The End of an Interlude — The Traffic in Trauma: Forcing Rudeness/Enforcing Consumption/Enclosing Stampede

This post concludes my two-part “interlude” to my series on “Trauma and Intoxication,” to which I will return in my next post—which will not be until sometime after the beginning of next year.

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Trying to walk along the Vegas Strip, routed into and through one casino after another along the slow, crowded way, the pedestrian is subjected to a non-stop barrage of aggressive solicitations.  Outstretched hands thrust stiff, glossy advertising cards for “escort” services upon one, with soft-core pictures of alluring, available young women, each time one enters or exits any of the casinos one finds oneself in turn thrust into and drawn out of as one walks.  One’s feet tromp over the young, pretty faces as one goes, since the ground is already strewn with the refuse discarded by earlier passers-by.  One follows suit, and adds one’s own contribution to the litter, if not with such “escort” titillations then with the flyers, cards, or pamphlets hawking other wares, from eats to funhouse rides, theatrical performances to manicures, to real estate, to burial plans, to various drugs delivered by various delivery systems.  As one walks along one is recurrently urged to indulge all one’s rawest appetites–especially those one never even knew one had till then, enticed to birth by all the opportunities being suddenly so obtrusively thrust upon one to give those appetites satisfaction.

Simultaneously, one is no less bombarded by appeals to help those less fortunate than oneself.  Along with the hands of the “escort” promoters and other pimps trying to grab one by whatever vices one may have or they can give, other hands reach out as well, pleading and beseeching help–by way of donations on behalf of the homeless, the addicted, the lost, the abused, the disabled—for all our consumer society’s damned, damaged, and depleted.

Thus, the walker is pulled in two affectively opposite directions at once.  One set of imploring hands outrageously tempts and titillates one to indulge one’s lowest appetites.  At the same time, another set of hands yanks at one’s sense of moral responsibility and aspirations to generosity.  The all but inevitable result, which occurs at levels of the self little amenable to conscious deliberation and intention, is to awaken a deep-seated sense of fundamental, and fundamentally un-assuage-able, guilt.

First, there is guilty shame for even feeling the strong pull toward abandoning one’s own moral inhibitions (whether the sense of them being “one’s own” is somehow existentially authentic, or wholly socially constructed, makes no difference, since either way the shame and guilt are felt the same).  Inextricably intertwined with that goes guilt for one’s own perceived prosperity, relative to all those obviously less prosperous than oneself, and whose conditions cries out for help.  Thus, one’s own “good fortune” is turned against one.  To use a term more appropriate to Las Vegas, one’s own “good luck” is cast in one’s face, to one’s shame and guilt–all one’s good luck relative to all the bad luck that has struck all those socially outcast and downtrodden for whom one’s donation is being no less solicited as one walks along the Vegas Strip than is one’s abandonment to all those sins for being the city of which Las Vegas celebrates—or at least advertises–itself.

My own reaction to having my chains pulled in two different directions that way, choking me off even more tightly that usual, as my wife and I first tried to walk the Las Vegas Strip, was, I think, not uncommon:  Growing irritation.  At first, I tried to maintain some semblance of politeness, as I turned down one salacious or solemn solicitation after another.  I smiled and said “No, thank you!”  Then as the assaults continued I began to omit the “No, thank you!” and just waived all the proffered hands off with my own hand, but still accompanied that gesture of refusal with a slight smile.  That, in turn, was soon replaced by only the gesture of waiving away with added no smile to soften the rejection.  After yet another brief while, as my irritation continued to mount, I simply did my best to ignore the solicitations altogether.  Locking my eyes straight ahead, I tried to walk as though oblivious of them all, most definitely including those that implored me to give to the deserving needy.  That, of course, only added to my sense of guilt, now for being so callous as to lump the disabled with the pernicious–which in turn increased my irritation, which hardened what I perceived as my own rudeness, which gave me more guilt, which made me more irritable yet, and so on, round and down the sewer-tending spiral.

All of which put me, of course, just where the sunny City of Sin would have me be:  in a thoroughly agitated place–and, therefore, primed to spend.  On what I spent, mattered not at all, really, just so long as I spent on something (or on nothing at all, so far as that goes).   So long as I just kept spending, I was dutifully playing my part, which is the part of the good consumer.  After all, in our contemporary global market society–consumer-based “to a fault,” to use a duplicitously apt expression, most especially apt today, when I post this, poised as we in the United States currently are to go over the ostensibly officially dreaded “fiscal cliff”—all that really counts, as we are so often reminded by all the “authorities,” is to keep the current of currency flowing, the consumer-expenditures expended in consumption.  On that, the health of the entire system depends, however much of a disease that entire system itself may be.

It may make a difference to “escorts” and their pimps, or morticians and theirs, and so on down the line of businesses and their human sales-resources, just where one “spends” oneself–that is, puts into re-circulation any money that spends time in one’s own spending-pocket.  However, to the business in general that was once famously—or infamously—said to be, among other things, America’s business, it doesn’t matter where one spends one’s spending.  All that matters is that it be spent.  “Cast your fate to the winds!” as an old saying goes.  Since in our society our fates are a function of how much money we make, that becomes “Cast your money to the winds!”–any winds, just so long you cast it, and keep casting it.

In Vegas, one is forced to be rude.  The only alternative to being rude is being taken, and feeling like a fool once one realizes that that’s what’s happened.  Be rude, or be robbed!  That is the Vegas option.

Except it is really no option at all.  That’s because, as I’ve been trying to show, forced into rudeness, one will only find oneself set up to be robbed more surely.  While I’m diverted by rudely pushing away the hands thrust into my face, other hands are busy behind my back picking my pocket.  What’s worse, so far as I can tell my pockets are not being picked at all.  Instead, I’m emptying them voluntarily, and am even convinced I’m enjoying the process.  While assaulting me, my assailant has managed to convince me that I’m not being assaulted at all.  Rather, I am a willing participant.  It’s not rape—it’s consensual sex!

Sure it is.

At any rate, once sensitized to the mechanism at work in forcing pedestrians into rudeness—the method to that apparent Las Vegas madness—I began to see it at work in other phenomena as well.  For one thing, I was stuck by how everything is set up in Las Vegas to encourage good old-fashioned gluttony—or, to use less Medieval terminology, recurrent overeating.  It is easy to put on weight in Las Vegas, especially by eating in the buffets that are ubiquitous there.  Such dining places are designed to tempt one to pig-out on all the goodies available, for example by trying out at least a few of all the different, delicious looking deserts that are always offered in such places.  Most of the casinos/hotels offer discounts or even dine-free passes to their affiliated buffets, and such offers are customary in a variety of others scams being continually run on visitors to Sin City, just as they were part of the package my wife and I received “at no charge”—save that of our dignity and sense of decency—just for taking a brief bus trip and undergoing a (not so) brief sales pitch for some sleazy time-share.

It should really come as no surprise, therefore, to discover that everywhere one looks in Las Vegas, one sees, to put it crudely (which means appropriately in this case), fat people.   In a nation that is already faced–as we are constantly reminded by the media, the government, “health-care” workers, and other fonts of information–with “an epidemic of obesity,” Las Vegas is once again surfs ahead of the wave.

That was evident to me when my wife and I visited there—and added our own overweight selves to the scale:  Two of the fat people we saw in Las Vegas were ourselves.  What’s more, not only was it enough just to look at one another to see fat people in Las Vegas.  All either of us had to do, to see a fatty, was to look in the mirror.

That in turn, is all but impossible not to do in Las Vegas:  look at oneself in the mirror.  In Las Vegas, one doesn’t have to be a narcissist to find oneself riveted before one’s own image.  That’s because it’s not only casino’s and pimps and overweight people who are everywhere in Las Vegas.  So are mirrors.  One cannot escape one’s image, in Las Vegas.

When I combined seeing all the mirrors with seeing all the encouragements to indulge gluttony, for an instant it struck me as making no “casino-sense,” so to speak, to insist on constantly reminding people how fat and unattractive they looked in a mirror, and at the same time to prod them non-stop to stuff still more food in their already obviously overstuffed mouths.  But a moment’s reflection let me quickly see the logic at work.  Once again, it is the same old story of the spiral of addictive and/or compulsive behavior:  The negative affect one’s own addictive or compulsive behavior elicits in one becomes itself a yet stronger impetus to perform yet more of that very same behavior:  The shame of alcoholics over their own drinking behavior just gives them more reason to drink; the self-loathing compulsive overeaters feel when they look at their own image in a mirror can only be assuaged by food; and so on.

So it makes perfectly good sense, from the wholly non-sensical perspective of “Las Vegas”–that is, of our own contemporary society as a whole, for which Las Vegas serves as an emblematic symbol—to push food upon people in restaurants and then to show them just how fat and ugly they are when they get up and leave once their binging has ended, at least for a little while.  That just guarantees, as effectively as it can be guaranteed, that they’ll follow the admonition to “Come back soon!”  They will do so—and often.

At work in all such cases is precisely the same principle that Mr. Burkeman laid bare pertaining to holiday retailing strategy, in his Sunday New York Times column of December 12 of this year:  What counts is not customer satisfaction, but customer agitation, as I put it before.

To sum up so far, then:  Forcing rudeness is an effective way of enforcing consumption.  That takes care of the first two parts of my three-part subtitle to this two-part interlude to my discussion of “trauma and intoxication.”  But what about the third and final part of my subtitle?  That is, what about enclosing stampede?

Well, to state the point as a thesis, using the three terms of my subtitle:  Forcing rudeness is and remains in the service of enforcing consumption only if the stampede set in motion by the former–or by any other mode of agitating consumers so that they will consume all the more—is properly enclosed within certain limits, those set by the underlying conditions of the global market system as such.  That is, if consumer-agitation is to stay directly proportional to consumption, so that they rise together, that agitation must be properly contained (“properly” from the perspective of, for, and through the economic system:  i.e., “profitable,” that itself taken in the sense of “filthy lucre,” of course).  Once again, the analogy to a washing machine is helpful.  Were the agitation of dirty clothes in water not held within the confines of the washing machine itself, it would not serve to clean the clothes of dirt, but would just throw them around to gather more dirt, or rip them apart.  In the same way, to serve the consumption -based economic system for cleaning consumers out of all their filthy lucre, consumer-agitation must be kept properly within the limits of that system itself.

Thus, for the good of the system what above all must not under any circumstances be allowed ever to happen is for the stampeding herd of agitated consumers, such as the mobs of those who compete viciously with one another over the stuff put on sale on Black Friday, to break out of all constraints and just run free.  As Mr. Burkeman’s observations in the recent Sunday Times make clear, today the herders have discovered that stampedes are really not disruptive annoyances for their herding ventures, to be avoided if possible.  Instead, they are, when properly contained, indispensible devices of herding itself, at the highest levels, with potential for the greatest yield.  Stampedes belong to super-herding, in effect.

Las Vegas provides a model for the profit-proper enclosure of stampedes.  The agitation of consumers by forcing them into rudeness, for instance, is carefully contained there.  In an earlier post in this occasional series on “The Traffic in Trauma,” the same series to which this post today itself belongs, I already wrote about how true it is that, as an already now clichéd advertising slogan for the city says, what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vega.  I pointed out that the truth of that remark is beyond doubt, precisely because nothing ever happens in Las Vegas.  There’s no room for anything to happen in Las Vegas, as I said then, because every inch is already filled—filled with scams and scammers of all imaginable varieties, diversions of every conceivable sort:  all sorts of opportunities to spend one’s spendings, whatever they are.  That is also exemplified by what I’ve written about in today’s post–how every inch of sidewalk along the Strip, filled as it is by pimps of all kinds pimping all kinds of zero-good goods, offers no room for anything but even more spending–which really never needs, and, more importantly, never leaves, any room at all.

Regardless of hotel vacancy rates, there’s never any room at the inn in Las Vegas.  Unfortunately for mere managed herd members (but all to the good for their managing herders), there are no mangers there, either.  The glittering, overfilled emptiness of Las Vegas is an altogether empty emptiness.  It leaves no room anywhere, room where something, anything, might happen—something such as, for example, a triggered agitation passing over into something else, no longer of service to the system that triggered it, but instead a threat to the very foundations of that system.  (Something such as, perhaps, a truly uncontrollable riot–an Arab Spring in Las Vegas!  Now that’s an intoxicating thought!)

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My own thoughts will return to intoxication, and its interconnections with trauma, in my next post.

Published in: on December 21, 2012 at 5:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Two-Part Interlude — The Traffic in Trauma: Forcing Rudeness/Enforcing Consumption/Enclosing Stampede

I have decided to interrupt my series, “Trauma and Intoxication”–inspired by my recent reading of Annäherungen,  Ernst Jünger’s 1970 book on “drugs and intoxication”—to do this two-part interlude.  I’ll resume my series on traumatic intoxications and intoxicating traumas with my post after next.  I hope the delay in my turning to pain–which, as promised, will be where I start when I eventually resume my Jünger-inspired series–will turn to no undue pain of their own for my readers.

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A piece in the editorial section of the New York Times last Sunday (12/9/12) reminded me of the visit to Las Vegas my wife and I took last spring, a trip I have blogged about before.  The piece was by Oliver Burkeman, identified by the editor as a columnist for The Guardian.  It appeared under the headline:  “Suffer.  Spend.  Retreat.”  The side-blurb,  “Holiday shopping is designed to make you uncomfortable,” did a good job of pointing to what the column addresses:  How what counts in the retail business when it comes to shoppers and their shopping is not to please customers, but to agitate them, like a washing machine.

That analogy to a washing machine is mine, not Mr. Burkeman’s; but it certainly fits.  A washing machine is not in the business of catering to the fancies of the clothes that are thrown into it.  It is in the business of washing them—of cleaning them out of all the filth that they have accumulated since their last washing.  Just so is holiday retailing (or that of any other season, for that matter) designed not to boost shoppers’ egos, but to boost their wallets of whatever money they may have managed to accumulate since they were last boosted.  As washing machines clean clothes of filth, so retailers clean shoppers of their money, their “filthy lucre.”  The business of the such business is not to fluff shoppers, but to fleece them.  To do that effectively, moneyed shoppers, like dirtied clothes, must be agitated:  The greater the agitation, the deeper the potential fleecing.

Mr. Burkeman’s analysis of the principles governing contemporary retail sales reinforces a similar analysis of another business field, namely, contemporary banking, by professional market analyst Richard X.  Bove, that was already recounted in the Times back in July of this year, this time in a column in the business section, by Nathaniel Popper.  I have already blogged about Mr. Popper’s column presenting Mr. Bove’s analysis, and interested readers can refer to that earlier post.  It appears at this site under the same general, “occasional series” title I have chosen as appropriate also to today’s post:  “ The Traffic in Trauma.”  That earlier post carries the subtitle, “Legitimations?  Legitimations?  We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Legitimations!”   That same subtitle would also be pertinent to some of what is at issue in today’s post, too.

In its turn, that earlier post under “The Traffic in Trauma” was, in common with the whole occasional series of that general title, occasioned by my wife’s and my trip to Las Vegas last May, as my regular readers may remember.  On my notes to myself during that trip, when the idea of such an occasional series–devoted to what I also call the institutionalization of trauma–first came to me, I jotted down, as one possibility under the general title at issue, a post on “Forcing Rudeness,” an idea which has now found its way into my subtitle for today’s post.  It is to that topic, and the trip to Las Vegas that provided its biographical context, that I will now turn.

As my wife and I experienced and discussed between the two of us during our trip there last spring, it is not possible to walk the Vegas Strip (the Las Vegas part of Las Vegas, as it were) without walking within and/or through the various casinos along the way.  All pedestrian traffic is inexorably directed into and/or through them.  I’ve already remarked on that at this blog-site before. Wherever one goes in the Vegas of the Strip, one goes either within or through one casino and/or another–take your pick which, since they’re all alike anyway, just as all the products competing with one another in our “consumer society” are all alike, just under a bunch of different brand names (maybe most owned by the same business conglomerate).

What I have not till now blogged about until now is how, coupled with that recurrent, ubiquitous casino-entrapment, the pedestrian is also recurrently harassed unto rudeness, as I would put it, all along both the intra- and the inter-casino stretches of a walk there.  We were left un-accosted during our arrival at the Las Vegas airport and even during our shuttle-bus ride to the casino-hotel where we had booked a room for our stay.  But then, literally as soon as we entered the doors into the belly of the beast, before we could even visually locate the registration desk to check in, the assault began.  Approached just inside the doorway by a be-suited, clean-shaven, well-groomed man we took to be part of the hotel welcoming staff and who inquired if he could be of help, we asked him the way to check-in.  He offered not only to tell us, but also to accompany us there in person.  Duped by his apparent solicitude, we gladly accepted his offer, and set off with him.

Our guide did indeed prove to be solicitous.  It is just that his care was not for us, but for the potential profit we represented to him—or, rather, to the enterprise whose morning’s minion (pace G. M. Hopkins, who also has a place in Las Vegas for me, as some of my readers may recall) he was.  In that sense, there was even something self-less about his service, since his own interests were entirely subordinated to those of the firm or enterprise that employed him, and into which everything of whatever might have been his “self” had all but vanished.  That selflessness, however, was that of the walking dead, rather than that of one who, as St. Benedict recommends to his monks, was ever zealous to seek the good of others rather than of his own—the emptiness of the zero, rather than of the womb:  a place where nothing can grow, save the wasteland.

Frontline combat veterans sent to the rear with what was once called “battle fatigue” were also once said symptomatically to display “the thousand-yard-stare.”  The assault of being in Las Vegas can produce the same sort of emptiness behind the eyes of those who spend time there, on the frontlines of our consumer society as it were.  We might call that “the Las Vegas stare.”

That empty, frozen stare is something one can see, of course, in the gambling addict’s fixation on the slot-machine, roulette wheel, velvet dice-roll surface, or other gaming equivalent.  One can also see it in the eyes of the homeless and the drug-addicted who are permitted to manifest on the Strip only during the deadness of early dawn, when the mass of tourists and gamblers are briefly off the streets, readying themselves to reenter the action by a bit of boozy, fretful sleep.  Even more significantly, one can see it even—and indeed especially, judging from my own, admittedly limited but still convincing experience—in the eyes of those who “make their living” in Las Vegas–make it in, on, and out of everything that itself makes up what I earlier called the truly Las Vegas part of Las Vegas, namely, the Strip.

Our helpful guide to what we presumed would be the hotel registration desk had the Las Vegas stare.  So did the woman to whom he guided us first, before taking us to the front desk, and who, he told us, would provide us with some tokens of welcome to Sin City, U. S. A., as Las Vegas likes to advertise itself.  One of the welcoming tokens that latter person, the friendly token-giver, gave to us was an offer to receive even more such generous—that is, more expensive—gifts than the trinkets she’d already given us,  if we would only agree to take a short bus trip to a nearby condominium development to be given to a standard “time-share” tour and spiel.  For just the short span of time it would take to do that, she told us, we would be given free meal tickets for breakfast, lunch or brunch at the hotel’s buffet restaurant, free tickets to dine one evening during our stay at a dinner theatre chosen from a brief list of such places, and free tickets to one of a number of public exhibitions around town.  In short, she appealed to our own base and basic greed in hopes of hooking us into a slick sales-pitch,  which in turn would, it was of course hoped, hook us into impulsively buying something we did not need, could not afford, and did not really want in the first place.

No less ample than in most other couples, our own greed was enough for us to take the bait, even though we knew better from earlier, equally basely greed-induced misadventures with time-share huckstering.  Once again, played upon through direct, intentional appeal our own greed, we yielded once again to temptation.  So we once again had to undergo the humiliating process involved in such matters, the humiliation that comes from feigning, out of motives we ourselves consider base, to have interests or feelings or thoughts or concerns we really do not have—in short, the humiliation that comes from knowingly violating our own best conscience, and becoming dishonest, in our own (often unconscious) assessment.  It is the humiliation that accompanies all such deliberate self-abuse, in the properly basic, non-euphemistic sense of that term—the sense that makes the self-abuser at one and the same time both victim and perpetrator.

Abuse by one’s own hand is no less still abuse.  And abuse traumatizes.  As Freud knew, one of the affects that goes with trauma, or at least one of the expressions of the affect that goes with it, is numbing, denying, distancing–in short, shutting down, as in shock–in the face of the trauma.  That let’s one survive, to be sure; but only as benumbed.   If the numbing goes deep enough, which can occur through repetition or intensity of the trauma, one thus develops the empty stare that goes with numbness—“the thousand-mile-stare” of the frontline veteran suffering from “combat fatigue,” or what I’ve just labeled “the Las Vegas stare.”

Because it makes no difference, when it comes to developing such a stare, where the abuse that elicits it comes from, whether oneself, others, or an inextricable tangle of both (as in the Nazi camps or even in a typical, everyday scam like time-share huckstering), that stare is equally common among both victims and abusers.   Let oneself get greed-hooked into going to enough super-hyped time-share presentations, and one will develop that vacant, far-away stare; but so will those who–no doubt most often for far better motives, chief among which is the desire to support oneself and one’s family–get hooked into having to make a living by selling goods of questionable good, and/or by selling good goods through questionable means.  For example, the time-share saleswoman who drew our names when my wife and I degraded ourselves by going to yet another time-share presentation in Las Vegas last spring, was a nice, likeable, obviously intelligent, attractive-looking, middle-aged mother.  She had come to Las Vegas in her youth, with dreams of becoming a showgirl.  Then she had fallen in love and married there, and had children.  The demands of family life soon forced her to abandon her showgirl ambitions to find a more reliable, steady way to help support herself and her family.  By an unkind irony, she had ended up in her present position, which required her, in effect, to prostitute her own performing talents and dreams by hawking overpriced time-shares to greed-crazed consumers like us.  She was caught in a cycle no less vicious—though perhaps less often visibly so–than that of heroin addicts “on the nod.”

That brings me back to “the Las Vegas stare,” and, to the conditions designed, in operation if not in intention, to call it forth.  Thought of those conditions brings me back, in turn, to what I referred to above as “forced rudeness”—specifically, to how the management of pedestrian traffic along the Las Vegas Strip is designed, intentionally or unconsciously, to force pedestrians to become rude.

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My next post will conclude this two-part interlude to my discussion of “Trauma and Intoxication.”

Published in: on December 14, 2012 at 5:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Traffic in Trauma: Reading Hopkins in Las Vegas II – The Sequel

This post is one in an ongoing series to which I will add posts from time to time, sometimes in flurries, sometimes with varying intervals between, under the general title of “The Traffic in Trauma.”  Each post in the series—or, in some cases, sub-series of interconnected posts under that general series title–is designed to be read independently from the others, yet all are meant to resonate together with one another, in an ongoing deepening of meaning.  All the posts in the series explore, from various perspectives, the unifying theme of what we might call “the institutionalization of trauma.”  The idea for the entire series came to me on a recent short visit I made with my wife to Las Vegas, to join our daughter and son-in-law as they also visited there.  The trip proved to be very profitable to us all, and a number of the posts in the overall occasional series make use of my winnings from that trip.

This particular post is the second in a sub-series on “Reading Hopkins in Las Vegas.”  Accordingly, readers may want to start with my immediately preceding post, the first of that sub-series.

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As I said in my preceding post, Las Vegas is a great place to go if you want to get your ego boosted, but it’s also a great place to go if you want to get your ego busted.  Either way, when you go there, to Las Vegas, you put yourself at considerable risk.  Those not already practiced in either ego boosting or ego busting, depending on which they’re after in going to Las Vegas, are better advised to stay away.  Those unprepared are likely to lose their shirts if they go to Las Vegas—and more than their shirts.  Regardless of what the city may say about itself to draw visitors there, Las Vegas is not for amateurs.

No sooner have I said that, however, than I feel the need to take it back, at least from one perspective.  That is the perspective surprisingly opened up for me when, by chance, I found myself reading a biography of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the 19th century English poet, in Las Vegas.  The accidental, coincidental conjunction of going to Las Vegas, the self-styled City of Sin, on the one hand, and my happening to choose a biography of the ascetic, Jesuit poet Hopkins as my reading selection to take along on the trip, on the other, unexpectedly allowed me to gain deeper insight into both Vegas and Hopkins–and beyond.  Indeed, it actually allowed me to see more and more deeply and broadly into the realities—realities far deeper and larger than an individual piece of Nevada real-estate and a solitary, depressed, repressed, 19th century converted English Catholic Jesuit and poet—for which both Vegas and Hopkins themselves beautifully function as metaphoric condensations.

Part of what it let me see is what gives me reason to think about taking back what I said above, that Vegas is not a place for amateurs, whether at ego-boosting or at ego-busting, to go, as soon as I’ve said it.  That’s because, as reading Hopkins in Las Vegas occasioned me seeing, amateur ego boosters or busters who make a trip to Las Vegas, only to lose their shirts and more, are in fact more than likely to find themselves drawn back there again–again and again and again, in fact—until they eventually lose even their amateur status itself.  Expressed just a bit differently, when amateurs at the game of ego-boost and/or ego-bust do once go to Las Vegas, then, however it may be with what happens in Las Vegas while they’re there, they will find themselves staying there.  Or at least they are likely eventually to discover they may as well have just stayed there from the start, to save themselves the added time and expense of having to make a long series of return trips otherwise.  Thus, amateurs who go to Las Vegas at all may as well just stay there once they go, until they find that they have ceased to be amateurs at all any longer, and have joined the ranks of the proficient instead—at which point they can then leave when they choose, with no need ever to return again.

Sometimes, of course, to put the point one way at least, those who, consciously or not, are aspiring to such proficiency keep returning to Las Vegas till they’ve got it, return there by going, in fact, somewhere else.  Without ever going back to the specific piece of Nevada real estate that goes by the name of Las Vegas, they go back to Las Vegas by going, in effect, to some other Las Vegas.  They return to Las Vegas by going, perhaps, to some other piece of real estate in Nevada, maybe  Reno.  Or they may even go to Las Vegas by going somewhere in some other state, maybe to Atlantic City, in New Jersey–or, for that matter, maybe to Wall Street, in New York, New York (I mean the New York, New York that’s in the state of New York, not the New York, New York that’s in Las Vegas, Nevada).  Or maybe they even return to Las Vegas by going to Main Street at Disneyworld in Orlando, Florida.  It doesn’t really matter.  All those places are really just one and the same.  They are all really just Las Vegas.

The glimpses of truth that reading Hopkins in Las Vegas let me see also included this:  that once you’ve managed to find your way to Las Vegas the first time, however difficult that first trip there may have been, you find it’s really easy to go there again.  You don’t even need to leave home, to get back there.  You don’t even need to get up off your own couch, if you find yourself zoned out in front of the TV in your own living room.  (All that is a matter I’ll blog more about in some future post).

Indeed, when looked at from the proper perspective, if once you manage to get to Las Vegas, you will stay in Las Vegas, whether you wish to or not.  Once you’re in Las Vegas, the only real way to leave there is, as the saying goes, “in a pine box,” the same way Nicolas Cage’s character finally manages to do it in the movie version of Leaving Las Vegas.  Whoever goes to Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas–till death does them part.  (I’ll also blog more about that, sometime.)

To sum up, then:  Amateurs who go to Las Vegas will find themselves, whether they like it or not, unable to leave there the same way they came—namely, as amateurs.  Before they will be allowed to leave Las Vegas, they will have ceased to be amateurs, and will have become experts instead.  In that sense, Las Vegas is the place where, once they go there, no amateur ever comes out again alive.

What’s more, in yet another ironic twist of fate, or at least of how that fate gets put, whoever has stayed in Las Vegas long enough to lose amateur standing and then be given permission at last to leave again, will have lost, along with their amateur status, all need or desire to get out of Vegas at all any longer.  That is, the only time any amateur who goes to Las Vegas is finally allowed to leave again, is after the erstwhile amateur has ceased to want to leave.  Once you go there, whoever you are and regardless of why you went there, you can only get out of Las Vegas when you no longer want to!

All that applies equally to all who go to Las Vegas for either of the reasons I’ve discussed.  Thus, once you go to Las Vegas, regardless of whether you go there to get your ego boosted or to get it busted, you will not be allowed out again, no matter how much you want to leave, until you no longer want to get out.

That brings me to yet another fatefully ironic twist, perhaps the most ironic and twisted twist of all, which is that, regardless of why you went there in the first place, whether for ego-boosting or for ego-busting, by the time you are finally allowed really to leave there again you will find that your ego has in fact been simultaneously both boosted and busted.  Indeed, you will discover that your ego has been boosted all the way to busting—and then boosted even beyond the bust.  That is what I was pointing to at the end of my preceding post on reading Hopkins in Las Vegas, when I said that the ultimate truth of the matter is that, contrary to everything said about the place–including especially what it says about itself to drum up business–in Las Vegas the House, poor thing, never wins!

La Vegas is Ego itself.  It is the 100% pure distillation and absolutely maximal concentration of ego as such.  It is the veritable black hole of ego.  That is why whatever of ego goes to Las Vegas, even if only to the most outlying suburban reaches of the City of Sin, will never leave there alive again.  As the gravity of a black hole is so strong that, once drawn into its orbit, not even light—no “information” whatsoever—can ever escape it again, so can no ego at all go anywhere near Las Vegas and have any chance at all, however infinitely thin, of getting out again.

Precisely because Las Vegas is Ego itself, the only way for any ego to leave, once it has gone there, is in a pine box.  Because it is Ego, it is the graveyard of all egos.  As I put it a while ago, any ego who goes there, regardless of why, will find itself trapped there, to be boosted till it busts—that is, till it explodes or implodes, it doesn’t really matter which, and simply vanishes without trace, as all phantoms of our dreams do once we awaken.  As I already said, Las Vegas is the place to go, whether you want your ego boosted or you want it busted.  Either way, you’ll get just what you want in Las Vegas, with the other thrown in, free of charge (which, of course, is truly a miracle in Las Vegas, the place where they’d sell you the air you breathe if they could only figure out how).  That’s why, as I’ve also already said, Las Vegas is not only such a great place to go if you’re into self-indulgence, but also an even greater place to go if you’re into self-mortification, as, say, Hopkins was.

That’s the good news about Las Vegas.  The bad news, on the other hand, is that if you go to Las Vegas for any reason whatever, whether to boost or bust your ego, or just on a lark or by pure accident (maybe your plane to Poughkeepsie gets diverted there for an emergency landing), you will stay there forever, never to return alive.  Since you, after all, are, your ego, your “I”—that’s just what the word ego means after all:  Latin for “I,” whoever “I” may be, including you—that means you had better stay out of Las Vegas, if you value your life.

If only you could!  If only you could stay out of Las Vegas!

But you can’t.

That is the very worst of the bad news about Las Vegas–that you cannot not go there.  (And that, too, I’ll blog about more sometime.)

That’s what I learned, at any rate, from reading Hopkins in Las Vegas.

The Traffic in Trauma: What Stays in Las Vegas

 This is the first in a planned ongoing series of occasional posts made from time to time—sometimes perhaps in flurries, sometimes with varying intervals between–under the general title of “The Traffic in Trauma.”  Each post in the series will be designed to be read independently from the others, yet all will resonate with one another, deepening in meaning.  All the posts in the series will explore, from various perspectives, the unifying theme of what we might call “the institutionalization of trauma.”  The idea for the entire series came to me on a recent short visit I made with my wife to Las Vegas, to join our daughter and son-in-law as they also visited there.  The trip proved to be very profitable to us all, and, as the subtitle to this first post of the intended occasional series suggests, some of the posts in the series will make use of my winnings from that trip.

*      *      *      *      *

“What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas.”

Now that my wife and I have just returned from a brief trip to Las Vegas—in effect, the first time there for either of us–I have gained a deeper, richer understanding of that line.  It is a line, of course, that has by now been so long used for commercial purposes to promote tourism to the city, and all that goes with it, that it has already lost much of its currency.  Yet by my own visit to Las Vegas I have come to realize that, however profitable the line may have proven itself to be for the financial interests that have used it for their commercial purposes, in the simplicity of what it actually says, and how it says it, that line escapes all of its commercial uses and abuses.   Indeed, properly understood that line even makes ironic commentary on its own commercial use and abuse, and even subtly turns the tables on the very interests that so employ it—turns the tables on the very “House” that, as everyone knows, owns and controls all the “tables” in Las Vegas, that City of Sin, where the House always wins.  During my own visit to Las Vegas I suddenly came to understand the hidden yet crucial, deliciously ironic way in which that already old line, once properly understood, turns the tables on Las Vegas itself, that place where, in the end, nobody ever beats the House.  When the simple truth of that line at last strikes, it flashes out a light that illuminates the whole landscape not only of Las Vegas but also of everything that “Las Vegas” represents:  The House of all Houses, as it were, the very synecdoche of all Houses as a whole.

What suddenly flashed on me in Las Vegas was, to use one way of putting it, that the reason it is so true—tautologically true in fact—that whatever happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas is this:  Nothing ever happens in Las Vegas.

Put just a bit differently:  Going to Las Vegas is going to a place where nothing ever takes place.  So of course what happens there stays there.  Whatever happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas, then, precisely because nothing ever happens in Las Vegas.

Robert Frost somewhere defines “home” as “the place where, when you have to go there, they have to let you in.”  Well, to adapt along such lines yet another line, this time from a Steven King novel—I forget which one, but I’ve read enough of them to know that once you’ve read one, you’ve read them all, which is exactly why you keep on reading them when the new ones keep coming out—Las Vegas is the place where, when you go there, there’s no ‘there’ there.

Las Vegas leaves no room for any “there” to be there in Las Vegas, such that anything at all might happen there, in that limitless nowhere.  In Las Vegas, in whatever direction even the sharpest, more clear-sighted eyes may look, there is no room left anywhere.  Every nook and cranny, every fold folded into any nook or cranny, every gap between all the folds, is always already full.  As there was no room at the inn in Bethlehem on the eve of Christ’s birth, according to the old Christian story, so is there no room at the inn in Las Vegas—the inn that is Las Vegas, where every room is already filled, filled by the very House that stacks all the odds in Las Vegas in its own favor.

Whatever happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas, because nothing ever happens in Las Vegas.  In turn, nothing ever happens in Las Vegas because Las Vegas is a place where all the room is always already taken, leaving no room for anything else to take a place there.

If one asks what Las Vegas fills every available space, down to the tiniest nook and tightest cranny, with the answer comes as soon as one arrives in Las Vegas itself, or at least after one has had enough time to adjust to one’s new surroundings enough to know that one is there, which typically comes for most visitors to Las Vegas as soon as they have arrived from the airport or parked their car at where the vast majority of visitors stay when they visit.  That is, the answer to the question of what Las Vegas fills all possible spaces with comes for most visitors as soon as they enter one of the massive casino-hotels concentrated on or around Las Vegas Blvd.—the famous/infamous Las Vegas Strip.  What Las Vegas fills all spaces with is:  glitter and glitz, come-on and strip-show, sham, scam, and con.  In short, to use the crude vernacular, what all the spaces in Las Vegas are always already filled with is just this:  all sorts of shit!

Which is all it is, everywhere, wherever you turn—as I’m far from the first to point out, and will be far from the last to notice.  As I put it less crudely after I returned from Las Vegas, when the administrative assistant to the department where I work asked me what I thought of Las Vegas, now that I’d been there.  I replied that Las Vegas feels just like New York, but with one crucial difference:  Las Vegas has the same feel of fast-paced frenzy as New York, but without any substance to the frenzy.

Nietzsche contrasts two abysmally different sorts of depth or profundity:  There is the profundity of a deep, still pond; and then there is the profundity of the mirror.  The latter, of course, is all surface—the sheer illusion of depth, with no real depth at all.  Las Vegas is just such a profound mirror.  It’s depths are unplumbable, not because they go so deep, but because there are no depths there at all!  There’s nothing but surface.  As I said before, ripping off Steven King (a very Las Vegas thing to do, come to think of it), Las Vegas is the place where, when you go there, you find there’s no “there” there.

If you’re visiting Las Vegas and are staying in the Excalibur hotel and casino, where my wife and I stayed on our recent visit, then when you get tired of trying to skim something off the scam always running in Las Vegas at the Excalibur, you might decide to take some time out for a quick visit to New York.  No problem!  All you have to do is find your way through the maze of the Excalibur casino to find the right door to walk across the pedestrian walkway over Tropicana Ave. and you’re there—New York, New York!  Tired of the States?  Want to take a break from feeding the machine/s there?  Piece of cake!  Just a short distance away as the crow flies—though a rather long walk, since you must go through many other mazes along the way to traverse that distance by foot rather than on the wing—you can go to Paris, France!  New York and Paris are both right there waiting for you!  Right there in Las Vegas itself!  Who would ever have thought the place would be so large?

From the moment one enters Las Vegas till the moment one leaves, one is being hustled, non-stop, everywhere one goes.  Walk into the lobby of the casino-hotel where you are staying, to try to check in, and before you can even make your way through the labyrinth of slot machines and other come-ons to get to the registration desk you will be greeted by what look like hotel hosts and hostesses and taken aside to be offered one great deal or another.  Want to get two free tickets to the hotel’s dinner-show, plus two more free tickets to eat at the buffet (breakfast, lunch, or dinner, as you choose), plus even two more free tickets, this time to one of the famous Las Vegas “attractions” (like the ironically aptly named “Shark Reef” housed at Mandalay Bay, just down The Strip over another pedestrian walkway or two through some other casinos, all ready and happy to help you divest yourself of some of that heavy money you’re carrying around)?  Well, have we got a deal for you!  You may have all that for free, if you’ll just sit through a 2-3 hour spiel for a time-share we’re helping provide our guests the opportunity to get in on.

The same sorts of hosts and hostesses await you to shill for time-shares or the equivalent at every single entrance into, or exit from, the casino, offering you the same amazing opportunities for freebies, at no cost but your soul.  Exhausted by all that hustle, you finally manage to find your way through the casino’s maze to get outside—actually out in the open air, under real skies lit up with real sunlight or the glitter of real stars in the real heaven, rather than the fake suns and fake painted skies you can find in Las Vegas in New York, Paris, or other spots up and down The Strip, if you find yourself cooped up in one of those gigantic closed-in, windowless “places.”  What do you find when you finally, really walk outside?  The same thing you only thought you could leave behind you by finding at last a way to get outside:  more hustlers hustling more hustles, from shows and other entertainments, to time-shares (ubiquitous), to jewelers and haberdashers, to mom-and-pop shops specializing in B & D paraphernalia.  Whatever you want, however you want it.  After all, you’re in Las Vegas!

What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas because nothing ever happens in Las Vegas.  In turn, nothing ever happens in Las Vegas because every space in Las Vegas is already filled beyond full, with no room left over anywhere for anything else, anything new, any real event, to happen, to occur, to take place.  That leads, then, to yet one more twist in what it means to say that what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas:  What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas because nothing ever happens in Las Vegas, but then in turn, paradoxically, the reason nothing ever happens in Las Vegas is precisely because “nothing” never happens there.  That is, no emptiness waiting to be filled, no openness open to being entered, no spaciousness accommodating many places—no room for anything to happen is made available—is there, in Las Vegas, where all the rooms are always full of one thing or another, it makes no difference what especially, just all sorts of stuff.

Trauma hollows out.  It hollows out whomever it touches.

But not Las Vegas!  Las Vegas allows no hollowing out, but instead always already fills in everything, even before any hollows are allowed to form.  Therefore, no traumas welcome there!  Not in Las Vegas!

That’s also why nothing is hallowed in Las Vegas.  We can hallow something only by setting it up and apart in its own special place, where it commands our respect and reverence, whereby we hold it up or hallow it–so that, to use a Biblical metaphor, we must take our sandals off our feet when we enter its precincts.  That is, we must leave behind all the hustle and bustle of our everyday daily lives and step aside a while, into what a later Biblical language calls a “desolate place”—an empty place, a hollow.

My dictionary tells me that the word hollow is related to the German Hohl, which means “cave.”  Both the English and the German words derive in turn from the same root whence also comes the Old English hal.  From that Old English root comes hail, in the double verbal sense of “call out to, attract attention,” as when one hails a cab, and in that of “acclaim,” as in hailing the conquering hero.  From the same root also comes hale meaning “sound, healthy, whole.”  That last word, whole, also derives from Old English hal, with the ‘w’ added from a dialect pronunciation.  At one point in tracing all these connections between hallow, hollow, whole, holy, my dictionary remarks on the “obscurity” of some of them, especially between the holy, the whole, and the English hole.  However, the connection is really not all that obscure, at least from the perspective one can acquire with a quick trip to Las Vegas.  What is holy is what requires that a hole or hollow be carved out of the fullness somewhere, so that it, the holy, can be set apart to have a place to take there for its own.  Only hollows make either haleness or holiness possible, by being held or holding themselves open to hold whatever may suddenly take place in that hollow when the hale or the holy seizes it, to set itself apart from the customary, so that the extra-ordinary might take its place there, out of the customary course of the circulation of everyday, ordinary things or “goods”—the traffic of customary commerce or exchange—and be hallowed there.

By hollowing out whomever it touches, trauma sets the hollowed-out aside, marking it and granting it a special place, hallowing it, making it holy.  That process can be not only awe-inspiring but also terrifying.  Either way, it is definitely never “business as usual,” never just more of “the same old same old.”  It is always something new under the sun, something unexpected and un-expectable, something that “brakes the mold.”  By hollowing out whatever it touches, trauma hallows it, setting it out and up and marking it as holy.

But not Las Vegas!  Las Vegas doesn’t hollow out anything by its touch.  Rather, whatever it touches, whatever comes within its precincts, it fills to overflowing by its touch.  It fills-in whatever hollows it encounters, filling them all overfull with—shit.  That is, what it fills and overfills all hollows with is nothing of any substance, such that it might be able to take any “purchase” on any place.  Rather, it is pure semblance—all glitter, glitz, dazzle, and fizz, with nothing further to it, pure illusion.

Las Vegas is a mirror, filled only with images, no realities.  There’s nothing there, really.  It’s all just for show.   Like the Eifel Tower in Paris in Las Vegas, or Times Square in New York, New York, just down the street a bit from Paris.

As such, Las Vegas is, as it were, the anti-trauma as such.  It is the pure institutionalization of the avoidance of trauma, the full-throttle flight from it.  Las Vegas is the fixation of trauma in a pure image, the freezing of all traumatic processing, the securing of all borders against all trauma, against any irruptive, disruptive taking place of any event whatever.  It is the filling overfull of everything so that no emptiness can ever hollow itself out there, making room for anything at all to happen, rather than just the endless circulation and recirculation of phantoms without substance—a constant, ceaseless flowing back and forth along its circuits of the current of the only currency that counts in Las Vegas, the currency the House rakes in as profits.

What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas because nothing ever happens there, most especially any nothing itself, any empty place, where something might take place.  What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas because nothing is never allowed to happen there.

Las Vegas is a mirror into which whatever otherwise might happen vanishes, before it can even first appear.  It is not even a mirage in the desert.  It is only the mirage of a mirage, the avoidance of avoidance—the place where nobody ever is able to find a home, because it’s the place where, when you go there, there’s no there there.   As even light itself cannot escape from a black hole, so nothing at all can ever leave Las Vegas, once it happens there.  Whatever happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas, trapped in the mirror forever more.