Not Kafka

An Anger Artist


The anger artist savored, in her subsequent obscurity, memories of the time when millions followed her every surge in cortisol, charting her heartbeat, her breathing, even the microbes in her sweat. When she raged in an electronic limelight scattered across a galaxy of screens, pulsing with her in every corner of the globe.

She had scorned the crudity of the initial wave of anger artists, whose bulging veins and bloodshot eyes were everywhere when the personal bodycam first came into use.  Only after their passage from the scene—partly due to their high rates of death and incarceration—did public interest shift to the silent, internal forms of fury, which the development of online biomonitoring made newly visible.  It was then, she saw, that the profession had matured to a stage worthy of her talents.  Entering a field already dominated by women, she became, for a time, its undisputed queen.

What distinguished her from all competitors was the consistent extremity of her readings on every physiological measure of anger known to science.  Some might surpass her slightly in muscle tension or adrenalin; others showed, over short periods, denser concentrations of catecholamines or higher blood flow to the amygdala. But her ability to excel at all of these and more, day after day and week after week, with only the smallest fluctuations, was unequalled and the cause of much speculation.  Was it due to a genetic anomaly, extraordinary life experiences, or both?  Moreover, many noted that her achievement was probably understated by the public record: she might well have been living at this level for years before her readings came online.

In fact it had been not years, but decades; and her bitterness at the impossibility of proving that fact was a deep and nourishing wellspring to her art.  It flowed through her like a current, both searing and irrigating; it fueled her ambition to create, going forward, the longest and best-documented experience of anger in history.  But at an absurdly early stage—at a point, really, when her public performance was just getting underway—her following began, first slowly and then precipitously, to decline.

Endlessly she relived it, the torture of those days, when the numbers fell and fell.  The commentary echoed in her brain:  uneventful and lacking in dramaNo peaks, all plateauNo question she’s impressive, but and then, even: how do we know the data gets refreshed?  With every word her indignation blossomed, her outrage took new root—but given her extraordinarily high baseline, the readings only showed the slightest rise.  Her gift, her skill, her completely unappreciated brilliance was the long-haul, the epic, the marathon; but she lived in an age of digital idiocy, of the six-second attention span, and of obsession with the image above all.   So when the cutters joined the scene she was eclipsed.

She was incredulous, at first, that they were considered anger artists at all.  But the ignorance of the public has no bounds.  People loved to watch their bloody calligraphy unscroll on thighs and arms, thrilling with puerile horror at the spectacle of self-hate, too stupid to realize the razor might as well be a syringe, injecting opiate-endorphins and relief, release, surcease which she, the greater artist, would eternally eschew.

But there was nothing to be done.  Nothing, that is, but to devote herself, with the purity of a true master, to the solitary perfection of her art.  She disconnected from each network and severed every link, transforming all her data feeds into tight closed loops.  They throbbed upon the monitors that covered the walls and windows of her room, their flickering blue-green glow her only light.  At night she lay suspended in this cube of private sea, and gloried in the steady acid stream: her rage in raw data, in composites, and logarithmically transformed; in trendlines, in time-series, and in summary indicators that flashed down from the ceiling—yellow, orange, red— as byte by byte the record was laid down.  Her body straight, unmoving, cool as ceramic to the touch; but within, from crown to bowels, hot with the radiation of her thermonuclear core, strong enough to burn ten thousand years.

In this inviolate privacy, she planned to complete her lifetime’s work; and then—as her testament directed—to have it deleted, irretrievably, from chip and disk and cloud. And indeed, so it would have come to pass, were it not for a certain young woman employed at the lowest levels of the hospital hierarchy.  A nurse’s assistant who, although she came of age when the anger artists’ heyday was long past, had studied them with ardor, with precision, memorizing each statistic and cursing the lateness of her birth.   A young woman who, upon reading the name of the elderly stroke victim, shouted do you realize who this is, and who told what she knew to one nurse, and another, and another, until a few of the older ones thought it rang a bell, and agreed that something should be done.  And so the anger monitor came to be installed, alongside the hospital’s own; displaying this most vital of her life signs at her beside, and restoring her art, at long last, to public view.

Of all this, the anger artist herself knew nothing.  The specialists agreed the hemorrhage had taken vision, hearing, speech.  Paralysis, as well, appeared complete.  They were less certain whether the processing of tactile information had also been obliterated; it is unclear, therefore, whether she could sense the hand of the nurse’s assistant, plump and warm, as it rested on her own, covering the thin bones.  It was a touch neither tender nor grasping—a touch merely of witness.

Perceived or no, it remained constant as the young woman, breathing lightly, sat and watched, intent.  She was there as the lines on one monitor grew irregular, surged and steadied, and then declined toward flatline; while on the other screen, unto the last, the steady light flashed red, red, red.

~ Kimberly Gladman ~