June 22, 2018

A normal person who writes weird shit.


There is something I wrote about myself on this blog back in 2015 that I later realized was probably not true. Or at least that I later regretted. I wrote:

A few minutes ago I posted this quote from an interview with Jackie Wang:
"Perversion is probably more important to me than “orientation.” I’m certainly not a purist when it comes to identity but I do want “queer” to retain its freakish and non-normative edge, and for people to back their aesthetic commitments by embodying that commitment in how they lives their lives. Normal people who write weird shit disappoint me hahahaha."

I posted it because I suddenly felt it was about me. I am a ‘normal’ person who writes weird shit. But I’m not sure anyone who knows me would really say I’m normal. I’ve spent most of my life trying to be anything but normal. I certainly feel extremely queer positive and feel a deep love for queer art and politics. Maybe already I’ve gotten a bit lost.

I have come back to this in my mind so many times over the past few years. A moment when I thought I was normal followed by a moment in which I thought that I definitely was not.

Here are some of the ways I've come to think I'm not especially normal: I don't have a car, I don't ride a bike, I didn't have an apartment for ten years (but now I do), now that I have an apartment I for some reason spend most of my time avoiding it, I often say I don't have friends (though, for a man of my age, that might be more normal than I want to admit), other people often say I know everyone, I don't have a television, don't watch television and don't watch movies, I'm an autodidact, I'm not in a relationship and suspect now that I most likely never will be (though never say never), to the best of my knowledge I've never been on a date, one of the few things I'm really certain about in life is that I don't want to have children (I also wrote a book trying to convince others not to have children), I've never been to a wedding or a funeral, I don't have any interests, or really do anything, outside of making and experiencing art in some larger sense (in fact, in terms of experiencing it, mainly just literature and music), I do have some interest in politics but the ways in which I understand it most often have to do with the relationship between politics and art, depression runs my life but I work very hard to not have depression be what I'm about publicly or, for that matter, what I'm about in general, I spend much of my time wandering aimlessly. I'm not sure what to say about perversion, if in this sense perversion mainly means sexual perversion, perhaps my only perversion is an over-enjoyment of cuddling. But none of these things really have anything to do with what I'm talking about when I feel I'm not so normal. It more has to do with a way of being in the world. I feel I have a different way of being in the world than most people I know. I wonder what it might mean to describe this way of being as perverse.

None of these things are particularly queer but neither would I say they're particularly normal. I suppose I might say I was an eccentric, but I also feel that I'm not that eccentric, and in general don't feel any need to put myself into any of these categories. (Maybe simply neurotic would be closer to the truth.) What I am amazed by is that for one moment in 2015 I wrote that I was normal. I suppose all I meant by it was that I was straight and cis, which is true as far as it goes, and yet I'm always happy when anyone thinks of me as queer, perhaps because I have also always thought straight art was far less interesting than queer art, if these categories still have any clear meaning. More and more, I now feel all such things might be taken on a case by case basis. Of course, also, I don't feel particularly qualified to write about queerness. There are so many others who have far more interesting things to say about the topic than I do.

Not sure if I'm going anywhere with all this but since I wrote that I was normal back in 2015 it has continued to bother me, and I've always wanted to write another post to at least partially refute it. But now that I've written this new post, it seems that the new post bothers me as well, that I protest too much. Maybe I'll delete it soon. Maybe I already said everything that needed to be said on the topic when I wrote in my original post: "I’ve spent most of my life trying to be anything but normal." And who actually cares whether I'm normal or not. With everything currently happening in the world it also feels wrong and, yes, perverse to write so much about myself. And all of this might only mean that, once again, I'm more normal that I'm willing to admit.

[P.S. As a tangential ending: I always thought my final Tangentially yours was by far my most interesting contribution to the series. In it, I wrote about Kristin Ross, May '68 and François Maspero’s bookstore La Joie de Lire. I some day hope to go a little bit further down the road of those reflections.]

[Also, even more importantly, everyone should read Jackie Wang's new book Carceral Capitalism.]


June 15, 2018

"But we don’t get to decide which world we live in. We only get to decide whether or not we try to do anything about it."


I don’t know how long I was awake when a key card unlocked the door and a man in a military uniform entered. Behind him two other men entered and quickly, efficiently handcuffed my wrists and ankles and then left, throwing me to the floor as they did so. The first man then said that I should be worried, I was really in trouble. I had ended up where I shouldn’t be. On the wrong side of the war. And I would tell them what they wanted to know, everything they wanted to know, or I would be tortured at great length. Then he left the room and I passed out again.

When I come to it’s because something wakes me. Five young men are being shoved into my room. My wrists and ankles feel like they’re on fire. The cuffs cut into them like dull knives. I wonder if I’ve ever been in so much pain in my life, then think perhaps I’ll soon be in considerably more when I’m tortured. That’s the first thing I remember, they said they were going to torture me. The five men, who I somehow understand to be my five new cellmates, have their arms and legs free. They sit around me, their backs pressed against the wall, like a family sitting around a Christmas turkey, if the turkey lay on the bare floor in front of them. They talk to each other, not much but a little, and do their best to ignore me. There is barely room for all six of us in the cell, they’re almost on top of me, and yet it seems strangely normal that they don’t acknowledge my existence. I feel that if I were in their place I might do the same. I understand that they are young soldiers being court martialed. Their crime is refusing to get in the planes and fly their assigned missions. Hundreds and hundreds of soldiers are refusing to fly their missions not because they’ve become pacifists, or because they’re against these wars, but because they’re afraid their planes will explode. Being shot down by enemy fire means being a brave soldier, and what’s more it almost never happens, but being in a plane that explodes for no discernible reason seems stupid and makes them feel almost supernaturally afraid. That’s why they’ve been crammed into this cell with me. All the other cells are completely full. Overfull. Over-packed. Because so many soldiers are now refusing to explode in the sky for no reason.

In general, I don’t read books that feature torture. My nervous system simply isn’t strong enough. The fact that torture is happening, that it is likely that someone, somewhere is being tortured right now, as we speak, often feels to me like one of the main reasons I don’t want to live in this world. I don’t want to read about torture and I certainly don’t want to write about it, but what happened ridiculously, sadistically, happened, and if I’m going to tell my story there is really no way I can avoid the topic completely.

If humanity is ever put on trial – and I have no concept who or what might make such a thing possible – the fact that we commit genocide should be enough to condemn us. But the fact that we torture would condemn us in some condemnation of infinite overload. I can think of no more convincing evidence that we represent a universe gone wrong. A species that tortures is a kind of evil, a kind of animal, I will never understand. There are plenty of other books that give the details, I will not give any of them here. The fact that we torture would be enough to condemn us. But, as most of us know, condemnation and judicial punishment depend not on the crime committed but on the values and worldview of the authority that sits in judgment. When I think of why I want to die, so many of my reasons are weak and self-pitying, but one reason I always find convincing is that I don’t want to live in a world where some people imprison and torture others. I don’t want to live in a world that contains torture. But we don’t get to decide which world we live in. We only get to decide whether or not we try to do anything about it.

I remember, a long time ago, reading a definition of sanity. Sanity is knowing that to be a full person one must behave differently in different situations. That one behaves one way in bed with a lover and a completely different way when being interrogated by the Gestapo. That with a lover one was honest, truthful, one opened ones heart. But with the Gestapo one said nothing or skillfully lied. Lying there on the floor of the cell I thought I had devised a strategy to get through the torture and interrogation. I do not think this strategy would work in reality. This book is not reality. I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay silent so I would talk and talk and lie and lie. For everything I said that was perhaps factually true, I would make sure I said at least ten things that were factually untrue, and do my best to make the untrue things sound considerably more plausible then the true ones. (Once again, I don’t think this strategy would work in reality but as literature, I thought, I told myself, we can see what it does.) And that is what I planned to do. How I had planned to write about it here. But when the time came I did no such thing.

- Jacob Wren, from the work-in-progress Dry Your Tears to Perfect Your Aim


June 11, 2018

Demita Frazier Quote


In any event, I got involved with the Black Panther Breakfast program through a friend. And I did that for a month, and as it stands, it was right before Thanksgiving until right when Fred Hampton was murdered.

And the ironic thing, and I should mention this to you – another one of these Zelig effects of my life – I had been involved with the program since I think end of September, but it really started going at the end of October. And I was getting constantly macked by the men. I’m a sexual abuse survivor, and I really just was not having it. Really. I mean, I look back on myself, and I think, god, I was really on fire. Because I didn’t even – I was just so upset that I couldn’t be taken seriously as a committed activist – it seemed like no matter what I did, the first thing these men were dealing with was like trying to mack me. I’m here for a political reason and you’re trying to – oh!

It brings up a lot of anger all over again. Because it was another indicator that I was on the right track with regard to inquiring, why does sexism always impede my ability to manifest my own personal power? Why? Why, why, why? So Fred Hampton, in fact, happened to come by the building that day when we were packing food. You know, packing the lunch bags. And he was so chill and so kind and so non-macking. I never forgot that.

And then he was killed the next day.

– Demita Frazier, from the book How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective