Quote

“But it’s out of control, and we’re going to make it a very short process. And we’re going to either give you your permits, or we’re not going to give you your permits. But you’re going to know very quickly. And generally speaking, we’re going to be giving you your permits.”  – Donald Trump

Does Violence Work?

Here’s an excellent review of Frantz Fanon and his work, to mark yesterday’s MLK, Jr. Day holiday: “Where life is seized“.

Author of the anti-racist jeremiad Black Skin, White Masks; spokesman for the Algerian Revolution and author of The Wretched of the Earth, the ‘bible’ of decolonisation; inspiration to Third World revolutionaries from the refugee camps of Palestine to the back streets of Tehran and Beirut, Harlem and Oakland; founder, avant la lettre, of post-colonialism; hero to the alienated banlieusards of France, who feel as if the Battle of Algiers never ended, but simply moved to the cités: Frantz Fanon has been remembered in a lot of ways, but almost all of them have foregrounded his advocacy of resistance, especially violent resistance.

I am leading an informal writing class starting in February, on the topic of truth in the post-literate age, and I’m wondering if Fanon would make for good discussion (of course I’m including Nietzsche). Will Fanon, like Derrick Jensen, lose credibility over time? And what does it say about me that I still love both of them?

The Fiction of Fictional Characters

Three years ago I wrote about how Americans like zombie plots in film and television because these motifs mirror our own reality—one with boredom and addiction as main life/career choices and terror as a national health-care policy. I think this phenomenon is still mostly true, although I often think that the importance of movies and TV is overstated, especially when gains in movements or civil rights are claimed simply because of increased representation in media—as if Orange Is the New Black changed the prison system. This notion reaches its most annoying manifestation when delusional actors think their portrayals actually move any needles (pun intended). But then again, maybe I’m wrong about that, too; fictional characters do serve to normalize otherwise radical situations (which is why they’re so useful for propaganda machines). Yet, I just don’t see how Breaking Bad will actually change drug or health-care policy, or how The Wire will change journalism or the criminal justice system.

More On The Octopus

Here’s yet another article about octopus intelligence: “Just how smart is an octopus?“.

This time, though, (as opposed to several recent books and studies about the sentience of cephalopods) human exceptionalism is maintained:

But how far can cephalopods take their mental power? Are they capable of conscious thought? Godfrey-Smith treks through some rather testing philosophical and psychological terrain to conclude in the negative. While cephalopods are capable of exceptional complexity in their signalling, the machinery of interpretation is too limited. Humans, perhaps uniquely, have gained the ability to step outside ourselves, to think about our thoughts by means of an unstoppable internal monologue. While cephalopods can produce highly patterned signals, they can’t see their own skins, Godfrey-Smith argues, so he rules out the possibility of any internal monologue.

I wonder why it’s so difficult for us to imagine other animals imagining. If we were to learn that, in this instance, octopi have crossed some cognitive threshold, thereby allowing them to join the ranks of mammals or even of birds, how would we act differently? Or would we, at all?

Reading Hamlet Post-Election

If Hamlet is not about the hero if inaction—the static hero, as developed eloquently by David Foster Wallace in Infinite Jest—then what is it about? While at dinner recently with two friends—one a former English major, one a current English professor—an alternative view was put forward (by the professor): the main theme of the play, i.e. the only theme that the play comes close to resolving, is the tension between interior and exterior worlds.

While Hamlet ponders Camusian questions, every other character ponders earnestness and artiface (e.g. is Hamlet really insane, or just pretending?), and indeed, even “To be or not to be?” is at heart a test of the authenticity of the inner dialogue. What is the value of private suffering?

If DFW was correct, and sincerity really is the gravest taboo in contemporary America, then the themes of Hamlet remain useful—or perhaps even critical—in the daily modern task of producing or finding meaning in a society at once alienating and also jncreasingly intrusive. How do we reconcile living under a government that cares less and less about us, while simultaneously wanting to know more and more about our privately held beliefs?

One might push back on this idea by saying that, if anything, the election of Trump shows that people are finally tired of cynicism. After all, how much more naive could one get than “Make America great again”? But for Trump, “telling it like it is” is but one part of an elaborate and ostentatious show. His campaign was not merely a diversion, but rather the epitome of American culture. In a reality-TV, horror-show society, where it’s more important to play a role (to bring it back to Shakespeare) than to consider the validity of our inner frailties, it’s no wonder that irony and entertainment ultimately prevailed. For the outward kitsch of folksy populism is but a mask for the people’s inner shame, vulnerability, and fear.

Early January Update

winter

Well, traveling for two weeks has taken its toll on the garden. It must’ve frozen outside a few times while I was away, because only the lettuce survived. I’ll have to replant in the next few weeks, but in the meantime it’s sad to see my friends had suffered because of my negligence. But I guess the same would’ve happened in the wild, so I can’t be too down about it. Maybe one year I’ll build a greenhouse.

A Poem

Each field has its falcon,

Or, the other way around, rather—

For peppered wings and barred tails lightly lick

The scarred and overturned earth,

Marred irrevocably by rusted implements.

They appear and are gone again, as if conjured

In some time immemorial by the very land,

By the flaking skull of a bison head—

And who, after all, can own a dream?

Better to let the fenced fields fly

Than to tether their errant hawks in leather,

For each feather is a gift, real or imagined—

And one does well to pass them on.