City of Joyful Dread

I caught a fever, a holy fire

Month: May, 2012

No Bleating


I was wrong

The Bean Café warrants a much higher ranking than fifth.

Photo courtesy of H. Wechsler.

Mark Lanegan at the TLA, Philadelphia, 5/12/2012

The Gravedigger’s Song
Hit the City
Wedding Dress
One Way Street
Resurrection Song
Gray Goes Black
One Hundred Days
Creeping Coastline of Light (Leaving Trains)
Riot in My House
Ode to Sad Disco
St. Louis Elegy
Tiny Grain of Truth
Harborview Hospital
Methamphetamine Blues

Terry Eagleton on the left

Some of the very qualities which attract cultural specialists to the political left are also the ones which make them hard to organize. They are the jokers in the political pack, reluctant joiners who tend to be more interested in utopia than trade unions. Unlike Oscar Wilde’s philistine, they know the value of everything and the price of nothing. You would not put Arthur Rimbaud on the sanitation committee…To be inside and outside a position at the same time– to occupy a territory while loitering sceptically on the boundary– is often where the most intensely creative ideas stem from. It is a resourceful place to be, if not always a painless one.
–from AFTER THEORY (2003)

The Zionist objet petit a

The Lacanian objet petit a has been defined by Slavoj Žižek as “the leftover which embodies the fundamental, constitutive lack;” “the chimerical object of fantasy, the object causing our desire and at the same time—this is its paradox—posed retroactively by this desire;” and “a pure void which functions as the object-cause of desire.” Lacan himself defines the objet petit a in Seminar XI as “this privileged object, discovered by analysis…that object whose very reality is purely topological…that object around which the drive moves…that object that rises in a bump, like the wooden darning egg in the material which, in analysis, you are darning—the objet a.” The objet a is the lack underlying desire that allows desire to persist, without which—in other words, when our desire is fulfilled and we no longer lack—desire would die. How, then, can we explain the survival of Zionism, defined as the Jewish national movement, almost 60 years after the founding of Israel, on the surface fulfilling the Zionist desire for the Jewish state it lacked? How does the actual state of Israel fail to fulfill the Zionist fantasy, or, put another way, what do Zionists (still) lack? What is the Zionist objet petit a?

The modern Zionist movement was born in 1897 as essentially a messianic movement, projecting a “revival from the dead” for the ghettoized and oppressed European Jew in his Biblical homeland of Israel/Palestine. The Zionist socialist Moses Hess described the Jewish contribution to world culture as “the moment of the eternal quest, the element of permanent ferment ”—almost a messianic jouissance beyond not only the ghetto walls but the pleasure principle, or a messianic pre-1917 translation of Trotsky’s “permanent revolution.” Similarly, Jacqueline Rose has noted that the fictional creation of Israel in Zionist founder Theodor Herzl’s 1902 novel Altneuland (Old-New Land) occurs between chapters of the novel rather than within the novel itself, making it “something unrepresentable, which the human brain cannot grasp and the eyes cannot see,” underscoring early Zionism’s reliance on the fantastic. “Precisely because Zionism had to make itself out of nothing—create a unity, a language, a homeland where there was none before—it knows itself as a child of the psyche, a dream, a figment of the brain…Zionism was a conjuring act,” she concludes.

Despite the shared interest among its adherents in conjuring such a Jewish homeland, officially located in Palestine by the Balfour Declaration and the League of Nations Mandate in 1917, the Zionist movement was in fact many often opposed Zionisms, most notably on the question of the Palestinians and other non-Jews who were already occupying Palestine. Israel Zangwill, who had previously attempted to create a Jewish state in Canada, Australia, and Uganda, among other countries, coined the Zionist slogan “a land without a people for a people without a land,” but other dissident Zionists such as Martin Buber cautioned that the disregard for and eventual expulsion of Palestinian Arabs would eventually hurt not only the displaced but the Israeli Jews themselves: “[U]nruliness directed outwards inevitably brings on unruliness directed inwards.”(1) Buber’s words of warning were of course unheeded, as the same Lord Balfour whose proclamation awarded the Jews a state under the condition that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” would later write in a 1919 memorandum:

…Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land.

The mass extermination of European Jews in the Holocaust was arguably one of many factors that underwrote a widespread support for the Jewish people that culminated in the creation of modern Israel in 1948, celebrated by Jews worldwide but equally mourned by Palestinians as a nakba (catastrophe). The UN commissioners who recommended the partition of Palestine in 1947 had previously visited refugee camps in Europe. “[T]he visible horrors of the Holocaust would do much to reduce [the UN’s] choice when it came to decide on the question of Palestine,” writes Ilan Pappe. Tariq Ali notes the obvious paradox: “The only State that the survivors of the Holocaust could construct contained inbuilt discriminations against the native Arabs and was based on the displacement of the Palestinians.” Isaac Deutscher reacts similarly to Israel’s “miracle victory” in 1967’s Six Day War:

The responsibility for the tragedy of European Jews, for Auschwitz, Majdanek, and the slaughters in the ghetto, rests entirely on our western bourgeois ‘civilization,’ of which Nazism was the legitimate, even though degenerate, offspring. Yet it was the Arabs who were made to pay the price for the crimes the West committed towards the Jews.(2)

We of course need look no further than the recent intifada (uprising) with its bloody suicide bombs and its bloodier “retaliations,” the belated and prolonged withdrawal of illegal Israeli settlements from the West Bank, and the construction of a “security wall” along the length of Israel’s 425-mile border with the Palestinian puppet-state to confirm that Buber’s worst fears have been actualized and exceeded and that Tariq Ali’s paradox is still not obvious to all.

What, though, if the obvious paradox is not in fact a paradox at all, if those who were expelled or exterminated were instead compelled to repeat the expulsion or extermination of an other? In his introduction to Edward Said’s Freud and the Non-European, Christopher Bollas offers a psychoanalytic critique of the continued Israeli oppression of its Palestinian population:

[W]e must not only look at what the oppressors project into the oppressed (for example, Israeli violence projected into the Palestinian people), but we must also take into account a refusal to recognize the actual existence of this other (in this case Israel’s reluctance to recognize the existence of Palestinians). It is this combination of positive and negative hallucination which makes this object relation, as we would call it in psychoanalysis, not only toxic but psychotic. The oppressed exists, in this respect, to contain unwanted destructiveness in the oppressor who insists at the same time that the oppressed be like a fecal entity that is so odious that it cannot be recognized, except if and when it is out of sight, and finally eliminated…The stone-throwing Palestinian is symbolically returning that Israeli violence that has used stones to build the settlements. The horror of the suicide bomber returns the violence of Israeli guns, tanks and warplanes. The aim of such resistance is not to overcome Israel, it is to return Israel to itself, for better and for worse. Palestinian violence seeks to maintain sanity for its people through the insistence that the self exists even as the oppressors seek to deny it, something that, of course, the Jewish people know only too well through the catastrophe that was the Holocaust.

Bollas’s conclusion echoes that of many related critiques of Israel in its invocation of what Žižek has wryly referred to as the “secret recognition of the special higher ethical standards of the Jews: how can, of all the people, YOU behave like them?” Having collectively survived what has in our culture become the almost archetypal violent negation, reduction to feces and vermin, and state-sponsored terror courtesy of the Nazis, shouldn’t the Jews (of all the people) know better? Would not such a question presuppose a moral imperative that would survive the traumatic event unaffected? Would not those traumatized by the Nazis in fact be least likely to know better? As Rose notes in her response to Said in Freud and the Non-European, “we have an unrealistic expectation of how traumatized peoples will behave…the most historically attested response to trauma is to repeat it.” The fact that the Jewish people “know all too well through the catastrophe that was the Holocaust” would therefore sanction, not proscribe, its repetition, with the Palestinians becoming the “Jews among-of the Arabs” or the excluded other.

In Trauma: A Genealogy, Ruth Leys describes Charcot’s concept of trauma, which she terms mimesis, as follows:

Trauma was defined as a situation of dissociation or “absence” from the self in which the victim unconsciously imitated, or identified with, the aggressor or traumatic scene in a condition that was likened to a state of heightened suggestibility or hypnotic trance. Trauma was therefore understood as an experience of hypnotic imitation or identification—what I call mimesis—an experience that, because it appeared to shatter the victim’s cognitive-perceptual capacities, made the traumatic scene unavailable for a certain kind of recollection.

We can understand through a mimetic theory of trauma why for example the Holocaust was rarely mentioned in Israel before the Six Day War, where it was linked to pre-state “times of shame, when Jews were weak and passive, inferior and unworthy, deserving not of our respect but our disdain,” according to Sara Roy. Yet as Deutscher noted, the triumph of the Six Day War displaced blame for the Holocaust whose memory it recovered from the bourgeois West onto the Arabs and facilitated the militarization of Israeli trauma. As Leys summarizes Freud’s argument from Beyond the Pleasure Principle:

Freud posited the existence of a protective shield or “stimulus barrier” designed to defend the organism against the upsurge of large quantities of stimuli from the external world that threatened to destroy the psychic organization. Trauma was thus defined in quasi-military terms as a widespread rupture or breach in the ego’s protective shield, one that set in motion every possible attempt at defense even as the pleasure principle itself was put out of action. “There is no longer any possibility of preventing the mental apparatus from being flooded with large amounts of stimulus,” Freud wrote, “and another problem arises instead—the problem of mastering the amounts of stimulus which have broken in and of binding them, in the psychical sense, so that they can be disposed of.”

What happens when trauma is repeated and displaced, we can ask rhetorically, and the racial or religious other becomes a “threatening stimulus” who not only can but must be “disposed of”? Worse, what if the other in question is historically linked to the traumatized aggressor? Leys explains:

Moreover, according to Freud violence is inherent in the imitative-identificatory process, which he describes as a cannibalistic, devouring, incorporative identification that readily turns into the hostile desire to rid oneself of the other, or enemy, with whom one has just merged. “Identification, in fact, is ambivalent from the very first,” he states; “it can turn into an expression of tenderness as easily as into a wish for someone’s removal.”

And what was the relationship between the influx of European Jews to Israel and the Arabs who were already living there if not a “merger”?(3)

Dori Laub has argued that the survivors of concentration camps cannot fulfill the historical imperative to “bear witness” because of what he describes as “the very circumstance of being inside the event.” Any attempts to represent the traumatic event will fail from both remembering too much and knowing too little of what actually happened. “[T]he subject’s not-knowing of the trauma—his inability to speak or represent his experience—is what guarantees the return of the truth in the patient’s traumatic repetitions,” Leys explains. “[F]undamentally victims of trauma cannot witness or testify in the sense of narrate and represent it to themselves and others: all they can do is perform the experience as if it were literally happening all over again.” The violence of identification meets the inability of the trauma victim to bear witness in the reenactment of the traumatic event displaced onto the other, a reenactment that is then disavowed as it is perpetuated.(4)

In his 2003 essay “The Iraqi MacGuffin,” Žižek traces the origin of the most recent violence in Israel to the previously cited messianic Zionist fantasy of a return to the Biblical homeland and the inevitable disconnect between the overdetermined “lost object” that will complete the Zionist and any version of this reclaimed Israel that can actually be inhabited:

If ever there was a passionate attachment to the lost object, a refusal to come to terms with its loss, it is the Jewish attachment to their land and Jerusalem…And, are the present troubles not the supreme proof of the catastrophic consequences of such a radical fidelity, when it is taken literally?..When Jews lost their land and elevated it into the mythical lost object, Jerusalem became much more than a piece of land: it became the metaphor for the coming of the Messiah, for a metaphysical existence. The mechanism is well-known: after an object is lost, it turns into a stand-in for much more, for all that we miss in our terrestrial lives. When a thousand-year-old dream is finally close to realization, such a realization HAS to turn into a nightmare.

However, despite the debate over control of Jerusalem that he considers paradigmatic of both Jewish and Palestinian “attachment to their land” while simultaneously utterly political, Žižek argues that we should not “renounce the impossible dream of a binational secular state” rather than two violently opposed religious states:

In the long term, the true utopia is not that of [a] binational state, but that of the Wall clearly separating the two communities…The illusion of this new Wall is that it will serve as the demarcation line separating “normal” rule of law and social life from the permanent state of emergency—that it will contain the state of emergency to the domain “out there.” This would have been another true EVENT in the Middle East, the explosion of true political universality in the Paulinian sense of there are for us no Jews and no Palestinians—each of the two sides would have to realize that this renunciation of the ethnically “clean” Nation-State is the liberation for themselves, not only a sacrifice to be made for the other.

In other words, the wall would only reinforce the so-called logic of the count, where one either belongs (Jew) or does not belong (non-Jew/Palestinian), in the guise of a concession to the autonomy of the other—but wouldn’t we really therefore be returning to Nazism, the originary “ethnic cleansing” to the collective mind of post-1967 Israel? Opposing the walled Israel, where in the words of Judith Butler “the ‘universal’ loses its empty status and comes to represent an ethnically restrictive conception of community and citizenship,” Žižek demands a truly universal Israel for Jew and non-Jew alike—an Israel that modern Zionists would oppose even more vehemently than they would oppose a Palestinian state. We can therefore conclude that the Zionist objet petit a is not the Jewish homeland made manifest by the actual state of Israel nor the fantastically unrepresentable state of Altneuland’s Israel but an “ethnically clean” Israel free not only of Palestinians but of non-Zionists—an Israel enclosed by a “stimulus barrier” that defends the Zionists inside against every Nazi and proto-Nazi projected, repeated, and identified with outside by perpetually obliterating the other that so closely mirrors itself.

(1) We must here note Buber’s reversal of cause and effect: rather than oppression towards the Arabs causing the Arabs somehow to oppress the Jews, as we shall observe what is foreclosed in the symbolic (the Jew who wishes to oppress himself) in fact returns in the real (the oppression of the Arab).
(2) The title essay also criticizes Jewish endorsement of western norms implicitly linked to the Holocaust, stating, “[T]he decay of bourgeois Europe has compelled the Jew to embrace the nation state. This is the paradoxical consummation of the Jewish tragedy.”
(3) We can recall the 2001incident of the manuscript removed from the journal Human Immunology that argued Jews were not genetically distinct from other peoples in the Middle East and that Jews and Palestinians share a gene pool. The manuscript was allegedly withdrawn for inflammatory language about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, e.g. referring to Israelis as colonists and Palestinian refugee camps as concentration camps, yet manuscripts can always be edited or errata can always be added. What however could be more traumatic to the already traumatized Zionist than the scientific evidence that the one he wishes to expel is in fact his brother?
(4) Leys cites Freud’s thesis in Moses and Monotheism that Moses was an Egyptian who converted to monotheism and led the Israelites out of Egypt, only to be murdered by them, as underscoring Freud’s belief that Judaism is “founded on an act of violence, a rebellious slaying of a stranger” and that the historical experience of the Jews is not merely a “traumatic experience” but a “crime.”

Slavoj Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology. New York: Verso, 1989.
Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (Seminar XI), ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, transl. Alan Sheridan. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1978.
Jacqueline Rose, The Question of Zion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.
Noam Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel & the Palestinians. Boston: South End Press, 1983
Tariq Ali, Street Fighting Years. London: William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., 1987.
Isaac Deutscher, The Non-Jewish Jew and Other Essays. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968.
Edward W. Said, Freud and the Non-European. New York: Verso, 2003.
Slavoj Žižek, “The Iraqi MacGuffin,”, 11/04/2003.
Ruth Leys, Trauma: A Genealogy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Judith Butler, Ernesto Laclau, and Slavoj Žižek, Contingency, Hegemony, Universality. New York: Verso, 2000.

How to tell when the guy asking you directions is drunk

Him: “Do you know anywhere around here where I can get used auto parts?”

Lily: “There’s somewhere right up the road on the right hand side that has auto parts.”

Him: “–that has what??”

Lily: “Auto parts.”

Him: “—-yeah, ok—“

Sixties Sonnet









Vietnam Mao-Maos The Man
Molotov Manson Watts
Oswald Sirhan Mets
Woodstock Zapata Zapruder
Newark Weatherman Wyman
I Am Curious, Black
Da Nang Donovan Fugs
Moonwalk Morrison Prague
Sock It To Mekong, Marijuana!
Maharishi Motown The Move
Altamont Detroit Demento
Marcuse Moors Murders Mailer
Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child of the Moon, Like a Real Wild Child, Our Child, Screaming Wild

Photo courtesy of

Walt Whitman Sang the Body Electric, I Sing











like a broken calliope bird
between metonymous night
& the eponymous dawn
like the organist
who plays “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”
when the leadoff hitter named Johnny bats
like the Quarrymen
at the Cavern Club
or the Star-Club
an die sündige Meile
like the heavenly warehouse
of old 45s
whose burned-out marquee reads WE SELL SOUL
like the hellbound werewolf
outside your bedroom door
who howls every night but won’t ever come in
unless you let him in

Photo courtesy of

Sherilyn on Franklin











“[A] romantic man can be as destructive to women as the stalker hiding around the corner at midnight; in his own mind, of course, the stalker is a romantic himself.”
Steve Erickson, “Henry Miller: Exhibitionist of the Soul,” Conjunctions:29 Fall 1997

the romantic is a stalker
a hustler
a hunger

a dancer
with the devout

a torch
without a flame

wild palms at sunset
you walk in the bedroom
wild horses take over
I dream of you rocking
red manzanita
paloma, muñeca
mi reyna extraña
nunca mañana

I walk with you when you walk with the Lord

words are not a mystery but a morgue

Photo source unknown.

The West as Metonym

Within medieval European teleology, the North was Heaven or the eternal, the pole-star or North Star; the South was Hell or the fantastic other; the East was the primordial birthplace, Jerusalem; and the West was the apocalypse or death. Within the modern US we can recreate a similar teleology, with the West, meaning California, representing death in its variations, the terminus beyond which there is no further beyond. Leon Altman notes, “To go west is derived from an early American colloquialism, gone west (into unexplored territory), hence absconded, disappeared, or died.”

California occupies a unique position in such a geographical death nexus as the beyond of the “Wild West” of the Western novel, typically referring to Wyoming or Texas or even Dodge City, Kansas (not the West but the geographic center of the US); the West of California in contrast by extending to where the shore meets the ocean recalls Theodore Roosevelt’s comment that “When I am in California, I am not in the West. I am West of the West.” The “West’s West” can therefore be analyzed as “Death’s Death” or the obverse of death, what to Laurence Rickels refers to “the phenomenon of the unmournable death” or “the refusal to mourn.”

Whereas Rickels treats California as “death cult,” we can analyze his and other critiques of California via Lacan’s work on metonymy to expose a hysterical desire to interpellate pleasure’s dark seamy underbelly (the jouissance of a cultic, mindwarped LA which, like Jan and Dean’s Stingray on Dead Man’s Curve, takes the pleasure principle too far) for its own pleasures, echoing the narrator of DeLillo’s White Noise who wants to “relax and enjoy [earthquakes and mudslides] because in our hearts we feel that California deserves what it gets.”

Rickels argues quoting the Frankfurt School that the culture industry perpetuated by California is “psychoanalysis in reverse” and that California occupies “the missing place of our death cult” (coextensively with childhood and psychoanalysis) ; “on the social, outward, happy-face level, it distributes pleasure via sadomasochism, the adolescent group, or friendship,” in other words, the Manson family and The Anniversary Party, if not the Donner Party (to whom Rickels subsequently refers).

California is simultaneously “that surplus of everything which begins with feeling good about oneself,” an altar at which the metaphysical body is worshiped, a body so malleable(1) we can barely speak of pain and pleasure with regard to it; and “the place that performs the refusal to mourn or acknowledge death at the same time that it depends totally on media-technological structures of ‘liveness’ to support the unstressed-out or friendly intentions it advertises.” Rickels quotes Mark Twain’s “The Californian’s Tale” about a widower in a post-Gold Rush ghost town to exemplify the denial of one’s own mortality enacted as the denial of the other’s (actual) death.

Ultimately, Rickels admits he chooses the philosopheme of California because it “compellingly marks and situates values of postmodern technicity in relation to a hermeneutics of pain and mourning;” thus, the metonymy of West-meaning-California-as-Death is now juxtaposed with the metonymy of California-meaning-refusal-of-death/refusal-to-die. The two metonymies, however, are in opposition to each other. How can the California of refused death overlap with the California of certain death, when what is inherently refused in the former is automatically assumed in the latter?(2)

Metonymy itself cannot explain the gap between the two opposed California metonymies yet it can explain the effect. In Seminar III: The Psychoses, Lacan defines metonymy as “the opposite of metaphor. It involves substitution for something that has to be named—we are in fact at the level of the name. One thing is named by another that is its container, or its part, or that is connected to it.” He uses the example of the infant Anna Freud’s sleep talk of “strawberries, raspberries, cakes, porridge,” desired objects that are metonymously connected to her name, “Anna Freud,” itself, because it is Anna Freud who desires them.

Unlike metaphor, where “meaning dominates everything” and the signifier and signified relate dialectically to each other through identification (Lacan’s example of His sheaf was neither miserly nor spiteful from Victor Hugo’s poem “Booz endormi,” where Booz is not literally a sheaf but the sheaf represents that within Booz that is neither miserly nor spiteful(3)), metonymy works by contiguity, as word association.

If, using the technique of verbal association as it’s practiced at the level of the laboratory, you give a subject a word like hut, he has more than one way to respond. Certain responses will be in the register of contiguity. Hut—Burn it. Also, the subject may say hovel or cabin to you—there we already have the synonymous equivalent, a little bit further on we move into metaphor, in saying—burrow, for example. But there is also another register. If for example the subject says thatch, no longer is it quite the same thing. It’s a part of the hut that enables it to be designated as a whole—it’s possible at a pinch to talk of a village composed of three thatches, to mean three little houses. Here it’s a question of evoking. The subject may also say dirtiness or poverty. We no longer have metaphor, we have metonymy.

“The opposition between metaphor and metonymy is fundamental,” according to Lacan, as metaphor requires a signifier in order to operate whereas metonymy does not. “Metaphor presupposes that a meaning is the dominant datum and that it deflects, commands, the use of the signifier to such an extent that the entire species of preestablished, I should say lexical, connections comes undone,” he explains—which precludes the dysphasia of the psychotic because the user of metaphor must prima facie recognize preestablished connections whereas the psychotic per definitionem does not.

Metaphor thus corresponds in Freudian terms to condensation, whereby one dream image represents or is condensed out of multiple wishes or desires, whereas metonymy corresponds to displacement, whereby these wishes or desires cannot be represented directly but rather “censored” as or displaced onto symbols.

The opposition between metaphor and metonymy is fundamental to The Psychoses with regard to the case of Daniel Paul Schreber, whose writing is devoid of metaphor but rich with metonymy, recalling Lacan’s comment that children “detest surrealist poetry” because they’re “not yet up to metaphor, but only metonymy.” Both the children and Schreber exclude the big Other, the “truth behind,” that contains and defines them as subjects and prevents them from experiencing the world and others as mere manifestations of their own shadows.

Hence the woman who attempts to refer to her brutish male acquaintance as a pig by addressing him metonymically with the phrase “I’ve just been to the butcher’s” but is appalled when he responds, “Sow!” is per Lacan “strictly a paranoiac” because she is concerned exclusively with the “small other,” the brutish male, at the total exclusion of the big Other, the reality of language behind her comments whereby “I’ve just been to the butcher’s” can be read to invite the response “Sow!” Any order the paranoiac or the psychotic attempts to restore in a world where the Other is excluded can only be a “delusional order”—a world of metonymy without metaphor.

We cannot nor would we want to argue that Rickels and other critics of the “unmourning” and unmourned California are psychotic or delusional in their obsessive metonymy of California-meaning-apocalyptic-denial; however it is worth noting that the harshest denuncations of the deathhaunted West (whether California, Hollywood, Los Angeles, San Francisco or elsewhere) lack the rich identification of metaphor and are written in not merely metonymous but hysterical terms.(4) For example, Jesse, the overwhelmed and terror-fraught narrator of the “experimental novel” Suicide Blonde, who surrenders to her “bland suburban past” with the admission:

San Francisco confounded me. First it seemed utopian, with the blue skies, pervasive Mediterranean light, palm trees, organic vegetable stores that sold strawberry juice, the children in funky handmade sweaters. But all that was an overlay—misleading and cosmetic. Underneath was a history of decadence: the opium dens in Chinatown, the thousand whores who worked the gold rush, the voodoo and witchcraft shops. Even the fast-moving fog was nightmarish. There were leather monsters fucking dogs and each other in the alleyways of SoMa and the living dead haunting the Castro cafes. Sure, there were hippies gentle and peace-loving, but there was also the Manson family, the SLA and the Jim Jones Kool-Aid test. And California is the outpost of rigid conservatism…the home of Nixon and Reagan. Satanists are in the hills, chanting Latin, drinking urine, forcing candles into the tops of rotten deer heads. And of course, there was Hollywood, the mimetic desire capital of the world.

Rickels, who writes that “California is where unending mourning achieves its society-wide manifestation (or massification) as sadomasochism, where the death wish yields to death drive (which takes a detour via suicide), and where the femininity of mourning constitutes the group’s secret agenda, gender, and desire,” echoes Jesse’s worst fears (the novel of course ends with the suicide of her errant lover Bell, who dies for her sins) yet also underscores that the worst nightmare visions of California need not be made manifest—they always already are, where they can only be lived or refuted, mourned or celebrated, and the true secret underbelly of the metonymous west may be “the promise of escape, the chance to ‘light out’ and start life all over, to be reborn.”

(1) “Plastic” surgery derives its name not from its use of the synthetic material itself but from the Latin plasticus, “able to be molded.”
(2) Note for example Loudon Wainwright III’s “Hard Day on the Planet”: “In California the body counts keep getting higher,/It’s evil out there man, that state is always on fire.”
(3) Lacan allows that Booz’s sheaf could be metonymic were it to be objected that “underlying this magnificent poetry, and never named directly, there is Booz’s royal penis.”
(4) Worth mentioning here is the “Jumping Frog Contest” episode of the 1964 Jay Ward cartoon “Hoppity Hooper,” which contains the following exchange:
Hoppity Hooper: Well, here we are in California. Land of 10,000 Lakes!
Fillmore: That’s Minnesota.
Hoppity: Land of Enchantment?
Uncle Waldo: That’s New Mexico.
Hoppity: The Garden State?
Fillmore: That’s New Jersey.
Hoppity: Well, what DO people call California?
Fillmore: You’re too young to know the words, Hoppity.

the art3 idea, reception of the arts at penn state,
Leon L. Altman, “‘West’ as a Symbol of Death,” Psychoanalytic Quarterly 1959;28:236-241.
Carey McWilliams, Southern California: An Island on the Land. Santa Barbara: Peregrine Smith, Inc., 1979.
Laurence Rickels, The Case of California. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001.
Don DeLillo, White Noise. New York: Penguin Books, 1986.
Jacques Lacan, Seminar III: The Psychoses. New York: W.W. Norton, 1988.
Darcey Steinke, Suicide Blonde. New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1992.
Dennis Hale and Jonathan Eisen, eds., The California Dream. New York: Collier Books, 1971.