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The Stakes of Silence

24 May

My favorite ex got married a few months ago. We broke up long ago (if you’ve been with bogey from the beginning you might remember him) but you can’t spend five years with someone unless you really like them, and when he first told me he was getting married I kept waiting for nostalgia or resentment or even envy. Most everyone I’ve dated is now married and it has never occurred to me to care, but I felt I owed him—or rather I owed the us-as-was—an attempt at appropriate emotion. Try as I did, though, all there was to it was happiness and the narrative satisfaction of loose ends neatly tied together.

Then the wedding happened, and there were pictures, and there were comments on those pictures (by various random humans) about how he had “saved the best for the last” and that was when my temper flared. It was comforting, after the stormy year I’ve had, to finally feel a small sorrow, and I started listening to the song in pursuit of a pleasantly maudlin night. I soon discovered I was “some silly girl” and growled I am a fucking woman and took the whole thing very personally indeed. It hurts to be reduced into a trivial obstacle in the drama of someone else’s life; it’s the sort of thing most of us know about ourselves even as we rarely face the full shattering reality of it. Other people, so to say, are always already the reserve army of emotional labor, and all it means to honestly love someone is to convince them that they are not expendable.

This past year I tried, belligerently and often ridiculously, to do precisely that—and it was the hardest thing, bar none, that I’ve ever done. But there’s no convincing people that prefer to remain indifferent; there’s only accepting it, which sounds perfectly obvious until you live through the knowledge that the person you love has no space for you in their life and is willing to be quite ruthless about it. (It took Hegel to teach me about indifference, because I am a very deep idiot.) The how, why, and where of it all requires rather more backstory that I’m willing to go into but essentially what happened last year was that two people I trusted beyond all reason betrayed that trust within a few months of one another and I lost my mind. Around the same time, I was harassed, if that’s the word, with devastating intimacy, by someone (else) who had clearly been far more attentive to my online existence (and those of the people in my life) than I had. It wasn’t all a coincidence, it was a… whirlpool. There were a lot of emails, there was a breach of privacy, there was a great deal of embarrassment; it wasn’t threatening, but it went on for far too long and eventually there was the grim vulnerability of knowing I had handed someone the weapons with which they hurt me.

At this point, I could have taken down bogey, deleted my social media, and gone to ground. I almost did. Perhaps, in retrospect, I ought to have. At the time, though, that felt like defeat—and I can be, have you noticed, a pretty pugnacious human. So I stuck around, made my jokes and my peace, and figured I would get over it and start publishing again; I was certainly writing enough, if not quite well enough. Each time I got to a pitch or a byline, though, I stalled. Last year’s post took me six weeks to upload, and the thought of actually publishing something made me feel horribly exposed. It took Aisha weeks to convince me to publish the Shape of Water review, and the only way I can cobble together Advocate editorials is by writing boring and/or obvious ones.

Speaking of that review— the first essay I published under my own name after the Deccan history essay last February— the title of this post was the working title on it, born as it was from a year in which it felt like I all was doing was throwing some sort of very principled tantrum even as I was utterly unable to say something (anything!) that might actually matter and that might give me some pride rather than steadily deplete it. I can’t quite explain it, if anything twitter ought to make me feel more vulnerable than writing a bogey-post six people will read. And so it does, but for precisely that reason it’s easier to feel brave (or something) every time I log in. In the act of preserving my right to have a voice, I seem to have lost my actual voice— I began bogey to be a writer, but these days I feel like I kept bogey and lost the writing.

keyezua_Fortia(7).jpg

Keyezua, “Fortia,” 2017

A lot of this exhausting year has been about scavenging a life from the debris of my previous one. I’ve spent so long trying to sort out the kind of life I can have that I lost sight of the one I want to have. I don’t regret it; I would do it all again, fall in love, risk a broken heart, even sacrifice my dignity until it began to feel like I simply had none left. (I do, of course, I have enough dignity to drown a dromedary.) But somewhere along the way I began to… disintegrate, and it’s time to admit a measure of defeat. I’m, well, scared. Not of anyone else, all that’s sorted, just for myself. The past two summers have been bleak, and I don’t know what to do with this one except retreat and hope to emerge with some wisdom, some wit, some discipline. Which brings me roundabout to my point.

I don’t know much, but I do know this: I want to build a life I won’t eventually need to delete. I have erased novels and voices and cities and lovers and careers and I am just fucking done. And I want to write; since I can’t make myself write posts or essays, I’m writing letters. To you lot, to those of you who want them, anyhow. Mostly I’m doing this for the structure of it, and I’ll be quite content writing into a void, so long as I can pretend to myself it isn’t one, which was always the point of bogey anyway. I’m also kicking myself off the internet once I get home in June, so if you want me, this is where I’ll be. I’ll send one every Thursday starting next week, until September— and there will be no archives. If you see this in July or something and want to catch up; write me and if I know you we can work something out. If we’ve never interacted, I apologize for being rude, but I won’t respond.

The letters won’t be all about my life or anything, which is in any case not that interesting. It’ll mostly be stuff I’m reading and thinking through—some of which will be tinged with the personal; it’s just how I’m writing these days, especially with the exciting state of feminism—so they’ll be some sort of cross between my twitter account and what bogey used to be. I expect them to be much shorter than the traditional bogey post (certainly this one) and far chattier, but I tend to get obsessed with whatever I’m working on, so mostly it’ll be me blathering about trains or mythology or legal reasoning or fossils or whatever. If I get too arcane, please do write me, and I’ll fix it in the next letter and explain and so on. I desperately want to find my way back to writing for non-academic audiences and I’ll very much appreciate all the help I can get. Again, if I don’t know you and you email me: I will read, but I won’t respond, at least not directly. I’m sorry to sound pompous, it’s not that I think I’m above reproach or debate, I just need the space and silent strangers.

Below the fold, belying all that I just said, is a very academic thingamajig about Adorno’s reading of Kant, which is such a beautiful piece of philosophizing I thought it was the perfect way to start and couldn’t bring myself to tamper with it by simplifying it any further. I can, however, alert you to the stakes, so I’ll do that first.

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Playing Cassandra.

28 Dec

A Year in Reverse, Part II.

(Part I was Deluded Democracy, about elections around the world.)

The first of these.. snippets is a dismembered essay I wrote for popmatters back in February. That essay makes less sense every time I read it, and I’m hoping the remnants of it will fare better. Another essay that would’ve made it into this series is Of Nativity, where my allegiance to Frantz Fanon was recorded for posterity to note. It has already found its way onto this blog, however, and that’s that as far as introduction goes.

Playing Cassandra.

Barbara Ehrenreich is a woman of demonstrably diverse talents. If she should want to find conventional employment, one would assume it would be a fairly easy process. Bait and Switch is a detailed exposition into why one would be wrong. In it, she goes undercover again, as she did in Nickel and Dimed, this time in the very white collar world of PR and marketing. Excluding the publishing world, she starts the book applying and searching for marketing/PR positions promiscuously, sans moral qualm and geography. Her single string is income level, yet she spends the rest of the book upgrading herself in vain. 

I read this book amazed at the ‘transition’ industry unemployment in America has spawned, converting desperation into dollars. By synthesizing selfishness with self-help, Corporate America seems to have learnt how to systemically shed people while simultaneously convincing them it’s their own fault they’re out of a job.

Ehrenreich describes her steady line of career coaches offering contradictory advice on the basis of loopy personality tests, one of whom hilariously advises her to work on her writing skills. She negotiates the catch-22 of “appropriate” attire for corporate women (simultaneously professional and feminine, without being either threatening or provocative), encounters the evangelical Right, and discovers the new workforce makes the people it retains as miserable as the ones it fires. Several of the people she networks with are employed, but desperate to find alternate employment: either because they are underemployed and dissatisfied, or because they are stretched far too thin compensating for fired colleagues. Apart from time and energy, she ultimately spends $6,000 on her job search: money spent on coaches, resume-checkers, job sites, networking “clubs” and “events”, bootcamp (essentially group therapy), a wardrobe consultant, a “professional development seminar” until, finally (and fittingly), she is offered the chance to pay someone to employ her.

Mervyn Peake, Mad Hatters.

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Deluded Democracy

23 Dec

A Year in Reverse, Part One.

Over the next week, I shall be putting up collections of things I wrote this year that haven’t made it to this blog yet. Pre-bogey readers, all ten of you, will remember I blogged for Himal SouthAsian earlier in 2010, and these were mostly written to that end. They are ‘political’ reportage, if you will be generous with your definition. Mostly, I talk about news I find interesting. This year that happened more often than is usual, as Chaosbogey’s Politics will tell you. Here is me covering other elections from the year.

The second part of the reversal was Playing Cassandra.

Antique Wine in an Antique Bottle.

June, 2010

The recent demolition of the West Bengal CPI (M) in Calcutta municipality elections brokered many fates. In a country where some form of election is a daily occurrence, municipal elections inevitably get the short shrift. Not so here.  Newspapers and pundits portend that it marks a turned tide, that 2011 assembly elections shall see the party in the bay rather than in Bengal. Writers’ Building (in Calcutta, even administration must have a booksy air) might finally see new occupation: Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress.

Writers Building

The party in present form is evidently just the Lady, a few trusted deputies, and her unwavering agenda of uprooting the CPI (M). One wonders how this party will cope with the delegation of government. To the facile observer, Banerjee’s Didi might echo that other formidable and self-reliant Lady CM: Mayawati’s Behenji (even their honorifics collide). An important difference remains. Mayawati has had spells of power to considerably enrich herself, while Mamata is that rare mystery: an impecunious politico. She is currently Union Railway Minister, an easy route to padded bank accounts. Perhaps her restraint was just prudence: what is a ministry compared to the treasury of an entire state? Will she stay uncorrupted by power once her crusade is accomplished? It is a wager Bengal appears willing to take.

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Lady Dragon.

10 Oct

This is the second of the mylaw.net articles on the American midterms. As usual, please head thither for links to the articles on which my analysis is based- I do believe in credit, but setting up two sets of hyperlinks is my idea of too much work. Unless I have directly quoted from the article, or otherwise think you cannot live without reading it, I have omitted the reference in this version of the essay.

I’m still glad I supported Obama over Hillary Clinton. If Hillary had won the election, every single day would be a festival of misogyny. We would hear constantly about her voice, her laugh, her wrinkles, her marriage and what a heartless, evil bitch she is for doing something – whatever! – men have done since the Stone Age. Each week would bring its quotient of pieces by fancy women writers explaining why they were right not to have liked her in the first place. Liberal pundits would blame her for discouraging the armies of hope and change, for bringing back the same-old same-old cronies and advisers, for letting healthcare reform get bogged down in inside deals, for failing to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan – which would be attributed to her being a woman and needing to show toughness – for cozying up to Wall Street, deferring to the Republicans and ignoring the cries of the people. In other words, for doing pretty much what Obama is doing. This way I get to think, Whew, at least you can’t blame this on a woman.

Whatever Happened to Candidate Obama? Katha Pollitt.

One day in 2008, we all woke up to the news that the long-suffering Hilary Clinton was capable of such gymnastics as public weeping. I am not now, and I certainly was not then, a news junkie. All the flap about Obama had passed me by entirely: wasn’t he the guy who declared his desire for the presidency on a talk show? I had assumed that Clinton was a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination, that she would probably win, and the world would trundle on heedless. Washington is united when it comes to ‘security’ wonks: Blackwater, for instance, was defended by a firm run by Clinton strategist Mark Penn. In the corner of the globe that most of us inhabit, that simple truth is often all that matters.

Yet here she was, whimpering, and the election was close to a year away. India’s Indira and Germany’s Angela, it appeared, didn’t translate into America’s Hillary.

That was the day I swallowed my pride and sought education from sundry politics nerds: the mystifying distinction between primaries and caucuses, conventions and their delegations; and how, exactly, did colleges get to elect the president of a country? Most began with an admirably concise answer to the first question: they’re both dogfights for the nomination. Unfortunately, I was then at the height of my elections-are-gimmicks-and-circuses phase (which I am yet to fully recover from); and there was the predictable flame-out before the conversation could turn to other foundations of American Civics 101. The profusion of talking heads obsessed with Ms. Clinton did, however, get me interested in the interplay between feminism and electoral politics: what, really, is the price worth paying for a woman in power?

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Discharging Gods on the High Seas.

16 Jun

“Protestants like to be good and have invented theology in order to keep themselves so. Catholics like to be bad and have invented theology in order to keep their neighbours good” ,

Bertrand Russell, “On Catholic and Protestant Skeptics” Why I am not a Christian.

If you know me at all, you probably know I have had theology on the brain this past month. Specifically, Latin-Christian theology and its endless schisms.

Somewhere between the jargon and the wars, I found a painter I am madly in love with- Pieter Bruegel whose patrons included the most eclectic (and controversial) prince of the time:  Rudolf Habsburg in Prague. I especially love the fact that one never knows who painted any given canvas attributed to him- it could easily have been his son, or his nephew or some random chap from the “Bruegel” dynasty. The art at the background of this blog is one such disputed painting: The Festival of Fools. His paintings brought the period alive for me, far more effectively than Micheal Hirst ever did.

Compare, for instance, his “Conversion of Saul Tarsus” with Caravaggio’s “Conversion of St Paul” : the difference encodes an important key to the Reformation(s). One is busy, cosmopolitan, you can barely make out the Blessed Event; the other is all individual agony and giant horse’s ass.

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