Dreams, by Eduardo Galeano

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7 November

One night in 1619, when Rene Descartes was still quite young, he dreamed all night long.

As he told it, in the first dream he was bent over, unable to straighten up, struggling to walk against a fierce wind that propelled him toward school and church.

In the second dream a bolt of lightning knocked him out of bed and the room filled up with sparks that illuminated everything in sight.

And in the third he opened an encyclopedia, looking for a way to live his life, but those pages were missing.

*Trans. by Mark Fried

Sergio Pitol on books

The book accomplishes a multitude of tasks, some superb, others deplorable; it dispenses knowledge and misery, illuminates and deceives, liberates and manipulates, exalts and humbles, creates or cancels the options of life. Without it, needless to say, no culture would be possible. History would disappear, and our future would be cloaked in dark, sinister clouds. Those who hate books also hate life. No matter how impressive the writings of hatred may be, the printed word for the most part tips the balance toward light and generosity. Don Quixote will always triumph over Mein Kampf. As for the humanities and the sciences, books will continue to be their ideal space, their pillars of support.

 

Pitol, Sergio, trans by George Henson. The Magician of Vienna, Deep Vellum Publishing, Dallas: 6. 

notes from Fraser (2019)

fright

Determined to unshackle market forces from the heavy hand of the state and the millstone of ‘tax and spend,’ the classes that led the [pre-Trump progressive-neoliberal] bloc aimed to liberalize and globalize the capitalist economy. What that meant, in reality, was financialization: dismantling barriers to, and protections from, the free movement of capital; deregulating banking and ballooning predatory debt; deindustrializing; weakening unions; and spreading precarious, badly paid work. Popularly associated with Ronald Reagan but substantially implemented and consolidated by Bill Clinton, these policies hollowed out working-class and middle-class living standards while transferring wealth and value upward—chiefly to the one percent, of course, but also to the upper reaches of the professional-managerial classes.[1]

This is the genesis of Occupy Wall Street that didn’t homogenize and died publicly humiliated on the streets of Everywhere, America. It was unorganized and nowhere near as thoughtful and ordered as those it tried to engage in conflict.

To achieve hegemony, the emerging progressive-neoliberal bloc had to defeat two different rivals. First, it had to vanquish the…remnants of the New Deal coalition…in place of a historic bloc that had successfully united organized labor, immigrants, African Americans, the urban middle classes, and some factions of big industrial capital for several decades, they forged a new alliance of entrepreneurs, bankers, suburbanites, ‘symbolic workers,’ new social movements, Latinos, and youth…Campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1991-92, Bill Clinton won the day by talking the talk of diversity, multiculturalism, and women’s rights even while preparing to walk the walk of Goldman Sachs.[2]

I was uneducated and witnessed my grandmother grandstand for the challenger, her photo printed on the front page of the local paper as an adoring fan holding a sign with teeth gleaming in the first few rows. Latina and Ute, she felt she finally had her pale-faced champion.

Progressive neoliberalism also had to defeat a second competitor, with which it shared more than it let on. The antagonist in this case was reactionary neoliberalism…While claiming to foster small business and manufacturing, reactionary neoliberalism’s true economic project centered on bolstering finance, military production, and extractive energy, all to the principal benefit of the global one percent. What was supposed to render that palatable for the base it sought to assemble was an exclusionary vision of a just status order: ethnonational, anti-immigrant, and pro-Christian, if not overtly racist, patriarchal, and homophobic.[3]

The mutation of the republican party from tea party and freedom caucus-influenced to co-option by Trumpism. Either get fired in humiliating fashion, adopt the disgusting and disrobing policies, or, if you’re lucky, get out by the skin of your back.

The rust belt region, along with newer industrial centers in the South, took a major hit thanks to the triad of Bill Clinton’s policies: The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the accession of China to the World Trade Organization, (justified, in part, as promoting democracy), and the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which loosened regulations on banking. Together, those policies and their successors ravaged communities that had relied on manufacturing.[4]

I like to think the thoughtful folks of my generation, if voter-aged, would have been so outraged by Glass-Steagall that the idea of its passage would have been constitutional and democratic sacrilege. But we had no idea. Sacrilege, as we found out, was wasted forethought. Democracy and constitution were words.

An African American who spoke of ‘hope’ and ‘change’ ascended to the presidency [in 2008], vowing to transform not just policy but also the entire ‘mindset’ of American politics. Barack Obama might have seized the opportunity to mobilize mass support for a major shift away from neoliberalism, even in the face of congressional opposition. Instead, he entrusted the economy to the very Wall Street forces that had nearly wrecked it…Obama lavished enormous cash bailouts on banks that were ‘too big to fail’ but [he] failed to do anything remotely comparable for their victims: the 10 million Americans who lost their homes to foreclosure during the crisis…All told, the overwhelming thrust of his presidency was to maintain the progressive-neoliberal status quo, despite its declining popularity.[5]

I worked two jobs seven days a week during this time, one of them for two years at a foreclosure law firm. I saw an average of 100 foreclosures cross my desk each day for one state alone for at least one of those years.

President Trump’s policies have diverged altogether from candidate Trump’s campaign promises. Not only has his economic populism vanished, his scapegoating has grown ever more vicious. What his supporters voted for, in short, is not what they got.[6]

I disagree. Each day another hundred supporters are won. Trumpism is a reaction just as the news cycle is a reaction. Each creates a dialogue of re-reaction in a culture of continuous faux-action. The real action is the reaction, and thus the philosophy is based on re-reaction.

[1] Fraser, Nancy. The Old is Dying and the New Cannot be Born: From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump and Beyond, Verso Books, London, 2019: 12.

[2]Ibid, 15.

[3]Ibid, 16.

[4]Ibid, 17.

[5]Ibid, 19-20.

[6]Ibid, 26.

Pharaoh and servant

What can I do for you this night, master? asked the servant, kneeling before his Pharaoh.

The master paced the tile in shadow, free of headdress, as he preferred.

Arid breezes and swirling garments.

On cloudy nights they ceased their disciplined adjustment of mirrors that

sucked moonlight deep beneath the pyramids

where men and women worked tirelessly in deep chambers

and bacchanals flowed like wine through the night,

poets dawdling by candlelight, observing all.

 

On clear nights, servants were assigned to each mirror station.

The poets admired their discipline but not their fawning

or their status as servants.

A subterranean culture of nocturnal diggers, morticians, freaks, insomniacs.

Most worked through dawn, a manic colony of human ants

exploiting the desert

meeting it, absorbing it, becoming it.

Darkness and mystery deep as history and tradition.

 

Bring me a wife, said the Pharaoh.

His eyes burned in the half-light. The servant departed.

Myrrh and cinnamon on the breeze, hot as day.

Moonlight battled cotton clouds of aquamarine, gray, white.

What will become us, wondered the Pharaoh.

hunter/hunted

Lakeview

I hauled twenty-three loads this week, he said. I’m drinkin til I pass out.

We hefted oversized mugs of gold beer to our faces. The manager and bartender eyed us. A racist-sounding country singer drawled from the overhead speaker.

He said: Worst of em was Reno to Chicago. I rode a storm the whole way. Truck blowin this way and that.

His name was Nick and I met him at this shitty bar one hour and two mugs ago. Truckers are a lonely bunch. Nick came here to drink. I walked over from the stop because I was bored.

I said: I did twenty last week, so I feel you.

We’d started to settle into a drinking rhythm, a locomotive just catching full speed.

My wife’s asleep by now, he said, flipping his phone on the bar top.

We don’t ask after another trucker’s family, even if there’s something we want to know, even if we freely offer those details about ourselves. I looked at my watch.

Where you from? he asked.

We drank. I said: I’m from everywhere but right now I live in Vermont.

Vermont, he said, staring into the distance.

I noticed he was near done with his beer, so I gulped mine down. I motioned for the bartender to pour us another.

Nick said: Thanks.

You got the last one, I said.

Let me ask you, he said. You ever do time?

I thought it an odd question. Because I’m black? I wondered.

I made no expression, no movement.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha I’m just fuckin with you, man! he laugh-shouted, smacking my back.

I drank and nodded. This beer would be my last. Darkness at the windows kept me from seeing night in Spokane. It was almost closing on a Tuesday night. Only a few other losers wasted their time in the place. Most of them worked there.

I fuckin did time, he said, humorless. Then he distracted himself with the monitors above the bar and drank down half the mug. A minute passed and he turned his head toward me, his eyes shiny and unfocused.

He said: We should get a hooker and tag team her.

I smiled. I thought he was joking, but he was serious. He lowered his voice to a whisper.

I can get us something young, he said, drunk, looking over his shoulder, then mine. I know a guy here in Spokane.

His eyes reached for mine and landed. The skin on my back rippled to my shoulders, riding a wave to my scalp. Again I made no expression. I nodded solemnly and drank.

Young as you want, he whispered, looking back to the TVs above the bar.

I must have misunderstood him. What we talked about after that is blurry, indiscernible. I don’t know how I got back to my rig. Most of the trucks were gone when I woke at dawn.

I saw him again ten months later in Colorado Springs. I’d thought about him every day, wondering if I’d imagined the episode. I saw him refueling at a hauler station and reintroduced myself.

Oh yeah, he said, eyeing me suspiciously before shaking my hand. Snow and cold swarmed us.

Yeah I remember you, he said.

You need a coffee? I asked, motioning toward the cafe next door.

I said: I’m buying.

He nodded.

Once seated at the table we layered down and thawed and danced around small talk before he leaned in and whispered to me, his breath smoke and coffee, cold sores, rotten teeth.

Last time we talked, he said.

He squirmed in his chair.

In Spokane. I mention anything to you about —?

I looked at him and sipped the coffee.

He said: I don’t know how to put this.

We told each other we’d both done time, I said. That’s what I remember.

Yeah, he said, relief refracting about the asymmetry of his eyes.

He leaned back in his seat.

I said: We said to keep in touch and I never gave you my card.

I plucked a business card from the back of my iPhone and handed it to him. He handed me his card and I put it in my pocket without looking at it.

If you’re ever in Vermont, I said, shaking his hand outside the cafe.

I pulled his card from my pocket once back in the cabin of my truck.

Nick McKesson. Address in Louisville, Kentucky.

Weeks passed and I couldn’t forget him. His odor. I trained both body and technique with him in mind.

Negotiations with crew mates and surreptitious questions to office personnel yielded nothing to Kentucky. When I finally landed a shift to Louisville, the load was light as the spring rain and I drove as long and hard as law allowed. I arrived at dusk and took a cab to three blocks away from the address on Nick’s card. It was hot and humid on foot, but breezy.

I knocked on the building door, unsure of my purpose. It was a trucker warehouse with no lights on. I waited. Footsteps, then the door cracked open. His eyes: squinty and hard and uneven.

What’you want.

Nick, I said, my voice as non-threatening as possible. My body language was bad.

We don’t want none, he said, and closed the door.

You gave me your card, I said to the door. Vermont. Remember?

I waited and the door cracked open again. A fly wandered in.

He sent a hard, suspicious look.

Sorry, he said. Round here don’t get a lot of.

It’s cool, I said. Just stopped in to say hey. I was in Louisville and remembered your card. 

He nodded once, eyeing me.

Want a quick beer? I’m closing up.

Sure, I said, walking into the darkness after him.

Crazy you got me today, he said. I got in last night and I’m leavin in the morning.

The shop was empty of people and machines except one truck, likely his.

I said: I didn’t think anyone would be here.

He opened the refrigerator. Budweiser cans. I took one.

Just me, he said.

I don’t remember our conversation over the next several minutes as I drank the Budweiser. I was too far into my head. The can was empty and fragile in my hand.

Hey, I said, and paused.

I lied to you back in Colorado.

What? he said.

In Colorado, I said. I wasn’t honest with you.

What happened in Colorado? he said.

I remembered our conversation from Spokane, I said.

He was suspicious.

What’you talkin about, man? he said.

Then I hit him. All the attempts in my mind, all the square shots and the misses, the temple grazes, all the scenarios I’d played and replayed over the past eighteen months were nothing compared to the pulpy sensation of his nose and left cheekbone meeting the fist at the end of my right arm, bent slightly at the elbow as I leaned in lighting quick from the waist, a solid strike in any storm, any war, under any circumstances, just or unjust.

He staggered. He could take a punch. Adrenaline rocketed through his body and mind but mine was already in orbit. I pounced atop him with the other fist, then both. My physical shape and training made quick work. I knew what he was going to say when I arrived at the door, about not getting a lot of black folk around there. I thought about pissing on him but hit him once more instead. He lay there like the little girls he — I thought. Then I left.

Eviction

WWDNW

The writer who does not write arrived two days ago at dawn. He did not call ahead. He pulled a choking white pickup onto the driveway, unleashing a sonic assault from the neighborhood hounds. Into the house he skipped with his baggage and distractions. From one bag of tricks he pulled a television show designed to arrest two dozen hours of my attention. I told him to leave, that I didn’t want him around. He showed me a new engaging hobby to try. I told him to never return. He forced me into social obligations, he reminded me to exercise. I escaped to a secluded room in the house to read The Overstory by Richard Powers. I hoped my sudden and prolonged absence would drive him away. But he found me and interrupted my solace, he filled the room with balloons and feral animals. Finally I’d had enough and picked him up by his bloated habits and tossed him out to the April snow. Fuck off! I shouted, or he shouted.

campfire tales

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Three friends sat at a campfire in the dark beneath trees thrashing in the mountain wind. It was a cold night and had been a cold day during the search for the missing woman. Groups camping nearby had already doused their fires and retreated into tents for the night. The three friends by the fire took turns telling stories, huddled under blankets, with one friend recounting a tale from her youth in which she believed a ghost occupied her basement.

She said: I can’t express the doom I felt, the darkness inside my chest every time I went down there.

The second friend told a story about a small boat that set sail from her childhood town in Virginia and was never seen again. A storm had arrived just before the boat departed, and the vessel had likely been swallowed up.

She said: A handful of times through the years, and only at night, when the bay was particularly foggy, people have claimed to see the boat cutting through the water just off the shore, as if it were searching for land, searching for home, for a place to dock.

The third friend, the male in the group, spoke of an encounter that happened to him years earlier. He’d been repeatedly visited by a spirit as a child, he said.

He said: It wore a dark cloak and it was tall. Its face was always hidden in its hood. He — I don’t know why I assigned it a male identity — he would suddenly appear by my bedroom window and just stand there watching me. I was terrified in place, unable to move.

The man seated near the fire readjusted his body in the chair. He reached down for a thermos on the ground and hefted it to his mouth. Wind gusted at them, through them. The fire tossed orange ribbons and splashes of light into the air.

He said: The figure appeared at my window less frequently as I grew into adolescence. My life became more like a normal boy’s. I moved away from my childhood home and enrolled in college. Eventually I pushed those early experiences so far into the depths of my memory that I forgot about them entirely. I forgot about the figure and the terror he caused. I forgot about the nightmares, the fear of being alone in my bedroom at night.

He continued: Then on my 40th birthday, just a few months ago, I woke in the night to use the toilet and grab a snack. My feet were cold on the wood floor. I remember feeling something strange in the air of the kitchen, like an inaudible hum or threads of invisible waves pulling tight around me. It reminded me of when I was a kid, the feeling I’d have just before the cloaked figure appeared by my window. All the hairs on my body stuck out like needles from my skin. There in the half-light of the kitchen I made out the shadowy figure that had often visited me in youth. It was just as tall, just as terrifying. I acknowledged it and closed the refrigerator door, surprised to see the faint but identifiable features of a human face deep in the hood.

He continued: I wasn’t scared like I’d been as a child. I was only curious or interested as I stepped toward the figure and peered into its face. It did not move as I approached. I looked past him to the window and out to the snowy expanse of my backyard. I was close enough to smell him (he smelled like the whisper of a tree) and to feel the odd vibration emanating from him. When at last I leaned in to peer closer at the face in the hood, I realized it was a woman’s face. The room was too dark and her features too gray and indistinct, but I could tell it was a woman. Then it began to communicate with me, it spoke without words, without sound, her ideas transmitted directly to me from her mind.

The man stopped talking to wrap the blanket tighter around himself. Both women watched him with their eyes wide. One woman took a long drink from her thermos while the other bent forward to toss another log onto the fire.

Friend Two asked: What did the figure say to you?

She told me she was a witch, he said. And that she was probably two hundred years old, but she didn’t know exactly how old because she stopped counting long ago.

Friend One asked: Do you know what she wanted from you?

The man stared into the fire. Its light reflected on his face.

He said: She told me that her face would be the last I’d see in this life.

The three of them listened quietly to the wind rushing through the trees. They watched the fire dance before them, hypnotized by the heat, the flashing light, the unpredictable movement. They each thought of the missing woman and how they’d spent the day combing the mountain for her. Not one of them would speak about it, but they all thought the missing woman was already dead, that they’d likely stumble into her carcass rather than hear her crying out for help or see her waving from a distended rock. Each of them hoped secretly that it wouldn’t be them to find her.

They agreed to extinguish the fire and retire to their tents. The following day would be long and exhaustive. The man had a strange dream in the night in which the cloaked figure from his past returned to him. In the dream he was seated at the fire just as before, except his two friends weren’t there. He was alone. A noise behind him made him turn in his chair to behold the cloaked figure standing tall and facing the light of the fire. She reached an arm up to remove her hood and reveal the half-decomposed, worm-eaten head of the missing woman.