Wednesday, December 31, 2008
I visited my relatives in Miami this Chrismas. My husband, two kids and I drove there and back. On our way there, an enormous sheet of ice flew off a truck and hit our car in Virginia. We spent the night in NC and the next day, in Georgia, noticed the gauge in the dashboard indicated the engine was very hot. It was December 23rd and staying in a hotel would have been out of the question. We exited out of I-95 and into what looked like a very shady neighborhood, pulled into a gas station where repair men were called to help us out.
Two toothless men with very thick southern accents showed up, it was almost impossible to understand what they were saying. They looked at our car and asked us to follow them to their repair shop which was an enormous junkyard about a half a mile away. At the entrance there was a dog, pictured above, that barked furiously until he realized we weren't scared. He watched us roam around taking pictures for awhile and then decided to take a nap.
The two men told us the cooling system had been damaged - most likely by the impact when the ice hit the car - then poured a sealant into the engine. They asked for $45 dollars and sent us off, telling us maybe we'd make it all the way to Miami. It was already getting dark and the thought of our car breaking down halfway was a bit scary.
But we made it alright, arrived at our hotel at 2 am that night. During our stay, the weather was warm and sunny, and the family reunions even more so. Miami is a place where Starbucks can't compete with all the great little restaurants and "cortadito" shops where Cuban coffee abounds. We got the car fixed and returned to NYC energized by a lot of love, interesting and lively conversations, and the fun we had. We'll hold on to all that for a long time.
All the best from us at The Tempest for 2009,
Sunday, December 28, 2008
He shouts down ten stories at the jackhammers,
shakes his fist at the crosstown bus.
Call him too late and he won't answer;
and you'll wish he'd never picked up the phone.
These are his requirements:
a pot of Earl Grey, six pencils (sharpened),
one blue ballpoint, a pad
of college-ruled notepaper, a bowl
of rice pudding, with a tablespoon.
He never begins until almost midnight,
and then he'll stalk barefoot and mad-haired
until the garbage trucks snort and grumble in the street
and he crumples up half-sonnets and
aborted triolets to throw at them.
Don't you dare bang your broom on the ceiling.
And don't waste words reminding him of the days when poems leapt
from his pen so quickly that he would write in subway cars
and at deli counters, and even if you jostled his elbow
or poked your umbrella in his back
you couldn't stop him from scorching page after page
with hymns of fire and the pink tragedy of a winter sky.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Actually I am not sure if the above will hold true. But I do know I have noticed that the older a book is, the less likely it is to have a "prologue" or an italicized section designed to give you a reason to read the first 250 pages, or a first chapter that seems to come from a different, more piquant story than the one you soon begin to read; until you realize that the chapter you just read actually comes from somewhere in the middle of the book.
Seems like this is a crutch for the modern writer. Does it mean the moderns are less skillful? I am not one to say (or at least not one to write). But I do know I have a tough time imagining Flaubert needing to spill a few beans about Madame Bovary at the beginning, only to spill the rest of them later.
Movies have indulged in this for quite some time--or anyway, it seems they started doing it before authors took it up. Maybe that's because movies have long been made for a busy audience--folks who don't have that much time and who need to be reassured that, if they spend some time on this story of yours, they will be rewarded later.
Gone are the days of careful foreshadowing: when, just by telling the tale very skillfully, the author was able to convey a sense of what was to come. Here are the days of blunt propositions: step right up--have a peep inside! We won't disappoint!
We get bored so easily today. We feel left out and lonesome if we discover ourselves reading a book that has not already given us every reason to believe we will have made good use of the time we've spent. The prospect of having spent an hour alone, risking the failure of our reading investment, seems to shame us into leaving books closed that have not early made us secure.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Art is dangerous and if it is chaste, it isn't art.
Look at nature, work independently, and solve your own problems.
Art disturbs, science reassures.
There is no 'must' in art, because art is free.
If a man devotes himself to art, much evil is avoided that happens otherwise if one is idle. -Albrecht Durer
The ugliest spectacle is that of artists selling themselves. Art as a commodity is an ugly idea..The artist as businessman is uglier than the businessman as artist.
Follow the masters! But why should one follow them? The only reason they are masters is that they didn't follow anybody.
The exhibition has now become no more than a bazaar where mediocrity spreads itself out with impudence. The exhibitions are useless and dangerous..they ought to be abolished.
When we are no longer children, we are already dead.
Between my head and my hand, there is always the face of death.
Personally, I believe very much in values of savagery; I mean: instinct, passion, mood, violence, madness.
What am I in most people's eyes? A nonentity or an eccentric and disagreeable man..I should want my work to show what is in the heart of such an eccentric, of such a nobody.
-Vincent Van Gogh
Just as Leonardo da Vinci studied human anatomy and dissected corpses, so I try to dissect souls.
The job of the artist is to deepen the mystery.
Art does not reproduce what we see. It makes us see.
Why do people think artists are special? It's just another job.
Things are not difficult to make; what is difficult is putting ourselves in the state of mind to make them.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Smirking, Bush ducked both times and later said "So what?"
No doubt comics the world over felt a week's worth of material had been written for them, and "the Arab street" has made the journalist a folk-hero. But for any American who cares what the world thinks of his/her country, the act becomes--once the chuckling has died down--a deep humiliation. Worse is the clear sense that Bush was asking for it (having invaded the journalist's nation on a liar's dare).
Perhaps more wretched than any of that is the apparent fact that Bush neither understands the sadness of the moment (not for him but for his country), nor cares.
"So what?"? Is that the best you can come up with? Having been subjected to the worst insult an Arab can throw, you, Mr. President, as the representative of your people, can offer no more reflection nor care than "So what?"?
How many years of good will and intelligence will the next President have to muster before the damage to our national image can be repaired?
It is all of a piece, sadly for us all. You're doing a heckuva job, Bushie.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could get the federal government to bail out the arts instead of the corporations? With the hyper-infusion of financial endowments, we could elaborate a multi-media expose of our present conditions. What about WALL STREET: THE MUSICAL? Garage rock bands touring with names like "Day Trader," "Powder Blue Shirts," and 401Kaput"? Perhaps we could get Bill Viola to do a video piece entitled "Autoworkers and Helicopters." Just think of it: Video pornography could inaugurate a series entitled "My Nasdaq is Up!," a sensual and exceedingly idealistic melding of erotica and market trends.
Already, as of this writing, I'm landscaping an abandoned lot in preparation for a sculpture garden which will contain a statue of King Midas in the midst of projectile vomiting (a geyser of sewage water will be propelled through the statue's mouth at the opening and closing of the stock market each day).
Perhaps we could have Spielberg or Scorsese do a blockbuster film called GREED? Wait, that was made over eighty years ago, five years before the Wall Street crashed, burned, and greatly depressed. Well, perhaps they could shoot a re-make. What better way to reflect the Hegelian, hellish cycle of history? J/C
Monday, December 15, 2008
Last week, on Thursday, there was an ice storm in upstate NY and western MA. It lasted an entire day and left thousands of people without power and everything covered in ice.
On Sunday, I went into a patch of woods across from my house and shot ice against the sun.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
back to the one when we fell, burning,
into the strange atmosphere of this world
where the weight of every object is wrong
and the distances between everything are fickle.
The night rain falls like sofas and anvils
and in the morning mountains have sprung up
in impossible places towards the horizon.
Our clocks here spin like the eyes
of cartoon characters struck on the head,
in our laboratory where none of the devices
do much but beep, and click, and beep.
Look up – to arrive we had to bisect
that lurid sky, swarmed with the very stars
that guarded the night of your birth,
though now they've been turned on their sides
and made false to even themselves. It is too bad,
but we are here and this will always
be the world where you held your neck out patiently
and let me taste your cupric skin
while we clenched each other inside our failing machine
and wondered what was howling
and banging at the hatch all night.
No matter – this is the mission we flew on,
and where we fell to, you and I, and perhaps
either one of those vicious suns, or maybe
the heat of our craft burning behind us
will scorch the shadows of us holding hands
forever and away across the rusted sand.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
And then there are pictures like the above, which to a skeptic like myself (who also happens to have made a living for a time being really pretty good at Photoshop), presents an intriguing prospect. The photograph and its companions were allegedly taken at Green Bay Wisconsin in 2007 and can be found at www.ufoevidence.org.
There is every possibility the photo is doctored, so let us begin with that premise. However, it would have required the skills of someone who is at once truly masterful (Hollywood level at least) at creating verisimilitude--take special note of flares of light ovetaking thin branches as the craft apparently "moves" during the exposure; truly motivated to deceive the public into belief that the sighting really took place; and truly inept or truly not interested in gaining notoriety or payment for the deployment of their considerable skills.
And yet, if we take the position that the photo must be doctored, because of course UFOs are not UFOs at all, but always a hoax, then what are we saying? We are making several assumptions about human character and skill that begin to equal or surpass in their collective unlikelihood the possibility that something inexplicable (to wit--an Unidentified Flying Object) was recorded by a photosensitive device behind some trees in Green Bay not long ago.
The rest is for us to ponder.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
However, seven years on we still have this enormous hole in the ground. It is the size of the downtowns of several notable cities I have visited: Portland, Oregon, for instance--a city large enough to have a AAA farm club; or New Orleans--certainly the French Quarter is not much bigger than this acre of hell in Lower Manhattan. Simply put: it's a big hole and lots of buildings were destroyed.
Now comes the joke: they keep saying they are putting up buildings there. This is probably because it would hurt too much to admit the turbaned enemy can awake each morning knowing that, where he knocked down skyscrapers, no skyscrapers now stand. It may also be due to the interlocking nature of dozens of business deals that have been made over the ashes, and to admit that one is not putting up buildings would be to scuttle those deals and all the money that rides upon their progress. All that said, here is a fact: they are not putting up any buildings at Ground Zero.
Sure, there is the Freedom Tower. The Freedom Tower, which will be the tallest building in the United States when built, is a two-story high concrete stump surrounded by a moat of pilings and mud. In no way does it resemble a skyscraper and barely resembles a building. Three or four years ago, they put six girders in the ground--and then stopped. There are two mighty construction cranes towering above the stump, and they both have big American flags on them. But they are mostly silent. A handful of hardhats poke around the site each day, perhaps hammering a nail or two. The site was broom clean and ready for construction in 2002. No other buildings have laid even a foundation (except for the memorial, which is destined to be largely underground).
Folks, they are not putting up any buildings at Ground Zero.
Don't let any computer rendering make you believe otherwise.
There are no buildings now. There are no buildings getting ready to be built. There are no buildings on the horizon. There are only the computer renderings.
I believe this is because Larry Silverstein, the lease-holder of the site, knows that, since he received billions for the loss of the twin towers, and since he is not compelled to build, and since there is no market at all for any office towers he would conceivably build, he would be mighty foolish to waste all those billions on a clutch of very tall skyscrapers that will cost him all his billions and sit empty and make him go broke before the paint is dry in their corridors. I believe there was a limited market before this fall's financial meltdown and that now, only a crazy person would put up an entire city's worth of buildings just blocks away from the epicenter of that meltdown. Heck, it is a wonder that the nearby Goldman Sachs tower is continuing towards completion.
There's no hope for any construction at Ground Zero. And that is a sad sort of joke: the terrorists won.
By the way: I hope I am proven the world's worst prognosticator, and that they have everything tall and shiny by 2012 just like they keep promising. But I am not feeling optimistic.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Onwards to other matters...
The predicament of the word leads the consideration of the disturbing state of bookstores. Ron Silliman's site has tracked the tragic closure of independent bookstores throughout the country. Awful news to add to the awful news of the world in general. The loss of bookstores is lamentable for many reasons, especially since there is nothing to replace them. 'Tis true: Amazon, Alibris, and any other online book-buying service will never replace the text enclosed in book covers. Although there has been much speculation about online book-producing services superseding the print copy found on shelves of stores and bookcases, this is a forecast that will forever be predicted and never really happen. Downloading novels? Possible and luridly so. But this kind of service will always serve an ancillary function to that mastodon of material, the published Book. As many critics and pundits have mentioned, the Death of the Book has been long been prophesied and has never happened. Dear Reader, it never will, at least in your lifetime or the next four or five generations. Lest one feel comforted by the assertivess of this prediction, keep in mind that most books are shite. Seriously, computers will never become bookstores and books will never be read by computers. Books are not yet Paradise Lost; nor, for that matter, are bookstores. But let's hope the book chains go under and the mom and pop's renew their leases of life.
Monday, December 08, 2008
The Metropolitan Museum in New York is currently having a retrospective of Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964), the 20th century Italian painter.
Morandi studied art in the Accademia di Belle Arti, Firenze, and lived his whole life in Bologna with his three sisters. Early in his artistic career, he met with Carra and di Chirico and aligned himself briefly with the Pittura Metafisica movement. But Morandi was not interested much in isms, nor in external events, though he is now considered one of the most important forerunners of Minimalism. He was in fact deeply introverted and held a detached perspective on common events, as evident in his work.
All alone in his studio, he never stopped painting, drawing and engraving a deeply personal universe: vases, bottles, bowls and boxes, stripped of all trivial detail. When looking at these small compositions of silence and meditation, one can clearly see the influences of the great masters: Giotto, Massaccio and Piero de la Francesca - from the simplicity of his palate to his focus on the eternal through geometric form. He once said: "Nothing is more abstract than the visual world", a profound statement, and with personal restraint he concentrated on form, color and space to capture the eternal in objects. He is considered the quintessential artist’s artist, but even someone not finely tuned in to visual artistic processes, may appreciate his efforts.
Morandi lived during WWII, extremely difficult times. Perhaps during these trying days, the calm, yet fully alive work of such a master, someone whose lifetime dedication was the investigation of reality through the familiar with profound integrity and simplicity, would be inspiring. The stillness of these paintings might open the viewer to a sense of serenity and infinite possibilities.
The show is only the second retrospective of Morandi ever held in the US and closes on December 14. There are over 100 still lives, but Morandi painted the same subjects repeatedly and there's really no need to see them all. Fully focusing on two or three that capture your eye, and joining him in his meditative quest, is all you need to do in order to gain a great deal more than you ever thought you needed. It's that simple.
The Metropolitan Museum
1000 Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street
New York, New York 10028-0198
Sunday, December 07, 2008
for a short hop flight. much better than, say,
anna karenina. in a half hour wait (not including delays)
you still feel like you've gotten somewhere
moving with him through exotic zipcodes
and several soul-crushing jobs.
i guess we're lured by the romance
of such desultory days, maybe headed to the diner
or to santa anita (where I've never been,
and wouldn't know how to go about even placing a bet
but I picture a parking lot of red dust, palms standing lonely
in the distance like desert prophets,
sun making a yoke of the horizon)
or to the corner store for an impromptu beer,
any of these preferable to waiting for the 7:35 to san jose,
another expensed cab-ride to an oatmeal conference room,
with its inoffensive art, those phones and flipcharts,
all those rehearsed handshakes you'll face.
others find nobility in his demotic concerns;
making rent, or the six horse in the fourth race,
or the egyptian eyes of the night waitress
at a diner you would never really set foot in.
me, i just like the way all those lower case letters feel
so modest and cool on my eyes, after rummaging in my bag
for the right powerwords for my presentation.
We know already that Obama wants to pump up our "aging infrastructure" (as it seems always to be called) with billions of dollars worth of patches and struts. I say, how about a whole new system? One that relies far less on the resource-squandering, city-destroying, strip-mall enabling automobile; and far more upon one that has been successfully embraced by what a former cabinet-member once referred to rather contemptuously (in a more headstrong time for the U.S.) as "old Europe"?
I am talking about high-speed rail.
As an occasional traveler to Washington, I can attest to its attractiveness on a limited scale: the Acela, a slow-poke among the world's high-speed trains at about 150 mph, gets you from New York to DC in less than 3 hours. It feels like no time at all if you have even a moderately good book to read. Why can't this be speeded up, and why can't it do more than serve the Boston-Washington Corridor?
Can't we build a fast train that extends to Florida? If that is too much, a line from New York to Chicago is certain to be heavily utilized--and if the rails are laid well and the train moves at European-level speeds, the trip would probably take about five hours. It would easily compete with air travel, considering the deep circles of hell that our airports have become. What's better, trains are so much more fuel efficient than cars, this becomes almost a case by itself--for national security, even (if you want to stretch it).
Once, my family and I missed a flight from a city in southern Spain to Madrid, and we had a flight out of Madrid later in the day. It seemed we were in no position to make that flight back home. But we got on the Spanish "Ave" train, and it sped us to the capital at over 200 miles per hour. We ended up beating the missed plane by about half an hour. I have long regarded this as a stupendous achievement.
So, President Obama: all I want for Christmas is a promise that you will build a comprehensive high-speed rail system. Note, please build them as follows: Boston-Richmond; New York-Chicago; San Diego-San Francisco for starters.
Friday, December 05, 2008
Thursday, December 04, 2008
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Now with America's Detroit under attack and no sure treaty in sight, General Motors suggests it may shut down the line of cars bearing the great chief's name. As a going concern, Pontiac will be no more.
This should come as no surprise. Pontiac as a brand lost its purpose long ago and we should perhaps not be sorry to see it rest peacefully alongside the Oldsmobile, the Jordan and the Stanley Steamer.
At the peak of its fearsome might, General Motors had five distinct brands, each built to satisfy a slice of the American consumer public. In order of social ascendancy, they were as follows:
Doughty Chevrolet was for the working stiff, the young couple, the thrifty, and was often a family's first second-car. The cars had a rugged flair that made them almost ridiculously popular.
Second from the bottom was Pontiac. When you got that promotion and wanted a little lift, you traded up--to Pontiac. It was, most of the time, a Chevy with a few extra gadgets and chrome. In the 1960s it was "wide-track" and developed a taste for speed: it was gutty (think GTO).
Oldsmobile was for the man who'd made it to the solid-to-upper-middle: clearly luxurious, the Olds had a sobriety and solidity appealing to those who were as close to the bottom as to the top. It also had a reputation for technical advancement--first with power-steering; first with (a disastrously poor) front-wheel drive in the Toronado.
Buick was a sumptuous, heavy ride, the natural choice of the professional who wanted all the luxury of the best a motorist could have, but without the extra dollars associated with a very fancy nameplate. But make no mistake--this was a fancy car: for the doctor, the lawyer, the self-made man.
Cadillac was the paragon of motoring. If you had to ask the price, you couldn't afford it. Truth to tell, the least expensive Caddies were less expensive than the most expensive Buicks (but don't tell anyone). This was the car for both the arriviste and old money; it spoke plainly of wealth, of opulence, of raw power. The cars were extravagant, often stunning and immensely powerful. Few would have refused one had they been given a chance to own one. The hurtling behemoths enjoyed extraordinary popularity.
Now the culture is more fractious. For whom is the Mazda Protege? The Saturn Astra? The Aztec? We know who drives the Hummer, but their type are going the way of the Great Auk.
Several years ago, GM retired Oldsmobile. Could anyone have saved a brand that had the name "Old" in it? I used to love the Olds--but that was then.
Now GM must sacrifice its weakest offspring and today that is Pontiac. The reason it's such a weak brand, I believe, is because it has no public. It's not thrifty, brawny, wide-track, sporty or even interesting in any way shape or form. As a brand, it lost touch with its buyers--and must go.
GM will still have Saturn, Hummer and Saab (!) kicking around. They will probably end up with just Cadillac, Buick and Chevy. It makes sense: fancy, mid-price, and cheap. These are not elegant slices of the pie, but in GM's chastened state, it needs to keep it simple.
Good-bye Pontiac--we hardly knew ye.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Monday, December 01, 2008
Like Amazon, Better World Books has a website that's attractive and easy to navigate. Consumers can choose between new or used books (if available in a particular title) as well as compare prices across online booksellers. But most importantly, it's a socially conscious company and this is a paradigm shift worth supporting. Through the site’s “online sidewalk sale” it’s possible to connect with, for example, The New York Public Library and buy a book they can’t keep on their shelves. The money spent helps the library support its mission.
I hope this season, with all its problems and hope for more socially and environmentally conscious ways to navigate transactions, inspires you to try a company like Better World and others like it.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
You've watched him become undone,
station by station. First it was just his face
gone slack in afternoon sleep, around Harrisburg.
And then, in Lancaster, you watched his cuff ride up
showing a pale length of shin that won't see sun again
until his August vacation.
And when his newspaper cascaded to the floor
one section at a time, it was finally safe
to set your book aside for a moment
to study the man and his bag
tilting together like two drunks on a bench.
Midway along another long curve,
the train sways all down its length,
just as every fan stops turning, and somewhere
a baby you didn't hear crying suddenly stops.
and you realize you've lost count
and can't name the next town.
You might have to wake the man
whom you heard on the phone an hour back
saying that today was the biggest day of his career.
When the train finally emerges from that no place
between towns, back into the world
of zip codes and cellphone service,
you will look for the station sign, so you can read it
for both of you, blinking in the sudden light,
both surprised to hear the name
that won't seem right for this little station
with hanging baskets of flowers
and no one on any of the iron benches
waiting for you to arrive.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
The terror involved a band of as-yet unidentified gunmen attacking, among other unfortunate locales, the Taj and the Oberoi hotels in central Mumbai and the killing of numerous innocents. One presumes the target selection was the result of a strong resentment against affluence, consumerism and, in general, the freedoms associated with openness.
Yesterday in a New York suburb, we witnessed a mindless, mob-driven attack on a famous-name heavily-traveled venue that resulted in a single senseless death. The authorities have not yet determined exactly who is responsible, nor whom they will arrest and try for the outrage.
The New York suburban incident took place at a Wal-Mart in Valley Stream. The terror involved a mob of early shoppers on Black Friday (the media-anointed Biggest Shopping Day of the Year) trampling to death a Wal-Mart employee in its frenzied pursuit of heavily discounted consumer totems. One presumes the target selection was the result of a strong, not to say fatal attraction to the baubles that have come to symbolize affluence, combined with a total lack of openness to the notion that one may need to examine one's history of decisionmaking should one find one's self crowded during the chilly, pre-dawn hours before the portals of a purveyor of mundane baubles.
Making matters worse at the Wal-Mart, once the crowd had done its trampling, its members continued to shop. When told the store was closing due to the tragedy, many could not understand, and were shocked and even angered that the mere trampling of an employee might somehow interfere with their pursuit of flat-screens and mittens.
Elsewhere in our great nation, a Black Friday-morning shooting at a Toys-R-Us may or may not have been directly related to shopping. Yet we can now fully imagine that, under the wrong circumstances, we too may be wounded or killed while toy-shopping.
Mindless terror stalks the earth--claiming victims at the Taj, the Oberoi, the Mumbai Jewish Center; claiming more victims at the hallowed gates of Wal-Mart and Toys-R-Us. It pays to keep an eye out--for armed attackers; for mindless tramplers. Let us hope not to find ourselves or a loved one fallen victim to either hateful number, and offer sincere condolences to those who have.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Today, we'll be eating too much and making small talk with relatives we might not see for another year. And in many parts of the country there will be people who are hungry and wondering how they'll pay their bills. And in too many parts of the world, there is so much suffering that we might try to drown their already resigned cries with television and chatter.
So today, instead of thinking about how lucky we are, let's push our race an inch closer towards evolution. Let's take responsibility for our souls. Today, let's try to not be literal about our existence, but instead look beyond our material world towards awareness.
We are the Universe, painted in light and slithering in dirt. We are the light and the darkness, the storm and the calm deep lake, alive while dying. We and everything around us, animal and mineral, are a metaphor - the Universe becoming conscious of itself.
Most importantly, the reason we have consciousness might be so that we exercise compassion. We're limited, that's true. And we feel like pawns in a game with rules we don't understand. But the power we have is actually limitless: we have the power to feel compassion. Let's start there and see what happens.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Many years later and with several years of art school and art-making behind me, I now appreciate (but don't especially love) the building itself. The swirling galleries are a stroke of genius, but the shoe-horned anterooms are a bother. That said, the exhibitions (aside from the outstanding permanent collection), with their dogged focus on the "new", are often enough not better than a scam, and an expensive one, at eighteen dollars a visit.
This weekend I saw a show of conceptualism and minimalism there. I have nothing against either of these genres. Their practitioners often enough have some interesting perspectives. However, they often confront us with what amount to cliche, silliness, effrontery and a palpable desire to insult.
Moreover, many of the effects they present are not better than (and often less effective than) what can be seen at the shopping mall--video screens, cheap scrims, pop caricatures; but done in a less committed way than at the mall. Does anyone who can muster the intellectual fortitude to make their way to the Guggenheim in the first place need tepid, mundane commentary on the tepid and mundane? Does it add to the sum of all light (or at all necessary) to print on the wall phrases like "I am closer than you think."? And the shopping mall is rather more welcoming: it's free!
One of the works consisted of a knee-high sculpture of Disney's Pinocchio face down in a pool of water. I found this both interesting and amusing in a disturbing way. The rest of the work--all of it--could have been hauled away in a truck like so much holiday-season detritus and not have been missed.
Or, the Guggenheim could take into account our recessionary times and lower the price--to what it costs to enter a typical shopping mall.
1. The lack of vital book reviews in The New York Times Book Review for the past twenty years.
2. The lack of any quality fiction (with perhaps three exceptions) in The New Yorker for the past twenty-five years.
3. How small press journals now tend to mimic their more well-heeled counterparts--the The Paris Review, for example-- in publishing the same authors over and over, coteries, cabals, and interdependent collectives over a diversification of content.
4. The sheer dearth of literature in translation in this country. Is English the only language? America the only country?
5. The damn sectarianism of many readers, critics, and writers, either siding with lyrical Realism or Postmodernism but not embracing both. Yes, how awful to express a love for both James and Foster Wallace, Cheever and Pynchon. Even worse to conceptualize middle-spaces between the realistic and the postmodern.
6. The divisiveness of poets and some poetry critics, neatly ascribing avant-gardism or symptoms of quietude and seeing the pure good in theorizing poetry into more camps than we have firewood for.
7. The general parochialism of academic readers of literature.
8. The general insularity and idiocy of non-academic, non-readers, in terms of literature, popular or obscure.
9. The canonization of literary critics, and so selectively, one might think that Saint James Wood is the only conjurer of serious literary criticism.
10. You, the Reader, for not challenging any of these bombastic claims and comments, as if they had real weight.
Postscript: The weather just changed, sun brightening the expanse. This change either gives credence to my remarks above, how they illuminate the general trend and bend of things literary, or perhaps how the literary weather isn't as bad as I indicate. You decide.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
surprised when the road doglegs left
and takes us over a white stone bridge,
letting the car idle at the crossroads to unfold our map,
vineyards all around, those twisted black stumps
spread over the far fields, like an army
of the halt and lame marching back home
in defeat after a winter's campaign.
At dinner we'll brag about the town
we discovered, made entirely of white houses and places to sit
with a newspaper and coffee, the stores so full
of things to buy that the shelves creak with the weight,
just like that village in Maine, ten years ago,
whose name we always argue about.
Here, in the shadow of mountains so rich
it seems you can smell them like warm coffee beans
in a bag; here, where every car brings another blonde wife
to her dinner date, where dark men stand in the fields
burning things in barrels for reasons
we'll never ask or understand; here
we finally arrive at the secret
at the heart of all travel,
that everyone needs to believe they've ducked
beneath the sword forever turning outside Eden,
found El Dorado, here in their own private Napa,
where no one is poor, or limps, or drives
a dirty car, and nothing dies
without us willing it to be brought to us
garnished and served on a warm plate.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
If you are wondering who these three unappealing men are, and why they merit your brief attention, here is the answer: they are Mr. Wagoner of GM, Mr. Nardelli of Chrysler and Mr. Mulally of Ford, all come a-begging for your tax dollars at a hearing in Washington this week. They claim that without billions in immediate aid, their automobile companies will wilt like Mayflies in early June and disappear altogether.
Having arrived each in his own corporate jet, and each fortified by a paycheck that earns him in a week what many will never see in their best-paid years, they put aside their competitive differences, set out their tin cups before them and proceeded to disgrace themselves and their companies in ways that could never have been imagined.
Had anyone attempted to concoct a world's-worst script for beggary, it certainly would have included arrival at the begging location by personal jet. It would also have included very recent assurances from the board of GM that "nothing has shaken" the confidence they have in the fine gentleman now overseeing their disaster; in response to which no less a friend-of-business than George Will wondered: "not even the destruction of nearly all shareholder value"?
This arrogant, unimaginative, unsuccessful triumvirate deserves no quarter. They have built wretched vehicles for over thirty years--squandering the devotion of a willing consumer base that would have bought their cars out of patriotism if only they weren't expensive, poorly-constructed, poorly-serviced, poor on gas mileage, and especially if they only stopped looking like the tail ends of donkeys compared to the trim, attractive offerings from overseas.
When asked if they would reduce or eliminate their own salaries as part of the "plan" for eventual success should they get bailed out, they demurred. When asked if they had done anything wrong, they said they had not. When asked to describe how they would use the money to transform their companies, they could not.
All of the above notwithstanding, I actually do believe their companies should, somehow, be rescued--or at least their workers' jobs should be.
My question to Congress is: why ask these guys to tell you anything at all? They clearly know nothing about running, and especially rescuing, a car company.
How about getting someone else up on the hill to testify? How about getting testimony from, say, two or three men and women from the production line? Doesn't it seem like the taxpayer would be a thousand times more willing to give these companies a shot if, instead of sending in these pampered clowns to beg for stuff they cannot genuinely care about (their fortunes already assured), the companies sent in (or Congress called in) some folks whose livelihoods actually depended on, and who might actually deserve, a helping hand from the electorate?
I am waiting.
Friday, November 21, 2008
So when I hear about political unity in this country, I can almost smell the pungency of the rope below my head. For matters literary, one should be partisan but not so much as to be a snob and sectarian. Camps and schools are fine, but one should be ecumenical when thinking about the sheer breadth and variegated beauty of the plenitude of poetry and fiction. (I'm inclined to agree with Ron Silliman's notion of the School of Quietude, how so much contemporary literature is middling, sentimental pap but, that said, I see conflicting and contrasting tastes disturbing my palate in wonderful ways).
In any case--in all cases, actually--I am for the unity of diversity in literature and in politics I approve of people staying in their corners and smashing the opposition's arguments when need be. If Obama wants to go beyond the blue and red state paradigm, fine; I'll stay in my green field dreaming of more radical transformations and possibilities than the centrist rhetoric of his Democratic party. There are some values you'll have to beat me to death to compromise on (or you can hang me, I've got the noose, remember?). I cannot merely renege on my commitments to human rights and social justice to concede the viability of a center-based coalition of right wingers and centrist liberals. I'll stay left. And probably left out. Fine; I'll take some consolation in Roberto Bolano's 2666 or some of the new and old poets who have vision and never burn out.
Bless you, sisters and brothers! J/C
Thursday, November 20, 2008
If you haven't already done so, check out Alfred Kubin at the Neue Galerie in New York City. Kubin was an Austrian artist of Czech origin during the early 20th century. He was part of the expressionist movement for a short time and was also associated with the Blaue Reiter group. He created primarily pen and ink drawings, watercolors and lithographs.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Few things could make a Secular Humanist more happy than the prospect of dreary, Bible-thumping bigots going the way of the Dodo. Ms. Parker says their ilk was once relegated to standing on wooden crates at busy intersections; the GOP's mistake, it seems, has been to mistake an energized base for electoral strength.
I'll take it a couple of steps further: without the ability to market an al Qaeda-sponsored mass destruction to cow the electorate, the GOCMWP is revealed as a party in thrall to creeps, ideologues, hypocrites, and no-tax bigots. The era of the thoughtful conservative is at low ebb (K. Parker, D. Brooks and G. Will notwithstanding).
Let me caveat the following with this: there's nothing wrong (in my opinion) with a belief in larger, unknowable things. It may even be irrational not to hold some high regard for the unknown and perhaps all-powerful forces that seem to be constantly at work in the world.
That said, religion as we know it is fighting a rear-guard action. It has been doing as much since at least the eighteenth century, when folks began to notice such wonders as "cause and effect". As is typical in bitter retreats, there has been a last, dangerous surge (the Bush years). However, not unlike at the end of World War Two's Battle of the Bulge, the losing side has been stopped in its tracks: the attack has literally run out of fuel.
With capital-R "Religion" branded with defeat in 2008, can we look forward to a day when open-mindedness and enlightened self-interest might flourish as we have never seen before? Might we witness, at last, a turn of the evolutionary page?
May we be lucky enough to see it.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Bolano's work typically divines the entrails of South American dictators and their apparatchiks. Speaking of which, today is the thirtieth anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre in Guyana. Don't follow leaders and be Bolano readers...
...and double space and type your manuscripts! At least in this North American country, Mark Twain was the first to do so, roughly one hundred and fifty-two years ago today. JC
Monday, November 17, 2008
Strawberry Fields might be my favorite Beatles song. It illustrates beautifully the attitude towards life that too many people have: refusing to look into the void, bathe themselves in the black ocean of truth because they're afraid to drown in awareness. So their existence is reduced to bodily functions, safe routines and empty entertainment. Some are well educated, some are not. They might ask themselves from time to time "Why do I feel lost?" but that's as far as their effort goes and they give up again and again, continue their arid lives with little curiosity and no imagination.
I'm afraid of ghosts. But the empty expressions, like masks that attempt to hide but never stop revealing how little this chance at awareness is valued, of the indifferent are much more scary.
Strawberry Fields - Lennon, McCartney
Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.
It's getting hard to be someone but it all works out.
It doesn't matter much to me.
No one I think is in my tree, I mean it must be high or low.
That is you can't you know tune in but it's all right.
That is I think it's not too bad.
Always no sometimes think it's me, but you know I know when it's a dream.
I think, er No, I mean, er Yes but it's all wrong.
That is I think I disagree.
Let me take you down, 'cause I'm going to Strawberry Fields.
Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about.
Strawberry Fields forever.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Is there anyone you'd like to punch in the face
more than the man who spent the weekend
cleaning his closet? So smug to be finally free
of the burden of false hope, and
those khakis that fit five years ago.
His shirts hang logically, stripes with the stripes,
collar buttons of the oxfords all facing north,
bowling shirts and other weekend trifles
waiting quietly way back in the dark.
He holds the door open and looks upon it
as an orchard gravid with bright fruit,
a marble city sleeping in the desert night.
A pleasing order. The craft of his own hands.
Nowhere is there dust. You won't find it
even in the corner by his skates.
Tonight he will sleep on sheets
that smell as clean as all the church days of his childhood.
The plants on every windowsill are watered
and he will live the life of the monk,
the Spartan, the man who calls his mother every day.
Until he wakes up tomorrow.
But now that "right"-ness seems to have been just the veneer many of us might have suspected. With a thoroughly new kind of man in the White House and the GOP relegated to hillbilly country, we may be looking at a more accurate picture of a liberal-minded country that had been in hiding.
The Culture Wars was always a right-wing idea. For those on the other side of it, this was just a matter of common sense: should men and women of all colors and creeds actually be taken seriously? What about the evidence that science lays out, making no promises but delivering results over and over? How about the freedom to love and to marry as you see fit (Prop 8 to the contrary) without fear of persecution? And there's music. Funny how even the most reactionary talk-show hosts seem to have a thing for the Devil's Own Noise--rock and roll.
Is there really any question who won the culture wars? Even Sarah Palin felt the need to admit she had a "gay friend" or two. Would this have been remotely thinkable before the 1960s?
Religiosity, bigotry and stupidity--always on the wrong side of the culture wars--are in retreat. The liberals had long ago won, but had not been given credit. The evidence is in, and we are not--and have not been for a long time--a center-right country.
Let's declare the culture wars over. We have more important things to do.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
I enjoy the process, however, there's nothing I dislike more than having to explain an image. I think that it's a sign of laziness when someone asks me what something I've made "means". I wonder what a writer would think if anyone asked him to illustrate a novel, if someone said: here's pencil and paper, please sketch for me your story. Imagery, unlike words, is open to myriad interpretations so unfortunately symbolic meaning has to be defined. But it's unfortunate that the majority of people are afraid to let go the safety of knowledge and find their own meaning or lose themselves in someone else's unknown.
Even the visually educated few in the artworld want to follow a thread most of the time, a Hansel or Gretel following a trail of words back to the real world. And when they arrive with meaning in hand, proud of their understanding, they refrigerate it along with everything else they've killed along the way.
However, I accept that this is the way it is. The power of all work relies on its verbal interpretation. We're no longer living in an age where the image itself is enough and we're never going back. People want definitions, everything explained, so as an artist, I find myself in the world with a dictionary in hand.
Here are some thoughts on the process. Every artist, in my opinion needs to:
- First and foremost: have a thorough knowledge of art history; there's no making art without a deep understanding of what has been done and why. Every artist needs to be visually encyclopedic.
- be fully aware that there's a limited inventory of visual possibilities in the physical world and that the power hidden in those possibilities depends on how authentic the artist's perception is.
- arrange those known elements in order to push boundaries, peer into the unknown, represent hidden mythologies.
- detach herself from facts, from what is already understood and safe and never try to please or enlighten anyone - creating authentic work is hard enough.
Keeping an image alive and powerful despite definitions is half the work. Translations are rarely fully accurate, but the transition from the visual to the verbal is like putting a lion in birdcage. It's not that verbal expression is inferior, but that most artists are not writers.
Pretty much the only thing we need to know about the guy, we know by looking at this picture: he's at a Palin rally with an Obama-monkey and a self-satisfied smirk.
So, who is he? And of whom does he remind us?
He reminds me of the smirking racists who in the sixties used to sit behind the defendant's table when they were being "tried" by an all-white jury for lynching an unfortunate black man who got caught and mutilated and hanged for no reason except race-hate.
He reminds me of the local prelate who in an earlier age might have ordered the death by burning of heretics and/or folks who'd taken up the wrong end of an argument in a land dispute with a good buddy of the church (often referred to as "witches").
He makes me think of all the hapless, morally bankrupt, incurious so-called "Americans" who shouted "kill him [Obama]" at the urging of the snarky, hapless, morally bankrupt, incurious so-called "Vice Presidential Candidate" now known as Sarah Palin.
That his party is defeated at the polls and his opponent cheered by the entire thoughtful, hopeful world, is a great cause for celebration.
We need to remember, however, that water-bugs still lurk under the tilework. Keep your eye on them. Watch them scurry in the light.
Monday, November 10, 2008
All artists decry a straw man and all politicians are--come on, face it, even you Obama triumphalists (congratulations, by the way!)--straw people or straw dogs, depending on your species-preference. A hairline crack divides mass culture and art culture especially at the level of gut-level scepticism. Those who endorse any brand of politics outside of aesthetic considerations tend to cheerlead and bark into a megaphone sculpted by (the audacity of?) hope. Artists are hopeful but refuse to reject that voice of doubt, casting cold eyes on the political process, its players, and the windy rhetoric that occasions reflections on that great windblower, Aelous, the Greek god of hot and cold air.
While it may be that artists will be invigorated by the Obama election and wish to represent the potential, the vast possibility, that his presence hearkens in the collective spirit of his supporters, writers, painters, sculptors, dancers, filmmakers of any stripe and style should maintain, if not a cold eye, a clear one. A vigilance of criticism and a modicum of disbelief, of unhope against hope, needs to be the kind of clairvoyant and eternal rite of passage and being for any artist worth her or his weight in gilded page, golden paints, or bronze sculpture.
Artists, poets in particular, are not the unacknowledged legislators of the world (pace Shelley!) nor should they be the lobbyists of received wisdom, public accolade, or social temperament. Some caller on Brian Lehrer's WYNC program today called for a return to political art. Fine: but most examples of political art in the past eight years have been hackneyed and minimally diverting. A political art arising from the optimism of the moment would, most likely, be unworthy of a space on one's personal refrigerator. But we'll see...and the artists will see even better and more deeply.
And of poets in particular and their relation to Presidents: JFK's inaugural choice for inaugural poet was Robert Frost. Not bad. Bill Clinton chose Maya Angelou, one of the worst poets writing in the English language. Who, pray tell, will Obama pick? Hopefully not someone happy to foresake their taste for the banalities of D.C. politics.
For New York City readers, here's a post-election-elation suggestion for a not-so-lazy weekend:
If you have a car, drive to Hudson in Columbia County. It's 2 hours from the city if you leave at the right time: Friday night (9:00 pm) or very early - for a Saturday - the next morning (9:00 am). There are several bed and breakfasts in town, most within walking distance to Warren Street, where most of the action is.
If you don't have a car, the Amtrak train station is just blocks from Warren Street. And if you're not interested in all the hiking and bucolic scenery available minutes away (as well as the lovely Olana, Frederick Edwin Church's historic home), you will find plenty for one rewarding day.
Hudson is an architectural gem. All of its 18th and 19th century buildings lining Warren Street have been lovingly restored and house some of the most extraordinary antiques and housewares stores you will find anywhere - it's considered a decorator's mecca. But there are also galleries, interesting clothing shops, bookstores and cafes.
Also, this region is the cradle of of the Hudson River School of painting, and you will find much of the art shown in galleries in that tradition. My favorite: Carrie Haddad, who has always shown impeccable taste in her selections. If you don't watch out, you might tell yourself that new laptop can wait and you'd rather invest in very affordable, karma-boosting, top-quality art.
Accross the street from Carrie Haddad is Le Gamin. If you decide to have lunch there, take the paper and interesting topics for conversation with you. This is Hudson and the world has slowed down. The waitresses are indeed French and luckily didn't forget to pack their attitudes; though if you visit more than once, you'll realize they're very warm and friendly. Mais plus importante, your meal will have been worth every minute waited. It's a beautiful restaurant and the back half is an antiques shop (naturellement!). They also sell hand made, unbelievably aromatic soaps.
There is lots more to see and do, just stroll down Warren Street, you will find it. And return restored and very relaxed.
Top: Warren Street
Bottom: Carrie Haddad Gallery and Le Gamin
Sunday, November 09, 2008
but you will be nearer to the heart
of India's nacreous mystery here, in the ticket queue
at VT Station, and not last night
watching a full moon risen straight from a bedtime picture book
slowly banish itself behind the dome of the Taj Mahal.
Being this out of your element
is like watching a movie with the sound off
and then narrating the plot over the phone to your aunt.
- They're obviously late for a doctor's appointment.
- I think she loves him.
In this surfeit of sense, everything is distilled,
the salwars become a tidal flow of mere color,
the chatter of the crowd one communal word
inflected by palm gestures and a head waggle
that you still can't pull off. It's a bit like high school
when you were never sure of the nuance of anything
and didn't know who to ask.
- I wonder why the police are taking his bicycle.
- Maybe they haven't seen their daughter in years.
- That little guy looks shady to me.
It's an odd advantage, to be the alien. You alone
are not expected anywhere tonight, you're the only one
squinting up into this ridiculous amount of sunlight
to read every billboard. It seems that it's just you
trying to count the broken dogs, somehow curled and still asleep
among all these walking feet, just you looking into the eyes
of a boy hoping for a coin to drop into his ancient palm.
- It says here not to cross the tracks.
- Help, apparently, is wanted.
Saturday, November 08, 2008
In 1980, Reagan ushered in an era of Republican prominence that ended on Tuesday. Reagan claimed it was "morning in America" when in fact the lights of liberty and reason were being extinguished across the land. Since that sad moment, it has been hailed a truism that we are a "conservative nation"; and accepted as fact that small-mindedness, bigotry, xenophobia and war are tantatmount to true American virtues.
In the era of Bush these ruinous notions were put into overdrive; and coupled with a stunning incompetence as well. The stated intention was "small government". But it might just as well have been "bad government" or "failed government". Didn't matter--as long as American tax dollars weren't being spent to help Americans.
The chief virtue of the Republican party has been its ability to win elections. It has lost that ability. And now it becomes obvious that this had been its only virtue. Any level-headed look at the guiding principles of the GOP reveals an utter lack of substance.
It can be safely said that the GOP offers nothing to the voter who is not a Republican officeholder, a large shareholder, a well-to-do evangelical, an arms merchant, an oil profiteer; and in certain elections, a bigot. This tiny percentage of the population cannot muster the votes to elect anyone to national office.
Since Reagan, the GOP has been able to keep folks distracted with pomp and circumstance; with wars, with fears, with party success and the gerrymandered gifts that flow from it. Now reduced to a regional party and with no discernable core principles except perhaps greed, it will be much, much harder for the party to distract the voter from the bankruptcy of its offering.
Perhaps the GOP can rebuild--no doubt they will try hard to do so. But it will have to be with a plan that benefits more people, more often, and in fundamentally a much more progressive manner.
To the age of Reagan and Bush: don't let the door hit you on the way out.
Friday, November 07, 2008
Whether it's sound bytes or megabytes you devour, you desire, this bi-weekly column will adumbrate the event horizon of literary matters, arcane rants, and satirical showmanship you need even if you don't. ALL POETS ARE THIEVES will enact an atmosphere of creative synergy, sinfulness, chaos, and cata-strophes that will enclose you in its claustrophic envelope of energies. Partisan but not sectarian, trimorphic (death, love, art) but not tribalistic, this post envisions itself as your last cigarette, your first sip, and your unwavering quest for scintillating commentary, book jackets, and body bags. Mind you, my editorial comrades will take a wee, jaundiced gander at my glosses and word-gashes in the future. But for this introduction, I arrive to you unfettered, somewhat a-frayed, and peering into the snow globe that reveals not only my reflection but our entire world turned up and down simultaneously. Pace, postmodernists, welcome, all you folks!
Thursday, November 06, 2008
It wasn't even that close. But along the way, there were lots of people who firmly believed McCain might pull it off (including no small number of paranoid liberals).
Next time, wouldn't it be nice not to have to get all worked up about it? Wouldn't it be nice to sort of know who'll win by looking at the telltale signs? The McCain campaign gave us lots of signs it was headed for disaster. In order that we may better spot the loser in advance next time (and not feel so anxious), let's review:
How to Spot a Losing Presidential Campaign
-the candidate is of the same party as the worst President anyone can remember
-the candidate is not liked by his own party; and struggles to beat even the almost preternaturally unlikeable Mitt Romney in the primary
-the candidate resurrects a dying campaign by hiring people who destroyed his earlier campaign by attacking him with vicious lies
-the candidate behaves in a much less likeable manner as soon as these people are hired
-the candidate selects a beauty-pageant nincompoop as Vice President having met that person exactly twice
-the candidate permits speakers at his party's convention to insult the achievements of the other candidate
-the candidate claims that "the fundamentals" of a certain important pillar of national prosperity are "sound" when they are very obviously crumbling like the pillars of a Pompeiian villa during the eruption of Vesuvius; then claims that he meant something else than what everyone knows those words to mean; and further, that to claim to have seen through his silly insistence on this lie is to have attacked hard-working Americans
-the candidate suspends his campaign for no very good reason; then acts as if it never happened
-the candidate looks sickly and angry and is often barely coherent while debating his calm, cool opponent
-the nincompoop VP fails to give coherent answers to even simple interview questions, providing the best comedic fodder anyone has ever seen
-the nincompoop VP attacks an obviously patriotic opponent as a terrorist, but does not call for his arrest
-the nincompoop VP loots the campaign treasury for fancy duds; then is punked on the radio
-the candidate has no money for advertising
-the campaign trots out a new, silly message each and every day
-the campaign selects a random, not-very-bright no-tax bigot who practices his profession without a license as a putative everyman, then cannot find him at key public events where he is expected
-the candidate draws crowds roughly one-tenth the size of his opponent's
-the candidate has trouble keeping the lights turned on during a live event in the same week his opponent launches a flawless and beautifully produced half-hour campaign commercial that ends with a flawless and beautifully produced transition to a live event with thousands of cheering supporters
-the campaign anonymously attacks its nincompoop VP in the final days, calling her a "hillbilly", a "diva" and a "whack job"
-very, very long lines of what appear to be the campaign's opponent's voters form in any state that allows them to vote before election day
-the candidate appears on a nationally televised comedy show alongside a comedian who is openly mocking his nincompoop VP
-on election day, the nincompoop VP does not reveal whom she voted for
-did we mention the part about the candidate voting 90 percent of the time with the worst President anyone can remember?
So next time you see a campaign exhibiting the above characterstics, you don't have to wonder much about whether or not it will win. It will lose.