MILES OF SHIT PILES, FOR YOU

Life is unbearable
Then, it is not
It’s like walking on sandpaper coping with the pain of emotions of every moment
Waning on you, everyday
Wearing away on you, everyday
Into a person you hardly recognize, anymore
Who are you?
Existing on this plane, hollow inside
You are not your feelings
Overbearing, heavy or empty
Does anyone live life restfully?
If so, how?
Is there anybody out-there?

Let me tell you a story…
There is a black dog
Hanging around your house
Gnawing, biting, growling, barking and stalking
You
It never leaves
You
Throw it a bone
And it still bites
You
Walk away and you still hear it…
Clawing
Still taste it…
Chewing
Still sense it…
Taunting
It is a beast
You smile through it
You mope through it
You laugh through it
You carry on about your day
Functioning
Breathing
Eating
Showing up to work late
Brushing your hair
Crying in your car
And so it is…
A loyal companion
That never leaves your side
The black dog is your closest enemy
You don’t want
It’s not up for adoption
Because it belongs to you
You must slay it, yourself
Perhaps tame it
Or it will eat you alive
More than it already has
You cry out for help
But you’ve been crying all the time
So your tears mean nothing, anymore
To nobody
But you do mean everything to somebody
Although you bare it, alone
You feel alone…with it
You don’t want to cradle…it
You want it gone
It feels as though this damn dog is gonna stay
Stay for good
Forever, maybe
Why must you go on like this…
With that black dog on your back?
Because…
You mean everything
To someone
Somebody
Means everything to you
Someone keeps you going
Going on for miles
Miles & miles of shit piles,
For you.

dog-landscape

Photography by Andrew Brockerhoff

Instagram: drewbr0ck

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FRAGRANT DEATH

How fragrant Death is…
The leaves,
The brush
Dying
and 
Decomposing
Under
Our feet

Why, we watch
The last breath
Burst into
Many shades
Of the color wheel?

A pretty party of
Leaves falling
Like raindrops
Spinning
and
Twisting
Changing direction
To and fro
The insides
Of living things that
Once were
Agonally gasping,
Grasping
How fragrant Fall is… The leaves,
The brush
Dying
and
Decomposing
Under
Our feet

^C1EFA4EFF71FAFA188EB72382CF7A12000E29E20E2BA29698E^pimgpsh_fullsize_distr

Photography by Andrew Brockerhoff

Instagram: drewbr0ck

 

I Burned You a CD {Part Two}: A Psychopompous Samhain

 

Insert I: judgments
tumblr_oxv7edfvru1s31z7ko1_540
Insert II: my ghost in the future goofing in your hallways
Insert III: “Someone has to make it out alive, sang a grandfather to his grandson, His granddaughter, as he blew his most powerful song into the hearts of the children. There it would be hidden from the soldiers, Who would take them miles, rivers, mountains from the navel cord place Of the origin story.” ~ Joy Harjo, “How to Write a Poem in a Time of War”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Insert IV: Janara Lopez
Insert V: Jennifer Chang

🖤

🖤

🖤

🖤

🖤

 

Insert VI : Blehhh

🗡️🗡️🗡️🗡️🗡️🗡️

CLICK FOR “PLUTO SHITS ON THE UNIVERSE”

 

Insert VII: past memory interlude

👻

Insert VIII: “Les Humains De Xinim – Série Verte #55” by Marcus Black

 

 

🦇🦇🦇🦇🦇

Insert IX: actual picture of me

🦇🦇🦇🦇🦇🦇

 

CLICK FOR THE STORY OF “THE VIPER”

 

Insert XII: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Insert XIII: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Insert XIV: ransom note obviously
Insert XVI: presented without caption
Insert XV: a friend
Insert XVII: a note on the desk of the hotel on hotel notepad “HOTEL HIDEOUT” by Dan Zollinger

CLICK FOR HOTEL NOTE

Insert XVIII: somehow infinite magic of the material plane

 

Insert XIX: you make it here and you make it go [a ghost by Charles Heuttner]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

tumblr_ow4sq8oWzX1tr6ni8o7_500
Insert XX

And In That Republic

And in that republic, they

built a machine,

a machine of a million names,

but one purpose,

cruelty.

Inflicting pain

was a virtue of nettles on bare skin,

leaving kindness’s soothing balm

treason.

It is why I stopped searching this world for guidance,

instead pilgriming to myself to find

the capitol of compassion.

 

But the old men raged.

Respect was a price they could not afford

and even if they paid their dues nothing would change,

they claimed.

So, we were told to accept the world they had birthed.

 

In aborted flooded canals we swam,

slow swarms watching as one by one we drowned.

How many could have been saved

in those days of historic possibility?

No one knows

and fewer venture to guess

the hypothesis being a hippopotamus

not sitting on caving chests

but swimming,

deadly swimming,

between our vulnerable bodies.

I etched markings along the wall

four marks

then a single slash through.

Four marks.

Slash.

Each friend and fellow who died became reduced to that singular tally.

 

And those city lights on the horizon,

like a municipal gathering of fallen stars,

promised endless

sleepless

shattering dialectics.

Dialogues with the past emerging,

ghosts ushering in futurescapes.

 

Ash to flame,

dust to diamond glory.

 

But no one told me the story

in full

and those dull distinctions matter.

So many points of light nothing more than traffic lights.

Yellow.

Pulsing.

Like wounded suns

struggling to breathe

telling interstellar cartographers,

“Slow down,

this is the town,”

but doing it in suggestive blaring neon verbs

Found: A Letter for the Art of Love and Colors

Dear,

In Safe and Sound,

 

I write as the crow flies—ashore, on the hard. Something’s happened, my friend. I’m aground, at liberty, and I think you must know. You’re on a run, of course, and a leg from the vanishing angle. There’s nothing so much to say, after all. A sliding pond across the pond, to think of it! And so, I write to you, the manifest all theirs.

I was leadsman and three sheets to the wind after a jump. The shifting tides felt like wild gleams, and yelling, “La mal du siècle est le fin de siècle!”

The quiet quite still and, the ocean conceiving itself a pond, so said staid:

“At times, there arrives a silence of such definitive conviction, only breathlessness awaits in reply. Before a heavy void, abrupt in infinitesimal place, broad-bosomed earth spawns light, deities, and creatures. And yet void stands, eerily genial in a forbidding concealedness it abides, exact—heavy-handed with the awesome settling of null. There are, of course, those remnants of Iapetus’ progeny: a thoughtful, doomed unconcealedness of the world.”

There were dripping sounds at this, I remember, and the wet of tell-tale and the atmosphere. Some of us had silently smoked, like xylological fumes. We were trees, my friend, and the pond was… always water and wet. The drink. Something was happening.

“The world is everything that is the case.”

And, said so, that pond in the middle of the forest talked with the batch of banked reeds about how little our Sol’s rays were involved in its ecosystem. The whole forest listened quietly, and over the following seasons many limbs slowly spread above the pond, until it sighed its happy content of a cool summer to the reeds. As autumn set, the brisk air began ossifying all these ponderous bodies, crisping icy plates on its blooming surface which melted each morning, inviting fauna and flora to sink themselves with stark refreshment.

Appreciating such communal spirit, the pond rippled a quiet return to the forest and limbs.

Later, in a womb of the icing winter, the pond lazily sludged along its floor shipping nutrient muds and clays below its breeding, frozen husk. Snuggled with the earth beneath, it glowed its reverent anticipation of the coming spring thaw. Then, it glimmered, it would banter its banks and banked reeds with freshwater biota and loudly call in laughter to the limbs just above, swinging:

“A no-sided, 4-sided figure is unfathomable—even confusingly so—to our so natural bodies, but what about that rule entails that there, in fact, is or is not a round square object, somewhere? All objects are possible objects?”

Like at some Jack a Jonah rippling the state, we’d listened poised—frozen by such cold.

“In such a proposition—and eo ipso statement, etc., etc.—is it not that its subject noun’s adjective is epistemically dissimilar, categorically, from the predicate noun’s adjective, such that render the proposition’s truth ambiguous without some formality of warrant?”

The arc of visibility the dead wake of a question. It was a wonder indeed, my friend. You would’ve imagined it admirable, as it were.

“Indeed, O Limbs, when contemplating this, prodigious, I think to remember ‘All’ as adjective, and the phrase ‘objects are possible objects’ metaphysical triviality—for, as we all well know, the convention of beginning such cosmic inferences with ‘All’ is merely convention only, useful in determining the universal from the particular formally, carrying no ontological information to the semantic table that isn’t there with the noun—and, in point of fact, serving, in this most serious of cases, that of our sea trial, to build common cloud over the way of inference. An ox-eye, O Limbs. Removing the adjective—using, instead, ‘Objects are possible objects’—might help the clear: to suggest the proposition ‘true’ is to want of warrant for why possibility is universality here. Would not there only then be unity?”

The doldrums becalmed, my friend! The forest spelled. I was forgotten, for the moment, I think.

“That we can’t conceive the experience of a round, square object has, at best, obscure bearing on the existence of such objects in such sense as said.”

Silence, some thought, hearing—already ready to stove in. Scud and iron wind. Sailors, you know.

“Though, such talk is, yes, suspect. As it should be, experience being what it is as the origin of this digression.”

The pond let lit by losing the forest among these trees, and the scat of conversants. All the talk of those aboard, that time, I remember, that cat and the devil to pay.

I won’t ask about the weather of being still at sea, my friend. There’s enough play to run with such paws.

“The map is make-able but never at all necessarily made,” rustled the limbs, “there’s just the effort of trying, ever unable to deduce whether what’s got is right, all, or some. Knowledge doesn’t exist outside knowing minds but its content is everything.”

I think here the pilot coughed, if memory serves. I mean, I’m not sure if any else of us heard, it is.

“It’s that, we understand or misunderstand the world, and the world is. For us, what the world is, what it will be, what it was, and what it can and can’t be, are common features of metaphysics, sought-for but unreached in the concepts of minds trying—some nihilism perhaps excluded. For the world, what it is, what it will be, what it was, and what it can and can’t be are logical categories which denote everything, from the geology of obsidian to this.”

It became a glacial wood soon to be warmed by the heat of summer, and all the many rays of bright shine that’s growth and substance. The master at arms with no room to swing a cat, I guess.

Taiga.

And so, at this, like some carpenter the pond replied in allegory, “The clear of an annulled sky.”

“‘I’ll participate in what you believe if you give me the attention’, came tumbling over the pearls and the bloodied beaver, Limbs.”

The limbs listened as a brush is swept, the forest petrified—fossilized fuels bearing the point, as it were. I remember it said it looked like a mirror. Something about… some hellenic and theophanic rope and yarn, I think. The pond had begun to speak of being a body of water.

“Jackal surveys the land,” the pond had sounded, “edifying Paintings’ touched and embalming the ideal. ‘Say that again?’ With concussion, Lettuce extrapolates. Those binary cartographers imbibe hilarity—albeit, Jackal’s cross and preempts her own ostensible fury by way of a barking cough.”

“Lettuce in chagrin—perplexed.”

Groves, it was by then. I could’ve heard such story, myself—stories like storied buildings.

I think of the fact that, it’s here I find myself found writing letters to you, my friend. Nothing short for lamplight, however much I should have to say, in the end. I’ve even written poems, but that of late and dire.

The pond kept up swinging the lamp like lead.

“All her pink, translucent schemata want of reality—of ossification. Painting mediates: what better than to supplant a foe by fouling foliage? The land fallow, Jackal honors the entreatment—one’s employer reigns this solar day. ‘Painting,’ Jackal claims, ‘we’re apt to mark off the upper ridge for agriculture, the mountain for The Captain’s roost, and the shoals for a defense buttress, leaving the basin for folks.’ Parched, the ink dries and the anxiety of the panorama sets with the star entombing the now elucidated police in time.”

At this, some of the limbs laughed and, in the way, taunted: “Jackal sighs at Lettuce’s prone attack, and revives facility?”

The pond waved isomorphic.

“Jackal spoke: ‘Lettuce… my beliefs are of liquid. I attend objects only, and them with a definite distance.’ Lettuce would gasp. ‘And, Lettuce, I’m a cartographer. Too narrow for your width.’ A fountain, Lettuce pontificates medium, naturalizing chaos. That the Jackal stares, cessation swiftly returning to Painting’s palette the bounty of a nearly aerial view of what—if for Painting only—is ideally incommensurable with identity. So much tranquil settling, as obviating Lettuce’s receding futility and path traversing below.”

“To Painting Jackal inscribes, ‘I am bulimic.’ A laugh, then jest in rebuke, ‘You are?’ They leave the sight.”

The limbs were silent still, having chanted the reflection that: “The beginning of the end is the end of the beginning. To begin the reason is the reason to begin the reason to have begun. The end of the beginning is the beginning of the end. The reason to begin is to begin the reason to have begun.”

I would’ve said something, then, my friend. I write you now, because that wasn’t what happened. The pond took what was a spell to mull and sludge, and was soon quite on, again, about it all.

“It’s that there’s a difference between. An oil portrait by Villers comes to mind.”


OTA-Villers-Young-1801

Marie-Denise Villers
Portrait of Charlotte du Val d’Ognes
, 1801


“An artist is painted by the painter drawing the painter—looking out at us, studying studying while they work. They paint the artist as drawing within a room, face away from a large window to their left. Through that window, we see the view out into painted open air, and, in the near distance, a painted couple walks close together alongside a painted building separated from that within which we see the artists sit, each working at their craft.”

At this submerged and aesthetic mise en abyme, even I was knocked down, my friend. It was as if liminality were sublimity.

“Villers depicts the artist as turned away from the couple without, from that life-style and choice to be one in a relationship, one outside, there walking and heavily clothed, as having chosen to remain within, at methodic vocation and a sole focus on us—the viewer, the painted. The subject.”

The pond pondered paint in prodigious profundity—paying, by and large by the board. Pelagic, at last it remarked:

“Kierkegaard was polite as ever to the King when at court, yet his journals characterize Christian VIII in language beneath a private subject of an enlightened sovereign! Logic leads, and I heckle and foray riotous! Nobody ever understands him, anyway, you know! The works!”

The limbs, like the Dormouse at tea and, perhaps, Aristotle, were quite asleep. As slumbering arms, indeed, there among the wood and water—the brightwork and deadwood of boatwrights. I’d said nothing—snagged and foul.

I write this all, my friend, because Heraclitus once said aloud that, that war and strife are the facts of life—that to think even of something like a Pax Romana is still yet that lit lamp of the sea state.

We’re at war, my friend. Extremis. This world of war. Sailing wind-over-tide, line astern without letter of marque. A rogue wave.

Be vigilant. Sail.

 

Your prize, In all regard,
And for the art of love and colors,

Fair winds and following seas,
Anon, Anon,

Away

Devotion: Patti Smith

I started this review at three in the morning. I woke up with a pain in my side; probably the result of poor cooking decisions on my part. I sat in a large chair, covered myself in blankets, and wrapped a heavy scarf around me for a shawl. The pains subsided with the writing, and the act carried them away.

A book that bears the subtitle (if only on the cover) “Why I Write” offers a starting point for interpretation before the work is even begun. There is a whole genre of writing given to the subject, ranging from musings and memoirs of the writing experience (The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer and The Writing Life by Annie Dillard), to review collections as guides to identifying “good prose” (The War Against Cliché by Martin Amis), or the technical guides for usage (The Elements of Style by Strunk and White). Smith’s book is none of these things—not really. Smith has practiced devotion both as a writer and reader since adolescence. Reading her previous work—Just Kids and M Train in particular—informs me of her pilgrimages, her loves, her elemental respect for art that is capable of expressing the best humanity can offer. She has given her life to artists, even if they could not always give it back.

Patti Smith Pirelli Annie Leibovitz
Patti Smith photographed by Annie Leibovitz, 2016

The world Patti Smith inhabits, as well as the world she crafts throughout her work, is one where the past is still resting on the ground around her. It is the same world we inhabit. Smith has the gift to bring this past into focus like a camera lens moving from background to foreground. Leaving a café is not just leaving—Smith passes a bust of Apollinaire crafted by Picasso—the same bust she saw in 1969 when she visited Paris with her sister. 1969 brings her memories of the existentialists and their cafés. Later, Smith will go to her French publisher and follow the trail of Albert Camus, the existentialist/absurdist whose early death at the height of his power added yet more hauntings to his work. Before leaving for Paris, Smith grabbed du Plessix Gray’s monograph on Simone Weil, the atheist mystic whose room Camus meditated in before he went to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. In the layers of memory we see Smith’s influences on her writing, and the influences on her influences, and the way connection spreads out between artists across decades, languages, continents.

Patti Smith Performing “Land” and “Gloria” in Paris, 2015

Writing begins with transcribing, interpreting; collecting. There is no blank space where ideas come from. Instead, Smith sifts through the worlds in front of her, building from the pieces that come together. This gives voice to the work as well as the ghosts that helped create it.

I have stacks around me as I write at five in the morning. Because of the stomach pain, I will forgo early morning coffee. Because of the stomach pain, I will ignore the fact that I started a sentence with “Because,” a fragmentary move I have always disliked. I have read du Plessix Gray on Weil at least four times in the last seven years—a life of self-denial was never so interesting or so genuine. There are texts next to me I should be working on—class readings, research materials, overdue library books. I scratch on with my black pencil, making notes on the paper, beginning a new sheet after filling both sides, making notes on the margin. Putting a finished sheet next to the new, I’m struck by the rate at which words turn into sentences, which turn to pages; which turn into a book. Smith’s notebook looks open-faced on the cover photograph. Is this a part of the first incarnation whose preserved product sits in my lap?

Devotion handwritten

These connections between names, dates, works, and experience form a mystical way of engaging with the world for Smith.

At St. Pancras International I took yet another train to Ashford, the last length of my journey, to find Simone Weil’s grave. We passed row houses, a lifeless landscape. I noticed the date on my ticket was June 15, the birthday of my late brother Todd. His only child a daughter called Simone. I immediately brightened. Only good could happen today (24).

Smith’s notes become the trail that forms this book, the pieces of which have been built up before us. “Looking back on these fragments, I am struck with the thought that if Devotion was a crime, I had inadvertently produced evidence, annotating as I went along” (27). Samuel R. Delany once wrote in his critical study, The American Shore, about the material that builds and goes into a work

The preparation [of fictional creation] is only partially retrievable from an examination of the text; such retrieval may occur only through more or less informed supposition. (29)

The body of Devotion shifts on page 35, becoming the story Smith has been gathering material for throughout the first section. This represents Smith’s first sustained work of fiction. (She has, we are told in whispers, been writing a detective novel for some time.) A story of comings and goings, the attentive reader will see how the images—both those Smith singled out for us and those we find on our own—relate to the first section A skater viewed sleepily on television becomes the heroine—a skater whose sport becomes a perfected performance art piece, documented by the viewer—the voyeur—instead of the camera.

Stop-start. Begin again with toast. Making toast, I remember Smith’s descriptions of her life in and out of coffee shops in M Train, and the various meals of coffee and toast she describes. Bread is calming and filling, but not ultimately satisfying—man does not live by bread alone. Time passes. I take these notes with me to work in a folder, and slip the folder into the center of Devotion.

The brief story that makes up the center of Devotion reads like a fairy tale. It is dark, a love story between unbalanced partners—a young woman named Eugenia and an older man named Alexander. Eugenia, a skater, intrigues Alexander, who takes it upon himself to become her provider and controller. They begin a relationship in which each exerts a certain amount of control. Eugenia finds her interest primarily in skating. Their relationship twists like the four—then five—axles she performs on a private arena. The two are oddities who meet but never seem to come together, except in elliptical violence. The notes of the first section again help a reader determine the underlying themes—history, myth, Estonia, migration and refuge from that snip of Europe, the archaic, the poetic, the haunted, and the tragedy of spiritual self-sacrifice.

Patti Smith performs “My Blakean Year” at NYPL, 2010

The third section of the book finds Smith on a different pilgrimage, to the home of Camus this time, at the invitation of his daughter to view his final manuscript, incomplete and pulled from his suitcase after the car crash that ended his life. Like Weil, he is a thread through it all—the inspiration and connection that becomes material in the story of writing. Viewing the manuscript, Smith becomes distracted, wanting to create something of her own, to enter into the dialogue of artists.

That compulsion that prohibits me from completely surrendering to a work of art, drawing me from the halls of a favored museum to my own drafting table. Pressing me to close Songs of Innocence in order to experience, as Blake, a glimpse of the divine that may also become a poem. (93)

 We see here pre-text and post-text—the creation and (brief) analysis, the scaffold and the unveiling. Recurrence allow details to stand out; specks of light to bleed through. Great work can often inspire others to response—affection and devotion. The ability to connect these things allows for an answer to the question that sent the muse running off at the start:

Why do we write? A chorus erupts.

Because we cannot simply live (94).

I come home late into the evening. There is little I can find to do—food doesn’t appeal but neither does rest. Internet images fill cheaper desires. A shower offers an open warmth different from the heat of my room. My wrists no longer hurt. Silence. Meditation hinging on deep sleep and the dream state. I reach out to my notebook and my pen. Living is not enough in itself—we must make something out of it. It is in this making that we find devotion enough to keep us for our days.

devotion cover
The Author’s Copy of Devotion, 2017

I Burned You a CD {Part ONE}: Growing

20171028_211349
CD Cover
Insert I
Insert II
Que seguimos rompiendo aquí
Esta fiesta no tiene fin
Botellas para arriba, si
Los tengo bailando, rompiendo y yo sigo aquí
Insert III
Insert IV

 

I’m in the first row on your show, in the first row👊

 

On the First Floor Power show

🎶
Your vibrato’s like vulnerable leaves,

🎶
You do it crazy, that’s how you talk to me

Insert V
Insert VI

 

Insert IX

The only living proof I got

                                                                                       Is just the sand that I was made of

Got tired building it up

                              I found the quiet place I lost, it’s just a cell upon the river

 

Insert VII
Insert VIII: smrt fašizmu
Insert X

 

Insert XI

♩ ♪ ♫ ♬ ♭ ♮ ♩ ♪ ♫ ♬ ♭ ♮ ♩ ♪ ♫

♬ ♭ ♮ ♩ ♪ ♫

♬ ♭ ♮

Insert XII
Insert XIV
Insert XIII

You’re hard on yourself
Well you can’t always be right
All those little things that keep you up at night
You should take some time to figure out your life
But you’re stuck indoors and thinking poorly

You’ll find in time
All the answers that you seek
Have been sitting there just waiting to be seen
Take away your pride and take away your grief
And you’ll finally be right where you need to be

Take all of it, take everything you’re owed
‘Til you finally feel okay being alone
Yeah it’s different now
Yeah it’s different now, you’re old

And you try and you try and you try and you try

 

Insert XV: Growing

Judging by the Seminar: On Buses and Fascism

Most people do not place much faith in bus schedules. Congestion and traffic lights always conspire to delay buses by five minutes or more. When I moved to London, Ontario, I learnt quite swiftly that the arrival and departure of buses in this city do not follow any logical system. At least their randomness allows me to practice the art of waiting and thus cultivate the virtue of patience.

I do not have a car or a driver’s license, so the bus is the only mode of transportation that can take me from my neighborhood to the university campus. I expect that I will regret my decision not to take a driving test when I am shivering at a bus stop in the middle of the harsh Ontario winter. Then again, I am a dangerously incompetent driver. On my very last driving lesson, my instructor advised me never to get behind the wheel of a car ever again. He assured me that lives were at stake. Driving, like filing your taxes or installing your Wi-Fi router, is one of those things that needs to be done right or not at all. I suppose that waiting at a bus stop is the price one must pay for not committing any acts of manslaughter through clumsy driving.

While I look down the road in the hope of spotting the approaching bus, I think idly about the set text for today’s seminar: Hannah Arendt’s Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy. The book’s editor, Ronald Beiner, compiled Arendt’s lecture notes on Kant’s Critique of Judgement to supply a surrogate for the book that Arendt never finished. According to Arendtian lore, a sheet of paper was found in her typewriter after her death that bore two epigraphs and the title Judging. It was the first page of the final part of her trilogy The Life of the Mind. So, what is judging?

Judgment has a bad reputation nowadays. Being judgmental is perceived as a vice and conjures up the image of an entitled prig who believes that his opinions are unquestionably superior and meritorious. Moreover, judgment is too closely related to prejudice (Latin. praeiudicium—“prior justice”) for anyone to think that there is anything redeemable about it.

Nevertheless, I believe that we can rescue the exercise of judgment from accusations of judgmental-ness and prejudice. After all, stubbornness of mind is not an inherent quality of judgment. In fact, Arendt quotes a letter that Kant wrote to his friend and pupil Marcus Herz in 1770: “You know that I do not approach reasonable objections with the intention of merely refuting them but that in thinking them over I always weave them into my judgments and afford them the opportunity of overturning all my cherished beliefs.” Judgment cannot take place without an open mind. Since we share the world with others, no one can make a claim or present an argument without encountering someone else’s opinions and objections. Furthermore, Arendt argues that this acknowledgment of the existence and intelligence of other people is already weaved into a judgment. She explains that imagination—the capacity to make present what is absent—enables us to anticipate the responses of others and imagine why they might agree or object to our opinions. In a sense, imagination enables us to host a roundtable discussion in our own minds.

It is apt that I am thinking about judgment on my way to a seminar. Whereas lectures present authoritative answers, seminars provoke curious discussions. Incidentally, the word seminar originates from the Latin seminarium— “breeding ground, plant nursery”— which, in turn, derives from seminarius— “of seed.” No one is expected to present a fully-grown tree of an idea in a roundtable discussion (Truthfully speaking, few scholars seek definitive answers unless they are consulting the O.E.D.). Every remark or question is a scattering of conceptual seeds that might grow into an offshoot that takes the conversation into an unforeseen direction. There is something playful and rewarding about seminars. Debates remind me of games of chess, in which two combatants must compete until one of them emerges as the victor. Seminars, on the other hand, evoke the image of several friends jogging together in the park on a Sunday afternoon. No one needs to win; there is no score. Just as jogs exercise body, seminars broaden and sharpen the mind.

Although scholars are usually caricatured as solitary and unsociable types, we crave and cherish the company of our peers. Even when we appear to spend too much time in silence and solitude, we are never completely alone. Whenever we quote a statistic or reshape an old idea, we enter a genuine relation with our predecessors, contemporaries, and descendants. Yet, I fear that this joyful and spirited play between history and the future is under threat.

Like many others, I have puzzled over the meaning and purpose of a scholarly life in the age of revitalized fascism. Times of crisis can inspire feelings of futility and fatalism. I worry that someone who is prepared to plow through a crowd of innocent people in a sports car may not be bothered about the fact that graduate students attend and participate in seminars. Nonetheless, something as simple as sitting in a room with others and discussing a topic respectfully is antithetical to fascism.

Fascism offers a simple explanation of the world for those who cannot confront the unpredictability and complexity of modern life. Different groups are cast in the roles of the good guys and the bad guys. Nothing is safe or sacred whenever fascists plait their ideology into the texture of life. Anyone who publishes an inconvenient fact is accused of spreading fake news; anyone who stands up for the rights of others is ridiculed as an “SJW.”

Fascism overpowers imagination with delusion. Whereas imagination requires the humility to admit that someone could rightfully disagree with you, delusion requires the staunch belief that anyone and anything that contradicts your worldview is objectively wrong. Everyone knows that it is easier to delude oneself than imagine the perspective of someone else. Novelists struggle for years to grasp the essence of what it means to live and act as a human being before they can craft fictional characters that “ring true.” In this light, one can understand the appeal of Ayn Rand’s novels to right-wing libertarians. Her characters are nothing more than mediums for competing ideologies. No depth, ambiguity, or mystery is permitted in the system of Rand’s objectivism. Think about the rape scene in The Fountainhead. Under fascism, intimacy and tenderness can play no part in sexual intercourse; there is only abuse, aggression, and domination. That’s why contemporary fascism is so keen to defend our pernicious and pervasive rape culture. Fascism refuses to accept that people deserve dignity even when they are inconvenient. Women deserve respect even when they withhold consent. Protestors are not terrorists just because they disagree with you.

Riding on a bus teaches me a lot about living with others. As much as I would like everyone on this bus to be quiet enough for me to read Simone Weil in peace, I do not suffer from the requisite megalomania to think that I should force them into silence and submission. People cannot be manipulated like pixels on Photoshop.

Noise is just a part of public space.

I think about a counter-protest that I attended recently in opposition to the gathering of an anti-Islamic group that claimed to promote the right to free speech. While they yelled their hateful speeches into a megaphone, we banged on drums and blew on whistles to drown them out. Later, a member of that group approached me and asked why I wanted to deny his right to speak freely. I told him that our confrontation had nothing to do with free speech. Given the authority, their group would have ordered the police to arrest every single participant in the counter-protest. They did not want us to listen. They wanted us to be silent.

Fascism cannot tolerate the existence of seminars, because they prove that the alt-right’s conception of the right to free speech is just a pale facsimile of the real thing. Seminars reveal that coming closer to the truth requires conversation and collaboration. Broadening one’s mind means opening oneself up to the sacred inconsistency of the world. In a more mundane sense, it means waiting for a bus even when it is a few minutes late.

I am sitting in the seminar room now. People nod in recognition whenever someone new enters the room. There is casual chatter about the reading for the week. Someone scribbles a few prompts into their notebook to remind them of significant points to raise as soon as the discussion gets underway. Someone starts the seminar with a question and someone else offers a tentative answer, then someone refines the answer with stipulation, which, in turn, prompts someone else to pose another question. As I listen, I think: “Fascism has no home here.”

 

TellTale

 

From time immemorial, human beings have communicated through stories. Cavemen drew symbols and images on the walls of the caves in the form of a narrative to communicate with each other. When a child is born, the very first form of communication that follows the gibberish talk of the initial months, between the mother and the child, is more often than not through stories. Story-telling is an ancient art form, a cultural totem, a powerful medium of communication, communion, and sometimes of propaganda; political and religious.

In Haroun and the Sea of Stories, a witty satire by the master raconteur, Salman Rushdie, Haroun is a young boy who embarks on a fascinating journey to save a story-telling world from speechlessness and intellectual darkness. There is a passage where Khattam-shud, the arch-enemy of stories in the novel says, ” Your world, my world, all worlds…they are all there to be Ruled. And inside every single story, inside every Stream in the Ocean, there lies a world, a story world, that I cannot rule at all.”

The infinite power of the story or the story-form has been harvested through generations for the purpose of interactions between peoples and cultures. The emergence, dissipation, distribution, and popularity of fairy tales and musical narratives, across cultures and continents, and especially the modification and exchange of tales in the same, goes on to show that the primary mode of cross-cultural interactions was stories. These stories traveled across seas, accumulating local elements and characters, to create innumerable renditions and versions of the same narrative.

When I say, the art of story-telling, I do not mean story-telling in fiction or on celluloid. I am talking about story-telling as a performative art. It is quite surprising to see that story-telling as a performance is hardly talked about or discussed in social or academic circles. So while on my way to college, when I stumbled upon a poster of The Cape Clear Island Storytelling Festival, the Haroun in me lept in joy! Sadly, I had missed the show dates because it was an old poster but it opened my eyes to the presence of a few practitioners who are still trying to keep this dying art alive.

Local artists such as Niall de Búrca, Liz Weir, Paddy O’ Brian, Diarmuid O Drisceoil, among others, had performed in this year’s September leg of the festival in Ireland, bringing their unique styles and narratives to the audience. These are professional story-tellers, who have dedicated themselves to the preservation of this art form. Such story-telling festivals are rare to find. The general ignorance among people regarding the art form and its promotion could be attributed to a lack of knowledge about these events. It is also likely, that the people, who would have found these festivals interesting, the kids and the young adults, have more glamorous and popular substitutes in music concerts and stage shows, to really give these festivals a try. Apart from U.K., Ireland, and the USA, the few countries that still host such festivals as The Cape Clear Island Storytelling Festival in Cork or The Lough Gur Storytelling Festival in East Ireland or the National Storytelling Festival in Jonsborough in Tennesse, storytelling as a performative art has hardly succeeded in grabbing the limelight that it deserves in any other part of the world. Even in these countries, barring Ireland, these festivals are few and far between.

As we stand at the threshold of tough and tumultuous times, with widespread hatred and intolerance and the impending threat of war and strife, we need to summon the story-teller more than ever. Our youth must be encouraged to participate in and be a partaker of these exchanges, that can not only fuel their imagination but also broaden their emotional and intellectual horizons.

In the words of Philip Pullman, ” After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the things we need most in the world.”

 

 

 

 

Women and Space

Image by Frank Schott

Whether it is defined as a container for things or the relation between things, the nature of space is often limned with the body-matter of women. Ever since Plato first introduced the existence of space and claimed the nature of space as the figure of the mother, women have become the body-matter for man (Plato 65; Best 184, 187). This linking of space and woman leads to a conception that woman is seen as “the body, the earth, the springboard for man,” which, as Irigaray suggests, enables men to place themselves as a higher subject whose “only connection to the corporeal is his imprint left upon ‘his’ object – the body of woman” (Best emphasis 187).

This hierarchal thinking is parallel to the relation between man and space, in which men see their countries (motherland) and languages (mother tongue) as feminine. In fact, not only countries such as Britain and France are characterized as women—“Britannia stands for Britain, Marianne for Republican France”—cities such as New York, Los Angles, Paris and so forth have also been characterized as women (Best 181). In Monuments and Maidens: The Allegory of the Female Form, Marina Warner calls Paris as a feminine city (36). She describes the public space of Paris as a feminine flesh and the buildings as having “bosomy and vaginal contours…pillowy roofs and open-mouthed entrances” (36-7; Best 182). Also, drawing on Scott Fitzgerald’s description of New York as an “essentially cynical and heartless” woman (143), Sue Best comes to see New York as “an active libido”—she has “a clitoris at the entrance to her harbour” (182). Furthermore, Los Angeles is also named by scholars such as Joan Baudrillard (1983) and Edward Soja (1989) as the representation of woman (Best 182).

If we change our scale into a domestic view, we also find that the representation of our home has been always a feminine one. In Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, a house is a “maternal” feature: “a warm, co[z]y, sheltering, uterine home” (7; Best emphasis 182). It was as though our home serves as the womb of our mother, where we receive foods, waters, sense of security and comfort. This metaphor of home is parallel to the earth we are living, in which we gain foods, water, materials for shelter, and even natural cycles such as climate and nutrients from our Mother Earth. And yet we have so disconnected ourselves from the natural world, the space that we are living, the womb that we come from. The rise of technology and industry has led us toward a modern and convenient life. However, under the influence of capitalism and the rising of consumerism, we come to “forget” about there is only one Mother Earth. As even it vanishes little by little, we still take everything in nature for granted and keep consuming. If our planet were a woman, we were all cannibals, as our lives are fed on the blood and sacrifice of a single living female body.

In The Production of Space, Henri Lefebvre links the female body to the contemporary neo-capitalist space: “The ways in which space is thus carved up are reminiscent of the ways in which the body is cut into pieces in images (especially the female body, which is not only cut up but also deemed to be “without organs”!)” (355). Lefebvre’s description calls attention to the danger that lies underneath this shifting of space and female representation in the contemporary time: from the maternal body to the sexually available female body and now towards “the fragmented female body of postmodern industry” (Best 183).

Furthermore, the female body has been linked to the image of the cyberspace. The association between the female body and the cyberspace is derived from a stereotypical thought that women are technologically incapable, which, is derived from the separation of labor between men and women, whereby women participate mainly in cooking and childcare. Drawing on this, Judy Wajcman calls for a re-definition of technology because this thinking is indeed gender-biased (137). In fact, cyber-feminists claim that women and technology together are viewed as a double threat to the rational patriarchal order (Huyssen 71) and thus, a gender-biased idea in which men are technologically capable while women have always been re-emphasized. Alternatively, some feminists suggest that by embracing cyberspace as female space, women can actually change the “male-defined technological landscape” (Toffoletti 24). As Sadie Plant suggests, “Cyberspace is the matrix not as absence, void, the whole of the womb, but perhaps even the place of woman’s affirmation” (60). By embracing the cyberspace as feminine it becomes possible for women to liberate themselves from the structure of patriarchy.

Image by Frank Schott

References:

Best, Sue. “Sexualizing Space.” in Sexy Bodies: The Strange Carnalities of Feminism. ed. Elizabeth Groz and Elspeth Probyn. London and New York: Routledge, 1995. pp. 181-194. Print.

Fitzgerald, S. F. “My Lost City.” in The City: American Experience. ed. A. Trachtenberg, P. Neill and P.C Bunnell. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971. Print.

Friedberg, A. Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern. Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press, 1993. Print.

Lefebvre, H. The Production of Space. trans. D. Nicholson-Smith. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991. Print.

Plant, Sadie. “The Future Looms: Weaving Women and Cybernetics.” in Cyberspace, Cyberbodies, Cyberpunk: Cultures of Technological Embodiment. ed. Mike Featherstone and Roger Burrows. London: Sage, 1995. Print.

Plato. Timaeus and Critias. trans. D. Lee. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965. Print.

Toffoletti, Kim. Cyborgs and Barbie Dolls: Feminism, Popular Culture and The Posthuman Body. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2007. Print.

Wajcman, Judy. Feminism Confronts Technology. Cambridge and Oxford: Policy Press, 1991. Print.

Warner, M. Monuments and Maidens: The Allegory of the Female Form. London: Picador, 1985. Print