A Chiliad Ethnomethodologies [Chronicles of Dis/Infection, Mar2016]

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Younger anthropologists have the notion that anthropology is too diverse. The number of things done under the name of anthropology is just infinite; you can do anything and call it anthropology. – Clifford Geertz

The purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences. – Ruth Benedict

    There is a very precise designation in academia, refering to one of its humanist formations:  anthropology. At one time, like my father before me, I too was a member of the tribe of anthropologists/aliusphagi. I worshipped its high-priests, I observed its rituals and I was even quite conversant in its lingo. I was at the time very much a junior-member who still would‘ve had to accomplish numerous rituals of passage to rise to the highest ranks of the tribe. At some point, I decided to forsake the Anthropologists and instead rejoin my original tribe, the Helvetians, a hardy mountainfolk of cheese-consumers.

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    In the last decade however, time and again, great paroxysms of nostalgia have ceased hold of me and our magical locutions would come to mind, resound mystically in my head, as I considered the everyday quandaries of yet another tribe [teachers] I‘ve been in the progress of joining: alterity, agency, emic, ethnomethodology, liminality, kinship, Non-Places, Thick Description and many more.

Anthropologist
    Lost in the lambent air of a spring afternoon, for minutes at a time, I would chant in low voice the sonorous syllabic susurrus  „ethnomethodology“, flipping the sounds out of my mouth like mana from divinities, trying for old time‘s sake to recall its meaning and contexts. Say it a score times for better living plus a relaxed lingua, a chiliad for straight-up apotheosis.

    And, so as not to fall entirely from grace [there can always be a return to the homeland], I kept reading some of the holy scriptures: Interaction Ritual, The Protestant Ethic, Natural Symbols, The Structure of Scientific Revolution, The Interpretation of Cultures et al. I tried to salvage my soul but these exercises are never a success. My other obligations were running me away from the old gods; meaning hemorrhaged from the lacerations of a new existence that did not quite suite my psycholiterary gestalt. But then neither did the old ones. The true self is always deformed in the service of the collective. The semantics of self are made to bleed.
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Thus, as a bandaid and a panacea, I started scribbling, hoping to recapture the logos of anthropos and ego at my own leisure. It is difficult, I think, this matter of tribe affiliation; I‘ve seldom felt I really belonged. And if so, then only a posteriori. But shuttling between ethnic obligations, typing my own underbrush paths between various tribal settlements, I maybe eventually eked out a modus vivendi all of my own: the idiographer, documenting on interest and impulse the width of human idiosyncracies, in turn itself put down in unorthodox format.  

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    There we have it: a word for a process for a life. Is that what I truly want, what anybody hopes for? Another designation, one more magic word, a new-fangled affiliation, however fancy, to stuff onself into? Do we have to set out into the depths of the human jungle to found our own tribes?
    

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Plected pulsing palms [Chronicles of Dis/Infection, Mar2016]

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The first wealth is health. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

A wise man should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings, and learn how by his own thought to derive benefit from his illnesses.  – Hippocrates

 

At the clinic we spent two days entwined: her, operated upon, me, healthy and compassionate. The innards, a complication that needed fixing and got one, by hands of 71 summers, mind you.
    The space was strange, unsettling: the soft-sounded lobby was populated by occasional patients and visitors, all, it seemed, septo- or octogenarians. Once I suddenly heard strings hammered on softly and, turning around, I did see an in-the-flesh piano player. Who looked back at me morosely, surrounded as we were, by so many moribund folk. Even all of the doctors and surgeons were old; an odd thing that, statistically, I thought, having been to more other hospitals than I wish I would‘ve been by now.

    The love of my life was in and out of fugue states. Sometimes I confused a wide-eyed, focused stare with wakefulness and tried to address her but the words slid right off her high wall of medication. However when she was up, we speculated on whether she‘d been overmedicated, we speculated on the exact nature of the post-surgical sutures/scars, we had conversations that doddered on dadaism, medically induced.

Still, in the clutch of our plected hands, love pulsed and throbbed.

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    Polite, mildly pretty nurses showed up at high frequency [a private clinic, remember], to check the convalescentee‘s progression: pulse, general state of well-being, blood-pressure, intake of painkillers, meals, etcetera. All the metabolic ins and outs that make a patient‘s glorious days at a hospital.

    You come in knowing it is a place of life&death and but then it‘s just more like a hotel, a hotel for elderly people. A hotel where people by some outlandish agreement all walk around attached to IVs. And the staff in the lobby is absolute hotel-ish and you wonder what-on-earth they will do if, as must be the case eventually, a medical emergency happens right there in the foyer. Then again, in the wilderness of our age, terrorrism has already made one or two hotels more hospital-like, strewn with horrifically injured people and corpses.

    diamond_PNG6676The room itself was dark but elegantly pannelled. Wifi gratis. Each patient has a big screen TV. Each has a safe for the valuables because this is a place where robbery would indeed pay off: the helpless patients, the old-fashioned preference for cash, elderly ladies‘ bijoux. In fact, the clinic‘s sigil is a diamond, the connection of which to health is impossible for me to reconstruct [e.g. In particular, diamond has the highest hardness and thermal conductivity of any bulk material. Those properties determine the major industrial application of diamond in cutting and polishing tools and the scientific applications in diamond knives and diamond anvil cells. ]

    And then, as if to contradict my coagulating cliches, a freshly-baked mother strolled into the lobby, pushing her freshly-excreted baby along in a wooden crib with a mosquito-net-type of tent to protect it from the new world. She walked around the lobby with the little human being as if to spray vitality all over the lounge‘s ailing atmosphere.
    Back in the room you can do no wrong. You can press the staff-button a million times an hour without getting nurses in a sour mood. In fact the staff is supremely solicitous. You get a bill for the coffee, which is weird considering how much the stay there costs to begin with [you‘d think a coffee, two coffees, ten are diddly-squat in that grand total]. But I needed succor to stay fresh & caring, to provide TLC.

wheelchair-hiOur hands lay curled on the linen, the pulse on our palms touching. We went to the toilet together, to be safe, to guard against fainting. I pushed her around the corridors and the lobby on a wheelchair and we would stay „outside“ [it was still inside the building] until another spell overcame her: sickness, nausea, vertigo, fatigue. The four horsemen of the post-surgical götterdämmerung. 

InfuuszakjesEventually I returned home, one night before her and found myself falling asleep in bed alone. What a strange, amputated feeling that was. In the middle of the night a full bladder woke me and as I shifted out of bed I realized that I hadn‘t a clue where I was. And it didn‘t matter either. Later, as I slunk back into dreamterritory, I vaguely realized what I was missing. The zero-point of my coordinate system, the nucleus of my signifying system: sweet Nomhle 😉

 

 

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Siphic’s Bi-Spartanism [chronicles of Dis/Infection, mar2016]

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Space and light and order. Those are the things that men need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep. – Le Corbusier

 

My brother‘s crib is interesting, to say the very least, in a way. According to genetics a giga-significant share of our DNA is identical and, more anecdoto-empirically, according to our significant others we are alike in many a habitual pattern, in lilt of speech, as concerns phenotypical landmarks, and so forth. Siblings know the litany. And with equal habitude [don‘t look this word up, it‘s straight out of my mental rectum] we deny to be aware of such similarities, making a flaming point of our very different approaches to paper [i.e. folding it nicely, scribbling on it hideously] ….or, as is the case w/ our sister, using it as a pragmatic tool to convey knowledge of social surplus value. She‘s the one of us three who seems to be of some use to society, as far as anyone can tell 😉

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Anyway, my brother and I probably do share certain… convergences… but nothing could be more divergent than our attention to our immediate, everyday habitat. When my sister & her husband left for the dreamy territories of the US of A, Sipho got to take over/invade/set up camp in that place; however, Ray‘s friendly employer had organized for all of their worldly belongings&droppings they cared for to be containerized to the other end of the planet. Thus the place was left in a rather emptyish, echoing state, which is great for toddlers to play soccer but not excessively habitable for your median adult. Not that any of us is median.

The budget at my disposal would‘ve sent me scrambling to Conforama, possibly Ikea a few times. Or better still: we‘d have moved in all of Tiziana‘s nice furniture. My brother‘s a different beast however.
He was off to VonMoos et al, purchasing planks of wood, screws, lengths of metal, bits of round timber and other vital ingredients of movables, the names of which are like that of alien fauna. In the course of his Origami art-work he has accumulated a vast arsenal of tools [saws, screwdrivers, workbench, drilling machines, lathes???, a.s.f] with which to re-configure said assorted pieces of wood&metal. There have been very pleasing results in dark wood and brass or copper [don‘t exactly know]: a shoe rack, wall-mounted shelves, a petite but massive coffee table, etc.

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Maybe the naive marvel to me is on the level of aesthetics/creativity: two genetically identical specimens of fauna walk into a do-it-yourself-store, T sees random pieces of timber, screws, hammers, etc. S sees unassembled tables and shelves and everyday appartmental objects.
The other thing that always strikes me [not just at Sipho‘s, to be fake-honest] is the dearth of objects in his living room: how can one possibly keep the living room so uncluttered? Is there not always an army of objects ready to invade the family room? To enlargen the vast empire of material matter? Books, dishes, magazines, tools, pieces of clothing, pens, shoes, what-have-you.

In my brother‘s lounge with its rarefied items, I get the distinct feeling that every one of them signifies; especially the artwork itself. And that, as if in consideration/contemplation of a work in the whitey cube, 1’d be amiss not to consider what the signification might be: can an existential lesson be extracted from a  piece of tchotchke?

This is a slobbishly post-modern over-interpretation of a great room and I could simply ask my brother why he places this or that object on the se fecit shelf but that‘s not how I care to consider it, doesn‘t strike me as productive. Rather, banal queries trickle to mind: If pieces of material are reduced, can they start signalling for themselves with some indepenence? What messages do we wish to convey to ourselves and others by the objects here present? Would our living room be an abject mess in the absence of Nomhle?

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And then so right next to it is the over-cluttered atelier, bursting with colors, paper and matter of inconceivable variety. Criss-crossing from the sitting room into the workspace you can fairly feel the osmotic gradient you are pushing up against, the pressure the latter exercises towards the former, the enormous difference of entropy. In which case my brother, I now recognize, is an industrious, life-size version of Maxwell‘s Demon. He might not wreck the rules of thermodynamics but he certainly confounds the laws of spartanism.

 

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Veggie vexation [chronicles of Dis/Infection, mar2016]

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It’s the 21st century. It’s healthier for us, better for the environment and certainly kinder to be a vegetarian. –Ingrid Newkirk

One should not kill a living being, nor cause it to be killed, nor should one incite another to kill. Do not injure any being, either strong or weak, in the world. – Buddha

 

There have been times in the past when it occured to folks such as myself to declare their allegiance from roof-tops and other altitudinous locations; this is to express: in the past I have been less non-evangelical. More importantly: my own standing in this matter is of little-to-no-relevance because this is not any kind of competition or comparison-game. The issue under consideration is vegetarianism, not per se but as a bone of contention, an asparagus of antagonism.

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    There was a time when I was vocal about this and used to give people quite a bit of shit for not joining the herbivore camp, telling them what all is bad about consuming carrion, etc. This is an extremely bad, inefficient and rather amateurish strategy to win people over to the vegetarian w.o.l, evidently. Nobody on this planet seriously wants to hear that they are doing something which is wrong or generally harmful. What I could hear about every quarter of an hour is that I‘m [near-]competent, important for others and just a likable guy. But if one tries to somehow identify shortcomings…. well within about .5 milliseconds the issue becomes personal [you versus I] and the accusing parties [e.g. vegetarians] are themselves reprimanded of moral grandstanding [e.g. an exclusive wish to colonize the empire of the moral altiplano]. At best, this leads to an empty argument of who is a better human being and why, which is not at all what vegetarianism is about, namely, animals and why they should not suffer/die. Worst, everybody is blown out to sea in a shit‘phoon of mindmelting ad-hominems.

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    But now the last couple of yrs, I have gone, it seems to me, in quite the opposite direction, where most remarks about veggie-style elicit nothing much more than a non-commital shrug, the evenness of which is calibrated to evoke some ancient-zen-monk-grade aura of everlasting serenity.

There are multiple reasons: A) It‘s not pleasant to be perceived as a moral megalomaniac B) The pro&con–arguments get old incredibly quickly [after being a vegetarian for about 12 months you‘ll get a shiny glint in your eyes whenever smbdy brings up a new argument against it, not tears, not even of compassion, but the hope of finally exercising your ethical imagination again] C) the creeping sense that its people‘s own damn business if they can‘t figure out smthng so obvious and that it‘s not your obligation [investment of time&energy] to make them, as it were, see the light  D) …also, really, the information-age universal response is smtms not entirely unhandy or inconvenient: „no, really, if you google ,vegetarian lifestyle‘ you can find amazing info on this. ok, gotta go. c u amigo!‘. E) I suppose there must be many more arguments but my brain is closing up shop for tonite. Benefits-of-Vegetarian-Diet-2

[this is a stab at a shorter format but because i, to be frank as bascombe, have about 7 more things to say on the topic this is as outright a failure as it gets; but still anyway…]

 

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Problematic Pulchritude [Chronicles of Dis/Infection, Mar2016]

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The 20th century has been marked by cynicism, selfishness, greed, and the desire to please, all without changing the status quo. In the 21st century, we must resurrect solidarity and compassion. – Oscar Arias

 

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Well, this is the Sloterdjik in the early 80s but, obviously, there are still relevant take-aways for today‘s thinking. First of all, there is the curious notion that hope and realism are somehow incommensurable: you cannot have one without not having the other, you can only have either one. So on this view, hope is identical to utopia, the non-place which is not here, is never here. But in fact hope, as I have come across it in multiple contexts [and this o.c. is open to unending discussion] is merely a positive disposition of a present person towards the future, it envisions what ideals a person/society would like to see realized in the future, what ethical and material conditions it would consider good. What I think is important to point out is that these ideal for the future should be, more or less, realizable: they might happen or not but they are not entirely beyond the parameters of the present, real moment. If the ideals are not realizable other terms are usually employed: to fantasize, to daydream, utopian, etc. Thus the point could be made that hope builds on a realistic appreciation of the present and goes hand-in-hand with realism.

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The second interesting point is: „everything is problematic, so everything is kind of indifferent“ Niet! Non! Hayi!  Méiyǒu! One does not have to be aboard the sinking Allure of the Seas to realize that everything is problematic means there is a maximum emergency – for such cases there is conventionally a protocol: a list of priorities that need to be worked and checked off one after the other. It can even happen that one is the person, fortunate or not, who has to compile such a catastrophe protocol. In wars there is triage. In buildings there are emergency procedures. Nobody sits engulfed in flames and smoke, in rising cold brine and declares: „Oh well, this is all very problematic!“

sloterdijk_philosophInstead one begins with the most urgent action and works one‘s way down.
So how come Sloterdjik conceptualizes it differently in this short excerpt? It must be a matter of being taken out of context!  The bourgeoisie or the post-60s intellectuals mentioned are not inside the burning building or the foundering vessel, they are warmly tucked away on the Middle-Class OceanLiner, on the upper floors of Affluenza Towers; there is enough distance to conceive of it all in terms of a problem. It is this distance combined with the unwillingness to cross it that allows for the formation of cynicism. You‘ll always find enough leisure and wit to crack some clever remark or other about somebody else‘s loss.

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Maybe-you-should-eat-makeupThis is actually not my favorite topic at all and yet I wish to think about it, think through it: beauty. It is rather unfortunate, I suppose, that U. Eco has already written a whole goddamn brilliant book on it but since I haven‘t read it, I can naively pluck away at the topic. Nor do I have any art-historical credentials whatsoever to consider this matter but that should just be filed under additional complication.
For two.5 yrs now I‘ve been together with a partner who can conventionally be considered „beautiful“ or „aesthetically pleasing“ or a „bombshell“ or whatever is your preferred designation of advanced aesthetic phenotype. It is just tough luck that such a statement cannot be made without coming off as vainglorious but the postulate is needed for this piece of thinking.
What makes one beautiful in terms of outward appearance? There‘ve been thousands of studies on the topic which neither of us will be bothered to consult and so the conjectures remain at the surface of general insight: above-average symmetry, large eyes, proportional spacing of facial features, healthy skin, etc. The matter of the body is too complex, vexed and contentious to even consider getting into.
More interesting is the effect such a phenotype has on a room full of people, which I‘ve observed w/ befuddled, possibly spooked fascination: wherever and whenever, a significant majority of heads [w/ eyeballs therein] will tilt in her general direction.

Untitled-1335Suppositions? A) Significantly salient stereotypes of whatever configuration naturally draw attention [whether a supermodel, pygmy or notre-dame-type persona].

B) This is the lamest and most banal and yet it must be mentioned: motion; it draws attention. As you enter, you move. The frog next to the pile of dead flies dies. Big bloody deal!

C) The crux: Beauty. It is intrinsically pleasing to examine, whether one is male or female at either end of the hoary subject-object binary. You can look at it and derive a little dose of harmless pleasure.
It seems also to activate more atavistic programs of the human psyche. Beauty is rare and distributed entirely unjustly and unequally. The question that immediately rears its head is: why this cosmic injustice? This collides with our ever-present [if rarely justified] fever-dream of living in a meritocratic society: whatever privilege you enjoy, you must have earned it! But [leaving aside the toxic pandora‘s box of make-up and pla-surg] beauty is not achieved, not based on a person‘s lifetime work or impeccable civic ethos, it just is. It is there, up from the genotype, no questions asked.

[What unfathomable level of outrage would Hitler have created if, to top all the horrors off, he would‘ve look like Brad Pitt?! ]

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Evolutionary Ambiguity [chronicles of Dis/Infection, mar2016]

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– Adam Kirsch, p.18 (Rocket & Lightship)

It must be severely doubted whether any one single contemporary theory, to the hapless lay person such as myself, can be more maddeningly ambiguous than Darwin‘s theory of evolution. It concocts in my amateurish mind an even blend of appreciation/clarity and confusion/over-saturation.
To begin with, as one is taught in the early going, it‘s not even really just Darwin‘s theory. It goes back to a number of different theorists, including JB de Lamarck [who had the first, fancy, non-contradictory theory of evolution], Compte de Buffon [for elaborating the idea of nature‘s history as a matter of superduper longue duree rather than the paltry 7k or so of biblical fancy] and, oh yeah, A. R. Wallace [adventurer and busy-body] who basically provided the final camelus-dromedarius-spine-fracturing impetus to get Darwin to even publish work that had been languishing on his desk for a happy two decades. So even the genetical basics of the theory are messy and complicated and quite the opposite of allopatric conceptual speciation: there was no primordial cell of the theory of evolution.

The second point is this theory‘s indisputable elegance: it postulates a few laws or axioms, which, when applied to both the fossil and living record of the planet‘s biodiversity make sense of a broad spectrum of phenomena, both diachronic and synchronic. biodiversity_438x0_scale
One can explain biodiversity. One can explain competition for resources. One can make sense of the importance of sex in an entirely non-erotic mode. One can, though one probably shouldn‘t, go ahead and make up insane social ideologies, e.g. social darwinism. One can even very partially explain the necessity of death itself. One can, ultimately, if one wishes so, take one or two steps of cogitation and apply the theory to any conceivable phenomena.

And therein lies its problematic potency: it is almost too easy to think with! It is a theoretical edifice so easily applied to any and all phenomena that, whatever complex natural or cultural pattern begins bleeping on our cognitive radar, we have shot it down in no-time with one of our darwinian scud missiles. Not shot down, in fact, but fully analyzed and filed away for future reference without a second, third or fourth thought about what that bleep might‘ve been if conceived of in anything other than evolutionary terms. What would Wittgenstein think? What would Badiou surmise? And what, while we‘re at it, would I consider this?

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In fact the radar will not do, what the evolutionary theory these days often amounts to, especially in the hands&brains&media of semi-literate journalists and experts [designations that teeter on the verge of semantic extinction], is an epistemological empire: nothing can escape its imperial explanatory power, no territory of phenomena is beyond its cognitive canons. As seen through its own retina, the Master‘s subjugating gaze.
And so this will, mistaken for a power, to explain everything manifests in numerous forms of negativity: hindrance to original thought, discrimination against heterodox theories, justification of eugenic/racist ideologies [not theories!], crass reductionism combined with over-simplification of actual advances in the theory itself, political instrumentalization, etcetera. Combined with the magic word „gene“ it is made to account for 99% of the biological and socio-cultural cosmos.

9027973_origI find myself drawn to this explicatory elegance while recoiling from the intellectually imperial impulse.

But both the rarity of commonsense and the omnipresence of phenomenological experience rebel against an explanation of reality in purely evolutionary terms. There are many areas of human existence where meaning-making proceeds in the absence of what Charles et al. were theorizing about. Adam Kirsch encapsulates this in a most lyrical expression, the denial of „the empire of mere life“:

Bildschirmfoto 2016-03-18 um 21.55.17– AK, p5, R&LS

 As a presently non-reproducing, scribbling member of humanity, I naturally [impelled by neurons rather than the hale&hearty gonads] heartily subscribe to such and similar ways of putting it and wish hereby to posit reading and writing and the odd hour of physical exercise as the ne-plus of human here‘ness.
And I have to parenthesize, almost leave entirely out, the question of agency: Do the selfish genes want anything? Extremely doubtful given their absence of consciousness. Does a population of finches have any kind of collective volition? Mehhhhhhh. Does an individual human being envision a goal? Most certainly! Is it at all times Niños o Muerte? Surely not.

Finally, as an appreciator of Darwinian theory and a lover of art, allow me briefly to join shoulders with Kirsch in batting the notion that our artistic-sensibilites are somehow hitched to the survival-of-the-fittest out of the stadium. Kirsch (p.10) states:

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I‘ll second this simply by something so blindingly obvious that it‘s embarassing to state, yet necessary: as human beings, now and then [even if all too rearly], we get to pick our own purposes. Our function, our telos. If I choose to go to a museum for the sublime delight of the experience, then that is exactly fucking it. I don‘t need to adduce my procreational prowess to justify a jaunt to Beyeler! I‘m not contemplating a turbulent Basquiat because I‘m subconsciously upping my odds of improving tomorrow night‘s pick-up game so as to inject an art-historically-dazed damsel with my egotistical genes. In other words, Darwin‘s fabulous theory concerning the speciation of the living kingdom doesn‘t get to call the plays of my subjective existence; not that the guy ever had anything of the like in mind either but empire has a way of outrunning and even getting away from its originators…

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Some kind of mal [chronicles of Dis/Infection, Mar2016]

Old age is like a plane flying through a storm. Once you’re aboard, there’s nothing you can do. ¶ Golda Meir

How easy it is, how tempting, to overestimate one’s competence in any one area of life or human affairs or even simple biomechanical patterns. For my part, i clung to a baseless inner certainty that i would sail through my science orals in early december. Such false imaginings usually have a build-up: earlier, easy successes in similar areas, a Panglossian perspective [which i usually welcome], as well as a false sense of safety when one misinterprets anxiety-reducement-statements of one’s colleagues and friends for a realist account of whatever predicament one finds oneself in [no worries ≠ do not worry].

The fundamental screw-up: thinking that it would all somehow fuzzily go well, that the luck  of the draw was going to be such that covering 95 percent of the material would suffice [i mean, what are the odds, come on]. Then getting the shitty luck of the draw and struggling, mightily, to explain what safety measures are to be taken in order to conduct in-class electrical experiments [rubber gloves, surely…..uhm, maybe some kind of failproof switch?]. And feeling four months’ worth of studying slide south on the unknowing, flailing tip of my tongue, the examiners’ questions seeming to get either easier or more absurd, i wasn’t able to tell.

science-03Second time was the charm though; the charm needed to be moved forward as there would’ve been no third time. I could’ve even explained some intermediately basic concepts like how and why a changing magnetic field-flux can induce an electrical current in a ferromagnetic conduit. The different modes of speciation and meiosis. Even the fundamentals of a Redox-reaction; knowledge i expect to hang around my cortex for another few weeks before deteriorating into toxic half- or quarter-knowledge, while i attend to more literary matters.

It seems as though the natural sciences have a special relish to come bite me in my gluteus maximus when i least expect it. During the last year of my B.A. work at Knox [anthropology, mind you] my advisor, quite suddenly, gravely turned my attention to the fact that i was missing an elective and that it would have to be in the hard sciences. I recall hearing something heavy thud to the ground inside my head.

Thus, during the last term, while plodding away on my B.A. thesis [which needed to be a big production because i’d chanced on this research grant] i also had the extraordinary joy and privilege and altogether fun experience of blazing through an expensive 500-page tome of biology. And now this whole business of taking the orals twice and the second time basically deciding if Yours poorly [aka i] has to put in another 1.5 yrs at the dearly beloved, soul-shattering PH LU in some other didactic area of his extremely reluctant choosing [history, physical ed, whatever], realizing, wholly, even woolishly belated, that the strategy of picking a subject that seemed job-market-oriented and “fascinating” was a spectacular misdecision. Perhaps on a level with not blindly pursuing an unwholesome, pointless academic career after busting his intellectual balls in the city of flatulence, Paris on the Prairie. Which is an occasional, not altogether unreasonable, chorus amongst his [my] loved ones.

The test-passing was accompanied by a surprising, even if stereotypical, deluge of relief. Unfortunately it has played on my always-at-the-ready, base instincts of chilling-the-fuck-out-to-the-max, as witnessed by the few and paltry entries on this blog and the sheer dearth of job applications put into writing ever since i sailed out of that science classroom on a high tide of serotonin, the experts’ radiant smiles at my back.

Truly have i chilled. Me’looketh to my future days and see a sea of calm, undemanding tasks, pacific obligations. Though, naturally, unfortunately, it is time to get the bottom back into gear, sailing or even rowing, as there are some distant, Pessoan shores i should very much wish to gain: Isola d’Acceptable Inntekt, the Atoll of Shǒucì Chūbǎn and probably, if feasible, regaining the long lost lands of Kwelinye Izwe. Oh man, to voice one’s intentions for the future, what an ill-advised thing to do, what a bad way of going about matters! Thus now silence.

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These past few days i learned two vital lessons [lesions] about becoming, or rather, being elderly and its associated motor deficiencies. Maybe it was a few weeks but in the jumbled temporal space of non-writing one is as good, as unreal, as the other.

falling_woman_eveLesson one was that there is a stage of motor-skill degeneration when going about your business in public all alone is a very bad idea for all parties involved: the old person, the circumambient society. There was this woman of extremely advanced age who was making for the checkout-counter of our spatially highly constricted Migros. By means of a cumbersome walking frame. The WaFra of course is totally legit; we also call it the old people’s Lambo [which, as soon as you think of it one thought past the nice ring it has in German, makes no sense at all]. The WaFra permits old people to stay on their chosen path of forward progression, while allowing for some much-needed extra strength via their arms. Not that octogenarian arms are anything super-strong to be relied upon in times of need.

Good lord, this comes of as agist but i’m actually trying to depict the context of the situation here. Anyway, this grocery store is not only spatially constricted, located near the station and open at all hours, it is also frequently overrun by the hungry multitude. Meaning it is generally not an ideal space for the mutually inter-coordinated mass motion of human bodies.

To continue with the WaFra’s benefits: it allows, in times of crisis, for the golden ager to turn around, then sit down for a quick resuscitative breather. The old woman under observation needed none of this and jerkily arrived at the counter where, neither briskly nor excessively bradykinetic, she paid with what amounted to a war-cache of small change. Seeing her extremely convoluted posture and desiccated face and expressionless, watery eyes inspired visions of mortality. Then strangeness ensued. The old woman moved a couple of steps and came to a jerky standstill between the counters, her face twitching, the affect deadlined. This looked very much like a petit mal. The cashier looked at her slightly alarmed as she was blocking the double stream of consumers’ advance out of the purchase point. In fact everybody’s gaze was partially fixed on the mummy-like lady, fixed in time and space, jerking little jerks of what had to be assumed was imminent departure. Nobody dared approach her either, either thinking that she would recover from her stasis or should be allowed the dignity to keel over of her own accord. The walking frame which maintained this pre-deluvian female upright was now a kind of encumbrance to the multitude’s assessment of her health condition: a toppling to the ground would have had great informational value! Instead she lurched and started.

In place. Pause, exhail, wait.

oldladyAlso, there was an air of defiance about the old woman, a sense that the last thing she wanted in this universe or the next was any kindred spirit‘s spurious show of compassion. After all, at 90+ years of age, 7/8 dead to the best of anybody’s telling, she had had no compunction whatsoever to venture into the people-cluttered core of town to do her groceries and discombobulate gents with her semi-mummified presence. The woman just wanted to be left in peace/place or be carted off in a coffin if in fact she did… decide to drop dead. After an eternity, I had enough time to steal glances at her and fill my plastic bag with food and drink, she then gave a start and briskly doddered towards the sliding doors; where once again she yanked to an abrupt, stationary petit mal.

It was a true spectacle of ancient idiosyncratic will versus physical ruin, neither compassion nor grace seemed adequate concepts for which to come to terms with what was happening. You could almost sense the biomolecular havoc inside the senescent lady’s body, the way the 50 trillion cells struggled mightily to do their day’s work.

The woman manning the last counter got up out of her seat as if to rally to the rescue, a violation of the script as it had thus far been established. The dying woman must’ve noticed this from out of the watery corners of her eyeballs and marshalled her remaining strength once again to careen out of the Migros. 5 meters outside of which came another halt & jerk.

To claim that there was a specific lesson in this episode is perhaps too confident an assertion but it did show, little me, that no matter the state of bodily disrepair, the human form can and will always struggle to obtain the relevant nutrients, the means of its continued existence; even if only to display the horrors of old age and mortality. It was the old lady‘s big V%ck–Off to any garden variety Nihilism or the Bourgeoisie’s dictum of public continence: Ahhhhh, but to exist! What a state!  

 

¡™¬ø

 

The second lesson almost escapes me. It was a few days later or on the very same day; possibly even some time before the prior episode. Who remembers this type of shit? Mom&Dad-bound I pedalled up the Bodenhofterrasse that steep incline which makes Bireggwald look like a forbidding fortress of a forest lording it over the hill top.

There was this other old lady locking up her bike. Good for her was my thinking or i suppose i was thinking something along those lines as bike-usage usually fires up my optimistic spirits. She then made for the sidewalk right next to the bicycle-stand, downhill from where stood a friend of hers. Maybe she forgot something, maybe a noise caught her ear but just a step short of the sidewalk she turned around uphill. This was enough time for her left foot to catch on a little ledge separating the pavement from the bike-pad. She swivelled back around as if to attend to this new complication underfoot, somewhere below where her mind and head was. Though, speaking from the position of a moderately young person and examining the senior lady’s posture at that point in time [one leg slightly raised, the body tilted slightly down hill], the body geometry was not by a far cry catastrophic yet, i felt pretty confident in my prognosis that the situation was deteriorating rapidly and would eventuate in what life all too often eventuates in: suffering. I believe her friend downhill, too far away to usefully intervene, must’ve been rooted into place by the exact same thought: Oh shit! Fortunately for all involved there was none of the lugubrious number seven buses winding its way down the hill from just around the corner. The trolley-driver would’ve been supremely badly placed for either seeing the woman or for making an emergency break.-registered-vat-exemption-no-registered-vat-exemption--2496-p

Hmmmmm, i believe that you dear reader can already see what a neat little diptych this is turning out to be: The standing lady & The fallen woman.

So what happened is that the woman’s dragging foot was still somehow attached, in fact kind of pincered, to the ground by its strange forward motion, while her point of gravity had escaped downhill to a point beyond the geometrical middle between her feet. Which, if you’re not sprinting, is all-around bad news for upright locomotion. Her proprioception evidently was quick enough to kick in and set off the alarms that signal impending perambulatory catastrophe. However, maybe from old habit or maybe from a lack of knowledge of her aged body’s capacities, the lady focused on the wrong counter-measures. In other words she initiated rotational movement along her vertical axis combined with ineffectual leg-flailings to regain her footing.

I watched. Between one revolution of the pedal and the next it seemed i had hours and hours to watch how this silver-ager was in the process of falling to the ground. It seemed like from one of her helpless postures to the next might’ve been enough time to wrap up my M.A. thesis if I hadn’t done so already. Cycling uphill, observing, moments began their slow flow toward eternity or infinity.

What the woman should have focussed on is getting up her arms, again those unreliable superannuated arms, to break her fall. And probably also those very same arms. Regrettably by the time she initiated any brachial-type movement the time-window for this face-saving gesture had already opened and shut again.

Neither of the two silver ladies was very interested in saving face, it seemed.

Anyway, the woman then fell like a log, fully outstretched, her face smacking into the gravel-strewn pavement of post-winter. Her cry was a weak yelp of surprise echoed by her friend who had now finally begun moving uphill.

 

Instead of compassion, i felt a bastardly sense of relief that i wasn’t the one who had to rush to her help, as i had other things planned. I am young and hale, for now, hale above all.

 

 

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