Of Confidence Men


“Well then”, the costumed man began his oratory, “We have come all together in this place to commemorate, to mark and celebrate, the passing of an era.”

He removed his cap, revealing a wisp of thin hair on a very large, mostly bald head.

“For some time now I have been bringing forward and back a leg, pointing a toe, turning a wrist, causing an eye to follow me, smoldering. You know how it goes. They said I was dancing and I kept my shuffling and my whiff of a spin to dizzy myself, if not my peace. But who am I to say what is truly a dance, and what a mere routine?

Those who think upon the subject have yet to agree on how much in life comes from knowing and performing the correct steps. It’s possible that life is everything else, and the steps one memorizes and performs a mere intimation of Death, which is needed to cast life, undefined, in relief.


“The good merchant looked puzzled.

‘Still you don’t recall my countenance?’

‘Still does truth compel me to say that I cannot, despite my best efforts’, was the reluctantly-candid reply.

‘Can I be so changed? look at me. Or is it I who am mistaken?- Are you not, sir, Henry Roberts, forwarding merchant, of Wheeling, Pennsylvania? Pray now, if you use the advertisement of business cards, and happen to have one with you, just look at it, and see whether you are not the man I take you for.’

‘Why’, a bit chafed, perhaps, ‘I hope I know myself.’

‘And yet self-knowledge is thought by some not so easy. Who knows, my dear sir, but for a time you may have taken yourself for somebody else? Stranger things have happened.’

The good merchant stared. “

H.Melville, from The Confidence Man


Carlos C. claimed to be a shaman. He made multiple beautiful PHD students become his wives and sex-buddies. They all changed their names multiple times and cut their hair and dyed it blonde. He made millions of dollars selling bags full of sand that you are supposed to put on your back while lying on a bed doing an ‘ancient shamanic resting exercise’ that only he could teach you if you had paid thousands of dollars to go to one of his workshops. He taught that women had to be celibate because sperm is poison. But his sperm wasn’t poison because he was the Nagual. he was born in Peru in 1925, went to sculpture school in Lima, and died in Los Angeles in 1998. His ashes were then sent to Mexico. He said squash your parents because they are fleas. He had a vasectomy. He died of cancer. He refused to be photographed after 1973. Joyce Carol Oates did not think his books should be shelved in non-fiction with the other anthropology books. Every woman who ever met him wanted to have sex with him. Like Pablo Picasso, he was only 5 foot 3. A woman who wanted to have sex with him once said that there was immense sadness in his left eye because she was married and would not have sex with him. After he died, most of his wives disappeared, but one remarried and still lives in California, but won’t talk to writers. His daughter/lover who he called the blue scout drove her car into the desert and died of dehydration instead of becoming a ball of light and ascending into the Nagual, as he had promised she would. At one workshop, he had said that the blue scout was not really human. At another he said she was a bitch who could not complete her designs for paperweights in time for them to be mass-manufactured. All former followers agree that Carlos C. had a wonderful sense of humor.

Of Innocence

Fleeting youth could have fooled me. It seemed so permanent. Before I had a past, before anyone I knew had a past, we were not aware as we drank our smoothies and smoked our spliffs on curbs and tore our bread into pieces to share and took the plastic wrap off the brie and listened to Dylan and the Gypsy Kings on scratchy vinyl in a room furnished with castoffs from our parents houses, where we shrouded all the lampshades in amber and rose-hued scarves from Nepali shops and our mothers drawers… We didn’t know that we were in the act of past-weaving, that we were stitching our personhood with future hauntings, that we would wear those evenings, sometimes heavily. It is innocence steeped and cured that makes the most potent kind of nostalgia. Years later that blind time becomes a bit of almond cake lodged between back molars, worried by a searching tongue.

From The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman):

Mary: Summer is better than Winter, because you aren’t cold. 

Joseph: But Spring is best of all. I’ve written a song about the Spring.

Mary: Our guests may not care for your songs.

Squire: Oh yes, I write songs myself. You see, there’s one about an amorous fish which you haven’t heard, and you aren’t going to hear it either. Some people don’t appreciate art, so I won’t bore you. 

Knight: We worry about so much.

Mary: It’s better to be two. Have you no-one?

Knight: I had, once.

Mary: And now?

Knight: I don’t know. 

Mary: So solemn! Was she your beloved?

Knight: We were newly married. We played and laughed. I wrote songs to her eyes. We hunted, we danced, the house was full of life!

To believe is to suffer. It is like loving someone in the dark, who never answers. But how unreal all this is in your company. It means nothing to me now.

Mary: You’re not so solemn now.

Knight: I shall remember this hour of peace-

the strawberries, the bowl of milk-

your faces in the dusk.

Michael asleep, Joseph with his lute. 

I shall remember our words-

and shall bear this memory between my hands

as carefully as a bowl of fresh milk-

and this will be a sign and a great contentment.



Indigo eyes of murdered children set in the sky like gemstones. Voices that had been gagged by war join a celestial choir which is never silent and louder with every passing moment of bombs, bullets, bludgeons, blades. A chorus of the disappeared, of the human collateral. A three-year-old Syrian girl sits on the ground in a refugee camp in Jordan. She looks like any child anywhere- like a child in relative safety- which could be a tent or a house or an airlift helicopter or getaway car out of a conflict zone, out of an exploded illusion of peace. I want to say to her: This is when life really begins. After you know its impermanence. That’s when the Devil comes to question you- to find out if you’re God’s or one of his.


Big One

The tremor sleeps beneath our life

cracks in our plaster walls

are signs of its breathing, its hunger

its restless dreams of our destruction



*painting by Pat Burson

Louis duffel bag filled with Heroin: notes on the so-called Silent Majority


“Ne sachant m’expliquer sans paroles païennes, je voudrais me taire.”

(“Not knowing how to explain myself without pagan words, I would choose to be silent.”) Arthur Rimbaud, from Bad Blood

“This dilemma of wanting the work to look like Art is ongoing” -Rebekah Rutkoff

This dilemma of wanting unrestrained egoic sociopathy and avarice to look like legitimate governance within a valid Social Contract is also ongoing. The question I ask myself these days has to do with the complicity of low-level players in the manufacture or attempted manufacture of meaning, and thus perhaps in the manufacture or attempted manufacture of compliance. For it is not benign. To manufacture meaning is also to aid in the manufacture of consumer demand (or to participate in the myth of culture as a thing made and sold)- the concept of the half-tame beast consumer demand whether real or imagined being one of the chimeras that pulls the shit-heaped cart of global capital and it’s attendant criminal classes.

The consumption of “high” culture (art, literature, intellectual or educated commentary) as a product, is the result of “social and political engagement” on the part of enlightened parties, and the consumption of culture, fuels a continued “dialectic of meaning” and “social and political engagement (of enlightened parties)” which is necessary to the continued reification of existing power structures and the cash flows they live for and upon.

If you keep paying the Piper, it’s possible he’ll never shut up.

Alternately, the appearance of complete dumb, uncomprehending conformity to the imperatives of Empire can be the most effective refusal to engage with it. It could be the equivalent of playing Dead to avoid Death. Play Stupid so you don’t have to be Stupid.

Oh yes, where is all of this coming from? Well, I’ve been reading a little book by Jean Baudrillard called In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities and The End of the Social. I thought about trying to paraphrase the argument, but decided I’d rather just share some choice excerpts:

“Now, in fact, the masses have no History to write, neither Past nor Future, they have no virtual energies to release, nor any desire to fulfill: Their strength is Actual, in the present, and sufficient unto itself. It consists in their Silence, in their capacity to absorb and neutralize, already superior to any power acting upon them”


“The social void is scattered with interstitial objects and crystalline clusters which spin around and coalesce in cerebral chiaroscuro (ed. note: Ital. literally light dark, from clark, clear, and oscuro, dark. in painting or drawing light and shade used so as to produce an illusion of depth, dramatic effect etc.) So is the mass, an in vacuo aggregation of individual particles, refuse of the social and of media impulses: an opaque nebula whose growing density absorbs all the surrounding energy and light rays, to collapse finally under its own weight. A black hole which engulfs the social.”

“The mass is without predicate, quality, reference. It has no sociological “reality”. It has nothing to do with any real population…A speechless mass for every hollow spokesman without a past. Admirable conjunction, between those who have nothing to say, and the masses, who do not speak. Ominous emptiness of all discourse.”


“The masses were, and have remained, pagans, in their way, never haunted by the Supreme Authority, but surviving on the small change of images, superstition, and the Devil. degraded practices with regard to the spiritual wager of faith? indeed. It is their particular way, through the banality of rituals and profane simulacra, of refusing the categorical imperative of “meaning”, which they have always rejected.”

“The masses are given meaning: they want Spectacle…messages are given to them, they only want some sign, they idolize the play of signs and stereotypes, they idolize any content so long as it resolves itself into a spectacular sequence. What they reject is the “dialectic” of meaning.”


“They distrust, as with death, this transparency and this political will. They scent the simplifying terror which is behind the ideal hegemony of meaning, and they react in their own way, by reducing all articulate discourse to a single irrational and baseless dimension, where signs lose their meaning and peter out in fascination: the Spectacular.”

“The mass is not a place of negativity or explosion. It is a place of absorption and implosion.”

Yes, implosion. The irreversible wrecking of Empire, under cover of staticky darkness, fully surveilled, on the shoals of the masses’ “indifference”; the shocking lack of curiosity about the exigencies of citizenship, lack of desire to engage in the Polis, an apparent preference for the watching of sporting events and the creation of internet memes that have “nothing to do with anything”.

Even the fascination of Brand names, the fetishizing of particular objects and the clever canceling or re-coding of their intended “value” (Yung Lean: “Louis duffel bag filled with Heroin, Louis Louis Louis duffel bag filled with Heroin”), and the apparently enthusiastic embrace of global corporate capitalism is not as reassuring a sign as the shit-sausage factory may believe or hope. Consumer demand is a smokescreen, creating the illusion of participation, acquiescence, long-term investment. Really it is merely a manifestation of  ancient and unabated love-affairs with rituals and their objects, with a personal and collective mythos of transcendence or transformation that pre-dates this civilization, and will outlive it, too.

The masses would rather loot than buy. We’d be happy to use a stolen credit card number on the dark web. We will always steal from the Rich if we think we can get away with it, and we truly do not require “meaning”, or “meaning makers”.

As Baudrillard himself notes:

“Meaning is only an ambiguous and inconsequential accident.”


“When still quite a child, I admired the incorrigible convict on whom the prison gates always close again; I visited the inns and lodgings which he would have consecrated by his sojourn there; I saw with his eyes the blue sky and the flowery labor of the countryside; I scented his fatality in the towns. He had more fortitude than a saint, more common sense than a traveler- and he, he alone! served as witness to his glory and his reason. 

On the roads, through winter nights, without shelter, without clothing, without bread, a voice would grip my frozen heart: “Weakness or strength: there you are, it is strength. You know neither where you are going, nor why you are going; enter everywhere, respond to everything. No one will kill you any more than if you were a corpse.” In the morning I’d have such a lost look and such a dead countenance, that those whom I encountered possibly did not see me.”

-Arthur Rimbaud, from Bad Blood



I Love Dick, Gravity and Grace, and self-negation/self-abasement as female mystical practice

This is an essay I have already posted elsewhere, but I’d like to have it up here as well, so for those who have already seen it, please excuse the repeat.



I love Dick is a stunning foray into the little-discussed mystical practice of ego-disintegration through relentless, unrequited love. Chris Kraus references and quotes Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace many times in the book- she also gave the title of that book to the film she is working on throughout the narrative- and I find this book to be indeed a brilliantly creative commentary on /extension of Weil’s thought. Kraus’ revelations of total humiliation, sexual exploitation, rejection, cruelty… The (common female) experience of being violated, erased, or both, simultaneously or in succession, of always being a plus-one, of being told implicitly or explicitly that one is not a “real intellectual”, that the work, if it includes or is built around a female first person perspective, is “narcissistic”, all are shards of shadow easily thrown from a Weil-ian prism.

Weil was a mystic of self-negation. Like Kraus (see Aliens and Anorexia), she had problems with eating all her life, preferring the power and authorship of self-denial to the physical fuel that is food. She was also a virgin and a person who voluntarily refused the range of earthly comforts in favor of ill-paid physical work. In other words, she placed the spiritual above the physical, and found a realm of autonomy there which she could not fully secure elsewhere.

Our culture tends to associate such self-denial in female-identified humans with weakness. We associate it with pathology, mental illness, self-loathing- with impressionable young women and girls effectively skewered on the male gaze.

We also seem to hold a collective erroneous assumption that women, and particularly young women, have no spiritual life to speak of seriously, or that those who do are somehow “not right”, “not properly female”.

Throughout history the denial of earthly nourishment has been a practice of yogis, gurus, monks and other spiritual seekers who seek to cultivate a state of transcendence, free of ego- who are trying, step-by-step to make it across the line to another, better, more true place. Incidentally, a place which exists outside of corporeality, and therefore outside of the biological sex that for most people for most of history, has spawned gendered life-scripts.

Taking away the mystical nature of women’s self-denial, of their self-exposure to elements that could destroy them, of their testing the limits of their own earthly bodies and in some cases insisting on being the authors of their own suffering and even of their own deaths, is yet another form of misogyny.

As for Dick…

Rumi was a Sufi mystic who sang the merits of doing the work of ego-dissolution in relationship. He says in his poem “Checkmate”-

“Those who make you return, for whatever reason, to God’s solitude, be grateful to them. Worry about the others who give you delicious comforts that keep you from prayer. Friends are enemies sometimes, and enemies friends.”


“If you can’t do this work yourself, don’t worry

You don’t even have to make a decision one way or another.

The Friend, who knows a lot more than you do,

Will bring difficulties, and grief, and sickness-

As medicine, as happiness,

As the essence of the moment when you’re beaten,

When you hear Checkmate, and can finally say

With Hallaj’s voice,

I trust you to kill me.”


The essential exchange here can be understood as one between two humans- a person and her “friend”, however, the “friend” in Rumi is also understood to be God- a divine intervention, and agent of ego-destruction that scours off the shell of human personality to reveal the divine presence in the one being broken down, allowing her to speak with the holy voice of Hallaj, to use this new voice in agreeing to her own destruction, which is actually, in effect, not a destruction at all but a transformation into something truer, more enlightened than what she was before.


In I love Dick, Dick seems most disturbed when he starts to suspect that this intelligent woman is using him not for sex (as others may be, like “Kayla”, the “Bimbo on the answering machine”), but as “the Friend”- as an ego-corrosive, as a vital male catalyst in a mystical and intellectual prostration.

What he, as intelligent as he is, has not been in any way prepared by his life and education to process, is that for her their relationship is so profoundly not about him and his dick, but about her and her enlightenment.

Chris says “let me be your lap dog” to Dick, thereby directing their sexual encounter to make herself lower- as low as she can be in relation to him. After all, we can only know our position in relation: She needs Dick because to be lower is to be lower than something or someone outside of oneself.

And somewhere Simone Weil intones:

“la pesanteur fait descendre, l’aile fait monter.:

quelle aile a la deuxieme puissance peut faire descendre sans pesanteur?”

(Gravity causes downward motion, a wing causes rising motion-

But what wing to the second power could cause a lowering without Gravity?)