Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Bag

(Continued from Stupefaction!)

At this one particular late night cafe I ask the elegantly dressed old women in her seventies, a former fashion designer, now with nowhere to go, no place to sleep, what the young, black fellow is writing she is friendly with, also with no place to go, no place to sleep, who sets out on his table stacks of paper, and she replies, offended, do I think she is so presumptuous, intrusive on the privacy of others? I ask the old woman, did she know, when did curiosity about others become a crime?' She gives back to me the question:
- Do you?
- Had to be when the public relations industry had achieved its goal of getting people to see themselves as types identified by the objects they possess.
- When was that?
- Complete success? That has to be the honor of our very own moment in time.
- That's just your opinion.
- Yes, but an opinion tested against experience.
- Your experience.
- My experience which sometimes is general. I'll give you an example. Yesterday I was playing with these ideas* I had about the president: that his paradoxical mixture of brutal authoritarianism and cowering politeness could be explained as the two phases of a self-learning process applied to politics. First phase, experiment with violent gestures that bring people together with him in his crusade to save the country from its enemies. Second phase, sharing credit with his people for setting out with him in the nobility of their cause; these people, his cohorts, who otherwise have nothing in common and need not, only their willingness to take on with him whatever new-fashioned crusade he comes up with: this power sharing expressed in - apparently incompatible in a dictator - forms of politeness. So you think, I'm sure, this is extremely abstract and removed from reality.
- I do think that.
- Then strange isn't that that very afternoon, I'm at the Hammer Museum courtyard with my computer, a free movie is being projected in the auditorium and I think, why not take a look? I'm stopped in the lobby by the young woman usher who tells me my bag is too big, I can't come in with it. Standing just by the theater's entrance is a sign on a pedestal that declares bags larger than itself have to be checked in at the museum front desk. Before going in I'd held my bag up to the sign and it easily fit within its boundaries. I told the young woman this. She answered:

- It's too thick.
- No thickness limit is mentioned on the sign.
- It's too thick.
- So there is a limit.
- Yes.
- What is it?
- Your bag is too thick.
- If there is no rule how do you know it is too thick?
- There is a rule.
- What is it? Where is it published?
- Somewhere, I'm sure.
- Is the limit 5 inches? 6 inches?
- Your bag's too thick.
- But if you don't know the limit how do you know there is one?
- Sir, you can't come in with your bag.

At this point a security guard appears. In his thirties, speaking English with an African accent. He tells me:

- Sir, you have to check in your bag.
- What rule are you following in making that demand?
- What does that matter? I told you: you can't take in the bag.
- It matters to me.
- Why?
- Because it means something. Explains things. Maybe explains everything.
- Explains everything? I don't know what you are talking about. You can't take in your bag.
- Explains our times' politics. Here you are from one of those places our president calls shithole countries, with nothing in common with this young woman here - I guess a student become debt slave to pay for her education - nothing in common with each other except seeming to have had all individuality stamped out of you and an unaccountable relish in enforcing meaningless rules.
- The job pays my rent.
- And her job her student loans.
- You have to leave, sir. You can't take your bag in.
- And there is the threat of violence!
- Please leave, sir.
* Stupefaction