Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Culture and Anarchy


I hope you have more time for reading this summer than I’ve had so far. As a result of what one friend has called my soziale Tätigkeit, I’ve had little time to myself. I experience privacy primarily in sleep, autonomy in driving, and subjectivity in those vertiginous moments when I am speaking to a student and it suddenly seems that my speech proceeds automatically from itself and is detachable from what the Stoics called the hegemonikon—the commanding-faculty of the soul.

It is no surprise, then, that Fort Kant, which is concerned largely with issues of privacy and subjectivity, has been vacant. (On June 16, the famed day of subjectivity, I was locked out of my Martello tower, though unable to wander freely among the forms. My day began on the island where I had camped out with other teachers in my summer program—let’s call it “Leaps and Bounds” to preserve comparative anonymity—and before I could go home, I had to work a full day at high school (“Pyrrhus, sir?”) and return to the university for Leaps and Bounds training until night. I was unable to pay much attention to the unfolding of inner events.)

As I mentioned last time, one of my responsibilities was to co-lead a trip to Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island, Maine. (Many Mainers call it “Arcadia,” a source of great excitement for me as a child. (Last week I volunteered to drive students to the Maine Mall during free time on Tuesday night, and I was surprised to find that malls still have video arcades (due in part, it seems, to the success of Dance Dance Revolution, a DDR whose deepest commands are external to the world of the game and enforced by a quite different sort of Stasi). Indeed, I was surprised by many things at the mall. While I’m quite familiar with the experience of shopping at “big-box” stores, I can count the number of times I’ve been to the mall in the last ten years—the period during which the changes in production, employment, and consumption described in Naomi Klein’s No Logo became culturally omnipresent—and I didn’t expect everything to look so upscalish and perfected.))

We (two adults and eight teenagers) survived our trip to Acadia with no major injuries (though one boy stepped in a hole, twisted his ankle, and fell dramatically to the ground after I told him to check out the view; a girl scraped up her toes hiking rocky Mt. Gorham in flip-flops; another girl refused to wear sunblock and burned (she also refused to drink water)). I won’t try to describe the natural beauty of Acadia, but I think even our most skeptical and defensive students were moved by it.

John and I have often discussed What’s the Matter with Kansas?-type questions concerning the proper attitude toward the aesthetic and consumer preferences of [how to refer to them?], and after the Acadia trip, I must side with enforced cultural education and against “doing as one likes.” If we had allowed the students to do what felt most natural and comfortable to them—as my co-leader, B., a young Ghanaian woman and a recent graduate of Kenyon, was inclined to do—their camping trip would have comprised spending the night in the van, eating at McDonalds and (for the girls) Subway, talking on their phones to friends at home, and going to the movies in Bar Harbor—a fun weekend perhaps, but not at all an extension of their sense of what’s possible for them, not at all an education. Students complained a great deal at first, but culture prevailed. Nobody wanted me to turn off the radio when we were driving—and my co-leader suggested taking a vote—but everybody sang and talked after the stream of programmed sensation had been cut off. Nobody wanted to hike—and again I had to reject my co-leader's call for a vote—but everybody who made it to the summit—and all but one who made it to a lesser plateau—forgot their former resistance as an experience they had imagined to be foreign became their own. Students were awed by the view and charmed by the shrubby vegetation at the top, and the boys who would have voted to stay in the van ran ahead to the next summit. This is the unspoken pedagogical theme of Leaps and Bounds: we’ll help you set yourself free, but to do that we’ll have to boss you around first, because what feels like freedom to you is a sort of slavery.


Tomorrow I’m teaching in the morning and driving students to and from their internships in the afternoon (did I mention I clipped a truck last week when I misjudged the width of the van?), so I must prepare now and get some rest.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Dear Readers

Be patient! Do not give up on Fort Kant! Training for my summer job started last week (teaching English composition in a vestigial Great Society anti-poverty program that helps qualifying high school students prepare for college (it’s so Great Society that we risk losing Department of Agriculture funding if at mealtime the assigned Veggie Patrol doesn’t check off each student as having two fruits or vegetables and a glass of milk on his or her tray)), and I’ve been extremely busy. It'll be another week or so until I can concentrate more fully on the aesthetic and philosophical topics that concern this page, since my classes start this week, and next weekend I’ll be co-leading a camping trip to Acadia National Park, which is the sort of thing I never imagined I’d be doing. Last week I got to practice driving the big van and firing up the camp stove, and I’m learning campfire riddles, though I don’t yet know how to manage a campfire. Hikes TBA. Pack warm clothes!!!

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Camp life


Hilary (left) has checked into her cabin at Skowhegan, a fancy summer camp for grown-ups. Preliminary report: Wesserunsett Lake is nice.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Smiley cookie vs. grilled stickies

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Calling Naomi Klein

Did you guys get this meme from [name redacted], Internet Marketing Coordinator at Holtzbrinck Publishers? I imagine it went out to the whole Long Sunday crew—I don’t know how else she (or her interns) would have found my page. I quote, with redactions:
Hi there,

I am hoping that Fort Kant would be interested in this.

On June 7th, Farrar Straus & Giroux will publish [Author’s]
brilliant new novel, [Title]. [Author’s] most recent,
best-selling novel, [Title of previous novel], won both the Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner award, and became an Academy Award-winning film starring Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, and Meryl Streep.

We now invite you to download an advance digital copy of the new novel before it goes on sale next week. Please note that this advance copy is for review purposes ONLY, and that the access URL is NOT to be posted or redistributed.

We hope that you'll enjoy the novel, and if you mention the book or
author on your blog or site, please send us an e-mail with a link.
I must admit, I was a little flattered to get this invitation. Fort Kant is concerned with literature only like 1/20th of the time, so I was tickled to hear that someone out there cares about what I might have to say about a new novel.

Now, this invitation is clearly an attempt to generate “buzz”—you’ve read articles about people hired to go to bars in Williamsburg to get overheard talking about so-and-so’s new album—you can imagine the conversation in the boardroom (the internet café? the bubble tea room? Dean & DeLuca?) about how to get the blogosphere to do your work for you—but No Logo my eye, I mean, this review could be my big break! (This may be even less than a campaign for free advertising. Could this be an attempt just to sell a book to me and the other bloggers targeted by Ms. [...] and her interns? (Which, great section in No Logo on how corporations use interns as a way of externalizing costs).)

(Hilary recalls that the author in question had been a customer at her uncle’s furniture store on Christopher St. (now closed). Hilary reports that he was quite polite, and quite concerned about which raw silk accessories—lampshades or pillows, Hilary can’t remember which—would fit his apartment best. (Molly Ringwald would send her servant to collect fabric samples, but Mr. Cunningham said he would buy the pillows himself!))

More advertisements!

1.) Mrs. Dalloway if you want to feel in a muddle. A Room of One’s Own for an experience of psychedelic clarity. As Fort Kant is now a recognized literary authority, here’s my blurb: “A room of one’s own grows out of the barrel of a gun.”

2.) A long quotation from one of Farrar, Straus and Giroux’s other authors, Wallace Shawn. (Possible running titles: Primitive accumulation grows out of the barrel of a gun; rule of law grows out of the barrel of a gun.)
The voluptuous field that was given to me—how did I come to be given that one, and not the one that was black and barren? Yes, it happened like that because before I was born, the fields were apportioned, and some of the fields were pieced together.

The fields were pieced together one by one, by thieves, by killers. Over years, over centuries, night after night, knives glittering, throats cut, again and again, until the beautiful Christmas morning we woke up, and our proud parents showed us the gorgeous, shining, blood-soaked fields which now were ours. Cultivate, they said, husband everything you pull from the earth, guard, save, then give your own children the next hillside, the next valley. From each advantage, draw up more. Grow, cultivate, preserve, guard. Drive forward till you have everything. The others will always fall back, retreat, give you what you want or sell you what you want for the price you want. They have no choice, because they’re sick and weak. They’ve become “the poor.”

And the book runs on, years, centuries, till the moment comes when our parents say the time of apportionment is now over. We have what we need—our position is well defended on every side. Now, finally, everything can be frozen, just as it is. The violence can stop. From now on, no more stealing, no more killing. From this moment, an eternal silence, the rule of law.