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.”

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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.

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.