January 11: ACLU Guant?namo Protest

From the ACLU:

Close?Guant?namoThis Friday, you can join thousands of people across the country in marking a sad anniversary with an act of hope.

The first prisoners arrived at the U.S. prison at Guant?namo Bay on January 11, 2002. Guant?namo quickly became an international embarrassment. It has made a mockery of our laws and values for six long years. We won?t allow seven; this is the year we are going to end the national disgrace.

ACLU day of protest to close?Guant?namoNationwide, the ACLU has set January 11th as a day of protest, declaring that it?s long past time that we put an end to illegality and close down Guant?namo. The ACLU and organizations across the country are asking people of conscience to wear orange to protest Guant?namo. I hope you will consider standing in solidarity by wearing orange on Friday as well.

Guant?namo is a reminder that fundamental values of justice and fairness can sometimes be violated by the very government entrusted with upholding them. That?s why we hope you will get involved in one of the following ways:

Pledge to stand up for American ideals and values. Sign the Pledge. And ask your friends to get involved.

Throughout this week, there will be events across the country- protests, prayer vigils, marches, and more – to bring focus to the injustices being perpetrated at Guant?namo.

Check out the materials available online: you can print out a poster and fact sheet, download a blog badge and get a toolkit with tools and tips on how to get further involved on January 11th.We?re running online ads on over 100 blogs to raise awareness and ignite further activism in new audiences. If you have a blog, please consider downloading and posting a badge, and blog about closing Guant?namo this week. Let us know about your blog and we?ll keep you on the inside track with updates, interviews and additional resources.

Guant?namo has become a stain on our nation?s honor. That is why it is so important you join the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are demanding the closure of the prison at Guant?namo on January 11th.

Thank you for standing with people of conscience to demand the US government close Guant?namo once and for all.

Thank you,
Anthony D. Romero, ACLU
Anthony D. Romero
Executive Director ACLU

P.S. There is so much more we can do to spread the word and encourage others to join in this protest. Check here for more ways to get involved.

? ACLU, 125 Broad Street, 18th Floor New York, NY 10004

Kenya Riots

Reposted from my Kenya blog, Alfajiri:

Kenya Riots - A woman begs a policeman to escort her home as a mob attacked people and set houses and businesses on fire in the slum of Mathare after inter-ethnic conflict erupted overnight and into the morning in Nairobi, Kenya on 02 January, 2008. At least 260 people have been killed across the country in political and enter-ethnic violence after the election result was announced on 30 December 2007, according to the Red Cross, though the numbers are expected to rise as the violence continues. Both sides accuse each other of ethnic violence as tens of thousands flee their homes after Kenya's disputed polls. EPA/BONIFACE MWANGIFor days I have been able to do nothing more than hold my breath and watch the atrocities unfolding in Kenya as violent objections continue in response to the disputed election of President Mwai Kibaki. When it comes to news coverage, I want less of the dramatic “still smoking” violence and descriptions of how this looks at an international level and more about non-rioting families and what it means for them to be ?displaced.? The truth is, I have no clue as to what it entails, not on a level of daily survival. Where is the human interest? Why is it always the last detail to get covered? I despise the media’s limitations and, at the same time, am drawn to the stories like a moth to flame.

Yesterday I read “Kenya’s crisis spreads gloom over Africa,” a Reuters article in which journalist Barry Moody opened with:

Kenya’s sudden spiral into chaos after years as a regional anchor has badly set back Africa’s democratic progress and will strike a heavy blow against the economies of a wide swathe of neighbouring nations.

What troubles me most is that this statement pertains to Africa as a whole, as if an entire continent can ever be affected in one particular way by a single event. Skimming through Google or surfing a feed aggregate will reveal only a seriously flawed and over generalized assumption while missing the nuances involved. Sadly, these are the impressions that stick with people.

Interestingly, Moody ‘s argument lies in direct opposition to what his content suggests. Perhaps this is to create a sense of tension in his piece. Instead, it creates a great deal of tension toward the article for me. Although one quote backs his opening statement, the two most poignant quotes refute it by saying:

“The politics of every country in Africa are very, very separate. African politics are all local and all personal … I don’t think it has any wider implications at all,” said Richard Dowden, director of the Royal African Society.

Control Risks senior Africa analyst Chris Melville agreed: “While Kenya is at the heart of an unstable region, we do not consider that the current situation will significantly contribute to regional instability in the short-term.”

What I question is how a region so troubled could have been influenced by Kenya’s democratic process to begin with, particularly since this is not the first time that tribal issues have arisen over an election. Does Moody truly believe this? While I understand that Kenya’s economy is taking a serious tumble and that supplies and tourism are at a standstill at the moment, I tend to agree with Dowden and Melville. Politics and tribal relations have borders and, short term, economic factors will not likely create regional unrest. I suspect that the effects will have a broader reach only if the violence and turmoil continue for any great length of time. Obviously, the possibility exists – but we’re not there yet.

Aside from my concern, the current political situation has my family and friends understandably taking notice. Something happening half a world away seems surreal until you know someone with a connection, no matter how remote that connection is. All I can say is that I’m glad people are paying attention, regardless of the reason. Sadly, my greatest fear is that accounts of “uncivilized” people will tarnish some already suspect perceptions of those people worried for my safety. Must we always fall back on these words? These are a people in turmoil due to serious complications within their government. To call them uncivilized is too easy and has too many dire implications.

This is not to say that I’m not wondering what the violence means for both the country and for my trip. My first thought was that, although I?m standing by on purchasing airfare to Nairobi, ideally things will settle down before I travel and I can be of some help in restoring the daily functions within the already impoverished Kenyan villages of Kiminini and Kitaleto. Surely help will be needed there now more than ever. I have just learned that the NGOs affiliated with Village Volunteers have not gone unscathed by the violence and the effects of displacement. I hope against all hope that this isn?t so for the sake of Kenya and Village Volunteers, but if significant danger continues to exist over the next few months, my focus will have to shift to Ghana. Either way, I plan to go to Africa.

Making Sense (???)

So far this?semester, our class?has covered:

  • John Barth’s short story, “Lost in the Fun House”
  • Jeannette Winterson’s novel, Written on the Body
  • and Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, Fight Club.?

To help define what postmodern means we have explored excerpts from:

  • Simon Malpas’ book, The Postmodern (2005)
  • H?l?ne Cixous? critique “Sorties: Out and Out: Attacks/Ways Out/Forays” (1975)
  • Jean-Fran?ois Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition (1979)
  • Frederic Jameson’s Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991).
  • and Linda Hutcheon’s Poetics of Postmodernism (1988)

How?do I cohesively make sense of all this????Having drank fully from the fire hose for weeks on end, I wonder… Will I digest or?blow??This post?is where?I just vomit in my mouth a little.

As Malpas explains, “at the heart of identity there is a ?thinking I? that experiences, conceptualizes and interacts with the world” (Malpas, 57). Consequently, running rampant throughout postmodern fiction is the question of this subject’s reliability as an authority?representing truth.

  • Barth’s narrator, Ambrose,?is at once a child and an adult, interweaving the blind?experience of?”living in the moment”?with 20/20 hindsight?and calling attention, through various narrative devices, to the limitations of the narrating subject both as child and adult, in other words, as narrator looking in at the main character and main character being himself.
  • Winterson complicates her narrator by creating a nongender-specific bisexual who objectifies?the beloved, Louise, pitting the power of subject?vs. object, one against the other, both creating and destroying the linguistic barrier to?fully realizing true love.
  • Palahniuk splits?his narrator’s identity into two dueling?subjects within the same body who both objectify not only Marla, but each other, creating a power triangle rather than a single identifiable?power source.

By complicating?the subject, these authors use fiction?to turn?the subject?in on itself and reveal it’s limitations. The point for the reader is that perspective and?representation are not natural ways of reaching some sort of truth, but are cultural devices?that, until postmodernism hit the stage, were accepted?as natural. The most we can hope for, as Stephen Colbert often points out, is mere “truthiness” (or “falsiness” as the following parody explains), which is called into question each time subjectivity becomes decentered by an alternate?version of the?traditional subject. (Hello, Derrida!)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNHqX27hlz8]

Sexuality is also addressed in each piece, not just in terms of masculinity or femininity, but where the two overlap. According to theorist H?l?ne Cixous:

Traditionally, the question of sexual difference is treated by coupling it with the opposition ? a culture?s values are premised on an organisation of thought in which descriptions of the feminine are determined by masculine categories of order, opposition and hierarchy. (Malpas, 72)

Lyotard says that metanarratives order the world for a particular culture and not all cultures order the world in the same way. Because of this he believes reality is not real, that it is rather ?simplicity, communicability? (75) in the name of the ?unity of experience? (72) and that the postmodern ?puts forward the unpresentable in presentation itself? (81).

  • Barth calls masculinity into question by addressing the subservience of women in the ’50s and how that defines the angered narrator’s role as he matures socially in contrast with what he feels differently internally.?
  • Winterson’s non-specifically gendered and bisexual narrator?draws attention to the?dysfunction of defining through opposition, creating a world of confusion for the reader while, at the same time, pointing out the problem.
  • Palahniuk’s split identity, one masculinized and one feminized, are?embodied within one male person which shows that neither masculinity nor femininity encompass fully what comprises the essence of a human being.

These narrators struggle with the idea?that identity is formed through the constriction of language and social mapping?according to opposing?genders. Each illustrates that society provides no useful language or ordering of our world to address these grey areas. Postmodern work obviously strives to draw attention to the gap between the grand narrative and what actually exists.

And, although there are many more threads to follow, the HUGE question of history (revered by Jameson as fact of lived experience) versus historicity (truthiness and the closest we can get to truth) is the last item I have time to duscuss. Jameson argues that the democratization of art subjects it?to the corruption of marketing and capitalism. They are inseparable?to the detriment of?world cultures and history through?depthless representation and pastiche unless we map how the depthless came to be, “in which we may again begin to grasp our new positioning as individual and collective subjects and regain a capacity to act and struggle which is at present neutralized by our spacial as well as our social confusion” (54). SOOO, the question of historical validity appears repeatedly in our fiction selections.

  • Barth criticizes history by describing the role of generations of copulation in constructing social understanding of sexuality.
  • Winterson explores the narrator’s serial monogamy and only in breaking the tradition does he/she find love.
  • Palahniuk creates Tyler Durden who desperately wants to break free from history to redefine it from his point of view.

According to Malpas, Hutcheon?argues that parody is not dead, it is now focused to use form?to reveal a failure of form. She also finds great value studying?the unrepresentable in fiction, as?much as that?which has been represented as “history,” because both employ the same narrative devices (Malpas, 25-26). In the fiction we have read, we can see this parody in action, where our authors provide recognition of the power forms hold, and turn around to employ these forms to point out the flaws within them. We’ll talk more about this next week when we read more of Hutcheon.

Other pan drippings, grey in color, that deserve to make it into the gravy bowl are

  • body/soul connections
  • bodily parts in gender definition,
  • disease: death in life and life in death
  • and many, many more.

Sadly, the repair man is here and I have to supervise the fixing of shit.

Fight Club Environmentalism

RecycleForget?about driving a?Prius and putting solar panels on?the roof. After a looming history of Earthly abuse,?destroying something beautiful?at?Fight Club?becomes the?impetus?for Project Mayhem’s recycling program.

Pounding that kid, I wanted to put a bullet between the eyes of every?endangered panda that wouldn’t screw to save its species and every?whale or dolphin that gave up and?ran itself aground. … Don’t think of this as extinction. Think of this as downsizing. … For thousands of years, human beings had screwed up and trashed and crapped on this planet and now the world expected me to clean up after everyone. I have to wash out and flatten my soup cans. And account for every used drop of motor oil. … And I have to foot the bill for nuclear waste and gasoline tanks and landfilled toxic sludge dumped a generation before I was?born. (115)

Do you think this was Al Gore’s motivation?

Tyler has a plan that solves the whole darn mess. He calls it Project Mayhem. If killing is part of capitalism, which he so honestly embraces (unlike?real-life?CEOs of globalization), why not use?dead bodies to fertilize the herbs that add?fragrance to lyposuctioned collagen which, once turned into soap, not only becomes an ironic tool for cleanup, it also becomes the commodification of wealthy desires sold right back?to the rich. Further, by recycling the basic tenets of capitalism, the added “Tyler Durden Bonus” is that?profit isn’t lining corporate pockets. Instead, it is?directly distributed among?Project Mayhem’s labor force. They are?no longer an underclass but recycled and heralded by Tyler as a society free from traditionally infused marketing desires. Death, life, and finance are all redistributed and reused.

If that’s not recycling, what is?

Life in Dying

An obvious theme throughout Fight Club is the partnering perceptions of death between the narrator and his alter ego, Tyler Durden. Obvious though it may be, the intricacies challenge our own perceptions, making us ask which is right. Either? Elements of both? None? And how does this relate to the?shift from the modern?to the?postmodern?

In response to the narrator’s living death, his doctor rejects the plea for chemical escape from the emptiness of the waking dream. He says, “Insomnia is just the symptom of something larger. Find out what’s actually wrong. Listen to your body” (9).?From this advice?comes?the equation of the narrator’s empty soul with his ailing physical form. (Consider the connection of?modern?form and function.) The narrator recognizes this in himself when he says “the bruised, old fruit way my face had collapsed, you would’ve thought I was dead” (9). This idea of the body and soul as inextricably connected, the former a symptom of the latter, is echoed in the support groups for the diseased. The narrator finds it “easy to cry when you realize that everyone you love will either reject you or die.” Crying cures his insomnia because, for him, “losing all hope [is] freedom” (12). For the narrator, dying bodies, if only in part, are a release from the?meaningless?empty space between birth and death. Through oblivion and destruction the ultimate end becomes the beautiful freedom of escape from society and all its rules.

Tyler sees things differently. For him, death is not the end. In chapter 1, the opening scene, a gun is jammed in the mouth of the one body that makes his conscious self?possible, and the Parker Morris building he stands on is about to slam down on the national museum. Flanked by death on all sides, Tyler says, “We really won’t die … This isn’t really death. We’ll be legend. We won’t grow old” (1). For Tyler, death is a merely the transition of being. He is enamored with becoming legend. To eradicate previous history, that which is trapped in statistic data, financial?records, and even old literature?and art is not the true essence of what makes life worth living. He wants to replace the old and dead with the realization of his own legend, “This is our world, now, our world … and those ancient people are dead” (4). The ancient dead he refers to are the living museum legends he is about to obliterate, destroying all?historical record of old ways of thinking. For Tyler, oblivion and destruction?are not the ultimate end, but a way for him to live forever. In fact, through Fight Club, he endeavors to destroy his own body or form, to?find the true meaning of?what he is made of, a notion unacheivable through the material world.

Recognizing the insanity within Fight Club, there are obviously deep seated issues with both approaches. The narrator, by using other people’s dark, dying bodies in order to recognize the sweetness of life, is cheating and he feels it most when Marla enters the support group scene. “Marla’s lie reflects my lie, and all I can see are lies … and all of a sudden even death and dying rank right down there with plastic flowers on a video as a non-event” (12). His death and rebirth are copies of a non-event. He experienced neither as something tangible or real. He avoids connecting deeply with his own mortality and must return for a nightly fix of something he has yet to internalize himself. This offers no escape from the emotionally barren life he continues to fill with material goods. Without?making fundamental life changes (abandoning the goods, living in the moment and relenquishing the desire of dying to escape) he cannot fully escape his nightmare.

Tyler, while fascinated with the idea of legacy and legend, is simultaneously repulsed by it. He finds himself in a catch 22. As with his log arrangement, creating a shadow hand at the beach where “for one perfect minute Tyler had seated himself in the palm of perfection he’d created himself,” he goes on to say, “a person has to work hard for it, but a minute of perfection [is] worth the effort” (22). The question one must ask is would sitting in the palm of perfection have been so sweet had the narrator not marked the moment by bearing witness to it? Moving forward to the high rise scene, how will Tyler survive death without tracking his new chaotic moment in an historical context the very likes which he wants to destroy? History is the very vehicle that transcends death, giving people life long after their bodies fail. (C’mon, Esther. This is where your first chapter Jesus reference enters in.)

We’re left with the utopic idea that one must give up both history and the material while embracing death to appreciate life. This is the path to living freely in the perfection of the moment. But what is perfection exactly? According to the second law of thermodynamics, all systems tend toward a state of disorder. Tyler is stuck between believing that disorder is the natural, perfect state and yet he is lost as to how to create meaning within that chaotic state. According to his actions, perfection is not natural but something to work toward, a human creation subject to individual perspective and impossible to recognize without context. He is at once modern and postmodern.

Wrestling with what death means, whether as an end or a new beginning, challenges us to think about how we order meaning in this world. I turn to the theoretical debate between Lyotard and Jameson on what the postmodern can do after the death of the modern period, in the temporal sense. Lyotard says in Answering the Question: What is Postmodernism?:

Under the general demand for slackening and for appeasement [of postmodern experimentation], we can hear the mutterings of the desire for a return of terror, for the realization of the fantasy to seize reality. The answer is: Let us wage war on totality; let us be witness to the unpresentable; let us activate the differences and save the honor of the name. (82)

This sounds much like Tyler’s symbolic eradication of a capital institution (the narrator’s disdain for the body) imprisoning and terrorizing the old meanings of the past (the narrator’s waking nightmare). It is the recognition of and attempt to break free from the modern idea that perfection is a form inextricable from function. Tyler wants a new form, or no form, or maybe just reference to old forms to create new meaning. He wants access to the freedom that lies within the grey areas, the presentation of the unrepresentable. Whatever form this takes in the end, he first and formost requires?a (the)?narrator.

Jameson, although he finds himself plagued by the postmodern, also feels that we must do it justice. In Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism he says:

This is not then, clearly, a call to some older and more transparent national space, or some more traditional and reassuring perspectival or mimetic enclave: the new political art (if it is possible at all) will have to hold to the truth of postmodernism, that is to say, to its fundamental object – the world space of multinational capital – at the same time at which it achieves a breakthrough to some as yet unimaginable new mode of representing this last, in which we may again begin to grasp our new positioning as individual and collective subjects and regain a capacity to act and struggle which is at present neutralized by our spacial as well as our social confusion. (54)

Jameson’s conclusion is what Tyler butts up against in his execution of chaos and mayhem. Once you destroy what exists, what do you replace it with? Even when beginning anew, one desires to contextualize experience. For Jameson, cognitive mapping is the answer, tracing how we get to the new even as we eradicate the old beyond recognition. If you destroy the body to free the soul, the soul loses context, unless, of course, the path of destruction from “what was” to “what is” can be traced.

Fight Club – The Movie

Watching movies for class rocks.?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HstQaobp4Jw]?

From the opening credits, Fight Club alludes to the unrepresentable. As the names spin off into gaseous clouds, what appears to be the universe swirls within the biologic make-up of Edward Norton’s character, yet one would think that the character would exist somewhere within the Universe. So, where does the Universe begin or end? Does it start with human perception or is human perception a byproduct of the Universe? Ooooh, the questions stew already.

In the opening scene, perspective shifts from within Norton?s character?s body, through the gun, and into Pitt?s character?s point of view. Perspective then leaves both characters (or halves of one character) and the camera travels out of body altogether. Now the point of view becomes that of the movie viewers? as we get a voyeuristic view of the explosives below the city. Throughout the morphing POV, we never fully know where one begins and another ends.

Cut to Bob?s boobs. Is he still a man with no balls and full breasts? What essentially makes a man ?manly? if not the biological pieces and parts? Can comfort be derived from any breasts but a mother?s or lover?s? Norton says yes.

Then we back up. The beginning of the movie isn?t the beginning as we traditionally know it. ?Nothing is real? Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy.? And here, Baudrillard. Really, need I say more? Norton is a copy of himself on many levels. Stuck in the marketing galaxy, ?What kind of dining set defines me as a person?? What else does?

Playing Cornelius and other ?characters? so he can cry and sleep like a baby, where does Norton?s character end and his others begin? He dies and is reborn with each new meeting. But who dies and who is reborn? Cornelius, Tyler Durden?

Pitt’s image flashes in several scenes, spliced into a single frame at the hospital, the testicular cancer meeting, when Marla walks off supposedly forever. Later, we learn that Tyler splices frames between reels at the theater. Does he create himself then? Has Norton’s character created him?

Do events shape us or do we shape them? Do we own things or do they own us? Half asleep, half awake? Reality enters dreams, dream enters reality? Half alive, half dead? Not quite whole but not fully cleaved in half? Somewhere between life and death lies meaning.

?It was on the tip of everyone?s tongue. Tyler and I just gave it a name.?
?First rule of Fight Club? You do not talk about Fight Club.?
Coincidentally, that’s the second rule too.
?It wasn?t about words.?

We’re back to the failure of language again. Instead, the sublime is the pleasure derived from the pain of pummeling and being pummeled.

?Nothing was solved when the fight was over, but nothing mattered.?
?This was freedom. Losing all hope was freedom.?

The car wreck: All I could think of were the Futurists. Historically, not just in the movie, a car launches into a ditch and?gives birth to four survivors who create a Modern movement infatuated with technology, speed and chaos.

“Let go of everything you?think you know?about life…”

You can?t explain the unexplainable, sublime. Familiar themes?akin to?Wnnterson’s Written on the Body… Marla: Love as invasive. Love as pure desire. Love as a bridesmaid dress loved for only one day and then thrown aside. Narrating organs in books?left by a recluse. Cancer of the prostrate will kill. Combination of form: Movie – documentary – porn – and back again. Characters talk to themselves on screen, then they turn to the audience and talk to … ME! I have just become the object of two subjects. How beautifully postmodern.

Capitalism: The democratization of art?becomes public taste governed by money. To?free our identity from?being defined by our stuff and our menial jobs that make us slaves?to purchasing?more stuff, Capitalism must be destroyed.

Then the biggie: Dualing subjects. One fights the other for power. Can there ever be two, particularly when they share one body? According to the smoking gun, the answer is no.

I could continue with the play-by-play but we?re all watching the same thing. Suffice it to say, I loved this movie the first two times I saw it. I have a renewed appreciation this third time. Now excuse me while I retire the keyboard and get back to the milk and cookies.