Midsommar and the Temptations of Fascism

 

 

[SPOILERS, OBVIOUSLY]

 

Midsommar is about the lure of fascism to the alienated white petty bourgeoisie.

 

The film opens with Dani, a young white female grad student, trapped in a dark, disconnected ‘ordinary’ world. She is agonizing over an ambiguous, disturbing email from her sister, trying (and failing) to get some comfort over the phone from her emotionally distant boyfriend, Christian. Dani’s guilty anxiety about whether or not to take her sister’s threats seriously will be familiar to anyone who has ever watched a loved one have a mental crisis from hundreds of miles away. Dani cannot communicate with her sister or share her trauma; she is haunted by obligations to her sister that are absolutely pressing but impossible to fulfill. Her sister enacts a ritual sacrifice of herself and her parents, filling the house with car exhaust. However, within the context of the ‘modern’ world, this jump into the abyss can only be read as insanity.

 

In opposition to the grim and grab ‘modern’ world, the village of Hårga represents a triumph of Aryan collectivity which is profoundly attractive to Dani. There is no difference; there is no disconnection. Everything proceeds according to a perfect order. The villagers practice an idealized form of agricultural labor. We see women washing dishes, but the act seems symbolic more than anything, since nothing in the movie is ever dirty. We are bombarded with perfect, vivid colors against perfect, vivid white. We don’t see the kind of simple, soul-grinding drudgery that characterizes rural domestic labor—just the production of kitschy folk commodities and quaint foods. (And it is the outside capitalist’s worlds demand for these folk commodities that sustains the village economically, as we learn through Josh’s discussion with the village elder.) They use computers and watch Austin Powers. Contrary to the stereotype of a cult, the Hårga encourage their young people to go outside—not just for a sort of Rumspringa but for a third of their life—and experience the world. They are not an ‘alternative’ to the modern world but dependent on it and perfectly in harmony with it, and their nature-folk-worship only makes sense in the context of the modern world. The villagers of Hårga would be totally alien to actual ancient Swedish peasants.

The commune goes on and on about how connected they are with nature; but of course, they aren’t, particularly. Nothing about their violence is “natural”, in the sense of proceeding unmediated from the Forces of Nature; it is profoundly. Their practices around sex and death are profoundly odd. They resemble some real social practices, but they could not possibly sustain a real village commune for centuries. Everyone is tripping balls, constantly; you need mushrooms to get yourself through this existence, it doesn’t proceed according to the ‘natural’ human life cycle, such as it is.

Thus, the figure of Josh, the black anthropologist, is incredibly important. The movie carefully primes us with the familiar horror stereotype: the ugly Americans who charge into the ‘indigenous’ community and get what’s coming to them. The scene with Josh is so obviously telegraphed: the elders tell him about a sacred book he can’t see; of course he breaks in and looks at it anyway; of course they come and kill him and we think, Of Course, you Idiot, you broke into the Thing You Never Were Meant To See and paid the Price. But rather than see this as another revenge-by-the-natives-against-the-arrogant-anthropologist, we need to take race in the movie seriously.

Josh represents an indissoluble threat to their way of life, their imagined unbroken Aryan paganism. I’m sure Josh, if he were real, as a serious scholar of midsummer rituals, could tell us that the Hårga are based on nineteenth-century European understandings of paganism, suffused with racist ideas and having little to do with actual peasant communities. (The elder at the beginning of the movie is entirely nonplussed when Josh compares one of their beliefs to the practices of a group in India.) The script for the movie carefully notes the poster of James George Frazer, author of The Golden Bough, a key basis for this kind of ‘scholarship,’ in Josh’s apartment. The camera also lingers on a book called The Secret Nazi Language of the Elder Uthark, reminding us of new-age fascism reinterpretations of paganism. (Extra thanks to a commenter on reddit for pointing out, which I did not know, that the poster at the beginning of the movie reads ‘Vote Free North. Stop mass immigration to Hålsingland.’) The imagined Aryan homeland must be maintained. They represent a colonial, imperialist fantasy of migration: their children can go out and conquer the world; they bring back only who they chose to, people who can be sexually exploited and killed as soon as they serve no other purpose.

The overwhelming fear of analysis, comparison, and a critical eye from the Global South prevents the villagers from understanding or accepting Josh—they can only kill him. The framing of the ‘arrogant anthropologist invading the native community’, a horror trope based on the actual historical racism of anthropology, blinds us to what is actually happening on screen. The murder of Josh represents the pervasive fear of ‘the academy,’ ‘SJWs,’ all those clever minority professors plotting white genocide in their ivory towers, whose rational exegesis threatens the mass delusions on which white petty-bourgeois fascism depends.

Similarly, the interpersonal dynamics of Christian and Dani’s toxic relationship blind us to the wider gender violence the cult asks her to accept. There’s been a lot said on “neoliberal identity politics,” much of it crap, but I think the film offers a useful example of a certain form of it—how you can use accepted tropes (accepted because they reflect reality) of certain kinds of stereotyped ‘bro’ behavior to lure the audience’s attention toward this and away from the wider violence going on all around you. It also represents the fantasy of complementarianism, which can be found in conservative religious writing but also misbegotten feminist writing which got away from a correct critique of the antimonies of white bourgeois feminism and ‘agency’ into reactionary nonsense. The women here have Power, they have equal status and in fact sexually exploit men, not the other way around. (I’ve avoided singling out Aster because, first, The Director Is Dead and what matters is what’s on film and, second, I don’t know/necessarily want to know his actual intentions, but I do find it annoying he sees this as a Clever Subversion of Horror Tropes when literally one of the most ancient stories around is that of the man trapped by the sexually predatory sorceress.) Their work, as I mentioned before, consists mostly of the sort of care and cultural production people tend to find value in, away from dirt and drudgery. The perfect—white—female community, in which everyone immediately feels your pain and is there to support you. The fulfillment of the pain (and it’s very, very real pain) of the white female bourgeois subject, who is a Queen of her own private fairy tale all along.

The village runs along the ritual sacrifice of the elderly and the outsider (and it is No Accident that the first to die are the POC Simon and Connie). Those who no longer have a concrete use can be ejected, as can those from the outside. Not just sacrifice, but total consumption by fire, and in a building specially designed for that purpose, after paralyzing the victims with various chemicals. This ritual purging is done for the emotional well-being of the villagers. But if the village is an idyll, from whence the extreme emotional angst that must be purged? Is this simply the Human Condition, Human Nature? Or is the central irony that the villagers do not understand that it is the village that causes the problems for them that it then solves? At the end of the film, he villagers Ulf and Ingemar willingly sacrifice themselves, but as the flames billow, we see at the end the pure terror in their eyes. They have realized, too late, that to sacrifice yourself for the Nation means nothing at all.

 

(But how was the movie, Elizabeth? It was good but I didn’t like it as much as Hereditary).

Pride Month, Part I: Angels in America

 

I’ve watched Angels in America at least twice before (although never on stage). I will say, on a third viewing, it still absolutely lives up to the hype. Go right out and watch it now if you haven’t yet. It’ll be better use of six hours than dragging yourself through Netflix.

 

For my money, the most precise, fully realized character is Louis Ironson, the gay Jewish word processor (back when ‘word processors’ were human beings) at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Louis is one of the best fictional representations of US liberalism I’ve ever seen. Precisely because both Kushner and the play itself are quite aware of the dilemmas of US liberalism but unable to break out of it, Louis emerges as the embodiment of the key themes of the play.

It is Louis’s abandonment of his lover, Prior, due to Prior’s AIDS diagnosis that undergirds the structure of the entire play. Act One introduces the probability that Louis will chose to leave rather than deal with the reality of caring for his lover through to his death, and Act One ends with Louis finally resolving to leave Prior. Act Two finally resolves with Prior and Louis reaching a rapprochement (through not really a reconciliation). Louis’s abandonment of Prior is the emotional trauma at the heart of the play, forming the basis for both how we view the closeted lawyer Joe Pitt’s abandonment of his wife Harper and how we view God’s abandonment of humanity as the play shifts into its supernatural aspects.

Louis running away from Prior is shown as a character flaw, if quite a human one. However, it also flows from his politics in ways that are not fully appreciated. Louis’s fundamental characteristic, as his not-really-friend Belize tells him, is that he is “ambivalent about everything.” Louis has deep anxiety about the law and fear of judgment. It is an eternal ambiguity, not radical or deconstructive, but destructive.

When justifying to himself his decision to leave Prior, he tells Prior he hates the law because “all that matters is the verdict,” gabbling on that the law “should be the question and shape of a life, its total complexity gathered, arranged and considered, which matters in the end, not some stamp of salvation or damnation which disperses all complexity in some unsatisfying little decision.” Prior, knowing what Louis is really saying, responds, “I like this; very zen; it’s … reassuringly incomprehensible and useless. We who are about to die thank you.” Louis’s sin (and he and the play both view it on some level as a sin in the real sense) is, interestingly, justified in thoroughly liberal terms. His is the classic liberal critique of harsh right-wing jurisprudence: that life is too nuanced to be decided in a court room, that it is unjust to squash all the possible complexities into a singular narrative. In fact, this is the reigning view of much of current academia, which takes the reality that oppression denies the reality of the oppressed and concludes from this that the real problem is that there was a narrative at all. Louis isn’t wrong, exactly. But he is, as Prior says, “useless” in the face of real need.

One of the characteristics of contemporary US liberalism is a wallowing in ambivalence, mistaking this for wisdom and maturity. This has often been remarked on, to the extent that “nuance” has become a punchline. It is the inability to decide which side you are on, an overpowering fear of conclusions which would then require actions, actions one is not willing to take.

This form of thought allows all critiques, viewpoints, and ideologies to coexist, without one gaining supremacy over another discursively. It is precisely by this mechanism that the true workings of American power are obscured. At the end of the play, Prior, Louis, Belize, and Joe’s mother Hannah are all joined together in a heated but basically friendly argument. Louis’s last words are a confused mess in which he, characteristically, both rejects religious forms of ‘Zionism’, declares himself an ‘advocate of the Palestinian cause,’ and insists that Israel giving up the Golan Heights and the West Bank would be ‘a bridge too far.’[1] Prior then addresses the audience directly, asking us to tune out the argument and focus on the sacred, universal gift of life which he bestows upon us.

As David Savran argues in his analysis of the play,

a kind of dissensus (of which liberal pluralism is the contemporary avatar) has been the hallmark of the very idea of America – and American literature – from the very beginning. In this most American of ideologies an almost incomparably wide range of opinions, beliefs, and cultural positions are finally absorbed into a fantasy of a utopian nation in which anything and everything is possible, in which the millennium is simultaneously at hand and indefinitely deferred. Moreover, the nation is imagined as the geographical representation of that utopia, which is both everywhere and nowhere. For, as Berlant explains, “the contradiction between the ‘nowhere’ of utopia and the ‘everywhere’ of the nation [is] dissolved by the American recasting of the ‘political’ into the terms of providential ideality, ‘”one nation under God.”’ Under the sign of ‘one’ all contradictions are subsumed, all races and religions united, all politics theologized.”

Louis’s conversation with Belize, referenced earlier, is also quite relevant here. Louis responds to Belize’s accusation of racism by insisting ‘most black people are anti-Semitic’, referring to the then-current incident of Jesse Jackson calling New York ‘Hymietown.’ This reflects a decades-long history of using the specter of black anti-Semitism to separate black and Jewish people politically—a tactic which has made a roaring comeback in the past few years. Belize then points out Louis donated to Jesse Jackson; Louis says his check bounced, which is what prompts Belize’s statement that “All your checks bounce; you’ve ambivalent about everything.”

Louis is not ignorant. He insists he doesn’t “want to speak from a position of privilege” when Belize contradicts him, although he doesn’t really understand what Belize is saying. His liberalism has red tints sometimes, like when he calls Gorbachev “the greatest political thinker since Lenin” or claims to think “the world, …. will change for the better with struggle,” as “a person who has this neo-Hegelian positivist sense of constant historical progress toward happiness or perfection or something.” He only manages to finish saying the Kaddish for a dead Roy Cohn in one scene through the assistance of a ghostly Ethel Rosenberg; but is totally unaware of her presence and sees this recitation as his own personal achievement. This suggests how certain forms and parts of Marxism can congeal with liberalism while diluting any kind of real radicalism—and here it’s hard not to see Tony Kushner himself, who can passionately read and translate and genuinely understand Bertolt Brecht, and yet be an equally passionate fan of Obama and write a movie like Munich.

Louis’s ambivalence is not simply a character trait; it is representative not just of liberalism, but of a certain kind of liberalism in a certain kind of place and time, the liberalism of the American intelligentsia, in late ‘80s New York. I don’t mean to imply that liberalism was good at some point and then lost its way, but rather that real shifts in what liberalism was occurred. Liberalism provided no assistance or solidarity to gay people in the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic. Instead, both frightened and attracted by the sweep of neoliberalism, liberalism fell into the arms of conservatism, as Louis is attracted, despite himself, to Joe Pitt.

In fact, it is Joe, the conservative Mormon in the grip of the Reagan Revolution, who speaks for embracing the imperfections and complexities of the world and of personal freedom outside of the law: “You believe the world is perfectible and so you find it always unsatisfying. You have to reconcile yourself to the world’s unperfectibility by being thoroughly in the world but not of it. … The rhythm of history is conservative. You have to accept that. And accept as rightfully yours the happiness that comes your way.” (In the stage directions, though not in the miniseries, this conversation occurs as Joe is jerking Louis off, further emphasizing the seductive nature of conservative ideology to Louis.) In the language of Adam Smith[2] and the invisible hand, he tells Louis he shouldn’t feel guilty for abandoning his lover, because you have to be cruel to be kind and the good derives from self-interest, not charity. Liberation from the law, which had seemed (and usually really was) a left-wing cause, becomes instead liberation from ties to others, to the oppressed, and for pursuit of one’s own personal profit.

This is, however, also the scene where Louis first begins to seriously pull away from Joe. Louis is genuinely disgusted when he learns Joe is the protégé of Roy Cohn and finally rejects him, to which Joe reacts violently (“Like a sex scene in an Ayn Rand novel, huh,” Louis says bitterly). This is important because liberalism in the US, contrary to some basically correct but one-sided left-wing critiques, is not simply conservatism in disguise. It truly does hate the right-wing (and is hated back), it recoils in disgust from the truth of America, but this disgust leads to nothing. (But, you say, Louis does go back to Prior in the end. Patience, I’ll get there.)

Angels in America is obsessed with movement and change. The reactionary Angel demands humanity stop moving. Prior finally rejects this in the climax of the play, exhorting us to move. Louis is someone who can’t move anywhere, or rather, can’t stop moving but not to anywhere, a movement that is meaningless.

Louis’s later reunion with Prior is not quite a reconciliation or a forgiving, but there is a rapprochement, representing gay America’s rapprochement with America itself, a suppression of the realities of the AIDS crisis.

Who, then, is Prior? Belize and Ethel represent the radical ‘outsides’ of America, Joe and Roy represent American conservatism (in its flamboyant, corrupt and its repressed, religious forms). (Harper and Joe’s mother, despite their importance to the play, somewhat fall out here and relate to politics only obliquely—Harper can’t be bothered to care, has only an emotional/mystical intuition of environmental catastrophe and Joe’s mother, while a devout Mormon, does not see her religious and gender politics as interacting with state politics in the way that Joe does. Which probably shows some kind of gender problems deep in the structure of the play, but I’m too fatigued to think about that right now.)

Prior is much harder to slot in. He has very little character apart from suffering from AIDS, his bitterness over AIDS and his abandonment by Louis, a bemused fear of the Angel, and a gay affect/camp. He is ‘featureless’ (that is, he is rich, white, and male), thus can stand in for all gay men who died of AIDS. He must literally come down from above to heal, he represents the possible messianic potential of ‘America’. He, unlike Louis, has an unproblematic and loving relationship with Belize. He is the real ‘angel,’ the messenger who ushers in a new age. He is the imaginary mediator who must exist for US liberalism to make sense.

Maybe predictably, it is the conservative political fixer and real-life villain Roy Cohn who has the sharpest view of what power in America really is. judging from YouTube comments, most people read Roy Cohn’s “Roy Cohn is a heterosexual man, Henry, who fucks around with guys” as ‘denial’ or ‘mental gymnastics’, incorrectly seeing this as a denial of Roy’s true identity. They miss the point that Kushner is making through Cohn here: that we, like Cohn’s doctor, think words “mean what they seem to mean,” that they identify something’s essence rather than its power, what Cohn throughout the play calls “clout.” Labels are “where an individual fit[s] in the food chain,” they are relational statements. Cohn is quite right to say it is not “hypocrisy” or “sophistry” to say that he is not a gay man.

Similarly, in his conversation with Belize, Cohn spews a bunch of racist rhetoric but then insists “These racist guys, simpletons, I never had any use for them—too rigid. You want to keep your eye on where the most powerful enemy really is.” The point is not the simplistic one it might be, that Cohn uses racism for political power but is not personally racist, that, as Louis argues earlier to Belize, that “racists just try to use race.” Rather, it’s that Cohn is racist, including in the “merely” personal ways, but understands that racism is a power relationship, which he can use to antagonize and bully to get his way (as he does with Belize later). Race is not some real thing that should motivate you, as it motivates those “racist simpletons.” Cohn’s concern for racism is explicitly how racial categories allow the operation of American power, as when he tells Belize that unlike Jews “you people had Jesus so the reds never got to you. I admire that.”

It is Louis’s fear of the body, as he explicitly discusses, which causes him to leave Prior. Describing himself in the third person, he says “maybe that person can’t, um, incorporate sickness into his sense of how things are supposed to go. Maybe vomit … and sores and disease … really frighten him, maybe … he isn’t so good with death.” Similarly, Roy Cohn complains “Americans have no use for the sick…. It’s just no country for the infirm.” Liberalism starts to stumble when it realizes its autonomous, free, unencumbered individuals don’t actually exist.

The best defense of Louis is, of course, that the hardship of caring for a lover dying of AIDS should not fall on just one person. Sarah Schulman rejects the play on this point, because it doesn’t show a politically engaged community of gay men, in a criticism that, I think, really misses both the real achievements of and real problems with the play. For one, I think Schulman’s account of unity in the face of the AIDS crisis is a little idealized; two, the point of the play is to show the consequences of the absence of care, in a way that thus makes the case for its importance; and, three, more to the point of this essay, the characters in the play are representations of currents within American society as much as they are individual gay men living in New York. (Which I am all for by the way: more allegories, fewer “three-dimensional characters.” Otherwise we are cutting ourselves off from the full possibilities and capacities of art as a form.)

So in the end, I don’t think we can judge Louis Ironson, the character in Angels in America, too harshly. No one person can take on the role of guiding another person through a nasty death.[3] But what about gay liberalism, as a political project? And, for all the sturm und drang around homonationalism and assimilation, how do we create a real, concrete alternative? Is the problem that liberalism can accommodate queerness, or that it can’t? Can we get beyond simply bemoaning the existence of gay/queer liberalism to building a genuine queer socialist movement? I hope the next books I discuss here will help me think through these questions.

Works cited:

Angels in America. Directed by Mike Nichols. Written by Tony Kushner. HBO, December 2003.

Kushner, Tony. Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes. New York: Theatre Communications Group, Inc., 2013.

Savran, David. “Ambivalence, Utopia, and a Queer Sort of Materialism: How Angels in America Reconstructs the Nation.” Theatre Journal 47.2 (1995): 207-227.

[1] Kushner, for his part, reveals his own limited imagination when Belize, positioned as part of black radical thought, chooses to advocate only for a Palestinian Bantustan in the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights.

[2] I am perfectly aware of the revisionist readings of Adam Smith claiming he was actually a prescient critic of capitalism and can be reclaimed for the left and I do not agree with them, so don’t @ me about it.

[3] Nor do I want to turn to some exhortation to care for each other, rather than fighting for a world where health care doesn’t depend on personal aid. Nor do I want to suggest the sick cannot fight and care for themselves.

pride month reading project

This June, I will be focusing on reading and watching queer media. I mean ‘queer media’ in a broad sense – works with queerness as a central theme, works by queer authors, works with cultural significance to queer people. I’ve realized recently that reading too many books by ‘great’ straight male authors is hurting my sense of self. It’s disorienting (I know, I know, I’m sorry) to be constantly surrounded by straight culture. I’m also frustrated at how so many demands for ‘representation’ amount to demands where the social and historical reality of queerness is suppressed, or for demands to slot queer characters into cookie-cutter Marvel narratives. I don’t think queer teens need ’empowering’ or ‘reassuring’ media, but media that speaks to their actual reality and needs. I’m interested in defending queer narratives of struggle, tragedy, and loss.

I plan to post an update every Friday (so, the 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th), with a list of queer works I’ve consumed, a brief paragraph about each, and more in-depth analysis on works that interest/move/anger me. I hope you’ll follow along and find something useful in my writing.

messy

 

messy: has a word about dirt and grime ever been so sanitizing? messy is one of those words that is used to suppress the existence of the phenomenon it purports to describe. it goes along with words like complexity and nuance (the latter of which the Cool Kids have turned against these days).

 

you’ve read hundreds of passages on messy, complex, flawed[1], glorious reality, probably. it’s a highly cliché sort of passage that people somehow always think is saying something unique. by use of the word messy, one can avoid talking about the actual mess. it generates a consoling, fuzzy feeling of embracing the evils of the world without actually facing them. mess is no big deal – nothing permanent – easy to undo, potentially totally fixable. it’s not like dirt, which brings disease and shame, and which you can never quite get rid of.

 

now dirty does operate in the same way, sometimes (“getting your hands dirty”), but even then it retains some more of its real content, has a slightly harsher, darker connotation than getting messy.

 

As Louis (one of the finest metaphors for American liberalism in fiction)[2] explains in Angels in America, “Messy, not dirty. That’s an important distinction. It’s dust, not dirt, chemical-slash-mineral, not organic.”[3]

 

a messy reality is a reality which seems bad but is in fact safe, solvable, and even sort of quirky and cozy. to speak of reality as messy means to deny the real horrors of the world.

 

[1] Flawed: an even worse word than messy.

[2] Essay on this forthcoming, possibly.

[3] Angels in America: Perestroika, Act One, Scene 6.

intifada!

I don’t really have time to produce new content for this blog until the semester is over, so I will be using this to collect all the halfway decent writing I’ve done in one place. This is an editorial from The Daily Texan on November 9, 2015, after Texans for Israel accused the Palestine Solidarity Committee at UT of supporting terrorism and violence for using the phrase “Long Live the Intifada!” 

Texans for Israel is clearly excited to condemn the Palestinian Solidarity Committee-UT for “condoning” violence. But we have nothing to hide or be ashamed of. Israel was founded on the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and can only perpetuate itself through continual oppression of the native population. Palestinians have the right to resistcolonialism, occupation and aparthied by any means necessary.

As the scholar Ilan Pappe has shown, Zionist forces expelled about 1 million Palestinians in 1948 and even more in 1967 when Israel seized East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Moreover, as Patrick Wolfe has stated, “invasion is a structure, not an event” insofar as Israel must perpetually struggle against the native population it seeks to displace. This occurs through “silent transfer,” in which Israel expels “small numbers of people on a weekly basis” through demolishing homes, denying construction permits, revoking residency rights, etc.

Furthermore, as many legal scholars have demonstrated, Israel is beyond a settler-colonial state. It also represents an apartheid regime under international law. This includes spatial segregation, denial of the freedom of movement, an ID system, differing legal regimes on the basis of identity, etc.

Meanwhile, attacks by “well-armed, well-organised and ideologically driven” Israeli settlers against Palestinians and their lands are a constant reality of life, of which the firebombing of the Dawabsheh family home this summer is only one horrifying example. These settlers’ express aim is to expropriate Palestinian land, but only Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to military courts with a near-100% conviction rate.

Thus, Palestinian youth have revolted, rejecting both “military occupation and an ineffectual Palestinian leadership.” Israel has responded with mob violence and extrajudicial killings, including the lynching of the Eritrean asylum-seeker Haftom Zarhum. In the recent uprisings, from mid-September to Oct. 31, 69 Palestinians were killed and almost 7,400 injured, compared to 8 Israelis killed and 115 injured.

This is not to say Palestinians are in the right simply because they are weaker but to induce a sense of reality about who is terrorizing whom. If one wants to condemn violence, one should start with Israel, which, two summers ago, unleashed a brutal onslaught against Gaza, slaughtering over 2,200 Palestinians, 500 of whom were children. As TFI directly calls for people to materially support the IDF, the institution responsible for this carnage, we find any moralizing about violence from TFI to be hollow.

Moreover, one cannot equate the violence of the oppressor and the oppressed. As Lina Alsaafin argues, “[o]ppressed people do not and should not have to explain their oppression to their oppressors, nor tailor their resistance to the comfort of the oppressors and their supporters.” And, as we saw in the divestment campaign last spring, even an extremely moderate call to divest from specific companies profiting from human rights abuses in the Occupied Territories is fiercely resisted. Any form of Palestinian resistance, no matter how nonviolent, is rejected outright. Palestinians deserve liberation and justice, not lectures on moral failings. And so — long live the intifada!

fascism and anti-fascism at the bus stop

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I took this picture yesterday at 2:34 p.m. at one of the bus stops on campus. The big sticker at the top is a sticker from the fascist group Patriot Front, which someone scraped off. (You can still discern the red-white-and-blue pattern.) Beneath it, someone pasted a ‘Champaign-Urbana – Always Antifascist’ sticker.* Turning Point USA tried to cover this sticker with one of their ‘Socialism Sucks’ stickers. It’s quite telling that TPUSA’s reaction to seeing a sticker denouncing fascism and white nationalism is to respond ‘socialism sucks’, when the original sticker (although based on a DSA design) doesn’t mention socialism at all, and that TPUSA feels itself implicated in a denunciation of white supremacy. Someone then apparently attempted to remove the ‘Socialism Sucks’ sticker, or possibly both stickers at once, or possibly the TPUSA person tried to remove the antifascist sticker and then someone came back to try to remove the TPUSA sticker. I wonder how much of this is legible to random passersby, and how they interpret it.

 

*I helped put up some of these stickers about a month ago, but not this one.

How I don’t write

I feel feverish. My brain feels like it’s overheating, short-circuiting.

I imagine what I would think if my words were written by someone else and I read them. Portentous, try-hard, banal, bad.

I can’t stand the thought of writing something someone else might not be impressed with. Narcissistic? Yes, I know that, but that doesn’t make me feel anything less.

As long as the words stay inside my head, they are full, flexible, expansive, expanding. Once they’re typed then bam! the wave-function collapses and you’re stuck with one series of words, one which will always be imperfect. But then, you can move the words in the word document around and around forever, in an endless series of imperfect sentences.

I write something I like, and then I am terrified by the thought I am unconsciously plagiarizing it from somewhere and anxiously search my memory.

I scroll through a cluster of bad words on Facebook. I feel guilty for not doing my work, angry with myself for wasting time on something that isn’t even enjoyable, and afraid that I will write something just as bad.

Writing, even in its most prosaic forms, forces you to show parts of yourself. Writing means shaving off little bits of skin and bone and giving them up to whoever asks, even people you don’t particularly like or trust.

Why do we write, unconsciously? Because we want there to be something that remains after we die. And what if that thing is bad? Then our lives were bad and worthless. Narcissistic? Again, yes.

I laugh when I grade bad student papers and wince at poor arguments, but ultimately I feel sad and a little guilty, because we are all so bad at teaching. We can’t train students to obsessively count grade points and equate memorization with learning for 13 years and then expect them to emerge as college freshmen bursting with “critical thinking.”

The possibility of accomplishment and relief taunts me. The idea that I will accomplish one day, maybe, possibly, only reminds that I right now I am not accomplishing anything. If I will get better someday then right now I am dysfunctional. Then I start to feel nauseous.

I am terrified of asserting myself, personally or politically, because people can talk about ‘living your truth’ all they want, but that sort of real honesty rarely ends well, and I am terrified of being annihilated by someone whose truth requires the destruction of mine.