My grandmother, ~1934Mar 20, 2014
So yeah I made a stock photograph for hashtag existentialdespair. Can also be had in an ultra-grainy version that looks just like you just casually instagrammed yourself… apparently naked… in a despairing pose in a room lit only by an ominous light source angled from above. But for that you’ll have to add one small millibitcoin to the already quite cheap price of absolutely free. Yolo swag four twenty out peace folks.Mar 13, 2014
The gods condemned Sisyphus forever to push a heavy rock up a steep hill. But each time the rock reaches the top, it rolls back down, and Sisyphus must walk down and repeat his labor towards the top. In The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus takes an existentialist look at life, and tries to use the myth of Sisyphus to illustrate human life. In the end, says Camus, we must imagine Sisyphus happy: “
Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy." Camus wrote the whole book to defend this proposition. But to me, he never really justifies Sisyphus’ happiness. Leaving Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain, I cannot imagine him happy.
I’ve been neglecting this blog for some time. When I’ve posted something, it’s usually been something short and light. I’ve been, and am, preoccupied with learning to like life and being around people as a human being again. I hope that I’ll get to a point beyond where I’ve ever been, a point where I can look down from the top of the mountain at all the years I’ve been keeping this blog running, and not fall down. That has been my pattern in life: I keep getting to “just okay” for a while and then I fall down into crisis. That is why I selfishly say that I envy manic depressives, even though I know it’s unfair because they have problems I’ve never had and can never understand. But the temptation lies in the fact that I follow the same cycle of getting to a top and then falling back down, except unlike people with bipolar disorder, I never get beyond “okay,” I never get into the “happy” or “euphoric” or “manically driven by infectious enthusiasm” phases. And since I feel, when down, that this continual depressive cycle is destroying me anyway, I’d like to destroy myself but have fun doing it. Be a supernova that explodes, not implode like a depressive black hole.
Those kind of thoughts are what I’m trying to get a grasp on and defeat. I don’t want to destroy myself—if I’m self destructive it’s only because I feel like I’m destroying myself either way, so I’d rather do it my own way than simply sit on my ass and let it happen. Rather go out spectacularly than quietly, withdrawn from everything. The end result is the same, but one road seems so much more fun. Except deep down, I have no desire to destroy myself. I want to get to that “okay” stage and stay there. Be a normal person who is neither sad nor happy most of the time, simply content and feeling whatever fleeting emotions are going through my head at that moment. Not be preoccupied by insane worries or doomsday thoughts.
Here is my list of things to do for 2014: become a normal person. Start some kind of education or job in a field that interests me. Visit Paris.
Blogging is not on that list. I really like blogging, or more specifically, I really like writing and blogging is the most efficient way for me to gain an audience—or to lean on the audience I’ve somehow built in six and a half years of doing this. But in order to write I need to be the right kind of person. Otherwise, I’d simply be spewing out the sort of either mundane or hysteric shit that always turns me off most blogs. My keeping quiet is simply a way of protecting you from my worst sides. You can see glimpses of them in a few previous posts, and it’s not pretty. Re-reading them, I want to press delete, but also to keep them as a warning to myself. Raw, misguideded emotion. Instances where the editing on the stream of consciousness fell short.
Life can be like the myth of Sisyphus. You get that rock up the hill; you may never get to the mountaintop, but at least you can rest a while on that hill, looking up at that mountain and be content with your effort. But then you fall down again, and you must struggle so hard to get up, and when you finally get there again, you either want to stay there forever, or you desperately long for wings so you could fly all the way to the mountaintop up there shrouded in fog. But neither happens: you just roll down the hill again. I want out of that cycle.
I started lifting. I remember the last time I bench pressed before this year: I might have been eleven, and I was at the house of the villain, the bully who instigated most of the attacks on me, verbal or physical. He was a sly devil and at times he appeared to show a certain kindness, inviting me along when he invited some of my friends to his home, one of the largest private residences in town. And so with heavy heart, because I hated his guts, but also because I falsely believed this “kindness” could last if I tolerated and reciprocated it, I went along. We watched a movie, and then we visited the home gym one of his relatives had set up. My friend lifted the bar, twenty kilograms. I think I barely managed to lift the bar. Twenty-five was out of the question. Not long after, the bully again turned a crowd on me. Kindness is a surface upon which evil dances, sometimes.
Now I lift for myself. With the satisfaction that there is no one to compete with but myself.
Social media are exactly like the myth of Sisyphus, insofar as they implement a stream. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, they all implement the stream. You create something, put a lot of effort into it, and put it there. But it only stays there for a little while before something else comes and pushes it downstream. Soon, you’re at the bottom again and if you want to get to the top, to gain attention, you need to put in all that effort again. It’s a model that encourages easy, dumb content: quickly made, quickly shared, quickly enjoyed and then discarded in the memory thrash bin of the stream’s readers. If you want to create something of value, something that takes effort, you’re welcome to, but it never stays on top of the stream. It disappears into the dreaded “archives.” No one ever goes downstream. No one ever digs through those archives to find the gold that lies waiting.
That’s why it’s especially fun when someone tells you they found something you wrote a long time ago and enjoyed it. Thank you Alex for reminding me that I wrote an article about the Kowloon Walled City back in 2010. The photograph above is one I wished I’d taken, but it’s not mine. It’s Greg Girard’s, part of a book project he did with writer Ian Lambot. The two of them spent four years taking trips to the Walled City, photographing its architecture and people, interviewing inhabitants and documenting the anarchic enclave’s daily life. It was torn down in 1992, not long after my own birth. The book is the definite source about everything Kowloon in English. Unfortunately, even the reprint appears to be sold out. This means there is no way to pay the authors: they already got their money when the books were originally printed and sold. If you buy from a reseller, none of that money goes to the original creators. Accordingly, I recommend that if you want to read the book and see more photographs, you locate the pirated pdf that is floating around. You’re not cheating the authors out of money, you’re simply saying fuck you to the scumbag resellers who hog the market on photobooks before people with a legitimate interest in the books get to buy a copy. Either way, $0 goes to Lambot and Girard, even though they deserve the money. I hope another reprint comes along, so I can buy it without paying hundreds of dollars to resellers and also give money to the authors.
Alex also told me that the Japanese have recreated the city as an amusement park of sorts. I mentioned in my original article that the city reminded me of cyberpunk tropes; but this, the recreation of a squalid, lawless slum as an amusement for the bourgeoisie, that’s just perfect. Couldn’t be more cyberpunk if you were required to wear Google Glass upon entry. I recently read Neuromancer, and the theme of the rich using the poor as amusement is very prevalent. More so than the original city, the Japanese recreation is cyberpunk incarnate. There are even some cracks in the perfect facade that reveal what lies under. See: “
The juxtaposition of a high-tech Japanese toilet in an authentically grimy bathroom has to be seen to be believed.”
I’m sorry for rambling. I am not, perhaps, in the right frame of mind to write too much on this blog. I might write some things inspired by the pessimistic existentialist literature I’ve been reading. In the meantime, if for some reason you miss my writing, I suggest you read the old gem Alex found: Kowloon. An article based on Girard and Lambot’s book, written in a better frame of mind. Looking back, I was about to go to school for photography, realizing my dream, and I had the energy to pour into an article that is not about myself and my ramblings and bullshit. Alternatively, I’ve edited the “best of” page so there’s less stuff on there, and hopefully higher quality all around. I want it to be a place to go to find out what this blog is about, insofar as it is about something more than whatever is on the front page at the time.
Take care, everyone.Feb 14, 2014
Impossible Project black and white Polaroid 600 film, technical failure, 2013Jan 17, 2014
i’ve begun meditating
my mantra is
i’ve begun meditating
i repeat it
until it’s true
What can be said to characterize the Outsider is a sense of strangeness, of unreality. Even Keats could write, in a letter to Brown just before he died: ‘I feel as if I had died already and am now living a posthumous existence.’ This is the sense of unreality, that can strike out of a perfectly clear sky. Good health and strong nerves can make it unlikely; but that may be only because the man in good health is thinking about other things and doesn’t look in the direction where the uncertainty lies. And once a man has seen it, the world can never afterwards be quite the same straighforward place. Barbusse has shown us that the Outsider is a man who cannot live in the comfortable, insulated world of the bourgeois, accepting what he sees and touches as reality. ‘He sees too deep and too much,’ and what he sees is essentially chaos. For the bourgeois, the world is fundamentally an orderly place, with a disturbing element of the irrational, the terrifying, which his preoccupation with the present usually permits him to ignore. For the outsider, the world is not rational, not orderly. When he asserts his sense of anarchy in the face of the bourgeois’ complacent acceptance, it is not simply the need to cock a snook at respectability that provokes him; it is a distressing sense that truth must be told at all costs… The Outsider is a man who has awakened to chaos. He may have no reason to believe that chaos is positive, the germ of life… In spite of this, truth must be told, chaos must be faced.Colin Wilson, The Outsider (1956) Jan 7, 2014
at this point in your life
what are you celebrating?Jan 1, 2014
Ever have that feeling of existential claustrophobia as if the entire world in all its infinite expansion is closing in on you at once, from every direction, and in the middle of it you are horribly alone?Dec 22, 2013
bedroom wallDec 20, 2013
A group of humans in a circle. Faces shimmering and distorting in jaypeg compression, the scene seen through nineteen-hundred-twenty by a thousand-eighty squares of mosquito netting. The faces losing detail the longer you look at them. They’re best seen peripherally, like the shadows in the corner of your eye after you’ve forgotten when you last slept. You can’t hear what they’re saying over the sparkling and cackling of a radio someone must have cleaved in half just outside the picture. It is certainly a buzzing, and you can’t tell if there are individual voices among them. The circle is not geometrically pure, it might be more of an oval, but there are no cracks between the bodies. Maybe there are a hundred people, maybe ten. The compression makes blocks out of people, eliminating the boundaries between people of low contrast. What if society really compressed people with the same interests and looks into one, a reductive reaction from a large group of conformists to a smaller group of individualists? All the hippies one hippie, and all the bookworms in square glasses one, and all the pouty lips in high heels one. The reaction would surely be exothermic.
In the middle of the circle are two figures, one large and threatening, the other smaller, shyer. The larger one presses forward like a boxer trying to push his opponent onto the ropes, he is George Foreman, intimidating his opponent onto the canvas. But the smaller one is no Ali. He flies like a bee but does not sting. You see this memory over and over: the peripheral circle of onlookers morphing and blending together, dissolving and precipitating, one-celled organisms splitting and recombining, impossible to fixate with the eye, gray pixels in the background, and in the center, the two figures, one of them perpetually pushing forward and the other perpetually retreating.
The memory loops, it is an animated gif, a poorly made one that does not seamlessly glide from end back to the beginning. There’s an abrupt, jarring transition, a point in the animation where the larger figure has forced the smaller one to the edge of an amorphous, cancerous mass towards the edge of the frame. You can barely glimpse an escape route, but the step must be taken within the next frame. There is no next frame. It does not exist on the hard drive, or it’s so corrupted by the teeth of time or electromagnetic pollution that the image program refuses to interpret it and therefore jumps back to the beginning. And so they’re back in the middle of the ring again, the one figure leaning forward in preparation for a new thrust forward, the smaller one leaning backward in comic pantomime of an actor on a nineteen-fifties monster movie poster, or perhaps a twenty-tens pastiche of one. You imagine that the larger figure is Godzilla, the smaller one a poor Japanese; between them run canted letters in an absurd alphabet, and in the background, a gray cardboard cityscape.
If one administers an amnestic agent right after the recollection of a painful memory, the memory can, under certain circumstances observed in the lab, anyway, be erased. It follows that memory is a dynamic process, not a passive reading head converting long-term memory into identical short-term memory. Memories are continually being remixed, cut and pasted, spatially and temporally; version controlled, reprogrammed, metaprogrammed, branches splitting up and merging back together, a neurochemical imitation of a broken hard drive furiously rewriting itself in an attempt to recover a lost past. Constructed, deconstructed, reconstructed, reorganized, cooked down into life lessons, which is to say life fictions. Such is it with this memory, after time recovering or re-imagining details: in the video channel, artifacts grow upon artifacts like vines, while the audio channel is slowly introduced out of—what—optimistically, expectation, pessimistically, pink noise. The humming of the audience grows louder, takes on the character of a swarm of nasty insects, while the words passing between the two figures in the middle downshift from the ethereal into listenable frequencies:
Who the fuck are you, look at you, look at them, nobody cares about you, nobody likes you, nobody gives a shit, you are a puppet, a laughing stock, cheap entertainment, nobody’d take you if they got you for free and we threw in a VHS player on top…
* * *
I thought I’d polish off my meth, he says, unzips the fabric of a couch cushion and withdraws a small baggie with scaly white powder.
You need to chop it up good or it stings like hell, he says and chops it up good with a credit card, separating two lines on top of a book bearing the mark of the local library.
You attempt to insufflate the line, but half of it is left on the book when you’re done.
What’s the matter with you? Never saw Scarface? Pretend you’re Tony Montana, and he demonstrates by holding a finger over one nostril while he sucks the powder through the rolled-up paper and into the other.
It stings like hell.
You talk for a while. Has it come on yet?
You enthusiastically share an idea for an art project with the others.
It’s going to be great.
You’re no longer drunk.
You’re more sober than sober.
You drink until it’s light out and intermittently take dabs from the bag.
You end the night cleaning someone else’s vomit from the inside of your friendly unlicensed taxi driver’s car door.
You are neither tired nor wired.
* * *
A hallway so long it has a vanishing point. No distinguishing features on the walls except for doors, some of different hues, having been changing away from the norm, possibly, after one too many slamming. At one end, two figures. One, a scrawny white kid, the other, a scrawny Somalian. Who knows why he came here, to this country. War, probably. Who knows what memories, what empeg-four artifacts he carries with him.
He’s being an ass. I’m going to beat you up after school, he says, intimidation rather than plan. You show up after school demanding your beating. You have instituted a zero-tolerance policy. In the ongoing existential war, there is no standing down. You would rather be Ali on the ropes than the bee running away.
The main entrance in one end of the long hall with the vanishing point is a glass door. School is just out, and unbeknownst to you, half the students are just outside that transparent door. You corner him by the door. Not so tough now, are you? I thought you were gonna beat me up. Where’s my beating? Huh? Gonna back up your word, motherfucker?
You repeat the words like a mantra. You are an emcee of fury, spitting shit years in the making. It is not a scrawny Somalian kid but the culmination of years of abuse before you. You demand your beating. The universe demands it. It is the law of things that no effect can be without a cause, and your righteous fury must somehow be justified.
Before you understand what has happened, he has punched you in the nose. There is warm, sticky blood on your face. You taste iron. There is a man in-between the two of you before you can retaliate. You turn around and see a captive audience of hundreds. You lost the fight. You are a hero. You are a loser.
You will play the memory on repeat for years to come. It will degrade, artifact, new details will emerge and submerge. Alternate universes will branch off in which the memory did not happen, in which it happened earlier, later, in which it was formative, in which it was forgotten. Your emotions will follow a pressure gradient from fury towards a sad melancholy, a resignation towards the ultimate fucked-up-ness of things as seen from prismatic perspectives which has no name but should have one in French or Japanese, the languages of je ne sais quoi and mono no aware.Dec 16, 2013