the Emergency Almanac text / art double issue...winter 2003 / summer 2004

Jayson Iwen



What's the use of use

What could be better than what we're already used to

If our goal is omniscience to the point of omnipotence, what do we do when we've got it

Speak to god in its language

Or speak existence itself

Have we replaced good with use

God with us

And another voice rises from thought to further define our darkness

I would say an idea is useful only if it changes physical behavior, and physical behavior is useful only if it attains maximum benefit for minimum effort

And another

I'll tell you about use

Twenty percent of americans admit to drinking alcohol or using recreational drugs at work

It's estimated another twenty percent don't admit to drinking alcohol or using recreational drugs at work

Furthermore, if we consider nicotine and caffeine drugs, it's estimated ninety nine percent of americans use drugs at work

All that for just ninety nine ninety nine

Yes, authorities claim workplace drug use decreases productivity, while increasing workplace injury

Other authorities claim their jobs would drive them completely fucking certifiably insane if they weren't stoned out of their minds every day

Still other authorities claim debilitating epidemics of drug addiction routinely follow the CIA into regions hostile to american business policy

Stay high and keep low

Until the battle passes


Preach on sister

Sky high before the assembly line

Indeed, drugs make it easier to carry the parasite we feed

When I worked at the cannery, my job was to remove unlabeled cans from the line as they passed me, and to place them on another line going the other direction

After the first four hours, I was already so desensitized I had to concentrate to distinguish between labeled and unlabeled cans

By the end of the first day, I couldn't see the cans as individual entities any more

They'd transformed into an endless green snake speckled with silver scales

That's when I decided to start doing drugs at work

Up the anti with a pro

Alcohol romanticized every silver can into a reckless tragedy, and me its merciful deus ex machina

Coke and ice brought em on motherfucker

Pot and hash shattered the line into a thousand lines radiating from bolivian tin mines to midwestern factories to fields of peas basking in the midwestern sun to trucks to markets to my hands to intestines large and small to organic and inorganic waste disposal plants into the earth and out again

Ether exploded the image of each can onto my retina

Mushrooms and acid summoned a visible but mute musical note over the line whenever I played a silver scale on the serpents back

And massive quantities of nutmeg set the notes ringing

And eventually I acclimated to each, and each became as mundane as sobriety once was

All my senses, in every sense, had finally been reduced to use

I finally had the feel of it in my hands, the taste of it in my mouth, the acrid din of it in the dark when I closed my eyes to sleep

And one day the motion of my hands on the assembly line became the motion of my hands on the canvas

I became addicted to this new work, to the way it made reconciliation possible between myself and a world of lines

Only then did that earlier work feel truly useful to me

Only then did I value memory

Someone coughs

And across the table another continues

The key to efficiency is taking for granted

Assumption, not reinvention

However, by inducing the mind to reinvention, drug use can sometimes find more effective methods

By backtracking down the peak, passage to a higher peak might be discovered

Something missed the first time might be recognized

Or one might fall from a cliff

But such falling is almost inevitable in this system

Allow me to read from Morgan

'Mechanistic approaches to organization work well only under conditions where machines work well: a) when there is a straightforward task to perform; b) when the environment is stable enough to ensure that the products produced will be appropriate ones; c) when one wishes to produce exactly the same product time and again; d) when precision is at a premium; and e) when the human "machine" parts are compliant and behave as they have been designed to do . . . However . . . mechanistic approaches to organization often have severe limitations . . . they a) can create organizational forms that have great difficulty in adapting to changing circumstances; b) can result in mindless and unquestioning bureaucracy; c) can have unanticipated and undesirable consequences as the interests of those working in the organization take precedence over the goals the organization was designed to achieve; and d) can have dehumanizing effects upon employees, especially those at the lower levels of the organizational hierarchy'

Choose your metaphors carefully

Your blackest hole, your shapeliest light, the outline you make with time

The gathering minutes grow another voice

Another definition of use is the name we give the debt we owe the dead for their dreams

Our libraries are full of them, whispering in our eyes

It's sexual debt they say

Yes, they want us to fuck their experience into being

Into being our headstart in the race they started with death

The race we're calling use

Funny you mention that

My girlfriend broke up with me because she calculated I'd slept with twice as many people as she, and she decided she'd never feel secure in a relationship with me until we'd had the same amount of sexual experience

I thought we were getting along fine, but since I doubt we'll ever even out, I suppose this is goodbye to another fine dream

Resist the tyranny of experience man, resist it

We're not the totality of our experience

We're an endless field of potential

I understand what you're both saying, but experience might be all we've got

It might be our only currency

Let me tell you about a particularly awful and enlightening afternoon I experienced recently

I was sitting in a café in antigua, and at each table a couple was discussing something different and the same

At one they compared drug experiences they'd had, at another people and places they'd screwed, at another extreme sports they'd survived, and, at the table under the boar's head, one kept going on about how another people had wanted to kill his people and how his partner would never understand because no one had ever tried to kill her people, and finally she asked if it made her less human if her ancestors weren't victimized

She asked if he thought her people could use a little killing

And if his people would like to do it

As for me, the next day I climbed an active volcano and ate a perfectly ordinary peanut butter sandwich at the top

Anything can be ab-used

However, memory, and therefore learning, only acquire meaning through quantitative accumulation or qualitative extremity

Purely associative, categorical referencing makes prediction impossible, since associations can only be made after events occur

To predict, you need to watch a process or engage in it for awhile

To build an adequate model to put your adequate self in

Some people just learn faster I suppose

It seems to me the most useful issue to consider is the role of the individual in relation to the emergent whole

What it does consciously or unconsciously, for or against the sustenance of the life system

You must consider who you are, and how this you is helping to define we

Every movement of mouth or body is a bee following another towards a growing hive

A generative ignorance of universal order

Time to wake up and see what we're building

Because the hole we light with naivety is the hole we light with adversity

We are one in diversity

But remember, decisiveness is inversely proportionate to knowledge

The greater the knowledge one possesses, the less decisive one is

The more one empathizes with all sides

As knowledge increases, action decreases, unless the knowledge is spread out over many mutually exclusive "minds," whether human or inhuman, acting towards an unconscious, common end

Then decisiveness proliferates into cascading action

Some say faith is all the god of the book asks

Faith and instant decisions

Some say prometheus and lucifer, the givers of fire and morning light, are unacknowledged symbols of experience demonized

Are we afraid of experience, of recognizing patterns

Afraid of the dark, but more afraid of what the light might uncover

Afraid of being frozen by indecision

Perhaps this differential between cognition and motion is a truer measure of fear

And fear a measure of use

I sat up with my mother the night she died

I heard her whisper her dead sister's name

And then that insect sound

I lay my hand on her belly, taut with the tumor, and I said goodnight and I walked down the corridor and out the door and past my car and into the starlight and I kept walking and walking till I was home and walking still

I feel now I know something about death, something about premature death

But I honestly cannot say if it's more than a feeling, if it's more than simply knowing how I alone will deal with death when next I meet it

Do I know death better than a child who will meet it as surely as anyone in this room

It is the inexorable right of all life after all

Personally, I find god useful for this, though I have had no direct experience with god, to my knowledge, to my memory, wrestling with it, speaking with it, being in any way with it

I find the notion of god as useful as fear of eternal death

The world drives us to disgust and to theories about how it should function instead of how it does function

This drive is as natural as the world

And as beautiful

How much nature can we tolerate when we see it in ourselves, when we see the earth falling about us and cry to our children, no, I'm not dead, there is no such thing lurking in me as nature, nor such a thing lurking outside either

I've got something to ask all you who consider yourselves writers

Have you ever thought maybe your experience isn't important enough to want others to read about - maybe you're being vain - even if you're not conscious of it, you're probably propagating ideologies that will harmfully affect future generations - if your writing gets published, it might only distract readers from better work - you're wasting natural resources, such as paper, and whatever it is they're burning to run your computer - if you ever finish this poem or story or whatever it is you call it, it won't be nearly as good as it was when you first imagined it - has a poem ever saved anyone's life - if you want to change the world, whether for good or ill, there are much more effective ways to do it - aren't there enough real stories worth attention, without inventing fictitious ones - isn't it dishonest to make up stories in the first place - someone else already did this, and probably better - isn't it easier to just not write - you can't support yourself doing this anyway - you still have to wake up and go to work tomorrow morning, so why not have a beer and relax while you've got the chance

What's the use

I'll tell you why people write

To make sense of their own lives - initiate social change - compete with the past - maintain levels of artistic excellence in ever-changing languages - converse with the past and the future - resurrect the dead - discover new modes of expression for new human experience - translate timeless experience into timely language - because the lifestyle of a writer suits them - to make money - monumentalize the word - identify themselves, their communities, their nations - fulfill the function of conscious dreams - fulfill wishes, prophesize, and link emotions to instincts - alleviate loneliness - construct puzzles for others to find meaning in solving - attempt a cultural and material afterlife - exert control over the world - bring the breast or the bottle back again - present us with possible ways we might be, worlds we might inhabit - show us ways we might unwittingly victimize or be victimized - educate us, sensitize us, unite us through the infection of feeling - find truth in the world - produce new realities through the realities we already possess - like drugs, dreams, and massage, to subject us to affective experiences that challenge belief - because the only way to understand what's before or beyond language is through language itself


When hope fails us, it is our duty to continue out of sheer blessed stubbornness

Make it new

Make it useful

Make it in the back seat

New useful metaphors are genius, and new useless ones are eccentricity, and no one knows which is which until one is used to describe something standing outside the border of the collective imagination

Give me déjà vu and I can find you anywhere

Swinging wildly at ideas in private, only to come out into public, exhausted as when matter wheels madly into void and settles into form

Is the space where form works itself out the space between private and public

Where private particulars become public abstractions

There are cognates in my calling as well

For example, a man deep in prayer or a woman in the throes of painting are in the same state as a child lost in play

They are each in a paradoxical place which is both inside and out

This place makes experience possible because it assures a reality to go to when one leaves

If one leaves

Dude, that reminds me

I was walking barefoot on the night sky once, when I came down and realized I was walking across a parking lot full of broken glass and I just kept thinking this is the temperature of paradise, no, this is the temperature of paradise, no, this is, over and over, and oh yeah, that's the last time I smoked formaldehyde


I'd like to get to the heart of many matters by asking if it can ever be useful to kill people

Are the many forms of ceremonial human sacrifice, such as capital punishment, war, martyrdom, tragedy, and schwarzenegger films, useful in any way


Ceremony might maximize stability by re-affirming shared beliefs and assumptions, thus allowing for more efficient re-production

However, ceremony also makes systems less flexible

And ceremonies such as killing people operate according to models which hide inefficiencies that would be exposed by other models, such as educating people

But where do the tracks go that education's greasing

Which education

A world without guilt

A world in which all resource use is equalized among all human beings, and uninhibited access to those resources is ensured as long as it doesn't infringe on the access of others, present or foreseeable future

What would be the carrying capacity of such a system

Another measure of use

Another speaks

Planning for the future is intentionally living in the absence of what one desires to live with

It is a philosophy of deferral

Anything can be abused

For the map user, the map is the known by which she understands the land, but for the map maker it is the land that is understood and the map which is unknown, but which, nevertheless, must be imagined to be of any use

Always ask, what is the purpose, and the purpose of that purpose

Always ask, with the passion of one who's given up, 'what's the use!' and then don't give up

Our life story, language, worldview, style, and even consciousness are metaphors for who we are

By taking turns carrying each other they make us possible

As from our total unconscious experience rise metaphoric constellations of parts of that total, forming what we call consciousness, what we call ourselves

We might say genetics are fuzzy meanings fixed by context, just as words are fuzzy meanings fixed by context

Both are shadows of past environments cast onto the present

Our language has evolved much as we have, much as our bodies have

In fact, you might say language is an outward manifestation of our bodies

Our infinitely divisible and absent gatherings

You might say something that changes human evolution

Might embody time with your music

Might speak us into existence