Cultural Angst: A Self Exploration

Growing up in Colorado in a predominately white town, with white friends, and white neighbors I was never, as a child, confronted with my heritage in any big way. I was always told I was of German decent, and as a child my grandparents were the only true connection to my roots. I can remember visiting an iconic German deli in Colorado Springs with my grandparents and eating German food whenever we would visit them in Pennsylvania. For the longest time all I could relate about my heritage were the names of funny sounding foods like; spaetzle, schnitzel, and sauerkraut. Even then I knew one couldn’t reduce a culture to its cuisine, but I hadn’t anything else to go on. There has always been a hole in my life, in my identity, where a heritage should go. I didn’t feel German, or even Scotch-Irish for that matter; I didn’t feel anything and didn’t know who I was. It is this suspension in the cross-cultural currents of modern day America, this angst, which has always put my self-identity in question, but if I was unsure who I was, I knew, it was imperative I find out.

America, in the twenty-first century, is a cultural mixing pot full of widely diverse and interesting people. Take a look at a city block in any major U.S. city today and one will realize just how very diverse and integrated we have become. Though it is true we are not finished integrating by any means it is undeniable to say that American culture is not filled with ethnicities from across the globe. Along with this progress, however, comes homogeneity; as people are swept up in the culture, language, and daily life of America people often forget about their culture, their history, where they came from. In this reading, one is met head on with the realities of cultural ties and the way they are quickly slipping out from under us, as the generational gap between Americans and their roots grows wider. As generations go by and families’ homelands are slowly drowned in the past, it is easy to forget where one’s heritage lies and they end up losing their connections altogether. This, unfortunately, has happened to myself, as a fourth generation German-American I hardly feel German at all and only truly identify with the American in me. Homogenized society has turned it’s back on the cultures of the past and as a result Americans more than ever before know too little about who they are and where they came from.eedless to say this type of unknown identity is unnerving, I didn’t like not knowing a part of myself. In this way, I was out in the world without a clue who I was and all around me people stood up tall, proud of their heritage. I want to be like them, to have a rich familial history and to feel proud of where I came from. In my family, however, those ties had been cut a long time ago; every part of my history was either dead or dying as I became increasingly wrapped up in today losing sight of my roots. I had, and still have, what I call cultural angst, a

Needless to say, this type of unknown identity is unnerving, I didn’t like not knowing a part of myself. In this way, I was out in the world without a clue who I was and all around me people stood up tall, proud of their heritage. I want to be like them, to have a rich familial history and to feel proud of where I came from. In my family, however, those ties had been cut a long time ago; every part of my history was either dead or dying as I became increasingly wrapped up in today losing sight of my roots. I had, and still have, what I call cultural angst, a phenomena of deep uncertainty about myself and my culture in relation to the world around. This entire semester we’ve read about how important it is to understand our own history, and the people and places that shape us; so when I think about my heritage I have nothing to do but to admit I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me in order to reconnect.

Despite the fact that to this day I have no strong connections to my past, I am not lost anymore. Of course, that cultural angst will always linger, I know I will never have as strong a connection with my roots as some people, but I’ve finally found my cultural identity. I am an American. Through all the country’s ups and downs, through all the struggle and strife, I’m still proud to call America my home. I’m proud of the great, big sweeping landscapes, I’m proud of things like lumberjack breakfasts, and especially the bustling metropolises filled with diverse and wonderful people. Ronald Takaki in his closing words in Strangers From a Different Shore talks about the ways in which all Americans can draw from any culture and any history.

Finally, I have realized that America is full of all kinds of cultures who have fought and struggled for the luxuries we all enjoy today. This country is full of history and as an American I’m steeped in it; Asian, African, European, Middle Eastern: it is all my history as long as it is in connection with the United States. Every sit in, every rally, every strike, and labor dispute made America a better place and enriches not only the past but our plans for the future, and this is certainly something I can identify with.When I think about history and my identity I’ve come to think of one thing: America. I think of the history of America and how proud I am to be a part of it all, and how empowering it is to know the struggles of the past and to take on the future with the same fervor that my predecessors had. Sure, I might not identify as German, or Irish, or even Scottish; I’ve lost those places to annals of time, but if there is one thing I know it is that I certainly haven’t forgotten who I am, and the history that brought me here, the history of America.

When I think about history and my identity I’ve come to think of one thing: America. I think of the history of America and how proud I am to be a part of it all, and how empowering it is to know the struggles of the past and to take on the future with the same fervor that my predecessors had. Sure, I might not identify as German, or Irish, or even Scottish; I’ve lost those places to annals of time, but if there is one thing I know it is that I certainly haven’t forgotten who I am, and the history that brought me here, the history of America.

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You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers

As far as American Novelists go, San Franciscan Dave Eggers takes the cake as one of the countries best. Breaking out with his memoir, A Heart Breaking Work of Staggering Genius, which won best book of the year in 2000 at the Times, Washington Post, and San Francisco Chronicle. His first novel, You Shall Know Our Velocity!, is still my favorite among his many works including What is the What, the autobiography of Sudanese refugee Valentino Achak Deng, and more recently The Circle, set around a tech worker Mae whose company stretches the boundaries of privacy on social media to the extreme.

yskovIn his 2002 novel, You Shall Know Our Velocity, we follow two close friends, Will and Hand, shortly after a tragic death. They’re armed with plane tickets, visas, and $80,000 they plan to give away alleviating poverty in a few third world countries. They plan to travel around the world in a week but when plans go awry Will’s dream of going to the pyramid at Cheops slowly dies as they move from Senegal, to Morroco, to Estonia, and Latvia. Through their misadventures, readers seem to experience the dying dreams of travel, philanthropy, and globalization. Both comedy and action surface but the entire story hangs on the bandages wrapped around the protagonists face from a beating at a storage facility, a wound latter attributed to Hand who had abandoned Will with the possessions of their dead friend Jack. Has this whole trip been a way of running from their friend’s untimely demise? Through their outrageous methods of alieving themselves of the money Eggers satirizes the sad attempts at charity so common when westerners visit the third world; they are incompetent, naive, broken, and altogether human.

Baduanjin Qigong: Internal Kung-Fu for the Everyday

Continuing the discussion on qi (also spelled chi), the natural potential energy present within the body, today I would like to discuss the topic and practice of taichi. Many of us associate taichi with that timeless cliche where old people move slowly in unison at the local park. Still, many are unaware that in its original form taichi was meant to be practiced as a martial art. As an internal martial art, it serves as an active meditation whereby one controls the flow of Qi within their own body, but what does this mean exactly?

taichi douche

As an internal martial art, taichi and qigong serve as active meditation whereby one controls the flow of qi within their own body, but what does this mean exactly? First, it is important to note that qi literally translates into “breath” or “air” and any practitioner will tell you the same thing in order to master one’s qi you must learn breath control. By creating tension through stretches and coupling these movements with controlled breathing one can improve blood flow, more efficiently and easily oxygenating muscles in areas that may have fallen into neglect. 

The challenge lies in memorizing the movements, finding the time to learn proper breathing, or even finding time to complete all the movements in order before your schedule demands you elsewhere. This is probably why taichi is so often associated with the elderly and retired strata in society and it is also why I recommend beginning with one of the most simplistic forms of Chinese qigong or internal kung-fu: Baduanjin.

Baduanjin, also known as the Eight Pieces of Brocade, traces its origins back to Henan Province anbaduanjind the Shaolin Temple. It is believed to have been practiced by peasants as a means of defense when preparing for the spontaneity of a wild animal attack and was later adopted by the Shaolin Temple, a mecca for kung-fu, incorporating it into the essentials of their training. Today the forms are practiced by most as a form of calisthenics and can be done either standing up or sitting down. Personally, I move through the Eight-Section Brocade to wake up, improve my energy levels, and reduce stress and any added health benefits I view as icing on the cake. As with any sort of stretching exercise, daily practice will promote the healthy release of endorphins and a general improvement in one’s physical wellbeing.

While Baduanjin is easy to learn and perfect for at home practice it’s important to remember that it is also a spiritual exercise and is part of a larger spiritual tradition, to truly reap the benefits qigong can offer it is always best to seek face to face instruction.   

For those more interested in the health benefits gained through laymen’s practice this video, though no substitute for actual instruction is a great way to learn the movements and familiarize yourself with the breathing patterns. Above all remember to stay healthy and do what feel good for your body.

Non-Binary Gender Identity: Understand Duality and Dissociation

With the growing conversation across the nation over gender roles and identity our populace is becoming ever more informed toward a post genital society where gender is no longer always determined by one’s anatomy. With shows such as Orange is the new black which features both transgender actress, Laverne Cox, and genderfluid, Ruby Rose, along with recent public spectacle from figures like Caitlyn Jenner the nation is becoming ever more understanding and accepting of transgender identity. However, much light still needs to be shed on gender identity, particularly in the realm of non-binary gender identities, as a member to this niche I hope to deliver my two cents on the issue as best I can.

27th Annual GLAAD Media Awards

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – APRIL 02: Honoree Ruby Rose arrives at the 27th Annual GLAAD Media Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on April 2, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

Non-binary gender identity simply means that the individual in question doesn’t conform to solely a male or a female sense of identity, transgender meaning that you do not identify with the gender assigned at birth doesn’t fit into this loose category we dub non-binary. People who feel their gender is non-binary may feel as though they are both, neither, or a mix of the two as Ruby Rose identifies. Despite the fact that if I had to choose I would say I most closely relate to bigender, or both, I detest labels outright. Labels carry preconceptions, for example, if I identify as both genders I must outwardly express myself both as a man and women whether it be through makeup, clothes, or hairstyles.  On the contrary, I tend to express myself almost totally as a man; my name is Peter, I have a handlebar mustache, and though I may wear women’s jeans from time to time, to make my butt look good, my wardrobe is nearly all men’s clothing. Rather than focusing on the labels prescribed by any community or organization I posit that we should all forget about trying to describe ourselves for a moment and focus on simply being, in other words, we should allow who we are and how we behave now in this moment to stand as the chief monument to how we identify. It is for this reason I’ve never been a big fan of the LGBTQ communities or organizations, the labels are in the name for crying out loud, organizations like this often make people feel that if they don’t adopt a label they way in which they feel or identify is illegitimate. The biggest thing that irks me about people’s reactions upon learning that I consider myself as much a woman as I do a man, however, is not when my outward expression confuses them, that is understandable, but when they merely write me off by noting that we all have masculine and feminine qualities within us. While I truly do believe that all humans have masculine and feminine forces, personality traits, churning within them and while I am no exception to this fundamental duality I am more than just a feminine man. Often it is hard for people not immediately familiar with the non-binary experience to understand the dissociation they exhibit from those who can conform to either male or female identity but never both. Not that I have any kind of major dissociative personality disorder, I’m completely sane and happy to report that whether I’m associating with male or female identity I am exactly the same person I was and have always been though I use the word disassociation in the same sense. In much the same way those who feel an association to neither conventional gender may, therefore, feel disassociation toward any sort of male or female identity. It is this feeling of disassociation that I think characterizes and legitimizes non-binary identity as something greater than the male and female duality that exists within us all. This duality, however, is still an important factor as it may, at times, be our only way of feeling connected to the rest of society and what instills empathy in us for any other human being no matter their so-called gender identity.

This duality, however, is still an important factor as it may, at times, be our only way of feeling connected to the rest of society and what instills empathy in us for any other human being no matter their so-called gender identity. In any case, the important thing to remember is not to put our faith in labels and societal constructs, these only limit us to the expectations of others. Instead, we should always strive to simply be ourselves despite what the opposition may tell us in order create a unique society where absolutely no one’s identity is constrained by the perceptions of others, a world where you can just be you.

An Age Old Treatment: Cupping Therapy

Though eastern medicine comes in many forms for different ailments, perhaps one of the most recognizable is cupping therapy. Somewhere between massage and acupuncture cupping works by creating negative pressure within a closed space, usually a glass or plastic cup, though in more antiquated practices therapists have been known to use bamboo or cattle horns. This pressure created by each cup opens and pores and redirects both blood and Qi (the body’s natural potential energy) in order to pull pathogens through the skin itself removing impurities from the body. Therapists can create a vacuum and apply the cups in a few ways; lighting a cotton ball inside creates immense pressure as does more pumping the air out but for those looking for a more comfortable treatment, one that doesn’t leave large red circles all over their back the cups can be exposed to a candle flame or warmed by a soothing bath in essential oils.

Cupping

In its more extreme form cupping is focused on relieving the body of any impurities through intense, prolonged suction. Though this method is completely safe patients may complain about looking like an alien for a day or so as they walk around with bulbous circles on their back, however, both these and the later bruises are relatively painless. For those seeking the utmost in their treatment cupping methods can also be applied in a medical setting as a form of bloodletting. In this procedure, a pump creates the vacuum and the cups are removed after only a short while for the practitioner to make many small incisions on each owetcuppingf the areas under pressure. With the cups returned to their places, the pressure is left on for about an hour allowing the old blood stored in capillaries to seep out, needless to say, this not an “at home” sort of treatment. In fact, the best place to find a cupping specialist is at your local spa or homeopathic treatment center, though some doctors may also offer treatment.

My favorite way to enjoy the milder benefits of cupping therapy is what’s typically referred to as the dry method, as opposed to the wet (bloodletting) method, the dry method utilizes less exposure to heat greatly reducing the vacuum’s strength within each cup. It also feels luxurious to drench myself in essential oils and allow my boyfriend, the massage therapist, to move the cups up and down my back resulting in a similar sensation to deep tissue massage. In any form, traditional cupping therapy can serve as a soothing way to cleanse the body or work out some knots. While I recommend completing an online certification, it is completely safe to practice on yourself or with a partner so long as you understand the minor risks associated with the practice, the most common of which is burning your skin from overheating.

To learn more about the risks involved in cupping therapy click the link: here. Or, if you’re inspired and would like to look into earning a certificate in the area, online course and certificates are offered at cuppingtherapy.org.

After Dark by Haruki Murakami

There are few names in this day and age that strike awe into the hearts readers like Huraki Murakami, a Japanese author widely considered to be one of the greatest writers of the late 20th and early 21st century. Known for his surrealist writings Murakami began his career as an author as little more than a cult novelist, however, with his releases of Norwegian Wood and the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle he’s remained a transpacific treasure of high-end literature. His 2004 novel, After Dark, takes place over the course of a single night in a seedy district in downtown Tokyo where we follow Mari, 19, as she becomes entangled as a translator for a Chinese prostitute injured in one of the city’s love hotels.

Haruki_Murakami__After_Dark_by_dArkeRiaNnE

Murakami’s aesthetics loom, rife with multicultural influences as we’re introduced to Miri as she sits alone at a Denny’s planning to spend the night there when Takahashi, a college trombonist, recognizes her and claims to know her sister Eri. Punctuating the downtown crime drama unfolding with Mari, Takahashi, and the hotel owner Kaoru; Mari’s sister sleeps in surreal, intercalary chapters where the line between fantasy and reality breaks at the surface of her TV screen. There is something slightly psychopathic about all of the characters and Murakami uses his ambiguity to keep the reader on edge throughout. Suspense held my eyes to the page from chapter to chapter where intriguing scenes full of table talk, anecdotes, and philosophical dialogue never truly revealed the intentions of any specific character, and perhaps more intriguingly the hero or heroine seems absent from the proceedings. The golden girl, Eri, lies perpetually in sleep trapped in her dreams behind the glass screen of the unplugged television. Instead, of any real answers what we’re left with is the dissipation of purpose toward the collective entity something the author represents well in the inescapable systems of modern day life; the city grid, legal system, and even pathways in our microchip technology remind us how interconnected humans truly are.

Activism or Terrorism? Outrage Over the Death of Harambe the Gorilla

By now, many readers will have heard and possibly discussed the recent death of an endangered gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo which sparked the outrage and protest from animal rights activists across the nation. Most, by now, will also have heard the Zoo’s defense for killing the silverback gorilla when Thayne Maynard, the Zoo’s director, spoke at a press conference on May 30th. Due to time being crucial, zookeepers made the decision to put down the gorilla rather than tranquilize it in order to ensure the safety of the young child being dragged up and down the concrete moat inside the enclosure.

With this justification, activists have now turned their sights on the mother of the child for whom petitions have been made calling for a social service investigation into the woman’s possible child neglect. However, many at the scene along with many concerned parents across the country have been clear in the fact that there was simply nothing the mother could have done, that the incident simply happened too fast for her to have done anything. Children often sneak off and disobey their parents.

The recent outcries from activists stir up a debate about the power, both positive or negative, that activism carries. Used in the wrong way, the social influence that activism groups and online movements generate can destroy lives. As we’ve seen done with professional trolls in Russia a similar destructive online force surfaces in the Cincinnati Zoo incident through the social influence of online activism.

Where do we draw the line between activism and terrorism? How do activists formulate their agenda? Does the relentless pursuit of this agenda devalue the moral justifications in their cause? What role does money play in professional activist groups?

On the Shoulders of Giants: Gianni Vattimo and the Post-Contemporary

As the 21st-century blossoms, artists and art historians alike are beginning to look back on nearly five decades of post-modern and contemporary art. Postmodernism focused on the subjectivity and transience of knowledge, that is to say, the postmodern philosophical superstructure was generally concerned with deconstruction both of ideology and the notion of art as having any definable parameters. Looking back on the borrowed words of William S. Burroughs or the lack of form in a Jackson Pollock painting one can begin to understand the sort of experimentation and deconstructive principles behind great, contemporary works of art. However, as modernity becomes increasingly more redundant groups of artists and philosophers seek to re-establish meaning as they create paintings such as Remorse, Despondence, and Acceptance of an Early Death by post-contemporary artist Graydon Parrish.

 

early death

“Remorse, Despondence, and Acceptance of an Early Death” Graydon Parrish

 

The term first came into use by architect Abbas Gharib while talking to college and fellow Iranian architect, Bahram Shirdel, in a conversation later published in the 55th publication of Sharestan Magazine. At its heart, post-contemporary, or PoCo as it’s been popularly referred to, seeks to unite current thinking both cross-culturally and across generation lines, meaning that any post-contemporary art stands independent of the time in which it was created. The objective here is to create thought relative to the universal human experience recognizing that when entering into any formal discussion we must exhibit a sort of pietas, or formal duty, toward what Issac Newton would term, “the shoulders of giants”.

Italian philosopher, Gianni Vattimo, explains this communal nature in his critique Dialectics, Difference, Weak Thought. Vattimo discusses the necessity of both Hegelian based dialectics as a source of revolution and difference, the subjectivity of language and meaning, as necessary for what he calls Weak Thought. Weak Thought is an ontological paradigm, a view on the nature of being, that supposes truth to be a collective entity. In Vattimo’s words, “…the true does not have a metaphysical or logical nature but a rhetorical one” (Vattimo 50). As Heidegger, Hegel, and even Marx will agree “being” does not exist within the mind but rather from being present in the world or what Heidegger terms: Dasein (being-there). This is where post-contemporary art draws from classical constructions, ideals, and technique relating what is with what has been. Such technique can be exhibited in a painting by Adam Miller entitled “Twilight in Arcadia” where baroque technique displays a theme existing outside a contemporary (relating to the current age) context, rather context exists solely within the painting itself.

 

twilight in arcadia

“Twilight in Arcadia” Adam Miller

Though still in its infancy, post-contemporary philosophy seems to harken a post-metaphysical revolution where art’s ethics stray from transient imperatives and focus more on pietasbonds, faith, or sense of belonging to philosophical and artistic traditions, particularly in the western world, in order unite mankind through lasting truths regarding the universal human condition.

What revelations will the post-contemporary future hold? How does the post-contemporary exist in the internet and post-industrial age? Where do you see this sort of constructive philosophy manifest itself in your everyday life?

For more information on what post-contemporary content might look like I recommend reading  Alan Kirby’s article in Philosophy Now: here. Also, for more clarity, read Gianni Vattimo’s full discourse on the subject of Weak Thought here.