white elephant
☻☻☻☻

Editor's Note

“Seven of my last 10 meals were sushi,” says the tall ginger with the tortoise shell Buddha charm nestled in his disgraceful exposed chest hair composing a text message aloud on the packed Muni train. “Comma, where do you want to eat tonight?” At the Thai restaurant, sandwiched between two couples on first dates, you can hear four simultaneous, unrelated TED Talks. On trash night the streets are strewn with obsolete programming books. This passes for public life in San Francisco. The sliver of intelligent people not writing code carry the city’s intellectual life. I'm thinking of Rebecca Solnit firing off counterattacks against the power structure from her perch at Harper’s. (Apparently John R. MacArthur, the editor at Harper's, hasn't yet learned how to use (read: game) the Internet, probably because he doesn't have to. This is a good thing for public discourse.) Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Terry Riley miraculously still working at 96 and 90, respectively. And Peter, the clerk at Aardvark Books. He compares the gutting effect of the housing crisis to the AIDs epidemic of the ’80s. Nonetheless, independent bookstores are doing surprisingly well. A few of them stay open past ten. Man Booker prize-winners hold court at Green Apple, turning bad questions into better ones. Not even Amazon can crush foot traffic and good urban design. Meanwhile, over in Golden Gate Park, civic-minded raccoons discreetly sort through the day’s human waste.

Dan Shurley here, the Wizard behind this obscure though no less ubiquitous Oz called white elephant. I've been living in Oakland and San Francisco for the past year and change. To live in SF is to have one foot in the virtualized future that awaits us all. So, in order to stay sane, I've tapped East Coast artists and artists with roots in the City of Brotherly Shove (i.e. the past) for this issue. It is my pleasure to introduce you to the visceral, mobile-optimized poetry of S.M.Potter, the polymorphic Martin Peeves’ prodigious sound and video collage art, and Jason Aeschliman's psychedelic drawing machine. Conceptual artist Howard Kleger — already chafing at such a lewd designation — compares me to a medical student in a way that is incomprehensible and not unflattering in his review of my new chapbook, Collective Regeneration and Universal Love, out on Nomadic Press. Also in this edition, everyone's favorite underground cultural theorist, Brandon Joyce, gets cautiously excited about semiopower: it’s Meet the new boss same as the old boss, but all emoji eyes. And Sam Allingham talks about the paradox of teaching for a university that wouldn't admit he was an employee, until he won collective bargaining rights. A glossy might have titled Allingham's essay the Uberification of Higher Ed. A glossy might also have told you you were fat, implicitly racist and rapidly approaching obsolescence. Enjoy! ☻☻☻☻

Year of the blob

Blob Moon

Existential blob

Mystery blob

Tween Blob

Flash blob

Because the grey voice blob

Troll Blob

Blob Baby

Did you see that Buddhist Monk on FB? So trending—so tending. That big debate on whether or not he’s still alive? I mean, he’s been meditating for the better part of two centuries, only one step away from enlightenment, and he’s fuckin feed fodder.
Poor bastard gives up every material possession and
           object
           of
           friv-oh-lush
           desire

Just so a couple hundred years later he can get optically coveted:

           himself, in fact, objectified

—for about a millisecond as someone scrolls through Facebook and pinches off another one in the phantasm of global capitalism. Srrsly, is he gonna wake up and find himself tagged in all these terrible photos? Omg, what a nightmare. Did you see the .jpg of the Buddha statue going into the CT-scanner? I found that image strangely sexual.

It probably has something to do with orientalism and my freaky medical fetishes.

(Getting on to the topic of desire, btw.)

What it is like to be so—contained? I mean, talk about being bound? Love that cozy x-ray blanket feelinggg. Bataille speaks about it: transcendence through eroticism.

So, ask yourself this: perhaps self-mummification isn’t as much a noble rite but actually another way to get off?

Just fuckin with the all-unfathomable cosmos.

The cosmos been fucking me for years,
I kindof like it.

Where all my masochists at?

We gettin off with god

The nun in ecstasy

My rapture of body
The dirty-naughty

Mindsex
N Existenz
Cupid-hex
Like X
           Share

Hentai
Haxan
Ax wound
Tube croon
Silent screams
N flesh beams
The flesh lite
The feed streams
My baby’s wet dreamz
Some bestial camtease

The underbelly
Some petri jelly
for Machiavelli
Oh Nic
           Co.
           low

O
O
O

My fomo

Wanna play suck n blow
Lube up n get low
Photobomb
—k
—no homo
lole

Emoji like wtf.

Like
Like
Literally

Send me ur DMs
N sext me in PM

Ya miss me BB Jesus?
I wanna universe to seize us.
Make it my thesis
Some long list o reasons
For you to fuck all my lesions

Call me your mother

Thinka someother

Think of the pool
Think of the fountain
Think of the mountain
Think ova count n
           think ova water

Think ova charter
Remember I’m martyr

The Kafkaesque
The Naked Lunch
The Brundlefly
The pig’s head
The time ghost
The undead

The vampires

N thorny briars
At funeral pyres

Takin selfies
Flauntin healthy

Fuckin melt me

Add to cart
Add to wishlist

My necro
My rigor
My xtra
           terrestrial

probing.

Forgive me; I’ve digressed into tangential masturbation.

But my point is:
desire is just disappointment waiting to happen.

And yes, that monk is dead in there.

 

***

 

Bc all cordial comment is over. And here we are in the counter phrase between
gasping breath and swelling cough.
This is where I live with you:
somewhere in the eye.

It’s you and me, Kid.

Always on the con.

And so,
shifting voice:
           Do I ever NOT speak to him?
Forgive me for being so indirect.

Debating Camelot, and all its martyrs: I thought of you.

Remember that?
When you bailed with no excuse.

Scrolled back some 4,000 messages, and asked myself to never make those same
mistakes again. Maybe that’s futile. But there I was asking you to love
something that could not be loved. Some false golem conjured out of vanity.

           i must know what your lips feel like. i’ve got to know.

You were always so conscious of that improper i.

So intentional, while mine was not.

i was I and you was You.

And somehow:
in mutual denial we switched self-titled roles.
How did we ever get here?

Cloistered n
Capsized n
The current of classism and common curtsies.

Spinning—while the poles shift.

There wasn’t a moment I didn’t know.
Ya kno?

           Your Loyalty.

I was in stasis in some Alp town.
You, just the same, in some basin city.
Both in an air density not meant for man.

Filing for breath,
in some system,
that’d rejected us.

I can’t rite in complete sentences these days. My txts just illiterate pleasure not
amounting to much while I try to find the balance between hope and regret.

May I never spout your name in vain.

For all the many times I quoted you in the presence of men who didn’t deserve
it. –Forgive me.

I want everything with you.

Dan Shurley

Excerpts from Collective Regeneration and Universal Love

Foreword by Howard Kleger

I have this odd feeling that modern battles are an ice breaker for the high anxieties that follow most of us around through life; even medical students. The other point of view is approved by some new age methodologies, which reward personal realms of tangential exploration. Go further and further into the unlimited truths of your own reality; and control your own destiny and the rules that comprise it, legs and all. I choose reality 2, of course. If I had to choose a sexy war to get my legs blown off in, I'd be a sucker for the Vietnam War; I'd accept the ignorance that makes my decapitated main arteries bleed more in the forceful berating and belittling reality of the home front university students of that era who spoke truths without living them; and had the power to impress upon the reality of all living beings, as if certain circumstantial case studies coped with reality as a crutch of sensuality and importance; otherwise, just another human being facing a medical ailment, disfigurement, alteration, or death. Such an interpretive field allows both perspectives to exist in harmony, whether good or bad, right or wrong. Dan examines these coexisting cultures with the compassion of a medical practitioner, implying the anesthetic without entering the operating arena. The buildings that surround the imposing and important structure are all that is needed to suggest the stories within. The spectator is given small apertures to navigate the layers of information, the characters and events, all components that comprise a story structure, intertwined but autonomous, with just enough context to make a prognosis: “These are the factors we need to examine to come up with the best method to put a wrap on the text operation. She ain’t hurt too bad. Let’s blanket out just that area around the ankle and send her off in a boot, just to ensure that it stays closed for several months until... otherwise, she'll need to be rushed back in and just have to throw on a no complications, one size fits all artificial prosthetic.”

 

Excerpts

Overheard in the supermarket: “Are we pretty much over bananas at this point?”

I was crouched over, tumbling croutons into a plastic bag, the garlicky, toasted, flat kind that can be used as a foundation for bruschetta or crushed and spread around a thicket of greens for grit. Over bananas? That’s like being over life, no? And what of the lovely trade between the banana growing countries and the software peoples?

I looked at him. Long silver hair, good suit. I would have placed him in the entertainment lawyering field in L.A., but this was Berkeley. I could only speculate that he ran a coop like a competitive pyramid scheme. Still, he wasn’t being supercilious about bananas, only stating a fact, like fall coming on. Yes, even in the absence of seasons, even if the globe goes to algae, kindling and sand.

I looked at my cart: it was filled with plantains.

 

***

 

When I entered Wan rose up from his dinner and went behind the plexiglass to take my order. “One egg roll,” he repeated, slashing pictographs onto a piece of cardboard. His dull limbs awaited my next move. “That’s it?” “That’s it,” I said. Turning stiffly in the direction of the kitchen, he squinted. The smuggler’s fee, the store, the green card, the wife and children, naturalization. Was it worth it? Standing behind a plexiglass wall 14 hours a day, seven days a week, dropping egg rolls singly into boiling oil?

 

***

 

On safari, I learned about the group dynamics and coping strategies of different animals living in captivity. I observed antelopes strutting like novice strippers and a giraffe compulsively licking a pole.

When I got back to the city everything twinkled with the clarity of aggression. Cars, dirt bikes, fireworks, guard dogs. There was no room for bipedal locomotion; renting out servants was out of the question. I was a stressed out ape, cringing at explosions in the sky, too sick with anxiety to eat or sleep.

Who’s going to eat all these plantains?

 

***

 

The residents of the Aurechica worshiped the moon, which is, in my opinion, only a tenant in the vast firmament, but I’m not one to judge and condemn. Even more curious was their belief that the moon emitted genuine beams of light (moon beams) on odd-numbered days only. (A bumpersticker in the vicinity read: WHO NEEDS LUCK? BANK ON ODDNUMBERED MOON BEAMS.) What did they do on evennumbered nights? Anyway, there must have been a process in place that was understood by all and did not vary, and it seemed to me that the Aurechicans had arrived at a governing principle regarding worship days.

I could relate to a point: I watched Buns of Steel on Thursdays with the volume muted and Beethoven’s 7th playing on the turntable. The disfiguring effects of spandex ruled out masturbation, leaving me at ease to admire the pellucid gracelessness of Western calisthenics.

After these sessions—ankles fully relaxed—I’d go outside and take in the sherbet sky. On odd-numbered Thursdays I’d glimpse the Aurechica’s residents assembled around an SUV in the parking lot, making their final ablutions in the failing light. Depending on how tight my butt muscles felt, I might stand by the gate testing the strength of the bars with my teeth—an old habit watching butt exercises was supposed to correct. The goal was to make the parts of the body more autonomous, such that when I felt an urge to tighten my sphincter, I didn’t go biting metal bars. The moon had been visible with exceptional clarity that Thursday afternoon; the Aurechicans looked placated, or was it the other way around? Now it was my turn to gaze at the tenant moon’s steely visage. Add in pedestrians with stooped shoulders pacing between the drug corner and the mental health clinic and you begin to get the full picture.


Collective Regeneration and Universal Love, a chapbook, was published by Oakland/Brooklyn-based Nomadic Press in September 2015. It is availabe on Small Press Distributors and directly from the publisher.

A Martin Peeves Primer

When I first met Eric Abaka he was setting up his slice of a group show in a West Philadelphia anarchist space. I’d been following the Ghana-born artist’s regularly scheduled blasts of frenetic video and sound art on Instagram, Soundcloud, Vimeo, and a half-dozen other social media platforms. So I was expecting to meet someone as off-the-wall as Abaka’s Internet persona, Martin Peeves, whose kaleidoscopic, collage-heavy work scrambles the usual codes of perception as it flirts with chaos. Instead I met an introspective, slightly puzzled man intent on filling a corner of a white wall with exuberant color and form. With a few decisive moves he set up his show and then dipped back out into the street.

The Martin Peeves “presence” consists of a barrage of deftly edited sound and video art cut with less concentrated daily rants which he disseminates across a dizzying array of Internet platforms. No one is doing it as consistently good and as often as Abaka is. And no one has told him to stop. Whatever the technical parameters of the platform, Abaka pours his output into it – to overflowing – often blowing up Facebook and Twitter with excerpts from longer works. This flurry of activity on the web and about the Philadelphia DIY scene is, on the one hand, part of a self-promotion strategy, but the Peeves “presence” is also a mainline into the artist’s vital practice, his psyche and his everyday life. His approach bears more than a passing resemblance to Basquiat’s; it’s not only that his work pays homage to Black culture heroes like Malcolm X and Michael Jackson, or that his editing style is fluid and improvisatory. The link is also there in Abaka’s ambidextrous enthusiasm for unstable new forms, and in his impulse to bleed life into everyday art and vice versa.

The Peeves character, or caricature, is at the center of much of Abaka's video work, often in the form of a disembodied head roving across a field of throbbing digital viscera. In these caricatured forms, Abaka affirms his Blackness as much as he does his Peevesness. Images of Blackness are central to Abaka's project, though being Black and being Peeves is surely fraught with difficulties, even danger. Occasionally his female alter-ego, Erika Baca, makes an appearance, adding another layer of complexity to the polymorphic brew (Erika has her own Facebook account).

In his pulsing, rough-hewn sound art, the presence of Peeves takes a back seat to the beat and the pleasures of collaboration. He remixes and posts recordings of jam sessions with friends and the developmentally disabled clients he works with as an art therapist. The recordings are sprinkled with chatter and outtakes. Samples are stretched, trashed and run through narcotic filters. Drawn from the same stuff, the electronic music and digitally manipulated video clips reinforce one another organically. And, in the manner of the best assemblage art, Abaka remixes his source materials (including himself) into something else entirely.

At the group show in West Philly, Abaka, or Peeves, was in a more gregarious mood. We met and exchanged some ideas, pledged to collaborate. The last time I saw him he was standing outside of an Ethiopian bar, steadying his nerve with a cigarette. Ghana was on the brink of getting eliminated from the World Cup at the hands of the US. From across the street I wished his team good luck. (When it comes to soccer, Americans are good losers.) A passing streetcar got between us and I kept moving. I thought of Peeves’ “critique of everyday life” – his flamboyant self-presentation, his restless, all-consuming art practice: Peeves as sower casting his seeds to the wind with no thought for their germination. And then I looked back and saw him as Abaka, the loyal Ghanian caught up in the soccer match like the rest of the world, checking his phone for an update. —Editor

 

Darkskin emoji song

Throw ya hands up

 

Poésies de Francais

 

Allah

Tuna Sandwich

 

Jason Aeschliman

Drawing machine

Jason's drawing machine takes a sequence of live brush strokes and cross-fades them into a continuous loop, or ring, much the way an animated gif is composed. With a gesture, users can adjust the trajectory of the loop in real time, creating a wobble effect. A sonic equivalent might be an oscillation machine acting on a synth phrase. The image rings presented here were created by the developer, a trained visual artist. These first forays call to mind vibrating noodles, underwater vegetation, throbbing intestinal tracts, gently heated molecules, psychedelic sausages. Two portraits of the artist's father, featured below, are reminiscent of Van Gogh's swirling, charged brushstrokes. But mostly these images exist in their own right on the screen, no more than colorful abstract forms set in motion by a simple, interactive algorithm. Perhaps, without calling out the brittleness and self-preferentiality of image-making on the Internet, or the fickle reception of such images on hyper-distributed platforms, Aeschliman's forms suggest a possible way forward for digital visual art, one that produces works which are endemic to the new methods and materials at hand. —Editor

 

Brandon Joyce

Excerpt from "Intro Notes on Culture and Semiopower"

Cultural velocity is exhilarating for people like me with a taste for upheaval — except that many of the new norms and worldviews aren’t always being created by particularly great or interesting valuators. Instead they’re often being made up on the fly by middle-schoolers or through meticulous design by Silicon Valley — and I can’t imagine either of these two perspectives caring much about curbing excesses, ideologies, absolutenesses, shittinesses, autocracies and technocracies. For the younger, just coming of age and subjectivated in these environments, these new modes and configurations of power may seem altogether natural. And then at the same time, Silicon Valley, either deliberately or deludedly, will be putting in the long hours to make sure it seems that way. In a worst case scenario, new overpowers could gain such an upperhand that public consent and making-nice would no longer be necessary. Already, after only a few years of pseudo-democratic jargon and Silicon gospel, I’m seeing places where overpower is beginning to dispense with rationalizations for franker, more Machiavellian language. If it really found its Archimedean point, all the empty TED-talk rhetoric of embetterment could be dropped for a new public strategy of “what are you going to do about it?” We saw this in the Social Darwinist defense of 19th century moguls like Carnegie, Rockefeller, and J.P. Morgan. This time around, we could end up enjoying a nice “dark Enlightenment” heralded by Bay Area technocrats, art rankers and flippers, accelerationists like Nick Land, futurists in love with their own voice, and a new crop of culture-makers whose primary talent lies in their own shrewdness. Whether the proclamations of these people are sincere, satirical, or cynical is beside the point. They’re symptomatic all the same — so much so that they can be seen as plot-points in the contours of a newly emergent power configuration...

Read the full article at Brandon Joyce's blog, The Enthusiast.

Sam Allingham

Welcome to Paradox

Allingham's first story collection, The Great American Songbook, will be brought out by A Strange Object in 2016. He teaches creative writing at Temple University in Philadelphia. —Editor

As I write this, a hearing is going on in Harrisburg between the AFT (American Federation of Teachers) and Temple University, over whether or not adjunct instructors at Temple should be allowed to vote on joining the current full-time faculty union. During this hearing, Temple University has presented a list of reasons why, according to university administration, adjuncts do not share a “community of interest” with other faculty—the most important of which is that, according to the administration, adjuncts aren’t faculty at all.

You might wonder why this matters—especially if, like most people in America, you don’t teach at a university. But this hearing is vital to anyone with even a passing interest in American education, because it exposes in quite revealing detail the current paradoxical condition in which higher education finds itself. This hearing demands that Temple University make plain a perspective that it has long held, but which it likes to keep secret. For the first time, at this hearing, Temple counsel and witnesses stated openly that “adjuncts are not faculty.”

Why would Temple feel the need to make such a brazen statement? After all, at Temple—as with many universities across America—adjunct faculty teach more than half the classes. They often teach the same classes as full-timers or tenure-track faculty. In some departments they write syllabi, sit on committees, and design entire courses. And, because they staff most of the General Education courses, which combine disparate sections of the student body, they have a much greater impact on the overall student experience than even their numbers suggest.

Why in the world would Temple hand over such an immense responsibility to people who are “not faculty?”

The answer is almost entirely economic. It’s become a commonplace to talk about the awfulness of adjunct pay, but it bears repeating; at Temple, most adjuncts make roughly $1,300 per credit, and their employment is capped at two classes a semester. The most an adjunct can hope to make at Temple per semester in gross pay is $10,400—roughly $20,000 a year, unless one picks up summer classes (which are rarely awarded to adjuncts). Adjuncts, who are paid by the credit, can be fired at will, and receive no benefits. Taken together, each adjunct represents serious administrative savings and flexibility.

But there’s a tremendous downside to this economic logic. Low pay makes it necessary for adjuncts to work at other schools, which diverts their energy away from Temple students and (despite any individual adjunct’s herculean efforts) lowers the quality of their teaching. Because adjuncts are contingent, easily fired when classes don’t fill, adjuncts must always have backup plans, and commit to more courses than they can reasonably teach. It isn’t uncommon for Temple adjuncts to teach at three, four, or even five schools to make ends meet—further diluting their focus on Temple students. Naturally, for such an exploitative system, turnover is enormous; most adjuncts last for only a few years before the bad pay and lack of benefits drive them out of academia. Again, the students lose, because they rely on instructors for mentorship, letters of recommendation, and institutional help, all of which are lost when their professors disappear.

This presents the university with a dreadful paradox. Like any institution of higher education, Temple strives to attract the best undergraduates it can find. Its reputation for academic excellence is a precious part of its success. This is why, at a hearing primarily focused on denigrating the accomplishments of a large part of its teaching population, Temple’s counsel and witnesses felt the need to reaffirm the university’s “commitment to great teaching.” But how can a university like Temple argue that it is committed to teaching when its economy is built around a contingent teaching force to which it is no way committed, either financially or institutionally?

So far, the administration has made every attempt to ignore this uncomfortable paradox. However, the growing national adjunct unionization effort has made this impossible. So the university has developed a new strategy, which it rolled out during today’s hearing. Temple University is now attempting to re-define the limits of who is or is not a faculty member.

Faculty, they insist, do research; they serve on committees; and—and this is the most damning piece of evidence—they are committed and loyal to Temple University, whereas adjuncts, who teach at several schools, are not. Both witnesses and counsel have repeatedly stated during these hearings that adjuncts are simply not to be trusted; they might pass on sensitive Temple information to other schools, and therefore it would be irresponsible to admit them to the bargaining table.

(Let’s set aside the fact that many adjuncts do research, sit on committees, and are highly committed to the Temple community.)

By separating faculty from non-faculty, Temple is attempting to shift its paradox onto the shoulders of adjuncts. It argues that by spreading their energy too thin, by not taking up the mantle of research or committee membership, adjuncts have rendered themselves ineligible for the “community of interest.” They may be essential to the functioning of the university, but their contingent nature makes them incapable of responsibility.

By doing so, Temple hopes to re-affirm its essential mission, only with limits. At Temple, they maintain, we care about our teachers: provided our teachers fulfill certain requirements—as if the very economic conditions they created were not the ones which make adjuncts incapable of fulfilling these requirements. It is a classic divide-and-conquer strategy. In attempting to shift the paradox at the heart of their new business model onto the figure of the adjunct, Temple is blaming them for their own exploitation.

In this new, surreal world of higher ed, a certain kind of descriptive fatigue sets in. What can we say about the adjunct plight that hasn’t been said already? So much is expected of them, and so little given; through their service in Gen-Ed classes, their work affects a massive percentage of the university’s undergraduate population, and without their labor the teaching arm of the university would simply not be able to function. And yet they cannot survive on the money Temple pays them, and so they go to other schools to fill out the gaps—which allows Temple to define as them as less committed, less effective, less than faculty.

Make no mistake: Temple is to blame for the paradox at the heart of their educational mission. You simply cannot claim to value teaching while ruthlessly exploiting your teaching force. The attempt to place that paradox on the shoulders of the adjuncts themselves—turning their very existence into a paradoxical condition—is unfair to students, logically specious, and morally indefensible.


Update: On November 30, 2015, an overwhelming majority of adjuncts voted to join Temple Association of University Professors—the same union that represents tenured and other full-time instructors—despite an agressive anti-union campaign waged by the administration. —Editor

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