Friday, July 17, 2009

"The Water is Warm, Sending Me Shivers" (or: In Praise of the Mundane)

Today, after being paid by the two jobs I work, I ran around and bought necessaries, and then rode down to pay the rest of this months rent and all of next months. I just barely missed the down-pour.
There is something simply satisfying about being able to take care of oneself. Recently I've been waging war against a chest cold, and for the last 2 weeks have managed to keep it from turning into a virulent bout of bronchitis. This, too, is satisfying. It's been ages since a parental bail-out and I am meeting my basic responsibilities--save the electric bill--and still have enough cash (for now at least) to take J. out for a decent dinner and drinks.
When The German sought to console me over my hyperbolic malaise over losing my youth he said, "Now you will finally have the means to do all the things you've been wanting to do." I suppose I am swiftly approaching that time when I can actually say, "I'm doing more than just 'getting by'." Perhaps this means I am becoming more and more a bourgeois fuck.
To this end, I'd like to share a passage from "Dance, Dance, Dance":

"That's capital investment. Granted, this sort of thing isn't new to the modern age. But everything before is nothing compared to the exacting detail and sheer power and invulnerability of today's web of capitalism. And it's megacomputers that have made it all possible, with their inhuman capacity to pull every last factor and condition on the face of the earth into their net calculations. Advanced capitalism has transcended itself. Not to overstate things, financial dealings have practically become a religious activity. The new mysticism. People worship capital, adore its aura, genuflect before Porsches and Tokyo land values. Worshiping everything their shiny Porsches symbolize. It's the only stuff of myth that's left in the world.
"Latter-day capitalism. Like it or not, it's the society we live in. Even the standard of right and wrong has been subdivided, made more sophisticated. Within good, there's fashionable good and unfashionable good, and ditto for bad. Within fashionable good, there's formal and then there's casual; there's hip, there's cool, there's trendy, there's snobbish. Mix 'n' match. Like pulling on a Missoni sweater over Trussardi slacks and Pollini shoes, you can now enjoy hybrid styles of morality. It's the way of the world--philosophy starting to look more and more like business administration.
"Although I didn't think so at the time, things were a lot simpler in 1969. All you had to do to express yourself was throw rocks at riot police. But with today's sophistication, who's in a position to throw rocks? Who's going to brave what tear gas? C'mon, that's the way it is. Everything is rigged, tied into that massive capital web, and beyond this web there's another web. Nobody's going anywhere. You throw a rock and it'll come right back at you."

I have aspirations to change the way we think, speak, and see the world--this is, after all, why I abandoned the pettiness and triviality of so much of recent philosophy for the field of political theory. At heart, however, I am a philosopher, I fear. It is a struggle to confront the world with receptivity and not simply recoil from its horror with disgust, and profound despair. I am working, still, to cultivate a "love of the world." To this end, J. has been wonderfully helpful. Though he may not always realize it, his simply stated distain for the hyper-complexity of academic thought that I've now come to accept as the norm jars me from my own complacency: theory outstrips practice and thereby renders itself masturbatory. He has, in the month we've been seeing one another, refused to indulge my flights of fancy into the ether world of abstraction, nor will he allow me to retreat to the solipsism of subjectivism. As I had guessed when we spent our first night together, he is the love-child of Nietzsche, Rimbaud, and Tom Waits.

Still, though I am fully implicated in this "web of capital," I can't imagine adopting a nihilist posture. It just isn't good for my blood, or my stomach. This leaves me, like J., and any of us who take seriously the concerns that we can see right in front of us, a bundle of contradictions. I don't ever think I can reconcile these contradictions--they are like a life-long ailment, like being born with emphysema or HIV: you simply must, daily, treat the condition. What sort of therapy is there for this, though? It is the logic of capitalism to insist that we find "satisfaction" in our own personal ways, to withdraw further and further into our own little atomized worlds all the while the fungus spreads across the surface. Activism seems like radical amputation, the sort of treatment that leaves you more crippled after the fact that you were before the "cure". And willful indifference strikes me as profoundly unethical.

I tend to think that being a professor was itself a political activity: I could introduce to my students the burdens of our time, bring them to acknowledge their own potency, and prepare the way for a new way of living. I wonder how many of the men and women I admire--these towering intellectuals--were drawn to this way of life for the same reasons. Of those whom I admire that share this passion, I wonder how many of them still do. I get so anxious when I think that all of this is a rather meaningless undertaking, just a job like any other: like shoveling snow, cultural snow (D,D,D).

When I think of myself in a few months, when I allow myself to imagine what it will be like to, again, be in the meat-grinder of that is graduate school, I wonder what will happen to J. I'm afraid that I won't have time for him, or, worst still, won't know how to perform the balancing act necessary for me to be both a successful student and an engaged lover. I've never been very good at balance, and I desperately hope I am up for the challenge. I will come to loathe my intellectual pursuits if they necessitate a withdrawal from the social world. But then, J. has always been firm about meeting his own responsibilities, to his band, to work, and to school. I think he will be able to understand the demands that will be made of me, and hopefully we will be able to negotiate those demands together. But they will be demands I make of myself, and here is where I fear I will falter: I will feel selfish, and therefore guilty, for putting my Greek homework or my Data Analysis readings before him. Though I swore to myself I would never again allow a lover to come between me and my ambition, I also fear loneliness.

Enough of this! Spinning my wheels in this muck isn't going to get me anything other than dirty and frustrated. Interrupt the feedback loop.

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