Apr. 13th, 2017 03:43 pm
sadoeuphemist: (Default)
There's a horror living in your head. It's yours, entirely. It doesn't map to anyone else's. Doesn't that make you feel special? You've got something that's exclusively your own. 

I've got my own horror, and so does everyone else, presumably. We can only talk about it in vague terms, and it only occasionally solidifies into an incomprehensible metaphor. Mine is shards of glass staring up like dead eyes from the ash and sand. Even that's too specific. It's other things too. It depends on the time of day and the weather. 

Our ineloquence makes us believe that the horror is amorphous, ever-shifting. We find like-minded people and we hammer out a jargon for it, big, expansive terms with no set definition, words capable of containing the world. Only a philosopher could properly understand them, but even an idiot can shriek out the words and feel a chill. It's coming, it's coming, it's here, it's coming; we say the words and it's surrounding us; we say the words and we're grasping at the edges of a vast and protoplasmic thing.

It's a mass delusion, though. Your horror is not mine, no matter how much we may agree it is. You can see it now in your head, can't you? How to describe it? Its borders are perfectly defined and intricate, tendrils crawling around the edges, reaching into the crevasses in your brain. Whose face does it have? Say the name. It wouldn't mean anything to anyone outside a small group of people, just a random name in the phone book, so you don't say that, right? You grasp for a word that someone else might be able to understand. You could map it out, probably, if you were so inclined, but it would take a lifetime. You'd have a spiderweb of string and pushpins, old photos, newspaper cutouts, words scrawled on scraps of paper. It would stretch across the walls of your house. You'd look like a lunatic. And you're not. You know you're not. Other people have talked about it too, a thing like this, though not entirely. All the distinct little differences in experience. But it's close enough, right? Close enough to a reality. Close enough to cling to.

So you take your horror and you file the edges off. You generalize. You find something close enough in the outside world and you latch on to it, you adopt that vocabulary as your own, just grateful for the ability to finally speak. You take your horror and you make it universal.

There's a horror in my head, and it's not yours, not at all. That's the only thing for sure we have in common. Mine is a pyramid of human skin, sagging and weighty like a dumpling, its surface prickled with gooseflesh. It's clammy. Ugh! I can feel it sweating from here. It's not your horror, is it? No, no, not at all. Tell me all about yours. Be specific. Be a lunatic. It's good to talk. It's good to let it all out. It's good to speak the truth.

Because what we do, in our mass delusion, is we let all our horrors blur together. We ink out intricate, personal maps and then we pile them on top of each other and let the ink bleed through. Until it's huge and blotted black and faceless, until it's ready to swallow us whole. Kundera talked about totalitarian kitsch, a smiling bland face that swallows us whole with happiness and the sentiment of the universal brotherhood of man. This is a kind of kitsch too, isn't it, this is anti-kitsch, this is apocalyptic kitsch. This is an aesthetic we can project into the void and hear the voices screaming back, until it seems like the whole world is screaming in horror with us. This is the stark perfect picture of our despair. This is the growing black tide that we're all going to have to beat back together, or we're all going to suffocate and drown.

But it doesn't happen, and instead we all drown separately, in disparate groups, except for those of us who don't drown at all. And we stare out in shock because that makes the horror worse. How are they not dying? How can they not see? How could you abandon me at this, my hour of need? I'm drowning! I'm drowning! Can't you see that? Can't you feel the suction of the tide? 

Listen: there is a horror in your head, and it's not mine, and it's not anybody else's. There are points of overlap, sure. There are good and useful group projects. And then you will wander down the tributaries of your horror, you will feel its tendrils grasping, and you will look around and you will find your friends and compatriots have abandoned you. No. They were never there to begin with. There are people being dragged down in the privacy of their overgrown lawns, the roots creeping up from the grass, far from your sight. There are people privately quietly suffering with all their variegated horrors creeping up to play. And it's not your horror, and it doesn't fit into your map, but it's there, and that's all you need to understand.

There's a horror in your head, and it's as real as mine, it's as real as anyone else's. I won't understand it completely, and maybe no one ever will. That doesn't take anything away from it. We like to think we'd all shriek in unison, but our voices rise and fall away one by one. The closest we can come to compassion is to understand that we intersect in convenience, and that we are not abandoned when we diverge. We are all in this together. We are all very much alone.

I have to go. I have my own problems to deal with. Take care of yourself, especially when no one else will. Navigate the edges of your horror. Tend to it. It is as unique and intricate and as beautiful as you are.

Walk your lonely paths, and pull it out by the roots.
sadoeuphemist: (Default)
Please read the following text and then answer the questions below:
I'm pretty sure writing is impossible.
I'm pretty sure writing and being read is impossible. 
Writing involves the formation of a "self" that I'm not ready to share with anyone; that's how much I fear intimacy.
The horrifying thing about writing is that no one ever understands what you're saying. 
They only ever understand how they feel about what you wrote.

QUESTIONS: (Please pick the best answer) 

1) What does the writer mean when they say "writing and being read is impossible"?
A) The writer has psychological / emotional problems that make it difficult for them to share their thoughts and feelings with others. 
B) The writer is frustrated at their inadequacy at writing, and cannot find the words to adequately express their thoughts and feelings.
C) Any written text is separate from the author and can only be understood as the reader interprets it, making true communication impossible. 
D) Writing and being read is impossible.
E) None of the above (Please fill in your own answer here)_______________________________________________________

2) Why does the writer put the word "self" in quotation marks?
A) The writer is talking about a fictional persona adopted for the purposes of writing.  
B) The writer believes in an innermost self that is separate from the "self" presented to others.
C) The writer's existence is irrelevant; they might as well not exist outside of the text.
D) The writer is insecure, and finds it unnatural to express themselves through writing. 
E) None of the above (Please fill in your own answer here)_______________________________________________________
3) The writer says they are "not ready to share with anyone". What literary device is employed by you reading these words regardless? 
A) Paradox.
B) Irony.
C) Satire. 
D) Tragedy. 
E) None of the above (Please fill in your own answer here)_______________________________________________________

4) What does the writer mean when they say that they "fear intimacy"?
A) The writer writes about intensely personal things that they are hesitant to share with an audience. 
B) The writer is afraid of having their ideas closely scrutinized for fear they are insufficient.
C) The writer fears being eradicated from the text and overwritten by someone else's interpretation. 
D) The writer has genuine psychological / emotional problems with interacting with other people. 
E) None of the above (Please fill in your own answer here)_______________________________________________________

5) Do you understand what the writer is saying? 
A) No, the actual meaning is only available inside of the writer's head.
B) Yes, our understanding of something is dependent on objective reality, not someone else's opinions. Since the text is grammatically coherent and communicates intelligible ideas, we can understand it.
C) Yes, although how well we understand it depends on how closely our interpretations sync up with the writer's.
D) No, we only ever understand how we feel about what they wrote. 
E) None of the above (Please fill in your own answer here)_______________________________________________________
6) Is the writer genuinely attempting to be understood?
A) No, they consider genuine understanding to be impossible. 
B) Yes, they are in pursuit of a seemingly futile goal. 
C) No, they are being deliberately vague to conceal a lack of insight. 
D) Yes, and the words chosen express exactly what they were trying to say. 
E) None of the above (Please fill in your own answer here)_______________________________________________________

7) According to the writer, is writing possible? 
A) I'm pretty sure writing is impossible.
B) I'm pretty sure writing and being read is impossible. 
C) Writing involves the formation of a "self" that I'm not ready to share with anyone; that's how much I fear intimacy.
D) The horrifying thing about writing is that no one ever understands what you're saying. 
E) None of the above (Please fill in your own answer here)_______________________________________________________

Wouldn't the "best answer" always be some variation of E, as it's always possible to clarify and expand upon one of the other four answers? 
A) Yes, any statement can always be clarified and improved upon. 
B) Maybe, it depends whether we are capable of improving on the other answers or not. 
C) No, because by that logic any answer in E could then be subsequently improved upon, ensuring that it will never be the best possible answer. 
D) There are no best answers. 
E) None of the above (Please fill in your own answer here)_______________________________________________________

9) What, exactly, is "the horrifying thing about writing"? 
A) The realization that no one will ever fully understand you, and that you will never fully understand anyone else, because we all irreparably view things through our own sets of filters. 
B) The realization that you will never be able to precisely express what you mean, not even to yourself.
C) Being exposed. Being seen. Being judged.
D) The realization that you have nothing meaningful to say, and that the only value your words have are in the insights of people who read their own ideas into them.
E) None of the above (Please fill in your own answer here)_______________________________________________________

 How would the writer most likely feel about you trying to interpret what this piece means? 
A) They would be relieved that someone was trying to understand them. 
B) They would be horrified that they were being subject to someone else's interpretation. 
C) They would be resigned to the inadequacy of writing as an expression of meaning. 
D) It doesn't matter at all how they feel. 
E) None of the above (Please fill in your own answer here)_______________________________________________________

Thus ends the test. Thank you for your time. You will not be graded.
sadoeuphemist: (Default)
"I resent these repeated accusations that I am a ghoul. It's a slur; it's an insidious insinuation. As if I would haunt graveyards. As if I crave the flesh of the dead.

"We all understand what it means to accuse someone of ghoulishness, yes? My opponents would have you believe that I am some macabre scavenger that grows fat off slaughter, slavering at the mouth, eager to pick through the aftermath of wars. As if I am shepherding your children off to die and to be rendered into meat. My opponents would have you believe that there is something morbid, something fundamentally inhuman and antithetical to life about my policies, merely because of the death toll associated with them. I assure you that nothing could be further from the truth.

"I want you to note the absurdity of this accusation - as if a ghoul creates corpses instead of consuming them. It would be as if wolves, hungry for mutton, midwife young lambs into existence, delicately tending to them until they are old enough to devour! Nothing of the sort! The act of creating corpses, my dear friends, far from being ghoulish, signifies a living, bloody, voracious appetite. From the smallest mote to the noblest beast, nothing can survive without predation. Is it ghoulish, my friends, when a hunter corners its prey, tears apart its throat and partakes of its flesh? Of course not! It is perfectly natural and vibrant and healthy. To kill is the most natural thing in the world.

"Will people die due to my policies? Of course. They will die in the thousands. But this is part and parcel of the metabolisms of a nation.
Was Sahib Qiran a ghoul when he stacked the skulls of his foes into minarets? When white-skinned Quetzalcoatl donned flesh and began the conquest of the fifth world, was he ghoulish in his slaughter? Was Conotocaurious a ghoul as he devoured villages whole? Are nations little more than a banquet table built upon a charnel house?

"No, no, and a thousand times no. These were great men, generals, murderers. And yet rather than recognize the greatness of what we have accomplished, my opponents would have you believe that my policies are little more than the self-serving plot of a ghoul. The cowards who dare to defame me seek to exploit your natural horror of death. They tell you thousands will die, and they would have you believe that this is unnatural, despicable, immoral. They tell you only a ghoul would desire such a thing. And yet they fail to see the utter hypocrisy in their actions. They are the ones who feed upon the dead, are they not? They are the ones who haunt graveyards. My opponents cling to the dead and wail for sympathy, they pick among the remains and seek out the choice bits, constantly worrying the scraps of bone between their teeth. Just listen to them, to the false compassion in their voices, shrieking and hooting over every new corpse that is buried, eager to uncover it.

"A predator, my friends, is no ghoul. A ghoul accomplishes nothing, neither hunts nor kills. A ghoul, a true ghoul, feeds on stagnancy and inaction, wallows in past mistakes and sorrows. A ghoul can only sustain itself upon the corpses created by those more dedicated to the pursuit of life. Myself, I have nothing but distaste for the dead. I shudder at the thought of corpse-eating. The dead are dead, they are buried and sealed away and rotting, far from the sight of all good and civilized people.

"I assure you, my friends, I have only ever fed upon the living."
sadoeuphemist: (Default)
All I want is
All you want is
All I want is
To live without restriction.

Let's pretend we're improvising,
Say, "Yes, and" to everything:

Yes I love you and
Yes I need you and
Yes we'll be here for each other
And Yes and Yes and Yes and Yes and -
Until we're overflowing.

No scripts to follow, roles to play,
Generations' worth
Of learned behaviors.
No more hesitation, waiting
For a prompt, a cue, anything
To tell us it's okay to act
Or what to be afraid of.

Just Yes your hands and Yes my hands
And Yes all hands reaching out to us
And Yes your lips and Yes your thighs and Yes teeth Yes throat Yes tongue and
Your voice my lips and Yes each other -

Let's pretend we can't say "No"
As if that's the only thing between us;
As if all I want is
All you want is
All I want is
sadoeuphemist: (Default)
Some books (and I mean this)
have greater worth as ashes. 
People underestimate the value of a fire,
both practical, as in for warmth, and
in a very real way beautiful, more so
than a mediocre novel could hope to be. 

Myself, I like to destroy books.
I like to compress them into pulp, the back cover
peeling off into rolls of dead skin as
it rubs against my palms. Oh, 
I love to devour books, warping pages
with the imprint of my fingers, 
darkening pages with my drool
and snot and sweat and 
everything clinging to my dirty little hands
until the words run and become nonsensical. 
I've digested books like fiber, shitting out
their words, rearranged. 
I love books. I own a library. 
I've never read the same book twice. 

So I can understand burning books. 
You get the light, yes,
and you get the warmth and 
the scent of smoke and the roar of the flames. 
Whereas if I'd read them 
I'd have wads of yellowed paper taking
up space on my bookshelves,
full of silverfish nests and mildew and 
the dumpy satisfaction of having been read.
But the fire! Oh -
but the fire, all-voracious,
needy, guttering, maddened with hunger, 
devouring books whole to survive. 
There could be anything in those ashes,
in those pages, in those burnt
and blackened imaginings. 
There could be a monster in there. 
There could be an apocalypse in there. 

There could be the worst thing in the world. 
sadoeuphemist: (Default)
There is nothing at all you have to be afraid of. 

Fear is an immediate, visceral response based on proximity, a close and present danger. A threat to your continued existence. And yet your life, your hands, your children, your friends, your country, your identity has been extended outward, trembling at the touch of a spider's leg upon your extremities. A shiver goes running up your spine. Your brain has been extracted from your skull and placed in a great glass bowl that magnifies your senses. You can see for thousands of miles, you can sense vibrations from continents away. Good lord. People are dying. A great bristling hairy menace crawls across the land. The air trembles at its name. 

Know that you are safe in here. 

You will not die, and you will not die, and you will not die. The great glass bowl inoculates you from consequence. You will go about your day steeping in your own worry, a-tremble at every twitch and tremor, sick with a morbid compassion, perfectly safe from harm. People will be slaughtered, in ones and twos and tens and thousands, and you will know them only tangentially at best, names and faces that flicker across the glass. Friends, acquaintances, perhaps, but no one so close that you would be dragged down with them. It couldn't happen here and it has happened here and it will never happen to you. 

Look at the statistics, look at the facts. At all the people who have died, and all and all and all the people who have lived.

You have no reason at all to be afraid. 
sadoeuphemist: (Default)
The Black Rope is braided together from your hair, your dead skin cells, every scab and clot and bit of detritus that has sloughed off your body, every matted wad harvested from a shower drain combed out and braided together into a dead black cord. It is slightly thinner than your wrist and hangs suspended from the sky, dancing in the wind, one end disappearing into the distance. You can grasp it easily, loop it around your arms, and it supports your weight. The Black Rope is greased with your oils and sebum, made shiny and pliant so that it coils and bends with ease. It feels familiar against your skin.

It has been made especially for you, over the course of a lifetime.

The Black Rope sheds hairs as you touch it, black lines that mark out paths on your skin. They hide in the furrows of your palms, they cling to your sweat, impossible to peel off. You dig into your skin with your fingernails and the black lines merely writhe across your flesh like snakes. You are marked. The blades will come and trace along the lines, trace along your destiny, slitting you open according to the meridians of your body, following the paths of your veins. You cling to the Black Rope regardless. It is the only thing you have left of your life.
The Black Rope stinks of shit, of sweat, of unwashed hair. It coils like entrails. It is real, visceral, in a way that nothing else is. The Black Rope is warm. There is some decomposition in its tightly woven core, some process of decay that gives off heat. The Black Rope cradles you, comforts you. Knotted, it serves as a harness. Pulled taut, it serves as an anchor. You feel its imprints in your flesh, the thin black hairs pressed deep into the welts, embedded in the inflamed skin.

The sky looms infinite and grey above you. You grip the Black Rope, and you begin to climb.


Mar. 21st, 2017 09:06 am
sadoeuphemist: (Default)
The King, still in mourning, built a Labyrinth for his son. Escape would be impossible for a beast, the King believed, for mere bestial impulse could not hope to navigate such a complex cage. But for a human intelligence, the King hoped, escape would be inevitable, as his son would gradually map out each of the branching passageways as the years passed, implacably making his way to the exit, to the only path left unexplored.  

As repayment for what had befallen his son, the King demanded a sacrifice of seven young men and seven young women, their futures snatched from them just as his son's had been. The Labyrinth was fair and equitable and blind in its cruelty, designed so that the youths offered up as sacrifice, and the Minotaur they were to be sacrificed to, would be equally disadvantaged. There was no advantage to be gained in familiarity with the Labyrinth, for all its paths were featureless and all equivalent to one another, and the only way for two strangers to come upon each other was by chance. Neither would know where the other was, for if the Minotaur had been capable of tracking humans through the Labyrinth, he would have long ago found his way to the exit, to his parents. 

In truth, the precise location of the Minotaur, and that of the youths offered up as sacrifice, was a mystery even to the Labyrinth's creators. No one could definitively be said to have been killed by the Minotaur, just as it could not be said definitively that the Minotaur was still alive. Perhaps someone had killed the Minotaur long ago, and was still wandering lost in the Labyrinth, having succumbed to madness and taken on the role of the beast. Perhaps the Minotaur had escaped long ago through a crack in the wall, a carefully dug tunnel, some unforeseen egress, and the Labyrinth had lain empty for years, children wandering lightly through its ruins. Or perhaps the Minotaur had welcomed them all in as kindred souls, and together they had built a society hidden from the eyes of their parents. Perhaps they had decided that they would rather remain together in the Labyrinth than return to a world that had sent them there to die. 

In this way, the King was more disadvantaged than them all, never knowing who was still alive and who was dead, never daring to venture into the Labyrinth himself. He looked upon its walls, upon the impossible intricate passages that blocked all things from sight, and sat at the entrance of the Labyrinth, mourning the loss of his son. 


Mar. 17th, 2017 02:52 pm
sadoeuphemist: (Default)
"THE DEMIGORGES1 OF A BASTION2 are formed by producing the adjoining curtains3, until they meet the capital of the bastion.4
. . .
"It has two faces, two demigorges, and two extremities."5
- Sir Charles William Pasley, Lieut.-Colonel Royal Engineers, F.R.S.
Course of Military Instruction, Volume II: Containing Elementary Fortification

"In the first he makes the demi-gorge equal to 24 toises6 in the square, 25 in the pentagon, 26 in the hexagon, 27 in the heptagon, 28 in the octagon, 29 in the enneagon, and 30 in the decagon, and all higher polygons.7
. . . 
"His flanks are on right lines, drawn from the center of the figure through the extremities of the demi-gorges.8
. . . 
"...120 toises, from the center of the figure to the middle of which he suppose a perpendicular to be drawn, and to be divided into n+1 parts (n being the number of the sides), two of which he allows for each of the demi-gorges, and three for each of the capitals9, from the outer extremities of which last, rasant10 lines of defence, drawn to the extremities of the demi-gorges or curtain, determine the lengths of the flanks, which are on right lines, drawn from the center of the figure, and the positions and lengths of the faces of the bastions."11
-Charles James, An Universal Military Dictionary

"COMPLEMENT of the Courtin [in Fortification] is that part of the Courtin, which (being wanting) is the Demi-gorge, or the Remainder of the Courtin, after its Flank is taken away, to the Angle of the Demi-gorge."12
-Nathan Bailey, An Universal Etymological English Dictionary

1. Etymologically, DEMIGORGE would seem to derive from demi-, half, and gorge, throat: a blocked windpipe, the inability to swallow. Or, perhaps, a reminder that our appetites are not entirely essential. It follows a string of false cognates beginning from Demiurge (δημιουργός, craftsman, the creator of our debased world) to Demogorgon (a deity invented wholesale by Lactantius in third century AD, Dicit deum Demogorgona summum) to Demogorge (the God-Eater, a deity invented by Alan Zelenetz and Bob Hall for Marvel Comics in 1982). The deities share no etymology or genealogy but the similarity of their names, words picked for what they sound like, stripped of any definite meaning and inviting supposition. All variants of DEMIURGE are gods or demons that rule the world, born of word association. 

2. Demigorges are military deities, the genii loci of bastions. A bastion is a pentagrammic projection from a fortress, a promontory into a hostile sea. Despite this, a bastion is also held as a place of safekeeping and preservation. By the rules of the demigorges, the only way to defend something (our nation, our freedom, our way of life) is to assert it outwards offensively.

3. Demigorges are completely artificial, twice-constructed, "formed by producing". A curtain veils and reveals, serves as an element of theater. Demigorges are formed through an artificial revelation, the curtains parting to reveal what has deliberately been kept hidden.

4. Even a bastion, as an extension of a fortress, forms its own politics and political capital. Every forward thrust collects its own power, finds its own center. Pioneers build colonies, explorers found nations. A nation expands from the point of a blade.

5. Demigorges are anatomical, part of some larger organism, functioning according to bilateral symmetry. Man creates the world in his image. Demigorges are what remain between a face and an extremity, between what sees and consumes and what extends outwards.

6. A toise is a unit of measurement for length, area, and volume simultaneously. It is either exactly 6 feet, or exactly 2 meters, or 1.8 meters, or about 3.799 square meters, or 8 cubic meters altogether. Within a toise, all conceptions of distance and space fold into one another. To mark out a border is to enclose a territory, to claim a territory necessitates inhabiting it in three dimensions. Maps make fortresses, make nations.

As a demigorge is composed of multiple toises, it is simultaneously one-, two-, and three-dimensional, existing within all planes of order and expanding to fill the space it is allotted. It inhabits the space of higher polygons. It inhabits the space of a straight line.

8. A demigorge is pierced through its flanks, through its still-beating heart, crucified upon a divine geometry. Crucifixion splays the condemned out on display as a deterrence to other potential offenders. A demigorge, up to its extremities, is a display of the potentiality of its violence enacted upon itself. 

9. The figure is drawn, divided, sliced into parts, the capitals being accorded a larger portion of the share than the demigorges
. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's. 

10. Rasant: archaic, meaning long, sweeping, curving, arcing off into the distance, such that a shot fired will fall off and merely graze the target. Such a term presumes that an army's strength weakens at its extremities, that there are no weapons of war that can inflict destruction from miles away. The arc is of history, the last line of defense a wavering, dying line tracing back to a past where there was a limit to our abilities to destroy.

11. Any attempt to define a demigorge necessarily degenerates into archaic jargon and obscurantism, the words themselves imbued with a quasi-mystic power due to their mystery:
the essence of the occult. Meaning is obliterated; we are left with fleeting bits of familiar-sounding phrases, word association, trying to piece together an equation we no longer understand.The demigorges stretch from the outer extremities, the last lines of defense. They determine the positions and lengths and faces, our bastion walls stare out of us. The demigorges are artificial, we have constructed them in their entirety (As we constructed squares and pentagons and enneagons? Or was that always merely our uncovering of a higher geometrical reality?). What have we created for ourselves?
12. A demigorge can be understood as an absence, an incompleteness, an amputation. It is a mathematical remainder. It is that which is wanting. A curtain is a court is an enclosure, is a theater of laws and security and fortification and all the promises of nation. A curtain encloses a space for playacting, the representation of something that otherwise doesn't exist. The curtains part and a barren stage is revealed, dancers with their legs amputated. Bastions project outwards into hostile territory, but the nation itself is hollow, reduced to nothing but border, nothing left behind it. Its Flank is taken away, to the Angle of the Demi-gorge.
sadoeuphemist: (Default)
it's a flock of birds

it's stick figures

it's a map of dead people

they are at war they are at war, caveman paintings crossed out and scrawled over

oh god they're all dying

i am looking at the surface of the sea
sadoeuphemist: (Default)
Little girls are made of 
(or so they say)
But you are a little
TOO spicy today!

Being ugly AND 
not listening
are not nice,
maybe next time you'll think twice
because a little girl who 
will be a little girl who 
has  to  SIT!
sadoeuphemist: (Default)
PLAYERNAME! The world wants you dead, PLAYERNAME! You have died so many times, and you will die so many times more!
Your spirit has wandered, restless, rootless, clutching at the dirt with eyes fixed on the horizon, and now finally you have been born into paradise. You will make your way to the center of the world, and there you will find Death waiting for you. You have never before felt so alive.

You were born empty-handed. You were born clenching your hand into a fist. You raise your head to the sky and listen to the howls of the wind. You strike flint against steel. You make fire. The flickering flames light the crumbling walls of dawn. We live in the ruins of Empire. We crouch between the rusted-out husks of war machines, skulk through sunken labyrinths whose purpose is lost to time. There are treasures down there, the discarded dreams of gods. The world is overgrown, our parents dead, the wilderness come creeping in through the cracks. We live upon the carcass of some great beast, and we have built houses of its bones, picking away at the flesh. We are a carrion generation. We trace the boundaries of fallen walls and cross them easily, lightly, marveling at our lack of restriction. We wander. We take in the sights and marvel at our dreams come to pass.

Our dream is a fire, a moment to warm ourselves by, and a world that requires moments of warmth. Our dream is a torch raised against the dark. Our dream is a bent tin cup that fits in our hands, and a river to fill it from. Our dream is an ancient and broken beast of war, lurching across the landscape waiting to die, its eye bright and deadly as we crouch low and follow its tracks. Our dream is the strain of a bowstring drawn taut, the line of sight down the arrow to a quavering heart. Our dream is a herb to quell the bleeding, another to inflame the blood, combining in the desperate rush and fever of battle. Our dream is a weathered armory: broadswords, daggers, battleaxes, spears, all unearthed from the ground or pried free from an enemy's fist, lovingly adorned in notches and rust. Our dream is everything we can carry on our backs, and all the world waiting for us to harvest.
You take circuitous routes; you uncover. You discover names from a previous life. PLAYERNAME! You have lived a life before this, have you not? You have journeyed far to reach here. You have come seeking your death. 

Here is the backstory, here is the secret: You are a child of Empire. You were born from here, indubitably, born of the same impulse for conquest. These dead war machines once warred in your name, in lands far, far from your sight. You have felt the weight of Empire upon you, the records and the registers, the rows of ordered streets, the cogs of the machines that once built your life. The soldiers kept you safe and the Empire extracted your weight's worth of toil. You earned a salary. You walked through these once-lit halls, these labyrinths, these intricate interlocking grids, and at one point in your life made sense of them as if you had been born and bred to do so.

You knew your place, your position, your purpose. You were numbered and weighted according to your worth. You labored secure in the belly of a great beast, scurrying through its veins, as it strode across the world and razed it clean. There were no wolves or dragons or crows to menace you then, merely the churn and metabolism of the machine - the prospect of demotion, unemployment, a slow and ordered obsolescence. You sat at your workstation and you dreamed. You dreamed of paradise. You dreamed of death.

This is what you have sought, is it not? The end of civilization. The end of security. All the walls that once restricted you come tumbling down. In the end, the empire that built all this could no longer sustain its own appetites. You have witnessed the decline of the ages of man. Here, at the end of the world, we own only what we can forage, what we can take for ourselves, what we can carry on our backs. There are no more machines to partition out our meager shares, no more rules or accountings. You have seen your masters killed, you have seen your coworkers massacred in the thousands, and you thrilled at it, at all the new possibilities. This was not an empire worth saving. Now there is birdsong. Now there is a space for you to call your own. 

You are pulled between the corners of the world. You move through the countryside and reap the remains of the dead - teeth and pelts and arrows and pouches of jingling coins, crudely-drawn maps and lists of instructions, boots and cloaks and tunics too commonplace to wear. You slit a throat. You uncover a bounty. There is a hole in your heart that you despair at ever filling. It is impossibly deep, bounded by the lines of a grid. It is a void. It is a blueprint of a house of empty rooms. 

At first you picked mushrooms, herbs, fruit, wildflowers, everything that grew freely in the countryside ready for the taking. You stripped dead bodies clean, weighing new weapons in each hand, judging their heft and weight. You took everything that sparkled, everything new, everything that shined. You delighted in discovery, that a vole's fur could be used to line the inside of your boots, while a fox's could make a hat. That bristlewood burned quick and that asphodel drew spirits to its warmth. That the green mushrooms would keep you from death while the red would make you swift. You made a rainbow of bottled potions. You jangled with empty bottles that you hoped to eventually fill.  Your coats grew thick. You bulged with possibility. You were at first amazed by all that you could carry, and then gradually frustrated by the limits of it once you came to take your capacity for granted. You would find a new trinket and lack the space for it, wasting accumulated hours sorting and resorting, choosing what to discard. Why had you ever harvested so many vole pelts to begin with? What purpose did they serve? There were so many better things to own, better things to accumulate. 

You grew stronger by possession, and then stronger still. You unearthed the weapons of our ancestors. You bore the weapons of the Dead. Now you wield a flaming sword, bear a quiver of gleaming arrows that can pierce the heart of steel. You have bottled aether that renders you impervious to harm, impossible to touch. A resurrection stone pulses in your pocket, a second heartbeat. Your armor is dragonbone, twisting outwards into serpentine coils like evil taking root, impossible to ever fully destroy. Your steed can chase the four winds and trample them beneath its hooves. What have you left to desire? What have you left to fear? The flowers of the earth are useless to you now, as are the fruiting trees and the delicate creatures that scamper across the soil. Everything you own is parceled out, judged fit for use, classified, sorted, valued, and ultimately discarded as inferior to what you already carry. You have only ever interacted with the world via possession.

You cannot conceive of the wily fox without accounting for its pelt, its meat, its tooth and fang, the arrow used to kill it. You cannot understand a tree without the axe you used to fell it, the wood it provides. A fire is the wood, flint, steel, or a torch or an elemental flame or an explosive to light the spark. A human being is what they have to sell, what they will buy from you, what you can give them and what they will give you in return, and now they have nothing left that you need. You have discovered paradise and through your works rendered it worthless. This is the inescapable disease of your soul. You have been born into a world without restriction, and yet you only understand it through accounting. You only understand the world through Inventory.

The Empire is dead, murdered by your desire, and yet you have brought its blueprints forward with you. You have reproduced the beast in miniature, ever rapacious, mindlessly acquisitive. You have conquered the world. You have weighed it and found it wanting. You have resurrected the war machines of the dead, and you stand poised to destroy. What now, PLAYERNAME? What further progress can be made from here? 

You abandon your caches, your hidden stores of goods. You wander into the wilderness. You will find your way to the center of the world, and there you will find Death.

Do you hear the song? Do you hear the voices of the damned? They sing for salvation. They sing for retribution.The world will turn, the cosmos will complete another cycle. Everything we have earned and known is lost. You will forget. You will begin again.

PLAYERNAME! The world wants you dead, PLAYERNAME. You have died so many times, and you will die so many, many times more.
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There is a tragedy at the end of this story, there is a monster at the end of this book. Stop now. Read no further. The deeper you go the more it'll hurt.

Poor lovable old Grover, a shaggy paranoiac, unable to realize that there was nothing worse than himself waiting at the end. But you're not Grover, nor am I, are we? We do not have his earnestness, his simple good nature; we are not fit for children. We can imagine worse than monsters. We can imagine things that are real.

Let's start at the most basic bad end: everyone dies. They die cruelly and brutally and unfairly, and they die because the story demands it. A pair of tragic queers, rendered profound and literary by death. You walk alongside these beautiful, lovable, relatable characters, you get inside their heads, you feel their joy and you feel their pain, and you watch them die. This is how the story should go, must go, does go, according to a set of dramatic rules written by a society that can only sympathize with you through tragedy. That's the one connection we all have with each other, isn't it? Everyone knows how heartbreaking it would be to have to watch our loved ones die.

So here's a worse ending: everyone dies, and you never saw it coming. You followed the clues, the hints, the premonitions. All the carefully placed foreshadowings. Here was a promise. Here was a beating, living thread running through the story towards a bright and subversive end. You thought you knew, you thought you understood, you thought that in the small moments of intimacy you were being promised a happy ending. You put your faith in the author, and they twisted the knife and betrayed you.

It's so cruel in how banal it is, watching everything so carefully and lovingly built swept away by a cruel idiot god, the world capitulating to dull rote tragedy. Nothing that was promised came to pass. Everyone else nods along, satisfied by the rules of drama, scoffing at you behind their smiles. It's poison, isn't it, that sharp tang of disillusionment in your veins. How could you have been so fucking wrong? How could you have not seen it coming?

Here comes the intrusive thought. It's you, isn't it? You're the monster at the end of the book. It's been you all this time.

A story shouldn't be able to hurt you, not like this. An ending shouldn't make you sick to your gut, it shouldn't make you mentally unstable. It shouldn't make your shoulders tense up into a rock when you think about it, it shouldn't keep you awake at night. It shouldn't feel like a betrayal. What were you promised? What were you owed? How deeply did you have to scratch to get that one speck of reassurance? A story's nothing, a bunch of fantasies and indulgences someone else put together. Imagine putting your faith into that, into a commercial enterprise, into a vanity project. Imagine clinging to someone else's world and bleeding into it, contaminating it with your delusions, as if you had no greater dreams of your own. Get over it. Grow up. Write your own stories. 

And here's how those stories end: you try, and you can't imagine anything better.

You know how happy endings should go; it's simple, a confluence of events. The right people ending up together. Long and lazy afternoons in each other's arms. Two faces drawing in together for a kiss. An avowal of love. A completion. Someone learning how to love and to be loved in return. But they're all so hollow and vapid when you write them down, just words without structure. You want to build. You have entire worlds to use as foundation. But it's not enough. It'll never be enough.

You can rewrite stories, you can go on tangents, you can imagine any number of better endings. But you don't want just a happy ending. You want all the happy endings, and yes even the sad ones and the bittersweet ones; you want a multiplicity of endings so that you can pick and choose at your leisure, so you can see a future opening up before you. You don't want to have to rely on your own fantasies, live inside your own head.  People have built their own carefully curated worlds, and all you want it to see is worlds that have room for you in them.

Because it was your story, absolutely. Every story you read is yours, every story that you bite down on and read through. It's your own voice in your head narrating, your imagination bringing the characters to life and filling in the blanks. When someone speaks to you and shares their story, it's not complete until you understand them. This was your story too, your hopes, your anticipation, everything you clung to and adored and extrapolated outwards, this was your faith in another human being. And that's the real tragedy: that you're being allowed access into someone's head, that you're touching at their heart, that you're seeing their potentiality and imagination laid out in letters, and it's all so cruelly insufficient.

That's the universal theme of tragedy, of loss, of severed connections. That's why all these stories have unhappy endings. That's all we have, each other, and if all we have is each other then it isn't enough.

Imagine even your favorite author, and realize that everything they've put into words is only a fraction of the overwhelming tempest that is another human being. Everything they've written up till now, their whole canon, every insight they've had that's touched you to your very soul, all that could be obliterated by a cruelty, drowned, swallowed whole; and you can't just close the book and cut them out of your life. This transcends fiction; this is a living, breathing reality. Someone out there is callously indifferent to your suffering, or wants you to suffer, or is suffering themselves.

Maybe an author is only as good as their society encourages them to be, and they bristle and turn hostile when you poke at their blind spots. Or maybe something worse happens. Maybe they sink into depression and try to abnegate everything they've previously created, destroying themselves entirely. Or maybe they turn their hostility outwards in a desperate need to excoriate their imagined foes. Maybe there's been something in them, something building, some dark and ugly bigotry that they need to expel, that they need to write down just to get it out there and done with. And if the worst happens - who would you be to deny them? You can't trust authors because you can't trust people to be themselves, free from dejection and bitterness and self-loathing. You can't stop seeing yourself reflected in their worst impulses.

Here's the worst end of all: you are drawn to these cruelties, in the end, because it's all you can really imagine. You were not made for happiness, that's why you so desperately seek it somewhere else. You imagine the world as a series of catastrophic failures, and you can't fully connect with another human being unless you see the same impulse in them, unless you're standing with them on the edge of a cliff, unless you're seeing them bloody and raw and touching the exposed nerve. An author subsumes you just as much as you do them, and you're in their head, an imaginary audience who they're pleading to for understanding. They write for you, and you imagine mental breakdowns, you imagine intrusive thoughts forcing themselves out onto a keyboard, you imagine unhinged moments of catharsis. You want to be privy to their pain. It's the only form of intimacy you can truly imagine.

There's a tragedy to end here, there's a monster at the end of this book. You must have seen it coming. It's me, and there's been no one here but me all along. It's just me. It is I. Here I am.
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"You're waiting for a train. A train that will take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you, but you can't know for sure. Yet it doesn't matter! Now tell me why!"

Subways, rail transit, cars inching through traffic, pedicabs, taxis, motorcycles, Uber drivers, a city criss-crossed by a tangle of lines choking out the air, choking out the horizon. Go liminal. Float. This is an instance which will be over once we hit our destination, once the doors slide open, once the engines die, once we peel ourselves free from the sheer flood of humanity and reassert our individuality. No one likes being caught in traffic.

"You never really remember the beginning of a dream, do you?" says Dom Cobb, in the movie Inception. "You always wind up right in the middle of what's going on."

"I guess, yeah," says Ariadne.

"So how did we end up here?"

Walkways, bicycles, strolls along the cobbled streets, buses, jitneys, intimate two-person car rides. Ariadne grasps for an answer and comes up with a blank. Without any pathways to tie it down, the city disintegrates  into a slow-motion atmosphere of debris, a million fragmentary points all equidistant. Dreams lack transit, dreams lack forward momentum. This is unreal. How else could we have ended up here? 

Ride backwards, searching for a beginning. Even remembering the route to the restaurant wouldn't have proved anything - if this is how we got from point A to B, then how did we get to point A to begin with? There's always something earlier, a series of precursor events stretching backwards until they blur at the limits of memory. Dom Cobb awakes in an airplane. He is in an airport. He is at his house, about to meet his children. What happened in the interim, in that split-second of black between frames as the camera cuts to something new? How did he end up here? How are we sure that he's not still dreaming?

The world we've constructed for ourselves is unbearable. We are pressed into the service of vast corporations, we long to spend more time with our children. We are consumed by the recurring patterns of regret. We seek escape. Transit. Purpose. We are going somewhere. We have somewhere to be. There is a direction to our lives, no matter how circuitous and oppressive they may seem. We board airplanes, trams, passenger cars, re-purposed army jeeps, and lulled by the cradle of motion, we let our minds wander. We drift off into unconsciousness.

We are waiting for a train.

Waking consciousness is held together by a connective tissue of lapses, losses of attention, moments where nothing happens. To remember everything, every single moment that led us to this point, every wandering thought and irritation, would be unbearable. We navigate our way by landmarks, memorable events, the roads between them blurring into abstraction, the gap between frames. We mark our lives by motion, to somewhere, from somewhere, elevating two arbitrary points and glossing over what happens in transit. We tell stories. We leave things out. That's a jump cut, an edit, a split-second of black: the formation of a narrative.

This is not the language of dreams. Dreams have no beginnings because they have no middles, punctuated only by the abrupt end of waking. Dreams are thoughtlessly egalitarian, proceeding from one event to another without worry of transition: 'We were all riding in my dad's motorcycle and the sidecar was huge, as big as a camper, and we were driving along a winding road at the edge of a cliff, and I was standing up and I could feel the wind and I was in my underwear and, and, and.' An undifferentiated series of 'ands' like a rock rolling down a cliff, no detail more or less important than any other. To ask 'How did we get here?' is to attempt to impose the logic of narrative, to look backwards and realize there's no trajectory that led us to this moment, just a jumbled sequence of semi-conscious events. Our waking mind edits, makes cuts, leaves things out. And then we go to sleep and all the raw material of our perceptions comes tumbling out.

Dreams are real. Movies aren't.

There are no transitions in real life, just the undifferentiated continuum of existence. People die in car crashes returning home from the airport, petty, abrupt tragedies that would senselessly ruin a movie. It's madness to jump off a ledge in an attempt to try and wake up from a dream. But in the waking world, people jump off buildings every day for less, not even believing in a world waiting on the other side. Dangling plot lines that never reach a resolution, lives that lurch into no purpose but disorder.

We lay our heads down on the tracks and we listen to the vibrations.

There's a sensation while traveling, being in transition, similar to but more extreme than deja vu. It's the feeling of having already experienced a moment that hasn't yet happened. We have entered unreality, windows and windshield forming an embryonic cocoon, the outside world blurred by motion. The journey is a mere frame of blackness, already edited out in post. We are already at work, already back home, already at our destination. Nothing we do in the interim matters. How did we end up here? How did it come to this? The world becomes unreal, unbearable, and the desire for motion resolves into its simplest form: a car crash, a derailment, a sinking ship, the straight line between the window ledge and the street. 

We'll crash, we tell ourselves, we're already dead, repeating it until we can almost see it happening. The steering wheel swings magnetic in our grip, veering towards tragedy, film unspooling. We are going to die. We are going to die. We are going to die. Metal sings. The car shudders into realization. The world disintegrates around us into a void of motion, glass fragments suspended in mid-air to form a sky of glittering purposeless stars, and we gasp and jolt upwards into dreaming.
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a friend who is completely dependent on you, who you legally own, and who you will someday probably have to euthanize.

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Step 1: Take the figure of a cyclist, bent double on his bike, pedaling furiously.

Step 2: Trace an aerodynamic shape over it, like an extension of the helmet or the nose of a bullet train, such that only the wheels and perhaps the pedals and feet are left visible at the bottom.

Step 3: Reproduce the shape, pasting it beneath the first and slightly to the rear. Repeat the process such that the segments stretch backwards indefinitely in a serpentine curve.

Step 4: Voilà! A Velocipede!


Feb. 22nd, 2017 07:16 pm
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Captain America is in a battle against reality! Aren't we all, aren't we all.

His foe, the Red Skull, wields the Cosmic Cube, an artifact of pure imposition. It is reality, compacted into its most stable form: six faces, twelve edges, eight vertices. It is a comic book construct inked in with a ruler and the Hand of God, it is a comic book itself, all the panels folded in on each other to take on a three-dimensional form. It is a what-if, it is an elseworld, it is an imaginary story. Within its six faces it contains every single story that has ever existed or could ever possibly be told.

The Cosmic Cube, being geometrically perfect, fits poorly in a human hand. The edges cut into the skin, the vertices pierce the flesh. It is the antithesis of organic design. It is a doomsday weapon, it is a plot device, it is the reduction of the world to a set of straight lines. It would take a fascist to effectively wield it, or an artist, someone with the ego to rewrite reality in their image. 

Captain America, at the mercy of the Red Skull, throws himself against blank white walls, tenses and holds his shield at the ready. He is a spot of ink, a figment. His history is erased and rewritten. His screams disappear into the ether. His body blurs. He is a double-agent, he is rendered into a fascist. His allies are arrayed against him. Across the sides of the Cube are the Red Skull's fingers, encompassing his world. The odds are insurmountable. By all rights, the Red Skull should obliterate him completely, smear the red, white and blue into an ugly little splotch on the backside of history. 

So: Why does Captain America continue to exist? 

The only reasonable explanation is metatextual, bleeds upwards to pathology. The Red Skull, fascist that he is, cannot imagine an existence post-victory, cannot imagine an end to the battle. There must always be a foe to defeat, to humiliate, to dominate, to stomp into the dust. To call it overconfidence would be to underestimate the depths of the human spirit. The Red Skull does not believe he is sure to win. He believes he will cease to exist once he does. Poised on the verge of eliminating his nemesis entirely, he would rather resort to self-sabotage: a weak grip, an overlooked variable, a faltering of the will. Captain America is all but irrelevant in the conclusion to this battle. The Red Skull inevitably engineers his own downfall. 

The Cosmic Cube, six faces, twelve edges, eight vertices, comprises the limits to imagination. These are the comics we read. These are the stories we tell. Every month another comic book comes out, and the never-ending battle continues. Captain America persists, and so does the Red Skull. They die and are resurrected, they change costumes, they change forms. They are replaced by successors and impostors, they resurface under different faces and different names. For all his Cosmic power, the Red Skull is an archetype, a caricature of a Nazi, just paper and ink like his nemesis. The stories tell us that even in the most dire of circumstances, Nazis are self-defeating, that all the American spirit needs to do to triumph is to keep alight its flagging flame, to battle against all odds with neither fear nor surrender. 

The stories tell us that America is set against an omnipotent foe, besieged, ever-noble, battling against an existential threat for his survival. The stories tell us that America exists within the parameters of a fascist imagination.

Captain America, in one of his myriad forms, is Sam Wilson, an African-American man with a history subject to revision. Sam Wilson was a partner of the original Captain America, and eventually took on the mantle as his replacement. He is a creation of the Cosmic Cube, or a victim of it, defined by the limitations of reality. Subject to the Cosmic Cube, Sam Wilson contains multitudes:

In one dimension, Sam Wilson is a social worker who comes upon an indigenous tribe under the control of a cabal of fascists, and leads them in a rebellion. He is an intrinsically good and righteous man, the stuff that heroes are made of. He would only naturally partner with Captain America, would only naturally be chosen to serve as his successor. Good is good and evil is evil, transcending the petty divisions of race, and the heroes inevitably triumph and are recognized. 

In a second dimension, Sam Wilson is a construct, sleeper agent, an invention of the Red Skull. His original identity is Snap Wilson, a man who weathered a harsh world to succeed as a mobster, his identity overwritten into the perfect black man to appeal to America's imagination. "I knew exactly what kind of man would most appeal to your sniveling liberalism," the Red Skull sneers, Cosmic Cube firmly in his grip. "An upright, cheerful negro with a love of the same 'brotherhood' you cherish!" The lurking evil is the failure to accept reality, gladly swallowing up a happy fiction while ignoring the possibility for malice and betrayal. But in the end the trap is sprung, and as always, the Red Skull's machinations fail. Sam Wilson's heroic nature prevails, artificial and constructed though it might have originally been. 

In the third dimension, the pimp-suited street hustler Snap Wilson is a cruel caricature, a lie created by the Red Skull to undermine and discredit him. The Red Skull was lying all along, using the Cosmic Cube to cast doubt on a good and noble black man, and the true evil in the world is having the lie resonate. Only a bigot could believe it, only a bigot could expect it to be believed. Sam denounces the lie and takes flight, free from the prejudice that sought to defame him. 

All three planes of reality intersect at a single point: Captain America is blameless, victim of a sinister plot, battling the unfortunate facts of reality. The truths about Sam Wilson were true until they weren't, the dodgy racial politics of the past foisted off onto a Nazi. Captain America can be re-imagined as anything, anyone, but only within the rigid confines of the Cube, only so long as he suits the purposes of its wielder. The old Captain America can be reborn as the fascist resurgence of the nation, plotting to overthrow the black man who succeeded him, but only so long as the doctrine is imposed on him externally, out of his control. This is not the America we knew, this is not the America we believed in. We must denounce its existence as a lie, a Nazi imposition. Captain America is still noble and brave and true at heart; Captain America is in a battle against reality!

Aren't we all.

We grip the Cosmic Cube in trembling fingers and feel the power thrumming through its surface; we force the world to reshape itself according to our will. We tell stories. America is a hero. America is a fascist. There is a patriot or traitor in the White House, behind the skin, behind the mask. We look out and see the edges of the Cube enclosing us, gleaming glass framing our cities and streets. We see the fingers closing around the sides of the Cube, another person's will imposing onto ours, threatening to overcome our reality. We are transformed, our histories rewritten, virtue and blame shifting to lead us inevitably to our current reality. We see our own fingerprints on the other side of the glass. And in that moment, we see the limits of our imagination. 


The Cosmic Cube is six faces, twelve edges, eight vertices, reality compacted into its most stable form. It is the embryonic stage of something greater. If left to exist, allowed to evolve, it inevitably develops its own intelligence, develops sentience, breaches the strict boundaries of its design. It expands past its faces, its edges, its vertices, it abandons stability for volition. It extends hands out to the cosmos, it looks upon the universe with new eyes. It unfolds into a heretofore unimagined potential.

It becomes a living being.
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Everything can be reduced to its physical configurations: love, sorrow, human suffering. Don't talk to me of emotion or ideology. A dog can love as well as a human can, or even better, unencumbered by sapience or culture. A dog is a configuration of its parts: a dangling tongue, a panting mouth, a wagging tail, a set of prancing paws, a warm body curled up against you. A dog cannot understand even a fraction of what you are, it does not understand what you do for a living or what you hope to accomplish with your life, it cannot envision the compromises you will both have to make in your lives together, a dog does not speak your language. A dog only understands you by your posture, by your scent, by the tone of your voice, by the touch of your hand on its head. And yet it loves you, doesn't it, unconditionally? You see it in its eyes, in its tongue, in the motion of its muscles, in the twist of its spine, in all its constituent organs. Blood and flesh and tissue, the heat radiating off another living organism: that's love, in all its depth and simplicity.

Imagine cruelty. Even a rock could be cruel. Imagine a nondescript rock whose only salient feature was that it was placed along a certain heavily-trafficked path in such a position so that people who came along that path would inevitably trip on it and stumble and skin their knees and tear loose their toenails - there's a structure to that, a physical inevitability. A configuration of the world seemingly dedicated to causing pain. What else could that be but cruelty?

It lacks intent, you may say. It takes a human to be cruel.  But there's no great intent in cruelty. So much of it is instinctive, unconscious, passionless. A bureaucrat just following protocol, a bigot unthinkingly spouting out a slur, a politician pandering to their constituency. Peel back their eyelids and dig into their brains and ask where the malice is in it, as if malice has any sort of physical properties, as if it can be touched, seen, tasted, smelled, as if it even exists at all. There is no intent to them but gravity, an automatic capitulation to the forces that act upon them. Imagine a rock falling, or a great wheel turning under its own weight. Children starve to death, children die in bombing raids, and they might as well be subject to a massive automated machine for all the malice there is in it. No one aims to starve a child - or a couple of million of them - to death. It just happens, through a certain configuration of events, material economies. A cruelty, like a rock placed upon a path.

You want to believe in humanity, in some vague intangible that transcends our flesh and our skin and hair and blood and bones, you want to believe in evil. Evil must exist, because it repulses you. It twists up your gut to witness, it makes your blood go hot, it elicits a physical response. It must exist, this thing called evil, it must be able to be identified and quantified and fought down and dismantled and scattered to the winds.

You want to believe in things like love and compassion and righteousness and the moral arc of the universe. You want to believe in people. A person is a thing somewhat more than a human, more than the sum of its parts. A person exerts some sort of invisible force, perhaps a form of magnetism that acts upon history. Call it destiny. You want to believe, for example, that two people are inevitably drawn to each other, that there is an end to loneliness and uncertainty. You want to believe that by force of virtue a person will prevail. You have looked upon the world and measured it and quantified it and plotted out its course and found it all insufficient, and so you have come to depend on the intangibles.

You want to believe we were meant for something better. 

Take a moment - disassemble it, analyze its configurations. Two bodies intertwined, slick with sweat, heat radiating off a pair of organisms. Mouth, lips, eyes, tongue. Every formalized hierarchy of values - philosophy, morality, practicality, sheer unvarnished honesty - tells you that this cannot be love. You're bad for each other. You both have your own issues to work out, there is a lover you are being unfaithful to. This is lust, probably, or neediness. This is hormones. This is a deluded attempt at passion. And yet -

You are compatible. You are physically compatible. A human being is made to intertwine with another human being. You slot together, you interact. All the magnetic energy burns up as skin contacts skin, burns up in the body heat. Love transcends boundaries, doesn't it? The simple weight of two bodies burning against each other annihilates tradition and propriety and religion and class and caste and all the predestined arcs of the world. You can feel each others' breath like steam coming off your bodies. In this configuration of possibilities, the other person could be anyone in the world.

We are all human, all warmth, all breath, all skin, all fevered intensity. History evaporates. Any human being on the face of the Earth could fit together with you, naked, in the same configuration. Every bigot and monster in the world, every saint and champion. There is the same blood beneath the skin, there is the same bone beneath the flesh. Every variation shifting off into insignificance. There are no intangibles, none that make sense. You could fuck a monster, you could be birthed from one. Kindness can beget cruelty. A stone gets kicked down the road, a child is born into a different configuration of events, and becomes a completely different person. There are several million configurations of events where you starved to death as a child. None of them came to pass. You breathe in another person's scent, and in that moment you are the universal blueprint for humanity, a variation on a theme, and every monster and murderer and saint and sinner and champion and bigot and victim and lover in the world is mapped out onto your body. It's just the weight and heft and warmth of us, lurching against each other, carrying all the horror and potential in the world in our fragile configurations of flesh.

A heart beats. That's love, isn't it? That's love.
sadoeuphemist: (Default)
There's nothing funny except Nazis anymore. You know how this works, right? Subversion. Escalation. Let's take an example: 

Q: What's worse than finding a worm in your apple?
A: The Holocaust.

The joke works by setting you up for the classic punchline ("Finding half a worm."), and then catching you off-guard with an unexpectedly morbid response. There are an infinite number of things worse than a worm in your apple, the world does not know limits to suffering. Why would you think so small, why would you be so self-obsessed? The answer unseats the basis for your existence. You live in a world where the Holocaust happened. What's eating half a worm compared to that? What's your entire life compared to that?

You may think, PewDiePie brought it on himself. You may think that a YouTube star signed up with Disney would be smart enough to avoid anti-Semetic humor and Hitler jokes, but c'mon, surely you can see the humor in it. Walt Disney hated Jews, or at least was rumored to to hate Jews, or at least hired anti-Semites, or at least was more or less as anti-Semetic than the society he lived in. That cartoon where the Big Bad Wolf dresses up as a Jewish caricature? That was funny for the time! Like all the classic cartoons with blackface! You can't blame Disney for that!

PewDiePie's the logical extension of a Disney classic, a cartoon himself, the high-pitched obnoxious id of our cultural imagination, corporatized and awful and inexplicably popular. Watch him play video games and shriek and spout vulgarities, watch him earn millions of dollars. He's the soul of the internet, of course he would inevitably turn to anti-Semetic humor in a desperate attempt to push the boundaries of his Disney-marketable imagination, of course he would start joking about genocide just to get a laugh. He's hollow within and hollow without, a millionaire for no good reason spawning a thousand unsuccessful imitators, capital unattached to value, the rotted-out void at the center of our global economy. PewDiePie might complain that people don't realize he's joking, but the real horror is that everyone else gets the joke. What's worse than a joke everyone's heard but we keep endlessly retelling?

A: The Holocaust.

Ha! Gotcha again! See, that's the joke! The universal punchline. Humor derives from absurdity, and that's the ultimate absurdity of the world, that Nazi Germany once launched into a campaign of genocidal extermination where they gassed and incinerated over six million Jews - say it again, six million, and know that's only a fraction of the dead - a nation of ordinary men and women complicit in the mechanistic slaughter of millions, and that we live in a world where this was possible and where it could very well be possible again. The Holocaust is not yet out of living memory and the Nazis have rebranded as the alt-right, they give seig heils in irony and exuberance, white nationalism is once again on the rise and Steve Bannon is in the White House, the chief strategist to the Donald Trump administration - It's absurd, isn't it? What else are you going to do but laugh? 

Humor derives from absurdity, and absurdity derives from the sheer senselessness of the world. That's how black humor works, we laugh to keep from crying. Isn't the world ludicrous? What are you going to do, bitch about Hitler jokes, get all dramatic and sanctimonious? Bigotry's in the air you breathe, in the cartoons you grow up watching as a child, in the jokes that your children grow up hearing. It's what drives the economy, it's what gets clicks and views, it's what keeps the world turning. Might as well get sanctimonious about airline food! You've already bitten into the apple and are only now seeing the wriggling remnants of what you've swallowed whole.  We are descending inexorably into fascism because we never really left to begin with.

Here's an old joke, retold: 

A man goes to a doctor. "I'm depressed," he says, "and I've got no reason to be depressed. I've built a personal passion into an impossibly successful career. I'm adored by millions. But it's all so precarious, perched on a knife's edge. I have nothing original or meaningful to say. I just tell them what they want to hear. They'd abandon me, turn on me on an instant. They're ravening, doctor. I listen to them cheer me on and I feel nothing but dread." 

The doctor says, "You're taking life far too seriously. Treatment is simple. Watch the great clown PewDiePie. He has a video of a guy dressed up as Jesus saying 'Hitler did nothing wrong.' That should pick you up." 

Man bursts into tears. Says, "But, doctor ... I am Hitler."

Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drums. Curtains.
sadoeuphemist: (Default)
A good children’s story begins with a genocide. The trolls are dead, the lot of them, forced out of their hidey-holes and purged clean by sunlight, their flesh transmuted to stone. Good riddance. They were a nasty lot, crude and flea-bitten and half-dressed, with a penchant for gnawing on the bones of children. A good children’s story needs a good purging to start, the shutters thrown open to let in the sun but all the chains and bones and cobwebs still visible. Children are like wildflowers: neglect them all you want, but they still need the sun to grow.

It’s important that the trolls still carry a sense of menace. Their calcified corpses still line the mountainsides, gnarled fingers raised like twisted spires of rock, mouths open to teeth of jagged stone. They still loom in the darkness, they still terrify passing children, they still cast their shadows across the land. You’ve seen a troll, certainly, worn into the stone by untold millennia of dripping water and sedimentation. They are thousands of years old, primordial, still capable of dashing flesh from bone. Parents whisper stories of the trolls to their children to make them lie fearfully in their beds. Adults tell stories of the great vanquishing, of villagers venturing down into the caves brandishing torches and catchpoles, bringing the horrible things up to light. The stage is set, the props align to make a single message: Aren’t you lucky that the trolls are dead, that you live within a world of stone walls and streets, that you walk upon the corpses of our ancient foes? And, the parents say, as the children draw the covers up to their chins, wouldn’t it be so very horrible – although it could never, ever happen, and no one would ever believe you if you said otherwise – if somehow the trolls were to return?  

There are trolls still alive, of course. No genocide is ever complete. There are the survivors and refugees, the shifty-eyed collaborators, the half-breeds who could pass as something else. You may think it impossible that something as primitive as trolls could possibly survive during an age of man. But even when approaching complete success, a genocide necessarily recalibrates, expands its parameters, swallows more people whole. If the purging had not ended, they would be killing trolls still, dragging them out onto the streets. And so there are the survivors, left to fester, left to rot. Left forgotten and walled up and reduced to myth, reduced to caricature. Reduced to children’s stories.

A good children’s story begins with a genocide, because children are the ones who have yet to discover the truths of the world, to uncover old crypts and be horrified by the bones within. Children are the heirs to old hatreds, blood feuds, the victims of their parents’ follies. Children are the only ones still capable of being horrified at the fundamental unfairness of the world.

And so the trolls come. They prey on children, cruelly, unfairly, their low-slung postures invisible to adult eyes. They rap on doors and mimic mothers’ voices, they twist their faces into ugly parodies of humanity. They snatch children off streets and poison oatmeal. Shadowed groves and canals bloat with the bodies of missing children. The trolls come at night, they come in moments of abandonment and neglect. They cast shadows through the windowpane and disguise themselves as branches or craggy stone, or as a child’s imaginings. They break into the house and sharpen their teeth on the floorboards while the child huddles upstairs. They steal parents away. They are always, always, defeated by a child.

This is how a children’s story ends: with violence, or with cruelty, or with treachery. The troll is lured into the sunlight, or into the flames, and its skin smolders and petrifies and turns to ash. Or it falls from such a height that its body plunges deep into the earth, never to be found. Or it is tricked into gorging on poison or blunt stone until its belly bursts. Or it is gaslighted and driven mad, or it is stabbed through the heart, or it is shipped off to some remote and miserable island, never again to be seen by  a set of human eyes. A good children’s story ends with a genocide: the child watches the troll die and reasserts the order of the world, becomes culpable in their parents’ actions. They have fulfilled an ancient promise. The last troll in the world is dead, killed by a child’s hand. The circle is complete.

They return to their parents and are welcomed in an embrace. The trolls are dead, the lot of them, and good riddance. The stone walls stand sturdy, the stone-paved streets run to all the civilized corners of the world. Everyone else lives happily ever after.
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