The heavily securitized apartment towers of Interlomas rise out of the northwestern hills of Mexico City, soulless, securitized phalluses that house (protect) the soulless, tacky rich of Mexico. From many of their windows, surely double, even triple strength windows, able to sustain whatever paranoid fantasy their occupants dream, whatever dirty penetrating outside force that haunts their nightmares, that delivers the worrylines they must botox out, you can see the slums of Huixquilucan. I wonder how many tired businessmen look out of their reinforced windows, backs to their boring, soulless interior design, and think of jumping, gently floating down from their towers, navy blue ties flapping gently in the wind, gold rings glinting in the moonlight, falling gently into the cesspool that they must, in some goldplated compartment of their soft minds, know is of their own making. What is the texture of their ambivalence?
I went to MACO last year, but not this year, but I can’t imagine it felt much different. Airy, vague, moneyed, depressing. Material was in a different place this year, and set up differently, in fact in this wild bleeding maze by APRDELESP that made it hard to tell—I mean, not that hard—what wall went with what gallery, where you were in the scheme of things, etc. As in it was kind of disorienting, physically, in a way that felt, sure, ambivalent, but leaning more towards laughing loudly than violence. I think, maybe I hope, that one of the directions one can go, when one finds oneself in this ambivalent intersection I am talking about, where one can slide deeper into one’s soft fleshiness and just laugh real hard. That it’s not a slippery slope so much as many slippery slopes.
I saw Bradford a few weeks later, at a barbecue, actually a barbecue that I had forgotten about, so when we got there we had just been to a barbecue restaurant, this place Porco Rosso which is some kind of decent approximation of Kansas City BBQ, maybe, although I’ve never actually had Kansas City BBQ. Great brisket, unimpressive everything else. Also an unimpressive sense of geographic BBQ specificity, as no Kansas City BBQ would have St Louis ribs on the menu, right? Anyway, Bradford and I were agreeing about how we liked the mazelike, kind of unnerving setup of the fair—it wasn’t airy and vague like MACO or pretty much any other art fair I’ve been to, or that we had been to—I mean, he’s been to a lot more, Bradford has—anyway Material was stuffy and sloppy, you kept on finding yourself in weird places, or a new place to have a mezcal. I kept on not knowing where I was and backtracking, fixating here and there on this or that. Bradford and I also agreed that we were generally unimpressed with the work at the European galleries and the New York galleries had brought, something about the work seemed totally non-self-aware, which became suddenly very ludicrous and pretentious-looking in the particular architecture and the atmosphere it produced. For whatever reason textiles seemed to make the most sense, maybe because of their looming physicality, or maybe just because rugs can get musty: Yann Gerstberger’s rug-like banner/tapestries that nearly obscured the entirety of the Lodos, or Caroline Wells Chandler’s exuberantly perverse woolen vaginas.
Have you read No Future, that book by Lee Edelman? It is a difficult book. Honestly I’m not sure it’s worth reading: it is very spiteful and stuffed with Lacan quotes, so much so that it feels more like a disorganized Lacan primer with angry queer spit on it than a book about anything in particular. The best line in the book is this, and it comes early, in the intro: “Fuck the social order and the Child in whose name we’re collectively terrorized; fuck Annie; fuck the waif from Les Mis; fuck the poor, innocent kid on the Net; fuck Laws both with capital ls and with small; fuck the whole network of Symbolic relations and the future that serves as its prop.”
I don’t even have the book anymore; it didn’t make it with me to Mexico. It might be in a box, somewhere, or it might be at the Out of the Closet on Sunset in Echo Park. Maybe somebody bought it or threw it out. I remember distinctly that the line comes in the intro, though, as if the book is planned to accoplish the thing it advocates, to prematurely ejaculate and block any future of a reader, of being read. Like you should just read that line and go, ok.
I can find the line because it’s in Maggie Nelson’s book, The Argonauts. It’s on page 75, which is not the intro. I read The Argonauts on the Amtrak, I think. The whole day was a blur. A man told me everything about his life and I didn’t want to know any of it. I wondered, is this mansplaining? and made point to get that Rebecca Solnit book, Men Explain Things to Me. In that book, Solnit explains to us that the term “mansplaining” was not her invention and that she has been surprised, maybe alarmed, but rarely dismayed, by the proliferation of the word. On the train I wrote a lot about how violent I thought mansplaining is. Now I don’t think it’s violent, and I don’t think what the man on the train was doing was mansplaining, especially because he wasn’t actually explaining anything to me, at least not anything specific, just his life, and anyway, can a man ‘splain to another man? But it was something similar, something close; similarly nonviolent, but similarly close to violence.
He told me that he had been on the Amtrak for four days, beginning in Lancaster, PA—near Philadelphia—and that he was eventually going to Seattle. He had bought the ticket because it was a deal. He has never been to Mexico, but he has been to Venezuela. He winked knowingly as he explained how disorganized, late, but ultimately industrious Venezualans are. He said he lived in Venezuela for two years, but never learned Spanish. He told me he lived in Micronesia, that at least Micronesians were organized, but that there is no water. A plane flies in water once a week. He lives on the big island in Hawaii. He used to drive freight workers around.
I neither asked for, nor invited, any of this information. When I sat down, I was looking at my phone, reading—or at least trying to read—a profile of Vijay Iyer, the pianist and composer. I had gotten to a part that was more interesting than the rest, George Lewis was talking about Iyer as a improviser, and improvising in general. As he began talking, and continued to talk, unbidden, I sent gentle hints that I did not want to talk. I didn’t ask very many questions, except when I outright didn’t believe him—Marshall Islands?—mostly responded with “ok!” or “huh” or maybe “wow.” At each pause, I would look back at my phone, hoping to read more about what George Lewis thinks about improvisers and/or improvising, maybe scroll a little bit for emphasis.
I didn’t want a confrontation. I think the thing that’s unnerving and angering about this kind of speech is that it refuses to acknowledge nuance, especially nuance that emanates from the interlocuting body. There is an unwillingness to see another, to acknowledge their nuance. A blinkered avoidance of shimmers. A hard, mean shell of arrogance.
“These reports—they describe a soft, fleshy world shellacked by a hard, mean shell of arrogance,” writes Jennifer Doyle in her searing essay on the violently ambivalent intersection of shame, homophobia, misogyny, and bureaucracy on college campuses, Campus Sex, Campus Security. The reports in question are those issued by internal and external investigative bodies looking at Title IX or other sexual crimes on campus, reports “haunted” by anxiety, by what Foucault calls, in an earlier citation, “the dark shimmer of sex.” In this particular example, the possibility of consensual sex between men darkly shimmers on the edge of college football culture: “these football coaches, fraternity members, and college presidents…do not know how to narrate the centrality of sexual-coercion-by-men to their formation as men, or what it means to affirm that non-consexual sex forms the bedrock of their masculinity. They do no know how to reconcile their hatred of women with their desire for intimacy with men, and with their certainty that they are not gay.” It is this anxiety that kept the child molester Jerry Sandusky safe on the Penn State campus for twenty years. It is a similar anxiety that drives UC Davis chancellor Katehi to call in the police, a decision the police questioned, because “…there could be a party or something could happen to them”; it is, perhaps, the same anxiety that drives the very way that criminal justice is handled in the United States: in the name of the state, rather in the name of the victim. As an abstraction, as an avoidance of bodies doing things to each other. A hard, mean shell of arrogance around a soft, fleshy world; “an abstracted relationship to the flesh and the world—in which nothing has meaning.” A vanishing of the feeling future.
In the ancient canals in Xochimilco, a World Heritage Site until UNESCO gets tired of all the slums there and dumps it, there should be a species of salamander called the axolotl. The axolotl become adults without going through metamorphosis; as in, they don’t actually become adults, the way most amphibians do. It’s like if a tadpole just continued to be a tadpole, but was able to reproduce, etc. Anyway apparently the axolotl doesn’t go through metamorphosis because it lacks iodine. If you inject the axolotl with iodine, it goes through metamorphosis and becomes an adult. Then, according to legend, it kills itself. The axolotl hates the future. The axolotl is extinct in the wild.
Maybe if I had said to Jack, my non-buddy on the Amtrak, look Jack, I don’t want to talk right now, I was actually really looking forward to 14 hours of solitude, of hanging out with the California seaside and reading, maybe—maybe—writing a little, maybe if I had said that he would have said, “oh, ok,” and stopped talking, or maybe he would have called me ungrateful, or something like that, or maybe he would have strangled me, in the dark, on the first floor of the train, near the empty luggage racks swinging lewdly like sex swings. These all seem probable, unsurprising. Last week a man in Kalamazoo picked up an Über passenger or two in the midst of a murder spree. The proximity that is terrifying is not the temporal one, that at, oh I don’t know, 7pm he shot somebody, 8:30pm he picked somebody up, 9:15pm he shot somebody. The proximity that is terrifying is the short distance between the feeling body—the body that feels empathy, that senses nuance, that knows itself to be soft, fleshy—and the unfeeling body: the hard, mean, shell of arrogance.
When I was in Oakland, I had lunch with Ian. We met at a closed Chinese restaurant, then walked to a closed Vietnamese restaurant. Two doors down was another Vietnamese restaurant, where everybody was laughing loudly, eating noodles. We got sandwiches. They weren’t very good.
As we were walking towards Ian’s studio, he said something about “that kind of grubby feeling you get when you’re sitting at your desk, eating lunch, looking at somebody else’s work online.” Or he said something like that. The word “grubby” stands out, as does the image of eating some shitty lunch at your office desk, scrolling. I was hungover in a floaty, flighty way. I think I said, that’s funny. Ian showed me candles he’s been making, with poems inside, many of them burned or torn in places. One with studs on top. I couldn’t stop thinking about that Miguel Gutierrez piece, one I never saw, but I think Christine did, where he sits down on a candle, ceremonially inviting it into his asshole. It’s an image that has always remained unfinished in my mind: I can see Miguel sitting down on a candle—it’s thick, ivory/yellow, melting—I think actually in my mind it’s lit, which would be terrifying in real life, I’m sure that isn’t what happened—it’s center stage, which it probably wasn’t, foreground, which maybe it was, but again, I kind of doubt that, too. I have no idea what he’s wearing, where he is, or whether there are other dancers on stage. The light is medium. I haven’t seen a piece of Miguel’s in a long time. I remember offering to buy him a drink and him telling me he was, still is I’m sure, sober. I used to be uncomfortable around sober people; that was dumb.
In his studio, we looked at these dioramas of sorts that he had been making, making these weird arrays in generic IKEA storage bins, the sort of thing people use to put old clothes in or to do DIY kitchen worm composting, because of course nothing saves the future faster than plastic bins. Anyway I was hoping he would send me a picture of this one that was super weird, with this dripping, nasty streak of purple paint in it, but he sent me a different one, one where he inserted some dollhouse windows and some dollhouse faux wood flooring in the bin and put a My Book hard drive box in it. The box has some dollhouse windows installed too, through which you can see something. Ian didn’t remember what.
I’m glad he sent me this one, though. Because I think I can use it to describe what I mean about the ambivalent intersection of noncomplimentary forms. Each of these forms, physical or social, carry with them specific, but different utilities and/or social connotations: IKEA storage bins, DIY worm composting, dollhouse building, sculpture, digital storage. And then I guess you can add vitrines, lightboxes, dioramas. Some of them have something to do with each other, physical or methodological similarities, maybe they are surrounded by similar cultures or whatnot, but they, in general, not complementary. Each item has a different trajectory. When you put them together, the result isn’t cumulative, it’s something more mushy, porous, slippery and grey.
There’s a feeling I get sometimes, usually when I’m working on something I either don’t want to be working on or that is stressing me out. It’s a computer thing, usually. When the computer or the internet starts to stutter, I get this feeling. It’s kind of slackness, a dark slackness. It’s like, “oh, maybe now I’ll do something perverted.” That’s usually when I scroll through something—porn maybe. Always scrolling. There’s something anxious to it, but it’s slack, grubby. A dark shimmer? A flab in time.
Nelson thinks of Edelman because she has recently birthed a child, because she is queer and is reconciling the act of having a child with her queerness, worrying that because she is married and has two children she is somehow not queer enough, worrying at how at how that word, queer, that identify or that movement, has calcified into a simple set of attributes: not child-bearing, not married, not having-a-mug-with-a-picture-of-your-family-on-it. And I mean, she’s right, obviously, if being queer is something claimable, a position from which you can bully others about how they’re not doing it right, etc, well, that fucking sucks. What about those of us who identify as queer because we identify with nuance, with shimmers dark and light? And anyway, what hates the future more than neoliberalism? The erosion of public services and public education, the driving of a wedge between the rich and poor, the erosion of the rule of law by blaming everything on the “government,” the consequent camouflaging of the government and its actions that results from a government blaming everything on the government, not on itself but on its phantom other…it’s like what Edelman describes in his book is not some kind of radical punk queerness but the day to day reality of the world as it exists under neoliberalism.
I had the good fortune of seeing Juliana Paciulli’s show, Uh-huh, at Greene Exhibitions in Los Angeles. She gave me a pin; it says “uh-huh.” I wear it on my jacket now in the hope that it will prevent things from getting too serious. The show was undeniably funny, in this kind of disconcerting, flippant, eyeroll, uh-huh kind of way. The staged photographs were all against the same off-white background, set far enough forward in the frame that perspective skews and lends an uncanny depth to each image, a depth that disappears online, that can only be felt in person. The show’s lone sculpture was a shattered coffee table with an iPad playing a slideshow of vaguely revolutionary aphorisms in decidedly Pinterest fonts, the iPad’s awkward white charging cord snaking down one of its legs. Keep calm and keep drinking Sprite. Let’s make a subculture of sub-par excellence and totally commit to it! The effect of the show as a whole is consistent with Juliana’s past work, this kind of pre-linguistic deep body discomfort that unnerves attempts to draw conclusions, put forth narratives, and so on. This narrative discomfort is actually articulated very well by Jonathan Griffin’s humorless and patronizing review of the show, in which he can’t figure out who the protagonist is or what she wants, or if an archetype is at work, and if so which one and in what way. He can’t figure out “where Paciulli is trying to lead her viewers.” In the final sentence—”Such, perhaps, is the indecision of youth.”—you can almost see his patronizing smile, what Rebecca Solnit describes as “that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy horizon of his own authority.” A hard, mean shell of narrative. An inability to feel nuance, to find the wonder in feeling kind of weird, indecisive, grubby, too close to too many things. A soft, fleshy, silly body.