Not much to say. It's a well written book about the Spanish Civil War, which is a war I can't stop reading about. Maybe it's because it's so close to...moreNot much to say. It's a well written book about the Spanish Civil War, which is a war I can't stop reading about. Maybe it's because it's so close to us, and was such a radical attempt at a new way of living, and... even better, it worked for a very short time, and was crushed by such virulently evil forces. The forces that crushed the grand anarchist and communist experiments might as well have twirled their mustaches or worn something mengu inspired (like Darth Vader or Hannibal Lecter). I mean, fuck the fact that the comrades burned beautiful churches (hell, the Black Metal dudes did that) and that they shot anyone suspected of being a fascist (I mean, what else are you going to do with a fascist?). It's a time for all of us to dream of better worlds; more equitable; more just; no exploitation no gods no bosses no masters And on top of that endless possibilities for life and love, and I do mean love and who doesn't want that, right? Right? So that's what we have here. A bildungsroman. The story of a budding young woman; blossoming to political and sexual possibility at the same time. And unlike The Flamethrowers, the protagonist here is not some passive pretty face — she's a bad ass who, despite her bad hip, is willing to brave the bullets, brave death, brave war.(less)
Another amazing issue from Los Bros Hernandez. It's not the best in the series (that would be, hands down, issues 3 and 4, which made me bawl like a b...moreAnother amazing issue from Los Bros Hernandez. It's not the best in the series (that would be, hands down, issues 3 and 4, which made me bawl like a baby) but it's as brilliant as Los Bros always are, even if this issue feels more like an interstices. Where the first two issues were all about Jaime's return to superheroics and Gilbert's plunge into a new cast of characters, this issue has Jaime further dipping into noirish crime aspects, and Gilbert following his buxom family's adventures in movie making and identity. (less)
I hate this book. Or more accurately, I hate what this book focuses on.
Now I need to state that my hatred is pretty moronic. The book is titled Seven...moreI hate this book. Or more accurately, I hate what this book focuses on.
Now I need to state that my hatred is pretty moronic. The book is titled Seven Days in the Art World, which very clearly labels it as a tourist's guidebook, so it might as well be labelled Lonely Planet: Art World, or Let's Go! Art World, or How to Travel the Art World with No Money and Without Leaving Your Couch. It's Seven Days, which is the length of time most tourists give to some "foreign locale." In seven days, you won't really experience the destination, but you will see the same ridiculous highlights fellow tourists from the U.S., Germany, Australia, and the UK have seen.
What I hate is the tourist highlights she focuses on. It's kinda like a guidebook to NYC that focuses on the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Statue of Liberty, etc. All interesting, I suppose, but really boring and obvious tourist attractions that capture nothing of the workaday quotidian NYC; the NYC that NYers experience. The world of tourists and the world of NYers rarely interacts, unless a fat-ass tourist is in a NYers way while they're walking to work. "Hey, I'm walking here!"
The art world is a world. It's a group of people in constant communication, talking and sharing and part of a community. There are several worlds within the art world, and she focuses only Power Institutions. When she does focus on individuals, she focuses on the "Big Names" and "Art Stars," which I know makes sense for a guide book, but really paints a false picture about the world the book is supposed to guide through. As a tourist guide, it must be hard to focus on the cool shit that is happening in some hidden neighbourhood, where artists or musicians or dancers or whatever are making something interesting, but if you're guidebook is anything more than a schlocky checklist, then that is where the action is.
She focuses on The Biggest Prize. The Most Influential Art Magazine. The Vastly Important Art Fair. And it's all bullshit. The value of art isn't created in The Auction, The Crit, The Fair, The Prize, The Magazine, The Studio Visit, or The Biennale. It happens in the day to day. It happens in the neighbourhoods that those artists live in; in the worlds they inhabit. Institutions, blue chip galleries, the Biennials, etc., all come after the fact. And if they come before the fact, then the art world is fucked and dysfunctional (e.g. the long, sad, and boring time periods when Academic Art reigned).
Basically, this book implies that value filters down from the top, which isn't true. The author tries to temper that implication by stating, several times, that it is a very complicated dialog with many voices in the mix, but she leaves out the quotidian in favour of the sexy Big Events, which have everything to do with Money and Power, and very little to do with art.
A personal note: I have a few friends who are now successful artists, gallerists, critics, and curators. And I know a bunch of people who dropped out of the art world altogether (me included). And a few people who putter on with the occasional show or as an art professor at some university. But I watched the successful ascend, and it did NOT happen in The Auction, The Crit, The Fair, The Prize, The Magazine, The Studio Visit, or The Biennale. It happened in two places: in the studio and in "the social scenes that artists live in." Most of the time, art is lonely. Until you're successful, you will work alone, or, at best, in a studio near a friend, who is also working alone. The time in a studio is insanely private, until you need assistants (which is another fucked-up topic entirely). But tons of time is spent with peers at each other's studios, getting high or drinking beer and looking at each other's work. Or more often, at a cafe or a bar, talking about process and gossiping and, "Have you seen Person X's new work?" The value of art accrues in the interstices, hidden away from the "sexy" power machines that Thorton covers in her book. The value of art happens as gossip between artists. And that talk flows to peers who are roughly the same age who have galleries or write for obscure web art publications. And that talk about who is good coalesces and congeals. And only after that gossipy talk has formed into blocks does it filter up to Art Forum or a mid-list gallery, and only after years does that flow up to a spot at the Venice Biennale, or a prominent spot in a money gallery that can afford to go to Basel.
This book is a snap shot of an art world that forgot (and continues to forget) that those massive Money and Cultural Institutions are barnacles on the vibrant ass of the art world. They, like the parasitical rich whose genitals are constantly slurped at, are after thoughts that claim glory, when the glory was already established. Yes, Art That Is Remembered will be remembered in part because of those boring Money and Cultural Institutions, but art that is good continues for centuries, long past the death of those institutions and rich people. More importantly, art is not accrued value through the barnacled institutions, but through the peer groups that the artists gestate in. And although that's a much harder world to guide someone through, that's the real world of the everyday, not the ridiculous world of the tourist looking at irrelevant relics to Power and Money.(less)
I have to say that I'm suspicious of how well he reads (and I've seen him read in person from The Odes to Tl61p and he's an unhinged sparkplug... or dynamo—whichever one you can imagine spinning about uncontrollably or shooting off electricity like a scifi Tesla). Anyway, I have an archaic skepticism about the difference between the text and the voice. If someone is a great speaker, won't that make the text great? Or is that even possible?
The poem... It's sexy and pissed and wild and unhinged, and Googling his references brings up some weird shit. But when I came back to it without his voice, my reading of the poem slowed down to a pathetic crawl. First of all, it's weird its references.
So here's the first few lines:
Lavrov and the Stock Wizard levitate over to the blackened dogmatic catwalk and you eat them. Now swap buy for eat, then fuck for buy, then ruminate for fuck, phlegmophrenic, want to go to the windfarm, Your • kids menu lips swinging in the Cathex-Wizz monoplex; Your • face lifting triple its age in Wuhan die-cut peel lids; ng pick Your out the reregulated loner PAT to to screw white chocolate to the bone. The tension in an unsprung r trap co → The tension in an unsprung trap. ck QUANT unpruned wing: sdeigne of JOCK of how I together grateful anyway I was Its sacked glass, Punto → What is be done on the sly is manic gargling, to to blacken the air in hot manic recitative from a storm throat, WLa-15 types to Tungsten electrodes Aaron Zhong, feazing that throat into fire / under its hot life the rope light thrashes I in its suds, [is] Your chichi news noose / Dr. Unicef Cheng budget slasher movie hype on Late Review I keep dreaming about you every single night last night I you making love Stan, I didn’t know him then it hurts, and I disappear but the nights stick. Abner Jon Louima Burge Cheng.
WTF, right? But if you listen to him read, it rolls and snaps and has this untrammeled power that seems to speak of something important right fucking now.
So I went to our friend Google. Lavrov is a common name and could be a bunch of things: an anarchist theorist, a Peoples Artist of the USSR, or a cheesy Russian diplomat.
This is the way to read Foucault. I want to read ALL of the lectures. So readable, so clear. Nothing at all like his published books and even more int...moreThis is the way to read Foucault. I want to read ALL of the lectures. So readable, so clear. Nothing at all like his published books and even more interesting than his interviews, which are usually pretty great. This book is somewhere between listening to Foucault think out loud and having him relate a very consistent and constrained argument. As usual for him, this is about power and knowledge.
This book opens with a bit about how power is projected through discipline (in fact, there's a lovely and concise summary of the rough tenants of Discipline and Punish). And immediately is followed by describing Foucault's methodology, and what historical information he looks at, and why his methodology is constructed it as it is. If that sounds confusing, trust me when I say that it isn't, and that he writes clearly about what he's interested in, and why.
Also in the beginning, he defends his bookish nature by describing how and why he digs up two different types of lost knowledge: a) specific practical knowledge and guides, and b) local direct histories. (So for example, if looking at the rise of prisons, a) would be architectural models inspired by the panopticon, guides for running the prison, etc., and b) would be transcripts from the prisoners and maybe even the guards.)
But these lectures are primarily about how a new type of history is created. A new type of history that eventually turns into the idea of "class struggle." Foucualt traces this history back to an early notion of "race struggle" (more on that in a sec') and on the idea that war is behind all social interactions (more, on that too, in a bit).
"Race struggle": Roughly Foucault claims that a new form of history arises in the 17th c. Before then (again, roughly) history was all about following and codifying the lineage of power. But a new type of history emerges which is about the history of the conquered. It's a struggle o racial history since it looks focuses on the history of the conquered or disposed race. For example, the 17th c. saw the rise of the history of the Saxons as opposed to the history of the Normans. The Norman history was the dominant history; the history of power coming from William the Conquerer, a Norman. The Saxons were establishing a counter history; a history outside of the dominant power. They were using The Bible as a model, which provided a model for a history of the oppressed. Then this new type of history moves to France and mutates into a more complex story of different strands of histories, of different histories for various races, and then for types of people. Eventually, there is a history for the depowered nobility, another history for the new and newly powerful bourgeoisie, and finally, a history of "the people." The more to The People allows the shift from "racial struggle" to "class struggle."
As you can imagine, his "race struggle" model of history is appropriated by the State, which results in State racism, which is prescient and relevant for us today. Roughly, the State turns the narrative into a struggle against "enemies from within" as well as "enemies from without." And it uses those struggles in order to keep its people in-line.
Then there's the idea of war behind all interactions. It's not Hobbes war of all against all, but an idea that war and struggle underpins all individual groups and nations, and that each group is struggling for power and domination. Again, this is prescient and relevant for us today. (One quick note is that this idea undermines the older idea of Truth and replaces it with a distrust to dominant narratives, which results in a cynical fracturing and a tough relationship to the idea of a common struggle. You see this in both Fox News and in far left academia. Anyway, it's more complicated than that, but still, you get some of the idea.)
There's waaaay more to the book. It's packed full of ideas and asides that are spellbinding and intriguing. The whole book is filled with gems, and the very end starts to talk about "biopower" which is the topic of another series of lectures (roughly, how the state uses surveillance to control its populace.
Last, my friend and roommate asked me, "Why read Foucault when you love Deleuze so much? I mean, it seems a little... less involved." And I told her that I prefer Foucault and Bourdieu. I like the way they approach things on the ground. I like the way they constantly bring back their studies to today. I like the way I can use their work to think about the world around me, and I like the way they provide me with tools for living. Deleuze is really, for me, about questioning the way I approach the world, and it's not necessarily deeper, but it is more dense and a little harder to apply or to turn into tools. In the end, I guess I'm a typical U.S. pragmatist, and I want results and apparatus to apply, and am not as interested in pretty theories for the sake of pretty theories. I mean, I DO want beauty, but when it comes to theory, I want tools. Foucault gives me that.(less)
An amazing history of a group of people who tried and succeeded to make a new form of college ... for awhile. In the process, they irrevocably changed...moreAn amazing history of a group of people who tried and succeeded to make a new form of college ... for awhile. In the process, they irrevocably changed the U.S. Not just the U.S. art scene, but the U.S. (Or so says me.)
What is important is NOT the list of illustrious names that passed through and were transformed by Black Mountain College (BMC) (and that list of names is amazing, including Anni and Joseph Albers, Robert Rauschenberg, Franz Klein, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Buckminster Fuller, Paul Goodman, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, on and on and on...). But fuck that. That is what I used to know about BMC. That is, that BMC was one of the amazing secret engines driving the 20th c. artistic scene. I thought BMC lasted for a few years and burned out, leaving behind endless impressions on poetry, plastic arts, lit, design, etc. But that's not the case. BMC started in 1933, before WWII, and ended in 1956, right before the flowering of the forces it had initiated. And although they didn't change education, life, or colleges in any large scale way, they did have an effect. They were trying to remake how colleges operate, how communities operate, how education operates, how art operates.
What I didn't know is that they were completely progressive. In the '30s they were not arguing about if they should admit black students, but if admitting black students would result in violent reactions by the local community (BMC was in N. Carolina, so their fears were legit). They made the wrong choice, which is to not allow an open racial policy, but their decision, while cowardly, is still cool, since they all thought it was the right thing to do.
And the conflicts! Oh shit, the conflicts... As someone who has tried and failed with many collective endeavors, the endless conflicts, and the endless detailing of conflicts in the book, struck hate and sorrow in my heart. It's books like this that both make me want to run out and start something new; to start an alternative college (because fuck it, I complain enough about contemporary academia; isn't it time to try to build something new instead of constantly complaining?) and also makes me want to give up on collectivity altogether, or at least admit that no one knows how to do it yet, and that it might be decades before we figure it out, and hey, just maybe, some people are right and we can't have any real collectives until we loosen the grip of capitalism (not that I believe that; I mean, hell, I still don't know what people mean when they say "capitalism" anyway).
But damn. I dare you to read this and not be changed. Yeah, the author's technique of constantly inserting himself is now dated and often annoying, but at the same time, it often nails the naive forthrightness that BMC themselves were trying to get at. And although, right now, I'm annoyed (or even, honestly, filled with hate) at all the collective projects I've been part of (including Occupy) it's a testament to this book and to the author that I want to go out and start yet another potentially destructive collective endeavor, and really delve into the ones that I'm ostensibly part of. Despite the incessant detail; despite the minutiae; despite the endless transcriptions of petty fights, this book is enthralling and intoxicating.
Then again, I keep starting collective projects, so maybe it just speaks to me.(less)
Wow, I read this in one setting. While engulfed in the party culture that is Berlin.
Uh... I mean, really, you should go to someone else to read a syn...moreWow, I read this in one setting. While engulfed in the party culture that is Berlin.
Uh... I mean, really, you should go to someone else to read a synopsis. But this book is rough re-telling of one of Stesichoros' poems, which is a re-telling of one of the "labors" of Herakles. In the common myth, Geryon is a fearsome monster with many heads and hands and wings and all red, and Herakles kills his dog, his friend, and then pops his skull with an arrow. And then steals his cows. Stesichoros tells the story from Geryon's perspective, but most of his version is lost—
Enough of that. Anne Carson's Geryon is goth. Or maybe not goth but definitely goth-y, ya know? Like tortured and alienated and not too sure of himself and he's got these fucking wings and they're gross and big and he has to bind them down so that no one can see him. And he's, like, a monster, all red and shit.
And then this young hot drifter kid comes to town and his name is Herakles. And he's so hot, and he doesn't give a shit, and he just does what he wants, and he likes Geryon. And then they're having sex (and did I tell you that Geryon might have had sex with his brother? like near rape style?).
Anyway, time passes. And it doesn't mean anything to say "spoiler alert." That doesn't mean anything in a Carson book. Anyway, time passes. And Geryon is in Buenos Aires. And he's now a photographer; roughly continuing this project that he started as a kid which was a autobiography, sort of. But it was fully internal and his photography is fully external.
Enough. Anyway, shit happens. And it's sad. And it will resonate. With you. Because who hasn't felt like a monster at some point? And who hasn't had their hearts ripped out by someone that they idealized? And who hasn't tried to do something honest and true and found it so hard to find a voice that felt honest and true; that wasn't just following someone else, but was a spreading of your own gay monstrous freaky-ass red wings? Who hasn't wanted to soar above a volcano, even if you might get burnt, or sacrificed, or...(less)
When are you done with a book of poetry? When you read every poem in the book? When you tire of the poems or the poet?
I can only say I'm "finished" wi...moreWhen are you done with a book of poetry? When you read every poem in the book? When you tire of the poems or the poet?
I can only say I'm "finished" with this book because I had to give it back to my dear friend who loaned it to me. But I'm not at all finished with this book. Not even close.
My first encounter with Bachmann was from my former beloved. I can't remember if she read me something or not. I'm sure she did, but it's a blur with manifold other poems and poets she read me—too much to differentiate. I do remember that she liked Bachmann more than Celan, but she also read like a hummingbird, pulling bits of nectar from here, now there, now something new.
After we were kaput, I searched for Bachmann's book, but it was nowhere to be found; unavailable anywhere in NYC, and I couldn't stand to order it online.
Then I was in Berlin and I met this beautiful poet, a calm swirl of stuttering intellect, and she leant me the book. I was elated! I immediately started reading and was immediately in love. I also loved the penciled in notes scribbled in the margins by my new intoxicating friend who was obviously working through translating various poems. (Someone wrote that all real poets try translation—that it's vital to being a poet.) But as I read the book I realized that I was smelling something not evoked from the text, but a sweet flowery smell directly redolent of the book. The Bachmann book smelled of flowers... or something. I couldn't tell, and realized I don't know anything about smells. When I finally asked her what the smell was, she sheepishly laughed and said, It's probably patchouli. I laughed and said, You damn hippie! But she added, It might be jasmine or tea tree oil. And then she let me smell her bag, which was full of books, and ¡there it was!— jasmine, tea tree oil, and patchouli. And the smell of her bag was as beautiful as the smell of the book. I knew immediately that from this moment forward that that mix of smells would forever remind me of Bachmann and my willowy friend. She laughed and said, But the smell fits Bachmann. What? I exclaimed, Bachmann was no hippie! No, she said, But Bachmann smells of rotting autumn. And Bachmann does. Does smell of rotting autumn. And that combo of tea tree oil, pachouli, and jasmine is the smell of rotting autumn.
Last, another friend; a friend I met in NYC; a Berliner friend; a clad-in-black whirlwind bounding through life with penetrating clear eyes that also remind of Bachmann; Bachmann, who constantly refers to clear dead eyes, or even a dead eye, cold; but my friend's eyes are far from cold, and at my anarco-whirlwind friend's place she read me Bachmann in Deutsch and I read it back to her in English. And the musicality! Wow, the language sang. Sang of sadness and depression and despondency, sure, but sang anyway. (The only happy Bachmann poem I've read is about getting drunk.)
Ok... the book. Wow. Decaying autumn and the only happiness the happiness of drunkenness.
I've only finished Borrowed Time, which is one of the two books Bachmann published in her lifetime. Darkness Spoken includes all of her poems. The other book published in her lifetime is Invocation of the Great Bear. The rest of the book is divided in five large sections of poems, broken up into various periods of her life.
Here, listen (and I mean listen: that is, read it out loud):
from Fall Down Heart
Fall down, heart, from the tree of of time, fall, you leaves, from icy branches that once the sun embraced, fall, as tears fall from longing eyes.
from Darkness Spoken
The string of silence taut on the pulse of blood, I grasped your beating heart. Your curls were transformed into the shadow hair of night, black flakes of darkness buried your face.
from Borrowed Time
Harder days are coming. The loan of borrowed time will be due on the horizon. Soon you must lace up your boots and chase the hounds back to the marsh farms. For the entrails of fish have grown cold in the wind. Dimly burns the light of lupines. Your gaze makes out in fog: the loan of borrowed time will be due on the horizon.
from Theme and Variation
All summer long the hives produced no honey. Queen bees gave up and led their swarms away, the strawberry patch dried up in a day, and without work, the gatherers went home early.
All sweetness was carried away on a beam of light in a single night's sleep. Who slept while this happened? Honey and berries? He knows no misfortune, he who lacks for nothing. For him, it all comes right.
What she does beautifully (like Celan) is use repetition for dramatic effect.(less)
This is effective propaganda; getting my blood boiling; making me want to run outside and grab you and you and you and make out and fight our enemies...moreThis is effective propaganda; getting my blood boiling; making me want to run outside and grab you and you and you and make out and fight our enemies (and to admit that we have enemies) and find more friends to build a new society!
It is exactly what it says it is: a Call. A call to organize. A call to build something better. "From now on all friendship is political."
We contest nothing, we demand nothing. We constitute ourselves as a force, as a material force, as an autonomous material force within the world civil war.
They describe our current world as a isolated space where our very relations and reality resemble the cubicles we work in.
[We have been forced] into an ocean of atomic individuals. Which in turn have an unfortunate tendency to turn into things, by letting themselves get managed.
They elaborate this ideology as "existential liberalism." They're talking about an life that pushes us to be cynical, be apathetic, be selfish, be quiet, be safe, control your desires, stay separate, stay away from communities, betray your ideals in order to be "an adult," behave like an owner, even towards your own experiences. And at all times, repeat this mantra: "That's just the way I am," and its confirmation "that's just like you!" Both are reflections of our current malaise; our current shit show. Send a check to Amnesty International, buy fair trade coffee, see the last Michael Moore film, and then go back to our sad existence and pretend that things are going to get better.
Tiqqun calls for a new way. As they say, "community is not the solution: it is its incessant and ubiquitous disappearance that is the problem. They practically yell: humans are not supposed to be isolated from each other nor from the other beings of this world; we are bound by multiple attachments that we learned to deny.
From here on, I'll let their words (chopped and screwed) speak for themselves:
We have been sold this lie: that what is most particular to us is what distinguishes us from the common. No, what is most singular calls to be shared. Our ideas, our joys, our loves, are forced to be individual; they must not have an effect on our larger world. But this is not a private matter. We depend on the construction of shared worlds, on the sharing of effective means. Building this will take time. We start now.
Only in the barracks, the hospital, the prison, the asylum, and the retirement home is collective living allowed. The normal state is the isolation of everyone in their private cubicle. We reject private space. Our strategy is to immediately establish rallying points for desertion. For the runaways. For those who leave. We need places. Places to get organized, to share and develop. To co-operate. To form collective surroundings and turn those into a milieu and from a milieu into a scene.
How to get rid of all the dependencies that weaken us? How to get organized so as to no longer have to work? How to settle beyond the toxicity of the metropole without "leaving for the countryside"? How to live together without mutually dominating each other? How to ruin empire?
Anyway, here's some examples of what they want:
"Had it not renounced any political perspective, the experimentation of the Bauhaus with all the materiality and the rigor it contained, would evoke the idea that we have of space-times dedicated to the transmission of knowledge and experience." There's also the successor to Bauhaus in the U.S.: The amazing Black Mountain College. There's the early Black Panthers. Black Mask / Up Against the Wall Motherfucker. The collective canteens of the German Autonomen, tree houses and art of sabotage of the British neo-luddietes, the careful choice of words of the radical feminists, the mass self-reductions of the Italian autonomists, and the armed joy of the June 2nd Movement.
I could nitpick about a lot of stuff. Tiqqun are typically dicks (in the situationist model) and love the grandiloquent bullshit statement. I generally think they're sloppy theoretically and often dangerously wrongheaded. But this Call speaks to me. So I only have two major issues:
One: They hate the city, which is retarded. I get it. Right now, I hate NYC, and I could see how I could hate Berlin. But historically, and even today, a city is where the rejects flock to. Carving out an alternate lifestyle, at least in the U.S., is much harder in a town or rural area. Townsfolk are ridiculously conservative and controlling. The surveillance in a town puts the surveillance state to shame.
But they claim "the metropole is the place where there is almost nothing left to re-appropriate. A milieu in which human only relates to himself, only creates himself separately from other forms of existence, uses or rubs shoulders without ever encountering them. The most minor attempt at disregarding commodity relationships has been made criminal."
But the city is where the Call has traditionally been heard.
Two: They have no clue what science is. This isn't specific to Tiqqun, but I wish radicals, the left, theoretical academia, etc, would get a better understanding of what science is. The pharmaceutical industry, industrial agriculture, the military industrial complex, all technologists, technology makers, and ideology built on science is NOT science. Science is similar to art. It is not necessary to employ it practically. Scientists are not technologists, and science, as such, doesn't construct ideologies. They are not the same.
Tesson travels to Lake Baikal in Siberia to be a hermit, to escape fifteen kinds of ketchup in the supermarket, endless phonecalls and emails, superfi...moreTesson travels to Lake Baikal in Siberia to be a hermit, to escape fifteen kinds of ketchup in the supermarket, endless phonecalls and emails, superficial conversations, and deluge of people squished against each other in Paris and other cities.
But I'm skeptical of the Man Alone in Nature and Cities Are Rotten narratives. On the contrary, I think cosmopolitan cultures force people to accept difference and tolerance—as long as they're actually forced to smash up against the other without comfortable walls keeping them apart.
(At one point Tesson says this about some inner city kids, comparing them to standard bourgeoisie: [From what I saw] "they invest enormous tribal significance in clothing and conformist behavior, cultivate a sense of neighborhood loyalty, love expensive things, demonstrate an unhealthy obsession with appearance, believe that might makes right, show little curiosity about the other, and have their own linguistic codes: the distinctive signs of bourgeois society.")
Now this quote really has nothing to do with the book, which waxes poetic about clouds, fog, bears, insects, fishing, chopping wood, the antics of dogs, etc. But I distrust the Man Alone in Nature narrative because it's damn privileged. Tesson doesn't go to the outskirts of France, where he's from; he flies to Siberia, lives in a government taiga intended for officials on a nature preserve, has months of food and vodka and Havana cigars flown in, and renovates the little taiga by tearing up all the ugly linoleum and Formica and kitsch. On kitsch he says,
"How did kitsch take over the world? The principal phenomenon of globalization has been a worldwide embrace of the ugly. ... Bad taste is the common denominator of humanity. ... I am the bourgeois defending the superiority of a parquet floor over linoleum. ... Aestheticism is a form of reactionary deviance."
And that gets at the heart of my complaint. Like Thoreau, Tesson barges into a poor foreign "untrammeled" area and basically buys his way in. He makes a choice to abandon civilization, whereas most of his neighbors never had that choice.
Anyway, my complaint is more on the privileged in general. He constantly claims superiority over radicals and others engaged in the world and that the "true" response would be to abandon The System completely. But how many people can follow him? And if everyone did, then his untrammeled wonderland would be clogged by an endless waves of wannabe hermits.
Ultimately, Man Alone in Nature is only a choice for the privileged and is ultimately a selfish move, unless, of course, it is unlike Thoreau and Tesson and the Man Alone in Nature stays in nature (or you know, seriously, just kill yourself, that seem pretty reasonable to me).
The book is beautiful, though. Filled with light ruminations on the books he's reading, the thoughts he's experiencing, and recording the endless small permutations of natural phenomenon. It also takes a sudden dive into heartbreak, which was unexpected and oddly glossed over, but yeah, I've cried into my cat's fur, and his way of describing that, and describing the way that his pets "saved his life" is pretty amazing.
Oh, an aside. I roughly did the same thing Tesson did, but to a much lighter degree. After horrible heartbreak, betrayal, and disappointment, I retreated to the middle of the woods in upstate New York. I also brought along endless books and endless self-recriminations, and spent days hiking, chopping wood, and cooking. It didn't distract me, or force me to "deal with nature and solitude," since I was foolishly talking to soon-to-be permanent-ex-love. But I would dutifully march a mile away for tenuous phone connection, just for the pleasure (and the mirage) of her voice (and mirage of her love) and never totally succumbed to the solitude that dominated 95% of my days and nights. But I did get some arm muscles from all that wood chopping and I did spend endless time staring at flora and fauna whose names I didn't know and whose ecosystems I didn't understand. It was beautiful and I want to do it again, but this time as a planned exploration of solitude instead of a flight away from pain and fourteen types of ketchup. I'm still sick of cities, even though I'm now hiding out in the party capital of the world, Berlin, and even though I'll go back to NYC and wallow in the paroxysms of striving and superficiality.(less)
Beautifully written. A treatise on reaching heights and plunging to the earth.
Three intertwined stories on love, loss, and pain....moreOuch.
This book hurts.
Beautifully written. A treatise on reaching heights and plunging to the earth.
Three intertwined stories on love, loss, and pain. Stories about learning how to brave the chaos of the winds and soar into the skies: dangerous, but so worth it. About crashing back to earth, body impacted into the earth upto the knees, insides prolapsed.
A beautiful (albeit a little forced) metaphor about early balloonists Nadar, Sarah Bernhardt, and Fred Burnaby, and Fred's thwarted love for the Divine Miss Sarah. And then pain. Then the harrowing story of Julian Barnes' wife's death. The agony of her absence. The endless pain of Barnes' collapse into a shadow without a body.
Love, loss, pain, and plunging. Grief and death: the pain of absence; the pain of continuing life without.
Pain. Pain. Pain.
And carrying on with pain. Not with hope, but carrying on with pain as a new companion; as a Bizarro mirror of the love that came before.
Maybe not a five star book, objectively, but damn great, and exactly what I want and need. And how rarely do "want" and "need" come together?(less)
And as much as I love this book and Dave's ideas, I have some complaints:
First, this is a collection enthrall to the ideal of the superior man. Enthrall to the idea that some greater beings are born and not made. Now, of course, Dave is more lubricous than that. He claims that good artists spring, Athena-like, from the decision to stop making bad art. That's how good artists are made. (Think of Baldessari's piece "I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art.)
Second, there's just too many titties. I never got into the whole 60s and 70s dick-swinging "I'm a man and I like to fuck" writing. All the man-children of Henry Miller (and earlier Celine), Bellow/Mailer/Roth/Updike, all turned me off with their blathering boisterousness about their sexual proclivities. I don't care about Vast Numbers of Women Slept With. You can turn me on, that's cool, but don't just check list a series of conquests like a military history book for wargamers. And although Dave viciously slams Hunter S. Thompson for being an elitist piece of shit, I also hate H.S.T.'s proud affirmations of his masculine ability to imbibe more drugs then me or you, and Dave does that too. Speaking of, there's too much "I did it like this. I did it like that. I did it with the wiffle ball bat." Too much, "I did hundreds of lines with Willie Nelson off of Nico's ass while Swedish twins gave the three of us head." If you name check, I want more than a reference point, Bolaño-like, of someone to Google at some later point (which I guess I'm doing myself right-fucking-now). I want Catullus' bitchy smack downs, putting hip hop lyricists to shame.
Enough of the complaints. As far as the arguments go, this carries forth some similar notions as what's in Air Guitar. Basically, Dave seems to suggest that communities form around and through art, and that art is not equivalent to money, nor is art reducible to some Althussarian idea that art represents the ruling class and helps build the repressive structure that keeps us down, maaan. He also argues that art is horrid when lost in the clutches of the market, frivolously gambling on pictures as if they were money, instead of as a replacement for money, which robs art of the obsession and love that gives art its power to fuck with society and cross blood/sex/money.
That, to Dave, is most of the point. Art, when it's good, creates new worlds and new regimes. It creates cults of desire that flow around the beloved art like strange attractors. Of course, it's way more than that, and Dave lets his arguments bubble out of smart, sharp and funny essays (with too many titties, as I said). So the argument is not concerted but subdued, which is the type of art Dave likes.
I also need to add that there's a beautiful aside about the non-primacy of consciousness (which I totally agree with) and how art, when it's good, breaks the primacy of consciousness by utilizing the (rare) ability to see how others perceive you, which often is a way to snap the structures (or stratification, if you will) of the realms and regimes that surround you. Last, there's some great stuff about music, which is probably my favorite since I often have little idea what Dave's talking about, but love it anyway.
Anyway, a 5-star book, except for the Great Man slattering away at endless titties.(less)
I was in pain when I read this. Wanted a guide to the mysteries of love and lovepain and Carson had just cracked me open with The Beauty of the Husba...moreI was in pain when I read this. Wanted a guide to the mysteries of love and lovepain and Carson had just cracked me open with The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos. (What was Kafka's thing about a great book cracking open the ice berg of the soul? Wait... let me look for it: "A book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul.") So I wanted more. More insight. More guides to the mysteries. But this book wasn't that. This book, instead of being a guide, instead of being Beatrice, is Humbert Humbert mansplaining about obsessions only tangentially about love; mainly about obsessions from the classical world and riffs and plays on antecedent books about love and pain. In particular, Carson wants to write an update to Barthes'A Lover's Discourse: Fragments, but this is not that.
What does she argue? It's been a month since I read the book, so I don't really remember everything that well, but she claims that love is bittersweet, or "sweetbitter" in Sappho's version. Love is about the object of love that exists outside of the lovers, which might be true. It might be the case that what is loved is not really The Other, but an idealized form. Ok, I can live with that. It's roughly Proust's stance and it has some ring of truth. But for me, my love was the friction between what I expected the beloved to say or do and what she actually did. It wasn't an obsession with an ideal, but with a cozy place between her constant surprises and constant familiarity. It wasn't how I remembered her, but how she existed in the world both not what I knew and what I knew.
But Carson also ties everything to writing, as a writer is apt to do. Ties it to reading and language and the alphabet and the mysteries thereof. Really? Because to me the mysteries of reading (and "falling in love with reading") is pretty distinct from falling in love with a person. I mean, as a reader I get what she is getting at. There are occasions when I seem to breath and eat a particular book and that obsession comes slightly near what I feel when I love a person, but still, it's a writer's kick to see everything in terms of writing. To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
I'm in Paris. On vacation, I guess. The so-called "city of love." I'm alone and discombobulated so I'll have to write about this later. But walking in the City of Light / The City of Love and seeing couples happily walking entwined while you walk alone wishing you were with who you loved gets more into the sweetbitter of love than reading a treatise on metaphors in Sappho, Catullus, and Roman rom-coms.(less)
How is it that one is bound to someone who is destructive, or faithless, or...moreWhat is it that binds one person to another?
Why does beauty have such sway?
How is it that one is bound to someone who is destructive, or faithless, or fickle, or deceitful, or who constantly disappears, or who can never love you the way you want or need? Or d) all of the above, and yet the bond persists: why?
How is it that one can not escape?
What cruel trick of fate or nature can give you over to such a creature?
"Don't call it my choice, I was ventured: by some pure gravity of existence itself, conspiracy of being!"
"and I do not apologize because as I say I was not to blame, I was unshielded in the face of existence and existence depends on beauty. In the end. Existence will not stop until it gets to beauty and then there follow all the consequences that lead to the end. Useless to interpose analysis or make contrafactual suggestions."
Is this convincing? I'm not sure if the underlying argument is, but the prose is convincing; no, not just the prose, but the book, is seductive and intoxicating. I loved the husband despite everything. I was the protagonist: understood why she couldn't move on. The husband wasn't simply physically beautiful, but he created worlds, wove words into stories and lies and love, and pushed boundaries, but all in a way that was tied to the protagonist; all in a way that kept her, and the reader, enthralled, entwined, enraptured.
And then Carson asks: Is seduction war? Is love? Is marriage?
There are aspects of battle, perhaps, but they are not seen as such, or are not always seen as such by the loved. Perhaps by the lover.
She says: "Desire doubled is love and love doubled is madness."
And: "Love is not conditional. Living is very conditional."
Is that true? Is living conditional? Causal? Dependent? That seems right. And is love not? That seems right too. When love is gone, the former lover looks back and thinks, "what was I thinking?" Always, the conditional aspects are there, but they are also there in many, many others. Multitudes. In fact, there are times when you date more beautiful, more intelligent, more driven, more whatever, but it doesn't matter. The conditional is not enough to spark love. Love is. And it doesn't seem conditional, but based on bullshit.
"Well life has some risks. Love is one. Terrible risks."
How do people get power over one another?
This is a stab; an attempt; from different facets; from different rhythms, styles, techniques, etc., to know, to look, to question, and find out. It's also poetry. It is a book that leaves wounds; wounds that illuminate; but still, they are but wounds on a giant kaijin.
And about those wounds: some wounds remind some of a death drive and others of connection and others of a rhizome and infinitely connecting machines and and others and others and and others...
But we remain... What? Wounded. Partially destroyed, often. Rarely, complete, for a time. Typically, totally ruined. And the wounds seem so overwhelming, even though it's not much different from what other animals do to each other—wounds; just we see how weak we are in the power of the endless stab.(less)
I should have liked this more. This bleak book about going nowhere. Doing nothing. Plodding forwards endlessly while life is...moreLife sucks. Then you die.
I should have liked this more. This bleak book about going nowhere. Doing nothing. Plodding forwards endlessly while life is at an abeyance and your friends and peers and companions drift away, along with the days, and the memories, and what was worth...
The draw of glory. The dreams of youth. Smashed up against the walls of life, where time moves differently than desires. Where life moves differently than dreams. Where events move with no regard for us, for you, for me... some sink, some swim. Luck of the draw, but we attribute it to skill and hard work. Death awaits, heedless of what we hope and desire.
I should have liked this more. This bleak book about going nowhere. But lately I can not read. Can barely breathe, it seems, at night. Am up all night unable to do much but look at the letters on a page as they seem to swim on paper and I can not focus. And what is in this book is the pain of mundanity, the pain of the everyday, the pain of the corporeal. But what I crave is representation of the pain of events—I want to read the pain of betrayal, the pain of loss, the pain of disappointment—I need that which is different from the pain of the disappointment of the everyday. The slow dripping water torture of boring life wearing you down, adding wrinkles, fat; where is my youth? The slow death. This is a book about the pain of everyday, of the mundane; this a book about waking up at 8am, no, I just slapped the alarm, it's 8:15. Coffee. Newspaper (briefly read). Commute. Other sleepy people deadeyed and forward stare. The monotony of work; of the way the events are the same, day in, day out, over and over and over and over, and suddenly, finally, off work, and yes, a beer is cracked and "let's get this party started!" and shit: asleep. How did I... Didn't I used to be fun? Wake up. Repeat. Die.
I should have liked this more. This bleak book about going nowhere. But not where I'm at. It's all true. And this book is probably great. But I need the pain of events, not the pain of the everyday. I can't sleep at night. I just lie there. It's not the monotony, but the sickness. The sickness of disappointment. The sickness of living. Which is as real as this book. But different. A different type of pain.(less)
I'm becoming a massive fan of MacDonald Harris, even though I've only read this and The Balloonist. What's amazing about both books is th...moreWhat to say?
I'm becoming a massive fan of MacDonald Harris, even though I've only read this and The Balloonist. What's amazing about both books is that he writes "novels of ideas" which are at the same time adventure novels. Yes, novels of ideas that are also adventure novels.
This book is roughly a character drama about a bunch of odd balls who are basically part of a cult. It's fin de sicle, but oddly contemporary. The characters are beautifully drawn, but this isn't just an adventure novel, even though it is an adventure novel, and a damn good one at that. This is also a novel about the historical moment before the horrors of WWII, about the possibilities of being present and being spiritual and what exactly you can change and what exactly is accessible, and most importantly, it's about making stories; about building narratives that others can follow, including yourself, and how those narratives can give people meaning. On the one hand there's the narrative constructed around the cult, which is based in love and aspiration, but there's also the narrative that's coming up contemporaneously, which is based in Mein Kampf and will lead to one of the great world tragedies. Likewise, there's many individual narratives; stories that people tell themselves to give their lives meaning and direction.
"It all comes to this: the ludicrous, simple, and doll-like way that people seem from the outside, and the seriousness and pathos with which they see themselves from the inside; the piercing phenomenon of consciousness; the illumination of the ego, the sense of the cosmic importance of self. Each man is a god imprisoned in a clown." He then goes on to imagine someone transcending all of this "to speak the truth of the inner soul" but there is a darkness to this. Not all inner speaking; not all narratives enrich. Some corrupt. But narratives are what we build and what we are, and this is a beautiful book about how that is done.(less)
As I was reading this I had extreme deja vu. After a few pages I realized I read it before. I don't remember when or where and couldn't remember anyth...moreAs I was reading this I had extreme deja vu. After a few pages I realized I read it before. I don't remember when or where and couldn't remember anything about the book. But as I read, I realized that I only needed to speed read, blaze my way through a tumble of words, and whole scenes, characters, events, and language would flower and kaleidoscope in front of me, and my mind would fill in the events ready to be read a few pages in advance.
I remembered how the beady eyed creep called our heroine Colometa, which means "Little Dove." I remembered her betrayal to her fiance. Her dancing and dancing. Her running and breaking her corset and her dress falling around her ankles and she leaps over it and keeps running. And I kept remembering the flowering kaleidoscope of Colometa's tragedy. But at first, a little quiet everydayness; the mundane, the corporeal, the petty jealousies, the monotonous routine. And then... horrible pregnancies, kids, lack of jobs, doves, more doves, working as a maid for rich assholes, doves, more doves, the war, dying doves, dying ways of life, dying people, hunger, starvation, the abject, and finally, after everything just sucks, a new flowering, the kaleidoscope once again blossoming to multifarious everyday; even including the happy.
The prose is fairly plodding. The characters are interesting, but not enough to propel me forward. The "takes" on the youn...moreJust couldn't get into this.
The prose is fairly plodding. The characters are interesting, but not enough to propel me forward. The "takes" on the young character's mind sets and thoughts are sharp and occasionally really interesting, but still, it's not enough to propel me forward. The plot 60 pages in still hasn't kicked in.
The author has referred to Dostoyevsky's Demons but with none of the zaniness, humor, Byzantine plot twists, intoxicating characters, or bitchy nastiness. I'll return to this later, but 60 pages in and I'm as excited as staring into the open door of my refrigerator? Well...(less)
Black farce about a MANIAC (that's the character's name in the play) who resembles Bugs Bunny as much as Bakunin, and is drawn from both Groucho and K...moreBlack farce about a MANIAC (that's the character's name in the play) who resembles Bugs Bunny as much as Bakunin, and is drawn from both Groucho and Karl Marx. He changes disguises, voices, and stories so quick that everyone around is spellbound and entrapped by the MANIAC's swiftness. The MANIAC willingly walks into a corrupt police station and quickly causes havoc with his quick wits and absurd takes.
Q: so what has happened that caused the MANIAC to willfully whirlwind around the police station? A: the police murdered an anarchist in cold blood and tried to cover up the murder. But the MANIAC, that ball of zany energy, whirls kaledioscopes around them, and us, the audience.
The whole play is based on a real event. Cops did kill an anarchist, one of many killed; just for the hell of it (one of many); and it was suppressed; just as many murders by the right-wing-ruled police was covered up. Dario Fo collected a massive amount of evidence and turned the whole awful tragedy into an insane slapstick farce. This played in auditoriums and stadiums and was intensely popular.
It's a quick read, and again, it's as funny as the best Looney Tunes cartoons, and a hell of a lot more intense in its very necessary politics. Even now, Italy is effected by these relatively recent events. The right got violent, killed many people, then the left got violent, and a police state was initiated and anyone "under suspicion" was imprisoned. The right wing, along with the Mafia, won the cultural and political battle. But it still continues?(less)
Lisa Robertson is trying to do something new, and I just don't have the apparatus do 'get' it. I let it wash ove...moreI'm not sure what I think about this.
Lisa Robertson is trying to do something new, and I just don't have the apparatus do 'get' it. I let it wash over me; let her language roll and repeat and do weird things with words, sentences, paragraphs. Sometimes it's wonderful, beautiful, or she would use weird turns of word like
Read my heart: I enjoy as I renounce the chic glint which politics give to style
Phrases double, twist, doppelganger til they pop like bloated ticks.
The days, which are "narcotic and cosmetic" and which "each distribute a space" along with the weather flowing paragraphs of funneling cascading turns; her poetry weird and oblique, punctuated by scenes that are more understandable, almost a reprieve from her style of block paragraph flow.
Anyway... beautiful. Strange. Not sure if I love it. (less)
It's a bildungsroman, which isn't what I expected. I wanted a social movement novel; something like The Unseen....moreI didn't want to like this, but I do.
It's a bildungsroman, which isn't what I expected. I wanted a social movement novel; something like The Unseen. I also thought Kushner would be full of shit, but she's not, and this book is a damn good portrayal of a young woman dominated by men, dominated by masculine (and shitty) social realms.
Actually, the novel is more of a Künstlerroman, which is about an artist's growth to maturity, which as Wikipedia puts it "depict[s] the conflicts of a sensitive youth against the values of a middle and upper class society of his or her time."
But I'm not going to tell you about the plot. There are plenty of reviews on here for that. Instead, I'm going to voice my complaints:
ONE, Kushner slams every cool event she researched, every cool event of 1977, every distinct world into her book. Each of these events or worlds would make a fine book. And I need to give credit here, there are a couple of damn fine books contained in this book.
(view spoiler)[First world: the story of "Reno," our protagonist, navigating the Byzantine NYC art world, specifically, the very exciting anything-goes world of conceptual art / land art / performance art, where working as a waitress or living in a park is an art piece (the second one is real). This is the best book within The Flamethrowers and didn't need anything else. It definitely didn't need a counter-balance to "expose" the hypocrisy and venal drive of the artists who Kushner concentrates on.
Second world: The story of the autonomia movement in Italy, and the relationship between a dumb poor American and a rich Italian son of a motorcycle/rubber manufacturer to Italian society and the pissed off youths and poor who are reclaiming the streets. This book is also damn good, but doesn't quite fit in with the book about the art world.
[This storyline is coupled with a storyline/world about the son's industrialist/Futurist dad, which is also pretty good, and is yet another loosely connected storyline.]
Third world: A questionable but awesome fictionalized account of Black Mask / Up Against the Wall, Motherfucker, a bad ass group that aptly called themselves "a street gang with analysis." Kushner pushes their exploits into the criminal and sensational, which isn't true, but their story (and the fictional character she constructs who seems to be based on Dan Georgakas) despite the author's unneeded exaggerations is completely awesome. As I was reading The Flamethrowers I kept wondering why the hell no one else has written a fictional account of the Motherfuckers!
Forth world: a damn good bit about a lower class desert rat who is obsessed with speed, and her experience at a how-fast-can-you-go race. (As a lower class desert rat, I love the idea of a woman who could break that hard social barrier that kept women out of motocross and bike racing, but I also don't really believe it; esp. not in '77, even from a woman who has the gumption to leave her shitty town, become and artist, and get to NYC and Italy.)
On top of these various disparate worlds "Reno" is tenuously connected to, she is also a "China girl," which was a woman who occupied a few frames at the beginning of every film so the projectionist could make sure the lighting was right—'cause we "get" a face and can see when a face is an unlikely shade of green or purple. A "China girl" is a totally cool thing that I never heard of, but it seems thrown in simply because it's cool.
And she's in the middle of the damn '77 NYC blackout and the riots that follow. (hide spoiler)]
The distinct worlds that make up The Flamethrowers never congeal. They roughly interact, but the ties that bind are made of dried spaghetti. Our protagonist, "Reno," is written to occupy the relevant part of a Venn diagram that would encompass all of those disparate worlds. She's never real. Merely a blank slate; a hollow vessel to propel the plot and "what is interesting."
SECOND COMPLAINT: I really dislike that authors have given up fucking with form. This is a minor complaint, of course, since I also hate the recent spate of writing that tries on experimentation as one would try on a goofy hat: just to vamp a bit and show that one can do it. No, fuck that. Form and function should merge. Experiment because you want to communicate something new.
So my complaint is that this is a very traditional book about very untraditional times. A very good movie can be made from this book, and I hate that. I want a book to flaunt its bookness. I want a Hollywood or Euro film "auteur" to think, "Great book, but it would be completely different if I tried to turn it into a movie... and it would end up a disaster with none of the charm of the book.
THIRD COMPLAINT: Again, this isn't much of a complaint, but a novel about a young woman coming of age? I mean, it's a damn good book about one young woman coming of age in several different environments, but it dances-with and whispers-about new ways of living, new ways of thought, new ways of communicating. It dances with a society fully reimagining what is like to live, and another society reimagining what it means to create, and another society interested in tearing everything down.
There's so much stuff there!
There's so much LIFE there!
And while I have nothing against the book I read (because it IS good) I do want more! I want a book not about a young woman coming of age, but a book about a young woman who IS NOT just a voyeur. Fuck voyeurism! I don't want a story about another spectator. In the end, that's all Reno, our protagonist, is: a passive spectator. Life is happening all around her, and she tepidly joins, but not really, really only watches.
And I get it. I get it. She's a way for us to experience the rush that Kushner feels when researching all of this stuff. But it still feels like research. Research to the character; research to Kushner. I want to be fucking involved. I want to feel what it's like to have voyeurism and spectatorship fall away, which is supposedly what happens to Reno, but never really does.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)