Rocks Don’t Love You Back

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Someone writing in a journal which calls itself a “topology of unstable confluences” meditates on, well, something having to do with rocks. Probably.

The love of stone is often unrequited.

An intimacy of long unfolding fails to be apprehended, and the story concludes in familiar solitudes, human exceptionalism and lithic indifference. Withdrawal and remoteness are inevitable themes within any romance of stone, since rock outlasts that which it draws close, that which draws it close, that to which it is strangely bound. Humans respire, reproduce, invent, desire and dream. The lithic inhabits the secret interiors of the earth. What could be more cloistered? Inorganic, nothing like the familiar animals we conditionally welcome into community, an everyday material that surfaces blunt rebuke to assimilation, stone remains aloof. Yet a mutuality is always possible, some narrative of companionship and concurrency. This essay maps geophilia, a pull, a movement, and a conjoint creativity that breaches ontological distance. Even if born of a general principle of matter, geophilia’s mobility and clasp possess their own rocky effects, in the quadruple sense “effects” carries of aftermath, agency, production, and belongings. An elemental geophilia surely exists outside human experience. Yet to us nonlithics, its force will be most evident in the relations that enmesh us over long scales of time and in the “storied matter” these confederations of the human and inhuman divulge.[1]

Monstrous child of the meeting of incompatible scales, queer progeny of impossible taxonomic breach, geophilia is the lithic in the creaturely and the lively in the stone. Humans walk upright over earth because the mineral long ago infiltrated animal life to become a partner in mobility. Vertebral bone is the architect of motion, the stone around which the flesh arranges itself to slither, run, swim and fly. Had the organic not craved durable calcium as shield and conveyor, numerous types of sedimentary rock would never have arrived. A common mode of petrogenesis (creation of stone) unfolds when tiny ocean dwellers settle in their mortuary billions to the subsea muck. Limestone is a thick cemetery of mineral that had become animal now become rock again. Propelled by slow tectonic force upward into cliff and mountainside, limestone might be quarried to build a radiant carapace under which humans pray, govern and make purchases. The whorls and coils of unfamiliar sea life such stone divulges have fascinated masons since at least Neolithic times. We create art with stone because we recognize the art that stone discloses: fossils, a museum of strata, lustrous veins and faceted radiance. We think and reckon with stone, primordial invitation to extended cognition (calculus is the Latin word for small stone, an essential component of an abacus). With its keen heft we compose and kill. From rock we construct graves, memorials, and dwelling places to endure long after we become earth again. In its aeonic endurance we discern something ardently desired, something ours only through alliance. Stone is devoid of neither life nor love, even if it questions what we mean when we use those terms to enclose a small world.

Expansive, dilatory, recursive, semicyclical from a long perspective, full of residuum, temporal intimacies, intermixed strata, geophilia entwines the modern and the ancient, the contemporary and the medieval, the primordial with expansive futurity.

German Word of the Week: Schnibbelschinken

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I’m a farmer’s market kind of guy, and Germany’s a farmer’s market kind of place. So yesterday I visited the farmer’s market (g) at the Friedensplätzchen (“Little Peace Square”) in Unterbilk. I came home laden with farmer’s cheese, a swiss roast, vegetables, eggs in crinkly shells, and ham, Schinken in German.

Special ham this time. I was in the mood for what Americans call a loose-meat sandwich. So I needed me some loose meat, if you know what I mean. And I found some, at one of trucks run by super-friendly Meat Women™. It was a silver bowl full of tasty-looking ham scraps. I asked her what it was called, and she said: “Schnibbelschinken!” She was obviously delighted by the word. So was I. Schnibbelschinken, we repeated over and over, savoring every clown-like syllable.

Schnibbeln is one word for “whittle” in German, so Schnibbelschinken is meat “whittled away” during processing. It’s not bad meat, it’s just odd meat. Apparently it’s also called Schnippelschinken. There is probably some regional reason for this variation which I’m not aware of, but someone will surely jump into comments with it. Little help?

Korn, or Breakfast Whisky

Schwarze Frühstückskorn 0,7L 32% vol.Korn is a German distilled alcohol made from grain, between 32-38% alcohol by volume. It’s got sort of a shady reputation as cheap rotgut — it’s not hard to make, and a bottle of average Korn costs well under €10.

It’s the kind of thing you see sold in tiny €1.99 bottles behind the counter of neighborhood shops — the “secret drinker” stash. You sometimes see people sitting on park benches openly drinking from bottles of Korn. These folks, unlike the beer drinkers, are in the very lists of dissolution. If you hang around all day in public drinking 12-15 bottles of 38-cent Oettinger beer, you’re part of the Trinkerszene: the ‘Drinkers’ Scene’, a rowdy but generally harmless addition to any neighborhood.

If you hang around all day in public drinking Korn, you’re slid down several levels from the Drinkers’ Scene, who themselves may shake their heads in disapproval at you. One fine Sunday morning I was on the way to visit a friend and encountered a drunk guy collapsed face-down on the pavement in front of my apartment building. He had just fallen straight down face-first, nearly breaking his nose, and lay there like a beached seal. As we lifted him and and propped him up, waiting for the ambulance, we saw he had collapsed directly onto the bottle of booze he’d been drinking. Which was, of course, Korn.

So it was with some trepidation that I bought a bottle of Korn the other day out of curiosity. I chose a brand manufactured by the Schwarze distillery called Frühstücks-Korn, or “Breakfast Korn“. You can choose to see this either as amusing or horrifyingly cynical. “You’re just trying something new”, I repeated to myself as I poured the first shot. “It’s a traditional German drink going back to the 15th century,” I said to myself as I poured the second shot. “You’re more or less solvent and employed. You are not an alcoholic, or at least you’re not hanging around in parks all day yet,” I said as I poured the third shot.

My verdict? Korn is tasty! It’s incredibly smooth, almost flavorless, with only a touch of appealingly earthy graininess to it, like chewing on a grass stalk. Frankly, it’s so smoothly drinkable it’s a bit dangerous: there are no acids, zippy congeners or high-proof throat-fire to remind you you’re drinking hard stuff.

I’m still a whisky man, first and foremost, but I will certainly try out of a bottle of Korn once in a while, to pay homage to a noble and ancient German distilling tradition. And get pie-eyed for cheap.

Three Hours of Brother Theodore on Letterman

Behold Brother Theodore (g), German Jew, Düsseldorf native, Holocaust survivor, philosopher, metaphysician, podiatrist, inventor of “stand-up tragedy”, and subject of the documentary: To My Great Chagrin: The Unbelievable Story of Brother Theodore.

In the early years of David Letterman’s talk show, Letterman invited Brother Theodore to harangue and insult the audience at least once a month, and some fine man has put them all together with good picture and audio.

Watch the first five minutes, and you’ll know whether you ‘get’ Theodore’s shtick. If you do, then you’re in for 180 more minutes of unsafe, unclean fun.

German Word of the Week: Reanimieren

Here’s a headline from Austria about an accident during a youth outing. A boat capsized, and two girls were rescued from drowning and resuscitated:

reaminated

The German word for resuscitation is “reanimate”. Which makes me think two things:

1. That’s a lot less fussy and pretentious than “resuscitate”.

2. H.P. Lovecraft would approve.

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Graphic Designers and their Goddamn Chameleons

A friend in Düsseldorf spotted this sign offering a €50 reward for the return of their veiled chameleon (which is called a ‘yemen chameleon’ in German):

chameleon

It reads “It may sound unlikely, but unfortunately, our chameleon seems to have run away.

REWARD 50 EURO.

He’s probably curled up in a corner of our apartment, but we wanted to cover every base. He’s not dangerous or poisonous, just kind of a punk.”

The little arrows next to the picture say he “likes to eat flies and crickets”,  “moves slowly and is fragile”, and has a “helpless, usually skeptical expression”.

This is what happens when you live in a city full of creative types. (1) They keep foofy-ass pets, and when they lose them, (2) painstakingly craft the most eye-catching missing posters you’ve ever seen.

In fact, I’m not sure this isn’t mainly an ingenious freelancer marketing scheme. (‘Did this missing-chameleon poster catch your eye? Wouldn’t you like your ads to do the same?’).

Will the Bilk Horse’s Head Survive?

It’s local history time! Which is easy, when you live in Bilk, a neighborhood in Düsseldorf which is actually older than Düsseldorf itself: Bilk was first mentioned as ‘Villa Bilici in a document from February 14, 799.

But now to more recent history. If you walk down the street where I live, you will notice something fairly odd: a horse’s head:

Horsehead General view

As you can see, the building has a sign for “paper processing” and a few names and very old telephone numbers. But the most striking feature is the horse’s head. I attached my camera to a long pole to get some close-ups of it:

Horsehead Brunnenstr. 27 rightHorsehead Brunnenstr. 27 left

Did people look at me strangely while I was holding a 3-meter pole with a camera attached to it? Nope. This is Düsseldorf, a town which is lousy with artists and photographers, both amateur and professional. You can’t swing a dead cat here without someone taking a picture of it.

The story behind the horse’s head is told in the latest issue of the local magazine devoted to the history of the neighborhood, the Bilker Sternwarte (g, pdf).

The building, which is now Brunnenstr. 27, was constructed in 1888/1889 by Jakob Torney, a construction foreman and developer. The building was later acquired by one Anton Schmalscheidt in the late 1890s, who installed stalls for ten horses on the ground floor, and ran a carriage business from the house. (The house is known as the Schmalscheidt house). This is probably when the horse’s head you see above you was made. We don’t know who made it.

The main client of the carriage business was the Julius Schulte and Sons paper factory founded in 1886, which still exists (g) and lends its fragrant aroma to the neighborhood every summer. They used horses to transport their paper to a nearby train station, until the paper factory finally bought a tractor for this purpose.

Unfortunately, plans are now afoot by Holatec, a business which currently owns the building and operates from it. They want to tear it down and make it into student apartments. Local politicians filed a petition to have the building designated a historical landmark, but the petition was denied on December 5, 2017. The local landmark commission found the building did not have enough historical value. There have been demonstrations (g) by local residents who want to preserve the building. They stood outside it, making “clop-clop” noises with coconut halves.

The local Green party representative for District 3 of the city said (g): “We are very much interested in allowing people to continue to live in Brunnenstraße 27. We also expressly support the idea of student apartments here. But why does the entire building need to be torn down, instead of integrating the new construction into the existing building? For many residents of Bilk, this will mean the disappearance of a piece of their neighborhood which makes it a great place to live.”

Will the horse’s head building be saved? Stay tuned — I will keep you informed of every twist and turn in this utterly fascinating (by German local-history standards) story.

How Fake is American Niceness? How Is American Niceness Fake?

Two chatty German Youtube girls who live in Texas discussing whether American niceness is fake.

Ask any European who's been to America (except New York, and sometimes even then) what their impressions are, and "niceness" will be one of the first things they mention. Strangers smile, ask how you're doing, sometimes call you "honey". Most Europeans instinctively find this insincere, and ascribe it to superficiality and/or with corporate pressure to present a chipper, eternally happy exterior. Others see it as hypocritical. An American English professor makes the argument in the Washington Post:

In fact, Trump epitomizes the conventional version of American niceness, which assumes that Americans are fundamentally decent and benevolent people with the best of intentions, whose acts of aggression are reluctant and defensive necessities designed to protect us. (Or, as the office of first lady Melania Trump put it in response to the president’s latest Twitter tirade: “When her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder.”)

In a sense, this is quintessential American niceness: a tendency to insist on one’s own affability and friendliness while dismissing all unwarranted or unnecessary acts of cruelty as necessary evils. This is the kind of amiability that obscures the shadowy side of American life. On the other hand, Americans have also historically attempted to transform our niceness into a national attitude rooted in justice and mutual respect by acknowledging American cruelty and using it as an impetus to live up to an ideal of moral integrity based on the courage to tell the truth.

In the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville was among the first to comment on American amiability, comparing it with the “unsociable mood of the English.” In the 1840s, Charles Dickens, who couldn’t imagine an Englishman being happy living in the United States, nonetheless described Americans as “friendly, earnest, hospitable, kind.” By the end of the 19th century, the link between Americans and niceness had become accepted tradition, with Rudyard Kipling noting in 1891: “It is perfectly impossible to go to war with these people, whatever they may do. They are much too nice.”

Americans themselves regarded their famed niceness as the cornerstone of a democratic personality. The actress and writer Kate Field remarked in 1873: “To try to please everybody, is democratic; to be indifferent to everybody is aristocratic: consequently, Americans, men and women, are the best bred people in the world.” As a refreshing alternative to European stuffiness, American niceness conveys democratic informality while sustaining the myth of American exceptionalism: Americans are not just nice but the nicest people on earth. As Walt Whitman once put it, Americans are “the peaceablest and most good-natured race in the world.”

Since the 19th century, Americans’ belief in our own niceness has never wavered. Yet even then, American niceness obscured a tendency to refuse accountability for aggression and offense — and even unspeakable cruelty.

Europeans have two different "niceness" problems with the US.

The first is that the niceness is fake.

I don't think this problem is very important. American niceness is just being pleasant, friendly, and obliging to random people you meet. This is one of those common things, an accurate stereotype. Especially in really nice places, like the South, people are indeed damned friendly and helpful. 

This sort of ordinary, everyday niceness is, in my view, an unambiguously good thing. It just makes life easier for all concerned. Who cares if it's superficial? I take a consequentialist view of this kind of niceness: if it works, it's good.  A world in which everyone constantly expressed their deepest, most honest reactions would quickly drown in blood. Niceness is great social lubricant, every society should aspire to as much of it as possible.

That being said, the American advantage here isn't that great. When it comes to niceness, there is probably a bigger niceness gap between urban and rural people in any one country than there is between people in general in different countries. Berlin, New York, Paris, London — you're not going to be showered in gooey, spontaneous affection in any of these places. But in rural Germany and France — and even in fairly large cities  – people are quite friendly, as long as you at least try to speak their language and observe common behavioral norms.

The other kind of niceness problem is not that the niceness itself is fake, but that it is somehow hypocritical or inconsistent. This is a somewhat more sophisticated niceness critique, and the one that's being made in this op-ed. This one goes: "Oh sure, Americans are nice and friendly to other Americans or to 'acceptable' kinds of strangers such as tourists, but this is just an attempt to paper over inequality, racism, and militarism. Who cares how nice Americans are in America while their government is dropping more explosives on Cambodia than all the Allies used during all of World War II? Who cares whether that guy in the truck gave you a ride to the next gas station when he supports capital punishment and has Trump stickers all over his bumpers?"

This is a more serious objection, but it's not really logically consistent. The bombing of Cambodia had nothing to do with being friendly and helpful to strangers. The bombing of Cambodia would not have been more or less acceptable if Americans had been ruder at home. What these Europeans are complaining about is not American "niceness", but American moral posturing as the "shining city on the hill" which is a beacon unto the nations and the most morally upright of countries, etc. And to that extent, they're on solid ground. Too many Americans swallow this sort of guff about their country.

The association comes from the fact that the people most likely to uncritically swallow (only positive) American exceptionalism also tend to be really nice. But they're not nice because they believe in an air-brushed version of American history. You can like them for being nice while rejecting their blinkered opinions.

German Word of the Week: Hä?

Ahh, German women. What can you say about them? On average, they tend to be clean, orderly, practical, tallish, amply-chested, of normal weight, with shoulder-length straight hair, and less heavily-tattooed than their sisters to the North, at least for now. They also really like to attach tiny stuffed animals to the zippers on their backpacks.

There, was that inoffensive enough? 

But enough of flimsy stereotypes and ignorant generalizations. One thing that German women, and only German women do, is say "hä?". The sound of this is about halfway between the English "heh" and "Hey!". It's an exclamation, said as a reaction to something the woman finds distasteful or implausible. It's universally accompanied by an unflattering grimace. Its meaning is basically: WTF?

But good writer not tell, he show.

So here's a hä? caught in the wild. This is 2 seconds from a recent commentary by German TV host Anja Reschke:

We'll ignore the substance, as we so often do on this blog. What's important is that Reschke has just summarized an argument she disagrees with, and inserted her very own hä? to show her disgust. Let's have a closer look at that expression:
Hae

The hä? is the German answer to American vocal fry — a speech pattern that is almost exclusively female. I've only ever seen men do it when imitating women.

The hä? seems to be unique to Germany. In fact, it's one of the first thing people notice about German women, once they get to know them well enough to see them drop a hä? Once, at a party, I had the chance to watch a French man react to his first hä?, which was delivered with gusto by a sozzled German co-ed.

He instinctively backed up and dragged me with him, saying: "Oh my God, she's about to throw up!"

“Cartoon Rabbits in Nazi Uniforms”

Fascism in the ranks of adults who dress up like animals. Is nothing sacred?

The war began when a fascist party and its armband-clad leader led a putsch. Antifascists mobilized in response. Threats of violence ensued.

Then the Rocky Mountain Fur Con canceled all future events.

The Fur Con is an annual summit in Denver, Colorado, for “furries,” people who present themselves as animals, from donning full-body fur suits to adopting “fursonas” for their character. And just as in the rest of America, a lot of furries resemble Nazis lately….

Fascist furries are nothing new, but until recently, “they were rare individuals who were more interested in uniform fetish than espousing Nazi ideology,” Deo, another furry told The Daily Beast.

But the rise of the alt-right has ushered in the #AltFurry, a hashtag under which right-leaning furries can organize, and the uninitiated can encounter more cartoon rabbits in Nazi uniform than they possibly expected to see in their lifetimes.

"Right-leaning furries."

Also this:

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