I am moving over to a new blog called Failed Academic. It is billed as “a critical assessment of the modern university and higher education in a corporatized, for-profit world.” The first post is about university professors on food stamps! Since I am almost in the same boat, I have been moved to put all my blogging efforts towards this new project, something I am obviously passionate and knowledgeable about. If you follow me here I encourage you to also follow me there. The main topic will be education, but I may eventually post the occasional picture too. Please, check it out!
Archive for the ‘politics’ Category
We exist in a social and intellectual world that is deeply schizophrenic. As the tradition of the Marxists reminds us, society is constructed and constrained by class, economics, and control of the means of production. Thinkers from the Frankfurt School extended the idea of limits and constraint into the realm of the academic and aesthetic, speaking of “instrumental rationality” and “the culture industry.” Philosopher Michel Foucault showed us how our very bodies and minds are disciplined and ordered by dominant knowledge forms, forms that further shape our most basic institutions. His project of trying to intervene into this normalizing process with his deep quasi-psychiatric analysis and treatment of post-Enlightenment society met with mixed results.
Postmodern thinkers like Derrida and Lyotard have added further complications, undermining the notion of grand narratives and even the fixed meaning of text itself. At times it seems we are left in a chaotic, endlessly confusing, frustratingly relativist world. Few still revel in this intellectual morass without any even vague guideposts, much as it at times does provide for dynamic and playful aesthetic outbursts.
And thus we are left with life. Life constantly ordered, organized, constrained, systematized, analyzed, institutionalized, disciplined, proscribed, described, and, sadly at times, senselessly destroyed.
But, despite these factors, life is a constant reminder of the small, essential truth of vitalism. It remains, sometimes only in slight, subtle ways, sometimes only in fits and starts, ultimately unpredictable in any universal sense. No ordered, mechanistic, technocratic system, regardless of its ferocity or scale, can completely consume life’s endlessly unpredictable and dynamic process of becoming.
Power is a heady and dominant notion in our world, but life is, in its essential nature, beyond the constraints of power. To believe in life as life, to accept some small segment of the idea of vitalism, is to, in the final analysis, “fight the power.”
N.B. The original draft of this text is about fifteen years old…It was recently rediscovered and necromantically re-animated and re-purposed as a blog post.
This is a new idea for a series of posts. What follows is a collection of ephemera — bits and pieces of fiction projects I have started, but never managed to finish. It’s in keeping with the subtitle of this blog (“fragments”) and an attempt to exorcise some creative demons and clear the mechanism for future forays. Hope you enjoy this first offering…
This incomplete fragment of fiction (hence the “false front”) was written a few years ago and intended as the beginning of a chapter of a sci-fi novel tentatively titled “The Orgonocrats”. It was inspired by research I was doing on Wilhelm Reich, the pioneering psychiatrist who proposed the idea of “orgone energy” — a kind of life energy permeating the universe and crucial in his understanding of sexuality and health. I’ve argued in a chapter of a book I recently co-edited that he is a kind of vitalist.
The premise behind “The Orgonocrats” was pretty straightforward, if quirky. Set in the fairly near (cyberpunk-esque) future, it envisions a society heavily influenced by eugenics, genetic engineering, designer babies, and all that jazz. Sexuality for the sake of reproduction has become somewhat passe — “normal” sex is thus a kind of taboo. This is made even more problematic because STDs and the like have mutated and spread in deadly proportions. At the same time, scientists have discovered that “orgone energy” is real; that it can be harvested and distilled. And in a world of alienation and isolation it has become a very desirable substance — both as drug, and (as I was going to reveal as the novel developed) as source of almost limitless “cosmic” energy with all sorts of potential applications. It is thus the “currency” in this new society — like oil is in ours — and there are attempts to control and dominate its production and distribution. That’s where the title — “The Orgonocrats” — comes in. The reference to “unbusted” clouds is a nod to Reich’s development of a device called a “cloudbuster” (which you can still go and see) that he thought could harness orgone energy to control the weather. I was going to use this idea, and the notion also hinted at in this piece that orgone has a key spiritual component, prominently in the novel. Without further ado, here’s a fragment of chapter one — “Hell’s Altar Boy”:
1. Hell’s Altar Boy
The stars, obscured by clouds – unbusted – for years. But that didn’t prevent the search for light. The girls were glowing, ringed with the rapture. Those Sisters of the Cosmic Embrace were cute, boy. All dressed (if that’s what you could call it) in slick sheer silver sass and high black bitch boots. Two of them were standing in front of a small marquee some clever, pseudo-literate wag had arranged to read: “Cum commune with the cosmos…”. But Mako didn’t have the “sense”, and rubbing wasn’t on his mind.
The Church of the Cosmic Embrace was tucked in a dark alley, indistinguishable from the rest of the rotting relics of the age of guns, germs and steel. No shiny glass and synth-ceramic bizboy arcologies around these parts. Just lots of forgotten middle tech, crumbling red brick and human detritus…And the sisters.
One of them moved into the alley to intercept Mako; A tall girl, no more than nineteen, but looking like she’d been to hell and back with a smile on her face – maybe she had. Her long, full, firm thighs were exposed and pale, framed by short shiny hot pants and high-heeled boots, laced about fifty times all the way up over her knees. Above a wide clear plastic belt was a stretch of creamy bare midriff, soft but tight, and a half-hearted silver sequin halter, barely covering the bottom of her big, round breasts. They spilled out of the top too, creamy quarts of fulsome flesh. Her hair was high and elaborate, like a blond bird of paradise, little twisty tendrils dangling alluringly at her temples. She completed the look with dark red-black lipstick, fake lashes and too much azure eye shadow.
“You looked charged up,” she said, smiling widely and reaching for his arm.
“Got places to go,” Mako replied, stopping at her touch but still half-turned to head down the alley, away from the sisterly temptress and her curvaceous cadre.
“Can take you wherever you want,” she beamed up at him, leading his eyes with her obscenely long silver painted nails. They slid sharply down from his temple to the collar of his weathered leather jacket. “And bring you back, too.”
“Sorry,” he turned to go, gently brushing her claws away from his face.
“What are you afraid of?” The girl asked, taking a different, more challenging tangent. This caught the attention of her companion, a shorter redhead with heavenly hips and hypnotic green eyes.
“Nothing” Mako replied. “I’m in the same business as you, just have better guarantees.” He reached into his jean pocket for something.
The girl panicked a little and stepped back, her thick-lash-framed eyes widening apprehensively. A professional, Mako knew she sensed a deal going bad. But not in the way she thought…
His hand came out with a small chrome vial, about twice the size of his index finger, with a bright, sharp digital readout along its side.
Just as the big blonde was about to shriek with fear, her petite redheaded friend came up behind her and touched her lightly on the shoulder, briefly startling her but also calming her.
“This is Mako,” the redhead said. “He’s a loan shark.”
Mako looked down at the vial in his hand, and reflected on how accurate that description was. “Lone” indeed.
Suddenly the sultry seller became a potential customer, as Mako uttered the simplest of pitches: “You want some?” He was deadpan, as if he didn’t care whether she bought from him or not. Someone always eventually, and eagerly, did.
“What is it?” the girl asked. Looking somewhat innocently from Mako back to her friend. Like a deer caught in headlights, this one. He looked over at the redhead and shook his head in disbelief.
“If you don’t know, you probably don’t want any.” The redhead intoned, trying to wake her luscious blonde friend from a stupor. Mako could already see she was hypnotically drawn to the vial in his hand. This was the part that always amazed him.
“You girls give it away in the ‘spirit’ of the church, or whatever they’re calling it these days. This is Holy Water to you, sugar.” He was being too cute – this poor creature was like a pretty pet. But the redhead might be more feral.
“Listen, Mako, we don’t need your theology lesson tonight, hun.” “Why don’t you keep rolling…” As if on queue, he thought.
“Right…Like I said, got places to be.” True enough. He turned to go.
“Is that pure o-gone?” The blonde asked, her mascara-laden eyes wide with amazement.
Mako spun back around with a devilish grin slowly spreading across his face. “Sure is.” He said…
I’m well aware of the painful irony of castigating the world’s most popular social network on a blog, another form of social network. But I don’t have the money to put stamps on hundreds of handwritten letters, so here it goes:
1. Facebook is not social.
Saying hello to someone on the street is social. Having dinner or a drink (or getting falling down drunk…) with someone is social. Exchanging pleasantries or even bodily fluids is social (after all, it can possibly lead to a “social” disease). Arguing while waving your arms frantically at someone is social. Knitting while sitting on a couch together is social (sad, but social). Typing pithy comments about someone’s vacation pictures you vaguely know while hurtling along the Interstate at 80 MPH is not social. It’s just stupid. And dangerous.
2. Does that “net”-work for you?
Feeling trapped? Nothing is more representative of modern life than a forum for “self-expression” which requires you to fill out lame little standardized electronic boxes. Don’t color out of the lines! Touted as a multi-billion dollar computer platform, most of Facebook just boils down to a computerized version of those dorky name tags that say “My name is ____”.
Just think of that word — network. Nothing more than a bunch of virtual tendrils, designed to ensnare and entrap. The question you should be asking is who is the spider and when is he going to come along and suck out all of your vital juices? If you feel like a fly on the wall. Well…Buzz, buzz.
3. All those douchebags with marketing degrees are simultaneously yelling “gotcha”!
Marketers used to actually have to work to sell you stuff and get your attention. Now you come to them, by the millions, like so many lemmings careening off a cliff. And because you are an open (face)book, they know exactly what you want. In fact, some of the stuff they know you want you didn’t even know you wanted…
Heck, you can’t even change the bloody typeface on your page. (Note: See #2). And remember, if you post a picture you’d better not be doing anything too inappropriate. Some bot might come along and be offended. I, for one, welcome our Facebook bot overlords. All hail Zuckerberg!
5. All the world’s a stage.
Unfortunately, everyone in the audience is too busy working on their own acting career. Of course, you too can be the star in your very own movie (not sure what the working title is now, but they used to call it “Life”). Everything is a performance. Look, I got a new job! I have moved further up the rung and am mastering the cogs of capitalism. Please, “like” me. Why won’t you like me? Do I need to do something more extravagant? How is it that over half a billion bad actors clamoring for attention isn’t more people’s idea of hell? When did we all become such showoffs? Reality TV? TV is our reality! We’re always on camera, always observed and observing. Too bad none of us are just bloody living anymore. I don’t need to see the beautiful view you saw on your trip to Aruba or walk around the neighborhood. You saw it. It’s yours. That’s precious. Enjoy it.
6. Whatever you’re doing, someone else is doing something cooler.
Facebook is a constant reminder that no matter what you are doing, it is lamer than what a dozen of your “friends” are doing. Just booked a trip to the beach on Maui? Whatever. Your “friend” just bought an island in the south Pacific. Bought a new car? Your “friend” just bought a new yacht. New baby? Your “friend” had triplets! (Well, on second thought, maybe you are better off there…). A regression back to grade school is the order of the day on Facebook. It’s like one big game of “Oh yeah! Well…”.
7. In old sci-fi novels and movies, weren’t hive minds a bad thing?
I remember an old episode of Star Trek where this guy Harry Mudd had found a whole planet of androids. And there were groups of them — copies — such that you had Alan 216 or Mary 109. Facebook is kind of like that. It’s almost impossible to miss someone famous dying these days because fifty of your closest friends will comment about it. Sometimes they’ll even include some maudlin link to a relevant Youtube video. How touching. And some of these people who are venerated are pretty lame. No matter, its all fodder for Facebook.
I’m waiting for the day when some lunatic puts up a status update of “RIP Charles Manson” and the whole Goth world goes (lady) gaga about the passing of Marilyn. Give me a break! I guess the point, if there is one, is all the collective grief and, by extension, the sense of injustice is totally bogus when all it amounts to is clicking on “like” or “share”. Which brings me to…
8. How many cute puppies does it take to stop a dictator from wiping out a whole town?
Politics. Oh yeah. Remember when that word used to imply that the discussion or debate was about an actual place or space? You know, the polis? Now it’s random rants about how dumb some conservative is, or how bleeding heart some liberal is. Mostly it distills down to re-posting (i.e. “sharing”) some clever cartoon about how we are all totally fucked. Well, if things are so bad, do something! Those occupy people, as aimless and indigent and generally stoned as they were, were doing something. Until Facebook came along and turned it all into a bunch of idle slogans. Facebook has become the dumping ground for frustration and impotent rage. It’s as if it was a cleverly constructed release valve for dissent and criticism. Almost seems planned that way. Hmm…
Oh, yeah, and by the way, the answer to the question above is…none. You need a LOL cat.
9. Your friendships begin to resemble that show — Friends.
I hated that show. I really did. It reeked of a neutered middle-class complacency that makes me want to kick puppies (but not the really cute ones people always post on Facebook — just the ugly, faceless puppy in the crowd…). Everyone was always being clever and pithy and drinking coffee on a sofa on Friends. Kind of like what people do now when they are on Facebook.
I like the idea of friends. I used to have friends. I used to hang out with them and see them too. I don’t have to anymore. I live a completely alienated, isolated and lonely life as an academic (“Oh, he’s one of those!”) in a town and state I basically hate. But with Facebook, my plight is supposed to be somehow more bearable. Your experience may be somewhat similar. I sincerely hope not.
10. Like the real world, Facebook has class (but not the good kind!)
Well, no it doesn’t. But it has developed ghettos and upscale neighborhoods. Whether you muck around on Farmville or post stories by way of the New York Times, everything about Facebook is just part of that time honored human tradition of creating arbitrary distinctions.
The only distinction I think is important anymore is this — are you part of the Facebook herd or are you still vaguely trying to maintain some aspect of your humanity? We in the techno-utopias of the “west” may pity or even mock those poor souls for whom Facebook is only a computer program. But I, for one, envy them. If only they also had a bit of peace and food and clean water…
So, yeah, Facebook sucks. Modern life kind of sucks too. Am I bitter? You bet! Angry? Yup! What would make me happy? If dozens, even hundreds (dare I hope for thousands?) of people put a link to this blog post up on…You guessed it: Facebook! I won’t know about it though, since for now (and hopefully, if I’m strong, forever) my Facebook account is deactivated. But maybe, in some little way, I’m not.