…by geographies of heartbreak (II)

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“I’m having one of those days in which I never had a future. There is only a present, fixed and surrounded by a wall of anguish. The other bank of the river, because it is the other bank, is never the bank we are standing o that is the intimate reason for all my suffering. There are ships sailing to many ports, but not a single one goes where life is not painful; nor is there any port of call where it is possible to forget. All of this happened a long time ago, but my sadness began even before then.”

–Fernando Pessoa, from a letter to Mario de Sa-Carneiro, from Alfred Mac Adam’s translation of The Book of Disquiet, p. xxv.

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…by geographies of heartbreak (I)

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In Italian first, translation to English below:

<<Dopo aver marciato sette giorni attraverso boscaglie, chi va a Bauci non riesce a vederla ed e’ arrivato. I sottili trampoli che s’alzano dal suolo a gran distanza l’uno dall’altro e si perdono sopra le nubi sostengono la citta’. Ci si sale con scalette. A terra gli abitanti si mostrano di rado: hanno gia’ tutto l’occurente lassu’ e preferiscono non scendere. Nulla della citta’ tocca il suolo tranne quelle lunghe gambe da fenicottero a cui si appogia e, nelle giorate luminose, un’ombra traforata e angolosa che si disegna sul fogliame.

<<Tre ipotesi si danno sugli abitanti di Bauci: che odino la Terra; che la rispettino al punto d’evitare ogni contatto; che la amino com’era prima di loro e con cannocchiali e telescopi puntati in giu’ non si stanchino di passarla in rassegna, foglia a foglia, sasso a sasso, formica per formica, comtemplando affacinati la propria assenza.>>

— Italo Calvino, <<Le citta’ e gli occhi 3,>>  Le Citta’ Invisibili, p. 77.

(“After a seven days’ march through woodland, the traveller directed towards Baucis cannot see the city and yet he has arrived. The slender stilts that rise from the ground at a great distance from one another and are lost above the clouds support the city. You climb them with ladders. On the ground the inhabitants rarely show themselves: having already everything they need up there, they prefer not to come down. Nothing of the city touches the earth except those long flamingo legs on which it rests and, when the days are sunny, a pierced, angular shadow that falls on the foliage.

“There are three hypotheses about the inhabitants of Baucis: that they hate the earth; that they respect it so much they avoid all contact; that they love it as it was before they existed and with spyglasses and telescopes aimed downwards they never tire of examining it, leaf by leaf, stone by stone, ant by ant, contemplating with fascination their own absence.”

–(Calvino, “Cities and Eyes 3,” transl. William Weaver.)

…by Jason Molina and the missing superheroes.

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I don’t claim an exhaustive knowledge of superheroes, or even of a subset of them. I know only the pop heroes—Batman, Superman, Spiderman, the X-men, basically whoever’s had a tv show or movie made about them. The pop heroes tell us something about ourselves, I think, tell us about our aspirations. They also tell us about who, and what, we erase about ourselves.

This is a post inspired,* in part, by the death of Jason Molina. Molina was the creative spirit behind Songs:Ohia and the Magnolia Electric Company, projects which I can only compare to the sense of watching the stars and understanding—being terrified, really—of your own insignificance; but having someone else’s hand to grip while you do it.

The music, the songs, provide simply the knowledge that, even if you can only go through your darkness alone, you are not the only one.

Is that solidarity? Of a sense, I suppose.

But superheroes. Molina’s song “Farewell Transmission” goes like this:

Continue reading

…by the death of a very large man

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I know *just* enough Venezuelans to know how little I know about the death of Hugo Chavez on Tuesday. Not just the circumstances—yes, cancer, but some day we’ll get historiography arguing that Chavez’s death is not a random contingency of fate, but the result of his hubris—but the social context of his reign.

No matter. Here, I propose a pair of things worth pondering. First, the former Brazilian president Lula’s obitu-tribute in the New York Times.

Second, this info-graphic, which I take zero credit/responsibility/blame for. (It comes from the North American Congress on Latin America.)

venezuela-poverty2Ponder that red line.

Venezuela’s poverty indicators only decline oh-so-gently in the following years, but that’s a huge change from 2003-06. And remember, the U.S. supported the (failed) coup in 2002.

As always, this story is incomplete. But what story isn’t?

…by geographies of the body (II)

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“On a Thursday night, she ran across the dark soccer field to the field house before it closed. At this time of day, the gymnastics equipment was out on the mats, and anyone could use it. She’d always been able to outbalance anyone. She could walk without ever slipping on railroad tracks, across the tops of fences, on swaying tree branches. She felt as though an invisible line through her backbone held her upright. She had to test her balance now. She often came over here to relax to work on the beam, unfettered by the nagging of a coach. In high school she had earned a letter as a diver, but she had given it up after a year because she didn’t like falling into water day after day.

“Never had she felt so distracted by listlessness, not even by last year’s case of mono. The sensation was almost like inhaling the wrong kind of air–too much helium, for example–in the wrong outdoors, under the wrong sky.

“Wearing her leotards, she had worked up to backflips, elbow stands and handstands, hand walks and turns, and dismounts. Simple: all right, she would make it pretty damn simple.

“As she was working on the beam, she saw Wyatt on the field-house track, running. He was a good but not a natural runner, muscled for strength but not speed. What annoyed her about seeing him was that her heart began thumping again. With some sense of relief, she noticed that Wyatt’s physical timing was a bit jerky, like a car engine a hair out of tine, with odd bits of waste motion, particularly in his shoulders. But his running had an interesting desperation to it, which she was pleased to observe–she imagined herself the cause of this desperation–like a hamster galloing in its wheel. As he rounded the track near her, she caught his eye and waved.

“They had something to say to each other; however, she would do this first. She would give him a good dose of herself, of her grace. She would pit her grace against his speed, his refusal to call. Barefoot now herself, she walked, arms out, fingers slightly raised like a dancer’s, across the beam; then she pivoted on the ball of her right foot. She saw the beam ahead of her as a ray of logic, as a line, as a geometry to which she had a relation, a magical connection, as she did to the stage. It was a stage, the balance beam, the narrowest one in existence.”

–Charles Baxter, Shadow Play, pp. 45-47.

Revolting Techniques

Cina’s long history is filled with instances of creative techniques of revolt. For example, in one historical uprising against the Qing Dynasty in the western city of Chengdu, authorities had closed and heavily guarded the city gates, stymying revolutionary forces. In response, the latter wrote instructions on pieces of bark and floated them downstream, where farmers and peasants south and east of the city gates found them and successfully staged an attack from the outside.

China’s rich history of revolt seems to be on the minds of CCP today, as they prepare for the upcoming transition of power and clearly fear the unexpected. 

…by athletes as labor.

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The cycling world—and the sports journalism world—have been abuzz for weeks after the publication of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s “Reasoned Decision” in regards to Lance Armstrong. The short version: Armstrong not only doped, but surrounded himself with a doping conspiracy.

photo by Laurent Brun

Punishment has rapidly proliferated throughout professional cycling. The International Cycling Union (note: not actually a labor union) has vacated all of the Tour de France titles won by Armstrong, and the US Anti-Doping Agency has suspended a number of “friendly” witnesses who admitted to doping, such as Tom Danielson, Levi Leipheimer, Christian Vande Velde, Jonathan Vaughters, and David Zabriskie. These are some of the most prominent names in cycling, champions all, if mostly on the downslopes of their careers or already into coaching. Even more have been the firings: Leipheimer has already lost his job, as has Norweigan Steffen Kjaergaard, Australians Matt White and Stephen Hodge, and USian Bobby Julich.

The existence of widespread doping in cycling is a surprise to no one. Especially among fans and commentators in the Anglo-American world, a they-doped-now-pay-the-consequences sentiment has proliferated. And it’s worth noting here that, in comparison with US sports especially, international cycling’s union has little power or cohesion.

Why is this worth thinking about? Because the they-doped-now-pay-the-consequences story is, at heart, a neoliberal story. Continue reading

… by post-national neoliberalism.

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A couple weeks ago a colleague drew my attention to a proposed digital currency called Monetas. It, like many other currencies, express a movement towards reconfiguring ideas of locality in a period where communication technology enable many of us to seemingly transcend distance. We can roughly interpret Monetas, and the Open Transactions standard it’s built on, in a Bitcoin sort of way. Both are an attempt facilitate certain types of interactions in a post-national space, apart from nation-states, central banks, and attendant regulations. It’s also ostensibly a do-everything system, or as I like to say, a One Ring approach. That is, the people behind it assert that it can be used to operate everything from local, community currency systems to global finance. I’m not surprised that such things are being offered, but I do think that such systems are conceptually flawed and triggered towards extending current exploitations (in spite of the advocations by supporters who claim these tools are focused on increasing liberty and freedom).

Continue reading

… by capitalism. (Part 1 of 8,407,262)

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Our neoliberal students love World Systems Theory in Geography 101. The students aren’t all neoliberals, of course—not even all of the undergrads in the Business School are neoliberals—but those that are love the little aphorisms: “To be a core, you have to have a periphery” or “It’s good to be the core,” which is a favorite of Bob Kaiser. (We tend to leave out that Immanuel Wallerstein—WST’s most important theorist—was a Marxist.) The neoliberals like unevenness and inequality—there’s something about the sensibility of neoliberalism that takes delight in being on top, takes delight in dominance.

This isn’t a post about neoliberalism—not really—nor is it a post about WST. But it is a post about modern capitalism. I bring up neoliberalism because I think this psychology of dominance in relation to economic systems deeply informs how you might look at the following phenomenon:

The official version of John Cage’s “4’33” for only $0.99 at Amazon.

I imagine my neoliberal students would view this as some sort of capitalist apotheosis: the selling of literally an empty container track for a dollar! (Also notable: the track is 4’38″. That’s 5 extra seconds free!)

I imagine that my colleagues would tend to see this as the commoditization of ambient noise–neoliberalism in a different key. It’s a nice metaphor, elegant in its own way: typically we commoditize not just sound (like music, or speeches, or me teaching in a classroom) but silence too—think of rustic getaways, sailing, an expensively-appointed hotel room with linen shams. Here, though, what’s commoditized is precisely neither: it’s noise.

And yet as quickly as it’s commoditized, noise is decommoditized. Listen around you: done.

Which was the point of 4’33” in the first place.