Category Archives: Beauty and the Beautiful

Connections

downloadIt was 2006. I was in the airport in Nairobi, Kenya and on my way to or way home from (I can’t remember at this point) two weeks at the UNFCCC negotiations for research. I remember missing the boys—it was my first long trip away from them. But I especially and will always remember being pulled out of that place into another orbit entirely as a vivacious and beautiful woman in her 70s (I later found out) started to gush to me about going on three weeks of safari for the first time in her life. Casual conversation about all the places she was going and how she was getting there (a helicopter in some cases) quickly turned to her sharing part of her life story of how she got there.

“You see,” she said, “you know what changed my life? I’ll tell you. I was on track to live my life as a housewife in 1954—the standard thing that was expected of me, from a good family, with good prospects for a husband, etc. I was working (in Texas, I think) when Playboy started. Hugh ‘found’ me and asked me to be on the cover. I was playmate of the month.” She went on to say that it was such a crazy thing, in the 1950s, to pose nude, but that Playboy managed to cut this difficult path through the center of the culture at the time by choosing ‘girl next door’ types from obscurity. And she talked about the restrictions, about how you were supposed to act because you were a bunny. But she talked more about all of the ways it changed her, the places she went, and, most importantly, the female friends she made. She described that world as being part of a family and, more importantly, part of a sisterhood with respect to being Playmate of the Month and a Playboy bunny as you were part of the fold. It took her out of the anticipated and expected life she was on track for and changed everything. She lived a life, now in her 70s, long after her centerfold days, that, based on that one risk, led to a life that she could say was fully lived on her own terms.

What amazed me about her description of the experience were two things: first, that the women who participated in the Playboy (magazine) world were like sisters who supported one another, and not just for the moment. For life. They were there for one another as they got married, or pursued careers, and showed up when things went sideways. And second, that Hugh Hefner was at the center of a lot of it. If he found out you couldn’t pay your mortgage, it would suddenly get paid, and then some. Long after you were no longer centerfold material.

I knew about Hefner’s conflicted legacy, about his role in the sexual ethics of his day which were (again) contradictory. And I knew that there were huge issues with the magazine and the mansion along the way, particularly as it related to the difference between working at one of the clubs and being in the magazine. But I never heard this side of things: that they acted as family to one another, as a bulwark against the constricted (in the 1950s) norms of the day, and as a *sisterhood*—words that would later only come to be associated with the sexual revolution and feminism. But there she was, in the Nairobi airport, a real Playmate of the Month—one of the first—singing the praises of how it changed her life and singing Hugh Hefner’s praises for still being there for her in her 70s. On her way to a three-week safari. And glowing with the vivaciousness of a life well-constructed, empowered, and well lived.

Suffice it to say that I will always remember that momentary connection turned hour-long conversation while our lives crossed in an airport waiting area. Haven’t thought about it in a long while–in fact, until Hefner’s passing and the multitude of Facebook posts one one side or another of that coin that was his life. We are all, each of us, contradictory, aren’t we? We are never all of one thing or another. It’s important to remember this in the line of making sense of things, including ourselves.

—Anna-Liisa Aunio

The Golden Age

“Creating the future is a frightening enterprise, especially when we do it without any awareness of the past. I am amazed how little we actually care to examine past human experience. It’s like hunting in a wood full of bears, ignoring all the disarticulated skeletons of dead hunters, and confidently proclaiming that bears don’t really exist. They belong to the past!”—Joseph Gresham Miller

Lucas_Cranach_the_Elder_-_The_Golden_Age_-_Google_Art_ProjectDo you dream primarily of what is, what once was, what could have been, or what could be? Your answer to this question tells me almost everything I need to know about you. Political conservatives locate their Golden Age somewhere in the not-too-distant past (e.g., the 1950s), whilst religious fundamentalists locate it somewhere in the unsullied early history of their movement (e.g., the Early Church for Pentecostals, the Pious Predecessors for Salafists). Progressives and starry-eyed idealists locate it somewhere in a future purged of the sins of the present, whilst Romantics locate it in a past purged of modernity, a pastoral place that looks a whole lot like The Shire described by J.R.R. Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings. Most environmentalists seem to locate it in some eco-friendly pre-modern past wherein we all lived in happy harmony with sweet Mother Earth. Computer geeks locate it in a shiny future replete with flying cars, robots, and killer apps, whilst defenders of the status quo, apologists of the present like Steven Pinker, insist that we’re living in a Golden Age right now. The outliers, of course, are the pessimists, like Arthur Schopenhauer and St. Augustine, who insist that life in The City of Man has always more or less sucked, and that there has never been, nor will there ever be, a Golden Age.

St. Augustine argues in The City of God that Original Sin has so corrupted human nature and the natural world—with sin, disease, and death—that the reformation of the individual and of society will always, of necessity, have to be a highly circumscribed exercise. All is not possible, insists the Bishop, because the freedom to do good is habitually hemmed in by this-worldly corruption. “The choice of the will,” avers Augustine, “is genuinely free only when it is not subservient to faults and sins.” St. Paul the Apostle likewise believes that decisive victory in the war against sin is not possible in a fallen world; the battle is, instead, fated to rage on and on, even within his body: “I know,” he once lamented, “that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Romans 7:18-19). Like Paul, Augustine maintains that there are some intractable human problems which the individual and society will have to grapple with again and again, until the end of time. Perfection can be nothing more than a noble goal in The City of Man. Always before us, yet perpetually out of reach. A beacon on the horizon of a fallen world.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2017)

The Year of Living Homerically

emile_levy_-_circeGetting sucked into the insanity of the 2016 election was like getting sucked into an ancient myth. One minute you’re living your life, next minute you’re a character in Homer’s Odyssey. Seriously, I feel like I should write a sequel to A. J. Jacobs’s The Year of Living Biblically (2007) entitled The Year of Living Homerically (2017). Were we not, like Odysseus’s men, turned into swine? Were we not, like Odysseus, bewitched? Did we not lose track of time, trumping till two, night after night? Waking up this past weekend, after a thoroughly unhealthy, year-long obsession with American politics, I felt like disoriented Odysseus, coming to his senses on the Island of Ogygia.

Angry people are incredibly easy to manipulate. Same is true of the self-righteous. The more “political” you become, the more you become a mere pawn in someone else’s chess game. Your ideas are no longer your own. They’re not even your friends’ ideas. They are, instead, prefabricated ideas, manufactured by spin-doctors, mad scientists of the spirit, who understand human nature better than most, and are practiced in the art of deception. These master manipulators understand that the pleasures of politics may be ugly pleasures, but they’re pleasures nonetheless. Anger feels good. Self-righteousness feels good.

But these pleasures come at a cost. Politics erodes your creativity far more than it erodes your humanity. I can’t believe how boring I’ve become. I can’t believe how boring many of my friends have become. Thinking prefabricated ideas all the time is sort of like moving into a prefabricated suburban row house. You get to choose the drapes, what color to paint the walls, little else.

Oh Aristotle, stop snickering in the back row! Yes, yes, yes, I know! Man is indeed the political animal. But it’s equally true that the political too often brings out the animal in the man. And you, Edmund, for God’s sake, save your breath! I know what you’re gonna say: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Of course there’s truth to what you say, much truth. But can you not conceive of a species of evil that’s akin to quicksand? Can you not see why Epicurus admonished his followers to shun politics?

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

Shared Language

13923512_10157167362285532_6410432123883132113_oI planned to sit and think about us
To decide if what we’re doing is right or wrong
And words like patient and nice and kind came to mind
Words that tedious people use as map markers
to plot a life that’s good enough
And I hated them all
I hated them and I buried them in a dark place
where they would all quietly accept their fate
because they would never think
to scratch their way out,
never think to clench their fists and batter reality
screaming and screaming “what about me”

My mind reeled in modern dance
Spinning, kicking, grasping, landing hard on my knees
hoping the world would give up and let my need for you
stop time long enough for me to see you see me one more time
See me ice-skating with my red scarf flying,
my heart wild with possibility as I crashed
into the snow-walled edges
and got back up for another go
See me negotiating the passage from girl to woman
too fast, too soon, and all the years it took the girl
to finally catch up
See me crying on a hotel bed, curled up in a heaving ball
knowing my father would forget who I was one day
See the depths of me coming for you, for me, for us
again and again, showering us with everything that I am,
our bodies making the past and present sticky sweet

Except I can’t dance well enough to stop time

Oh, but I have words, lover
Words that can shimmy honey onto your tongue
Words that can tap into a bass line so you feel what I feel
Words that can dance all night long steaming up the place
because you are happier when you are warm
My words — I’m yours
Your words — Stay with me
Our shared language of not letting go,
of claiming time in our own way

So I don’t want to decide if we’re right or wrong
I don’t want to be fair
I want to be demanding, selfish, wild, free
I want to scream and scream “what about me” as I drip
my greedy lifeblood into your waiting wanting mouth
And then I can let the nice words live another day
Let them breathe in our poetry so they regret
— just a little —
how fucking patient they’ve been

—Shannon Wand

The Fate of the Imagination in a Narcissistic Age

“Art is an arranged marriage between chance and humanity.”—George Murray, Glimpse (2010)

It’s probably good that Christopher Lasch died in 1994. Because he was already getting sick of us in the 1970s when he wrote The Culture of Narcissism (1979). Of course he lived to see—and be horrified by—the rise of talk radio, reality TV, and talk shows like Oprah. But imagine how much more horrified he would have been by the brave new world of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: a world filled with people who can’t seem to get enough of themselves.

Narcissism is always to some extent a failure of the imagination. So we shouldn’t be surprised to find imagination languishing in a narcissistic age such as ours. If most of our art sucks, and most of our artists seem pathologically self-involved, it’s good to remember that most of us can’t stop talking about ourselves. If our novelists too often resemble their main characters, it’s good to remember that most of us are obsessed with the politics of identity. If everything on the radio sounds the same, and our artists seem to lack imagination, it’s good to remember that “we the people” usually get the artists and politicians we deserve.

But not always. Sometimes we get an artist like Grimes, who seems to transcend many of her culture’s limitations. Her last album Art Angels (2015) is a case in point. Grimes’s prodigious imagination floats across the face of God’s Green Earth like a shapeshifter: in one song, she imagines what it might be like to be a butterfly, in another, she’s a male vampire. Her approach to the world brings to mind the most beautiful passage in The Upanishads: “Who sees all beings in his own Self, and his own Self in all beings, loses all fear. . . . When a sage sees this great Unity and his Self has become all beings, what delusion and what sorrow can ever be near him?”

This is easily your best work yet, Claire. The sweetest damn thing to pop out of that crazy creative head of yours thus far. But I regret to inform you that the track you like the least is the one I like the most. “Easily” has a simple beauty, a sweetness, and a razor-sharp delivery that’s entirely new for you, and thoroughly enchanting. Hearing it for the first time brought to mind the breathtaking intensity of Kanye West’s acapella version of “Love Lock Down”. Much has been made of all the dis-songs on this album. So far as I can tell, this whole story is based on one seemingly offhand comment you made to some random reporter. Regardless, I don’t buy it.

The inspiration of an artist like“ you—an artist who seems capable of tapping into deep underground oceans of creativity, more or less at will—cannot be reduced to a messy break-up, a run-in with a douche-y music exec, a clueless critic, or a misguided fan; nor can it be reduced to the ennui of a twenty-something who’s wondering what the fuck to do next. Whatever it is that you’re tapping into transcends the delights and disappointments of your day-to-day existence. It’s bigger than Grimes. And it can’t be found in the biographical details of your life, nor can it be captured in a gossipy article or a scandalous YouTube clip. It can, however, be glimpsed in your mesmerizing music videos.

Watching the video for “Genesis” is like renting a room with a view of the collective unconscious, getting front-row tickets to the inside of your head, and downloading a daydream. Same is true, indeed, doubly true, of your new video, “Flesh without Blood/Life in the Vivid Dream”. I have but one major criticism of your new album: the version of “REALiTi” that’s been on YouTube since March is considerably stronger than the one that made it onto Art Angels (2015). At first I suspected that I might be disliking it merely because I had grown accustomed to the YouTube version, but I’ve since listened to Art Angels dozens of times, and I’m still not feeling the new version of “REALiTi”. Regardless, I’m sure you had your reasons: you always do, Claire. After all, you were born in The Year of the Dragon: trusting in your own judgment, safeguarding your independence, refusing to be a product, and having faith in your own aesthetic—these things have served you well thus far. So you might as well own them.

There’s something about the artistic process that always seems to elude us, something that’s forever shrouded in mystery, something that resists the tidy Sunday School stories found in art history textbooks. But I’m nevertheless willing to play the part of the fool who rushes in where art angels fear to tread. I’m willing, that is, to venture a guess, and it’s this: you’re a stubborn shapeshifter, Grimes, who has consistently refused to be captured and confined by claustrophobic conceptions of Claire. And this has, I’ll wager, been as key to your preternatural creativity as Samson’s long locks were to his preternatural strength. Hang on to this. And beware of Delilahs!

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2017)

What Else Is There?

“He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.”—Matthew 11:15

Röyksopp - What Else Is There  - YouTube - Google Chrome 2015-11-19 20347 PMSome say that the bizarre video for Röyksopp’s “What Else Is There?” was inspired by LSD. But the profoundly personal nature of the imagery suggests otherwise. Listen carefully, the sirens of solipsism sing softly and sweetly throughout. What’s more, the storytelling is way too lucid, and the richness of the detail smacks not of the psychedelic but of the idiosyncratic, the eccentric. If it was LSD-inspired, this video wouldn’t feel so forbidding and foreign. If it was LSD-inspired, surely we would’ve run into a few familiar faces among the freaks—you know, those poorly-paid extras that people the crowd scenes in the movie of your life, the usual suspects, those popular projections of the public mind, trusty testaments to our shared cultural imagination, other known as the Jungian archetypes. If this was LSD-inspired, the greasy fingerprints of our collective unconscious would be on every glassy frame. But they’re not. In fact, comforting clichés are few and far between in this filmic fantasy.

Röyksopp - What Else Is There  - YouTube - Google Chrome 2015-11-19 20344 PMWatch it again if you must. Dust it for prints if you will. Doubt you’ll find anything that’ll interest the DEA, but you’ll find much that’ll interest those who place stock in the interpretation of dreams. What gives “What Else Is There?” its preternatural strangeness is that it consists, in large part, of raw dream data which has yet to be refined, filtered, processed, and rationalized. It’s a wild dream, a dream that managed, against all odds, to break free, to spring forth, straight out of a human mind, a wondrously whitmanesque mind. Witness the stunning specificity, the haunting lyrics, the absence of visual clichés. What can we say of the capacious soul that gave birth to this hypnotic hymn? This person contains multitudes.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Goldfish (2016)

Trudeau’s Hotness

11230109_10156175696195068_6632135282872998127_nDISCLAIMER: While I do in fact have eyes, and can therefore note the new Leader of the Great White North is in fact …. smoking fuckin’ hot… I have to confess, having actually met him on a number of occasions, that while he’s pretty to look at? He’s actually not my type. I’m 5′ even on a day when I stand up super duper straight and fluff my hair a bit. And I feel like a little kid when I am with guys his size, as I barely come up to his rib cage! (The new PM is also super ridiculously crazy tall. Well, compared to me, anyway). I actually used to have “if you’re over 5’8″ please don’t bother messaging me!” in my online dating profiles, and I wasn’t kidding. On one of our first dates, my husband told me he was 5’5″, and I jumped across the table and kissed him, because I’d never heard a man admit outloud that he was less than 5’7″ before. Fifteen months later, I married him. So while I can indeed see that Canada’s Favourite Boy Scout is fiiiiine, I am not one of the many women who has JT on her “Freebie List.” This piece is in defence of those men and women who do!

Recently, there’s been an outcry that it’s not okay to point out that in the case of our new Prime Minister, it seems PM stands for Pretty Manly and Positively Magnificent. The argument goes something along the lines of either “it’s not okay to say that about women so why is it okay to say about him?!” or something about how talking about someone’s sexuality without their consent isn’t cool, is objectifying, and reducing them to a “thing”.

With regard to the second argument, I think there’s a way to point out someone is attractive without being gross. Being gross is never okay. And I’ll totally admit that some of the commentary on our completely fine PM is way over the top, the kind of stuff that should be reserved for bedrooms, not boardrooms! Stuff that is disrespectful to someone’s marriage and their own personhood. That’s completely not cool.

But I will take issue with the argument that because it’s not okay to say something about women leaders, it’s not okay to say that same something about male leaders.

There is a huge, massive, major difference between how men and women and their sexuality are viewed in mainstream society. A man’s sexuality has never, EVER taken away from the assumption he is also competent and capable. It, a woman’s sexuality that is, does take away from the assumption she is competent and capable when we’re talking about a woman’s hot factor. Well, actually, no, maybe it doesn’t, because it’s always assumed women are, well, women first, and competent later. If ever. So adding that she’s hot on top of it is just another layer of stuff to dig through before mainstream society sees her as competent and capable.

There is absolutely a double standard, and that’s because they are different. Men and women are equally capable of being competent, effective leaders. Of learning, of leading, of governing. But when it comes to how women and men are perceived as sexual and intellectual beings, It’s apples and oranges. Pointing out the fact the good Lord spent just a little extra time on Justin doesn’t demean Mr Trudeau as a PM, or imply he’s just a hot body and great hair. But there’s no way to seriously put forward the idea his sex appeal is not part of his overall appeal. Let’s face it, he won the election when the accompanying picture here went all over Canada, and women fell in love with the guy who handed a woman beater’s ass to him in the boxing ring, and then got kissed passionately by his wife after as if she was breathing fire into him. That has to be one of the hottest, sexiest pictures ever taken of a national leader in any country!

And no one thinks that makes him less capable as a leader. Now, a woman would absolutely be thought of as less capable due to the fact she’s a woman and seen as sexual. Somehow, we can’t be seen as sexual and be taken seriously at the same time. And so no, I don’t think it’s inappropriate to point out the sky is blue the PM is hot simply because it’s inappropriate to point out a woman in his position is hot. Instead, I lament that women have to be stripped of their hotness to be taken seriously as leaders. Because I’d prefer to live in a world where one could admit they find a woman sexually appealing without that being either a physical threat to her safety*, or essentially saying that her value as a human begins and ends with the fact that she is sexually appealing.

But we don’t live in that world. Yet.

*let’s face it, the world we live in, that is in fact what it is for many women when they are told some man finds them sexually appealing: sure, most men probably won’t rape us. And we aren’t stupid; we know that! But here’s the thing: we don’t know which men will, and which men will not, until after we’ve put ourselves in the position where he can… and yet chooses not to do so. And yeah . . . that’s not a risk many women are willing to take until we know a man quite well

—Wendy KH

Untouchable

“Philosophy’s first and most general task, in the war against anger and fear, is to make things clear—to give the soul an understanding of its own situation and its possibilities. . . . the anxiety that gives rise to strife can be put to flight only by knowledge and self-knowledge . . . . Anxiety is the soul’s darkness, philosophy its light. . . . The triumph of philosophy, in short, is a triumph not through political action . . . but within each human soul in relation to itself—as the soul learns . . . to understand and accept the ways in which a human life is necessarily vulnerable and incomplete, to be willing to live as a soft body rather than an armed fortress.”—Martha Nussbaum, The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics (1994)

Invisible-woman-artwork-20060626041749688_640w_1205023163_7756It is most likely a defense mechanism against extensive physical, verbal and emotional abuse in childhood that led me to believe that I was untouchable. Maybe it was some sort of ‘never again’ reaction but I just sort of naturally came to believe that if I thought myself untouchable I was untouchable: I couldn’t be abused, just wasn’t possible. This belief system was delusional on many levels. If I was nice to anyone who made fun of me or harassed me, then they were my friends and I remained untouched; if I scrutinized myself and offered up what I had done wrong and apologized to someone bullying me, then we were just having a disagreement and I had managed to resolve it, and so I remained untouchable; if something done to me was too bad, I would try to bury it – refusing to talk or think about it (although the inevitable period of obsessive rumination would lead me to justify burying the events to prevent others from seeing how deeply flawed I must be to provoke such violence) and so I was tenuously untouchable.

I had to appear untouchable because or else, I believed, everyone would see the fatal flaw of who I really was and join in, turn their backs on me and hurt me. I had to be untouchable because the cost of being touched was too high.

jalba13And so I never really addressed anything that happened to me. Just ran away from it – either physically through travel or mentally through books and a rich fantasy life of one day achieving something. Anything, really. Though I was so ‘nice and friendly’, I did everything alone. I travelled alone, I walked alone, I read alone, I wrote alone, I dreamed alone. The only thing I did not do alone was go out at night alone – too many sexual assaults led me to believe in all honesty that a woman should not go out alone at night. Never mind that none of that had happened while I had been out alone. It’s just that the only way I could cope with all that was by beating myself up about things like my blonde hair being ‘bad’, being too nice or not nice enough, the clothes that I wore, etc.. I stopped drinking for years because I wanted to better be able to gauge other’s behaviour; if I failed to do that the consequences were obviously my fault.

And yet through all this I really thought I was untouchable. It was completely delusional.

It took an extremely abusive ex-boyfriend to get me to confront the ways in which I enable abusers by constantly seeking compromise with them, refusing to judge them for their behaviour and placing full responsibility on me to control other’s behaviours. It’s delusional to think I can act in such a way that nothing bad will ever happen to me. Obviously, I still believe a person’s behaviour influences generally the kind of reactions they will get, but it does not control specific reactions. And while as a general rule my approach to life was extremely successful, in a narrow way there were pathological people that could pick-up on signals I was sending that I would do anything to refuse to acknowledge I was experiencing an instance or a sequence of abuse : that I was really a wet noodle with no spine. And even just with luck of the draw, as most women will definitely experience, a crazy random guy that just pinballs his way through life only knowing that I am the only one trying to be nice and understanding, and not telling him to shove off.

So I’ve been learning how to do fight instead of flight. The worst part is that that some people think suddenly I’m a bitch or that I’ve gone crazy, thinking that there are all these crazy men out there when surely it must be me. Trust me, I’ve gone over the possibility that I’m the person at fault about thirty-three thousand times already. I’m not perfect, but it’s not me. It’s just that I went from having blinders on and thinking abuse was something that exclusively happened to others to suddenly realizing, wow, there’s a real sense in which I do not know how to draw proper limits around myself.

In one case, I verbally expressed to a house guest that I was not in a good mood and wanted to be left alone. He became infuriated and screamed insults at me until I cried and he vaguely threatened about ‘really getting mad’ (his girlfriend made him leave). At this point, it might seem like it’s my fault but think about it : everyone has bad days and especially if someone verbalizes their needs, an emotionally adequate response is to give the person space, not attack them. The next day when I said good morning to his girl friend he was apparently still mad and came one inch away from my face screaming extremely personal insults; he was very much in my personal space and when someone does this in a threatening matter your gut reaction is to push the person – I knew if I did he would knock me unconscious and his girlfriend had locked herself in the bathroom when he entered the room, he was refusing to leave my house when I asked him 3 times, I informed him if he did not leave immediately I would call the cops, he left the room and sat on the couch still yelling insults so I called the cops. Oh man did I ever cry and beat myself up about this hair trigger reaction. I felt I had no right to remove him from my space and send him home. I was so mad at myself. Why didn’t I calmly walk away? Why wasn’t I the bigger person? The truth is he would likely have started again next time he saw me (since a day away had not calmed him down) and in even if he calmed down he would learn that he had the right to talk to me that way. I knew I had made the right choice – so why was I so sad?

I wasn’t untouchable.

In the other case, a man I had met through friends was just a text maniac. The day after meeting him, I took two hours for dinner and returned to 8 messages asking me why I wasn’t answering and what he had done. Plus to be honest half the things he messaged me sounded like straight up lies. I really did not like this person and I was having a hard time remaining patient. Still I wanted to be nice and not just ghost. So I told him I did not like to text, that I was extremely busy and that I was sorry but that maybe in a month if I had time I would let him know. Pretty obvious – but, yes, ever so slightly ambiguous. Well, he started calling (because I didn’t like texting). I never picked up. More texts. Like six in an hour. Never answered. Than he wrote me asking if I thought I was stalking him. I told him listen, you are a very nice guy, you are not a stalker but yes I was overwhelmed by his communication style and did not see this working. Responded that when I had more free time we should hang out. More calls. More texts. Now Facebook messages – ten of them(!) going from ‘hey how are you’ to angry ‘I do not like how you make it look like I’m chasing after you by not responding, I’ve made my intentions clear and I’d like you to make your intentions clear’. So I responded ‘I think I have. I’m confused’. 8 responses including ‘Oh I think you must have messaged the wrong person’. So I bite the bullet, tell him that I’m sorry for being harsh but I feel he will misinterpret anything else, that I have multiple times said I was not interested and that there were no mixed signals (that ‘you are not a stalker does not = I’m interested’ (!)) and that at this point I wanted absolutely no further contact with him. The messages just kept coming ‘I’m not done with you’, ‘I don’t want to talk your head off’, ‘the texts are psychological warfare’ at which point I tell him I’m considering blocking him. 6 messages later I block him. Then he starts texting me. At which point I tell him that this is why I’m blocking him and to please not turn into a weird cliché before I figure out how to block texts on Android 5.0. I know I did the right thing and was actually considerably patient with him… just not the kind of patient I used to be. Just not the kind of person that would figure out a way to make things OK for this guy at the expense of my time and energy. But also to avoid feeling, well, contaminated. If I ended things well and platonically with him than there was nothing to feel weird and exhausted about. It was in my control to decide if this ended though blocking or mutual agreement, right? It wasn’t delusional at all to think somehow I could control the behaviour of someone that I had met once amongst all the other factors contributing to how he chooses to communicate? Right?

Why else do I feel so sad? Why else do I only want to sleep? Why else do I not want to see anyone again? I admire people that medicate their anxiety with activity. Me, I just stare at the wall and ruminate all the ways this is my fault and what I could have done differently for this never to have happened so that I can be untouchable. Actually, it’s not that all the time, but it is that often enough that it always surprises me when people think I go out a lot and do, you know, stuff.

I don’t want people to know these are the kind of people that have been in my life this last month because what if they think that I must be attracting this kind of attention, that I love and crave drama, that I’m provoking otherwise normal people into odd patterns of behaviour, that somehow I’m beyond just manipulative and I actually have this power to make people behave in odd ways because I’m so abnormal and flawed that I would drive anyone to madness — much the way I’m driving myself to madness… But I’m driving myself mad trying to cope with a world in which I’ve had to experience some pretty horrible things at an age so young that my mind was not equipped to explain it. When the only ways I was taught to cope with these things was silence, shame, secrecy and self-reprimands. These tools worked as a delusional child who believed that you could just keep these things a secret and strive to be perfect and untouchable and that was the way the world worked. People that did not have horrible things happen to them were normal. I just wanted to be normal. But I was so abnormal I had to be stronger. I had to be untouchable. The times I have been manipulative almost exclusively are in times I sensed physical danger was imminent. Have you ever manipulated violence into love? I had to be delusional because reality was strangling me.

It’s cognitive dissonance in motion, but is this a ‘girl thing’? Surely a lot of women experience these frustrating stereotypes about women, strange double-binds and never-ending prescriptive demands and come out semi-normal? Is this a ‘child of abuse thing’? Surely it’s like some sort of Stockholm Syndrome where you identify with your aggressors more than with your own plight because, well, they have the power to end this nightmare, not you — so if you identify with them you have the illusion of power… Is this ‘my own special brand of weirdness’? God knows I’m convinced I’m weirder than I probably am because I just want to make myself interesting because that’s the kind of piece of shit I am that drives people so crazy. I don’t know. I really don’t know.

But now I know I’m not untouchable. I’ve cut the hippie karma krap and have started being bitchy and defensive sometimes. I do not do it because I enjoy it but because I want to truly and genuinely feel safe. People have hurt me and will continue to hurt me. But I have the right and the ability to defend myself and set limits for appropriate interactions. It will always hurt me to do so because it reminds me that I’m not untouchable. A limit I’m setting for appropriate interaction is you do not have the right to question the limits I set for behaviour I don’t feel comfortable handling. My limit might be lower than yours, or maybe my limit rebuffed someone you know and you think that makes me ‘too sensitive’ or ‘crazy’– well yes I’m too sensitive. I set a limit because the behaviour was more than I could handle. Even with the limit I’m the one sitting alone crying for a couple of days wondering what I did to deserve this. I set the limit so that it wouldn’t trigger a full-on depression. You questioning my limit in a mean-spirited manner or in a way in which you are trying to shift blame onto me is stepping on that limit. Maybe try understanding why I have a limit with the same care you are putting into understanding the behaviour of the person who went loco and contributed to me temporarily retreating from the world in fear tomorrow will bring just some other bullshit that I do not want in my life.

I’m extremely sensitive and have to be careful the people I allow into my life as I easily set myself aside to try and figure out how they can be happy. Yes, a certain happiness comes from casting aside one’s own ego – but I no longer believe trying to create a void in the self to suppress negative emotions about one’s self is ‘healthy’. I don’t know what the answer is but I’m in my own body and mind and I’m going to start by placing limits around me because I’m not untouchable.

—V. Lynn Therrien

The Simulacrum

The idea of the simulacrum which I discussed in the following review (slightly revised here) I did for a sociology class in my undergrad days strikes me in retrospect as a good example of a postmodernist tendency to take a good concept and overextend it – a tendency which, ironically enough, postmodernist thinkers have criticised modernist, Enlightenment-inspired thinkers of having in abundance, manifesting in particular as an impulse to create “totalising” ideologies. The dangers of sweeping generalisation are perennial.

IMG_7495Chapter 7 of Sturken and Cartwright’s “Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture“, titled “Postmodernism and Popular Culture”, begins by discussing the “simulacrum” in the context of postmodernism. The simulacrum is what replaces the idea of “the original” – whether that original is an image, a text, or a more abstract entity such as “an ideal small town” – as a result of what might be called the postmodern reordering of cultural space. It has been able to do so because of the rise to predominance of the image over other forms of cultural media and of technologies of (apparently) perfect reproduction.

The simulacrum cannot be, and does not need to be, tied to a particular referent. In the case of “an ideal small town”, Disneyland’s Main Street is a simulacrum par excellence: it refers to no particular town anywhere, as opposed to the referent of, let’s say, an actual town in Maine as referred to in the memory of someone who has been to it. Its very generic nature is its essence, and thus it is easily reproducible, and any and every re-production is as essentially “original” as the initial production. The fact that an image or other entity might be the first instance of production rather than the thousandth has no significance when that entity is a simulacrum. They are all originals and thus none are originals.

Postmodernism questions the modernist assumption of progressive linearity of development, of historical necessity, and thus the temporal causal chain with which one would trace back to the “original” potentially is brought into question. [pp. 251-252] “Presence”, the immediacy of direct perception, of experience, is itself challenged as not so direct, in fact as always mediated. [p. 252] (This is a centrally familiar concept in phenomenology.) How do you know that this is the “original” you are experiencing? All you have are your sense impressions, interpreted by your brain; thus you perceive not the “real world”, but your brain’s constructed simulacrum of it. Postmodernism also challenges the claims to universality of various philosophical concepts and the institutions which are founded upon them. How do you determine “authenticity” when its basis – the values underlying it – may be culturally contingent and thus limited in scope? [p. 252]

As a musician who works in digital media, as well as a philosopher, I find a certain irony in the notion of the predominance of the simulacrum in the age of the image and digital reproduction, in the notion that there are, or may be, no longer any originals. I would say that even if the first instance, the first digital file, of a composition I create on my laptop in Ableton Live is not “original”, in the sense that it’s indistinguishable from every subsequent copy I make and distribute electronically, there is yet an irreducible and inextinguishable originality in the act of its creation, which, after all, happens first in one and only one place: my brain. (The memetic question of how original any creative person actually can be, given unconscious influences by others, and the deterministic causal chains those imply, is a different one, not requiring resolution for this determination of the originality – in the sense of being different from and prior to all copies – of the products of my brain’s activity.) This sense of originality adheres to the composition forever thereafter, no matter how many copies I or anyone else may make of it. Its referent is durable. Thus, the irony lies in the sweeping nature of the claim of ubiquity for the simulacrum; perhaps just the sort of metanarrative which postmodernism aspires to abjure.

—Kaï Matthews

(Image from http://www.redbubble.com/people/thehazeeffect/works/10730573-there-are-many-copies?p=pouch )

Sticks and Stones may Break your Bones, but Aaron Haspel Draws Blood: A Review of Everything: A Book of Aphorisms (2015)

“I approach deep problems such as I do cold baths: fast in, fast out. That this is no way to get to the depths, to get deep enough, is the superstition of those who fear water, the enemies of cold water; they speak without experience. Oh, the great cold makes one fast! And incidentally: does a matter stay unrecognized, not understood, merely because it has been touched in flight; is only glanced at, seen in a flash? Does one absolutely have to sit firmly on it first? Have brooded on it as on an egg? Diu noctuque incubando, as Newton said of himself? At least there are truths that are especially shy and ticklish and can’t be caught except suddenly—that one must surprise or leave alone.”—Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1887)

41XBc2HTu0L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_In a letter to a friend, Nietzsche maintained that the only readers who could really claim to have understood his Zarathustra (1891) were those who were, at times, profoundly wounded by it. I couldn’t help but think of this remark as I read Everything (2015). Although this book is quite short and extraordinarily clear, it’s not an easy read. Far from it actually. Haspel says that he asks but “one thing of literature: that it draw blood.” And he delivers on this score, again and again, with aphorisms like the following: (i) “Whatever you think you like — are you sure you like it? Or do you like being the sort of person who likes it?” (ii) “Whatever you have done, you are the sort of person who would do that.” (iii) “It never seems to occur to the teacher who complains of inattentive students that he may not be worth attending to.” (iv) “If you want to destroy your marriage talk about it.”

But these are only some of the most obviously challenging aphorisms contained in this volume. The more insidious ones are like time-bombs or retroviruses: I rarely “get” them the first time I read them. Don’t even necessarily get them when I’m reading them. Instead, something happens or someone says something, days or even weeks later, and a bell goes off in my head and I think “a-ha”—that’s what he meant! For instance, this aphorism (which I posted the other day on Facebook) is loved at first for almost all of the wrong reasons: “If it has never crossed your mind that you might be stupid, you are.” People who’ve been (like me), at times, painfully aware of their inadequacy, read this and feel smart. Until, that is, they realize, a few days or weeks later, that although failing the aphorism’s test proves that you’re stupid, passing it doesn’t prove that you’re smart. A week or two later, however, it gets worse: the self-congratulatory glow loses all of what’s left of its luster when you realize that you can be stupid and know you’re stupid.

Some of Haspel’s aphorisms are laugh-out-loud funny, such as: (i) “Passion, n. An overwhelming urge to spend your life at something you don’t do especially well.” (ii) “The ideal work environment for a writer is jail.” (iii) “Blaming an actor for being a narcissist is like blaming a tiger for being a carnivore.” (iv) “It is when we recognize our hopeless inadequacy at everything else that we discover our vocation.” And some of them are straightforwardly brilliant, such as this one, which is, to my mind, the best summary of the Socratic way of life I have ever read: “A grudging willingness to admit error does not suffice; you have to cultivate a taste for it.”

Still, if you’re looking for the kind of writer beloved of avid readers of The New Yorker—the kind who knows how to make his educated liberal audience feel superior to all of those yahoos in the sticks who hunt, pray, vote Republican, and believe in weird stuff—don’t buy this book. Seriously, don’t. Because you’ll hate it. Haspel holds up a mirror, and, trust me, you’re not going to like everything you see. I know I didn’t. If Haspel has an overarching message that he wants to impart it’s that we’re not exempt from the follies of our day, even (and perhaps especially) when we think we are: “We are more like our contemporaries than we imagine, and less like our ancestors.”

I read a great deal (probably more than I should), and I’ve been a great lover of the aphoristic genre for over twenty years. Yet never before have I encountered so many aphorisms written by a contemporary of such a high quality: Haspel is in a league of his own. At his best, Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s aphorisms in The Bed of Procrustes (2010) rival those of Epicurus (e.g., “Love without sacrifice is like theft” is something I wish I had written). But my fellow Canadian, George Murray, probably deserves the prize for second place. His most recent collection of aphorisms, Glimpse (2010), is often outstanding (e.g., “Rubble becomes ruin when the tourists arrive”). Even so, the collection is scandalously uneven, and it really doesn’t hold a candle to Everything. To wit: Aaron Haspel is the greatest master of the aphoristic form writing in English today. It’s always hard to know which books will stand the test of time, which books will be read 300 years from now. But if I was a betting man, I’d bet on Everything.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Goldfish (2016)