Saturday, April 30, 2011

five facts

Vincent van Gogh painted over nine-hundred paintings in nine years, eighty of which were painted in the final two months of his life.

Women born in South Africa are less likely to learn how to read than they are to be raped.

Aristotle wrote that men, along with male goats, sheep and swine, have more teeth than their female counterparts. (He was also married. To a woman.)

There is a passage in Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 2 that all pianists play with two hands because of the difficulty. Beethoven, however, wrote fingering for the piece that shows only one hand (the right). To make better sense of this, it's been speculated that Beethoven had large, perfectly built piano hands. Or, perhaps more likely, the fingering was simply a cosmic hoax designed by Beethoven to inspire a mix of awe and jealousy.

According to C-SPAN's interview program In Depth, the number of pages literary critic and professor Harold Bloom claims to be able to read in sixty minutes is... one thousand.

beethoven's hands painting
beethoven portrait, painting, mahler, maehler

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

unusual encounters

Before anyone continues I would like to report some theft.

The Chris Marker photos and the quote accompanying them were lifted from a post on, and the final series of photographs were compiled by Max Brandel (I scanned them from a 1964 issue of Horizon magazine).

You may now proceed.

* * *

walker evans, code unknown, haneke, subway, chris marker, metro, passengers, luc delahaye
               Left: from one of Walker Evans' hidden subway photos; Right: a photo from Luc Delahaye's subway series L'Autre
                   (featured in Michael Haneke's film Code Unknown)

* * *

cocteau, luc delahaye, walker evans, chris marker, subway, metro photos
chris marker metro pictures, cocteau, walker evans, luc delahaye
Above: from Chris Marker's Passengers, a series
of photographs taken on the Paris Metro

"Cocteau used to say that at night, statues escape from museums and go walking in the streets. During my peregrinations in the Paris Metro, I sometimes made such unusual encounters. Models of famous painters were still among us, and I was lucky enough to have them sitting in front of me." —Chris Marker

* * *

james cagney, look-alike, statue, resemblance, horizon magazine, likeness
Roman sepulchral relief, first century B.C., Metropolitan Museum of Art; James Cagney

anthony perkins look-alike, lookalike, egyptian magisrate, resemblance, horizon magazine, likeness
Egyptian magistrate, black schist, c. 300 B.C., Cairo Museum; Anthony Perkins

arnold stang look-alike, sumerian head, nelson gallery, limestone, likeness
Sumerian head, c. 2500 B.C., Nelson Gallery, Kansas City; Arnold Stang

james mason look-alike, lookalike, augustus, statue, resemblance, likeness
Roman head of Augustus, first century A.D., Metropolitan Museum of Art; James Mason

fernandel, egyptian functionary, look-alike, statue, cocteau, likeness
Fernandel; Egyptian functionary, wood, c. 2500 B.C., Louvre

bette davis, look-alike, lookalike, agrippina, louvre, statue, resemblance, likeness
Bette Davis; Roman head of Agrippina, marble, first century A.D., Louvre

jerry colonna, greek head statue, look-alike, lookalike, likeness
Jerry Colonna; Greek head from high-relief panel, after 570 B.C., Acropolis Museum, Athens

marlon brando, look-alike, lookalike, resemblance, roman statue, likeness
Marlon Brando; Head of a young priest, Etruscan bronze, c. 200 B.C., British Museum

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Some Thoughts on Participation (blog game experiment 1: Exit Through the Gift Shop)

Here is Andrew Gilbert's contribution to the blog game / experiment I proposed in January. A topic was provided -- Banksy's film Exit Through the Gift Shop -- as well as various materials (images and text), and he was required to make a post following the directions I gave. I recommend taking a look at the materials in order to better appreciate what Andrew has done, as well as to see how the post came about, but everything that follows certainly works perfectly well as a stand-alone piece.

In the comments section I've written very briefly about what I had in mind when I selected the materials, as well as some initial thoughts on the finished piece in general.

Andrew is the author of two excellent blogs The Kinodrome and The Fifth Terrace.

* * *

Some Thoughts on Participation

banksy street art, look good framed


Although this post is concerned with Art and Capitalism, it is gender theory that provides us with a scaffold to mount our questions:

"The challenge of rethinking gender categories outside of the metaphysics of substance will have to consider the relevance of Nietzsche's claim in On the Genealogy of Morals that 'there is no 'being' behind doing, effecting, becoming; the 'doer' is merely a fiction added to the deed -- the deed is everything.' In an application that Nietzsche himself would not have anticipated or condoned, we might state as a corollary: There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender; that identity is performatively constituted by the very 'expressions' that are said to be its results." (Judith Butler, Gender Trouble)

Butler constructs her theory in a manner that allows its application to most any conception of identity, not limited to gender. I hope to entertain these concepts in the realm of individual self-expression within Art, and participation within a consumer culture. To cut to the heart of the matter, I am considering notions of responsibility—both individual and societal, which I believe will facilitate a greater understanding of the complexities of our world and how to better mount an opposition to a system(s) viewed as oppressive and destructive.


What follows is my attempt to personalize this quandary, which is so enamored with abstracts and iconic names and faces:

I had a friend in college who was my first dissident—my first brush with radical politics. Over pizza he prodded the barricades of my complacency with his Marxism-Leninism, at the movies he attacked me for drinking Coke. It was tantamount to being a card-carrying member to the IMF or WTO—I was doing my part to finance apartheid and the destruction of the ecosystem. He organized book clubs and reading circles. He opened up brave new worlds through his twin passions of literature and comic books. He professed the ability of the artist to galvanize social movements, of their responsibility to condemn injustice wherever possible.

Years later (a few months ago) I entered a thread of comments on his facebook page. Alan Moore had recently condemned the comic book industry for their draconian practices and imperialist agendas and this old friend was ridiculing him for it. When I chimed in on the side of Moore my comments were promptly deleted. My conversation with this friend moved to email—a private conversation that no one could see. He is now a successful and talented entrepreneur within the comic book industry. He explained that by censoring me he was protecting his friends who work in said industry. He assured me he was still a radical leftist and an anti-capitalist. The correspondence ceased when I raised doubts about ones ability to simultaneously occupy both sides of this argument—that by doing the very things he condemned in capitalist plutocracy he couldn’t possibly represent any kind of movement against it. The person who once decried the imperialist methods of censorship and discrediting of dissenters and critics was now wielding that power on a microcosmic scale with real world implications. I am still doubtful that mere subversion on his part can balance or offset these actions.

Forgive me for sounding like vindictive sour grapes, but is this not the most perfect example of delusional self-exemption? Of a doer convinced of the justification of their deeds by extraneous contextualization and apology? Here we also find the raison d'être for critiquing capitalism and the art world convinced that it is its opposition: the perils of Utopian thought—of the ends justifying the means.


Because politicians and experts are consistently defining humanity in economic terms, I feel we should establish some boundaries for our perceptions of the system we all exist within—even the most critical among us. I believe that Slavoj Žižek provides some of the most concise assessments of capitalism—allowing us to visualize an ethereal entity that we must all go to bed with. Something we can barely name, yet we all live and breathe: "...capitalism today is a matter of everyday religion in the sense of its built on trust..." (X)

He expounds the concept elsewhere:

"One of the most striking things about the reaction to the current financial meltdown is that, as one of the participants put it: 'No one really knows what to do.' The reason is that expectations are part of the game: how the market reacts to a particular intervention depends not only on how much bankers and traders trust the interventions, but even more on how much they think others will trust them. Keynes compared the stock market to a competition in which the participants have to pick several pretty girls from a hundred photographs: 'It is not a case of choosing those which, to the best of one's judgment, are really the prettiest, nor even those which average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligence to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be.' We are forced to make choices without having the knowledge that would enable us to make them; or, as John Gray has put it: 'We are forced to live as if we were free.'

Joseph Stiglitz recently wrote that, although there is a growing consensus among economists that any bailout based on Henry Paulson's plan won't work, 'it is impossible for politicians to do nothing in such a crisis. So we may have to pray that an agreement crafted with the toxic mix of special interests, misguided economics and right-wing ideologies that produced the crisis can somehow produce a rescue plan that works – or whose failure doesn’t do too much damage.' He's right: since markets are effectively based on beliefs (even beliefs about other people’s beliefs), how the markets react to the bailout depends not only on its real consequences, but on the belief of the markets in the plan's efficiency. The bailout may work even if it is economically wrong." (X)

Is this not unlike Pascal's motto, conjured by Žižek in his writings on Alfred Hitchcock: “even if you don't believe, kneel down and pray, act as if you believe, and the belief will come by itself"?


With the line: 'We are forced to live as if we were free.' we arrive at the concept of participation. If we take Žižek and Butler to be accurate, then capitalism is predicated upon individual participation. Whether one can fathom the "bigger picture" is unnecessary. It's very proliferation and longevity is determinate upon deeds: the individual’s identity- the doer- is totally irrelevant. To go a step further, such a critique of capitalism reemphasizes the concept of Adam Smith's Invisible Hand—of a self-regulating, adaptable, regenerating system.

The best metaphor I can conceive is of a phalanx of shark's teeth: rows upon rows in a constant state of replenishment. Does it matter if one tooth was sharper, or whiter, or bigger, or lesser than any of the others?


czech dream, exit through the gift shop, banksy

An example par excellence of these abstracts can be located in the film Czech Dream (Vít Klusák & Filip Remunda 2004). The filmmakers set off to document the creation of a hypermarket that will intentionally never be built. Instead they create a massive ad campaign for the grand opening of what will literally be the front of the store—a Hollywood set piece simulacrum.

The narrative emerges from the individuals whom they employ to see the concept brought to life: photographers, composers, survey and focus group experts, graphic designers, etc. Everyone is fully aware that this store will never be built.

What is most striking are the reactions of the ad industry representatives: all firmly disapprove of the ethics of the filmmakers, yet they all see their contributions through to completion and absolve themselves of any responsibility. They claim to have provided a service and however the employer utilizes that service is the sole responsibility of the employer, even if the employed understood exactly how their work is to be deployed.

Czech Dream was only conceivable through the willing participation of everyone involved—even those vocally opposed to it.


Let us turn now to an example more specific to the art community.

Shepard Fairey is of interest because he occupies two signifiers: he is both the auteur à la Andy Warhol and entrepreneur à la Donald Trump.

Consider this criticism of his work, which eloquently paraphrases many prevalent objections to Fairey:

"Can Shepard Fairey honestly be described as an artist who can critically assess the "unholy union of government and big business," or offer comments on the "underpinnings of the capitalist machine"? Yet that is exactly how he is promoted in the press release from the Merry Karnowsky Gallery of Los Angeles, where his solo exhibit Imperfect Union opens on December 1, 2007. Missing from that press release, and all other promotional materials released by Fairey, is any mention of his working hand in hand with that "capitalist machine". In a Nov. 3, 2007, interview with the Guardian, Fairey glibly stated, "I'm not against capitalism. If I was, I wouldn’t live in the US. If you get up everyday, work and spend money, you’re participating. But that doesn't mean I don’t want to critique it." - or profit handsomely from it for that matter." (X)

The question is whether or not we believe Fairey to be self aware—and if the answer even matters at all. The consideration of an artist's intent seems to cloud the more pertinent conversation of its implications. Recall my radical friend who adamantly believes in the emancipatory power of embedding anti-capitalist ideas within a consumer product, within one of the largest industries in the country. Here is a prominent criticism of Fairey’s methods:

"I believe Fairey exemplifies in many ways the operational model of capitalism. He extracts resources, largely from political struggles of Third World and working class people, and then slightly processes those resources (images), commodifies them (strips them of any history or relationship to where they came from), and sells them on the market. Like capitalism he simultaneously sells high-art versions to wealthy elites and then cheaper mass-commodity versions to the very same communities he is taking images from. This is how the making of all corporate products works." (X)

Is this not unlike the delusional attitudes of the ad agency folks of Czech Dream? A larger picture is emerging where individuals do whatever they want, and then refuse to consider any consequences of their actions, and retreat into a defense of their ability and/or intent for their actions. Is refuting social responsibility a defense mechanism to protect one from questioning ones constructed worldview? Or better yet, to protect one from considering their place in the social system?


I would like to propose a mental experiment.

Consider these images.

ron english, marilyn monroe, guetta, mr. brainwash, banksy

mr. brainwash, marilyn monroe, madonna, warhol, banksy, ron english

warhol, marilyn monroe, mr. brainwash, ron english, banksy

What is the context for these images, other than this post? Personally, I see them everywhere. I also see variations of the exact same images and similar-but-not-quite-the-same versions. I have to ask myself what purpose or meaning these images have. Certainly, we can explain away any criticism of them as patterns—that is, social symptoms of something deeper than personal expression. Without context or the traditional reductionism of isolating each and literally defining them without any broader connection, we are left with three objectified female forms.

It all seems rather compulsive, does it not?

Multiply this scenario by a million—do we arrive at the art community predicated upon participation?

picasso comic, tony millionaire, art cartoon


orson welles, f for fake poster, banksy

Orson Welles disseminates similar notions in his film F for Fake. Like Czech Dream and Exit Through the Gift Shop it exposes both the invisible hand of a system by way of patterns as well as the indictment of everyone involved by way of participation—including the filmmakers!

Welles not only parallels Art with a Capitalist production model, he intertwines them, makes them one in the same. By setting aside all abstract justification for art and focusing on the practicality of the system, we see the manufacturing of a human need (meaning, purpose) to be exploited as a market. The human condition is thus commodified.

Elmyr de Hory is the stain in the image of this system. His work shatters the protected reality of the Art world by underlining the capitalist requisite of class-structure. It is not meaning nor aesthetic that provides a work with its value, but rather it's exclusivity. A Picasso original is not unlike a Louis Vuitton bag—its importance is that it is only available to those with exorbitant wealth. Its very purpose is to advertise such wealth in the hope of enticing one to desire it. It is possible to argue that de Hory embodies what the critics of Fairey call into question—exposing the construct of a system via their adopted production and distribution methods: mimesis as subversion.

Consider Jonathan Rosenbaum's assessment of Welles in his essay on F for Fake:

For a filmmaker who studiously avoided repeating himself and sought always to remain a few steps ahead of his audience's expectations, thereby rejecting any obvious ways of commodifying his status as an auteur, Welles arguably found a way in F for Fake to contextualize large portions of his career while undermining many cherished beliefs about authorship and the means by which "experts," "God's own gift to the fakers," validate such notions. (X)

Is it not possible, then, to consider all artists as brands, or brands in the making? Despite Welles’ greatest efforts, his film (and Rosenbaum's essay) are currently products of an umbrella corporation that, like Fairey, appropriates the works of diverse filmmakers, homogenizes them, reduces their personal politics to mere platitudes, and sells them as collectibles. A market has opened up that blends "high art" and "mass commodity". I am speaking of course of the Criterion Collection.

Even Welles had to participate in the system he consistently subverted—both as an actor appearing in some of the most wretched works imaginable, and as a spokesperson for countless consumer products. The justification has always been that he used the proceeds to sabotage the system, but I would argue that the system Welles took part in has outlasted Welles. His films are increasingly esoteric, excluded from much of the academic film world beyond Citizen Kane. Most film students in my experience cannot be bothered with anything but that film. Welles has become the darling of a shrinking collective of isolated intellectuals who are seemingly communicating only with themselves. And while I would champion his works to my dying breath I must ask: so what did he really accomplish?


Is the legacy of la politique des auteurs a paradigm shift with which radicals and subversives can be folded into the system they seek to destroy? Rather than allowing these public figures to raise awareness or galvanize a social movement are they now unwittingly shaping new demographics and lifestyle groups to be sold to? It seems to me like a practical capitalist solution to a societal problem: consider the reactions that arise from conservative condemnation of radical works. Rather than drawing attention to these things, they are allowed to continue unimpaired, and non-threatening to the rest of society. I must add that I am not criticizing this system from outside, but from within. My shelves are lined with hundreds of boutique label DVD's.


Let us now enter Exit Through the Gift Shop.

The success and failures of the film lie in its multiple interpretations. Is it an objective document of the life cycle of a radical movement, from grass roots to corporate assimilation? Does the film fit the pattern discussed above of exposing the workings of system via mimesis? Is it the reactionary prescription of blame onto a handful of individuals for the corruption of a movement? Or, rather, does it serve to discombobulate our simplistic definition of 'movement'.

Short answer, yes.

We must consider the treatment of Thierry Guetta, aka Mr. Brain Wash. The question is whether Guetta symbolizes the complete commodification of the 'movement', if he facilitated this commodification, or if he is directly responsible for it.

An answer may lie in Banksy's editorial decisions regarding Guetta—portrayed as a harmless buffoon, someone who seems to genuinely love what he is doing, yet is completely ignorant to his position and implications. Guetta is a human figure, albeit a pathetic one. It is hardly an effort to mock him, but that is precisely what many have done. Whether intentional or not, a certain cynicism emerges from the film that is akin to certain attitudes toward Christopher Guest or Coen Brothers films or even of The Jersey Shore: we observe human folly from a privileged perspective. As spectator-consumers were are absolved from the sins of these people, whose punishments are meted out in digestible increments for our entertainment.

It can be argued that Banksy is humanizing Guetta in order to illustrate how any hapless individual can wind up in a signifier position. Guetta did not infiltrate a harmonious system and contaminate it with his capitalist drive, rather capitalism allowed the movement to have its fun, to gestate organically, to prove it could be sold, then anyone who happened to be there would willingly make this transition to commodity under the delusion of personal expression. If it wasn't Fairey or Guetta it would have been anyone else. Capitalism bets on this predictable and negative assessment of humanity—it call always rest assured that individuals are convinced of their own autonomy.

One must also consider the prevalent reading of this film as a hoax or mockumentary—both of which I’d consider possible. The problem is not in the reading, rather the dead end of Kantian relativism that plagues postmodern cinema, regardless of how clever or poignant it can be.

I should clarify that I am not proselytizing a proto-fascist dismissal of a complex film. Quite the contrary, I have had many a stimulating conversation on all the films discussed, both at the water cooler and the kitchen table. But, like the secret email correspondence with my radical friend, I have to question its worth if it never impacts our lives to the point of facilitating a change. I am not convinced that the 'enriching of ones' life' is anything more than bullshit to avoid responsibility to other human beings. I am in a privileged position to be enriched by art—this does not justify my callousness in the face of oppression.


Film is of interest because moving images comprise a language; one that Peter Greenaway has argued eludes most people on the planet. If compared to the written and spoken word, most of us are functionally illiterate to the image language, making it all the more easy to be manipulated.

From an interview with Banksy:

I think its pretty clear that film is the pre-eminent art form of our age. If Michelangelo or Leonardo Da Vinci were alive today they'd be making Avatar, not painting a chapel. Film is incredibly democratic and accessible, it's probably the best option if you actually want to change the world, not just re-decorate it. (X)

From an advertiser in Czech Dream:

All ad manuals always use the example of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, which was an ad made to order. It was a paid advertisement. A mega-billboard on the ceiling stating that God is great. It was done for dough. It was made to order and it’s art. Its goal was not to be a beautiful image that would evoke emotions. The commission was... "paint the ceiling so its obvious that God is great. And it must blow everyone’s mind. Here is the dough".


Final Thoughts

Everyday, in the most mundane of domestic activity, we are confronted by a popular set of ideologies that espouse that everything is the way it is because that is how the world works. It is what it is as my old manager used to say. This form of circular logic is incredibly flexible and up to the task of deflecting most observations and criticisms of both the problems of such a mentality and the flimsy scaffold upon which it rests. Yet it prevails en masse—some call it ignorance, others call it apathy or ambivalence. Regardless, I believe we may find a better comprehension of why this is so prevalent by searching within the theories of Lacanian psychoanalysis. Please be mindful that I am arriving at such concepts by way of Žižek, and I have quite a way to go before I fully comprehend these ideas. Yet I cannot resist using a particular component to help tie all the threads of this inquiry together.

I would like to propose that rather than touching upon some greater truth, these ideologies conform to what Lacan calls reality: a construct of symbolic order to assuage (or conquer?) the primordial unknowns of the Real—that unexplainable and terrifying chaos of the universe. When we are confronted with a proof (a stain) of this construct we are prone to aggressive reactionary measures. We want the stain destroyed so that balance can be restored to the order we have either created or subscribe to.

I believe this to be crucial, particularly for our questioning of Art, for it is easier to condemn capitalism and agree with Žižek about its metaphysical survival mechanisms than it is to attack our sole refuge of culture. Much of what I have discovered in researching this post, as well as in my own experiences with people, is that economics and consumerism and political authority are easier to be at odds with. There is something inherently cold in our perception of them. But to condemn or indict Art is to be met with the same zealotry of religious people when one not only questions the existence of god, but also exposes the practical, non-life-affirming policies that are informed by such beliefs.

Let us compare the ideas we’ve entertained herein. One of the tenants of the various anti-capitalist, anti-consumerist movements is the dependence on individual participation. When we buy a product, we cast a vote that says ‘yes’ to the status quo. When we purchase, say, animal products, we are not merely agreeing with the subjugation and slaughter of sentient beings, we are agreeing with the practices of an unregulated industry driven solely by profit. We are saying YES to the countless documented cases of workers rights violations, exploitation of illegal immigrants (21st century slavery), we are saying YES to disastrous chemical warfare and insurmountable ecological destruction, and we are saying YES to the fatal practices of food science that are shortening the human life expectancy and fostering outrageous epidemics of cancers, obesity, and innumerable genetic manipulations to the human body.

When we cast a vote for a work of art, what are we saying YES to? If the piece is sexist, we are saying YES to sexism, or rather patriarchy. If we buy an Obey shirt we are saying YES to the capitalist system, to the class warfare that segregates millions of humans to poverty and homelessness. We cannot pick and choose what components of the society we like and ignore the ones we dislike. If fact, it is this very mentality that corporate America depends upon: dividing and conquering us with "lifestyles".

The smoke screen that we all erect in someway or another to ignore this reality is founded on individual performance—in reassuring ourselves of our beliefs to counterbalance our contradictory actions. We put our faith in the doer in order to excuse the deed. For us to do this we must rely on an essentialist-naturalist argument, which is typically predicated upon Platonic binaries that 'define' the 'essence' of man and woman. And make no mistake, Plato differentiates between the two and there is no reconciling them.

This is what Gary Francione calls "moral schizophrenia", where we condemn one action and defend another identical action through semantics. One example is the differentiation between the ethical treatment of certain animals: Michael Vick is a monster for his treatment of dogs, yet McDonalds is in total compliance for their treatment of chickens and cows. To bring this back to participation, Francione advocates for a boycott of the NFL for allowing Vick back into the game—for saying YES to what Vick symbolizes. (X)

* * *

I opened this post with Butler’s theory of performativity in gender because I believe these concepts to be a key component to better understanding participation. There are one or two key components that will help flesh out this post:

...the distinction between the personal and the political or between private and public is itself a fiction designed to support an oppressive status quo: our most personal acts are, in fact, continually being scripted by hegemonic social conventions and ideologies.
. . .

Butler underscores gender's constructed nature in order to fight for the rights of oppressed identities, those identities that do not conform to the artificial—though strictly enforced—rules that govern normative heterosexuality. If those rules are not natural or essential, Butler argues, then they do not have any claim to justice or necessity. Since those rules are historical and rely on their continual citation or enactment by subjects, then they can also be challenged and changed through alternative performative acts. (X)

We are now treading in murky waters. As per Žižek's principles, we are all integrated in a system that only really exists in our belief in its existence. As Exit Through the Gift Shop, F for Fake, and Czech Dream help us realize, the same can be said of information—fine art, street art, or any other facet of consumerism. The difficulty here is the absence of a scapegoat: there is no enemy to vanquish, no Mr. Brainwash to ridicule. We are the system, and only our performance can change it. Žižek has argued elsewhere that the current catastrophes facing humanity cannot facilitate the collapse of capitalism: the system will not fail because it survives on speculation, exploitation of crisis and uncertainty, and is constantly borrowing from the future. Instead, he argues, what is more likely is a migration away from capitalism as people awaken to the patterns of stillborn solutions offered by the system. Just as religion fails—one cannot pray away the nuclear disasters in Japan—secular belief in the system is equally emasculated.

We must consider Art among these bankrupt solutions. While I will always defend the necessity of expression and culture as an essential component for human survival, it cannot solve our problems merely through commentary that is sold to those predisposed to agree with it. My DVD collection will not deliver a blow to the system I wish to abolish. Artistic subversion can only prompt a shift, it can never embody it. Let me be clear, this 'shift' is not some romanticized revolution or dramatic action captured in iconic images; it is the domestic and banal choices we make everyday. It is whether we choose to say YES or NO to minutiae that supports the system. More aggressive action may be inevitable, but we cannot equally 'scapegoat' our solution to simplistic fantasy. We must strive to make ethical and just decisions as often as we can, otherwise we're just performing to convince ourselves.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

a comic i made (#4)

global warming comic, cartoon, domestic violence, egoism, egotism, arrogance

* * *

A comic but not comedic. To ridicule -- by way of three small exposures -- a certain pervasive mentality.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

phantoms II

Sorry for the delay!

I've decided to keep the same introduction for all "phantom" posts I make so that each one can stand on its own.

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NOTE: The dotted-underlined bits of text are not links; hover your cursor over them to reveal hidden text. (I've been told that this doesn't work well with Safari (the text disappears after about 10 seconds). Firefox recommended.)

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the valley obscured by clouds poster La Vallee

Phantoms are all around me.

I keep track of them with lists or on scraps of paper.

I do this for the same reasons children collect fireflies in jars.

Phantoms are all the alluring things that exist on the horizon.

Phantoms exist only in the future, yet they call back to the past in order to make their presence known.

Phantoms, by definition, are mysterious; thus, they have only imaginary value.

They're called phantoms because it's impossible to know which ones will find us and which ones will forever remain on the horizon.

I once saw a enigmatic, evocative poster for a film with an equally enigmatic title: The Valley (Obscured by Clouds). Instantly the film became a phantom. The plot, unknown to me at the time, formed loosely in my head, and some of the scenes crystallized and played out. Years later I finally had the chance to see the film. It was a disappointment.

Most things don't live up to their imaginative value.

Most things are better left as phantoms.

I have many phantom books on my shelves. Beautiful titles, beautiful covers, beautiful authors, beautiful reputations, and a few beautiful things I know about them. They build and build in my imagination until, finally, they turn into cathedrals.

I do this on purpose because I've learned an awful truth: it is rare for a book to remain better opened than closed.

In certain cultures writers sometimes leave a few pages of their novels blank for the reader to fill with their imagination.

Sometimes I wish all books were just beautiful covers and blank pages.

Here are some of my phantoms.

* * *

Gilbert-Lecomte black mirror
Black Mirror: The Selected Poems of Roger Gilbert-Lecomte

Because Gilbert-Lecomte remains on the periphery (even more elusive: his book on Arthur Rimbaud). Because he kept good company. Because of what Artaud said about his poetry (see above). And because of that face.

russian film posters
Film Posters of the Russian Avant-Garde (Susan Pack)

Because it's a 320 page collection of some of the best designed movie posters in history.

end of the road stacey keach Aram Avakian
End of the Road (Aram Avakian, 1970)

Because 1970s American independent cinema is one of my favorite periods. Because I think it will have the feel of John Huston's Fat City (1972). And because people seem to either love it or hate it, which is often a good sign.

camus essays

Because I only recently found out this book existed (I didn't know Camus wrote any literary criticism outside of the bits found throughout The Rebel). Because I'm curious to read his essay on Melville and his Encounters with Andre Gide. And because last month I read The Stranger for the third time and it rekindled my interest and admiration for Camus; now I want to go back and (re)explore one of the authors responsible for getting me interested in literature.

araya film Margot Benacerraf
Araya (Margot Benacerraf, 1959)

Because the trailer is packed with beauty. Because after seeing it Jean Renoir told the film's director "Above all ... don't cut a single image!" Because it's one of the earlier films to blur the line between documentary and fiction. And because it's another "lost classic" brought to light by Milestone (responsible for my viewing of the great films Killer of Sheep and The Exiles).

a thousand clowns film poster
A Thousand Clowns (Fred Coe, 1965)

Because I once saw the first few minutes and I've been intrigued ever since.

Safe Area Goražde (Joe Sacco, 2000)

Because Sacco is a highly acclaimed comic book artist who is also considered to be a journalist. Because I don't know very much about the Bosnian War. And because Edward Said made the following remark about Safe Area Goražde: "With the exception of one or two novelists and poets, no one has ever rendered this terrible state of affairs better than Joe Sacco."

capitalist realism mark fisher
Capitalist-Realism (Mark Fisher, 2009)

Because: "Let's not beat around the bush: Fisher's compulsively readable book is simply the best diagnosis of our predicament that we have! Through examples from daily life and popular culture, but without sacrificing theoretical stringency, he provides a ruthless portrait of our ideological misery. Although the book is written from a radically Left perspective, Fisher offers no easy solutions. Capitalist Realism is a sobering call for patient theoretical and political work. It enables us to breathe freely in our sticky atmosphere." --Slavoj Zizek

The Palm-Wine Drinkard (Amos Tutuola, 1946)

Because Raymond Queneau and Dylan Thomas both thought highly of it (the latter described it as "brief, thronged, grisly and bewitching.") And because I know next to nothing about African literature (of which it's often considered to be the seminal work).

tsai visage face
Visage (Face), Tsai Ming-liang (2009)

Because Tsai is one of my favorite directors. Because Lee Kang-sheng is one of my favorite actors. And because this is Tsai's third musical and his previous two were interesting, innovative and highly enjoyable (if one is allowed to say that about The Wayward Cloud).

the obscene bird of night
The Obscene Bird of Night (José Donoso, 1970)

Because it sounds like magic. Because of those two disparate covers. And because Luis Buñuel called it "a masterpiece... one of the great novels not only of Spanish America, but of our time" (Buñuel was my father).

theory of the leisure class Veblen
The Theory of the Leisure Class (Thorstein Veblen, 1899)

Because it's supposed to be a witty satire of American snobbery, consumption, and wastefulness. Because Veblen sounds like a funny guy (perhaps unintentionally so, which is often better). And because it's considered to be an important and influential text.

petropolis film poster
Petropolis: Aerial Perspectives on the Alberta Tar Sands
(Peter Mettler, 2009)

Because (I think) the entire film consists solely of aerial shots of the immense Alberta tar sands sans narration or editorializing (save for where the camera is pointed), and this seems to me like the perfect way to cover this Canadian Zone (Lessons of Darkness meets Koyaanisqatsi?).

<br />The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch klima
The Sufferings of Prince Sternenhoch (Ladislav Klíma, 1928)

First and foremost, because the novel sounds very interesting. But also because Klíma "spent the later part of his life living in a hotel, shining shoes for a living, drinking spirits and eating vermin" -- so we owe him at least a perusal!

Koji Yamamura Franz Kafka's A Country Doctor and other Fantastic Films
Franz Kafka's A Country Doctor and other Fantastic Films by Koji Yamamura

Because I like animation, the stills look promising, and, outside of the short film Mt. Head, I'm unfamiliar with the highly acclaimed Koji Yamamura.

lydia davis collected stories
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis (Lydia Davis, 2009)

Because I've heard from trusted sources that she's one of the very best.

lydia davis madame bovary
Madame Bovary, translated by Lydia Davis (2010)

Because I read the Steegmuller translation of Madame Bovary years ago and didn't think much of it, and I'd like to give the novel another chance.

the way things go film
Fischli Weiss Rube Goldberg the way things go
The Way Things Go (Peter Fischli and David Weiss, 1987)

Because it's supposed to be a dazzling 30 minute Rube Goldberg illustration brought to life, and I'd like to see for myself just how impressive and imaginative it really is (or isn't).

the future of the image
The Future of the Image (Jacques Rancière, 2007)

Because it sounds like just the book I've been looking for (though I have a Rancière lecture bookmarked for future listening that might change my mind...)

tennesse williams notebook
Tennessee Williams: Notebooks

Because Williams is quickly becoming one of my favorites.

Andrade Macunaima
Macunaima (Mário de Andrade, 1928)

Because... (see the many possible reasons above). And because I once saw a few minutes from a film adaptation that were so utterly ridiculous that I couldn't help but wonder what might lie between the pages of the book that inspired it.

pedro costa casa de lava
costa sasa de lava
Casa de Lava (Pedro Costa, 1994)

Because I haven't seen any of Costa's earlier films (unless Ossos counts) and he's always worth watching. And because the film is called House of Lava and the images from it look stunning.

invasion Hugo Santiago
Invasión (Hugo Santiago, 1969)

Because it was recommended to me by a man I met on a safari just before he was eaten by a lion (his last words).

DaemoninLithuania Henri Guigonnat
Daemon in Lithuania (Henri Guigonnat, 1974)

Because it just sounds fun, ok?

away with words christopher doyle film
Away with Words (Christopher Doyle, 1999)

Because I want to see what a 100% Christopher Doyle film looks like.

Hebdomeros Giorgio de Chirico book
Hebdomeros (Giorgio de Chirico, 1929)

Because it's written by painter Giorgio de Chirico. And because poet John Ashbery called it "probably...the finest [major work of Surrealist fiction]". (Bonus phantom: Ashbery's translation of Rimbaud's Illuminations is due out in May.)

can xue blue light in the sky
Blue Light in the Sky & Other Stories (Can Xue)

Because, on that same safari, the lion who ate the man was quickly killed and skinned, and on the two ribs that crossed directly over his heart the following words were engraved: "blue light in the sky STOP dirty snow STOP refuses to melt." And since there is no other logical conclusion I can only assume that the devoured man made another recommendation to me with his pen knife while trapped inside the lion. (Bless his soul!)

art out of time unknown comic visionaries
Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries, 1900-1969

Because I like comics and frogs, and it's a book about comics with a frog on the cover! (I've been making this post for hours - leave me alone! This phantom is self-explanatory anyway.)

yang a bright summer day
A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang, 1991)

Because it's by Edward Yang. Because for years it has been popping up in things I've read. Because it frequently appears on lists of the greatest films of the 90s (often as number one). And because, like Rivette's legendary Out 1, it has remained elusive, yet it is rumored to be making its way to DVD...

what about me film
What About Me (Rachel Amodeo, 1993)

Because I like punk/street films about disaffected youth. And because it features appearances by Richard Hell, Dee Dee Ramone, Rockets Redglare, Johnny Thunders (who contributed to the score), and Gregory Corso.

AG Rizzoli
A.G. Rizzoli: Architect of Magnificent Visions

Because I like imaginative/imaginary places. And because I like outsiders, especially those with magnificent visions (again, this one seems self-explanatory if you read the hidden text).

dan eldon journal
journals of dan eldon
dan eldon journal
The Journey is the Destination: The Journals of Dan Eldon

Because Dan Eldon was a legendary photojournalist (and artist) who, along with his three colleagues, was beaten and stoned to death by an angry mob in Mogadishu in 1992 (he was 22). This book features selections from his journals.

malick tree of life
The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)

Because Malick has yet to make a bad film and at the same time I can't imagine how something this ambitious can possibly succeed (I've read as little as possible about the plot; I just know it has something to do with the beginning and end of the world (or something) which, if true, is doubly interesting because it sounds like Malick has - for the first time - chosen a "narrative" that will perfectly match his loose, elliptical style.)