The Clavier of the Universe

We know that this sun, this sky, and this earth will disappear upon our death; they will survive in similar forms in the environment of coming generations.
There are not only the manifolds of space and time in which things can be spread out. There is also the manifold of environments, in which things repeat themselves in always new forms. All these countless environments provide, in the third manifold, the clavier on which Nature plays her symphony of meaning beyond time and space.
In our lifetime, the task is given to us to form with our environment a key in the gigantic clavier over which an invisible hand glides, playing. – von Uexküll

Bagelsaurus Review, Day 1

I have been meaning to visit Bagelsaurus since long before it opened when a sign on Rosie’s Bakery, which I — and apparently most other residents of Cambridge — was not particularly interested in visiting, announced its impending Fall arrival. I love bagels, I love dinosaurs, and I love puns. Bagelsaurus was my Dinosauriform and glutenous culinary dream.

But there’s a problem: Bagelsaurus is really far away. I’m talking a full seventeen minute walk far. So it took me a few days to get up the cognitive fortitude and will for this Bagginsian trek. At a certain point, which is to say, at about 12pm on Wednesday, I decided it was finally time to see what all the hype was about, unzipped my coat — because it’s inexplicably still warm here — and wandered out into the sunny Cambridge day.

When I arrived at Bagelsaurus the door was open (re: outside warmth) and a slight line had built up at the counter. A guy with a well-crafted red beard sat in a metal chair and you could smell the coffee. The kitchen, which is not exactly “open” and not exactly “closed” but, in essence, glimpsed like a bagel tunnel from your vantage point opposite the register, looked well-staffed and ready to produce some piping (is this an appropriate bagel temperature?) dough rounds. If you need a quick philosophical introduction to what one might call the “dilemma of bagels”, I suggest this absurd video which, more than anything I have ever seen or read, demonstrates the utter absurdity of much analytic philosophy:

The menu at Bagelsaurus sits (hangs) on the wall to the right of the register which, like much of today’s “nouveau hip” food truck-restaurant conversions, is really just a dressed up iPad. You can get nine or so varieties of bagel and seven varieties of spread, which based on math I am personally incapable of doing is a rather large number, and adding in consideration of the possible extras (cucumbers, avocado, bacon, onions, roasted tomatoes) renders the possibilities quite overwhelming. Which is good. If you’re not ok with being overwhelmed by food you can put in your domespace, stay out of my world.

Nonetheless, I decided to start small. Or big: there are pretzel bagels. “What? Pretzel bagels? Hold the PHONE!” is what you’re thinking and I can’t help nodding along with your enthusiasm. “I hope you put scallion on there,” nobody hopefully thought because I smanged some honey rosemary creamy cheese on that pretzel taste vessel and went straight to bagel heaven.

These bagels are good. They cost a bunch of money. But they’re also shockingly delicious. Texturally, we’re talking something a bit denser and less steam-risen than your Bruegger’s or Einstein Bro’s-style bagel experience, but the chewiness felt appropriate (and created a nice effort-to-taste-reward ratio) and the pretzel flavor was, to put it simply, good as fuck.

The cream cheeses here are a bit runnier in contrast to the nasty, store-bought “cream cheese” (in scare-quotes because who even knows what it is made out of) which often becomes a dried-out white paste atop your also store-bought bagels (which have, in my reasonably wide experience, never been good). The honey rosemary cream cheese was so good I might consider drinking it until I explode from being a literally disgusting human being.
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The coffee was decent. The beans were roasted by La Colombe, some South/Central American-tasting business, I guessed, but it wasn’t the taste thrillride that the bagel was so there’s that.

And as I sat there consuming, with bliss, my pretzel-honey-rosemary bagel and reading a book for a class I was in, suddenly something hit me: I needed to eat another bagel. My wallet said no but my heart and spirit said yes. So I walked back up to the counter and ordered an everything bagel with scallion cream cheese because it just felt right in the moment. The everything bagels are also really good. Bagelsaurus is serious about “everything” because the bagel, as can be seen in the highly scientific and filtered photo below, is quite literally covered in the things that people tend to put on bagels. There’s an interesting crummy-dustiness to the topping that isn’t present on other everything bagels I have laid my eyes and fingers on but otherwise I would say the experience matched my expectations quite well. It’s worth noting that the quality of the bagels, like most baked goods, decreases slightly over the course of the day, so get them in the morning when they’re freshest for the best possible bagel experience.
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Which is to say that the everything bagel was also really good and as I was putting the finishing voracious bites into it, I thought, how about another one? and then had to basically slap myself because who can look at themselves in the mirror after eating three bagels in a row? Very few people. And if they can, they should not.

So I will head out again soon to try out the bagel sandwiches available and report back on further findings.

Why Crate and Barrel Left

I’m standing outside the defunct Crate and Barrel, the building formerly known as Crate and Barrel, near Harvard Square, waiting for a friend. Leaning against a traffic sign, attempting to decode the decaying stickers, I think to myself, “It’s weird that Crate and Barrel is gone, I remember seeing it such a long time ago…” when all of a sudden a reasonably well-dressed middle-aged man pauses next to me.

“Everyone is leaving these days.”

I am taken aback. The mind-reading man in dad jeans continues:

“You know why they left?”

“No,” is all I can manage. In a thick Boston accent, he begins his explanation, pausing only for breath.

“It’s World War 3. You know the Chinese are buying up everything with all their money, they already own most of our economy, and they’re taking over, you know? They’re coming over here by the thousands on big ships, there was a big one the other day. You need to educate yourself — Alex Jones, info wars — you need to do some research. I’m talking about FEMA concentration camps — you’ve heard about the FEMA concentration camps right? I’m talking shackles on boats, cages, all of it. You need to educate yourself. We probably only have about one year left. A lot of people know they need to get out of here. People are going to Mars. You heard about this? They’re going to Mars. But you know what the problem is?”

“No, I don’t.”

“You can only live for six months up there.”

“Ah.”

“But I gotta say, you take a cyanide pill at the end of it, just end it all, you know, that’s better than nothing, because we’re all gonna die here — there’s Fukushima radiation coming across the ocean everyday, we’re all getting cancer from the Fukushima radiation. Have you read about this?”

“I have, actually.”

“So you know, I’d rather take a cyanide pill than die like that, painful and everything. You need to do some research, Alex Jones, infowars, you know? You gotta inform yourself. You gotta do some research. ”

“I… will,” I respond, in arguably the most disingenuous agreement I’ve made in years. My friend arrives. “I have to head to dinner now.”

“It was nice to meet you.” We shake hands. He walks away.

“Was that a friend of yours?”

Queer Naturalism: Initial Thoughts on the Film of Alain Guiraudie

Toward a Queer Forestry

Much of Guiraudie’s The King of Escape [Le Roi de l’évasion] and Stranger By the Lake [L’inconnu du lac] takes place in the forest. On the surface, the forest is the site for gay cruising. Seemingly unregulated due to a separation from “society” — the naturalism of Stranger in particular, the non-existence of “signs of civilization” save manufactured clothing and cars, implicitly affirms this separation. Both films repeatedly show car arrivals to the parking lots — unpaved, unmarked, with spots determined by a certain “regularity” — emphasizing what Guiraudie describes as a focus on the “place” itself. Much more so than King of Escape, Stranger by the Lake sees no need to go any farther from the lake than this car storage place. The image of the empty vehicles, windows rolled up, contrasts with the “freeness” of the nude beach and the cruising men.

The forests are not quite devoid of heterosexuality. Rather, it seems to haunt them. A man walking through in Stranger asks whether the central character, Franck, has seen any women around. He has not. “You don’t come here enough,” says the other, walking away. We don’t see any women either. It is possible to read this moment simply as Guiraudie’s joke: these woods are only for gay cruising, obvious to the audience. Yet this also alludes to the existence of other forests — alternate worlds — where free heterosexuality operates in parallel fashion. In the woods of both films, the profusion of bodies of all sorts — fat, skinny, tall, short, young, old — of sexual behavior of all sorts — lonely masturbation, random hookups, discerning meetings for love — points to the diversity of desires that can flourish in these spaces.

Guiraudie’s forests are queer spaces, but they are marked by two parallel intrusions. On the one hand, that of heterosexual desire, always present at the margins. On the other, the power of the law, represented by the omnipresent detective in both films. It’s the emergence of heterosexuality into the forest — this is a simple synopsis of King of Escape — in particular that emphasizes the precarity of this space. One could see the long chase sequence of King of Escape not, I think, as an attempt to capture the protagonist, but to run his young female companion outside. It is not “over” when the couple escapes, when the hero cuts of his pedophile wristband, etc. It “ends” when he leaves her, she disappears from the film, and he can return to the safety of the forest and the cabin. (So too with Stranger: Franck’s love can authentically begin once the disturbance of heterosexual desire vanishes.)

Homosexuality as Choice?

And here we run into a second thematic element of Guiraudie’s queer spaces that appears “strange” given the broader context: the repeated insistence that homosexuality is a “choice.” In King, the main character, Armand, tells his friend, after hearing that cruisers have stopped visiting the forest, that perhaps he has changed. He doesn’t mean to offend him, he insists, but being gay was a choice he made. In Stranger, Henri, the mysterious man who sits alone by the side of the lake, tells Franck that he isn’t there because he’s gay: quite the opposite, he just ended a long-term and passionate relationship with a woman. Sure, he’s dabbled with men too, but it’s something he does on the side.

What are we to make of this element of choice in Guiraudie’s films? Two possible (though tentative) interpretations. The number of “heterosexual” men secretly visiting gay cruising spots is substantially higher than anyone admits (A sort of contemporary Greco-sexuality). Or, in another interpretation, it is Guiraudie’s presentation of a more complex male sexuality, one operating on a much vaster continuum than the gay/straight binarization allows. Not tremendously groundbreaking as a way of theorizing sexuality, but it’s why the forests insist on being read as “queer” spaces rather than simply “gay” ones — the non-presence of women playing significant social roles in either film is fascinating and worth further discussion. This “queerness” — in King, particularly age; in Stranger, morality — destabilizes conventional attraction and desire: the creepy chronic-masturbator gets the cute guy, very old men become mythically attractive, etc. It’s no wonder the IMDB audience that rated King of Escape most favorably were those above 45.

In a sense, Guiraudie reprises Pasolini’s pre-Salò suggestion that it is in the “reality” of bodies in amorous love that resistance to nihilating forms of modern life can be found — minus, perhaps, Pasolini’s focus on anti-capitalist cinema. For Guiraudie, the insistence upon “non-standard” bodies engaged in very visceral and vivid sexual acts is an attempt to take sex out of pornography, to render the supposedly “pornographic” content of the films non-pornographic, and insist that these bodies engaged in various sexual acts are just as demonstrative of lyricism and romanticism as the generic romantic film themes.

In the Woods of the Law

And yet heterosexuality is not the only invasive force. The mysterious work of implacable, blading male detectives constantly interrupts the desire of the main characters of both films. Guiraudie said in a discussion of Stranger that all the characters — Henri, Michel, and Franck — could be read as different life stages of the same person, different facets of his personality. Yet the detective represents a kind of radical alterity to this desiring individual. In both films, this character is nearly Kafka-esque in his commitment to being everywhere at any moment. Each time Franck or Armand thinks he is alone — when Armand tries to saw off his tracking wristband, when Franck is about to start his car in the dark — each time they are overcome by desire, attempting to “escape”: out pops the detective.

It is unclear what the detective “wants” — he seems, indeed, to literally not desire at all — except to do his job to the end, whatever that might mean (Both films strongly imply: nothing). Is it, then, that homosexuality is a “crime” that society is bent upon investigating? The answer is clearly no: the activity of the men goes unremarked on by the detective, he simply wants them to help him finish the investigation. The detective acts rather as an insistence that even in those moments when you think you are alone — preparing to make love to a romantic partner, for instance — the law rears its head, reasserts its presence. Not, here, to stop the deed, but to return social situations toward pre-existing equilibrium. They represent, in a sense, the social order’s intrusion, its response to the violent, unpredictable outbursts of enjoyment, or jouissance. They are the reappearance of the social order into these unregulated queer spaces: the utopic space of sexual expression is nevertheless still very much under the laws of the non-present exterior. Thus the shutting down of the cruising woods in King seems to suggest precisely this. [We might look at it differently, though, and see the detective as a counterpoint to Lee Edelman’s insistence that queerness is fundamentally a form of negativity in relation to the social order.]