Adjusting to the work regime, hours clocked responding to emails, the subject muses upon what it means to be “COLLEGE RULED,” the phrase atop his notebook. One would rather dwell among gyres, vortices / brightly drawn in chalk. Gazing into one, I dream of fugitive study: texts read and discussed in the secret gatherings of an Undercommons. I read poems and hear them as they speak to me, their voices flitting about, “quick-winged / with women’s faces” (4), as in poet Alice Oswald’s Nobody. “It’s not all about you, Dad,” they say with a touch of vocal-fry (as do the rich college girls in Mike White’s HBO miniseries The White Lotus). “It’s time to recenter the narrative.”
So thinketh one of our time travelers. The one who relives the past. Let there also be a traveler who seeks and conceives here in the dailiness of his lived experience a utopian future. As Joshua Chambers-Letson, Tavia Nyong’o, and Ann Pellegrini note in their foreword to the 10th Anniversary Edition of José Esteban Muñoz’s Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity, “Hope is work; we are disappointed; what’s more, we repeatedly disappoint each other. But the crossing out of ‘this hoping’ is neither the cancellation of grounds for hope, nor a discharge of the responsibility to work to change present reality. It is rather a call to describe the obstacle without being undone by that very effort” (x). The obstacle is a challenge we must both survive and surpass, Muñoz argues, “to achieve hope in the face of an often heart breaking reality.”
The day is a difficult yoga session writ large. I hold poses through tasks required of me: grocery shopping, lawn mowing, parenting. When time allows, I sit eyes closed and meditate. There is an alchemy in this working-through, this processing of desire. The day is the site where one practices care for an absent other. Come afternoon and suddenly it’s a pool day, world redeemed by popsicles and coconut bars. I rise up onto the surface of the pool and float there, big happy smile on my face as I imagine the act shared with another. My friend at The Alchemist’s Studio reminds me of a saying attributed to Vincent Van Gogh: “Yellow is capable of charming God.” The charm of that rhymes later in the day with “Charm (Over ‘Burundi Cloud’),” the 21:24 B-side to Jon Hassell and Brian Eno’s Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics.
Hassell passed away yesterday at the age of 84. After listening and giving thanks, I receive J.R.R. Tolkien’s St. Andrews lecture, “On Fairy-Stories.” For this is what we wish to write, is it not? A story about Faerie, “the realm or state in which fairies have their being.” As Tolkien emphasizes early on, “Faerie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.” Tolkien also calls Faerie “the Perilous Realm” — the source of peril, I presume, having something to do with the realm’s magic. Faerie’s virtue lies in its capacity to satisfy various desires: “to survey the depths of space and time,” for instance, and “to hold communion with other living things.”
Frankie’s down for a nice nap after a morning at the pool. Sarah saw to matters related to the air unit — so I remove my feet from my socks and think. The narrative we write is important, yes? For narrative is the stuff of which cosmologies are made. World-pictures. Cognitive maps. The shape of the world is determined at the quantum level, much like Schrödinger’s Cat, by the struggle to determine the shape of the world-picture. Unless, of course, struggle and determination are not part of that picture. By “shape of the world” I mean the mutable present’s arrangement toward the imaginal realms we call “past” and “future.” Origin and telos. The present’s mode of appearance alters according to the previous night’s dreams, and the previous night’s dreams are shaped by memory and desire. Those who wish to steer the world toward Utopia take these latter as the prima materia of the great work. Kim Stanley Robinson, meanwhile, steers us back to work of a more literal sort. The climate crisis demands reorganization of labor. Certain chapters of Robinson’s 2020 novel The Ministry for the Future are written in the style of “notes,” “minutes” kept by an international working group: the Ministry, the book’s actant or protagonist. Work thus finds its way back even in our hours of leisure, as this is what we read when we read by the pool. The book itself is work; its utopia begins with a disaster, a heat wave that kills several million people in India. From this disaster come a pair of nova: the Ministry itself, of course, but also a direct-action group called the Children of Kali. This latter group intrigues me, given its alignment with the famous Hindu goddess of time, creation, destruction, and power. After the disaster, it is she who speaks to us: “I am a god and I am not a god. Either way, you are my creatures. I keep you alive” (13). Kali is the persona Robinson dons to give voice to Nature. Kali, with her long terrible tongue. Kali, with her necklace of severed heads. Several of the book’s experts prognosticate “civilization kaput” before century’s end (55). It’s all rather bleak: countless species facing extinction in the years ahead. Against the backdrop of that abyss, the book conjures its hyperstitial alternative future of geoengineering and rewilding.
Work occupied only a few of us-two’s hours back in time immemorial, in our cultures of origin. Following our confinement in settlements, these hours increased. To call the prior arrangement “primitive” (as do Marx and Engels with their use of the phrase “primitive communism”) is to do it a disservice. First and last are in no sense as easy to discern as was once supposed. There are temporalities other than the ones proposed by the West. There are “the expansive temporalities of Afro Diasporan people,” for instance, about which Moor Mother speaks on her new track “Zami.” “No more master’s clock,” she pronounces, while beside me sits Kim Stanley Robinson’s weighty new tome, The Ministry for the Future.
Mow the lawn
goes the tune
of much of the afternoon.
And when not mowing,
I watch a show of discovery:
outing and moving out
via cauda pavonis—
prima materia transmuted,
grass a kind of catalyst.
“Against work, for utopia,” announces a podcast I’ve listened to of late. Give it a try: sex worker Conner Habib, the show’s host, interviews Marxist-feminist Kathi Weeks, author of The Problem with Work. Weeks is an investigator of “Antiwork Politics” and “Postwork Imaginaries.” See especially her book’s fifth chapter, “The Future Is Now: Utopian Demands and the Temporalities of Hope,” where Weeks proposes “a utopianism without apology” (175). To defend the latter, Weeks draws upon the ideas of the great German Marxist “philosopher of hope” Ernst Bloch. Her account of Cold War anti-utopianism covers ground I covered in my dissertation: Karl Popper, Francis Fukuyama. All of it now dust in the wind. Let Utopia rise again from the sea of the possible as it did for More.
Nadja constructs for its readers a Surrealist approach toward everyday life. It recalls in its first-person narrative and its forty-four photographs a string of synchronicities and coincidences, life occurring in fortuitous patterns. Breton coasts along on invisible economic means, contemptuous of those who “endure their work” (68). “How can that raise them up if the spirit of revolt is not uppermost within them?” he asks Nadja when the two meet. “No,” he concludes, “it was not yet these who would be ready to create the Revolution” (64). Surrealism is a refusal of work in favor of art and romance. The rest of us, meanwhile, are paying for treatment. Has talking to a therapist helped? Certainly. The more I open up, the more I learn about where and when and how we might exert agency together as Multitude. And we learn this precisely and quite wonderfully through receptivity to chance — or so I catch myself thinking, when what I ought to do is read. When at the end of their conversation Breton asks Nadja, “Who are you?” she replies, “without a moment’s hesitation, ‘I am the soul in limbo'” (71).
Sarah retrieves my grandmother’s bracelets from a storage bin. Large colored plastics — the “costume jewelry” equivalent of the donuts from our daughter Frankie’s Fisher-Price donut toys. Frankie plays with these bracelets that belonged to my Nani. She holds them, admires them one by one. The persistence of Nani’s spirit in our lives gives me joy. A friend calls these final weeks of each semester “grading jail,” days busied reading students’ essays and assigning final grades. If it’s a sentence, let us bear it lightly. Such has been my motto. “Grade fairly and kindly, as would a ‘sharer’ — so that we may enjoy our well-earned break.” The break, of course, is not truly a break. One continues to work, plotting the semester ahead. And perhaps, too, beyond that, a new course for next school-year, on “portal fantasies” and magic. A former student who majored in game design complains that Cyberpunk 2077 was released too soon. “Despite seven years in production, and ‘patches’ to improve textures,” say the players, “the game is a disappointment.” “Well okay then,” replies my alias, the “Uncle Matt” character from Fraggle Rock. “By alternate paths,” he says, “we’ve arrived to an agreement. Shitty cyberpunk is what capitalist realism gets us. Let us try our hand, then, at something else.” I imagine that means authoring a program or script other than the capitalist-realist one we’ve been given. At the very least it means “shaping change,” as Lauren Oya Olamina counsels in her Earthseed religion’s “Books of the Living.” Weave fate toward a near-future other than the ones imagined by the cyberpunks.
The semester demands a lot of us — time, care, attention — particularly now as we grade midterms. I wake up most days depressed, sleep-deprived, angry at the state of the world. But Frankie lifts my spirits. Before morning is done, we’re laughing, singing. She reaches out and explores an ever-expanding universe. Each day we follow schedules, hours blocked out for meals, sleep, work, baby care — though we also leave time for reading, writing, meditation, “self-care.” Part of me wants to blow off school for a bit and read Mary Daly’s Gyn/Ecology. Then again, maybe I should be studying the moon. Do moon cycles affect moods? Each day, Frankie and I read a board book called Kitten’s First Full Moon. Kitten thinks the moon is a bowl of milk and chases after it. Her chase is thwarted and dashed until she returns home to find “a great big / bowl of milk / on the porch, / just waiting for her. / Lucky Kitten!” All’s well that ends well. The moon also figures in recent thinking about werewolves. The werewolf tales that appeal to me are happy tales — comedies like Teen Wolf. I was a werewolf the Halloween after that film’s release. 1985: I was seven years old. There’s a photo of me climbing up the wall, wedging my arms and legs within the frame of a doorway. I was proud and wishing to show off this newly-discovered capacity of mine to brace myself in this way, suspended several feet off the floor. My mom made the costume by hand. What was the film’s appeal? For starters, it begins with the roar of a lion. Already, then, the presence of an animal within the machine — this being the conceit of all werewolf films. Oftentimes that conceit is a tragic one, as in one of the earliest horror films that I remember encountering as a kid: the 1981 film An American Werewolf in London. But in Teen Wolf, it’s a happy conceit: the werewolf both assimilated into and victorious over his surroundings. The soundtrack at the beginning is also quite moving: an echo-effected streak of thud resolves after several echoes into the sound of a basketball. These are liminal sounds, the protagonist way into his own head, heart racing as he prepares to take a foul shot and misses, ball bouncing off the rim. Disappointment returns the protagonist to a humbled awareness of his surroundings, shame coloring his face. Before we’re separate from him, though, what we see at the center of the movie screen is a circular ball of light — a spotlight hanging from the ceiling of the high school gymnasium. The film will later replace this substitute light — an artificial, man-made thing — with the light of the moon. Before the moon shot, though, it maintains an “off” sensation through expressionistic use of sound. The sound effects suture listeners to the anxious spacetime of the protagonist. A sexual humiliation occurs, too, when we discover that the protagonist’s team is named the “Beavers.” Clearly this is a film about adolescence — the boy undergoing a fearful rite of passage in order to become a man. As Michael J. Fox interacts with the oddballs and mediocrities around him, I begin to note resemblances. Characters perform as dream-doubles for figures I knew as a kid. I re-watch the film through to the initial transformation sequence. It ends with the shot of the moon — the one we knew was coming ever since the opening shot of the film. And the movie itself ends with a moon song: Amy Holland’s “Shootin’ for the Moon.” The hero is human again, voluntarily free of enhancement — but his time as the wolf changed him for the better. It imbued him with the will to win.