Thursday, October 25, 2012

On the Cutting Edge


Theory of Accelerating Change

"The Singularity is technological change so rapid and so profound that it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history"

Ray Kurzweil, Law of Accelerating Returns



"This is where we would make the incision," a doctor says, trying not to scare me.

My heart is pounding out of my chest.

I am five years old, laying down on a cold table with a piece of what feels like butcher paper on it. Cold gel has been oozed onto my chest to soften the touch of rod-like probe being pushed under my ribs by a technician trying not to hurt me.

On the screen I can see my heart beating.

Closing my eyes doesn't help, the image comes with too much sound; and even more, I can feel it. The thing is inside me. I have just been told by the doctor that I have a broken heart. My mother gently rubs my wrist and hand, trying not to show me her anxiety.

"We would cut a small opening in your chest, then cutting here, we would cut out the valve," the doctor continues, "then we would put in the replacement, sew you up and you'd be good from then on out; you just might hear clicking in your chest."

My mother asks on my behalf to explain what he meant by clicking.

"Well, the replacement valve would either be cybernetic, or it would be taken from a pig's heart. Do you like pigs?"

Fifteen minutes later, my mom is walking me down to the car, out of the cardiac section of the hospital. She is telling me that if I keep healthy, such as not gaining too much weight, I may not need heart-surgery. "And," my mother adds, my face buried deep in the arm of her sweater, "if technology keeps on developing, they may be able to repair your heart without requiring you to go under the knife"



It's quiet in our basement on Hawthorn Street, except for the occasional sound of clicking on a clunky early 90's key-board. The computer covers the whole desk and my Dad is very proud of it. We are one of the few families on the block to have a computer like this, it is cutting edge.

I lay on my stomach on the floor a few feet away, I'm around seven years old. The floor is padded by a plastic mat with little bumps on it. All around me are markers and scrap pieces of paper.

"How about a penguin, Dad?" I ask, drawing an indeterminate black and white blob on the sheet in front of me. "Or maybe a phoenix." I add some wings in red.

"Whatever you like," my Dad says, adjusting his glasses and smirking. I'm told I get my smirk from him.

Taking yellow markers I add flames to the body. I am designing the mascot for my Dad's new computer business. He is in the process of developing a program, waiting for space to become available in the office building a few blocks away. The project is very exciting, he is working with some very cutting edge stuff.



"Just feels so impersonal," my mother says as I am helping set up her new work computer in the basement of her new house. "Nurses should be there to sit with people, not just talking to them on the phone."

After a few years as head-nurse at the local community college, my mother is now working for the largest health-insurance company in Illinois, the one with all the government contracts. Her new job, as she explains to me, is to call patients that have recently been to the doctor and go through a script to make sure they understand what was prescribed. If people follow the doctor's instructions, people with numbers and graphs say, fewer will go to the ER and the insurance company will save money.

"On the bright side," I tell her, connecting the printer and popping out from under the desk, "a little time on the computer every day: you'll soon be a tech expert."

She will be. Within a few years, she moves into management and steals away to other insurance companies that are hungry for nurses savvy with computers. Her employers are impressed with her ability to cut through the confusing techo-babel, with what they describe as "a voice that just sounds like a real nurse."



I walk past a wall covered in maps of Chicago, drawn from pictures taken from a satellite floating just on the edge of space. This is my Dad's new office.

They are a navigation technology company, currently designing and programming the data for the website "Map Quest," but they are already starting to look ahead at the days when you can have navigation units hooked into your car.

It's bring your kid to work day at their office, so my Dad is introducing me around. We finish at his cubicle where he hands me a soda and offers me a laptop if I wanted to browse the internet. I tell him there really isn't anything online that interests me. He smirks and goes to work as I pull out a book.

A little bit later I look up, he is typing, and tell him that there is one thing online that I am kind of interested in: my advanced dungeons and dragons group could use some more painted pewter figurines and last time I was able to find some on a new website called "E-Bay."

My Dad gets really excited and pulls up a program on his computer with lots of tabs and message bars, then explains to me that it's a newly developed technology called "Sniper" that allows you to make bids on sites like E-Bay at the very last second before it closes; usually assuring that you can get whatever you want, so long as the price doesn't go beyond what you are willing to pay.

"What if someone else is using this kind of program?" I ask, showing him which box of figurines I want (an assortment of heroes and goblins, you always need lots of monsters for the battle-mat).

"Oh, well then it just depends on what version of the program you are using," he says setting Sniper to purchase the box for me, "obviously the more you spend and the newer the technology, the closer you can cut it."

(This time the program cuts close enough, there wasn't much competition, and a few weeks later I get my Dungeons & Dragons accessories.)



"This is where we would make the incision," a doctor tells me stoically.

I squirm a bit as their finger touches my chest, just under the ribs.

"We would cut a small opening, then lifting up the chest muscle," the doctor continues, "insert the silicone breast forms underneath. Then we'd sew you up and you'd be good for several years; at most you'd feel  soreness or hardening."

Fifteen minutes later I am walking back to my car. On the ride home, I talk to my mom on the phone about how it went. I'm uncertain. Right now I certainly couldn't afford the operation, much less the time off. Also, there is hope that within a few years the silicone technology will improve so you wouldn't have to get replacement surgeries once a decade to make sure they don't burst inside your chest. It will probably happen soon, but I'm not yet ready to go under the knife.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Doing Things with Science: the Uncertainty of Being

"In opening the black box of scientific facts, we knew we would be opening Pandora's box. There is no way to avoid it. It was tightly sealed as long as it remained a two culture no-man's-land, buried among the cabbages and the turnips, blissfully ignored by the humanists. Now that it has been opened....there is only one thing left to do and that is to go even deeper, all the way into the almost-empty box in order to retrieve... hope"

'Do you Believe in Reality? News from the Trenches of the Science Wars" 
Bruno Latour, Pandora's Hope


Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle: 

\sigma_x \sigma_p \ge \frac{\hbar}{2}

"The more precisely the position (momentum) of a particle is given, the less precisely can one say what its momentum (position) is"
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy



I am on the block where I live, around the corner at the comic book shop. Having spent many hours on different days walking the stacks, sitting, and reading, I decided that I should finally buy something there. While I poke my nose into the Astonishing X-Men, the Dark Knight, and issues of Spider-Man with a half-African, half Hispanic, all-American web-slinger, I listen to the ArchAndroid by Janelle Monae: "Sow in the seeds of education/ They run from us, are we that dangerous?/ There's a war in all the streets and yes the freaks must dance or die!"

Then I turn a corner and come to the new comics section, and what do I find? Dr: Manhattan: Before Watchmen, issue 1. I open the comic book in my hands (hadn't Whitman warned me against the dangers of such a thing!), and find myself in the midst of meditation on boxes, science and being:

"Quantum physics says that as long as the box is closed, it could contain anything in any state of existence... the observer affects the observed, at each step creating new universes, new possibilities."

Fifteen minutes later, in this universe, I walk out with Dr. Manhattan and a replacement copy of Neil Gaiman's Sandman #6. In another universe, what comic did I open? What did I find inside? Where do those possibilities go when one of them becomes actual? Where might this uncertainty bring us?



"That sounds like Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle" says my colleague, Patrick Henry, a modernist (forgive him!). "You have particles flying around in a box. You can measure their force or their trajectory, but not both. Measuring them temporarily takes them out of their system."

I am eating my Thai Curry while he is speaking. I had been thinking about Being and Becoming. Must we consider them incompatible? We experience things intermeshed and transforming, but to consider any part other the whole (which we must), we know it as distinct. We must separate, to love our parasite as our self.

"Yes. You cannot measure both: networks or things; beings or becomings; potentials and actualities. You know I was just reading a comic book about that."



"Hello, is Jason available?" "Hello, is Emily available?" "Okay, thanks, I'll call back" "Hello, is Ida there?" A dissonant rhythm plays in the back-room at Obama for America headquarters, Silver Spring. Screens flash with the names, addresses, and age of Virginian's that are still undecided in the upcoming election. Volunteers staff the predictive dialer which connect 35+ human-computer teams together to systematically message disparate areas of our neighboring state.

I sit off by myself, reading Michel Serres's Five Senses, listening for something different than the usual din. It's my job to keep the network running when it breaks down; when human or laptop rebel. Take out a piece, replace it. The individual matters, so does their interchangeability.

"The hubbub spreads across the nested levels of integration that form a black box full of black boxes - molecules, cells, organs, systems - and gradually, over boundaries and through twists and turns, resolves into information"

"M!" I look up. A waving limb in the forest of seated bodies. I walk over. "I've been waiting for a while and haven't connected with anyone." How true. That is why I have been called. I consider her for a moment. I consider the computer. A quick test, a minor alteration. Reconnected. The network resumes. I walk back to my seat. The limb is gone. It's all forest again. All noise. Back to my book.



"Just one more drink," says another colleague. "I know I said that before, but I might actually mean it this time." We are at a bar, pausing our conversation to catch the attention of the attractive waitress that has been providing us with drinks and nachos --- many paradigm shifting books have been produced by such fair.

"What I am saying," I propose, "is that a God need not be omnipotent or omniscient to bring all things into being. It could be the Being primarily sets the stage for becoming to actualize potentials into temporary and mutable beings."

"Sound's like Deism to me"

"Kind of, except you have that Being nested in each thing in creation. It's called process theology. Creation is simultaneously a noun and a verb. Each thing becomes the potential being out of which becoming will transform into another actualized being. That is why agency become important: it requires work." 

Images of Henri Bergson's exploding shells comes to mind, where each one bursts into thousand of potential shells, some of which will be actualized within this reality; but which one remains uncertain. Until the box/shell is opened we will never know. Often enough, we open one to find another directly after, and suspect it is shells all the way down; but just as we get comfortable things change.

The attractive waitress returns, the conversation pauses as we drink in alcohol and pheromones. The topic suddenly turns; the interruption from outside has done its work. Had I time and material to remember it, I might have invoked something I had underlined in my copy of the Democracy of Objects by Levi R Bryant:

"Between the possible oak tree and the actual oak tree there is absolutely no difference beyond the brute fact of existence. If, then, we conflate the potentiality of the acorn with the possibilities of the oak-tree, we are making the claim that the acorn already contains the oak-tree, but in a potential state....

In contrast to... a movement from the possible to the real, the process of actualization is a creative process within substances that requires work. Moreover, the local manifestations produced in the process of actualization is something new and shares no resemblance to the singularities which it actualizes."

As it is, potential drinks multiply into actual, each time diverting the conversation, which twist and turn in its line-of-flight, its accretion on one topic is shaken and another thing comes-to-be from it. It was a lesson in Mixology: mixing requires different things, a lot of force and action, followed by the creation of new things. Imbibe and the process repeats itself.



I am at NASA Headquarters down in Florida, spending a week of 5th grade at Space Camp; when and where I am driven out at night, alongside launch-pads and the most advanced computers of the 1990's and looking up at the stars, being touched and marked by their diminished emanations of light with the thought that buries deep in my memory: I could spend my life looking at those stars.

Simultaneously, elsewhere in time and place, I am sitting at my laptop, down in my apartment buildings lobby, where I get free wifi. This simultaneity is a move that the Humanities does a lot more comfortably. In medieval terms, one shines in my ghostly eye, the other in my outer eye; I see them together in parallax. I am at once moving across the launchpad and at rest in front of a computer, tied together in one of Elizabeth Freeman's "time-knots"

Perhaps this entry was bound to be a knotted winding, eclectic journey, as the only book I posses which has "Heisenberg" in the appendix with a satisfactory number of entries is Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor, a book on Ecology, Social Justice & Liberation Theology by a former central American priest Leonardo Boff (former, having sufficiently ticked off the Vatican -- an admirable goal for any Catholic). There we find Heisenberg's contributions to Quantum Physics nestled right between "Stephan Hawking" and "the Heart of Matter" above it and "Holism" and "the Holographic Principle" directly below. A cursory examination finds Heisenberg invoked most in the section entitled "Co-creators of the Universe."

Having gone through my library, flitting through appendixes and tables-of-contents for key words like "quantum physics" and "uncertainty" or "potential being," and turned up so few that examine the topic in depth, the likelihood of me ordering some more physics books from the library or Amazon is one potential that is looking more and more like an actuality. My library, like my education, will continue to become a queer accretion of medieval, literary, medical, historical, theological, philosophical, political, and scientific expertise.

"When the Sciences and Humanities hold a meeting, one must be willing to admit some strange company," I think as I add my Watchmen comic to my bookshelf.

Call it "synergy" or "interdisciplinary" or "Science studies" for sake of grants or university approval, I call it the chance to follow my feelings and questions where they lead me; harboring the chance to revel alongside Medievals and Medievalists about the transforming skies that perpetually crash into our every day; talking with those that are willing to share in the work and play of wondering about existence and the uncertainty of being; all the while, like at Babel's 2nd Biennial Meeting in Boston this past September where Scientists were invited to share the stage each night with academics from the humanities, working together to create more potentials for us all to be Doing Things with Science.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Revolts in the Linguistic Arts :: Babel // GaGa // Spin


"Revolutionary movements do not spread by contamination but by resonance. Something that is constituted here resonates with the shock wave emitted by something constituted over there...insurrection is not like a plague or a forest fire -
a linear process that spreads from place to place after an initial spark. It rather takes the shape of music, whose focal points, though dispersed in time and space, succeed in imposing the rhythm of their own vibrations...taking on more density"

The Invisible Committee, the Coming Insurrection


Kill the DJ

"Shoot that fucker down"
Green Day, Kill the DJ, Uno!

I've been "Cruising the Ruins" the last couple weeks and thought it'd be a good time to replay some moves that resonate with me. The playlist samples significant tracks that played through (1) the 2nd Biennial Meeting of the BABEL Working Group, (2) J.Jack Halberstam's week of residence at the George Washington University, which included the release of his new book, GaGa Feminism, and (3) the Red & Blue parties' attempts to 'stay on message' in the last month of their Presidential campaigns, seen through my time as a Fellow for Obama for America.

That politics should manifest as sound, here as noise and there as music, perhaps should not be surprising as the Invisible Council argues in their manifesto, The Coming Insurrection. Revolutions do not proceed as a particle or as a wave, but through resonance. Across a wide field, different structures begin to quiver, shake, and break in response to a common frequency. Like nodes of percussive force these vibrations compound as they transform the shape of the field.

For this reason, entities such Babel, GaGa, and Spin politics repeatedly call for us, as Halberstam contends, to "reject the form as well as the content of the messages we receive;" put another way, we must "kill the DJ" that has been "killing you to death" with the same ol' shit that just isn't working for us.

Now, there is an apparent disjuncture between a movement of academics, a movement of pop-culture, and a movement of State politics which I do not intend on masking over with a common sonic theme or a shared moment, but instead I hope to play their trajectories off each other so as to demonstrate how similar politics of noise can be used to mobilize in very different directions.

There is value to observing that in a sense-saturating environment where the message of the powers-that-be become increasingly emphatic & desperate as their offers continue to contain less & cost more, across the socio-political landscape there is a shared chorus of noise. While articulating alternatives for "what comes after," there is at very least a common rhetoric that the falling and failing industry needs to be torn down; the soundtrack of our lives is transforming too quick for the DJ's old and ineffective equipment. Pull the plug and let's make our own noise.



"You've done enough, go start a Ruiners Club. Oh wait, you'd probably ruin it."
"Well, then I'd be doing a pretty good job, because its a Ruiners Club"
Community, NBC, Season 3: Biology 101

Maya Angelou is a wonderful and prolific poet, but for the most part I can usually only remember one thing she ever wrote, "people may not remember exactly what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel." It is a truism that I take seriously in my work, but it does seem more fitting advice for theater, poetry, or music than for academics. That said, what I took away from "Cruising the Ruins," Babel's 2nd Biennial Meeting, is a certain resonating affect.

Or, in another voice, a certain affective mode of resonating in scholarship.

 To clarify: "I define affect without necessary restriction, that is, I include the notion that affect is something not necessarily corporeal and that it potentially engages many bodies at once, rather than (only) being contained as an emotion within a single body. Affect inheres in the capacity to affect and be affected." (Mel Y Chen, Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect)

Like resonance --- sympathy, collaboration and synaesthetics became battle cries and through-lines that played throughout the conference. The collective invited and performed this resonance in the panels, plenary talks, and after-hour activities. Scientists, artists, and academics shared a stage and conversed, as on the first night when Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Lindy Elkins-Tanton pooled their time, so they could sit down and ask each other questions.

The first inquiry out of the stables came from the sciences, asking the humanities: "what question are you trying to answer?" --- a vital thing to wonder, but not one that someone in the humanities would likely ask; we are more interested in developing questions and answers are usually incidental, or valued chiefly for what they opened up. The sciences, through Elkins-Tanton, reflected on its own affective trajectory which unadmittedly bases itself on candid curiosity and emotion which it then has to cover over. The humanities, through Cohen, then admitted that despite "affect" being a very loaded term in the humanities, is usually something that we have to analyze away or justify and so rarely get to revel in. Both took a moment to consider, along with the others in the room, the resonance of this need to over-perform a "getting things done" aesthetic and left ourselves open to alternatives.

As the weekend unfolded, the cruising and ruining continued, and the turn from articulation to noise, a kind of Babel way of moving-speaking was performed as bodies threw themselves into the various invitations opened up at each panel and meeting of the collective. Like the events at a club or a strange meeting, the exact words and cause/effect of things have become a bit clouded over, but in many ways, I can be more reflective on Babel by embracing this messiness.

Thus, another voice echos from notes & impressions paraphrased in my notebook:

Session 1: the Inter-Disapline of of Pedagodgy: "Become curiouser" (Jamie Taylor)
5: Going Postal: "Motion is story. It keeps going. Don't look back" (Emily Russel)
6: Digging the Ruins: "Do we become, enter or mimic texts?" (Shyama Rajendran) 
9: Impure Collaborations: "We are the reason we do what we do" (Collective voice)
14: Ecomaterialism: "I'm overwhelmed by our usefullness to others" (Karl Steel)
16: Synaesthetics: "A drink can teach us more than we hear" (Allan Mitchel)
18: Parts, Wholes, & the New: "I am a biosphere and meeting place" (Deirdre Joy)
24: Wild Fermentation: "Conferences are a kind of drinking game" (Presiders)

Instead of speaking in one voice or continuing to build our ivory tower to the heavens, we in Babel have come to revel in playing in, living with, and working on the ruins, letting the confused sound of many voices speaking resonate through stones, air, waters, abysses, fire-sides, icy-caverns, &  post/human  bodies.

Thus, I find more voices echo impulses & manifestos, Babbling in my body:

"We can create our own work / live in our imagination / be things that don't exist yet / leave things behind / believe in things and hold them close / fuck job titles / reject premises / birth worlds / use other measurements / dress cute / value differently / laugh, a lot / drink too / talk to penguins / get hurt / ignore the dooms-dayers and whiners / hope / revel in poverty / be an academic from anywhere, including outside the academy / pay prices / commune with rejects / live & die & transform with glory and love / smallness = preciousness / fail, fail again, fail better / bring the sciences and the humanities into each other / make scholarship personal / make scholarship friend-oriented / make (nonhuman) friends."

In yet another voice, Babel and the conference carries with it the echos of not only affects, invitations, and sounds but the notes and person of Eileen Joy; who, more than ordering and carrying the amplified density for this kind of revolt into the world, took the courageous step to make the ruins and noise personal so that we come to meet it personally and receive the gift of presence that we might too feel and resonate together. An echo of thanks for all those things that opened up, carried on, and added their own density to the collective din of academics working at play.

Refrain: Babbling isn't giving up the tower, but loving it enough to play in its ruins.




"The markers of this new form of politics, in addition to the lack of a clear agenda or list of demands and the strong presence of a clear belief in the rightness of the cause, display an unusual mix of whimsy and fierce purposefulness, ludic improvisation and staying power, passive resistance and loud refusals."
J. Jack Halberstam, "GaGa Manifesto", GaGa Feminism 

On day one of Jack Halburstam's residency at the George Washington University (GWU), the release of his book GaGa Feminism, he admitted to only ever having heard a handful Lady GaGa songs. Going Gaga, for him, is about so much more than Lady GaGa or her music; in fact, GaGa, as a person, Halberstam contends, may be least "gaga" in her music. It is about marking a moment and a movement in politics which we can witness and participate in.

Going GaGa is, however, about aesthetics, just as much as activism. "Reject not only the content, but the form of the message" Jack concluded on his last day at GWU, with his talk, Going GaGa: Anarchism, Noise, and the Wild. It runs through Punk, the screams of women, Yoko Ono, drag queens, Queen, David Bowie, Lady Starlight, Grace Jones, Emma Goldman, Shulamith Firestone, Marina Abramovic, Ari Up, the Slits, and Poly Styrene of X-Ray Specs. Through "lively objects" and embodiments that retreat and refuse human understanding, we can not only survive the collapse of social-institutions but thrive in the confusion of their fall.

"To go gaga" Hablerstam clarifies, "is to be loud in a world of silent collaborators, to be crazy in a room full of nice and normal people, to be unpredictable in a world of highly structured systems of meaning" (J. Jack Halberstam, GaGa Feminism ). 

As a way of resisting institutions or surviving them, going gaga is a great way of affirming modes of being in the world that are coded as unreadable by the system. Halberstam pushes this further, however, and sees this method of becoming-noise as a way of becoming-weapon; instruments of war that can overthrow not only the established order but the very society that would have such order.

"I am using my GaGa Manifesto" declares Halberstam, "to push us further into the crisis, into the eye of the hurricane, deep into the heart of nonesense... In a crisis, in this crisis, don't remain calm, get agitated and add to the chaos...Do not remain calm, do not look for the nearest exit, do not stick your head into the sand; do agitate, do make things worse, do run screaming through the street, and do refuse to return to business as usual" (J. Jack Halberstam, "GaGa Manifesto").

At this point, I must question GaGa-ism further: While certainly we continue to transform and transform (you might say "queer") society and a complex of institutions, and will do well to use noise and use our opponent's own energy against them, I worry whether a full rejection of articulation is possible or desirable.

I feel Halberstam's articulation of GaGa works best to open up alternative modes which participate in chaos but do not live there (indeed can anyone?) His examples likewise speak against the anarchist utopia, which he denies positive existence but which such a project is hard to extricate from its promise. One such example, which I dwelt on, was the gesture to the Occupy Movement, as a way of going gaga by not following the prepared script of protest: "They don't want to present a manifesto, they actually are themselves the manifestation of discontent. The 99 percenters simply show up, take up space, make noise, witness" (J. Jack Halberstam, "GaGa Manifesto"). 

However, in this too we have seen compromised and utilized by different States both to tear down unions and justify the use of extraordinary measures. Will noise and has noise already become a kind of code? This is all well for those that can survive without such organized community support? Can you avoid announcing anarchy without consistently using the tools of the State?

Likewise, the choice of Lady Gaga as a symbolic anchor for the argument I feel functions better than Halberstam may credit it. While certainly the title track and video "Born this Way," plays into a horribly problematic neo-liberal fantasy of fixed identities which just need to be made visible and integrated, but GaGa hits and misses. In her music also, GaGa is still playing with what it means to go gaga and be filled schizophrenically with revolting noise:

"I’m a bitch, I’m a loser, baby, maybe I should quit.
I’m a jerk, wish I had the money, but I can’t find work.
I’m a brat, I’m a selfish punk, I really should be smacked....
I’m a twit, degenerate young rebel and I’m proud of it.
Pump your fist if you would rather mess up than put up with this.
I’m a nerd, I chew gum and smoke in your face, I’m absurd"
Lady Gaga, Bad Kids

If Going GaGa means a continual refusal of the "the new normal" or "the return to normal" then we can  see the appearance of a GaGa Feminism in society as evidence that queer politics of noise has become a visible and formidable agent. For this reason I am all the more wary because this refusal, this embrace of noise, can be as much a weapon of the State as the new normal; there are moments that the tea-parties and the occupiers appear as hideous mirrors of each other in creating the political dissonance I will now explore: Spin.



"Kill the party with me and never go home"
the True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, MCR

Over the last few weeks, I have been working as an Organizing Fellow on the Silver Spring, Maryland team of Obama for America. Personally, I was expecting to be further disenchanted by politics as a result, but the journey so far has surprisingly left me about where I began. Like going for a walk around the block, you get to see things from different angles, becoming affirmed in many suspicions and some hopes, even if you don't travel too far. Most people I talk to in the organization and outside it (in all stripes and colors of political affiliation) are playing very similar music, being disoriented by and taking advantage of the same noise: Spin.

Now, one of my most favorite phrases and maneuvers comes from the television drama, the West Wing, which is "reject the premise of the question." Determining the premise at hand is for me what the game of politics, especially State politics, become about winning; i.e. it is not about winning any specific contest or wit or policy which is presented to the public, because it is either readily apparent (baring unexpected events) which side will win on a given test, but rather it is about getting your choice of contest made the dominant discussion.

If Red is good at chess. If Blue is good at checkers. Red does not want to play checkers, because he will probably lose. Blue does not want to play chess because he will probably lose. Both will try to get the other to play his game, and whoever can win that fight will have already won the game. Likewise, neither want to play scrabble, which each are equally good at or boggle which neither have played before; they don't want there to be an actual contest or chance of losing.

How do you go about refusing to play one game and baiting the other into play your game? National politics has many moves, but the one that interests me here is Spin. Spin, as its name suggests, is not just about giving  things a new direction but also about making people dizzy. Spin is 70% confusion and 30% collusion.

"I can't hear a thing on the radio, I can't see a thing in the video, in stereo, in this static age" sings Green Day in the last album, 21st Century Breakdown. Most of political spin is about over-saturating the media with nonsense, so as to misdirect the public away from X issue. If the Blue team is getting cornered on an unfavorable topic, send the vice-presidential candidate out there to make some ridiculous gaft to change the story of the week, if not the story of the day.

This is not to claim that the public and the media are not suspicious to this sleight of hand (all though they are often intentionally or unintentionally complacent), but they do buy into it if it gives them a good show. The best spin is not about suspending disbelief but about getting people to want to believe, and this again is best done by not being too specific or straight forward.

These are the psycho-social "spheres" we create for ourselves, argues Peter Sloterdijk in his recently translated work, Bubbles: Spheres Volume 1. This book has been a companion of mine over the last several "dry-runs" for election day, and while I am disturbed by the progressive, dualistic, modern-brand of humanism, it resonates strongly with much of the noise and rhetoric I hear on the campaign trail. "People no longer want to receive ;their inspired ideas from some embarrassing heavens; they are supposed to come from the no man's land of ownerless, precise thoughts. Through their lack of a sender, they permit the free use of the gift. The inspired idea that delivers something for you remains a discreet visitor at the door" (Sloterdijk, 31). People want to be able to claim their gifts as their own, as a gift without a sender, and those that want to direct them are willing to disappear into the noise, so long as the chain of gift-giving keeps on moving.

Indeed getting people to "buy in" to the spin and join in the noise making is key to rallying the public. At a certain point ideas will appear as originating in them which has been delicately planted and workers will continue down a program of dissonance out of a desire to see their investments through "to the end," and double down on their investments as a result. The move is to move more and more into a shared "we" identity.  "We are what we are, without separations...this space of happiness, this vibration, this animated echo chamber. We live as intertwined beings in the land of We" (Sloterdijk,  51)

Volunteer organizations depend on this sort of rhetoric, continually trying to escalate the involvement of a participant; securing their agreement to return to help before they finish their current work. Paid jobs, especially those with stock options, work on the same principle of getting the workers to invest in the company, remain loyal and thus seek its best interest out of a bonded self-interest. Compounded by several different intertwined organizations (the State, jobs, healthcare, insurance, bankers, autoworkers) and we become so overwhelmed by the noise of their combined investments that we surrender ourselves to them out of habit -- feeling no sense of escape. "Where are we going? Always home" (Sloterdijk, 56).

Political ideology, once it has disoriented us through its noise and spin, pushing us to the point of desperation, offer us a way of escaping into a sense of order. Indeed, the disorientation and the reorientation are all apart of the same act. This is not to say that we ever return to the same world or State/state that we left behind. No, the game of spin is not to keep things the same but to keep things running.

This is not to say that politicians are always dishonest, but that spin politics depends on us never arriving at what we want, and making that desire, motion, and investment (as well as the noise which produces and operates it) the self-sustaining source of our drive. "Every social form has its own world house....under which human beings first of all gather, understand themselves, defend themselves, grow and dissolve boundaries. The hordes, tribes and peoples and the empires all the more... are forced to place above themselves, by their typical means, their own semiotic heavens from which character forming collective inspirations can flow to them..."Through their gods, their stories, and their arts, they supply themselves with the breath --- and thus the stimuli --- to make them possible" (Sloterdijk, 59).

What the psycho-social calls desire and fantasy, I have here analogized with noise and spin. I do so to demonstrate not only how revolts or the inarticulate in the linguistic arts are not only weapons to fight the State but weapons the State has been using for some time to perpetuate itself. To say that in noise we might live is a bit utopian, we already live in noise; we have no where else to run.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Greyed Rainbow: Shade v Color for Anxious-Depressives

Greyed Rainbow, Art Institute of Chicago, by Jackson Pollock

For the anxious-depressive, sad is not a bad way to feel;
sad has color, as opposed to feeling all shade.


I. The Internal Logic of Grey

"How'd I ever end up here?
A latent strain of color blindness"

This post does not aim to be correct, merely useful.

Anxiety-depression is a spectrum, a constant tension, and its shade is Grey. It is a middle. One could theorize whiteness on one pole and darkness on the other, but very few, fortunately, ever arrive there.

I feel more confident in using the problematic language of grey, white and black, because in this case whiteness is not akin to purity or goodness, blackness to absence, and grey is not a nice medium between them.

Greyness is where all the suffering happens. True, at times anxiety kicks in with intense panic attacks, hyper-ventilating, irritability, the desire to punch something or get punched (anything to make things stop or else to get moving again); but this does not mean that depression is absent. You can feel sluggish, a lack of motivation, detached, repulsion to things and activities that you used to find vivifying --- while you are also panicking. It also works the other way around. Lighter grey pushes your heart rate to a breaking point and dark grey it has lowered to a zombie like rhythm. Mid-grey, well, that's just equal parts panic and despair, but neither need be lessened by any degree.

Lightness is a star nearing super-nova and it shines day and night for the anxious-depressive. It is not suffering, but light that will pull you to pieces. For those that look at it, it is one logical end point for all things; a giant-heat-death. Its gravity asserts such a telos that every feeling, every calculation, every scenario taken to its rational conclusion brings all things beyond this horizon, where they will fall off the earth and into the sun. Those that fear it, fear what the desperation would drive them to do and become.

Darkness is the black-hole and it is at the center of everything, every galaxy of meaning orbits it. It is not suffering, but an abyss that opens wide, and in the deepest deep, a deeper deep threats to consume it. Darkness is fractal as lightness is piercing. Its gravity asserts a chaos that twarts all plans, every joy and every sadness, unmasks (or remasks) all things with an identical face: a face without a face, a hallow face, an empty mask --- not blank, but empty. Those that fear it, fear what they would be willing to give up (on).

Anxiety/Depression operates on terms of shade and promises to grey every rainbow, to pull all thoughts and feelings into its dim regime. As a chronic illness, it is constantly active, in the background if not in the foreground, so that even when one feels in terms of color, they always exhibit some shade as well.



II. The Shade Wheel

"This is the definition of a pointless conversation"
Big Bang Theory

One does not argue with an anxious-depressive, nor does one fix, cure, or correct.

As a chronic condition, anxious-depression is a manner of living, a form of embodiment, whose symptoms can at best be managed. It goes on when no one else is aware of it, even when the anxious-depressive isn't aware of it. In some ways, when symptoms get so bad so as to become noticeable, this can be a good thing, as it usually reveals that it has been going on for a while and if addressed would reduce a lot of other suffering.

I say you can't argue with an anxious-depressive, not because they are always and universally correct, but because it has its own system of logic, it can translate all things into itself so as to display the world in such a way as to ensure the same extreme poles of death by light and darkness, and the same insufferable middle, no matter how you think you should be able to win according to your own logic. Anxiety/depression cheats. It cheats by not playing your game. It convinces you to play its game and you lose. When you won't play, you lose. Yeah, it's a jerk.

In past posts, I have gestured to the usefulness of GK Chesterton's circular model of logic, and it works especially well here. Logic, with its mode of operation (the curve) is perfect in its roundness. Its assumptions are justified by its conclusions, they all come back around. And the circle, as far as it is concerned, is complete. It is also empty. On the inside it sees a void and on the outside it sees nothing.

Chesterton's suggestion on dealing with such cheating logicians is to interrupt them --- make it so their curve can not come back around but must swerve, make it so their logic can't go anywhere by using non-logical arguments. I like penguins. People ask me why I like penguins, but the reason I like them most is that I don't have a reason. They are penguins, what's not to like? Penguin becomes a reason, by its total lack of reason.

In other words, doing things not because they are good for you, heal you, correct you, are productive, or will get out of your depression, but just for their own sake can help bring color back to the life of the anxious-depressive. Find activities that resist attempts to give them a purpose or a reason, so they can't possibly fail. Find things that affect how you feel without having any "right" way to feel about them.


III. Surprised by Color

"Color me lavender. Lavender means impressed"

The other option, is to give the anxious-depressive a lot to feel, explode the shade (now very much like the dim occupant of Hades) with enough color to make even if the slightest splash stand out amid the brightest and darkest days.

The counter-intuitive thing may be that exactly what emotion is used matters less than you might think.

Sadness has a color, as I said, and it is important to know that sadness is not like depression at all -- although they may appear to be like one another externally. Sadness has hues, dangers, even the memory of joys or hopes lost. Depression cancels out all possibility that joy or hope had ever existed, or the chance that they might ever exist.

Anger too has a color, although it is often confused with anxiety. Anger comes from hurt, fear, again the pain and memory of lost joy, comfort, or hope. It rages against injustice, so that even if its means of vengeance swallow up any initial goals of vindication, it at least acknowledges the theoretical existence of peace; it must in order to disrupt it. Anxiety forecloses all possibility of a good end or enjoyment in the process. Whereas anger has the danger of making the end the servant of the means, anxiety makes the means an extension of the end, so that as bad as things are, they will only ever get worse and worse.

The tricky thing is that you can't let the anxiety/depression know what you trying to do. It suspects all tricks and paranoidly prepares a million escape routes from joy.

You need to surprise anxiety-depression. Surprise is the hope for the hopeless. You can't count on it, it is an impossibility in the mind of the anxious-depressive, because shade has no sense of what color can do.

Thus don't argue with anxiety-depression (and at times the condition can become more the identity/occupant of the thing you are talking to than the person it usually is), but keep it around long enough for the impossible to happen; for the unexpected visitor to show up. Break into the laws of its universe with a miracle which it could not ask for but desperately needs. 

To fight the overly Christological rhetoric, this may been seen less as a final salvation than as an exodus from a kind of bondage. The road is not over, hardly, for ahead there is a desert and many trials and future sufferings. They may never make it to a promised land, but the difference will be, that they may again begin to imagine promises as possible and meaningful. 

Such an escape from the cycle of the extreme symptoms of anxiety/depression is not a transcendence of the bodily condition, but a pluralizing of it. What we are doing is allowing for other possible lives, potentially more livable lives, to be created alongside anxiety/depression. The grey is still there, but it becomes less compulsive in its solitude and on its effects/foreclosures on other modes of being. We are helping them paint (again) with color and not only shade.

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