Perchance to Please

Late Night Viewing

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Earlier today, I managed to scavenge a laser printer and small stand which is enough to turn my room into a makeshift office—which is great, because my school doesn’t give us [its students] unpaid printer access or office space. Nor does it afford us access or discounts to textbooks and required reads that cost a small fortune. Not that I can think of other schools that do, but I wager others would do well to think about this the next time someone harps about how “nice” it is to have hard copy books and how their mood shifts to productivity on campus. Especially, when that someone happens to be a professor or upper-middle class. It never ceases to amaze me how folks subscribe to these “nice” notions from wealthy optimists; and how the avowal of alternatives is always lost on those with acceptance and an abundance of resources.

Maybe this relates to the subscription to social media and artificial intelligence—as in, indulging intelligence premised and operant upon artifice. Technology might have advanced, but life has always been more built than lived. Concepts like religion, law, and norms have imposed ideologies long before we constructed and comprised online worlds. However, there is just something distinctly indulgent and individualistic when it comes to new media; something cultivated through consumption and crowds whom command through quips and clicks, as they steal behind masks of coy and ‘cool’ personalities. Perhaps, this could account for the nervous laughter and expectant esteems that predominate; and why precedents are unspoken as well as unquestioned.

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No one covers these prospects quite like David Stewart. I came across him years ago, late one sleepless night when I’d plugged into YouTube to stay awake during revisions of a manuscript, when “Silly Boy” emerged in my recommendations. I heard something not only insightful, but immediate; and I hear this in his entire discography, which is what partially drove my first novel. Stewart is a distinct resolute, but reflective voice amidst the crass cult of celebrity. He manages to make singularity soulful instead of surplus and superficial. Every subject is simultaneously dependent and defenseless to their desires. No one is betrothed to bravado and there is no marriage to ignorance and idealism, but rather a sheer divorce from reality. “Silly Boy” ponders the purpose of pleasure in the present, however pretentious, and the absence of prospect should it be prolonged, which is thematic from the track’s album aptly titled Dark Side of Paradise. “Mirrors on the Ceiling” fixes to thrill with familiar, finite convictions which foster albeit limit likeness; “Play Love with the Devil” mourns how performativity prevents sincerity despite connectivity; and “Power” muses upon the flushed, but fading merits of the moveable and material world.

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Unlike the drugged, dispirited decadence of Dark Side of Paradise, Stewart’s second album—Late Night Viewing—evokes an erotic and existential treatment. The eponymous track, “Late Night Viewing,” sets the tone as Stewart stakes the earnest and empty, but exhibitory urgency of lovers that are ultimately aromatic albeit aroused; keenly aware that they are not alone in the universe. “Lay on the Bonnet” intones that intimacy is operant upon ignorance— “Yeah, I get that you don’t know me; but you’ve got the time to show me”—that obliging the world (and ourselves) at large devalues it. “Scream More” and “Blood Rush” convey carnivalesque carnalities, gushed and gamed, that crave candour even as they are resigned to conventionality. “Incredible” [which features Yasmin] ruminates upon a rueful, but rousing romance whose lovers are ambushed by attraction.

For me, this track bled into “Red Light” as a song that articulate the lure of liaisons which reject reason and transverse temporality; how compatibility can contradictory in our compulsion to contrasts as Stewart prompts the listener to “forget about pride” and “Make sure the Barbies don’t bring Kens.” The Grease-reminiscent “Woman in Lust” [with Wretch 32] and “Run the World” [with Example] are charged, decisive power trips which dishearten dissenters and endow eavesdroppers as impartial. “Heaven” [with Ed Sheeran] rounds out the rest of the tracks as it culminates in curiosity accompanied by anxiety and accountability; reflecting upon the repetition of mistakes, each done under the same pretext of a promised payoff, as heaven “is going to haunt us until it takes us”; while “Breathe Slow” is an airy, ambient cue of conclusion: the “party’s over” and one must “breathe slow” to internalize. Only given the immoderation imparted within the crux of the content, you’d think there was no point.

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Late Night Viewing is curious because it bears a lesson learnt in the absence of catharsis. Stewart fleshes out fine, but frigid feelings of being fulfillment: being full of nothing. He knows things won’t last, but those things still define us. Therefore, by some token, those things—however fickle—are worth whatever we expend upon them. Stewart effects this knowing that agony precedes afterglow; that indulgence and intuition are impractical, but cultivate our consciousness. We value and venture to small, sometimes hollow victories from battles we bereave in lieu of a war.

 

Reclaiming Joy Through Trial and Triumph

 

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These days, I seldom admit that I write. I don’t even call myself a writer since I doubt I can dignify the title—even though, Christ knows that must seem mighty modest considering that title is assumed by many mediocre magnates. I have always written, but I have only recently began publishing [either by myself or through independent publishers]; and I have very rarely profited off of it. The term “starving artist” took on a literal meaning for me once I invested in the venture of self-publication after traditional publishers rejected me for my indistinct niche in the market(s) and because I lacked the social capital or substantive endorsements that would’ve made me an asset. At first, I took that rejection very personally—and in some ways, I still do—but a bit of digging into the ‘success stories’ and otherwise prosperous platforms amended the slump I found myself sinking into. Because, I found that particular privileges played a prominent part in one’s ‘marketability’ and that “capitalism” is operant upon even abstract levels since there’s something inherently exploitive and exclusionary when merit is monetized, when success is more quantifiable than qualifiable, and when certain insights are inopportune.

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Which is funny because whenever I tell people about my overall life, they tend to think it makes an interesting story. I was already “starving” so to speak as a university student whose scholarships, grants, and [small] savings ensured my academic attendance while a rustic diet and the odd [inexpensive] splurge ensured my survival. Then, I was isolated from most by the time I hit grad school which exacerbated my paranoia and anxiety. Solitude surely strengthened my scholarly output, but it amplified my suspicions and self-consciousness—which already peaked during my stint in modeling that culminated in aesthetic and agented admonishments, depression, as well as eating disorders. Somewhere between my revelations in being racialized and protesting alongside students with whom I shared rage over rising tuition fees, I critically considered how life itself was a catalyst for my creativity and lack thereof. This was around the mid 2000s, when reality TV had just struck gold with a select few franchises—of which there are countless clones now—and existentialism began to wane in popular culture. Self-publishing had begun to flourish which simultaneously created and destroyed cumbersome celebrities. This was the time when social media users with millions of hits and followers were starting to be afforded endorsements, even reality shows of their own; where the lifestyles of the rich became flaunted and famous; and where the internet and personable publishing fashioned a permanency in which gossip could snowball into an avalanche.

This time would’ve marked me as an anxious preteen not so much coming of age as going with the flow. For reasons I have yet to fully explore, I developed and maintained severe avoidance issues which prompted me to disengage and depersonalize by any means possible. And, “any means” was always—and still is—art. I wrote, painted, danced, and piled on playlists. It never once occurred to me that these means were something upon which I could capitalize. When it did occur to me, I honestly didn’t care. I did art as a hobbyist and saw the advent of interconnectivity—forums, sharing sites, galleries, etc.—as beneficial for pen-pals and free access; not ‘marketing’ to a worldwide audience for coin. I only started publishing after I felt like I had a viable idea to actually market; and I was also admittedly arrogant in thinking the content that was definitive of present bestsellers and trends was somewhat banal as well as easy to surpass conceptually. Who wants to read the same story—the same, tired and [perhaps unwittingly] toxic tropes—over and over, especially in a purportedly ‘progressive’ world?

Well, pretty much everybody. Those narratives wouldn’t continue to define weight or sell otherwise. Plus, I doubt that people quite frankly can be bothered to invest in imagination or innovation given how they tasked they are with trials and tribulations. There is little, if any esteem in vision within a world whose successes are defined by expenditure—which is why being an artist or creative entrepreneur is more than a little uninspired. And, also why I literally “starved” once I invested into my creative outlet: which detracted from my thin budget and meant I was periodically and unromantically (looking at you, hipsters) fasting. But, I was no stranger to food pantries before that; and I’d met a number of other creatives going there, campus centres, as well as shelters. These places sometimes had lengthy lines, wait times, or just generally provided a piece of paradise amidst terrible weather conditions; and I had connected with a number of people in these places, many of whom I admittedly never saw again. However, each and every one of them reaffirmed my value of being cognizant of those around me no matter how substantial or superficial. I eventually realized that, despite my affinity and coping mechanism of avoidance, that I simply couldn’t ignore any- and everyone; that despite the enormity of the white noise, I couldn’t tune everyone out because I then would be unable to hear my own calling.

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And, I hear something rattle in my soul whenever I listen to Joy Conaway. I stumbled upon her through an oddly fruitful social media suggestion—a recommended page on Facebook—and I haven’t been able to stop listening to her since. Her EP, A Tale of Joy & Sorrow, is off the wall amongst an assortment of her other tracks. For instance, “Alone” is a novel and optimistic perspective on support and sentiment. It bespeaks the priceless proclivities of genuine pleasure, yet discerns that there is can be umbrage in unity in a prevalent praxis of simultaneous insensitivity and indulgence. “The Lion’s Awakening” is an acoustically driven beat avowing pride, perseverance, and personality which affirm there is no expense too great to dignify your own truth; similar to “Forever Song” that imparts the importance of invaluable, interpersonal insight despite its hardships. “Monsters” is a placid, poignant ballad conveying how we are our own worst enemies whom can be amended and astounded by love; if not, overcome by objective. While “Pretend” and “Deepest Fear” are reminiscent of the plucked peace that marked many contemporary artists of the 90s, whose tracks backgrounded the pensive dialogues and epilogues of heartland dramas; thematic of nascent, but noticeable turmoil driven by disclosure.

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For me, Joy Conaway relates to my own reconciliation of art, aversion, and avoidance. Her songs infuse light into the beacons I had burnt out from my childhood. Rarely do I ever hear such songs that are hopeful and optimistic without being idealistic. Conaway doesn’t profess that dreamers are beneficiaries on the virtue of simply dreaming, nor does she propose glory or principle in obliging some obstinate. She simply serenades the significance of sincerity and self-discovery. No track is nautically naïve or nonchalant, instead avowing anchorage amidst the sea of life and longing.

Moreover, Conaway’s craft itself is worth noting as she is a modest treasure with a small, select discography and promising platform. She creates quality content in the absence of quantifiable artifice. Her songs have soul, which is something that cannot be sold. Not that she isn’t worth investing in. The distinction is that she is a rarity whom cannot be replicated or consumed without question. Her sound has nothing formulaic or processed, which inclines one to understand that connectivity and visibility cannot and do not supplant actual value—and I believe that is also a core theme underwritten in her songs. Listeners are not only empowered by truth or triumph, but also by appreciating meaning as a matter of intimacy and sensation rather than rate.

Partition Through Perspective

Spellbound

Amidst my current thesis, time seems to pass me by as it stands still. Most of the time, the people in my life are anomalies to my aspirations. They laugh, love, and live while I wonder if I’m actually living; if my life is on ice until graduation, as the only permanence in my life is publication. Each time I poke my head out or click around online reinforces the reality that feels and fashion are a matter of fiction. Truth has too hard. No one wants to be tasked by trial or tribulation.

Reggae has always tendered my truth. It sounds a faith not blind, but fruitful. In that way, the genre is distinct. It declares kinship and catharsis which lack the pretensions of glossy, gaudy glamour. The reggae vibes revere roots, which is why wherein Bob Marley is so iconized as humble and reflective; unlike comparably vain contemporaries whom serenade materialist, megalomaniac manifestos. For me, a prime principle of reggae is its distinction of the internal and the individual; how it proposes the possibility of looking within without looking against or looking away from others. It also acknowledged the need, the right to assert autonomy even if one chose to abide anti-violence.

Since my roots were cultivated in the Caribbean, I’m no stranger to reggae. Its fluid, formative medleys defined most of my childhood. Friends and family would play Bob Marley, Barrington Levy, Beenie Man, Bounty Killer, Glen Washington, Shabba Ranks, amongst many others: all of whom related principles of perseverance and peace despite the distinctions of their artistry. Notably, like other genres, reggae has been called out for mainstreamed anti-LGBTQA+ sentiments [that seem to have peaked and progressed from the early eighties following the influx of homophobic and traditionalist, eurocentric televangelism being broadcast]. I never really thought much about this when I was younger, but I began to hear this as I matured with a critical ear. If reggae artists truly believe in the infallibility of an almighty peace, whether that be through a Rastafarian concept of Zion or Jah, then there is a false logic in propagating bigotry given that people may be naturalized to embody an array of ambition, attraction, and love. That’s not to knock the genre altogether, however it must be addressed how colonialism has convoluted the popularized narratives enforced by particular figures. Addressing that will not only abolish ignorance, but additionally strengthen and harmonize the genre’s true intent. And, I think islanders may be able to speak to that intent of nautical nirvana adrift amidst tempestuous tides.

 

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Kelissa ponders paradise, not politics on her latest album: Spellbound. Although, I think that her overall message can be politicized as emancipatory and existentialist. She imparts insight into capitalism and the material world as recalcitrant, which is why it is fruitless to avow audiences or appearances. There is a personable, peaceful frame through which we can view Kelissa. “You are enchanting like the stars in the night,” she sings in the opening titular track. “And, my sky you’re lighting like a firefly” which affirms her as a smitten songstress from jump. ‘Best Kept Secret’ conveys a conscious rather than calculated intent of consumerism where love is prided, yet more impactful than intimate. Being jilted in life is hardly surprising, but artists like Kelissa evidence that it may be innovative. Her sadness is sublimated into strength and insight as she reflects, “You told me I was your treasure, but treasure just don’t last forever.” Accompanied with the ‘Give Your All’ interlude—“Take a leap, you fall, and get up again. Never try, never know you’re capable.”—affords listeners empowerment through enlightenment.

My favourite track, ‘Topsy Turvy,’ reinforces optimism through a brisk beat with an underlaid unhurried rhythm. Kelissa purports that paradise awaits those whom not only persevere, but individualize from mainstreamed monotony and malignance. Freedom can be clumsy and chaotic, but it cultivates confidence and catharsis—which isn’t a matter of immediacy as her ‘Slow Down’ interlude follows to articulate a natural, elemental ambiance. ‘Take Your Time’ goes on to prompt us to purge ourselves of pretensions wherein Kelissa insists to be interpersonal, one not need be impulsive. The concluding ‘How Many More’ builds upon this as she ruminates against the grain of romanticism and rationalism wherein truth and dissent are denied in the superficial scheme of social order. “Is it worth the price that we pay to live the life we do?” she wonders. “How many more will have to fall? How long will we ignore the ones who call?”

Spellbound reveres the spirit of reggae as not just a site of intent and intuition, but how humility in tandem with hubris is the harbinger of happiness. In divorcing herself from recidivism, revisionism, and romanticism, Kelissa marries trial and error with trials and tribulations. Her relative rhythms are forthright because she is unreliant upon dumbstruck, starstruck signifiers or collaged carnality which consequently shifts perspectives from pride and prowess.

Fury and Future

Fierce for the Night

The first time I heard disco, I was in early grade school. Even then, at that age, it was defined as a thing of the past: a relic, yet a reverberant realm of endless possibilities. With ambition afloat and airy affections, the genre still rings more supple than succinct. It was only until recently that I understood why I found it infectious and why its composition is a timeless treasure.

Disco deigns delight and desire where there is none; or rather, where it is dormant. It invokes insight and instinct that is not only repressed, but also agonizingly absent in the meticulous monotony maintained in daily life. Disco simultaneously drives and disorients us with our own emptiness, because it single-handedly encapsulates and articulates the esteem of every energy and emotion.

This is why one of its core, collective ideals was unity. It esteemed expression and androgyny, but it inclined coming together. Even though it could convey contrarianism, I think that it emboldened a more passive form of resistance. More or less, disco songs pride us as playmates in paradise; as opposed to casting us as militant or heated comrades as in genres that build more upon rock and stricter soul.

Which is perhaps why its popularity declined towards the eighties, a decade that roused a revival and nostalgia of the social justice activism and free love of the sixties. Rock was anglicized to articulate the anger and annoyance of the West, whereas more intellectualized and weaponized in the East.

A discursive dystopia emerged artistically as people somehow started to grasp that their futures were being not only driven, but dictated by woeful world events and paltry politicians. The sixties’ strides had elapsed with modern, morbid developments dedicated to the destruction of marginalized communities lest they mobilize again.

And, the advent of neoliberalism was the dissolution of unity. It corrupted the concord and sense of community disco had striven to invoke. People could no longer be appeased by a buoyant, boogie beat, nor could they honestly or wistfully aspire to the prospect of an airbrushed utopia.

After the pounding preclude of rock, brass ballads and new jack swing began to voice a sense of urgency and agency. The nineties then built upon that and culminated with loud, lurid resistance bespoken in the rage of rap and grunge; while carnalities and consorts were serenaded in smoother evolutions of new jack swing, R&B, and soul. Symphonic pop briefly endeared and empowered throngs, until existentialism emerged as audible apathy in later anthems of the decade while techno and house hailed the millennium with acclaimed avarice and excess.

But, disco was there through it all. You could hear it in the sequencers and synthesizers. You could hear it in the pensive lyrics that pined after paradise despite the droll of the daily grind and colourless corporates amidst the concrete jungle. You could hear it in the ironic inflections of craven, crestfallen hopefuls whom dared to dream despite their trials and tribulations. You could hear it, because you could know it; knowing that wanderlust led to wonderland. And, you could hear it in a like heartbeat that throbbed against yours.

Now, you can hear it in nu-disco: a generic derivative from the classic.

 

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Which is how I came to hear Virginia, a songstress from Europe whose latest album, Fierce for the Night, is currently the only reason I visit SoundCloud. Fierce for the Night is a comprehensive contemporary coveted by and within the classics. Virginia gives voice to an objective, optimistic confidante whose acumen comes not from academia or accomplishments, but from adversities.

The eponymous track, “Fierce for the Night,” is a blithe beaten track whose refrain—fierce for the night, fierce for your love—accentuates its powerful pulse. “Bally Linny” is a brooding, barred arrangement grounded by its gradual progression; “Funkert” is a raw, regretful rhythm reflective of the reality that love is not a game, but a powerful emotion whose trivialization yields intense consequences; “Follow Me” evokes the esteem of early electronica underlain with rave and breakbeat; and “Han” balances plausive percussion and a light, layered hymn to dreams.

“Believe in Time” is a tempered, trancelike tune musing into the mediocrity, monotony, and malignancy of the moment that transcends temporal space. Its verses are ventures that discern the ‘nu’ of ‘nu-disco.’ Because, unlike the classic’s confidence and camaraderie, the contemporary is rather disillusioned and dispirited, but not disconsolate.

“Subdued Colors” also enunciates a dearth of deliverance that afflicts hopefuls, the classic believers, who fare against a fiscal future. “Lies” uncovers the umbrage faced when one abides the ascriptions of artifice through a conventionality and gentility that are as functional as disingenuous; and “Raverd” declares a genuine connection that couples buoyant beats with echoed avowal, while “Obstacle” parries the principle and proficiency of perseverance against unlikely odds.

Fierce for the Night nods to the ascendant cadence of disco, yet parlays the pessimistic parameters of the present. It doesn’t discourage tact or tenacity, but it recognizes the reality and triviality of tropes and trends that are paced as well as practiced to procure capital. Virginia cautions us against living on the increasingly strained hope that we will someday be good enough instead of treasuring today, because poised pretension and performativity assures dark days ahead. She compels us to take a hard look at ourselves and the world around us; and to take an even harder look upon whom, what, and where we draw happiness.

And, she sounds funky doing it.

Of Chants and Chasms

Chained to the Rhythm

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Earlier this year, Katy Perry released new a single—“Chained to the Rhythm”—true to her signature sound of upbeat, nascent beats coupled with blithe lyrics reminiscent of the 80s. However, the single is surprisingly existential as it raises a handful of questions about not only the quality of life, but the meaning of it. Perry marries a buoyant beat to a myriad of uncomfortable universal truths reflective of how humanity is less subverted than supplanted by its increased reliance upon advanced technologies. Rather than abject anthem or content chorale, it rings like a Black Mirror episode. It dramatizes a dystopian narrative wherein rhythm allegorizes routines and repressors in respect to social norms that stilt imagination and alienate alternatives.

The song opens to invite us to critically consider our positionality in a spiritual scheme. The beat itself foregrounds any accusatory undertones, sparing listeners any guilt or conceptions of complacency, which makes for an interesting ideation. Perry isn’t the first (and won’t be the last) to liken the coveted picket fence as a prison, but her conveyance of interpersonality being transmuted by insatiability tickles my sociological prowess. This is a concept that occupies many character dialogues in my novels.

Perry’s perspective elicits a subtler, sinister sense however; which again, thanks to the beat, is moderated. The prospect of being depersonalized from your own identity due to its imperfections in order to ornament your dream life is unnerving, and something I admittedly find myself thinking about. The older I grow, the more established I stand to become, the more I realize that I condemn and censure certain pieces of myself; inconvenient pieces that don’t fit into the puzzle I can assemble.

Moreover, this compulsion to conceal the inopportune aspects of one’s identity is exactly what prevents honesty. The pretense outdoes the purpose, because relationships founded upon fictions ultimately prevent and dissuade genuine connections. It’s why the elites can have the world at their feet, in their pockets, and abide (and define) aesthetic hegemonies, yet maintain miserable lives. It’s why social media celebrities and platformers can have huge followings, but feel utterly disconnected. It’s why those whom we live vicariously through—whom appear to be living out our wildest dreams of fashion, fame, and fortune—are themselves disenchanted from the very thrall in which onlookers are spellbound. The pre-chorus quip that references rose-coloured glasses describes this vacuous visuality, wherein centerpieces and audiences alike are misled to idolize insincere tropes of beauty and happiness. It’s clear that parties are likewise accountable, as consumers and creators make a conscious choice to be ignorant through indulgent idealism.

This articulates the advent of modernism and capitalism being escapism driven by an illusion of individualism. Rather than connect through social media and technological advances, people are inclined to overstate their own personalities—which cease to be unique because collective representations and viral trends define the ways in which they exemplify their esteems. The populace is neither inimitable or happenstance, because it is operant upon uniform constants of memes, avatars, and other cultural staples.

The indulgence of the imagined individual scorns goodwill and prompts people to think wholly in transactional terms where the value of someone is determinant on their followers, likes, shares, or finances; and where ‘friendships’ are founded not upon understandings of reciprocity and affection, but upon tangible assets and abjection. This is why utopia is lonely: because it is ingenuine and impersonal, not sincere or sentimental. The perfect body, the perfect family, the perfection peeking through the picket fence: none of it is inhabited or indisposed, because it must be immaculate. Think of that display case in the museum full of costly collectibles that are pretty, priceless—perfect—also untouchable and unable to feel.

In our case, we are unable to show we feel. Perry peruses this in her second verse: “Are we tone deaf? Keep sweeping it under the mat. Thought we could do better than that. I hope we can.” To pine for perfection, to preserve pretenses, to fight against reality for the fantasy is to abdicate authenticity. Skip Marley’s verse explicates this quite plainly in the context of crafty corporates and Machiavellian elites, “the empire,” albeit closes on a somewhat optimistic note on the assertion of an inevitable uprising—which I think affords the masses too much credit. My own misadventures in grassroots activism and contending policymakers—in addition to, again, sociology—inclines me to be more pessimistic. There have been countless provocative speeches, essays that particularize pain, amidst many other incentives that illustrate inequality and abysmal artifice. Yet, here we are: still fattening the wallets of the rich, still forsaking our humanity in favour of painstaking performativity, and still priding profit over principle or people.

Although the song ends as it began, on a bouncy beat, the music video zooms in on Perry’s face. The character she plays is one who is exceptional to the rigid, repressive rhythm she describes and consequently concludes with an expression of agonizing realization. I’m not sure if this marks the beginning of a thematic arc where this character either overcomes or buckles beneath the luminous dystopia, but the sight alone conveys the crisis of one who is repulsed yet dependent upon their world.