after Jackson

Jackson, a dilute orange tabby, looking to the right

Jackson in motion

Some short time after 24 Feb 2011: some short time after I looked at Jackson and decided that I could not ask him to live through the weekend to the following Monday as he crouched hunched up and obviously uncomfortable anywhere but in my lap with a puppy piddle pad to catch the constant urine leak which now went everywhere he did. Some short time after I brought him to the clinic that evening and talked to the attending vet and she and I came to the decision to end his life then rather than wait for doctor who had known him a long time but would not be in until Monday.

Afterward. Immediately afterward, after his head dropped in my hand and I laid it down on the towel and looked into his eyes and they did not look back: only nowhere, seemingly focused upon whatever distance a completely relaxed eye will focus but not focused upon that distance at all for all signals had ceased so that light fell without disturbing anyone or anything: it occurred to me for the first time: I just killed my cat!

There is no getting around it. Agonizing as the decision is every single time for everyone who has ever to make it, the essence of the decision is to take the life of an animal after having accompanied it for some significant portion of both of our lives. To save them suffering, yes. To relieve them of pain, yes. To give them the gentlest exit still possible at whatever time it needs to be done. Yes.

All of that is true. And it is also true that we take responsibility for their lives upon ourselves and ask for them to be put to death.

I cannot speak for anyone else, but I found the weight of that responsibility so heavy as to be impossible for me, myself, to pick up. There was no way I could take it on, and yet, there I had just done so. It was immediately unbearable but I could not shrug it off, for his death was quite literally in my hands already. Ours was an inescapable quandary, his and mine, and it had been both necessary and impossible for me to assume control of his mortality.

Yes. I think it is time. That was what I had said while feeling so uncertain of the right time that even now I repeat to myself the veterinarian’s response: I support your decision. Not because I found reassurance in it–rather I saw that we were equally helpless, trying to attend to this cat in obvious pain, but we without means to relieve him of either his pain nor his obligation to die because of it–or of some other pain. At this or some other time.

So we did the best we could. And it was as inadequate as it was unavoidable.

Outside the clinic life went on normally as it always does which is to say that all things and all persons animal vegetable and mineral kept moving almost without deviating even a moment. And inside? Inside was no different from outside except that the routine there is familiar with its own disruption and deals with it methodically but not mechanically or without feeling: death is routine, or it shadows routine so closely that routine is routinely imperiled, suspended, and consulted for directions as to how to return to it while holding casualties to a minimum.

Shortly afterward, I wrote this:

The first anthropomorphic gods as adjudicators between the other and the self? That is, I cannot assume the responsibility of Jackson’s or anyone else’s life and yet I cannot protect them from death. To leave all matters in “god’s hands” is to ask god to forgive on the behalf of the other, with or without the permission of that other. If instead the divine is the relationship I have with the other or that the other has with me then I must face what I cannot face and what tears me apart in the face of the other: responsibility for an other’s vulnerability. Its absolute, irreparable, mind-blowing vulnerability. Perhaps this is where personal guilt emerges from original sin: our inability to keep the other safe from death–which is not the same as being unable to protect oneself from death–is where we perceive our fatal insufficiency, the one that will do us in before we can begin to do anything at all. The loose thread. The gap in the circle.

Fundamentalist Christianity reacts to this insufficiency by seeking to protect the self from death and disavowing responsibility toward the other by resigning all questions about death to a god who not only should be able to tame those questions well enough to protect his elect ones from their uncertainties, but who also is supposed to stand in for the other and forgive on the other’s behalf when the elect pronounce and/or enact that other’s damnation to separation and torment. But no mere god can do that. What is divine in our bonds to others cannot be abrogated by a mythical figure who somehow straightens everything out so that death does not in fact ever take its share. In seeking relief from our own mortality we also seek relief from responsibility for the mortality of the other, but there is no relief from either except to the extent that both destroy the self, leaving it unable to assume anything like responsibility. The death of the other destroys me–shows me my profound inadequacy–and calls into question then my ability to take responsibility for that death.

At that point whatever remains of me takes its place in death beside the other. My inability to save the other from death results in the disruption of my own being and lays me out beside that other in an adjoining grave. It is not that I die of guilt or responsibility but rather that I die of not being able to be relieved of that responsibility, which does not measure itself in guilt except when my ego insists on finding redemption for itself. Asking to be spared in the face of the death of the other is the beginnings of totalitarianism: an ego that dares to think itself immune from destruction, or deserving of such immunity. Death is not punishment but life’s radical vulnerability, and disavowing that vulnerability may be one early step closer to cynicism and egotistical fascism.

To face it, to face the impossibility of protecting the other from death and the subsequent disruption of egotistical mastery [I look into Jackson’s eyes as though to assure him one last time that suffering has come to an end but they no longer respond and I cannot reassure him or myself that this was the necessary action at the necessary time. My response does not arrive in time], is to lose the self in a kind of remorseless compassion: one that does not relieve us of responsibility for the other’s death but relieves us of ourselves and our demand for grace from some figure that could step onto the scene of mortality and usurp the other’s place there in order to restore ourselves to ourselves.

Instead we are left with our own disfigurement at the disappearance of the other, our own dissolution at the point at which we cannot assume this responsibility even under its inexhaustible insistence. It is a paradoxical moment in that what commands me also destroys me and renders me incapable of responding to it: thus irresponsible perhaps but also bereft of myself. One cannot have it both ways: the subject cannot persist after the other has perished no matter how long it denies that its only response is both necessary and impossible. The subject can only respond by relinquishing its perceived capacity to respond as an integrated, intact individual.

I found this in an odd spot for this sort of writing. It took me a moment to recognize it as something I wrote myself, as I do not recall writing this down, although I recall the thought process very well. Because I also remember very well how shocked I was to understand what I had done–or rather, to understand that there would be no simple way of understanding this or of reconciling myself–my self–to the deed of ordering Jackson to be killed. I had help. I had a witness; I even had a willing agent and assistants. I had been an assistant many times before. I can say with some accuracy that I have seen at least hundreds of animals euthanized, if not upwards of one or two thousand. All of them presenting as choices to be made where no adequate choice can be made out even while it must be determined. We are bound to answer even while the call itself is impossible to fulfill without overstepping our bounds.

The English language, at least in my opinion, does not offer an adequate word for that friend with whom we share absolute trust. What is worse, it does not offer a particularly easy way to name the relations we have and are with the life around us. All of it. Not just humans, not just primates, not just mammals, not just vertebrates, not just animals, and possibly not just those entities we recognize as alive: we are bound together in such a way that we are not even distinct from each other, but the language I know is somehow so clumsy it cannot bridge even the mythological gaps between mythological individuals.

Familial terms do not work for me at all but the explanation for that is already 500 pages long and counting. Worse, “brother/sister” only makes room for the two genders our particular culture chooses to assign on the basis of questionable criteria. Neither would even include me in the relation I would try to use it to describe. “Friend” does not do it for me. I do not know why, or that is I might consider why some other time. Losing a friend sounds no more or less serious to me than losing a dog or cat or bird or bunny or rat or goat or.. but none of them imply the rending sensation they try to name even if they are able to acknowledge that loss does not obey any hierarchical chain of being, great or otherwise. Is it shameful that I feel Jackson’s death as acutely as my Grandmother’s death? It is true that they took place within a year of each other and within another year two more people on the same side of the family had died so yeah it’s been a rough few years but Jackson’s departure is still very much Jackson’s departure and nobody else’s. I can line up their effigies and while loss includes every one of them they are each the mnemonic of a very specific moment within the procession of mortality as I am apparently bound to experience it.

What I can never find the right word for is the nature and extent of that bond. It is, to me, every alibi for passion that there is, and extends to so many relations it seems odd to me to try to line them up on some linear gradient, as though watching, say, capital’s daily assault on every form of exploitable embodiment within reach were not every bit as wrenching as leaving Jackson’s body behind when I walked home that night.

Unbearable, all of it.

He wrote, sitting as upright as he could. Which was not very. But still a bearing of sorts.


killing you softly

What defense against the apprehension of loss is at work in the blithe way in which we accept deaths caused by military means with a shrug or with self-righteousness or with clear vindictiveness? To what extent have Arab peoples, predominantly practitioners of Islam, fallen outside the “human” as it has been naturalized in its “Western” mold by the contemporary workings of humanism? … After all, if someone is lost, and that person is not someone, then what and where is the loss, and how does mourning take place?
… If violence is done to those who are unreal, then, from the perspective of violence, it fails to injure or negate those lives since those lives are already negated. But they have a strange way of remaining animated and so must be negated again (and again). …Violence renews itself in the face of the apparent inexhaustibility of its object.
Judith Butler, Precarious Life 32-33

Today being the day it is I decided that rather than participate in the public spectacle we seem intent on creating out of our inability to mourn whatever it was that we in the US think we lost ten years ago–although we may well have never had it to begin with –rather than go along with the ruse of our fallen, long-mythologized invulnerability to attack or even decay, that I was going to re-read Judith’s Precarious Life, since in it she addresses violence and mourning in direct response to the war that we imagine only began in 2001. I wanted to try to understand what it was exactly in our fetishization of the images of destruction that I find so frustrating to deal with, beyond even practical and political concerns over the extent to which we seem to be willing to give up every last shred of dignity and “freedom” (were we “free” before?), if it will help us to reestablish our illusion of security and safety from political violence.

I am also thinking a bit about death and the multiple, complex relations between life and death–not only in the realm of the human, but even in whatever cycle it is with which the forces of the whole universe are engaged: materialization out of potential, animation out of elementary energy, and any and all inevitable returns to entropy that we might also be undertaking as moments of complexity and approximate coherence in a system characterized by violent destruction in creation, and creation in destruction.

As is usual, I managed to get about thirty pages into my chosen reading before I felt compelled to begin writing. The questions that arise upon reading anything with nuance or subtlety are irresistible to me, and so I remain in interminable study, never able to finish much of anything but always starting again to reformulate this process in which I have, for most of my life, been chasing after ways to express the inexpressible and to narrate that which defies language. To put it all too neatly.

It is not a simple coincidence that the refusal to integrate our national experience into a humane course of action causes me to pause over this question of what it is to live in close proximity with death–even here in the US where death is sequestered and hidden away beneath neatly manicured lawns and behind antiseptic curtains. And it is not simple coincidence that this question occurs to me at the same time as does my perennial questions concerning the limits of language and sense, for death is one name for an ultimately senseless way of going along: it is the primary way in which I myself have been and will be related to all that is for all but the tiniest sliver of time that I claim as my uncertain lifespan. I do not mean by this that ultimately I will be dead, but rather that my being dead, or my not being, or something inexpressible that has to do with never having come to be to begin with despite my apparent sensible existence at the moment, constitutes the primary and primordial relations that ground this current state in which, for now, I seem to be here.

To put it in a Zen Buddhist sort of way, I am already dead and always have been. There are infinite other ways of putting it, for it will not be put, or it will not stay put, or in other words there are no other words and so there will always be an ongoing stream of other words. What we in the US seem unable to comprehend is that our ideal of individualism and consequence-free domination of whatever it is we damned well feel pleased to dominate has been bound from the time of its conception to meet, eventually, its limiting case, its moment of mortality realized, its susceptibility to destructive forces and its vulnerability to the violence that it so easily calculates as acceptable expenses for a political economy that will admit no peer. That is, empires are destined to fall. Are we falling now? Have we not already fallen?

To the degree that we must recognize the unrecognizable–that is, our “primary vulnerability” to that upon which our very being falters, even disastrously, in its attempt to circumscribe itself as independent and individualistic –in order to be able to mourn whatever is lost in a violent encounter, in a disaster, then to that degree, one who suffers loss might attempt to disavow one’s own vulnerability to loss by virtue of the fact that injury is instigated by an unrecognizable force. Thus is rendered impossible the question of any sort of narration of loss or resolution in sensible language of the insensibile moment of trauma. But rather than pausing to consider what might be the consequence of our all being exposed in this way, by virtue of our primary vulnerability, if we decline even to pause in the face of what undoes us in violence, if we attempt to master our vulnerability, we only manage to deny the very conditions of our existence and are immediately closed off from the possibility of our own future. With the unrecognizable other, we also die, or are discarded, or are disavowed, or are visited in the continuing cycles of violence that serve the interests of this denial of vulnerability, which is a denial of life itself.

We are thrown here on a sort of paradoxical demand: that the unrecognizable not be consigned to illegibility or, worse, to unreality, because we are not prepared to acknowledge that we might not be able to conceptualize, chart, categorize, or comprehend the nature of our own being exposed to an other. That is, this would be the ethical demand of living itself: not to deny the fact of our helplessness, not to foreclose the possibility of incursions from unpredictable sources–incursions which may cause us pain or pleasure or both, which may occasion the possibility of our being able to live in a more lively way, or which may frustrate our desire to keep our lives in order. One cannot predict which it will be, or whether all of these moments might be bound up together in such a way that pain is the precondition of pleasure and vice versa, or, more precisely, in such a way that the distinction between pleasure and pain is lost in the very potential of coming to life as terrestrial creatures.

Relegating to the unreal that which threatens the security of the self, denying conceptual meaning to that which breaks the bounds of conceptualization, is a form of impotence in the face of the other. This impotence is realized as the impossibility of negating that which, conceptually, one has already negated–as well as the impossibility of negating that which is not subject to the workings of negation! But although the workings of negation or exclusivity or ideation cannot bring this other into any sort of domesticated, enforced “peace”, this other remains naked and vulnerable in relation to the subject of the act of negation. Our impotence, or inability to erase what is not, to begin with, legible, visits upon the other a violence without end, a real violence that incurs real atrocities precisely because its mission is impossible, and thus must be repeated indefinitely, so long as the subject inflicting that violence seeks to immunize itself against what is crucial to the being of that very subject: its other, against which it attempts to define itself. And fails.

This is how, or one of the reasons why, totalitarian violence is in the last analysis suicidal: an attempt to destroy the other which faces me and makes my utterance of “self” possible in that primordial encounter, the effort to sever relations with that in which we are already entangled and always were, from a time prior to memory and thus prior to time, is, in a very real way, the destruction of ourselves. It is not only that the balance of an interconnected ecosystem can be fatally disrupted by exploitation to the point that exploiter and exploited both perish, although to conceive of the relations between living things in the universe in this way makes our fragility in the faceless face of our own exploitative appetites quite clear. But it is also that without those relations we are, quite simply, not. Or rather, not simply at all: those relations’ being the anteroom of history and discourse renders them both foreign to and constitutive of our ability to try to name them as such.

I have no idea how to end this, but it seems as though it might be worthwhile to pause at the point of our own suicidality as it emerges from militaristic efforts to secure our place in eternity. There is no such place to be had, of course, and we only hasten our own demise in struggling to erect for ourselves a line of defense against every possible enemy. Again, this is not only because we are happy to relinquish our ideals for the illusion of safety, but it is at least that and also our current relation to that which has, in the “West”, so long been designated as inadmissible: vulnerability itself, subjection itself, fallibility itself, interdependence and the possibility that our ideals themselves are inadequate and provisional.

Why we have ethical questions but not answers

As so many do, this post started as a reply to another post elsenet where a writer was quoted about something like the impossibility of an ethics of narrative or what is commonly thought of as postmodernity’s most glaring problem: that of the relativism of its moral arguments, when it has any.

Usually when I read the phrase “post-modern ‘anything goes'” it is being written by someone in a field in which postmodern theory does not figure very large–often a science-y type or sometimes a social science-y type; I suspect that in the social sciences postmodernism does get airplay but it is something like an AM radio broadcast of what needs to be auditioned live and in person.

Yes, the author is a fiction in most postmodern theory, and yes, it is difficult to make any claims to objective reality from within a postmodern critique of metaphysics. We do live in a discursively constituted, culturally mediated environment as postmodern Westerners and narrative does tend to be where one looks when one is trying to discern the grounds of classical Western metaphysics.

But “narrative” does not equal “not real” or “not binding” or even “voluntary” or “at somebody’s whim.”
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NOW can we talk about Queerness and Racism?

So. Yeah. I am still stunned at how quickly the election seemed to be over last night, how soon McCain conceded–8:45pm Pacific Time–and I am still mightily relieved that the Republican/NeoCon/Religious Right has lost its stranglehold on the federal government. Perhaps now we can, as a nation, make our way towards being seen as rational, impartial, and committed to human rights rather than to making the world over in our image. Science may once again be used as a valuable resource for deciding domestic environmental policy and our global environmental stance, rather than censored, distorted, or simply thrown out when it does not agree with our ideological views. Hopefully, some sort of solution can be found to the grave mess we have made in the Middle East. And with some very good luck, we can stop blaming the economically and socially disadvantaged for conditions they were born into and offer them viable assistance in rebuilding their relationships to their own cultures, and, where necessary, rebuilding those cultures themselves.

One can hope that sanity will creep back into the American consciousness, until we again have a grasp on empirical reality that actually takes into account empirical consequences.

One thing though: yeah. Proposition 8. I have so much to say on this subject that I cannot hope to put it all in this post, and may have to sit and ruminate before I tackle various aspects of the question of how we handle its passing as a community of queers. Yes, I am talking to a specific “we” at the moment, although it also includes non-queer allies who voted No and/or who contributed time and money to the effort to help California citizens understand that writing discrimination into the state constitution is not what a freedom-loving population wants to do. Where to start?

Well, first I think one fire in particular needs to be put out, and it needs to be put out now, loudly and firmly, by anyone with a sense of history and justice. Case-in-point: over at the Daily Kos, d edmonds is demanding that “we talk about Race and Homophobia”, but as you might imagine, “we” is turning out to be a bunch of white folks deciding that it is time to bring the African American community to task for its role in passing Proposition 8.

OK. If “we” is to be white men, then what “we” need to be focusing on is the following: America’s overarching homophobia in that is continually and viciously fed by the Religious Right, which is overwhelmingly white; the millions of dollars that were pumped into the Yes on 8 campaign by the Church of Latter Day Saints, aka the Mormons, a church that is overwhelmingly white; the fact that the African American population of California currently hovers around 7%–far, far too small to have made the decisive difference in this vote; the fact that, according to the numbers, hundreds of thousands of white voters must have voted both for Obama and in favor of banning non-heteronormative marriage, so that the onus of “hypocrisy” leans at least as heavily on whites as it does on anyone else; and last but not in the least, um, least, Anglo-European culture’s long history of cultural imperialism, which is overwhelmingly responsible for the world-wide propagation of conservative Christian or crypto-Christian social mores–through brutal violence when necessary.

Do I need to say more? I realize that a paragraph cannot really stand in for an argument, but is any of the above actually controversial? Blaming a small portion of the population for accepting the values of the dominant culture seems disingenuous to me, like asking someone to conform enough to their environment that s/he is not living under the threat of constant physical and psychological violence, and then castigating her/him after s/he does so very, very well. Rock, hard place. Can you see how this might look to someone who is harassed daily on the basis of their presumed race?

I do want to add this, though: the only way that white folks can “help” with fighting homophobia in African American communities is to reach out to African-American queers in a way that does not silence them, does not ignore them, and does not try to erase their experiences or identifications. What “we” must do is listen to them, while working to clean our own house. If you need me to name the multiple obvious ways in which the queer mainstream is itself already (and still) racist, in ways that have little to do with the passage or defeat of Proposition 8, I’ll do it.

Right now, though, we need to settle the fuck down and stop fingering racial “others” as responsible for this horrible moment in California’s political history. One could say quite accurately that Proposition 8 passed on a wave of white religious conservative capital. “We” have spent a number of centuries trying to Christianize the world, and “our” people worked very hard to extend that tradition in the past few months. Guess what? It worked here. Is there such a thing as cultural karma?

Now it is over

OK so today is November 4 even though this post is dated November 5 and if you find this puzzling, consult the first few sentences of yesterday’s post, which was the post for November 3. This may happen regularly throughout the month, but in the end I will be awake for approximately 30 longish periods and I will post in each one of them until I wake up on December 1, probably around 8pm. I probably will not explain this again, but anyone arriving late to the party is probably not going to notice that I started the month an apparent day behind.

What can I say. Last night I was walking around the chilly streets of San Francisco, where winter moves in on the first of November, supplanting the late, October-only summer that we get every single year–and every single year, people say “it wasn’t this hot last October” but of course it was and they are just annoyed that it is hot now. But so after McCain gave his concession speech I could hear people shouting joyfully in the streets, honking horns and setting off fireworks and so I, a little stunned at the rapidity of the results and the concession and the declaration of the winner, all of which practically coincided with the closing of the polls here on the West Coast, decided to go take a walk to let off a great deal of anticipatory anxiety that hadn’t yet found a way to breathe in the relief of a political nightmare now over.

Some say Obama is not that exciting of a president-elect, and that Democrats and Republicans are so much alike that it no longer matters who takes the White House, but I just want to say a little bit about why it does matter, and very much so: the unholy alliance between the Religious Right and the Neo-Conservative movement, which is now, apparently, in a shambles.

But if the Republicans had taken the White House, that alliance would have taken on yet another incarnation, this time with an actual Dominionist Christian in the White House and, as they say, a heartbeat away from the Presidency.

Now, I think Barack Obama has a lot going for him: he has withstood the pressures of being a black man in America and made it to the top political office in the land without once losing his composure in the face of what, to most black Americans, is an unrelenting onslaught of racist inferences, insinuations, and assumptions, as well as explicit epithets and insults, as it buffets them from a dominantly racist white culture. I will not go into great detail right now in describing how it is in fact embarrassingly obvious that America is still deeply racist and deeply divided along racial lines–or “racialized” lines, given that “race” itself is a white supremacist construct that we cannot seem to give up. I might talk about this at some length later, but for now I will just say that for people of color the racism in our culture is flagrant, excessive, and so deeply rooted within white institutions and discourse that white Americans on the other hand can almost never see it until it is pointed out to them in a way that hits home.

Obama’s grace under this sort of relentless cultural antagonism is nothing short of remarkable, and a testament to his integrity and dignity as a public figure. He won this election mainly on charisma, which is not a superfluous quality in a president. Quite the contrary: it is the sort of personality that makes building alliances and healing rifts in ideology much easier than they are in the hands of someone with less grace, and right now the US is in great need of just that sort of social and cultural reintegration, to the degree that it is possible at all. Unlike the current resident of the White House, Obama conducts himself with impeccable restraint and sensibility in the face of insult. Do we really doubt that this in itself could greatly improve the bearing of the face America turns to the rest of the world? George Bush has made us laughable in the eyes of the rest of the world; the Neo-Conservative agenda has made us into a law-shirking rogue nation. I think that an Obama administration has the potential to repair not only our public image on the world stage, but to back it up with empathy and discernment, rather than relying on reactionary displays of machismo to bluster our way through our relationship with the rest of humanity.

But this is not the source of my biggest sigh of relief this evening. The thing that I am truly thankful for is that the party that has openly courted the forces of conservative Christian theocratic ideology is now out of power. Democrats have taken Congress and the Presidency, leading us back away from what I believe was a dangerous precipice: that American fascism that would rule according to simplistic, distorted, and cruel interpretation of the Christian faith. I have lived within those beliefs, and I can say unreservedly that they rely on cult-like techniques to subdue followers into accepting just about anything that one could construct a Biblical argument to support, and they browbeat people into despising life on Earth as a sinful, evil realm. The casualties from these churches are numerous, and if right-wing Christians are ever allowed back into the most powerful office in the country, anyone who is not a “real” Christian–according to their strict criteria–is at risk of the same harsh, inhumane treatment that they give to all things “worldly”: including anyone who cannot or will not march lockstep with their strict ideology.

We find it so easy to spot the immorality of Islamic fundamentalism, but we seem to have a curious blind spot for the same sort of worldview as it is espoused in Christian fundamentalism. Neither movement would be friendly to those who dare to act and believe in ways that diverge from the approved dogma; either would be happy to see the world destroyed in order to hurry the advent of god’s kingdom as they perceive it.

This is why I and many others feel they have awakened from a long political nightmare. There are other reasons as well, but this has been the most compelling one for me: it is time to stop believing that god is on our side no matter what we decide to do, and to stop believing that war and violence are sanctioned by heaven, so long as we are fighting “evil.”

Evil is not a cosmic force. Humans invented it and perpetrate it on each other endlessly, each faction more often than not believing that theirs is the righteous cause. This is a cultural myth that needs to die, to be demystified and faced as what it is: human fallibility, greed, and aggression. Until we can see it at our own level, we cannot take proper responsibility for it, and the atrocities that we visit on ourselves in the name of Good will continue unabated.

Any step we can take away from this particular abyss is a positive step. Tonight we managed to inch our way back from a flirtation with theocracy that many of us did not realize we were engaging in, for reasons that are unclear to me, but that seem to stem from a denial that anything we are familiar with could be dangerous to us. But vigilance over the destructive forces within us may be more important to securing our freedom than we realize. For now, at least, we have eluded a particularly tenacious one.

Between the word and the flesh

This post is a little late, but as I may or may not have made clear the other night, my administrative day runs from about 8pm till sometime after sunrise, so to me it is still the third, and this post still counts. To demonstrate, I will most likely post my fourth post later on the fourth, local time, but to me it will be tomorrow, which is the fourth, as far as I am concerned.

If that makes sense.

Not that I am writing in order to make sense. At the moment, I am pondering three things: the US Presidential Election, the why of writing, and the state of the blogosphere as it appears to me. I do tend towards metacommentary, as you might infer from two of the three things preoccupying me. At any given time some portion of my brain is evaluating what language is doing. I mean, what it is doing in my head, what it is doing in the media, what it is doing online, what it is doing for lunch–you name it, I’m thinking about how it is talked about. This is my own fault for getting a degree in Rhetoric, but of course I chose Rhetoric because I’ve been in a death struggle with language my entire life. Ok maybe that’s not an “of course” statement: I could have chosen Rhetoric for any number of reasons. But the fact is I did choose it because language and I have been in a love/hate relationship since my first attempts to form words in my head.

But I think I’ll talk about that another day.

Right now, I cannot think of anything to add to the shitstorm of writing about the Election, not because I have had no thoughts on the subject that might be novel to someone, somewhere, but at the moment I am incapable of thinking any of them. This Election has me on pins and needles to an extent as yet unforeseen. I am not sure exactly why this is; the older I get, the worse politics seem to get, and the more important to try to influence what goes on around me. But I do not know if this is a function of age or a function of the particular–that is, wrong–direction the country has been headed over the last horrifyingly ill-advised eight years of neo-conservative rule behind our face puppet president. Whatever the cause, right this second I am unable to speak coherently on the topic.

Every act, though, is political, and every act of writing is a political act of writing. Perhaps it would be a good time to undichotomize speech and action, that dilemma of political life and the basis of much of the antipathy between intellectual circles and the American populace as a whole: the view that book-learnin’ isn’t worth the paper it is printed on but that decisive action is somehow always to be looked upon as honorable, if not downright heroic.

Why is this important now? Well, for one, I think that by this time tomorrow either the country will breathe a collective sigh of relief or people will start to pour into the streets and begin to act in ways that are unpredictable right now. And it will be time to write furiously, as we have never written before.

This is not because thought guides action, or because writing can be a prelude to deciding what to do, but rather because thought is already action, and that writing is already a choice as to what to do: both have real consequences for those who undertake them and for those with whom they might be shared. Theory is not something one consults in order to figure out how to behave: it is behavior’s primary gesture, determining not merely the “beliefs” behind what we do, but inhabiting the core of every movement.

Just as the empirical event is emergent from the encounter between perception and its environment, and is so to the extent that perception and environment turn out to be inseparable, constantly oscillating around one another and interpenetrating one another, one could say that action is the working out of physical theory, or that theory is the unconscious of every muscular movement.

Let me see if I can explain. We are–or, it seems, most people I meet are–used to dealing with concepts such as “frame of reference” to explain why a given situation (which is never given without the frames: hint.) will appear and/or be interpreted differently by the various individual points of consciousness that are involved with it (think of “individual points of consciousness” as a fancy term for “people,” but one that does not disallow the possibility of non-human frames of reference). The way that most Anglo-European-American minds are trained, this makes sense to us only insofar as we introduce frames of reference as an independent term from that which they frame: as though they were literally picture frames, except that they might contain something like inscriptions that a person will refer to to translate what is inside the frame in such a way that they, from outside the frame, can understand it. Put a frame of reference around a painting and embed within it the voices of art critics, and perhaps this model could be made concrete (No really. Do it and see if you can get a grant or something).

But the frame of reference model is too simplistic and too compartmentalized, when in fact the entities that meet at the frame, as a kind of boundary, actually communicate through it, to the degree that neither remains completely independent of the other, the frame itself starts to dissolve, and soon what one has is an encounter that sparks an event: an event that contains neither the painting nor the observer, but which confounds them at the place where they meet.

Think of it this way: when you encounter an object, it impinges upon you. Light hits your retinas, your hands are blocked at points where the object will not let them pass. You stub your toe on the base of the thing and the resultant boing-oing-oing assaults your eardrums. All these things happen in a region where the difference between your perception and the physical bluntness of the object is not easy to make out: if the object is blue, it is so only because your retina is sensitive to a certain wavelength of light striking a nerve, which sends a signal to your brain where, through processes I cannot pretend to understand fully, you “see” the color you have been trained to call “blue.” Without you, the object may or may not be blue. It may or may not be hot. It may or may not be soft, noisy etc.

So what has this to do with the difference between theory/words/speech and action? When you move, you theorize. You process information about your environment and you synthesize “hypotheses” about what you can and cannot do while enmeshed with that environment. Conversely, when you theorize, you move. You not only change the way in which neurons in your nervous system fire in concert with all the others, but you change your perceptions according to whatever modified frame of reference proceeds from your theory/thought/writing/speech. If you are speaking out loud or theorizing publicly, the same thing happens to those around you, whether or not they agree with you. We say we are “moved” by a speech, or that the play was flat and “unmoving,” as though we recognize intuitively that change actually results from the way in which language and other signs affect our perceptions, and thereby, our environment and the events which arise when all of these moments coincide.

Tomorrow then, or tonight–however you yourself experience the way in which hours pass in this world–when you decide what to do in response to whatever your environment presents you with, be aware that speech and action both have consequences in reality, that motion can be achieved in thought, and that the right word–Flaubert called it “le mot juste,” which we can understand as both “precise” and “just”–is perfectly capable of motion and carries with it a specific energy. I cannot say, myself, right now, exactly what you should do with this thought, or how it should move you, but I think that beginning to understand the way in which even language is tangled up with the world of phenomena might be of help in understanding how a butterfly moving its wings can cause a windstorm on the other side of the world.

To sum up: take care. It is both the easiest and hardest thing for those of us brought up in a post-platonic world to do.

I will explain more on that later, but by all means, give it a whirl yourself.