Redefining Need

"Can a society which is incapable of protecting individual privacy even within one's four walls rightfully claim that it respects the individual and that it is a free society? To be sure, a free society is defined by more, and by more fundamental achievements, than private autonomy. And yet, the absence of the latter vitiates even the most conspicuous institutions of economic and political freedom -- by denying freedom at its hidden roots. Massive socialization begins at home and arrests the development of consciousness and conscience. The attainment of autonomy demands conditions in which the repressed dimensions of experience can come to life again; their liberation demands repression of the heteronomous needs and satisfactions which organize life in this society. The more they have become the individual's own needs and satisfactions, the more would their repression appear to be an all but fatal deprivation. But precisely by virtue of this fatal character, it may create the primary subjective prerequisite for qualitative change -- namely, the REDEFINITION OF NEEDS.

The mere absence of all advertising and of all indoctrinating media of information and entertainment would plunge the individual into a traumatic void where he would have the chance to wonder and to think, to know himself (or rather the negative of himself) and his society. Deprived of his false fathers, leaders, friends, and representatives, he would have to learn his ABC's again. But the words and sentences which he would form might come out very differently, and so might his aspirations and fears."

Mind Out of Joint

These are strange and stressful times for all of us. But I feel simultaneously more prepared and less able to deal with this state of emergency.

With the exception of the night before taking a long trip, I've never had much difficulty sleeping. Right now, though, I find myself being hit by a wave of intense energy sometimes between 4 and 5am. Unless I manage to get to sleep before than, I will be wide awake until late in the morning, at which point I rapidly start to fade.

Why is this happening? Part of it surely has to do with the fact that my daughter is thousands of miles away and -- for now -- eight hours ahead of me in France. I'm so used to being ready for her crises, which dominated the previous decade for me, that I often can't relax unless I can sense that she is doing alright.

But there's something else at work. And I think I just realized what. I have been sleeping in the front room, whether or a futon or sofa, for many years. When the landscapers did a pretty radical pruning job on our big mesquite last spring, they effectively removed a lot of the shade.

That wasn't so much of an issue during the summer months, when the mesquite leaves -- more like needles, really -- were thicker and the angle of the sun was different. But now, with the leaves more sparse and the sun shooting through our front bay window, I feel "turned on" somehow, even if I wear a sleep mask.

It Begins

My daughter left for Las Vegas with friends this afternoon and is headed to France on the 17th for a semester abroad. Her mother is downtown at her new studio, where she will probably fall asleep on what used to be our sofa. I said goodnight to my father earlier than usual. And here I am, home alone, not feeling at home, confronted with the prospect of figuring out what to do with the rest of my life. The first step is to get back in tough with myself by writing.

Weekend Update

I frequently feel like writing something longer and sometimes writing it here. Unfortunately, my windows of opportunity these days are five minutes or less most of the time, enough to compose a few sentences for Facebook or share something on Twitter, but not to produce a LiveJournal entry that meets my standards. And if I'm going to restructure my schedule in order to produce something more polished, I'm almost certainly going to do it for Souciant, since I'm supposed to fill a slot there every week. Even so, I often fail to complete my own projects lately and must rely on others to take my place.

When Souciant started, back in 2011, that rarely happened. But a whole series of circumstances -- some of which were documented here before I stopped posting consistently -- have reduced me to the fate of someone who is almost always in what political theorists call a "state of emergency". While I'm not a very anxious person by disposition, my daughter, her mother, and my father all are. And they are the individuals I interact with by far the most, now that the scope of my existence, in every sense, has been downsized.

I will say that, though I haven't written nearly as much for Souciant as I would like recently, I am prouder of the pieces that I've produced than used to be the case. Maybe it's because I only finish the ones that I care about, even if I do so belatedly. If you're interested, here's a run-down of my favorites of the past few years, a number of which also contribute substantially to the autobiograpy-in-fragments I started writing here on LiveJournal:
• On Kanye West's controversial recent statements and their connection with the function that rap has played for privileged white audiences since the 1980s (May, 2018)

• On my own contradictory upbringing with regard to race, being both hugely inspired by the Civil Rights Movement and drawn to the mystique of the Confederacy (August, 2017)

• On teaching Claudia Rankine's magnificent -- and disturbing -- book Citizen (September, 2016)

• On the debut of Twin Peaks' third -- and presumably final -- season and how it worked very hard to disable the conventional mechanisms of nostalgia (June, 2017)

• On one reason why Donald Trump's "childish" behavior might actually be regarded by his supporters as a sign of his freedom from external manipulation, looking back at the exaltation of immaturity in American culture (January, 2018)

• On the increasing marginalization of teaching within higher education (May, 2016)

• On my childhood favorite M*A*S*H looking very dated in light of the #metoo movement (November, 2017)

• On a blisteringly great set by Howe Gelb and his band Giant Sand, playing songs from their early album Valley of Rain (December, 2017)

• On the passing of Mary Tyler Moore and the important role her eponymous sitcom played in my life during a very difficult portion of my adolescence (March, 2017)

• On the perverse forms of pleasure that the Disney theme park experience provides (March, 2016)

• On my failure to produce an end-of-year list of favorite cultural commodities and decision to celebrate an unexpected snowfall instead (December, 2017)
Annoyingly, perhaps my favorite Souciant piece of all is not included in this list because I was forced to censor it retroactively for personal reasons. If I ever feel comfortable making it public in its original form, I'll try to remember to share it here as well.

Why did I suddenly feel it necessary to apparate here, amid the ruins of the LJ community I treasured? The main reason is that my daughter is spending the week in Chicago with her best friend, her first trip away from family not led by an organized group. I'm delighted for her to have this opportunity, if not a little envious. I miss her, of course -- she has been home all the time since her semester ended -- but also appreciate the sense that I have a little more room in which to maneuver.

Here's something I wrote during her previous time away from home, when she was hiking for two weeks in the High Sierra with Outward Bound back in July, 2016:
As much as I miss my daughter right now, I am also realizing how much I missed being me. There are many reasons, as I have tediously rehearsed in previous entries, why I more or less stopped updating this blog. One of the biggest, though, is proving to have been the sheer amount of time I have devoted to being a parent. That wasn't clear to me before, because I was too close to my situation to get critical distance from it. The more time I spend not consumed by my daughter's crises, both real and manufactured -- I'm not sure even she can tell the difference, frequently -- the more I recognize that I allowed them, as has long been my tendency with the problems of others, to become my own to such a degree that I sacrificed my own autonomy.
At the time, I was looking ahead to her starting college and imagining that I'd soon be confronting the "empty nest" panic that so many parents go through.

Things turned out differently, however. Although she stayed in the dorm a lot during her first year in college, the difficulty she experienced in trying to pursue activities that keep her anxiety manageable -- exercising, first and foremost, but also watching movie and television shows without fear of waking anyone up -- meant that she spent a good deal of time away from campus. Because she wasn't driving yet, I drove her back and forth to the gym and continued to accompany her to the junior high school track for her late-night running sessions. This past year, thanks to a roommate who was perpetually depressed and made her deeply uncomfortable, she was home even more.

I'm increasingly reluctant to explain these circumstances to other people, because they tend to be very judgmental. "You need to take time for yourself," they say. Or, "You need to let her grow up." And they have a point. But I decided years ago, at the onset of her worst period of adolescent crisis, that I would pursue a program of "harm reduction" rather than trying to accelerate her passage to maturity through tough-love strategies. Although, it may still prove to have been the wrong decision, it is one I arrived at following many hours of agonizing deliberation. I am happy to own it, yet would prefer not to be excoriated for doing so.

Anyway, in addition to the writing that I've managed to produce since I last posted anything substantial here, I've also spent a lot of time trying to help my daughter navigate the challenges of a massive public university while continuing to cope with extreme anxiety and the insomnia and despair that frequently accompany it. She is brilliant and incredibly talented as a painter and writer -- and not bad at music, either -- and doing tremendously well by "objective" measures, even though her corrosive self-doubt often has her on the verge of self-sabotage.

The good news is that she is making incremental progress on that front, though not fast enough for her taste. She still has panic attacks, particularly when something new is introduced into her routine. She still laments the fact that it's so hard for her to find someone her age who is interesting to talk with. She still lashes out, both at others and herself, because it is so hard for her to stay comfortable. Yet, the intensity and frequency of these hard times has been diminishing for a while now, with no dampening of the creative and intellectual fires that make her such a unique and wonderful human being. I worry about her. I am worried right now, since she is struggling to adjust to unfamiliar circumstances in Chicago. But I am also a lot more hopeful than I was for years, despite a whole bunch of other things in my family life going poorly right now.

It Begins

My daughter went to Las Vegas with friends this afternoon. Her mom is staying late at her downtown studio. My dad is asleep at his facility. And I have to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.

The Way of Dreams

I woke up this morning with unusually detailed memories from a dream I’d been having and decided that I owed it to myself to record it, as best I could, even if that meant getting less sleep than I needed. The finished document came to over 1500 words!

I’m not going to share that one here. But I will share another. For years now, when I do manage to log something from a dream, however imperfectly, I email the text to myself in Gmail with a subject header that starts “DREAM:”, so I can easily search for it later. After I’d sent myself today’s dream, I looked through some of the older ones and found this strange dream from August 24th, 2009, one which I had completely forgotten:
Japanese architect. I see him on park bench. Turns out tattooed woman in bathing suit w/ two children nearby are his family. At interview, in a big Arts + Crafts-style house in a neighborhood a la M's Capitol Hill abode, I don't really see the architect, though I feel like I brush by him on way in. Woman is naked, as are children, who
are running back and forth on wood floor violently. From across the room, her pubic hair seems mostly shaved, except perhaps for a sliver. I can't or won't look as she approaches. I'm trying to find a place to put my glass - when did I get it? - in the dishwasher as she stands next to me by the sink talking rapidly while doing some mom-ish activity, perhaps involving sippy cups. She's explaining how they have very little cash, with the economy and all, as a prelude to telling me what the job pays. I'm about to say I understand, that absence of cash is what brings me to this interview, when I awake.

NOTE: It's unsettling that I'm a man applying for this job and yet she wears no clothes. I think, during the dream, that it must be one of those no-clothes - not just no-shoes - in the house deals and wonder if I will be expected to fit in or will feel weird, grilled by the children, if I don't.

I just remembered Paper Tiger + how it overlaps.

This whole dream took place between 9:10 and 9:20. It was good I let
myself drift off.
What interests me, aside from the strangeness of this dream -- not a subject I can ever recall visiting before or after -- it that writing out the other dream and then searching through the ones I've archived on Gmail brought me to this dream, which connects up with something I've been meaning to do these past few weeks.

You see, I didn't attend many movies as a kid. My parents basically just took me to whatever Disney film was being recirculated that year. I do remember seeing Bedknobs and Broomsticks in pre-school at a church function -- I think it was one, anyway -- without either of my parents in attendance and being freaked out by it somehow. Presumably that was a 16mm screening, though, since it was held in a church basement.

It wasn't until 1977 that I saw a "grown-up" movie in a theater with my parents, Neil Simon's The Goodbye Girl, at the same theater in Quakertown, Pennsylvania where months later -- and many months after its initial release -- I finally persuaded them to take me to see Star Wars. But I had seen two other films in public spaces before that, on the Auto-Train my family took en route to a Florida vacation made possible because my dad was attending a conference for work during part of our stay.

My memory is a little unclear, but I believe that the first film I saw this way was Benji, which I experienced as a rather scary story and the second was Paper Tiger starring David Niven. The latter film is the story of an Englishman who is hired to tutor the son of the Japanese ambassador -- played by Toshiro Mifune -- to a fictional southeast Asian country, one which somewhat resembles Malaysia.

The plot of Paper Tiger centers on the fact that Niven's character tells the boy tall tales of his heroism during World War II, all completely fabricated, but then has to demonstrate real courage when he and the boy are taken hostage by terrorists. It's a strange subject for a film, even back in the cinematic strangeness of the 1970s, which helps to make it stand out more in retrospect.

I had been thinking, these past two weeks, that I should rewatch the picture and write about the powerful role it played in my perception of the world as a place of confusing dangers. i had even extracted the DVD I ordered years ago in preparation for a viewing. So the fact that I stumbled upon the write-up of this dream from 2009 today, one that I apparently believed to be connected with Paper Tiger -- perhaps I had started to rematch it on VHS back then? -- suggests that my unconscious was hard at work redrawing connections that had been blurred.

As I write this entry, now, I'm also seeing more pieces fall into place. I distinctly remembered just now that visiting Disney World after seeing Paper Tiger changed the way I perceived the theme park. Some small part of me was on the look out for risks. And the ride Small World -- my mother's favorite -- felt more ominous.

It also makes sense that I would confront this dream from 2009 today, because I have been working on rearranging some things in the family room -- to make room for my daughter's new snake Alexander -- whose position hasn't changed in years. I've dislodged items in physical space and that has led to also dislodging some things in my mind.

Blade Runner Redux

I was trying to figure out why my photos aren't showing up here and decided to see whether entries from when I was posting regularly were still working correctly. I picked October 17th, 2007 at a random as the first date to check and discovered that the first entry posted on that day, for which the photo was not showing, had been titled "Blade Runner". This seemed a little spooky, since I had been planning to go see the sequel tonight before realizing that it was too long for me to see today. Here that photo, uploaded to LJ, which I took in New York just shy of one decade ago:

Hammer Time

It is hard to be here. As I much as part of me wants to return, I clearly exhaust my will in other ways. But I can at least muster up the energy to maintain a tradition:
There is never, if you like, an interpretandum that is not already interpretans, so that it is as much a relationship of violence as of elucidation that is established in interpretation. Indeed, interpretation does not clarify a matter to be interpreted, which offers itself passively; it can only seize, and violently, an already-present interpretation, which it must overthrow, upset, shatter with the blows of a hammer.

One sees this already in Marx, who interprets not the history of the relations of production but a relation already offering itself as an interpretation, since it appears as nature. Likewise, Freud interprets not signs, but interpretations. Indeed, what does Freud discover beneath symptoms? He does not discover, as is said, "traumas"; he brings to light phantasms with their burden of anguish, that is, a kernel that is itself already in its own being an interpretation (Michel Foucault, "Marx, Nietzsche, Freud" in Aesthetics, Method and Epistemology (New York: The New Press, 275-276).
I don't have the time to write very much at the moment. But I was thinking the other day of all the conversations I've had with my daughter during her years of teenage struggle, and realized that I'm often just trying to keep her interested in herself as an object of interpretation. Maybe that's not the right approach, clinically speaking. But I have a hunch that remaining interested and interesting for oneself is a good way to push the darkness away for a little bit longer.