350 Hand-me-down entelechy, fey, mutating hipness & the self-conscious shame in faces, sweating & Junk

Dear Internet,

In honor of Sleepingfish ∞, this week's dispatch is experiencing a fishy infinite take-over. The bad news is that it's the last Sleepingfish ... the good news is that it's indefinitely ongoing (since it's webbed). Seems online is the better way to do a lit journal ... print issues become quickly dated & forgotten. We started Sleepingfish w/ Zeno's enumeration (0, 0.5, 0.75, ...)—ever half-way to the next but never reaching the elusive 1—so perhaps we should've called this issue 1, not (a contradiction to Zeno)? Or perhaps collectively you could consider all of Sleepingfish to be ever-enfolding into the never-ending issue 1. Either way, this completes Sleepingfish, by not being complete ...

Content is a bit sparse so far for issue ∞ ... we self-seeded the issue w/ the opening excerpt from 'SSES" 'SSES" "SSES' ... so if you're curious to see how this project—that we've been documenting (the making of) here on 5¢ense—is unfolding, here's Chapter 0: Summoning the Muse.

in out feedback loop machine

from SSES 0: Summoning the Muse (Warholographic representation of Joyce our brother made)

We didn't complete chapter 5 of SSES, as promised last week in our chapter-a-week output goal ... rather we stopped to regroup (having finished the first 4 chapters that comprise the 1st (of 3 books): En-Telemachy) & to finalize/coalesce these chapters ... & to launch Sleepingfish ∞ ...

You may have noticed that we also redesigned the 5¢ense logo (using the same Bayer Universal font used for Sleepingfish), inspired in part (at least initially) by the recapitulating idea we started the last post with. Initial attempts were flashier—discotheque 1.0—but in the end (you're welcome) we opted for something simpler. Here's the 2 failed snazzier attempts:

5¢ense rotating


nickel slot

Input-wise we read The Face of Another by Kōbō Abe, which sort of ties into the last entry about individuality & identity ... the narrator of of the novel has some sort of accident which blows his face off, so he tries to fashion himself a mask to make up for it ... to restore, or recreate, himself. Obviously w/ such a premise, there's plenty to muse on regarding identity & how much superficial «face value» we place on our self-worth. Superficial (or superfacial) as our physical appearance seems (or seams), it seems to be the most important attribute for most (besides the tit or ass guys).

I myself am more of a hands guy ... we don't look at faces much, but notice hands & their gestures more. Like in the Candy documentary we mentioned in the last post—if you look at her hands, you can tell right away she was born a he. Same w/ The Crying Game ... hands are a dead give-away, not just in regards to gender, but what people are really thinking. After we were done & looked over last week's post, the thing that struck us was the sequence of hands ... you don't need to read the words or look at the faces.

egon Schiele

Egon Schiele (1914), hands down the ultimate hands guy


Egon-Schiele self-portrait

self-portrait (looking a bit like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed)

Faces are deceiving. Not that we suffer from prosopagnosia, like Gary Lutz, we just don't remember or give much weight to faces. We probly walk by celebrities all the time & only know cuz our better half tells us after the fact. We walked by Phillip Seymour Hoffman at least once when we lived near him in the W. Village but only knew when we were told after. Another time we walked by Demi Moore & Ashton Kutcher & they even said hi to us, but i was busy looking at their dog. Another time we walked by Michael Douglas & Catherine Zetta Jones, but only noticed the baby they were pushing ... not that we like babies (we find them hideous for the most part), but they are innocent like dogs. Looking at people can be threatening & you run the risk of having them return your stare.

Speaking of P.S.H., we re-watched Magnolia last night ... they just don't make them like they used to.


Phillip Seymour Hoffman sees frogs falling from the sky

Anyway, as Kōbō Abe, says: «A man's worth should be gauged by the content of his work; possibly  the convolutions of the surface of the brain have something to do with it, but his face certainly does not.» We all know this, but we also know this is idealistic thinking. Probly even moreso in Abe's Japan, where so much self-worth derives from what society thinks of external appearances. Surprising that in recent years public drunkeness has become so accepted, even amongst prominent businessmen, but perhaps this is in reaction to this legacy of shaming ... & alcohol is a mask of sorts that you can always blame bad behavior on, to make it socially acceptable, to detach yourself from accountability.

What's the stereotype—that Japan is a shame culture? (whereas the western world is mostly a guilt culture ... at least the Catholic countries) ... not sure lewd public behavior in the U.S. (at least in NYC) carries much burden of shame or guilt, nothing's shocking anymore ... mostly we are just disappointed in our selves if we overdo it. We were surprised to hear our British friends the other day tell us how ashamed they would feel mornings after nights of debaucherous drinking & how this was common in the UK ... perhaps this shame is what drives the culture of heavy drinking to begin with?

Heroin on the other hand ... in the wake of Hoffman's death, there's been some backlash (against the initial tabloid desecration of his honor) saying we should give him a break, that addiction is a disease. And while this has something to do w/ why we are so angry at the media's shameless portrayal of Hoffman, there's more to it than that. We're wondering how heroin ended up w/ the distinction of being such a degenerate drug in the first place ... perhaps THE most heinous & disgraceful drug of all. From what we can tell about Hoffman & from reading our brother's journals, the shame of being a junky is perhaps worse than the junk. 

More on the stigmatization of heroin later (when we talk about Junk below) ... we'll get back to Kōbō Abe now & this idea of face as representation of self. I think we can honestly say we don't care much about our own face ... we'd rather lose our face than an arm or leg, or even a finger. The worse part about having a disfigured face (as long as it was just cosmetic) would be that it makes others uncomfortable & perhaps there's discomfort in that. The narrator in The Face of Another is stricken w/ dread & embarrassment every time he goes out in public. So he sets out to build himself a mask, but then becomes overwhelmed in designing the mask, in choosing a face ... a transcendental device to re-invent himself ... before finally opting for the faceless face ... if such a thing can exist.

Or (speaking of Justin Beiber, who we also mentioned in the last post) you can be like Toby Sheldon who dropped $100k to carve his face up to look just like Bieber ... not sure who's more of a dumb-ass, Beiber or his look-a-like?

Beiber wanna-be

Bieber wannabe

The feelings of self-consciousness that we harbor are more than skin deep ... namely we have an often debilitating fear of sweating. We were reading somewhere that David Foster Wallace had a similar affliction (hence the bandana, which we also wear, mostly around the house, tho for us it's more to keep the hair out of our face). There's a scene in The Pale King we can relate to:

«Or it [sweat] also happened at any crowded function like Scout meetings or Christmas dinner in the stuffy, overheated dining room of his grandparents’ home in Rockton, where he could literally feel the table’s candles’ extra little dots of heat and the body heat of all the relatives crowded around the table, with his head down trying to look like he was studying his plate’s china pattern as the heat of the fear of the heat spread through him like adrenaline or brandy, that physical spread of internal heat that he tried so hard not to dread.»

We spent many a family dinner in such dread, brewing in the heat of the fear of the heat. Or job interviews drenched in sweat ... or just for no reason at all, that's how it usually happens, doesn't even have to be a crowded or stuffy function. Anyone that's spent time w/ us has undoubtedly seen us break into an uncontrollable sweat for no reason at all. Once it's happened once, it's the fear of sweating that makes you sweat & once you start sweating it feeds on itself—a blushing flush ... idiopathic craniofacial erythema is the clinical term for it. Our hands also sweat uncontrollaby, ever since we were a kid ... tho not just in social situations, even alone ... just thinking about it now is making them sweat.

There's a scene in The Face of Another where he goes into a bathhouse & gets caught staring at a guy covered in tattoos ... when the guys confronts him & says what the fuck you looking at the narrator says something like, that's why you get tattoos isn't it? To show them off. Is there a difference between getting cosmetic surgery so you'll be noticed or so you (or your defects) won't be noticed? We don't consider our tattoos to be cosmetic—it's more about the ritual or process of getting them—but yes, they are form of disfigurement, in much the same way that we considering publishing to be an intentional tarnishing of the empty page ... self-mutilation to hide inherent imperfection or perfection, it's all the same.

Someone who spent time in Japan was telling us how the Japanese don't allow people w/ tattoos to use public pools. When we were there we remember someone telling us that only criminals get tattoos in Japan (naive old-school people in Italy have also told us this) but we never imagined it could be grounds to not allow you to swim in a pool? Evidently even if you are a foreigner ...

Anyway, interesting premise, but not sure the payoff was there ... the book seemed to drag on aimlessly after a while, once the novelty of the premise wore thin. Then again, we were obviously reading the translation. In a sense, translation masks the original face. Even your native tongue is an interface.

The Face of Another by Kōbō Abe

The Face of Another (L) & a Dogon mask that hangs above where we sleep

We've had 1 experience w/ a faceless person—the captain of a boat we crewed on from Fiji to New Zealand (some of which we chronicled here). It was unsettling to say the least, to look at his raw face (especially when he was barking commands), like looking right into 1 of those biological models showing the muscles of the face stripped of skin ... which strangely bears a resemblance to the facial tattoos of Maori's that we would subsequently encounter a few of in NZ.

 Maori face tatoos & muslces

Maori facial tattoos (L) & facial muscles (R)

At the end of the last post, we said we wanted to talk about the likes of transworld identities, but never got around to it ... mostly we were thinking of this in terms of primitive thisness (as an extension to this post on the primitive mindset), whether an object or being has inherent «de re» attributes or whether we become the sum of qualitative attributes that we acquire along the way. Leibniz was a proponent of the latter qualitative view ... we already quoted him on the subject here, but another thing he said that we've been mulling over is:

«Whether modality de re really adds anything important to the stock of modal facts depends, I think, on whether there are transworld identities or non-identities. If we are prepared to accept nonqualitative thisnesses, we have a very plausible argument for primitive Transworld identities and non-identities.»

i.e. whether it makes sense to talk about identity w/o regard to a body or receptacle to bear it ... or at least that's our interpretation ... not sure we care to reconcile or align ourselves w/ either school of thinking, but it's interesting to think about ... just like Kōbō Abe's book caused us to stop & consider the value of a face, something we perhaps take for granted in our day-to-day interactions, whether it's on the crowded subways of meatspace or by our unnoticed absence from Facebook (that name alone should be cause for alarm).

Specifically tho (again, to extend the last post), we were thinking it terms of people, artists, who reduce themselves to the qualities they were born with (or choose)—whether this be race, gender, sexual orientation or other lifestyle choices, like being a junky or aligning yourself w/ any genre or school of thought. In doing so, you collapse these qualities into your identity at the risk of continued transcendence & evolution. The secret it seems is to not allow qualities to pin you down—like a butterfly being splayed open-winged in a collection. It would be better to just take artists & authors out of the equation, to think strictly in terms of qualitative information ... to separate bodies from bodies of work. 

... & qualitative as opposed to quantitative ... something that cannot be measured against anything else. Not that there's no art in quantitative information  ... just take a look at Edward Tufte's The Visual Display of Quantitative Information ... but this is the subject of another post ...

Kierkegaard said: «Each individual has manifold shadows, all of which resemble him, and from time to time have equal claim to be the man himself.» If we think of qualitative information—in need of expression—as shadows, we should let these shadows travel thru us, but not occupy us ... to possess us, sure (temporarily), but not take possession of us.

Junk by Burroughs

Junk resting on our brother's opium pipe (that he brought back from China)

Since heroin has been on our mind (thankfully never in our body)—in the wake of Hoffman's death & rereading our brother's rehab journals—& since it was William Burrough's 100th birthday recently, figured we'd re-read Junky  ... tho perhaps we should all call it Junk as Burrough's wanted it to be called (his publisher thought «Junky» was more marketable, so as not to give the perception that the book was a piece of junk). We had the same reaction as we did w/ re-reading Bukowski in the last post, in that our memory of the original reading is fonder. Maybe we shouldn't reread books.

The thing that bothered us on this rereading is, not only do you realize (or are reminded) that Burroughs was a degenerate criminal, but he does a disservice to all heroin users & is perhaps largely responsible for this stereotypical image of the jaded & janky «junky» (considering the huge success of this book that he exploited himself shamelessly for). We reread it thinking we might gain insight into the affects of heroin, but it's more about the day-to-day exploits of Burroughs himself bumming around on his trust fund, robbing people & having sex w/ boys (homosexuality is another thing he broaches in a rather derogatory & deprecating manner)—there's nothing really productive in it all except for this toxic book it spawned. Confessions of an English Opium Eater (which we read recently in Nepal) is a better book if you want to know more objectively/scientifically about the psychological affects of opiates.

We love most all other books by Burroughs, just not when he is being so autobiographical. It ties back to what we were talking about in the last post & above, about separating the art from the artist. This is a man who shot his wife—«accidentally» or not. A man who pushed drugs on other people, who tortured animals, had sex w/ boys—he'd probly be the first to admit he was a demented sociopath & it's all fine, as long as it remains in the name of art & not advocacy. In his other books this line is clearly drawn, but in this it's hard to make the distinction.

The restored chapter 28 from the original manuscript (which was omitted from first publications) provides the most objective insight into junk & addiction. Burroughs compares heroin to a form of living cancer—that keeps you alive.

«It seems that a user does not get a positive kick from junk. What he gets is relief from withdrawl sickness. Possibly all pleasure is basically relief from a condition of need, or tension. Junk is the medium in which the junk-dependent cells live. When junk is cut off junk cells die, and excess histamine is produced to carry away the dead cells. ... »

It's also interesting how Burroughs relates the affects of opium to their function in the poppy plant—to protect the seeds from drying out as the plant around it dies, cushioning them «like a warm blanket while death grows to maturity inside.» Junk turns the user into a plant. And in this light, withdrawl symptoms are caused by the plant cells morphing back into animal cells, «from a painless, sexless, timeless state back to sex and pain and time, from death back to life.»

Whether it's the chicken or the egg, it seems the whole point of heroin is to become dependent. «The kick of junk is that you have to have it.» It seems crazy that any informed person would want to try it ... but perhaps some people are searching for such dependency, to become a dependant. All it takes is 1 bad or rash decision in your lifetime ... it could've just as easily been me instead of our brother. And we're not just talking about being in the wrong place at the wrong time—there are desperate times in anyone's life—it's whether this desperation coincides w/ availability. We're also wondering how the actual hole formed—the lack of nurturing that made our brother seek out something to depend on for lack of whatever else.

The glossary Burroughs provides at the end of Junk is interesting ... & how «the hip sensibility mutates. For example, "Fey" means not only white, but fated or demoniac. Not only do the words change meaning but meanings vary locally at the same time. A final glossary, therefore, cannot be made of words whose intentions are fugitive.» When we look up Fey now (officially), we get a range of definitions: 1. giving an impression of vague unworldliness. 2. having supernatural powers of clairvoyance. 3. fated to die, or at the point of death. 4. marked by a foreboding of death or calamity 5: crazy, touched. 6. excessively refined, precious. 7. quaintly unconventional, campy. Perhaps instead of Chaulky as a pseudonym for our last name White, we should be using Fey?

And the bits that take place in NYC were interesting, as before when we read it we'd never been. Per Burroughs, heroin central was 20 blocks south of here, 103th & Broadway (tho, if you believe the movie Panic in Needle Park, it's 72nd & Broadway ... tho that was more in the 70s & Junk takes place in the late 40s/early 50s.

Not only was Burroughs born a 100 years ago, but narcotics were criminalized the same year he was born (by the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914)(also the year the above photo was captured of Egon Schiele). Before that we're not sure opiates had the same repulsing reputation as they have now. The image we have (from books & movies) is of well-travelled & cultured people chilling peacefully in lush dens, not deranged sociopaths that need to steal to cop a fix.

Guess what gets us about the Junk propaganda gets back to what we were saying about the overlap of despair & availability—how this dependency could form in perhaps anyone if the means are there to act on it. Burroughs likens heroin to a viral cancer or parasite & as such it needs other host bodies to propagate. If Burroughs is the self-proclaimed expert on junk that he acts like he is (in the original introduction, he gives a declarative list of common myths about junk & then authoritatively sets the record straight), he says that «I have never seen an addict who did not sell, or a street peddler who did not use. There is no line at all.» Maybe this was true in the circles he ran in, at this time, but our brother for one never sold drugs & we doubt Phillip Hoffman did either. So saying all users are dealers is certainly not going to garner public sympathy. Our brother & P.S.H. were victims ... susceptible yes, & in need of self-medication, but victims to pushy dealers. And in both cases their deaths were overdoses, perhaps caused by variability in dosage & strength (inevitably due to the drug being illegal). The only solution is to legalize it, to at least make it safely available to those who have formed a dependency ... & standardized & controlled so they know what to expect. And replacing the stigma that heroin carries w/ compassion would surely do more to help addicts, whether they want to «recover» or not. Heroin is certainly no more destructive than alcohol, or at least it doesn't need to be.

What else ... bummed we can't watch the Olympics (no TV). Fuck NBC. To get us psyched for Seattle, we went & saw Murder City Devils .... no need for metaphor or stylization—they command your ear like no other.


  > 351 > proSSES news: a mapping to wander, homing in on Homer (via McAppalachia)


creative commonsom.Posted 2014  derek white  |  calamari press   ]