You want to know what I really learned? I learned that people don’t consider time alone as part of their life. Being alone is just a stretch of isolation they want to escape from. I saw a lot of wine-drinking, a lot of compulsive drug use, a lot of sleeping with the television on. It was less festive than I anticipated. My view had always been that I was my most alive when I was totally alone, because that was the only time I could live without fear of how my actions were being scrutinized and interpreted. What I came to realize is that people need their actions to be scrutinized and interpreted in order to feel like what they’re doing matters. Singular, solitary moments are like television pilots that never get aired. They don’t count. This, I think, explains the fundamental urge to get married and have kids[…]. We’re self-conditioned to require an audience, even if we’re not doing anything valuable or interesting. I’m sure this started in the 1970s. I know it did. I think Americans started raising offspring with this implicit notion that they had to tell their children, “You’re amazing, you can do anything you want, you’re a special person.” But—when you really think about it—that emotional support only applies to the experience of living in public. We don’t have ways to quantify ideas like “amazing” or “successful” or “lovable” without the feedback of an audience. Nobody sits by himself in an empty room and thinks, “I’m amazing.” It’s impossible to imagine how that would work. But being “amazing” is supposed to be what life is about. As a result, the windows of time people spend by themselves become these meaningless experiences that don’t really count. It’s filler.
- “The Visible Man”, Chuck Klosterman
I know a lot of people with that attitude (“Must kill time until I see my friends! Uhhh I’m so bored, what will I do for 6 hours until I go out???!”) and I never really get it. Time is still ticking! You’re not dying any slower just because you’re alone in your room. Do something enjoyable or productive. Learn a new skill. Dance around naked while imitating bird calls. Read a good book. Write a postcard to send your grandma. Etcetera.
installation by Cathy Wilkes
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“Last Thursday, my organization, People Reluctant To Kill for an Abstraction, orchestrated an overwhelming show of force around the globe.
At precisely 9 in the morning, working with focus and stealth, our entire membership succeeded in simultaneously beheading no one. At 10, Phase II began, during which our entire membership did not force a single man to suck another man’s penis. Also, none of us blew himself/herself up in a crowded public place. No civilians were literally turned inside out via our powerful explosives. In addition, at 11, in Phase III, zero (0) planes were flown into buildings.
During Phase IV, just after lunch, we were able to avoid bulldozing a single home. Furthermore, we set, on roads in every city, in every nation in the world, a total of zero (0) roadside bombs which, not being there, did not subsequently explode, killing/maiming a total of nobody. No bombs were dropped, during the lazy afternoon hours, on crowded civilian neighborhoods, from which, it was observed, no post-bomb momentary silences were then heard. These silences were, in all cases, followed by no unimaginable, grief-stricken bellows of rage, and/or frantic imprecations to a deity. No sleeping baby was awakened from an afternoon nap by the sudden collapse and/or bursting into flame of his/her domicile during Phase IV.
In the late afternoon (Phase V), our membership focused on using zero (0) trained dogs to bite/terrorize naked prisoners. In addition, no stun guns, rubber batons, rubber bullets, tear gas, or bullets were used, by our membership, on any individual, anywhere in the world. No one was forced to don a hood. No teeth were pulled in darkened rooms. No drills were used on human flesh, nor were whips or flames. No one was reduced to hysterical tears via a series of blows to the head or body, by us. Our membership, while casting no racial or ethnic aspersions, skillfully continued not to rape, gang-rape, or sexually assault a single person. On the contrary, during this late-afternoon phase, many of our membership flirted happily and even consoled, in a nonsexual way, individuals to whom they were attracted, putting aside their sexual feelings out of a sudden welling of empathy.
As night fell, our membership harbored no secret feelings of rage or, if they did, meditated, or discussed these feelings with a friend until such time as the feelings abated, or were understood to be symptomatic of some deeper sadness.
It should be noted that, in addition to the above-listed and planned activities completed by our members, a number of unplanned activities were completed by part-time members, or even nonmembers.
In London, a bitter homophobic grandfather whose grocery bag broke open gave a loaf of very nice bread to a balding gay man who stopped to help him. A stooped toothless woman in Tokyo pounded her head with her hands, tired beyond belief of her lifelong feelings of anger and negativity, and silently prayed that her heart would somehow be opened before it was too late. In Syracuse, New York, holding the broken body of his kitten, a man felt a sudden kinship for all small things.
Even declared nonmembers, it would appear, responded to our efforts. In Chitral, Pakistan, for example, a recent al-Qaida recruit remembered the way an elderly American tourist once made an encouraging remark about his English, and how, as she made the remark, she touched his arm, like a mother. In Gaza, an Israeli soldier and a young Palestinian, just before averting their eyes and muttering insults in their respective languages, exchanged a brief look of mutual shame.
Who are we? A word about our membership.
Since the world began, we have gone about our work quietly, resisting the urge to generalize, valuing the individual over the group, the actual over the conceptual, the inherent sweetness of the present moment over the theoretically peaceful future to be obtained via murder. Many of us have trouble sleeping and lie awake at night, worrying about something catastrophic befalling someone we love. We rise in the morning with no plans to convert anyone via beating, humiliation, or invasion. To tell the truth, we are tired. We work. We would just like some peace and quiet. When wrong, we think about it awhile, then apologize. We stand under awnings during urban thunderstorms, moved to thoughtfulness by the troubled, umbrella-tinged faces rushing by. In moments of crisis, we pat one another awkwardly on the back, mumbling shy truisms. Rushing to an appointment, remembering a friend who has passed away, our eyes well with tears and we think: Well, my God, he could be a pain, but still I’m lucky to have known him.
This is PRKA. To those who would oppose us, I would simply say: We are many. We are worldwide. We, in fact, outnumber you. Though you are louder, though you create a momentary ripple on the water of life, we will endure, and prevail.
Resistance is futile.”
- George Saunders
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This is as close to a perfect, understated short story as you’re likely to get in terms of song lyrics. It feels very Salingeresque* in the way the whole emotional punch is delivered in the last line of the story/song:
The clasp broke at the disco, Mom, I’m sorry
and the older men who hit on Becky
nearly broke their necks on scattered pearls
And we searched the best we could
for two entire songs we knelt and felt along
the place where we had stood
But we only found 7 of Grandmother’s pearls.
And as we rode the bus home I thought, surely,
I’d wake up tomorrow just to find
that I had dreamed up everything
there’d still be pearls on a string
I wouldn’t smell like smoke and I’d still
have the cash that I had spent on drinks
Oh, I feel as scattered as Grandmother’s pearls.
Mom, don’t cry—they’re only pearls.
*It reminds me especially of “Just Before the War with the Eskimos”, where another everyday object, this time a sandwich, is invested with a whole lot of emotional weight.
Pieter Hugo’s ‘Nollywood’ series. Explanatory article on the series below:
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These points have been made before, but it seems we need reminding sometimes:
Do the constellation of thinkers from South Asia, exemplified by leading figures like Ashis Nandy, Partha Chatterjee, Gayatri Spivak, Ranajit Guha, Sudipta Kaviraj, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Homi Bhabha, or Akeel Bilgrami, come together to form a nucleus of thinking that is conscious of itself? […] Are they “South Asian thinkers” or “thinkers”, the way these European thinkers are? Why is it that if Mozart sneezes it is “music” (and I am quite sure the great genius even sneezed melodiously) but the most sophisticated Indian music ragas are the subject of “ethnomusicology”?
Is that “ethnos” not also applicable to the philosophical thinking that Indian philosophers practice - so much so that their thinking is more the subject of Western European and North American anthropological fieldwork and investigation?
We can turn around and look at Africa. What about thinkers like Henry Odera Oruka, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Okot p’Bitek, Taban Lo Liyong, Achille Mbembe, Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, Souleymane Bachir Diagne, V.Y. Mudimbe: Would they qualify for the term “philosopher” or “public intellectuals” perhaps, or is that also “ethnophilosophy”?
Why is European philosophy “philosophy”, but African philosophy ethnophilosophy, the way Indian music is ethnomusic? [This is] an ethnographic logic that is based on the very same reasoning that if you were to go to the New York Museum of Natural History, you only see animals and non-white peoples and their cultures featured inside glass cages, but no cage is in sight for white people and their cultures - they just get to stroll through the isles and enjoy the power and ability of looking at taxidermic Yaks, cave dwellers, elephants, Eskimos, buffalo, Native Americans, etc, all in a single winding row.[…]
The question of Eurocentricism is now entirely blase. Of course Europeans are Eurocentric and see the world from their vantage point, and why should they not? They are the inheritors of multiple (now defunct) empires and they still carry within them the phantom hubris of those empires and they think their particular philosophy is “philosophy” and their particular thinking is “thinking”, and everything else is - as the great European philosopher Immanuel Levinas was wont of saying - “dancing”.
The question is rather the manner in which non-European thinking can reach self-consciousness and evident universality, not at the cost of whatever European philosophers may think of themselves for the world at large, but for the purpose of offering alternative (complementary or contradictory) visions of reality more rooted in the lived experiences of people in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America - counties and climes once under the spell of the thing that calls itself “the West” but happily no more.
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Taken by stevenajbeijerphotography in my hometown.
[Click photo to see larger size on Flickr.]
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