Stronger Loving World

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Thursday, March 25, 2004

What's hipper than your gramma's last three operations? Driftnet, a new tech-culture blog I'm editing for the next few months. Check it out. It will make you want sex more than God eats pizza.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Canaanite Gospel

It's hard not to think of the city as a medium, the city as a text , the city as a book. The rate of communication flow between the brain and the environment exceeds our intentional ingestion of information in the forms of textual narrative. Eventually, all of those graphitti stained walls, diapers left in garbage cans, every bulbous and adjacent piece of architecture, eyes staring at you from bedlam, the lights and shadows of rats crawling between your legs, disruptions in the concrete, billboard advertisements, street signs, rails, brick patterns, names carved on stone, compose a spatial text; graphemes organized in temporal simultaneity and differentiated into an environment. A text we live inside of. Literature shapes our thinking by expanding context, by referring to an external environment, by developing a rhizome, a viral relationship engaged organically with an environment. But that environment speaks to us, too. This is what the rhizome is, it's every end of the text, no corner left unchallenged. The rhizome grows within itself. Breathe deep. Brooklyn. Fuck.

I don't want to live in New York anymore. I want to leave. I want to leave this city very badly, and I am trying to figure out why. I fell in love with Brooklyn a few months ago, and it changed the way I look at this entire city. But now, even moving into the outer burroughs, even the promise of a genuine community with all of its interpersonal codes, with its cultural strength, with its sense of warmth and humanity, can not keep me in this city. I have lived here for a few years now. I also happen to have grown up an hour away from this city, and as a 13 year old would take the train in with my 16mm camera to shoot short movies about the skateboarders and rollerbladers at the Brooklyn Banks. The dozens of tapes and lord knows how many hours of mostly unedited footage remain in the possession of someone I haven't spoken to in years. Through the few videos I've kept, I see a view that is scrappy, shakey, taken from the perspective of eyes that still haven't fixed themselves with their environment. I've been looking at this city for a very long time.

I think that living in one place for three years is like reading the same book for three years. And who wants to do that? To be fair, New York is Finnegan's Wake; its filiations, its corners, its gradations, its course and polyphonic memory, its speech-as-meta-language. Nevertheless, how long can one realistically read Finnegan's Wake, for fuck's sake? Even The Wake is meaningless without the context of other texts to rub against, to spark a difference. I really need to leave this city, and I probably will before the year is out. Which is why, suddenly, every piece of graphitti jumps out at me, and I'm now frightened by writing that was already on the wall. I have no nervous system, only the relations between your words and my spine. I have no city,only the blood-red paint dripping from your spraycan and onto my adidas. I really have no city, no text. I want to take my books with me when I leave, clutching a copy of Augustine's City of God, I want to build a new jerusalem from the scraps of metal I find on the highway. And then I want to curl up by the fire and clip coupons, from magazines.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Riders of the Quarter Bin and Such

Went quarter bin diving today, and came upon some really interesting stuff. Actually, the price was fifty cents, but I find the title 'quarter bin' kind of romantic. At St. Mark's, I picked up two issues of DC Comics' original Jonah Hex series, a late 70's Western anti-hero book done in a romantic lone cowboy style with the sensibilities of late 70's American cinema. Late '70s mainstream comics are loaded with genre books; kung-fu,(Iron Fist, Shang Chi, White Tiger) Horror (Journey into Fear, Tomb of Dracula(a lot less cheesy than it sounds) Werewolf by Night, Ghost Rider) and Westerns. In the late 70's, we find that a lot of the niches and genres of comic books are just catching up with the cinema of twenty years prior, though with the moral sensibilities of the post-Vietnam, post-Nixon era. What does that mean? I don't know. Leave me alone. I'm not a fucking culture-critic, I'm a cowboy.

The issues I pick up are #3 and #13. #3 is actually the real prize and the one I'm going to talk about here. I would have paid twenty, thirty bucks for this thing. A stand alone issue, the cover presents a startled Jonah Hex surrounded by gunmen as sidebar shows a WANTED poster for the reader's edification. With his one deformed eye and the bizarre welt that covers his lips, Hex has a "$10,000" reward on his head. The art, by an artist I've never heard of named Jose Luis Garcia Lopez(phew!) is impressively cinematic. No, I won't even go there, it is mimetic and articulate in the grapheme/lexeme game that is comic-book communication, articulating the spaces between images through juxtaposition, angles, panel shapes and placement, closing in and zooming out on its subject. It's not 'filmic', it's 'comicy'.

Panel 1: close up on the text: 'Jonah Hex' on wanted poster, towards the right, Hex on his horse can be seen from afar

Panel 2: This panel is a little larger, zoom out on wanted poster, viewing tree on angle, Hex has abrasively halted his horse, clearly seeing his own image.

Panel 3: panel same size,, Hex yanks poster from the tree.
CAP:Jonah hex was a tracker, a gunfighter, a hunger of men. He was the greatest master of the sixgun the west has ever known. but now a 10,000 reward awaited any man wily enough to slip a hangman's noose around his neck or put a bullet in his back, because Jonah Hex was the hunted, Now he was..

(Title Font) THE FUGITIVE!

See? Like that. You have to read the fight scenes to appreciate the artist's "cinematography". In this particular stand alone issue, Hex wanders, wounded, into the home of a blind man who is a devoted Christian. Man:"There's no nned to knock with suckh vilence, brother! Travlers are always welcome here! Come in!" The panel presents a foreground image of the Holy Bible (braile edition) as the blind man and Hex speak in the background. Realizing that they only have 22 pages to either become friends or fight to the death, and either way to reach some kind of moral resolution, by the next panel the blind man is carrying the wounded Hex into the warmth of his home.

Hex: Rattlesnake spooked muh horse while, uh, ah wuz-Hey! Wait a minute! Yo're blind!
Man: Sightless, perhaps, brother Wilson. But not blind! Only those who have rejected the admonitions of our savior and chosen the path of the bloodshed and violence may truly be said to be afflicted with blindness!

See where this is going? If not, check out the "Electric Light is Pure Sex" Essay below. The pacifist's Paulian revelation grants him supercession and moral highground over the other characters. In return for his spiritual serenity, he is blind, like Saul on the road to Damascus. In a plot device straight out of Dukes of Hazard (but remember this is '77, so it's ahead of its time) the blind man's home is being evicted by 'Matt Henson's Men!' Henson's lackeys are lobbing firebombs and shooting up the blind man's building, supposedly a regular occurence meant to frigthten him into selling his property. Hex decides to make a stand:

Hex:Quick! Whar yuh keep yore bible at?
Blind Man:M-my Bible?

Hex walks outside into the view of Matt Henson's men with his hat pulled down and his Bible in his hands, opened, stoically reading it, his eyes covered so that he resembles the preacher.

Bad Guy 1: Haw, haw haw! If'n it ain't our little blind Quaker boy!

Bad guy 2: Here his house is bout tuh burn down, an' all he kin think Tuh do is waltz around Readin' is bible!

Bad Guy 1:C'mon, grampaw! Whut's it Say in the good book? C'mon, don't be shy! Tell us! Ha ha!

(Hex looks up, his deformed eye glaring out and his scar showing)

Hex:As you wish, little brothers! This verse says: Him whut lives like a skunk, Shore Gonna Die like a skunk!

Bible in hand, the analogy isn't lost on me. In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king. Hex's limited aperture allows for certain kinds of knowledge; a moral bias, a survival instinct, a tactile understanding of the physical world. The preacher's blindness, Biblically ordained, arranges light within himself, divinely distributed but self-contained. Blissful in his pacifism and moral ideals, he has no sense of the realities of physical danger or the impracticality of his ideals.

By the end of the next page, Hex has killed 5 of the bad guys, in the course of 4 panels. Now, I've read some violent comics, but that's a death per page ratio that doesn't even show up in issues of The Punisher from the 'grim and gritty' 80's, let alone any other 70's comics I can think of. The cinematography, anatomy and attention to physics is really impressive. Hex's legs give under the weight when he fires both his guns at once,his hat glides off his head as he dashes to the side to dodge bullets. John Woo shit.

By the end of the comic, Hex has disapeared from the town, wandering off into the desert on his horse before any one knows he's gone.

What's interesting about this character, and there's a lot that's interesting about this character, is that he's a true anti-hero. He doesn't exactly wander around doing good from town to town, this issue leaves his morality vague. While he saves the blind man's daughter, she's only imperilled to begin with because of Hex. The lone-man vision is in sync with some of the films of the 70's, Robert Altman flicks, Dennis Hopper's role in Easy Riders. The free-wheeling, dangerous, morally ambiguous white male.

A little research (And by 'research' I mean 'google') gives me some history on Hex's character. Premeiring in Weird Western Tales in the early 70's, he gained his own book in '77, where he became a bounty hounter "framed for a crime he didn't commit" on the run from the law. Interestingly, since the character was placed in the America of the late 19th century, the details of his death were revealed in mainstream DC mythology before his own series even alluded to the subject. His death occurs in 1904, shot in the back by an old enemy while cleaning his gun. A show business entreneur then obtained his body, stuffed it, dressed it in a white suit far more upscale than the one he wore in life, and took him on tour as an old time Western gunfighter. When the show ends, his body is consigned to a warehouse, where it is later on taken on tour once again years later. The body turns up at a Western themed amusement park in 1972, and is spotted in the DC universe as late as 2048, where a time-travelling Hex(long story, think "re-branding old character", "early 90's", and "Genre-swapping") comes face to face with it. Whoa.

Tableux Vivant

Infamous photograph of Marcel Duchamp and the nude Eve Babitz playing chess at the Duchamp Retrospective at the Pasadena museum of Art, 1963. A few words on the subject from Steven B. Gerrard, taken from 'Tout Fait', the Marcel Duchamp Online Journal:

"The goal of chess is to mate. We can thus see this picture as the record of a tableau vivant of a word play. Since Freud, vulgar theorists have held that chess and art, to pick two examples, are sublimations of sex. Given Duchamp's attitude towards wordplay versus theory, it is better to see his life long interest in chess and eroticism as a sublimation of this picture's wordplay! Given that the double meaning of "mate" does not exist in French, at last we have a satisfactory explanation of why Duchamp had to emigrate to America."

Outside Providence

I got an e-mail from someone who hasn't contacted me in a while about an hour ago. It was a cryptic e-mail that threw together references to a Dylan Thomas poem and then ended by asking if I knew of any music that was 'off and corporeal' like Thomas' poetry. Here's my response

'off and corporeal'? If you're looking for something vicious and haunting, there's Dock Boggs. I'd suggest Leadbelly for the comic terror and blood-spurting honesty. Mississippi John Hurt is a wonderful old blues guitarist, Roscoe Holcomb, you know Will Oldham, Daniel Johnston, and possibly kimya dawson as post-folk and 'anti-folk' contemporaries. Actually Kimya is, in my opinion, the only female singer-songwriter to ever come close to the hyper-potent surrealism of Dylan's lyrics. Mismatched ideas and sentence fragments that are so charged with meaning that every line rattles my spinal cord with the dreams of an alternate universe. Her album "My Cute Fiend Sweet Princess"(2002) is stunningly raw and gorgeous and weird and funny and sad and really, really quiet. Do what I and many people do: pick up an anthology with a weird enough name. There are plenty of pre-war folk music anthologies available at St.Marks and Other Music, I'm partial to "Prayers from Hell", a collection of apocalyptic gospel songs.

Harry Smith's World Anthology of Folk music is really quite perfect, and if you really want to hear folk music that will scare the shit out of you, collect any anthology of the folk music of Fascist Italy or pre-war Italy, preferably ten years on either side of Mussolini's leadership. Cries, whelps, yelps, guttural flicks, insane animalistic hollering, all you can do is sit back and say "jesus fucking christ". Italian folk music is something else. Er, Neutral Milk Hotel's lyrics are correctly pigeoned as 'dylanesque', and I think that's a fair attribution, even though its not very musically complex, but weird and gorgeous nonetheless. And I don't know, listening to people talk on the street or in a crowded public place and attaching sounds to the wrong mouths in your head is kind of terrifying and sonically gorgeous as well, to end on a Cagean note.

Concept Engines

The paragraph is concept engine is pure force. Having at its beginning one root split infinitely, it speaks with no voices. It ‘enforces’ a sensorium, a decorative, undifferentiated series of interconnected reverberations, sonic holding patterns. The concept engine rattles the subject and burns its base matters into an undifferentiated mass, re-calculated and intoned omni-syllabically at an indefinite/undefined ratio. The vectors of the paragraph are condensed ‘concept hums’ or episteme-tentacles that protrude and zap the subject with short bursts of ‘thought’ composed of an endless stream of interplaying phonemes and lexemes. The complete phonotextual machine that is the paragraph continues its assault until the subjects’ eyes begin to bleed, his ears are made of glass and a child’s cry emits from his kidneys. The sensorium lays itself on the subject and molests it, then burns slightly at the edges of the subjects skin. The complete sensorium, phonotext/concept engine completes its communicative process by re-associating syntax into horizontal and vertical lines, allowing language streams to split all mythemes, lexemes, and phonemes one by one, destroying the paragraph and its reader in a cacophony of atomic intra-psychic, intra-textual explosions.
Then we begin again.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Thik Beat Hotel

I am listening to a tape recording of Gayatri Spivak and Judith Butler's recent conversation at NYU. Spivak is an Indian born postcolonial theorist and Comparative Literature scholar currently teaching at Columbia. While she is as close as one gets in academia to being an intellectual rockstar, having translated several widely used canonical texts and written extensively on feminism and postcolonialism, she is at times derided for the obtuse syntactical presentation of her texts. In fact, some critics have suggested that the introduction to her translation of 'Of Grammatology' makes Derrida seem straightforward and user-friendly. In person she is surprisingly pointed, straightforward, and does not lapse into academic jargon if it does express her ideas lucidly. I don't even remember or give a shit what the conversation was meant to be about, because thankfully, I have voices, not text. I have conversation, not dialectic. I have meanings, not signifiers. The tape recorder truly is the greatest invention since the condom. You can all quote me on that.

This is such a cool fucking picture.

From the upcoming Quotable Spivak Chapbook, available illustrated from Slave Labor Graphics:

"Essentialism is nothing but ontological commitment."

"The uncoercive desires is the way I want to try to teach the humanities as humanities. The humanities, themselves, whatever they are ,most people don't know what they are. If you're a good teacher, you don't know what they are. It's like love, the other person becomes marvelously indescribable, the more you know them."

"When one looks at the Socratic model and sees what Socrates actually did to those notes, you can't call it uncoercive."

"Rather than the human rights worker who enter to teach those who have been deprived, what they themselves have turned their backs on. In other words, the human rights worker, and I abhore human rights work, goes toward the Other with a moral interest in the Other denying self-interest, but teaches the Other self-interest"