State Secrets: A Theory of the Unconscious

A graphic novel of shuffled (tandem) notebooks.  Al-Faiz: A Theory of the Unconscious.  One page paints while the other dries.

This is how the state secrets were unwittingly, hopelessly shuffled.  It’s in all of us.  A tsunami of the unconscious. The bottom, after all, was the brightest point.

–From Al-Faiz, the Tandem Journals

It is a journal of salvation; a journey of deep and dangerous ravines.  The thru-line a porcine corkscrew.  (comet strikes Russia, pope retires. in what order exactly?)  Shelley’s ghost.  The ghost of the USS Cole.  The myriad abysses of our childhood memories.  Dead leaves blowing around in our wet heads, spontaneously combusting and seeding the next landscape with black bits of memory.

The trek to and from Al-Faiz is a matter of mortal consequence.  We blunder along, nomadic, homeless, Bedouin all, until we are at last at home on the road.  The road of and to our stories.  Texts blend, sentences are cobbled, which we cling to with full animal intensity.  Stories are life.  Stories are lives. Our lives.   A multitude of applications all drawing power from one central nervous system: the soaring abyss of the unconscious.  The images below are presented in the order that they were conceived – clearly, the unconscious was the divine engine pulling the story forwards — I merely serve at the pleasure of the President.  And wonder at the maestro’s Hammerklavier!




















Al-Faiz: A Theory of the Unconscious.  Episode II.














Al-Faiz: Trudging West to Die. Episode III.

















For Immediate Release: WOOZY WISDOM AND THE DRAGON OF 2012 (Al-Faiz, Ep. III)



Phoenix Assassin III: Nixon Landing

Nixon Rising

Nixon Rising

Reflections / Open Spaces

Reflections / Open Spaces

Scanned Image 130180004

Orthogonians All: The Whittier Years

Fashioning Victimhood: "You are starving us out of our hard-earned mansions!"

Fashioning Victimhood: “You are starving us out of our hard-earned mansions!”

Bitter Harvest: Norquist, Reed, Falwell

Bitter Harvest: Norquist, Reed, Falwell

Zionist-Terror into Pseudo-Feminist Horror: Malkin, Coulter, Palin

Zionist-Terror into Pseudo-Feminist Horror: Malkin, Coulter, Palin

All In: Reagan

All In: Reagan


A Dream Cultivated, A Prophet Ensured


The Wump World

War is a mall.  If countries are now corporations then war is a mall.  Like so: Interior of Trafalgar Mall, day or night, you can’t tell.  A cannon is wheeled forth at the mouth of Lady Footlocker on Level Two.  Across the main atrium guns are readied at The Price of His Toys.  A stand-off on the high seas of commerce.  Puppies and goldfish anxiously pace along their glass, a pregnant stillness gathers in the air.  As the opening bell sounds shots ring out: SALE SALE FIRE FIRE; bouquets of potpourri penetrate the air in acrid autumn tones.  General Lavender Woodsy, spokes-hero for Seasons (A Home Place), softly shouts the duty of the family: to reward with gifts this season, to present the physical magnitude of our devotion, to not be caught out on the day of religious singularity without gifts.

War is a mall waged on a captive population.  It begins with disorientation and ends with overwhelming firepower.  A people without a past is a people without a future.  A mall is always without history, in no way rooted to the parcel of land it obscures.  The mall purports to be several months ahead of where it really is: back-to-school in June, Winter ’08 in October.  It is about planning ahead, which is the only discernible reason for Costco (a year’s supply of paper towels, a palette of ketchup, Donald Rumsfeld’s memoirs).  This also reflects a wartime reality: hoarding in preparation for a day when one might run out and not be able to make it to the store.  A mall encourages the making of lists:  Ted’s ties, Marjorie’s birthday, dinner this Friday, contraception, candlesticks, promise of a lasting peace for the space of a few hours.  It is easy to attack a mall, easy to attack a people driven through its Habitrail, easy to critique a society at its most naked point of consumption.  From the outside the mall is a sitting duck filled with fish in barrels.  (And there are actual fish in barrels, as the nervous, net-dodging swimmers at Petland know all too well.)  It is a Trojan horse where you run in and are surprised and fooled.

It is easy to make fun of a mall until you stop and think about the daily reality of the people who have to be there.  Those who work there, for instance.  After taxes, after eight hours under a circular thrum of commercial bubblegum, after serving people who get to be kings and queens for these few precious minutes and assume an air of deadly royalty, after a tuna salad sandwich and a cigarette on a windy slab of the parking garage.  What is left after these things?  Maybe sixty-eight dollars; maybe eighty-six dollars after a couple years.  It is easy to humiliate people for their dreams.  The mall humiliates people through the ostentatious smallness of the dreams it offers.

It is unfair to invoke the current siege on Gaza at this point.  One cannot hope to see this raging assault from within the muted and continuous air of the mall, with its changing breeze of waffle cones and burnt coffee, Democrat and Republican, millionaire and pauper.  If one were to go into Barnes & Noble they would find a whole section devoted to the Middle East and they would still not be able to see the dead families and flattened, thrice-bombed buildings.  They would encounter a lot of moral language about responsibility and equivalence, about necessary restraint.  Even if one went to the highest mall in the land, the U.N., one would hear nothing stronger than a “thorough condemnation” and a calling upon both sides to return to the table.  One would hear things expressed in the strongest terms possible, a Dovey refrain, that comes like sweet muzak across the sea to the war’s architects in Israel.  The muzak says, “Bomb quicker and more, because sooner or later we will have to do or say something of consequence.”  Can one captive population see another captive population?  There are two sets of walls and thousands of miles between them, each mile choked with meticulously crafted information.  And yet captive populations always feel an affinity for one another, because they know the bitter taste of freedom visible yet withheld, like an inmate sniffing chocolate from Ghirardelli square.  The inmate doesn’t want chocolate; he wants the freedom to walk by the chocolate to his own sweet destiny, to his own foolish dreams of love and agency.

It reminds me of a book I read as a child called “The Wump World.”  The Wumps were beaver-like creatures in a fictional green habitat that is converted into a mall.  I still recall their jutting teeth and tender snouts as they hooked the sky for trouble.  The books and games of our childhood hold such powerful association.  They take a photograph of you in the moment and hold it within their covers.  I remember, I think, the corner of the Berkeley library where we read this book and others, thrown around on the bean-bag chairs and shabby carpeted reading area.  Children can relate to endangered creatures and the dream of home, a warren, a down.  Children can relate to rabbits as quick-witted, wary animals.  Keen in their senses, always reading without language, a pure visual emotionally inflected realm.  Is the mall coming?  It comes to all of us eventually – but it is ours to decide whether we make our way back out into a world with actual coordinates and breathable air.

Willard Mitt Romney (Weapon of Mass Republicanism): A Polyptych

"The Mona Lisa"

Following what seemed like a decade of vulgar and demoralizing primaries, Americans have been returned to the choice that seemed pretty clear from the outset: Obama or Romney.  It was never going to be Bachmann or Cain, but the media did its due diligence in clouding the debate by giving every wing nut contender ample air time.  We can of course be grateful that Gingrich kicked himself out of the race through his own hubristic arrogance and all around shittiness.  This has made the coming election feel like a war of attrition waged by both parties and their media counterparts upon the faith and patience of a confounded nation.  And one can only imagine how it looks from the outside, by those many developing and perhaps occupied countries waiting with baited breath to see who will determine their future.  Let’s consign the reality series called “Primary 2012” to the farthest reaches of our memory and face the music that confronts us now: two enigmatic men who ask us to trust them with the stewardship of the world.

By now many of his early supporters probably have a sense of what they can expect from President Obama: elegant speechifying, a hologram of common sense, and a whole host of contradictions (liberty vs. surveillance, torture and rendition; economic reform entrusted to the very robber-barons who vitiated Glass-Steagall; Greenwashing; pandering to AIPAC and the super-lobbies; the Afghan quagmire; etc.)  And yet.  And yet!  One still feels a sense of “accountability” in Obama — he is of this earth and radiates a kind of frustrated intelligence that makes his supporters hope that it is just the impossible size of the job and the grim inheritance from Bush that forces him to make such painful compromises.  And within that hungry hope is an even more spirited one: that a second term (with less to lose) would allow him to throw off the yoke of an immovable, even spiteful, Republican leadership (Boehner et al) and really be the person we thought he was.

Then there is Romney, the Republican candidate of least-liability.  (This is coming out of a list of contenders who were barely suited to be distant relatives, let alone executives in chief.)  Mitt Romney has, through a series of quick contortions, made himself to be the man of the hour; each hour, hour-by-hour.  His handlers are keen at sniffing the wind and finding out where the base sits each day in terms of Choice, Same-Sex Marriage, the Wars, Immigration, the Environment, etc.  Thus Romney acts and speaks accordingly, modifying or altering any previously held position by speaking to the momentary needs of his people.  He has been fairly artful at sliding between the hard right requirements of God, Business and Small Government and a more opaque, conciliatory gesture towards “everyone else.”  In many ways this is the same kind of craven self-representation that made people distrust Bachmann, Gingrich and Palin: “If you are this ready to throw the truth under the bus just to get the job, what won’t you lie about once you have power?”  That’s the question I wish all of us would ask of our leadership, be it media outlets or presidential candidates.

The above polyptych, arranged in an unconventional “top down” scheme, is less a piece about Romney than a cenotaph to accuracy.  Romney, I think, is only the latest cipher to be run up the flagpole by his divided party.  His success depends on suspicion, half-truths and partially remembered facts.  Above all, it depends upon a grievous sense of personal injury.   The genius of Karl Rove and the Evangelical wing of the party (to which Romney is undoubtedly beholden, despite the spiritual conundrum this seems to invite for both him and the Religious right) is that it has transposed an impersonal Christian-Corporate ideology into a rootsy, folksy, homespun and totally emotional tenor.  The Republican base is cultivated by emotion and opposition, hence the thundering impact of the Tea Party.  In this fashion, Romney has been clear that a vote for him is a vote against the last four years (or a vote against how your life and work and house have felt in this half-decade).  This naturally occludes the question of how bad you may have been smarting for the past twelve years, neatly eliding the Bush/Cheney bequeathal and laying a smoking pile of ruin at the doorstep of the current administration.

Before I slide into full Hazlitt mode here, I’ll draw back here and let the beguiling scroll ask its own questions.  I’ll add only that I let my hands and pens freely articulate the many smoky mirrors of sacred science that has been coughed out of the pipe in the 2012 season: the Founders, grit, industry, self-determination, historical and geographical solipsism…

Letters to the Future: A Sampling of Recents

Merle Haggard “The Way I Am”

Miles Davis “In Concert”

Casting the Murdoch scandal: “Sandy, get me Cruise!”

Phaidon’s improved Turner monograph

Guns for Bananas: The Monkey Balks

Would you refuse me?


Addendum:  It may not be clear to some Catastrophe readers in what procession or order these images tumble down.  It is the position of the editorial staff that the Catastrophe is an exercise in unconscious mapping, hardly as revealed to its progenitors as it is to its onlookers.  Because it is staged in a universe as unstable and veering as the internet, the order is determined by chance and whimsical tangent — things tend to overlap and merge in uneasy or surprising ways.  We do believe that the internet is a kind of paranoid mirror of the mind, mediated by the fingers and the libido, often to the shock and consternation of the enduser.  Gradually a world picture emerges, as the fingers do their walking, and that picture is a reflection of our own fascinations, predilections and circling phantoms.  Some of the images in this post date from the first revelations of U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan; others from last summer’s stunning News of the World meltdown; and still others from this morning’s Merle and Miles stereo jamboree.  I hope this finds you well.