Weekly Reckonings

6 March 2017

I first tasted electricity in 1959, when I was six. In accordance with my desires at the time, I was exploring the house. Under the couch I found a fresh 9-volt battery. Having no idea what it was, I touched the terminals to my tongue and was appalled to feel the vile stuff coursing into my body.
~Jim Woodring, Seeing Things

On Saturday, I made my first venture the Frye Art Museum (always free admission with limited free parking) to see two exhibits in particular: Jim Woodring: The Pig Went Down to the Harbor at Sunrise and Wept and Those Without Voice. The former was a solo exhibition of eight or so large pen and ink drawings by the famous cartoonist. As part of the creative process for this series, Woodring used a six-foot pen he built in 2010. The pen was on display with the drawings. The latter was a sample of half a dozen videographic and photographic images created by young artists commenting on issues of social justice, media dissemination, and participation in the local built environment. My children were understandably drawn to the redeployed news video of escaped llamas.

While I was at the Frye especially to see the Woodring drawings, I found them (and his work overall) less interesting than I had hoped until I picked up a copy of his book Seeing Things in the gift shop afterwards. Between the pen and ink drawings on the walls and the charcoal drawings of the book, I discovered an exploration of the curved line and contorted space that became tangible. I may not be convinced of everything Woodring is doing, but his curvaceous visions–bulbous and rotund–are simultaneously erotic and repulsive. And, I think this aesthetics of the arc, twist, and turn is captured most in his animal familiars–pigs, frogs, cephalopods, and mutated hybrid beasts–that inhabit that monstrous cartoon space between the human and the animal. Strange and weird and phantasmagoric, indeed.



Over the weekend, I also finished reading Marshall Brain’s Basic Income themed novella, Manna: Two Views of Humanity’s Future. (It is available free online and on Kindle.) This work of speculative fiction describes two worlds. First, it recounts an America in which the robots take over and income disparity becomes rampant to the point where the vast majority of citizens are simply housed in unemployment units until they die. Second, it relays the details of what an alternative to that model might look like–if we picture a world where scarcity has been made a thing of the past and all citizens agree to abide by a set of nine “principles” for sharing our resources. The book is only eighty pages, and while the first four chapters (out of eight) are quite readable–and sometimes frightfully compelling in their depiction of a post-employment future, the second half of the book stumbles and then becomes a chore to finish. The problem is simple, in order to explain the future he hopes for, Brain breaks the basic rule of fiction writing: Show, don’t tell. In the process, Manna becomes a wordy monologue where a character explains the exciting possibilities of a post-scarcity future in the least dramatic manner imaginable. What we still need is a dramatic telling of where we might go as a species.

NOTE: In a future post, I will be examining the details of that society and some of its more disturbing aspects.

Robert B. Reich’s After-Shock: The Next Economy and America’s Future has also disappointed me. I do not know if I have already read so much about the time period since the Great Recession or if I have simply moved on to other ideas since he wrote the book in 2010, but I do not feel I learned much more from it at this point. In the end–the final twenty pages of the book–Reich offers expansions or tweaks of programs already in place, but I found it more conservative than I had hoped. His primary suggestions include a reverse income tax or expansion of the earned income tax credit, a carbon tax, higher marginal tax rates on the wealthy, a reemployment system rather than an unemployment system where workers would earn supplemental dividends if they accepted jobs at lower rates of pay, school vouchers based on family income, college loans linked to subsequent earnings, medicare for all, a public goods infrastructure program, and political finance reform. In the end, Reich’s formula is founded on employment enhancement mechanisms, and if the future holds fewer and fewer full-time jobs for most of us, such strategies will have limited positive effect.

This week, I am turning toward some of Martin Luther Kings’ work on Basic Income in the last pages of his final book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? I am also looking forward to starting Bernie Sanders’s Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In and a small batch of essays on service learning and the relationship between education and civic involvement. What role can education play in cultivating student involvement in their communities? As well, I am hoping soon to watch No No: A Dockumentary about Dock Ellis’s 12 June 1970 no hitter for the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team, which he threw while tripping on LSD. I have read that the film is an important document on race in America at the end of the 1960s and the start of the 1970s. And, of course, I am hoping to see Get Out (directed by Jordan Peele), the number one film in the USA currently.

Oh…and…I finally have a new desk and reorganized work space, so I am writing more comfortably than ever.

Be well,
Brian Bergen-Aurand


27 February 2017

After a weekend spent revamping the Foreign Influence website, I am ready to return to some projects put on hold at the end of 2016. Four topics in particular continue to hold my attention–Crip Theory and the development of a curriculum for Disability Studies, the ongoing search for the best ways to articulate thoughts on The Essay Film, arguments about Basic Income and the future of work, and the relation between Humor and Social Change…if one exists.

The World Health Organization released a report this week, stating that depression is the leading cause of disability around the world. According to the report,

GENEVA: More than 4 percent of the world’s population lives with depression, and women, youth and the elderly are the most prone to its disabling effects, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.

An estimated 322 million people suffered depressive disorders in 2015, a rise of 18.4 percent in a decade, as people live longer, the United Nations agency said in a report.

Global economic losses exceed US$1 trillion a year, it said, referring to lost productivity due to apathy or lack of energy that lead to an inability to function at work or cope with daily life.

“Depression is the single largest contributor to years lived with disability. So it’s the top cause of disability in the world today,” Dr. Dan Chisholm of WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse told a news briefing.

Depression is 1.5 times more common among women than men, he said.

I intend keeping a close eye on this discussion.

As well, I am still writing on two crip culture issues: “Sit-Down Comedy” (such as the work of Maysoon Zayid) and disability and gun control. Regarding the latter, we still believe laws should address actions and not classes of people, under most circumstances.

I am also reconsidering arguments about Basic Income, work, and employment. The most important conceptual issue remains an attention to specific language. We must not confuse work and employment. While some of us have jobs, we do not necessarily do work. And, while some of us do work, we do not necessarily have jobs. Some writers continue to conflate or confuse the two terms. I hope to continue to address this conceptual slippage.

I spent a lot of time with two films this week: Forough Farrokhzad’s The House is Black and Jay Rosenblatt’s Human Remains. I finished a draft of a short article on The House is Black, where I consider the “delayed” aspects of this 1962 film about a leprosarium in North East Iran. I am also intrigued by the shift from a male narrator at the start to a female narrator–Farrokhzad–at the end. I will publish this piece in several formats when I have finished it.

After some time away, I have returned to slow reading John Horgan’s The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age and Julie Salverson’s Lines of Flight: An Atomic Memoir. Responses to these texts are percolating, but this paragraph from the final pages of Lines of Flight, deserves special consideration:

How far does catastrophe bleed? We live in a world from which there is no escape. It is the only home to which we can return, bloody and brilliant. We is there to do but muster the courage to feel our own emergency, take responsibility for it and ask what it means to how we live? We are overwhelmed by so much but we settle for so little. We desperately need each other and there is no road map. Because life is brutal is it then futile? Can we imagine a future that acknowledges the past but isn’t shackled to it, that reaches toward us as we risk a greeting? (193)

These questions demand an answer.

Since Foreign Influence just received copies of Robert B. Reich’s After-Shock: The Next Economy and America’s Future and Bernie Sanders’s Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In and I am still looking forward to seeing I am Not Your Negro, I might have few things to say about these texts in the weeks to come.

Be well,
Brian Bergen-Aurand

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