January 17, 2016 § Leave a comment
The gnashing of teeth, teeth wet by tears, pulpit-promised to the damned, though it is, God-damned as he does, also describes the mastication — the toothsome sucking of sorrow into sweetness — of a righteous anger. Just as it takes more than a single tooth to chew, such an anger, to be more than a nip attended by a protested spittle, needs a crowd.
Protests are those gatherings we attend or avoid, with political ends usually left unachieved. Protests are planned, their signage stapled or taped across town before and after. People of vaguely like-minded intent meet at protests; sometimes they fall in love, other times they just fuck. Mostly, though, they end up forgetting. “I was there, too!” they’ll say seven years later. “Those were good times,” they’ll agree. “We tried, but alas,” they’ll shrug. There is a class of “professional” protesters — people who somehow make it to every action, Johnny-on-the-spot and on time, pamphlet-informed, equipped with goggles and a milk of magnesia concentrate for tear-gassed eyes. Protests are peopled by those on every stage of an activist life-cycle — naive hope; enthusiastic promise; success so close; success so far; promise broken; hope bludgeoned — with a few jaundiced zombies here and there, usually near the curbs.
People and placards gathered as quickly as the suspicions that the fire had been no accident. Crew-cutted white men had been seen, empty gas tins found. So-and-so said so. Threats, scrawled, screamed, and scowled, had framed the background of the church’s very existence for so long that no one noticed when it had advanced to the fore.
Every protest has within it an embryonic crowd that its slogans, signs, intentions and goals cannot contain.
Every protest has within it a conflict, for it is of at least two minds.
Every protest has within in it a threat, that itself threatens the protest.
Every protest has within it a crowd it, in varying degrees and moments, suppresses and unleashes.
The crowd outside the church, viewed from a safe distance, was unwieldy. Neither their signs nor the chants, often one and the same, tunes as catchy as a cold, were the message. They had become a complex, multi-limbed body akimbo and splayed, learning to walk. Clumsily at first, it moved through the streets, from project block toward condo project, furious with a message R. could not make out over the din of its movement. There was no spokesperson that he could see. Pastor Troy had flung himself into the sea of bodies his cries and phone calls (and evening television appearance) had pleaded for, and he’d been swallowed. He would emerge a few hours later — R. would say three — answering the classic journalistic W’s — the What’s and Why’s — with an anonymous “We.”
Crowds are buoyed by contradictions — vengeance and forgiveness, rights asserted and wrongs forgotten — and peopled by an assortment of bodies whose purpose is never so much forgotten as held momentarily at bay.
Crowds are subject to symbols — fire and broken glass, nearly without fail; laughter, at things later unfunny; fear, for oneself and others. Anger and joy are never so far apart in the crowd as they are in the protest
Crowds are such that their stories are not the sum of their plot.
On the street from his safe, well-lit post, R. watched as a certain history of the world passed. It was a history that neither owed nor paid him any attention. There is a temptation to think such crowds have become rare. Or that if they are common, they are to little effect, due to our modern, technological yearning to self-narrate a story that adds up. Should the spirit of protest occasion a crowd, though, by whose reason would it be exorcised?
Of course, not all crowds are equal. Some, as another history has shown, and would yet again soon enough, are born of a desire to deny another crowd from occurring again or at all. These blaze, according to untold histories imagined and true, into controlled flames called arson and extermination.
January 6, 2016 § Leave a comment
The intense warmth from the burning church was not, despite the midday heat, unpleasant. The waving flags of flame rippled in spangled triumph over the efforts of a black man with a water hose. A lighter-skinned black girl near R. stood recording the scene on her phone. A white woman a block away visored her eyes with one hand and squinted herself agog as the steeple, which had for minutes stood defiant, an aggrieved but avenging angel, teetered like a toddler. For a moment, the crackling of the blaze receded to an obeisant hush.
“Lord, have mercy!” the black smoke shrieked.
With an audible snap the steeple quivered, and did not so much as fall down as melt away.
“I would’ve thought that’d make a lot more noise,” R. unknowingly told the girl’s camera.
“Why, Lord! Pastor Troy, how could this happen?” the smoke wailed.
As two fire engines rounded the corner en route, sirens silently flashing, the black man dropped his hose and replied: “I don’t give a fuck how this happened! What I wanna know is … who did this shit right here?”
The gnashing of teeth, teeth wet by tears, pulpit-promised to the damned, though it is, God-damned as he does, also describes the mastication — the toothsome sucking of sorrow into sweetness — of a righteous anger.
January 3, 2016 § 1 Comment
I’ve not resolved to write more in 2016. But I do hope to do so — which is not so great a task, considering how little I wrote in 2015.
I don’t write for a wide audience, and rarely pursue publication. But neither am I bashful about sharing things I regard as little more than throwaway drafts. In the past, I’ve described this as a vaguely vulgar form of exhibitionism, but never did so as an apology. I genuinely believed — and still do — that the potential viewing by another of a writing affected my own viewing of it, by giving it room to extend itself beyond the confines of me. Such was the aesthetic philosophy at the time . . . the details tonight are a bit fuzzy.
But as I sit here, staring for a while at a blank Scrivener page, and then scrolling through Facebook, bored in either event, I find myself now indulging a temptation: the belief in inspiration. Writing, like anything, is more a matter of will than it is actual talent, and as such it is more a matter of WHAT than it is HOW. But then I recall my most fertile period of creativity, or at least of creative thinking, after spending time with the photography of Francesca Woodman, clicking from Facebook to blog, blog to Facebook, to Scrivener, and I decide that it is perhaps better yet to deny nothing.
March 27, 2015 § Leave a comment
“I have always believed the same thing, and I very much fear even after victory that things in my country will continue to seem to me as bad as before. This is such a horrible mixture of ignorance, bad faith, corruption, and weakness that I suspect the evil is too deep for revolutionaries to repair. Among these, one sees everything: there are men of much merit, good heads, and hearts of gold; but there are also unruly ones who seek only noise an chaos; not to mention those filled with good faith yet lacking in intelligence and common sense. I have observed this group they are caught up in, unable to unite the greatness of ideas with the pettiness of their ambitions ; I have felt a certain fear for principle; but after pondering it, I have concluded by affirming that the evils that revolution may bring will never be as great as those of absolution. And if they are — he continued contemptuously — they will deserve it. If all this is to continue to bear the name of nation, everything must be turned upside down, that common sense which has been offended be avenged, drawing and quartering such ridiculous idolatry, such foolishness, and barbarism erected in living institutions; there must be a complete renovation of the patria, no vestiges of the past should remain, and everything must be plowed under with noise, crushing the foolish who insist on carrying an outmoded artifice on their shoulders. And this must be done quickly, violently, because if it is not done this way it will never be done. . . . Here the doors of tyranny must be torn down with ax blows in order to destroy them, because if we open them with their key, they will be left standing and will close again.”
— Benito Pérez Galdós, La Segunda casaca (as quoted in Sergio Pitol’s The Art of Flight)
November 13, 2014 § Leave a comment
A context-free edit:
Have you considered the possibility you’re rushing justice too quickly into the bed of peace? You know my aversion to end-points. Creation implies the complexity of movement, and movement requires friction, and friction, well, that always rubs somebody wrong, doesn’t it? If there’s to be a real peace, surely it is as tentative as a handshake deal. When, in the history of its proclamation, whether as an achievement or a goal, has it not come with a boot on the back of somebody’s neck? Our sense of an ending comes too easily. Mourning and remembrance end long before our bodies do — our ashes burn longer. Even if your fundamentalists are right, it’s because our wicked ways are as fertile as our bodies, the wages of sin a hand-me-down prize, for the earth and its beasts. Even when these bodies and all that they carried within, the rights minted as credit and wrongs compounded into debt, are forgotten, the breath once sucked in by one, was inhaled long before by another, and will be breathed again, repeatedly, elsewhere. This isn’t to say we don’t and shouldn’t pick our moments when to say “enough,” to name some thing by calling it peace. This is language, after all, and is meant to be used. But these agreements we make, the inevitable acceptances even in the course of a sentence let alone a life, could be undone with but a sneeze.
October 24, 2014 § Leave a comment
I thought that if I scrolled quickly down the manuscript, the torrent of words might waterfall and that within the cascade, the crash where the gaps between words slam into letters, all that senseless spray, I might look and see not simply noise, like the babble of media, social and non-, slobbery like a baby without the insight or wit, but sound, itself and its other, that measure that’s the same, where silence slips into and through indifference, groans into moans borne by the wind that tumbles the stone that flattens the bug that feeds the bird that returns to the sky in search for a place to nest.
The torrent, though, dried quickly into a stream, and became a bath for the smallest of creatures, most the size of notions, and quicker still into a pool, an oasis for others who dined on the bathers, but isolated to itself, until it turned to steam and then into green, these unaware, killed by the tips of their tongues.
I thought that if I scrolled quickly down the manuscript, I might finally reach the end.
September 10, 2014 § Leave a comment
A wind-blown breathy sigh through the open window had toppled the totemic stack of papers. Its collapse hushed like a secret kept and as sudden as one told. Loose leaves fell together and scattered apart. Paragraphs were torn: their topics decapitated, bodies rent, conclusions riven. So many page ones exiled from twos, who were now strangers unrecognized to threes, though neighborly enough with fours to borrow power tools. Editorial arrows without their tips or quivers. Handwritten tonguey loops lapped up the blanks below and licked down everything above, bent forward, suffering legibility like a mule its load but unable to bear a breeze, as the letters spread across the floor — languages at the razed foot of Babel. The infidelity of salutations unsigned, Dears divorced of Sincerely, and promiscuous signatures, Yours, without addresses. The tower, when felled by the wind, crashed to the floor, mixing meanings like metaphors. “I want you” . . . to do what? The page underneath, now a different letter entirely, offered no clue. It spoke the same language but with a foreign tongue. This is how simple requests become amorous declarations. The characters of this correspondence, sensibly in extremis, contextually exhausted, collapsed. What sense could be made of the mess?
The room seemed to wheeze.