Abandoned Storage Unit: “The roots of trees curled up”

  May 25th, 2017

     Open up.

     It’s May 24th. Some people are dying. Some people are smiling. Some people are sitting in uncomfortable chairs in sparse rooms and unsure if they are smiling or dying. Lift up. Open up. Whirl up. Cough it up. Size it up. Crumple it up. Twist it up. Throw it up. Open up. Open up. Open up.
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     Let’s start this party proper. I present the Minutemen, 1985, Public Access TV:

       Minutemen, 1985, Public Access TV

     Feel the hiss and twang and earthy goodness. George Hurley’s bongos, the twin acoustic attack of Boon and Watt’s strumming. D.Boon’s singing voice, unadorned and kind and honest and impassioned, like a sturdy, beat-up & well-used hammer, covered in nicks and its handle worn to comforting smoothness. It’s a voice others have sung through over time. It’s a voice others have used, like a strong coat passed down and patched up. Wherever there are people who want the good and are willing to call out injustice, this voice is there to sing through. God bless D. Boon and may he rest in peace. And God bless the Hurley and Watt and Boon together for uniting and making music of great energy, fun, poetry and righteousness.
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  by Mary Ruefle 
Oh, I said, this is going to be.
And it was.
Oh, I said, this will never happen.
But it did.
And a purple fog descended upon the land.
The roots of trees curled up.
The world was divided into two countries.
Every photograph taken in the first was of people.
Every photograph taken in the second showed none.
All of the girl children were named And.
All of the boy children named Then.
     I love this poem. I am drawn to much of Ruefle’s work, which I find playful, coy, rooted in the real but simultaneously belonging to the streams that flow under reason & logic. At times there’s a questing, mystical quality to her verse as well that is all the more beguiling because it’s counterbalanced by cryptic wit. Sometimes the work is too clever for me, the twinkle in the eye of the verse is a bit too shiny-gaudy, and I find it distanced emotionally as a consequence. Even at these times, her work is noteworthy, even remarkable, despite its coldness (or perhaps because of it).  
    Here, with the ominous, compact “Genesis”, we have Ruefle simultaneously obvious and anything but. The evocation of the God of Genesis and the creation myth is clear, so is the sense of a narrator experiencing her own generative (or predictive) power and lack thereof (first four lines). Clear also is the biblical sense of doom and prophesy fulfilled, as calamity strikes in the narrator’s life, (or perhaps the narrator’s nation or the planet entire); the “purple fog” and the “roots curled up” recall the biblical plagues of Egypt. 
     Now we come to the final four cryptic lines, which are to me the heart of the poem: two pairs of weird anaphora. As often with Ruefle, with minimal scale and clear diction she conjures up entire worlds of possibility. My take here is literal: the violence wrought by a post-cataclysmic division extends into a brutal separation of forms of life. So what is meant by the first stage of this — the partitioning of the world in terms of human-photographable and non-? In some ways, this has already begun, and we, not some outside deity, are the cause. Humans with their wired smart devices have already carved out a cold alternate country where we spend all our time — the net. And this cold pixelsphere exists separate from the rest of creation (the animal, the vegetable, the mineral, the flesh of our own bodies). And what goes on in the touchscreen e-country we’ve emigrated to? Images, moving or static. Photos, mostly, and vids. More than that, it’s photos of ourselves. It’s all a big mirror for ourselves. It’s Instagram and Facebook and Twitter, all of which are largely used for personal preening and amassing of self (and family/friend) visuals. This is Ruefle’s “photographs of people”. Those photographs don’t exist in the other country (Ruefle’s “Every photograph taken in the second showed none”) because people spend all their time in ‘net country. The other country is meat, cement, phosphorous, nitrogen, water, teeth, claws, cellulite, blood, marrow, tendons, backaches, spit, venom, semen, bones, amnion, placenta, the cycle, the soil, the germ, lifedeath. And people are fleeing it left and right (even if they’re really not — the important fleeing is being done, and it’s psychological).
     What about the last two lines? With the naming of the children? First they suggest a denaturing. A removal of variation, color, uniqueness from naming. A reduction to something homogenized. In order for people to be more easily measured, processed, organized. How and why would this happen? Again, in so many ways we humans already do this every day. Every time we reduce our experience, for the sake of some social media sign-up process, to a series of ten or fifteen yes or no questions and a little free text box, we are allowing the fullness of our existence to be pulverized into processable units. We do this and it lets algorithms of greater and greater complexity — algorithms created and owned by agents further and further removed from us and our interests — draw conclusions about us and enact decisions with real meatspace impact.
    Thus, we instantiate our own abstraction into ones and zeros. We allow our complexity to be destroyed for the sake of the surveillance and data mining economy. Naming the sexes as “And”s and “Then”s seems, in this context, not too crazy of an extension of all this, and it has the arbitrariness of some tech-automation gone wrong. But why ‘And’? Why not ‘Anne’? Why ‘Then’? Here I like to imagine a brilliant but stupid artificial intelligence that, by this point in the poem, has assumed vast and perhaps unanticipated control. It has picked the most common linguistic units in English, matched them up with sound correlates (“Anne”, “Ken”), and decided it makes sense to match each sex accordingly — and this conjures up unwholesome dystopian visions of Brave New Worlds with humans at birth tubed and boxed off and bar-coded to predestined life-paths. Or maybe I’ve just read too much fucking Sci-fi.
    But all that doesn’t feel quite right. Perhaps it makes more sense to analyze “and” and “then” and their linguistic functions. “And” is a conjunction. It joins. It is motion, linguistically. It links action to action, noun to noun, clause to clause, it helps the flow of logos spray swell and run on and on and on. ‘Then’, meanwhile, is an adverb. One thing it does is fulfill an uncertainty. I went home, then I was glad. She will jump, then she will land. It closes an open narrative circuit. It is about consequence. So femininity here seems to be aligned with conjoining, with communion, with allowing life to continue, with open flow. Masculinity, meanwhile, seems to be aligned with conclusion, ending, telos. Who is assigning these terms to the sexes, to children presumably already named, with this lexical analysis in mind? What purpose does it all serve?
    That kind of linguistic analysis seems like a false lead too, doesn’t seem to resonate with the poem. But however we answer this question, the God-like uniform naming here described feels like a violence, it is dark, it is cold, it is dehumanizing. It suggests biological parents removed from the picture, and some other stand-in impersonal presence there to do the sacred job of naming. Or re-naming, rather, which is worse, since it presumes children with part of their established identity being re-fashioned. And in this sense it is in keeping with and capstones the foreboding tone of the rest of the poem. There is a re-fashioning of creation going on, a new parting of the waters, a revolution of existence, partly humankind’s fault, perhaps unanticipated. And this re-creation separates humans from everything else that is not human, and by the powerful act of naming it exerts a controlling denaturing upon humanity itself. That which names you controls your destiny. “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”
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     (click to zoom)
      Patricia Piccinini
       Meditations on the continuity of vitality (Symbiotic parasite), 2014
       Works on paper, ink and gouache on paper, 22.5 x 29.88 in.


     (click to zoom)
      Patricia Piccinini
       Meditations on the continuity of vitality (The conversation), 2014
       Works on paper, ink and gouache on paper, 22.5 x 29.88 in.

     Piccinini (Australian, b. 1965) is an artist whose best work echoes the sculptures of Louise Bourgeois somewhat in its themes of biomorphic, sometimes disturbing visceral mutation and confusion, as well as in its sexual/glandular resonance. These two paintings are powerhouses. They suggest the universe of unknown and sometimes unknowable biological processes going on within humans. Hidden, unstable processes which at times can be violent, deforming, mystifying. They also suggest, with the repeated imagery of the coiled buns of hair, structures we deploy amidst this backdrop of our chaotic viscera, order shored up against the threat of leak or hemorrhage. The way Piccinini details and executes these hair coils stands in stark contrast to the free, unfinished strokes of skin swaths, blood-stripes, blood-eggs. “Meditations on the continuity of vitality (The conversation)” continues this theme, but explores what happens not just within a human, but between them. It displays conjoined humans forming a kind of siamese tube, joined at the genitals, the juncture marked by a nexus of coiffed pubic hair. The sausage curls of this hair are painstakingly, endearingly combed, again as if to suggest a need to tidy, arrange and fix the body even while the rest of what’s happening is a kinetic mob of guts and sex.
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    Unhappy with what’s going on in the world? There’s a lot you can change, there’s a lot you can’t. Why not start small and stop putting your money in the pockets of odious dehumanizing lizardpeople hellbent on dehumanizing workers, supporting authoritarians, and destroying the planet? Now your definition of an odious dehumanizing lizardperson may differ from mine, sure. Still, how are you going to know where you stand unless you start poking around out there and doin’ a lil larnin’? 
So all that said, dear reader, here’s a quick gathering of interesting information for you to consider, in no particular order:
1. Tribe Hummus - Financially supports the Jewish National Fund, which in turn promotes the ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands & forcible evacuation of Palestinian people. In addition, their negligence (despite warnings) lead to a worker’s death in 2011 — source: Washington Post.
2. Sabra Hummus - See above. Sabra supports the Israeli forcible evacuation of Palestinian peoples. Please see this for more.
3. Hewlett Packard - “HP owns EDS Israel, which since 2009 has been referred to as “HP Enterprise Services.” This branch of Hewlett Packard provides the Israeli Ministry of Defense with what’s called the “Basel System,” a biometric access control system that regulates the permit system for Palestinian workers.” See this and this.
4. New Balance - CEO or Board member raised funds for Trump campaign. Supportive of Trump via praising of policy or donation of funds. Source: grabyourwallet.org.
5. MillerCoors – See above. Here are the brands and beers MillerCoors owns.
6. Trident Gum – Celebrity Apprentice advertiser. Source: grabyourwallet.org.
7. CloudFlare - Company that serves up data and enables scores of websites to display their content. With that in mind, they’re helping power The Daily Stormer website. The CEO is basically laissez-faire about the whole thing, stating “no provider has an affirmative obligation to monitor and make determinations about the theoretically harmful nature of speech a site may contain.” Which is correct, but is ethically bankrupt, just like so much of the new digital media. How did fake news rise to prominence via Facebook? A similar laissez-faire attitude disguised as freedom-advocacy and letting “the market” (read: the user base) sort it out and decide what’s “news”. Hah! Again, amorality disguising itself as freedom-championing. What’s worse, CloudFlare’s policy was to forward personal information about folks who complained about The Daily Stormer+CloudFlare connection directly to the Daily Stormer. Noxious. See this ProPublica article for more. One solution? Download NoScript for your browser and block Cloudflare from executing. It’s easy. It’s fun. Your browsing will not be much affected.
8. Amazon - Uh oh. One of the big five (as written about here in the NYTimes). Retailer that Sells Trump Family Products (source). Uses pricing algorithms to hide the best deals from consumers (source) and to therefore promote its own in-house brands as well as the listings of companies who buy in to Amazon services (small business trying to advertise on Amazon lose out too). Also, workers are exploited and a brutal workplace culture is encouraged — see this Guardian article and this Salon article and this Atlantic article. Also: “In 2016, the corporate PACs associated with Microsoft, Facebook, Google and Amazon broke ranks with the traditional allegiance of the broad tech sector to the Democratic Party. All four donated more money to Republican Congressional candidates than they did to their Democratic opponents.” (source). Also, they advertise on Breitbart (see this and this). Finally, Amazon is arguably a monopsony with respect to e-books (source: fortune.com). And e-books are the rapidly-approaching future of reading. Monopsonies and monopolies are bad folks. Try Powell’s. Try your bookstore. Try anyone.
9. Facebook – Most seriously, they fail to disclose to their users what they know and disclose to other parties, and this has been part of their business ethos for many years (source). Their amoral, lassez-faire attitude to the way their content can shape user minds and motivations enabled the current “fake news” epidemic (source). This is a serious failure to safeguard objective truth. Their fix, to let people sort it out, is no fix at all. They are passing the buck and failing to be accountable for what their platforms have helped give rise to. In the absence of governmental safeguards and regulations, the digital advertising marketplace has failed to police itself as it had the moral obligation to. Also see this and this and this.
10. Google - A clear search engine monopoly. Plus, they tried to block media coverage of their gender discrimination case (source). Among so many other things I don’t have time to go into. Use DuckDuckGo instead. Christ almighty, is it ever good for one company to have this much cultural power and data about you? Is it ever good for one company to have its greedy tentacles in so many enterprises? Google car, Google home, Google search, Google phones, Google glasses, Google dongs, Google ass-beads, Jesus. It won’t end well. That said, to Google’s credit, they seem to be open to stopping the placement of ads next to hate sites (source). …Only, of course, after mass advertiser boycotting occurred. Money motivates the lizards. Never some a priori sense of doing the right thing. Or doing no evil. Or whatever their silly-ass motto used to be.
11. MSN - See above. A monopoly for years with respect to how they’ve bullied PC companies into bundling their OS and software suites. At least they give so much to charity. Must be Gates’ conscience.
12. PepsiCo -”for violating worker rights, along with destroying rainforests, harming local communities and Indigenous Peoples’ lands, and causing massive greenhouse gas emissions by draining and burning of peatlands for production of palm oil.” (source). & want to know all the companies PepsiCo owns? Take a deep breath — Go! (O Hi Sabra!)
13. H&M - Failure to ensure the safety of workers in Bangladesh. Source — same as above.
14. Jimmy Johns - These greasy gremlins are part of a growing surge of employers using non-compete clauses to keep employees shackled to their shit jobs indefinitely. Their reasoning for holding a sandwich maker to a non-compete clause? *Sandwich secrets* might get leaked to competitors — (source). Oh and Amazon (of course) does this shit too, so add that to the list above (source). Filthy practices bent on turning people into serfs. No other reason to do this. Sensitive corporate secrets my ass.
15. Uber – The list of naughtiness is endless with these worms. They short their drivers, lying to them about how much the fare they should be paid is (source). They stiff drivers in other ways (see this and this). They’re sneaky geese trying to skirt laws (source). Their workplace is manipulative biased in favor of men (source). Their CEO seems like a swell bro (source). Just find a fucking yellow cab.
16. Case Farms – These garbage bag people exploit vulnerable temp workers to pieces — (source).
17. UPS - The way they deploy workforce monitoring and drive these delivery-people to death is sick. Monitor and algorithm everyone to little bits. Next time your UPS guy drops off something on Saturday and is running down the hall to the elevator you’ll know why. See this. Try FedEx or USPS.
18. Wells Fargo (also Citigroup) - Lends to the Dakota Access Pipeline Project (source and source). Also, Wells Fargo “was hit with a lawsuit at the end of January that accused the bank of “illegally denying student loans to young immigrants who are protected from deportation and allowed to work and study in the U.S. under a program created by former President Barack Obama” (source). There are other bank options. Credit Unions, for instance.
19. Huge Companies that advertise a ton (hell, just Huge Companies period) – I worked in digital advertising for almost ten years. During my tenure in that industry of cynicism incarnate, I’ve seen the inner guts of surveillance capitalism and indiscriminate data mining for profit. And that’s why I’m telling you: if a company has to resort to enormous full media budgets and psychological trickery to get you to buy a widget or a stick of gum, something’s not right. So avoid ads. Specifically, avoid supporting companies running pervasive, enormous ad campaigns. Avoid companies owned by any of the major holding companies (Kraft, Nestle). The bigger a company gets, the more, by definition and nature, it must dehumanize to realize profits and expand infinitely and grow revenue. It must cut corners. It must seek deregulation. It must lobby. It must pursue self-aggrandizing ends in order to further its own power (see Citizens United). It must. It’s what corporations do. A Tsetse fly needs to burrow in your skin and lay its eggs inside you — that’s just what it does. You don’t blame the fly do you? You accept its nature. Same with corps. You get enough rich people together to own a company beholden to investors and people in some faraway country WILL get stomped. Chemicals WILL get dumped. Rights WILL be violated. So stop buying shit, services, or anything from massive ad-blasting companies. If you find yourself reaching for the Amazon one-click button, go down the street to your corner store. Find an alternative online vendor. Buy books from Powell’s. I know, it’s old hat, it’s tired, it’s preachy, it’s probably offensively pushy and self-righteous. But it’s still true, damnit. You know it in your heart.
More to come on the above, lots more. So I know it’s hard as hell to phase out some of this stuff. I’m trying to myself, and it’s a struggle at times. Also, some of these facts you might decide don’t warrant boycott or any action whatsoever. Some of what I present you may find to be perfectly normal business behavior worthy of, at best, mild censure. Perhaps even worthy of praise. That’s fine; my job is simply to put a growing list out there of stuff big companies do that I believe is wrong. Finally, I realize some of my sources may be outdated — I’m doing my best to stay on top of this information and only cite sources that are legitimate & accredited.

Resources To use to Stay On Top of Corporate Malfeasance: 
U.S. Right to Know
Human Rights Watch
Good ABC News story about all this stuff
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     This, this is so free, so wild, so brave, so open, a lusty, choking cry on the open road; cornfields and sunset; rhythmic piano pushing the language forward, and the poetry stoking the flames of the piano. Dear reader, I hope this serves as spiritual palate cleanser to everything I’ve written above:

       Allen Ginsberg and Philip Glass, ‘I’m an Old Man Now, And a Lonesome Man in Kansas’
       from ‘Wichita Sutra Vortex’ (poem written 1966, Glass’ accompaniment recorded in, I think, 2004)



For more information about Ginsberg’s “Wichita Vortex Sutra”, please check out Wikipedia.

For more of Ruefle, please check out her entry at the Poetry Foundation.

For more Piccinini, please check out her entry at artnet.com.

[posted by C Way at 5:28 PM]


[file under: ABANDONED STORAGE UNITS ||| LAUDS ||| Music ||| paintings/drawings ||| poetry ||| video/film ]

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