Modern Sense (2007)

Look into a diamond and what do you see?

The hands of an African, tortured and taken from his family.

 

Pick up a toy and what do you feel?

The work of an Asian child, who can’t afford a meal.

 

Walk by a gas station and what do you smell?

The blood of thousands, forgotten and felled.

 

Eat fast food and what do you taste?

The epitome of gluttony, a symbol of waste.

 

Now turn on the news and what do you hear?

Nothing important, that’s what I fear.

Sympathy and the Unknown

another life

a different person

a shower spraying

down hateful water

pounding little female flesh

tears with reverie

wet shameful memory

how could a progenitor

become a traitor

to their child

asking repeatedly

knowing there will be

no answer

there were signs through

the darkness

you do not remember details

but there were signs

angst and sex

intermingled

lust and fear

and still the water drips

the spicket, relentless

if only

if only

it was not so

Being and Theater

Jean Paul Sartre wrote his theatrical masterpiece, No Exit as a play representing his philosophical work up to that point, and as a reflection of his renowned treatise released just a year earlier, entitled Being and Nothingness. The most famous line of the play, “hell is other people,” has often been mistakenly taken as the primary existential theme in and of itself, but to contemptuously describe such an explanation as superficial (which the theater critic Leah Frank does in a review of No Exit) belies Sartre’s purposes in writing the play (“Sartre’s Version of Hell”). This is because the famous phrase was only meant to hint at Sartre’s idea of human existence on a whole, not explain his ideology in and of itself. Sartre exposed this sentiment in an interview with a colleague’s son, John Gerassi, by stating that generalized ideas can seem arbitrary when not paired with the feelings that humans endure, “which is why I must test them [his philosophical ideas] in concrete situations, hence my plays and novels. Gerassi: So I don’t need to read Being and Nothingness if I read or go see No Exit? Sartre: In a way that’s true” (Talking with Sartre). Not only did this reflect Sartre’s view on the importance of theater as an expose of human emotion, but also it revealed his main intention in writing No Exit. This was not only to express the angst in interacting with other people, but it showed why Sartre believed other people are hell, in that their reactions and general presence bring out the kind of self-loathing that would not be actualized without other humans present.
Martin Heidegger, with his monumental philosophical work Being and Time, had an obvious affect on Sartre’s way of thinking, made apparent by the similarity in Sartre naming his most important book Being and Nothingness. The focus on the word being had to do with how modern philosophers previously overlooked the question of human existence. Heidegger called for modernists to stop making the assumption that the question of existence was minimal in relation to more seemingly complex philosophical questions. Sartre took this a step further in the opening page of Being and Nothingness by disregarding Descartes’ famous statement “ I think therefore I am” as inconsequential in a single paragraph. Sartre capitalized on this philosophical capital offense in No Exit by showing that the difference between existence and nothingness was not merely in the act of thinking, but in creating and living according to one’s own set of values. No Exit argued this groundbreaking idea brilliantly by gradually unveiling why each character: Garcin, Inez, and Estelle, were in hell, which was because they lived hypocritical lives contradicting the values they intended to live by or by not having any at all.
Garcin indeed contradicted the values he had created for himself and was constantly seeking reassurance that he was justified in his self-proclamation of being pacifist. Although instead of taking responsibility for his actions, he hypocritically treated his wife with malicious disregard by openly being unfaithful toward her, even forcing her to serve him and his mistress coffee while in bed. Garcin openly admitted his cruelty without remorse while conversing with Inez, stating, “I’m here because I treated my wife abominably” (No Exit). Garcin was doomed to be confined to hell because all he wanted was for others to think favorably of him instead of being true to himself. This was why he was constantly visioning what his co-workers at the office were saying (or not saying) about him, and also why he needed a feminine character such as his mistress in life and Estelle in death for self-validation. Margot Bonel Morgan, in his essay on modernist drama, dedicated a section to Sartre’s theatrical writing, and described the philosophical intentions in Garcin’s character, saying that Sartre’s view of true freedom “means living with the uncertainty that comes from having to make choices and stand by those choices without the security of a final judgment” (The Decline of Political Theatre in 20th Century Europe). Garcin could not live with making choices and standing by them, which was why other people were hell to him, since he only wanted those around him to show him respect without first respecting himself.
Respect was irrelevant for Inez, as her pessimistic attitude was prevalent in that she refused to live by any values. This was not out of ignorance, but because of an aversion to other human beings resulting in a nihilistic outlook of the world and other people. Inez was bound to nihilism as a result of her fear of people treating her as an outcast because of her sexual orientation. This amounted to Inez feeling the need to preemptively make other people suffer. When Garcin implored her to see reason in working together in order to avoid giving in to the torture devices that were themselves, Inez claimed that no effort for compassion could be mustered on her part. “Human feeling. That’s beyond my range. I’m rotten to the core” (No Exit).   Sartre was commenting on the pitfalls of nihilism through Inez by characterizing her with contempt for other people that was toxic and would result in nothing other than a self-condemnation to perpetual torture. Inez’s personality was a device used by Sartre in order to represent the presence of nihilistic solipsism in people.  In Being and Nothingness, Sartre asserted nothingness as being for itself, as opposed to being in itself, in that the former can be described as to nihilate, or to choose to believe that the Other is non-being, or only a representation. Inez could not see consciousness in other humans, her mode of thinking, thus, completely disregarded compassion and caused her to see others as beneath her, as if they were only non-sentient animals. “If animals are machines, [or, void of consciousness, hence, being] why shouldn’t the man whom I see pass in the street be one? What I apprehend on this face is nothing but the effect of certain muscular contractions, and they in turn are only the effect of a nervous impulse of which I know the course” (Being and Nothingness). Inez was attracted to Estelle partly for this reason, because Estelle’s superficial beauty played on Inez’s objectification of human beings. In this light, Inez’s attitude toward Estelle proved that the former’s solipsist perception of the world amounted to her being a misogynistic feminist.
Estelle’s personality was relatable to Inez in that the way that the latter hated men unjustifiably; the former was drawn to them for seemingly no reason. Estelle needed a man in the way that Inez needed a woman in order to fill the void inside them. When Estelle rejects Inez’s attempts at seducing her, she turns to Garcin, only because she witnessed her lover move on with her best friend in a vision of the living world. However, Garcin sees through her and knows that Estelle responds to him saying that she needed him, not just any man only in order to fool herself into playing the part of a lover. “No humbug now. Any man would do your business. As I happen to be here, you want me” (No Exit). Unlike Inez who has selfish values, Estelle has none at all, because of her shallowness. This was the reason why Estelle suffered in hell, in that she would forever be unsatisfied with those around her, which was why she ended up killing the baby she had birthed, because of her lover. Other people were hell for Estelle because she had no values, she was not interested in any, she only wanted to live in a fake world, which resulted in her causing her choices in life to be sordid.
Immorality was essential in Sartre’s meaning of the term hell is other people, but it was only one facet of how the phrase could be applied to existential thought. Sartre could not extensively elucidate his theoretical concepts on phenomenological questions of being within the confines of dramatic dialogue. Stating that a shortened aphorism such as hell is other people (like Leah Frank) would be completely missing the point, because Sartre’s intentions were the opposite, in that he desired to create a theatrical representation through No Exit of the complex philosophical ideas he had expressed a year prior in Being and Nothingness. Morgan’s essay elaborated on Sartre’s connection of philosophy and theater by agreeing that the philosopher was interested in using No Exit as a dramatic form of Being and Nothingness in order to express his concepts in a more simple and clear manner. “The role of drama, like the role of philosophy, is to elucidate the material constraints and moral dilemmas that shape an individual’s choices, and to interrogate his actions” (The Decline of Political Theatre in 20th Century Europe).
Morgan focused on Sartre implementing his own distinct expression of existential thought in his theatrical writing pointing out that Sartre called a theater of situations. The progression of the situation in No Exit mirrors Being and Nothingness in terms of characterizing each character into different forms of being. Garcin, Inez, and Estelle suffered each other’s torments because they chose to do so in life and in death. Garcin and Inez realized that this was the case quickly because they were aware of the Other, but they couldn’t do anything to better their situation because their values were misplaced. Estelle had no values, and thus was in self-denial about her situation, even after she finally confessed infanticide. It was apparent to Sartre, that theater expressed this kind of existential thought through situation in a more affective way to an audience, and that was why when Gerassi asked if he did not have to read his philosophical work if his play was seen or read in its stead, Sartre answered that in a way that was true. Ultimately, Sartre realized that his philosophical concepts had a more profound effect on a wider audience through theater: hence his use of the short but dynamic existential one-liner, hell is other people.

The Loser: Part 2

My pace was slow at first, but then the anxiety grew as the cars passed by, and I thought about how I wanted to be at peace. I wished I had the chance to leave this city. To leave mother behind, and have the opportunity to smile and look back and be glad that I overcame the quicksand that was that life.
But everyday was no different than any other, except that I sank further. At least I had my secret friend. So I turned the corner and by then I was jogging. As breathing got harder I remembered the face of my long lost father. I wondered if that was what he really looked like, or if it had been so many years that what I had imagined was only imaginary. A person that never really existed.
I fished out my key as soon as I was a few doors down and slowed to a walk to catch my breath. My face was getting hot and I knew it was red. Not just from being out of shape, but a symptom from drinking during the day. I finally caught my breath on the stoop of the row-home that had been owned by Pops before he passed away.
I opened the door to find that the place had been torn apart. Breaking and entering never crossed my mind because I knew that a robber already lived here. I could hear her upstairs. I stumbled up, not out of drunkenness, but because my nerves were cracking apart. The lock to my bedroom door was broken, my mother was on all fours, throwing my things aside in search of something. I yelled at her to get out. She looked up at me in my disheveled state with hypocritical contempt. She was sneering on the inside.
You wasted little piece of shit. You stole my money to go boozing over there with that loser fag.
Even though I knew it was a waste of time, I explained to her as calmly as I could that I only spent the money I had earned at work in order to forget I had such a horrible mother. But she wasn’t my mother. She was a fiend. She needed money to get high, and lied to herself that I stole the money that she didn’t have in order to feel better about herself. She did this on a regular basis, except today was different, she went too far.
That woman pulled a kitchen knife from underneath my mattress that hadn’t been there before. That’s how I knew this was all premeditated. As I stood there frozen in my drunken stupor she grabbed him, I don’t know how she found him, and she stabbed him in the neck. She tore his insides out into the air in slow motion. I lunged at that fiend holding a knife and grabbed the blade as I tried to save him.
It was too late. In the moments that I tried to wrestle the knife out of her hand, she had ripped his head off and stabbed him until he was unrecognizable. I felt like I had played a part in it. My hand was on the weapon as I tried to stop her. I did not hide him well enough. That woman destroyed the one thing that could console me. I lost him. And so I lost all reason.
By the time I got the knife out of her hand I couldn’t think anymore. I was no longer human, just like her. And so I turned the blade on her. It would have ended there, if it wasn’t for the way she reacted. The cut was not that deep, because she taunted me without much trouble.
Come on little faggot, you fucking loser. That all you got? You’re a drunken dropout just like Arnie and your dad.
In a fit of rage I dove forward with the knife pointed outward. I pierced her heart, the organ she used only for pumping blood. I do not know how many times I stabbed her after that. And I do not know how long I sat there with the still fluffy, formerly white but now crimson-stained stuffed animal insides in my hands. I grabbed as much as I could hold, and I wept. I sobbed silently and loudly, every which way, until I was drained. I felt no remorse, only hatred, as I stared at that fiend’s twisted corpse.
I sat there staring. I picked up the knife and tried stabbing myself. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be, because the adrenaline was all gone. I could only make small incisions into my stomach.
The ride to the station was long. They were silent and so was I. They put me in a cell by myself, which is good. It gives me space. But it also gives me time to think. Uncle will visit, and nothing will be said. They will not kill me, but I wish they would. Even though I’m underage, they will try me as an adult. I will not plead insanity, because I’m just like any other. Except that the one thing I loved was taken away from me. And that my mother never cared for me.
All that I can think about is his crooked brown eyes and his soft sadness that was meant to give me comfort and joy. His eyes were human. He was lonely because I put him in dark places when I was gone. But he always forgave me when I came back. I can hear his voice now.
I knew you’d come back. I was stuffed in there all day, but I never lost hope. Let’s get some rest and be happy, even if it is only for a little while.
And now I’m stuffed in the darkness instead of him. With his stained cotton stuffing strewn about this cell. It won’t go away. One of his eyes rolls by across the cement floor. I reach out to grab it and nothing is there. I’m surrounded by walls of memory and longing. Then the din of fabric tearing. His body on my heart. His stubby little arms draped around my neck once again. But instead of fuzzy, brown him, it is coarse, white linen.

A Sudden Nothing

My heart is beating a little faster

After listening to the night

Then hearing gunshots

It comes every now and then

But I never really notice

I wonder if those bullets

Made their mark

But most likely bouncing off alley walls

Never mind now I hear the sirens

That could only mean one thing

And it’s only midnight

At least the police responded

Ashamed it gave me such a rush

And that now I’m not despondent

Since something happened

Someone is dead or dying

The sirens are still blaring

No one has a seatbelt to fasten

And now it is silent again

Lead pulverizing flesh

Men finding quicker ends