Our Deepest Fear

September 30, 2008

posted by Caroline Picard

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

– nelson mandela

marginal notion #455

September 29, 2008

Advertising on Money. 

 

Forget about taxing the rich, sell advertising space to them on federal currency!  Instead of George Washington on the one dollar bill, Colonel Sanders, or a Coke Bottle or a little apple.  That way we get what we want:  corporate money that can then be funneled into public projects like health care, education, energy reform, public transportation, new jobs improving infrastructure etc., and the gross-rich big-wigs get what they want: public ubiquity and mind control.  Think about it!  What has a better circulation rate than money?  You could even get creative with it.  Turn money into coupons:  “This five dollar bill worth ten dollars if you use it at CVS!”

Money can finally be worth more than it is actually worth.  That’s the American Dream.

What are we afraid of?  Selling out? 

 

-Lily

posted and written by caroline picard

Reykjavik Beanstalk

Jack laughed and shot a breeze through the Coke can between his lips. Philip was incredulous.
“You dick,” said Philip watching the laughter blow through the can he had lit.  The gust of exuberance dropped its plunder on the street one story down and the boys stared with a shared reproach. They imagined crystals glistening in the dew on California Avenue.
“Hah!” cried Jack, to break the mood. He noticed a woman sauntering down the opposite side of the street. She began to cross.
Philip said nothing. He paid no attention to the woman. He was still staring at the pot. Jack laughed harder.
“Let it go, Philippo,” he said and clapped Philip on his broad back. The back was tense and unforgiving and tension between them grew until Jack, with a little bit of sympathy and irrational hope said, “There were some seeds in there; maybe the whole thing’ll take root and grow.”
“Now you’re bitching because I didn’t get all the seeds out.”
Bitch stuck to the roof of Philip’s mouth when the woman in the street bent down to pick up their prize. Philip wanted to flee, but froze instead, undecided. He was watching Jack who was watching the woman who had bent over without bending her knees.
“That’s our neighbor,” he whispered.
She was tall when she stood straight.
“Hallo,” she said. Jack became serious and Philip said nothing. He was watching her hand. “Is this yours?” she asked raising the same hand. The boys looked at each other without words.
She wrinkled her nose because the lump she held looked small when pinched in her hands. Because she was far away, they could not tell how large she was. The nugget was an ambassador of proportion, but they had already forgotten its size in their hands.
“If you like, you can come and smoke a spliff with me upstairs,” she shrugged, “I’m Ragnar.”
“Don’t ever let Ragnar be a shrug again.” Jack held a rigid finger in the sky. There was a hint of malice in his tone, and abruptly he ducked back indoors, shut the window and turned to grab his coat. Philip followed, pivoting on his bent knees but just before they stepped outside, he voiced uncertainty alone.
“Is it O.K.?” he whispered. He was sure she could hear him. A blush clung to the nape of his neck. “What if she eats us?”
“Pff.” Jack laughed again. He clapped his hands together.

***
She loved delicate things because she was always afraid of breaking them accidentally.
To her, the boys were fine. Jack was porcelain.

***

Philip tiptoed on his toes; he was afraid of the man on the couch. The man was drunk and sleeping and his naked feet were massive where they hung over the armrest. He slept under a sour halo, somewhere between death and terror. He slept in vodka. His mind was blank in its oblivion and Philip was scared to step too surely on the floor. A tremor could rouse the dead man into the recollection of his own being, and in so doing prompt a catastrophe.
“Don’t worry about him,” Ragnar said, looking at the man. Her lips were curled with wide disdain. Her mouth was wider then Philip. “He’s pissed.” She picked up the dead man’s hand and waved it. “He’s dead as a fish. Philip, Jack, meet fish. Ogden, meet our neighbors.” Letting go of the big hand, it flopped onto his stomach, smack, and flopped over to the floor. The sound it made, like the hand that made it, was large and wet. Ragnar chuckled. It was a more delicate expletive than Philip thought her capable of. He didn’t know that big things could be soft.
Jack cleared his throat, “I like Asgrimur Jonsson.”
Ragnar dismissed the name with an absent wave, picking up a large spliff by Ogden’s head. It was still burning. “Here,” she said, motioning to Philip. Philip took the spliff while Ragnar took Jack’s face in her hand. Only his eyes were left. They kissed.
Philip took a hit.

***

Jack liked the idea of big children.
“With hips so broad,” he said, “how could I go wrong?”

***

Jack hung a painting of his Ragnar above the broken fireplace in apartment 1A. Her look was impassive.
“Where did you get that?” Philip asked, incredulous.
Jack cleared his throat. “How was work?”
“Fine. There was a new girl. She’s cute.”
“Not as cute as this.”
“You stole it?”
“Ragnar has thousands.”
“But that’s her living.”
Jack shrugged. “Tell me, is it straight?”
“You stole her bread.”
“She makes a living off self-portraits. She can lose one. She paints herself all the time.”
“It does make the room.”
“Doesn’t it?”
Isolated by context the features could have been small. She hemmed her lids in a fine line of light and your eye slid the slipper guide into the pool of her gaze. The skin was perfect—perfectly translucent, perfectly delicate, there on her forehead where she suggested a single dormant vein, a vein that reinforced the sensitive qualities of her painted face.
It was this face that fed her children. She painted her softest part—achieving an image of womanish poise so convinced of itself that it seemed to have caught something of her soul in its drum. There was a twinge of sorrow in the purse of her lips, complemented by the insurgent arch of her eyebrow, and the vast depth of her laughing eyes. Her eyes recalled their ancestral heritage and the immeasurable distance between herself and her American audience. She painted her whole country looking through her eyes. They were flat and clear as the ocean she had crossed and behind them, staring behind their lidded fence three illegitimate children were hollering for potatoes and meat.
“Did you know she used to be a pick-pocket?”
Philip shook his head.
“Yeah, she used to pick-pockets. She was 13 or something and used to wait for drunk guys to fight in the street. She’d take their wallets when they were fighting. Out of their coats. I guess they still take their coats off before they fight there. Only it’s cold. It’s damn cold. I’d fight too. But I’d probably keep my coat on.”

***

“My youngest spoke his first word today,” Ragnar said.
“What was it?” Jack asked.
“My mother told me it was fuck.”
“Fuck?”
“He wanted to say fork, he said fuck.”
“It was English?”
Ragnar shrugged, “He wants to be American.”

***

She made a good living from portrait sales. Americans liked the face. They liked looking at her real face next to the painted one, considering how in one context she might look fine, while in another her hands were thick as peasants. They liked to construct the broken home that she must have come from and how that home had demanded so many defensive masks. To them, the portrait was truer. Her portrait was a plea that revealed something she had never been able to exhibit in the person. Being remote enough from her living self, the two in conjunction made each reciprocally more true and more false. More true because her paintings offered a window into her character, more false because she had constructed the window.
She always feigned ambivalence.

***

“The Emperor has no clothes,” Ragnar whispered under the covers. She had her hand cupped over his ear even though there wasn’t anyone else there in the world. In the dark, he could feel her smiling somehow. He heard the sound of her teeth in the air. “But don’t tell anybody.” Her whisper was a roar.
“Am I the Emperor?”
Ragnar giggled.
“Are you the Emperor?”
The darkness broke, under the door a shard of light was struck.
“What’s that?” asked Jack.
“Get out, Ogden’s back. Quick. Hide.”

***

Philip sat down beside Ogden who had spread seven feet across the living room floor. It was unclear why the Fish had come down to sit on Philip’s couch. It made Philip sweat and the portrait was staring at both of them. Ogden flipped through channels and smiled, baring yellow teeth through a plume of cigarette smoke.
“How was work?” Ogden asked.
“Fine,” said Philip.
“Jack said it was A-O.K. We don’t have television upstairs.”
“Oh.”
“He’s posing for Ragnar. It is boring.”
“Oh?”
Absorbed by the brilliance of the television set, Ogden glowered and grinned, rubbing his hands over and over until he sweated under the effort. He sniggered. Images caught the beads of perspiration on his forehead in splintered incomprehensible bits.
“You’re so voyeuristic,” Philip said. Saying it out loud made him squirmy and hot.
“What’s that?”
“Kind.”
“America is great. I love this country. It’s cool,” he exclaimed over and over, using the backwards and forwards of his hands for emphasis and adding an ‘h’ to every ‘s’, and clapping Philip on the back. When Philip excused himself to go to the restroom, Ogden thumped the loveseat. “I’m hungry. Hey, Let’s go to Denny’s—I wanna Grand Slam. Do they have beer? Budweiser.”

***

As things that tend towards reproduction, the one divided and became three more. Four other Icelanders replaced Ogden in the night. Philip woke up with his cheek on an unfamiliar chest, one of the male ones. There were two males and two females and the male he was sleeping on had replaced Ogden on the loveseat.
Philip had had too much to drink. He didn’t know when he had passed out, sometime before the intruders arrived, sometime after the re-run of Robocop. He shivered, feeling ill with clammy skin crawling up his exterior. The snores, out of synch and conspicuous, made him nauseous.
These snores were new. Philip had not known them before. These were others. New foreigners had landed. The Icelanders were annexing Philip’s safe house. Ogden was simply the scout. Ragnar, the Hellenistic tart that had seduced the most able bodied of the troops. Would they rape and pillage, these Vikings who slept in assorted poses at Philip’s vulnerable feet?
Ragnar was watching over them all.
He shuddered. The woman on the floor rolled over and grabbed his foot to cuddle. He could make out the “My Little Pony” t-shirt, stretched taught across her bosoms; the glitter glimmered where it caught the lamp light outside. His toes pillowed her blonde head and her blonde lover promptly reached to spoon her. Philip felt spooned by all of the blonde things in the room.
There were the two on the floor, and they shared Philip’s heavy hairy toes, small by comparison to their hands. But there were two others as well. There was the fellow beside with a stain of spit (Philip’s?) on his left peck. And a second woman—this one perpendicular to the rest, and blocking the living room door. She had turned Philip’s sweatshirt into a pillow but he didn’t remember taking it off.
The ball of his foot pulled a ponytail when he stood up and scrambled across the bodies. Shoving the door against the last Viking trunk, he escaped with only a single moan. Finally free, Philip went outside to smoke on the fire escape. He wiped his forehead with the bottom of his t-shirt and resolved to take a shot of whisky and hide in his own bed for the rest of the night.
Don’t let Ogden be there.
***

But he did not get to the morning. He woke up with Iceland banging at his bedroom door. Already petrified, he rolled over in bed to find flames licking the windowpane outside.
Philip screamed.

***

Philip would have certainly died. He did not stop screaming and he could not move. It was Iceland who carried him from his bed to the street. Iceland was his savior.

***

Jack was stealing portraits to safety.
There were no smoke alarms.
The Icelanders saw the flames first.
My Little Pony called 911.
The fire brigade smashed all of the windows with a hatchet.
They had put out the fire.
Firemen found a joint on the kitchen table.
The fire marshal said he wouldn’t include that in his report, because he smoked too sometimes.
Philip wanted to smoke, but stopped because he did not remember what he had done to the old butt.
Jack had collect 35 portraits.
“I’ve come! I’ve come!” Ragnar cried, running down the street from someone else’s house. She looked funny in flip-flops. “I’ve come to see the big explodes.” She was breathing heavily. It made Philip’s knees hot. “You are wobbling,” she said, but he did not answer, so she turned to Jack. “Where is the explosion?” she asked.
He hurled a suitcase at her, she stepped aside, the suitcase split open and 30 portraits fell out. Jack threw up his hands and turned away. “That’s it,” he called over his shoulder. “It’s over. They put it out.”
“America has such small fires.” Ragnar lit a cigarette, pretending to be small. She blew a small plume. The street was a broken mirror.
“I don’t think our portrait made it,” Philip said watching Jack walk away.

***

Ogden, Alda, Stein, Jasper, Vilma, Ragnar, Jack and Philip slept together in a Motel Six. Alda the Pony girl was next to Philip who slept next to Ogden who was next to Ragnar who cuddled with Jack who was happy falling asleep beside the Alda who preferred her country because they made her feel delicate and so slept next to both Stein and Jasper at the same time. Philip didn’t sleep well, but lay beside all of them staring at the ceiling. The ceiling was white.
He memorized the landscape of cracks.
When the others woke up they went back to California Avenue to survey the damage and smoked cigarettes outside. The sight was incongruous. The building looked the same aside from its broken windows. Firemen had done the most damage, but they were gone. The fire marshal was probably smoking. Vilma lit a cigarette. She was disappointed.
“It is boring.”
“Wanna go see the Hulk?” Ogden asked. “It comes out today.”
Alda nodded along with My Little Pony. “I like the big explodes,” she said.

***

The Church next door was smoldering. Sundays had to be postponed.

posted and written by Caroline Picard; part of a research job from 2007.

On the Evolving Technique of Capital Punishment in America

Beheading: Medieval

After 1878, Utah disallowed all behadings (Banner, 2002).

The Gallows: The Method for Cowboys, Rogues and Martyrs.

Initially America used a single tree to sentence it capital offenders. Initially a capital offense could range from the stealing of grapes, killing chickens and trading with Indians to murder, treason or piracy. Each colony was so small that any offense was an unequivocal threat to domestic stability. (http://deathpenaltyinfo.msu.edu/c/about/history/history-10.htm) Criminals were not merely men, but symbolic offenders of the very order Americans were trying to establish. Pilgrims brought their methods from England and because the justice system was still rudimentary, as the rest of life, there were no accommodations for the long-term prisoner. North Carolina did not have a state penitentiary, for instance, and there seemed no suitable alternative to capital punishment (Hugo Adam Bedau, The Death Penalty in America (N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1982). It was not until 1799 that the first state penitentiary was built in Philadelphia, and even that was the crowning achievement for Benjamin Rush (signer of the declaration of Independence) and the first abolitionist movement, (Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell, Who Owns Death?, Harper Collins, 2000).

A hanging was a public spectacle, delivered through the ritual of a minister’s sermons, where often the executed lead the public in a solemn hymn before they met their end. Criminals died as a reminder to all constituents of the new world that humanity harbors the potential to do wrong. Lest the order of the whole be compromised, wrongs were not tolerated. The first recorded execution was that of Captain George Kendall in the Jamestown colony of Virginia in 1608. He was arrested for suspicious activity, and accused for spying for Spain. (Lifton and Mitchell, 2000).

As life in America developed need for the death penalty waned (Victor L. Streib, Death Penalty In a Nutshell, 2nd Ed., Thomas/West, 2005) and in this new stability, it was harder to dehumanize the criminal. The distance between crime, as symbolically epitomized by the prisoner, and the greater good, what was represented by the gawking community, diminished and the moral distance necessary for conviction had to be recreated. Concern for both executioner and executed called for new strategies to reduce the awkward if not gruesome exhibitions of death. Where once there was only a tree, gallows were built. Where before there had only been a ladder to kick out from under the prisoners’ feet, a horse and carriage was rigged first, and finally supplanted by the trap door.

Complaints of inconsistent deaths inspired a new method, “The Upright Jerker,” in 1831.  With the death of pirate Charles Gibbs in New York, a noose was strung through two additional ropes that ran along pulleys and weights, rather than being tied directly to the gallows. By this method, the hanged man up jerked up first then dropped down, increasing a quick fractured spine instead of the five for eight minutes of struggling asphyxiation, or the incidental decapitation. This method became the national standard by 1845 (Stuart Banner, The Death Penalty, Harvard University Press, 2002). Nevertheless, there were still innumerable flaws and ugly foibles that pointed to the inefficiency and pain in mechanized executions. Any complication revealed the frailty of both the system and condemned criminals, by which a significant moral distance between the public and its’ host of evil was lost.

With the exception of lethal injection, innovation creating distance and reduced the obvious culpability of any executioner. At one point experimental mechanisms with rigs, water, weights and levers made the criminal hang himself.

Michigan was the first state to abolish the death penalty for all crimes except treason in 1846 (Streib, 2005).

These developments, though crude, demonstrate an inherent queasiness in the American psyche and as the audience of execution grew with the population, there was a reciprocal demand to remove the hanging ground from the center of town. In 1811, New York resident Elizabeth Glover demanded reimbursement from the city when attending viewers damaged her fence (Banner, 2002). The morbid  ceremony of execution had also been replaced with a lower class rabble, the traditional procession towards death seeming more like a circus show with alcoholic beverages and lottery tickets. The sanctity of a symbolic execution was gone. By 1841, every state in the Northeast and Atlantic Coast regions held their executions in the prison yard to a limited and elite audience (Lifton and Mitchell, 2000). Distance was thereby reinstated  and the greater public was disassociated from a first hand experience of capital punishment. The myth of crime and punishment was restored in the defense of social security.

The Electric Chair : What is typically associated with Hollywood and Sensationalism (“he’ll fry!”)

Although opposition to the death penalty has had various revivals and secessions, it stirred as early as 1767, was all but forgotten during the Civil War and resurged in the 1890’s as the country focused on more “scientific” explanations for criminal and their crimes (Craig Haney, Death By Design: Captial Punishment as a Social Psychological System, Oxford University Press, 2005). Science was a badge of civilization, which afforded a new and objective platform upon which society could protect the dignity of Humankind. Electricity would be the new handmaid for Justice. It was first considered ‘therapeutic’ as when 1881 Mrs. President, Lucretia Garfield, considered installing an “electric bathtub” in the white house to cure her husband’s ills, (Banner, 2002). Keeping this New Science in mind, New York decided the electric chair was the improved method. As advertised it was neater, quieter, elegant, modern and compassionate (Lifton and Mitchell, 2000). Electrocution was the death sentence of a progressive, industrial Nation, a far cry from its and clumsy gallows of the colonial era. At the time Edison and Westinghouse were competing to dominate the market, the first touting the benefits of Direct Current (DC), the latter Alternative Current (AC). Edison created the first electric chair using an alternate current because he thought it would finally put an end to his competitor; after all, the last thing the American public would want was to furbish their homes with the same electrical technology used for capital executions. As part of this campaign, Edison touted the dangerous properties of AC and publicly executed 1,000 stray cats and dogs in New Jersey. Despite the vehement protest of Westinghouse, the world’s first electrical execution law went into effect on the first day of 1889 (http://inventors.about.com/od/hstartinventions/a/Electric_Chair.htm) and executed William Kemmler by that method in 1890. (L. Randa, Society’s Final Solution: A History and Discussion of the Death Penalty, University Press of America, 1997).

Because the chair required a direct power source (the generator) executions traveled to state penitentiaries that could afford the expense of new equipment. Families directly associated with the crimes were less likely to participate in the executions and upper class white males became the predominant audience. Word of executions was primarily mediated through second or third hand reports. “It was the story of death in a distant place, at the hands of a mysterious machine most would never see except in movies. The eighteenth-century exponents of capital punishment, who placed great emphasis on the deterrent value of visual display, would have been astonished had they known what was coming” (Banner, 2002). Media played a significant role in the popular opinion of this new procedure, and the death penalty thereafter (Haney, 2005). It was the sensation of criminology that served to reinforce old roles through the eyes of various stories in newsprint. The mode of death was as abstract to the general public. Photography was not allowed in the death chamber (Banner, 2002) and the public was subject to the pull of political and economic influence that directed news reports. The distance between the cause of a safe society and the blight of a criminal was mediated here by science and technology, sequestered and discreet locations for punishment, and the accounts of a few witnesses. Like science, media was another tool for distance.

Despite best efforts the first electrical execution was predictably gauche, proving that there was a certain electrical skill required. Strategies for measured currents had to be developed, and with them a whole mythology of the electric chair and the executioner. The world itself is a senseless combination that would literally mean to follow electricity (Banner, 2002). Particular chairs wielded macabre reputations, given diminutive and anthropomorphic reputations. “Old Sparky” for instance was Florida’s three-legged electric chair that had been carved out by inmates in 1923 and used until 1997. Another chair was made from the gallows that preceded it. Or Alabama’s “Yellow Mama” that had accomplished 169 (33 white) deaths in 2000 (Lifton and Mitchell, 2000).  Harrowing tales of criminals thought dead who were instead unconscious and revived on the autopsy table, encouraged public scrutiny. Generally, bodies were donated to science to ensure both that criminals were ultimately put to good use and that each culprit would feel the weight of desecration.

Where before any man could have tied the noose and opened the trap door, now executions were restricted to specialists familiar the equipment. Edwin F. Davis, the electrician who had built the original electric chair in 1890, became New York’s prime executioner and, in some sense fathered an industry. Before he died in 1890, he killed 240 people. His predecessor, John Hulbert killed 120 more. Hulbert’s successor, Robert Elliot was the elected executioner in five other states, and managed to execute so many people that he eventually became a morbid celebrity in his own right. (Stuart, 2002). In an effort to further reduce the agency of any one individual, two buttons were added, in order to further distribute the agency of death between two people.

Lethal Gas

Dr. Allen McLean Hamilton originally proposed gassing in 1896/97 (http://www.richard. clark32.btinternet.co.uk/gascham.html). The Medical Center of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, agreed upon the superior gentility of cyanide gas and although the 1888 New York Commission had considered this option, it was never seriously considered (Banner, 2002). Nevada was the first state to use gas in 1921 and borrowed the cyanide techniques used in WWI. Part of its humanitarian appeal stemmed from a logistical expectation, in which prisoners would be gassed in their cells while sleeping.  After a first failed attempt with Chinese immigrant and gang member Jon Lee, prison officials built a hasty airtight chamber with enough room for a single chair, and a little window for viewing. A pig was gassed in a test run, (Lifton and Mitchell, 2000), the pig died successfully, while Lee suffered the pains of an untried innovation. Officials had to wait for three hours before they could safely open the vault and dispose of the body (Banner, 2002). Major Delos A Turner, an army medical corps officer designed the first gas chamber (http://www.richard.clark32.btinternet.co.uk/gascham. html). After a few seemingly painless executions, eleven states switched to lethal gas, including Colorado, North Carolina, Missouri, Oregon, Mississippi, and New Mexico. Arizona switched to gas in 1930 after Mrs. Eva Dugan, the first woman to be executed in the state, accidentally lost her head when hanged because of a simple miscalculation (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/execution/     readings/history.html – fnB17). While southern and western states had been slow to make let go of their gallows, they now skipped over the electric chair altogether, preferring this most modern and mild death. As in the case of the electric chair, the more scientific and modern a method, the more humane it seemed to the public (Banner, 2002).

Like the electric chair, the necessary equipment was an expensive and stationary commitment. Inmates in San Quentin built their own chamber in 1937, fitting gaskets and valves and witnessing various tests (Lifton and Mitchell, 2000). In the end, the procedure was more predictable. Inmates were strapped to a chair with, in rooms like pods, and stethoscopes were strapped to their chests to monitor the pulse. An official pulls a lever in order to release sodium cyanide capsules into a dish of sulphuric acid placed directly under the prisoner’s chair (Lifton and Mitchell, 2000). Thereafter, the attendant waits for approximately 45 minutes. In 1950 Missouri, for instance, printed charts listing the predicted influence of gas (and eventual death), so consistent, that prison officials knew the head would fall forward first, then backward, and then between ‘apparent unconsciousness’ and ‘chamber doors opened’, the head would again fall forward (Banner, 2002). This new method was far more neat and tidy.

The main trouble was its insipid invisibility. Often attendants would flee from a scare that the gas was loose in the viewing room. “The cyanide is so toxic that prisoners wear no underwear, preventing any gas from being trapped in folds where it could prove dangerous to an undertaker” (Lifton and Mitchell, 2000). Nevertheless the obvious connection between holocaust practices in WWII didn’t tint the practice of gas chambers—perhaps because it did appear to be the kindest method. Leading execution technician Fred Leuchter Jr., urged the humane character of these mechanisms, sold gallows and gas chambers alike, and was eventually discredited when he traveled to Nazi Germany’s holocaust camps. While there, he allegedly proved that cyanide gas was not used at Auschwitz (Lifton and Mitchell, 2000). His machines have been used in several US states.

Here again, media provided another kind of instrument for viewing. With these new development methods of execution, complimented as they were with the constant ebb and flow of national support or objection, the public had a mediated experience of the criminal. In the 1920’s and 30’s, the death penalty was put to regular use and popularized on the front pages of newspapers (Streib, 2005). It was considered a necessary social measure and toted as such in various political writings at the time (Bohm, 1997). 1930 boasts the highest number of executions, putting an average of 167 people to death each year (Bohm and Schabas, 1997). In the 1940’s there were 1,289 executions. This fell to a total 715 in the 50’s and continued to drop(Bohm, 1999 and BJS, 1997). Without much change in legislature, support for the death penalty waned in the 50’s and 60’s. With the exception of a small number of rarely committed crimes in a few jurisdictions, all mandatory capital punishment laws had been abolished by 1963 (Bohm, 1999). Executions were infrequent and the death of Louis Monge in 1967 was the last execution for a decade (Streib, 2005). (facts this last paragraph also came from: 1.http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/execution/readings/history.html)

Lethal Injection

In 1973 Ronald Regan said as the Governor of California was quoted saying, “Being a former farmer and horse raiser, I know what it’s like to try to eliminate an injured horse by shooting him. Now you call the veterinarian and the vet gives it a shot [injection] and the horse goes to sleep – that’s it. I myself have wondered if maybe this isn’t part of our problem [with capital punishment], if maybe we should review and see if there aren’t even more humane methods now – the simple shot or tranquillizer.(8)” Quoted in Schwarzchild H. Homicide by injection, New York Times, 23 December 1982; cited in Denno D. Getting to death: are executions constitutional? Iowa Law Review, 1997;82:319-464, note 315 (p.374).

By the time the death sentence was re-populaarized, old equipment had fallen into disrepair. The funds required to refurbish rusty electric chairs, or leaky gas chambers seemed too high a cost in comparison with the latest possibility of lethal injection. North Carolina Department of Correction estimated that the total cost of equipment for each administered death would only be $346.51 in 1994 (Banner, 2002). A cocktail of drugs, administered in sequence, appeared to put the prisoner to sleep, quietly, as one might their beloved pet. The prisoner is strapped to a table and needles are inserted. First the veins were flushed out with a saline solution, then a sleeping drug is administered and then at last a poison is given to stop the heart. Unlike previous methods, lethal injection was the most affordable, and in most cases was the easiest death to watch. The viewer is comforted with an empathetic calm. “In 1977, Oklahoma became the first state to adopt lethal injection as a means of execution, though it would be five more years until Charles Brooks would become the first person executed by lethal injection in Texas on December 2, 1982. Today, 37 of the 38 states that have the death penalty use this method”(http://deathpenaltyinfo.org/article.php?scid=8&did=479).

This too can be awkward. In the worst case, veins of a prisoner might collapse, or the administrator might struggle for a clumsy hour looking poking an arm for a vein. In one case and for lack of alternative, the needle was eventually inserted in the prisoner’s neck. Unlike preceding methods, lethal injection required a necessary closeness between the prisoner and the executioner, (Banner, 2002).

Lethal injection points to a contemporary view of death. Whereas other methods required some upright posture, lethal injection laid a criminal on his back. Perhaps this is what ultimately puts the public at ease, because inherent in the posture is an effort of graceful resignation. Coupled with the by-now traditional trend of privacy and seclusion, America at large has little beyond its imagination, and the political climate that colors any second hand report, with which to comprehend capital punishment. The death itself does not give the community its pageant of good and evil. Where before an audience would stare at the gallows to watch the drama of injustice resolve, now the drama takes place in the courtroom. It is the sentence that achieves public redemption (Haney, 2005).

Ethical questions muddle lethal injection because it is essentially against the ancient Hippocratic oaths that all doctors must take for a license. The American Medical Association barred medical employees from taking part in executions (Banner, 2002), but medical participation continues, particularly in Illinois, where doctors are ordered to administer death. This has led to an obvious conflict between professional ethics and the state legislature (http://web.amnesty.org/library/ Index/engACT500011998). In the past, physicians merely pronounced death, but without a doctor, concerns about the professional capacity of its executioners are raised. Without the proper education, it is possible that these drugs are not administered properly, inflicting pain on the condemned. How can one be sure that the inmate is free of pain if there is no doctor measuring his or her physiological condition. Often physician supply a sedative before prison officials take over the necessary procedure.

FIRING SQUAD

My personally preferred method (if I had to)

Because this is amazing. I don’t understand why someone wouldn’t just prefer this. You sit on a chair and then they set up this tent, in order to protect the identity of the firing squad. There is a target taped over your heart, and a pan is placed under your chair to collect most of the blood. Among the firing squad, a pattern of blanks and bullets is placed in each rifle, a pattern that no one knows, so that no one shooter can be held accountable for the lethal shot.  I guess you sit there with a blindfold, and maybe you have your back turned, I’m not sure.

But apparently they don’t like it because it’s messy. Which is another scrap of evidence that goes to show that these executions are more for the living than they are for the dying.

But I don’t know. It just seems ‘cleaner’ to me. I guess it take on average between 10-20 minutes before you die.

Shooting was only available in Utah and Nevada, but Nevada gave it up in 1921. The use of the firing squad in those states was originally for the Mormons, who in some cases required ‘blood atonement.’ (Banner, 2002.) Shooting is associated with military action, and there is thus a kind of honor, one could argue, that goes along with it (Lifton and Mitchell, 2000), this seems mitigated by a chair, instead of simply standing with your hands in the air, but perhaps that’s part of modernity.

posted by Caroline Picard

Jacques Lacan (1901-1981)
“The mirror stage as formative of the function of
the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience”
Delivered at the 16th International Congress of Psychoanalysis,
Zürich, July 17, 1949

from Jacques Lacan, Écrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan
(New York: W.W. Norton, 1977), pp. 1-7

(p. 1) The conception of the mirror stage that I introduced at our last congress, thirteen years ago, has since become more or less established in the practice of the French group. However, I think it worthwhile to bring it again to your attention, especially today, for the light it sheds on the formation of the I (je) as we experience it in psychoanalysis. It is an experience that leads us to oppose any philosophy directly issuing from the Cogito.

Some of you may recall that this conception originated in a feature of human behaviour illuminated by a fact of comparative psychology. The child, at an age when he is for a time, however short, outdone by the chimpanzee in instrumental intelligence, can nevertheless already recognize as such his own image in a mirror. This recognition is indicated in the illuminative mimicry of the Aha-Erlebnis, which Köhler sees as the expression of situational apperception, an essential stage of the act of intelligence.

This act, far from exhausting itself, as in the case of the monkey, once the image has been mastered and found empty, immediately rebounds in the case of the child in a series of gestures in which he experiences in play the relation between the movements assumed in the image and the reflected environment, and between this virtual complex and the reality it reduplicates–the child’s own body, and the persons and things, around him.

This event can take place, as we have known since Baldwin, from the age of six months, and its repetition has often made me reflect upon the startling spectacle of the infant in front of the mirror. Unable as yet to walk, or even to stand up, and held tightly as he is by some support, human or artificial (what, in France, we call a ‘trotte bébé’), he nevertheless overcomes, in a flutter of jubilant activity, the obstructions of his support, (p. 2) and fixing his attitude in a slightly leaning-forward position, in order to hold it in his gaze, brings back an instantaneous aspect of the image.

For me, this activity retains the meaning I have given it up to the age of eighteen months. This meaning discloses a libidinal dynamism, which has hitherto remained problematic, as well as an ontological structure of the human world that accords with my reflections on paranoiac knowledge.

We have only to understand the mirror stage as an identification , in the full sense that analysis gives to the term; namely, the transformation that takes place in the subject when he assumes an image–whose predestination to this phase-effect is sufficiently indicated by the use, in analytic theory, of the ancient term imago.

This jubilant assumption of his specular image by the child at the infant stage, still sunk in his motor incapacity and nursling dependence, would seem to exhibit in an exemplary situation the symbolic matrix in which the I  is precipitated in a primordial form, before it is objectified in the dialectic of identification with the other, and before language restores to it, in the universal, its function as subject.

This form would have to be called the Ideal-I * [je-ideal], if we wished to incorporate it into our usual register, in the sense that it will also be the source of secondary identifications, under which term I would place the functions of libidinal normalization. But the important point is that this form situates the agency of the ego [moi], before its social determination, in a fictional direction which will always remain irreducible for the individual alone, or rather, which will only rejoin the coming-into-being (le devenir) of the subject asymptotically, whatever the success of the dialectical syntheses by which he must resolve as I his discordance with his own reality.

The fact is that the total form of the body by which the subject anticipates in a mirage the maturation of his power is given to him only as Gestalt, that is to say, in an exteriority in which this form is certainly more constituent than constituted, but in which it appears to him above all in a contrasting size (un relief de stature) that fixes it and in a symmetry that inverts it, in contrast with the turbulent movements that the subject feels are animating him. Thus, this Gestalt–whose pregnancy should be regarded as bound up with the species,though its motor style remains scarcely recognizable–by these two aspects of its appearance, symbolizes the mental permanence of the I, at the same time as it prefigures its alienating destination; it is still pregnant with the correspondences that unite the I with the statue in which man projects himself, with the phantoms that (p. 3) dominate him, or with the automaton in which, in an ambiguous relation, the world of his own making tends to find completion.

Indeed, for the imagos–whose veiled faces it is our privilege to see in outline in our daily experience and in the penumbra of symbolic efficacity ** –the mirror-image would seem to be the threshold of the visible world, if we go by the mirror disposition that the imago of one’s own body presents in hallucinations or dreams, whether it concerns its individual features, or even its infirmities, or its object-projections; or if we observe the role of the mirror apparatus in the appearances of the double, in which psychical realities, however heterogeneous, are manifested.

That a Gestalt should be capable of formative effects in the organism is attested by a piece of biological experimentation that is itself so alien to the idea of psychical causality that it cannot bring itself to formulate its results in these terms. It nevertheless recognizes that it is a necessary condition for the maturation of the gonad of the female pigeon that it should see another member of its species, of either sex; so sufficient in itself is this condition that the desired effect may be obtained merely by placing the individual within reach of the field of reflection of a mirror. Similarly, in the case of the migratory locust, the transition within a generation from the solitary to the gregarious form can be obtained by exposing the individual, at a certain stage, to the exclusively visual action of a similar image, provided it is animated by movements of a style sufficiently close to that characteristic of the species. Such facts are inscribed in an order of homeomorphic identification that would itself fall within the larger question of the meaning of beauty as both formative and organic.

But the facts of mimicry are no less instructive when conceived as cases of heteromorphic identification, in as much as they raise the problem of the signification of space for the living organism–psychological concepts hardly seem less appropriate for shedding light on these matters than ridiculous attempts to reduce them to the supposedly supreme law of adaptation. We have only to recall how Roger Caillois (who was then very young, and still fresh from his breach with the sociological school in which he was trained) illuminated the subject by using the term ‘legendary psychasthenia’ to classify morphological mimicry as an obsession with space in its derealizing effect.

I have myself shown in the social dialectic that structures human knowledge as paranoiac † why human knowledge has greater autonomy that animal knowledge in relation to the field of force of desire, but also why human knowledge is determined in that ‘little reality’ ( ce peu de réalité ), (p. 4) which the Surrealists, in their restless way, saw as its limitation. These reflections lead me to recognize in the spatial captation manifested in the mirror-stage, even before the social dialectic, the effect in man of an organic insufficiency in his natural reality–in so far as any meaning can be given to the word ‘nature’.

I am led, therefore, to regard the function of the mirror-stage as a particular case of the function of the imago, which is to establish a relation between the organism and its reality–or, as they say, between the Innenwelt and the Umwelt.

In man, however, this relation to nature is altered by a certain dehiscence at the heart of the organism, a primordial Discord betrayed by the signs of uneasiness and motor unco-ordination of the neo-natal months. The objective notion of the anatomical incompleteness of the pyramidal system and likewise the presence of certain humoral residues of the maternal organism confirm the view I have formulated as the fact of a real specific prematurity of birth in man.

It is worth noting, incidentally, that this is a fact recognized as such by embryologists, by the term foetalization, which determines the prevalence of the so-called superior apparatus of the neurax, and especially of the cortex, which psycho-surgical operations lead us to regard as the intra-organic mirror.

This development is experienced as a temporal dialectic that decisively projects the formation of the individual into history. The mirror stage is a drama whose internal thrust is precipitated from insufficiency to anticipation–and which manufactures for the subject, caught up in the lure of spatial identification, the succession of phantasies that extends from a fragmented body-image to a form of its totality that I shall call orthopaedic–and, lastly, to the assumption of the armour of an alienating identity, which will mark with its rigid structure the subject’s entire mental development. Thus, to break out of the circle of the Innenwelt into the Umwelt generates the inexhaustible quadrature of the ego’s verifications.

This fragmented body–which term I have also introduced into our system of theoretical references–usually manifests itself in dreams when the movement of the analysis encounters a certain level of aggressive disintegration in the individual. It then appears in the form of disjointed limbs, or of those organs represented in exoscopy, growing wings and taking up arms for intestinal persecutions–the very same that the visionary Hieronymus Bosch has fixed, for all time, in painting, in their ascent (p. 5) from the fifteenth century to the imaginary zenith of modern man. But this form is even tangibly revealed at the organic level, in the lines of ‘fragilization’ that define the anatomy of phantasy, as exhibited in the schizoid and spasmodic symptoms of hysteria.

Correlatively, the formation of the I is symbolized in dreams by a fortress, or a stadium, its inner arena and enclosure, surrounded by marshes and rubbish-tips, dividing it into two opposed fields of contest where the subject flounders in quest of the lofty, remote inner castle whose form (sometimes juxtaposed in the same scenario) symbolizes the id in a quite startling way. Similarly, on the mental plane, we find realized the structures of fortified works, the metaphor of which arises spontaneously, as if issuing from the symptoms themselves, to designate the mechanisms of obsessional neurosis–inversion, isolation, reduplication, cancellation and displacement.

But if we were to build on these subjective givens alone–however little we free them from the condition of experience that makes us see them as partaking of the nature of a linguistic technique–our theoretical attempts would remain exposed to the charge of projecting themselves into the unthinkable of an absolute subject. This is why I have sought in the present hypothesis, grounded in a conjunction of objective data, the guiding grid for a method of symbolic reduction.

It establishes in the defences of the ego a genetic order, in accordance with the wish formulated by Miss Anna Freud, in the first part of her great work, and situates (as against a frequently expressed prejudice) hysterical repression and its returns at a more archaic stage than obsessional inversion and its isolating processes, and the latter in turn as preliminary to paranoic alienation, which dates from the deflection of the specular I in the social I.

This moment in which the mirror-stage comes to an end inaugurates, by the identification with the imago of the counterpart and the drama of primordial jealousy (so well brought out by the school of Charlotte Bühler in the phenomenon of infantile transitivism), the dialectic that will henceforth link the I to socially elaborated situations.

It is this moment that decisively tips the whole of human knowledge into mediatization through the desire of the other, constitutes its objects in an abstract equivalence by the co-operation of others, and turns the I into that apparatus for which every instinctual thrust constitutes a danger, even though it should correspond to a natural maturation–the very normalization of this maturation being henceforth dependent, in (p. 6) man, on a cultural mediation as exemplified, in the case of the sexual object, by the Oedipus complex.

In the light of this conception, the term primary narcissism, by which analytic doctrine designates the libidinal investment characteristic of that moment, reveals in those who invented it the most profound awareness of semantic latencies. But it also throws light on the dynamic opposition between this libido and the sexual libido, which the first analysts tried to define when they invoked destructive, and indeed, death instincts, in order to explain the evident connection between the narcissistic libido and the alienating function of the I, the aggressivity it releases in any relation to the other, even in a relation involving the most Samaritan of aid.

In fact, they were encountering that existential negativity whose reality is so vigorously proclaimed by the contemporary philosophy of being and nothingness.
But unfortunately that philosophy grasps negativity only within the limits of a self-sufficiency of consciousness, which, as one of its premises, links to the méconnaissances that constitute the ego, the illusion of autonomy to which it entrusts itself. This flight of fancy, for all that it draws, to an unusual extent, on borrowings from psychoanalytic experience, culminates in the pretention of providing an existential psychoanalysis.

At the culmination of the historical effort of a society to refuse to recognize that it has any function other than the utilitarian one, and in the anxiety of the individual confronting the ‘concentrational’ ‡  form of the social bond that seems to arise to crown this effort, existentialism must have indeed resulted from it; a freedom that is never more authentic than when it is within the walls of a prison; a demand for commitment, expressing the impotence of a pure consciousness to master any situation ; a voyeuristic-sadistic idealization of the sexual relation; a personality that realizes itself only in suicide; a consciousness of the other that can be satisfied only by Hegelian murder.

These propositions are opposed by all our experience, in so far as it teaches us not to regard the ego as centred on the perception-consciousness system, or as organized by the ‘reality principle’–a principle that is the expression of a scientific prejudice most hostile to the dialectic of knowledge. Our experience shows that we should start instead from the function of méconaissance that characterizes the ego in all its structures, so markedly articulated by Miss Anna Freud. For, if the Verneinung (p. 7) represents the patent form of that function, its effects will, for the most part, remain latent, so long as they are not illuminated by some light reflected on to the level of fatality, which is where the id manifests itself.

We can understand the inertia characteristic of the formation of the I, and find there the most extensive definition of neurosis–just as the captation of the subject by the situation gives us the most general formula for madness, not only the madness that lies behind the walls of asylums, but also the madness that deafens the world with its sound and fury.

The sufferings of neurosis and psychosis are for us a schooling in the passions of the soul, just as the beam of the psychoanalytic scales, when we calculate the tilt of its threat to entire communities, provides us with an indication of the deadening of the passions in society.

At this junction of nature and culture, so persistently examined by modern anthropology, psychoanalysis alone recognizes this knot of imaginary servitude that love must always undo again, or sever.

For such a task, we place no trust in altruistic feeling, we who lay bare the aggressivity that underlies the activity of the philanthropist, the idealist, the pedagogue, and even the reformer.

In the recourse of subject to subject that we preserve, psychoanalysis may accompany the patient to the ecstatic limit of the ‘Thou art that’, in which is revealed to him the cipher of his mortal destiny, but it is not in our mere power as practitioners to bring him to that point where the real journey begins.

* Throughout this article I leave in its peculiarity the translation I have adopted for Freud’s Ideal-Ich [i.e., ‘je-idéal’], without further comment, other than to say that I have not maintained it since.

** Cf. Claude Lévi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology, Chapter X.
† Cf. ‘Aggressivity in Psychoanalysis’, p. 8 and Écrits, p. 180.

‡ ‘Concentrationnaire’, an adjective coined after World War II (this article was written in 1949) to describe the life of the concentration-camp. In the hands of certain writers it became, by extension, applicable to many aspects of ‘modern’ life [Translator]

A Collection of Eyes.

September 28, 2008

– Lily Robert-Foley

Many of you may have probably been following the recent efforts in Congress to stimulate the economy and bail us out of our recent economic problems.   A connection between a small detail of these efforts and a recent thread of conversation on The Green Lantern blog occurred to me the other night while listening to the news, waiting for my sleeping medication to kick in. 

 

As many of you know, one feature of a proposed new spending plan includes what some in Hollywood—I mean, Washington—call, “golden parachutes”. This means, to the best of my understanding, that in order to assess responsibility and provide incentive to corporate big-wigs who have swindled the American public and fucked the economy, the bill plans to reserve some of its funding to pay off big bad CEO’s and the likes as they are punished. 

 

To me and probably most of the people reading this blog, this seems almost painfully absurd.  However, when questioned about the merit of this plan, Republicans and those in support of these “golden parachutes” replied that the big pay-offs are necessary as incentives to the landed gentry to comply with regulations and policies that will help those who actually need help. 

 

You can blame the drugs, the bad posture, the genetic history of mental illness—but as the synapses were misfiring in my brain, I was reminded upon hearing this, of the reasoning behind curtailing educational benefits for veterans returning for Iraq.  The implication was that if the government offers too many goodies for veterans as they return home, where’s the incentive to stay in Iraq?

 

And the synapses, like a band of blind people playing laser tag, led me to contemplate even further a field to the general notion the Right in this country holds that if we provide too much help for those in need, they will act like leeches on society and won’t be inspired by their poverty to work hard and support their economy with their back breaking labor and mystifying ingenuity. 

 

Over the past week or so there has been an on-going conversation on The Green Lantern Blog about the nature of subjectivity.  Perhaps I am the only one who has identified this conversation as existing and as being on this subject.  But I believe it is there.  It involves the location of the audience in writing (1), the practice of keeping secrets (2), and America’s obsession with packaging (3).

 

(1)

 

Here is a writer, sitting at her desk.  She is writing for someone.  In this case, any and all possible readers of The Green Lantern blog.  Last night, however, she wrote for an old lover whom she doesn’t know anymore and has nearly forgotten.  This morning she wrote for someone she does not know, and all last year she wrote for no one: for truth, maybe or for knowledge or for history.  Possibly:  to un-write that which was written before.  Or maybe for herself, as she watches herself, and as the writing appears on the screen she becomes her own audience.  But she is certain that somehow she writes for someone, because she has a desire for this someone—an unnamed specter or spectator—to understand what she is writing.  Therefore she writes for an ear or a set of eyes.  Her motivation to write—although it emerges from the wet, dark labyrinth of the self—is located in another. 

 

(2)

 

Here is a hypothetical situation:  my lover is keeping a secret.  He says one thing and does another.  Because I believe what he says, the result is that I believe one thing, and he does another.  This discrepancy is born of the disparity between subjects:  that I am not him and cannot be him and he is not me and cannot be me.  This means that somewhere in the chasm between subjects (people), there is the possibility for reality to become something other than what I believe it to be.  I think another word for this possibility and the experience of it is “terror”.  For example, as I put my foot down on a stair, I believe that

A) the stair exists,

B) that because it exists it will continue to exist,

C) that it is made of wood and is hard,

D) that it will support my weight and will enable me to complete my ascent or descent of the stairway. 

 

And what if I am wrong?

 

(3)

 

Packaging serves a number of purposes.  Ostensibly, it keeps the interior clean, sanitary and protected from the horrors of the world outside the package (of which there are many).  In our society it also identifies the product for us.  A loaf of bread is a loaf of bread is a loaf of bread.  But an Iron Kid’s Bread is not a Wonder Bread is not a Tastemaster Buns.  The inside becomes somehow defined by this exterior.  The relationship between what is presented to the public and what substantiates a hidden interior is complex.  Perhaps the American obsession with packaging can somehow be made analogous to an American obsession with defining reality, with making it durable, reliable and safe:  to process and condense the rent between the self and the other, from where the anxiety of representation is born. 

           

If I could only package my lover.  If I could be certain that what he shows me and tells me is a true representation of the secret world that hides behind his face, and of the moments of his absence when he thinks and does things I cannot witness.  But I cannot, so I am forced to either trust him or to become insane—to question the reality that is most possible for me to believe.  Eventually I realize I cannot know his reality and he cannot determine mine.  In the end, we share reality.  It is partly what I believe and partly what he believes, and also, partly what I believe he believes and what he believes I believe, and partly, what I believe he believes I believe and what he believes I believe he believes, and what they believe.  I’ll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours.  I think Bob Dylan said that. 

Lastly, I will attempt to relate the first part of my essay to the second to a new art space in Pilsen called, La Espacia (1437 W. 17th Street).  The exterior of a house is its packaging.  It looks like a face.  Inside, someone else’s reality is unfolding, away from you, in private, in secret.  In between the street and the house is a window.  That is where those who are inside can see what is outside and where those who are outside can see what is inside.  That is where we find language, and other ways of sharing our realities, and in the process, inventing them.  La Espacia is a single wall that has been built on casters.  During the day, the wall is kept inside the house on the right hand side of the dining room to let light in (to let the world into the house).  At night the wall is rolled against the window and front lit so that the public can view it.  In the liminal space between public and private, there is a window and in that window there is art.

 

At the beginning of the essay I cited several examples of reasoning from Right Wing ideology in this country.  Each of these examples locates the power to act in the individual.  The individual solely is responsible for his own economic well-being, and the only course of action for the government is to provide incentive to individuals to act upon this agency.  It bears repeating that in every instance this incentive is based on the desire to make money. 

 

This ideology is built off of a uni-directional model of subjectivity.  The subject desires, and based on a chaotic collision of these desires, society, economy and community are supposedly created.  The desiring subject alone has the capacity to decide what reality is and what is possible within its bounds.  This logic provides no space for the interaction of subjects, for the collective imagining of society that does not happen in the eyes and in between the ears of one person, but in the space between two or more subjects in communication. 

 

I hope that the thread that I have reiterated in the second section of this essay connecting the space of the audience in writing, the practice of keeping secrets, and the American obsession with packaging has shown that reality and society are indeed collective.  That reality is not the lone impulse of one individual’s desire, but the negotiation of different view points.   That reality is a movable wall rolled on casters between a dining room wall and a window facing the street.  It’s that model of reality that makes La Espacia, love, and The Green Lantern possible. 

 

posted and written by Caroline Picard

POON

“Hello?”

“Hello?”

Two women embraced. Their arms went around one another but did not meet. Hair sat still on bobbing heads. The bartender placed martinis on a tray, keeping the high slit of a server’s dress peripherally. The server pretended not to notice, instead watching women  embrace. Their voices sounded similar. Flaunted affection affected a relationship. a∴b.

Sara’s tongue sat on the els in hello just as Moira’s tongue was seated. Tongues had an accent and reminded each woman of their common high school. The girl’s school they had in common had colored their manner of speech. Accent was a thank you card left behind on a pillow. Until now neither one had read it. Until now, two women had considered themselves the agent, not subject, of abandonment. Moira swallowed and measured her watch.

“Sara?” Moira swallowed a second time. Moira said, “Sara.” a≠b. She said, “Sara,” again so both could be sure. “Sara, it’s so nice to see you.” She was still smiling but Sara frowned.

Sara lived in New York.

Sara was a gallerina.

Sara consumed wine and cheese but rarely in the course of a meal. She was top heavy with stork legs and toes that turned in slightly. Her hair was the same color it had been in the chapel when, cropped at the same length, it curled unclean and unkempt. Now she relied on mascara and when she spoke her eyes fluttered. She liked to use her hands to pinch: this was a new affect. Sara pinched Moira’s shoulder, eliciting a curious pain that was not shared. Moira twinged.

Moira was not a gallerina.

“It’s only that I have such a headache,” Sara said. A pianist began to play. “Come, let me introduce you. I’m so glad you could come.” The hotel bar was otherwise packed with Midwestern ars and aes. Without regret, Sara took Moira’s hand, fist to elbow was equidistant on either side, and led her towards a private room where provincial accents were kept tight.

This new room was circular; its sofas described an orbit around a round table, the surface of which was littered with empty glasses. The glasses stood as landmarks attesting to an earlier series of remarks. Moira saw Orion on the table. Tall narrow glasses for Tom Collins and Long Island Iced Teas, martini glasses, glasses with white wine and one conspicuous bottle of beer. The women had been drinking.

Four women sat as planets attending the center. Their smiles tended infinitely toward coincidence. Hair sat on parabolic peaks with sticks sticking out for ties that teased approximate men, or attempted to. Imagine, young man, if you pulled this chopstick.

The server smiled at the pianist while waiting for another round.

The women had been drinking.

Three men, one young, two in middle age, wore crossed legs and perpendicular ties. They affected an interest in ideals but pronounced their consonants slowly, leaving their source of speech regionally ambiguous.

Sara opened her arms and cried, “Oh! Dorothy! You must meet my old friend!” Sara sat on a centripetal couch and patted a pillow. The pillow was plump. The pat left no trace on the silk skin. “Come and sit. Moira. Come and sit beside me. Let’s sit next to Freddie.” The silk in Sara’s dress whispered and, though furniture conspired, Moira sat down. Dorothy meanwhile picked up a glass of white and sipped. She tittered. She could hear her own skirt rustle.

“Dot, meet Moira. Moira, this is Dorothy.” Dorothy took Moira’s hand and joined it with Sara’s.

“Hello my darling,” Dorothy said to neither one in particular.

“Oh, and these—,” Sara waved to her right side where a young man sat across from three older women and the two other men. “Janice, Astrid, Bella, Mitchell and Patrick. This is Freddie.”

Six hands poised to greet; thumbs were pinched to palm and attention was conspicuous. Hands hung over velveteen tassels; Moira shook each in turn. Reacting to an earlier surprise, she held her tongue to “hi.” She played with the plastic horseshoes that hung off her own ears. By doing nothing she was not “a.” Astrid,

Janet and Bella silently agreed that they preferred pearls to plastic.

Dorothy was standing. She hit her glass with the dessertspoon she’d found on the ground. “It’s my art show. I brought you here. You will all listen to me if I say so.” She was laughing and Freddie who was already red from drinking was turning purple in order not to laugh out loud. When the party hushed Dorothy tittered, this time without teeth. She had nothing more to say. “Congratulations!” she yelled cocking her head with a cheerleader-cock. When drunk, she pretended to be a girl again. Rustling further, Dorothy and diamonds sat on the lap of one of the middle-aged men. Mitchell studied her on his knee, noting that Dot liked to arch her eyebrows as much as her back.

She whispered in his ear, and the words bit his lobe though fondness was lacking.

“Suck my toe,” she said with breath that was neither good nor bad.

Mitchell said nothing, but measured Freddie’s flushing face.

“So this must be crazy, huh? This must be monumental. I can’t believe I’m witnessing this reunion.” Between the two women, Moira and Sara, Freddie shook Moira’s hand again. Shaking Moira woke him up. His head was tilted with interest and he fingered punctuation. Air quotes marked the space around “reunion”. Fingers retained shape while dropping down to knees on either side respectively. They landed in time to blink, when one crept to a glass on the table. Freddie consigned his hands to two necks, the one belonging to an abandoned martini while the other went to Sara’s. Moira was defined respectively and Freddie saw a difference. Q.E.D

***

“This is not what it looks like,” Freddie’s mother had said when she found him with pornography in the garage. She had been pointing at the pussy. When she said “it” her bracelets winked. The light chuckled in brass, mocking him like a mocking bird.

***

“Take your coat off, Moira, please. Get comfortable. Do you want a drink? It’s my treat. My boss is paying. Yes, he’s wonderful. French. He likes to take my picture. I don’t like his sculptures, but he likes me better for it. We get along famously. He can afford it, anyway. I just sold one of his pieces.”

“Will they serve me? I’m wearing jeans.” Moira asked.

Janice and Astrid sniggered but Bella just turned red.

“We’re in the private room, it doesn’t matter. We could be naked.”
Dorothy put a foot in Patrick’s face. Her plumage was a petticoat, it was singing to Patrick where it spilled out. Patrick took the foot but looked past the dress. He imagined the nylon crotch.

“When was the last time you saw each other?” Freddie asked. Moira shrugged.

“What do you do?” asked Sara.

“I’m a mathematician.”

“Did we see each other in college?” Sara lifted her chin a touch to indulge the double el. Moira saw the bartender watching Dorothy lean back. A server coughed at the bar.

“It’s been six years.”

“You look tired,” Sara said to Freddie.

“I’ve been up for days. This show’s been a bitch to hang,” he smiled at Moira’s horseshoes though eye contact was deferred.

“Has it.” Moira stated.

“You’ve no idea,” two replied in tandem.

“I’ve been up for days.”

“You said that.”

“The woes of an intern, will you listen to that?” a›c.

Dorothy sniggered then snorted, lying down on Astrid’s knees. Her body wanted a right angle and Mitchell was tugging on a stray hem.

“I can see you’re going gray,” Moira said.

“Did you want a drink?” asked Sara raising a hand.

“It’s premature. It’s stress. I’m not like Sara.” Freddie turned to Sara who put her hand down to cup his cheek. “You’ve always got so much poise. You’re so diplomatic.” He turned to speak to Moira, “Sara’s very diplomatic,” but turned his eyes again on Sara. “You are a constant exercise in diplomacy.” Freddie squinted so that he could talk to two at once. a=b. “You always get precisely what you want.”

“You have to know what you want before you can get it,” Sara tussled Freddie’s black hair. It was thick and when she took back her hand follicles resumed their prior posts. “I just tell people what they like to hear.”
Freddie’s left hand grazed the pillow of Sara’s bosom.

“It’s been a long time,” Sara said looking at Moira. “Seven—eight years?” She pinched Moira’s knee over Freddie’s pants. Moira’s knee was touching Freddie by degrees. The pinch was an ambassador.

“Yes I guess it has,” Moira said in a small voice. She couldn’t bear the thought of bare thighs sticking together in the back seat of a pick-up in a ten-year-old summer. She touched her own good luck charms but did not shift any weight. The pinch persisted.

Moira liked the lazy eye best. Sara had a lazy eye and it was better than the other one.

“O! This show has been an absolute disaster.” Sara buried two fists in her dress. “Poor Freddie didn’t get any sleep.” Freddie nodded, then turned to look across the foot table. The room was spinning and Dorothy’s skirts were over her head. Dorothy had a faux sleep with her legs spread wide and flexed. One foot rested on the table. The men were out of focus but diamonds were winking and the women didn’t seem to mind.

“It doesn’t stop,” Freddie said.

“What?”

“Nothing. Work. It doesn’t stop.”

Percentages were being negotiated, who wants what and so on and so forth. They hadn’t even managed to install all of the pieces. There had been a problem with shipping. Sara had arrived at O’Hare with her hair in a ponytail and Dot was shocked because she had been expecting someone much older.

Moira cleared her throat. Clearly denim was significant. She smiled at a waitress who smiled back but did not come. Moira smiled at the lonely beer. It was half full. She picked it up.

“Hello? What’s this?” she said. “Thank you.”

***

Moira thought a good cartoon would be a headstone with QED. Hah. She laughed but no one noticed. Hah hah.

***

“You used to hide your liquor in shampoo bottles,” giggled Sara.

“You used to tell on me.”

Freddie’s world was spinning.

In the summers Sara went to France to drink wine and ride French horses and sit beside the ocean on a beach that belonged to her boss. New York was otherwise all right, but she was looking for a new line of work.

“Wait. Stop—wait,” Moira paused pale. “Sorry. I don’t know. It’s just terrible. I can’t stand this.” In the background Patrick was finally sucking Dorothy’s toe. Mitchell’s hand was buried elsewhere, but Dorothy didn’t seem to mind. The women preened with envy.

“Where’s that fucking tart?” Bella asked of her empty glass.

“Jesus. I mean, I just mean—Jesus? All that stuff makes me tired. You’re talking so quickly. It’s so loud.”
Freddie shut his eyes to stop the room.

“Mmmm. No. Yes—you’re right. I see what you mean. I think my Mom is sick.”
Sara’s mother was sick, but no one in her family would tell her with what, only that perhaps she should quit New York and come back to California to take care of her Mother. It was probably cancer, Susie was sick with cancer in California, in the middle of nowhere, where dust fell unequivocally and life was idyllic without success.

“What about your Father?”

“Simon is suffering from M.S., but we don’t talk about that either. I’m part of an ultimate Frisbee league. We travel to play games and smoke pot sometimes in the van. I like it. I’ve gotten pretty good.”
Sara just got into school for diplomatic relations in Paris and wanted to go there but wasn’t sure. “If I go home I just eat breakfast in bed and that’s all they want me to do.” She rubbed her lazy eye. “I’m a pretty selfish person. Going back to California would be a big step. I would be proud of myself, but I don’t just want to eat breakfast all the time.”

“Come home,” Susie had said.

“We miss you,” said Simon.

“O.K.” Sara had meant it on the phone until she hung up and thought of alphabet flapjacks. “Pancakes just seem so depressing sometimes.” Freddie guffed in the middle of his snooze. “So I said hell, I’m going to France.” Sara closed both eyes. “And now I’m back in the city and it’s nice there. I like it. I want something more but this is all right for now. Free food, free drinks, openings, interesting people to talk to. I’m starting to like the sculptures and I’m good at what I do because I couldn’t care less. Dot couldn’t believe I was only twenty-five. It was too fabulous. I was wearing jeans, I only had a ponytail—she couldn’t believe she’d been kissing my ass.”

“How long have you two been—,” Moira nodded at Freddie who had finished his martini, fallen asleep and dropped his hand in a nest of dress under Sara’s navel. It fell in a fist the size of a sparrow.

“Oh no—he’s just my intern. I hired him. He needed a job. No, I’m seeing another man. He’s great. He’s an architect.” Sara yawned with her eyes open. She was demure. “He doesn’t put up with my bullshit,” she said with the one blind eye, while the other was hard. Her shoulders were sad.

***

Far away in the Northern hemisphere, a Norwegian woman waited for the sun to rise and rouse her from seasonal lethargy. It would not rise for another two months. She ate little and rarely turned away from the window. Sometimes she fell asleep with her head in a book and felt the tingling weight of sunlight on her cheek. The light was a phantom that filled her with disappointment whenever she woke. She’d only been married a year when her husband had died in an airplane accident.

Now she studied Wittgenstein and in the summer sipped tea and watched as the sun sat, stuck, in the throne of her backyard on the top of the world.

The day after the summer solstice she would happen to say hello.

“Hello,” she said to her reflection in the bathroom mirror. The sound of her greeting startled an otherwise uninterrupted silence.