Thinly veiled philosophical tracts masquerading as:
Reviews of Books I Haven't Read

and Why I Haven't Read Them

The Phenomenology of Spirit

The Way Things ought to Be

Other People's Zines

White Trash Manifesto

The Phenomenology of Spirit (h2so4 4)
(or, depending on your translator, of Mind) 

by G. W. F. Hegel

Let me get this straight. Is the history of philosophy really the history of a kind of North-European boys' club, each member of which is required to reorient the ontology of the entire species so that it culminates in him, and by extension justifies the Sun-King or Führer who employs him? Is that old "dead white guys" term more than just a casually defensive sophomore's dismissal? And is that my de facto aspiration as well? Are you trying to tell me that anyone who claims to "love truth" actually loves privilege, and will invent a truth to maintain it (like Plato's defense of slavery, or Heidi Pollock's excusing (in issue #3) her peddling her own ass in the dark Satanic mills of American corporate presenteeism by appeal to "Descartes or Hobbes, preferably both")? Come on—what of Nietzsche? What of Emerson? Insanity and Americanness are no excuse, you say; the fact remains that from our fin-de-millenium vantage point, cast adrift from all hooks, lines, and sinkers of onto-theological foundation, we can see for the first time clearly that every dignifying of subjective experience as objective truth has always signalled the shoring up of a dodgy historically-determined hegemony, just as clearly as smoke signals fire. Well, you may not be so wide of the mark there, I'll give it some thought; but if you're trying to tell me that therefore I should get rid of this nice, solid volume of Hegel which has served me so well as a doorstop for all these years, and replace it with a kitschy coffee table album with text by someone called Jean Baudrillard, you can blow it out your ass, buddy, I don't need any of your fancy-pants rhetoric, I'm going down to the drugstore to whistle at girls.  —Gridley Minima 

The Way Things Ought To Be (h2so4 3/1995)

by Rush Limbaugh

Wouldn't it be strange to live in a country you were really proud of? I mean, not the chest-beating myopic pride of lame-duck buttfucks like this, but proud in the way you genuinely are proud of some things, like an article you wrote five years ago that, upon rediscovery, still seems like it was probably worth the time it took away from your computer game habit to compose. This has, actually, never happened to me, but it seems like it would be a nice thing. Myself, I feel quite smug every now and then when I get outside, the morning air is brisk and refreshing, a pretty girl smiles at me as we pass on the sidewalk, I look down at my shirt front, and it turns out to be not only free from any traces of my breakfast, but properly buttoned as well...but I digress.

The thing is, democracy sounds like such a good idea. In theory. If only we all weren't so fucked up & apathetic. But I'm afraid we are, it's a breed trait, and that means that all the decisions end up being made by those of us who are imbalanced enough to want to make decisions. I mean think about it, what do you call someone who likes making decisions for other people? A born leader? Or just an asshole?

I guess one way of approaching the problem is to ask, given that most well-adjusted human beings (in my admittedly skewed experience, but it's as usual all I've got to go on) would rather just putter around their garden or hoist a few beers with their friends than organize a big war or other grown-up undertaking, do all these decisions, for which we supposedly need leaders, actually need making? I'm not proposing that the answer is necessarily no—it could easily be that many of them do need making, but maybe not all—I just think it would be good for the health of the polis (and for the duration of my employment at this magazine the polis is, as far as I'm concerned, YOU, that's right, you, quit trying to duck behind that fern) to ask the question. One thing I am sure of is this: I've met all kinds of different people during my brief stumble over this planet, and there were definitely some of them who felt as if their lives were unimportant, and there were definitely others (like the author in question) who felt that their lives were extremely important, and I've never been able to figure out exactly what the criteria were for these self-inventories. I mean, for instance, I've met people who apparently felt that the fact that only a few other people could understand what they were talking about made them smart; and then, I've met other people who seemed convinced that having their names known by a large number of complete strangers gave their activities some kind of strange importance. I guess for a long time I believed these things, and a host of other bits of received wisdom too, or pretended to because I thought I must be missing something, until one day I just said fuck it.

That's really what I'm arguing for, now that you mention it; saying fuck it a little more often. I'm not trying to mount a big closely-reasoned critique of the status quo, supported by my massive readings in arcane branches of literary theory and Thomist exegesis, as my critics (whose numbers are legion, around here anyway) seem to think; I just have a feeling that there are a lot of other people "out there" who secretly don't really think anyone at the G7 summit of industrialized nations has any better idea of what's going on in the world, or what to do about it, than they do. But we're paying them millions of dollars to stand around up there and act important.

More and more these days I have the feeling that what is important (to the way people actually live, rather than what they see on tv, and yes, simulacrum surfers, I do think there's a difference) is not the utterly outmoded concept of the nation-state, nor any kind of utopian global bureaucracy, but what the Lettrists (if in fact they ever "existed" at all) named, euphonically, the provisional microsociety.

Meaning that, on a human scale—the scale we should be concerned with—the actual neurons and dendrites of society are no larger than, say, you and your roommates or the readership of this magazine. And that Society, understood thus, is constantly self-infecting, -subverting, and -exploding, an unending series of states perpetually resolving and evolving into each other, never to be defined other than provisionally, as something which already is something else by the time the words have left your lips.

It's on that scale that we can find our heroes, on that scale that we know to whom to turn for advice in a given predicament, and yes, on that scale that any revolution is going to occur. It ain't going to happen unless we do something about it; and it ain't going to be worth the horseshit it's printed on unless it affects our relations with the actual people we interact with every day of our worthless actual lives. Society, Humankind, America, are hearsay, fictions, fairytales that pathetic politicos (on right & left) tell themselves to make 'em feel important. But there is a society I feel proud of, and it's the society of blundering oafs like me to whom, in spite of myself, I'm writing these words.

Which brings us of course to Rush Limbaugh, a man who will not read this, whom I have never met, nor wanted to, whose voice I have never heard, and (needless to say) whose book I have not read. Yet still, he exists in my imagination, like an allegorical figure in Dante's Hell, symbol of an absolute limit to my optimism, embodiment of that hatred and fear of the unknown that masquerades as "realism" even among my most intimate enemies, even, perhaps, in me. He looms there, potent, on the margin of my cosy little provisional microsociety, epitome of every peer that ever ordered me to conform, of every grownup that ever promised me that one day I, too, would be able to partake in important grownup activities, and that one day I would see what was so important about them. He is, in sum, the face of everything I turn my back on every morning before I begin to attend to the unimportant, provisional, unrealistic duties that are the actual ebb and flow of my (and anybody's, truth be told) day; he is the razor-toothed teddy bear I hug to my chest at night. For I love him, of course, like a brother, like myself—and he is, in the end, nothing more or less than the ridiculous yet pervasive idea that "I" was ever anything other than a temporary, amateurish, uncertain arrangement between a few handfuls of cells; something provisional, doomed to failure.

This essay, and all thought that cannot find a home, is dedicated to him.

(P.S., about the above, it is a fact that sometimes other people just don't understand what you're talking about. Believe me, it's an experience I'm on intimate terms with. I'm not selling out to any kind of lark-in-the-morning populist Strunk & White nonsense. But it seems kind of demonstrable to me that, in my case as in others, being hard to understand is neither a sign of intelligence nor a guarantee that one is actually saying something. And, consummate stylist though I am, I still would rather communicate with someone than wave my dick in the air. Out of step with my times? Then so be it.)

(The other side of that coin, though, a note for the assholes at the Satan's Little Farmhouse Collective, if they're reading this, in light of the Mekons quote above: The magic of poetry, and by extension all creative, unproductive labor, is that it will always, no matter how closely you read, retain a certain secret from you, that there is always a portion of it that does not enter into the marketplace of signification, that it is never, completely, significant, and that is why the world will always recognize its insignificance. It is an abyss not describable by our geometry, a mythic purse infinitely productive of meanings, and we are merchants (or thieves) of an anticommodity (beauty) which has no value.  —Gridley Minima

Other People's Zines (h2so4 3/1995)

(Although I'm not entirely sure h2so4 is a zine; it may be too slick and closely-reasoned...and not sassy enough. Maybe there's some sort of high zine tribunal we can appeal to and find out.)

I really wish I would read more of these, actually. I'm completely in favor of what's called the DIY aesthetic (or ethic, really) and always have been—but like most people who feel strongly about the subject I'm often too busy doing things for myself to get out and examine any of what my revolutionary brothers and sisters are doing for themselves. So you can see that the whole phenomenon highlights an interesting conflict: zines lie on the cusp of two metaphors of communication, that of the letter and that of the stage.

A common criticism one hears of zines, and many other marginal cultural productions, including h2so4, is that they're "amateurish," the typical statement expressing the critic's response being (with audible quotation marks), "Let's put on a show." Now I probably don't need to remind you (but have I ever let that stop me?) that etymologically, the word "professional" means one who professes to do something (and thus gets paid for it), while an "amateur" is one who loves something (and who does it only for love).

I'll leave you to determine for yourself which of those courses of action is the nobler; all I want to point out is the interesting presupposition being made by one who criticises a work of art, or communication, because it seems "unprofessional." Obviously one would never refuse delivery of a postcard from a vacationing friend because it was too "amateurish," nor would one ask to be dealt out of an "amateurish" poker game, or complain of an "amateurish" conversation with a neighbor; though in all these cases one might feel "bored," "left out," "uncomfortable" and so on. So at what point does one's critical vocabulary abandon the subjective "I was bored" for the quasi-objective "it was unprofessional"?

I shudder to think that this switch happens precisely when money begins to be involved.

But the conclusion seems hard to avoid. Conversations, correspondences, and card games are all more or less systems of barter; if I stop receiving letters from you, I will eventually stop sending 'em; but the minute you say to me (as JS and HD effectively have said to you) "to get the latest postcard from my trip to Madagascar, send $6 American to my address blah blah," our whole relationship has changed. I no longer need feel obliged to answer your affection with affection, to mull thoughtfully over your thought—I just have to keep signing the checks. And by the same token, I no longer will ask myself, "is this letter (friendship) worth responding to, or is it just too stupid," but instead, "is this letter (friendship?) worth six clams, or is it just too amateurish?"

The funny thing about this is that something can be professional and still be very, very stupid (one need look no further than one's cable tv), and the reverse. So it is not just the vocabulary that has changed. An entirely different system of value has slipped, unnoticed, into play.

I might pick up a copy of (let's just say) Sassy magazine, and, while finding nothing in it that would make ME want to pay $6 for it, might agree that it is "worth" the $6 in some sort of absolute sense. Now what is this worthiness? Where in the magazine is it hidden? Not, certainly, in the materials; nor, given the ratio of advertising to editorial content, does it seem likely that my $6 is needed to pay the staff. Nor is it any practical usefulness; nobody (let us hope) needs Sassy magazine to survive. 

No, I'm afraid we're all going to have to admit that the worthiness, the professional sheen that bewitches us into equating things with each other through the medium of funny-smelling green coupons, is a purely arbitrary set of criteria; it is not even the virtuosity with which these acts are performed that makes them professional, it is their presentation, their staging.

So anyway, zines are a sort of hybrid of these classifications, not so much "let's put on a show" as "let's put on a letter to our friends (who we don't even know yet)." h2so4 would be a zine by this definition; although it presents itself as a "literary magazine," with all the trimmings (editor's notes, reviews, poetry, fiction, even a table of contents!), stylistically, it most often refers to the letter (a much older form, both more constrained and, perhaps, organic). Even those sections of the magazine which are not either actual letters, editorial response to them, or discussion about them (like Anne Senhal's marvelous "fiction" in issue 2) reveal their status as crypto-epistles in other ways, by their use of the label "P.S." to announce addenda, by bylines "signed" "love, X" or "your uncle, Y," etc. In fact, the phrase I used above, "our friends, who we don't even know yet," would seem, on a good day, to sum up the editorial policy of this fine if somewhat amateurish magazine.

I guess (since that's the supposed purport of this column) I oughtta say something about why I don't read more zines, and the reason is simple: I'm overwhelmed. Much like navigating the internet, the primal zine scene is one in which you wake up one morning to find your mailbox bursting open, stuffed to the gills with correspondence from an endlessly proliferating "network" (as they say) of friends you've never met, all of whose lives are at least as interesting as your own. But I have a hard enough time dealing with the idiosyncracies of the friends I already have met. This one-way-mirror mode of partaking of the lives of folks the world over on the one hand is great; it's essential that people document the quotidian facts of their lives, because that's where poetry, by which I mean truth, lies—but on the other hand, in the realm of that other metaphor for communication, the stage, isn't this just another example of the prescience of the fucked Warholian vision, fifteen minutes of fame for all? Are you people documenting your lives at the expense of living them? Am I consuming this documentation (a zine is a product that can be consumed, a life is not) at the expense of living mine? IS THIS ALL A GOD DAMN SPECTACLE? 

Just wondering.  —Gridley Minima

White Trash Manifesto (h2so4 9/1998)

or: any other book that posits that the white race, fetishized through the trope of the poor white person, is threatened by the perceived privileges of the non-whites-as-defined, the argument made with varying insistence and with varying qualifications.

What emotions can't be triggered in the white and apolitical world of the willfully margin-dwelling "grubby little corners of bohemia" (as a dear friend once put it) by means of a book by a bone-fide "rabble rouser" like Jim "Answer Me!" Goad? I hear that it's selling like hotcakes in the subcultural outposts that commodify this aspiration to nothingness while claiming that a subculture of self-identified "poor white folk" are victims of a conspiracy of those old baddies—the media and the "elite" (and the gun points wildly in various directions)—to keep them down, etc. Now, Mr. Goad's committed audience of bohemians are consumers nonetheless and these subcultural aspirants evidently find the White Trash Manifesto worthy to curl up with. I can only guess that they do this so as to legitimize the loss they perceive in their own social position—perhaps being a self-marginalized white person doesn't pay as well as it used to. And so, I guess, more edgy aspirants might look for a Boyd "I will save European Culture" Rice record to put on, while the less adventuresome find themselves nodding along to a radio program on The Bell Curve ("Black folks is not as smart as we whites"). Why? Well, there are those among us who read... but, wait. 

First—what is this act of reading? Is it opposed to the act of not-reading? Gridley romanticized the act of not-reading in a previous incarnation of this column [h2so4 #8] by admonishing "us" to rise out of the depths that texts and their related esoterica offer us, "us," we who are uneasy with the world we find ourselves within. Gridley called us out to play, to appreciate the beauty of the world outside of the limited act of reading. I take his hopes to heart; I dream of the days when reading may not point to pointless diversions, or rather to the day when all diversions are equally pointless, when the need for consciousness can be manifest through the simple act of breathing. 

But it's too simple (back to the point now), really, to romanticize not-reading in the face of those who read The Turner Diaries, its very pale cousin, the The White Trash Manifesto, or, really, any of a host of pathos players that masquerade as representations of the world around us and the processes of power within it. Poor white folk (or their representatives within the grubby corners of bohemia) have nothing to fear from any sort of variant of the identification "of color," and can only act to further the desperados of industry who act uniformly to graze the individual-in/nŽe consumer-of society for very simple ends, namely profit and investment in the prevailing social order. Let me return to reading: we are all implicated by the actions we do not take in the wasted hours we spend reading. Or may I instead count reading as an action? I will: one who reads must legitimize the activity at every moment. Those of us who find our days overtaken with reading are often doing so to find answers to questions, to challenge cultural events like the White Trash Manifesto. Would that the world allowed me the simplicity that Gridley so obviously craves, days spent in bliss under the blue skies. Indeed it's true: the day outside is clear, the weather is beautiful. And yet our world is more than a pure aesthetics, it is shaped by our social experiences and cultural aspirations in the most subtle (or blatant) ways—and it is less and less conscionable to aspire merely to enjoy the day. When we, through our self-enforced complacency, cannot defend ourselves against the very determined culture that The Bell Curve and its ilk has served to promote, how can one think to enjoy the day? I stand on my soapbox: "Hey You!, You're with me on this one, aren't you?... We have work to do, my friend..." Or am I hysterical? Hysteria is only avoided these days through a narcotic sort of blissthe head-down, margin-seeking bliss that every tattooed punk rocker and ivy-league Derridian and lesbian white-collar manager and immigrant NikeTM-coveter—such bliss as all of us, to varying degrees, aspire to. 

Simply put, in the face of what is around us, margin-dwelling can only be complicity. But, sadly, utopianism is not an option either. We will not win, the revolution is not possible. However, this in no way precludes living within society in resistance. Reading, or any other attempt to understand one's responsibility for the fucked-up world we survive in, is, I hope, a road to this resistance. Reading is one of the only ways to block the transmission of the culture that thrives on un-reading: the same culture that could allow the White Trash Manifesto to find popularity in the grubby little corners of a bohemia we might hope to carve out for ourselves. —Siegfried Shwayya