the college hill independent .
September 20, 2013 : Volume 27 Issue 2 a Brown-RISD weekly
managing editors David Adler, Doreen St. Félix, Ellora Vilkin news Simon Engler, Joe de Jonge, Emma Wohl metro Megan Hauptman, Rick Salamé, Kat Thornton arts Becca Millstein, Grier Stockman, John White features Lili Rosenkranz, Josh Schenkkan science Golnoosh Mahdavi, Jehane Samaha SPORTS Tristan Rodman interviews Drew Dickerson literary Edward Friedman EPHEMERA Molly Landis, Ka-
THE indy volume 27 #2
tia Zorich OCCULT Julieta Cárdenas X Lizzie Davis list Claudia Norton, Diane Zhou design + illustration Mark Benz, Casey Friedman, Kim Sarnoff Cover Editor Robert Sandler Senior editors Grace Dunham, Alex Ronan, Sam Rosen, Robert Sandler Staff Writer Alex Sammon web Houston Davidson Cover Art Jack Mernin mvP John White P.O. Box 1930 Brown University Providence, RI 02912 & email@example.com & @theindy_tweets & theindy.org Letters to the editor are welcome distractions. The Independent is published weekly during the fall & spring semesters and is printed by TCI Press in Seekonk, MA. The Independent receives support from Campus Progress/Center for American Progress. Campus Progress works to help young people make their voices heard on issues that matter. Learn more at CampusProgress.org CORRECTION: In the table of contents for V.27 N.1, “Did You Miss Us?” was written by Rick Salamé & Megan Hauptman.
news fROM THE EDITORS What are the new forms of sociality that such a device creates? In whose life is the cigarette/e-cigarette definition an issue of continuing centrality and difficulty? Are they cool? We can only speculate at this point, but, probably. What we know for sure is that they’re going to start selling them in Starbucks next to the Tori Amos CDs. Someone in the next Aaron Sorkin movie will definitely be smoking one. A bunch are being sent to the International Space Station in November. There is most definitely a chamber involved. Studies point to potential addictions involving the rush of embarrassment that comes with drawing a rod to your lips that emits a pale light. Never before have we been asked to put something electronic in our mouth repeatedly. The Village Voice says it’s like smoking out of a pen. Fifteen out of 16 people agree. Such actions render affiliations with cultural stacking of cigarettes mute and introduce new relationships to nicotine. Do people hate e-cigarettes or do people hate hating e-cigarettes? Do people know that of the 17 rare earth metals, thulium and yttrium are involved in the processing of e-cigarettes? Embrace the new frontier. You could be the first human to smoke an e-cig in a wind tunnel, hair blowing in your face, the sickly sweet taste of victory stimulating your papillae. –AR & RS
2 Week in Review simon engler, joe de jonge & emma wohl
3 Dutch Sorry alex sammon
METRO 5 Death By Puffer dan stump
9 Go Outside indy metro & friends
ARTS 7 The Act of Killing drew dickerson
11 All The Way
LITERARY 13 lmpact everett epstein
OCCULT 15 Manifested julieta cárdenas
16 Oh, Simone julieta cárdenas
features 17 Can’t Quilt You devon reynolds
X 18 Stay Hy drew dickerson
SCIENCE 12 Pleasure in Pain golnoosh mahdavi
by Joe de Jonge, Simon Engler & Emma Wohl Illustration by Lizzie Davis
INSIDE OUT It starts with the skin. Pallor mortis, post-mortem paleness, affects light-skinned corpses with within minutes. As circulation stops, gravity kicks in and blood sinks downward. The body cools, stiffens. And then it begins to decompose. Polish-German scientist Gunther von Hagens developed an elegant way to stop this process in the 1970s. His patented technique, plastination, involves injecting formalin into the arteries to prevent decay, then removing fat and water, and finally submerging the corpse in silicone rubber until it penetrates every cell, preserving the body for eternity. This process produces specimens that can be touched, studied, and put on display, which is precisely what von Hagens did. The scientist behind internationally-renowned exhibition Body Worlds, which has, for nearly twenty years, displayed plastinated human bodies and body parts in various poses to the paying public, delighting in its morbid curiosities. But lately, von Hagens has moved into a new field: the Animal Kingdom. Animal Inside Out, “a Body Worlds production,” moves to its second location in the United States this week. After three years touring around Europe and a stint in Chicago from March to September of this year, the show opens September 22 at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas. Prior exhibitions included the odd horse or ostrich amid the human figures, but this exhibit turns the tables. Visitors can see a giant squid, an ostrich, a towering adult giraffe—all without skin, so the viewer can better understand their musculature and blood systems. A horse’s head is on display, cut in three. Body Worlds has had its share of controversies: there was the plastinated coital couple, the accusation that von Hagens used the corpses of executed Chinese political prisoners, and the uproar from many different religious groups about respectful ways to treat a human body. The varied, visceral reactions to his displays of the human form may explain why von Hagens has moved to animals. Unlike their human counterparts in other Body World shows, the animals, presumably, did not have the opportunity to provide consent. Still, the exhibit’s curators affirm their concern for these creatures’ wellbeing. “No animal was harmed or killed for this exhibition,” the Animal Inside Out website declares. Rather, they were made available through “cooperation between various university veterinary programs, zoos and animal groups.” Von Hagens and his team say they wish to show the underlying physiological similarities between animals and humans, to give visitors “a new appreciation for the importance of animal welfare.” But when Chicago Tribune writer Steve Johnson saw the exhibition, he only saw “the dotted lines delineating chuck from brisket.” –EW
SEPTEMBER 20 2013
OPEN WIDE! Go ahead—take another Jolly Rancher. You can even choose Green Apple, if you want. Unwrap it. Let the candy dissolve on your tongue. Let its corn syrup coat your enamel. For once, don’t be a square: Don’t brush, and don’t floss. Just let the bacteria in your mouth go wild. Streptococcus mutants will thank you. It’ll digest the remnants of your Jolly Rancher and excrete them as an acidic byproduct. This will wear into your teeth and cause—you guessed it—cavities. Tooth rot. You now have to go to the dentist, but don’t fret. We now know that the pain might be worth the trip. On September 12, a group of medical and dental researchers from universities and cancer institutes in New York, Chile, and Finland published a study suggesting that the practice your immune system gets fighting tooth rot could be really, really good for you. The reasoning of the study, released in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, is pretty straightforward. It works like this: The same immune response that wards off bacteria associated with cavities has been shown to suppress tumor formation. So if an immune system has lots of practice fighting off dental bacteria (if you have more cavities, in other words), we can expect a lower incidence of tumors, especially in the head and neck. The results of the September study seem to support this argument. Those subjects with head and neck cancers averaged 1.58 cavities per mouth, whereas those who were cancerfree had significantly more, at 2.04. The same trend held for counts of dental crowns, root canal treatments, and damaged and missing teeth—and even after controlling for alcohol and tobacco use, sex, age, and other factors, tooth rot was still a predictor of a cancer-free head and neck. This might make sense, but it is also surprising given what we thought we knew about tooth rot. The study reminds readers that the results were “unexpected… because dental caries has been considered a sign of poor oral health,” and because in the past “poor general oral condition was associated with an increased risk of oral cavity and oropharyngeal cancers.” Of course, medical studies are often contested, and in light of how recently this one’s come out, don’t unwrap that next Jolly Rancher just yet. Or do—but remember to brush, nerd. –SPE
ROBO-MAGGOT TO THE RESCUE! Maggots are gross. Maggots are slimy. Maggots are larvae. You find them in the red chili flakes you left open in the cabinet all summer, both you and them surprised. Who knew chili flakes could rot anyway?! These slimy infant insects feast on rotting organic material. Though your body is a temple and a wonderland, sometimes it too can rot. Mayans and the aboriginal tribes of Australia have long used maggots for medicinal purposes. It wasn’t until 1829 that Western doctors realized the grubs’ healing potential, when Napoleon’s Surgeon General Baron Dominique Larrey noticed that soldiers whose wounds were infested with blow fly maggots were more likely to survive. The maggots find the dead stuff delectable but pass on the rest. These days, doctors occasionally use sterilized maggots of the same family (species: Phaenicia sericata) to remove dead tissue from festering wounds. I saw this on TV once and didn’t make too much of it, maybe sub-vocalized, “cool!” But that’s the difference between Dr. J. Marc Simmard, Professor of Neurosurgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, and me. He saw it on TV too, but he was inspired. Simmard explains to the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, the branch of the NIH funding his research, “The maggots removed all the bad stuff and left all the good stuff alone, and they’re really small. I thought, if you had something equivalent to that to remove a brain tumor, that would be an absolute home run.” Simmard’s plan is to make a robot mimic the movement and discerning palate of a maggot. This robo-maggot could be inserted in a brain tumor, in a brain, in a skull, in a living person, in an MRI, and then remote controlled to “eat” it from the inside out with its electrocauterizer “mouth.” This would allow surgeons to use real-time image data from the MRI to guide the robo-maggot precisely while deep inside a brain. The current cutting-edge methods, only available at select hospitals, do use an MRI in the operating room, but surgeons cannot simultaneously image the brain and remove the tumor. A robo-maggot could remove brain tumors more precisely and less invasively than other methods. MRIs are strong magnets and very sensitive. For the robo-maggot to work, it cannot interact with the strong magnetic field of the MRI, nor with the weaker electromagnetic waves used to generate the image. That’s not easy. After four years of development, a working prototype is currently being tested on swine and human cadavers. Robo-maggots may one day be dining on brain tumors, but for now they’re sticking with their non-robotic brethren and eating dead shit. –JJ
all apologies The Dutch and Diplomacy by Alex Sammon Illustration by Andres Chang
the video footage is grainy and tough to make out, and seems like it may have been shot on a cell phone. A tall, regal-looking white man in a suit processes through a crowd of seated Indonesians, shaking hands, kissing babies, and exchanging pleasantries with a certain Billy Graham flair. He stops for photo opportunities with the more iconic attendees: a feeble old woman with a cane, a white-bearded man in an army style beret. This scene, at the Dutch embassy in Jakarta, reaches its emotional apex when he climbs to the stage, a small accompaniment of diplomats surrounding him. Already towering over the crowd, he mounts the podium and begins his announcement. Only an excerpt of the speech was recorded. After a light and nonspecific historical contextualization, including a passive voice reference to a massacre and the Dutch Royal Army, Dutch ambassador to Indonesia Tjeerd de Zwaad is matter-of fact: “On behalf of the Dutch government, I apologize for these excesses.” A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE the dutch east india company arrived in modern-day Indonesia in 1619, and immediately set up shop in Jakarta, now the nation’s capital. Far from a handful of pilgrims, the Dutch East India Company (or the “VOC,” in Dutch shorthand) brought with it all the trappings of a cartoonishly evil corporation. They trafficked in spices, precious metals, and slaves, slaughtered certain indigenous populations while forcing others into servitude, all while churning a tidy 18 percent annual profit in the East Indian “export market”—a fabulous euphemism. Pick your most nefarious corporation (Foxconn, United Fruit, etc); they have almost certainly taken pages out of the Dutch East India Company playbook. The VOC’s profitability continued to skyrocket throughout the 17th and 18th century. While Indonesia brought the Dutch riches, the Dutch brought Indonesians epidemic disease, forced religious and social norms, slavery, sexual violence, and the like. In the latter part of the 19th and into the 20th century, however, the well began to run dry. Economic realignment due to industrialization—along with the high price of persistent Dutch war mongering—forced the colonialists to loosen their stranglehold on Indonesian holdings. This came to a head during World War II, when Japan formally conquered Indonesia. Not surprisingly, this development didn’t sit very well with the Dutch, who had grown rather fond of the colony that had facilitated their meteoric financial rise. Once the Japanese fell in 1945, the Dutch marched right back in, eager to reassert themselves over their favorite colony.
The excitement wasn’t mutual. In the 60 days between the Japanese exit and the Dutch return, the Indonesian population declared independence. The movement had support from a vast portion of the native Indonesian population by the time of the Dutch return. Indonesian Nationalist groups, spearheaded by leaders like Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta, already had a constitution and a republic in place, and no interest in returning to Dutch colonial rule. The Dutch sent down Captain Raymond Westerling, a man after whom the term “ruthless son of a bitch” may as well have been coined. From 1946 through 1947, Westerling and his men indiscriminately slaughtered the nationalist rebel groups, constituted mostly by young men and boys. These public, execution-style massacres were often carried out with village populations looking on in horror as their family members were offed one by one. Westerling and his men traveled from village to village throughout the archipelago, performing summary executions with the stated intention of repressing the nationalist movement. Perhaps the worst atrocity, (if you can even consider summary executions on that gradient), came on the island of South Sulawesi, an Islamic nationalist center, where 208 male residents were executed on the doorstep of the government building in early 1947. The Dutch finally retreated in 1949, and, under international pressure, recognized Indonesia as an independent nation, signaling the end of their colonial reign. The death toll from this four-year campaign stands at roughly 40,000 Indonesians, a number which the Dutch would later round off to “a few thousand.” Westerling, for his efforts, went down in Dutch lore as a national hero, and neither he nor his men were ever tried for war crimes. SAYING SORRY though it may seem surprising, political apologies have historically been an effective and sincere way to express remorse for past atrocities. The German apology to the Jews after the Holocaust, the American apology to Japanese Americans after internment, and the Australian apology to its Aboriginal population after various extermination campaigns—all of these moments are seen as momentous and impactful occurrences in diplomatic history, laying the framework for future healing. What’s more, political apologies can be powerful tools for the recognition of wrongdoing, ensuring that past events will not be forgotten or distorted in any fashion. In the three aforementioned cases, the political recognition of transgression alone was
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
considered a huge breakthrough in diplomatic relations. Though seemingly insufficient, these apologies have historically been the springboard for progress. The case of Japanese internment provides an interesting and applicable study. Though the forced interment of Japanese Americans happened in the 1940s, it took until 1988 for the American government to formally recognize the events that occurred. The official redress, which included a payment of $20,000 to each survivor and a Congressional apology to the Japanese American population, is still viewed as a watershed moment in the civil rights movement. What may seem like a dry and insufficient bureaucratic action was actually a landmark moment for Japanese activists like Marielle Tsukamoto, who recently told NPR that this apology has allowed Japanese Americans the ability to heal and move on from this painful past. ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL? but can a simple “i’m sorry” really make up for the killing of 40,000, not the mention centuries of exploitation and gratuitous destruction? There are plenty of reasons to be suspect of the concept of diplomatic apology, not to mention this apology in particular. The wording of the Dutch apology, specifically the reference to massacres as “excesses,” is outrageously euphemistic, and doesn’t seem to carry with it the remorse one would expect in such a circumstance. There is a startling lack of empathy in the clinically presented statement of transgression, and the Dutch awareness of “excesses” comes off as both sterile and removed. From a semantic standpoint alone, this apology doesn’t even seem convincing enough to get a kindergartener off for talking during naptime. From another angle, the apology seems rife with ulterior motives. Media coverage of the event, though extremely limited (American news outlets have conspicuously shied away from covering it), has pointed to the timing of the apology as a cause for skepticism. The Dutch have had over 60 years to prepare this apology, and, with a planned visit to the archipelago by the Dutch Prime Minister in the coming months, many thought that his presence might signal the appropriate opportunity for an official redress. Yet the statement was made rather unceremoniously and unpredictably, blurted out from the safety of the Dutch embassy in Indonesia on the lips of a far less consequential political figure. Cynics have indicated that the Dutch just wanted to get this unavoidable and unpleasant disclosure out of the way and forgotten well before their ceremonious return to the country. Furthermore, the apology came in Jakarta, far from the majority of the violence in question. The widows of victims, though extended a friendly invitation from the Dutch
SEPTEMBER 20 2013
embassy, are far too old to travel the long distances required to get to Jakarta in the first place. Even the concept of an apology—a subtle way to coerce a former colony into granting forgiveness—seems troubling, at best. MOVING ON and yet, for the most part, reception has been overwhelmingly positive. Diplomatic apologies for colonial violence are extremely rare. Aside from monetary settlement paid by the United Kingdom for their torturing of the Mau Mau rebels in Kenya in the 1950s earlier this year, the Dutch are only one of the few countries to publicly take responsibility for atrocities committed in the Colonial era (the British recognition was a court settlement, rather than a public apology). In fact, violent atrocity in the colonial era has been a collective blind spot for most countries in the Western world, with Britain, Spain, Portugal, and the United States largely refusing to take a public stance of repentance for the millions of lives lost in the conquering and subjugation of the colonial world. Though it may seem insufficient, the Netherlands has actually taken a progressive initiative in issuing an apology at all. Elazar Barkan, a professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, has written extensively on the institution of diplomatic apology. Though he concedes that the language is “strained,” he thinks the apology ensures that the case will not disappear. This action is just the first of many, he believes, as the Dutch begin a total reconsideration of their colonial legacy. He is confident that this action will be increasingly important in the coming year, despite the fact that the only YouTube clip of this event has a paltry 43 views (of which this author am responsible for at least seven). Perhaps what’s most important is the reception from the Indonesian population, and from the family members of the victims. Though the reporting has been limited, those interviewed seemed receptive and relieved by the Dutch apology. One woman, whose husband was slaughtered in the South Sulawesi massacre, says she has forgiven the Dutch entirely. Another widow, one of the ten to receive a $27,000 settlement as a result of this action, stated that this gesture was exactly what she needed to get over this traumatic history. Many others did not believe such an apology would ever come. ALEX SAMMON B’15 is also a euphemism.
when i went to freak fest
by Dan Stump Illustration by Lizzie Davis
the kids are back at school or down by the river, hiding in the bushes and along the stone walls under the docks and bridges. After class, their limbs turn to jelly with little spacebox electronics. That old Portuguese man who always slicks his hair back and rips around on his Rascal is taking the final laps of the year down to India Point Park with his woman on his lap. Soon the leaves will flop to gutters or streets or lawns and swirl around aimlessly for a while until they find their final resting place as a giant dam of organic matter clogging every storm drain in the city. The city’s freaks are taking their last marches. On Saturday, they walked, drove, or rode their bikes to the block of Magnolia Street between Agnes and Troy in Olneyville for PUFFERSS, the Providence Underground Freak Fest Eco Rave Shaman Slam. Nestled between Olneyville and downtown Providence, the buildings on Magnolia Street are a planet of chain-link fences, brick walls, and busted windows. Last year’s fest, which took place one block north on Oak Street, was staged in front of a five- or six-story building. Red paint dripped around the windows’ frames, making the building look like a big wounded monster, at its feet all sorts of creeps and fiends. This year, my friend and I could hear the low thunder of Black Pus as we drove up Westminster Street. PUFFERSS, now in its third year, started at 2 PM and ended at 2 AM. We were late by about six hours. As we came past Oak, I saw that the building from last year had been largely painted over. The surrounding buildings wore the sort of communitysponsored inspirational murals that tell of rather than show the community’s flourishing arts scene. We entered the fest through a little alley lit up by a row of streetlights, around them bushes and trees pressed over the low tops of sheds and fences. I could see Black Pus’ stack of cabs behind his flailing arms and over a crowd of people nodding their heads. Black Pus, the solo project of Lightning Bolt drummer Brian Chippendale, is a Providence staple. He and his friends were the driving force behind a brand of noise rock particular to the Providence scene, where live performances are felt as much as they are heard and screaming harmonics blow out your eardrums to conjure all sorts of phantom frequencies and distortions into a black hole of two-beat rhythms and skull compression. At PUFFERSS, Black Pus wore a loose cloth alien mask with a microphone pad sewn into the mouth so that its cable trailed down from his mouth. He also had synth patches that he triggered with his feet when he wasn’t focusing on running his double kick pedal. This way, he could scream whatever the fuck he said in his cackling howl without bothering to stop the constant flailing of his arms. I jammed some wax in my ears and moved in front of his triple stack of 4x4 amps. PUFFERSS is unique among freak shows because it has two stages, with one pointing across the alley and the other running along it. As Black Pus finished, Bernard Herman stepped onto stage two. At that point in the show, he was a drag queen with long blonde hair. Behind the stage, a projector bounced the DVD Video logo onto a building, the image distorted by windows and corners and split by a big streetlight pole. Bernard Herman shouted Spoken Word style over spacey, pre-recorded drum and synth tracks. He was accompanied by an unnerving ventriloquist dummy that sang back-up vocals. Or maybe the dummy was Bernard Herman. I had a vision of Master-Blaster, with Tina Turner’s voice echoing, “Who runs Barter Town?” Midway through, Bernard dropped the wig and put on a flasher uniform, complete with nothing but black underwear under his trench coat. He performed a song about being “always on the job” in a “small town” with heavy implications of prostitution. He kept saying “Bernard Herman” over and over until I was sure that the dummy and the goofy synths that sounded like ’90s kids’ game show music had taken over my brain. The next act was Galcher Lustwerk, who provided a nice, danceable break. The audience was predominantly young males. The act was a little on the noisier side and consisted of almost exclusively drum machine percussion. A projector was showing weird home movies or Youtube videos or something. My memory then began to fade into a cloud of incense and tinnitus. Daily Life was next: one part Ian Curtis, one part pro snowmobile rider. The lead wore a down vest, hair buzzed. “Come down with HIV / from getting your dick sucked for free... / Getting tested today,” he sang. The set ran
way over. Container, the next band, tried to start, but Daily Life played on, laughing and saying, “One more!” With their final song, the laughter rose into a cacophonous chant. Container fought for the stage, though, and their hard beats began to pound out of the speakers. Sparse vocals were recorded and played back, echoing around themselves until they decayed. The set was hugely danceable, and the assembled crowd was brought into a pulsating trance. Then was Sewn Leather, with even harder beats and a rush of static in place of a snare drum. The singer shouted into the mic while turning knobs on a console, all the while an ethereal blue light from the console shining on his face. The sound cut out occasionally, but the crowd circled around the singer, rocking their shoulders to the web of delay and overdrive and reverb. The singer—with bleached hair, burnt tattoo skin, and a white muscle shirt— climbed onto the PA and leaned down to stare around at the crowd. He made eye contact for what felt like 10 seconds with each person before jumping to the ground and begging for sympathy. I made my way to DJ Dog Dick. He rapped in Spanish, wailed lyrics until I thought he was gonna cry, and then made a face like a toddler who had sucked on a lemon and started yelling, “I’m a bitch!” Then the sound cut out. “I don’t know what’s wrong with this stupid shit,” he said. A basic kick fought its way back in, though, accompanied by bass synth, hat and block, and snare. Forty minutes behind schedule now. Finally, Lichens: just one guy, a drum machine, a synth, and a mic. The people in the front rows sat down for the soaring falsetto, which weaved over and harmonized with itself—at times almost operatic. The eternity of space-time vocals was finally broken by the entrance of an 808 sound with a shifting click track that eventually yielded to a minimal two-tone synth. The sound slowly grew into an intricate weave of three or four complex sequences lit up by the streetlights of the surrounding telephone poles. The top of every leaf was lit up, their undersides dark, and the kids behind me tried to pin down just how old they felt in terms of what bands they’d seen and when. Lichens finally brought their vocals back into the tapestry, creating a visceral wall of harmonics which cohered as completely as Black Pus had earlier torn itself apart. Both bands were like a big group tripping on acid together—hauntingly and almost nostalgically real— but Lichens a perfect and multiple unity and Black Pus an infinitely complex and terrifying chaos. “This month is a diamond,” slurred the man next to me, who wore an Indiana Jones hat and said he was a shaman. “I don’t know if you want to write that down. That’s what September is. Everything is clear and you know—we all know—exactly what we need to do. Look at the moon! It’s so perfect and clear, right in the middle of those two trees.” DAN STUMP B’14 cackles and flails.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
soul train navigating youtube suggestions
R. Kelly- Ignition (Remix)
Michael Jackson- The Way You Make Me Feel
Ja Rule-Always on Time ft.
R. Kelly- Bump N' Grind
Destiny's Child-Say My
A$AP Rocky - PMW (All I Really Need) Ft. Schoolboy
Jennifer Lopez- Get Right Eve-Let Me Blow Ya Mind ft. Gwen Stefani TLC- No Scrubz (lyrics)
Beyonce feat Jay Z Bonnie & Clyde
Christina Aguilera, Lil' Kim,
Missy Elliott- Work It
Mya, Pink - Lady Marmalade
Drop It Like It's Hot by Snoop dogg TLC-Creep
Usher & Alicia KeysMy Boo
Justin Timberlake- Cry Me A River
Dre Day by Dr. Dre Beyonce- Run the World
Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing by Drew Dickerson Illustration by Aaron Harris half the crew of joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing does not exist, or at least goes uncredited. A quick glance at the credits on the movie poster hanging outside of Cable Car on North Main reveals the same: the political situation in Indonesia is such that to attach your name to a picture of this nature quickly amounts to a very, very bad idea. There are names, however—producers, executive producers, cinematographers, editors, sound people, and the director, 38 year-old Josh Oppenheimer—of Westerners that we can hold responsible for the plain fact that this piece of media, against better sense, exists at all. Errol Morris (of The Thin Blue Line) and Werner Herzog are attached as well. A friend of mine who saw the documentary in a Los Angeles screening described Herzog fielding the post-showing Q&A as someone trying very hard to explain something very complicated to very stupid people. The German director’s famous condescension and grandiloquence aside, it is hard to walk away from The Act of Killing feeling that one has purchase enough upon it to formulate a clear or cogent opinion, much less a useful or responsible one. It makes of the viewer a stupid person. I myself walked away from the theater convinced that I was going to write about issues of taste, how The Act of Killing represents a tasteful curation of the tasteless. To do so now would, I suspect, be a cheap maneuver. Two or three minutes of playing around with this sound-byte proved its ill-suitedness, a cute enough phrase that commands the force of a genuine insight without being particularly meaningful. A half hour upon exiting I realized that I had to cancel my plans for the remaining evening. I’m trying very hard not to sound flip. I’m trying even harder not to lapse into defanged cliché or easy platitude. I would like, more than anything, to talk about “Born Free,” the song at the center of The Act of Killing’s film-within-a-film. +++ between 1965 and 1966, somewhere around half a million and two-and-a-half million people were killed in political purges following the Indonesian military’s overthrow of a democratically-elected government. The charge of communism was leveled against intellectuals, undesirables, and many ethnic Chinese; these “communists” were interrogated, tortured, and killed by self-avowed gangsters. Oppenheimer provides a man named Anwar Congo—a now-elderly former killer—and his associates the means and equipment to recreate their killings in a feature-length narrative film. It’s formally high-premise, which means it’s very easy to get lost in problems of structure, probably a strength of the movie. The result is garish and gruesome. We see colorful costumes that look to be lifted straight from Brazil, without any of Terry Gilliam’s wry knowingness. Bad boy imagery is one-to-one and lifted from post-Classical Hollywood, this despite the fact that some of these tropes are so antiquated that it becomes hard to imagine their belonging to a period of post- anything. This is 1965 Hollywood, where The Sound of Music could win Best Picture at the 38th Academy Awards. Try tracking down the television clip of Robert Goulet’s 1964 motorcycle appearance on the game show “I’ve Got a Secret” as the Shangri-Las sing “Leader of the Pack” for some idea of the cultural matrix from which Anwar Congo’s film emerges. The Act of Killing is the making of Anwar’s film which, for the sake of shorthand convenience, I’ve decided to call Born Free, “Born Free” also the name of the rhapsodic song that plays at the climax of Anwar’s movie. In one chilling sequence, Anwar draws on a cigar and describes himself as a “human dropout,” maintaining that there are thousands of people like him all over the world. We are uncertain whether or not he is acting. He is likely uncertain whether or not he is acting. The clown comes to want to play Hamlet and the real, live gang-member in time wants to see himself realized as such on the Silver Screen. The challenge of Oppenheimer’s flick is that the image presented within the context of The Act of Killing is both ostensibly the same and radically different than the same sequence as narratively diegetic to Anwar’s Born Free. The etymology for the Indonesian “gangster” is laid out and explicated at least three times. It is an Anglicism, from “free men”—the English “free” and “men” thrown together in a sort of strange pidgin audible to the viewer, provided he or she is not too far buried in attention to the subtitles. A government minister tells a crowd of gathered paramilitary fighters that the nation needs free men, men of action exclusive to the state, otherwise the state could never work. Never mind the fact that, though these men are not part of the government bureaucracy, they are still perpetrators of state violence—this by the minister’s own account above. The vitalistic fact of gangsterhood is here both its political and cultural importance. “Freedom” becomes the favorite phrase of the gangster’s bastardized liberalism.
One thinks of the mob classics Little Caesar or The Public Enemy, films made before the 1934 instatement of the censoring Hays Code, films the violence of which would not be again matched until the demise of the studio system. One thinks more immediately, though anachronistically, of Goodfella’s Henry Hill (“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster. To me, being a gangster was better than being President of the United States”). There is a reason for this: the Indonesian figure of the gangster is intimately tied with Hollywood’s vision of same. The “free man,” in his ruthless, dynamic iteration, realizes exactly the watchword of Scarface in both his 1932 and 1983 versions: “The World Is Yours.” The Act of Killing’s movie theater gangster Anwar Congo—the man who stood outside of movie theaters scalping tickets and stood to withstand a huge loss in profits should the communists ban Western films, the man who would later kill and terrorize these same communists with the absolute impunity of one victorious—continually made and remade himself in and as the Hollywood gangster. In very real terms, Congo is the product of something like a Culture Industry. What’s more, there is in the official’s “we need gangsters” claim, a naturalistic appeal. Violence is a condition of action and we need men unafraid to enact violence if our society is to prove vital. At the same time and on the same terms, ruthless, violently enacted freedom both belongs to a state of nature and is perfectly natural. Which is why the song’s being written in English is certainly disturbing and potentially a productive entry-point into treatment of the film:
Born Free, As free as the wind blows, As free as the grass grows, Born free to follow your heart.
Live free, The beauty surrounds you, The world still astounds you, Each time you look at a star.
Nearly every time the word “freedom” is mentioned in the film, it is in English, spoken by presumably non-English-speakers. It is a term detached from its referent, floating in a precarious space where it can be brought to bear on nearly any object and made to mean nearly anything. Freedom, here employed, is not a political condition but that which is appealed to in Indonesia in order to prevent politics. +++ a cursory education in continental thought teaches one to name a number of threats to the possibility of an egalitarian politics, that such threats even have a name. The Indonesia of The Act of Killing realizes exactly the rampant consumerism, ideological complacency, and conversation-ending appeal to lay-person’s pop science that the student of discourse-analysis is taught to identify and parse out. It’s stunning to see them work as they are brought to bear on one another in a coherent and functional constellation, even more stunning for the fact that they appear here in the most vulgarized form imaginable. A friend tells Anwar that he should seek therapy (indiscriminately switching between the words “psychologist” and “neurologist”) for his nightmares, that a therapist will prescribe him “nerve vitamins” that will make the bad dreams go away. There is a long shot of two women taking a selfie in an Indonesian shopping mall. This is funny for a second but soon becomes unbearable. Because the shopping mall is Indonesia. Though the constituent violence required in making the country function is both considerable and horrifying, the state still functions. Situated above the fracas of systematic killing and extortion, there is still the possibility of choice, at least for some. Freedom, for the movie theater gangster or government official, becomes immediately predicated upon the ability to hold others in contempt, to extort from them or to kill them. One must be a winner. It is an incumbency that one is born for, and these words are bandied about in no uncertain terms. In The Act of Killing’s Indonesia, empty rhetoric holds an absolute sway, all the more strategic for the fact that nobody believes it.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
Anwar is praised for developing a more “humane” way of perpetrating mass murder. To look at his system—looped wire run around a pipe— is to realize the hollow quality of this phrase as it is sounded again and again in perpetuity. There is an absolute cynicism in the deployment of ameliorative sentences and narrative-shaping turns of phrase—all of this enacted with the cold, formal logic of an ostensibly post-ideological endgame: (1) It is the winners who write the history of conflict; (2) I am a winner; (3) It falls to me to write such a history. Modus Ponens, QED, rinse and repeat. It is through Hollywood’s visual vocabulary and conventions of genre that recognition of one’s self as term in such a syllogism again arises. Culture here becomes weaponized, or at least provides the tools for disavowing the fact that one has used a weapon, is using a weapon, will continue to use one’s weapon. To go one step further: that one is carving out a space in the future for a politics centered around the use (or threat of use) of weaponry. Anwar strangles his victims with steel wire and is very upfront about the fact that he learned to do so watching American gangster movies. The killers hired by the military coup to eliminate political enemies were cinema thugs, standing outside of theaters on nights of popular screenings and scalping tickets. They are highly film-literate with respect to a very specific category of movies. Hollywood is unique in its dubious privilege of being both a global and globalizing cinema—the name Elvis Presley, which is dropped in The Act of Killing with frequency, is at one and the same time locally specific and recognizable in all locales. Hollywood is then a world cinema, though not in the sense of coming from a position of specific national identity (in the way that we talk about Iranian cinema or Japanese cinema). Its entertainments are shared and disseminated across the world, and this is not an incidental but an intentional part of movie making and distribution. Films are made for the global market, a picture sometimes released with the knowledge that it will flop domestically on faith that the backers will recoup on the international box office. It is by design that Congo knows Al Pacino’s name. And the “free man” Anglicism is probably directly attributable to these films as well. “Born Free” is written in English because, for people all around the world, English is the language both of cinema and popular music. The killers sing the Everly Brothers. They sing “Cotton Fields” (in one stranger moment of recognition I realized that I own The Highwaymen LP upon which the song as arranged appears). It is easy to forget popular culture’s global fact until you see an Indonesian man campaigning for municipal office while wearing a Transformers franchise T-shirt. The West is then directly implicated in Indonesian violence as it is portrayed in The Act of Killing. Consider: A friend of Anwar’s tells him that his film Born Free will reverse history “not by 180, but by 360 degrees.” This seeming malapropism speaks exactly to the import of just what it is that Anwar has unwittingly made. In a narrative-reversing turn, Born Free restores cruelty to the gangsters (“We will show that we were the cruel ones. Not the communists.WW”). At the same time that this gesture is committed, Anwar and his associates come to realize themselves as the movie stars they always thought themselves to be. The formulation “I am Al Pacino” is brought to full circular bear as the action that was disavowed, elided, and disowned by means of film is itself committed to film. In this way, The Act of Killing is probably one of the only movies I’ve ever seen to interestingly interrogate the idea of violence in media. The emptiness of our own conversations surrounding the topic is revealed in the documentary’s recursive over-fullness. Our articles and talks that gain currency every two to three years surrounding a Tarantino release are probably bullshit. Our pretext and excuse that such films—as they incorporate thematic tropes recognizably reflexive with respect to film history—offer meta-critiques upon representation of the violent action is used to justify the fact that we like to see the violent act represented. A lot. More than anything, The Act of Killing effectively relays Hollywood’s international situation and the genuine importance of this fact. There has always been an idea that the West must be careful in the way that it represents itself to itself through media, as this is also the way that it represents itself to others. There is, however, a larger ethico-aesthetic question ignored in this formulation. The West must be careful in the way that it self-represents, because, in the same way that a hapless Generation X’er comes to think of herself as more Carrie than Samantha and lets this fact condition her behavior, an Anwar Congo can come to think of himself as a Michael Corleone. “You acted so well, but you can stop crying now,” a child actor is told. The affective texture of representation and reality are so similar that lines become blurred in both directions. What Oppenheimer does most successfully is challenge the anemic argument of something’s being “merely entertainment” or “just a movie,” creating in his work a document of high aesthetic value with very immediate political force. DREW DICKERSON B’14 is no Al Pacino.
SEPTEMBER 20 2013
around the edges of its grimy glamour, Providence boasts over 100 city parks and public green spaces; itâ€™s easy to find a tree to climb or a grassy square to nap in without leaving the city limits. Just a short bike or car ride from PVD, the Ocean State overflows with bike routes, farms, state parks, forested campgrounds, and some of the nicest beaches in New England. Hop on your bike, jump on a bus, or rent a Zipcar, and get out of the city for the day, before it gets too cold to want to leave that drafty bedroom.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
(1) CONIMICUT POINT PARK // WARWICK, RI
Pastiche, 10:00 PM, Wednesday Night: “We have an hour left in our Zipcar reservation,” my friend said. “I wanna go to a beach.” Twenty minutes later, her iPhone had guided us to a small, random parking lot at the end of a quiet, residential street. We got out of the car and walked to the shore, where, standing in the narrow bit of sand at the still water’s edge, we took in the distant lights of downtown Providence. –JW DIRECTIONS: If you don’t have a car, the RIPTA 3 bus takes you to within a half-mile of the beach, which is located at the head of the Providence River, right where it opens up into the Narragansett Bay.
(2) RISD BEACH/TILLINGHAST ESTATE // BARRINGTON, RI
This beach—a pebbled stretch of sand on the Narragansett Bay bordered by salty, pungent marsh—is a favorite among students for its convenience and accessibility by bike. It’s often crowded by the entrance, but empties out further down the beach. There are usually a few discretely topless sunbathers and a couple or two canoodling in the marsh grass; the first time I went, there was a man in a wetsuit snorkeling with his leashed dog in tow a few feet out from the shore. I’m not sure what he was looking at, floating facedown in the waist-high water—perhaps the thumbnail-sized hermit crabs, or the seaweed strings that lash themselves like malnourished sea monsters around your ankles. Despite the sharp-shelled sand, muddied water, and lackluster waves, this remains one of my favorite afternoon adventure destinations. –MH
(5) LINCOLN WOODS STATE PARK // LINCOLN, RI
The 627 acres of Lincoln Woods are only a 15 minute drive from Providence, perfect for an early morning swim or quick afternoon hike. Olney Pond, a vast, shapely lake in the middle of the park, has a public sand beach, but I suggest finding a trail near the lake and walking till you find a rocky shore to jump off of. Get into the water, even if it’s cold. Swim out far, and tread in circles, appreciating the shore crowded with firs, maples, pines, and oaks, blocking out the rest of the world. Float on your back, belly-up in the sun. Breathe. –MH DIRECTIONS: Bike north on Smithfield Avenue (RT 126) and take a left onto Breakneck Hill Road (RT 123); the park entrance will be on your left.
(6) FORT ADAMS STATE PARK // NEWPORT, RI
The 60 bus out of Kennedy Plaza plunged over rickety bridges, through Barrington and Bristol, to downtown Newport. From there, on a late July evening, it was an easy— albeit slightly damp, given the gently falling rain—water taxi ride across the harbor to Fort Adams State Park, home to a former naval base, sailboats, and, on this particular evening, the Newport Folk Festival. The heavens opened up even wider during the second opener, and everyone, including the band, ran for cover. But as the rain cleared and the sun came out, we looked out on the brick walls of the historic fort and the Newport Harbor with fresh eyes. Boats set out from the docks, birds took flight, and onstage Jeff Tweedy was singing “Christ for President.” –EW
DIRECTIONS: Get on the East Bay bike path in East Providence and ride for 7 miles. Turn right on Middle Highway, and then left on Nayatt Road. You’ll see the parking lot and farm building on your right soon after (look for the big RISD sign). If you’re driving, head to 231 Nayatt Road.
DIRECTIONS: Take the RIPTA 60 Bus from Kennedy Plaza to downtown Newport. From there you can pick up the water taxi, walk to several beaches or pick up the walking path that winds along the famous Cliff Walk.
(3) BEAVERTAIL STATE PARK // JAMESTOWN, RI
Among the blue-blood waves of the New-England near-shore, Block Island is a little oasis of weird. The second-weirdest thing on Block Island is the animal farm, a large pen on the edge of a bluff which houses a Himalayan yak, at least one one-eyed zonkey, and a Scottish Highland steer named Mr. McDuff. The only thing weirder is the sacred labyrinth off Corn Neck Road, where a sign will tell you you’re supposed to walk in a spiral with your eyes closed, meditating on the question, “What are you longing for?” At the tapering sandy spit on the northern tip of the island, seals run aground by the dozen. If you move slowly, they may just keep you company during your picnic. –DS
The secluded paradise of Beavertail State Park lies at the end of a delicate finger of land, sandwiched between Narragansett and Newport and pointing south to the open Atlantic. Paths plunge through dense vegetation to connect a lighthouse and seaside lawns with isolated sandy inlets, set into steep bluffs and accessible via vertiginous side trails. Adventurous swimmers can time the swells to scamper from the brine onto smooth bathing rocks at the water’s edge. Alternating between plunges into cold wild seas and gorging oneself on gourmet picnic foods has long been a storied Beavertail tradition. –SD
(4) FORT WETHERILL STATE PARK // JAMESTOWN, RI If you’ve seen Wes Anderson’s latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, you probably remember the underwear dance scene on a fog-filled beach (set to Francoise Hardy spinning on a record player nestled in the sand). That scene, and much of the movie, was filmed in in Jamestown, Rhode Island. Jamestown—located on Conanicut Island—is filled with rocky cove beaches perfect for running away to with your first love. The exact cove of the dance scene is located at Fort Wetherill State Park, which also boasts several other beach inlets and the crumbling remains of a 19th-century fort. –MH DIRECTIONS: The RIPTA 64 bus passes through the Jamestown town center, but it’s a 1.5 mile walk to Fort Wetherill from there, and even further to Beavertail—take your bike along with you on the rack at the front of the bus. Search “Fort Wetherill” or “Beavertail Rd.” to get driving directions to either state park—it’s about a 40-minute drive.
SEPTEMBER 20 2013
(7) BLOCK ISLAND, RI
DIRECTIONS: Head down early to Kennedy Plaza and take the 66 RIPTA to the Block Island ferry at Point Judith. Buy a round trip ticket ($23.85) and hang out for the day.
(8) PRUDENCE ISLAND, RI
The candy bars at the General Store are as old as the lady behind the counter, the quahogs in freezers as questionable as you might imagine, but winter on Prudence is brilliantly blue and eerie. In March, when the population on the island averages 90 people, droves of seals give birth off the east coast of the island. Go for the seal watching, stay and explore the backroads. –VC DIRECTIONS: Bike on the East Bay Bike Path or Bus (line 60) to Bristol. Ferry rides leave from Bristol every few hours to Prudence Island ($6, cash only).
(9) URBAN CAMPGROUND // CENTRAL FALLS, RI Providence Journal headline, Friday June 11, 2013 “central falls to create first urban campground in the state” hey hey you do you like sleeping outside well why don’t you check out the very first urban campground in the state of rhode island and providence plantations created in one of the poorest smallest city/town/province/region one mile square a creative initiative and progressive too well you can support something in the city while sleeping on an island with your friends (fire pits included) –GR DIRECTIONS: Make a group reservation at www. centralfallsri.us/river-island-campground. The campground is 7 miles north up the Blackstone River bikeway.
(10) DESERT OF RHODE ISLAND // WEST GREENWICH, RI
The Desert of Rhode Island is waiting for you off Division Road in West Greenwich. The first sight of the sand dunes will inspire you to run up the soft, white mounds. Get to know the lay of the land, and when you are tired of exploring this desert, take a dip in the freshwater pond that lays to the right of the path on which you entered. You might be lucky enough to visit on the same day as two beautiful Siberian Husky dogs, which will certainly leave you feeling that this desert is too good to be true. Make friends with a car to reach this mysterious cranny of the state. –LC DIRECTIONS: Take Exit 6 off of I-95, then turn left on Hopkins Hill Road. Make the first right onto Division Road. Drive about 300ft to reach the unmarked entrance, which will be on your left. There is a little gate.
(11) ROUTE 1 BIKE ROUTE // SOUTH COUNTY, RI
Welcome to South County, a land of pseudo rural suburbs, wealthy Connecticut-style coastlines, and a lot of cars. Here public transportation comes in the form of two major bus lines, the 14 and the 66. If you can claim one of the two coveted spots on the bus bike racks, any road off the major highways is sure to be scenic, wooded, stunning; the environmental riches here are worth the hike. My recommended route begins in historic Wickford village (home of one of the earliest European trading outposts in the area, Smith’s Castle), where RT 1A branches off of RT 1. This broad-shouldered and an aptly named ‘scenic byway,’ will take you down all the way to the first of the “big-wave beaches,” Narragansett Beach. Along the way, stop at the newly created John H. Chafee Preserve for some hiking trails and a stretch of coastline that boasts summer seal sightings. Also there are giant lily pads! The size of medium sized dogs, which bloom along the side of the road in late summer. –GR
by Vera Carothers, Liza Carroll, Stefan Dabroski, Megan Hauptman, Gina Roberti, Dan Sherrell, John White & Emma Wohl Illustration by Chloé Fandel
all the way Robert Schenkkan at the American Repertory Theatre by Becca Millstein Illustration by Katia Zorich
it’s an august afternoon, sometime in the 1960s. Robert Schenkkan and his older brother are standing in the hot gravel driveway of their family ranch in Austin, Texas. They are watching their father—a former serviceman working for Austin’s public television and radio station—speak with another man, a tall, inelegant figure wearing a cowboy hat and some fine western threads. Schenkkan’s father’s car is stuck beside the driveway, and the tall man gestures to it. His motions are ungainly but deliberate. His massive silhouette moves toward the station wagon and, putting his shoulder to the bumper, he slowly begins to ease it out of the ditch. This—Schenkkan’s childhood image of Lyndon B. Johnson’s visit—is sun-soaked and dusty. Over the years, it has become so saturated with overlapping southern inflections that Schenkkan can no longer distinguish between his true memories of the afternoon and those that have been passed down to him by his family. When Schenkkan, now a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, decided to write a play about LBJ, he asked his older brother for his more mature recollections. His brother answered that he had no memories of any car, but he remembered thinking that he had “never before seen [his] father behave so respectfully around another man.” I spoke with Schenkkan over the phone around 11:00 PM, after he had returned to his apartment in Harvard Square from a ten-hour rehearsal day. All the Way, Schenkkan’s newest play, opened on September 19th at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Over the receiver, his voice sounds low and gravelly, like the voice of an audience member at the dimming close of intermission. For the past four weeks, Schenkkan has been attending each rehearsal, reworking, and fine-tuning the script for its new cast and location. “I’m a hands-on writer. The actors are constantly pulling me aside with questions about contradictions or inconsistencies, and it forces me to go deeper. It’s a very good thing and I welcome it, but it is not an easy thing.” It’s all about telling the story better, he says, and to accomplish this, he gives directorial notes. A former television, film, and theatre actor from the ’70s to the late ’80s, Schenkkan has had intimate experience with working both on and offstage. Eventually, he moved to Seattle, Washington, where he began to build his reputation as one of the great contemporary American playwrights with his 1992 publication of The Kentucky Cycle. The seven-hour series of nine one-act plays, spanning two centuries of American mythology, was the first play to win a Pulitzer before being on Broadway. For the past ten years, the mythological and historical American landscape has served as Schenkkan’s conceptual playground. He swept through the fires of the Vietnam War era for the Steven Spielberg-produced HBO drama The Pacific, traversed the Cumberland Plateau for The Kentucky Cycle, and made the cross-country voyage for Lewis and Clark Reach the Euphrates. It was a foregone conclusion for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to commission Schenkkan to write a play for their American Revolutions Cycle. The Cycle program, Schenkkan tells me, provided the blissfully vague instruction of creating a show about “an event or individual moment of significance” in America’s history. Schenkkan accepted immediately and knew exactly where he was headed. The South had come calling, bringing him back home to Austin, Texas to find the man who pushed the car from the mud.
schenkkan began his research for All the Way in 2010, reading and re-reading each and every LBJ autobiography and biography, meeting with the president’s daughter, Lucy Bird Johnson, his White House Aide, Harry Middleton, and the former members of his White House Council. As he collected information at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library— Johnson’s ranch and museum in Texas—he was revisited by his personal catalogue of memories of the president. He recalled that LBJ was the first political figure he recognized as a child. He remembered attending the campaign rallies and waiting anxiously on the election returns, then cheering at the landslide victory. He was also reminded of the abrupt change in his opinion of the President when the draft began in 1969.
Watching Johnson round up young men to fight, Schenkkan’s enthusiasm plummeted, his feelings oscillating between loathing and fear. Twenty years, one wife, and two young children later, his attitude shifted again. “As an artist trying to raise a family, I realized how dependent I was on certain social programs whose origins can be found in the Great Society.” After the long months of research and reflection, Schenkkan found that his understanding of Lyndon B. had grown only more complex. “If you could isolate his domestic achievements, his face would be on the side of Mount Rushmore,” Schenkkan explains. “Unfortunately, there was Vietnam, which did exactly what he’d feared it would do: destroyed all his domestic efforts, wrecked the Democratic Party, and left a wound on the country that remains today.” For All the Way, Schenkkan whittled down this enormous collection of research to one single year, 1963-1964. “This [year] is the hinge point when everything changes in America.” Schenkkan raises his voice as he attempts to cram into our conversation what he has already worked so hard to cram into the 165 minute-long play. “In that single year, after [LBJ] becomes the ‘accidental president,’ he passes the 1964 Civil Rights Bill, thus announcing the death knell for the Jim Crow Era. It’s the beginning of the end of Democratic Party’s dominance of the South, the rise of the modern Republican Party and its Southern Strategy, the beginning of the fracturing of the Civil Rights Movement. It’s the Mississippi Summer, the Atlantic City Democratic Convention, the Gulf of Tonkin Incident.” Schenkkan reels off. “It’s all leading down one slippery slope, all in the same year.”
when all the way premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in the summer of 2012, reviews described both the leading character and the play itself with the same adjective—“Shakespearean.” Schenkkan sees the parallel: “He’s a tragic figure living in what we think of as the world of large Shakespearean heroes. He’s outsized in his Shakespearean ambition, he is someone who is simultaneously generous and cruel, very refined and terribly uncouth, a loving friend and absolute sadistic bully. The sheer size of the man has a Shakespearean quality while the story itself has a very familiar Shakespearean ring to it. There’s the wheel of fortune, the man who has nothing who rises to the top, becomes the most powerful man on the planet and wields that power gleefully. Then the wheel turns.” The Oregon Shakespeare Festival invites this comparison. In American Revolutions: The United States History Cycle, the directors state their hope to mirror “the scope and scale of Shakespeare’s history plays” in their sponsored productions. The program stipulates that these projects should utilize and unite the intellectual forces of American “historians, artists and institutions” in order to create a piece of work that will “contribute to vision, conversation, to belief, to action...to participation in the life of our country.” The program operates as a space for makinh sense of the principle actors in American history. Still, Schenkkan is quick to remind me that—despite his extensive work as a researcher of American history—he is not a historian. He tells me over the phone that the play is not a documentary, but rather a dramatic re-imagining of LBJ and his participation in the events of the year 1963. Schenkkan hopes to “do justice to the individuals,” but he recognizes that in order to consolidate these characters and their lives into a play, he must sacrifice certain detail and depth. This was true of Shakespeare, too. His plays strayed far and freely from historical accuracy. Yet these are the accounts that seem to live on: it is his Richard III, his Henry VI, and his Julius Caesar of et tu Brute that inform our understanding of these histories, with far greater breadth than the textbooks. This is, in a sense, the role of the public historian—to do the research, to digest the facts, and then to give this history back to us. Schenkkan’s denial of historicism belies the importance of All the Way’s historical storytelling. Without playwrights like Schenkkan—working through the complexities of the Vietnam era, treading through LBJ’s mixed legacy—we would lose some of the richness of that history itself. It is through All the Way that we reopen this chapter, write new histories, and dig deeper into the collective memory of Lyndon B. Johnson. BECCA MILLSTEIN B’16 is Shakespearean.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
SWEET, SWEET SORROW The neural correlates of schadenfreude by Golnoosh Mahdavi Illustration by Julieta Cárdenas
in france, the guillotine was unpopular at first. The slick blade didn’t give spectators enough time to see much of anything. Public protests gathered to restore the village gallows, and the revolutionary government was quick to respond. Within short time, Madame Guillotine raised her height to 14 feet and encircled herself with a relishing display of freshly severed, aristocratic heads. The peasant protests quieted, Robespierre’s “Reign of Terror” ensued, and— 40,000 executions later—the French Revolution waned. This isn’t the first or last time human beings, in fact, have taken pleasure in the suffering of others. We do it all the time. Our knowledge of the world grows, and with our growing intellect, an insatiable desire for the things we can’t have. It only takes a moment’s reflection to realize a pervading theme: It’s easier to hate than to love. Schadenfreude, the German term for pleasure in the misfortune of others, is no longer just an abstract sentiment. That intangible feeling of resentment we shamefully harbor towards a friend’s life, luck, wits, or looks is real; the sinister sense of relief we experience at the expense of those around us actually serves us a biological purpose. According to neuroscientist Hidehiko Takahashi and his team of researchers at Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences, humans are biologically hardwired to reciprocally experience gain in another’s pain. To prove their theory, Takahashi and his team set out to find the neurocognitive mechanisms of envy and schadenfreude, and the role of social comparison in the processing of these emotions. First off, it is not a surprise that the feeling of envy—the “emotion characterized by feelings of inferiority and resentment produced by an awareness of another’s superior quality, achievement, or possessions”—is a painful one (Takahashi 2009). After all, that twinge of heartache we feel inside when we see our ex-partner with an attractive new hubby is enough of an impetus to stay in bed all day; that hollowing “why me?” feeling we have when our co-worker gets the promotion over us is enough to convince us to quit the job entirely. But still, does the heartache and rejection underlying our feelings of envy actually hurt? Takahashi and his team addressed this question by looking at prior experiments on the neural correlates of physical and social pain. They found that when a person puts their hand on a burning stove, the anterior cingulate cortex, or ACC, lights up to process the corresponding physical pain of our skin blistering up (Eisenberger 2003). Coincidentally, in a recent study looking at the processing of emotional pain, scientists found similar patterns of activation in the ACC. After giving Tylenol to people who suffer from social anxiety prior to attending a crowded party, scientists noticed a reduced activation in the pain-
SEPTEMBER 20 2013
processing ACC (Bailey 2012). So as it turns out, the distressing bitterness of envy we feel when the person sitting next to us gets a better score on an exam we studied for all week really does hurt. But if the feeling of envy is analogous to the feeling of pain, what does pleasure in the pain of another feel like? Does schadenfreude also have a neural correlate? To answer this question, Takahashi and his team looked into the area of the brain that processes pleasure related to rewards: the ventral striatum, or VS (Fehr 2007). For example, when a cocaine addict snorts a line of cocaine, the area of the brain that lights up as they satisfy their craving is the VS (Isomura 2013). Schadenfreude does activate the VS, acting like an addiction none of us can shake off. In the end, the sum of all of the findings in Takahashi’s research seem to point to one dismaying thought: Its natural propensity for human beings to sinisterly gaze at those around us. Perhaps we all have a hidden, diabolical core acidifying our soul, a center of ourselves waiting to betray us at the right time. We would be lying if we claimed to have never felt the pangs of envy and the liberations of schadenfreude. After all, the more we look to those around us for guidance, the more we self-scrutinize ourselves and realize our shortcomings. The more we engage in the effort to assess our self-value in some hierarchy of existence, the greater our fascination with seeing other beings falter becomes; The more we witness other people mess up, the better we feel about ourselves. We may sometimes manage to convince ourselves that we don’t desire a loving partner to hold us at night, or that we don’t wish we thought of that discerning tweet first…but then we remember that we do. The feeling of insouciance lasts for all of a second, and the residual guilt lingers on. Arthur Schopenhauer, the German philosopher who first fathered schedenfreude-theory, painted a dismal picture of misery-loving human kind: We have been taking a look at the depravity of man, and it is a sight which may well fill us with horror. But now we must cast our eyes on the misery of his existence; and when we have done so, and are horrified by that too, we must look back again at his depravity. We shall then find that they hold the balance to each other [and] we shall perceive the eternal justice of things. Every person falls victim to the pain produced by social comparison, but perhaps every person strikes a homeostatic balance when they realize that everyone messes up. It’s liberating to know we aren’t alone in our suffering; it’s rewarding to acknowledge that we’re all climbing a slope of uncertainty. At least we can use each other as our crutches. GOLNOOSH MAHDAVI B’14 is waiting to hear some of your nasty thoughts.
by Everett Epstein
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
i could end his career. his fucking ‘career,’ his umbilical cord to the only authority he has. Todd, that idiot. how quickly i could end him. and i fucking should. he’s so obviously terrible, with the tediously bright bow-ties, and those fucking tortoise-shell glasses. earth to Todd, you’re not fucking Tom Wolfe. or whoever he thinks he is. after all, he only got the job through Karen, and god knows she’s only got her job through Paul. Paul! jesus this hurts. 15 years in publishing and here Todd comes from Dallas and gets to run Pitt. n-fucking-o. christ, this hurts! the indignity of it. and imagine the nerve to lean over me, place his spindly fingers on my shoulder, and say ‘i need you to rally for me.’ fucking ‘rally’ Todd, seriously. it’s over, damn it. it’s over. ( )
Bubbled to the surface of her big toe, a blood blister throbs a liver purple. She traces her index finger around the mass, recumbent on the floor. A previous tenant had, in a feverish spell, painted the walls a sickeningly uric yellow, as imposing as the sore occupying her attention. The yellow complements the profound shit of her toe, an amuse-bouche to its pinot noir. The rest of the foot has an symmetry that offsets the deformity, just as her acutely tasteful furniture makes the best of the jaundiced walls; she even incorporated the yellow into the grain of the dresser and side table. Still, no amount of keen design could fully detract from brightness of the space. And no amount of practiced hobbling could conceal the toe’s discomfort. Every step along the downtown sidewalk pinched her face into a grimace, a mask disrupting the brief glances cast her direction. The finger continues to gently probe the taut, smooth pad, engaged in the submerged fluid. She pushes a little harder, such that that fluid forms a penumbra around the finger tip. It reminds her of Denise’s navy waterbed, that uncomfortable bladder of holidays in Cleveland. Pressing on the blister sends a shiver of pain across her face, and she bites her lip. In the left hand, a sewing needle, squirreled from her roommate’s closet, extends with intentionality, the prescience of the inanimate. Smoothly, unexpressively, the needle arcs downwards. An elegant
SEPTEMBER 20 2013
it doesn’t seem fair that i’m the bad guy. after all, Paul chose to take on the Sargent biography. imagine a Sargent biography not selling; it’s only the third this year! now suddenly i’m forced to ask Sheila to pick up the slack. she already hates me on principle, i’m surprised she responded at all, even with a flare of the nostrils. acknowledgement is pretty rare these days. if only i could reach her, just level with her. ‘i’m trying my best. i’m working overtime to keep the firm alive. enough of the attitude. i’m —
From above, the freeway circling Pittsburgh resembles a nautilus shell. Or rather, a nautilus submerged, rendered obscure beneath murky depths. RT-66’s imperfect spiral suggests a failure, a disconnect. The marks of inelegant design. It is here, trapped in second spiral traffic, that he runs his Impreza smack into the Corolla’s bumper. His head, launched forward by the impact, meets the airbag with such suddenness that he hardly registers the event. Instead, an explosion of light, then black, then red on white. The nosepiece of his glasses, driven into his eyebrows, cause two quotations of blood to drip onto the airbag. The resultant smear suggests a Rorschach test—two vases, a gypsy moth, an orchid. He stares at the image before slipping into the hypertension of shock.
welcome to the occult
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
SUPERNATURAL BREAD Starvation, Sainthood & Simone Weil by Julieta Cárdenas
Hearing that someone else is an alien makes it easier to ask the question “Have you not ever felt the presence of God?” life and death were in her hands; some will say that death was a decision she made. Simone Weil died tubercolic and unable to move when she was 34. Her body had been weak since birth but her spirit never faltered. She attested to having had the experience of briefly being held in Christ’s possession. This is something only a saint can claim, and it is only those who believe in saints who can believe her. In 1943, when she died in the mortal sense, the prevalent recommendation for recovery from tuberculosis was rest and eating. Simone responded to the extra food allocated her the way she always had. She limited her consumption to a ration that she estimated was proportional to that of someone living in occupied France. Throughout her life—as a child of loving Jewish parents, a top student at the École Normale Supériure, a teacher in Marseilles, a factory worker, and a farmhand— she restricted her possessions and her comfort. “She was small and died of hunger,” I say in the past tense. “She is small and is going to collapse any minute now,” I can hear me say in the past-future tense. I cannot strongly say that I do not think hunger affects the mind of even the most attentive of people. I will softly say that extremes should be explored when possible. Even saints are at the mercy of their biology, but they have a calling that the will-to-life of their cells must listen to. As the alien and mystic of an existential and empirically driven environment, her empathy was so strong as to make her cry when she read the newspapers. What does it mean to be kind, and to value equally the acts of smiling at someone in passing and of joining the resistance? How can the life of someone so learned, so well-read, esteemed even by her philosophical counterparts, be taken seriously when she saw epistemic values through a self-defined faith beyond reason? Knowing is different from knowing with the soul and the difference is in the heightened passion of the latter. An emotional motivation speaks of quick decisions that reveal intuitive natures. A decision made and defended as intellectual, reasoned, and academic is necessarily dialectical; it needs an opposite to argue against. I wonder how much of soulful knowing is comprised of one’s own intuition. Both methods of decision-making are powerful, but the one that stands on the ground of reason has built a grey space of moral relativity. This grey space has been made manifest as politesse, governmental structure, nationality and oppression. Allowing moral relativity means you don’t have to make up your mind. Simone would cry not out of sadness but out of love. Simone refused food not out of masochism but out of love. Her maladroit form is used to interpret her works as those of someone desperate and fighting against their own biography. Her older brother was a mathematical genius; her family was Jewish; she died a virgin. These were not easy things to leave the translators of her works with. Simone described the world through energy expenditure. Her notebooks, left in the hands of her friend Gustav Thibon, are bound together into a book titled Gravity and Grace:
be intuited. Now that I am here and find myself again in A situation which is too hard degrades us through the following classes, I would like to open the possibility of an emotional process: As a general rule the energy supplied by higher emotions episteme to be used as an important tool for understanding). is limited. If the situation requires us to go beyond this limit we Hearing that someone else is an alien makes it easier have to fall back on our lower feelings. to ask the question “Have you not ever felt the presence of God?” Simone was attentive; she called attention the most rare and most sincere form of generosity. This attention increases the difficulty of each situation. It requires more energy to confront things because moments become more important. I just left a class in Brown’s Modern Culture & Media department, in which the professor mentioned that, in Russia quite recently, one man shot another man because they disagreed on some aspect of Kant’s philosophy. She then said that this act made their society more interesting than ours, because here “we shoot people for no reason.” People laughed at the convergence of her two statements, one after another and then out of perhaps my own tiredness or hunger the world of an overwhelmingly indulgent Brueghel appeared. Ambivalence is easy. I am a little tired. I was a little hungry. If Simone were there—I should not guilt myself so much—but she might have not sat as I did, quietly but angry inside. This is an institutional critique. I find it sloppy to dismiss death so quickly and to then move on to what Lacan said of death. I find it unkind. Claiming sensitivity to the suffering of others can be criticized as self-indulgent or as an escape from oneself. However, it can be done genuinely if it is done outside of reason. Simone did it genuinely and so did so many other saints. If the qualities of knowledge were to change from the empirically sustainable, translatable, and commodifiable, to the distinct kind of soulful knowing that can bruise a human heart, there would be a disruption; a certain fiction of power that gives more to some and less to others would wobble, and maybe tumble down. She wants me to pay attention and call behavior by what it is; she wants me to say it is bad. However, she wants me to understand that the distinction between good and bad should not be a judgment that can be defended. Here is where language begins to fail me. AT THE WATERFALL you cannot reason yourself into faith. (I found my brain working very hard against my own self...I was once religious and lived in a monastery. It happened to be in Lyon, two hours north by train from Marseilles where Simone lived with her parents who had been driven out of Paris by the Nazi invasion. There, I had a friend named Jesse. One day while walking by a river on the grounds it came to be that we both held each other and cried. I can’t remember who said it first but we both felt “it,” we both felt the presence of God. I came to school and forgot about all of that. I stopped chanting and became embarrassed by my former self. I grew distant from passion. I learned my opposite. I let go of the sublime and everything became uglier. I left school and began to remember how to sit in silence comfortably. I am trying to remind myself to respect elements which cannot be said but that can
SEPTEMBER 20 2013
+++ I stood at the top of a large rock that had once been my familiar. I looked down at the water and heard water falling. Willfully, falling into itself. I had gone there before with the same friend I was with on this particular morning, and who now waved her arms after safely having jumped in. I felt uneasy, but I had no one to ask for a miracle. I have not been in rapture the way Simone was, but I do believe in a transmutative energy that can protect the body. I will take protection where I can; I did the sign of the cross and promised that once I completed speaking out loud the words that most reminded me of God, I would dive. Behüte mich, Gott, ich vertraue dir, du zeigst mir den Weg zum Leben. Bei dir ist Freude, Freude in Fülle. I will take protection in amulet form as well and so I held on to the mezuzah around my neck—which has a small scroll inside—and when the verse was done I remember saying ‘love’ as I jumped. Two years before this I had jumped from the same rock. I like how wet they can be, that they can feel at times like skin. Two years ago my friend and I tried to find the rocks that best fit our bodies, the ones that seemed to communicate that they welcomed us into them. In the water we touched hands, the rock and I, and it was only a little sting in my wrist that gently suggested that things could have been much worse if I had not thought ‘love’ when I did. +++ in simone, i see the ecstasy of St. Teresa and the bravery of Joan of Arc. There might be desperation in her story, but only because her feelings were of such strength that they are not easily communicated. Our bodies are in constant tension with Gravity. She said that to hold ourselves from falling we must be given Grace and that in turn we must receive it. It takes a particularly strong substance to sustain a body that is so open to suffering. In her case, it took the body of Christ, supernatural bread, to keep her moving and stepping attentively through difficulty. She is a Saint who was baptized last minute by an un-ordained friend. There is no prayer or stained glass window for her yet but I would like to try to find one. JULIETA CÁRDENAS B’14 says “Wednesday’s child is full of Woe.”
patchwork in a darkened room, you and I begin in clothes. We sit tensely on your floor, drinking tea in candlelight. Splintery hardwood stiffens our tentative kisses, and we move easily to bed, slipping down beneath your quilt. I have decided to let you remove whichever of my covers you desire. I will leave my hands by my sides, but when you reach under my shirt, I will sigh, and if you ask what I think, I will speak wantonly of myself: Naked, I still am the years I have lived. Naked, I still am the worries of my mother, the worries of my father. Naked, I still am all but clothed.
to imagine that Degas sketched, drew, and painted such a cornucopia of women for any reason but lust. Women bathing their legs in buckets. Women with pubic hair spilling onto their thighs. Women covered in flowing rolls of fat. colonial women kept diaries of precious fabric scraps, annotated with fond memories of the gown or quilt to which they once belonged. Coveted above all were fabrics dyed in Turkey Red. The Europeans lusted after rouge Turc, a bright scarlet produced only in the Middle East until the late 18th century. They created feeble imitations: rusty maroons, when
i sleep naked many nights, especially in winter, to feel the full effects of my quilt. Bursting patchwork stars cover me, picked out in flowered patterns. The padding lumps up in certain places: at the corners of the quilt, and at the edge I draw up to my chin. Held in by the unadorned fabric that keeps the quilt together, the stuffing captures a cloud of body-heated air. I sleep bare to feel that warmth against my skin, to let my senses soak. The textured patchworks on my hips and around my shoulders could almost be the touch of an intimate. quilts came to europe around 1516, when a Portuguese merchant wrote of bringing them from India. In the centuries to follow their chintzes and calicos filled the rooms of wealthy Europeans. The fad survived another ocean crossing to the colonies, though in the New World quilts were somewhat threadbare. For lack of ready availability of manufactured fabrics, their designs were piecework, scraped together from the leavings of worn out dresses that had once been the latest styles ordered from France. Into their quilts the women sewed Old and New, fashion and sense: the very layers of their frontier lives. created, curated, and guided by women, the Amherst Museum commemorates life in the Town of Amherst, New York. Exhibits focus on fifties housewifery, log-cabin living, and the layers of quilting. I remember wandering through rows of dangling patchworks, surrounded by the quilters themselves. They were old ladies in fancy hats and matching dresses. Their hands knew the shifts of those stitches and their minds the curves of those patterns. They had sewn together countless sets of three layers: front, batting, and backing. A pattern, the stuffing, and a panel to embrace the rest. Three layers to make a quilt, where one would have made only a sheet.Three layers I never knew, for lack of asking what made a quilt. when i let you take off my clothes, I am revealed to be a many-layered thing, bare but not bereft. I am a thing of skin, and fat, and muscle, and bone, and marrow. The trick is finding out which layers make me. mulling through an exhibition of Degas’s nudes, I thought I knew what I was looking at. I sniggered to my mom, “It’s his private porn collection.” “Don’t be disgusting,” she replied harshly. I shrugged, unable
by Devon Reynolds Illustration by Mariam Quraishi
now freckle New England and Canada, from Nova Scotia to Virginia. How many patchwork quilts, sewn by the women of the Amherst towns, spread genocide to their neighbors? Marked with Turkey Red instead of blood, nevertheless they were the casualties of war. a wall-sized nude marked the end of the Degas exhibit: Rolla, painted by Henri Gervex in tribute to Degas. The subject sprawls across painfully white sheets, her body pristine: used, perhaps, but unexplored. A man standing at her window cranes his neck to look at her with the unconcern of finality, his body already dressed and turned to leave. There is no question between them—he will collect his jacket from the chair, and they will never know one another. Perhaps he is dismayed, as I am, at her unknowable perfect form, the way she seems to float, as pale and thin as Egyptian cotton, just above her blankets, too angelic for earthly touch. degas’ women, on the hand, rely upon their towels and blankets for the daily drying and covering of their bodies. The lines are blurred between their forms and the bedding they sit upon, scratching their backs and scrubbing their feet. These are women stuffed with life and held together by will, and their patterns are turned away from me: they mostly show their backs from the canvases. Beside Gervex’s immaculate, inhuman subject, Degas’ eroticism is revealed to be just that, and not porn at all. I might have known sooner, had I thought to be curious. I might have seen the devastating vulnerability of the bathing, hairy women, if I had asked what made them human.
a final rinse had had its say on the juices of the madder plant. In 1786, John Wilson of Manchester, England, finally found the right formula of madders and oils, too late to benefit the sewing baskets of American women in the newborn republic across the Atlantic. you have a psalm sewn into your ankle with needles, the only one of your three (or is it four?) tattoos that I can locate with certainty. You’ve never truly shown them to me; even after all these nights of sleeping naked with you, I know so few of your tender places. Only in the semi-dark can I tempt the corners of your mouth to broaden past a smirk. Still, you keep covers between us. Once, I threw the sheets off my body, and you only cared to say that you couldn’t see me without your glasses. What of mine can you know when you do not care to look? one glance at a map of the east coast of today’s North American reveals how far the influence of Lord Jeffrey Amherst reached. He spread his name with his ruthless bravery in combat against the French, republican, and indigenous dangers of colonization. Lord Amherst also ordered the spread of smallpox to the people of North America. His soldiers carried to them the blankets of colonists dead from the disease, in hopes that it would catch. His namesakes, the Amherst towns,
i consent to let you wrap me in layers of yourself as you explore the world through your shiny, heavy camera. Your photos will be of me swathed in your jacket, shrouded in the shadows of a crumbling factory where I would never have gone but for your urging. In other words, the photos will hardly be of me at all. In the camera’s foreign view, I am only a pretty pattern, missing batting and backing. So I walk toward you, open my mouth to ask something, and find no room for questions in your eyes. in the Amherst museum, old ladies display quilting as an indigenous craft of North America. The old ladies, the white ladies, stitch contentedly, never wondering what it is they preserve in thread. Our knowledge has been inherited from mothers complicit in the sacrifices to conquest, and our ignorance will not protect us from Lord Amherst’s legacy. We cover the scarlet stains with patchworks that we pretend are native art, but lacking knowledge of our own layers, we rob ourselves of the chance to change our patterns. i chose to let you hide those layers you did not wish me to see, and I let you choose which of my layers never to touch with curiosity. I feared to ask and be asked; and I feigned invulnerability. I am guilty, too.
THE COLLEGE HILL INDEPENDENT
! e t a d p U y t e f Sa
nce ide v o Pr : tic e Week Exo h t rnia of alifo
C nce, 2’’N e d i Prov 39°15’3 5’’W 1 °02’ 1 2 1