Monday, November 23, 2020


I sit now in my new apartment, up high and very bright as the sun rises to my view. Worried at first that it would be too warm, now I worry that it might be chilly. The decor is mostly distributed and the boxes mostly gone. I don't understand how I put that many boxes into storage from the smallest U-Haul trailer available, pulled across the Adirondacks with a tiny Jetta wagon.

But then I am an idiot in any field where I'm not an expert, and I'm an expert nowhere. That has been a conscious choice. Of course, I'm also radically uncertain about what choice is and what consciousness is. I don't think that choice is the same thing as agency, and I have a strong feeling that agency goes along with consciousness and that, naturally, consciousness is not a specifically human attribute.

I guess that makes my world-view about as weird as a Trumpster's. They are right that we lefties confuse choice and agency though. We who have never faced down survival even for an instant. Choice is what you do while shopping. I'm not good at it.

The decor that I'm enjoying is accumulated donations and hand-me-downs, pretty much as though I were living in a consignment shop. In place of actual art, which could be gotten from actual acquaintances, I am surrounded by, well, actual art, but not edgy art. All from acquaintances, much of it Chinese. I wish I could find that gorgeous scroll that I filmed as it was painted. Where could I have put it? 

I would be in China now, if not for aging out of who they will accept and except for Trump spoiling our prospects there, and across the globe. I would feel comfortable going out and joining the teeming crowds on the street in China. Nothing would feel familiar and I would feel cramped in whatever housing I might afford. With views out the window not so comfortable as these, my hometown views.

But I would feel more comfortable than you would, and happy, and I would be rid of this sickening dread that our Republic has ended. The government in China would feel solid, even if not the government I would wish for. I have been wishing for America all my life.

Trump is hardly to blame. He is the manifest symptom of a certain brand of capitalism run amok. Where comfort was all we wanted and were finally granted. We stopped participating in community-forming conversations and spoke mostly about the world we knew from screens big and small. 

Those worlds have always been somehow more interesting than the one we inhabit. It was always a latent possibility that mobs would rule here in the US of A; that the ultimate Confidence Man would take office, because we'd long since given up on civic education. 

Ours was not supposed to be indoctrination, though it often was. We were to be allowed to form our own commitments to something that just made sense. Like More Light Presbyterian Sunday school just around the corner now (This was never my plan. I've never had a plan). Dad is buried there, his ashes placed in the memory garden, and somehow among my debris was the nap rug that Mom would have made for me on mandate for the church's preschool. I was hoping for a bathroom rug, but my kids won't let me use this one. I don't think it would survive a washing anyhow. 

We were always expected to make our own choice, and it was supposed to make sense as the right one. Now it would seem that we crave to be told by someone in television drag. God damn you Ronnie. You started it. Or was it JFK? 

I don't know why I don't have edgy in me, back to my artistic deficit again. I guess it's for the same reason that my clothes are drab, fusty, off, and tending to conventional. I always appreciate edgy, and admire those who live it. I lack a certain kind of confidence, I guess. I guess I prefer comfort and don't like being noticed. First things first, I put opaque drapes over bedroom and kitchen windows. 

Ah, but I shall soon put a loaf of bread in the oven. There is no bread to buy in stores that is worth eating. In China, where bread is not popular, the noodles, the dumplings are reliable, although they try their damnedest to replace Mom and Pop with corporate fast-food on the US model. With US money, as far as I can tell. The Age of Ambition. It's a trust thing. Germs in food when the government is not on it.

And I'm back to shopping once every three weeks. Yesterday at 6AM when I had the store to myself. Paranoid now because I'd forgotten to buy parchment paper, and doubted my ability to make bread right without it. I dashed in to the store again, but there were lines, and my throat is sore this morning. Likely because of the apartment heat. 

I discover that I'm newly incompetent, reverting to a circumstance I can't remember. I was competent in my trailer, and here I still duck in fear that the smoke alarm will go needlessly off at my cooking. The way it does in my tiny house. I have neighbors not to disturb now.

It chilled again last night after a near summery yesterday for my stair climbs. I am free now from gluten free, but also forgot to buy a pizza pan. Whatever happened to those basics? How much did I toss when I couldn't lift the tongue of the trailer? I will buy cast iron this time. Next I dare to venture out. Our polity is that destroyed.

The science fiction I will write about our future will be no fiction. The Tesla trucks and moon shots are already a joke. The MC rather charmingly full of himself, since at least he doesn't pretend to be an actor, nor even Steve Jobs. There are too many of us craving comfort and the market will supply it fine. The collapse will be for loss of will, and for agency concentrated in too few of us. The rest overtaken by frustrated ambition. Turned against one another, all over again.

Choice is what you make in the store. During leisure time after digesting what you've learned in school. Agency is about survival. Reptiles do it. There''s something in there about trust which determines the distinction. Choice requires a degree of comfort.

I am at that age when I can't remember where I saw something or where I read it, or where I put it, or what my room layout was at the last place. I can't distinguish between memories of some dream state or what I might have watched on TV. This will increasingly be the state of each of us. Call it Alzheimer's, call it what you will, it's the natural end of a mediated experience of life. 

We live on Mars already, though Werner Herzog might call the attempt to go there obscene. We have sex with onscreen obscenity. It's how we experience life. Elon Musk uses the word 'consciousness' for what it is we must preserve that he seems to presume only humans have. But reptiles were already conscious. Herzog is right that we would be locusts on the cosmos once we despoil our home and decamp elsewhere.

If by humanity we mean only that kind of clever comfort preservation that technology is so good at improving, then we are already dead and gone. The masses who will die when the machine completes its falling apart will be a redundancy. Will have been. They - we - had not been living anymore in the first place.

When yesterday - was it the day before? - I finally finished unboxing all my Chinese books, I did feel of sound mind. So much can change in a day. I went to bed too early and awakened hung over by the pain and exhaustion of moving. My daughter came by and we wore masks and opened the windows - there was a breeze and we felt safe from one another - to give me some final pointers on the picture and furniture placements. It was a completion and a start to my new life. No matter how much is left to do, I feel settled enough. I was too tired even to accept her offer of a stuffed pepper, preferring not to go down and out, and therefore preferring to eat a frozen pizza. Like taking drugs, based on how I feel this morning.

Yes, my science fiction of our future will be underpopulated and engaged in human activity, like those Chinese poets that I felt certain only yesterday that I would finally master. My little library exceeds the offerings of most university collections that I've checked out. This time, when I unboxed my collection for the upteenth time, I felt that I could finally read them and catalogue them properly on the shelf.

Was it my time in the salt-mines of translation, or was it the sheer repetition of the unboxing, or some combination of both? Could I possibly be settled enough now? Would I sit? Will I also unbox my notebooks from graduate school? Where would it get me, as though I weren't preparing for this for my whole life? I no longer have to work for the man. Or was it always for my ex? The man works for me, until the banks collapse. A small stipend for sure. Lower even than what I lived on in graduate school. I've never left that lifestyle, really. I never did graduate.

Like me, those Chinese ancients who complained of exile and destitution were elites. The Chinese knew how not to overproduce elites,  and still to honor the farmers and peasants above the businessmen (I blew my final read this side of the paywall for this link. Paywalls are being raised everywhere now, and screw the People who don't deserve elite knowledge). The library is closed. I'm reading Daniel C. Dennett's new book on electronic loan. He's wrong about consciousness, apparently, but nobody else is reading Manzotti. Hardly. I'm so surprised and disappointed to find, so far, that Dennett has retreated inside the head.

None of us can break free of our Western Platonic world of ideas, although I finally found a cogent definition for ideas - for the word "idea" - behind a paywall that lets me in just once. I struggle through the read, because it represents the dismal science, economics, where as a social scientist of education, I am by definition deficient. An amateur. An idea is that aspect of a design which can be monetized. Q.E.D.

There were so many fewer words written back when in China. And here in the West. Each one carried so much more weight. And yet those poets were in chains. They chafed. And they prevailed - they persisted through the ages - if and as they outwitted their superiors, who were never their betters. Legions of emperors will be forgotten before we forget Du Fu. Though I do have Chairman Mao's calligraphy in a place of honor. "Study Marxism and Leninism." It's beautiful. 

There were few enough words that classical Chinese became an easy candidate for computer analysis. As if the computers could find something elusive to the generations which preserved those words. It was worth reading them nevermore. I learned about that in the bread-line during the first international conference on Redology, the esoteric discipline of studying The Story of the Stone; The Dream of the Red Chamber. I was there, rubbing shoulders with the luminaries. I proved to myself that I was there when I unearthed the conference report among my excavations for this move. Trust me.

We were modern and now we are postmodern, which only means that we don't believe in anything anymore. Only power and fighting the man. That is no way to expand out into the cosmos. That is no way forward. The words were once the promise of a future. In the beginning. Now they are Sound and Fury, signifying nothing all over again.

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