March 29, 2009

The Trance

"Composers often do not hear the music that is being played… We are listening to something and at the same time creating something else." Lutosławski quoted in Alex Ross's "The Rest Is Noise". I never thought of myself as a photographer until the day I realised I often lost the original completely in a reverie of imagining my own way through a scene or situation.

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March 21, 2009

My Oakland

All afternoon as I lounge around my studio recovering from two debilitating weeks of bronchitis and more there's a more than usually-urgent stream of sirens and rushing police cars and ambulances past my place on the freeway and along the Embarcadero, but I don't think too much of it: that's my Oakland, I guess. Ditto the helicopters.

And then the news, three OPD officers shot dead, a fourth dying, all in the same extended incident: just another day in Lovely East Oakland. I guess.

From the NYT's current take on the story, the other side of this same Oakland: "The Associated Press reported [...] that people lingered at the scene of the [...] shooting. About 20 bystanders taunted the police." Nothing to do with the police is ever simple here.

In other news, an unnamed man was shot dead here in the Fruitvale district earlier this morning. No one's too clear on the story; I doubt they ever will be (his body was found by a woman retrieving her garbage bin from the street). Last week another man was shot dead in broad daylight near Fruitvale BART in a brutal street robbery on a route I walk occasionally. Unbelievably, the shooting stats are actually somewhat better so far this year than last.

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March 08, 2009

Life On Mars

In Moe's I stumble upon Felix Guattari's "Chaosophy: Texts and Interviews 1972-1977" (Semiotext(e), ed. Lotringer, natch), a book I just have to buy after a quick skim, if only because the blurb describes "Anti-Oedipus" as one of the most important books of our time, and because in one of the chapters Guattari, when asked for a brief overview of something or other in an interview, goes on for several unstoppable pages (unintentional comedy is always the best comedy).

I've long had a soft spot in my intellectual heart for Guattari — his analysis of R.D. Laing's Kingsley Hall anti-psychiatry adventures (included in this collection) is characteristically perceptive and droll, and it's hard not to be sympathetic to an agenda that attempted to get psychology (as a practice, if not a science) out of the whole claustrophobic Oedipal thing and more engaged with broader social and institutional contexts (at least). But this collection was written at a time when it was possible to discuss psychiatry and psychology in great detail without once even mentioning neuroscience or neuropathology (except dismissively in passing), and to talk about something like schizophrenia entirely in social or institutional terms. Not that Guattari himself does this (at least not here), but this was a time when it was even possible to straight-facedly discuss "curing" schizophrenia using Freudian analysis; reading bits of the collection over the past few days has been a sort of mental Life On Mars for me.

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March 01, 2009

Power To The People

Reading Peniel Joseph's "Waiting 'Til The Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America" (Henry Holt, 2006), I'm often struck by just how central Oakland was to the Black Power movement in the late 1960's and 1970's, and vice versa: you keep stumbling over sentences like "[Eldridge] Cleaver [in exile in Algeria] lashed out at [Huey] Newton [in Oakland] during a televised international conference call [...] which had been originally designed as a show of unity between Oakland and Algeria.", and there's the detritus of those years all around Oakland, the attitudes, the power structures, the odd little murals and shopfronts in West Oakland or downtown, the ghosts of Huey and Eldridge in West Oakland and Berkeley.

Oakland as it is now really doesn't always make much sense without knowing about the Panthers and the whole Black Power struggle. And it's not just the lost, broken legacy of the Panthers' social activism (as Joseph points out, in Oakland as with so many other places, Black power (lower-case "p") became a reality just as the associated cities descended into dire financial and social straights, and became identified with failure), it's the attitudes (and attitudanalising) behind so much City Hall politicking and cultural pushes.

If there's ever a place that once took — and still takes — the idea of "unity between Oakland and Algeria" (where Algeria is being used in a broader sense than just shorthand for "the Black Panther camp currently exiled in Algeria") seriously, it's Oakland. Never mind that, inevitably, Algeria's a place most Oaklanders couldn't locate on a map of the world, and that the African touches here are so confused and, well, American.

But as for many Oaklanders (and as with California at large for many decades now), my Oakland is largely Hispanic and Asian nowadays, at least on a daily basis, and that's a fact that's caused increasing resentment in Oakland's black communities. Oakland's on the verge of no longer really being a Black majority town, and we're starting to see the same sort of politics of resentment playing out in local politics in particular nasty and coded ways.

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