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.


Bring Back The Devils

At some point we made the transition from the supernatural to the hypersomatic. The advent of the modern zombie marks this: no longer animated by black magic, Romero’s “Living Dead” were hypothesized as having been caused by an asteroid- that is: by science.

burning car

It wouldn’t be particularly revelatory to notice the adjoining shift in anxieties: we don’t worry about souls anymore, we worry about bodies: social pandemics that can only be global (which is why we can at least pretend that it’s okay to say “we.”) It’s this anxiety- this not knowing what to do with “what it means to be human” (see: post/ humanism)- and how it affects our politics (see “All Lives Matter”) that pushes all of our stories- and everything that is at stake therein- to hyperbole. The irony, then, would be the ways in which it renders us unable to apprehend and articulate the myriad minute ways in which we- our bodies- are pathologized, regulated, herded (see: Walking Dead, Season 6, Episode 1).

In waiting rooms, the bursars office, the doctor’s office, office hours, at front desks, before the tribunals of middle-management, in emergency rooms, at borders, in refugee camps, in fellowship application after fellowship application, at social services, and on and on, we are processed, micro-managed, and nickled-and-dimed, just waiting for the right set of conditions to wander out of the quarry.

I propose, then, that it is ethically, aesthetically and politically imperative that we bring back the ghosts and the vampires, the spirits and the devils. Bring back the devils and haunt that shit.

On Writing: All the Tedious Visceral Details of its Whatses



It often happens that I get the urge- the real urge, the real desire- to write while I am on a walk. The idea and the desire to share the idea occur simultaneously and quickly proliferate- in perfect order, along the trajectory of a sentence- into the words with which to translate themselves into being. Always in that moment I feel as though if I’d had a piece of paper and a pencil, it would get written perfectly, just the way I wanted, the way it was supposed to get written.

And it’s important, too. It is imperative that one writes. So there are layers of form: closer to the content are the ways in which it is given something like a shape (which words were used, under which generic persuasion was it written (or will it be perceived)), while all the way out at the edges is the formal significance that it was written, has been written, is (or will be) something written.


So the idea that an idea is coextensive with its desire to be written (that feeling I get when I’m on a walk) makes some sort of sense here, considering the cathartic experience of having finally written that which one had the idea to write (first, that what I wrote was the idea I had, second: the fact that I wrote something).

Similarly fitting is the fact that this all happens while I’m on a walk. Having been made into a noun, the verb- which usually takes place between the subject and the object (I walked to the bus stop, etc.)- becomes the object: here what I want to do is how I want to do it. The act and the object become smooshed together, and it is in the space of this short circuit that I desire to write. The aim is the object is the aim.


It happens too quickly: the realization that this sort of writing, this sort of thinking, is too brutally solopsistic, too selfish; that all desire- especially writerly desire- is (of course), simply narcissism.  And the feeling of how important it is that one realizes this- how easy it is to forget the feeling and how difficult it is to return to it- is too soon forgotten. I want to return to the feeling of something being wrong in order to find out how to make it right.



Dealing with the outsides of something- its formality, its contours and textures, etc.- can be very frustrating: dwelling at or around the moment of apprehension, holding up the composition of the problem itself to the light in order to look at it, taking up the desire for the thing before taking up the thing, constantly deferring the desire to say something solid about the thing, thinking about the importance of the fact of the matter- the that something is, or was, or will be- as a prerequisite for thinking about the what that thing is (and all the tedious visceral details of its whatses)- that’s also the domain of the thing that is the verb you use to get to it.


On Desire

I am a point on a circuit of desire*. Am I my most important point? I am a point along one thousand circuits of desire. I am one thousand points across an ocean of desire. Am I coextensive with desire? “I” move, “it” moves, there is neither subject nor object. My lover reads a book and it is communicated to me.

Biff Bolen, “Starfish,” 2014

* Last semester one of my mentors formulated Lacan’s concept of desire (/narcissism) as such: ‘Desire is the desire for the desire of desire.’ Later, during a particularly ugly exchange on twitter, I was accused of having a “fragile ego.” I was forced to ask myself if this was true, realized that it was not, and came face to face with an idea that was new to me: that this is okay.


This fellow said that seeing the Delicate Arch was a religious experience. I immediately both did not doubt this possibility and thought that he was full of shit.

But later I was looking at some lichens and mosses on the trunk of my parents’ old Redbud tree, colors on textures on colors on textures, and the shape of its form of sun-gathering: dispersed, almost horizontal lily pad-like leaves arrayed along multiple overlapping planes, and I realized that the feeling that I’d been experiencing was probably what he meant by “religious.”

The surface of the earth had erupted, was now pockmarked with severe holes made solid around their edges by the intermittent rain. Along the Iris leaves were lines of crusted empty Cicada shells and newly wet young, like an army in disarray, wings at various levels of unwrinkling.

Few creatures seem to serve a purpose so brutally outside themselves: they are the vitamin an eco-system takes every 17 years, a nutrient boost. The few days they have are marked by an eruption and a re-birth. Carcasses from across the spectrum of development litter the ground, drowned before they were born or eaten or too soggy / didn’t dry out fast enough. They’d spent 17 years in some larval darkness, curled and tender just beneath the surface of my parent’s lawn and now, if they’d made it this far, they mate, and their asses fall of.

They screamed for a few days (their tiny tomato matte red eyes with what I suspect to be a false pupil suggesting both blindness and the demonic), then began to fall apart.

I watched as one third of one- lacking a thorax, a wing, and three to four legs- pushed itself along backwards and upside down, in circles on the concrete. Every once in awhile something would catch and it would tip on end, its face on the ground, its one wing vertical, close to the tipping point, its tiny remaining limbs impotently tracing circles in the air… but it never managed to right itself.