While Harold Jaffe’s writing has been dubbed “literary terrorism” by numerous critics (and even his own publishers), one would find it difficult to categorize Induced Coma: 50 and 100 Word Stories, his most recent volume of docufiction, as terroristic. Rather, Jaffe’s meticulous deconstructions of mainstream “news” articles and various other online and print sources demonstrate the consciousness of an artist who is struggling with, as he calls it, “writing in a dying world.”
The following is forthcoming in the Journal of Experimental Fiction (JEF).
Revolutionary Brain: A Review
Tyrone Nagai (February 28, 2013)
Reading Harold Jaffe’s Revolutionary Brain: Essays and Quasi Essays should be done with both a wide arc that considers the multiple interconnections among the 19 texts as well as precise focus on the book’s epigraph by Julia Kristeva: “as abject—so the sacred.” Throughout Jaffe’s tome, which covers a broad spectrum of topics from “Anal Acrobats” to “Salvation Mountain,” the common denominator is Kristeva’s notion of the “abject.” Kristeva defines the “abject” as the physical and emotional reaction to disintegration in meaning caused by the disruption of the relationship between subject and object, or self and other. In Kristeva’s theorizations, reactions to the abject in the form of horror, vomit, or fear come naturally from experiencing shit, sewage, gaping wounds, or a human corpse. And as the epigraph suggests, Jaffe’s essays and quasi-essays attempt to show this breakdown in the established hierarchies of meaning, social structure, and power relations as not only abject but perhaps as sacred too, for Kristeva argues that one of the means of purifying the abject is through art. Moreover, by reimagining the essay through docufiction, verse, memoir, and agitprop, Jaffe articulates an unrestrained polemics on contemporary political, social, and cultural dogma. His innovative use of form melds with the provocative content to push readers out of their comfort zone and into a space where the intellectual and imaginative must work together to form understanding.
The opening narrative, “Death in Texas,” consists of a list of last statements by death row inmates. Their date of execution, name, prison identification number, and county are the only details given besides their last statement—which must be completed in three minutes or less according to Texas law—yet Jaffe is able to evoke a range of ethnic identities, spiritual orientations, and emotional states. Varying combinations of guilt, love, forgiveness, acceptance, and justice all intermingle in the prisoners’ words, and perhaps this ultimately serves as an indictment of not only the use of capital punishment in Texas, which leads the U.S. in executions, but also the silencing of dissenting voices that come from the margins.
“Crisis Art” reads like a more traditional essay in terms of its form, and it seems to extrapolate from Kristeva’s words in the epigraph. In this text, Jaffe provides numerous examples of crisis art—or “the use of cultural means to effect social change or a wider social awareness”—in order to make the case for more activist-oriented art work. Jaffe’s knowledge and understanding of crisis art’s history and effectiveness especially illuminate his abilities as a writer, scholar, and political thinker. While some may view crisis art as something ephemeral and in need of a “cause” in order to harness its energy, Jaffe instead makes the case for crisis art as a response to the dominant culture that can endure and inspire long after the immediate crisis fades away.
“Freeze-Dry” is a compact text of 48 words about attempts to freeze a nine-year-old girl with severe developmental problems that have left her with the mental capacity of a one-month-old. Perhaps what’s most startling is the last line: Watch the child twist her mouth grotesquely and emit animal noises [Video]. By imitating a hyperlink, this line is suggestive of Guy Debord’s notion of the spectacle and contemporary culture’s turn to an actuality mediated through abstract imagery enabled by technology: “Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation.” In other words, the girl’s predicament is broadcast for the world to watch, yet genuine sympathy or compassion remains inhibited while the possibility of individual emotional catharsis remains, like drivers passing a fatal accident on the highway.
In a related way, “Anal Acrobats” amplifies this concept articulated in “Freeze-Dry” by focusing on U.S. culture as a whole, which Jaffe describes as “pocked with noise, blandishments, spectacle, shameless contradictions, brazen lies, squalid apologies.” In turn, Jaffe suggests that the people enveloped by this culture “need extremity beyond extremity to dodge the collective torment we are forbidden to acknowledge.” And how does this extremity express itself? And what is forbidden? Through mainstream acceptance of anal acrobats (porn stars engaged in anal sex), Jaffe proposes that “anal” has become a substitute for “death,” which, in his words, is officially suppressed in the U.S. One can think not only of the silenced inmates on death row in Texas but also the prohibition against filming the flag-draped caskets of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. And in a world of “beautiful people wannabes (who may be Tea Partiers in real time)” the destruction of the natural environment caused by “profit-mad industry” with assistance from cynical politicians becomes the impending death we are all too scared to face.
“Pet Girl” is a brief text about a young woman who is led around on a leash by her boyfriend. It serves as a set up for the following story “Animals,” which also seems to connect with “Anal Acrobats” in the sense of interrogating the juncture where “surplus profit metastasized electronically.” Here, notions of property, sexism, slavery, and animal rights intermingle as a trickling thought in the background of the story rather than the forefront, and the text makes a logical transition into the next essay.
“Animals” makes leaps from Jorge Luis Borges’ mythical creature, the A Bao A Qu, to Sri Ganesh, elephant-son of Lord Shiva, and to the poaching of elephants and other animals on the African savannah. From there, Jaffe makes a series of quick turns, touching on Clarice Lispector, Buddhist monks, Upton Sinclair, Gandhi, and “Lord Rama, whose animal familiar was Sri Hanuman, a monkey, infinitely superior to human kind.” The rapid fire references and images accumulate and intersect like a montage to build a larger, more evocative scene. In some ways, Jaffe is pointing to human beings as creatures without conscience and animals as the ones with true dignity and wisdom.
“Fear” is a one-page exchange of questions and answers between two unidentified voices that pontificate about cognac and how it inspires them to become “unafraid.” It is through this imbibing of spirits that one of the characters is able to ultimately lose their fear and becomes merciful, thus suggesting an inhibition against such sympathetic feelings.
“Iso” seems to be linked to “Fear” through the character Qa, whose name evokes the question-and-answer format of the latter story, yet Qa seems to serve as an alter ego that is forced to navigate the strife and anxiety of the present. In terms of style, “Iso” reads like a long jazz riff with the rhythm and burst of a poem. The stream of consciousness associations flow freely, encompassing red-winged blackbirds, Mississippi, Robert Johnson, alienation, Oedipus, zombies, cinema, “the 1%,” and dissident art.
“Sacrifice” initially draws on Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1986 film of the same title to bob and weave its way through a discussion of the meaning and purpose of both real and ritualistic sacrifice in the context of a “diseased earth is in the throes of dying.” Antonin Artaud, Marquis de Sade, Adolf Hitler, the Holocaust, Gustav Mahler, John Brown, slavery, and Pierre Paolo Passolini all appear in “Sacrifice” as Jaffe uses brief anecdotes to illustrate different forms and outcomes derived from both actual and perceived “sacrifice.”
“Bride of Frankenstein,” based on the 1935 film, questions the idea of who or what is a monster by closely following the plot of James Whale’s iconic work. In the process, Jaffe reveals glimpses of the inner lives and personalities of three writers: Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron, all of whom appear as characters in the film.
“Things to Do” (1) is a short text with a strong poetic, and it suggests ingesting Ecstasy (uncut), taking a warm bath, and sitting “naked, cross-legged on the Navajo rug loving the world and everything in it” for two hours and forty-five minutes. Perhaps Jaffe is pointing out an ironic truth in that the much maligned ingestion of Ecstasy comes precisely at a historical juncture where the commoditization of time has become an omnipresent, 24/7 actuality in which even love can be ingested in pill form and measured with a clock.
“Truth Force” takes a darker turn in that it deals with torture, violence, and execution as political practice. The story appears to take place in a Spanish-speaking country in Latin America where a military junta has seized power, enlisted a professional torturer from the U.S., and commenced abducting, interrogating, and executing poor and indigenous insurgents. What makes the story stand out is that Jaffe adopts the perspective of the insurgents, and he excavates the process of how they transformed from being nonviolent protesters using Gandhi’s philosophy to being violent revolutionaries in the mold of Che or Trotsky. In short, the insurgents quickly realize that they must fight state-sanctioned violence with their own righteous violence. In their case, there is no other way to work for political change.
“Hijab” continues in a political direction, but the focus is on the anti-Islamic micro and macro aggressions perpetrated by national governments, such as those in France and the U.S. “Hijab” involves two alternating refrains that reset the discourse each time. The first one, “French technocrat and Muslim teenager at the entrance to the lycée outside Paris,” grounds a discussion about the politics of forcing Muslim girls to remove their hijabs before entering public schools. The Muslim teenager only known as Mille, a girl wearing a hijab, rightfully points out to the French technocrat that other African and Caribbean students in France are not required to remove their dashikis, bubas, kaftans, jubbahs, or dreadlocks when they attend public schools. In addition, Catholic nuns are never asked to remove their head coverings. Interspersed with this conversation is a second refrain, “Two global reprobates slouching outside the Bourse, in Paris.” Here, two characters wax and wane about 9/11, McCarthyism, genocide, the internment of Japanese and Arab Americans, female and male circumcision, Nicolas Sarkozy, William James, and the veil as metaphor for various political “curtains,” such as the Iron curtain, bamboo curtain, etc. But, when the discussion reaches the so-called Muslim curtain, one reprobate explains to the other that “the greatest horrors will be wreaked by the other side,” i.e., the West.
“Russian Roo” opens with “See the wizened humanoid in his motorized wheelchair flying a tattered American flag, the flag that maimed him in the war and afterwards.” The disembodied voices of the story discuss the writer Graham Greene’s anti-war novel The Quiet American and the rumors that he played Russian Roulette and smoked opium. But, embedded within this narrative is another one about disappearing the so-called “robotic leaders” and deleting the “corrupt institutions,” which seems to circle back to the opening line: “See the wizened humanoid in his motorized wheelchair flying a tattered American flag, the flag that maimed him in the war and afterwards.”
“Things to Do” (2) veers away from the explicitly political subject matter of the previous three texts by presenting a type of fetish involving women’s hair taken from lost or delayed airline luggage. The last line encourages one to “Encode your fantasies of the hair-owner’s most intimate gestures on your smart phone.” While this tale may seem like a non sequitur, it could be read as an inverted metaphor about corporate surveillance, the invasion of privacy, and the U.S. obsession with air travel security and terrorism in the post-9/11 environment.
“Salvation Mountain” is an interview with Dewey Birdsong, the creator of Salvation Mountain in Slab City, California. In some ways, this text echoes “Crisis Art” in the sense that Dewey has no formal training as an artist, sculptor, or painter, but he is nonetheless making art as a spiritual act in much the same way that crisis artists make art for a political cause. For Dewey, he wants to spread the message that “God is love,” and Salvation Mountain is his testament to Jesus. He survives on the donations and charity of others, and he lives simply in an old truck on the site of the mountain. While Revolutionary Brain often slashes at dominant discourses to peel away their veneer and reveal the fundamental rot and ugliness beneath the surface, “Salvation Mountain” offers a rare glimpse of the sublime.
Like some of the other far-ranging essays in the book, with their intellectual leaps and cultural bounds, “Weep” crisscrosses various persons and political causes to interrogate both the fear and anguish that can move one to tears. From Marlon Brando crying at the casket of assassinated Black Panther leader Fred Hampton to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, and many points in between, “Weep” ultimately ends with what may be considered the overarching thesis of Jaffe’s book: “Weeping animals, plants and stones, traverse the benighted globe, commencing in the west, swaying south, east, north. Even as I walk hand-in-hand / hand-in-paw, weeping, I stand sad-eyed by the gravest, the worst-suffering. I pass my hand over their heads. They are impressive in their weeping. Tormented, restless, they weep until bloody, fruitless wars are over. Climate change acknowledged and addressed. Dehumanizing post-capitalism hacked, disempowered. The invisible colored poor made visible. The twisted made sound. Enslaving technology disappeared. How long will all that take?”
“Revolutionary Brain,” the title essay of the book, explains the odd but true story of violent revolutionary Ulrike Meinhof, whose brain was preserved and studied, without her family’s permission, by neurologists after her alleged suicide in prison in 1976. Psychiatrist Bernhard Bogerts had secretly examined Meinholf’s brain for 15 years, and he concluded that surgery in 1962 to remove a brain tumor may have influenced or even caused Meinholf to co-found the revolutionary organization Red Army Faction, which led a series of political killings and kidnappings intended to overthrow the German state in the 1970s. While the surreal nature of this tale makes it interesting by itself, its placement alongside the other essays raises questions about the nature of political resistance and the extremities that dominant actors in the state will go to medicate, sanitize, suppress, or otherwise deflect attention from the inequality, oppression, alienation, and exploitation—all byproducts of dysfunctional governmental and economic systems—that lead to insurrection and revolt. What’s more, Jaffe ends this story with a section titled Revolution Post-Mill, which might appear to be a separate text, but it is actually the second part of “Revolutionary Brain.” Revolution Post-Mill is a list of pornographic web sites, but Jaffe treats them in a way to emphasize their not so hidden racism, sexism, and homophobia. While, on the one hand, the dominant culture casts pornography in a questionable moral light, it is simultaneously a multibillion dollar business controlled by similarly structured corporate entities that administer other sections of the mass media. When placed so close to the story about Meinhof, one can’t help but see how direct political action, such as that carried out by the Red Army Faction, becomes nothing more than a distraction given the heaps of attention paid to online pornography, and this seems to return to the issues raised in Jaffe’s “Anal Acrobats.”
The final text, “Things to Do” (3), offers not a call for liberation through revolution, escape through self medication, or inner peace through meditation, but an enunciation by Joseph Roth: “The world worth living in is doomed. The world that will follow deserves no decent inhabitants.” While some may see this as fatalistic and pessimistic, prolonging the status quo is no longer an option for writers like Jaffe. The Earth is dying. Sustaining our current political and economic trajectories will not result in continuous ascent into greater wealth and prosperity for all. Rather, we are rapidly consuming our way into oblivion. If there is a hope, perhaps it resides in Revolutionary Brain.
Tyrone Nagai received his MFA in Creative Writing from San Diego State University. His work has appeared in Fiction International, The Strip, New Verse News, and Armageddon Buffet.
His review of Revolutionary Brain, forthcoming in the Journal of Experimental Fiction.
Harold Jaffe was recently interviewed by Joe Haske of Rampike Magazine. The following is to be published in September 2013:
Joe Haske: You refer to the texts in Revolutionary Brain as “essays and quasi-essays.” I’ve read some of these texts previously in various journals where you have referred to them as “docufiction.” Could you describe your take on genre distinctions? Why do you classify these texts as “essays and quasi-essays,” as opposed to fiction? How does genre and the mixing of genre inform the structure and style of the texts in this “essay” collection?
Harold Jaffe: Official culture is seemingly comprised of multiple discourses: news, sports talk, tech talk, political rhetoric, prayer breakfast talk, health talk, art talk, etc. In fact these are all blandishments, versions of entertainment for profit, intended to further insulate Americans from what remains of problematic real time.
Mimesis does not strictly mean photographing the time and place you inhabit. Nonetheless, we’re all fastened to our dying culture, and some of us at least feel compelled to inscribe it. In Revolutionary Brain I am aping official culture to plunder it. Hence, I interface ostensible genres, so that there is no hard and fast distinction between prose, verse, fiction, non-fiction, theory, everyday bullshitting; and I am montaging these seemingly different genres to tease out their ideological subtexts.
By montage I mean that I pile sometimes incongruous seeming images and tropes one upon the other as, say, Eisenstein does in Battleship Potemkin, or October, to mimic the hugger-mugger information overload in the culture; but like Eisenstein, my intention is dialectical, namely to dramatize the cultural transformation of so-called information and manifold discourse into entertainment for profit.
Readers and reviewers have asked questions about the lengthy porn site list which I title “Revolution Post-Mill.” With the triumph of technology, lists (or catalogs) are among our principal discourses. To verify, just scan any MSN site. The most obscure data are now recoverable, and with all of that condensed “information” the appearance is of substantiality. Of course it is just another version of entertainment-consumerism. You will observe a list on ESPN, such as how many Dominican baseball infielders younger than 26 eat a carne burrito between the seventh inning stretch and the top of the ninth. The list, appearing more than it is, takes 90 seconds, then comes a seven minute commercial break.
Revolutionary Brain is filled with lists and partial lists and catalogs. Note Animals, Weep, Iso, Crisis Art.
But the porn site list, much of which I “treat”, works especially in contrast to the opening “list” of humans on death row in Texas permitted 3 minutes to recite their last words then be executed. Each of these lists is officially prohibited, except that the porn list is prohibited deliberately to be trespassed. With young people sexing (then “sexting”) they are in effect insulated from doing much else, which is what official culture wants, even as it condemns the enormous multi-billion dollar pornography industry.
JH: You begin Revolutionary Brain with one of those lists, “Death in Texas” and conclude with the other, the pornography list, “Revolution Post Mill.” You have frequently explored the concept of eros/thanatos or thanatos/eros in your work, so one might infer that something similar is at play with the placement of these two texts in Revolutionary Brain. By ending with “Revolutionary Post Mill,” an eros of sorts, are you conveying ironic optimism? A sincere optimism? Is our society/culture worth salvaging? What is the revolution you propose through the juxtaposition of the various types of discourse you assemble in Revolutionary Brain?
HJ: The literal ending of the volume is not “Revolution Post-Mill” but the third brief “Things to Do,” this one featuring Joseph Roth’s enunciation” The world worth living in is doomed. The world that will follow deserves no decent inhabitants.”
The contrast between “Death in Texas” and “Revolution Post-Mill” is meant to exemplify the degradation of ethical dissent. Online pornography, like sex-selling commercials, is alleged to be taboo, but is actually there for our delectation. As I write above: With young people having bionic sex they are in effect insulated from doing much else; this is what official culture wants, even as it nominally condemns pornography, which is sponsored in good part by the corporate sector. Like Nazis, sharks, crocodiles, and serial killers, online porn sites are condemned even as they are consumed.
On the other hand, the dissent of the poor is nipped at the bud, with the three minutes the Mexican-American and African-American inmates are given to utter their last words on death row in Texas. What the inmates end up saying is anything but trivial, but naturally they will be unheard. I’ve given them the right to become visible and speak.
The culture-consumption porn sites also function as another venue to smuggle racism and sexism into the public forum, disguised as erotic ecstasies. I’ve “treated” the porn site listings so that they are manically rhythmic, exhibiting a kind of lurid elegance.
I am attempting to represent revolution’s public misrepresentations. With the world perishing from global warming a new and improved institutional ruthlessness has been loosed. We see it in the genocidal wars, one after another, and in the “extraordinary rendition” (torture) camps spread throughout the globe. We see it in the unapologetic avarice and cruelty of “public servants.” We see it in the scapegoating of Muslims. We see it in the militarization of urban space, so that peaceful protesters are pushed far away from their righteous target, then ignored or lied about in the corporate media.
It could be that a somewhat different approach to ethical dissent and revolution are necessary. What the lineaments of this response will be is not yet clear; though the online interventions by Anonymous and other dissident groups that employ advanced technology have made some impact. Anony-mous has devised an up-to-the-nanosecond tactic to expropriate the expropriators, but one imagines that most of the Anonymous infidels are young, even very young, so it is difficult to predict its outcome.
JH: Given the historically significant role of literature in prompting social change, do you believe that contemporary literature will ultimately yield progress in a “culture of ten-year-olds,” as one voice refers to our society in your text, “Animals?” What is the potential of literature for inciting revolution in a time when the masses are primarily influenced by visual effect and digital media? Is art itself in crisis, in danger of extinction, when official culture is trending toward the “practical” in mainstream culture and in our educational system?
HJ: The distinction between serious and frivolous art has been eroded. Read aloud a passage from Yeats then a passage from some contemporary versifier and many Americans will prefer the versifier. A similar erosion has taken place in visual art, music, and film. Art, where it is considered at all, is defined otherwise than it was. “Intellectual” to many people signifies adroitness in technology, with little or nothing to do with art, philosophy, history, language, etc.
Serious art, which has always existed at the margins of American culture, has lost its charge. Disheartening but inevitable given the devolution we are living through. I prefer to think of art-making in the Buddhist sense of “right occupation.” If you are an artist, you create. What happens to your art is almost entirely out of your hands. Social activist art wants at the very least to bear witness. Like secreting a poetic message into a bottle during a tsunami on a used-up planet.
JH: In your essay, “Crisis Art,” someone remarks that “crisis art has an energy and focus which more than compensate for its relative lack of refinement.” Do you agree with this sentiment? Does activism always trump esthetics? If so, to what extent? Your work is certainly layered: philosophically complex, linguistically nuanced and ripe with figurative possibilities, despite the relative accessibility of its diction. The texts in this collection go beyond a mere journalistic approach to your activism, wouldn’t you say?
HJ:. In “Crisis Art” I was anticipating the usual interrogation of socially activist art, namely that it is dependent on a proximate cause, without which it will cease to vibrate. My response is that the vibration may continue even as the proximate cause fades because of the urgency, passion and in certain instances collective energy of the art in question. Think of Act Up’s response to the AIDS crisis in which institutional culture was cruelly and ignorantly demonizing all homosexual men in the mid 80s and early 90s. Act Up and its artistic wing, Gran Fury, fought back with posters, flyers, installations, physical interventions, and art folios such as the remarkable Quilt Project. Fifty years after, this is art-making that will be looked at differently but will still retain its charge to a considerable degree. The same applies to other socially active responses, such as the posters (affiches) created by French students during May’ 68. I have a collection of them which I occasionally display to friends. They were created mostly by youthful amateurs, but the collective urgency and empowered esthetics remain alive and vibrant.
JH: One aspect of your work that proves consistently impressive is your transition between texts. How does one subject lead to another in this book? And can you tell us more about the volume design of Revolutionary Brain and explain the thought process behind the book’s general organization?
HJ: As I mention, I mean to ape culture’s hugger-mugger info excess designed to insulate humans from bleak real time while reducing virtually every datum to yet another profit-particle of the entertainment industry. The texts in Revolutionary Brain are fluid and here and there repetitive so that the reader isn’t always quite sure what s/he is reading or why, except that it is part of the volume.
The six very brief texts I set between the 13 primary texts are sometimes only obliquely related so that the interested reader is compelled to stretch. The epigraph to the volume from Julia Kristeva is “as abject—so the sacred,” and through one stratagem or another I attempt to give voice to the objectified, the vilified, the made-invisible, both in the primary and brief texts. That is, my montages (as I call them) ape culture’s manic blandishments-for-profit but turn it on its head. I write above that my intention is dialectical, namely to dramatize the cultural transformation of endless “information” and reputedly serious discourse into entertainment-consumerism. Elsewhere I’ve written that I swallow the poison to expel it as interrogation, interrogative art.
As I mention re my pornographic “discourse,” there is always in Revolutionary Brain an esthetic component which attempts to structure the chaos, even if the esthetic is deliberately manic or dissonant or, what I like to think of (after GM Hopkins) as a kind of sprung rhythm
My single-sentence paragraphs work similarly. Sometimes they read like prose narrative, other times like interrogation, still other times like a species of verse or drama or cultural theory. The single sentences give me the leverage to veer widely and zap the reader with a counter-official culture discourse. The ideal of course is to shock the reader into recognition, or, if not that, just to shock. Anything to get past the sheepish numbness that characterizes our “global village” at this watershed in planet earth’s history.
And when the indentured creature finally emits its baaa, I want it to be loud and listened to, even heard.
It is reported that the world’s second tallest man, 7-foot-9 inches, has saved the life of a nearly extinct baiji dolphin in China by reaching deep into the stomach of a sick female baiji to extract several fragments of Styrofoam.
The sickened dolphin washed ashore near the Yangtse port city of Wuhan.
The first tallest man in the world, said to be Japanese and nearly 8-foot in height, reportedly refused to take part in the procedure.
The exceedingly rare white baiji dolphin, a freshwater sea mammal with a long, narrow, slightly upturned beak, has enraptured the Chinese people who have named her Chenguang, which translates to morning light.
Shy and almost blind, the baiji dates back 20 million years.
It is estimated that no more than half a dozen individuals remain alive in Chinese waters.
None has survived in captivity.
Once fully recovered, Chenguang will be released into the Yangtse River under close supervision with the hope that she finds a mate with which to reproduce and thus help prevent the species from becoming extinct.
At a hospital-aquarium in Wuhan, physicians failed to remove the Styrofoam in Chenguang’s stomach with surgical instruments because the embedded fragments could not be grasped with the certainty of not further harming the baiji, an unusually large specimen, nearly 8-and-a-half feet in length.
The arms of ordinary Chinese were simply too short to reach through the dolphin’s throat into her stomach
Bao Xishun, 52, a 7-foot-9-inch herdsman who is listed in the Guinness world records as the world’s second tallest human, was summoned from the nearby Chinese region of Inner Mongolia.
The official summons came after the 8-foot Japanese, unnamed but reportedly living in Hiroshima, refused the initial summons to try and save the sickened, nearly extinct dolphin.
No reason was offered for the Japanese giant’s refusal, although the Chinese and Japanese are long-term adversaries, and the speculation in China was that the Japanese government ordered the 8-foot Japanese to reject the summons.
The Japanese government has refused to comment publicly on the subject.
What would the Chinese have done were Bao Xishun made unavailable?
They would have summoned the now-retired world-famous basketball player Yao Ming from the Houston Rockets in the USA; Yao is listed at 7-foot-6 inches.
In a surgical procedure shown and re-shown on Chinese nationwide television to the largest number of TV viewers recorded anywhere, not just in China, six technicians carefully restrained the sedated dolphin while Bao Xishun slid his latex-enclosed 44-inch long arm down her throat into her stomach to extract five irregular sized fragments of Styrofoam.
It was a delicate procedure for such a large man, especially since the dolphin was sedated rather than anesthetized. In the baiji’s weakened condition there was fear that anesthesia might kill her.
Wuhan aquarium authorities declared the procedure an unqualified
success. In gratitude, the Chinese government presented the 7-foot-9-inch Bao Xishun with a “valuable gift,” which however was unspecified.
According to Chinese news agencies, Chenguang is recovering on schedule and swimming in the Wuhan aquarium. It was not yet determined when she would be released into the Yangtse River.
Were the surgical procedure a failure, relations between China and Japan, aggrieved as they are, would have rapidly worsened, possibly to the point of violent aggression.
Is it possible that the death of a severely endangered dolphin could devolve into an actual war between China and Japan?
Remember “Remember the Maine”?
Remember the Archduke Franz Ferdinand?
Remember the “terrorist” assaults of 9/11 provoking an American war against the wrong countries?
It is entirely possible that the death of Chenguang, the beloved, sickened baiji dolphin, would constitute a casus belli.
Current matters aside, The Japanese have been criticized worldwide for their relentless whale hunting, in the process of which they have not only slaughtered whales but dolphins.
For their part, the Japanese have accused the Chinese of disregarding environmental safeguards on land and sea as they zealously set about their metamorphosis from primitive communist totalitarianism to elite techno-industrial player in the global empire.
According to Japan, China’s hell-bent industrialization has not only damaged the environment, possibly irreparably, it has trampled on the most basic human rights, as demonstrated in its criminal annexation of Tibet.
As the official Japanese response phrased it: Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, now resembles any other high-elevation Chinese city rather than the sanctified mountain kingdom it had been for centuries.
The Chinese GDP (Gross Domestic Product) has overtaken both Japan and the United States to become the highest in the world.
Most wealthy industrialized countries wish to maintain at least an illusion of wilderness; hence, the prevailing theory of the Chinese obsession with the sickened baiji dolphin whom they themselves have made virtually extinct.
It is rather like hanging a multi-million dollar Van Gogh in, say, Mobil Oil’s corporate boardroom.
Question: Once the globe–every particle, in and out of consciousness–is colonized, would a robotic, sickened, female baiji dolphin provide the cachet of a “natural,” sickened, female baiji dolphin?
Officially, the answer would be a resounding yes.
An Austrian teenager held captive for eight years in a dungeon-like room on the outskirts of Vienna says her captor, Wolfgang Priklopil, was part of her life and “in a certain way” she mourned his suicide.
Eighteen-year-old Krista Ludwig is reported to have wept inconsolably when told that Priklopil killed himself.
After Krista Ludwig made her escape on Wednesday, Priklopil, 44, threw himself under a commercial train traveling east to Bucharest. The train was delivering electronic hardware and pigs for slaughter.
Krista Ludwig said she sympathized with Priklopil’s 89-year-old mother and planned to telephone her. (Priklopil’s mother is suffering
from dementia and subsists in a nursing home near Graz, the “second city” of Austria, where the steroidal, gap-toothed governor-action star of California, Schwarzenegger, was birthed).
Krista Ludwig, said to be pale and trembling and to weigh just 42kg, less than she did as a 10-year-old, managed to flee her abductor after he sidled away to take a call on his mobile phone as she vacuumed his car, a 2003 white Audi sedan, in the driveway of the abduct house.
The time was three-fourteen pm, on a Wednesday, precisely eight years to the day and very close to the precise time that she had been kidnapped on her way to school.
Did Krista Ludwig realize it was exactly eight years to the day and hour since she was taken captive?
Why then did she choose that very moment to attempt to escape?
“I was ready to leave so I left.”
Now 18, Krista Ludwig insists that communications technician Wolfgang Priklopil had not robbed her of her childhood.
“I don’t have the feeling I missed something important. As far as I can see, children are robbed of their childhood one way or another.”
Krista Ludwig said her lengthy abduction actually spared her bad habits such as smoking, drinking to excess, injecting heroin or speed, snorting cocaine, playing video games, and having “false friends”.
What was a typical day like with Wolfgang Priklopil?
Between 7:30 and 8:00 a.m., Krista Ludwig and her abductor, who usually did not go to work, she said, would have breakfast, a sweet roll and coffee with heavy cream, or schlag.
The rest of the day Krista Ludwig would spend doing housework, reading, talking, cooking.
“That was it for years. Everything tied to the fear of being alone.”
If she was fearful of being alone why didn’t she attempt to escape sooner?
“It would be the same somewhere else.”
Nor was it clear from Krista Ludwig’s statement whether by “housework,” she referred to working in her room or elsewhere
in the large ramshackle house.
What did she and her abductor talk about?
“Different things. I am not prepared to go into details.”
What did she read?
“Greek and Nordic myths, anthropology. The great god Zeus abducted virgins.”
Was Wolfgang Priklopil a version of Zeus?
“No. He was not my lord and master. I was just as strong. Perhaps stronger.”
She used an Austrian expression to indicate that at times Priklopil treated her tenderly, but at other times cruelly.
“He carried me in his arms but also trampled me underfoot.”
Investigators have been trying to determine whether Priklopil had an accomplice, based on a 14-year-old boy’s account at the time of the kidnapping that he saw two men drag young Krista Ludwig into a white Mercedes van.
But Krista Ludwig insisted that Prikopil acted alone. Moreover there was a later report that the 14-year-old boy was hyped up on
coffee with schlag when he gave his account.
Priklopil “carried out the kidnapping himself. Everything was prepared,” Krista Ludwig said, adding that they then “decorated” her room together.
Photos released by police show the underground hiding place in Prikopil’s gabled, two-story wood house in Strasshof village outside Vienna, where he kept young Krista Ludwig: a small, cluttered, windowless room with washbasin, “squat toilet,” cot, cupboards and narrow concrete stairs leading up to a trapdoor.
No “decorations” are visible.
Because blueprints to the house were unavailable, investigators could not say for certain whether there were any other hidden compartments, dungeons or cells.
In her statement, read by flamboyant Viennese psychoanalyst Max Friedrich, who has been “treating” her, Krista Ludwig urged the
media to respect her privacy.
“Everyone wants to ask intimate questions, but they don’t concern anyone,” she said via Max Friedrich.
She felt well, she said via Max Friedrich, if “maybe a bit
patronized” at the location where she was currently held, and she
appealed for more respect from the media.
The location was described by police as a secure institutional space with “carers” under the supervision of Max Friedrich.
Max Friedrich, with his unruly leonine grey head, wraparound mirror shades, corncob pipe, and unsteady, stiff-legged gait, cautioned the media to show restraint, insisting Krista Ludwig was severely traumatized and the intense media coverage was capable of victimizing her all over again.
Krista Ludwig’s parents, who separated after her abduction eight years before, complained that they had not been told where she was being held.
“Why can I not see my child?,” her mother, Birgit Dieskau, pleaded in a Sunday supplement newspaper interview
Max Friedrich confirmed that Krista Ludwig did not wish to see her parents again after their brief reunion. “Nor is that unusual under these extraordinary circumstances.”
Regarding what actually transpired between Krista Ludwig and
her middle-aged abductor beyond the housecleaning, unspecified
conversation, and consumption of sweet rolls and coffee mit schlag, the young woman refused to say.
After spending the first years locked in the dungeon-like room, which Priklopil had furnished with toys, books, magazines, and chewing gum, but neither television nor computer, Krista Ludwig was, she confided, via Max Friedrich, allowed to make occasional, brief, unaccompanied outings to the village.
Police are trying to determine if Krista Ludwig had a sexual relationship with her captor. And if so, the nature of the sexuality. If it was sadomasochistic, as suspected, then how far did it go, and were the roles steadfast or did they alternate?
She said, “Perhaps I will tell Dr. Friedrich one day or someone else. Perhaps I will never tell. The intimacy only belongs to me.”
A police photo of kidnap suspect Wolfgang Priklopil was presented at a news conference in Vienna. Smooth face with arched brows, a widow’s peak, and a small fleshy mouth, he bore some resemblance to the pious, silver-tongued former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Meanwhile it has been confirmed that Wolfgang Priklopil (what remained of him after he threw himself under the train) was buried secretly under a false name. The secret burial was to deter vandals, officials explained.
There were just two mourners not including Krista Ludwig. She paid her respects alone at the morgue the day before the burial and lit a single candle. Only Priklopil’s mother (severely demented and in a wheelchair) and a former business partner’s sister, “legally blind,” were at the unspecified gravesite.
The ceremony lasted seven minutes, Austrian radio said. No priest was in attendance and nine-and-a-half policemen stood guard.
According to Max Friedrich’s diagnosis, Krista Ludwig suffered from Stockholm Syndrome, a psychological condition in which long-held captives begin to identify with their captors.
The American heiress Patty Hearst was arguably the most famous contemporary example of Stockholm Syndrome after her kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army in the early ‘70s.
After extensive cosmetic surgery and long hours of psychological debriefing, Hearst recovered and resumed her life as a self-consumed billionaire heiress.
Police Major General Gerhard Haeckel, of the Federal Criminal Investigations Bureau, said investigators are continuing to follow up on “every lead” in the case, which until last week was Austria’s second greatest mystery.
The greatest Austrian mystery of course is how a homely, ill-educated vegetarian dog-lover with a comical Chaplain mustache became the most charismatic genocider of the 20th century.
My 1983 novel Dos Indios will be published in France in Fall 2013 by 13e Note Editions (Paris). in 2008, Sex for the Millennium and 15 Serial Killers were published in France by Editions Cambourakis (Paris).
OSWIECIM, Poland – As they do on every anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops, witnesses to the Holocaust will gather Sunday, older, frailer, fewer than the year before.
After 68 years, the camp itself is showing its age under the pressures of time and tourism.
With a budget underwritten by the state of Israel, the current director, Jo’zef Korzeniowski, a 63-year-old retired hospital administrator in Warsaw, is searching for ways to preserve vital evidence of Nazi atrocities and update the exhibits without chipping away at Auschwitz’s authenticity — or giving fodder to Holocaust deniers.
“The major dilemma,” Korzeniowski informed a group of Israeli Knesset ministers crowded into his office in one of the Auschwitz barracks, “is preserving what is original while permitting visitors to see and touch.”
“This wasn’t constructed like a gothic cathedral to endure for centuries,” Korzeniowski reminded the ministers. “It was a Nazi death camp built to last a short time.”
Most sensitive, perhaps, is what to do about the remains of gas chambers which are slowly sinking into the earth, the result of weather, erosion and gravity.
Toward the end of World War II as the Soviet army advanced, the Nazis attempted to destroy the evidence by blowing up the gas chambers and crematoria in its multiple extermination camps.
Today, those testaments to German engineering are mostly in ruins, an abstract “canvas” both of the original crimes against humanity and the attempt to conceal them.
Auschwitz alone survived largely intact.
Given its singular role as proof of the Nazi atrocities inflicted on Jews, Roma humans, homosexuals, communists, and the physically and mentally disabled, the decay of Auschwitz poses a special problem.
Still visible are the railroad tracks on which the “cattle cars” transported the condemned to the camp,
the barracks where they lived in appalling conditions,
the chambers where they were gassed,
the crematoria where their bodies were incinerated.
Auschwitz, 68 years after, provides a picture of how the camp operated, whereas many other former Nazi extermination camps, including Treblinka and Belzec, are marked today only by rusted monuments.
Auschwitz’s eventual decay is accelerated because the materials used, such as softwood in the watchtowers and the barracks, will rot or collapse.
Korzeniowski reminded the Knesset ministers that some of the decaying structures at the camp were initially constructed by weak and starving inmates exerting minimum effort to preserve their strength.
Evidently, those inmates rejected the exhortation which the Nazis nailed over the main entrance to Auschwitz: Arbeit Macht Frei — “Work will make you free.”
Technically, Auschwitz is not one camp, but two, each with its own aging problems.
Auschwitz I was constructed in an abandoned Polish military base in 1940; Auschwitz II, or Birkenau, a much larger complex, was built two miles away in 1941 to speed up the Nazis’ “Final Solution.”
Together, Auschwitz-Birkenau stands as virtually the last tangible emblem of the Nazi plague, so making any change is fraught with great responsibility and controversy.
Korzeniowski is calling for retainer walls to be built around gas chambers to prevent them from sinking further.
“We are at a moment where we must act,” Korzeniowski announced to the Knesset ministers.
“If we don’t, there’s the risk that in 10 or 15 years, it will no longer be possible to understand their construction.”
“Any tampering with the gas chambers is problematic because Holocaust deniers could seize on photographs of repair work to argue that the whole project was fabricated.”
So pronounced Herbert Weltmann, Professor of Jewish studies at the University of Manchester and a member of the International Auschwitz Council, which advises Auschwitz administrators.
Weltmann noted that the barbed wire at Auschwitz had already been replaced twice since the war, because the original was so rusted.
Gas chambers are another matter.
“Fiddling with gas chambers is fiddling with the heart and soul of what Auschwitz represents,” said Weltmann, who has urged the Council to seek the advice of engineering experts before starting any work.
Another mission Korzeniowski has set for himself is modernizing the exhibit at Auschwitz I that was established in 1955.
Housed in the original brick barracks, the exhibit includes pitiful photographs of inmates;
SS offices left in their original state down to the photograph on the wall of Hitler stiffly bending to pet a small dog;
displays of broken, weathered suitcases; twisted eyeglasses; hair and teeth and toenails extracted from victims before their remains were incinerated;
three full cans of Zyklon, the gas with which the inmates were exterminated.
Korzeniowski insists that he wants none of that removed; nonetheless, certain upgrades are necessary because the exhibit no longer meets international museum standards.
In response to a question from a Knesset minister, Korzeniowski explained that he is in the process of gathering information about how best to modernize the camp, that all decisions would be made after consultation with authorities on Holocaust commemoration.
The exhibit “was at the time created for people who remembered the war very well,” Korzeniowski reminded the Knesset ministers.
“Now we have a generation of young people whose parents don’t even remember the war.
If we do not change that, this exhibition will say always less to the next generation until it will say nothing at all.”
As to the Holocaust deniers, they are spreading rapidly throughout the globe, even as newer, cleaner genocides are occurring on every continent.
Shortly after 7 p.m. 200 people suddenly assemble on the mezzanine level of the Grand Hyatt Hotel next to Grand Central Station, in Manhattan, sit on the floor, then clear their throats loudly twice at intervals of 2 minutes. After exactly 4 minutes, they get up, disperse.
Invoke a system that assigns terrorist scores to airline passengers; the system tracks what passengers eat and drink, their seat assignments, how often they go to the restroom to perform which function, how many smartphone calls they make and how many text messages they post when the aircraft lands at its destination. Passengers must not be apprised of their scores.
Gas or otherwise poison your own humans and blame the Crusaders / Zionists / Jihadists.
Taunt and abuse the deposed tyrant as he is being hanged; nonetheless he dies bravely.
Purchase (at discount) enormous quantities of opium from an Southeast Asian country, sell it to organized crime in the inner cities of your own country, use the profits to buy munitions for a Middle Eastern country to incite an “Arab Spring.”
Remove contagious tubercular patients from hospitals and instruct them to spit blood into the mouths of anyone they come in contact with.
Enlist a seductive Mata Hari and slip her out of Central Asia with a vial of smallpox and the orders to contaminate every non-Muslim with whom she consorts.
Inject a cadre of suicidal fedayeen with smallpox or plague or SARS or Legionnaire’s Disease or flesh-eating bacteria.
Smuggle them into the US with instructions to visit every crowded shopping mall and ballpark and Apple store and Starbucks they can.
Slowly die while fatally infecting everyone in the vicinity.
Use mobile phones, text messaging, e-mail and other instantaneous electronic communication to gather participants for dissidence, as in the 2006 civil unrest in France, which helped coordinate the student and labor union protest at the ill-advised employment statute which the center-right French government, up against the wall, then withdrew.
Get another piercing and join the World Naked Bike Ride, an international event in which naked participants ride together en masse on human-powered transport — primarily bikes but also skateboards, roller blades, roller skates — to protest oil dependency and celebrate the power and individuality of our flesh and blood bodies.
Become a Human Shield, the-nanosecond dance craze, it spans the globe.
The music has been described as a blend of Portuguese Fado and Jamaican Reggae.
Shake your booty, relax.
With one proviso:
Ganja is strictly prohibited.
What follows is an excerpt from a work in progress, called “Orlando.” Enjoy.*
* Please leave comments and responses, and – if so inclined – share with other fiction readers.
Slaughtered stock animals hang from their hooves.
The SM dungeon club in the meat district on Gansevoort in Greenwich Village north is nouveau-chic.
Males pony up $30, fems admitted without charge.
Indeterminate genders? You’ll have to check with the management.
Butchers and assistant butchers have blood on their aprons, beneath their fingernails, on their thick shoes, the same shoes NYC cops wear.
To “protect and serve.”
The SM joint opens at midnight and goes deep into the dawn hours.
My invite comes from a friend of a friend of a friend who works for Google.
Google reportedly owns the club and sister clubs in Soho, Chelsea, and upper Broadway just north of Columbia University.
Just south of Harlem.
Is there still a “Harlem”?
Didn’t Columbia buy up Harlem and evict the tenants?
They weren’t tenants, they were welfare cheats, freeloaders, crackheads.
Sure, they’re black. What can I tell you?
The club is called Genet, as in Jean Genet.
French homo-masochist, prideful petty thief, anarchist, celebrated author.
Rolled with the Black Panthers, later with the Palestinians.
Google’s SM clubs are Genet 1, Genet 2, Genet 3, Genet 4.
The joint in the meat district on Gansevoort is Genet 2, the most popular of the four.
It’s the ambiance.
Stock animal blood on the concrete floor.
Though it’s stormy Monday Genet 2 is rocking.
Naked males crawling on the concrete, whimpering, knees and elbows bloody.
Naked or nude?
Dominatrices with whips and paddles.
Clusters in various stages of undress groping.
Above the concrete “arena” on three sides are wooden bleachers; I’m sitting in one.
The designer-rough arena resembles a much larger version of an MMA cage.
Mixed Martial Arts.
You’ve probably noticed it on TV between commercials.
Steroidal young men with shaved heads, bad tats and cauliflower ears manically grappling and kicking.
Several of the meat outlets on Gansevoort label themselves kosher.
PETA records that a kosher slaughterhouse in Iowa produced at least “300 instances of inhumane slaughter, in which fully conscious cows, hung upside-down, had their sensitive muzzles shocked with electric prods, had their tracheas and esophagi ripped from their throats with meat hooks or knives, as they writhed in pools of their own blood, moaning, trying desperately to stand for up to three minutes as blood streamed from their throats.”
Jewish animal death scholars insist that traditional kosher slaughter is the least inhumane of all stock animal murders.
Why pick on kosher?
Yet another species of anti-Semitism?
I am strictly an observer, and one scene has stayed with me.
A middle-aged couple is sitting in the bleachers above me holding hands when the male, thin / pale, separates himself, descends into the arena, removes his clothes, is bound to a pole and flogged by an extremely tall masked dominatrix in ebony leather with a cat o’ nine tails.
She resembles Grace Jones.
She may be Grace Jones.
She flogs him mercilessly on the lower back, buttocks, thighs . . .
Stock animals whimper.
They shriek in pain.
Dolphins shriek in pain in a register we cannot hear.
So do rabbits, commonly ignored by humans.
So do even smaller animals and amphibians.
The injured goldfinch I’m cupping in my hands.
Tune in, turn on, hear them scream, shriek, whimper.
The pale male whimpers and screams, he bleeds from his buttocks.
It looks like blood.
I glance up at the woman, his other half.
She observes without expression.
After a delirious 20 minutes he is released.
And now I smell shit, vaguely–it could be a participant’s cologne.
Or savory remnant of slaughtered stock animals.
The calf, dead, released finally into the suffering animal afterworld.
Infinitely above human kind.
I am impressed that the pale male, bleeding, naked, dragging his clothes, is embraced tenderly by his female companion.
He broadcasts his “weakness,” whimpers like a tormented calf, shrieks like a tortured rabbit, and the woman (she wears sunglasses, I can’t see her eyes) kisses him tenderly, sensually on the mouth.
What follows is an excerpt from a work in progress, called “Orlando.” It is the title narrative of a collection of fiction and docufiction. Enjoy.*
* Please leave comments and responses, and – if so inclined – share with other fiction readers.
Orlando: Performer terrorist
Trieste: Performer terrorist / Disciple of Orlando
Catalan Carlos: Photographer / Disciple & Lover of Orlando
Simona: Actress / Disciple of Orlando
Duane Redbone: Pornographer / Admirer of Orlando
Setting: Global village
Time: Five years before the Millennium
The concept was to have a team of Parisian surgeons recast her face to duplicate the representations (surprisingly few in number) of Joan of Arc. What the representations shared were Joan’s large soulful eyes, delicate features, pointed chin, rapt expression. The surgery would be done with local anesthetic and videotaped. The video would be featured in an exhibition the Pompidou Centre was mounting on “The Body in Pain.”
The surgery took place as scheduled. The surgeons were French, hence appreciated the extravagant claims of art. They kept the surgery theater open, which allowed Carlos, glossy long hair in a braid, to videotape the procedure.
The surgery was projected by satellite to 18 cities around the world, including Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Beijing, Tokyo, Rio, New York, San Francisco. (No techno-upload; this is before manic technology.)
As always Orlando healed rapidly. In 21 days nearly all of the swelling disappeared and she became the reincarnation of Saint Joan, though at six-feet-three she had to be nearly two feet taller than the Maid of Orleans.
Meantime, Trieste and his terrorists were on Wall Street wrapping the NY Stock Exchange in an enormous pelt of human shit. Most of the investors and speculators appeared not to notice the transformation.
Next, Trieste flew to London where Orlando, disguised as a black-skinned male, attended a football “friendly” between Nigeria and Manchester United. She sat among the rabid British fans while rooting avidly for Nigeria. After the match ended in a 1-nil upset win for Nigeria, British hooligans beat the disguised Orlando severely, using lengths of pipe and brass knuckles while singing God Save the Queen.
Catalan Carlos, wearing a maroon watch cap to hide his Latin hair and with his face and hands bleached, captured the bloody beating on vid.
Orlando had her Joan of Arc nose broken in four places, eye socket shattered, retina detached, jaw dislocated, skull fractured. No teeth were knocked out, which was a surprise.
She was treated by a team of surgeons led by a tall Scot who resembled Sean Connery. He refused to let Carlos video the surgery. Moreover he did an inept job of reconfiguring Orlando’s face, which is why she flew to Los Angeles ten days later where cosmetic surgeons re-operated. Here too Carlos was forbidden to videotape, though he got good snaps of her post-operative swellings.
In six weeks Orlando resembled her stunning marmoreal self and was plotting the next outrage. Carlos’s vid of the beating and miscellaneous snaps were forwarded to the Pompidou Centre for their Body in Pain exhibition.
After a performance in which a vengeful band of Quiche children of “the disappeared” locked forty-nine living Guatemalan generals in the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City and firebombed the building, incinerating every last general, Trieste and his troupe, featuring Orlando, toured the country.
In the ancient Mayan city of Tikal, Orlando contemplated jumping from the top of the central Mayan temple but desisted.
Too high. The ground was too rocky. She wouldn’t have survived. Not that survival was paramount.
She wouldn’t mind not surviving one of her “performances”?
Survival is merely one factor. She’d died so many times in small ways. Shattered bones, ruptured organs, features reconfigured.
What did she do?
Staying with the Maya motif, she cut into her chest with an ancient slate and exposed her heart. Or an area of her chest near her heart.
In the holy, heathen city of Tikal. At the foot of the Temple of the Great Jaguar.
Though Orlando had studied anatomical templates, she severed an artery instead of a vein. Maybe it was the other way around. The result was she nearly died. A physician-member of Trieste’s troupe stanched the bleeding. She was flown back to Guatemala City on a tiny single-engine prop where they sewed her back together. Carlos videotaped the procedure.
After exposing her heart in the ancient Maya capital of Tikal and getting sutured in Guatemala City, Orlando traveled into the heart of Guatemala.
She rode a bus into the northwest highlands. Squeezed among the poor Indians, campesinos, livestock, animal smells, woodsmoke, Orlando looked different, pliant, almost Indian. She bought a bunch of bananas in the public market. She rode the crowded, bumpy bus, up and around the hairpin turns, occasionally eating a banana.
Two hours out of Guatemala City the bus was stopped at a military checkpoint. Soldiers with bayoneted rifles ordered the passengers out, lined them against a walled husk of a church, then fumigated the inside of the bus with two large hoses. The passengers were ordered back into the bus which stank of disinfectant. En route again some of the passengers muttered to each other. Three hours later they were in Sololá.
At the Sololá market Orlando bought a Bat Clan jacket woven by the Cakchikel Indians out of sheep wool.
She washed her hair in the volcanic lake.
She ate tortillas, chiles, beans and roasted corn in a local restaurant then rented a room above the restaurant. She sat on a cushion on the floor of the small room and listened to the night sounds. Laments of drunken men and drunken boys. Crickets sawing. The faint whistlings of a poorwill.
She smoked a cigarette.
She shared her narrow bed with fleas.
The next morning she rode a bus farther into the mountains.
That afternoon she drank beer in the dusty cantina, fourteen Indian or Ladino men and Orlando.
Sentimental music from an old jukebox.
The men stared at her. A Ladino asked her to dance. In the confined dusty space she danced with the man whose head came to her shoulders. Another man asked her to dance and she danced with him. When a third man asked her to dance she said, No, horita me voy.
Two men, drunk, followed her outside, knocked her down, dragged her behind the cantina and brutally raped her.
You expected something like that and so I gave it to you. It didn’t happen.
She left the cantina, walked to the center and rented a room. She washed.
That evening she went to the zócalo and listened to music: brass, a harp, two wooden flutes.
Back in her small room she sat on the floor and smoked a cigarette.
Orlando bussed north from Guatemala through Belize into Quintana Roo, the eastern portion of the Yucatan Peninsula. She got off at Akumal, just north of the Maya ruins of Tulum. She avoided the tourist hotels fanning south from Cancun. She rented a room in a tiny pension in the low lying jungle.
Gazing through the small cracked window of her room at dusk she saw nineteen toucans in single file, one after the other, fly leisurely from the west to the east side of the jungle.
Someone said there were alligators in the mangroves.
Orlando lay nude in a mangrove swamp in the jungle denseness.
The next day she bussed to Cancun. Checked into Hotel Jesús Intercontinental, which was also a theme park. She bathed, made herself beautiful, and that evening at seven-thirty she mounted the six-story Mary Mother of God Barn, filled with theme rides and “recreations,” facing the ocean, in full view of the St. Paul Plaza dining area. She launched herself into the moist salt air. She lay sprawled, exposed and bloody on the astroturf below.
“Orlando did Mejico and now she’s planning on Cuba,” Trieste said to Simona on the phone.
Trieste laughed. “She plans to get an audience with Fidel. When that happens she’ll slip on a salt and pepper Fidel-like beard and put a match to it.”
“Fidel’s people will let her do all that?”
“Orlando moves fast. Besides, when Fidel sees her he’ll want to visit with her alone. He’s pushing eighty but he’s still sexy.”
“She sets her face on fire,” Simona said. “What then?”
“Her face burns.” Trieste shrugged. “Her hair. She recovers in a Havana clinic. They do advanced burn work in Cuba. The only thing she won’t have is a video record, or maybe even snaps. Nothing for the new millennium.”
Orlando was resting in the burn clinic of Habana Hospital when Fidel visited her. Because of all the disinformation people don’t know this about Fidel, but he’s a funny man. He appreciates a good joke even at his expense. Plus he has a refined esthetic sense — despite long lip service to socialist realism.
Fidel and Orlando hit it off?
Fidel saw to it that she got class-A treatment. After spending five days in the hospital he had her removed to his own dacha. Fidel was amazed at how rapidly she healed. They became lovers.
What did he do? Take a vacation from running the country?
Not at all. Fidel has enormous zest. He’s always had a raunchy private life.
How long did the affair go on?
A month, six months. Orlando doesn’t look at calendars. She plots her outrages by the phases of the moon. When industrial pollution obscures the sky, she reads coffee grounds.
After Cuba and amorous nights with Fidel, Orlando was flown in Habana 1, Fidel’s private jet, to Barcelona where she regrouped with Catalan Carlos. From Barcelona they drove in Carlos’ indestructible Citroën 2CV through France and Belgium into the Netherlands.
In Amsterdam they got a room on Achterburgwal in the Red Light district. After settling in, they had dinner at a creperie close by. After dinner they dropped in on the mafia office which controlled access to the windowed prostitutes’ compartments in the area around Oudekerk.
The next evening Orlando, sleekly radiant in magenta chemise, matching G-string and ivory velvet slippers, was posed in the neon light of her whore’s window near Oudekerk. It was Friday, teeming with tourists.
When a successful transaction was arranged, the red drape was pulled closed. Orlando opened and closed her drape half a dozen times at intervals which averaged thirteen minutes, having entertained one Sikh, two Indonesian business-men en menage, a nineteen-year-old American marine, good for twenty-three seconds, an Armenian drug merchant, and a Lutheran minister from Antwerp. After the Lutheran she locked her door, took her place in the illuminated window and commenced to strip.
The gawkers, hugger-mugger in front of the window, watched her recline naked on the plush red divan and masturbate herself with a pearl-colored dildo. Suddenly a burly man with an Afrikaans look carrying a metal crutch burst into her compartment from an inside door and attacked her, whacking her with the crutch across her face and breasts and buttocks, then when she was in a bloody heap on the floor, pulling down his pants and mounting her from behind.
He’d just thrust into her and arched his back, moaning coarsely with his head held high, when Orlando pulled away and in the same motion produced a straight razor and hacked off his genitals.
You’re making this up. Where’d she get the straight razor?
From under the divan cushion. Every working girl keeps a weapon close by.
She hacked off his penis and . . .
The whole monkey business.
What were the gawkers doing while this was going on?
Gawking. They assumed it was part of the performance.
Sleeping alongside Carlos in the large walnut bed, designed by the school of Gaudi, in their flat in the medieval quarter of Barcelona, Orlando dreamt of a dwarf with a hump under his left shoulder and a comically large erection. With his black head thrown back he blew rhythmically on a wooden flute. Naked, she danced to the music. Cobra-like she wound around the dwarf and as she closed herself onto his penis the flute he blew became her cobra mouth. She could feel every one of her scales which were her wounds. The flute player blew into her mouth, the music was the sound of whales surfacing.
Orlando woke, drank some water, went back to sleep. Not yet dawn.
Outside the Bundesbank in Frankfurt five theatrical Nazi skinheads gassed Chancellor Helmut Kohl, all 333 pounds of him, in a replica crematorium. After this “performance” the German authorities detained Trieste the terrorist.
Four days later sixty-six other terrorists led by Orlando converged outside the Frankfurt prison which was holding Trieste in isolation. The temperature was two degrees centigrade with slushy rain. The terrorists commenced to undress and when they were entirely naked held hands and formed a wide circle around the prison. Each of the sixty-six had the initials DM, for deutsche mark, tattooed, large and black, on their chests. On their backs each wore a large, black swastika.
Beneath the windowless second-story confinement area where Trieste was held, the Terrorists formed a naked-bodies pyramid two stories high. From the apex of this pyramid the naked Orlando suspended herself from her left ankle, like the Hanged Man of the Tarot.
First, reading from a script in her upside-down hand, Orlando recited Heine in German. Then, loudly, in chorus, the sixty-six terrorists with their tattooed deutsche marks and swastikas, repeated:
Night lay upon my eyelids,
Upon my mouth lay lead,
With rigid brain and breast-bone,
I lay among the dead . . .
Since the international newspapers and TV channels had been forewarned, the performance was taped, photographed, video’d, and beamed by satellite around the globe. The German authorities gave way, announced they would release Trieste at midnight with the condition that he leave Germany straightaway. Trieste rejected that condition. He was released in any case, filtered through a tight cordon of police to shield him from actual Nazis.
While Catalan Carlos followed Trieste to Asia and mischief at the expense of the Japanese and brave-new-world Singaporeans, Orlando flew to Jamaica, West Indies. Deplaning in Montego Bay directly behind Orlando, perspiring in a size 56-long seersucker suit and size 16 triple-E cocoa wingtips, was the pornographer, Duane Redbone. Turned out they were staying in the same hotel and, at Bone’s suggestion, shared a taxi. In the taxi he introduced himself.
At dinner time Bone rang Orlando’s room. She didn’t answer the phone. Bone came by in person and knocked at her door.
“Hello there,” from Bone. “How about dinner?”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Well how about a drink?”
“How’s ten-thirty? We can meet at the patio pub. It’s a nice spot.”
“See you then,” Bone said.
Did she show up for the drink?
What’s she doing in Jamaica now? It would have made better sense to go there from Cuba.
She’s not a sensible traveler.
The next morning at about 8:30, Orlando rented a beige Toyota Corolla from the hotel rent-a-car and pulled out of the driveway. A taxi was blocking the exit with rawboned Redbone about to get in. He saw her.
“Hey, where you going?”
“Coincidence,” Bone said. “I was going there myself. Daytrip. Can I ride with you?”
She motioned for him to get in.
“As she pulled onto the road Bone said, “I would’ve rented a car but driving on the left side of the road’s a hassle. What’s your name?”
“Nice name. How long you going to be in Negril, Delphine?”
“I don’t know.”
“So I guess you didn’t make it for the drink last night?”
“I was tired.”
It takes about two and a half hours to get to Negril and Redbone did most of the talking.
“Have you ever heard of “Freak da Virus,” Delphine? It’s a film company. Actually video. I’m a cameraman and director. We do porn flicks. Some of the best around. Do you like porn? Pornography?”
“Love it,” she said.
This simple affirmative surprised and aroused him.
“What do you do?”
“You mean . . . Like where?”
“Maybe you will get a chance to see,” she said.
Just outside Negril, with the placid blue Carib to the west and dense tropical bush to the east, Delphine was accelerating to pass a lorry on the single lane road when she suddenly blacked out, losing control of the wheel. Redbone with quick reflexes snatched the wheel with one large hand and guided it into the correct lane seconds before an oncoming lorry. He steered onto the narrow shoulder and stopped the car. Delphine had regained consciousness.
She was all right, she said, and took the wheel again. She drove to the new, expansive Hotel Tafari. It was a few minutes past noon. Redbone arranged to meet her at two for a drink on the penthouse patio.
He was sitting at a table overlooking the sea nursing a Red Stripe when he saw Delphine open the door. At first he wasn’t sure it was she. Her black hair was arranged in intricate dreadlocks. She wore a floor-length periwinkle batik skirt and beige halter top. She was smiling.
Redbone finished his beer and ordered Jah cocktails for himself and Delphine. A Jah cocktail is three parts white rum to one part fresh coconut water. With a sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg.
“So where do you do these performances of yours, Delphine?
“You wish to see one?”
“Sure. You bet.”
“I will go for a bathe [that’s how she said it]. You stay here, watch from the patio.”
“Aren’t you going to drink your drink?”
She was gone. Seconds later Bone saw her on the white sand stripping off her clothes. She did this deliberately. There were maybe a dozen other people on the beach in her vicinity, sunning white tourists. Lifeguard tower but no lifeguard. Bone watched her, lithely naked, move toward the water and wade out beyond the coral reef. He watched her swim, not fast but gracefully, freestyle then breastroke, farther out. Too far . . . Redbone was racing down to the beach tearing off his clothes on the run. By the time he stripped down to his fuchsia briefs, she had disappeared. He plunged into the water and propelled himself in her general direction, swimming — it occurred to him — faster than he’d ever swum, because he was not an expert swimmer. When he stopped, breathing hard, treading water, there was no sign of her. On the shore, distantly, the sunning tourists continued sunning. The water was mild, clear, sun-dappled; he dove but didn’t see her. He dove again, swimming and twisting under water, gasping for air as he surfaced. Again he glanced toward the shore and this time he shouted: Help, Help, flailing his arms. People heard, they moved slowly toward the shore craning their necks.
Redbone sucked in breath and dove again, swimming farther out underwater. A school of gold and purple fish swiftly swerved out of his way. He was about to resurface when he felt a strong tug at his left ankle. Thinking shark, he panicked, pulled away toward shore. As soon as he slowed he was tugged at again, hard around the waist, actually pulled under water. Delphine, her long hair on his chest pulling him down. He fought her, he was 247 pounds, he surfaced dragging her with him, keeping her head above the water. And now a lifeboat was motoring toward them . . .
One Jamaican lifeguard gave her mouth-to-mouth on the boat while the other maneuvered the boat to shore. Mouth-to-mouth was continued on the surf, the Jamaicans taking turns. She was breathing. They covered her and transported her in a stretcher to the ambulance with its red roof light rotating slowly parked on the sand near the hotel.
Bone rode with her to the small hospital a few kilometers away. She lay on her back, the white cotton blanket up to her chin. Her eyes were open, she looked like a Madonna, she gazed at Redbone as she had in the car on the shoulder after she’d blacked out while trying to pass the lorry.
Did Redbone have any idea he was part of a performance? In the rented Corolla? In the sea?
What do you think?
I think he might have sensed his contribution. In some unspoken way. But does that matter to Orlando? Does she care whether people who “perform” with her know they’re performing?
Redbone was told she’d be in the hospital overnight. And he was booked to fly out of Montego Bay to LA the following morning. One of those non-cancellation tickets. You forfeit, it’s your ass, you pay anyway. When he tried to extend his stay with the travel agent at Hotel Tafari, he was advised to deal with the airlines in Montego Bay. So he got a note from the physician at Queens Hospital, drove Delphine’s rented Corolla back to Montego Bay, persuaded the Airlines to re-write his ticket, packed his belongings, checked out of his hotel, and returned to Negril that same night, late.
Orlando was gone.
Yes. The physician said she was a good deal better and insisted on checking out. She left Bone a note and a few hundred dollars to pay the rental fee on the Corolla.
What did the note say?
Orlando was in Naples. She’d sent 40 invitations to the movers and shakers of that extroverted city to attend a formal-dress premiere “installation” in the Silvio Gallery. Invited guests included pols, industrialists, mafiosi, art bigs.
The installation was called Vino da Pasto (tablewine). It consisted of Orlando wearing a couture-designed business suit, crucified on a teflon cross, within reach of the guests who stood beneath her around a large rectangular oak table. The table included these implements: gardening shears, four rubber dildos, three anal plugs, five packets of razor blades, two butane lighters, seven wax candles, three serrated kitchen knives, one rattan cane, a length of steel chain, two pairs of faux-ivory Ben Wa balls (one pair containing a drop of mercury and the other a tiny vibrating metal tongue), a Beretta nine millimeter semi-automatic with full magazine, and a Sony high resolution monitor with remote. Also a Mason jar containing Orlando relics from previous performances: skin, tears, blood, mucus, urine, discharge, assorted teeth, bits of bone, toenail parings, matted clumps of hair.
When everyone was settled Orlando pronounced six words: “Give me pain. Give me pleasure.”
Where was Catalan Carlos?
Carlos was operating the concealed vidcam.
So what happened?
Not much at first. A few cuts and burns, her pantyhose cut away, dildo probings. Tentative sniffing of the relic jar. Actually three or four of the guests tried to leave but the doors were bolted from the outside. After an hour or so they got into the spirit. They ripped and cut off her clothes. Administered razor cuts to the tender insides of the thighs, candle burns, whippings about the breasts and thighs, liberal use of the anal plugs, they sniffed and licked the relics.
The Ben Wa balls?
Forcibly inserted, front and back.
Pressing the buttons of the Sony remote shocked the nerve endings in her breasts and genitals.
A row broke out when one of the guests forced the loaded Beretta into her mouth.
Someone tried to keep him from killing her?
No. Someone argued for killing her by degree.
The one who wanted to shoot her in the throat ended up shooting the one who wanted to kill her by degree.
Effectively terminating the installation?
Hardly. The distinguished guests ripped off their clothes and took it to the next level. The killing grooved them. They jacked into overdrive. They gave Orlando what she asked for.
By the time Orlando healed she was in Budapest. So was Simona, informed by Trieste that Orlando was planning an “installation” in the voguish Soros Gallery in Pest on the east bank of the Danube. Orlando and Carlos were staying in a flat in the Buda hills and Simona taxied there directly from the airport.
Carlos opened the door. Orlando was in the sitting room on the floor playing with a frisky Abyssinian cat. She looked up with a mild smile.
In French, Simona said: “I admire your art. I’d like to work with you. I’m prepared to do anything you ask of me.”
That was Tuesday. The premiere was scheduled for Friday. Again, forty movers and shakers — pols, the so-called Russian mafia, industrialists, art bigs — received invitations. Called Judas O, the installation consisted of Orlando and Simona, naked, each mounted like a caryatid on one side of the narrow opening that led to the exhibition space. Together they constituted an arc, connected to each other by sticky transparent tape: Simona’s left earlobe to Orlando’s right nipple; Orlando’s clitoris to Simona’s nose bridge; Simona’s vulva to Orlando’s left big toe; Simona’s tongue to Orlando’s unshaven right armpit; Orlando’s right eyelid to Simona’s right nipple.
I’m trying to envision the configuration.
To enter the exhibition proper the invited guests had to squeeze past the mounted, fastened-to-each-other women, get entangled in the sticky tape, hence cause multiple abrasions and bleedings in the womens’ bodies where the tape aggravated the skin — and get their own fine clothes soiled and bloodied in the process. Carlos videoptaped the fortuitious assemblage of performers and invited guests.
What was in the exhibition proper?
Nothing. The exhibition space, a high-ceilinged, well-lit, L-shaped room, painted chartreuse, was empty.
Trieste and his terrorists mounted a performance in Singapore in which virtually the entire population of toilets backed up and overflowed into the antiseptic WCs, down the building walls, onto the sanitized streets, flooding the biosphere-city in hard sewage.
For his pains, Trieste and Catalan Carlos were arrested, with the prospects of caning and a substantial prison sentence.
Although officially refused admittance into the country, Orlando slipped into Singapore with a gang of four, made it to the detention center where Trieste and Carlos were being held. Three of the four, all in black latex executioner suits, were either fems or slender males; the fourth was burly. They surrounded Orlando while she stripped and slipped into her Trieste mask while wearing 6-inch red stiletto heels.
One of the latexfems draped Orlando over a trestle which projected her buttocks. The burly one caned her four hard times. She groaned loudly from deep in her throat. At that point the authorities moved in with their own rattan canes breaking up the party, forcing a robe on Orlando, arresting the participants.
Nonetheless, Orlando’ performance had been videotaped by technicians from CNN, BBC and Agence France-Presse. Beamed by satellite to fourteen different locations, including the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the McLuhan Center in Toronto.
That same afternoon everyone, including Trieste and his lieutenants, were released and ordered out of the country.
Pious Singapore gave in?
But only after Orlando took four lashes on her arse.
I can understand the Trieste mask but why the red stiletto heels?
Did you like them?
I did. In any case, she didn’t pass out?
On the contrary.
Oudekerk, the oldest church in Amsterdam, dating from the early 14th century, is in the very groin of the Red Light district in a small cobbled square overlooking an ancient canal. Brown rats are in the canal and hundreds of used condoms. Though the area is less violent than you’d expect, body parts and the odd corpse sough in the scum. A drunken sailor on leave toppling into the inky water. A prostitute from Morocco or Senegal or Borneo or Manila, 18-years-old and alone utterly, throwing herself into the bloody water. Mallards and mute swans, resourceful feeders, in deliberate transit from linking canals.
Orlando’s concept was to gargoyle herself to the easternmost turret of the Oudekerk, open her veins, bleed into the canal.
The performance was scheduled for Saturday, midnight, when the area would be thick with whores, johns, windowshoppers, bussed-in tourists. Announcements were posted:
Will Perform “Kuan Yin”
Oudekerk, East Facade
Saturday, May 1, Midnight
Midnight, Orlando is lashed by the waist to the easternmost turret of Oudekerk overlooking the canal. Her waist-length hair is gathered into an elaborate top knot. She is incandescent, naked, tattooed.
What kind of tattoo?
An image of Kuan Yin in green on her torso. Kuan Yin is the Buddhist goddess of mercy and she is holding a vase of “sweet dew.” Orlando has a scalpel in her hair.
She slits both wrists and ankles and bleeds slowly into the inky water.
And Catalan Carlos is vid–
Carlos is not videotaping this one. He’s down below on the ancient cobblestone sucking it up. Along with Simona, Trieste the terrorist, Redbone . . . It’s an overflow “audience,” the largest since five years before when Mother Teresa performed an outdoor Xmas mass for the Red Light-district prostitutes. Orlando’s admirers have not yet spotted each other. French Channel 4 is beaming the performance by satellite to sites all over Europe, Asia, San Francisco.
I have a feeling Orlando is not going to make it this time.
Ah. She bleeds to death. But she has left this verse behind to share with her admirers.
You are crossing the ocean
Hunting for white jade
If you wish finally to reach the other shore
Be mindful of Kuan Yin
between Harold Jaffe and Gary Lain
Gary Lain: There is a line of theoretical inquiry, beginning with Debord in the 1960’s, further developed by Baudrillard, and then more recently in Virilio, addressing the degradation of the actual (or, for our purposes, the degradation of real time) in the service of the virtual.
Whether viewed in terms of Debord’s spectacle, Baudrillard’s simulacra, or Virilio’s dromology, the sense is that the fabric of everyday life has become overdetermined — fatally compromised in some way by the ascendance of the virtual.
Harold Jaffe: Rather than everyday life being “overdetermined,” I’d say mono-determined — the “mono” signifying technology. Not technology itself, of course, but its fetishization, relentlessly promoted by post-industrial capitalism. For EF Schumacher, for example, advanced technology did not mean fabricating what hadn’t yet been fabricated irrespective of its potential application. Rather technology advanced only as far as benefited our bedeviled earth and its inhabitants.
GL: We should offer here a theory of the virtual. After all, as the virtual has developed into an apparatus of the dominant culture, it has become more ideologically transparent. What was once pitched as a liberatory new technology, (one thinks here of the inflated claims made in the famous Apple “1984” commercials), now encourages new abuses of power: an almost whimsical surfeit of surveillance tech (spy cameras on every London corner, voice mails hacked, emails monitored); remote controlled drones overhead; the tech-enabled financialization of every human exchange.
And as these abuses become systematically more integrated into the culture, we become more inured to them. While it is true that handhelds and social networking have served to domesticate the virtual, they also afford new opportunities for social conditioning and control.
Yet one rarely hears the term virtual used in any cautionary sense as one did just a few years ago; in fact as the virtual has become established as culturally normative, the virtual has become invisible.
HJ: I think of Kafka’s parable, “Leopards in the Temple”:
“Leopards break into the temple and drink to the dregs what is in the sacrificial pitchers; this is repeated over and over again; finally it can be calculated in advance, and it becomes a part of the ceremony.”
Now the temple, sacrificial pitchers, sacred ceremony, and remarkable beast have been transfigured. Into what? Well, log in and you’ll see. Ah, you’re already logged in…
I am reading here and there in Julia Kristeva, and she remarks with some passion that “Our period is at once a technical apotheosis and a time of great human distress.”
I would add that the “technical apotheosis” is not just contributing but greatly exacerbating the “human distress.”
GL: Kristeva’s technical apotheosis reminds one of the hagiographic obituaries on the death of Steve Jobs. Jobs and Apple — no better than the rest, certainly not good corporate citizens. Apparently, Jobs didn’t even have the noblesse oblige of his rival, Bill Gates.
The apotheosis might be the cultural extension of the technological sublime. In the mid-19th century, some of the tropes of Romantic painting were transposed to representations of technology.
I do think that technology’s capacity to increase pleasure, knowledge and awareness should be exploited. I have sort of puzzled at the interface between human and machine. At the ways it can be eroticized.
One of the prevalent sources of anxiety, at least as manifested in popular culture, concerns not cyborgs, but androids, which can pass as human, and are thus potential objects of desire. This ontological confusion and dread runs through some of the best science fiction of our era.
HJ: “Androids” as objects as desire or “humanoids”? With humans in technologically advanced countries having become indentured to the electronic alter-self; and with many of these same humans possessing surgically inserted inorganic, often electronic-dependent, parts, our culture needs to be fearful of humanoids.
Watch the humanoid walk without moving his arms. Listen to him talk without inflection or affect. Smell his cologne with or without pheromones.
And Mother Earth is perishing.
GL: Technology has problematized human identity fundamentally. One sees this in the ways that psychology, once so essential to the enterprise of the dominant culture, has been reduced to an arm of the pharmacological industry. A theory and practice regarding the understanding of the human psyche, once critical to the processes of acculturation in an advanced technological society, has become largely irrelevant at this historical juncture.
HJ: RD Laing’s “existential” psychoanalysis in the Sixties had the courage to declare that many of those accounted mad are actually mounting a breakthrough rather than having a breakdown. They are the humans who are in effect walking point for the rest of us; they experience and, in their torment, testify not to a dysfunctional self but to a dysfunctional world.
Where it is remembered at all, Laing’s thinking is traduced. Everything is organic, “neuro,” don’t you know! Deviate from the crazily spinning globe and you are dysfunctional. Use Skype, be happy.
GL: This anxiety regarding individual identity plays out in the popular culture in interesting ways. The current fascination with zombies might signify a profound unease regarding the excesses of biotech, the undead condition often linked to genetic experimentation, etc. More fundamental, though, is the notion that there can be no succor beyond death. Instead, one is condemned by technology to exist, monstrously, forever.
Also now prevelant is the doppelganger. The popular TV show Fringe spins elaborate, paranoid plots regarding doubles both created artificially and existing naturally in parallel universes. Often one has no idea whether a main character is authentic or a copy. The same was also true of the popular space opera Battlestar Galactica.
Technology, thematically, is here a fundamental threat to human identity. But I would argue that the effect is curiously denatured. Is anyone truly anxious about this sort of thing anymore? Or is this a sort of simulated anxiety, masking a deeper sense of unease?
HJ: Official culture sublimates or, better, transmutes legitimate anxiety into simulacra which are normalized, or, better, sanitized. The catharsis, then, is bogus, but still contains the mediating energy to derail functional anxiety — at least to a certain extent.
Graduate writing students who watch TV and pop movies routinely write of zombies occupying a post-holocaust landscape, but when I talk with these students about climate change and the natural world in fact dying, most tend to look at me oddly. Writing about the landscape insulates them from inhabiting it.
Similarly, the extreme violence of wars is transmuted into X-Games, video games, and professional football, and if these “circuses” don’t have enough simulated force to insulate the viewer’s anxiety, the simulation is pushed several degrees further into “fantasy football” or state-of-the-art, high definition screens for hyper-violent vid games.
GL: A few years ago, when official America still was invested in the invasion of Iraq, much was made of the virtual training of U.S. infantry soldiers. The games then became commercially available, but of course they weren’t as “good” as the vid games already being played by sixth grade boys. Of the soldiers themselves, well, who knows — stricken with PTSD, they may be among us, homeless, or perhaps working as police officers.
HJ: The virulent long-time book critic of the NY Times, Michiko Kakutani, asked rhetorically: “When did we become a culture of 12-year-olds?” My reply: In the 17th century, when religious white immigrants “discovered” a country that was occupied by native Americans, a much more highly evolved species, whom the Puritans proceeded to genocide.
Alignment of godliness with wealth; slave-ownership; heroic capitalists; colonialist wars . . . The official US has always been a culture of 12-year-olds, except via electronic media, hyper-violent video games and compulsive speed without direction have been much more copiously displayed.
The US, officially, is what it’s been, just worse.
GL: This “compulsive speed without direction” interrupts reflection, critical thought, interiority. The cliché is that, under the virtual dispensation we have become a “visual culture.” We might discuss the implications for writers in a post-literate society, but more urgently I think, as Virilio indicated, the effects of the speed of digital transmission/interruption on consciousness are profound.
HJ: Digital instantaneity naturally privileges visuals that ape electronic transmission or are otherwise rapidly and easily absorbed. Hence, the revival of comic books and Batman movies. What Lionel Trilling once called “sincerity and authenticity” have given way almost entirely to image and soundbite. Of course there are intellectuals and academics who can still gaze at a Rembrandt without stealing a glance at their smartphone, but they are decidedly fewer in number as universities veer in the direction of corporate for-profit institutions.
GL: If we were to date the emergence of the virtual, most would agree it to be around 1980. Correspondingly, we have the emergence of new social and cultural paradigms: economic globalism rooted in crony capitalism, cartels, privatization and austerity; an astonishing increase in technologically-driven Western military adventurism; rampant institutional failures resulting from deficient, unaccountable leadership — the TED-networked “Twitteratti”; corporate propaganda disseminated via a compliant media deliberately confusing the relationship of carbon emissions to global change, despite clear scientific evidence. The causality here is tangled, but clearly, it’s hard to argue that life has fundamentally improved during the past 30 years. We were a freer, more literate, just society sans email, portables, social networks, etc.
HJ: As with the movement from rural to industrialism at the end of the 20th century; as with the space program; and certainly with the electronic dispensation, engineering far exceeds ethical and emotional maturity. I remember one of the very early astronauts while on the moon inquiring about the score of an NFL game.
Technology itself could become a great boon were it primed to advance only as far as benefits earth and its inhabitants. Intermediate technology, was Schumacher’s term. But capital will not permit “intermediate” if it smells profit potential. Hence, technological “upgrades” are developed and launched with a dizzying rapidity, and ad campaigns convince us that expensive new software, let’s say, is not just convenient but essential. Without the new software, however unnecessary, one’s technology may even cease to function.
GL: While the situation is grim, approaching the question dialectically, there may be reasons for cautious optimism. For example, Occupy Wall Street was able to interject economic inequity into the national conversation, their reach greatly extended by their use of social media; Julian Assange and WikiLeaks increased awareness of the abuses of the security state; “Arab Spring” protesters deployed social media in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, eventually forcing governments from power.
One might argue that Twitter and Facebook have been useful in revealing the strength of public opinion outside of the official consensus. For example, the self-serving corporate media taboo against “politicizing the tragedy” of mass murdered children in Newtown, Connecticut may well have been undermined by social media, which immediately placed the massacre in the context of gun control and public health policy.
What I am getting at here may be related to your statement that activist writers need to find opportunities for agency in the situation as it exists on the ground, to “find a seam, plant a mine, slip away.”
HJ: True, there are “seams” in the electronic network into which rebellious voices can be smuggled. The corp-govt is working dutifully to obliterate these seams to render the virtual world as impermeable as the real-time fortress-structures where “first world” governments and/or global corporations meet and devise against “ordinary” people’s best interests.
Right now dissension resembles “samizdat” during the Stalin years, writers passing their impious texts from hand to hand to avoid officialdom.
However ephemeral virtual dissent may be,it is not negligible. Will dissenters halt climate change or stop genocidal wars? Climate change at this stage is unavoidable; the same may apply to genocidal wars which have become ritualized rather than necessary, as such.
What then does dissent signify? It testifies.
GL: I’d like to segue here to the role of the imaginative/activist writer under the virtual dispensation.
The nature of the writer’s work has changed greatly due to these technologies: the use of word processors rather than typewriters, for example. Further, internet-based research as opposed to text-based library research has changed the practice of writing, making it easier to accrete surface detail, perhaps rendering a depth of experiential or research based knowledge obsolete. The claim here is that while it may be easier to now acquire facts, it is no easier to become aware of context, especially, I would argue, the social/historical context.
HJ: For the writer the word processor is a prosthesis. Virtually all you need to know, at least in English, is at hand; so like the child using a calculator rather than learning arithmetic, the machine does the work. This means, among other things, that knowledge, rather than “earned” in the old-fashioned way, is at your fingertips, such that it is difficult to distinguish a cultivated writer from a Wiki addict. That fits with Virilio’s distinction between actual movement, “mobility,” and virtual movement with the electronic mouse, which he calls “motility.” In plain words: the word processing writer can present an image that has little to do with how s/he really is. Then again, what does “really” signify?
Re working, writing directly on the word processor greatly ameliorates the tasks of editing and is a timesaver. It permits the writer to get into his work almost instantaneously.
Re imaginative writing, or art-making in general: technology is practically useful; theoretically, it is of course problematic.
GL: We sit at our desks, faces bathed by the light of our screens, trying to make sense of the world through discourse. Yet our thoughts, our words are structured by the virtual mediations that we employ/that deploy us. We are subjects complicit in our own domination. This is why a sensitive and intelligent young writer might never recognize literary discourse in its native, social context. One can now read the satires of Rabelais, Chaucer and Cervantes, the naturalism of Zola and Turgenev, the interventions of the Modernist avant-garde, and never know one’s own work as a social act within this long tradition.
Regarding narrative form, you have plundered the official discourse in ways specific to this discussion. For example, in your book Anti-Twitter you expropriate Twitter’s 50 character limit laterally; that is, without foregrounding the device per se, you turn it to your own ends, to the privileging of consciousness, the “ghost in the machine.”
Further, your development of the “docufiction” allows you to parallel the discourse of the popular media, that “neutral,” denatured prose of news broadcasts and ad copy, but always to the prerogatives of your own imagination.
HJ: In William Faulkner’s justly praised Nobel acceptance speech in 1949, he declared that the writer must “leave no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart . . . love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.” Were Faulkner delivering his speech today he would have to add information to his “verities.” Love, honor, pity, pride, and technologized information, which of course is primarily disinformation.
I’m joking, but not joking. Technology has in less than a generation restructured our consciousness. We first worlders have lost touch with those crucial fundamentals that Faulkner cites. What we have instead are readymades: rehearsed love, distended honor, misplaced pity, excessive pridefulness. Compassion? Deleted from the lexicon.
Instead of robins on a grassy lawn we have Muslim “insurgents” in their own country but on our screens assaulting white wannabe colonists wearing state-of-the-art special ops costumes.
Some tradition-minded writers and artists still try to revitalize Faulkner’s verities, but others recognize that instead of soil we reside on electronic-generated word-vomit with its codes, numerals, acronyms, hashtags. Copyright laws have relaxed in good part because every public forum uses the same platitudes and soundbites.
We writers have, then, a virtual landscape of info-carrion from which to draw. Those are our readymades, and so I have addressed them, deconstructed them, teased out their coded anti-truths. And, formally, I have aped the compelled info-shorthand to permit readers to spoon very small doses while tending to their smart phones.
The paradox is that the debauched culture is a fertile feeding ground for resourceful writers and artists. But then who will read our books? Who will view our visuals?