a momentary disintegration

November 10, 2011 § 2 Comments

Dear _________.

Old friend, you are missed! I hope this note finds you well.

Last night I was out very late, first standing, then sitting, and then nearly sleeping next to strangers at Sproul Plaza in Berkeley. I came home around midnight or so, I’d say, though I was unable to sleep for quite some time because of the unfolding events of the evening. Things began in Oakland, as they for me so often do. There was a highly contentious anti-vandalism/anti-violence proposal being pitched at Oakland Commune’s General Assembly and the all-hands-on-deck vibe was justified by the new faces in attendance who were carrying placards pleading sympathy with the Occupiers alongside disappointment. (“Oakland’s 99% Feels Occupied by the Occupiers,” etc.) As I sat through the interminable proceedings (they always are, in my opinion, but so it is w/ these things), smelling the quite lovely food being served over my shoulder, I was sent the following video filmed in Berkeley earlier that afternoon.

While I watched the above scene on my phone, I could hear in the Oakland amphitheater words like “vandalism” and “violence” being tossed around as though they were indistinguishable, or at least conversational kin. I was disturbed by the contrast between the muted images on my small screen & the din of good intentions playing out in large all around me. I lingered for a while, but eventually left.

I knew where I was going but was, nevertheless, surprised when I ended up in Berkeley, walking quite hurriedly to Sproul Plaza, where I was greeted, though the cry was obviously not intended for me, “MEDIC! WE NEED A MEDIC!” Someone had been hurt in the police melee that had occurred minutes before my arrival. I do not know how badly she was injured, but she was ushered away quickly. There seemed more anger prevalent than fear on the part of the crowd, though their numbers were not as large as I’d expected. I’m not a particularly brave person, as you well know. Nor, am I an adrenaline junky. I was not interested in being arrested or taking on more tear gas or once again being shot at by non-lethal projectiles. So, yes, I was rather afraid.

Fortunately, the numbers soon increased, dramatically so. Until eventually I could become a part of the crowd. And it was within this crowd, though I cannot place the moment itself, that I realized, despite what I recall recently telling you, I’m not seeking a cause with which to align myself so much as I am seeking an occasion to become strictly a body. I live so much in words. I feel awkward, even with people I know & love, when standing in the flesh, face to face, being seen. I have a confidence with verbal and written expression that I do not in my physical individuality & the space I cut in this world alone. What I want of a crowd, whose motivations, though myriad, are directed against or toward — in a kind of strange harmony, a music to which you would not listen for leisure — that which we may not know or be willing to say by name, is a momentary disintegration — a burning away of myself until all that is left is the presence of a body, not even a voice, in protest. That alone.

I should think not everybody has, or should have, this admittedly retrograde Romantic desire. But I confess it here, to you, though I feel no guilt.

Yours,

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§ 2 Responses to a momentary disintegration

  • tom clark says:

    Brad.

    Every body would be a body, know a body, feel a body, if a body only could.

    But I must say this, as of that long night at Sproul, I did feel a categorical difference. Despite the general, palpable, almost desperate desire for connection that is always in the air, palpable as a kind of invisible atmospheric drizzle, every Occupy is probably (necessarily) disconnected from every other Occupy in ways that are determined by contextual factors like location, socioeconomic background, race (let’s not kid ourselves), even weather, time of day/night, & c. And at Sproul I did notice that, in contrast with the Oakland and downtown Berkeley sites, the crowd was generally better attired, perhaps better “educated”, and definitely more self-conscious in that particular image-consciousness way that manifests itself in the having, and continual using, of cameras and especially video cameras.To document history as it happens is important, up to the point where the documenting, and the documenting of the documenting, becomes itself the event. I was standing in Sproul talking with three young black men who stood out in the crowd as being visibly non-student types. Soon we became conscious of a well-dressed young woman, graduate student type, filming us with a handheld video camera. After politely fielding a few Wuzzups, she explained, somewhat uncomfortably, that she was making a record of the participation, in this largely white crowd, of… I’m not sure she said “black people”, but the point was plain. Her subjects shrugged, “whatever”. Thus given confidence, she added, “but of course I’ll need you to sign a waiver…”

    As I drifted away into the lonely monadic night, that image of a well-meaning utilitarian technological disembodiment stayed with me, like a brand on the forehead of this latest would-be embodiment of a Brave New World.

    And much as I may have wished for “a burning away of myself”, I fear I was left, recalling the encounter I have just described, feeling more my own sad, sorry, solitary self than ever. So it appears there is yet a long way to go.

  • Brad Johnson says:

    Yes, I do know exactly what you mean. I’ve long ago lost my the naivety that makes me a true-blue romantic. Such moments of “disintegration” and “burning away,” they’re only momentary, aren’t they? — and perhaps not even recognizable at all until after the moment has passed and you try to reconstruct what occurred, or see it reconstructed in a photograph or a video. There is too much that is not “of” the moment, or at least too much that you’d rather not retain, for whatever reason, for that moment to remain more than merely that. & that’s what I prefer, I think, the “merely that,” which is where the naivety comes rushing back, as often happens with preferences. And perhaps all this is good & right. Moments aged by the accumulation of too many minutes, ossified by the piling up of hours, like bodies flung into a mass grave, these too often in my experience become a kind of memorial or tomb, from which all things enter but never return.

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