Self-righteousness, unquestioning ideology, collective adherence to a position: these, to me, are the ills. I don't care who the fuck is performing them; it's the very behavior that I find, uh, troublesome? Distasteful?
This is why I like using aesthetic categories — "distasteful" — to make sense of seemingly ethical scenarios: it jams the circuit, at least for a moment. And jams me up socially, too.
I remember the early days of ACT UP — there was no orderly march, no heart strings being pulled, no hand holding or candle light vigils. There were explosive, guerrilla actions. It was the event, the spectacle, that mattered — not the group. They didn't want you to feel good; they wanted to get in your fucking face, put a bit of fear up in you, force you to think, to react. I don't know what they're up to, anymore. But at least for a bit they were challenging the paradigm of activism, of resistance.
And then there are truly radical models, ones that don't seek to resist anything per se but rather proffer alternatives. I'm thinking of Burning Man. Now, I'm no burner — I'm too misanthropic and too dainty, perhaps. But I thoroughly and absolutely dig what it's up to: no money, just play and the playa.
But what I really respect about Burning Man is that it's not just an event. If it were — if it were just a few days of frolic — it might be cool but it would just reinforce the madness of the weekend logic: work work work for a few hours of play. Which drives me insane. No, Burning Man takes its ethos to heart and carries it through everyday life in cities and communities across the country and across the globe (I made that last part up: is there an international Burning Man community?)
I truly feel that activism — what an odd and sort of beautiful world; it makes me think of the Futurists — is reorganizing behavior.
Of course, a little legislation could help, too.
Here's the law I want passed: the work week is 32 hours. Anyone who works more than that must be paid overtime. Man, that would fuck things up gooood. We'd probably starve for a while. And not have enough gadgets to go around. But think of all the time — parents could parent! Parents could fuck! Non-parents could fuck! We could move more slowly, reduce stress, make our youth happier.
That's the main behavior, I suppose, that I'd like to change: I want to slow everything the fuck down. Because this endless will not only to speed but to acceleration is literally killing us.
Tactics are those things that we do, day in day out, to make our way. They entail poaching on the existing structures, plucking here, picking there, making distinctive sense of the great teeming morass. Tactics are individual and localized: this is what I do. A tactic may be as literally pedestrian as going for a walk at work rather than eating at one's desk. Tactics are necessary, an inevitable component of everyday life (de Certeau's book is called — and I love this title — "The Practice of Everyday Life").
Other tactics I've discussed: Jamming circuits in conversations; writing; teaching; driving like a human being. I'd love to compile a list of tactics, thousands of things individuals do everyday to get by, to enhance their lives from within the structures of power.
And then there are strategies — actions, techniques, approaches that have a greater sweep, that literally occupy more than local space. Strategies confront other strategies, each vying for power, each vying to express itself.
Here are some strategies I'd recommend if we wanted to change things (and why do we want to change things? Well, I do because I find the demands of survival unsustainable: I can't keep doing this, working my ass off just to get by as I wrestle failing, underfunded institutions like public schools).
How about we deny corporations personhood? This would not limit business. On the contrary, it would seem to spawn it as capital would become more decentralized. And individuals within corporations would become liable for their actions — pollute the water? Make people sick? Go to jail and pay whatever amounts are awarded in civil court (the individual would have to pay, not the company: a company is not a human being).
Or: keep corporations but, as incorporating is a privilege, make them do certain things for the social good. For instance, over x% in profit has to be redistributed among employees — that is, profit sharing would not be a perk but a mandate.
Or here's a simple one: rather than incentivizing them with tax breaks, why don't we obligate them to pay more tax?
I'm no economist, obviously. I admit readily that I do no grasp all the implications of these actions. I'm throwing spaghetti at the wall.
What other strategies are there? Oooh, how about people running for president can only spend $x and, perhaps, these monies come from taxes? That is, the rich would still have an advantage — they can take time off of work to run for office — but it would delimit said advantage.
Now, don't get yourself in a tizzy (I've never written that word before: tizzy. I like it). Greenpeace might very well be a fine organization doing a world of good. I have no idea. Nor, really, do I care. What interests me is that this encounter was such a familiar encounter: it was consumerist. That is, Greenpeace mimics any other corporate brand, hocking its wares for money in exchange for stickers, tote bags, and that sense of having done something good. When, in fact, all you did was buy more shit.
Again, don't get yourself in a tizzy. What I'm pointing to is the performance. That is, put aside the content for a moment — Greenpeace — and just look at the structure of behavior: it's the same old shit. And I think — I stress this part: I think — that real change happens when structures of behavior change, not when we do the same old shit under a different umbrella.
And then there's the whole group thing. I have what seems to be an ingrained resistance to groups. I don't join 'em, however formal or informal. I don't even have a group of friends — I swore off that shit after the hell of group politics that was college. I prefer the lone encounter. Or solitude.
But I am not advocating the selfish individualism that runs rampant in the US. I just don't think that the way to resist said selfishness is through groups. Groups, as far as I can tell, foment sameness and with that violence: adhere to the group or die. (Think of that "Seinfeld" where Kramer refuses to wear the AIDS ribbon and they kick his ass for it. In fact, this is an ongoing theme of Larry David's throughout "Seinfeld," culminating in the finale which finds them in jail for apparent moral indifference.)
I return, then, to WS Burroughs' ethics of the Johnson: the one who doesn't stick his nose where it doesn't belong but at the same time won't let someone drown. This is my kind of ethics — rabidly individual but at the time thoroughly societal: A society of individuals.
And this is my politics, my ethics, my idea, my rhetoric: to build towards a society of individuals, a way to go with others but without demanding unity. This entails tolerance — who gives a fuck who wants to marry whom? Who gives a shit who fucks whom? And it implies a certain appreciation of diversity — after all, it's a society of individuals and being an individual means being different. And so public discourse itself changes — rather than a media of conformity, we begin a media of multiplicity. And it asks for basic politeness, a sense of civility in the public arena: politeness allows individuals to negotiate public space without violence. It marks a respect for the other individual.
There are no doubt those who say: We don't need more individuals. We need more cohesion, more togetherness. Perhaps. But I, for one, like my space and don't want to give it up. And so I imagine a different kind of interconnectedness, a network of individuals.
Don't get me wrong: when I was in grad school wolfing down Deleuze and Nietzsche and Kant and Hegel like it was, uh, something one wolfs down, I was on fucking fire. My whole body — at least the part that thinks — was lit up, turned on, vigorous and hungry and ready and riled. Oh, there were times I felt that if my thinking became any sharper, any faster, I'd explode, combust on the spot: Poof! It was fun and exciting and erotic frolicking in the most delectable orgy of ideas — and I was at its epicenter, wheeling and dealing.
Things have slowed. I no longer wolf down ideas. I no longer read — not much, anyway. But this has afforded me something that I did not predict, that I did not foresee: the time and opportunity to make sense.
The ideas I so swiftly consumed are now settling, working themselves out through me, with me, in me. I wish I could x-ray my body and see the continental shifts taking place, repetition moving just so here, comportment moving just so there, monads, lines of flight, irony all drifting with blood and sinew to form the ecosystem of me.
No doubt, my body plays a kind of telephone: ideas and words whispered in my 25 year old body coming out quite different in my 41 year old self. And I love this: I love the way my experience, my liver, my mind, my metabolism are working words and ideas over, transforming them into something I can digest, something that propels my vitality.
I find myself quoting Spinoza, quoting Deleuze, quoting Foucault from my rapidly fading memory. I don't check my sources; I'm no academic. I don't want accuracy; I want vitality. I want that idea to work for me, work for my life.
So why do I quote at all? Because I love that feeling of moving with Foucault and Deleuze over time, the way they become with me, the way we make sense of new life as we go. I appreciate their companionship.
The conditions of modern life — at least in the US, at least in San Francisco, at least for me — have become untenable. Or, to use a much used phrase, unsustainable: the demands of life are eliminating life. As I've argued elsewhere, the shortsighted consumption of fossil fuels — and the general pillaging of the planet — is not the primary resource that's running dry: it's human vitality.
But rather than enumerate the ills once again, I thought I'd give the question of resistance a shot.
So what are we to do? Or, more selfishly, what am I to do? Capitalism — and its police state — have become so smart and so fast, folding all modes of resistance into its spectacle at near infinite speed — John Lennon's "Instant Karma" is in a Chase ad, for god's sake. Corporations like Google, Apple, and Nike have made it seem cool to work endless days for enormous, soulless global beasts. It's unnerving.
But we can't just take off for the hills, anymore, as the hills have all been bought. Sure, there are remnants of this country where perhaps one can live inexpensively and enjoy the basic pleasures of life — slow food, slow sex, slow thinking, peace and health. But thanks to landgrabs and satellites, there is really no "off the grid" anymore.
My brother left NYC for Thailand 7 years ago. I don't think he's coming back.
Have y'all seen the film, "Surfwise"? This dude, back in the 50s, breeds like a madman and takes his whole enormous family off the grid, setting up camp on different beaches and surfing. No school, no house, working only when he needed to to have a little money. It's inspiring. But all I kept thinking is: try that today and you'd be in jail and your kids taken away.
So if we can't just head to the hills, what are we to do?
Well, first and foremost, I'd say: don't breed. Having kids adds a complexity — financial, legal, and emotional — that makes slipping into the cracks of life difficult. Could I pack up my little beast, find some quiet spot in the middle of the desert, and home school him while living on rice and beans? Sure, I probably could. But I don't have the courage for that. Nor do I have the appetite.
So, once again, what is one to do?
In The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau talks about various kinds of ruses, most notably, one he calls la perruque (the wig): you work for the Man but use His resources for your own purposes. So you sit at your computer looking like you're working but you're really writing your novel and running your porn site. That is, you dissimulate and, behind your mask, you find your enjoyment, your vitality, your profits.
I believe there are little things one can do everyday, little ways to jam the bullshit circuit. These may seem trivial — and in many ways they are trivial — but they are the little things I do to foment a little revolution around me.
I try to drive generously. That is, I don't assume I'm the only one on the road who matters, the only one in a rush. I let people into my lane who need in. I don't floor it through yellow lights. And in this exceedingly small way, I try to make life a little better. For, jesus fucking christ, the utter lack of civility people show on the roads is unsettling. And I hope that by introducing a little civility, I may alter the flow of traffic, the flow of the day, the flow of life, even if only a little. Try it. Let's start the civil driving revolution and see if it makes life in general more civil.
I try to jam the cliche circuits in conversations with whomever crosses my path — barristas, neighbors, fellow drunks at the bar. That is, the media creates a creepy uniformity of how we talk about things, a discourse that controls and limits our thinking. Was that movie good or bad? Are you a red state or a blue state? All that shit is built on stupidity and the violence of opposition. And so I actively refuse those terms and try to introduce different terms. Rather than saying whether I liked or didn't like a movie, I'll say what I thought was interesting or not about it, formally and emotively. Or I'll introduce an aesthetic claim into a moral discussion — "I think so-and-so is cool looking."
I know, I know: trivial, useless. And the fact is all this usually does is make people hate me. There's a reason my phone never, ever, rings — except when my mother calls.
But my hope is that I can introduce slightly different ways of talking about things, at least in my own community, at least for the people I speak to. Because the fact is I find talking to people exhausting — I have to give so many caveats and qualifiers before I get to my point that I've lost my audience before I got there. Wouldn't it be nice — wouldn't it be revolutionary — if in everyday conversation people expected independent thought, new ways of approaching things rather than confirmation of the same old bullshit?
I know there are more radical, systemic modes of resistance. There are communes. There are urban communities where people support each other, take turns bearing the financial duties. There are Mike Reynolds' Earth Ships: self-sustainable homes, homes that are literally unplugged, using solar for its electricity and heat, rainwater for its water, a greenhouse for growing food. How do we take this "biotecture" to the city? Or do we have to leave the city?
I am not offering answers because, obviously, I just don't have any. Do you? Tell me, please.
Grammar is strange. It is the way different things can go together in order to make sense. We might say grammar is the ethics of sense. Sense just is — or, rather, sense just happens: a thing enjoys sense from the get go. Grammar is the logic of different senses working together.
Burroughs claims that heterosexuality and the sequence of life and death are inter-related grammars supported by the grammar of the word and its linear insistence on meaning. Heterosexuality and the time-birth-death gimmick — as he calls it — try to pass themselves off as common sense: they just are the way things are.
But there are other ways of making sense, other ways of organizing bodies, other grammars. When Burroughs cuts the word and its linear/causal insistence, he seeks to cut these logics, ushering in new modes of reproduction (scissors!) and new modes of life (immortality through writing).
When we first think of grammar, however, we think of language. After all, without grammar, all we'd have is a string of random words: nonsense. The space, for instance, is a basic ethical demand of language: give each word its own space. For the most part, this is a good rule that preventsalotofconusionandnoise. But much of what we call grammar is silly. The right to joyfully split an infinitive is, to me, inalienable.
Linguistic grammar organizes the way words can go together to make sense — the way subjects relate to objects via verbs, the way words are inflected as they go: I becomes me; he becomes him; am becomes is becomes are. Once strung together, the words conspire to make sense.
Grammar, then, is quite powerful. But it does not sit outside the world like some god on high. Grammar is ideological. And what makes it so powerful, so insidious, is that it passes itself off as making "common sense" — as if common sense were not ideological.
English, for instance, demands that a subject is distinct from a verb; that the verb is inflected by this subject; and that this subject acts on an object. Sounds like common sense, sure, but it's not: it privileges a subject as the dominant actor distinct from his or her action. Nietzsche discusses this in On the Genealogy of Morals: our grammar posits a doer behind the deed when all there is is the deed. We say the moon rises — as if the moon could do anything else! The moon doesn't rise. The moon moons.
There are, then, different grammars that make different senses. Burroughs and Brion Gysin used the cut-up to push at grammar to create different kinds of sense — to see if they could create new ways of going, new ethics of being, new constructions of time (read Burroughs' essay). Here's a cut up:
a blow of
one step/ / /
This teeters on the edge of sense, slipping into chaos and back with each read. Burroughs was interested in creating a grammar of simultaneity, some way to make different times speak at once. He was frustrated with the inherited grammar and its causal linearity. He preferred the grammar of film that could show multiple times all at once. And so he treated words like images, streaming them as if on a reel, their only inherent connection being contiguity but creating sense anyway on the fly.
Now consider the conversation which is an odd kind of cut up or game of exquisite corpse, all parties contributing to the collective sense on the fly. Have you ever been in a conversation and, after about a minute, you have no idea what you're talking about? Somehow, the discussion shifts from point A to point G to point B to point A to point Z via an allusion to point G. Conversations teeter on the edge of sense, occasionally detouring into nonsense before returning to a different sense all together. This is one pleasure of the conversation — its non-linearity.
In the workplace, this is quite counterproductive. And capital must produce more capital! That's why, at work, there is often one person who tries to steer the sense, stipulate it, bind it, move it along a linear trajectory. This is a very useful person. That conference room, with all its voices saying this and that, is a grammar of the social operating within a grammar of language.
We can talk about the grammars of this and that — the grammar of language, of film, of images, of love. I like that phrase: the grammar of love.
And yet it is never fixed. It is not stoic. It adjusts to the world but without abandoning itself to the world. It holds steady amidst the storm but not in an unyielding way: poise bends without toppling.
Poise is quietly active. For while still in a certain sense, it nevertheless is always moving with a world in motion, always ready for whatever may come, always handling what does in fact come. It makes me think of the nomad: always on the move, always at home.
It is a great posture for taking up the world, a posture for going with the world for it maintains itself while still extending itself to others.
It quite different than, say, clumsy which comes to the world through collision. This is not to say clumsy is bereft of its charms — on the contrary. There is something to be said for the good bump. Indeed, sometimes it is only by feeling the weight of things, and having things feel our weight, that we can come to know the world.
Which is to say, poise is not the only posture of good living. There are times when poise does not suffice, times when utter abandon are called for, are called forth — a Dionysian surrender to the moment.
There are madnesses well worth embracing, madnesses that let us see and know and enjoy and relish, madnesses that push us out of our poise, knock us down or make us lean way too far forward, beautifully far forward, awkwardly far forward, madnesses and desires and frenzies that extend us, make us reach beyond ourselves, beyond what we thought possible. Such is one beauty of drugs: they push us beyond ourselves to become ourselves.
Ah, but poise: poise is not the bourgeois counterpoint to madness. Poise is not so proper. It is complex, difficult, and exquisite. The word itself tickles my fancy, the always sensual p giving way to the squishy erotics of the oi before sliding a bit on an s that suggests the presence of a z. It is closed, then, but not so securely: it is open, just a tad, on both ends and wobbling a bit in the middle.
Do I really need to wake up five days a week — five days! that's almost everyday! — at some ungodly hour so I can get to work on time?
(Isn't it healthier to let one's body wake up in its own time? An alarm clock is, well, alarming and is not the way to greet the day. Isn't this obvious? Tis why I work for myself — sorta, as there's no such thing: work is working with others — such are the demands of any economy. But fuckin' a — the alarm clock has to be one of the nastiest inventions).
Do I really need to work 40, 50, 60, 70, 80 hours a week? When am I supposed to, I dunno, shop, pay bills, date, fuck, masturbate, contemplate, write, think, ponder, dream, caress a woman's thighs, kiss her neck, indulge a lengthy conversation about Bunuel, watch Assayas' 5.5 hour film, "Carlos," one of the greatest films of the past 25 years?
(This is not an advancement from the hunting/gathering days; we work all the time just to get by. Leisure — which should be the benefit of these big brains of ours — has been exiled.)
Do I really need to work so much just to make enough money to pay my bills — even a so-called good salary only lets me pay my more expensive bills such as for a nice bottle of tequila and a sushi feast? The so-called good salary of the middle-class in today's urban America damns you to a lifetime of work and a modest retirement at, say, 79.
(My god, that's insane! Why do we stand for this? Why aren't we shrieking in the streets? Pulling our hair out? Is it the Zoloft that leaves us mute? The indigestion from all those lattes? What is it that placates us so?)
All this — all this corporate profit, all these corporate innovations — and can it be true that our public schools are so downright horrific? Is this a sign of a prospering people? Or a nation in decay and utter disrepair?
(San Francisco schools operate with a lottery: you rank 7 schools you'd like your kid to attend; they pull your name out of a hat and assign you one. In order to perform said ranking, one must tour the various schools. So there I am, in a city booming with wealth, and the public schools look like Haiti. It's so depressing I literally can't believe it.)
Is it really true that we assess the economic success of our country via the GNP? But if we're making more money and getting less and less for it — less education, less healthcare — then isn't that the sign of a failing economy? Isn't that obvious, even to one such as myself with no economic training?
San Francisco public school teachers are furloughed once a month. I'm not making this up. Thirty miles from here is Google, Yahoo, Apple, Genentech, and Facebook. And teachers are furloughed. Uh, hmn, doesn't it seem like corporations are getting away with something — like not paying enough taxes?
How about we say: you can form a corporation but once your valuation exceeds a billion dollars, you have to give the schools in your own fucking neighborhood enough money to pay the teachers and provide a lunch other than mad cow meatloaf?
Isn't this all so obvious? Do I really sound insane? I'm so confused.
This is my affinity for the rant — it is a temporary possession that takes hold and, ventriloquist-like, makes me speak. It is my predilection for taste notes — the way a sensual experience grabs hold of one's elan vital with one hand and words with another and voila: this tequila is rambunctious, peppering the tongue with spice before finishing in a subtle vanilla finale.
Too often, I feel a different compulsion to speak, a need to articulate some kind of social or professional discourse — "How are you? Great" followed by some witticism; or else, "Great to be here; this is an interesting project" before turning on the inevitable PowerPoint deck. In these instances, I feel less like I'm being spoken and more like I have to speak, summon the right words in order to maintain my place in this less-than-desirable social contract.
This may seem ironic. After all, I'm saying that my inspiration — which is not as much my inspiration as much as it is inspiration in general — is a kind of passivity: my greatest eloquence — or greatest joy in elocuting — comes from being spoken by the world. And when I am in fact compelled to speak by the terms of the social, I am not being spoken but being made to speak.
And being made to speak is exhausting work. This is why I spend a tremendous amount of time alone.
Ah, but being spoken is glorious — it's a kind of exquisite molestation by the cosmos, words and affect working in conjunction, making my mind and body and mouth and fingers move just so, a generous choreography. And all I have to do is lend the cosmos my body, my thoughts. All I have to do is reach out the universe with tendrils at once visible and invisible and invite the cosmos in.
Spinoza says that power is the ability to be affected (at least I think that's what he said; I might have made that up). The more generous one is, the more generous the world is and the more powerful, the more articulate and articulated, one becomes.
There is the poetry of it — "Another serious deal — dark purple fruit with a long finish; blend of grenache and tempranillo," writes Jessica Chiavara, wine buyer for the soon-to-be legendary LA market, Two Bits.
I love the casual intensity of "another serious deal" combined with what is to me exquisite nonsense — "grenache and tempranillo" — as I don't know what either of those words means.
But it's more than the poetry. Or, rather, poetry is more than sounding nice. When we describe the taste of a wine or a bourbon or a tequila, we summon elements far and wide — wood and its varieties, apples and berries and plums, dirt and brine and kelp, heat and spice and molasses and jam. Which is to say, in this endeavor of naming our taste, we discover the assemblage that is everything. A wine is its way of taking up wood and jam and earth and spice; a thing is its style of dj-ing the planet.
And I love the way this poetry is a claim to knowledge. It does not qualify itself with, "That's just my opinion." No, the wine taster is telling you how it is, not how it feels to her. The experience of the tongue becomes an objective knowledge.
A few months ago, I was in my favorite spirits shop — oh, I do love that they're called spirits — and this young woman who worked there was describing a line of scotches to me. She kept returning to marine terms — kelp and brine and seaweed — which I found delightfully surprising. As she spoke, she'd gesticulate just so, as if summoning the spirit from its glass, letting it draipse across her tongue so it could capture just the right words. It was so technical, yes, but so sensual, the erotics of body meeting world meeting language and it took every ounce of reserve in my body not to kiss her there and then.
And this is what I really love, this way of tasting and enjoying the world. It demands a certain generosity, a willingness to lend the world your body, and then to make your mouth dummy for the words this piece of the world summons......grenache and tempranillo....
It is an exquisite, sensual circuit of word, world, and body, this leaning into the flesh of things in order to know, in order to experience, in order to speak, in order to taste, in order to live.
So I just watched this film, "127 Hours," and what struck me most about it is it's not really about this trapped dude hacking off his arm. It's about the act of recording — what it means, how it performs.
First of all, am I the only one who found it odd that the recorded plays such a pivotal role? Sure, he records everything — which is strange enough — but he hallucinates in recorded images — tv shows, ads, his own home movies. We even see him through the eyes of a surveillance camera at his job. But while hitting us over the head with the ubiquity of the recorded image, Boyle does not hit us over the head with a didactic argument. On the contrary, we get a kind of phenomenology of the image, a splaying of the different ways the image goes.
Image as more. Aron (James Franco) is always snapping away. He has a video camera attached to his mountain bike. When he falls hard off his bike, before getting up, he snaps a picture. One could no doubt read this as a watering down of the purity of his event, living in the document rather than the real thing. But another way of seeing it, the way it seems to function in the film for Aron, is as an doubling of his adventure: he climbs and has images of climbing. It's more adventure!
Image as amplification. In ceaselessly recording himself, Aron becomes the hero in his own drama, in his own life. Not only is he kicking ass in Canyonlands, he's kicking ass on a virtual big screen (see "image as social" and "image as temporal fold"). In the present, he's projecting himself onto the screen, across the interwebs, into your homes. And hence he's not alone — he's part of the epic drama of civilization — and he's living into the future.
Image as social. Presumably, Aron is a bit of a loner. This is the dominant narrative arc: he has been selfish and alone and needs to be folded back into the social body. So, at the end, he's married, has a kid, is with his friends and family — and always leaves a note as to where he's gone. But then why is he always recording himself? Yes, amplification. But it's also that the image functions as new mode of the social — hence his memories and dreams are tv shows and ads.
Perhaps this is obvious to you but it wasn't to me: the circulation of images through our homes — our tvs and interwebs — is the social. We say things like Facebook are social media but tv was already social media. Unplug the tv, disconnect from the network, and suddenly you are in fact cut off from the social body. Aron does not do this. He lives in this new layer of the social — this infinite circulation of the recorded image.
The very act of recording is, for Aron, a social event. His image joins the flow, the great circulation of images, the society of the spectacle. And the camera becomes an agent, an interlocutor of a sort.
Image as temporal fold. The movie is not about surprise. We know, before going in, what's going to happen. In this sense, it's a classical tragedy: we know the ending but want to live through the life nonetheless. The tragic structure of the film is an odd temporal fold to begin with. But then Boyle starts snapping away at Aron snapping away and we get this strange effect: the documenting of an event that hasn't yet happened: a now that becomes a record of an already happened.
Image as record. This is, of course, the most obvious aspect of the image: it is a record of what happened. It is a way of knowing. How do we know these things about Aron's adventure? There it is, on film. But just because we take this mode of the image most for granted doesn't mean it isn't fucking weird. Knowing comes from watching a movie — Aron's movie, yes, but Boyle's movie, too. Film, then, is not about knowledge; it is knowledge.
There are no doubt more things to say, more ways the image goes in this film. But I find myself wondering: What if there were no recording? Take the camera out of Aron's life. What would the event be like then?
Ah, yes, the rant is beautiful — an invigorated possession, an intense focus, that summons words and ideas with an emphatic umph. The rant is a powerful meeting of body, language, and cosmic affect: it pours through our cells conjuring words and fomenting rage as it goes.
And it is so socially abhorrent. Just as the rise of the bourgeois marked a closing of the body — its nostrils, mouth, ass, and genitalia — it put prescriptions on the rant. For the rant is a streaming forth, an uncovered sneeze of words and emotion, a drool of language and invective. It is manic and effusive, terribly impolite and often quite comedic.
For the ranter, it is exquisite, vital, orgasmic: the words spew with concerted projection. There was a time — several years ago now — when I'd wake, head to the coffee shop, and with caffeine streaming through my veins, I'd summon the forces of rant. It often took a sort of davening, a rocking to and fro while feeling for the free floating invective in the air, that affective trajectory of mania, frenzy, and lucid anger.
As I was often quite angry at the time, I had little difficulty conjuring these forces. And then the words would flood the page as I entered a kind of delirious state of pissed off possession. This is not blind rage. On the contrary, this is incredibly perceptive rage.
Of course, it is exhausting and, after a while, unbecoming to rant. I do much less of it these days; I seek other kinds of glorious, lucid possession, ones more likely to end with a kiss rather than a punch.
But I still relish reading, or hearing, a good rant. Here is one I happened upon. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. And, for those not paying attention, it's not the ideas of this or that rant that I enjoy. It is the rant itself, its pulsing rhythms — watch the way punctuation can't keep up, the way the affect begins to break syntax while maintaining the utmost clarity.
A Sick Species
I'll give the fuckstick the benefit of the doubt and suggest that perhaps I've not made clear my disdain for masculinity. Women are vampires but men are doltish zombie fiends, exuding fear and loathing in every gesture, wearing watches and cologne and wagging their impotent cocks at nothing in particular.. What is more unsavory than the image of a man in his business suit, his watch, his cologne talking about the market or cars or a sports, his soul leaking out his ears?
Oh, I've seen the men at the playground. These new mothers may be a bastion of guilt, fear, and utterly depressing surrender to the vampires on their teet but the men are no fragrant flower. The men who rarely see the kids and then take them to the park on Saturday, their fucking Crackberries strapped to their belts, just where there chi should be—they've traded their vital energy for a corporate network and what, I ask, is sicker than that?—trying their darndest to seem like they give one ounce of shit about their kids—their maniacal jackass but at least playful kids—giving anxious glances at the other fathers as each tries to out-man the other with some sordid display of false paternal love, all the while texting their very lives away, no doubt selling out some old lady in Fresno who's just trying to make her mortgage payments, all the while delivering a shit eating laugh of mirth as they absent mindedly tickle their kid, all phoniness and fear. It is grotesque.
Am I going too fast for you, ass muffin? I am no misogynist. I'm a fucking misanthrope—not because I hate humanity but because I know humanity to be a virus, fundamentally vampiric, sucking the life from this planet without batting as much as an eye.
In his discussion of asceticism, Nietzsche distinguishes between two ways of saying no. On the one hand, there's the priest who says no to life, no to the body, no to health. And then there is the no saying of the strong man, such as the athlete, who says no as a way to affirm his vitality, his health, his strength.
The no of the strong man is in fact a yes — it affirms who he is, how he goes. The no of the weak, of the priest, is a turning away from life.
Conceptually, this is all quite clear. But in life the distinction is not always easy to maintain.
A few weeks ago, I was out with a young woman enjoying some cocktails when she suggested that we go dancing. It seems an innocent enough request (forget, for the moment, that she knows me rather well and was quite aware that such a request of me is not innocent). Everything in me — well, perhaps not everything — began to reel.
I am not one who dances, I said myself. I've never danced in any public venue. It's not how I roll, as the kids might say; or it's not in my constitution, as Nietzsche might.
But do I not dance out of fear? Out of some ingrained hatred of the body, of my body? Is my not dancing perhaps a nihilism rather than an affirmation?
Do I go dancing with this young woman? Or not?
I did, honestly, consider going. But inertia was too much to overcome and I dillied and I dallied and I debated and I stressed until, finally, I declined: "No," I said.
In so doing, did I deny life? Or affirm myself?
First of all, I will admit that I enjoy saying "the strange" since watching "Deadwood," even if I mean it in a somewhat different manner.
So in my clunker of a car, there's a radio but the panel that should tell me what station I'm on doesn't work. As a result, I'm in a more or less constant state of hitting the little arrow button. And I am struck by how much radio these days caters to the known, to ready-made categories, and to nostalgia.
Classic rock abounds. And what is less rock & roll than nostalgia? It's literally sickening. A few months ago, I was in the Hello Kitty shop in Japantown (don't ask) and the in-store radio was playing Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Then there is the country music station, the so-called alternative music station, the dance pop music station. Each confirms the listener's world.
And there's nothing really wrong with this. After all, taste defines who we are and vice-versa: we are what we like.
But these stations are so closed in their world views. There is a conspicuous lack of variety. Which is why I used to love happening upon KUSF, the famous radio station of the University of San Francisco. Man, I'd listen to a long set of 10 songs, not know one of them and yet thoroughly enjoy all of them. They'd be all over the place without being random. There was always a clear intelligence at work, a curation, a refinement: a taste. But a taste that sprawled, that enjoyed oddity, that relished the strange and unexpected. And this was performed for listeners.
I am certainly one who enjoys what he enjoys. I return to the same drink, more often than not. I return to the same music, more often than. I return to the same books, the same directors, the same behaviors. And, like I said, there's nothing wrong with this. I know what I like; I know who I am.
But sometimes it's nice not to know who I am, to have my taste pushed, challenged, stretched, explored, interrogated, refined, redefined, altered. Sometimes, I want a real encounter with the world, an event without a known finale.
I know when I read — and when I think and write — I want a take on things I would not expect, an argument I would never have considered. I don't read to confirm what I know; I read to expand how and what I think. I want the strange.
And that was what KUSF offered everyday. There was a thrill, an excitement, to listening. Imagine that: thrill and excitement from listening to the radio! That's how it should be — the public airwaves should push us, stretch us, redefine us. The aberration should be the nostalgia station.
To add insult to injury, KUSF was sold so some classic fucking rock station from San Jose could broadcast in San Francisco, as well. It's madness, I tell you, madness. It's part of the Starfucks Conspiracy: the world today proliferates the same, confirming the world we know. Rather than an idiosyncratic, local coffee shop, we get McCoffee. And rather than a radio station that proffers the new and the strange, we get the same old shit, confirming that we are in fact a bunch of soulless sad sacks.
And in fucking San Francisco, no less. It makes me weep.
This is a manifesto of a sort I wrote for a friend who was considering a new film production platform....
What is possible with cinema, in cinema?
Cinema and life have always been intertwined, intimate, mimicking each other, prodding each other, amplifying and inflecting each other. It is how we have imagined ourselves and each other, modeled ourselves and each other, explored ourselves and each other.
Cinema has always been an exploration of the relationship between the human, the social, and the recorded image — an exploration of how we see and are seen.
Cinema was once pure spectacle, something out there: a stage, a privileged space, stars and sets and technology — a certain monumental magic.
Today, this architecture has changed. The means of recording, distributing, and playing back is in everyone’s hands. Cinema is no longer on stage. Cinema is now everywhere, between and amongst us all. We are no longer simply spectators. We have become spectacle and spectacle makers.
The old ways of the story and the exotic, while still beautiful and powerful, are no longer what they were. If cinema was always a question, always a way of asking how is it to go in this age of technology, this question of cinema has only become more pressing.
The modes of technology — phones, microcomputing, the web, the Flip, desktop publishing — has shifted the very relationship between the human, the social, and the recorded image.
Today, we record the world without even thinking about it: point, click, shoot. Today, we no longer only see cinema up there, on the big screen. Today, we live in cinema — in chat rooms, on YouTube, on iPods, on Skype and FaceTime, on reality television, on surveillance cameras.
This is a new kind of magic, no longer monumental but perhaps more powerful for it. This is not Fred Astaire putting on a top hat. This is Gene Kelly singing in the rain, on the street corner, in an old tenement. This is the magic of the moving image everywhere, everyone, all the time.
In creating films, we are always exploring this juncture, this relationship, this humanity and this technology and the different ways the two inflect each other. There is, of course, a long history of such explorations — in Godard and Bunuel, in Cassavetes and Pasoloni, in Wong Kar Wai and Scorcese (once upon a time), in Ferrara and Kubrick, in Harmony Korine and David Lynch, in Eisenstein……
In all our films, we join them all in asking: What is cinema? What is possible with cinema, in cinema?
It's impossible to begin at the beginning. Because, as Foucault says, when you get to the origin you find the dissension of other things. The beginning is always in progress; it's always already begun.
So at what point do I begin? How much do I need to explain? How far back do I need to go? Which terms do I need to define? And which terms in that definition do I need to define?
Does "back" even mean anything? Is it actually a matter of going back? I'm not sure. I think, perhaps, it's matter of knowing how to go forward.
It's matter of circumstance, then — of audience. To whom am I speaking and why. And yet, when writing, one's audience is never present. And writing in a venue such as this, with an audience I do not know and cannot predict, how do I know where to begin?
This is of course an issue of all writing. Writing delimits its audience, necessarily. But it doesn't choose its audience. To wit, I wrote something on this blog a few weeks ago about speaking to the smartest. It was a bit crass but it was written for my ideal audience — my right as it's my blog: an audience that enjoys a little play in their prose.
My friend who runs Thought Catalog republished the same piece there. And while many seemed to enjoy it, the article truly pissed some people off. Go and read the comments. (Such bile! But that's a topic for another day.) Once the article changed venues, it changed audiences. And suddenly terms and tone that I took for granted — and assumed my audience assumed — seemed terribly out of place. What do I mean by dumb? By intelligent? By "speaking over their heads?" By "shut the fuck up"?
(I have to say: people might not like my argument anyway but that's not what stirred them up — it was the tone.)
So where does one begin? Deleuze always begins mid-discussion. He never steps back from his writing, never tries to give an overview. His books begin almost mid-sentence — as a reader, you get swept up in the flow or drown.
Me, I've never been that brave. Perhaps it's all the years I spent teaching but I try to frame my discussion from the get go, to step back a bit and try to present the whole of my argument — as if there were such a thing.
But there is such a thing, sort of. One can try to frame a discussion, claim why it's worthwhile, why it matters, why one is even speaking at all.
And yet there is a limit to such a frame precisely because there is no hard and fast limit. I suddenly understand Derrida's "Parergon" (in "The Truth in Painting") in a profound, practical sense. One's frame always gives way, bleeds, frames a different discussion, finds a different audience, yields a different effect.
Sometimes, I have to say, writing seems impossible.
"Are they still making movies in Hollywood? Shouldn't we all be watching the YouTube video awards instead?" —Doug Lain
I'll cut to the chase: People think "The King's Speech" is about important issues — kings and wars — while "The Social Network" is about frivolous things — kids and social networking. But the exact opposite is true: the speech of a king, however eloquent, is irrelevant compared to the radical shift in media environments facilitated and proliferated by Facebook.The one reiterates the same old top down story; the other shifts the very architecture of the social.
In McLuhan's terms: the academy chose the content — the king's speech — over the medium, social networking. The one is an irrelevant moment; the other is fundamentally life altering, working us over, as McLuhan would say.
Now on with our story....
I was recently on a plane sans WiFi and was offered the opportunity — and that's a generous word — to watch "The King's Speech" for free. As it had just won a meaningless award, beating out one of the better American movies in ages — "The Social Network" — I was a tad curious.
Just a tad, mind you, because I assumed — knowing nothing about it, having never seen it or an ad or preview for it — that I could write the entire screenplay verbatim — and be 80% correct. "Maybe I'm wrong," I said to myself, feeling generous and bored.
But, no, I was right: there was not one moment — at least in the hour I watched because I had to turn it off for health reasons — that was surprising or beautiful.
But that's neither here nor there. Lots of movies stink. Lots of movies are predictable. No, what matters here is the way this film is predictable and how it stands towards "The Social Network."
The plot of "The King's Speech" is embarrassing to repeat: a man struggles to overcome a stutter. I don't mean to suggest that a stutter is not a serious impediment but come on. What justifies this achingly banal storyline is that it's not just any man who struggles to overcome his stutter, it's the king! And not only is it the king but it's the king during wartime. And not just any war but WWII with those dratted Nazis.
Of course, it's not the king who overcame his stutter so he could kick Nazi ass. It's a king who overcame his stutter so he could deliver a speech.
The assumption, then, is that the poor lost plebes of England needed their royal stutterer to be eloquent in order to feel good — and then, presumably, kick some Nazi ass. In the part of the film I managed to watch, the camera would cut to faces in the crowd as our poor, handsome king stammered and we'd witness their looks of sadness and confusion. Whatever will we do! How can we go on with a stuttering king!
"The King's Speech" is old school monumental film making — the classic phallic narrative arc: the king begins limp, gets hard, shoots his load — that reiterates the logic of the monument; what matters is the king!
So of course it won the academy award. Because the academy is the institution of film as monument, film as that thing that's big and on that huge screen. Big stories! Big people! Big award (that looks just like the narrative arc at its apogee)!
"The Social Network," meanwhile, is about the end of the monumental: the birth of bottom-up media. And the film performs this. It's not a grand narrative arc; it's a proliferation of perspectives.
The things people write on FB may or may not be frivolous. But that's irrelevant. It's the medium that matters and it changes everything. What the Academy proved is that the world continues to be seduced by message, lacking the tools and will to examine the medium.
(And that it, the Academy, has itself become irrelevant.)
Exemplary reading and immanent reading: these are different architectures of the reading event, different postures of how one stands in and towards and with the world. The exemplary is the domain of the expert who stands between things, the uninformed, and sanctified knowledge. The expert emerges from the culture of the priest and his church where there is first the word of god, then the priest who grasps it and who, in turn, brings it to the flock. The way to knowledge, to god, is through the expert-priest. The architecture is a hierarchical pyramid that moves towards a singular point while cascading down to the mob. Particularities are subsumed by generalities. And only the master, well heeled in his learned ways, can decipher the vicissitudes of particularity and give them a proper home — this book belongs in this genre, this one doesn’t.
Immanent reading, meanwhile, is rhizomic and four-dimensional. There are multiple ways into a text, multiple ways of making one’s way through it, and the whole thing — text, reader, world — is moving. There is no front door. Nor is there a back door. And the text won’t stay still long enough for the reader to exhaust it once and for all. Pick your point, wherever it may arise, and see what happens. There is no privileged access and an immanent reading is never definitive (even if thoroughly persuasive). This is the jurisdiction of the amateur who is not tethered to a discipline or knowledge community but is free to follow the text wherever it goes.
Immanent reading is radically democratic. It eliminates the need for a learned expert, empowering the individual standing in front of a Jeff Koons to make sense of it. Isn’t this the power, the threat, of bottom-up media? The rise of the web and its network structure undoes the very pyramidal architecture of the expert. Many decry the nonsense spouted by the masses and long for a certified word from above. But, in the network, a reader must decide which reading works best for him. It’s no longer a matter of going to the library and citing some source with the appropriate letters after his name. There is no recourse to the expert to close discussion. All there is is the reading. And then another reading. And then another. It’s readings all the way down.
In any case, the immanent reader does not need the master’s word to reckon his experience. He needs skills, not knowledge. He needs attention and engagement — participation, not expertise. Immanent reading is an open invitation.
Coincidence has to be one of the stranger words. All it means is two things coincide; they happen together. But the question is: How do they happen to happen together?
I think we tend to imagine our experiences as equal: each is a unit the size and shape of the others. And then shit happens — it rains, we get laid, we get sick. We imagine said shit to be extraneous to the discrete units of our experience.
Why else would we constantly dismiss the coincidences in our lives as "just coincidence"? What does that mean, "just a coincidence"? Why not take these things more seriously and try to understand how the invisible forces of the world operate? Why not make this a domain of empirical science?
"Among so-called primitive peoples," Burroughs writes, "if a man is killed in a fall from a cliff, the friends and relatives of the victim start looking for a killer."
"This is the work of Izzy the Push," says the Chief grimly.
Our experience, the way we endure, is always already inflected and enmeshed. We are always already going with the world, with our environs, all of which have their respective durations. Some are ancient; some are cosmic; some are quite local and terrestrial.
Experience, then, is not an even plane that later gets inflected. The plane of experience is always already inflected, shaped (or, better, shaping).
One can make this a knowledge of self and how best to go in the world. When you first wake, consider your mood, consider your dreams: what is happening? What has happened? What will happen? How do you get out of bed — is it smooth and easy? Do you bump your head, stub your toe, can't find the coffee filters?
We wake with feelings of foreboding and, sure enough, things go bad. We wake with thoughts of someone we haven't seen in years and, lo and behold, there's an email from her. We remember something from when we're young and then see a street sign with the name of the park we used to play in. You keep noticing how a certain word — say, serendipity — keeps recurring in dramatically different places — overheard in conversation, in a Yahoo headline, from a friend, on late night tv in some old movie.
These are coincidences but they are not "just coincidences": they are convergences of durations, of becomings, of which you are a part. They are resonances of the universe that implicate you. So why not make sense of them? We know it's cold so we wear warm clothes. Then why don't we make coincidences just such an active knowledge?
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