Scraping By

Because the Green Man emanates now only as marginalia. Because, in our relentless cities, every available space is always already colonized by the commercial. A locust tree--weed tree--straggles beside the railroad track-- drops its pods where the houseless people sleep. Both stake out territory in the struggle-for-survival zone, that brittle fringe--a dumping ground for noise and trash, ubiquitous detritus of paper, coffee cups, discarded plastic bottles. From everywhere and nowhere, the force of capitalism crushes in. It creates its invisible gridline of properties, regulations, laws. The Grid imposes itself, or is already imposed long before we arrive on the scene. Its primary assertion is negation of the individual. It offers us a range of choices, a "freedom" from which we must choose. Those who do not or cannot participate in its scheme will be erased. Individual acts of of meaning-making have--so we are told--no relevance. In fact, they do not exist.

Beneath, around the superimposition of this commercial reality, a bedraggled man sits on the sidewalk. He waves a cup in the air, his movements both frantic and ritualized: "Can anyone help? Can anyone help? Can anyone help?" His voice is seemingly on mute to the pedestrians who pass, unphased. We are part of this herd of suits--inured to suffering, trained in suspicion, secretly knowing ourselves to be complicit, somehow, in this stranger's hunger and pain. Caught in mechanics of misery, our response is bafflement, our defense denial. We crank the headphones louder. We poison ourselves with distraction. Distraction, we think, is killing us. But, hey, it works.

Within the Grid, news easily becomes advertisement, a vacuous replay of images, soundbytes, memes. It behooves us not to pay close attention, to take recourse in the repetitive amnesias of consumption-- ADHD as survival skill. We are interested in history primarily through the lens of "ironically" retro fashion and period sitcoms, those repetitive narratives without social context or historical trajectory. Collectively we entrust the American memory to the History Channel, a media outlet that offers us familiar narratives of the presidency in one hour and, in the next, seeks to persuade us that alien intervention is the most plausible explanation for ancient human ingenuity.

Caught in the machinations of our installed reality, we fail to notice that other ubiquitous product of our so-called free society: prefabricated opinion. Like fashion, we choose opinion from the range of what is available that season, believing the style to be the free expression of our true selves. Opinion arrives off-the-rack--thought not as an act of creation but as a fill-in-the-blank, a choice between Pepsi and Coke. The private, the home made--all that which does not fit neatly inside the Grid--is a misshapen emanation evoking bafflement and dismissal. The Green Man not as the embodiment of wildness but rather a curiosity to be photographed or shrugged off. She is the mythical understood as mascot.

Inside the Grid, ancient cycles of nature, in which death and renewal have equal place, transform instead into endless, narrative-less loops. "Can anybody help?" Buy, discard, buy. "Can anybody help?" Binge, purge, binge. There is no place for making, only for the adoption of prefabricated products, services, jobs. We are alienated not only from the products (or services) of our labor, but from time itself. It is no wonder, then, that our daily experience offers familiarity without coherence. The cycles to which we subject ourselves, to which we are subjected, no longer give meaning. Instead, they serve as a placeholder for it.

Yet from the margins--those expended, dismissed, or useless spaces--private acts of consciousness may still push back. The Green Man emanates, a tangible body giving form to environmental degradation and human desolation. She is the embodiment of our private sorrow. Behind her, she drags the baggage of the dispossessed--a block of chalk, rolled strips of The Wall Street Journal, stray coins, a broken boot. Deep inside the Grid, she strikes out, weaving through the crowds of suits, scraping by, leaving her temporary mark. Deprived a place in which to rest, she makes herself legible, if only temporarily. The Green Man has at her disposal the ability to disappear into a different kind of time and space. When she reappears, as she always does, it is through acts of conscious privacy. When she is seen, it is through a wilderness of mind. From the margins, she emerges into the social realm, inviting engagement, offering question. Her appearance is, as it has ever been, transitory. Her emanation--here, now--is a necessary act of resistance.