Friday, December 6, 2013

"other people's houses

nutella and fresh pasta
sex toys
junk drawers
and the birds chirping incredibly loudly in the overgrown courtyard of our new building"

falling up again

A couple weeks ago, my bag stuffed to overflowing with groceries from the (can I just say insane) Trader Joe's on 72nd, I was calmly riding my bicycle north, homeward, on Central Park West. Somewhere in the 80s I semiunconsciously noticed the numbers were going up and started: "Oops," I thought, and turned west at the next street and then turned again; and as I began calmly, smugly even, pedaling south down Columbus, I realized with a bigger start that I was now going in the wrong direction...and had to turn around again. So strong is my residual homing sense from the few years that I lived in The City before – years ago, on Broome St – that this is the third or fourth time since returning here that, in a kind of trance, I have begun going south in order to go home.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

the ring of _____, and the sting of it

Can the fish resist the water? Does it?

It is very clear that the extreme reduction of the family unit is a necessary development in late capitalist economy. The extended family, which functions so well in agrarian-based economies, becomes an anachronism in an economy with a capacity for industrial farming. The situation becomes worse when the extended family is placed in the context of national/global economy; then it actually stops functioning efficiently from the perspective of power vectors, and becomes a detriment to corporate goals. Allowing the extended family to continue offers individuals participating in that institution a social and economic power base which gives them the opportunity to refuse corporate culture. In addition, it creates a social process that has the potential to be more satisfying than participation in consumption processes. Individual loyalty to an institution (i.e., the extended family) that potentially contradicts or negates capitalist imperatives of production and consumption is simply not a possibility that can be allowed to continue. In an effort to eliminate this social possibility, capitalist economy has configured itself to make entrance to or maintenance of middle-class status dependent upon accepting the nuclear family as the model of choice. People are financially rewarded for showing an allegiance to participation in the production and consumption processes, over and above participation in extended family processes.

The process of socializing individuals into nuclear units begins with the education process. Children are immediately taught that “success” in life depends on a division of labor, and on separation from other family members; i.e., the adults work, while the children train in school to enter the workforce. At the end of secondary education, they are fully adjusted to the idea that it is time to leave home to join the workforce, or to attend university. In the US, this process of separation begins almost immediately, because over the past 30 years, production rates have increasingly intensified, while real wages have decreased, thus requiring both parents to work if they want to maintain middle-class status. Children are placed in daycare until it is time for them to attend school. Hence, domestic togetherness in the middle-class family has nearly ceased, and children spend more time with their socializers — education services and mass media — than with “significant others.”

The reward for power vectors in promoting this variety of family structure is twofold: First, since people are generally denied social possibilities outside of rationalized contexts, a profound alienation emerges. The only cures offered by capitalist society for this condition are “satisfaction” through success at work, or through acquisition of consumer goods. Second, the geographic mobility necessary for the efficient deployment of the upper echelons of the workforce is assured. People go where their employers send them without a second thought. Whether individuals are near their family or friends is of secondary importance; maintaining class rank (and more and more, simply to remain employed) is of primary importance.

The nuclear family guarantees both the physical and the ideological replication of the workforce; however, in terms of eugenic development, it offers even more. The nuclear family offers a specific set of concerns that complement voluntary eugenics. Since the middle-class nuclear family is generally small, thereby increasing the chances of total familial erasure, its members express a profound concern for reproduction. The extended family is also just as concerned with familial reproduction; the difference between the two, however, is that while the extended family is content with the quantity reproduced as a safeguard of familial survival, the nuclear family is concerned with the “quality” of reproduction. Quality, in this case, is dictated by capitalist demands. Quality means the extent to which a child will be successful, i.e., will be able to obtain a good job in order to maintain or heighten class rank. What nuclear family parents lose in nonrational association with their child, they gain in rationalized association. They can send the child to good schools. They can provide the child with health care. They can offer the child a safe and secure environment in which to mature. The reason parents want to provide their children with these “advantages” is so the child will give society he/r best economic performance. In this thoroughly rationalized situation, quality of life is equated with economic performance. The perception is that the better the child performs economically in later life, the better s/he will be able to satisfy he/rself within the structures of production and consumption, and the greater the probability that s/he will be upwardly mobile.

Once the structural conditions of the economy of desire and the nuclear family are in place, which in turn lead to equating quality of life (perhaps even social survival) with economic performance by parents obsessed with their own genetic and/or cultural replication, the environment is ripe for voluntary eugenics — a situation which [Frederick] Osborn was certain would come to pass. If parents are offered goods and services which will give their few offspring a greater opportunity for success, would they not purchase them? Osborn thought that they would, and he believed that these goods and services would include services which would genetically engineer the child to insure he/r better economic performance. He predicted that parents would want to participate in the design of their children to help them to adapt economically and socially — eugenic participation would be a sign of benevolence. To be sure, once eugenics is perceived as a means to empower the child and the parent, it loses its monstrous overtones, and becomes another part of everyday life medical procedure. Capitalism will achieve its goals of genetic ideological inscription, while at the same time realizing tremendous profits for providing the service.*

* Critical Art Ensemble, "Eugenics: The Second Wave," Flesh Machine: Cyborgs, Designer Babies, Eugenic Consciousness (NY: Autonomedia, 1998) 122-25. I added the link inline above to the Frederick Henry Osborn Papers.

Sunday, October 6, 2013


TV ravine: I am watching all of Foyle's War in great gulps of multiple episodes per evening. Anachronism: Tonight's binge included series 3 episode 4, in which some Ikea Gorm shelves (painted green and blue) are clearly visible in the background at ~35:38. Eerie coincidence: Earlier today I was at an Ikea buying the same.

Friday, June 14, 2013

lost / document / binge

When we returned last spring from a few days in Paris, M's bicycle was missing, disappeared from our courtyard where it had been locked up to a permanent rack in the company of a fleet of much nicer rides. This seemed weird in Berlin, where people leave their bikes overnight locked only to themselves with puny, easily cut little cables. A friend who was housesitting our subsequent apartment also had her bicycle, a real clunker, stolen from the courtyard.

One night I was waiting for takeout at the American burger Imbiss – in which, I have to say, the gentlemen behind the glass (one taking orders, ringing people up, putting the finishing touches on orders, the other doing the cooking per se) are often too stoned for even my hazy/lax/low standard...I mean, come on, guys (but the burgers are very good, it's true) – and I was fidgeting with my "Leatherman Micra," a Christmas gift from one of my brothers which had graced my keychain for more than a decade. Upon arriving home with the food and raising my keys to the door lock, I discovered that my beloved knife-tool was gone. On foot and by bicycle I retraced my path a few times, combed the ground by the Imbiss, but my knife/bottle opener/scissors/thingamajig had moved on.
(On the upside, I have finally mastered the art of opening beer bottles with a plastic lighter.)

Wintry Sunday morning. Family en route to the Bergmannkiez for brunch at the house of some friends. I get a flat so we lock our bicycles on Körtestraße within sight of the U-Bahnhof Südstern and take the train. Wednesday night I return to the Körtestraße to collect my bike and discover that M's has merely been locked to itself for the intervening three plus days! However astonishing for me, this also seems more consistent with my personal image of Berlin, although of course one hears all the time that the beaters for sale at the Mauerpark Floh are usually hot.

Hanging out at the Spielplatz on Himmelfahrt, I spy a Kinder traffic jam forming around the peak of the tall metal slide. Some joker has attached an industrial-sized zip-tie to the railing at the top of the ladder, and its long tail is protruding in a way that distracts the older children and impedes the younger ones. I ascend and try to detach it; no go.
"If I had my trusty pocketknife, oh ho," I boast to the friend with whom I am chatting, "I would cut that zip-tie down! But I've lost it somewhere in the Graefekiez."
"Ah, then you have left something in Berlin," she says, "This means you will return."

R and I are accustomed to seeing the vast Tempelhof terminal from the Feld side, when kicking a ball in the grass, say, or pedaling along the fence line that mirrors the terminal’s long curve – at a distance from which its repeating, homogeneous windows and columns look alternately movie-set-like and menacing. Occasionally, in connection with an event like fashion week, a large tent or stage pops up between fence and terminal. Lately R has wanted to stop and watch the crane operating where it appears that some work is being done to a section of roof. The scale, emptiness, decrepitude, and incongruous uses of the terminal all strike me as uniquely Berlin.
Late one rainy morning (at loose ends because the Tagesmutter is sick) we flip our perspective over to the Straße the process of bringing a weeks' long bureaucratic encounter to a conclusion. Approaching the terminal from the east I recall passing in a taxi in the opposite direction when we had only been in Berlin for a week (we were moving by taxi from the Internationales Begegnungszentrum der Wissenschaft to our first apartment in Kreuzberg). It's an impressively curving, homogeneous chunk of cement, with a big scary eagle in the middle. It also feels deserted, for Berlin buildings have a mood.
We are visiting the Zentrales Fundbüro. A couple of months ago I received a very official looking letter informing me that an object of mine had been found. At first I believed it was some kind of scam. How did they track me down? Why did the letter ask me to bring cash to pay some kind of storage fee? This sounded fishy. I asked MS. She said that no, actually, this sounds legit. Another friend, VS, telephoned on my behalf (without such gestures of kindness, my “German,” such as it is, is frequently ineffective). Legit: a Gegenstand of great value and believed to be mine was found in Friedrichshain on March 8 or 9. A couple of weeks later this letter was dispatched. But I have no idea what the object is. I think hard about the very small number of possessions we have with us in Berlin. And I focus on the ones that might be perceived as valuable. I run to the file box. No, everyone’s passports and other documents are here. I haven’t been to Friedrichshain, except for the Oberbaumbrücke, in months. Is it our stolen bicycle? I have the paperwork for that, complete with serial number and purchaser name. Maybe they used our Anmeldung to track me down? I am completely stumped. Through VS, the Fundbüro lady tells me to come to the office and bring my passport.
This is how R (who only wants to know whether they have any toys) and I find ourselves here. The people of the Fundbüro are very kind, but they cannot tell me what the object is or show it to me. I have to describe it to them. And they cannot think of a way to ask me a question that could confirm my ownership but not reveal what the object is (they did confirm that it's not the stolen bicycle). Unless I can remember what I have lost, the mystery will remain unsolved. I really cannot imagine what this object might be, or how it came to be in Friedrichshain in early March...but the Fundbüro lady re-emphasizes its great value. Now I am dying to know why they believe the object could be mine. How did they even come to make that guess?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

tweet #13

Thursday, May 16, 2013


<My 50th belated post.>

I am preparing to move again. Why am I telling you this?

When I left the Berkman Center in 2011 I also left the U.S....a transatlantic move with a toddler is not something I would classify as easy to do smoothly. In the Sturm und crunch of the relocation I completely forgot to empty my desk at work.

A year into my time here, my colleagues shipped me the entire contents of that desk, including a whole set of clothes that I used to keep in a drawer in case of heavy rain (I commuted by bicycle year round). Also enclosed was a file folder filled with expressions of thanks – notes, letters, and cards that I saved over the years, many of which were the result of the Harvard Law School tradition of circulating thank-you notes the day before the Thanksgiving holiday (a tradition begun by then-Dean-now-Justice Elena Kagan). Seven years of cards. I am grateful for having learned the habit of thank-you notes. I wonder whether anyone kept any that I sent.

Today I am sifting through the folder. Remembering and relaxing my grip. A few memorable cards will accompany me back to the States. The balance will remain to be recycled by the BSR.

</My 50th belated post.>

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013



was the last course I taught at Queens College before dropping out of the Ph.D. Program in Comparative Literature at the City University of New York Graduate Center. For complex, personal reasons,* I have maintained the course's website online ever since – with a few changes.** Twelve years is a long time, I guess...twelve years that this course/website has been reachable in one place or another.*** Well, then: Here's to twelve more years of neglect, irrelevance, and pretension! And here's a snip of my sendoff from the last day of class:

If our pathway of reading, our course, has been a circulation among literary figurations, metaphors of virtual reality, then perhaps we should also say that virtual reality is itself a figure: for the unthought or the unthinkable. Perhaps virtual reality is one name we offer for nothingness.

Monday, April 22, 2013

tweet #12

Thursday, April 18, 2013

spectral pincer

For about two years I have been experiencing moments of déjà vu at an unprecedented frequency and intensity: whenever I have been introduced to someone, I have been haunted for days afterward by a sense of recollection, even when I've proven to myself the impossibility of a previous encounter. At first I attributed this burst of memory metastasis to my relocation to a new country. Dasein will not have been at home. But nineteen months later, the hyper-familiarity, the endless glitches in the matrix persist. They persist and now work in coordination with a new symptom: the inability to picture anyone's face. I used to be able to call up and contemplate people's faces in my mind. Now I'm Holly Martins being spirited through Vienna; faces are lit for an instant as the machine in which I'm being conveyed roars past. Perhaps adopting the habit of really staring at people – not rude, evidently, by Berlin standards – has eroded my ability to stare at them when they are no longer in front of me. So far, my hearing is unaffected.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

nach Winckelmanns Geschichte der Kunst des Alterthums

Adapted from an email to JPH, April 11, 2013:

For a month or so I was commuting from Belmont Shore, Long Beach, to Mission Viejo. Inevitably each morning I would be stuck in southbound 405 traffic, and, having consumed the requisite amount of coffee to be able actually to drive a car, I would need to pee. Bad. While painfully coaxing my manual transmission Datsun, nicknamed "Mobu Al Deep," stop and go, stop and go, stop and go down the freeway, each release of the clutch corresponding to a nearly catastrophic bladder squeeze. And then I would finally reach the soulless office park where I was temping for a software company and release a huge stream of urine upon whatever poor, leafless tree had been planted there to offer people the illusion of shade. I say 'illusion' because later, at the end of the day, eager to get the hell out of there, I would have to wait and wait and wait for my steering wheel to cool off before I could touch it long enough to guide that heap of a car back out onto the freeway. But the weather is lovely.

I like pop music.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

open triad

February 7, 2013

Blonde Redhead's "Bipolar" Shuffles on. Before the song really gets going I recognize it by its initial drumstick clicks. How are we able to do that? identify a recording merely by an opening percussive tchk or three? I'm certain that I could correctly identify, within a click or two, any song in my large mp3 library that has a drumstick start. What a miracle of memory and perception! when the silence changes, and the click rends it, and within such a small caesura, we anticipate a whole song. When did we all start dying?

Saturday, March 2, 2013


Spring hors d'œuvre: viele
Leute out — we all forgot
how to share sidewalk.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

tweet #11