Wednesday, November 27, 2013

St. Patrick’s Day on the San Antonio Riverwalk

The first thing you notice is that the water has been dyed a bright shamrock green.

The next thing you notice is, after you take your eyes off the proliferation of strollers and women with lace-patterned tattoos peeking out of their low-cut “wife beater” tank tops, are guys stretched out in a prone position, their lace-tattooed significant others holding down their ankles, as they become human grappling irons, arms plunged shoulder-deep into the thick green, fishing for wallets or other lost valuables.

What will they find? A wallet? A toy? Coins? Bones?

It’s probably not as much as one might hope. After all, it’s March 17, and only a month and a half after the annual draining and cleaning in which all the detritus left by revelers and unfortunate disequilibriated (not a word, I know!) ones … equilibrium lost, potentially for an entire span of a weekend, by a need to lose cares in a constructed Fiesta-space – a mindspace that is both escapist and grounded in history and historical longing.

I firmly believe that there are ghosts here.

It’s a perfect setting for a murder mystery, with brightly ornamented tour gondolas with tour guides telling about the history of the place, replete with legends and facts selected to flower in one’s imagination.

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, though, and the ear-splitting keening of bagpipes are precipitously accompanied by mariachis playing polka-inflected “rancheros” with huge bass guitars and accordions. What else do these flat-bottom boats purvey? In a word, everything.  Everything under the sun.

Melange usually refers to the jumbled up rock, ice, and snow at the foot of an avalanche.

It’s the word that occurs to me now – a rapid cultural avalanche has deposited its mélange in the San Antonio River, and I’m only half-buried by it, consequently, I’m still half alive, half sentient. I’m not sure quite what to think – my independent thoughts are trained on wishful thinking and romanticism, and I love to think of ghostly apparitions of elegantly clad women from the time of the missions, and then later, during the 19th century, when mills were constructed and Germans, Irish, English, Spanish, and Mexican populations blended and awkwardly co-existed. I’m not sure about the Native Americans, so I do not mention them now.

I am pulled away from my thoughts by another group of kilt-clad bagpipers. They are clearly feeling the heat, but soldiering on, red-faced. I smile and spontaneously enjoinder, “wonderful!” and one grumpily visaged bagpiper scowls at me.

Bagpipes on the Riverwalk: St. Patrick's Day

I guess I’m just too touristy. I am wearing green, but not really in any kind of purposeful way. I pulled out a sleeveless Dri-Fit shirt and put it with jeans and hoodie and comfortable walking shoes as I commit myself to serious “ambulation” in an attempt to heal feet crushed in a car-pedestrian accident (I was the pedestrian) that occurred a month and a half earlier.

The bagpipers debark and haul their instruments on their back, catch their breath, and ascend the stone steps to street level. Their kilts remind me of policemen in Fiji, where the skirts seem tough and masculine. If feminine, the closest neighbor would be pleated skirts used in lacrosse, a lady sport with weaponry. Unlike tennis, softball, and other ball sports which require smacking a ball with something, lacrosse sticks can and should be used to intimidate.

The skirts are not wool. A cotton-poly blend, I suspect, or perhaps a new, crisp, “smart” fabric. I am impressed with the plaids.

Later, as nightfall approaches, the avalanche reactivates itself. This time, it clatters downhill with an obliterating focus on sports; college and professional. I find this to be highly depressing, but what else can be expected if so many individuals in our culture are not active participants in the life of the mind, but find ways to amuse themselves or feel emotional connection to a concept at a time when religion has been problematized, and it’s no longer very easy to achieve social mobility via education, technical skills, or entrepreneurship.

Evelyn Waugh’s novels set in early 20th-century, post-Empire England come to mind, specifically Decline and Fall, as I think of ways in which our country has been distracted from the reality of a lack of production and de-industrialization. War is one distractor, since it employs people and gives the illusion of employment security. Another distraction offers itself through the Faustian bargains of disability and other attempts at securing a government sinecure, which is, in point of fact, a go-nowhere proposition, but as yet, there are no dynamic alternatives, since re-industrialization as yet is not economically viable.

My hopes back in 2008 in the height of the economic collapse, revolved around a wisely-administered Stimulus Bill that would rebuild our infrastructure and re-invigorate industrialization and entrepreneurship. Perhaps that happened, but it is hard to see how or where in terms of macro scales.

At the micro level, ingenuity and creativity are alive, but they are often in anoxic environments, buried deep beneath the avalanche, in need of a positive environment and cheap, available credit and other ways to leverage time to have time to build productive potential and serve the needs of markets.

So what gave rise to Empires in the first place? Creativity, innovation, trade, positive institutions, available credit, educated workforce, supportive legal framework.

Which of those are missing today?

I’m not much in the mood to think in terms of dirges, but bagpipes play in more than funerals, do they not? They accompany wars, and inspire warriors to feats of valor and blood-driven sacrifice. I’d like to think of such things in metaphorical terms, even as I’m considering the avalanche of culture and global political economic events.

So I return my gaze to the green shamrock waters of the river that flows along the edge of history, of the Alamo, which in itself, hearkens back to the Anglo-Saxons’ Battle of Maldon, where heroic sacrifice meant a turning point in a nation’s conception of self. For the Alamo, it meant becoming Texan. For Maldon, it mean becoming resolutely English.

It’s always the same people who ask all the questions. I am one of those annoying ones, I fear.

For me, the idea of retreating to history and living in a tree-shaded home with a veranda and an extensive library, where I spend my time writing and overseeing the sundry activities of a working ranch (with extensive mineral resources), draws me in.

I’d like to find old manuscripts and translate them. I’d like to publish meditations drawn from my own metaphysical and intellectually-triggered avalanches, where the humanistic studies are part of a larger mélange of technology, business, and art. In the end, the ice and snow-elements of the mélange melt away, and the remaining rocks have space in the interstices for creative thought and generative impulses.

I am relieved to hear the bagpipes recede and the splash of water from fountains surge forth.

Baudrillard’s Proxy: Disney and the Deterrence of the Production of Awareness

Baudrillard says it is too simple to say that Disney is a simulacrum of our world. Disney – the idealized experience – gives us a way to deter the production of awareness.

The deterrence of the production of awareness occurs in several ways:
First, you’re able to focus on the appearance of things and the world of phenomena, rather than introspecting and considering your own inner landscape; and
Second, you’re able to put off awareness conceivably indefinitely by reaffirming and perhaps even replacing your own beliefs, values, and assumptions with the embodiments of those you see externalized in the gorgeous and satisfying manifestations of Disney productions and artifacts.

Disney is simply the car with the hood up where you can actually see the engine of the production and transmission of a set of the idealized “real” and a belief in truth.

In most fabrications of reality, or productions eminating from the Matrix, the hood is resolutely slammed shut so that you cannot glimpse or peer into the inner machine.

Toto pulls back the curtain.

The Wizard was the first layer of production, but of course, there’s something behind the Wizard.

What lies behind the Wizard?
            Barthes would suggest Desire.
            Baudrillard would suggest distraction.
            Others (Nietzsche, etc.) would suggest production of the antitheses, antipodal, and oppositional relations (but not, it’s useful to observe, in a dialectic)
            Nietzsche would also suggest a set of juxtapositions that engenders a postmodern knowledge of self.
            Foucault might suggest that Disney exists as a Rosetta stone to our culture – a litmus test of which narratives have positive or negative valence in the world at large.
            Others might look at Baudrillard’s stance (the skin of reason, a “produced” reality, a privileging of the false) as an opportunity to import geomechanical paradigms and hyper-effective metaphors.

For metaphors and discourses of explanation, let’s look at a hardness and brittleness of the culture itself.

            What is our cultural Poisson’s ratio?  Young’s Modulus?
            What is the fundamental strength of materials and brittleness?
            How strong are our constructions?
            How brittle are they?  Can they be hydraulically fractured?
            How pliable are they? Do the fractures self-heal? Do they self-seal?

I’d like to look at the essential permeability of a culture.  Let’s think of ourselves vis-à-vis an idealized vision of how a utopian society would or should be?

            What is the ultimate ontological permeability?
            Penetratability of influences and substances?
            How well do outside values flow through our own values? What is the flow quality?
            Where do things swell and block the transmittal of ideas?  Is swelling all about emotion?
            Diagenesis:  under what condition does the original matrix alter? Where do our original values start to alter? Do they imitate the future?
            Where and when do we feel extreme heat? Hydrothermal alteration?

Baudrillard regards Disneyland as a machine that generates metaphors and mirrors.

Hence, its efficacy of a deterrence to people seeking to posit that there is, in fact, a “real” or any “meaning” in the world we now inhabit, with the minds we currently socialize into conformity with what will allow us to feel a part of a community (even the community as a whole, or a community of resistance, which is always problematized by dependency on the original essence, making resistance ultimately futile; it’s actually simply an outgrowth or an unwitting reinforcement).

If someone were to feel sad at Walt Disney World, I would wonder if what we’re seeing is a re-animation of the Sublime – the great “awe” (and “awfulness… awe-full-ness) – and a sense of loss at the constant contact with that. An ultimate awareness of one’s essential Fallenness – that it’s not possible to stay hooked into the Sublime given the consciousness available today, given today’s ideas of consciousness, spirituality, mind, and cognitive / numinative structures.