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California Institute of the Arts


MA AESTHETICS & POLITICS California Institute of the Arts Printed in the U.S.A.


$0.01 ISBN 978-0-9916593-2-6



9 780991 659326

Aesthetics & Politics 2015-17




Daniela Alvarez Shaun R. Barnes Jana Branch Dylan Howell Lindsay Mercer Dany Naierman Maia Nichols George Pritzker Kristin Trammell Katie Wohl

|||||||| First & only edition: August 2016 © 2016 California Institute of the Arts and the authors. All rights in the book reserved by California Institute of the Arts. All rights in the works contained herein reserved by their owners. Published in the United States by California Institute of the Arts, Los Angeles. ISBN: 978-0-9916593-2-6 Printed in Los Angeles, U.S.A. by NeverPress Editing by Jana Branch, Dylan Howell, Dany Naierman, Martín Plot, Kristin Trammell, Katie Wohl Project management by Kristin Trammel Design by Katie Wohl Typeset in Century Gothic and Baskerville Cover art by Jp King for Paper Pusher, @paper_pusher






Begin by Degree


A Few Notes on Virtual Reality





Manifestations: On Borges Against Schmitt


Molecular Political Theory



Distance as Strategy in the Work of Martin Honert


Baseball Is Bland




Mysterium Tremendum: Metaphysics Got Me Feelin’ Some Type of Way


Disarming History



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Foreword We are all somehow familiar with the twists and turns of the rejection or vindication of political art—the most intense and explicit moments in this recurrent controversy being the avant-gardes’ fusion of art and life (with the subsequent emergence of the schools of design such as the Bauhaus or De Stijl), the various agitprops, or that of art for art’s sake and its explicit critical targeting of art’s heteronomous subordination to a political program. All of these moments are fascinating and illuminate crucial facets of the intertwining of art and politics—the most appealing of these moments being, in my opinion, that of art and politics fellow-travelling in the collective task of society’s transformation. The latter is, I would also claim, an understanding that offers a more productive view of these unnecessarily-regarded-as-incompatible iterations of the relationship between art and politics. In my opinion, the least appealing of these iterations, however, is more recent, and is the in some quarters dominant proclamation—in itself a political proclamation, I must say—that art, in order to be art, must be apolitical. There are many aspects of this discursive trend that I admit to not fully grasp. The most conceptually relevant of them being the following one: why does a particular type of content—that of politics, when the political is reduced to politics—or a particular purpose or goal—that of intervening in the shaping of our shared world—ought to be banned from a particular practice—that of art-making? I must recognize that I do not have an answer to this question. Nevertheless, in response to these multiple perspectives on the question of political art, let me offer here a very rudimentary typology based on three usual but different approaches to questions related to politics: the approaches of 1) political action, 2) political science, and 3) political philosophy (and the self-institution of society that is what it has as its main focus). Let me just call these “versions 1, 2, and 3” of art when it is called political. As we will easily recognize in reading this volume, most writing on aesthetics and politics, directly or indirectly, deals with all three of them. These approaches—1) that of intervention (what political action does), 2) that of description or explanation (what political science tries to offer), and 3) that of interrogation (what political philosophy engages


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in)—however, are usually presented in oppositional terms, as if intervention and interrogation, action and thinking, were mutually exclusive human practices, as if there were no thinking in action and no interrogation in intervention or no agency in thought and no intervention when we interrogate—in brief, as if there were no active component in the passivity of interrogative thinking and no passive sensibility in the activity of intervention. If instead of opposing action and thought, or participating and witnessing, we consider the reversibility of them, then intervention and interrogation become ideal-typical poles of a continuum rather than incompatible opposites—and the pseudo-objectivity of knowing (science), an objectivity that usually expects to ultimately put to rest the uncertainties, disagreements, and hesitations of action and interrogation, will then become another contestable approach to the political, one that both informs and keeps in check the rather more freewheeling propensities of intervention and interrogation. All this said, however, and although it is unambiguous that aesthetico-political writing generates all three forms of political writing—it (directly or indirectly) intervenes in the conflicts of its time, it describes explicitly political events, and it interrogates the question of the institution of society—it is the latter that I think it does in a way that makes the most permanent contributions to the question of the political. In order to further explore this idea, let me now briefly borrow from French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty. In one of his most insightful aesthetic essays—“Cézanne’s Doubt”—Merleau-Ponty presented painter Paul Cézanne as a phenomenologist of the visible and of vision—and then, in “Eye and Mind,” he offered a similar account of Paul Klee. According to Merleau-Ponty, in his painting, Cézanne posed the following questions: What does it mean for the world to be visible? What does it mean for there to be vision? What does it mean to see? The painter interrogates the enigma of vision (this sort of madness, as Merleau-Ponty put it, in which I am where I am not and in which I can touch-at-a-distance) and of visibility. The enigma of vision is indeed the enigma of having-at-a-distance and that of a seer who belongs to the seen, being him or herself visible themselves. In this dialectic of the seer and the visible in which both see and are seen, the visible looks at the painter too, like the mirror, and like the body, that sees-itself-seeing. Painting, the visual arts in general, thus interrogate the visible. What do writing, theory or even art, when it is fundamentally conceptual, interrogate? Writing, theory and conceptual art interrogate the invisible.



In his unfinished The Visible and the Invisible, Merleau-Ponty reinitiated the gesture—a gesture he had been attempting since his early The Structure of Behavior and his massive Phenomenology of Perception—of dismantling the mind/body, essence/appearance dichotomies so dominant in Western philosophy. In the later work, this gesture was finding a more precise formulation—only to be interrupted by his sudden death at age 53. We thus know that the actually said was not all that was about to be said; that, we almost physically perceive while reading his manuscript. The said, however, nonetheless captured the movement of the saying, and in doing so it managed to put forward the following insight: the invisible—the ideas, the activity of our thinking, our ability to sometimes co-think, at the same time (or at a different time) by two different bodies—all these forms of invisibility are not of a different order than that of the visible; the invisible is not another world, somehow paradoxically located elsewhere and nowhere at the same time. The invisible is the invisible of the visible (or of “visibles”); it is its “offspring,” as it were, its emanation. The invisible is the invisible of the visible and has no other loca­­tion than that of events and phenomena, that of the “things themselves,” that of the flesh of the world and the flesh of things. If the body—that self-animated being that moves things and moves itself—is made of flesh, then the extension of the body that is its sound, its language, is the incursion of the visible flesh into the invisible—now itself become flesh. The flesh of language, that self-animated being that moves things and moves itself, is thus the body of the invisible—the ideas, the activity of our thinking, our ability to sometimes co-think, at the same time (or at a different time) by two different bodies—and this is what the writer, the theorist, and the conceptual artist interrogate. And it is in this sense that the contributions to this volume fundamentally interrogate the political—that is, not exclusively as texts that intervene in the visible conflicts of our time (although this they do, mostly in a nuanced, indirect way) or texts that describe visible political processes of times past or present (although this they do too, with quite ludic and insightful results), but texts that interrogate the enigma of society’s self-institution, the enigma at the center of political thought and political philosophy in their dealing with the invisible of the visible, with the meaning of what appears, disappears or reappears in collective life.

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Begin by Degree Jana Branch explores questions of uncertainty and value at the intersections of business, consumer culture and social creativity. To keep a roof over her head, she runs Articulo, a brand and communications consultancy. To keep her soul intact, she dreams deeply. To find out what she thinks of it all, she writes.

The class is assembled in a room

with three concrete walls, painted white. The fourth wall is a grid of sealed windows, floor to ceiling, looking out into clouds and air (the room is many stories up). A bird flies in, swooping overhead, fluttering near the ceiling. It’s about the size of a hand—a large hummingbird or a small crow—either way, the wrong size for its kind. Someone who knows more about birds than you do gathers it, calms it by opening its wings and carries it to the windows. Outside, about a foot beyond the windows, a small wire cage is suspended midair, its door propped open. The person carrying the bird opens a small pane in the wall of windows. You think it’s being opened so the bird can be put into the cage, which, after all, has a stunning view. Instead, the person gently puts the bird on top of the cage, on the lip above the door. The bird looks around and shrugs its wings, as if it might fly. Then cocks its head and leans down, as if to hop into the cage. What does it want? What will it do? Air and cloud appear under your feet. The bird is waiting for you to decide.


To start, everything is foreground. What is? Where is? When is? Who is? Who does? How does? Posturing. Little performances. Necessary proclamations of self, especially through silences. Some people cast looks and small threads of conversation, without even meaning to. Hints. Small openings. Invitations. Most are ignored. A few are picked up and begin to spin a thread, a string, a rope. The relief of stabilizing tethers. Acquaintances, yes. Friendships, maybe. Other hints go undiagnosed or get tangled. Misheard. Misunderstood. Orientation by half measures. Step back. Few things work the first time. And if they do, what have you learned? Here we go. On our own, one on one, we’re not quite like this. In groups, always some version of junior high. Inclusions. Exclusions. Most of it unintended. This is just what happens when people congregate and jostle for sense. And here we are. Introduce yourself and keep introducing yourself—a dozen times in the first weeks. Listen to how the story changes. Never quite the same. Let it move, like smoke curling off a cigarette. If we’re lucky, something will take shape and surpass the transaction of credit hours, tuition payments and diplomas. If we’re lucky, we find people who won’t always set our teeth on edge. People who might become fellow travelers.

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. Simone Weil

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Question the first: Aesthetics and Politics... what does that mean? Question the next: What will you do with that degree? Question the last: How much did that cost? How will you account for yourself? What are you getting for what you are spending? (Having gotten and being spent our typical proof of life.) Will your investment in time and money (though, to be clear, time is not money) pay off? In other words, will this investment in yourself appreciate? Will you appreciate? What and how will you appreciate? Will the debts you walk away with be the kind you can bear? Languages of value—money and meaning— will be thrown together. The money stands as measure of an incommensurable bank of knowledge you are in the process of extracting or discovering or making or inventing. It’s related to the cost of the service. We are consumers of education, and we know how to get what we pay for. How then to account for the lessons that seem to come from the realm of gift? Tuition is the price of entry but not the stakes. What are the stakes? No one will ask, but it’s good to put the question on the table anyway. You may be in for debt, the direct kind that mortgages the future before you even have a clue what the future might be. Other debts—the best kind, the kind you came here for—can be paid only indirectly, forward. An economy of influences and generosities. Debts are multiple, as are costs. Cost in dollars. Cost in time. Cost in sleep. Cost in rubber worn from tires revolving up and down the 5, the 405, the 14, the 101.




After weeks, something happens. Among all those who attend, some appear. Something new moves the room. Not everyone appears. Not everyone wants to appear. After enough foreground becomes background and individuals become constellations of you and you and you among us, it becomes clear: We are each in the business of making ourselves our own way, by degrees.


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When do strangers become a group? Adversity helps. Troubleshooting the way things aren’t working forces personality to the surface. Will you step in? Will you step aside? Will you work the channels? Will you go behind the back, divide to conquer, duck to defend, get up in the face or simply exit the scene? Will you help other people find their feet? Will you need others to help you find yours? You look for elbow room. Speak where you think it might count. Less in the hallways. More in class. We begin to think, as David Graeber writes, of “human beings as projects of mutual creation, value as the way such projects become meaningful to the actors, and the worlds we inhabit as emerging from those projects rather than the other way around.” And it occurs to you that these flickering intensities of self and group embody aesthetics and politics. Thoughts become flesh.




What’s at stake? In the drive and push, everyone hangs on by their fingernails to blinking ideas that get gobbled up and tossed aside through so many syllabi. Thank you. Good to know. NEXT! Meanwhile what you care about most may not even be on the agenda. You drag it into the agenda. Some will thank you for it. Some will not. The crush of thought will not be optimized. It is not a factory. It is not all for you, though you are given everything and invited to make something of it. Here—a length of barbed wire and some chewing gum. Go fix the fence. Rosi Braidotti warns seminar-goers that unless you activate your own questions through the thinkers you study, you will end up traumatized by them, become a parrot of thought not your own. To know your own thoughts, you will have to begin with your own questions. What brought you here? What makes you speak? Voice is body. It’s possible to do an entire academic career from the neck up, but the brain is a lonely organ. Mind is everywhere. Braidotti sweeps the air with an emphatic hand: knowledge and pleasure are made in every corner of the body. And I think, even the body that slumps and fidgets in chairs with stained upholstery. Everything and everyone brings history and a world. Before the year slips by, find the pool. Find the pool at night. Swim in the dark. In the summer, watch out for basking rattlesnakes.

Insofar as value is social, it is always a comparison; value can only be realized in other people’s eyes. Another way to put this is that there must always be an audience.

Do you accept your own gestures and symbols? Do you believe what you yourself say? When you act, do you believe what you are doing?

David Graeber

Muriel Rukeyser


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If you’re lucky, you’ll hit your limit at least once. (It won’t feel like luck at the time.) Call it what you like. Breakdown. Failure. Mental block. Mindfuck. Time to delaminate. Disarticulate. I am beside myself. Aside from my Self. Reserve the right to change your mind. Reserve the doubt that any is the last word. Forge a thru-line, spine, red thread, snaking tunnel of what’s yours. Respectful and durable, doubtful and kind. Strategic silence may be necessary. Pull the grasping hand of certainty back from the world, ball it up in a fist and rest your heavy head on it for awhile. Listen. Still. Turn over what’s possible in the absence of action.




Converse. Reverse. Try again. Say again. Begin in the middle, everything already in progress, a past leaping ahead and future dragging behind. Or the other way around. Impossibly deep genealogies. Planned spontaneity meeting up in the hallways. Unthinkable futures that must be thought anyway. Any. Way. Go in circles. Be a line. Make a point. Be air. Trajectories. Tendencies. Registers. Calibrating by degrees. Entertaining ideas that anger you. Coaxing coherence out of fog, tender wrestling matches with the past and the present sitting right next to you, collectively squinting at the future. Thinkers you love. Thinkers you hate. Conversations that keep mumbling in the dark, waking you at 2:00 a.m. Thoughts burrowing in between your ears, behind your eyes, changing sweet to bitter, sour to savory. In a nutshell, down a rabbit hole, so many shells and holes in the middle of becoming something else altogether. On the far side: The sheer possibility of some sort of life that might also be a living.

Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something.

The saddest journey in the world is the one that follows a precise itinerary. Then you’re not a traveler. You’re a fucking tourist.

Judith Butler

Guillermo del Toro


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“Art” and its multiple meanings will hijack the aesthetic conversation if you let it. It’s only natural at an art school, but it’s a missed opportunity. Whether art as Art or as object or as market or as practice or as academic discipline, art is a privileged zone of aesthetic inquiry. But in the end, art can be avoided, and plenty of people do. Meanwhile, there is no escape from the atmospheric influence of the sensory and sensible in our never-satisfied, media-saturated, supersized, digitized, virtualized, celebrity-endorsed, short-attention-span culture. At every moment, we are bodies in space, tubes of flesh inhabited by a mood-and-metabolism-controlling microbiome we don’t understand. We are affected by the bodies near us (and the bodies conspicuous by their absence). Color and texture, aroma and stench, shrieks and cooing—we know through our bodies, thinking with our tongues, organs and fingertips, feeding subtle thought with hard realities, digesting experience into opinions and ideas that lead to action and influence that shape (or fail in the effort to shape) the world that we all share. Consumer ideology prizes the individual, but aesthetic awareness constantly reminds us of the company we keep. Given that we live in a landscape furnished with other people’s ambitions (including brass-plated skyscrapers—ask not “why” but “why not?”), the role of aesthetics is everybody’s concern. Attention is a transactional currency, with sensory appeal its Trojan horse. Capturing eyeballs is the first step to forging trust, the most intangible of necessary transactions in a market-driven culture. At some point, something on the horizon intrudes at the corner of your eye: Is that an oncoming collision? Or the glint of a shining future? Reason alone can’t tell. It’s light wave-particles that reach your eyes and skin first, piercing thick smoke from a warehouse fire that hazes an afternoon sun into appearing like a studio-lit maraschino cherry. A helicopter thwacks overhead. You lean against a car, hand on the fender. That image. That sound. That shape. It’s frightening. It’s beautiful. Pet the curve. It will pet you back.




After all the votes are counted and the last campaign sign pulled from the last suburban lawn, politics is still with us—at the breakfast table, across the counter, in the classroom, between and among the people we see every day. Equating politics with elections is a convenient way to believe that it’s something that happens to other people and only in some years. Politics as the everyday exercise of power and influence pushes against questions that we answer in overt and covert ways through our arrangements and conduct as social beings. From personal dream to social imaginary to built worlds, we manifest universes of value. How does what I want relate to what we need? What should we prioritize? And who is included in “we”? Meanwhile, the backdrop to those questions gets blurrier: sociopathic corporate entities are granted the rights of individuals; governing a country is equated with running a business; citizenship is bullied by the call to be a good consumer. The confusion of values reflects confusion over what to value. We love what we love, but the American Dream always circulates the lip of the vortex: the zero-sum game measured by numbers with many zeroes. The aesthetic soup that supports this confusion is itself a pressing part of the exercise of power that shapes private and public desire, delimiting our sense of what is—and is not—possible. Reality distortions and the small dramas of command-and-control bureaucracy abound. Between waking and sleeping, expect a thousand petty moves to nudge you in the ribs. The noble directive will be driven by, at one or more places along the supply chain of meaning and motivation, perverse desire. How will you be influenced? How will you influence others? Can you inscribe your social world with gestures both generous and secure? Is it possible to be kind without being dubbed a loser? Through the aesthetic exercise of politics, have your say in defining who we become, which depends, of course, on first imagining what we can be.


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WORKS CITED Braidotti, Rosi. “Seminar 3: The In Human.” UC Irvine. Irvine, CA. March 16, 2016. Seminar presentation. Butler, Judith. Undoing Gender. New York and London: Routledge, 2004. Print. del Toro, Guillermo. “An Evening with Guillermo del Toro.” Zocalo Public Square. Arclight Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA. January 18, 2011. Web. Aug 15, 2013. Graeber, David. “It is value that brings universe into being.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory (2013): 219–43. Web. July 4, 2016. Kristeva, Julia. This Incredible Need to Believe. Trans. Beverley Bie Brahic. New York: Columbia UP, 2006. Print. Rukeyser, Muriel. The Life of Poetry. Periodicals Service Co. 1968. Print.

I am doubled. One of me

takes a long knife and slices the Other me open, empties me out and methodically hacks me to pieces. One of me eats the parts of the Other me. I’m chewy. Am I delicious? I don’t remember. The scene doesn’t feel bloody, but it is savage. I sit down to a meal of what I’ve made of myself, then digest what I’ve become. I break down my body— a body of thought. A body of experience. A body of encrusted habit. Some things, it seems, can’t simply be shed but require rumination. Not simply discarded but moved into and through. Maybe I am delicious. I lick my fingers and wonder, what else am I missing? What more is possible?

Weil, Simone. First and Last Notebooks: Supernatural Knowledge. Trans. R. Rees. Oxford: Oxford UP. 1970. Print.


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A Few Notes on Virtual Reality Dylan Howell is a writer and filmmaker living in Los Angeles. His current research theorizes the horizons for experimental film opened by environmental science.

In what follows, I will trace out a few observations on the contemporary horizon of virtual reality (VR) technology. These notes draw extensively on film-essayist Harun Farocki’s later work, which documented virtual forms and theorized the future of image production. Farocki anticipated both the significance and the ambitions of VR; as the medium today again possesses our collective imagination, his work is an immensely valuable point of critical reference. Farocki’s short essay Phantom Images sets an agenda to investigate images that are made “neither to entertain nor to inform”—but rather made by machines for the sake of their own operation. He calls such pictures, “operative images,” and in his Eye/Machine (2001) he finds them most extensively in automated warfare, considering such images as those from the “search-target program” of a tactical warhead. The program in question reads the image of a landscape to discover a preset target, and then adjusts the projectile’s movement accordingly. Eye/Machine compares the aesthetics of the warhead’s image with other, related scenes, such as a robot eye reading movements in a crowded mall, or another calculating the flow of traffic on a highway. There is, without a doubt, aesthetic splendor in the virtualized scenes that Farocki fits together. There is also an estrangement in seeing a nonhuman intelligence in the act of looking. Trevor Paglen remarked of his first experience of Eye/Machine III that Farocki was “trying to learn to see like a machine” (Paglen). Much of the estrangement that Paglen notices is epistemological. The production of photographs by humans has maintained a clear subject-object distinction, in that the camera makes the image, and the human looks and thinks about the image. The image itself is untouched by the act of thinking. In contrast, the surfaces of the operative images explored by Farocki are inscribed by the machine’s interpretations, and the content by its operations. A decade later, by the time of Serious Games (2009-2010), Farocki’s interest had returned to the human viewer. In my reading,


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however, he did not abandon his concept of the operative image, which guided Phantom Images and his Eye/Machine series, but rather adapted it to the nascent medium of virtual reality. This is what I mean: for Farocki, operative images represent objects exclusively for certain functional ends. In the cases of warfare, industrial production and surveillance, machines looked at the world in order to act upon it in predefined ways. To apply the term to virtual reality implies only substituting a human as the final spectator—and the cognition of the viewer as the terrain of operation. In the chapter of Harun Farocki’s film essay Serious Games (200910) titled “Immersion”, two scenes play side-by-side: one shows a veteran with a VR headset over his eyes, who describes a memory of combat. The second is the computer-generated simulation of the veteran’s memory, from an exercise organized by the Department of Defense. The veteran recounts the trauma of a roadside bomb killing his friend and the subsequent paralyzing terror, while the events are recreated in the virtual battlefield. The man’s voice begins to tremble, and the simulation controller murmurs, “Stay with it, tell me what’s happening now.” After he has recounted and relived the encounter, the controller tells him that it’s time to start over; he must watch his friend’s death again. Although we are not given more detail about the context of the scenes, it is clear that VR is being used as a cognitive tool. The event that formed the soldier’s trauma is simulated in order to denature the memory of violence. While the scene is haunting for its association with wartime violence, it is no longer an unusual one: virtual reality is now tested extensively as a cognitive tool. To illustrate how this type of operative image is being developed, I will consider two papers from Vol. 24 of the journal Presence, from Spring 2015. The MIT based journal was established in 1992, and is “devoted to research in teleoperation and virtual environments.” The journal is very explicitly interdisciplinary in the type of research that it features, and in the objects of its study. In its own words, it features research on “topics such as presence, augmented reality, haptics, user interfaces, and virtual humans, and applications that range from heritage and education to training simulators, healthcare, and entertainment.” It is worth noting that in the above passage, the word “image” is rarely used—rather, two other terms mirror the concepts set out by Farocki. The “virtual environment” is the heir to the image, and



“teleoperation” is the user’s interface with the virtual environment. The research collected by the journal is necessary because of the tremendous amount of resources needed to convincingly reproduce effects such as haptics (touch) and social presence (the feeling of being with others) that constitute the virtual environment. The incentive for improving on these qualities is often highly technical: quality VR environments with smooth user interfaces allow for more nuanced relationships to the user. 1. A Tablet-Based Virtual Environment for Neurosurgery Training The article discusses research on the use of VR to train neurosurgeons. The advantage of this training procedure is fairly obvious: without having to deal with the expense and risk to actual bodies, surgeons can be trained in the nuanced manual procedures that require extensive training to perfect. And perfection carries a high premium, due to the nature of the work. The study concludes: Statistically significant changes in performance of selecting the burr hole entry point, the trajectory length and duration metrics for the VCath group, together with a good indicator of improved normalized jerk (representing the speed and smoothness of arm motion), all suggest that there has been a higher-level cognitive benefit to using VCath… (John)

Not a tremendous amount more needs to be said about the example’s objective: the function of the VR is to enhance the performance of the user in real surgery situations. It is a clear example of the new type of “operative images”, which perhaps we should rename “operative environments” that VR prepares—spaces in which the cognitive capacities of the user are measurably enhanced by the use of VR technology. The purpose of the study was to quantify the benefit to the surgeons in training, and the conclusion was that a series of motor-sensory tasks, such as the “speed and smoothness of arm operation” were improved. 2. Sending an Avatar to Do a Human’s Job: Compliance with Authority Persists Despite the Uncanny Valley The purpose of the paper was to report findings on whether the verisimilitude of a human avatar affected a user’s obedience to instruction:


A&P 2015-17 This experiment presented a hypothetical ethical dilemma followed by the advice of an authority figure… [The] results indicate that compliance with an authority persists even when using an uncannily realistic computeranimated double. (Patel & MacDorman)

The notion “uncanny valley” refers to a concept from robotics, whereby the empathy of human beings for other beings (robots and avatars in particular) increases as the resemblance of the figure to a human increases, however at a certain degree of resemblance, that empathy drops off into the uncanny valley. What the researchers uncovered is that the uncanny valley effect does not apply to avatars giving ethical injunctions: users continued to obey the advice given. The operative character of the environment prefigures the researchers’ interest in the uncanny valley of human avatars. It is assumed that human users will be given ethics lessons from avatars, the question is whether certain types of avatars will be better at the task. In this sense, the research differs in an important way from the previous set of work: whereas the surgeon training (and Farocki’s war rehabilitation) aimed to produce an autonomous subject outside of the VR environment, the aims of this research are more endogenous. The cognitive reflexes of the user are measured to calibrate the virtual space, which in turn is optimized to direct the user.



WORKS CITED Elsaesser, Thomas. Harun Farocki: working on the sight-lines. Amsterdam University Press, 2004. Farocki, Harun. "Phantom Images." Public 29 (2004). John, Nigel W., et al. "A tablet-based virtual environment for neurosurgery training." Presence 24.2 (2015): 155-162. Kohonen-Aho, Laura, and Pauli Alin. "Introducing a video-based strategy for theorizing social presence emergence in 3d virtual environments." PRESENCE: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments 24.2 (2015): 113-131. Paglen, Trevor. "Operational Images." e-flux (2014). Patel, Himalaya, and Karl F. MacDorman. "Sending an avatar to do a human's job: Compliance with authority persists despite the uncanny valley." PRESENCE: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments 24.1 (2015): 1-23.

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Molecular Political Theory Lindsay Mercer likes materials. She likes feeling things with her own hands and traveling to places to see, hear, and smell things with her own body. So far in her life, she has enjoyed the woods and the sea most of all.

The following is a translation of the universe, or a segment of the universe. The translation describes the political orders of molecules, cells, and other social systems. This text is a presentation of logical and political existence. The term political is used to mean a social group, or multiple individuals encountering one another and behaving for either their own self-gain, overall benefit as a community, or a combination of the two. This is one possibility of reality, among many others. The text may be a model for current, experienced realities, which may not be an accurate representative of all realities existing before, after, and around them. The following is a presentation, an exploration, and an anti-­manifestation.

Suggested method of reading: Read all of the translated text first (capitalized). Then go back and read the translated text again, reading each footnote as it is inserted into the document.


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. . COORDINATE WAVE1 . . COORDINATE PARTICLE . . QUARK ANTIQUARK GLUON PUSH PULL GLUON 2 SPIN . . UP QUARK UP QUARK DOWN QUARK GLUON PUSH PULL GLUON QUARK ANTIQUARK ANTIQUARK GLUON QUARK GLUON QUARK ANTIQUARK GLUON GLUON GLUON ANTIQUARK QUARK QUARK ANTIQUARK ANTIQUARK QUARK GLUON QUARK QUARK QUARK GLUON GLUON . . 1 Every space is occupied by overlapping waves. These waves exist in a realm of probability: it is more likely for them to exist in one area, but it is possible for them to exist in any and all areas. Nothing is impossible, only less likely. And if we were to suspend all time, everything would happen in all spaces simultaneously. 2 Quarks and antiquarks occur in pairs. The quarks in this text mainly pertain to up and down quarks, but there are other types, including charmed and strange quarks. Upward and downward quarks have specific charges associated with them, called color charges. (It should be noted that the term color is separate from an organismic perception of color.) These charges are not limited to two poles, as larger particles such as electrons are. Instead, the charges behave in three directions. Very few behaviors and tendencies exist linearly with two end points. Other axes and dimensions exist. There is more than one opposing force; there is more than one alternative to a position. Quarks and antiquarks exchange gluon particles and are held together by the Color Force. This is the strongest force ever documented. And these small particles are held tightly and securely so that larger structures can be made out of them.



. SPIN SPIN PROTON 3 . . PROTON PUSH PUSH PROTON PUSH PUSH4 . 3 A proton is a particle made up of two more upward quarks than antiquarks and one more downward quark than antiquarks. In addition to these three particles, the proton has an uncountable, though equivalent, number of other quarks, antiquarks, and gluons. The translation has been shortened in this section, for lack of physical space. The structure inside a proton is chaotic and enables every other larger structure to exist. The chaos is contained out of sight and the only part of this chaos that seeps out of the proton is the force that it has. The force that holds the protons and neutrons together is called the Strong Force and comes from the Color Force that holds the quarks and antiquarks together. The atoms use the strength that comes from this chaos, while keeping the particles themselves secluded to the protons. This strict structuring of the nucleus allows the electrons to roam freely in the rest of the shell. It should be noted that this chaos lies at the center of every atom, which makes up every other known structure. From this chaos every other order is formed and instituted. 4 Protons are positively charged and in this system of ordering same charges repel one another. Sameness repels and opposites are pulled closer in an attempt to find equilibrium, a state of balance and social and political closure1 and stability. However, it is also much stronger and more determined to find opposite charges so that is can become more stable. The force that holds atoms and molecules together is called the electromagnetic force. Electromagnetic forces are the primary method of ordering at the atomic level. Every known physical structure is made up of atoms and therefore electromagnetic forces hold every structure together. This is the police force for atomic ordering. However, in the present makeup of the universe, this is the only known method of ordering at this level. The police force is strong because there are no comprehendible alternatives to their proposed method of ordering. Atoms, their corresponding parts, and larger formed structures, are held together by charges. The back and forth between different particles is what keeps orders together and moving in the current systems. Before a new way of ordering is realized, or after an old one is forgotten, adhere to a strict, rigid order seems inevitable. 2 This order appears to be the only method because we have not yet reached the precipice of turning towards a new way. This is a portion, perhaps a very small one, of a much larger trajectory of ordering.


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5 A Hydrogen atom is made up of a single proton. Two protons and two neutrons are a Helium atom. The number of protons give the atom its identity and dictate how it is likely to behave. However, individual protons have the same properties regardless of the atom they are in; all protons contain the chaos of the quarks, antiquarks, and gluons. The protons only gain identity as a collective and neutrons give the identity cohesion and allow it to be held together. Without the neutrally charged particles, the protons would not be willing to be pulled closely to other positive charges. Protons and electrons would be willing to form atoms because they would not be cooperative with one another. A force called the Strong Force holds the protons and neutrons together. The neutrons act as a buffer, which enables the strong force to overcome the protons’ repulsion of one another. The source of the Strong Force is likely the Color Force that holds the quarks within the proton together. The force holding the parts helps to hold the whole as well. 6 Electrons can be recorded as behaving both as particles and as waves. Electrons are not in one particular place at a given moment, but there is a probability of their existing in that place: there are areas of the shell that they are more likely to be found, if looked for. Electrons will behave as waves if you test them as waves, but will appear to be particles if the test assumes they are particles instead. How they appear is dependent on how the viewer approaches and predicts to see them. If one chooses to see isolated individuals, the electrons will appear as that. If one chooses to look for a large sweeping movement, that will appear instead. There is confliction and no absolute. 7 In the human study of astronomy and the universe, there are three main categories: hydrogen, helium, and metals. Hydrogen and helium vastly outnumber all other elements, so there is no need for further delimitation. The chance of encountering an atom in the universe that is not hydrogen or helium is extremely low. And if you do, it is likely to be a metal. In the study of the universe, human bones, skin and tissues are metals. Carbon­- based life forms are a minority and flesh is only one of several other acting elements. 3



PROTON NEUTRON PROTON NEUTRON PROTON NEUTRON PROTON NEUTRON PROTON NEUTRON PROTON NEUTRON PROTON NEUTRON ELECTRON ELECTRON ELECTRON ELECTRON ELECTRON ELECTRON PULL PULL ELECTRON ELECTRON PROTON PROTON 8 . . . 8 Oxygen atoms need to more electrons to fill their outermost electron shell, so when the atom bonds with hydrogen, it bonds covalently. There is an unequal distribution of electrons between the bonding atoms, because one has more electromagnetic pull than the other. The larger atom has more sway than the smaller atom in the distribution of electrons. The laws of thermodynamics police the interaction and ensure that the atoms behave regularly. Everything is regulated. The stronger atoms cannot stop the covalent bond either, because of the police; the system is locked in place with neither party able to remove themselves. Both the strong and the weak are subjected to the police. However, the strong atoms benefit more from the interactions, because it is more important to the police that those atoms (the strong) are content, than the weak. The covalent bonds and unequal sharing of electrons create a polar molecule. There is only equal sharing of electrons when the two atoms bonding are identical. A single difference in protons or electrons will cause the molecule to either be ionic and have complete opposite charges, or polar covalent and have partial charges. Unless bonded with an identical (non­mirrored) being, there is inequality. The charges that result from this inequality are the hegemonies that control and dominate the electrons and therefore how the molecule as a whole behaves.4 Molecules will twist their shape and react and not react depending upon these charges. In water, the oxygen atom wants to have a negative charge so that it can be at a lower energy level. Its electromagnetic charge easily overpowers hydrogen’s and it takes Hydrogen’s electron. This is the configuration in which the three molecules (an oxygen and two hydrogen atoms) are at the lowest energy and therefore there is the most contentment overall. This is the politics of molecular configuration. Despite the unequal power distribution, there is no one authority or leader other than the enforcing police. The system only works because of the universally agreed upon and followed laws.



9 On earth, most of a biological cell is made up of water. Other parts include carbon and inorganic compounds. Water acts as the carrier and/or negotiator for other interactions. Because the molecule is polar (one side negatively charged, the other positive), it can easily attract other molecules looking for either positive or negative charges. Water facilitates the continued ordering. It offers the other molecules, regardless of what they might be, the conditions within which to order themselves. Shaping an order, a society, is a continual process and water helps to continually engage with new molecular structures, while staying within the bounds of thermodynamic laws. The whole structure wants to continually change and better itself. The laws and police forces are set up to accommodate new modes of ordering that are biologically and thermodynamically beneficial. 5 I stated previously that the laws of thermodynamics act as they police. They oversee and set the allowed parameters for interaction, it should be noted that there have been no known riots against this police force, precisely because the force allows for change. It is also worth nothing that there are other acting police forces for these structures. 10 Viruses are carbon based. They contain DNA and use a cell as a host for most functions. DNA is the genetic material that allows the next generation of viruses and organisms to continue on the type of ordering the previous generation used. If a quality of the ordering of the organism is beneficial, then it is more likely to survive and reproduce, passing on that form of ordering to the next generation. Genetic information allows for the slow and steady change in orders. There are no radical and sudden shifts, but instead slight tweaks that work themselves out over generations. This is so that the structuring and ordering of that organism, that system of interconnected cells and atoms, works as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Viruses have evolved to be completely dependent on host cells for basic functions. The virus is dependent upon the other organelles and cell structures with which



. . PROKARYOTE PROKARYOTE PROKARYOTE EUKARYOTE11 . . EUKARYOTE PROKARYOTE LIPID SIGNAL PUSH PUSH PUSH PUSH PUSH PUSH PUSH PUSH PUSH SIGNAL LIPID12 they engage. This allows viruses to be efficient and prolific. They have no need to make others content, because the virus is not trying to make a cohesive, successful large structure. It is not trying to be a part of something else. Instead, the virus is only interested in its own, personal needs to maximize its fitness. In this sphere the police is the ability to maximize fitness. Fitness, passing on your DNA to offspring via reproduction, is the goal and the only thing that matters. Conflicts to this police force arise in complex social systems where the overall group will benefit, or empathy or morals come into play. There has been no known documentation of Virus’ morals. 11 Prokaryotes are single celled organisms that lack a membrane bound nucleus or any other membrane bound organelle. They evolved before multi­ celled organisms and began to interact more regularly and have a wider variety of symbiotic relationships. These regular relationships sometimes evolve into reliance and create a larger, united organism: the eukaryote. Eukaryotes, multi­celled organisms, are the social societies of prokaryotes and cells and cell organelles. The most common example of this is the mitochondria. Mitochondria have an outer membrane and were once probably an organism independent from the other parts of the cell. Whether or not an organism, cell, or even atom is “independent” is a tricky question. Each has its own structure and responsibilities, but the meaning for that order is often because they are involved in larger, interconnected systems. One reason there are no absolutes in these political systems, and instead realms of probability, is because there are so many factors, many of which are unaccounted for. 12 Organelles, including lipids, make up a social system within the cell. They work together, make walls, and have their own individual roles. Signals are sent from cell to cell, wrapped in lipids. These signals often tell the cell if there has been an injury or attack and the cell reacts accordingly. Within a cell there are multiple organelles communicating and working together to create a larger, functioning system. And these systems, these cells, form groups and



complicated networks as well. Just as in any form of communication, messages can get misinterpreted and accidents can happen. Mutations in DNA, while not common, have been fairly well documented. Cancer is a mutation. Cancer is an accident; though not completely: some molecules and structures are carcinogenic, or cancer causing. This is an instance of hegemonic rebellion. The cancer cells have a specific agenda, in fact the same agenda as all biotic organisms: reproduction. Whether these cells misinterpreted a message, got misinformation, or something else, they are acting to the best interest of their present goal. In a body with cancer, there are two opposing hegemonies, two opposing groups who want to dominate and thrive.6 13 Groups of cells are called tissues. Tissues make up the body of animals, plants, and fungi. This can be contrasted with inorganic materials that are currently ordered in crystalline structures. Rather than having cells with lots of different parts working together, inorganics have intricate molecular structures that are repeated over and over again to create large, solid orders. A tissue is made up of a community of cells with a common goal. The cells have a similar internal structure and work together. In other orders, such as sub­atomic, opposites attract and work together to create a more balanced overall order. However, in the ordering of tissues, like works with like. This is a fundamentally different method of ordering than those of opposite charges attracting one another. Because of their different layers of orders, tissues can react and adapt to a variety of different outside orders interacting with them. Inorganic crystalline orders have specific rules of what they can and cannot withstand. These are completely different orders and accomplish completely different things. As orders and the things making up the order become larger, they move and change more slowly. Multiple molecular reactions can happen instantaneously, but the evolution of populations, whether it is a population of mammals or prokaryotes, moves much slower. Alterations happen over generations and changes can only be seen when looking back. Geological time scale is similar; mountains are built up and worn away over thousands of years. Events can happen, volcanic eruption and species collapse, that



. . STRUCTURE UP SUNLIGHT GROW REPRODUCE REPRODUCE REPRODUCE REPRODUCE REPRODUCE14 . . CUT PUSH PUSH PUSH PUSH PUSH PUSH PUSH PUSH PUSH PUSH PUSH PUSH PULL PULL PULL PULL PULL PULL PULL PULL PULL PULL PULL PULL . . drastically and quickly change the order. But these events occur because of built up energy and movement. Volcanic eruptions do not occur without the creation of magma and increased pressure and species collapse comes after a species has over stripped their resources or no longer suits their environment. There are casualties for all changes in orders. 14 Like a virus, an organism's goal is reproduction. They will propagate whatever hegemony offers them the best chance of reproduction. This works as a selection process because the weaker, less compelling hegemonies die off due to insufficient reproduction. For biotic organisms to maximize their fitness, sometimes they work together so that their families and communities are more safe. Other organisms are territorial as individuals and will compete with other members of the species for land, resources, and mates. There are different methods of ordering of organisms, but all have the same goal: to maximize their fitness. This is a police force for organisms. These police, like the laws of thermodynamics, mandate what can and cannot happen. And with any police force comes the controlling of information. By existing and functioning as a police force, fitness and the laws of thermodynamics control possibilities and control truth. This truth is the logical and perceivable truth. The police force creates the truth, but this truth has been created and instituted by the police force. It seems logical to those following the police, therefore it must be truth.7 It is truth because we have not been faced with anything but it.





. . .17 . .

15 A population is generally defined as members of your species that you will likely interact with. Populations will often work together as a pack or herd to have a better chance of survival. In this order, like attracts like. But similarly to proton charges, the more similar beings in a group, the more unstable they are. 16 This biotic organisms and the abiotic structures on the crust of the earth interact with the waves of sunlight emanating from the sun. In this scale of interaction, the degree of interaction is what causes shifts. On a quantum or molecular level, there are many different ways that an interaction can occur. Between planetary bodies, there are a limited number of interactions that can occur. Instead, to what degree does the interaction occur? Does the moon pull so that the tides are four feet or four hundred feet? These interactions occur slowly and the orders are on a magnitude that can be difficult to perceive.

17 This is the order of the thing that is millions of miles away that may or may not exist, that I have a very low probability of ever interacting with, and that I have no foreseeable way of ever perceiving.


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This is the end of the translation. To reiterate, this is only a segment of the reality that exists in the universe, in biological bodies, and mountainsides. Orders are infinite. If at any moment they seem finite it is only because we are seeing one moment on a series of multiple, interwoven continuums. This translation is meant to illuminate other, current modes of being and ordering. The political structures of quarks and anti­quarks affect the ordering of human populations, whether this is through the color force emanating outward and pushing and pulling our parts, through subconscious ordering, or other processes. We are in a state of constant re­ordering. Regardless of whether or not our human societal structures encourage re-ordering, it will occur. Reactions will happen, between both molecules and species populations. Human police forces are only vain attempts to control and police chemical and biological police forces. We are running after the orders of our parts and the larger structures we can perceive around us. We are looking to the edges of our perception to see what new ideas we can absorb, use, and mimic. To do this we must transition from talking in terms of the ego, particularly the human ego, and into the eco, the ecological. I say ecological in a larger systemic sense. It is the ecological, geological, and astronomical combined. The molecules, organisms, and mineral compounds speak in logic-­ based terms. Math is the foundation, rather than emotional or cognitive ability. This translation of every thing is the translation of reason, regardless of whether or not we are aware of the reason. This is anti­ideological rhetoric. The forces of thermodynamics do not care about Plato’s ideas or how much we can justify certain behavior. This is a totalitarian order and is pure reason based. As a coalition of atoms we are totalitarian and as humans we may also be totalitarian,8 though we may not have to be. The edges of the universe are the edges of our understanding and our perception. It is where order and things in a material sense get fuzzy and melt together. The edges of our own orders are where transmutations can happen and where true progress can be made. Progress that moves beyond in more than just a humanistic political sense. Progress that reveals new systems of ordering that creates new dynamics between individuals. By studying these edges we will learn about the possibilities of ordering.


END NOTES Mouffe, Chantal. Agonistics: Thinking the World Politically. New York: Verso, 2013. Print. 1

Lefort, Claude. The Political Forms of Modern Society: Bureaucracy, Democracy, Totalitarianism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986. Print. 2

Merleau-­Ponty, Maurice. Trans. Alphonso Lingis. The Visible and the Invisible. Northwestern University Press, 1968. Web.


Mouffe, Chantal. Agonistics: Thinking the World Politically. New York: Verso, 2013. Print. 4

Castoriadis, Cornelius. Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. Web. 5

Mouffe, Chantal. Agonistics: Thinking the World Politically. New York: Verso, 2013. Print. 6

Arendt, Hannah. Between Past and Future: Eight exercises in political thought. New York: Penguin Books, 1993. Print. 7

Lefort, Claude. The Political Forms of Modern Society: Bureaucracy, Democracy, Totalitarianism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986. Print. 8


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Manifestations: On Borges Against Schmitt Oh, and then there was the time when I went to the Port of La Guaira, on the Venezuelan northern coast, on the Caribbean Sea; people spoke to me in English. I was about 10 years old at the time. This was already a common occurence in my life, but only then did I comprehend there would be more to these interactions. The mystification of my origin persists. I prefer it that way. Dany Naierman was born in Caracas in 1982 and is currently based out of Los Angeles, where he plans to remain at least until the time of this publication. No guarantees.




“… el ruido de piedras rotas que lo acompaña y que nace en las gargantas contraídas dae cinco parroquianos y del patrón, hombre honesto a sus horas …” Julio Cortázar from Maravillosas Ocupaciones

And in particular, after driving, they don’t have derrieres This is an offering of

Manifestations. 13 March 2022


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Of a bohemian and troubled nature.


Looked beyond the horizon, even if as an exercise.

Eagles Michael

Lisa’s little lady. Leon’s oldest friend. Managed to eat three eggs every morning for 22 years. Kind, built and very heavy.

Felicia Steelson

Felicia never learned how to swim. Has been happy at least once. Felicia and Lisa had a lot in common, some have said that they were once one soul.


Avid birdwatcher. Leon was her nanny in 1988.


Gregory was secretly infatuated with the smell of onions and butt crack smell. He would always look at his feces before flushing.


Born and raised in Lisbon. Hopes to travel to Brazil next year.


Lover of dancing mice! Close friend to Leon and Jeremy. Jeremy has never heard of Leon.

Case Norton

Never experienced a temperature above 61 F

Jeremy Tapner

Swipes his hands on walls while walking through hallways to feel the temperature of the house and remembers space via referential odor.



But in terms of this, we must not forget that everything is a construct: Events lose their chance for class, everyday. “Is there a clearly delineated reason for the points gained by the classic brain?”, said Leon while waiting for an impossible reaction from Lisa. “It is so nice and it ends…” She said. This is a letter too, but with a lot of registration does it provide us any details… [so] you research some details, they say hello to the second passerby, and the wind blows up the tablecloth. Thankfully, the candles were still lit. The electricity had been out for days. They were arguing superficially about the general idea that we “all get points.” Seven (7), they’re your captured enemies. 30 have been reported and we fought against the house while searching for these important symbols— especially when it came to seating forces and tools of steam, machine, and beauty—artificial deemed artificial over and over again. Leon lost in a bet with his sister; the winner would get to keep the urn containing the ashes of their dog Compadre. Some might say it was all nice, yes, although I have to find out if you want anything from me. You… 8 second pause remember his description of boundaries? He had all these marvelous activities prepared, he must’ve presented at least one. He ended his life, the unfortunate matter of his repression came out all wrong. Delete this and run from noon toward the station, then toward Lisa! Eagles waits for no one. Eagles was born in a town that no longer exists. Leon said that it was all right, that the trains were very accommodating these days. Lisa agreed “Still, I am sorta worried, and it is time, after all. I think there were nine trains in the last hour. This thing is a copy, a flyer, a timetable”


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Leon replied: “Because you didn’t answer today, the exterior turned yellow and male-dick-enhancing drugs continue to message an exhaustive identity position. This is the story of contemporary ideology, it has all become a system of reality beyond what some might understand as perception.” the voice came from the cabin next door… In effect, Leon was mouthing the words. Leon was utterly confused. Rightly so, for there was no way in hell that he could argue against that. He thought about 43 sitting gold dust speckles. They wouldn’t be sufficient. He stopped by the sea place and remembered that each agent can continue having experiences. He couldn’t get over the fact that being by the ocean, or any other natural landscape, always enhanced his playful mis-en-scène. It was inherent to his perception of the world; a complex array of miniscule symbolism in and between the layers of reality. He thought “How can life be so scenic and filled with an array of complexities that appear to be external to the experience of the viewer?” — he looked out into the sunset, the moon and sun were both in the early night sky. His heart would inevitably melt when he encountered these moments. He laid down on the sand, away from the shore, and closed his eyes. Freeze/Pause – 8 Seconds



Eagles Michael, his oldest friend, another of his kind (of either that kind of sensor or another), told him that the family of Felicia Steelson knew about his struggle. Leon always found relief in Eagles’ comforting words. When Felicia Steelson met Lisa all the scheduled trains departed at the same time. Lisa finished with a peculiar way of ending her rhetorical thoughts by saying “fucking teams and all that, you know!?” Leon remembered to practice what his mentor said to him before the details began to emerge and repeated, “I’ll listen. What has the assessment variety brought me for food today?” This was pretty ridiculous, if you don’t mind me saying it, that is. Apologetically, Leon would answer, “I had to do so much, some details were left behind, but I still stand by the idea… so get off the fucking train” he did not mean it as an asking of forgiveness— Lisa was interested in 30 seconds or more in-sponge-form response because, you remember, saying it is not stress-free and there are holes everywhere. She was left behind and remained still. Finally, the very surprise of many years in the making came to light. Those who are experiencing after intellect injury do not know that this is a wonderful thing. Now, allow me to be contradictive. Last I saw us was last night during the PS (please-stop) series. There are theories about how the longer it has, as usual, the longer is the story of the house you talk about, and an almost symmetrical structure arises. If it weren’t completed with this antique, then this text wouldn’t be known. The last text will not be about a small quarrel. I was inside it, you know. That paper officially became time and that is time with fake fake fake inside-agents at the bottom of the story sections. It is the journey! From time to place… and the first part of journey is for becoming aware. The first part of the journey is for telling you how I see this City over the course of our time together.


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Clarence winds up encountering troglodytes and FAQs lying on their side. Butts. It’s either [in] this labyrinth or not. While studying at the Fire Science Faith Century Mall, this detailed description of an outcome of turning points started shifting from one side to the other. Clarence is home and this idea translates to musicals. Intermission. Gregory, Grace and Båka entered the room. I guess the sign on the door meant very little. They’re thinking about loss of speech services and are realizing that they are immortal; the kind of test that comes with a miracle that is not before this trial is over. It wrote us in, you’re in too, in, somewhere. Case moved right of the original journey with the understanding that if you acquire an attorney and their fiancé, “you’ll face you, my darling, you’ll face you and I don’t want to think about anything else, all I want to do is feel safe” and will find, yeah, the old guys that need a purpose. And, so, um. I think Jeremy Tapner is a human-human that traditionally goes beyond all the other future coaches while riding the bus that serves to wet this story; it gives it as much as it needs. The interpretation is obviously faster than the idea of aesthetic experience that makes hostility shift, and then we can get steady and ready for the morning and go! Fast! there are shutters. They’re just shutters. I cannot count cents of a percent. This entire story is an underground history of project suggestions. GET OUT THERE! … and a story it is. This is framed this way, not because the story itself told us about this case, but because the State of Texas is affected and it has a week left before it disappears.

This is about pursuing dissertation.



… and a story it is. In my seat exists a story of languages. Clarence is back in the Houston station. Both Lisa and Felicia are on the arriving train and have some operation displays with them, they have so much sales experience. Clarence saw them pass by, their noses pressed against the window in mockery, and remembered that shit changes perspective. Roses made Clarence cry in the dawn. After the service she searched for more than two years with a very special way of dividing space with walls. We were going to go to sundown, but it was not that close. But at the moment you start drinking: To the priests, the teachers attract a line from the City. The line makes them homesick for a new landscape. This is the first of the latest written stories to be included in the archive of dissertation. The phone rings. Keith says that I should not forget that his birthday is tomorrow, but I do not know anyone named Keith, I hang up. Not only did the old professor decidedly ask you about the reason for something, but also, I can’t express the language to communicate to the professor that what he suggested has nothing to do with who I am... he didn’t have nonjudgmental devices it was mostly unilateral. After coffee was added, the secret was not as important as getting past him; that was the essence of the conversation. “Hello there” is an undertone that was proposed via tele-phone. He[they] was referring to the idea that by ending with this prestigious [privileged] moment, and taking a leap toward a microphone, there is a half-effort to gain redistribution of the perceivable.


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The subject realizes that the microphone and the story have been equal parts in what we discussed. The procedures left behind by this life-changing experience can assist in going through withholding—maybe nothing more. The principal procedure, favored by Clarence, Gregory and Büka, and maybe others (but probably not), was included in a manual titled Instruments and Manifestations. Eagles learned how to fly and Leon likes to think that he can too. --------------*

to the crest of happiness and harmony, may it remain. if found! --------------*



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Distance as Strategy in the Work of Martin Honert Maia Nichols (b. Berkeley, CA) is an artist and writer.

The words of the German artist Martin Honert are published in an interview with Boris Groys in a 1995 Artforum. Groys ends the interview: “You’re reminding me of a notorious warning that used to be issued in the gulag before a march.’ He said, ‘one step to either the left or the right, and you’ll be shot. That’s how you describe your working process: one step to the left, in the sense of sinking into the personal, or one to the right, in the sense of abstraction and generalization—both are dangerous for you” (Groys, Mind’s Eye View). Honert’s practice makes use of a distanced realism that toes this line to point to the deep sobriety of history, rather than involuted self­- reflection. Born in Bottrop, Germany in 1953, Honert lived for six years in boarding school from 1963 to ­1968 and later studied at the Düsseldorf Academy. His works often start from 2D depictions, a sketch, or drawing from his childhood, and end up in a 3D construction. The works in Honert’s oeuvre are idyllic, playful yet polished—and thus, emotionally neutral. While many artists employ memories of childhood in their work, often these are bound up with questions of trauma, itself an inevitable register, a universally indexable vocabulary. Yet Honert’s works don’t seem traceable to an unpleasant event. They are not overly burdened with pathos and appear stripped of nostalgia. The works themselves are often rendered through tedious and well controlled attention: for some of his works, photographs are developed on a computer or modeling programs to allow him to recreate the spaces he remembers. He “...then works on details, such as the wood grain of the chair or the bed­head, or the texture of the wallpaper, in order to provide a scan which can be printed up as a sheet which will be applied to the acrylic forms which make up the furniture...” (Curtis) An exhibition at Bloomberg Space in 2010 consisted of the reconstructed dormitory of his youth in 3D in “Dormitory”—Schlafsaal. In this recreation of his dormitory bedroom, only the mattress is ‘hand­ made,’ while the beds are lit up constructions. Honert fabricates


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Martin Honert, "Schlafsaall", Fragment, 2010. Wood, paper, aluminum, acrylic glass, duratrans, light installation 230 x 240 x 280 cm(MH 007). Courtesy the artist and Johnen Galerie. Berlin Photos: © Andrea Rossetti.

all of his works from scratch by himself, which also accounts for his small output (“Martin Honert”). While this work is influenced by his time spent in boarding school, he refuses any nostalgic reflection on his childhood, and any sense of “collective memory” that this work would be aimed to elicit. Mitternachtsfest (Midnight Feast) consists of three photographs, the starting point for this sculptural work made in 2008. Here, dark photos elicit a childhood memory of life in the dormitory, of a midnight feast where boys would scoff beer, schnapps and sardines in oil during the darkness of the small hours (ibid). The reconstructed beds seem at once both recognizable, and specific to post-­war Germany. Within the assortment of childhood memories Honert recreates, “In none of these cases is it really possible to guess with certainty the psychological reason why Honert found precisely this or that mnemonic image worthy of being produced as an artwork...” (Groys). These works make themselves obvious, “...they offer no revelation of anything inside or hidden. Their only mystery is that they programmatically lack any mystery. Their only manifest trauma is their lack of any



trauma” (ibid). He sees the works as having an obsessive resistance to any discursive interpretation. They rest in the hopes of standing alone for themselves, sufficient in and of themselves, isolated. Some works allude to a kind of purposeful seclusion—for instance, Zelt / Tent (Soft Version), is a cotton tent with a fan inside that causes wafting motions, giving the tent installed indoors at the Kunsthall Düsseldorf in 2001 the illusion of wind. Is he depicting childhood as a time of radical hope? He rejects the idea that there is an internal landscape of memories, a subjective state to be made visible. For him, memories must be sought in external reality, and consequently, can be integrated through art. Honert’s work is not merely about revealing his psychic identity or past. He is not “an expressionist artist subject to an unconscious compulsion to express himself; rather, he is, if you will, a Pop artist who draws readymades into his memory and collects them there” (Groys). Honert situated himself relative to artists such as Katherina Fritsch, Thomas Ruff and others active in the 1980s movement of Germany who shared a neutral approach to traditional European painting, or the understanding of individual mythology and everyday objects from their surroundings (ibid). An exponent of the Düsseldorf school of photography, Ruff looks at visual spaces, alternating between the hands-­on approach of graphic manipulation and montage, throughout his career. For instance, his work M.D.P.N. 02 (2002) is a frontal view of the face of a building, whose framing emphasizes the unity of the Fish Market of Naples. A second work M.D.P.N. 32 (2002) emphasizes the furnishings and lighting within the space endlessly, as well as interior details. Beyond demonstrating Ruff’s two main techniques, this aligns him with Honert who only uses his memory, or the interior as a fraction of the process of the work itself to translate a thought into the virtual, the digital, and then retranslate this into space. These suggest themselves as part of a larger dominating visual ensemble that speaks to what is beyond human activity, or the influence of the human or personal memory. What unites these artists more broadly is their distance from the excitement over German Expressionism, hence the objective treatment styles of their works. For instance, in Ruff’s case, the technique of montage frames the market scene frontally and impersonally. While the Düsseldorf artists were allured by the Pop art of America, and its influence on mass culture and myth, they sought


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more specifically to develop a method that was influenced by their own cultural surroundings, and thus retained a neutral distance from the works they produced (Groys). According to Groys, the Düsseldorf artists lacked the ‘sarcastic, accusatory, criticality’ of the artists of Germany in the ’20s and ’30s opting instead for a ‘cool’ distance. The painting and art of the Düsseldorf artists was suffused by the political turmoil of the time: the economic crisis post­-war led to several years of hyperinflation, followed by severe unemployment, and problems with institutions. A criticality towards the objectification of the subject was re-articulated in this time period from the radical political thinkers now understood to be the Frankfurt school, in the writings of Marcuse, or the Dialectic of Enlightenment. Despite the turmoil, within the marginally quiet time Germany had between the wars this time proved to be a rich moment art and science, for the Bauhaus design movement in architecture, the theatre of Brecht and Piscator, and Fritz Lang’s cinema. Between the end of the First World War and the rise of the Nazis, the artists of the Weimar Republic rejected expressionism in favor of a ‘new’—hence: neue—realism. This moment, of the German Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) tradition of the 1920s and ’30s differentiated itself from the expressionist paintings of the Neo­-Fauves or expressionists before them which were much more explicitly celebratory of individual experience. Sachlichkeit translates not exactly as Objectivity, but rather as ‘matter-­of-fact,’ and it is this quality reflected in Honert’s work that invokes a startling effect against a more openly self-­involuted practice influenced by nostalgia or reflexive memory. The definition of realism these works convey is complex, as the work of the Neue Sachlichkeit was also called ‘neo­- naturalism’, ‘new naturalism,’ ‘new realism,’ ‘magic realism’ and ‘verism’ or ‘new sobriety.’ Artists of the Neue Sachlichkeit such as Otto Dix and George Grosz were part of a group that reacted against not only Expressionism, but also Dada. Honert aligned himself with the ‘New Objectivity’ movement, yet Groys writes that Honert is also “rigorously independent,” a “self-­collector.” “ is only possible to be a self­-collector if one is inwardly divided, if one takes the position of an outside observer toward one’s own remembered life...It cannot be said—and Honert emphasizes this in his interviews—that the artist is pursuing a narcissistic drive and either practicing or celebrating uncritical self­- examination” (ibid). In a sense by splitting the spontaneous expression and craft



Martin Honert, Bande / Gang, 2002. Steel, polyester and paint Installation area: c. 61 x 152 x 53 inches; ca. 155 x 386 x 135 cm. Courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery.

elements from his work, he side steps an investment in proving his capacity to deliver a ‘pure’ act of deeper ‘truth,’ something within which the artist is often historically engaged. While he incorporates the self, this isn’t the only, or primary level at which his work operates. Bande / Gang (2002)—a drawing Martin made as a child when age eight or ten—has four characters lined up by a bicycle. A fifth character represents Martin, cropped so only his torso and face is visible, is shielded by a half­a rc and centered. The crinkled, beige paper has torn, ripped or folded half-arc edges in the upper left corner and lower left corner. The drawing depicts Martin as the “nameless” and “secret ruler” of his friends, as his ‘friends’ are named on the drawing. Tiff, on the left, has a teal sweater and stands with hands on his hips, jutting out one knee. Next to him Diki stands in a checkered long-sleeve shirt and what may be vaguely colored grey overalls. Dunno wears a striped colorful shirt and shorts with a belt. Winne stands proudly next


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to his bike. They all keep a right leg tilted out towards the side posed mimetically and glance towards the left. Winne holds his bike with just a light touch of the fingertips. The man in front—Martin?—has skin more orange than the others, a thin pencil line arcs around his head religiously, halo-­like. In the sculptural version, made of polyester, steel and paint and installed in the Kunst Haus Dresden in 2002, the man in blue reappears submerged like an underwater serpent coming up from the floor, this time of polyester, steel and paint. The Gang reappears, reset and posed, with their postures now in a 3D reconstruction, hovering not far from the wall, leaving a shadow. While these may evade the logic of spontaneity, they belong to a strategy that uses the childhood drawing as an index for an installation or sculpture. He reproduces a gesture that was previously devoid of any intention to be presented publicly. He artificially constructs an identity precisely because he does not believe in this identity’s reality. “People have asked me whether my work has a therapeutic side, but I consciously distance myself from that side of art” (Groys, Mind’s Eye Views). The work thus re­- performs Honert’s own self­- objectification, evading any bubbling or inverted spiraling inwards of self-­reflexive struggle or nostalgia for the innocence of childhood. This enlarged medusa self­- portrait that emerges from the floor in its sculptural rendition is both the Ego ­Ideal and the superego of Honert simultaneously, according to Lacan’s triad between the idealized self (Imaginary), the Ego I­deal (Symbolic), and the superego (Real). For Lacan, the symbolic form—the Ego I­deal—is separated from the superego, and these identities do not line up. The “ideal ego” represents the way I’d like others to see me, who I try to impress, what propels me to try my best. The “superego” is the same as this but in its most sadistic and punishing aspect (Žiẑek, Ego Ideal). In a sense the medusa embodies on the one hand the symbolic ideal self, how Honert would have wanted to appear to his friends, as an aggrandized, respected leader. At the same time, the figure is so much larger than the others that it comes to collide with the ultimate image of Honert’s superego, who reprimands and bombards with more guilt, raising the bar the more Honert tries to please it. The investment in technical precision for artists of the Neue Sachlichkeit was in part a reaction to the impending influence of mechanization and technology. At a time when the individual’s productive value shifted, threatened in the face of the rising efficiency



enjoyed by the machinic, the precision employed was a kind of artistic strategy of defiance against the impending hegemony of technology. The New Objectivity was an “art of lone individuals who seldom came together in groups and who, in studios scattered all over Germany, created images symbolic of their lack of orientation, detachment and helplessness in an alien world” (Eberle, 15/16). The meticulous grooming of the paintings functioned to reject the advocacy for and growing reliance on developing perfect machines. The fear of the time, of the individual himself becoming automaton was echoed by Erich Fromm, thinkers of the Frankfurt school, and others, who deeply feared the loss of self and individual freedom in the face of looming technocracy. Many of the portraits of the writers, artists, prostitutes, veterans, and militarists or politicians portrayed are neither ‘detached’ nor ‘cool’ but are marked by a ‘subjectivism’ that held on from Expressionism, inflicting a drive to reflect a certain disdain for the upper classes, or the converse, a sentimental precision that elevates the impending modernism.” (Foster, The Real 258) At work in this art is the “volatile dialectic of rationalization and irrationality... already detected in Weimar society at large” (ibid). Many of the artworks show tension—whether subjectivity and wounds are foregrounded becomes irrelevant against strategies employed to elude pathos. This leaves an impression that only strengthens the sincerity of their unequivocal position, marked by self­- reprieve in the field of art often saturated by self­-scrutiny and egoic solace. As much as Honert may wish to distance himself from works invested in a nostalgic commentary on childhood, there is something deeply considered and executed in his process leaving the effect of stilled time, reenacting, intervening on the past from the future. A cautiousness in the selection of scenes is transmitted. For instance, he uses a photo of himself as a child as a starting point for a sculptural piece called Foto (Photo) (1993). While his family is gathered around a table playing a game, Honert looks into the camera, distracted by the sound of the self-­timer. This intimate relationship to the camera as mechanism, from the curious young Honert is amplified: he removes his family from the scene and recasts only himself, staring astonished at the viewer. It is unclear how Honert re­-situates the viewer, without the context of this original photo, the family gathered around, or the timer, in the sculptural version. We are left


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Martin Honert, Foto (Photo), 1993. Oil and acrylic on wood and epoxy resin, Figure: 39 3/8; 100 cm (height), Table: 31 x 28 3/4 x 48 1/2 inches; 79 x 73 x 123 cm, Overall: 39 1/2 x 39 1/2 x 48 inches; 100 x 100 x 123 cm. Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery.



squarely within the domestic. The child becomes any child, with only the startled gaze to indicate this momentary glimpse towards waning time, now eclipsed. Has he glorified the mechanical or childhood or refreshed neither? In the Weimar era, the uplifting of objectification was at once a celebration while others saw it looking for a “defense, a mimesis of the object that might be taken up as a mode of adaptation and survival” (Lethen). On the one hand, art strives to position itself at one remove. On the other, it sees itself as hinged to the social world, as keepsake for parts of affect and identity otherwise under assault in life. It often claims to work as a therapeutic reprieve, or a symbolic embodiment of what-­ could-­ be, presenting an alternative to life as it is. Honert provides at once his subjective point of view but at the same time subtracts himself—from his own memories. By reproducing the sketches of his childhood, he presents an objective thorough re-­transcribing of a sketch made fleetingly and unselfconsciously in his childhood. It is not aimed at representing with any accuracy or faithfulness its matrix, since Honert admits there is no self­- involution to his work. This position unburdens the work from any claim to service any higher truth function. Yet it is difficult to be certain that his work is entirely objective. Can we ever really see the artist’s total subjective annihilation to the extent they would have invested in it as a project with no ends? Or is this kind of investment a method for influencing the reception of the work? The more extreme versions of the avant­- garde conception of the self would be the total abandonment of it. For instance, Walter Serner’s Letzte Lockerung: Dada Manifesto states: “Naturellement: there is no consciousness of the self” (Grüttemeier et al. 277). In Lacan’s perspective, “subjective destitution” changes the register from desire to drive (Žiẑek, Love Beyond). Desire, as “historical and subjectivized,” is perpetually hungry, never satisfied since desire only lives to keep itself, only services the prolonging and postponing of desire. Drive has an inert satisfaction that finds its way ‘acephalic.’ It is non­-subjectivized, bringing private rituals that offer intense satisfaction for their maker that the maker is simultaneously unaware of (ibid). Does this have any bearing on the kind of a desert of action through representation? Such a removal is neither consciously apprehended nor aimed at proclaiming its self­consciousness, an awareness of its selfhood. This is the kind of subject that would have characterized the


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artists of the ‘subject,’ whose ‘drive’ was to dismantle the upper class and reveal the times, not through a self-­absorbed lament but through fiercely maintained distance. The anti-­individualist ethos of the Soviet avant­- garde influenced Germany, as the Dada fair proclaimed ‘Art is dead. Long live the new machine art of Tatlin’ (Guntemeir et. al 290). Some months before this, many artists of the expressionist avant­garde formed the Novembergruppe, an organization that declared sympathy with the Revolution’s aims. As the revolutionary wave ebbed, so did the enthusiasm of many artists resulting in a polarization between the Left and Right within the Novembergruppe and in the avant­garde generally” (ibid). How does the ’realism’ or ’bluntness’ of a work inform its socio-critical reception? Does alienation as inevitable strategy leave his work dislocated from being fully embedded in the messiness of social reality? It is not a question of qualitative value per se, but rather the tension between the orthodox and the radical as strategies. Is the alienation Honert’s work anchors, of a relative plainness more radical than normative emotionalism? Whether or not a work is capable of eliciting a shift in one’s state informs the cycle of contestation and re-­contestation played out in art production, much like in politics, revealing how permeable art remains to other spheres of symbolic production. Honert’s work risks being read as a one-­liner, without the context his work may be seen to be reactive against, by hiding nothing and remaining methodologically objective. His distanced strategy renders the work doubly effective: the viewer might be displeased by the overt lack of sentiment through a realist rendering, at once too clear and uncomfortably flat. The nostalgia for the naiveté of childhood turns glossy. The distinction to be made between an overall group cohesion, or a specific claim Honert makes about art­­ via his overt refusal to align it with the psychological unconscious, presents a position, neither of mere ambiguity nor banal paradox.


WORKS CITED Curtis, Penelope. Martin Honert: Comma21. Bloomberg Space. Web. May 1 2016. Eberle, Matthias. World War I and the Weimar Artists: Dix, Grosz, Beckmann, Schlemmer. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985. Print. Foster, Hal. "The Real Thing: 'New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic 1919–1933.” Artforum International, 54, 2. January 1 2015. Grüttemeier, Ralf, K Beekman, and Ben Rebel. Neue Sachlichkeit and Avant­- Garde. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2013. Internet resource. April 24 2016. Hoffman, Edith. Kokoschka: Life and Work. London: Faber and Faber, 1947. Print. p. 143. Honert, Martin, and Boris Groys. Martin Honert: Catalogue Raisonné, 1982–­2003. Köln: Walther König, 2004. Print. Honert, Martin quoted in “Mind’s Eye Views: Boris Groys Talks with Martin Honert” Artforum 33, no. 6, (February 1995): 104 Lethen, Helmut. Cool Conduct: The Culture of Distance in Weimar Germany. 2002. trans. Don Reneau. Berkeley UP. Print. “Martin Honert: COMMA 21.” Bloomberg SPACE. Web. April 21 2016. “Thomas Ruff: m.d.p.n. [SIGNED]” Vincent Borelli. Rare and Contemporary Photography Books. Web. May 1 2016. Žiẑek, Slavok. “Love Beyond the Law.” Lacan Dot Com. Web. April 22 2016. Žiẑek, Slavok. “Ego Ideal and the Superego Lacan As a Viewer of Casablanca.” Lacan Dot Com. Web. April 22 2016.


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Baseball is Bland George Pritzker is a Southern California-based musician and sound artist. He received his BFA in Music Composition from CalArts, where he is currently an MA candidate in Aesthetics & Politics. George has performed in a variety of contemporary music contexts, including ensembles under the direction of Anthony Braxton, Wadada Leo Smith, and others devoted to traditional Chinese, Balinese, and West African music. He has exhibited mixed-media installations at Space4Art, Mesa Art Gallery, CalArts, and the University of Huddersfield. His current research interests include experimental music theory, the relationship between sculpture and sonic practices, and the intersection of sports, politics, and auditory culture.

I am sitting in the stands at Dodger Stadium with my Great Aunt Nonie, watching the Dodgers take on the Mets. Nonie, who is 86, has a deep, lifelong relationship with the Dodgers. She attended her first Dodger game at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn in 1939, and has remained loyal to her team ever since. Nonie is also an old­school baseball purist. She always keeps score with pen and paper at games—an antiquated method in the age of electronic scoreboards, let alone mobile apps that offer real time statistics and replays. Documenting the game by hand with her impeccable southpaw penmanship, Nonie focuses on the action throughout the game, making sure she does not inadvertently transcribe a “4-­6 -­3” double­play when a “6­- 4-­3” has occurred. On the few occasions when she misses a moment, or a play is uncertain in its ruling, she refuses to consult the information of digital sources, preferring instead to wait for the official box score to appear in the newspaper the following morning. At various moments throughout the game, a message flashes on the jumbotron: GET LOUD! Nonie laments this command: “I hate that! I don’t want them to tell me what to do!” Intrigued, I inquire a little more into the details of her aversion. I ask her about the auditory environment at games in the ’40s and ’50s, and what sounds were projected through the PA system. Certainly there was a stadium announcer, possibly an organist, but little more. Compare that to the atmosphere in which we are immersed: sound effects, short clips of pop songs (some chosen by players as their ‘walkup music,’ others curated by a music director) video advertisements, animated games, trivia contests, fireworks—a predominantly loud multimedia spectacle. In hearing Nonie describe the classic, elegantly plain baseball setting, devoid of much of the sonic material that surrounds us, I cannot help but empathize with her nostalgia. I imagine for a moment Dodger Stadium circa 1964, or a photograph of Ebbets Field from the 1940s superimposed as the grandstand around us. “Back then, we provided the noise,” Nonie remarked. “We didn’t need anyone to tell us when to Get Loud.”


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Nonie’s opinion reflects an aesthetic preference for the sensory environment of her youth. But she also seems to be gesturing at something else—a respect for a kind of experience threatened by the command, Get Loud! The agency of the spectator, both individually and collectively, becomes partially lost when fans are instructed when to cheer and make noise. Moreover, less attention to the flow of the game is required when fan participation is artificially cultivated irrespective of the actual dramatic intensity of the moment. Baseball—like all sports, but in its own unique way—possesses fundamentally indeterminate qualities. Expectation builds, but chance intervenes into the unfolding of events. Potentiality is built into the fabric of the game. Baseball is boring. Baseball is too slow. These are commonly held opinions about the sport, but ones that never fail to elicit impassioned rebuttals from devout baseball fans. How is it that the same game produces a sense of boredom in some spectators, while keeping others on the edge of their seats? There is some objectivity to the claim of baseball’s ponderousness: the games are long, the player’s movements are often stationary and repetitive, and innings can trudge along with no significant action taking place. Nevertheless, baseball fans remain mesmerized. These discrepancies in opinion certainly reveal that boringness and excitement are relative ideas, contingent upon various cultural and psychological factors that shape the experience of a given spectator. But also entrenched in both the statement and rejection of the claim that “baseball is boring” is the assumption that boredom—particularly in the context of a sporting event—is a negative quality. We watch sports to be entertained, not bored. In the context of Western cultures, boringness, one can argue, belongs to a constellation of related concepts—including plainness, dullness, slowness, and blandness—that represent negative states to be avoided or transcended. But in the midst of increasing and consistent sensory stimulation of various sorts, boredom and blandness can become sites of worth and rejuvenation. Indeed, virtue in blandness has historically constituted a foundational component in Chinese thought. The title of French philosopher François Jullien’s book on Chinese aesthetics, In Praise of Blandness, sounds oxymoronic to those living in societies that crave excitement and instant gratification. But Jullien’s task, as identified by his translator, Paula M. Varsano, is to “[ask] readers to rethink their assumptions that blandness—the



absence of clearly identifiable flavor, character, or color—is an undesirable quality” (7). Jullien is not ignorant of the paradox that the “praise of blandness” presents. He writes, “First, one accepts the paradox: that to honor the bland—to value the flavorless rather than the flavorful—runs counter to our most spontaneous judgment (and elicits a certain pleasure in thus contradicting common sense). But in Chinese culture, the bland is recognized as a positive quality—in a class, in fact with the ‘Center’ (zhong) and the ‘Root’ (ben)” (27). Like boredom in sports, blandness in the arts also runs counterintuitive to many prevailing values in Western art appreciation. Though not exclusively the case, a strong correlation often exists between exciting, flavorful works and quantifiably successful works—the colorful painting, the dynamic song, the action film, and so on. For many listeners, bland works seem less appealing and less accessible. But Jullien lays out the virtue of blandness through his description of the fourteenth century landscape painter, Ni Zan: Trees on the riverbank, an expanse of water, some nebulous hills, a deserted shelter. The artist, Ni Zan painted virtually the same landscape throughout his life. He did this not, it seems, because of a particular attachment to these motifs but, on the contrary, to better express his inner detachment regarding all particular motivations. His is the monotonous, monochromatic landscape that encompasses all landscape—where all landscapes blend together and assimilate each other (39).

The notion of “inner detachment” potentially creates issues for a culture motivated by intense stimulation. Through Ni Zan, we see an interconnection between the creative work as a realization of the bland and a lifelong practice defined by blandness, i.e. detachment—a willingness to dwell and an acceptance of stillness. Blandness and the corresponding state of detachment possess a foundational quality: “According to the Daoists of antiquity, the very foundation of reality, in its infinite fullness and renewal, reveals itself to us as “bland” and “flavorless” (dan hu qi we wei)” (41). It is important to note that embracing blandness does not negate the potential for flavor to emerge. Rather, the richness of flavor is contingent upon the foundation of blandness. Without the “inexhaustible” blandness, flavor loses its capacity for meaning and value:


A&P 2015-17 All flavors disappoint even as they attract ... They represent nothing more than an immediate and momentary stimulation that, like sound sifted through an instrument, disappear the moment it is consumed. In contrast to such superficial stimuli, the bland invites us to trace it back to the ‘inexhaustible’ source of that which constantly unfolds without ever allowing itself to be reduced to a concrete manifestation or completely apprehended by the senses: that which transcends all particular actualizations and remains rich in virtuality (42).

“Immediate and momentary stimulation” that does not lead to sustained fulfillment: we see this classically manifested in the “flavorful” song that wears thin over repeated listening. Jullien dedicates significant portions of his text to discussing Chinese musical aesthetics. Music provides a useful bridge to connect the discussion of blandness with a sport like baseball, which indeed shares many structural and aesthetic similarities with music. In particular, Jullien highlights the “lingering tone,” or a quality in music that “does not ... consist of the fullest possible exploitation of all the different tones” (66). Lingering tones have a tendency towards mutedness and sustain, and thus are “all the more able to extend and deepen themselves in the minds of their hearers for having not been definitively realized (67).” Jullien quotes the poet Bo Juyi, who praises bland music: “The melody is bland, rhythm spare, and sounds are few” (83). In a discussion of baseball, the line may be reimagined as “the sport is bland, action spare, and runs are few.” Some argue that Americans have become predisposed to preferring “high scoring” sports to “low scoring” sports. Games certainly possess rhythms not unlike narrative arts, some of which require greater patience than others. Themes and gestures become established in the form of plays. Moments of action and acceleration interrupt moments of quietude, softness, and stillness. Drama reaches a peak tension before resolution, and scoring provides climactic excitement with the crossing of a threshold or the penetration of a boundary. But baseball, in both its structure and setting, reveals itself in possession of a foundational blandness. Consider first the landscape quality of the sport, the expansive fields that harken back to the open pastures in which the early version of the game was played, and the wide spacing of players across the playing surface. Consider the slowness and stillness of the flow of game, the innings when players see no action and do not move from a small patch of grass or dirt,



when the ball does not enter the field of play beyond a mundane dribble, when no base runners reach first base, let alone home plate. Think of the inner detachment of the outfielder who must manage his emotions in order to maintain energy and vigilance over the course of a three-­hour athletic event, or the catcher who must crouch in an uncomfortable position, on a near daily basis, over the course of a 162 game season. Imagine flavor emerging when, after seven innings devoid of action, a home run compels 60,000 spectators to instantaneously rise up from their seats and cheer in pure excitement. One can start to see the connection between the “lingering tone” in music and the lingering quality of the baseball game and season. A sport like football, so condensed, so intensely packed with consistent physical impact, could not possibly sustain itself over the course of a 162 game season, or even a thirty game season. A relationship exists between action and duration, where the length of the season necessitates a slower pace of action within each individual game. For the baseball player to sustain poise and performance over the course of an exhaustingly long season, a certain inner detachment proves essential. One cannot bring the consistent intensity of the football player into the outfield lawn of a baseball stadium. The same can be said for the devoted fan of a baseball team. A single defeat in football can derail the hopes of a successful, playoff­-bound season. Football fandom is defined by intensity—intense anticipation, elation, and despair. But baseball fans cannot sustain this same type of intensity in their emotional connection with a team. A game lost in June is just one out of 162. It must be taken in stride, with a certain degree of inner detachment.

WORKS CITED Jullien, Francois. In Praise of Blandness: Proceeding from Chinese Thought and Aesthetics. New York: Zone, 2004. Print.

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Kristin Trammel is a Los Angeles-based photographer, curator, radical educator and cultural theorist. She creates photographs, zines and artist books, essays, performance pieces and educational curriculum. Her projects explore processes of disenchantment, re-enchantment and existential seeking in a time of heightened ontological uncertainty. Investigations of liminal spaces between the spirit, the mundane, the ethereal nature of human connectivity and the ways in which personal mythologies influence our ethics guide her work. She is the Founder and Director of the Applied Mythology Project.



Mysterium Tremendum: Metaphysics Got Me Feelin' Some Type of Way 1 “When the soul wants to experience something she throws out an image in front of her and then steps into it.” –Meister Eckhart1 “Choose your future. Choose Life.” –Trainspotting "Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions stems the dream again; and this interdependence produces the highest form of living." –Anais Nin ——————————————————— How do we encourage empathy? How are we curating ourselves? How do we remain inspired? 1a German philosopher and theologist Rudolf Otto investigated the human experience of the sacred in The Idea of the Holy (1923). According to Britannica, mysterium tremendum et fascinans "can be experienced in feelings that convey the qualitative content of the numinous experience. This content presents itself under two aspects: (1) that of “daunting awfulness and majesty” and (2) “as something uniquely attractive and fascinating.” From the former comes the sense of the uncanny, of divine wrath and judgment; from the latter, the reassuring and heightening experiences of grace and divine love. This dual impact of awesome mystery and fascination was Otto’s characteristic way of expressing man’s encounter with the holy." 1b Originating from American rapper Rich Homie Quan's song "Type of Way," this phrase has since been memified by the Internet. According to Urban Dictionary, "feel some type of way" refers to a feeling that is so heightened it elicits confusion and raw emotion.


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The desire to find the right path keeps us searching. This is as true for the individual as it is for societies, as true in politics as it is in religion. How do we see ourselves and the world? How do we interact, how should we engage? With every answer, we uncover other answers that contradict, larger answers that envelop, and nuanced answers that change the nature of the questions. The essential goal in searching is ostensibly to find, but when we encounter ideas, theories, beliefs or spiritual understandings that ring true, we encounter a conundrum: to behold a truth, we risk letting it calcify, and we risk letting ourselves grow rigid as we cling to it. This rigidity often stands in conflict with the origin of truth, causing cracks and fissures in the ideas themselves and in those who hold them. That which does not bend, breaks, and once broken, the search for truth begins again—different from the last time, yet fundamentally the same. It is the fundamental sameness which I cannot help but perceive. Despite the incredible variety of beliefs, from the secular to the spiritual and all varieties within, they function similarly in the human mind and heart. They provide stories to guide us, lenses for us to see with, frameworks for us to fit into. New beliefs take from the old; old beliefs encompass the new. For me, and I believe for this generation, our new difficulty takes on a meta-approach: in a world defined by access to nearly all places and their local truths, all viewpoints and their pundits, all religions and their followers, all theories and their adherents, where is truth? Would we know it when we found it? We are in an ontological crisis. And yet each of us must believe in something from one day to the next. Our search is unlike any search for truth the world has seen. And yet it is not, for we live within our beliefs, even when they remain opaque to us, even when they are comprised of multiple and conflicting truths, even when they resist definition. Even as I see it this way, it does not halt my search for clarity. Inside the grand overarching themes that unite all beliefs, I still crave a granular truth that can be defined, beheld, known, studied and shared. The following is a brief index of philosophical concepts, mystical traditions and cultural elements that have lingered most potently within me, influencing my own interpretation of the world in a lifetime attempt to know truth in any and all of the forms it may take, and to “know yourself, know your worth.”2 2 “0 to 100 / The Catch Up,” Drake



Art: Art as defined by Georges Bataille is “a mechanism for accessing a kind of imminent beyond to everyday experience” (O’Sullivan). Devoting attention suspends normal activity, whereupon other planes of reality may be perceived, the ritual of artmaking itself opening us to the creation of unknown, sacred spaces. Art makes visible the invisible, makes perceptible the imperceptible, harnessing forces in a process of creative deterritorialization into the realm of affects. Art may be understood as the name for a magical and aesthetic function of potential transformation.3 Aesthetics: That which affects our senses, frames our perception, and shapes our visions of what is possible. Aesthetico-Political: While religion continues to provide answers that stretch beyond the rational limits of political theory or philosophy, the era of the theological-political has long passed with the realization that God does not create our social institutions—we do. This paradigm shift ushered in the age of the epistemological-political. Yet, history has unveiled the risks of reducing into single data points our complex world that cannot be pinned down in hierarchical taxonomies. Thus we arrive at a new ontology: that of the aesthetico-political, which accepts as its foundation the fact that the world is accessible from an infinite multiplicity of perspectives, highlighting the criticality of perception. When realizing that it is within our reach to alter and actively create the political, the question of individual human agency becomes paramount to things far beyond us, into the realm of the social, the cultural, the artistic... Through the aesthetico-political, we make sense of ourselves for ourselves, and an infinite plurality emerges, reminding us that the ambiguity is never settled, that we must come to peace with the fact that existence is a continual process of becoming rather than a placid state of being, outstretched in all directions. In this unfolding, what philosopher and psychoanalyst Cornelius Castoriadis refers to as our radical imagination and philosopher Gilbert Simondon terms individuation and cosmogenesis, new truths are constantly revealed to us, in turn presenting new possibilities for living. Whether through a presidential election or a controversial event in pop culture, the interaction between the imaginary, or what 3 My understanding of affect theory is largely influenced by Simon O’Sullivan’s “The Aesthetics of Affect: Thinking Art Beyond Representation” (2001).


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could be, and the real, or the perceptions we share and collectively deem “reality,” we are able to imagine ways of coexisting based on entirely different value systems.4 Borges, Jorge Luis: The Argentine literary master of seeing the world through a very personal but communicative level of perception indirectly interrogating the political realm. He fiercely experimented with the social imaginary, portraying controversial ideas through fictional metaphor referencing history, culture and political philosophy. Culture: The systems of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions shared by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving. Culture is communication, communication is culture. • Culture in its broadest sense is cultivated behavior; that is the totality of a person's learned, accumulated experience which is socially transmitted or, more briefly, behavior through social learning. • A culture is a way of life of a group of people—the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next. • Culture is symbolic communication. Some of its symbols include a group's skills, knowledge, attitudes, values, and motives. The meanings of the symbols are learned and deliberately perpetuated in a society through its institutions. • Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other hand, as conditioning influences upon further action. • Culture is the sum of total of the learned behavior of a group of people that are generally considered to be the tradition of that people and are transmitted from generation to generation. • Culture is a collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another. 4 This understanding of the aesthetico-political emerges from Martín Plot.



Depth Psychology: The branch of psychology dealing with dreams, archetypes, symbols and the unconscious. Disenchantment: Mass anxiety/depression/burnout accompanying industrialization, capitalism and secularism; that feeling that shit is fucked, contributing to Leftist melancholy and #yolo-kinda lifestyles of leisure and hedonism. The narrative of disenchantment is one of loss—loss of the divine and, hence, loss of personal, communal, and existential meaning. The common cultural narrative of disenchantment must be revisited in order to understand how it not only fails to serve us culturally but actually perpetuates the conditions it describes...Modern science... first whets our appetite for completion of purpose and then insists that no final satisfaction is attainable. And that is why a disenchanted materialism carries with it a psychology of disappointment and an affect of meaninglessness.... This disappointment can issue in a cynical resentment of the world, but it also provides the occasion for a brave and responsible acceptance of the world (Bennett, 4; 61).

In stark contrast to the belief in a magically divine cosmos, the intellectualization of the world carries with it an overwhelming sense of fragmentation and finitude, increasing our desire for experiences which exist outside logical explanation and invite us into the realm of the unknown. Kant referred to that which could not be perceived by the senses as the supersensible, the transcendent, or the noumenal. However, these terms imply that the divine exists only in total separation from “the real."5 As cultural effects of disenchantment transform alienation into nostalgia for a return to a mythologized world of wonder, we often contemplate whether or not the achievements gained in modernity are worth “the price of meaninglessness” (Bennett, 64). Enchantment: Enchantment entails a state of wonder, and one of the distinctions of this state is the temporary suspension of chronological time and bodily movement, To be enchanted, then, is to participate in a momentarily immobilizing encounter; it is to be transfixed, spellbound… In ‘a moment of pure presence within wonder,’ enchantment includes, then, a condition of exhilaration or 5 See Transcendence.


A&P 2015-17 acute sensory activity. To be simultaneously transfixed in wonder and transported by sense, to be both caught up and carried away—enchantment is marked by this odd combination of somatic effects… requiring active engagement with objects of sensuous experience; it is a state of interactive fascination… The overall effect of enchantment is a mood of fullness, plenitude, or liveliness, a sense of having had one's nerves or circulation or concentration powers turned up or recharged—a shot in the arm, a fleeting return to childlike excitement about life (Bennett, 5).

Flesh: Standing in opposition to the idea of mind-body dualism, philosopher Merleau-Ponty’s work highlights the invisible “fifth element,” conceiving of perception as the sensory aesthetic that determines of our understanding of the world, ourselves and divinity.6 Fourth Way: The spiritual doctrine outlined by Russian mystic, philosopher and spiritual teacher Ivan Gurdjieff, whose “Fourth Way” teachings focused on awakening Consciousness. His work delved into the question of humanity's ro7le in the Universe and the possibilities of inner development for higher levels of Consciousness. His methodology opposed passing through life in “waking sleep,” a hypnotic state of existence lacking a mind-body consciousness. In the depths of a love affair with Alejandro Jodorowsky, Gurdjieff’s daughter Reyna d’Assia allegedly said, "To be strong in the great things, we must also be strong in the small ones." She then recited the 82 aphorisms for living, inspired by her father’s Fourth Way, that inspired Jodorowsky’s film work (Jodorowsky). God: Likely our most controversial subject... {aka The Divine, The Universe, Energy, Karma, Creator, Spirit...} Healing: Something we spend our lives seeking. Hip Hop: A healer. Music with The Message. An African-American underground musical culture gone global. Indecisive: That feeling you get when someone puts you on the spot and you can’t make up your mind because you’re actually awake to all the infinite variables and perspectives. 6 See Perception. 7 The 82 aphorisms are my core inspiration for this piece. I highly recommend reading and savoring them all. Find them in Jadorowsky’s book or online (such as in Dangerous Minds’ “‘The Key to Immortal Consciousness’: The 82 Commandments of Alejandro Jadorowsky,” September 9, 2015).



Jodorowsky, Alejandro: Chilean avant-garde filmmaker, psychomagical healer, and tarot historian, whose work highlights the power of the symbolic realm on Consciousness. Philosophy is a search for truth, but it isn’t the Truth. I wanted things to affect me concretely. The meaning of words didn’t have an effect on me, only their vibration did. Their beauty, poetry, and splendor impressed me. Through words I could receive beauty, but not truth. I didn’t want to say that truth was beauty. I was searching for things that affected me directly: symbols. A symbol doesn’t communicate a precise thing. It acts like a mirror and in that mirror you see what you are bearing, what you are. If you are able to see symbols, you’ll see yourself, and you’ll be able to control your progress, because as time passes and you develop, symbols change with you and accompany you… I saw that symbols enter into me. You don’t see them from the outside, like when you look at a fashion magazine. They penetrate into you like a key, opening inner dimensions, opening me up to things that are difficult to explain with words. Your being changes (Jodorowsky, various interviews).

Kundalini: The primal energy sitting at the base of the spine that represents the inner goddess, a spiritual enlightenment waiting to be invoked; a libidinal force of sacred femininity. Labyrinths: The winding paths we wander in search of a more gentle way. Mysticism: Esoteric investigation of the unknown; direct, extraordinary experiences with divine consciousness. Mythology: Defining myths as “clues to the spiritual potentialities of the human life,” Campbell articulates four main functions that myths serve, regardless of era or culture: The first is the mystical function… realizing what a wonder the universe is, and what a wonder you are, and experiencing awe before this mystery… Myth opens the world to the dimensions of mystery, to the realization of the mystery that underlies all forms. If you lose that, you don't have a mythology. If mystery is Manifest through all things, the universe becomes as it were, a holy picture. You are always addressing the Transcendent mystery to the conditions of your actual world. The second is a cosmological to mention, the dimension with which science is concerned— showing you what the shape of the universe is, but showing it in


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such a way that the mystery again comes through… Function is the sociological one—supporting and validating a certain social order.... It depends on where you are. It is this sociological function of myth that has taken over in our world—and it is out of date… [The] Function of Myth, and this is the one that I think everyone must try today to relate to—and that is the pedagogical function, of how to live a human life time under any circumstances… Myths and dreams come from the same place. They come from realizations of some kind that have been to find expression in symbolic form. And the only myth that is going to be worth thinking about in the immediate future is one that is talking about the planet, not the city, not these people, but the planet, and everybody in it. That's my main thought for what the future this is going to be. And what it will have to deal with will be exactly what all myths have dealt with—the maturation of the individual, from dependency through adulthood, through maturity, and then to the exit; and then how to relate to this society and how to relate this society to the world of nature and the cosmos. That's what the myths have all talked about, and what this one's got to talk about. But the society that it's got to talk about is the society of the planet. And until that gets going, you don't have anything (The Power of Myth, 38-39; 41).

“perception involves that which is beyond the senses.”In his view, consciousness functions not as a subjectivity that presents itself to the world, but as an intersubjective fusion of self and world. In conceiving of perception as pre-existent to subjectivity and embracing a more primitive nature of man’s relationship to matter/nature/the divine, and standing in sharp contrast to Kantian mind-body dualism, MerleauPonty embraced the body as the locus of all perception, as the site of an ever-present transcendence. Rather than existing within us or outside us, consciousness is the in-between, the flesh that connects everything to everything. In this vein of thought, we can imagine how the body is constantly mediating our experiences of being in the world, and how our experiences of perception form our values, truth, and intellectual schema. Thus, if rationality is held within perception itself and it is perception which effectually summons us to the task of knowledge and action, then seeking to better understand our own perception is one route to self-realization. Such understanding can never reach a stable state since contradictions are an inherent element of Consciousness, but these contradictions can be accepted, knowing we'll never really know. The phenomenological observation is to overcome these structures by expanding our minds.

New Aesthetic: Seekers in every society have searched within for that which feels lost from the social imaginary of holiness, for that which provides existential depth, psychological security and meaning. In times of heightened disenchantment, we see an increase in an overall return to that which exists beyond language, to the visual, the symbolic, the conceptual, the virtual. “Post-Internet” visual culture has delivered us into a New Aesthetic, “a native product of modern network culture… [born digitally].

Perennialism: A popular religio-spiritual philosophy embracing tenets of monism: belief in shared energy of universal interconnectedness. (19th Century Transcendentalism  ”Spiritual But Not Religious.”)

The New Aesthetic is “collectively intelligent.” It’s diffuse, crowdsourcey, and made of many small pieces loosely joined. It is rhizomatic... It’s open-sourced, and triumphof-amateurs. It’s like its logo, a bright cluster of balloons tied to some huge, dark and lethal weight (Sterling).

Politics: The stage of civic matters establishing power, morality, ideology and psycho-social systems of interaction. Quantum Physics: When the wisdom tradition of science finally validates all our hippy shit, taking us beyond assumptions about the nature of the physical plane and into the realm of metaphysics. Radical Imagination: The uncontrolled, creative part of ourselves which can conceive of the imperceptible, guiding us towards perpetual personal growth and social innovation.

Ontology: A branch of metaphysical philosophy addressing the nature of being itself.

Reenchantment: Enchantment, rooted in sensory perception, influences our ethics. With an expansive understanding of enchantment that embraces everything from art to science, from nature to humanity, from the aesthetic to the political, we may begin to conceive of innovative ways to intentionally cultivate such moods of awe.

Perception: Phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty wrote that

Rhizome: An interconnected organism which elements interact as a

(The Unbearable Lightness of Being...)


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whole network that can be configured as centralized, decentralized, or distributed. The acceptance of modernity’s rhizomatic nature has marked postmodern philosophies and applies to everything from aesthetics (Ranciere’s “distribution of the sensible” concept in particular) to politics, the space where power and social relations are established. The rhizome expresses a necessary submission of rationalization to the undefinable, unknowable, incalculable nature of existence, conceiving of a universe filled with infinite influences existing far beyond human perception. The very nature of the rhizome challenges conceptions of a fixed, measurable, or secure universe, undermining historically dominant ideas of the sacred as existing in total separation from the material. Singularity: A view of the future which allows artificial intelligence to converge and develop into accelerated versions of superconsciousness, otherwise known as the collective unconscious, the flesh, perennialism or monism. Social Imaginary: How do personal mythologies relate to social imaginaries? Why is imagination fundamental to the political? When we wake up from a powerful dream, it resonates within us throughout the day. In dreams, we speak to ourselves in symbols and stories. Our perceptions are undoubtedly influenced by these private myths, which are of course inspired by perceptions. How can mythologies we perceive be reinvented to more effectively serve us, and what effects could relevant mythologies have on our lives? Utopian ideals of a single humanity feel securitizing, but history has revealed the danger of such homogenizing mythologies. How, then, can we rethink our existence in ways that do justice to our shared humanity while respecting our unique perspectives? Political theorist Chantal Mouffe argues for accepting that there will always be radical differences between groups of people and consequently designing and establishing new paths for navigating between these pluralities. I see these kinds of conversations taking shape in popular culture, the ultimate realm of personal mythologies and social imaginaries. Spirituality: What do you believe in? Symbolism: Relevant symbols connect us to the unknown, compelling our attention and unfolding new meanings over time, so interrogating the complex layers of contemporary cultural symbols is paramount, as imagery evokes new thresholds, unfolding new dimensions of meaning.



Symbolic images are more than data; they are vital seeds, living carriers a possibility. A given symbol reflects intrapsychic landscapes and field phenomena in which structures and functions, shifting, mercurial energies and processes of transformation participate…. Symbolic energies get incarnated in all the stuff of life through our unconscious projections, which can obscure as well as illuminate… (Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism, 6; 8). The first and most important aspect of a living mythological symbol is to awaken and give guidance to the energies of life. It is an energy-releasing and-directing sign, which not only ‘turns you on,’ as they say today, but turns you on in a certain direction, making you function a certain way—which will be one conductive to your participation in the life and purposes of a functioning social group... When the symbols provided by the social group no longer work, and the symbols that do work are no longer of the group, The Individual cracks away, becomes disassociated and disoriented, and we are confronted with what can only be named the pathology of the symbol (Campbell, 46).

Third Way: Borges’ third way” of viewing the world challenged the two dominant narratives and worldviews of his era: visions of utopia contrasted against regional difference and the friend/enemy distinction,8 acknowledging the possibility of true coexistence with the Other. Transcendence: Within theories of enlightenment, transcendence refers to that which extends beyond the limits of all possible experience and knowledge, conceiving of the sacred as being outside ourselves and leaving the individual to infinitely ponder the unknowable. The transcendental signified the structures of our perceptions, which ground our knowledge of the world. Even though it was an opposition, perhaps even a departure, from conceiving of a union with the divine itself, the question of the sacred continues to be fundamental to both Eastern and Western philosophies. The empirical approach to the beyond was and is the route of Eastern philosophies, while Western philosophy seems to ground itself in some kind of a post-divine experience.9 8 This theory was addressed by Carl Schmitt at length. 9 Does God manifest within the world or beyond it? Are we part of the divine itself, or subject to a consciousness outside ourselves? Is it possible to conceive of logical routes through such philosophical labyrinths? From Aristotle


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Utopia: The things currently blocked from our access. Utopian philosophy views art as an embodiment of a new, harmonious reality, although dramatically disengaged with present social realities. The utopian notion of art holds creativity outside society in order to negate and critique it, to keep hope alive for a different way of interacting in the world. Vibrant Matter: Why must we choose between “an enchanting cosmology or a disenchanted materialism”? Political theorist Jane Bennett’s argument that “the problem of meaninglessness arises only if ‘matter’ is conceived as inert” leads her to postulate the idea of an enchanted materialism. While the idea of matter as being “quite an amazing and vibrant thing” was at one time considered a fanciful New Age belief, physics has taught us that there is more to this notion than wishful thinking. For Weber, as for other and disenchantment theorists, matter is the complete opposite of spirit—and only spirit can resist calculation and inspire us morally… There is no mention of a materialism wherein matter has liveliness, resilience, unpredictability, or recalcitrance that is itself a source of wonder for us… In a world experienced as disenchanted, humanity figures as the primary, if not sole, locus of agency and vitality… Thinking, like sensing, is a matter of perception (Bennett, 64, 83).

Visual Culture: What images are we stepping into today? From ancient cave paintings to “post-Internet art,” visual culture continues to point to the unknown and reorder the sensible, opening doorways to new subjectivities, collectivities, and social relations. For example, the prevalence of hip hop culture among mainstream American youth has recently taken an interesting political turn (largely inspired by the #BlackLivesMatter movement) with cinematographers collaborating with musical artists to create what many view as modern myths. From Beyonce’s Lemonade to Kendrick Lamar’s provocative performance to Deleuze, Kant to Sartre, Tupac to Buddha and humanitarianism to hedonism, we constantly wrestle with such conundrums. Maybe your logic makes more empirical sense or sounds more conceptually eloquent—whatever. (My own is deeply grounded in instincts.) But let’s keep it real: what actual difference would agreeing upon “answers” to such theoretical quandaries make anyway? And wouldn’t it make things less fun?



at the Grammy’s, hip hop artists are pushing traditional limitations of what Adorno called “the culture industry”; critically acknowledging cultural wounds and embracing the enchantments that may (or may not) heal us. Woke: To be awake and aware of the realities of injustice and adversarial forces within your community; to be spiritually conscious of humanitarian politics.10 Xanax: Gettin’ wavy; make everything a little bit lighter. Chill the fuck out, it’s all gonna be okay; that pill you take when your brain hurts from thinking about this shit. Yeats, William Butler: In comparing his own educational experiences in post-WWI optimism with what Campbell saw as a changing tide of disinterest in studying cultural history in the 1960s due to “a lack of energy to encompass it all and press on... a kind of failure of heart, a loss of nerve” resulting from “the concatenation of new problems to be faced, new facts and influences to be absorbed” regarding a problematic future, Yeats’ work represented a great historical turn associated with a morphology of history11 suggesting that our present moment is embedded within the last phase of a Christian cycle of two thousand years.12 From Zen Buddhism to Western New Age, history is filled with theories of how to bridge the gap between matter and spirit, increasingly seeking forms of reenchantment as this “new gyre begins to stir” (Yeats). Zeitgeist: The defining mood, spirit and vibe of a particular historical period, exhibited through cultural beliefs and actions. What we all today surely recognize is that we are entering one way or another a new age, requiring new wisdom: such a wisdom, furthermore, as belongs rather to experience old age than to poetically fantasizing youth, and which every one of us, whether 10 #StayWoke originated from Erykah Badu’s 2008 song “Master Teacher” and was embraced by the #FreePussyRiot and #BlackLivesMatter movements, although it has since lapsed into signifying Internet slang and memification. Rather than implying a consciousness of systematic injustice, #StayWoke often points to being self-realized in mundane situations. 11 “A morphology of history” is a concept outlined in Oswald Spengler’s ominous book The Decline of the West, published in 1918. 12 See also Joseph Campbell, Myths to Live By, 85.


A&P 2015-17 young or old, has now somehow to assimilate. Moreover, when we turn our thoughts to religion, the first and most obvious fact is that every one of the great traditions is today in profound disorder. What has been taught as their basic truths seem no longer to hold. Yet there is a great religious fervor and ferment evident among not only young people but old and middle-aged as well. The fervor, however, is in a mystical direction, and the teachers who seem to be saying most to many are there those who have come to us from a world that was formerly regarded as having been left altogether behind in the great press forward of modern civilization, representing only archaic, outlived manners of thinking. We have gurus galore from India; roshis from Japan; lamas from Tibet. And Chinese oracle books are outselling our own philosophers. They are not, however, outselling our best psychologists. And this, finally, is not surprising; for the ultimate secret of the appeal of the Orient is that its disciplines are inward-pointing, mystical, and psychological (Campbell, 88).

____________________________________ So, where are we now? Doing yoga, listening to Kendrick, making vegan smoothies and reposting Drizzy memes? Smoking weed, checking texts, swiping left, consuming culture, keepin’ up the hustle? Never 100% sure, trying to enjoy the moment while not sacrificing tomorrow, hoping for the best? And nothing was the same… {…Levitate Levitate Levitate Levitate…}

“My smile could be your smile and vice versa. It’s an illusion. It’s cool though. We got this. Reach as high as you want. Open mind. Endless opportunities. All good. Nothing but blue skies. Gettin the vibe right. Thinking of a dreamland. Pink sunset. Don't be afraid to do. Everyone deserves to be loved. We belong to the world. Real shit” (Wiz Khalifa, Twitter)


WORKS CITED ARAS (Archive for Research in Archetypal Studies). The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images. Berlin: Taschen, 2010. Print. Bennett, Jane. The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001. Print. Badu, Erykah. “Master Teacher.” New Amerykah Part One (Fourth World War). Motown/Universal Records, 2008. Mp3. Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth. New York: Anchor Books, 1991. Print. Campbell, Joseph. Myths to Live By. New York: Penguin Books, 1972. Print. Drake. “0 to 100 / The Catch Up.” Hood Heat, Vol. 1. Virgin EMI Records, 2014. Mp3. Jodorowsky, Alejandro. The Spiritual Journey of Alejandro Jodorowsky. Rochester: Park Street Press, 2005. Print. Meland, Bernard E. “Rudolf Otto.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. n.p., 2016. June 1, 2016. O’Sullivan, Simon. “The Aesthetics of Affect: Thinking Art Beyond Representation.” Journal of Theoretical Humanities 6.3 (2001): 125-135. Print. Ranciere, Jacques. The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible. Trans. Gabriel Rockhill. New York: Continuum. 2004. Print. Spengler, Oswald. The Decline of the West. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1926. Print. Sterling, Bruce. “An Essay on the New Aesthetic.” WIRED, April 4, 2012. Web. August 5, 2016.


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Disarming History Katie Wohl was born and raised SIX FEET below Sea-Level.

Colonial society was dependent on slave labor to survive. The European colonial powers wanted to develop and grow their financial interests in their colonies. Moreover, and more importantly, they needed cheap labor to grow and harvest tobacco, sugar, cotton and other cash crops on their plantations. The first option was the cheapest and easiest, and that was white indentured servants. But this still did not provide enough hands to perform the work that the new colonies required to reap large enough profits. There were not enough indentured servants making the arduous journey across the Atlantic Ocean, because those who had made the voyage before had written reports back to Europe about how inhabitable the new world was for poor whites.1 It was challenging to persuade poor Europeans to leave the life they knew in Europe, no matter how meager it was. This led to an increase in the Atlantic Slave Trade and required the formation of a superstructure of racism that would be supported culturally as much as legally.2 In order for African slave labor to be increased, it had to be justified by the Europeans. Slavery itself of course was not new, and is far older than the Columbian Exchange, but racism as we know it today is not. The rise of racism in the West did not happen overnight. Before the 1450s, Africa was not seen as the “dark continent” (as it would be once the Atlantic Slave Trade began) but had been perceived as merely exotic. It would have been common knowledge to many Europeans that the Moors from Africa arrived in Spain and Italy with 1 Zinn, H. A people’s history of the United States: 1492 to present. New York: HarperPerennial, 2003. Print, 75. “One immigrant wrote from America, ‘Whoever is well off in Europe better remain there. Here is misery and distress, same as everywhere, and for certain persons and conditions incomparably more than in Europe.’” 2 Hadden, Sally E. Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001. Print, 25.


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significant artifacts from antiquity preserved during the Golden Age of Islam that would inevitably spur the Renaissance. Different kingdoms in Africa were known for their investment in learning, such as Kingdom of Timbuktu, which had a world-famous library and research center. However, European and European-Americans chose to forget the recent past and instead characterized Africans in a negative light in order to rationalize enslaving them.3 This modern version of racism was built upon a new superstructure in the Western world and was developed for two main historical purposes: The first reason was to justify seizing land that belonged to the indigenous people of the Americas, and their eventual enslavement and extermination. The second reason was to defend the enslavement of Africans, forcing them to work the Europeans’ respective territories in the Americas. A new superstructure based on a socioeconomic and racial caste system emerged to justify the institution of slavery in the Americas. This superstructure required that the notion of race be confirmed both in legal and scientific terms. Race would need to become a biological truth, and this approach began in the late sixteenth century. Colin Dayan explains this process: “Blood provided a pseudo-rational system for the distribution of a mythical essence: blood = race. Once the connection was made, color would culturally be interchangeable with blood. Like the word blood, color is fictitious, but the law engineered the stigma that ordained deprivation.”4 Race is a social construct bulked up with false characterizations that become assigned to specific groups of people based on the pigment of their skin. Then the mythical traits were cemented with legislation that supported this hierarchy. 5 These laws appear time and time again in English colonial statutes in North America. One of the first historical examples of how “blood = race” becomes law is how the Virginia General Assembly legally determined the race of mixed-race offspring in 1662 with Act XII:6 3 Loewen, James. W. Lies my teacher told me: Everything your American history textbook got wrong. New York: Simon & Shuster, 2007. Print, 143. 4 Dayan, Colin. The Law Is a White Dog: How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2011. Print, 53. 5 Dayan, 51. 6 It is important to note the first time Virginia acknowledges slavery in its laws is just a year before in 1661 (Act XII). However, the first colony to legalize slavery



Negro womens children to serve according to the condition of the mother. WHEREAS some doubts have arrisen whether children got by any Englishman upon a negro woman should be slave or free, Be it therefore enacted and declared by this present grand assembly, that all children borne in this country shalbe held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother, And that if any christian shall committ fornication with a negro man or woman, he or she so offending shall pay double the fines imposed by the former act.7

Virginia 1662, Act XII, for such a short paragraph contains significant historical context that would reverberate for centuries to come. At this point, the Virginia statutes did not use the term ‘white’ but instead conveyed the racial distinction with the words “englishman” and “christian.” However, this is where the binary begins to develop. Whiteness in the English colonies depends on the recognition of blackness. When determining the race of offspring, it is the mother and not the father, which serves multiple purposes: the first, because many masters coerced their enslaved women into sexual relationships. 8 Was this to protect the reputation of the Englishmen? It is not clear. The end of the Act states that if a christian has intercourse with a black man or woman then that christian will be fined. There were cases during this time period in Virginia where white female indentured servants had sexual relations with black men (free and enslaved), and the women could be fined (or imprisoned if they could not pay the fine), but their offspring would legally be white.9 Dayan explains that “blood as [a] was Massachusetts in 1641. 7 “Negro women children to serve according to the condition of the mother” October 1662, Hening, William Waller. The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature in the Year 1619. Ed. R. & W. & G. Bartow. Vol. 2. New York, 1823. Pp. 170. Web. March 2016, 170. This actually was a departure from the laws in Great Britain where the children claimed the lineage of their father, and not the mother. 8 Enslaved women of any background were not allowed to disobey their masters and mistresses. Of course, enslaved women continued to be raped through the American Civil War by their masters. 9 Deal, Joseph Douglas. Race and Class in Colonial Virginia: Indians, Englishmen, and Africans on the Eastern Shore during the Seventeenth Century. New York: Garland, 1993. Print: 36. Also important that in this time period, when white women had sexual relations with black men (free or enslaved) it was mostly consensual whereas when white men had sex relations with black women it was not.


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conduit for the stain of black ancestry became more necessary as bodies of color began to merge, losing the visible trait of blackness.”10 Similar laws appeared in the three other colonies: New York (An Act to encourage the Baptizing of Negro, Indian and Mulatto Slaves [1706], Chapter 160), Louisiana (Code Noir [1724], Article X) and South Carolina (An Act for the better Ordering and Governing Negroes and other Slaves [1735], No. 586, Article I). Even as early as 1662, there was a fear that the enslaved population would become the majority and would be driven to violent rebellions against the master class. It would not take long for colonies like South Carolina to have a black majority, and that fear would not dissipate. Another important facet of this law is that when an enslaved woman produces an offspring, that child assumes the status of the mother. The children would add personal wealth to the master of the black woman and would also increase the number of slaves the master owned. Sexual violence was another weapon used to oppress the enslaved populations of the Americas and to increase the wealth of the master. To succeed in the Americas, the superstructure of racism required a physical body, which was modern slavery. It was imperative that these laws not remain only in abstract notions but become real to the colonists. That is why certain laws were required to be read aloud to the public (such as in church). The law would justify the faux biology and become part of the culture. This is especially important because not everyone could read during this period, so for legislation to be understood, reading it aloud was necessary.11 Dayan explains, “A lineage thus evolved and turned the rule of descent into the transfer of pigmentation, which fleshed out in law the terms necessary to maintain the curse of color.”12 As time went on, it did not matter that this curse was fictitious. Racism is based on an idea system that believes that race itself is not a social construct but a biological truth, and that a certain race is superior to all other races. Even the enlightened thinkers reaffirmed



this logic. One of the most influential Enlightenment philosophers on American democracy was French social philosopher Montesquieu, who stated in his significant work, The Spirit of Laws (Chapter V, “Of the Slavery of the Negroes,” 1748): “sugar would be too dear, if the plants which produce it were cultivated by any other than slaves […] It is hardly to be believed that God, who is a wise being, should place a soul, especially a good soul, in such a black ugly body.”13 Montesquieu demonstrates the European construction of anti-blackness ideology used to validate their actions. He concludes his piece by stating, “It is impossible for us to suppose these creatures to be men, because, allowing them to be men, a suspicion would follow that we ourselves are not Christian.”14 This statement again further strips Africans and their descendants of their humanity, asserting that Europeans are somehow different from Africans. Slavery would eventually end in the United States, but the superstructure of racism that was created to justify it still remains today. The first enslaved Africans arrived in the colony of Jamestown in 1619. They were brought to Virginia to work on tobacco plantations alongside indentured servants in conditions for bondsmen (black and white) in the colonies that were horrific. In 1676, the first major slave-servant revolt in North America occurred in Virginia. Bacon's Rebellion was comprised of 300 to 500 African slaves, white and black indentured servants, and poor ‘free’ whites against Governor Berkley and wealthy Virginia planters. The mixed race coalition burned down homes of the planter elite and eventually burned Jamestown to the ground. What scared Governor Berkley and the other planters more than the destruction was the fact that poor whites and blacks were working together.15 The aftermath of Bacon’s Rebellion would play out over and over in American history. White fears after the terror inflicted upon their population during a domestic insurrection would lead to legislation granting more rights to whites and less to blacks (free or enslaved). A legal racial caste formed after Bacon's Rebellion. By 1705, the Virginia Slave Codes were ratified, and they would shape the future of not just

10 Dayan, 50. 11 Hening, William Waller. The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature in the Year 1619. Ed. R. & W. & G. Bartow. Vol. 2. New York, 1823. Web. March 2016, 481-482.

13 Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu. The Complete Works of M. de Montesquieu (London: T. Evans, 1777), 4 vols. Vol. 1. 5/1/2016. Web: 316.

12 Dayan, 50.

15 Alexander, 10.

14 Charles Louis de Secondat, 316.


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the Virginia colony, but the future United States. These types of laws spread through the English colonial statutes. The trepidation early Virginian colonists felt about slave revolts and attacks by Native Americans did not cease but only increased in fervor. By 1776, Thomas Jefferson mentions both of these fears in The Declaration of Independence.16 He believed the British would instigate insurrection as an act of terror to make the colonists behave. The founding father’s panic did not end after the American Revolution. James Madison, George Mason, Patrick Henry and Alexander Hamilton engaged in vigorous debates throughout the late-winter and spring of 1787 during the Constitutional Convention about the right to bear arms, regulated militias, standing armies, and slavery. The founding fathers, who were the ruling class in the colonies during British rule, now faced a particular dilemma. They were the political elite but feared mob mentality. However, if this fear were that real why then write an Amendment that would allow uneducated, poor whites to have unlimited access to firearms? The architects of the U.S. Constitution did not want to grant every white man the right to vote. Only six percent of the population was allowed to vote in the first Presidential Election in 1790. It would not be until 1856 when the vote would expand to all white men in the union regardless of property ownership.17 Maintaining the institution of slavery vis-à-vis the superstructure of racism was more essential for the economic success and expanding the territory with manifest destiny than the fear that the people would rise against them. The founding fathers hoped that by keeping poor whites separate from black people (enslaved and free), and allowing any white man the legal right to support the superstructure of racism by the use of militias and slave patrols made up of mostly poor white men to keep slaves in their place figuratively and literally. Small privileges were given to poor whites over any black person (free or not) to fortify the racial caste system in place, and minimize the realization for poor whites that they had little to no political power in the new republic. Furthermore, poor white farmers would lead rebellions (Shay’s 16 Jefferson. Thomas. U.S. Declaration of Independence, Paragraph 3 (1776). 17 Mohammed, Zaineb, and Deanna Pan. “Timeline: The Long History of Voter Suppression.” Mother Jones. n.p., November 4, 2012. Web. May 1, 2016.



Rebellion and the Whisky Rebellion) against a tyrannically government only to be crushed by state militias.18 By giving some privileges to poor white men, the founding fathers created a culture in which whites—regardless of class and status— believed they had the right to prohibit the movement of anyone who was not white. Moreover, they were allowed by law to harm physically anyone that was not white, if they believed their life was in danger, and could do so without impunity. To justify institutionalized racism, legislation and media (newspapers, at the time) made black violence seem inevitable, causing white hysteria and fear of black bodies. This belief persisted even after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in 1865. That same year all the former-Confederate states passed a set of laws called Black Codes, which were created to refuse basic human rights to black people in the region (recently freed or not). These laws represent the first set of organized gun control laws in the national era. The codes were used to forbid black gun ownership. The ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 put a legal stop to the Black Codes.19 This legislation set a precedent that gun ownership was an American right, as long as the owner was white. From 1877 to the mid-1960s, a system of legal oppression known as Jim Crow enacted a reign of terror where white people were again legally allowed to control black populations in the South. Jim Crow laws prohibited black men and women from voting and owning guns. The use of segregation in this era furthered the racist ideology that “was born in slavery and remained alive to rationalize the second-class citizenship imposed on African Americans after Reconstruction. This stigma is why separate could never mean equal.”20 Moreover, by this point in history, the United States had been using white supremacy 18 Zinn, 148-149. 19 Alexander, 28-29. The first federal gun control would not be seen until the National Firearms Act of 1934, which was a reaction to the “tommy gun” era. This law required that all future gun sales were published in a national registry. It also included a $200 tax “on the manufacture or sale of machine guns and sawed-off shotguns” (“History of Gun-control Legislation”). 20 Loewen, 163. The sociological definition of segregation: ‘a system of racial etiquette that keeps the oppressed group separate from the oppressor when both are doing equal tasks, like learning the multiplication tables, but allows intimate closeness when the tasks are hierarchal, like cooking or cleaning for white employers.”


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to justify not only the superstructure of racism but also the country’s imperialistic fixations. For white people, who saw themselves at the top of the racial hierarchy, this had a doubling-down effect that established that whiteness was not just about pigment but that whiteness also signaled so many more “notions of superiority and inferiority [… and] sorted difference into vast systems of freedom and slavery, commitment and neglect, investment and abandonment, mobility and containment.”21 These differences based solely on race still play out today with disastrous consequences. Even after major strides in the Civil Rights Movement, there still persists a racial caste in the United States. Mass incarceration due to the War on Drugs overwhelmingly imprisons black and brown people, even though white Americans use and sell drugs at the same rates. The War on Drugs continues to encourage and promote the same paranoia and fear about black bodies that has been part of white America since the seventeenth century, and still defines much of how blackness is perceived. The United States’ cultural fixation with guns has only increased since the seventeenth century. There are an estimated 300 million guns in the United States; even if a law was passed that banned all future sales of guns, America would still have to deal with all those weapons. On average, thirty people a day will be killed by guns; fifty percent of those murdered will be black men, even though they only make up six percent of the U.S. population.22 Something needs to change. In the last few decades, the discourse around the Second Amendment has focused on gun control and mental illness but always fails to cite the specter of slavery and its modem legacy of institutionalized racism that still haunts everyday life in the United States. This collective amnesia prevents Americans from confronting the cultural battle over gun ownership and rights in any real way. As a country, we cannot begin to defeat our addiction to violence if we do not confront the roots of the problem.

21 Chang, 3. 22 Mascia, Jennifer. “15 Statistics That Tell the Story of Gun Violence This Year.”15 Statistics That Tell the Story of Gun Violence This Year Comments. The Trace, December 23, 2015. Web. 05 May 2016.


DECISIVE 2015-2017 is the fifth volume of IN/FORM, a yearly collection of writing by students in the School of Critical Studies’ MA in Aesth...


DECISIVE 2015-2017 is the fifth volume of IN/FORM, a yearly collection of writing by students in the School of Critical Studies’ MA in Aesth...