Slow down, you move to fast
You got to make the morning last
(Paul Simon, Feelin’ groovy/The 59th St Bridge Song)
I grew up with vinyl. My family was an aspirational almost hippy immigrant family. The 1966 album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme was a ‘go-to’ album, as was the (also) 1966 album Revolver. Seemingly child friendly, Simon and Garfunkel and the Beetles infused our household with songs in which we were encouraged to slow down, talk to lamp posts, and live communally in yellow submarines.
Late capitalism has done everything it can to eradicate that possibility from my life.
I heard these songs in the deep recesses of my mind as I was preparing my tenure file earlier this year. My entire being entered into a space of stillness, staring resolutely into the belly of the beast in order to maintain some semblance of resistance to the deep anxiety that is structurally integral to the evaluation process of tenure. I took longer walks, barely responded to emails, slowly stopped talking to others and preferred to count my breath. With every formatting issue or question related to the subjective criteria of excellence, I slowed down even more, questioning in each moment why academic labor had entered into these frameworks of exploitation. The first person I saw upon submission of my file was a colleague of mine who is brilliant, and an adjunct who teaches at three colleges just to make ends meet. My self-indulgent slowness entered into a space of silence.
Remember resistance to domination? This was a very popular theme in cultural studies in the late ’90s and early ’00s. Eventually it reached a saturation point where, like an overplayed hit on Top 40 radio, it elicited only eye-rolls. Change the channel, quick! Contributing to this was the fact that it was a snap to find pretty much anywhere plus it would lead to an easy Foucault citation. While in all honesty it did get a tad rote there were also authors who did it right like Scott or (my favorite) De Certaeu.
A spontaneous conversation at work cast my memory back there.
We drink a lot of coffee in the library, this was one of the first things I noticed when I started working here. There’s an upstairs pot and a downstairs pot, the campus cafe is here in the same building. Everyone brings a thermos from home too. And its a constant struggle, because being that we work with rare and archival materials we can’t have a cup at our desks at all times.
One day I had been the one to make the pot and before it was time to go (the archives is an alarmed space, so we all leave at the same time) I announced to my colleagues I was cleaning the pot, would anyone like another cup for the road? After all I had drank from pots they had made, taking a turn to do the dishes seemed the right thing to do.
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” tutted my co-worker Kit. “I’ll drink it in the morning.”
I scrunched up my nose in mock disgust. Seriously? Day old coffee in the morning?
“Yes. That’s just the way I like it.”
Okay, fine. I’m off the hook. Weirdo. My other co-worker Alison walks in the room and I relate to her what just happened. Can you believe Kit will let the coffee sit out overnight so she can drink it cold in the morning?
“Oh. Yeah. I do that too. Mostly because I’m lazy. It tastes just fine”
Apparently I was the weirdo and not ‘tother way round.
Eleven weeks have passed since the earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern Japan. Although bodies are still being found amidst the wreckage, the rest of the world has long since moved on. The media waves of shock, horror, heroism, heartbreak, and heart-warm continue to push and pull us through a relentless series of events: from Libya to Tuscaloosa, Kate and William to Bin Laden, Donald Trump to Strauss-Kahn.
The affective loop is dizzying as it moves us between distant places and local homes, political upheavals and natural disasters, raging storms and individual stories, the serious and the absurd. Unable to catch my breath between blows or steady myself according to some sense of scale, I feel like so much has happened since the tsunami struck. And yet, I don’t know what to make of any of it. Are we just bracing ourselves for the next thing?
In an April article entitled “The Half-life of Disaster” Brian Massumi discusses how this media cycle leads us into a perpetual state of foreboding that brings together natural, economic and political threat perception in a configuration that fuels what Naomi Klein termed “disaster capitalism”. The horror is never resolved or replaced; rather, it is archived, infinitely accessible over the Internet. Cast into the web of other events, the unendurable tragedy of a particular event dissipates, or as Massumi says, “it decays”. In today’s catastrophic mediashpere, observes Massumi, the half-life of disaster is at most two weeks. Continue reading
For five decades, the People’s Republic of China has been proclaiming the death of the Tibetan resistance. In the 1950-60s, they discursively denied the existence of the Tibetan resistance army by referring to them as “high class separatists” and “rebel bandits.” Since then, they have attempted to curb any resistance by immediately putting down protests through arrests, beatings, imprisonments, disappearances (remember the 11th Panchen Lama?), and deaths. The PRC has done everything they can to give the impression that resistance in Tibet—armed or peaceful, coordinated or everyday—is a rare and unwise exception to their benevolent rule, is conducted only by monks or members of the “Dalai clique,” and is not representative of the majority of the Tibetan people who love the Chinese motherland.
Yesterday, therefore, marked a major departure from this stance, perhaps for the first time ever. On Thursday, March 20, 2008, the PRC government acknowledged that Tibetan protest is widespread. That is, it is not just confined to Lhasa or to monks, but is spread throughout Tibetan areas of China and is being committed by Tibetans from all backgrounds—by monks, laypeople, and students, and by men and women, young and old.
Why does this matter?