:: Buzzwords

3:AM in Lockdown 59: Jeff Wood

See No Evil, Speak No Evil, Breathe No Evil
By Jeff Wood.

 

 

One year ago this week I called my grandmother in Ohio to wish her a happy birthday. It was her 97th birthday and now one year more. We spoke to each other across an ocean. She had the news on mute on the TV in her room and at one point she stopped speaking, and gasped faintly, and then said, “Oh my. Jeff… Notre Dame is burning.”

^✹^

This did not begin.
It did not end.
It is not in order.
It’s in the order that it’s in.

The sequence, which determines the order of things.
In here, and out there. And
here — right here — this —
In the invisible ink that makes all things visible.

Even the invisible things, and the things which remain invisible.

^✹^

I will state right off the bat that I am not of sound mind. As others have said, it is very difficult to write. But what I‘m finding this means for me, in the spare and scattered moments, is that it’s even more difficult to edit — almost impossible. There is too much to say. Too much in this room. Each feature and every detail all pointing to the same exact temporal coordinate, a holographic cairn which, however we might try to describe it, reads only: HERE WE ARE. As if we are not only at the same time, but in the same place too, which in a way, we are. This place being the hyper-spatial geo-coordinate that can only be experienced from the perspective of another entity. A collective entity capable of being in more than one place at the same time, and more than one time at the same place. Virus geography, at viral scale. Like a stone.

A stone in the road. A stone buried in the ground. A stone as big as Devils Tower; as grotesque and fraudulent and un-alive and astounding as Mount Rushmore; a hallucinatory stone, as simultaneously remote and intimate as the Moon Landing. Michael Heizer working in the terrible, intolerable, and painfully rainbow brite colors of total 4D augmented reality. This stone in the road. The problem is that it’s bigger than the room, yet inside it. Too much to document, capture, interpret, impress. Too many connections, associations, links, reflections, coincidences, and contrivances. Too much to edit. Editing is what art, literature, architecture, science, mathematics, RNA and viruses are for. The unedited rest is for madmen, prophets, 5-year olds, Presidents, and impostors, the replicant in us hiding among us.

This infinite chain of unedited detail as narrative is what literary critic James Wood described as hysterical realism: the entire world as a literary ambition linked in an infinite chain of contrived-as-thought-world-relation. This literary hysterical realism is what I recently described here, in 3:AM Magazine — just days before the lockdown — as no longer occupying a category of literature, but having mutated and migrated into our shared experience of reality itself as a trauma-cinema: the replicant real. A shared experience of reality itself as a lived fiction. This THING which is lived as shareable. The shared experience itself as fiction. The fiction of itself as real. A replicant real wherein the suspicion arises as to whether I am experiencing the world, or experiencing the experience of it. It’s semantic until it isn’t — until the world is consumed by my experience of experiencing it, consuming me. And it.

I watch the numbers, every day, to confirm that something is in fact out there, and in a way, to be with it. To align with what’s happening on either side of the window, on either side of the screen. In here, the room is melting down, dripping — with me and my partner and Cooper, our 5-year old boy. The room is melting to scale. The virus is mapping us, from the inside out, as it remaps the world outside to its own geographic scale. A nano-drone’s-eye-view: a Google Map from the inside-out rather than from above. Not exactly seeing the world as a virus sees it. But seeing the world as a virus sees it through our eyes. The virus is one more shard in the fractal mirror of networked sight; a seeing which defies categories of subject, object, network, individual, dystopian, cooperative, national, tribal, migratory, fixed, emergency, equilibrium. The latticework is lichen-like, a compound entity, a hyper-subjectivity defying categories of human, virus, and AI–the triangulated Eye of Providence which comprises the fabric itself, the seeing screen, winnowing through the world, as the world.

The Royal View. Interstitial. Liquid. Cellular. Migratory. Aspatial. Here. This total room. This room inside the eye. Of us seeing together. As us. As virus. As network. The breathtaking view. Of numbers. Of breathtaking numbers. Of breathtaking.

This is a fiction of course; or the schematics of nonsense; or not. A way out — Here. A way of being here in this zone. A way of being the zone. What we know about the zone is that it is what we know about it. The zone is our perception of it.

The madness of words themselves attempting to capture the view. The view from the window and the view of the window itself. To capture my experience of the window; the madness of this thing that is not me inhabiting me as me; words inhabiting mind unresolved. The total transparency of it: that words are both the window and the view, simultaneously. The actual pain of words, singing like glass teeth. The attempt to edit. To bring things back to scale that can be shared across this distance of being in the same here.

On a featureless globe we all exist in the same place, about which communication is not necessary. Time on the other hand pours out of us. And I feel myself pouring into a well of infinite windows, a Tower of Babel turned inside out and upside down, a well of words, pouring me into the ground. A virus has nothing to communicate other than itself, and needs only a place to communicate it — to replicate. It is the word for itself. Its life depends on this word. It is the word for this place. Communicable. From the perspective of a virus “social distance” is not space at all, social distance is time — time experienced at virus scale. Us inhabiting ourselves through the optics of the virus; it having already inhabited us, at a spooky distance. To the virus, I am a clock. A time machine. From the perspective of the virus, all of us are the exact same person.

^✹^

Even the cemeteries are closed now. This is not as dramatic as it sounds. Not like people are dying who have never died before. Which Trump allegedly said, but then apparently didn’t say. Which is too bad really. It’s a good one. Too good, maybe. Replicant Trump, viral Trump. There are many Trumps; it is all of them and none of them. Trump is the Internet. Or vice versa. Trump is a virus, a pathogen. This is both metaphorical and literal; fictional and real, isn’t it? Melted together. From the perspective of Trump, or a virus, we are all the exact same person, an us, the network. A host. A talk show host. Thriving on drama. Surviving on it. All they want is to survive. He’s not the host. We are.

And the cemeteries are closed. It’s dramatic for us because we get out once a day, for about an hour, and the playgrounds are closed now too. So in the first days we take Cooper walking in the nearby cemetery, where we’d been taking him since he was an infant. He can’t exactly play there, but he can drag a stick in the dirt, take a different path through the tall trees, and approach the beehives teeming with life in the back corner of the graveyard. Firebugs swarm in great orgies at the base of trees. I point out birds and red squirrels with devil’s ears, and look into the sky. Sometimes there are foxes. He doesn’t know why the headstones are there, and he doesn’t ask, but he knows with certainty that when we die we are reborn, as a matter of course. I cannot dispute him. The Tibetans say it is so. It is not death so much as nonexistence which evades him, or which, perhaps ironically, does not exist for him at all. It is non-existence which does not exist for a 5-year old. He is the stone.

If he is not the word of God God never spoke. Wrote McCarthy in The Road. A few years ago, already deep into Trump country, which is a country everywhere — an infection — I scrawled down, in a fit of enduring despair, that The Road, after all, just turns out to be what it feels like to be alone with a small boy in this world now. Now I’m ashamed, or panicking with remorse, at the hubris; or the truth of it. An alternating current singeing the oxygen, where actual life might be occurring, thriving and greening.

Passing by the locked gates, the cemetery is empty of all but its inhabitants, which I can hear presently include a spotted woodpecker rapping on the hardwood of a chestnut; the year-round resident goshawk pair calling out to each other and passing freely from sector to sector; a newly-built hooded crow’s nest, high above the perimeter, with a view over the Berlin Wall. So with the playgrounds and the cemeteries both closed now, we take Cooper here, to the Berlin Wall Memorial, just a block from our house. What was once a literal death zone, and is now normally swarming with tourists, has now been repurposed as a vacated refuge of space for a kid, a patch of grass where we can kick a soccer ball and Cooper can run around like a maniac. It’s an uncanny sort of Disneyland. One of the most famous places on Earth, famous, in part, for its paranoia-inducing powers, is now a crappy patch of oxygen where we can spend an hour not to lose our minds. We’re squatters now, in the social distance of history rendered as safe, in the exact distance of a selfie-stick. At a safe distance from people.

The space though — the time signature of the Berlin Wall — somehow remains, like a vaporous contrail winding through the city. The geography of the memorial monument occupies us as overlapping temporal fields, the way a hermit crab might repurpose a skull. The cairn, or cosmic land-feature, travels with us. Time pours out of us, and pours over it, a stream pouring over the stone, remapping the temporal landscape. Remapping our experience around it. Repurposing itself and repurposing us as we reorient. In a million years I could never have imagined, as an American (or not), that I would be orienting myself to the Berlin Wall as a way of channeling my own son’s inexhaustible energy during a global pandemic here. Maybe I could have imagined it, and couldn’t have known it was me. 

But the virus is melting down everything. Melting us down to viral geography. Even memories of the future, at viral scale. It’s melting down the microcosm of my own household completely. Social distance on the outside is accompanied by a horrendous, sustained pornographic proximity on the inside. Humanity is about an equilibrium of social distances, an equilibrium of scales. Now, on the outside, space itself has suddenly warped to expansion, while on the inside, many of us — those of us in family units — are packed in like animals in a wet market, the same conditions of course that sprung the virus. If the simile seems forced, or obvious, or otherwise unpalatable, it’s because it’s not a simile, it’s a replication of scale at either end of the viral continuum — walls dripping with a breakdown in equilibrium, the conditions themselves toxic in the breakdown, the dripping of the plumbing exposed, the walls melted away. Ironic — this quarantine behind melted walls. The neoliberal experience provides its brood with a viscous amniotic mucous (after Morton), a lubricant-serum, an accessory to its fructose syrup, to facilitate prophylactic intimacy, a simultaneously intimate distance protecting us from an otherwise toxic experience. The experience in turn generating algorithmic, mimetic dependency upon itself. The auto-Entertainment (after DFW). And on the inside now we are left with only the mucous, glistening in the interrogation light — and I can’t fucking get it off of me. On the outside, for the moment, the toxic Martian atmosphere of its absence.

^✹^

On the third Sunday of the lockdown, the legendary composer Krzysztof Penderecki passes away. At the precise moment when every moment of it could be scored by him, he passes through it. Across the street, construction work continues as if nothing is out of the ordinary, as if nothing is happening at all. Cooper stands at the window and watches workers moving freely about the scaffolding, renovating the typical drab olive gray, still pock-marked with WWII bullet holes. He watches them crane timbers up to the rooftop for its expansion into a new penthouse. It’s as if the new world is happening in reverse, backwards toward us. Some kind of strange moving still-life in the vertical format of the window, as though it can’t possibly be outside at all, but is a lenticular dimension of the windows themselves. On sunny mornings, existing tenants emerge from their windows and take advantage of the impromptu balcony, sitting on the hard planks of the scaffolding in their pajamas with coffee steaming in the sun. Any moment of it, every looping moment of the nothing happening out there, the procession of windows that we occupy, the frame units of time are elongated into Penderecki’s silent scream. Hitchcock at a geological time scale. Steam rising frozen, from the coffee in hand. The musicality of the single moment stretched across the duration of itself. The virus seeing itself in the musicality of replicant time. Our windows are the transparent wings of an insect, beating so fast that outside all is still.

In the supermarket there’s an older guy, calling to mind a certain type of character who might’ve been damaged by history around here. Two blocks from the Wall; very possibly he’s been on these blocks his entire life. Less and less of them on these blocks, just like blocks in Brooklyn, just like blocks increasingly everywhere. He looks at me in the supermarket aisle. He looks at me across time, and scoffs and shakes his head. He looks at me like I’m absolutely insane for wearing a mask. He might be right. We’re both out of our minds. Looking across time. Looking across scale. But I believe in what’s happening and the infrastructural logic of flattening the curve. It’s not rocket science. It’s science. Nonetheless we’re both still crazy for it. And there’s no question that there’s a performative element to my homemade mask, aligning me with what’s happening, unifying what we read and hear with what we do, creating solidarity between my own behavior and real events across time zones, softening the jet-lag incurred in the few blocks between the supermarket and home. Plus it just helps me remember to keep my hands away from my face until I get home to wash them.

And I wonder instead, why in fact do I strangely feel right at home wearing a mask in the supermarket? Why have big chain supermarkets such as this one always felt unquestionably apocalyptic to me for as long as I can remember? Because they seem impossible; and yet they are. The world-destroying feature of our world as an infinite, inexhaustible resource. The things that come from nowhere, the things that just are. This then is nowhere, in the world that has been destroyed, but hasn’t been. Now all the toilet paper is gone — even in Week 5 — and still no one can quite figure out why. I buy Cooper a Hot Wheels car, because he fucking deserves it even though no one really deserves a Hot Wheels car. But I can buy myself this moment of magic, of absolute off-worldiness. I can buy myself the holographic gesture, and the sentimentality. I can buy myself time, and so I do. It’s strange, pulling down the little car in its package from the rack, on the other side of my mask, while the toilet paper aisle is empty. I listen to myself breathing. In fact there are more neon and black-light fructose products than you could ever need — fully stocked, and quivering with aliveness–enough replicant foods to last a hundred years. It never ceases to astonish me that a Hot Wheels car from Malaysia costs the same as a dozen eggs or a store-bought bottle of water, even though that’s the mirage I’ve been living inside for my entire life. At this point I have no idea what they should cost; which should be more, and which should be less. Voodoo math. Perhaps at the trading post of the New Normal all things are equal, depending on what you have. It makes him happy, and we race them down the hall, crashing them between the kitchen and the living room, where we will spend weeks on end.

^✹^

The New Normal must be the most coarse, crass, and grotesque meme to arise on the Trump-Corona continuum. Coronation. The Coronation of the New Normal. There. I’ve just generated a meme. This is what the algorithm does. Fuck off with that. Fuck off with the algorithm that you were already in some normal.

But be prepared. It will come for us. They will say it never happened. They will say it was fake. They will say it was all a lie. They will say it was a conspiracy. Or that there is nothing there at all. The only conspiracy is the one they’re trying to keep up with. They will say that no matter what you did there was nothing you could have done. You can’t outrun the Algorithmic Taxidermist. The Algorithmic Taxidermist doesn’t run. He’s already here, walking through walls. Skinning us and slickening this with goo.

It’s changing him, the extreme social distance of social isolation, rearranging his molecules, melting him down to viral scale, reducing him to some grotesque and pulsating mucous membrane. A radiant mutation, regenerating by the power of its own decay, in the absence of an outside atmosphere. Entropy as compressed steam engine. A freight train of entropy, running off the rails and right into the eye of the storm. Positioning himself there, in a physiological act of self-preservation, dragging the cyclone about himself. Captain Cooper stands definitely at the center of this ghost ship adrift, like a monstrous pirate squid, chopping off his own arms just to watch them squirm and writhe about the house like the amputated hands of some mad clock. So much time pours out of him that he is powering suns. He is time-generating. He is the opposite of a black hole. He stands at its precipice and hurls time and light into it like insults. 5-year old boys are atom smashers. He crushes up atoms for breakfast like Pez. 5-year old boys are the Event Horizon between fiction and the consensual real.

Crossbreed a raccoon with a bald-faced hornet. Starve it. Soak it in angel dust. And then lock it in the garage full of power tools and live baby ducks. This comes close to what it’s like isolating a healthy 5-year old boy to a small urban apartment with no access to other children, 24 hours a day, for weeks on end. Blood Meridian in a petting zoo, over Easter. 

He’s a bright boy. By random collision he speaks three languages fluently. He thrives in preschool. He is by turns kind and wild, sweet, empathetic and maddeningly stubborn, surprisingly reasonable, and frighteningly narcissistic — which is to say, he’s five. He’s also extremely physical. And now, without the superstructure of other humans, the sounding board of other human creatures who aren’t his parents, each of these qualities is being amplified and projected as an inflated audio-visual rupture, a sonic weapon capable of penetrating walls that might otherwise contain and describe him. He is a close-range sonic boom, piloted by some cocksure maverick asshole, and our ears are fucking bleeding. It’s horrible. It’s awful to witness, awful to manage and awful to be responsible for. And by responsible, I do mean that it is my fault. It is us, at parenting scale and at viral scale, simultaneously — we are each other. This is my responsibility, even if it isn’t my fault; even if it’s all of our fault and no one’s in particular. We share this world with other entities. One of them is Cooper, and another one is a virus, among billions. We share this world with other entities who are also capable of surveying it, mapping it, colonizing it, redistributing it, packaging it, possessing it.

And it’s doing all of these things to him. Mapping him remotely, at a spooky distance. Scanning him as geography to raze. Drawing up algorithmic street names from the aboriginal dead. Speculating. Doing everything it can to lure him back outside. Like a siren. Deafening at the window. He’s falling apart, collapsing like a landslide. Careening through waveforms like a symphonic orchestra run backwards through a phase shifter. He is the temperature of the water. He is the water. His mood swings are monstrous radiations; tempers — zero to infinity in 1 second flat. He’s hitting me, with his fists, all day, everyday. Sometimes as an expression of anger, but often, I believe, for the sustained physical intensity, for the pure resistance of it: I am here and you will prove that I am, like Newton’s cradle. I am here only if you are here. Trees don’t fall in the forest. The forest falls. He swings grotesquely between infant and teenager, animal, a hydra of memes, like The Thing. And consequently, in a few short weeks, I have no idea what I am.

^✹^

The Turin Horse
(or, scalding hot potato)

(approx, daily, swap out for sporadic moment/hour personal time)

Dawn — look at light; keep eyes closed; read book to Cooper.
Play/Breakfast — read aloud with breakfast; stealth-check phones; avoid videos.
Podcast/Play Lego — mommy does yoga; daddy works on computer/plays.
School–letters, #’s, calendar, geography, space, things, puzzles, drawing.
Daily Preschool Gymnastics Video.
Lunch–read aloud with lunch.
Get Dressed To Go Outside, if possible.
Go Outside, if possible.
Snack–critical
Movie if Movie Day / Video-calls with Family, etc / Wrestle on Bed
Dinner
Books
Bedtime
Kitchen/Bar–global/local news, social media, strategy meeting, moderation.
Sleep

^✹^

To alleviate it, he wants to watch movies. Of course he does. He loves video as much as we all do. Theoretically, it would be the time we might have to ourselves, as human parents. But under the circumstances he can’t handle the withdrawal, not after 1 minute, not after 10 minutes, not after 1 hour, not after 3 hours. There’s not enough resistance out here to counterbalance the mainline. There’s no view in Berlin to begin with, and now there’s no view at all. So video — withdrawal for Cooper-unplugging — is a real crack tremor now, a real exorcism, a physiology turned inside out and unleashed into the room, rolling in salt. He mimics everything we say, and says things we never do. “I hate you. I hate mommy. She is not behaving good. At all.” Normally normal behavior for a 5-year old. In an offshore panopticon. Our entire apartment has been transformed into a primeval zoetrope of his entire psychology. Our single common room looks like the CIA had a conversation with it. Our couch is unusable, for the duration. He’s building caves within caves, making space for himself — and his kind — that did not previously exist. The apartment is simultaneously bigger and smaller. He’s wielding the f-word like the magic saber that it is. (No I idea at all where he could’ve heard it.) He’s an f-word Jedi now. Jingle Fuck! Jingle Fuck! Jingle Fuck the Fuck!

He retreats into the recesses of his couch cave and is listening to some podcast, from somewhere else on earth. He is naked from the waist down and wearing pajama bottoms on his head like a Tuareg turban. I cannot further describe here what he is doing because I must embrace the good faith that he has a future that outlives this. He is crouched like the Judge in his outhouse, embracing the horror. He turns to Claudia and states that, “Hitting is a human condition. I heard it on the podcast.” He bites me like a monkey when I beckon him with a hand, warning of the tempest. We’re reenacting The Lighthouse, as father and 5-year old boy. He’s spitting like a viper. And then hits me in the face. It tremors inward, into deep space, across the universe, wherever it needs to go so that it doesn’t come back into the room. The tree doesn’t fall. The forest falls. The tree is silent, tremoring up the trunk. Crowning. The sky is on fire. The fire in the tree is burning down heaven. The universe is ablaze. The cosmos is silent. The numbers are streaming. Cooper is in the room. The numbers are the room. It is all around us. It sees us. It is us seeing. We are the windows.

My job is to keep Cooper on one side of the window. My job is to see at scale. All of them. He refuses to wash his hair. I mean refuses, the way a lynx refuses to be caged. Refuses even to be tranquilized. He’s full of darts and smirking like a porcupine. So I sit him in front of a video and cut his hair. He still loves Winnie the Pooh. He watches them trespass dark and unknown regions of the Hundred Acre Wood. His hair falls in piles on the floor around him. Sometimes the difference between breathtaking, symphonic equilibrium and volcanic catastrophe is 20 minutes too hungry, a snack too late. But you didn’t see it coming, couldn’t see it, it was invisible, at another scale. Deafening rupture. Breathtaking is a function of the architecture of the aquarium. All it’s trying to do is survive; to be itself. He climbs up onto my lap at my small desk in the corner of the room where I’m fidgeting at something, some part of the network, some iteration of language. He curls into my body with a book, and says, “Daddy, read this to me.” He is warm and his hair smells good. I truly don’t know whether he is demanding language. Or whether it is demanding him to learn it. This is scale. This is virus scale. Tell me where language is.

^✹^  

The irony of global pandemic isolation is the alleged forced staycation of Netflix, books, baking, endless memes, whimsical time-killing hobbies, arts & crafts. And the irony of that — with a healthy, feral five-year old — is that there is no such staycation.

Lego architect, control-rod engineer, child psychologist, pro wrestler, madness channeler, expert deep-breather, memory-wiper, shaman. These are my full-time occupations now. The ironies cancel each other out and collapse into a pile of powdered mirror.

Sifting through the pulverized reflections, like fiberglass insulation, the compound associations, the chain of infinite references leading to the absurd emptiness of total irony — the unity of this world as a single black hole. Or is it a disco ball? The symbol which is symbolic of itself; the palm-sized, abstract Lego-form unit; the Suprematist power token that holds opaque, luminescent meaning for me now. The encryption as the message itself. I am reading the firewall like tea leaves, incinerating.

My job description now, without a shred of irony, is Zone Guide.

Which is to say that my face is melting off. I’m becoming the person, the parent, that I never ever wanted to be, breaking down daily, several times a day. Domestic reactor core failure. And steeling myself against it — against the failure of myself. I insulate myself properly, ready to receive transmissions through the wall sockets, from David Lynch, my fellow Eagle Scout spirit guide, for composure. I take a long deep drag off his cigarette, at Zoom-distance, tattooing my lungs in the black trees. I look for Sam, out there somewhere, in the dignity of before the Internet. I stare into the eyes of Herzog, his chicken-eyes of death, and purify myself for the immolating shower of numbers. Becoming human. The inhuman-human-alien-thing that we are, that I am now. I am the room, the perimeters of the building, the block, the city, the non-perimeter of the internet, the coordinates and radii of the JHU Coronavirus Map blooming with red ink, overlapping as war game detonations and molds. I’m the perimeter of my son, whorling and orbiting inside the tidal wave of his gravitational churning. I am his gut bacteria and his droid-angel. The ones he doesn’t know he has. I am a ghost now. This house is haunted. Cooper is alone here, holding a séance with other entities, at other scales. Bats circling him, where his parents once were. Bats and music — the music of things which exist but do not. Everything is singing this disembodied housing unit. A note, stretched into drone, in the stretching of time and space. The particle is the wave. Cooper is the house. This house of music and bats. Cooper and the virus. An echolocation.

The bats come at night. Black as ink, but hot pink, shimmering translucent, and electric blue too. When we did become network? When did we become we? When did the network, finally, become itself? Was it now? The body, the body of the world, suspended and levitating between two streaming dreams of code. The body, the body of the world, the confluence of those streams. What does it want? What, in fact, does it do? The bats come at night, and I watch them, tumbling among them in the flight simulator. Holding out my hands, rearranging them, remembering them. Maybe I can do something with them. Maybe they can do something with me. Maybe they will help me. Maybe I can help them be what they are. Maybe I can host them. Maybe I can remember them. These bats are angels; they have traveled a very long way. They are time travelers. From picture to picture.

In the morning I dream of Cooper, in the black and silver twilight. He’s climbing from the bed to the window. I feel him standing on my body in the dark, and pulling the curtain aside. I look up at him and see him rising from my body, leaning toward the window, reaching for the handle. I hold him up so that he can open it himself, and then he claws at the windowsill, desperately wanting to get out. I hold him out into it, and hold him back, simultaneously, from the midair beyond the 4th story window. It takes everything I’ve got to do both of these things at once. I feel all the strength in his small body. Everything he’s got. I’m afraid to have written these words.

^✹^
       
Bob Dylan’s new song appears like flowers. It’s extraordinary. At 17 minutes long, it’s epic, and sublime. I put on headphones and listen to it in the middle of the day. Murder Most Foul. I watch Cooper playing with Legos across the room, in the silence of the room out there, the silent music outside my headphones. With his new haircut he’s an older boy already, fast. The song is so beautiful that tears roll down my cheeks, pouring out of me as I watch him out there in the cinematic silence. He is moving so gently, nimbly fitting pieces together, without torment, in the silence that surrounds him, in the sonic illusion of the silence I perceive. For there is none. Things are made out of sound, all things, even silence, even tenderness. If he were to look over at me and see me crying he would have no idea why. I have no idea what he would see.

When we ask no quarter, no quarter do we give.
We’re right down the street from the streets where you live.

^✹^

Then the City of Berlin offers extraordinary financial support to freelance workers and artists, without delay; in some ways buying our belief, our confidence, our solidarity in what is happening, and the government’s handling of it. In this sense I mean “buying” in the most authentic sense of the exchange. Capital as voodoo solidarity. Buying time with real money. Stay at home. And it works, in good faith, in that most German way, demonstrating reasoned consideration, calculation, and agility across its entire handling of the pandemic: it works. For all the ambient social distance endemic to the European north, a crucial social intensity is demonstrated in the RNA. They are strange bedfellows in the spooky distance of contemporary capitalist networked experience. For 48-hours we plunge into an internet nightmare, a panicked fever of not wanting to miss the window of opportunity, or screw up the online application for freelancers needing support. And we need it. Theatres — social space exemplified, and the bread and butter of our household income — have been closed for the foreseeable future, possibly the rest of the year. So we get our shit together, and we get in line, online. It pays off; I wind up with a digital ticket in the 1700s. Our time arrives. We gingerly navigate the German bureaucratic terminology, normally arcane and labyrinthine, this time by the grace of God made simple. Then, at the very moment of our application submission the system crashes. Allegedly due to the bottleneck, it vanishes in the panic like so much toilet paper. Rumors of hacking (of course there are). In either case, we’re left with the spinning wheel at the center of a blank screen. No idea whether our application went through. No idea whether we’ll have another chance. Just a spinning wheel. I can’t tell whether I’m in a DDR breadline or a Ryanair hellscape. And the answer is yes. We get back in line. In the line to this future. Number 147,000 and something now. We stay glued to the computer, watching the numbers again, watching them count down this time, instead of up. Glued to the network, indistinguishable from it, as with everything else now: news, family, friends, time, travel, weather, work, world. Replicant with it. And then it works. In two days flat, the money hits our bank accounts. The Berlin coronavirus financial assistance. In two days flat it’s in my account. Just like that. It’s more money than we’ve had in our accounts at the same time in the five years since Cooper was born. It’s astonishing. It’ll get us by. It will buy us time.

All of this is a clock. The distance between breaths, and the lengths of breaths themselves.

I listen to my son breathing.
I listen to my son’s breathing.

I listen to my son breathing.
I listen to my son’s breathing.

He’s not breathing, he’s pulsating. Wandering among the ruins where irony used to be useful. A collapsible selfie-stick, as they all are. All the words in the world, at a safe distance from the cruelty of complementary opposites, all of them. Now strewn about the wreckage, flickering as discarded codons, twitching the time. All the grains of sand. Quaking like aspen leaves. The air is murmuring, a mobile mirror of plovers, banking and whorling, disappearing into it and reappearing from behind themselves. Maybe we are like that too. Maybe that is how we seem, from a vantage point that we can’t fathom. And ones that we can now. A wondrous murmuration between sincerity and sincere fraudulence. Heat lightning.

Maybe it is learning. Systems don’t learn. But people do. And we are made of people. Nurses and doctors and virologists and piano makers and programmers and waste managers and poets. Now is not the time for prophets. Prophets have always been needed. There has never not been a time when prophets were not needed. But against all, temptation, that time is not now. We know exactly what that gets us. We know exactly who.

We need truth-tellers, who do not tell the truth, but try. It matters what we say, if only because we continue to say that it does. And say it to other people. Anyway, the lie doesn’t lie. Not for long. Prophets are sincere in their own replication. Sincere replicants. Suicide is when you murder your host.

^✹^

What becomes of a boy? In the precise moment that the world comes into being for him — the world as a socialization. This will be in his bones, I guess, as some kind of memory in the wood grain, some kind of residue — in the way maybe that we are all contaminated: in precisely the way that I react to his reacting. The brokenness of myself. The chain which is neither of us, and all of us. The damaged world. There is no doubt that I am failing him, doing the best I can. It’s not good enough. It fails us, and I fail him. He is doing the best that he can. It’s beyond good enough. How am I him, and how is he me? How are we all each other. This is how. But I will not give him a world that is wrong. I will give him a world that is broken, unjust, jailbreaklable, stupid, bendable, cruel, ridiculous, absurd, astonishing, kind, infinite, alien, here, somewhere else, this one, and also something else… But I will not give him a world that is wrong. That is something that I decide.

^✹^

In the second week of lockdown The New York Times Magazine publishes an excellent report by Mark O’Connell on being an apocalyptic tourist to Chernobyl. He imagines his experience less as an encounter with history than as “a vast diorama of an imagined future, a world in which humans had ceased entirely to exist.” He quotes passages from Chernobyl Prayer by the Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich: “Something from the future is peeking out and it’s just too big for our minds.” And Paul Virilio: “The invention of the ship was also the invention of the shipwreck.”

And I remember Mark Fisher’s now-famous aphorism that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism. I wonder instead if it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the world.

^✹^

And then one day it passes. Just like that. Like two discs passing across the faces of each other, to form a sphere. The meridian of a hot flash. We’re laughing like hyenas, laughing until we cry. He’s flying around the room like a deranged balloon. We’re blowing them up and releasing them, all different colors, and they’re flying around the room, spiraling out of control, crawling across the ceiling and smashing into lamps. I fill one up, stretching it as full as it will go, and then blast him in the face. He’s delirious, like a puppy with his head out the car window, and the unconstrained raspberry fart sound of it releasing all over him. He’s so happy he’s out of his mind. All the air I had inside me, releasing us both. Again is all he can say. Again! Again! Again! Again! All he had to do was remind me.

In the Hundred Acre Wood Christopher Robin agonizes over his decision to tell Winnie the Pooh that there will come a time, inevitably, perhaps soon, that they will no longer be able to do nothing together anymore. It’s devastating. Somewhere between sentimentality and bitterness is the preservation of the world that cannot be preserved.

Owl is flying.

^✹^

On a Sunday, the church bells are ringing from the empty churches. The moon is visible in broad daylight, a great strange turnip, fainting in the blue. Spring is exploding.

I’m suddenly wide awake in the middle of the night. There’s a message on my phone from one of my closest childhood friends. It arrived silently from across the ocean. “Have you seen the super moon? Here it was like daytime after dark.” I get up and go to the kitchen and it is there, hanging all about me, glistening among the pots and pans. I stand there in the kitchen and watch it through the window.

@coopers_hawk

First posted: Sunday, May 10th, 2020.

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