Thursday, November 07, 2013

Pamla Paper

Title: Literary Counter Insurgency: Managing Dissent by Absorbing the Counter Culture. (?)

Proposal: I want to examine the role that popular literature plays in managing dissent, the way it represents the interests of capitalists in a form that both recognizes the problems and criticisms of the masses and simultaneously reinforces the dominant social order. Specifically, I want to focus on the relationship between iconic literary representations of capitalists such as Scrooge, Mr. Potter, Jabba the Hut, and Montgomery Burns and the equally iconic representations of the commoner, popular portrayals of the everyman such as George Bailey, Fred Scrooge, Ralph Kramden, and Homer Simpson. In Gramsci's description of the hegemonic process, we learn that it isn't necessary for the dominant class to sell a particular ideology to the masses; it isn't necessary that people believe in the system, that is. What's necessary is that the masses don't acquire a comprehensive awareness of the hegemonic order that exploits them--that they don't not believe. Suspending belief then, or inoculation, rather than active propagandizing, becomes the primary focus of social coercion within consumer capitalist society. What this means, and what literary representations of the relationship between the capitalist class and the masses suggests, is that aesthetics has become the dominant discourse for producing hegemony. The masses are taught less what to believe than not to believe at all or not to believe too much, to focus on aesthetic questions (such as "Do i like it"?) rather than critical concerns (such as "Is it true"?), which are best left to specialists. As a result, the disciplining of the body described by Foucoult and the Noopolitics described by Mauricio Lazzaratto step in to shape behavior without a need for any explicit ideological support. Moreover, because the universe of capitalism is seen always through the lens of popular media, capitalism itself is transformed into a symbolic image, as is its manufactured opposition, consequently creating a culture in which visual violations of decorum are mistaken as political and political expression is rendered impotent.

Few would argue that many of the cultural ideas and practices that were once perceived as subversive, the once-alternative values produced by the counter cultures of the sixties and seventies, have today become commonplace. Anti-capitalist figures such as Montgomery Burns, Mr. Potter, Jabba the Hut, and modern versions of Ebenezer Scrooge dominate social media, while positive capitalist portrayals are not only scarce but presented usually with subtle apologies or overt defenses. The newest Batman film, for example, doesn't try so much to sell us on capitalism as to scare us away from other possibilities. By some accounts it seems that the counter culture has taken over. Once threatening figures of resistance such as Martin Luther King and Malcom X are today celebrated as cultural role models. The free-spirited adventurism and willingness to try new things--to explore a communal subconscious that puts ego and social identity at risk--behaviors and attitudes that once excluded people from succeeding or even participating in fundamental social institutions, have today become the flexible skill-set that employers are actively looking for. Formerly radical praxes such as Paolo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed are now almost cliche teaching methods of the state/market sponsored educational system; while Augusto Boal's radical theater games, his rehearsals for revolution, are commonly taught by corporations in order to boost company morale and efficiency.

Nevertheless, in spite of the preponderance of anti-capitalist media production, there seems to be little evidence that capitalism is actually in trouble. To the contrary, capitalism seems stronger than ever, but that isn’t to say, obviously, that capitalism has won over our hearts and minds—just, perhaps, a part of our minds, a part not overly concerned with ideology or conscious decision-making. The counter-culture, as Antonio Negri argues, may have in fact won the battle but lost the war. What we see in modern culture today, Negri argues, are the concessions made by capitalism in order to divert more serious rebellions. Roberto Virno takes Negri's idea a step further and suggests that the changes brought about by the counter culture are today the new forces of Post-Fordist capitalist production. It isn't just that anti-capitalist thoughts have become absorbed and made non-threatening but that a specific type of anti-capitalist mind-set is what saved and now drives the modern capitalist agenda, that the counter-culture is today being harnessed as a new kind of labor.

Thought of in another way, the hegemony that has been constructed today is one in which the superstructure has made peace with the counter-culture and redefined itself, redefined capitalism, in the process. The ideal citizen/worker under Neo Liberal Capitalism is not the Marlboro Man, it isn't Ward Cleaver or Jimmy Stewart; it's the hipster--the suave, non-commital, ironic, always disoriented but never out-of-place, never to be ridiculed because never taking himself seriously Everyman who populates both the swankest downtown cafes and the diviest ghetto and red-neck bars at once.

Today's American culture is every bit as or more homogenous as the culture of the conformist era of the 1950s, only the style of homogenization has changed. What we have today is not a 1950's style homogeneity focused on the conscious mind, but a deliberate and coherent harnessing of what Virmo refers to as pre-consciousness. What we have today is a hegemony that operates not by traditional brainwashing, but through what is sometimes referred to as Noopolitics--by reducing human behavior to a pursuit of emotional rather than sensual pleasures and thus minimizing opportunities for the type of deep reflection that makes ideology and conscious behavior significant. More concisely, hegemony today operates not on the active thinking mind but on the mind at rest. And if it can be shown, as Colin Campbell argues in The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism, that modern daily leisure activities serve as a form of productive labor that involves a reduction of emotional intensity through daydreaming or dream making--that is, if the passive mind has indeed been harnessed--and if art inevitably reduces both emotional and sensory intensity in its pursuit of pleasure, then literary and other arts become intrinsically involved in upholding the consumer economy, in acting as a facade that, even if revolutionary in content, can't help but support the neo liberal Capitalist agenda. Literary artistic expression becomes a type of subaltern voice that, unless appropriated, can't be heard or properly spoken.

One recalls Adorno's famously misquoted phrase about there being no poetry after Aschwitz. What he actually said, within context, is that: "To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. And this corrodes even the knowledge of why it has become impossible to write poetry today. Absolute reification, which presupposed intellectual progress as one of its elements, is now preparing to absorb the mind entirely. Critical intelligence cannot be equal to this challenge as long as it confines itself to self-satisfied contemplation." Adorno was writing in 1949, at the dawn of American conformism, but his concern about the complete absorption of the mind by a capitalist or fascist hegemony is just as relevant today; only, if we take Noopolitics into consideration, one might argue that today the primary mind being absorbed is that of the reader rather than the writer, the audience instead of the creator, that in effect citizens are being trained to manage their attention in such a way as to resist conscious deliberation in deference to pre-conscious activity designed to bring consumerist pleasure, to the realm where bio and noo politics reign. The disciplining of the body described by Foucoult (bio-politics) and the disciplining of the pre-conscious resting mind described by Lazzarrato (noopolitics) step in to shape attention and behavior without a need for any explicit ideological support. In terms of literature, this assumes that no revolutionary or subaltern reading is possible regardless of how revolutionary a book's content. Further, one would presume that if an entire culture's readership is turned into a certain type of reader, that once the reading mind, which is to say, the passive mind in search of pleasurable stimulation, is absorbed in this way, then no subaltern voice can be either read or spoken; the conscious mind is no longer master of artistic inspiration. In a world focused on regulating subjectivity rather than the actions of a subject, ideology has little power to threaten the status-quo or to inform aesthetic judgment. Aesthetics subsequently falls under the dominion of a new consumerist form of pleasure-seeking, one dependent on the dreaming self's ability to defer a genuine expectation of pleasure fulfillment. As Colin Campbell explains: "The process of day-dreaming intervenes between the formulation of a desire and its consummation; hence the desiring and dreaming modes become interfused, with a dream element entering into desire itself."The pleasure seeker of today still employs actual memories, Campbell argues, but, through day-dreaming--by re-imagining real experience to better coincide with one's fantasies, a never-ending, never-perfected process--the modern hedonist can heighten gratification by speculating on enjoyments that are yet to come. He or she can enjoy the anticipation, in other words, and the act of desiring itself becomes a pleasurable activity. (p86) Thus, today's principal mode of pleasure-seeking is defined not as a pursuit of material satisfaction but as a pursuit to remain in and enjoy the pleasures of being in a state of desiring. Our most sought for pleasure, that is, is the pleasure of contemplating pleasure, the activity of daydreaming, of taking pleasure from "possibilities", of making contact with a fantasy without fulfilling the fantasy, which would satiate and lead likely to boredom, would reduce or terminate the sought-for pleasure. Ideally then, in contrast to both the pure escapist who sets out to enjoy a fantasy that isn't attainable and, as such, is therefore in search of a less intense pleasure, or the material pleasure seeker who seeks attainment in the direct appeasement of the physical senses, the modern neo-liberal subject wants to maintain the pleasant state of mind of the daydreamer, someone who is within reach of a tangible satisfaction but who never attains it, is never fulfilled and thereby never bored or disillusioned.

As a consequence, the desiring subject, which is to say a flexible constantly shape-shifting subject that remains pliable to the demands of both modern labor and modern consumption, replaces the unified and conformist subject contested under Fordist Capitalism. Social relations today require the flexibility and non-commital tolerance of the day-dreamer. As a result, mere survival now requires being implicit in, to become the barbarian required of a barbaric system. Or, to reference Adorno again, "it may have been wrong to say that after Auschwitz you could no longer write poems. But it is not wrong to raise the less cultural question whether after Auschwitz you can go on living--especially whether one who escaped by accident, one who by rights should have been killed, may go on living. His mere survival calls for the coldness, the basic principle of bourgeois subjectivity, without which there could have been no Auschwitz."

Here Adorno raises the concern that only the totally dominated mind is allowed to exist let alone speak. One doesn't, however, have to dominate the entire mind to accomplish the same level of domination that Adorno worries about. One merely need create a world requiring specific parts of the mind to govern behavior more than others, to make those functions of the mind survival skills, and then to dominate those particular mental faculties.

So as culture turns away from developed thoughts or complex narratives, literature gets marginalized, pushed outside of public discourse while simultaneously made relevant as a force for counter hegemony--a contrast to the image-based culture that harnesses counter-cultural ideals and non-reflective attention. As a result, the texts that tend to get published are texts that actively defy this new literary potential for subversiveness, literature that pays homage to the image and to the dominant discourse by defying consciousness, literature, that is, which not only avoids but ridicules ideology and thoughtfulness, literature that actively pushes the reader away from a literary aesthetic and towards the pseudo-utopian potential of the image--literature, in other words, that a neo-liberal public will actually want to read. At the same time, and more importantly, literature that embodies even a radical critique of the consumer subject, is rendered harmless. More to the point, popular literature, even if supportive of a revolutionary and/or subaltern message, becomes counter insurgent by misrepresenting the system as "authoritative", as being an ideological power and not a bio or noo power, while art that challenges the real--and really complex--capitalist apparatus is doomed to oblivion, to always be steered away from consciousness by its well-conditioned audience towards the new territory being exploited, the passive mind. Autonomist literature that tries not to reinforce traditional subjectivity, which tries, as Samuel Becket's plays do, to deconstruct the coherent Western subject and resist commodification, must appeal to consciousness to do so--to a conscious deactivation of subjectifying forces--but consciousness doesn't constitute the modern private subject whose individuality is now a collective and multi-faceted entity produced by and within consumer culture. Autonomous art must, that is, be reduced to pure aesthetics, be stripped of ideology, in order to retain its autonomy, but, once reduced to pure aesthetics, to the non-conceptual, its reception will be governed by pre-colonized and pre-conscious forces.

In one instance of literary revolt, in popular literature such as The Hunger Games, we find capitalism being treated negatively but inaccurately, as being a type of external authority as opposed to a plastic network that is largely self-realized. But within a society organized by bio and noo power, no external authority is required. The result is that this type of anti-capitalist popular art ultimately strengthens capitalist hegemony by redirecting revolutionary impulses toward a false facade that, protected by abstraction, can never be destroyed. The actions of the counter culture are channeled into a class struggle that only exists within literary and artistic universes, and revolutionary activity is downgraded to attacking windmills.

On the other hand, literary artists that understand and accurately represent modern, complex, and pliant capitalist forces, are pushed so far outside popular culture as to have a similar overall effect--that of channeling thoughts of revolt to a private and personal universe beyond the reach of market appropriation but also beyond the reach of collective action. Realism becomes accessible only as pure artifice, within an autonomous zone that isn't meant to be representational. Consequently, literature is made less relevant to actual circumstances and revolt can be seen as a seemingly "detached" activity, one limited to fantasy production, an already territorialized process. We can revolt all we want, the modern capitalist system tells us, but only in our imaginations! Revolutionary resistance is then governed by pre-conscious activities that can only be satisfied within a private and pre-territorialized part of the mind. The modern mind's training in de-emphasizing ideology, in distancing reality and real criticism in order to maintain pleasurable expectations, and the now strengthened impetus to defer satisfaction, because the deferment itself (of Utopian ideals, etc.) is now gratifying, ensures that no matter how accurate and convincing the artistic critique, it will be easily converted into a harmless pleasure-fulfillment--a deferred satisfaction, a possible but never satisfied reality that maintains a "desiring state of mind" in preference to a concrete plan for achievement. In short, no matter how authentic a book's revolutionary criticism, it can be turned into a commodity by its readers. Liberatory impulses must be re-channeled to a private and subsequently impotent world. They, like all other impulses and desires, get pushed inside, forced into becoming part of a private but multitudinous "inner life", the only life where liberation is achievable. The day-dreamer which neo-liberal Capitalist social relations insist upon and reinforce, the person we have to become to participate within modern society, the person we must become in order perhaps to survive, is now in charge of our aesthetic responses and makes sure that no counter ideology can touch it. The daydreamer, that is, which is today both a producer and a product of consumer capitalism, becomes skilled at internalizing utopian aspirations so that they become consumerist pleasures rather than revolutionary quests. The modern subject is trained to ensure that possibilities remain possibilities and nothing else, that the revolutionary impulse is forever deferred and endlessly enjoyed but never fully gratified or acted on, much like staring at a poster of the New York City skyline and deriving enjoyment from it by imagining what it would be like to someday live in the city but repressing and deferring the urge to actually move there because the reality would either disillusion or make one imaginatively poorer, with one less satisfying possibility in one's repertoire from which to derive emotional enjoyment. Put simply, one must defer material pleasures, the pleasures of the traditional hedonist, whether it be the enticing thrills offered by New York City or the social justice of a post-revolutionary society, in favor of the emotional pleasures begot by the daydreamer. The revolutionary struggle itself becomes today's Utopia in place of a post-revolutionary world in which revolutionary goals have been achieved.

But none of this is to say that all literature is doomed to degenerate into propaganda or even that popular genre literature can't contribute to the construction of an effective counter hegemony, but the task of the revolutionary artist today, the task, really, of every artist who seeks not to actively support the status quo, has changed dramatically. The challenge is no longer to change or influence people's thoughts and opinions, but to alter the tangible mechanisms of perception. Literature today, as Deleuze argues, must stake out territory in degenerate networks, thus reconfiguring meaning and understanding anew. It must hone in on that which is left over in the hegemonic process, on the pathologies and disorders of the modern mind which haven't yet been harnessed for production. But even that isn't enough. Once perception is reappropriated, new channels for utopian energies have to be created. The revolutionary impulse mustn't be merely liberated, it must open onto a counter ideological message, one that isn't imposed but which emerges from revolutionary praxis rather than from university offices or mountain-top retreats. Art may not drive effective social change, but it can facilitate change by focusing on the war of position advocated by Antonio Gramsci. The literary artist of today cannot afford to take refuge in solitude, to withdraw into her creativity; rather, her creativity must develop out of concrete revolutionary activities and membership within tangible revolutionary communities. (wherein new identities might be born and endure). In brief, the artist must become first a revolutionary subject before her art can speak revolutionary thoughts. She must seek less to create new worlds, or autonomous but fictional worlds, and instead locate the anti-alienating forces already with us, those forces already created by anti-capitalist movements, and to then embody and articulate those forces in new literary forms. She must become Gramsci's organic intellectual, a subject whose voice arises directly from within the revolutionary struggle and who then appropriates literary conventions (not the other way around) for her own subversive purposes and her own subversive audience.

Saturday, January 26, 2013


Sometimes the doubt gets way too close. I don’t mean doubt about whether God exists or whether I’ll become successful in my career or anything specific. I don’t really know what it is that I doubt, actually. I just know that sometimes it gets too close. If I knew what it was, if I could name what it was that I doubted, it would then be even closer, and unendurable. I can never get close enough to recognize it.

I didn’t really stay up on US news while I
was away. I thought the Te’o story had something to do with parodying Tim Tebow. I’d heard Armstrong was going to have an interview with Oprah, but I didn’t know any of the details until I got back. It seems like the story of our lives, the thin coating we use to name and conceal the scattered rubbish underneath, has become the essence we are most desperate to preserve. And maybe that’s part of what it is that I’m doubting, the story. I want to believe in other people's stories, the story of the cancer survivor who overcame his disease to become a seven time Tour de France champion, for example. And I fully understand why a college student wants to believe in the pretty picture and nice words that come across his computer screen and iphone. I understand why someone would want to believe that life’s tragedies can be remade as heart-warming made-for-cinema victories, would want to confirm those stories, would value the story more than the actual lived experience, would hide the latter with the former. I can understand why someone would lie to preserve his own story, even a false story, see it as a gift to or from others, would do everything he can to make his story true no matter how false, would yield to what’s much bigger than he is.

I’m not sure what the narrative of my life would be. I kinda know what I would like it to be, and I know it isn’t what I'd like it it to be, but as long as it’s not over, my life I mean, as long it keeps going, I can hold onto the story and maybe the story, or the idea that there is a story, keeps me going. Part of the doubt that sometimes gets too close, that I can never name or see too clearly, is the concern that without the story there would not be anything left to motivate me, that, though the story be not only a small part of me but a part of me that in truth isn’t really a part of me, is all or mostly lie, I could not exist without it. And perhaps the only part of me that is real, that is me, is the doubt, the part of me I can’t bear to get too close to because, if I did, it would be the end of me.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Follow Me

Follow me, love, for this
that my heart lead us always away
as a kiss that just awaits
where by the sun of your eyes we will travel
where we will find us all of our mornings
mouths that open like cathedrals
mosques that summon the other’s grace
and songs repeating always the same prayers
and more yet more than we ever might be.
In following, my dear, let that alone be our love and our poetry.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012



Finally I surrender, love.
The secrets of my desires I will no more withhold.
Spread your dark wings and blow your tempests,
yield up your fires and curses,
and I will be silent
except to pray alone in the night
to your fury.
You may have it all now;
all I can bring out of me is yours.
I will part with everything
if only I might rest in amazement
as you blast me open with your vicious love,
render all that denies me your deep space and stark insanity.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Empty Rhetoric

"These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty. We can never forget that as we speak people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today." - Barak Obama

Oh, fantastic. We have free speech in this country. We can argue about which of the two representatives of Goldman Sachs and Haliburton is the most handsome and enunciates his words better. And like virtually every other nation in the world, we can go through a sham election in which the same policies are put in different wrapping paper and re-sold to us. But we can never forget, Mr. Obama, that as we speak people right here at home, not just in "distant nations", are fighting for the chance to argue about the issues that matter--and they're being stymied by your administration. I'm talking about the same whistle-blowers whose bravery you praised in 2008 but have piteously hunted down and imprisoned and tortured in the four years since then. I'm talking about the fact that your administration has used the notorious Espionage Act more times than all previous presidents COMBINED, more than Bush/Cheney and the paranoid Nixon administration or Red-Scared Reagan. I'm talking about the fact that your administration attempted to use the National Defense Authorization Act to detain American citizens indefinitely, without trial, just for being SUSPECTED of having ties to Al Qaeda. And when your abusive practices were ruled unconstitutional, you promptly put my tax dollars to work in trying to overturn the ruling. I'm talking about the fact that when thousands of Occupiers tried to voice their dissent, tried to "argue about the issues that matter" in locations paid for by their tax dollars and where they could actually be heard for a change, you called in the dogs and had them forcefully relocated to far off fields or hidden back rooms or living room sofas where no one could hear them and their voices would be effectively silenced. I'm talking about the fact that you charged John Kiriakou with treason for leaking information about officials involved in illegal waterboarding in Guantanamo and at the same time haven't bothered to prosecute a single person who engaged in or authorized the illegal practice in the first place. I'm talking about the consistent message your administration has sent out that "respect for the law" applies only to those people who are victimized by it.

I could go on and on here, but my point is simple: Obama has been re-elected President, and the country remains the same enemy of freedom and equality it has always been.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Religious Poem

I might want to believe in you, Lord
But in my struggle to know you, I become your prevention:

I want love and the impossibility of love.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Paris, Barcelona, Bilbao, Granada, Lisbon, etc.

The Egyptian Obelisk. It sits at the end of the Jardin de Tullieres (behind the Louvre and leading to the Champs d'Elysees). It was one of the first things we saw on this trip, during a walking tour of the city, and it stands out for me as an emblem of my experience of Paris.

For one thing, it's pleasant to look at. It's gold leafed at the top, it's tall and well-constructed. And it's old--three thousand three hundred years old, to be more exact--the oldest edifice in the city. At the same time, it would be both more and less impressive in its original environment, in Egypt marking the entrance to the Luxor temple. But there it would not stand out as it does in La Place de La Concorde. It's one of thousands of pleasant and interesting things to look at here in Paris--and its splendor hides more than it shows.

It doesn't say anything about it being stolen by Napolean. It doesn't say that Egypt asked to have it back every year for over ninety years and was ignored. Nor does it say anything about what used to be in its place--the guillotine--or the streets that bled for ten years after the revolution. Like so much of Paris, its beautiful surface conceals more than a few layers of ugliness.

Parisians always seem friendly. They smile and act like they're listening with concern. I haven't witnessed any impatience with my inability to speak French, as I expected. No one has tried to rob or pick-pocket us (to my knowledge). There's a certain humility both in the sound of the language and the non-verbal gesturing. And of course it's liberal here--full of well-read, cultured, enemies of intolerance. As already noted, Paris is a beautiful city to look at, the people as well as the buildings and landmarks. On the surface.

But behind all that is something else--confusion, muck, and corruption. The shit and urine under some of the bridges, the gypsy camp grounds, the racism, the hypocrisy, the sometimes excessive French rudeness, the elitism.... At the quarterfinals of the European Cup, watching on an outdoor big screen next to the Eiffel Tower, a group of teenage boys decided they wanted to stand, even though there were rows of people sitting behind them. Another group decided to throw some fireworks, and the nearly always friendly police, rather than trying to protect the crowd from the potential hazards of the fireworks, decided to tear-gas the whole area. My eyes are still burning. It seems like the whole world cheats the Metro system, justifiably so considering the costs, and it seemed like the city did little to stop it until we saw a man dressed like a wanna-be James Dean, a plain-clothed patrol officer, handing out sixty dollar citations to tourists who had made honest mistakes and to immigrants trying to save whatever money they could. Behind the fashionable clothes, Parisians are ugly.  Some of the ugliness, though, is in plain sight. Nobody talks about the commercialization of Paris, its cartoonish quality. But it's there. It's like a Disneyland for adults, only you're meant to know that Disneyland is a fantasy.The Champs d'Elysees is easily one of the least interesting streets I've ever seen. No character whatsoever. A big outdoor shopping mall for the rich. Big fucking deal. And the prices in the rest of Paris aren't that much better. The whole city is one big tourist trap, designed to make you feel like you're participating in something important when you're playing tourist, which the locals do as much as the out-of-towners. The Eiffel tower is a horror to look at. Sure, if you put enough colorful lights on something it looks nice--it's flashy and catches your attention, but it's still ugly. And if you want proof of how easily human tastes can be manufactured, look at the lines of people waiting to pay to go to the top of the tower. And the whole city is full of people with the same kinds of tacky tastes, tourist tastes, a taste for the ugly.

No doubt about it, Paris is an ugly city, its history as well as its present artificial reincarnation. But you've got to take a good look at the ugliness to really appreciate it. I could go on and on about the ugly side of Paris and tell you why I hate it so much, except for the fact that it would misrepresent my feelings if I did. Fact is, while I hate almost everything about Paris, I don't hate Paris. Yes, it's ugly. Yes, it's a big phony facade with no real charm whatsoever. But I still like it. I want to come back. It's like a beautiful woman that gets away with being the world's biggest bitch because she's so freaking hot. But there's another side to her, too. Once you look passed the hot body and the clever make-up application and so on--once you see her for the bitch that she really is, she starts to grow on you and reveals yet another side.

Our last night in Paris, we returned to the Jardin de Tullieres and saw again the obelisk we had seen on our first day there. I thought about how children years after the revolution used to push on the square cobblestones and squeeze up the blood from the still moist soil. I thought of all the violence and mis-guided over-zealous passions of the French Revolution. But I also thought about the glories of the French Commune, of Paul Eluard and Baudrillard and Christine de Pizan and Proust and Benjamin and Van Gogh and Picasso. The ugliness of Paris is hidden but it too hides something, yet another kind of ugliness at times and sometimes a failed expression pointing at something genuinely beautiful off on the horizon and sometimes something beautiful in its own right. But even then you're not seeing the real Paris, for beauty, like Rilke tells us, is the last veil that uncovers the horrible. And Paris is a city of veils.


We spent the first week at the apartment of a friend of Jesusa's, with a couple from Barranquilla Colombia, in a small quiet little town called St. Jean Despi. Unlike in Paris, though, being outside the city wasn't a problem. We had to walk one block to the train station and, twenty minutes later, were in the city center without having to change lines and for a price of about seventy five cents. The public transportation isn't just cheaper in Barcelona than in Paris or Istanbul, it's better. After a week, we moved to our own apartment, a spacious place on the outer margins of the city but equally accessible to the city center with the metro.

The first day, we took a tour of the old city, el barrio Gottico, and learned about the interesting Catalan history, which explains why many Barcelonans think of themselves, even today, as Catalans rather than Spaniards. The Iglesia de Maria del Mar, with its charred ceilings and echoes of classical music, was a special treat. Two days later, we took the Gaudi walking tour and visited La Pedrera, Casa Vicens, Casa Battlo, and the Sagrada Familia, the interior of which we saw the following day. It's pretty amazing, meant to strike you as if you were entering a grove of immense pine trees as you enter. The exterior, though, at least the side depicting Christ's birth, is even more impressive, especially the exquisite amount of detail. It made me think of the paintings of Casper David Friedrich.

In subsequent days, we visitied Parque Guell, the beach (four different ones), La Sagrada Corazon, a roman church (the name of which I've forgotten), the Picasso Museum, the Archeological Museum, etc. On the day we visited the cathedral, we got to see a Sardana dance presentation put on by the locals, part of which is erecting human towers as high as six or seven stories.

My favorite thing about Barcelona, about travel in general for that matter, is meeting the locals: Jesusa's friends, the parents of the woman whose apartment we rented, the friends of Jesusa's friends, and various waiters and other strangers. Nothing like a night of conversation with good company and a few pints of wine or Sangria.

Silent Cinema

Saw a Buster Keaton silent film with live musical accompaniment. It was shown on a big screen outside the walls of the Mondruit Castle.


A beach town about three hours from Barcelona. We stayed in a hotel on the Sa Riera beach, but we spent a lot of time on the next beach to the North, Raco (I think). We had to pass through the nude beach to get there. Beautiful place, especially at night (Begur, I mean. The nude beach is better by day).


It's a monastery at the top of a mountain, where, as legend has it, music was heard from the nearby Sacred Cave and, when the locals went to investigate, they discovered the statue of the Black Virgin. We waited in line with the other pilgrims to see the statue, which wasn't at all worth the long wait. The Basilica, though, is nice. New Roman outside and Baroque inside. What really made the trip worthwhile, though, was the natural scenery, the giant rocks that overlook the monastery and the terrific views. We took a short hike and saw a mountain goat along the way. Afterwards, we went back to the Basilica and listened to the men's choir for awhile. Then we met up with a friend of Jesusa's at a nearby pueblo for dinner and drinks. Nice day.


We saw the famous Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim and visited three other museums. The history and culture here is a bit mysterious. Though Franco tried hard to wipe out the indigenous language, it lives on, at least as a second language, for many of the Basque people. It's the oldest living European language and has roots that date back possibly to the pre-neolithic. The culture here is somewhat unique, as well. Due to the mountainous geography (easy to defend and isolated), none of the major European or Arabian empires ever gained firm control here and the native Voscan culture has been somewhat preserved. The people are as friendly here as in other parts of Spain, but less Westernized, a bit rougher. The women don't dress as fashionably or as femininely, and the working class seems both more respected and less idealized than in other places. The food is every bit as good as advertised, but not as expensive as we thought it would be. Definitely worth a return trip!

Thoughts on indigenous Spanish culture, etc.

We hate what we fear, but what we fear most, we disdain. Knowing we can't bear the terror, we expel it completely from our minds and bodies and even beyond, where we can't come into contact with it. Afraid to believe ourselves capable or murder, we put the murderer out of sight, prohibit cameras from filming his execution, and hide the corpse from public view. Trying not to remember those two or three homoerotic dreams, we turn our heads in disgust at the sight of two men kissing.

Following dictator protocol, Franco tried to convince the world and his subjects that there was only one Spain. No Catalan culture, no Moorish influence, no Basques. In Ecuador, where one of every three persons is indigenous, many try to forget their native language, they buy products to lighten their skin, trying to disappear the way the other two thirds of the country desires. In the US no group hates the Native Americans. But more than a few wish they would stop whining about the past, would just stay on their ever-shrinking reservations and be happy or lose their heritage and become part of the modern world. No group in the world is more ignored, more hidden and thereby more despised, than the indigenous, in whatever country. And perhaps there is no more frightening idea than that the indigenous know something the rest of the world doesn't, that, in the end, the world belongs to them.


Great place, but not in August, not with the heat. The Alhambra was amazing, and I loved the fact that here they do Tapas the way it was meant to be done: you order a drink, you get a tapa; you don't pay twice. And the tapas are both delicious and substantial here, often a plate-full. Saw a really nice Flamenco show here in a club resembling a cave.


Traveling, especially when I'm near a beach or natural scenery, always inspires me to write poetry. I've written several poems. Here's one:

What if I still had
every vestige of the past
both clear and deep within me

that still there were room
for each leaf of last year's bloom
and all the sights and sounds my life's brought in
and now I have forgotten?
Oh, how easily my soul would rend and scatter in today's morning breeze.


Not a lot to see for toursim, necessarily, but a really nice city to visit (and perhaps for living). The people here are much more Latin than Spaniards, in the sense of being humbler and more traditional in their tastes, but they're also heavily European, almost Parisian with their downcast, serious faces and their love of high culture. They're especially fond of their writers here, which suits me well. Like in Paris, there is a ton of racial diversity, but inter-racial mixing seems to be more common and better accepted here.  They're also, like Parisians, fond of sitting for hours in their favorite cafe, only it isn't a cafe; here it's a pasteleria, similar to a Parisian cafe in almost every sense except that it's a lot cheaper and the people dress and behave more casually, with less posing, and interact more. They also love their sweets here, which is great but not so good for my health or will-power. The climate isn't bad, either. It's hot, but not Granada hot. And the beaches aren't too hard to get to and they're clean. To be honest, I haven't found anything I dislike about this city.

We saw an old monastery, the main cathedral, and an old tower by the sea. The have some different and delicious traditional drinks here: something called ginjinha, a liquor made from cherry-like ginja berries fermented in brandy; a green wine named because it's made from new grapes (not because it's green); and of course lots of port wine. I had a fair sampling of all of the above.

Heading back to Madrid to unwind for a few days before heading back to Denver to end the summer travels. Don't know if I'm ready for real life yet.