Still reading Theweleit, Male Fantasies, while teaching Abject Art. Totally fascinating combination.
Rough day with J, as we're both work-stressed up to our earlobes and not as able to lubricate our sharp edges. Earlier this week, in closer and more affectionate times, a short conversation: should I just approach you whenever and however I want? I guess. Ok, well should I try for any kind of alright, beforehand, do you think that'd work? Nope. So I'll just go for it whenever I feel like it? Ok.
So that's how that works. Total darkness and obfuscation, and I'll just jump in now and then and see if anything good happens. Courage, as the French say.
This is one of those days when I'm just completely fucking annoyed with everything. For one, I'm on a search committee at the art school, and our weekend homework is to turn sixteen people into numbers using a five-item rubric, which isn't in my discipline (I'm an outside member of said committee) and I can't really understand how three of the five criteria are supposed to work or in what part of the dossiers I'm supposed to find things which to evaluate by those criteria. So that's doubly annoying, first because I'm really deep into the interpersonal right now (that's the Abject Art talking, in part), so "number-izing" human beings just annoys me as a tactic, and second because I can't figure out how the fucking obtuse rubric works.
It also sort of annoys me that, if you Google this city and "ashtanga" or "Mysore-style," you wind up here, because often the top two hits are this blog. And on the first page of search results, you get this blog 4-5 times. See? So as we grow as a community, THIS becomes, potentially, the voice of that community, and that's fine in that it's me, and I might well be teaching the class you walk into, BUT as the readership here knows, this blog doesn't advertise, doesn't stay "on message," doesn't write with my teaching personality (in any way other than that, yes, that teacher and I are the same person). But I NEED this outlet to pour out frustration and anger and struggle and interrogation and rants and raves and all that crap that I put in here.
So I'm not giving this up to adopt some "public face" that is more "polite" and "on-message" (getting snarkier with every smart quote), because if the yoga does anything to you, it should crack you open to your own and others REALITY and that's what happens in here.
Now, it's tempting to come up with one of those so-American "challenge invitations," you know what I mean, yes? I mean these rhetorical constructions: "Deal with it" or "Dare you to..." or "Can you keep up?" and things of this flavor. But I hate those, don't you? Aren't you completely turned off by someone who writes, "I'm looking for someone who can keep up" in a self-description? One expects "Deal with it" to be quickly followed by "I ain't changin'" and then a quick pull off a 40-oz bottle of malt liquor.
Those are *uncompassionate* things to say, claims to make. When reality cracks you open (because, actually, YOU'RE REAL, so it's not two actors, it's one), that's compassion. It doesn't probably feel compassionate, but waking up to your own emotions (and if we buy the idea of koshas, your emotions are a BODY, your body, you ARE, among other things, your emotions) is the very business of compassion, and this is why I never denied Chogyam Trungpa his metaphor about the physician who cuts you open with a sharp knife. "Oh, that's so violent!" you want to say. FUCK YOU. Have you ever FELT an unpleasant emotion, something that NEEDS to get out and you don't want it to come up? It TOTALLY slices you open. In fact I would go as far as saying that anyone who hasn't been sliced open by an emotion is either an almost impossibly open human being (although they probably do exist) or a total bullshit artist.
Did I mention that I don't take prisoners here? Have I said that yet?
(hey Patrick, didn't you just say that you dislike "challenge invitations"? what the fuck were THOSE?)
I suppose I would finesse an answer to that this way:
Once upon a time a student of mine asked about some blog I write, or something, and I said, "I can tell you where that is, but I don't pull punches when I write there, so it's not the regular happy-go-lucky guy that I play in the yoga room" and shortly after that conversation, which also involved a lot of "my life, your life" sharing of all sorts of things, I stopped seeing said student around, and I'm sure that something interpersonal got fucked up, and that experience largely makes me want to be "careful" here, so that I don't "offend", but then I think, wait, offend who, how? How careful do I have to be? Do I have to write around everyone's stuff? But how could I even know what sort of stuff my largely anonymous readership has? What the fuck kind of trap is that? And then I got angry, and then I pretty much decided, FUCK YOU and your stuff, if you bring your stuff here and you don't like what you see, you'll simply have to reckon with it yourself. And that is a real temptation to issue a "challenge invitation," that offputting rhetoric with its 40 oz in hand.
And sure, I know I'm stereotyping redneckery when I say that, but in 1994 when I used to go up to the north end of this city a lot, I saw all kinds of that redneckery, gettin' high in the park barefoot and wrestling in the fall leaves and throwing house parties that led to all kinds of Harmony Korine fuckedup shit.
Challenge invitations were offered left and right by that crowd, so I associate the rhetoric with them.
I really decided just to write whatever I wanted or needed to, because I am a person who needs to write; I talk to myself nearly constantly when I need to write, it's not some hobby that I have, it's got some kind of almost biochemical need. Like lecturing to people on the stuff I teach, that content isn't for the academy or for balanced education or for well-roundedness, it's for AFFECT, for RELATING, for TOUCH. But you say that and Westerners read "desperation" (because we think that we believe that wanting touch is desperation, as if all of us are always 14), but touch is a kind of compassion, even if the touch is a poke in the eye (rhetorically speaking).
That last image is the basic idea of Maggie Nelson's book THE ART OF CRUELTY, which I love to pieces (pieces!). Art has wanted to touch us for the whole 20th century, to come off the wall and interact with us. Thus all the installation, the body art, the performance element, the use of daily life objects, the art made from the unconscious, all of that. All of those tactics. "Break the line between art and life!" But a good portion of that art also wants to slap us, prod us, poke us in the eye or other locations. What's THAT about? In Nelson's short phrase, is there value in art that is cruel to us?
I for one LOVE cruel art as long as that cruelty is also smart. Dumb art is like dumb people or dumb books; I go out of my way to avoid that shit. Actually, I more specifically love art that is both SMART and EMBODIED. This can be as simple as Duchamp's urinal called "Fountain" (which is silly and gross, but smart and definitely gives me embodied ideas) or as complicated as a Catherine Breillat film where the heroine undergoes abjection (rape, alienation, rope bondage) to become a sort of embodied superhero by means of motherhood, but not the "mother as hero," instead the "body as hero," motherhood understood as abjection. KAPOW, and then your head explodes, especially with the P-Funk soundtrack over mother and child at the end, after they blow up the husband by leaving the gas on.
An article we recently read in Abject Art spoke about Kara Walker as "wanting to be a slave a little bit" (those are her words, quoted in the article). Kara Walker, so that we're all on the same page, is an African-American artist who works in paper cut-outs of (mostly human) figures, and most of the time we can identify 19th-century-ish-looking black women dancing or children on swings, or sometimes hanging bodies, and it's all sort of reminiscent of the history of slavery, and yet kind of happy and OK. However, there is a more abject Kara Walker, also, who does bodies in weird sexual positions, and sometimes just exploding forms with a leg and an arm, or three women all seeming to nurse, one one another, mouth to breast. And those are not just generally perverse or weird, they're also really hard to relate back to slavery.
Walker's idea, per her being quoted in that reading, is that being a slave is a site of DESIRE, like a costume you can put on. You can want things in it, sort of "use" its imagination, not just be someone else, but sort of create with someone else's imagination, tap the unconscious of some Other. Sounds like a fun movie to watch, hm?
Theweleit is also very much about this same idea, his insistence that we should not READ the fascist and his violence, but FEEL the soldier male, the fascist patriarch. To really understand the fascist is not to see him as a deviant or a perverse shadow version of "the good," but to GET IN THERE.
This, again, I would call a (weird) kind of compassion. And catharsis is not a goal here, but I'd allow it as an experience. Becoming a killer or a slave might result in enormous catharsis, of anything kept, held back, not let open to the sun. As I said earlier, in my body, energy doesn't keep its origin; if I have repressed a thing, it might be tapped by ANY sort of expressiveness which touches it.
In class I called this "abject costuming." It's maybe related to Judith Butler's thing on performative gender roles, in that one is "doing an act," but mostly what this sort of costuming does is to break the idea that "evil has an allure," the way it does for that kid in the Stephen King story: teenager with the usual sexual repression meets his old neighbor who was a Nazi, and the kid begins having all of these progressively violent and abject fantasies as he talks to the old man. Eventually he "sells out" to evil and ta-da, neo-Nazism. Nice material for a story, but not, to my mind, how reality works.
In LOTR, evil is part of the very matter of the world. Sauron wants to dominate all life, but the older evil dude, whose name I forget, and who is only discussed in the appendices to the book, wants to master the MATTER of the world. And it is from that evil, which is part of the very dirt, that more orcs come. That's why evil isn't at an end when Sauron is destroyed.
One could write several books on how evil can be various according to who is calling it that, but yet not relativistic. Let's take a messy but I think informative example, of sexual behavior. If you're some but not all parents, your kids doing that stuff before a certain age, is EVIL. If you're a by-the-books Catholic, doing that stuff three minutes before you're married, is EVIL, but doing it three minutes AFTER you're married is SACRAMENTAL, MAN!! If you're homosexual, some people think what you do is EVIL no matter how much love there is in it. If you're kinky, some people think how you do those things is EVIL! And so on. But this does NOT mean evil is relative (or that all of those people are ridiculous). To expand our notion of "evil" slightly so that it means something more sophisticated than "icky" and less intense than "genocidal," we start to see a certain HUMANITY in evil. Remember how disgustingly pitiful the Penn State abuse cases were and still are? "Did you abuse those children?" "Well, I, I, I enjoy boys.." EW! And yet, how human! You could see so clearly how the dude was struggling with his conscience or memory or desire (or all three or more things) so heavily that he forgot cameras were there. Total horrorshow, and I wondered where and how some part of social systemming had failed, either failed him or failed the children he was associated with; somewhere, something had failed, and there should be sadness, anger too, but sadness louder.
This is something like the way I felt the first (and so far only) time I saw Irreversible. The raping pimp dehumanizes her with language, and that was more terrifying for me than how he destroys her physically. I also had this during the first (and so far only) time I saw Antichrist. He's to blame, she's to blame, hell maybe even the boy is evil. So much masochism and anger. How have we failed here?
Or cruel art, much of it. Or Theweleit's too-human fascists. Not killers, but killers terrified of a "flood" that will drown them. Kill or be killed, trapped, and from that fear, that hemmed-in ego, desire and affect and industry and genocide, over ten million people dead. It's enough to make you terrified of your own hands.
But that sort of material makes me more aware of fantasies in my head and things my hands are capable of, more aware generally. Something about what Nelson calls "cruel art" has that "wake up!" function for me. The abject class talks a lot about revisiting psychotrauma (Vienna Actionism and the Nazis, Mike Kelley and male adolescence, Walker and slavery, et cetera) but the manifestations vary; some are funny, some we can hold at a distance, some I can tell, get under students' skins, and I think that sort of "abject costuming" (for that is also a strategy for dealing with this stuff) is very useful for being-alive lessons.
So much of identity asks us to forget humanity, our own and other people's.
Even something innocuous-sounding (by comparison, certainly), like "mature." Let's be "mature." Do we need to put away childhood for that? Do we do that at our hazard? What behaviors does "mature" create and value, what does it disdain and abject? Does it wake us up or put us to sleep?
Let's expand our possibilities---but wait, go far enough with that, and you get evil (assuming our base identities, like our reliance currently on industrial factory farming, to choose only one angle, aren't already evil, or bound to evil). So wait, let's shrink our possibilities---but wait, go far enough with that and you get frustration, or fascism (oh no, it's circular!), or incomplete, fractional humanity.
This is why we need to be as awake as possible to the whole world.