1. FEARLESS = THOUGHTLESS
Recently, one late afternoon, I took the U-Bahn to a stop in a neighborhood far enough away (Kreuzberg, near the border between Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, demarcated by the river) that walking from the stop would give me a good two-hour walk home. I always take an mp3 player and my best outdoor-headphones and listen to music. It was a cold, cloudy and windy day, which worked well with the epic music I was listening to. It was only about four thirty when I got off the U-Bahn but twilight was well on its way.
When I was about half-way through the walk, I came to the Monumentenstrasse bridge. As I was crossing the bridge, headed North, with the train tracks far below me meeting the sunset at the vanishing point to my left, I saw two young girls on the other side of the street, on my right, also headed North across the bridge. In the distance behind them, miles along the tracks to the East, I could see the TV tower at Alexanderplatz and the tethered, blue-and-white “Die Welt” hot air balloon which tourists pay €20 or so to stand in the bucket of for an elevated view of the city (this balloon made news last Fall when an unusually windy day gave a bucket-full of Swedish schoolkids a pants-shitting ride they won’t soon forget). The girls skipping across the Monumentenstrasse bridge appeared to be maybe seventeen years old, one dark-haired and one blonde and they skipped along at a runner’s pace together, arm in arm. They were either giddy with good news or giddy with youth or in love, possibly. As I watched, the dark-haired girl broke away from her blonde friend’s arm and hopped up on the bridge’s railing and started a balancing act.
The bridge railings are maybe four inches wide and the distance to the ground is probably eighty feet: losing her footing would certainly mean the dark-haired girl’s death. An eighty-foot fall upon the S-Bahn tracks under us. But there she was, blithely walking along on the narrow railing, the blonde girl below her on the bridge’s concrete footpath. There was nothing I could do: shouting from the other side of the bridge might have been just the thing to cause her to lose her balance and fall. Even crossing the street quietly and approaching as she walked the railing could have upset her balance.
When I told my Wife the story later she said yes, it’s common now, on Facebook, you see Selfies of the young people on cliff-edges or on the tops of towers, glamorously-dangerous places. Maybe it’s just a bad idea for the average person to have a global audience?
But the difference between what I saw on the Monumentenstrasse bridge, that day, and those idiotically daredevilling Facebook Selfies that my Wife mentioned, is this: the Selfies are always presented to us after the fact; we know how the story ended, whether the Selfie-takers fell or didn’t. As I crossed the Monumentenstrasse bridge with those two young girls, one of whom was crossing the bridge by balancing on the bridge’s railing, there was no way for any of us to know what would happen next. Would that girl up on the railing die in the next moment? It was a very long ninety seconds during which I had to fear for a stranger’s life and it filled me with rage.
Rage toward whom? The foolish girl? For being so giddy with youth or good news or love that she felt inspired to risk a dumb death? Or was I in a rage toward the culture that works so hard, so often, to canonize empty-headed Fearlessness that it makes such an idiotic gesture seem romantic and cool? Googling the word “Fearless” , note how many images that come in the search-results involve people jumping over gaps between cliff-edges or balancing on peaks or ledges. One search result shows the poster for the Jeff Bridges film “Fearless,” which features Bridges doing what? Standing very precariously on the ledge of a skyscraper’s topmost wall, of course. Though, obviously, of course, Jeff Bridges never did any such thing: it was a photo trick. Why would a movie star, worth so much to so many, do anything so pointlessly dangerous? His insurers would never allow it.
If that dark-haired girl had spent a year saving all of her money to buy the next-model i-phone, would she have expressed her joy in finally having one by balancing it precariously on the ledge of the Monumentenstrasse bridge?
Did she think of herself as Immortal or Worthless?
UPDATE: re: the following clip, the asshole celebrity spokesmodel for teens risking their lives pointlessly claims, in a so-called interview, “During the video shoot I had to walk across this giant construction beam suspended across two high buildings—there was a 20-feet drop, and I was just walking on it without any safety wire, we just went for it!”
A “20-foot drop” from a beam suspended between two “high buildings”? How does that work? And what about the giant pillows, Zac? Aren’t you going to mention those…?
2. THE DUBIOUS UNDERPINNINGS OF OUR ASSUMPTIONS, Part One: A BRIEF BIO of ALFRED BINET (collected from various sources) in six bites
Alfred Binet (July 8, 1857 – October 18, 1911) was a French psychologist and developer of the first usable intelligence test, the basis of today’s IQ test.
The Stanford–Binet Intelligence Scales (or more commonly the Stanford-Binet) is an individually administered intelligence test that was revised from the original Binet-Simon Scale by Lewis M. Terman, a psychologist at Stanford University. The Stanford–Binet Intelligence Scale is now in its fifth edition (SB5) and was released in 2003.
Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol (French pronunciation: [ɡʁɑ̃ ɡiɲɔl]: “The Theatre of the Great Puppet”)—known as the Grand Guignol—was a theatre in the Pigalle area of Paris (at 20 bis, rue Chaptal (fr)). From its opening in 1897 until its closing in 1962, it specialised in naturalistic horror shows. Its name is often used as a general term for graphic, amoral horror entertainment, a genre popular from Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre (for instance Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, and Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi and The White Devil), to today’s splatter films.
Alfred Binet, the French creator of the Binet Intelligence Test, was one of the most
successful playwrights of the Grand Guignol and co-author of A Crime in a Madhouse.
The American Psychological Society in the early twenties agonized over Binet’s
original examination, which asked such thought-provoking questions to young students as: “What is the first thing that you would do, if you came home after school and found your mother strangled and mutilated?” Nearly all of Binet’s horrific essay tests were deleted in the American versions.
by André de Lorde and Alfred Binet, 1905
A two-act horror play with the additional theme of Insanity.
Jean is cursed with the obsession to kill his young son, Pierre. A Parisian psychologist explains that he is the victim of a progressive and incurable hereditary disease. Within a short period of time, Jean will be totally insane and unable to curb his murderous impulse. The psychologist advises that Jean commit himself to a mental asylum immediately. Jean, however, refuses to do so and returns home. He confesses to his wife that he, not his daughter, accidentally hit Pierre the other day. She thinks little of it and sends him into Pierre’s room to apologize and bid the boy goodnight. In the room Jean strangles his son.
Since his death, many people in many ways have honored Binet, but two of these stand out. In 1917, the Free Society for the Psychological Study of the Child, of which Binet became a member in 1899 and which prompted his development of the intelligence tests, changed their name to La Société Alfred Binet, in memory of the renowned psychologist. The second honor was not until 1984, when the journal Science 84 picked the Binet-Simon scale as one of twenty of the century’s most significant developments or discoveries.
3. NOTES FOR A PIECE I DIDN’T HAVE TIME TO WRITE: CELEBRITY
Consider: certain paradoxes, certain confusing figures like Bowie, inviting your admiration, your obsession, pretending to inspire. How can Bowie inspire you? With the music he makes as context and accessory to his Cool and his good looks? What can Bowie inspire you to do? Be wanted, be good looking, be suave and charming in the manner of the wanted and good looking? Bowie grinds you into the dust but you think he’s helping you dream; you think your unrequited love somehow improves you, like a healthy diet or a library full of good books. But it doesn’t improve you. You’re oppressed. You’re crushed. You’re playing the worshipful fool for a tower of narcissistic self-regard who never even knew you existed. The gap between your Dream Life and your External Conditions is so great that it openly mocks you; celebrities are that gap… that gap is Bowie’s silhouette. How did you come to be where you are? How did millions like you?
4. FROM FAVORITE NABOKOV QUOTES
“Incidentally I vomited into the telephone which I think has never been done before.”
From a letter to Edmund Wilson written two days after D-Day/ Brian Boyd’s Nabokov: The American Years
5. LETTERS TO ED (my old Net Friend, Edward _____, a UK-based Artist, with whom I’ve been corresponding, via one medium or another, for about a decade, now)
Just back from Korea. It appears that they are more scared about what Trump will do rather than Kim Jong-Un who is better left doing what he does best – showing off his latest range of chrysanthemum-coloured camp uniforms whilst 70% of the population starve. Things are getting difficult in the South too but it’s in the name of capitalism so that’s okay.
The new drawings are now appearing in a blog on our website. 1 a day, 5 days a week and there’s about 130 of them in total.
Call me insensitive for being more interested in your new drawings than the plight of bifurcated Korea (though I do like browsing the occasional gallery of busty North Korean soldiers… the girls I mean… over a bowl of cornflakes some mornings). Will nip over to the Site and have a look at it!
I’ve just spent one of those awful hours on YouTube (waiting to make sure Daughter is utterly asleep before I make the rookie error of committing to sleep myself, only to have her call down the hall for a glass of water); these hours on YouTube start pleasantly enough with me watching a video of The Kinks or some other vintage act, c. ’66… this time I started with “Waterloo Sunset”… which was fine. Next it was “Lola”… also fine. But I never stop there, do i, despite the fact that I should know better. Next thing you know, I’m watching fucking Three Dog Night videos… three in a row! Before I know it, an hour has evaporated and I’m watching fucking Sonny and fucking Cher doing “The Beat Goes On” on one of their ultra-camp variety shows with wardrobe by Bob Mackie or whatever his fucking name was and I’m feeling mildly depressed and slightly disgusted with myself and the exact OPPOSITE of “nostalgic”.
Next stop (after checking on Your Art)… I’m listening to some OUD music or something (to YT-detox) and going to bed! In another two months I’ll find myself watching “Whiter Shade of Pale” at 3am, of course (leading either to BBC tapes of YES or CAT STEVENS), but I’ll deal with that as it happens…
I’ve been trying to work up a gag on the YouTube = links = dog turds = Three Dog Night connections but the lingering effects of jet-lag has put paid to anything beyond the skeleton.
Last night I ended up watching a drummer showing how you play the intro to Deep Purple’s Fireball – one of the great drum intros which managed to survive the one-y and a two-ey and a…….plodding demonstration on the clip.
The danger is that the YouTube algo-rhythms will now offer you endless 3DN video clips – truly a hell on Earth – or in my case tributes to drummers I’ve never heard of. I’ve re-discovered Glenn Gould recently who offers a respite from all the junk that clutters up my sidebar.
Thinking there was money in it I lasted 4 minutes 12 seconds of that Yoko session. [I’d sent Ed THIS CLIP and dared him to watch all of it]
I once saw a Japanese performance artist scream non-stop for 20 minutes over a record needle dropped onto a revolving turntable. It was the epitome of entertainment compared to Yoko’s impression of a cat that’s been wounded by a passing car.
Fear not: with the magic of Uri Geller, the Three Dog Turds Night gag that is nestling deep within your psyche, buried under jet lag, went straight to the button in my brain that makes me chuckle appreciatively at Stewart Lee’s stuff. It’s eerie to think that while I was watching the Wyatt-Earply-mustached one of the Dogs do that thing that heavily-mustached singers of the ’70s used to do with their upper lips (as though experiencing Gay orgasm in a vintage porno, not that I’ve ever seen that), you were being instructed in the drummerly ways of Deep Purple. I suspect that we may each be of a certain age but that doesn’t mean that if we’d had YouTube in 1974, we wouldn’t have been looking at videos of Rudy Vallee wailing triplets on his ukulele (which never turns out to be spelled the way I think it will be). What I always hate (among 50+ other things), when I go on one of these YouTube forays into the musical past, are the comments from YT-time-travelers of our general age making their tiresomely predictable and identical cases for the song/singer/TV show on display being a masterpiece the like of which will never come again, no matter how shitty the song/singer/TV show is… I have seriously seen people make such claims for everything from David Cassidy to Flock of Seagulls to Gilligan’s Island. My only saving grace for once having liked Adam Ant’s debut (handed to me by a friend who thought it fucking atrocious) being that I realize this means I had either hit-and-miss, or totally shitty, taste in music when I was in my early twenties. I’m trying to imagine hunting down that goofy album on YouTube and then leaving a heartfelt paean in the comment thread. Well, now I know that Growing Up means distancing one’s self from, rather than longing for, one’s Youth. If I had that 21-year-old fool in front of me now I’d ridicule him mercilessly and he’d beat the shit out of me without getting winded, and that’s how it should be.
6. THE SHAGGY DOG TALE OF FREE SPEECH
It strikes me that we continue to discuss and debate “Free Speech” as though we actually have it. If there is but one thing one is forbidden from saying (all clichés about “shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater aside, since that shout is only “speech” in the most primitive sense), one has no “Free Speech”… and there are dozens of things to say, that I can think of, that are taboo… shading from the mildly-controversial (something about “grossly overweight fashion models”, for example) to the generally offensive (almost anything about the concentration camps). Partial “Free Speech” is meaningless. And, in any case, whether or not one is free to express an opinion with no restraint, if one’s opinion carries zero weight, compared to a countervailing opinion of great authority, is there a significant difference between expressing this zero-impact opinion and keeping it to one’s self under the most draconian censorship? I propose that we change the inaccurate term “Free Speech” to the more apt “Cheap Speech”, meaning what we have access to, as Serfs: zero-authority platforms we can rant to our hearts’ content on… while public opinion is formed by “Expensive Speech” platforms (CNN, Hollywood, BBC, Sony ATV , Fox, NYer, NYT, HuffPo, et al) that are granted, regularly, to our ideological enemies who are supported by The System. “Free Speech” is a nice oxymoron in a system in which some people have access to (or actually own) prohibitively expensive media platforms capable of reaching and persuading hundreds of millions of people… and others, with radically differing opinions, are “free” to be mocked/ marginalized/demonized by same. Within the intricacies of such semantics our lives are lived or not lived and, generally, imagined.
There is no absolute, immutable, objective Philosophy capable of informing/enriching all lives. The goal is to assemble a living Philosophy from dynamic components that connect to the particulars of one’s own existence. An ugly young man’s system of thought couldn’t possibly work to enrich a beautiful, older woman’s Life in any but the most incidental ways. To admit that there are ugly young men (or ugly old men or ugly old women or beautiful young men, and so forth, along with brilliant old women or less brilliant men, and so on) is to admit that there are Philosophies, not Philosophy, and to indulge in the first Philosophical Thought: Life is not the same for everyone.
I was once a handsome young man with a good brain and no money. I am now a not-bad-looking man in his later-middle-age with a slightly-more materially stable Life. I have time to think and write and I get paid, every now and then, very decent money for the intellectual property I’m fairly good at creating. My Wife is intelligent and beautiful and fucking my Wife is one of the cornerstones of my stably happy and productive Life. Fucking my Wife is very much like going to The Art Museum; I often went to the Art Museum when I was a young man. Going on Thursdays, when going to the Museum was free of charge, was a ritual of my twenties. I’d stare into the Modigliani’s the way I stare into my Wife’s face when I fuck her. Those trips to the Art Museum in my twenties were a component in the inchoate Philosophy I was grappling with Raw Elements to produce. I couldn’t come up with anything workable in my twenties, but I was assembling the materials and tools I’d need later.
What stopped me in my twenties was my misunderstanding of Philosophy: I still believed in the One Size Fits All approach. The Philosophies I was trying on were nearly perfectly irrelevant to my Life. Just as Freud’s theories applied best to 19th century Austro-Hungarian Jews of the middle class, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, for example, were very poor fits for me. Nietzsche applies best to a sort of male, upper-middle-class Life in which “Will” can actually mean something, insofar as a man of that demographic description could, early in the previous century, assert himself, being no less than equal to the men who were writing the laws, designing the buildings, declaring War, etc. For better or worse, Nietzsche wrote a Philosophy that might actually relate, on some level, to the Life of an Ivy League Graduate with a fresh job at the Pentagon. But for me (or any number of people in some way similar, class-wise), quoting Nietzsche is harmlessly decorative at best. At worst an affectation that shames us.
8. MALE PROBLEMS
One of the few genuine examples of progress in the “modern” era (along with indoor plumbing and the overall quantum leap in hygiene that allows frank sex and lyrical romance to mingle, without irony, for the first time in human history) is the mainstream recognition of certain inter-personal crimes against health, freedom, dignity… crimes like rape/incest, bullying, stalking, et al. It wasn’t long ago that all these crimes were accepted as the dark side of human existence and they flourished: women had to be careful not to dress “provocatively”, or to bring a chaperone and 19th century children who suffered incest had to curse the bad luck and live through it. It was sometime during the later part of the 1960s that these crimes began to be taken seriously (the writer Jenny Diski often mentions the time she was locked in a bedsit in Swinging London, by a mod young man who refused to free her until she “agreed” to intercourse, after which he offered her a glass of milk and told her how much she’d liked “it”)… probably because the lower classes, and women, began to take themselves seriously. And that’s progress.
However: one very old form of inter-personal abuse lingers. It’s so accepted by the mainstream that it doesn’t even have a name the way “rape” and “incest” and “stalking” do. It’s something that happens, for structural reasons, usually only to males, and there’s probably little chance of drumming up much outrage over it until we understand that the systemic oppression of women, historically, was and is perpetrated by an institutional patriarchy that consists of some or even many or, plausibly, most men… but not all men. Generalized “payback” (eg, lynching a random white male because white males have lynched black males) is never just or even rational. No class/ race/ gender, et al, deserves blanket guilt or blanket retribution. Generalizations are sometimes necessary in narrative, but inter-personal relations can only be fair or meaningful if the humans involved are accorded the characteristics and rights (and benefit of the doubt) of the specific individual. I’m framing my argument very carefully, despite the fact that it appears that I’m wandering a little off piste here…
I’ll get to the point with a little story:
A friend of mine, from London, runs a small business. When I met him he had one child, older than our child, and he was happy. We bonded over being happy fathers, fathers with one daughter each. Raising one kid is hard enough but very much worth it; we both always gloated, whenever we hung out, that it’s possible to enjoy a genuine romance in a marriage featuring one child… don’t know how our friends with two or even three kids manage. I know it’s possible and some couples thrive with a big brood but it wasn’t possible with either of us, in our frank opinions: neither of us ever wanted the second child, although that’s the norm in Berlin. Almost everybody who has one kid eventually ends up with two… ideally one of each of the mainstream genders (Germans can be pretty programmatic). Not us! We both enjoyed the perfect balance between fatherhood, marital romance, work and time-intense dream-pursuits (cultural production in my case, sport in his) that you’d have to have a live-in nanny, in order to pursue, if you had two or more kids. The only problem being that Richard (not his real name) was not of the same opinion as his wife, who wanted another kid.
I’d be in Richard’s shop about once a month and we’d prank and brag and blather for an hour or two and this went on for a couple of years. Our ongoing joke: “Still have just the one kid?”
Well, sometime late last year I wandered into Richard’s shop and he wasn’t in; his employee told me that Richard’s wife was “expecting”. To make a long story short, Richard’s wife wore him down, you see, and now he has two kids and he’s miserable. Richard’s not a young guy but he looks about ten years older, suddenly, and his marital sex/romantic life is now nil, no more time to shoot the breeze or run his racing bike along an indoor track or any of the other things he loved doing when he was a happily-married father of one school-age daughter. But shouldn’t “no mean no” when it’s a man saying (pleading) it, too? When Richard’s second daughter graduates from High School he’ll be 70. Which would be fine if he’d planned or wanted it that way.
Richard is bitter and miserable now but his case isn’t the worst: what about men whose lady friends deliberately get pregnant in order to “keep” them? I’ve known half a dozen men who’ve found themselves caught in that very ancient mammalian trap and it’s half-a-dozen plus one if I include myself.
Most of you know that I have a grown son from a previous relationship. Not sure how many of you know that my son’s mother told me a lie about her reproductive status (“Doctor told me I’m sterile!”) in order to get pregnant… shortly before I was due to move to another city. I love my son, I’m glad he’s on the planet… but isn’t that a little bit like kidnapping someone, hijacking their entire future for purely selfish, or foolish, reasons? I put on a brave face and made the best of the situation for as long as I could, but the emotional suffering this woman’s selfish act produced in me was and is immense. It was incalculable.
Doesn’t a person have the right to decide if, or when, and with whom, he or she will reproduce? If it’s illegal to inseminate (with or without violence) a woman against her will, why is it not illegal to coerce or trick a man into being a father? Why isn’t there even a term, legal or otherwise, for the practice? The woman who tricked me into being a parent with her did so after I very explicitly told her I didn’t want to have children. What I meant, of course, was that I didn’t want to have children with her. I’m incredibly happy, three decades later, to be a parent with my wife. I chose my wife and she chose me and we chose to have a child. No tricks, no coercion. Sounds like Human Rights in action, doesn’t it?
Shouldn’t it be that way? And shouldn’t the violation of the no tricks/ no coercion concept be at least frowned upon? Can the men who find themselves victims of this unnamed crime be considered victims, at least? Or is it impossible for us to be victims, by default, because we’re men?
The biological power to conceive and nurture and bring forth human life is fundamental, primal, the first of all powers. Enormous responsibility comes with it. With enormous responsibility often comes enormous abuse.
9. the relationship between Artist and Audience
Among other things, the relationship between Artist and Audience is co-pedagogic. Just as the Audience (even before the Audience is the Artist’s Audience) instructs the Artist on the topic of The Human, for all the years before the Artist ever picks up a pen or a paintbrush or violin, the Artist returns the favor by instructing the Audience in Art. If an Audience is paying attention, the Artist helps to bring the Audience along… both as the guide and the ward of the Audience… opens the Audience to aspects of Art that were, perhaps, previously unimaginable, impenetrable or taboo. This opening of the Audience to Art links directly to a proportional opening of the Audience to finer, deeper, more private pleasures in the Audience’s Life. Even Sex feels better and means more under the glittering mythic overlay Art hands to us to drape it with. A world in which Sex feels better and means more is a world safe for Art.
Tracking the progress of the Artist/Audience dyad in the Anglophone Sphere, from WWl onwards, we watch the Audience, in simplest terms, graduate from Classicism to Modernism to Post Modernism as the Artists experimented with new or riskier solutions to age-old problems in story-telling and picture-painting… supported in these experiments by the support of the Audience’s (at the very least) attention. Some time during the early ’70s, the Audience (not, of course, the MASS Audience; The Audience for Art) reached a peak in its level of sophistication and acceptance of risk that had made the braver films of, say, John Cassavetes or JLG, possible, as well as the books of Italo Calvino, Milan Kundera, Thomas Pynchon and all the other “postmodernists”.
And, perhaps this is a topic worthy of its own discussion, but you’ll find it, again and again, in the Avant Gardists, the postmodernists, the envelope-pushers: sex means something far more than reproductive utility or a tension-releasing triviality (which is how it’s framed by Materialists). The elevation of Sex as a mystical sacrament (Godly and/or Luciferian) separates Art from the Materialist project and is the core of Secular Spirituality. Which replaces, neatly, the land-owning hierarchies of the Edifice (Materialist) Religions for the Art Believer.
If you came of age during the culturally interesting period of the late-middle 20th century, there was a chance that you belonged to the small percentage of intellectual radicals, within the small percentage of born Artists, who took the 1970s as a natural starting point for further, riskier and more thrilling experimentation. The problem you wouldn’t have counted on was The 1980s. The fact that John “I am the Walrus” Lennon’s assassination heralded the advent of that decade is significant.
In any case, a Wall went up. The early-’80s were the last-gasp of the ’70s and the Reagan era was a disjunctive cross between the venal torpor of the Howdy Doody years and the politically-super-corrupt exhibitionism of a CIA-run Banana Republic.
The 1980s were a period during which the Good Old Club (our Feudal Lords), seemingly, for the first time since before WW2, decided that certain Social/Cultural experiments really had gone far enough, and that the Serfs had better get a few funny ideas (about Individuality, about Humanity, about Informed Participation) out of their silly little collective head. Because The Game only works if everyone believes in it, and everyone only believes in The Game if everyone accepts certain fundamental premises, chief of which is the primacy of material wealth. What’s the most memorable catch-phrase of the 1980s? “Greed is good.” Yes, we know, that line from that particular movie was meant to be “ironic” within the supposedly high-minded framework of the film’s supposed message. The “villain” of that movie was supposed to embody everything you shouldn’t aspire to; yet the riches and models and plutocratic perversions on display were strangely… compelling, no? The “irony” was a Trojan Horse. And Al Pacino’s greedy, violent, idiotic and relentlessly aspirational character in Scarface, meant to be a cautionary tale, went on to inspire a million hip hop videos, which, in turn, inspired a generation or two.
And the High Art, Secular Humanist Spirituality of Sex became crass and venal (Materialist) Pornography: bigger boobs, chemical hard-ons, blow jobs in swimming pools and BMWs and the explicit violence (edging toward torture) of owner-vs-commodity relations. From the ’70s’ last lingering ghost of Faust’s Das Ewig Weibliche Zieht Uns Hinan …. to Rich Bitch Anal Gangbangs.
When they re-established the inherent cross-demographic sense of the holy primacy of material wealth, they disturbed the relationship between (the genuine) Artist and Audience by undercutting the (genuine) Artist’s authority. A teacher with no authority can’t teach; can’t lead. In a materialist value system, only the wealthy have authority and only expensive-looking “Art” will impress: blockbuster movies, pop albums with enormous PR budgets, paintings in grandiose museums, novels published by publishers based in Manhattan skyscrapers. The actual Art itself is irrelevant; what counts is the frame of Wealth. Authority’s big budget. God’s wallet. The inspiring, anti-materialist Gospel of the Starving Artist has been deleted.
Genuine Artists are now a rag tag Resistance hidden in the hills above the Occupied Landscape of PopCult. We are just as out-gunned and outnumbered as the Partisans were in Vichy Paris. Our weapons are much stranger, however: imagine a hand grenade that only explodes if an occupying soldier, or a collaborator, understands what the grenade represents. Further, in any successful Occupation, the invaded population gradually becomes the Occupying Army; who are the partisans struggling to liberate, then?
I once had a “discussion” with an intellectual refugee from the ’60s who wanted to know (a little smugly) where the Radical Spirit had gone to. He was proud of the Radical Spirit of the ’60s and all that it had accomplished (all of which was subsequently rolled back, btw); what, he wanted to know, is wrong with the current, deeply apathetic, generation?
I had to point out to him that, way back in the middle of the 20th century, rebellion was where all the fun was. It was easy to inspire kids to rebel and resist and hitchhike out of the suburbs with a sneer on their lips, in 1967, because that was where all the earthly delights were happening. What did Conformity have to offer in 1967? What did the Squares have to offer? Television? The ROTC? No sex before marriage?
It was no contest: if you wanted sex and drugs and music all night with a bunch of naked friends, you had to rebel, you had to drop out. And of course you marched against The War because there was a Draft and you or your friends or your kids stood a terribly good chance of being hoovered up by it. Thirty years later, They inverted that. There is no Draft; the Military is merely the alternative to a job at McDonald’s: who can bother to march against that? All the sex and drugs and multi-media excitement and high-tech gimmickry you could ever hope for is now yours only if you belong, only if you’re obedient, only if you become competent at playing The Game. Drop out and write poetry and try living without a car and the latest i-phone and see how much pussy or Douchebook likes you get. Rebels are losers. Conspiracy Theorists are wackos. Get a job!
It was easy to rebel in the ’60s. Rebelling in the 21st century is hard.
And Art is even harder.
Because the popular forms are now just shitty, veneer-deep, normative propaganda and Duh Masses just love it. The movies are violent fairytales for psychically-disturbed children; fairytales with idiotic, cliché-rich scripts and lots of tits and capes and psychopathy and explosions. The Pop is made of nursery-rhyme choruses of machine-generated sound-effects fronted by Sex Bots.
The Television is infinitely more blatant, and sometimes much slicker, than it was when Actual Intellectuals, fifty years ago, commonly referred to it as The Idiot Box. The trojan horse trick of ironic inversion, as employed so effectively by “Greed is Good”, in the 1980s, is a common technique in the “quality television” of the 21st century: The Wire was racist, Negrophobic bilge masquerading as TV with a social conscience; True Detective was misogynistic splatter-porn masquerading as a dramatic tribute to the indomitability of love and the human spirit. Because it doesn’t matter what the scripts say; it matters what Pictures They Show You. Remember that.
And all of it functions not only to confirm certain Societal Norms (eg: women as sexy victims; Blacks as violent savages) but to desensitize the Electorate to Evil and Violence, as well, because there are still, you see, many illegal blitzkriegs and occupations to manage around the planet. There are psychopathic soldiers to maim and discard. There are foreign children to bomb and markets to open and minerals for our cars and i-phones to steal. Every hour of Television makes all that a little bit less of a problem for the Audience.
Because the relationship between Materialist Propaganda and the Audience is, among other things, co-pedagogic.
10. FAILED STATE OF THE AHT (written a while back)
“Narrative”, that zine-type thing that regularly brings literary cat shit to my in-box, delivered fresh material, rich in wavy stink-lines, yesterday morning. I clicked a link and was confronted with two little teasers, the intro to a “poem” and the intro to a “short story”. The poem:
“When the new pope kneels to wash
the brown foot of a female inmate, the world
sets its flashbulbs to rupture.”
Interesting word choice, if by “interesting” we mean to say the writer chose a blatantly OFF word with which to end the third line of her “poem” (forget the goofy grandiloquence presenting the anachronism in that line). I’m all for the use of unexpected words to enliven a sentence, but if I write, for example, “the smarmy wings of the dove”, you can be fairly sure I either don’t know the standard definition of “smarmy”… or maybe my ear’s off. Did those old-school “flash bulbs” really tend to “rupture”? And even if they did, was the “rupturing” the point? Surely the flashing was the point. Would a near-relative of the word “flash” have been an apter choice…? Duh.
To which you might respond: “What’s the big stinkin’ deal?”
In a 200,000-word novel, it wouldn’t be… possibly. But in a poem of a few-dozen words?
I’m not ranting about usage errors on a Grammatically-molecular level (most Grammar-Nazis, I’ve found, tend to be stylistically tone-deaf fumble-fucks with language, like musicians who can sight-read but couldn’t write a good song to save a puppy’s life). When “writers” make errors like these, we have no choice: we vomit directly into our cupped hands and wipe our hands off on the nearest cat and try to move on.
On the other hand! From a poem offered at the same dreadful site we find something to coo over, a little:
AT THE SHORE, the water is rush
and retreat, taking my footprintswith it, a quiet delete.
The rest of the poem is a vaguely-argued let-down after that, but, still: I detect the smell of poet-ghost there.
11. STILL MORE CORRECTIONS
I was reading through a couple hours’ worth of Kubrickiana, on the site called Visual Memory, when I came across a shocking error in the FAQ section (submitted by someone, appropriately, with the initials BS):
9/ In Full Metal Jacket, what’s the bit about Joker’s desire to slip the tubesteak to cowboys sister about?
In Full Metal Jacket, Joker is given responsibility to get Private Pyle into shape. We see several scenes where it appears that, under Joker’s tutelage, Pyle seems to be improving as a soldier. All of this is undone when Sgt. Hartmann finds the jelly donut in Pyle’s footlocker, and punishes the entire platoon as a result. One night the platoon, fed up with the punishments over Pyle’s ineptitude, attacks Pyle in his sleep. Even Joker takes part in the attack, although reluctantly. This breaks Pyle psychologically; although he throws himself into his training with focus and zeal, we see that he’s also becoming sullen and withdrawn. Joker first notices that Pyle’s cracking when he sees Pyle talking lovingly to his gun.
The next scene shows Cowboy and Joker mopping the latrine floor. Joker, checking to see if anyone’s around, tells Cowboy that he thinks Pyle’s cracking up. Cowboy’s not enthusiastic about Pyle, or even talking about Pyle. So, Joker changes the subject with a joke. He says, in the same casual tone, “I’d like to slip my tubesteak into your sister. What’ll you take in trade?” Cowboy, returning the banter, says “Whaddya got?”
Joker’s empathy only goes so far. He might have helped Pyle, and he might be concerned about Pyle’s stability. But he’s hardly heroic enough to do anything about it. We’ve seen his willingness to join in the attack on Pyle, and Cowboy’s dismissive attitude is enough to make him drop the question of Pyle’s stability.
Is this a shocking error or a typical lie? The scene referenced in the film is fairly obvious (though subtle enough to slip by inattentive censors at the time). To quote a highly perceptive YouTube comment appended to the clip:
“Kubrick was a sly fucker. The last thing a bunch of war-porn loving Murkkans would expect to be confronted with is a wink at the widespread culture of opportunistic homosexuality in the military (and wherever else boys are locked up together at night in bunk beds: prison, boarding school, seminaries etc). This scene is pretty blatant… unless you don’t want to admit it to yourself. I imagine a few packs of cigarettes is what Joker paid Cowboy for the rental of his ass. Which is why the death of Cowboy was so emotional, for Joker, later in the film; why Joker wanted some pretty brutal payback against the (female) sniper… who shot Joker’s lover.”
So, we know what’s at stake here. A Big Time Post Modernist with dangerously Mainstream Name Recognition has elected to cross a Rubicon that our supposed Dean of Paranoiac Imagineering, Don DeLillo, was way too cautious to cross with his Falling Man (a “9/11 book” that could just as well have used any epoch-making catastrophe… or none at all… as a backdrop to the beguiling syntax of its studiously-evasive free-associations). Don’t get me wrong: I love DeLillo. But true love means acknowledging the foibles and limits in the beloved. Pynchon’s balls are heavier, crustier, sweatier and far more often in use.
Justin Sinclair, Pynchon’s cack-handed handler in the (propagandizing) “City After 9/11” anthology, quotes a passage from the book and “analyzes” it for us, which means he’s telling us what to think it means, despite abundant evidence to the contrary:
“If you read nothing but the Newspaper of Record, you might believe that New York City, like the nation, united in sorrow and shock, has risen to the challenge of global jihadism, joining a righteous crusade Bush’s people are now calling the War on Terror. If you go to other sources—the Internet, for example—you might get a different picture. Out in the vast undefined anarchism of cyberspace, among the billions of self-resonant fantasies, dark possibilities are beginning to emerge.”
On an initial read, one might fear that Pynchon has gone truther; yet, before the section has ended, it becomes clear that the narrator has no time for certain real-world conspiracy theories (including, for example, the allegation that a secret Muslim network warned all New York City pushcart operators to stay home on September 11). Instead, the concern here mirrors that found in Lethem’s Chronic City: an anxiety regarding the ability of conspiracy theories to “colonize the public imagination” (164). Using almost exactly the same phraseology, Pynchon bemoans not only how such ideas “take hold of the civic imagination,” but also how these narratives are subsequently exploited (329). Note, too, how Pynchon echoes Lethem’s contention that these fictions are pocketed, solipsistic; here, the fantasies are “self-resonant”.
Which is either an error of honest stupidity (or, to be charitable, slipshod reading) or a deliberate lie. I lean toward the latter. What Pynchon’s narrator (Pynchon) has “no time for” are the anti-Muslim Conspiracy Theories supported by The Government, not by “Truthers”. Pynchon is doing the opposite of what “Justin Sinclair” claims he’s doing and he’s displaying no textual “anxiety” in the process; the tone of the passage reads like more of a sneer. In other words, contra Sinclair’s absurd reading, Pynchon is very much acting the “Truther” in Bleeding Edge, as becomes clear when one reads the entire passage that Sinclair takes a tiny snippet from. Trusting, no doubt, that you’ll never read Bleeding Edge and that his essay will reach more readers than Pynchon’s (under-promoted) book will. And perhaps it will (or did). The fuller passage reads:
If you read nothing but the Newspaper of Record, you might believe that New York City, like the nation, united in sorrow and shock, has risen to the challenge of global jihadism, joining a righteous crusade Bush’s people are now calling the War on Terror. If you go to other sources—the Internet, for example—you might get a different picture. Out in the vast undefined anarchism of cyberspace, among the billions of self-resonant fantasies, dark possibilities are beginning to emerge.
The plume of smoke and finely divided structural and human debris has been blowing southwest, toward Bayonne and Staten Island, but you can smell it all the way uptown. A bitter chemical smell of death and burning that no one in memory has ever in this city smelled before and which lingers for weeks. Though everybody south of 14th Street has been directly touched one way or another, for much of the city the experience has come to them mediated, mostly by television—the farther uptown, the more secondhand the moment, stories from family members commuting to work, friends, friends of friends, phone conversations, hearsay, folklore, as forces in whose interests it compellingly lies to seize control of the narrative as quickly as possible come into play and dependable history shrinks to a dismal perimeter centered on “Ground Zero,” a Cold War term taken from the scenarios of nuclear war so popular in the early sixties. This was nowhere near a Soviet nuclear strike on downtown Manhattan, yet those who repeat “Ground Zero” over and over do so without shame or concern for etymology. The purpose is to get people cranked up in a certain way. Cranked up, scared, and helpless.
For a couple of days, the West Side Highway falls silent. People between Riverside and West End miss the ambient racket and don’t get to sleep so easily. On Broadway meanwhile it’s different. Flatbeds carrying hydraulic cranes and track loaders and other heavy equipment go thundering downtown in convoys day and night. Fighter planes roar overhead, helicopters hang battering the air for hours close above the rooftops, sirens are constant 24/7. Every firehouse in the city lost somebody on 11 September, and every day people in the neighborhoods leave flowers and home-cooked meals out in front of each one. Corporate ex-tenants of the Trade Center hold elaborate memorial services for those who didn’t make it out in time, featuring bagpipers and Marine honor guards. Child choirs from churches and schools around town are booked weeks in advance for solemn performances at “Ground Zero,” with “America the Beautiful” and “Amazing Grace” being musical boilerplate at these events. The atrocity site, which one would have expected to become sacred or at least inspire a little respect, swiftly becomes occasion instead for open-ended sagas of wheeling and dealing, bickering and badmouthing over its future as real estate, all dutifully celebrated as “news” in the Newspaper of Record. Some notice a strange underground rumbling from the direction of Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, which is eventually identified as Robert Moses spinning in his grave.
After maybe a day and a half of stunned suspension, the usual ethnic toxicities, fierce as ever, have resumed. Hey, it’s New York. American flags appear everywhere. In apartment-building lobbies and up in apartment windows, on rooftops, in storefronts and corner groceries, in eateries, on delivery trucks and hot-dog stands, on motorcycles and bikes, on cabs driven by members of the Muslim faith, who between shifts are taking courses in Spanish as a Second Language with a view to posing as a slightly less disrespected minority, though whenever Latino people try putting out some variation like the Puerto Rican flag, they are reflexively cursed and denounced as enemies of America.
That terrible morning, so it was later alleged, for a radius of many blocks surrounding the towers, every pushcart disappeared, as if the population of pushcart owners, at that time believed to be most of them Muslim, had been warned to keep away. Through some network. Some evil secret rugrider network possibly in place for years. The pushcarts stayed away, and so the morning began that much less comfortably, obliging folks to go in to work without their customary coffees, danishes, donuts, bottles of water, so many bleak appoggiaturas for what was about to happen.
Beliefs like this take hold of the civic imagination. Corner newsagents are raided and Islamic- looking suspects hauled away by the busload. Sizable Mobile Police Command Centers appear at various flashpoints, especially over on the East Side, wherever, for example, a high-income synagogue and some Arab embassy happen to occupy the same block, and eventually these installations grow not so mobile, becoming with time a permanent part of the cityscape, all but welded to the pavement. Likewise, ships with no visible flags, pretending to be cargo vessels, though with more antennas on them than booms, appear out in the Hudson, drop the hook, and become, effectively, private islands belonging to unnamed security agencies and surrounded by stay-away zones. Roadblocks keep appearing and disappearing along the avenues leading to and away from the major bridges and tunnels. Young Guardsfolk in clean new camo fatigues and carrying weapons and ammunition clips are patrolling Penn Station and Grand Central and the Port of Authority. Public holidays and anniversaries become occasions for anxiety.
So, “as forces in whose interests it compellingly lies to seize control of the narrative as quickly as possible come into play” is also a canny anticipation of Sinclair’s disingenuous essay, no?