Wednesday, November 03, 2010

It was suggested in a class recently that us post-post-post viewers/consumers of art wouldn't quite “locate meaninglessness” when there’s an intense clash of signs in modernism-era images, the kind that critic Griselda Pollock identifies in her analysis of Rosetti’s “obsessively repetitive” paintings of women so dominant in the nineteenth century, because we’ve been taught, at this point, to hold a lot of different kinds of information at once. It’s also possible we don’t hold similar conceptions of meaning now. We get and make mash-ups everywhere, pleasure from entertainment is incredibly difficult to parse. 

This is coming from someone who, with all my suspicions about decadent, commodity-driven, late-capitalist culture, finds pleasure in locating meaning where there was no authorial intent, particularly in pop culture. Even if it’s supposed to be mindlessly consumed in big old greasy gobfuls, even if there’s no Brechtian device asking me as a viewer to pause over it’s constructedness, even while  it’s chock full of complicated commercial agendas, I find something like Glee, which could very easily be read as just emphasizing a lot of empty platitudes while creating and suggesting how to fulfill all of the “pseudo-needs” that Guy Debord loathed so much, such a great embrace of absurdity, non-static identities, and a space of both hyper-seriousness and hyper-camp, extremely pleasurable.  It’s possible I should be more apprehensive about this pleasure than I am. What exactly is it speaking to? I love clashes of signs, but really only when each one seems to signify something I have an extremely idiosyncratic relationship to, and I’m the author constructing it’s meaning for my own use and delight.  This next episode supposedly contains, of all things:

A guy who played Harry Potter 
in an internet meme video
of a college DIY version
of a harry potter *musical*,
playing a gay character,
in a  private, all-boy school’s show choir,
singing a love song
in the general direction of the show’s primary queer character, in a show full of queer characters,
in an all-boy showtune style,
in the form of a cover of Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream (that kewpie-doll re-inscriber of gender-identity, kind of, except she married Russell Brand, who does nothing but trouble gender-binaries, in his manic gypsy dream boy way).

It’s practically slash-fiction! Actually, it doesn't even function in the way slash-fiction does: queering hetero-normative representations of relationships (for an awesome sort of sample please see video artist Elisa Kreisinger's amazing remix series editing Real Housewives of New York and Sex and the City into lesbian love stories at where there are none, because it's supplying, first hand, queer storylines (especially in the case of the Santana/Brittany relationship which feels like the most honest, least stigmatized, least hysterical portrayal of bisexuality I've ever seen in any televisual medium).  It’s a giant fantasia of queer subversion, and DIY aesthetics, and playfulness with the rules of the commercial world, and it also speaks to every “guilty pleasure” desire in my heart of hearts that is essentially a really odd mix of someone who grew up loving showtunes and musicals, feminism, punk music, DIY culture, fashion magazines and MTV in equal measures.

Maybe I’m a sucker? Are there things I’m missing here? I really want to read it as simultaneously the most popular, ostensibly mainstream entertainment, but also, the queerest thing that ever existed, and I don’t think those things have be thought of as mutually exclusive at all. In fact, the closer they get, the more hopeful I want to feel about mass culture and where our values sit, but there’s also the very real potential that just because I’m reading it the way I want to, others are reading it very very differently- one of the major troubles of our post-author-death world, I suppose.

Monday, October 25, 2010

I am my own manic pixie dream girl.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"When Susan Buck-Morss comments upon avant garde artists working in the contemporary art milieu whose projects explore their own bodies as artworks she casually mentions 'masturbating under the gallery floor,' a reference, no doubt, to Vito Acconci’s installation piece Seedbed, which would have forced viewers/participants, in the moment, to shatter any sense of removed simulacra, something sexualized and confrontational but removed by distance and false narrative and consequently possibly harmlessly consumed, and be present with the tactile reality of the artist’s body- not a representation of a body. This gets at the issue of time. When viewers recently sat with the artist Marina Abramovic in her installation The Artist is Present, time became something viewers were acutely aware of, and had to rest within. They had to commit to the entire process of standing in a line to be with her, despite the pull of so many other potential obligations, then measure, second to second, while they sat with her, what their bodies could handle, what they would have to prioritize to measure out however many minutes they would spend with her. They would have to examine their own motivations for being with her: Was it pertaining to strata of a class-defined nature? Was it marked by spiritual pursuit? What, precisely or abstractly, would that mean? And what might they owe the artist? And whose time actually has value? In the moment of stillness, with no removing simulacrum to indulge the senses, other senses come to the fore, and questions stir. This is a sample of how art can continue to function politically- by creating a context for examination of choices. And this is the kind of installation that demonstrates precisely what is meant by "cognition through feeling." To observe some of the physical reactions of those who sat with Abramovic, ranging from pained discomfort to teary rapture, may illuminate Buck-Morss’s essential point: that work examining time, in conjunction with aiming to stun with beauty, rather than shock with violence, is the kind of work with the most potential, in this particular cultural moment, to 'shine through the disharmony of the world.'"

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My eyes always want to close. There is this poem that I sometimes remember a line from, my mind pulls it somewhere out of the mysterious ether and it is simply-" there is too much." There is voice to consider, there is the history of everything, there is what informs how we perceive the history, there is what is contained within a moment, there is fragmented knowledge, there is desire. Oh desire. I have doubts about wholeness, what can be gleaned, learned, understood, and then there is- to make an argument! How absurd it seems that any criticism of power is anything but another expression that means to assert power. My sympathies fall to the side of- the spectacle can no longer be used as a means of shattering any political status quo. The only way we can each survive with some semblance of personhood intact is by celebrating small absurdist creative energies- in poetry, in mashed up ritual, in participatory engagements fragmented as they are- be they gif parties or dance parties or little operettas or big novels that organize chaos into narratives and let us be liberated- just as it was in the days of Greek tragedies and choruses. But- systematic break downs that explicate history and call it out? I have doubts…and am slightly concerned I'm becoming one of those really jaded postmodernists who no longer believes in history. But there is a VERY VERY large, universe-sized really, possibility that there is so much I've yet to understand. I've nothing to argue yet. I've only nights where I don't sleep worry about how I've nothing I feel I ought to convince anyone of.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The past several days have been consumed with the strange, compelling tales of these astonishing writers, and then art travels-all transporting and transfixing. My head is full of dangerous, ecstatic ideas, nothing fully realized, but leading me somewhere, or at least I hope so.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

My favorite living writer is on the cover of Time, which means I am about to leave my house to go to a bookstore and pore through it hoping for bits of wisdom to be revealed. I love the scope of his writing, how deeply and unrepentantly serious it is, and he seems to be. There was a time last year when his writing made me a better thinker, and illuminated and clarified things I was trying to understand but couldn't without the aid of his suffering characters and their private, troubled worlds, and his tightly written essays, so full loss and lament and refuge in writing. I think sometimes I wouldn't be as sad without submerging myself in Franzen's patterns of thinking, as he's always let me know how far I must go, how much harder I must try, but I wouldn't be as alive either.

Friday, July 30, 2010

I have been spending every day reading, mostly, which makes one feel simultaneously sort of productive and also very lazy. I know my mind is engaged in authoring the text along with the author as it's zipping along, scanning the pages, creating in my mind's eye every carefully chosen metaphor, however the image is rendered, breaking down and distilling its meaning, linking it up with every conceit and overarching theme, teasing out the the components of the arguments made, attempting to reach understanding, and am very busy seeing my own circumstances in whatever lies before me. I feel fed and happy and know how much the activity is the activity of a person happy and active in solitude. I walk down to the library and spend hours wandering the ailes. I'm sure this is peculiar, and I'm sure that so much novel reading where characters are allowed their transgressions and idiosyncracies has persuaded me into being so complicit in my peculiarities. I'll scan titles, breathe in the smell of age old dust, lavish myself with the distinct and sacred silence of the place. I feel so much like myself being alone in there, sitting on the sterile carpet floor, reading Barthes expound on our faulty lover's discourse. Does everyone so constantly construct the mythology of their lives? I think it must largely be so, in fact I think to be in love we do it both of ourselves and others- imagining them into being. What great writers of our lives we all are!

I have difficulty, after spending vast amounts of time so happily immersed in fictive worlds, coming out of them, knowing where to focus in real live interaction, what I should have taken from the text out into every kind of discourse. But I feel somehow, electrified, and more open, though it may not seem so. I'm searching for something, I'm yearning for it, I'm honestly hoping to know.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I woke one recent morning from a dream where I was in this big industrial and pretty much impossible building, it was a learning institution of some sort and I was going up a very Blade Runner kind of elevator when on a platform somewhere below me, in a throng of admiring students, Jeffrey Eugenides and I met each other's eyes. In the moment, I was lucky, because he recognized something inside me that was what Michael Chabon describes in Wonder Boys as "the midnight disease," and I had been needing counsel about what to do with my heavy heart, so relentlessly hard on itself. I asked the person I was with what he was doing there, and found he was scheduled to give a lecture on the aesthetics of numbers and mathematics in works of literature. In the moment that flitted by something had transpired between us, and as he was pulled into rooms and conversations, and I made my way through a complex maze of levels and rooms to find where he would be, I felt my heart pumping with this peculiar feeling of being really known by someone. It wasn't romantic, it was just human to human understanding, the ideal I am so seeking, so far from the fool's errand of love. I found him finally in one room full of an audience at rapt attention, and found myself sitting on the floor in a number of them. He would see me occasionally and my face would flush. We never spoke. We never would. But his lecture became more and more about this idea that books are the best way to give us insight into others and teach us empathy. And his words gave me some of the comfort I was in need of. He also spoke about how David Foster Wallace said God's language is in music and numbers, and I felt somewhat frightened about how much I would never understand, but how things feel just feel like truth sometimes, and how much I want to know.

I've had the fantasy most of my life to experience the kind of moment I had in the dream where Eugenides just saw right into my soul- to transcend all very real demarcations that alienate us from one another. It's kind of a lazy person's fantasy- oh to not have to work at understanding, oh to just be understood. If there's anything to take away from everything I read- Rilke, Wallace, Kafka, whomever, it's to stop being solipsistic, to break from self obsession, to understand my cluttered interior self so that I may stop making so many mistakes, and make choices of authenticity, and understand others better, and go out into the world. Even this kind of writing itself strikes me as sort of dull and tedious and self-focused in a way that's numbing and indulgent and false, and then having that kind of thought makes me think it would strike one to hear the way I think that I'm pretty foolish and young in my thoughts (particularly considering how fleeting my youth), that my thoughts aren't informed by systems that work, only conjecture, and then I would want to combat this with having one know how much I want to give. How impossible it is to relate this truthfully. I was thinking about my impulse all morning, when I was hit with the memory that I really have experienced a moment where someone seemed to transcend barriers, generously, and help me to understand something without having any real knowledge of me. It was the first week of my course in Modern Poetry at Chico State, and we were laboring over an Emily Dickinson poem:

After great pain, a formal feeling comes--
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs--
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?
The Feet, mechanical, go round--
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought--
A Wooden way
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone--
This is the Hour of Lead--
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons recollect the Snow--
First--Chill--then Stupor--then the letting go--

I was staring hard at the text, trying to will myself to dissect it and find out its hidden secrets, and our instructor said something to me about how she could see that I was trying pretty hard to understand it. It was written on my face. Somehow frustration and a desperate longing to *know* were coming off of me in waves. I stood outside this locked door of perception, beating my head up against it, and she, in an instant, could see precisely what was transpiring inside of me. I was grateful to her, and jealous of her too. I am in constant awe of others' capabilities for insight into everything everywhere around them.

I also realized after looking through The Unnamed again, as Emilie gave me a lovely signed copy (the inscription being "To Willow, from one fan of Buffy to another" which is just too great for words), that the chapter titles are taken from this Dickinson poem, the one that captured my concentration and consternation so many years ago.

Memory, ways to live, I am too preoccupied with generalities to work very hard- what a lazy lazy way to be. I know I dreamed of Eugenides in particular because his short stories Air Mail and Extreme Solitude I read recently on one very hot evening, and their central questions are about authenticity and enlightenment, and the weird worlds locked inside our hearts and brains, and the difficulty communing with others truthfully-things that always speak to me, no matter how much I want to forget them.

A lot of writers say that they aren't particularly smart, they somehow have reserves of will that just make them work, and they work enough that sometimes good things come out of it. I wonder about this, because some people have wit that really just can't be denied, sharp insights just fall out of them, ideas are endless. I labor slowly to revelations and typically find when I reflect on what they were, that they were kind of shallow. It's a totally used up analogy- but I suppose being good at writing is simply like being a good alchemist in a kitchen- a magical mix of practice at following formulas, discipline and hard labor, and a knack for seizing upon some kind of true seeming inspiration.

I wrote earlier that I read DFW because I'm sad, but that's not wholly true, of course. He was so peerlessly funny and no one was better at recognizing absurdity but he was never ever glib, and that's a source of endless inspiration. I'm working at taking joy in the age of the endless mash-up, where what initially existed gets further and further away and not being overwhelmed at the idea that my burden as a student is going to be the construction of meaning with faltering language and not knowing where to focus in all of this stuff going inside inside inside itself, wanting to understand mimesis as it transpires today- a pretty impossible feat. I need to get to a place where I participate, explicate, create, and don't wallow in easy cynicism simultaneously. Lines must be drawn, but with heart!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

"Our situation is the following. We are standing in front of a closed box which we cannot open."

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A prayer by Yves Klein:

"Let everything that emerges from me be beautiful."

Friday, June 25, 2010

I have time to spend alone again, writing, and it seems I just get caught in this recursive loop where I am telling my brain "C'mon now, reveal something." There are scripts that are easy to follow, and paying too close attention to the patterns, and trying to ascertain the value of defering to or trying to buck the trend is a surefire way to get very little done indeed. Getting caught up in breaking down the machinations of all social interaction- is mostly where my brain just always wants to go, and it's not useful at all.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The days are full of wonder. Gothic style longing. Sweaty bike rides in the park. Meeting friends for iced coffee. Stumbling over bridges in cool nighttime air, rhapsodizing about the past. Sitting in the creek soaking in harsh heat. And every day music and more music and more music. Every day stories unfolding, squeezed to my chest, lying in grass or late with me in bed. Every day feeling aloneness that is warm, sublime, wondrous. Magic revealing itself in this home. 

Monday, May 31, 2010

Had the strange, sweet fortune to partipate in the making of a music video recently, and with a group of people who seemed to possess this humbling combination of real talent and genuine kindness. The experience really lifted me out of myself, and it, combined with a handful of other electric moments, have made me fall deeper in love with music and people and summer and made me feel a sort of warmth I had nearly forgotten, made me have some kind of renewed faith in how powerfully healing and bestowing of grace collaboration and music can be.
I've found myself having a conversation again and again where I stumble trying to explain the meaning behind the words I had branded to my body- just not being able to get close to what I think Rilke meant. But here is the thing behind it- I try tremendously hard to get to meaning, and often believe I should have convictions that will guide me to transcendence and life lived properly. But I know such pursuit to be sort of foolhardy, and that mistakes will be made, and that there is ephemeral and changing truth, and that I want to be open to unknown wisdom in others that will help the scales (that always rebuild) fall from my eyes. It's kind of about faith that I have so much to learn.
It's been so lovely and eye-opening to lately let some sadness and bitterness that had rooted inside me melt, and experience sweetness and light and know I'm not enough and love all the golden, generous people in my little world.
I hesitate to make such declarations, living as I do in the irony-laden world that is easy to inhabit, but I think I know well enough by now that my nature is ridiculously sentimental, given to hyperbole, and that I find life so much more rich and beautiful when I stop trying to be clever, and lose myself in wandering.

Friday, May 14, 2010

For all it's unevenness and contradictions and lapses into cliche, there's still so much going on in Glee to make it probably the most successful socially subversive text being consumed right now. That a broad audience is engaged with and moved by a lot of characters marked by their "otherness" going through identity struggles, and that the storylines are structured seemingly to say identity is a process- is fascinating. And I think says a lot about how musical theater is such an expressive and catharsis wielding medium. I'm sure I'm in the minority of the viewpoint that the genuine showtune numbers are the most successful (and successful is one of those words that makes me cagey about how we all relate to value and taste totally differently), but when Kurt broke into Rose's Turn this week, just as when Rachel busted out with Don't Rain On My Parade I was sort of stunned at just how powerful and straightforwardly emotionally evocative they could make television watching, even amidst all of the deadpan-pomo-meta-ironic stuff in the plots surrounding the songs. Even the numbers themselves are sort of winkingly clever about who these characters are and how they would express themselves, but I think what struck me about them is that there's some quality of performance that felt like it transcended all the layers of irony and was just emotion. Not entirely sure what I'm saying, but those first few note's of Rose's Turn there was a part of me that was tickled at the referential mania working hard for all of the geeky broadway babies and gays and hags who would be like "Yes! Motherfucking Gypsy, Bitches!" and yet there was another part of me that wasn't deconstructing the reference and was just responding to some mysterious power of expression in those notes.

I don't know if I can entirely divorce the reactions...

At any rate, Motherfucking Gypsy, Bitches! Awesome.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lately I have mostly just been reading and re-reading things by and about David Foster Wallace. I've been feeling sad, I suppose, and this seems to be something I do when I am feeling sad. He wrote so much about giving the lonely person access to imaginative other selves to help her out of being marooned in her own experience; it's a terribly complicated thing to try to engage deeply with his work, because it brings along some new awareness of the nature of my own default patterns of thought, and the new ways is which I would like to read and live, and then there's the hard work of keeping up with his relentlessly complex network of thought that makes me want to both try harder at so many things, and realize there are a lot of fights I'm going to lose. But one gift he always gives his readers, that I try to take away from his writing anyway, is the idea that there are innumerable ways to approach experience that haven't been explored, if only we work diligently and creatively enough to chip away at how easy it is to follow what we've internalized over the course of time. I want to have hope that it could be possible to break down a lot of really hollow and soulless conventions that keep us full of anxiety and bereft of the ability to be sincere, but getting through the sadness to the very hard work that must be done can seem so impossible.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Okay, yes, I've watched it twice over the last two days, and it's looking likely to be the thing I will fall asleep to again tonight- and regardless of what it might imply about my state of mind and silly escapism or wanton fantasy, I'm willing to endure self consciousness in waking life for loving appreciation of moments of beauty so unabashed and so finely tuned. Keats' words disarm me, and make my heart shudder with relief:

To Fanny

I cry your mercy -pity -love! -aye, love!
Merciful love that tantalizes not,
One-thoughted, never-wandering, guileless love,
Unmasked, and being seen -without a blot!
O! let me have thee whole, -all -all -be mine!
That shape, that fairness, that sweet minor zest
Of love, your kiss, -those hands, those eyes divine,
That warm, white, lucent, million-pleasured breast, -
Yourself -your soul -in pity give me all,
Withhold no atom's atom or I die,
Or living on, perhaps, your wretched thrall,
Forget, in the mist of idle misery,
Life's purposes, -the palate of my mind
Losing its gust, and my ambition blind!

Sweet Minor Zest of Love!! How unexpected, and so perfect.

Monday, March 01, 2010

There are few novels that have moved me and hit me with such immediacy as the first time I read Franny and Zooey. Deeper, more still reverberations of it's first shock and awe continue to be felt; it's still something I return to at regular intervals to take solace in how it explores both "otherness" and the self loathing that can attend earnest western spiritual exploration. I felt that it got pretty unfairly derided by its critics, precious as the Glass clan could be, they were also largely entirely misread. Their stories are closer to extended zen parables than anything realist, and the embedded meta narrative of letters are directly descended from something like Sterne's Tristram Shandy- these stories are not supposed to be Hemingway. They register postmodern devices pre-postmodernism; at their hearts they have earnest spiritual pursuit and American value critique as tenderly rendered and eviscerating as anything Fitzgerald wrote, but with a very different vernacular style. So, it was nice to find this great, vindicating review by Janet Malcolm recently, that said everything I'd been trying to sort in my head for some time. I read it and cried and missed the dear writer who made a home for all of us who are in this world, but are so far from being of it.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

"Only written media, and maybe to some extent live theatre, can break down the wall between in and out. You’re not looking at your feeling from within. An Alice Munro story rushes you along in about 25 minutes to a point where you’re imaginatively going through a moment of deep crisis and significance in another person’s life. I know I’m expressing this in very vague terms, but I think these epiphanic moments have a social and political valence as well, because they’re what we mean when we talk about being a person, about being an individual, about having an identity. Identity is precisely not what consumer culture says it is. It’s not the playlist on your iPod. It’s not your personal preference in denim washes. The moment you become an individual is the moment when all that consumer stuff falls away and you’re left with the narrativity of your own life. All the things that would become impossible politically, emotionally, culturally, psychologically if people ever were to become simply the sum of their consumer choices: this is, indirectly, what the novel is trying to preserve and fight in favor of."
I'd been reading this in thinking that maybe I would write a review for the paper that I've been dabbling in writing for, but opened up the paper this week to find it had been spoken for already! Good to see it being advocated for, regardless. Foer's take differs than some of the Food Inc, Food Matters, Food Rules content already out there on the market by virtue of it being more lyrical and more informed by matters of existential angst and personal family history. Foer isn't much of a realist, he's a novelist and philosopher in reporter's clothing here, which I find to be rather compelling, with his maximalist novel writer's instincts guiding him to a pretty sympathetic approach to some congenitally complicated matters. My own skeptical thoughts sometimes sneak in like- certain kinds of privilege can often make it easier to argue for absolutes and make moral clarity quicker to arrive and easier to abide by, but Foer is being sincere in searching, and I don't want to begrudge him questions like "What should I be feeding my son?" We really all should be asking those kinds of questions, regardless of our socio-economic circumstances. His search is never simple, always deeply considered, and, if abstract, the kind of abstract that makes the question of what we should be consuming less obtuse, not more, and it's ever respectful (towards those he interviews, towards his reader, towards people in general by seeming to hold the idea that being human in this world demands of us some investigation into our choices), a quality I find helpful and good in all writing.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Something that is quite good to do when you are unexpectedly flu-ish and stuck in the house all day and you are not caring so much about all of the things that you are not getting done by sleeping in and thinking to yourself alone, is read short stories by people who you have not read before and to allow whole lives of characters to take root in your lonely soul for a while and make you quickly feel better and not so fevered. I had read a few of these stories over and again, and avoided others for no official reason, but today I gladly braved some of the unfamiliar terrain, and the piece by Alice Munro in particular was enough to make me sit up and be grateful for careful observations of that so tricky human heart.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

At times, impossible-seeming insight, distilled, crashes upon my consciousness, and I feel immense relief that people write, and write well, and think, and think deeply, and help us understand what it is to be:

""If you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do it. I know that sounds a little pious."

The scope of this project is so great, and the execution of it so flawless, it's enough to restore a bit of the much depleted hope that print media's days aren't completely numbered. I've been reading small sections before bed for the last couple of weeks- there's enough content to wade through for a good long while. The book review section alone is fairly dense, and the sheer fact of its existence, how much it's a leap of faith and a testament to the resiliency and power of holding stories in our hands, makes me want to make big, hyperbolic declarations about having this project in my possession being one of the best things to happen lately. In other words- hooray!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I am really really loving the new Yeasayer album. I haven't traditionally been one to be too preoccupied with lyrics, but I've been really drawn to just how the singer articulates this little bit in "Ambling Alp." It seriously makes me feel all anthemically motivated and moved.

"Now the world can be an unfair place at times
But your lows will have their compliment of highs
And if anyone should cheat you
Take advantage of or beat you raise your hand
And wear your wounds with pride

You must stick up for yourself son
Never mind what anybody else done."

Simple maybe, but I don't find it to be too maudlin or cliche, just direct and, in conjunction with their chutzpah-infused take on new age/new wave tempo-strange music, kind of dazzling.