Recently my parents put me in charge of converting a box full of old mini-VHS tapes to DVDs. Since we have a VCR/DVD burner combo-machine, this is no trouble, but it does mean that I have to sit and watch them recording in real-time to make sure that everything is working all right — okay, technically I don’t have to watch them, but I like to, since I haven’t seen many of them in full before. So far most of them are pretty boring, apart from one amusing sequence which involves my dad and my younger sister reclining in a deck chair and putting my baby sister to sleep by rolling her pram down a very small slope, and then hauling it back up again on a piece of string. Otherwise, there is a lot of six year-old me playing and not much talking. My parents are almost always in the background or behind the camera. For the most part I don’t remember any of the particular days on which I was filmed, but I do remember particular toys and clothes, the air and smell of certain places. Childhood play can seem as indecipherable to adults as serious grown-up conversation is impenetrable to children, though that’s not to say that we can’t find beauty in the mystery of both.
I’ve always been interested in the particular kind of electronic noise associated with technology from the late twentieth century, that which lies somewhere in between digital and analogue recordings; the kind associated with worn-down magnetic tape, the crackle and hiss of the audio cassette, the VHS snowstorm. The mechanical thump and rattle of the floppy disk-drive. The fuzzy output of fax machines, and the shadowy reproductions of the photocopier. The touch-tone phone and the wailing prayer of the dial-up modem. Perhaps most of all, the grainy, flickering quality of TV signals, which is now soon to be switched off altogether in favor of our glorious new digital standard.
Through these imperfections, something is revealed, even if that something turns out only to be a nostalgia filtered through poor VCR tracking. Whether it’s camcorder footage or a TV rerun, video from that era has a certain special tone as unique as anything produced during the golden age of Technicolor. The sounds of wind and waves seem to carry better on magnetic tape than on any other medium. Bright colours and textures seem to glow from the screen, eradicating detail but creating a kind of over-lit impressionism; clothes were brighter then, and so, it seems, was the world. Perhaps all memory in the modern world is necessarily yoked to the recording media of its time.
I was attempting to explain to co-workers why I can’t listen to Top 40 radio, or really any radio at all anymore. And I think it is because the sounds coming out of the radio have no basis in my experience/perception of the world anymore; they reassure me, sure, of a world that exists elsewhere, and a world that is possibly more pleasant, but a world that simply is not true. So I’ve been listening to noise bands and drone and high tribal wailing, not because these sounds are “truer” but because, precisely, I cannot presently locate them. They are merely “new” or “other” and without referent, and without nostalgic loci. But when I do seem to identify elements of abstraction within this music, it is when I am presented with exactly those sounds you describe above, only half-heard through the fuzz, when I think, “That is what being in the airport sounded like”; or, “That is what riding in the car through the mountains sounded like”; or, “That was how the fire crackers that one summer sounded, when I burned my hand.” —Then, I suppose, I am locating noise in nostalgia, but it is dispensed in such a way that their is little treacle or comfort, only the images, only the remainder.
This is all to say that I believe Fuck Buttons new album is a departure towards the mainstream, towards the sounds of Top 40, which is discomfiting to me, but I can’t blame them, they want harmony again and dance rhythms.
At a small gathering of close friends and family, Lance Arabesque eventually snaked his way to a punchbowl while removing single garments of clothing. This was a conceptual work of art. He had planned it out well in advance, certainly not later than a Fourth of July get-together when about the same crowd had visited his father’s lake house. Now it was late October and all was in order. Lance removed his shoes, socks, silk tie, a wooden bracelet and from there, assuming an air of nonchalance, he began to unbutton his shirt and undo his pants, removing his belt with a flourish and his black boy shorts with untoward deliberation. By the time he was pouring himself a slightly shorter glass of tart spiced cider, his mother and an old college friend he’d experimented with sexually, they noticed. Everyone else just “got” the piece. He’d hired a discreet video recording service so the affair could make the gallery rounds by mid-February, and in the months between October and then, he dated a blond assistant named Marco and they did some photo-work together too, but it was “schmaltzy” and frankly a little “lo-concept,” dealing with ”small themes.”
Alternating between Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion during the four-hour drive back home, I realized how queerly complementary the two albums are, and not just for the sake of an eclectic juxtaposition of their “sound.” Both Jeff Mangum and Lang explore the story of a girl who dies. And from there—
Vacillation, with bursts of enrichment. I notice I’m more comfortable in stasis because the bills are being paid (material), and in another sense (emotional), because I have no responsibility (none immediate) to others here, in Union County, not even Jeremy or my bosses at work; I sleep deeply and dream sweetly. My meals are prepared before I arrive home and wait for me in the microwave to finish with my run. But driving up to Valparaiso gave me distance enough to assess this divining torpor, and working so intensively (to work so doggedly) on the ghost story with Allison brought my headspace back out of its dark velvety rucksack. (I slept not at all; when I closed my eyes I saw the editing interface, cold blue close-ups of hair and faces; I heard the “Daughter, daughter!” refrain from David Lang’sThe Little Match Girl Passion. Incidentally, the co-creation between myself, Allison and Liz has developed fabulously and I hope it hit some folks in the guts this evening at the Cabaret showing.)
On Thursday I took the South Shore Line into Chicago to see a painting and to visit a bookstore (a concrete mission) and in the last leg, I gave my CTA pass to a kid asking for spare change to afford his own (abstraction). “I don’t have spare change, but this has two bucks left on it,” I told him. “Sweet, thanks man,” he thanked me. Sagan had called—she wondered if I’d mosey to the art/psyche building to visit with her and Sarah. I turned-tail and bought a return ticket. I returned. I wandered through the art/psyche building and there was a self-portrait I’d painted in May, in a “final session” with Sagan before I would leave her behind, propped beside her Painting II studio corner, glaring outward. (That does sound mordant…) She was absent, and not returning calls, and I thought about taking the self-portrait but I left it because why not? If it’s to be used for a totem, who am I to break up a ritual affair, although I’m uneasy thinking the image has any significance greater than, “I must remember to flagellate color to execute forms.” For the varieties of religious experience generally promote violence, art of course no exception. I’ll address now what I saw of Sagan’s BSFA project: Marked-over pornography sublimates pleasure and violence into a flat terrain of aesthetic non sequiturs.
Vacillation—going into the tunnel, watching the light from the train arc until its pinhole circle swelled into pinioned corona with its noise, and then retracing my steps back into daylight (into misty gray October Thursday vigilance), and forgoing the plans to buy yet another book by Chris Kraus from Quimby’s. (She was, maybe, described as a “bitchy feminist shrew”; I still want in on that.) Also forsaking Anders Nilsen, BUTT magazine, NYRB and Dalkey Archive Press books, and little comic-zine-chapbooks. To make a timely re-visit. Later, in the night, listening to the rain, done with editing what was left of the images at hand, I decided I would have a last miniature adventure and visit Franklin House to see if any one of the old guard might buy me a drink (I had cash on me in case no one did) and I ran through the rain and cold heading down the wrong road until I was soaked through, and angry for the soaking, angry enough to battle back (pounding through back-lots and over railroad ties) until I was inside the dive wicking water from my hair onto the bar. Everyone was green-cheeked and wore collegiate sports team hoodies, and ordered shots for their frumpy friends (lovers? enemies?) and paid on credit card. I said hello to Dan after admitting to myself that yes, he’d already seen me, too, and apologized for looking drowned, and promptly left. Back at the bungalow I fell asleep reading The Ethical Slut, two den mothers’ page-by-page defense for having written a majestically unsexy little how-to book.
Going down to Mississippi was about recovering an idyllic or romantic version of myself of two years ago (a solid force) and going to Northern Indiana this week was about inhabiting those intellectual/critical reserves I’ve allowed, in some ways, to atrophy this past summer while I bitched and moaned about my love-pangs (a mobile state). Where were my ears to hear our love-chords! If I am here in the barn in my ongoing moment of research, then these travels elsewhere are the phone calls from a less bracketed reality, from social praxis, from community and from rivals. The center cannot hold.
“The existential challenge to the new cultural politics of difference can be stated simply: how does one acquire the resources to survive and the capital to thrive as a critic or artist? By cultural capital (Pierre Bourdieu’s term), I mean not only the high-quality skills required to engage in critical practices but, more important, the self-confidence, discipline and perseverance necessary for success without an undue reliance on the mainstream for approval and acceptance.”—Cornell West, “The New Cultural Politics of Difference”
Today is my last day of working at Panera, ever… ? Yes. I must commit to never working at Panera. I am taking a shot of whiskey at 3:45, and going in to my LAST NIGHT OF WORK!!!
Your experience with Herr Doctor Grundmann (SP?) is remarkably similar to Thomas’. When Thomas continued to break and break this last year, he would rattle into G’s office and then have a miraculous experience, a spiritual welling. I admit I was jealous—and glad. Both. YOU SHOULD, OBVIOUSLY, TEAM TEACH ‘THE BODY.’ God, that sounds so appealing—I’m slavering over that much talent conducting a course. Not only that, but both sexes represented, and a heavily, intrinsically theory/theo/philo Prof complemented by a creative writing/tech/feminista—this sounds like Truth. Capital T. I am jealous again. Envious. I am wanting—knowledge. Again. In a formal setting. Insomuch as your manuscript—how can one disagree with with Herr Doktor? Gemstone. Vulnerability. My insides both hurt and my outside felt scaly, only to have the sensation reversed; dissipate; obviate, and then come back and coalesce into something like self-recognition. ——But I want a full scoop on white-haired Euro-academic soon.
In less than half an hour, Cody will call TFA and give them his DECISION. Of a lifetime. I am whisked like an egg in the ardor and exchanges of others. I am glad that my anchor is up and my sails billowing out in this fair spring wind. “Oh Hell, your fiery mouth will not cave around my huge cock.” Like that. I re-read Coetzee’s ideas about sex with gods—Psyche, Eros; Athena, Achilles—last night and I am feeling mythic.
Also, I put on a pair of Calvin Klein briefs and went running around in the rainstorm after midnight. MYTHICALLY SEXY. IT WAS RAINING MEN. OR 1 MAN. MYSELF.
At Bethesda today I bought a record of Brahms and Schubert’s string quartets. And also a record called “VICTORY AT SEA.” My battleship is set on cruise-control. My battleship will sink this and that battleship on my way to rocky shores.
I don’t have Gnarls or Ward—WANT both. Fanks in advance—I’ll swap you Dan Deacon (finally) and DJ/Rupture. I feel like they’ll compliment the general spring milieu of Gnarls, Ward, MGMT and elsewhere/others.
Since a short visit to Mississippi in mid August, I’d wanted to explore the abandoned Industrial College in Holly Springs with Cody, with flashlights and a crowbar. He took me on a romantical short walk Monday evening, the day before I left, leading me to the grounds of Rust College, then across the road to the expansive lawns of the imposing, boarded-up brick ruins of the other college, the rotting shadow of an academic community.
The second abandoned building had a board loose in the back, and I peeled it back further to climb inside a room—a whole basement—littered with shelves and books. I couldn’t go any further than that. It was dark and wet, and timber creaked above. And above I heard footsteps—they must have been footsteps!—and also the tubercular coughs of blind men curling up in filthy curtains in the dark, and I heard women, so many women, sighing further down the hall, exhausted. I was tired too.
As an editor—as someone who likes to edit?—as someone who edited in college?—this piece is interesting because it pits editors/writers against one another, a little trip into the sausage factory. Fascinating.
When we were both jobless and estranged from our expensive educations at the beginning of the summer, Jeremy and I still had books to talk about. We also had our debts to talk about, although because he was joining the military (he finally really did join—and leaves in January!) his grievances seemed mystically assuaged by the assurances of re-up bonuses and the G.I. Bill paying for his law school years. Jeremy also has on-line poker skills, and could bank, if he kept to the nickle buy-ins, about seventy dollars a night. The money that we didn’t have still went to books we needed. In this way, we were not only poor fools but also dilletantes, describing imaginary budget restraints on copies of Art Forum or National Book Award winning novels bought from the Half Priced Books in Colerain, OH.
In the car last night, now that we both have jobs—of a kind—we have access again to more books, we can less guiltily integrate book-buying into our social matrix again. Welcome books! We’ve missed you. And yet—what I’ve been reading, or finishing up, are the books I bought last year around this same time: Chris Kraus’ novel Torpor, Michel Houllebecq’s novel The Elementary Particles, and that tomish fantasy Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. The small pile beside my bed of the most current batch have sat there wilting, catching dust bunnies while I catch-up with what I wanted to read last fall. The stopper may be the passing of denial; the re-visitation may be that I am settled enough again to not only encounter the bizarre and violent ideas about love and capital those author’s assume in their texts, but I’m also just safe again, shielded from having to live down their words in any dreary capitulation of the novels’ social praxis. Unlike Houllebecq or Kraus, I don’t feel shut-down in the Midwest (in their case, any rurality), and I especially don’t feel convulsed by love-relations, or even more personally buffeted emotions such as failure and loneliness.
Talking on the phone last night with Cody, we talked about the television show Glee. Probably you’ve heard about it? I think it’s pretty awesome.