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.

Shall I compare thee to a kick in the chest?

I’m searching google: “a short story is like a…” Stephen King says a short story is like “a kiss in the dark from a stranger.” Somebody says, “like a diamond.” No. “Like a snapshot.” Nope, boring. “Like a very rough sketch for a painting.” No, it’s not. “A short story is like a quiet bomb.” Hmmm. T. C. Boyle: “A short story is like a toothache and you must drill it and fill it.” Getting closer…

Whenever I finish reading a short story, it’s always really hard for me to start another. I always remember the last experience with mixed feelings, like a ride at an amusement park that made me nauseous even as it thrilled me, made me think about the possibility of dying. “Oh no, you’re not getting me back on that thing again.” I could never read stories back to back. There’s always a period of convalescence. And stories, to compare forms of torture, are worse than novels. I much prefer novels in the long run. Maybe it’s the difference between a knife to the gut and a prolonged hospital stay. 

And those are the good ones. When I finish a Philip Roth novel, I always feel exhausted. He always goes too far, past the point of propriety, past the point of getting it right. That’s his strength. In American Pastoral, over and over again to the point of masochism, the story of the all-American family and its tragic descent into disenchantment and loss is rehearsed, as if the narrator is putting himself through a protracted penance for the illusions he’d once held about himself and his country. Sabbath’s Theatre is just as torturous, though it’s a funnier book and there is something of a redemption at the end, albeit a grotesque, urolagnic one.

But the violence of a good story is of a different kind, I guess because of its concision. I read short stories in one sitting; there isn’t as much time to process things. I wouldn’t classify everything I’ve read lately as being “painful” - some of the stories, by Eudora Welty, by Roberto Bolano - have left me more with a sense of cosmic mystery and wonder than anything else. But others have been harsh indeed. Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich is as direct and punishing as they come. A man’s life in fifty pages. The brief glimpse of absolution at the end doesn’t alleviate what’s just been gone through - fifty pages of banality, declining health, bitter suffering, and, though the ending looks to deny it, nihilism. I read some Flannery O’Connor and John Cheever stories this year too, that similarly put you through the ringer. (And these guys are the believers! Discuss.) 

I always feel that it’s the form in a good story that is the consolation. That’s the beauty, the repreive. I marveled this year at how fast and loose certain stories were. In Eudora Welty’s The Hitch-Hikers, one thing follows another so nimbly, there is not a moment of slackness, not a moment at which you feel her digging uncomfortably in as though to say something. It felt very raw and exciting. How long did it take her to write it, I wonder. John Cheever’s The Country Husband (I know these are probably classics for anyone more deeply in love with the form, but I’m just getting to them) has something of the same quality. A weirdly unexamined plane crash, a dog with more life and freedom than the principals, a strange appearance of a woman from the past, also under-remaked, a strangely ubiquitous neighbor girl, like an annoying angel presence. This story has the same dreamlike atmosphere as the Welty; one thing following another. The forms as stringy and additive. Another book I read this year, Denis Johnson’s famous Jesus’ Son, takes this to the extreme.

Another reason I generally don’t look forward to reading short stories - besides the pain of seeing oneself - is that so many of them seem to follow very conventional patterns, both in form and action. It’s become such a testing grounds for authors, the short story, that there seems to be a tacit set of must-haves: the action nobody could have predicted, the bravura sentence, the tempestuous non-action, the lethargic writer character. They really try to pack it all in. That or they really try not to pack it in and then you have that other hell: the story of ennui. Even very good stories sometimes feel surprising in not entirely unexpected ways, if that makes any sense. One story that really breaks through all of that just by sheer will is Roberto Bolano’s Prefiguration of Lalo Cura. Bolano is so reckless sometimes. It’s hilarious and exciting; you don’t have time to think about what it’s doing, where it’s going. Bolano didn’t either. 

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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