a gabby schulz & ken dahl internet repository
Updated: December 18, 2015 by gabby
i’m not sure it’s just a postmodern condition, though. we definitely have many interlocking layers of falsehood that separate us from authentic experience, but didn’t that begin with urbanity?
i’m getting a wee bit obsessed with sumerian literature, or what we know of it; there are all these clues that even the ruling class knew they were making a dire trade, that they knew this deliberate choice of city-building was tipping the scale.
even so, back when civ was still new enough that people thought about its consequences, they totally sold their own righteousness back to themselves like we do. the only difference i see is that postmodernism has streamlined self-reflexivity and compartmentalization to the point that its origins are obfuscated, making this detachment seem like the only possible reality.
this is quality comics — my genuine gratitude to you!
i agree it’s a tired record that we’ve been playing for a while.
i think the rulers are always very familiar with the reality of just how nightmarish their decisions are, and how many layers of bullshit they need to pass this truth through before it’s fed to the people who collect their fortunes & fluff their comfy pillows. like the US “founding fathers” were def cool with basing a state’s economy on slavery because they saw how well it worked for the romans (and the greeks, and the eqyptians, and the babylonians, and the sumerians…) — but you can’t come out & just tell everyone that. any aspiring empire-ruler who has read 2 books on the subject knows you need MagicReasonsTM — like aw shucks, slavery sux but that’s just the way life is! or, oh it’s ok bcs the slaves aren’t as human as us, also they don’t mind. or, hey these assholes want to steal our freedom so if we don’t steal their freedom they’re going to steal our freedom so in a way you could say that stealing their freedom is the only realistic way for us to stay free bcs freedom isn’t free.
and when i say “postmodern” i mean it in the david harvey sense, which i love, which is “just a more virulent, hopeless version of The Same Old Shit.” aka Modernism, the Sequel. which is itself just picking up the nightmarish circular logic of Empire from where the last assholes dropped it, dusting it off, & giving it a new coat of paint. the story of human progress seems to just be the story of shaping & improving a single, hideous, crude weapon to look more & more like something we don’t mind having pointed at us.
also i totally agree about the streamlined self-reflexivity. it’s hella gross & also the assumptions that it’s universal or eternal or even “natural” are all creepy af.
yeah, i really can’t handle it when anyone says, “you can’t blame people for being of their time.” so “being of their time” is apparently the only justification we need to exert violent will, to dehumanize and enslave, to gain material benefit from the destitution of others and the degradation of the natural environment. oops, sorry, we didn’t know any better!
i agree that people have always known the luxuries of civilization are bought with the suffering of others. in those early days of agriculture, all its inherent costs would have required an explanation, and it would be completely unsurprising if spoken language was initially developed simply for use as propaganda.
but then we have to ask (albeit uselessly) why it even came to that, why did humans develop in this way, to force biological evolution into technological revolution. some people (maybe only technophiles) make it out to be inescapable because of our ability (curse) to abstract concepts, but that’s dancing with biological determinism. maybe it has something to do with our predatory food web, if killing for nourishment mixes with consciousness to potentially morph into greed. it’s a rabbit-hole of speculation.
does harvey link our current condition with the deeper roots of urbanization? i remember that in The Condition of Postmodernity, there’s a lot about our concepts of space and time in relation to economics, which were all totally a part of early civ, but i don’t recall that he pointedly discusses it. that book is so good, though, i should prob just take the time to read it again.
it is really hard to scrape any positivity from daily life. i don’t know where to find it or how to cope without a sense of redemption, especially when the models for it are exactly as you depict… it requires a softening of focus. “and the senses being dulled are mine…”
ok, now i’m just windbagging, but this is vitally interesting to me. it’s something i don’t get to talk to many people about.
yeah, reading “ancient” roman writers like Seneca and Suetonius and Cicero about these topics, these dudes all seem eerily current; it is soooo fucking obvious that they were just as aware of how society works as we are, & also just as cogdissy (since they wanted to keep their sweet gigs).
romans also argued (in writing lol) a lot about how written language is an insidious & deceptive tool of power (while spending a huge amount of time developing it, standardizing it, forcing it on people, & using it to create new & more rigid social hierarchies).
harvey does actually spend a lot of time on urbanity, especially as it’s expressed through architecture; his conclusions are pretty mellow though (since mostly he’s just comparing pomo to modernism, not to all civ, i guess).
justifications for optimism are definitely in short supply these days, even for us decadent aristocrats of this planet’s latest, largest, last empire. although ironically, what makes it hardest for me to lighten up is everyone else’s hardcore inability to be just a little bit more depressed about *gestures generally* all this hideousness
the greeks did that, too. which i guess is a fairly common response when a culture faces technological “advancement.” there are some warnings against diving headlong into this new thing, but then somehow we find ourselves doing exactly that. then, the next thing comes along, and we’ve already forgotten that we could question the validity of its predecessor.
and, oh man, i do remember harvey taking apart van der rohe. i got to see one those buildings the last time i was in chicago. it’s one of those cubes with no opening windows (and originally no blinds) that becomes a furnace in the summer. but, boy, doesn’t it look tidy.
yeah, i used to find solace in the woods. it definitely still makes me feel better to simply be in the non-built environment, but i can’t shake the sensation of impending loss.
I feel too intellectually intimidated to join in this discussion.
But I did enjoy the comic very much.
we are pretentious af
you just called anyone who enjoys anything stupid. It’s embarrassing how you think you are the smartest person ever. That is why people think of you as the way you drew yourself in the last comic.
that’s not how i read this, and i think you may have missed the point here.
these concepts became clearer for me after reading radical feminist theory (germaine greer is a good place to start, or, if you’re ready for the heavies, go right to dworkin or firestone) as well as situationist theory (an especially good summary is sadie plant’s the most radical gesture, which is better than a lot of what the situationists themselves wrote). then, if you want to get into the whole mess of civilization, anything by john zerzan will get you started. i highly recommend if you haven’t already read this sort of stuff.
i tend to read gabby’s comics through the lens of these cultural critiques, and it often helps me connect complicated ideas.
What’s REALLY embarrassing is how an irrational fear of being made to look dumb has caused you to leave comments that actually do make you look dumb. Shot.
I actually have read a lot of those works, and have also found it possible to understand them without thinking I’m smarter than everyone else.
if i’m the smartest person ever, then lard help everyone else. don’t you also feel, as you walk through the world these days, like your intelligence is constantly being insulted, and your humanity is constantly being degraded? don’t you also feel like empathy has become culturally extinct in the final stages of a really brutal society cannibalizing itself? don’t you start to feel like all this good-times face-forward optimism is really just performance from a bunch of terrified opportunists who know their two remaining choices are bootlicking or the gulag? doesn’t realizing all that, yet having no outlet for it, ever make you feel a little lonely and claustrophobic?
how exactly am i supposed to respond to Galt Baby, anyway?
i don’t think the problem is about intelligence. anyone who’s listened to NPR knows there’s plenty of “intelligent” people who are still capable of deluding themselves about some really simple concepts to chase a buck or a smug sense of satisfaction — about like, i dunno, some bullshit about US military hegemony being about “democracy” and not genocide, for-profit prisons, & a global system of black-ops torture. this is expressed to us in a thousand different ways a day, and we choke it down as normal, and it’s exhausting and it’s tacky. if me pointing all this out (in an extremely watered-down, simple, brief way) makes me more elitist than, say, Galt Baby, then all that’s left is for us all to turn out the lights & climb up onto the sacrificial altar. there’s nothing left.
i think about this upton sinclair quote a lot these days: “it is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” that man isn’t dumb; he’s just caught up in a nightmare. maybe he’s also just a bit selfish; but who can blame him, in a culture that only rewards the most ruthless excesses of narcissism and materialism?
maybe i’m an idiot for thinking cartoons like this would make people feel better; either way it sure helps my mental state to draw them.
For what it’s worth, your cartoons make me feel better.
Simply because it’s good to know that someone else notices the way things are and struggles with what they see. Most of my time is spent around people who seem oblivious to so much of what’s around them and when trying to relate to them I often start to feel as though my own perceptions of reality are entirely incorrect.
And as cartoons they’re a pleasure. I think you express your thoughts with style, clarity and humor.
PS i was drunk when i wrote the enormous comment above
fair enough. i still say that isn’t the point, though.
he didn’t say people are stupid for “enjoying anything” as you assert. it’s about being fed lies by our culture and the difficulty in resisting those (delicious & titillating) lies. so, if you’re familiar with the situationists, you well know about spectacle. if everyone else around you is consuming it, producing it, celebrating it, and shunning you for not doing the same, it makes life in society extremely difficult. it’s also painful to care for people who refuse to see it for what it is. that’s what this comic is saying imo.
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