Sick, and Sick of It All

Sometimes it takes our bodies to return us to our souls.  And our little pains to remind us of the indescribable pain of the savage killing and dismemberment of innocent children and adults in Gaza and many other places by U.S. weapons produced in clean factories by people just doing their jobs and collecting their pay at “defense” contractors Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Pfizer, etc.  Abstraction is the name of the game as human bodies are torn to pieces “over there” and the obscene profits are transferred at the computer terminals day and night.

Living in a technological world of the internet divorces us from real life as it passes into inert, abstract, and dead screen existence. It should not be surprising that people grow sick and tired of the steady streams of “news” that fills their days and nights.  So much of the news is grotesque; propaganda abounds. Stories twisted right and left to tie minds into knots.  After a while, as Macbeth tells us, life seems like “a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets its hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Being sick and out of it for a while allows one a different perspective on the world.  This is especially true for those of us who often write about politics and propaganda.  A recent illness has forced me to step away from my usual routine of following political events closely.  Fleeting headlines have been all I’ve noted for the past two weeks. While lying around waiting for the illness to leave, I would drift in and out of reveries and memories that would float to semi-consciousness.  Feeling miserable prevented any focus or logical thinking, but not, I emphasize, thinking in a deeper, physical sense. But it also gave me a reprieve from noting the repetitive and atomizing nature of internet postings, as if one needs to be hammered over the head again and again to understand the world whose realities are much simpler than the endless scribblers and politicians are willing to admit.

Jonathan Crary, in a scathing critique of the digital world in Scorched Earth, puts it thus:

For the elites, the priority remains: keep people enclosed within the augmented unrealities of the internet complex, where experience is fragmented into a kaleidoscope of fleeting claims of importance, of never-ending admonitions on how to conduct our lives, manage our bodies, what to buy and who to admire or to fear.

I agree with Crary.  During my sickness, I did manage to read a few brief pieces, an essay, a short story, and a poem.  Serendipitously, each confirmed the trend of my thinking over recent years as well as what my bodily discomfit was teaching me.

The first was an essay by the art critic John Berger about the abstract expressionist, avant-garde painter Jackson Pollock, titled “A Kind of Sharing.”  It struck me as very true. Pollock came to prominence in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  He was described as an “action” painter who poured paint on large canvases to create abstract designs that were lauded by the New York art world. Some have sold for hundreds of millions of dollars. The description of Pollock as an untalented pourer, Berger says, is false, for Pollock was a very precise master of his art who was aware of how he was putting paint to canvas and of the effects of his abstractions. His work made no references to the outside world since such painting at that time was considered illustrative.  Berger says that Pollock’s paintings were violent in that “The body, the flesh, had been rejected and they were the consequence of this rejection.”  He argues that Pollock, who died in a drunken car crash in Easthampton, Long Island on August 11, 1956, was committing art suicide with his abstract paintings because he had rejected the ancient assumption of painting that the visible contained hidden secrets, that behind appearances there were presences.  For Pollock, there was nothing beyond the surfaces of his canvases.  This was because he was painting the nothingness he felt and wished to convey.  A nihilism that was both personal and abroad in the society.

Pollock’s story is a sad one, for he was praised and used by forces far more powerful than he.  Nelson Rockefeller, who was president of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) that his mother had cofounded, called Pollock’s work “free enterprise paintings,” and the CIA, through its Congress for Cultural Freedom, secretly promoted it as a Cold War weapon against the Soviet Union’s socialist realism art, even as right-wing congressmen ripped Pollock as a perverse artist.  So in the name of openness, the CIA secretly promoted Pollock’s avant-gardism as real America art in a campaign of propaganda, while the right-wing bashed him as a perverted leftist. This sick double game became a template for future mind-control operations that are widespread today.

As was his habit, Berger brilliantly places Pollock’s work within social and political history, a description of a time very similar to today when the word “freedom” was bandied about.  Then it was the freedom of the Voice of America extolling the Cold War tale of freedom of the “Free World”; freedom for artists to be free of rhetoric, history, the past, and to jettison the tyranny of the object; freedom of the market amidst a strident yet incoherent sense of loss.  He writes:

At this moment, what was happening in the outside world? For a cultural climate is never separate from events. The United States had emerged from the war as the most powerful nation in the world. The first atom bomb had been dropped. The apocalypse of the Cold War had been placed on the agenda. McCarthy was inventing his traitors. The mood in the country that had suffered least from the war was defiant, violent, haunted. The play most apt to the period would have been Macbeth, and the ghosts were from Hiroshima.

Today’s ghosts are still from Hiroshima and Macbeth is still apposite, and the ghosts of all the many millions killed since then haunt us now if we can see them. Although their bodies have disappeared out the back door of the years – and continue to do so daily – true art is to realize their presence, to hear their cries and conjure up their images.  While the word freedom is still bandied about in this new Cold War era where the sense of social lostness is even more intense than in Pollock’s time, it often comes from a nihilistic despondency similar to Pollock’s and those who used atomic weapons, a belief that appearances and surfaces are all and behind them there is nothing.  Nada, nada, nada.  A society that Roberto Calasso calls “an agnostic theocracy based on nihilism.” Berger concludes:

Jackson Pollock was driven by a despair which was partly his and partly that of the times that nourished him, to refuse this act of faith [that painting reveals a presence behind an appearance]: to insist, with all his brilliance as a painter, that there was nothing behind, that there was only that which was done to the canvas on the side facing us. This simple, terrible reversal, born of an individualism that was frenetic, constituted the suicide.

This short essay by Berger about Pollock’s denial of the human body struck me as my own body was temporarily failing me.  It seemed to contain lessons for the augmented realities of the internet and the new Cold War being waged for the control of our minds and hearts today.  Inducements to get lost in abstractions.

Then one day I picked up another book from the shelf to try to distract myself from my physical misery.  It was a collection of stories by John Fowles.  I read the opening novella – “The Ebony Tower” – haltingly over days.  It was brilliant and eerily led me to a place similar to that of Berger’s thoughts about Pollock.  Fowles explores art and the body against a dreamy background of a manor house in the French countryside.  As I read it lying on a couch, I fell in and out of oneiric reveries and sleep, induced by my body’s revolt against my mind. Trying to distract myself from my aches and pains, I again found myself ambushed by writing about corporality.  Both Berger and Fowles sensed the same thing: that modernity was conspiring to deny the body’s reality in favor of visual abstractions.  That in doing so our essential humanity was being lost and the slaughters of innocent people were becoming abstractions. Then the Internet came along to at first offer hope only to become an illusion of freedom increasingly controlled by media in the service of deep-state forces.  Soon the only way to write and distribute the truth will be retro – on paper and exchanged hand to hand.  This no doubt sounds outlandish to those who have swallowed the digital mind games, but they will be surprised once they fully wake up.

Fowles’s story is about David, an art historian who goes to visit a famous, cranky old painter named Henry Breasely.  The younger man is writing about the older and thinks it would be interesting to meet him, even though he thinks it isn’t necessary to write the article he has already composed in his mind. The art historian, like many of his ilk, lives in his mind, in academic abstractions.  He is in a sense “pure mind,” in many ways a replica of T.S. Eliot’s neurotic J. Alfred Prufrock.  The old painter lives in the physical world, where sex and the body and nature enclose his world, where paint is used to illuminate the physical reality of life, its sensuousness, not abstractions, where physical life and death infuse his work, including political realities.  Obviously not new to William Butler Yeats’ discovery as expressed in the conclusion to his poem “The Circus Animals’ Desertion”:

Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder’s gone
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

The old man fiercely defends the “foul rag and bone shop of the heart” against all abstractions and academic bullshit, which are the young man’s métier. He accuses the young critic of being afraid of the human body.  When the critic responds, “Perhaps more interested in the mind than the genitals,” the caustic and funny painter says, “God help your bloody wife then.”  He accuses the younger man of being in the game of destruction and castration, of supporting abstractions at the expense of flesh and blood life.  “There are worse destroyers around than nonrepresentational art,” the critic says in his defense.  To which the painter roars, “You’d better tell that to Hiroshima. Or to someone who’s been napalmed.”

Back and forth they go, as a nubile art student, who is there to help the elderly artist, acts as a sort of interlocutor.  Her presence adds a sexual frisson throughout the story, a temptation to the milk-toast critic’s life of sad complacency.  The wild old man’s rants – he calls Jackson Pollock Jackson Bollock – are continually paraphrased by the girl.  She says, “Art is a form of speech. Speech must be based on human needs, not abstract theories of grammar. Or anything but the spoken word. The real word. . . . Ideas are inherently dangerous because they deny human facts. The only answer to fascism is the human fact.”

The old painter’s uncensored tongue brought tears of laughter to my eyes and a bit of relief to my aches and pains.  I was primarily taken aback by the weirdness of haphazardly reading a second piece that coincided with my deepest thoughts that had been intensified by my body’s revolt.  The narrator’s words struck me as especially true to our current situation:

What the old man still had was an umbilical chord to the past; a step back, he stood by Pisanello’s side. In spirit, anyway. While David was encapsulated in book knowledge, art as social institution, science, subject, matter for grants and committee discussion. That was the real kernel of his wildness. David and his generation, and all those to come, could only look back, through bars, like caged animals, born in captivity, at the old green freedom. That described exactly the experience of those last two days: the laboratory monkey allowed a glimpse of his lost true self.

The Internet life has made caged monkeys of us all.  We seem to think we are seeing the real world through its connectivity bars, but these cells that enclose us are controlled by our zoo keepers and they are not our friends. Their control of our cages keeps increasing; we just fail to see the multiplying bars. They have created a world of illusions and abstractions serving the interests of global capitalism.  Insurgent voices still come through, but less and less as the elites expand their control.  As internet access has expanded, the world’s suffering has increased and economic inequality heightened.  That is an unacknowledged fact, and facts count.

Toward the end of my two-week stay in the land of sickness, I read this poem by the Palestinian poet Refaat Alareer, who was killed in Gaza by an IDF airstrike on December 6, 2023 along with his brother, nephew, sister, and three of her children. My sickness turned to rage.

If I Must Die

If I must die,
you must live
to tell my story
to sell my things
to buy a piece of cloth
and some strings,
(make it white with a long tail)
so that a child, somewhere in Gaza
while looking heaven in the eye
awaiting his dad who left in a blaze —
and bid no one farewell
not even to his flesh
not even to himself —
sees the kite, my kite you made, flying up above,
and thinks for a moment an angel is there
bringing back love.
If I must die
let it bring hope,
let it be a story.









17 thoughts on “Sick, and Sick of It All”

  1. I’ve also been offline for three weeks, more than less, thanks god not illness, shit load of work. Oh, it’s refreshing.

    Internet exacerbates things that had already been bad .

    I read CJ Hopkins’ article (OffG, The Ministry of AI Truth, 6. march) about his exchange with Gemini AI .
    AI several times lamented something like : This approach (conspiracy theories) has been criticized for contributing to societal division and undermining trust in credible sources.
    Then AI misquoted CJ and later admitted it.
    No one, not author, nor commentators, pointed out AI plain and simple Lied.
    Lying passed unnoticed. Like usually, particularly with damn politicians. (and they go and vote for liars)

    How can we expect a healthy society when lying is ubiquitous and sincerity is rare. (I can hear from background: “grow up boy” ……yaeh, sad)

  2. Estimado Edward
    No sé dónde encontré
    Siempre nace una estrella
    Rosa Luxemburgo recordaba
    Más negra es la noche
    Más brillan las estrellas
    Tú dices: Si no te diriges
    A la luz interior
    adónde te diriges?
    Es la hora de las estrellas.
    El amor sucede a veces
    Es todo lo que tenemos…

    Luego leí
    Enfermo y harto de todo
    Y leí los comentarios…
    Las mismas sensaciones
    En el norte consciente
    Como en el sur del continente
    Mismo cansancio
    Mismo desamparo
    Junto a Gaza nuestra luz interior
    Cada vez más cerca del precipicio
    Lo están haciendo
    Es lo que buscan
    No te has enfermado
    Te han enfermado
    Nos han enfermado
    Debemos resistir
    Estar juntos
    No somos tan pocos
    Si no te diriges a la luz interior
    a dónde te diriges?

    En mi país los dueños
    Del Poder Global asociado
    Con el Poder Local
    Han dado inicio a un nuevo
    Experimento pisco-social
    Han logrado poner
    En el sillón presidencial
    A un loco cuyo nombre traducido
    Es My Law para que nunca más
    Los Chávez los Lula los Kirchner
    Los Correa los Evo o los Mujica
    Se instalen en su backyard

    Estamos en resistencia
    La parte consciente de mi país
    Está en la resistencia

    Tiene razón Anne:
    Asocio su trabajo con el inicio de los planes globalistas (década de 1950) para ofuscar los acontecimientos con el fin de tomar el control del mundo. Han oscurecido deliberadamente nuestra visión del mundo con todo tipo de detritos, capa tras capa de formas enredadas de noticias, palabras, ideas y propaganda para ocultar la verdad de lo que es.
    Tiene razón Dave:
    “La territorialidad es el elemento específico e irreductible del colonialismo de colonos. [L]os colonizadores vienen para quedarse: la invasión es una estructura, no un evento… la eliminación es un principio organizativo de la sociedad colonial.
    Tiene razón Cristiano:
    Yo también estoy cansado y enfermo porque la gran mayoría de las personas fuera de Internet que conozco no son activistas revolucionarios, ni siquiera están interesados en la política, ni siquiera en las noticias

    A no ceder!
    Abrazo para todos
    (Espero hayas/hayan podido leerme traducido.)

  3. Edward, thank you for a thought provoking article. My theory of Pollock’s art, whether he knew it or not, is this~
    His work resembles that of being a child caught, trapped or hiding in the tangled undergrowth of woods where brambles, thorns, bushes, prevent us from seeing clearly or to define what is really taking place before we can make our escape.
    I associate his work with the beginning of the globalist plans (1950s) to obfuscate events in order to take control of the world. They have deliberately obscured our world view by all manner of detritus layer upon layer of tangled forms of news, words, ideas, propaganda to hide the truth of what is.

    Pollock was lost in his own world just as we are lost in ours.
    A phrase comes to mind ” cannot see the wood for the trees”
    I wish you a speedy recovery to good health.

  4. Brilliant thinking out of foggy days. I’ve been reading Mary Stewart’s Merlin-told Arthurian Trilogy from over 50 years ago – The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills, and The Last Enchantment. I’ve had a week out – largely not listening to or reading the dreadful news – Assange, Zelenskiy, the Zionists…lost in a magical yet brilliant tale of positive human characterisation… thank-you, Edward – and may your recovery stay with you!

  5. These things must be said over and over in as many ways as can be communicated. We are in the midst of a 4th Turning and all generations must go through a recycling of a beginning a middle and end. The real difference is true Dharma which is good at the beginning good at the middle and good at the end. We wander aimlessly in Samsara believing revolution is evolution.

  6. Timely and accurate, in more ways than one.
    An interesting personal intersection here, as a resonant pattern appears. Starting out on a similar trajectory (BFA Painting&Film Pratt ’71), I subsequently spent the next few decades selling my skills in the commercial arena of advertising and publishing. Never could get enthusiastic about the “surface is all” school of thought. Then, somewhere around midlife, the muse returned with her own agenda, insisting on figurative work that dripped with meaning. Life is what you make out of it, and the belief nothing is actually there will finally leave one with an empty bowl.
    Unfortunately, the online virtual world has in many ways replaced the former concrete reality we used to live in with a streaming abstraction of conjured fantasy, moving much too swiftly. No time left to smell the roses. And with the ominous advent of an already deceptive AI, soon nothing in that world will be verifiable. There is such a thing as the human scale. We exceed it at our peril.

  7. Dear Ed, thank you for this essay. I really appreciate your wise words, which are like a balm to me in this sad and mad world.

  8. Edward, another great article of you, right on the money. And I am tired and sick too because the great majority of people outside of the internet that i know are not revolutionary activists, are not even into politics, not even into news. Not even interested in what is happening in Israel-Gaza and in the war in Ukraine vs. Russia.

    I became a revolutionary anti-capitalism, anti-imperialist, anti-Democrats, anti-Republicans, after the inside job fake-terrorism of 9-11-2001, when i first read an article “Fake Terror: The road to dictatorship and war” by Michael Rivero an independent alternative news site activist with many of the Alex Jones, Jeff Rense, Counterpunch, Commondreams and many other great alternativew news sources who by their articles and literature on their websites, exposed to me, the painful truth of what governments and its capitalist ruling classes do in order to maintain and increase their power. And thanks to marxism literature i have also woken up to the truth about how capitalist countries like USA, Spain, UK, Mexico, Argentina, Germany etc. are divided into 3 classes, and how the only revolutionary class open for the change. That’s why i have moved away from any middle class social relationships (including my middle class families) because i have noticed with my own personal experience, that the general middle class (lower middle class, middle-middle class and upper-middle class) are not willing to support a socialist revolutionary option in most countries (including USA). That’s because the basic needs of the middle classes are met and they are not experiencing hardships and daily pains like the lower classes. Organizations like The World Socialist Website also critisize the middle classes and middle class leftist reformist bourgeoise parties like The Green Party, The Communist Party of USA, Democratic Socialists of America, and other fake-leftist options who at the end of the day, end up, in one way or the other support The Democratic Party.

    Also a great progressive writer who passed away Joe Bageant, has a Youtube video explaining why he hates the middle classes

    And I think that in places, in countries that have seen real changes like in the time of Bolshevik Russia, The French Revolution and other great revolutions of history, the majority of people who supported those revolutions were really in harships and living a life of pain and were lower class economically oppressed people. So having said all I think we have to wait for american people to become poorer in order to see an objective revolutionary situation in USA.

    Because as long as most US citizens can find a job even for 10 dollars per hour, food stamps, food banks etc. they won’t be willing to radicalize themselves toward the radical left and-or to support a radical leftist political option

    PS: so what we have in USA and in other countries is really a conspiracy of the upper classes, the middle classes and even a percentage of the lower classes to support capitalism, imperialism and zionism. And only a minority of elites, superior people (radical leftists) tragic heroes, active-nihilists are willing to participate in a real war of the oppressed against their oppressors in this world. We are radical leftists are a minority, and according to the philosopher Nietzsche things that are good are minority, not majority, like Ferraris, Rolls Royce cars that are built in small amounts.

    Something has to give !!


  9. Thank you Edward.
    I hope you’re feeling better now.

    ‘Factory fodder’ feeding the war machine while the suits count their profits.

    Tragedy on tragedy.

  10. Glad yer feeling more balance returning, Ed.
    For all the suffering committed IN OUR NAME, we are forever answerable to our Creator for the choices we make every day.
    Settler Colonialism: Palestine, 2024
    “Territoriality is settler colonialism’s specific, irreducible element. [S]ettler colonizers come to stay: invasion is a structure not an event….. elimination is an organizing principal of settler-colonial society rather than a one-off (and superseded) occurrence.” —Patrick Wolfe, 2006.

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