September 10th, 2007

Exceptionally Funny, Exceptionally Serious

flw, perhaps because he was once in a band, perhaps because he was once in a comedy troupe, or perhaps simply because he was and is paranoid, provides some of the most consistently interesting content on my "Friends" page. Sometimes, though, he makes you laugh in a way that doubles over into the face you make when you realize that you've left your wallet, keys, and cell phone in the bar where you were just drinking shot after shot of Jägermeister with a Rolling Rock chaser. Or me, at any rate, since the rhetorical second person is what reality looks like in the battered and spit-spattered stainless steel "mirror" of that sort of bar.

Take his most recent entry, in which he ponders the new regulations that will permit Mexican trucks to travel far into the United States for the first time. It's written the way a stand-up routine might be. So I laughed when I read it. But it's also deadly serious and a pithy companion to Giorgio Agamben's State of Exception:
What happens when you create an exception, is the exception becomes the rule. For instance, if you allow Mexican Heavy Trucks on the freeways, don't be surprised when EVERY truck becomes a Mexican Truck. This change comes on the heels of the WORST copout in the history of the NHTSA: They just changed the Trucking Regulations to allow trucks to drive for eleven hours a day, seven days a week. The old regs were ten hours a day, six days a week. It seems like a small change, let me assure you IT IS MONUMENTAL. And now that we have invited Mexican Trucks in, our regulations are OUT THE WINDOW. We have thrown it all away.

What I am having trouble expressing is how I SAY SLAVERY is going to make its return to the USA. I call it "mobile embassies". Now every truck on the highway is a little mobile Mexican Embassy. We are not only importing Mexican Trucks, but also Mexico's Laws. Of course, if Mexico had more stringent safety requirements than the US, I wonder if we would be importing these laws, hmm... I wonder? Of course not! The trucking companies don't want the Mexican Trucks, THEY WANT A BIG MEXICAN HAMMER TO BEAT THE TEAMSTER'S UNION WITH!

But since the trucks are Mexican, but operating within the US, under Cheney-Logic they are outside of all law. The only laws they need obey are the ones that maximize profit while minimizing all benefit to the workers.
I've read many accounts of how people living in a totalitarian regime deploy humor to convey what cannot be delivered under the sign of sincerity. I wonder, though, whether that behavior might not simply reflect a dissolution of the capacity to distinguish irony from its absence. That's the condition that many of Franz Kafka's thought experiments seek to conjure. And it's also the condition that I fear the inhabitants of these United States are in danger of contracting permanently, a temporary illness turned chronic. At any rate, I'm still shuddering at the near future conjured in flw's vision of Mexican trucks as national enclaves in motion, which both reminds me of the post-national "nations" in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash and other cyberpunk narratives and points out their failure to recognize the pre-post-national nation's continuing role in the construction and perpetuation of that seeming political disorder. Here's a little Agamben, channeling the beastily brilliant Carl Schmitt, to drive home the point:
In truth, the state of exception is neither external nor internal to the juridical order, and the problem of defining it concerns precisely a threshold, or a zone of indifference, where inside and outside do not exclude each other but rather blur with each other. The suspension of the norm does not mean its abolition, and the zone of anomie that it establishes is not (or at least claims not to be) unrelated to the juridical order (Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, translated by Kevin Attell, p. 23).
In other words, the carving out of territories exempt from the law of a nation within that nation's borders, does not necessarily imply that the nation is losing its political force. Indeed, the appearance of disintegration could well represent the concentration of that force. After all, if the presence of the national government is most obvious at points of entry, whether along the border or in ports of call, the proliferation and dispersal of what we might call "border situations" might actually represent a strengthening of the regime. The question is, "For whom?"

Cream Doesn't Sink

At this point, I'm just waiting for more revelations like the one that implicates Baltimore Orioles outfielder Jay Gibbons in baseball's artificial enhancement scandal. Once people realize that using does little to change the kind of player one was beforehand, they can stop worrying about who or what has been tainted along the way. I mean, no offense to Gibbons, but he was never particularly good, by major-league standards, and has been worse since he supposedly received shipments of HGH and steroids.

Correspondence Course

While pruning my virtual "sticky" notes this evening, I came across many that contained the text of messages I never got around to completing or simply decided not to send. Like a number of others, the one the following excerpt is drawn from can be assigned to both of those categories:
While it would be foolish of me to state that I would definitely rise to the occasion in a Virginia Tech-style crisis -- how can we know, in the end, how we will act under that sort of distress -- I'm pretty sure A) that I would not be cowering in fear and B) that I would be willing to risk my own well-being on behalf of others, including total strangers. Historically, I've performed best in times of greatest crisis.

For what it's worth, my general response to disasters natural and man-made is either ironic detachment or passionate rage. I can count on one hand the number of times I've truly cried since leaving pre-school. And I spent the latter years of high school, when you were apparently reading and reporting on poetry, devising what I and others referred to as a "hit list." I used to have students come up to me to ask where they were on the list. Seriously. I'm not proud of playing up the idea of myself as a potentially murderous sociopath while a high-school student. But I do think it sheds some light on my emotional response to events like the Virginia Tech massacre.

In closing, let me note that, for someone who is as into facts of a math-and-science nature as you frequently claim to be, I find it curious that you would build your perception of who a person is on such a limited statistical sample. We've only talked a few times in person. And, while you have read many of my Live Journal entries over the past few years, I don't think it makes a lot of sense to draw conclusions about who I am and how I would act in a given situation in light of what I write here, particularly insofar as so much of what I write here is heavily coded.

Then again, I have often had the impression that you take statements literally, for better or worse, even when they cry out for a mode of interpretation attentive to indirection. I can't fault you for that. It speaks to the sincerity and forthrightness that you so effectively present in your Live Journal-related correspondence. But, if I'm even partially right, that quality would go a long way toward explaining how you have ended up with a picture of me that any of my long-time friends in "meat space" would refute in a second. Take the entry in question, for example. Although I did mention being upset by the news of Hurricane Katrina, I did so, at least in part, because I wanted to set up the conceit with which the entry closes:
Before Kim came home I brought the futon out of the garage for Bean and put on the DVD for Andy Goldsworthy's Rivers and Tides. It lulled her to sleep very quickly and made me feel considerably more relaxed. Now I have to go run an errand for her, however, and then rush down to teach, so my stress level is heading for another peak. It says something about my state of mind that I keep seeing a mirage of rising water everywhere I turn.
Clearly, I wanted to play off the idea of overflowing water invoked, not only by Katrina, but my "weepy" state and the film Rivers and Tides, which features a sequence in which a rock sculpture created by the artist is gradually submerged by the sea. I almost feel the need to declare, as I did above, that I'm "not proud" of the fact that I spent so much time working a conceit into a throwaway "everyday" entry. Still, that's how I write and why I write so slowly.
Frequently, as in the case of the letter in question, I labor over my message for so long that it becomes too long to send long before I'm finished writing it. Because disproportionate responses trouble me, I've learned to avoid making them in my own writing. Sometimes I forget what I've learned, mind you, but I do try to remember. Even when I'm drawing a blank, I'll let a letter lie for a few hours or, better yet, a few days, in the hopes that I'll be reminded of the reasons why it might be better left unsent. In this case, I've managed to wait nearly five months. Since I'm tired of having to keep confronting my muted words, however, I will finally provide them a destination. It may not be the one I'd initially intended, but at least the important part of my letter will have arrived.