Something new begins now, bursting forth in kaleidoscopic profusion. Neoliberal governance reaches new heights of absurdity through the invention of “lunch debt.” But the teacher strike in West Virginia points a way forward, a first win, to be followed as early as next month, perhaps, with a strike by teachers in Oklahoma. The path for wildcats intersects there with a key choke point for social reproduction: tests that qualify states for federal funding. By placing federal funding into jeopardy, the strike jumps levels and has the potential to capture full national attention. Together, teachers, parents, and students can dictate the terms of a new deal. For the Trump administration, the goal will be to crush teachers the way Reagan crushed PATCO, while maintaining a semblance of economic populism among the base. Notice the administration’s reluctance to engage the West Virginia action’s illegality. They’re wary of trying to uphold an unpopular and unenforceable law. But of course, they’ll have to intervene eventually. His fans already love watching him say, “You’re fired.” Yet this runs the risk of intensifying antagonisms and contradictions. With solidarity walkouts, one could begin to imagine coordinated strikes, extension of wildcat tactics into public higher ed, systemwide stoppages, the reactivation of class power among the dispossessed.
After 15 years of teaching, all I can say with confidence is that education dooms itself to the circular reproduction of an empty formalism the moment it becomes compulsory. To extract myself from complicity with these and other compulsions, I walk alone on a sunny day, and whenever else the spirit moves me, listening to “Catfish Blues” by Alexander.
Crows and squirrels appear into consciousness and greet me on my way. As I crest a hill, I imagine myself happening upon a serene alpine lake. Plants offer me high fives, along with other, as-yet-unnameable signs of congratulation. Aye, crow, I hear ye. Greet me here in my true guise, the god of layaway and roustabout. Itinerant wanderer, upswept in a quest narrative that, through its inward-pointedness and self-invention, defies the tropes of conquest-oriented heroic fantasy. I look down at a pile of papers I’m supposed to grade and wonder, “Why am I here, again?” “Before being a worker,” I exclaim, “I am a person, perplexed by an alien imposition, the compulsion to work. Why should I complete tasks imposed by others, given this society’s open, gun-brandishing contempt for the only freedom that matters, the freedom from want?” To my students who complain only of Isis, of terrorism but not the terrorism of capitalism, I want to reply, “Relax. You are a non-subject, a non-event. A non-player character. History operates despite you.” Other students, thankfully, mine included, are organizing as we speak. OUT OF THE SCHOOLS AND INTO THE STREETS.
An assortment of tasks, given a spin, directs force toward its center. Bound together thus, like a top or a Tasmanian Devil, these tasks are made harmless, the rooms they occupy cleared for better acts of enjoyment. Luck having turned for once in my favor, a turn for which I shall remain eternally grateful, I now possess the opportunity to teach three sections of a literature course of my choosing. What shall I choose? Given how wary I am of loading myself too heavily with work, I’ll most likely just opt for some variant of my present course. There will be time enough to experiment next spring.
Eyes closed while listening to Grand Ulena’s Gateway to Dignity, I imagine a pair of animated graffiti high tops stepping frenetically across a generic late-80s-videogame-graphic brick wall. Perhaps what I have in mind here is Ghetto Blaster, a computer game I played on my Commodore 64 when I was a kid. Minds orient themselves otherwise than toward disaster.
The bullies are in charge. That is the principle fact of my world. The semester began on a somber note yesterday in an upper-floor classroom looking out on a gray sky. Through an epigraph by Günther Anders, I led students into a conversation about the war on the utopian imagination. We discussed cynicism as a defensive shell that subjects of capitalist realism raise around themselves, an emotional armor borne of disappointment. Staring at an image of myself on my computer screen in the moments before the start of a WebX interview, I uttered words of encouragement, imagining my attempt to improve my life as a tribute of sorts to Daphne. She would have wanted me to do this, I told myself. Remembering an image of the dog’s pained final hours, though, made me wince. Let us ascend by discarding our bearings. Tell stories of dolphins leaping from crystal seas. Monkeys arrive, as if their being were a plot device introduced to startle the narrative. One tries to re-imagine primate consciousness. Body as rage machine, apprehending the world through a fish-eyed lens. Mind not yet bound by words. Whereas now, we cower, listening as choppers cut lines through space.
Think about processes of identification. A temporary forgetting occurs when we confuse awareness with either a body or an object or some sign derived therefrom. As from a dream we awake remade. Shopping carts clang into line with their brethren. A winning performance. Conjuring up another semester’s characters is great work. My students come out of my classes on the whole better people. This I do believe, despite my occasional disappointments. Those at my present institution, for instance, are never quite as cool or as smart as I want them to be. I want the universe to work. I want to believe in myself — so I do. In the moments, in the seconds. In the on-off binary interval between mind and creation, our two alternate personas. All of it a playful game or dance. Real travel requires a maximum of unscheduled wandering. That is what today makes possible. The individual with the colossal external nervous system. Become awake. Become alive. It’s time to level up.
Consciousness and material existence meet one another, with the former forced by the latter to squander itself in a labyrinthine game of defense. I find myself unable in these dark political times to muster much by way of public utterances. My days are spent skittishly contemplating a mute, dumb, unexplorable social universe. I have no time in my life for sustained projects of unstructured exploration and play — not to mention study. All is just dull daily labor for survival. I long to become flush with excitement and joy, life feeding me meaningful communication. Signals to amass and weigh. I long to find joy again in exertion. I wish to perform comfortably, admirably and with talent, filled with confidence regarding my power to triumph and profit enormously from my tremendous good fortune. Sing this aristocrat’s lullaby and thou shalt become one with the good son, the true man. Allegories whispered to us by ISAs during our childhood. The deep “truths,” expressed in mythic or religious language. The thou shalts. The commandments. What forms of parenting, what forms of education, exist without these? What can we do as communists to invent joy in this world? Heaven, now — beginning in the mirror stage, the astral plane. The self speaks to itself and is spoken to, after all, only ever through the mediation of its mirror.
Old traditions, habits — in a word, reflexes — can be restructured, re-programmed, self-creation aided by sacred herb. No more body stuffed with cotton, head empty, life terrible. Life becomes now the more proper “Lab for New Systems.” Self-organization of consciousness through introduction of arbitrary information. What would it mean to place great stock in one’s high school years as one’s model social community? Reality would seem to confirm or disprove a particular story, a particular morality, wouldn’t it? A little bit darker. Not so luminescent a day as last. A wary faith, newly discovered, fresh hatched. I take to fretting. I fret about children receiving neoliberal upbringings, deprived of space for wilding. To “correct” — or in other words, to employ education as a counter-power — I stage in my classroom an implosion for demonstration purposes of inherited capitalist thought systems, after which point I open and make available to students doorways onto more sensitive forms of personhood. Distractions removed, we get down to the doing of what persons do: we read books together. While reading, though, we remind ourselves that we cohabit with squirrels and birds. Like them, we enjoy sunlight, moderate temperatures, food and water. We’d all rather eat than go hungry. They, too, in other words, are persons. Capitalism’s worship of individualism, meanwhile, coincides with its indifference to persons. It mass produces the former, while eradicating the latter. We ride around, the sky gray all day, opaque both to ourselves and to others. Ecosystems are met with wanton acts of destruction; persons are starved and incarcerated and killed. Yet those who attain personhood behave in an opposite manner. This is why we must do away with capitalism. Let us become, finally, a beloved community of persons, one that personalizes the world around it, recognizing persons in others where before it seemed there were none.