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Whenever I'm in an independent bookstore, I always make sure to buy something. So, while I was at , I picked up a copy of (), which I'd been wanting to read anyway and because I always like reading travelogues while traveling. In the course of that travelogue of train hopping, dumpster diving, and shoplifting, the anonymous author often talks about the books and zines that inspired him to seize his own life and instructed him on the fine art of seizing sustenance without participating in capitalism. That got me thinking about something I've wanted to write about here for a while: The ways that texts work their way into our thinking and our lives. A couple of months ago, I reread 's , which I originally read as a teenager shortly after its publication in 1974 and had not revisited since. I have a very clear memory of sitting on the couch of the single mother for whom I frequently baby-sat, mortified elavil 25mg pills $195.00 by what Vonnegut was telling me about , trying to make sense of it despite my sketchy knowledge of geography and history, knowing that somewhere between the lines of this story of states and starvation was something very important that I needed to understand about the origins and extent of human heartlessness. I still can't quite put that "something" into words but I do know that I learned important things about governments, land, and the violence inherent in socially constructed identities. Of course, I was and the governments that exist to protect it. But certainly, given the vividness of my recollection of reading his reportage from Biafra, Kurt Vonnegut helped me to remain the kind of person who knows the amorality with which masters fight back when you try to take away their unjust power and also knows for sure that just changing bosses doesn't change anything if the rules of the game stay the same. Evidently, that's not the only way that Vonnegut affected me. Rereading that anthology this year, my eyes popped out cartoonishly when I came to the essay on space, in which Vonnegut rails against the hubris and expense of space travel. "Hey! Those are my ideas! I've been annoying friends and strangers alike with my crankiness about NASA for years. " Ooops. Guess I got it from Vonnegut, forgetting the source as we so often do with lessons deeply learned. Vonnegut got the connections too. Here's he's responding to a book that celebrates space travel as the latest example of human "mastery" of new environments:
I think of Germany in the First World War, learning to fight under water. I think of Germany's amazing rockets in World War Two. . . . I think of the Spaniards' mastery of the New World, with several million other earthlings already here. . . Elavil 25mg pills $195.00 . I think of their masterful torture of Indians -- to make the Indians tell where they had hidden gold. Gold. I think of white America's mastery of the South by the imaginative use of kidnapped Africans. I think of DDT. Most of the true tales of masterfulness in new environments with new technologies have been cruel or greedy, it seems to me. The concepts of reality held by the masterful people have customarily been stupid or solipsistic in retrospect. Nobody has been remarkably secure, the masters have often ceased to be masters quickly. There have been tremendous messes to be cleaned up, ravaged landscapes dotted by shattered earthlings and their machines.So it seems I also have my early reading of Vonnegut to thank, in part, for the easy linkage of political and environmental issues in my own thinking. I found myself thinking something new in response to Vonnegut's musings on Hermann Hess's novel, Steppenwolf (which disaffected teenagers of the 70s were required by law to read, or at least carry around meaningfully):
Nobody in Steppenwolf has a telephone, although the cast is in a rich city after the war, where people do shimmy to jazz. The hero has no radio in his room, despite his swooning loneliness, but there are radios around, because he dreams of listening to one in the company of Mozart. The Concerto Grosso in F major, by Handel, is being broadcast from Munich. The hero says this about it, marvelously: "The devilish tin trumpet spat out, without more ado, a mixture of bronchial slime and chewed rubber; that noise that owners of gramophones and radios have agreed to call music. " I have said that Hesse was abut the same age as my father. My father wasn't a European, but part of his education took place in Strasbourg -- before the First World War. And when I got to know him, when Hesse was writing Steppenwolf, my father, too, was cursing radios and films, was dreaming of Mozart and Goethe, was itching to pot-shot automobiles.That got me thinking about the acclimation of our senses to deprivation. If you've only ever heard a symphony orchestra via radio or CD or iPod, I thought, then you really cannot imagine what it feels like to be fully surrounded by that particular variety of sound, how the high notes seem to float while the the bass notes vibrate the very air that you breathe. And, by one of those inexplicable mental flippages (yes, I know I just made that word up), that got me thinking about pornography. What does it do to your evolving sexuality, I wondered, when your first orgasm is in response to an object rather than a living person (or the breathing memory of a real, known, person)? Once hard to come by, pornography is now so readily available that it's probably safe to say that adolescent males in this country interact sexually earlier and more frequently with pieces of paper (or pixels on screens) than they do with real, live girls or boys their own age. How has that shift in what psychologists call cathexis (I didn't make that word up -- it means attachment by means of investment of emotional energy) from people to objects shaped their sexuality? Their relationship to their own bodies? Their ability to be fully intimate with a real person when the chance comes along? Their felt sense of what is "normal" or what it's reasonable to expect from a partner? These aren't answerable questions, I know, at least not without research that would be awfully unwieldy. But they represent, for me, a useful and empathic extension of a question I've asked many times before: How could it possibly be pornography is uniquely exempt from the principle that people are shaped, emotionally and intellectually, by the images and ideas they encounter while reading? If anything, it seems to me, pornography (which is typically perused while masturbating and which is designed specifically to evoke physiological reactions) is more rather than less likely to shape us than other kinds of reading matter. I say that this is an "empathic" extension [elavil 25mg pills $195.00] of the question because, rather than thinking (as I usually do) about how ideas about women and the commodification of bodies implicit in pornography are acted out on other people by consumers of pornography, this time I found myself thinking "poor dears!" about the young consumers of pornography, settling for cheap imitations of sex, never knowing that, in doing so repeatedly, they might be distorting their own future physiological response to the real thing. Now, I know from experience that by merely mentioning any doubts about the harmless fabulousness of pornography elavil 25mg pills $195.00, I am opening the door to a flood of pro-porn comments. Here are the rules this time: I want everybody, whether they agree with me or not, to list one or two books or other texts that have shaped you in some way -- led you to feel, think, or act differently. If you want to say something pro-porn, you also have to tell me whether and why you think the ideas transmitted by means of sexually-charged imagery in pornography are less likely to shape attitudes and behavior than the ideas found in other kinds of literature. Let's close with another Vonnegut quote from way back in 1974: "The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had increased by 15 percent since the start of the Industrial Revolution. . . further increases would turn the planet into a vast greenhouse in which we would roast. " Nobody can say we weren't warned. Here's the bonus question, which brings us back to : If our reading shapes our response to the world, what have we been reading that keeps us from responding with due alarm and alacrity to the escalating emergency of climate change? Does the tendency of pornography to dissociate people from their own bodies and the living bodies of other people play any role in our apparent inability to sense the danger that looms more closely every day? Speaking of being what you read and reclaiming your own body, CrimetInc has a truly fabulous that can help you become the anarchist I know you want to be.