Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Anschluss or: power is wielded at the end of a scrub brush

Where to go with this story? It's a story of how things go bad. How love goes to disillusionment and disillusionment to something scarier. It's scary in part because the spores of disillusionment have been there all along. Why weren't they recognized? Why were they ignored? Were they hiding? Camouflaged? Fooling us? Like the spores of a disease that takes hold when the immune system is down. Or the precursor cells of cancer that become "activated" by a cascade of biochemical signals. No one knows for real how any of this happens. How this works as a system. Yes we know the parts. But. Our ways of looking at it, all of it, are too reductive. We can only see one corner, one surface, one reaction or the gateway to that reaction. Why are we so limited?

Maybe it's the intoxication of beauty. There is so little of it in our world. I mean the Western world. I mean the postindustrial world we pretend to thrive in or maybe we actually do thrive. But it's not a beautiful world for the most part. You can't be that graceful making your way with freezing wet feet through slush. Or climbing three feet to throw yourself into the seat of your Suburban. Or reaching through your car window to pick up your Starbucks. On the other hand. How could you not be intoxicated with the sultry beauty of Sri Lanka? Swaying coconuts, glassy lakes, steaming jungles, beautiful bare feet. Not so pretty towns. But still, a beautiful place where all "truth" is relative, where people are shadows and shadows are forest glens and glades. What's not to like? What can you possibly see?

My project was one of intangibles. I was to see and record and analyze intangible features of the landscape. What do you do with that? It's not history. It's not art history. It's not diplomacy. It's not reconciliation. It's not any kind of buzz word. It's only one man's word and how can you trust that? What if his arguments turn out to be circular? What does any of this have to do with contemporary Sri Lanka? A hard sell on the grants market. How do you quantify or even rationalize, let alone defend the statement, "my findings will guide me to further research." Shouldn't have written that one. At least, shouldn't have submitted it. But someone bit. A bit open minded, that. Or cockeyed. What if you don't find anything? What if you're just over here to sit on the beach and drink beers? Or king coconut? What can the bend of a tank bund possibly tell you? What can 30,000 of them tell you?

No interviews? No. Because no questions. No questions? No. Because "actually, sir." Get it? If you're not quite sure I'll tell you. Because every question gets a lie. So. You can sift through lies or half truths after you have made copious notes on your gargantuan efforts. Or. You can sit quietly, walk quietly, stand quietly and let would-be answerers creep up behind you and tell you what they want. And there are answers in the curve of every tank bund. Just come up with some other way to say it would you? Some way that's a little further from your personal "truths." Some way to the bank. 

But if they (the curves and the people who sneak up on you, the way you feel the wind, the way language is used) tell you what they want how will you get what you want? Simple. Kind of Buddhist actually. What you want is what you get. You formulate from there. Sound circular? Please. Don't bore me. Those many years at Harvard led me to the hems of garments of so many circular-argument promulgators. But pal, make one peep out of their circle of "truths" and your words garner the label "circular argument." Nice to have a label isn't it? Because the label is so circular, so perfect, so seamlessly closed onto itself that you cannot argue your way out. It's a beautiful thing. A disappearing weapon like an icicle. Round and round we go in circles until "actually sir" carries with it an implacable truth-telling. Like. Truth is at the point of a gun. Or like wikipedia quotes Mao, "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun." Arafat said it too, a little more brutally, at least for every single Jew. Who. He. Swore. To. Kill. Oh Gloomy. Check his properly attributed quotes in Wikipedia. Check his improperly attributed quotes too, just so you've got a good handle on the man. Swedish Academy must have. He got the Nobel Peace Prize! Like Wikipedia? I do. But sometimes truths get scrubbed out of there. Like the truth about Matale. Didn't need Wikipedia for that. Only needed the planning department at a university here in Sri Lanka to do the job. Maybe because they were using circular reasoning. 

Self referential is another "critique." Because gotta be unusual, get out of the circle. Not reference your own ideas. Use someone else's. But don't forget to cite appropriately! Anyway I think Hitler had it right after Kristallnacht, after the Anschluss, when truth came from the bristles of a scrub brush. He taught those worthless German and Austrian Jews a lesson. Just like these Tamils needed a lesson to be taught to them. And they got it in Matale, not to mention Colombo and Jaffna. And many other cities. Scrub those sidewalks. Scrub those latrines!! Nothing to do it with? You people are smart. Use your clothing! I saw a building next to the Mt. Lavinia hotel that was abandoned by its Tamil owners in 1983. What would you have done? I stayed in a place in Anuradhapura and met the owner. A doctor. "I bought this place from Tamil friends who were 'leaving the country' in 1983. I bet you did. 

Achtung. Breathless. Now breathe. Go to MOMA for an afternoon. Go see the brilliant controversial frescos that Diego Rivera did for his rich American clients. Look at his workmanship. Look at the technological genius behind his frescos. Think about the controversy. No. Rockefeller and Ford weren't Jews. Far from it. Can you say far from it when you're either "in" or "out" of that small circle? Is that circular reasoning? Is that circular enough? What was Rivera's 1930s vision? Rich bastards and (please do pardon me) rich bitches cleaning the sidewalks and the verges. His vision. Put into "aktion" just a few years later by the Nazi Germans! Or did Rivera just look in that week's paper to find the image? Must look it up in wikipedia and maybe I can tweet it afterwards. Or is circular reasoning one that doesn't belong on Twitter only Facebook? Instagram? Snapchat. So bad to age yourself. But where's the room for being self-referential? Everywhere. That's a selfie!


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