“The sum total of what we know about Anna is paltry for concrete detail. In one memorable scene, Anna’s therapist asks Anna where she grew up.
“Does it matter?” Anna replies.
Anna’s doctor is doing what she, as an analyst, is trained to do to her patients, and what we, as readers, are trained to do to our characters: to peel away layers until we find at their center that skeleton key commonly called motivation.
But here, there isn’t one. Essbaum has divorced sensation from underlying psychology. In this way the novel is remarkably un-modern, if a signature delusion of modernity is the belief that the cure for what ails us is hiding in some nook or cranny of our personal history. We are told of a three-month affair some years back with a man who quickly tired of Anna, but with whom she believes she is still “in love.” As an explanation for Anna’s prolonged devastation, this is pretty clearly a red herring. The brevity and shallowness of the encounter do not add up to Anna’s years of “metastasized wistfulness.”
Essbaum gives us further clues that we are in a space beyond the purview of naturalistic reportage. Much of the novel’s dialogue, internal and external, rings non-mimetic, axiomatic rather than conversational. Events occur not due to the domino-fall of ordinary cause and effect but according to a(n il)logic of the symbolic and mystical (to name the obvious example would spoil a major plot point). And Anna, a 21st century woman in a first world country, has neither a bank account nor a driver’s license.
What matters in Hausfrau is not why things are the way they are, but that they are. And what they are is dire. Essbaum’s fictional universe is thick with the fog of psychic pain; its subjects are linked mainly by vectors of suffering inflicted by nearly everyone on nearly everyone else.”
“But in a sense, it feels like the ideal film for a year in which the transparently deceptive Bernie Sanders campaign is being embraced by white America. The ‘new alternative’ is a nakedly venal and unpleasant man, one with a long history of opportunistic voting in congress but with a preternatural ability to push the right buttons for his targeted audience. Shane Carruth meets Bernie Sanders meets Marina Abramovic. This is the new *nothing* culture. It is also a culture of white privilege, it should be noted. Sanders is, besides his odious position excusing Israeli aggression, and the fact he enthusiastically supported the NATO aggression on the former Yugoslavia, a sort a non-threatening avuncular old Uncle from the very white state of Vermont. What is relevant here is that Sanders is the managed symbol of opposition. As I speak about later, the loss of self in contemporary society has taken the form of a kind of self objectification (on one level). An over-identification with commodities. The political arena is then simply more commodity shopping and Sanders signifies the most anodyne form of nominal opposition. He drains energy form those pockets of genuine grass roots organizing, and positions himself as a white man of a certain age from a state signified as an almost Norman Rockwellian symbol of cleanliness, with an added small town nostalgia. The details become irrelevant. His actual voting record irrelevant.”
“Students in low-income and high-crime minority neighborhoods like Compton are particularly likely to experienced violence. (Both violence and poverty in Compton are much higher than the rest of California and than the average in the rest of the US.)
But nationwide, childhood trauma is incredibly widespread. According to researchers from The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, 48% of children in the US have experienced at least one form of trauma. (Their list of traumatic childhood experiences included exposure to violence; emotional, physical, or sexual abuse; deprivation; neglect; family discord and divorce; parental substance abuse; mental health problems; parental death or incarceration; social discrimination.) 22% of children had experienced two or more of these forms of trauma.
How do schools respond? And how do schools respond when budgets for services like nurses and psychologists are being slashed? (Of course, it’s worth pointing out that as expensive as support services might be, they are in the longer run surely cheaper than the costs of truancy, dropping out, and incarceration.) What role is education technology playing – support or punishment?
It often feels as though in our push to “rethink education,” we focus too much on academics and not enough on the social and emotional needs of students. We debate about what the curriculum, the assessments, the textbooks, the technology should look like; then we ignore the issues that are more likely the real barriers to “student success.” (I’m using “we” quite loosely here, I admit. A recent survey of the US Teachers of the Year listed “family stress” as the top reason why their students do not succeed. Yet none of them listed crime or racism as an issue.)
The problems that schools face aren’t simply that an information economy changes the nature of knowledge; it’s that a precarious economy undermines any foundation necessary to build knowledge, let alone to build a stable future.”
“There is a stretch of levee on the upriver side along the Industrial Canal that separates the upper and lower Ninth Wards in New Orleans. No one said upper Ninth until after the storm. Colloquially, the spot of land at the end of this piece of levee is referred to as The End of the World. It has never been clear to me whether this is public land or not.The other day, while looking at a Google map of the neighborhood for an altogether different purpose, to my amusement I noticed that it was on the map, as the very clipped: End of World. I didn’t go up there much until after the storm. Back then, the only people you would see were fishing or squatting, maybe walking their dogs off leash. These days you can find joggers and newbie twenty-somethings in ironic, nineties regalia dragging their visiting parents along and looking at them like, See isn’t this great?, while the parents cock their heads a little and try to understand why (possibly) trespassing on a barely maintained sliver of industrial, river access has lured their newly-minted bachelor of arts away from them. Back then it was just the place where Sneaky Pete took his mottled hound, Spartan.
We bought our house ten days before the storm in The Sliver by the River, another geographical term you didn’t hear before Katrina. The Sliver refers to the narrow strip of settlement that hugs the Mississippi River within the city of New Orleans. It is among some of the oldest architecture in the city, and on the highest ground. A few weeks before the storm hit, we sat in sticky, late July heat at our mousy, mustachioed, insurance agent’s office in the suburb of Metairie as he showed us the flood maps of New Orleans. They clearly indicated the entire city filled up with water, like a bowl, with the exception of a few ridges and rims, one of which was where our new house was. It was as if we had been taken into an unassuming, wood-paneled, office and shown a mystical oracle of exactly what would happen just weeks later. We were the lucky ones in the twenty percent of the city that did not flood. Sometimes in that awful year or so after the storm I would guiltily wish we had flooded, just so we could have taken the insurance check and resettled ourselves back out west where we were from. We had a lot of options other people did not, but because we had bought that house, we had little choice but to come back as soon as they would let us in and deal with living in a decimated relic of a city.
In the fall of 2005, I was finally going to Graduate School. I had just bought my first house with a man I knew I wanted to spend my life with. It was to be the start of my real, adult life. The first weekend after classes started at UNO, the city was evacuated. Once the campus reopened in the spring of 2006, however, I found I couldn’t handle driving through flood-ravaged parts of the city to get there. The drive up Elysian Fields Avenue, from the Mississippi River to the campus at Lake Pontchartrain, was like descending through rings of Italianate hell. The further I moved from The Sliver by the River, the more bizarre, ornate and gruesome was the damage to what had once been suburban neighborhoods. Even in the populated, unflooded parts of the city, we had curfews and the National Guard, frequent blackouts, MRE’s. Out there, by the lake, it was dissected dioramas of peoples’ lives, all waterlogged and left for dead. I was one of the lucky ones, but somehow I couldn’t distance myself from other peoples’ suffering. As I drove deeper into the devastation, my breathing would become shallow, and I would start to hover somewhere outside of myself. I quickly realized that if I were going to make it through that time, I would have to make my world very small.”
“Fedorov understood the single common nemesis of all human beings to be death, and that getting rid of it could serve as a common rallying point around which all human beings could agree. Death in the literal sense, of course—death as experienced (if that’s really the appropriate word) by individuals; but also as exhibited in the disappearance of cultures and the downfall of civilizations, and indeed more generally still: death as the operation of the forces of “blind nature” against which organic life was pitched as a struggle in and against darkness. Nature shows up as the force of necessity, one that confines and eventually overwhelms human beings (as all life). It is characterized by total indifference; indeed, it is the acme of such. Devoid of consciousness, it does not “know best,” nor is it “cruel”; if it inadvertently plays the role of tutor, it is in how to stave it off awhile, no more than that.
Fedorov has no time for proclamations that human beings must “love Nature.” This was, to him, the characteristic indulgence of those he contemptuously described as “the learned”—an elite who could spend their time singing Nature’s praises, because their everyday lives were substantially insulated from it, by precisely the kinds of technology—from agriculture to medicine—that act to counter the “natural.” Out in the field—literally as well as figuratively—no such niceties prevail. This does not mean Fedorov promoted a project of “overcoming” nature, in the sense of “destroying” or even “dominating” it. He is aware that the same processes that lay waste to life are deeply implicated in life itself, even if—in the later words of a Fedorov acolyte, the economist Sergei Bulgakov—“life seems a sort of accident, an oversight or indulgence on the part of death.” His mission is instead to convert or transform the natural, to bring reason to it, carving out a larger and more hospitable environment for life.
This is a deeply technological project, an extension of what already—as above—acts to mitigate nature, although he refused to affix the term “progress” to his perspective. Progress, in the sense of the production of more machines of greater complexity, was in itself not enough. Indeed, espousing it was dangerous, a disordered, warping process that did not enhance the living, but further degraded us.”
“Video games feel distinctly like products, made for consumption but not necessarily use. It’s easy to enter a malaise of ennui, your Steam library having many games you’ll never touch and mobile games only one slight iteration away from the other. Digital game design is focused on an attention economy, how to grab you, keep you engrossed for as long as possible, and have you spend as much while they’ve got you. Because design is so focused on this kind of consumerism, video games enable cycles of disposability, where you buy something with the knowledge that you’re going to replace it with the next version soon after. This is ultimately unsustainable as we see with companies trying to shove life into harried sequels and remakes. You won’t get too attached because there will always be something similar fighting for your attention, and it is rare that something will be uniquely special to you. Typical game design acts as wedge between player and experience, trying to tap into your short-term worth at the expense of your long-term investment. Video games rarely make you care. You might get to know video games, but video games don’t really get to know you. They keep themselves on the screen and often don’t conjure intimacy with the physical interfaces between you and the experience. It knows you can just load up another game in the same manner that you accessed this one. Because what is being sold is some abstract immersion, a sort of mental drug trip, there is little legacy it can leave behind, having a profound effect through your use. Passing down games will soon go extinct between planned obsolescence and constant hype cycles for the new. Instead, we are left with empty, pandering nostalgia, sucking desperately at a straw and only getting the watered down remnants of a high long ago crashed.”
“To reach a thousand (or a million) readers with my work sounds desirable; but what if the work is being incompletely or even wrongly received? How does that compare to reaching a single reader and knowing that he or she has received more or less exactly what I set out to communicate? In the first case, no real connection has occurred; in the second, we have contact.
All this came into my awareness while thinking about Jonathan Lethem and the difference between my margins and his mainstream.
What happens when a writer makes it to the mainstream? His work enters the cultural discussion (he becomes relevant); it is reviewed by major periodicals, optioned for movies or TV shows, makes it on book lists and becomes part of book clubs, maybe even gets onto school or university curricula. More and more people read the work because they want or need to be part of that discussion, to participate in the zeitgeist. They come to the work within a context of social agreement and the corresponding pressure that creates. It’s no longer a simple or clean relationship between an author and a reader; it has become part of a larger social tapestry which includes all the usual elements of power, status, acceptance, approval, and so on. The focus is accordingly less on the work itself or on those embedded meanings which pertain to the author’s own personal exploration process, and more and more on the cultural “relevance” of the work, i.e., how it helps reinforce the meaningfulness of our values and our connectedness to one another via those meanings and values.
There’s very little space in a writer’s social maneuverability between marginal/unknown and overrated.
Being marginal means having hardly any readers but being deeply appreciated by them (even to a degree appreciated for being marginal). Being successful means having lots of readers who read your work because they have been directed to read it by the culture and who feel, to whatever degree, an obligation, not only to read but to like the work because it is literary—i.e., culturally valued. Reading and liking the work becomes a measure of our connection to and place within the dominant culture. (Perhaps this is why I hardly ever get any “likes” on my blog posts? Maybe margin-oriented readers don’t “do” cultural affirmations?)
Naturally, this creates a backlash of disappointed readers who are more critical than they would otherwise have been if their expectations hadn’t been raised by all the hype, as well as readers who are predisposed to be critical simply because of the hype. This isn’t altogether wrong of them either—since such readers are expressing an awareness that truly meaningful voices become diluted and even polluted via this cultural appropriation of their meanings.”
“I don’t usually think of myself as an ‘innovator’ because I’m old enough to remember when Trevor Baylis’s wind-up radio first appeared on Tomorrow’s World, and it feels somewhat offensive to put the kinds of things I do in the same category. But ‘innovation’ isn’t what it used to be – like ‘hacking’ and ‘curator’, the term has been thrown open to the floor. As those with money crave the authenticity of those without, concepts which might be well-intended from one place can often be entirely cynical from somewhere else.
We shouldn’t even trust ourselves with these terms, because it is in our nature to always do what feels good, and justify it afterwards. We can’t help it. The overwhelming drive to feel good will see us constructing social defenses for all kinds of crazy things that we just so happen to also love doing. Unfortunately, it is quite possible to live an artful, exciting, creative life that benefits hardly anyone.
Of course, we can take responsibility, and come up with honest definitions for our work, but to do so would require breaking up with commercial society. It’s not up to society to decide whether we’ve been innovative enough this year, like some sort of black polo neck wearing billionaire Santa, but if we don’t play the game, we might not get any presents.
My practice is all about the potential of the outsider. I work with people who are already outsiders to the commercial machine, but I also create outsiders, by decontextualising people and ideas – taking artists, writers, hackers and scientists out of their usual environments and putting them into challenging new contexts. There’s even a disorder related to it: ‘caetextia’. It means, literally ‘context blind’ and it’s an associate of autism. Without a sense of context, we find our thoughts firing from one association to another in the classic hyper-creative way. If innovation is, as a thousand stock photos would have it, about ‘thinking out of the box’, then my stuff certainly qualifies at the most conceptual level. But it’s beginning to feel like the only way to be an innovator, authentically, is to detach the claim from the question of finance.”
“The more exciting question, of course, is who, if it isn’t Blue Ant, will pay us to prod our noses into the interesting and be among the first to know completely before anyone else, to recombine and generate new things out of that bleeding edge? And it’s not just a technological bleeding edge, but more of an ideological bleeding edge. Are there people with job descriptions – ha, jobs! – whose remit is to be aware and to understand enough, to have that network that they can activate at a moment’s notice (or, indeed are lucky enough to be part of someone *else’s* network, to be activated at a moment’s notice).
Bigend is the orchestrator who has a plot-contrived reason – advertising and commerce – to want to know what’s new so that it can be repurposed into moving SKUs, to increasing awareness, to prod herds in this direction or that. It’s increasingly likely that Blue Ant finds himself disrupted by Facebook, Google, Twitter or any other number of Valley-based tech companies who will claim, ever increasingly, to be on the pulse of knowing what’s new and being able to do a better job. Who’s the self-facilitating media node – Bigend or Pollard?
At least in the way that it’s worked with my circle of friends and acquaintances, it’s been a gradual mish-mashing of stuff, of reputations and introductions accreted over the past twenty years or so, of “you must be good at this, I’ll introduce you to someone else who’s good at that” and a pseudo soft-power, non-quantified whuffie but for the fact that if someone starts spinning up their blogging engine of choice and dusts off their CMS, redesigns their website and starts writing prolifically in an interesting way, you know they’re doing a sort of pre-flight check sequence before they power up their engines and escape the gravity well of whatever organisation they’re currently embedded in.
I tell a lie – I don’t want to *be* Blue Ant, Warren Ellis, I want to be Bigend. I want the wherewithal and the budget and the network and the addressbook and the ability to form that crack team to solve that problem and then to disband, to melt away in the night but instead of having found a new way of pointing people toward the world’s number two sneaker brand, to have built something new and erected it in the middle of the night.”
“The Tactical Ice Cream Unit is probably one of my favorite works ever. I first heard about it almost 10 years ago. The vehicle combines ‘a number of successful activist strategies (Food-Not-Bombs, Copwatch, Indymedia, infoshops, etc) into one mega-mobile”, and comes with high-tech surveillance devices. Are you still using it?
Yes, still using it! Not as much as when it was launched but it does still make it out occasionally. So it’s definitely not an everyday operation, it’s kind of a labour of love.
When do you use it? When there’s something happening and you feel it would be right to intervene? Or more when you’re invited by a museum or festival for example?
All of the above. Sometimes it’s an invitation to do something with it. Sometimes there’s an event happening or an issue where it seems like it would make sense to bring it out.
Recently, and for the first time, there was a protest event where i actually felt like it was inappropriate to bring it out. We’ve been having a lot of racial tensions in the U.S. and there were a number of protests in Oakland around police brutality. We’ve done police accountability protests with the Tactical Ice Cream Unit in the past. The TICU always brings with it a sort of levity or lightheartedness or a little bit of the carnival along with the serious critique. But because of how grave and serious these racial issues are, there was a sense that bringing the ice cream unit out to those protests could potentially give the wrong impression.
Have you found that you had to update or modify in any way your tools and strategies over the 10 years you’ve had the van?
Of course a lot has changed since we’ve launched it. At the end of 2004, there were not many mobile food trucks, it was not really a phenomenon at the time. The TICU turned heads a lot more than it does now in terms of its general appearance. But at the same time it also functions now as some kind of camouflage that didn’t exist then. So in terms of masking ourselves, in some ways it got easier since it makes less of a visual impact.
As for the technology, when we first launched it we were using a mobile wifi transmitter and making it a mobile wifi hotspot. At the time, it wasn’t that common at all. It was also expensive to do and it worked most of the time but the speeds for access were really slow. Most people now have access to the internet on their smartphone. The surveillance on the vehicle is still functional and the amount that we can record has increased. In the beginning, our whole hard drive system was something like 200 gigabytes and that has certainly grown. Even then, the way that we had the system up made it possible to record quite a lot. We had to do a tremendous amount of research to set up the power system. The vehicle was running on a gasoline combustion engine. We also had a generator, a battery bank that was being charged by solar panels and at the same time we were running something called phantom power which is a way of silently powering the electronics. This was essential because we wanted to make sure that the surveillance could be running even when the vehicle was turned off. This was more done as a theoretical design process, we wanted to see whether we could accomplish that goal. And there had been rumours floating around the internet of primarily military technologies that were able to do this and sure enough we were able to work with an engineer and designer whose main clients were the military and oil companies. Oil companies would run phantom power at remote sites where they didn’t have power lines but they wanted to monitor oil fields. So we designed a system able to do that too for the vehicle. What is interesting is that, when we were in Indiana, the police illegally searched the TIU without our knowledge and they were caught on camera doing that. They didn’t know it because the vehicle was turned off and there was no indication that there was power running.”