Category Archives: Guest Posts

Sibylle Baier – Colour Green (1973; 2006)

Driving home one evening, I recalled it had been about a month and a half since I’d stumbled across Sibylle Baier’s lost 1970s gem Colour Green. I listened with earphones that first time. But now, in the velvet darkness of the car, with barely another vehicle on the road, it was time to explore how Colour Green could transform space.

The effect proved both evocative and surprising: Baier’s songs seemed to fill the space as much as they revealed a gaping void as bottomless as her melancholy. As the tracks played, the quietness of my tiny Toyota seemed to swell beyond its tangible proportions. Baier’s soft, melancholic voice and guitar, reminiscent of Nick Drake, entranced me. Her songs transported me to the sepia-toned backdrops of her life: wintry domestic evenings, road trips to the shore, distant hillsides. I had spent some time away from the album, but now I was rediscovering each delicate note in a quiet, malleable environment, in which the songs could fully unfurl like crisp leaves slowly flattening between the pages of a book.

Baier’s compositions are cyclical. Refrains melt into verses. Songs bleed sadly into each other like watercolors running down paper. The fourteen pieces unravel as a singular composition, a long, winding exploration of the young woman’s life. Baier’s angelic vocals and acoustic technique navigate ghostly arpeggios and seamless key changes in a seesaw rhythm. The songs are intimate. Her lyrical style mimics the cyclical pattern of her sound; she releases each syllable in a rolling motion, some clauses spilling over their lines and reinforcing the song’s circular movement. This effect becomes particularly noticeable in “The End,” when she leaves the word end hanging, tacking on an extraneous vowel to round out the word and produce a lingering effect. Baier clings to the word’s finish with the same heartbroken hesitation that she conveys throughout the song, as she struggles to grasp the painful reality of a failed relationship. Even as she admits in the refrain: “It’s the end, friend of mine,” she holds fast to the notion that “life is short but love is old.” Within the circular rhythms of the notes, Baier swings, distraught, between grief and disbelief.

Many of Baier’s lyrics employ internal rhymes and repetition to maintain this pendular rhythm. In “I Lost Something in the Hills,” Baier reflects: “Oh what images return oh I yearn/ for the roots of the woods/ that origin of all my strong and strange moods.” For the first seven syllables, her voice carries the weight of deep-set nostalgia in a monotonous tone reminiscent of a medieval church choir hymn. Her rhythmic utterance of the words, coupled with the internal rhyming scheme, conveys a circular motion that transports the listener through the gloomy, atmospheric space to which she seeks return throughout the lines of the song. In “Softly,” markedly more buoyant but still reflective, Baier’s experiments with repetition and pendular rhythms become fully realized within the song’s reiterated refrain, sung in syncopation. She playfully swings between keys throughout the song in a jazz-esque dance.

This particular track, as well as the whimsical numbers “William” and “Wim,” evoke Nick Drake’s Pink Moon. Drake and Baier recorded remarkably similar albums in the early 1970s; Drake’s a skeletal, stripped-down sound that diverged from his earlier work, Baier’s a series of reel-to-reel tapes recorded from home over the course of three years. While their contemporaries produced music with full, often horn-heavy instrumentation, Drake and Baier composed acoustic songs that transcended their own cultural-historical context, achieving a sense of timelessness. In Baier’s case, the belated release of Colour Green in 2006 emphasizes the album’s enduring quality.

Baier delicately bends syllables and plucks threadbare melodies that paint the vivid motifs of Colour Green. The songs are a collection of melancholic snapshots, quotidian events colored by a sweeping existential sadness. Many of Baier’s lyrics are rooted in domestic scenes. A working woman slices bread for her children; glimpses of a wintry atmosphere, a “painful February mood,” emerge above the watery surface of the lyrics. A lover sitting in his “lazy chair” asks Baier “what sorrow you bear” as she sheds tears after a harrowing workday. Interspersed between the lines of domestic imagery are small anecdotes of Baier’s travels and revelations as a young woman. In “Remember the Day,” she speaks of a moment in her life when she hovered on the brink of suicide, “considering if one shouldn’t die or if one should,” contrasting this dark contemplation with a stark image of a midday sun. Suddenly, as she recalls mustering the will to “just buy some food,” the song’s rhythm shifts and gathers tempo. She recounts finding herself heading in an unexpected direction toward Genoa, Italy. “Did you ever drive in a moonstruck constitution/ and find to reach a seaport and down there is a solution/ you should if you could,” she tells the listener. By the shore, where “there simply was the water’s smell and remoteness,” she retrieves herself, reflected in the waves of the “old cold ocean.” The visual motifs of a wintry, domestic life and thematic iterations of loss, self-discovery and nostalgic reflection unravel in a cyclical fashion reinforced by her ghostly vocals and acoustic technique.

The most evocative imagery of the album appears in “Elliott.” Long, round phrases with oddly placed emphasis unfurl monotonously from her lips. The only pause in the refrain occurs after the first three words, creating the impression that Baier’s sentences possess little to no punctuation. “I grow old/ I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled says Elliott.” Her use of the present tense thrusts the listener into the midst of the subject’s sad contemplation. The song revels in the melancholy persistent throughout the entire album: “Gayly clad sadness is a radical quantity says Elliott/ sadness is a long brown ribbon says he/ sadness is beautiful.” The singular image of the ribbon, haunting and mesmerizing, mimics the greater aura of the album in a micro moment of self-reflexivity.

Baier’s poetic command of language and skillful rendering of atmosphere transports the listener through the strange and dark spaces of her life. Within haunting lines depicting the grayness of existence, she provides glimmers of revelation that enlighten and cast meaning. Colour Green unravels as a manifestation of nostalgia, timeless and heartbreaking, a testament to the spiritual fortitude of a woman perpetually “seeking for return.”


Guest post by Elizabeth Hopkins.

Elizabeth Hopkins is a writer, artist, and part-time anthropologist. In her free time she likes to take photographs, eat delicious food, and jam out to good tunes, among many other things. A graduate of Skidmore College, Elizabeth is a Program Coordinator at the Quebec-Labrador Foundation, where she works collaboratively to advance environmental conservation and stewardship.

The University of Missouri Protests: What Happens Now?

The University of Missouri’s black students have used hunger strikes, protests, and walk-outs to try and reach the ears of the university’s administration. The last straw was a swastika drawn on one of the dorm buildings in excrement, which might have been the first and only straw for some, in what the Washington Post called “a flurry of racist incidents” – which essentially can be boiled down to black men and women being harassed, confronted, and threatened for the crime of being in public while black. Now the Mizzou president has answered the calls of the students and stepped down. Correlation would seem to imply causation, but the facts of the case are not so simple.

Tim Wolfe, now former president of the University of Missouri, was a business hire for an educational institution. Wolfe was chosen, as the trustees said in a vapid defense of the hire, because he could bring his tech company know-how and revolutionize the university. As it turns out, he was sent to revolutionize the university through his tech company know-how, but in the only way a tech company CEO could: cutting overhead, amassing capital, and building with a tunnel vision for what he saw as the only marketable project on campus: the football team.

Wolfe raised tuition 3% and tried to kill the university press to save costs while pushing for $72 million expansion to the football stadium. Most odiously, he tried to nix insurance subsidies mere hours before the deadline to get new insurance which would have left grad students – the people who make universities run due to their wage slavery – uninsured and vulnerable. The move could have made people sick, thus threatening the quality of the labor grad students are required to give, but that did not matter as long as the university saved money for the football team.

Compared to these moves, Wolfe’s ignoring the the complaints of minority students might seem almost benignly evil as opposed to actively, wantonly evil. When people are afraid and ask you to help them be unafraid, when they organize their small numbers and try to speak with one voice, it is easy, when you’re the president of the university and you choose who has your ear, to consider a number so small as to fit into the palm of your mighty university-ruling fist unimportant. But the fears of minority students who were increasingly subject to racist intimidation and discrimination on campus grew, and the president stepped down.

But what finally brought attention to his destruction of a state institution? What finally ended his free market approach to higher ed?

Football players threatening not to play football, and thus costing the university money.

It had absolutely nothing to do with a completely anti-education agenda. It had nothing to do, really, with not lifting a finger to assuage racial tensions on campus, thereby facilitating the the entrenchment of the constant threat of racial violence. It ultimately came down to endangering their football standing and having to pay money for breaking a contract, $1 million and some change over not being able to force the school’s young men to bash their brains out on the gridiron.

So now the trustees of the university will search for a clone of this guy who has the same policies and ignores the same issues, and Mizzou students will do this all over again. They’ll likely fight over the press, the grad student insurance, the racial issues that now have been tacitly sanctioned by major administration officials. Next time, Mizzou students will probably be emboldened to fight because finally they got the barest, minimal change for which they could ask and expect a response. They did not ask for a revolution. They asked for one head of the hydra to be chopped off – enough to send a message, but not enough to kill the monster – to temporarily scatter opposition and give students’ allies time to prepare for the two heads that will pop up in its place.

Except next time, they’ll probably lose.

Capitalism may be perpetuated mindlessly, but it was not designed mindlessly. CEOs – the “businessmen” colleges around the country believe will fix institutions that largely weren’t broken – are not idiots. They know how to adapt to markets and take particular pride and joy in infiltrating hostile spaces. The administration will be smarter, having learned from the first go-round. They will hobble the opposition by trying to get ahead of the news cycle, by rolling out diversion tactics in the guise of new plans for racial sensitivity programs on campus that the administration has no desire to support (which, coincidentally, Wolfe tried to do with a program planned for 2016, but he waited too long to deploy it). Administrators will have their statements prepared and vetted by people whose job it is to be sensitive to concerns without any power to address them. They will find a way to undercut support from sources with disproportionate power to the average student – such as football players – by working clauses into their scholarships that will nullify them if they refuse to play on anything but grounds of injury. The businessmen who have infiltrated higher ed will do that at which they excel: bending reality to accept their agendas, destroying opposition to a market takeover, quelling dissent in the ranks, making marketable properties out of educational institutions that can be sold at a profit and enrich a bunch of somebodies who aren’t students.

Higher education and the ideas and philosophy and aspirations that created it – the very idea that the undeveloped mind is a tragedy and that the ability to think, critique, and enjoy the fruits of humankind and the universe around us are noble enough pursuits in their own right – are being whittled away. Death by a thousand CEOs-turned-university presidents.

It is an unnecessary, terrible, irredeemable waste of minds and money. But as long as black men put on helmets and commit entertaining acts of violence that people can watch at home and buy whatever comes on during the commercials, as long as young black men who are paid nothing and at times go to bed hungry while their coach makes millions of dollars and the university reaps the benefits of licensed sales of football paraphernalia, as long as the system runs smoothly and the right important people are making the money they were promised they’d make, then no protest about the fear of violence, of sickness, of the degradation of education will ever matter.

Football is business, and business is good.


This is a guest post by historian, writer and editor Whit Barringer. She was recently published in Fresh Meat Journal. She can found on twitter @adamantfire or on her official website, onedivinemachine.com.

The Foucaultian Terminology for Propaganda used by the United States.

The terminology for propaganda operations inside the US government has differed across departments, audiences, and time. Terms used by the US government for propaganda include ‘information support’, ‘psychological operations’/PSYOP, ‘perception management’, ‘public diplomacy’, ‘information operation’, ‘strategic influence’, ‘strategic communication’ and many more. Lieutenant Commander of the United States Army, in a report on the evolution of US propaganda efforts into the 21st century, provides a quick summary.

Lieutenant Commander Susan L. GoughUnited States Army

Lieutenant Commander Susan L. Gough
United States Army
“The Evolution of Strategic Influence”

Lieutenant Gough captures the US’s current stance on perception management in the phrase “Strategic influence constitutes the orchestrated combinations of them all”: through a mixture of internal debate, administration definitional exercises and typical fluctuations of expert language, different technical expressions of overt and covert influence have found themselves associated with particular but shifting terminology. These individual expressions of influence are combined together into the larger, more comprehensive propaganda effort. “Psychological Operations” (PSYOP), for example, emerged to mean “planned programming for the purposes of affecting the decision making of foreign populations and leaders.” On the other hand, “Perception Management” means something related, though slightly different.

Psychological Operations

Psychological Operations; Joint Publication 1-02; DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms

Perception Management; Joint Publication 1-02 DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Term

Perception Management; Joint Publication 1-02 DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Term

PSYOP usually, though does not always, mean something different than “Military Deception” (MILDEC) which does sometimes include psychological programming but can instead primarily feature a host of traditional deceptive techniques such as “Signals Manipulation”: hacking radar, communications and other trusted measurement and transfer instruments. The specific use of PSYOP inside of a MILDEC setting is often called MISO – “Military Information Support Operations”.

Military Information Support Operations

Military Information Support Operations; for foreign adversaries, in particular during conflict. Joint Publication 1-02; DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms

The specific term used for the application of military style psychological operations inside of the United States is called CAIS. Civil Authority Information Support is given sometimes during “Defense Support for Civil Authorities”, a broader term for DoD support of peacekeeping operations inside the United States (think ‘calling the National Guard’). Defense and Information Support can be applied inside the United States during national disasters (Hurricane Katrina) and states of emergency (Occupy/Ferguson).

CIAS

Civil Authority Information Support; military propaganda support of domestic law enforcement. Joint Publication 1-02; DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms

“Public Diplomacy” is an old, proven term used to mean information usually identified as coming from the US Government that is edited and planned to have a specific message and effect. Strategic Communication is a new term that identifies the other half of the influence space: information that may or may not be identified as coming from the US Government that is edited and planned to have a specific message and effect, including PSYOP. The (Bush/Obama administration era) overall comprehensive term used to mean ‘influence messaging’ span the overt and covert domains and is thus called “Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication” (PDSC).

Strategic Communication.

Strategic Communication. Joint Publication 1-02; DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms

PDSC

Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication; Joint Publication 1-02; DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms

In a fit of Foucaultian Knowledge/Power, Associate Professor of the Public Diplomacy Institute at George Washington University Bruce Gregory says of Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication that ‘naming is part of a struggle over meaning. In naming, we judge as well as we describe.’; This is support of positive perception of the PDSC term in contrast to alternatives such as “manipulation, … propaganda”.

Bruce GregoryDirector, Public Diplomacy InstituteGeorge Washington University

Bruce Gregory
Director, Public Diplomacy Institute
George Washington University
“Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communications: Cultures, Firewalls, and Imported Norms”

Currently inside the US Government the terminology is inconsistently applied and subject to debate. For example, the DoD glossary of terms specifies that PSYOPs are often used incorrectly to describe the more specific Military Information Support Operation and also hinting at their overlapped territory. The same Bruce Gregory underscores some of the confusion and ‘considerable dispute’ across US Departments and the academic community over the scope and meaning at the boundaries of terms.

PSYOPMISO

Terminology Commonly Used in Error. Joint Publication 1-02; DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms

Bruce GregoryDirector, Public Diplomacy InstituteGeorge Washington University

Bruce Gregory
Director, Public Diplomacy Institute
George Washington University
“Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communications: Cultures, Firewalls, and Imported Norms”

And lest it be misunderstood most Public Diplomacy is performed primarily by the Department of Defense. RAND contributor quotes Matt Armstrong’s “Operationalizing Public Diplomacy” when discussing what balance to strike between the Department of State and Department of Defense in future capability allocation. Both the Department of State and the Department of Defense believe that civilian authorities should have more direct control over Public Diplomacy narrative and capabilities. Matt Armstrong argues that this can’t be done by limiting the capabilities on the military side.

RANDDoS

Find the Right Balance Between Civilian and Military: Don’t Just Strip the DoD of Capabilities to Inform, Influence, and Persuade by Christopher Paul

Find the Right Balance Between Civilian and Military: Don't Just Strip the DoD of Capabilities to Inform, Influence, and Persuade by Christopher Paul

Find the Right Balance Between Civilian and Military: Don’t Just Strip the DoD of Capabilities to Inform, Influence, and Persuade
by Christopher Paul

The DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms provides a helpful way to understand the primary breakdown of the difference in meaning between Strategic Communication (SC) (messaging people), and Information Operations (IO) (intervention with intelligence including people, processes, and also machines). On the SC side of the chart is detailed influence and emotional appeals – traditional propaganda. On the IO side of the chart lies OPSEC (Operational Security), CNO (Computer Network Operations/”hacking”) and others which are also used to influence decisions. [Offensive OPSEC are capabilities such as group infiltration, encouragement of political infighting and factionalization, and denying functional command chain.]

Landscape of Influence Operations. DoD

Landscape of Influence Operations. Joint Publication 1-02; DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms

Upcoming articles will detail where and how these capabilities are known to have been applied both overseas and inside of the continental United States and what technology and practices available to the state to perform them.

Of the Force of Economic Identities

Economics texts are stories. A work initially written to describe the world exactly as it is will, because of the seeming exactness of its resemblance, paradoxically reshape the world in its distorted spectral echoes. Karl Marx wrote Capital while buying potatoes on margin and pretty much living in the London public library. Within 80 years of its initial publication, nearly half the world had reshaped itself attempting to live up to a thing supposedly describing itself. Truth is chased and chases ominously in return; felt as much in its implications of the present’s lacking as its seeming descriptive powers.

As Montaigne wrote in “Of the Force of Imagination”:

Simon Thomas was a great physician of his time: I remember, that happening one day at Toulouse to meet him at a rich old fellow’s house, who was troubled with weak lungs, and discoursing with the patient about the method of his cure, he told him, that one thing which would be very conducive to it, was to give me such occasion to be pleased with his company, that I might come often to see him, by which means, and by fixing his eyes upon the freshness of my complexion, and his imagination upon the sprightliness and vigour that glowed in my youth, and possessing all his senses with the flourishing age wherein I then was, his habit of body might, peradventure, be amended; but he forgot to say that mine, at the same time, might be made worse. Gallus Vibius so much bent his mind to find out the essence and motions of madness, that, in the end, he himself went out of his wits, and to such a degree, that he could never after recover his judgment, and might brag that he was become a fool by too much wisdom. Some there are who through fear anticipate the hangman; and there was the man, whose eyes being unbound to have his pardon read to him, was found stark dead upon the scaffold, by the stroke of imagination. We start, tremble, turn pale, and blush, as we are variously moved by imagination; and, being a-bed, feel our bodies agitated with its power to that degree, as even sometimes to expiring. And boiling youth, when fast asleep, grows so warm with fancy, as in a dream to satisfy amorous desires…

The US at present is fascinated at the moment with things that, like the great books, don’t seem to be either dead or alive but possessed with supernatural powers for being neither-werewolves, vampires, ghosts, Frankenstein’s monsters…

And at a house party in Seattle where attendees dressed as zombies a shooter came, and for a time the partygoers were unsure what was happening, unsure who was dead and who was exceptionally good with a makeup kit. In the Treblinka death camp the first woman to escape and return to warn the others of their intended fate was only able to do so by pretending to be dead and then sneaking out by cover of night, and when she told them they didn’t believe she was who she was or that what she was saying was true.

The most contentious issue and decisive initial choice made in any economics text is how to gerrymander and prioritize the various archetypal performative roles one sees in an economy. None of these roles are historically a given, a thing that always-already existed on clean lines. So the most convenient starting point for deconstructing any work of political economy usually begins with an analysis of this decision. It’s the single fuse that can be cut to turn off all the lights in the house or modified to make them switch on and off interchangeably in brilliant displays…

So we see the shift in cultural adoption of Smith toward Marx towards Keynes towards the Chicago School and beyond as what they are; a shifting series of parts to be played with varying degrees of revisionism or shrinking senses of disappointment, imaginary men conjured in a seance whose image we’re taught to squirm under in our failure to embody or avenge…

The primary shift from the classical economists toward the neoliberal ideologues of the present was the shift from the self-conception of the…let’s call them the eternal 99%, from the identification as the worker toward the identification as the consumer. The neoliberal text always frames liberation in terms of the drop in price of goods and their continued increase toward providing the imagined perfect consumer with the peak of convenience. They state these imagined narratives mostly in the most simple, calm fashion the new “folksy”-the literature of pats on the back, the literature of free cookies-can provide.

We should be immediately suspicious of any person too eager for us to understand them; underneath the clean simplicity of a prose can lurk the demanding neediness and need for control that it seems to cover up. Emerson gives a helpfully unspecified warning:

Theoretic kidnappers and slave-drivers, they esteem each man the victim of another, who winds him round his finger by knowing the law of his being, and by such cheap signboards as the color of his beard, or the slope of his occiput, reads the inventory of his fortunes and character. The grossest ignorance does not disgust like this impudent knowingness.

And so the new definition of man as consumer wriggles and squirms in and out of various incarnations and social formations within and around these constraints, as have others. It is said “You can’t use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house”. But isn’t the lesson of the dialectic that the master’s tools will dismantle the house of their own accord? So the man of prolific consumption becomes the learned master and vice versa; the roles melt into each other around a violent and awkward dance toward validation or revenge for having not been validated.

We find the imagined self of many people most easily in what it is they take offense at. I recently was embroiled in an argument on Twitter regarding my essay on superheroes. The person tweeting back at me claimed that Alison Bechdel was “redefining the superhero” and spoke of seeing the Broadway production of Fun Home. I claimed that, for what wonderful things Bechdel is doing, they don’t have much of anything to do with superheroes besides a shared form in the comic book. She grew angry and inquisition-like demanded to know if I’d read any of Bechdel’s work. I’ve read most of it; this is why I feel confident in my assertion as such. We go into conversations wanting something. She wanted her self as a consumer validated. I’m not especially sure what I wanted out of the exchange. But then, it’s easier to observe a thing from the outside.

This need for validation as consumer defines much of the internet discourse surrounding media, most of which is a flimsy runaround for the act of gatekeeping by means of shaming or validating the person for their exploring whatever regions of the world of words and pictures are considered off-limits. The consumer can never be satisfied lest they stop consuming, and if they are disturbed in their dream of this self this may well happen. Think of the “DVD extra”, which usually just consists of more “legitimate” persons than the viewer patting the viewer on the back for having viewed. The advertisement for a thing the person already bought; an advertisement for the continued legitimacy of the self as consumer. On the internet, people seek out something resembling the DVD extra and exhort the producers of discourse to provide this and scream bloody murder when they don’t. The invisible fence words build around themselves to keep other words out as though they were the Cliven Bundy of things we tell ourselves.


Guest post by Daniel Levine. Check out his first book here. His comedy album wants you to listen to it; he could honestly care less at this point. Anyway, whatever, it’s here.

The Labor Omnimarket

I’m a writer by temperament. Left to my own devices, most of what I do is sit around, take notes in books, and write. I have a degree in journalism which I’ve never used for a job except a two week gig with a local newspaper that was transitioning to digital and was being run by a woman whose background was in online marketing. She decided after I’d done the work that I’d “broken the contract” because I turned in an article an hour late and never paid me. The article was on a Halloween “Witch Walk” event where middle aged women walked around drinking in witch hats. I forget what the exact quotes I got were. Something like “I’m drunk and I’m wearing a hat.”

It was, of course, very hard to take seriously.

Much of what was taught in the Baruch journalism program was a combination of internet marketing techniques and weird brain-dead paeans to the infallibility and wondrous prestige of the New York Times, where many of my professors had worked at varying points. They were scared people, incredibly insecure they weren’t “real” writers, whatever that means. They kept showing us Edward R. Murrow videos to show the shift in broadcast journalism. I’d read Marshall McLuhan, Chomsky, Neil Postman, and Robert W. McChesney by that point. It was a big waste of time and most of the time they would let me just skip classes to go to the library. The school did have an excellent library, with extensive inter-library loan services.

I came out of college into a non-existent job market. Journalism as a thing someone can make a living on just isn’t there anymore. The advertisers have figured out how to control the content in a manner more insidious than the classic narrative of the evil guy with a cigar telling the plucky lady in the movie to kill the story. The pay-per-click creates an environment for the writer where their primary editors are Google, Facebook, and Twitter. Bizarre nonsense stylistics dictated by computers, or the highly coveted demographic of readers who like to read endless, support group style restatements of the same story.

The professors claimed over and over again that strict stylistic guidelines yielded more “truth.” This is, of course, just Taylorization in its prose form-text must be “efficient”, “simple”, “broken down”. It saves more time later on when the consumer does his part in the assembly line of the culture. The lesson being that “truth” itself is just a shifting style guide.


Marx pointed out that chattel slavery was phased out in favor of the wage slavery of the factories because the latter was more efficient for the employer/plantation owner. The employer didn’t have to provide housing or maintenance for the thing he was buying, and could return it any time if he wasn’t satisfied.

The contemporary bourgeoisie wants one better.

Some of you might remember my soda fountain of babel that could fabricate soda flavors endlessly and was only limited by the imagination of the person ordering the soda. Soda though is something that’s mostly consumed by poor people. The bourgeoisie define themselves as consumers in their purchase of labor.

The Amazon style “everything store” of labor is a thing the logistics of which are being bitterly fought over. What’s not controversial is that it resembles/is a temp agency and feudalism in almost equal measures. The website for Triple Crown Consulting, an “HR and staffing firm” sums up the manifest destiny of the future (present?) labor market quite concisely on their home page: “We deliver the technical consultant and direct hire talent you need to aggressively compete in an ever-changing economy.” But even here, there’s a missing part-the most advanced model is the firm as temp agency for itself.

Uber, which claims their employees are “independent” so as to avoid the burdens of upkeep and legal liabilities that come with having traditional employees, is probably the most prominent example. They represent a post-industrial feudalism based around land rent paid for the “real estate” of their website and app. Amazon’s “independent sellers” work similarly. Examples are everywhere.

The cheap day laborers that stand outside Home Depot or Lowes are so ubiquitous as to pretty much be part of the stores themselves at this point. What the internet presents the consumer is the possibility of pure product unencumbered by the unreliable variable of human interaction. As media are extensions of man, some media are recursive extensions of other media. The screen is an extension of the checkout counter to make the person on the other side not a person and therefore able to be controlled and endlessly duplicated. The physical products themselves are increasingly being moved out to warehouses that no one sees except the exploited labor who pull things out of them to be shipped to buyers.

I wonder how far off we are from just having all the temp workers and day laborers themselves stored in giant warehouses waiting to be bought, or more likely, rented like Zipcars. The decentralized labor camp. The omnitemp agency. To some extent, the rudiments of this already exist in a primitive form in the Mechanical Turk. Perhaps this is the more advanced form; the company doesn’t even have to house them in bunks and the workers are invisible and only paid when, in the vague language of the Turk homepage “the employer/”requester”) is satisfied with the results”.

So we progress from the chattel slave to the wage slave to the Turk.

Most writing and journalism work out there at the moment resembles Mechanical Turk except that Mechanical Turk probably pays out sometimes. My professors were right to be nostalgic. They were looking at a dead thing.


Guest post by Daniel Levine. Check out his first book here. He also just released a comedy album which you can hear selections from for free here.

The Fictional Selves Breed Like Bunnies: The Image As Transmigration

Season seven of Curb Your Enthusiasm deals with the fictional (but actual) Seinfeld reunion and the fictional (but actual) Larry David’s divorce. David comes to fear his estranged wife has been sleeping with Jason Alexander, the actor who played the fictional Larry David surrogate George Costanza, and confronts Alexander about this. As a result, Alexander briefly drops out of the reunion, and Larry David tries to play his fictional self, George Costanza, and fails miserably. The season ends with David reunited with his wife. In the final scene, David ruins this second chance by being the embodied actual self of his fictional creation “Larry David”.

This might sound familiar. It’s pretty much the plot of Othello except with Othello also playing Iago and much more humane marriage laws allowing Desdemona to just get a divorce this time.

First as tragedy, then as farce…

Of course, this is also just a particularly pretzeled variation on the standard sitcom trope of the man/woman who lies about him/herself to another man/woman and then keeps escalating the lie, but for one caveat; in the standard telling of this story, the fictional projection of the character, their job as an astronaut, inevitably collapses and the person is forced to own up to the inferior actual self with the result of learning “to be themselves”. Here, George Costanza is much more socially reified as a “reality” than either the real or “fictional” Larry David and probably worth far more money on the books. Larry David, real or fictionalized, is right to be scared.

The self is of course a much more dynamic and subjective thing than any flat actuality could ever “be”. “Just be yourself” translates quite comfortably into another cliche: “know your place.”

Bruce Conner’s Report dramatizes this in terms of the Kennedy assassination. The Brechtian structuralist cinema technique of the flicker is contrasted with the actuality of journalists discussing the assassination as its occurring and footage Conner filmed off his TV. As Conner does in many of his films, the jumbled countdown of a film reel is repeated several times. Kennedy dies; footage of a matador spearing a bull and part of a space age refrigerator advertisement are shown, and suddenly the audio is rearranged so that the new living Kennedy seems to be resurrected as a media manipulation; but then, in the world of the short film and quite possibly ours, he already was.

Cliches and folk stories of the ridiculous frequently resonate as the simultaneous acknowledgement of their legitimacy and this legitimacy’s necessary repression. Several come to mind here: The oft-repeated story of an always changing indigenous tribe believing the camera steals ones’ soul, Ken Jacobs saying the cinema was a seance; a flickering light that made the dead seem to move; Robert Bresson’s numerous lines in Notes on the Cinematographer which further confuse the possibility of a chronology being so simple as the old paradigm of transmigration cleanly being a thing that happens after death:

My movie is born first in my head, dies on paper; is resuscitated by the living persons and real objects I use, which are killed on film but, placed in a certain order and projected on to a screen, come to life again like flowers in water.
Films can only be made by by-passing the will of those who appear in them, using not what they do, but what they are.
But just what are they? The overwhelming desire for fame that makes masses of people clump for it in feverish pastiches of the breadline is not borne of the desire to date outside their weight class and have financial security; these are simply the justifications for the deeper desire for transmigration. And unlike karma, transmigration can happen in this lifetime.

Not all forms of being fictionalized are created equal.

An example from life:

I was physically dragged off stage at the Saratoga Springs High School talent show when I was 16. As I’m now 26, this was ten years ago. I walked into a local open mic and found the ticket taker and another person I knew discussing the event, getting most of the details wrong and not realizing I was the person who was dragged off the stage. I sat listening for a while. I was tickled. I thought “This is the transmigration I wanted; it may be the transmigration I deserved.”

By comparison, the book I wrote and published on my time at Occupy Wall Street was little discussed, a fictional self I presented to the world that’s now sitting in larger quantities than the “real” me ever could in my garage.

Going over some things I wrote several years ago, I found much expressed that I didn’t remember explicitly understanding at the time; more often than not I feel like the words move around with a freedom and boldness I seem unable to conjure in my actual living. They float around in the darkness like fireflies; I chase them because they glow. I manage to capture several in a jar and wake up in the morning to find them no longer glowing…


Chris Marker, director of La Jettee, never allowed himself to be photographed, preferring to be represented in pictures of cats. He attended a post-screening panel for one of his works as a Second Life avatar, where spent most of the time discussing his desire to retire there. Thomas Pynchon has allowed himself to be photographed only rarely, once with bad teeth for a year book and once by a news crew on the condition it be a crowd shot and that the news report couldn’t pick him out of the shot.

The standard comment in this vein, to the unwanted interview, is the classic anthropomorphism of the image: “I’d like to let the work speak for itself.” The earliest incarnations of this phrase I can find in a cursory search is all in the Christian tradition. “May the work I’ve done speak for me, oh Lord…”

Christ of course never bothered writing anything down and was shown almost exclusively as a variety of animal forms from a sheep to a Unicorn for centuries, long before Chris Marker was a twitch in his father’s testicles.

Fred Exley’s great “fictional memoir” A Fan’s Notes, is an account of Exley trying to make sense of his life, a long string of self-sabotage, institutionalization, and obsessive failure to live up to the examples of his father, NY Giants wide receiver Frank Gifford, and by extension the “American Dream”. Structured like a confession in the tradition of St. Augustine, Exley’s repetitive descents into booze and madness give the sense that he was attempting to lead a life of perfect mediocrity so that he could eventually write the book; like the print is the original and not the woodblock it came from, so A Fan’s Notes seems more real than the living Exley.

Exley seems to realize this; his salvation is in the space of fiction. He recounts getting a job at an advertising firm and finding he suddenly has the confidence to attract women so long as he approaches them with fake names and invented history. When he meets the woman of his dreams, Bunny Sue, the gorgeous “Vassar” blonde of his personal translation of the American dream, despite her being inexplicably and unconditionally in love with him, he finds himself entirely impotent. They try everything but eventually he unconsciously pushes her away with obnoxious behavior and hates himself for doing so. Where St. Augustine found salvation in his mother crying over his transgressions, Exley finds his in going over Bunny Sue’s letters and finding numerous typos and shoddy, boring syntax. In perhaps the only passage of ecstatic joy in the book, Exley imagines the horrific boredom of how he could’ve ended up sitting drinking with Sue Bunny’s parents in their basement watching bad television for the rest of his life; he exclaims he was saved by the comma, the sentence, the image, the word…


My last serious relationship was with a trilingual woman in a prestigious graduate program for art history. I first felt I might possibly have been hopelessly in love with her when, on our first date, we sat in her apartment watching an Eric Rohmer film and she whispered a correction to the subtitles in my ear. She would complain about the deficiencies in the various citation styles, then apologize that it was boring; I was flabbergasted as I found this unspeakably attractive. I could only refute her anxieties there in ardent physical overtures, and for a short period we were both very happy.

Eventually we ran out of things to talk about. I was reluctant to let go, and showered her with improvised fictions and together we nurtured a bizarre fantasy life for our imagined pet, Pusheen the cat.


An example:

WHY PUSHEEN IS FAT

kitty’s so fat he needs a rascal scooter

but no cart in the front because the cake’s never making it home

he loves cake he does. and the bakery at the supermarket loves him

and when his little scooter slowly struggles to get to the cakes the speakers change whatever they’re playing to “Happy Together” by The Turtles

but kitty is selfish and consumed by his mad Colonel Kurtz like desire for cake and never notices as he makes his upriver voyage to the heart of chocolate darkness

“I will get what is coming to me! All of it!” Kitty thinks.

the speakers are sad

their gesture has gone unnoticed

but unlike kitties, supermarket speakers have no mouth with which to indulge in the callow cake of disappointment

so when kitty has feasted and left a carcass of crumbs and icing in his wake,

when the night janitor quietly makes his rounds,

they play “My Son Calls Another Man Daddy” over and over to the empty parking lot


I sent these, and just as prolifically sabotaged the relationship, or whatever was left of it, through various other means. Ours was a love triangle with a ghost; I saw her as means to the word. She saw this much more clearly than I did at the time.

I’d like to say my feelings of immediate kinship with A Fan’s Notes came from my self-recognition of this, but I read it several months before we met. But time isn’t quite so linear; maybe the text is faster than reality.

Comedic texts of the 20th century, from Stanley Elkin’s The Franchiser to Woody Allen’s Love and Death were frequently dramatizations of man trying to destroy the oppressive monoliths of meaning and “truth” by coming to an agility in nonsense faster than reality itself. Sometimes they win. In Artists and Models, Dean Martin, the paragon of “sense”, teases Jerry Lewis when Jerry goes into a musical number saying that the way they can live on the single canned bean they have for dinner is to imagine it’s a juicy steak. Dean thinks this is stupid and goes to sleep. Meanwhile, an actual steak literally falls out of the sky onto Jerry’s plate.

This seems ludicrous except when you realize that the Jerry Lewis outside the movies could afford to eat steak himself by imagining a person imagining eating a steak.

The story of Kekule discovering the shape of the Benzene molecule in a dream of a snake, the linear, eating itself.

At times dead while waking, at others vigorously alive in our slumber, by varied means we come to similar ends…


Guest post by Daniel Levine. Check out his first book here. He also just released a comedy album which you can hear selections from for free here.

The Space of Not-Knowing: The Internet and Economies of Information

The present is a time of overwhelming access to information. Much of it is contradictory, vague or seemingly meaningless. Far more facts than can ever be processed are available in already digested forms.

Discussions of early Judaism frequently point out the novelty of a community based around a book instead of a geographic proximity. The text translated itself communally over and over, spiraling outward, as the populations themselves drifted into the decentralized pockets of the diaspora. In the fossil record of documents the earliest probable ancestor to the internet is The Talmud.

The internet, like The Talmud, positions the footnote as a corridor in a labyrinth with the invisible everything/nothing of truth (the artist formerly known as God) at its center. It’s the manifestation of emanationism as the spiraling outward as text. The text is meant to beget more text; it orders the universe in footnotes meant to beget more footnotes. Endless commentaries upon commentaries. This is what a Gawker or Cracked does, they’re just not given as much time to write.

This trend continues historically in the Medieval manuscripts’ infamous marginalia. The marginalia’s content is similar to modern social media posts; lots of raucous images of God-only-knows-what and complaints directed toward a possible non-audience that, in some cases, have not been read until now. Some examples:

“New parchment, bad ink. I say nothing more.”

“I am very cold.”

The marginalia exists as the Twitter of the incunabula; the workers’ invisible griping before meme generators and the copy-paste tools’ most direct descendent, the printing press. The printing press and the ability to make relatively cheap and accurate reproductions of photographs in the 20th century led back to the offspring of the medieval marginalia and The Talmuds’ stylistic tendencies while not entirely resembling either.

The printed book, of course, acts as a disciplinary containment facility for information. The editor is “cuts down”, “slashes”, “trims”. The unedited manuscript is undisciplined, wild, free. It resists definition. Like the medieval myth of the unicorn, it runs about unable to be tamed except by a virgin. It is then promptly killed by the hunters of “meaning” and “definitive interpretation.”

The unicorn, in the 1600s, was frequently seen as a translation of the Christ myth.


THE RABBI, THE CLERIC, THE EDITOR, THE ANALYST, THE GATEKEEPERS AGAINST THE SCHIZOPHRENIC HORDES

or

THE GRAMMAR AS A CATECHISM, THE CATECHISM AS A GRAMMAR

The fairly recent obsession with attribution and citation exemplified at its most quantitative extreme in academic style guides is not an historical given, and has or has not been enforced for various reasons throughout history.

The early Hasidic Jewish rabbis, anticipating and joyously embracing what Roland Barthes would later call “The Death of the Author”, paid little attention to issues of attribution; they wished themselves to be transmigrated into the anonymous solidarity of folk tales. Books compiling their tales decades after the fact are filled with cautions in their academic prefaces that original sourcing in many cases can’t be found, that stories and saying in “primary” sources will be frequently attributed to multiple rabbis and that the Rabbis seemed to purposely organize themselves to yield this effect. That these stories are as often started with “Rabbi A said often that Rabbi B” said makes the errand of attribution seem that much more ridiculous.

Like Derrida, they see the world as text. Unlike Derrida, they see this as unambiguously the fount of meaning; the ambiguity is in the meaning. “Meaning” is not monolithic; the belief in God is simply an impetus toward more vigorous reading of the world. It’s said the Ba’al Shem Tov described the Torah as a Rabbi Leibe Moshe tells a parable on “The Value of Not Believing In God”. Another rabbi looks for messages from God in telegraph lines and finds it. Not having the book in front of me I must paraphrase this from memory. But that’s what the rabbis wanted, wasn’t it?

“If God is everywhere, then what does he tell us in the telegraph line?” asks a young man.

“That what’s said here can be heard there,” replies the rabbi.

The learned man, incarnated in the form of the rabbi or translated otherwise, comes to knowledge in order to serves the social goal of gerrymandering the negative space of not-knowing, what can’t be known, what knowledge is false.

Lenny Bruce discussed in a bit which diseases were sexy. He was on to something. The same way people imagine their chances dating celebrities who they don’t and can’t know, certain diseases, especially of the psychological variety, are transformed through semiotic democracy into folk heroes, villains, forces, protective or invasive forces in or around the global village. If charisma is looking like a lot of other people, the charisma of a mental illness exists in its ability to look like a lot of other peoples’ minds.

Schizophrenia is the sexiest disease of the last hundred years. The Marilyn Monroe of pathologies. But while Marilyn’s leggy cheesecake was translated into the moving image schizophrenia’s tantalizing provocations reveal their unapproachable sex in the come-ons of clinical jargon and their transmigration into the vernacular use of the term. The popular understanding of schizophrenia is a parable of the present moment and its relation to the weakening of the social hegemony of the “expert”; in the assaultive media saturation of the present, what’s more relatable than someone screaming at the non-normative voices to stop?

The most popular literary forms of the present is the container; the encyclopedia, the strident simplification. These are defense tactics. The new barbarian horde is the unregulated spiraling outward of text.


Guest post by Daniel Levine. Check out his first book here. He also just released a comedy album which you can hear selections from for free here.

On the NSA

(This is a short story from my recently released spoken word album More Apocalypses That Probably Won’t Happen.)

They had found a way to democratize God. Video and audio and 3D drone scanners recorded everything and stored it in giant digital monoliths. You could have your life flash before your eyes without having to die. They sold tickets and built modest little rooms for stragglers and people needing to sleep.

The eternal recurrence was no longer an abstraction and actually became a popular activity among drunken college students and in fraternity hazing rituals. Some came out traumatized but no more than had with psychedelic drugs. Most found it very calming and looked at everything from a wider distance in the future.

Theological figures of all sorts flocked in droves to the machine despite their jealousy of it. Some mockingly compared the experience to absurd contraptions like the orgone box or 8 track tape deck but no one took these criticisms seriously. It was a new era, the thing to come and replace the internet entirely the way the internet had phased out physical media. It was a form of all consuming narcissism penitent enough to be acceptable and soon it would take over everything. People would walk into the machine multiple times consecutively to feel as though falling through an endlessly recursive series of paintings. Dope was legal by then and indulgences were frequently combined. Medic tents run by religious cults like the ones outside Grateful Dead concerts in years past now sat outside the machine with tea and cookies and orange juice. An amphitheater was built and over several summers they came to have a respectable free concert series. Reality seemed more and more to resemble Jones Beach; innumerable perfectly spaced garbage cans in the sand, the tide receding…

Alas we were the way we were and we are the way we are and the window was short and you can’t do that anymore. And now we all wonder what the next thing will be.


Guest post by Daniel Levine. Check out his first book here. He also just released a comedy album which you can hear selections from for free here.

The Products are in Their Heaven, All’s Right With the World

“Whether starting off your morning or enjoying an afternoon or late-night snack, you’ll love the rich texture provided by OmniGrain Cheerios’ distinctive blend of every single type of grain in existence, from the commonplace Australian barley to the previously undocumented Southern blue quinoa, which was recorded by the ancient Inca but was only recently rediscovered by our Cheerios harvest team when scouring the high slopes of Huayna Picchu.”

-The Onion, “New Omnigrain Cheerios Made With Every Existing Grain on Earth”

Working in more than 34,000 square feet, designers created an extraordinary space targeted at young, time-pressured consumers while keeping a consistent brand and marketing strategy. The result is a crisp and dramatic store that presents merchandise categories in easy-to-find placement with effective layout and simple wayfinding communication. A linear ribbon design motif is translated throughout the store in the architectural facade and interior graphics, and a contemporary and narrow palette of colors and materials keeps the attention on the merchandise.

“Ten of the Best Award Winning Supermarket Designs”

The main way a player earns Farm Coins, the less-important of the two in-game currencies, is through harvesting crops or visiting their neighbors. The player does this by paying coins for plowing a unit of land. This readies the land for planting seeds, which will eventually be harvested after a set amount of time. The amount of time it takes for a crop to mature, and how much money a crop yields when harvested, is dependent on the crop planted and is noted on its entry in the “market” dialog.

-Wikipedia entry, Farmville

Premium members (users who pay a monthly fee to Linden Labs) have the ability to own land on the mainland. Landowners pay no additional fees to Linden Lab if they own 512 m² or less. An owner of larger areas of land must pay an increasing additional fee (what Linden Lab calls “tier”) ranging from US$5 a month up to US$195 a month for an entire 65,536 m² of mainland or US$295 a month for an individual island. The issue of “ownership” now is questionable. Mr. Rosedale recently characterized all “ownership” as leasing time on Linden’s servers. The issue of land ownership was at dispute in the Bragg v. Linden lawsuit, which was settled out of court.

-Wikipedia entry, “Real Estate in Second Life”

Although Ghirda works in Romania, the computers and the internet connection he uses are paid for by a company in northern California. Gamersloot.net is one of a growing number of firms taking advantage of a boom in online computer games by opening ‘virtual sweatshops’, using the low pay in poor countries to provide services for wealthy western players.

-The Guardian, “They Play Games For 10 Hours-And Earn 2.80 in a ‘Virtual Sweatshop'”

I write these essays using a variety of techniques. I learned one from a friend who’s a painter.. I go into Google image search and type in just the thing I want to write about and build a visual reference file and see where the images take me. The other is an inverted form of an anxiety Charlie Brooker mentioned in an interview about Black Mirror, that he tries to come up with innovative science fiction only to find out what he wrote already happened or happens soon after. So I start by imagining a science fiction story, then work backward to figure out how it already exists. Like any piece of writing, these essays are responses to things in my head that you, the reader, never get to see except in impressionistic glimpses and their implications.

And so, with that sort of opening, you’re probably expecting me to walk you through the process of how I came to this essay with precise details, to put the science fiction story and the full set of images out and then follow them with the essay. But you’re wrong. I’m a craftsman of tantalizing disappointments, I take an idea, show you the box, take pre-orders, and then run off with your attentions. After all, I need to make some sort of profit on all this…


WHEN THE BOXES AT THE SUPERMARKET GO TO CHURCH, HOW DOES THE PASTOR DESCRIBE HEAVEN?

or

THE SODA FOUNTAIN OF BABEL

I’ve always loved walking around large supermarkets and 24 hour pharmacies in the middle of the night when almost no one is there. They’re museums, but the dead things on display are fresher. They repeatedly remind you of this.

The supermarket near my house has a cafeteria with a soda machine that can mix numerous flavorings, soda syrups, into an ungodly number of combinations controlled through a touch screen menu. Numerous restaurant chains like Chipotle love to remind the public that their assembly line of ingredients can be recombined into several tens of thousands of different results. Multiple computer algorithms have been compiled attempting to mimic (actualize?) Borges’ “Library of Babel”. A video game called No Man’s Sky is near release. In the game, you’re an astronaut exploring 18 quintillion computer generated “planets”, each with their own distinct “landscapes” and “plants”. It took 13 people to make this.

I look at Wayne Thiebaud’s paintings of food products this morning. They have a harmony, a perfect bliss about them.  They’re pure in a way that neither man nor cake could ever be except in their metaphysical dreams.

And, of course, you can’t actually eat them.

The supermarket is the consolidated accumulation form of the just plain “market”. But the supermarket has shifted to the even more expansive and consolidated hypermarket. The shopping mall is dying; it relied on an anchor store and could collapse easily if a couple stores left. But the hypermarket is consuming the shopping mall’s remains in order to acquire its strength. The hypermarket can have a food court that never has vacancies.

It’s possible to imagine the collapse of the hypermarket into a new form. Let’s call it the omnimarket. It exists in no single location. It has soda fountains that can fabricate (realize?) flavors in actually infinite combinations constrained only by the user’s sentimental attachments to the soda-normative. Dead products could be resurrected from their remembered DNA and crossed with each other. A Jurassic Park of OK Soda and Butterfinger BB’s.

Our window shopping of childhood, our nostalgia as it stands, already is largely the province of products we remember consuming when we were so much moreso the age we were. Consuming man could crawl back into the womb forever.

Well, presuming he had the money.


WHY IS SECOND-LIFE PROPERTY STILL CALLED REAL ESTATE?

The power relations described by Marx, were, like his money form, a social fiction reified, not a thing with a nature. But we ascribe a nature to it anyhow. We call mountains “natural borders”, we ascribe essence to them when a large part of US industry has been their destruction and the creation of holes that have colorful layers not unlike Mr. Thiebaud’s cakes.

Fictitious scarcity, like fictitious capital, seems to reproduce the current hierarchical relations of power as well as their RL ancestors. Second Life can charge “land rent”. World of Warcraft items are “produced” in actual sweatshops. EVE online players created a “bank” and members of the “bank” ran off with a massive sum of the EVE “money”. This “money” can be converted fairly easily into USD, but he chose instead to use it to build a massive ship and destroyed his enemies’ assets, purportedly worth $16,500 (USD). EVE’s parent company now hires several full time economists to prevent crashes. An MMORPG has its own keynesian brain trust.

I though to myself a couple weeks ago, “most arguments over mass entertainments amount to verbal strong-arming over which womb everyone should crawl back into.” I then thought, “why would anyone want roommates in a womb?”

I found my answer. It was obvious. It’s the same reason people want actual roommates. To split the rent.


Guest post by Daniel Levine. Check out his first book here. He also just released a comedy album which you can hear selections from for free here.

The Surgeon on the Mount, or Science: The Theology After God

I was born and come into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.

-Jesus Christ, New Testament, John 18:37

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

-Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 1882

“I consider it to be a defensible proposition that no philosopher has helped to elucidate nature; philosophy is but the refinement of hindrance.”

-Peter Atkins, Science As Truth

The good thing about science is that it’s  true whether or not you believe in it.

-Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Twitter post

Pilate therefore said to him, Are you a king then? Jesus answered, You say that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.

-New Testament, John 18:37

Something that humans made. Eva. Something that humans made. Humans are what? Something that God made. Humans are things which humans made. The things I possess are my life and mind. The vessel of a mind. Entry plug, the throne of a soul.

Who is this? This is me. Who am I? What am I? What am I? What am I? What am I?

I am myself. This object is me, the figure which forms me. This is the me that is visible, though it feels as if this is not me. A strange feeling. My body seems as if it is melting. I cannot see myself. My figure is fading away. I am aware of someone else.

-Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episode 14

Nietzsche pointed out the old God was dead in 1882. As is usually the case when a powerful and influential father dies, the children have since been engaged in bitter struggle over the inheritance.

It is hardly a new observation that the cultural place of science and its related philosophic sects such as positivism constitute a theology. This is nowhere more concisely laid out than in the strident claims by its strict adherents that it can’t possibly be one. “Truth” is real estate to be fought over in the war of culture, and nothing going at present has more cultural capital as “truth” than science.

“Scientism” vs. “pure science”, as its been frequently framed, is a sectarian debate. The most common arguments against it frame it as the poor application of science, an untruth, and attempts to disentangle its assertions from the “pure” science that claims to have no ideology. But the old religions emerged, as science did, from an interwoven desire to control and a necessity to meet deeply rooted psychological desires of both the individual and their collective form. The current debate is the cranky teething phase of a folklore, of a theology coming into its own.

Science cannot exist in the public imagination as much other than a mythology outside of, to some extent, the use of medications, wherein the person can at least report back the failings of their psychiatrists and then be chastised for doing so; they didn’t take the communion wafer in good faith. The rest of science can, in theory, be tested, but the proverbial guy on the street does not have the time, resources, or background to navigate the massive body of literature thrown their direction or run endless clinical tests to verify results. They must take the conclusions of science at face value or attempt to navigate a doomed layman’s investigation.

The literature of science and the pieces reified as its landmarks constitute its mythology, the guiding force of a thing that claims to have no biases. It strives to meet the questions answered by Judeo-Christian mythology; the Big Bang is a garden of Eden story deprived of a moral, keeping with Genesis Darwin brought more “begats” than could possibly ever be considered except in small chunks. It has a dual book of Revelations in climate change and the nuclear bomb. They write their end times in the vaporized absence of bodies and cities or their probable starvation instead of in John of Patmos’ dreams.

The populace largely rejects science for reasons of greed or self-preservation. The Koch Brothers, the oil companies, etc. reject global warming because they stand to make massive sums of money on it. The less well off right wingers reject science because they see its end product and driving considerations more clearly than do the scientists. The end project clearly is the control of the populace, even in its seemingly more benign manifestations such as “positive psychology.” They see themselves endlessly manipulated using the techniques of “social science”, in “soft” behaviorism or any of the more than 32 other flavors. They see this in the workplace, at school, and in their homes. These techniques are frequently tested on dogs initially for the supposed need to be “humane”. One wonders if this ritual is simply a means of deflecting oversight so that the product can reach its end users with less friction.


WHAT IS SCIENCE DREAMING? WHAT ARE ITS UNFULFILLED WISHES?

The interior life and dreams of a collective movement and its actions toward inscribing itself on the world are frequently expressed most clearly in its unconscious, and in this manner the dreams of the scientific project as it stands have been most clearly expressed in the seeming impenetrable chaos of TV science fiction. The pieces I’m going to use here is the Japanese anime Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is conspiracy theory literature in the high grand tradition of Gravity’s Rainbow. Readers of the latter might remember Pynchon’s literary montage of the 10 sephirot of the Kabbalah, the 10 seconds counted down on the film strip, and the countdown before the dropping of yet another V-2 rocket. Evangelion takes this horrifying moment of contemplation and extends it to its logical endpoint. Its been oft said that the TV cartoon is just a means to sell dolls or action figures*. Evangelion is the dominant ideologies of the present made into action figures and then beat against each other savagely until they break.

Each episode opens with a shot of the sephirot. Its plot revolves around the relationship between a secret society named SEELE hoping to bring about the merger of all men into a jelly called “LCL”, a shady government organization called NERV that produces giant robots that aren’t actually robots but the souls of the pilots’ mothers, and various world governments playing blindly into the desires of these two uneasily aligned organizations. The technological build-up of NERV and their Eva robots is, like many things in post-war Japanese moving pictures, a dramatized means of coming to terms with the atom bomb. In Evangelion the atom bomb is played by an event called “second impact”.

As the Evas get larger and more powerful the lines of their intentional Freudian symbolism shift. Initially they are the literal mother of the young pilots, the mother they must enter in order to stave off outside intruders. NERV keeps trying to replace these unreliable pilots with the pure automation of “dummy plugs“ which could pilot the Evas purely under the control of the military technology that maintains the Evas form. Even the robot form the Eva is a means of hiding their connections to humanity and a means of binding them to the will of powerful men hoping for the world`s being destroyed into something better. In the series finale, the End of Evangelion feature film, they`re destroyed and eaten alive by new Evas that are entirely automated and designed to resemble penile dentata.

The protagonist, Shinji, is a 14 year old boy who`s forced to pilot the Eva and whose father runs NERV, the organization that is the military-industrial complex collapsed into the church; a thing that isn`t either but is both simultaneously. Shinji experiences his unwilling Joseph Campbell-style hero narrative as the Freudian recasting of Oedipus myth (son kills the father to be with the mother) and Cronos myth (father tries to kill son to avoid his being replaced), as the narrative of the coming of age story so common in anime (and so frequently framed in the terms of the chosen child soldier), as the Christ myth (father sends son to die for the sins of humanity), and as the various secular myths revolving around self-actualization. Shinji experiences all of these simultaneously; no single one predominates; it is not a story trying to privilege one over the other but to let them violently clash until they too might coalesce into a unified pool of LCL.

As in so many Japanese films and TV programs, the atom bomb flows back and forth with ease between its actuality toward the metaphor of the destructive collapse of different worlds into each other.

The atom bomb is America`s scientific dream of death projected out into the world. We inoculate ourselves in the myths that it was necessary to end the war, that all of science can`t be indicted in their production and domination of the popular narrative for over half a century. Richard Feynman, in his second book of memoirs, What Do You Care What Other People Think discusses his going over to Japan to accept a physics award and purposely seeking out working class hotels to perpetuate his self-image as a man of the people. He of course did science with the moral blindness it takes as its precepts; he was integral to the Manhattan Project. If he had any moral self-awareness he`d never have the chutzpah to step foot in Japan. But he can, did, and discusses it with a sinister aww shucks false populism that was later used as the artist`s model for the manufactured populist image of George W. Bush.

Feynman saw the bomb in its infancy; in the teleological joy of discovery so prominent in the bedtime stories American science tells itself. America still sees the bomb in such immanently invisible mythical terms as to focus obsessively on its positivistic particulars.The Japanese saw the bomb in its capacity for destruction and annihilation; they saw it with an actuality that precluded any sort of coping mechanism besides the outright production of myths. These Japanese images of the bomb are American scientism`s death dreams, its Revelations photographed with lucidity from the outside. The American imagining of the bomb is the unconscious portraiture of the selfie.

Science has a mythology and exists in a context beyond “objective truth“ whether it wants to admit it or not. Its claims toward being apolitical are, again, its cowardly decision to bask comfortably in the inertia of the present.


SCIENCE IS A PHILOSOPHY OF OBSESSIVE CONTROL AND PENITENCE

Well yeah, of course it is. Things with little positivistic merit make claims to science or its idealized self, objectivity, the perfected vision of man based around man`s removal of himself. Man failing to live up to the precepts of science the same way he once failed to live up to the metaphysical demands of God. Science`s product pretends to be endless academic papers but the part of science that makes it to the larger population is in disgusting toxic imitations of food, military and surveillance technology, and more “efficient“ techniques of managing employees.

The “perfection“ of nutritional science presents itself commercially in the laughable portmanteau “100% Food.“

From their website:

Designed to fit today’s lifestyle of busy and health-conscious professionals concerned about wasting time.

Looking over their homepage, we see that the actual concern is speed and the impediment of actual food on being the perfect employee. Time is only “wasted“ in the eyes of the capitalist. Visually, science`s metaphysically pure “food“ resembles the vomited up form of its close ancestor, a punishment for unruly prisoners-nutraloaf.

The resources necessary for increased production and nothing more. The prisoner and the civilization on which wars are waged as its testing ground. Science under capitalism could produce little else-the resources for its application are necessarily those of massively concentrated wealth. BF Skinner`s Walden Two described his utopia; Noam Chomsky rightly pointed out that it resembled a concentration camp.

Oh what to do, what to do…


Guest post by Daniel Levine. Check out his first book here. He also just released a comedy album which you can hear selections from for free here.

*The term “Action figure” was invented because boys refused to play with “Dolls”.