Saturday, November 08, 2014


Gerald Durrell and red ruffed lemurs

One of the jargon phrases used by businesses is “capturing profit.”  It suggests going into the forest like Gerald Durrell and setting up traps or using nets to grab fabulous wild beasts of great value.  So YouTube, having maxed out their previous strategies, is now building “traps” for creative people, fancy little studios.  (Only in New York City, since they “know” anyone who matters will go there).  If you can’t be creative (which doesn’t pay until it’s promoted anyway) then make money by being the people who claim to be “helping” creative people with equipment, space and visions of unlimited success. (Oh, by the way, we’ll own at least a percentage of your product and promote hell out of our contribution.)  The appeal to the kind of creative person who loves the opportunities of new programs and gizmos is very great.  

And they are mostly young people, which means that their life experience is limited to whatever their parents provided.  (Most of them HAD parents who were able to provide quite a lot from the beginning.)  University may not have scratched their itch -- just seemed like a waste of time.  Why wait until one’s brain is mature (age 25 usually) to be processing the world, even if it’s already so homogenized and predictable that it has to be jazzed up with strange angles and surprising color changes.  Even NPR (they should talk) points out that these studios have been in operation for some time without any of their productions going viral.  And maybe that's the problem:  they're PRODUCTS, derived from advertising.  These are the kids who were propped in front of the television before they could properly sit up alone.  Their brains are built around thirty-second hype.

These studios have no CONTENT, because the people working in them have no EXPERIENCE.  They're like the man who came to a workshop of mine in my ministry days. It was about knowing where you are on the planet by reflecting on what's under your house.  He said he lived in a housing development and so there was NOTHING under his house.  He thought of it as floating in a clean white space like someone posed against those big rolls of background paper.  There WAS geology and history under his house, but he didn't know it.  Didn't know the way to find out was to dig.  Sometimes literally.

So then I'm going to drag in my new "cat" which is print v. felt content, which is not just me reacting to vook thinking, but also the most cutting edge brain research, which is about CONSCIOUSNESS and how the feeling content of that is even more restricted when one goes to speech and even more restricted again when you get to the technology of print, no matter what it's printed on or how.  It's code of code of code of what is the living fleshly existence of a creature.

Thomas Kuhn

When Thomas Kuhn was analyzing how paradigms shift and how thinking makes break-throughs, one pattern he analyzed was the population that goes aside and evolves on its own terms.  In the old days they might have been in a closed valley or on an island.  The cultural evolution is parallel to that of the physical creatures -- think Galapagos.  Or Madagascar, home of the red-ruffed lemur.  Then this smaller group, due to circumstances maybe beyond their control (think captured African slaves) is brought to a different larger context (the American South) and injects its specialized knowledge and skill into it, creating whole new “fusion/creole” worlds of music, food, religion, genetics.

When the pressure to stay secret was removed from gay men, that sort of artesian shooting-up of energy swept across the country and pooled in places like Key West or SF.  But then it was tragically edited by AIDS, which either scattered or compressed the survivors.  By now they have regrouped, and that does mean in various groups with particular focus and interests, but they have also evolved into new wisdom and insight.  This means they are re-informing the larger culture whether on the stage and other arts or (quietly) in government and institutions like churches.  (When I was working for the City of Portland, my department was managed by lesbians.  How did I know?  They thought I was also lesbian.  Eeek.)

A stigmatized and ghettoized group of people is sensitive to experience in a way that vanillas are not.  But people don’t write programs for minority aesthetic needs, because they don’t know what the needs are.  They don’t build studios for people pushed out onto the street because those people don’t NEED studios.  Their studio is the world.

The first time I realized how differently other people saw the world was probably high school, where the first black students were just entering Jefferson High in Portland, because of being displaced by the Vanport flood.   They were not just black, but also rural Southern. Then Northwestern theatre classes with Manhattan jews (yeah, they knew Woody Allen).  And BLAM!!! -- the Blackfeet tribe and marrying an older man.  Must I go on?  Dog catchers, Unitarians, U of Chicago Div School, etc.  Now boys-at-risk.  

Somewhere along in there I made a big shift from words/print to feelings/brain-architecture.  I think it was in Div School and it has blossomed ever since because I’ve discovered -- through writing and reading ! -- these whole fields of research looking at brains.  Far beyond the clues Freud found, we’re realizing most of what goes on in us is invisible except to highly sensitive machines.  You can’t “think of it” because you are it.   Part of the reason boys-at-risk are so intriguing is that the abuse they have suffered (estimates are that one out of six men have been molested or viciously abused in their lifetime -- usually in childhood) has changed the way their brains work.
One in Six campaign

The essence of the brain is turning out to be exactly opposite to what I was taught in the Fifties.  They insisted you only got one set of cells that could not change and started dying off in middle-age.  Now they say the brain is constantly editing and reconnecting itself in response to the environment, and is incredibly resourceful in terms of building work-arounds. These boys on the prowl have a sort of night-vision.  What they see is incredibly dark (like rez Indians) and they understand much they can convey in images -- NOT print.  It has taken me years to “see” what I’m looking at.  It is their reality.

The Algerian/French thinking that has had such impact on print, often nearly unintelligible because of the awkwardness of translation and their own insistence that print is deceptive anyway, is also a force towards image and workarounds in a world where nations and cultures are reconfiguring.  I’m only beginning to figure out some of this stuff, with the help of Aad de Gids, a Netherlands poet, philosopher, and psychiatric nurse.

At the same time I’m living in a conventional, even conformist, rural town whose values are like those of my parents and grandparents.  I don’t disapprove or fight it.  I appreciate it even as I differ from it.  Yesterday I was talking to a young Hutterite man who came into the library to charge his electronic tablet. I had a ridiculous impulse to hug him.  He was who he was, solid and warm, dependable and predictable.  But I didn't even bump elbows.

Not just when I’m dreaming, but also as I walk around during the day, there is a little part of me holding a suffering child struggling to find hope.  I don’t DO anything, but I try to understand.  How do I move between image and print to write something that will make a difference?  Both Gerald and Lawrence Durrell were addressing the same question.  They were men who reveled in experience.  I just don’t want to have to get drunk to do it.  Nor do I want a lot of technology or a fancy studio in Manhattan.

Aad responds:  Well, Mary, the text turned out to be a "cut-up" which always enhances its meaning. Somewhere in midst the text you make this valuable observation which is, and stays, a central paradox in which demography you reach with such kind of "gadgetry". Even if it seems hip and unconventional,it is doomed to reach also just this demographic niche: "hip and unconventional". 

If we would want such projects to reach other, more varied, unexpected clusters of demography, we keep on running into the wall of the biggest common human denominator: the (not a crime,this) mediocre, conventionalist, conformist, conservative, inclined-to-flock-into-the-mass (even if Nazist as in '40-'45) amoeba of people. Culture-consumers more by the way of Wal*mart and "Gap" then by the way of subversive niches of (70s) "counterculture" (80s) "punk" and all the ones striking against the grain of the "owners" even of "avant garde projects" with screening possibilities given.

DeLeuze and Guattari

I am also intrigued by the new neurophysiological findings and this, backed up by the ground laid by the Frankfurter Schule, poststructuralists and really really avant garde art.  It seems another shift of paradigm from the monadology of freudianism to the nomadology of the brain as "in probabilistic driving system" (deleuze-guattari) and now "anti sociologically" backed up by the mapology of the dataclysm findings. I always love it when you can let something go, even drop it like a piece of filth and go on with the new clusters and packs of "les pensées des corpuscules/particules" (deleuze-guattari) and also the "leucemization of society" (baudrillard) which doesn't respect neither rule nor role and lays bare in its progression all the vile motives and inept machinations of society itself gone psychotic.

The man living in the housing project saying there is nothing underneath the building may be partially right and yet also forgets the "les histoires d'aujourd'hui" (histories of now) (Foucault) which form the precise tragic grounds as also lively "hood" under and around the housing projects while also living at park-avenue, madison-avenue,rodeo drive, rue du faubourg sainthonoré, bond street, fleet street, avenue montaigne, are precisely that: housing projects with tight, contrived clientèle, autotoxic demography, rosetta stones with viral rules infesting the "haute" participants. Diane Arbus did some great portraits of that. 

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