Archive for October, 2009

The sky strips every night

I never really planned on living long enough to have to worry about doing things that would make me live longer. I always vaguely imagined going out performing some honorable service like dying during a particularly grueling stretch of the work year to give my friends and family an unwonted vacation, and not taking too long to go about it. The course of life seems to me like a funnel where you gradually get attacked at closer and closer quarters with wimpier and wimpier weapons. In your 20’s you might get assaulted with a knife or a Toyota, but by your 60’s they’re more likely to be going at your cells with an instrument that looks like the degenerate cousin of a ballpoint pen. The weaker the weapon the longer doing damage takes and the more it hurts. Getting beaten to death with a plastic shovel would probably take days and would turn you into melty ice cream by the end. When you’re old and hospitalized it can take years, enough time to experience each part of your body dying in turn, as if answering roll call.

The point is people don’t just evaporate or fade away. The body is too heavy and there’s no convenient opening in the package to pry open and let the soul out. It’s like those clamshell packages at electronics stores that are supposed to prevent shoplifting and have to be really mangled in order to get whatever’s inside out. That’s what it takes to detach the spiritual from the corporeal in people. And that was the mistake that my last Congressional Representative when I lived in America made. He took the title “Representative” a little too seriously and thought he had to serve as the representative of the abstract concept of his “constituency” in all ways, become its embodiment. He worried that if the signified existed in some concrete and non-abstract sense the signifier, i.e. him, would not really signify and hence would have no function. So he started trying to take over the lives of his voters, showing up at their workplaces and social functions, doing their jobs and chores for them, hoping they would get totally displaced and eventually fade away into some vague metaphorical space that he could comfortingly stand in for, like a poopy two-year-old does for happiness.

Really it’s simpler, like in China, to just accept the total inappropriateness of your political representation as an opening premise. Having someone like Mao on all the money is a lot better at any rate: I get to sit on his face all day, and if I ever went to a strip club it would be way less awkward to be jamming that into some sweaty orifice than the face on the rupee. Mao certainly wouldn’t be seeing anything he hadn’t seen before. Actually, if I ever went to a strip club I’d bring a bunch of coins, see if any of the dancers would accept those being slipped into their thong, maybe I’d even look for a coin slot on their person–or a credit card swipe.

The cremation of angels

Although my own writing hasn’t even gotten prominent enough to be judged one way or another by anybody, I’ve somehow stumbled into a job as the final judge of little recourse for the writing of a bunch of college students. Teachers have different ideas about how to do this. A friend of mine says he likes to pick up a paper and say that it feels like it weighs like about a 17 out of 20. Personally, I think the only totally fair system is to beat students at random back into the state of unconsciousness I just woke them up from. Failing that, the only right-thinking way is to evaluate them on the basis of how many trees deserved to die to produce this shit. Usually it’s no more than a couple of twigs, which isn’t so bad in China, since the composition paper generally looks like students wrote on the membrane of an egg. I’ve also thought about just marking them down based on how many vowels they use, since I consider those blasphemous. And no one should get higher than a 70%, since if the Communist Party is only giving Mao himself a C- that’s got to be the upper limit.

Unfortunately, my institute has some quality-control rubbish called “marking meetings” where they try to ensure we are all grading papers according to the same standard, as if it weren’t all subjective anyway, as if, as if, as if… On the other hand, almost every expatriate in China seems to get drawn at one time or another into an interminable discussion about the beauty standards of different cultures. I think marking meetings would have a more useful application here in getting us to all agree on who’s beautiful and who’s a dog. It would be great to see people negotiating over half a point here and a quarter of a point there: “We have to agree that she passes, but the range can only be 11.5 to 12, nothing higher!”