Infinite Blacktop

“I’m not,” I said. “I’m fucking up everything. Everything I’ve done has been a mistake.”
“Yes,” Ann said. “Probably. That’s what it means to be a person. It means you make horrible decisions, and you fuck everything up. It means you love people, and they leave. It means sometimes no one loves you at all. That’s the state of like 90 percent of humanity at any given moment. You don’t need to make a religion out of it. You don’t need to memorialize everything that hurts. Everything changes, and half of finding peace in life is to stop resisting it. Someone who loved you yesterday doesn’t love you today. Someone you loved is gone now.”
“I can’t,” I said. “I can’t go through this again.”
“You can,” Ann said. “You can and you will. You’re tough. It’s not like you’re going to curl up and fade away. You’re going to be here either way. But you have to decide to try. To try just a little. To be a little open to something good again.”
She could tell by my face I was not encouraged. Maybe she could also tell that I didn’t do well with subtleties. She tried again: “When your heart is broken,” she said, “you can cling to your old, ugly, broken heart, and let it make you ugly. Or you can let that broken heart fall away and die, and let something new and beautiful be born. Your heart will break again, and nothing will change that. The only variable is if you’re going to enjoy life, at least a little, between the broken hearts.”
She put one hand on my face. Her hands were dry and calloused and strong. Touching another human being immediately made me feel like I was fucking something up. If I and another person were getting close, it was a sure bet that even as it was happening, I was ruining it.
“Let this make you beautiful,” Ann said. “Just a little bit. Just one little inch of you. The rest of you can stay ugly and mean and bitter. Someone loved you. She was your friend. You miss her. Let her make one little piece of your heart beautiful.”
I told her I didn’t think I could do that. She said she thought I could, and I would. I promised to keep her secrets. She believed me.
I left, and began the five-day drive back to Los Angeles.

from Sara Gran The Infinite Blacktop

Desert

Think of how the desert gets turned into metaphor in postmodern rhetoric where it functions as the place of origins, endings and hard truths: the place at the end of the world where all meanings and values blow away; the place without landmarks that can never be mapped; the place where nothing grows and nobody stays put. Radically different desert cultural traditions, precise indigenous knowledges about particular wilderness ecologies get subsumed beneath the definite article — the desert as globalized prediction of what, it’s being implied, is really waiting for us out there in the future (275).

Dick Hebdige “Training Some Thoughts on the Future”

Dancing the Flu

My body surrenders to the nightmare dance.
I dance the dance of the grannies’ expulsion. I dance the dance of Chang and Eng at their mythic launch. A rocket blasts skyward in my mind’s eye.
“Stop,” I croak. “I don’t want to see.”
I dance the dance of nuclear fission, of oil, of coal, of wood and straw. I dance for wheels and automobiles, when they were like living creatures drunk on the rotted bodies of species long dead. I dance for the tiger flu, for Ebola, for AIDS, smallpox, measles, tuberculosis, Black Plague, and death. I dance for stem cells, devilled eggs, cloning, and mutation. All the long path of chance and science, money and murder that Old Glorybind taught me was my messy legacy. Although I can’t say I understand it, I know its songs, its oranges and lemons, its ring around the rosy. My body knows something that my mind can’t refuse.

from Larissa Lai The Tiger Flu

Fear

“I’ve built true-to-life computer models capturing how fear works in people and how it spreads through human societies. The best advice these models have to offer right now is that we need to think about the novel coronavirus as four separate epidemics: In addition to the Covid-19, itself, we are also in epidemics of fear about the virus, fear about the economy, and likely soon, fear about a new vaccine. All four contagions are closely intertwined and will interact to amplify each other in complex ways.”

Joshua M. Epstein “Now, America Needs to Prepare for a Fear Contagion. Can We Handle It”

Music of the Future

Motus is more (to me) than just music made with analogue synthesizers, it is about attitude, a way of relating to sound and the (e)motion it affects. A lifestyle, where movement, being moved and moving become one. My practice is vibrational, about the skin, touch and surfaces and the gaseous medium in between. I dream of a dance floor where Motus would be enjoyed. What kind of world, or rather, what kind of society would allow that? And when? Is this futuristic? A situation-to-come, where the understanding of music expands greatly, when blissful moments are independent of simple melodies, where harmony appears beyond I-V-vi-IV chord progressions, when the techniques of social alienation, which determine the use of all the drugs that accompany recreational music, are reversed into creative tools of exploration. Motus is part of this exploration: to find dance, free of clock, and groove, free of rhythm. There is pulsation, and the downbeat connects to the downward beings as in stones and minerals, the upbeat connects to the upward beings as in grasses, flowers, trees and stars. Binding both together, connecting sky and earth, is the dancer. The moves / the movement is pure. It is the kiss of spirit and matter” (Thomas Köner).

A gorgeous, moving, powerful post

“The more I write, the more I know the perils of transcribing media onto one’s own life and morals. I also know the power of claiming stories as our own, to tell anew, to rewrite, to build beyond, or even just as a marker that we are not alone. All the things I consumed in 2019 could not quite envision themselves beyond the capitalism they were produced in. But they did point to a new self, refusing to linger in doubt and let empty tradition linger. I want old things to die, so new things can grow. I want the idle parts of me to die, because to live is to disrupt. So let’s break shit, wear dresses, and plant flowers. Here’s to 2020.”

Living Among the Dying—2019 in Review

The underland keeps its secrets well. Only in the last twenty years have ecologists succeeded in tracing the fungal networks that lace woodland soil, joining individual trees into intercommunicating forests – as fungi have been doing for hundreds of millions of years. In China’s Chongqing province, a cave network explored in 2013 was found to possess its own weather system: ladders of stacked mist that build in a huge central hall, cold fog that drifts in giant cloud chambers far from the reach of the sun. A thousand feet underground in northern Italy, I abseiled into an immense rotunda of stone, cut by a buried river and filled with dunes of black sand. Traversing those dunes on foot was like trudging through a windless desert on a lightless planet.

from Robert Macfarlane Underland: A Deep Time Journey

Lords of the Cosmos

“Coyotes walk across the uptown plazas at 3 a.m., lords of the cosmos.” Sublime.
Kim Stanley Robinson New York 2140 

Steppenwolf

Solitude is independence. It had been my wish and with the years I had attained it. It was cold. Oh, cold enough! But it was also still, wonderfully still and vast like the cold stillness of space in which the stars revolve.
― Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf

“At his best, Wallace wrote about how impossible it was to truly know or connect with others in any kind of important or authentic way, despite our wired-in yearning to do so; how solipsism and anxiety and an addiction to the pleasures and artifice of modern American culture—with its fragmentary focus, narcissistic impulses, and worship of soul-numbing devices and mindless entertainments—had rendered us obscenely disconnected from one another, and ourselves, and fundamentally unable to connect with the truly important things that might actually save or sustain us. Yet he also realized how almost impossibly difficult it was to step outside of all of that seductive American noise, and found himself just as seduced as any of us (if not more so) by this cultural barrage of base, empty, momentary pleasures. It was a dilemma he returned to time and again, in both his fiction and his non-fiction: how to connect and empathize with others, how to lead a decent life that made any kind of sense or tasted real in the face of endless distractions and false gods. If he ever was anything like “the voice of a generation”, it was largely because he was able to diagnose, in painstaking detail (complete with footnotes), the central maladies and malaise of our modern times and the deep loneliness at its core—a loneliness we had hoped education or income or intoxication or entertainment might cure, only to realize that these things were just more empty calories, serving to dig the hole ever deeper.”

Chad Perman, “On the Road”

A sequence

The big turning point came when I was nineteen. And that was a really serious matter. I woke up one day and I looked around at the world. And I said, Causality does not exist. It’s an illusion. And I talked with a guy who was in the philosophy department. I said, “I suddenly realized it was all an illusion. Because, an effect follows something, B follows A, we think A caused B. But actually it just follows it. It’s a sequence. A sequence like a sequence of integers. They’re not connected.” — Philip K. Dick The Last Interview and Other Conversations.

The Mojave Desert is not a landscape loved by normal people . . .

The Mojave Desert is not a landscape loved by normal people. The saying is that the people who come here are either on a quest or on the run. I suppose we are no exception, although I’m not sure where we fit into that taxonomy. (“It’s not a binary, it’s a spectrum,” offers P. as he looks up from his book on the history of Death Valley borax mines.) Sex offenders, world-class herpetologists, tweakers, self-appointed mystics, doomsday preppers, retirees with woodshops and VFW membership cards, geologists, three Whitney Biennial artists, and now an intrepid fleet of urbanites (transplants I like to grumble about despite—or perhaps because—I am self-consciously and self-loathingly of that ilk). People who, for various reasons, seek out a certain basic animal solitude.

No fortunes have ever been made in this corner of the Mojave, which is part of its appeal. There’s a certain assurance in guaranteed penury, in knowing that any aspirations or ambitions are by default going to have to be spiritual or physical because you can’t make any money here. Which is why vegans and celibates and Buddhists do well out here; they already possess the disciplined constitution for lack. Society’s expats in collusion with the landscape. (The rest is here.)

New Asia

When I lay down beside you, you rolled against me, waking, on your breath all the electric night of a new Asia, the future rising in you like a bright fluid, washing me of everything but the moment. That was your magic, that you lived outside of history, all now. (William Gibson “New Rose Hotel”)

Erik Davis on California

California is remarkably resilient. I remain cautiously optimistic that the state will find some inventive and not entirely sucky ways to remake and reimagine itself once again, in the face of white decline, an income chasm, a 21st-century drought, and the brilliant idiocy of hyperactive technology. I also remain reliably irritated by the propensity of East Coast and European thinkers to reduce the cultural and metaphysical complexities of the state to some purported “California ideology.” While the Bay Area’s commingling of hippie libertarianism with hardcore corporate capitalism is indeed a peculiar and in many ways noxious brew, the tag is crude and parochial, a tired iteration of Old World superiority, and one that serves to cloak and deny the countless ways that California has been — and, to some degree, continues to be — a site of creative struggle, recombinant culture, embodied exploration, and social invention. I met Richard Barbrook shortly after he co-coined the phrase in the 1990s. He was a nice enough bloke, and I can’t begrudge anyone I share a spliff with, but when I told him I lived in San Francisco, he asked how I could stand living so far from civilization.

The rest of the brilliant interview here.

Julia and Roland

While trawling the interwebs for more Mass Effect material, in one of DeviantArt accounts, I have found this image. It first came up as a thumbnail with the title. Looking at it, I automatically assumed that this was going to be a little cross-fandom homage to Blade Runner‘s “Do you like our owl?” scene. Rachel/Mirand facing Deckard/Shepard off-screen is a tip-off, but, of course, it’s the diagonal slashes of sunlight (although here on the opposite side of the room) that made me certain this had to be a visual quote from Scott. Alas, it is not and “Do you like” is about a new top. Kristeva’s and Barthes’ intertextuality at its best.

For Chelsea Manning

In his letter to the jailed whistleblower Chelsea Manning on her 27 birthday, Alan Moore writes (the rest of his letter and many others here):

Dear Chelsea,

You don’t know me. My name’s Alan Moore and I’m an occult charlatan and writer living in Northampton, England’s furthest inland point. It isn’t what you’d necessarily refer to as a pretty town, but through my window here the slice of it that I can see is looking good this afternoon. The sky is freeze-dried to a perfect powder blue, and the low winter sun ignites the brickwork of the terraced houses as a kind of petrified and stationary orange fire, already blazing for a century by now. What I’m attempting clumsily to get across is that the world’s still here, that it still has its good, clear days, and that those days are better and are clearer thanks to you and what you’ve done.

All letters are heart-wrenching, but Moore’s opening reminded me of the final pages of Jeanette Winterson’s even more heart-wrenching Passion, where the narrator is describing a desolate garden on the prison island in Venice:

I have started work on the garden here. No one has touched it for years, though I am told it once had fine roses of such a scent that you could smell them from St Mark’s when the wind was right. Now it’s a barbed angle of thorns. Now the birds do not nest here. It’s an inhospitable place and the salt makes it difficult to choose what to grow. I dream of dandelions. I dream of a wide field where flowers grow of their own accord. Today I shovelled away the soil from around the rockery then shovelled it back, levelling the ground. Why have a rockery on a rock? We see enough rock.

And then, at the very end:

There is a frost tonight that will brighten the ground and harden the stars. In the morning when I go into the garden I’ll find it webbed with nets of ice and cracked ice where I over-watered today. Only the garden freezes like that, the rest is too salty.

I can see the lights on the boats and Patrick, who is with me, can see into St Mark’s itself. His eye is still marvellous, especially so since walls no longer get in the way. He describes to me the altar boys in red and the Bishop in his crimson and gold and on the roof the perpetual battle between good and evil. The painted roof that I love.

It’s more than twenty years since we went to church at Boulogne. Out now, into the lagoon, the boats with their gilded prows and triumphant lights.A bright ribbon, a talisman for the New Year.

I will have red roses next year. A forest of red roses.

On this rock? In this climate?

Chelsea Manning is a quiet gardener.

A loose thought on the conclusion of Sons of Anarchy

For all its convenience and research-friendliness, binge watching of television shows strips us not only of the time between episodes necessary for reflection (which, I venture, accounts for Lost‘s failure with many late- and now-comers). Between-season breaks are harrowing and mid-season hiatuses are plain irritating, particularly if we like the show, but they also provide a sense of rhythm, a weird kind of media seasonality (as opposed to the succession of life seasons, whether natural or work-related) that, when looked back upon, creates a backward-looking perspective. The conclusion of a multi-season show creates a little pocket for thinking back on the events of our own lives that happened while we followed the series but also invests the moment with a brief moment of nostalgic poignancy.  I have had some problems with Sons of Anarchy, which wrapped up forever two days ago, but all in all I liked the show. (My little theory is that at its core is not the infectiousness of criminality or the burden of responsibility, but a tragic premonition of the generational conflict in which all evil is, in one way or another, perpetrated or caused by our parents, from whose past there is no escape.)  And now, after four years (I got into the show at the very beginning of the 4th season) of Tuesday or Wednesday nights, I will never see Chibs or Tig again. Which is fine (I’m sure I’ll adopt another show soon, or will simply watch one movie a week more), but a bloodied piece of bread in the middle of the road really made me revisit, if only for one evening, the sinuous waves of the last four years. This isn’t, of course, the only trigger for self-reflection, but I suppose Gibson from the sky-above-the-port period would have loved the idea that at least some of the rhythms of personal memory are regulated by media events.

I’m back.

What I am trying to do – Buckminster Fuller

Acutely aware of our beings’ limitations and acknowledging the infinite mystery of the a priori Universe into which we are born but nevertheless searching for a conscious means of hopefully competent participation by humanity in its own evolutionary trending while employing only the unique advantages inhering exclusively to those individuals who take and maintain the economic initiative in the face of the formidable physical capital and credit advantages of the massive corporations and political states and deliberately avoiding political ties and tactics while endeavoring by experiments and explorations to excite individuals’ awareness and realization of humanity’s higher potentials I seek through comprehensive anticipatory design science and its reductions to physical practices to reform the environment instead of trying to reform humans, being intent thereby to accomplish prototyped capabilities of doing more with less whereby in turn the wealth augmenting prospects of such design science regenerations will induce their spontaneous and economically successful industrial proliferation by world around services’ managements all of which chain reaction provoking events will both permit and induce humanity to realize full lasting economic and physical success plus enjoyment of all the Earth without one individual interfering with or being advantaged at the expense of another.

The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness

“The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non- human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

Full text here.

43

Of course, I look back. In the last 12 months, I went to the desert more than ever before (always respecting it), learnt so much it would be hard to start describing how much (a lot, that’s how much), spent a night in an empty airport (with a tornado approaching), completed an academic pictorial/cinematic turn (which was long coming), bought so many books I am not sure about the logistics of making them cross the Atlantic, discovered great software for presentations (Prezi), had tons of Mexican food (and some Thai), almost grew a beard and almost shaved my hair, gushed over a new Steve Erickson novel, made a bunch of new friends and managed not to lose any old ones (unless someone is not telling me something), scrounged a bagful of Jack Chic comics in “Los Jilbertos,” finally had two ideas I am fairly confident are actually fairly original and fully mine, ate more fruit and vegetables than in the last 5 years, and thought about the previous 42 birthdays (ok, about 10 or so). And remembered every single day how lucky I am. And yet, I have never looked forward more than I do now. It is so cool to be 43. You don’t have to believe me. You’ll be there (if you weren’t already, that is).

Harrowing Idealism

For all its close and intimate focus, These Dreams of You may well be today’s Great American Novel. Not just for its portraiture of universal American dreams and anxieties; not for its social scope; nor for its historical and political topicality, in which it deals in spades, but rather because of its painful sincerity, its humble recognition of human failings, and its continued hope that it is not too late. In a final, choking passage that belongs in the same league as the conclusions of The Great Gatsby, On the Road, and Vineland, Erickson writes:

Though to the outer waking world Sheba’s dream is only a few seconds, in her sleep she understands it’s a long voyage. [The rest of the quote in the previous post here.]

The rest of my review of Erickson’s latest – here.

america

Though to the outer waking world Sheba’s dream is only a few seconds, in her sleep she understands it’s a long voyage. Poised at the ship’s bow, transmitting a distant song, she sails in search of the word that will name her, a word for those who’ve never belonged anywhere and who make their own belonging in the same way that people used to name themselves after where they belonged, the same word as that for the grief that goes on grieving for what’s not remembered but can’t be forgotten. As the girl and her brother and mother and father step from the boat onto shore, the word isn’t paradise or heaven or utopia or promisedland but rather a name as damaged as it is spellbinding to everyone who’s heard since the first time anyone spoke it, then tarnished it, then hijacked it, then exploited it, then betrayed and debased and then emptied  it, loving the sound of it while despising everything it means that can’t be denied anyway because it’s imprinted on the modern gene which is to say that even as the girl pursues it, it’s already found her, passed on by her adopted father in whose ear it was whispered one afternoon when, from a crowd desperate to hear the secret of it, he was pulled by a young woman of the Old World and the beginning of time, and now it binds daughter and father though neither knows it, she carries it in her fierce core, armed to defend it with that blade of a finger she draws across her throat, and the word is america. (Steve Erickson, These Dreams of You, 309).