paranoia & conspiracy

While paranoia in everyday life asks questions it believes have terrifying answers, paranoid art knows the more terrifying (and inevitable) discoveries are further questions. For paranoid art, unlike paranoid persons, also distrusts itself. And so, paranoid art is the ultimate opposite, the urgent opposite, of complacent art.

— Jonathan Lethem, Fear of Music

case study: Rebecca Solnit, the Albert Speer theory of social transformation:

I was excited as I started to read this. I thought, why have I not been able to listen to what Solnit is saying. And then I realised why.

We are building something immense together that, though invisible and immaterial, is a structure, one we reside within–or, rather, many overlapping structures. They’re assembled from ideas, visions and values emerging out of conversations, essays, editorials, arguments, slogans, social-media messages, books, protests, and demonstrations. About race, class, gender, sexuality; about nature, power, climate, the interconnectedness of all things; about compassion, generosity, collectivity, communion; about justice, equality, possibility. Though there are individual voices and people who got there first, these are collective projects that matter not when one person says something but when a million integrate it into how they see and act in the world. The we who inhabits those structures grow as what what was once subversive or transgressive settles in as normal, as people outside the walls wake up one day inside them and forget they were ever anywhere else.

–Rebecca Solnit, “Cathedrals and Alarm Clocks,” Whose Story Is This? Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2019, 1-9, 1

We live inside ideas. some are shelter, some are observatories, some are windowless prisons. We are leaving some behind and entering others. At its best, in recent years, this has been a collaborative process so swift and powerful that those paying closest attention can see the doors being framed, the towers arising, the spaces taking shape in which our thoughts will reside–and other structures being knocked down. Oppressions and exclusions so accepted they’re nearly invisible become visible en route to becoming unacceptable, and other mores replace the old ones. Those who watch with care can see the structure expanding so that some of those who object or ridicule or fail to comprehend will, within a few years, not even question their lives inside those frameworks. Others try to stop these new edifices from arising; they succeed better with legislation than with imagination. That is, you can prevent women from having access to abortions more easily than you can prevent them from thinking they have the right to an abortion.

— Ibid., 3

When the cathedrals you build are invisible, made of perspectives and ideas, you forget you are inside them and the ideas they consist of were, in fact, made … Forgetting means a failure to recognize the power of the process and the fluidity of meanings and values.

— Ibid., 4

– Lichtdom, Albert Speer, 1938

…”If you think you’re woke, it’s because someone woke you up, so thank the human alarm clocks.” It’s easy now to assume that one’s perspectives on race, gender, orientation, and the rest are signs of inherent virtue, but a lot of ideas currently in circulation are gifts that arrived recently, through the labors of others.

— Ibid., 4-5

Now, a turn is being marked here, a change of mode. The Speer style of ‘cathedral of light,’ Lichtdom, becomes a place where we are all searchlights and all beamingly woke in the intensity of our own light. But, I think, it is a reflected light.

It’s the light off the badges on our uniforms and by this reflected light we signal virtue. Solnit is right in the social constructivism of saying, remember, what you take for an archi-tecture is made, right in stressing the building but wrong about what the built does.

The as-built is that invisible reinforcing material that is taken up by individuals for the moral support it gives to the status of their own discursive existence. It makes more solid their invisible presence, a presence made of breath and in light of the present, breathing-with, con-spiracy.

woke in the wake of … or aufgewacht macht frei:

Remembering that people made these ideas, as surely as people made the buildings we live in and the roads we travel on, helps us remember that, first, change is possible, and second, it’s our good luck to live in the wake of this change rather than asserting our superiority to those who came before the new structures, and maybe even to acknowledge that we have not arrived at a state of perfect enlightenment, because there is more change to come, more that we do not yet recognize that will be revealed.

— Ibid., 5

I can’t say how much this statement fills me with horror. Yes I can. This statement fills me with horror.

the cycle of life: from sparrows to worms to scarecrows

…there was a plague of sparrows: they ate the wheat and rice seeds that belonged to the people. It was said that a few years earlier, in 1959, the plague had been so intense that people in the villages organized outings every day at noon, with the mission of making as much noise as they could. They set off firecrackers and shook rattles and banged gongs and rang bells and managed to make such a racket for so long that the sparrows began to die of heart failure, exhausted from not being able to rest. That year the harvests were saved from the sparrows; but the worms (which the sparrows ate) invaded and destroyed them, and the villagers had to return to the old system of scarecrows.

— Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Retrospective, translated by Anne McLean, London: 128