[My contribution to London-based Centre of Attentions' Art Blog project.]
Wednesday, September 10, 2003
Sooner or later everyone will work for America, but only a few of us will get to live here.
I used to be asked (by non-Americans) what it was like to live in Chicago post-9/11. I couldn't really say; I hadn't been here long enough. All I could say was that angels seemed even more prevalent. The God they believe in operates at some obscure distance. His primary function is to serve as the touchstone for various twelve-step programs. Higher power, where the buck stops, eye in the pyramid. He's their mascot for self-improvement. Figureheads are important, of course, but ineffectual. For real spiritual action they turn to angels. These angels are the benevolent ghosts of dead relatives. They haunt with vague reassurances relayed through various mediums. Some of these mediums (media?) have daily tv shows. They stand in front of an audience and say, "I'm seeing a dog. Does anyone have a dog who's passed? He's standing on a hill. He's standing on a hill, wagging his tail." The dead always have a message for Americans. That is why they come through. They have one of three possible messages: 1. Everything's alright. 2. It wasn't your fault. 3. Everything is going to be alright.
I saw one of those shows this morning, James von Pragh (or something like that). He's a tubby, effeminate white guy with an impressive moustache. He channeled a black guy who had recently drowned. He was happy to be there, on the other side, because he liked his boat and he didn't want to grow old. His daughters wanted to know if he left a will. James speaks in some strange approximation: "I didn't leave no will." Then they had on a baby whisperer, tape of a baby whisperer making a house call. The baby cried all day and all night. The baby whisperer talked to him. He didn't like the music his mother was playing, and he wanted his feet touched more often. (No, he needed his feet touched. Americans want very little, but they need rather a lot.)
Then I went to the post office. I go almost every day. I'm selling most of my books and CDs through Amazon. I like to find the books (the sixty or so I'm keeping are meticulously arranged, following my mania for both categorization and alphabetization — I should've been a librarian, and may be yet — but the three hundred for sale are stacked without arrangement). I like to slide them into the bubble wrap envelopes, seal them with the self-adhesive strip and, especially, address them. It is the only thing that gives structure and meaning to my life. Still, I wish they would sell faster. I wish they would sell all at once.
After that, to the Video Data Bank. Two new George Kuchar tapes had arrived the previous week. I'm putting together a DVD box set of his video work for them. I've already programmed the four discs — they're jammed full. But the two new works are great, a definite high point in his work of the last five or so years, and so I want to include them somehow. They seem more condensed, more concentrated than previous tapes, covering a lot of territory in sixteen or seventeen minutes. One segment of Burnout has George wandering around with a flashlight during the blackout of a few weeks ago. (The whole eastern seaboard and up into Ontario went dark for a few days one Thursday late afternoon. I was in Toronto and assumed it was a local power failure, so I went to the local bar, Traxx. People's cell phones weren't working and they started to get freaked out, dialing and dialing. Someone had a transistor radio and we heard New York was out, and then that everywhere was out, and would stay out for days, though they didn't say what might have happened. As the downtown office towers let out and the subway and streetcars were not running a huge crowd walked slowly up Yonge Street. I watched them from the bar. They looked like very well-dressed refugees.)
I also watched a new tape by Harrell Fletcher, a Portland (or possibly Seattle) artist. He made a tape last year I like very much, with the staff and patrons of a garage/gas station reciting passages from Joyce's Ulysses printed on cue cards. This new one, The Problem of Possible Redemption, does the same thing in an old age home. It's good, too.
Tonight George Bush was on television. It was a whole hour about 9/11 and what he was doing up there in Airforce One. He was saying things like "This is war." "Did you see things then in black and white," the reporter asks, and he replies, "Yes." I myself was contemplating whether I should continue watching, and took W's assertion that things are uneqivocably simple as an instruction to walk away and never think about him again.
So I went to the Empty Bottle. I met Paul Sargeant. on the way. They won't let me in as I don't have my identification papers, so Paul drives me home to get my passport. I've let my California driver's license (the ID of choice) expire. To replace it with an Illinois one requires a social security card and I left mine in a hotel room in London, along with an Alan Curral catalogue, a few years ago. I was using it as a bookmark. In Canada we don't need to carry identification papers, and I always forget that I need to here.
Already at the club: Margaret and Abina and James. The bands were good, but I forget their names. Beer was $1 a bottle and so there were a lot of bottles on offer, littering the high rickety table. Full moon tonight. Margaret argues that it is not the harvest moon yet as it is too early to stay up all night harvesting by the light of the moon. I tell some jokes, mostly about penguins and pedophiles.
But we really are almost at the equinox; winter is coming. It is the harvest moon. By the next moon the season will have turned.
Thursday, September 11, 2003
The satellite is down. The satellite has lost its orbit and cannot establish a new one. It is plummeting through great acres of space and will land, as all satellites, in Australia or, possibly, Texas. Our television reception will be interrupted as they switch to a new one. Three minutes, tops.
I go to school and look at flipbooks my Animation 1 class has completed. Snakes slither, balls bounce, airplanes write love notes in the sky. They turn their faces toward me for comments, and I have absolutely nothing to say.
Friday, September 12, 2003
It rained in the night. The whole city is under construction. First they replace the pipes that run down the centre of every street, then they replace cables that run down the sides. The remaining large holes are now filled with water. Some are pond-sized, but as they're in the street can only be given the designation of puddle. In one puddle we put everything that is forgotten, in the next everything remembered. The puddle of forgotten things is the deeper of the two. Remembered things stick out of the top of the puddle of remembered things, and many of them float.
Sunday, September 14, 2003
Why have they closed the zoo? The animals took a vote. So instead go to dinner at James. It's a dinner party; he's going away soon, moving back to New York. He has no furniture except eight or nine hard plastic coolers of various sizes. I hear we are eating out of boxes. We each get our own box, and I'm relieved as I'd imagined a large trough, and was feeling hungry but not aggressive and feared I might be pushed aside in the slop-rush. There is a very cute boy at the party, some scrawny curly-headed hipster, twenty years too young, out of my league and more-or-less straight, and I try not to stare at him. He's made some music on a Nintendo GameBoy which he plays, noise and tuneless bleeps which he refers to as a song he wrote, but it sounds pretty good. (There are hundreds of boys making Atari music and it all sounds the kitschy same, and hundreds of boys making Nintendo music and it is more varied and less kitschy than it is nostalgic. They are uncritically reconstructing the Mario Brothers sounds of their youth, hours spent at the console. Hours and hours, as masturbation took only seconds. In America the youth are endlessly, achingly nostalgic. As they age they lose this first order nostalgia and become nostalgic for the nostalgia they used to have and feel.) Then he starts enthusiastically describing Hitchcock's Rope, getting it all incredibly wrong. It's all shot with a static camera, he says, and is a Rashomon-like retelling of a single story from multiple points of view. I have to restrain myself from correcting him. More and more I am becoming like the professor I am, and find it horrifying. I no longer found the boy the least bit attractive. His film comprehension skills disgust me as if I had discovered earthworm-sized warts wriggling around his anus.
Monday, September 15, 2003
Does anything important ever happen on a Monday? Yes, of course, though with less frequency than any other day. Which is probably why Monday is my favourite. Mike Hoolboom, writing a text in which Steve Reinke is a fictional character, says that he (Reinke) is always happy and his happiness is a small incline. That is just like me; my happiness is a small incline. I'm teaching a film course Monday nights. I lectured on last week's film, Antonioni's Red Desert. I'd overheard students talking about it. Their comments ran the gamut from "That is the most boring film I've ever seen" to "That's two hours of my life I'll never get back." Tonight's film is Pasolini's Porcile. I tell them it intercuts two stories: a murdering cannibal who roams Mount Etna, and the son of a wealthy industrialist who fucks pigs. It is my hope that this will stop them from tuning out after the first ten minutes, and my fear that if I didn't tell them about the pig-fucking, many of them would miss it as it isn't depicted in the film but only referred to, somewhat obliquely, in the subtitles.
Tuesday, September 16, 2003
Stay up late to watch Madonna, our leader, on Oprah.
Wednesday, September 17, 2003
I have something to admit: most of these entries I compose first in longhand, pen on paper. Does that make it (them?) still a blog? Yes, as long as you read them as one. I'm typing the previous entries. Oprah's on tv again. (She's often on tv here, once every morning and again every night.) She going through Rob Lowe's house. She's just bought the one next to his. His floors are stone from a dismantled British manse. Wood in the library from an old Spanish church, and many bits from France. Italian tiles in the swimming pool. All imported and all old. I hope they are making some new stuff in Europe, or soon it will be empty. I glance up from the laptop. Oprah isn't wearing so much make-up, and her hair is pulled back. Her huge almond-shaped eyes slant alarmingly in the daylight of Rob Lowe's backyard. "More and more Oprah's eyes are sliding down her face," I say to Sarah, my roommate, and she says I should put that in my blog.
Thursday, September 18
It isn't just a matter of convenience that the horse is depicted by two separate actors in the pantomime for every horse is really two different animals. One animal (the outer horse) completely encompassing the other (inner). This inner horse is not a miniature horse, but something else, something like a raccoon or dog, though without a trace of loyalty. (Loyalty would be redundant, trapped as it is.) The inner horse determines not when to run, but when to stop running. Without it, the outer horse would run to death.
Thursday, September 25
First Johnny Cash, now Edward Said. Abina tells me about his death (leukemia, he wasn't as old as I would've guessed) in the Empty Bottle. We're there for Fred Anderson, an exception to my no jazz saxophone rule. British magazine Wire's in town for five days of shows. The final band, Jackie O'Motherfucker is excellent. They sound like Godspeed You Black Emperor, washes of grand, solemn sound. Joe told me once that Said had a sprawling apartment on the Hudson between Columbia U. and Harlem. We were walking and he pointed up. I imagined an apartment with lots of light and many medium-sized rooms all interconnected, rugs and books. What kind of art would Said have? Perhaps none. Maybe something on paper by Nancy Spero. I know the ideal way to mark Cash's passing: kill a man just to watch him die. But for Said? I have no idea.
Friday, September 26
An undergraduate curriculum revision meeting. They've been discussing since the late eighties whether to have an undergraduate "theory and criticism" or "visual culture" course. It seems like it should be a moot point, but this is still highly contested territory. Everybody says yes, or maybe yes, but they must see a syllabus first. What suspect ideas and readings would such a thing contain? They turn to me, as I instituted and teach the graduate level Introduction to Theory and Criticism, but I volunteer nothing — I've said too much in the past. My colleague, hired at the same time (three years ago) and until this year the only other film/video faculty, takes aim against my presumed course ideas. She doesn't want anything that students might find taxing or unpleasant. She wants to open up their imaginations. Her details are vague, but involve "music, fashion and fun." It sounds to me like paging distractedly through a glossy magazine. There will be no Plato, no Nietzsche, Freud, Althusser, Barthes or Foucault. She says it would be horrible to have to follow any kind of outline I supplied, and it we be horrible if such a course even existed. Students would come up to her in the hall and complain that the course was a drag, and she would only be able to shrug and agree with them. I have no defense. In a culture in which the pep rally is the ideal institutional model, in which popularity is the primary goal, there is nothing to do but read Dale Carnegie's How to Make Friends and Influence People and become as obsequious as a used car salesperson.
Tuesday, September 30
I'm developing a soap opera, The Flawed and the Fallen. It's based on the premise that all of our problems are either physiological (the flawed) or moral (the fallen) or some combination of the two. I'm also working on a cooking show. In Toronto, since the proliferation of digital cable channels, almost everyone has their own television program, mostly cooking or decorating. The shows that work have cross-over potential. I'm developing a queer sci-fi multicultural cooking program. They'll be actual recipes with fictional ingredients prepared by aliens and other space creatures, intergalactic comfort food, all yeast and slime and cannibal yearnings.