Friday, October 12, 2018

Walking Progress? Crumbling, and Metamorphoses

Image result for ovid
Image result for metamorphosis

I came home from DC on Thursday night feeling a little down, arriving late in the evening.
We’d apparently lost the courts for a generation, a 5-4 solid conservative majority firmly in place, even ethics complains about the newest judge mounted.
The democrats could try to change the rules but its anything but guaranteed.
So we wandered to class, taking the train, riding with the 15-year-old, off to work.
Stanley had asked us to review some writings on the Frankfurt School.
Past homeless people and fashion models, skyscrapers and cabs, we walked Gotham.
Adorno reminds us that progress is anything but guaranteed.
“The concept of progress is dialectical in a strictly unmetaphorical sense, in that its organon, reason, is one; a nature-dominating level and a reconciling level do not exist separate and disjunct within reason, rather both share all its determinations.”
The dialectic is certainly not at a standstill.
For hours, we talked it through on Saturday, remembering Benjamin and the Frankfurt school members who dealt with  a rise of fascism in their day.
And we drove up the Hudson.
Getting away from it all, Rob and I strolled through the woods in Poughkeepsie, taking solace in the natural world, the woods, a space for transcendentalists and memories, primordial fears and an eco-system worth recognizing and supporting.
“…there is something in the mountain air that feeds the spirit and inspires…” Thoreau wrote in his essay Walking.
Looking at the light pouring in from the trees, its not always easy to know where to walk.
Eight miles we meander, one turn after another, zigging and zagging, in no particular direction.
The experience was not uncommon, as Thoreau wonders:
“What is it that makes it so hard sometimes to determine whither we will walk? I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright. It is not indifferent to us which way we walk. There is a right way; but we are very liable from heedlessness and stupidity to take the wrong one. We would fain take that walk, never yet taken by us through this actual world, which is perfectly symbolical of the path which we love to travel in the interior and ideal world; and sometimes, no doubt, we find it difficult to choose our direction..”
I certainly do not know what direction I’m walking in.
Robs been writing about seaweeds.
I’ve been thinking about about doppelgangers, wondering what my life could or would be like somewhere else, in another time, another life, another place. Perhaps Spain or Ireland?
The Dodgers lost and I caught the 1154 PM train home from Poughkeepsie, saying goodbye to Rob and Hudson Whisky, taking the old familiar ride back to the city.
Quiet and eerie, people chatting, kids playing, girls gossiping,
half awake, half asleep, three hours passing
into nothing, stopping in Croton, changing trains,
off to Grand Central, downtown the 6 train to the F train East
out to Holy Brooklyn to bed by three, coffee with Caroline at eight AM.

Back home, more good news awaited.

The United Nations’ scientific panel on climate change had published a paper warning that without fundamental societal changes, the Earth would feel climate change’s full brunt in the next 22 years.
Sitting with the news, I felt a pit in my stomach.
That’s my lifetime, really my kids’ lifetime, their peak years.
That afternoon we walked through Brooklyn, down Atlantic Ave, plastic everywhere, Styrofoam trays, bags strewn about. The little one and I explored the junk at Salvation Army, remains from a crumbling culture, junk and remainder bins on sale.
At least you got to have a full life, our 15 year old bemoans, as we discuss the report at dinner.
Its not over we say.
It means we have to take this seriously.
We had the Cold War and the Day After when we thought the same thing would happen.
We always see apocalypse.
That’s little consolation for them.
But going on?
Hegel, clashing categories, dialectical thinking and the contradictions which are part of a larger social struggle and totality, come to mind.  Through such thinking, we grapple with the constant flux of urban living; “all that is solid that melts into air,” Marx famously describes, offering a distinction between “solid” and “melting” space. Today, these questions open a dialogue between street activism, anarchism, and queer theory, dialectical materialism and the forces which propel things.
My friend Marshal Berman’s conception of modernity, between All That is Solid Melt[ing] into Air, buildings crumbling, vacant lots turned to gardens, bulldozed for condos comes to mind.
Berman, who saw his most precious family melt into the air, his childhood home bulldozed to make way for more freeways and car, famously situates this story:
“But it is a paradoxical unity, a unity of disunity: it pours us all into a maelstrom of perpetual disintegration and renewal, of struggle and contradiction, of ambiguity and anguish. To be modern is to be part of a universe in which, as Marx said, "all that is solid melts into air.””
Marx, of course, stole the line from the bard:
"These our actors, / As I foretold you, were all spirits, and/ Are melted into air, into thin air …”

Prospero's speech in the last act of The Tempest.
Storms bring us closer to seeing what is really happening. Today storms are everywhere, with water rising and cities crumbling.
The bard, in turn, found inspiration Ovid’s Metamorphoses:
 “My purpose it to tell of bodies which have been transformed into shapes of a different kinds…Although the elements of land and air and sea were there, the earth had no firmness, the water no fluidity, there was no brightness in the sky. Nothing had any lasting
 shape… within that one body, cold warred with hot, moist with dry, soft with hard, light with heavy..”
Franz Kafka’s first lines of his Metamorphoses situates his experience in similar ever transforming terrain.
“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.”
Many of us find this surreal experience in living familiar.
But what if we woke and our world was transformed?
Perhaps it already has?
My friend Sarah Schulman worries:
“Thursday Night: Widespread destruction by storms and fires, market is tumbling down - president blames it on the Fed, massive voter suppression as large numbers are kicked off rolls, US government upholding ties to killers of US journalist- and may have withheld intelligence that could have saved the man's life. 
On our side: lawyers and journalists. 
On their side: Supreme Court. 
Sunday it was hot, by Thursday it was pouring rain, and today it feels like fall, notes my yoga teacher.
Just breathe. Please breathe. I know it was a hard.
It was a hard week.
Its been a hard two years.
Fall was in the air.  So we walked to Jay Street, down Hoyt to downtown.
Thoreau had Waldon to walk:
I guess our lot is right here with the Brooklyn Tides, walking  through constant flux. 

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