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.
I pull air into my lungs with long, extended breaths as I come to. Stabs of low-range electric organ. Lawn mowing forms a new container-act into which I spill my beans. And that’s not the only way in which my life now resembles a reboot to a ’90s VR horror thriller. I’m thinking here of The Lawnmower Man, with my face buried in a pint of fried rice. The old man, after eating like a chimpanzee, belches and groans contentedly. His dog, an elderly dachshund with Cushing’s, adjusts her failing legs and licks the scraps at his feet. Allow me to remain deliberately blasé, though, dear readers, especially when rendering something vacuous and unmemorable like liberal humanist subjectivity. Don’t you want something better? As in, wouldn’t you prefer to be a psychedelic superhuman? When the dog pees on the floor, I stomp around the living room and speak down to her in an angry British accent. Teaching sometimes grants me a platform from which to denounce corporate news media as capitalist propaganda. On those days, rare as they may be, I get to spring on students tried-and-true head-busters like Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci’s theory of cultural hegemony. But even on these best of days, teaching can still end up feeling like a mere teeth-gritting exercise. Laurie Penny and Plan C both think anxiety is the relational mode of our age, and I suppose they’re right; but rage and depression are close runners-up. All the more reason to smoke weed and zone out. It’s like replacing the competitive self-promoting self with a neon air dancer. Or as the Situationists used to say, “Sous les pavés, la plage!” Claire Cirocco soundtracks the day’s affect with “Clear Base Living,” a new track by her project Comme À La Radio.
It angers me to no end to have to show up, semester after mind-rotting semester, to teach classes of students who will never be as financially fucked as me. Friends and I formed and met regularly as members of an Adorno reading group in grad school. Yet what do I have to show for it? How has my character or circumstance been in any way bettered? There we go: head to head, with cracks of thunder ’round our sides. My winning move: pass through history unscathed. Map the ground covered, and then get back in there and hustle, keep going, advance ever further into the game’s interior.