Saturday, January 17, 2009

Swirling Questions, lingering doubts.

The charachter of power - or opression - needs to shape how we respond to politics. Even the nature of the entity we direct ourselves against needs to be in question - do we concern ourselves with 'power,' or rather 'violence' or rather 'oppression'? Each implies a system of organization, each a strategy for change. Oppression contains within it a model of ideal life, a proper wholy lived life, a subject that has no objective basis. At the same time we posit this free person within the oppressed, we decry that naturalization of opressive tendancies that mask themselves as the 'only way' 'human nature' or 'inevitable.' A false consciousness neccesarily drives the purpetuation of social crimes, and a similarly arbitrary consciousness animates our thoughts on liberation.

No doubt we encounter wrongs, but the nature of those wrongs eludes us. At the same time, the struggle to define those wrongs itself is striated with power. The process of identifying wrongs and focusing change is the cornerstone of politics - how we know problems shapes how we change. The terribly academic process of deconstruction is neccesary to match the strategies of power that construct their own schema for thinking about change, but at the same time, it invests authority in those people who already have the time for abstract thought. It puts the burden of defining change in the hands of folks with relative privilege.

There's always a point at which our understanding of opression, and what needs to change, disappears into an individual. No subject of power remains so coherent as to unequivocobly demand a single response; our understanding of change neccesarily requires the addition of judgement that arrises out of ourselves. The void stares back. At this point, some notion of universal values, or the master-narrative of the political interjects and asserts a basis for change. "Ah, but it is capital, all along!"

When the master-narrative re-emerges, we then face the structures of power, and our means of confronting them. The development of scale in political systems occurs to take advantage of divisions of labor, so that the thinkers don't have to do their own violence, and so those committing violence don't have to think.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Taste of Drifting Failure

Ennui. The word came to my tongue less than fully formed, a bit mushy, but it stayed around. I rolled it through my mouth for a day before I shaped it into something solid, but it suits me, considering the circumstances.

I used to go searching for words, in bulk, but now I feel a visceral backlash when I read almost anything, like I would expect from food that spoiled. At the same time I feel spiritually starved, missing the satisfaction to stand up straight again.

Everything I say and read feels stale - brittle, an unkind remnant of something that once sated. At the same time, it slops together in a great stew, where I can no longer seem to distinguish the flavors and arguments within it. It used to be the ideas came through, sharp and deliberate, now I bumble through tongue tied, congested, dulled.

I wonder now to attribute my flightiness to this - I find myself equally repelled by all conditions of thought, and search endlessly between them because each one seems to miss something I can't place. Each new role I imagine for myself seems to suggest some reckoning, only now I see the list of jobs grown long as a realization itself.

The tastes lie on the edge of becoming describable. My drift towards fiction and allegory signals my pursuit into the barely unknown, where I imagine the solutions to lie. Ennui, the only word I make out now drifted from this nearly space. I spit it out, pick through it crudely with my fork, and hope it provides clues for when this fog on my senses will lift.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Family, Home.

I always feel something inexplicable snap. It may be just leaving the city, but going to meet my family, something changes. My internal monologue shifts, and I suddenly race to justify myself to myself, anticipating some future. The result is almost always silence. I've come to expect a kind of quiet reflection when I visit my family, my parents in particular. Meeting them provides a kind of baseline, a way to judge where I've been and where I'm going.

Part of the silence comes from my several selves, each with their own ineffable and inexplicable mythologies. I exist in several different places, and even more moods, and I have trouble merging. I even wonder if it would do me any good. Inevitably, things come together - when I changed schools I needed to explain my college and debate self to my Austin life to defend the move, and to take stock of how far I had come. Part of my self-aware maturity (see previous post) involves introducing my several selves to each other, of bringing them together to shake hands. I miss the sense of growth, of dynamism that comes from reinvention. At each juncture that offers me the opportunity to explain one life to another, I'm tempted to lie, to avoid committing one living, growing self into the voice of my old, permanent roots. And really, that's what family means: your anchor, the unchanging foundations which make a compelling claim on your identity, no matter how you change.

Being around my family, my habits change. I become meticulous and clean, washing myself and dishes regularly, following up everything with practiced good manners. I acquire a kind of deliberateness that I lack when caught in the moments of my other spheres of life. My body reacts in strange, contradicted ways. Without fail, I go to bed early, and not merely out of boredom. Somehow, I become tired, as if all the stored tension from my day-to-day is released and floods my body. I can never tie down if I'm hungry or not, going from an empty stomach to a bloated hugeness without warning. I feel myself suddenly susceptible to illness, a variety of bodily discomforts spring up to greet me.

I sometimes wonder if they feel a sense of betrayal. "Look at all we've done for you yet you never call..." I expect the recriminations, but they never quite come. Maybe this is one step towards an answer to those pointed, unasked, nagging questions.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A revival?

I knew I had grown up when I began to justify my prejudices as the dispositions of someone with the inherent right to be disposed; when I began to think of myself as a creature of habit, reflecting dimly on my past lives and weaving them into a tapestry I call my ‘formative years.’ I suddenly am someone with a ‘voice,’ someone able to write in ‘I’ sentences. I began to recognize which social situations I worked well in, and which I didn’t, and so scrupulously avoided those that made me ill at ease, and built relationships around those that worked. For the first time, I remember having feelings I no longer feel myself. It’s the art of management, holding carefully to the assurances built on my self analysis.

Maturity includes a regular fascination with the petty, and a self-satisfaction at having accomplished the mundane. my sudden responsibility for coping with forces unseen, larger than myself forces me to consider them as tiny battles, each with a single-serving victory. I begin to delight in making sensible decisions, ones that I could tell my parents and have them give reassuring, approving smiles. If art is the appreciation of the intrinsic, and politics the appreciation of ends and means, my maturity is the collapse of both into each other – the unerring satisfaction in being made into an ends-means, the fascination with life as it has been laid out.

The people that impress me most were those who did the most self-work, who don’t seem to remake them selves with every sentence, but rather read from a script they write and re-write in their tortured privacy. They sought answers and found conclusions, or at least ground firm enough to stand on so that they could launch their next self. I struggle for a point to think from.

I began to think about myself as myself when I left for college, found myself in a world that seemed to function without me, grating up against the easygoing indiscreetness I fostered in the years before. For the first time, I had time to kill, to spend exclusively on thinking about me, and I look back on it now as an awakening, when I found myself, or at least the self I know now. of course, all of this remains shrouded in damp mystery – no matter how much I think and rethink myself, my recollections of my past recollections are irritated by an uncertainty about the way things were, my constant forgetfulness that drives me to write in the first place.

Re-reading what has been written here, I recognize conclusions I still find dear, others since discarded. But many of the foundations remain in place, the trails remained blazed in my mind. I see myself being laid out, and I wonder what went before. Entering a new phase of myself, I wonder what I will remember, years from now. The words I wrote reflected enough of myself back to recognize the impending changes to the point of being able to resist them.

These words, stretching back almost 3 years, armored me to the changes that nearly molded me into the person I am not today, and I have unending appreciation for the path they set me on. For that reason, I want to revive this space.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Why Johnny Can Dissent

Advertising is sowing the seeds of its own destruction. The production of a hipper, more subversive mousetrap-as-commodity doesn’t necessarily signal the downfall of collective, subversive action, nor does it mark the death of dissent as we know it.

Subversiveness through consumption relies on a myth of our past, produced through a nostalgia industry, that internalizes a particular view of the essence of American identity. The commodification of subversion should be seen as part of a cultural environment that similarly commodifies the past as nostalgia and cultural identity. We accept a variety of identity founding myths in the consumption of places like Celebration, Florida (merely an extension of the similarly powerful myth of authentic home-life at the center of most suburban development), as well as in the consumption of tourism, the visual commodification of particular cultures, which we imagine as frozen in time, unaffected by our gaze. Where we believe ourselves to be coming from produces our imagination about where we need to go. There is a movement of puritanical right-wing morality in this country; the catch is that they are just as duped as the lefty-quasi rebels reading Burroughs. Both strategies sustain each other, and should be understood as part of the same media environment

However, the strategy of rebellion eventually produces its own destruction. The effective advertisement of dissent does actually make people want to dissent. Particularly with the development of pastiche techniques as dissent (I wrote about this in the post about Chuck Taylor’s), it encourages consumers to be subversive readers of cultural artifacts: they recognize weaknesses and points of appropriation of images, becoming a strategy of deconstruction. This ultimately manifests in something like the ‘fair trade’ movement, which undermines the commodity fetish structure by explicitly politicizing the means of production in the act of consumption.

This is not to say that the undermining of capital through advertising is necessarily inevitable. The language of dissent in advertising comes steeped in highly-individualistic terms, and collective action most likely is required of substantial social change in terms of the means of production. Also, the politicization of consumption itself needs to come fill circle, from blind consumption, to wary consumption and non-consumption, back to a strategic use of advertising and cultural symbols in commodities to produce social change. By making advertising a total-social-experience – a lifestyle, a steady supply of malleable and highly potent symbols has been placed in the hands of people merely living their everyday lives. No image will ever totally determine how people use it, and the potential for meaning slippage increases as advertising more totally defines our entire lives (the Far Side cartoon “Giorgio Armani at home” applies here). Even as ads come to encompass both assent and dissent, third-ways open at every turn.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

fetish objects

The celebrity souvenir is the document of copresence, the embodiment of a mode of association that animates how we demonstrate authentic connection while simultaneously mediating our relationship with death. Memorials to a person inevitably come to objects of personal worth, objects that spent time on or around someone, more solid than they but slyly imprinted by their transient touch. We seek out objects of our heritage because they embody something that survives, that imprints our identity onto a linage stretching backwards and a future stretching indefinitely forward. The associations we make to specific people through objects derive from the power of being there in communication. We imagine that a more authentic connection comes as we approach each other physically, and owning Elvis’ hotel towels tell us that we have brought ourselves all the closer to some form of communication that defines intimacy. Not only are there less of the memento we seek, but they also signify something like a conversation with the king. Just as email or phones mediate an irreconcilable distance, the mass produced object implies a gap formed by the death of someone we with to memorialize: the objects don’t require the body of the idol and in fact hint at their death in their finitude. It implies a subtle contradiction between the need to embrace the finitude of one person, at one time in a unique connection produced by co-presence. Alongside this there is a need to exceed death by tying memory to a stable object, embodied in a photograph or similar fetish object.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Dreaming ourselves

In many surprising ways, the new age practice of mythic dream interpretation relies on popular modern myths concerning subjectivity and communication. First, the whole processes, particularly that of the use of lucid dreaming as a mode of self-discovery, seems radically committed to the processes of recovering a unified subject from the divisive, fragmenting power of the unconscious. The unconscious reveals that egoistic rationality necessarily fails to describe the whole range of human emotion and psychic activity: more than we care to admit, our thoughts have no basis in abstracted rationality. The process of translation (which I will talk about later) commits dreams and ideas back to a ‘one mind’ with desires, goals and needs understandable in terms of an ego. It recovers the unknown, unreflexive nature of self into an empirical practice

The process of translation reveals its own difficulties and missteps. First, the commitment to determining objective symbols suggests a misplaced faith in human grammar to explain the world. The recovery of the unknown into nouns with qualities and verbs with desires prioritizes a form of knowing composed in the massive process of organizing human relationships on a large scale. The process of producing meaning through a regular means discounts the idiosyncrasies and selectively communicative nature of dreams. The description of the world dream interpretation provides scripts unconscious desire in the garb of a specific language with a specific grammar; in the case of English, this becomes the noun – verb – object form, with a myriad of implications concerning human agency’s relationship to a lived (static?) world. this plays an important role in the appropriation of the unconscious into the conscious world, a process of escaping and losing meaning perhaps best left unsaid.