Photo Mosaic :: One

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I dabble in photography, too.  These are some older botanical photos I’ve taken.  (Andy Breen, Chicago, IL; 2007-2010)

 

Here are some other photos.  I guess you could call them landscapes or, perhaps, still life.  (Andy Breen, Lake Villa, IL; 2012-2013)

Everyone is Dropping Bombs :: Pt. I

Okay, I hope the headline grabbed your attention.  This post is not about the military-industrial complex or imperialism.  This post is about language and how we utilize it in the ongoing debate between what can, quite ostensibly, be called the “Fascists v. Anti-Fascist v. ‘Liberal'” factions within our contemporary society.

I make no qualms about it: I’m an unabashed “lefty,” “pinko,” “commie,” etc…  I think it’s important for me to disclose that.  I also believe it’s important to disclose that I support AntiFA; civil disobedience and, if necessary, revolution against the Plutarchy by any means necessary.

But, I digress, let’s get back to the main gist of this post: militarized language.

“Militarized language” is language that utilizes the patois of the battlefield for rather benign activities.  Militarized language can be seen quite often in the medical; political; education; policing and the sports industries–We “attack” cancer; we “eviscerate” the competition; we fight a “war” on drugs; we “crush” the political opposition… on and on, ad nauseam.

I get it; there is something about using such terms that adds a certain degree of authority and glamour to what is essentially a game or medical procedure; or, it can be used to sugar coat the systemic oppression of the poor and minorities.  Western culture has had an obsession with all things war since the era of Homer so, it’s only natural that our language is peppered with words that conjure up images of the perceived glory of war.

Susan Sontag, in her book Illness as Metaphor, covers this juxtaposition of a language of death and war over those tenets we espouse as members of a post-Modern society; specifically, medicine:

The controlling metaphors in description…  are, in fact, not from economics but from the language of warfare…  Cancer cells ‘colonize’ from the original tumor… Treatment aims to ‘kill’ cancer cells… There is everything but a body count.”

As Sontag points out, our collective obsession with militarizing the most basic artifacts of any culture–such as language–osmosizes even professions who’s outcomes are the antithesis to warfare:  healing.  Sontag continues a couple page later:

The military metaphor in medicine first came into wide use in the 1880’s…  But talk of siege and war to describe disease has… a striking literalness and authority.”

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Excerpt from a Work in Progress

There it sat, an old tyrant crowned with the deaths of forty-million.  An open festering wound on the prairie; its infrastructure spread like blood poisoning up the arm of an IV drug user.  Detached but ever present; irrational but somehow omnipotent—its split personality divided by a silent river hemmed in by a century of progress and the little old tyrants sheer willpower.

Tendrils of gold broke above the skyline weighing the already heavy and tottering as the gas lamps wheezed their last.

He awoke, yet again.  It was the same damn dream he had been having since about the age of six or seven, the age when most children begin to identify themselves as independent entities.  Sure, content and sexual explicitness would change over the years but, essentially, the dream was the same.  To call it a traditional nightmare full of boogie men and childhood trauma distorted by tryptophan and the other assorted alchemical elements that science and medicine have determined to be the make-up of a sleeping brain is to completely undermine the corporeal experience.  Even psychological and occult theories failed to adequately describe the reality—the Truth—of the dream and, frankly, he didn’t care anymore.

The Sun slid through the makeshift curtains he’d hung; as it made its grand entrance it clung to the mixture of asbestos and plaster dust that hung like distillate in the room he rented.  He was able to tell by the angle of the rays that it was well before when needed to be up for work given the fact he worked at night as lamplighter.  It didn’t matter; the dream clung for dear life to the back of his eyelids as he rolled over and tried to squeeze out enough sleep to at least get him through the zenith.  It simply was not going to happen.

Sitting at his window he thought.  His only companion a faded table linen.

She had left. And the dog, well, tragedy had befallen her.  She had left and the dog was gone and he was thinking, in telepathic muteness, to his companion the faded, pin-striped table cloth.  The world seemed to float by on the brackish river that lay just outside—completely indifferent to not only his muted desperation but to those of the centuries of men that stood firm and the incalculable more who did not.

It was during his musings with his table cloth over cold tea that he solved the world’s problems and willed his solutions into being.  It never really worked but he would still try.  The act of willing His Utopia served some purpose; he supposed it had similar pretense to prayer.  People didn’t understand it but he didn’t understand prayer.  Both were completely irrational reactions to a fucked up world and, all things being equal, he always knew where he stood with himself.  The “pray-ers,” as he called them, were never quite sure where they stood in the eyes of their respective deities and dogmas.

He possessed what the Greeks had called logos and ethos.  Those, in tandem, were the currency with which he bartered with irrational circumstances because, in the end, he knew exactly where fault lay and it was never underwritten by a jealous entity.  He had no one to blame except himself.  He carried his own crosses and accepted help from no one.  Yet, despite his stoicism he often tripped under the weight and his solitude was making the burden worse.

His companion remained silent and, due to the fact that it was a table cloth, lay rather passively across a dilapidated card table.  The flicker of an aged television had them both distracted.

Across the screen, on some early morning news talk show, words were scrawled.  Rather benign headlines:  tech stocks had risen; elections in some African backwater had gone to hell and the Iranians were that much closer to being able to nuke the East Coast of the United States.  One headline about arcane Southern justice stood out and caught their attention long enough to gather a few details but not so interesting enough that any of those details were retained.

His cold tea had run out.  He lifted the plastic cup from his companion and apologized for the ring of condensation left on the neat pressed pin-stripes.  The table cloth remained silent…”

A Melting Pot

In Chapter Five of Patricia Hinchey’s book Finding Freedom in the Classroom: A Practical Introduction to Critical Theory, the author takes on issues that are absolutely fascinating to me.  My undergraduate background is in Cultural Studies and a lot of the chapter is a dianoetic discussion about the role authority and cultural capital play in the American public education complex.  Authority, as first argued by Marx and later a long string of Marxist and Keynesian thinkers like Hall, Gramsci, Delpit, Giroux and Sontag, is granted through accumulation and retention of cultural capital.  Cultural capital is the life story of an individual.  It includes, but is not necessarily limited to, one’s education, rearing environment, ethnic heritage, metaphysical belief system(s), and social and/or economic class.

Quite often in the United States, especially in academia and public education, what is first idolized and later studied as fact are a set of values, mores, norms and personal ethos that perpetuates bourgeois control over labor and monetary capital surplus.  Marx and Engels, in their infamous Manifesto of the Communist Party, argue that all social systems are designed from the top down to, not only replicate and enforce but, also manufacture consent for bourgeois-capitalistic control over brick and mortar capital (i.e., property) and human capital (i.e., labor).

“Your very ideas are but the outgrowth of the conditions of your bourgeois production and bourgeois property,” Marx-Engels say in their Manifesto.  They go onto to say, “your jurisprudence (written human law) is but the will of your class made into a law for all, a will, whose essential character and direction are determined conditions of existence of your class.”  It is this described selfish misconception that induces the majority—as Hinchey points out that most “average” people have never lived the lifestyle portrayed as “average” by their respective media—to participate in “social forms springing from” present modes of production (Tucker, 487).

This phenomenon, as it presents itself in contemporary American culture, is well illustrated by popular rhetoric that says to have a plush office and give orders to others means you are more worthy than others of your position.  The wealthiest and most powerful (the cultural, economic, and political elites) are generally assumed to be our “smartest and most hard-working citizens (Hinchey, 75).”  This is sometimes referred to the Horatio Ahlger myth.

Myth is powerful and, perhaps one of the most fascinating things about myth, is that it is not perpetuated by the elites.  The masses perpetuate myths whereas the elites create the rituals, customs, etc… that give rise to myth; this is almost a cultural universal.  As a culture, more narrowly American culture, we have tacitly and discursively absorbed a “particular template” or ideal of “average” and have come to accept certain facets of that template as “part of the way things are (Hinchey, 80).”

American schools have become a battleground between mediated average and the vibrant and, for lack of a better term, dynamic reality of most Americans.  Hinchey, throughout her book, discusses the goal of American schools to function as a melting pot or means of erasing cultural differences among individuals “by processing them in the mold of standardized public schooling involving not only academics but Americanization (Hinchey, 81).”  American public schools, since their earliest contemporary conception, have served as the membrane between elites and the masses across which what it “means” to be American is diffused.

Public education enforces and manufactures consent for the elites’ (or bourgeois) ideals or template of what Americans eat, how we sound, what we wear and value and any deviation from that template is considered un-American (Hinchey, 81).  This template is well illustrated by the recitation of pledge of allegiance to the American flag every morning at the High School in Chicago were I was employed.  It is also illustrated by the refusal of many public school systems to publish multilingual lunch menus and the abhorrent lack of ethnic and cultural diversity and perspectives found in many (if not most) textbooks at all grade levels.

Signs, Signs–Everywhere, There’s Signs

Perception is reality or, so the adage would have us believe; I for one am inclined to agree.  “Reality,” or “conscious experience,” is an often fluid position from which our conscious mind reassembles experiences into contextually relevant narratives that are not of the real world itself but of an internal representation of what we believe the world to be.  This is what French Philosopher Jean Baudrillard called the simulacura.

Simply put, Baudrillard argues that contemporary Western societies have replaced all reality and meaning with symbols and signs, and that human experience is a simulation of reality.  Put another way, our reality is constructed by the symbols of our culture and media—symbols or the simulacra, have become the means by which our lives and collective existence is made not only cohesive but concrete and authentic.  Baudrillard also explains that as the life of the individual has become saturated with the constructs or simulacra of society their conscious experience is rendered meaningless or, perhaps more accurately, “inauthentic.”

Languages or symbols–the means by which we learn; and ideology–that which is learned, are inextricably linked.  This means—if Baudrillard’s treatise holds any water—that we are only able to know what we as individuals are able to decipher from the dizzying cacophony of simulacra presented by the hegemonic faction(s) of economically and/or politically powerful groups.  For example, if you live in a region or state of the United States where abstinence only sexual health is taught you “know” that pre-marital sex is “wrong;” whereas, if you live in a region or state where safer sex is taught in sexual health, you “know” that most sexual acts between two consenting people is “normal.”  I use this as an extreme example but the premise holds true when one examines textbooks and curriculum—as a teacher I often find myself asking, “whose knowledge am I ‘really’ imparting on my students.”  I’m fairly certain if it were what I consider to be “my knowledge” I’d be out of a job.

Research, like law, is man’s attempt at bringing a little organization to an otherwise messy topic.  Law is to morality what research is to knowledge.  By applying or attempting to apply parameters to public discourse (i.e., law, academia) society gives legitimacy to what would otherwise be an unruly brawl—think what passions arise when abortion is discussed in public in the United States; the American judicial system and its simulacra provide a venue in which an authentic and therefore meaningful discourse can be had and the results, contested or not, are generally binding on the whole of society.  Research lends itself to being the system through which the elite add validity to their opinions—I mean that, absolutely, without any cynicism.  Research and review is the venue through which data is interpreted and “truths” are agreed upon.

 

The New Noble Savage

Culture is a powerful force, there is very little doubt about that.  It is often intangible and peripheral, everything in one’s environment exudes a broad spectrum of what a society of people values and does not value.  As Charlton explains in his book Nothing About Us, Without Us, the Western world shows its lack of value for disabled people not through laws of exclusion (i.e., Jim Crow Laws, etc…) but through aesthetic medicalization, paternalistic tendencies, and an almost total ambivalence in building design, education and human resource management.

The Western attitude toward disabled people—a term that has come to encompass a broad range of physical, psychiatric, behavioral and cognitive diseases, disorders and disturbances—is largely shaped by the hypersexualized, visual media.  It is because of the Western obsession with the corporeal aesthetic and, if it can be said, mental aesthetic that individuals who possess corporeal, psychiatric, behavioral or cognitive deviations from what is considered to be “perfect,” “whole,” or “normal,” are subjugated to our culture’s bias toward standardization, medicalization, and stylized perfection.

Since the advent of early-Christian art—in which demons are portrayed as being crippled, or pocked with boils, welts, humps, bumps and other various aesthetic “abnormalities”—we, in the West, have feared and thought of disabled people as being afflicted or tortured by God, Nature or, not until more recent history, genetic material.  This fear and long tradition of viewing disabled peoples as some how being afflicted has lead to a dogmatic paternalism equitable to the idea of “White man’s burden,” the vestiges of which are still harbored by some cultural and political elites.  There are a lot of parallels between the struggle of First Peoples for cultural, legal and political legitimacy and the Disabled Peoples’ Movement (DPM).

In fact, the DPM cannot be detached from other significant Human Rights movements of the last 200 years.  However, it has only been in the last 20 or 30 years that the DPM has seen its nearly two centuries of advocacy come to fruition with the passage of legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  So, is disabled individual the new “Noble Savage?”

In the Western tradition, the human body has been the crux where science, morality and the highly idealized and stylized image meet.  The variations of theme of the body, has been used as often as a symbol as it has been as a means to separate “us” and “them.”  During the era of U.S. chattel slavery and the middle passage, the variation on skin color was used as a means of segregating “those that were chattel” from “those that had the potential to own slaves.”  Our culture (predominately United States) attaches morality to the body; drug addicts, for example, are often seen as lacking morals rather than being afflicted by a serious disease to be aggressively treated.  Similar attitudes are adopted toward sexually promiscuous women, where as sexually promiscuous men are aggrandized.

To be a disabled person—again, used to encompass the broadest range of social, psychiatric, physical, behavioral and cognitive diseases, disturbances, and disorders—is to find yourself firmly in the grip of the moral, scientific, and hypersexualized idea found in the Western tradition as it relates to the variation on the theme of the body.  Often times, the aesthetically gripping or what perception leads us to believe is unacceptable or displeasing is, from birth, medicalized and, thus, immediately “treated” with a scalpel.

Our institutions, those responsible for social cohesion and enforcement of cultural values, literally segregate those individual’s who don’t fit the mental aesthetic of the status quo through the continued use of, for example, forced institutionalization of the mentally ill and “special” classrooms for children who’ve experienced environmental and psychiatric trauma or suffer from acute medical or genetic/chromosomal conditions (i.e., ALS, cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, fragile X, etc…).

As Susan Sontag, postmodern social critic and multimedia artist, points out in her book Illness as Metaphor, Western (again, predominately American) culture often utilizes sickness or medical anomalies to relay cultural values.  Much like the traditional use of the shade black as a literary vehicle to convey negativity, sickness and medical anomalies can have powerful and culturally loaded connotations.  The use of the word “cancer” or “AIDS,” as a literary device, is so powerful they are almost a taboo.

At the height of America’s tuberculosis epidemic, the bacterial infection of the lungs or sub-cutaneous tissues, was commonly and medically referred to as “consumption” because of its affects on the corporeal aesthetics—it literally “consumed” the afflicted individual from the inside out.  “Consumption,” “AIDS,” and “cancer” have come to symbolize the finality of Earthly existence in a culture that places a premium on the perfection of the “meat-self” and that is uncomfortable with its degradation and the teleological outcome of all carbon based life.