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Notes Before the Storm

The Nazi intellectual Carl Schmitt, a professor at the University of Berlin during the Holocaust and a member of the Nazi Party, wrote that ‘he who defines the state of exception is sovereign.’ Since 2001, more and more left wing academics have been revisiting his writings in an attempt to grapple with the current confusion of terror politics unleashed by the Bush administration. Slavoj Zizek was called a Nazi simply for writing about Schmitt. But there is inevitably a good reason for this surge of interest in Shmitt’s writing (the same can’t be said for the ‘surge’ in Iraq). After all, what is the War on Terror if not the ability to claim exception to all sorts of international and domestic laws? The secret prisons, the pre-emptive wars, even the use of torture in American jails when we all know from history that torture does not (and perhaps even cannot) produce reliable information. If everything changed on 9/11, why are such tried and true measures of totalitarianism being brought out into the light of day? If anything changed after 9/11, it was the ability of the US government to no longer deny what many of us already knew it had been doing in ‘covert’ operations all over the globe for the past few decades. But the fact that it is no longer needed to deny this fact signals a shift in how governments all over the world deal with ‘radicals’ of their own. Fascism always begins with the radicals. It is the only way it can begin. But it always ends with everyone. 




It is hard to see today, and often exceptionally easy to criticize, the immensely powerful idea that the US Constitution gave to the rest of the world. Perhaps because America’s claims for itself are so hyperbolic, or perhaps because most of the rest of the world looks up to the United States even today, it is easy to make fun of it. But the Constitution was written in the late 1700’s, at a time when most of Europe was still pillaging Africa, Asia, South America and yes – even North America. And of course the fact that it was written while Americans were denying those same rights promised to every man (since ‘all men [were] created equal’) to hundreds of millions of African slaves makes it hard to take seriously. But there is something in that Constitution, something that changed the way a Nation saw itself and at the same time changed the course of history, something that can only be said to have been for the better.


There is something about words – something about saying them, writing them down, believing in them even when it makes absolutely no sense to do so, that gives them a power to transcend the time they were written in or the realities that made them hypocritical (even untrue) at the time. The trouble with words is that they can come true. By saying all men are created equal when it was patently obvious that they weren’t being treated that way at the time – by saying those words and then making them the heart of a nation’s soul – changed the way Americans and perhaps even all human beings saw themselves. I truly believe that words – even when they are not true – can change the world. All you need is enough people to believe in them. There is something esoteric about the power of words, about the things they can do, that cannot be put into words. It is not a coincidence that brutal, indifferent colonialism ended in less than two centuries after that Constitution was signed – only, of course, to be replaced by a hidden, slightly less brutal form of neo-colonialism. But that is exactly my point – real colonialism had to end because so many people became uncomfortable with what it entailed. The fact that it took another hundred years for a fully functioning system of hidden colonialism to come into being, replete with its own Orwellian typography, simply proves my point.


Most of our history is shockingly horrifying, and it is foolish to see it as some sort of teleological enterprise where human beings are forever and continually becoming better beings, or learning from their mistakes, or even, God forbid, ‘evolving.’ No such teleology exists. There is more violence in the world today than there was during the Second World War. And biologically, we have not changed much for at least the past 10,000 years. The only thing that has changed is our disdain for violence – it is now only deemed (publicly) acceptable in the phantasmatic video games and blockbusters that teenagers so love. What has changed is that most nations have codified into law the idea that all men and women are created equal. This should not be taken lightly – they did not have to do that, and the fact that so many people struggled for so long to make them to do that is a good indicator of where we are going today. Thus, I believe the American Constitution is worth saving from the government of the United States. 




What we are struggling with today is the fact that despite everything we have tried to accomplish over the past century, things are not better. In fact, things are much much worse. And it seems that the things we fought so hard for are about to be taken away from us once again. There is still so much violence. And those high ideals idealized by our politicians have become hollow shells, seemingly devoid of any meaning. I have often wondered whether a system could be devised that could not be taken advantage of by nefarious individuals. I don’t think it can. There is something about humans, something so devilish in their nature that no matter what sort of safeguards you come up with, we will always try to do corrupt and evil things. This is something Marx, for all his genius, never figured out. He was able to articulate the single greatest problem standing in the way of truly emancipating all human beings (the means of production) – but he wasn’t able to realize that it might not be possible to create a system that didn’t simply recreate the same problems. The irony is that even today the academy is still grappling with his thought. The spectre of Marx hangs over every serious intellectual – how such a brilliant analysis could lead to such a totalitarian nightmare? It is something that will keep academics occupied for a long time still. As Alain Badiou recently wrote, the Communist Hypothesis is still the only viable alternative to Capitalism.


But this fact – that people with power will always try to do evil things, no matter how many Ethics Boards you have or how many Human Rights Commissions you set up – is the fundamental problem. There is something in our ontological constitution it seems, in the way we are as human beings, that precludes the possibility of ever systemically rectifying this problem. The only thing we can do is recognize it. We are close to the point now, I think, where most people will acknowledge that they have the ability to act in the most godly or the most evil manner, depending upon the context. Even this of course is not enough. There is no way to find a magic solution to our ills. All we can do is stay vigilant and remember how easy it is for men and women to find new ways of doing evil things.




And yet I wonder if even this is truly enough. Someone once said to me that we can never win this battle. That the cosmos are built around the play of light and dark, that no matter what you do people will find a way to do evil things. I used to believe this. If there is any religion I hold in esteem, it is the Buddhists, and they believe it too. But like the saying that kept ringing throughout the last few episodes of BSG like a symbolic alarm bell – I believe that something has changed. Something has changed. I think we have transgressed all cosmic laws in our quest for darkness – a transgression that will either cost us our humanity or tilt us in the other direction.


People have a limited capacity for acknowledging what is obviously coming our way. Even if you don’t believe that we are on the precipice of great change, even if you don’t believe in astronomy or the 2012 marker of the end of a time, even if you refuse to see what is all around you, can’t you feel the darkness? It envelopes my being and settles upon everything like morning dew. We are on the brink of a nightmare now that we cannot even begin to imagine. I am not particularly into video games nor do I enjoy those violent blockbusters, but I can feel that something very dark is coming. Even without all the tangible evidence in front of me, I can feel it. Sometimes I can even see it. I don’t feel scared or nervous. I probably will later on. For now I know or I think I know what is coming. Only through darkness can you see light. It would be nihilistic to hope that people will see the light after so much darkness. That is not my hope. My hope is that not too many people suffer. That the ones close to me are safe. That I am safe. Seeing the darkness coming I can only send out as much light as possible. When I imagine what could come as opposed to what must come I am terrified. What could come is the end of humanity. What must come is the end of a time – and hence the beginning of a new one. It is possible to claim that this is just my 2012 wet dream, like a Jehovah’s Witness praying for the end of the world. But I know that it isn’t.


We are now hours away from the presidential election of 2008. Either McCain will win, Obama will win and be denied the presidency, or Obama will turn out to be the nightmare that no one could have seen coming. The last one is the least likely; the second one the most. The 2006 Military Commissions Act allows the president to declare martial law under any sort of emergency – financial, natural, economic – but more crucially, it gives him the sovereign authority to define when such a state of emergency exists (remember Shmitt: he who defines the state of exception is sovereign). The Act also gives him the right to deny habeas corpus to American citizens…Habeas corpus being the bedrock of democracy, it is not surprising that this is actually a pretty standard route to fascism. If all this can happen without people rioting in the streets, imagine what it will take to wake them up. 

Bombing the Shit out of Them

The following is from this past summer which I accidentally deleted while editing this blog. 

It is not that "anti-Israeli's" (a homogenizing label if there ever were one) cannot or do not feel empathy for Israel's civilian population, or that their suffering does not tempt us to stop and think about what we believe and hold to be true. Unfortunately, this empathy and ambivalence quickly vanishes when we see the unbelievable hypocrisy on display in media representations of this conflict.

Since the beginning of this war, I have had to relativize death. In conversations, in discussions and heated debates, I am continually forced to point out that more Lebanese are being killed in this war than Israeli's. Perhaps the point does not even seem that important, but to me, it is one of the most fundamentally horrible things to do. To reduce whole lives to mere statistics - what can be worse than that? Not only are these people dying horrible deaths - but there is also no one to witness their suffering or record or remember their lives (except, of course, their loved ones). 

But how can I not relativize these deaths? Everytime I read a paper, there are lengthy interviews and articles about families who have lost their loved ones. But these articles and interviews are almost exclusively about Israeli families. When I read them, I do feel empathy and I do cry for the unnecessary suffering Israeli civilians are having to live with as a result of Hezbollah's homemade rockets. But not only Israeli's have lives: those fleeing and those dying in Lebanon also had families and jobs and mundane existences which we never seem to hear about. Why? Can anyone answer that question without being rhetorical? I certainly can't.

When Israel first started bombing Gaza - when this war was not considered a war - the NYT refused to make it the big "headline" story. This experience was the most eye-opening one I have had since 9/11. It signified to me, in the most starkest of significations, that the life of an Israeli is not only worth more than a Palestinian's - but that to even make the comparision is ridiculous, beyond the pale even. This is something deeply ingrained within the Western psyche. "Our" deaths are real, "their" deaths occur somewhere over there - "over there" being perhaps a healthy euphemism for "not real." Think about it: The most volatile situation in the world perhaps - and for many, IN the centre of the world itself - and we all decide to turn our heads and not look? And its not like there was all that much 'news' going on. Imagine the reverse scenario, if Palestine had the means (not to mention the audacity) to bomb the shit out of Israel (as Israel just did and is continuing to do)?? What do you think would have been the reaction? Or even consider how the media jumped on the 'kidnapped' soldiers (which is an oxymoron anyway because, under the Geneva Conventions, it is not a crime to kidnap soldiers. It is, however, a crime to kidnap civilians - exactly like the nearly 10,000 Palestinians, many women and children, who are being kept in Israeli jails without any semblance of due process or democratic legality). For almost 10 days Israel pounded Gaza with airstrikes and artillery - yet it wasn't until Hezbollah 'provoked' a crisis that the event became a wordwide event. What does this tell you? One Israeli soldier - not even civilian - is worth destroying a sovereign nation's entire infrastructure over, but it is perfectly fine for nearly 300 Palestinians to die without a peep from "us."

There is one other aspect to this whole issue as regards Israeli civilians: oppression creating more oppression, the oppressed oppressing more Others. How does this work? The Jewish population went through the most oppressive state-sanctioned program in the history of mankind. How can they turn around and engage, sanction, legalize the behaviours of their former oppressors? This qualification is controversial but it needs to be made. Just because Israel is not sending Palestinians to the gas chamber does not mean that at the very least, ethnic cleansing, and the very worst, genocide, is not taking place within the Occupied Territories. The only difference is that they are doing it in slow motion - which creates even more suffering than giving one a single deadly blow. Of course, those of you that don't have a clue about Palestine will think I have lost my marbles. But when the truth is finally visible, as it has a tendency to do every once in a while, the whole world will tremble in indignation. But today is just another day. Today I will be accused of anti-semitism and racism and hatred and all sorts of other pleasantries. 

Let them come.

Waiting for Help

As the unbelievable images from New Orleans kept flooding in - with similar news report that sound like they're describing the going ons of Sudan (looting, rapes, violence and more) rather than a city in the most powerful nation on earth, I tried desperately to figure out what I could do to help. (As in almost everything else: Nothing).

People were asked to donate to the Red Cross, but the Red Cross was nowhere to be seen until Bush landed for his photo-op. Upon further investigation, I learned that not only were the police and army not helping the poor and displaced, but the Red Cross had been ordered (by Homeland Security no less!) not to deliver any food or water to the thousands of displaced persons finding shelter in NO's stadium on the absurd and infuriating pretext that 'the evacuees wouldn't leave' if they had food and water (http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2005/9/2/2125/04978). Actually, no adjective - not even absurd and infuriating - can help explain how fucking pissed I was upon reading that.

One can ask what went wrong, or one can simply look at the pictures coming in. Poor, almost entirely black people, are the ones who are suffering. We often tend to think that natural disasters are great equalizers, but NO's proves otherwise.

As soon as the hurricane hit, Bush reached out to his fellow Americans. He announced that he would be taking 36 million barrels from the Strategic Reserve and giving it to oil companies like Exxon-Mobil. Forget that hundreds of thousands didn't have drinking water, food or shelter. It is infinitely more important to make sure the oil keeps comin in. Fake, pathological persons (ie, corporations) matter more to this confederancy of dunces than the real ones suffering down below.

When he finally did address the situation (a day too late, which has become a trademark for this administration), he showed no empathy whatsoever, even grinning once in a while in between figuring out how to pronounce this or that word.

Once the few buses did arrive at the centre, they ordered the thousands of suffering to wait while the nice tourists staying at the Hyatt across the street were helped onto the buses. The National Guard even helped these nicely dressed folk - all 700 of them - get their luggage on board. Further reports indicated that the police and army brought in had been ordered to protect properties rather than help the children, women and grandparents who had been without food or water for so many days now. Since martial law has been imposed, they can act with impunity and have been doing so, beating up whoever gets in their way and even threatening reporters with the same if they didn't hand over their rolls of film that had captured their policing behaviour for posterity.

As Jefferson once wrote, this country wil not be destroyed from without but from within. If Bush doesn't get impeached over this (and I have no doubt that he won't) then this is the beginning of the end for this empire's delusionary dreams. If this doesn't fuel Black anger and hatred against whites (and I'm sure that it will), then it will only be because they will be oppressed and forced to shut their mouths even more. But how long can this go on? How long can you keep dispossessing the poor of their rights and not expect any consequences? The grave and worsening situation of the poor (and mostly Black) people in America has been brought from the peripheries into centre stage by New Orlean's disaster. Once a topic no newspaper ever discussed, now we can see it starkly and unequivocally on display in all of the images coming in. Will they once again be relegated to the peripheries once this administration conjures up a way to get the media's attention focused away from this disaster? If so, then it can not be very far off when the state of anarchy now engulfing New Orleans becomes the fate of this entire nation. And that will be something no amount of grinning will save.


--- Asam

Notes to a Post You Should Understand


WTF man???

>> "I reviewed your comments and noticed the clear signs of a Hezbollah appologist."

By demanding such oppositional binaries you are conforming to and thus validating Bush's 'False dilemma' (ie, you are either with us or against us). No, just because A (criticism of Israel) exists, does not automatically qualify that B necessarily means support for Hezbollah. There is a middle way, as the Buddhists have so unrelentingly pointed us towards. It is, in fact, the only way to live rightfully (and might I add, peacefully).

Unfortunately, you, along with many others, continue to demand that all of us only choose between two extremes - a demand which, if accepted, is far more dangerous than anything Hezbollah can muster up. There is no such thing as good guys and bad guys anymore: that all ended a long time ago, except (astonishingly) in the "greatest democracy" in the world. There are only causes and effects: there is only power and those who want it (or more of it). To demand we choose between either the most hypocritically and unapologetically terrorist state in the world, or those who are foolishly using violence because they think that it is the only way they will be heard (and the only way they will find some semblance of justice), is absurd and takes us back (intellectually) to the middle ages. (Oops, I may already have become an 'apologist' - if not an outright terrorist myself by wondering if perhaps there is more to blowing one's self up than simply a hatred for "our freedoms and our values").

>> "as well as an emotionalist; it is all too aparent when you make excuses for them even when their casualty estimate is 40-fold of the actual count."

Did you stop - did anyone stop - being an "emotionalist" when, during and after 9/11, you learnt that instead of 6,000 + beings only around 3,000 had been slaughtered? Did you exclaim "PROPAGANDA" when for nearly two months the entire world was forced to watch America's suffering en masse and en loop?

Of course not. So, let me get this right: to let emotion enter into intellectual debate is a sin when the emotion being displayed is for the humans suffering on the "other side." Obviously the body count is irrelevant here - as proven by above - and is only being used to redirect our eyes elsewhere. That is the only conclusion one can reach upon reviewing your comments. Or did you in fact criticize the arguments (coming right after Sept. 11 and continuing on to today) which manipulated and maliciously paraded people's grief and their suffering to beat the drums of war even louder? I suspect the answer here is a loud and resounding NO.

So. Lesson #1: it's okay - no, it is demanded - that we show emotion when those suffering are like "us." But you will be considered intellectually insufficient, or even worse, an "apologist" for those pesky terrorists if you dare display emotion when it comes to the suffering of those that are not like us (the "others").

>> "some people aren't rendered mentally disabled when they see staged photos of a supposed rescue operation."

Yeah? And some people aren't distracted from unnecessary suffering and pain when a whiff of suspicion - presented as absolute fact - is unleashed by those who have larger things in mind.

I know I just asked RTBAG to stop responding to dna's blazing heap of ignorance, but I just couldn't stop myself.

Posted by: Lightkeeper | Aug 18, 2006 at 08:07 PM

And one more thing.

Do you think that "those people" living "over there" do not see the hypocrisy on display in nearly every media outlet controlled by the West? Do you think they are so 'backward' as to not recognize whose death matters and whose does not?

Every single newspaper today is carrying Jonbenet's killer on its front page. Gee, I wonder why.

I know that sounds awful but I'm only pointing towards the hypocrisy of the media. If only we were all so unrelenting when ANY child is killed - not just a beautiful, white female one.

Posted by: Lightkeeper | Aug 18, 2006 at 08:17 PM

Well I am very excited!!

I am leaving for Grassy Narrows tomorrow, the site of some major enviro/first nations/peace & justice activism. We are fighting corporations from taking more land from the Aboriginal people. With their utter disregard for anything but the bottom line, many corporations have already been poisoning the environment while simulataneously dispossessing Indians of their rightful owndership to the land. Obviously the government seems to think this is a good thing, as it has already allowed major clear cutting & granted many corporations leases for factories and pulp mills. Whole forests have already been wiped out to make wrappers for Big Macs and paper for Xerox. Such a shame.

Info: http://www.envirowatch.org/GNmsg.htm

Pics: http://www.envirowatch.org/gnpics.htm

Anyway, I think this is going to be a real learning experience. Can't wait!

Terror is in the Details

I learned today that 400 police officers were involved in the (alleged) anti-terrorist bust last week in Toronto. 

Four Hundred. Rushdie says any number beyond 1,000 becomes meaningless, because we don't have the critical faculty to imagine what more than 1,000 people would look like gathered in the same place. I would say this faculty probably stops at around 100. 

Try to imagine, then, 400 hundred police officers descending (before dawn) on your neighbourhood to kidnap 12 young adults and 5 teenagers, and it becomes apparent just how nightmarish reality has become - even in a country which so boastfully proclaims that it is different from the States. 

Highlighting our alignment with US policies, today the court has put a 100% blanket ban on all proceedings from here on in. This conveniently hides the real details of the story after headlines blaring the suspects' intentions to destroy every Canadian landmark have been blasted out of perhaps every single news media outlet in the entire world. It's also convenient that the RCMP paraded its "evidence" of the plot as soon as they called a press conference to inform us of their night-time activities. Among the items presented: a door allegedly riddled with bullet holes from a terrorist training session, a sample of ammonium nitrate fertilizer (which the police say was to be used to make bombs), batteries and cellphones (allegedly to be used as detonators), boots and a handgun. As 'Now' mag. furiously points out: What the hell were the RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service doing parading "evidence" in front of news cameras and leaking details to the press - details they knew would prejudice the public's view and thus the view of potential jurors? Of course, this is rhetoric again, since we all know the answer to that one. (In a nutshell: We need to look good to our buddies in the south. If this plot turns out to be a hoax as well (like the one in 04 and before), well it wouldn't look so good on our 'security' curriculam vitae. So, lets make it real by pre-empting any critical discussion - indeed, anything critical at all.) 

The most tragic thing? The suspects - who are not allowed to see their family, are not yet charged with anything, not yet proven guilty, and certainly not given the same rights as other criminals  - are being held in approx. 3 x 4 foot cells in solitary confinement. The cells have no windows, and no natural light can get in, but the artificial lights are kept on 24-7 - making it near impossible to get any sleep or tell the difference between night and day. They receive food only once a day, and one of these boys is only 14 years old. (Can I weep now?) 

Congrats, Canada. We now have our very own Guantanamo Bay. Well, at least now I won't have to worry about getting air-sick during transportation.

Before the ban was established, the defence lawyers announced that the prisoners (formerly suspects) were being subjected to "cruel and unusual punishment in solitary confinement, where the lights are always on." 4 hours later, at the prosecutors' request, the 'justice of the peace' announced that from now on there would be no such public pronouncements. Everything will be kept secret for the sake of "national security."

I don't blame anyone for feeling so scared. It will take some time to recover from this paranoia myself. 

A good place to start untangling the multifarious lies - and begin (re) forming our ability to think critically - is at Z Mag:

Wow, I just googled "vague fantasies" and came across this:


Apparently, the people at alterheroes published one of my short stories! Isn't that wicked? I didn't even know about it. I had sent it to them a while back for this competition, but never heard back from them so I thought I wasn't selected. But apparently, I was shortlisted for the prize, and they only contact you if you win.

Whatev. I googled my pseoudonym and found something relating to me! I'm somebody now, baby... Hahaha.


(Look at my little ecstatic star...he looks like he took some really good ex!)

Advertising In a Post-Religious World

Advertising today is perhaps the most prevalent and the most pervasive phenomenon of our times. It is present in almost all countries of the world, and we are constantly bombarded with images telling us what we need and what we want. Sometimes the two things (needs and wants) become one and the same, as if one cannot have wants that are not at the same time needs. As advertising becomes increasingly complex and widespread throughout the globe, it becomes nearly impossible to not be affected by it in some way or another. In an age where religion has been discarded for its fundamental and imposing world view, material wants can dangerously come to symbolize more than just short term gratification – they can become a substitute for the divine; a means of accessing one’s Self through the fulfillment of as many desires as possible.  

While advertising has existed for hundreds of years, it simply cannot compare with the ads of today. With seemingly infinite resources at their disposal, corporations spend millions of dollars winning over our hearts and minds, carefully manipulating emotions to serve the larger function of selling their product. While advertising still technically means “to let something be known to the public,”[1] this is an outdated definition for what has now become an entire industry dedicated to creating wants in the public consciousness. Advertisers no longer ‘advertise’ so much as they present an ideological and emotional ground upon which their product can be sold through its alignment with the idea or emotion being presented. This fundamentally and qualitatively different mode of advertising, known as branding, is significant for a number of psychological reasons.

With the collapse of organized religion and the current high tide of materialistic individualism, advertising serves a crucial link between the individual and his archetypal need to connect with something larger than him/herself. Where religion was once the crucible into which transpersonal categories could be projected, now these transpersonal categories – the archetypal and collective experiences which link one to the whole – have nowhere to be contained except within the individual himself, or through a projection of these categories onto material events or images.[2] Because few individuals can attain a meeting with the Divine through suprapersonal experience, and because we live in a society which continues to advocate the idea that fulfilling material wants is the source of all happiness, many people have no sense of the ‘living, functioning, suprapersonal categories by which they can understand [their] life experience.’[3]

Advertisers, recognizing the immense void left by the collapse of collective religiosity, realize that such powerful, archetypal images – because they now have nowhere to go – can be seductively manipulated to provide a sense of meaning  for the individual through material fulfillment. Hence, advertising is no longer simply a marketing tool – rather, it has now become a means through which one can identify with the transpersonal and the transcendent. This is a dangerous state of affairs, not simply because advertising has no real meaning beyond the one necessary to sell product, but also because this creates an illusion of reality where the spiritual is mistakenly sought after in the material.

In his Man And His Symbols, Jung recognized nearly 40 years ago the immense importance of our now dormant archetypal images – and how necessary it is for all human beings to experience or have at least some sort of contact with these archetypes. Following an image of the Volkswagen logo made up entirely of toy cars, he notes how


the toy cars forming the Volkswagen trade-mark in this advertisement may have a “trigger” effect on a reader’s mind, stirring unconscious memories of childhood. If these memories are pleasant, the pleasure may be associated (unconsciously) with the product and brand name.[4]


Obviously, then, the idea that advertising manipulates our unconscious feelings and memories for its own purposes is not a new one. However, the near complete vertical and horizontal integration of ads in our lives is and continues to be unprecedented. And while more people may recognize Jung’s idea when they look at ads, this has not stopped ads from aligning mythical and powerful emotions and ideas with the products that they are selling. If anything, advertisers have become even more canny in their abilities to mine our emotions for economic gain, supplying us with meaning where none exists in the first place.

The further confluence of wants with needs highlights the extraordinary lengths to which advertisers have gone to convince us not only that we need to buy things, but also – and more importantly – that we can, indeed we must, buy things if we are ever to reach a state of transcendental happiness. This false notion creates a cycle of unrest and short term happiness that is self-sustaining and, at the same time, which requires that an individual never truly feel whole. Thus a true, psychologically sound sense of our archetypal and collective transpersonal experience is never realized – and we remain trapped in this unending cycle of highs and lows.

[1] Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary: www.m-w.com.

[2] Edinger, Edward. Encounter with the Self. Course Handbook, pg. 77.

[3] Ibid. pp. 77.

[4] Jung, Carl. Man And His Symbols. pp. 23.

In these demon days
It's so cold inside
so hard for a good soul to survive
You can't even trust the air you breathe
because mother earth wants us all to leave
when lies become reality
you numb yourself with drugs and t.v.
lift yourself up, it's a brand new day
so turn yourself round
don't burn yourself, turn yourself
turn yourself around
into the sun! 

to the sun, to the sun...
to the sun, to the sun...

Seeing But Not Seeing

It has been almost a month since I finished reading Blindness, yet I still haven't been able to put it out of my mind.

Blindness, by the Portugese writer Jose Saramago, is, of course, about blindness. But such a literal reference from a Nobel Laureate would be cringeworthy, and, not to mention, really lame. Instead, Saramago uses blindness as a metaphor for "not seeing" and, at the same time - through his use of blindness as an intertextual sign (whereas blindness itself is a cultural referent) - negotiates the inherently problematic nature of language and our inabiliy to properly communicate with each other through it. Of course, the alignment of physically being able to see with intellectual or spiritual insight, apart from being logically sound, is an ancient Western idea which has long been interrogated by some of our greatest philosophers. However, in the hands of a writer like Saramago it feels as though we are considering the subject for the first time, with 'new eyes' so to speak (sorry, I couldn't resist...).

The plot is really quite simple: people start going blind mysteriously, the government freaks out, sends them to a mental ward (hint hint), and eventually the government itself goes blind, along with the rest of the 'land.' Its significant to note that this is not about a country, but about 'a land.' Saramago deliberately refrains from giving us a specific 'sign' such as Portugal or Spain, not just, I suspect, because this is an allegory but also because Saramago is going after bigger fish. Without a specific locality, his story becomes not just universal but (conversely) a metaphor for our inability to really 'see' a specific, broken down society. 

For a novel depicting the complete and utter breakdown of a whole society, Saramago seems oddly preoccupied with the language he (and his characters) are using, constantly pointing out to the reader what has been said and why his character said it. Saramago is also the only writer I've read whose narratorial voice can go from an ironically objective stance to one of profound sentimentality in a single sentence. He is really quite astonishing in that sense, making it near impossible to find a clear demarcation between the story and the narrator himself. Inevitably such muddying of the waters is intentional, and along with the Woolfian paragraphing and absent quotations, it makes the reader feel 'blind' as well. We follow seven characters; none of these are named either. This further helps create a sense of 'blindness' for the reader, as nobody is signified when they speak. Because Saramago always uses this style however, it seems unlikely that he does so wholly because he wants to match form to content to make his story compelling. However it does give the story a remarkable, almost mythic quality.

So, what are we to make of all this? There is clearly a parable in here somewhere, some kernel of truth, but Saramago does not tell us what it is. One character near the end, states unironically that "I don't think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see." This is the closest we get to a literal explanation for what Saramago is doing here: and consequentially, we can ask the question, 'what do we not see?' 

In the novel, after everyone has gone blind, institutional authority crumbles and society disintegrates to the point of no return. Sophisticates and unsophisticates alike renege to a primitive existence, concerned solely with day to day survival. The implications of an entire population gone blind are enormously vast: I couldn't list here the number of  ways in which everything falls apart, and the astonishingly rapid fall from 'civilized' to 'primitive.' Amidst all the chaos, however, people find, create or impose a set of order and togetherness in order to stay alive. The line between civilized and uncivilized is extremely blurry - Saramago may even be saying it simply does not exist at all. We have created enormously grand illusions about our civilized ways, but we should know by now that such civility falls by the wayside as soon as there is no one imposing it from above. So, this may be one answer to the question 'what do we not see?'

I think, however, that Saramago may also be criticizing us for not seeing the widespread disintegration of societies throughout the third world. Certainly, there are innumerable places where society resembles the one presented in Blindness: adults search for food while children go hungry, and dogs eat the carcasses lying around in broad daylight. Do these places not exist? Do we not know that they exist? Do we see they exist - do we really see the nature of their existence?

We can answer with a sympathetic Yes, but Saramago insists it is a resounding No.  We "can see, but do not see."

Saramago is thus indicting us for not seeing the horrors that occur everyday in countries where, for one reason or another, society has broken down. This is not about governmental responsibility - I doubt Saramago has any faith left in government. He is asking the individual, the reader, the single autonomous being: what do you see? 

Of course, I have only begun to scratch the surface of the text here. There is also the intense interrogation of "Otherness" and the problematic figure of the woman who does not go blind. I will say, however, that I don't think I have ever read a more chilling or sinously sophisticated novel - perhaps ever. And for a seriously literary novel, it reads like a thriller. I immediately turned to page one as soon as I finished reading it the first time.  Like Harold Bloom (the self-proclaimed keyholder to the Elysian Fields), I suspect  that Saramago is the greatest writer alive today. He has a way with words which can only be termed wisdom, and as a reviewer notes in a blurb on the back: ' We should be grateful when it is handed to us in such generous measures.'