Sunday, January 22, 2012

Toward an Erotics of Ruins

Much has been written of Ruin Porn, a visual and literary genre that revels in the beauty of postindustrial decay, ruin and loss. Although it has global reach (Hashima Island in Japan and Chernobyl are standard bearers), Ruin Porn finds its American locus in the Rust Belt around lost cities such as Detroit, Michigan; Gary, Indiana; and Braddock, Pennsylvania. On Rustwire, Richey Piiparinen asks if Ruin Porn “can invoke a perceptual change not only in the Rust Belt but in the American psyche?” In other words, does Ruin Porn represent a “condescending” aesthetics of schadenfreude or can it transform our ways of seeing and thereby help transform our nation and world from one of crumbling destruction into one of blossoming rebirth?

Beautiful as the decay of America's industrial strength appears, a blossoming rebirth cannot arise from the current Ruin Porn genre. Porn, after all, is the diabolical mechanics of sex. In the fictional terms of Leon Tuggs’ General Theory of Industrial Sex from Stanley Crawford’s wickedly imagined novel Petroleum Man:
[C]ivilization is based on the male piston and the female cylinder, the male bolt and the female nut, the male screw and the female wood or sheet metal or whatever is screwed, into, the nail and the nailee, the latch and the keeper, the keystone and the arch, the plug and the socket, the thread and the nipple, the drill and the bit, the shaft and the sleeve or bearing or bushing, and so on and so forth. In other words, if you care to look around anywhere at all, you are surrounded by mirrors of what your little parts are supposed to do: plug, unplug, insert, extract, drill, bounce up and down, and so on.
Thus is porn also an industrial output of commodified sex reduced to the plugging in of sexual organs with the goal of endless, homogenous production. Absent from porn are the erotics of sex—stimulation without release, playfulness, emotional and psychological need and satiation, fear, hope, connection. In short, porn is the ergonomics of sex; it is the commercial (and, for that matter, industrial) exploitation of desire. As such, it is a terrible name for a genre of rebirth and transformation among the postindustrial ruins. 

Thus do I call for artists to embrace an Erotics of Ruins, even as they reject Ruin Porn.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Gaia Awakens?

An article in Reality Sandwich  supports my view (here and here that Occupy could represent an awakening of consciousness. Oddly named writer OddEdges references first an experiment by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang of USC and second an article in ScienceDaily, both of which scientifically prove that, contrary to Capitalist fictions of homo economicus, humans are hard-wired for cooperation and morality. OddEdges also reports on a Wall Street Journal article that brain-damaged people “with an impaired ability to experience emotions” prove to be better investors than undamaged people. OddEdges sums up the conclusions:

In short, society and civilization have become a series of potentially terricidal risks, which is a product of the current socioeconomic religion that is managed by dysfunctional HAL 9000s in grotesque three-piece megasuits. Therefore, what we could be witnessing through Occupy may be an ethically motivated bio-psycho-social response to a systemic-process that is being perceived as a threat to the collective organism. It is an international demonstration of repulsion.
Organisms naturally want to live and they will do so in cooperative and moral ways, unless they are brain-damaged. Thus, when environmental factors that are toxic enter into an organism’s sphere of circumstance and threaten its very existence, the organism responds. What was probably overlooked by the people who have been cheerfully profiting off of planetary and social devastation is the natural response mechanism of its denizens. And the landscapes of distraction that typifies the cosmopolitan today may not be powerful or convincing enough when the collective organism begins to feel its very life is in danger.

OddEdges goes on to note that the Internet is “the champion psycho-technological development in our species’ history.” As neuron and dendrite, the Internet connects atomized consciousnesses into a single or multifariously connected metaconsciousness, or “a new psychological calamity.” We are, OddEdges demonstrates, moving from self-awareness to collective-awareness, with the Internet as the “unifying force.” 

Hindsight may prove twenty-twenty. Notions of evolving consciousness may be nothing more than New Age hype. Or climate change, a global pandemic, or World War III may sweep humanity from Gaia's surface. But if we survive the converging crises with our technology intact, we may indeed be living witnesses to an evolutionary leap.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

History is Dead. . . Long Live History

In “A Leaderless Revolution. . . Or, Gaia Awakens?” I paraphrased Neil Shubin’s explanation of how single-celled organisms can suddenly combine into multicellular ones when confronted by a predator. I wondered along with Daniel Pinchbeck if “atomized consciousnesses are coming together to form a global consciousness.” I suggested that technology change, not a predator, could cause such a phase-shift in consciousness.

After sitting on that concept for a day, I realized that a predator does exist: the Global 1%.

The Global 1% is a lifeforce-eating, planet-wrecking pollution generator. As nemeses of the human race go, the inhuman 1% rivals most creatures of science fiction—Predator, Aliens, Daleks, H.G. Wells’ Martians. In fact, the only creature more frightening than the Global Capitalist is Michael Ende’s The Nothing, a force which consumes the universe and leaves empty space in its wake.

This vampiric 1% overcame its final obstacle to global domination when the first pick-axe cracked the Berlin Wall. At that time, Francis Fukuyama proclaimed that the fall of the Soviet Union marked the “End of History.” Fukuyama’s conclusion was correct, but his premises were flawed. History is not a vector but a circle. Its end is also its beginning. 

History is Dead. 

Long Live History.


Before the car door flattened him, the bike messenger swore he'd never drive. Now his Honda Accord idles in stalled traffic. Stitched along a line of brake lights, his car is a single scale on a steel serpent that straddles the horizon and swallows its own tail. As greenhouse heat gathers, freon cools his skin.

Concrete blood has seized the American Uroboros. A final spasm injects into its veins synthetic stone, crushed seashells, and shale. Time passes. The serpent lies silently, scales tough as bark on a petrified fir. No parasites feast on the stone flesh. Bodies trapped behind windshields have long since dissolved.

A vulture circles, drawn not by the stench—there is none—but by the sudden shape, coiled like a firework snake, carbon black and stiff, one vast and legless trunk. Wind shear shapes the sands beneath—ripples wavelets, dunes of dust.

This triptych first appeared in Dark Mountain issue #1.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Leaderless Revolution. . . Or, Gaia Awakens?

Wael Ghonim, author of Revolution 2.0: The Power of the People is Greater than the People in Power, spoke with Steve Inskeep on Morning Edition about the Tahrir Square Revolution. Inskeep questioned Ghonim’s claim that “this revolution has no leader,” arguing that many people played leadership roles—such as writing, speaking and organizing—in midwifing the Egyptian Revolution. Ghonim answered:
I think this is not leadership. When I say a leader, it means that directs the revolution, where it should be going. Before the revolution came, what we were doing is increasing the awareness and calling people to action. What we did was calling for, you know, massive process that turns into the revolution on the 25th.

That doesn't, you know, give me the title of leadership, because at the end of the day I don't - you know, I did not - and I would have not been able to take charge and tell people what to do and negotiate on behalf of them.

The fact that there is no leader is evident on the floor. There are so many people that have done extraordinary efforts and that have sacrificed. There are so many people that have died, but there was no clear leadership that made decisions on behalf of the people.
Ghonim’s eloquent differentiation between working toward a revolution and leading it got me to thinking about the possibilities of truly leaderless action. 

It’s become a cliché that Occupy is a leaderless movement. Although a number of dedicated individuals have worked tirelessly to make it happen, no one has arisen to a credible position of leadership. Despite desperate GOP claims to the contrary, Occupy is not “Obama’s advance team," nor is it a pressure wing of the Democratic Party. It is nothing if not cosmic energy blooming from a cryptic anti-advertising meme planted by Adbusters. It is an idea whose time had come.

The question remains, is the “leaderless revolution” a convenient myth or does it represent a radically new form of organizing consciousness? 

If it is just a convenient myth, then clear leaders will emerge. Should they exercise any real power, they will be flipped, arrested, bought off, or assassinated. If, on the other hand, Occupy represents an evolutionary leap, then perhaps we are truly witnessing Gaia’s awakening. Are we witnessing a reorganization of consciousness?

In 2012: Return of Quetzalcoatl, Daniel Pinchbeck suggests that indeed atomized consciousnesses are coming together to form a global consciousness:

It is my thesis that the rapid development of technology and the destruction of the biosphere are material by-products of a psycho-spiritual process taking place on a planetary scale. We have created this crisis to force our own accelerated transformation—on an unconscious level, we have willed it into being. Human consciousness, the sentient element of this Earth, is in the process of self-organizing to a more intensifed state of being and knowing—what the Russian mystic G.I. Gurdjieff called a ‘higher octave.’ When the Hopi talk of a Fifth World, or the Aztecs anticipate a Sixth Sun, when St. John foresees the descent of the Heavenly City or New Jerusalem, they are describing the same thing: a shift in the nature of consciousness.
Such rapid exponential change is not uncommon in evolution. In Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body, Neil Shubin describes an “arms race” that broke out among ancient fish: the survival strategy was “get big, get armor, or get out of the water.” He also shows how bodies might have evolved from single-celled organisms as a way to prevent getting eaten. Shubin looks at an experiment that shows rapid evolution in response to certain stimuli. Martin Boraas introduced a predator into a petri dish filled with single-celled alga. It took only a few years before the alga clumped into multicellular organisms

If animated matter can so rapidly join into more complex forms in response to stimuli, how might consciousness similarly evolve? Perhaps the new stimulus is not a predator but a rapid and democratized communications technology that borders on telepathy. Our era has witnessed the invention of the flashmob and the near crash of Twitter after Michael Jackson’s death. This is no laughing matter. Within days of Michael’s ascendance into the celestial neverland, the Internet erupted with tribute videos.

Here we see septuagenarians grooving to Billie Jean. 

Here Filipino prisoners dance to Thriller

What is the rapid global communication of Twitter, Facebook, cell phones, text messaging, videoconferencing, etc., if not the connective tissue of what threatens to be a new species of human? Are conditions ripe for a next-level consciousness to arise? Is it possible that we no longer need leaders? Is Gaia once again awakening?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Truth Vigilantes

We live in the Era of the Neologism. How many new words or radically new meanings have erupted from new media volcanoes? LulzSec, Occupy, unfriend, Obamunist. Feel free to add your own in the comments section.

“Truth Vigilante,” the latest incisive word to pop from the Interwebs, comes from Arthur Brisbane, The New York Times’ public editor. It could just as easily come from Steven Colbert or from The Onion. In a column that has been universally denounced, Brisbane seeks “reader input” about the wisdom of journalists “challeng[ing] ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.” In other words, if the reporter catches a politician or CEO in a bald-faced lie, do reader expectations (to say nothing of journalistic ethics) require the reporter to call out the lie in print?

One example Brisbane uses is Mitt Romney’s insistence that President Obama has been “apologizing for America” to those scurrilous social democrats running Godless and anti-capitalist Europe into the ground. Needless to say, Romney’s words are at best a distortion and at worst a strategic lie. 

Brisbane asks "Is it possible to be objective and fair when the reporter is choosing to correct one fact over another?" Apparently, Brisbane worries that to correct one lie would require The Times to correct all lies. What a travesty! 

Brisbane also asks whether news reporters should have the freedom of op-ed columnists to "call out what he thinks is a lie." A quick review of the comments section suggests a number of methods for drawing attention to the lie without risking journalistic objectivity by mutating reporting into "advocacy" journalism, analysis or commentary. The reporter need only follow the lie with the following statement of fact: "A LexisNexis search of the President's statements reveal no case of the president using the word 'apologize' or any of its synonyms in any European speech." The reporter could also ask the Romney campaign to support its claim with evidence. The reporter could weigh the campaign's evidence to see if its interpretation of the president's words were in fact justified. If not, the reporter should not allow the quote to appear without a caveat. All of these methods could effectively challenge lies without jeopardizing the journalist’s credibility.

After the Judith Miller and Jayson Blair controversies, The Times can ill afford much more crisis of credibility. Yet in our age of tattered authority, Brisbane scores an own-goal. It’s a foregone conclusion that readers no longer trust most news sources. The Times, through Judith Miller, helped lead the US into the Iraq War . CNBC cheer led the financial sector into ruin. Fox News consistently misleads and misinforms its viewers. Lazy or dishonest news sources routinely repeat lies by politicians and business leaders as if their words should be trusted simply because of their hallowed positions in our corrupt and rapidly de-democratizing society. A conspiracy theorist might suspect a more diabolical undercurrent. 

But this post adds little to the conversation. After all, many Internet commentators have more eloquently made these points. My anger notwithstanding, I want to thank Brisbane for carving out a linguistic slot for plutocracy-serving MSM “news.” Brisbane draws a line in the Establishment sand. Any journalist who corrects a politician’s or a CEO’s lies will henceforth be known by the deplorably newspeak phrase “Truth Vigilante.” As J-school grad commented (on 12 Jan. 2012 @ 2:12 pm):
I also think "Truth Vigilante" is a great sort of Orwellian phrase - ah, so now someone who bases their thinking on facts and confronts people knowingly spreading falsehoods with factual information to the contrary isn't just an "honest person", they're a Truth Vigilante. Next stop - Truth Terrorist.
With rhetorical ju jitsu, Brisbane stains honest journalists everywhere with the shameful and wrong-minded actions of union-busting thugs or Charles Bronson clones. At that, let us now praise famous men, in particular Woody Guthrie. The following video depicts Truth Vigilantes as they descend upon Mitt Romney, as metaphorized by a shiftless crowd.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Some Writing

Please forgive my absence. I've been working on other projects.

In the meantime, my story "Fire Blossom" has appeared in The Monongahela Review

Also, three triptychs have appeared under the title "Dead Metal" on Glasschord.