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  • Discipline in the Scandanavian Correctional System

    The Scandinavian correctional system refers to the type of correctional systems that Finland, Sweden, and Norway boast. These countries have some of the lowest crime and recidivism rates in the world, while maintaining ‘humane’ facilities and post-prison supports that reintegrate convicts into society (Graunbøl, 2010). Correctional facilities, here, punish by merely depriving liberty, the liberty of the body in space and time. They mirror broader society by maintaining a community, providing prisoners with citizens rights, and permitting degrees of free movement within the facility. This correctional system employs a series of disciplinary mechanisms that gradually move from corporal to mental normalization depending on the perceived ‘security’ of the convict by moving them to lower security institutions to serve their sentences. The lower the security of the institution, the more closely the normalization of the convict to citizens resembles that of broader Scandinavian society, which liberates the body but emphasizes homogeneity of the mind. This process of normalization of the convicts to citizens is only strived for by Scandinavian society because convicts are viewed as equal beneficiaries of the Scandinavian welfare state. The welfare state developed upon the trust Scandinavian individuals have between each other and between themselves and the state, trust that rests on class homogeneity. Reintegration is the focus of Scandinavian prisons because they have no need to form a delinquent class like the failing prisons that Foucault describes in Discipline and Punish. By producing normal citizens, the welfare state perpetuates diffuse discipline through citizens because of historical cultural pressure to be normal, and reinforces itself. Additionally, the welfare state itself enables discipline and surveillance of all citizens, the same surveillance that a delinquent class enables in other states. The problem of the novel immigrant to Scandinavia, who is excluded from the welfare state and threatens citizens’ trust, proves that homogeneity is the reason why Scandinavian correction lessens recidivism. In the Scandinavian system, the purpose of the sentence is to “prevent the commission of new criminal acts…[and] ensure satisfactory conditions for the inmates” (Norway, 2001). The explicit aim of penality in this corrective system is the prevention of recidivism and protecting the rights of inmates. Unto this end, correctional services, “shall make suitable arrangements for enabling a convicted person to avoid committing new criminal acts through his or her own efforts” (Norway, 2001). The “convicted person has a duty to take an active part during the execution of the sentence and special criminal sanctions” (Norway, 2001). The Scandinavian system makes ‘suitable arrangements’ for each individual convict, tailoring the details of a punishment to them, for them to ‘take an active part’ in their own reformation. In other words, the fundamental aim of the criminal sentence is to prescribe a cure to a convict to prevent their recidivism and induce the convict to act upon this cure themselves, internalizing the ‘health’ associated with non criminality. The end possesses a plurality of means; there are many approaches to curing the criminal. The first division of means stem from the institutions of reform. The Scandinavian correctional system consists of five forms of the execution of a prison sentence: closed prisons, open prisons, halfway houses, outside prison, or on probation (Norway, 2001). Nearly every convicted individual begins their sentence in a closed prison; the majority finish in probation (Norway, 2001; Ugelvik, 2016). Closed prisons resemble most other Western prisons. Inmates have limitations on telephone use, have controlled visits, cannot move freely between buildings, and are “kept under constant supervision and control” (Norway, 2002). Yet there remains “relative material comfort” (Pratt, 2008). Many in the prison work and receive education beyond the necessary remedial level (Pratt, 2008). Inmates may be permitted to leave briefly to shop, they may wear their own clothes, they retain a level of privacy and sanitation from other inmates, their families may occasionally stay with them unsupervised, and there are communal meals with guards (Pratt, 2008). Open prisons are more lax than closed prisons. There remains a degree of surveillance, but is not constant; rather, it is “provided on the basis of existing conditions” and remains mostly in common areas (Norway, 2002). Visits and telephone calls are less controlled, movement is mostly liberal within the prison, inmates may visit and work in local communities, and “the social distance between the prison and the outside world is...short” (Pratt, 2008). Half-way houses, outside prison, and probation all execute sentences outside of more general prisons. Halfway houses resemble an open prison in regulations, but are smaller. Outside prison and probation resemble one another. Here, convicts are permitted to re-enter their community under electronic monitoring of their movement, and must work and/or undergo treatment while serving their sentence (Norway, 2001). A convict moves between these three levels of institutions depending on the judgement of those who monitor them, based on their degree of ‘security’ (Norway, 2002). The more secure a convict is, the further they move from closed prisons. Once an individual has completed their sentence, they are offered a ‘reintegration guarantee’ that ex-convicts will be offered employment, education, housing, medicine, treatment, and debt counselling upon release (Ugelvik, 2017). The Scandinavian justice system exerts a unique form of discipline upon its convicts. The degree of spatial limitation is graduated between different penal institutions, and as one is perceived as more secure, one gains more autonomy over their body’s movements. In the closed prison, inmates cannot walk freely throughout the prison. In the open prison, inmates can walk freely, but cannot freely leave the prison. In outside prison or probation, the inmates may physically go where they please, but are tracked and have confined movement between correctional facilities. All must work during the day and undergo some treatment, but because each treatment is individualized using data about each convict, there is no general normalization of all actions; there are no time-tables (Norway, 2001). The bodies are not interchangeable. Differentiation exists between each individual in their form of treatment, and between classes of criminals, determined by ‘security’, by their institution. Different classes of criminals are institutionally separated; higher-risk in higher-security, closed prisons, and lower-risk in open prisons or probation. Spatial placement of the body is equalized inside each institution, where all have the same dorms and general ‘treatment.’ Equality is further emphasized by the communal relationship between the prisoners themselves and between prisoners and guards. Prisoners labor to maintain sufficiency of the prison, they work together on different jobs to generate a community (Norway, 2001). Prison guards are standardly educated, and are taught to treat inmates as citizens to be corrected, not an ‘other’ (Pratt, 2008). Discipline confines the body to varying degrees depending on the convict’s perceived security. Surveillance prevails through each institution of penal reform. In each case, convicts are watched; only the apparent degree to which they are watched by guards is altered. As one moves from higher-security institutions to lower-security sentences, the mode of control over their body through surveillance alters. In higher-security prisons, one cannot go to certain areas; they are locked in and confined by force. In lower-security prisons, there are often no fences, nothing physically bounding the prisoners in but the gaze of their guards and peers. In probation, one does not even know if they are being watched until after they move; they act in faith that their officer will be watching them. The confinement of the body through surveillance and restrictions removes itself from the body to an abstraction of being seen, causing obedience to become less corporal and more mental. Sentences, themselves, are referred to as ‘normal;’ the Finnish Sentences Enforcement Act of 2002 states, “punishment is a mere loss of liberty. The enforcement of the sentence must be organized so that the sentence is only a loss of liberty. Other restrictions can be used to the extent that the security of custody and the prison order require” (Pratt, 2008). Penal institutions merely deprive liberty, not rights, so they appropriate broader society while ensuring ‘security.’ Because the aim is to reform the criminal to become a normal citizen in society, penal institutions are closely tied to society and resemble them. The convict, then, is normalized by many parties. There is an exertion of normalizing power by the correctional measures of the ‘cure’ prescribed to them by their correctional officers, be they educators, rehabilitation workers, probation officers, prison guards, etc. There is the normalizing power of the limited connection between the convict and broader society. The convict, if connected to their local community, works and does service in that community. Their only relationships to greater society are to those who wish to ensure their docility as a general, unexceptional citizen, one who contributes to the broader populace; relationships to public employers, family, and community service supervisors. There is the normalizing power of their fellow convicts, each of whom presumably seek liberty, as its deprivation is their one punishment. Convicts live in community with one another, so the production of a better worker in a peer results in communal benefit. By mirroring the power relations of broader society within the context of greater surveillance and controlled relationships, normalization of convicts shifts them towards ‘security.’ Most convicts are on probation or in open prisons (Ugelvik, 2017). They are close to being free, being one with society again, and their one punishment is ‘mere deprivation of liberty.’ Their punisher, by offering treatment and withholding excessive corporal force, demonstrates care for the convict; as such, the convict trusts their punisher (Todd-Kvam, 2020). The power of this care is not one by which the convict can resent their punisher, for it lacks brute force. By the point where one is close to liberty, the convict has already been deemed ‘secure’ and mostly normalized. Rather than resentment, convicts feel “boundlessness, ambiguity, and relative deprivation”; they feel a desire to become a normal, secure, working citizen outside of prison (Ugelvik, 2016). The convict sees their lost liberty and understands the ease of regaining it due to their proximity to liberty. Thus, they discipline themselves to regain liberty. Discipline is internalized by soft, paternal power. Convicts are treated as citizens to whom cures are applied. These cures use disciplinary techniques to reform the convict into a citizen. Discipline gradually releases citizens back into society by slowly granting them greater liberty by transferring them between institutions. These institutions employ discipline that begins corporally in the closed prison, and becomes almost entirely mental through probation with a paternal, caring officer and remote surveillance. The incentive to behave well, or be perceived as ‘secure,’ begins as one for a physical desire to liberate the body to one for liberation as a social actor. The Scandinavian corrective system rests upon the Scandinavian welfare state, where all citizens benefit from a ‘safety net’ that guarantees basic living conditions that enable citizens to act socially (Ugelvik, 2017). Penal code arose from the welfare state, as a part of it (Ugelvik, 2017). The ‘seamless sentence’ asserts that convicts belong to ‘the municipality before, during, and after imprisonment’ (cite Fridhov 2013). The penalty ensures the convict returns to society; it is the welfare benefit for the citizen who is a convict. Convicts have the right to determine the manner by which the institution behaves and affects their daily lives, demonstrating that, like in other welfare institutions, beneficiaries determine their service (Norway, 2002). Furthermore, convicts retain the rights of free citizens, including access to public healthcare services, work, education, etc. and, after their sentence, are guaranteed support by the state. Convicts lack the necessity to return to a life of crime as the welfare state supported them during and after their sentence. In essence, “prisoners [are] seen largely as another group of welfare clients rather than dangerous outsiders” supported by their penalty (Pratt, 2008). The success and origins of the Scandinavian welfare state, though, exceed mere policy. The culture of equality in Scandinavia precedes its establishment in the welfare state. Before the nineteenth century in Scandinavia, rich farmers lacked the material basis to mobilize agricultural workers; there was no lacking an influential upper class (Pratt, 2008). Small communities with autonomy and equal social conditions arose in lieu of a land-owning elite (Pratt, 2008). There was little room for social distinctions, for there were few minorities and little regional difference; the lowest and highest strata of society were not far removed (Pratt, 2008). There was no momentum for class struggle as there were little class distinctions. In Swedish culture, “the mediocre is successful...to be different is to be burdened with a sense of guilt and to be the worst of failures” (Pratt, 2008). The culture of normality in Scandinavia institutionalized itself through the welfare state. The welfare state formed in most of Scandinavia following the 1929 stock market crash, providing a material basis for egalitarianism (Pratt, 2008). All received welfare towards the aim of providing common security; though the state was politically instituted, it was rarely politically challenged. Instead, trust and solidarity, bred through centuries of homogeneity and community, prevailed, and the welfare state in Sweden was conceived of as “the Swedish people’s home” (Pratt, 2008). The welfare state of Scandinavia was built upon this trust in solidarity between the people themselves and between the people and the state, enabling apparatuses of the welfare state to have the backing of the populace. The state was welcomed into people’s workplaces, homes, hospitals, and schools; it normalized, regulated, and surveilled citizens in every institution, with their consent from trust. The Scandinavian corrective system is an apparatus of the welfare state, which is an institutionalization of the homogeneous egalitarianism of Scandinavian culture. The trust ingrained in the egalitarian culture enables convicts to trust their disciplining correctional officers, communities to trust their convicts to do community service, and citizens to fund the welfare programs of prisons. By funding the welfare programs of the prison, disciplining convicts’ minds through obedience and providing them with the means outside of prison to live a productive life, the Scandinavian corrective system generates low levels of recidivism. Scandinavian correction is a successful attempt to lessen recidivism and reduce crime, unlike most prisons. Foucault argues that the failure of prisons to reduce crime, though, stem from the fact that most prisons aim to produce the delinquent outside of prison by creating recidivism, allowing the surveillance of citizens outside of the prison (Foucault, 1985). This allows for the illegalities of the ‘dominant class’ to go on, while the ‘delinquent class’ remains subordinated, and further enables the disciplining of the ‘delinquent class’ to prevent class struggle (Foucault, 1985). Scandinavian correction aims at reducing recidivism, rather than producing a delinquent class, because this class distinction is muddled, and because surveillance and discipline of those outside of prison is already enabled by the welfare state via trust. That is, there is no preexisting delinquent class, which Foucault associates with the working class, for the prison to further subordinate because of the homogeneity and trust in the population that already exists, and because the welfare state reduces most material necessity for crime. There is no need to create a delinquent class to further discipline because of cultural normalization. In addition, the welfare state itself affects the housing, healthcare, education, press, etc. of citizens, allowing the state access to much of the basis of every citizens’ lives. Preexisting normalization of citizens aimed towards social benefit renders surveillance superfluous, since social pressure already gears individuals towards normalcy. Creating citizens out of convicts most effectively reinforces surveillance and discipline of society, as it increases trust in the disciplining welfare state and produces more normalizing citizens. Because Scandinavia is already disciplined, normalized, and lacking in class heterogeneity, delinquency is not needed to enable further discipline; rather, the perpetuation of normalization through welfare prisons protects order more effectively. The problem of the immigrant proves this. In recent years, Scandinavian countries have seen a large influx in the number of immigrants. These immigrants occupy large spaces in their prisons; 34% of prisoners in Norway are foreign (Ugelvik, 2016). These foreigners are the ‘other’ class that the Scandinavian population has lacked. Norway approaches these prisoners with the assumption that they will be deported to their native country, and thereby treats them differently (Ugelvik, 2017). Under the assumption that these people are ‘other’ to the society that disciplines them, they are discriminated against in obtaining work opportunities and education, even though these convicts may have lived in Norway for decades (Ugelvik & Damsa, 2017). Prisoners in Norway’s recently developed immigrant-only prison, Kongsvinger, resent this discrimination (Ugelvik, 2017). These non-citizens lack the right to many social services, but are still seen as the responsibility of the welfare state while within prison (Ugelvik & Damsa, 2017). But their treatment does not aim at producing a ‘secure’ citizen, since that is no longer a consideration. Rather, it seeks to push them out, for the foreign prisoner who wishes to leave is the easiest to deport (Ugelvik & Damsa, 2017). Thus, after prison, these convicts do not receive the reintegration guarantee and are stripped of many rights they had while in prison, like that to an education (Ugelvik & Damsa, 2017). The immigrant, the disruptor of homogeneity, shifted the aim of reform towards one of expulsion, regardless of whether or not the immigrant may stay in Norway after their sentence. The immigrant is twelve times more likely to commit a crime and has a higher rate of recidivism than a Norwegian citizen (Skardhamar, 2014). The introduction of heterogeneity, of those who are not a part of the trust upon which the welfare state rests, those excluded from the welfare state, led to the necessary production of a novel, immigrant delinquent class, unsupported by the state outside of prison. To manipulate the immigrant population, since they were beyond the scope of social reinforcement and the welfare state, a delinquent class was produced. Scandinavian society, one of broad normality and homogeneity, produced the welfare state. The Scandinavian correctional system is an apparatus of the welfare state. It employs special forms of discipline that mirror the discipline of greater Scandinavian society to produce normal citizens out of convicts, and enables them to reintegrate into society as such. Normal citizens are successfully produced out of convicts, which the Scandinavian system aims for, as these normal citizens perpetuate their faith in one another and the state. Through this faith, the welfare state reinforced itself, allowing the state to surveil and discipline society more broadly. The delinquent underclass, which correctional systems with high recidivism rates produce, is unnecessary, as the normal Scandinavian citizen allows greater state surveillance over society than delinquents. Non-citizens, who are separate from the welfare state, still require a delinquent class to enable their control. The Scandinavian correctional system functions only in a homogeneous state where discipline already prevails. Works Cited Foucault, M. (1985). Illegalities and Delinquencies. M. Foucault & A. Sheridan (Authors), Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison (pp. 280-281). London, United Kingdom: Penguin Books. Graunbøl, HM et al. (2010): Retur: En nordisk undersøkelse af recidiv blant klienter i Kriminalforsorgen. Oslo: KRUS. Norway Ministry of Justice and Public Security. (May 18, 2001). Execution of Sentences Act - ESA. from https://www.kriminalomsorgen.no/getfile.php/4002763.82 3.ztmmjuzwqnuumw/Lov+om+gjennomf%C3%B8ring+av+straff+mv+%28eng elsk%29.pdf Norway Ministry of Justice and Public Security. (n.d.). Regulations relating to the Execution of Sentences. Retrieved March 1, 2002, from https://www.kriminalomsorgen.no/getfile.php/ 4187062.823.qzaqtkststjnqa/Regulations+relating+to+the+Execution+of+S entences+-+translated+June+2018.pdf Pratt, J. (2007). Scandinavian Exceptionalism in an Era of Penal Excess: Part I: The Nature and Roots of Scandinavian Exceptionalism. British Journal of Criminology, 48(2), 119-137. doi:10.1093/bjc/azm072 Pratt, J. (2007). Scandinavian Exceptionalism in an Era of Penal Excess: Part II: Does Scandinavian Exceptionalism Have a Future? British Journal of Criminology, 48(3), 275-292. doi:10.1093/bjc/azm073 Skardhamar, T., Aaltonen, M., & Lehti, M. (2014). Immigrant crime in Norway and Finland. Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention, 15(2), 107-127. doi:10.1080/14043858.2014.926062 Todd-Kvam, J. (2020). Probation practice, desistance and the penal field in Norway. Criminology & Criminal Justice, 174889582095319. doi:10.1177/1748895820953192 Ugelvik, T. (2016). Prisons as welfare institutions? Handbook on Prisons, 388-402. doi:10.4324/9781315797779-23 Ugelvik, T. (2017). The Limits of the Welfare State? Foreign National Prisoners in the Norwegian Crimmigration Prison. Scandinavian Penal History, Culture and Prison Practice, 405-423. doi:10.1057/978-1-137-58529-5_17 Ugelvik, T., & Damsa, D. (2017). The Pains of Crimmigration Imprisonment: Perspectives From a Norwegian All-foreign Prison. The British Journal of Criminology, 58(5), 1025-1043. doi:10.1093/bjc/azx067

  • Bad Art: The Final Narcotic

    Art, in its possession of beauty, pollutes the scent of the air we walk through. In the beauty of an artwork, there lies a truth, a truth which discloses parts of the earth through the world and the Open. This truth claims to reveal what beings are to us. But what can this truth reveal to us if it holds the earth at an arm’s length? Though the truth in beauty tells us that which is, at one moment, through one piece of artwork, it cannot tell us that which is as time progresses. Truth, then, is a project of moving through truths, and this moving through truths are snapshots of being. But even these truths are partial, even when synthesized, and keep us treading above the earth. They merely inhabit us until we move to the next truth. We follow the scent of truths with our noses, those orifices that maintain a faith for truth. But their scent sickens us, and this faith leads us astray. In maintaining faith in truth, truth as disclosed by art works in all their “beauty,” we delude ourselves to live outside of the earth, the real world, and conceal the pain of treading upon the earth. The scent that keeps us on the path for truth is only surmounted by bad art. Bad art turns truth into itself, turns us backwards to retrace our path, and points out the absurdity of our nose. Bad art fails to disclose novel truth, continuing us on our path, revealing a part of the earth. Instead, it demands we look at ourselves, and, in doing so, destroys the basis of truth that inhabited us. Bad art is our only savior from the bad air of our art. Heidegger claims that truth happens in the work-being of a work of art. Truth, as a happening, is an “unconcealing” which rests upon the interaction between the world, the earth, the Open, and beings. To understand the unconcealing of truth in art, namely, what the unconcealing is, and what this truth means, we must first comprehend the interaction between the beings which constitute the interaction that enables truth’s unconcealing. Heidegger describes this interaction in cryptic language, which we must dissect. Heidegger writes that the work itself liberates the Open and establishes it by virtue of being a work (44). The earth, for him, is “essentially self-secluding,” and in being brought into the Open, is set forth (46). The work-being of work sets up a world through which the earth juts, and liberates the Open in which it is set forth (46). From these three descriptions, we find that the world, in setting the earth forth, brings it to the Open. The world, too, moves for“clearing of paths of the essential guiding directions with which all decision complies,” a decision resting upon something concealed (53). The world strives to create paths from the earth through the Open. The earth, “as sheltering and concealing, tends to draw the world into itself and keep it there,” resisting the setting forth that the world draws it towards (47). Here, a conflict emerges between the world and the earth: the earth strives to remain concealed, while the world strives for clearing. This essential striving, the conflict between the world and earth, is where truth itself occurs (58). The truth which occurs is a “particular truth,” or something true; it is a moment, a happening (48). The location of this occurrence, the Open, is where the conflict is won (59). Truth, as a moment, occurs in the Open, where the world brings the earth to light. Truth establishes itself within this Open, allowing it to retain its openness (59). The Open, in the midst of this conflict, is where all beings show themselves and withdraw themselves as being (59). Truth “is established in that which is,” yet rests in the Open which is not, allowing the Open to remain the capacity for beings to not be (60). Truth establishes itself in the work, but wills to be established in the conflict between the world and earth, in the Open, where the world and earth unite. The relationship between the world, the earth, the Open, truth, and beings, is as follows. The world and the Open both emerge from the work of art. The work of art creates a world. The world latches itself onto earth; the earth which constitutes all that exists, the earth which binds us to the ground, the earth which remains hidden to us; and forces the earth to disclose itself. By dragging earth into disclosure, the world leads it into the Open: that which does not possess being, that which is not, or, rather, the capacity for not existing at all. In this non-existence, truth itself lies. The earth, that which grounds us but remains incomprehensible, acquiesces into unconcealment through the world, which we created and gazed upon, . It loses being and glows in the light of the Open. The loss of being itself is where the work of art, as a being, rests. In the heart of the Open, the light beams, and we finally see a particular truth of the earth, established in this one Open. Heidegger details the properties of artworks, properties that allow us to understand why this movement can occur. “Art is the becoming and happening of truth,” writes Heidegger (69). Truth happens in the conflict which springs from observing the work of art, yet becomes in the making and preserving in the work itself. “The establishing of truth in the work is the bringing forth of a being such as never was before and will never come to be again,” writes Heidegger (60). A work which establishes truth reveals the earth in a novel way, in a way that cannot ever be replicated, grounding it in a new Open. “All art, as the letting happen of the advent of the truth of what is, is, as such, essentially poetry,” writes Heidegger (70). He writes, too, that “language is poetry in the essential sense,” and “language alone brings what is, as something that is, into the Open for the first time...By naming beings for the first time…[language] nominates beings to their being from out of their being” (72, 71). Language, for Heidegger, is essentially like art insofar as it creates a world of beings by naming them, thereby enabling the advent of truth by nominating their existence to us. Language allows beings to exist to us by bringing them to not exist, illuminating their absence in the Open. Like language, art creates the world by nominating beings by allowing their negation. Therefore art works, to Heidegger, possess three essential qualities: they enable truth’s occurrence, they ought to reveal something novel in a novel manner, and they create the world by enabling the being of beings. Art reveals what Heidegger refers to as a particular truth, or something true (48). This truth does not claim to be a total truth, nor does it claim to be a final truth. Rather, a truth which is illuminated by art, by language, by the creation of a state, or any of the other modes through which Heidegger claims this truth is revealed, is merely just that: an illumination (60). It reveals a particular part of earth, in a particular light, through a particular Open, through a world that clears paths to move beyond it. His truth is a rest stop: a dwelling. Heidegger offers a truth which can fill in, a working definition where we can stay until it no longer works for us, which comes with a guide into the unknown, or the next truth. We inhabit truth, revealed to us by art, until another work of art brings us to another truth to inhabit, which we take a path towards. We can inhabit both truths at once, should their worlds not overlap. But should these worlds overlap, only one being, one truth, one dwelling, can remain. We take a path from one truth to another. In this way, man can never be homeless, for man can only enter a world in which there are dwellings; worlds are made only by truth. Man always inhabits truth: he needs truth, or else he cannot live. Art opens some worlds, some domains for man to live within, other methods open up other worlds. Yet truth remains man’s dwelling. Truth houses a being, and truth is only a good house insofar as it is useful. The dwelling of truth must be stable; else man becomes homeless and frantically scours for a new dwelling. Truth, then, is equipment, insofar as its essence is its utility, determined by its reliability (34). As equipment, truth belongs to the earth, but is protected in the world which it creates for itself, the world the man dwells upon (33). Our equipmental truth is only temporary until used up, or is one dwelling on a path of dwellings, just as a hammer is one hammer on a path of hammers. A truth is a good dwelling only if it is stable, and even still, is merely one dwelling on a path of many. As truth discloses the being of beings to a being, it allows a being to unconceal a part the earth upon which it is bound. Here rests the value of truth, and thereby art works, for Heidegger. Yet Heidegger fails to see the danger in ensuring man has a world, in keeping man in worlds above the earth, in sheltering man in something other than earth in hopes to return to earth. By demanding that man has a home, as truth, Heidegger places man in some deeply dangerous dwellings, dwellings which infect its residential being without the being ever realizing. Nietzsche locates this danger of truth, and describes this illness as a narcotic. Nietzsche writes directly to the problem of the truthful man, stating: the truthful man, in the audacious and ultimate sense presupposed by the faith in science, thereby affirms another world than that of life, nature, and history; and insofar as he affirms this ‘other world,’ does this not mean that he has to deny its antithesis, this world, our world? (152) Nietzsche writes of “faith in science” with reference to the truthful man, but before this passage, he writes of ascetic ideals as another mode of affirmation of another world. In either case, truth is used to construct a truer world, or a true world, transcendental from the world one is grounded on, that is, the earth. In living in faith in “truth,” believing that man has to constantly live in worlds, moving from dwelling to dwelling, taking him from the earth. By removing man from the earth, positing a goal, ascetic ideals and science both alleviate the pain of this world (142). In this way, truth is a narcotic. Truth, then, is both a dwelling and narcotic, one whose essence lies in its reliability, that is, in its constant housing and pain alleviation. Art reveals truth. It posits the world where truth’s dwelling erects from, drawing us further from earth. Yet how did we reach this conclusion? We placed Nietzsche’s beautiful polemic alongside Heidegger’s beautiful inquiry, and from them extracted an inhabitation. To us, Heidegger revealed something novel, extending beyond our typical faculties of thought. Nietzsche, however, told us something we already knew. We, in reading Heidegger, are truthful men, engaged in a scientific excavation of what is, though we use different means than science or asceticism. We justify our knowledge with what feels true, which Heidegger rings near, causing us to trust him. We seek shelter, which Heidegger offers. We have been doing precisely what Nietzsche said we were doing, and we were aware of that; we loved our project for it. Nietzsche’s polemic is bad art, for it revealed to us what we already knew: that we value truth. Nietzsche takes us back on our path, to a world we have left, to a dwelling we have already departed from. But what more does Nietzsche’s bad art do to us? We have returned to a world we have left, entering from a different path. The world Nietzsche brings us to destroy the world we were once at, the world of Heidegger’s art works, but this world is itself already destroyed, since we departed from it. The dwelling collapsed, the trees ablaze, the path eroding, we begin to fall through the world that we already destroyed. The narcotic is no longer useful; it is unreliable, because Nietzsche returns us to the pain that led us to depart this world. This truth is a truth which collapses upon itself, a world which destroys all worlds, the narcotic that ends all narcotics, the worst equipment of all equipment. Bad art collapses the path of truth by burying us in the pain we departed from by living in worlds that rest upon earth. We have fallen beneath the world, pierced by the earth just as the world. We now tread upon the painful earth. Bad art turns truth inward, forcing truth to stare back at itself. It asks, “what is the truth of the truth that I have dwelled in?” just as Nietzsche forces us to do in his polemic. Bad art does not allow us to continue dwelling on worlds that allow us to maintain only part of the earth; it throws us back down onto the bare, naked earth and challenges us to find a world with our new injuries. Bad art returns man to question truth by collapsing truth; it does not offer a new dwelling. It dismantles the enabling of the being of beings by annihilating the world which allowed us to find the truth in artworks. Nietzsche collapses Heidegger, as we collapse ourselves, by creating bad art which negates the purpose of all art. Bad art saves us. It is art which tries not to posit a small singular of the Open, but forces us into unknowing, the state from which we stem. It closes the Open. It forces us to bear our pains, to be lost and homeless. It forces us to to begin anew. It is only through bad art that the leading scent vanishes and we vagabonds, we men of truth, are reset. Bad art liberates us from art, and truth, itself. Heidegger writes of the disclosure of the earth which art enables, by creating a world which allows truth to illuminate parts of the earth in the Open. Heidegger’s truth, the particular truth, is an inhabitation created by individual disclosures of truth: by one piece of artwork, by the creation of a state, by a revelation from another being, by language, and by means of other disclosing acts. This truth has movement, it inhabits us temporarily, and no one particular truth demands faith. Yet Heidegger’s project, demanding that man inhabit truths to continue disclosing the earth, or the totality of beings, to himself, a being, in order to locate himself in the world, necessitates a faith in truth. Nietzsche criticizes such a faith in truth, declaring that by moving us from the earth into worlds which partially disclose the earth, we strip ourselves of the homelessness of dwelling in the earth itself; we alleviate ourselves with a narcotic. In revealing the faith Heidegger has, Nietzsche forces us to turn into our faith in truth, something we know of and presupposed. Nietzsche does not reveal to us a new truth of beings from earth, but rather, he turns us back to one we already departed from. Through his polemical “Genealogy of Morals,” Nietzsche forms a piece of bad artwork that turns truth to question truth, thereby destroying the basis of faith in truth (a constant, continual path) by returning it to a destroyed dwelling, resetting the path of a truth-seeking man. He ends the narcotic of truth-revealing artwork through his bad artwork.

  • Entering Deep Springs

    On my second day of Deep Springs, I, along with all my fellow first-years, was led into the garden by Shelby. We came before a bed of strange plants, and before I processed the glorious sight of glowing vegetables before me, I looked to my new peers. The engagement varied, but the instant reflection was the familiarity. Jesse looked upon the gracious green with the same endearment I have when I see my dog. Declan looked like he’d never seen a vegetable before, and Jacob was seemingly awed by a pear tree. I was more on their side than Jesse’s. Though I grew the odd squash and pear in my backyard, I’d never really been a part of a garden like this. Everything around me seemed bursting to life, popping at me. The crops reminded me of piranha plants, bright and ready to jump. The turkeys were like chain chomps, jutting their thick, sacky necks forward and gobbling like they wanted to eat me. And I suppose I was Mario, just trying to find my way through this weird place and keep my eyes on the path. To each of us first years, the garden gave us a different sense of comfort. I was perplexed but enthralled. Though the place was overwhelmingly alien, the novel beauty was incredibly compelling. Shelby let us loose to wander and I took in these forms, not accepting them as my own, but observing them necessarily as another. This was the earth, guided by our hand, producing its most magical treasures. Us and the ground, becoming one through this carefully arranged, grotesquely beautiful life. We sat under an apple tree, and Shelby read us some passages about place. Specifically, she told us of what one’s place sounds like. Familiar. Comfortable. Ours. Intensely, our own. She asked us to think of our own sense of place, and this sent my mind into shambles. I thought of my dorm from last year. It was a small space, four stories up, overlooking the rest of my high school’s campus. When I first climbed up those four flights of stairs, and opened the door of room 409, I was scared. The walls of white cinder blocks glared down, a small, dusty air vent whispered by the door, and the sparse furniture, a depressing imitation of wood, stared at me like it didn’t want to be here either. The only thing differentiating the room from a prison cell was its lack of a toilet. After I moved in, the fundamental emptiness of my room began to fade. It started with a couch and a carpet, which produced leisure in the cell. Then came the people: first, my roommate Tomas, then my hallmates of Marco and Steven and Marwan, and then my soccer teammates Ben and Kevin. Then a fridge, and food attracts people like flies. My room became renowned for its scent of cumin and coriander filling the halls, as I used Marco’s illegal pot (a cooking pot, of course, which was against school rules) to satisfy late night cravings for khichuri. People, my people, littered the space with stories, memories, music. I covered the piercingly white walls with grayscale photographic prints, transforming them into glimpses of beautiful moments. I cleaned the vent, so it stopped whispering through clogged dirt, and the furniture was stuffed with my papers, pens, and clothing. The empty room filled to the brim with a space that was intensely my own. The cell became home. Then Covid struck. In the middle of March, with no preparation, I bid my “see you in two weeks!” to faces that I’ve never seen since. I left the room with no romantic goodbye, just a shove. And as I sat in my room, in my house, for the eighth week of quarantine, I learned something. I read Heidegger’s Letter on Humanism and came across the words, “homelessness is the destiny of the modern man.” I realized that I was homeless in Heidegger’s sense. I certainly had a roof over my head, but I only existed in transience. Students only attend the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics for two years. The porch I sat on every night would, in two years, house people I’ll never meet. Ninth Street, where my school resided, lost the Waffle House I went to every week, and the restaurants turn over as quickly as students. I became distantly close with faces I’d never see again, and I lived through stories of people and places that have disappeared. Marco lost weight and grew serious, entangled in his first relationship. His music taste went from Kanye to Playboy Carti and I feel like I lost him. Each of my friends grew and dispersed, and in two more years, they’ll have transformed in ways I’ll never see the way I did in 409. I made my home in an empty room that was destined to become empty again in just nine months. My home was never really destined to last. I was bound to leave my house for another two years in another eight weeks. After I realized this, I became skeptical of comfort. Home couldn’t exist in a world where I’m just a piece that’s moving, because as I tried to ground myself, the ground beneath me slipped—it was moving just like I was—and I was bound to fall flat on my face once more. As a powerless 17 year old who had no clue what he wanted, who was I to try to stop the ground from moving? So instead of trying to ground myself, I hated the ground, and I hated that I couldn’t stop it. As I sat under the apple tree, this reverie flooded back. I am ungrounded, I have no place, I thought to myself. And there I was—in an utterly alien valley, surrounded by people who look nothing like me, lived nothing like me, breathing air that felt light, with its lack of familiar humidity. I thought I was ungrounded before, but that was really just a cut from a scythe; now I was uprooted and tossed aside. I don’t want to grow new roots in this land, I thought, because I’ll just be cut and tossed aside again. I said to myself, “I need to learn to fly.” So I’ve tried to fly. As Declan, my roommate, spent every night out on the smoking porch, I slept early, keeping my own schedule. While others went on walks, I did my readings two days in advance. I wrote to myself and sent it off as an excuse for a letter, to pretend like I’m keeping ties to home while I’ve tried to be fiercely independent. But I don’t have wings, and trying to fly without them has been a painful, incessant struggle against myself. As I read ahead, I’d watch others walk, wishing I had the guts to join them, that I wasn’t so afraid to be a part of something. About a week ago, I told this to the only adult here who looked like me. The one person who came up to me when I first arrived and acknowledged my struggles to identify with others, something I wrote of in my application. He told me that there is one thing grounding us all: the very ground itself. He told me that whenever I felt alone, to breathe in the earth. That no matter how hard I tried, I would always be a part of it. That I needed to share myself to be like nature, to create beauty from fundamental difference. The fields were a harmony between land and man; I needed to create harmony with others in the very same vein. And I suppose that brings me here. Today, I went back under that tree and breathed in the earth. I’m grounding myself here, because even if I’m only here for two years, the land itself will never move.

  • The Human Voice

    There’s an issue that affects me every day. Every single day I get up in the morning, I put my deodorant and clothes on, I brush my teeth, and then I walk to class. I enter the classroom and I drown in this issue, I drown in the sea of faces that espouse it into my nose and through my laundered clothes, and into my washed hair, I smell it. I see it, I smell it, I drink it, I try not to eat it, but I still eat it anyways, and I definitely touch it. Worst of all, though, I hear it everywhere. I can’t take a single step around this main circle unless it’s 3:30 AM, the only time when everyone else is asleep, and not hear it. Right now, I’m drowning in it, and I was drowning in it just before I got up here and started my song and dance number. In fact, it’s the song and dance numbers I can’t stand. I guess I may as well tell you my issue now. I hate it when you speak. I can’t stand the sound of your voice. But don’t worry, it’s not your voice I hate. I mean, I do hate your voice, but I don’t hate your voice in particular, like how I can’t stand Sean’s granola in particular but I still love granola. No, I hate voices in their universality. But I don’t hate the voice for its sound, I hate it when you speak. It’s when you speak that I feel this frustration, this rage. I think about it every night as I wallow in bed to Elliott Smith’s Either/Or. I think about it every morning as I reflect on my hellish nightmares, for no nightmare of mine is as hellish as one where one is lost in a world where everyone thinks they need to speak. When I get up, I walk to class, but I dread the moment someone breaks the silence of my mind with their voice. So I do the Stoic thing: I don’t think for myself, I brace myself for the moment someone says something. And I brace myself by preparing to say something else too. I don’t think to myself; I fashion my persona, my mask, so when someone says ‘good morning’ to me, I can say it back, instead of scowling at the ground. I mean, I do still scowl at the ground anyways, but I try not to. I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll quote myself on it again now: to speak is to perform. And this is the fundamental issue with Deep Springs. We want to talk too often in the wrong ways. This doesn’t need much explanation, but I’ll explain anyway, since L.L. Nunn demanded that I speak. The essence of speech is rhetoric. When we speak, others hear us. There are two aspects to the speech itself: that which is said, the content, and that it is said, the fact that you spoke. When listening, that which is said is subordinated to that it is said, the content subordinated to the fact of speaking, for everyone will recall that the speech is said more than that which is said in the speech. So we speak primarily for the sake of speaking to be heard by other people, with a tag-along that some people might comprehend and engage with the content of that which is said. The primary end, in speech, is the production of the plurality of selves within each listener who hears you. Everyone will hear you and judge you based on the fact that they heard you, and will remember that you spoke more than what you said. The speech is tethered to you more than it is to its content. Thus, when we speak, we speak to craft a self in others, with the content subordinated to that end, since fewer people engage with the content than with the identity. At Deep Springs, we sit down in a classroom and congregate in a circle with our little texts before us, books that speak to us, and we have a nice bull session (learned that word from composition) on the words the text uses until time runs out. Sean comes into the classroom with his big Carhartt jacket, his suave hair, and describes how something is in a sense like something else as he strokes his hair and revels in his brilliance. Amin talks about justice, mumbles off into an incredible yet incomprehensible question, and has the room appropriate his scent. Carmen goes on about some random Greek word, Connie apologizes profusely, Nathan looks up and talks to God, the list is 27, well, I guess, 33 people long. Someone told me the point of seminar at Deep Springs is to be an individual producer of truth, to be one who extracts partial truths from texts and collaborates with others to put their partial truths together and arrive at some greater truth together. But as long as we speak, this will never happen. As long as we speak, we speak for other people to hear us, for others to think about us. As long as we speak, we’ll be gripped by anxiety each time we open our mouths. As long as we speak, we will want to sound smart, we will want to make Anton laugh, we will want to imbue Julien with pure joy. As long as we speak, we are superficially engaged, because we don’t care about what we say, we care about how others think of how we speak. As long as we speak, we communicate in a way that isn’t concerned for truth, but concerned with appearances. We perform, not ponder. We want to build up this verbal mask so that when someone thinks of us, they think of the mask that they like, and like us through it. The essence of speaking is rhetoric but we pretend that by conversation, we will arrive at truth. SB is the only place where it’s appropriate to speak, since we’re all putting on our political suits and ties and puppeteering ourselves so we get what we want. It’s the only time where we speak knowing that everyone’s aim is external rhetoric, not a vague construction of self. Engaging in the game of rhetoric is a different aim from self-fashioning through speech, but it still contains a superficial teleology distant from the truthful discourse that Deep Springs conversations are associated with. Indeed, Deep Springs conversations are the most superficial, because they’re the ones where your image matters the most, since you live, labor, eat, and everything else with these people. There’s no truth when we talk to each other here. How can we ever communicate towards truth? Write notes to each other like I did in elementary school? Well, when I was in elementary school, I wrote those notes because my teacher, Mrs. Lowe, the one who flipped my card to a 4 and made me walk alone for two weeks of recess because I said ‘yesser’ to her third command to me but she thought I said ‘yes sir,’ yeah, Mrs. Lowe, she told me I couldn’t speak anymore because I talked too much, so my workaround was to perform through these little note cards that I passed to the kids I wanted to like me. Writing to each other is the same as speaking because it communicates an idea tied to my identity. As long as what I communicate is tethered to this self, then the content of what I communicate will not search for anything outside of myself: it will search only for me to manipulate what the other person thinks of me, regardless of what it may seem. So we can’t write to each other and we can’t talk to each other if we want to engage in this collective search for truth. But, my fellow actors, there exists a solution for us to communicate towards truth! Everytime we want to communicate something earnestly, we have to get out a little typewriter, press its clunky keys, leave our name off, and post it somewhere. Because truth can only be the aim of a form communication when the truth is not tied to an identity outside of its medium. This is why Victor Heremita’s Either/Or is a serious inquiry into the truth of how to live; two layers of pseudonyms anonymize the writing. This is why the greatest scientific feat of modern times, the mapping of the human genome project, was possible; hundreds of anonymous people, the 91st and 92nd names on that paper, sought truth before their glory. To facilitate the search for truth at Deep Springs, I will be posting a corkboard in the dorm on the 19th of December at 4:45 PM sharp, for anyone to anonymously post their strivings for truth, so we can actually do what Nunn told us to do: acquire knowledge. Also, please do me a favor and don’t take anything I just said seriously because, after all, I said it.

  • The Bengali-American

    One of the greatest ambiguities in my life exists in the tension between the ‘Bengali’ and the ‘American’ in my identity. Growing up, I had three separate worlds in which I lived. I was ‘Toshi’ in two and ‘Tashroom’ in one. ‘Toshi’ pre-dated ‘Tashroom,’ but the bearing ‘Tashroom’ had in my broader social understanding increasingly affected both ‘Toshi’s as I aged. The first ‘Toshi’ that existed was the one at home. My parents and other Bengali community members called me by this name. I’m not wholly certain where it came from; it wasn’t from a random dude in a Bengali village, and I’m only confident in that since the name is Japanese. I spoke Bengali pretty well as a young child, took Arabic lessons with other Bengali kids who called me ‘Toshi’ too. We had lots of communal events, like these ‘Dawats’ that would happen every other weekend. Families would get together, there would be a ton of food, and my one opportunity to trade Pokemon would present itself. I’d see my friends Sajid and Rakin who lived far away in South Charlotte. There would be singing; my mom is an incredible singer, and I’d hear her voice flow melodiously alongside the harmonium, accentuating her Bengali words which I couldn’t quite understand in her musical voice. There would be dancing: the best were Juthi Khala and Noreen, the former who was once a professional dancer in Bangladesh, the latter a girl my age who would regularly perform at local cultural festivals. I’d sit and talk and eat biriyani until I couldn’t move, barely being able to reach my hand out for rushogolla or payesh or shondesh. The day after these great communal events, the other ‘Toshi’ would be yelled at by his club soccer coach at practice for being sluggish. I could never tell him that I ate so much the day before; we seven-year-olds were banned from eating any sugary or fried food. In my adolescent soccer career, At the time, I was playing at a club in North Charlotte where I lived. The area is primarily populated by minority populations; my club teammates mirrored those demographics.. My favorite coach of all time, Coach Carlos, who I credit for developing my technical skills, managed my mischievous, restless seven-year-old self alongside Victor and Grant. The three of us played in a U-10 team and completely crushed our competition. When I turned 11, a new coach told me that I was too short to play up. My dad and I were pissed, so I switched to a different club in North Charlotte and played premier with kids my age. By my third season, the new team I played for qualified for the Regional Premier League, but the club used the qualification spot for a team in their central location instead, a lakeside suburb where NASCAR drivers lived. I ended up switching again to this team, and my teammates suddenly went from mostly minorities to mostly rich white kids. In the academic sphere, though, I’ve always been Tashroom. This is because when I was five years old, I didn’t tell my Kindergarten teacher about my nickname, so it never leaked its way into academics. This remains the case. None of you guys call me ‘Toshi.’ I was pretty good at school. My elementary and middle schools were in downtown Charlotte. They were magnet schools, so they had a good mix of kids from various backgrounds. I was still the only Bengali I knew in school up until two years ago, so that ‘Toshi’ never had a chance to present itself. It became harder to balance these three worlds when I first hit high school. Academics demanded more of me, as did Regional Premier league soccer. The first ‘Toshi’ who spoke Bengali to “uncles” while stuffing his face with biryani at Dawats faded to make way for the soccer ‘Toshi’ and ‘Tashroom.’ I saw less and less of Sajid and Rakin; from once a weekend, to once a month to once a year; it’s been years now. My Bengali got a lot worse; I completely forgot Arabic and how to pray, I couldn’t cook, I couldn’t dance, I couldn’t sing. The gap between myself and my parents grew, because they took this Bengali cultural understanding for granted in a way I gradually lost. Their histories became alien to me, as did this version of ‘Toshi’. I didn’t know how to situate myself as someone Bengali. I didn’t know how to situate myself as someone American, either. My home high school was pretty diverse; we were 11% white, I didn’t really have any white friends there. My friends came from many different backgrounds, and jokes about our backgrounds and races were commonplace between us; we were friends, we were minorities. On the field, my soccer teammates were all white except for me and an Ethiopian-American named Mika. At the time, I wasn’t fazed by curry jokes or getting called “terrorist” and “cow worshipper”, because I presumed that my teammates were my friends in the same way my old high school friends were. My “dirty” brown hands and calls for deportation all appeared as a joke to me. Mika left the team halfway through the season and I didn’t get why. I think I do now. I didn’t feel very Bengali, but I didn’t feel very American, either; I had no relationship to America that permeated history, time, place, or race, like my white teammates did. What did it mean that I spoke and wrote in solid English but couldn’t conjugate in Bengali? That my Western academics came first, then my soccer, then my culture? That my primary mode of understanding Bangladesh was my parents and grandparents’ stories, nearly incomprehensible to me due to holes in both translation and memory? That despite this distance yet because of this familial node, I couldn’t claim to be American? My senior year, in my Research in Humanities class, we read Lisa Lowe on the identity of the Asian American. She perfectly punctuated the tension I felt in being both Asian and American, that the Asian-American could only conceive of Asia through signifying actions because of its fundamental distance, but that these actions alter the experience of being American; I conceived of Bangladesh in my parents’ stories, in Sajid’s impeccable Bengali, in Noreen’s dance, and in my utter failure to be near any of those. Yet those actions, those signs of Bangladesh, are a massive part of how I grew up. To Lowe, Asian-American identity must be constructed as an open category separate from both the Asian and the American that is entirely novel, being defined by this very moment, by my action right now as a creator of a novel culture. This resolution holds no answers for me; it’s just pretty words dusted on my visceral tension. To her, Asian American culture exists only insofar as it doesn’t; its existence is divorced from its two sides, the Asian takes from the American, while the American takes the Asian. But I suppose this negative concept is the only thing you can posit for a culture so fragmented. I can’t look at my father and gain a deeper understanding of where I am; his village in Chittagong doesn’t compare to our suburbs. I can’t do it with my mother, either; I didn’t grow up with my cousins, with a pressure to leave industrializing Dhaka when the smog clouded over the sun. I can’t even look at Sajid or Rakin and sympathize with their struggles, since they possess entirely different cultural signs than I do. Nobody I can look at has hollowed out a cultural identity I can lie within; our understanding lies in possessing a common struggle, not resolution. Sajid and I both struggle to locate our cultures, but the signs he finds for Bangladesh are completely different from mine; his mom doesn’t sing, but she makes clothing; he goes to central Dhaka every year, I’ve never been there. We are related only in the space of ambiguity, not our conceptions of Bangladesh. Yet this cultural struggle is ubiquitous to anyone in a nexus between two traditions; he and I are not uniquely related. Nobody I look at can better help me understand myself where I am merely on the basis of our shared, superficial identity. Nobody’s struggle is really any closer to mine because they are Bengali, or Asian, or brown. The problem is both ubiquitous and unique; having someone who looks like me doesn’t make them a better help than anyone else in locating where, or who, I am.

  • How to Disappear Completely

    This speech is a proof of the following fact: that the greatest musical work ever created is How To Disappear Completely by Radiohead. You might be wondering how I can prove that. I am too. It is hard to prove things about music since, as Kierkegaard’s character Victor Heremita’s character A once said, music is the most sensuous form of art. Thus, I will not truly prove, but rather demonstrate this fact through the song itself. I am very grateful for A. I’m grateful for A because he proved music is the most sensuous form of art and cannot truly be explained, but he was wrong. A was wrong because he said Don Giovanni is the highest form of art ever created. I wonder how that’s true since Don Giovanni isn’t even the highest form of music. It isn’t the highest form of music because that’s Radiohead’s How to Disappear Completely. I will now demonstrate this fact. I was once young; I am still young, but I was once younger. I was sitting on my bed, and I was looking. I was looking in pain; I was looking because I was pained; I was in pain, and I was looking. My girlfriend at the time, we were fourteen, but she still counts as my girlfriend, her name was Luci. It still is Luci, but it was Luci then too. Luci was sitting beside me, we were on my bed. I was looking in pain because there’s a little man in my head, a man who tells me he wants to be dead, he tells me he wants me dead too. I know this man very well, I’ve known him everyday, I still am best friends with him, with Luci too, but the man and Luci were yelling at me as we sat together in silence while How to Disappear Completely was playing in the background, and she was crying and I was looking and he was yelling and in that moment, in that very moment, I thought I knew what it meant to look. He wanted me dead, he told me he wanted me to die, and Luci was telling me something else, that she wanted to live, she wanted me to live, and I told her, “how can you want me to live when he wants me to die?” and I told her that and Thom Yorke, the singer of the song, said “I’m not here, this isn’t happening,” and I realized that I was there and it was happening. Thom Yorke walked into the room, he grabbed me by my shoulders, he leaned me forward, and he kissed me on my forehead, he told me I could live and die at the same time, that I just had to not be there, and so I kept looking. That’s the baseline for what I was living, but that was also the bass line of what I was hearing. When I was less young, but still young, I kept looking. I had been looking for a very long time. I was looking on one particular day. I was walking through the halls of my high school and I kept looking. I was looking because I was pained, I was looking because Thom Yorke told me to, and I was looking for something. I was looking because I was in the first stage. I knew what I was looking for. I was looking to feel away. My voice was starting to have something, something a little musical to it. I was looking and now I was singing, but in the back of my mind I was just looking. But I wasn’t just looking anymore; I was longing. I was longing, and I started to sing, but I started singing in words. I was walking through the hallways, and Thom Yorke was singing to me that he wasn’t here, and I was singing the words with him, telling him I wasn’t here either. The little man in my head was telling me I was here, and Luci was in my head telling me to be here, but Thom Yorke and I were singing that I’m not here, and I really thought I wasn’t there. But I was still singing, and I was singing in words, and words are the reason why Don Giovanni is not the greatest work of music ever created; because it has words until its ending, so it’s never truly immediate, it never leaves the ground. I was singing, and I thought singing was all it meant to not be here, but it was because I was singing those words that I was there, and because I was singing those words as I walked through the halls, I was a part of the halls, I was in the halls, I was one with the halls and I was what both the little man and Luci wanted. Thom Yorke and I were both wrong, because we were both singing, so there was no way we were absolutely musical. There was no way we transcended being. I grew less young, and I kept looking but I stopped singing. I stopped singing because Thom Yorke stopped singing. The man in my head and Luci kept yelling, but Thom Yorke finally shut up and I could hear a little bit again. I was sitting at my dinner table, sitting with a slice of beautiful glowing tiramisu cake, home alone, and How to Disappear Completely was blasting on the surround sound, 4 minutes and 39 seconds in, but Thom Yorke wasn’t singing anymore because he came in, and he ate half the tiramisu, and now he was in the bathroom and his bowels were fighting the cake. Thom couldn’t sing because the tiramisu was singing, it was singing through him and it echoed through the house, but obviously tiramisu cakes can’t sing words. Thom kept trying to sing despite the cake but the cake would shut him up, and they were fighting in the bathroom and I was still looking, and I was looking when I found Thom Yorke in the bathroom, fighting the cake, fighting to sing, and I was looking at him when suddenly, for the first time in my life, Thom Yorke looked at me, and I realized, I realized that all along, he was what I wanted to find, I was looking for him all along, even though I thought I knew, I was searching for him, but not when he was singing, but only when he was fighting the cake that was fighting his singing, and I found that I wanted him, that I loved him, but only when he looked at me and defeated the cake. His voice overcame, his voice won, but he was forever changed, his voice was damned to never form words again, and he was tainted with the sound of the cake and it was that Thom Yorke, the Thom Yorke that has no words, that saved me. It was when I found this man, he found me, that I finally managed to shut the man up and shut Luci up and I finally stepped into the bathroom with him, and I sang beyond words with him. I was suddenly not there, not in the bathroom, not with Luci or the man, and not even with Thom Yorke, the man I desired so deeply. It was in the music that I became purely sensuous, purely nothing. I became and disappeared completely through the song, through the lost Thom, and that is why How To Disappear Completely is the greatest work of music ever created.

  • A Reflection on Self-Governance

    Nunnian education cultivates fertility. For months, I spent hours every day raising hay. I then fed this hay to young cows. These yearlings would stay with me all spring, pushing out their first children into my hands. The environment itself fostered the conditions for birth. New life created the conditions for spontaneity. The playful nature of these new beings flourished across the ranch and into our college. Fertility scented the rooms in which we conducted self-governance. I sought to take advantage of the freedom fertility offers. I wanted to play. For much of my time at Deep Springs, I wanted to render the political sphere as an interesting space. I wanted novelty. I brought motions to alter the structures of student body governance. I created more social media for ComCom and designed new publications. I helped articulate the purpose of the academic pillar in the Letter on Seminar for CurCom. I wrote a vaccine exemption, intentionally convoluted enough to never be used, for CovidCom. None of this felt particularly important; I simply wanted us to take advantage of our own power to test the limits of what we could do. In constructing a playful political sphere, I shielded myself from the vulnerability necessary for political sincerity. My motions passed but brought me no closer to my peers. They were pleasant and memorable. They were not impactful. Our actions were concerted, insofar as we did them together. But political playfulness maintains insincere individuals, incapable of genuine communal care. I was first politically sincere in a committee I had no part in. ApCom, responsible for admitting students, did things I disapproved of. During my first year, I listened to my white peers fetishize people of color and masochistically flagellate themselves for their affluent white backgrounds. At the time, I felt anger. I grew to resent my white peers, engaging with them less and less in the dorms, in class, and in SB. The bubble burst for me when their admitted class contained nearly no white students, which I, ironically, found problematic. I found it ironic that white guilt and bias manifested itself in such a way; I found it funny that I, as the only American student of color in my class, was effectively excluded from my white peers who wanted to bring in a bunch of people of color. I called them out, writing a document about how they fetishize differences and their judgment is skewed. I helped write Deep Springs’s DEI statement, which I found and still find laughably inactionable. I did what I felt compelled to do. Some change occurred; the admitted class shifted; the DEI statement is up. I got plenty of apologies and was lauded for being “brave.” But I was just as atomized from the community as before. I felt as though my actions were continually read by my white peers in a tone of resentment. From their perspective, I was implicating them for being white. From my perspective, I was speaking to a deep feeling of hypocrisy, and to the injustice which I felt was embedded in the myopic actions they took in the name of justice. Although actions were taken, a complete breakdown of empathy ensued. In sincere governance, where we came together to enact change that mattered through admissions of vulnerability, we forgot about our shared humanity. Our procreation degraded us to each other. Yet when we engaged in governance that was guided by meaningless play, we failed to come together and be vulnerable. Play and sincerity in governance felt at odds to me; in rearing my two different kinds of children, my partners struck me in two different ways. At the heart of these two strikes, and the ultimate drawback and power of self-governance, is the problem of accountability. Self-governance demands accountability, but invites play. Play enables an avoidance of accountability. Accountability towards them bred my vulnerability towards my white peers; accountability towards myself distanced me from them. In telling them my thoughts, I bared my values. I declared myself righteously and let them judge me for it. They judged me, baring themselves back, and we knew each other nakedly—yet resented one another for our minds. How could accountability, or holding each other to their actions, be held in a constructive way? This question lives through governance. In our collective action, we are held to account for our part in rearing our relations to one another. We are capable of incredible intimacy in our shared potential, disclosing our nearest values. But that intimacy can keep us at a great distance. The intimacy I held with others through sincere self-governance enabled great fertility in my own mind. The weight of being held to myself by others pushed me to speculate, constantly, on how one might live well with proximal strangers. Governance succeeded when I brought a motion to temporarily make our student body a republic. The idea only came to me because I wanted to explore what it would mean to speak to be heard, rather than simply speak and hope you are heard. Political playfulness moved me to desire political sincerity. We gathered on the South Porch one cold night. I was the only one who liked my motion. But we talked, and somehow we spoke to each other—under the influence of political sincerity, minds were changed. We all moved closer together. I spoke of the true merits I felt the motion have; I spoke from my core; I touched others who engaged with me. The motion passed, and governance was fun for the republic. I want to hold this fertility and political sincerity in me. It can atomize in the most painful manner, but enables the most tender of intellectual play.

  • The Problem of Empathy, with Race

    The problem with empathy is that one imagines others to be like themselves, thereby rendering the other fundamentally illegible. Color is seen through contrast. The sun glinted through the skylights in the main room. The air held the heaviness of hours of travel. None of us had seen each other in months—we were all forced home for COVID. We were corralled into this glistening pen, shoving fluff-tipped sticks up our noses to verify our sterility. I heard a voice echo through the room—it cooed, “I only admit students that wouldn’t have opportunities at other institutions, white students will have opportunities at other institutions, so I don’t admit them.” A white classmate of mine, one who admits the future class, offered me those words. Words like these suffocated me from the moment I entered Deep Springs. It began with words I didn’t understand: “nuance,” “dichotomy,” “signifier.” It extended into contexts I couldn’t access: cultural references beyond my grasp, an ingestion of literature that everyone but me had read. It breathed into body language: a facility with the farm equipment and tomato plants, an ease around horses. I lived in a white community; I was the sole American student of color in my class. In the main room, I sat through dozens of comments from my white peers flagellating themselves for their white guilt. At one level, they weren’t wrong; their whiteness made it hard for me to breathe. I had to learn to speak their language, code-switching in class to gain intellectual respect. Yet the way they dealt with their whiteness was markedly white—only a white person would say those words I heard. What was the right thing to do? What could one even say in response to those words, words which imply that you aren’t looked at as your peers are? What was I even standing up for? An abstract category which I couldn’t bear to represent in its plurality, or did I seek the recognition of dictating race relations on campus? I wrote them a letter—a long one, listing things they’ve said, explaining how white guilt perpetuates whiteness, claiming their admissions process was racially biased. I argued that they needed to look at each applicant on their merit as a whole community member, for that is how we encountered one another—not as emblems of our categories but as full people. Such proximal humans can never be tokens. Yet the proper process I advocated for would result in further suffocation for those like me. After reading my letter my white peers admitted more white students. I agonized over what I did.

  • Rules as Conventions in Wittgenstein

    Rules, for Wittgenstein, reveal nothing new. In the “rule-following paradox” of the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein asks how a rule can tell one what to do. He finds that a given rule can be both in accord and disagreement with any action; as such, the rule itself is both a tautology and a contradiction—it tells us nothing about what we should do. Instead, rules operate as signs of a particular interpretation. They imply a process, a process contained in them as a possibility. “Custom,” or the typical way a rule is interpreted—how most people follow a rule—determines the possibility which a rule is understood to signify. Wittgenstein transforms the philosophical question of rules as an imperative to one of general social action. One follows a rule simply because, given that rule, most people do some given action. Rather than ask how rules are an imperative, we are now to ask how “custom” chooses the interpretation of a rule and why one follows custom. The philosophical question becomes a sociological one, and philosophy loses one of its most vibrant questions—the question of how I know what I am to do, based on a principle. Wittgenstein explicitly raises two problems in this section. The first, stated by an interlocuter in remark 198, is: “‘How can a rule teach me what I have to do at this point?’” The second, stated in remark 190 in response to an example, is: “What is the criterion for how the formula is meant?” The former asks how rules can be an imperative; the latter asks how one knows what one is meant to generalize, given particular set of examples. The latter question rests on the first. One only needs to find the generalizable principle within a rule if a rule is an imperative for action. Remark 201 addresses the question of rules as an imperative. Wittgenstein writes, “no course of action could be determined by a rule, because every course of action can be brought into accord with the rule…it can also be brought into conflict with it.” Here he argues that a given rule can both justify and undermine any action. Because any action can either agree or disagree with a rule, a rule cannot inform any action. Rules are interpreted not according to their content since their content says nothing. They cannot be an imperative; our first question is moot. In remark 198, Wittgenstein writes, “a person goes by a signpost only in so far as there is an established usage, a custom.” Rules are interpreted according to their custom rather than what they say. In remark 217, Wittgenstein claims that justifications for interpreting a rule in one particular way can be continuously exhausted, for there is no fundamental interpretation, and one resolves with one’s interpretation of the rule by merely declaring “this is simply what I do.” Rules are follows in a given way because people follow them in such a way. Since rules as interpreted by custom and cannot give an imperative, rules themselves are used as signs of a process. Customs work to associate the sign to a process. Like a machine, the rule stands for a predetermination of movements. Described by Wittgenstein in remark 193, machines are symbols of a predetermined set of movements. The predetermined movements, “already present,” exist only as a possibility, as Wittgenstein elucidates in remark 194. A rule expresses the possibility of its interpretations. These interpretations are various processes, predetermined movements which a rule can signify. The “right” process signified by a rule, or the following of a rule, is a process, narrowed by custom, signified by a rule. We have changed the question of rule-following into a problem of customs. We still do not know how a given custom comes to be—how one interpretation of a rule wins out. How does custom operate to allow for only some interpretations to stand for a rule? How does custom select the principle to generalize? These questions seems to be of a different kind than what Wittgenstein initially raised—they ask about how social convention comes to be and acts upon the individual. They seem sociological rather than philosophical. By raising this paradox, Wittgenstein pushes out a fundamental philosophical question—how do I know what I am to do, based on a principle—from philosophy.

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