My brain’s desktop (4)

My semi-regular house-cleaning of links, desktop jpegs, miscellaneous likes and dislikes I might not otherwise post…

1. Steven Soderbergh, list-maker

A compulsive list-maker myself, I could relate to the impulse that led director Steven Soderbergh to keep track of all the movies, books, tv shows, plays, etc, he took in over the course of a year. I’ve done the same thing with books for the past four years and, together with my friend, for the same length of time, all the movies we’ve watched. Soderbergh seems to be a real student, watching The Social Network around six times, and Raiders of the Lost Ark - in black and white no less - three times in a week. On the last page there are also lists of essential books on film, films notable for their cinematography, screenplays, and editing.

2. This cartoon
(from Crimes Against Hugh’s Manatees)

3. A Roberto Bolano piece…

Roberto Bolano piece in the New York Review of Books from the forthcoming (did it get pushed back?) book of essays, Between ParenthesesSome folks are already reading it, reviewing it.

4. Amazon now selling reduced-price Kindle with ads

A pretty supportive New York Times piece about this nauseating new idea. One little mention of its downside…

Still, books are one of the last ad-free zones, and by showing ads on an e-reader, Amazon risks alienating some users, he said.

“There’s been research that shows that if you put an ad in an environment where people are highly engaged, that kind of intrusiveness can really backfire,” he said.

Part of me hopes it does backfire, that there is a backlash against this kind of thing. I have a kindle. It’s a nice toy. But I can already see it won’t be a satisfying long-term replacement for books for me. And it’s true: books represent a kind of retreat, both in terms of mental space and physically - the clean, uncluttered pages themselves, with only the odd, forgivable ad for the publisher’s other titles, from electronic devices, ie. ad distribution machines. I’m leery.

5. Lil’ Kim / Nicki Minaj / Ganguro

Speaking of branding, here’s Lil’ Kim (thanks for the correction, AJ) selling herself body and soul to Louis Vuitton, and then Nicki Minaj on the cover of V. 1) This is how the Gaga generation pop stars deal with a corrupt, capitalist culture - not just by joining it, but binging on it, making everyone want to vomit on it. 2) I can’t say that’s not a powerful, disturbing portrait. Pretty radical femininity. 

It reminds me of Japanese Ganguro fashion…

6. The Brooklyn Rail / John Yau / Tom Burkhardt

I mentioned Brooklyn Rail and its interviews (specifically John Yau’s) not that long ago but it’s still on my desktop, as it were. This month’s issue has three interviews with painters, none of which I knew about before and all worth checking out. (I love that they prioritize painting, when museums are on this installation bender).

One artist interviewed this month, Tom Burckhardt, seems to be in that flirtatious place between abstraction and figuration that a lot of artists, the try-anything type, are thriving in right now. What he says about wanting to have to really work to make his paintings art and wanting to start from the assumption that painting is dead made sense to me:

"My thought for that work, which carries over to this work, is that I feel that when a painting is hung on the wall in a gallery with nothing on it, it has this assumption of quality, it’s already 50 percent on the way to being a work of art. Sometimes I find I am dissatisfied with looking at art where I feel like there’s only another small percent added to that scenario. You know there’s an atmosphere, a context of the whole thing, which builds it up to a point where the person, the maker, doesn’t have to participate very much farther. I want to find a way that’s work intensive and Calvinist about really putting something into it that matters to me; that is time, and process, and things like that. I like this idea of beating the premise down to the ground somehow, in a good natured way, where the very idea of painting is kind of squashed down flat somehow and I am almost endorsing this idea of painting being dead. That seems like a great starting point. Rather than taking that pronouncement as an insult, I think that it is terrific because then it all becomes available to me in a way, from the starting point of painting perhaps being so-called dead."

I like the look of this Rorschachy color/shape/variety set of his, too - a little like Ellsworth Kelly or Helio Oiticica…

7. This poem - it’s been making the rounds on Tumblr and it’s pretty good: Courtship, by Mark Strand


There is a girl you like so you tell her
your penis is big, but that you cannot get yourself
to use it. Its demands are ridiculous, you say,
even self-defeating, but to be honored, somehow,
briefly, inconspicuously in the dark.

When she closes her eyes in horror,
you take it all back. You tell her you’re almost
a girl yourself and can understand why she is shocked.
When she is about to walk away, you tell her
you have no penis, that you don’t

know what got into you. You get on your knees.
She suddenly bends down to kiss your shoulder and you know
you’re on the right track. You tell her you want
to bear children and that is why you seem confused.
You wrinkle your brow and curse the day you were born.

She tries to calm you, but you lose control.
You reach for her panties and beg forgiveness as you do.
She squirms and you howl like a wolf. Your craving
seems monumental. You know you will have her.
Taken by storm, she is the girl you will marry.

(thanks youmightfindyourselftowerofsleep)

8. Diane Fawcett illustration

One of the kids I teach on Saturdays showed me a book he’d been reading with these really great, kind of scary illustrations in it by someone named Diane Fawcett. She has a website with everything from textbook diagrams to Twilight shit on it.

9. This sketch of Swinburne

…a reminder of a time when real men walked the earth, and promptly caught pneumonia.

My brain’s desktop (3)

I know it’s kind of unbloggerly to put a bunch of stuff in one post when it could easily make seven or eight, but a lot of this is even more trivial than normal, or stuff I’ve already mentioned, and I’m going to do some grousing, and I’m going to talk about stuff I want to buy, which is not a cool thing to do, and certainly not worthy of a dedicated post. Odds and ends. Time to clear the desktop, literally: I have a lot of jpegs on my desktop, a tiny fraction of which I hope to get rid of after posting them here.

1. The Syberberg website

As you can see, in terms of design, my blog hugs fairly tightly to the straight and narrow. A 576 pixel column, everything justified and on the square. But I really like the aesthetic of director Hans Jurgen Syberberg’s cavernous, zero-format website. Is it a blog? Is it an artwork? Does he just not know any better? Impossible to tell. Pages link to other pages, one link to another, without there being a way to retrace your steps and without any sort of menu. Fearless html here, anarchic and a little bit lovely, in a Peter Greenaway kind of way.

2. Alku cassettes

For several years I’ve been an admirer of Alku, a miniature label for experimental (and, I’d go as far as to say “silly”), computer-based music out of Barcelona (run by a group called Evol, if that name rings a bell). Recently, I went to their site again, not having been there in a while, and found these adorable cassettes they’ve been issuing. This is something I’ve thought about myself, a cheaper alternative to vinyl and a way of putting some of the object back into the album. So I felt I recognized the idea when I saw them. And they look pretty awesome. 

3. Art Now: big, boring, impersonal, manufactured

This is what art looks like now. Every time I see something like the above posted on someone’s blog, I wonder what it is that interests them. Just the bigness, I guess, and the displacement factor, which is more a matter of money than artistic bravado. What do I have against it? It’s like the complaint often made about the internet: information without analysis, without filtering or understanding.

The Aichi Triennale here in Nagoya several months ago was as disheartening as it gets. I felt sorry for the kids I saw at the museum, that this should be the exposure to art they were getting. Big and bland, everything just the idea of a moment sent to the manufacturers, shallowly political but arrousing no aesthetic curiosity. Not a painting in sight, of course. Nothing handmade, and nothing that looks as though it had been worked at and arrived at, found in the process of its making, come to by creativity rather than by horseshit “theory.” 

3.b. If you’re the type, like me, to go to museums and end up depressed, and depressed that you’re depressed, looking at how the market is draining the art out of museums and substituting something bloated and pretentious in its place, know that you have Matthew Collings as company. I’ve mentioned Collings before because I love his honest, aggressively anti-bullshit Diaries in Modern Painters, and I love his appreciative descriptions of the art he does like (you wish he were able to find more of it). Anyway, I’m one of those people who feels pretty much exactly the way he does. If you are too, you might like his latest, a harsh panning of the Frieze Art Fair.

Some bits of it, basically half the article…

"The two paintings by Wilkes, at the Modern Institute stand, were both abstract. One small, one medium-size, they looked as if they’d been done in pastel. The forms were rough-edged color glows in a loose grid. On the floor before them was a little doll, also by Wilkes, like a voodoo fetish. Its purpose, I felt, was to excuse the paintings, since they were a bit harmless whereas the doll was in the well- known (by art people) recent tradition of mannequins to which the correct response is to mime a professor piously recognizing a conversational reference to something important (“Ah, yes, body discourse”). In other words, I felt the overdetermined doll was rubbish, but the paintings were accidentally good."

"In that the fair displayed no formal or ideological trend and offered no manifesto for living, it was a 3-D version of an art magazine. The depression evoked is the same but much more blasting and overwhelming. The work — feeble academic amplified surrealism — was all hasty, whimsical departures from some assumed norm of existence, where you could only imagine that the norms people’s lives have descended into must be really chronic. A dead pigeon with a little banner stuck in it with a slogan reading i too have lived and loved — I just made this one up, but that is the level of sheer, naked, regressive sentimentalism of the poetic meanings of most of the art. Nazi art or 19th-century Victorian moralizing painting seems the height of ironic philosophical sophistication compared to it."

"You might wonder why I’m doing all this sneering. It’s because things are more complicated than Frieze is pretending. “Art” hasn’t triumphed. You’d think one thing that’s good about all this sudden mass interest in art that’s going on now is precisely the mass, the fact that a lot of people can be energized in the name of something — it ought to provoke the opposite of despair. But because everything you see at the Frieze fair just seems like a series of little stimuli intended to not let you progress anywhere at all or think anything, there really is something despairing about it."

"Plus I think it’s reasonable to see the stagers of the fair, Matthew Slotover and Amanda Sharp (the publishers of Frieze magazine), as creepy and sick rather than enviable social players. Being a Frieze-style manager of modern-style art consumption is a repulsive, sterile, regressed, inhuman, ignorant way to live, and nothing at all like the rebellious existence it’s cracked up to be. Forgive the digression, but if I wanted to be a rebel now I’d write like me and not like someone on the Frieze writing staff. That’s why I’m glad I actually am me, without basing my whole raison d’être for writing on trying to create a cool image of myself, which I observe is the raison d’être of my colleagues at Frieze."

4. The jaded postmodernist narrative voice - heard it, tired of it

I read Tom McCarthy’s Remainder this week and, while it wasn’t altogether my kind of thing, I admit it has an intense and mesmerizing quality that sucked me right in (and reminded me - the quality and the story itself - of Synecdoche, New York, a film I liked a lot). I read it in the space of three days and it left me with a not completely pleasant sick feeling.

One thing that I wish this kind of novel would find its way past is the knee-jerk narrative voice they adopt - everyone can recognize it by now - that comments on the world as if it were alien, impossibly alien for anyone who really lives in it. I can’t stand that tone they all eventually get to when supposedly ‘making strange’ the commonplace - you hear it in DeLillo and we’re still hearing it in Remainder. I say supposedly because it’s become cliche, a postmodernist tic, revealing nothing, it seems to me, other than authorly arrogance.

"It was a themed Seattle coffee bar where you buy caps, lattes and mochas, not coffees. When you order they say Heyy! to you, then they repeat your order aloud, correcting the word large into tall, small into short. I ordered a small cappuccino. “Heyy! Short cap,” the man said. “Coming up! You have a loyalty card?” “Loyalty card?” I said. “Each time you visit us, you get a cup stamped,” he said, handing me a card. It had ten small pictures of coffee cups on it. “When you’ve stamped all ten, you get an extra cup for free. And a new card.” “But I’m not here that often,” I said. “Oh, we have branches everywhere,” he told me. “It’s the same deal.” He stamped the first cup and handed me the cappuccino."

Its a little bit funny but a little bit obvious, the author playing dumb (“Loyalty card?”) and, as if it were a virtue in itself, detailing the monotonous course of an order placed at the “Seattle themed cafe,” symbol of dehumanized corporate capitalism, where people unschooled in irony or cynicism go about doing their work, sometimes happily. (How stupid they are, these poor sheep, eh?) Of course we’ve all had those feelings - whose stomach doesn’t turn when they hear the ‘Seattle-themed’ jargon? But what does it illuminate when you pore over it? What does it ‘make strange’? Most of us see the world this way already. After all, even if you’ve been living in a hovel somewhere, you’ve been reading books like this since the 60s (figuratively, in my case). It would take more effort - it does for me - to see the person behind that jargon - maybe she’s not just a smiling idiot - or, better yet, to ignore the jargon. Capitalism is not going to abate or go away. And you can’t beat it with cynicism. What about finding a way to work around it, a way to live around it or write around it? There’s no shortage of cynicism. That’s the new problem. 

5. And now, three things that with a savage lust I want, want, want…

a. An Expensive, Stripped-down Bicycle

I was thinking about buying a bike, a road bike. Then I got looking at (and drooling over) these gearless, brakeless bikes - fixies, they call them, as in fixed-gear - that are kind of like the Volkswagen Beetle of cycling. I couldn’t ride one of these with any credibility, nor could I afford one - it would take me a month’s earnings to pay for one of those rims alone, and then, to do it right, you have to go back in time and find some old Bianchi frame, etc. But if you’re into googling stuff, this is a good way to fulfill the promise of a whole afternoon.

b. New Schocken Editions of Kafka

It’s going to be hard to resist picking up these new Kafka editions, even though I already have most of the books. Where are the Octavos, though? I don’t have those yet.

c. AIAIAI TMA-1 Headphones 

I don’t need new headcans; lord knows I love my AKGs. But that’s product lust for you - it’s irrational and stupid. But wait a second - I could almost do €200. Here’s the poem about them:

"The one-piece headband is made of a strong, durable and pliant matte nylon material, which provides full flexibility when wearing and positioning the headphones during DJing, and at the same time renders the TMA-1 virtually unbreakable. The inner parts are sheltered by the headphone-cup made out of a resistant ABS material. The 40mm dual-diaphragm high-definition drivers deliver high definition, full-spectrum sound providing you with crystal clarity and an accurate sound on all frequencies."

6. A review of a new Stanley Fish book about how to write

7. Sad news if you’re a fan of Broadcast

8. John Cheever’s Paris Review Interview

I’m on a bit of a John Cheever kick these days, though I don’t think I’ve read anything as strong as the first thing by him I read, The Country Husband. I underlined several parts in his Paris Review interview for various reasons, these because they lend some insight into the composition of a story like The Country Husband

"I don’t work with plots. I work with intuition, apprehension, dreams, concepts. Characters and events come simultaneously to me. Plot implies narrative and a lot of crap. It is a calculated attempt to hold the reader’s interest at the sacrifice of moral conviction. Of course, one doesn’t want to be boring … one needs an element of suspense. But a good narrative is a rudimentary structure, rather like a kidney.

"What I love is when totally disparate facts come together. For example, I was sitting in a café reading a letter from home with the news that a neighboring housewife had taken the lead in a nude show. As I read I could hear an Englishwoman scolding her children. “If you don’t do thus and so before Mummy counts to three” was her line. A leaf fell through the air, reminding me of winter and of the fact that my wife had left me and was in Rome. There was my story. I had an equivalently great time with the close of “Goodbye, My Brother” and “The Country Husband.” Hemingway and Nabokov liked these. I had everything in there: a cat wearing a hat, some naked women coming out of the sea, a dog with a shoe in his mouth, and a king in golden mail riding an elephant over some mountains."

9. Shari Eubank
, from a surprisingly romantic scene in Russ Meyer’s Supervixens

My brain’s desktop, part two

"There is in the pointing out of patterns something that is opposed to life and art, an ungraciousness which artists in particular feel and resent. Readers feel it too, even critics: for every new moment, every new line or touch, is a triumph of opportunism, something snatched in from life beyond expectation and made design beyond design. And yet the fact remains that it is as we see the design that we see design outdone and brought alive."

- C. L. Barber, Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy.


"When Flaubert told Turgenev about his project for Bouvard and Pécuchet, the Russian urged him strongly to keep the work short. Perfect advice from an old master. For the story can only maintain its comical effectiveness in the form of a short tale; length would make it monotonous and irritating, if not completely silly. But Flaubert persisted; he explained to Turgenev: “If [this subject] is treated briefly, in a light, concise way, it will be a fairly witty fantasy, but without import and without plausibility, whereas in giving it detail and development I would appear to believe in my story, and I could make it something serious and even frightening.”

- Milan Kundera, The Curtain.


"Today the only modernism worthy of the name is antimodern modernism."

- Milan Kundera, The Curtain.


"Both ages make art that succeeds by failing , but each exploits failure in different ways. Jazz presumes that it would be nice if the four of us—simpatico dudes that we are—while playing this complicated song together, might somehow be free and autonomous as well. Tragically, this never quite works out. At best, we can only be free one or two at a time—while the other dudes hold onto the wire. Which is not to say that no one has tried to dispense with wires. Many have, and sometimes it works—but it doesn’t feel like jazz when it does. The music simply drifts away into the stratosphere of formal dialectic, beyond our social concerns. 

Rock-and-roll, on the other hand, presumes that the four of us—as damaged and anti-social as we are—might possibly get it to-fucking-gether, man, and play this simple song. And play it right, okay? Just this once, in tune and on the beat. But we can’t. The song’s too simple, and we’re too complicated and too excited. We try like hell, but the guitars distort, the intonation bends, and the beat just moves, imperceptibly, against our formal expectations, whetehr we want it to or not. Just because we’re breathing, man. Thus, in the process of trying to play this very simple song together, we create this hurricane of noise, this infinitely complicated, fractal filigree of delicate distinctions. 

And you can thank the wanking eighties, if you wish, and digital sequencers, too, for proving to everyone that technologically “perfect” rock—like “free” jazz—sucks rockets. Because order sucks. I mean, look at the Stones. Keith Richards is alwayson top of the beat, and Bill Wyman, until he quit, was always behind it, because Richards is leading the band and Charlie Watts is listening to him and Wyman is listening to Watts. So the beat is sliding on those tiny neural lapses, not so you can tell, of course, but so you can feel it in your stomach. And the intonation is wavering, too, with the pulse in the finger on the amplified string. This is the delicacy of rock-and-roll, the bodily rhetoric of tiny increments, necessary imperfections, and contingent community. And it has its virtues, because jazz only works if we’re trying to be free and are, in fact, together. Rock-and-roll works because we’re all a bunch of flakes. That’s something you can depend on, and a good thing too, because in the twentieth century, that’s all there is: jazz and rock-and-roll. The rest is term papers and advertising.” 

- Dave Hickey, Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy.

My brain’s desktop, part one

I haven’t been doing much with my blog lately but, lo, golden week is upon us, so here now is an index of what I’ve been looking at, reading about, or wanting to write about lately. For the most part, I’m using my desktop as a guide here (it’s cluttered with jpegs I grab and don’t file). Some of this stuff I intend to write more about at some point, hopefully this week. But for the time being, and in the interest of cleaning up my desktops - mental and computorial (alas, not the physical one), the following assortment of jpegs, links, etc…

Sharon Stone visits Marina Abramovic at MOMA. I think I like this photo because I imagine Sharon Stone, the real, middle-aged woman, getting up, putting her hair back, going to a museum, committing to an unfamiliar art experience just like everyone else, open to it, unjaded. Maybe I just like thinking about this other person, this other Sharon Stone, whoever she is. Other than that, she just looks beautiful anyway, more so for the absence of make-up. The whole photo series (in which you’ll see some other recognizable faces) is fascinating just as a display of physiognomic variety. Okay, there is a white majority, but there might also be a female majority (as well as a fairly high quotient of art schoolers, if I’m any judge). As Ingmar Bergman knew, close-ups are always interesting - we never tire of the human face. Jerry Saltz, in his review of the exhibit, alert to this so-intrinsic-you-almost-miss-it content: “Abramovic gets you to understand why many animals hate being looked at by humans. There’s something powerful and uncanny and pure about an unbroken gaze.

Marina Abramovic herself, on the other hand… I’m not sure. If an up or down thumb were asked of me (just supposing), I don’t know which way I’d go. From photos I’ve seen and especially reading the online buzz about this exhibit, I can’t help feeling that were seeing self-imposed suffering and a strange kind of projected sainthood as spectacle, which makes me really uncomfortable about it. I’m not saying there’s nothing else there, just that that side of it, which is fundamental, annoys me. This I’ve been wanting to write more about, but I’m trying not to simply respond with my gut, my cynical gut, on this. I’m trying to give it the benefit of the doubt.

One thing that has to be positive (or does it?): people are talking about it, and talking about art. One discussion I found particularly interesting was the one below Jerry Saltz’s brief article for New York. I didn’t think the article itself was anything special, but Saltz held court on his own comments board, defending himself against a typically antagonistic crowd of posters and laying out not only a defense of the exhibit but practically a statement of principles for his critical practice. Frankly, I liked Jerry the engaged commenter more than Jerry the critic this time.

Still on the Abramovic topic…

Apparently, one performer in the show was dismissed for penile misconduct (ie. erection) at the family-friendly institution. Reading the metafilter messageboard, I came across this disquieting but ripe-for-John Waters-satire art-school tale:

"In one of my drawing classes we had a male model and a physiotherapist with a pack of Crayola washable markers for a lesson in anatomy: The physio used different colors to outline various muscle groups (e.g., the deltoid) and then had the model move to demonstrate how the muscle contracted and bulged in various ways (e.g., lifting his arm caused the deltoid to get shorter and wider, and this was easily visible with purple outline and contour lines).  Very useful demonstration, except that for the entire three hours, the model had a full erection, and a slow dribble of semen; occasionally he’d make a furtive gesture to wipe it away. Bizarrely, we all sat there for all three hours, pretending this wasn’t happening. On break, we made jokes about the leaky model, and then returned. In retrospect I think that it was the peculiar atmosphere of art school: This is art, and this the body, and everything it does (and that comes out of it) is natural and nothing to be ashamed of. So we spent three hours watching a man ejaculate. Fortunately that model wasn’t invited back."


Recent Chris Ofili paintings. Still trying to find out what’s going on in these private little affairs. I kind of like them though.


Old Comme des Garcons. Lumps and Bumps, 1997.


Elizabeth Murray: The Lowdown. I was thinking about Murray and Bruce Nauman, two artists whose (totally polar) work didn’t appeal to me at first blush at all but which I’ve come to love. It’s nice to have your taste pried open now and again, to have to broaden your definition of what art is and what the right thing to do is.


Fischli and Weiss, on the other hand, has always worked for me. (A midpoint between Murray and Nauman?) They seem fun when so much art has forsworn that frivolous commodity. They’re coming to Kanazawa for their first solo show in Asia in September. Can’t wait!


Speaking of fun, here’s its opposite: the new International Style. Who made these paintings? No. Guess again? No. No, you’re never going to get it. They’re by Adrian Ghenie. But it could have been any one of a hundred artists (let alone countless hundreds of students) making paintings like this right now. A little bit Tuymans, a little Neo Rauch - I don’t know the exact recipe, but I know I see this everywhere and it’s already intensely lame. Let me guess: they’ve something to do with memory, history, and dreams. Very well done, and drab, drab, drab.


30 Rock: the best thing being produced by the United States right now? Jane Krakowski (as Jenna Maroney) - and not Alec Baldwin - the best part of the show?


Every month near my apartment there’s a market for antiques, junk, etc. Who knows what this item is for? I guess I’d hope it’s for displaying clothes. But weird.


New Bolano story in the New Yorker. Strange and thrilling reading.


I’m afraid of the future of Joan Rivers. Could her face be the apocalypse?

Saint Passionate


priceless anecdotes drawn from my real experiences and souvenir jpegs of lost time


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