Most of my writing is like the people in my life who fall somewhere between strangers and friends

The spoken word poem I recite in the shower is the guy I exchanged numbers with at DNA Lounge Saturday night knowing very well we’d have nothing to talk about on Sunday.

The short story that got trashed in workshop is the friend who stopped talking to me because our relationship “wasn’t healthy for her” but keeps in touch with a mutual friend who regularly hallucinates that she’s the Virgin Mary.

The blog post I keep saying I’ll publish once I clean up some rough edges is the friend who makes a slightly misogynistic remark every time I see him but occasionally says something mind-blowing about astral travel, so I invite him to lunch every few weeks.

The parody I waited two hopeful weeks for McSweeney’s to reject is the love interest from yoga class I figured was just busy when he didn’t text me back – until I ran into him at a club in SOMA and he said, “What’s your name again?”

The prose poem that sounded really brilliant at the time is the girl who instantly befriended me at a networking event but fell off the face of the earth after getting a boyfriend who rides a motorcycle.

The autobiography I’ve given up on salvaging is the ex I’ve slept with too many times post-relationship to remain friends with.

The lyric essay I can’t submit anywhere because my college literary journal owns the rights is the high school friend I instant message from time to time but haven’t seen in the flesh since I was 17.

Just as I’m still Facebook friends with all these people in case some unforeseen circumstance gives us reason to speak, I save these documents in a Google Drive folder hoping one day we’ll reconnect.

He Does Not Live In Calendars

He does not live in calendars.

He does not live in clocks.

He does not live in a dictionary.

He does not redefine the unknown

in terms of the known

because he knows

with understanding

comes the loss

of the pre-understood.

 

He does not live in a continuous clock.

He lives on a discrete number line, jumping

from one rung to another, skipping

the in-between space.

His hour, minute, and second hands don’t move.

They simply disappear and reappear in new

locations

every second,

minute,

hour.

 

His present is not the sum of his pasts.

His presence is not the sum of his parts.

He does not live in a tautological dictionary

where every term equals itself and the other

terms that equal it.

He lives in a book where nothing equals itself,

where nothing equals anything, and everything

equals nothing

and nothing does not equal nothing

and zero is the largest of numbers

and zero is a black hole

and zero sucks in everything.

 

He does not live in calendars. He does not live

in clocks.

Between each of his motions,

while zero seconds pass,

the universe is created again.

All his years are zero,

all his meetings are introductions,

and he does not live in these words.

Try to fit him in a dictionary,

and he will create a new language.

Sentences like seeds

I am ten, away at sleep away camp, my cabin-mates staging a late-night pow wow. My bunkmate complains there’s nobody for her to talk to. Someone points out my presence; she says I don’t speak so it makes no difference.

I am thirteen on my porch, listening to my dad lecture me about loneliness. He tells me when a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, it still falls. I say sound requires matter to travel through. He says that’s irrelevant. Air is everywhere, even places without ears.

I am twenty-one in my dorm room, crying over a breakup. The affection that begs to be expressed runs up against the inside of my skin. I contemplate writing love notes with no expectation for a response, just to get it out of me. The fruit ripens and rots.

I am twenty-three in a cosmetics store, wasting time trying on samples. When I arrive home with no evening plans, I panic and take pictures so my face doesn’t go to waste.

I am twenty-four in a meeting, trying to focus on next year’s marketing plan as a perfect sentence slips through the cracks of my brain. I jot it down when I get back to my desk, but the sequence and lexicon are lost.

The mind of a writer is a forest full of trees. They often fall in front of deaf ears, or toward readers turning blind eyes. Their fruits ripen and rot.

A forest is a self-contained ecosystem. Trees fell before they fell before people. They made sound waves before ears. They had chlorophyll before green.

But changes in air pressure are not sound, and meanings are in the mind of the beholder. Reading creates meanings. Writing creates words. Speaking creates sounds.

I am twenty-four and keep diaries from since I was nine. I don’t read them – I’d be too embarrassed – but it helps to know they’re there. It helps to hoard ideas. But my breath catches when I think of them locked in a desk drawer, a diary coffin.

Writing reminds me of death. An idea stops being dynamic once it’s put to rest on paper, resolved, no longer in flux.

But not writing reminds me of death, or of never being born. Sentences either fester in my brain like seeds underground or rot like fruits that fall and also end up underground. Underground, they birth more plants, which end up underground themselves.

Asking why I write is asking why roots grow branches. Trees fall and make sounds whether I hear them or not. The sounds propagate between me and the trees; the trees and I simply scatter the seeds that don’t wonder why they grow and the sounds that never wonder if anyone hears.

 

“I’ll verbally change universe”

“Sometimes the mere rhythm of a sentence will require God instead of the Gods; at other times the two syllables of ‘the Gods’ will be necessary, and I’ll verbally change universe”*; I’ll thought-experimentally swap realities, redoing Schroedinger’s experiment so the cat can live, pouring poison from my brain and refilling it with a new soul. I have two souls I can tune in to at any moment. One for thinking, the other for being, the other where numbers don’t count. I have three souls. I have four souls. I have more souls that multiply in the space between the two. The two leave a gap where opposites don’t reconcile, the gap that — whoops — spurts out the nonsenses and nothingnesses that slip through the cracks of logic. Infinite incompatibilities rebel against sense, against thinking, and remind us that to think is to own and disown ourselves, to split the owner from the owned and forbid them to touch, to split the inner voice from the mind’s ear so one half speaks and one half hears.

*quotes from Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

 

Thing

Thing (noun):
1 an object that one need not, cannot, or does not wish to give a specific name to: look at that metal rail thing over there

How many people have felt like a thing without a name, or a thing with a name that is not theirs? It comes from a glance as you walk into a restaurant that lingers a bit too low, the mention of your name in the third person while you’re there, the constant speak of and for “women” and “people of color” and “queer people” and “them.” After a while, you see yourself as a thing, fixed by another’s glance. Your body loses sensation; your skin becomes an insensate screen on which others dump their projections. You perform these projections because they become you. “That outfit becomes you,” someone says, and the camera in your eyes zooms out until you can no longer see your insides.

2 an inanimate material object as distinct from a living sentient being: I’m not a thing, not a work of art to be cherished.

When I complain to my friend about the violence of objectification, she says, “But we are objects.” She could have meant that we are made of objects: molecules, quarks, possibly organs if those aren’t animate. But I think she means that we are detected via our perceptual properties: how we look, sound, feel (and smell or taste in intimate settings). I argued that even if we are reducible to quarks, we are not reducible to the parts of us people ordinarily sense. We are part object, part subject. Even so, why should our object selves be our lesser halves? If you’re wondering if I’m trying to start some objects’ rights movement or something, yes, that’s exactly where I’m going with this and where several philosophers have already gone with object-oriented ontology. Stop reducing things to what we know of them, they say, and recognize their power over us.

3 an action, activity, event, thought, or utterance: she said the first thing that came into her head

– the thing came into her head without invitation and lingered without permission. When she politely dropped hints that it had overstayed its welcome, it did not care. Don’t think about a pink elephant.

A Strange Man

Daddy warned me not to be alone with strange men

but I’m alone again and again
with my own masculine side–
the stranger I don’t trust with my inner child.
The little girl inside me just wants a father
but all she has is a voice drowned out by a mental court order.
He has abused her mother, who pushes him away
then takes him back for validation, the girl perks up: will daddy stay?
Only to lose him, again and again,
so he’s always in that category of “strange men.”
He’ll abandon his family and everyone will cry
not realizing that he — that I — could make amends if we would try.
The fighting family in my head
is not just me fighting with myself as I go to bed.
It’s my own family in a microcosm
and the child I hold to my bosom
is the bit of me that hasn’t grown up yet
because before she says her vows to herself, she must get
her father to walk her down the aisle, and he’s late.
She’s small and helpless and all she can do is wait.
The man in the old house has changed
but the ole’ man in my attic is still deranged.
bats in the belfry, clock tower frozen
My mind doesn’t know 21 years from a dozen.
Its characters don’t know updates, they know habits.
So even though my father has caught up, they haven’t.
I’m afraid of my own inner masculine side
because of what it might bind:
One epoch to another,
me to my father,
the same damn thing:
The dance of bother.
The raging fights,
the sleepless nights,
the swelling eyes
from tears that ebb and flow like tides.
the part of him that’s still in me
because I was too young to see
that I didn’t have to take on everyone.
I needed a father, not a son.
And now things have changed quite a bit.
We take long car rides, shoot the shit
but when I’m dropped off and on my own,
I’m so scared to be alone.
I’m afraid of my own inner masculine side
because of the stranger it might hide
The abusive habits seem to be dead
but they live on inside my head.
I can’t get in the car and go for a ride
I’d be alone with a strange man, myself, so I hide.

Cyborg Apocalypse Story (Done!)

 (0, 3): Let There Be Dark
The old creation story begins with darkness,
Penetrated and painted over, delivered from absence
To presence by explosive light.
Some called it the Big Bang. Others called it genesis.
 
In the new tale, the world begins blindingly
Well lit and fades into darkness.
There is no big bang, but a faint whimper
No explosion, but collapse.
 
Some say it was that moment
That the Bringer of Light
Finally fell* for good.
And left was darkness,
 
Not the kind that cradles, but the kind that occupies
Not the kind that is punctured by light, but the kind that encapsulates it
Not the kind that fails to reflect, but the kind that absorbs
The kind in which nothing is seen yet everything is known.
 
Such was the darkness that befell
The second phase of the Implosion.
But this account betrays the linearity of the epoch in which it all took place;
Let the story rewind.

* “The cyborg would not recognize the Garden of Eden; it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust.” –Donna Haraway, Cyborg Manifesto

(-1, 1): Lackaday
Today was the day I discovered the future
A non-future, a future of lack.
 
The mirror illuminated my future
self, still the same shape, same coloring, same features,
but something had changed. It had to do with
the boundaries* of my skin. There didn’t seem
to be a line
between the molecules of, say, my hand
and the molecules of air around it. Nor was there such a firm
connection between the cells
of my hair and the cells of my head.
My identity disintegrated before me.
The light that had shone back at me
refused to obey the status quo
and mimic my image.
It showed me something else.
it showed me an image devoid of whiteness.
 
My perception had not changed.
My skin was its usual color
There was melanin, I remembered learning in junior high.
There were sensory receptors. It protected my organs.
But I was in the dark regarding its significance
And I couldn’t bring it to light.

* “There is no drive in cyborgs to produce total theory, but there is an intimate experience of boundaries, their construction and deconstruction.” – Haraway
 
(1, 2): Colorblindness  
This is the point at which the meaning of light and dark, black and white
was seen no longer through eyes but through mental imagery.
 
It remains to be known whether this has any bearing on the lexicon.
Will phrases like “bring to light” or “in the dark” fade from the subject’s discourse?
That’s doubtful at best. Not yet.
Colorblindness prevents top-down processing of skin color
but leaves what used to come down from the top –
illuminant knowledge that revealed and defined far more than skin –
up in the higher semantic areas to thrive.

What is needed is a writer’s breakthrough, a breakdown
in the language of difference.*

* “Race has become metaphorical—a way of referring to and disguising forces, events, classes, and expressions of social decay and economic division far more threatening to the body politic than biological ‘race’ ever was. – Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark, p. 63 

(0, 2): The Great Implosion From a Historian’s Scholarship
 The academics were the first to go.
The Ivory Tower fell like the tower of Babel
Crumbling under the weight of enlightenment.

The discovery of no self brought the disappearance
Of “I,” “you,” “us” (currently speculated to be weird fetish objects
but forever lost in translation).

The humanists experienced a language barrier
Their awareness of the violence of the language they spoke rendered them mute.
Their wounds from the violence of vision rendered them blind.
Their own lack of agency petrified, paralyzed.
The scientists saw the self disintegrate similarly:
Through their lack of free will.
Terrified to perform actions they were destined to perform
They stilled in weak rebellion (weak because this whole movement against determinism happened deterministically).
 
(-1, 0, 3): Prelude to Stochastic Decay
The earthlings feared the aliens – themselves – to the point of outlaw.
They roamed a planet that didn’t belong to them
In bodies they felt distant, distinct, from.
 
Their own tongues were designed for others’ speech.
Their tongues were double-edged
Swords, speaking violence
In the words of their oppressors
 
Speaking violence around and about the oppressed*,
Who occupied an empty space
between their rounded lips;
the oppressed who allowed them to speak
and allude to an imaginary center.*
 
The darkness was always there.
They had just mastered the practice
Of covering it in layers of light
Light that bounced gleefully, proudly, perceptibly off an object’s surface
 
Light that purported to reveal but actually concealed
The darkness of the cave’s interior
Light that is but a shadow of shadows
Even after all the chains are broken.
* “The melancholic … is stuck – almost choking on – the hateful and loved thing he or she just devoured.” – Anne Cheng, The Melancholy of Race, p. 9
* “The center is not the center.” – Jacques Derrida, Structure, Sign and Play
 
(-1, 1, 3): Quackaday
I thought back to a class the day before.
“Where does whiteness come into all of this?”
I wanted so badly to see how it was relevant to me.
 
Today would be my chance
To stop seeing blank white paper as blank
because today I imagined a future of lack.
The present seemed distant. My parents, my cats, my boyfriend (who lost that whole “pretty boy” look once I stopped seeing his clean-blond blue-eyed whiteness) …
not absent, but irrelevant.
Lack. Lack. Repetition voids the signifier of sense,
Depletes the sign of meaning
Sounds like quack.
 

(1, 2): Notes on File Quakaday
–       ”Quack” is a sound made by “ducks.” There were ducks in the old world. Now there are only things. Now there is violence in distinguishing that which is living from that which is not.
–       Writers’ language makes evident which ethnographies date from before 2012. Diary entries like this, for example, tend to mention possessions, or at least the act of possessing, of believing something is “mine.”
–       “Mine!” was understood in the old world as the cry of children. Similarly, now the notion is an antiquated attitude of young civilizations.

(-.5, 1): In My (A?) Body
Lately I’ve felt more tied to gravity
No longer propelled upward by the lightness of my spirit
No longer indebted to abstractions like spirit or mind
More in this body, though the body feels less like my own,
Less possessed or animated by my soul. And I like it
Because the natural body is enough. For example,
there is no joy, no peace quite like lying next to a lover and knowing
you are free of pretenses, naked to each other in every way
and perfect in that unadorned, unenhanced state, expressing your drives
as organisms without judgment or desire to act “civilized”?
 
(0, 3): The Great Implosion from the Absolute Memory of a Post-Turing Machine
Some thought the world would end in matricide
That man would bring himself down with the Mother Earth he destroyed. 
Others predicted viricide*
Nature’s sweet revenge on manufactured domination
A disaster that swept man into her winds or drowned him in her waters.
 
But this vision assumed either/or,
Assumed a bang.
The reality was the transition from eithers and ors
To both annihilated,
Neither the annihilator:
A wimper.
 
*viricide- killing of men, husbands, or viruses

(-1, 2): Return to the Present
Before introducing the translation below, it should be clarified what the writer means by certain era-specific phrases.
See how relationships are spoken of.
It was enlightened to speak of “relational” as opposed to absolute things.
Now it is understood that relations rely on absolute distinctions.
Beings must be separate one day to conjoin the next
Which is why “breakups” were so injurious.
The ensuing distance between organisms required rebirth,
More difficult than regeneration of parts, remolding of a golem.

They did away with romance once they did away with commitment.
They did away with commitment once they did away with the concept of forever.
They did away with the concept of forever when they realized it was real.
When they realized it was real, they didn’t want to commit, so we pushed it into the realm of fiction. The idea of forever depended on its impossibility. Nobody wants to stick with something for an eternity that exists.
 
There were attachments. Attachments depend on something that can be attached. This requires a self.  There are no selves.
 
Bodies are no longer “ours.” This makes things easier. There is no more insanity over disunity. There is no more turmoil in brains that aren’t in synch. And not being in synch is a given, because mental connections are part axons, part wires, part tools.

Creatures used to spend hours in talk therapy. Now they go to technicians.
 
Creatures also used to have hearts. Now there are none. Just cables receptive to the blood flow in bodies. These are less likely to fail. They used to think hearts were responsible for feelings. Then they discovered that electricity is all that matters.
  
(-1, 1): Tarot
My heart is torn in half.
He was my guiding light. He was my future.
We had said “forever” and “meant to be.” We meant it in the moment
Before the meaning of forever settled in, before we wondered, what if we live forever?
The word was uttered to make sense of today,
to see our present* love as the past of a future love,
the story we’d tell our grandchildren one day about our youth.
Who can cherish a moment without making up such a story?

* “The most characteristic SF does not seriously attempt to imagine the “real” future of our social system. Rather, its multiple mock futures serve the quite different function of transforming our own present into the determinate past of something yet to come.”
– Frederic Jameson, “Progress versus Utopia; Or, Can We Imagine the Future?” Science Fiction Studies Volume 9, p. 152

(-1, 2): Tarot Reading 
It should also be noted that the following ethnography includes the phrase “meant to be.” This alien idea once made sense because of the concept of teleology.* This was the concept that something had not only a cause but also a caused effect; there was a thing called purpose tying the effect to the cause. This concept was replaced by the strict determinism of the 21st century, after the fall of quantum physics and concurrent with the free will crisis preceding the reclamation of moral responsibility.

*We experienced events in an order, and perceived their relationship as cause and effect. They experienced all events at once, and perceived a purpose underlying them all.”
– Ted Chiang, “Story of Your Life”

(-1, 1): Breaking Up Language
I was in the dark about his impending desertion.
I grew up trusting, with a false sense of security
and identity. I assumed I blended in with a world of light, a world I could see,
a world of perfect purity,
never questioning the solidity of the halo around my head.

(-1, 2):  Breaking Down and Making Up Language
The world was not designed for lightness
Only the illusion of it.
A lit world with sight gave the perception of knowing objectively
Just as light skin allowed one to claim a disembodied omniscience.

(-1, 3): Melancholy of the Sun
The sun shone his light on Mother Earth, as if
to reveal her essence. But this light never penetrated to her core. There were
too many black holes to engulf his rays.

The sun is grieving over the dark
That he made vanish,
The dark that makes him visible by contrast,
The dark that keeps him from drowning in blinding brightness
so he can hide all earthlings’ lack
of elucidation.
(-1, 1):  Light Fading into Dark
We can never see the future. We cannot imagine forever. We cannot know what is meant to be. Not even in the light.

The future absorbs many factors, beams
of so many colors that they converge into black.
The future’s in the dark, light-years away, the future of lack.
Or rather, the possible futures. There is not one.
 
 (0, 3): The Color Which is Not One
Courage is not the absence, but the irrelevance, of fear.
Darkness is not the lack, but the excess, of color.
Fear of the dark is not fear of sightlessness.
It is fear of the possibilities that lie within it,
The monstrous* things that hide behind the light
And turn into creatures of the night
But in the day disguise their formlessness,
disguise the golem of potential mess.
The sighted see the creation, but not the clay;
The concept created at night, but not the history of the day.

* We require regeneration, not rebirth, and the possibilities for our reconstitution include the utopian dream of the hope for a monstrous world without gender. -Haraway
 
(-1, 1) Augmented Reality
today I snapped back from schizophrenia
to meaning, and refilled an enlightened world
with shadows. for the first time in a while
I saw the golem’s alternate Forms, neither stuck identities*
nor shapeless lumps of clay (though shapelessness has shape).
 It was the first time in a while I saw destinies –
Plural – not functional fixedness, but potential.

Today was the day the future rewound.
Today was the day I saw color again.
Today was the day the future changed and the present became a golem.

 *”Each time this identity announces itself, someone or something cries: Look out for the trap, you’re caught. Take off, get free, disengage yourself.” –   Jacques Derrida

(-2, 2): Coloring with Shadows
Shining light on something fixes it, colors it with a wavelength.
Shining too much light reveals it as nothing, exposes its lack of inherent meaning.
But different-shaped shadows* overlay it with multiple meanings: augmented reality.

*”They see only their own shadows or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave.” – Plato, Republic

(1, 3): Death of a Distant Future
Light is an illusion that feeds off distance.*
A face cannot be viewed by its own eyes.
Illumination does not reveal the Forms of the golem.
It denies it the right to be clay.
White is the color of death draining the body.

* “More than other senses, the eye objectifies and masters. It sets at a distance, maintains the distance … the moment the look dominates, the body loses its materiality.” – Luce Irigaray, Interview in Les femmes, la pornographie et l’erotisme, M. F. Hans and G. Lapouge, p. 50

 
Further thoughts:
self-FAQ
 

What inspired you to write this? What was your goal?

The original goal was to try to imagine the future. But I realized I could not. So I tried to imagine the present. I created a post-racial future to contrast with my current racial existence — one that is hard to see in the present because my body is coded as race-less. Being white means being disembodied, neutral and history-less only a good thing under a very hierarchical, dualist discourse.

Who exactly is speaking?

I envision this as a dialogue between three characters, indicated by the y axis in each multivariable chapter (the x axis position indicates time relative to the apocalypse). All three parallel stories, even the ones that take place in the future, are about the present. One is explicitly about the present, one looks at that moment from a distanced perspective, and one looks at that later moment and the earlier moment in ways that help tie them together.

 

Character 1, from the past, is essentially me. This was purposefully done because I wanted this project to be a personal guide to rethinking my own present. Involving myself as a character, I felt, could force me to participate in the journey the project created and articulate the effects of this participation. Seeing Character 1 as the author provides the interpretation that she is actually imagining Characters 2 and 3. The reader only gets a vague glimpse of the future from her perspective because the other characters are providing that. The future in the story is what she thinks up to picture her present. The irony is that once she starts imagining it, she starts living it (for example, after contemplating a future without a mind-body duality, she feels more embodied). Characters 2 and 3 are Tarot readings: not just guides to the present, but also self-fulfilling prophesies about the future.

 

Character 1 is also an allegory for recent ways of thinking about race. Her colorblind phase does not bring her past race because getting rid of the visual does not get rid of all the metaphors in our psyches. She eventually has to come to terms with not only her relationship to her skin but also her relationship to knowledge: how whiteness puts gives her the right to claim access to unadulterated knowledge, how she needs to rethink whiteness in order to abandon the illusion of absolute knowledge, and how she needs to give up the privilege – actually a disadvantage — of thinking she knows herself.

 

On a related note, a large guide for this piece was actually Derrida’ s critique of Plato’ s concept of the cave. Light and dark are used as metaphors for knowledge and ignorance. But Plato is mistaken in saying that if only we could just get to some transcendent realm, we would know what everything “ is.” This is expecting light, or enlightenment, to simply reveal without enframing. If there’ s no enframing, the thing revealed is nothing, because people are the givers of meaning. Plato sees shadows as a lesser form of truth, yet the shadows are the only thing we have. They are what create truth. Which brings us back to a central question in this course: Does opposing truth and ideology fail to consider what ideology does (that is, creates truth)? In this piece, I try to ask the question this way: Does opposing enlightened, lit reality and its shadows fail to

consider what the shadows do (that is, create the very idea of a world beyond the cave, the possibility of imagining anything fully lit)? Our lightness-worship feeds into a desire to see things for their essence, for what they truly are, and I just don’ t think there is a “ truly” in this equation.

 

Character 2, a cyborg, lives in the future and knows of pre-apocalyptic humanity only through scholarly studies. This one is the hardest to understand. 3 flip-flops between language that will accommodate the past and the future/present, whereas 2 lives in a world without people as we know them, without first- and second-person pronouns, without possessions. This proves problematic as 2 attempts to analyze ethnographies from the past. The character is trained in a futuristic form of anthropology that includes very specific ways of thinking about the past. 2 has facts about the past but doesn’t understand the mentality.

 

2 does not speak in pronouns, and thus does not attribute ideas. For example, 2 doesn’t say that now people believe it is violent to distinguish between living and non-living things. 2 simply says that now it is a violent thing to do. This is not to create the appearance of objectivity, but rather to honor a lack of distinction between objectivity and subjectivity, fact and opinion, truth and ideology.

 

Character 3, the omniscient narrator, is not a human, but a poetic computer, the kind I think of when I imagine a future computer that passes the Turing Test and more. It possesses absolute memory. Therefore, though it’s not the view from nowhere, its accounts of the past are based on recordings, unlike people’s, which are based on tying together various remembered fragments to create a cohesive narrative. Under human memory, current knowledge influences how these bits and pieces of memories are tied together, which creates hindsight bias — the tendency to see the past as if the ultimate turn of events was obvious from the beginning. This is how history has been traditionally viewed as well: as what the present naturally unfolds from. Jameson discusses this view of the past in “Can We Imagine the Future?” Understanding the present as the inevitable result of the past is one way to “fix the intolerable present of history with the naked eye.” But now that “the past is dead,” and we can’t see ourselves with our own eyes, the future has become a reference point. It allows for a perspective that can see and comment on humanity in its present state, as well as defamiliarize it (Jameson 152). Just as history gets understood in new ways as time goes on, the present is subject to alternative interpretations through the lenses of possible futures that re-imagine the present as history.

 

Is the postracial society in this story really post-racial, or just differently racial?

The post-apocalyptic world of the anthropologist has no race and therefore no subjectivity; no human, just cyborgs. But the apocalyptic world that the computer describes uses racial discourse in many different ways, just as a golem can be many different beings. 1 imagines not only 2 to analyze her, but also 3 to analyze 2, so she can see what the future she imagined looks like as a past. And she finds 2’s future bleak and rigid and unimaginative. She does not want to lose her humanity.

So do you agree with Haraway? The cyborg characters in your story are both free of social injustice and oddly cold and devoid of a sense of self (I’m not sure if that’s good or bad). And the non-cyborg seems to pick and chose aspects of the future that she sees.

Ever since I read the Cyborg Manifesto, I’ve been having this conversation with my cyborg alter ego. Our relationship … well, it’s complicated. The dialogue looks something like this:

Me: My first objection to the idea of cyborgs is the distance that technological enhancement could create between “us” and our biological bodies. Our status as corporeal creatures should be embraced rather than seen as an impediment and transcended in attempt to achieve a view from nowhere.

Cyborg alter ego: Yet Haraway’s vision is not for us to become disembodied; in fact, she says that she does not want the mind/body duality to continue. Instead, she says technology is part of the body. She wants the “organism” to instead become a “biotic component” (6).

Still, this in of itself gives me some concerns. Why is being a “biotic component” better than being an organism? We are born organisms; must we see our nature (yes, I used it! The heretical word!) as inferior to enhanced versions of ourselves?

Her point is more that nature-made and man-made things have become integrated to the point that distinguishing between them is pointless.

Granted, but the choice to remain as close to organism-hood as possible should not be devalued.

This pursuit can be driven by technophobia.

Or it could be driven by a desire for simplicity or spirituality, or just to feel adequate as a human being. Striving to become more machine-like is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is for those whose spiritualities deeply involve a connection to nature, and it is if it causes dissatisfaction with the body one is born with.

Haraway also discusses the possibility of “friendly” machines, completely neglecting the fact that machines don’t have feelings (at least not now, most likely not for a while). To me, that’s creepy.

Your arm doesn’t have consciousness, and you don’t hesitate to consider it a part of you.

My arm has sensory receptors.

You of all people should know there are people right here at Brown working on prosthetic limbs that do that.

Fine, so my criticism of the vision of “friendly” machines only holds if it is taken to the extreme.

I wonder if the criticism is driven by a lingering Cartesian way of thinking. Perhaps it is disconcerting to you that machines don’t have “ghosts” like people do …

 I am not saying that. I’m saying that, whatever constitutes conscious experience, they don’t have it, and therefore they cannot substitute healthy social interactions (which Dobson pointed out).

On a related note to both of the above, I (again, mostly irrationally) fear that transhumanist agendas would diminish the importance of our biological drives and primal desires to connect with others physically. Character 1 gets beyond her whiteness not by becoming post-human but by embracing her symbolic blackness, her embodiment, her proximity to nature. Besides, who wants to kiss a robot?

Shira was physically attracted to Yod.

But he’s not really a robot. He’s more of a human. Or is he?

That’s the point. He’s both. He’s neither.

He is, however, a product of technology and therefore enframed as standing reserve. He exists for the purpose that Avram designed him for. He is used like a thing; he has no rights. Isn’t that Piercy’s point – that people should not design people because there will always be a motive behind this design? The creation becomes an extension of its creator, like the monster to Dr. Frankenstein, and is therefore not truly human. Yod is a supplement to his government as tools are to humans.

But the whole definition of technology will change. Haraway said, “Nature and culture are reworked; the one can no longer be the resource for appropriation or incorporation by the other.”

That seems very idealistic. Mostly, though, I think that changing or supplementing our bodies is not the answer to sexism and racism and all the isms. First of all, it’s not enough. The girl in my story stops seeing race but is still using racial metaphors because they are too ingrained to be overcome by external stimuli. Child care and reproductive technologies (bottles, “artificial” insemination) have not crushed the idea of women as nurturers and men as providers, plus not everyone has access to technologies. Secondly, becoming sexless (which, by the way, means male), raceless (which, by the way, means white) beings who no longer pursue “unalienated labor” (2) is not compelling to me, notwithstanding the impossibility of getting around sexual difference.

One is not born a woman.

Don’t pull out the existentialism card. My point is, born that way or not, we should feel secure being sexed, raced creatures if we so chose. This security requires not sidestepping the issue by making our bodies’ biological markers more malleable, but rather dealing with the meanings of these markers head-on and rethinking them.

Again, this anxiety comes from an extreme interpretation of cyborg theory. Hopefully, cyborgs can help people rethink their ascriptions of identities and destinies based on certain visible bodily signs.

Still, I think cyborgs are only useful insofar as they can do that, only insofar as they can get to the real issue at hand: not what our bodies in of themselves look like, but the way we see them.

The question isn’t whether cyborgs are “useful” or not. Haraway says we already are cyborgs, not that we should be. In fact, we have always been cyborgs to an extent. It’s not a question of whether or not we should be.

But it is a question of the extent to which we should embrace technology. To sum it up, I think it is productive to realize we are already cyborgs and think through the implications of that, but not to strive to be cyborgean as a goal in of itself.

 

What message were you hoping to get across?

 

This project started with two conflicting visions. One was for a more radical transformation of the human in utopian science fiction. One was for a vision of the future (or, according to Jameson, a way of approaching the present) that retains the pleasures of being a creature rather than a machine: family, spirituality, sensuality. Whether or not a post-human can have these things is a profound question that can be broken into several sub-questions. First of all, can a pure robot (as opposed to an enhanced human) feel? Second of all, if we get rid of the concept of the human as we know it, what is left? If there is no identity, can there be relationships? If there is no concept of a self, how do we interact with other people?

 

I found a website called the Cyborg Sex Manual 1.0., which addresses some of the sensual, familial and spiritual concerns of cyborgs. One thing it said really stuck with me: “Your body is not a thing but it is you yourself.” I love this way of thinking about the human body. But what about the post-human body, when there is no distinction between the body and the “things” that enhance it? Does this make your body a thing? Would that in turn make “you yourself” a thing, or would the technologies integrated into the body cease to be things? The idea of considering something made of metal or plastic to be part of me is very nerve wrecking. Of course, it’s arguably already true. I use acne medication and moisturizer on my skin, anti anxiety pills in my brain, typed journal entries in my mind (by some definitions of the mind), and I’ll probably get a hip replaced one day like just about everyone who can afford it. The natural, original self I want so badly to preserve is already lost. In fact, I think that’s where a lot of technophobia comes from: Machines are not only our rivals but also our relatives. We are material and machine-like. But need we lose so much the body we were born with that we can no longer consider it ours?

 

I was also stuck between Haraway’s anti-humanism and Gilroy’s new humanism. If the concept of race is part of, even interdependent with, the concept of the human, do we need to get rid of the human altogether to get rid of race? Or is that throwing the baby out with the bathwater?

 

I don’t want the idea of the human to die. Anti-humanism can demonize religion, spirituality, and the body. I consider the bodies we are born with too sacred to tamper with excessively. Call me a romantic, yet I believe that even if this view is irrational, people should be open to practice it.

 

In He, She and It by Marge Piercy, the character Shira concludes that the cyborg Yod should be the last of his kind. She thinks this because human-built cyborgs are inexorably created to serve some purpose in the mind of the maker, not because she doesn’t believe robots can have human feelings. She describes Yod’s emotions and sensations as simulacra, yet she seems to compare them to her own as she does with any other human being. After all, you can’t know if anyone’s emotions – cyborg or not – feel the same as your own. He does, however, have impoverished enjoyment of sex, being programmed to please rather than to seek pleasure.

 

Ted Chiang’s “Liking what you see: A documentary” also addresses the idea of whether technology should be used to curb animal instincts. In the short story, people are getting brain surgery to stop seeing others’ beauty or lack thereof. One character suggests that this is a reflection of a problem in our society: We see physical pleasures as lesser than mental or spiritual activities, which not only creates a false dichotomy but denies us enriching experiences. While I was not persuaded by that argument, I do fear that making ourselves more technological would diminish our physical drives and the satisfaction we derive from fulfilling them. I am concerned that transhumanists and cyborgean theorists see transcending the body as a good thing. By the way, I do not see this as Haraway’s vision. She says that reproductive sex is “one strategy among many” for cyborg replication. She also says, however, that “the cyborg does not dream of community on the model of the organic family.” I do not think that the old “organic” ways of being should be prohibited. They should be one way of living among many.

  

So, I think that cyborgean theory is liberating in that it allows people to avoid enframing; that is, to avoid seeing their bodies as for a particular purpose (which, ironically, is the problem Yod runs into). However, I don’t think we need to go to extremes to do this. I don’t think we need to stop being flesh and blood and bones, and I don’t think we need to stop having the desires of organisms. In fact, I hope we take advantage of our bodies just as we do the technology we have to enhance them. I hope we see them, as I wrote in one of my poems, with “not functional fixedness, but potential.” Functional fixedness is an aspect of human psychology in which something’s common use is seen as its only possibly use, its destiny. This is at the heart of the problem. We do not want to see the human as functionally fixed. But we can change this vision without adding new functions or erasing functions that are fixed for most people (seeking survival, happiness, etc.). This may sound like an unsophisticated analysis of cyborgs, and I know that becoming cyborgs doesn’t mean turning people into robots or getting rid of a “soul” (whatever that means), but I have contemplated this and decided it’s an argument that, though possibly irrational, we can’t ignore because many people buy into it.

 

 

What texts did you consult while working on this project?

 

“A Cyborg Manifesto” – Donna Haraway

Nova – Samuel Delaney

On the Quesiton Concerning Technology – Martin Heidegger

Beyond Race – Paul Gilroy

Race as Technology – Beth Coleman

Playing in the Dark – Toni Morrison

The Melancholy Of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation, And Hidden Grief – Anne Cheng

 

Children of Men

The Republic – Plato

Plato’s Pharmacy – Derrida

News coverage of recent floods (see paragraph about end of the world as mother nature pitted against man-made technologies)

I Love To You and The Sex Which is Not One – Luce Irigaray

Stories of Your Life and Others – Ted Chiang

He, She and It – Marge Piercy

Colors Passing Through Us – Marge Piercy

Progress Versus Utopia; or, Can We Imagine the Future? – Frederic Jameson

“Mars is No Place for Children” – Mary A. Turzillo

The Mind’s I – Douglas Hofstadter, Daniel C. Dennett

 

 

 

 

When I Speak

When I speak,
I try to speak to
not for.

Too often, when people say “I love you,”
They’re looking into a mirror
Expecting the phrase repeated
For them.

To often, when people say “I love you,”
They’re putting words in someone’s mouth.
If those words are not repeated
To them
they’re unsettled, surprised.

When I give,
I try to give to
Not for.

This means: do what you will with this gift.
It is beyond my control.
It was sent to you, not for me,
And not for anything I could gain in return.

When I love,
I try to love
Not in order to
Or in place of
But simply to.

The “to” in “I love to you” transports
My words from me
To you. They are yours now.
Do with them what you will.

Amorphous Affections

October: His arm leads my waist through puddles and rain. Like drops dripping on the ocean and the sea itself, we are two classifications with an amorphous boundary, always shifting, give and take, me drifting onto him, him dripping into me, my ears closer to his heartbeat than his own ears.

October: I release my conscience in the room of a stranger. Our hair intertwined, I dream of he whose own mind I drink like water: I am also made of it. His presence is in me, but I gravitate toward the safety of someone in front of me, someone I don’t need to look inward to see.

October: A hybrid has been crawling past my pillow and infiltrating my dreams. My head has been entangled with too many hair colors. I wish this chimera would blend into a simple dull brown.

November: He is no longer another entity. His actions are nutrients I have digested to the point that they’re indistinguishable from my cells. He is no longer food for thought. Just energy I’ve used, and waste.

November: That stranger is you, the stranger my arm leads through puddles and rain. Like drops dripping on the ocean, we are building an amorphous boundary. Does this bit of me in you stay me or become you? Does the ocean remain ocean as it evaporates into sky? Who owns the parts of ourselves we give away?

November: How many have splashed into my sea of “you,” only to surface as “him” again?

December: This is not a story with a beginning or end. Our bits of selves recycle. We swap forms and cycle identities like water.

January: Each wave overlays the one that crashed before it. I always peer down at the previous one as it settles underneath the transparent top layer of salt water. It’s so tempting to dive back down and figure out what went wrong, to search for treasures that seemed hidden because they never existed, to bask in sunshine I thought was ours to keep. But there is no warmth at the bottom of the ocean. We rode that last wave to the end; now, it has sunken.

January: The buried treasure must be closer. I dig deeper to uncover it. Nothing.

January: I surface just in time to avoid drowning, nearly overtaken by waves that have already crashed.

Corollaries to that Saying that the Opposite of Love is Indifference, Not Hate

Why do people hate?

They hate because they love

Those that they gaze down on

But can’t seem to rise above.

 

Why do people love?

They love because they hate

The thought of hurting someone

And begging forgiveness too late.

 

Why do people love?

They love because they hate

The thought of losing sight of those

Who allow them to see straight.

 

Why do people hate themselves?

They hate themselves because they know

There’s fertile space inside them

Where love could but doesn’t grow.

 

Why do people hate themselves?

They hate themselves because they know

There’s electric light inside them

That could but doesn’t glow.

 

Why do people kill?

They kill because they die.

They are because they aren’t.

They speak the truth because they lie.

 

Why do people love themselves?

They love themselves because despite

Their demons planting hateful lies,

They accept their truth as right.