Saturday, June 30, 2007

"The plane had lost power in all three engines, dropped from thirty-four thousand feet to twelve thousand feet. Something like four miles. When the steep glide began, people rose, fell, collided, swam in their seats. Then the serious screaming and moaning began. Almost immediately a voice from the flight deck was heard on the intercom: "We're falling out of the sky! We're going down! We're a silver gleaming death machine!" This outburst struck the passengers as an all but total breakdown of authority, competence and command presence and it brought on a round of fresh and desperate wailing.
Objects were rolling out of the galley, the aisles were full of drinking glasses, utensils, coats and blankets. A stewardess pinned to the bulkhead by the sharp angle of descent was trying to find the relevant passage in a handbook titled "Manual of Disasters." Then there was a second male voice from the cockpit, this one remarkably calm and precise, making the passengers believe there was someone in charge after all, an element of hope: "This is American two-one-three to the cockpit voice recorder. Now we know what it's like. It's worse than we'd ever imagined. They didn't prepare us for this at the death simulator in Denver. Our fear is pure, so totally stripped of distractions and pressures as to be a form of transcendental meditation. In less than three minutes we will touch down, so to speak. They will find our bodies in some smoking field, strewn about in the grisly attitudes of death. I love you, Lance." This time there was a brief pause before the mass wailing recommenced. Lance? What kind of people were in control of this aircraft? The crying took on a bitter and dissillusioned tone."

-Don Delillo, White Noise, 1984.

A bit of black humour that shrinks and expands depending on the context you place it in, pre or post 9-11 America. I find it funny, especially that last sentence, but it's 'meta' style; that winking, amused distancing of itself from it's own subject, is maybe better for a laugh in the context of 1984 than 2004. I don't know.
I haven't attempted Delillo's latest yet (Falling Man, a book that revolves around the events of September 11th) but two reviews I read today on my lunchbreak; one by Andrew O'hagan (New York Review of Books) and the other by Jennifer Szalai (Harpers) both present Delillo as a writer unable to deal (narratively) with the shocking arrival of an event he prophecied so consistently in the disasters, cabals and toxic spills of his earlier novels. Delillo's style: observational, detached, and increasingly devoid of the humour found above, is found wanting (to put it mildly) in the face of it's subject. O'hagan is particularly disappointed by what he considers to be Delillo's (and others) inabilty to present the event as anything other than a string of metaphorical evasions:

"The hallmark of those novelists who have tried to write about the attacks is a sort of austere plangency—or a quivering bathos —that has been in evidence almost from the moment the planes hit. Those authors who published journalistic accounts immediately after the event failed to see how their metaphors fell dead from their mouths before the astonishing live pictures. It did not help us to be told by imaginative writers that the second plane was like someone posting a letter. No, it wasn't. It was like a passenger jet crashing into an office building.
...Metaphor failed to do anything but make one feel that those keen to deploy it had not been watching enough television. After the "nonfiction novel," after the New Journalism, after several decades in which some of America's most vivid writing about real events was seen to be in thrall to the techniques of novelists, September 11 offered a few hours when American novelists could only sit at home while journalism taught them fierce lessons in multivocality, point of view, the structure of plot, interior monologue, the pressure of history, the force of silence, and the uncanny. Actuality showed its own naked art that day."

And that actuality, in Hagan and Szalzi's view, seems to have been so powerful in it's instantaneous confirmation of the author's fictional work, that it "instantly blows Delillo's lamp out."

"DeLillo the novelist prepared us for September 11, but he did not prepare himself for how such an episode might, in the way of denouements, instantly fly beyond the reach of his own powers. In a moment, the reality of the occasion seems to have burst the ripeness of his style, and he truly struggles in this book to say anything that doesn't sound in a small way like a warning that comes too late. Reading Falling Man, one feels that September 11 is an event that is suddenly far ahead of him, far beyond what he knows, and so an air of tentative rehearsal resounds in an empty hall. What is a prophet once his fiery word becomes deed? What does he have to say?"

Not much apparently - but like I said, I haven't read the book yet. At the end of his long and surprisingly moving review, O'hagan concludes:

"DeLillo's novel was inspired by a photograph of a real person—most agree that he is Jonathan Briley, who seemed at a certain point in his descent from the North Tower to plummet straight, upside down, one leg bent, his shirt flying off in the ferocious breeze, his head scorched, "The Falling Man" whose image became a token of horror and a mass-media legend. And the things pertaining to his image are what interest Don DeLillo. Yet the person inside the legend was a man from Mount Vernon who worked in the North Tower restaurant, Windows on the World. He was flesh and blood, not just an idea. He was born on March 5, 1958. He was six feet five. His father was a preacher. He suffered from asthma and had a wife called Hilary. He died sixty-five minutes twenty seconds after Mohamed Atta, and is currently awaiting a writer sufficiently uncoerced by the politics of art to tell his story."

Thursday, June 28, 2007

"A cloud of mosquitos descending upon me."

My best friend Jim Affinito just got back from a 4 days of solo hiking in the alpine of Yosemite National Park, and lucky for us, he took pictures. Mosquitos, marmots, mule trains, bear cubs, crew critters, alpine weirdos and a pretty studly self-portrait, all here.

Monday, June 25, 2007

R.I.P. Bernd Becher, 1931-2007.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

...and speaking of forests:

Robert Smith and Co. tearing the normally sedate "A Forest" a new asshole - Amsterdam, 1980.
Stick around till the 3:48 mark to see just how amazing these guys were once.
WTF happened?
Maren Ade's mesmerizing The Forest for the Trees, viewed last night in a state of slowly escalating discomfort. The film reads like a feature length adaptation of Schopenhauer's famous quote about life being an irrevocable 'error,' in which things "...begin badly, then grow worse with each passing day, until finally the worst of all happens."
I watched the second half through my fingers.

"The sheets of Shore's fourteen-by-eleven-inch notebook have yellowed some with age and appear brittle. Unlike a blog, which lacks materiality, his diary is a unique, tactile object. The idea of deathlessness in cyberspace can be reassuring, especially during a time of extreme transition: Wait six months, the technology will be better; but wait six months, the world will be worse. Shore's diary is not virtual, it is indexical, presenting the things themselves, which, like people, react to time. Now everything would be scanned and digitized, and it would never color, fade, or crack."

-Lynne Tillman ponders Stephen Shore's infamous travel 'diary,' an itemized account of the road trips that produced "Uncommon Places." No personal thoughts or observations, just dates, receipts, postcards, and detailed lists of every meal eaten, bed slept in, and photograph taken.
Phaidon, following along on it's "everything and the kitchen sink" plan with regards to Shore, will be publishing a fascimile edition this spring.
This seems odd to me, and in almost direct contradiction to Tillman's observations about it's worth. Surely some stones can be left unturned? I'm often surprised, upon finally viewing a long-coveted, previously inaccessible piece of work (Chris Marker's "Sans Soliel", Robert Frank's "Cocksucker Blues") how small and one-dimensional they seem in comparison to the imagined version in my head; a version of minimal reference and maximum optimism. I think documents like Shore's diary ( or Prince's "Black Album" circa 1990, or Wall/Wallace/Graham's "Hitchcock" film circa 1975) can function as tremendous inspiration to other artists, precisely because of their relative invisibility. The legend of a thing unseen is potent stuff, like a cipher we fill with our own possibilities. The internet, like a deep sea fishing net, hauls all these legends up into the light of day, where (like those frightening and beautiful fish that live two miles down) they deflate and expire.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Friday, June 15, 2007

Old Lady: What is this? (holding up "Smush Bush" squishable GWB doll.)
Fellow Employee: It's uh..George Bush. You squish it. Him.
Old Lady: This is an outrage. How can you carry this?
Fellow Employee: Uh...
Old Lady: This man was democratically elected to be president of the United States! Can't you have the slightest bit of respect? This man is a world leader! He deserves your respect!
Fellow Employee: Well...
Old Lady: I can't believe you would carry this! I've always shopped here, but this is too much! If you are going to sell garbage like this than you don't deserve my business, or anyone else's!!
Fellow Employee: Uh, we uh, we try to be a forum for free speech here, and not a -er, forum for uh, censorship (reciting from long forgotten memo on store policy regarding outraged customers.)
Old Lady: I don't think so! I think you just lost yourself a customer! (storms out.)
Fellow Employee: (as if suddenly remembering) We carry Ann Coulter books!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Dennis Oppenheim - Device to Root Out Evil, 1997.
Galvanized structural steel, anodized perforated aluminum, transparent red Venetian glass, and concrete foundations, 22 x 18 x 9 ft.

A great little interview with Oppenheim here.
-and in related news, The Creation Museum is now open for business. Adults: $19.95. Cheap!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Fairfield Porter - Island Farmhouse, 1969.

"Porter's intellectual world...was extraordinarily complete. He was a practicing artist with a developed theory of art, and a practicing critic with a developed theory of criticism. In person, he seemed to form concise, measured ideas about everything, and they added up; his intellectual poise made you want to improve your own. He spoke with an authority which did not stem from will, but was that of someone who had made sure of his point of view and could therefore permit you yours. He was absolutely straightforward; he knew what he had to say, and said it. Some found his manners harsh, even rude. He was tall with a windblown complexion, and stood very straight. He entered and left a room without ceremony, and his walk was a stride. His directness in conversation could be uncomfortably challenging; when he was not interested he would be conspicuously silent, or walk away. It was only that what was important for Porter mattered beyond compromise, and time was not to be wasted on the little conventions that make the fabric of easy social life. His friends found his clarity a priceless exchange, and his warmth, expressed in a smile you could call boyish, completely trustworthy."

-Rackstraw Downes, from his introduction to Art In It's Own Terms.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Oh Mummy Theresa, you're so special it's SCARY!

"4:30 p.m.: Oprah asks about the novel The Road, “Where did this apocalyptic dream come from?”

McCarthy replies, “Usually you don’t know where a book comes from,” but then explains that he and his eight-year-old son John (to whom the book is dedicated) were staying in a hotel in El Paso. “I went and stood at a window, and I could hear the trains coming through, a very lonesome sound.” He said he had a vision of what the place would be like in fifty years, with an image of fires burning on a hill.

Oprah asks, as she must, “Is this a love story to your son?”

McCarthy looks uncomfortable. “In a way,” he says, “I suppose so. It’s embarrassing.”

“I just saw you blush,” Oprah says.

4:38 p.m. Oprah gets into the “you were so poor” litany. “I read that you were so poor that you got put out of a 40 dollar a month hotel in New Orleans…So poor that you didn’t even have toothpaste.” Maybe she should break out the yo’ mama jokes next.

Cormac replies, “I was living in a shack in Tennessee and had run out of toothpaste. And I went down the hill to see if there would be anything in the mail and there was a tube of toothpaste.”

“A free sample?” Oprah asks.

“A free sample,” Cormac confirms. He goes on to remark that his life has been full of things like that, that “just when things are really bleak something happens.” So, could McCarthy be practicing The Rules? I can almost see that question springing to Oprah’s lips."

-Jenny Shank, New West, Books & Writers

Monday, June 04, 2007

"Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’"

Congratulations to J and Bonnie Muth (two of the kindest people I know) on the birth of their beautiful twins, Molly and Leo.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

We are in the new house finally, but it's been a bit of a rocky ride. Moving started on the morning of the 30th and didn't finish until midnight, even though we had two incredible helpers (Kyath and Dan, props) and worked our asses off. Too much stuff, period.
A raccoon ran up the tree in our new backyard this morning ( about 15 feet from our back deck) and stole a baby crow right out of it's nest, right in front of us. Poor little guy didn't have a chance. Parents returned in mid-theft and went predictably ape shit. A whole gang of neighbourhood crows swooped in to add their vocal support to the parents while our downstairs neighbour started running around in the bushes clapping his hands, trying to flush out the long-gone thief. It was pandemonium.
Walked over to the neighbourhood Thrifty's afterwards for a big grocery spree and arrived home to find the fridge conked out and our frozen berries leaking all over the place. The landlord is called but can't come over till tomorrow. He suggests we go down into the basement, find the old fridge thats down there, plug it in, and throw our groceries in that. We do. It doesn't work either. No wait, the freezer works. Good news for the orange juice, not so much for the produce.
A lot of reading in the last month or so before the move. Before I forget:

Alain de Botton - The Consolations of Philosophy
The Architecture of Happiness
Don Delillo - White Noise
Morris Berman - Dark Ages America
Plato - Republic
J.G. Ballard - Crash
William Langweische - The Outlaw Sea
Sam Harris - Letter to a Christian Nation
Alison Bechdel - Fun Home

The Bechdel is brilliant. The Botton books are great fun, especially the philosophy one. The Berman is classic Berman, with few surprises. The world is still hopelessly off course, and Berman is still horrified by the statistics (especially those high school geography test scores, yikes.) Nothing I disagree with really, just nothing new. Ditto on the Harris.
"Outlaw Sea" reads like a collection of magazine pieces cobbled together by theme, but is worth reading for it's nightmarish account of the sinking of the Estonia, which begins on page 100 and is so nerve wrackingly visceral it basically hi-jacks the rest of the book. It really is worth checking out. I'll never feel safe on the BC Ferries again.
Off to bed.