Monday, December 29, 2014

Tyranny of the Text

Writing
The irony is that in the year that I've written the most, I've blogged the least. You would think that writing is writing, and that one kind of writing would necessarily impact in a positive, quantitative way other kinds of writing. That is not the case. This year I've worked on my Blanchot book, which remains on hiatus, written two essays for another book project I was going to coauthor with two friends, which seems to be back in lone-author territory, three essays based on my research in Europe this summer, one of which so far has been published, a few shorter pieces, and two translations. It looks as if I'll end the year with a mere 15 blog posts.

But then again I'm racked with anxiety that this amount of writing is not enough. Not enough for what, I don't know. Success? Posterity? Name recognition? Having so little timely feedback is difficult. I know that I'm an excellent writer. Two rejection letters I received this year confirmed this. Nevertheless, my superior writing was not enough to merit at least these two publications. Or perhaps: my superior writing was enough to merit at least these two rejections.

Editorial timelines are the bane of timely writing. It appears that if I wanted to have something published this year, then I should've done the research and writing at least a year ago. Most submissions require 3-6 months for a response. I'm looking forward to a flood of rejections late spring 2015--all acclaiming my exceptional writing. I fear that people will only be able to read my writing that has been severely edited, changed, made inferior by an editor not worthy of my writing. I mean, why would any editor excise every meaningful conjunction in an essay? I'm baffled by such brutish disregard for my work, for writing in general. But editors are part of the game, the business, the nodal nature of power and force.

And then there's the pay. Although, my one publication this year earned me $250. That's $250 more than all my years of having my academic writing published. Not bad, until you factor in the thousands I spent to travel and conduct the research in the first place.

Reading
This morning I looked at the December reading log by one of the people I follow on Twitter. He is a writer, book reviewer, and translator. I saw that he tried to read Montesquieu's Persian Letters this month but didn't. I immediately felt a small ripple of euphoria because I have indeed already read Persian Letters. It was in a graduate class in political philosophy on Montesquieu; we also read The Spirit of the Laws (all 722 pages) and Considerations on the Causes of the Greatness of the Romans and Their Decline. Any fleeting sense of superiority for having read a book that someone else didn't was quickly transformed into a crisis of worth. So fucking what? Am I a better person for having read anything by Montesquieu, let alone almost everything by Montesquieu? And it's not like I read it by chance or that I was fascinated by it. I read it because it was an assigned text in a required course. Although I certainly did enjoy Persian Letters in a way that I didn't enjoy the horribly dated, racist, xenophobic political philosophy of Montesquieu. Persian Letters is good satire and comedy of manners despite the inherently flawed Orientalist theme.

I find myself being jealous of people who read, of people who read more than I do. Despite having read this particular text, I haven't read anything else on his list for December. I have too much anxiety about looking at the other months. This jealousy is coupled with an awareness that the-having-read rarely means anything other than an abundance of reading time, whether it be my profession, student status, or any other privileged state. I'm only comfortable submitting myself to this analysis. I don't know enough about anyone else. The neo-Engels-Marxist in me suspects it has little to do with intellect (my own) and more to do with the commoditization of desire. Reading (or the-having-read) always shows itself as the privilege of the intellectual over the material. Books are the material that the intellect collects, consumes, and eventually transforms into symbol of intellect. Books are the badges, the outer trappings of the boy intellectual. And I so desperately want to be seen as a boy intellectual. Somehow the PhD isn't enough, but perhaps that's more a function of geography (in the US) than reality. Nevertheless, I will always feel like I need to have read more than I have actually read. An invisible library weighs on my mind.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Late Modern Sculpture

It seems that I've gotten several new visitors to this blog from the TOL article on Prague's late communist public art. Here are two more works that I spent a lot of time with this summer and that I've spent a lot of time since thinking about. These photos weren't accepted/published by TOL, so I'm uploading them here. It was difficult deciding which photos to submit in the first place.


Detail from František Pašek’s Kalich, an abstract, geometrical metal fountain from 1979 above Prague’s Želivského metro station and near the entrance to the New Jewish Cemetery. According to the sign posted by the city, it was constructed circa 1983, which goes to show that municipal agencies typically don’t have basic information regarding these works.

Detail from a 1984 vitrified clay fountain by Olga and Miroslav Hudeček above Prague’s Vltavská metro station. Currently the fountain is off, and graffiti mars the surrounding plaza where Prague’s homeless gather.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Forgotten Art

Forgotten Art - Transitions Online

A link to my article on artist-activist Pavel Karous, who has spent the past several years advocating for the preservation of public art created during the last two decades of communism. I contextualize his work within the 25th anniversary of the end of communism in Central Europe. This summer I spent two weeks in Prague interviewing Karous as well as architecture critics, historians, and urban planners. This article also includes my interview with Ondřej Matějka, Deputy Director for the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes. Matějka’s analysis of Czech society helps to explain the dynamics of the art preservation movement. What’s really at stake here is society and government deciding what gets remembered and preserved as well as what gets pushed out of the debate altogether.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Admissions

Don't be shy about asking me about my work or what I do. I wrote a photo essay on the Berlin Wall based on my research there. I'm currently writing another photo essay about various sites in Prague, covering topics such as self-immolation, philosophers who die as martyrs, the ashes of cremated communists, fanciful etymologies, Buddhist sutras, and analyses of film scenes. Over the next few days I'll write about death masks. Not all of my work deals with such gruesome things. Earlier this year I wrote an essay about my deaf cat Bosko. I'm also writing a much longer essay about public art in post-communist Central Europe. I have many interests. I'm also a runner. Just don't talk to me about running. And talking to me while I'm running rarely ends well. I translate from several languages. I'm a musician, and I've produced three albums. I'm a slow reader and a slow talker. And a slow thinker. That is all for now. Thank you for reading and for being my friend.
I posted this to Facebook several days ago in response to charges that I rarely make the effort to be sociable. I disagreed, of course. To some extent. This post was also really a follow-up to a previous post here in which I requested new friends because it seemed that nobody has any interest in what I do or any ability to interact in a functional way with me. You know: hard stuff like Q followed by A. And if I'm criticizing your social skills, then you've got major problems.

In my own defense, however, I have reasons for the way I am. I grew up gay and very religious on a farm in rural Texas. AIDS made the headlines when I was beginning to think about sex. Also, I was intelligent. A counselor once measured my IQ and then declared that he had never seen such a high score. I nonetheless concur with Peggy Hill: "Well, whoop-dee-doo! I am the smartest hillbilly in Hillbilly Town!" (And yes, I was class valedictorian.)

There are two other ingredients you should know about that are added in the mix: my parents abused me horribly as a child. It wasn't always physical, but it was indeed always mental. Also, I had several speech impediments and would attend therapy in school until fourth grade.

That said, there's something much easier for me about meeting people and having great, intimate conversations with ease when I'm overseas. A lot of people don't understand that. But there's a lot of pressure here to fit in. I've never fit in. And when I speak, especially to strangers, I'm struck by how odd I must sound. Always being asked by my compatriots, "What country are you from?" does not instill in me much confidence. When overseas, there's not the same kind of pressure. I even think my personality bloomed when I was living in Japan, when even the pressure to look like others was lifted.

Some of my happiest times have been abroad. Some of my proudest moments have involved non-native speakers gleefully admitting that they understand my English better than that of any other American. At least somebody understands me on some level!

If I've managed to resist the terrible inertia of introversion to meet you, then I've made--and I am still in the process of making--shitloads of effort to be sociable. It's because you intrigue me and seem to be open to (or patient with) dealing with someone like me. And for that, you will have my undying love.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Germany, Year Zero

In Rossellini's Germany, Year Zero Berlin's bombed-out buildings manifest the destruction the war had already wreaked inside the characters' lives. The city, once a specific site of history, becomes in Rossellini's harsh and unforgiving light a non-place. It is at once a child's playground and the theater of war's ambiguous aftermath. Both non-sites converge on their downward path to the abyss.

The children who inhabit such a shadowless site are denied their proper innocence. Edmund's inability to understand the metaphoric content of the schoolmaster's lesson to "look at nature" in order to understand how it is with the weak evidences an innocence that already shows its own complicity with evil. Despite the blinding light, Edmund sees all in his wanderings across the city. But he finds himself incapable of responding to the horror that he witnesses, including the horror he commits with his own hands. His face betrays no emotion.

He attempts to revert to childish games, but the smaller children want nothing to do with him. He hopscotches his way alone across the pocked sidewalk of the unrelenting and unforgiving city. The sound of an organ from a bombed-out church freezes him in his tracks. It is only afterwards, in finally sharing in the responsibility of the city's moral devastation, that Edmund finds one possible response to that which devastates him. Edmund sacrifices himself with seemingly as little thought as when he sacrificed his ill father. But it's a sacrifice tainted by evil.

The weakened city contextualizes the Nazi schoolmaster's lesson. The weak become weaker when human beings resort to their baser natures. Edmund's "fall" from grace is the antidote to the other illnesses of his family. Karl-Heinz, who fought like a good Nazi soldier till the very end, is too scared to turn himself in to the police until the very end of the film. His is an untamed inertia no matter which moral universe he finds himself in. Eva, though not above "saving for later" the cigarettes the French soldiers give her at the dance hall, is too much of a prude to actually prostitute herself for something of more value, like food or better accommodations. The father is a stupid brute who complains incessantly about the fact that he's placing too great a burden on his children. He shows himself as a parent only after Edmund (who at least is trying to behave as an adult) returns home after being out all night, but then (just like his last-minute criticism of the Third Reich) it is much too late to really matter.

One only need look at the city in ruins to see how it is with the weak.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

As This Openness

The great Czechoslovakian philosopher Jan Patočka writes in his First Essay of the Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History, "Humans in their inmost being are nothing other than this 'openness' [to what there is (to which belongs being)]" (5). Almost immediately he clarifies: "Openness designates the possibility (basic possibility) of being human..." (6). Perhaps it's not too flippant, then, to ask the question, Which came first, the openness to the possibility of being human or the human who finds itself as the possibility of openness itself?

In this chicken-egg scenario, we get to the crux of the problem: there is no first or prime position. Openness and human being are always co-constituted in their very possibility. Yet the finding oneself already takes place within spatio-temporality of history as heresy. That is, heresy shows itself in the unfolding of finding oneself among the folds of history. The heterodoxy of this finding unfolds being as the being of the human (i.e., human being, not as a noun but as a verbal expression). In the choosing to have found oneself among beings (that which is in its very possibility), the human being finds itself as an expression of temporality and as time itself in its heretical modality.

To chose to find oneself as something that is—which always shows itself as one of the basic possibilities of human being—predetermines the openness to having found oneself as something of one's own choosing [haeresis]. Of course, the opposite, too, shows itself as a possibility: one can also choose to have never chosen to find oneself amid beings who exist. In this case, being would operate within the calculus of never-having-been-disclosed-as-that-which-is. Remembering Heraclitus: physis, in showing itself as something that springs forth from apparent nothingness, hides even its own hiding. This is the way in which the world (as the totality of what is) reveals itself while manifesting its own disclosure of nonbeing (as the totality of what is not).

Friday, July 25, 2014

Gaza

No, we do not have to accept the status quo. We do not have to accept the fact that our nation unqualifiedly supports Israel. We can hold our representatives accountable. We can insist that those who represent us actually represent us. We can demand a voice for those who abhor the actions of Israel in Gaza. We can insist that our taxes no longer fund Israel's wars of choice. We can insist that Israel does not get to engage in war with impunity. We can call for justice. We can call for peace. We can refuse to answer the outrageous claims of antisemitism. We can refuse to jump on the Zionist bandwagon. We can refuse to let our foreign policy erode our security. We can refuse to be blackmailed by invocations of Auschwitz (with much appreciation and respect for Isaac Deutscher). We can live to see a free, decolonized, and secure Palestine. We can advocate for justice. We can agitate for peace. We can demand that Israel stop perpetuating and escalating the cycle of violence. We can insist that ethics trumps rhetoric and propaganda. We can insist on a higher standard for nationhood than religion, ethnicity, or other nineteenth-century criteria. We can raise ourselves to a higher standard. We can learn to love peace. We can dismantle the machines of war. We can become peace. We can be peace. We are peace. Starting today.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Taxonomies

What we call things, and how we classify those things, is necessarily an abstraction. We take what we perceive to be individual items and group them together according to some imposed or perceived structure, a commonality among them. Or we take a group, a collective, a mass, and individuate its various components. How we go about this process reveals our own ideological blind spots.

My project this summer concerns how architecture and public spaces, public art, serve to commemorate, preserve, or efface Central Europe's communist past. Before this week, I've always conflated the first two terms into something like commemorate/preserve. Part of my past research includes the Holocaust, the Shoah, and I think it must have been from that experience that I learned to put these terms together in such a way. 

To commemorate, according to Holocaust discourse, is always to preserve, to never forget. It is to bring up again and again. Preservation (of the camps, of the records) allows for commemoration to take place, both in the world as well as in thought.

After this week I now understand that those two terms do not quite as easily fit together. The slash produces an inauthentic experience insofar as my current project is concerned. 

Here, to preserve is to ascribe value to the event, place, person, thing. Because of the value we place upon the past (to resort to an easy metonymy), we want to keep it around, preferably in its original condition. (I realize the problematics of my language: what is original? is a thing's condition an inherent aspect of the thing itself or an ascribed or imposed estimation, perhaps as a result from our own ideological conditioning? etc.)

To commemorate, in this context, is to also ascribe value to the past, albeit a negative value. We remember so as to remind ourselves of our history of trauma, to never forget how terrible it was. In this way, commemoration is a critical act. Preservation, on the other hand, serves to celebrate in some way the achievements of the past as it was in its lived experience.

We attempt to preserve the sculpture from the normalization period (basically post-Prague Spring (1968) to the Velvet Revolution (November 1989)). But we commemorate by way of plaques, memorials, and statues the student Jan Palach, who early in 1969 set himself on fire to protest the Soviet occupation. On one side, we value what was created under extraordinary circumstances; on the other, the way in which one hero-dissident challenged those circumstances. 

Both camps have their heroes and villains, and often we can't really tell who is who. Heroism and villainy never take place in a vacuum, after all. Trying to make sense of how this dynamic plays out in the public sphere and beginning to ask these questions 25 years after the Velvet Revolution is my own attempt to help articulate a path forward for not only these two (remember: already abstracted) groups but also the group who would rather forget the past altogether at any cost and can only ascribe value to the present or to the future.


These are some of my accomplishments today: visiting DOX, the Center for Contemporary Art, where I purchased the massive volume Aliens and Herons, which was edited by an artist/activist I interviewed Monday. The book is a collection of essays and photographs of sculptures around Prague that were constructed during the period of normalization. And here, too, is my press credential so I could attend the reSITE conference on architecture and urban design. The keynote this afternoon was Michael Kimmelman, the architecture critic from The New York Times.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Corpulent Force

I've been to Prague several times before, both as a tourist and as a student. When I was here in the summer of 2001, I studied political and economic theory at Charles University through a program at Georgetown.

It was a terrible course. At least the economics professor was a terrible old school, neoliberal bullshit theorist who didn't teach so much as pontificate about the inherent value of the so-called free market. My disaffected friends and I--the rare, truly critical students among us--dubbed his theory Fat-Bastard Economics. Not only was he mistakenly and misleadingly proposing capitalism as the only true path toward enlightenment, but he was truly a fat bastard. I'm talking at least 400 pounds.

If you were to search his name online, you would find that he is a well-respected economics professor with several publications. You will also find, surprisingly enough, that he is an award-winning athlete not just in the distant past but now as well.

He slobbered, sweated  and huffed his way along the cobblestone paths of Prague for a week and a half. I didn't hate him because he was fat, though. Some of my best friends are fat. I hated him because he represented to me--in the most literal of ways--everything that was low, base, and corrupt about America, about its hegemonic, systemic culture of violence and economic injustice. Fat as violence, fat as it reveals itself as terror.

The other American students in the program all seemed to worship him as the fattened golden calf of Kapital. I knew as soon as I met them at my connecting flight at JFK that I would have nothing in common with them except the color of our passport covers. One of the things that tipped me off was the leading question posed to me shortly after I arrived from Dallas: "People in Texas love George Bush, don't they?" My simple answer: no.

Over the course of the program, that same inquisitive woman also revealed how terrified she was of China taking over, although she really couldn't decided who frightened her the most, the Chinese or the Russians. Her father was on the board of the truly despicable organization who ran this program through Georgetown. At least that explained how she ended up in Prague.

The summer of 2001 was really a still moment in the otherwise chaotic maelstrom of history. It was the time between the US government's execution of Timothy McVeigh for perpetrating the greatest terrorist act in American history and the subsequent greatest terrorist act in American history. Looking back, it's pathetic how naive we all were. On September 11, 2001, I thought of this poor, already terrified woman and laughed, "She now has a new contender for those who would frighten her the most."

On that day she probably thought--assuming, of course, that she was capable of thought--that if only those Arabs had had capitalism and a free-market economy, then America would still be safe, never realizing that the violence perpetrated by the US might also be a possible contender.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Crimean Tense: When Past Is Present

Referencing the past is a weak form of analysis and one that offers little insight to the current situation in Ukraine. The Russian occupation of Crimea is distinctly not like the Soviet invasion of Hungary or Czechoslovakia. In the current situation, the Russian invaders and occupiers of Crimea altogether deny being Russian in the first place. These soldiers wear no insignia that would undeniably link them to Russia, although everyone knows that they are indeed members of the Russian military. No other nation has announced it is missing an army or claimed them as its own. It was not until a few days ago that one of the soldiers slipped and confessed his nationality. Can we really imagine a Hungarian in 1956 or Czechoslovak in 1968—or even a Georgian in 2008—wondering, Now who could this invading army be?

This ruse seems to be Putin’s attempt toward plausible deniability, except that from the very beginning of the occupation, everyone already either knew or assumed that it was indeed the Russian military coming ashore. Can it be a masquerade if nobody is really fooled? Isn’t a masquerade precisely when a person pretends to be someone else instead of pretending to be no one at all? Camouflage only works on the surface. In fact, there seems to have been some concern on the part of the Crimean Tartars that these Russians might indeed try to impersonate them in order to incite to action the other ethnic groups (Russians, Ukrainians) who call the peninsula home. Such potential impersonations and incitements invite comparisons to the Boston Tea Party, when, as the story goes, the Sons of Liberty, disguised as Native Americans, dumped tea in Boston Harbor.

The Russian claim that Russians (and Russian speakers) are being targeted by the new government in Kyiv also invites allusions to the Sudetenland. Nevertheless, there is no evidence to suggest that Ukrainians (that is, specifically, the new government in Kyiv but also more generally the citizens of Ukraine who are and have always been speakers of Ukrainian and/or Russian) are seeking to outlaw the Russian language or otherwise diminish the role of Russian speakers in Ukraine. There is no question that the upheavals and revolutions of the past several years might be cause for alarm or suspicion within minority communities. There does indeed seem to be a concerted push to repeal a recent law that asserted the legal status of minority languages, including Russian, within certain levels of government, mostly municipal or regional jurisdictions. However, the law is still on the books. And Crimea continues to enjoy its particular state of autonomy granted it since Khrushchev handed it over to the Ukrainian SSR in 1954. The peninsula’s autonomy, too, was enshrined in the Ukrainian constitution of 1996. 

It is truly unfortunate that we do not get to wallow in our nostalgia for long, celebrating our always anachronistic misunderstanding of the Cold War, when a sharp division between us and them seemed to exist. Whether it be the Berlin Wall or the 38th parallel north, exact borders are always a myth. Ask anyone, for example, who lives on the 37th or 39th parallels. It should be no surprise to us, then, that a land literally called “the border” should occupy such a contested space geographically as well as such a liminal space in history or in the Western mind. Nor, I suppose, should we be surprised that so many journalists and pundits keep referring to “the Ukraine”—a country that hasn’t existed in twenty-three years!

Just as precise borders are a fiction, so, too, is the past. We always already misunderstand the stories our predecessors told themselves in order to make sense of their world. Resorting to the past, then, especially in a time of crisis, will never offer any new insight into the present, which already recedes into the historical.

The past is past. However, Putin’s worldview is not necessarily in the past. Sure, in the West we have been celebrating the end of history since 1989 or 1991 or whenever Fukuyama published his insipid book. But while we were partying in the time after time, history, as far as Moscow was concerned, continued marching forward. The hegemonic West, specifically the US, is suspended in amber for Putin and his co-oligarchs. We are the same depraved, neocolonial world power we always were accused of being by Russia. If we in the West are living in the past, however, then it’s fair to say that the past itself is living in Putin.

One thing that has changed over the past few decades is Russia’s standing in the world. As the Soviet Union, Russia had a vast empire consolidated under a red banner that offered an altogether different ideology from the West. But now, today, Russia’s security and stability are becoming more and more unhinged. By overtaking and occupying Crimea, Putin hopes to maintain a firm grasp on a place and time that will necessarily continue to slip from his hands.

In the same way that “Balkanize” became a sexy term to describe how nations violently fracture and fragment along ethnic and ideological lines, I propose we adopt the unwieldy adjective “Crimeanize” to denote that aspect of nostalgic longing for a past that never existed that ends up destroying all hopes for a realistic understanding of the present. Admittedly, this is not a good way to understand the current situation in Ukraine, but unfortunately it is a good way to understand much of the so-called expert opinion on the matter flowing from the mouths of politicians, pundits, journalists, and historians alike.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Adjunct: Confessions and Manifesto of a Benefits-Deprived Professor

First, we need to create honest and accurate language. Adjunct designates an inessential supplement, yet adjunct professors are just as permanent a fixture at colleges and universities trying to save a buck—that is, all colleges and universities—as "temporary buildings" are at American elementary and secondary schools. We are permanent, regardless of our expendability.

Contingent implies that there is some inherent logic to a system that completely disregards ethical responsibility for the working conditions of the working poor, that our positions somehow hinge on availability of classes and depends on our performance. Nothing is further from the truth of the situation. All other terms are equally unsuitable: part-time, temporary, non-tenure-track, provisional, ad hoc, etc.

I propose benefits-deprived.

So-called adjunct professors are simply deprived of everything associated with a professional position: a livable wage, institutional support, retirement benefits, health insurance, job security, peer respect, library privileges, and oftentimes an office.

Fuck them. Fail their students. Burn down their campuses. Smear shit on their library books. Let the  blood of the administrative class and para-academic sector drench the manicured quads and green spaces across campus.

Or at the very least, teach your students about the evils of the system that seeks to perpetuate its own power at the expense—both literally and figuratively—of those it relentlessly exploits, which includes those very students of yours.

Or at the very least, organize and unionize in order to force the administrative class to take seriously the demands and deplorable plight of its benefits-deprived faculty.

Why should anyone care about such things?

Education is a basic human right. As administrative—not educational—costs skyrocket, money is siphoned from the budget to attract CEO-style administrators who contribute nothing to the educational quality of an institution, thus necessitating the hiring of benefits-deprived faculty.

No worker should be deprived of benefits. This is fucking America in the goddamned 21st century. If you want this country to be shit, then keep everything as is. But a revolution will come, and it will sweep aside the rabble standing in the way. You are either for progress or you are against it, against us.*

Every institution and organization—not just academic ones—needs to fix this problem. Why? Because benefits-deprived professors don't pay dues to professional organizations that don't support them. Because benefits-deprived professors don't spend money to attend conferences. Because benefits-deprived professors don't even buy books when a public library is nearby. Because benefits-deprived professors don't have the means to afford a decent standard of living and therefore will rely on public assistance when it comes to that. Society will pay, one way or another.

After spending ten years deprived of benefits and respect, I finally walked out. Granted, most of those years I was happily supplementing my graduate assistantship as I completed the requirements for the PhD. The last straw, however, was having to ask the department chair about the spring semester long after the schedule had been created. He didn't even have the professionalism or decency to tell me weeks—if not months—earlier. Fuck him. Fuck that university. Fuck the fucking system.

I would rather be completely unemployed than to be miserably underemployed while contributing to society and serving my community and nation as an educator. My next professional experience, however, will include community and union organizing and activism. Because you've done pissed off the wrong person.

Revolution comin', and it's gonna come quick. Revolution comin' and it's got a big dick.

* False binaries neither satisfy nor convince me, so forgive my hyperbolic rhetorical register here.

Friday, January 10, 2014

On the Prosthetic

After spending a few hours this past week trying on new frames and ordering new lenses for distance vision, now seems like a suitable time to think and write about prosthesis, that is, to think through writing as prosthetic, perhaps even to consider that thought itself might be the original prosthesis.

As an application or attachment to that which has come about on its own (namely, my body qua physis), prosthesis shows itself as supplement, that which, in being secondary and optional, nevertheless fulfills and completes what, upon further investigation, was always already unfulfilled and incomplete, making supplementation primordial and necessary.

I find myself inordinately and increasingly relying on technology (qua tekhne). Artifice has become natural for me: clothes, shoes, jewelry, eyeglasses, acupuncture needles, automobiles, vitamins, cellular phone, computer, writing, language, thought, the very idea of something that would or ever could be natural. (This is why I always provoked my students with the question, "What is natural? What do you mean by this word?") I eat when I am not hungry. I drink when I am not thirsty. When I run, I use a GPS-enabled watch and heart rate monitor with special running gear (shorts, shirts, etc.). In this way, even the satellites in orbit around the earth serve as prosthetic devices that enable a new (re-)/connection with my body.

Yet even when I am completely nude, the thought of myself and of my body disrupts any ease I may have had regarding such nudity as natural, original, ideal. The winter dryness makes me aware of my skin in a new and disturbing way. The reflection in the mirror disrupts any interior monologue with the murmuring voice of an other, which may or may not be the double or non-double of my self. Sitting quietly in meditation, I am still privy to this dialog and to the unsettling alterity of others.

The word my keeps getting affixed to everything here. Maybe such notions of "mineness" and "property" are prosthetic as well. Do I really need to employ this usage when I speak about that which is most "my own"? Do I really need to keep saying "I"? (And why does this "I" keep asserting itself even in the interior dialogs I have with myself? Couldn't I somehow forgo this convention and speak with a pure language that would accurately reflect myself in such a way as to make all self-references superfluous? Could such an I ever exist?)

A new thought: civilization arises when humankind begins to rely more on prosthesis than on physis. (There are no new thoughts.) The human being: προσθετική ζώων [the prosthetic animal].

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Shit We Live In

I often complain that the society I live in is shit. Most people here appear beholden to the inherent nihilism of American mediocrity, including the systems of power and bureaucracy. Case in point: fingerprints.

After several years of avoiding the inevitable, I am now legally changing my name. In addition to paying $300+ for the privilege, I must drive all over the Dallas-Forth Worth Metroplex to pass forms and documents from one hand to another. The process also requires a thorough background check by both the Department of Public Safety—Orwell much?—and the FBI.

But all fingerprinting services have been outsourced. I guess my tax dollars weren't good enough. Gone are the days when you could stop by your friendly local police station to have your fingers dipped in black ink.

Instead, you must first try to read the entirely illegible document provided by the District Clerk's web site. Here's a sample:
After driving to the northern hinterland of the county to file your petition, the clerk just might hand you a proper instruction sheet for the fingerprinting procedure with the two fingerprint cards required. And the necessary information from the District Court just might already be filled out for you. If so, then these kindnesses will surely be overshadowed by the lack of necessary information: do not fill the rest of the card out before getting your fingerprints taken.

After spending about an hour on the unnecessarily complicated web site and getting nowhere because of the circuitous links and pop-up requests for information I did not have, I settled on calling the toll-free number. My phone records confirm that I was on that call for 11 minutes; at least 8 of those minutes I spent navigating my way through the (again) circuitous menu options and waiting finally to talk to a human.

The woman took my information, practically scolded me for having problems with their web site, and wished me a happy new year. My appointment was today at 9:10 AM, a forty-minute drive in the opposite direction of the District Court.

The first mistake: I had filled out the fingerprint cards. Both of them. Of course, I wasn't supposed to because the machine itself will print out my information. After a painless few minutes of paying $9.95 for the privilege, sanitizing my hands for probably the first time in my life, and having the clerk grab, press, and roll my fingers across his glowing computer pad—a glow that only accentuated the florescent glare of his chilly and windowless cinder-block cell—I was about to walk out when I discovered...

... an even bigger mistake: my eye color was wrong. The clerk had input the wrong data over the phone. While talking to the clerk about this mistake, I found...

...yet another—and greater—mistake: my birthday was wrong. I proofed the cards further—you know, because the privilege of paying $9.95 only grants you so many privileges.

The clerk shredded the first cards and printed out two fresh ones with the correct data. I decided to enjoy the privilege of proofing them yet again to confirm that someone could at long last perform the most basic duties of his or her job. And thus, I was granted the privilege of filling out the remainder of the data that the District Clerk had already filled out on the original cards.

You see, kids, American citizenship has its privileges. Lesson: learn to love the name your parents gave you.