Wednesday May 5, 2021

On our final day of class, in concluding discussion of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly (a novel, as the title suggests, involving scanning and surveillance), I introduce Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon and Michel Foucault’s theory of “panopticism,” applying the latter to the architecture of the digital classroom, the Zoom environment in which we’ve worked this past year due to pandemic. After ascent from Plato’s Cave in search of higher states of consciousness (Plato‚Äôs text being the one with which the course began), we lay bare the medium of our being-together as a class. I speak as one there in a cell with others. Here we are, I say: “Gallery View.” I call awareness to the Zen saying, “Before enlightenment, carry water, chop wood. After enlightenment, carry water, chop wood.” Through Dick’s title, I then trace us back to 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul stresses the importance of “charity” or love. Without it, he writes, one is but “sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” In its final moment, then, the course ends thus: with a synthesis of Zen and a kind of gnostic-psychedelic reimagining of agape. One must accept the prison, or at least return to it willingly, despite knowing that one will likely be misunderstood and crucified — but only so as to impart through the medium of one’s being the words “Love one another”: a message of congeniality and goodwill.

Monday August 28, 2017

Now that classes are underway again, minutes of leisure come with no guarantee. A homeless man plops down at the bench across from mine as I sit at a booth in a burrito bar. “Chips?” he asks, gesturing toward some half-eaten ones in a basket on my tray. “Sure, go ahead,” I reply — though afterwards, I’m ashamed, or at least troubled, as by an area of confusion in my evolving, improvised system of ethics. Should I have asked if there was a way I could have been of further assistance (as, I’m fairly sure, I could have)? I can guess what others might say; and giving the matter thought, I’d probably agree. Help wherever one can. But in the event and thus in practice, I am instead often ungenerous and unwilling to sacrifice. As post hoc rationalization, I quote back to myself some unrevised internal policy statement from many years ago, written shortly after my first encounters with Marx had begun to eclipse an earlier commitment to Nietzsche. Reviewing it now, I recall the influence as well of Morton and Zavarzadeh, an unlikely pair of Marxist agents provocateurs who, for a brief spell, held court at my alma mater. It is not the duty of Marxists, they insisted, to go around trying to correct through individual acts of charity the inhumanity of capitalism. Nay, they argued: if one of our goals is to replace ideological obfuscation with consciousness of real conditions, then it’s not enough to just ruthlessly critique all that exists. Instead, like mimes, we “radical pedagogues” must become mirrors of the very ruthlessness we’re critiquing. Remarkable, really, where we allow ourselves to stray. No more living memory. Only histories and myths. The crossroads of our Being — and a hell of a cross to bear. I never know whether I’m writing tragedy or farce. Bartender walks into a bar and looking across the bar asks himself, “What’ll it be, friend?” Everywhere, in every country on earth, humans continue to think themselves John C. Calhoun. How, then, can we persist in imagining twenty-first century America resolving its conflicts through a means other than civil war? Another religious martyr like John Brown, and it is on. Prepare for emergency: hurricane ahead. Aggregate of Communities, prepare to fall apart.