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

 

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Braving the Days: The Seasons Are Changing

 

It’s only early August and there’s a briskness to the air on the East Coast. Last year, there was blistering heat, and I craved the cool, foggy days of San Francisco, but this season has changed, and so have I. I mean, on a fundamental level I have not. I was talking to my mother about love, and I told her ever since I was a little girl, I never felt the need to prioritize love. I didn’t have the capacity to put friends before a pet, or lovers before colleagues or acquaintances before old friends.

It took me 30 years to learn the term “non hierarchical” in terms of relationships until I was 30 years old, but I immediately connected to the idea, because I’d been living it my entire life. I have always loved people, I’ve always loved life and books, writing and traveling but have never been able to say that I loved something more than the other. I understand that there are times in my life when I may be more comfortable writing a book than a music album, or when I’d rather teach than perform. There are times when I’d like to be alone, and other times when I’d like to be very social, but the emphasis of my feelings towards the phases of my life was never anything that caused me anxiety. Outside of earning a living, and work to keep social and relational conflict to a minimal, I never felt like there was something I needed to be doing that I was not doing because something came first.

A large reason for this is because I have chosen to not have children yet. I think a child is the only human being that I absolutely know would not fit into a non hierarchical structure. With this said, in my teaching career, I believe I have been successful because I treat adults and children as if they are equal beings. No, I don’t use inappropriate language, but I do not value children’s thoughts, presence and even advice over adults. I think kids give the best life advice. I think they are observant, and wise and enjoy spending time with them.

The seasons are changing and maybe I am on some levels, or maybe I am just refining what I’ve always known about myself. The weather and the Earth don’t function by the construct of hierarchy. All things are equal. I believe life and love should be fluid.

Moonlight and the creation of the world

 

Moonlight portrays three episodes in the life of Chiron, a black man who grows up in the inner city of Miami. Instead of the totality of his life, or an un-interrupted narrative, the film shows first an episode titled Little, that spans from his encounter with a paternal figure until the loss of innocence. The second episode, Chiron, opens with the paralyzing passivity of a teenager overwhelmed by bullying and his mother’s addiction; and ends where —unfortunately— too many black American teenagers’ stories end: in a cop car, handcuffed, let down by a justice system that would not protect him, but that would readily vilify him. The third one, Black, shows a stereotype of black masculinity: a monumental body with golden teeth, apparently unbreakable, that shatters in the arms of the only man he ever touched.

The film is a Coming-of-age story and depicts the process of identity formation not only of the main character, but also of the world around him. It is a story of systemic oppression, of addiction, of love, the possibility of (re)understanding hegemonic masculinity and choosing vulnerability.

  1. Coming-of-age Stories

 

All such stories are mirrors of the world they represent.[1] They create our worlds, untangling them.

For example, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) uses the Midwest as the stage of a developing national identity, that struggles with the confusing formation of a united post-civil war persona, among feelings of loss, hatred, and mourning that persist until this day. Huck’s relationship with his abusive father, with Jim, Widow Douglas, all depict an aspect of the nation and, although they do not provide a clear-cut definition of American, they untangle the possibilities of new relationships that had not existed until then. The Coming-of-age Story, as a genre, usefully depicts every aspect of how the world comes to be, by means of a causative mosaic or quilt.

As the main character develops, so is the world created. If the Coming-of-age genre was able to describe the emerging and unified American identity, what can Moonlight tell us about the inner cities of America, the intersections of racial and sexual oppression, about paternity, maternity, and the emerging world?

  1. Little

 

The small Chiron hides from the bullies in an abandoned apartment. Juan finds him and takes him home, feeds him, and becomes a fortuitous father, patient and loving. Within the genre of the Coming-of-age, Juan represents a mentor, a possible path ahead, that of a drug dealer. But Juan is not the stereotypical-Law-&-Order dealer, but a gentle man, with a great sense of humor and a stable relationship. Juan takes Chiron to the sea and he carries him in a rite that looks almost like a baptism for its solemnity. The sea becomes the place where Chiron always returns. In terms of Michel Foucault, the sea becomes a heterotopia;[2] a place that allows non-hegemonic things to happen. where Chiron can escape and the unintelligible takes place.

In a fundamental scene, we see Chiron’s mother, high and violent, scream one of the words that defines the protagonist’s experience: faggot.

In the last scene of his childhood, Chiron asks Juan the meaning of the word. Juan explains that people use it when they want to hurt a gay person. Chiron asks if her mother is an addict and if Juan is her dealer. The answer to the question ends his childhood.

  1. Chiron

 

This episode is about love and the hostility of the world. Chiron’s childhood friend Kevin, of afro-latinx heritage, becomes his object of desire. We know that Juan has died, but we can only see the ripples that his death could have had in the protagonist. His mother, lost in addiction, gives everything for the rock and takes whatever Chiron has.

Chiron goes back to the sea, where he finds Kevin. There, the unfathomable happens: a hiss and an orgasm. The next day, under the pressure of compulsory violent masculinity, Kevin is forced to beat Chiron up. The teachers that break up the fight are unable to protect him.

When Chiron fights back and goes to prison.

There is no place for love in this world, where every relationship means pain. Any semblance of queerness is destroyed. Misery and sexual identity conflate to throw Chiron into the next heterotopia: prison.

  1. Black

 

Chiron ends up where his mentor started, as a dealer. His mother, in a sort of clinic, apologizes. She does not know how to tell him to love himself; but, at least, she is able to tell him that she loves him, even if he cannot love her back.

After a phone call, Chiron drives from Atlanta to Miami to see Kevin once again. Like a mirror of his own story, Kevin has also been to prison, but has become a cook and a father, although he is not married. Kevin’s sexuality is murky, but it needs no clarity. Chiron finally tells him why he is there: because he has never touched anyone else. The episode ends not in a sexual encounter, but in an embrace, in the possibility of love and company.

In the last scene, little Chiron stands in front of the sea, in the moonlight, and in silence he seems to say that everything that has happened could have been different… but the world is the way it is. The justice system punishes the strange and the poor. Addiction, drugs, poverty, and ignorance lay the path ahead.

And, although the world is hostile and media often represents black men as stereotypes of extraordinary strength and unchecked violence, here Chiron, Juan, and Kevin are compassionate. Juan can be the father of a boy he does not know. Kevin can hold his friend. Chiron can be a sea of tears. The beauty of the film is in the intelligibility of kindness.

[1] “In the event-racked revolutionary years of the late eighteenth century, the emergence of the hero’s character increasingly mirrored the emergence— socially, economically, politically, ideationally—of the world around him” (3). Thomas Jeffers. Apprenticeships: the Bildungsroman from Goethe to Santayana. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

[2] Foucault uses the example of the mirror, the cemetery or prison, places where social rules change and enable the intelligibility of death, sex, or any taboo.

 

Follow Ricardo Quintana Vallejo on Twitter: @realquir

 

 

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Understanding the Islamic concept Inshallah through Psychogeography

Image by Morag Rose.

Travel has always been illuminating for me—every place I visit presents me with experiences that shed light on things I was previously unable to fully understand. That this is so, is only natural to Mrs. Trang, an urban planner from a university in Hanoi. She introduces me to Psychogeography. Psychogeography is an urban planning concept which suggests that our geographical surroundings have a psychological impact on our emotions and, hence, our behaviors. According to Mrs. Trang, when designing a city, urban planners must first know the kind of feeling(s) they wish the inhabitants to experience. Only then will the urban planner be able to determine such things as building design to the kinds of trees and flowers to be planted. All of these elements, she says, will allow a city to emanate certain vibes—“Every city has its own personality.” These vibes are designed to affect the way people think and act. Therefore, it should be no surprise if people are to some extent different whenever they change their geographical locations.

Internationale Situationniste “Naked City” by Guy DeBord

Psychogeography is also a concept that allows me to better grasp the concept of Inshallah, a religious concept central to my own personal and professional life. The term Inshallah simply means “God willing” or “If God wills.” Muslims ought to say it, instead of “I will,” whenever they agreed or “promise” to do something in the future for another party. Looking at the practice of Inshallah from Arendt’s perspective, it appears as a social transaction of advanced request for forgiveness from the party who makes a promise, and a guaranteed release of forgiveness from the party to whom the promise is made. This social transaction of forgiveness would be important when the first party, for whatever reason, is unable to keep their promise. Such failure produces certain effects such as distrust or contempt which is, to some degree, damaging to the relationship between them. However, within the Muslim community, such negative effects are likely mitigated because forgiveness (understanding) has been given upfront, i.e. when they say “Insha’Allah” (“If God allows me to do so”).  Accordingly, the practice Inshallah offers a remedy for the damage that is not even there yet.

The practice of Inshallah does offer an insight into the irreversible and unpredictable nature of human action and its redemption, as Hannah Arendt mentioned in The Human Condition. Once a certain deed is performed, the consequences exceed time and space and are unforeseeable and impossible to undo. If the consequence is negative, it prevents the related parties, especially the wrongdoers, from moving on with their lives.  The way to free them from such an imprisonment, Arendt says, is through forgiveness. That way, the wrongdoer may release the guilt and the offended party is free from grudges. Then they will be able to interact with each other again, or at least, moving on with their lives. Finally, I should also like to say that to merely use the term Inshallah without genuine efforts to meet the promises is an irresponsible act that would also be damaging to social relationships.

One of the effects of the change in location that has always troubled me was that people are more likely to fail to meet their promises. Having many encounters of just such an experience, I lost my ability to trust people and their promises.  But, after four years of psychological, religious and physical homelessness, I think the Psychgeography concept has just dissolved the grudge I have for people and promises. It helps me to see that there are many factors at play in the failure in meeting promises including pyschogeography. Thus, releasing my resentments and people I despised become a natural and personal process which does not need the presence of remorse, nor request from the offender, and, that is I think what Derrida meant by giving yourself the gift of forgiveness. Finally, pyschogeography has shown me the intelligibility of Inshallah, which is helpful in better understanding the dilemmatic religion vs. science relationship.

 

 

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2017 Summer Reading List

Summer of 2017 seems like a surreal season of confusion and great opportunities for new beginnings. It’s been a rough few years. America has morphed into a country that cannot decide whether it wants to evolve or stay the same. For me, books have been a comfort. Books have been a staple for my stability and understanding. This reading list consists of books that can help you focus on your own consciousness, one’s relationship with racism, morality, feminism and utopian concepts. I think it is most important to understand that his list is completely organic. This list was compiled since the Spring as I’ve cruised materials for classes I am teaching for my own practical intellectual expansion.

I am sharing this list for no other reason but to give access to a collection of books that are intriguing, and maybe, hopefully the combination of these pages will incite growth in you. I can say that they have served me well.

Negative Dialectics
By: Theodore W. Adamo
The Use of Pleasure: Volume 2 of the History of Sexuality
By: Michel Foucault
As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980
By Susan Sontag, Edited By David Rieff
Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Modern Era By: Anthony Giddens
Vulnerability in Resistance
Edited by Judith Butler, Zaynap Gambatti, Leticia Sabsay
Aesthetic Justice: Interesting Artistic and Moral Perspectives
Edited By: Pascal Gielen, Niels Van Tomme
Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy
By Chris Crass
The Heidegger Controversy
By: Richard Wolin
Race Woman: The Lives of Shirley Graham Du Bois
By: Gerald Horne
The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning
By: Maggie Nelson
New Heaven, New Earth
By: Joyce Carol Oates
The Prophet
By: Kahlil Gibran
Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880
By: W. E. B. Du Bois
The Human Condition
By: Hannah Arendt
Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women
By: Brittney C. Cooper
Against Purity: Living Ethically in Compromised Times
By: Alexis Shotwell
The expanding circle
By: Peter Singer
Practical Utopia: Strategies for a Desirable Society
By: Michael Albert
Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious
By: Sigmund Freud

 

 

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OTA-Corrupted-Nadie-95

Front Album Cover of Corrupted’s 1995 Nadie

1.

Beginning one of his many books, 19th-century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard writes a preface. In the book I have in mind this is followed by another and that by yet another. This book of Kierkegaard’s is a book of them. A book of beginnings of books.

i live in san francisco.

I read. I write. I listen to Corrupted and the Melvins.

My aesthetic is the literary and the λόγος, and the zeitgeist of the longue durée–the auld lang syne. This aesthetic is the love of Des Esseintes and jewel-encrusted, murdered tortoises. Like Bernardo Soares, all I want to possess is the sensation of these words.

It’s their image—material and substantial like those scents and colors of the house of Huysmans’s protagonist—that might well be read in trace here.

I want to use them.

As Audre Lorde had said, at Harvard, “In what way do I contribute to the subjugation of any part of those who I call my people?”

As a dead white man once wrote yet another white man to have said about a clearly not altogether completely different question, that is the question, and I aim to see admonishment for infelicities.

As Grace Kyungwon Hong recently wrote, for dehumanizing disavowals.

For that Banana Republic, where all roads lead to a Rome of the worst in us all. If, in the end, there will be things leftover to use, far be it from me to discover them so. I am here to problematize the problematic. I leave it to my work elsewhere to come up with ‘positive projects’.

As Warsan Shire said, we can’t make homes out of human beings. Someone should’ve already told us that.

These city lights ever the countercultural moment, I live in the bay view, beneath the avenues built during the fin de siècle of San Francisco’s golden age. Outlying these avenues, I read the books of my intellectual heritage, the west, like an appalling manifest destruction. There’s no science in such catastrophic images. There is horror and subjugation. There are lies and murders.

We’d come to California to kill and conquer—as to the New World, to the Old World—to take. In philosophy, while not at the frontlines, this is no different. Its decadence has already revealed that structures of power are structures of thought—structures of theory, belief, and conviction.

Genocidal structures of no quarter.


OTA-David-Socrates-1787

Jacques-Louis David’s 1787 The Death of Socrates (partial)

2.

I am a philosopher. My name is Aenesidemus, for this venture into being terse. I come to be known as someone who had come to be known as a philosopher and I will be forgotten much as they have been—with the little of their work there is it’s enough to note they were a skeptic and be done with it—and there, too, is affinity. The skepsis of the Greeks slew those philosophers for their ways—wrote their treatises about ways to give up their own theories let alone having to listen to the exhortations of the preponderant and domineering acolytes of others.

fuck right the fuck off.

To repurpose something profound published last year by Sara Ahmed—with an eye to recompense by discussing her perceptive and critical thoughts later this year, as a first debt as columnist, I think: “An affinity of hammers.”

To meet hammers. In the end, as Toril Moi wrote, even feminism’s aim is to abolish itself.

To fix this fucking shit and have been fucking done with it.

As Toni Cade Bambara wrote, “The job of the writer is to make revolution irresistible.”

Sublime and profound ideas.

I work to consider myself the consummate professional, in such regard. I believe no less than Dr. Cornel West tweeted just this last Valentine’s Day: “Justice is what love looks like in public.”

I’m an actor of the university industrial complex, as I’ve heard and rather appreciate it called. I might talk the talk with the somewhat ‘best’ of them, I think, yes—I cited the references.

Power reflecting power. And, yes. Plato. It’s called a conversation. One is a part of it, and yet still it’s a thing, yes. Absurd, I know.

This column is bifurcated as a dialogue, and, so, reflects the writer’s interest in logic and the ideas of contradiction and dissent. The dialectic is pedagogical, heaving from critic-as-student to critic-as-teacher and back—helical.

In this rhetorical quality, it reflects my interests in learning and academia. I speak to learning and to teaching as Heidrun Friese spoke to the hotel and the guest, so to speak. Inasmuch as the set eye to phenomenology, existentialism, and the literary—as it is with Aristotle, the proliferation of ways of knowing goes hand-in-hand with that of the same of being.

As the laundry list, I discuss love, art, truth, justice, certainty, insanity, sovereignty, and elements of ethical persuasion. I explore literature and culture.


Digital StillCamera

Lagoa Henriques’ 1988 Fernando Pessoa statue

3.

“we’ve been devastated by the severest and deadliest drought in history — that of our profound awareness of the futility of all effort and the vanity of all plans.”

That is how Fernando Pessoa began The Education of the Stoic, which comes to us as fragments. History later found the manuscript in an old trunk. Pessoa was dead.

Seventy years earlier in 1851, Arthur Schopenhauer wrote down bleak notes on the “worthlessness and vanity” of existence, unless we strive in vain after distraction despite an abject condition, after transient impermanence, and spent the last thirty years of his life in quiet futility, alone in his house with small dogs. Pessoa drank himself to death. This drought they write of is quite the devastator.

Pessoa was an early 20th-century Portuguese poet and writer who wrote prolifically and haphazardly, and created no less than 60 distinct pseudonyms. Soares was one of them. Pessoa was an artist. He engaged in automatic writing, founded art movements, published in magazines, and held a respected position in Lisbon’s intellectual scene.

Pessoa lived a craft. Ophelia Queiroz, the love of his life, was several times greeted by the fictitious poet Álvaro de Campos instead of Pessoa during their fleeting courtship. He called his pseudonyms heteronyms, and they were identities for most of which he created whole biographies and histories.

They were ideal representatives of intimate and reflective writings.

Last year at a conference in the port city of Porto, off the coast of the continent and country of my maternal heritage, I’d discussed Pessoa’s work. At a philosophy conference, I explained the work of a writer. I described a desire to expand the philosophical canon to writers and minds that didn’t write treatises like Hume or critiques like Kant, yet exemplify those last shrieking lessons of what scholars like Wittgenstein and Feyerabend set down.

That there’s an entire world out there. That it means something, and always has and it’s all nothing new. Our ivory institution has simply ignored it, towering above like some autistic savant.

I aim to be a philosophical skeptic, as columnist. Like Aenesidemus, I will work to extrapolate on what the 20th-century thinks it found out: that finding things out is an open-ended conversation.

I am influenced, and aim to comment on all these past and westphalian goings-on. I make no secret that the relation between the west and the world today is of marked concern, as I aim to illuminate elements of pervasive and problematic ethical and political circumstances that find as their genesis the antagonisms and parasitisms of that relation.

To repurpose the name of an old skeptic from a ‘school’ contending language vicious, my thoughts will be set on the thought of conceptual and epistemic revolution.


OTA-Sorrentino-Belleza-13.png

Screenshot of Paolo Sorrentino’s 2013 La Grande Bellezza (partial)

4.

I have ideas for the coming months, though everything flows. I’ll explore Carroll and Foucault on the mad, Kant and Wittgenstein on the conversant, and Ahmed and Spivak on the political. Boris’ Amplifier Worship and Sorrentino’s La Grande Bellezza might feature. I’ve also got hold of a study of the lives and loves of women poets and writers of the Caribbean, by Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley. Cixous will inevitably show up in places. Los.

The involvement of the writer in culture is organic, and a part of how everything flows. If the past is gone, it is only here as the present. As you and I are. Culture is the multifarious and interpolated existence of myriad and idiosyncratic individuals—whether Deleuze lasts for days, or speculative realism dies the sudden, tragic death of the left behind, or Lorde points to the serious and deficient want of the righting of wrongs.

I want the righting of wrongs. I want the right rules. I want love and honor, not hate or fear.

Some contemporary views note that Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics is leading to his Politics, yet the Philosopher—Aristotle’s medieval sobriquet—was not under the odd impression that the most important goal in Greek life—in the lives of those with which he lived—was to be politicians. To think of it as such, is to neglect historicization. The Lyceum is not San Francisco State University.

Aristotle’s point, I think, if we’re bent to give it conceptual space to breathe, is at its most charitable along the lines we heard—from consciousness-raising group to art installation, from demonstration to deliberation—during the women’s rights movement and the modern revitalization of feminism.

If eudaimonia is anything today, it is that the personal is political.

This column is personal, in such a sense. Quite like Pessoa, that I am pseudonymous does nothing to sway this. This column is Aenesidemus as the terse columnist and critic. I’m already responsible for a series of dramatic and musical compositions—tragedies and songs. A columnist, however, is something to add. There’s a sense of relevance.

there’s things to discuss.

I’m under the impression there are a staggering number of wrongs to be addressed, if not redressed, about the world. There is structural, hierarchical, and hegemonic oppression. There is something to be said.

Culture is essential—as lesson and plan. The mantra for this column is that lives are always in the balance. The personal is political. Lives are always in the balance.

We philosophers of the west love our conceptual clarity, so emphasizing that finality, of necessity, there, modally, is characteristic. Emphasizing the lives is what’s overlooked.


OTA-WingedNike_2cBCE

The Winged Nike marble statue c. 200-190 BCE

5.

lives are always in the balance.

Pessoa wrote The Education of the Stoic using a pseudonym he called The Baron of Teive.

The Baron is pure reason embodied in text and character. Due to that drought, Pessoa has the Baron writing us a suicide note.

The preeminent rationalist finding no guide for living because, the Baron writes, the first function of life is action: a wholly intellectual life is an existential contradiction.

To think is to create an interpretation of the universe, he writes, that is a mere hallucination.

There is a metaphor that illustrates what he means in a marble statue sculpted in Hellenistic Greece at the beginning of the century after Zeno began holding his school at the Stoa, and often identified as the most famous piece of the period.

One of its names is The Winged Nike. It’s a fantastical representation of the Greek deity Nike, the goddess of victory. The winged immortal stands tall and forthright, often appraised as forcing her way forward against a strong sea breeze to signal triumph.

This statue is a striking analogue because of this perceived posture and intent, which is reminiscent of the pride the Baron feels in his conquering of that Caesar of Reality by suicide, but also because the statue no longer has its head or arms.

The Baron writes of the simple egoism of the Greeks, their Protagorean man as measure of world, and that modern culture is imbued with a tragic complex of Schopenhauerian temperament.

The statue of victory today is without a head or arms.

Modern reason achieves victory over itself by its own act destroying itself, headless and senseless.

Inorganic and empty, Pessoa’s Baron commits suicide because reason describes only the reasoner.

The world is for the unreasonable and the inhumane. Reality is for the mad.

i am mad.

I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.

I’m going to do something about it.


July’s Accompaniments

1. Corrupted’s 1995 Esclavo off EP Nadie
2. Joyce Manor’s 2010 Five Beer Plan off EP Constant Headache
3. Dæphne’s 2015 Sharpness Is the Game I Play off EP Full Circle
4. The Melvins’ 1991 Boris off LP Bullhead
5. From Monument to Masses’ 2003 Comrades and Friends off LP The Impossible Leap in One Hundred Simple Steps

 

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The Truth About Time

Image: “Warped Clock Face” by Gary Cycles

Time is infinite and finite.

It also doesn’t exist.

When I was five or six, my uncle, in his trademark wife beater and green factory pants, tried to teach me to tell time.

“What time is it?” He’d point to the white round clock on the wall over the stove in my grandmother’s yellow kitchen.

I stumbled. I stuttered.

“It’s a quarter to three,” he said, explaining the rules of the big hand and the little hand.

Nearly twenty years later, at a holiday gathering, I chatted about how quickly the year passed, a traditional New Year’s Eve conversation starter.

“You know,” my boyfriend’s brother said,  “Time doesn’t exist anyway.”

“What?” I said. “Time exists.”

“No, it doesn’t,” he said. “Think about it. It’s made up. Someone had to create it.”

Before I could finish another counterpoint, he continued.

“I know, it blew my mind a few years ago when this professor told me. It’s crazy right?”

And so there I stood, a moment in time that would forever change my perspective of how I measured anything and everything.

For years after, I scurried down my own philosophical rabbit hole.

This must be why sometimes a minute feels like ten or an hour can feel like a minute?

Neither exist.

Neither exist!

The only things that are real are feelings and thoughts.

Did certain feelings and thoughts and experiences make the “time” go by faster?’’

And what about eternity? Made up too for sure. A hunch? Educated guess?

So then, what of age?

If time does not exist, then surely age is immeasurable.

I mean, who says? Is a year, a year simply because we agree?

Therefore, I conclude, I am ageless.

But the physical body, it declines. Surely evidence of the passage of something?

I propose my own theories:  What if we believed we could live past 100? What if by defining or expecting the number of days and weeks we have, we’ve created a ticking time bomb?

These days, I’m not as obsessed as I had been.

But I still do find myself taking a minute (oh the irony) to remember that time is neither here nor there. A few seconds to reject the constructed and agreed upon reality that runs our lives.

In those moments, I think of one thing that is true.

Sunrises. Sunsets.

An infinite and finite number of sunrises and sunsets.

 

 

Keysha Whitaker is the creator and host of Behind the Prose, a podcast that deconstructs the work of contemporary authors, essayists, and journalists.

 

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The Performance of Contemporary Art (Part 1)

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What is a professional artist? That sort of word game can sometimes be trivial semantics. Or at best, a predictable Socratic inquiry that ends in “who can say?” But this question informs the way teachers advise students to enter the world as artists, so it’s important to form a basic answer, even if it is incomplete.

The commonsense answer in American capitalist culture is something like ‘someone who earns an income from the sale of their art.’ In other words, an artist is a person running a small business who produces art objects marketed as such. By this definition, anyone else posing as a professional artist is a fraud.

That excludes a huge community of people with advanced degrees, passion, talent, and success in being exhibited in museums and galleries, who just happen to be getting paid little or nothing for their contributions.

There are some who would say “Too bad. They’re still frauds. The art world contains a network of fraudulence.”

Although that may be literally accurate, since the term ‘profession’ means a paid occupation, it is unproductive in terms of rating artists, since not all artwork is made for money. The alternative is to be an ‘amateur’, a person who engages in art for the emotional reward of it rather than for income. The problem with the word ‘amateur’ is that it is used in common speech and listed in dictionaries as also meaning unskillful. The expression “amateur hour” is used as an insult.

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I encourage artists to reject that stance and learn the usefulness of the amateur model in life. Charles Darwin was famously an amateur scientist; Socrates criticized the sophists for charging for knowledge, making him an advocate for amateur teaching; the Chinese literati school of painting was an amateur tradition; so what’s the shame in being an amateur? If income is the goal, that’s a different story. But there’s no reason to condemn someone as unsuccessful just because their expression doesn’t link to a revenue stream.

However, if skills designed for the amateur model are being taught by a school, that should be explained up front. A criticism I have of art programs is that their marketing often implies direct training for a paid career, but fails to actually deliver any marketable skills. That’s not to say artistic skills need to be marketable, but schools should not be deceptive about it; it’s dishonest to the students.

I think it’s possible to teach skills that are both enlightening to the amateur and practical to the professional, which is how I (at least attempt to) design my classes.

But here’s the puzzle. If there are people contributing to the art world who are not professional, who are doing it for the love of it, and there is no objective way to rate or measure artwork, then how do individuals and institutions sort out what has quality to it? What should be collected and exhibited?

Enter the myriad alchemies of The Performance of Contemporary Art.

The art world as it currently exists resembles a loosely organized religious system. The idea of ‘fine art’ somehow keeps surviving. By the in-group, art is revered as an imperative practice—something indispensable and valuable to everyone. To suggest otherwise is met with contempt—“How dare you question the merits of art and art education?” If backed into a corner, artists often turn to scientific studies to prove the universal worth of art in people’s lives.

I don’t presume to know exactly how to sort out which art is better “medicine for the soul,” if indeed art has a positive, measurable effect on the psyche beyond temporary pleasure. But I do think it’s productive to call the belief system of art into question. Because things change. I would love to see art education in the 21st century begin treating the Western grand narrative of artistic “progress” and the current dominant institutions as an anthropological and psychological curiosity.

For instance, let me laugh at myself by pointing out the trends among my artist friends and peers, who live mainly within the northeastern megalopolis with New York as the epicenter. Note: I fit much of this stereotype profile myself, so it’s not meant as a criticism:

  • Artists dress casually and/or eccentrically
  • They advertise that they live in a densely populated city, such as New York
  • They have had their work in large empty spaces with white walls and track lighting
  • They have a neatly designed and lengthy list of places their work has been: a “CV”
  • They generally reject pop culture as illegitimate culture except as irony
  • They are likely to be atheist or to construct their own spiritual system
  • They are deeply suspicious and often antagonistic toward authority figures
  • They value obscurity when selecting literature, movies, and music
  • They are less likely to conform to gender binary norms
  • They are more likely to be gay, bi, or have a fluid sexual preference

What’s notable about this list, and why I lay it out this way, is that it has nothing to do with the creation of art objects. For whatever reason, in my experience, this is the type of person who permeates this region’s art institutions. It bears repeating that this is not a criticism, but an observation.

To be continued…

Note: The photos in this post are of “Tiny Gallery,” a structure I built in 2010. From one perspective, such as the top image, it resembles a full-scale professional gallery. In reality, it’s about waist-height.

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On the Bodily Pain of Protest

 

Martyrdom is easiest when you know the ending. It’s the waiting, the continuing struggle toward a diminishing goal post, that is one of the hardest parts.

I am part of a group that has been occupying the administration building of Purdue University in protest again the lack of administrative outcry against fascist posters put up around campus in late November. A group of students, and some faculty and staff, have been occupying the atrium of the administration building, just a flight of stairs away from the President’s office, since January 20th. We argued that if the administration did not take a firm stand against fascism and white supremacy on campus, it would continue to rear its ugly head. The fascists are here, we warned. But the administration line was, and has continued to be: we don’t really know what the posters are saying; don’t give them too much attention, that’s all they want.

And then, on March 8th, International Women’s Day, there were more posters, anti-feminist in observance of this special day, of course. This time, they arrived with the mark of another fascist group. The fascists, it seems, are here to stay, emboldened by the current political climate. We radicals are here to stay, too.

We have clear demands. We are defiantly committed. We are unexpectedly well organized. We even have a snack suitcase.

You can read all the radical theory you want, all the books about the Paris Commune, and strikes and marches. What they forget to tell you about is the pain. Not the pain of torture, death, or imprisonment, but the self-imposed pain of protest and struggle.

How can I describe the labor of nothingness on the waiting body?

It’s the pain in your toes that refuse to unfurl, the long muscles of your neck taunt like the reins leading to a horse muzzle, the searing reminder of pulled back muscles, the vice-grip headaches from too many convenient carbs.

It’s the tightening in the small of your back that refuses to be released except by a cocktail of ibuprofen, hydration, and precise stretching that produces a crackling sound reminiscent of hungry teeth extirpating a pork rind.

It’s the daily exhaustion of rushing to sit, to occupy space, to simply be, within the confines of a harsh man-made space that was constructed to be nothing more than a linear space through which to pass.

It’s the bodily commitment to the static, and the physical and mental consequences of such an anti-human, inorganic commitment.

Four weeks in, at a public meeting, our representatives decried the fact that we thought we had been there a long time. It’s ridiculous, we echoed to each other with nods of recognition. Yet, we persisted. At the time of composition of this piece, we’ve more than doubled that four weeks. In fact, it has now been forty days of occupation: A Lenten observation for the radical soul.

When shall we rise off the floor of our discontent and step back into the light of our lives? That is not within my power to say. So, here we remain in our bodies. Working. Waiting. Existing.

 

 

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