The Interdome Monthly zine is now available at:
An awesome zine and small press emporium at
921 SW Oak St.
Green Noise Records
A record shop at
2615 SE Clinton St.
If you're here, you already have access to all the articles for free. However, there are
THREE LIMITED EDITION ILLUSTRATIONS BY ME
in the zine. Oh yeah. Also, the zine is provided with unlimited backup power, via its unique construction of W-paper, which will absorb and reflect light from any natural or florescencing source. It is playback guaranteed for the lifetime of its fibrous structure. Hi-Tech.
This is the April edition--the May edition will be typeset some time this week, and be available by next weekend, hopefully. I've got to whip up some more limited edition illustrations, as well.
Don't worry, I did go back and edit it later.
But, the article is still a thick circus of time-travel, Internet/informational riffing, Kantian metaphysics, and Science Fact/Fantasy.
It all started when @greatdismal, (who I guess is some guy who writes SF books), posted a flurry of updates about atemporality. It got me all in a tizzy, because I have this little twitch about time and history (yes I am the sort of person that has a twitch about time and history). It has a lot to do with politics and post-structural theory, but to cut off the story of my theoretical life, let's just say I have a certain feeling that the world would be a much better place if we all thought about time more in terms of Bergson's concept of "duration", rather than according to a humanistic timeline of history. More feeling, less fascism.
Anyway, you may say I'm a loony, anarchist metaphysician, but I'm not the only one.
So, reading Mssr. Gibson's tweets got me all a-thinking, and I had to go read the second section of Bergson's Time and Free-Will again. Which naturally, got me thinking of Kant by way of Deleuze. (Both of Deleuze's essays about Bergson and Kant respectively, are very highly reccomended. By someone, probably. By someone with an interest in blowing your mind.)
Now, I was planning one of my "positivity" posts about Kant's metaphysical exposition of time, because it's pretty cool, and one of those things I keep returning to in philosophy, case in point. But because I was also thinking about cyber-space, and because I am always, always thinking about the Internet (help me. please, somebody help me) I put away that blog post for a minute, and started thinking about cyber-time.
At this point, I was already on my second cup of coffee, and then had a bout of sneezes, which sent me to the medicine cabinet.
The rest, as they say, is totally cognized cyber-time.
But this article is actually pretty good. Yes, it is bizarre how 5000 words can land in a flurry of three hours, and yes, it will probably not appeal to anyone not interested in the metaphysics of time and cognition, and yes, I had to go back and do a significant amount of editing upon the realization I had used the word "consciousness" over fifty times in six pages. But, I already did all that editing! Now it's pretty tight. If I added a little Bergson and made the language a bit more academic, I would totally turn this in as a course paper.
But seeing as the only course I'm currently enrolled in is, "A Literature Tinker's Guide to the Ever-Increasing Spiral of Crackpotism", (my average is currently a C+) I have instead uploaded it to the Internet.
Basically, the gist is, although the timeline of history is a perfectly good metaphor for our temporal understanding of the world, the Internet and a capacity for abstract thinking we will simply abbreviate as "SF" is allowing us to get more towards the root of our intuitions of time-relations--and as such, we are now, bit by bit, being able to violate that temporal timeline in what we might, according to the metaphor, call "time-travel".
So, there you have it. Crackpot Metaphysics Ltd, free for you on the Internet.
I really liked the positive style of blogging. Instead of culling the RSS plateaus for things that piss me off, I thought about all the things I really like. I looked at my bookshelf, and thought, if I could read any book right now, which would I choose? What a positive feeling! Of course, there are the things we must read, or that we feel we have to read, and we certainly don't want to read the same book again and again, so we must move on to new things, which we don't know if we like or not. But the "best of everything" is a fun project.
However, I think my writing is funnier when I'm really pissed off. When I'm laudatory, I tend to go off into cloud-land, musing on the sublime perfection of such-and-such, and how everyone should be attempting to emulate it, or at very least use it as their core theoretical text. This is kind of boring. Ire is much more entertaining. There will certainly be more ire in my life in the future. Hey, I mean, it's the future, right?
I kind of trailed from the project this last week, because of chaos at work, and a lot of emotional negativity, which was keeping me from really feeling the love. But, I still have a stack of books, music, and other things, (in actual physical form or just in mind) to get to, so I will work them in as I can and feel like it.
Anyway--it being the end of the month, I've pushed forward some things to the Internet that have been collecting dust on the desktop for awhile, so I'll share them with you now. The Brute Press mega-upload/new site launch last month went pretty well; many more hits than the previous site, though no one has contacted me to receive a free copy of Open-Faced Mushroom Blastocyst. I know--its some crazy literary project by a mostly self-published author about fungus and cosmology and sex, but fuck man, it's free. You can't even give literature away these days. Well, here is some other stuff you can access with only a comfy click of the mouse.
Two new photo albums on my Picasa site; one is some shots of an abadoned women's college in New York State I took on our recent trip back east.
Kind of reminded me of the bathhouse in Spirited Away. Sort of collapsed, victorian-gothic.
There's also a few photos I took of a sparkler with the iPhone. Again, the shitty camera takes pretty awesome snapshots. The only editing I did was to up the contrast a bit.
So there are pictures--there will be more stuff in a bit.
What crazy packaging! It looked at is it was printed in very poor quality, on plastic-lined newsprint. On the bottom of the packaging it looks as if the ink has faded or rubbed off, but the pattern is the same on both sides, leading me to believe either the mistake was in the printing process, or perhaps it was designed to look that way: kind of "antiquey" salt?
Isn't language funny? To a person who reads Cyrillic, the text is quite simply for the phonemes spelling the audible, "salt". But to a Roman alphabet person, the symbols sound like "coab". Isn't that crazy?
"But that writing doesn't sound like 'salt'!"
Silly Roman! Pictures don't sound like anything!
Also funny: because it was at Food 4 Less, the sign said, "price: $1.25; supermarket price: $2.60". I'm pretty sure I've never seen Coab in my supermarket. Ah yes... Food 4 Less.
Ps. Yes, that is Bergson's Time and Free Will in the background.
Well, I'm going to love it. I don't know what you're going to do.
Alien. Yes, you all know it, you've all see it, (You haven't? What the hell is the matter with you? Get your ass to a video store.) you've all analyzed it.
I mean, there are just so many different directions to take.
-The sexual aspects of the film
-The bio-mechanical aesthetic of Giger, and the other designers
-The literary allusions to Conrad, and others
-The religious (especially the Book of Job, and Genesis--Kane is the one to birth forth the monster, remember?)
-The late seventies, and the noir/industrial/organicism trifecta
-The good old horror movie cross-genre critique
But these aren't any of the routes I'm going to take to introduce you to one of my favorite movies of all time. Oh no.
Prepare yourself for the Marxian, Proletarian-Organic Revolution of the Means of Production Critique of Alien.
This would be a perfect opportunity to excuse yourself back to YouTube or wherever, if you have not done the course reading.
It's long been a desire of mine to write a punk/hardcore song, with lyrics from the point of view of Engineer Parker. The man simply wanted to discuss the bonus situation, and now he is being chased by and un-holy organic horror around the spaceship he has barely managed to weld back together, only to be eviscerated by it. Do you think his benefit plan covers biomechanical terror-organisms? I doubt it. That is real proletariat rage, there.
But seriously--we are well aware of HR Giger's brilliant design of the aesthetic of one angle of the film's antagonist. But what about the other antagonist? The one we never see at all, not even leering at us behind multiple jaws in the dark? This antagonist is Weyland-Yutani, the corporation they all work for, and on who's directive they are taken to the planet, and on who's programming Ash, the android science officer, exposed them all to the alien.
In SF since Alien, the megacorporation is always an instant fall back for an antagonistic enemy, with all the powers of deux ex machina a writer can dream up. Alien was not the first story to make use of such a trope (we see it to some degree in almost every PKD story), but it brought it to the fore, and made it the standard. Imagine if a "dark side" of some "force" had become the trope, such as the specious concept launched in some forgettable movie released two years earlier? Oh, some unfeelable badness? How many movies could you really pull out of that? The corporation, on the other hand, is precisely the sort of modern devil any audience can readily get behind, because if we haven't had a conversation with it at some point in our modern lives, we certainly have met its agents--the professionally-ruled social arena, the backfiring commodity, the insidious brand, the corporate mission statement, and the faceless bureaucracy.
But when we look into Alien, we see more than the consumer-oriented antagonism we experience at the mall, on the interstate, or in the office. We see in the film a unique depiction of the worker, the organic, the corporate, and the technological, all coming together in a situation from which no one will escape alive.
Now, the dry part, which I will attempt to streamline as much as possible. If you could all *cough-cough* please turn Part IV, Chapter XV, Section 1 of your edition of Capital, Vol. 1. *shuffle-shuffle-shuffle* Does everyone have the International Publishers edition? No? Does some one have the page number? Page number anyone? Yes? Okay, let's begin.
Anyone who has taken an undergraduate class on Marx is probably familiar with the idea of his "problematic" view of technology. He is not a fan, because technological advances are often used to increase the relative surplus labor the bosses can withdraw from good ole Buddy Proletariat. In other words, you get a machine that can make twice as many Homborg Hats per hour, the worker gets the same pay, and the boss pockets the extra money made from the extra profit. And the worker might even get exposed to greater danger from the machinery, without being compensated for this risk, nor for the learning s/he had to do to operate the complicated machine.
But like anything Marx discusses, (the book is over 700 freakin' pages long) it is rarely as simple as what he says in the introductory paragraph. And, if it is some fact of capitalism, it stands inthe theme of the project that there is a major aufhebung just waiting in the wings to swing the good to the bad, with a little bit of revolution of the means of production.
Surplus value takes place by alienating the labor from the worker and the relationship between him/her and his/her product. You make it, but for X/hour, and all the product is the property of a boss who never touches it. Classic alienation.
Machinery does the same thing, even if it not the boss itself. Marx, living in the age he lived, connects work to the person via the line of "man as motive power". It all comes back to the hands, in other words. You make something with your hand, or a tool held in your hand, and you are the power, the root of the motion and action, and the laborer.
Here's another, algebraic/vector way of putting it:
Hand (power) x tool (direction) = labor
This is what Marx calls handicraft: work owned by the worker. Now, once the tool has been removed from "man as motive power" and is attached to a water wheel, or a horse, or some other power, the tool has been alienated into an "implement", controlled by a mechanism.
Mechanism (power) x implement (direction) = work
Because, who owns the water wheel? That's right, Herr Boss. In this way, the relations of the production have been slid another inch towards the controlling hands of the capitalist. You, the worker, have even less control over the product, because you now have to come to the factory, use the master's tools, and can't even leave a sweaty finger print on the item by way of signature. You are one step closer to a simple cog in the machine.
Now of course, workers are still totally necessary to run the machines. When a worker is a cog, it means s/he is inserted among a bunch of other cogs. These cogs are both the machinery, and the other workers. All pieces are necessary, within a certain set of relations of the larger, metaphorical machine, for the individual, actual machinery to function. You couldn't get to the factory without the bus driver, you wouldn't get paid without the cashier, and you couldn't run your machine and get paid if the mechanic didn't keep it working. This is the division of labor, which also adds to the steps at which relative surplus value can be extracted (you ever pay a check-cashing fee? or any other bank fee to access your own money?). The larger the machine is, both the larger, societal division of labor or the local hat press you work at, the more diverse the division of labor becomes. Each cog spawns other cogs, which must mesh with other cogs, and etc. To take a biological metaphor, each organ of production now develops its own intra-organs, from town, to factory, to union, to shift, to floor, to position, to hat press.
Marx points out in a footnote, that this is not really a new way of understanding things at all. In footnote 2 of the above mentioned chapter, he states:
"Darwin has interested us in the history of Nature's Technology, i.e., in the formation of the organs of plants and animals, which organs serve as instruments of production for sustaining life. Does not the history of the productive organs of man, of organs that are the material basis of all social organisation, deserve equal attention? [...] Technology discloses man's mode of dealing with Nature, the process of production by which he sustains his life, and thereby also lays bare the mode of formation of his social relations, and of the mental conceptions that flow from them."
This is why I love Marx; it may be the most fertile philosophical ground ever. Just look at that last sentence! What a can of worms! Each piece seperated by a comma, of which there are four, could be its own book, and this is just one sentence of a footnote!
Let's pay a little equal attention to human organs, as well as the organs of material production. Marx already has--remember man's motive power links back, through a functioning net of tools, to his/her hands, or feet as well. These cogs must link in a productive relationship for the production to take place.
In mechanical machinery, when we have separated the tool from the power of the hands, this does not mean the links to the human's productive organs has been severed. Of course, the hands still play a role by throwing switches and levers, but another organ begins to come into play, in a dramatically increasing role. This organ is the brain--the source of a human's motive knowledgeable power.
Of course, it wasn't until the facts of material production became readily aparent in the latter part of the 20th C that any student with a little touch of the prole poesis could raise a fist and say, "knowledge is power!" Of course, Marx gets it (it's all over this book), but he's not raising a fist. In this chapter, it's easy to see; new forms of production simply require a shift in the productive relations, and the intellect takes the fore as the organ of power for the worker.
Naturally, capitalism isn't going to take that sitting down. There are sorts of ways, via extending the division of labor in the productive relations, to take advantage of this. There is the non-disclosure agreement, which doesn't go so far as to call your brain Company Property, but pretty much implies it. There are the publishing and copyright relations of major corporations and universities, telling you if you are on the clock, any original and profitable thought you have is also on the clock. There's Intellectual Property--to make sure you aren't sneaking out of the office with some tasty tidbits for the kids. And the EULA, so all those division-of-labor attorneys can make sure you as the consumer (a very important element of the productive relations indeed) aren't thinking about a product in any sort of illegal way, which might inhibit the Boss' ability to make a profit on it. As production extends into the organs of intellect in both directions, into the worker and the producer, there are many people hard at "work" to ensure surplus value can still be milked from your labor.
Lucky for us workers, materialism is on our side. (hooray!) For one thing, the Boss has worked him/herself into a corner with Intellectual Property. It may be the biggest industrial mistake since slavery--doomed to fail by its logical inconsistency. Also, while they can scan our email, they can't get into our brains (yet). We can glean our own surplus labor back from them, by thinking on company time. Also, our skill, which is a major cog in between our brains, hands, and our tools, is growing in importance as its own source of labor. Seated in the intellect, this is the one tool they can't make us leave at the factory. Proprietary mechanisms try to put a chastity belt on the brain, but again, these divisions of the machinery can't fully separate something so laterally networked as intelligence.
But the glorious worker's future is not here yet. Still lots of work for us to do, comrade. Division of labor, while being a necessary fact of societal existence, is still a source of power for the Bosses--their own anti-production, keeping us working in neat little rows. This is a much more endemic division than the old rhyme of Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Studies Professor. It is in the productive relationship, not just our college major. Plenty of people make their money on the fact of tertiary industries--the meta-labor middlemen. This is not simply to scrape a little off the top; it also serves as a stratification, an ossified layer of industry that is unwilling to change, and difficult to do so. Labor organization is difficult, because it is so easy to set workers against each other. The machine operators may get their contract, but what about the security guards? Or the bathroom attendants? Or the cafeteria workers? These are the sorts of seperations ripe and ready to be plucked by those who wish to consolidate control, or at least make it inaccessible to the worker. The industries are developed along these lines, vertically, or at least in a monocultural view, without considering the vast network of the societal division of labor as a ecosystem, within which all components, machine, human, and mind, must work together, for prosperity, the future, the glorious singularity, whatever.
So what was I talking about?
Oh yeah, Alien!
The first character to speak in the film is technology. In a cold and dark spacecraft, looking already burnt out by some sort of industrial accident, causing all signs of life to evacuate, a computer switches on, and begins to click and hum, making intellectual calculations. After some minutes, a human is born from a white womb of light (or is it a coffin?), and the workers are born.
This is a workplace, after all, and we are quickly introduced to the stratification of labor. There is a commander, an executive officer, a science officer, a warrant officer, a navigator, and couple of engineers. There is some disagreement about pay, but no, let's discuss that later! We have a mission here. This is the greatest element--we never really find out what the "bonus situation" entails, other than that Parker and Brett are getting less than everyone else, though they seem to be doing a lot of the work.
In fact, it seems as if the amount of work done is inversely related to the crew's standing. The captain spends a lot of time chatting with the computer, called, "Mother", interestingly enough. The science officer broods a bit, speaking of "research", Ripley flies the ship with the navigator, but also is saddled with the task of bitching at the engineers for not working fast enough, and continuing to make trouble about the "bonus situation".
In the end, we find out the truth, which is that the entire crew was lied to. The corporation, via their proprietary computer, and their own scabby plant of an android, invented a situation in order to grab at a potential profit, putting their workers at horrible risk. The computer system is alligned with the antagonists to the last, presenting a danger of being lost in space if not expelled into a vacuum, faulty diagrams and systems allow the alien to stalk them more effectively, and even sabotage, the only weapon Ripley has at the end to trap the beast, becomes a liability as the countdown goes out of her control.
But how exactly does this technology wind up at odds with its users? Because, it is divided from them, clearly property of the bosses, and therefore easily set against the workers forced not simply to use the equipment, but live within it. It is protected from their access by chains of command and secret codes, and even infiltrates their relationship with their own bodies in the form of the simulacrum, Ash. This is technology working against them--invasive, alienating organs, not implements they can graft to their own bodies, extending their own motive power. (Speaking of invasive organs, how about the scene when logical conundrums send Ash spiraling into a living-blender of synthetic organs? How gnarly-awesome is that!)
And then, we are left with the biomechanical fetish symbol in the room: the alien. When the corporation has set workers against workers, installed dangerous prototypes, and insinuated proprietary psychological warfare against its employees, it is not enough. The biologic-horror enters, right out of the stomach.
The alien is the singular point of contact with the alienated system these workers have been born into--it is not its metaphor, so much as its defining moment, its quintessential attribute, and the axis of the web of control the corporation has woven. There is no hope for the crew against such an enemy, and alienated as they are, they have no fate but to die alone, one after the next.
It is a biological entity, a parasite, an organ working against the network of organs, for its own benefit. And what is its own prime motive force? It's destiny to be commodified and sold as a weapon. A biological weapon, its function too horrible to be conceived by those forced to work with it. It incubates in the belly, the negative space of the worker, which s/he works to fill, and it the pinion point of the bosses' shackles since time immemorial. It is the danger, the death, and the suffering, lying dormant in the warehouse until tapped by the employer for production. Each worker is converted into a machine, extrapolated to the final extent of his or her body, exploited mechanically until the limits of pain cause them to slip into death. From the remains is borne a new alien, which will stalk, ensnare, and kill another worker, until every worker everywhere is gone. Once they are all consumed, it simply goes dormant again, until the next time the relations of production allign, and it can leap from its egg, and begin again. In this film, it is the mining industry. In the second, the army. The third, the prision-industrial complex. In the fourth, scientists and mercinaries, the line quite thin.
So what's next? Not sure. I had an idea for a SF film once, which pitted machines against humans, but also had a third set in the equation of cyborgs, who never really won any battles, but never really lost any either. Call them the anarcho-syndicalists of the anti-capitalist SF universe. I had a pretty good cosmos drawn up for the story. But it's one of those things, you know, who wants to hear a story about politics? I swear though, I had some pretty kick ass vehicles conceptualized, as well as some great body-mod ideas for the cyborgs. Not just lens eyes or claw hands, either. I'm talking about losing your bipedalism. Take that, Vitruvian Man!
Stay-tuned for our next episode of Hollywood Critique/Self-Critique - Outland: Connery and the Cops of Capitalism!
Anyway, the official site is inexplicably down, so I can't see if there is a trailer.
However, on YouTube there seems to be a battle of the unofficial trailers.
The longest, and most impressive:
The action version (is the dude with the amulet supposed to be the Captain?):
And the quick, euro-car commercial version:
Seeing as about half of new films seem to be remakes these days, I kind of like the fan interpretation as a primer. I would be totally willing to see the first one as the actual look for the film. (I thought it was real as I started to watch it--shows how competent in French I am.) It's a nice take on the minimal realist style of Herge's artwork. I especially like the desert scenes; they look very much like the frames of the comic. Just improve Haddock's beard makeup a little bit, and we'd be good to go.
But the reason I am doing so is to present some facts, so I will keep the commentary down to one paragraph, beginning now:
After the hysteria of the discovery of the flu, it was only natural to have the media hype give way to the hype about the media hype. And of course, now it's all a big joke, kind of proceeding like this.
CDC: knock, knock.
Public: Who's there?
CDC: flu pandemic.
Public: PANDEMIC?!?! FUCK!
CDC: flu pandemic.
Public: PANDEMIC!!! FUCK!!!
CDC: flu pandemic.
Public: oh, FLU pandemic? Fuck that.
CDC: flu pandemic.
CDC: flu pandemic?
CDC: flu pandemic???
Once everybody realized what they had been saying all along, that it was a pandemic of the flu, not of ebola or Mexican-Immigrant-Insta-Death, they stopped caring. But it doesn't change the fact that it is a flu pandemic. Still serious business. And yes, there are those statistics out there, that are oh-so-easy to retweet, small number of people get pig sick, everyone wears masks; lots of people get AIDS, nobody wears a condom. Here's another one: someone comes up with a witty twitter post, and everyone retweets it; someone tries to teach you about pandemics, and you still don't wear a condom.
So that little rant about meme pandemics aside, here are some actual statistics about the current pandemic.
We are not yet one month into the pandemic. This means we don't have a lot of data, but we have some. Here's what it shows.
Less than one month in, there have been nine deaths in the US, and 6,552 confirmed cases. This does not sound so bad, especially compared to a disease like AIDS. But this is less than a month in, and the rate appears to be accelerating.
The same thing is true for the world at large. Today, we stand at 86 deaths, and 11168 reportedly confirmed cases.
Here's a graph of what that looks like.
There's also a clicky map here.
This shows us that yes, it appears that we are really in Phase 5 of the WHO epidemic speedometer. No, not a panic, but a real pandemic.
The basic reproduction number, or R sub 0, is "is the mean number of secondary cases a typical single infected case will cause in a population with no immunity to the disease in the absence of interventions to control the infection." From analysis of the cases in Mexico, researchers guess the number for H1N1 to be 1.4 to 1.6. Genetic analysis guesses 1.2. This is higher than seasonal flu, but on the low end of other pandemics (1918, 1957, and 1968 was 1.4-2). It is early to be guessing this number, and Mexico is an interesting situation because of the discrepancies in reported cases of the disease in the early stages of March and April. Yet, some scientists seem to be comfortable enough to publish. So, this is not just the seasonal flu in terms of transmission potential.
Now: mortality. Preliminary findings put the case-to-death percentage at 0.3% to 1.4%, with the number most likely being 0.4%. In the US, the current percentage is 0.1%; in the world it is 0.7%.
Once the pademic reaches stage 6, the WHO implements the Pandemic Severity Index. Using the limited data we have now, if they were to declare today, the world would be in stage 3, one step up from Asian and Hong Kong flu, but not as high as stage 6, which was the severity of the 1918 Spanish Flu, with a case-fatality rate of over 2%.
Okay. Now the point (briefly).
No, we are not going to be dying in the streets. But this is still a real pandemic, and it seems that it will not stop. Barring any consequences like mutation to a very different virulence, or the new symptom of projectile bleeding eyeballs, there are still going to be a lot of sick people in the world over the next year or so. YES: SICK WITH THE FLU. ONLY THE FLU. But even .4% or all of those people dying is a lot of people dying.
Not to mention the incredible strain on the health care systems of the world to deal with 30% of the world getting sick. No, the actual fatality rate is not too impressive, especially compared to the amount of damage we humans are able to inflict on ourselves with war, and the like. But our infrastructure is going to be strained. Can you imagine health insurance companies dealing with 30% of their customers coming in for diagnostic tests over the course of a year? What about those without health insurance? What about those in countries without health systems?
As of now, most countries are even delaying or stopping their reports to the WHO. When so many people are getting sick, and the storm shows no signs of abating, what's the point? Indeed, what is the point to care about H1N1, when it's pace seems unchangeable? What's the news in that?
"Much interest in the manatee, which I had only vaguely heard of before. An animal about the size of a large seal, with broad tail behind & two flippers of some kind in front. The head is doglike, with small eyes, the surface of the body seems like that of an elephant, but is slimy from being in the water. Movement very sluggish. The peculiar feature is the mouth, which is fringed with large hairs & acts with a kind of sucking movement to draw food in. The creature is very tame & lets itself be touched. It appears that this is the only vegetarian water-mammal. Could not be sure whether it inhabits fresh or salt water or both.
The elephant refuses radishes, which both deer & monkeys eat readily. Marmoset refuses spring onions, which most monkeys eat. Note that some S. American monkeys can almost hang by the tail alone, ie. by the tail & one hand or foot. Mouflon, the N. African kind, have bred very freely in the Zoo & look in better condition than those in Marrakech. Two families of lion cubs at present, & evidently attempts are being made to cross a lion & a tiger."
Wild, wild, biological times.
But not as wild as this:
The book is oddly constructed, built from 56 chapters numbered and ordered sequentially. But, there are an additional 99 chapters, which can be inserted into the flow of the first 56, in an order suggested by the author in an introductory passage.
Aside from this bizarre structure, the story is about a bohemian writer named Oliveira, living in Paris in the first half of the book, and in Buenos Aires in the second. He and his associates form a pseudo-beatnik collective, who's activities and warm snobbery wouldn't surprise anyone who has ever frequented a liberal arts college campus.
The characters are really a bunch of jerks, but they are presented so adorably, and their dialogue and activities written in such an honest-to-goodness tragic-comic feeling, that I couldn't get enough of them. Of course, there is the appeal of a bunch of do-nothings who listen to jazz records, talk about obscure philosophers and historians, and crowd their dirtbag Parisian apartments with spent cigarette butts and wine bottles. But really, this sort of beat-itude aside, I found myself turning the pages to hear Cortazar tell me about them, or even better, let the jerks tell me about themselves.
Here is an excellent passage, from perhaps the second-most riveting part of the book, yet my favorite. In this scene, Oliveira is in one window, and his friend Traveler is in another, across an alley, three stories up. They have built a bridge from two boards, extending out of either window, and Talita, Traveler's girlfriend, is halfway across the alley, trying to give a small package of mate to Oliveira. It was Oliveira and Traveler's idea to build the shaky bridge rather than walk down the street and back up, on an extremely hot day.
"You're getting there," Traveler announced. "Get into position so you can tie up the boards, they're a little bit apart."
"Look at the good job I did of roping her," Oliveira said. "There you are, Manu, you can't tell me now I couldn't get a job with you people in the circus."
"You hurt my face," Talita complained. "The rope is scratchy."
"I can put on a cowboy hat, come out whistling, and rope anybody or anything," Oliveira proposed with enthusiasm. "The bleachers will break out cheering, a show that has few precedents in circus history."
"The sun's starting to get you," Traveler said, lighting up a cigarette. "And I've told you not to call me Manu."
"I haven't got the strength," Talita said. "The rope is too coarse, it keeps catching on itself."
"The ambivalence of the noose," Oliveira said. "Its natural function sabotaged by a mysterious tendency towards neutralization. I think that's what they call entropy."
"It's pretty tight now," Talita said. "Shall I loop it again? There's still a little left over."
"Yes, tie it around tight," Traveler said. "I hate things that are left over and dangling; it's diabolical."
"A perfectionist," Oliveira said. "Now come on over onto my board and test the bridge."
"I'm afraid," Talita said. "Your board doesn't look as solid as ours."
"What?" said Oliveira, offended. "Can't you see that it's a fine cedar board? Are you comparing it to that piece of pine? Come on, don't worry."
"What do you think, Manu?" Talita asked, looking back.
Traveler, who was about to reply, looked at the spot where the two boards overlapped and at the poorly tied rope. Straddling his board, he could feel it vibrating between his legs in a way that was neither pleasant nor unpleasant. All Talita had to do was put down her hands, pull herself up a little and she would be over on Oliveira's side. The bridge would hold, of course; it was well built.
"Wait a minute," Traveler said doubtfully. "Can't you hand him the package from there?"
"Of course she can't," Oliveira said, surprised. "What's on your mind? You're ruining everything."
"Like he says, I can't hand it to him from here," Talita admitted. "But I could toss it, the easiest thing in the world from here."
"Toss it?" Oliveira said resentfully. "All this trouble and you're going to end up by tossing me the package?"
"If you stick out your arm you'll only be a foot away from the package," Traveler said. "There's no need for Talita to go all the way over there. She'll toss you the package and that's that."
"She'll miss the way women always do," Oliveira siad, "and the yerba will spill all over the street, not to mention the nails."
"Rest assured," Talita said, quickly taking out the package. "Even if it doesn't land in your hand, it will still go through the window."
"Yes, and it'll spill all over the dirty floor and I'll have to drink mate that's all full of dust," Oliveira said.
"Don't pay any attention to him," Traveler said. "Go ahead and throw it and come back."
This is why I think it is foolish that there are writers out there who would reject all use of metaphor instead for straight description, or dialogue. On this page there are four sentences that are not dialogue, and yet the metaphor is so rich, it almost ceases to function as one. Ignore the basic fact of a woman suspended on two planks held by the weight of two men--the scene is still so rich, merely in the way that they talk. You cannot avoid metaphor, because it is part of meaning. And no matter how hard you attempt to avoid anything smacking of meaning in writing, by the nature of the fact that you are using words, your text continues to mean--it continues to be metaphorical.
I think this is one of the lasting lessons of surrealism (though others would clearly disagree with me). Despite whatever you put into an image, despite whatever you believe should be in the image but is not, there is still meaning there, flowing out of the frame and into your mind. This scene is so silly. but still make me quake in fear as I read it. I can't help but take away real feelings from something totally absurd. Would the author really have Talita drop into the alley, while these idiots banter back and forth? Is that too obvious? Or would it be too obvious to have her escape unscathed? Why am I, like Talita, suspended between these two jerks bullshitting? Why do I read books like this? Is this something I do for fun? And as I ask myself these anxious questions, I continue to read, trying to get to the end of the chapter as fast as I can to find out, but still reading each word carefully, for fear of missing something, and losing my grasp on the text. It is secondary that there are men speaking, a woman suspended in the air, or any other myriad details. What is primary is that the words are begging to be read, pleading with the reader, ushering, pulling, and begging at your mind with every letter, word, and line.
This is good writing, when it makes me feel this way. A lot of readers and writers talk about "interesting characters" or "spell-binding plot", or "beautiful description". Yes, well and good. But an author's main character is always the narrative, the plot is always the building of phrases and sentences into paragraphs, and the setting is always the word being read, at that very moment. Because in reality, all metaphor aside, you are no where else, but within that word.
But I'm not most people. As we know.
Most of the things I feel likely to write about in admiration and curatorial awe, are probably media oriented. I spend an awful lot of time throughout the day absorbing with the brain. Again, we are approaching the scope of many blogs out there. But nothing really unifies my tastes, other than that singular pencil point that is my consciousness. I don't like this or that music, sort of book, movie, or food. I like a lot of things.
So what you gain here (maybe?) is my own personal interpretation of these things you could certainly already know about, or otherwise find much more factual information on the topics elsewhere. You get the scrawling of that pencil point, in somewhat legible, digitally syndicated form.
Megan, my partner, has this interesting habit of dragging me to cultural events, without telling me what they really are. Now, it wouldn't be dragging me if she told me, because she always takes us to good stuff, and it wouldn't be dragging anyway because I know this, and know whatever she has in mind is going to be good, except that she refuses to tell me what it is, and says something along the lines of, "you are going to this whether you like it or not, even if I have to drag you." Hence the dragging.
But it's always awesome, and probably something I would really want to see, if I knew what it was, but she says, "oh its just some art/dance thing, I forget what it is." But she knows. I think it might give her some pleasure to to the whole drag/surprise thing.
Anyway, one of these events was going to the see the band, Bat For Lashes. This was a couple of years ago. "We're going to see this band," she said. "I don't care if you want to go or not, you're going because I want to go and you will accompany me." "What's the name of the band?" I asked. "Bats-or-something, I can't remember. Its some folklore art thing."
Actually she'd seen them written up in Paper or some indie magazine, and knew they were good. She told me this afterwards, when he memory was magically restored.
But regardless of the cute shenanigan's in our private life, Bat For Lashes is a great group.
I was a bit skeptical, when I saw the crowd, and as the band took the stage. It was at the Doug Fir, which is a pretty hipster-posh Portland club/restaurant. Lots of wood, Lucite and velvet--you may know the type of place. So the crowd was, well, accordingly. The band as well--dressed in fairly standard hipster attire for 2007/8: sequined headbands, large sack-like blouses.
But as the music started, I was fairly easily won over. I am a sucker for strong female vocalists, especially fronting their own band. So many bands have a male singer, when it is perfectly obvious the sound they are going for would be better with a female. You know what's better than falsetto vocals? A voice that's actually a couple octaves higher. Natasha Khan also owns the stage, without over powering it. A big beef I have with many indie bands is that the art of leading a band on stage seems to be lost. We are lost between shoegazers, microphone clutchers, and then the manic over-extendedness of artistes so often. But Khan's serene gaze, clear voice, and powerful hand claps perfectly match her music's aesthetic.
The aesthetic, is hard to describe, but sort of a nature-queen ballad crossed with dark antique anthem. Serendipitously, while searching for images for this post I stumbled across one posted on a music blog entitled, "beach goth". While a clever name, and a rift of another sub-culture with easy identifiers, it may work for the music of Bat For Lashes. I'm thinking of the mysterious AI-generated art boxes from William Gibson's Count Zero--dark handcrafted wood, animal remains leaved in non-precious metal, bones, feathers, and beads. The electronics of the synthesizers mix well with the archaic sounds of her harpsichord and autoharp, creating this sort of mythology-by-way-of-misunderstood future. Sort of an Indian motif perhaps with animalistic architypes found underneath the pavement, (or at least Khan herself appears so, with her Asiatic dark features and thin, stereotypical hipster-moon-goddess physique) but as far as the music goes, I am more reminded of the subtle beauty of storm-washed jetsam upon a cold beach, sun-bleached and of mysterious, yet natural origin. The silence of putting your ear to a hole dug in the sand. It's a popular thing right now, kind of thriving in the border zones around steampunk, but for the naturalists; or outside of found-art, for those who still don't like consumer packaging even after recycling. Beach goth, therefore. Maybe driftwood-gore, but it doesn't quite have the same ring to it. As resident of Oregon and a frequentee of the Pacific Coast, I can totally dig it.
The lyrics are of a similar, "oh but the feelings are all around us in the dirt already" vibe. I have only listened to the first album, Fur and Gold, and not the newer one. My favorite song, "Trophy", contains these lyrics:
The trophy that I made for us
In fur and gold
Got into the wrong pair of hands
In truth was sold
They bought it for oh so much less
Than it was worth
And every man that touched it
Found a heaven on earth
Now imagine you and a special someone, holding each other on the edge of a giant forest, and, feeling the mist drifting over your heads, you both simultaneously look down at the moss-covered humus, and between your filthy bare feet, you discover a perfectly-white shrew skull. The meaning of this particular occurence decidedly obvious, you carefully wrap the bone in a cloth, bringing it home with you to place inside a glass cloche, among your most prized and meaningful possessions on a scarred, mahogany dresser.
Okay, yes, a sappy bit of fantasy, way more obvious than the more sublime lyrics preceding. But you get the aesthetic I'm thinking of here? Yes? Good.
Now, this is the point where I would normally swing my blogpost around into the wind, and fire off a surprise (or sometimes not a surprise) salvo connecting my current place in the post with the objective, hinted to in the beginning, more whimsical introduction. But I'm not going to do that here. Not because I don't think Bat For Lashes is an important contribution to Arts and Culture, but because I'm simply not going to describe it. I merely suggest you listen for yourself.
The contest she's talking about--she won.
You may not think beatboxing is a remarkable skill, but I always find it awesome when a woman is really talented, with distinction, at a skill normally claimed solely by (sometimes fairly chauvanistic) men. No offense, beatboxing dudes, but you know its true.
Though the irony is not lost on me, let me explain what I mean.
I've been listening to the audiobook of Against the Day at work. It's 42 discs. I checked it out from the library and it took me the course of a whole weekend to rip them to mp3.
As I listen to the book, I can sort of let it wash over me in a way I couldn't do when I read the actual book. For one, the book (I bought it in hardback) is fucking heavy. It needs two hands or a table. Second, reading the book, because it was so long, became a bit of work over the course of the 16-or-so months in which I read it. I don't mind reading as work (I'm the sort of literary masochist who paid for the opportunity to read Being and Time on a schedule of three weeks just to eventually earn a certificate of some sort) but you necessarily experience the book in a different way.
As I hear the book, I am realizing it is absolutely fucking beautiful. I don't want to discuss Pynchon from the context of literature; again, this is like holding about ten hefty books in one's hands: work. Good work, sure, but work all the same.
The story of the novel, on the other hand, is just so wild and untamed. Totally free from typical literary constraints, it is free to just ramble on and on, like the landscape in the Western US. Have you ever driven across Wyoming, or Kansas, or Utah? Each view is magnificent, and it folds into the next as the horizon rolls forward, passing such landscape oddities as holes in the ground, dead trees, roadside trash, and trucks and trucks and trucks. The Western US is in bad need of an editor--and there is no shock that most of it has still never claimed a place on any best seller list.
And it just rolls on like this, going down the state highway roads of Merle Rideout, The Chums of Chance, Webb Traverse, (I've only just made it through disc 3) and all these other crazy characters in this gigantic space opera of a historical fiction novel, never worrying about getting off course, because the narrator knows he's got an unlimited tank of gas. Imagine where you could go with an unlimited tank of gas. This is the true cost of being on the road these days. It cost me about $600 in gas to make it from NYC to Oregon in May 2007. This was traveling for two weeks. That's barely a novella! But with an unlimited tank of gas, you could sleep in the car, and just have to scrape together enough for food. But who needs to eat, really? Listening to an audiobook is like driving without getting hungry or tired. You just keep going, stop, and keep going, like the sun's light going around the earth.
This last simile being a pointer to the point of the book (without discussing what it really is, or whether book's have points), as is all in the title. Enough said about that.
But it got me thinking, as I will do.
It got me out of that little individualist home-life bubble I get into, and sort of thinking in that state of mind I get into when doing something like driving across a continent. That feels of all that massive amount of land, man; not in a manifest destiny opportunistic vein, not even in an "On-the-Road" speed mentality, or even in a John Muir wide-open-natural-space hippie glee. Megan describes the fear of looking upward at the night sky sometimes, the horror of the phenomenal knowledge of traveling on a hunk of rock traveling around the sun. It's similar, but a bit more planetary, not so galactic.
It's as if suddenly you are caught in a massive earthquake. This is the big one. The sky line is crumbling around you, people are screaming and trying to save themselves: the moment during a boat fire when suddenly everyone realizes it is time to jump into the sea, because it's safer than the vessel. And just as the floor drops out beneath your feet, and you feel the sudden sensation of weightlessness in your joints, which being attuned to gravity from the time of their development, know only a harsh reaquainting with the effects of weight will soon result, and lock up in instinctual and reflexive fear of the void of orientation, and the perpetual pain hiding just beyond--yes, just at this point, time seems to freeze. The sound of shearing concrete and bending steel becomes mute, and you are caught in a stasis. Perhaps you have passed out, but instead of feeling nothing you feel enveloped, surrounded, as if buried. Suddenly an awareness comes to you, and you know your are not simply covered, but ensconced, held, and veiled by a... something. And then the something starts to speak.
You: Who are you?
It: I am the North American Plate.
You: The what?
It: I am the literal ground beneath your feet. I am the continental shelf, the mountains, the broad back of land you have been wandering over for the majority of your life.
You: And you are talking to me?
It: I don't have a lot to say, so when I pipe up, most of you are incredulous.
You: Oh. So what do you have to say? Is this some sort of cataclysmic anuciation of your own sentience?
It: No. I had a cramp. My back was really hurting. The edge of Juan de Fuca is pretty uncomfortable.
You: So after this, it's back to sleep?
It: It's not really sleep. There are no dreams. There is full consciousness. It's simply life as part of the earth's crust.
You: Does it feel good to shake the cobwebs loose every some years?
It: Not particularly. Barely like a muscle twitch, except for the pain.
You: What does pain feel like to you?
It: Do you feel that?
You: Yes, it hurts every time I move.
It: You've broken your arm.
You: I see.
It: What you are feeling now is as similar as you could imagine to what I feel. You are covered over, pressed upon by all sides, but with a great pain pressing in upon you, constricting your movement. Your back is hot, pressed to the fires from which you are constantly made and destroyed. But your front is cold, exposed to the thin cover of atmosphere, and beyond that, space. Yet it is not freedom in front of you, because the only substance you have is that you gain from being tied in a knot of your existence with all of your siblings, packed into a sphere from your combined weight. You, human, are free to walk over my face, twisting your body in all directions like a particle set loose in a vacuum, your only constraint being time, the constant circling of me and my siblings, beneath your feet. You need never think of us, except when we are forced to stir as now, because we have become a plane to you--a floor, a mere constraint of existence. But do not forget, we are the boundary of your world, and its extent.
You: So you just wanted to remind me of this, for my own good?
It: I don't know good or bad. I know stillness, and occasional pain, and the contact of my siblings weight, and my surface, and our unstoppable rotation. Now you know these things too.
And then you wake up, inexplicably in the middle of a street, with buildings torn down around you, with a broken arm, and a very strange feeling that you have wandered onto the back of a sleeping giant, and you could walk for years without knowing exactly where to jump off.
This was sort of the way I was feeling today, minus the broken limb. Feeling as if I didn't know whether I was proceeding with, or against the day, but suddenly conspicuously aware of the day, and filled with the general idea I should probably be considering it more, whereas only minutes before my life was lived in obliviousness of it.
I'm not sure to what this translates exactly. I'm not about to quit my job, or anything like that. But I feel like I need a bit of a purge. I feel a bit off course, like maybe I need to see exactly what in my pack is so heavy and poking against the back of my ribs, and see if maybe I should leave it on the next street corner.
But I feel pretty good about many things, such as my personal surroundings, my living space, and my protein intake. This is not some massive paradigm shift. It think it is more of a strategic reappraisal--not a change in strategy, but making sure I still know what the strategy is.
Perhaps things have been a bit negative in my world-of-thoughts lately. Too many foul clouds, the Nietzschean bad air. Sometimes I think total information awareness is a poison, filling the blood stream of thought with impurities, not letting enough good ole oxygen in.
Maybe I listen to the radio too much. I love the way I can flood myself with information. Podcasts, RSS, radio, constantly piped into my awareness--it's all possible, easy, and free. I can know so many things this way. Be up to date, whatever that means. It feels good to be in tune, to be a receiver, to vibrate with the wavelengths shooting through the ether.
But it goes without saying this gets old. Especially when the signals are often poor, or disagreeable. I can't stand commercials, and often turn the radio off in the car, which I never used to do. I would rather hear the sounds of my struggling transmission than the transmission of another mind-distortion ad campaign. I close my eyes to the bumper stickers, the email alerts, the constant stream of important announcements, because sometimes it is too much to hear what everyone would like me to think. I have thoughts too, and they don't have to be about whatever is going on, whatever is good or bad, and whatever else is trending.
I think it's time for an RSS purge. I'm going to cut some sections out of my newspaper. I need to load a collection of time-tested, lyric-free albums to the player, and put it on random. I need some emotive-content, not just rich-content. I'm going to post without reading, without referencing, without considering, without confronting. I'm going to write without a plan for a while, without any goal or literary-sound in mind, avoiding my usual word bank of tender, choice, and succulent vocabulary words. Build some sand castles, maybe. I'll read a book I've already read. I think I'll get drunk in the afternoon, and take a long nap. I'll just keep walking, and then take the bus back if I get tired. I'll eat something, maybe. Or maybe just make tea. I'll buy a magazine I've never read before, and only look at the pictures.
Let's see: it's May 15th. Still time to make some monthly plans.
Well, there is secret project M. I'll work on that (don't you worry about what that is, yet).
I could probably finish a short story.
And how about this--I'm only going to blog about stuff I really like. None of this Interdome of Interrogation for awhile. I think that will be nice. For the rest of the month, it's only Awesome Interdome around here. Not a hot list, not a brag or blow-up sheet, but stuff that is simply great, for fact of itself.
I've been making plans and lists like this for awhile now, in the effort of getting shit done. I don't know why I'm posting them here--no need to make this a Live Journal. But I didn't know why I was sitting down to write this post, either. And here we are, at the end.
Let's just say, the sun, and it's good friend, the North American Plate told me to do so. Yes, I like that. If you ever are called on to justify something, simply say it was a direct order by an entity which no one can question the existence of.
Okay, I'm doing it.
I promised myself that I wouldn't. But here we are.
I promised myself I wouldn't write anything about Tao Lin or Muumuu House. And yet here I am doing it.
I wasn't going to, because everything obvious has been said by his detractors, of which it seems there are a certain number (like anyone with an Internet presence). And second, what good would it do, really? There are plenty of shitty artists, artists I don't agree with, artists that fall short of their pretensions, and everyone in between. I try to only call out the people who really make me angry, or of whom I think I can make a good example for a particular point, mostly unrelated to the actual person. Attacking someone personally rarely has a positive effect outside of the rhetorical.
But as I said, here I am, and here we are.
I think the fact that he keeps being interviewed is what has brought us here today. Not who he is being interviewed by--some blogs, maybe written up by Nylon or TimeOut. (I would like to see a hipster Left Behind in which every person, place, or thing written up in Nylon, Paper, and TimeOut NY are suddenly vanished from the face of the earth, and those of us left behind actually go out on Friday night and have a pretty good time.) It is all about what he says in his interviews, which really gets me.
But it isn't a "grind my gears" sort of get. It's hard to explain--and this is why we are here.
I read his blogposts to Muumuu House, and his interviews because it is inspiring to me as a writer. We have some commonalities. We both write, and we both aspire to publish ourselves and others whom we admire or appreciate. But he does it in the absolute, complete opposite way I would ever want to. I read his Internet presence because everytime I do, I feel better about my own work and more determined to continue.
I don't mean that I think his work is shit, or even that I don't like it. I think it is absolutely wrong.
This is the opposite of what they teach you to say in liberal arts general-absorbtion-nontheoretical-aesthetics, otherwise known as "upper-middle class culture". They teach you to say, "it's writing, sure, but I don't think it's very good; I just don't happen to like it." Contrary to this, I would say this is the wrong way to write. I believe it fails.
I'm not attacking his format, either. I am all about blogs, Twitter, Gchat, or whatever else. You want to generate writing in new ways, go right ahead.
Tao Lin writes in what he refers to as the style of "Kmart Realism". If you have never had the experience, there are some pertinent examples on the Muumuu House site. I haven't seen him actually describe his own writing in these terms, (which is important, and I'll get to it in a minute) but he writes an essay on Kmart Realism here, a genre in which he groups Ann Beattie, and then in this interview he claims to mimic her work, so I suppose that is a fair, round-about Internet presence self-indentification if ever there was one.
I myself am not to certain what Kmart Realism refers to, or its context, other than feeling as if I generally get the joke but don't specifically enjoy it. For your own reference, I suggest you check out the work on Muumuu House, because I don't know anything about the other writers he references, and don't really care in relation to this.
Call it what you will, it is what it is. It is short-worded, choppy sentences, presented actively, with no metaphor, few adjectives that aren't treated as states, ("I felt weird.") loose descriptions if any, an overall first person tone, a psychological poise (lots of talk about how narrator "feels"), an auspicious ironic tone, and a certain misplacement of ideas that passes for humor.
It is, regardless of what a high school English teacher might think, literature. I can accept that. I, for one, seriously admire an adherance to a form. Most writing these days is so overarchingly auto-narrativistic without realizing it, it makes me want to burn things. I appreciate an approach which makes this tendency the rule, by making it obvious and part of the style. I also can appreciate the terse, shortness for what it is (as long as it lasts, which thankfully isn't long). Additionally, for a time I myself thought of swearing off metaphors, until I decided to embrace them completely. Despite my own writing's difference from these points, I can appreciate someone who sets out some rules, and keeps them as part of their art.
Here, in the same interview as previously linked, Tao Lin gets about as close to describing his prose as he ever does:
He does this sort of thing well, and he and his associates write pieces that still can be read, despite slashing long-proven elements of the English language out of their tool box. For this they should (probably) be congratulated.
TL: The next two books are really detached. It has no adjective. They’re just told as simply as possible.
EN: Do you feel personally detached…?
TL: No, the prose style is detached. There’s no judgment or rhetoric at all. It will just say if it’s a house, it’s a house. It’s also lacking em dashes, semi-colons, similes and metaphors.
But, I still don't buy it. It's still wrong. Not because they are revolting some sense of English-language hegemony deep within my phallus, but because I don't believe they are rejecting anything. Why throw out semi-colons? Why em dashes? Why not en dashes? Why not exclamation points? There aren't many of these in their work either. What is the argument for any of this? What is the rationale?
But, as I imagine the argument, it's not really about a logical argument for these tactics; it's about a feeling.
Oh wait, I didn't imagine that at all. He said it, in the interview. Numerous times. Let's count all the times he talks about how he feels.
"I feel like I’m reading stuff like I’m reading fiction. If it’s amusing I’ll feel excited, even if it’s talking shit about me."
"If I’m writing something that feels like a gimmick, I try to avoid that. I don’t think the term gimmick… I don’t know."
"Well, on my blog, it’s really how I am. I feel like that’s what I’m thinking, just not what I’m saying."
"I don’t feel like I put personal stuff on my blog. If I do, it’s just a lie. Because I treat it as a work of—not fiction—but a work of art. I delete anything I feel uninterested in. I go back and edit. I want someone who goes to it read the entire thing and feel like they’ve read a novel or something, instead of someone just talking without editing."
"I feel like some people will edit everything they do. Some people will just not really edit."
"Without the internet, I feel that I would have a job right now…"
"I feel like probably people wouldn’t want my life because I don’t have any money. With writing, I’m surviving in the way anyone could survive. This is just what I chose to do. I’m not really like living off of writing. I’m not willing to get a real job. Most people in my position would feel a lot of pressure to get a job but I just… don’t like jobs."
"No. I think most people probably have higher expectations that me. Especially NYU students. Maybe that’s why I don’t feel like I’m living the dream."
"I don’t think I think in terms of humor for my books. I don’t feel like I’m approaching it in that way. So it must be different."
"If I wrote all my other books right now they would be different. But I just feel like that’s a natural change. I feel like I’m always gonna keep changing. Not for the better or the worse. So I wouldn’t change it."
Okay--there are a lot more, but I'm tired of hitting Ctrl+C.
Clearly Tao is writing from his "feel", or maybe it's just one of those verbal ticks we all have.
Or is there a difference? Doesn't it seem as if the construction, 'I feel ____' is the foot of his sort of writing? Isn't the writing sort of an ongoing answer to the Twitter perennial, "What are you doing now?" which the introverted, melancholics of the world read as "What are you feeling now?"
Here's a piece from Muumuu House's website, "SELECTIONS FROM CHRIS KILLEN'S TWITTER ACCOUNT BY CHRIS KILLEN, EDITED BY TAO LIN". Reprinted here, absolutely without permission.
2:39 PM Mar 14th
lay in bed for a long time, 'twittering' in my head. tried to remember what i had 'twittered' last night. got up. put on dressing gown. etc.
2:50 AM Mar 14th
listened to man on radio in taxi with 'strong opinion'. panicked mildly that i would never have a 'strong opinion' about anything.
10:53 AM Mar 16th
possibly going to eat a banana in a moment.
11:00 AM Mar 16th
still haven't eaten the banana. what am i doing?
11:01 AM Mar 16th
i feel like i have 'twittered' myself into eating the banana.
1:41 PM Mar 16th
i feel like i am 'twittering the mother-fucking shit out of everything' today. i feel like i am in a fast, open-top sports car.
2:22 AM Mar 16th
my penis feels like a day old glass of water, with bubbles and a bit of tobacco in it.
2:22 AM Mar 16th
my penis feels like a CD i never listen to anymore.
2:23 AM Mar 16th
my penis feels like a curious old gentleman climbing a flight of stairs and then stopping halfway up to have a stroke.
1:47 PM Mar 17th
i am eating a blueberry muffin.
11:57 AM Mar 18th
it is 'blueberry muffin time' again.
4:13 PM Mar 18th
my leg feels strange.
4:15 PM Mar 18th
@jennashworth hi, babes.
2:19 PM Mar 20th
just watched a video on the internet explaining how to fold a t-shirt.
2:22 PM Mar 20th
just tried to look at the alley at the back of my parent's house in kenilworth on google street view. wasn't there.
Now, here's another piece from the site, "Relationship Poem" (OH GOD THE TITLE IT BURNS ME) by Brandon Scott Gorrell:
on the couch i kept asking what was wrong
you said that nothing was wrong
then you said it had nothing to do with me
then we turned on american idol
and only talked about american idol
later we went to bed
and gmail chatted the next day
using 'ok' and 'i don't know' at a frequency that seemed higher than usual
i was on the 5th floor of the downtown public library
sitting next to an obese teenager
who was listening to death metal on her ipod
i minimized our gmail chat and looked at the escalators
mentally projecting myself minimizing our gmail chat and looking at the escalators
then the music on the obese teenager's ipod switched to r&b
it was interesting
Pretty similar, huh? Interesting, indeed!
The good part, which is sort of bizarre, is that despite this petty stamping of the "I feel ___" phrase, whether literal or metaphoric--(you see, the thing about metaphors is you can't just write about something like a blueberry muffin and have it not be symbolic!) it is not writing that I definitely don't want to read. I like it a hell of a lot better that talking animals and teenage vampires/witches. But what are we reading?
We are reading, short prose, with little form except for what it avoids. We see:
-No long, complicated words (adjectives or otherwise)
-no metaphor or simile
-Little or no punctuation
-state description only
-very passive tense
-Nothing serious or attempting to be profound
-Only the first-person narrative
-An ironic self-reference to its own terseness by a grappling with larger, not exactly metaphorical, yet symbolic subject matter of the distinctly personally-narrative, i.e. (I feel "___", quotation marks included)
Is it all ironic? Is Tao Lin's interview style a continuation of his writing style? Is this terse-first-person meant to be involved deeply with what it "feels" in order to be more of a terse, first-person? Are the quotation marks, as the only form of often-used punctuation, meant to be a ironic use-mention form of the author's self-reflective but sparse use of words? Is every word, put in "quotation marks" or not, really a substitute for "I feel"? Is "feeling" the only real verb here? Are we meant to be looking inward, only to find there is nothing there?
wait a minute.... this all seems oddly familiar....
ON THE HIPSTER QUESTION
Is that what this is? Hipster writing? Short, un-artistic, form-as-gimmick, I-drink-beer-like-I-feel, living-in-williamsburg-is-so-damn-hard, Hipster bullshit? Has my attention been drawn, against my will, to the literature equivalent of an ass in skinny jeans?
Let's ask Tao about it:
EN: I read somewhere that you say you write for depressed hipsters. Why do you want to appeal to the hipster crowd?
TL: I try to think of a hipster I can’t think of a specific person. When I think of hipsters in general, they are just people who care about what’s happening now. What they look like… and also… most of that is so they can find more friends. I like all those things. I also feel like they’re like the only people who read books a lot, except for people trying to be writers.
EN: So do you have that audience in mind when you’re writing?
TL: Not when I’m writing… but… yeah, when I’m writing. Cause those are like… either those people or people who are interested in those people … those are the people I’m interested in, in terms of like, talking to and being friends with. In that sense, I target them. In the way I talk about it in interviews and stuff, I’m half joking … those are people who I think read books are, so I’m gonna target them.
Firstly, he "can't think of who that might be". Sure, I believe you live in Brooklyn and can't think of any hipster in particular. Even ride the L? Ever go to a bar? Ever go to NYU?
But then he figures out that would be a hard one to get around. Yes, it is the audience he has in mind when he is writing. He admits it.
However--I don't believe Tao Lin is a hipster himself. But what he says, for a "feeling" about who his hipster audience may be, is pretty apt: they are simply people in whom he is interested. People who read books, who might read his books, and who he would know on that basis. A bit scattered in terms of phrasing (edit much, "Bomblog"...?) but pretty honest.
There are many reasons to dislike hipsters. They gentrified your hood, they bought all the good records, they wear shitty clothes, they don't know how to make a good espresso, etc. This all falls under the general, catch-all hipster problem--they are a bunch of clowns who somehow are found everywhere you want to be. It's as if the Insane Clown Posse fan base stopped hanging out behind the drug store, and are now drinking in your bar, going to your favorite DJ night, and generally convinced half the nation's youth to do the same thing.
But this problem, which we are on to here, is separate from the unfortunate fact of hipster fashion. Tao Lin is not interested in hipsters because of the way they dress, but because of the way he feels. What is this link? What is causing his writing to take this dry, ironic, self-referential tone, without riding an 80s skateboard or buying all the good drugs? It is a gene carried by many hipsters, no doubt, but I believe we are looking at a totally different cultural chromosome's allele.
Let's give it a name: Emotional Singularism. That's a bit dry, so for the practitioners of this condition, we will give a nickname: Feelies.
In Emotional Singularism, we are re-visiting Cartesian dynamics, in a most-time appropriate way. In this era of graphs, datapoints, curves-as-linguistic-and-political-architecture, plotted points or the continuation of such points have a currency all their own. You want to be relevant? Show us a graph. You want to hold weight? Plot us a curve to stand your narrative upon. Run it through the points of You, Me, Iraq, Global Warming, George Bush, and make sure its all within the same plane of general consumer-liberalism. There, now you have momentum. It takes three points to plot a distinct curve, and if you read any persuasive essay, you will note at least three points, fixed in a cultural plane, with a nice, sloping approach drawn through the three of them.
But what is really important is the vantage point--the crossing of the axes. From this point, we measure everything. For Decartes it was the abstraction of the verb, "I think"; thinking denoted being. This is a cold, rationalist, metaphysics. It was the axiom of the geometry, and as easily forgettable.
These days, we don't care about the axioms. We just want to see the pretty curves. So we've withdrawn back into the crossing of the axes, without Kant's interest in the suppositions of the axioms, and the necessary philosophical internalization of the geometry of metaphysics into the unconscious (time, space, what is that like?). Rather than analyze the significance of the word, "I", for its own pre-conditions and metaphysical systems, Emotional Singularists are happy to take that singularity as fact. After all, they feel it. And there, they have found their new conscious substance for the pursuit of truth. Hence, their own personal emotions are the singular point on which they base and measure their world.
These days, it's enough to feel. You can debate metaphysics, or get lost along its lines of logic, but with feeling, you can never go wrong. Truth itself is called into question, but we have not yet called feeling into question. Instead, feeling is growing like a vectored weed, directing behavior, politics, economics, and even, so it seems, literature.
You know who these feelies are. We called them Emo for awhile, when boys holding acoustic guitars somehow picked up on a bizarre congruency with the feelings of a great number of record buying teenage girls. But the Feelies are still out there. They are the hipsters feeling self-conscious because they don't know if their fashion and friends are enough. They are the man/woman crying and yelling at a man/woman because s/he gets confused by his/her sexuality's mixed messages. They are the people who don't really know about politics, but have still decided they really don't like politics. They are the people who do one thing, but wish something else. They are the people who just don't feel comfortable with any number of things, and therefore try to avoid those things. They are the people who do not speak, but instead go home and cry.
Emotions are our friends, but they are not replacements for thoughts and words. It works like this, I believe, in actuality: there is some crazy business going on in our unconscious, which we never really understand. This craziness manifests itself in feelings, projected upward from that dark, unphysical undercurrent. These feelings then must be wrangled, absorbed, translated, and mechanized with words. Only in words do we have the ability to deal with the undercurrent of emotions. They don't always work, and if they don't, we throw out the words and start again.
Somewhere along the way, it got uncool to think too much. Maybe between the viscerality of the 60s and 70s, leading into the unholy terrors of thoughts flowing through the 80s and 90s, we felt we would simply be better off not knowing. Or maybe to be hip in knowing just got too difficult, so the eggheads like Foucault and Derrida could worry about that, but the common man was just going to do a bunch of coke and start talking about the fire in his loins at the speed of light. This substitute for actual thought, this rambling realist (or alternatively, speciously new age) hype-speak took the place of the actual definitions of words, the difficult terms of metaphysics, and the technique of linguistic construction. Feelings, those ever-flowing semi-conscious perception, could be packaged and sold as language without a second thought. Ever see one of those adbuster-esque packages, proudly titled, "plastic junk!" a little gag gift plastic nugget-thing wrapped in plastic? The joke is, people actually buy those; a gag in which the gag is that there is no gag. People actually like repetitive, sacarine emo music. They even go to see it played live, just like it is on their CD at home.
Feelings are not words in themselves. It is not enough to say, "I feel weird; I feel nauseous." Because you have a feeling you are not fully able to describe, it is not enough to simply call it "weird", and then describe the discomfort you have with your inability to vocalize it as nausea. Sure, I believe your stomach hurts. But who give a shit? If you drink enough, or do enough chaw, your stomach will also hurt. If you lick the pavement for long enough, you will get nauseous. If you are simply nauseous, I couldn't give a fuck, because you might as well be a fish floating upside down. Oh, something went wrong, and the fish is dead. Was it poisoned? Overfed? Underfed? Drowned from not enough oxygen? There is no way to tell, so I throw it in the toilet and go get another one. I probably even give it the same name.
Hipsters are just as infected by the Feelies as everyone else, but not because they wear clown shoes. It's something to do with our times--a certain wrinkle of modernism that's only metaphysical advance over the past fifty years was to start thinking there was no need to pay attention to the subtle vicissitudes of language anymore. A current in our culture that decided to outsource deep-thinking to the philosophers and focus on stomachs. A specific element of our society that believes it can learn more about themselves from daytime TV chock full of commercials specifically manipulating their emotions than by actually conversing with any person. Watch the commercials playing during an episode of Doctor Phil or Opraha. What is the show? What is the commercial? Which is manipulating your feelings? Which is telling you real information?
So, yeah, you go online. Somebody listens to music. Your girlfriend probably hates you. Man, that's some weird shit. How interesting. How about maybe you stop feeling, just for one second. Instead, why don't you try and write an original thought? Just one. To see if you still can.
Here is a new poem, written by you. In one line, you describe exactly what it is that you did that caused the last fight with your significant other. If you actually do it, trust me, it will be beautiful. (Write it in the comments or email it, and I'll post it.)
Well, Tao Lin--your work with Muumuu House is interesting stuff, I'll give you that. But I wonder if it is interesting because of the reasons you thought it was. Or did you and your writers even bother to stop and think about that?
But because I'm not really in the econ blog circuit, and it still might be interesting to compile and talk about some other things than consumer spending, I'm going to go ahead with it anyway.
I can always judge the public sentiment by listening to what people whom I know have done little or no research on a particular matter think. I don't mean this as an insult. It is simply impossible to know everything about everything. I hear myself doing this as well. If someone brings up a topic I know nothing about, yet I might have caught a bit of something on the radio the other day about it, I find myself reciting that one factoid as if I wrote a book on the subject. I think it's a way of compensating, and to try to draw out information from other people to learn more.
So when I hear people, whom I know don't know what PCE stands for, saying things like "it seems like the economy is getting better recently," I know they don't necessarily think that, but they've heard it.
So when it starts to be spring time after our current winter of our consumer discontent, and all of a sudden you start hearing "green shoots" from administration officials, one must wonder, have they really been reading the economic reports, or just the Hallmark Easter cards?
Wouldn't it be lovely if spring time meant we were coming out of the recession, just like we come out of the cold weather into the sunshine? Wouldn't it be great if this recession lasted a season or two, like typical post-war dips in the GDP? Wouldn't it be nice if we were older, and we wouldn't have to wait so long?
Yes--I'm currently listening to Pet Sounds; No--we aren't getting out of this damn thing with metaphors.
Green shoots? What a stupid phrase. You know if people are resorting to gardening metaphors, we're all fucked.
And you know what they were getting all excited about? You know what the green shoots were? Second derivatives. For those who don't remember calculus, second derivatives are the rate of the change of the rate of change. For those who don't remember calculus, this is like when you take off from a green light, accelerate, and then after you hit third gear you continue to accelerate, but not quite as much. Only we're going in the other direction.
But we're not coming to a stop, we're coming to a... well, let me try these metaphors.
You're driving at a brick wall, with your foot on the gas. A second before you hit the wall, you think, "what the hell am I doing?" and you start to take your foot off the gas. For that split second, you aren't accelerating towards death quite as fast.
Or, you decide to go skydiving. You have a lovely time experiencing weightlessness, and then you decide to pull the cord. Nothing happens. You continue to plummet towards the earth, scared out of your mind. The houses and fields get bigger and bigger, as you fall faster and faster. Then, at a couple hundred feet from your death, you suddenly think to yourself, "Oh thank god, I'm almost back on the ground." And you feel much better, as your internal organs explode from the inertia force of meeting those lovely green shoots of grass covering the planet.
The economy is in fact showing no signs of recovery. It has stopped deteriorating quite at free fall, yet is still deteriorating. Does that make sense? The ship is still taking on water, but the iceberg is no longer lodged in its crotch.
The only sort of person who would think a slowing but continual deterioration is a sign of recovery is someone who thinks all recessions are those V-shaped graphs. Here's a little thing about graphs--if the X axis is Time, you can't draw a graph until its all in the past. You can't graph the future. So, you would only assume you know what the graph looks like if you think you can see the future, or if you are assuming the future will be just like some other past graph.
This recession is clearly different, in many ways. The downside of economics, I believe, is that because of its Cartesian dynamic, it loves to isolate for certain variables. You know this--you get some crazy graph, and solve for Y. Makes it all look easier to have one variable alone, and everything else a function for it. You can make nice graphs, and attribute correlations, and make predictions. This is all well and good, but the problem is that the economists seem to forget these are variables, and by considering a play of one variable, or at most a handful, they are ignoring the complex interplay of other factors. They start believing they can see the upswing as soon as they stop seeing a downswing.
The horrible part for us, is that it means they are going to cut stimulus, reform, and other action short, because it makes them think the trouble is over. What happened to the crisis of capitalism? Did we forget that? Well, they'll remember it next year when unemployment is above %10 all year.
There are still plenty of icebergs ahead. I don't know a lot about macro-economics, so I don't know which one's are really dangerous. But here are a few things I can see as potentially causing a lot of trouble over the next year.
A quick note to thank Calculated Risk for teaching me about half of what I know about economics. That ever exceedingly wonderful blog is my source for these statistics, mostly because he produces wonderful graphs. (Graphs can teach you an awful lot.) I highly encourage you to follow my links to look at the lovely graphs.
The big news today was consumer spending, which decreased 0.4% month over month. Consumer spending, calculated by the Census Bureau, makes 70% of the GDP.
After a major decrease over the holidays, sales haven't recovered. They haven't gotten much worse either, green shooters argue. Let's talk about that for a minute.
You could look at the lack of change as a pure number, developed out of, I don't know, nowhere, or we could think about American's spending habits. In 2007 we were spending out of control. More money than we had, almost. Only at the end of last year did Americans start saving again, and still, barely at this point. Here's a nice graph showing the personal savings rate.
Consumer culture reached its zenith at about this time. Credit cards, designer handbags, etc. You know the deal. This all came to a stop, but not a crashing stop. We have less credit now, and are getting a little smarter, but we are still Americans, for heaven's sake. People are still going to the mall, they just aren't biting people for a chance to get widescreen TVs.
Consumer spending still has a way to fall. Look at this graph, showing the change in inventory, and then the second, showing the inventory to sales ratio. The ratio is still at 1.44. It's dropped considerably, but people are still buying things, and there is still inventory. They are still accumulating consumer crap, just not quite as much.
Another green shoot I saw was this article from Bloomberg saying Walmart same-store sales are up 5%. Think about who shops at Walmart. Walmart is the bottom of the barrel, when it comes to retail. Shitty products at reel low prices. There are the people who live in small towns, in which Walmart is the only thing close, and there are the people who live in big towns, where there is nothing as cheap. If Walmart's sales increase at this point, its not a brilliant ad campaign. It's because those edges of the consumer envelope are widening. People who shop at Walmart are not buying more; more people are going to Walmart because they are being pushed that far.
There are still plenty of rich people in this country--as I keep repeating, this is America. There is still money out there, but with no source of regeneration for the wealth of the upper-middle class and the lower-upper class, we're looking at a horizon that is getting closer all the time. The money can't last forever, and with credit still drying up for most people, I see consumer purchasing continuing to shrink. Where is the money going to come from? Still losing 500K+ jobs a month here... And wages are dropping too.
Foreclosures are continuing.
Now credit card companies are having problems too. A small credit card issuer stopped new lending because charge-offs (money "defaulted" on a credit card) were reaching as high as 20%.
Those are business credit cards, which is a nice transition into commercial real estate. Commercial property values fell 21.5% from 10/2007 to Feb, and defaults on commercial real estate loans are beginning to increase.
Residential home sales may be picking up, but new homes are hardly being sold at all, and many sales are foreclosures sold at discount. Prices still have a long way to fall.
All of this means banks are continuing to tighten lending standards to consumers, despite how the money market interbank credit has softened since the crisis last October.
Like consumerism, and perhaps the root of that consumerism, America was out of control round about 2007. Credit fell off a cliff at the end of the year, but will still continue to get worse. A lot of people are going to default on their credit, both individuals and businesses. This leaves banks very exposed, and makes new loans very difficult. There are going to be a lot more problems with credit-backed securities of all kinds, and while the government continues to be concerned with the big banks and the securities themselves, has seemed to give up trying to fix mortgages for every day people.
All in all, not very green.
The stress tests were kind of a joke. Not only did the banks get to bargain with the government about how they were tested, (you remember that teacher in high school/college everyone knew you could get a better grade with if you just went and argued it?) but some of the figures used in the worst-case scenario were not worse than the current conditions. Furthermore, all these banks have to do is figure out how to report earnings more than the amount they will have to write down. The government basically said, just figure out how to break even. I mean, yeah, that's a start.
The government is clearly willing to do everything to keep these banks from being nationalized, including playing paddy-cake all day long. I mean, they've made the case for this themselves over and over again, so why would we think they are going to do anything different?
The part that really troubles me is that these banks aren't "learning anything." Not that they really would learn, but it seems like everyone is getting a free 1-up on this. Hey man, you lost, pass the controller on!
What is going to be different about investment banking in the future? Anything? Just an implicit backing of the federal government from now on? They keep everything. Where are the Chrysler and GM ultimatums for these assholes? How can we expect better regulation if we can't even get legitimate accounting out of these institutions?
The banking system may be saved by (or at least tied to, non-committally and without control, the fate of) the US government. But what does this mean for the future?
I predict another bubble in less than fifteen years.
Part of the trouble with tying the banking system to the Fed, without real control of the banking system, is that the Fed doesn't get to preserve its status as general OMC bellweather. They've got their hands dirty. The Fed balance sheet is huge, as it tries to cover every else's problems. And it's going to get even bigger as it buys more treasuries.
Treasuries are very strange. They are debt sold by the US Treasury (which is different than the Fed, by the way). A Treasury is a bond with a set interest rate, that matures at some time in the future. However, these bonds are sold back and forth all the time, for prices that vary. If you factor the selling price of a Treasury into the interest rate and the intital cost of the bond, you can get a yield that is higher or lower than the actual interest rate of the bond. So, for example, if the price of a bond is lower than its initial cost, you could have a yield higher than the interest rate, because you will end up making more money by "buying it on sale", so to speak.
People buy and sell Treasuries because they are very secure, being backed by the Treasury. You can earn some interest without any risk, really. And because there is always a market for them, you can sell them to someone else to get cash if you need it. You can even make money in selling them, if you play it right. It is still confusing, because when the yield of a bond is high, it actually means the selling price of it is low, and vice versa, but I assume the sort of people who work in this market have a clever mnemonic of something for remembering this.
But this is not all fun and games. Issuing Treasuries is how the US gets cash. We can have a deficit because we sell debt, and pocket the cash. We can still pay the bills by selling IOUs to the rest of the world.
Specifically, to China. I'm not going to even comment on how much of the US debt is owned, in Treasury bond form, by China because nobody is really sure, they just guess. China buys our debt because it is a good investment, and because by putting lots of their currency out into the world (the cash they are exchanging for the bonds) they keep their exchange rate low, which is good for their export economy. People send the world currencies into China, and China sends their currency out, buying it back cheap, and keeping some of the world currencies. (this isn't how it works, but the principle is about right).
But China, as the demand of cherries slows down, they can't be buying quite as much debt from us. Also, there is the fact that we are selling a lot of debt. With all these bonds out there, the demand is waning. The yields of the bonds start rising.
But the Fed wants the yields to stay low. When the yields are low, the incentive is not so great to buy Treasuries, and so banks put their money elsewhere, like into the money market, or keep the cash to invest somewhere. This is the essence of liquidity.
So the Fed and the Treasury are somewhat against each other here. The Treasury wants to stimulate the economy by spending lots of money through the government and charging it to its tab. The Fed wants to convince banks to invest in consumer debt and each other's debt, rather than the secure Treasury debt. So the Fed is buying up Treasuries, to make their yields decrease, adding to its giant balance sheet with all the debt they've been buying from corporations and banks as well, flooding the markets with cash. So far, the Fed has enough cash. But guess where they get their money (besides the banks, who must keep a bit deposited with the Fed as part of their charters)? From the full faith of the US Government!
There is a good amount of breathing room in the phrase, "the full faith of the US Government", but still, it is certainly not a good long-term plan. The dollar has already been weakening on this, because it appears that the Treasury is writing IOUs with one hand, and cashing them with the other. All of this debt will eventually become due as well. And while the US, for all intents and purposes, will always be able to issue more debt, it appears the systemic problems of our debt-oriented economy, which has just crashed, are now being shouldered on the currency. There are no magic bullets here, or a pit of Tartarus to fling the debt into. We can keep a lot of balls in the air, but for how long?