Tuesday, June 27, 2006

a manifesto of sorts

Wow. I am way behind on my blogging.

This morning it occurred to me that I have been thinking a lot about relationships and that it is about time that my camp released some kind of a statement regarding love.

This was brought on by two things. One, the recent realization that I do not fit in the conventional conceptualization of relationships. And with this, the attendant suspicion that a lot of other people don't either. And two, I spoke to one of my ex-boyfriends for the first time in almost a year (wherein I realized that we should be friends again because he's a pretty cool guy; so I will no longer refer to him as my ex-boyfriend, but instead, as my friend. A, can I get a "hell yeah"?).

Okay, so. How do I "not fit"? Lots of folks will assume that this has something to do with confused sexuality. This is, uh, not the case. I'm straight, y'all, and about this fact I am not the least bit conflicted. But I think that it has become the norm to immediately ascribe an individual's discomfort with conventional relationships to some kind of flaw in her personality that can then be pathologized as "closeted" or whatever. That is, it's not the relationships that are flawed, it's you.

Likewise the less offensive but still problematic idea that a given individual is "not ready" for a relationship, thus suggesting that the individual will be somehow "cured" when she fianlly arrives at the ultimate goal of being "ready." This idea implies, of course, that we humans are all teleogically oriented toward the end of a relationship with one other human being as the fullest realization of existence, whether that relationship is homo or hetero. But look! The terms homo- and hetero- only exist if we accept this single, finally overdetermined relationship as our end goal. Life, then, becomes an exercise in the unification of fragments; our activities are oriented toward making these fragments into a whole, which whole is represented by the ever-elusive relationship, which is of course modeled on the heteronormative family structure, and, VIOLA! You're totally screwed.

And how easy it is to fail at this! We are more or less doomed to defeat here; yet so many people persist in believing that they are not whole, successful, fulfilled people unless they have completed the puzzle of "being with someone." You thought that the idea that men and women are failures unless they are married was archaic? But it's all around us!

Now, I am not saying anything that schizoanalysis hasn't said before. Still, I think it bears looking into how this family romance can rain havoc on the life of a single young gal. I have, in the past few years, had the pleasure of dating several very nice men. I loved one or two of them, yet my relationships with them resembled "real," or "good" relationships the least. I'm not excusing some of the fucked up things these guys did; I am, however, nonetheless uncomfortable with the number of times I was told that I "deserved better" from a relationship. This posits an ideal relationship in which I do not believe but that I am unfortunately still assumed to be unsuccessfully striving toward. I mean, if my end goal had been to get married and have kids and a 401K, yes, these relationships were failures. But what if there was no end goal? What if these relationships provided me with some moments, hours, and days of happiness in the continuum of my life? What if we look at relationships as moments to be lived, as different occurrences of intimacies instead of as a narrative that leads to a predetermined end? More plainly, I don't want to sacrifice too much of my life by treating it as something that needs to be "gotten past" to get to the next point, which is "success." These relationships can't be counted as failures simply because they didn't "get me somewhere." Nor would I call them "learning experiences," as though they were some kind of training for the real thing.

Although if it were that simple to simply "re-ideologize" a bad relationship into a good one, we wouldn't be having this (one-sided) conversation. These relationships were also plenty bad in real, palpable, immediate ways. And hence, I am not in them anymore. But they weren't just practice for the big one, either.

The "family romance" of a teleologically directed narrative indeed interferes in my more casual dating life as well. I have had the pleasure of dating a couple of wonderful guys in recent years, but these dates never became relationships. It was not because of any flaws in the respective men, nor, in this case, was it because of any flaws in me. It was simply that these otherwise great guys made the mistake of thinking that they knew me far too quickly; they seemed to assume that they knew what "women" wanted, and then behaved toward me as though they were following a script that they had bought from the writers of "Sex and the City." That is to say, they forgot they were on a date with ME and instead substituted "a woman" for "this woman here." Variously, these guys did things like spending an hour with me and then telling me that "I made them happy"; calling WAY TOO MUCH; assuming familiarities that didn't exist, like telling me that I was "smart" or "not like other girls" (you could maybe assume these things if you had known me for months, but not hours); ignoring me when I told them I was somewhat uncomfortable with relationships, choosing to believe instead that I simply needed to be "persuaded." Now, how many of you are thinking "What is she doing complaining about these guys when it's clear that she's just not mature enough/ready for a relationship?" My point exactly. I don't especially appreciate my feelings and convictions being treated as symptoms that need to be overcome. At that point I begin to feel suffocated and disappeared, like my actual self has been swallowed by the idea of a relationship.

But this is all too easy to do when we assume that we are all traveling toward the same goal: to be one half of a successfully formed "whole." Of course, anyone could point out the obvious here: I am spending most of my time reading, alone, and singing classic rock songs to Kristine's cat. Uh, is there something wrong with that? My biological clock is ticking? Not so much. "Getting married" is not a goal, although a lot of people think it is. What they might not be considering is that a wedding is their real goal; I don't ever want to have a relationship so that I can get married. Because what if I am not "whole" then (and so many, many people aren't, and it's a devastating realization)? I want to get married because I can't NOT get married. I want a relationship that is based on wanting as many moments as possible with someone because his presence makes my life a nicer place, a relationship that is part of my entire life, not its diagnostic marker. So, for now at least, none is fine.

Please discuss.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

i want you

consider the lobster. when i could have one, i never wanted one. now, though, i am seriously considering how badly i really need that major organ. i want a lobster (or six). not the kind i can order at a restaurant for $50, but the kind that i pull out of the ocean, steam, and then direct to my plate.

maybe with some mussels also. and fiddleheads. and lots of melted butter. and blueberry muffins. and corn. and then, pie.

this is not allegorical. as my sister-in-law would say, i am having a lobster freak-out.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

and #2

"No one forgave him this, whereas Freud got full pardon. Reich was the first to attempt to make the analytic machine and the revolutionary machine function together. In the end, he only had his own desiring-machines, his paranoiac, miraculous, and celibate boxes, with metallic inner walls lined with cotton and wool."

(thanks Deleuze and Guattari)

alternate title for my blog #1

"another anchorite who knows the train times"

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

talking points

1. the impending opening of our local branch of IKEA:

of course i have to weigh in on IKEA. that's not to say, however, that i am going to use this opportunity to critique capitalism by way of this swedish-design megalith. quite the opposite. i like IKEA as much as, if not more than, the next guy. the company provides high quality, attractive goods that are genuinely affordable. that is, the company says they are affordable, and, lo and behold, they are. from what i understand, IKEA's labor practices are decent as well: no sweat-shop labor, employees paid above living wages, great benefits and childcare policies. it seems that a corporation can indeed prosper by doing, more or less, the right thing. i plan to shop at my nearby IKEA as soon as, and as frequently as, possible.

but: i recently heard an ad on the radio announcing IKEA Canton's grand opening on june 7. this advertisement informed -- nay encouraged -- shoppers that they could begin to line up at the store a full 48 hours before its opening. who would do this? who needs furniture this badly? it's not concert tickets, people. nobody, and i mean nobody, needs home furnishings more than i do (come to my apartment and see for yourself the relative lack of such essential things as beds and places to sit; also, adequate lighting; and the long awaited luxury item: a foot stool!), but there is no way that i am spending 2 days lined up in a fucking parking lot off I-275. i have lived for this long without the foot stool; it's not going to kill me to wait a few more days.

but: god forbid IKEA should run out of foot-stools or futon covers. what we have here is the faulty scarcity principle upon which modern shopping (and, of course, the long and tortured history of capitalism itself) relies. do these would-be shoppers actually think that if they are not one of the first shoppers in the door, IKEA is going to RUN OUT of furniture? or that they must somehow be the first to get one of IKEA's mass-produced products in order to prove that they are not copy-catting the neighbors? welcome back to the 3rd grade. hint: if you are buying furniture at IKEA in the first place, you would do well to give up any illusion of your own originality before someone gets hurt.

this whole "lining up at IKEA" thing becomes more fascinating the more i think about it. you know, i might just drive over there myself and ask those people if they are OUT OF THEIR GODDAMN MINDS.
And though I am aware that Paris is, apparently, totally over, here's an enormous archive of photographs from the Siege and the Paris Commune:


Just the abundance of images, even though some are, frankly, less than exciting, makes me want to DO something with them. There is a section devoted to documenting the writing on the backs of these photographs; I have always been fascinated by the idea of how what is on the BACK of photographs might crystallize these fragments of an archive into dialectical images. Kristine has actually done me one (much) better to do work on this; I propose that we make something from this archive, as perhaps Olson would have suggested. Or, better yet, What Would Walter Benjamin Do?

Even better, the archive is in special collections at Northwestern: road trip.
I have never been especially "into" Charles Olson, but maybe I should be. Check out Ben Friedlander's recent address to a mob of Olsonites:


Talking point #2 seems especially apt.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

money money money money

shockingly, this is not another blog post about How Much I Need Some.

Having been encouraged to do so by several friends, I recently read Barbara Ehrenreich's _Nickled and Dimed_. The book, subtitled "On (Not) Getting by In America," chronicles Ehrenreich's immersive investigation of America's "working poor." The book's most important work, I think, is detailing the exploitative mechanisms that produce the -- pardon my french -- completely fucked class of people that our government optimistically terms "working poor." That a staggering proportion of Americans are forced to live, day-to-day, in what amounts to an economic chinese finger trap is shameful, to say the least. The "American Dream" is a lie, and our society is essentially sacrificing an enormous segment of the population in order to cover that up; according to Ehrenreich's book, and I believe this, it is categorically impossible to come from nothing and to make a live-able life for oneself. That is to say, in practice, jobs like waitressing, housecleaning, retail sales, and telemarketing do not pay people enough to survive -- they may, in theory, but when realities like security deposits, car payments, childcare, and healthcare are factored in, America has basically created a situation wherein the floor is always sliding out from beneath those who do most of the jobs we have come to take for granted. But in order to rectify the situation, the government and business owners of America would have to admit that the very things on which they have been basing their policies for most of the existence of our nation are profoundly broken. And that it is, by and large, the societal intangibles -- non-traditional family structures, self-created communities, "alternative" legalities, and I would even extend this to include gangs and the mob -- are the sustaining structures of our nation.

This is, of course, a fascinating discovery. Take, for example, Steven Shaviro's perfectly reasoned passage on what we might call "post-Marxist" -- by which I am designating, basically, Deleuzian -- economics:

"Marx says that the very development of capitalist relations unleashes forces — for instance, possibilities of widespread material abundance, as well as collective modes of organization — that those same relations need to repress in order to perpetuate themselves. So, as capitalism develops, it is literally bursting at the seams: it needs to control and push back the very things that it makes possible. It needs to reimpose scarcity, and privatize what is inherently common and public. This stress is a dialectical contradiction, and its result is crisis: and ideally, for Marx, crisis is the point of leverage at which revolutionary change can occur, destroying capitalist property relations and replacing them with a common, or communist, system that is much more in accordance with the abundance that capitalist relations themselves inadvertently produced.

Now, there is something overly mechanical here about how the Hegelian dialectic neatly inverts itself, so that a contradiction directly leads to its own solution on a higher level. And in fact, of course, things haven’t happened this way. Capitalism today is not threatened by crisis; indeed, crisis is the tool it uses to renew itself. The “dialectic” by which a contradiction is resolved on a higher level is entirely absorbed within capitalism itself. When the “contradictions” of what I like to call FKW (the Fordist/Keynesian/welfare-stateist system) caused trouble in the 1960s and 1970s, the result was not to trouble the capitalist system, but precisely to allow capital to regenerate itself on high-tech, neoliberal lines. (This was the case whether we refer to social movements and to stagflation in the “advanced” western countries, to stagnation in the “socialist” bloc, or to anti-colonialist struggles and subsequent nation-building in the Third World).

In this situation, contradiction and negativity have become rather sterile resources for change, I think. Deleuze’s notion of the virtual allows for a wider range of resources. Instead of a dialectic, Deleuze (and Guattari) propose a vision of how capitalism simultaneously unleashes and regulates fluxes of energy and matter, of desires and subjects and objects. Both the relations of production and the forces of production are here seen as involving multiplicity, i.e. more dimensions than would be the case in an orthodox Hegelian account. Instead of a teleological dialectic, we get what Althusser would call “overderminations.” Capitalism is both a multiplying force and a homogenizing force; it cannot repress and exploit without expropriating actually-existing creativity; it assumes an “outside” that it constantly seeks to repress, but cannot do without. There is no dialectic here to guarantee antagonism; but that is because antagonism is precisely what needs to be produced. And this is where practice can be renewed, experimented with, and invented; precisely because it has been unshackled from the narrow constraints of the dialectic."

Thanks, Steve. I would simply add to that: "What he said."

Yet I don't find Ehrenreich entirely convincing. As is, I guess, to be expected of any journalistic enterprise in which the investigative reporter inserts herself, Ehrenreich doesn't manage to leave her class politics at the door. For one thing, the advantages that she cannot help but enjoy would make this impossible, and would likewise render her work completely disingenuous. Ehrenreich has, however, managed to make herself seem even more disingenuous by her constant reminders of how she deals with her bourgeois guilt by "saving" certain of her friends and co-workers. It's not that she transferred her security deposit into the name of a transient waitress in Key West so that the woman could overcome this crucial obstacle in securing housing that I have a problem with. It's that she reminds us of these kind of acts in a way that begins to seem relentless. The "big story" becomes less about America's working poor and more about a large-scale assuaging of bourgeois guilt. I mean, now that I know how exploitative corporate housecleaning agencies are, I will be sure I don't use one. And I will always offer my housecleaners a glass of water. Too many readers will be satisfied, per Ehrenreich's instructions, it seems, with such a solution.

Ehrenreich also managed to pick three areas in which she could do her experiment relatively unimpeded by such real-world concerns as crime, pollution, and cost of living. She chooses Key West, her hometown; Portland, Maine; and the Minneapolis suburbs. She rejects other locations because of her allergies and the areas' relative lacks of affordable housing. In so doing, Ehrenreich misses an opportunity to accurately present the REAL working poor and also, in many cases, to discover the non-official systems of support that sustain these communities. Instead of considering how non-traditional families and living arrangements might create the conditions for some kinds of success, she instead uses these situations as examples of how downtrodden her "colleagues" are. When women live with their mothers or sisters or boyfriends' mothers, they are painted as examples of failure to attain the Western (bourgeois) standard of living. When a hard-working housecleaner refuses to take time off following an injury, Ehrenreich displays her liberalism by chiding herself for assuming that the woman could take a break: "How do I know, maybe her husband beats her if she misses work." Would Ehrenreich have made this assumption about a doctor, a professor, or even, say, an aerobics instructor? In the end, Ehrenreich perpetuates more stereotypes than she destroys, all in the service of her own bourgeois ideals. Ick.

As you can imagine, I found one of her most greivous errors to be in her characterization of the state of Maine. She "chose Maine for its whiteness"; while this "demographic albinism" makes Maine a less than desirable "place to settle in for the long haul," the author thinks it will make her infiltration of the lower class less suspicious. Well, thank god for that. I don't think that reasoning holds up, since, for one thing, Ehrenreich spends most of the rest of her time in Maine rigorously trying to differentiate herself from her fellow white-people. Her "noble" attempts to defend her co-workers from their tyrranical boss? Not so noble considering that a) she doesn't need the job, and b) they don't want to be defended (but, ah, they don't know what's best for them). So all this "sticking up for the underdog" really serves to do is mark Ehrenreich as "not them." When she attends a church service on a Saturday night (because there is nothing better to do in Portland on a late summer weekend night, for free ?!?), she notes that besides a few people of color, the congregation is "tragically hillbilly." So, in addition to providing her with an opportunity to once again excise her liberal guilt by taking cheap shots at white people, Ehrenreich has also tragically misunderstood the demographics of her chosen state. I am generally the last person to leap to the defense of white people, but come on. Try telling the enormous populations of Penobscots and French-Canadians in Maine that their state lacks diversity and hence deserves to be termed "hillbilly." Ehrenreich clearly prefers the kind of racial difference she can see. At least she can reliably use that kind as a class marker. Being from Maine, I will gladly admit that the state is overwhelmingly -- and often uncomfortably -- white. But to "choose" a state for its "whiteness" and then denigrate said state for being white -- and, likewise, to embark on the project of "being poor" (and white) and then to denigrate those who are poor and white -- makes this reader wonder where the author's race politics really lie.

So, on the whole, I was dismayed by this book. But on the other hand, there are lots of clues within the work about how we might go about the always-questionable job of representation. One way to ensure that you will fail at this, I think, is to attempt to somehow make representation less questionable. The kind of documentary journalism Ehrenreich engages in here would have benefitted from a problematized politics of representation, and not the kind that is problematized so that it can then be neatly solved. As it stands, that seems the objective of _Nickeled and Dimed_, even as the author continually reminds us -- because she still feels guilty, even after trying SO HARD not to -- that she has not found such a solution. Try looking in someone else's class politics, lady.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

so this morning i got up to do the dreaded job of paying my bills.

when i was finished -- and penniless, mind you -- i checked my mail, hoping against hope that maybe my dad had sensed my poverty and sent me an unexpected check.

what i received was, in fact, a letter from my landlord informing me that my rent is being raised.

as kristine would say: why, god, why?