"I don't know how much I believe in redemptive stories, even though people want them and strive for them. They're satisfied with stories of triumph over evil, but then triumph is a dead end. Triumph never sits still. Life goes on. People forget and make mistakes. Heroes are not completely pure, and villains aren't purely evil. I'm interested in the continuity of conflict, the creation of racist narratives, or nationalist narratives, or whatever narratives people use to construct a group identity and to keep themselves whole – such activity has a darker side to it, since it allows people to lash out at whoever's not in the group. That's a constant thread that flummoxes me."
–Kara Walker. "The Eye of the Storm", Modern Painters, April 2006.
"Walker is less an artist of history, whether racial or artistic history, than a historian of fantasy."
–Triangular Trade: Coloring, Remarking, and Narrative in the Writings of Kara Walker. Introduction text by Kevin Young.
A couple weeks ago, I was finally able to add this book, "Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love", to my collection. It was on sale at Strand for $35.
It was one of my reference books in the school library for years. This book focuses on Walker's works on paper and her index card text writings. It also includes an illustrated glossary of her most common visual and character motifs by Yasmil Raymond called "Maladies of Power: A Kara Walker Lexicon".
I repeatedly go back to it to study covert, private, and perverse histories. Walker's work powerfully inhabits the liminal space where fact and fiction collide. It's a complex reference text for my ongoing interests in giving visual form to unimaginable transgressions (her figures often reenact perverse versions of the past in an attempt to subvert power relations) and the often times ambivalent subconscious narratives beneath collective identities.
“Grotesque realism uses the material body – flesh conceptualized as corpulent excess – to represent cosmic, social, topographical and linguistic elements of the world. Thus already in (Mikhail) Bakhtin there is the germinal notion of transcodings and displacements effected between the high/low image of the physical body and other social domains. Grotesque realism images the human body as multiple, bulging, over-or under-sized, protuberant and incomplete. The openings and orifices of this carnival body are emphasized, not its closure and finish. It is an image of impure corporeal bulk with its orifices (mouth, flared nostrils, anus) yawning wide and its lower regions (belly, legs, feet, buttocks, and genitals) given priority over its upper regions (head, ‘spirit’, reason).”
– The Politics and Poetics of Transgression. Peter Stallybrass and Allon White.
“The primary site of contradiction, the site of conflicting desires and mutually incompatible representation, is undoubtedly the ‘low’. Again and again we find a striking ambivalence to the representations of the lower strata (of the body, of literature, of society, of place) in which they are both reviled and desired. Repugnance and fascination are the twin poles of the process in which a political imperative to reject and eliminate the debasing ‘low’ conflicts powerfully and unpredictably with a desire for this Other. Edward Said in his work on Orientalism – the myth of the Middle East constructed by Europe to legitimate its own authority – has convincingly shown this operative ambivalence in action.”
– The Politics and Poetics of Transgression. Peter Stallybrass and Allon White.
Atom Egoyan's 2009 film "Chloe" was set and shot in Toronto. Instead of using Toronto as a double for New York or San Francisco or Chicago as most movies do, Egoyan chose to shoot Toronto as Toronto, in the middle of one of its brutal winters.
"By giving it (Toronto) ... a sort of sensuality and by showing that there's something that's cold but ... also invites people to go inside. So there's something very romantic about this idea that people are trying to find places that protect them from this very brutal exterior."
Egoyan was always able to create an immediate sense of intimacy, privacy, and interiority in his films. For example, the set design of the club in "Exotica" (1994) reflected the power dynamics between the characters, their intersecting histories, and the layers of guilt behind the sensuality. Egoyan's film sets are almost always "architectures" or "landscapes" of voyeurism, constructed in such a way that it allows us to do complex studies of desire/obsession, emotional negotiations, power structures, the nature of secrets, etc.
Some of my favorite excerpts:
"I first came across Jim Ballard when I was a teenager in the 1960s. My father, Kingsley Amis, championed his work, calling him 'the brightest star in British postwar SF' (all purists call science fiction SF, and have the greatest contempt for 'sci fi'); and Jim was a frequent visitor to the house ... In retrospect I see that the friendship between the two did not survive Jim's increasing interest in experimentalism, which Kingsley always anathematised as 'buggering about with the reader'. But I always felt a strong surge of warmth whenever I saw Jim later on; funnily enough, he was an exceptionally lovable man, despite the ferocity of his imagination."
"Ballard was beleaguered by obsession. In his work, mood and landscape are indivisible. He had very little curiosity about human beings in the conventional sense, i.e., as individuals (and a revealingly weak ear for dialogue); he was utterly visual, and his mind, like his settings, was in his own phrase 'lunar and abstract'."
"As a man, Ballard was a great exemplar of the Flaubertian principle: writers should be orderly and predictable in their lives, so that they can be ferocious and sinister in their work ... When I visited him in 1984, he said, 'All these French Crash-freaks used to come out here to see me, expecting a miasma of child-molestation and drug abuse.' What they found was a robustly rounded and amazingly cheerful suburbanite."
"To begin with he could only get through the day by drinking a large scotch every hour, starting at nine in the morning. It took him quite a while to push this back to six in the evening. I asked him, 'Was that difficult?' And he said, 'Difficult? It was like the Battle of Stalingrad.' But push it back he did, and everything suggests that he was a tolerant, pragmatic, and impeccably adoring father."
– Martin Amis, London, May 2009. "The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard".
"Dr. Higgs, now 85, doesn’t own a television or use email or a cellphone. Not that he is uninterested or uninformed about the world around him ... But his public appearances are as rare and fleeting as the tracks of an exotic particle in the underground detectors of CERN. In a decade of covering the search for the Higgs boson, I had never managed to get a word with Dr. Higgs himself. So I reached out to Mr. Walker, a physics professor at Edinburgh who acts as Dr. Higgs’s “digital seeing-eye dog,” in the words of a former student. As a result of his bubblelike existence, Dr. Higgs doesn’t really know how much commotion his award has caused, Mr. Walker said, adding, “I’m his filter.”
He spends his entire life looking up, studying the universe.
"The first time I heard the name Derek Jarman pronounced respectfully, I was living in Amsterdam in the mid-’80s. My friend the late filmmaker Howard Brookner (Burroughs, The Movie; The Bloodhounds of Broadway) had stopped through town for a visit. He’d just been in London to see Jarman, who, unbeknownst to me, was one of his heroes. While there, Howard had managed to see an almost-completed cut of Jarman’s film in progress, The Last of England, which he exuberantly declared the greatest piece of art he’d ever seen. I expressed huge reservations based on my experiences with Jarman’s earlier work, so Howard sat me down and conducted a little tour through the guy’s films, one by one, pointing out things I’d missed or misconstrued. The key, according to Howard, was to accept the films’ strange imbalances and pretensions, lags and lurches, as what naturally happens when an artist has had to wrest his material from countless years of heterosexual ownership. There were moments when the liberation was complete and the picture in focus, and moments when Jarman’s struggle became the point. It was a notion of distortion-as-beauty familiar to me from the rock music I knew, but less so from other media. So while I understood Howard’s theory, it wasn’t until I finally saw The Last of England—a staggering, hallucinatory meditation set in a desolated future London—that I began to see Jarman as an artist with specific, definable genius."
–Dennis Cooper. "The Queer King." Smothered in Hugs: Essays, Interviews, Feedback, and Obituaries.
I am invested in the full spectrum of transgression. When I was younger, I think I deliberately sought out the militantly transgressive (David Cronenberg, Kara Walker, J.G. Ballard, Valerie Solanas S.C.U.M., John Waters, etc.) As I get older I increasingly look for material that disrupts binary systems quietly and on a subconscious level (Derek Jarman's "Blue", Alice Munro, Todd Haynes "Far from Heaven", Janet Cardiff's sound work, etc.)
Next on my list to familiarize myself with – the queer theorist Guy Hocquenghem.
"In 1917, Eliot took a job as a clerk at Lloyds Bank, in London ... Eliot was grateful for the job. Previously, he had been devoting all his energies to writing reviews and essays, teaching school, and delivering an ambitious lecture series — a devouring workload that left him little time for poetry and, worse, barely earned him enough money to scrape by. By contrast, Lloyds was a godsend. Two days after his appointment there, he wrote to his mother, “I am now earning two pounds ten shillings a week for sitting in an office from 9:15 to 5 with an hour for lunch, and tea served in the office.… Perhaps it will surprise you to hear that I enjoy the work. It is not nearly so fatiguing as school teaching, and is more interesting.” He often used his lunch hour to discuss literary projects with friends and collaborators. In the evening he had time to work on his poetry, or to earn extra money from reviews and criticism ...
It was an ideal arrangement, but over time the routine became dulling. Sensing his weariness, some of his literary friends, led by Ezra Pound, invented a scheme to free Eliot from his employment: they would create a £ 300 annual fund by soliciting £ 10 a year from thirty subscribers. When Eliot found out about the plan he was appreciative but embarrassed; he preferred the security and independence afforded by Lloyds."
–Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Mason Currey.
"Now, through friends, I was given a very minor position as First Assistant in the Miguel Cane branch of the Municipal Library, out in a drab and dreary part of town to the southwest ...
At the library, we did very little work. There were some fifty of us doing what fifteen could easily have done. My particular job, shared with fifteen or twenty colleagues, was classifying and cataloguing the library's holdings, which until that time were uncatalogued. The collection, however, was so small that we knew where to find the books without the system, so the system, though laboriously carried out, was never needed or used. The first day, I worked honestly. On the next, some of my fellows took me aside to say that I couldn't do this sort of thing because it showed them up. 'Besides,' they argued, 'as this cataloguing has been planned to give us some semblance of work, you'll put us out of our jobs' ...
I stuck out the library for about nine years. They were nine years of solid unhappiness. At work, the other men were interested in nothing but horse racing, soccer matches, and smutty stories ... Sometimes in the evening, as I walked the ten blocks to the tramline, my eyes would be filled with tears ... I would do all my library work in the first hour and then steal away to the basement and pass the other five hours in reading or writing."
–Jorge Luis Borges. "Autobiographical Notes". New Yorker, September 19, 1970.
During this time, Borges was able to publish some of his best fiction including "The Library of Babel" and "The Garden of Forking Paths".
David Foster Wallace: "You know, it's real interesting. I was a very difficult person to teach when I was a student and I thought I was smarter than my teachers and they told me a lot of things that I thought were retrograde or outdated or B.S. And I've learned more teaching in the last three years than I ever learned as a student. And a lot of it is that when you see students' work where the point, whether it's stated or not, is basically that they're clever, and to try and articulate to the student how empty and frustrating it is for a reader to invest their time and attention in something and to feel that the agenda is basically to show you that the writer is clever. All the kind of stuff, right, when I'm doing my little onanistic, clever stuff in grad school, that when my professors would talk to me about it, I would go, "Well, they don't understand. I'm a genius, blah, blah, blah, blah." Now that I'm the teacher, I'm starting to learn—it's like the older you get, the smarter your parents get—now I'm starting to learn that they had some smart stuff to tell me."
–Interview with David Foster Wallace by Leonard Lopate, WNYC, March 4, 1996.
"Q: Is transgression still important to you?
John Waters: Yes, but I never used that word until later, when somebody said it about me. I was always flattered, but I just want my movies to make money. I want to be commercial. I'm never the person who says, 'I don't care if people don't see my movies.' I always want people to see my movies."
–Time Out New York. Interview with John Waters by Terri White. September 4-10, 2014 issue.
That's one of the biggest reasons why I admire John Waters – his ability to integrate the language of transgression into the American mainstream throughout his career. In case you didn't realize, John Waters is a national treasure.
The Film Society of Lincoln Center is having a John Waters retrospective "Fifty Years of John Waters: How Much Can You Take". September 5-14.
"Life will have fried, oceans will have boiled away, but no one has ever been sure what will happen to Earth itself when the Sun finally swells into a red giant. Now, astrophysicists from Mexico and the UK are forecasting a dismal fate for our rocky planet: it will get caught up in the Sun’s outer layers, spiral inwards and vaporize.
Like all dwarf stars, the Sun converts hydrogen nuclei into helium nuclei by fusion to produce immense amounts of radiation and outward pressure. But in five billion years or so the core will run out of hydrogen fuel, lose pressure and collapse under its own gravity. As this inward crush boosts the temperature of the core, the remaining shell of hydrogen around it will heat up and trigger a new period of fusion, which in turn will cause the Sun’s outer envelope to expand to around 250 times its current radius and cool from white to red.
Once the Sun is in this red-giant phase, Mercury will certainly be engulfed, and going on the increase of the Sun’s radius alone it would appear that Venus, Earth and Mars will suffer the same fate too."
One of my biggest interests is thinking about deep time, from earth's origins to its end.
"Black is modest and arrogant at the same time. Black is lazy and easy – but mysterious. But above all black says this: 'I don't bother you – don't bother me."
–Yohji Yamamoto. Japanese fashion designer.
"The Real Ghostbusters", episode 104 "Slimer, Come Home".
Link to the whole episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTa9GQEhOR4&index=2&list=LLcpj4gI03q9UwEWLj-cFVGA
Happy 30th anniversary GHOSTBUSTERS! You guys were a big part of my childhood.
I love you Slimer!
"So I'm rehearsing this piece I had rescored with the orchestra at Abbey Road and Paul comes over to me and said, 'Angelo, it sounds great. Let me tell you this story. I was invited by the Queen's (Elizabeth II) office to perform forty minutes of my music to celebrate her birthday at Buckingham Palace. I'm about to go on and she comes by and says 'Oh, Mr. McCartney, it's so lovely to see you, but I can't stay!' Paul said, 'What do you mean? We're celebrating your birthday!' The Queen said, 'You see, it's five minutes of eight; I must go upstairs and watch Twin Peaks.' Paul turned around and punched me on the left arm right on the conductor stand and had a few choice words. (laughs) I thought that was incredible! David Lynch and I both like the Queen a lot as a result of this."
"After the first season a lot of crazy things happened, like me and Mark sitting at Steven Spielberg's house convincing him to do the opener for the second season. That was all ready to go. This is a long story, but my first wife (Tricia Brock) is and was Kate Capshaw's best friend so I knew Steven pretty well and he was a huge fan of the show – watched it every week, I mean a huge fan. Because we were friendly we talked about it a lot and he said to me in passing how fun it would be to direct an episode, so I went to Mark over the summer and said, 'This probably is not a bad way to kick off the second season, right?"
"Steven just said, 'I want it to be as weird as possible; it'll be so much fun.' So whether or not he would have even done it, we'll never really know, but when Mark told David he didn't even hesitate, saying, 'No, no, I think I'll direct the first one. Maybe he can direct later in the season,' which he obviously didn't."
-Harley Peyton. Series screenwriter and season two producer.
Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks. Brad Dukes.
Ray: Mr. Mayor, we're here tonight because a psychomagnatheric slime flow of immense proportions is building up beneath the city.
The Mayor: Psycho-what?
Peter Venkman: Big word, big word.
Egon: Negative human emotions are materializing in the form of a viscous psycho-reactive plasm with explosive supernormal potential.
The Mayor: Does anybody speak english here?
Winston: Uh yeah. Your honor, see, what we're trying to tell you is like all of the bad feelings, I mean all the hate, the anger, and violence of this city is turning into this sludge. Nah, I didn't believe it at first either. But we just went for a swim in it and we ended up almost killing each other ...
The Mayor: What am I supposed to do? Go on television and tell 10 million people they have to be nice to each other?
[Begins to walk off]
The Mayor: Being miserable and treating other people like dirt is every New Yorker's god-given right. Your 2 minutes are up, good night gentlemen.
–The Ghostbusters and Mayor Lenny Clotch. Ghostbusters 2.
You try living in New York City. Good fucking luck.
"I make notes ... This idea. This joke. This thing. This character. This this. Pages and pages and pages of notes. Then I go through and outline. This is exactly how I do it: I always have to have an exact kind of legal pads from Towson Stationery. They make the brand I like the best. Bic pens, black like twenty of them. Then a red Bic pen to circle the ideas I like. Then a red pencil to circle the ones I like even more than the red pen. Then I go back to another legal pad. I have a whole book of titles, a whole book of casting, a whole book of who the characters are and what happens with them in the first, second, and third acts … All of my movies are within five minutes of being ninety minutes long. It goes back to three reels, my old 16 mm days, you know? A beginning, a middle, and an end."
–John Waters. "Artist in Dialogue", interview with John G. Ives, 1992.