Undisclosed Dis/Closure: 4 poets at Small Press Distribution

A quick review- the first of many, I hope- of a reading held at Small Press Distribution in Berkeley, California on Wednesday, January 11th, 2017 featuring Kristen Kosmas, Lisa Rogal, Claudia La Rocco, and Daniel Owen

For years now I’ve lived something in the order of a mere stone’s throw away from (the legendary? I feel like it’s legendary) Small Press Distribution in Berkeley, California. Yesterday evening, for the first time- I am ashamed to admit- I finally visited for one of their many poetry readings. The reading popped up in my Facebook timeline, as these sorts of things tend to do, and since it’s the beginning of the year and I’m still in touch with my desire to do certain things I traditionally don’t, I decided to go*. Also since it wasn’t raining yet, and wasn’t scheduled to do so until midnight or so, I decided to walk. Once there and sat surprisingly comfortably with about twenty or so other folks in SPD’s front office, I realized that thinking about the rain as something schedulable was a bit ridiculous: soon from a skylight I imagine would be extremely pleasant to have during any given work day came the tell-tale pitter-patters of intermittent East Bay raindrops. It was the sort of reading, luckily and however, wherein the anxiety that I might have had in regards to the possibility of having to walk home through said rain never won out over my ability to give my attention to the readers. Also luckily, it stopped raining before I had to walk home.

Kristen Kosmas, playwright, performer, and assistant professor of theatre at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, began the night with the preface that she wasn’t a poet and a piece that amounted to a fictional-ish letter to an old friend of hers, who turned out not only to be in the audience, but the final reader for the evening (at the time that Kosmas took to the mic, I was not aware that the Dan in the front row was the Daniel from the Facebook event page). Her piece reminded me of a subtle way that (something like) poetry might function like science fiction: in creating an absurd(ish) scenario wherein she claims to have been abducted by some sort of alien that is running a camp for people to stop being “in-effective,” and by issuing with candor the sort of lyricism made possible by the epistolary mode, she managed to do what I want to call shift her subject position to a place that somehow deepens the real feelings the voice of the letter expresses precisely through this bizarro-world (see: not real) scenario. This shift was effected all the more by what was either an extremely well-done performance, or simply real, which I suppose is the crux of the matter: the fact that the question of how real something is, in a dramatic or lyrical setting, is unanswerable: there very well might be this oscillation between fiction and nonfiction, but we’ll never know.

Lisa Rogal’s poetry accomplished something similar, but only insofar as it actually did something in a sort of opposite sense, something that a lot of contemporary poetry seems to do- sometimes effectively, often not. Both Kosmas’ and Rogal’s work had to do with a diegesis; their oppositeness has to do with the fact that while the world of Kosmas’ world was (at least partially) fantastic (see my scifi reference above), Rogal’s was realist. I wanted to say it was that mode of contemporary poetry that is something like creative nonfiction or journalism, something that told you about something you couldn’t really know in a way you wouldn’t normally know it or think it, but that’s not all of it. I think a lot of folks might describe the kind of poetry Rogal does as something that expresses the writer’s “personality,” as in her work puts a personal touch, or spin, on everyday occurrences that we all experience, etc. etc. And honestly? This sort of poetry usually bores me. I’m not saying it’s not entertaining- it actually usually is. Powered by the charisma or the quirk of whoever is reading it, I find myself chuckling along, nodding in that weird affect-exchange space that affirms the fact that I do, in fact “get it.” But I wasn’t annoyed by Rogal’s work. There was something in it that had to do with that undisclosed nature of the oscillation between fiction and fantasy that I felt when listening to Kosmas’, only here the threshold straddled was between that which can be known or experienced, and that which cannot- or should not- between people, either in everyday interactions or when sharing common experiences with others, via poetry or in everyday speech. More than simply the question of whether or not chicken tastes like chicken to you and pickles to me, or whether or not there is such a thing as a one-to-one translation between any words ever, it’s a question of losing track of when and whether or not we slide into and out of each others’ consciousnesses somehow, how something that maybe shouldn’t feel familiar can feel familiar in much the same way a dream just out of reach of memory lingers there on the margins.

Claudia La Rocco- poet, performer, and critic for ArtForum and The New York Times- read third, bringing a certain gravity to the evening. At first, her work seemed to echo the mode of Rogal’s: a strong voice cutting through various daily encounters, either sliding cutting critiques into the gaps left by the various brokenesses of everyday life or creating the cuts herself. I found myself thinking about how I would write about these writers during her first poems, and was thinking this about the cuts, when she introduced her final piece, which was a splicing together of her editorial/ critical notes with notes from her physical therapy sessions. Fittingly, the vacuous question that fuels all narrative was left unanswered prior to the poem, and only fragmentedly so by/ during the poem, which worked to create that space of undisclosed dis/closure mentioned above, with regards to the realness of Kosmas’ drama and the improbability of real-world free-indirect-discourse with Rogal’s work. This time it’s the question of diagnosis, of the urge to work one’s way back from the symptoms, if the text of the poetry-notes could be seen to be anything like a symptom (the documentary mode of notes seeming to better enable this possibility). But the splicing, the enmeshing of two documents atop each other seemed to want to fight against any systematization that might capitalize on allegory. It felt like an anthropological experiment, an inquiry, and observation as much for La Rocco as it was for us; a standing outside of and looking back at herself. Afterwards I perused the few books that were offered for sale, and was particularly taken with a work she edited entitled “I Don’t Poem,” in which sixteen different artists were asked to write, or provide, text/ poems to accompany sixteen color fold out plates of their work. It’s a book I want, and a mode I’m smitten by and haven’t seen enough of (have I not been looking in the right places?).

Finally the addressee of Kosmas’ letter, Daniel Owen, whose work- unlike the three previous readers- eschewed the diegetic or modal emphasis, focusing instead on the surface of its own language, took the mic to finish the evening. This sort of work, work that leans towards being about its own form, as opposed to its content, is usually the sort of work I am drawn toward. In its simplest register it’s wordplay, at the other end it’s extreme gibberish, and in between exist a vast amount of fantastic possibilities along a wide array of competing vectors. It’s here that words, concepts, notions, the bricabrac mechanics of prosaic language are all fucked with either for their own sake or for the magic of nonsensical allegory- that bizarre occurrence in which chaos somehow triggers meanings or sensible forms or even, sometimes, manages to elucidate the real world or whatever it is that’s outside the (experience of the) poem at any given moment. This might be a slapdash explanation of a mode of poetry that misses important things or trips up on problems I haven’t noticed, but at the end of the day a more refined exposition is still liable to accusations that poetry like this, poetry that is described like this, falls under the auspice of the “my kid could do that” realm of letters and arts, and that all criticism extrapolated from this sort of art is but an echo (if not a worsening) of the blather. Of course I think *that’s* bullshit, and one of the reasons is because Owen’s work ultimately fails to construct the sort of fantastic meanings or affect or experience that this sort of poetry is fully able to effect. Mostly it reads as a succession of disparate images or concepts, notions or descriptions that are strung together in an effort to relay whatever lyric experience they’re about, but fails to do so. They somehow obscure, somehow come across as blockages, as opposed to in-roads, to their meanings or my experience of them.

I walked home almost immediately, sauntering down the wetted street through too few streetlights- at least I think I was sauntering- and I realized that I really enjoy poetry readings. Also I can’t tell if I’m consistently growing or just a slow learner.

* This isn’t really true (/ the best way to say what I want to say): I actually do attend poetry readings on a somewhat regular basis. I think the idea of this years’ iteration of the old resolution has to do with the determiner “more,” as in go to poetry readings “more,” go to “more” poetry readings, etc. The desire itself isn’t for something other than what I usually desire.

FOUR POEMS

I’ve recently stumbled across four poems that were cut from the final version of COLORS MORE COLORS. You can read them below: a saucy true story about public sex and a lightning strike, a rumination on a bee at Codornices Creek, another rumination on Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee-level eschatology and mild depression I recorded one afternoon at People’s Park, and a eulogy on the mode and style of the poems in what was then my previous (/first) ‘zine, MY FIST IS A BOOK OF ETHICS. All of these are, of course and along with my collaboration with the inimitable Bonnie Cherry, available at both my Etsy store and via my Patreon. Be sure to keep your eyes open for next month’s IT’S HERE THAT I AM COMFORTABLE WITH MYSELF, HERE THAT I HAVE FRIENDS, in which I attempt to both sharpen and put to rest a mode of poetics I’ve been attempting to call the poetry of knuckles. More soon xo and all that.

May 20th, 2011

we ran into the library

soaked by rain, she

put me in her mouth

and then her self

we came and

lightning struck

the steam whistle,

its billowy contents

streaming

out into the storm,

when she noticed

that we’d fucked

next to Whitman

and Miller and

a student who

we didn’t know

was there

Degrees of Proximity Dictating Value

a small green bee

leaves behind no

orbits, nor follows

mindless, mindlessness

buzzes

Its shadow suggests a swarm

or the possibility of one

one of many

sound logic is anything but

knowing the way an animal

crouches before it pounces

or an insect floats or that

a plant grows imperceptibly

but that doesn’t mean we’re

blind, doesn’t mean god

doesn’t see us in order

to exist, doesn’t follow

mindless orbits

soundness of mind is like

the soundness of anything

else: it never actually has

it; is adjacent like smoke

causal like flowers facing

the sun, degrees of proximity

dictating value

there isn’t a mountain

for miles around and as

such it can’t be forced

to disclose itself, what

it can only suggest are

the possibilities made

such by its closeness

to the sun

perhaps granted by the

small trauma of the fact

that I have just killed

the small green bee

having swatted it once

and twice on its return,

sending it softly to the

ground into which I

smashed it with my

foot proclaiming

leave

me

alone

Whole & Entire

… and if the soil present

would itself be so kind

as to rise to the occasion

of swallowing the just and

the unjust so that it might

be known that in doing so

myth would be undone and

the world would fall apart

I would be grateful

grateful for the fistful

grateful for the grasp

and the grasping

grateful for the outness

of the sunlight

for that which I would

be unable to ever know

again would cover me

cover me whole

cover me entire

My Fist Was A Book Of Ethics

all that will have been

will be the case as well

if, that is, indeed, the case

so, you see, it must respond

in kind: by opening- we

are desperately in need of

the verb; to be, at least,

for a moment, the passive;

to have been opened unto

and so we needed the

verb of the question – the

activity that brought

about both the perfectly

present opening as well as

the state of openness

that shoots out an inability

to delineate the limits of

the verb to open, that forces

us to choose, to trace

a line of force from

emptying object to

emptying object until

what ends and begins

becomes a flow that

bleeds out its own

trajectory into every

nothingness

and so to regain,

to gather up our

useful singularity,

we must remember

the rhythm of

the litany along

which we travel

 

Kylo Ren Eleison: Patricide & The Pull to the Light in The Force Awakens

Throughout history, temptation has existed as that thing which draws one away from the good and toward the bad. Both a mediation and a catalyst, the word temptation itself is metonymic for that toward which it leads: “lead me not into temptation” is a second-order request: please make it so that I’m not even tempted to do the thing the temptation leads me towards.

Kylo-Ren-Mask-Off
Here let me just place my helmet in this pile of my grandfather’s ashes.

This is not the case with Star Wars Episode VII’s villain, Kylo Ren, for whom the formal structure of temptation remains the same, even though the script is flipped. In an essential scene we find Kylo alone before the famed half-melted helmet of his grandfather, where he monologues: “Forgive me. I feel it again. The pull to the light.” So while for everyone else in Kylo’s family and the universe, temptation is the vacuum of evil, for Kylo it is the opposite: the idea of doing good, of being good, draws him away from his desire to stay bad, be badder, or both.

The whole form of this question feels like that seminal moment of western subjectivity ala Paul’s exposition of the law in Romans chapter seven (verse 15b): “… (f)or what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.” Kylo Ren shows how this logic is applicable in all directions, regardless of which law one attempts to obey. A verse later Paul clarifies: “But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.” It very well might be that in episode VIII we will see Kylo do something good, thus having the occasion to proclaim “it is no longer I who do it, but the light that dwells in me.” Indeed, it is Leia’s insistence that there is “still light in him” that convinces Han to meet his brilliant fate out on that bridge over that gratuitous bottomless pit.

And Han himself plays an essential role in a second script-flipping, itself made possible by the first: here instead of a sacrificial son, we have the sacrificial father. He even gets his own, condensed garden of Gethsemane: moments before he meets his end at the hands of Kylo Ren, Kylo implores him: “I know what I have to do, but I don’t know if I have the strength to do it.” Prescient movie watchers and those of us with perfect hindsight know now that the “it” Kylo speaks of is the act of patricide (probably ordered by Snoke to help make Kylo eviler). But it isn’t only the fact that Kylo asks Han for his help, but that Han responds in the absolute affirmative: “Yes! Anything.” Now to be sure, Han’s fatherly sacrifice has more of an unwittingness to it- it’s hard to believe that Christ, as he was struggling so hard with his own humanity in the garden that he sweated blood, didn’t actually know (him being God and all) what was going to happen before he uttered the Han Soloan dictate: that “not my will, but thine, be done.” But this adds a layer of virtue to Han’s self-emptying, considering the fact that Harrison Ford’s performance doesn’t look as though Han really believes that his son’s about murder him. But alas, he does, and the image of the reverse crucifixion is made even clearer when we realize that Kylo Ren’s sword itself LOOKS LIKE A CROSS.

Klyoa Eleison
Is that an upside down red laser cross or are you just super pissed off to see us?

Yes, the oft-talked-about raggedy broadsword looking impliment is a cross, and it is worth noting that when Kylo finally deals Han’s death blow it is an upside down cross, which is both extremely metal as well as fitting, considering the inverted nature of the narrative. 

If the above is the answer to the question we had prior to The Force Awakens- how are they going to mess with the forms essential to Star Wars?- then the new question becomes: did Kylo Ren’s patricidal act do the trick? Did it make him more powerful than Vader? Or Luke Skywalker? Did it make him eviler? Did it- or will it help- push him beyond a threshold from whence there is no returning? In a word: No.

The Christianity that I was familiar with for a long time (Easter Orthodoxy) liked to talk about Christ’s crucifixion as a sort of trick god played on the devil: the metaphor was that of a fishhook, with Christ as the worm. Since the fall the lot of humanity was death- everyone had to do it. But since Christ was both man AND god, and since being god meant being deathless, being life itself, it was therefore impossible for either a) him to *actually* die (though they say he did, and they say that’s the beautiful paradox), but more importantly, b) for the devil to handle that action. Submitting life to death broke the bonds of the latter over the former, and thereby flipped the script on the whole shebang. I think something similar happens with Han & Kylo.

In short, since Han offered to do whatever it was that Kylo needed, Kylo will be forever grateful to him for that. This whole being-the-baddest-dude-in-the-universe thing is obviously really important to Kylo, and since it’s important to Kylo, it’s important to his dad.

Christ tricked the trickster: the devil thought that he’d figure out a way to kill god, but god was all “gotcha!” The same thing happens here: regardless of how heartfelt Kylo’s “torn apart”-edness was, the endgame was to be an eviler Kylo: trick your dad into letting you kill him! But then it turns out that this very act of “letting” nullifies the ends of said patricide, foiling said wicked plans. Unless of course the agent of said plans is really Snoke, in which case Snoke has Kylo exactly where he wants him, just like Han said mere seconds before his death: “Snoke is using you for your power; when he get what he wants, he’ll crush you.” and Han is still right.

At the end of the day, Kylo will never be able to let Han’s kenotic sacrifice go- and that never-letting-go is going to play an essential role in the narrative at some point in the future of the franchise- mark my words.

Now Available: The Book of Foxes

Three Excerpts:


“Before it was a dramatic liturgy it was a codex of fragments, a mysterious hodgepodge with a multiplicity of mysterious original sources. Only here instead of time ruthlessly and slowly having her way with words written on marble walls, we are the agents by which what does not get said is not read.”

my poem is the object of your body

with its divots and sluices, bulbous and tremblings

shoulders in high-relief against morning suns and freckles

I shoot my hot self into that which can be filled no further

am folded into myself into a blurred oblivion

only to re-materialize at three in the morning

when she thought that I’d died because I’d died

and been resurrected”

*

“with ravenous mouth

with wildest hyperbole

with hummingbird heart”

For more info on The Book of Foxes – and to buy it- check out my etsy store.

 

THE BOOK OF FOXES

BOF

Last April marked the fourth year of my relationship with my brilliant and beautiful partner, Bonnie Cherry. To commemorate those years I decided to put together a one-off ‘zine, a gift for her, that compiled a wide array of miscellaneous writings, including but not limited to

  • text lifted from her old blog- many of which themselves include bits and pieces of texts from everyone from Sappho to Whitman to Neruda to Ginsberg- that I chopped up and splayed out over the page,
  • selections from and of my own original poetry, and
  • selections from or whole pieces of works from some of our favorite contemporary women Us Halloweenpoets.

It was because of this last component that publishing the book never seemed like an option. That was: until Bonnie suggested we do it- and our first official collaborative work was born.

The work, entitled “The Book of Foxes,” will be out in early April, and is, according to its preface,

a dramatic liturgy to eros and spring, in celebration of our selves and our genesis. comprised of fragments from a multiplicity of source texts (and a few complete pieces) that have been curated and composed into its present form for the purpose of oral recitation preferably under the influence of holy wine or some such similar beverage in the event of the proper occasion of your choosing, it is a chaotic litany intended to be read dialogically with aplomb, bravado, and increasing levels of inebriation and/ or erotic stimulation.

The work is- just to be clear- an explicit work of eroticism that many would consider #NSFW. What follows is a wee taste, if you will, of a softer passage that yet displays what the text looks, feels, and sounds like: it begins with a poem that I composed specifically for The Book of Foxes, moves to Fragments of Fragments of Sappho, and then to the first of the many curated installations from Bonnie’s old blog, dated May 2009.


 

غ – Pronouncing Pomegranate

Writing with one’s lips, as it were, as on someone’s skin

the myriad words it takes to touch the word Pomegranate:

of the kingdom plantae and unranked as angiosperm,

eudicots (Eudicotidae or eudicotyledons), rosids;

order: myrtales, of the family lythraceae and the

lonely genus punica; species: p. granatum,

binomial name punica granatum synonym

punica malus (and this by Linnaeus, in seventeen-fifty-eight).

To say it is to trace its surface

but not yet to have plumbed

any of its possible depths:

The seeded – granatum – apple – pomum – the pomum-granatum

mistaken by the early English as the “Apple of Grenada,”

the pomme-grenade, the palm-grenade, the hand grenade

which comes from the Arabic spelled

rayn – raa – nun – alif – thaa – ta-marbuta

(ta-marbuta – thaa – alif – nun – raa – rayn)

atubram-at – aaht – fila – nun – aar – nyar

a language roiling in and around itself in reverse,

the rayn its roiling ‘g’ in the back of one’s throat

speaking with seeds sliding down one’s throat

pronouncing with a rayn the words

orgasm

hand grenade

pomegranate

ONE

and I long and yearn

Eros has shaken my mind,

wind sweeping down the mountain on oaks

I will arrange my limbs

on soft cushions

as long as you are willing

واحد

Whitman’s “urge and urge and urge,

always                       procreant

I feel an unbelievable                                        urge to destroy:

to break bottles and fine china,         to play trumpets and castanets, to hurl red paint at gray walls and, honestly, just burn things down.

and of the almost forgotten feeling of a soaking sweat with a light dusting of street grime

[I have gone marking the atlas of your body                  with crosses of fire.

My mouth went across: a spider, trying to hide.

In you, behind you, timid, driven by thirst.

Something sings, something climbs to my ravenous mouth.

Oh to be able to celebrate you with all the words of joy.

Sing, burn, flee, like a belfry at the hands of a madman.

My sad tenderness, what comes over you all at once?

When I have reached the most awesome

and the coldest summit

my heart closes like a nocturnal flower.]


For more information, please email me at joshuaanderson@berkeley.edu

What Happens Stays

It’s something you have to remember, then remind yourself: Vegas is not Vegas. And this not really in any highfalutin sort of way, either: the Last Vegas Strip isn’t *in* Las Vegas, and it never has been. What it is in isn’t even a city, it’s in an unincorporated community – well, three, actually, (only one of which is Paradise). I’ve said this before, which is also the point. And there is no pure Las Vegas, on or off the strip: looking at Las Vegas is like watching an animated gif of its own history in time lapse, looped: everything grows and burns and grows and burns and grows and burns (controlled burns), reinventing itself as something new and something of the same. But this growth is up, then down, never out. It might be now, in its current moment, with its behemoths clenched up around the boulevard like a sphincter, that things might finally be seen to harden, and Vegas might actually change itself into staying the same (and then it will be able to die?). Maybe that’s what is significant about the seeming de-emphasis on gambling, and the growth of high-end consumer capitalism. But I don’t know: I don’t imagine the two can’t co-exist.

Downtown Vegas (which is actually *in* Vegas) is itself a kitsch re-representation of what it used to be (what it has always only or ever used to be), which might’ve already been that, but that today isn’t sure if it knows it or not. It flickers because it’s an ironic city, maybe even the ironic city- but it’s real. The forces that make Vegas Vegas are material: they have to do with tax bases and legality and policy and wealth: what kind of place is more profitable (what are the profitable possibilities for this kind of place), what is able to be done here as opposed to there, what is able to be said about what is expected to happen once you’ve either agreed to or have already performed the necessary transaction, what must necessarily remain unsaid.

It’s out of this morass that the compulsion to go, to look, to touch and taste and participate- to write- springs. Like a vacuum or a call to worship or a, you know, temptation. Not to make sense or elucidate, but to partake of, up to and against the what-happens-stays injunction: to disclose, to reveal, to undress.

Forces
“The forces that give something form are the forces that bring something into being versus the forces that halt it.”

When: My Rejected Broke Student Essay

Last Fall the University Daily Californian hosted an essay contest called the “Broke Berkeley Student Essay,” for which students were invited to “mourn exorbitant textbook prices, deplore the inherent difficulties of finding affordable housing, bemoan the innate complications of financial aid and speak to how these worries have shaped your experiences, your goals and yourself.” After hearing through the grapevine that not a single student had submitted an entry, I threw one together and sent it in. I was immediately informed that it would be published with slight changes, changes I was unable to abide by and which mostly consisted of a short line at the very end that blamed “the system” for my troubles. So instead I’ll share it here, in all of its almost perfect word-countedness, for your schadenfreude.

When you are denied a tour of the facility in which your child will be starting daycare because you are applying for a government subsidy to cover the cost, only to find out later that your child has been placed in a temporary trailer in a parking lot adjacent to the fully-equipped house in which the non-subsidized children receive their care.

When down the street from your child’s daycare trailer you pass the football stadium, recently renovated to the tune of 321 million dollars, on your way to pay your rent- which you do in person in order to make sure that the money goes directly to your rent, and not to a number of mystery fees that have popped up on your CARS account- only to find that the cashier’s windows have been closed because the employees there have been required to close early so that that they can sell concessions at that evening’s football game.

When you spend half a day waiting in line at Social Services (something you do an average of twice a month) to address what turns out to be a clerical error that has cut your family’s food stamps by more than fifty percent for more than six months, and you wonder if the clerk in question found it hard to believe that the university actually paid you so little.

IG Sproul Plaza

When, after that debacle you are informed that you qualify for cash assistance (you rush home to draw up your new budget, in which you imagine income finally exceeding expenses) and a week later you are informed that in order to continue receiving this aid you will have to attend a personal finance workshop, which is only offered on the days that both you and your spouse have both work and school. The aid is cut by one third, and your income once again falls prey to your expenses.

When there are only three weeks left in the semester, and you are informed that, due to the shoddy organization between the various entities that award financial grants and loans, you now find yourself owing the University of California $1,200 dollars, which you no longer have because you’ve budgeted (see: spent) it.

When in a panic you seek out the folks from the Student Parent Center and they help you with a budget appeal, but your expenses don’t qualify so you appeal that appeal, and find yourself sending it to someone higher up the food chain, who tells you they will consider making an exception, but that they can’t meet that day because they’ll be out of the office. You deliver your appeal in person anyway, with your two-year-old in tow, and find that the woman is, indeed, in her office, so you get to have a meeting. At this meeting you are allowed a “one-time exception” and informed that your child-support checks don’t count as qualified expenses. Your child plays peacefully in the window with an Obama bobblehead.

Or when, after picking up your child from daycare, you stop at The International House to buy a muffin to make change for the bus because your child lost your student ID, but the power goes out because of an explosion on campus, which is more than probably the direct result of the university’s 700 million dollar backlog of deferred maintenance, and you are therefore forced to attempt boarding the 52 without the proper payment. You think to yourself “I am carrying a two-year-old, one Trader Joe’s bag full of library books, another full of baby gear, and a backpack- surely the bus driver will have compassion?” He doesn’t. You try to slip by but he calls you out. You tell him your situation, he says you can’t ride, you say you’re riding anyway, he parks the bus and threatens to call the police. You get as close to him as you can (the sign about the 10k dollar fine for punching a bus driver looms behind him), and drop an F-bomb in his face. Storming off the bus, down Bancroft, your toddler caresses your cheek, tells you “It’s okay, Papa.”

When you can literally feel the awesome power of money as you sit across the table from the lawyer for the administration of the University of California, Berkeley, for eight hours as they grill you on the events of November 9th, 2011, when everybody in the room knows exactly what happened that day: the cops brutally beat you and a bunch of other students, many of which later filed a lawsuit, which this deposition is a part of. For eight hours, in a slick high rise building in San Francisco, they bully you, and treat your deposition as though it were your trial- cameras in your face, the clickety-click of the stenographer muffled by thick carpet, marble, and money. Your lawyers work pro bono, the UC’s have more money than you can dream about, which is why they always win: they can drag this out ad infinitum, but for us time is money- and we don’t have any. Box after box of facts about your life are presented to you as if they weren’t yours, as if your life was a weapon to be used against you. At some point, a lawyer points out that the police were just doing their jobs- that thing we do to make money.

How Do We Register Death?

the beautiful lady

How do we register death? With sentiment: “she was special, it was too soon;” with ethical imperatives: it “puts things in perspective,” makes you realize “what you’ve got;” with exploitation : “if only people realized X,” or “you were all doing Y while Z was dying;” or simply as a symptom (which feeds the figure of the victim), which often, but not always, plays into the hands of exploitation. But these aren’t apprehensions of death, but whatever happens after we realize we can’t really think about death proper, in the same way we can’t really think about a pure ‘nothing.’ It’s a shame the way we think about death, the way we’re unable to fit a proper reaction to its unthinkability into anything but these tired forms- forms that are then taken up and animated by tired ideology. The only other options seems cold, fatalist, tautological: (*sigh*) death just *is,* it’s “part of life.” We meet the profundity of death with a litany of platitudes (“it’s a gift” (pfft)) because we can’t think of it as anything other than profound, or some other superlative sense. We feed it to our life, we give it to ‘memory,’ which we think of as something like a parent standing on the sidelines while we play, knowing that they’ll hold it for us until we’re done. Are we more afraid of forgetting? Once we’ve dropped the ideologically sentimental bullshit- “I will always remember you”- what do we do? Just let it fade? Why not? Why do we scramble to apprehend something in the midst of its absence? Why can’t we let it not make sense*?

 

*Although in another sense, death makes perfect sense: if your body doesn’t have what it needs to function, it ceases to function. The whole world operates according to this logic, which still somehow feeds the senselessness: when people can’t eat, they die; when they don’t have access to healthcare, they die; when you don’t have a home to shelter yourself, you are closer to death, and you die; when you enslave people, occupy a nation, “disagree” with their lifestyle, death abounds; when you create the set of conditions at institutions of higher learning that drive people to kill, when wages do not provide the necessary requirements to sustain life, and that lack of sustenance reaches out into a future that looks the same or worse, people die. When that future is increasingly weighted down with the negative force of debt, death as absence makes more and more sense. Ghosts make sense. Death flourishes, and we can trace its logics all over this side of the divide.

Four years ago the police, at the behest of UC Berkeley administration, brutalized me and a bunch of other students and occupy demonstrators. I was a brand new graduate student, and I think I can now safely and dispassionately say that my experience at Cal has gone downhill ever since.

The difference between finding yourself at the end of a police baton and the endless processes of humiliation, isolation, exploitation of labor, and voluntary servitude is one only of degree.

Don’t be deceived: they will do this to you if you are perceived as a threat, and they won’t feel bad, and they will try to get out of taking responsibility – they are experts (because they have the power and the capital) at getting out of taking responsibility. And as far as the myth of the progressive birthplace of the free speech movement goes: I urge you to chuck that bullshit clean out the window. The vitality that has been witnessed at UC Berkeley (and anywhere else for that matter) has ALWAYS been that of the students: it never has been, and never will be, the legacy of the administration or the school itself.

The first thing UC Berkeley did to me was break me. I’ve been spending the vast majority of my time since trying to pick up the pieces, and I’ve seen far too many brilliant young undergraduates get pumped through and shat out on the other end, confused, hurt, and finding it difficult to deal with the world.