December 19, 2016

>> essay in unfriendliness

what will you do with that stick I said to my friend

well, that was on the social media — and it was a small stick. my friend, he, was holding it in a selfie.


friendship falls away, out, comes undone, your friend so easily becomes your enemy. “O my friends, there is no friend,” etc.

so much insistence from (my friends on) the left (on the social media) arguing that friendship “isn’t possible under capitalism.” that might be true; I don’t know. there’s a universe of not-knowing in me, of uncertainty.

but if it’s true, isn’t friendliness possible under any and all conditions. it’s sourced from interiority and not condition. & it doesn’t require any certainty.


In fact I am not equipped to write on this topic, but I proposed to do it: “Unfriendliness in the art worlds I / we inhabit. Not under the terms of friendship, but under the terms of friendliness, as seen from Buddhist or yogic perspective. The ways friendliness is anti-capital, but unfriendliness reproduces the forms of competition capital thrives on.”

Why am I not equipped? Not exactly a student of divinity, of affect theory, of Marx, Montaigne, Emerson, Derrida, Christ, Aristotle, Ahmed, Tiqqun, the Buddha, etc.


Unfriendliness doesn’t seem to have been theorized often — weak affect? But it’s more pervasive than outright hostility, isn’t it — it’s even prerequisite; a water we swim in. Or I do? A friend suggested that unfriendliness is an internal state without an external object; this would twin it with friendliness as a quality of being. But I’m not sure I agree. This would point to a kind of… sourness of person, rather than an activity directed toward someone else.

We did agree that unfriendliness is an absence of a kind of care, caring.


Yesterday we saw a cat eating — something — a worm, a lizard, a small snake, a caterpillar? It was half itself and still twitching. The miniature acts of violence in nature.

I reflected on the sadistic acts that have been done to me, “sadists I have known.” When the abbess asked me to clean the men’s bathroom, and there was a fresh shit floating in the toilet, I reflected on the possibility of experiencing that activity neutrally, yet I experienced her tasking me with that task as sadistic. I “knew” when I saw the shit that when she’d smiled at me while giving me the task, she’d known the shit was there. Well, I cleaned the shit, and refused to clean the shower.

I was recently asked to introduce Todd Haynes’s 1991 New Queer Cinema classic Poison, an exposition of desire, ostracization, and aggression, in three parts, drawn loosely from the writings of Jean Genet. I said yes I’ll introduce it, but no I haven’t seen it. Which was a lie, but I didn’t know it. I’d certainly seen it, and more than once. Now why had I forgotten it? Or rather how had I forgotten the brutality, the beauty of it? Possibly I’m too old to keep holding so many scenes in mind or possibly I have developed a personality that wants to scrub the poison out.

Before re-viewing the film, I’d been thinking about the word poison, and the ways poison is in us and in things and the ways poison in its various speeds, fast or slow, invades or pervades us. In Agatha Christie’s fiction, poison is often applied as the method of making a body become deceased, for reasons of profit, hatred, avarice, jealousy, to couple up with a different someone, and so on. Strychnine, arsenic, cyanide, but also monkshood, belladonna, hemlock, taxine, anthrax, morphine; and also, simply, the sleeping tablet. Silent poisons, bitter ones, odorless and tasteless toxicants, poisons that are fast-acting and agonizing, poisons that are slow to accrue and mimic symptoms of benign illnesses. Administered in teas, in jams, in wine, in pleasant unguents, inside of or instead of other medicines. I was thinking of the ways our sources of sustenance are poisoned, our water, our food, our communities, our friendships, our love relationships. What seeps in to corrode, rust, rot, how it does, becomes pervasive in a group or in a person, in the soil or in the soul.


you heal that, you become that. I thought I wanted to go into the mountains and now I’m here. I feel the distance between myself and the ocean —


Energy follows thought.

Well, why write about that here? We mistake division, discrimination, for discernment.


a friend, an intimate one, who is no longer a friend, used to say she felt like an overeager puppy, tongue out, tail wagging, loping on her puppy paws forward to engage liked or admired others — on the campus, at the opening, at the reading — only to smack against the plate glass sliding door of their refusal. I always admired the implication of that sliding door. And for which others that door would open.


we’re socialized to refuse but acceptance is the primary state of being.

because I say it is! obviously.


our pride in negativity. our legacy in it. obviously.


“Most of what we take to be individuality is conceptual,” writes our friend Norman Fischer.

Which is to say, our distinctions are conceptual.

Why is this pertinent here?


“was hating” — past progressive.

friendship: object, a thing, a noun

friendly: adverb, adjective, a manner, an action, a way of being, an activity


Are these words:

antiseptic, arctic, brittle, chill, chilly, cold, coldish, cool, frosty, gelid, glacial, icy, wintry

bloodless, heartless, pitiless, unfeeling; undemonstrative, unresponsive; apathetic, indifferent, uninterested; aloof, detached, dispassionate, impersonal, offish, standoffish; unsociable, unsocial

cattiness, invidiousness, malevolence, malice, maliciousness, malignancy, malignity, meanness, spite, spitefulness; aversion, disgust, distaste, odium, repugnance, repulsion, revulsion; animosity, antagonism, antipathy, bitterness, contempt, disdain, enmity, grudge, hostility, jealousy, pique, resentment, scorn; bile, jaundice, rancor, spleen, venom, virulence, vitriol

More fun to read than these words:

affable, affectionate, amiable, amicable, attentive, cordial, familiar, neighborly, receptive, sympathetic, welcoming, faithful, kind, benevolent, benign, comradely, conciliatory, convivial, genial, peaceable, propitious, solicitous

agreeable, approachable, good-tempered, gracious, nice, sweet; gregarious, hospitable, sociable; jolly, jovial, merry; brotherly, fraternal, sisterly; close, familiar, intimate, adoring; devoted, lovesome, tender, loving

compassionate, kind, kindhearted; demonstrative, expressive; passionate, eager, enthusiastic



I watched Poison and I went to sleep and in the morning I was groggy and couldn’t quite wake up, my dreams were: I was riding in the back of a van going up into the mountains, where I was going in a hurry, but the van I noticed had no driver, and I was the only passenger. As the van was hurtling forward I climbed up to the front to drive it, but the seat was too small and I couldn’t quite find the steering wheel, and my view through the windshield was frustrated by a square monitor on which I was supposed to be watching a picture of the road made by a camera mounted on the roof, but the screen kept shorting out, and it was raining and the road was getting slick, and the windshield was fogging up and the screen was flickering in and out of view and I couldn’t quite see around it and the rain was coming down very fast and the van was going very fast and I couldn’t apply the brakes quite right and as my alarm was going off I was pouring clear clean water from a silver chalice, my thermos, into a silver cup from a long ways up, and the stream of the water was the musical chiming stream-like flow coming from my iPhone and the bedtime app.


A few years back, some friends and some friends of friends organized a seminar in friendship, called Friendship as a Way of Life, after the 1981 interview with M. Foucault. None of the people involved in the seminar are friends with each other anymore, so I’ve heard; they fell out. I have the syllabus, though I didn’t read much from it. It’s heavily weighted to a western canon. Let me know if you can balance it in another direction.

Would they still be friends had they made their study in compassion, in friendliness, instead. I’m not judging.


The Boddhisatva Maitreya, the one who practices friendship, the Buddha of the future, who will bring the dharma when the teachings of Sakyamuni Buddha, the Buddha of the current age, have disintegrated, when no one on earth practices the dharma any longer.

Maitreya, from the Sanskrit maitri, “friendliness”, “loving-kindness”, from the noun mitra, “friend”.


Maitreya is the Buddha of the next age, much as Shakyamuni is the Buddha of our age. He resides in Tushita heaven waiting for his final rebirth. As befits his highest rebirth, he wears the garments and jewels of a prince, though his halo clearly demarks his deified status. He can be identified by the sacred water flask in his left hand.

The messianic savior Maitreya is identified by the flask he holds in his lower hand. He is seated in a yogic posture on a double-lotus cushion and extends spiritual protection to believers with his raised hand, here displayed with the palm facing inwards, not outwards as is conventional. This icon has a superbly preserved metal surface, complete with silver inlay on the eyes and forehead mark (urna).

Maitreya, the messianic bodhisattva characterized as the Buddha of the Future, stands in a graciously exaggerated posture, the body beautifully counterbalanced. He holds his raised hand in the gesture of exposition (vitarka mudra [the mudra of discussion]) and in his lowered hand displays a flask universally understood in South Asian culture as the container of amṛta, the elixir of life.


This expression of an ultimate friendliness appears weekly in my field of vision, via a friend on the social media:

enough space, healthy food, freedom from physical and emotional violence, perpetual access to physical and emotional healthcare, clean air and water, adequate shelter with climate controls, reasonable obligations to work for others, the guarantee of moving in public and private space without fear, leisure time and quiet, social time with friends and strangers, opportunities to get enough sleep, clean/free/easy transportation, free access to information and education, some permanent possessions, ability to borrow other items as needed

— Michael Nicoloff


unfriendliness in friends is surreptitious, often its existence unknown to either party. it’s subterranean, & its aims are to destroy — not a little destruction, but utterly. to kill. by whatever sanctioned means. gossip. innuendo. little drops of poison.


friendliness: inexhaustible, a renewable resource, in all of us, can be given and received even between utterly unlike others, or enemies. (distinctly not present among frenemies)


a beyond-the-interior quality. (perhaps that’s what “an artwork” transmits to me, an ultimate friendliness, a meeting.)

“they” say it’s “divine” — “spark” – like the light inside a shard of something glittering in the street — that is, illuminated by some other light. The sun, a streetlamp — a light that appears inside that comes from other than inside.


we’re administrators. we exchange monies.

I love my friends. I love my enemies. the truth is, I also hate them (all, both).

I’m like you. human.

paintings — photographs — whatever — depictions of flesh, of bodies —

two women sawing off the head of a man


does commitment create division. this one is distinguished by being the one who is not my friend. one form over another form. ancient problems.

we’re always choosing forms, distinguishing.

I asked the abbess, what is the difference between this tradition and the other one. only the forms are different, she said. the teaching is the same.

I thought she might have given me a koan.

Well, I’m thinking.


Instead of saying capitalism creates unfriendliness, say unfriendliness reproduces the forms of capital,

and in the most insidious situations— the heart


once, at a wedding in a park on a sunny day, I offered the last strawberry to two friends, poet-commie-intellectual types (self-described; also, university professors), who proceeded to argue over who should take the berry. or not take the berry. these men are friends, they love each other, but I couldn’t break up their fight over the fruit, which was clearly the more enticing the more bitter the circumstances around it became. The berry was a fat one, easily divided, juicy, mmm, you bite it then I will — but they left me standing there proffering the plastic basket. I gave up and proffered it to someone else.


“…the whole world is cruel and foolish and afraid of people who are different.” now that everyone is “different,” thinks “different” — has anything changed?

we smell difference and we close ranks against it


I’m struggling to write this during the month of October 2016, in North America, election season. So hopelessly, utterly naïve.


I’m struggling to write this on November 9, 2016, in North America, where a minority of white voters have just elected a platform of racist homophobic misogynist climate-denying raping sociopathology to the highest political office in the world.


or the whole world now exponentially cruel and foolish and afraid — yet protective of difference — everyone describing their special handhold in the universe — where being unlike all others is a specificity, a raiment so fine that in it each one ought to enjoy infinite latitude to choose for all others what’s right, what being is, what truth is


There are clear aesthetic and ideological demands within any coterie (“community”). Is this narrowing of possibility not unfriendly?  Or is containment, categorization, what makes understanding a possibility. But friendliness can be extended in the absence of understanding. Can’t it?


“What happens when you empathize with the enemy?”

Why does reaching out to another tribe make our tribe so angry?


notational return to the problem of work as described under capital:

once, someone in a position of power over me — my paycheck — told me I was “improperly socialized” — too overt, too friendly, too much unhidden. improperly professionalized was what he meant, what was ultimately intended.


I misunderstood the terms. didn’t know how to deploy that cool. my parachute, the social safety mechanism, never released. I crashed. like that puppy. plate glass.


How often do we prefer to argue over it than eat it.

How often is it easier to exchange smiles with a stranger on the street than it is with an acquaintance at the opening, at the reading.


Do you think this writing is silly?


Tenacity in caring is such difficult work; tenacity despite disagreement, and the emotions that attend it — aggravation, rage, frustration. Competitive striving. Survivor’s guilt; successor’s.


enough space, healthy food, freedom from physical and emotional violence, perpetual access to physical and emotional healthcare, clean air and water, adequate shelter with climate controls, reasonable obligations to work for others, the guarantee of moving in public and private space without fear, leisure time and quiet, social time with friends and strangers, opportunities to get enough sleep, clean/free/easy transportation, free access to information and education, some permanent possessions, ability to borrow other items as needed


Sustained address — the intimacy sustained address is — but the media breaks in / breaks mind into infinite multidirection of address, and so no possibility of intimacy is sustained — in this stream of fragmentation, can anything but a defending, a warding-off be sustained?

Compassion is a form of sustained address. Continuance.


While thinking about Poison, and Jean Genet, and poison, I remembered something else I’d forgotten: a long time ago, a beloved friend and I got into a bitter fight in a bookstore in a tiny town a few hundred miles and a few thousand years from here, over a used copy of Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers. Why or how would we have had that fight? Who knows. But somehow I came home with the book, and in order to share the book with her, and apologize, I wrote a poem for her from the language in it. We were not quite lovers once, she and I, and this friendship is long since dead, poisoned. I don’t know how the poison got in, where it came from, possibly it was always in it, or it came up from the ground, or was pervasive in the environment we were in. Drip by drip. Who is poisoning our water? We are. Who poisoned this friendship? We did.


perhaps friendship can “only be deferred in the present” (a friend, on the social media), but isn’t friendliness a certain possible paradise now? — also, infinite.

friendliness: available now, possible now, infinite now,

it doesn’t require you to know who your “community” is, or even who your friends are — but only to extend it.


Just words.


In yoga class, a classic yoga-class problem: a woman came in at the last minute and set her mat too close to mine. she was practically on top of me. no sense of herself in space: she sat too parallel and so we were knocking elbows in every pose. She got the code wrong, broke the arbitrary, invisible, unnecessary rule. I refused to look at her. What was I thinking, you ask? Stupid cow, if I must disclose. There’s a spot across the room, why isn’t she in it? I saw, but could not stop, the string of irritated invective — I even indulged it. Get away from me.

What did stop it? Because I did look at her and smile, finally. We were instructed into a stretch that would take everyone across everyone else’s mat. Lie flat on your belly, the teacher said, and reach your left arm out horizontally into a T-position, palm down. Bend your right knee, and bring your right foot to the floor outside your left leg. If you have to touch your neighbor,” he said, “don’t worry about it.” A “heart-opening” shoulder stretch. My inner glare was effective though: the woman next to me did her best to not get near me. She contorted herself so as not to.


“Don’t be afraid of Suzanne,” our teacher called out to her, “she’s friendly.”


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