Against its description as both a way of life (a not-unattractive way of life, what with the porch parties and babes), and a cultural force (they must outnumber us, and are infecting our ranks—a glib commenter recently noted Sufjan Stevens wearing cargo khakis and an American Eagle screen-printed shirt!), “bro” constitutes a pattern of behavior more than it does a fixed type. Like his Other, the queer, that pet of theoretics (and probably this theoretics), the bro is a floating signifier on an unstable background, etc. (We have all the more reason, then, to keep our understanding of bro origin, of bro cultural and material reproduction, plural, multi-capillaried, argus-eyed, respectful, and endlessly cherished.)
I can no longer “like” posts, but I can reblog. This is strange. Are others experiencing this? I also cannot blow-up pictures or click-thru videos, but. & now, I can’t modify text, add links, etc., or do HTML work (not that I really understood how to do that anyway). So no italics or bold this evening.
Anyway, here are some more reasons why I like n+1:
Reading through the Intellectual Situation, I like to guess who wrote what on the unsigned sections. Chad Harbach wrote MFA vs. NYC, as came out on Slate—rather; Slate published the whole shebang with his name attached. So.
But, on Revolt of the Elites—gotta be Mark Greif, right? He has mentioned Pierre Bourdieu—not in the magazines, necessarily, not prior—but in the hipster book and in the steady stream of appearances of his positions on hipsters elsewhere. (The count must be around five, right? —New York Magazine, New York Times, The Guardian, The American Prospect, NPR, n+1 proper….) Several things are revealed, anyway, with his thinking—that he likes Perry Anderson, that he *really* likes Bordieu. (Nikil Saval ran an appreciation of The New Left Review in issue 8, where followed a review of Jaques Rancière’s work, titled “Forget Bourdieu,” by Nicholas Dames. —A little wink to Baudrillard’s “Forget Foucault,” a small book that, in an interview between Sylvère Lotringer and Baudrillard, Lontringer (that leech) said, “Foucault was asked to respond to your Forget Foucault, but he never did, I am convinced that it affected him deeply as well as his own work. It also ended up costing you dearly, at least in French intellectual circles, where Foucault remains untouched.” Um. And then Baudrillard continues, romantically, “I had the idea of launching a series of FORGET—Forget Foucault, Forget Lacan, Forget Baudrillard, Forget Lotringer, and so on. And when this would have been completed, we would have started another series with REMEMBER—Remember Baudrillard, etc. It would have been a huge success and it would have lasted a very long time.” But what is there to remember about Lotringer? He edits—his own imprint—with his estranged wife—well, maybe they’re divorced now—and he conducts interviews. Whatever. I’m sharing this because I’m cold.) Greif presumably edited the New Left Review piece and the Rancière piece, assuming familiarity with both subjects, and how pleasant that he’s rapping The Nation on its knuckles for getting smarmy about Perry Anderson’s high style. (Reading Perry Anderson, by the way, is like sitting in the lap of a grandfather and hearing his war stories, and learning his lessons. “I slept with my feet up against walls, to dry them at night,” etc. Terry Eagleton recently critiqued the ethics of Fredrick Jameson’s high stylings, and you know, by extension, Anderson’s, and that was a decent thing to do. Eagleton concluded that Jameson might do us more a service if he brought his considerable interpretive powers to bear on life things—like sex, like old-age.)
But then I get to thinking, this piece has some very Keith Gessen bits in it—like: “Would it be too Stalinist to exile to Siberia anyone who thinks big words are Leninist? Because actually if you want to know what an amphibology is, the internet will tell you for free. Then—it’s amazing!—you can use the word yourself. It refers, says Wikipedia, to fatally ambiguous grammatical constructions like the used car dealer’s rhetorical question: Why go elsewhere to be cheated?” Totally smacks of Gessen in terms of sentence structure (short and punchy) and analogy to Soviet Russia. Also, Gessen has expressed in one of the small books that he very much admires Anderson’s work. Etc. The mention of Eric Hobswam leans on Benjamin Kunkle. This is a real mystery, folks.
I re-read “Torture and the Known Unknowns” at the cafe a week and a half-ago, and welled-up with tears at the very last sentence. They dissipated quickly—but it was nighttime, and I was tired and feeling lobotomized from sucking coffee out of biscotti, and to be loosed into America again after this harpoon unstuck me: “In the article accompanying the photos, a psychiatrist who examined Padilla at the request of his attorneys explained that after three years of sensory deprivation, of a total information deficit, Padilla has lost his mind,” it was a lot to take in. I was very surprised by my violent reaction. Why does this happen?
Also—I think it’s appealing that Mark McGurl has contributed to n+1 and that n+1’s senior writer and editor—Elif Batuman and Mark Greif—have reviewed his book, The Program Era, sensitively, critically, in Batuman’s case, vertiginously. An incestuous imbrication of thinking and writing, also a massage-circle.
I read an essay last night by my new friend Bridget called “From Sacrificial Space Dudes to Hypermasculine Homophobes: Redefining Kirk and Spock.” Pretty much the shizz.
There is a Christmas tree behind me and today I got my haircut at Great Clips and it was a new lady and nothing happened whatsoever. Hair. Cut.
“A tone of conservative puritanism becomes especially shrill in Greif’s own “Epitaph for the White Hipster”, an essay that invites us to admire the frugality of the author for buying new dress shirts annually from Filene’s.”—
By way of Martin Buber keeping pornography in his notes to excite him during lectures
The nubile conscripts in “Barracks Orgy” are ordered, repeatedly, “Make everybody sucking!” and “Snap my dick!” Something irretrievable has been brought from the Slovak when another soldier says, “Don’t bother them!” and says it again, to nobody.
Dr. Arendt, from her chapter “Instrumentality and Animal Laborans”:
[H]omo faber, the toolmaker, invented tools and implements in order to erect a world, not—at least, not primarily—to help the human life process. The question therefor is not so much whether we are the masters or slaves of our machines, but whether machines still serve the world and its things, or if, on the contrary, they and the automatic motion of their processes have begun to rule and even destroy world and things.
This is pretty good too:
For a society of laborers, the world of machines has become a substitute for the real world, even though this pseudo world cannot fulfill the most important task of the human artifice, which is to offer mortals a dwelling place more permanent and more stable than themselves.
She is not, of course, talking about our laptop pornmachines, but it’s a comforting extension.
For centuries a small number of writers were confronted by many thousands of readers. This changed toward the end of the last century. With the increasing extension of the press, which kept placing new political, religious, scientific, professional, and local organs before the readers, an increasing number of readers became writers—at first, occasional ones. It began with the daily press opening to its readers space for “letters to the editor.” And today there is hardly a gainfully employed European who could not, in principle, find an opportunity to publish somewhere or other comments on his work, grievances, documentary reports, or that sort of thing. Thus, the distinction between author and public is about to lose its basic character. The difference becomes merely functional; it may vary from case to case. At any moment the reader is ready to turn into a writer. As expert, which he had to become willy-nilly in an extremely specialized work process, even if only in some minor respect, the reader gains access to authorship.
Like converging, diverging or transforming boundaries in plate tectonics, so to do our readerly pursuits drift.
But a true story: I am waiting for James Creech’s Closet Writing/Gay Reading to inform my experience of Pierre; or, The Ambiguities. Creech is a professor of French and Italian at Miami University of Ohio, so if I really wanted to get at the man’s ideas on the topic, I could drive the twenty-five minutes or so it takes to cross the state-line, and show up at his office door. Sometimes he comes into the café and drinks small cups of cranberry juice—it’s fairly irritating. I had no idea until last week that I was serving the critic-scholar James Creech small cranberry juices. (Perhaps I have confused him with another professor—I come to this conclusion by Google image search.) He and another fellow come at that time in the afternoon when business has been dead for an hour or so and I have turned in my coffee-pouring wrists, and have deeply absorbed myself in non-café things, like reading scholarly articles citing James Creech, whom arrives to break me of this reverie. If only I had known!
I come to Closet Writing/Gay Reading at all through Melville, natürlich, whose work I’ve never taken an interest outside “Bartleby the Scrivener,” assigned reading in sophomore English classes. Caleb Crain really likes Melville and after listening to his SUNY Geneseo talk a couple-three times now, I have embarked on a cluttered path of catching up. Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (which got a fairly awesome treatment by Damion Searls in a back-issue of The Believer, in response to Searls editing ; or, The Whalefor a special issue of The Contemporary Review of Fiction—sparking my initial interest, which quickly died-down) has been okay-going again. In the way that I enjoyed Howards End a lot more when I skipped ahead in my Norton Critical Edition and read Forster’s gay journal entries and the attendant queer criticism—”Oh, this dude’s gay! I’ll keep reading!”—this same enthusiasm is encouraging my voyage on the Pequod.
Moby-Dick hit its magic stride for me—I got my sea-legs?—towards the end of Ch. 15, “Chowder,” when Mrs. Hussey, an inn-mistress and kitchen genius of the Try Pots (“chowder for breakfast, and chowder for dinner, and chowder for supper, till you began to look for fishbones coming through your clothes”), puts the tattooed cannibal harpooneer and our narrator to bed after they’ve enjoyed an enchanting bowl-full of chowder. “Oh, sweet friends! Hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarecly bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuits, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt.” After finishing this feast, Ishmael and Queequeg head upstairs, Mrs. Hussey “reached forth her arm, and demanded his harpoon; she allowed no harpoon in her chambers.” This is because Mrs. Hussey has seen one-enough young sailor slept with his weapon and dead the next morning, “his harpoon in his side.” The chapter after this, “The Ship,” opens with Queequeg and Ishmael in bed together, the former consulting Yojo, his “little black god.” After fighting through breathless tedium and mind-numbing boredom, I began to see the embarrassment of riches per-page/per-line of Melville’s novel.
In his Walter Harding lecture, Caleb Crain said, “When I was twenty, I imagined an identification between Melville and me. We had both felt romantic love for men, I thought, and we had both felt barred from expressing it. I still suspect that these assertions were true of Melville, but the second is no longer true of me. Where once my basis for interpretation was identity, today it may be distinction.” If you have not listened to the thing, do so now. Crain, who was down with the flu a day before his reading, presents his talk in a deliberate, soft, slow manner, sipping water and resting to breathe. The unintended effect is one of melancholic grandeur.
I came back to American Renaissance authors only after reading enough Allan Hollinghurst and Frank O’Hara, and doubled back to the incantatory mundanity of Amy Hemple and Lydia Davis, washing up on farther contemporary shores—Chris Adrien’s Gob’s Grief and Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai—before a tide of, well, Adorno or Sontag took me elsewhere (into critical waters). I believe committed writers—the students of writing—begin to care at all about its craft, the mechanic base and historical dimensions, by seducing themselves first with fiction’s most immediate sympathies, and for me this quality first takes on a liberating gay aspect. I studied fiction and creative writing (my senior thesis was on the young lives of the Wright brothers, and my novel-project consisted of something nakedly Pynchonian in its dimension as “historiographic metafiction,” a term three years ago I was more than happy to whip out and shake around at parties), but it wasn’t in reading among contemporary fiction or writing beside my peers that I got a sense of story-telling’s worth. That remained a strictly, intransigently, academic pursuit, by way of the sociology, psychology, semiology and history taken up by literature scholars in their appreciation and interpretation of texts.
Creech’s monograph begins with an extended quote of John Boswell discussing the legislative sensibilities behind anal intercourse and fellatio, and the rhetorical chiasmus of “passive” and “active” participation in these sex acts. The Google book preview page shows as much. Blowjobs on page-one is the only metric of a book’s perspicacity that has never failed me. This is because I am a cheap whore.
For the record, Sontag couldn’t help it that she wrote in “translator’s English” much in the way that I cannot help writing in ways that confuse direct objects or abort subordinate clauses. One wants to say this is “lyrical” or “meandering,” but one senses sloppiness where there should be precision, and questions when presenting answers.
Reading Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind years ago, I didn’t know he and Sontag were contemporaries, that they orbited one another in fancy-schmancy literary parties in Paris. “Yesterday (late afternoon) I went to my first Paris cocktail party, at Jean Wahl’s—in the digusting company of Allan Bloom,” she wrote on 2 February 1958. Re-reading Sedgewick last week with this somehow freshly in my mind (Sontag v. Bloom), I was surprised to learn Sedgewick was a student of Bloom’s “at the infamous Cornell of the infamous late sixties,” and that she teasingly (at first) takes her mentor to task for some of the silliness in his infamous book, and then she gets serious and just hands him his candy ass.
A Bit Like Truman Capote Waiting for the Execution of Dick Hickcock and Perry Smith
The book I need to finish a section is arriving sometime in the next two weeks, depending on when my Amazon seller decides to bundle it in old grocer’s paper and stick it in the mail. Always pay for expedited shipping. Is the mental anguish of waiting for wisdom, its delivery entirely at the mercy of faceless merchants, not worth an additional seven dollars? I want the consolation of certain sentences now.
Herman Melville is not well—do not call him moody, he is ill.
His trouble was ‘kink in the back.’
He endured a ‘horrid week’ of pain in his eyes.
In the next two years he wrote Israel Potter.
Melville may not have put enough food on the table.
The most important thing in his life was the whole book.
One of the attacks of ‘crick in the back.’
He decided to get more money from another publisher for the tortoise story—or at least part of the tortoise material—or at least material also dealing with tortoises.
That fall Malcolm shot himself to death at the age of eighteen.
What was he to do? What was he to do?
Harpers quietly began letting literary people know that they thought Melville was crazy—”a little crazy,” to be exact—not too crazy.
'Herman Melville Crazy,' read one headline.
His daughter Frances blamed him for her sister Bessie’s arthritis, her brother’s suicide, her brother Stanwix’s wasted life and early death, innumerable acts, such as rousing her out of bed at least one night to help him proofread Clarel.
As late as the summer of 1851 he was ostentatiously climbing trees.
The constant working of the brain, & excitement of the imagination, is wearing Herman out.
Then he qualified himself, ‘or rather, chiefly, of Tortoise Hunting Adventure.’
No one had a chance to say, ‘Aren’t these Brits odd? They are saying Ishmael does not survive, but right here in my copy Ishmael is rescued by the Rachel.’
Herman Melville did not have enough money to get married.
I should say here that I have never enjoyed David Lynch; it’s surreal and trippy for people who didn’t grow up in surreal or trippy ways; in the visual lexicon of my childhood and young adulthood, a dwarf dancing in a red velour room isn’t really that outrageous. Anyway, the music! The music! Angelo Badalamenti, in my head, would be a kind of wiry, philosophically inclined Siennese chain-smoker living in Los Angeles. Not so: he is like, the kindest, most affable and gregarious grandpa this side of Federal Hill; he’s in Jersey, he is the kindest person ever. The idea of him working on Mulholland Drive is itself a surreal decision, so maybe I wasn’t giving DL enough credit. Badalamenti writes tunes in the old-fashioned sense, and it’s enormously satisfying to see that sort of craft still in action. He is a proper ham, too, at the piano, which is a skill and a way to be that I see very infrequently outside of the most decadent organ improvisations.
Nico Muhly whom I visit on Fridays when my back hurts and the coffee is bitter.
Good afternoon. I am A.J. Bryson and am the Associate Justice of Alhark for the University’s Moot Court Society. The Chief Justice informed me that I am to introduce the problem and dispense with any additional and necessary information. I was assured that I have time to recognize and thank a few individuals. … If everyone would please hold their applause.
[A.J. thanks many individuals—professors, peers, judges…]
And of course, I would be incredibly remiss not to thank Mrs. Alhark and her family for establishing the endowment which created and continues to serve what we are all here tonight for: the Vincent F. Alhark Moot Court Competition Finals. The Alhark competition is entering its 22nd year as the University Moot Court Society’s intra-school competition. This competition requires young lawyers to do a very heavy thing: interpret and apply the parameters of the First Amendment. Students are thus required to engage in a noble and necessary discussion vital to the existence of our Republic, while effectively instilling the virtues of appellate advocacy.
Bearing in mind such a lofty and important goal, it is an altogether wonderful and honorable thing for our law school to be endowed by the Alhark family for this competition. The late Judge Alhark, whose namesake this competition bears, I hope would be proud of the job we’re trying to accomplish. I also hope we do honor to you Mrs. Alhark and your gracious family. The Alhark competition has become an institution in itself, not one made of bricks but one of ideas and high expectations.
So, If everyone would join me in showing a token of our appreciation to the reason we’re here tonight.
Switching gears to the problem itself. If you have a program, all can see by the questions presented that this is both a corporate speech case and a student speech case. I believe I need to set some groundwork.
In late January of this year, my beloved Supreme Court issued a rather controversial decision in Citizens United v. FEC. There it held that political speech may not be banned or punished based on the speaker’s corporate identity.
Justice Kennedy’s five-vote majority opinion raised enough public ire to receive what would have been a fairly courteous admonishment had it not been done by the President— during the State-of-the-Union, on prime-time television.
Without a doubt as soon as that speech was over, Moot Court problem writers everywhere started sharpening their pencils and went to work.
Now, Citizens United was actually argued twice in front of the Supreme Court: The first time in March of 2009 and then the second time in September of 2009. During the September re-arguing, a former Solicitor General— Mr. Ted Olson—, so no slouch himself, was arguing for Citizens United; in favor of corporate funded policital speech rights that could not be restricted on anything less than strict scrutiny.
Mr. Olson received his first question almost immediately after his opening remarks. Justice Ginsberg essentially baited him into stating broadly that corporations are “persons” entitled to protection under the First Amendment. The trap now set, her second question asked: I quote:
“Would that include today’s mega-corporations, where many of the investors may be foreign individuals or entities?”
To which Mr. Olson said, “The Court in the past has made no distinction based upon the nature of the entity that might own a share of a corporation.”
In which Justice Ginsburg said: “Own many shares?”
To which Mr. Olson said, perhaps in an attempt to buy some time: “Pardon?”
So Justice Ginsburg rephrased: “Nowadays there are foreign interests, even foreign governments, that own not one share but a goodly number of shares.”
To which Mr. Olson said: “I submit that the Court’s decisions in connection with the First Amendment and corporations have in the past made no such distinction.”
They sparred over this question for some time but I hope you all can see, even from this brief exchange, how the question could be a great source of inspiration in crafting a problem that dealt with Corporate political speech.
So, I wrote a problem that was my reaction to the full implications of Justice Ginsburg’s question. To do this, I needed a fact pattern that had a foreign corporation, or a foreign owned corporation. The fact pattern is rather long: so I hope the following narrative of only a few paragraphs provides enough information to give context to the oral arguments.
Respondents, Jeremy D. Krammes and Adam R. Logue were CEO and CFO of “Bizzness Enterprise,” their Economics 201 class project at Union County High School. Krammes and Logue along with their Econ. 201 classmates used Bizzness Enterprise to sell custom designed screen-printed t-shirts. Respondents managed to create a fairly successful class project. They even used online social networking cites like Twitter, Facebook, and Myspace to sell their product. They even created an online distribution and sales site.
Perhaps in an effort to provide a more realistic business experience for its students, UCHS administration allowed the class project to incorporate itself by filling out and electronically filing the necessary paperwork with the Secretary of State. Bizzness Enterprise therefore became Bizzness Enterprise, INC— a duly bona fide corporation under its state of incorporation, the great state of Wisota.
Things were going well for Krammes and Logue until they agreed with a Miss Segolene de Villepin, Bizzness, Inc board member, majority shareholder, and French foreign exchange student, to manufacture and distribute political t-shirt’s— for free— the cost coming from Bizzness Enterprise’s general treasury fund.
The t-shirts themselves were fairly controversial as they attacked the candidacy of their own school board president, Melanie Kentfield, in her bid to become Wisota’s 54th district representative.
When Candidate Kentfield threatened UCHS with unspecified legal action, no doubt after seeing one of Bizzness Inc’s disparaging t-shirts, Principal Rosenberger stopped Bizzness Inc. from continuing any classroom activity and blocked its website from school computer access. No more class time would be spent on this portion of the Econ. 201 class.
Adding insult to injury, Respondents ended up receiving a low “C” letter grade for their performance in running the company. This grade, coupled with poor scores on regular coursework resulted in Respondents receiving a “D” in Econ. 201. The suspension Respondents Krammes and Logue received for distributing the remaining anti-Kentfield shirts after the election was probably the straw the broke the camels back and led to the present litigation.
Respondents brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the federal district court for the southern district of Wisota. Specifically, they sued for a declaratory judgment that their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech had been violated, an injunction to remove the “D” grade in Economics 201 and the suspension from their school records, damages, and other relief. Reviewing a stipulated agreement of the facts submitted by the parties on cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court granted summary judgment for Respondents Krammes and Logue on the grounds that Petitioners had indeed violated their First Amendment rights. Petitioners timely appealed to the 14th Circuit seeking reversal on two grounds: 1) Krammes and Logue’s speech was not entitled to First Amendment protection under the limited parameters of student speech jurisprudence, and alternatively 2) Bizzness Enterprise, Incorporated engaged in a form of corporate political speech not protected under the First Amendment and Wisota statutory law. Cert was granted to this court on August 24th of this year with oral arguments set for today at 4:00, here.
I hope you enjoy the oral arguments as much as I have. Without further ado….
& I asked him if he planned on being serious or funny or somewhere in between, and he remembered that Wilbur Wright had made as much an assessment about his own affairs before a wide audience, an impression related from Katherine Wright to her father, the Bishop Milton Wright (all correspondence quoted from Miracle at Kitty Hawk, ed. Fred C. Kelly):
September 11, 1901
The boys are still working in the machine shop. A week from today is “Ullam’s” [Wilbur’s] speech at Chicago. We asked him whether it was to be witty or scientific and he said he thought it would be pathetic … !
In fact neither A.J. nor I could remember the direct quotation; we submitted “not funny or serious but instead boring,” which amounts to the same sentiment. The cause: Will, through his well-connected friend Octave Chanute, was extended an invitation to speak before the Western Society of Engineers. In the letters and biographic re-tellings of this time, readers may sense that Wilbur chafes at the prospect of presenting his passions before such elevated society, not because he is insignificantly informed to speak on “Gliding Experiments” (obviously he was the world authority on the subject), but because he was ascending into society, and worried that he should look like a hick or a kook, or worse, an overeager boy. From a letter to Octave Chanute at this time:
Dayton, Ohio, September 6, 1901
I must caution you not to make my address a prominent feature of the program as you will understand that I make no pretense of being a public speaker. For a title, “Late Gliding Experiments” will do. As to the presence of ladies, it is not my province to dictate, moreover I will already be as badly scared as possible for man to be, so that the presence of ladies will make little difference to me, provided I am not expected to appear in full dress.
One may also sense—and Wilbur says as much—that he fears public speaking because he is unused to public attention, therefore to be shy and lame. Nothing could be further from the truth, as exemplified in his production of Radical Brethren tracts, fierce works of breathless fervor, advocating against a Liberal division in the church body. I don’t want to get into the historical situation of the rift in the United Brethren Church at this time (around 1888, when Wilbur was twenty-one years old), but the seriousness of its course allowed Wilbur’s pamphlet Scenes in the Church Commission During Its Last Days of Session—a report on the 1884 Church Commission gathering in Dayton to debate the allowance of members in the church who also belonged to secret societies—to be printed in the thousands and distributed across the nation. In The Bishop’s Boys, historian Tom Crouch relates the animating spirit of confidence in Wilbur thus:
"The tract is producing a big stir," [Wilbur] told Milton. "The Liberals can’t hold still, and every movement they make only draws out some new admission." Three thousand of the little booklets were mailed that summer, with an additional 1,100 copies ready for distribution at the General Conference. "When we begin to circulate them for *free*," he noted with some relish, "there will be fun."
Wilbur continued to write articles and editorials of his own responding to attacks on his father. There were those, like the Reverend W. J. McGee, who wondered at the presumption of this young man who dared to argue important issues with elder churchmen. Wilbur was more than able to defend himself—and get in a few licks of his own at the same time.
Your complaint that I am only a boy sounds rather strange coming from the lips of a Liberal. They have been complaining for years that the Radicals were “old fogies,” “antediluvians,” etc., and rejoiced that they would soon die off. Now to suit the exigencies of the times you complain that they are too young! You seem to infer that I am too young to tell the truth. Is there any precise age at which men become able to speak the truth? I know children not five years old who tell the truth. It has not been the custom, therefore, to grade the truth of statements by the age of the person giving voice to them.
So, the young man had moxie. He was eagle-eyed, slender, bald of pate, and blackly clad; his mother was dead and he kept the assiduousness of his care for her inside of him, and this care became his care for all things that fell beneath his meticulous gaze. When Wilbur traveled up to Chicago to speak, thirteen years later, he still had fire inside of him, but he did not have the comfort of his family or his home; the cause was not so much undear to him, as it was alienated without his partner, Orville. He borrowed the fineries of his younger brother, whom of the brothers was more debonaire and worried about the fashions, and in Chicago Wilbur’s speech was a succes. Katherine relates to her father:
High School, Dayton, Ohio, September 25, 1901
We had a picnic getting Will off to Chicago. Orville offered all his clothes so off went “Ullam,” arrayed in Orv’s shirt, collars, cuffs, cuff-links, and overcoat. We discovered that to some extent “clothes do make the man” for you never saw Will look so “swell.”
Wilbur wore the clothes up, perhaps not simply to divest himself of old appearances, but to take on the confidences of having his brother by his side. In our own brotherhood, because we are in fact the same size (identical twins), A.J. and I borrow in the same manner, only it is I, the penniless sitar player & slightly younger brother (one measly minute), who raids A.J.’s closet, before interviews, weddings, funerals and, yes, speeches. Not only to look impressive—A.J. (via his wife, Tayler) has acquired suave digs—but also to take on the form of community, to inhabit that intelligent and emotional closeness, that allows us to encounter strangers with the ease in which we entertain our dearest family.
A friend whom I had meant to contact earlier, on the drive, about seeing his progress on a series of paintings, had posted on his wall (admirably) heated comments about the state of contemporary art, and the institutions that hang this art on their walls. He was lamenting the red tide of abstraction and conceptualism. “This bullet is an old one,” as they say. Yet, for a young man pursuing classical—even “academic”—forms of representation in an antiquated medium, he does feel tremendous, even soul-rending pressure, given his strong faith, in what I can only characterize as an Edenic state of beauty for beauty’s sake in his depictions (perhaps they are pastiches?) of religious ecstasies. At 1:36am, just beginning to boil, he announced:
The beauty of our world is not simple and should never been considered an unworthy subject of art. A funny point, if it’s a successful modern nude drawing/painting/sculpture , 1) it has to be of an ugly person, 2) it has to be depressing, 3) it has to be poorly executed. Should we be forced to only value art that is visually weak and requires grand written explanations to understand?! Art is a visual language! It should be allowed to speak for itself!
In visiting contemporary spaces, naturally he sees antipathy and maledictions in regards to his vocation, if only because he cannot see the trajectory defining the figurations of Klee, Bacon, Freud, and Saville, backwards through the sensitivities of Cezanne, the light of Vermeer, the drama of Titian, to a pious gold-flaker like Duccio. (Does not Pierro della Francesca unite the major themes of 20th Century figurative spectacle—the foreshortened planes; acid-eaten faces; unnerving contortions of flesh and flame; Chirico, Picasso, Goya, the rest of them?) I sent my friend a soft lob (I had been drinking whiskey, pardon its falluting-ness):
I am in town for the next two days and would enjoy seeing your progress on the “pieta.”
Your status tells me that you do not approve—or cannot fathom—or do not understand—the decisions behind the curation of the Modern Wing—which is to say, the work of many painters and sculptors I admire! This is a productive disagreement, non? You do not see skillful creation and everywhere I see intent and refinement. Behind iconoclasm (a breaking away from the past forms and images, from history), I see deep and meaningful searches for spirit and vitality, and life force; and within the physicality of the work (you cannot argue against the sheer magnitude of the material within a Richter or a Pollock, or even a James Turrell light installation, really?)—the artist is present, asking tough questions about the nature of the soul, asking if the soul is at all relevant to the contemporary situation. Perhaps you think you have answers!
Anyway, I’d love to see the work you’re on to now. I suspect you’ve made significant advances.
I had arrived in town to write mostly, and to read, which never happens when I am anywhere but home—yet I persist in the belief that if I just bring enough books, as many pounds as the back seat will hold, one in this traveling pile will capture me; and if I’ve bookmarked enough pages explaining what they’re wanting in a personal statement, that I will open a link and be flooded with the ability to sell myself again, passionately and full of light. Reading and writing, anyway, took on elaborately stranger forms this trip. Caleb and I began an exchange and it was the only writing I got finished with over the trip, until I came home and wrote a long email out last night. This is from that email:
I don’t know what else to say—I have my stopper in. I have my stupid-tongue inside. My shoes are over there with my left feet. What I want to touch on is productive disagreement——nobody called you an “idealist”; I called you a utopian and a prophet, and elsewhere have acclaimed your compassion and value and wisdom; this is not a cause for alienation, as I’d like to be those things too; then we are united again in an asymmetrical model. I have resigned myself (to the detriment of so much) to wallowing in a pedestrian anger. I am unplugging my stopper.
When I did know what to say was on Friday night. At the alumni show at Columbia College Chicago, Liz and I wondered up to the fifth floor of the library to see the installation. Stills from her film were just outside the elevator hallway though we came back to them only later, after going the full circuit through the stacks, past wild-eyed fashion students, nominally to nod politely at the other art. At Liz’s film stills, I posed holding the book I fell back into, a book ironically that does nothing to help my cause for fiction, though it does feed my soul with zingers, tucked safely away in endnotes, like: “It is not accidental that in this genre an archaic—almost patrimonial—conception of the states still reigns: D’Artagnan and James Bond limit themselves to ‘acting out’ (the are actors, that’s why they are so fussy about their clothes) the real duel which occurs between Richelieu and the Duke of Buckingham, or M and Dr. No.” I wanted to stand so that I could see Liz’s art in the picture and also, obviously, the book. Liz took two pictures that did not do the trick—so I had her pose and took a picture, and decided it would do just fine. The artist is present holding my concepts, etc.:
So Liz is holding Franco Moretti’s Signs Taken for Wonders in a posed manner before her work. Here is me doing the same thing but not to the desired effect (the very serious book must be immediately observable and facing the audience; the art should face the audience; the viewer viewing the work should look straight at the art with absolutely no trace of affection; endlessly, somewhat sleepily):
Damn it. Afterwards, holding a second beer beside a nude portrait created via fax machine, asked by a deadly serious older man, perhaps a homeless person, “Are you the artist of this?” and before waiting for me to answer, pointing to one further away, and asking, “How about this one? Are you the artist?” To which I replied: “No, sir,” and cryptically, “but the artist is present.” A pretty lame joke! “Present where?” he asked looking around, swaying his head in grand arcs above the study carols, scratching himself, fiercely eyeing me up and down, as if I were hiding the artist. I realized the man was very drunk. “Where’s the artist?” he asked me again. I pointed to a lady passing by with a name-tag. He took off after her.