HAMMIE WAXES ON NOOTROPICS

Some people lose their sense of timeliness or of time passing, become tied up in the thing they’re doing until a line like ah look at the time or something similar plunks into their mind – some one-liner that describes the glassy-eyed shock that hits when the clock’s tick suddenly becomes once again discernable, re-establishing itself as an irritant tic-tocking towards death and dementia or the Holy Ghost’s tinsel heavens or some other blind trail. With these sorts of people, it turns out they’ve been at the books, cramming more midnight oil into the burner into the small hours of the morning into the white metal dawn of a humming computer screen, for a beaver-industrious age, how’d it get this late, wrote a veritable novel, what meaty scholastic clout these persisters tend to have. These are the sorts of people who get things done, forget about dinner, so attentive to their diagnostics that they leave a dry shave of toast in the toaster, in the morning it’s a dried-up bran: all crumb.
 
When the smooth, peculiarly instantaneous present catapults itself into relief and the nose takes a sharp draught in and the body un-numbs, several things warm and thaw and make the breathy noise of a mouth before speech: joints suddenly need to be de-scaled, the neck needs attention, the feet undersides require a camphor jelly application, a whole collection of bodily debris, it turns out, have amassed under the desk chair – hairs, filaments, leg dust, shoulder fluff – when all of this is remembered this sort of person finally goes to bed, first attends to all of this body backlogging and then lies flat-back and snoozes.

 I imagine that it is a deep snooze without anxiety. Without the frozen-claw fists made weak with nighttime atrophy kind of anxiety that marks my sleep. I imagine it’s just good dreams, sex with a celebrity, a big meal, a million dollars. I’m imagining all of this, but because I’ve no formal training in psychotherapy or anything officially cranial, I cannot say for sure where an attention like this – an attention so rapt that the attender becomes effectively distracted from their own body – emanates from. I’m not quite sure if it’s possible to adopt, to affect like buying a new hat and taking on a new accent that’s windy and important so people freeze and vegetable-patch around you. Is it possible to become a person who’s completely immersed in their work? I want desperately to be the sort of person who is – who forgets to eat and wash and call their parents because they are so concentrated on their task, and if you’re wondering, and just how will you do that? I’ll tell you that the answer is

Nootropics.


The word nootropic was coined in 1972 by a Romanian psychologist and chemist, Cornelius E. Giurgea, from the Greek words νοῦς (nous), or “mind”, and τρέπειν (trepein), meaning to bend or turn. Nootropics are astrology for men, they’re a new industry of so-called cognitive enhancers that promise in particular to sharpen executive functions: memory, motivation, concentration – and they grandfather clock your central nervous system, which becomes regular, respectable, useful. Me, I bought a skid online, every flavor, not sure if they are even legal in the UK, online shopping, incredible. They arrived in an oblong container, and writing about them now, their fish oil-dense horse-pill taste is rising in the back of my throat: their flavor is robust, doggy. Wrapped in weird white label with text grafted on in red Helvetica, thin, the bottle has the air of bootleg pseudoscience. This impression is inflamed by the label’s graphic. Forking medium-width red lines produce a brain-coiled graph with nodes, which glancingly might imply the World Wide Web or metabolic networks, things backed by the greatest minds, no hoodoo here. This is exactly the sort of thing that I need to transcend my dumb body and focus on Production, I say when I receive them in the mail, and from the other room my blonde friend from Minnesota says, sure they are, good for you.

 But I am trapped in my body, aint that the cruelest truth. There I am, pumped up with warm energy, warm blood, it’s the feeling I get before I make a lifestyle change that I am certain will amend certain problems I have, like ten thousand unread email messages, forgot how to drive, no external hard drive, accidental tax evader, things aren’t as in order as I’d like them to be. I take my first pill with a spoonful of oil, crystalline and rancid, because an ardent nameless on Reddit said something about fat soluble. Beaming, already reaching for the eucalyptus essential oil I use for indigestion, I sit with my notebook and my Cherry Cola vape, wait for some unparaphrasable focus or some tuning of the world – I’m expecting something like when you smoke hash, maybe mixed with a certain seeing-red amphetamine athleticism. These pills are fancy, I say to myself.

What I ended up producing was a short essay about production.

My first line began: Some people lose their sense of timeliness or of time passing –

Following this first bit, something strange happened, and I wonder if here commenting on it might change the truthiness of the thing I’m recounting. Following the first bit, I launched into an essay about production, productivity, attentiveness – about my quest to become the sort of person who is so focused that they forget about their body, that they might literally rise outside of their body, that they may eschew things like every half-hour milky tea, listless walking around the house touching things, vaguely, lightly, a phone call to someone you do not want to speak to and the impression left is a light-heeled grease on the phone’s glass from your cheek, an hour spent then probing a cheek, a spot beginning to swell on the cheek, suddenly things like pores, hairs, strange shadows – the most microscopic intimacies of the skin’s geography – becoming bound up in the productive task. A relay race with arbitrary pit-stops. The more the mind activates an idea, the louder the body becomes, and the thrill of a good idea becomes a spiky and radiating thing, and with every living sentence crafted, there is a necessity to take a turn around the room, to press the pointer into the crease of another nail bed, to produce a pressure in the body that rhymes with the thrill of the thing written and also begins to generate a feedback, a heightening of the mind and of the body together, they are the top and bottom of a spinning wheel. Said another way, an intensity on the page incites a hyper awareness (in me, of my) body, which in turn inscribes itself into my text, my body and its fidgets and winces and twiddles, all of its spotty bits, pain, poking, hunger, all of it, sunk into the deepest stratum of my text’s subcutaneous layers.

And who, and what, is the loudest and most gruesome character here, in spite of my best efforts? It has arms, legs, warm-blooded wiring, hothouse brain particles.

Because I am trapped in my body, aint that the cruelest truth. 


The Nature of the Unchanging Skeleton

The following is a catalogue essay I wrote around the work of Canadian artist Tricia Middleton. It’s a frolic and her work is a portrait of fragrant refuse, and I tried to write her practice into zany prose, here goes: 

————————————————————————————

The Nature of the
Unchanging Skeleton

Text by Hannah
Nussbaum

To experience Tricia Middleton’s wax beasts in The Nature of the Unchanging Skeleton is an active exercise, a vigorous exercise, active and vigorous because of the way in which the gaze directed at it is required to oscillate. Her work compels its spectator first to telescope in on the kitsch and refuse and string and clay hunks that make up the installation’s human-size forms. This first gaze is a voyeuristic gaze, the kind that notices the specificity of gore with clinical curiosity at the bubonic scene. What are those innards I’m seeing, could they really be that, innards? Next, the spectator’s gaze is required to zoom out: the detritus becomes anthropomorphic now, or else mummified in quadruped shapes. The individual specimens of garbage pixelate together into a theatrical spectacle of the grotesque and deranged, a medieval sci-fi escape room shot with pre-Victorian horror, Bell-époque indigestion, a maggot-skittish installation of wax and trash forms that requires effort, nausea even, to witness. Middleton’s is a scene of a future geography that’s naturally grown out of and over our modern industrial and contemporary digital detritus. A new techno-animist species wrought from junk runs the earth in Middleton’s sealed universe – one that recasts boundaries between human, animal, spiritual and mechanical. There’s a certain sympathy between her work and Bruno Latour’s concept of multi-naturalism – his notion of a future landscape in which the animate and inanimate, organic and synthetic coalesce, where nature, the pastoral construct, admits its bastard synthetic lineage . This imagined multi-natural geography spills onto the floor, onto the walls, and Middleton’s pink and blue glazes and thick waxy lacquers coat the setting in generous run-off, and the whole thing is a throatily over-iced cake, a feminine gesture turned gross: a woman’s abjection . To witness it, the brain feels fogged, ecstatic, aware of something stinky in the installation – a Marie Antoinette meets JG Ballard post-apocalyptic decadence – a specifically awful blend of the gothic and something we might think of as foul perfection. Already we sense two things happening, holding hands like undead twin daughters: something about feminine excess, something about a post-natural landscape, together, a gesture towards sublime post-Anthropocene epochs.

Two, or more, things happening here, as The Nature of the Unchanging Skeleton functions as a spectroscope, producing and recording and reassembling waste, decay and trash, in the language of ornate body-horror. Middleton, the Canadian-based artist whose career has spanned 15 years, has been working in this vocabulary – of rococo cataclysm as styled by a female hysteric – since 2005, when she made the jump from painting to sculpture, though let it be said that her sculptures are painted, quite literally. Her process builds up the materiality of her forms in layers, using wax mostly, also hydrostone and plaster, sometimes, spray foam. The layering produces bound-together assemblages with an organic sense of sinew, guts, innards, also earth stratum and sedimentary rock. The Greek primordial deity Gaia welds together these images – the
female body as Earth, hardly a new idea. The waxy layers engorge – re-womb – the
junk and trash and semi-precious stones and stalagmites Middleton collects, leaving trails of things that look like calcium salt deposits. Her work deals in future fossils, in questions of what the future fossils will bring to bear on a landscape scraped of the human species in the wake of ecological disaster. Future Fossils, referring to earth’s future geography, which will be comprised of civilization’s vestiges; creatures shaped by waste and a landscape shaped by waste, and the dissolution of boundaries between natural and unnatural, between human and landscape.

Bound up within these dissolutions, we find gender-emancipatory potential, Russian dolled within the promise of a soothing euthanization of every social construct, as subject and object are eaten away and fused together under corrosive environmental conditions. Here, Bruno Latour’s conception of post-natural ecology gets freighted through Dona Haraway’s de-stabilized nature/culture dualism, her projection of a future comprised of both organic and technological humans and non-humans, among them the post-natural woman . The anthropomorphic-trash-people in Middleton’s future may embody this woman, may promise gender emancipation of a sort, the kind that comes when civilization crumbles and human, earth and technology cannibalize themselves into new forms. What Middleton lands on is an innovative form of waste management: a post-apocalyptic future of a ruinous landscape occupied by techno-animist waste-womxn, and it is exquisite.

If something in Middleton’s forms link the register of feminine abjection to broader ecological conceptions, surely it’s the cracking of boundaries between clean, human edges, and the myth of primitive animalism and naturalism. Abjection, so defined by Julia Kristeva in the 1980s, describes the horror – often directed at femme bodies – of the impure, visceral, corpus. The abject is the moment in which uncontained bodily excess threatens and transgresses our sense of cleanliness and propriety and bodily suppression – as Middleton’s forms do. In the tradition of performance and installation art that activates a politic of feminine immoderation as an adversarial aesthetic, Middleton’s sculptures recuperate their implicit abjection through running towards it, amplifying it, and multiplying it. She aestheticizes waste and junk as feminine through her formal palate – baby pinks, blues, purples – her Victorian gothic ambiance, her inclusion of trinkets that allude to Paganism and female fertility rituals, the latent sense of decadent sexuality and vulgarity conveyed through her overflowing and wet fabrics. The cluster of anthropomorphic figures in Justine’s woods, searching for a place that you can never return to again (at your peril!!), is staged as an ominous collective of witch haruspices postured like women’s bodies ravaged by age. The wax treated fabric falls in strips that obscure – something like the white male fear of the niqāb is activated, a fear of the woman who can’t be seen, a revulsion matched only by the women seen in too much detail. Middleton’s viscous wax forms are both simultaneously: threateningly obscured and yet grotesquely revealed, as inside out. 

Again the excess of surface and the earthiness of fluidal wax signals this harnessing and recuperation of abjection, a trifle spilled on the floor when it becomes too inflated with week-old microbiome, too engorged to any longer sit in a crystal. 

Threaded through all of this, all the while, there’s a tête-à-tête with the waste itself. Sure, it constitutes a metaphor for woman’s fleshly salad oils, but also, it produces a conversation about itself, about trash, as in the castoff limbs and lobes of capitalism, that which we put underground, subaquatic sewage, inverted built-in aluminum steel garburators with exterior wood detailing. Middleton’s waste reveals its birthday suit, something like a woman who dares have a body, and through this we’re confronted with an installation that approaches the mined earth through the body of a woman. Need it be said, both are split into pieces, degraded in specific ways, quarried, privatized. Middleton’s work looks at the moment of eruption – ecologically speaking that would be apocalypse – for woman, it’s the throe of hysteria. All this said another way: her theatricalizing of waste and detritus as a feminine spilling-over of environmentally degraded forms is such that her celebration of the abject maps onto both the feminine and the ecological. Trash and femininity are forms meant to cow underground, but which threaten to split seams and surge up from ocean floors imminently, creating three armed swimmers, fish made of bottles, women with enormous bodies wrought out of blood fragrant iron, blimping around in smog, un-licked by the question, are you an animal or are you a man or are you a woman or are you a vegetable? And so we can encounter Middleton’s forms as negations of the boundary between nature and culture: “animals, which [are] imagined as representative of sex and murder,” fuse with signs of the human – civilized expression explodes into biological glut. We’re led by the hand of an abject monsterous-feminine into post-anthropocene ecological territory. There we find ourselves when we step into Middleton’s installation Form Is the Destroyer of Force, Without Severity There Can Be No Mercy. A fine sea-marine fungus trawls the walls here, and a floor thick with branches and candles and old ceramic vessels, green goo, pink fluff, sludge as a rioting peasantry, yokes, bogs made out of bits of ribbon, skipjacks, nobody one knows, flat trembling discs made out of wafer, that sort of thing, spooned around in a folksy mass, the shoes of the old world entombed somewhere inside, future fossils. 

Here we confront something like an object-oriented ontology, an ontology that treats all objects in the same way, that strikes away hierarchical taxonomies between “Sherlock Holmes, real humans and animals, chemicals, hallucinations ” – the opposite pole of orientation being Descartes decidedly non-flat ontology, which assumes puritanical division between human and non-human. The Middle Ages were marked by religious and metaphysical philosophies that saw a divide between Creator and what is Created; next thought moved into rationalist modernity, which employed an equally slapdash dualism between humans and everything else in the universe. This modern taxonomy, need it be said which remains hegemonic, brackets the amphibian, the crustacean, the tuna, the yak, vegetable physiology, kitchen gardens, cash machines, heart and lung machines, digital clocks, away from the exceptional human being, whose ontology is considered of foremost weight for questions of philosophy, and also conceptions of the way we organize the world and imagine desire, architecture and landscape. Middleton’s forms resist this anthropocentric taxonomy: her sculptural installations “engage with the possibilities of things as beings and the processes through which living beings are rendered as things.” Her smallest, most diffuse pieces – collections of stand-alone crafted and found objects comprising uncanny tableauxs – bring to mind the sort of techno-animist co-habitation threaded through Japanese anime narratives, which routinely cross wires between spirits, robots, humans and animals. Middleton’s forms gesture at this crossing of wires, creating intellectual space to consider the animism of objects, and more concretely, the many examples of already-existing nature-culture-technology hybrids around us: the so-called “internet of things,” being one prescient “current event” leap to make from Middleton’s concepts, the biome developing in the Great Pacific Garbage patch another one, where, we might consider, 34,000 pieces of hockey gear lost in a ship accident in 1994 may literally already constitute a new crustaceous chest protector species. These are contemporary examples of the way in which object-oriented ontology and a breached nature-culture duality may already be active. But what of a future post-Anthropocene? Middleton’s forms gesture at a future, and thus Bruno Latour’s theorizing becomes active in her piles of trash – theorizing that looks towards new inter-species futures and multi-organismal cooperation. He defines modernity as the view that there are two hermetic kingdoms – nature and culture – and proposes a new era which sees human and non-human actors forge links to function in productive and consensual networks – his attempt to answer perhaps the only question left, how can a livable and breathable “home” be built for the errant animal and ecological masses? 

Latour’s matrix of human-animal-vegetable co-agency is an imagined space, a new mind-scape and land-scape also travelled through by Donna Haraway in her theoretical topography of a post-natural ecology, in which nature, culture and technology transmute into assemblages. Haraway’s theory aims “to orient, to provide the roughest sketch for travel, by means of moving within and through a relentless artifactualism, which forbids any direct si(gh)tings of nature, to a science fictional, speculative factual, SF place called, simply, elsewhere.” This elsewhere, comprised of deviating forms and subjectivities that transcend anthropocentric thought, is rooted in the premise – termed by Haraway as self evident – that science is culture, and equally that nature is a constructed political contraption, taken even further, that nature the pastoral myth does not exist. Where Latour uses the term multi-naturalism, Harroway lights on commonplace nature. “The commonplace nature I seek,” she writes, is “a public culture, has many houses with many inhabitants which/who can refigure the earth. Perhaps those other actors/actants, the ones who are not human, are our topick gods, organic and inorganic.” Haraway’s many houses with many inhabitants feel present in The Nature of the Unchanging Skeleton, which positions Middleton’s towering anthropomorphic forms alongside collections of craft objects and trash placed in clusters like small ashrams whose constituent pieces are speaking to one another. Dried leaves and branches are Teepee-ed over broken limbs of sun-stroked patio furniture, small ceramic bottles, maybe the remains of some sepulchral garden party that smelled like frangipani, where someone was groped in a deciduous shrub, the pudding had a single fly. Middleton’s wunderkammer is alive, and the curiosities within are whispering to one another. It’s a de-stabilizing oscillation, between very human relics worm-wrapped in nostalgia for some prior more-civilized moment – the garden party or the Edwardian powder puff – and inhuman, post-corporeal horizons and yearnings. Two oppositional vectors stretching in opposing directions, a simultaneous looking backwards and smelting forwards, like the sensory manifestation of her destabilizing visuality, already mentioned, at once sinisterly obscured and obscenely revealed. 

Faced with her assemblage, Embracing ruin and oblivion is the only way to live now, one is given the option to actually enter into Donna Haraway’s elsewhere – Does one dare? A sea blue house bric-bracked with papier-mache tiles offers to re-womb its spectators: walking inside, past flapping ventriloquist apertures, suddenly you’re in the gut of a beast filled with undigested tokens. And so the exhibition engorges its spectators, the human art onlookers who will invariably one day constitute the dust and patina of the future geography Middleton imagines. All of us, implicated in this future of waste and bulbs that speak, chairs that crawl, human jaws mousetrapped onto protease animals that play host to a number of small micro-biotic milky ways – each species eventually, each brand of detergent, each cartridge, to be invited to that sort of party. The immersion of Middleton’s forms is significant, important for conveying the personal nature of this theory making – as in – each person has everything at stake in questions of ecology.

And all of this is written in the language of the abject feminine, the woman as a prism to talk about the earth, and also to talk about “woman” – a prism to help us un-learn what the earth looks like, and also what a woman looks like. Indeed, civilized human borders and visceral animal/natural/bodily rub up against one another in a way that extends beyond woman and nature, to implicate man, woman and turtle. Middleton has shaped a landscape where human has fused with trash has fused with technology, and her gesture towards a new polyvalent species collapses not just the feminine mystique, but also the myth of Gaia. But Middleton’s images, like Latour and Harroway’s theoretical futures, embrace this futurity, don’t engage in a nostalgic re-wilding project, but rather look towards new ontologies. Kristeva wind-ups her theory of abjection with a discussion of the sublime: she closes in on a “version of the apocalypse that seems…rooted, not matter what its sociohistorical conditions might be, on the fragile border (borderline cases) where identities (subject/object, etc.) do not exist or only barely so–double, fuzzy, heterogeneous, animal, metamorphosed, altered, abject.” This is what The Nature of the Unchanging Skeleton leaves us with: what Donna Haraway would call The Promises of Monsters, a transcendent apocalypse where frontiers between natural and unnatural have been eaten away by the acridity of pollution, a land in which technology has been de-natured and re-natured, hypertrophied into a new brail of the planet’s surface.   

References:

- Latour, Bruno, 2004. Politics of nature: how to bring the sciences into democracy.
Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
http://www.dawsonera.com/depp/reader/protected/external/AbstractView/S9780674039964.

-In reference to Julia Kristeva’s abjection, meaning “the
state of being cast off” in her work 1982 Powers of horror: an essay
on abjection
 

- Donna Haraway, ‘The Promises of Monsters: a regenerative politics for inappropriate/d others’ in Cybersexualities : a reader on feminist
theory, cyborgs, and cyberspace,  
ed.
By Jenny Wolmark, (Edenborough: Edenborough University Press 1999).  

-Julia Kristeva and Leon S. Roudiez. Powers of horror: an essay on abjection.
New York: Columbia University Press. 1982. p 13.

-Using Julia Kristeva’s concept of abjection, Barbara
Creed’s monstrous feminine examines
the way femininity is feared and objected in contemporary horror film

-Graham Harman, Object-Oriented Ontology, (London: Penguin Random House UK, 2018).


Dis-oriented - a microfiction

This story owes itself to a professor (a great professor!) who fell from grace in my checkbook, fell from grace because he recommended I attend a guest lecture on cryptocurrency which truthfully left me totally disoriented, knotted, stupider, weepy – grew me thin under acroamatic confusion, insecure about my mental horse-handling, changed my life for the sucky worse. I draggled myself to this below-par lecture, at this professor’s square-meal-hearty recommendation, his council, what a disappointment, a cyclopean waste of an hour, still frankly fuming. 

I showed up thinking the guest speaker was ultra savvy, terrific, totally aces – post-lecture I thought he was an unlucky blast, a blight, a literal curse, the opposite of a four leaf clover, was hating this guy so much, mentally writhing, still chewing on what went down that day, the day I became permanently disoriented, near beer directionless, like permanently just-took-a-twirl, all of this metaphorical doggerel specifically relating to economics and business and investing and my understanding of them.

The topic of the lecture, already mentioned, was cryptocurrency, which I found to be confusing and non-intuitive. 

The guest speaker kept repeating that using bitcoin was like mining gold, that it required no central government apparatus, that the answer is mining but that mining doesn’t actually create bitcoin, rather it creates rewards, which I think you’re meant to give to friends, family and benefactors. That it’s resource-intensive because it castrates computers. It somehow relates to hash browns, you’re meant to pay out of pocket, and it’s normal to feel hopeless around bitcoin. It relies on a muscular phallocracy, but also men can wear skirts in 2017 and somehow this relates to bitcoin. Bitcoin effluvium is being studied for its effects on the lungs. Recently people keep asking what kind of art should be made in times like these, and the artists have responded by making art about bitcoin, and the internet, and blockchain, especially art that says the word ‘algorithm’ and then ‘skidoo’ and then there’s an explosion, and that’s when the bitcoin is made, or how the art is made, depending on who’s doing the stuff with the bitcoin hash brown value. 

Since it was “explained” to me, I’ve yet to regain confidence or compass in my intellectual capacity. My prior understanding of business, economics, and entrepreneurship has been expunged in favor of shadow doubts – I was supposed to become a spoiled fat city fortunate investor, and now I fear I’ve sailed too near the wind, and find myself totally disoriented, irritated, and with a great deal of antagonism towards the drippy guest speaker who vampired my self-confidence out of me that day. I also feel like I want to rhetorically insult my professor, whose judgement I used to trust like a sling, who told me not to sleep on the opportunity to see this guy speak, and now, oh mercy, I’m permanently confused, and there’s a heliotropic curvature to my cranium, I feel like I literally don’t have a backbone anymore. 

Can’t even get the image out of my head. The drippy guest speaker sitting like a bed-sitter at the front of the cosmically hot egg-shaped spare lecture room with big crystalline blinds covering the one window. And me, having shown up with my back-combed hair and yellow shirt, a leather workbook, expecting to learn something, never should have gone.

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