The Story of My Accident Is Ours
If I no longer exist, if in fact I may never have existed in the first place, then do I have a name? What is in a name? Certainly we can ask these questions about such a name as Jane.
It was in my thinking about our names that I began to tell this story. Perhaps that is the origin, or rather, the originary root, of my accident. But my accident, which may have begun when it occurred to me that I did not know my name nor the name of any of us, came after the events of this story, which began to be written at the time that I began to think this way about our names.
From Almost Any Angle
We’d woken to the world like characters you’d see in a science fiction movie, the ones without parents, cloned for the purpose of replacing the organs of the rich, or jailed indefinitely or repeatedly for our child-bearing abilities. We had the appearance of arriving whole, the sets of our features predetermined and complete.
We were defined by limitation. We’d been kept away from history by serial clearances: the slums, the streets, the poor, then the rich, then the home, then the street, then the neighborhood, then the mall, and then the mall. The mall.
We recognized each other by the vacant look in our eyes and the sophistication of our speech, when we had the energy to speak. We were not quite like the creatures in Zombie movies that were popular again in our time, we didn’t join in the common cause of destroying another or making them more like us, for we didn’t have killer instincts, nor did we think that what we were should necessarily be multiplied, though we were confused about the ways we did have, what they were and how they’d come to be. What we knew better than what we were was what we were strange to. We were strange to the ways of smiles possessed by the ones on television1 and outside in front of the church. Or of the two passing each other while one is on the sidewalk and another is driving to deliver a package from a truck. We did not mean to be unfriendly nor dour though I can now see we most certainly appeared so/were so. We ourselves didn’t know how else to be; we were mostly all one way.
We by Ourselves
We ourselves walk around puzzled by the feeling or the knowledge that we are left by ourselves although we have not made ourselves. That is, we have by default been given responsibility for ourselves in those places (at times entire areas) which those that made us control neither by nuanced suggestion nor explicit design. The vast absences that conjoin us to each other are ironically, and I’m of the strong opinion that this was not foreseen by those who’d made us and cleared these spaces, the basis of our moral and political formation. In retrospect it sounds abstract but there was so much we did not know. There is still so much.
For example, we were incapable of competition. Or of unkindness, or kindness for that matter. There was nothing abject about our material circumstance—we were provided the instruction and the means to go through the motions of living in the middle class. Yet there were gaps, moments we felt ourselves reaching for a thing that was neither there nor named.
It was in these gaps something told us something wrong was being done to us. Something, but not the thing, and so began us on the way, irretrievably, toward my accident.
The first thing we tried was to examine our world from every angle. We were made uncomfortable by the notion of blind spots. The revolutions had suggested a science so advanced as to be unlimited by science and therefore capable of presenting something true, though momentary. We liked the momentary, it provided us the rare breaks we took from responsibility. We tried to see the world from every angle. We did not think that meant we were in charge.
To look at the world from almost any angle you would believe that it is true; we are universally submerged, into the deepest darkest depth of our spectacle of consumption and it is nearly impossible not to be that way since not to be that way would mean making enemies with those you would need to have as friends. That is why we go to the movies. We can say this in the movies, we can be anyone, be strong, because in addition to superhuman brains, we achieve superhuman bodies (hearts). We think humor must be grand, for we observe how an idea can be taken and stretched into a visual image that can mimic the funniest exaggerations, and make it last for twenty-two minutes with breaks. There.
Or here. Where it begins with Baudrillard or Benjamin. No, with Bataille. Most certainly it begins with Bataille. For it was he who saved the Project for a later date.
The Project is very courageous and some of us continue to attempt it and fail. To attempt it is obviously to fail. Even in death, we fail. However, and so, we have taken to doing something we call “our best.” Our Best keeps us going with some degree of hope and calm. It does not make us smug, but our anxiety, were we not to do “our best,” would be deadly.
We try our best to make sense of death when anxiety kills. At first. Then we try talking to it, then fighting with it. Finally we do it all—but with the knowledge that we are exactly where we started, and go back to doing it, the best we can. This is why we are called radical.
You cannot know right away if you are able to do it. We live in a way which both holds you accountable and forgives you for your inability. There is a resignation about us, we have watched the revolutions carefully and have not come up with anything fresh, anything that will not be anticipated nor is not destroyed before it has been thought of.
We take comfort in the most predictable, unfettered human habits.
We reject the institutional, it makes us, quite literally, itch.
We are limited emotionally. Our anxiety is fear, not inverse to the depressive fear of anxiety, not a fear of depression. Hell, we are just so sad and heartbroken we wear it like fashion, urban fashion, nothing that would come from a sunny climate, we depend on rain to bring it down a notch or two.
Our fear is a fear so great it freezes us away from the things we love most, from the things we love to do, including fucking but far from limited to fucking. Making. We are in our minds at least involved in the Project of Making.
It is a terrible fear. We stall it when we can.
The sun is out in the morning after a night of rain hitting the roof above. It doesn’t matter, every scene of the accident must be recalled over and over ad infinitum because its revelations are slow and endless, each one leading to less thinking than the one before it. Not thinking does nothing, makes for no difference in the story which begins with thinking correctly and acting exactly the same as if your actions had been innocent.
We walk into the accident knowing it will happen. It is afterwards we feel a sense of uncertainty. Should we call the police?
To look at the uncertainty from another angle one could feel shame. But we are innocent. The only method we had for avoiding the accident was offered by those who had made us. Who had made such a long and hollow space of us.
I then, of course, saw my death before I died, though by then it is true, I could not stop it, I’d already walked into the accident, yes, knowingly, but by the time my death was about to happen, I and the others had fully and completely set our course; there was no outcome other than my death.
I appreciate the way, in the movies free with killing, death takes on a different logic. If everyone in her life is killed in front of her, we don’t mind so much the noise she makes that will lead the killers to killing her as well. What would be worse would be to think about the reality of her life alone, with this blood before her eyes always.
Because what we’d empathized with was the possible future life of a little girl appearing for twenty seconds in a film.
We are born of an abstraction, we are not made uncomfortable by the idea of where we end and our abstraction begins. We are not yet made of our abstraction. Not, and not entirely.
Therefore, I can assure you that when I speak of my death I am speaking of an actual death, neither abstract nor metaphorical.
I have not gotten ahead of myself but I would like now to return to the Project. The Project of Making. We’d considered naming it the Project of Doing but for the connotative pitfalls of that half of the verb’s meaning. Still confronting abstraction. We wanted an inherent assurance of our material intentions.2 Looking back on this, I do not think we knew what we were in for. Though of course we were afraid. We are still afraid. Perhaps it’s true there is a different quality of sagacity inhabiting our fear now. But language and knowledge are not mutually exclusive and I suspect that what we know now we knew then but could not utter, for then our makings would be utterances rather than material objects and like I said, we were clear in our intentions.
For we thought, if the future belongs to those who envision it why not accelerate the future by modeling it.3 We were certainly ambivalent. I cannot stress it enough, afraid. We knew there was great danger but thought the alternative was surely worse. That is apparent to nearly all. I believe it is practically universally understood.
It’s beautiful, clear and cold today. The view is nearly complete.
We did not define ourselves. Earlier we had gone through the many iterations of how to act under the watchful eye of the state. The development of surveillance is by now understood by just about anyone so I do not need to describe it. Strange how few would be able to describe it well with language though we all have a nearly physical understanding, simply that the networks are persuasive and eventually resistance is/was pointless. We needed a new approach.
I often wonder what was it that drove me, and by me, I want to explain, someone like me, toward that imminent disaster, for I am neither self-destructive nor suicidal. Most of us were neither of those things. Occasionally, one postured, urged on by the loneliness, but even they, fools as they are, soon could see the mistake in their ways, they didn’t understand the loneliness and usually became deeply embarrassed by their behavior. Obvious, this last comment, and this next: that another common distraction was drink, perhaps even more common and oblivious than the false suicides. Tedious. The drinkers became tedious—in part because, by the century’s definitions they would enter program.4
It wasn’t an impulse toward suicide or self-destruction that led me to my accident (I should say “The Accident” because officially, it was not mine alone). I have come to think of it rather as disorientation. Not of sexual disorientation, or sexual orientation, for that matter, because like the German “heimlich” and “unheimlich” they are more alike than opposite. For to be overly sexually orientated was understood as a repressed disorientation, or the opposite, I cannot remember. Either way, on this issue, which was a popular centerpiece of conversation in our time, I was well-balanced or disoriented, it is hard to say which. I’d had two loves in my life—many lovers but two loves and one had been a woman and one had been a man. Neither made sense in any way but that story is still to come.5
Opposition, or The Opposite of Opposition
In these times I speak of it had become common to switch bodies: from woman to man or man to woman. Though there were many paths, some started first with dressing up in drag, others went quickly toward surgical alterations. Whichever way a person approached it, it was, like anything, a purchase. People became inured of such changes as they had of changes to the eyes, mouths, chins, and hips. It was put on TV to erase inhibition, despite the growing dangers on the street. What I am describing refers directly to the beginning of the story when I said one could not oppose this thing. To oppose this thing would mean to be against our people who consumed it, which would appear as being unmoved by our suffering. Which we were not.6
In order to buy this thing we were required to sign our agreement to an ideology the best of us opposed vehemently and towards which the worst of us were ambivalent. For many years I have told people that words, spoken or written, do matter—each one has some sort of impact if not “meaning” so to speak. Obviously, Black and White mean many things. Therefore, we had to be particularly careful when using these words, even if we thought we could be comfortable in the context, or trust those amongst whom we found ourselves. Signing such documents to achieve the bodies we yearned for put the machinery of our own slow demise into our very own hands. We willingly operated that machinery, for a cheap wage, and later racked up debt at the company store. I’d learned not to get hysterical, for all I could hope to achieve by acting out the true dimensions of my sense of urgency was to be called hysterical.
Christianity posed another such problem, making us the author of a tragedy that would, to those who could not know, seem destined to occur. It was hard for me to tell if we knew what we were doing when we took for ourselves the phrasing of the missionaries. “God Bless Everyone” became in the mouths of a group from which we’d split “Love Everyone.” It overcomes me with a great sadness—naive7 resignation to the enemy camp. Something like the governments and people in the countries of long ago “kneeling like sheep” when facing invasion in the desperate hope the invasion would benefit their interest. The implications of these radicals’ turn to religious phrasing was most significant to us who loudly resisted. It became on the Left so totalizing that we decided to refuse such language, especially when speaking of Love, in which we’d had little experience yet fantasized about as the one uninhibited extreme we thought we could legitimately hope might enable us to exceed our emotional limitation. Holding onto this idea, that Love was nuanced and potentially meaningful, made us look angry and marginal, for if we were not so, the other side argued, what did we have against it, against loving everyone.
The Story of My Accident Is Ours
1 Though on television something is different. There, smiling is something for an audience; it is bigger, more radiant as though doing it infuses the smiler with all the light in the room from which her image is cast.
2 For a longer treatment of “intention” see chapter “All Intentions are Good.”
3 There was an inherent danger in this idea for we were of a generation whose imagination had been systematically starved of the images and of sensory input that might fertilize a vision for modeling. One day one of us enthusiastically talked about “the good mess to be in” and a pall of dumbfounded confusion fell over the group. It seemed meaningless yet took up all the space in the tight urban room.
4 I don’t mean to be hard on us and the means of getting by. Program of course was a useful tool, but like the others offered up to us, an empty one. We were incapable of lightness, the language and laughter that we would have taken to, which we would have needed to formulate an alternative response to our addiction, was another. There was a huge gap between ourselves and the world in which we found ourselves to which we felt a terrible responsibility, but could not easily enjoy.
5 I should say a version of the story, or rather, its curious result.
6 An impulse to change our untenable situation was critical to the fact of our activism. This surgical method was one of the few compelling escape routes that presented itself. Additionally it, like the other occasional and captivating options, offered us an opportunity to share an action with the world in which we found ourselves, thus seeming to be preventative of our ultimate collision, for like I said, we were neither self-destructive nor suicidal.
7 I may be wrong here—it could have been/it could be more sinister than that. The problem is once again that opting for the negative explanation—they are, unfortunately, polar—would make us once again look bad.