U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Letter from Santa Barbara

Deep-rooted instincts drive me to bury myself in reading in the face of disaster.

Disaster arrived. I began to read. I read books on men and reactionary political movements. It seems in questionable taste to write anything about this, maybe to write about anything. In any event, these seem like the right books to read, at least.

I can’t make any sense out of the any of this.

I live in Santa Barbara. The events of this past weekend took place in Isla Vista, a student community that abuts the campus of UC Santa Barbara.

Isla Vista is an imaginary, unincorporated peninsula, sandwiched between the ordinary and the Pacific Ocean. It is a space both of aggressive enjoyment and chronic abandonment. Every spring: the children of the wealthy throw their couches into the ocean. Everyone looks like the people on television. Walking its streets, I often have the sense: “this is a dangerous place.”

My family lived in Isla Vista when I started graduate school, far enough away from the congested boulevards near the beach to maintain our sanity, close enough to get some sense of the area’s gnarled libidinal trap economies.

Recently, we moved downtown. I work, primarily, from home, writing a dissertation. I was home when I heard the news. I tried to let my friends and family know we were safe.

I would like to be safe.

I would like to help Ron Cohen, President and CEO of Sig Sauer with his insomnia and loss of appetite, with his nervous shakes when Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” comes on the radio.

“Make something else,” I would tell him. “We don’t need what you make.”

9 Thoughts on this Post

  1. While IV is rather different from the time I lived there in the late 1970s, even back then it was “a space both of aggressive enjoyment and chronic abandonment,” although I recall the furniture out in the streets, not so much in the ocean, and much of it salvaged by Hmong immigrants from Laos and Vietnam, as well as some of us poorer folks (I worked as a dishwasher, first at Sun and Earth, a little surfer-owned restaurant, and then at the Friendship Manor retirement home). In those days, there was more political activism and involvement: anti-nuclear affinity groups opposed to Diablo Canyon (as part of the Abalone Alliance), working in the Food Co-Op garden (now the site of student housing), hanging out at the recycling center (a later job found me working for the Santa Barbara Recycling Center, a pioneering program in its time), attending IV community council meetings, supporting the IV Parks & Recreation District (festivals of various sorts, often with juggling, plays, folk music), the IV Federal Community Credit Union (or something like that, I can’t recall its exact name), and the local free clinic. I had one foot in the student community (my roommates attended UCSB) and one in the local non-student community (real hippies, activists, eccentrics, etc.). I had a love-hate relation with Isla Vista (summers were best, as many of the more obnoxious students left town). Those days are well captured in a little book by Carmen Lodise (and others), Isla Vista: A Citizen’s History (2008): http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1434824748/ref=s9_psimh_gw_p14_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=062DMEPT6VQ553GVXST7&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1688200382&pf_rd_i=507846

    I miss the counter-cultural ambiance and political activism of those days: The last time I rode my bike through IV I was astounded by the number of expensive cars parked on lawns and front yards. And I think of the things I learned back then, some of which perhaps helps one make some sense of what occurred the other day. But it does nothing by way of addressing the how one goes about effectively countering the causal variables related to both individual and collective mental pathologies, including the weapons mania that continues to afflict this country…or the callous legal indulgence in an implausible and tendentious reading of the Second Amendment by right-wing and centrist Supreme Court justices that ignores (as a species of willful ignorance) the intrinsic (i.e., dependent) relation of the second clause to the first clause: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

  2. Kurt, thanks for this honesty. And thanks for the reminder to try to make something that we do need. I’m sorry things are awful sometimes. I’m on the side of believing that they don’t have to be.

  3. Powerful words, Kurt, gracias. Hopefully this represents the last straw and turned into creative rag, feeding into non-violent protest: “Not one more.”

  4. Thanks to all for these sweet responses.

    The city and campus remain stunned, in denial, in a rage, in shock. We have the ethical responsibility to render so many things obsolete.

    Places like this site become very valuable in times such as these. Thanks, sincerely, to everyone here.

  5. Well, Kurt, thank you for trusting this community to be a community.

    Perhaps you’ve seen this post from the UCSB English Department’s Facebook page. I would encourage anyone who hasn’t read it already to do so. It’s really lovely, and so very kind. I can imagine everyone who worked on the statement must have wished so badly that there had been no occasion to prompt such a message, but they really handled it so well.

    Let’s be kind to each other.

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