On 12th Street, waiting for the light to change. We’re on a little island, and cars are whizzing fast. A young man in a hoodie sidles close and says, “How can I get money off you?” I don’t have anywhere to move. I say, “No.” It’s not the answer to his question. There’s a little hole in my mouth. A crown has come off at dinner the night before, and I’m on my way to the dentist to get it cemented back. He stands near me and says, “How can I get money off you?” I look at him. He’s beautiful. There are little tattoos on his face and hands. Blond corkscrew curls tumble out of the hoodie onto his forehead. His skin is the color of caramel, and there’s a tribal thing happening with his outfit and jewelry and the whole look of him. I say, “Sweetheart, you’re beautiful, and that’s no way to start a conversation with a stranger.” I’m carrying a yoga mat. A shy smile slowly forms on his face. Maybe he’s stoned and isn’t sure what’s happening. I don’t know what’s happening, either. It’s his beauty, or maybe the boredom of the way the thing is supposed to play out. Old to young. White to tan. Male to female. What the fuck ever to what the fuck ever. I say, “Let’s start again,” and I hold out my hand, and he takes my hand. It’s my favorite thing about New York, and I hate fear.
You must make the bodily sovereignty of women your first priority. It doesn’t matter if you don’t really care about the bodily sovereignty of women. It doesn’t matter that curtailments on the bodily sovereignty of women have in the past served your interests in ways you consciously or passively appreciated. None of this matters because the bodily sovereignty of male humans opposing the thing that has happened to us is also at risk and has been at risk since this thing started. The attack on the bodies of women is calculated to divide male humans from female humans. The world has always counted on men not to care, and there aren’t enough women to turn this around. The things running us know as well as we know that male humans have no record of making abortion rights their first priority, nor do male humans have a record of strenuously opposing restrictions on what the female body must wear and where the female body may go or not go. It’s not your body. Now, though, you need to put all that aside and pretend you do care about the bodies of women and the lives lived in those bodies. Or, you know, it’s not going to go well.
If you are a male human who has not wanted to play on the girls’ team because you don’t feel all that confident as a male, this is the time to get over it. If you are a male human who feels guilt and shame for enjoying male privilege and then feels rage at the thing that has stirred the guilt and shame, meaning female humans, this is the time to stop doing that. Male privilege is boring, however much you have benefitted from it. Actually, you haven’t benefitted. It’s dulled your senses to how power operates in the world. Also, nothing you believe you’ve earned has actually been earned on a level playing field. It’s like someone paid your boss to hire you. The love and compassion you feel pouring out to you from female humans is so coerced and unconsciously and reflexively extended, it’s kind of Stepford love. The thing that has happened to our country and that you hate and feel has turned you into a helpless blob of jelly requires you join with feminists to put an end to the core issue entrapping you. The one you’ve soft pedaled and enabled: a consuming war against the free bodies of women and the free lives lived in those bodies.
This morning Richard and I talked about mind/body dualism. He was in his bed in Arizona. I was in mine in New Y ork. It reminded me of our first conversation in a little library at Yaddo. I had been thinking about the way religion and consciousness must have arrived together in the mind of the small Lucy creature who first heard thoughts in her head. Somehow, the cries and gestures that signified fear or hunger were imagined rather than enacted, and it did not seem possible she had generated thought in her body. It sounded like a voice from an external source. A god or other external entity must have installed this marvelous power. I said to this man I had just met, “I think religion and consciousness arrived together, the second mistaken for the first.” He mentioned Daniel Dennett, and we were off and running along the savanna we have been wandering ever since. This past semester he has been teaching a course with his colleague Kostalena Michelaki about the agency of objects, combining their expertises on material culture, Richard as a museologist, Kostalena as an archaelogist. They have been trying to entice their students away from the habit of dualism and show them that the uber category that contains humans as well as non-organic entities is objects or things. Humans are objects with agency and consciousness. The planet we live on, too, is an object with agency that lacks consciousness. The planet has the agency to sustain or end organic existence, for example. Richard and Kostalena were also showing students the way objects and humans have always been embedded in one another, homo sapiens being the makers of tools, language being one of those tools, as the means of shaping their evolution. The human body, with its opposing thumb, is a combination of the organic and technological all the way in and all the way out. Richard had been reading the final papers of the students, many of whom had gone the way of object agency but still clung to forms of mind/body dualism. We talked about the seductions of dualism. What does it afford, and why it it so difficult to over-ride? It seemed to me the contradictions were in consciousness itself. On one hand, it’s difficult for people to join the category of object or thing because it seems like a demotion. It seems like a demotion because for so long our culture has believed in some form of special category for humans—designated by a diety for higher status. In other words metaphysics. Metaphysics entering with consciousness and language and language, in the way it symbolizes the nonpresent and nonmaterial, being the machine that produces metaphysics all the time. Consciousness doesn’t feel like an emanation of the body because it’s the nature of consciousness to feel split off from materiality. What is required is a trick of the mind, prompted by a nudge or bop on the head with a bladder at the end of a stick, to remind us that thought is material, that airy nothings are not airy and not nothings, although we feel them as split off from our blood and gristle. It is the power of imagination to create metaphysics and the power of imagination to understand that metaphysics is an invention of mind. You can’t have it both ways. There is no way to have it but both ways. I said something like this. Then we went off to boil our separate kettles and have tea.