January 11, 2021 (I know, it's not 2020)
Some days are torn apart by time. Suddenly, without warning or preparation, memories spring back from their dusty corners of the mind, as if they possessed a will all their own. It's a cruel thing, I feel. Forgetting is a blessing, or so Nietzsche says in his Untimely Meditation, inspired by Leopardi:
Consider the cattle, grazing as they pass you by: they do not know what is meant by yesterday or today, they leap about, eat, rest, digest, leap about again, and so from morn till night and from day to day, fettered to the moment and its pleasure or displeasure, and thus neither melancholy nor bored. This is a hard sight for man to see; for, though he thinks himself better than the animals because he is human, he cannot help envying them their happiness - what they have, a life neither bored nor painful, is precisely what he wants, yet he cannot have it because he refuses to be like an animal. A human being may well ask an animal: 'Why do you not speak to me of your happiness but only stand and gaze at me?' The animal would like to answer, and say: 'The reason is I always forget what I was going to say' — but then he forgot this answer too, and stayed silent: so that the human being was left wondering.
Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Uses and Disvantages of History for Life, in Untimely Meditations, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, 1997, pp. 60-61
Truly animals must be blessed, for in their forgetting the burden of memories does not crush their hearts. But this is perhaps too tragic (and melodramatic!) a reading. In the end what makes man this alien creature, this wicked monkey that dreams beyond the fog of the present, is the fact he remembers. And this is a blessing! For we know happiness when we contrast it with our memories of suffering, so that our joys are much more precious than they otherwise would be. And sadly, on the flipside, our sorrows are that much bitterer because we have tasted the joys of life.
I often like to think that time is a cruel mistress, and about our sad fate, chained by this impossible force. The truth, though, is that we ourselves are the cruel ones, and time is merely the canvas on which our emotions and thoughts are painted. If, indeed, terrible things happen (and they do, every single minute of every single day), it's not obvious that we need to be made miserable by these disasters. The pain lies in the empathy, not in the event, for if one doesn't care then it's as if it had never happened, a mere shadow in the news cycle. How easily (and frighteningly!) were the Jews slaughtered, or, in a more up-to-date example, are migrants tortured in cages and sent back to the imperialist abyss of Central America. For these particular things, it seems all too easy to forget...
And, in a perverse twist, our egos so often crush us with needless remembering, pointless reviving of old embarrassing situations, and colorblind nostalgia. I myself have spent many mornings thinking about how I wish someone had told me years ago so many things that I learned the harsh way, after wasting so many days and hurting so many people. It's obvious that this is nothing but a call to remember these lessons today, and not waste any more days, or needlessly hurt any more people. Sadly, for these lessons also, memory is terribly unreliable.
Sometimes ghosts haunt people, as in poltergeists and the like — I am rather superstitious, you see — but most often it's the memories of the dead that haunt us. Seeing that necklace they used to wear, or a book they loved reading, is enough to assault us with a barrage of bittersweet memories about that person. In the end we are surrounded by all sorts of Proust's famous madeleines, ready at once to drag us back to those bygone days.
This melancholy feeling is not bad, per se, but too much of it and we can be dragged around in feverish daydreams that never seem to end. One must be careful with memories, especially with the joyful ones, because in their intoxicating sweetness they seem to be almost as potent as the opioids that are ravaging so much of the US.
As for the animals? Recent studies (and millenia-old common-sense) seem to confirm that they too, to a startling degree, remember the past. We are not as alone in this curse as we thought, it seems.
November 18, 2020
"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven" (Ecc 3:1)
(Forgive the biblical passage - though I am not one to habitually quote sacred texts, as it's a thorny issue for many people - but I feel these words have enough poetic force as to overcome such barriers.)
As it were, there's a time for everything under the heavens. Such insight can be found in myriad religious traditions, even in the Christian canon, oftentimes devoid of such imagery. This, I believe, is a rather self-evident truth: there are moments that we desperately wish for something to occur - and yet it seems impossible, not because of fate, but because the time is not right. And there are occasions in which, to our delighted surprise, things seem to happen almost by themselves, to flow unimpeded and graciously.
"A time for everything under the heavens" - a construction that rather reminds one of the Taoist canon, with its emphasis on inaction, and being in accordance with the flow of the world and it's mysterious forces. It seems to me - on the basis of absolutely unscientific anecdotes and experiences - that all the ancients' wisdom stems from this fundamental idea: that one cannot do what one wants at whichever moment one desires. Seeds must be sown on the right season; the fruits must be picked in their proper occasion. No matter how much one screams and cries, only time changes the seasons, and no effort of Man can subvert the will of the heavens.
And yet, our age is one first and foremost devoted to annihilating this idea. The steam-machine, old devourer of coal, is in a sense a blasphemy: to produce work out of its proper season, beyond the wildest dreams of utopianists. I wish not to raise cheap moralisms against those "satanic mills", as it were: this is a foolish and pointless endeavor. Rather, I merely wish to point out how utterly baffling is the way we currently live: at the speed of leviathans, criss-crossing the world over nonstop. And for what? So that we can enjoy (what is indeed many times very enjoyable) fruits out of their proper season.
What is a distance? A mere cartesian abstraction. Ten kilometers (or the rather more poetic miles) are the same everywhere in the world; it's an amount, an abstraction, a certain brain fungus that transforms everything into a sort of gray paste, impossible to differentiate. But how different are ten kilometers around the old city of Athens from the ten kilometers around New York! Things can only be the same if we ignore the differences; if we treat only certain things as important, in place of others.
It's too easy to forget that for everything under the heavens there is a time. The hard thing, though, is to know when it's right time for each thing. I do not pretend to know that. I struggle again and again trying to change, in the desperate belief that even if now's not the time, I'll make it be the time, heavens be damned! And I hit my head again and again against a metaphysical brick wall. And yet, I cannot stop. I cannot stop because we're too short of time. I'm too short of time. To struggle in vain, and yet... and yet I guess we must.
October 29, 2020
"Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well; yet everything happens on a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that's so deeply part of your being that you can't ever consider your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more, perhaps not even that? How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty, and yet it all seems limitless." - "fullmoon", Ryuichi Sakamoto, taken from Paul Bowles' novel The Sheltering Sky
The ancients believed time worked like a circle: that repetition was as inevitable as the sun rising and setting each day. It's not that they thought events repeated as-is, as if Alexander was doomed to conquer the known world and then suddenly die again and again for all eternity, but rather that Man (understood as the universal as in the german "Mensch") was part of the cycles that governed the world, and that given similar circumstances people would act in the same way. That Man was part of nature, in a sense, though that's not they way they would have put it.
Already by late antiquity this idea was going out of fashion: the Christian time is fundamentally different, because in its calendar there is an unrepeatable event, namely, the first coming of God (to be bookended by an expected second coming, apparently a bit late by now). There can't be endless repetition with a clear beginning and end of the world, therefore the cycles of old disappeared, replaced by the end times represented by the divine eschaton (that is, the end-time). Every action became an action in finite time, in service of the final judgment, and every deed cursed to never happen again.
Our history and our time is the second one. Events never repeat; the dead never come back. The question that still remains is: are we right?
We seem to love our timelines, our events happening in a row, with a nice, clear, and smooth order. "Things must happen for a reason!" we admonish the fools enamored with magical thinking. Things never come back; things are forever in their uniqueness. The dead are dead. The past is past. And the future, surely, shall be different.
I rather prefer entertaining the thought that those old crazy Greeks had a point: things never repeat as-is, surely, but to then say the past is merely cause of the present? That, indeed, is the folly. Our ghosts never truly die, and we're in a dire shortage of exorcisms.
The trampled skulls of those smashed by empire, by "progress", by war, never disappear. Their absence is perhaps stronger than their presence ever was. We live in the throes of those never-gone, and never-returning. We are cursed by the dead. We are cursed by those deeds, we are cursed by the repetition of the stars, and our freedom is often but a sham.
The behaviorists, like Skinner, the famed rat-torturer, had a point in attempting to reduce Man to little more than a bundle of impulses. In a sense, it's an attempt to free people from the noxious influence of time. We who deem ourselves masters of time, or merely bystanders looking from afar, can only cry in face of Historia, the muse Clio's holy domain, so great as to wash us away like immense waves. What to say in front of History? An eternal no-man's land, where events blast like artillery from afar, great man-made hurricanes that no-one can stop.
Sometimes I feel like I'm a part of some pantomime; sometimes like time is meaningless and I'm invincible. Both are lies and both are true. Sometimes things seem to repeat endlessly; sometimes, I yearn for that one day, years past, never to come back. Again and again, round the circle, a circle which is a straight line. Lost to eternity and to every moment. The truth seems to lie in the time between one second and another, that endless valley between instants. I know not.
October 25, 2020
Times, times, times. Tick tock goes the clock. It's been interesting being confronted by oneself during this pandemic. Like, normally, during the usual neoliberal nightmare-time, we get so damn swamped by everything that actually paying attention to what we are feeling, thinking, wanting, hoping or just plain doing is very difficult. The forced stepping on the brakes back in march (that never really completely went away, even if people seem to think the pandemic is over) brought a very scary scenario to fore: that is, to actually confront ourselves.
It's somewhat of a truism to say we buy/consume things in order to avoid paying attention to deeper questions. Had a shitty day? Eat a nice burger (and nowadays even vegetarians/vegans can partake in the "impossible" burgers and the like); hate your job? Get a hobby, go drinking, whatever; have low self-esteem because you perceive your appendage to be too small? Buy a huge car or a huge house or both. It's the siren-song of those monsters in the marketing departments of the world - make people fill very real voids in their lives with bullshit commodities and experiences. The thing is, without most of the consumption experience, or with very serious dangers engendered by covid, we just can't quite consume in the same manner we used to. And this leaves a lot of unoccupied time in people's minds. It leaves time to gaze into the proverbial abyss, and it sure as hell gazes back.
One of those key ideas from psychoanalysis is that people will do just about anything, even get the most bizarre of pathologies, in order to avoid confronting a particular truth. The cruelest person is not the uncaring one; it's the one that's desperately trying to prove something to themselves. Say, for example, you refuse the idea you're gay/lesbian/bi/queer/whatever? It's not unusual to end up as in American Beauty compensating this contradiction by means of terrible violence (great movie by the way!) (also, it is well documented that nazis were full of weird sex hangups, see W. Reich and K. Theweleit). We, confronted by nothing but our (proverbially?) naked selves go into radical despair trying to avoid confronting our worst fears. It's not fun.
But there's something certain about this: that the desperate work of the repressed mind is much worse than the work of acknowledging a truth. It hurts like hell at first, but then it becomes liberating, and we become the better for it. I wonder how many people will be changed by these times - in a sense the fact they are so hard and terrible makes us unable to run away anymore. Now is the time to confront our priorities, to review our dreams of old and if they still fit a world in ruins.
I'm not so sure about my own. I'm not sure about so damn many of those things that I used to love doing (or at the very least I thought I loved doing). I can't justify old behaviors anymore. And yet they return, like poltergeists haunting myself and the objects around me, giving mystical fetishistic auras to what was supposed to be just simple behaviors. Habits become curses, and curses, as is well known, are hard to get rid of. And yet, and yet... and yet now is the time. Let us brace ourselves. Otherwise, it might just be too late.
August 30, 2020
Depression sucks. Yeah, yeah, I know that's a pretty tired trope nowadays, when the radical(tm) edge of mental illness has been replaced with a general feeling of "yeah whatever, we all are depressed, big fucking deal, go see a doctor and take some pills or something", but I insist in raising the subject. Why? Because beneath the tough shell of battle-scarred PTSD late capitalist millenial/gen z fuckups, it's tough to deal with it.
There was a dumb tweet the other day where a woman said mental illness had been a bit too normalized nowadays, and a bunch of people got rightfully pissed off and pointed out how many people, above all those marginalized, are seen as insane, get no fucking attention and thus no fucking treatment whilst bourgie idiots spout that sort of shit - and they were right, of course. But the dumb tweet had a small kernel of truth, it seems to me: it's not that depression and its manic friends have become popular, easy to talk about and thus not as relevant (obviously not), but that we kinda got used to the idea that having a mental illness is no longer surprising. Like, we should be fucking appalled at the fact that capitalist society churns out broken people faster than actual products for sale; in a sense perhaps we have gotten too used to the fact that yeah, capitalist life is shit and having a disorder or ten is to be expected - so just try to deal with it, go to a therapist or something (and if you have the means please do, I'm not advocating for the bullshit stoic school of repressing traumas).
Every fucking depression diagnosis, every person that can barely get out of bed should be an unquestionable indictment of the actual reality we live in. Has any other society, in any other time or place, produced as a matter of fact so many psychologically disabled people? Like, it's not like other times were good, but there's something to be said when living in Steven Pinker's perfect end of history progress liberal utopia how a remarkable amount of people have to take emotion-killers (also known as depression meds) just to cope with being alive. In a sense it's the age old sympton versus causes schools of psychology (with their schools being psychiatry and psychoanalysis, respectively). Do you treat the sympton and make the person be capable of just barely functioning, or do you try to find the root causes that broke them in the first place? And if those root causes turn out to be an inescapable dead-end job, what good does it do to find them out? "Well I'm sorry you live in a shit society not much you can do short of actual revolution, good luck" is not exactly immediately useful knowledge, even if it's far more truthful.
I'm a depressed mess. Not really surprising, as I've said above. And knowing that doesn't exactly make me feel any better. But it does make it impossible to forget the reality we live in. I guess in a sense it's kinda the point: wouldn't it be really fucked up if we were alright amongst climate disaster, racial apartheid, cyberpunk corporations, an apocalyptic pandemic and a rentier neo-feudal nightmare economy? It's not that something has gone terribly wrong and now we have a bunch of broken people; that was the entire point: the system only functions properly when people are miserable, because that's the end goal of endless accumulation; to feel well is to be privileged, uninformed or just plain insensitive, it seems to me.
It's tough; I feel like I should always be there for my friends and comrades, but it ends up being like carrying more crosses than I can handle, being barely capable of carrying my own. I won't say it's our duty to always be there for those we care about because duty is an unfortunate word; but in the end we rely on those we can rely on, and vice-versa. It's tough. Writing here helps a bit, but no amount of words could make it better.
August 28, 2020
It seems like my brain has fried. Reading anything has become quite difficult — even comics; it's as if focusing has become an impossible endeavor, like reaching toward the stars. This is, of course, nothing new, in a personal sense: it has gotten worse and worse over the past few years; though it is, in a general sense, an incredibly recent phenomenon. I used to be quite the avid reader as a kid; now in my mid-twenties I can barely read a news article without making some significant effort — and what little I can read I can remember even less. It's tempting to search for personal reasons for this: as one gets older, many things start fighting for your attention; depression gets in the way of doing even basic stuff; and in general there are more important things to read instead of easy silly YA novels (and those stop being very interesting anyway).
But the incredible amount of personal tales and laments about stopping reading in the past decade indicate something else. Sure, all those reasons I've mentioned above do make it harder to read; but it doesn't explain why older (say, middle-aged) people who read avidly their whole lives suddenly seem to be incapable of holding a train of thought. The problem seems to be primarily both technological and cultural, and it's a shift of worrying proportions. The common enemies cited are social media and smartphones: the ubiquity of FOMO, endless scrolling websites and other cancerous features in recent internet design trends seem to be devastatingly addictive — to the point where the mind seems to be trained, pavlov-style, to reach for the pocket and check for new stuff every few minutes or so, or to open a new tab and check on Twitter or whatever. I wonder if people in general are becoming a bit stupider (I'd certainly include myself in that category) for sheer incapability of properly paying attention to stuff, like some sort of ultimate alienation where even our thoughts become divorced from ourselves, constantly twitching towards the rush of gamefied bullshit at hand's reach.
Web 1.0 (bless Neocities) in general rejects this, and it's a very different experience as such (though the whole feed and following other websites is, admittedly, similar enough to warrant some worry). In any case, I really miss reading like I used to. There is nothing quite like the feeling of losing oneself in a text, getting inebriated in good prose, dreaming alongside characters or being slowly seduced by a well-crafted argument. People recommend plugging off, deleting social media and all sorts of stuff, and surely it helps on a personal level to some extent, but it's naive to think one can escape totally from this nightmarish machine that is late-capitalist technology. A good book on the subject (and one I delighted in reading, though it took some effort, as explained above) is Jenny Odell's "How to do Nothing", which critiques all this stuff without forgetting the actual material and historical dimensions of these problems (highly recommend it by the way!).
I don't have a decent conclusion. This is in the end a dumb effort to write a wall of text which is hard to read. Why not just abandon this and accept the instant gratification of the internet version of crack cocaine? In the end I guess spending too much time online just feels bad. Like there's something that just isn't right, and not in a luddite sense, but like losing a bit of yourself that doesn't ever come back every time you press F5 to reload the page in hopes someone will have said something interesting or funny. I don't like it. (Though I don't really judge people who do.)
August 26, 2020
It seems like a silly endeavor to start a web 1.0 site in the midst of what is, essentially, capitalism's long delayed implosion. A long time ago I used to be a not completely useless programmer; nowadays I've mostly forgotten everything, to the point of having to look up "how exactly does html work come again??". I haven't mucked about too much around the neocities world of websites. In the end, I suppose I just want to sometimes write to somewhere that isn't my drawer, and maybe interact a bit with some people that otherwise I would not find out about.
The pandemic has raised the stakes to the point of causing a double effect: showing what really matters to oneself (cuts through the bullshit of regular neoliberal life by threatening with death continuing our old ways of existing) and at the same time making people so stressed as to rely on old vices or plain-old escapism in order to cope with the daily nightmare of news. I certainly have been less-than-healthy these past few months. Covid has produced closeness through screens and separation in person — I'm tired of seeing couples break up or terrible family fights recently (after all being forcibly close in small homes for months on end can drive anyone to a quick temper). I myself have been struggling with some rather old habits and unflattering behavior that has been pursuing me for years on end now. Falling into old patterns is incredibly dismaying, frankly. I'd rather not get into details here; suffice to say it's bad enough that I've been trying to stop this for years now, unsuccessfully.
What's the point of saying all this? none, really, but all the same I suppose it's a product of alienated life on the extreme: there's only so much boredom that crappy netflix (or youtube or whatever) shows can stave off, and despair can lead into some regretful actions. I suppose one ought to be a bit less judgemental during this moment, but I can't seem to forgive some people (I probably should but I don't want to). It's tough trying to not be a complete piece of shit I guess (oh woe is me). All in all shit sucks, I suppose.