05 July 2005

- Celebrating the Fourth -

We celebrated the Fourth here more or less as usual. After the run, we went to the neighborhood festivities. This involved saying the Pledge, honoring the vets, listening to the evil "God Bless the USA (I'm Proud to Be an American)", singing other patriotic songs communally, and watching a performance of a local square dance troupe. The caller sang the calls—not sure how unusual that is. Generally, he favored old-time and country, but at the end he called a dance to some funk tune. I found the mixing of genres here completely disorienting, though it actually worked amazingly well.

In the afternoon, we went over to the pool so Judu could participate in the water games. She had a very good time. We then went to a block party for the evening. You might think that we passed on the major fireworks display for a bit of convivial community building. While the latter certainly took place, we did not in fact have to give up on the fireworks.

Here is the post on the local fireworks' culture I wrote last year.

- Yankee Doodle Dandy -

Bombs bursting in air—The place I live has not yet been annexed by our fair city. Annexation may seem a peculiar point from which to embark on a post concerning fireworks, except that being outside the city means that we are governed by county rather than city law. And on the Fourth of July that means that we have fireworks going off everywhere, because basically the county chooses to regulate nothing that it absolutely does not have to. In terms of fireworks, the result is rather ridiculous. We live in a relatively normal suburban subdivision, with the usual density of homes on .25 to .5 acre lots. Yet within a block of us, we had four groups of neighbors setting off extensive displays, each costing well in excess of $1000. Talk about literally having money to burn... Fortunately, for safety's sake if nothing else, annexation can't be too far off.

If, like me, you see fireworks as a sort of dance of light and sound, public displays have a quality of containing this aerial ballet, of turning it into a show, which is a mark of its publicity, its being a public event. In this sense it is recognizable as a form of theater. The public fireworks show constructs and assembles an audience, a public, as for a show. What is different about the displays in my neighborhood is precisely this loss of containment, and so also any sense of witnessing a public show. Fireworks go off first here, then there, and occasionally everywhere; and your attention flits from one place to the next for no discernable purpose other than to see the sky painted again with light. Lacking is any sense of choreography to the display, a sense that it has been planned, that it has been put on, staged, for me. What is exhibited instead then is perfectly private, which means that the displays in the neighborhood seek not public expression but the expression of and for the self. When I step outside and watch, I sense seeing a display that was not meant for me, that, unlike the public show, has not been planned for my presence, and a private exhibition of and for the self that takes place in public is merely indecent exposure.

Yet the flash of the bombs bursting in air does not merely sublimate the uncouth figure of the flasher. If the fireworks necessarily contain an irreducible phallic moment inasmuch as they are personal displays of power, the sky is also transformed into an arena of competition. The displays may be indifferent to me but they are not indifferent to the other displays, which become the measure of one's own display, one's own power. What I as an interloper see as confusion then is a trace of just this competition, a competition that holds no place for me so long as I do not have the capital to burn. Hence, the impression of disorientation, but also of my being caught in a war zone: the almost arbitrary assault on my senses marks my presence as an intrusion, as a stepping into a no man's land between competing displays of subjectivity. This accidental choreography is fascinating not just for the sublime spectacle it produces but also for precisely the way it reproduces in the sky the relation of autonomous subjects on the earth. The sometimes beautiful, sometimes jarring, but always confused dance of competing fireworks is thus a momentary reflection of a society in which I am impotent, where my only power consists of directing my gaze or closing my eyes.