Landscape organizes everything within sight.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Privacy and Architecture

Coffee yesterday evening with Kevin Bankston, an EFF lawyer, who was kind enough to brief me on Lessig and some current cases he's been working on. Kevin asked me for some books to read on the history of privacy, and I've decided to post the reply.

The best article remains the one that started me thinking, one in the annals of the american association of geographers by Michael Curry, a UCLA professor. He writes about property law and space in common law history, the protection of houses, churches, and hospitals in particular.

The most brilliant book I've ever read on privacy and the use of space: Paul Carter's Repressed Spaces. A haunting, beautiful, deep book, much about how urban planners think and how artists and philosophers handled space in the early 20th century, as we started to think of ourselves as Freudian creatures.

I'm looking at my bookshelf -- there are a lot of titles that were halfway useful but didn't make me reconsider the nature of the beast entirely. Miles Ogborn's Spaces of Modernity is a study of 18th c London that typifies the straight-out-of-foucualt school. Sisella Bok's Secrets is more interesting for the uses of privacy (it's also older). Two books that are really good on historical reasons to contain information (bnut have nothing to do with buildings) are Roy Porter's Trust in Numbers and David Vincent's Culture of Secrecy.

When I was working on the topic, I guess I ended up writing a series of articles about class interaction and buildings -- when the elite ran away and started building pleasure palaces on the rhine valley; when the middle class started feeling like they needed to curtain in their coffee house booths -- it all has to do with rising levels of class conflict on the public street. which is one reason i'm now writing about the roads, and how they change the dynamics inside a town when they arrive: they necessarily make public and noticeable the kinds of social tensions brought in by changes in information flow and hierarchy.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Do you see what I see

My friend Jeff Heer dreams about digitizing my 1965 Atlas of America so that one can compare birth rates, wood pulp factories, sunshine maps, suicide rates, birth rates, education, income, and mineral deposits with the flick of a mouse. And compare the America Nixon received with the one we have.

Until he does, there's Social Explorer

The Blogging of Manhattan Sidewalks

Paris has had this for years -- the online map with pics, minus the wiki. But soon we can have maps with opinions built in.

Arbitrary Irony

Reading: Paul Fussell's Wartime.

Fussell's history of World War II follows the same pattern as his The Great War and Modern Memory, deriving a pattern of mass cultural change from the introduction of new words and ways of talking about the self. Mass-mobilization changes the homefront. Mass experience of systematic authority changes the mind and the image of efficient power.

Fussell is pretty sure that WWII invented the word "fucking" as an adjective. It degraded and drained the hope out of the experience of the army as a unit. "Fucking" implied that one was a god in one's submarine but a plumber in real life, that the rituals of war were certain and fatal in the moment and meaningless once peace came. All one's little powers were chicken shit and one knew it.

So it goes, writes Vonnegut. So I remember graduate students in Berkeley waxing sentimental over Slaughterhouse Five and the great meaninglessness of the universe. Turtle-necked eye-linered out women who pouted and spat for the semester were emailing the class poetry after Vonnegut. "Fucking" got them somewhere regency couplets never did.

Fussell is right, so far as I can tell, about the total transformation of language in a moment like World War II, the total shape it gives identity, hope, apathy, irony, courage. And Fussell is at least a little ironic and nostalgic himself, being first the author of a book about how World War I had really destroyed for good the elite-run universe that prayed and hoped and made love over each posy and poppy in the countryside. Such sincerity and glossy hope for inter-class collaboration died in the first Great War. What died in the second World War seems to have been faith in the ability of individuals.

Which makes the present moment so strange. There's a lyric of the meaningless void. The New Yorker has been seen using "soul crushing" as a positive adjectival phrase. And yet, as Danah Boyd has remarked, our generation (age 26 to 30) graduated in the middle of the boom, and has high expectations. Great expectations for selfish gain and for accomplishments. Few hopes for what the soul can do. As if all that soul culture crap Raymond Williams talks about had been utterly beaten out of us.

Yeah, i don't know what it means. Someone tell me please: what forces are changing language now on this deep level -- of anathemizing courage in the name of irony, for instance. And someone else please tell me what facing the meaningless void does for civilization: poison? gift? nothing at all? remarkable face lift, making the client feel some twenty years younger? monastic humility in the face of grandiose expectations of the previous century?


Some nice person who likes my prose has been writing me about where the words come from.

I reply:

Mostly these days it's more about clawing something worth saying out of the air, rather than the words with which to say it. If only the thought would come. I keep on shredding whiskey and tobacco in the hopes of uncovering some secret hoard of Real Thoughts from which the words could be easily unspun, instant by instant.

No look, it's very nice of you to say such kind things. There's a knack to the way of speaking, I don't know where it comes from or why, but most of us who have it end up hiding with each other, from the stacks of people who presume it's a kind of pretention (pretense is not offense just another kind of escapism) or an outdated mode of thinking of the ancien regime whose sacrifice is necessary for the red army's success (sad sad rebels of a revolution already defeated).

I am working at a little cafe in Noe, where the laptops line up and the world winds up on coffee until the words spill out over keyboards and out into the ether.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


These are images of people moving in time.

Further reading: J. W. Dunne's Experiment with Time

Better Landscapes

Hip young swank thing Aleksandr Vladimirskiy,, is better than I will ever be.


Originally uploaded by joguldi.
Among the tricks I was supposed to learn as a landscape specialist was how to take photos of people so that they couldn't tell I was taking pictures of them.

This weekend I followed a friend to the beach. While he was surfing I walked up and down the sand, taking pictures of couples and individuals on promenade.

In low light, moving swiftly by, the camera picked up only blobs and colors. Suggestions?


orange and ocean
Originally uploaded by joguldi.

Daniel Joshua - Iowa and Back Again

Daniel Joshua is a Berkeley undergrad in American History. I ran into him on the BART last week, and he explained his project to me. He's been travelling literally across the country, photographing himself in the sites of famous movies. For Richard Candida Smith's course on progressive-era America, Joshua went to Los Angeles and photographed the old slum districts. The comparisons become commentary on the American landscape, its myths, and change.

Joshua is planning a book on the landscapes of Kevin Costner and the American midwest.

Here: High Fidelity and Ghost.

Iowa and Back Again 054
Originally uploaded by joguldi.

Originally uploaded by joguldi.

Further reading: Footsteps in the Fog: Alfred Hitchcock's San Francisco
Jeff Kraft and Aaron Leventhal

Santa Monica Press paperback 24.95
288 pp

Daniel Joshua - My New York Trip

My New York Trip 153
Originally uploaded by joguldi.

Heart and Souls002
Originally uploaded by joguldi.

The New York Times > New York Region > Keeping Great Crowds Off Central Park's Great Lawn

The New York Times > New York Region > Keeping Great Crowds Off Central Park's Great Lawn

New York chooses pretty grass over social democracy.

This happened in 1850, folks. In Bristol and London and Birmingham they justified it on religious principles. Keep the working men at prayer instead of drinking on the park and rioting. Sell tickets to the green spaces so that only respectable workers can take their families there. Subtext: then we can avoid that nasty 1848 continental revolution business here in green England.

We have a lot to look forward to.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Forgive us when we come to our senses

Can you forgive your brother his stupidity? Can you forgive a regime? Berkeley professor Richard Candida-Smith writes me about how punitive American culture has become. The church epitomizes a kind of reconciliation we can find nowhere else in American society. Hence, he observes, the church's contradictory and seemingly nonsensical perspective on pedophilia in the priesthood. Candida Smith suspects that the church's peculiar place towards forgiveness could make it one of the only paths away from this strain of damnation of one's brother towards which America -- left and right -- is tending.

Most moving theological/literary encounter of the last three months: the Wooster Group's staging of Gertrude Stein's Faust. "I can do whatever I want whenever I want" insists Magdalena/Annabelle while seducing Edison/Faust. She preens while watching herself in the tv monitor. Taken by surprise, she runs away from the fear of having contradicted herself. She tries to broker the devil into leaving her alone by lying about what she can get away with.

The very image of the modern soul watching itself pose, convinced by its small amount of free will that expression alone is redemption.

(Required reading on forgiveness and how societies change: Robert Calasso, The Ruins of Kasch. About which more later. I continue to be haunted by Robert Calasso's discussion of the sacrifice/body problem. And recently I've been hearing about Derrida's work on the impossibility of forgiveness, which I've never read.)

3D head in box
Originally uploaded by joguldi.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Religious Rights

This week, things look bad. A new pope, the promise of a Senate smear campaign against liberals as anti-religious. Leaders from the National Council of Churches and various thinktanks prepare statements condemning the movement in advance, preaching "tolerance." The weakest possible defense. Bob Edgar of the NCC writes:

"This campaign, which they are calling 'Justice Sunday,' should properly be called 'Just-Us' Sunday."

Hold on. Religious moderates need more than weak puns and a doctrine of tolerance to reclaim the country. They'll need a clear articulation of our values, principles, history, means of working; we need to shout out loud that the so-called Christians on the Radical Right have splintered from conversation already. The Religious Right is out of communion with us, the moderates of America.

In Arizona and Florida and California and Masschusetts, the Religious Left is slowly rallying. But they're going to need cover.'s computer guys reported last week that their conference site had been hacked by the Religious Right. Small words and phrases were changed to subtly alter the meaning of the site content.

Timothy is right: people in communion have an obligation to settle their differences as patiently as possible, waiting decades through process before storming away. This is one reason that so many American and European Catholics remain Catholic despite the current state of that church. But when a group leaves communion -- forgetting Timothy themselves, flaunting hatred and the politics of smearing -- they've already turned their back. Moderates and liberals can't turn the other cheek to someone out conversation. Not every fundamentalist has left the conversation utterly, not every Southern Baptist ignores the moderate at the table and shrieks hysterically. But one Religious Right is doing so loudly, powerfully, nastily. The virulent faction of the Religious Right -- the one orchestrating smears -- doesn't deserve Timothy, let alone Jesus. They deserve to be slapped.

La Altena

There is a certain rule to the art of charm. Some of it can be learned, some of it’s a natural skill. The answer to every question is always “yes.”

I sat with wide eyes in my dining room chair, looking out the window at what might pass by outside. Curled on a podium the cat was a white statue beside me. We were a pose, waiting for the mechanism of the clock to unwind us.

The next day I climbed into the desert, where the wind blew through my blue hair. In my hands was a broken and mended heart tied with string, bound with twine, with little wings made of goose wings stapled to it. It was still trying to move. My eyes were dilated like belladonnas,, and the desert was wide and empty, hills and mountains of sand rising around me in every direction, but up where the saucer of the sky spun with a million stars. Snakes and scorpions scuttled over my feet. Birds watched me. I was waiting for someone who never came.

I was sitting in a café waiting to see who walked by the street outside. I asked the bartender if he was a drummer, because the café was throbbing with the beats of something broken in the background. The bartender replied, “Yes.” I sat in the cafe with the windows and doors wide open to the world and watched the mariners and soldiers and orphans and cripples pass by. Finally a man came by carrying an orange. He asked me if I was also from the Valley of the Moon. I replied, “Yes.”

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Sniffing Glue

Reading: Raymond William's _Culture and Society: 1750-1950_, the classic study of how romanticism and art as a critique of society evolved from the Enlightenment premium on individual experience. Key figures: Burke and Cobbett, Shelley and Keats, Coleridge and Mill.

Skeptics as we are now about the Enlightenment, the whole account reeks of Whiggish glue, holding together dissimilar parts into a hastily unified arc of human realization -- or better yet, individuals realizing themselves as members of a class. Williams cannot wait, the revolution is nigh!

So what's an alternative explanation? Different social networks are always forming and unforming. Sometimes "art" with a critique of something understood from a whole as "society." For Williams, this was an apex of civilization, nothing beyond it could be imagined. Hurry up, please, it's time. ARtists have formed themselves into groups who recognize each other. We've known about society for two hundred years now. Society was the amorphous other, the way of understanding the man in the crowd, the way of making sense of oneself as a statistic. It was the only way to make sense of the advent of mass communication and Enlightenment selves as they evolved at the same time.

Now we face something different, something beyond "society", and it will take a different kind of "art" understanding and reworking the means of communication as they exist. We're beyond nineteenth-century utopias, onward to complicated shared projects and experiments in space and the self.

The Borg and the Swamp

The meritocracy is a machine that claims to have ransomed me.

One starts thinking about these things again when talking to fry-chefs in New Haven. The fry-chef for Koffee 2 (the law school hangout) was a wonderful vagabond who had travelled across the US with a backpack at least twice, and told me about his adventures. Ladies of New Haven. Pay attention.

So what happens next? Nice Cliffees have so much. We're so unbelievably careful. We choose the weedy ones who have thought for themselves and stand apart from the rest of the ruffians, and they talk to us about astrology and chivalry. If you chose right, he'll never make a pass, never utter an obscene comment, just tell you all the pirate and gypsy stories you could ask for: the key to safe and healthy urban adventuring for the well-educated female.

So you're a Cliffee sitting at the bar. You close the book, you pick up your messenger bag, you leave the pub, and go back to the firm and fast network of ivy-league educated trust-fund babes who compose one's world. They give you life, inspiration, ideas, jobs, dates, one long road stretching from start to finish. They're your past and your future.

Last night I found myself talking with another child of the swamp, that is, Louisiana, land of the whack-jobs, from whence my people hail. Now it's been a long time since Louisiana. As happens when intimate strangers unite, words and thoughts start to fly. You sink back into an older identity, your self and the ambitions you were working on shrink until they're almost imperceptible; meanwhile the rest of the landscape pans out and swirls in a vertige of immeasurable possibilities. You could go back to the swamp. You could move to Algiers. I don't even know why this is so important, but the horizon's sudden appearance is shocking.

Now there are two basic rules for a first date, in San Francisco as everywhere else, so fundamental as to never have to be articulated: 1) never talk about your family's history of mental illness. 2) never get into an argument over the theological implications of the Eucharist. Both broken. It was great. So one finds oneself talking about American landscapes, roadtrips, the land of white trash, the manufacture of hashish, the followers of new-age religions, the whole of the surreal underbelly of the American subconscious that I know so well from growing up.

Came home and answered an email from an old friend, dear past memory, working now in a skyscraper somewhere in Texas for 48 hrs before flying back to New York. He's taken two days off in the last year. Thought maybe he'd have time for BBQ and wanted a req. Didn't have time for BBQ.

The meritocracy claims to own me. I'm part of a machine. I've been trained and coddled, introduced and given promises. I'm supposed to shut this all off and go away to hang out at the black tie dinners with deal-makers who wear ascots. And doubtless I will again. But I feel the whiplash of moving between worlds, and I think about the George Orwells and other down-and-out slummers cheesy and ridiculous. And I'm so grateful to have a season away from the noise, lurking in biker bars in the Mission. I think, Christ has ransomed us with his blood. The price on my head has been paid. No matter how hard you work, even if you should work all the days of your life, you should never amass enough to pay that ransom off.

Monday, April 18, 2005

None So Sweet: Situational Depression. A Scholar's Life for Me.

In Peter Kramer's article (click above), Kramer finally has the chance to throw Camus at the undergraduates who have been pestering him since he wrote _Listening to Prozac_ in 1993. The teenagers are angsty and think that depression might make them artistic. Camus thinks that true resistance to the will of the gods can only come when Sisyphus takes true joy in pushing the boulder up the hill. Kramer cannot wait until we accept this as true, cannot wait for "carpe diem" to replace black lipstick on the lips of every mad undergraduate.

According to Kramer, the major culprit in our complacency against depressive illness is two-thousand-year-old myth that melancholy brings genius.

I'm not a historian of science, but here are a couple of points for departure. First, melancholy isn't depression. Melancholia, fervid in her depression in Durer's painting, represents the mental world of her own that ensconces the scholar in full intellectual tilt. In the seventeenth century, Richard Burton had analyzed melancholy and claimed that scholars in their isolation were particularly susceptible. Melancholy meant unstable enthusiasms of private thought, precipitous downs of remorse for failure and doubt about the world. "Of all my pleasures, none so sweet as melancholy." Its addiction is hardly based on a myth; melancholy means the ability to carry oneself up or down at a given moment based on the power of ideas alone. It means complete control over one's destiny: an absolute opposite, therefore, to depression.

Melancholy is the product of living alone and thinking too much. In a sense, scholastic melancholy is a purely geographical phenomenon. Like most academics, I suffer abundantly from melancholy. This winter I spent two months at Yale, stumbling through blizzards, hiding in libraries, unable to meet anybody aside from librarians for love or money or chain-smoking in bars. Depression. Great work. Astounding research. True enthusiasm for my projects. Weeping on my couch from the moment I got home every evening, while the snow-laden wind whistled outside my window and I thought about all the people who had ever blown me off in my life. I had a month of profound meditation on who I was, why I felt so needy, what makes a real friend versus someone with whom to pass the time, and how much of my lonesome lifestyle I had control over. It was terrible and revealing.

The depression all but vanished every time I got on a train out to New York, where I'd join old friends for art gallery openings and clubbing and ridiculous cocktails. It also dissipated from virtually the moment I returned to San Francisco. For the first month, melancholic fervor (without tears) alternated with life in a harmonic rhythm of study and travel. In the second month, my utter isolation from friends, family, chance encounters, and community of any sort, began to sink in. Melancholy gave way to depression -- situational depression. Bleak, yucky distress at a real social fact: the fact that I had absolutely no one to spend time with, and hated the fact that I'd chosen such a career.

Situational depression is a fact. Most of my mentors and colleagues have suffered from similar symptoms. Many can't get away. Few haven't turned to drugs of one kind or another at some point. The drugs generally don't fix anything, and the psychologists in question then shrug and point out the futility of medicalizing a situation that simply sucks. Loneliness is wretched. Meritocratic systems that stress unceasing labor as its own reward have problems providing regular relief to the lonely. Scholars tend to have less access to non-lonely situations than other people. Melancholy, that is, is a social fact: a kind of lifestyle that some people are more likely to have to face. Staying in melancholy too long can reinforce the physical and chemical paths of actual depression, like living in a room poisoned by mercury. But melancholy can also be the entree into true engagement with the world's problems, true mourning for the structures that keep us from each other, true awareness of how far off and difficult are the solutions. Then the scholar steps out again, back into the huge world thick and flush with people, movement, noise, and life.

Curing melancholy is a futile proposition. If anything, the curers risk enforcing the very social structures of loneliness that the melancholic is deeply aware of. We live in a world where friends and family comfort each other and search out people who are going through hard times. We also increasingly inhabit a world where we are advised to outsource our upset friends to medication. Scholars get outsourced a lot. If they come to expect it, this reinforces their own asocial behavior; melancholy goes straight into depression. But the root of melancholy still can't be cured, nor should it.

Kramer and friends are great scientists, but dangerous amateurs at social science. Melancholics love periods of isolation but then have to return: when they reenter the social sphere, certain social gateways have to be in place to receive them -- friends willing to listen, family willing to slightly coddle. Depression goes away, and in its place is a profound awareness of the variety of human experience; in short, true compassion. If Kaplan gets rid of these social gateways in the name of properly treating all depressives, he risks creating the kind of social disease for which there is no cure.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Foreign Lands

Then I saw in my dream a pitched battle between the army of the town and the army of the country. In my dream, the army of the town were dressed in white and black and the browns and greens of nature, and the army of the country was dressed in bright colors of the rainbow. The army of the town had men marching to war holding each other by the hands. They had women holding hands with each other too. And there were many couples, man and woman together, who fought side by side in the army of the town.

In the army of the country the men fought and the women supplied their weapons. The women cocked and cleaned the weapons and handed them to the men, who did the execution.

I Went Out Walking After Midnight

Hiking in Marin. Full sun. Deep shade. Fallen redwoods stripped of bark still glowing orange after three years of graffiti. Danah Boyd laments the lack of full-heat intellectual love affairs in her life.

We talk about what makes it work, that moment of magic synergy. We talk about Andrea Dworkin's death and the great theory-head activists we know and love who still somehow don't relate the universal to the particular with the creative fury that Danah embodies herself. What is it that separates dull theory, dead theology, reason, tautology, from the fire-and-ice magic netting and unnetting the particular?

She talks about creeds and organizations that deaden. I talk about "natural theology" and the 16th century eye wandeirng over the landscape, seizing on each plant and leaf and flower as at once symbol of god, fragment of natural order, and direction to the internal.

(Read more: Drayton's Nature's Government (2000) is a very beautiful overview of different ways of seeing the landscape, from the symbolic to the economic and political, as they changed in this crucial period of early modernism)

Love on the Run

A young priest was writing me today about the problems of being young, single, and ordained, so much worse than my own problems of being young, single, and a zealot, no matter what I think.

Work with the Christian Left has been amazing though -- everything from friendly communists to over-friendly Presbyterians to Anglo-Catholic librarians coming out of the woodwork to say hello. So maybe my theory is after a week that there are more of us, or more sympathizers, than we think, and that putting oneself on the line is a good way of seeing what the universe has to offer. "Christian" is a dirty word in popular culture, but Christian socialism is something people have missed. Lots of people.

A dear intense tangoisto, Mr. Alan Abruzzo of San Francisco, has talked to me about his secret weapon, a power-point presentation which is metaphysically linked to the cosmos. What happened is this: Abruzzo, roughly discarded by a dark-haired hippie vixen, began to compose a power-point presentation. On each slide was one characteristic of the girl of his dreams. He drew pictures, diagrams, wrote commentary. Alan explained, "After I made the yoga instructor slide, three yoga instructors came into my life within the month."

I asked him what he thought was going on. We batted back and forth a couple of theories about having a clear vision of one's needs and blahblahblah. Alan finally said, "I think when one puts oneself out to the universe, good things can only come."

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Will the Revolution be Televised?

Evening meeting at the Revolution Cafe with filmmakers Robert Arnold and Paul van der Carr, who want to do a documentary on us.

Major issue: the facets of the New Social Gospel that draw in hip young things like Robert and Paul are likely to be the living, working ties to a kind of sixties radicalism that never emerged. In many ways, monks like Brother Richard of San Damiano (see below, "Monks") and clergy in modern-day liberation theology are liable to be the most viable and active strain of sixties communitarianism still with us. Robert and Paul could end up making the documentary that bridges the church for young hip intellectuals who have grown up "without benefit of clergy" -- that is, the masses of young smart things today whose only exposure to the church was through its least curious, most naive, or even most backwards members.

belle epoque

belle epoque
Originally uploaded by joguldi.
Potrero Hill, some itme in February.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

You Say You Want a Revolution

Reading Jonathan Parry, The Rise and Fall of Liberal Government in Britain (1993).

Parry departs from earlier historians, who assume the progressive rise of a democratic liberal party bent on reform, and its eventual demise for having stretched too far towards fringe groups like unions, the Irish, and women.

Parry depicts a political party united between 1820 and 1886 only by the idea of well-managed efficiency and compromise. Public opinion was something Canning invented to prove that management was better than entrenched forces. Why was it better? Because something called the public liked it. Who was the public? Stop asking that, look at us. We are evangelical aristocrats. We want a more moral society. Off we go: to reform the prisons, educate the masses, cleanse the sewers, and police the streets.

Public opinion may have killed the party in the end, too. Just as Britain finally became something like a democracy in the 1870s, just as the male electorate was finally enfranchised in 1886, just then the liberal coalition held so cleverly together for so many years shivered and began to unravel. Gladstone was a circus showman, no deft disguiser and deal-maker like Palmerston. He courted the evangelicals at the expense of moderates, he voted for Home Rule in Ireland at the expense of moderates worried about law and order everywhere. Ideals over politics, beautiful in private life, are devastating to a party. The conservatives glimpsed this and moved in for the kill. They swept up the groups that had been alienated by Gladstone's policies, branded the remaining liberals as a concatenation of lunatic interest groups, and rode into victory on Salisbury's platform of a strong state at last. The half-century of British liberalism, the pax Britannica of reform, was over.

Read this and learn, Democrats. Parties fracture. Those who sweep together the pieces win.

Coalitions get ahead by pretending that everyone likes them and stressing who does. Lakoff's framing could accomplish something similar for the Democrats, but only if he is as much of a fictionalizer as a social scientist. Will we be the liberals of 1820, manufacturing public opinion, or the liberals of 1886, crucified by it?

I dreamed about Ray Charles last night / He could see just fine, you know

Actually, I dreamed that I was talking to Jimmy Carter about Agent Orange. He was in a wheel-chair and made time for me. So we sat there, talking about the Buddha, as the colors of the universe swirled around us.

I Climbed into a Clearing

Another evening and the mission looks pure, open; silver skating down alleys and tinkling under pink mimosas. We don't know where our ocean goes from here. We don't remember coming here. We wait on the edge of the world, patient for someone to tell us the truth.

Boheme. No bad flashbacks. No jealous memories this time. Just talking to Mario from Argentina, stumbling between broken English and Spanish and Latin. How hard it is to tell what one ought to say. I asked him why he looked so sad, I got a life story, and then he pulls a bottle of nyquil from his bag.

The other Argentinians, with blue eyes and gray hair, play chess, four to a table. I was here before. I'm suddenly clear on how rich my life is, how much I love the boy I was with before, how much I'll love the people to come. Paul writes, "I know what it is to have a little, and I know what it is to have a lot."

I know what it is to be welcomed into someone else's world -- stories from the nanny, trips to dinner parties and construction sites, the full seasons of another person's rotating ambitions and manoevers -- and I know what it is to be kicked out.

I had another vision on Sunday. Christ stretched out on the cross barring the way. To some people Christ on the cross screams in his passion; to some he opens his arms so wide as to embrace the world. To me, he stands in the middle of a road I don't need to take, and tells me not to go any further. All the ambitions of others in which one gets entangled receive this reply: no more. I was wondering how far to go down this road, looking into their lives, wishing that the lovely boy or the advisor would approve of me, waiting always to hear. Suddenly Sunday, I hear this voice instead: What are you asking them for? What do you want them to do about it? Don't ask them, ask me. Now every time I see a cross, I see not the hallmark brand of an organization, but a road block. Don't ask them, ask me. Christ turns me away from the way I was heading, and I start from another route, deep into the heavily-scented night, making time down the long roads. When I wake up again, I won't know how I got there. This is one fruit of faith.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


Dinner this evening at San Damiano monastery, across the street from Dolores Park. Good people there. Franciscans in Australia are worried about women and AIDS, the Roman cardinal having told them that if they caught it from their spouse, it was "their cross to bear."

All Marxists angry about having gay rights ignored as an issue. Lots of good stories about the Catholic workers, Dominicans and the homeless, Dan Beringer spilling his blood on nuclear weapons in Connecticut.

Asexual Revolution

Want to know where identity politics is taking us? Consider this.

In the last month or so I've begun to notice articles and interviews about "asexual" lifestyles. 10% of the population, they claim, have no sexual feelings for anyone of either gender at any time.

Asexuals get together to bond over their identity. Google "asexuality" and find groups who schedule meetings and conferences.

Now this throws a ratchet in the rest of identity politics. If asexuals exist by nature, they form a group naturally allied to traditionalist concerns about the inundation of the media by sexual messages. Asexuals interviewed in the articles complain about being overwhelmed by intercourse, horniness, and ribaldry in popular songs, movies, and magazines. Suddenly not being horny is political. More than that, it's cool.

Asexuals have the chance to cause trouble for cultural theory in another, more complicated way, too. Gender theorists have been claiming "Boston marriages" for the side of repressed homosexual subcultures these past thirty years. What if asexuality is granted a stake as a legitimate identity expressed over time? Sexual studies have benefited by being able to read the absence of heteronormatiity as probably homosexuality, but no more. In effect, studies with an asexual slant could do a lot of damage to inflated claims, the moment conservatives leap.

The original rationale for a celibate priesthood, remember, was predicated on Paul's assertion that some people are naturally created as eunuchs. Some, he conceded, aren't. That single observation -- the first half, minus the concession -- was generalized into an excuse for a thousand years of sexual repression in the West.

Incidentally. The Yahoo! directory site calls up margin ads for Jewish culture groups.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Where all our best laid plans dissolve into the avatars of sunbeams

Mating habits among subspecies homo sapiens intellectus, like those of other homo sapiens, vary by climate and social structure, a relationship best understood by elite demographic analysts like the renowned scientists Leo Burnett, Saatchi and Saatchi, Chiat and Day. Through generational studies of sweat reflexes and behavior patterns, researchers have been able to identify systems of behavior corresponding to exposure to climate (the bathing suit) and clan structure (the eight boat). Some research (Balzac 1829) has suggested that long sequestration in libraries (during intellectus's hibernation period) can catalyze reactions such that subjects make high-pitched whining noises and lose the ability to mimic the "laugh" noise required to join in the social rituals known collectively as the "sense of humor." It is the recommendation of this committee that these regressive gene codes be isolated on a cold island with many books and sterilized so as to not contaminate research into the social practices of the mainstream.

Also interesting is how these principles are typically misinterpreted by cross-continental migrating members of subspecies homo sapiens subintellectus, who encountering a local environmental pattern like that of Castro, may express a misinterpretation of their surroundings such as the following recently reported by a New York Accountant who had had his butt pinched one time too many: "All Men Are Hyper Aggressive in San Francisco. San Francisco Must Be the Greatest Dating Pool in the World for Straight Women."

Sunday, April 10, 2005

I've Loved You All My Life and That's How I Want to End It

Reading: Frank Mort's Dangerous Sexualities, a history of medic-moral politics in England after 1830.

So, everyone I know in hipsto-intellectualster land is semi-convinced, with Jenny Holzer, that romantic love was invented to confuse and manipulate women. This thesis, more or less, stems from the intriguing thesis put forward in 1956 by Denis de Rougement, a student of Cathar literature, who claimed that 13th c Provence was responsible for importing a diseased, criminal obsession with the other sex into religion, and so creating the hunger and thirst for romance that has plagued natural human relationships.

The statement is questionable: we have ancient love poetry from Greece, Rome, and Persia; there are lovers who die for each other in every tradition. A general characteristic of the hero in the ancient world is his charismatic pull on members of the opposite sex, a sinister relationship with seductive enchantresses, and a devotion to one domestic female equated with his home, territory, patriotism. We all understand the implications of these female roles for women: a female hero torn between men in the same roles has never been invented, and there have been plenty of evil seductresses and home-bound housewives. But the issue under discussion remains. Love, how about it?

What Mort and more recent historians have made clear is that around 1890, following the first flushes of 1860s purity-based feminism and the sexuality researches of Havelock Ellis, a new vision of romance emerged: love and sex as the vulcan mind-meld of consciousness. It was more intense, more scientific, and more medicalized than any former vision of romance. It got a hold of a lot of people and created a lot of hysterics.

So last night I was watching the tango-dancers at Cell Space, circling one another, pressing gently on sholder and palm, gliding across the room in a single impulse, communicating instantly and effectively in a shared somnambulism: the tango is a dance that could have only evolved out of the medicalized world of romance circa 1890. It is a beautiful dance.

Back to the future. Some of us are products of 1890. Some are products of the individualist reaction that pitted Freud against the Viennese hedonism he wrote against, a critique that emerged around 1960. Those of us who crave and suffer in loneliness and decadence will just have to learn how to deal with those of us intent on living their own lives, and vice versa.

One thing the historians and anthropologists can tell us is this: regardless of who values romance and how and when, all human societies have depended on some sort of family structure, some dependence on others for security and shared promise, some kind of nation of sacrifice that accounts for the fact that individuals die and their works are pretty petty, and yet the people they had relationships with will live on after them. Every society has enshrined these social structures in protective layers of reverence and ritual, until ours. We have an acquisitive society of individuals out for themselves. No one suffers more in this than the meritocracy, because no one is more driven to succeed. Freaks, Geeks, and Queers are experimenting with alternatives -- tentative tribe structures, marriages of convenience between groups of friends. Will they have the durability and reliability of other family structures? That depends on what rituals they establish.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Thing About Duty is that One Cannot Rest

Working at the Revolution Cafe ce soir. Angry bum begins throwing shopping cart to ground. Screams. Repeats. He has no shoes. This continues for some time. Cars seem intimidated. Gangly hipster gets up to talk to him. Their conversation runs: "Why don't I move the shopping cart over here?" "Yes. No. I don't care." (screams, reseizes shopping cart). rinse. repeat. I scrawl "Blessed Are The Peacemakers" on a sheet of paper and leave it in my bag, approach the friend of said interloper. We watch it continue. After a while the police arrive and we end up sitting there, talking about Venezuela and Brazil. To be fair, I did none of the talking. I know nothing about South America.

The whole scene, before I left my solitary table inside the cafe, was watched through the frame of the cafe doors, with great swooping arm gestures and furious encounters, much like a silent film. The guitarist played classical etudes in the background.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Queen of Interiors

Danah Boyd, reine de psycholanalyse sociologue, has summoned me to Peru and off I go. But not before a series of introspective dialogues about Loneliness, Truth, Companionship, and Sorrow. Lent is over and Easter is on in full force. My friends are goihg out of their heads. Feminism is dead and everyone, like it or not, is sinking into a series of unfulfilled fox-hunts for relationships. Which brings Solitude, introspection, awareness. Figuring out the ones one needs and the ones one doesn't need at all.

That's all very abstract and awful, isn't it? I broke up with a best friend last week, and got broken up with by a boyfriend, all in 24 hours. I'm suprised to find that I'm not that sad about either. I love the guy, big big soul, but if he's not in, neither am I. I liked the girl but thought we'd drifted way too far away. Is it growing up? Is it the drugs, the psychoanalysis? have they seeped away my conviction and my substance? I have no frikkin idea. I'm drunk on love for the world, and i feel neither competitive nor successful, and I want everyone, absolutely everyone, to be happy.

So Bertie and I were mining the truths of this. I told Bertie about Aquinas's views on prostitutes. Bertie told me about Aquinas's views on wildlife.