Where realism often prompts sympathy, fantasy often prompts empathy: full, emotionally immersive engagement. Is it still possible, though, to construct aesthetic foundations for empathy across current divides in American society? And would we even want to? After teaching China Miéville’s “Floating Utopias,” a devastating Marxist critique of the proposed right-libertarian “Freedom Ship” venture, I overhear a wealthy female student of mine turn to her roommate and fellow classmate and say, without a hint of irony, “Doesn’t that just make you wanna go on a cruise?” At which point I drag myself home and pretend I’m Rodney Dangerfield.
How long before a thing loses its novelty, its precognitive wonder? I take shelter by reactivating the experimental leftist music-affect-subjectivity of my early twenties: jerky, spastic, militant, navigation of social space soundtracked via Fugazi’s album The Argument. That “me” was in some ways an entirely different being, occupying a radically different memory-stream. “Debt was for him still a thing he thought he could beat.” I can’t thread into a coherent narrative the life-path leading from him to me. Events happened to him within an expanding linguistic framework. The universe offered me a different array of parts. I was never seen, and never had a place to belong. I was an “other” suffering from shyness, or what we now call “social anxiety.” The ideas get bigger when the space around me does. Somewhere among my collection is the book that will help me unlock the next-level conceptualization of the game-world. Perhaps that book is Tijuana activist intellectual Sayak Valencia’s Gore Capitalism, due out from Semiotext(e) next spring. A hand reaches down, scoops me up. The self is non-negotiable. It may be a troublesome nothing, but at least it’s my troublesome nothing. And it’s not like there’s some grand alternative waiting behind Door #2.