November 2002 Archives

Death of the Magazine

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The Death of the Magazine

Reading the latest moan linked from Arts and Letters Daily, The Curse of Tom Wolfe by Michael Shapiro for CJR triggered some weird thoughts. Shapiro writes of judging a competition for feature writing:

Then there were the solid pieces. Every technique that Wolfe had so feverishly explained in his essay was on display. But the experience of reading them felt like meeting a perfectly attractive person whose features could not later be recalled.

Tom Wolfe was a featured speaker soon after the rhetoric program was instituted on our campus. One of my professors jumped at the chance to pick him up and drive him around town. He told me that what he remembers most was the discomfort of Wolfe, as he sat in my teacher’s old pick-up trying to be careful not to soil the pristine white suit. Most of the authors listed as “new journalists” in the article aren’t so coolly distanced, or so easily forgettable. What was distinctly missing from the article is a discussion of the real reason why those authors were successful— it wasn’t their technique but their personality that was different. That’s what I find fatiguing about reading most articles, and what makes them so forgettable— the lack of distinctive personality to go with their technical good looks.

Still, after going back and reading a lot of articles in Nation written by James Agee in 1943 a few days ago, I wonder if it isn’t the public that has changed, rather than the writers. Even the ads are different. “Have you read Kierkegaard?” one publisher’s ad asked. I don’t see many advertisements for philosophers these days. And the choice of topics also seems to have narrowed to mostly personalities and politics, which, oddly enough, was the focus of Agee’s column on film for Nation. He wrote at great length poetically about US Government training films, for example. He found them to be horribly propagandistic compare to their British counterparts. And he wrote about censorship— the deletion of the words “stallion” and “fascist” from the film version of For Whom The Bell Tolls. The articles were fluid and engaging, around twenty years before the “new” journalism.

Also striking was Archibald MacLeish’s indictment of the newly sanctioned Bureau of Psychological Warfare. He wondered if it was some new form of war created by Freud. He also questioned the US involvement in terrorism, when this was what we were supposed to be fighting against. Funny how things come around. I think I need to read more magazines, especially old ones. They used to employ some very fine writers— writers with personality, not just glossy technique.

Imageless?

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from Introducing Hegel
DEMOGORGON

                                      If the abysm
Could vomit forth its secrets--but a voice
Is wanting, the deep truth is imageless;
For what would it avail to bid thee gaze
On the revolving world? What to bid speak
Fate, Time, Occasion, Chance and Change? To these
All things are subject but eternal Love.

Percy Shelley, Prometheus Unbound Act II Scene IV




Sometimes reading Hegel sounds awfully familiar. I wonder if Shelley read Hegel? It's hard to say.

Identity Politics

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Identity Politics

I made a trip to the bookstore tonight and discovered something odd. I was looking for more Hegel, and there were a couple of books sitting astride the top row, on top of the books by and about Foucault. They were turned were I couldn’t read the spines, so I picked them up. Somehow, I don’t think this book belongs in the philosophy section. But then again, there was something rather poetic about the placement.

I was going to try to say a little something about Steve’s observations regarding the angry feminist question flying about. Thankfully, Golby and Baldur have covered most of what I intended to say. There are major problems with any attempt to flatten complicated theories. I was once in the same position as Jonathon, regarding poststructuralist theory— detesting it “because it gutted art practice, subordinating artists to the whims of curators who hate art but love politics and power.” Feminist theory suffers from the same sort of collapse, in the perception of most people who haven’t actually read it. I’ve come to realize that it isn’t poststructuralist theory I detest, but rather the myopic misreading of it that caused the atmosphere that Jonathon is talking about. Most curators latched onto tiny bits regarding a proclaimed death of representative practice as license to avoid dealing with the problems of representation that these theories highlight and intensify. Most people view the political polemics of Marxist feminism in the same way— with distaste. In a similar fashion, feminist theory intensifies the problems of gender and power.

Blogging Politics

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Blogging Politics

I’ve been avoiding writing on some loaded issues. Steve Himmer has been stirring the pot. But as the issues converge, I suppose I have to say something. First, on the issue of teachers who blog— I’ve thought about that a lot.

I decided early on not to advertise my blog to my students, but not for the usual reasons. One thing that many people in my program stress, which I agree with totally, is that part of a writing teacher’s job is to instill more complex notions of responsibility to an audience. This is immediately short-circuited in a normal classroom environment— the teacher sits at the top of the food chain, and ultimately is the sole audience for writing created in the classroom. This results in myopic, stereotypical student essays. I believe that writing at the university level should instead prepare students for real-world writing environments with shifting standards and diffuse audiences. The first step is to dethrone the idea that writing is constructed to satisfy the teacher alone, which has been drilled into their skulls since the moment they enter the system.

I don’t promote my blog as an example, primarily because I don’t want them to think that I expect them to write like I do. That would be disastrous on so many levels that I needn’t really enumerate them. However, it is inevitable that industrious students can and do locate my blog. I write in a public environment by choice.

Straight Dope

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The Straight Dope

It was a trip which began with many wrong turns. I avoided civilization completely, due to the holiday traffic, but it turned dark too soon. I kept turning down the wrong highway in the middle of nowhere. Within a couple of hundred feet, I knew I was going the wrong way. I’d double back and try again. When I got to Hackett, I looked at the bank thermometer and saw that it was 32 degrees— or zero, depending on your scale. It’s always a matter of scale, isn’t it?

I read more Hegel before I slept, but the nightmare didn’t start till the following morning. It began innocently enough. I walked outside to stare at a clear and crisp blue sky with remnants of the moon. I read Barthes and then an essay written by my cousin Wendy about growing up. My mom complained— “that may be the way Wendy remembers it, but I don’t remember it that way”— maybe it’s more a matter of perspective.

It was a fun read though, because of the scene where my brother Steve came up with the idea of painting her sister Julie’s fingernails with Tabasco sauce while she slept to help cure her from chewing on them. That sounded right to me. The trouble usually begins right when Steve gets involved. I haven’t played family mediator for a while, but those skills came back just before dinner when Steve arrived. My mom made a dry comment about Steve not caring about family history when I brought up the story. Steve got insulted and walked outside. I brought the story outside to him and tried to calm things down. I thought it was pretty funny. Wendy calls herself the “flower” of the family — “the blooming idiot.” This is the role I think I usually play in my branch of the clan.

After he read the story, his first comment was “I don’t remember things quite that way.” Wendy had made a big deal about how pious Julie was. “Uh, Julie was the first person to ever show me a Playboy magazine!” Steve said. It blew him away that a girl would read Playboy, let alone share it with him. Needless to say, he was impressed. After we all had a good laugh over the story, things smoothed out. It was a happy Thanksgiving.

The road back was smooth, other than some occasional dips. The temperature on the Hackett bank sign was of a higher caliber tonight— it read 45. Passing through Harmony, Arkansas, I looked at the display board of a church. It read: “The road to Heaven is in front of you— stay straight and keep to the right.” I followed those directions and made it home. I didn’t make any more wrong turns. However, instead of taking me to Heaven, it just took me home.

There was something I’d been meaning to research, and I looked it up tonight— the history of the word dope. It didn’t surprise me that it was stolen from the Dutch— from doop (dipping, sauce, etc.) and doopen— to dip. The oldest usage seems to date to 1851, as a synonym for simpleton. Given the etymology, dipshit also makes more sense now. In 1872, it refers to a preparation, a mixture— and not much later, an unspecified drug. This helps explain the dual usage for preparations like thread dope and pipe dope as well as intoxicating substances. It doesn’t really explain to the latest rap twist on the word as being good though. Surely they’ve been following the public service announcements.

At least now I have an answer for the old anti-drug commercial: “Why do you think they call it dope?”— Because you either dip into it, or dip things in it? Or, perhaps because it is a way of getting sauced?

Yes, I confess. I am easily amused. I’m all for Luke’s movie idea. Lest anyone cares, I’m a straight dope these days.

Pocola

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Off to Pocola, Oklahoma, for the holiday.

I have to wonder. Why are there two prices for Junior High? Are there adult and child junior high student rates?

Or, is it that people who are high get in for a dollar?

Composograph

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Henry Grogin, New York Evening Graphic
If the News [New York Daily News] was “a daily erotica for the masses,” it still paled in comparison to its fellow scandal monger, the Evening Graphic, commonly known as the “Pornographic.” In the Evening Graphic, the composograph, the first staged and faked news photo, was born. The occasion for its conception was the Kip Rhinelander divorce trial. Rhinelander, a wealthy blueblood, wanted to annul his marriage, claiming that his wife concealed from him that she was part Negro. She, in turn, insisted that this had been obvious to him even before their marriage. As part of this evidence, her lawyers had her undress to the waist in court. To the Graphic’s dismay, however, the judge expelled photographers from the courtroom before this shocking scene took place.

Ever-resourceful editor Emile Gavereau decided that if he couldn’t get a real picture, he would run the next best thing: a convincing looking composite. He and Harry Grogin, the Evening Graphic’s assistant art director, set up a fake courtroom scene in which a chorus girl substituted for the accused Mrs. Rhinelander. Then, Grogin retouched the picture and superimposed the real faces of the courtroom characters onto posed bodies. Grogin called the faked photo a composograph. Grogin used twenty separate photos to arrive at the one famous shot, but for the Graphic, it was well worth the effort. The paper became notorious overnight and circulation soared from around 60,000 to several hundred thousand readers.

from Photojournalism: The Professional’s Approach (1980)

More on the Evening Graphic

Forty Acres and Steel Mules

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FSA Lange

“It is false to assume that share croppers and share tenants are humanly hopeless”

A SHARECROPPERS FAMILY NEAR HAZELHURST GEORGIA

Frontispiece from Forty Acres and Steel Mules

Way

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Bakersfield, CA circa 1977

Imaginary Heroes

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Imaginary Heroes

In the 1930s in America, an ongoing debate raged over the proper means of representing a complex problem. A sweeping depression had brought the country to its knees. New combinations of photographs and text emerged. The images and texts have so deeply influenced our consciousness of this time that it can truly be said that our memory of the thirties exists in black and white. Beyond the specific poles of reference that exist in texts like The Grapes of Wrath and Tobacco Road, or images like Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, we live immersed in a culture that carries proudly the heroic models established at this time. It was during this time that we truly became a nation, and the individuality of heroes became displaced by a new collective idea of the American people as the heroic representatives of liberty standing against the tests of misfortune.

An originary myth such as this is fragile. It can easily be argued that nationalism was born long before the twentieth century, and that this perception of collective heroism is merely another permutation of the modern triumph of propaganda, and of socially engineered identity. However, in the texts and images of the 1930s there exists evidence of the struggles of representation and authority, of heroic valuation and critical despair. To understand the emergence of not only new heroic models but new genres of authority, a deep genealogy reaching back hundreds of years before this time is necessary. Modes and standards of heroism do not spring forth from this time uncontested and fully formed, but rather by careful choices of form and function, of value and deprecation. In the turbulent years between two world wars, mythic models of heroic behavior that would carry a nation through the subsequent decades of peace emerged. But they are not without precedent. The roots are deep, predating the discovery of the continent and its colonization. They reach into the roots of storytelling itself, and any account of these roots is indeed, a story in itself. Rather than beginning at the beginning, perhaps it is better to define an end point.

Your True Hero

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Your True Hero

Procrastinating about writing an introductory chapter for my major project, I stumbled on a compelling site: yourtruehero. The site founder, Gary Hale, explains how the site came to be in a fascinating way:

A number of people have inquired about how this project began. The answer is pretty simple.

About two years ago my family was celebrating a traditional holiday dinner. As I looked around the room, filled with relatives, I felt a sense of gratitude for the people who were there and for their contributions to everyday life. A World War II veteran, several educators, a hospice nurse, a police officer, health care workers, a volunteer karate instructor, a court system employee and small business owners – the list went on. These are all good and decent people who quietly go about their jobs, seeking neither praise nor celebrity, but each making the world a little better by their efforts. It occurred to me that millions of other families with equally good people were gathered together in their homes all around the country. I make no claim that my family is superior or more noble than the next but I do believe that we hear too little of the stories of people like these – the true heroes of everyday life.

Later that night, after the last guest was bid goodbye and the kids were asleep, I spent 10 minutes flipping through the cable channels on television. There they were – back to back to back: Monica Lewinsky, Dennis Rodman, and Eminem. Now, I have no personal grudge against those three but I do know that there is not one more thing about them that I possibly care to learn.

Why do we hear so much about meaningless celebrities and so little about good people whose stories are compelling, interesting and inspiring? Why is it that some movie star’s third divorce is more noticed than the story of the firefighter rushing into a building to save a small child or the nurse tending to a lonely and sick old man? Do I really have to hear any more about Puff Daddy?

Nuns with guns

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Nuns with guns— World Wide News Photo

Scared

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Scared

The more Judith Butler I read the more I like her. I picked up an oldie, Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France which is a rewritten version of her doctoral dissertation that she refers to as her “juvenilia.” The way that Butler recasts Foucault and Derrida as bound to Hegel’s theories on desire is downright astounding. I find it to be clearly written, understandable, and to the point. I’m really scared. You see, Butler was the winner of the 1998 Philosophy and Literature Bad Writers Contest for this sentence:

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

Okay, so I agree that anyone who uses the words “hegemony” and “rearticulation” twice in the same sentence has got a problem. And I will freely admit that Pete Townsend wrote the same thought in a much more easily understandable fashion:

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

But just the same, I’m really scared that I find Butler’s sentences quite comprehensible. What the hell is happening to me? Have I acquired the virulently pernicious academic gene? Maybe I’m even more terrified by the conversation I had today with the director of the graduate program here. We had a nice talk about my project, in post-structuralist terms that we were both quite comfortable with and she stopped to point out that our conversation would have been totally incomprehensible to most people in the department. I hadn’t thought about it. I was just talking. Now I’m struck by images of Jeff Goldblum in The Fly where I become reduced to some genetic mutant who drools on his food to digest it. Or worse still, I shrink to an imperceptible size like the Vincent Price version squeaking a nearly inaudible “help me . . . help me . . .”

Of course, it’s even stranger to think about the book I’m reading as juvenilia. Butler sums up Foucault’s position on history eloquently in two sentences. These are the sentences that I wish I’d used when I attempted to say (and was shot down for saying) that Foucault was obsessed with dominance and submission:

In effect, domination becomes for Foucault the scene that engenders history itself, the moment in which values are created and new configurations of force relations produced. Domination becomes the curious modus vivendi of historical innovation.

However, I must say that I made a big mistake last night. Never read Hegel before going to sleep. It causes nightmares. My advisor suggested that I try Aristotle’s Rhetoric instead to cure stubborn insomnia. She has a point. Aristotle has the same sort of droning sentences, and isn’t nearly as scary from a conceptual point of view.

Superior Protein

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Superior Protein

In another bizarre confluence, I had some strange thoughts on heroic genealogies. It started out innocently enough. I was watching a show on the History Channel about US marshals. Much of it was centered on the area where my parents live— Judge Parker, the hanging judge of Ft. Smith Arkansas. With Shirley Abbott’s assertions about the tri-racial character of the South fresh in my mind, I was thinking that even that is an oversimplification when it comes to the Oklahoma territory. There were bits about black marshals, Native American outlaws, and the general lawlessness of the area at the turn of the twentieth century.

It reminded me of a conversation I was having with one of my students about the fate of the Cherokee that managed to escape the trail of tears, whose lineage became melded with white settlers as they resisted forced relocation. There are no pure blood-lines here, as far as I can see. But its a secret of the South, because the appearance of native tribes is not far removed from the settlers who came in.

The program that followed was about the forensic investigation into the lineage of Jesse James. In most countries, I suspect, the point of genealogy is to trace your family tree to some aristocratic beginning, some king or hero, in order to feel validated by tradition. But here in the US, to be descended from an outlaw is an amazing point of pride. It seems so strange how in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence some people cling to the idea that they might be related to a junkie, a murder, and a thief.

I took a shower, and when I got out the first thing I heard was a bit of dialogue regarding the bidding wars over bull semen. When a particular prize bull’s genetic material becomes scarce, the prices escalate. The consequent elaboration of eugenic techniques was captivating. They actually do sonograms to determine the marbling pattern of fat in the flesh to find the choicest bits of beef. The insistence on ancestry as a way of establishing heroic merit seems to me to be not far removed from this— as if people could be engineered to be heroic. As one of the cattle breeders remarked, we do our best to assure our superior protein. There’s something downright sick about the whole enterprise.

Disfarmer

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Mike Disfarmer, Heber Springs, Arkansas

More Disfarmer images

Womenfolks

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Womenfolks

Reading Shirley Abbott’s book Womenfolks: Growing Up Down South for a class today, I decided to save some snips. It’s fairly well written, I think, and it makes some provocative assertions:

To grow up female in the South is to inherit a set of directives that warp one for life, if they do not actually induce psychosis. This is true for high-born ladies as well as for farm women, and no one has ever quite explained it. A North Carolina journalist named Florence King made a good try, though, in a book called Southern Ladies and Gentlemen. All Southerners, she observed, are insane and most especially is the Southern woman insane. The reason is that “the cult of Southern womanhood endowed her with at least five totally different images and asked her to be good enough to adopt all of them. She is required to be frigid, passionate, sweet, bitchy, and scatterbrained— all at the same time. Her problems spring from the fact she succeeds.” (3)

Tracing the lineage of Southern settlers to the Ulster Scots, Abbott returns to colonial records to find gems. I was taken by her description of Reverend Woodmason’s (from around 1766) perception of Southern cooking:

Their cookery, if indeed it can be so called, is, he says, “filthy and most execrable.” What provisions they have consist mostly of bacon and cornmeal, and clearly the women have already acquired the habit of drowning everything in grease. (40)

Now that I think about it, the quick exploration of the cooking dovetails nicely with her thesis that Southern ladies/gentlemen see themselves as descended from the English aristocracy. British food isn’t exactly renowned either. One of the interesting techniques used to frame her elaborate historical tale of family is that she marks the ahistorical perspective of her Southern mother against her Yankee father who feels attached to history. From this perspective, she deeply explores the nature of Southern identity as manifest in Arkansas.

Illustrative Photography

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One of the best paid fields open to the Pictorial Publicity Photographer is fashion illustrating. Look back through some of the best magazines of ten years ago and see where the photograph stood, as compared with hand made illustration, in bringing before the public new things in women’s fashions and you will find it had a very small part. It was a common remark to hear the hand illustrator express himself like this: “Don’t worry about photography ever taking our work away from us.” That you may judge I ask you to note today’s work done by the photographer and the hand illustrator in leading books, magazines, and newspapers and try to imagine what the future of the Pictorial Publicity Photographer is. The question now asked is: “What has made the camera the master of the illustrating field in women’s clothing, or fashion illustrating as some would rather call it?” Allow me to repeat the old belief that woman was the Creator’s last piece of work on this earth, and was given to man to love, honor and protect. How he has failed and succeeded in the past is far too long a story to tell here.

Bill Steber

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Bill Steber 1997 exhibition postcard image

Outstanding in his field

It was a grueling day of grading papers. But I was rummaging about in one of the many boxes of “stuff” littered about my floor, and I stumbled on a postcard. It took a long route to get to me. My photographic mentor in California, Harry Wilson, sent it to me a few years ago after I talked about meeting Bill Steber in Helena, Arkansas. I’m terrible with names, and I hadn’t remembered it until found the postcard.

I walked into a bar in Helena during the King Biscuit Blues Festival in 1996 to find some truly outstanding work displayed on the walls. It was the first really significant (to me anyway) work I’d seen since I got here. I said something to the guy chopping barbeque behind the counter, and he said— “Do you want to meet him? Bill’s around here somewhere.” Bill and I ended up drinking together for a little while, and he was a really nice guy. Later, when I wandered off to photograph Cedell Davis, Bill was there too. I did my best to stay out of his way.

Today, searching around a bit I found that he has a web site displaying the work called Stones in My Pathway. The site is pretty amazing; it features real audio streams of Bill talking about the pictures— or if you click the note— music to go along with them. It’s well worth a visit, and an excellent example of worthwhile contemporary documentary work.

One of the issues Bill and I discussed was the problem of exploitation. He was going to photograph Rosetta Patton Brown, last surviving child of Charlie Patton, the next day and he talked about how difficult it was to get the trust of these people. He was conscious of the importance of giving something back. A percentage of the sale of his photographs goes to help surviving blues musicians. I think that is a wonderful thing. I wish I could afford to buy some of his prints, because they are truly gorgeous. The Blues Highway layout available elsewhere showcases some of the same photos, but also some different ones. Both sites are well worth a visit. Bill Steber is an outstanding photographer, and more than that, he has a conscience.

Struss'd out

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Advertisement of J. Déiré England’s dry plates, 1884

Struss’d out

Bobbi wondered if I laugh. Yes, actually I laugh all the time. Especially when things get really bad. It has always seemed to me to be a better alternative than crying. Though I sometimes do that too, it usually doesn’t last as long as the laughter. Sometimes people get the wrong idea. My sense of humor is rather dry.

It was downright embarrassing in document design class last week, as a matter of fact. I couldn’t stop laughing when I found a link on splinters to the Museum of Depressionist Art. There was just something about Caravangeo’s David with the Head of Godzilla and the well known Jerry Van Eyk’s portrait that made me explode uncontrollably. Okay, so I’m easily amused. Self portrait of the Artist with his Ex-Wives had a certain aura of truth to it as well. Fun for hours, I’m telling you.

Splinters is on a roll— another one today: Philosophyfootball.com. My favorite shirt is of course, Dada (number 0):

“Every man his own football”

Attacking down the left, a Dadaist was not an easy player to pin down, and allocating a squad number could also prove a problem.

Intrigued by the reference a few days ago to Karl Struss, I really Struss’d out today. Not only was the pictorialist an advertizing photographer, he also turned cinematographer working for Cecil B. DeMille. IMDB lists 139 movies to his credit. What a career! The weird thing is, they are listed in reverse chronological order so top billing is given to The Alligator People. “Her honeymoon turned into a nightmare of horror!” Could this be the same man from the Steiglitz circle? The future cinematographer of Kronos, Destroyer of the Universe? It seems so. Scrolling down, I see that he also filmed Chaplin’s The Great Dictator and the original silent Ben Hur of 1925, and a film billed as one of the best silent films ever made, Sunrise. It just goes to show you that even an artist has to make a living. Or maybe, it shows that I’m unusually inquisitive and easily amused.

But there was another weird connection. After all the time I spent writing about Hart Crane and Walker Evans and The Bridge, it was eerie to stumble on Struss’s photograph of Brooklyn Bridge. It seems like such a long strange trip from the Photo-secession to becoming the director of photography for My Friend Flicka.

Alphabet Stories #2

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Alphabet Stories #2

D was in love with K — K was in love with S. I’m not sure why it turned out the way it did, but it did. It did me in.

D was my best friend. We rode many miles together on rickety bikes through the dusty valley. I met him in junior high school. He was one of those guys who wore trench coats before they were popular, with dark horn-rimmed glasses and flaming red hair. Kids at the school called him “Seymour”— a derogatory reference to a late night horror movie host on a cable channel from LA. I liked him instantly. He was an anglophile like me, and we’d spend hours playing chess and debating British TV shows. When I moved away from the white-trash slum I lived in to a distant farm, we’d ride and meet each other half-way on the long straight road in between the stockyard and the sewer farm.

D liked being mobile. After the bicycle, he got a Honda Trail 90. I’d jump on the back, and we’d climb the mountains. But D was crazy. He wouldn’t listen to reason. I once jumped off the back at thirty miles and hour when he steered towards a patch of ice on the road, just because he wanted to feel the bike squirm. I tucked and rolled with my camera, and looked up just in time to see him instantly fall over on the ice, his leg mangled in the wheel. I was fine. D soon moved up to a 350, and then a car. D’s car was an AMC Javelin, purchased during my senior year in high school. D didn’t go to a normal high school. It was a place for borderline kids, who for one reason or another couldn’t cope with regular school— sort of a hippie school. D, K, and S all went to the same school. D wasn’t a hippie. Neither was K. But S was, at least sort-of. Long-haired, quiet, and anti-social, the antithesis of the gregarious D. When K and S split up, D saw his chance. He wanted to impress her. So pulled up at my little spot of wilderness with K in his Javelin, to show her how “cultured” he was, with crazy artistic friends. I’d grown used to the role of esoteric other; the photographic freak in the middle of nowhere.

I suppose I was somewhere in the middle, personality-wise, between D and S. I didn’t like to press. I didn’t really have to. K did all the pressing. She pushed all the right buttons in me, and I became head-over heels in love with her. She was freckled and beautiful, and loved to play cards. I should have gotten the clue. Her game was solitaire.

We’d sit up all night long playing cards, and eventually D gave up. He told me he wouldn’t get in our way. But there were already many things in our way. K swore that S had tried to rape her; that’s why they broke up. K said she had been raped when she was fourteen, and had many sexual problems. It was my first lesson in patience. But it was also a lesson in believing someone for all the wrong reasons. I shouldn’t have believed what she said about S. I didn’t know him too well, but it seemed totally out of character. But I was so taken with her face, with the curve of her, with the warm feeling as I rested my head in her lap. It didn’t seem to matter to me that she wouldn’t touch me. Maybe someday, I thought.

Oddly enough, she wanted me to photograph her nude. I was working on my first show in college; photographing the twisted remains of burned metal at an oil tank farm struck by lightning. We went there often, and I did some fine work of her body parts, particularly that delicious neck viewed through the flanges and portals. The rusted speckled metal, and her speckled skin were so evocative, so classic. She made me promise I wouldn’t show them. I had no problem with that. When we split up, it hit me hard. It was the first time I’d heard “it’s for your own good— I’m too messed up.”

As if I were a prize— or as if she were benevolent. I didn’t want to let go, and I spent a lot of time wasted and thinking of her. K seemed to enjoy the torture. I remember standing in a phone booth in the rain, in the middle of a main street, barely maintaining under a massive dose of LSD. D had come by, as I was medicating myself at my brothers house (who had no phone), to tell me that K desperately wanted to talk to me. I called her at the hotel in LA. K wanted to tell me that she would be sleeping with two men tonight, to prove that she would be bad for me and that I should just get over it. She was going to marry S, after this, because he deserved her miserable self more than I did.

Looking back, I can see all the lies. But it hurt so much then. I wrestle with my conscience over one bad decision. K insisted that I give her all the negatives I shot of her. She cut them up before my eyes. I decided afterward that I’d never allow that again— I felt raped. If I made a photograph, it was part of me and I would never surrender pieces of me again. By this time, photographs were my life. I miss the photographs far more than I miss K. D, K, and S all joined the Air Force. K and S married, but were soon divorced. The next summer, I moved my way down the alphabet to an L. She was an improvement in every way.

Francis Bacon

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Francis Bacon— Figure in Movement, 1976

Sport and Spectacle

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Sport and Spectacle

I’ve never been a sports fan. I can see the attraction, in some ways, but I struggle to see the deep fascination so many people feel for them, or gaming at all for that matter. The concept of sport and the concept of play are completely separate, but somehow sport always enters into concepts of male perceptions of play. Maybe it was looking at Francis Bacon’s riffing on Muybridge’s wrestlers that set me off. Sport, in Bacon, has homoerotic overtones. Between his “Two Figures” studies of wrestlers to the single figure depiction of a man’s position on the canvas, the element of struggle is constant, as is spectacle.

Or maybe it was the constant presence of Hulk Hogan, Shaq, and other sports figures on commercials these days. I’m not sure. I remember an epiphany a while back about football— I think people in America like it because it represents war with easy resolution. Teams campaign down the field, and are victorious or thwarted— someone wins, someone loses with little room for ambiguity. There are no worries about good guys or bad guys, only teams who test their skill. Football is not like life. Football, and most sports, is amoral. There are simple rules. Life is messy, and the rules are ambiguous. Sport carries with it the qualities of struggle, spectacle, and a narrative move to resolution.

Reading Roland Barthes’ thoughts on wrestling in Mythologies, I was struck by his separation of wrestling from temporal narrative resolution. Unlike boxing or judo, which have a narrative arc, Barthes argues that wrestling is not a sport but a spectacle which exists outside of time— it doesn’t matter that the contest is fixed, but rather that an adequate depiction of suffering and punishment occurs to satisfy our taste for justice. The wrestlers, like commedia del arte characters, satisfy basic cravings for good guys and bad guys, and for retribution for moral warriors. The concept of morality is central, rather than resolution. If the good guys always won, there would be no need to tune in next week to watch the struggle replayed. With train-wreck precision, wrestling fans tune back into the struggle and the spectacle.

Spectacle takes its meaning from frozen moments of images, of faces pressed to the mat or raised in triumph. At the basic level, I think modern sport emphasizes the triumph over the defeat. It is closer to spectacle than contest, though sport must have elements of both. It offers resolution and justice, outside of time.

I can remember a conversation I had with a professor from another university a few years ago. He lamented that we live in a culture where heroism is short lived, and we soon forget the accolades and accomplishments of most sports heroes. Only a few have cultural staying power. Perhaps its because we constantly must be immersed in the struggle of others, to distract us from our own. Once they step off-stage, they become surplus.

Sports are an avoidance of the realities of time. We don’t want to be reminded of the fact that we all fade, that skill is fleeting, and that the good guys don’t always win. The fakest of all contests may indeed be the truest, because at least it recognizes the moral play we find ourselves inside. We want justice from others, and from ourselves— and its a quality so hard to discover outside the realm of the stage. When we take center stage, we become the buffoon, and cannot bear to stay there. Ultimately, wrestling with oneself becomes comedic rather than tragic. That is, if you’re paying attention to the spectacle.

Early

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Early musings

I woke up today with a horrible sinus headache. One of the weird things about sinus pills is that they sometimes affect your balance, leaving you with a floaty sort of feeling. I turned on the TV, and Operation Dumbo Drop was playing. I started thinking about ears.

I remember when I was going out with D. She had two kids. One of them, G., was so much like me as a kid that it was scary. He was forever pestering people with useless trivia questions to assert how smart he was.

“How do you tell the difference between an Asian and an African elephant?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Asian elephants’ ears are shaped like Asia, and African elephants’ ears are shaped like Africa” he smugly replied.

As I staggered for a moment in front of the cappuccino machine, I thought of another weird fact. My father tried to join the Army during World War II, but he was refused because he had a perforated eardrum. How ironic that a hole in his head would stop him from getting holes blasted in his head. There’s something wonderful about ears.

Ears convert time into a perceptible quantity; little bones resting on a drumhead convert the periodic waves of vibration into impulses that we perceive as sound. The unique forms of music, perceived spatially, are unique in that they have a character of duration. Unlike a graphic or visual symbol, sound exists primarily in time. But the ear is remarkable not only as a translator of this time into space, but as our way of controlling our balance, stabilizing our position in space. It does it hydraulically. When the fluid is out of sorts due to excess pressure, the conversion of frequency remains relatively stable while our sense of position fails.

Where was I?

Unafraid

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Rowena Fruth— Unafraid

Everything is broken

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Everything is broken

I hate it when life turns into a Dylan tune. Last night, I had a photo I wanted to put up (see above) and my scanner died. I don’t know what it is with me and scanners, but I go through one just about once a year. This was troublesome to me, because I just finished spending too much money on more frivolous things, and now this presented a real need. I the scanner for the project I’m starting tomorrow. I gave up and went to bed, but I couldn’t sleep.

When I got up for a drink around three a.m. I turned on the kitchen light. It went out immediately with a loud pop. Great. I finally got to sleep around four, and then just before the alarm was about to go off, a phone solicitor called to wake me up. I got up to check my e-mail, and then Outlook crashed. It’s done it before, but I couldn’t remember which file I needed to delete to get it to load again (outcmd.dat for future reference). So then my next phone call had to be to Microsoft support. It was much easier than I expected, and I fixed my broken e-mail in around fifteen minutes. I replaced the light bulb. Then, I went to school.

The day got better because one of my teachers is broken (sorry to say, really, but it worked out better for me). My afternoon class was cancelled due to a cold. I bought a new scanner. That’s fixed now too. There’s something really strange about spending the entire day on broken things. It’s all too familiar. It’s enough to turn you upside down.

But I usually manage to get things fixed, eventually. Except with girls, but that’s another story.

Fuzzy Commercials

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From the Photo-secession to Commercialism

From 1913 to 1917, Karl F. Struss, the last photographer to join the Photo-secession, took pictures of interiors and model railroads for Harper’s Bazaar. He was among the first to promote photography as a commercial medium. In 1914, an unidentified author wrote:

The facility of its reproduction, the economic advantage it affords over other arts, its adaptability to personal expression, and its universal and understandable appeal are implements the intelligent users of the camera should employ in helping photography take its place in the world of illustrative art. For the illustration of stories and poems, there is no reason on earth why a photograph should not be desirable to a publisher.
[emphasis mine, from “Spheres of Usefulness,” Platinum Print May 1914, p.10]

By the end of the decade, there was a significant increase in the use of soft-focus photographs in advertising, pointing to the influence of the pictorialists. The world of commercial culture, disdained by Steiglitz, was nonetheless influenced by his circle. The rise in advertising over the course of the roaring twenties was also marked by an interest in using photographs to appeal to the public. Leonard A. Williams Illustrative Photography in Advertising was published in 1929. Williams stressed unity, with the logic of a modern day Aristotle:

Every writer of advertisements or short stories lives up to the rule— Have a single character, a single event, and a single emotion. Now, the illustrator, or pictorial publicity photographer, must have rules similar to the writer. His rule is— Every picture must have a border around the frame; within that frame a center of interest must be placed at what is known as the aesthetic center or A.C. point. Some call it the talking point.

Soft-focus commercial portraiture grew across the depression. The tension between the soft-focus work of pictorialists and the hard edges of modernism was strong. The industrial subject matter favored by modernists dovetailed with the emotional emphasis favored by pictorialists in the commercial universe of advertising. In 1933, the first Detroit International Salon of Industrial photography was held at the same time and in the same building as the cities second pictorial salon, drawing over 30,000 visitors. Leading pictorial photographers began to endorse photographic products around this time as well.

This material, abstracted from After the Photo-secession by Christian Peterson, provides an interesting subtext to the development of documentary photography during the same time period. The borderline between commerce and art seems to be much lower in the case of so called “artistic” photographers. No wonder so many people like Walker Evans felt the need to rebel against the theories flying around this age.

Bristol Library

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Infographic

If anyone should wonder what I’ve been doing today, well, here it is. Exciting, no? I thought it would be interesting to any other bizarre individuals curious about the reading habits of the late eighteenth century.

The History Channel could have made a killing in Bristol at this time. Six of the top ten books were multi-volume histories; of course, the complete works of Fielding and Tristram Shandy were up there too.

Girl from Mars

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Lee Wellington— Girl from Mars, 1955

Lying

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Lying

I haven’t read a great many of Friedrich Nietzsche’s books, but something has been bugging me. Perhaps it’s pondering that built within any exertion of power is a comparable resistance. I’m wondering if that’s why the same man could write these lines. While I’m all for sexual power, it really bothers me when it comes in the form of assertions like this:

The degree and kind of a man’s sexuality reach up into the ultimate pinnacle of his spirit.

Black dress and a silent part   make every woman appear— smart.

If I believe the first assertion, the second (and many others) lead me to believe that this philosopher has a very poor spirit. Rather than a pinnacle, he’s in negative territory and digging to China. Of course, I have to watch myself from going too far in the other direction. I constantly suppress the urge to think that every woman I meet is much smarter than I am. I think it has something to do with the lack of understanding I feel I suffer from; it’s mysterious territory for me. I have discovered that besides whatever rhetorical or artistic skills I might have, I have an uncanny ability to piss women off. If that’s a gift, I’d like to give it back.

However, I am drawn to this passage from Nietzsche. I suspect it is truer than most people would admit. We’re all artists, in an important respect:

Just as little as a reader of today reads all of the individual words (let alone the syllables) on a page— rather he picks about five words at random out of twenty and “guesses” at the meaning that probably belongs to these five words— just as little as we see a tree exactly and completely with reference to leaves, twigs, color, and form; it is very so much easier for us to simply improvise some approximation of a tree. Even in the midst of the strangest experiences we still do the same: we make up the major part of these experience and can scarcely not be forced to contemplate some event as its “inventors.” All this means: basically and from time immemorial we are— accustomed to lying. Or to put it more virtuously and hypocritically, in short, more pleasantly: one is much more of an artist than one knows.

I have absolutely no clue why dressing in black and remaining silent is a prerequisite for women appearing smart to Nietzsche. I read all the words. They still make no sense. Maybe it’s meant to be taken as a lie— I hope so.

Mowed Down

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Thanks for snapping this for me, Rex

Mowed down

Yesterday was weird. First, I get a phone call telling me that I’m delinquent on a cell-phone bill. I don’t own a cell phone. I wouldn’t carry one if you gave it to me. Someone stole my personal information, and applied for credit in my name. My identity has been stolen. Now, I’ve got to deal with all the paperwork and forms. It shouldn’t be a major problem to resolve, though. Someone attempted to do this a while ago, and I had my credit reports flagged with a fraud alert. This time though, they did manage to get it through.

I’ve been telling lots of stories lately. One of them is about waking up one Saturday morning to a guy mowing my lawn. My wife (now ex) looked out the window and asked, “Why is that strange guy mowing our lawn?”

He was mowing my lawn because he had no money; Dewayne wanted me to do publicity photos for his band. He saw that I had an overgrown jungle out front, and hoped that I would trade my skill for his. He didn’t ask me beforehand, he just did it. It’s the kind of guy Dewayne was. Now I find out he’s getting mowed down too.

I know both of these guys; there are Lanny Ray stories to be told too. But not today. I don’t have the stomach for it.

Join the Club

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Papers from my early college career.

Join the Club

I was watching the History Channel series on the history of Britain (again). I think I’ve seen the episode called “Two Winstons” at least three times now. I like the approach to modern Britain— the primary thesis is that the central figures of twentieth century Britain are George Orwell (who created the hero Winston Smith in 1984) and Winston Churchill. It occured to me tonight that they could add a third— John Lennon (Dr. Winston O’Boogie). Orwell and Churchhill had few things in common, but one thing they had in common was that they both did poorly in school. I’m in that club too.

I discovered some of the “themes” I wrote for my remedial English class. I get a kick out of the comments. The most common one, of course, is inadequate preparation. How many 18-year-olds are adequately prepared? And the ever-present spelling errors— some repeat. Mechanically, I could barely muster a D. My ideas, however, were constantly in B territory, and I was constantly admonished “but don’t kill your good vocabulary” Let me get this straight— I can’t pass unless I spell everything correctly, but I shouldn’t use words I can’t spell (which included most words, at that time). It was 1977. I also had to giggle at being corrected for saying “Multimedia is a powerful teaching tool”— the teacher marked it as wrong, because “multimedia is plural”— What moron grammarian would say multimedia are a powerful teaching tool, or, to recast it a bit, who worries about saying “ the media is slanted” rather than “the media are slanted”? I used it in the sense of a collective noun, not as a plural. This crap is strictly for pedantic morons— I was fresh from an artistic presentation using multiple slide projectors and music— now relatively standard pedagogical practice, especially in the arts— and thought I had seen the future of education. How dare she dampen my excitement by picking nits!

Composition teaching has come a long way from the rubber stamped grading of problems, marked out mercilessly in red ink. Now, I don't know a single teacher who forces students to write misspelled words fifty times (as this teacher did). Most good teachers these days recognize that all errors are usually repetitive— the first step is to recognize the pattern of error and focus on that, rather than berating someone because they make errors.

I wonder how the grammar cops would respond to knowing that I scored in the top five or ten percent in verbal skills on the GRE last year, or that I now teach writing? Literature, the literature that I was “inadequately prepared” to read or write about, taught me— not any teacher’s red pen. I can laugh about it now, but at the time it was horribly traumatic. I dropped out of that remedial English class because I was going to make a C. I knew better than that; I wasn’t average and I would be damned if I would let them stamp me that way just because I had a problem with spelling, or because I had a tendency to “distort my thesis.” I still constantly distort my initial thesis; I think that is what theses are made for. Anyone who lands in the same place they started from really hasn’t gone anywhere.

Obviously, I’m not in the same place now. I’m glad. Flunking out of school was good enough for Orwell, so it was good enough for me. However, that’s not strictly true. Once I became “adequately prepared,” I sailed through my BA with nearly a 4.0 average. Sometimes I think that college is certainly wasted on the young. Or perhaps more accurately, if you’re wasted (as I certainly was), school isn’t the best thing for you to spend time doing.

Alphabet Stories #1

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Alphabet Stories #1

D— tried to sell me on the Beatles. But I liked the Monkees better. It was a long ride to her house. Past the three-story home with the 29 Lincoln convertible in the driveway, past the small church at the end of the street where I watched fascinating time-lapse films on long summer nights, I’d cross the vacant dirt lot and climb down a deep trench lined with broken bottles placed to stop cars from cutting across and lift my bike over the short barbed wire fence. Then I could ride, and lean into the broad sweeping curves of the upscale tract homes, past K’s house, across Calloway canal to the strip of ranch houses where she lived.

D— knew I loved K. She was a consummate matchmaker, and thought we would be a good couple. I’d sit in her bedroom and listen to Beatles records. My obsession with K started when she passed me a note during a seventh-grade field trip. In the dark art-deco Fox theater downtown, while we were supposed to be watching The Sound of Music, K passed me a note.

I like you. Do you like me? Check this box. . .

I checked the box, and much to my surprise, later she acted like the entire episode never happened. I was okay in the dark, but in the light of the playground she wouldn’t have anything to do with me anymore. I was perplexed, and D— tried to console me. I usually changed the subject to music.

“No, no . . . Mike Nesmith is much cooler than Paul McCartney. John Lennon is the smart one!”

“But Paul is so dreamy and I like Davy better!” she rebutted.

I was far more interested in crazy than dreamy. I plotted crazy ways to get K to like me again. I didn’t know how to be dreamy, but I thought I might be able to master crazy. When I moved away midway through that seventh-grade year, I was still plotting. Sometimes I’d ride my bike back to D— ’s house. It was a thirty-mile ride this time around. Through agricultural back-roads and busy city streets, from one end of the city to the other. I remember that sometime in my eight grade year, D— gave me a photo of K.

Spindly legs and a Chihuahua on the front lawn— I suspect the image is still around here, buried in a box somewhere— but it doesn’t really matter. I can still see it my head. I think something happened as a result of this— perhaps I started to connect images with strong feelings then, but I’m not sure. It was years before I became a photographer. I know that now whenever I check a box, or make a journey, I think about it first. But thinking hasn’t usually lead to better decisions, only different ones. Perhaps it was when I started measuring myself by what girls thought of me, but I’m not sure about that either.

It was also years before the next girl whose name began with K forever changed the way I thought about images. I don’t think I really knew the meaning of heartache then, but it didn’t take much longer before I learned. K has never been my favorite letter of the alphabet. It’s horribly reductive, I know. But it forms a convenient way to frame a tale. D’s have also been somewhat troublesome; so have L’s. M’s have universally been good though. Sometimes I think I need to broaden my alphabetic influences.

Curmudgeon

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Video capture of Kurt Cobain at a record store gig and signing— near the final frame

Curmudgeon

Part of the media frenzy lately has been a renewed interest in music. Once upon a time, I could recall the names of most of the members of the bands I liked, and could recite discographies or lyrics at will. Much of that is lost, pushed aside by an avalanche of reading. For the first time in my life, I think my book collection actually outweighs my collection of audio media (in sheer poundage). Moving is a really scary concept.

Earlier in the week, I was reliving Contemplating the Engine Room by Mike Watt. Today it was Double Nickels on the Dime by the Minutemen. Musically, changing eras always seem to be centered on deaths— Hendrix in 1970, D. Boon in 1985, Cobain in 1994. Watching an uncut version of Nirvana unplugged a few days ago, I thought of a weird connection. Pat Smear was a founding member of the Germs. “Drove up from Pedro” pretty much credits the Germs with the inspiration for the founding of the Minutemen. My how things come around. I never was a fan of British punk like the Clash or the Sex Pistols; punk rock for me always had the Minutemen and the Meat Puppets at the center. As the eighties turned, it seemed to me like the Minutemen were the new Dylan, and the Meat Puppets were the new Hendrix. But the real difference was that fame was local, and taste was individual. I never met another punk who agreed with me. Everyone had their own centers.

After Nirvana, it seemed like the discord died, and the great diversity of music which was the 80s (at least for me, I never listened to hair bands) went with it. Corporate rock remerged stronger than ever— packaged and processed, shrink-wrapped for your pleasure. Freaks on parade didn’t cease, of course, but it just has seemed to me as if most of them are marching in lockstep to some new tattooed and pierced drummer, pounding out the rap’n’roll beat. It’s nice to buy some new records by people who aren’t marching to anyone’s beat except their own.

Media Jungle

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My Media Jungle

Sync

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Syncing Feeling

With the discovery that audio CDs sound much better on my older Apex player than they do on my new Sony, I was sent on a strange spin. Rex called from California last night, and we were talking about the “golden age” of audio equipment. I was trying to figure out just when people stopped caring about how things sound. We both pretty much agreed that it was when CD’s entered the scene. Funny how a supposedly superior medium would start a chain of compromise which left the shelves of audio stores filled with inferior crap. It has to be better, it’s digital. Maybe Baudrillard was right in that respect; we now live in the age of simulation. CD’s simulate music, rather than presenting it in all its imperfect glory of harmonics and subtle modulations.

I’m not really a luddite. Every time the technology has changed, I have moved along with it. Rex and I were pondering the diversity of formats that we have chased in our lifetimes— from four-track tapes to eight-track tapes, from mini-cassettes to micro-cassettes, from LP to CD, and a thousand variants along the way. I’ve owned most types of audio delivery systems, mainly because getting the data requires owning a device that can cope with it. But there’s a rupture between digital data delivery and analog sourcing. Analog’s main problem is noise, whereas digital’s main problem is sync. Though I think the funny little blocks of color created by malfunctioning DVDs or VCDs are beautiful in their own right, glitches in audio are downright disturbing. When analog fails, the failure is usually harmonious (background hiss of pink-noise, or harmonic modulation of the sound through feedback). When digital fails, what comes out has no discernible relationship with the original. Of course, the die is cast— it’s now a digital world.

I was watching a history channel program about Rome, and that phrase supposedly uttered by Julius Caesar as he crossed the river to conquer Rome —“the die is cast.”— stuck in my head. The phrase has two possible connotations since the dawn of the machine age. In Caesar’s day, it meant that the roll of the dice (the randomness of fate and history) was done, and what would happen, would happen. The phrase made me wonder though— because my father was a bit of an amateur machinist, with cases of tools and dies in the shed— that it could also mean that destiny was fixed, rather than random.

A die is a machine tool now, rather than an instrument of chance. It stamps out identical replicas of whatever it was formed to produce. In the case of audio, we stamp out approximations (though fairly good ones, most of the time). There is a limit to how good something can be, once it is cast on that little silver disk. We’ve settled, in expediency, for something that really can’t be brought closer to the source— cold and metallic, shiny and pretty— unlike the ragged imperfect licorice pizzas with their warps and propensity for damage. Though both of these reproductive technologies are produced by dies, they have little in common. The grooves in a record trigger vibrations, just like the vibrations of a speaker which moves the air that sends the sound to you. Grooves are first cut then stamped. The needle just plows along the furrow, harvesting the swings of fate (and dustspecks) along the way. CDs are first burned, forming little pits which are stamped into thin foil. The dark forest of vinyl is replaced by shiny mirrors that either catch the light, or don't. Chance can wipe away the map of a CD quickly, leaving it totally out of sync— a coaster or ornament for a wind-chime— dead, rather than merely annoying to listen to.

Strange how the verb version of “die” has such a different meaning— to cease to exist. Were did the nominal version of die come from? I was looking at the OED, and it appears to have come from the Latin datum. The same root as data— but with rather a different connotation. The past participle of dare to give— “It is inferred that, in late pop. L., datum was taken in the sense ‘that which is given or decreed (sc. by lot or fortune).’”

It’s back to Apollo and Dionysus I suppose. Cold geometry, arithmetic perfection vs. wild and uncontrollable worlds of vibrations. It’s a matter of how you view the data— cast with precision— or tossed by fate. Either way, it gives me a sinking feeling.

Conformity

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“We don’t have to conform.” — Bill Owens, from Suburbia

Silver Machine

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Silver Machine

I finally decided to replace my dead VCR. Though I know better, I bought a combo-unit with both DVD and VCR because my DVD player has been playing tag with the disks, sticking them out and then sucking them back in like a greedy child. If you’re fast, you can snatch and grab, but it’s really rather annoying.

Once upon a time, I used to look at electronic equipment as an investment. For example, I still use the same Hafler DH-200 power amplifier I bought in 1980. This black box has been on virtually continuously since then, and has never failed. Source machines are a different story— virtually anything that includes mechanical transport components is going to fail eventually, period. Though well built things usually last, complexity is usually problematic. For example my turntable (with a single motor and thin transport belt, a Harmon Kardon TD-60) has been humming along with only one belt change since about 1989, more complex machines like VCRs fail quickly. So, I’ve eventually surrendered to disposable culture in one of the last bastions of male toy collecting. I hope to get a capture card sometime soon and transfer the irreplaceable tapes to mpeg, because I suspect things like The Axis Turns (a Thin White Rope euro-tour video) won’t be coming to DVD anytime soon. Hopefully I can manage that before this one breaks. It’s shiny, near the same color as my HK but not quite. It’s a Sony, and it has played everything I’ve tried on it including a DVD of Brother Where Art Thou which I’ve never seen— I’m always way behind on movies. Now, the odyssey can continue.

I had a thousand ideas for things I wanted to write today, but as is usual, I had to go to class instead. The ideas, mostly revolving around family, have evaporated in the shadow of a discussion of The Botany of Desire tonight. I’m sure I’ll write them as I sleep. The opposition of apollonian and dionysian desires is the major trope, and I always keep wanting to engage these binaries. Obviously, my life history has been a bit on the dionysian side. But for now, I wanted to deal with my obvious oversimplification of Duchamp and Warhol yesterday.

I forget which article I read recently that argued for placing Duchamp at the center of twentieth century art rather than Picasso, but suffice it to say this argument falls neatly into the same sort of opposition. Picasso is messy, dionysian, and to use a favorite binary of mine from a while back— plerotic. Plerosis is reaching for totality, to encompass the world by literally including everything. On the other hand, Duchamp is apollonian and kenotic. Kenosis represents an emptying of reference, of minimal correspondence with the world.

In that way, Duchamp is at once similar to Whistler, but different— Duchamp in no way wants to serve any “goddess” of art. As Tom rightly suggests, his pronouncements are distinctly anti-aesthetic. The question was in no way foolhardy, because it forces me to refine the parameters of what I was trying to say. The vehicle of Duchamp’s expression (until he chucked it all for chess) was distinctly aesthetic. It is a redefined kenerotic aesthetic void of concrete reference to domesticity— which uses the domestic as its signifier. The issues in Warhol are even more complex, and I don’t have enough remaining brain-cells to conceptualize that tonight, but what is at play is hardly a sublimation of the domestic, but rather an involvement with it.

The opposition seems clearer to me than it probably does to the people who read that entry. To take it up a notch, let me propose another take. Where Picasso made plates, celebrating the domestic aspects of art— Duchamp moved the urinal and the flatiron into the museum. But my argument, really, is that either way you look at it this represents dealing with domesticity, not sublimating it as the title of the essay collection I noted claims.

On a different note (as this is obviously a random and meandering collection of notes), I asked the Director of Composition tonight if I might teach fundamentals. I can think of no other class that frightens me more. It’s a remedial class, and many people around me have said that they just can’t picture me teaching it. They are afraid I’ll talk over people’s heads. I am afraid of it because I just can’t bring myself to be a grammar cop. I care more about thinking than correctness. Dr. Crisp seemed to think that I would actually be good at fundamentals, precisely because I am not a grammar cop. People in those classes have been corrected to death, usually, and that’s why they end up there. It’s the last chance for marginal students to get it right so they can make it through college. The success rate of students who enter through this route is only about 70%. Dr. Crisp suspects that my low-key approach might be perfect. I hope so. I’m far more patient in front of the classroom than I am when I’m on the other side; I tend to expect a lot from my teachers.

I think the real key to writing is to keep writing. This should be obvious from the way I deal with writing here. I try to write each day, whether I feel like it or not. So far, it works for me. People corrected me to death when I was younger, and I didn’t learn a thing. When I found reasons to write, I learned how. I think that’s the real secret. There is no machine-gun drill to create writers; if there were, it would probably always break down. What remains after things break are impulses and desires. As long as I can stay in touch with those, I feel all right. I don’t want to deal with the emptiness that would remain. I gave up chess years ago.

Familiar

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Arrangement in Gray and Black No. 1, James Abbot McNeill Whistler

Art is upon the Town!— to be chucked under the chin by the passing gallant— to be enticed within the gates of the householder— to be coaxed into company, as a proof of culture and refinement.

If familiarity can breed contempt, certainly Art— or what is currently taken for it— has been brought to the lowest stage of intimacy.

The people have been harassed with Art in every guise, and vexed with many methods as to its endurance. They have been told how they shall love Art, and live with it. Their homes have been invaded, their walls covered with paper, their very dress taken to task— until, roused at last, bewildered and filled with the doubts and discomforts of senseless suggestion, they resent such intrusion, and cast forth the false prophets, who have brought the very who have brought the very name of the beautiful into disrepute, and derision upon themselves.

Alas! ladies and gentlemen, Art has been maligned. She has naught in common with such practices. She is a goddess of dainty thought— reticent of habit, abjuring all obtrusiveness, purposing in no way to better others

James Abbot McNeill Whistler, from Mt Whistler’s “Ten O‘clock”

I went to a lecture by an art teacher today, who asked us to read a selection from a book called Not at Home: The Suppression of Domesticity in Modern Art and Architecture. The theme seems so counter-intuitive to me. Modernism, as I know it (from a photographic perspective) was a celebration of the common object. Whistler’s pronouncement (from 1885) seems to herald literary modernism, the “art for art’s sake” nonsense and a turning away from the commonplace to serve that “goddess of dainty thought” who certainly wouldn’t demure to look inside anyone’s bedroom, let alone bathroom. But artistic modernism to me includes things like Duchamp’s urinal, and Weston’s toilet. It wasn’t exactly demure. To be fair, the premise of the book more specifically addresses images of homosexual domesticity, but I couldn't help but think of the larger context.

Also echoed in Whistler’s statement is the idea of a purposeless art, which would have made Walker Evans, among others, smile in assent. Reflecting on it, his cold steely tool studies were an effort to displace domesticity into the aesthetic realm, and much the same could be said of Weston or Duchamp. So I’m back at square one. Perhaps I need to read more essays from the book, but I think “suppression” is a later development, and even then, I question whether domesticity was effectively suppressed— rather, I think that the normalizing models of populux rhetoric merely marginalized homosexuals in a world populated by happy homemakers, who if they went to bed at all, closed the doors as they slipped between the sheets. This rhetoric wasn’t purposeless, and it certainly was a form of domestic art.

I was thinking about Warhol too, as most of the examples cited in the essay I read were post 1950— Brillo Boxes? Soup Cans? How domestic can you get? I think that the painters were just slow on the uptake in joining the swing to the commonplace; but even as these objects were shifted from the kitchen to the gallery, they are removed from utility into uselessness— except, as machines for thought. I think that is what has drawn me into documentary praxis. Representing lives, or artifacts from lives, is both distinctly serviceable and aesthetic. The dainty goddess never gave me the time of day. I always felt more like a historian, I suppose, providing a visual (now verbal) transcript. I started thinking about Walter Pater, one of those theorists that Whistler sought to overthrow.

All beauty is in the long run only a fineness of truth, or what we call expression, the finer accommodation of speech to that vision within.

— The transcript of his sense of fact rather than the fact, as being preferable, pleasanter, more beautiful to the writer himself. In literature, as in every other product of human skill, in the moulding of a bell or a platter for instance, wherever this sense asserts itself, wherever producer so modifies his work as, over and above its primary use or intention, to make it pleasing (to himself, of course, in the first instance) there “fine” as opposed to merely serviceable art, exists. Literary art is, like all art which is in any way imitative or reproductive of fact— form, or colour, or incident— is the representation of such fact as connected with the soul, of a specific personality, in its preferences, its volition and power.

Walter Pater, from Appreciations

For me, the best art has always been domestic. I just can’t see any time that it hasn’t been that way. The problem with such generalities as proposed by the title of that book is that they seldom hold up to scrutiny. The idea that all artists of a certain period automatically agree, or all members of a culture agree, is downright silly. I suppose it depends on what you consider serviceable— or better still, who you serve— is it a goddess called “art” or a personal memory? I have no problem with an art of the familiar, as long as it provides a means to think outside the familiar— to create a vision within. I think that Pater was closer to my point of view than Whistler could ever be.

Anders Petersen

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Anders Petersen, Stockholm, 1974-5

Intoxicated

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Intoxicated

Michael Pollan’s exploration of marijuana in The Botany of Desire is a lot of fun. He talks of the inexplicable pull that toxic substances have over people. The explanation is a bit predictable to me, as a long exponent of Hunter Thompson’s “I can’t say drugs are for everyone, but they’ve always worked for me” attitude. People just seem naturally impelled to change their view of the world, in some form or another, in all cultures. I suspect that the drug of choice has a great deal to do with what we perceive as the essential nature of a culture. Or, as Pollan argues, Marx got it backwards— “opiates are the religion of the people.” What we grow in our gardens affects our world view. Zappa’s hypothesis about beer and marching seems truer all the time. The Christian fascination with wine also seems to go hand in hand with their obsession with love. But of course, other poisons are what fascinate Pollan:

The medieval apothecary garden cared little for aesthetics, focusing instead on species which healed and intoxicated and occasionally poisoned. Witches and sorcerers cultivated plants with the power to “cast spells”— in our vocabulary, “psychoactive” plants. Their potion recipes called for such things as datura, opium poppies, belladonna, hashish, fly-agaric mushrooms (Amantita muscaria), and the skins of toads (which can contain DMT, a powerful hallucinogen).

These ingredients would be combined in a hempseed-oil-based “flying ointment” that the witches would then administer vaginally using a special dildo. This was the “broomstick” by which these women were said to travel.

Sex, drugs, and rock and roll in the Middle Ages? After a long review of how the marijuana cultivation industry has changed over the last twenty years, Pollan offers an interesting slant on the persistence of cannabis. He ultimately ends up arguing that the effects of marijuana are primarily socially induced. People smoke dope and get paranoid not because there is anything in the drug that induces paranoia, but because the social construction of a marijuana high is governed by the law. Like so many gender theorists, Pollan argues that the juridical construction of the “evil weed” is what causes the bad side effects, and the congenial sociality and laughter is also largely socially induced. Placing all the typically acceptable drugs in the same category, he argues for drug use as a tool:

All these plants are, at least potentially, mental tools; people who know how to use them properly may be able to cope with everyday life better than those who don’t.

It’s the “properly” that troubles me here— the root of normative social behavior. While the beer-drinking marching crowd serves the great protestant work ethic, I find it hard to picture a time when smoking pot and watching brainless TV will be seen as a positive social force. However, I suspect that pot would be far more effective than a nation stoned on melloril or prozac. Personally though, I think the difference is fairly slight. I haven’t needed anything for anxiety control since I grew from adolescence, though I have sympathy for those who do.

Pollan argues for a universal desire to transcend ordinary existence. I remember a conversation I had with a professor a while ago— for a profound alteration of world view, there seem to be two great choices: psychedelic drugs and post-structuralist theory. As a kid, the former option seemed best. But now, I’m enjoying the more theoretical route. It’s much easier on the body for the long haul.

Understanding Moll

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Understanding Moll

One of the great things about reading several books at one time is the way that they intersect. After finishing off the Foucault last night, I returned to the trials and tribulations of Moll Flanders. One of the curiosities of the book for me has been the frequency that she speaks of changing her name. She is referred to as Betty through most of the text; I haven’t yet encountered her calling herself Moll. I’ve reached the turning point noted by many critics used to divide the book into its two main parts (there are no chapters). She’s now been turned into a thief. Being a woman of loose morals isn’t nearly as big of a sin, it seems, as stealing.

But there is a moment of dramatic clarity just before this happens. Her seduction of her fourth husband is an interesting twist— with a bit of an inheritance from her third husband (her half-brother)— she woos a man who seems to have a great fortune, while coyly intimating (as she did with her third husband) that she had one of her own. They both deceived each other, because they were both poor. To make things even more interesting, this fourth husband was a Catholic. Upon the discovery that there was no money available, the husband releases her from her marital bond— but she is with child. Another man, her investment councilor, had managed to rid of his “whorish” wife, and wanted to marry her. The problem was, what about the child?

It is manifest to all that understand any thing of Children, that we are born into the World helpless and incapable, either to supply our own Wants, or so much as make them known; and that without help, we must perish; and this help requires not only an assisting Hand, that is, Care and Skill, without both which, half the Children that are born should die; nay, tho’ they were not to be deny’d Food; and one half more of those that remained would be Cripples or Fools, loose their Limbs, and perhaps their Sense: I Question not, that these are partly the Reasons why Affection was plac’d by Nature in the Hearts of Mothers to their Children; without which they would never be able to give themselves up as ’tis necessary they should, to the Care and waking Pains needful to the Support of their Children.

SINCE this Care is needful to the Life of Children, to neglect them is to Murther them; again to give them up to be Manag’d by those People, who have none of that needful Affection, plac’d by Nature in them, is to Neglect them in the highest Degree; nay, in some it goes farther, and is a Neglect in order to their being Lost; so that ’tis even an intentional Murther, whether the Child lives or dies. (173-4)

In this moment, Moll reveals a rationale behind her own sorry state, and the future state of her child (who she does give up). The concern over “the children” is manifest long before Foucault proposes. Defoe’s moral tale holds parenting as it as its central trope, far more overpowering than any indictment of licentiousness. You have to love Moll’s recounting of her state prior to her fifth marriage:

Then it occurr’d to me that what an abominable Creature am I! and how is this innocent Gentlemen going to be abus’d by me! How little does he think, that having Divorc’d a Whore, he is throwing himself into the Arms of another! that he is going to Marry one who has lain with two Brothers, and has had three children by her own Brother! one that was born in Newgate, whose mother was a Whore, and is now a transported Thief; one that has lain with thirteen Men, and has had a Child since he saw me! poor Gentlemen! said I. (182)

Quite an interesting list of credits for Moll, now 44 years old. More the fate of an orphan, than her own fall due to sin. Her mother-in-law (third marriage) had previously expressed sorrow over the loss of her girl-child (Moll). With the weight of her mother’s sin, the early death of her fifth husband, who leaves her broken and with no recourse but to steal, is predicted. A cautionary tale of parenting gone horribly wrong, a problem that I am sure will be addressed in the end.

Rabbits

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Rabbit Drive, Caruthers Station, Fresno County, March 10, 1892.

I was following some links on New Things regarding rabbits in Australia, and it reminded me of another rabbit story. The photograph above is a scene from it.

The great rabbit drive, described as “one of the most successful and picturesque ever had in California,” was the work of more than 5,000 people and resulted in the slaying of about 20,000 rabbits. This day's "grand sport" had such an impact on fledgling California writer Frank Norris that he later incorporated it into one of the most vivid chapters of his classic novel, The Octopus.

History of Sex (5)

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Sanguinity to Sexuality

Part V of Foucault’s History of Sexuality v.1 traces an interesting path regarding the politicized nature of sexual discourse. The privilege of a sovereign power, in ancient times, was that of life over death. A king or queen had the right to “dispose” of the lives he controlled; suicide became a crime in the nineteenth century because it usurped the right of the government to control the lives, the very blood of its citizens. This power of life and death was both direct and indirect. A citizen could be put to death for crimes or misplaced loyalties, but they could also be sent to fight and die for causes in the name of that power. This power was not absolute privilege in Foucault’s view, but rather was conditioned by the criteria of defense and survival. The sovereign’s power over life was dissymmetrical, in that the power exercised over life was passive— to take life, or to let live. Power was a rite of seizure, a subtraction mechanism— a deduction.

Foucault proposes that this deductive power has been reduced to only one element of power among many— power now seeks to “incite, reinforce, control, monitor, optimize, and organize the forces under it” (136). Interestingly enough, the power to take life asserts itself individually only in limited and highly disputed forms, such as capital punishment, whereas genocide and starvation are regularly applied to whole populations. The power to take life or let live has been replaced by the power to foster life or disallow it. The power to control life, in Foucault’s view, is constituted by two poles of thinking regarding the human body.

Uneasy

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An Uneasy Relation

I’ve always had problems with beauty. I forget which surrealist said something to the effect that “beauty must be convulsive.” I always hated that Keats line about truth and beauty; I’d always found them to be completely unrelated. I’m drawn to things that bother me though, and when I finally got the irony of that blasted urn, I realized there were conflicting definitions of beauty. Perhaps it has something to do with your position on the sexual food chain. Those near the top prefer a more apollonian, freeze-dried type. For those of us near the bottom, beauty is messy.

Michael Pollan’s take on the tulip is fascinating. He begins with the bees rather than the birds and reduces it eloquently. Bees are flying penises, “avidly nosing their way like pigs through the thick purple brush of a thistle, rolling around helplessly in a single peony’s blond Medusa thatch of stamens.” Flowers promote themselves through their attractiveness. It’s a sex thing. Along the way Pollan undercuts some myths about beauty while tracing the boom and bust of the financial value of tulips in 1637 and noting that the shape of a tulip is nearly penile. The blending of color in tulips is traced to a disease that makes the purity of color get soiled. This wildness was prized, though it was a viral dysfunction that impeded the reproductive capability. Standards of beauty are artificial, hardly essential, and subject to flights of fancy. Perhaps its the romantic in me who wants a more dionysian sort of beauty, savage and wild in its impracticality, rather than the frozen ice-queen beauty of the tulip. The tulip has no scent.

The symmetry of the flower is taken as a sign of health. I always found myself attracted to those asymmetrical blobs of roses, dropping like overripe fruit in the yard growing up. They were even more beautiful as they died. Mother always kept roses, and I was scratched by thorns. My father preferred oleanders, because they required less maintenance. They framed one side of the lot, ragged and prolific, as a substitute for a fence. My brother was drawn to poisons. When all his friends were smoking banana peels, he had to try to smoke some oleander. He had me watch, so I could call the hospital if he started to convulse. I was never quite that adventurous. Beauty, for me, was filled with thorns and poisons— never truth. I loved its smell from the distance, I loved its wildness, and I loved its unreachable mystery. I felt trapped inside my own disfigurement, even if it was only imagined measured against the standards of artificial proportion— locked into a room where beauty was only to be found on the outside. But I never missed a chance to open my window and inhale.

The Listening Room

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Rene Magritte, La chambre d’ecoute (The Listening Room)

Pomography

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Botany of Desire

Started another book I need to read for class on Tuesday. I sense a trend. Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire is a fun read so far. It’s a survey of four domestic plants: the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato. It begins with a rather Foucaultian pronouncement in the introduction:

Our grammar might divide the world into active subjects and passive objects, but in a coevolutionary relationship every subject is also an object, every object a subject. That’s why it makes just as much sense to think of agriculture as something the grasses did to people as a way to conquer the trees.
There are four primary desires associated with these plants: sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control. I’ve only finished the first chapter, but I really liked the excursion into pomology. I had no idea that “as American as Apple Pie” could be so far off. Apples originated in Kazakhstan. Something tells me Americans didn’t invent pie either.

The story of the apple is one of intoxication and sweetness, and to a certain extent, of control. Cane sugar was rare in America initially, and some wouldn’t buy it because of its origins in slavery. The apple was important for its sugar, and for its beverage uses. Johnny Appleseed is painted as the American Dionysus, planting orchards and moving on when civilization approached. His heritage is filled with myth and a controversy— he had his heart broken by a ten year old. The symbol of the vegetarian frontiersman is even more curious if yout think of him as a pedophile.

Most of Johnny’s apples made their way into cider, a cider given to children— the alcohol made it a safer beverage than water at the time. But now, the apple is in trouble. The apple gene-pool is shrinking due to man's desire to proliferate them through cuttings, culled for their sweetness. But I was most taken with the description of the guardian angel of the Appleseed legend, Bill Jones:

Jones is a tall, courtly man with pale blue eyes and fine, parchmentlike skin. He give the impression of being a tightly stretched drum, devoid of any irony and, by his own lights, somewhat out of place in time. He’s dismayed by present-day America— the popular culture, the violence, the “lack of moral compass.” Ohio’s frontier past is vividly present to him, and old-timey expressions like “Cripes!,” “Gee whillikers!,” and “Darn tootin’” come often and unself-consciously to his lips.

Note to Self: Use “Gee whillikers” and “Darn tootin’” in conversation more frequently.

I find it also quite curious that Johnny Chapman [Mr. Appleseed] is described as a nearly androgynous man, nearly female in appearance, who was also a Swedenborgian. He died a rich man, due to his talent for land speculation— he would move into an area, buy land and plant trees— and then move on when civilization caught up with him. Now that’s as American as Apple pie.

More Moll

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Genealogies of Desire

The deeper I dig into Moll Flanders, the more I wonder about the impossibility of relating lives. But the trope that Defoe employs to tell Moll’s story is built around the history of her relationships, and her motives of desire. It’s complicated.

Unlike the relatively lame movie version, the story of her life is complex. In the Forest Gumpy movie version, Moll is seduced, betrayed, and finds true love in the arms of an artist. How twentieth century is that? Of course the story must be related through a well-meaning narrator (Morgan Freeman) through a series of flashbacks. This movie, other than the name, has nothing to do with the book. If you want to digest your popcorn neatly, and get the warm fuzzy happy ending, the movie version is made for you.

The book is messy, inconsistent, and somehow far more real. In the first 140 pages you cross from infancy into the life of a 42-year-old woman who is still filled with desire. Her choices are marked by a duality of desire and practicality. She recounts little in the way of physical description, but much in the way of inner landscape. It seems to me to be the evolution of a perverted, deterministic view of desire.

I was thinking about the progress of Moll, and the complexity. Moll first relinquishes her virtue on a promise— the promise that a man will marry her when he comes into his estate. The story is intense, and yet strangely distant. There are questions as to which parts are ironic, and which are not. Defoe's narrator is Moll herself, a woman (supposedly redeemed) telling the story of how she fell prey to her circumstances. Money is the constant worry, and yet desire is her constant downfall. Due to her first lover’s duplicity and machinations to rid himself of her, she ends up wedded to his younger brother. Out of fear and most of all, rhetoric, she finds herself in a loveless marriage.

domestic angel

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Max Ernst, Domestic Angel, 1935

Washballs

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goo goo g’joob

It might likewise deserve our most serious Consideration, how far, in a well-regulated city, those Humourists are to be tolerated who not contented with the traditional Cries of their Fore-fathers, have invented particular Songs and Tunes of their own: Such was, not many Years since, the Pastry-man, commonly known by the name of Colly-Molly-Puff, and such as is this Day the Vender of Powder and Washballs, who, if I am rightly informed, goes under the Name of Powder-Watt.

I must not here omit one particular Absurdity which runs through this whole vociferous Generation, and which renders their Cries very often not only incommodious, but altogether useless to the Publick. I mean that idle Accomplishment which they all of them aim at, of Crying so not to be understood.

Joseph Addison, Spectator #251

I am the eggman, indeed. This puts a new twist on the DIY “start your own band” thing. Though, perhaps, as Addison suggests and REM affirmed, there is something to be said for enunciating clearly to garner the big hit.

It’s incredibly difficult not to join in the conversation regarding Jim Hart’s best albums of the 80s. I’m trying to get my focus back. But I was positively amazed to see Let’s Active and a number of the more obscure choices on his list. However, I certainly miss the presence of The Minutemen, and would have chosen Zen Arcade over New Day Rising to represent Husker Du. No Meat Puppets either . . . such a shame. But at least Days of Wine and Roses made it. Far too many REM albums for my taste as well. Hmm, I've got this strange urge to revisit Wall of Voodoo’s Call of the West now that I've removed the huge stack of CDs from the top of my turntable.

One of these days, I may just have to write more about music, but for now, I’m still contemplating the idea of a pastryman named Colly-Molly-Puff, and wondering if I need some powder and washballs.

I must also extract my head from it’s usual location to wish Shauny a happy birthday.

Novel ideas

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Novel ideas

I avoided novels for a long time. I have always been more of a poetry person. Not in the sense of wanting to compose poems— I’ve always favored prose. Most modern poetry just loses me in its forced obtuseness. But in terms of machines for thinking, poetry offers the greatest amount of reflective possibility compared to the actual time spent reading it. Perhaps it’s the realism of novels, though, that always makes me want to put them down.

Cold air has arrived. Draped in a towel, I sit and wonder at how to glance across a million ideas in prose, suggestively, in order to move on to the heart of what I really want to say. I pulled out an LP yesterday, for the first time in a while. I was thinking about how they always leant themselves to reflection, with pauses each twenty minutes and a required action before the music would continue. It was Diamond Dogs, I felt compelled to listen to it after watching Hedwig a few days ago. For some reason, I’ve always been locked into the mondegreen of hearing “pride pride pride pride . . .” rather the “bro bro bro . . .” listed on the lyric sheet for Chant of the Ever-Circling Skeletal Family. It’s been so hard to write lately. It seems like trying to work through these issues might be a matter of pride. Pride has never worked out well for me. Pride is far too seductive.

I was wandering through Moll Flanders; it’s not central to the argument I’m working on, but I’m just seduced by Defoe. He is so sloppy, so matter-of-fact, so real when compared with the artifice of most novels. I was thinking about the circumstances of Moll’s first marriage, which blazes by at blinding speed. For those unfamiliar with the novel, Moll is seduced into becoming the mistress of a man, and then later convinced to marry his younger brother when she “began to see a Danger that I was in, which I had not consider’d of before, and that was of being drop’d by both of them, and left alone in the world to shift for myself” (57). I never saw that danger myself. I stopped at that phrase for a long time. A later allusion took me back to Rochester, and back to poetry once again.

Phyllis, be gentler, I advise;
Make up for time misspent:
When Beauty on its deathbed lies,
’Tis high time to repent.

Such is the malice of your fate:
That makes you old too soon,
Your pleasure ever comes too late,
How early e’er begun.

Think what a wretched thing is she
Who stars contrive in, in spite,
The morning of her love should be
Her fading beauty’s night.

Then, if to make your ruin more,
You’ll peevishly be coy,
Die with the scandal of a whore
And never know the joy.

Friends remind me lately that perhaps I’m becoming peevishly coy. I don’t know how to escape that fate, and at the same time avoid the pride that leads to such great falls. I think its largely memories of that past life, where I felt confident before the fall. Though my circumstances have yet to become as low as that of a Moll Flanders, I can empathize with so many parts of her life. After her second marriage, Moll’s reflection seems so much like the company I used to keep:

It was indeed a Subject of strange Reflection to me, to see Men who were overwhelm’d in perplex’d Circumstances; who were reduc’d some Degrees below being Ruin’d; whose Families were Objects of their own Terror and other Peoples Charity; yet while a Penny lasted, nay, even beyond it, endeavoring to drown their Sorrow in their Wickedness; heaping up more Guilt upon themselves, labouring to forget former things which now it was the proper time to remember, making more Work for Repentance, and Sinning on, as a Remedy for Sin past.

I was thinking of the way it faded so quickly, how sorrow was pushing in. Like Moll, I had to remove. Left in the world alone to shift for myself isn’t so bad, I suppose. But it is a shame to die with the scandal of a whore, and never know the joy. I need to put down the novel, but it’s cold outside. The thoughts inside are dark, and memories rush full force. A thousand things can trigger me, and make me spill over the sides. I suspect it’s unbecoming, but I can’t seem to make it stop.