Thursday, October 21, 2010

Eschatological Again

I've posted below an entry I made years ago, when I was thinking about the topic of death and Derrida; it holds up pretty well but of course my life has changed. Because the planets have turned many times, and because I have become more aware of my body's pathway, my experience with the end of life has become, as Paul Wallace over at Positive Science/Negative Theology says, "most literal and most frightening." And I, like Paul, don't have a strong faith in the heaven thing to tide me over the final approach.

But I have to admit, I'm still not that scared--yet. One of the reasons may be my spiritual condition, which is far from enlightened but is the result of a few little-deaths, experiences such as the ones described in Drinking the Dragon, a Jungian self-help guide by San Diegan Patricia Ariadne that I am finding remarkably interesting right now:
Life is full of seemingly random, senseless events that shake our faith in those things which formerly made us feel secure, leaving us feeling vulnerable and uncertain. In some cases, a crisis is a spiritual call to live our lives less superficially, to recognize our own complexity, to explore what sustains us when we can no longer carry on (pg. 18).
Ariadne is not talking only about major turning points, although she uses many such events to illustrate her guidebook. The "crises common to modern life" she is talking about are seemingly mundane things such as divorce, the loss of a job, the medical issues we all face (and I am facing) as we grow older, and in addition, the stuff that really turns us around: the death of a loved one or a child, one's own impending death, the depths of depression so deep that life seems, in the words of Mother Theresa, "an arid desert," the emptiness and lack of god-presence that brings people, well, to their knees, not in prayer but in despair. What Ariadne calls "The Dark Night of Soul" and I have my own list, stuff in my own life and in the life of the love of my life, that has turned me around and will turn us around eventually. Or not.

But stuff has happened to me, and to people close to me, that causes me to assess the reality of things unseen. Like Wallace notes in his latest post, I am not usually looking for the unseen wonders when I run across them; usually, it's like this:
When do I see God? Not often, I can tell you that. . . . The precipice I mentioned earlier, the one above which we have each walked our entire lives, the one that scares us because it’s about the reality of our creatureliness and frailty and mortality, has a lot to do with God for me. It is only after a good long look down into that abyss that I have found God. And I never look down in search of God. It’s kind of an involuntary thing, and I don’t know what I look for when I look down there. But if I hold the emptiness in my view for longer than is comfortable, something shows up that I can’t deny. Something that makes me at first scared as hell, and then peaceful beyond words. Strange, that that’s how it is for me. Am I alone in this?
This might be an occasion members of Alcoholics Anonymous call the "ninth inning," as in the phrase "using God as a bush-league ninth inning pinch hitter" but there it is. I have been at that abyss, but I have also been places I didn't know were at the edge, but it turned out that God, or whatever, was right there signaling to me. They are the signs of the holy that have come my way, the symbols I have come to realize are meaningful in a psychic sense, a sense that is not scientific but literary, a personal narrative of events and presences, stories I made up and ones told to me: a butterfly, a coyote's howl, a cat crossing the sidewalk at night, a crowd of people at a traffic light, listening to a siren as the light turns from red to green, making the sign of the cross and reminding me my mother, and the wonder of the sign at the time, in just this place, right here.

And for a split second, I know what it means and then I'm back, wondering what will happen next but sure that a sign will come, like it has before.

Because I've already pushed the button, and surely the light will change, and surely I will cross to the other side, eventually.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


A very long time ago (Aug. 20, 2004) I wrote a letter (behind a firewall, sorry!) to the San Diego Union-Tribune about immigration and the U.S. border policies as they affect us in San Diego County. Here's a clip:
The article's focus on illegal immigrants as the "trespassers" ignores the real issue behind illegal immigration in San Diego: In pursuit of a nebulous, unattainable security, the Border Patrol has made a Soviet-style police state out of rural San Diego, and many residents I know are furious at being asked for their "papers" by uniformed, federal trespassers who ignore the civil rights of Americans along with the human rights of their immigrant "prey."
But there is hope. History has shown us that those who aspire to freedom will find it, no matter how high the wall or how ruthless its guards, in Berlin or in Jacumba.
In the fall of 2010 we have candidate Joe Miller, running for the U.S. Senate in the state of Alaska, telling his future constituents about his philosophy of national borders:
"East Germany was very, very able to reduce the flow. Now, obviously, other things were involved. We have the capacity to, as a great nation, secure the border. If East Germany could, we could."
The Tea Party-backed candidate, who is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, explained that he once served at the Fulda Gap, a point on the former East-West German border. East Germany's border troops were given orders to shoot anyone trying to flee East Germany.
Some things just never get old, I guess; but I'm sure getting sick of this crap.

Images courtesy of Thinkquest and The Border Angels

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

After Four Years, and a New Post

The best way to start is to start, and so I'll start by saying I'm not sorry. I didn't write a post because I didn't want to write one, for various reasons that I'm sure you will figure out as you read the blog--if you read it after all these years or if you are just starting to read it. I don't feel like rehashing the last three and a half years so I won't, but one thing I can say about my interior and exterior life lately, in a general way, is that I have not been busy. To begin (again):

I have enjoyed reading PZ Meyers for many years, but I did not enjoy listening to him the other day on Point of Inquiry, and I think the reason has more to do with the media than the message. It's funny how I can read the most strident opinions on the web and maintain a distance from the discourse, but the more intimate--if that is the correct term--dialogue of radio, the speech acts wafting into my ears, affects me on a more emotional level, and affects my rhetorical response which, after all, is just as much emotional as rational. Listening to him helped me to locate myself in the spectrum of the debate between atheists and theists, and if he represents, as he purports to do in a rational sense, the atheist point of view then I am squarely not an atheist--not because I do not admire his rationality but because I do not admire him. He has successfully persuaded me to realize that I do not want to think the way he thinks, and to treat the experience of other human beings the way he treats the existential experience of his listeners.

On the other hand, Jennifer Michael Hecht (who is an atheist, too) is able to sum up my response nicely, in an unemotional way: "[rationality and by extension, science] is not the totality of human experience." She does not believe this, but realizes that many people do believe it, and I get a feeling of exasperation from her, coming over the airwaves as if by magic. Hecht is aware that when discussing God, she is in a rhetorical situation, not a rational one.

To sum up, my rhetorical response to philosopher Hecht (in an imaginary bar) is to buy her another beer; my response to developmental biologist Meyer is to pour his beer over his head and remind him that the lab bottles are full of fish urine and need to be wiped out.

Labels: , , ,

Derrida to the End

"I shall always have been eschatological," Jacques Derrida writes in Circumfessions, "if one can say so, in the extreme . . ."; if my walks in the natural world show me beginnings and ends, if they point out the connectedness of life and the end, death, Derrida shows me how language itself constitutes its own death, its own end. And it's not as bad as one might think, not as bad as Duerer and the other Christians thought the End might be because, after all, we all are gonna get there someday anyway: we all die, and have friends, lovers, loved ones, and cultural icons who pass away. He saw it as a condition of living, as a state of being, and notes, like me, that "I have to this day above all lived, enjoyed, wept, prayed, suffered as though the last second, in the imminence of the flashback end . . ." in a wonderfully realistic stance that has taken me many decades to master, if I have mastered it at all. Derrida's biographer Bennington approaches this stance by looking at the way language works in our heads, trying to figure out the exact moment when a sentence, for example, is real: at the beginning, when it is spoken or thought; after the author dies, when it is memorialized on paper, or in a flash, an augenlid, or eyeblink, when meaning and world are one, which is forever memorialized in a word.

The master Derrida knows, however, that this instant is already gone, effaced, before we realize what happened. What he confesses is that the end time is the final meaning of our metaphysic, the only time we can be at one with our language, and who wants to rush that? So we content ourselves with a field of negotiated mystery we call writing, and hope that once in a while we get a glimpse of eternity: a white butterfly flitting in memory of a loved one who has passed; the phantom white Oldsmobile our father used to drive, stopped at a light; the dried skin of a rattlesnake floating across the sand; the chipped, crakced reproduction of our Lady of Guadelupe left on the trail as a token of good luck.
The geologic traces of ancient lakes, the evolved landscapes of the south California deserts, leave their memories of the effaced suffering, ecstasy, god and human, in my soul as I walk in the stones. Most of the time the wind blows clean and clear, buffeting the dried flowers of last year's bloomings, swirling the sand in rounded patterns among the stones, which have sat for centuries remembering their submersion, exposed for the first time to sun for thousands of years. The stones sit, immovably speaking to me as I walk, of distance, direction, patience, stillness, the final resting place that has been here all along.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Ethnic Mannequins of the Desert (Thesis Statements I)

As I've been doing the deeds for my graduate seminar on ethnic american theory and gender studies in film and literature, I've been thinking about the way "types" or "stereotypes" or "tropes" or "characters" emerge from the burning sands of the deserts of the american southwest, and I have some ideas. One is that over the past century or so, at least from the point of view of the dominant white culture, that abstract machine, the constitutive mechanism, the stuff that makes the desert story go, has changed a bit. One of the changes may be a kind of diffusion or infusion brought on by the processes of globalization, that thing that has both McDonald-ized world culture and brought interesting connections to the foreground.

Out of Japan, which Jean Baudrillard claims is "already a [cultural] satellite of Earth," comes an anime set in a desert that has many of the same processes in operation as any late 20-21st-century Sonoran desert story. Water is scarce, ruins are ancient, rocks are hot, sand is hot, outlaws roam freely, and most tellingly, the silence breaks in with wind and bright sun, forcing the wanderers to stop and wonder--if only to reload.

Desert Punk is otherworldly not because the characters are from another planet, but because the tropospherics are pasted onto animated ethnic mannequins that are stereotypes from an otherworldly cultural space: a Baja 500 on Mt Fuji, a Hiroshimic Sierra Madre with borderland bandidos sporting Dune-type stillsuits and conical sun hats.

The Sonoran/Coloradan Desert has gone global, generating the silences, stillnesses, and liminal spaces from which sprout the stuff that usually sprouts in the wilderness.
Baudrillard quoted from "Utopia Achieved", which I make my poor RWS 200 students read in Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers, 6th ed. (ed. by Bartholomae and Petrovsky), pg. 110. You may download Desert Punk on iTunes or get some dvds, or watch it on the SciFi channel, I hear.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

To The Sacred Land

I'm off to the Desert, to walk the Holy Landscape of Creation.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

How to do Environmental Work Osmotically

KPBS has a wonderful story about mexican Superhero Wrestler, El Hijo Del Santo, leading a campaign to promote social and environmental education and justice in Tijuana. He's also helped save sea turtles.

From Frontera, March 20:
Lucha Hijo del Santo contra contaminación
Un niño pide un autógrafo al Hijo del Santo, quien ayer acudió a una primaria de la colonia San Bernardo,
en San Antonio de los Buenos, para apoyar acciones de ecologistas contra la contaminación del mar.

(Photo by Sergio Ortiz, Frontera)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Still Life Osmosis

Vincent Van Gogh, Still Life Majolica with Wildflowers

(This post is stolen from inspired by concepts and readings from Dr. Bill Nericcio's English 725 Ethnic American Literature Seminar and especially from a close reading of Chapter 5 of Tex{t}-Mex: Seductive Hallucinations of the Mexican in America, a fine study of Frida Kahlo and Gilberto Hernandez titled "Xicanosmosis: Frida Kahlo and Mexico in the Eyes of Gilbert Hernandez.)

When we got civilized, Westerners in the Old World built walls to separate the inside from the outside, and for many years, most of us thought they separated us from the natural world--the walls protected us from cold and rain but cut us off from the pretty stuff, too, such as blue skies and flowers. Pretty soon, we started trying to bring the outside in through representation. The idea was to decorate our houses with tamed images of nature, pictures that didn't have all those funny smells and runny fluids associated with biological stuff.
This detail from a Pompeian fresco shows how the architectural borders become natural representational windows; later, when painters got framed into the making art (with a Capitalist A) even tortured souls such as Vincent Van Gogh stuffed their inspired visions of the natural world into tidy pictures that didn't get dirt on the floor.

When the Colonists came to impose their wallish borders on the indigenous peoples of America, they ran into osmosis.
Gilberto Hernandez's frame from his graphic novel series on the magically realist Palomar shows us the problem for the conquistador of the New World: stuck in an environment that has no walls or borders, the photographer is forced to realize his own position, a position that is ozmotically connected to everything, especially connected to the people who make a habit of picking stuff up and bringing it inside.

The people who met the colonizers had still lifes, but the art they made, at least from the perspective of the art dealer-border guards, didn't fit in the dualism of inside and outside, wild and civilized, natural and artificial. Most importantly, these emergent ozmoticians--and we can include Van Gogh among their number--engaged, in their arts, in a valiant effort to increase the permeability of the borders that civilization put between the bodily natural, the inner spirit, and the outer representation, recognizing that the ozmotic process is not one of separation, of keeping things--molecules, energies, fluids, psyches, experiences, flowers--apart but a way to comingle them, to assert the connectivity between the natural and us. The doorway into the natural has one (of many) permeable pathway, and that is our own bodies, the way we perceive, the experience we share when we make or look at art. Artistic border crossers, some of them, start here.

The establishment types, colonists of nature and used to seeing safe and non-throbbing representations framed on the wall, thought that idea was kind of icky.

When Frida Kahlo presented the still life above (Naturaleza Muerta (Tondo), 1942) to the wife of the president of Mexico, the story goes, she refused it--presumably because of its oh-so-biologically-female innards represented as fruit. That's the story, and it makes sense, but the most dangerous thing, for the indigenously inclined, is not the representation of female parts, but the illegal osmosis of perceiving the wild inside us, connected to the wild all around us, outside.

But those Mexican artists haven't given up, despite the danger, as a photograph of a pear, a classic still life subject, by Flor Guarduño shows. This naturaleza muerta brings the natural reproductive system into the house and leans it up against a wall, seducing us into a voyeuristic pear-slit attraction, undeniably inviting us to peer into the pears natural insides, exposing us to the wilderness of our own representationally scandalous ideations.

This photograph makes me hot for pears, and according to the Colonial paradigm, that ain't right.

South California artist Hernandez does it--that is, lives in the semi-permeable, osmotic moment--in his magical realism, embedded in the graphic novels, serialized in comic form in the Love and Rockets series. His experience with still lifes is probably more like the orange crate here than some painterly pot of flowers, so he comes at it from a different perspective--that of a South Central L.A. chicano dude--but the osmosis happens anyway, even though in his cinematic, people-centered space a still life more probably is a dead memory of representation--but still an indigenous text of graphically natural representation:

Hernandez does an ultimate form of ozmotic function--he portrays natural people in his art, indigenous people who are not "corrupted" by Western civilization but who function in the semi-permeable states, what some might call "on the border" but what is important here--at least for me--is that these people don't "cross", they live in the membrane, on the border, in the place where the osmosis happens. They emerge, Hernandez emerges, not as a new type of, as Nericcio puts it, "border as wound, border as hyphen" but within a look at the process of "absorption, evaporation, and secretion" that flows both ways--indeed in many directions--across borders that are culturally, geographically, historically, psychologically, scientifically constructed to traditionally divide things but in reality connect them (195-96). This type of osmosis doesn't happen at the approved sites of the Mexican-American War but all over culture, art creatively emerging as a process of osmosis. So a still life lies in our naturally occurring function of permeability, our human, geological, biological flow that depends on the connective tissue in our heads and on our bodies for its creative function, a function that creates beings of beauty who are functions of osmosis.