Who am I? Why am I here? — is on some road to discovery, to greater truths, perhaps even to ultimate truths. We believe the answers lie within. So we burrow, we interrogate, we judge ourselves: You weren't present, you fickle moron! Be present!

Alas, there are no answers hidden within in. There is no depth. There are no questions. To ask questions, to mine oneself, is nihilistic and only perpetuates the very sensation that initiated the query to begin with: anxiety, feeling lost, out of place, discombobulated.

O, I could say and write that word over and over: discombobulated. It performs itself so well, so elegantly, despite its unwieldiness or, rather, precisely because of its unwieldiness. The word pops and mutters and reels, like the experience it names.

Here, then, is where the world is to be found. Not in exploring yourself or being true to yourself; not in asking big questions; not in antagonizing the inner voice to speak more, question more, judge more. No, the answer always is: there never was a question and everything you need and everything you need to know is right here (am I quoting Sinead? So be it).

Standing in front of my sink, going deep within only perpetuated my personal mayhem. Well, mayhem is hyperbolic — my discomfort. But leaning into the water, hearing its sound, feeling its temperature, its weight brought me right to where I already was: right there.

The myth of depth is dangerous. As Foucault argues, it is what inaugurates the very conception of the pervert, the criminal mind, the endless interrogation that will out your truth through relentless, endless, infinite discourse. Turning inward is not the answer. That's what they — you know who they are — want us to believe. It is a disconcerting collusion of philosophy, epistemology, religion, "self-help," and the police state (or what Foucault called, at one point, an episteme).

There is no depth. And turning inward isn't wise; it's idiotic. Asking deep, philosophical questions about life and your place in it is even stupider. There are no questions as there are no answers other than: this is this. This is it (pace Alan Watts). All there is is all this.

The world happens at the surface. And I don't mean surface as opposed to the depth; I am not privileging the transient pleasure over and against the long lasting truths of the world. I'm throwing out the whole damn schema.

The surface of the world is run through with physical sensations of sound, smell, touch; it enjoys speed and intensity. And it's also run through, at the same time and along similar pathways, with ideas, concepts, affects, moods. The visible and invisible world are intertwined (thanks Merleau-Ponty!). When I left my "inner" monologue telling myself to be cool and leaned into the running water, I was leaning into life itself as it was happening — which always, necessarily, includes moods, ideas, notions, concepts, affects.

You can't brush away the water to find the truth. Turning inwards is a dead end, literally. The world is neither in here nor over there: it's right here, right now — this. The so-called wise man doesn't seek answers or look deep inside himself; he doesn't ask why he's here or why there's something, not nothing. No, he just leans into the water, washes his face, and quietly — or even exuberantly —smiles.