Unfinished journal entry that already said it all, “22 hours later in rainy La Paz,” and most magical adventure to date, where the most important language was voiceless. • I ain’t going down to the well no more. • This, this, and this, too. • Baudelaire defined genius as “childhood regained at will.” • Also, Stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
1. In its flatness, the Southwest provides what the dusty hills of Los Angeles cannot: centrality. You are here, and the Southwest’s here is always located nowhere, but already everywhere. Distance collapses into you and yet everything is expansive and abundantly distanced. The Southwest gives you to yourself to tinker around its landscape and embrace thoughts of exile that seem inherent within the flattened horizon and backlit neon plateaus and the meandering crests of wrought plant patches. There are also things called washes everywhere, and each wash has a name. Carla said she’d rather have a wash named after her than a road. I agreed, unless my road crossed a ton of washes. To wash or to be the washed? Cord also agreed, a wash was the thing, better than a road. Washes, I found out while in Arizona this last week, are natural conduits for rain-charged gushes of water, river pantomimes that dry up as quickly as they flush above or under roads. They resemble windy dioramas of the plains, wilted golden styx of long grasses. And there are thousands of washes, each emptying into one another, ready for the next storm. In performance, the snuffed ground is incapable of absorbing a sudden torrent of rain, and at once these washes pulse with the clouds. The Southwest exhumes your past as evocatively as it preempts the decay from your future, and it will deny you the presence of ancient riverbeds while it ratifies the outbursts of dice from above.
2. Fitzgerald, from The Crack Up: “He repeated to himself an old French proverb that he had made up that morning.” An accurate account of my birthday this year, this month. Additionally—if Montaigne was the first blogger, F. Scott was the first Tweeter, specifically with the exhaustive staccato in The Crack Up. But these are pathetic things to loft onto either writer. And it goes without saying that the contemporary context of writing and communication has birthed these new technological mediums—teasing out an origin is always the plaything of poorly guided guides to thinking about the internet. Favorite Montaigne, from On Redemption, in Essays, “Even constancy itself is no other but a slower and more languishing motion.”
Roland Barthes’ Striptease disrobes Parisian culture from its own beautifully mystifying rhetoric quickly in three pages—or at least the 1957 text illuminates the device that makes possible a living rhetoric. Striptease negotiates signs of eroticism in moments of ritual: spectacle and interior voyeurism. The text is less about pointing at the use of words or about a public phraseology and is more about circumscribing what establishes the conditions of a public to understand itself or be understood through ritual. For Barthes, this striptease is “based on a contradiction,” and it’s that a woman is “desexualized at the very moment when she is stripped naked.” The rest of the text uncoils from this first sentence. The force of Barthes’ writing is intoxicating and steadily has two paths, a constant forking, because whereas the piece is clearly on eroticism, desire, a fundamental tease within a climate of voyeurism, and a direct illumination of a myth—of the seeming universal nature of petit-bourgeois culture, the tease is also in the act of writing itself. To make concrete any sociological observance, to play voyeur with the cult of humanity, the way in which a writer’s own rhetoric mystifies and demystifies projections or strips observations of their existential coyness creates a living rhetoric. Transgression and commitment, that binary star, isn’t always just an erotic relationship. Fear is its master, a “delicious terror” which only needs an “announcement” to evoke the relationship. Pointing at the mechanism of a vehicle is different than driving it. And whereas so much writing diagnoses culture from this or that theory, typically under the guise of a crisis of meaning or experience, it’s something altogether different to celebrate in exacting and haunting exposure the inescapability of ourselves.
After waging a big battle with content strategy—firing a team of incredibly talented writers and editors, as well as the dissolution of a unique, internal custom content agency—GOOD will relaunch as a site aiming to help prime discussions and actions around an infinity of worthwhile causes and issues. Regardless of the common fear directed toward the management style of GOOD, the vision is viable, alive and palpable. It has taken countless whiteboard hours, exhaustive UX and UI comp reviews, centrifugal strategies, software engineer blood and sweat, and sheer steadiness in the middle of poorly unleashed psychological self-assaults from the company to get the minimum viable product up and operating. The MVP is an excellent stab, one that I have a hunch will bear fruit in the next year as we iterate on it and learn from it. Criticisms hurled at the product are inevitable, and insightful expressions about the difficulty of the vision during the present online climate will be found nowhere, but historically this move and transition will be seen as one of survival, to be sure. We’re early and not late. And it might speed up death or it could phoenix. Wait and see. The world wide web has proven that behaviors condensate rapidly, and further that the very medium of a written piece can change by way of the context and interface that allows it to be consumed.
Onward to tomorrow.
This amorphic, formless spirit is a threatening one that is emerging everywhere, and those who are threatened should do something more than write against it.
I traveled through the Southwest last December, ending the trip in Marfa, Texas. It was my second time visiting Marfa and the sci-fi minimalism of Judd’s paternal expression of America’s historical resilience, the romantic west and its frontier. Having saved the town, literally (with the economy he brought to it as well as successfully acquiring water permits for the barren town), Judd allowed for Marfa today to bustle with contemporary art-goers absorbing an aesthetically gentrified small Texas town.
However, Judd’s 60s formal phenomenology easily wilts compared to my other Southwest memories, which include more indelible and powerful moments: an early morning drive through a blizzard, the discovery that broken ritual pottery is to be whole again with the transmission of departed spirits, the autonomous Native American communities that uniquely rearticulate the ephemera of American domesticity, a Navajo radio show at 5am and the distinct Tewa clucking at the back of the throat—an ancient, guttural manifestation of a radio broadcast. And a town, Taos, New Mexico, tucked before a horseshoe of mountains, contained the most magic. It cradled a silence between its horizons of snow and the smoke from homely fires—homes which retain a fundamental architecture of Native American heritage and prove sensationally efficient during brutal winters. One can become fulfilled from (and tortured by) one’s life work, or find one’s purpose through consummate, hard labor, or become satiated by theorizing in a grand hotel abyss. Taos, during my brief stay, was a town that harbored a scarcely found calm of unbound purpose, and assuredly will continue to in memory.