by Ken Chen on Oct.24, 2012
Dear fellow over-educated effete lefty election addicts, now that the Presidential debates are over, you may have noticed a curiously nihilistic tone of the pundit responses. After each debate, the adjudication of the debates’ victor and loser had less to do with any actual policy difference between the two candidates, than about stranger and more shamanic: the candidates’ affect.
By this I mean not the old Cartesian saw that electoral politics is all horse race, no policy, but that presidential politics is the genre of melodramatic performance, a documentation of the more mundane and charismatic surfaces of the body. Characters distinguish themselves via distinctive mannerisms, the press leaning forward to transcribe every blink and grimace, every mark and noise. Think of Nixon’s perspiration and the famous Esquire cover featuring Tricky Dick getting lipstick applied, the now incorrect proverb that the tallest Presidential candidate wins, the misogynistic tracking of Hillary’s hairstyles in the ‘90s, Howard Dean’s career-ending screech, John Edwards’s bouffant, and Sarah Palin’s hostess-like winks at the camera. Precisely because electoral politics is so stage-managed, we read these debates (funded and controlled, as they are by an organization funded by the two parties) as a way of mediating the true Presidential selves between their campaign machines and us, the studio audience. Unlike campaign commercials, which present President as product–improvisational sparring, Biden’s gaffes, and uncovered misstatements like Romney’s 47% video, these things show us the symptoms that hide under the veneer of the utterly controlled body. They suggest the President not as self, but as a body that cannot help but be human, a body that one can have a beer with. We may amend Tip O’Neill’s dictum and say that all politics is surface. Or to paraphrase one poet, politics is a body that is always deep, but deepest at its surface.
As the candidates’ bodies were scanned by millions of global eyes, eagerly hunched before Twitter, they were assessed as to whether they in fact “look Presidential” (whatever that means). In “Shame in the Cybernetic Fold: Reading Silvan Tomkins,” Eve Sedgwick talks about the crude yet oddly curious biological essentialism of a doctor named Tomkins, who notes the density of neural firing and suggests that this bodily affect can be read backwards into different emotions–like laughter, joy, fear, and interest. We might view these debates as operating in a similar vein for the body politic: the candidates emit bodily affect, which is then interpreted outwards as the spikes and valleys of network news undecided voters trendlines. We assess blinks, grimaces, eye contact, hand gestures, postures, spasms, interruptions. These gestures–Biden’s carnivalesque interruptions, his uncontrollable and excessive body, Paul Ryan’s water-drinking and oversized coat, Romney’s blinking and his adoring dachshund gazes, Obama’s inability to be aggressive (lest he be seen as an Angry Black Man)–are divined as omens about power. In fact, both the Daily Beast and the New York Times even went so far as to hire body language experts. The paradoxically mechanizing commentary reads like Kraftwerk writing the play-by-play to a Pokemon battle:
“Obama shows an endearing HEAD-TILT-SIDE to Romney’s vertically held head.”
“Obama uses COMPRESSED-LIPS cue. Disagrees.”
“Romney shows Dan Quayle’s ADAMS-APPLE-JUMP as Obama talks about Obamacare. Fear.”
I’d like to declare that I am heretofore embarking on a Conceptual Poetics project in which I hire a body language expert to follow me around for a week, endlessly transcribing descriptions like “Chen CHEWS a bagel while perspiring. Ennui.”
After the first debate, someone created this Youtube Supercut of all of Obama’s hesitations during the first debate, a video titled ‘Uh.’ This tick of Obama’s has oddly become the only consistent affect across various comedians’ impressions of him and in fact the lack of bodily presence of both candidates has been somewhat of a problem for impressionists.
“I think Obama is a lot tougher,” [Saturday Night Live writer Jim] Downey said. “What helps us is people who are goofy or have some loose threads.” Downey sees the president as something like a European jewel thief in a 1950’s heist movie: “He’s just so smooth. There are no toeholds to grab onto.” Romney isn’t much easier to mock. “He’s perfectly well-spoken. It’s not that he’s inarticulate. He can be a little clueless. He’s a guy who’s an awkward first date.”
The candidates’ imperviousness to imitation suggests one thing that most debate coverage missed: part of the electoral challenge is that both Obama and Romney are competent, pragmatist technocrats, both efficient without possessing the conviction to be effective, and both totally disconnected from their bodies. Both narcissist white-collar service professionals educated at Harvard Law School and surrounded by advisers from high finance, Romney and Obama are incorporeal candidates, the shapeshifting ghosts of transnational flows of capital. (Doug Henwood recently commented that Romney believes in money, Obama believes in nothing.) When Clint Eastwood and the New Yorker depicted Obama as an empty chair, they were onto something: the distant, nebulous, decentralized world of his policies, a swarm of drone attacks rather than large Navy fleets. This is why Romney needed to be “humanized”: he is the 21st century finance professional par excellence, an ends-vs-means-assessing automaton who believes he has no ideology other than money. Consider his gaffe about women in binders: on its face, aside from being untrue, Romney’s assertion that he reviewed a binder full of qualified applicants is actually a fairly model process for diversity hires, which is why it originally proposed by the Dems. The reason it was a gaffe is because Romney’s phrasing suggested that he himself knew so few qualified women that they could only be data–in other words, he had exorcised them from their bodies.
Let us return to the audience for these bodies: the so-called low-information undecided voter, essentially the citizen before citizenship, the voter at the most base, animal level and therefore most susceptible to base shows of bodily strength and power. I would argue that these voters are what Zizek called “the subject supposed to believe.” What is important is not whether or not we ourselves believe something, but that elsewhere, there is still the proper still-ideological person (the subject supposed to believe) who does believe it, like the nun in Delillo’s White Noise who claims her only role is to believe so the rest of us can stop believing or the electronic monk in Douglas Adams who believes for us, just as a VCR watches shows for us. Because these voters are the only voters who matter in the Presidential electoral calculus, the only role of the pundit or the quant is not to critique the candidates’ policies, but to intuit the leanings of these inaccessible bodies in places like Ohio, Wisconsin, and Florida. Actual political debate is forever deferred and replaced with a secondhand observation of opinion. Because these undecided swing state voters are the only voters are the only citizens who are really allowed to have political impact, there is a way where they are the only people who are allowed to have political beliefs.
OTHER NOTES ABOUT ELECTION & BODIES:
1. Rather fittingly, few humans have ever called Mitt Romney handsome, but it has been proven via scientific study.
2. DAVID BROMWICH on Paul Ryan’s self-presentation. “Where Obama projected the calm consciousness of a grave but unnamed mission, Ryan’s self-love is more recognisably American-boyish. He radiates ambition, healthy ambition, as if ambition were one of those permitted substances you could take at the gym to enhance performance. He has a lean and hungry look even when he smiles; and a relentless eagerness also, which will wear on people over time. His constant demeanour is cocksure; his face never registers reflection. Listening to other people is a formality, for Ryan, to be endured before he springs his answers. And how the answers pour out! There is an attractive, efficient speed in the way he works, but also a kind of deadness. And the deadness is there in his eyes – the hard eyes of the self-fulfilled and self-justified, clean of mind and clean of body, a whole mental mansion trip-wired against invasion by entities seeking pity and bearing excuses.”
3. A more affect theory take on Clint Eastwood at the RNC.
4. A passage from Sergio De La Pava’s experimental novel, A NAKED SINGULARITY: (on identification numbers for defendants in a court house)
“The numbers then attached to a body, one that by then had traversed the entirety of a creaking assembly line, and as a result the body staed in.
[bod-y (bðd’ē) n., pl. –ies. 9. CJS. Inarguably odious term by N.Y.C. Department of Correction and other court personnel to denote incarcerated criminal defendant: There are three hundred bodies in the system so we should be busy. He’s bringing the next batch of bodies down, I’ll let you know if your guy’s one of them.]”
by Ken Chen on Jun.07, 2012
Hola Montevidayans, Ken at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop here. We’re hosting a talk tonight at the Brecht Forum featuring Marxist historian and antiracist organizer Vijay Prashad. Guest blogging below is musician and activist Sonny Singh, of the bhangra funk band Red Baraat. The event will start in a few minutes and he’ll be refreshing throughout. Keep your eyes peeled, which suddenly strikes me as a grotesque metaphor.
* * *
Hi folks, Vijay Prashad has entered the Brecht Forum with an entourage. They are looking menacing.
The masses are pouring in. Vijay has a vibrant and attractive following. Lots of people standing up, packed house!
Max from the Brecht Forum is making some opening remarks and announcements. Getting started 30 minutes late, desi standard time in full effect…
We’re in an age of the first black president and the first Indian governor in the United States, says Ken. An age that is post-multicultural but not post-racial.
Vijay’s anti-racism is not just about civil rights, it’s about something much bigger, more global. Inseparability of foreign policy and civil rights is apparent in Uncle Swami.
(Ken just mentioned Vanilla Ice. I didn’t catch the context, but it still felt worth mentioning).
Continue reading “Vijay Prashad – Uncle Swami” »
by Ken Chen on Apr.27, 2012
Hey all, Triple Canopy’s Lucy Ives will be live-blogging our event at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop featuring Tan Lin, Pamela Lu, and Suejeun Juliette Lee (who Johannes quotes below). If you’re in NY, you still have time to make it. Details here. We’ll be back in an hour or so when the event starts. –Ken Chen
…and we are live!
Ken Chen has assumed the podium. Ken introduces himself and AAWW while brandishing a crepe-covered staff.
Ambient poetics: “All of our life is constantly a mishmash of … un-curated, found text.”
AAWW will launch three magazines very shortly. Exciting coverage of extreme hair and film. And (perhaps) Das Racist. And (and) Cathy Park Hong’s Engine Empire.
Ken begins to broach the topic of the reading: “…a kind of detritus language… .”
Sueyeun Juliette Lee: Up now. [Applause]
Juliette begins with a poem. “On Oct. 16 2006 … analysis of air samples … underground nuclear explosion … a magnitude of 4.2 … in Washington, White House … all the people of the country … .”
[Through the walls, vibration from bass/band rehearsing.]
“…muscular shock alloyed into a … event that brought happiness to our … if breath transforms water … .”
[Computer keys are very loud right now, too.]
“…was born into the system … what else stands against the DMC. A slow … no sign of emerging popular revolt.”
[Wine bottles clink.]
“I kind of love that there’s this base, ambient, subterranean coming through! I kind of feel like we should all take off our shoes!”
Continue reading “Subterranean Technologies: Tan Lin, Pamela Lu, Sueyeun Juliette Lee, Dorothy Wang, and Lucy Ives” »
by Ken Chen on Apr.21, 2012
Hola, long time no see.
1. The somnabulist in the graveyard. I was reading an essay written by Angana Chatterji and I couldn’t help but think of Montevidayo. Angana is the anthropologist who helped launch the inquiry into unmarked mass graves in India-occupied Kashmir. She writes:
In undertaking work for the Tribunal, I have travelled through Kashmir’s cities and countryside, from Srinagar to Kupwara, through Shopian and Islamabad/Anantnag. I have witnessed the violence that India’s military, paramilitary, and police perpetuate against Kashmiris. I have walked through the graveyards that hold Kashmir’s dead, and I have met with grieving families. I have listened to the testimony of a mother who sleepwalks to the grave of her son, attempting to resuscitate his body.
I was struck by the oneiric, almost lyric nature of this image: the mother attempting to wake her son from death while she is herself asleep. The mother and the son rhyme together. They are denizens of two types of subterranean life: the dead son in the graveyard and the mother’s underworld, by which I mean not her dreamlife, but her traumatized melancholia. The image reveals the strangeness of inherently political imagery–not strident as in American protest poetry, but surreal, contradictory, grotesque.
Angana is reading tonight at AAWW with journalist Mirza Waheed, whose novel The Collaborator stars a Kashmiri teenager who collaborates with the Indian military as a counter of corpses, and the artist Kanishka Raja, who has created a series of paintings and an artist book re-imagining Kashmir as the Switzerland of South Asia; Kashmir used to be the setting for pastoral Bollywood romances until the state crackdowns moved the films to Switzerland. Here’s his artist book.
2. I’ve been blown away lately by Tan Lin’s Insomnia and the Aunt and Pamela Lu’s Ambient Parking Lot. They’re going to be reading at AAWW on April 27 with poet Juliette Lee and in conversation with avant poetics scholar Dorothy Wang. I figured it seemed like a good fit for this site, so I’ve asked Triple Canopy’s Lucy Ives to live-blog the event on Montevidayo. Here are some descriptions
Tan Lin’s INSOMNIA AND THE AUNT is an ambient novel composed of black and white photographs, postcards, Google reverse searches, letters, appendices, an index to an imaginary novel, reruns, and footnotes. The aunt in question can’t sleep. She runs a motel in the Pacific Northwest. She likes watching Conan O’Brien late at night. She may be the narrator’s aunt or she may be an emanation of a TV set. Structured like everybody’s scrapbook, and blending fiction with nonfictional events, INSOMNIA AND THE AUNT is about identities taken and given up, and about the passions of an immigrant life, rebroadcast as furniture. Ostensibly about a young man’s disintegrating memory of his most fascinating relative, or potentially a conceptualist take on immigrant literature, it is probably just a treatment for a prime-time event that, because no one sleeps in motels, lasts into the late night and daytime slots.
Part fiction, part earnest mockumentary, Pamela Lu’s Ambient Parking Lot follows a band of musicians as they wander the parking structures of urban downtown and greater suburbia in quest of the ultimate ambient noise—one that promises to embody their historical moment and deliver them up to the heights of their self-important artistry. Along the way, they make sporadic forays into lyric while contending with doubts, delusions, miscalculations, mutinies, and minor triumphs. This saga peers into the wreckage of a post-9/11 landscape and embraces the comedy and poignancy of failed utopia.
by Ken Chen on Jun.18, 2011
I’m in Minneapolis at Netroots Nation, the lefty bloggy conference affiliated with Daily Kos that’s in Minneapolis this year. Yesterday, I was on this panel: Educate, Agitate, Inspire: How Artists are Fighting Anti-migrant Hate, a panel about the anti-migrant crackdowns in Arizona and more generally about the role of culture and artists in progressive change campaigns. The all-star panel featured Gaby Pacheco, who walked from Miami to Washington D.C. to raise awareness of the Dream Act; Javier Gonzales, the organizer in charge of The Sound Strike, the AZ musicians boycott initiated by Rage Against the Machine, and artist Favianna Rodriguez, founder of Presente.org. She did the poster on the left, which you can buy by clicking on the image.
I began my section by saying that there’s been an incredible cultural worker who’s dominated the cultural change campaign in Arizona–the only problem is that he’s on the other side. Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio is the performance artist of the decade.
by Ken Chen on May.12, 2011
Hi there. Johannes is always telling me that I should post more about my organization, The Asian American Writers’ Workshop. I’ll do another post that’s more detailed, but I thought that Montevidayo readers might appreciate a job opening we have: we’re hiring a Managing Director for our website–it’s a dream job, really, and the “things we like” list below also gives a sense of our quirky, eclectic, warm, progressive curated “brand.” The application also links to two hyper-local new media initiatives we have: Open City: Blogging Urban Change and Wordstrike: Writers Against SB1070. Anyways, anyone who’s interested in applying should click on the job title and fill out the application form there.
The Asian American Writers’ Workshop is looking to hire a highly ambitious entrepreneur who wants to build editorial and new media experience with the literary nonprofit that partied with Das Racist and Tao Lin, curated the Asian American ComiCon, and enlisted Salman Rushdie, Naomi Klein and 300 other writers to boycott Arizona and its crackdown on immigrants.
OUR VISION. We are inventing the online Asian American literary culture of tomorrow. We’re launching an online magazine that’s as accessible as Slate, as cool as Bidoun, more thrilling than the average literary journal or progressive magazine. We’ll feature some of the finest writers in America in a unique, provocative format designed to lure in people who don’t think political or ethnic literature is meant for them. We’ve already assembled a dream team of advisors, put together an editorial guide, and mocked up a new design. We have a vision we want you to implement, but you’ll need to bring some vision of your own too.
We’re interested in the thrilling undiscovered Asian American intellectual culture beyond Tiger Moms and Amy Tan. Think: avant-garde poets; Amar Chitra Katha; transnational adoption; multiracial identity; institutional roadblocks at publishing houses; nativist hysteria; global metropolises; gentrification in Chinatown; Korean dramas; Walt Whitman’s secretary; post-9/11 detention; Hasan Elahi sending self-portraits to the FBI; the anniversary of the LA riots; Ai Wei Wei; the Philip K. Dick story where the Japanese conquer America. We’re not interested in: too exclusive an emphasis on pop culture; diatribes about cliche topics; a focus on Asian heritage rather than contemporary Asian American culture.
The main focus will be on managing the Workshop Magazine, which will include soliciting, writing, or editing at least two pieces a week (these may include reported features, blog posts, poems, fiction, user submissions, book and film reviews, writing contests). You’ll also work with our staff to build content out from 1) the Workshop’s general programs and fundraising campaigns; 2) Open City: Blogging Urban Change: our anti-gentrification blogging initiative that sends writer-bloggers to gentrifying NYC neighborhoods to tell the story of speechless immigrants and connect readers with community groups and zoning debates; 3) Wordstrike: our online cultural campaign that seeks to humanize Arizona immigrants via user-submitted videos and op-eds against a xenophobic national discourse.
by Ken Chen on May.02, 2011
Last night I felt something similar to what many people felt on 9/11–not a primal upsurge of common feeling, but the gradual awareness that if I said what I really thought I would be chased down by red-blooded mobs singing the Star Spangled Banner. Let’s take one metric of public opinion: Facebook, which I’ve never seen as unified and unequivocal as last night. The status updates I saw were devoted to jubilant celebration, many posts being the few political posts written by people who largely restrict their status updates to the trivially private (e.g., photos of dogs). This was clearly one of the few moments where the political became social and symbolic. And in reaction to this celebratory Facebook deluge, I felt what in First Amendment law is called the “chilling effect”–a term premised on the fact that censorship works by forcing subjects to internalize the censor and monitor themselves. Since I’m hesitant to express myself via that most popular method of group affiliation (Facebook), here are some scattered, non-celebratory thoughts. As a disclaimer, obviously the US clearly achieved an important military objective that has been at the center of our self-imagination for more than a decade and helped many people achieve closure on the most traumatic military event of their lifetimes, 9/11.
1. Why I’m allergic to symbolism
(Or as YC told me last night: “Does this mean we can forget now?”)
While I’m glad that Obama did not frame Osama’s death using Bush-era Manichean Crusaderism, I do not like the narrative that we do possess: that we have achieved justice by avenging the deaths of 9/11 by killing a man who has largely been referred to as the “mastermind” of the war on terror. While this may seem uncontroversially true, this is only another story and not a useful one for us because it displaces real politics with a dangerous symbolism. On a general level, I think it’s wrong to imagine the achievement of a military objectives as a victory for the American people. We have spent the last decade in several country, amassing more than 4,424 US casualties in Iraq and 1,461 casualties in Afghanistan–not to mention the countless civilians killed in both countries–to learn that foreign policy should not be an instrument of catharsis.
The dualistic positioning encourages an Us vs. them simplification of foreign policy in which the US flies in as the sheriff of Islamabad to corral a James Bond-ian, Lex Luthor-style villain, when international relations is not about important personas and requires us to expand our moral and psychological menu beyond such good guy vs bad guy oppositions. After all, anti-Muslim hate crimes happen when regular citizens cannot imagine a more sophisticated moral vocabulary than good and evil. The narrative frame imagines justice in its most base form (retribution) and American achievement not as, say, rule of law, but as the application of military might to violated sovereignty and execute a non-judicial assassination. Osama’s death is notched as an achievement of the Obama administration, rather than the culmination of the same drone strikes and anti-sovereignty incursions in Pakistan that many liberals have protested for years. If this is a symbolic victory, what’s surprising is how little thought appears to have been given to the symbolic import this will have for the rest of the world. Obama’s message–which could have been a paradigm-shifting Cairo speech about troop withdrawls in Iraq and Afghanistan–was only a news update, a reminder of American power targeted at Americans and not the world.
2. I want to pay Tony Hoagland to become to poet laureate of necro-nationalism.
Here’s the idea: He would be perfect to write the anthem of American jingoism–the equivalent to the chanting crowds of last night or the few riffs of Born in the USA that the GOP plays at their rallies. Having then written it, I would then appropriate it as the blatantly ironic portrait of a militant, vengeful jingoism that over the next few weeks will no doubt trigger reprisals from a newly minted martyrdom and lead to hate crimes against Muslims in the US. While the original poem would mirror the anomalous and jubilant crowds that seemed to celebrate 9/11 in West Asia, my critical appropriation of it would expose the sickly Francis Bacon face of American nationalism. Such a poem would wield a truly terrifying necomantic power: just as the deaths of Michael Jackson and Elizabeth Taylor created imaginary communities of nostalgia, the death of bin Laden has created a death-celebrating volk. There should be no doubt that we are celebrating is not the triumph of good, but the vitalization of death, as depicted in the video of bin Laden’s compound, described as “full of blood.”
Continue reading “Osama bin Laden and Necro-Nationalism” »
by Ken Chen on Mar.29, 2011
A prose translation by G.J. Racz of a sonnet by Lope De Vega:
To feel faint, daring, furious, surly, tender, generous, evasive, encouraged, mortal, like a corpse, alive, loyal, a traitor; a coward and also brave. To feel disoriented and ill at ease away from your beloved to show yourself happy, sad, humble, proud, angry, courageous and in cowardly disappointment, to drink poison as if a sweet potion, to forsake gain in favor of harm, to believe that heaven in a hell can fit, to give up life and soul for inevitable frustration, all of this is love; he who has tasted it knows it well.
It’s part of Yale’s incredible Margellos World Republic of Letters series, a translation series that “identifies works of cultural and artistic significance previously overlooked by translators and publishers, canonical works of literature and philosophy needing new translations, as well as important contemporary authors whose work has not yet been translated into English.”
by Ken Chen on Feb.20, 2011
From YC and Mefi. Make sure to watch the first video. It will change your life.
by Ken Chen on Feb.14, 2011
The shooting of Gabrielle Giffords played out like postmodern fabulism–a paranoid Pynchonesque gunman (Jared Loughner) shoots several people in front of Safeway, including a girl who was born on 9/11 and a beautiful blonde congresswoman, whose astronaut husband, we were told at the time, was stranded in outer space. The event externalized the fictive hysterical realism we associate with blatantly unreal novels by the likes of Pynchon, Delillo and others. And after the shooting, we found ourselves in a national conversation that had less to do with gun control, mental health, or nativist hysteria, than about the violent effects of language–specifically, a non-identity-based right-wing hate speech, what you might call a hate speech of ideology. This outcome was symmetrical to the origin of the attack since Loughner’s mens rea derived from a deep skepticism with language itself.
Loughner saw himself as a revolutionary and a cultural producer: his “final words” on youtube talk about revolutionary treason against a government and The Week informs us that he was a bad poet who wrote slam poems about taking the bus and showering. While his beliefs combined an incoherent stew of anarchism, schizophrenia, and tea party currency vitriol, one of his main motives was, curiously enough, a desire to stop the government’s use of grammar as a mind control device. Obviously it’s unwise to ascribe a political ideology to someone as mentally damaged as Loughner, but what I found immediately curious about Loughner’s linguistic views is how much they resembled many things that left-wing avant-garde academic poets take for granted. Loughner, for example, believed that language was both fundamentally arbitrary (his enmity with Giffords began, miraculously enough, in August of 2007, when he asked her: “What is government if words have no meaning?”) and also a hegemonic exertion of systematic power (“The government is implying mind control and brain wash on the people by controlling grammar”). These views are either reprehensible or insane when stated by Loughner–and the former instance is not that substantively different from high theory’s anti-foundationalist take on signification and the latter is one of the central arguments of language poetry–that when an author uses language in a conventional way, he subjugates the reader with an invidious control.
Continue reading “JARED LOUGHNER, LANGUAGE POET [OR POST-STRUCTURALISM IS RIGHT-WING]” »
by Ken Chen on Feb.12, 2011
I’m back from AWP, a Maxine Hong Kingston benefit, ailments physical and metaphysical.
- Obligatory description of AWP. It is like being in an airport where you know everyone.
- Do-over: It is like taking a vacation inside Facebook.
- Did you notice the carpet was hallucinogenic? I was actually photographed in the AWP equivalent of the Sartorialist. You can see the schizophrenic carpet below.
Okay the point of this post: Anyone in NY should come to our event tomorrow with Bob Holman and seminal Chinese avant-gardist Cai Tianxin. Why, you ask?
- He is one of the most important young avant-garde poets. Those of you Montevidayo fans who love blood, vivisection and transcendent sunlight, check out the language of his from the Berlin Int’l Literary festival website that I’ve pasted below.
- He is a math genius. Here is his math department web page.
- Did I mention Bob Holman will be there? Details below, Hypocrite lecteur,—mon semblable,—mon frère!
by Ken Chen on Jan.18, 2011
OR ON THE MYSTIC TECHNOLOGY OF THE RECENTLY ANTIQUE
If my Pollyanna post-New Year’s naivete is intact in the next few weeks, then you should be seeing posts from me soon about Chinese narratology, the Giffords shooting, and the Medieval era. In the meantime, I would like to bring to your attention the little known fact that in 2004 hip hop artist Common attempted to place a rotary phone call to God–or to quote his metaphysical flow: “Tried to call, or at least beep the Lord, but didn’t have a touch-tone.”
One pauses to ask a battery of banal and literal questions. What would such a phone service look like? Is the phone bill outrageous? When it counts night and weekends, does heaven have a separate time zone? Is the Heavenly Father more of a text person or a phone person? It just so happens that this telecommunications infrastructure had already been envisioned by James Joyce, who writes in an early chapter of Ulysses: “The cords of all link back, strandentwining cable of all flesh. That is why mystic monks. Will you be as gods? Gaze in your omphalos. Hello. Kinch here. Put me on to Edenville. Aleph, alpha: nought.” Harry Blamires glosses this as follows:
Opening his eyes, [Stephen] sees two midwives coming down the steps from Leahy’s Terrace. One of them, Florence, widow of Patrick MacCabe, carries a bag. Stephen pictures its contents–‘a misbirth with a trailing navel-cord, hushed in ruddy wool’. Hence he reflects on the network of navel-cords linking all humanity together, back to Eve. (So monks show themselves bound together in linked membership of the mystical Body by their girdles.) The network is like a telephone system linking all men to the central exchange, the navel-less bellof of Eve. Stephen fancifully asks to be put through to Eve, ringing Edenville ‘Aleph, alpha; nought, nought, one’.
All of which leads to the inevitable question: Joyce and Common both place a call to God. WHO WILL GET THERE FIRST?
1. I believe that in Dorothy Sayers’s notes to Dante’s Inferno, she describes the ghosts of Ulysses and others as less like characters than like floating telephones that levitate down to Virgil and Dante, activate and orate, and then shut off and recede back into the infernal distance.
2. Grant Morrison’s DOOM PATROL, which I wrote about here, presents a necromantic television on which one can see the souls of hell.
3. “Gaze in your omphalos”–is this the etymology of that clichéd pejorative of difficult literature: navel-gazing?
4. This post is indebted to poet and visual artist Youmna Chlala.
by Ken Chen on Oct.04, 2010
Princess Hijab draws Hijabs onto advertisements in Paris–interesting in light of the French Parliament law prohibiting the burqa. Curiously, Zizek writes about it in the first chapter of his new book–arguing that, in spite of the law’s alleged anti-feminism, the law’s intent and effect lies really in banishing the other. (If I have time, I’ll go back and edit this post to quote him.) Five minute documentary of her running around like a character from Grant Morrison’s Invisibles here.
Unrelated: Huffpo has a piece profiling several super-smart Arab American writers, though I dislike the essentializing question.
Continue reading “Link buffet” »