Translation of an interview with Bifo: “Getting bored again is the last possible adventure”

“Getting bored again is the last possible adventure”
An interview with Franco “Bifo” Berardi on digital technologies’ impact on awareness
By Amador Fernández-Savater

Original Spanish invterview on El Diario:

At the beginning of the 1970s, Pier Paolo Pasolini spoke of an “anthropological mutation” to refer to the effects that the introduction of consumer culture were having in Italy. Consumption was reaching and transforming layers of being that even fascism had not touched. According to the filmmaker, responses from politics, culture, philosophy would have to be rethought in light of these events.

In his most recent book, And: Phenomenology of the End, a work completed over more than 15 years, Franco “Bifo” Berardi – a philosopher and active participant of Autonomist social movements in Italy since the 1970s – describes the “anthropoligcal mutation” of our times: the impact of digital technologies on our perception and sensitivity. What is sensitivity? It is the capacity to interpret nondiscursive, non-codified signals. Well, this capacity is being diminished through our exposure to digital technologies that function according to a very formatted logic, a logic of code.

Everything has to be rethought, asserts Bifo; the scope of the digital mutation is also extremely profound. The atrophy of awareness means an atrophy of empathy, which is the capacity to feel-with, to feel the other as an extension of my existence and body. The sensitive base of solidarity. What monsters live in this radical desensitization? How is it possible to think, create and struggle again in the conditions of radical transformation of perception? Into what kind of humans are we being transformed?

An epidemic of discourtesy

Amador: In contrast to your other books, I would say that this is a book on aesthetics more than on politics. A book where aesthetics is at the forefront and, in any case, politics is redefined as an aesthetic issue – as something that must be seen with our perception and which affects our sensibility. Do you agree?

Bifo: Yes, the meaning of the word “aesthetic” is very broad: it is the science of perception, etc. But it seems to me that aesthetics also has to be an erotics: an understanding of the relationship between bodies. It seems to me that this dialectic between aesthetics and erotics is key for understanding the current mutation. How does the digital mutation modify aesthetic and erotic perception? This is the aim of my book.

Today we are living through the displacement of the erotic perception of bodies by an increasingly informatic perception: the body of the other appears to us as a sign, as information. This mutation has a strong pathogenic component. It is a mutation that produces a lot of suffering, panic, and depression by opening the sensitive organisms that we are to the hyper-saturation of stimulation, eventually arriving at the paralysis of the erotic body.

Amador: Your book is centered on a pair of concepts: “conjunctive logic” and “connective logic.” You say that the current mutation is explained by passing from the first to the second. Could you explain?

Bifo: Conjunction is a vibrating and ambiguous interpretive dimension. Perhaps the best example would be an affectionate courtship: the words that we say to one another offer a non-codified interpretation. It is an interpretation of ambiguous signs and the meaning constantly changes during the relationship. This is conjunction: a fundamental conjunction between the bodies.

On the other hand, connective logic is a relation in which the interpretation of meaning is formalized, reduced to a format. It is a relationship between one machine and another – or between a human being and a machine – where the sign only means one thing. If two machines are formatted in a different way, they cannot understand one another: we need a reduction via formatting that permits the exact interpretation of signs.

This exactitude doesn’t exist in the conjunctive relation. There is no exactitude because the conjunctive human relation is essentially a relation of ambiguity. Naturally, it’s a kind of relation in which violence can arise if there isn’t any education about the conjunction, or what we called “courtesy” in modernity. What we are living in currently, it seems to me, is an epidemic of discourtesy, that is, of the incapacity to decode signs according to desire.

Donald Trump and the dark victory of the baroque

Amador: We encounter the same rejection of conjunctive logic in very different cultures: fears of the body – above all the woman’s body – of mixture and confusion, of ambiguity, etc. And then the defense and praise of the ideal, of the model, of purity. Have you found some alternative cultural humus where there are elements of another possible society, of another relation between bodies and signs?

Bifo: To describe the transition to the hegemony of the connective, it seemed necessary to do a kind of cartography of the cultural forms that have developed in human history. Naturally, I only chose a few moments and reduced this anthropological investigation to one essential set of alternatives: puritanism and the baroque.

Culturally – that is, beyond its properly religious definition – puritanism is a cancellation of the ambiguity of the inter-human relationship. Thus a cancellation of history itself. We could consider the founding of the United States. A historian has said that the United States is the first nation in the world that was born as an expression of the word: first the Constitution, then the community. But of course, before the word is the destruction of the preceding history: the history of the indigenous people who lived there.

And not only that: there was also the destruction, the cancellation, and the forgetting of everything that happened in Old Europe. The Puritans, the founding fathers, escaped Europe to forget the dirty history of Catholicism and European Protestantism. Forgetting the impurity of Europe and erasing the indigenous impurity, they say, we create purity, the city over the colonies, the New Jerusalem. We cannot miss the fact that it is on this same land, which was born out the purity of the word, where the purity of digital communication was subsequently born.

Amador: On the other side is the baroque. How do you understand it?

Bifo: It is a phenomenon that accompanies the history of puritanism, as a minoritarian cultural, aesthetic, perceptual, and political current, but always present during the modern ages. The baroque is essentially a proliferation of signs, the spectacle of that proliferation. It is no coincidence that the baroque functions as Catholic Church’s political tool during the Counter-Reformation; it’s not a discourse of persuasion but a spectacle of seduction. The proliferation of signs in the Catholic baroque epoch is a story of spectacularization and multiplication of ambiguities.

The baroque disappears for a time in modern history, when the puritan, Nordic bourgeoisie builds a world in which ambiguity will be considered dangerous. But at a certain moment it explodes again on the world scene. I would say that in this moment is the 1980s. Paradoxically, the baroque returns as the dominant, majoritarian form, thanks to the proliferation of signs that puritan and digital communication has produced. The digital machine has produced such an excess and proliferation of signs that aesthetic reception is incapable of producing an adequate interpretation. And the baroque explodes in the 80s, 90s, and today in a dominant way. I think that the election of Donald Trump is essentially the victory of the baroque, as the indecipherability of totally contradictory signs.

Amador: Could you explain this relation between a phenomenon like Trump and the baroque a little more?

Bifo: I would recommend reading Angela Nagle, an American feminist. Nagle wrote a very interesting book – very ambiguous too – that contains many elements for making sense of Donald Trump’s victory. It’s called Kill all Normies and it focuses on alt-right culture, on the relation between libertarian and transgressor culture, and the culture of the extreme right, which is a right that is paradoxically ironic, or better, cynical.

What is irony? What is cynicism? It is precisely the problem that the baroque resolves. Irony is consciousness of ambiguity. This consciousness of ambiguity has two possible faces. The courteous face, that is, when the signs are ambiguous and I decipher this ambiguity according to desire, in order to increase my pleasure and yours.

But there is also a cynical face of irony. But what is cynicism? It’s a very difficult question. I would say that cynicism is a consciousness of ambiguity, but it takes the interpretation of power as the only possible interpretation. The strongest is the one who interprets. Signs are ambiguous, so I interpret them according to my will, because I am the strongest.

Where do we find ourselves today? We are in a world where digital puritanism rules, but paradoxically, this triumph has produced a hyper-baroque effect in the erotic and social dimension, where we constantly lose our orientation.

“No is no”: when ambiguity becomes dangerous

Amador: In the book you say that, although it might sound paradoxical, pornography is a point of arrival for a puritan transformation of the world.

Bifo: As I say, I think that the relationship between bodies is impoverished by connective communication’s displacement of empathetic relations. I recently read a message from a 19-year old man that said: “For my entire life, my main relationships have always been with bots that I’ve met on the internet. Why do I have to have sexual relations with humans? Humans are more brutal, less intelligent and less interesting than bots.” It seems to me that this is clear: Human beings are speaking with bots and losing the capacity to speak with other human beings. The relationship between human beings has become a relation without courtesy, without that kind of special wisdom that comes with deciphering ambiguity through empathy. Indeed, pornography is sexuality without ambiguity; ambiguity is annulled from the start. One always knows what is going to happen.

Amador: Women’s movements are, perhaps, currently the most powerful in Spain, and not only here. Yesterday we protested against the sentence for the members of La Manada that doesn’t consider the proven facts of the rape – Bifo was there too. What is the potential of these movements for rethinking and reestablishing affective codes and interpersonal communication?

Bifo: I don’t know if Camille Paglia is known in Spain…What does Camille Paglia say? First of all, she says: I am baroque, I am Catholic and Latina. Second, she says: My point of reference is Madonna. Her work is critical of puritan feminism, which has a fundamental role, probably by a large majority, in the experience of American feminism. Reading Camille Paglia, for me – and speaking in general for the women of my generation – was an enriching experience. But at a certain moment things changed and Camille Paglia’s attitude became more and more minoritarian, and today, it seems to me, it has completely disappeared, at least in the United States.

Why? Is it that feminist women have perhaps become too puritan and moralistic? No, it’s that the world has changed; the world has changed in such a way that it is increasingly difficult to interact in an ambiguous and courteous manner. Ambiguity has become dangerous because courtesy has disappeared, so we are obligated to say, “yes is yes, no is no.” I don’t like this binarization of communication, but today it seems inevitable. Because beyond the reduction of “yes-yes, no-no” there is always the danger of violence.

If there is no ambiguity, there is no eroticism, because eroticism is essentially the detection of the intention implicit within ambivalent communication. But if the contexts in which it is possible to interpret this ambiguity through the pleasure of the encounter and empathy disappear, then the only way to understand one another is “yes-yes” and “no-no.” The current mutation is not only technological, but communicative: the mutation of possibilities of interpretation has produced an effect of “pornographization” of the contemporary erotic landscape.

Critical politics, memetic politics

Amador: How do you interpret the rise of the ultra-right that we see everywhere today?

Bifo: I think this return of fascism that we are witnessing at the planetary scale must be interpreted in a new way. There are certainly many signs of classic fascism: nationalism, aggression, the spread of war, racism…but the genesis of the current phenomenon is different, and we have to understand it in terms of its differences.

What is going on? I believe that we are leaving – or that we have left – the dimension that made the politics of modernity possible – that is, critical thinking. What is critical thinking? What is critique? Critique is the capacity to distinguish between the true and the false, the good and the bad, in a statement, a bit of information, or in an event. But we need time in order to critically discriminate.

Critique became possible when writing and the press could be revisited, re-read: above all, time for critical discrimination was possible. The enlightened bourgeoisie made critique the essential faculty of political decision. Events occur and are narrated to us, but we have to decide if they are true or false, good or bad. And out of this discrimination, the possibility of critical political decision becomes possible.

But that no longer exists. The situation we find ourselves in today does not permit this kind of critical politics. In fact, we no longer speak of the “government” but of “governance.” What is governance? It’s the automation of decision-making. If we think what happens in the financial sector, for example, where there are billions and billions of data points that continuously circulate throughout the world at the speed of light – how can we decide if we should invest in one way or another? We can’t! So we automate the decision.

And what happens in the realm of politics? Rational and sequential decision-making is replaced by a form of communication that we call “memetic.” It is the meme that produces the effects of contemporary politics. What is a meme? A meme is a minimal yet hyper-intensive and hyper-suggestive unity, but it is not rational, political communication. Pepe the Frog, the symbol used by the North American white supremacists who are favorable to Trump, seems to have had an enormous effect on the votes of millions of young Americans. Angela Nagel’s book discusses this form of communication at length.

In his 1946 book, Understanding Media – which is probably one of the fundamental books to understand what is going on today – Marshall McLuhan says: when the universe of communication technology passes from the printed alphabetical sequence to the dimension of electronic simultaneity, thought ceases to be critical and is transformed into mythological thought. What is mythology? Mythology is a thought – it is not madness – in which, as in the Freudian unconscious, the principle of contradiction does not operate. Apollo, the god, can be dead and alive: today he is dead and tomorrow he can be alive again. He can be white and black at the same time. That is mythology: the mutual existence of contradictory possibilities. It is precisely the opposite of critique. According to McLuhan, the transition from alphabetical sequences to electronic simultaneity creates an effect of annihilation of the possibility of critique. But this means the simultaneous annihilation of politics.

Amador: Do you think the left must retake the tradition of critical thought or learn to move in these “new” mythological conditions?

Bifo: In a recent article, Geert Lovink posed the question: “does the left know how to make memes?” That is to say, “can we use the meme as a form of communication? It’s a serious problem. My immediate response is yes. In my personal history, political experiences in the 70s were more a phenomenon of mythological-memetic communication than a phenomenon of critical communication. And all rock culture, particularly in the 80s, was an experiment in the mythology of collective thought. But at the same time the question is: can we dispense with critical judgments? Can we renounce the critical understanding that founds judgment? I don’t have a response to this question. I have the feeling that if we can’t make political decisions without critical discrimination, then it means that fascism is here to say and the truth is that this isn’t very funny to me.

The revolution of boredom

Amador: We have recently celebrated the anniversaries of the Russian Revolution, the death of Che, May ’68…would you like to say a last word on the necessity of reimagining social change, the revolution? If, as you say, emancipation cannot be a rational project, articulated through a strategy of ends and means, because all of that better applies to the paradigm of critique, how can we rethink it, reimagine it?

Bifo: I’m often invited to speak about ’68: I was 18 years old, enrolled in the philosophy program at Bologna. In short, I was lucky: everything seemed perfect to me, the world was exactly what I was imagining, desiring, and thinking.

But, today, can we think about replicating something similar? I won’t say no, but I can problematize it by saying this: ‘68 was born out of boredom. The 60s were boring, in a good way. Boredom is not bad; it is to spend an afternoon imagining things, not knowing exactly what to do. Things were intense in the 60s, those years of great cultural, artistic, and musical vitality. An entire world opened. But there I was, in my little house with my grandmother, and I was very bored. So I wanted adventure, I had a desire for adventure.

Today we live in totally the opposite situation: a situation marked by anxiety, by an excess of adventures, as well as too many adventures that we do not experience. I don’t live out adventure but adventure surrounds me, obliges me to live something that I’m not living. This seems like the present condition.

I just saw Zvyaginstev’s second movie – he’s a Russian director who is very sad, cold – called Loveless. It is this story of the relationship between a mother and an 8 year-old child named Aloysha who vanishes at a certain moment. Why? Why is he “loveless”? Because his mother, for many reasons – social, family, romantic, work, precarity, and her smartphone that constantly rings – is incapable of love. “I had a son but it was a mistake because I am not capable of love, I don’t know how to love this child.”

The child disappears. They look for him everywhere but don’t find him. Is he dead or lost or has he been murdered, we don’t know. The movie ends like this – we don’t know. That is the problem today: we don’t know. In a situation of anxiety, of acceleration, of the hyper-saturation of the space of attention, we don’t know if pleasure in the relationship between speaking bodies can be reactivated.

The word has been detached from the body. We talk a lot, but our bodies don’t meet. And when bodies do meet, they don’t know how to speak. This is a problem of erotic relationships, but it is also a problem of political and social relations.

Amador: So a politics of emancipation would begin with bodily encounter?

Bifo: We must begin not only a conversation, but a process of relaxing our expectations, first in the dimension of everyday life, but not only there. We must say, “yes, acceleration and the desire to have many things have won, but is this important to me?” What is important, to repeat Carlos Castaneda, is not to win or lose but to remain impeccable. And what does it mean to remain impeccable? Impeccable means that there are no rules, that I decide the rules with my friends. And the only rule that has any value is the rule that we decide upon together. A politics can be founded on the idea that there are no rules other than the rules that we decide on in an affective, erotic, always tentative, and always renewable manner.

That is also a way to face fear. What are we afraid of? We are afraid of the feeling that life is passing us by and that we are not living it. But why do we have to think that life must be the adventure that we have read about or seen on the screen? Who says so? Who says that life has to be like May ‘68? The good life could be a return to boredom. A return to boredom as therapy for anxiety seems to me like a way to face the problem.

The truth is that I don’t have many answers. Our current problem is that all the answers from the past do not work because the relational context has completely changed. But at the same time we insist on posing questions that involves a response from the past. A movement of relaxing the expectation of adventure could be the start of a new adventure.

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Watched in February

Peck, I am not your negro

Several shorts, including Clift, La Buena Madre, at the Children’s Film Festival

Wilder, Double Indemnity

Bridges, Bright Lights, Big City

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Read in February

Karan Mahajan, The Association of Small Bombs

Donald Antrim, “Everywhere and Nowhere: A Journey Through Suicide”

(I’ve gotten out of the habit of reading magazines over the last decade I’ve spent in academia…this sort of thing catapults me back to my extra long lunch breaks while cooped up in engineering offices…)

B.D. McClay, “The Puppet Master”

Jason Read, “Welcome to Bizarro World: Part One”

Helen DeWitt, The Last Samurai

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three kinds of memory


I’ve never read Stiegler but I’m making my way through Jason Read’s The Politics of Transindividuality and am particularly taken by this setup:

First, there’s a biological version: the genetic code, inheritance of the species.

Second, epigenetic memory is a record of one’s own experiences.

Together, these two types of memories “belong” to every living thing. But there’s a third type, which is especially interesting:

Epiphylogenetic memory, which “is made up of memories that have never been lived, memories that are received in the form of signs, inscriptions, and writings” (Read 2017, 170). This is the memory of books, films, and tools — Read cites Stiegler on how when we inherit a tool, we also inherit the gestures of its creator. It is precisely this kind of memory that makes transindividuation a process that blurs the line between the individual and the collective.

It’s a strange coincidence to come across this now. I’m reading the book as I’m trying to write a chapter on the temporal dimension of appropriating urban space (I’m focusing on ongoing events like Invisible Seattle’s activities in the 80s and the more recent month-long Red May teach-ins), but my own promiscuous fiction reading habit has also brought be to Jonathan Baumbach’s novel Reruns. I haven’t read it yet, but evidently it involves memories drawn from various movie scenes. My post yesterday was an attempt to play with the space between my own present experiences and memories, a sort of oulipo-style, contingent, personal essay. But this collective memory dimension is more the direction that I want to go, in part after my recent flirtations with science fiction that are troubling my commitment to literary fiction (McKenzie Wark’s post on the obsolescence of the bourgeois novel in the anthropocene has been helpful for me as I try to think through this.)

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Snow day

The trees are beginning to shed some snow, but not just because it’s melting. Some little birds, sparrows perhaps, are flitting around, pecking at it, but I’m not sure why. There are four of them in the tree right outside the window. From my vantage point, the thin branches form this sort of tangled mess of support for several chunks of snow, while the larger limbs carry maybe an inch of accumulation. The sun is reflecting off the icy street and the speaker above my head spits out organ sounds, bass, and drums that are punctuated by a distorted electric guitar. I don’t know what this song is called – Shazam tells me it is Michael Bloomfield and Al Kooper’s “Stop.” An ugly black pug wears an ugly sweater (70s stripes: gold, gray, electric blue) and “mama” talks on the phone while adding cream and sugar to her coffee. Suddenly she bolts toward the door, almost dragging the dog and I suddenly feel sorry for him/her/it. “Run fast, bite hard,” says Donna Haraway, but surely she is talking about learning from more compelling dogs. The song changes, this is better. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, “My Marion.” No guitar.

Edmund Berger, one of my more interesting Twitter acquaintances has disappeared from the site (he often commented on doing away with guitars). It seems fitting that he of all people might vanish, with his comments on the state spraying pesticide into his yard, his fascination with climate change geopolitics and attempts to control the arctic…a huge block of snow just slid off the canopy protecting the back door. But Berger is a man committed to Weird Americana or whatever he calls it; he is equally fascinated with Soviet attempts at telekinesis, leftist militias, and tunnels. When I first came across his writing, I pictured him as a crusty old man, steeped in Marxist theory and fascinated by poststructuralism. “Anyone know where I can find a Lacanian therapist in…” – I forget which city, somewhere in the South, somewhere anti-Parisian – he once asked on Twitter. I later saw a photo of him and decided he was probably about 30. “Where did Edmund Berger go?” I write on Twitter, hoping for some clarification.

While on the site, I check in with Christian Lorentzen, the literary critic, who is becoming my point of reference for to-read fiction. He put Karan Mahajan on my radar a few years ago and I finally started reading The Association of Small Bombs a few nights ago. Lorentzen has also pushed Helen DeWitt to the top of my list and he has me anticipating the day that Nico Walker’s Cherry comes out in paperback…I’m tempted to go over the University Book Store right now and steal the hardcover edition (it’s pretty easy to steal things when you’re a 40 year-old married white guy with a Ph.D. and two kids). Anyhow, Lorentzen’s feed is stocked with a few Latin quotations, which Google tells me are from The Aenid (which I’ve never read) but also a reference to a book called The Names. Don DeLillo, evidently, whom I have been reading on and off for almost 20 years. Never heard of The Names though…

A woman sits down across from me and I slide away from the window, and right into the sunlight, to give her a quadrant of the table (I was sitting dead center at the table for four, in a shadow cast by part of the wall between two huge windows). I immediately regret my decision to move this direction instead of toward the window, but when faced with the option of a quick escape route or comfort, I always choose the quick escape route. Notification on Twitter: “He’s on break. Writing a book, I think.” Like.

I look around, waiting for something else to happen.

A cloud blocks the sun, which is welcome. I feel someone short, a child maybe, come up next to me, potentially blocking my escape route. I look over and a pretty brunette woman in a wheelchair smiles at me with expectant eyes. She’s clearly looking for someone whom she has never met. She finds him relatively quickly (he was looking at his phone) at a nearby table. Her purple coat reminds me of my daughter’s. They start talking, he’s from Pennsylvania, but the music is loud and I don’t really want to eavesdrop on them…are they on a date? It’s 10 am so I doubt it. I go back to Twitter to distract myself. Lorentzen has posted a poll: “Which is preferable?” The only two possible answers are “renunciation” and “experience.” I almost click the latter but I stop myself. I have gone through phases where I’ve tried the latter (cf. that time I fell tragically in love with an art teacher I met on a plane from Munich to Athens, and with whom I spent every waking moment of that weekend when I was supposed to be at a philosophy conference) but my life has largely been defined by renunciation…that’s a little generous, actually. Ignorance and self-aggrandizement have actually probably been more fundamental to my experience. I forego answering the poll for now and scroll.

Daniel Aldana-Cohen, an Ivy-league sociologist, lets everyone know that his first co-authored piece on the Green New Deal “drops” on the Jacobin website this week. I laugh at this choice of words but love it at the same time. His work on the carbon footprints of wealthy urban dwellers is really insightful and pushes back against the idea that cities are inherently more ecologically sustainable than other settlement patterns. See David Owens’s “Green Manhattan” article for an example of the latter that was particularly influential for me when I first started thinking about cities.

A woman walks by with a dog – I don’t know what kind but it’s bigger than a pug. Just last week I was in line at this café, behind a guy with a dog. He and the barista were talking about the dog…they finally left and as she started making my Americano, she said something like “that dog is soooo cute.”

“Yeah,” I said, “I guess. I mean, I used to like dogs – my dog at least – but after my son was born and we sent the dog to live with my mother-in-law, I realized that I actually didn’t care about them that much anymore.”

She looked at me.

“I feel kind of bad. Kind of.”

She wagered, “Well, um, kids grow up, they don’t just stay dependent on you…”

“That’s true,” I conceded. I started to think that my dismissal was even more casually anthropocentric – not based in any kind of reason but just because dogs, animals in general, just aren’t that smart or interesting. No wonder we dominate them, right? “But I still feel bad. I’m trying to work on it,” I sort of lied.

Back to Twitter. Victor LaValle shares a link earlier to an interview with him and Marlon James on their new books. LaValle writes, “Both our new books drop today.” I read The Ballad of Black Tom last year and have The Changeling on my shelf. Black Tom haunted me and sent me off to read Lovecraft for the first time, at 39 years of age, but my experience with Marlon James’s book was less impactful, even though it is tightly wound up with a very memorable time. I tried to read A Brief History of Seven Killings back in 2015 – I remember the year because I took it with me to a conference on Deleuze and Foucault at Purdue, where Jason Read saw it in my bag and said that he’d bought it for his dad, who was a big Bob Marley fan – but I abandoned it. I don’t remember why though…I was finishing my dissertation, so maybe I just got caught up working on that. But the conference was one of the most satisfying of my academic life. I somehow missed the invitation to the dinner the first night though, and ended up eating alone at an Indian buffet where I read about the Paris attacks on my phone. The next day Todd May suggested that we observe a brief moment of silence for the victims, which I thought was really decent, and Dan Smith told a story about stumbling upon Le Petit Cambodge with his wife after walking along the canal. Later that night, Dan hosted a really nice party at his really nice apartment, and I spent part of it talking to Stephen Zepke and Paul Hammond, the latter of whom died in car crash in Wisconsin two weeks later. As the night wore on, I ended up talking to an assistant professor whose name I won’t mention. But I slid off my wedding ring in my pocket like a total asshole and drove her home in my rental car. We traded contact information in the parking lot and she gave me one of those long hugs that reveals how lonely someone is, but that also seems to apologize for being in that state (the art teacher in Greece had given me a similar hug in her room at the Royal Olympic after a dinner at the foot of the Acropolis). I still remember the scent of her hair and what her ass looked like in the weathered jeans she was wearing. “You can call me Dr. ________ if you’re nasty,” she said flirtatiously as she climbed out of the car. I wanted her to invite me in and I said something revealing my willingness, but I had to drive back to Chicago early in the morning to catch a plane, and she wasn’t as slutty/lonely as me, I guess. I floated back over to my fleabag motel, packed up my bag, and sent Amy Dobrowolsky a text asking where I could hang out overnight in Chicago if I were to arrive in town around 1 am. She pointed me toward the Golden Apple, where I arrived a few hours later and spent the night eating an omelet, drinking coffee, looking out the window at the massive church, and reading Marlon James. Facebook just reminded me that he’s going to be at the Seattle Public Library in 11 days discussing his new book. Is it reading what I type?

At some point while writing this, the music shifted from the blues to Black Sabbath. Ozzy – every time I hear “Crazy Train,” I think about my man Wayne Reed…I am distracted by a woman who is wearing a shirt that leaves her whole back exposed. She is twisting her dark hair with her tattooed left arm while looking at a laptop. I wonder if she is cold?

Evidently Lorentzen just went to Burger King and was reading the NYRB piece on the new Warhol show at the Whitney. What is it about New York and doing things like eating shitty food that is so appealing to me? Here in Seattle, I can hardly bring myself to buy my kids fries at McDonald’s (“Fine, you can have fries but let’s go get them at Katsu Burger.”) and I certainly won’t settle for any drip coffee. But in New York I’m happy to get my hands on cheap coffee in a styrofoam cup, stashed away in a paper bag with a wad of napkins on top of it. I order another Americano and a Topo Chico.

One of my strongest New York memories isn’t mine at all, but it is something that Don DeLillo either wrote or said about what led him to write his novel Libra. DeLillo recounts somewhere that he and Lee Harvey Oswald had lived in the Bronx at the same time, and that although they had never crossed paths, at least to DeLillo’s knowledge, it was certain that they had roamed the same streets at about the same time. I don’t remember the particulars, but something about this shared space and time cemented a connection between the assassin and the author. And now that I think about it, the book also shares physical space with my own youth in Denton, Texas. Part of the narrative involves academics or investigators (or both) who have at least one meeting on the town square in my hometown. I remember asking myself and then my father, who grew up in the same town, if this was historical fact or DeLillo’s imagination. My dad didn’t know but I lent him the book and never saw it again.

A guy just drove by in a yellow X-Terra with the windows down, singing. The snow is melting. I really should be reading the Grundrisse – that’s what I came here to do. I check my email instead. Jimi Hendrix has replaced Black Sabbath and I’m getting hungry. I should go catch a bus to campus and grade papers, read John Stuart Mill for tomorrow…but that seems like a real waste of a snow day.




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Watched in January

Just a list of things (mostly movies) I’m watching, on my own, with my kids, related to classes I’m teaching, etc.

Jenkins, If Beale Street could talk

De Palma, Carrie

Cronenberg, Videodrome

Waters, Serial Mom

Van Peebles, New Jack City

De Palma, Blow Out

Fincher, The Social Network

Segal, Tommy Boy

De Palma, Obsession

Lynch, Eraserhead

Frontline: Coal’s Deadly Dust

Nguyen, David Lynch: The Art Life

Scorsese, Cape Fear

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Read in January

Invisible Seattle: The Novel of Seattle, by Seattle

Paul Levitz and Tim Hamilton, Brooklyn Blood

Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson, Transmetropolitan 6

Nnedi Okorafor, Binti


Jennifer Clapp and Peter Dauvergne, Paths to a green world: the political economy of the global environment

Jason Read, The Politics of Transindividuality

Eve Babitz, Eve’s Hollywood

Christian Lorentzen’s essays on Vulture (which have pointed me to Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai and Nico Walker’s Cherry, both of which I plan to read soon)

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