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…this one’s nearly gone

April 17, 2010

Dust and Water – Antony and the Johnsons

“I think it’s quite possible that the 1960s represented the last burst of the human being before he was extinguished, and that this is the beginning of the rest of the future and from now on there will simply be all these robots walking around, feeling nothing, thinking nothing. And there’ll be nobody left almost to remind them that there once was a species called the human being with feelings and thoughts, and that history and memory are right now being erased and soon nobody will remember that life really existed on this planet.”

These were the words that gripped me while watching “My Dinner With André” for the first time recently.  What Wallace and André talk about in this conversation of a film is the state of humanity and its active descent into baseness and destruction. Though it was written nearly 40 years ago by the actors themselves, their ideas have as much salience now as they did then, if not more so. Have you noticed how swift our culture is to trivialize  activists and dissenters while simultaneously and unflinchingly accepting the atrocities of slaughter, psychosis, and corruption perpetuated by the military-industrial complex as normal, as fact? We go about pursuing our respective ambitions of achieving and succeeding – leading our lives largely ignorant to the fact that there are and there have been others out there living rich, non-destructive lifestyles, people who know where their food and water come from and who know that the basis of all life on this planet depends on a balance of give and take, not taking all that you can, while you can.  Ours is a culture that teaches not to think for ourselves; not to think critically, if at all. Want to cure cancer? Let’s Relay for Life™, let’s donate money, spend billions of dollars on advertising and research; let’s make each other feel good about doing something. But let’s not talk about why so many people are getting cancer; let’s not talk about PCBs (which are traveling thousands of miles away to poison native Arctic populations), or the synthetic estrogen that’s leaching from the plastics that cover virtually everything we eat and drink, or ask why the American Cancer Society spends 75%-95% of its funds on administrative costs. Let’s be selectively conscious to the reality that what we experience is not reality at all.

The heart of André and Wallace’s conversation relates to the increasing isolation we feel not only from our environment, but also from each other. Wallace feels that he could turn into a wolf during the middle of any given conversation, and the other person would not notice. This is of course a fantastic trope, but there is a poignant sense of truth to it . Doesn’t it feel that all too often, conversations skirt around the intended purpose of conversing; that is, to communicate, root word commune: “To be in a state of intimate, heightened sensitivity and receptivity”? There is little about the modern conversation that can be described as intimate.

There is a rather moving moment in the conversation where Wallace laments his decreasing ability to feel emotion. He disagrees with the notion that one must seek drastic measures like climbing a mountain to feel alive. Conversely, he insists that there is as much reality to be experienced in, say, a cigar store as there is at the peak of Mount Everest. Though they don’t develop much upon this thought, it made me contemplate whether this is true or not. Indeed, a cigar store and a mountain are very real in a physical sense, equally replete with protons, electrons and quarks; the same molecules, even. But the realities that one experiences in each place are different. In another part of the conversation, André invokes a discussion he had with an arborist who said that cities are “the new model for the new concentration camp, where the camp has been built by the inmates themselves, and the inmates are the guards, and they have this pride in this thing they’ve built – they’ve built their own prison. And so they exist in a state of schizophrenia where they are both guards and prisoners, and as a result, they no longer have – having been lobotomized – the capacity to leave the prison they’ve made, or to even see it as a prison.” So in this sense, the cigar store is a part of the prison, and being so, lacks the ability to self-renew, to cultivate life that the mountain has. André, perhaps having escaped full lobotomization, is cognizant of his imprisonment, but doesn’t know where to escape to, as the concentration camp has metastasized into a global monoculture. Though I don’t disagree with this sobering observation, I do want to believe that there are pockets of the world where there are people who know how to be truly and fully alive.

Not sure why it took so long, but I’ve recently become captivated by Fever Ray’s music.

When I Grow Up

Triangle Walks

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