Halloween Tooth-Shaving in the Pre-Dawn of the Trumposcene
On the last night of October 2016, having already considered shaving my teeth, I found myself at a Halloween party in Washington, DC, USA. I was joking there with a woman who wore a Donald Trump mask and costume. We weren’t laughing about the mask itself or what it portended, but were just indulging in the then typical pre-election guffaws about Trump’s racism and general xenophobia. We were each very different from the other—personally, politically, intellectually, etc.—but easily enough found common ground in the general non-alt-rightness that scaffolded a comfortable left plateau in that time and place.
I’d already intimated a Trump victory three days prior to the Halloween party, when my arrival in DC catalyzed a dream that I re-told to anyone who would listen in the subsequent days leading up to the election. In it, I catch sight of Trump standing alone at a social gathering, and decide to go troll him a bit. As we’re talking though, my jabs are failing to land and, despite my initial comportment, I actually find myself increasingly charmed by him, ultimately to the point of a full-fledged infatuation. Even in the dream I know this is a ridiculous way to feel, but in the manner of such infatuations I simply can’t help it. Meanwhile, Trump is physically growing as we speak, so that the course of our conversation is one in which I am increasingly charmed by him and he is increasingly enormous. It is only when he reaches a height of over 20 ft. that my feelings turn back to my initial distaste, but by that time he is too tall to hear what I’m saying and I am left shouting fruitlessly into his crotch (or rather, small mercies, the crotch of his beige slacks). When I woke up from the dream, I not only knew what was coming down the electoral pipeline, I knew that it was coming via a particular kind of reversal.
The truth is, not a day goes by that I don’t consider shaving my teeth. Not ‘consider’ as in rationally calling the question—who still believes that story?—but rather in the truest sense of the term, the sense in which one pits oneself against a determination of the constellate stars (i.e. [con] sīder-, stem of sīdus star). In my consideration, then, I experience the fated paring away of my tooth enamel, and then deny myself the action. It’s hard to complain about such trivialities in times such as these, but I’ll at least note that this isn’t the most pleasant part of my day.
This problem (pro – ballein, or ‘thrownness’) started simply enough: when I bought my first razor I kept it for a single night in a cup, next to my toothbrush. The first time I picked my toothbrush out of the now shared cup I had to actively select against the razor, which wriggled into my teeth-oriented psyche in precisely this moment of deselection: in choosing to brush my teeth, I chose not to shave them, and the bond was thereafter forged. I’ve long since moved my razor to a separate location—a different drawer altogether. But though the results are hygienically salutary, the experience sticks. A toothbrush is forever a nonrazor in my morning ablutions, and that ‘non’ (like most, if not all nons) is experientially parenthetical.
This reiterated (and painful) quotidian experience recalls a key element of the condition of listening, which is always a (compulsive) striving towards something that never occurs. That is, to listen is (among other things) to hallucinate a sound the reality of which is equally as imaginary as it is physical (though no less real for this fact). To be clear, this is not merely an argument about how hearing becomes meaningful, though one could certainly frame musical listening in this way, which is to say as a collective imagination of the type of meaning that is implied by form. More than this, though, listening is materially hallucinatory, in that the physical and neurological activities that constitute hearing do so through processes of filtering and transduction that literally require a difference between the gestalt of what is heard (i.e. inclusive of the imagination) and any grammatization of it (spectrogrammatic or otherwise). This process is also non-reversible, and thus extremely ‘lossy’ from an informational perspective.
The similarities with my shaved teeth are clear enough: if listening profiles an experience that never occurs, the psychedelic adjacency catalyzed by the proximity of my toothbrush and razor to one another likewise indicates an experience that occurs in its nonoccurence. And yet, filtering and deselection aren’t quite the same thing, and the difference is one that matters in this case: to insist on the hallucinatory element of listening is to describe something of the tendency to scale down to one’s perceptual capacities while simultaneously imagining up to the world, which is to say to describe a world that flows from a prior hallucination of identities (human and otherwise) that are compelled to listen. In being dramatically more personal though, my shorn teeth push this prior hallucination to the fore: unlike the filtering I highlighted with hearing, the temporality of deselection is primary: in a very real sense, that ‘I’ that brushes my teeth is produced after the fact of the impersonal though pointed sensation of scraping tooth enamel. It’s the only thing that makes the latter bearable: there is nobody who has to bear it, because it exists in the form of a thought that hasn’t yet landed on its thinker.
At the Halloween party in 2016, my laughter soon enough turned to—or really, was supplemented by—horrified disbelief. The jokes about xenophobia in general led to my derisively pointing out the car outside with two bumper stickers, one promoting Hillary Clinton and the other the local NFL team with a racist name. As happens when one derides at parties, the car was my interlocutor’s. Remarkably, though, she insisted that she wasn’t offended because she agreed the name was “a bit racist.” She felt okay about it because, in the end the racist name was a good thing because it “encouraged discussion about the historical prejudice against natives (sic).” And there we had it: a perfect precession of a simulacrum, spoken from a mask that turned out to be more about its dissimulations than anything else. Masks all the way down, yes, but also something else…something of a relationally constituted (pre)invariant that I’ve often thought about while having not shaved my teeth.
 A colleague of mine coined this term in recent conversation, but I expect she’d prefer it not be attributed to her. In any case I’m sure others have used it too.