publications

ramble scramble: on narcissism and dialogue

Narcissus captivated by his own reflection in the pond.

Narcissus captivated by his own reflection in the pond.

Narcissus, a Greek god, spurned the advances of the goddess Echo (or so one version of the story goes). As she faded away in a lonely spot, her final whispery prayers for vengeance were overheard by the goddess Nemesis. As punishment, Narcissus was doomed to fall in love with his own reflection. Pining for his own image in a pool of water, he died and changed into the flower that would come to be called narcissus.

I recently realized that I have all but completely shifted my writing online, into the public domain. Why bother to hold onto those random musings and discoveries when you can tweet them, and not care who’s listening?

I feel something like a civic responsibility. Or perhaps it could be captioned: “Subversivity and Adversity: Fuck!Shit! Oh Woe Is Me.” It is conversation that is key, dialogues that enable challenges to the American ideology of individualism that has long blinded us to the power of empathy, listening, and cultural sensitivity:

Raul Castro, the President of Cuba, recently met with US lawmakers and called for direct negotiations. The meeting revealed to the Americans an earnest desire for dialogue:

”There is no need to emphasize what Cuba has always said: We do not fear dialogue with the United States,” he wrote. ”Nor do we need confrontation to exist, as some foolish people think. We exist precisely because we believe in our ideas and we have never feared dialogue with the adversary.”

Also this past week, a San Francisco Bay Area event for Burners dubbed “Go Native!” was canceled in the face of virulent furor by Native Americans across the country. The East Bay Express reports:

The strange saga all began in early February when Visionary Village — a loose group of artists and other young people who enjoy the annual Burning Man arts festival in Nevada — began routine publicity for a Burning Man-style “private event” at the Bordello on E. 12 Street in Oakland. The online flyer circulated on Tribe.net read: “GO NATIVE” in an Old West font set against a desert sun, and the dance party was advertised as a “fundraiser for the Native American Church.” Native-rights activists got wind of it and publicized additional text from the VisionaryVillage.org web site indicating four “elemental rooms” would be themed: “Water: Island Natives (Maori); Air: Cliff Natives (Anasazi); Earth: Jungle Natives (Shipibo); Fire: Desert Natives (Pueblo).” Ravers were offered a discount off the $20 door fee “if you show up in Native costume,” and the money would fund “neurofeedback research demonstrating causality between medicinal use [of peyote], improved brainwave patterns, and heightened mirror neuron activity in users.” The 140-year-old Bordello property abuts Interstate 880 and an ancient Ohlone Indian site dated to the 12th century B.C., which was also promoted.

The Visionary Village leaders quickly complied with the Native Americans’ demand for cancellation and request for dialogue. It was to be a lesson in effective conflict resolution, though certainly tensions remain: On the night of the event, a handful of Burners were lectured to for four hours on the importance of cultural sensitivity, appropriation, and outright theft. The Burners were apologetic and conciliatory and willing to bridge the rifts between their cultures.

But, still – robbed of one’s culture twice over. Blindly reproducing the hierarchies we’d once imposed in another iteration- one more ignorant, autosexual, narcissistic-

“Power is not caring who’s listening,” a quote from Bernie Hogan that found its way to my Twitter feed (and certainly applies to Twitter)- but it is also caring who’s listening! Not necessarily in the paranoid, conspiratorial sense (though sometimes they really are out to get you), but rather in the empathetic sense. The knife is a technology that can be used to cut food, or used to cut people. Beware of spending too much time in front of the mirror: In search of strokes we become addicts blindly drawn to the glow. There are so many DIFFERENT kinds of people, paradigms, possibilities just beyond the realm of comfort and habit, yet we continue to be drawn to that which confirms and reaffirms what we already know.

The medium is the message: a television show may compress time and space in such a way as to provide a limited, inauthentic experience; conversely, it could play with time and space in a wiggly manner. Perhaps this explains my wholesale absorption by television involving time travel (Heroes and Lost, specifically), or shows that sweep me into laughter to such a hilarious extent that i forget to fret on what’s been done or what’s to come ahead.

To escape the self is at once ecstatic and terrifying. Victor Turner suggests that “liminality is frequently likened to death, to being in the womb, to invisibility, to darkness, to bisexuality, to the wilderness, and to an eclipse of the sun or moon” (1986: 95). Drawn in to the present reality, which always exists between fixed points, we are freed from these imagined divisions between nature and culture, self and other, past and future.

It is in providing outward display for things and pathways as they exist within the horizons of landscape that places enable memories to become inwardly inscribed and possessed: made one with the memorial self. The visibility without becomes part of the invisibility within.
-Edward Casey, Remembering: A Phenomenological Study, 1987

The medium is the message: erasure of the glow, as all journeys exist in the mind alone. There are so many stories to be told, connections to be made, and so many possible paths for the telling, paths as yet unexplored.

Better to be a pansexual than an autosexual, to be weaving whimsical loops within the whole.

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.

tremulous: to emerge again in love

His face would have been handsome, had it not been for the maniacal contortions of his eyes and mouth, and the pushy manner in which he shoved large bottles of bourbon and wine to our lips. “Are you trying to tell me,” he cackled in a heavy south american accent, “that YOU are the new fountain?!” He bounced about us, grinning, encouraging us to dance and play his nonsensical games.

“You are ridiculous,” I managed between nervous gasps of laughter. He was unpredictable, spastic, and frenetic, bouncing inches from our faces and invading space at every opportunity. Before I knew it, he’d curled his body teasingly around the kindly and confused older Irishman, who beseeched us with apologetic gestures. The young, flamboyant man smiled up brilliantly, fingering a shimmering necklace that adorned the elder gentleman, “I got you a neeecklace!” The Irishman shot us a sheepish grin, “he is out of mind!”

We disentangled ourselves from the situation, following a few more rounds of “cheers!”, and wandered up the trail. Disoriented, we wished for home, for the feeling of it. Home was soon found, and it far exceeded our wildest expectations: we rounded a corner to a tall, bald Irishman in a long purple robe, wielding a glow-in-the-dark lightening bolt and surrounded by inflatable aliens. We greeted him with what were surely exhausted, young and hopeful faces, and were instantly seated around the small campfire and treated to tea. Our hero then proceeded to entertain us with a few rounds of classic Irish storytelling, replete with circular rhythm and mock humility (he knew he’d won us at ‘g’mornin’ to ya!’).

So commenced a morning that marked the last stage of a bewildering, night-long journey. Merely hours earlier I’d entirely convinced myself that sinister forces were at work behind this unorganized, chaotic festival in the forest. How to trust new faces at the campsite- other generations, alternate motives, as the night caved in upon itself? As the furtive and paranoid flashlight-lit glances of the dark night gave way to dawn, however, I began to see more clearly the utter absudity of that which surrounded us: a thousand ageless children from every conceivable nook and cranny of the world, gathered together in reverence of the hard beats and gentle spirits that had wooed our searching souls.

I could not begin to number the many times my eyes filled with tears that weekend. The kindness and openness of utter strangers, the familiar faces from countless long nights of ecstatic dance, the devastating beauty of the water and the earth, the re-creation of true community by those who simply could not comply with the stratum and structure of society as presented to us, how it had come to know us so deeply and wordlessly.

Yet still I seek to put words to it, so that I may pay homage, or rather, that I might recall the feeling of a welcome mist at dawn, sweat-drenched and joyful, drinking in rainbows that spanned the entirety of our shared horizon.