April 20, 2017

Delivered at TentCity protest outpost against gentrification at Turner Field, Atlanta, April 2017.


Search the pockets of your jeans

And find the phrases, monuments and faces

Of men who said “Liberty”, but its meaning

They did not understand. European races,

Men,  had property. But it was the basis

Of the country, this idea of Liberty.

Autonomy. Come to public spaces;

Know you needs, govern your community.

And choose your way of life. Make your living.

Your hands, ideas, your money are the promise

You can make yourselves, form your own identity.

The people will envision their own progress.

But look down Windsor Street and tell me,

What does freedom mean if you don’t own your city?


August 15, 2013

Of late I’ve felt the need to have a camera to keep on myself in expectation of the visual experiences that happen when one isn’t expecting it. For I only realized the value of photography when I realized that certain art is not something done but something seen. Just as moments of accidental genius bring about brilliant poetics, like heat sponsoring the creation of metalwork, moments of seeing are the result of the given capacity to experience. What remains is to exercise one’s ability to notice.

And yet on a more fundamental level, maybe all art is the act of seeing–visually, verbally, musically, conceptually. Observing two people from underneath a staircase in such a way that blocks the upper half of their body and results in an image potentially laden with meaning, an event of seeing which comes upon a person unexpectedly, is not something achieved but something accidental. Many of the surrealists seem to know this, but it might only seem more obvious because they praise the accident of images bubbling from the unconscious and slamming together in consciousness. And in the same way, seeing a connection between two concepts is something received, not chosen. A surge of ideas may come when I ask for it, it may not–but what thoughts will come I do not know. It is even a logical absurdity to anticipate a particular idea before it arrives.

If there’s a difference between the kind of photography I’m talking about and the act of digging out a written or drawn work, it may be that the latter is more like mining. A miner cannot choose to find copper, but he can direct his efforts toward a choice location. In fact, this analogy is fitting for all the Arts. A writer, a painter, a sculptor cannot choose to achieve a moment of insight, but she can aim her contemplation toward a particular subject.

The glory of an artist is supposed to be his creation, but at times I think his work is journeying and observing, not making.


December 29, 2012

Inspired in part by a line from The Chariot’s “Teach”–“victory is such a lonely word.” Also by the drawings of Lebbeus Woods.

I recently perfected this drawing I’ve planned for a tattoo and yesterday traced a digital version. I may add more but this is the design so far.

This kind of drawing has been developing in my mind for a few years–I’ve loved lines at least since I first saw a blue print and the breakdown of symmetry for some time. However, I was inspired by the feelings I get from what I call “deconstructivist music” and even more so by Lebbeus Woods. As much as I like the lines in their nakedness, I don’t see this style as complete any more than I see my work or identity as complete; eventually I hope it will evolve into something else inspired by its basic forms. In allowing myself to concentrate on simple designs, which I do for most of my drawings, I plan to develop the underlying structure for my designs in the long run. Click for bigger image.

November 9, 2012

“Strong impulses are but another name for energy. Energy may be turned to bad uses; but more good may always be made of an energetic nature, than of an indolent and impassive one…the same strong susceptibilities which make the personal impulses vivid and powerful, are also the source from whence are generated the most passionate love of virtue, and the strongest sense of self-control…whoever thinks that individuality of desires and impulses should not be encouraged to unfold itself, must maintain that society has no need of strong natures…and that a high general average of energy is not desirable.”

–J.S. Mill, On Liberty, chapter 3

Existence and Essence

October 12, 2012

There is a basic tenet held by most existentialist philosophers, that for the human being existence precedes essence. Thus the name “existentialism.” Existentialism is a label considered broad enough to umbrella the atheist Neitzche and Christian Kierkegaard into the same category, as well as a Nazi who wrote Being and Time, so among these philosophers are great differences; they do not necessarily define this tenet the same way. Despite my agreement with many of their ideas, I see a problem with the idea that “existence precedes essence” as Jean-Paul Sartre, spokesman for 20th century existentialism, defines it. In  L’existentialisme est un humanisme Sartre says “man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards.” According to Sartre, each individual has total power over her identity; as far as attributes of one’s self go, every person creates himself. This belief in a will so free it defines the self from scratch is hard to dislike. One has to take total responsibility for what he is, and with that comes pride of being one’s own author.

I know better than anyone the desire to be my own author. And if I have free will, of which I have an inseparable conviction–the determinists look absurd making an argument if they’re forced to be there and can’t change another’s mind–its evident that to an extent I as an agent shape my character, personality and perspective. By my decisions, my self transforms. But when you say that “you create your self,” you refer to two different subject yous. The second “you” is the product of the first–your self is something created by You. This means You can define what you are by what You make yourself to be, but it begs the question of the origins of the first “You”, that which made you who you are.

It may be clearer to separate “you” by agency and essence. Read the rest of this entry »

The fundamental doctrine of existentialism holds that existence precedes essence. Jean-Paul Sartre illustrates this idea in “Existentialism is a Humanism” by an analogy of an artisan who creates a book or paper-knife. The artisan has in his mind a conception of what he will create before he creates it. Anytime a person decides to create something, he has in his mind a conception of what that thing’s essence will be and then brings it into existence. For the thing he creates, essence precedes existence. Typically people think of God as a “supernatural artisan” who envisions what he will create as the essence of each individual man and woman and then brings them into existence.

Existentialism argues that Man is a case of existence preceding essence. In Sartre’s words, “man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world – and defines himself afterwards.” The resulting belief is empowering. It places all responsibility for who you are on you. No longer can you blame any other thing for what you are but yourself. With such responsibility comes freedom, as you can define yourself and thereby truly call it yours. For if you create a chair and feel a sense that it is yours in a way, that’s because you envisioned the chair’s essence and brought it into being. However, when you look at some other object outside yourself you presumably don’t feel the same connection. If it isn’t true that you define yourself, then you would experience the same alienation. If  one’s essence precedes her existence–if she is not responsible for who she is–she can’t call herself her self.You cannot claim a connection the way you feel with something you make if what you are is predetermined; you have as much control over what your essence is as you do a tin can lying on the road. You realize you are as removed from yourself as a foreign object.

To hold to my belief that I define who I am and am not predetermined, in short, to maintain my belief in free will, it’s natural to want to believe existence precedes essence. To believe I first exist and then define myself afterwards is of critical, yet there is a problem.

If you say that “you create your self,” you refer to two different yous. The second “you” is the product of the first–your self is created by you. You can define what you are by what you make yourself to be, but then you beg the question of the origins of the “you” that made you who you are. I would like to believe that existence precedes essence but when I say I define myself the myself’s existence can be explained by the I, but the I is left unexplained. This leads backwards to the question of first choice. It’s easy to state that the you who makes a decision is a sum of your past decisions, but as you first began making choices, before having a history and an easily identifiable self, what made those first choices? There was a you that made certain decisions. Why did it make those and not others?  You can change who you are if you have strong enough will. You can adopt characteristics and drop others. You can choose to do something because it is what you want. But that doesn’t solve the problem. The question remains unanswered; you decide to take on certain characteristics and react to an experience a certain way, but why did you make that one decision and not another?

The question about whether our existence precedes our essence or vice versa is ultimately a question of how much freedom we have, or if we have any free will at all. The truth of free will seems as easy to take for granted as consciousness. You can choose to continue reading this blog or you could choose to get up and go running. No doubt you can decide. But what determines why you make one choice and not the other? Your answer has everything to do with what you believe a human being is and how he comes into being. I don’t believe identity is predetermined by genes and experiences; yet if God preconceived the person I would be I’m not much better off in free will. It appears necessary that to make decisions in the beginning I must have been a certain way to have made them, and thus what I was must have been preconceived. The person I am now as a result of the history of my development determines how I use my agency, therefore, if the former was determined in the beginning so was my will. My best hope is that possessing agency is more complicated than that. Perhaps other factors help one determine his identity.