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Monday, 14 November 2011

A Crowd of Strangers (II): The Waiver (Imaging the Imaging of History)


UC Berkeley Occupy protest, Sproul Plaza: photo by konigswagger, 9 November 2011

Our friend the very cool blogger/writer Brad Johnson of Departure Delayed (see margin link here) has been conscientiously posting his responses to some of the East Bay Occupy events. This passage comes from his epistolary-format narrative of the events of 9 November, when Occupy came to UC Berkeley.

...I knew where I was going but was, nevertheless, surprised when I ended up in Berkeley, walking quite hurriedly to Sproul Plaza, where I was greeted, though the cry was obviously not intended for me, “MEDIC! WE NEED A MEDIC!” Someone had been hurt in the police melee that had occurred minutes before my arrival. I do not know how badly she was injured, but she was ushered away quickly. There seemed more anger prevalent than fear on the part of the crowd, though their numbers were not as large as I’d expected. I’m not a particularly brave person, as you well know. Nor, am I an adrenaline junky. I was not interested in being arrested or taking on more tear gas or once again being shot at by non-lethal projectiles. So, yes, I was rather afraid.

Fortunately, the numbers soon increased, dramatically so. Until eventually I could become a part of the crowd. And it was within this crowd, though I cannot place the moment itself, that I realized, despite what I recall recently telling you, I’m not seeking a cause with which to align myself so much as I am seeking an occasion to become strictly a body. I live so much in words. I feel awkward, even with people I know & love, when standing in the flesh, face to face, being seen. I have a confidence with verbal and written expression that I do not in my physical individuality & the space I cut in this world alone. What I want of a crowd, whose motivations, though myriad, are directed against or toward — in a kind of strange harmony, a music to which you would not listen for leisure — that which we may not know or be willing to say by name, is a momentary disintegration — a burning away of myself until all that is left is the presence of a body, not even a voice, in protest. That alone.

I should think not everybody has, or should have, this admittedly retrograde Romantic desire. But I confess it here, to you, though I feel no guilt.

Those words stayed with me. I had been there too -- a little later, in the night, as it happens, at that witchy hour when the ghosts come out.

Brad's blog is often presented in a useful dialogic mode, as a kind of open conversation -- with himself, or with anybody who wishes to extend the developing structure of exchange by having a say. Offered such an opportunity, the least one can do, in conscience, is honestly and openly reply. Thus:


Every body would be a body, know a body, feel a body, if a body only could.

But I must say this, as of that long night at Sproul, I did feel a categorical difference. Despite the general, palpable, almost desperate desire for connection that is always in the air, tangible as a kind of invisible atmospheric drizzle, every Occupy is probably (necessarily) disconnected from every other Occupy in ways that are determined by contextual factors like location, socioeconomic background, race (let’s not kid ourselves), even weather, time of day/night, & c. And at Sproul I did notice that, in contrast with the Oakland and downtown Berkeley sites, the crowd was generally better attired, perhaps better “educated”, and definitely more self-conscious in that particular image-consciousness way that manifests itself in the having, and continual using, of cameras and especially video cameras. To document history, as it occurs, is surely important -- right up to the point where the documenting, and the documenting of the documenting, becomes itself the event.

I was standing in Sproul, late that night -- it must have been about 1:30 in the morning -- talking with three young black men who stood out in the by-then-not-so-large crowd as being visibly non-student types. Soon we became conscious of a well-dressed young woman, perhaps a graduate student as it then seemed (?), filming us with a handheld video camera.

After politely fielding a few Wuzzups, she explained, somewhat uncomfortably, that she was making a record of the participation, in this largely white crowd, of… I’m not sure she said “black people”, but the point was plain.

Her subjects shrugged, “whatever”.

Thus given confidence, she added, “but of course I’ll need you to sign a waiver…”

One of the young men she was filming and with whom I had been -- privately, as I had, in that terrible retro way, assumed -- quietly conversing, turned to me, laughed, and said, "Don't worry, OG, she don't mean you."

And then he confided, even more quietly, "Yo, I'm an Army reservist, being in this movie is the last thing I am going to be needing."

As I drifted away into the lonely monadic night, that image of a well-meaning utilitarian technological disembodiment stayed with me, like a brand on the forehead of this latest would-be embodiment of a Brave New World.

And much as I may have wished for “a burning away of myself”, I fear I was left, on the long hike homeward, recalling the encounter I have just described, feeling more my own sad, sorry, solitary self than ever.

So, Brad, it appears from this admittedly peculiar and maybe totally skewed vantage that there remains yet a long way to travel; possibly entailing, even -- perish the thought -- a fantastic voyage into that unfathomable feeling-space where waivers do not apply and even the tiniest, most "advanced" cameras cannot ever, ever go.

UC Berkeley Occupy protest, Sproul Plaza
: photo by konigswagger, 9 November 2011

UC Berkeley Occupy protest, Sproul Plaza
: photo by konigswagger, 9 November 2011


Ed Baker said...

seems to me (in my ignorance of theory & postulations
that ALL sides are "in it" for the money.... for what can be freely gotten .... (that's a question) as I am yet
crawling around on all fours deep inside
Le Tue d'Audoubert
with Herbert Kuhn (sorry about the two little dots over the "u") and Joseph Campbell and some long-gone shaman with "these curious vestiges of Paleolithic ritual within (the cave's Sanctuary), (he) notes, " Since there are no other imprints than those of heels, it is obvious that this must have been a dance-flor, used for some sort of cult-dance ... [perhaps] a bison dance." Later he relates, "We followed the traces, the footprints. These lead to the rock walls and they lead to five different spots. Everywhere we found phallic engravings, symbols of life, birth, beginning," images deep within the cave of the creative source itself expressed in sexual imagery." (then Ryan brings back in Joseph Campbell and the Jung and then... Poesy en Masse;

all of this around 26,800 B.P. what-ever the hell "B.P."


as for crowds? I was in one once 1963 or so we marched over to levitate the Pentagon !! THAT sure as hell worked

TC said...

Ed, when this minuscule page of history comes to be posted on the cave wall of the fourth millennium, I suspect the extraterrestrial cave guides will be saying, in whatever language is spoken then -- "...and here we come to the homo sapiens... as you will see, no other imprints than those of heels."

Nin Andrews said...

This is fascinating--I love the honest contemplation of the relationship of I to the crowd.
I am afraid of crowds. I think of Ionesco--his Rhinoceros --and everyone in the crowd turning into a rhino. People are just like other animals, and, given the right circumstances, they can suddenly go nuts.
We had this whippet on our farm for a few years, and that dog was so fast and high-strung and yappy, it cd incite the other dogs to attack cats, chickens, cows and horses, other dogs that had always been gentle --and always were gentle after the whippet ran away and never returned . . .

TC said...

Absolutely. I think it's all a matter of electricity, electrical fields.

As a raw youth, I worked for some years in what would now perhaps be called "the field" of "crowd control".

At the Sugar Ray Robinson / Gene Fullmer championship bout in the Chicago Stadium, the air of the packed house was charged with electricity. The giant arena smelt of burnt popcorn, sweat and oceanic adrenalin. The fighters' gloves were bright red. Fullmer, a Mormon, was taking a terrible, precise, perfectly targeted beating from Sugar Ray, a true scientist of this art. After a few rounds, Fullmer's eyes were swollen almost shut, and his extremely white face and body were flecked with blood. Yet he laboured on, standing up to the punishment beyond a point at which a "reasonable man" would have wanted only the throwing-in of the towel. Yet there was no mercy. In my lower balcony section, the crowd was going nuts. Then suddenly, from above, a body went falling past my section, passed out of view and disappeared into the ringside sections below. It seems someone had been thrown, or pushed, from the balcony above. At my next break I reported this incident on up the line to the lieutenant above me. What to do, think? "Don't say a word about it," he advised. "Just imagine it never happened."

But the frenzies of enthusiasm, elation, lamentation, agitation that rise up from any excited crowd are truly unforgettable.

Crowds, they scare me half to death.

Though for that poor falling person at the Robinson/Fullmer affair, the cup of death, I fear, may well have been more than half full. At least I'll never know. (Now there's a mercy.)

Ed Baker said...

vsessannsure glad you didn't say Sugar Ray Leonard ...

as for falling out of or being pushed pout of the stands... this is a frequent happen-ing...

I recall when at a Senator's game early 50's

out un the bleachers over the visiting team's bull pen

Bobbie McDonald picked up a kid and threw him over the rail and down into the bull pen...

I think it was Jim Lemon who boosted the kid back up into the stands or was Jim a Senator... it was against the Yankees so it was a Yankee's pitcher...

as for the image of that fight?

I am en:visioning that guy's painting "Both Members of the Club"

grotesque faces of the ring-side crowd !

Anonymous said...


I'm delighted you responded here. I only this morning discovered it (after another early-morning milling about in downtown Oakland). I will respond here as I did there by affirming that Yes, I think I know exactly what you mean. I’ve long ago lost my naivety when it comes to considering myself a true-blue romantic. Such moments of “disintegration” and “burning away,” they’re only momentary, aren’t they? — and perhaps not even recognizable at all until after the moment has passed and you try to reconstruct what occurred, or (I will not rule it out) see it reconstructed later in a photograph or a video. There is too much that is not “of” the moment, or at least too much that you’d rather not retain, for whatever reason, for that moment to remain more than merely that. & that’s what I prefer, I think, the “merely that,” which is where the naivety comes rushing back, as often happens with preferences. And perhaps all this is good & right. Moments aged by the accumulation of too many minutes, ossified by the piling up of hours, like bodies flung into a mass grave, these too often in my experience become a kind of memorial or tomb, from which all things enter but never return.

TC said...

Oh well, nothing ever changes too much.

Culture to culture, things differ.

I have met people on the street at night who have no idea what the Occupy movement is, but are mightily pissed off about the Manny Pacquiao decision.

In my own grand Silver Gloves career, refereed by Tony Zale, I had two decisions.

The first a three-round win over a poor kid whose religious medal I somehow managed to imprint into his pale chest, with a lucky blow.

But the luck of the Irish then turned when another innocent youth, in my next bout, knocked the living daylights out of me.

And so we flow merrily along, down the bloodsport chute to the sewage trough of eternity.

Ed Baker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TC said...

Hey Brad, due to the curious ins and outs of Moderation, I didn't see your comment until... well, I had been answering Ed... and thinking about Pacquiao/Marquez, of all things. So that comment just above this one was directed to Mr Baker, not to Esteemed Friend You.

"Moments aged by the accumulation of too many minutes, ossified by the piling up of hours, like bodies flung into a mass grave, these too often in my experience become a kind of memorial or tomb, from which all things enter but never return."

Oh golly, yes, history a boneyard, in Pittsburgh or in Glasgow (thinking of the indelible darkness of the Thomas Annan images above this, now), on the campus or in the caves, with or without memorial, the suction of the drain remains.

Therefore let us surrender all hope... without quite giving up hope. (Where there's life, & c.)

TC said...

Oh, Jeez. I give up.

(Is this what they call parataxis?)

Ed Baker said...


the fighter Leonard patterned his 'everything' after/on..

TC said...

What I meant, Brad, was that while I was answering your thoughtful and absolutely nonviolent comment, in came more followup on blood sport -- my fault for introducing the topic -- from Mr Ed, and... uh... well, I guess you'll understand.

And now, even as I speak Mr Ed has, as he seems on occasion wont to do, retracted his most recent effusion, making even greater fools of us all than we already were, if that is possible -- so here we are, back to go, sitting peacefully on the lawn of the temple in the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind, awaiting developments.

Who ever said Blogging isn't fun?

TC said...

Oh heck, now that I look at it, Ed's retracted comment was harmless enough, nothing incriminating, so, in the interest of the free flow of idio -- er, information -- here is the missing piece of this curious puzzle, as posted by Ed Baker, some twenty (ten?? -- time runs together when you're having fun blogging) minutes ago.

Ed Baker said:

"I boxed a bit at The Merrick Boys' Club up on 12 th & C Street N.E.
my cousin was a Golden Glove's Champ and my best fried

"Jimmy Fontana was also a good prize-fighter... he once in the ring beat-the-crap out of me... which was reason i became the "lover" that I now am

"went to Uline Arena once and saw Joe Lewis fight
also saw him wrestle there he also referreeded
wrestling there...
Sugar Ray Leonard was BAR NONE the classiest/best boxer of ALL TIMES !

"Finesse personified..."

I have no problem with those words, it's a free country (!!) & c., and I think it's a lot better to see innocuous retracted thoughts than to imagine, in their absence, all sorts of smoking guns and fallen dead bodies from the attic.

But now I AM throwing in the towel. (One might call it a TKO.)

aditya said...

Moderation is more fun. You should be saying thanks to the deranged internet addict who'd been littering here before. I know very little about the Occupy Wall Street Movement. A couple of articles I read in week old newspapers and the posts on your blog. Thats about it. I dont know how much (if at all) this should resonate.. Well what the heck.

Slavery was put down in America, not in consequence of any action on the part of the slaves, or even any express desire on their part that they should be free. It was put down entirely through the grossly illegal conduct of certain agitators in Boston and elsewhere, who were not slaves themselves, nor owners of slaves, nor had anything to do with the question really. It was, undoubtedly, the Abolitionists who set the torch alight, who began the whole thing. And it is curious to note that from the slaves themselves they received, not merely very little assistance, but hardly any sympathy even; and when at the close of the war the slaves found themselves free, found themselves indeed so absolutely free that they were free to starve, many of them bitterly regretted the new state of things.