李白 – 行路難三首之三 – Li Bai – Walking the Heavy Road: 3 poems, this is the 3rd

行路難三首之三 Walking the Heavy Road: 3 poems, this is the 3rd.
 
有耳莫洗潁川水 I have ears unwashed by the Yǐng River’s water;
有口莫食首陽蕨 I have a mouth unfed by the first thrust of the ferns.
含光混世貴無名 I savor the bright turbulent generations that don’t honor names;
何用孤高比雲月 to what purpose should an orphan be elevated like the clouded moon?
吾觀自古賢達人 We observe that our own ancient worth conveys humanity.
功成不退皆殞身 Our completed labors don’t recede with our every fall and birth.
 
子胥既棄吳江上 Zĭxū1 was abandoned by Wú above the Yangtze;
屈原終投湘水濱 Qū Yuán was finished in the river Xiāng, cast from the bank.
陸機雄才豈自保 Am I protected from the mechanism of that shore? from that brave doom?
李斯稅駕苦不早 Will Li, thus yoked to a bitter tithe, fail to rise?
華亭鶴唳詎可聞 At the elegant pavilion a crane calls: how many may hear it?
上蔡蒼鷹何足道 Above green pastures, an osprey—is this the way of fulfillment?
君不見 The ministers don’t see.
吳中張翰稱達生 The quill of central Wú strains with the burden of conveying its birth;
秋風忽憶江東行 an autumn wind summons the heart to recall the Yangtze and walk east;
且樂生前一杯酒 and joy is borne forth from one cup of wine.
何須身後千載名 What, after 1000 years, will our lives name?

1Wú Zĭxū (722–481 BCE), the supposed ancestor of all named “Wú,” was forced to commit suicide as he struggled to save his country. His body was tossed into the Yangtze. Qū Yuán (ca. 340–278 BCE), a poet, waded into the river holding a rock when his country was being overrun.

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Katehi’s Greek Education Report in Excerpts

A number of rather alarming things have been going around about Katehi’s involvement with dismantling the “university sanctuary” policy in Greece (How UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi Brought Oppression Back To Greece’s Universities, and Athens Polytechnic Comes to UC Davis). Now that I’ve found a complete translation, I thought excerpting the parts relevant to our current struggle at UC Davis would be apropos. Unfortunately, I am at the mercy of the translator.

Background

What the committee was, and Katehi’s involvement with it.

The committee includes nine members from around the world who agreed to offer their advice and guidance. The members of the committee are international scholars with extensive experience as presidents of major universities from the EU, US, Australia and Asia. [...]

A subset of the committee including Chancellor Katehi, President Sexton, President Naylor, President Hernes and President Ritzen met in Greece on December 17, 2010 and participated in discussions with Minister Diamantopoulou, Deputy Minister Panaretos, Rectors and Vice Rectors of various Greek Universities, and representatives of political parties. [...]

The members of the committee who participated in the visit have constructed the following report that expresses their impressions and observations, and offers recommendations that the Greek Government could consider as it tries to rethink and reform Higher Education in Greece.

Urgency of the Report

Why Katehi et al. think this report is especially relevant in Greece. Sound familiar?

History has proven that major financial crises affect societal values and have the potential to trigger major social changes. In the past two years, Greece has been at the center of an unprecedented financial challenge that is threatening the social values, dogmas and structures upon which the Greek state has been built.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression, so I should note that in the report the topic of financial crises are connected most often with the characterization of the university as a potential economic engine, rather than as a potential political hotbed. Instead, politics seems to be characterized as waste, student- and professor-expended energy which doesn’t lead to economic growth.

“Politicization” and “Security”

The famous part.

Greek university campuses are not secure. While the Constitution allows University leaders to protect campuses against elements that seek political instability, Rectors have been reluctant to exercise their rights and responsibilities, and to make decisions needed in order to keep faculty, staff and students safe. As a result, University leaders and faculty have not been able to be good stewards of the facilities they have been entrusted with by the public.

The politicization of the campuses—and specifically the politicization of students—represents a beyond-reasonable involvement in the political process. This is contributing to an accelerated degradation of higher education.

Note that it is security “against elements that seek political instability.” Now we know what Katehi meant when she thought the encampment in the quad was “unsafe.”

“Autonomy”

The report by Ketehi et al. heavily focuses on the topic of “autonomy,” which seems to be a very weird, Orwellian double-speak.

B. Strengthen the Autonomy of the Greek Universities: The University Board

[...]

Universities should be autonomous in terms of managing their resources, independently appointing the leadership and administration and making academic decisions that promote their strategic goals. Each institution must be able to manage and support its choices and identify additional resources that will help the institution in achieving its goals.

The universities should be managed and overseen by an appointed, independent Board of Overseers which is responsible for the well-being of the university (ies) they oversee. There are many examples around the world to select from, but the two most common approaches are: (a) an independent board for each institution or (b) an independent board for a group of institutions that share common characteristics.

Here’s a clue to what the committee means by “autonomy”:

A number of political decisions have led to governance policies within the university that provide an imbalance of power and control on academic issues and decisions. For example, students have 40% of the vote in the selection of university administrators. This imbalance of governance has led to decisions that are politically motivated and have not benefited the quality of the academic enterprise.

Again, the problem is that “political decisions” aren’t efficient enough. University administrators were elected by the entire campus community. Instead they suggest a small electoral board.

The “autonomy” Katehi et al. mean seems to be the autonomy of the administrators from the students, and to a lesser extent from the faculty.

Aftermath: What this Means for Us

All of the committee’s recommendations were enacted.

Almost everything in the report is something we have been fighting against at the University of California: the “autonomy” of the regents from the university community, the crackdown on politicization in the name of safety, and the subordination of the academic role of the university to the need for economic growth. However, this should not surprise us. In reading through the report, many times I thought I saw wholesale adoptions of University of California structure, or at least clear references to it. It seems extremely probable that rather than the privatization and depoliticization of Greek universities being a dark glimpse of our impending future, it was the already-existing framework of privatization and depoliticization of our public universities here that allowed the transformation of Greek public education to take place.

Under the operating ethos of the University of California, Katehi is not an incompetent chancellor. She is the perfect chancellor. She has responded to politics on our campus as have the chancellors of all the other UCs. We would have to be naive to think that this wasn’t the result of a university-wide policy decision. In seeking a resolution to this crisis, we have to keep this in mind. The structure of the University of California is set up not only to allow people like Katehi to encourage privatization while suppressing dissent, but to actively encourage this behavior. If our solutions to this crisis are not structural, if they extend only to the removal of Katehi herself, then we will not get meaningful change. Instead, all we will achieve is a pale emotional catharsis, and the world’s consciousness of the structural problems in our university will be forgotten with the removal of their symbol.

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Consensus, Autonomy, and the Outside

The General Strike and “Violence”

The general strike in Oakland on Nov. 2 was an overwhelming success. The port was successfully shut down for the night, by some accounts by up to 100,000 people, and certainly well into the tens of thousands (the police estimate of 3,000 is ridiculous). It was celebratory, and beautiful.

After checking the blabwire the next morning, however, it became pretty apparent that’s not the spin it got, both by the mainstream media and by a few other activists. Two other events were instead highlighted. First, there was some property destruction at various points (i.e. broken windows). Second, there was an attempted occupation of a vacant building at 520 16th street, to set up a free school and library. The response to this latter event is, unfortunately, becoming less surprising in Oakland: batons, rubber bullets, flashbangs, tear gas, and a seriously injured veteran.

This article provides a particularly good articulation both of the jubilation of the protest and the critique of some of the actions. When the author addresses the occupation of 520 16th street, he states that it is “a huge problem that yesterday’s day of action was undertaken in the name of the entire movement and embraced by it, while a small group of people have now changed that narrative by acting on their own counsel and excluding the rest of us from it.” I’ve yet to see anyone defend, without caveats, all of the actions of protesters on Nov. 2. Instead, some people are attacking these actions as being the tactically awful work of adolescent/drunk glory-seekers. Others are condemning in certain respects the use of property destruction as a tactic, but more strongly condemning the condemners, and mostly supporting the autonomous occupation of 520 16th street. Views range pretty widely over everything in between, however, with a strong number of people who both have concerns about the occupation of 520 16th street and concerns about the backlash against it on the part of other activists. (A sample of the less reactionary pieces, in addition to the above article: “Contextualizing Certain Actions that Took Place during the General Strike,” “Why do we riot? An open letter to my friends in the black bloc,” “Occupy’s Asshole Problem: Flashbacks from An Old Hippie,” the comments to this thread, and the latest Draft of a Nonviolence Resolution.)

In some ways, this is a story that has been building for thirteen years. The 1999 WTO protests were the first time after the splintering of the left during the 80s and 90s that divergent activist groups from all over the country were able to come together and take part in a single action. But shortly after the 1999 WTO protests, the media spin quickly became about the “peaceful” activists vs. the “violent” activists, with the latter universally characterized as anarchists, dressed in black, wearing masks, and hell bent on ruining an otherwise perfectly upstanding protest. This story erases the long discussions, controversy, mutual engagement, and eventual solidarity of all the very different groups that came together for the WTO action. The divides that were overcome to make the WTO shutdown happen were much, much more complex than the divide between those groups practicing property destruction and those who thought it wasn’t a good tactic. The “black bloc as violence” story also erases all the helpful ways that the black bloc has been confrontational. I remember that many of my friends, after returning from the WTO protest, were confused as to the way the black bloc had become stigmatized. Their experience of the black bloc was mostly that when the police started to escalate, the black bloc came in through the tear gas (many had gas masks) and offered medical assistance, got people to safe places, and reinforced the human blockades everyone was setting up throughout the city.

After 1999, well-meaning liberals, afraid that “their” movement was getting hijacked by this contingent, took it upon themselves to autonomously organize a “peace police,” to go around preventing the anarchists from doing anything that was “violent.” In the Nov. 2 general strike, this escalated to some protesters attacking black bloc’ers with chairs, etc. Although the “peace police” have always been an extreme minority, they are part of a strong trend within activism to accept the media-created distinction between “black bloc” and “movement,” and to see the black bloc as “hijacking”/”coopting”/etc. As if otherwise we would have beneficial media coverage.

As always, we must be open to seriously questioning the efficacy and desirability of certain tactics. But regardless of what we think about particular tactics, the division of the movement into a “black bloc” and a “peaceful” contingent limits the possible tactics to a predetermined list, and destroys relationships between people which could otherwise be productive. Even in it’s more sophisticated, less media-hype-driven form, the disavowal of one protesting group by another effectively creates an inside and an outside to the movement. One group’s role is legitimate dissent, the other group’s is illegitimate, nonrepresentative provocation. I hope it’s clear why I find this extremely problematic. Distinction of socially valid and invalid voices is inevitably accompanied by the distinction of socially valid and invalid peoples. Tactical discussions are absolutely essential, but they are discussions we have to have within the movement, not between the people who suppose they are part of the movement and the people who have been marginalized.

Consensus and Occupation

Most of this is old news. But with the overwhelming success of the general assembly model (see this for another take), the tenor of this discussion is changing. Now, rather than just exasperation that these people don’t “represent the movement,” we get both a legitimate feeling of disenfranchisement when supposedly autonomous actions occur (Lili Loofbourow tweets “it’s abt the claim 2 direct democracy while immensely important strategic decisions are being made w/o consensus”), as well as suggestions that maybe we should actually organize some response that prevents these elements from acting (like de-masking masked people), or at least issuing a formal statement, “as a movement,” that any tactic like this is not part of the Occupy Movement. In this way, the “peace” vs. “violence” debates illuminate unresolved issues that are at the very core of our movement: policing, representation, enfranchisement, and the relationship between autonomy and collectivity. The consensus process has been our answer to all of these for a while, but if its overwhelming success has made clear its potentials, it has also revealed its shortcomings.

Just as we should be wary of narratives of division within the movement, we should be equally wary about stories of unity. These are really just two ways of looking at the same thing: the creation of an artificially unified mainstream and a disenfranchised outside. Our rally should be solidarity, not unity, our physical togetherness, not our behavioral similarity. What has become clear from the application of consensus to occupations and general assemblies is that, in fact, consensus has always depended on the ingroup/outgroup distinction. A block (or “no” vote) means, effectively, if this group goes forward with this event, I will leave. And just as much, a consensed-on decision means: if you don’t go forward with this, you aren’t part of our group. To some degree (though only to some degree), the coercion of ingroup/outgroup makes sense for a movement that is well-bounded in space, time, and objective, like the shutdown of a particular governance meeting (WTO, IMF, World Bank, G8, Republican National Convention, etc). This constituted the vast majority of the actions during the 2000s. Now, the situation is completely different. Our goals and tactics go far beyond a specific time-based objective, and more importantly, we have gained the task of administering space, rather than just people.

If the Occupation at Davis is any indication of a larger trend, and rumors as well as internet chatter indicate that it is (this for example), this is probably the biggest issue within the movement. Firstly, it is difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between so-called “autonomous” and group actions. Our camp changes form constantly, changes are made that people disagree with, and people start feeling like they’re losing control of the movement. Secondly, when we are confronted with aggression or harassment that is threatening to our camp, we have to deal with it on the spot, via a peacekeeper (which I hope is completely different than “peace police,” although it would be difficult to codify that difference). All disciplinary action is the same: exile. In a way, consensus ideology implies a Lockean paradise: you freely choose to belong to a society, and if you don’t like it you leave. Consensus depends on an outside, then, in two respects: first, that each individual has the capacity to act autonomously outside the group, apart from the group, not affecting the group as a whole; second, that disunited elements can be merely ejected back into the already-existing society. This fictional outside is now being confronted for the fiction that it always was.

As much as we had hoped otherwise, consensus is not a miniature, liberated future developing independently of the state. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. There is, actually, a world outside of the movement, and until the movement becomes the dominant force in the world, it must exist in relation to that world. That is, it must exist dialectically: it must be apart from and nevertheless in relationship to that which it hopes to change. As a consciousness of reality, the outside should be preserved, because it’s there. But part of the process of change is exorcising the outside, including more and more of what used to be the system. And so we need to find a way to work structurally towards inclusiveness, while acknowledging that it is currently impossible for us to be universally inclusive.

When the consensus process is focused on discussion, it is extremely effective at being inclusive. No one can be prevented from speaking or making a proposal. But consensus has essentially nothing to say about what takes place outside of GAs. It assumes that discipline will never be necessary (and it should be noted that the different senses of the word “discipline” are related). It assumes that nobody needs to have a say if they can’t be physically present. And what is most important, it assumes that the space outside of the GA can be a space of complete autonomy without conflict. What the occupations are making clear is that discipline is necessary, many people want to find a way to be involved but cannot yet come to every GA, and the profound togetherness we experience within the GA does not magically become isolated autonomy as soon as we step outside of it.

The value of consensus is proven by the fact that it’s shortcomings have become clear: our expectations have been raised by our experiences of its immensely democratic power. But we must be open to modifications, additions, supplements which seriously alter its character. Ultimately, I have little faith in highly systematized notions of liberation. “Consensus” here is metonymic for a whole range of social behaviors, only a few of which are actually present in any formal description of consensus process. But the effect of consensus-as-metonomy is to obscure those social behaviors which have yet to be formally encoded into the consensus process. Rather than an ultimately doomed race to encode more and more of our social practice into highly systematized political structures—this race is an integral part of what we are trying to escape—we have to start giving equal priority to those things which happen outside of these structures, outside of consensus. That which is outside our overtly governmental process must be actively included in our sociality. This will require care, and work, and may eventually react back on the overtly political. We need to be open to this, and to let it happen when it will.

If the occupation movement teaches us only one thing, it is this: it is never to early to begin building the future. For the first time in many years, we have created a space that is set apart from capitalism, and aims to be permanent. This space is already often beautiful, but it provides us with more questions than answers. As Žižek recently wrote: “there is a long road ahead, and soon we will have to address the truly difficult questions—not questions of what we do not want, but about what we do want. What social organisation can replace the existing capitalism? What type of new leaders do we need? What organs, including those of control and repression? The 20th-century alternatives obviously did not work.”

“Consensus” is not the answer, and cannot be allowed to defer these questions.

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Hope and Doubt for the Occupations

I have been plenty dejected by activism in the past. When the protest against the IMF in 2000 adopted pretty much the same tactics as that of 1999, but the police did not, that was disheartening. Even worse was when, after failing to shut anything down, many people “unanimously” announced that it was a resounding success, without a note of self-criticism. All of us, though, were yet to meet our dark café days, in which so many (former?) activists, after the well-attended but completely ignored flurry of protests around the Iraq war, after the immense amount of repression, after the doubling and tripling of jail sentencing of friends or maybe just people we heard about—so many of us, after this, were left overwhelmed with waiting. Many of us still live in that space.

In retrospect, it’s easy to talk about success. The character of globalization has changed, and the WTO doesn’t have nearly the same power it had in 1999. To me, however, this seems similar to the common account of the end of Vietnam following the protests of the 1960s: the Vietnam war ended, but it didn’t end in 1968, it ended in 1977 (although it was scaled back much earlier). The ethics of globalization profoundly shifted, but they didn’t shift in ’99, 2000, 2001; they shifted after our own government imposed massive steel tariffs and then defied the WTO when it ordered their removal, and after many other international reorganizations of policies and ties. Of course, it’s hard to tell what’s what, and every thread we sew enters into the fabric of collective life. I don’t want to say we have been ineffectual, but through most of the last decade what little hope has existed has been a product of the will, not a product of observation.

What we have seen, from the 2008 election of Obama to the 2011 Arab Spring, and now to the nascent Occupy the World movement is a reinscription of hope into our world; an affirmation that something is not only possible, but happening, now, even if we are not completely sure what it is yet. I’m completely overwhelmed by this hope, and simultaneously washed over with doubts that this may all turn out the same. As someone after losing their first love, after getting hurt and doubting the serendipity of the world, suspecting limits to the depth of sociality two people can reach, fearing a pain that overspills explanations, as this person demands impossible conditions, makes criticisms of all organic development, and hesitates endlessly; or as a charioteer who, wanting to keep his horses perfectly straight, lets neither left nor right rein slacken the least bit, and consequently pulls his horses to a halt:—so are many of us hesitant, doubtful, still, and silent, however hopeful we may be.

So I am watching. Maybe I’m part of this, maybe I’m not. But I think I’d like to be, even if my life ends up sweeping me over to some other front (a situation my wonderful friend Erin put much more eloquently).

With that rambling introduction, this is my list of doubts, my preemptive, maybe impossible, critique, my utopian (in the bad sense) conditions for a new social movement. Of course it is for my own catharsis, since movements develop organically anyway (whatever that means), but I hope someone somewhere finds it helpful.

1. The occupation is not a protest. A protest is a list of grievances, a protest is a petition, made by someone subordinate to their superior, for that stronger person to consider and act on. According to the logic of democratic representation, when enough people protest a superior should be required to act. However, this clearly is not true in practice. But I think that lessen has already been learned. I don’t think this is a protest. So can we stop using the language of protest? When the media asks what you’re protesting, tell them that you aren’t protesting at all; you’re beginning to build a better world, and maybe you’re not sure how to do it yet, but you’re hopeful. I think this is already realized in practice, if not in rhetoric, but it bears repeating: our work will come from our own hands, not from the hands of another.

There is a corollary to this. 1a. The occupation does not need “demands”. There is also already some understanding of this (see this), which gives me a lot of hope. This doesn’t mean that no one can have demands, but it means that I think it’s time to acknowledge that our demands go beyond what our government could fulfill without our own immanent involvement. Our demands mean nothing if we are not at the same time demanding something from ourselves.

2. Systemic problems need systemic resistance. Our problems can’t be solved by one law, and they can’t be solved by a strike or a boycott. As one young anarchist said recently to a friend of mine, “the best boycott you can do is to kill yourself. And that won’t change anything.” I don’t want to belittle here the amazingly successful boycotts of the past (the grape boycott in California, for example), or the overwhelming successes of the union movement over the past 400-500 years. But I think we have reached a point in struggle where the goal, the abolition of the systemic greed of Wall Street (this is understood variously), is incongruous with any concessions we might get from individualized or collective action within the system. What we need is systemic resistance. We need to be a virus, toxic to injustice everywhere, on all fronts, not just a few points. In some ways, this is just repeating the old Leninist injunction against reformists, but I think, also, hopefully inverting it. It is not that we don’t need reform. We need that everywhere. We need as much reform as is possible. We need space to breathe. But we need to recognize when our “demands” are no longer about reform, and are no longer addressed to anyone but the system itself. At this point, we need to develop systemic resistance. Occupy the World has, in some ways, done this. By being permanent, in cities everywhere, not concentrated at a point but diffuse, this movement parodies and matches the systems it resists. But it hasn’t yet reached systemic resistance. This leads me to my next two points.

3. Resistance, also, has an economics. One of my fondest memories of the 2001 IMF protest was when I ended up by a Food Not Bombs setup, and was fed. We need more of that. Food Not Bombs was inspired at least in part by the San Francisco Diggers. So I think we’re already aware of an economics of resistance in a lot of ways; we already have developed some economics of resistance. But I think a big part of the success of Occupy Together, and a big part of the reason why it is happening now instead of in 2001, is the current rate of unemployment. If so many people are able to converge and camp out semi-permanently, it is because they have little to lose in getting arrested, and no job to lose in dedicating huge blocks of their life to this. If resistance is not going to take the form of a quick, spontaneous rupture (and I don’t think it will), then we’re going to have to figure out how to support it economically, to reconcile it with the necessity to have a career, not in the bourgeois sense of stable employment, but in an older sense of trade, craft, something we can be doing that produces our means of subsistence and produces us as resistance.

The last one is maybe a hint to this one’s solution, but I don’t think it’s more than a hint. 4. We need a new utopianism. Among the old cadre, this is probably the most controversial. Critique, so the story goes, is inherently anti-systemic, whereas utopianism is a projection of oneself (or one’s ideological situation), as system, on to the world. There’s a rich literature on this, and I’m not going to satisfactorily address it here, except to suggest that maybe besides systemic, holistic, predetermined, dominance-reinforcing utopia, there can be a fragmentary, in-process, plural, polysemic, even democratic utopianism. And I don’t think the towering words “anarchy” or “communism” achieve this. The concrete truth is that without specific actions that are more meaningful than boycotts, marches, and unmet demands, this movement is going to fizzle. This is precisely the moment where hope has a chance to either inscribe itself in the world, or to vanish into the ether. We are gathered together, and we see others like us, and we see that we can be heard and inspire others. But without an inspiration to something, without an action towards something, this ends up empty. Hope must be brought down and woven into the ground around us. Not only do we need utopia, we need to be doing utopia.

I think this is by far the biggest difference between the Occupy Everything movement in the US and the Arab Spring, to which it was comparing itself even before anything began. The Arab Spring had concrete demands: a government is corrupt, so the corrupt officials must step down. Of course, the situation is far more nuanced than that, but the demands were achievable, one could work towards them concretely, and people achieved them. What the Arab Spring has achieved, so far, is something in the shape of liberal democracy (I’m certainly not educated enough on the subject to be any more specific than that). I think everyone hopes that it’s something more than that, probably especially the people who live in these countries, but I don’t think it’s more than that yet. And I think in the process of eliminating that “yet“, these countries, too, must reconsider, and are already continually reconsidering, their myths, what the meaning of social action is, and how to find paradise.

What I wish is that alongside all the studiously practical committees of the occupation movement there would be a completely open-ended imagination committee: which would not reach consensus, ever; which would broadcast utopian visions of the far or near future, visions for economies of systemic resistance, visions of radically reconfigured desire; which would plan festivals of democratic jouissance in which one possible future as a species could become palpable, instead of ethereal. Hope always, I think, begins with the will. With no basis in reality, one wills hope. But in order for that hope to be sustained in any way, we must remake our environment in the concrete images of that hope itself. We have already begun. Let’s not stop now.

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No Title

The bent branch broke with a crack as the hawk
claimed the sky, folding feathers, his eye searching
the field like a tractor mowing down grass.
As the wings beat, two kites, with their long tails, scratched
from above, clutched, and grabbed
his wing, and it broke
with a crack.

The hawk fell like an acrobat who, missing his trapeze, was left
lonely in the air; and his feathers
wavered in the wind. Below, between branches, a spiderweb
spread, and when the hawk touched it
lightly, for a moment it was as if the web was strong
enough to hold him, and he would hang there, blending feathers
and silk, suspended forever.

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Breath

Fists clenched against an invisible body,
she was cast down by the currents.
And black brackish water salted her invisible eyes;
and lungs gulped in the grey liquid.

Dark, underwater
black boardwalk walkways silent
with the peering crowd of remnant minds,
leftovers from the Children’s Feast.

One could get lost there,
in the caves amongst the eels,
waiting with sharp teeth for crustaceans.

But maybe someday she finds a current that points up
and she breaks through the surface,
breathing.

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The Bells

La la Leona
was always my owna,
green in a field of grey.

Oh oh open your lips,
and give us a kiss.
Leona: you are the day.

Ding the bells through the hills,
through the fog-covered hills.
Ding the tinkling bluebells
for my heart’s in a well.

Draw it up dear Delia.
Let my heart feel ya.
Nestle it under your breast.

Fa la prettiest face
in the whole darned place.
Curl, Delia: and let me rest.

Ding the bells through the hills,
through the fog-covered hills.
Ding the big bronze pealbells
for the sunshine’s quelled.

Sparkle sah Sadie,
la la my dark lady,
loveliest gem of the night.

All the sorrows I’m drowning,
and the shadows are frowning.
Come, Sadie: you’ll make it right.

Ding the bells through the hills,
through the fog-covered hills.
Ding the cast-iron tollbells
for this was our cell.

La la Leona
is always my owna,
green in a field of grey.

Oh oh open your lips,
and give us a kiss.
Leona: you are my day.

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李白 – 行路難三首之二 – Li Bai – Walking the Heavy Road: 3 poems, this is the 2nd

行路難三首之二 Walking the Heavy Road: 3 poems, this is the 2nd.
 
大道如青天 The road is as broad as the azure sky;
我獨不得出 I alone can’t find a start.
 
羞逐長安社中兒 I am ashamed: we follow an aging, stagnant group of mediocre children.
赤雞白狗賭梨栗 The reddened gamecock and pallid dog are gambled on for pears and chestnuts;
彈劍作歌奏苦聲 The bullet and sword make songs that sing out bitter tones;
曳裾王門不稱情 Dragging at the hem of the king, philosophy can’t measure love;
淮陰市井笑韓信 At North Huái Market, Jǐng laughs at the Koreans’ trust;
漢朝公卿忌賈生 And the Hàn court secretary of justice envies the growth of trade.
 
君不見 The ministers don’t see.
 
昔時燕家重郭隗 Long ago, the House of King Yān honored the city of Wěi;
擁篲折節無嫌猜 He caressed the broom and bent his joints, without a hint of disdain.
劇辛樂毅感恩分 Dramatic woe and joy, and a resolute feeling of kindness were given him;
輸肝剖膽效英才 Then a failed liver, a ruptured spleen, had their effect on the hero’s gift.
昭王白骨縈蔓草 The manifest king is pallid bone entwined with rotten straw;
誰人更掃黃金臺 What people will arise to sweep the wheat-gold stage?
 
行路難 Walking the heavy road.
歸去來 To home: I leave and arrive.
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Character and the Suicide of Signs

Sometimes nothing isn’t a lack. Sometimes nothing is a web, a haze: smog. Like anything else, nothing comes to us as we see it, as an absence: but this vision of an absence is sometimes just a covering over a substance. (Don’t worry, I’m not getting into the black magic of ontology; “substance” is a verb.)

In the struggle to be authentic, it is incredibly easy to kill yourself—literally, too. This is just a story about one way.

While immersed in my immensely social college experience (now subtitled, “the prequel”), I began to look critically at the idea of character—as one should. “Character” just seemed like such a lacking concept when applied to people; just as literature would be hopelessly lacking as a substitute for life. Authors create characters; characters inhabit stories; but these characters inevitably resemble ideas more than people. Which is not to say that literature is unrealistic, or that the problem is with literature. A character is simply the literary component of a person; character is the sign of personality, it’s the linguistic manifestation of a human being; and that manifestation will always be lacking. So crop your hair close to your head and let your face show; cut your signs close to their objects: I wanted character to function like the Shroud of Turin, taking its signs from the impression my blood made in its natural course through my life and death. Why would one shape character, when it is the sign of that which shapes? Why would one craft one’s character, when character is just the sign of he who crafts? Every manifestation, each actualization, is a sign; each action is a sign for that interiority that caused it, our cringing for our fears, our cries for our pain, our grasps for our desires—unless the sign is its own cause, unless we meticulously craft character in order to appear how we want. Can crafting a character, then, ever lead to anything else but a crumbling of our entire process of appearance and recognition? “This must be authenticity:”—I thought—“read character; we have no other choice. But don’t write it. Don’t be an author.”

There’s a scene in Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon (in my version of the film, this is not “deleted” as youtube claims): Bruce Lee’s character is in a hall of mirrors, and can’t tell which is the reflection of his opponent, and which is real. He recalls the voice of his teacher: “Remember, The enemy has only images and illusions, behind which he hides his true motives. Destroy the image, and you will break the enemy.” Bruce Lee’s character precedes to break all the mirrors, then easily wins the fight. The allegory is pretty overt: don’t confuse the image for the reality; in fact, destroy the image to prevent that confusion. In shattering the image of myself, in breaking my character, I may have wanted something as dramatic as mirrors shattering, scales falling off everyone’s eyes, etc. But the process of breaking apart a sign is more often just subtle changes in the habit of memory and remembering. You stop doing it, and then, later, you forget.

And once you’ve forgotten, what do you have? Is the river Lethe, the river of forgetfulness, ever the way to truth? When you fight a sign, you do it with webs and haze, and you end up with nothing; when you fight the sign of yourself, knowing you are not a thing wholly apart from that sign, you kill yourself.

The martial arts are an apt metaphor here. Or rather, not a metaphor at all, but exactly what we are discussing. In Bruce Lee’s words:

Man, listen, you see, really. To me, OK? To me. Ultimately martial arts means honestly expressing yourself. Now it is very difficult to do. I mean it is easy for me to put on a show and be cocky and be flooded with a cocky feeling and then feel, like, pretty cool and all that. Or I can make all kinds of phony things, you see what I mean? blinded by it; or I can show you some really fancy movement. But to express oneself honestly, not lying to oneself, and to express myself honestly: now that, my friend, is very hard to do; and you have to train, you have to keep your reflexes so that when you want it, it’s there. When you want to move, you are moving, and when you move, you are determined to move, not taking one inch, not anything less then that. If I want to punch, I’m gonna do it, man, and I’m gonna do it, you see? So I mean…so that is the type of thing…you have to train yourself into it, to become one with the [he gestures to his body]. (interview [see part 2])

To study martial arts is to learn to use one’s body. Lee wants us to smash the mirrors, kill the images of our bodies. Most martial arts have endless forms (called “kata”) which the student is expected to memorize and then employ at the right time. Lee rejected these forms; he would instead create a formless martial art, “Jeet Kune Do”, emphasizing the body, and training simply to improve reaction time, strength, energy, observation, etc. As Lee puts it on an episode of “Longstreet,” a 70s TV show:

If you try to remember, you will lose! Empty your mind; be formless, shapeless, like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup; you put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow, or creep, or drip, or crash. Be water, my friend. (Scene 15)

For Lee, if one will try to remember, if one will try to keep the sign of what one is, they will fail to be what they are. Well, being formless or shapeless may be fine if one needs to react to an arbitrary and existing shape. But what if one needs to act? What if one needs to take on the onus? Water takes on whatever form it encounters, but what good is that if the whole question is how to be a form oneself?

Bruce Lee walks through a hall of mirrors, breaking his image, damning his reflection; out of a suspicion of images, he breaks his only mirror. And as a consequence, he becomes only vast potential; his pure activity cannot settle on a form to take.

Above the temple of Apollo: know thyself. I had put above my temple: be thyself. When one wallows in pure Being, when the bog gets thicker and there are no mirrors, gradually the knowledge, the self-captured-self of what one is, disappears. Character separates from Being, but Being depends on this Character. As the signifier is suppressed, so is the signified.

Judith Butler deploys a whole theoretical apparatus here: she says we perform our being for others, and our legibility depends on an iterative deployment of these performances. That is, our legibility, our understandability, depends on being a character—and we can only be a legible character; and what is legible depends of the language we know; and the language we know depends on what we have learned to recognize; and what we have learned to recognize are legible characters. But in between this vicious/virtuous circle, there is a leaf-thin room for the alteration of what is legible. Repetition is only repetition because it is recognizable as repetition. Nothing can be absolutely repeated.

When we come to the question of authenticity—the injunction to be yourself—in Butler’s scheme, there can be none. Which is not to say that people are inauthentic; authenticity/inauthenticity is simply meaningless. For Butler, our performances are neither true nor false; they’re simply what we do, they’re judged on other criteria. For me, though the question may not be about true and false, honesty and dissimulation have taken center stage. I would like to learn how to show myself honestly, and I would like to learn how to honestly be.

The two operative words here, showing and being—under the demoted sign we’ve inherited from Plato, these two fight each other, and won’t be reconciled. To show something means to present something other than that which one would show, to give a sign for what is not present, to substitute a character for what one really is. To let something be is to discard that sign, in favor of a transparency that is unrepresentable but true. But just as these two fight each other, they lean on one another. One cannot be, cannot arrange their life, without getting for themselves an image of it, without becoming unblinded, without discarding the webs and haze that let us forget the signs. Though the signs endanger the existing, covering it, without them that which is can be nothing but detritus. Oneself as well. A life without an expression is rubble to he who would live it.

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李白 – 行路難三首之一 – Li Bai – Walking the Heavy Road: 3 poems, this is the 1st

行路難三首之一 Walking the Heavy Road: 3 poems, this is the 1st.
 
金樽清酒斗十千 A golden grail of pure wine is measured in tens of thousands;
玉盤珍羞值萬錢 A jade platter of fine lamb is valued at a million coins.
 
停杯投箸不能食 I hold the cup suspended, cast down my chopsticks, unable to eat.
拔劍四顧心茫然 I get out my knife; I look to the four directions; and my heart’s just a muddle.
欲渡黃河冰塞川 I long to ford the Yellow River, but ice chokes the stream;
將登太行雪暗天 I would climb the Taihang Mountains, but snowdust dims the sky.
 
閑來垂釣碧溪上 The idle wheat hangs, fishing from the jasper brook above.
忽復乘舟夢日邊 The unforeseen returns, perched on a canoe full of dreams from the sun’s borders.
 
行路難 Walking the heavy road…
行路難 Walking the heavy road…
多歧路 So many forks in the road,
今安在 And now, this stillness growing…
 
長風破浪會有時 Long winds break the gathering waves, I grasp at the time,
直挂雲帆濟滄海 Hang low my cloudy sails, and part the bay-blue sea.
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