Berger Cemetery

Barger cemetery is surrounded by apartment buildings on its north and east faces and an office building to the south. Tom’s Creek Road brushes against its western face. I remember visiting it without enough insulating clothes to make it pleasant on a windy 45 degree day. When I was asked there what kind of research one might be able to conduct there, I was unable to respond due to the conversation direction being taken by the group down a different direction which I now cannot remember. It occurred to me after the visit what I might have answered had I had a clear mind at the time, one which suffered from a lack of sleep.

Cemeteries, among other things, can be sites symbolic of spaces for the return to the repressed, a Freudian invocation of a psychological state in which a subject returns to a trauma repeatedly as a kind of “working through” and overcoming. The immortal images from the opening of Michael Jackson’s Thriller point to the kind of fantasy at the heart of cemeteries’ contents returning from their repressed states. Zombies dig themselves out of their graves and come for our brains. Ghosts float through wood and dirt and glide on cold winds seeking revenge. Often times journeys through nature can also tell stories of transgression and encounters with monsters.

So I guess I can see cemetery research perhaps in the different kinds of representations of the repressed. Cemeteries are sites for remembering and commemorating, but I wonder what archeological underpinnings might hold evidence for a link between commemoration and repression.

I Visited a Cemetery and a Museum in a Very White Town

Abingdon, VA draws it population from I-81 in a very western region of Virginia. It’s a small town with a thick history. When we took our field trip there, I was really not expecting to encounter white supremacist nationalism so close to the surface of every message and aesthetic encounter I read and experienced. The trip was split between one visit to the William King Museum of Art, and The Sinking Spring Cemetery. I will discuss two forms in which I saw white nationalism manifested at both sites: two forms appear in the exhibition and two in the cemetery, and they correspond to the continuity of white nationalism. One form is narrative and one is aesthetic.

I was quite enraged by the curatorial statement, which seemed as some capitulatory nod to the shaky ego of white males in the region. Statements such as “They came to the wilderness and they began to tame it—to cut down trees, build homes and fences, start families… The wilderness became a little less wild,” vexed my slightly educated sensibilities. It seemed so heroic and historicist, catering to the predominantly white audience. Then there was this claim, which almost seemed a slight against the “progress” of railroads and coal: “Where once we saw isolation and freedom in the trees, we soon began to see profit.” This actually touches on something quite prescient of the coming of railroads and coal: the opposition between freedom and profits, which is seen so starkly today. The same logic is more or less at work in gentrification: artists move into a dilapidated area of, say, Berlin, having at first a great deal of freedom as they colonize a wilderness. This comes with danger; their spaces are always more prone to crime, fire, and disease (in Orlando there was a recent fire ending the lives of many artists, and it started because of poor wiring and improper fire escapes). Soon the wealthy discover they can mine, in the general case of gentrification, the cultural gold (or coal) artists discover through their activity. All analogies are a bit lame I suppose.

The aesthetic non-encounter I had with white nationalism at the historical exhibition was with the “diversity” corner, which I had totally glossed over during the visit. It didn’t register with me at all. Perhaps I wasn’t paying enough attention. But there was a similarity I saw in this pathetic corner (made visible to me in conversation later) and the encounter I had with the black slave section of the cemetery. Both are rather difficult to see against their surroundings. The “diversity corner” just kind of blends in with the rest of the display, which makes sense if one considers there were simply far fewer black and brown miners. However, can you imagine the exhibition centered on black miners—the reaction that would incite? Similarly, the black slave cemetery barely has an entrance, which is a little scary to get to even (no sidewalks, and rather heavy traffic), and looks more like an empty lot, waiting to be bought, than a cemetery.

Since aesthetics often bleed over into narrative, I would think the “narrativity” of the placement of the cemeteries, their separation, and the level of accessibility can be discussed. However, I will zero in on the difference between two different types of namelessness I see present in the cemeteries. The first kind of namelessness is that of the forgotten and nameless confederate soldiers. A special section of the cemetery is afforded them, and it seems as though their namelessness grants them some special honor in the context of their heroism. They are remembered as having been forgotten and lost to anonymity. The other kind of namelessness is in the black cemetery. This one is subtler. It resides in the namelessness of the nameless there, a double namelessness through the inaccessibility of the cemetery and its unaccounted bodies contained within. It seems like an object designed not to be visible, and it contains the nameless. The confederate anonymous, however, is a highly visible object, and it contains the nameless. So it is as if being forgotten and white is special, while we (they?) just want to forget we’ve always also been black; our story is one of blackness.

April 16th

During our visit to the special archives, there was one phrase that struck me harder than all the other objects we encountered; it produced a very weird ambivalence in me, because I found myself oscillating between irritation at the group of words, as it seemed to be bringing up an issue that had little relation to the events that took place in 2007, and catching a glimpse of a profoundly disturbing framework in our country that needs to be addressed now more than ever (maybe I am a bit hyperbolic here, but I think it worth the risk). The phrase to which I refer is “why not have a wall for the 3000 soldiers too?”

At first I was reactionary, quite offended at the need to bring up an unrelated issue to the grief that was being so felt at the time. It was like someone talking about their dead relative at their friend’s funeral. I soon realized this was an inadequate analogy to whom ever’s little objection on Virginia Tech’s wall of grief and mourning. The phrase’s placement simply would not mean what it does without the writer having accepted the risk of vexing the mourning of others. A political statement is only ever effective if it ruptures.

One wonders what source of pain that person harbored to express their sense of neglect in such a way. Could they have been a soldier who lost a friend or perhaps a mother who lost a son? Maybe the writer was a victim of rape, and although their body survives, they never really came back from the betrayal they endured in Afganistan at the hands of their comrades. Death visits us in many forms, but only one we don’t experience.

At any rate it seems to me deducible from the relationship between spontaneous memorials dedicated to civilians killed in their everyday activities and those to dead soldiers that they do not mean the same thing. Spontaneous memorials arise much like the events that lead to their emergence: unexpectedly. My use of the term “unexpectedly” here has deeper meaning than just surprise. The system of civilization itself precludes from our everyday symbolic network of relations that terrorist attacks will happen; we cannot expect them, or our days would be banal nightmares (perhaps they are now). And my point is not that we know our civilization creates the conditions for so called American massacres. This is common knowledge. Our symbolic framework is such that our proliferation of domestic firearms is symbolically inscribed into the maintenance of our safety. The point is that violence such as that which was seen on April 16th 2007 was not part of normal violence. It was not inscribed into the corporeality of United States civilization.

What I mean by normal violence is the kind that registers on our collective psyche as necessary or at least expected in relation to the activities the victims were taking part in or even by nature of who they are. Many kinds of people might be included under this category. As brutal as it sounds, I think we must admit black male deaths are by and large included in this category, although this is maybe changing. Black males are expected to be more violent, their bodies more open to violent forces. It is common knowledge the white understanding of black males assumes them criminal in nature, in their activities. This brings me back to the phrase left by the bereft soldier or perhaps parent of the soldier. There seems to be some special value held to spontaneous memorials and shrines that is not conferred on those institutionalized and reserved for soldiers because of the nature of soldiers and their activities.

It is not to say that spontaneity does not happen in institutionalized war memorials; the Vietnam memorial is an example of such a one where people leave seemingly random objects for the dead. However, there is at least an emphasis on claiming and reappropriating space in spontaneous memorials that is not present in institutionalized memorials for soldiers. Their (war memorials) very mode of institutionalization, for me, provides the first clue that soldier death is inscribed into the fabric of our civilization in a special way: it’s expected. We know going to war will provide us with dead soldier bodies. Soldiers go to war for the defense of our country’s interests, its national security, and the safety of its citizens. Soldier death is normal. There is always talk of duty and honor when it comes to soldiers. These terms lay justification over the effects of illegitimate institutional behavior.

Is this not the inverse of those institutionalized memorials for civilians? Soldier memorials frame the deaths they memorialize as having been given. A civilian victim figure never gives its life. These frameworks start to break down, however, when a political rupture happens such as that which I think happened with the little complaint of neglect on the wall of mourning. It hits the point at which the value we Americans put on death becomes hypocritical. Take the fact that a United States soldier is an employee under contract. This is what gave Trump the ability to say “he knew what he was getting into” to a bereaved mother of a soldier KIA. In an incredibly brutal way, Trump was right: dying for duty is impossible in our armed forces today. Our soldiers are informed and give their consent. I think this also gets at what the complaint on the VT wall of mourning was about.

It seems to me that there may be a profound hypocrisy and injustice to war memorials. First, the claims to duty and honor are clearly not possible, since duty and honor are more closely associated with conscription rather than a job with a paycheck. Second, war memorials valorize, in general, the collective activities of our country’s endeavors abroad, activities which are usually regarded as heinous by those whose countries we invade. An exception to this trend is found in the Vietnam memorial, which is maybe completely devoid of value judgements. The spontaneous monuments we have briefly studied seem to tap into an energy that at least starts to participate in both mourning and the raising of issues central to the understanding of why the event/events took place. This is what the complaint was about. Those surviving the death of their beloved child-soldier know the betrayal given to them by our government, and an institutional monument is insufficient. It wreaks of hypocrisy, to claim honor in despicable acts. Perhaps spontaneous monuments need to change or grow in scope to include more general critiques of culture, while maintaining a certain aim or gravitational pull. One would not criticize the beef industry on a wall of mourning for a church shooting.


The art object is an object whose objecthood claims an essence. All objects have an essence–no doubt about that–but an art object is one that knows its essence cannot be known. The art object always has another object in mind, unknowable; that is its essence. The art object is never itself, and although this is not a unique feature, the art object says it is not itself. An apple cannot say it is not itself. The art object points in many directions, the more the more successful the art object, although it does not point in all directions.

The art object does have an aim, its directions pulled magnetically toward it. This is what the critic and the art historian try to describe, although they usually just mistake their own direction with the aim of whatever particular art object happens under their gaze.

The artist does not need to be aware of the aim of her art object; history tells us this has never been the case anyway. She merely has some vague, inaccurate conception of what could possible be. Her art object is always virtual, even when it is “finished”. She always nags at herself about how she could have finished it.

For us, it is complete. The art object could never have been anything but what it is, staring back at us like death. We are so curious.

I’m Trying to Say “White” before “Guy” Instead of Assuming People Know I’m Talking About a White Guy

I catch myself all the time placing the race of my subject as a predicate unless he is white. My whole life has naturalized the assumption in my common sense, but over the last few years I have actively sought to say “white” when his or her race is white in my speech. It’s been hard, and embarrassing, not so much from the reaction of others, the same assumption being alive and well in them too; no, my self-awareness does this for them, as I trip over my words and go back to explain the other guy is white in the story. This can be a powerful device for disciplining normalcy, and not a bad thing on its own, but I suppose a subject has to have a certain openness to self-criticism in the first place. I guess I have that a little; it’s incredibly uncomfortable and wholly undesirable. I’m doing a mediocre job anyway.  At any rate the same mechanism inverted is already present in our minds–consumption rather than self-criticism being the target.

This already feels like a self-pat on the back.

I want maple floors.


This Thanksgiving I was in the bathroom during our family’s round robin giving of individual thanks to whatever. I find it hard to give thanks to much of late, as everything I have seems tainted by exploitation or meaninglessness. Everything I read tells me “just how bad it is.” We might go to war. Climate change is… out of control, likely to remain in that state effectively forever. Technology only accelerates its development with little collective knowledge of who controls it.

Things are open, though. The backlash against Trump’s figure is a good sign, although I think we focus too much on him as a person.

But perhaps now is not the time to be thanking anyone for anything, certainly not the current hand that feeds. Perhaps now the time is precisely for something everybody wants to avoid: anger. We should be angry; we have every right. Late night and comedy talk show hosts, mostly with liberal sensibilities, condemn violence of any kind. I suppose they’re right. Although I’d find it hard to condemn a woman for stealing through force to feed herself. Many United States citizens are this desperate.

What about destruction of property? Government property? Sure, I guess these kinds of acts should be condemned outright, only I guess I am not so sure. Violence to bodies, individuals, is something different. How much property do the wealthy need to consolidate before its destruction becomes the symbolic avalanche of revolution? Who believes anymore that a democratic solution is on the horizon?


It is obvious why Nazis crawl out from under their rocks, spreading cultural rot wherever they go. They have to be empowered. At first I believed, as many do, that the politics of identity have allowed people who spread “intolerance” to use it against those who fight it, by claiming intolerant speech needs to be tolerated like all other forms of free speech, but that opening was always been there in the 1st amendment. A Nazi has always been able to do what he has now effectively naturalized in common sense and speech; i.e. there’s nothing new about the 1st amendment. Thus, I feel safe to conclude that it is not simply the ability of one to exercise the 1st amendment in such a way, but Donald Trump’s empowerment of those who would that has changed the mainstream landscape.

Donald Trump’s buffoonery, and I specifically reference here his use of language, combines with the fact he really is dangerous to produce an ideal candidate for those eager to project their violent fantasies onto a figure. These white men, filled with resentment towards the recent movement in the country towards greater social permissiveness and their dwindling economic foothold, make easy targets for the republican party, now willing to do anything to remain in power. To be clear, I’m saying racism is the problem. But I think it may be even worse. Losing power does something in a person worse than instilling desire to win.

Does it not seem as though things have moved beyond a zero-sum game? The ethos of the republican party is no longer “I win, you lose”. It’s just “you lose,” and I don’t care what happens to me. Cynicism, the defacto model of the republican party, means you don’t believe in what you say. The problem is that if their paradigm wins through, reality will soon puncture it with a vengeance, and we’ll all be screwed.

Yet Another Desperate Post as Insecurity Only Grows

Repeating, imaginatively, the same horrible fantasy can be therapeutic; Freud taught as that. Although it seems as though right now our collective fantasy only pushes us closer to a complete undoing of our humanity. Fantasies have material effects. This thought occurred to me as, in my typical distracted state of mind–really how can we be anything but nowadays–a Dodge commercial laid its hooks in my mind. This particular advertisement actually contained a deeper, ideological one, although deeper is perhaps not the right word; it’s obvious what the producers had in mind. I tried to find it on YouTube unsuccessfully, so you, dear reader, will just have to trust my memory.

The commercial features all the V8 beasts charging through some desert, Utah we’ll say, at frightening speeds. The engines emit ungodly engine sounds, the rapid internal explosions rising together in a chorus of roaring American Thunder. But what really caught today’s ethos for me was when the camera shot cut to the drivers of, I think, the Charger. Anyways that detail doesn’t matter. The dress of the drivers was unmistakably from the roaring 20s!, a time when excess seemed as though it might grow into infinity. We all know how that belief turned against us, and WAR was the only thing that raised our country from economic nuclear winter (an apt metaphor considering our heinous acts of dropping nuclear weapons on Japan AFTER fire bombing like 250,000 civilians).

It is as if we want to destroy ourselves. Rest assured our president will most certainly take us into WWIII.

Open Access

It seems to me as though the debate revolving around open access is a debate between the symbolization of “free content” in a capitalist system and the incongruity of capitalism itself and intellectual property. The first thing we need to do is establish terms–effectively we have two terms implied by open access: there are closed access and open access journals. Closed access or course refers to the “pay” schemes of most scholarly journal, creating an industry.

The main difference between closed and open access journals is for me rooted in the difference between commodity and intellectual property. A commodity, as defined to us first by Karl Ponanyi in the sixties, is something that is produced for the purposes of consumption. A non-commodity, however, is something that is not produced, such as “land” or “labor.” As regards intellectual property, we must now ask the question: is intellectual property a commodity? As such, intellectual property is something, as far as I am concerned, not captured in the idea of something “produced.” Sure, intellectual property is a production process; it is produced, but not in the same sense as a bottle of shampoo.

Intellectual property is a process is more akin to an image created by the forces of collaboration that subject enters into than it is an opaque product. In this sense, there is no specific author to intellectual property, but a consortium of authors from which the “creator” of any said unit of intellectual property draws. Intellectual property extracts new histories from old facts. Intellectual property is most certainly about ideas, but it is not about the commodifiable unit of information that contemporary ownership schemes wish to assign to it.

Consider the genre of advertising, certainly a knowledge producing discourse. An advertiser would never think to include images and/or phases from a competitor’s imagery; this would result in a lawsuit. Scholarship, on the other hand, is full of direct extractions from those one would “oppose” or those who would seek to outdo one’s own scholarly vogue. At any rate, “quoting” ones adversaries in advertisement results in advertising for one’s adversaries. This is the definition of “bad press is good press,” the idea that any attention nowadays is good.

Open access seems natural to the field of intellectual property, save one caveat: legitimacy. Closed access journals are considered more legitimate than their “free” counterparts. This is a psychological category rooted in faith. It is through faith that subjects accept the idea that a paid journal is more legitimate than one that is unpaid. One problem I see emerging with this new paradigm: the process of legitimization through payment has or is dissolving with no alternative.

What’s the Point?

Dear reader,

I’m sitting here exhausted from the ills I managed to contract recently–a headache that won’t let me sleep, fatigue that won’t let me think, and nausea that won’t let me eat. I cannot do any of my three favorite things to do. And yet, although I find myself in an effective state of inactivity, I nonetheless find it easier to deal with my reality by attempting to distract myself with a confession. And we all know a confession is the most therapeutic act after transgression, but I am not sure if what follows amounts to a combination of the two.

I have found my thoughts wandering to despair recently, corroding the image I had of what earning a PhD would be. It’s a general despair, not one of any specific nature, but perhaps not a general one either. That would be inaccurate. It is a specific despair, but one I cannot recognize. I project things onto it. I project phantoms like hurricanes or despots onto it, but none of the projections capture my despair. Am I just going through some kind of middle-PhD crisis? I figure it can’t be that weak. But I figure it is that weak; just don’t take what follows as pure, as a representation.

I hate the idea of writing. I sat down the other day to work on an assignment due tomorrow, and on the wings of Mercury, I leapt over two hours of time and told myself that, despite no objective sign of any work done, I had nonetheless made progress in thought. Maybe I did; I don’t remember. But the idea of writing engenders in me such a ferocious repulsion of late, I have found myself compensating in so many pathetic ways, the above of which is an excellent example.  It’s like every time I think I’ll sit down and write, my compulsion turns on itself because we need the future if we want anything to matter, and there is no future when the worst has already happened. And it has–we only have to watch the worst unfold.

I am unsure if I even hate anything anymore. A friend of mine and I joked recently that even the coming apocalypse is boring. You know? The coming apocalypse in which humanity ends not in flames (well it will when we launch nuclear missiles against each other), but in a Wall Street scandal of such a scale due to its algorithmic reach that production simply cannot reproduce itself in the wake of its disruption. Supply chains will sputter to a halt. Then war. But everything is boring now, so the war will probably be a series of cyber hacks from nerds. Heroes don’t exist anymore.

I just don’t know if I should laugh, cry, scream in rage, or drool. Perhaps an emoji? That just doesn’t matter.