All things weird and wonderful, 36

8 01 2014

Why do we sing?

Why do we dance? Why paint and hop around and declaim in pentameter and chop stones into bodies and trees into ravens and how can people become so naked in themselves so as to become someone else, in front of god and everyone?

There were times watching some of the would-be soloists in the Gotham Rock Choir that I was embarrassed at how they let themselves just sing—just sing!—and let the song cover every missed note and skipped tempo and just, just sing.

And then I would be abashed, for so missing so much.

I don’t understand why we do this: let ourselves go in front of one another. I don’t understand why we sing and dance and conjure beauty and sorrow out of the rough leavings of this small world, I don’t understand this at all—except to know that I am moved by these conjurers, and their conjurings.

When I say there must be something more I don’t mean magic or angels but these conjurings, the way we take what we’ve got and make something other, something more, than what was there before.





My eyes are the stars in your deepest night

4 09 2013

From “Requiem” by Anna Akhmatova:

No, not under the vault of another sky, not under the shelter of other wings. I was with my people then, there where my people were doomed to be.

Instead of a Forward

During the years of the Yezhovschina, I spent seventeen months standing outside the prison in Leningrad, waiting for news. One day someone recognized me. Then a woman with lips blue from the cold, who was standing behind me, and of course had never heard of my name, came out of the numbness which affected us all. She whispered in my ear (for we all spoke in whispers there): “Can you describe this?”

I said, “I can.”

Then something resembling a smile slipped over what had once been her face…

(Wholesale blog theft from Brad DeLong)





Every move you make

25 05 2013

I know I don’t speak for everyone, but for me, the freedoms enjoyed by artists and journalists are worth possible breaches of privacy.
-Kathy Ryan

So said the journalist (or artist), not the person whose privacy is breached.

Given my rants against Google Glass and Facebook and the general hoovering-up of every last bit of ourselves in the name of Big Data, it is no surprise that I consider someone taking a photograph of me in my home an offense against all that is Good and Holy.

I draw lines between private and public, lines which, in practice, can be difficult to maintain. I want to reveal what I want to reveal and nothing more, but, of course, in the writing of this (now-less-than-) pseudonymous blog I say things about myself of which I am completely unaware.

I know that, but I choose—I choose—to do it anyway.

But sitting in my apartment on a cool spring day, drinking coffee and doing crosswords, no, I do not choose to have you record me, take something from me.

When I enter a public space I am aware of myself as being “in public”. I’m not much concerned I’ll be recorded—I am unremarkable in appearance—but I recognize, however gruffly, that if someone snaps a pic of me there’s little I can do about it. And even if you do grab me with your camera, I’ll almost certainly remain anonymous, in the background or a (drab) bit of the local scenery.

And, in any case, if I am in public so too are you: there is a symmetry of risk in our interactions.

(This is among the reasons I am leery of CCTV and apparatuses like Google Glass: the asymmetry of risk, which makes the person watched vulnerable to the person watching. And no, telling me I can even the score by recording back is not a sufficient answer, not least because such a response would force me deeper into a regime to which existence I object.)

In my apartment, however, I am not “in public”, windows be damned. That you can see me and I can see you is, of course, where the blur comes in, but part of living in a city means you maintain a set of manners in which the blur serves to protect privacy. I might see you playing your guitar and you might see me dancing, but we each let it go, unmentioned.

That we leave our curtains open as we strum or dance or eat or play with the dog or tickle the baby doesn’t mean we’re putting ourselves on display; it just means we want some light.

Yes, some people do put themselves on display, and within (generous) limits, that’s fine; that one person is an exhibitionist, however, does not mean the person next to her is.

This is, for me, theoretical. I live in an un-hip section of Brooklyn where few people would be so foolish as to think they could point a camera in someone’s window without consequence. I certainly wouldn’t advocate violence against that fool, but if the camera were, ah, rendered inoperable, well, them’s the risks you take.





You could be anyone, celebrate boy

30 05 2012

Late late, so quick quick:

A., a photographer and secretary in my CUNY department, has been hosting an Italian artist the past couple of months, and while she’s had fun with him and has learned from him, she’s also a bit bumfuzzled by him.

He’s a dreamer—a dreamer! She says this with her hand in the air.

A few weeks ago he was looking to fall in love and stay in New York, but now he’s looking at all of the reasons to leave.

Fall in love! He’s here for two months and he wants to fall in love and have a relationship! He did not fall in love; he leaves for Italy in a few days.

He’s gonna stay here and he doesn’t have a job? How’s he going to pay the rent? She gave me a look.

It’s good he’s an artist; he should stay an artist. But what was he thinking? This is New York!

That’s one of the things I like about New York: You can say you’re an artist or a writer or a dancer and people will take you seriously, because here these are practical occupations. You are not dismissed as a flake for pursuing this work, even with the recognition of  the unlikelihood of making of living doing only this work.

New York: the place for practical dreamers.





All things weird and wonderful, 19

6 03 2012

Bought this in 1999? 2000? at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design student art show. I got a couple of good pieces, but this is my favorite.

Appropriately absurd, don’t you think?

~~~

I saved the artists’ names for the other pieces, but for whatever reason, I don’t have this one. If you happen to know who created this marvelous print, please let me know!





All things weird and wonderful, 16

3 02 2012

Joe's 5th Semi-Annual Beer Tasting Party!

I don’t even remember if I attended this event, but I loved the invite, by host/artist Kathy Radke.

At least, I think it’s Kathy Radke Rathke—I can’t remember if I got her name right. Anyway, she was a fucking amazing graphics artist for The Daily Cardinal, a small, blonde, impish woman on a graphics staff that was, hmm, yes I believe it was all men. She was the graphics editor for awhile, and the menfolk—I’m thinkin’ of John Kovalic and Mark Giaimo (on whom I had a huge crush, and who was so out of my league in every way), in particular—who liked to get chesty with one another and anyone else, all bowed before Kathy’s  fierce talent and sly dry wit.

Sly: yes, Kathy was sly. As political as the rest of us (the Cardinal, back in the day, always had a Marxist editor), she paid attention, and led with absurdity.

She was an inspiration.

One final memory: At my first Cardinal party Kathy’s younger sister and I got drunk and sang Shirley Bassey tunes, enjoying ourselves immensely crooning “GolllllllllllldddddddFINguh!”

So. I don’t know where Kathy is, but I hope she’s absurdly well.





I’d like to sing a song of great social and political import

26 01 2012

I missed her birthday.

Not that she’d know, given that she’s been dead for over forty years, but I used to know and celebrate the day Janis Joplin squalled her way into the world.

I think I’ve written this before, but what the hell: My friend K. and I taught this to a half-busful of Forensic [speech, not mortuary] Society high schoolers on our way back from some tournament or another. It was dark, the bus was old, the trip long. And if our high-volumed rasping pissed off the faculty adviser, all the better.

Janis was like that: the big personality you could hide behind.

I fell for Janis in high school, aping her in drink (Southern Comfort, when I could afford it) if in nothing else: I couldn’t sing like her, had no appetite for heroin, and was never as outrageous as I would have liked to have been.

Janis was too much, in every way. She was too loud, too drunk, too high, and way too sexy for someone who in no way fitted any conventional notions of sexiness.

You could see that, too, in those old photos and reels of her performing. She knows she’s performing when she sticks out her tongue or her chest or when she struts across the stage. She’s covering.

She never thought she was enough, but man, when she snugged that mic up beneath her lip, her voice spilled out and over her and everyone who heard her and then all her too-muchness was just as it should be. No cover, then.

There she is, in all her feathers, a few months before her death.

Of course, that she died was part of the fascination for my teenaged self—she suffered for her art!—but it was the fight in her, even more so, even if back then I could only valorize the suffering-unto-death, not that she suffered in the fight to stay alive.

I was listening to her recently, and came across a line I used to write on notebooks and bathroom stalls: Tomorrow never happens, man, it’s all the same fucking day, man.

Janis Joplin, absurdist. She would have been 69.





Brave companion of the road

28 05 2011

Is it better to be consistent than inconsistent? What about contradiction and hypocrisy: what is the merit or demerit of such concepts?

Ta-Nehisi Coates has been carrying on a long conversation with himself and the rest of us regarding the interpretation and understanding of the American Civil War; to that end, he tries to leave judgment behind and move into the experience—as much as is possible—of those living at the time. He reads historical accounts and letters and novels and requests that we “Talk to me like I’m stupid” regarding weaponry, battle tactics, wardrobe, John Locke, and hermeneutics.

He wants to understand.

I follow his wonderings in part because he often writes beautifully about these topics, in part because I learn something the Civil War, and in part because his attempt to shed enough of himself to enter into the mind of, say, a Confederate soldier, seems simultaneously brave, foolish, and in vain.

Brave: You do have to shed your armor, your clothes, sometimes even your skin to make yourself open to another.

Foolish: You have to shed your armor, your clothes, and sometimes even your skin to make yourself open to another.

In vain: As long as you can choose to come and go into another’s experience, you reinforce the separation between yourself and the other.

I am ambivalent about the limits and risks and possibilities and purposes of understanding, an ambivalence which tips sometimes more toward openness, sometimes more toward skepticism, but I am fascinated by the quest.This is not just philosophy; this is art.

And that’s where I return to the questions regarding consistency and contradiction. In  a recent post of George Fitzhugh’s Cannibals All!, TNC noted that he appreciated not only Fitzhugh’s straightforward defense of slavery, but his willingness to extend it as far as it could logically take him—in Fitzhugh’s case, into the enslavement of the majority of humankind:

There’s something attractive about his willingness to game out all of his maniacal theories. He has moral courage that his double-talking, bullshitting, slaveholding friends lack. It’s the opposite of that Jeffersonian view of slavery which cowers from the awful implications of one’s beliefs.

It’s Howell Cobb’s, “If slaves make soldiers, then our whole theory of slavery is wrong,” versus Jefferson Davis’s legalistic bullshit about black Confederates. There’s something about the sheer clarity of these guys, even though they speak evil, that’s a breath of fresh air. Half the problem is cutting through the deliberate lying about one’s own theories.

At which point I (metaphorically) raised my hand and said, Um, wait a minute: why is straight talk better, here? Is this really courageous as opposed to, say, crackers?  I drilled down further to argue that there is no necessary moral content either to consistency or to contradiction.

Consider, as well, “double-talking”, “bullshitting”, “deliberate lying”: these are all moral judgments on those who, unlike Fitzhugh, do not make their arguments one logical smooth piece, but who cramp and crinkle and perhaps tear at the fabric of their own arguments regarding the justness of slavery or the conditions of those enslaved.

These moral judgments, in other words, are, if not at root, then at least also, aesthetic judgments: better to make the argument straight than kinked, better to untie all knots and iron the whole cloth of the argument, better there be no seams.

But why is this so? Why let the aesthetic stand in for the moral? Can the aesthetic stand in for the moral? (This is a very old argument, by the way.)

No, no, I’m really not demanding a thesis from TNC; he’s doing quite enough already. But his musings in this particular piece have thrown into sharp relief how tenacious are our unexamined judgments, how much of one’s own world—one’s own ontology, as it were—one brings to that quest for understanding.

There’s no easy way out of this: judgments are our bearings, and to leave them behind in an attempt to make sense of another risks losing them altogether, to the point where we can’t make sense to ourselves.

I don’t know where I’m going with this; perhaps I’m losing my own bearings. But this whole understanding gig, tch, it’s a real kick in the head.





Break like the wind

19 05 2011

Not a fan of Lars von Trier.

I should say up front that I haven’t actually seen a von Trier film in its entirety: I’ve seen chunks of Dancer in the Dark and bits of Breaking the Waves but, for the most part, I have been quite content to let his Dogma pass me by.

I’m not quite sure why, oh, hell, I know exactly why—because I don’t care to spend 90 or 120 or 150 minutes watching women get the shit beaten out of them physically, sexually, emotionally, and/or intellectually. I know, he’s supposed to very artistic in his assaults, and perhaps he’s even making some kind of point about the status of women, but point or not, I don’t want to watch it.

(I consider this a bit of a failing on my part, actually, that I am unwilling to sit through movies which make me uncomfortable or set me off, but, well, let me hold off on why I think so.)

Still, as a non-connoisseur of his works, I admit that I may be missing something wonderful and sly, and that people who love his work might have terrific reasons for doing so. I even have a bit of admiration for that whole Dogma thing—not because I sign on to worth of its strictures, but because the attempt to place limits on oneself in service to art is a worthy practice.

Calling oneself a Nazi in service to art is, however, puzzling.

I’m with The New Yorker‘s Richard Brody when he argues that

it should not be troubling to anyone that he claims to understand Hitler; it’s the job of artists to attempt to understand and enter into imaginative sympathy even with monsters; what makes artists artists is their ability to illuminate the darkest regions of the soul.

I don’t think you have to be a Nietzschean (although it might help) to see that art has its own morality, one which does not and perhaps even should not have much to do with ethical or political norms.
Still, it is perhaps unsurprising that when a man-of-the-movies opines at a film festival press conference on sympathies which, um, heavily intersect with history and politics, that there might be some complications:

But, anyway, I really wanted to be a Jew, and then I found out I’m really a Nazi, because my family was German, Hartmann, which also gave me some kind of pleasure. What can I say? I understand Hitler. But I think he did some wrong things, yes, absolutely, but I can see him sitting in his bunker in the end.

He continues the ramble (you can read it at the link, above) with asides about Israel (“a pain in the ass”) and  Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier and a thumbs-up for Albert Speer, only to have it all end (more or less) with him saying “Okay, I’m a Nazi.”

The Cannes Film Festival booted von Trier, although his film Melancholia remains. That seems about right.

Yes, even with my the-artists-must-be-free schtick (and even as I accept that von Trier might be less artist than huckster—but that’s another conversation), that they ought to have the freedom to create even the most outrageous art, that doesn’t mean they get a free (ahem) pass to say whatever they want wherever they want without consequence. Slap, and be slapped in turn.

And given the Cannes Film Festival’s own history—it was created as an explicit counterpoint to the fascist-overrun Venice Film Festival—it is unsurprising that organizers would take a dim view of anyone claiming sympathy with Nazis, even if done so (half?)-jokingly and without any apparent forethought.

Maybe he thought he was being clever and provocative, maybe he panicked as a stray thought managed to find its way into words and he had no way of reining it back in. Maybe he did mean it. Maybe he’s just a prick.

I tend to go with a combination of clever/provocative and panicked. He did apologize, which suggests either cravenness and/or abashedness; again, I go with the combo option.

I also think the fest organizers’ actions ought to be the end of it. Certainly, some moviegoers might want to avoid his films as a result or some actors might not take a call from him—if you can’t get past the man to experience the work—but there’s no ipso facto reason to avoid his films.

None of this is to excuse von Trier, bumbling offender though he may be, nor is it an excuse for Woody Allen or Mel Gibson or Roman Polanski. Again, if you can’t get past the man—I can’t, really, with Gibson—then it makes sense to avoid the work, but I don’t know that this is so much a moral position as an aesthetic one.

And that you like the work of  von Trier, Gibson, Allen, or Polanski doesn’t make you a Nazi, a violent and anti-Semitic misogynist, a schmuck, or a rapist, nor does appreciation for their work signal acceptance of their behavior. And please, if you do love the work of people who’ve done or said wretched things, don’t feel like you have to minimize said wretchedness (“it wasn’t ‘rape’ rape”) in order to justify that love.

Have the courage of your artistic convictions.





Blog flog: Subway Art

23 10 2010

Thoughts, oh so many thoughts, on: kyriarchy, patriarchy, enough-with-the-neologisms-already, structures of domination, confrontation, critical analysis, dissolve into understanding, alienation. . . .

Words words words blah blah blah.

So what that I’m text-oriented; luckily, others are more visual:

‘Nuff said

This pithy shot is from Subway Art Blog, which I read about in the NYTimes City Blog and, because I got a shitty night’s sleep and am too lazy to go to the gym or do much of anything, decided to visit.

Yay, laziness!

That shot is listed under ‘Stuff that Hates on Hipsters‘, but wait! There’s more!

‘You Know You Love It!’ (Aug 17)

Yes, even I, the arch feminist sophisticate (ha!) have a 14yo boy inside of her.

For those with who appreciate weirdness, check out the feature on Olek, a mad crocheter (sp?) who collaborated with the author by appearing in and around the subway wearing a crochet body suit.

Makes my bitter little heart beat just a bit faster about this New York underground life.

‘All Tracks Lead to Brooklyn’ (June 3)








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