Monthly Archives: September 2008

On Language Variation

I was addressed as “Madre,” and it utterly knocked me back. I had never been addressed that way, or heard anyone addressed that way, and the last time I read it was in La Celestina (1499, but see also the movie with Penélope Cruz as Melibea, and Maribel Verdú as Areusa).

I had just arrived in a small Andean town, and I asked the driver of a mototaxi whether he knew where my designated hostel was. “Sí, Madre,” said he. And I thought, “He is addressing me as La Celestina was addressed.” Verily I repeat unto you-all, I had never heard this form of address used in real life before.

What was going on? I wanted to know. Was I just older now, to be addressed this way, or was it a regional archaism or a ruralism, like “caser@” when used as a form of address? Then I heard “Madre,” directed to me and also to others, several more times as I progressed to smaller and smaller towns, further and further up in the mountains. It felt utterly ancient and exotic to me.

*

I waited to ask about it until I could ask a native speaker and a Celestina scholar. Do people in contemporary real life address women as “Madre?” Yes, they do, he said. But he had just met a family from the area I visited. He had asked the teenager whether she had a boyfriend, and she had answered, “No, yo no conozco varón alguno.” It knocked him back for the same sorts of reasons as being addressed as “Madre” did me. Yet to me it sounded normal, as “Madre” did to him.

And this man would not blink, I am sure, if he heard a Peruvian pronounce madre as “mare,” but I always do, because it makes me think I have changed places and eras, maybe even chronotopes. Yet I ought to expect it, since we know Latin American Spanish is heavily Andalusian.

*

Archaic style and vocabulary always amaze me more than archaic verb forms. I have heard and noted verb forms like “vide” and “trujiese” en el merito Albuquerque. Yet I know which are officially archaic and which are modern. But due to regional differences and varying degrees of preservation, in terms of vocabulary and style I am never quite sure whether what I am hearing, or saying, is contemporary or not.

Axé.

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Mahalia Jackson

Check out this amazing performance of Just a Closer Walk with Thee – especially the second half. (No, I have not converted.) But then hear Jackson’s voice float on What a Friend We Have in Jesus.

And there are many other amazing performances by Mahalia Jackson. I like I Know It Was the Blood, I Couldn’t Keep It to Myself, and Leaning on the Everlasting Arm. There is also Elijah Rock.

Still my very favorite is I Made It Over.

Axé.

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On Anorexia

Here is another labyrinthine post from the olden days. Now I am awake like the Buddha, but a seer at a Los Angeles botánica told me years ago that I was “carrying a great weight.” Qui potest capere, capiat.

I

Trying to discover my way back professionally from the ravages of Reeducation is sometimes dangerous in that it leads me to think of the labyrinthine paths that pulled me from the light, and of my nostalgia for the life and vitality in whose destruction I was complicit.

The self criticism of Reeducation coupled with that of academia and then the old guilt I feel for not having tortured myself enough in life are a very crippling combination that I need to identify yet more clearly as the enemy. An important reason why my life and, by the way, vita deteriorated as it did is that I decided to engage in so much self destruction. To continue to do so is no way to improve matters.

In Reeducation ritual self torture was important to prove we could “feel.” “Feeling” meant focusing on the self in a childish and egocentric way, and never putting anything in perspective. I kept saying, but this model is impractical, it inhibits action, and I want to do something with my life! But Reeducation believed in agony and slowness.

II

I am procrastinating about updating my vita, which I must do, but hate to do because I hate to look at it. I hate to look at my vita because it was once a good vita and is no longer. In it I do not recognize myself, but do I see very clearly the ruins of my life and the paths I tried and failed to trace. I am making myself ill, however, by procrastinating in this way, and that is not a good methodology toward any goal – even the simple one of having a nice day.

I have been trying to work on my vita for several days, but as the file opens I am overcome by nausea. I go to sleep and wake up with a sense of foreboding. I feel trapped in the expectations of others. My immediate fear is of how I may assault myself emotionally when I start working on my vita, and of not being able to stop the assault. At a deeper level is perhaps my own fear of individuation that is really trapping me. I need to be able to say, YES, this is the vita I have, and say to myself deal with it, but I cannot yet do this easily. This is a trap.

III

Procrastinatio simplex involves having something boring to do. The only solution is to start, so that one can finish. The procrastination in which I am indulging by writing this post is a more justifiable avoidance tactic. If I do not first prepare myself, but simply open my vita to work on it as I used to do, I know from experience that I will also begin surreptitiously screaming at myself, until I am on the floor in a pool of emotional blood.

Then I will not be in a state to teach tomorrow or to do the things I need to take basic care of myself today. If I inadvertently assault myself, so as to then leave myself in a pool of blood on the emotional floor, I will then sit on the couch and stare into space for several hours rather than lead my life. For this not to happen, I have to be aware of how it happens and what causes it, and how I can head that off.

I have to remember that all of this self destruction is directed by a demon, not a valid entity. The demon is not entitled to have his ideas taken into consideration. I have to remember that it is precisely because I learned so well how to be so cruel to myself that I also weakened this vita, and that the answer is not further cruelty. I have to remember not to put myself on trial and to practice forgiveness granted for no reason. I have to remember that thinking further about these matters only leads to placing myself once again on trial. I am procrastinating out of a fear of self destruction, yet the procrastination itself defers the cure.

IV

When I was a minor, I was mildly anorexic for some time. It ended around the time I registered to vote, but the mentality stayed with me for some time because I thought I should go back, even though I did not actually want to. I was freed when, no longer willing to be patient with the pain of thinking I should go back, I realized that believing one could solve problems by losing weight was a convoluted way of holding onto three errors.

The first error was that one could solve the unsolvable. For example: if I lose enough weight, the war will end (so that if it does not end, that is only because I have not lost enough weight). The second error was that one could not solve the solvable. For example: I cannot pass Chemistry because I have not lost enough weight (in other words, I cannot study Chemistry because I am too preoccupied with losing weight, which in turn may really mean something like I cannot study Chemistry because someone finds it unseemly, but I am not allowed to notice that, so I must find another reason). The third error was that perfection was a prerequisite to life. I was freed from obvious anorexia, but some of the ideas behind it began expressing themselves in other forms, harder and harder to identify, but having the same basic structure.

V

This is how anorexia and procrastination are interrelated, or why anorexia is a form of procrastination. Anorexia functions to block consciousness of the issue at hand (why must one say “X has not happened because I have not lost weight?” whom is one protecting by claiming this?). So it is essentially an effect of ideology (and not just, or only superficially, an effect of the ‘ideology’ of slimness). Anorexia is not about food or weight, it is about not allowing oneself things one needs, about refusal to grow for fear that the direction in which one’s branches tend may not be pleasing, or, in other words, about cutting out parts of oneself which may be challenging to others.

I think anorexia, the disease, is very useful in this way: it is a concrete expression of feeling constrained, overly limited; like any symptom or expression, it points to a problem. That is why my dormant article on procrastination – to which I shall return, however – is opposed to quick fixes for this problem. One is told, ACT! But most people do know how to take action on things, and do do it.

This is where my related research question comes in. By remaining blocked, are procrastinators protecting someone or something? Solutions which do not address this question, I hypothesize, parallel therapies for anorexics that involve only force feeding and reeducation about body image. I think the question needs to be asked and answered for the solution to be more than mechanical, cosmetic, temporary.

VI

The procrastination or block which resembles anorexia is yet more complex than the avoidance tactic I  described earlier – avoidance of looking at my vita until I can prepare ways to protect myself from my possible surprise attack on myself when I do look at, or to soothe myself out of what is likely to happen when if I end up attacking myself anyway. Anorexia, as I suggested above, is the ultimate expression of an imperative to limit oneself – an expression which obeys that imperative while also symbolizing it as a problem.

My hypothesis is that the block which is not procrastinatio simplex has something to do with limitation as well. To expand a little on this point: so much energy, in anorexia, goes to the project of limiting food, expression, and selfhood. We might say that because selfhood and expression have been interdicted, the only way of having, or expressing some semblance of autonomy is the perverse one of over-sculpting the flesh.

Similarly, in the block which is not procrastinatio simplex, a great deal of energy is focused on the project which is not being done or which, like that of getting thin enough, is never complete. Is this so that the project which should in fact be addressed, cannot be seen? Who, or what is protected when the project which is actually being blocked (not the project upon which one is “procrastinating”) is screened from view?

Axé.

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Kucinich on the Bailout

“…This legislation is further proof our government has been turned into an engine that accelerates the wealth upwards. Taking money from the pockets of the people of this country and putting it into the hands of the few. That is what our tax policy does. It accelerates the wealth of America upwards. That is what the war does. It accelerates the wealth of America upwards. That is what our energy policy does. It accelerates the wealth upwards into the hands of the oil companies. That is what these financial policies do and it is how our national debt is done which had doubled in the last eight years. 700 billion dollars of the taxpayer dollars are being put on the hook.

When Wall Street makes a profit, it is their profit. When Wall Street loses money, our people lose money. 700 billion dollars. Why aren’t we bailing out those millions of Americans who are losing their homes? Why aren’t we addressing the fact that 50 million Americans don’t have any health care? It is absolutely astonishing, that we are talking about giving 700 billion dollars of taxpayer’s money which comes from the failure of the Fed, through a quadrupling of public and private debt during the time of Mister Greenspan; up to 43 TRILLION dollars. And we have no discussion at all about the underlying monetary policy….”

Read the whole thing and see the video at Shakesville. We are going to be paying for this for generations, y’all, and some of your children and grandchildren will pay by not eating and not going to school.

Axé.

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Luxury, Calm, and Voluptuousness III

1.

Now I am experiencing luxury, calm and voluptuousness in the form of New Orleans streets on a lovely fall afternoon. I am trying to learn to take greater advantage of all affordable luxuries available to me than I have done in some time. Before Reeducation I lived in a very pleasant way, but in Reeducation I learned that I did not deserve it. I renounced it and this was very heart rending. Reclaiming it is very difficult because I had to extirpate so much life and self in Reeducation.

The most difficult aspect of the current program for me to implement is to sleep. Most recently the reason I have not slept was that I was so busy admiring my beautiful incandescent light – unavailable in Peru or during Hurricane Gustav. But when I began living in dark latitudes* [*I must explain at some point what I mean – say, the pueblos tristes of Arguedas] I learned to close the blinds, turn up the artificial light, and create a world of my own indoors. I know people who do this even during the day. I do it at night because, if one is living in dark latitudes it is only then then that the world becomes truly my own. Herein lies the current version of my problem, although it has a history.

2.

Sleep is of course a free luxury. I do not suffer at all from insomnia. I have a quiet neighborhood, a lovely room, a good mattress, and better sheets. Yet I have a bad and destructive habit of not sleeping. I first formed it when I became a professor. When I got home from work I would stay up as late as possible because I was now home. I did not want to fall asleep because this would only bring the next day closer, when I would have to go to work again. Not sleeping was a form of rebellion against regimentation, drudgery, and the pressure to resign oneself. Oddly, it was at the same time a form of discipline, a way of disabling myself so that I could not change things or leave. If I did not reduce my energy levels, I might have the strength to escape, which would disappoint those who wanted me to stay where I was. Not sleeping was thus a technique to lobotomize myself so that I would not be so aware of my environment or have such high expectations for each day. All of this is of course very neurotic – a complex strategy designed to protect a status quo and also dissent from it.

That is how not sleeping, a strategy to limit oneself, became a cause of claustrophobia. I felt claustrophobic because I wanted to leave the box I was in but did not have the power to do it. I am still not sure wonder what I wanted to leave. I called it my job, or academia, or my town, but was it those things in fact or was it really the forms of suffering I had been taught were decorous? In the end it developed, I think, into a form of generalized sleep anorexia. I did not sleep because there was nothing to live for. I had no present and no future; I was living in a phantom land for the sake of phantoms; I might best become a phantom myself, or use sleep deprivation as a technique enabling me to better embody the phantom I felt myself to be.

3.

At one level, I did not sleep because there was nothing to live for. I had no present and no future. My past was also a lie. My life had ended prematurely and it was better that I not have a fully functional body. If I were to qualify as a sane person, said Reeducation, I must accept that my only reality was pain and that my hope for improvement was limited. So: why sleep, why replenish energy, why do anything which might make me feel well and thus expose me to accusations of being in denial?

At the same time the simple explanation for not feeling well sleep deprivation provided, permitted me an illusion of easy improvement. Everything would be better once I slept, I would say. But I would not in fact sleep because in all likelihood little else would change. If that happened, the illusion of everything improving would be shattered, and my disappointment would be all too deep. By refusing to sleep I could maintain hope.

Living in this limbo it was hard to remember that before Reeducation I did sleep, and the world was happier. All these things go together. Now If I regain my full faculties perhaps I will find I am happy and empowered, not merely more aware and therefore more shocked and sad.

The greatest logical error of Reeducation was its teaching that the pain of early childhood was one’s deepest truth. You cannot outgrow that, you cannot escape it, you cannot get over it, you must accept that everything else is false, an illusion, a form of hiding from reality, said my Reeducator. What you were then is all there is, and if you have achieved a great deal since, that achievement is only an avoidance strategy and a form of denial. This is false – my Reeducator did not understand the theories he was working with – but I began to lobotomize myself by not sleeping, so I could be as impaired as was required.

4.

Neurotic behaviors, it is said, are based on what were once practical adjustments to real problems. My not sleeping started out as the most literal form of procrastination, an intentional prolongation of the day. Then it became real procrastination, that is, a way of evading what is at hand out of the fear that facing it will not help – or will only worsen matters. Resemble a zombie as much as possible because if you do not, the torturers will come. Freeze yourself as a zombie now. If you outlast this government you can then awake and come into the light.

But I think I have finally figured out where I get the irrational idea that facing reality with my wits about me will not only not help me, but will also offend the sensibilities of others. If I hurt them again by showing that I have a personality of my own, I will see the depth of their pain again, and the pity and guilt will be more than I can bear. Now, that is a true neurosis and it is difficult to unlearn, but I must unlearn it. In the spirit of luxury, calm, and voluptuousness, my renewed lemma, I may be ready to sleep now, and to dream.

5.

Perhaps I can say: if I want to rebel, or if I want to free myself, I must sleep. I believe I am protecting myself and placating others by being the reduced person I am when I do not sleep. I believe that if I become small enough, and tired enough, I will no longer have to feel guilty and lacerate myself for being a person. I believe it is indecorous to live, as opposed to merely exist. But none of this is true. And even if I could reduce myself to almost nothing, even if I could become a microorganism, the authorities I am trying to satisfy would find me lacking. I might as well decide to accept this and live.

Axé.

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Manila in the 1930s

Observe this video of Manila in the 1930’s. Apparently it had the world’s largest prison at that time. I do not endorse the attitude of the narrator, but the script is an interesting historical document in itself.

For good measure see this, also on Manila, from 1938:

Axé.

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Te Deum. Lomo de las Sagradas Escrituras. The Red Army Choir

I insist now upon speaking in very positive tones, but I am rocky and discouraged many days and I am in a state of distress about many things. More than I realize. I am improved but I should still recognize the foregoing squarely. It makes life easier. What I can see, I can cure. And there is something which is trying to get born and it is a good thing – but it is frightening me. What am I concerned about?  I am perhaps concerned that the new birth may mean the resurgence of some old constraints. NO, I WILL NOT ALLOW IT. Have no fear.

Te Deum: …eres el hijo eterno del Padre (here is the Catholic version of that, a hymn of thanksgiving). I have always felt, but still do not understand the following poem:

LOMO DE LAS SAGRADAS ESCRITURAS – Sin haberlo advertido jamás, exceso por turismo y sin agencias de pecho en pecho hacia la madre unánime. Hasta París ahora vengo a ser hijo. Escucha, Hombre, en verdad te digo que eres el HIJO ETERNO, pues para ser hermano tus brazos son escasamente iguales, y tu malicia para ser padre, es mucha. La talla de mi madre, moviéndome por índole de movimiento, y poniéndome serio, me llega exactamente al corazón: pesando cuanto cayera de vuelo con mis tristes abuelos, mi madre me oye en diámetro, callándose en altura. Mi metro está midiendo ya dos metros, mis huesos concuerdan en género y en número, y el Verbo encarnado habita entre nosotros, y el Verbo encarnado habita, al hundirme en el baño, un alto grado de perfección.

–C.V.

*

But it is the weekend, so we will sing! Vallejo was a Communist and so it is strangely fitting that I have decided to post from him on a day I had originally planned to post on the Red Army Choir. I took these notes one day I decided I did not like Vladimir Putin’s accent, and searched for more pleasing Russian sounds. By chance I discovered that the Red Army Choir still exists as a performing arts ensemble. It brings us the official music of the Soviet Union from its MySpace page. It has performed with the Finnish rock band Leningrad Cowboys, and now it apparently performs traditional Russian music.

This is already mirabilis but moreso is the archival footage of whose existence I learned while discovering the Red Army Choir. You can watch Soviet celebrations on Red Square. The victory celebration after the Great Patriotic War leads inevitably to footage of the Battle of Stalingrad.

From Stalingrad you are led back in time to Verdun. I was amazed to find so much footage of the Great War, so I decided to try the earlier Boer War. There is footage of that, too, including staged footage by Thomas Edison. He also filmed the Spanish American war, including Cuban prisoners waiting for transport, but I could not discern how much of his footage was staged and how much was not.

Axé.

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