Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Reading The Stack; A New Experiment in Writing

Since I pose as faculty for my day job, and since the student and faculty work I supervise is precisely delineated by the writing of Benjamin H. Bratton (roughly the realm of rhetorically straightjacketed TED - I will now waste no time to watch his TED talk on what's wrong with TED talks), in his recent book called The Stack, I am going to try something slightly new for me. I am going to annotate my reading here in public.

Already I'm over my head, since I use the word "delineated" to describe a piece of writing in a way that can only be ironic in relation to what the book is "about." But it has been my experience that writing, in and by the act of preserving for later access what might otherwise have been an active dialogic interaction between at least two similarly situated human individuals, destroys as much as it can preserve, maybe even in a fashion similar to what we call pickling (I like pickles fine).

This particular piece of writing announces near its outset that it won't even afford images, thereby raising another layer (another dangerous and uncontrollable word in this context here) to the book's confinement in the prison-house of (written) language.

I expect the read to be difficult, which is also why I feel the need to annotate my read, but it also feels almost excruciatingly promising. Here, finally might be a blueprint for the resistance we all seek. Here might be some explanation for both the global phenomenon of Trumpism and for his ultimate irrelevance of its name-sake.

We already did learn, thanks Barack, that the level of humanity of the occupant of the Oval Office of these United States makes hardly any difference. Bratton promises to describe and define the actual, though only metaphorically so-called, geography of the global systems in which we find ourselves.

At my outset, I wish to define and describe still more certain ironies than I already have. These resonate with the irony that my Windows machine takes far longer to wake up than to boot up (that's the machine I use 'at home') while my Mac which I use for work is almost never put to sleep. Did I say I'm having sleep troubles in my old age?

Bratton promises to help me to understand my alliances and allegiances by helping me to understand the actual order of the world, which has come upon us, so he tells us, quite by accident. I think some definition is in order here, about what is meant by "accident."

Now I've already said that as an academic I'm a poser. I continue in awe of those who actually do teach academic subjects. I myself diverted from the study of anything substantive at a somewhat early age, and have only ever been a proper academic as a teacher of the Chinese language. And I don't even believe that language-teaching is properly academic, sorry colleagues.

My initial bet has paid off ever so slightly, in that my decision to (nearly) master the language I chose mainly because of the distance from the familiar of its written form, has given some insights which my discipline-specific colleagues may sometimes lack.

Bratton's book is explicitly trans-disciplinary, but will draw, so says the author, on mostly those subject areas which would require other-than-text to be included: design, architecture, political geography, and many more. This trans-disciplinary piece of writing excludes anything but writing, and sets out to demonstrate that the world is now already in thrall to an order defined primarily by the writing of code, and that this new world order has come about not by design, but by accident.

At my outset, I admit to panic that my own mind has already been subsumed by the great machine in which I am embedded. I know that post-911 I still do rush to plug my ears in to NPR while driving, and scan the aggregated news each morning looking for sense in the Trumpian outrage. Bush dubya is sounding sensible, which is reason enough to get off the news-addiction and back into something more eternal. Writing, naturally.

Those technologies which make up Bratton's Stack are themselves understood to be the mechanisms which might deliver us from accident, right? Medical technologies will master disease, and Googly technologies might internalize the externalities of capitalist wealth-concentration which is sucking the planet dry, and we might even colonize space as a way to mitigate the depredations against still-externalized earth, on which all the technologies feed, at a rate to accelerate what humans started doing when we learned to cultivate and to farm.

The machine has become a life-force itself, Bratton seems to suggest by calling its structure accidental which must be some opposite to the deliberate planning of the farmer, and he promises to search for what a human might do to carve out a space for what we aspire to be, external to accident, eternal for our aspirations against what some do still name God. We must cultivate our world, and to do so we must find a way, properly, to describe it (as though farming ever required the Word, pre-agribusiness).

Stunningly in Chinese, there is no real space for a named and singular God, and no real meaning for accident as a meaningless (random) happenstance. There is instead a kind of acceptance of the limitation of mind, and meaning always, but not metaphorically, beyond the grasp of language. Accident is simply that which cannot be understood, not necessarily that which has no meaning. Sometimes letting go is the only way in to what is going on. The Dao that can be daoed is not the eternal Dao.

Here are the global ironies now, beyond those which might be described in this book I'm eager to read: China is a civilization-state, which defines itself not relative to borders but really relative to a kind of blood-line or racialist definition for culture. I know this because no matter how well I internalize Chinese language and traditions, I can never be Chinese.

A civilization-state may have valence relative to the Stack which is lacking for those of us still indulging dreams of secure borders, even while we cultivate within those walls murderous crazy tendencies among our faux-native populations. Our own irony is that we are, always have been, and always will be a nation of mongrels, and rate our strength on that. Red-blonde Donald may represent a longing for the stability of shoe-black Chairman Xi. The efficiency of straight talk, as though that has ever existed in Chinese. These ironies resonate to the point of a dangerous harmonic.

We have only borders to define ourselves, and only priority of entry to define native against intruder. Those of us who pay attention are in the grips of paranoia about the Surveillance State, while the Chinese are aware of it as a mostly benign presence which might single out the crazies while allowing those who exercise reasonable decorum in their state-facing activities a wider range of what we call free speech than those of us within the American boundaries who are restricted by political correctness.  So go some of the narratives.

Without meaning to denigrate the suffering of legions of Chinese conscripted for railway-building, and excluded by a a kind of prejudice even beyond that once deployed against the Irish, we oversimplify here always. Black as opposed to white. People of color, as opposed to some imagined norm, and for purposes of redress Chinese sometimes want to identify as people of color even while out-whiting the whites (does that still include the Jews?) for access to our machines of exclusion (overheard at a faculty-meeting yesterday afternoon, when the discussion turned to 'what's up with diversity and inclusion here'); our universities.

Once again, we need quotas against the undesirables, but our "home-land' is defined cybernetically now, as much according to where Chinese invest their money, as by where American businesses do or don't pay taxes. Just as hardly any mongrel American is lacking DNA from all over the world, hardly any product could be called "made in the USA."  Even the notion that my data can be confined to national borders is ludicrous in a federated distributed cloud infrastructure, though lonely New Zealand is apparently giving it a go, just as China is in reverse (try AWS in China if you want to try weird, and that's the one defined by atavistic geopolitical treaty!).

I pledge my allegiance to the human, and not to any nation-state, however construed. That means that I am opposed only to those who would order our realities to favor themselves as a defined "user" at the top of Bratton's Stack, in opposition to nearly everyone else on the planet. That makes me a danger to no-one, but a sworn enemy to the oligarchs of whatever political stripe. Blow the Trumpet, indeed!

Not so incidentally, it makes me a danger to the accidental and therefore mindless machine-space which now defines the anthropocene. If this book cannot give me some semblance of a road-map, it will have been a waste of time. I might as well be reading two compelling - truly - physically embodied books sitting on my coffee table. One delineating the history and implementation of the German university ideal as that relates to Nazism. The other a play (to be read and not to be performed, presumably) whose characters are atomic and subatomic particles in relationships to each other and to the police-forces of bondage.

These other two are written by friends, and there is allegiance there as well. I can have no allegiance to anyone who deploys the full arsenal of  academic language against the bulk of us for whom such language might as well be Greek or Chinese, but which is in any case opaque. In the interests of accuracy and completeness, which is the scholarly enterprise, from which I am in exile (at least). And so I will try to provide a kind of roadmap to the roadmap, for myself if not for anyone else. For me, it's mostly a memory exercise. For you, it may be the future, which you should claim for yourself before someone with a lot more power in the here and now claims it in your name for himself.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

In the End, No Word

Shit obsessed James Joyce tried valiantly to thing the Word. No-one could have noticed were there not other bodily functions there to raise our deadened minders against us. T.S. Elliot in his Wasteland was also occupied with shit and piss, but were you to raise that up in class, you would be dismissed.

In our past and present are Irish and black slaves, and no wonder we curse out loud in public, to our phones or just to ourselves, no matter the sensibilities of older more prim people passing by. Is it fear or nonchalance which keeps us civil? In our present we are all reduced to living in our cars.

The word of course was thinged already in the Bible. How very strange that we remain so attached to the earthly, when we'd already established the immortal soul, to be released by torture if  necessary, according to the plans of those young men in charge.

I would reclaim the glories of those things we fight so valiantly against, the oil sucked out from Mother's teat, we leave her wrinkled and foul and near death. The automobiles which once did make us free. The baboon at the pulpit now, uttering nonsense in halitosis smarm, sidekick no longer Jesus, but some oily preacher who recites words which can raise only the deadened to enthusiasms and they hold their shekels closely.

It would be nice would it not if we could find some place where what we might get for money, including food and warmth and shelter now which is on offer no other way, was never insecure. Tax the mechanical slaves, so they might liberate the rest of us to amuse ourselves to death. There is apparently no end to insecurity, not even plating your toilet seat gold can keep you from the obvious in the end.

Solid would be a lift too heavy, no matter, your soul is incorruptible also, were it not that you'd sold it already on the open market.

It is time to look ahead and beyond, to where written words dissolve in the sun as clouds sometimes do, to where the human stands up unassisted again by patriarchs so desperate to keep us down. Look beyond the local contests debating this or that mean solution. Leave that shit behind, the flow to break all dams, the warrens of huddling sleeping masses.

There is a brighter day than you or I can stand and bring it on, we no longer have a choice. Look homeward. Recite with me now.

Oh shit, we're screwed.


It is the only thing on offer worth a damn anymore.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

So Sorry, Ivanka

Well, I'm not apologizing to you, Ivanka, since you won't have gotten wind of my diss. I'm apologizing to everyone out there accused - as I did you - of being subject to the misguided desires of their father. I am sure it was you and not your Dad who begged that you be altered into better beauty. I'm sure this was an expression of appropriate fatherly love, and that it makes each of you happy in the same way and for the same reason.

Your father stands accused of many things, many publicly known and ugly. Your step-mom, Melania seems bizarrely trapped in modelling pouts, and all these things feel wrapped up in wanting and needing the world's envy. And many apparently do envy the Trump brand, and want to be associated with it and claim the association with the sort of adamancy normally reserved for hatred.

There is apparently some continuum for memory which might be described according to the way that memory is affiliated with emotion. We remember best those events which had some emotional importance to us. We remember least the passing landscapes when our thoughts are directed elsewhere; speaking on the phone while driving, say.

I may be alone in this, but I do wonder what is the cosmic significance of this process. Because I do suppose emotion to be a part of our cosmic substrate, and not associated alone with humanity, say, evolved at the end of a long chain of events.

I suppose that the cosmic pull toward life as opposed to that barren aloneness of the cosmic desert, is emotional, by which I definitionally mean that it is devoid of physical forces. Emotion is defined in the cosmos I inhabit by motions toward or away which are not mediated by the exchange of particles, which is one definition for physical force at the level of subatomics.

Emotion is therefore a function of mind or conceptual reality and not of perceptual or physical reality, but - I continue to maintain - it is not therefore less real.

In this system of beliefs, which forms the bedrock for my living, I am almost precisely as alone as some street-corner barker of crazy certainty which passers by can't be bothered to understand, since it does not relate to anything else which composes their motivations for the day. Ordinary healthy folks keep cosmic thoughts to themselves unless and until they can make sense within some community of discourse, generally as sanctioned by the prestige system of globally sanctioned educational institutions.

I have to apologize to Yale as well, dissed in the same bit of screed up here in the invisiland of interneted exchange. I know that Yale is an important institution, attractor to the best minds from around the globe, who by their concentration can advance the sum of human understanding. (I do still wish they would stop trying to decide who belongs there as students by such a similar process to the one by means of which they select their faculty and researchers).

Prestige and beauty sanction our thoughts and feelings. Beauty is no longer available to me, except perhaps in admiration of my own daughters. My thinking powers recede as well, as I find myself in a kind of long-term battle trench, where God is finally revealed to so many. God the center of the beauty of natural surroundings, the organizer of a life to which mankind is connected rather than apart.

In that I can and do transfer my attention from any one particular face or body, and certainly don't require a face for God, nor gender, nor internalizable mental referent. Not even a name. God without words or name or gender is never hard to conjur.

Most of the mental props to keep God present have lost their utility, constructs as they are of fear and therefore patriarchy. Prisonhouses rather than the liberation wanted for us by the God I know. The woman without her makeup and before the plastic surgery looks ordinary. Once inside, so does Yale, I imagine still, with a few too many callow rich boys, worldy in their peculiarly sheltered ways and therefore destined for power and able to purchase their grades, once purchased for them by leverage from their names.

Cosmically then we are each centers for memory, strange attractors to form a self with name and surrounded by familiars, destined to be remembered for the ages if only we can get to some remarkable conception first. Sometimes it is enough to get to some remarkable place, so long as one is first.

These are functions of memory and truing against a world composed of the memories of others, trued against facts which must leave physical traces to be real.  Our memories now are scattered by so much txt each day, no time to be present in the physical world and so no wonder a fellow so central to the textual in-formation of our days need hardly bother with truth. He creates it whole with each tweet. He exists in the shadow where God once lived, and it is naturally our difficulty letting go of that secure structure which gives power to the space, even if occupied by a cartoonish simulacrum of a human. So composed in himself, so utterly narcissistic that he must suppose himself to be God.  It is natural that we want to believe in and by words which tweak the structures of our minds in ways reminiscent of wanted certainty.

I am composed of those things I remember, those people, those events, those realizations and sometimes conceptual excitements. I am not so in touch with those that I have loved and who have loved me, and maybe my excuse is that they will always remain present for me. I lie to myself that it is a kindness on my part to keep my face from them, composed as it must be to happiness in the face of raw terror. To Mom, I might as well have been there yesterday, so brief is her memory tracing. I lie to myself that way. It is a comfort only to me.

And those things I do remember are in-formed by the cosmic attractor of love. This is how memory works, this is how our history is shaped, this is how our narratives are formed and collectively rendered up to form our communities and our nations. We the people share a story composed of hopes and dreams and instances from our past when things felt as they should feel, and it is natural to want to share this, and to expand it and to keep out the massing hoards whose shared memories differ and who therefore feel like threats to our future return.

To the victor goes the narrative of victory, and we the people of these United States are surely guilty of putting the face of Donald Trump to the world, because we the people are that narcissistically connected to our own false history for ourselves.

It is hard for me to understand how believers in the actual Jesus can align themselves with patriarchy, with an ingroup fighting out groups, with capitalists winners deployed against anyone having any heart. And so I do pray to the actual Jesus to come back into their hearts, to true them, and to turn their gaze away from barking charlatans and toward that which is the best in each of us, in-formed by love, to stop giving voice to that other motivator of hatred and destruction.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Yes, but what am I to do? (Calhoun College)

You thought I was writing about Trump? These things don't matter any more, and to dwell endlessly on reports from the press is a distraction from what must be done. In this I seem to agree with the Man himself.

I was notified, more or less personally, about the re-naming of Calhoun College some time ago, and as an alumnus I was invited to give my feedback. Between then and now, with family in New Haven, I've had the occasion to drive or stroll around the campus, fascinated to watch the new residential colleges still under construction.

I am dismayed. The College is now building itself for the ages, transcending mortal leadership, timidly putting into place not post-modern structures but Disneyland simulations of Yale's image. Post-post-modern by any other name? These new colleges will be exciting for the students to attend, and I even believe there will be a commercial street in imitation of everywhere else in the world. Perhaps even a sop to the beleaguered and underfunded city of New Haven. I could be wrong. Just an impression.

I don't really mind, nor was I terribly surprised to learn just prior to my most recent visit that Calhoun College will lose its name, but that I, if I wish, might keep it for my own declarations of affiliation. It was the first case for the newly created policy on renaming, a retreat from responsibility on perfect par with the design for the new residential colleges, which some say were also named in consultation with the development office.

How could I disagree? How indeed could I be other than relieved to hear, in the same long email, that the name "Yale" is different from that of John C. Calhoun, even though shrouded in not entirely unrelated ignominy for the practices of the man. I wasn't disappointed either that aficionados of Twitter had already learned before I could get to my insider delivery. These folks must pay closer attention to the antics of our nation's president than I do also.

I suffer the lag of the news aggregators, owned by the tech companies, and profiting in some mysterious way off my profile. They know my habits much better than I do, and let them have it, my profile is wrinkled. My details hardly matter to me anymore. I don't mind. I will pay less and less attention, for my world is already ended. A bit player at best, whose narrative can only provide some minor caricature for someone else's singular story. Tortured wording is the best that I have got.

What has ended will be good to lose. For as I did read John C. Calhoun's address to congress, generously provided by Yale for my edification back when my feedback was solicited, I found an intelligent man following the logic of a poor assumption; that somehow blacks are an inferior "race," and that it is a kindness that slaveholders protect them from the ravages of competition among the free.

I don't see how Yale has distinguished itself from the man whose name they will leave behind, though not efface from what the Italian stone-masons carved over the Calhoun College entrance. Yale still supposes that some are born superior to others and that these few are fairly granted privilege, denied to the unlucky. I don't see much virtue in the Bush family, perhaps marginally more in the Kerrys, members of the same club addicted to power and privilege. The Clintons. Obama is ivy covered proof that race is a false category all around. Easily replaced by socioeconomic stigma. Put a number on it and make it a score.

If Yale were to admit students by lottery, I would be happier. At the same time I would make literal lottery illegal again, because it is no moral crime to steal from those who winnings are only won. Belief in lot exposes such strangeness in us. Students denied admission to Yale, by Yale's own reckoning are not therefore deficient. And yet Yale will endure for the ages, it collectively supposes, by perpetuating the fiction that the winners deserve to win and to rule and to rise to the top.

I would end gerrymandering by lottery, nevermind commissions on redistricting, and I would end renaming by committee too. Just draw straws and if the College ends up named Trump (as though that were a name), so be it. What, after all, is in a name?

I just finished watching The Young Pope on HBO, and that writers committee brought tears streaming down my face. Relieved that they did grant conclusion to a brief addiction. I am that relieved that Yale has concluded also, persisting in name alone. We will remember her fondly as something nice about culture and civilization when once we did think we had some.

Clearly, straws drawn from among some random set of names would have gotten us a better president for the nation. What will we do about it now, Chauncey Gardner? What will we do to ensure that our children have a reason to smile? Isn't this our moment in the sun, we the people? Will we rise to the occasion, or will we continue to amuse and horrify ourselves to death?

Will we only continue to buy lottery tickets, projecting ourselves onto the swindling honorless wealthy who use bankruptcy as strategy to defraud the rest of us? Whose children are plastically effaced in post-post-modern fashion? Have we no shame?

Call me Ahab, Ishmael, for I must be the destroyer of worlds. What a mess. Mother Yale, absolve me of my deficiencies for I am not worthy of thy Name. Then please, fuck off and die. There are better pursuits than to honor false gods.

Let us pray, as there is nothing better to do.

As it was in the beginning,


Quite simply, there should be no prizes so grandiose.  Buy a ticket to Disneyland and thrill for the day, but there is nothing I lack in my little apartment that can be gotten at Mar-al-Lago. What are we thinking? That we can ascend to heaven in this world, here on earth? That our technologies can reconfigure death? That we will be remembered for the eternity we leave behind?

I am simply not OK with private entry to anything. No walls, no admission requirements, no intellectual property barriers, no price for admission to the human race. I will simply pay no mind to the assholes in charge, which ironically enough, is to do exactly as I'm being told by my fearless leader whose worst fear is precisely true. He is a fool. And he is naked in public. And nobody cares.

I would try to love you Mr. President, and I am not concerned that you might have raped your daughter. With you, there are no secrets to be revealed. You paid to have your daughter defaced to please you, and some day she may awaken to the pain of that. Never to have been loved for who she is.

This pain will run in your family forever, and it does sadden me. I don't care about your other secrets. There is vacancy about you. A vanity in more than name. There is nothing to adore in a made up face, in a made up name, in the simulation of honor and decency powdered over by agent orange. You are the lie that you would expose, and I'd even take Skull and Bones rictus in your place if it came to that. But it won't, since we the people won't stand for it. You have denuded yourself of anything alive. You are already done, forevermore. Remembered by none, except as generic jest.

Boola Boola!