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message 1: by Tentatively, (last edited Dec 02, 2008 06:18AM) (new)

Tentatively, Convenience (tentativelyaconvenience) | 128 comments Mod
Given that we're Cognitive Dissidents, I'm sure that there're plenty of philosophies & anecdotes amongst us regarding Holy Days - esp given that some of us are in the midst of That-Time-Of-The-Year.

Let's start w/ Thanksgiving. Most people I know who're somewhat politically conscious have critiques of almost every so-called Holyday & Thanksgiving's no exception. Here's a holiday that I was probably taught originated in North-Eastern (what's now) USA celebrating a feast held between settlers/invaders from Europe & the people who were indigenous at the time. In the Wikipedia entry I find "Though the holiday's origins can be traced to harvest festivals which have been celebrated in many cultures since ancient times, the American holiday has religious undertones related to the deliverance of the English settlers by Native Americans after the brutal winter at Plymouth, Massachusetts." Turkey's eaten b/c turkeys were passing thru the area at the time &, therefore, available to be hunted.

It all seems peaceful & friendly enuf (except for the turkeys) - people native to a land helping newcomers in good fashion. Alas, obviously, a history of imperialistic & racist genocide of the indigenous has followed ever since & continues to this day in the draconian persecution surrounding 'Indian' reservations. As such, the descendents of the native attendees of the 1st 'Thanksgiving' don't have much to be thankful for. The natives helped the settlers survive & the settlers fluorished into a dominant culture of genocidal maniacs.

Regardless of how many of us feel about its origins, Thanksgiving's still celebrated by most people I know just as a good excuse to have a gathering of relatives & friends around a sumptuous meal.

So what did I do that day? I stayed home by myself. Usually my mom calls around 11AM to wish me Happy Thanksgiving & this day I was relieved when she didn't. I hate the Pavlovian predictability of it all. Nonetheless, that cd've been taken as a sign that my stepdad's sicknesses had taken a more deathly turn so I wondered. She did call at 12:30ish & I learned that my stepdad's not as sick as he might be. My sister (a missionary type who I don't get along w/) & one of her daughters were visiting my mom & stepdad for dinner.

Here's where it gets funny. I'm almost completely estranged from my family, I've never had much in common w/ them, I don't like being around them & avoid them almost entirely. They're Christians & I despise Christinanity & Islam as 2 of the biggest thought-suppressing plagues on the planet. I'm on the phone w/ my mom & she tells me that my sister has some artist friends in Atlanta who have a group called something like The Creative Circus. My mom excitedly tells me that these folks told my sister that I'm a "famous artist" & that I'm their "hero'!

Now, what's funny about this is that my family has always been appalled by almost everything about me. Now, however, that I'm 55 yrs old & they're told that I'm "famous" & a "hero" it suddenly has the imprimatur of some implied public acceptance - making me somehow 'glamorous' as a result. "I guess you're ok, someone ELSE likes you!" - that sort of mentality.

Back to my Thanksgiving: that was my only call that day. I reckon that many people feel like this on 'holydays': these are days of community but there're a shitload of alienated people like myself out there who spend the day(s) alone b/c they have no family that they want to be w/ & few friends to speak of. I've never been much a part of communities, I'm a subculture of one. Anyway, I felt lonely - even though I cd've probably gone to a neighborhood feast & been welcome enuf & even though I HAD been to a friend's place for what was effectively a communal meal in the spirit of an alternative to Thanksgiving the Saturday before.

AND I spent the day as I wanted to: working on editing a HiTEC vaudeo, witnessing movies.. that sort of thing. In particular I checked out 2 Troma Team Presents selections - partially b/c I met Lloyd Kaufman, of Troma, recently when I projected a recent movie of his at the Andy Warhol Museum. I was impressed by him, I liked him, I developed an interest in Troma that I'd never had before.

The movies?: maybe I watched "I Spit on Your Corpse" & "The Capture of Bigfoot". Now I expected to not like them much but I rediscovered that many 'exploitation' films have political subtexts that're unexpectedly pleasing to me - in the midst of a plentitude of tits, of course. "I Spit on Your Corpse" (originally titled "Girls for Rent") has a porn star as a main character.

It's a attempt to capitalize off the success of the director's movie of several yrs previous: "Satan's Sadists" (wch I'd probably checked out the day before). In the midst of the sex & violence that's what mostly attracts people to these things there's some positioning of minority anti-heros as beacons of sanity. In "Satan's Sadists", it's the 'halfbreed' (hate that term) "Firewater" - he's a member of the motorcycle gang b/c it's probably the only social group that'll accept him but he's ultimately opposed to the dominant sadism. In "I Spit on Your Corpse", there's a black woman who's a mob enforcer but, again, she's opposed to her counterpart's sadism & murderous behavior.

That might not seem like much, but in a society as racist as our own, having movies liked this aimed at a 'low-brow' audience have any sortof subtext in wch minorities are depicted as relatively 'sane' is something to be THANKFUL for - so I was THANKFUL on Thanksgiving.

Shit, I even liked the bigfoot movie. It seemed obvious that it was made by someone who wanted to make a movie in the snowy region he either lived in or frequented. There were nature shots of owls & deer & rabbits - just the environment was interesting for me. AND, once again, as w/ "Satan's Sadists", Native Americans were presented as wise & a capitalist businessman was the bad guy. The bigfoot were the sympathetic characters. So I was thankful for that. Exploitation movies that make an attempt at reversing the disrespectful attitudes against 'American Indians'.

What else? Well.. the next day I was at the Warhol & I saw my friend Leslie. She told me that she'd thought of calling me on Thanksgiving but she decided something to the effect that I, unlike her, probably had better things to do. She figured she was the only person she knows who spent the day alone at home. Ha ha! Just knowing that someone was even THINKING about calling me was enuf to cheer me. She, too, had had ONE phone call - from her mom; she, too, cd've gone to a friend's place but didn't; she, too, decided to stay home - but probably felt a twinge of loneliness..


message 2: by Brian (new)

Brian | 16 comments First, I want to say that I intend to join in again here when I can and have been thinking about lots of posts but am just too busy right now. I recently submitted a scientific paper and my doctoral thesis and my youngest child is teething, which means no sleep. Anyway, on to the good stuff:

I have always wanted to see "Satan's Sadists" because I used to have a minor fascination/obsession with Russ Tamblyn for some reason. He acted in that film. I find him an interesting guy. He was a highly successful young actor, being a lead in West Side Story and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. He was a gymnast and an acrobat and naturally talented with no formal dance training. He developed his own characteristic acrobatic style of dancing which made him famous. Then he made "High School Confidential", which is a great B-movie.

After that he disappeared and everyone assumed he had drug problems. It turns out he was an artist and wanted to focus on art. He was in on the ground floor of some of the stuff happening in the late 50's and early 60's (60-65 being arguably the most interesting part of that phenomenon). So he did his art and then only made movies occasionally for money to support this. Thus Satan's Sadists and Battle of the Gargantuans (a movie I adored when I was about 8 - I still love those giant monster movies). He finally resurfaced as the psychologist in Twin Peaks and did more acting, I believe. In any event, it spurred my memories.

Since we have children we try to focus on pagan origins of the holidays. It is interesting here in Northern Europe where many of these traditions come from. They were essentially absorbed by Christianity as it attempted to colonize that sector of the collective psyche. A good example is the christmas tree, a clearly pagan type of ornament. At least we use this to justify our tree. I am sure there are plenty of good arguments against any adherence to these rituals (now rituals of consumerism), but I also think celebrating is good. And hell, the birthday of Mithras (basically, the sun) is as good a thing to celebrate as anything else.

More to come soon.


message 3: by [deleted user] (last edited Dec 02, 2008 04:09PM) (new)

I want to title this response to tENT's & Brian's comments above "The Holly Daze"-- the import of which should become clear, I hope, through the course & meander of my own thoughts upon the subject. Presumably, as tENT notes, derived from the expression, "the holy days"-- & even if not-- the validity of such a derivation should seem warranted-- as Brian suggests above-- by the pagan (ie sacred) origins of this only apparently disconnected string of seasonal events-- the word itself has lost both the declarative & performative efficacy which once served as symbol of the season's enactment of primordial chaos-- the fecund ambiguity between creation & destruction capable of both initiating change & sowing the seed which ensures the continuation & continuity of the cyclical process of life.

The disconnectedness of the seasonal holidays as they appear in their christianized iconographies re-embedded in structures of exchange whose obvious telos is to reabsorb the desire for excess, the habituation of segmented leisure, & the human need for communitas back into the workings of capital, obscure the cross-cultural commonality of the human experience of the winter festival-- its gracious reprieve from the mundane toil of merely useful labor-- its generous embrace of human connectedness to the order, disorder, repetition, & singularity of cosmos.

I. The Fallow & the Fecund.

From a pragmatic & utilitarian perspective, the cross-cultural ubiquity of the winter festival season can be regarded as a function of the organization of human labor within an agrarian economy-- spring; the time of tilling & sowing; summer; the season for growing & beginning harvest; fall, the end of harvest, the grinding & preservation season, the time of gathering; winter, the respite from such work--but marked the time in which human connection to the natural world could be seen as least hospitable-- bereft of light & pitiless, if one were unprepared for the fallow of the soil.

So, in so-called "primitive" cultures, the time of the festive season is by necessity lengthy & continuous--a period of intermingling rituals & events whose interrelations are not lost upon those who practice & perform them. The summoning & gathering of spirits tied to the events of the feast. Feasting days linked to ceremonies of excessive exchange (such as the potlatch). Parodies of utilitarian exchange, batter, theft, & warfare, bound to the rites of intoxication & the transcendence of ordinary consciousness. & these rites in turn spilling over into the orgiastic & the sacrificial.

Within such economies, one can say that the sum of such individual events (the advent of the sacred time-- the sacred itself-- or the "holy"-- as I will later define it) is clearly greater than the sum of its parts. Today, an obscuring separateness marks the relationships between these so-called holidays.

The devolution of samhain ("summer's sunset") into Halloween ("all hallows' even") marks more than a nominal shift away from the connection to season, cycle, & nature-- in fact, the "eve" itself suggests a subordination of the feast & celebration to a time of attrition & atonement-- the deformation of the concept of sacrifice into the form of relinquishment of sin, practice of austerity, & all of the other prudences honored in the schema of christian virtue. The profundity of its opening to the hidden world revealed to the shamans lost in the parodic form of its mythos of ghosts, broom-riding witches, & smiling jack-o-lanterns-- its iconography of spiders & bats replacing the felt sense of descent into chaos & abyss. Trick-or-treat hardly sensed as the performance of a ritualized & symbolic theft which transforms & ambiguates the concept of wealth-- but rather a sort of pedagogy for the accumulation of meaningless "treasure"-- in which children play at acquiring reward. (Recall Charlie Brown's disappointment in the Charles Schultz cartoon: "I got a rock." Why should a rock not act as symbol in such a rite just as effectively as a piece of candy? Only because the symbolism itself has been effaced-- the reward must be sweet-- addictive even-- inspire the quest for further accumulation.

The aspect of feast equally obscured by the mythos surrounding thanksgiving; communitas & the ritual of gift-giving obscured by the domestication of christmas into yet another excuse for pointless consumption & acquisition of goods; new year's even, the parody of the dance of intoxication, valentine's day transformed into the opposite of the mystic bacchanal-- now as a day in which individuals reveal their desires through chocolate coated cherries, heart-shaped pieces of paper-- or worse: in messages inscribed in hallmark greeting cards.

Once upon a time, in the absence of the sun's light, fires of human creativity were kept burning for periods which lasted until its return. Today the lights go up on the tree & the house for christmas alone-- though the sky continues to provide us a reason for allowing them to burn on further.


message 4: by [deleted user] (last edited Dec 02, 2008 04:22PM) (new)

II. Et in Arcadia-- Ergon.

I take the significant of the obscuring of these relationships, these connections, to be profound-- & profoundly anti-human-- in ways a bit difficult for me to describe. I'll attempt to unravel some of this in the following discourse.

Beyond the fulfillment of needs originating from the instinct to survive-- which are matters of practical & utilitarian concern, humans beings are also defined by the need for connectivity (among themselves & to the cosmos of which they are a part). The expression of such a need for connectedness is manifest in the creation of meaning. Creation is the operative term here, because, I believe, to feel the spirit of this connectedness, the isolated individual must feel herself to be an active agent in the process of making & interpreting it. In other words: meaning cannot be acquired or accumulated from an extant code of cultural givens, however "fixed" the symbolic codes of a given culture might seem to be--it must be summoned, worked with & through until it is brought into accord with one's own sense of the making-- that one is the fashioner-- or "doer" of this meaning & value-- that it is intrinsic to oneself & coextensive with one's freedom to be, to chose, to act, perform, find, discover, transform, & enact. Which is not to say that "meaning" in the sense that I am using it, springs independently from the head or heart of the meaning-maker apart from the codes, grammars, symbols, & discourses of the culture(s) in which the meaning-maker finds herself-- to create meaning is to act within the social nexus-- a collaborative gesture-- a reaching into & a reaching out. Still, & perhaps paradoxically, to truly be a part of something, I must find my own independence within it.

The automaton belongs to nothing, not even to the herd, because he loses himself in it-- loses his ability to create & transfigure new meanings from given codes, pre-fabricated roles, & dictated rewards & desires.

The "holy days"-- however attached to religious baggage the expression might seem-- recognizes this basic human metaphysics-- exceeding the utility of the strictly ergic-- the domain of practical employment-- the modes of sustaining & surviving-- & passes through chaos & cosmos into a dimension of change, transformation, growth, renewal-- into process: an awareness that, however slowly & tediously, I am moving toward something, & so are you, so is she, & this other as well.

At this higher level of abstraction, the distinction between the work of making meaning and the work of survival, embodied in the distinction of the winter festival season from the rest of the year, represents the difference between open-ended becoming & emerging through & into the world & mere being in the world. In it, I perform the opportunity to collaborate in the composition of a yet unfinished business of cooperative understanding & reaching into.

This is a very different sort of distinction than the one we have between "work" & "leisure," in which "leisure"-- my (admittedly very few) days away from work provide the reward for my displeasure in the role to which I am assigned by economic necessity. In turn, within that limited time-space of my leisure, my pleasures & opportunities are predefined by cultural codes & norms designating that I consume & acquire objects & symbols so remote from myself that I drift further into my own alienation-- leading to an accelerated fixation upon acquiring & accumulating still more of nothing in a frustrated attempt to lessen my sense of anxiety & alienation within the cycle of such an empty & "meaning-less" system. A sort of downward spiral of addictive consumption hopelessly fueled by the desire to escape such alienation.

Hence, leisure time is merely the continuation of the social hierarchy through the organization of ergonomics by alternate means. Suitably fitting that the year's busiest shopping day should be referred to as "black friday." Black, in the terms I am using here, not signifying "out of the red," but the shadow of day without either sun or light of human meaning-making-- the day in which communitas is eclipsed by the survival-drive of capital itself-- in which the competition for "bargains" in the race of acquisition results in the convocation of nearly everyone & the conversation of no one.

Each of the anointed days of our holiday season have been re-inscribed within this dichotomy, the distraction between "work" & "leisure"-- so that the meaning of the separation discussed above-- between survival & meaning can be sufficiently eradicated. Each holiday is our heavenly reward for the time of laborious drudgery-- the promised "beyond" that allows us to forget & forgive the fact that we can no longer recall the "holiness" given to our belonging to the world-- to our doing in it-- that the work in collaborating the making of such a vision of the world requires more than a single day (in which, if afforded, we would presumably prefer to recover in sleep) off from the "work" in which we are only either stolen from or learn to steal in order to sustain the demonic god of capital.

So, in more than a metaphorical way, each of our dispossessed holidays--our interludes of promised "arcadia"-- is its own "Black Friday"--its own ergonomachina.

III. The Holly Daze.

Wikipedia provides the following: "Between the thirteenth and eighteenth century, before the introduction of turnips, holly was cultivated for use as winter fodder for cattle and sheep." An apt metaphor for my discourse of the appropriation of the "pagan" winter festivals which should be part of all of our collective heritage. Dazzling-- & only apparently pointless-- serving a real & powerful ideological function today-- in the way that the invention of heaven & the afterlife has always served to distract us from the truth that it is the world that we live in which is holy & transcendental-- if these terms can have any meaning whatsoever following centuries of their abuse & misuse.

To rediscover that world, to live in & appreciate its moments-- yes, I agree emphatically with both tENT & Brian-- one must search above & beyond, beneath & without, over, under, sideways down, from & between what the holidays have so unfortunately come to mean, come to mask, come to dazzle & come to reward.

Lights until the groundhog shadows, & after to the first of May.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

IV. Relatives & Certainties.

So, following the pretentious diatribe I've expressed above, a brief interlude into the personal. I had Thanksgiving day off this year, the first in three years-- so for that I was thankful. As I begin a new job this Wednesday, I had Monday & today off as well--for which I am nearly as thankful, since that allowed me a few hours in which to write-- both the posts above & a few brief segments of poetry.

Like tENT, I am nearly completely estranged from the members of my natal family-- & perhaps somewhat thankful for that as well-- for reasons too complex & disheartening to delve into here. So Lori & I spent Thanksgiving with her sister & family-- particularly enjoyable since we haven't had the opportunity to visit with our nephews for several weeks. I actually cooked a 22 lb turkey, which both of our families feasted on for the course of the next few days. Our oldest nephew graced us with a sort of performance piece-- whose theme, to the extent that I could follow it, centered on the idea of change, growth, & transition abiding within the endurance of love. The younger one followed with his own rendition-- which he marvelously transmogrified into a kind of dada-jabberwocky. Inspired by both, I performed a sort of quasi-holiday version of Kurt Schwitters' "London Onion"-- perhaps somewhat ironically since no onions were served through the course of the meal.

I did have to return for my final day of work on black friday-- for which I am somewhat less than thankful. Since my duties involved job-coaching in the setting of a major department store, I received the full onslaught of the competitive & somewhat ruthless spirit of the busiest shopping day of the year. My biggest concern was for the safety of my client-- who was unfortunately assigned to maintaining the parking lot-- bustling with hurried, distracted, & inattentive holiday shoppers. Fortunately, we had only one close call, & both of us managed to survive the event. & for that, again, I am most certainly thankful.


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