publications

howls from the concrete jungle / human zoo

“The city is not a concrete jungle, it’s a human zoo.”
Desmond Morris, The Human Zoo.

Soaking up the sunshine this weekend, I perched with a friend on the steps of Union Square. Nearby, a group of attractive young white kids with brightly colored hair spun poi and hula-hooped in fashionable earthy garb, crafting a performative stage at the foot of the steps where dozens of people sat. I watched and wondered, as I always do, at the seemingly innate enjoyment of judging gazes, small envies, unsubtle desires, attentive eyes consuming their brightly colored shimmying hips and tanned, fluid limbs. I’m at a loss for how to go about reclaiming a lifestyle co-opted by childish style tribes, recuperated and sold back in the tone of the “underground.” But as Kurt Vonnegut says, so it goes…

A man holding a sign ranted loudly about the perils of nanotechnology, drawing a small cluster of avid listeners. My friend attended to her Seed Magazine, which highlighted the contemporary debate on the issue. She commented on the young man giving out free hugs while simultaneously strutting about in a shirt emblazoned with the words “made of poison.”

I casually struck up a conversation with the man chillin’ to my left, complimenting the intricate detail of the colorful psychedelic prints splayed out around him. Averting his eyes, he described his process as one of “adding to” pre-existing images – at this, I raised an eyebrow and smirked at the psychedelic elephant in my hands. Smoothly, he then pulled out a translucent pair of prints and moved them slowly across one another, blurring and goo-ifying a gigantic block print of the year 2012. Wince.

Gradually, we inserted ourselves into another nearby spectacle that had drawn a dense crowd- two lithe black men dressed in bright, skin-tight animal print bodysuits engaged in a wildly contortionist dance, bizarre twistings of bodily form. For their grand finale, one leapt effortlessly over the heads of half a dozen “volunteers.” Throughout, they called for the audience to give money for their endeavors, and at the end passed three large buckets around. Embarrassed, I avoided the buckets, reaching a hand into my pocket to ensure my four dollar bills were still milling about.

The area where I run at the Chelsea Piers has finally finished construction (or at least a substantial portion of it), and is now allowing people to meander along the shiny new walkways accented by bright green grass and surrounded by trees and water. It is beautiful!

Tonight, I rambled to the corner market for a beer. It was around midnight, and I found myself gazing in at the bars closing down. Bartenders, cooks and barbacks gathered in small pockets just beyond accessibility, cocooned in the inner glow of afterhours. There was a sense of belonging in these fractured glances, and in the smooth strides of a man who zipped down 19th street on rollerblades while chatting with his bluetooth’d self Each of these sightings registered a pang of longing that sung through my heart.

(I recalled, as I often do, a memory of a rainstorm at dawn several years ago, my green bedroom syrupy and sunlit and full of friends sprawled out on mattresses and in chairs, long bouts of listening interspersed with sleepy jokes and lazy laughter. Joe had set up a feedback contraption that captured the sounds of the falling rain and catapulted them back into the room. Drenched in sound and in the love of adopted family close at hand, I remember falling asleep with the acute sense that I had come full circle back to my childhood, to the warmth of s’more-infused campfires and sunday night baths with my siblings.)

Then I remembered that sunlit day, which proceeded into an evening of laughter, ranting, and friendly camaraderie with a friend I’d never gotten to know well one-on-one. There was a point where I found myself persuading her to look at San Diego, to come and make a community of smart, down-to-earth compadres. It occurred to me just how necessary such dreams had become, lost in the sea of anomie that is new york city.

This was all only ever temporary, a sacrifice for love. Never inclined toward urban environments, I resolved not to become too attached to this city – just as I’d resolved, 5 years ago, not to fall in love during the year I was abroad in Denmark.

That pact failed back then – of course during the last two months of my stay, with nothing to stand in the way of letting go – I fell in love with a Danish boy destined for the Danish military life, just as I was destined for the American collegiate life. I’ve no regrets. How could I?

And so I’ve no regrets for my renewed mission: to love this porous city for all its flaws and elegant superstructure, to capture this life so rich with culture and madness, and finally to know what it means to escape the zoo of my own accord.

the most beautiful thing i ever read…

…is the introduction to e.e. cummings’ collected works. i read it many years ago, and pull it up whenever i need a reminder as to why i live the way i do – in the pursuit of being continually reborn, in the refusal to settle for anything less than a little more than everything, with the acceptance that i don’t quite “fit” and never will, dedicated to truths found only by my own accord- pardon my tendency to manifestos, but you’ll see what i mean. enjoy! 

The poems to come are for you and for me and are not for mostpeople– it’s no use trying to pretend that mostpeople and ourselves are alike. Mostpeople have less in common with ourselves than the squarerootofminusone. You and I are human beings;mostpeople are snobs. Take the matter of being born. What does being born mean to mostpeople? Catastrophe unmitigated. Socialrevolution. The cultured aristocrat yanked out of his hyperexclusively ultravoluptuous superpalazzo,and dumped into an incredibly vulgar detentioncamp swarming with every conceivable species of undesirable organism. Mostpeople fancy a guaranteed birthproof safetysuit of nondestructible selflessness. If mostpeople were to be born twice they’d improbably call it dying–

you and I are not snobs. We can never be born enough. We are human beings;for whom birth is a supremely welcome mystery,the mystery of growing:which happens only and whenever we are faithful to ourselves. You and I wear the dangerous looseness of doom and find it becoming. Life,for eternal us,is now’and now is much too busy being a little more than everything to seem anything,catastrophic included.

Life,for mostpeople,simply isn’t. Take the socalled standardofliving. What do mostpeople mean by “living”? They don’t mean living. They mean the latest and closest plural approximation to singular prenatal passivity which science,in its finite but unbounded wisdom,has succeeded in selling their wives. If science could fail,a mountain’s a mammal. Mostpeople’s wives could spot a genuine delusion of embryonic omnipotence immediately and will accept no substitutes.

-luckily for us,a mountain is a mammal. The plusorminus movie to end moving,the strictly scientific parlourgame of real unreality,the tyranny conceived in misconception and dedicated to the proposition that every man is a woman and any woman is a king,hasn’t a wheel to stand on. What their synthetic not to mention transparent majesty, mrsandmr collective foetus,would improbably call a ghost is walking. He isn’t a undream of anaesthetized impersons, or a cosmic comfortstation,or a transcedentally sterilized lookiesoundiefeelietastiesmellie. He is a healthily complex,a naturally homogenous,citizen of immorality. The now of his each pitying free imperfect gesture,his any birth of breathing,insults perfected inframortally milleniums of slavishness. He is a little more than everything,he is democracy;he is alive:he is ourselves.

Miracles are to come. With you I leave a remembrance of miracles: they are somebody who can love and who shall be continually reborn,a human being;somebody who said to those near him,when his fingers would not hold a brush “tie it to my hand”–

nothing proving or sick or partial. Nothing false,nothing difficult or easy or small or colossal. Nothing ordinary or extraordinary,nothing emptied or filled,real or unreal;nothing feeble and known or clumsy and guessed. Everywhere tints childrening,innocent spontaneaous,true. Nowhere possibly what flesh and impossibly such a garden,but actually flowers which breasts are amoung the very mouths of light. Nothing believed or doubted;brain over heart, surface:nowhere hating or to
fear;shadow,mind without soul. Only how measureless cool flames of making;only each other building always distinct selves of mutual entirely opening;only alive. Never the murdered finalities of wherewhen and yesno,impotent nongames of wrongright and rightwrong;never to gain or pause,never the soft adventure of undoom,greedy anguishes and cringing ecstasies of inexistence;never to rest and never to have;only to grow.

Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question

In pursuit of the bonfire…

From the mid-19th century California Gold Rush to the turn-of-the-20th century cinematic fame of Hollywood, the furthest-west segment of the United States has inherited the legacy of the New Frontier. Today, the San Francisco Bay Area serves as the nexus of American utopianism, home of Silicon Valley and the dot-com frenzy, haven for hippies new and old. 

I seek not to conclude my research of online social networking, but to extend its implications and apply it toward understanding the interconnected mysteries that keep me captivated by anthropology. The literature of cyberspace has quite literally predicted the future now within which we are currently living. The first step, then, is to become familiar with this literature, ranging from science fiction books and films to new ways of crafting contemporary folklore through the use of modern media technologies.

I’ve been chatting with James Curcio, author of Join My Cult! and, more recently, Fallen Nation. They’re also on my summer reading list, and fit quite neatly into the literature I’m looking to submerge myself in (indeed, our chats have been a substantial part of the inspiration behind this post). I’m hoping to contribute to one of his new projects,Mythos Media, which seeks to produce contemporary myths in new ways through the use of new media. Thus, the second step is my own active participation in storycrafting, immersing myself in the mythology of the future-now and constructing parables utilizing new technologies.

From the open source culture of the Internet to the gift culture found at Burning Man and psytrance parties, the mythological legacy of California depicts all the essential dramaturgical elements: a paradisiacal land of angels and devils replete with struggles for power, legitimacy, and authenticity in an age where the world stands poised on the brink of apocalypse, anxiously awaiting salvation in the form of a charismatic prophet, a new world order, scientology, etc;

Or global consciousness.

The third and simultaneous step is a paper I am currently writing for an edited collection on psytrance culture, entitled Weaving the Underground Web: Neotribalism and Psytrance on Tribe.net. 
Essentially, I’m building on the segments of my thesis that dealt with Tribe.net and subcultural capital theory, discussing the ways in which members of Tribe.net utilize the site as a facilitator of local scenes as well as a conduit for the spread of a global subculture.

The culture of the New Age (defined by Steven Sutcliffe [2003] as “a diffuse collectivity of questing individuals”) circulates through the intersection of a wide array of beliefs and lifestyles that coalesce with the aid of such liminal spaces as the internet and international psytrance gatherings. Today, this mythology pervades in American popular media, which circulates readily on a global scale. Proper experience of this “global underground” is thus twofold, entailing both online ethnography of Tribe.net as well as adventures around the world- but that will probably have to wait until I find a Ph.D program suitable for this project. That would be step four.

Comments, suggestions, conversation welcome and encouraged.

Hibernation and the Pursuit of Brilliance

This past month, I’ve sought to nourish myself through what is, for me, the most difficult period of the year. January. And I made it! I’m okay! And I’ve written a lot of things.

In fact, I was recently hired to join a team of bloggers, helping to create the “meat” of a pre-beta social networking site, iggli. You can check out my blog here, or by clicking on the title of this post. It’s where I’ve been writing regularly these days. Original writing, at that.

Having shaken myself free from the noxious syndrome of reading “research” and creating headers beneath which I can conveniently categorize the perspectives of others into “anxieties” and “utopias”, I have now reached what will be the butter on the bread of my thesis. That is, that which makes the dry foundation delicious. Not that ethnography is ever dry. My first chapters are rife with the stories, anecdotes, personalities, ideas that propelled me to do this research in the first place.

But now, allow me to be indulgent. I embark on a chapter I’ve hesitantly entitled “A Phenomenological Exploration of Online Social Networking.” This is where I tell my own story, where I deeply investigate my own integration of anxieties toward and utopic visions of the Internet and its potentials and failures.

And everything else.

The past week has consisted of moving into a new apartment (where I will no longer bother touchy neighbors with my entirely nocturnal rhythm and proclivity toward human interaction and [god forbid!] music), sleeping 10-12 hours a night, and battling the obvious onset of ill health with my finest vegetarian cooking, isolation, and relaxation.

I sit before the screen now resolved to put forth a testimony founded on inner truths, desires, sadnesses, attempts to bridge the increasing divide I see between individuals and community. The Internet, for me, is the “final frontier” in which we may remake ourselves, and in so doing, contribute to the remaking of this severely damaged world.

Though, as severely damaged as it is, it is because of my overwhelming love of the stories, personalities, and lives of others that I have become so enamored with the potential for anthropological research to promote human understanding, empathy, and that elusive yet all-empowering ultimate pursuit: community, connection, the sense of belonging and the extension of selfhood.

This has been a manifesto.

writing a thesis requires the regular doing of nothing much.

This past month, I’ve sought to nourish myself through what is, for me, the most difficult period of the year. January. And I made it! I’m okay! And I’ve written a lot of things.

Having shaken myself free from the noxious syndrome of reading “research” and creating headers beneath which I can conveniently categorize the perspectives of others into “anxieties” and “utopias”, I have now reached what will be the butter on the bread of my thesis. That is, that which makes the dry foundation delicious. Not that ethnography is ever dry. My first chapters are rife with the stories, anecdotes, personalities, ideas that propelled me to do this research in the first place.

But now, allow me to be indulgent. I embark on a chapter I’ve hesitantly entitled “A Phenomenological Exploration of Online Social Networking.” This is where I tell my own story, where I deeply investigate my own integration of anxieties toward and utopic visions of the Internet and its potentials and failures.

And everything else.

The past week has consisted of moving into a new apartment (where I will no longer bother touchy neighbors with my entirely nocturnal rhythm and proclivity toward human interaction and [god forbid!] music), sleeping 10-12 hours a night, and battling the obvious onset of ill health with my finest vegetarian cooking, isolation, and relaxation.

I sit before the screen now resolved to put forth a testimony founded on inner truths, desires, sadnesses, attempts to bridge the increasing divide I see between individuals and community. The Internet, for me, is the “final frontier” in which we may remake ourselves, and in so doing, contribute to the remaking of this severely damaged world.

Though, as severely damaged as it is, it is because of my overwhelming love of the stories, personalities, and lives of others that I have become so enamored with the potential for anthropological research to promote human understanding, empathy, and that elusive yet all-empowering ultimate pursuit: community, connection, the sense of belonging and the extension of selfhood.

This has been a manifesto.