Three Pound Brain

No bells, just whistling in the dark…

Month: June, 2012

The Recent History of the Past

by rsbakker

Aphorism of the Day: Wisdom lies in the interval between knowing thyself and promoting thyself, which explains why its generally so cramped and cranky.

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Thanks Roger! I sometimes think the reason I’m never in the loop is simply because I fear nooses…

One of the things that most struck me encountering Derrida for the first time was the notion that there were two pasts. Before this encounter, I had assumed that the past was the Past, unitary, and that memory was my primary purchase upon it. I felt anchored, like a burr in history’s great shaggy hide. I felt central. No matter how scrambled I was, my frame and the frame of the world remained identical. That weatherbeaten phrase, ‘mind-altering,’ held no hidden profundity for me. Everything was always more of the same, more or less.

I got fucked up, then I woke up. Why, hello, sun…

You prick.

Derrida opened my eyes to the possibility that the Past was not quite so simple. What if what I called the ‘Past’ was a fabrication, a mere representation, forever trapped in the now, forever hurtling away from the blackness that had birthed it. What if the glass on the bottom of the existential boat was a television screen?

Derrida, in keeping with the linguistic formalism that was de rigeur among French academics at the time, theorized this problem in structural terms. Yes, Scott, you are rafting on a flat-screen, but it’s the only window you got, so you’re pinioned, you see, caught between transparency and transmission, dread truth and accursed fabrication. What you called the Past is in fact an originary repetition, a transparent transmission, and you will dwell out your remaining years trapped in the paradoxical in-between.

The Past was fractured into the past qua originary, and the past qua repetition–into the past as it is and the past as you make it. All of us, it seemed, were condemned to live two warring histories, the one always claiming to exhaust the other, only to be thrown back time and again by its infinite inexhaustibility. Thus the history of philosophy, the parade of pretenders to the throne endlessly overthrown. Plato. Aristotle. Kant. Hegel. Meaning, Derrida said, had the structure of a never-ending coup d’etat.

And so, in certain circles at least, Derrida swept the table, offering professional interpreters a dogma that promised both a contrarian political radicality on top of the prospect of never-ending employment. Expensive scarves and free meaning for everyone! Small wonder he was swept into office the way he was… Reagan should have been so lucky.

But I smelled a rat. Derrida’s biggest problem was also the most ancient: his inability to account for the cognitive difference, the fact that all claims are not equal. To be fair, he improvised an ingenious way to avoid confronting this problem–he was nothing if not a subtle thinker. The traditional way of hanging philosophical positions unable to account for the cognitive difference is to charge them with performative contradiction, to claim, in effect, that they require the very truth-function they are seeking to demolish to perform their demolition. Au contraire mon frere. Derrida actually embraced this performative contradiction: of course deconstruction begs the very transparency it demolishes! Performative contradiction is the natural state of all language all the time. And so the crafty Frenchman bequeathed to the world a theoretical outlook that recontextualizes its every refutation into an instance of proof–an example of what I’ve since come to call Performative First Philosophy.

But he still couldn’t account for the cognitive difference. And short of this, how could you say he had a remotely viable theory of meaning? He could explain why philosophers inevitably failed, sure, but the truly important question, certainly, was why scientists managed to succeed. Our lives–not to mention our sanity–literally depend on the reliable way language gets things right–the fact that not all differances are equal. Just consider the crucial ethical role of the past, the way crimes only become crimes after the fact. What about Holocaust deniers? You deconstruct them, they deconstruct your deconstructions, and…

Do we call it a draw? Infinitely defer the penalty kicks?

Needless to say I have a very different way of looking at things now. I still find it amazing the amount of water Derrida still draws in certain academic circles–but this just means that too few of my old professors are dead. The atavistic philosophies that seem to be replacing him strike me as even worse: whenever someone begins discussing Meillasoux or Badiou I always bring up Chaitin and his contention that mathematics is a branch of physics. Simply raising this claim, I remind them, relativizes their claims. I don’t need to be right, only cogent, and they find themselves back in the lap of ‘correlation,’ as they call it.

Which is to say, the ancient dilemma of the cognitive difference.

Naturalists don’t pretend to have solved this problem. They simply point out that not all claims are equal, and that when it comes to theory, scientific claims seem to be far and away the most reliable game it town. So, if we want to understand what the cognitive difference is, we’ll have to wait for science to pick its disordered way meticulously forward. And hopefully, we philosophers, groping in the dark the way we do, will happen upon some of the concepts it needs. A trunk here. A tail there.

And for some perverse reason, I now find myself stumbling in the most troubling–even terrifying–dark of them all, one that no one ‘serious’ seems even willing to entertain, though its spectre has hung like a haze about humanity since at least the ancient Greeks. The problem of nihilism.

At least I find myself back in the lap of a singular past. There’s no labyrinthine inside, no ‘absolute outside’ outside the dichotomy of inside/outside, just vectors of depletion and truncation, information that I happen to have and information I happen to lack. Derrida’s characterization of the formal structure of necessary insufficiency isn’t, as he wants to think, itself a performative exemplification of that very insufficiency so much as another garden variety distortion. There is no ‘cut’ between the past ‘as experienced’ and the past ‘as it is,’ but rather an informatic continuum of loss and distortion that either effectively integrates me into my environments or does not, ‘pasts’ that reliably engage the machinery of the present versus ‘pasts’ that do not.

Because the ‘past’ is nothing more than a kind of device, another bewildering dividend of evolution, one that can be refined, tuned to interact with other processes, onboard and off, as effectively as possible. It is neither window, nor screen–but a spade that allows us to rob those graves we need to. Party with the corpses.

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Hear ye, hear ye!

by reichorn

Aphorism of the Day:  Actually reading stuff is, like, hard and, like, so twentieth-century.

Roger here, just popping in.

Since Scott’s no good at pimping himself, I’ll do it for him:  Audiobooks of The Prince of Nothing have been released by Audible.com!

Interestingly, the books are read by the brother of an old philosophy professor of mine.  Small world!

(Thanks to Wilshire for the pointer!)

Ptolemaic Consciousness

by rsbakker

Aphorism of the Day: Fictions. I’m fine with that. Really, our only point of difference is our estimation of the threat. Since conscious experience accesses no information about its neurofunctional role, it always seems the only game in town. Our experience of something as robust as logical reasoning could find itself anywhere in the neural digestive tract and it would still feel like the mouth, like it comes first. This could be our version of the Ptolemaic perspectival trap. Consciousness has so little access to the ways its conditioned, it has to seem like the centre of a universe. The False Unconditioned. (In reply to tickli, 2012/06/13)

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The comment boards have been eerily quiet of late, but the number of views has remained consistently strong, given the absence of any real posting. I wanted to leave Light, Time, and Gravity up for a while to solicit as much feedback as I could, but so far only a few hardy souls have weighed in with their opinions. My inclination is to think this is a bad sign, that far and away most of those reading the book think it sucks. If so, sound off! Otherwise, I urge people to link the book far and wide, especially on literary forums or blogs or what have you.

I need quorums! I especially need to know what kinds of defenses target readers will be inclined to resort to. I want LTG to be thoroughly weaponized, to be labyrinthine with traps. I want this to be an example of a new kind of literature, one that is self-consciously viral, that treats itself as a machine bent on parasitically compromising other machines…

And a lot of you guys are fucking scary smart. You should be nailing my balls to the wall!

So I wanted to follow my exhortation with a question: I know that hundreds, at least, have read the draft, so why the silence? Is it merely the prospect of touching my balls?

Otherwise, I wanted to get back to business as usual on TPB: more wank and self-loathing.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about the specifics of the trends I keep talking about in cognitive psychological and neuroscientific research. One of the advantages of pondering all these things as an amateur, I think, is the freedom from the various institutional demands placed on professionals it affords. I can write on and read about any damned thing I please. This means that I can maintain a certain wary distance, and so hopefully avoid the myopia that belongs to devoting oneself to knowledge of one thing down to the very bottom. The problem, of course, is that I’m bound to sound like a superficial amateur to anyone with professional expertise—as I should!

Because a superficial amateur is precisely what I am.

But, I’ve been having some success with my social and psychological guesses of late. So perhaps the time has come to hazard one more.

A while back I posted on what I thought was one of the most significant things to fall out of my peculiar take on consciousness: sufficiency. The idea is that consciousness is generally not privy to information pertaining to the limits of the information it receives, so that it almost always seems entirely ‘full’—sufficient—as a result. This is why, for example, ignorance is so crucial to certainty, and why belief-systems bent on orthodoxy and solidarity are so intent on policing that ignorance—why religions are so partial to having their own schools. The information consciousness does receive regarding these limits, I suggested, come in the form of ‘flags.’

The problem is that these flags almost never pertain to the experience itself: we rarely experience the insufficiency of experience.

The trend I want to talk about is one that I’ve yet to encounter in the literature, but which is plainly visible throughout the discussions we’ve been having here, if you know what to look for. So regarding volition or the ‘feeling of willing,’ famed psychologist Daniel Wegner claims that far from initiating action (his troubling research shows quite clearly that it’s something we attach to actions after the fact), conscious will is the somatic marker of personal authorship, an emotion that authenticates the action’s owner as the self” (The Illusion of Conscious Will, 327). Our gut brain initiates an action which our conscious brain subsequently perceives as something it authored. Since it possesses no information regarding its post hoc nature, it takes itself to be sufficient, and the action to be something it ‘authored’ beforehand, even when, as Wegner’s experiments show, it was not responsible for the action at all.

Regarding moral reasoning, we have Jonathan Haidt and his analogy of the elephant and the rider:

the rider acts as spokesman for the elephant, even though it doesn’t necessarily know what the elephant is really thinking. The rider is skilled at fabricating post hoc explanations for whatever the elephant has just done, and it is good at finding reasons for justifying whatever it is the elephant wants to do next. Once human beings developed language and began to use it to gossip about each other, it became extremely valuable for elephants to carry around on their backs a full-time public relations firm. (The Righteous Mind, 46)

Once again we are told that something we thought sufficient and originary, our capacity for moral reason, is in fact post hoc and secondary. Our judgments come first and our rationalizations come after. This accords quite well with Dan Sperber’s Argumentative Theory of Reason, which takes the growing mountain of research regarding human ‘dysrationalia’ as evidence that human reasoning has more to do with post hoc social signalling than with anything properly epistemic. You don’t so much have reasons to believe as you have beliefs to rationalize for public consumption.

Then you have Michael Gazzaniga’s research on split-brain patients, which demonstrated the propensity of the left brain to confabulate explanatory narratives for actions engendered by the right:

Experiments on split-brain patients reveal how readily the left brain interpreter can make up stories and beliefs. In one experiment, for example, when the word walk was presented only to the right side of a patient’s brain, he got up and started walking. When he was asked why he did this, the left brain (where language is stored and where the word walk was not presented) quickly created a reason for the action: “I wanted to go get a Coke.” (The Ethical Brain)

The frightening upshot of this (and other research) is that all of our behavioural justifications are (possibly) post hoc, that we merely confabulate our ‘motives’ after the fact, using the same information available to outside observers along with the (confabulated) pretence of control.

And if this wasn’t bad enough, you have a growing body of evidence that raises wholesale questions about the sufficiency of experience, at least as it appears to attentional awareness. As Eric Schwitzgebel, following a whirlwind tour of the disastrous experimental track record of subjective reports of experience, writes:

Descartes thought, or is often portrayed thinking, that we know our own experience first and most directly and then infer from it to the external world. If that is right—if our judgments about the outside world, to be trustworthy, must be grounded in sound judgments about our experiences—then our epistemic situation is dire indeed. However, I see no reason to accept any such introspective foundationalism. Indeed, I suspect that the opposite is nearer the truth: Our judgements about the world tend to drive our judgments about our experiences. Properly so, since the former are the more secure. (Perplexities of Consciousness, 137)

Again, we find the selfsame lesson: that consciousness as it appears to attentional awareness lacks anything approaching the information required to make ‘sound judgments.’ Chronic, wholesale insufficiency. In all the above examples, what makes the findings so peculiar is the discovery that the conscious brain, lacking any real access to the gut brain, looks outside to generate interpretations and justifications regarding itself. And why not, when it has spent millions of years second-guessing its fellow brains? Why not use this history of adaptation, not to mention exteroceptive sensory systems hundreds of millions of years in the making, to come to grips with itself?

Look outside. Guess what’s within. Believe with absolute certainty.

So my guess amounts to this: that consciousness is perhaps best thought of as a kind of social interface—a neural version of a Facebook page—something the brain primarily evolved in response to the ever-increasing social complication of its environment. It is a jury-rigged add-on, bent on transmitting only the information needed to successfully reproduce and raise children to reproductive age. Since all the brains in a neural collective are equally blind to themselves, none of them has any way of ‘fact-checking,’ so the social consequences of interoceptive deceptions are nil. In fact, given the astronomical complexity of the brain, accurate self-tracking would be prohibitively expensive, both metabolically and otherwise. So our brains, quite simply, began telling each other lies, linguistically hacking one another to secure what they needed, individually and collectively. The informatic and evolutionary inevitability of sufficiency did the rest, stranding us with a hallucinatory soul.

What we call experience could very well be a by-product of this game of giving and asking for lies. Human consciousness is Ptolemaic consciousness, trapped by its parochial perspective into thinking it stands at the origin of all motion, that it is the centre of the intentional universe, for the simple want of information its evolution could not afford.

Light, Time, and Gravity (XIII)

by rsbakker

Remember this the next time you flinch.

106

(1984)

It happened toward the end of October that year.

Dylan never returned to the farm. Even its direction out of Dad’s driveway hummed with a patina of shame–enough to wince his gaze to the left. Sure, he savoured the memories of Harley–sex was the one thing he could pluck out of disastrous circumstances and consider for its own sake. But everything else tasted like too tart candy: something that might trigger shameful expressions.

It had been frightfully easy, waking the next morning, sipping hot tea as the world ground to invisible life, all the nodes of all the systems, bubbles of indifferent misery, moving and exerting in ways contrary to hope, [23] let alone desire. The late summer clarity struck him as narcotic, now that he could laze. He read Lovecraft. He whacked off to visions of Harley. He watched Conan with Johnny. His hands healed. He learned that the world cared as little for his shames as for his hopes, that in the modern world, men need only turn their backs to escape their extra-legal crimes. Dad never confronted him on the issue, no matter how drunk he got–convincing Dylan that he had similar sins, equally unaccounted. He simply relayed the odd update he received from those few common acquaintances who still pulled up a chair to get hammered at his kitchen table. How Jerry managed to finish out the season. How Harley had moved in with her mother and was apparently taking classes or something. The fucking bitches. As far as Frank was concerned, ‘taking classes’ was the beginning of the end of his marriage with Mom. He would just start talking about these things as though continuing an old and obligatory conversation, like relatives pretending to be interested in one another.

For reasons he could not fathom, Dylan decided to move back in with his mother in Port Stanley. He pled poverty to soften the hit on Dad, who–in moments of weakness at least–looked at his children as spoils of his war against his vindictive ex-wife. In Port Stanley Dylan could catch a bus to his highschool, and so skip the expense of driving everyday. That was the bullshit rationale.

So he moved. He fought with Mom continually, who was either too distracted to care what he was up to, or too stricken with parental guilt to let him pack him his own book-bag–she had always raised her children in spasms.

He missed Johnny to the point of maudlin absurdity.

And of course, he drove to school everyday.

It happened early in the morning. Typically he drove up Highway 4 to St. Thomas, but every once in awhile he would drive out Lakeshore so that he could take Fairview into town. Doing so meant driving up Schoolhouse Hill–so-called because it had once overlooked the old schoolhouse.

There’s a post-office there Now.

The road curls up the side of the hill, too narrow for shoulders, and it’s steep–steep enough to scare you in winter, anyway. You almost expect to pass a train of huffing Sherpas climbing it. It. The banging started a mere quarter of the way up, a sound like a hammer cracking the wrong side of his hood. “Fuck,” Dylan murmured. “Fuck-fuck-fuck.” He knew it was bad, that he should stop as quick as he could, but there was no place he could pull over. Killing a car to spare several minutes of embarrassment was an easy trade in his books. So he slowly floored the throttle, and the banging beneath his hood cracked louder and louder as his progress slowed. Somehow the old mustang continued coughing and hacking forward. When he glanced at his rearview mirror, all he could see was a wall of blue smoke, a poisonous aquamarine. He rocked back and forth in his seat, spitting, “C’mon… C’mon…” through a grim war-pilot grin. “C’mon, motherfucker!”

Bam-bambam!

Then he was cresting the hump, rolling down a brief incline. The car died just as he cleared the tarvey and braked on the shoulder. He turned to the vast cloud he trailed like royal wedding gowns behind him–a veritable World War Two smokescreen. He barked a shrill laugh at the sight of the other vehicles creeping through the blue with their headlights on. The air reeked of chemistry.

He leaned back, suffused with the indignant sense of sourness that is the natural result of technical malfunctions crashing headlong into male egos. Why can’t the fucking world just work.

That was when he glanced at the odometer…

74, 996 miles.

I shit you not.

Every time I closed my eyes it sees his Chiclet grin.

Fucking Ford four-bangers, man. Programmed.

[23] It communicates and we happen, a dim informatic flashbulb of meaning.

107

(Inapplicable)

Why do so many things–so many human things–hang together in ways we cannot fathom?

Imagine a 3-D tree with 225 branches and 225 roots passing through a 2-D universe. As the tree rises across the plane of that universe, it would be an inexplicable haze of points coalescing into a cloud of dots condensing into a clutch of dabs collapsing into a single blot before rooting off into another haze.

This is morality. This is purpose. This is meaning. This is intentionality. This is the transparency of experience.

Life comes the same way as cigarettes, the same way as time: shorn of history.

Life comes as this

There are two directions in this dimensional tree metaphor, that of the tree rising up through the plane, and that of the dots moving across the plane. From the vantage of the plane, it is the ‘rising through’ which is impossible to see, simply because planes possess no up or down. The default will always be the across, because nothing could be more apparent than back and forth.

So from the perspective of a 2-D observer, the haze of points would arise from nowhere, coalesce for no apparent reason, then wink out of existence. The passage of the tree would only exist as the transformation of patterns across the plane. What are the forking of branches in 3-D would be nothing more than the collapse of wandering dots into larger and larger dots.

In other words, what are obvious through-relations become occulted across-relations, inexplicable explainers, the very ground of comprehension. Logic. Narrative. Reason.

Neural processes that cross the always wandering information horizon of the thalamocortical system and into consciousness do so like 3-D trees rising through a 2-D universe, as things whose structure and origin are utterly covered over.

We call this flat-land experience–the deepest thing we know, the very frame of profundity.

This is why you see streets and lawns and houses and so on, rather than the processing of information from your retinas to your visual cortex and onward. All you perceive are the relations across experience–first the street, then the lawn, then the house–and none of the through processing that makes experience possible. This is also why your thoughts seem to arise from your prior thoughts: given that the engines of thought, the through mechanisms of the brain, do not exist for us, we can only assign origins across.

And this is why errant thoughts so puzzle us, why we frown or laugh and ask, “Where did that come from?” They shatter the illusion of cross-relationality.

The illusion of this

They reveal the closed two-dimensionality of consciousness. They give us an inkling of the great Kantian intuition (minus the ladder of transcendental deduction): the through

Which, given our shameless conceit, we assign to God or Society, to the Devil or the Unconscious…

Things patterned after us.

108

(Inapplicable)

Anything so wide as the sky has to be an illusion.

Encapsulation refers to the way the information horizons of the neural correlates of consciousness pinch experience into unbounded ‘bubbles’ (like our visual field). It offers a naturalistic way to understand things like identity thinking and the nonidentical in Adorno or presence and differance in Derrida. It explains the illusion of holism, why the contents of consciousness necessarily seem internally related (and why we find the experiential deficits arising from brain injuries so baffling). It explains the illusion of persistent self-identity.

In cases of anosognosia and neglect, a boundary of consciousness that was once coterminous with the rest of humanity suddenly collapses, robbing the victim of basic experiences and competencies. These disorders have the effect of ‘shrinking consciousness,’ of rewriting the thalamocortical system’s information horizons. Not only do certain ‘boundaries of consciousness’ become clear, the functional roles played by various neural resources are also thrown into relief. The loss of neural circuitry packs a powerful experiential wallop. The smallest of lesions can transform how we experience ourselves and the world in catastrophic and often baffling ways.

These cases of ‘shrunken consciousness’ demonstrate the profound role thalamocortical information horizons play in shaping and structuring conscious experience. To understand encapsulation, you have to appreciate the way the neural correlates of consciousness necessarily suffer what might be called frame neglect. Unless you think information horizons only become efficacious once pathology renders them obvious, the kinds of local and idiosyncratic experiential scotomata resulting from neuropathology simply must have global and universal counterparts. What we call meaning, morality, transparency, unity, self-identity, and the Now are all artifacts of encapsulation, ways the thalamocortical system conjures experiential wholes in the course of making due with fractional information.

What the thalamocortical system cannot differentiate remains the same. Experience is holophenomenal. A kind of pervasive ‘scotomatic closure’ is the result: since the thalamocortical system cannot adequately render its processing frames as data within its processing frame, experience is continually sutured: available information is stretched across all the gaps, chasms, and holes. A background of unity, timelessness, transparency and identity structures consciousness as a result. Cobwebs of information become experiential balloons.

This explains the out-and-out mysteriousness of so many ‘mental phenomena’ (and why we need a category for ‘mental phenomena’ at all). Only when we developed the capacity to linguistically interrogate consciousness could we explicitly encounter our encapsulation. Of course, absent any frame of reference, we had no way of distinguishing cognitive breakdowns due to scotomatic closure from those breakdowns due to ignorance more generally, so we invented a multitude of diagnostic suspects, blaming various kinds of linguistic and conceptual misdirection, simple empirical immaturity, or even the lack of the requisite neurocognitive resources.

We had no way of theorizing frame neglect, of appreciating the myriad ways we are bound and gagged by oblivion.

The evolution of consciousness is the evolution of adaptive psychoses, the sorting of delusions that facilitated genetic transmission from those that compromised it. Qualities are little more than crude heuristics. This is why a genuine science of phenomenology is impossible. The problem isn’t simply that consciousness is stranded with distortions that are themselves fragments, but that consciousness necessarily makes wholes out of these utile psychoses–thus rendering the gaps absolute. So rather than looking at our experience of, say, mathematics or language as a flatland abbreviation of deeper neural processes–as drastically privative–we take our experience to be whole and fundamental. As wide as wide can be.

Precisely what it is not.

The same can be said of the distinction between the life we live and the shadows we experience.

Inverted, bent and two dimensional. This

This is why we continually cook up stories. We are so much deeper than we are.

109

(Inapplicable)

What this all suggests is that the structure of experience is such that we have no way of inferring the rules of experience from experience. There’s no transcendental deduction, no dialectic, no virtuous hermeneutic to and fro, no epoche–there’s no methodological discipline that will allow us to understand ourselves in terms that are native to us, simply because we do not exist the way that we exist–because we are in fact alien to ourselves.

Consciousness is literally inexplicable.

Let’s make up a couple of terms. Keeping with our spatial metaphor, let’s call the kinds of flatland relations we experience lateral relations. And lets call the occluded “through processes” that make experience possible medial relations. (I sometimes think this is essentially the operative intuition in Kant, the way the empirical is underwritten by the transcendental. His mistake was to think he could gain cognitive purchase on the latter via an intentional conceptuality that is an artifact of the former. ‘Concepts’ are nothing but experiential smoke. One more ‘user illusion.’)

So we could call the paradoxical structure of the Now, for instance, the result of the way the information horizon of the thalamocortical system suffers a kind of medial temporal stasis even as it tracks lateral temporal relations. Thus experience possesses the structure of Now, this… Now. Lateral transition in medial stasis. Difference in identity.

The structure of paradox.

Absurdity.

Life.

The lateral structure of experience is a function of how its medial function is covered over–thanks to the information horizon of the thalamocortical system. It is the function of a lack, the way the brain makes lateral sense of itself in the absence of any medial access to itself.

Experience is a cognitive illusion. Given our neurophysiology, it has to be.

111

(Inapplicable)

Why does freedom seem to disappear when we consider ourselves causally? Why does aboutness become so mysterious? Why does normativity become so occult?

What is this wide ranging antithesis? Is it merely conceptual? Should we just keep rolling the ACH dice–the way we have since the ancient Greeks–until someone finally gets cognitive Yahtzee?

Or is reason itself to blame?

Are we?

We are a coin trick. Our brain is a magician who holds us prisoner. We see only snippets of its manipulations, fleeting glimpses we confuse for breathtaking vistas simply because we cannot experience what we cannot experience. Only when we play scientist, when we peer over the magician’s shoulder, does the magic vanish, and do the manipulations become clear.

Thus the antithesis. Intentionality is a trick we play on ourselves.

Since the dawn of civilization we have remained utterly inscrutable to ourselves. This is changing. Science, the mere social construct, the one language game among many, has finally cracked the neural black box and is beginning to revolutionize the inner as radically as it has renovated the outer. We are about to become another ancient superstition. As are our disciplines. Our disciples.

112

(Indeterminate)

How could I be so stupid? [24]

You would think this would be the critical question, given that stupidity–aside from shitty luck–is perhaps the greatest of humanity’s many scourges. You would think that Derrida or Deleuze or Sartre or Heidegger would at least pose this question–the question of the cognitive difference. But then how could they? when their projects depend upon the possibility of human theoretical competency.

Think about it.

You call yourself critical, you critique and critique and critique, you’ve transformed the blithe cruelty of kitchen table judgments into an orchestral exercise, and yet you know absolutely nothing about what makes all those other fools fools and you the rare exception. And why should you? when the preposterous abstraction of your claims do everything nature designed them to do: identify you over and against others, warrant your pious condemnations, allow you to categorize your world with automatic efficiency.

Why should you pop the hood? Let the mechanics laugh.

They live in an ideological dream world.

[24] But it recognizes the systematic nature of its many misapprehensions.

113

(Present)

Fragments through and through.

Broken to the very bottom.

You are a lateral plane suspended in a deeper medial world. So these words come to you shorn of their history, a thing hanging in magical relation to other things, rather than another gear in the ramshackle and astounding machinery of life.

Like I keep saying. Far more than the subject is broken.

Sure, you pride yourself on your painful sensitivity to contexts, on your stubborn refusal to see anything as self-sufficient, but you fail to see that this relationship, that of figure and field, foreground and background, meaning and context, is just as magical as the relationship between sign and signified. The myth of reference. The illusion of internal relations.

The building blocks of this

Look at yourself sideways, and you will disappear.

114

(1986)

So consider. Nothing, then there he was.

Cutter.

Two years had passed since the harvest. Dylan was world-weary and nineteen. Whenever he found himself driving past fields of tobacco, he could feel the tickle of things once familiar becoming unrecognizable. The toil and the suffering were beginning to blur and fade with the details, leaving only those events he recited in his stories, the crazy shit, the shit that made him sound cool. He had laid the forms, and the cement of nostalgia was beginning to set.

He would write about this one day, he thought.

His crime–along with the consequences it had delivered–had become a kind of void, a place his thoughts typically avoided with automatic simplicity. The act itself, especially the night on the couch, dwelt as a kind of island. Harley, a name fraught with history, had dwindled to ‘she’ and ‘her.’ He had slept with several other women since, enough to make the magic of Penthouse Letters evaporate into something tawdry and mundane. Bragging about experiences is the last thing the experienced do. The bigger the library, the smaller the book–no?

Harley? Oh yah. I remember her

As the frame of what had happened, he would have eventually come to some kind of accord with the tobacco harvest of 1984. And if he failed to, then I certainly would. He could pretend to have forgotten–something which is far easier than it sounds. Avoid a memory long enough, and it becomes effortless habit. He could confront the sleazy facts of the case, reinterpret them into something romantic and self-affirming–every artist has at least One Great Shame, don’t they? He might simply bite the bullet and assume responsibility–unlikely, but possible. Or he might exploit his natural proclivities and explain the whole thing away.

As the frame of what had happened, he would have escaped… eventually. Sins are rarely the burden we like to think they are. The organism knows, even if the soul is senseless.

Nothing is quite so useless as shame.

Now it was 1986, late August, the very height of yet another harvest. And there he was.

Fucking Cutter.

Dylan had forgotten, as we all do…

Forgotten that he was a head inside of a head.

115

(Present)

A head.

Inside a head.

Inside a head.

Inside a head.

Insi–

This is what happens to impossible thoughts: the cup of comprehension overflows. This is what happens whenever we attempt to render this… as ‘that.’ Paradox decompressed as infinite regression, a mise en fucking abyme.

If you are fool enough to read philosophy, you will find versions of this figure everywhere your turn, always speciously yoked to this or that conceptual apparatus. Philosophers. Fucking wankers–all of them. The more wallpaper you lay out, the easier it is to hide the bubbles.

But the question continues to burn, doesn’t it? Burn with beauty and horror both…

What are we?

Just what the fuck is going on here?

Seriously.

116

(1986)

He was driving down Highway 45, from his father’s place to St. Thomas. Geographically speaking, Southwestern Ontario is part of the Great Plains. There are no mountains, no valleys, only a quilt of fields stitched by ravines. Just more Ohio. There are no allegorical topographies. Just stretches of weeds and dirt, scenes of flat fertility. And lines of sight no matter where you turn.

There’s no escaping lines of sight.

Which was why Dylan could see him from such a distance.

Cutter. Hitchhiking with a Chiclet grin.

C’mon. Give a buddy a break

117

(Present)

A head inside a head inside a head inside a head inside–

Not so much sealed in as away.

When everything outside only exists within, then we become everything, immovable for want of an outer space, eternal for want of an external history, self-identical for the want of a genuine other.

Always here.

Always Now.

Always you.

118

(1986)

This is the point where I’m supposed to say, ‘Something came over him.’ But nothing did. There was no glaring of inner lights, no wash of numbness, no bolt of chimpanzee rage. Dylan was the same person [25] the moment after as he was before, if only because who he was before only existed for him within the frame of who he was after. Sure, something happened, some errant impulse from his limbic system, perhaps. But as soon as it crossed the information horizon of his thalamocortical system it was simply him, as banal and embedded as everything else.

Strange, really, the way it works in reality. The way it all just happens. Eyes too witless not to be hard. The wheel swinging from your wrist. You drive. You veer.

You grin.

But then that’s what I’ve been talking about all along: The way the condemnation always comes before the contemplation.

Strange, the way you sometimes see through, squinting…

[25] It is what ignorance twists into self.

119

(1986)

I would like to say that blood was thrown up across the windshield in a starburst, but there was none. No cinematically satisfying splat. No flecks of crimson spit. Cutter simply bounced back–more a spasm than an expression on his face, really. Terror typically strikes too fast to be experienced. He simply bounced back and down, yanked beneath the shining horizon of my hood. Sucked into his reflection.

It was like running something over with the lawnmower.

Things chipping and grinding beneath. The same sense of roaring away inequalities.

Leveling.

120

(Present)

You were weak, I know.

All along you had this rage within you. This foment.

You just could never feel it.

So you packed your books for school, worked hard to dress your vanities in polysyllables, wrestled with hothouse inanities on the computer screen.

You greeted the storm-brown waves with a child-wild grin. You let the bureaucratic undertow drag you tumbling out and out…

Until you no longer believed in shores.

121

(1986)

Dylan leaned his forehead against the steering wheel, found himself staring at the screens of illuminated dust hanging across the interior. When he squeezed his eyes it blurred into a fog. When he relaxed them, the motes resolved in their millions, like staring down the disc of the Milky Way.

He refocused. The odometer read 84 001.

He breathed, or at least he thought he breathed. He leaned back, squinted at the road, a belt of tar parsing vast squares of green. He depressed the clutch and slugged the stick into reverse. There is a fear peculiar to driving backward, one that has more to do with the treachery of steering than the lack of visibility. A demanding inversion of action.

The car humped up over the body. Gravel popped as he braked.

Even after all these years, he could still smell the sweet of his exhaust through the hot summer sour of his car interior. Too much Timmy’s coffee spilled on the upholstery. Too many double creams.

He felt the steering wheel jerk as he gunned the Omni forward.

Force feedback–just like the video game.

He accelerated onto the highway, trailing an cone of dust big enough to hide a destroyer. The wheel kept pulling to the right.

Fucked, he thought. The alignment was fucked.

122

(1990)

It was no longer simply him pouring a glass of milk, it was a murderer.

That’s what he wanted to be. Special.

Beautiful and outrageous.

123

(Indeterminate)

Over and over he would see him. Cutter. A dusty figure at the side of the road, shadowy for the brilliance of the sun, stark for the blocks of vegetation and bands of linear dust, coming nearer, thumb held out, trying to peer through the white windshield glare…

C’mon, Buddy. Give a guy a fucking break.

Funny… How easy it happens.

Killing.

Grinning.

Forgetting to check the papers afterward.

124

(Indeterminate)

Whenever Dylan read or heard the words “vehicular homicide,” he actually felt a pang of sympathy. He imagined he belonged to a silent brotherhood scattered across the industrialized portions of the planet. A fellowship of learned souls. He imagined his eyes planted in 84 001 different faces, each a flashlight on a different corner of a blacked-out world, all of them seeing a portion of the same unspeakable thing.

Sometimes he would think, Murderer, and he would feel cool, invulnerable, that teflon-skinned groove that only the best tunes can capture, where you’re so cool even the authorities would wave you through checkpoints and borders.

Like Al Pacino.

Sometimes, in the middle of conversations, he would hear himself whispering, You have no idea… to people in his inner voice. And he would wish that he belonged to a criminal organization, that dangerous others would whisper, That’s him. The guy who whacked Cutter

He began recognizing himself everywhere, on the big screen, in comic books and pulps, on daytime dramas and in Sabbath and Metallica tunes. The commons could never quite digest him, so they regurgitated him over and over and over.

He would stare at people he didn’t like and murmur, I’m real

You’re not.

Sometimes he would begin shaking–uncontrollably–and he would laugh, because he would feel quite calm, and yet there he was shaking. Someone was shaking, but it wasn’t him.

Maybe it was that little portion that always stands outside our madness watching, wondering, wishing he were drunk.

The witness.

125

(Inapplicable)

“If I am at the end of the sky,” Archytas of Tarente asked as many years before us as after Sumer, “can I lengthen the hand or a stick?”

All paradoxes of living are paradoxes of the edge.

Information encapsulation produces pseudo finite unbounded systems. Consciousness, as a result, possesses a queer kind of experiential topology, one that is medially flat and laterally spherical. We are forever at the edge, forever lengthening the hand, forever grasping

Life comes and goes. Women are loved. Men are murdered.

We syntactically articulate our experiences with stories and theories, things adduced from within, when they arise from medial processes we can scarce acknowledge, let alone fathom. Everything arises from our medial horizons, a disparate riot that our obliviousness welds into lateral, confabulatory wholes. The most difficult things we quarantine…

We refuse to countenance. We resort to reasons.

And we think ourselves obvious afterward.

126

(Indeterminate)

He surreptitiously checked the odometer of every car he entered, whether he was the driver or the passenger. Not once did he see 84 001 again, though on one occasion he refused to drive with a friend whose odometer had come perilously near. When he was poor he refused to buy any car with fewer clicks, and when he became relatively affluent he always traded his car in at 74 995–just to be doubly safe. “I like the peace of mind of new,” he would tell his friends.

Once it got drunk and broke into my second ex-wife’s apartment while she was on holiday. He wrote the number on her bathroom mirror in red lipstick–nothing else.

It was the closest he ever got to telling her the truth.

Some events refuse to resolve into circumstances or instances. They evade narrative, outrun theory.

Some events bend lines into circles, crush circles into points, suck light to a glowing red ember.

Some events cannot be commanded.

The wiring just isn’t up to code.

127

(Present)

84 001.

Live long enough, and you’ll see it, I guarantee you.

We’re a lock that opens a billion doors. The world is the great safecracker, using this or that set of circumstances as its picks. Give it enough time, and it will crack the combination and let the murderer out.

Every life has a nineteen.

Saying, “No,” to yourself, “Never,” doesn’t make a whit of fucking difference, believe me. Because the instant after you say it, that person is dead and gone.

This was Nancy’s lesson…

Buckle up. The world always comes at you for the first time.

128

(Indeterminate)

Why not? Why not think he murdered a fiction? A fucking insubstantial Now.

We exist in a world that exists in our head that exists in a world that exists in our head. What better recipe could he hope for? It’s all in your head, kid.

The problem is that there’s always more, more, and more. Shit never stops happening. Not matter how hard we tell the story, it never ends. There’s no closing the border. No folding up the horizon.

Even the dead keep coming back.

Heidegger had it right. The future is what makes everything real.

Fear is the foundation.

129

(Inapplicable)

The universe is our occluded frame, the sum of all contexts. Ask Hegel: the universe is this

Think of the blackness about you this very moment, the oblivion of the occluded frame. We hang in the same nowhere, you and I.

God or Nature. The Kingdom of Ends. The Absolute. The Will to Power. Being. Differance. Call it what you will. Argue your arbitrary emphases.

We are always already entangled. Only surprise divides us.

The universe possesses no outer edge. Travel fast and long enough (in some models) and you will arrive at your point of departure. The ends of the universe are everywhere and nowhere.

The dynamics seem similar. We are finite and unbounded. We can only ever arrive at our point of departure–Now. In other words, the universe could be a thing like us, only absolute and all-encompassing.

A thing like God.

Bent through and through. Built to be brutalized by our conceptual inquisitions. Witless and uncomprehending.

Is there a theoretical physics of this?

Is there a light, time, and gravity of a livable soul?

130

(Inapplicable)

What does it mean to be a paradox? (And what happens when that paradox is naturalized?)

Our head is in our head because consciousness is flat. Consciousness is flat because the brain cannot directly discriminate between its moments.

Because identity is a function of oblivion…

We are the set of all sets, an impossible notation, because our frame of reference cannot discriminate itself from its discriminating.

“We are a head inside a head…”

Index each moment of this claim to a particular time and something as familiar as it is peculiar happens. The apparent material paradox of the same thing containing itself becomes a mere mechanical regression: ‘head at 3:37:38’ contained by ‘head at 3:37:40’ contained by ‘head at 3:37:42’ and so on. The circle become a spiral. The paradox steams into a monotonous stutter.

Surely this is no mere coincidence. Kill the Now, transform ourselves into a sequence, and the mystery vanishes…

As do we.

Consciousness, whatever it is, seems to be a function of neural information integration. All the peculiarities of perspective, all the absurdities of being trapped within a world, arise from the recursive information horizons that delimit the conscious portions of our neurophysiology. Because our brain has made a lever out of its own blindness.

Existence is interminable birth.

“But I haven’t moved!” This was what Nancy was crying. This was her incredulous retort. “How could I have strayed so close to death when I haven’t moved?”

Oblivion is what delivers us to oblivion.

131

(Indeterminate)

People are generally better at anticipating what others will do in given situations than what they themselves will do. We consistently and pervasively overestimate our intelligence, our generosity, our moral rectitude, our control over the world about us…

Unless we happen to be suffering clinical depression, in which case we’re pretty much spot on. Our emotional well-being out and out impairs our ability to know ourselves…

How fucked up is that?

Depression is the Enlightenment in small, the slow-motion discovery of our abjection. Only when we learn to hate this… can we approach it with ‘that.’ It’s a fact, Jack.

This explains all the untouched pill bottles in my medicine cabinet. I seek the truth.

Redemption can go fuck itself.

132

(Childhood)

An event can make you so heavy that you drop through the wet paper of friendship and family, even as it renders you weightless, like smoke sucked through a fan. An event can make you pretty much anything: a son, a traitor, a hypocrite, a theorist and a killer.

Dad roused us early in the morning, before he had time to drink. Gloom hooded the windows, painted the grey world with the gold of reflected interiors.

He made us two cups of tea, but no breakfast.

Some days make your limbs feel small. Some clouds drag premonitions, a hand-wringing sense of long, long falls. Sometimes you simply look up and out, and your eyes enumerate the scale of all the empty spaces. And you shrink and shrink, until you are nothing more than a mote twirling between enormities.

Until you are nothing more than what you are.

I was nine or ten, I think. It was summer and it was warm. I remember the humid of slow-moving storms, the sense of the ground moving as a greater sky sailed above. Dad drove the little red Datsun, Johnny and I sat scrunched side by side in a seat meant for one, down the gravel road leading to the cliffs. He was calling above the tin-can roar, telling us about the “riot” he and his buddies had the day before. “The waves,” he said. “Wait until you see the waves!”

“Whoooooa!” Johnny shouted as the little truck dropped into the gully that marked halfway.

I peered forward, waiting for the line of the lake to rise above the ribbon road.

Then there it was… The grasses humped over wandering stacks of land. The grey plate beyond. The too-close horizon.

Erie. Our sweaty queen.

We ran out of road, so we walked until we ran out of ground. As always the bluffs came to us as a line hanging against air, a pre-Renaissance nightmare come true. We stopped at the edge, our ethereal insides fluttering in the gusty wind. We looked down, felt things break and burst, and Johnny laughed, “Whoooa!” We looked out, saw great incisors of earth, a parade of them, dropping into the haze. We saw the waters spanning the horizon.

The world always ends in water.

We stood, squinting up at the gulls, or peering down, savouring the hum of gravity. We laughed at our daring. We laughed at our fun. Then we clambered down, easily, since we had been raised at the edge of things, bred for break-neck falls.

The cliffs were little more than a complication.

“Look at the waves!” Johnny cried, picking his way down backward. The waters reared and heaved beneath them, curling like cobras before striking the clay foundations.

“Yes,” Dad said, shouting over the lake’s world-drum roar. “Scarey, eh?”

We climbed down missing ground. We stripped to our underwear, our ‘tighty-whities,’ on a small grass promontory only a dozen or so feet above the crown of the waves. The Erie shoreline did not collapse equally. Some sections toppled all at once, whereas others sunk slowly, stately, like a torpedoed battleship. I’ve seen trees delivered more than a hundred feet to the beach standing. I used to think, That’s the way I want to go–until I met Nancy.

We stood for a moment, a near-naked father and his two near-naked sons, watching the waves woosh-baroooming below. The water was coffee brown for laving the clay foundations. The spray suffused the air with the scent of fish scales and water-logged gravel.

Dad pointed to what looked like a telephone pole jutting out of the sand at an almost a perfect angle, as if it had been set there by the power company. A foolish yet forgivable experiment. All grids abhor a vacuum.

“Okay…” Dad said, timing the waves. “Run!”

And we ran laughing, afraid and unfrightened, from the base of our promontory to the pole. Bare little boy feet slapping across flabby sand. A miniature tsunami reared above us, gleaming…

“Now hug the pole, boys! Lock your–”

The wave crashed. Turbulence became our medium, the sweep-sheering of all things, drowning our squeals, ripping us from our feet, yanking our legs out in the direction of the piling water, then back and around, depositing us on the cold sand as it rolled into the undertow.

Another came crashing in. And another. We squealed in laughter and delight, marvelled that Dad could stand, when the waves so effortlessly swept us from our feet.

“Hold on, guys!” Dad cried laughing. “Hold! On!”

Rumble and boom and swish-ha-ha-ha. Three chilly heartbeats laughing underwater.

Blinking and breathless laid out across the sand. A glance toward the hungry waters, coiling to strike. Only a moment to brace–

The world heaves when surf exceeds the limits of your vision–the world itself. You understand that what encompasses you constitutes your baseline. You feel your occluded frame.

“Hold on, guys! Here comes anoth–”

Funny the way water breaks you by breaking around you, like a thousand dissolving palms. A wave of schoolyard bullies, crashing into soup and slinking away in garden hose sheets.

Again I was thrown back, a bodily flag. Again I was swept around 180 degrees…

Only this time, as the wave receded, I could feel Johnny’s slight form slip greased and frantic across mine, drawn with the water back to the deep.

“Dad!” I shrieked from the sand. “Dad! Johnny!”

And I glimpsed him a dozen feet away, my little brother, stunned on the grey plain, coming to his rump, glancing up at the next towering wave. The shining beauty…

“Daaaad!”

But he was already running, leaping beneath the curl, monkey-small in the crashing shadow, his fingers outstretched–

Boom. I rode the watery confusion alone, sucked cold between my clenched teeth.

And when the turbulent curtains were drawn away, there he was, Dad, standing with one arm wrapped around the pole, his legs like foundations, his white skin shining in the ambient light.

Johnny, a wailing sack under his left arm.

“Ready to go home, Dylan?” A hero’s rueful laugh. “One more then we run for it, o–?”

I tell people this story and without exception they marvel at the irresponsibility of my father. Perhaps they should. I know my mother screamed that night, an outrage as old as maternity. “How, Frank?” she wept. “How could you?”

But this strikes me as predictable. Children have always been bibles.

What I marvel at is the trust.

133

(Tomorrow)

We tell stories.

We roll people into balls of make-believe agency, bounce them across courts of fancy. We fish for morals that flatter our false but inevitable sense of superiority. We blame the book, the writer, the times–everything but ourselves. We scramble to read what we think others are reading because, consciously or unconsciously, we know how tales sort people, raise them up and pin them down, say who’s in and who’s out.

Tell us who made the cut.

Narratives are nothing more than lines in a colouring book for the blind. Characters heroic in proportion to the reader’s delusion, circumstances tragic in proportion to their hope and myopia. Only our ignorance makes them human. Only our past.

19

(Present)

He put the gun on the table. Dylan.

Now the universe picks it up.

This… you see…

Breathe it through clenched teeth. Cool like whispers. Dry as cavities.

This… The meaning of a deluded life. Aiming you like an aerial in the wind. Referring you to the distant report. The birds won’t even bolt from the trees, they’ve become so jaded.

Imagine.

The wide, sunny skies popping out of the blackness of your skull. The transubstantiation of blue hollow into crimson swill. The wave heaving. The puck flying.

Fucking A, Buddy.

Say goodnight to the bad guy.

Light, Time, and Gravity (XII)

by rsbakker

“How big was her bush?”

97

(Childhood)

Sometimes, as a child, I would sleep with my eyes open–terrify my mother. Sometimes I dreamed this crazy dream where the world was nothing more than a rind, a skin stretched too tight over bloated oblivion, like all the souls in the world were chewing gum and God was pushing his luck blowing yet another bubble. A colourless dream, figures keyed across endless black, the black of void as opposed to blindness, the black of emptiness seen rather than plenitude concealed. It’s hard to describe really, the loomings and sheerings and beggings and fleeings and cringings and weepings–pretty much all the catastrophica experience can represent encased in this sense of absurd monumentality, awe pressed to levels of sexual intensity.

And there was horror, vast enough to worship. I often imagine myself as a child, staring out into trance blackness, gasping no-no-no from clenched sheets. The world. The world

I remember waking from one of these dreams–late at night. Naughty late.

I remember hearing whispers, pleas from my parent’s room down the hall. My mother and some man I did not know.

“It’s okay…” A gruff and plaintive grumble. “Frank’s asleep. Drunk asleep.”

“No, please… No, please… Ungh… Ungh…”

I remember hearing the soft sounds of crying.

And ecstasy.

98

(Childhood)

When we were kids, the Parson brothers and I used to hike out to the cliffs on a daily basis. We spent years hooting through the wooded belt that largely divided the bluffs from the cash crop fields–soybeans one year, feed corn the next–that surrounded our homes. We always attached some kind of drama to what we did. We stormed hilltops and retreated into gullies. We held dead-falls for hours, running low on ammo and surrounded on all sides by hostiles. Whenever we broke clear the wooded curtain, we pretended we were survivors of something momentous, free of the Stygian wilderness at last. We would stand and blink, gasp in wonder at things unseen. A lost city. A burning gook village. The besieged company HQ.

Once we came out onto a field some farmer had abandoned to the eroding bluffs to find the Parsons’ older brother, Stevie, standing with a buddy of his, Mark, next to their dirt-bikes. But they weren’t the remarkable thing. The remarkable thing was what had made them stop and park their bikes in the first place. Gulls. Hundreds upon hundreds of gulls crowded among the swales of grass–a field of thousands.

“Shit-hawks,” we called them.

The world has the character of a Hollywood set on the cliff’s edge. Something about the way the earthen contours simply pull up short makes the framing sky and lake seem unreal, like an airbrushed backdrop.

Every cliff is a stage (and vice versa).

I remember a kind of sweaty flush, a supernatural prickle, a sense that I was witnessing something more than real. Approaching older brothers was always a dicey thing at that age–especially those with a perverse sense of humour. Stevie used to dress his little brothers up in his motorcycle gear so that he and his friends could shoot BB guns at them–kind of hilarious actually, little kids waddle-running in leathers five sizes too big, eggish helmets dragging their heads side to side. Older brothers were capricious, volatile. And as most children of most alcoholics understand, volatility was to be respected, feared.

Ordinarily we would have shrank back behind the woodline and hid. Stevie would be a commie and we would be Ranger recon, radioing in coordinates for an airstrike–something cool like that. Fucking commies anyway. But the scene was too awesome not to trust in our shared human instincts, not to know that in this one instance Stevie was safe.

This was something special. All the shit-hawks in the world, grounded before our eyes.

Sure enough, Stevie and Mark greeted us as fellow human travellers rather than the annoying vermin we were. “Can you believe it?” he called. We all stood around trading theories, feeling older than we should. The breeze combed across the open spaces, bobbing grasses, riffling the fine feathering about the gulls’ necks and breasts.

“They’re not afraid.”

“Fucking shit-hawks, man.”

“Look…”

“Yeah. Fucking shit-hawks.”

“I’m going to scare them,” Mark said, climbing onto his battered old Suzuki 125. “Watch!” he cried and chortled all at once. He kicked his rickety old bike to roaring life, wound it out across the powerband, then snapped the clutch. Head down, elbows out, he pealed across the grasses into the congregated gulls.

Blinking disbelief. We had seen the birds wheel away in collective flight so many times that for several moments we simply couldn’t comprehend what happened.

The birds just sat there, either unmoving, or leaping too late. Some were twisted under the wheels, broken, kicked up dead, while others were tossed up spinning, bouncing from Mark’s shining red helmet, or breaking across the handlebars. Mark continued accelerating through them, cutting a swathe of feathered ruin. Injured gulls flailed like windy litter in his wake.

Crazy fucking shit-hawks.

We stood. We stared. Then at last our shock cracked into a rush of manic laughter, a sound ambushed by the wind and carried into the sky.

Momentum. This is what carries us through instants of moral ambiguity, the mere fact that this… moves–that it never stops, at least not in any manner it can recognize.

You grin because grinning is what you do gunning down life.

99

(1984)

Strangeness comes in clouds.

We live only a fraction of our lives, we are but a slice, which is why we are continually surprising ourselves with our knowledge. The human Dylan was oblivious, but the animal? He knew full well. It’s no coincidence that coalition psychology governs so much of the world: who’s in, who’s out, who needs to die–friend or foe–to keep the faithful in line. The pairing of trust and murder is an old and venerable evolutionary move–a means of covering your bets at the natural selection table.

Like the bet Dylan made when he confided in Cutter.

100

(1984)

You would think the horror would lie in the commission, not the confession. But such is not the case.

Perhaps this is because we are weak. Perhaps this is because the commission never ends, that it continues, bloating until it engulfs all your subsequent actions–only to be completed in the moment of confession.

Or conviction.

For three days, Dylan had this prickling-about-the-edges sensation of floating. Another legless criminal on the run. He worked, partied, laughed around the beach-ball crowding his lungs. And he watched Cutter, carefully enough to hate him. The fear was nothing new, since he had feared him all along.

And it confounds me still: of all the people who loved him, people who would have literally died for him, he had confided in Cutter

Why?

I like to think I would have–I want to say ‘handled,’ but played is the more appropriate word–things differently. I like to think I would have recognized his error, given all that I Now know.

101

(Inapplicable)

It’s no accident that things hang together in ways we cannot fathom.

Once we realize that experience trades in pieces, and once we realize that these pieces are the haphazard result of evolution, then introspection becomes a witness to a crime not seen, and phenomenology becomes the study of fundamental misapprehension.

It’s a sad fact, Jack. There’s far more ways for us to be deceived than there is for us to be right. We are only what contingency needed us to be. Horny. Persuasive.

And only sometimes true.

102

(1984)

Would I have played things differently? Probably. Certainly.

I would have waited until everyone was together for lunch. I would have looked Thierry square in the eye, and said, “So Cutter says you saw me drive out into the fields to fuck Harley!” And the whisper would have been plain: Look at me! A goofy seventeen year old fucking the woman you’ve spent the past weeks jerking off to

Riiiiight.

Everyone would have laughed, while Cutter frowned and hedged, surprised by this sudden about face in my character. At that very instant I would have ceased being his friend, not for any moral reason, but because what the strong prize most in the weak is their reliability. Few things are quite so untrustworthy as sudden bouts of strength.

I would draw the conversation out, the way people are prone to draw out things they take pride in. I would make like I so wanted to fuck Harley–she was so weepy and vulnerable, after all–but was just too chicken. And they would have believed me.

Everyone except Cutter, that is.

These are the things I like to think I would have done.

Dylan, for his part, just did nothing. How could he do otherwise, when he was naive enough to think that facts were immovable? He had fucked Harley.

End of story.

Guilt and reality were one. This is a signature characteristic of the weak, when you think about it: confusing what happens with ‘what happens.’

Fucking Harley was a particle of truth, as knotted and twisted with conflicting emotions–as transcendent–as only a carnal fact could be. And Cutter carried it in his pocket.

And even though the man revealed nothing of his knowledge in the presence of others, Dylan knew something disastrous had happened. He knew simply because no one, not Gilles, the imperial mouthpiece, nor Buke, the social misfit, asked him anything about his drive into the fields with Harley.

Not. A. Single. Fucking. Thing.

Each night he grimaced into his pillow. His version of rending and gnashing.

103

(1984)

Dad asked him how his day went, and he had frozen, hunched over his pork-chop and applesauce, stoned with guilt. Years would pass before it realized how much love Dad had invested in those pork-chops, how he always smiled when he fetched the No Name applesauce from the fridge, knowing how his hungry boys would lap it up. It would make me pine for the children he had never had. “Dylan. How did your day go?” Dad repeated, and he shrugged, his shoulders pulled too high to make it convincing. “Tobacco.” And while Dad lectured him on how Jerry was actually slack, how you had to be a prick, and Jerry was a nice-guy, Dylan realized that Buke was the key. He had to ask Buke what Cutter was telling everyone.

Only he could be trusted to give him a true reflection, as bent as he was. Like all social retards, Buke was a social retard precisely because he was blind to the need to bluff and misdirect, to spin, deny and conceal. Dylan, meanwhile, would be offering him something special, the dope on what really happened, a honest-to-God conspiracy. It would be like a drug to the guy, being in the know.

Inside.

Timing was the tricky part, given the communal nature of the farm. It would have to be after the kill was filled. Buke had this ritual of lingering at the hose, stripping topless to scrub his arms to the shoulder with sandsoap even though he wore long sleeve button-ups in the field. “The girls need to know that Piggy is cut,” Cutter had cracked from the very first.

You could just tell that it had worked for him before, that Buke had actually scored this or that ‘Pig’ (he always had these stories that started with a nasally, “So there was this one fucking pig–hoo-hoooo, man, you wouldn’t believe…”) because of this hilarious display. He even leaned backwards to lower his arms to the water, [19] so he could display his washboard abdomen. No fisherman scorns his most reliable lure.

Yeah, Dylan decided. He would ask then, when everyone fled his chiselled abs and pectorals.

You would think the prospect of this caper would preoccupy Dylan’s thoughts at work the day following. But THC precluded this sort of sustained resolve, accumulated like a kind of fur on the inside of his skin, silky, so that his determination seemed to slip in increments across an interval of anxiety. Everyone played along in the old raucous ways. Only a structural redistribution of eye-contact seemed to mark the transformation: a tendency to flinch from his gaze, a greater inclination to share glances between. Gilles always watching. Thierry grinning even more manically. Buke snorting with the boldness of a born-again Christian. But even in the bunkroom during lunch, in the very penumbra of his dilemma, his resolution stumbled, not so much demoted as deflated.

Oh yeah… I planned on talking to him

This was literally what he told himself glimpsing Buke with Gilles and Kyle at the day’s end, and he believed it, this insouciant tone, as if it had been a casual commitment casually made. He even smiled as if to tell himself, What a crazy fucker–one of those not-so-passing observations people use to paint over cowardice with faux-normalcy. That’s the thing about smoking dope  chronically: it freights the directions around you, puffing you like lint toward the potato chips, sopping you in lead walking toward the fields, freezing you in cement at the prospect of anything emotionally fraught. Dope exaggerates the topography of fear and desire and so makes palpable the Labyrinth, the maze of natural and conditioned antipathies that traps us all.

Fuck it, he told himself. Tomorrow. I’ll do it tomorrow.

Nevertheless he found himself half-ass tracking the three men at a tangent, walking to his programmed-to-self-destruct (according to Cutter) Mustang so that he could watch them around the lee of the tractor shed, where the hose and informal clean-up station were located. His car glowed like a baby-blue lozenge and was too hot to touch. He mooned in and about it, cranking the doors as if to cool the interior, pretending to fuck with his tape case. Buke was always quick in peeling off his shirt so he could catch the girls as they filed to their vehicles, but Gilles loitered, asking Buke something the Frenchman evidently found funny, his head tilted back at a 22 degree angle, his laugh infectious.

“Love those titties!” Missy called in singsong, dragging her feet across the gravel, not even looking at the weirdo. Buke laughed like an epileptic geezer, scrubbing his arms, which, thanks to his tobacco-gummed hands, were dirtier than when he began. Dylan suddenly realized the peril of what he was about to do. It’s a peculiar thing fencing with someone who broadcasted across the full spectrum of fitness indicators the way Cutter did. No matter how thoroughly you might command the heights of your message, you just knew the fucker owned the basement. The foundation. Dylan had no doubt that Buke hated Cutter, despised him. The questions was whether he hungered for his approval more. What makes losers losers is their bottomless capacity to suffer assholes–even fall in love with them. Had Buke succumbed to his instinct to ingratiate? Or had Cutter, realizing that Buke was a potential weak link, gone out of his way to promote him, offering up Dylan as the new loser in his stead? This was the possibility that brought Dylan up short. To be clear, it wasn’t as though he ‘knew’ any of this so much as he found himself suddenly shying from the prospect–terminally so. We do this all the time, target or shun others according to vast informatic assessments we know only as flutters of dread, sparks of interest. Forever referencing charts we cannot read, navigating environments we cannot see.

Gilles finally hied across the lane toward the bunkhouse door, talking to himself in that talking-to-others way, staring at Dylan with the look of someone who takes pride in knowledge of other’s misfortunes. Dylan found breathing impossible during its duration. Then the puff-faced Frenchman slouched into the bunkroom gloom, his shout for beer and toke halved by the screech and crash of the screen door. Missy blew Dylan a kiss as she drove by. Frankenhead and Ghetto drove away with the same angry, pot-bellied man who always picked them up, smiling and talking to each other, somehow beautiful for wearing kerchiefs.

Buke began scrubbing his pits with far too much enthusiasm. It really was remarkable, the contrast of his physique: as if the moral perfection of his body had squeezed his spiritual deformity into the whacked-out ugliness of his face. The late-afternoon sun angled across the lane that separated the shed and the barn, illuminating all the drifting bugs, backlighting Buke and his ivory torso, making a golden halo of his no-fixed-address hairstyle.

Fuck it, some impulse prodded. Fuck. It.

Dylan began walking toward the freak. Music blared from the nearby bunkhouse, Zeppelin’s “Ramble On” crushed into aural tinfoil for being forced through too small speakers. Ask and be done with it. Fuck. Buke stared at him while labouring at his pits, all teeth, gums, and grinning beneath crazed muppet eyes. Dylan made to call out but swallowed the urge when Buke began crooning, “HeeHeeHee…”

Dylan tried to smile around his confusion, even as it mutated into horror. [20] He assumed an amiable, contrite expression, one which swore up and down that he was innocent, someone inadvertent, even accidental. Years of social groping would be required before he grasped the decisive link between confidence and cruelty–before he learned that you never hold out your hat to the likes of Buke, especially when they were gunning for ways to trump you.

HeeHeeHee.”

Like out of some nightmare.

Every so often, whenever Buke said something more creepy than stupid, Cutter would say, “Somebody hand that boy a banjo.” Dylan would be years catching up with the reference (Deliverance–again), but it was still the first thing he thought standing in the white dust watching the man… laugh, or whatever he was fucking doing.

Hand that boy a banjo.

A sudden gravel roar swallowed up his inability to speak, the bass line throttle of an accelerating 318. Jerry’s Dodge barged between him and the laughing madman, pastel with dust, surreal with mass density and volume, and near-miss enough to reek of aggression.

Dust drifted and coiled like semen in the toilet bowl. A different sweat slicked him, this one sour with dread. He ducked to see Jerry in the cockpit gloom of the interior, ensconced in fabric and padded vinyl. Usually the big man asked if he would help out with this or that: Jerry was always big on pretexts even when there was no one around to fool. This time he simply said, “C’mon,” in a voice as rough as his unshaven jaw. He had the funny-eye thing going, where people seem to be looking around things directly before them–not for any inability, but for a lack of motivation.

“Sure.”

Dylan climbed in, bounced swayed as the big man gunned the truck hard enough to jam the passenger door against his fingers, hard enough to feel the differential inertia pull at his head. He glimpsed Buke next to the tractor shed, still digging at his left armpit, still chimp-grinning.

Knowing. Knowing is what inscribes the circles around us, the wires that fence, bundle, and garrote. Knowing what sounds to make, clothes to wear, expressions to maintain–and knowing who to pair with trust, ridicule, praise and hate. The real reason we bluff and bluster isn’t to be envied or respected, but to be counted, to signal that we belong to those in the know. Think of the fear in your classroom, the dim horror of knowing last.

Dylan didn’t so much opt for pretense as a flee to it. He clutched the dash, rocking, stifled the momentary conviction that Jerry was gathering speed to better wrap them around some tree–one of the hoary old maples that so reminded him of the Shire and Middle-earth. He couldn’t bring himself to ask what was wrong. He couldn’t bring himself to glance at the man’s face. He could only pretend, it seemed, make-believe that this was simply another expedition to the pond–more urgent perhaps, but still identical in its ‘po-po me’ function. The Dodge reared and bucked, but floated down the whipping lanes all the same, the tires buffeted as though by swinging pillows. The engine alternately wound out and roared. The cassette deck remained mute. Dylan wondered whether Jerry had stashed the shotgun he had once mentioned under his seat. He marvelled that Al Pacino could be so melodramatic, or Michele Pfieffer so flat-chested. He wondered whether inanity ruled the thoughts of everyone called out by doom, whether everybody lied when they recount what went through their beans the moment before they almost died. Trivia. Crap. Tinsel. Things they dare not tell their weeping wives.

The Dodge was off-road dancing by time they swerved toward the pond. The seats squeaked and wheezed. The cab rattled like a puzzle box: a thousand loose facts–bolts, nails, tools, smoke-packs, cans–bounced beneath the seat and across the dash and floor. Dirt pelted the wheelwells, sounding like pulses of CBC applause. Jerry grunted, worked the steering wheel with a violence only partially warranted by the combination of terrain and speed. Then they were coasting, crawling forward the way they always had, rolling to a dog-whine stop beside the banks of sumac and ragweed and goldenrod. The meaty hands continued to knead the wheel. There was something dopey, heavy-lidded about his look, the kind of lost soul inebriation you see on war reels, great grandfathers caught the instant before they stagger. Whiskey was the first thing Dylan smelled. Jerry continued gripping the steering wheel, as though expecting an imminent hairpin turn. The silence of an idling American-engineered engine. The big man closed his eyes, shook his head, caught one of those deep liquor burps between his chin and chest, just one fume away from puking.

“Tell me–” Emotion cinched his voice into a croak. He paused to gather his wits or breath. Volcanic, idling silence. He turned, leaned to hork out the window. He hung there for an instant, working a length of spittle off his tongue. There was almost something bored and contemplative about his face in the sun’s spotlight. He looked young and feminine, his skin pale, his lashes long. When he finally turned to Dylan, his expression was bland as a small business.

“Tell me you didn’t fuck my wife.” [21]

Jerry was as physically powerful as any man I have known, but for some reason Dylan felt no fear–even as its inability to answer became his answer, even as lunacy crawled into the big man’s little-boy face.

Knowledge as anguish.

Jerry exploded in action-flick slow motion. He roared and hammered the steering wheel again and again with his fists. Wham-wham-wham! Dylan did not so much as flinch, even though he knew he would be next, even though the memory of the man’s explosive strength hummed through his body, made an aura of his personal space. “Beaten to death,” some uniformed stranger told Dad in his mind’s eye, even though Dylan knew the big man was not so much beating a surrogate as an extension of his real foe: existence. “Nothing!” he shrieked, one of those mucous roars that suck the taste of copper from the back of your throat. “Nothing! Nothing!” One of his blows struck the horn, a full-bodied howl like those you hear in old movies. And it stuck, wailed and wailed in continuous warning.

Screaming profanities, Jerry popped the hood and shouldered open the door. The pick-up rocked on its four wheel independent suspension. Dylan watched him, windshield remote, vanish behind the glaring hood, sobbing, searching for some plug to pull.

Dylan could think of nothing to say. So he stepped out, dust puffing about his ratty tennis shoes. Summer tingled. The horn shrieked. The world was on fire.

He struck out toward the farm on foot. And I walked between the rows you know so well.

Across the fields. Beneath the sun.

The world had smell again, and it sickened me, so I paused to light a smoke. A Player’s Light. I breathed deep the sharp and blue, exhaled the fuzzy and grey.

That always did the trick. Tobacco for tobacco.

It’s all a matter of processing.

To this day the sound of certain horns seem to pass through the tissue of hearing and strike bone… the very architecture of who I am.

Strange, the ways it remembers. The gravity of things.

The light.

[19] It flows through all things.

[20] It lacks the ability to conceive the hundreds of millions of neurons involved in processing the word ‘conceive.’

[21] It observes these very words happening.

104

(Indeterminate)

We are overmatched.

Sure, our heads are stuffed with myriad cogs that allow us to intervene in our environments in miraculous ways, but they are so horrifically synoptic, so removed from the supercomplex stochastic soup that is the world. And we are privy to so few of their activities.

Life has always walked the forking paths of conceit and knowledge. And for the longest time, we thought those paths ran parallel, that their innumerable branches crossed and perhaps even twined in this or that narrative of redemption. But they have wandered so very far apart, and we have been spread so tragically thin. There is no escaping the conceit, and there is no denying the knowledge.

But you will, clown [22] that you are. It’s your hardwired mandate.

I used to spend quite some time discoursing on sentimentalism in my classes, on the way mass culture slavishly reproduces cartoon representations of human emotion. But no matter how ingenious my lectures, no matter how I primed their expectations, it was always the same, year after year–especially when I taught Notes from Underground. “Nothing happens,” the rows complained. “All he does is whine,” they asserted.

And I would be mystified. “Sounds like somebody,” I would say, “needs to discover their inner traitor.”

For years I told myself that fear was the culprit, that these kids were so invested in their mythic concept of self that they instantly repudiated anything that threatened it. Humans, after all, are generally allergic to complexity–unless our mastery of it gives us one up on our interpretative competitors.

I liked this story, and why not? when it cast me in such a flattering light: the old master holding high his light, revealing the deformities of the modern soul.

When I finally realized that my campaigns to teach critical thinking were not simply bankrupt, but subreptive through and through–when I finally realized I was simply teaching yet another generation how to more effectively rationalize, how to hone rather than overcome their cognitive greed, I understood: I knew nothing about the very soul my vocation presumed.

What if introspective access varies between individuals? What if most people simply cannot discriminate the complexities writhing and worming within them? What if I had spent all this time castigating these kids, looking down on them, for their wilful refusal to remember who they were (let alone recognize themselves in the works I called ‘literature’), when in point of fact I was talking about things that did not exist for them? What if people think pop songs are deep, not because they ‘don’t know any better,’ but because the horizon of their thalamocortical system can reach no farther?

What if all the ways we go crazy are simply part of the experiment, our genes creeping out along various possibilities of recursive encapsulation, casting different topologies of consciousness like dice across the table of the world?

Now the flattering thing to say is that we happy few see further, deeper, into experiential truths that elude the intellectual muggles. That our conflict and confusion is the marker of our neurophysiological superiority–most of us secretly think as much anyway. Pre-emptive self-loathing will only take you so far.

But what does this mean, saying that our experiential confusion is the truth of their experiential clarity? Does it mean there’s an experiential ‘truth of love,’ say, that the love they feel, unto biblical hysterics–hair-rending, dust-throwing, teeth-gnashing–is somehow false? Somehow less?

What would a ‘false emotion’ look like?

Or do we take a separate but equal approach? Do we relinquish the yardstick buried in all our fine discriminations? Issue department bulletins warning professors not to discriminate on the basis of a student’s ability to introspectively discriminate. Say that flat characters are every bit as legitimate, every bit as realistic, as round?

I’m not sure I can make heads or tails of this. All I know is that these uncomfortable facts are piling up in the back of the cultural brain… like lead or mercury.

That you are becoming less and less tenable.

And me? I’m just the drunk at the funeral, the one who works so hard at mourning he can only laugh.

The guy who shits in the baggie.

[22] Even this very moment, reading this very text, is both it and a consequence of it.

105

(1984)

The horn wailing.

Walking the rows, thinking of Harl and Jerry standing together, how a tingle of fear would drop through him because he was so big and she was so small. The way she could cow him, as slight as she was in his shadow, an image so beautiful he could cry, how hers was the bigger fury–

The horn wailing.

Desolate people. When they were decent, when they truly cared, they had to be desolate to do what she had done, didn’t they? They had to be betrayed in a thousand indirect ways. They had to be repaying to do what they did. And someone so cool as Harley–so fucking awesome–they had to be wronged first… Didn’t they? Jerry. He had brought this on himself. She clenches her buttocks across his cock, and he sees the TV glow across her wet cheeks. Each step jarred an image of him, rosy lipped and clownish, every bit as stupid as Cutter had said, roaring at him out of the darkness, and decking him? are you fucking kidding me? Jerry was an idiot and a drunk, and somehow knowing it, fucking tripping around knowing he was in over his head, because he was, fucking everything up, he was, there was nothing to debate. And taking it out on Harley, the real crime, what he had done to her, the things. How much she’d suffered, he could only imagine, screaming in that dingy little living room, weeping over linoleum. Her gaze lingering on things shining and sharp. The Things He Had Done. That’s what made Dylan what he was. The tonic. The cure. An avenging wife-fucking angel! A video. Crashing guitars. A room so ancient the floor is ridged and rounded according to the hardness of various coloured marbles, the differential resistance to millions of scuffing feet, and he’s fucking her the way he did watching Gilligan’s Island, his chest flattered by lighting, his hair windswept–

The horn wailing.

A fraud. Staring–while the guy cried for fuck’s sake–at his shoe prints where he had stepped out of the pickup to hoist his pants–what a fucking idiot move that had been, getting out of the truck, where any skulker could fucking see him. Had anyone seen into the truck? No. No. The glare had shielded them, the glorious sun. He could remember the glare dialing across his high periphery while he stared down and watched her swallow him again and again, a delirious miracle–

The horn wailing.

Cutter. He had thought his name from the beginning of course, from the instant Jerry had spoken, Cutter had snitched, fucking stabbed him the back. Mother. Fucker. And even Now, walking down the rows, the leaves a procession of sticky fronds, touching him like he was blessed and they were beggars in the street, even Now he could not quite believe what he knew without reservation–

The horn wailing.

It was just him and the field for a moment, the soil munificent beneath his feet, the air hot and deep and chemical tinctured. The leaves lapping, springing back to turgid form. Rows of radial green, puckered in the sun, sopping, heavy with engineering, fanning out in Euclidean glory, into something children could clearly see flying at cruising altitude to some American city–

The horn wailing.

He did not want to think. He made a sound.

The horn wailing.

So you decide to trust. You take your social fate, crumple it into a little ball and you say, ‘Here, you take it.’ And you don’t just give it to just anyone. He felt it then, the webbing inside, the great nets used to keep all the performers safe, he felt it all yank away, and he understood the fear of heights, the vertigo of falling from grace. It all yawed about him, the consequences. He reeled for all the confrontations, all the lies, all the mouths that would form his name from the clay of ill-willed exhalations. Step. Dad roaring, hammering the table, his face red and implacable with the-rage-that-always-won. Step. The farmhouse in the distance, a placid cube, shadowed accordingly, eggshell thin, with a woman curled on a cheap double in an upstairs bedroom. Step. Cutter grinning, shaking his gaze at God Almighty. Stop–

The horn wailing.

He paused breathing, stared down the gentle slope of the gentle earth, gazed across the spilled blocks of the kilns, to the barns, equipment or otherwise. The lanes seemed gravelled in chalk. The trees seemed to hunch over nocturnal pools–

The horn wailing.

He began running. The leaves swatting him like a playing card over whirring spokes. Low impact earth. It all comes to us from the outside, every fucking instant of This… stitched together, sutured into almost seamless wholes. His stride evened and the world steadied, the near hurtling about-behind-beneath, the far crawling around, becoming motionless as it climbed the quilted horizon. It becomes one unto itself for the mere lack of anything intervening. The brain has no taste. Running fluidly, as only the young can run, breathing easily, but feeling the loping effort consume his wind, demand more and more and more. A thing hoisted about an amnesiac hole, continually forgetting its physically mandated division, and so appearing as a perpetual whole. Running not out of fear or alarm or anything more easy than obvious, but for loss and losing. What it has to be like, from the locus of a integrated information system embedded within and utterly dependent upon something far vaster. Harley. He had to speak to her, he had to make sure she was alright, he had to take her away. All there could be for such a system is what passed within and through it–nothing more. This place was no longer safe, not for a fallen wife, a wanton boy-fucker, who in the imaginations of the primers had to hunger for all of them. What was encapsulated–

The horn wailing.

Consciousness is simply what happens when the absence of absence binds information together–

The horn wailing.

Into the kilnyard, still running, but clinging to his momentum, so that his feet and arms wagged like a staggering doll’s, leaning against his knees, sucking air, listening to the hiss and rumble of the kill-kill-kiln furnaces, the rattle-rush of their fans. Listening to them cure, recovering his wind in grimaces–

The horn wailing, somewhere over the curve of the world.

X

(1984)

He risked the gravel lanes, slouched to the barn. His thighs burned. His lungs ached, the sky was so kife. Rather than open the screen door to the bunkroom he called through it. He could see them, the primers, hunched like socialist conspirators around the table, talking in low serious tones. It was his turn to pull a heavy.

The horn wailing nasal with distance, on and on, like an alarm clock in an empty house. Jerry sitting in the dust, weeping, waving his smoke in random, collapsing ovals. Sucking blue.

“Cutter,” Dylan called.”Come on out here. I need to talk to you…”

Remarkable, really, the amount of self-possession he expressed in that moment. But that’s the thing about guilt: it makes you cold. We forget that courage is a function of self-preservation like everything else. Another way to preserve information.

“Wierdsma…” the man said booting the door open the way everyone did. “Imagine that. We were just talking about you…”

“Imagine that,” Dylan repeated, retreating from the door, walking down the drive where it bordered the side of the barn.

It always starts before it starts, the ‘you-no-you’ yo-yo. We carry it in our tone and our posture, the mien of the persecuted, teeth gritted behind a slack face, gaze daring. Before mouthing the voice of God, you must ape His attitude.

Not so different from this

“So waz up?” Cutter asked,

A nervous glance at the screen door, a why-bother sigh. Privacy was irrelevant, Dylan realized, but the habits of discretion are the hardest habits of all. The thin blare of the radio–Tears for Fears–relieved him.

“You told him,” Dylan said.

Shout, the radio rasped. Let it all out

Cutter squinted. A heartbeat of silent laughter, then the man remembered himself. “He’s my friend. Who the fuck are you?”

“I thu-thu-thought–”

Fist balled beneath an accusing finger. Eyes wagging heavenward. “You thu-thu-thought wrong.”

“No, you! You’re the fuck–”

“Let me guess. I be-be-betrayed you? Listen to yourself! You fucked her, man.” He wrapped his expression around something like outrage and astonishment, but his teeth were too carnivorous to make it convincing. “You fucked Harley!”

Inside versus outside.

(So where were you?)

Even in this reversal, Cutter was utterly consistent. Convenience had always been the axiom of his coalition building; as soon as his friendship with Dylan became inconvenient he suddenly realized that Dylan had never been his friend. An enviable genius if you think about it. Guilt ties us to so many fools.

Those of you who’ve been in fist-fights know that things are rarely clear in instances of physical confrontation. The boundary between words and blows is far muddier than any law or fiction allows. You never think, “And Now I’m going to hit him,” you simply find yourself hitting him. One second you’re standing there talking, shouting, the next second you’re standing there whaling–as if the transition were as natural and inevitable as your bodily functions.

Dylan cracked Cutter hard in the cheek, and he staggered back, arms and elbows raised to shield his face. Savagery had seized Dylan, as vicious and pointed as all animal acts.

“Fucker!” he spat, speaking the word in its native voice. “Cocksucker!”

Whack-whack-whack.

Perhaps it was outrage. Perhaps it was the arm-wrestles that had emboldened him. Perhaps it was love. Either way, for a moment Dylan was utterly certain that he could pound Cutter, hammer him into abject submission, show him who was stronger–who was right.

Then it hit him the way it always did–the hesitation. His fists suddenly became light, balloon buoyant.

Those of you who’ve been in numerous fist fights know how it works, how winning evaporates, becomes a disjoint dance of strikes fouled by strikes…

How it steams into losing.

Haze. Decoupled shock. There’s no pain–too much adrenalin for that. Just concussions stripped to their physical essentials. Tissue deforming, springing back. Capillaries snapping, shearing like rebar in mammalian concrete. Edemas forming.

Confusion and disorientation. The first real pain came from scraping his palms on the gravel as he toppled out of a pirouette. His body clutched and cringed to protect itself from the boots to the face, but aside from a certain heat and thickness, the kicks were devoid of content. He could have been a cardboard box–

The horn wailing.

He remembered the sound of gravel cracking beneath workboots, tasting dust across his gums, blood welling about a loosened tooth. He remembered huddling beneath Cutter’s sun-spliced shadow, cramps of grief and outrage where thought should have been. A fetal curl, like Jerry against his tire, or Harley across her bed. It seemed no posture could be more natural–more true.

Cutter laughed the way a hockey player might after a great shift on the ice. Just a game, but still

“Pu-pu-pu-pussy!” he cackled. “Proud of yourself, eh? Eh?” He spat into the grass, laughed. “Fucking pussy faggot.”

Then he ambled away, hunched against the breeze to light another cigarette.

Dylan drove home trying not to cry. What-the-fuck. What-the-fuck. The catechism of the injured, of those who make weals of their sins. What-the-fuck, hissed without the question mark, because it was not a question at all. The child in us knows that we always deserve what we get–simply because we got it.

We all have beatings written into us.

A million years of them.

More.

Remember this the next time you flinch.

Light, Time, and Gravity (XI)

by rsbakker

No matter how radical you pretend to be.

78

(Inapplicable)

One of the most astounding things about the boundary between consciousness and unconsciousness is its plasticity.

Why do I no longer recognize Dylan?

Because so much that was implicit for him has become explicit to me. I can Now represent those things he could only repeat.

Doesn’t this signify some kind of triumph, some movement of self-overcoming?

In the centuries long scramble to ground knowledge, the long search for some imperial fact that escapes the plebeian nets of context, some Archimedean Point, we have ignored the one thing we know for certain makes knowledge possible: ignorance.

Is ignorance a function of context, or is it absolute? Was the ignorance of the ancient Sumerians something radically different than our own?

Here’s the thing: ignorance is not a thing. Once ignorance explicitly enters into our language games (or whatever the fuck you want to call them), it ceases to be ignorance and becomes a kind of knowledge.

Ignorance, true ignorance, is invisible.

It’s not as though you could make two columns, one containing all the known facts, the other containing all the unknown facts. If we assume as much, it’s because the only way we can get a grip on ignorance is by comparing what we know Now as opposed to what we once knew or anticipate knowing.

Ignorance is invisible because ignorance possesses no content. Only through comparative differences in knowledge can we see its shadow. Only because we can know more.

Here’s one of many things Dylan could never get past when it came to contextualism: despite all its emphasis on the performative dimensions of language and knowledge–despite being temporal–it never seemed capable of digesting time. If facts are functions of normative contexts, it stands to reason that the facts of one normative context are not necessarily the facts of another. This is why, as a good contextualist, you might say that, sure, ancient Sumerian claims don’t fare well in our normative contexts, but that doesn’t mean their world was any less factual.

This doesn’t seem to difficult to swallow–after all, it’s a long way to ancient Sumer. But consider what happens when you begin shrinking the distance: would a good contextualist also want to say that, sure, Dylan’s claims don’t fare well in my normative contexts, but that doesn’t mean his world is any less factual? I would certainly disagree with this: Dylan lived in a dream world–comparatively speaking.

And so did the ancient Sumerians, for that matter.

This is the curious thing with contextualism: if facts are functions of normative contexts at a certain point in time, then, in the absence of any way to assess the continuity of contexts, each instant becomes a kind of cognitive solitude, and every passing moment drops in the bag with ancient Sumer. Any attempt to assess the continuity of contexts becomes the function of yet another, subsequent context–another this… Comparative claims become impossible, not simply across cultures and ages, but across individuals and heartbeats as well.

When you read contextualists, however, you notice they’re careful to fudge and smear, to rely on the readers’ implicit assumptions of contextual continuity–which is to say, context independent facts. This is one respect, at least, where Derrida’s brand of contextualism, which arose out of considerations of time and temporality, was more honest to the extremities buried in the contextualist implicature. You might say his radical deferral was nothing less than a demolition of contextualism pitched as its apotheosis.

Since nothing makes sense without the possibility of comparative claims, we might as well recycle Rorty into rolling papers. Our ignorance is our line to the Unconditioned, the reason why we can always say we know more, despite the swamp of circumstances. Here’s the thing: we were born. Consciousness arises out of nothing. Our birth marks the point where the Absolute breaches the relative.

All knowledge is anchored in the womb. Absence is the Mother of all.

I was an idiot when I was a kid. A tragic one. Is this is my cogito?

But of course, this isn’t ‘my’ cogito at all. This is the cogito we all rely on all the time. It is the pragmatic foundation of all knowledge. Memory and story.

The Archimedean Haze.

Thanks to his ignorance, Dylan is the impervious foundation of all my knowledge. He is my lever, my world tipping fulcrum. Even though I can’t say this or that has to be true, I can say I know more than he did, and not just differently.

Now if only it were enough.

79

(1984)

It started first thing in the morning, at the tying machine. Jerry began calm, explaining how the curing process works, how so many leaves per stick are required for a quality product, and how a quality product is required to turn a profit. But with Missy firing her questions and observations, it quickly turned into a mild shouting match.

“Don’t worry about them!” Jerry finally cried in a huff. “Let me look after those assholes! That’s my job, not yours…”

Not more than an hour afterward, Gilles arrived with Kyle for another surprise inspection. Dylan saw him march around the tying machine the same stomping air, the same eyes-forward angry face that people use to warn off others. After flopping one of the (considerably heavier) sticks on the ground, he began shouting at the girls. Apparently the infraction was so obvious that actually counting leaves was an unnecessary formality. All Dylan could hear was Missy screech in the tone of crows: “Fuck off! Jerry said! When you sign my fucking checks! When you. Sign. My fucking checks!”

Dylan was about a minute or so climbing down out of the kiln. He silently thanked Christ he had passed on the acid. “Hey-hey-hey-hey…” he said as he waded into the battle.

Gilles was irate, alternately grinning and sneering. He held his cigarette out in a wide-armed gesture, his head ducked in a suspended what-the-fuck shrug every time he resumed his fulminations. “This is boollshit, man!” he shouted at Dylan as he approached. “What you doing to us, eh? Fucking boollshit, man!”

“Gilles!” Dylan said. “Gilles… It’s a fucking job, man. A shit job. What did you expect?”

“You fuck us, we fuck you! Fair is fair, eh? Eh? Fair is fair, man.”

“Why don’t you dump more oil in your hair?” Missy cried. “Fucking frog faggot!”

Gilles laughed, utterly unfazed. “I buy your ass, eh, baby?” he snapped back. “In Quebec we love cheese!”

This was when Missy began snapping butts from the leaves and whipping them at the man. The first one missed and Gilles cackled, only to yelp when the next one nailed him on the cheek. Missy was a lifelong ballplayer, and her arm showed it. The butts fairly buzzed through air, and Gilles danced back, swearing, dropping his smoke. He retreated to the pick-up truck–Kyle had avoided the commotion by concentrating on swapping out the loads. Gilles hung his head out the window, shouting and cackling, as the pickup grumbled out toward the fields. “I ate chilleee for dinnair last night! I ate chilleeeee!”

“Fucking frog faggot!” Missy shrieked after him.

Ghetto began crying, refused to work. She kept blubbering something that Dylan couldn’t make out until Missy explained that she still had nightmares about the last time “they” shit in the baggies. It turned out she was weeping in the language of modern philosophy, German.

“Fucking animals!” Missy spat with a scathing certainty that only teenage girls could muster. “Freaks! I’ll quit too! Seriously!”

“Could we just fill the fucking kill, please? Jeezus!”

This was about when Jerry rolled up with his pickup truck.

“What the fuck!” he bellowed from his passenger window. “Let’s! Go!”

Missy’s face went apoplectic with indignation. “Fuck this!” she burst out, exploring new dimensions of shrill. “I!” she shouted over her shoulder as she started marching across the kilnyard, “Fucking! Quit!

This hit Jerry like a heart attack–he looked at Dylan for a panicked moment before flinching at the weakness he had revealed. The terror of fucking up–and so becoming one. (We all know we’re fuck ups, people like us.) The terror of little boys pretending to be men.

The big man stomped on the accelerator, cut two tracks into the turf chasing after Missy. He pulled parallel to her marching figure and the two shared inaudible words. Dylan found himself stranded with an inconsolable Ghetto and a stupefied Frankenhead. He looked to the two of them and the two of them looked to him–seeking leadership, Dylan assumed.

“I’m sure…” he began, only to run out of words. The radio crooned to the tin crunch of “Don’t Stop Believing.”

“Madness!” he said on an explosive breath. He shook his head, wagged his eyes to heaven.

Her eyes round with unheimlichkeit, Ghetto cried something that sounded like, “Unterbooger snottin untershitten boogershit.” That’s what it sounded like, anyway.

“What?”

“She says you are strange,” Frankenhead said with a meek dip of her chin.

“Does she know I’m hung like Jesus?”

That triggered a gutteral blast of German, crazed enough to make Hitler sound effeminate. Language of philosophy, my ass.

Dylan nodded, too bewildered to be wounded. Fuck Ghetto anyway, the weepy bitch. He glanced nervously at Jerry’s truck which continued to pace Missy’s march to the driveway. He sighed in relief when the  brake lights flared on.

“See,” he said to the two Mennonite women, nodding toward the sight of Missy coming around to get into the passenger seat of the red shining Dodge. The big man wheeled the truck around with a roar, then braked to let her out. She paused half-turned in the passenger seat as Jerry spoke to her, and Dylan found himself staring at her crotch, at the convergence of tendons, and the white panty bulging past the high-cut denim. He imagined kissing the hot-skin there, imagine the smell of feminine musk. She glanced up, caught him blinking and shaking his head.

She jumped out of the truck, flashed him a big-tooth grin as Jerry tore two more strips in the grass, gunning for the fields. Her eyes sparkled with unvoiced laughter.

“That’ll fix his wagon,” she said, her voice drenched in triumph.

“Fucking French frog.”

80

(1984)

“Jerry decked Gilles.”

This is all Kyle would say in explanation. Jerry drove out to the field to sort things out, and Kyle returned some forty minutes later with the whole priming crew reclined across their last, half-hearted baggies. Dylan and the girls continued working, unsure as to what was expected of them, while the primers hooted and hollered their way to the bunkroom. In the cracks between hamming it up, they all seemed to have the same, dopey oh-oh face that humans get when they find themselves caught in the eddies of someone else’s conflict–the look of people keen to remain extras on the set. Dylan saw the girls make eyes at each other. Jerry finally showed up as they were finishing the last of the tobacco, his truck gleaming like a jewel in the high sun.

To the girls he said, “Go home. I’ll have all of this sorted by tomorrow.”

To Dylan, who was hoping to collar Cutter and find out what had happened, he asked, “Feel like a crop tour?”

It was a crazy moment, clambering into the passenger side, a sense of physical ease cutting against the psychic impossibility–like all infidelities between word and action. The seat seemed improbably soft–bouncy. His social circumstances clotted his throat, the gum of competing loyalties, the haze of potentially disastrous consequences. Had Cutter seen him? What would the others think? What should he tell Jerr? They whisked down the dirt lanes in silence. Dylan wondered what it would be like riding shotgun in multiple vehicles simultaneously, to be a single passenger flying in multiple directions.

He finally screwed up the courage to ask what happened as they turned toward the irrigation pond.

“Got ugly,” was all that Jerry would say.

Once at the pond, the big man turned down the tunes. It looked like he was about to reach for his one-grammer, then seemed to think better of it.

“I just need–” Jerry began saying. Something choked his voice to a rusty hinge. He started blinking uncontrollably, then turned away, shouldered open the driver’s side door. Without explanation he simply walked into the fields, his back turned to Dylan in the truck. He paused about four or five plants in.

Dylan watched him weep.

The tobacco hung motionless around the crying man, utterly indifferent, insensate. And the world hung about that, the great hollow. It was all too much. The door ajar. The smell of tobacco and upholstery that had soaked up too much old life. The great shoulders heaving. The head hung into ministering hands. The sound of lungs forcing their way past a barricaded throat. It was as if some motherly palm simply pressed Dylan’s cheek toward the stagnant pond–some numb instinct of embarrassment. He even hung his head out the window, as if studying the ground just below his door. Where not covered with thatched grasses, the dust of the lane was covered with overlapping tire tracks. He saw an area of scuffing and the stamping of familiar footprints. In a rush he realized that was where he had stepped out of the truck the last time–to better pull up his pants.

Jerry snuffled somewhere beyond his periphery, murmured curses to rally himself. “Fuck!” he whined. “Fuck!

There’s a peculiar after-image of tenderness belonging to people who knew you as a small child, a sense having stood in their benign shadow. Dylan thought about Harley moaning into his mouth, pressing her smile against the shaft of his cock. You knew that you were special to them, that they would protect you for the sake of an innocence you had lost long ago. He thought of her panties, how they had been soaked before he had even touched her. You could see it in the way they smiled at you, a kind of marvelling in their eyes, as if they could never quite believe how quickly or how fiercely you had grown. He remembered fearing the roughness of his hands the instant he plumbed her, wondering if he could contract an STD through the cracks in his skin. And you understood what it entailed, having been a child in the shadow of another. He could see her, a second head rising from the root of his cock, that image of pornographic nursing. You understood community in its most profound, atavistic sense, the transitive logic of generational burdens. He could feel the tracks it had laid through the meat of him, coming into her mouth, the memory of some primal expenditure. You realized that time, despite all appearances, was symmetrical, that we died in the shadows of those we had once overshadowed.

A bolt of terror cracked through him: Jerry climbing back into the cab. Dylan turned his profile to him, rigid with pathos and turmoil.

“It’s just that… I try so hard you know?” the big man said, staring into the aether. He wiped his nose on the back of his shirt sleeve. “You know what I’m talking about? I try… I really fucking try…”

With each repetition of ‘try’ his voice seemed to regress to that of an wavering eight-year-old. Dylan sat carefully staring at the dash. Jerry remained motionless for a moment, fraught with unseen isometric burdens. He cleared his throat with a melodramatic har-haroom. Something seemed to seize the man after that, a realization of some kind, or a sudden turn of the heart toward the masculine, perhaps.

He remembered himself.

He cranked the tunes to a decent background volume, struggled to work his one-grammer clear of his too-tight pocket. Time to get high. Something of the old, boyish smile climbed back into his face.

Everyone knows that other people are the problem.

Always watching.

81

(Indeterminate)

Ah, these poor people.

Scarred by history, by capital, by corporate conditioning, by modernity, by this or that cultural toxicity.

All those poor… deluded… people…

83

(1984)

She grabs the trunk of him, where skin pulled thin rises from goose-blond hair–she grabs him. She raises the hollow of her mouth, lips pulled into a sponge circle about a kneeling tongue. The heat of another heart mounts the burning tip of him, and all is wet delirium. Now. He cannot breath, so he gasps and convulses. Her mouth pops free and she smiles and groans, “Yesssss…” not in affirmation, nor even in approval, but in prediction, and he knows she has imagined this, that she has imagined him like this, heaving in her mouth, pulsing across her tongue.

She too has fantasized.

84

(Inapplicable)

Nuclear explosions. To think, chalk symbols on a blackboard delivered that baby…

Think Hiroshima. Now there’s a Big Burning Bush.

Face it. We just have no stomach for the message. So we pray-pray-pray for cloud cover to scrub the human mission.

We pray for Kokura. “Please God…” we murmur.

Let others burn for our sins.

85

(1984)

She bobs and licks, heat snaking across wet, and he shudders to the electric glide, to the vestigial whisk of teeth, drawn in and outward, her mouth peeling back petals with every stroke, baring him to the point… to the point… to the spit whistling between clenched teeth, to the grunt, to the spasm, to the jetting heat, and he slumps, his fingers slack against her hair, her mouth Now soothing cool–cold even–and she leaves him hanging, inside-out-hard, swallowing, saying, “Men are so easy,” [16] with a kind of husky, why-am-I-surprised affection…

His pelvis tightens and he shifts uncomfortably. There is a cord loose within him, beneath the muscles and around the bone, and it pulls tight and slackens with the rhythm of a retarded child.

She makes a yuk face. Picks a hair from her tongue.

[16] It is encircled by the conviction of sufficiency.

87

(Indeterminate)

It’s impossible to live as we have lived, professing, judging with our every breath, and to not become judgmental. We look at people, decide who’s serious and who’s not, who’s wasting our oh-so valuable time, and who’s onto something–which is to say, who agrees. We’re careful with our eyes, lest we let embarrassment gull us into wasting our breath on philistines. We hold others responsible for the fact that our arguments are toothless. We make our inability to convince evidence of a fallen world.

Down the rows we walk, shaking our eyes at heaven.

89

(Inapplicable)

Humans make due–whether they want to or not.

The absence of history is continuity. Ignorance is our existential glue. We only feel fragmentation when it cuts against our assumptions, or even worse, our nature. For carnival souls raised in carnival cultures, ‘post-modern fragmentation’ can only be a kind of affectation, a specialized form of posturing.

Words. Symbols. No matter how much history we heap upon them, they come to us Now–always Now. A tremendous amount of training is required to cringe, like Adorno, at the sound of Latin crashing into ancient Greek.

So the question came to me: When I talk fragmentation, am I revealing some unaccountably obscure semantic fact or am I manufacturing one?

Everyone fears, especially when they are young. Everyone worries, especially when they find themselves stranded in an enormous and alien institution. And there I was, providing them a totalizing diagnosis, talking about the most complicated system in the universe–the social coordination of human brains–as if it could be known, summarized and dismissed.

Trying to show them how the fat and torpid were actually starved and beaten.

90

(Indeterminate)

Small wonder only a handful of them ever believed. The eager ones. The sensitive ones. The ones ever so keen to be taken seriously. And I felt vindicated in the intelligence of my transient disciples, redeemed in their false redemption. My harvest.

Others simply accessorized. They would adopt this or that taste, this or that yardstick. They were too busy constructing identities for themselves to take anything I said all that seriously. I would hear them po-pooing commercial television, lampooning backward family members. I would hear them talk about all the cultural artifacts they used to love–

Brittny Spears? Can you believe it?”

Some ‘guilty pleasures’ were so camp they could only be cool. But all of them had become baubles, totems and fetishes of the lesser castes. Things you wear, not to express solidarity, but to broadcast how thoroughly you have overcome your benighted origins.

“I just can’t read that shite anymore.”

Only those who despised me truly saw me for the murderer I was. But they overgeneralized, as all humans are prone. For the rest of their lives, whenever they caught wind of ‘critique,’ or ‘intellectual,’ or any of the Latinate bangles that festoon us, they smelled me

And voted accordingly.

91

(Inapplicable)

Why is culture broken? Why is the human animal so confused?

Set aside your semiotic confusion, your mangled intellectual and economic histories–set aside your addiction to the same–and consider a different answer:

Counter to our adaptation, we find ourselves stranded with a thousand strangers. Counter to our adaptation, we find ourselves emotionally dependent upon people who are materially irrelevant, and materially dependent on people who are emotionally irrelevant. Counter to our adaptation, we find ourselves global, when we are local through and through. Counter to our adaptation, we find ourselves confronted by continuous, technologically mediated change.

And so it goes. Our ability to manufacture our environment has outstripped our ability to cope with our manufactured environment. We batter our hearts with depictions of sex and violence because of our hardwired attention preferences. We swaddle our egos with flattery and certainty because of our hardwired cognitive shortcomings. We endlessly cry, Me! Me! Me! because we are adapted to scarcity, and in times of hunger, it is the jealous soul [17] that wins.

We raise false cultures of self-aggrandizement because we can afford to fool ourselves as never before–you’re living proof!

Horseshit, you say. Speculative, scientistic horseshit.

Sure… But compared to what?

To your interpretative acumen? Your semantic sensitivities? Your hermeneutic training and years of armchair erudition?

Your grandiose theoretical ambitions?

Christ, Dude.

At least the fundamentalists have the Holy Ghost.

[17] It has been mistaken for a ‘soul.’

92

(Inapplicable)

Wholeness is the shape of the fragmentation that afflicts us. Encapsulation. This is why humans both always make mistakes and make due.

94

(1984)

Pretend it never happened. Act as if, and it will be so. This far-and-away was Dylan’s favourite form of conflict resolution. And why not? Wilful amnesia is probably the greatest peacemaker known to the human race.

Everyone showed up as per normal the morning following the fight between Jerry and Gilles in the fields. They even shot-the-shit as per normal, though eye contact was either too incidental or too direct. Even Gilles, whose left eye was nearly swelled shut, seemed to conduct himself in a business-as-usual way. Because they had finished over a third of the kiln the previous day, they even managed to finish shortly after noon. This was when Cutter cornered Dylan: as everyone shuffled back to the bunkroom for more cards and drinking. He wore the wetback uniform like everyone else, a filthy button-up over a filthy T. His face seemed improbably clean beneath his ratty old crappy tire cap, like Burt Lancaster playing a refugee from the Great Depression. That should have been my first clue: the fact that Cutter had shaved.

“So what the hell happened there yesterday?” Dylan asked, assuming the man wanted to talk about the previous day’s hysterics.

Cutter sucked on his smoke, flicked it as he exhaled. “Just more bullshit…”

“Yeah, right…”

Chiclet grin. Then the conversation took a turn for the cliff’s edge.

“Gilles says that Thierry saw you drive into the fields with Harley.”

Fucking Thierry. In his mind’s eye, Dylan could see him nestled on his top bunk reading French novels in the bunkroom’s cobweb light. Positioned on the far wall, a glance would be all it would take: there, through the small window that opened onto the driveway and the farmhouse beyond, Dylan and Harley standing–a little too close?–in a puddle of high-sun shadows. Or an image of faces, blank and blue behind the shining windshield.

Fucking crazee, dose guys.

Dylan snorted as though at something amazing in a boring way. “Yeah. She’s real worried about Jerry.”

“Huh?”

“Because of you guys.”

Accusation as a form of misdirection. That this was the kind of trick that Cutter himself would use never occurred to Dylan until years afterward, when he began cataloguing his short history with the guy.

When he turned to theory as an analgesic.

“Us guys?”

“What? You think Jerry isn’t stressed out about all this madness? Trust me, this is hands down the most fucked up farm I’ve worked on.”

The man grinned.

“You fucked her, didn’t you?”

95

(Indeterminate)

No. No. No.

He was always such a horrible liar. Unlike me.

Secrets are the yardstick of trust. Lacking the benefit of my wisdom, Dylan was naive enough to think trust was something you extended to people. The more you trusted someone, the more they were your friend.

He was also desperate to be liked–it was one of the things that made him so unlikeable.

As a result, he was often inclined to use trust as a kind of tool. If friendship [18] made for trust, then perhaps trust could make friendships as well. And so he suffered the disagreeable habit of wearing his heart on his sleeve.

He did not realize, the way you and I do, that trust is as much a matter of circumstances as is it people–if not more so. Secrets are gold in the everyday economy of social life. And as any economist will tell you, whether people hoard or spend generally depends on the prevailing economic climate. Maybe your friend has a hard time convincing people to listen to him. Maybe your friend finds himself in the company of people he trusts. Maybe your friend is inclined to make the very same mistake you did when you told him.

It all depends on the circumstances.

Trust is simply the skin we bare to the future. Our most honest face, and therefore our most foolish one.

[18] It understands that it must resort to norms when dealing with others, because that is how it happens.

 

96

(1984)

Dylan could only be relentless with imaginative things. It could sit for hours detailing his invasion of the South Pacific, or outlining yet another fantasy novel he would never write.

Cutter, on the other hand, was relentless in the manner of hungry wolves and self-made millionaires. He only pursued things with taste.

“I can see it in you, you know.”

“See what.”

“Sin.”

“Give it a rest.”

“She has a big bush, doesn’t she?”

“The biggest. I found that cigarette lighter you accused me of steal–”

“Ah! Ah! I fucking knew it!”

“What? C’mon, man. I was just jo–”

You fucked Harley!” the grinning man cried, a palm raised to his forehead. “Jeeesuz!” He laughed, held Dylan frozen in his marvelling gaze.

“Look…”

“You dirty motherfucker!”

It seems clear to me Now that Dylan understood, that he knew full well that this doofus tell-me-what-it-was-like teenager routine wasn’t Cutter. But the simple fact was that Dylan had ached to tell his story, not simply to his buddies in St. Thomas, but to someone who shared this world, to someone who could really or potentially witness what he described.

“So? So?”

And Cutter especially… To have accomplished something the man openly envied. To have banged a woman he had dreamed of banging. Cutter. Harley

“So what?”

We all strive to make ourselves real through the fact of other people. To make the interpersonal the ground of the metaphysical. To spin strength out of admiration.

“How big was her bush?”

Light, Time, and Gravity (X)

by rsbakker

I think that was when the truth first grinned at me, warm and toothless.

59

(1984)

Scarface had already been out in VHS for some time, but because so many of them watched movies together in the bunkhouse, it seemed that the farm discovered it all at once. In a sense, it was a watershed flick for Dylan: the first time he found himself genuinely disliking a movie that everyone–and I literally mean everyone–he knew absolutely adored.

It was his first clear symptom of my disease.

His argument struck him as obvious enough: everything was ‘over-the-top’ in the movie. He was relentless in his criticisms with his longtime friends, declaring “that movie is shit, ca-caaa…” whenever it came up in conversation. He was implicitly learning that the ability to discriminate deviations between representations and reality could carve out a privileged social identity. Who was Dylan? Dylan was the guy who could see through Scarface.

His friends accepted this, understood that he was acting in a manner consistent with his unfortunate, but ultimately forgivable, character. It’s knobs all the way down. The farm, however, posed a peculiar challenge. For the primers, Scarface, a comic book discourse on extra-legal dominance hierarchies, had been sacralized as that thing that binds divisive souls. The script had become their book of prayer.

A religion of fucking one-liners.

In the morning, when you asked anyone how it was hanging, odds were you’d hear, “Every day above ground is a good day.” For some reason, “The world, Chico,” became the meaningless phrase of choice, the thing people would just say, mowing on a donut, finishing a beer, drying their hands after coming out of the can. For reasons just as mystifying, people started crying, “Whaddya want?” in response–a kind of social dyslexia that everyone tacitly agreed to understand.

There was the ever popular, “Why don’t jou try stickin’ jou head up jour ass–see if it fits?” Or, “You wanna waste my time?” and, “You gotta make the money first.” And of course, “I always tell the troot, even when I lie,” though for some reason this evolved into “I always tell the troot, even when I lie down.” It was just one of those stupid things that made everyone howl, not because it was funny in itself, but because of the crazy-ass circumstances (more Orange Owl acid) that had given birth to it.

And everyone but everyone said, “Say goodnight to the bad guy,” as they were leaving–but only so long as someone else hadn’t said it within the previous hour.

It was a coup of sorts, being the first to recognize that window of opportunity and to seize it. And nobody, of course, had the knack quite like Cutter.

“Say goodnight,” he would crack through his crazy-contagious grin. “Say goodnight to the badguy.”

60

(1984)

How people responded to these quips became a way to gauge the ever-evolving group dynamic.

Buke’s mistake, aside from being born a knob, would be to fasten onto Scarface as a kind of flag, as something to be self-consciously touted. Everyone ignored him the first few times, the way you politely overlook your retard cousin at the Christmas dinner table. But Cutter let loose on him after a time.

Dylan often pondered people like Buke, primarily because he worried that he suffered a version of the same disease. The guy was what we Canadians like to call ‘offside.’ He was the perpetual loose thread in the weave of character and interaction that made up the priming crew, the one who just never seemed to get the warp and weft of things.

He knew this. You could see it in his face, his posture–the way he always stood as though pressing his head against some unseen canvas ceiling. He seemed to broadcast a veritable stew of unconscious bodily cues running the whole gamut of negative frequencies: self-pity, resentment, frustration, rage. Whenever the centring-out laughter waxed too bright, he had this way of taking off his glasses and squinting into what must have been a world of spilled watercolours… Dylan found it damn near heartbreaking–sometimes.

He was the man hated. The fucking goat. And yet he would try, and try, and try…

And you could feel it, the fact that he was on the outside, perpetually drawn to the light of more effortless souls. You knew that all he wanted was to be let in, nothing more, nothing less. So what do you do? You bristle.

Think, Fuck that guy

So he would say, “The world, Chico, and everything in it,” and a spark of indignation would leap through you. Part of you would think that he’s ruining things, that he’s taking shared things, living things, and posing them like corpses. Then you would glance at the others…

“You like that line, eh, Buke?” Cutter said after one of his quotes.

“What do you mean?”

“That line. You like it?”

“That whole fucking movie! It’s awesome.”

Cutter wagged his eyes, pretended to laugh along. “Not as awesome as you, man. You just keep on rocking, Buke.”

In other words, Leave our fucking movie alone

‘Taking a hint,’ is a big thing among us humans. Saying things without saying them automatically divides your listeners into those who ‘get it’ and those who ‘just don’t get it.’ Play games with language in mixed company, and you sort people–it really is as simple as that. This is as true of a literary masterpiece as it is of a dinner party, though I know you like to conceal this fact with any number of institutional myths.

You experience this every time you ‘click’ with somebody, the convergence of interpretative frames. Sometimes this click is existential, sometimes merely circumstantial–a matter of convenience. There were rivalries and dislikes among the primers, sure, but there was a deeper understanding, a realization that time had to be killed, so why not kill it having fun? So they carved each other, continually traded the little fuck-yous that we use to cement group identity. They made tools of the literal.

It wasn’t that Buke was oblivious: he could see enough to make innumerable clumsy attempts at the game. What he could never wrap his head around was that he could never be a player because he had been made part of the field. Every rink needs a net. When Gilles called you a fag you laughed and called him a fag back–and maybe threw in something about frogs for good measure. When Buke called you a fag you said, “What did you call me?” then laughed with the others as he beat a hasty retreat–or even better, lost his temper.

“Buke. Buke. What’s your fucking problem, man? It was just a joke…”

Peer groups are the only labyrinths without exits.

Damning you no matter what you do.

Or cheering.

61

(1984)

Despite his fears, Dylan was no Buke. The kinds of mistakes he made were different both in kind and origin. His problem, you might say, was that he possessed too much social circuitry rather than too little. He was quick enough, funny enough, to be accorded the status of a player, but one who was continually being caught offside. People hesitated before passing him the puck–you could see it. So for instance, when Gilles put Scarface in their beaten VCR one lunch in an attempt to decide an argument about Michele Pfeiffer’s rhinoplastic nose, Dylan made the mistake of asking, “What is it about this flick?”

“It’s cool, man.”

“Like dat part, eh? You know dat part?”

“Cool.”

“But,” Dylan persisted, “it’s like… like a cartoon. Like the scene at the end, with the gun. C’mon. Gimme a fucking break. Like, how fucking real is that?”

Where does this contrary instinct come from?

“Who you made you a fucking critic?” Cutter cried.

We make hash of this attitude in our circles, the it-is-what-it-is. We’re so intent on circumventing it (or so disgusted by our failure to) that somehow we’ve forgotten to ask what it is. As a result we fail to realize (as so many of our students do) that we share this attitude through and through, that we object to the locus and not the application. Difference is we like to stash our it-is-what-it-is out of sight, in thickets of theory dense enough to simulate First Philosophy.

“It’s fucking ridiculous, man.”

“Ridiculous. You would know about that.”

You get this sense when you commit a grave social error. A kind of who-can-I-trust confusion, regret for backlighting. Instinctively you try to recoup your losses, either by steering clear of the issue, a tacit nonverbal admission of guilt, [15] or by returning to it in different ways, ways that deflate the offending incident, relieve the cloying pressure. So Dylan began referring to the primers as the “Five Al Pacinos.”

“Here comes another one. Al-fucking-Pacino.”

This seemed to work, but the memory of the difference lingered, a telling stain in the farm’s social underwear.

It was almost as bad as the time he referenced Conan in his first-year English class.

[15] It does what happens, it does not sin.

63

(Present)

You like subtlety and understatement. You like those things that confirm the sensitivity of your discerning eyes. You like searching for sparks in the banalities, for the small truths you like to think strike you in small moments of your days. I mean, who looks at trees quite the way you do? You like books that remind you of you, meek and reflective, dog-paddling across the deep end, tepid with imagined passion. Authors who say what they mean, who speak directly to the point or to you, you think ham-fisted, obnoxious–and most damning of all, as literal as the alienated out-group masses you pretend to understand better than they understand themselves.

You gotta be Nietzsche to get away with shit like this

You gotta be dead.

64

(Indeterminate)

Fucking Scarface.

Decades would pass before I understood that humans, either directly or indirectly, were instinctively drawn to over-the-top representations. That the tastes Dylan had acquired in university had nothing to do with aesthetics and everything to do with dominance hierarchies. The best way to privilege your own position, to make yourself exceptional, is to isolate this or that native affinity and declare it ugly, evil, stupid, addictive, what-have-you.

Say hello to my little friend

For years I walked down these rows, shaking my head, rolling my eyes toward heaven.

“Let me guess. It just is what it is, huh?”

You never really forget that undergraduate terror, do you? Not really. Oh, sure, you’re friendly and funny and charming and open and personable. You brag to your colleagues by voicing oblique ‘concerns’ with the ‘comfort level’ in your classes. But still, there’s that little gas flare of irritation when they voice the same old ‘ignorances.’ And you know how fucking easy it is making them feel like fools. You know it first hand. And so you indulge yourself–no one said education was easy! For them anyway.

“I-I just don’t see why it has to be so, you know, complicated…”

“Let me guess. You think I’m just making things complicated.”

You reference your relative altitude on the authority gradient in diverse ways–tone, gesture, look–whatever it takes to engender insight and submission. Before the rows, you are the King. This is what makes a classroom a classroom.

“Well… Kinda. Aren’t you?”

Everything is more complicated. So what could be wrong with teaching people this?

The problem is that the imposition of simplicity is an inevitability. It is never undone, only rearranged.

“Let me guess…”

67

(Present)

We are so full of self-serving shit. How’s that for subtle?

Those students who instinctively write you off, who simply assume that you are gaming your institutional competencies to your own flattering advantage are probably the most astute kids in your classroom.

A bitter pill you can pretend not to chew.

It really is remarkable when you think about just how little work has been done on the sociology of you people. This is probably because we have such a hard time crawling into conceptual spaces without arguing them. We are easily embroiled. After I suffered my final skeptical turn, I found the fact that academics could still muster conviction in their own position nothing short of absurd. Who the fuck was I kidding? Did I really think my work would be anything more than a museum curiosity in a century’s time?

How about you? Do you really think that you’re on to something?

And how about this…? Do you really think this… matters?

I knew this kid growing up who used to love picking through other kid’s puke with a stick whenever opportunity afforded. Everyone would gag while he chortled, shouting things like, “Look-look! She had Cheerios for breakfast!” Always obsessed with the contents.

The fact that someone was sick never seemed to concern him. Not really.

68

(1984)

Life is an illusion that runs at right angles to the real. At some point I think we all realize as much.

Dylan dropped acid exactly five times while hanging kiln. And even though things went relatively smoothly, each was a catastrophic mistake.

Sometimes he would pretend to be Dave Bowman suited for the vacuum, listening to the palmed music of his own breath as it moved back and forth along the gantry, loading green-glowing fuel cells. Sometime he let his body do the work, slouched back into the carriage of routine movements, day-dreaming about doe-eyed Hobbits picking their way through dark and ancient forests, or violent wayfarers cutting their way to the heights of luxurious power. Sometimes he simply jerked this way and that, numbed by the infinite variations that had infected the monotony of his job. The million slivers that furred the rungs. The white stains where hornets had once fixed their gun-clip nests. The angular momentum of falling tobacco leaves: twirl, baby, twirl… That was one of the problems with acid: all those things worn seaside smooth by repetition became abrasive with texture. You always notice too much or too little when you drop El Sid.

It could make a day seem a year.

“I see ya,” Missy would say with a frowning grin that promised an easy ride. “I know those eyes…”

Acid eyes: pupils pried wide to better soak the world.

“They make you feel naked?”

“No!”

“Well, they should.”

69

(Inapplicable)

These words are writing you this very moment. You have no control over what they do to you, how they fuck with the programming below the threshold of consciousness. You simply look, and there it is, meaning, articulated chains of it, theoretical and narrative architectures, waltzing through you like Jesus. You simply look, and there you are, written, writing.

This is complete bullshit, of course.

Let’s make up a word: determinativity.

Determinativity is simply the degree of determination, the hot potato of efficacy.

So let’s say that I have the determinativity, that I’m writing you in the course of fixing these marks on the page. Or let’s say the marks themselves have the determinativity, they write you and I simply vanish into them, a kind of Foucauldian sham meant to impose order on an unruly world o’ texts. Or let’s say that you have the determinativity, that you take the words, make of them what you will. Or let’s say your unconscious has the determinativity, that you’re simply the aporetic interstice between the text and some psychodynamic subtext. Or let’s say history has the determinativity, or that culture or society or God or language has the determinativity.

Can we say that all of these things possess determinativity? None of them?

Sure. We can mix and match, recast this and tweak that, and come up with entirely new theoretical outlooks if we want. Spin the hothouse bottle.

The bottom line is that we really don’t know what the fuck we’re talking about. For better or worse, the only kind of determinativity that we can follow with enough methodological and institutional rigor to actually resolve interpretative disputes is causality–whatever the fuck that is. And that’s a fact Jack.

This means the only relatively robust things I can say about this textual transaction are naturalistic.

My behavioural output has become your environmental input, initiating a symphony of parallel neural firings, a minuscule fraction of which find their way into your conscious experience.

You are simply the skin of this transaction.

This

70

(1984)

Acid, acid, acid.

Like liquor only turned inside out along a far more manic axis of madness. The go-go-git axis.

Dylan dropped two hits the day the second thunderstorm hit. Where the first storm had simply been a gift, just enough lightning to convince Jerry to scrub their day, this one rolled in mid-morning and kept coming, wave after wave of flashing darkness–so dark they had to party with the lights turned on in the bunkroom.

The primers thoroughly owned the room by this time, so that there was a relaxed, even swaggering air. Jerry knew he wasn’t welcome, and they knew that he knew. References to the ‘fucking massah’ continually floated across the surface of their talk, spoken with as much pride as spite. They had scared the boss away from his own property, and that was no small thing.

“Say goodnight to the bad guy.”

I’ll never remember just how the arm-wrestling got started. Talk about how this or that job hardened the body in this or that way, I suppose. Typically, the consensus among primers was that kiln-hanging was a cool job because it was “like getting paid for working out.” Of course, this opinion rarely survived an actual stint in the kiln.

Either way, Dylan found himself arm-wrestling.

Sometimes acid makes everything ritualistic, so that encounters take on the air of fatalistic happenstance, like you’re a just a variable caught up in some equation. Organic chemistry. He would talk, laugh. He would blink, and there someone else would be, laughing, staring, so obviously thinking they would win. He would grab their hands mildly, let the others police all the little attempts to cheat either with grip or positioning, and then it would happen, the war of body against body, the weight of lives swinging from clutched hands.

And his bones felt like iron. Immovable.

Kyle was a cake-walk, and the first indication to the others that a surprise was in the offing. Buke, whose arms were roped in muscle, proved no real problem either, except that the combination of the acid and the guy’s bug-blinking eyes behind his glasses freaked Dylan out, made him feel like he was arm-wrestling some cartoon character. No matter whatever Buke lost–and Dylan couldn’t remember a single instance of the guy winning anything–he would shake his head as though trying the throw off bees, then say something earnest and trite, like, “Oh well, you’re obviously better at x than I am,” as if it were a catechism meant to keep far more troubling thoughts at bay. Whatever it was, it always made Dylan think about gunmen sorting the saved from the fallen in McDonalds.

In keeping with his flair for melodrama, Gilles positively threw himself into the wrestle, his face twisted into expressions only ancient Greek heros could understand. Dylan smiled, not yielding. Then with a hydraulic twist, he slowly pressed the Frenchman’s  wrist back and down. Gilles hissed spit between his clenched teeth, grunted, “Tabernac! Mudderfuck!” Everyone else, the crowd of shining bouncing faces, laughed and shouted.

“Smackdown!”

“Eh, you,” Gilles said shaking his head afterward. He was trembling, Dylan noticed. “You stronger dan you look. Fuck, man.”

Music. To be called such by men who had frightened him.

Thierry proved a challenge. He locked his arm, and for what seemed ten minutes the two of them sat bolted with motionless effort. Then, almost magically it seemed to Dylan, the guy’s arm began sinking, slowly sinking, before collapsing altogether. The Frenchman seemed positively overjoyed, as if a dramatic loss had been the finish line he’d been running toward all along. He shook Dylan’s hand like a politician.

“Crazeee!” he cried. “Crazee, fucking dat!”

Cutter came after the fifth primer.

“Why, hello, thailor,” he chimed the moment they locked hands. “Such beeeeg fingers you have!” Acid cackles from those bird-crowding around them. Buke in particular howled. At some point he had taken to laughing too hard at pretty much everything Cutter said. Ass-kisser.

There was surreality in their grip, almost as much as in their gazes. The skin of your palms is beaten to the consistency of leather when you work in tobacco, so that whenever you find yourself holding hands you can’t shake the sense of something insensate sheathing your palms and fingers, like gloves protecting what should not be protected. He felt the shock buried in every clasp.

They went right on right first, which Dylan won handily. Since Cutter was a leftie, they then went left on left, which Dylan won with only a little more effort.

Bang! and it ended in a head-scratching air.

For some reason Dylan was anything but surprised, as though he had come to the table with bodily knowledge that he could and would beat Cutter. Even stranger, he had the distinct sense that Cutter was not surprised either, that they had somehow both known, all along, back to that first day of irrigating–like it was written into the DNA of their future history or something. They would arm-wrestle, and Dylan would win–both arms.

The possibility that Cutter had let him win, that this explained the shoulder-shrug fatalism of his reaction, wouldn’t strike me until years later. Always these fucking games with him. Always the same unblinking reserve, the sense that he merely humoured your attempts to take credit for your actions. I mean, that was a golden day.

Strange the way some gifts can cut the heart right out of you.

The rest of the group seemed out-and-out shocked. Cutter had been their alpha-dog since the very beginning, a kind of Odysseus–thanks to his wit and a certain ferociousness in his appearance–leading with an unerring instinct for realpolitik. Even though both Cutter and Dylan knew that Dylan would win, the rest of the crew had assumed otherwise.

It was a jarring moment, in a strange way. Acid has a habit of broadcasting on communal frequencies, and for a moment the group found itself stuck between channels.

“Too bad, so sad,” Dylan offered in the arm-rubbing aftermath, grinning at his predatory friend.

“Look at the fucking guns on the guy!” Cutter chortled, talking his first effortless steps toward owning his loss. “I told ya!” he shouted into the general air, shaking his eyes at the woefully mistaken heavens. Turning to Dylan, he added, “They all thought you were queer, you know.”

The last person Dylan arm-wrestled should have been his first, Long Tom. The big native had hung back so far, obviously loathe to risk his bad-ass reputation in an actual test of strength. But the fact that Dylan had defeated everyone but him made it impossible for him to demure without the suggestion of cowardice. As the last man standing, he had no choice but to get his hands dirty.

The big native sat, yanking his head to flick the bolt of black silk that was his hair. The intimacy seemed grotesque, given that Dylan had never had anything resembling a conversation with Long Tom. So there was something strange about clasping his cool hand, an air of forbidding novelty. His palm was as leathery as the others, but far bigger.

Kyle, his face bright with manic thought, muttered strategy in Long Tom’s ear. “He tries to tire you out! You gotta crack the seal, I’m telling you. Hit him hard and big right from the get go.” The big native listened and nodded, all the while staring at Dylan in that gaze-communicating way, promising pain and humiliation.

Gilles held their interlocked fists and fingers in position, began counting. Van Halen wailed on the ghetto-blaster, barely heard under the chatter of shouting voices. Someone, somewhere, negotiated a bet.

When Gilles finally cried “Go!” the table creaked and cracked, such was the violence of Long Tom’s initial effort. For the first time, Dylan found himself on the defensive, his arm pulled past right angles.

But the iron bones were still there–so different from the cake they have become.

“C’mon, Tommy-boy!” Cutter grated with a cartoon grin. “You going to let the White-man put you down?”

These words pricked, the suggestion that bigger things–histories and hierarchies–might be wheeling behind and beneath the moment they held concentrated between them. When Dylan pulled their balled hands back even, Cutter began crying, “C’mon! C’mon! You call yourself a credit to your race?”

There was rage in the face twisted on the far side of their shaking fists, a real capacity to murder. The look of a man who could be goaded to any extreme. But none of it mattered to Dylan, least of all the strength grinding against his arm. Something, mild, even bored, watched back through his eyes.

He leaned into the big native’s grip and slowly pulled it to the bruised tabletop. The bunkhouse roared in celebration, the way everyone roars when life imitates fiction.

The underdog had swept the table.

That was the last time Long Tom looked at Dylan directly; Dylan would only ever catch his eyes at angles after that. That was when Cutter added “White-man” to his repertoire of nicknames. Before Dylan had been simply a good kid–weird but good. After that he was a good kid who in all likelihood could kick your ass if you made him angry enough. Dylan savoured the feeling, exulted in it, even though he was careful to erase its every sign of it from his expression, from everything except his hyperactive gaze.

Acid let’s you do that. Catch the subtleties–snap! And he could feel it, so real it was almost visual, tactile…

The difference between being liked and being respected.

There are facts and there are brute facts, and we are bred for the latter. They come to us first because they are always already there, waiting for us, the instinctive axioms of our nature. To be stronger is to be stronger. Like so many primary things, it simply is its own yardstick. A self-interpreting rule. Magical.

“Like stealing Ex-lax from seniors!” Dylan dared cry at one point. “I guess that’s what happens when you compete in the retirement home.”

Dylan drove home later that night, so fucked up he continually swerved from verge to verge, crying “Oops-fuck!” every time he heard the pelting staccato of grass heads against his grill. He cranked the Loverboy on his shitty Canadian Tire tape-deck, crooned, “Gotta do it my way!” into the rush of summer night air.

“Or no way at all!”

The road kept wagging like a snake, undulating bands beneath his headlights.

Smiling, driving, all the way home.

71

(Indeterminate)

Dylan first read 1984 in 1984–in the spring before that harvest, to be exact. Reading it had occasioned much self-congratulatory class discussion. The whole point of reading 1984 in 1984, when you were 17, anyway, was to crow about how great things had turned out in comparison. No Ingsoc. No Newspeak. No Ministry of Truth. No Big Brother. No Thought Police.

Hooray!

Of course, university turned all that around for Dylan. Ingsoc became Corporate America. Newspeak became Sentimentalism. The Ministry of Truth became the Culture Industry. Big Brother became Capital. The Thought Police became Manufactured Consent. And Winston Smith as he is at the end of the book became damn near every human living.

At the grad parties he went to, he and others, when they weren’t trading job market atrocity tales or carefully managing the CVs everyone kept on everyone else (she’s done this and this–I gotta do that!), sometimes talked about the virtue of honesty, how the concentration of hierarchical authority in 1984 at least let you know who your enemies were. “What’s worse?” one of his friends asked. “Getting ass-raped every once in awhile, or getting groped day-in-day-out, for the rest of your natural life? The Gulag, or Disney World?”

Whenever questions like these are posed seriously, at least some explanation is required. You see, all humanities grad students go through a phase that a social psychologist might call ‘hypocrisy versus career ambition,’ where, in the course of attaining the ‘academic life’ they so covet, they have to continually savage the conditions that make that life possible. Those oblivious to the hypocrisy are usually driven into the visual arts, where they end up so poor they actually cease being hypocrites and start living the dream. Those sensitive to the hypocrisy tend to go on and thrive, girding themselves with self-deprecating asides, and trying hard to work off their bad consumer karma in the classroom, where, they tell themselves, they’re actually doing more than simply convincing the next generation to turn their backs on their culture.

To be intelligent means to see through things, and to see through things is to see how appearances deceive. Now everyone but everyone thinks they’re intelligent, but only a relatively small proportion possess the interpretative stones required to demonstrate their intelligence to themselves on a regular basis. To see how Disney World, which is obviously a wonderful place, could be worse than the Gulag, which is obviously a horrible place, requires more than a little interpretative juice.

Thanks to Capital (Big Brother), Corporate America (Ingsoc) leverages the Culture Industry (the Ministry of Truth), which, thanks to the dynamics of Manufactured Consent (the Thought Police), enforces Sentimentalism (Newspeak) among the masses, allowing Disney World to seamlessly conceal the fact of their slavery. And you have to ask yourself what’s worse, a gulag that people flee from, or a gulag that people flee too? Eh?

Eh? 1984 is 1984…

Of course, everything about modern human social organization is supercomplex, complicated far, far past the point of our intellectual resources. Which is why interpretations like the above are not so much exercises in seeing through the status quo as exercises in seeing differently, not so much attempts to identify problems as attempts to identify oneself.

Why else all the repetition? The point is being smart in a world filled with idiots.

72

(1984)

“So… It sounded like you guys had a blast the other day.”

There was a gotta-cough edge the big man’s voice, the kind that comes from squeezing away quavers. Dylan’s face tingled for embarrassment, but whether for Jerry, Harley, or himself he would never be able to sort out.

Jerry had once again asked Dylan “for a hand” as everyone filed out of the kilnyard. Once again, they parked beneath the berms heaped about the irrigation pond, where once again Jerry produced a one grammer of oil. The two of them traded tokes from the heater of Jerry’s cigarette, back and forth. Blue-curling wires that bit your lungs.

“You know,” Dylan said with a toke-holding wheeze. “Sidney.”

“Crazy fuckers,” Jerr replied.

He said this blinking, looked away through the open driver-side window. He had the music–Huey Lewis and the News–turned low enough that you could hear the world: insects clicking through never-ending assemblies of vegetation. The stately rows of tobacco.

“You don’t know the half of it.”

Humans are such sad, stupid creatures. We hesitate in the face of the obvious simply because we are hopelessly overmatched by the social complexities that embroil us. At some level, we always seem to know that anything can happen. Any word, any action, can follow any other.

I think… I think Harley…

“I remember your dad and I…” Jerry began, launching into an outrageous story about bikes, booze, and strippers. What he was really saying was, “I found you first. You belong to me.”

Jerry wanted a confidant. A spy.

Dylan passed on the next toke. The oil was fucking kife.

“I love this song,” he said.

73

(Present)

So.

What is the meaning of a deluded life?

I hope by Now you realize that this question is yours, and not the other guy’s. Everybody thinks it’s the other guy who’s been duped. Why do the masses find you repellant? You tell yourself that it’s your questions they hate, when in point of fact it’s your attitude. You’re bloated my friend, unnaturally disposed to dupe yourself in artificially devious ways.

Nothing like instincts to police a sense of proportion. Feeling superior is just one of those things humans can’t help doing. Everybody thinks they have something special, some education, some experience, some native talent, that make them an exception for real.

Everybody has a story.

This is the primetime delusion, the one that leverages all the others. If you think you don’t live in a dream world, then you do. It’s axiomatic.

So stop being clever. Just because your representations purport to explain the representations of the masses doesn’t mean that you don’t use them in precisely the same ways.

Because you do.

75

(1984)

Jerry became stranger the longer harvest waxed on. More and more he kept to his pickup truck when he wasn’t looking after other chores. He would simply cruise by the tying machine, AC-DC or Huey Lewis cranked, and just dip his head and smile his fourteen-year old smile. Then he would rip down this or that dirt lane looking for some place to hide–or so it seemed.

The sticks became noticeably lighter–too light Dylan thought–but the days never seemed to end any earlier. One Wednesday they finished at 3PM, a marvel that everyone thought would presage a turn for the better. But the guys celebrated by taking a couple bottles of whiskey out to the fields the day following. When Kyle brought them back with the last load–at around 7PM–they reeled and hooped and hollered like revolutionaries in a fallen Central American capital.

“The world, Manny! The fucking wooooorld!

Parked some 50 yards away, Jerry watched from behind the glare of his windshield.

It took about a week to cure tobacco, so generally every farm would have around eight kilns that they would cycle through as the primers primed their way up the plant. It also meant it took about a week for a detached farmer to realize that something was going drastically wrong. Kiln-hangers who were about to quit were notorious for leaving the top rungs empty, or leaving gaps between the sticks on every rung. But usually it would be the leaf count on the sticks that would be the problem.

Emptying a kiln only took a couple of hours. Shrivelled to velvety yellow, the tobacco had lost most of its mass: leaf stems thicker than your thumb would shrink to brown toothpicks. Usually the farmer and some young, unlucky relative (drafted to learn an important life lesson) would pile the sticks onto pallets set into something called the ‘elephant wagon’ because of its elephantine proportions. The height of the sticks stacked on the pallet told no lies. Bulldozer or no, gravity always has its say.

So Jerry’s conciliatory retreat lasted only about a week. On the seventh day, the day before things got really hairy, he even declared a day of rest, saying that “everyone had worked so hard that they deserved it.” He was in full-on obligation mode by this time, ever keen to point out this or that tacit quid pro quo.

That day happened to be Saturday. The day Harley called.

The farm appeared deserted when Dylan arrived–except that Jerry’s poppy-red Dodge sat shining in the driveway. The collection of chairs lined to the side of the bunkroom door were empty. Both the junkers, the Gran Torino that Kyle had borrowed from his Aunt, and the Buick Regal that Gilles had bought in Aylmer, were gone.

“Where’s Jerry?” he asked Harley’s pensive shadow behind the screen door.

“Out drinking… Billy Eaves came and picked him up. Some NASCAR thing, I think.”

“Billy Bad-news?”

She smiled. “Heard of him, eh?”

“Jerry told Cutter and me some stories.”

“I’m sure he has…”

Dylan made a point of looking around. Somehow, it made it all the more palpable, what they were about to do. The threat of observation.

“Quiet ‘round here,” he said, faking a shrug.

She shot him an oh-well-you-know look. “They all went into Aylmer, I think. To the hotel, I imagine.” Whenever anyone pronounced ‘hotel’ as ‘ho-tell’ in Southwestern Ontario they meant drinking and hell-raising.

He nodded and swallowed at the same time–always an anxious, awkward combination.

“So we can talk,” he said.

Harley had always seemed so strong, so assured, before that night on his couch at Dad’s. The very image of the hard-rock chick: sensible, critical, very hard to impress. Soft-skin and a callous heart–exactly what the market required. Now she seemed to phase in and out of that old identity, to alternately find herself and to slip away, back into the shy, perpetually terrified teenager she once was–in my imagination at least.

The girl held hostage.

“Um… Would you like to take a crop tour?”

“Taking a crop tour” was rural code for anything involving back-road driving and substance abuse–still a respectable combination back in 1984.

“Sure,” he said. He had been hoping they would go into the house. Success screams for repetition down to all the particulars. He needed a couch

Gilligan’s Island wouldn’t hurt.

It was funny-strange watching her drive Jerr’s pickup. Cute. The seat cranked up, her arms wide on the wheel, her half-covered thighs bouncing on the upholstery. The rows of tobacco whirred by the windows. Half-primed, you could see deep into their nethers, lines and lines of knuckled sticks bearing heads of leaves. This was the real yardstick of harvest, an army of plants slowly hiking their skirts, higher and higher, until they were nude and useless.

She drove out to the irrigation pond, parked a length or two away from where Jerry typically did. Dylan half-expected her to produce a one-grammer.

The small talk petered out before it should–the way it always did back then. Dylan wouldn’t learn how to make meaningless conversation last all evening until he became me. They sat absorbed in the silence of luminous eyes, of breathing steeped in significance.

“Look,” she finally said. “I just want to talk.”

We believe so many of the things we say.

“Me too.”

“About Jerry. I want to talk about Jerry.”

Dylan didn’t think it was like this. He didn’t think sinners talked about the sinned against. But suddenly he realized that they do. That they always have, all the way back to Sumer.

“What do you mean?”

“This farming shit. Tobacco. It’s killing him, Dylan. All-all he does is drink and freak out.”

“What are you saying?”

“That… that…”

What is it about a crying woman? An annoyance if you happen to be married to her, an opportunity if not. The flanking impulses of worry and compassion, the full frontal assault of sexual self-interest.

The retreat of helplessness.

Dylan gathered her in his arms, savoured the ease with which she acquiesced, the sense of little-girl compliance. She shuddered in his embrace, even as she shifted to maximize the melding of their surfaces.

Sorrow as instrument of seduction. Men are born with this knowledge–like all shortcuts to pussy.

“What am I going to do?” she murmured to his chest.

“Well… I hate to say it, but Jerry’s made his own bed.”

Eyes too wet to hold onto anger. “Has he? I mean… All he talks about is Cutter stabbing him in the back. Cutter, Cutter, and more fucking Cutter.”

“Yeah…”

“What do you think? I mean, you’re there Dylan!” She pushed him back in realization, blinked and stared. “You’re there Dylan. You hang out with them.”

“I’m just the kid. The little brother they like laughing at when they get him all stoned and shit.”

“No. This is serious. Tell me what you think, Dylan.”

He frowned, looked out to the endless rows, cooking, growing…

“Well… You see… Men and women have these interlocking parts…”

She stopped him with a manic burst of hands-to-the-face laughter. “You’re so weird,” she exclaimed.

“That’s my na–”

And somehow they were kissing, fierce in a ginger, exploratory way–words that Now seem like an odd and inopportune memory, like pulling a grocery list from your pocket in the wake of a ruinous flood. Some moments cast shadows backward. We stumble into them only to find preceding events drawn like a tail between the legs of the present. The anguish. The husband. The tobacco. These were simply excuses.

Contact was all that mattered.

It seemed her skirt had been bunched around her waist all along. He held her, back arched, the frame of him braced against the two fingers he had thrust down the front of her panties. He held her as she jerked and gasped. She came moaning into his mouth.

An otherworldly look haunted her eyes as she struggled with his fly. “He needs us,” she whispered, pulling the banana-curve of him free.

He held her hair back and watched, the stories he would tell spinning through the back of his thoughts. How married women know, the cock-is-a-cock look in their eye as they suck, the way their fingers creep behind the balls toward the asshole. How they keep sucking afterward; the wince of pleasure as they nurse you to the sponge.

The fields cooked in the sun, the world so quiet that the whisper of saliva seemed the only sound. Dylan saw the scribble of midges across the black stagnant plate of the pond. He glimpsed bees sorting through the goldenrod that wreathed the edges of the lane. Little combs of lemon yellow, bending stems into arcs.

Of all the ways to connect with the future, none is so beautiful as the flower… or so insulting as the cock.

He was oblivious, of course. He was bewildered and naive. Even the hunger that moved him operated outside his purview. She was Harley, and she had fucked him–Harley–as if things could be summed in the intensity with which we utter a name. Why did he feel what he felt? Harley. Why did he pursue gratification with such callous single-mindedness? Harley. Why did Jerry seem little more than smoke, an annoyance, yet another feminine scruple to be defused and disposed?

Harley. A cloud, vast and dark, sailing through his searchlight.

She had swallowed him whole.

76

(1984)

It hit him as he drove the concessions home. A walloping sense of betrayal. Dirty. Sordid. It would be as close to an epiphany as he would ever come.

Fuck Jerry, anyway.

77

(Inapplicable)

Fragments, all the way down. Broken to the very bottom. Worse than you want to imagine.

No matter how radical you pretend to be.

Light, Time, and Gravity (IX)

by rsbakker

Everyone sleeps through their own funeral.

50

(1984)

In retrospect, it surprises me that Cutter waited as long as he did.

The other guys had been pressing Dylan about the leaf count for days, questions he deflected by playing stupid. He could tell that Cutter wasn’t buying his answers, but for whatever reason he never added his otherwise inevitable two cents to the interrogations. Two weeks had passed by this point, thirteen kilns, and they had yet to finish before 6PM. Eleven-plus hours a day in the fields was enough to make anyone bitter. They all came back from the fields holding or rubbing their backs, their dirty faces the portrait of blank-faced disgust.

“So how are the sticks?” Cutter finally asked one evening walking to their cars together. His tone dripped with you-owe-me-an-honest-answer earnestness. “Heavy?”

The sticks were heavy–there was no denying it. Jerry was using Dad’s curing technique, which consisted of packing the kilns. But Dylan, trapped between competing loyalties, could summon nothing more than a shrug.

How much?”

“Not much.”

Mutherfucker!” Cutter cried, as though responding to a different script.

“I said ‘not–’”

“How can you stand it? He’s screwing you over as much as anyone!”

“He’s one of my Dad’s buddies. It’s complicated.”

“Complicated,” Cutter repeated, flicking his cigarette butt in an acrobat’s arc. This always stung, Cutter repeating things.

“Look,” Dylan said. “Everyone has their disagreements. That doesn’t mean that Jerry isn’t a nice guy.”

“Nice guy,” Cutter replied with a chimpanzee-lipped drawl. “Sure. At the bar. On the beach, maybe. Here? Here he’s a fucking asshole.”

When I was about 8 or 9, I had this recurring nightmare. [14] I would be walking along the edge of Hawk’s Cliff with a different family, usually one of my neighbours’. Everyone would be talking and laughing and then, inexplicably, my right foot would simply step over the brink and into the weightless arms of gravity. I would topple down the bluffs screaming, hurtling toward the neck-breaking sand. I would try to open my mouth.

“He doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

“He’s fucking us… Fucking you, too.”

Never a good thing, weightlessness. It always means you’re falling.

“Give him time.”

[14] But it is no longer what it was; it only seems to be.

51

(1984)

That was about when the surprise inspections began.

Kyle would pull up with a new load, and there one of the primers would be, either sopped with dew or black with tobacco gum or somewhere in between. He would get out of the truck and simply grab a stick from the bottom of the elevator without so much as a nod or a wave. He would toss it on the ground, cut the string with a pen knife (or switchblade, if it was Tom) then count the leaves one-by-one while kneeling. The girls would watch nervously, and Dylan would shake his head from the gloom of the kiln.

Gilles was the first. “What da fuck, man!” he cried, claiming that there were 15 leaves too many per side. “Tell Jerree. Dis is fucking boollshit.”

Two trips later it was Buke, who insisted that there were 30 leaves too many per side. He started shouting at Ghetto, but beat a hasty retreat once Missy began laying into him. When Dylan jumped down to count for himself, he found that the stick was actually a few leaves light–for thirds anyway. Two times they showed up while Jerry was present, and between sticks Dylan found himself peering to watch the confrontations–Jerry looming monstrous, face red and lips spitting–but couldn’t hear a word of it because of the radio and the machinery. After that, Jerry began counting the sticks, screaming at the girls to bulk them up.

Word arrived via Kyle that the primers had decided everyone would work through lunch to make up time, so Dylan never had a chance to ask Cutter just what the fuck was going on. Of course, since these fact-finding missions reduced the number of primers to four, they didn’t finish that evening until after 8PM.

Jerry waited in the farmhouse until everyone had cleared out.

Boss man.

52

(Inapplicable)

Nietzsche’s romanticism is revealed in his abiding faith in redemption: the belief that you could, through insight, activity, and vigilance, render yourself an ideal vessel of God–or the will to power as the case might be.

It.

The belief that there is a natural or proper or beautiful way to be this

That’s the thing about being the yardstick that you take to reality.

The impulse to stroke those inches is irresistible.

53

(Indeterminate)

“Canadian” is as far from the stone age as any identity can get. At some level we know this. At some level, everyone in the world who knows anything about Canada knows this. The proof of it lies in the fact that Canadians are so widely thought to be bland. In The Last King of Scotland, the young Dr. Garrigan, in a desperate attempt to escape his father’s long shadow, spins his globe telling himself he will go wherever his finger lands, no matter what. Where does his fingertip touch down? Canada. Of course he spins the globe again. And what’s more important, he does so without a curse or a moan–he just does it automatically. Why? Because Canada is nowhere, and he needs to go somewhere. Canada is simply Scotland drained of colour–why the hell would he ever want to come here? So where does the good doctor’s finger land? The other side of the planet, as far from Canada, not Scotland, as he can get: Idi Amin’s Uganda, which is just another way of saying the fucking stone-age.

What does it mean to be bland? Maximal blandness is the point of maximal universality. If all humans were transparencies, and you laid them one across another over a brilliant light, so that all their differences cancel each other out, what you would have is the image of Nietzsche’s Ultimate Man, the most distinctly indistinct human imaginable. An amorphous silhouette. The Canadian. Okay, so that may be overstating the matter, but it does seem to catch something, doesn’t it? You might object by pointing out that Canada, thanks to the most liberal immigration policy on the planet, is the most diverse country on the planet. You might object, in other words, by saying there’s no such thing as a Canadian, though there are certainly many Canadians. But you would simply be making my point for me. Sure. People come here from all over the world, each bearing a distinct heritage on their back. Sure, they set down roots. But think about my clever little analogy: it’s the laying over of differences that creates the Ultimate Man. Sure, you can uproot and you can replant, but in Canada at least, the soil is typically one generation thin, two generations at most. The tissue of traditional culture is slowly boiled away, leaving only the economic skeleton behind–with all the agreeableness that tort law entails–which we then dress in costumes of the culture industry’s design. What? Did you think Dylan was born a head-banger? People don’t flee to Canada, they flee to modernity. They flee the stone-age. Here all this time we’ve been fretting about our peripheral status, bitching and moaning how our favourite newscasts leave us off the weather map, when in fact we’ve been the centre all along–the very centre! Why do you think all these tourists come here? To see us? Please. They come to see through us. They wait until we empty the frame before snapping shots of our “natural wonders,” all the things that would be here whether we were or not. Why do you think, no matter how long or how hard we stare in the mirror, we can never seem to see ourselves? Why we ask, over and over again, “What does it mean to be Canadian?” Of course we’re invisible! We are the occluded frame that the rest of the world, whether it admits it or not, aspires to. We are the future! and all humanity stumbles backward toward us. On the yardstick, no, the metre stick of civilization, we stand tallest.

No one has travelled as far from ancient Sumer as we.

I mean, look at Europe. When I see Europeans, I feel pity. Everywhere they turn they see the long funnel of their undoing. To be connected to so many things that have nothing to do with you, to drag a thousand years of ornament. No wonder they’re so fatigued. But here? here we are thrown, both individually and nationally. Even our languages are too universal to call our own. Who speaks ‘Canadian’? Not so in Europe, where everywhere you turn you’re bumping into the borders of your identity. Who am I? Just flick the channel. Oooh, that’s right, I’m fucking Dutch. Of course this just means you have to go to school to learn English.

The only nation that has a prayer of catching us is America. They’re close, there’s no denying it–why else would we be so proud of alternate spellings? They’re so close that the differences within their country are in some ways greater than the differences between us. But they’re still too militaristic not to mythologize–every powerful nation rationalizes their self-interest through fictitious retellings of their past. All aggression requires aliases, the illusion of stable identities. It’s the only way to pretend that victims deserve to bleed. Unlike us, they have not traveled so far from their origins they have ceased to be.

They have war to tell them who they are.

54

(1984)

Things never get ugly all at once. Humans might seem to be an all or nothing species, but this is just a trick of hindsight. Fact is, we follow a rather predictable schedule of escalations in our conflicts, and readily identify those lacking a sense of confrontational proportion as ‘crazies.’ Ugliness is nothing if not organic.

We kill each other on a curve.

The morning after the surprise inspections, Dylan slammed the emergency off-switch to the sound of Ghetto screaming. This was about the third time he had heard her scream–a strange kind of caterwaul, like a cat bouncing on the end of a bungee, having its breath yanked mid-wail–so he immediately knew it was her, and he immediately assumed it was simply more of ‘her bullshit.’ The first time he had cut open his back on a jutting nail, certain that she had got her hand sucked beneath the sewing needle, her scream was so spacey and intense. It turned out one of the rollers (that flattened the leaves before they passed beneath the needle) had pinched the finger of her rubber gloves and ‘scared her.’ The second time it was simply a tobacco worm.

She was holding up her yellow dish gloves, her face a rictus of horror and disgust and self-pity–classic Christian Children’s Fund stuff., “What the fuck!” Missy was screeching. “What. The. Faaaawk!” Several stunned seconds passed before Dylan noticed the brown clots skidding down Ghetto’s traumatized hands–before he noticed the reek.

One of the primers had taken a dump in their baggie.

That lunch in the bunkhouse, the mood was positively celebratory.

“You like, eh?” Gilles cackled. “You like our little message?”

“Not cool. I hang that fucking shit.”

“Don’t look at me!” Cutter cried. “These guys are fucking animals.”

Not much more was said after that. The matter was passed over in the manner of uncomfortable victories. The power of gestures resides in the need to show, to force some kind of recognition–and believe you me, few things focus the attention quite like the prospect of touching human shit. The question of consequences only dawns on us later, so intimate is the confusion of doing and believing.

Afterward, Dylan simply assumed that Gilles had been the offending party because of the way he crowed about the affair: people are inclined to be tickled by their own acts of subversion. Several days would pass before Dylan learned–from Kyle–that the whole thing, from inspiration to execution, belonged to Cutter.

And that repelled him even more, for some reason: the thought of Cutter-shit greasing Ghetto’s rubber palms…

What had seemed merely tasteless took on the character of obscenity.

55

(1984)

That weekend found an exhausted Dylan working midnights at Loblaws: he had to put at least one shift a month at the grocery store to keep his seniority, which meant he either got lucky and got rained out at the farm, or found himself working three full shifts back to back, farm-store-farm.

I sometimes marvel when I think about the things he did, the endless punishment he inflicted on his brain, body, and immune system. Since my wives have all left me, since my friends dread my company, all I really have is my cat, Philly, whom I obsessively observe, looking for clues to my own sham humanity. If there’s wisdom to be had from household pets, it lies in the fact that they age and die so quickly. Age, for her, has taken on the character of a slow motion implosion: her curiosity becoming more and more vestigial, her acts retreating more and more to the safe lines of routine, her eyes watching more and seeing less. And I see the ghosts of these things in me, Now that I have crossed the regenerative threshold, an aimless and viscous fear, an accumulating tendency to slink away from challenges.

(Only Now, it seems, do I realize the danger inherent in biographical reflection, the morbid impulse to catalogue life’s innumerable injustices–large or small, it does not matter. In the absence of linear memory, drawing up lists of things missing is really the only way we can track our passage. Capacities primed, cured, and stripped. The gap grows and grows until it’s the only thing remaining.)

That night, his limbs buzzing with the exhaustion of having hung an entire kiln, Dylan found himself saddled with the frozen food aisle, something which he didn’t mind because of the painful state of his hands. He found the cold soothing.

At around 1 in the morning, Sam Thorpe–‘Thorpy’ they called him–came to him smiling and waving one of the new Teddy Bears Loblaws had started selling in the merchandising section of the store.  “Have you heard these things yet?” he called. “Fucking hilarious, man.”

“Heard?”

This was funny in and of itself. Thorpy was an odd duck even by night-crew standards. Despite his portly stature and full-spectrum body hair, he was a former stripper who had worked–this is no lie–under the moniker, ‘Teddy Bear.’ At first no one believed him, that is until he brought in a calender featuring him and several other grotesque specimens. If you let him, he would regal you with stories of the ‘glory days’ of male stripping, when he would get blown “right there at the fucking bar, I -shit-you-not,” only to conclude with a rant about how all the ‘muscle fags’ moved in and ruined the whole fucking ‘industry.’

So Teddy Bear coming to you with a Teddy Bear was something worth paying attention to.

“The message, man,” he said, handing Dylan the fluffy-haired toy. “These things talk. Just poke the belly…”

Dylan jabbed the thing in the gut. “Hey, little girl,” it chimed in a sweet high-pitched voice. “WOULD YOU LIKE TO SUCK MY BIG FAT COCK!”

Apparently the things were recordable.

Minutes later, the whole crew was up at the Teddy bin, grabbing the fuzzy bears and dictating this or that vulgarity, from the entirely unoriginal: “Hey, little girl, WOULD YOU LIKE TO NUZZLE MY ASSHOLE!” to Dylan’s out-and-out evil, “Did you know your Daddy DIED ON THE WAY TO WORK TODAY?”

They literally laughed until they cried, each of them trying to outdo the others. A kind of mania buoyed the exercise, something that begged quick, over-the-shoulder glances. They were doing something bad, some to avoid the ridicule of their co-workers, others for the sheer fuck of it, the back-to-the-wall joy of impunity. And a couple of them, I’m sure, did it out of spite, exploiting the transitive logic of resentment. After a thousand nights restocking plundered shelves, someone has to suffer. Vandalism is the vengeance of the lazy.

All this became the topic of an uproarious debate at coffee time. They always did their best to butcher moral reason at coffee time.

“Yeah, but what about all the kiddies?”

“Fuck’em.”

“Yeah. It’s not like they’re not go to hear it soon enough anyway. Might as well be from Teddy.”

“Better him than Dad!”

“Owich!” they laughed. “Fucking owich!”

The following morning, apparently within 15 minutes of the night shift leaving, a little girl made the mistake of poking Teddy’s belly, then went squealing to her mommy–the little weasel. When it was discovered that the majority of Teddies had some variant of the ‘suck my big fat cock’ message, the manager called head office and the incident became the object of a formal investigation. It was just outrageous enough to insure that otherwise easygoing souls would play along with the moralists’ indignation. Apparently suits came in and questioned everyone, from the crew chief to the floor cleaners, who had been in the store that night. I say ‘apparently’ because nobody bothered to contact Dylan, who wouldn’t be in for another month.

Of course no one saw or heard a thing. Implicate enough witnesses, and nobody dares to come forward.

Which isn’t really such a bad thing, when you think about it.

We all take a dump in the baggie sooner or later.

56

(Indeterminate)

It strikes me that I worked a lot in ‘my youth.’ But then that’s what you do when you grow up poor.

That’s what poor people are for.

57

(Indeterminate)

My life has been an extended recruitment drive. Otherwise I’m simply one more party member writing for other party members. The only thing distinguishing me from you is a single realization: I know why we’re here.

To sort people. To hang who they once were and call it a cure.

58

(1998)

I landed my first tenure track job in the English Department at the University of Western Ontario. It was the first of my peers to do so, not because of my ideas or my erudition, but because of all those years debating with Dad. I implicitly knew that the contest was primarily one of stone-age fitness indicators, not teaching or scholarship. This isn’t to say that teaching and scholarship were irrelevant. Once the hiring committee decided they liked me, these provided the raw material for their ad hoc rationalizations. They couldn’t just say they liked the ‘cut of my jib,’ now, could they?

I made them laugh, feel good about themselves for the mere fact of knowing me. I made them feel like they were inside. After that, it was simply a matter of appearing to be insightful enough, learned enough, published enough, and so fucking on.

You get used to deferred rewards when you embark on an academic career, so much so, that you often don’t know how to feel when you actually achieve any of the crazed abstractions that have structured so much of your young life. At first, I simply couldn’t believe it. But the more the reality of it sunk in, the more my whole life began to seem a seminary, something bent on preparing me for this, the penultimate metamorphosis. At long last I could party like a priest.

So of course this was when it set about losing my religion.

The first thing I read on the brain was a little book called Matter and Consciousness. I pretty much sneered throughout, for the same reason I laughed whenever I encountered so-called ‘Analytic Philosophy’: it just all seemed so fucking naive, so scientistic. Couldn’t they see that science was just another family of human practices? What business did they have waving their yardsticks around something so ineffable as the soul? It was like a welder passing judgement on the work of potters…

Wasn’t it?

This ‘separate but equal’ strategy never sat well with me, but I so rarely encountered anyone possessing a contrary view that it was able to discharge it’s function (preemptive dismissal) without even coming close to exhausting my credulity. In my circles, science and capital were the Gog and Magog of modernity, the disease that so desperately needed to be cured.

So how did I lose my faith?

I became powerful.

Even though you know the difficulties that await, a part of you still thinks you’re going to be relieved when you finally land that tenure track job, that you’ve at last boot-strapped yourself above the manic scramble to appear and to appear and to appear. But if anything, the scramble only intensifies the theatrical demands placed upon you. You find yourself kissing more ass than an agent at the London Book Fair–only every single fucking day for a fucking span of fucking years.

Graduate students form an important constituency in this new institutional rat race–a welcome one, by and large. As a newly minted faculty member, you still carry their minty-fresh odour, hope and cynicism suspended in a pose of mutual asphyxiation. You still find yourself at that point where wanting to be could trump worries about what you’ve become.

And so your tribal loyalties are divided: despite your new institutional role as sender, you find yourself identifying with your old role as receiver. So what happens? You put in appearances at all the faculty functions, sit through colloquia about the semiotic instability of this or political complicity of that, always careful to ask questions that appear to be penetrating, and then you join the grad students for a drink in the pub.

Like I mentioned earlier, graduate students in the arts are best thought of as sexually mature toddlers, tender things who continually mimic the moves they witness around them without really understanding what those moves mean, let alone what motivates them. So you sit with them at flat tables and talk to them from high authority gradients, politely rewarding and rebuking their various efforts to play the Theory Game. And sometimes, when you get lucky, one of them gets drunk enough to let you bang them.

Oh sure, none of the conversations feel anywhere near so sordid. Many, if not most, probably think them enlightened, living examples of living meaningful, examined lives. But this is just because authority gradients and seductions are so natural as to be almost invisible: things that our brain pays us to overlook so that it can get down to the real nitty-gritty.

My dick still twitches when I think of those days. I ‘fed it’ (as Cutter would say) to more than few beauties. And I feel a grimace gathering beneath the knuckles of my face when I recall the conversations…

“You need to see Hegel’s project as a continuation of Kant via Fichte. What he’s doing is de-psychologizing Kant, historicizing him…”

I would look around the table at their faces, some squinting, others nodding, and the honest ones just looking plain terrified. How the fuck had an English PhD program turned into an extended, informal philosophy seminar?

“But that’s the easy way of looking at it. Things get more complicated when…”

“I see what you’re saying. It’s just not what Nietzsche says…”

I played favourites while convinced I was open and evenhanded. I faked my way through gaps in my knowledge while congratulating myself for my erudition. I made flags of those instances where I did own up to my ignorance, using them to camouflage all the ways I continually shoved and bullied topics until they found themselves on ground of my choosing.

I grinned like the devil, especially when the wit was my own.

But most importantly, I made a habit of telling the story about playing poker with a nihilist. I had never forgotten (nor, it occurs to me now, forgiven) the ease with which he had backed me up against my assumptions. You see, this was thing: the ease of his argument. Here I was talking philosophical ‘paradigms’ that even PhD students found difficult to assimilate, and this guy had all but unmanned me with a curt handful of cutting observations. This easy power, combined with my sublimated hatred for what I had become–a hatred borne of the fields–made his position my favourite ‘for the sake of argument’ weapon, especially when I happened to be teaching Blood Meridian. As those who play the devil’s advocate with any frequency know, once you start the talking, the walking ain’t far behind.

“But isn’t that like using Ted Bundy’s testimony to convict Mother Theresa?”

“Well, just what are ‘social constructs’?”

“Just tell me what other claim-making institution has a comparable record… The Church of Rome?”

And blah-blah-blah, on through the early years of my career. I would shake them up, then I would offer my own face-saving rationales, how meaning and practices had to come first, simply because lived life was the frame of everything, and as much as the scientist was loathe to admit it, science was simply part of everything. I would cite the logical priority of my subject matter to innoculate myself against epistemological concerns…

But…

What can I say?

With each passing year this and other theoretical rescue operations began to feel less and less sincere–especially those few nights where I told the poker story and managed to seduce some beauty in my audience. Why shouldn’t we suspend judgement on the multifarious roles of meaning and practices pending what the sciences of the brain had to tell us? How had we earned our high opinion of our ability to pluck totalizing interpretations out of abject ambiguity, especially when those interpretations transform the entire world into–cue the happy coincidence–more literature, the very object of our expertise.

I mean, really. Who the fuck did we think we were kidding?

I remember saying as much after making love to this second year PhD student, Sassy (yes, that was really her name), who would go on to file a (toothless, as it turned out) complaint against me when I stopped returning her calls.

“The man with the hammer,” she said with a husky chuckle, “thinks every problem is a nail.”

We kissed. I pulled back to regard her face, said, “Well I nailed you, didn’t I?”

Something Dylan would say.

I had always been fond of Heidegger’s hammer from Being and Time. I often used it to talk about the relationship between the implicit and the explicit, how our assumptions vanish in the course of using them–and only become explicit when they break down.

And so, in a pique of post-coital remorse, the preposterous dimension of my conceit hit me. I saw it in predictably Wittgensteinian terms at that time: the Theory Game was a game of broken hammers, using concepts extracted from living practices to satisfy the demands of my dead institution, and to gratify my obligatory sense of moral and intellectual superiority…

And now the Game itself was broken.

I found myself in the University Bookstore the following day, mooning around the philosophy shelves, peering at Matter and Consciousness. It was a small book, but somehow the cashier managed to fumble and drop it. I remember thinking it sounded squishy when it landed, like a pickled brain (so much so that I actually flipped through the leaves outside afterward, convinced that they had to be wet). I also remember stealing a glance down the girl’s blouse when she bent to retrieve it.

She blushed in embarrassment.

I think that was when the truth first grinned at me, warm and toothless.

Light, Time, and Gravity (VIII)

by rsbakker

Meaning is simply the shape of our abjection.

41

(1984)

Things you see in the harvest bunkhouse:

Cutter. Always keeping tabs, cigarette lolling from the corner of his carnivorous Chiclet grin. Always reserving some hidden right that no one had acknowledged, but that everyone–including Long Tom–had conceded. If anyone said anything goofy, his was the voice that always shouldered clear the scrum of derision. “Your head would make a great toilet brush, you know that? It’s like a fucking shit magnet or something.”

Ha-ha-ha.

Enough said. All you really need to know about Cutter was his facility for connecting, not in the sense of sharing (that was too mammalian), but in the sense of deferring, the recognition (quite unconscious) that nature itself had slotted you below him in this or that cruel respect. You just knew, and more importantly, so did he. No matter what the occasion, there was always something about his look, an observation that should be an accusation but wasn’t, always this clinical nuance, as if you were something cultured in a petri dish, even when he was emoting pure camaraderie. Pretty colours, but disgusting all the same.

And this made him… well, free. Cutter was the guy you could see doing pretty much anything. Only a pine box could render him tractable.

(The rest of them, you just knew, more or less. Thierry would become some chick’s project, disarm and dismay her by turns. Gilles would die a homeless addict. Long Tom would be murdered in self-defence. Kyle would raise a family of militant daughters. And Buke, by hook or crook, would find his way to God.)

You see the polished cement floor, grey and gum-mottled, polished by endless soles shuffling grime. Sometimes, when they all peaked together on acid, they would hear this accompanying ring as they roared with laughter, a whine as metallic as tinnitus.

That was the floor.

You see Thierry, the way his look darts, always careful to avoid making eye contact, not only because he never knew what the fuck was going on, but because his gaze was so adhesive. Where the looks of others would simply slide by, any chance encounter with Thierry’s eyes meant you were nodding and smiling, even laughing for no fucking reason. Most everyone tried to talk to him. He would laugh and they would laugh and he would nod clueless. Gilles, who had a genius for playing up his advantages, would only translate those comments he deemed worthy–not many, as it turned out.

Since he knew so little English (and seemed so unconcerned about the fact that his skills actually seemed to deteriorate over the weeks), Dylan found himself stranded at his surface. He read books, continuously, often in preference to partying with the rest of the crew. He would lay on his bunk, his skin-tight face utterly relaxed, his gaze fixed on the pages before and above him, reading for hours at a time. When something particularly uproarious or hilarious happened, he would shiver with laughter, then look down with those doe-wide eyes of his, so big you could swear you saw all the bunkroom’s lights glittering around his pupils, and laugh through his Crazee-dat! smile.

Everyone adored him, almost from the first day. He seemed to have that amoral, easy-going nature that people–male and female–adore, and that can be as easily coaxed into mission work as armed robbery.

Despite all his reading–French spy and crime novels for the most part–he was a highschool dropout. Thierry was one of those guys who were content to perpetually float, amiable enough to be welcomed by all strangers, and aimless enough to forever hew to the fork of least resistence. This happens to some people, those who find social circumstances effortless. Again and again they slip through the nets, latching onto this circle and that, exploring random paths through the degrees of separation that map us all. A different clan, a different reservoir of generosity.

Leave just as the love stales.

Thierry was a womanizer of circumstance, always bedding, always turning away, forgetting. Reading was simply the staple that held him together.

He was the kind of guy who could knowingly spread HIV without the least ill-will.

Gilles could as well, but for the sake of spite.

Buke couldn’t–as with so many crimes you could only see him as the victim.

Long Tom could.

Same with Cutter.

You see these banks of florescent lights, the long ones you typically find concealed in institutional dropped ceilings. They hung bare, pairs of them plugged into long aluminum boxes, which were screwed in turn to the chip-board ceiling, whose paint had been white at one time, but had since dulled to the complexion of ailing creme. Some tubes burned with the pure constancy of Luke’s light sabre, but most brightened in seizures, roiled and clicked with white luminescent smoke, contributing to the room’s dim, jittery air. Dust sagged from derelict webs.

You see Gilles, the way he stares off at angles, always angles, as if never daring gaze his distraction in the eye. He was one of those guys who taught everyone around him how to read his mind, and yet still insisted on playing poker. The sidelong reveries lent him a drunken, poetic air, as though his eyes were toddlers who needed to be continually corralled, continually redirected, continually kept ‘on task.’ “Fucked to the Gilles!” everyone would joke, referring to the disproportionate buzz you sometimes get from one or two afternoon beers.

And you could see it, the blundering confidence in him, the mark of a mark who’s perpetually convinced he’s the grifter and not the mark. “I tell you…” he would continually say. “I. Tell. You.” Especially when he got genuinely fucked up. A disgusted leer would hook his face, pained disbelief shining through a diminishing capacity to focus. And a strange kind of old man malevolence would leak out, stain his corner of the table. If you paused and thought, you realized he could wish evil upon you and congratulate himself for it.

It was almost as if he knew this attitude was the sole bastion of his bravado. He more or less assumed he deserved the airs he assumed, but he had been burned and laughed at so many times that his body had independently adapted to the facts. Where his words were tough, his posture was craven. Calling the other natives, “Chief.” Saying, “How you get so fat?” to Jerry’s face. All of this was fearless, genuinely fearless, and none of it was backed up. Dylan once watched Long Tom standup and wham, cuff him in the side of the head. Gilles huddled and cringed, all the while grinning and grimacing and hurling French curses. Thirty minutes later he’s dropping the cards in front of Long Tom, saying, “You deal… Chief.”

Wham.

Gilles out-and-out cherished his evil moods–always sneering, always laughing. His was a false empire. The world was grinding away his irresistible misconceptions, and this place of spite and hatred had become his most certain redoubt–his Constantinople. He was positively imperial when he got hammered. When he drank whisky, it was like watching someone slowly scrubbing visibility into painted plexiglass, colour smeared translucent, revealing some hideous angularity, something dull and demonic. He was a man who could beat children, Gilles.

Thierry wasn’t.

Buke wasn’t. Though he would let them find him dead in the garage.

Kyle was too smart to tell.

Long Tom was.

Cutter would hit, but never beat. A woman, maybe. But not a kid.

You see the table, one of those labourious school things, laminated particle board, with those kick-out legs that could cut you if you reefed on them the wrong way. Harley had given them a table-cloth, an atrocious emerald green thing they quickly abandoned because of the sheer number of spills. Like a lone surviving aircraft carrier, it became progressively more crowded as the battle wore on–empty beers, munchie wrappers, dead cigarette packs–forcing those who liked to lean forward to draw their elbows tighter and tighter.

You see Long Tom, the way he never he grinned, even though he smiled all the time. A grin suggests complicity, or at the very least prior understanding–you know, the way parents are often prone to ‘grin’ at one another. Long Tom’s smile was devoid of either of these things. Looking at him, you had the sense that his smile was identical no matter who was in the room–if anyone at all. It was absolute, impervious to all circumstance. The others saw it even in the grit and the sun-threaded gloom of the rows. The Smile, they came to call it.

The possibility that he was simply stupid never occurred to Dylan.

Smiles are just one of those identifying features, like the tags that airlines stick to your luggage. There was always this thing with Thierry, for instance, the way his smile and his eyes seemed to broadcast on an entirely different stations. Not so, with Long Tom. His face possessed an eerie totality of expression. Everything flew in formation, especially his eyes. His face was the dancing ball of the bunkhouse, the one thing that never changed, not matter what the lyric or note.

And it seemed appropriate. Being a real convict from a real penitentiary possessed an undeniable glamour–almost Hollywood. In these parts, ‘Kingston’ has the same cache as Alcatraz. Even his appearance contributed to the larger-than-life mystique. Perfect skin. All but hairless, to the point where his forearms looked like those of a monstrous three year old, especially when glimpsed under various chemically attenuated circumstances. And his hair, like something woven on a mythological loom, a black so glossy that you only glimpsed the black between instances of reflected light. Whenever he moved, he performed this rightward flick of his head, so that his hair bowed out and around like a twirling dancer’s skirts. Every time.

Where others were a motley of conflicting traits and hungers, Long Tom’s soul was continuous with his hair–a bolt of black silk. Perhaps there was a reservoir of pain and outrage somewhere within him, a place were the hurts lay gathered, the dregs of abuses suffered on the Reserve. But if so, he never betrayed so much as a whisper. No unguarded looks. No faltering smiles. Nothing caught in the twitching, expressive in-between. He was all in all the time, Long Tom, and this made him even more difficult to know than Thierry.

Somehow he managed to frustrate every attempt, no matter how ingenious, made to engage him–Cutter’s included. He would smile the Smile, his look would narrow, and he would say, maybe, five words in reply. “Ask Kyle,” or “So you didn’t hear…” or “What are you, a fucking pig?” His favourite was, “It was like this, your Honour…” a boyish voice in the clipped accent of the Six Nations. Never had Dylan encountered anyone who so actively spoke to shut-down speaking.

It made him seem a soul constructed entirely out of secrets–and all the more dangerous for the rumours of barroom violence and penal institutionalization. When Cutter asked him point blank about his time in Kingston Penitentiary, Long Tom smiled, leaned back his head (with the hair-throwing twitch), and said, “Fun enough to go back.”

Cutter had understood the implicit threat in Long Tom’s reply. Everyone had, which was why only Cutter dared ask the question again. The fact that he did do so, that he alone out of everyone, including Gilles at his most reckless, dared poke that particular bear (the one that made Long Tom so Hollywood), said everything about the social power dynamic of that group, including Dylan’s low ranking. He was a man who could murder, Long Tom.

Gilles was too, but in a poison-your-drink kind of way.

Thierry wasn’t.

Buke wasn’t, not really, but could given the right combination of stressors.

Kyle wasn’t, but only because he was too smart to murder anyone himself.

Cutter was–in the absence of witnesses.

You see the fifth primer locked, as usual, in the bathroom.

You see Dylan’s hands, which never seemed to stop fidgeting, sometimes absently, but usually in a way that suggested he wanted to wring them instead. One of the reasons he made the jump from the fields to the kiln was the way priming dummied his hands. He had some kind of obscure allergy, one that hardened the calloused pads of his fingers and palms into articulated lobster shells. Like plastic. Every crease would crack open, exposing lines of bare meat, and a whitish almost fungal dehydration would creep around and across his knuckles, chalking the normally invisible epidermal cross-hatching in white. Looking at them, it seemed Dylan could tell exactly what his hands would look like when he reached Nancy’s age. The becoming scab of all our surfaces. The translucence. The mottling of tissues going sour beneath.

His hands still suffered this kilnhanging, just nowhere near so bad.

You see Kyle, his gaze clicky and evasive, oriental and anything but inscrutable for it, always yanking his jaw sideways to exhale smoke, his mouth open (apparently against its will), smoke rising lazy, as if from a shot-gun barrel.

He had this voice that wasn’t so much high pitched as pinched, like he was perpetually sitting on one of those edge-of-coughing tokes, the angry ones that spend the whole time hammering at the door. Rather than turn to you he would lean your way as if trying to glimpse the same bird, and say shit like, “That, eh? That’s the way someone looks when wearing suits with the money.” Or, “He calls us that all the time, eh? Chief. Not good. He’s a fucker, that one.” Almost always something intense, something about power. It either exposed an obliviousness on Dylan’s part, or demonstrated just where his political scruples fit into his on-the-spot interpersonal priorities. The fact is, something about Kyle made him feel too embarrassed to see past his own agitation and truly engage. The natives had been well and truly fucked over–any idiot could see that. After gutting their languages for place names, our fathers tried to stamp them out. Dylan felt this almost overpowering need to apologize in his presence, one that simply wasn’t feasible given the social dynamics of the bunkroom. He would just sit there and nod like the stoned idiot he was when he found himself sitting next to Kyle.

“Yeah. That’s not right.”

Kyle had this strange, frightened calm about him, as if he had simply worried himself into a comfortable groove. He had one of those slovenly bodies where the torso sags from the shoulders at thirty the way it does other (somewhat overweight) men at seventy. He looked so fucking comfortable on his ass that him sitting became a relief for everyone around him. (This seemed to be a trait peculiar to boat drivers, looking like boat-drivers, that is, a person who should be sitting on their ass). He had a one song sensibility to him, ‘Fuck the White Man one more time, doo wah, doo wah.’

Cutter, especially, would ride him. “You should introduce me to your wife,” he once said, looking to the side with the unfocused eyes and yah-yah grin he always had before delivering a punchline. “Might as well. You’ve let the white man fuck everything else!”

Make no mistake, it was harsh stuff: genocide bandied with the same you-fucking-loser sarcasm as an argument over goaltending prospects, if only because he spoke it with such utter carelessness. “So my grandpa fucked your grandpa, and now we fork out billions. Fucking. Move. On. Already.” A sarcastic fanfare of fingers accompanied each word.

“Move on, he says,” Kyle replied with real disgust, a projecting-pain gaze, as if he had been injured to outrage. “We’re shut in reservations!”

“Hey, maaaaan. At least you can get reservations!”

And everyone screamed with laughter, not because it was funny, but because Cutter told us to… A certain chainsaw grind to the voice. A weirdly effeminate wobble of the head, eyes bright beneath laughing/beseeching eyebrows.

What can I say? Kyle just wasn’t the kind of guy who could resist. Like so many of us, his eyes were always checking, always gauging the reactions of others, searching for cues. He was easily swamped by his social environment–which is probably how he came by his militant views in the first place. And that was the thing: for all the fanaticism of his claims, Kyle’s attitude was always a creature of its environment. Cutter (who knew this at some level) could always get him laughing at his own obsessions–his own people–simply because he was sole proprietor of that environment.

Kyle may have been from a different planet from Dylan, but he still belonged to the same general species.

You see the bunks, rickety affairs bolted together out of two-by-fours, all of them damp, fabric melding bereft of dimples or starchy corners. The possessions: socks across a rucksack. Three yellow suitcases (belonging to Gilles) beneath ‘special’ orthopaedic pillows. A backpack (belonging to Buke), covered with cheesy Canadian flag patches. Long Tom’s garbage bags, lumpy with unfolded clothes.

You see a screen door that looked imported from Alabama. Yellowing plexiglass. Pellet-gun dents in the bottom plate. Skewed frame.

You see Buke, his eyes muppet big thanks to the magnification of his glasses, his gaze fluttering about, displaying degrees of passion that would see middleclass counterparts institutionalized.

Buke was a shoplifter, body and soul, one of those guys who used anonymous transgression to expunge a resentment as violent as it was amorphous. He was literally split along the lines of spite and cowardice: the person he was around others, and the person he was alone. Split to the pith. He had this native eagerness to please–every time he talked to you, you could feel his investment dwarf your own–a need like static electricity. He was one of those bastards who’s mere existence rendered God that much more inexplicable. To want so bad (so obsessive-compulsively) [10] to be included, or just to be counted, and to be cursed with a such a diaper for a personality. What a fucking gyp.

His voice became progressively choked as he spoke to you, to the point of squeaking as he sucked on the helium of your attention. He became more and more expressive, until his eyes looked like they might climb out of the terrarium of his glasses, until his hands were fairly exploding off his knees–a looney mannerism that caused him endless grief. Cutter, especially, had a genius for spoofing him: He did this creepy thing sometimes where he made Buke laugh like a donkey by impersonating him laughing like a donkey.

Dylan found it heartbreaking. But his face ached for laughing all the same.

They began calling him ‘Faggy’ the first week. “Eh, Faggy? Faggy… Could you grab me a beer, there, Faggy-buddy?” But the moniker was gradually abandoned as the public safety issues involved became more apparent. Not all stressors were equal. They had to sleep in the same room with the fucking nutbar, after all. This was the other bizarre… dimension about Buke: the wildness about the edges, like an interpolating aura. Wild eyes. Wild hair. Wild mustache and burns. Wild looks down into his palms. Wild knee, connected to a heel that pounded out endless distress calls in wild strings of Morse Code.

Wild blinks.

And when Buke was alone, Dylan knew, wild anger. You could see it in his look, the hours of raging, the cyclic descent from a sad-sack optimist into a perpetual recrimination machine. It was almost as if he suffered a kind of social bipolarity, manic in public, ingratiating unto humiliation, but paranoid and suicidal while alone.

He smoked with out-patient vigour. He had an energy to him, a vitality that, combined with his obvious physical strength, made him seem Doberman dangerous. And if he bit, you knew he would not let go. You could just see this red-crazy-hairy-bobble-head… Antagonizing Buke past a certain point was tantamount to a suicide pact.

Jesus was probably the best place for him, or AA–any community where others are forced to be kind. Dylan tried–to be kind. But God had simply committed too many building-code violations in the construction of Buke’s soul. To know him was to condemn him, whether you wanted to or not.

He was a man who could kill himself, given the proper pique.

Gilles wasn’t, though he wasn’t above faking an attempt.

Thierry was. Suicide was just another greased groove.

Long Tom wasn’t. His smile was too sincere.

Kyle wasn’t.

Cutter both was and wasn’t. He could orchestrate the circumstances of his demise.

He was a suicide-by-cop kind of guy.

[10] It is legion.

42

(1984)

Dylan had a good relationship with the tying machine girls–well, girl, strictly speaking. Brigetta and Alice–or Ghetto and Frankenhead–seemed almost pathologically shy where he was concerned. Ghetto especially: on the rare occasions when she had no choice but to address Dylan, she would blush and make this pained face that made her, for a whispering moment, look as ugly as Rex Murphy. Then she would begin, “Dill’anne…” Alice, Dylan was convinced, would sooner bleed to death than ask him for a tourniquet.

To be honest, the abyss between him and the two Mennonites was so natural, so to-be-expected, that Dylan really never pondered it. If he had, I suppose he would have chalked it up to some firebrand minister in some shack-slash-church promising eternal torment if they ‘succumbed’ to the all too human need for ‘worldly congress.’ There was nothing quite like God when it came to raising barricades between people.

But God, as it turned out, was no match for Missy.

The very first day she started with: “These guys, Dylan? What am I going to do with these guys?” She was a talker, definitely, but the kind who simply insists that others carry their share of the conversational load rather than monologuing. And she possessed the enviable feminine ability to shrug aside differences and verbally seize the shared human core that, for whatever reason, Dylan could never quite come to grips with.

“Look at Alice. Look at how beautiful she is!” A little girl smile.

“Oh, I believe in God and all that. I don’t go to church–I should go to church. I just don’t think God hates having fun. I mean, why should he? That makes him sound too much like people. It’s people who hate people having fun! Fuck, yah.”

Slow shaking heads, disagreeing but…

Missy was one of those right-back-atchya! girls, the ones who took pride in their ability to mix it up with what she called ‘oinkers’–men. In this respect she reminded Dylan of Shelley, only without the neurotic, compensatory aura–she seemed genuinely happy. This, combined with her loose tanks and high-cut shorts, made her fairly impossible to dislike–cheese or no cheese. I sometimes think the only thing keeping Alice in her kerchief, dress, and apron was Brigetta, that if she found herself working alone with Missy she would be wearing cut-offs and smoking weed within a week. Missy teased the two Mennonite women incessantly, but in a good-natured, I’m-the-biggest-idiot-of-all way that made them love the attention. She continually accused Brigetta of being a cock-tease. “What? A smile? Did you get laid last night?” The Mennonite girls would look at each other as if Missy were speaking a language they could only pretend not to understand. And she had this habit of taking some meek remark made by either woman and distilling it into something outrageous. Once Alice said something like, “I think Kyle likes you,” and during morning coffee Missy declared, “Eh, Dylan? Apparently, Kyle wants to do a white woman! Dirty Indian, eh, Alice?”

Alice looked to her buttoned-to-the-neck cleavage, blushed and smiled. “That’s not what I–”

Of course he wants to do me! They all want to do me! How about you Dylan? You want to do me, don’t you?”

“Hell, no.”

“No?”

“I want to do you right.”

“Ah”–a quick, knowing glance at her co-workers–”Eh? And Alice? You would do Alice too if you could. C’mon, admit it.”

“Only if you were there to show her the ropes!”

“See! Fucking oinkers. Even the sweet ones!”

When Dylan reported these conversations to the guys in the bunkhouse during lunch, they would cry out, bury their faces in their hands.

“No fucking way, man. She say dat? Really?” Gilles.

“The question is what are you going to do about it?” Kyle.

“He ain’t going to do anything.” Cutter, of course.

“How do you know?” Dylan asked.

“Because she knows, man. She knows you run here every lunch blabbing.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Because it means she’s not talking to you.” His giant chicklet grin. “She’s talking to me.”

43

(1984)

At some point that first week, as everyone trudged back to their cars or the bunkhouse, Jerry swept up the lane in his pickup truck, calling for Dylan through curling sheets of dust. Something about helping him with the irrigation pump. This was bullshit of course–as Dylan quickly realized. Once at the pond, Jerry parked the pickup behind an obscuring fence of sumac and produced a one-grammer. They shared tokes directly from the cigarette, while Jerry explained, in a thin holding-the-smoke-in voice, how he needed Dylan to “keep on top of the girls.”

“Sure,” Dylan said. “But I’m not sure what difference it would make. We’re finishing boats minutes before Kyle arrives as it is.”

The big man shrugged, looked at him with eyes containing bigger concerns, and far more important questions. “More downtime for you then.”

So Dylan began his bitching at the girls, first from the darkness deep in the kiln, and then more personally later, when they were finishing the first half and he could stick his head out the kiln. Whenever the girls stopped the tying machine, no matter what the reason. “Pokey-pokey!” was pretty much all the nerve he could muster, but it was enough for Missy to notice.

Somehow, she managed to get Ghetto and Frankenhead on board, so just as he began complaining they would shout, “Shut the fuck up!” in unison–or partial unison, since only Missy would cry “the fuck.”

So Dylan began shouting, “Suck me off!”

After about the third or fourth time, there was a giggling pause, and he could hear Missy at her exhortatory best going, “C’mon, guys! C’monnnn! Ready? One. Two. Three…”

Then suddenly, all three of them shouted, “Eat! Me! Owwwwwwt!”

Delirious laughter.

That would be the one and only time Dylan would hear anything remotely risque from Ghetto and Frankenhead. Missy was a different story. After that she would screech “Eat me out!” no matter what Dylan called down.

“All talk!” he began crying in reply. Then he got creative.

“You should see me in action! Like Kentucky Fried Chicken, baby! I know how to make the bucket moan, believe you me.”

Even Ghetto and Frankenhead were laughing by this time, though with the fear of eternal damnation in their eyes. They always seemed to have the fear of damnation in their eyes. Either that or the memory of husbands and fathers.

“You won’t need to do dishes afterward, honey, ‘cause I always lick the plate clean!”

Missy tried to do the same with cocksucking, but she knew how it worked. Guys always won these games, not simply because the patriarchal dice were loaded, but because guys always were game. He would go down on her.

Still, you could tell she enjoyed losing these kinds of matches. She was young and attractive. Everyone opens up the throttle on a deserted road now and again.

Then finally, as the afternoon waxed, she cried out: “Okay, mouthy motherfucker. You want to eat me out, you can eat me out!”

“Bring it on, baby!”

Suddenly, she was standing at the base of the elevator shouting at him to shut it down. He glared at her in a yeah-right way, but did as he was told. Sure enough, she climbed on the base of the elevator, then laid out backwards, crying, “Turn it on, Sweetheart! Here I come!” Again Dylan did as he was told, marvelled as she began her ascent upside-down knees out. Everyone roared, even Ghetto and Frankenhead. Missy was crying she was laughing so hard. Dylan crouched at the belt’s terminus, waiting with his tongue out. “Heeeeer I come!” Missy cried, laughing at him from between her knees.

But as petite as she was, she was still too heavy for the ancient contraption. The belt began slipping once she made it half way up. That was when she realized how high up she was–when she got scared. Her eyes popping, she tried sitting up, only to precariously wobble. “Distribute your weight!” Dylan cried. “Lay back down!”

What began as a gag turned into a rescue operation. Heaving on the belt with his palms, Dylan was able to slowly paw her up to the kiln, where he pulled her to the relative safety of his boards. There was an awkward intimacy to their contact–as though they had scored an inadvertent hit with their flirtatious test rounds. She blushed crimson, gasped a toothy “Holy fuck, man!” and he lowered her to the bottom of the kiln. The rest of the afternoon was coloured by the rueful humour of antics gone wrong.

Missy was different around Dylan after that. More shy, and certainly more intent. No one talked about sucking off or eating out–at least outside the bunkhouse. A air of bashful wariness kept them polite. Like cousins trying to forget a night of passion.

44

(1984)

This was 1984, remember. We were the proletariat, not party members like you.

45

(Inapplicable)

Humans are hardwired to be easily and nearly irrevocably programmed. All humans.

This is a fact.

We start off as little sponges, unconsciously soaking up the claims and attitudes of those in our environment, and then, at a certain point, we harden.

46

(Indeterminate)

You think most the world lives in a dream.

Dylan thought he was a critical thinker. He knew very little about informal reasoning, a fallacy or two, and absolutely nothing about the myriad cognitive shortcomings that afflict us all. And yet he was certain he was a critical thinker. No different than you.

Why? Well, primarily because he didn’t believe what ‘uncritical thinkers’ believed (aside, that is, from believing he was a critical thinker).

When he began teaching his first courses, he regularly congratulated himself for teaching critical thinking, even though he hadn’t the foggiest idea of what ‘critical thinking’ was. He taught students how to formulate a thesis, then how to come up with arguments to justify that conclusion. Not simply how to write the ‘College Paper,’ but how to confuse it with all things good and rational.

He knew nothing about rationalization, of course, the way humans are prone to game interpretative underdetermination to justify their conclusions post hoc. If he had, he would have realized that was what he was teaching: how to more effectively gerrymander ‘evidence’ to support preexisting assumptions. Under the auspices of critical thought, he was literally closing down its possibility.

He believed he was a critical thinker simply because he thought most of the world lived in a dream.

But there’s no such thing as ‘critical thinkers.’

And everyone lives in a fucking dream.

47

(Present)

When it comes to all the questions that matter, neither of us know fuck all.

Being pigheaded and delusional actually paid real dividends back in the ancient communities that fixed our cognitive abilities. All sorts of social advantages fall out of cognitive selfishness in small groups, advantages that have real reproductive consequences, which make winning the argument far more important than getting things right. And this is what you’re hardwired for: winning the argument. This is why these very words annoy you or amuse you or whatever, why odds are you will ultimately refuse to concede, or start pinning on qualification after qualification, until you “realize” this is what you believed all along.

How many people do you think are capable of saying, “Fuck. I have been duping myself all along…”?

You in your first years of university, where the authority gradient is as steep as a cliff.

Born again Christians before their rebirth.

Certainly not you Now. Only traitors and cult-members possess that strength of character. Too many tools are worse than too few when it comes to assembling rationalizations.

At least back in the stone age we had the in-your-face interdependence of our communities to keep us in check. But Now, with the lines of interdependence multiplied and stretched to the point of utter economic anonymity, with the freedom to live in disposable, transient groups, we can just believe whatever–which is to say, all the bullshit you’re clinging to this very moment.

See, this is the thing. You don’t know who you are. You never have.

And yet you judge and judge and judge…

You should have heard her!.

Why does he do that?

Can you believe it?

You are the problem, my friend. You need to understand how profoundly you cannot be trusted. It’s a psychological fact that you can’t be certain of what you feel, what you perceive, what you remember, what you tell yourself as you cringe above the nethers of sleep.

You, my friend, are an illusion.

An unreliable reader if there ever was one.

48

(Indeterminate)

Tobacco is antithetical to human life. You don’t need a lifetime of smoking or decades of cancer research. You don’t need to know the concentrations of polonium 210 that leach out of the phosphates used to fertilize them. Just walk up to a tobacco plant: your evolutionary heritage will instantly tell you the rest.

We are born with knowledge of tobacco.

The look of it, the touch of it, and certainly the smell of it, are written into our DNA. A knee-jerk aversion. Even children raised by wolves would turn up their noses.

Tobacco worms are a case in point. About as long as your F finger, and easily as muscular. Green, with secondary colouring as bright as an airbrushed van. Compound eyes from another planet. As turgid as the plants they eat, and filled with a kind of day-glo green jelly. Cheesy creatures really, far too absurd to be found above sea level. Barbarella cheesy…

Tobacco, man, I’m telling you. Only aliens could consume the stuff.

And yet buried in these layers of antithesis lies this deep and improbable affinity, a chemical key that keeps when combusted, keeps the monkey coming back.

But of course.

When you work in tobacco, when you find yourself immersed in it, there’s this part of you trapped between shudders, a revulsion, not just because of the miserable form of your labour, but for the content as well. Then the field boss calls ‘coffee’ and you know that he really means ‘smoke.’ You stand, stretch and rub your back, then gingerly–because there’s nothing worse than the taste of tobacco–pluck a cigarette from your battered pack. Tobacco from some other field, harvested by other cramped and gum-stained hands.

Spark it up. Breathe deep.

Yes. Exactly what you needed. Tobacco.

This is why I never quit smoking. Two packs a day, making me a pariah among my more righteous colleagues and a hero [11] to the graduate students.

I figure I owe it to Dylan to finish at least one of the things he started.

[11] It is an opening to the ignorance it has always been, but has confused, since its very beginning, with fictive cultural prostheses.

49

(Indeterminate)

You have to understand: Canada Now is what Russia was in the 19th Century.

I imagine Nietzsche coming across the German translation of Notes from Underground, reading it and seeing not simply a stylistic model, but Europe at the close of the 19th Century. How? he must have asked. How could Dostoevsky, this literary yokel from a backward nation, have seen so clearly from so far?

What did he see?

In his second year in university, Dylan misread the Notes as a kind of character study, a stinging illustration of his own reflective insecurities carried to the extreme. Adolescents, particularly those who suffer the “disease of excessive consciousness,” are forever second guessing themselves, forever hesitating when they should be acting, forever regretting the inevitable byproducts of trying too hard. Think of your own adolescence, the booming imperative to be that amorphous thing called ‘cool.’ In a sense, you’re always betraying yourself when you’re 17, always strung across the chasm between who you want to be and what you happen to be–as a matter of unfortunate fact. Instead of maturing in the tight knit communities of our evolutionary past, we find ourselves shuffled between anonymous institutions. Instead of our peer groups growing like the successive tree rings about those of our parents, they form like wind-flung weeds. Instead of inheriting our identities, we find ourselves scrambling to cobble one together through various patterns of consumption, cultural or otherwise. Add to this the barrage of concepts and possibilities, all the ways for our thoughts to grow as hairy and unruly as our crotches and armpits… So of course the Underground Man rings true for undergraduates, or for anyone still smarting from their pubescent bruises. Only punks possess an authentic sense of self-identity. Only their ineptitude in treacherous social environments allows them to see how thoroughly they come after themselves. How many nights did Dylan spend rehearsing this or that event, cursing himself for saying or being this when he should have said or been that? How many anxious tirades? How many embittered resolutions? How many betrayals of self? And all of it hidden, concealed behind the awkward pantomime that was (to him) his phoney life. All of it buried beneath his anxious eyes–in the Underground. You see, Dylan quite naturally thought that the “Underground” was a kind of self, a genuine self, one too wretched, too insecure to ever be revealed in the light of others.

He missed the whole point of the Notes. The “Underground” isn’t a self, it’s the self’s antithesis.

What Dylan missed–and what Nietzsche saw–was this… The occluded frame of this very moment Now.

The it that thinks.

The word translated as “underground” in English is actually podpol’ye, which (my Russian uncle tells me) means the “space beneath the floor,” or in other words, the space you never see, or even better, the space outside of living space. And because you never see it, you typically don’t think it exists, even though it joists the floor of your possibility. (I mean, for most of us, adolescence is simply a “phase.” Sooner or later the planks of our thoughts come together to create the illusion of a seamless whole. The gaps that so plagued us in highschool recede into mists of rueful dinner party recollections. Perhaps we’ve become what we wanted. Perhaps we’ve ceased wanting to be what we weren’t. Most likely, we’ve simply pretended for so long we’ve forgotten we were pretending.) The voice of the Underground Man is the voice from the floorboards, which is to say, the voice from nowhere. Thus the consistency of his inconsistency: the Cretan illogic of his declarations make the assignation of unitary identity impossible–something other is always leaking through, not contaminating his voice, for this assumes some prior purity, but rather, constituting it, because you gotta ask yourself with each inevitable contradiction, who is disagreeing with whom? Our every thought arises out of a nowhere that we promptly confuse with here. We draw the connections sideways because we can’t see past the floor. This is what Nietzsche understood: the it thinking us in such a way that it denies itself. His mistake was to think we could come to some kind of ‘healthy accord,’ that we could compose authentic selves once we cleared away the debris of our denial, [12] which is to say, Christianity and Enlightenment Rationality. Notes from Underground is actually a kind of formal exercise. Each line of text a plank pried from the floor, each thought swinging to take the previous thought as its object, this… spinning in circles, gawking and craning, trying to glimpse the back of its head, and always only finding ‘that’–all the while jimmying itself ever further from ‘living life.’ For the space of an afternoon, it performs you, allows you to be what you in fact are via the prophylactic of another voice, first in the connective tissue of theory, then through the skin of narrative.

In Russia modernity came late. People like you are often surprised by just how unnatural theoretical questions are. An anthropologist specializing in religion could give you an endless list of the out-and-out preposterous things we’re capable of believing unto death, things that turtle at the slightest critical touch. There’s people out there sharing the same basic cognitive architecture as you who believe that Hitler is not only alive, but presently rules a Fourth Reich inside our hollow earth. We’re literally capable of swallowing anything, impossibilities, contradictions, and just plain retarded stupid stuff. This is what made the ancient Greeks and their annoying habit of systematic interrogation so earth-shattering: we’re hardwired to think we have things pretty much sewn up. So in traditional cultural contexts, we repeat, over and over, and transformation occurs through the meandering accumulation of largely arbitrary mutations within the template of our shared circumstances and common biological imperatives. But once we begin asking questions, oh boy. And once we begin institutionalizing the asking of questions… look out! The tides of repetition begin evaporating beneath the rays of reflection. Implicit norms become explicit norms become obsolete norms. The solidarity and the organic unity of the past begins breaking down. Everything becomes rationalized: we revamp our codes, make them slaves of those repetitions that lie beyond the power of reflection, the things we can’t stop doing, fighting, fucking, and feeding. Capitalism and consumerism take root. Traditional cultures become compost heaps, yet one more way to maximize yields. In Europe, this breakdown occurred gradually enough for creeping normalcy to do its work. But in Russia, where modernization was imposed from the top down, the frog tried to jump out. Dostoevsky was one of those soft-skinned amphibians. He could feel the pot boiling, and he could remember when the water was cool. He believed his Bible [13] enough to be afraid of numbers. “Give me the old norms back!” he cried. But he was wise enough to leave the Crawlspace Man where the Czar’s censors had left him: hanging without ersatz redemption (sometimes oppression gets things right). Nietzsche, who saw through this nostalgic nonsense, replaced it with his own affirmative nonsense. “Be your own rule!” he cried, so giving birth to lord knows how many groundless po-mo affirmations.

But in Canada modernity is all there ever was. We’re rationalized down to the final plank, and we always have been. Like they say, we’re a country that is a question (looking for your navel is not the same as gazing at it). A place of quiet lives, quiet joys, and quiet sorrows–a land of bewildered contentment.

Canada is where humanity at long last wakes up to discover that it’s dead.

Which is why I cry, “Who gives a fuck?”

Really. Who?

Everyone sleeps through their own funeral.

[12] It cannot countenance what it is.

[13] A word is a hundred million neurons starved to a point.

Light, Time, and Gravity (VII)

by rsbakker

Imagine being hated.

31

(1984)

Dylan despised the phone–almost as much as Dad did.

When I was twelve I would drive our riding lawn-mower a mile or so down Lakeshore Road to the Parson’s, the engine so loud that I wouldn’t hear the whisk of passing cars until they passed me. I mowed their lawn every week through the spring and summer, 3 dollar’s a pop. The thing is, I was always too shy to ask Mrs. Parsons for the money after finishing the lawn, and Dad would ride me about asking. Finally, toward the end of summer, I screwed up my courage and asked her–the outstanding sum was something like 30 dollars, I think. Mrs. Parsons stunned me by saying, no, that I didn’t deserve to be paid because I had never asked. My father was outraged, and that evening he demanded I call the Parsons and ask them if they were the kind of people who cheated little kids. I didn’t want to. I cried, begged Dad to not make me. He grabbed me by the neck and pinned me against the wall beneath the phone–our only one–in the kitchen. He screamed at me to make the call, began whacking me on the head with the receiver when I refused.

I caved. I was a blubbering, snivelling mess. For the life of me I don’t remember what I said–only trying to pitch my hitching, heaving voice over Mom and Dad screaming. Mrs. Parsons paid me in full the next time I saw her.

Dad congratulated me, told me that I had learned a valuable lesson.

So valuable that it pretty much made calling Harley one of the most difficult things Dylan had ever done.

“I just thought, um, you know, if you were ever feeling lonely, that I could come over and watch another, um, movie, you know?”

“Dylan…”

“Just a thought.”

“Dylan… look…” A long sigh packed with essays of meaning. “There’s just so much… so much you wouldn’t… understand.”

“I can try. I want to try.”

“I gotta go. Look. Please…”

“Please what?”

“Please don’t call.”

The phone clattered in the cradle.

I sometimes ask myself where they’ve all gone, the tingling phone conversations, the breathlessness of forcing anxious, inarticulate thought through hair-thin wires. The tickle of pop-song heartbreak in the bottom of your ears. Aging and bloating are so often the very same thing. When you’re young the aperture is so blessedly small that these things can only be monstrously big. Nothing is small or sordid. Significance is the cause of blindness, and not just another symptom.

Things. Things. Things.

I like to think that it understands what Dylan could not, and in my blank wall reveries I spin stories for her, Harley, subtle tales of Bovarian frustration, as well as graphic Penthouse letters. I have so many words now–too many. I look past the turn-of-the-century French circus poster decorating my office wall, and I see her, walking naked beneath the floating fabric of her dress.

My cock feels as young as my heart feels old.

32

(1997)

Rachel left me within eighteen months. She had taken a job with the Ministry of Natural Resources counting tree zygotes or something like that. This involved a six week stint up at some research centre somewhere around Ottawa. We were scheduled to talk every Sunday afternoon–nowadays this seems hard to believe, but she had only limited access to a phone. The first Sunday she was all chatty excitement. The second Sunday she was sobbing uncontrollably.

“What’s wrong? Honey?”

“We-we went c-camping…”

I remember spasms of hatred, images of unknown male competitors, the horrified certainty that she had been assaulted or raped. I didn’t so much feel the urge to murder as I felt the impulse aiming me.

“Rachel–Rachel! What happened?”

“I-I was the one who-who was supposed to p-put out the fire…”

“And?”

“I-I th-thought I had! I really did! I didn’t m-m-mean to!”

“Mean to what?”

“The fire wasn’t ooout,” she bawled. “After we left, it-it… I burned down nine hectares of forest!”

He wasn’t sure what a ‘hectare’ was then, just as I’m not now. Everywhere I look, I see acres.

“What? You?”

Oooold growth!” she keened.

“Oh, Sweetheart, please. It was an accide–!”

“I w-work for the Min-ministry,” she screeched, “and I burned down nine hectares of f-fucking forest! What kind of loser does that?

So the next Sunday I was deeply concerned, as you might imagine. But she seemed almost annoyingly chipper when I talked to her. I found myself irritated by how little she seemed to need me, let alone care about my meagre attempts to cheer her up. This was when she told me about ‘Jeff,’ and how he had been sooo understanding, sooo helpful.

More spasms of hatred.

“He’s just my friend. God, why are you so insecure all of a sudden?”

I was reading War and Peace at the time, [7] and I spent the next week absolutely mystified by how much difficulty I was having with Anatole’s seduction of Natasha. Simply reading made me feel like I had a chest-cold.

Then the next Sunday finally rolled around.

I could hear it in her voice: I swear I knew the sum of our conversation even before she completed her first word.

“Look…” spoken in that angry-to-better-be-cruel tone. “I don’t know how to say this so I’m just going to say it. Jeff and I, well… we want…”

Rachel had always been a curiously tactless person, forever mystified by the violent responses that her ‘just saying’ this or that seemed to provoke.

“We want to… you know, sleep with each other.”

Just like that. Boom.

It was as if she were hanging in some other dimension, dangling from some phone company thread: I couldn’t grab her, shake her, hug her knees and weep. I couldn’t frighten her with the ferocity of my outrage. All she had to do was let slip the receiver and snip, she would be gone forever.

All I had were pleas, arguments… theories

About Jeff. About her. How he was playing on her vulnerabilities (because he was). How he would happily let her grenade her marriage, fuck her for the brief remainder of their contractual term, then unceremoniously dump her after the mission was done (as he did).

All I had was the truth. They, on the other hand, had biology. Aside from her quaint scruples, her need to be ‘honest’ about her desires, everybody knew what was going to happen. That was what made it so fraught.

There was no call the following Sunday.

It’s a funny thing, finding yourself stranded with the belongings of an unfaithful wife. You would think you would hate them, all these little behavioural residues. The shoes piled beside the door. The belts hanging in the closet. All the prints that you hated but she adored…

A starfish? What the fuck was she thinking?

But you don’t.

It’s like you wake up in this space where everything has gone wrong, and there’s nothing to do but soak it all in, absorb all the cutting edges. You feel incarcerated by the hanging of things. All the possessions lying fallow  according to this or that unactualized project. You feel pious with outrage, abject with shame. You feel mystified by the sheer impossibility of it all. You begin packing because the apartment seems so stupid, as if someone had paused the movie for so long it had become pointless to watch the end.

You just need to change the channel.

Meanwhile this primeval conviction undulates on the reefs just below, a poisonous anemone rooted and waving across the low boundaries of your awareness, the knowledge that some other man is fucking the woman you (Now, suddenly) love with the same reckless urgency as you once did in those first days… That she’s crying out, convulsing about some other man’s cock.

You actually feel it in your chest: the momentary mashing of his glans, the bread-soft pop of insertion, the swallowing glide.

So you begin packing, trying not to think of the ghost fucking your heart. You go slow. You itemize, not so much out of reluctance to be done, but because your confusion seems to require an answering fastidiousness. It’s painstaking business cleaning up after disasters. Debris becomes holy.

This was when I found an old sheet fading into cadaverous grey about the edges, upon which someone had typed the following:

Everything has a cause.

A –> B –> C

A= outer event

B= inner event

C= this very thought Now!!!!!!

My first thought was one of pity. Poor fool…

Stupid cocksucker.

But for all its sincerity, this preemptive interpretation simply made matters worse. I was in pain, you see, genuine anguish. So why not think of myself as a kind of spontaneous output?

Or even better, why not look at her as a kind mechanism running through an ancient reproductive program? Rachel’s eyes, which had always seemed so luminous and emotive in the Now, dulled to painted marbles in my memory. Her beauty became premeditated, cynical, something contrived to evoke certain responses, like the way Disney characters exploit infantile facial characteristics to trigger parental and familial instincts.

A doll, I thought. I’ve been betrayed by a doll.

She wasn’t even fucking real… Christ.

I remember sitting down to wrestle with the breathlessness of the thought. A, I thought. BC

This was when the car swerved and hit me.

You see, for the first time I realized that this stupid formula was what I had been pursuing all along, from fucking Lacan to Derrida to Deleuze to… whoever it is you pretend to ‘get’ this intellectual quarter.

It thinks, therefore I was.

Only expressed in the clumsy common sense of a 14 year-old, banging thoughts away on his first typewriter.

And I finally realized that Dylan and I had been typing the same fucking thing all along. We had literally kept typing the same self-immolating thought through decades of apparent ‘revelation.’ [8] Ever since I was fourteen…

It. Me. Nobody.

Running me down and backing up, again and again. [9]

[7] It is this

[8] It is continuous with the world as described by science.

[9] It iterates. Iterates without interval. Thus the illusion of this

33

(Inapplicable)

I look for him in the mirror… Almost every morning.

Nothing.

Of course the brain can’t recognize itself. Of course the brain can’t interpret its own processes the way it interprets environmental processes. Since the thalamocortical system is hardwired to the rest of the brain it simply cannot ‘gain perspective’ on itself, which is to say, sample its neurological environment the variable way it can its ecological.

But there’s bigger problems. There’s process assymmetry, the fact that whatever recursive processing the brain develops will simply add to the load of ‘blind processing.’ Growing a second brain to keep track of the mammalian first simply increases the amount of brain that goes untracked. And then there’s the developmental fact that human consciousness is so young in evolutionary terms.

Of course consciousness is an exercise in misrecognition.

The problem is that for us this misrecognition is the baseline, the only frame of reference we possess.

I’m not accusing you of being a fiction for nothing.

Given this, we should expect comparative increases in human self-knowledge to take the form of a series of ‘seeings through,’ a setting aside of more superficial understandings. The question is simply one of how far this process will take us from ourselves

This is the joke at the heart of the comedy called transhumanism: the blithe faith that the truth of humanistic principles transcends our parochial humanity, that the integration of man and technology will lead to anything more than angelic monsters…

Suicides. Homocides.

Bartlebys.

Cutters.

34

(Inapplicable)

If you set aside all the theoretical claims that have no hope of finding arbitration, all the myriad philosophical ‘revolutions’ and ‘circumventions,’ then the most honest thing you can say about  this… is that it’s all in your head–which in turn is all in your head.

The question, the missing question, is simply: what is it about the structure of the brain that explains how the head can be in our head. How come this… can only be grasped as that from the standpoint of another occluded this

Why does consciousness possess an ‘occluded frame structure’?

35

(Inapplicable)

The thalamocortical system suffers from what might be called ‘recursive encapsulation.’

When we process our brain the way neuroscientists do, through our ancient and powerful environmental circuitry, the information horizon of the thalamocortical system is all but invisible. We just see process stacked on processes, with nothing to suggest why only a fraction of them seem to be involved in the production of experience. When we process our brain through our young and ill-equipped experiential circuitry, the information horizon becomes all powerful. We see trees, rather than trees causing us to see trees. Things like words and people seem to hang outside the causal circuit of the surrounding world. Our wants and decisions seem to arise ex nihilo. The list goes on.

Say someday, using various structural and functional criteria, we are able to map thalamocortical information horizons in the brain, so that we can reliably predict whether this or that neurophysiological process lies within the pale of possible awareness or not. Say that we are able to plot the flexible boundaries of consciousness.

Now here’s the problem. When we look at our map through our environmental circuitry, the way neuroscientists do, we see process continuity, which is to say, we see both sides of the boundary. We see, in other words, the very thing that utterly drops out of experience: the functional provenance of the information taken up by the thalamocortical system.

The functionality of the thalamocortical system simply cannot be taken up as a datum within that system–as a matter of principle, thanks to process asymmetry, the fact that recursive processing simply adds to the blind processing load. But apart from the generation problem–the question as to why recursive processing should give rise to something as peculiar (from a scientific perspective) as consciousness at all–this suggests that consciousness as we experience it can only be explained away.

Why? Because recursive encapsulation insures that experience is a concatenation of fragmentary kluges, gerrymandered ways that the thalamocortical system makes due with its necessarily limited recursive access. Purpose, meaning, morality, and so on, are simply on-the-spot fixes, reliable because of their broader functional role, yet misapprehensions all the same.

Which means, in some bizarre way, that we are impervious to theoretical knowledge.

Inapplicable.

36

(Inapplicable)

Why can’t I make sense of my life?

Because the very experience of comprehension is a form of misapprehension.

Sounds impossible, I know.

It could be the case that what counts as comprehension for the brain and what counts as comprehension for experience are different animals entirely.

Say your brain ‘gets’ my brain is some deep sense, but all you experience (encapsulated as you are) is a fractional sliver of this concordance, perhaps accompanied by a ‘feeling of understanding.’ Since your conscious comprehension is systematically related to your brain’s occluded comprehension, then, no matter how distorted or fragmentary your conscious comprehension may be, it will get things ‘right’ if your brain gets things right. Since your conscious comprehension is your baseline for comprehension period, your understanding will seem exhaustive.

The confusion will only arise when you try to ‘get behind’ this understanding, when your thalamocortical system gropes for resources that lay beyond its information horizon.

This is when you begin to confabulate…

Philosophize.

37

(Present)

This is why confusion and controversy drag down our every attempt to get behind intentionality.

This is why intentionality ‘works,’ even though there is no such thing.

This is why intentionality will never be ‘eliminated’ or ‘reduced.’

This is why my life makes as little sense as yours.

38

(Inapplicable)

In the humanities we have grown comfortable with the notion that we are little more than fragments, that consciousness is the froth on the deep, dark pint of the unconscious. We have grown comfortable with the notion of meanings and morals and intentions and choices operating outside of our volition. The fragmentary self, the ‘decentred post-modern subject,’ is pretty much an article of faith among us.

But note the inconsistency: we assume fragmentary subjects, only to blithely assume that the experiential staples that comprise it–meanings and morals and intentions and so on–are wholes. They are not.

That’s the craziest thing about this

It doesn’t exist.

39

(Inapplicable)

Consciousness is simply a fraction of the brain turned inside out.

The ‘for world’ of consciousness is an artifact of the thalamocortical system’s inability to process its neurophysiological from. There is no such world.

And we’re trapped in it.

40

(Present)

Meaning is simply the shape of our abjection.