29 March 2007

More Solid State

So it's growing taller! Right now it's almost half as tall as I want it to be.

And about half as tall, and the big news that it's structurally sound! I can pick it up like it's a rigid thing and not like it's a really, really heavy and funny-shaped futon!

24 March 2007

Knight of the Living Dead

Zizek is discussing torture in today's Times.

The lesson to take from our treatment of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is that we have created a legal grey area in which there are "legal" and "illegal" criminals and in which torture is legitimate for some and not others, and that the ethical consequences of this are vast:

A precious part of our collective identity has been irretrievably lost. We are in the middle of a process of moral corruption: those in power are literally trying to break a part of our ethical backbone, to dampen and undo what is arguably our civilization’s greatest achievement, the growth of our spontaneous moral sensitivity.

And I'll have something to say about this later. I have to eat some pancakes before I face the loss of our civilization's greatest achievement.

17 March 2007

Speaking of Structural...

I haven't posted in awhile, and it's not because I despair.

I bought a house, and its structure is... interesting and troubled, and deeply buried beneath a lot of layers of flimsy cosmetic coverups. I do continue to think about Zizek, Chelsea, democracy and Didion. It's just that lately I do this thinking while I am jabbing screwdrivers into joists, figuring out what to replace and what to repocket, and removing layer upon layer of lazy landlord bullshit. The inside of my house is going to be so much bigger once I have removed all the walls that seem to have been erected for the sole purpose of hiding something. I am going to pay a carting guy a lot of money (about as satisfying as paying a dentist), but hopefully I'll emerge from this with a much better understanding about what structure means.

Posting might be a little thin over the next few months, but who knows? This high-stakes structural work is really inspiring, even though I have no idea how to talk about it yet.

Wish me luck.

06 March 2007

Structure v. Romance

I write for emotional reasons. I write, mostly, to find ways to hope.

And I haven’t been posting for awhile, and it’s because all the other people writing about Zizek left my thinking about hope in a funny place, and I so had to despair for a little while before I figured out that it is good to have a diagnosis like Zizek’s after all.

Because as soon as I started thinking in Zizek’s terms, I started seeing evidence of his gigantic Loss (or true victory) everywhere. And the only response I could give it was really romantic. I wrote draft after draft of Holden Caulfield-esque rants about this and that being so fake and hollow, and how nobody sees the problem, but I do, and then I would read every single one of these manifestos and shake my head and say to myself that I am not fifteen, and that I don’t actually know much. And that thinking about the culture that we live in in terms of its fakeness in relationship to an ideal (that exists where? In my own head?) is really quite...

...distancing. Romantic. Part of the problem.

Because what is real? And who am I to say that the world I live in is fake? I mean, I hate that Manhattan is, increasingly, a giant outdoor mall, or that Chelsea is full of art that is not very good, as much as the next guy. But if I hang myself with a braided leather belt in a changing room at the Gap, I am still dead.

Seeing that my only responses proved Zizek right made me feel rather stuck. But then I had the good fortune to read Joan Didion’s 1967 essay, Slouching Toward Bethlehem this weekend. I don’t have it in front of me. But she follows some hippies around the Haight, which is full of drugs and naive kids, and kids are starving themselves to death and getting raped and basically it’s not all free love like it was cracked up to be.

But it’s not just about that. She is telling a story about selfish people. They care a lot about being loose and free and breaking down walls. But they don’t seem to see that there are walls, or structures, within a society that are useful. She focuses on the transaction cost that comes with breaking down societal structures. It creates situations where three-year-olds are getting high, in which homeless girls with punemonia are left on someone’s floor for ten days without anyone to care for them. And these situations are genuinely horrible, but she doesn’t tell this story as a moralist. She tells the story as a structuralist. She sees that these hippies’ goal is simply a life without the multiple drags of money or family or responsibility to others. Being a hippie, to Didion in this essay, seems to be the ultimate expression of radical individualism.

And the beauty of Didion is that she sees that this radically individualistic life lacks the love and care that is embodied and expressed in structures like family, law and ethics.

And so it goes, right now. In 2007, not 1967. Where the abject reign of the individual reaches epic heights. The Me Generation has evolved only so far as the My Generation.

The only response to this radical indivudalism that makes any sense is to find the strength in what is still structurally sound. This is not to be conservative. It is not backward-looking. It’s not about valuing what used to be real and is now fake and hollow. Instead, it’s about finding cultural leverage. The Bush Administration is relying on people to be too selfish to understand how democracy works. Has he broken it or not? Is the Chelsea Machine dependent upon capitalism and capable of accepting strong expression, or is it disseminating a specific set of mannered rationalizations for imperialism, and therefore culturally worthless?

These are questions of strength.