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“The surface of Stand-Out ads still presents a relatively unalloyed Buy This Thing, but the deep message of television w/r/t these ads looks to be that Joe Briefcase’s ontological status as just one in a reactive watching mass is at some basic level shaky, contingent, and that true actualization of self would ultimately consist in Joe’s becoming one of the images that are the objects of this great herd-like watching. That is, television’s real pitch in these commercials is that it’s better to be inside the TV than to be outside, watching.”

David Foster Wallace, “E Unibus Pluram”

“One of the things that makes the people on television fit to stand the Megagaze is that they are, by ordinary human standards, extremely pretty. I suspect that this, like most television conventions is set up with no motive more sinister than to appeal to the largest possible Audience – pretty people tend to be more appealing to look at than non-pretty people.

Because of the way human beings relate to narrative, we tend to identify with those characters we find appealing. We try to see ourselves in them. The same ID-relation, however, also means that we try to see them in ourselves. When everybody we seek to identify with for six hours a day is pretty, it naturally becomes more important to us to be pretty, to be viewed as pretty. Because prettiness becomes a priority for us, the pretty people on TV become all the more attractive, a cycle which is obviously great for TV. But it’s less great for us civilians, who tend to own mirrors, and who also tend not to be anywhere near as pretty as the TV-images we want to identify with.

Not only does this cause some angst personally, but he angst increases because, nationally, everybody else is absorbing six-hour doses and identifying with pretty people and valuing prettiness more, too. This very personal anxiety about our prettiness has become a national phenomenon with national consequences. The boom in diet aids, health and fitness clubs, neighborhod tanning parlors, cosmetic surgery, anorexia, bulimia, steroid-use among boys, girls throwing acid at each other because one girl’s hair looks more like Farah Fawcett’s than another… are these supposed to be unrelated to the apotheosis of prettiness in a televisual culture?”

David Foster Wallace, “E Unibus Pluram”

“[It is ironic] That products presented as helping you express individuality can afford to be advertised on television only because they sell to enormous numbers of people.”

– David Foster Wallace, “E Unibus Pluram”

“…lonely people are usually lonely not because of hideous deformity or odor or obnoxiousness… Lonely people tend, rather, to be lonely because they decline to bear the psychic costs of being around other humans. They are allergic to people. People affect them too strongly.”

David Foster Wallace, “E Unibus Pluram”

“To feel as if you belong is one of the great triumphs of human existence… But… our sense of slight woundedness around not belonging is actually one of our core competencies; that though the crow is just itself and the stone is just itself and the mountain is just itself, and the cloud, and the sky is just itself — we are the one part of creation that knows what it’s like to live in exile, and that the ability to turn your face towards home is one of the great human endeavors and the great human stories.”

David Whyte

“People pay to see others believe in themselves… Someone who works hard at his or her job is not going to become a ‘hero,’ but may make just enough money to be able to afford to be liberated temporarily through entertainment. A performer, however, as the hero, will be paid for being sexually uncontrolled, but will still be at the mercy of the clubs and the way the media shapes identity.”

Kim Gordon, “I’m Really Scared When I Kill In My Dreams”

“The myth of New York seems to be sustained by the fact that so many people who live there are from somewhere else. They come to the city and immediately dedicate themselves to making it the city of their imagination.”

– Eula Biss, Notes From No Man’s Land, “Goodbye to All That”

“Most scientists agree that a person’s race is self-identified, and the US census now categorizes people only as they self identify. But our racial categories are so closely policed by the culture at large that it would be much more accurate to say that we are collectively identified. Whenever we range outside the racial identity that has been collectively assigned to us, we are very quickly reminded where we belong.”

– Eula Biss, Notes From No Man’s Land, “Relations”

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

Desmond Tutu

“If you’re truly talented, then your work becomes your way of doing good in the world; if you’re not, it’s a self-indulgence, even an embarrassment…

“I didn’t wish I’d written his book. What I envied were what his talent and success had bestowed on him, a sense of the rightness of what he was doing. I wanted what women always want: permission. But he’d had that before this book was even written. It was arguably what enabled him to write the book in the first place.

“I was raised to admire a life of service, and to this day I do admire it. When I see someone bend to the task of helping another I think she is doing the work of all, the human job. But someone else’s good deed never stabs my heart the way a good book does. I admire it, but I do not envy it. Whatever else it has done, my envy of the man has helped me see the difference between what I was raised to want, what I wish I could want, and what I do want.”

– Kathryn Chetkovich, “Envy

“The reason to have a home is to keep certain people in and everyone else out.”

– Jenny Offill, Dept of Speculation

“It is all dead money now. The coffers of wealth accumulated by the capture and sale of slaves had turned into rubbish. Cowrie shells were demonetized and eventually outlawed altogether by colonial governments, which had divided and conquered Africa in the guise of emancipating it. The mortal anguish of the slaves had become apparent belatedly to European nations and this nascent abolitionist zeal provided the rationale for the conquest of Africa. In the nineteenth century, the same nations responsible for the shipment of millions of captives declared themselves the antagonists of slavery. Soon after colonial governments abolished Africa’s internal slave trade, the currency of the slave trade,at least what Africans had accumulated, was destroyed too. No similar effort to erase the past and start anew was enacted in the West. The pounds and francs and marks that replaced cowrie shells were blood money too.”

– Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother

“Cowrie shells replaced the indigenous curries of Africa… The literal piles and mountains of money must have made it seem as if this plenitude was without end.

However, the money Africans acquired was inconvertible. The shells passed from white hands to black, but back again, ensuring they remained ‘Negro currency.’

War and predation enabled Africa to produce slaves and purchase luxury goods, and permitted Europe to accumulate the capital necessary for economic development. But everyone knew the shells didn’t bear life but instead devoured it. The teeth lining the aperture were clearly for eating. In every place ravaged by the slave trade, stories circulated about the human cost of money: cowrie shells feasted on the bodies of the captives. Money multiplied if fed human food.

Popular lore held that teh best places to harvest cowries were along the coast where slaves had been murdered or drowned. Nets were cast into the sea to dredge for treasure. The corpse of a slave would emerge from the water encased by thousands of shells. The fisherman who retrieved the body of the human-mollusk plucked off the money and returned home a wealthy man. Rich men fished for cowries using the amputated limbs of slaves as bait… Hovering at the edge of the water, guiltless and avaricious, the big men lingered until the money began to sprout and welcomed it as a gift from God.”

– Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother

“Cowrie shells became the currency of West Africa in the era of the Atlantic slave trade. While North Africans had introduced them as early as the eleventh century, they became ubiquitous in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when Europeans began exchanging them for slaves.

The shells were imported from the Maldives. Women and men waded waist-deep into the sea and detached the shells from stones, wood, and palm leaves, which had been placed in the shallows for easy collection. One person could gather as many as twelve thousand shells in a day. The shells were buried in sand for a few weeks until the mollusks died and the smell of putrefaction vanished. They were then disinterred, washed, dried and strong together for sale.

The English and the Dutch acquired the shells very cheaply and considered them worthless. European traders derisively called the shells ‘Negro money.’ To their eyes, Africans’ esteem of these worthless pieces was yet another instance of fetishism. In the eighteenth century alone, more than twenty-five million pounds of cowries were imported into West Africa. Of the six million plus captives transported to the Americas in the eighteenth century, anywhere from a third to a quarter of them had been exchange for shells. twelve to sixteen pounds of cowries were enough to purchase a strapping young man. That was one pound of cowries for every thirteen pounds of human flesh.”

– Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother

“Most of those sold in the internal trade were women and children… The children born to a slave wife shared the mother’s disinheritance and belonged entirely to the genealogy of the father. Slave women extended the owner’s lineage without enjoying the privileges or protection entitled to wives supported by their families. Nor did families ever forget who was ‘of the house’ (the slaves absorbed and remade in the line of the master) and ‘of the blood’ (royals possessing legal rights of inheritance and succession).

There were no women in the chief’s inner circle whom I might ask about the rewards of being pretty or about the trials of being a wife. The men had appointed themselves the official custodians of history. Besides, the women never had an afternoon to waste ruminating about history. They didn’t have an hour to spare; they were selling goods in the market or laboring in the fields or carrying pails of water or hauling a load of firewood or washing laundry, the very chores that made the labor of slave women so highly prized. When later I asked the women in town about slavery, they joked, ‘The wife is the true slave.’ ”

– Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother

” ‘What about the slaves of Salaga? Are there people in town who are the descendants of slaves?’

The chief visibly stiffened upon hearing my question. ‘It is still difficult for us to speak of slavery. One cannot point a finger and say he or she is a slave. It is prohibited to do so.

The taboo on revealing someone’s origins extended back to the seventeenth century. Ndewura Jakpa forbade people to refer to their own or anyone else’s origins… Everyone who had ever mentioned the law to me had explained that it was intended to protect those of slave origin. In practice it prevented the enslaved from speaking of a life before servitude and it abolished their ancestry. The slave existed in the world, but without either a history or an inheritance.

‘Why shame someone and say he or she is a slave?’ the chief added. I wondered if the chief was shocked that I had been so tactless. ‘Those who were slaves have married and become incorporated into Salaga.’

The Salagawura says one thing, but I hear another: ‘We still know who they are.’ ”

– Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother

“Racism, according to Michel Foucault, is the social distribution of death; like an actuarial chart, it predicts who would thrive and who would not.”

– Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother

“The Royal Africa Company and the Company of Merchants didn’t imagine their human cargo as a pile of corpses, nor did they consider these dank rooms a grave. As they saw it, the dungeon was a womb in which the slave was born. The harvest of raw material and the manufacture of goods defined the prison’s function. The British didn’t call it a womb; they called it a factory, which has its first usage in the trading forts of West Africa. (The very word ‘factory’ documents the indissoluble link between England’s industrial revolution and the birth of human commodities.)

“In the company’s view, the dungeon was a way station for human refuse and a cocoon for laborers. The miracle of the slave trade was that it resuscitated useless lives and transformed waste into capital. Africa benefited from the commerce, avowed the merchants, because ‘her wants were satisfied at a very trifling expense’ and paid for with ‘the refuse and offscourings of her population.’ What Aime Cesaire later described as ‘walking compost hideously promising tender cane and silky cotton.’ ”

– Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother

“…return is what you hold on to after you have been taken from your country, or when you realize that there is no future in the New World, or that death is the only future. Return is the hunger for all the things you once enjoyed or the yearning for all the things you never enjoyed. It bears the impress of everything that has been taken from you. It is the last resort of the defeated. It is the diversion of suicides and dreamers. It is the elsewhere of insurrectionists. It is the yearning of those who can ‘summon filial love for persons and places they have never known.’

“Every generation confronts the task of choosing its past. Inheritances are chosen as much as they are passed on. The past depends less on ‘what happened then’ than on the desires and discontents of the present. Strivings and failures shape the stories we tell. What we recall has as much to do with the terrible things we hope to avoid as with the good life for which we yearn. But when does one decide to stop looking to the past and instead conceive of a new order? When is it time to dream of another country or to embrace other strangers as allies or to make an opening, an overture, where there is none? When is it clear that the old life is over, a new one has begun, and there is no looking back?”

– Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother

“I must have appeared a foolish woman who acted as if slaves existed only in the past and who conducted herself as if dispossession were her inheritance alone. Looking at me, the boys imagined the wealth and riches they could possess if they lived in the States. After all, who else but a rich American could afford to travel so far to cry about her past? Looking at me, the boys wished their ancestors had been slaves. If so, they would be big men.”

– Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother


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