I can't wait 'til Bernie wins. Can't wait to live in a nation on the brink. I will don the uniform of khaki jodhpurs, heft the sickle, and join my non-Christian, sex-positive, trans-friendly, bi-flexible, ethnically indeterminate brothers and sisters in the ranks of the new national guard -- a million fingers on the iron hand, each guided by one will, all ready to fly with perfect, savage violence at the merest whim of Generalissimus Sanders.
In time, we fly. We serve our function, as a tool must. We fulfill the Will of the People: ecstatic, tireless, tantric stomping, a communal orgy of boots on necks: rich kid necks; executive necks; chiropractor necks; celebrity chef necks. Guy Fieri. Emeril Lagasse.
See the of methedrine-sharp special forces of our Red American Army, the Spetsnaz. Each man and woman -- don't ask, don't tell -- is an aristocrat hunter, the elite of elite. Each wears a humble yarn loop as a lanyard. Many lanyards dangle grotesque badges, worn proudly -- mostly ears, a few noses, stumpy and bloodstained. Some of us are more decorated than others. But we are one force, as a force of nature. We obey one law, as a natural law: Confiscate and Redistribute. Action and reaction. Storm clouds gather; rain falls.
Confiscate: So-called legal tender. Paper money. Commodities. Luxury goods. Needless things. The fetishes of Mammon. A dead mink coat from a professional decadent. An antique wristwatch from an angel investor. Italian frames from a psychiatrist's spectacles. Now public property. Clouds, waiting to break.
Onto my lanyard, I thread three fresh medals.
We take mansions. The man who owns, who dreams he owns, a palatial estate must be shocked back to consciousness. Cuff his hands and feet in the bathtub, turn the tap on as hot as you like, and add, like vegetables to soup stock, a dozen roof rats -- declawed or not, defanged or not, you choose. This is a deep bath -- sauna jets, space for two, decadent, ostentatious. I wish I could equip each rat's forelegs with water wings, tiny and rat-sized.
Rats are gifted swimmers. But I like the thought.
Power to the People. Down with Oligarchs. Kill Whitey.
Sanders / Farrakhan 2016.
I can't wait 'til Bernie wins. Can't wait to live in a nation on the brink. I will don the uniform of khaki jodhpurs, heft the sickle, and join my non-Christian, sex-positive, trans-friendly, bi-flexible, ethnically indeterminate brothers and sisters in the ranks of the new national guard -- a million fingers on the iron hand, each guided by one will, all ready to fly with perfect, savage violence at the merest whim of Generalissimus Sanders.
So the screenwriter of Idiocracy, Etan Cohen (who is not Ethan Coen, though it's an easy mistake to make, and one that led me to believe for many years that one of the Coen brothers wrote episodes of King of the Hill), goes on twitter and he says,
I never expected #idiocracy to become a documentary.— Etan Cohen (@etanjc) February 24, 2016
He says this because Idiocracy is a sci-fi satire about a dystopian future where the President is stupid and everyone else is stupid, too, and he takes this counterfactual situation to parallel our current, actual situation because Donald Trump... and so forth. The tweet then gets picked up by lots of news outlets, who deem it newsworthy, and so it bombards my -- and perhaps your -- various social media feeds.
I would like to float the idea that this thing Etan Cohen said is significantly less clever than it seems to think it is, for at least a couple of reasons.
Let's start pedantic: Idiocracy is still not a documentary. And in fairness, Etan Cohen never actually says it is one, when he reports he never thought it would become one. But plausible deniability aside, I hope we can agree that documentaries are, by definition, about things that already happened. If you make a documentary about the future, you are a goddamn necromancer, or else an innocent Trojan woman gifted with the power of prophecy, but also cursed never to be believed, by the god Apollo, as punishment for refusing to sleep with the god Apollo, which is the actual-mythical story of Cassandra of Troy, whose generally situation is pretty amazingly captured by the FML expression on Frederick Sandys's "Cassandra":
If this quibbling over definitions seems humorlessly literal, recall the words of our late philosopher-laureate, Mitch Hedberg:
the lapidary insight, "Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?" and who once rehearsed in public the timeless folk axiom, "Fool me once, shame on... shame on you. Fool me... You can't get fooled again." (Disclosure: George W. Bush was not a Rhodes Scholar.) This was nearly as stupid as that time, a rough decade before, our whole national consciousness was embroiled in a controversy that centered on a President's penis,
which in turn was about as stupid as the time, another rough decade before, a President went on television and said, "A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not." Ronald Reagan was King Truthiness.
This nation's political thunderdome has survived idiots of every conceivable stripe doing stupid shit in every imaginable flavor and variety. It is either hubris or laziness to imagine that we have reached Peak Idiot. I feel confident in saying this because, for instance, in 1790, a bipartisan committee resolved that any attempt by Congress "to attempt to manumit" slaves, or anyone who might become a slave by importation or birth, was unconstitutional until 1808. They decided that, in other words, not only was slavery legal and constitutional, but that trying to make slavery illegal was unconstitutional. Isn't that just too stupid? In 1910, to take another example, when a black boxer named Jack Johnson beat a white boxer named Jim Jeffries, white people were so angry that they rioted in more than 50 U.S. cities, and killed dozens of black people for some reason that at the time must have seemed to them very compelling.
But maybe the knee-jerk anti-populism that says "we're dumber now than we've ever been before!" is the smart set's apocalypse, the cynical flipside of the grimly optimistic (and, to me, entirely unintelligible) compulsion to
|"Merry Christmas! We own everything!" -the Rockefellers|
For decency's sake, let's not let the stupidity of our current situation, which is ample but not unprecedented, blind us to the truly revolutionary thing about democracy: it makes stupidity -- yours, mine, anybody's -- politically viable, even vital. Here's something Gordon Wood -- to historian Will Hunting mocks that ponytail goober for regurgitating in the Harvard bar -- said, a thing I really quite like, about what Americans realized when they thought about what they had wrought: “If men were all alike, equal in their rights and in their interestedness, then there were no specially qualified gentlemen who stood apart from the whole society with a superior and disinterested perspective. All people were the same: all were ordinary and all were best represented by ordinary people. That was democracy." As if to say, What a wonderful mistake we have made!
Then again, we don't live in a democracy. We live in a republic, where representative leaders are supposed to be chosen from the "natural aristocracy of talent," the common pool of our best and brightest. So maybe we're totally fucked. I dunno. I drank too much coffee for dinner.
Curated by D at 6:16 AM
Responding to Ann Coulter is like what shooting fish in a barrel would be like if fish were immortal and guns had no effect on them: easy but pointless; fun for a second, but ultimately futile. Every inch of her is covered with the criticism-resistant armor of narcissism, Teflon-grade shamelessness, Kevlar-quality self-confidence so unearned as to be unfathomable. She just wrote a terrible article, bizarrely divided into a series of bullet points, about soccer. Now look -- I don't care if people don't like soccer. I don't care if people don't like anything. Unless people don't like the things they don't like in the style of assholes. I don't like Ann Coulter. I don't like her so much it makes me an asshole. She sucks me into this wormhole of loathing where I loathe her so much that it makes me loathe myself. It's like all your bullets ricochet off the impervious fish and caromb around the room before lodging in your own ass.
So, in a sisyphean exercise in trying to get to the bottom of what I don't like about myself for not liking Ann Coulter, here is what I can't stand about this fucking silly Ann Coulter article.
According to Ann Coulter,
- In soccer, the blame is dispersed and almost no one scores anyway. There are no heroes, no losers, no accountability, and no child's fragile self-esteem is bruised.
More importantly, there is -- in point of fact -- an almost lunatic level of individual accountability in soccer, and especially soccer at the international level. Most famously, in 1994, Columbia defender Andrés Escobar was murdered after he scored an own-goal in the World Cup. He accidentally kicked the ball into his team's net, and he was murdered for it. Not only is soccer absolutely chock-full of personal responsibility, it is so chock-full of personal responsibility as to be, all too often, morally indefensible and repugnant.
But Coulter wants more! Way more.
- The prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury is required to count as a sport. Most sports are sublimated warfare. As Lady Thatcher reportedly said after Germany had beaten England in some major soccer game: Don't worry. After all, twice in this century we beat them at their national game.
- Baseball and basketball present a constant threat of personal disgrace. In hockey, there are three or four fights a game — and it's not a stroll on beach to be on ice with a puck flying around at 100 miles per hour. After a football game, ambulances carry off the wounded. After a soccer game, every player gets a ribbon and a juice box.
- Do they even have MVPs in soccer? Everyone just runs up and down the field and, every once in a while, a ball accidentally goes in. That's when we're supposed to go wild. I'm already asleep.
- Diego Marradona
- It's foreign.
- If more "Americans" are watching soccer today, it's only because of the demographic switch effected by Teddy Kennedy's 1965 immigration law. I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer. One can only hope that, in addition to learning English, these new Americans will drop their soccer fetish with time.
- Soccer is like the metric system, which liberals also adore because it's European. Naturally, the metric system emerged from the French Revolution, during the brief intervals when they weren't committing mass murder by guillotine.
Despite being subjected to Chinese-style brainwashing in the public schools to use centimeters and Celsius, ask any American for the temperature, and he'll say something like "70 degrees." Ask how far Boston is from New York City, he'll say it's about 200 miles.
Liberals get angry and tell us that the metric system is more "rational" than the measurements everyone understands. This is ridiculous. An inch is the width of a man's thumb, a foot the length of his foot, a yard the length of his belt. That's easy to visualize. How do you visualize 147.2 centimeters?
Curated by D at 7:30 PM
In some ways the most interesting people to deal with, for me, are the ones whose two most pronounced feelings towards me are, so far as I can tell, disdain and fear.
Hey [redacted]. I'm writing to say that, when the above exchange happened, almost a year ago, I was asking you out because I totally thought you were rad, and also completely adorable. I didn't respond because it made me anxious, because I thought that it was totally sweet and also completely unexpected that you did respond, and frankly I just kind of savored it and didn't want to screw it up. I am writing now to say that -- while I don't think you should ever go out with me, because you are way too pretty for me, and I'm not stupid -- it remains the case that you are totally rad, and every time I see you I'm like, wow, she's awesome and adorable, and also says really interesting things. All I'm trying to do, here, is acknowledge your objective level of radness. Well played, and be well, and good day!
- Her just stone-cold, straight-up ignoring me
- My feelings being hurt
- Me giggling uncontrollably right after it's over
- "I like hamburgers better than I like hotdogs, but today I want a hotdog!"
- "I smell amazing because of clean laundry!"
- "It's such a nice day, it makes me want to fucking blow my brains out!"
- "The Ultimate Warrior died, but he'll live on, in the hearts and minds of millions."
- "Haven't wet the bed in a while, but I can't imagine the last time was the last time."
- "If I had a million dollars in ones, I would make it rain on the Quad."
- "It's hard not to admire Oprah, but what has she really done for people of color?"
- "Artie Lange, R.D. Laing, K.D. Lang -- wow, that's weird."
- "I can eat a whole box of popsicles, but maybe not all in one day."
Curated by D at 12:55 PM
Anthony looks eerily older and more haggard than his classmates as high-schooler Juan Lacas, a murderous and sort of rape-y drug gang kingpin, in the accidentally-franchise-launching film The Substitute (which, unlike The Substitute 2: School's Out, The Substitute 3: Winner Takes All, and The Substitute 4: Failure Is Not An Option, does not star Treat Williams)
Curated by D at 7:37 PM
Curated by D at 5:41 PM
A Lover's Plaint,
The Good Sir Mix-A-Lot
I am given to rotund backsides. I, duty-bound against prevarication by the strictures of honor, trust none amongst my peers-at-court can repudiate the honorarium of tumescent attention he pays when a lady, svelte of belly and plentiful of thigh, strikes his fancy. These gentlemen halt, no matter their endeavors, upon observing this lady's derriere, squeezed pleasingly and with no room to spare, into her pantaloons. For myself -- when in the presence of such damsels, my fixation is almost monomaniacal. I would not only like to engage these peerwomen in sexual congress, but also to capture the image of their orbitual posteriors for obituary posterity.
When my chums, confederates, and confidants note me in this comportment of desire, they attempt to give me pause by prophesying hexes and mongering doom. I, however, am unable to attend to their advertisements as the sapid hindquarters inspire me with a lasciviousness rather difficult to brook.
Oh woman, since it is the case that the flesh of your rump has the look and feel of something soft as felt or suede, I invite you to exploit my attentions and affections for the use of my equipage, for you are not a common whore of the street. You are something more.
I have seen these vaunted women performing saltations; such sights render me inimical to the conventional proprieties of courtship, as when a lady is glistening with perspiration, moist as the morning dew, and in such spirits as a well-bred mustang, high of blood in the mating season.
I find myself fatigued by certain recent popular periodicals, endorsing the position that buttocks of attenuated convexity are attractive. On the contrary, put the question to the representative man of equatorial complexion and, I pledge, his response will be, "The marked convexity of her buttocks is paramount!" So brethren, fellows, is your paramour possessed of adequate hips for birthing? If indeed she is pleasingly shapely, enjoin her to waggle her goodly rump.
M'lady is possessed of haunches!
Her countenance is of a sweet, angelic city; her privity of a land of hardwood trees.
It is to my preference that the anatomical oddities in question be both spherical and bountiful, and whilst engaged in bardic oratory I become enraptured, ravished, ecstatic -- all but deprived of my humanity. But soft, friend, it might be controversial, nay outrageous to opine that it would be desirous to me to retreat with this paragon of femininity to mine own abode and, so to say, make the beast with two backs, if you will.
This truth is not to be had by the blue-books of our time, and not to be found in them. The embellishments undergone by these publications in the pursuit of voluptuary delight instead give the impression of playthings.
What is wanted, on the contrary, is authenticity, density, and a preponderance of moisture. And yet not without danger, for I, the good Sir Mix-A-Lot, am often afflicted with doubt and botheration by these aphrodisiacal lures.
Even as we speak, I turn my attention to musical tableaus preferred by the occidental rabble, and in them see coquettes with thighs so emaciated that their knees percuss in the manner of bone rattles. These coquettes are less to my taste than, for example, the esteemed track-and-field athlete Jackie Joyner--Kersee.
An aside, to the women of corporeal solidity and ethereal mystery: My desire is to fornicate with you. I will neither upbraid you verbally nor abuse you physically, but it is my duty to be forthright, and therefore to tell you my desire is to fornicate with you for many hours, perhaps until the sun rises. You are sexually desirable, and I desire you sexually.
Many philistines will disapprove of my lover's plaint because they fornicate with these women in question but once; I on the other hand, due to my abundance and mesomorphism, am more inclined to create heat through repetitious rubbing of tumid flesh and the slapping of bone on bone for sustained, hedonic duration. If you, fair lady, are possessed of these qualities, demonstrate them outwardly and you will be rewarded with the ululations of even the fairest of youths.
Some men's concubines, in the pursuit of shapeliness, employ the routines of Jane Fonda, and, for the purposes of rhyme, drive popular and economical Japanese automobiles. Yet backside of the former, Ms. Fonda, is bereft of the power afforded by the locomotive engine of the latter, a Honda, and as such, the longing of my serpentine phallus is unprovoked by this undesirable want of curvature. I grant the importance of exercise, and cast no prohibitions upon it as long as it comes in the form of side-bends or sit-ups. However, I enjoin and remonstrate, to perform exercises such as those demonstrated by Ms. Fonda might have the loathsome result of slimming the callipygous fundament in question.
There may even be those diabolical tricksters and madmen who argue that sizable haunches are less valuable than lead run through the alchemist's alembic and, in their phrenzy, part with you as lovers. In a way, I even thank these men -- their castoffs are my treasure, my dread pirate's booty!
Though the aforementioned popular periodicals confuse your copious voluptuousness with corpulence, I cannot agree with this assessment. Your stomach does not protrude, but your hips and breasts protrude mightily, and I want to have sex with you. The overly-linear ladies proffered by these periodicals are not to the taste of the times; rather, a woman who has not been denied a diet high in starches and complex carbohydrates is to the liking of the modern man.
Even some men who prefer these zatfig ladies, as is proper, are nothing but fools and charlatans. Though practiced and successful in the ways of wooing, these mongrels smite their embonpoint maidens with fists. But again, the rakes' refuse is my reward, and even as the unfortunate women nurse their wounds and anoint their bruises, I anxiously approach with the intention of engaging them in prurient caresses.
In conclusion, damsels and peeresses: If your hindquarters are orotund, and you are desirous of engaging with me in lubricious and shocking contretemps, dial 1-900-Mix-A-Lot and divulge to me the perverse and demoniac motive and content of your phantasies.
M'lady is possessed of haunches.
Curated by D at 2:05 AM
In a hysterical Wired UK article about social networking called Your Life Torn Open: Sharing is a trap, Andrew Keen decries the "increasingly ubiquitous social network -- fuelled by our billions of confessional tweets and narcissistic updates -- that is invading the 'sacred precincts' of private and domestic life." He wants us to know that he thinks narcissism is bad, and that exposing strangers and would-be voyeurs to the machinations of our private lives is sacrilege, defilement of the holy ground that makes and keeps us human.
But he also wants us to know what a fucking cultured world-traveler he is, so he begins the article with this: "Every so often, when I'm in Amsterdam, I visit the Rijksmuseum to remind myself about the history of privacy. I go there to gaze at a picture called The Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, which was painted by Jan Vermeer in 1663." See, he's in Amsterdam a lot, but sometimes when he's in Amsterdam -- he'd like us to know -- he goes to "the Rijksmuseum," which, he would further like us to know, he refers to as if he only speaks with people who know what that is. It wouldn't be enough to tell us that this painting exists; he has to set the scene, placing himself front and center, standing with his fist pressed thoughtfully to his chin, contemplating reverently this monument of Great Art. Because Andrew Keen, you understand, is very sophisticated.
The painting, Keen tells us, "is of an unidentified Dutch woman avidly (?) reading a letter. Vermeer's picture, to borrow a phrase from privacy advocates Louis Brandeis and Samuel Warren, is a celebration of the 'sacred precincts of private and domestic life'. It's as if the artist had kept his distance in order to capture the young woman, cocooned in her private world, at her least socially visible." This painting, in which a girl who doesn't know she's being watched is captured in a moment of privacy, is a "celebration" of not invading private spaces. I guess you've got to show a kid what his bathing area is before you can tell him that it's wrong for strangers to touch him there. Painting is one way to do it, but I tend to celebrate this blessed sacredness by watching women towel off while sitting on a tree-limb just outside their bathroom windows.
So Vermeer's painting keeps its distance "in order to capture" this poor woman "cocooned in her private world," which is basically the equivalent of preserving the magic of its transformation into a butterfly by tearing open a chrysalis and freezing a caterpillar with liquid nitrogen. Nothing celebrates what you love quite like killing what you love, embalming its corpse, pinning it to a wall, and inviting any dilettante with enough money to fly into Schiphol International Airport to take a look.
But Andrew Keen isn't just an appreciator of the arts and a champion of privacy -- he's a student of philosophy (and an ogler of corpses) as well. Oh, and he's still a fucking sophisticated, jetsetting, globetrotting playboy, he'd like us very much to know, and he's still strongly opposed to narcissism. "Every so often, when I'm in London, I visit University College to remind myself about the future of privacy. I go there to visit the tomb of the utilitarian social reformer Jeremy Bentham." See, sometimes he's in London -- but he's in London a lot, and only sometimes when he's in London does he vouchsafe his bougie taste and sophistication, and also his intense concern over the issues of the day that will be up to him to diagnose and, if this article is successful, maybe even cure, by communing with the dead body of a man he regards as his ideological enemy. Because, you see, Jeremy Bentham didn't believe in privacy, so it's not at all creepy for Andrew Keen, who says that looking into the private lives of other people is a kind of secular sin, to stand, fist pressed thoughtfully to chin, to gander at the "glass-and-wood mausoleum... from which the philosopher's waxy corpse has been watching over us for the last 150 years." Dead people don't have private lives. You can't rape a corpse.
Keen also demonstrates that I'm not the only writer in the world who can come up with misleading analogies: The compromised "real life" we're left with after the encroachment of omnipresent digital networking "could have been choreographed by Bentham." Moreover, Mark Zuckerberg's idea of "sharing," Keen writes, "could have been invented by Kafka." I like this misleading analogy very much: "Just as Josef K unwittingly shared all his known and unknown information with the authorities, so we are now all sharing our most intimate spiritual, economic and medical information with all the myriad 'free' social-media services, products and platforms." Except for the superficial differences -- like Joseph K being denied jurisprudential due process, being forced to undergo all kinds of meaningless and bizarre rituals that make it all but impossible for him to carry on with the job he hates at a shitty bank, and, in the end, being convicted for an unspecified crime and then stabbed to death by anonymous officials as punishment for this obscure guilt -- I am persuaded. Perhaps Kafka was secretly working on a manuscript he destroyed before his death called The Social Network, in which a number of shallow-yet-clever people search for meaning in their lives, against all odds and in the face of the strangling authority of the Law of the Father.
Keen further doomsays, "Today's digital social network is a trap. Today's cult of the social, peddled by an unholy alliance of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and communitarian idealists, is rooted in a misunderstanding of the human condition. The truth is that we aren't naturally social beings. Instead, as Vermeer reminds us in The Woman in Blue, human happiness is really about being left alone." This, of course, is preposterously stupid, and is based the idea that lasseiz-faire liberty -- "being left alone" -- is the opposite of being "social." If Keen is setting himself in diametrical opposition to the sociality offered by networking, then his ideal of human happiness -- and his idea of the truth of the human condition (!) -- is that we don't want to be watched or touched by anyone. The ideal manifestation of our humanity is solitary confinement, in which prisoners suffer "memory loss to severe anxiety to hallucinations to delusions and, under the severest cases of sensory deprivation, people go crazy" (CNN). This craziness, according to a different psychiatrist, is a "a specific syndrome" due to "inadequate, noxious and/or restricted environmental and social stimulation. In more severe cases, this syndrome is associated with agitation, self-destructive behavior, and overt psychotic disorganization."
The Woman in Blue, we should remember, isn't left alone -- she just doesn't know she's being watched (by Vermeer and by us, voyeurs all). She is reading a letter, and enjoying the social contact that can be created -- miraculously -- in the void left by the absence of loved ones. Social networks, sinister as they can be, also let us feel watched by people we care about; and the feeling of their eyes on us is, not to put too fine a point on it, a reason to go on living. Keen asks, "What if the digital revolution, because of its disregard for the right of individual privacy, becomes a new dark ages? And what if all that is left of individual privacy by the end of the 21st century exists in museums alongside Vermeer's Woman in Blue? Then what?" Then we'll go on living our lives, just like they did in the "dark ages." And when the next renaissance comes, they'll have persecution and crusades, just like they did the last time. And if this is the beginning of the apocalypse, Keen will just be lucky to have blindfoldedly pinned the tale on the ass of the donkey every other fearmonger in history has missed.
Curated by D at 5:19 PM
The prose style of what is known as literary theory -- a hodgepodge of German metaphysics and French gibberish spun out by a loose coterie of gay continental philosophers, post-gendered beard-strokers, half-mad babblers, and the odd full-on hypocrite -- is about as preposterous as a three-legged triceratops gouging with its horns at a whirlwind of duck feathers. (Witness, for instance, Judith Butler's infamous Bad Writing Contest-winning sentence for 1998.)
This style is adopted, argues evolutionist-cum-jester and disliker of theory Richard Dawkins, by "intellectual impostor[s] with nothing to say, but with strong ambitions to succeed in academic life." In a legendary depantsing of theory, reformed hoaxers Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont declare that a work of uncut Theory-with-a-capital-T is lucky to squeak out "a handful of intelligible sentences -- sometimes banal, sometimes erroneous" -- like so many pearls cast before, gobbled up, and shit out by swine. Semifamous (serious) philosopher Thomas Nagel isn't sure which piston drives theory's engine more forcefully: "invincible stupidity," or "the desire to cow the audience with fraudulent displays of theoretical sophistication." In fact, no one seems to be sure whether theory is the work of a dangerous cabal hellbent on undermining the very fabric of intellectual discourse, or a b-squad of Mr. Beans whose ineptitude would almost be charming only they could stop drooling all over their MedicAlert bracelets that warn of allergies to peanuts and lawn-grass.
Indeed, the rage for order shared by these unmaskers -- this desire for words to make sense -- wouldn't be nearly as interesting if the venom wasn't in part meant to conceal the deep anxiety that perhaps there exists an almost-unimaginable third way, somewhere between diabolical evil and developmental disability -- what if this theory stuff isn't total horseshit? What if it's brilliant and I just don't get it?! When it's invoked, this anxiety is brushed aside with a mirthful chortle, as if these hatchetmen were conceding, as an afterthought, "Of course, everybody knows it's true that OJ Simpson is technically innocent, according to the Constitution -- but come on."
Noam Chomsky, who has had Serious Documentaries made about him and is referenced in Good Will Hunting, and whose intellectual credentials are therefore unimpeachable, has offered the most concise example of the confused combination of rage and insecurity, condescension and defensiveness that characterizes any really rollicking anti-theory screed: "No one who says they do understand can explain it to me and I haven't a clue as to how to proceed to overcome my failures. That leaves one of two possibilities: (a) some new advance in intellectual life has been made, perhaps some sudden genetic mutation, which has created a form of 'theory' that is beyond quantum theory, topology, etc., in depth and profundity; or (b) ... I won't spell it out." It's a dazzling rhetorical strategy -- Chomsky plays the wide-eyed naif who is loathe to think an entire international industry of professional writers, thinkers, teachers, and students is... well... it's too horrible even to say!
But if he is capable of scoring from the goalie box, he is also adept at playing offense-as-defense, crossing and striking so as not to be struck. Of seminal theory bigwig Jacques Derrida, Chomsky says, "I found the scholarship appalling, based on pathetic misreading; and the argument, such as it was, failed to come close to the kinds of standards I’ve been familiar with since virtually childhood. Well, maybe I missed something: could be, but suspicions remain." You see? Even as a baby -- or close enough -- Chomsky would have been hip to the con. Derrida's work is appalling. Pathetic. A failure. Unless it's actually really good. Doubt it though.
This dexterous double-doubt -- "is it good or does it suck, and either way, why am I so mad about it?" -- wobbles on the crux of that age-old problem, the problem which is very nearly theory's only subject of concern: Is the meaning of a given statement comprehensible in all its facets and tints, or does some of its significance evade ready comprehension? Put another way, "Does this here word-caterpillar mean something smarter than what it looks like?"
Well, in a half-assed attempt to clear up this confusion, to tear down the language barrier between self-evident Dawkinsian or readily-intelligible Chomskese and the Nonglish of English departments worldwide, I have gone beyond the pale and violated the unspoken pact that binds all of us who make our living, no matter how obliquely, through the incantations and ululations of the unkempt and savage hobo-philosophy known as high theory. I have taken it upon myself to Benedict Arnold the whole theory enterprise by translating select paragraphs by certain theoretical luminaries -- without losing an iota of intended meaning (jk lol) -- into voices that might be less alien to those casual readers repelled by theory's uncircumcised pomp and smooth-shaven circumstance. In so doing I hope to allow self-loathing positivists, pragmatists in the throes of a dark night of the soul, and scientists on their brain-period to accept the brilliance, profundity, and salubrious revolutionary power of theory, as God intended, or to reject it wholesale once and for all, without the self-conscious pussyfooting of men wearing skirts for the first time publicly.
On with the show. First, the abstruse theoreticians in their own words. Next, their words banged and yanked into the everyday speech of unicorns and pegasusi.
- Theodor Adorno, sourpuss: "Cultivated philistines are in the habit of requiring that a work of art 'give' them something. They no longer take umbrage that works are radical, but fall back on the shamelessly modest assertion that they do not understand. This eliminates even opposition, their last negative relationship to truth, and the offending object is smilingly catalogued among its kind, consumer commodities that can be chosen or refused without even having to take responsibility for doing so."
- Theodor Adorno, as translated into an embittered-but-lazy art school traditionalist: "Posers who say they care about art but really don't care about art, man, all they want to do is take, they don't want to give anything back. But they're too stupid, or too scared to be wrong, even to be mad that this gallery is showing poop sculptures and blood paintings. They just stand there looking at some installation, like some mobile made out of used tampons glued to turtle bones, and they're all, 'I don't get it.' They don't even call bullshit. They're just like 'well, that's not really my thing.' That's bullshit, man. They don't even take a stand for anything. That's why the art is dying."
- Giorgio Agamben, crypto-fascist: "Being in force without significance:...What, after all, is the structure of the sovereign ban if not that of a law that is in force but does not signify? Everywhere on earth men live today in the ban of a law and a tradition that are maintained solely as the 'zero point' of their own content, and that include men within them in the form of a pure relation of abandonment. All societies and all cultures today (it does not matter whether they are democratic or totalitarian, conservative or progressive) have entered into a legitmation crisis in which law (we mean by this the entire text of tradition in its regulative form, whether the Jewish Torah or the Islamic Shariah, Christiam dogma or the profane nomos) is in force as the pure 'Nothing of Revelation.' But this is precisely the structure of the sovereign relation, and the nihilism in which we are living is, from this perspective, nothing but the coming to light of this relation as such" (Homo Sacer, 51).
- Giorgio Agamben, as translated into a caricature of an Appalachian wingnut: "The gubmint just do what it want for no good reason. The gubmint always hangin' 'round behind you, but you can't see it, you don't know when it be making you do something and you don't even know it's making you do it. Everybody in the world being run by gubmints, and gubmints don't care none 'bout people -- just suck us dry. Everywhere in the world, Muslims and liberals and fascists and pinkos, all the same. They take away your freedoms. Gubmint's the enemy of the common man. It don't care none. Never did."
- Walter Benjamin, tragic tramp: "What does language communicate? It communicates the mental being corresponding to it. It is fundamental that this mental being communicates itself in language and not through language. Languages, therefore, have no speaker, if this means someone who communicates through these languages. Mental being communicates itself in, not through a language, which means that it is not outwardly identical with linguistic being. Mental being is identical with linguistic being only insofar as it is capable of communication. What is communicable in a mental entity is its linguistic entity. Language therefore communicates the particular linguistic being of things, but their mental being only insofar as this is directly included in their linguistic being, insofar as it is capable of being communicated."
- Walter Benjamin, as translated into a stoned dude who just put down an acoustic guitar at 3 in the morning: "It's like, we think we say stuff with language. But what does language say? What if what language says is itself. Like, do you ever feel like when you say something, it's not like you're talking with language, it's like language is talking with you? Like, what if language is like, this body, and we're all just like little cells in it. No, think about it -- like, sperm is part of us, but at the same time sperm are these little animals in our bodies. What if we're just language's sperm? So like, what we think we mean isn't really what we mean, because like we're just on a mission for language, and we can't see the bigger picture. So like, when we say stuff, we mean what we think we mean, but we also mean, like, way more. Because, like, language means all this other stuff, too."
- Paul de Man, Nazi-sympathizer who Jews sympathized with, fan of irony: "In the study of literature, the question of the self appears in a bewildering network of often contradictory relationships among a plurality of subjects. It appears first of all, as in the Third Critique of Kant, in the act of judgment that takes place in the mind of the reader; it appears next in the apparently intersubjective relationships that are established between the author and the reader; it governs the intentional relationship that exists, within the work, between the constitutive subject and the constituted language; it can be sought, finally, in the relationship that the subject establishes, through the mediation of the work, with itself. From the start, we have at least four possible and distinct types of self: the self that judges, the self that reads, the self that writes, and the self that reads itself. The question of finding the common level on which all these selves meet and thus of establishing the unity of a literary consciousness stands at the beginning of the main methodological difficulties that plague literary studies."
- Paul de Man, as translated into a middle school English teacher so careful to be precise that she almost becomes confusing: "In this class we're all going to put on different hats and go to a lot of faraway lands without leaving our seats! You're all going to have opinions about what you read. But what's funny about reading is, someone else's words are in your head! Think about that -- you're thinking in your head, but you're thinking somebody else's thoughts! That'll tickle your noodle! So we're all going to have to try to figure out what the author was trying to say in his book, and what it means to us. But also, it's important to think of what it the writer thought his book meant. So we're going to have to put on four hats in all. We're going to be reading, and thinking about what we read, and writing about what we think, and even thinking about what we think! Did that blow your mind? Believe you me, it's not easy to wear those hats all at the same time! Have you ever put on four hats and looked at yourself in the mirror? It might be a fashion no-no, but it's an English yes-yes!"
- Jacques Derrida, grand wizard of nonsensical sense: "The two concepts (friend/enemy) consequently intersect and ceaselessly change places. They intertwine, as though they loved each other, all along a spiralled hyperbole: the declared enemy (Blake declares the enemy by ordering him to declare himself: be my enemy), the true enemy, is a better friend than the friend. For the enemy can hate or wage war on me in the name of friendship, for Friendships sake, out of friendship for friendship; if in sum he respects the true name of friendship, he will respect my own name. He will hear what my name should, even if it does not, properly name: the irreplaceable singularity which bears it, and to which the enemy then bears himself and refers. If he hears my order, if he addresses me, me myself, he respects me, at hate's distance, me beyond me, beyond my own consciousness. And if he desires my death, at least he desires it, perhaps, him mine, singularly. The declared friend would not accomplish as much in simply declaring himself a friend while missing out on the name: that which imparts the name both to friendship and to singularity. That which deserves the name."
- Jacques Derrida, as translated into a teenage girl who wants you to think she's more distraught, and more thoughtful, than she really is: "Omigod, sometimes I hate my friends so much. I know it sounds totally stupid but I feel like my enemies are the only people I can trust. It's like, I trust my friends one minute but then they stab me in the back. Ashley is totally acting like we're total BFFs, but ten seconds later she went through my bag while I wasn't looking and she's using my lipgloss again without asking, which is just super disrespectful. It's my property and she doesn't even have the common courtesy to ask if it's ok, and I've already told her not to do it a bajillion times. She totally would ask if we weren't such good friends, so it's like, what good are friends anyway? But like, when Blake told me I was his worst enemy when we were playing badminton in gym, I totally trusted him. I know it sounds retarded or whatever, but it's true. It's like, at least I know where I stand with Blake. I feel like Ashley just hangs out with me because people think she's cool, she does it just to be seen with me, so she doesn't look like such a spazz like she did when she was all fat and had acne last year before I showed her how to put on foundation and not eat three Fruit by the Foots every day at lunch. But Blake like totally hates me and he doesn't even care how it makes him look. It's so honest that sometimes I almost feel like he's, like, in love with me. He doesn't go rooting through my bag and taking my stuff and pretending he didn't think I would be mad. Even if he did, at least he'd just be doing it to piss me off. He'd be thinking of me and not just how everybody thinks he's totally popular because I let him smoke with me in my car during open period. God, Ashley is such a bitch!"
Curated by D at 6:21 AM
It's interesting that people who are intellectually invested in defending evolution and denigrating intelligent design are also, in a strange way, backed into the corner of viewing intelligence as a uniquely human thing, qualitatively different (and more valuable) than whatever animates the other bits of space-junk randomly bumping uglies out there.
The design argument runs that the world has clearly been planned and built with such care that some intelligence must be in control, must have lain the ground rules and must in turn be enforcing them. Nonsense! cry evolutionists. It's perfectly plausible that it was merely a random string of events, and as we all know, on an endless timeline the infinitesimally unlikely becomes all but predestined. It's science, not intelligence! There's no wizard in the sky! The heavens are filled with trudging mechanisms, spasms of inky plasma, stars swallowing other stars and spitting out comets that crash operatically into balls of unimaginable flame in a fit of cannibalistic rapacity even more harrowing for the fact that the universe has no desires. It doesn't want to destroy. It doesn't care either way. It just destroys, because insensate things are fucking cruel. Except not really, because again, they don't give a shit.
It's odd, right? We say that there's no intelligent force governing everything, which in a sneaky way ratifies the idea that there's something fundamentally unique, special, and singular about human intelligence. Our atheism becomes a kind of self-congratulation -- we're special! -- that we're trying to critique in believers. Instead of arguing that there's no such thing as intelligence, or at least that human thought -- and life in general -- isn't qualitatively different than all the other crap that's going on, we implicitly argue that we're the only tiny pocket of intelligence for as far as the eye can see. Creationists argue that there is a god and we are created in his image; we argue that there is no god, because he would have to be created in our image it would just make too much sense and shit would be cool and nice and pleasant to live in when clearly that's not true. I mean, look around, man. Everything is a swirling mass, a primordial blob of who knows what, and we're a privileged enclave whose spasms of thought make us special, if for no other reason than the exquisite awareness of our impeding, collective doom, the fact that someday we will be washed away by the cosmic equivalent of Scrubbing Bubbles, and our recorded history will become a cold, dead monument to nothing. The power of observation will be gone, and with it will go any shred of significance, in any sense of the word.
On the other hand, we take heart by reading BBC Science articles and saying things like, "it's a statistical near-certainty that there are other intelligent life-forms somewhere in the deep reaches of space!" But we belittle people who believe -- based on what they swear is experience but what we insist is misguided faith -- that they've seen, say, a UFO. We have to say we believe wholeheartedly in the fantastically improbable, but we don't believe it cares about us, and to suggest otherwise would be lunacy. Because, again, we're the only thing in our neighborhood with the special skill to care about stuff; and even if we weren't, we're not that interesting anyway. (Narcissistic self-loathing.) If there's anything intelligent out there, it hasn't found us yet, because we haven't found it. And we're kind of the gold standard around here, I don't know if you noticed. We're kind of the only game in town.
Quantum and string theory -- not that I understand the first thing about them or can talk about them without mumbling like a nincompoop -- are fascinating in this respect: By suggesting that, say, the universe is just a tiny bubble in an endless sheet of bubble-wrap with and endless number of other sheets of bubble-wrap above and below it that an insane toddler is taking its sweet time popping, one bubble at a time, we get to imagine all kinds of insane Rube Goldbergish scenarios for the creation of the world.
If our argument, as Free Thinkers and all that shit, is that the universe makes an elegant kind of sense insofar as nearly impossible things become necessary in the long run, does it become logically necessary to suppose that at some point, a three-eyed troll in negligee named Carter Burwell once vomited up a celestial pool of filth, one lonely rising bubble of which was the Big Bang, or a Bigger Big Bang before the Big Bang that contains our Big Bang and a billion like it? And Carter Burwell is, in turn, a quivering quark in a monumental atom of gold so vast it's dense enough to make you cry and valuable enough to cause a war between a Greek in a loincloth and an Egyptian with a weird animal head, which the Egyptian wins because the Greek is crushed from out of nowhere between the thumb and finger of the lunatic toddler?
The forms bigness this big take on are predictably anthropomorphic & anthropocentric. I can't imagine the kind of new, mind-incinerating entities I hope straddle universes, and what kinds of personalities they have, and what kind of complicated things they might do that, if we had a vantage on them, would look strikingly like intelligence, except of a sort so vast that it merks humanity's like '86 Tyson did Marvis Frazier.
So I imagine awesome, slobbering babies and giant titans fighting over shiny stuff I wish I had. But this is optimism. More likely, the universe and the universes around it are cold, dark places lit up periodically with terrifying flashes of rending light none of it matters, in the scheme of things, any more than we do. Which is to say, not at all. Fortunately for us, the antidote to despair is ignoring its causes and acting like we're fucking awesome. We're so fucking smart, it's incredible.
Here's what bothers me about, but also saves me from going insane under the weight of, eternity and infinity -- it's impossible not to think of them as, respectively, A WHOLE BUNCH of time and A WHOLE LOT of space or stuff or whatever. But that's never seemed quite right to me. Eternity and infinity are the same as no time and no space; not just the biggest number you can imagine +1, but the smallest number you can imagine and then it vanishes. Absolute zero. This, to me, is a great consolation. If it turns out we're wrong -- if it turns out there's a smartypants god and he invented everything and the last will be first and the first will be last and the last and the first will be judged by their acts, it's comforting to know that an ever-lasting suffering in a never-ending lake of fire is also a never-starting suffering in a non-existent lake of fire. Hell takes so long that it's over in literally less time than an instant, the smallest division of time imaginable but even shorter; and heaven is so big it can fit in the shoe of one of the army of angels dancing on the head of a pin.
Curated by D at 11:24 PM