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: Legitimations? Legitimations? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Legitimations!

“Be Nice?  No, It Damages Bottom Line”—that was the headline for a front page article by Nathaniel Popper in the business section of the New York Times for Wednesday, July 25 of this year.   The article concerned Richard X.  Bove, a professional market analyst with a large securities investment firm, and an insight he had recently had into how banking operates today.   Here’s how Popper paraphrases Bove’s insight:  “catering to customers may actually distract from the pursuit of making money in the new world of finance.  What really matters, he now believes, is pushing products and managing risks.”  Despite the fact that Bove recently moved his own accounts from Wells Fargo because of his own dissatisfaction with their customer service, he recommends that bank for investors on the basis of its continuing financial strength and growth.  He was “struck by the fact,” he tells Popper, “that the service is so bad, and yet the company is so good.”  (Obviously, he means good for investors, of course, not for customers.)  Accordingly, he goes on to say, by Popper’s account:  “Whatever it is that drives people to do business with a given bank, in my mind, now has to be rethought.”

In fact, Bove’s insight into contemporary banking practice actually applies to the entire contemporary global economic situation.  The global economic system has at long last reached the critical point beyond which it no longer needs to maintain any pretenses.  From now on it can simply present itself in its full reality as what it is:  a system of pure, perpetually self-escalating exploitation.  The economic realities of today demonstrate that the exploitation of potential “resources” for the extraction of profit no longer even needs to mask itself under the guise of providing goods and services of use or pleasure to potential consumers.  “Customer satisfaction” is just no longer required.  The customer has now become inured to all possible dissatisfaction.  That customer now just keeps on taking whatever is dished out to him (the masculine pronoun is appropriate here), and keeps asking for more of the same, which keeps on being supplied him.  Public exploitation for private gain—in short, the pursuit of profit:  “the bottom line”—has finally achieved such complete and unquestionable dominance, such unchallengeable, taken-for-granted “normalcy,” that it can finally dispense even with that old chest-nut, Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.”  The only hand that has been at work all along—the hand of the huckster–is now not only wholly visible, but also mocking in its insistence on exposing itself, on “showing its hand,” with no embarrassment and no apologies whatsoever.

In short, as I put it in one of my recent posts, the whole world has become Las Vegas!

There nothing at all unexpected about that.  Such an outcome was entirely predictable.  It has been for-ordained all along, at least since Adam Smith first tried to cover the con.  It goes inseparably together with the very pursuit of “the bottom line,” that is, of profit itself, as–well, as the bottom line.

That is because economic exploitation, the pursuit of the bottom line of profit, as the driving force behind the whole engine of the modern, gone-global, “market” economy, is as such dependent upon trauma.  To be precise, it is and has always been dependent upon the avoidance of trauma, which is to say, by an only apparent paradox, upon the institutionalization of trauma—what I have been calling, in my entire recently inaugurated occasional series of posts occasioned by my recent trip to Las Vegas, “the traffic in trauma.”

By the “avoidance” of trauma I do not mean anything like the elimination of trauma, the successful skirting of traumatic events, or somehow securing oneself against traumatic shocks.  Far from it!  I mean, rather, the sustained, systematic refusal to face trauma when it happens.  By the “avoidance” of trauma, I mean, not escape from the traumatic blow, the shock of trauma, but, rather, the refusal to address it.   We might also say such avoidance of trauma is the insistence on remaining stupid, which is to say willfully ignorant.  Avoiding trauma is keeping trauma stillborn, in effect, by denying it all possibility, not of “birth,” as it were, but of “after-birth,” as I called it in a relatively recent previous series of posts on the work of French psychoanalyst Jacques André.  It is refusing to grant the traumatic event any opportunity of really “taking place,” after it once has initially happened–denying it any “place” to “take,” as I put it in that previous series.

As Walter Benjamin observed almost a century ago, life in our modern, urbanized society is one of constant bombardment by recurrent shocks.  His model for this was cinema, with its clicks whizzing by from frame to frame so quickly that our perception of any interval between them as they pass vanishes altogether.  What he is pointing to is even more evident, of course, in today’s ubiquitous digital media, which have become our shared constant global environment.  As Benjamin saw for cinema, such media forms are emblematic of what is structurally definitive of modern life as such:  a life subjected to just such incessantly recurrent jolts on all experiential fronts, delivered at such high frequency as to blend into one another to appear as though they were a single, continuous surrounding element in which we live.  And that, indeed, is just what the never-ending storm of shock has become for us.  It has taken on the status of a neutral given, like the white noise of an air conditioner that lets us sleep, whereas it is the interruption of that constant noise that now wakes us.

As Freud taught, there are two sides to the effect of trauma upon the psyche.  He named one “negative,” the other “positive.”  Freud used those terms to characterize the specific role each part of the response to trauma played relative to the traumatic shock that engendered such response (rather than to offer any evaluation of their worth to the “organism”).  On one side, the “negative” one, the response of the organism to a traumatic blow is to numb itself against the shock–putting the trauma at a distance, as it were, distancing from it–precisely in order that the organism may survive the shock, rather than being annihilated by it.  The other, “positive” side consists of the contrary impulse to that of distancing.  That is impulse to retain the traumatic impact, to hold on to it, until—and so that—the organism is finally able to address and somehow “process” it, whatever such processing may ultimately look like.  Thus, the “positive” effect manifests in the unconsciously operative “repetition compulsion,” as Freud famously labeled it:  the compulsion to keep repeating the traumatic episode, reenacting it again and again compulsively, with no deliberate intention, until it finally can be so “processed” in some satisfactory sense.

When struck by what Jean-François Lyotard calls “the first shock” of trauma, its sudden, eruptive occurrence, its “birth,” if one will, it is the numbness that overcomes us by Freud’s “negative” effect that lets us survive the blow that would otherwise kill us.  To live through it that initial tidal-wave of traumatic shock we must be numbed to its impact, “repressing” it.  Then, by Freud’s “positive” effect, there is the ongoing “return of the repressed” in the form of unconscious, compulsive repetition of the traumatic event—in effect, the long series of subsequent “after-shocks” that follow the first shock.  They continue to remind us, as it were, of what happened to us to numb us so.  They will never let us “forget” what, paradoxically, we have in at least one sense yet to “know” at all.  Only when, if ever, we at last made able to provide a place for the traumatic shock to take place, so that it truly can “take place” and not just “happen”—only when we have been properly prepared to serve as receptacles for what amounts to a “second birth” of the trauma in us, what I called its “after-birth” in my posts on André—does our numbness finally pass.  Only then can it be let go, and can we at last awaken from the sleep into which the first shock of trauma numbed us.  Only then, when we at last awake to how traumatized we have so long been, does anything that might appropriately be called “recovery” from trauma finally become possible.

However, the interest of making a profit out of trauma—the interest that feeds the traffick in trauma—lies altogether elsewhere.  The interest of such an interest in trauma is not invested in any such place of possible recovery.  The interest of the traffic in trauma lies not in waking us up, but in keeping us asleep.  It lies precisely in keeping us numb, numb most especially to our very numbness.  The interest of anyone who has an interest in “the bottom line” when it comes to trauma is just this: to keep the compulsive repetitions coming, that is, to keep the “customers” for trauma-traffic in shock. 

That’s the simple secret of success in Las Vegas:  that the only success finally possible at all in Las Vegas is the success of Las Vegas—of the reality that gaudily, mockingly, blatantly dresses itself with that name, the name of the self-styled City of Sin.  As we all know, even though it is very hard and rare for any of us to belief it (a hardness and rarity itself in service to Las Vegas, feeding the success thereof) nobody ever really beats the odds in Las Vegas, where the odds always, always favor the house.

Now, to close this post by bringing it that all back to where I started, with Mr. Bove’s insights into banking and investments:  All Wells Fargo branches are in Las Vegas, of course.  Wells knows well what it’s up to.

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In the post after next—which will be specific to a certain upcoming anniversary–I will probably resume the general line of thought I am pursuing in the above post.

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: Reading Hopkins in Las Vegas

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.

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At the very start of my wife’s and my recent trip to Las Vegas, I downloaded and began reading an electronic edition of a biography of Gerard Manley Hopkins, the great 19th century English poet, by Robert Bernard Martin (London:  Faber and Faber, 1991).  During his short life—he died in 1889 at only 44—Hopkins converted from the Anglicanism into which he had been born, to become a Roman Catholic.  After his conversion, he went on to join the Jesuit Order and become a priest.  Throughout his adult life, beginning even before he became a Jesuit, Hopkins practiced various regular aesthetic disciplines designed to “mortify” his appetites.

The conjunction of Hopkins with Las Vegas may seem eccentric to the point of schizophrenia.  On the one hand, Hopkins’ whole life was lived in the spirit of asceticism and the disciplined practice of denying ones’ appetites.  On the other hand, Las Vegas, with its wide- open, no-holds-barred self advertisement as ‘The City of Sin,” is the place where visitors are not only permitted, but even encouraged, to indulge to excess their every appetite.  The two would not be expected to blend their very diverse voices at all harmoniously.

Yet for me, that’s exactly what they did.  Those two so different voices, the interplay of which by all reasonable expectations would produce nothing but a cacophony, ended up in my own experience resounding with one another to produce a remarkably deep and rich harmony.  To try to put some of their joint song in words, one of the themes they were sounding with one another was this:

Whether it is gambling or prayer, drinking or tee-totaling, sex or self-abnegation there’s nothing either right or wrong with any given game as such; what makes it either right or wrong is all a matter of how the game, whatever it may be, is played.  In just that same way, whether an institution in general traumatizes those whom it affects, or guides them into and through recovery, is a matter, not of the nature and structure of the institution itself as such, but of how it is incorporated and reiterated in the living of human life itself—a matter, as it were, not of different institutions, but of different ways of institutionalizing whatever institutions get instituted.

As thoughts will do, that one came to me unbidden.  Appropriate to thought’s own traumatic structure, it struck me by surprise while I was reading Hopkins in Las Vegas, and came packaged in a different form than I’ve just given it—a form suited to what provided it occasion to enter.

Since my first serious engagement with them in the summer of 1987, some of Hopkins’ poems have carried lasting importance for me, and I long intended to read a good biography of him.   I finally got around to it, and I began reading Martin’s excellent biography on the plane on our way to Las Vegas.

The thought at issue came to me a day or two after that, as I was continuing my reading in our room at the hotel-casino on the Vegas Strip where we were staying.  That thought came to surprise me while I was reading, well along in Martin’s biography, about a period in Hopkins’ novitiate as a Jesuit when he was placed under orders not to follow one very common ascetic practice frequently mandated by the Jesuit Order and, indeed, recommended by the whole Roman Catholic church.  It is a practice, in fact, that is widely recommended across a large number of spiritual traditions, not only within Christianity but also beyond it, to Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and more.  Even emphatically self-styled secular atheists have often practiced it.  That is the discipline—“discipline” being the original meaning of the Greek term from which we get the English term ascetic—of fasting.

As Martin’s biography shows through quotations, Hopkins himself fully agreed with the proscription, in his own case at the time at issue, of that common discipline of fasting.  Such ascetic practices were originally designed and instituted to humble their practitioners by ingraining into them the deep awareness of their interdependence with others and with creation as a whole.  Fasting and other such bodily disciplines of self-denial, properly practiced, serve as highly effective regular reminders of just how generally dependent the practitioners of those same disciplines are, and how interdependent they are with their fellows and, indeed, with all the rest of creation.  They show those who practice them—show them at the most concrete, bodily level, that of their most basic bodily appetites, drives, and affects themselves–how dependent they really always are on “outside factors” to sustain themselves at all, moment by moment, in all regards, mental, emotional, spiritual, and bodily.  In short, when practiced in such a way as to accord with the underlying proposed and intended goal or purpose for which they were instituted in the first place—which is to say, to be genuinely ascetic in their actual practice or implementation in any given case—ascetic practices needed to be ego-de-flating, rather than ego-in-flating .

Why Hopkins himself was so cautious towards his own inclination to engage in such ascetic practices as fasting, and why he agreed with his superiors’ decision when they ordered him not to engage in some such practices, was that he saw clearly the ease with which his own mind—his own way of thinking and being—could pervert those very practices.  Hopkins understood completely that genuinely ascetic practices were designed to serve the goal of his own “self-mortification,” by humbling him and driving the awareness of his complete interdependence with others ever more deeply into his soul.  He saw with full self-reflective clarity how adept he was himself at turning such humbling practices into yet more fodder for his own pride in himself, in the negative sense of that term, where it goes together with feeling and holding oneself to be someone special, not at all like all those “other” people, almost all of whom appear to lack the “strength of character” and “pride in themselves” to practice the sort of remarkable “self-control” that one demonstrates so clearly in one’s own case—at least in one’s own eyes.  That is, Hopkins realized how deeply ingrained in himself was the tendency toward what is often called “spiritual pride”:  vanity masquerading as spirituality—a matter, to use the terms of the nicely oxymoronic title of a book by Chögyam Trungpa, Tibetan Buddhist  guru and founder of Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, of “spiritual materialism.”  Thus, the lesson my reading Hopkins in Las Vegas occasioned me learning–worded as it first came to me, to fit what occasioned it in that setting–was this:

Any practice or other institution is to be abandoned as soon as it becomes overall ego-boosting rather than ego-busting.

Reading Hopkins in Las Vegas taught me that lesson–and a rich stock of others, as it turned out–altogether free of charge.  That in itself made the lesson remarkable.

It was remarkable insofar as its cost-free availability to me in Las Vegas, of all places, defied all the ordinary expectations one would usually have in making a trip there, and that I had myself as we went there.  That is because Las Vegas is a glittering, glitzy place where, as I remarked to my wife at one point during our stay, “they would charge us for breathing, if they could just figure out a way to package the air, without killing off all their potential customers in the process, before they could even pick their pockets.”  Indeed, looking back now, after our trip and our receiving all the great, genuine gifts that were readily available to us there altogether gratis, I’m actually surprised that no one tried to con us into thinking we did have to pay them, if we wanted to keep our air supply going.  Any lesson one learns for free in a place where they would charge you for the air you breath, if only they could figure out how, is remarkable simply on the count of coming for free in Las Vegas, of all places, in the first place.

In the second place, the lesson at issue was also remarkable by virtue of its unusual sort of “back-reference,” so to speak.  I immediately saw that it applied to the very same institutional setting in which it was transmitted to me, as it were.  That is, it applied to Las Vegas itself, or, more specifically to two very different ways one could experience that city.  On the one hand, one could experience Las Vegas, that “City of Sin” itself, as a wonderful place to go to practice grossly hedonistic self-indulgence–a place, that is, to get one’s ego boosted.  On the other hand, however, one could alternatively experience Las Vegas, same city (that one of “Sin” itself), as a wonderful place to go to practice austerely ascetic self-denial—that is, to get one’s ego busted.

Las Vegas, the City of Sin, as it quite accurately advertises itself as being, is “Sin,” which in that context means precisely selfindulgence.  Las Vegas is Sin in the very same sense that Uncle Sam is America, or that John Bull is England.  True to its name and to what it names, the City of Sin is indeed the place to go, if what you want is to indulge your taste for self-indulgence, that is, to get your ego boosted, as I already said.  If you want to get your ego boosted, by all means you should go to Las Vegas, where, once there, whatever you may end up doing, it will indeed boost your ego.

If that’s why you want to go there, taking a trip to Las Vegas is guaranteed to boost your ego one way or another.  It may, if you get lucky, at least by ordinary standards, boost your ego by letting you hit that big jackpot you’ve always dreamed of one day hitting on the slots, or at craps or poker or roulette or whatever equivalent, letting you glory in your new-found—yet so richly deserved, for all you’ve had to put up with to get there—riches.

That does happen in Las Vegas from time to time, of course.  However, as everyone really knows, if one lets oneself know it, it does not happen very often.  It happens only very, very rarely, in fact, given all the millions of tourists annually who gamble by going to Las Vegas.  Far, far more likely is that, if you go to Las Vegas for some ego-boosting, you will indeed find your ego boosted, but not in that way.  It will be boosted, rather, in the same way that a pickpocket might boost your wallet.  That sort of ego-boosting is, after all, what Las Vegas, where all the odds that can be rigged always are rigged to be on the side of the House, is all about.

Las Vegas is the place to go, to get your ego boosted, one way or another, whether you like it or not.

Unless, that is, the flipped coin of your luck lands differently, as flipped coins can do, even in Las Vegas.  Despite how hard they try to rig everything in favor of the House, the forces of order that order Las Vegas can never manage entirely to rig that, at least:  Sometimes the coin really does come down against the house.  What’s more—and to Vegas’s lasting chagrin—in terms of the coins that really count, when those coins come down, the coin always comes down against the House.

Poor Las Vegas!  It just can’t win!

My own experience in Las Vegas is proof of that.  It was there, after all, in Las Vegas itself, that the coin I flipped in going there came down–by sheer good luck of reading Hopkins, by hap, in that place—in my own favor, and broke the House itself, by showing me that the House, poor thing, and despite all its rigging of everything it can rig, and also despite what it may think itself, never wins.

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Coming soon!  “The Traffic in Trauma:  Reading Hopkins in Las Vegas II–The Sequel”!  Look for it in my next post!

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.

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“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.