September 17, 2005

The Murder Pimps

[This is a grim subject, but they bandy it around downtown as light as a shuttlecock. I'll bring it back down to Earth.]

by Jerome du Bois

In The Concrete Blonde, Michael Connelly's 1994 Detective Harry Bosch novel, there's a scene where Bosch examines death photos in the kitchen of the woman he's involved with, Sylvia Moore, an eighth-grade English teacher. She is in the living room grading papers. They have just eaten dinner, he has a bottle of beer, and he's examining the victims of a serial killer called The Dollmaker.

He unsnapped the first binder and laid out the sections on each of the eleven victims across the table. He stood up with the bottle so he could look down and take them all in at once. Each section was fronted by a photograph of the victim's remains, as they were found. There were eleven of these photos in front of him. He did some thinking on the case and then went into the bedroom and checked the suit he had worn the day before. The Polaroid of the concrete blonde was still in the pocket.

He brought it back to the kitchen and laid it on the table with the others. Number twelve. It was a horrible gallery of broken, abused bodies, their garish makeup showing false smiles below dead eyes. Their bodies were naked, exposed to the harsh light of the police photographer.

Bosch drained the bottle and kept staring. Reading the names and the dates of the deaths. Looking at the faces. All of them lost angels in the city of night. He didn't notice Sylvia come in until it was too late.

"My God," she said in a whisper as she saw the photos. She took a step backward. She was holding one of her students' papers in her hand. Her other hand had come up to her mouth.

"I'm sorry, Sylvia," Bosch said. "I should've warned you not to come in."

"Those are the women?"

He nodded.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm not sure. Trying to make something happen, I guess. I thought if I looked at them all again I might get an idea, figure out what's happening."

"But how can you look at those? You were just standing there looking."

"Because I have to."

Hieronymus Bosch, LA Police, is no ghoul. But we're in the Rebarb now, so imagine that the woman in the doorway is Amy Young, who co-runs Perihelion, a Grand Avenue art gallery and bookstore. As soon as she saw the pictures she'd say, "Cool!" and elbow Bosch aside quicker than a CNN photographer, picking up this one and that one --"Wow! What happened to her? Huh? Tell me, Harry, come on, this is cool . . ."

But that wouldn't work, either, because Harry Bosch, police detective, wouldn't come within a mile of Amy Young, who is a murder pimp.

Amy Young and her partner, Doug Grant, have been dragging around the moldy, moribund corpse of Aleister Crowley for a couple of years now, with some success. They just won't let the poor bastard, and the occult in general, rest in peace. Goth persists, even though its very existence is parody: these black-clad fools are as stylized and effete as Devo, their roles as fixed and irrelevant as Kabuki, every one trying to be Crispin Glover with eyeballs in his pockets. Rich old golfer Vinny Fournier, who made his mark as Alice Cooper, now hosts the same kind of acts at his joint downtown. The Ghouls just played at Modified, undoubtedly wearing tattered Cannibal Corpse t-shirts and singing the same old songs about maggots and necrophilia.

Phoenix has long tolerated a certain dose of this miasmic fantasy. But now Amy Young and Doug Grant are celebrating and exploiting real murder, and the murder of women, and that makes us mad. If you examine the profiles of their bookstore offerings, a lot of soft-core p*rn misogyny and true crime --including photographs in both genres-- occupies their minds. Right now on their home page you see an image of a Zyklon B gas container by Gidget Gein (a male Marilyn Manson alumnus, who took psycho Ed Gein's last name). And just last night they hosted true crime ghoul writer John Gilmore, who writes lovingly of up-close and personal murder. He spoke it aloud last night, and he combines my two subjects, murder and misogyny, so let's look closer at this man.

According to the squib (written by the NT food writer [?] Stephen Lemons), of the eight subjects he has written about, six were about men murdering women, and two were about degraded and degrading women. He also read sections from his "sexually-charged" novel. He says:

"It can be very subtle --it's not all gore and shit like that. It's psychological, as well. That's what I'm drawn to, the psychological darkness. It's very rich territory for a writer. The dark side of the moon, as it were."

Horseshit. Serial killers and sexual murderers are not deep. They're not geniuses or subhuman. They offer no insights, bring no gifts but misery and murder. They are simply sadists and misanthropes; they hate life and people, especially women, and see everything and everyone as mere instruments for their explorations. FBI expert Roger Depue (more about him below) compiled a list of their "common operating principles," and one of them was, "People die too easily. It should be more painful, and take longer."

What John Gilmore likes is wallowing in the gore, and in writing about instilling fear, and then pain, into women. He likes to write about it and read about again and again. He makes money from resurrecting innocent murdered women's pain.

And Amy Young and Doug Grant --and Artlink and Mayor Phil Gordon, by extension and endorsement-- have no problem at all inviting all kinds of creeps to their bookstore, along with the clueless teenage goths. Nascent Ted Bundys from colleges and high schools, travelling predators from the nearby railroad tracks, fixated punks justing waiting for the trigger for the thrill kill, the man who makes copies of your keys . . .

In his memoir Between Good and Evil: A Master Profiler's Hunt For Society's Most Violent Predators, Roger L. Depue, the Man behind Behavioral Science at the FBI for years, writes this:

Evil is not a discrete entity that springs forth fully formed. It is born in the mind, takes root there as fantasy, and prospers when normal human restraint can no longer contain it. I have seen it devour the personalities of men like Richard Speck, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Ted Bundy, turning them into blank-faced sociopaths who clearly know right from wrong, but choose, time and again, to follow their own base urges, with complete disregard for the terrible human suffering they cause.

And this:

My work has given me a profound respect for what humans suffer at the hands of evil, and a particular sensitivity for what its victims endure. During every investigation that I participate in, there is always an invisible observer at my shoulder, whose presence I never forget. Regardless of the circumstances of a case, I am always giving voice to its silent victim.

John Gilmore gives voice to the murderers, over and over again. He is free, and alive, to do that.

The victims?

They're just women. Dead women. Safely dead and reduced, as in the Harry Bosch novel, to dolls. And now Amy Young and her crew pass them around as such.

I suppose there was a decent crowd at Perihelion last night. What kind of people are they, I wonder? I don't know, but I know it was the asafoetidic stink of real murders, not fantasy ones, that drew them. I hope at least one member of the sicko squad was there undercover, though.

Phoenix may call it The Burgeoning; we call it The Rebarb. And we condemn it.

UPDATE: A reader emails that Gidget Gein, on his website, brags about stealing things off of dead bodies.

While I'm here, let me add a prophecy from Leonard Cohen, a verse from "The Future," written fifteen years ago:

You'll see your woman hanging upside down
Her features covered by her fallen gown
And all the lousy little poets comin' 'round
Tryin' to sound like Charlie Manson.

Manson is a piece of human trash, and no poet, and anyone who vamps on his stinky aura, or Gacy's, or Gein's, is reprehensible, too.

Posted by Jerome at 08:06 AM | TrackBack

September 14, 2005

The Idiotic Dots Of The Whatnots

by Jerome du Bois

I love the very letterforms you read now, reader. The Greco-Roman-derived alphabet, from Avant-Garde to Vedana. When I make art, I often use words, cutting out letters or stamping them or printing them or writing them out or carving them. You may take these enduring forms, these 26 uniquely-grouped inhabitants of the Western World, and, as any teacher knows, you can distort them almost beyond recognition, and yet we recognize them --partly by context, yes, but often just because they're so strong in themselves. I respect them because they have remained fairly stable amid so much instability, and indeed have played their crucial parts in explaining that instability, and so much else besides. They are faithful stewards of meaning, even when the meanings of words change. I love the letters of my native alphabet.

Perhaps devotees of other alphabets --Cyrillic, Hindi, Chinese, Hebrew-- feel as I do, and so perhaps will share my anger at an artwork by Brazilian Rivane Neuenschwander now being exhibited at the 51st Venice Biennalle.

Its title: [. . . ]

Here is a photo, followed by a brief description and micro-gush by curator Elisabeth Sussman in Artforum:


At the Arsenale, everything "looks good" (in a late-'90s sort of way). The installation is austerely elegant, but there is often an element of entertainment. Take, for instance, [. . . ], 2004, an alluring installation of brightly colored walls and tables proffering old typewriters, outmoded technology made even more redundant by modification: No matter which letter is pressed, a period will be struck. This engaging work by Brazilian Rivane Neuenschwander, which invites viewers to type (meaningless) messages and pin them on the wall, playfully points to the ultimate emptiness of technology, its quick obsolescence, the hollowness at the core of the vast preponderance of communications it facilitates.

I will show the ultimate stupidity and hollowness at the core of Ms. Sussman's final sentence below. But first, let us consider this desecration in more detail.

Behold the damned thing itself, before the ideas surrounding it. Maybe you have to be a certain age to be outraged at how the artist has destroyed these old typewriters. It's well-known police lore that the physical signatures of unique typewriters are strong enough to convict criminals with their traces. Each typewriter, after a bit of use, develops its own profile --all because of those strong fingers, driven by those busy minds. When I was in high school I was the best typist in typing class, despite the fact that I'm missing a joint on one of my fingers. When I graduated, I also graduated from a stiff stately old Royal to a slick tomato-colored Selectric, with the bouncing typeballs. Catherine had a Hermes Rocket identical to the one in the picture above. She hauled it everywhere for years. Lots of writers still use old typewriters, even in the 21st Century. People collect them the way others collect record players and radios. From their platens writers coaxed, caressed, and hammered meaning into the world, from orders to love letters to spy codes to novels and poems.

What the artist has done, or asked her interns to do, is lift up every key and --where the little letter looks up at you backwards, like a soldier at attention always happily ready for duty-- had them grind that stubborn shape down with a Dremel tool and fine file until only a dot is left. Every letter, number, and punctuation sign, except the period, of course. Grind them down into the stupid point, the simplest sign in the universe, which goes nowhere and is the merest mark.

To me, it's like pouring acid on fingers.

But Rivane Neuwenschwander wants to erase all distinctiveness, individuality, identity, hierarchy, and meaning from the world. Whatever anybody types doesn't matter a bit. Nobody matters. Nothing we say matters. Everything is ellipsis, the slack-jawed in-between --dot dot dot, fill it in with whatnot.

Why bother even writing about this mean and snickering thing, since it's already a fait accompli, signed off on by all the poobahs?

Because everybody counts. Because everybody counts or nobody counts.

Because communicating matters. Getting across to others gets us further into the future. To mock that standard, to mock that need, to mock that defining characteristic of humans, reveals the weakness that drives all these postmodern artists: they hate people, themselves most of all.

Postmodernism is dead. Meaning matters. I'll show the shrunken heart of this cruel and inhuman artwork, and the tired, jaded sensibility that surrounds and sanctions it.

Ms. Sussman wrote:

This engaging work by Brazilian Rivane Neuenschwander, which invites viewers to type (meaningless) messages and pin them on the wall, playfully points to the ultimate emptiness of technology, its quick obsolescence, the hollowness at the core of the vast preponderance of communications it facilitates.

Go on. Step up to the table. Sit down. Think of something to type. I don't know . . . anything. But why? Just rattle the keys a little. Cute, huh? Everything is . . . everything comes out . . . you're muted so far down you're just like that guy over there . . .

Cute. Engaging. Playful.

the ultimate emptiness of technology

I read on my computer monitor, which is connected to a processor which is connected to eighty jillion connections all over the Earth, a literal world of information, history, images, and conversations, jamming the broadband from end to end. Empty? No. Only Sussman's head is empty. The world brought to us by technology is growing in knowledge and wisdom by the nanosecond. She can stay behind, though.

its quick obsolescence

The manual typewriter served the United States and the world from 1867 up through two world wars and beyond. Like the Colt 1911 .45 pistol, it was an uncomplaining workhorse that saved thousands of hours of labor and movement, and saved lives due to its accuracy and clarity.

the hollowness at the core of the vast preponderance of communications it facilitates

This woman wrote and supervised the production of two books at least, from MIT Press no less; one about Keith Haring and one about Nan Goldin. Is this what she thinks of her work, and the work of all of her technical and editorial collaborators at MIT? If so, consider --with horror, I hope--the corrosive nihilism eating at this woman's soul.

Everything means. Everything matters. And that's why I stand up for battered old mutilated manual typewriters.

Posted by Jerome at 09:06 AM | TrackBack

September 07, 2005

Not A Rose-Colored World: The Life-Sized Version

Jerome du Bois

I read recently that at least two local galleries will be highlighting Fashion this October. In the spirit of fanciful participation, let me offer a dramatic version of Catherine's recent online diptych about the color pink, It's Not A Rose-Colored World / And Wearing Pink Won't Make It So, which you can partially assemble below, on her posting, by moving your browser to the right and the popup to the left. I know, it won't fit most monitors, including ours, but it gives you a rough idea of its impact. (Women on the left, men on the right.)

Now. Take each one of those 154 rectangles in the diptych. Reproduce it actual size, about 12" x 18", as a transparency. Laminate it behind glass and back it, with the gap of an air buffer of 1/2", with an electroluminescent panel, for even illumination. Frame the whole thing in simple black metal frames.

Repeat 154 times.

Then hang the results on a large white wall in a darkened room, according to the pattern already laid out, neatly hiding wires and power sources. The diptych would be twelve+ feet high and twenty+ feet long overall, so one would need a big wall in a generous room.

Now let's stand back and admire this glowing matrix for a minute. All those talking heads, all that urgency around and behind them, pumping up the drama of already interesting times . . . and they're wearing pink, and that's not a minor point. It must be said.

And now let's move back and forth to see what we can see. Some panels are just downright funny at first, like this one, which I call "I Came Through The Dimension For You."

But look closer.

Marshall McLuhan called television the cool medium --distanced and ironic-- and film photography the hot medium, fine-grained, immediate and direct. Here Catherine interposes her digital camera to turn television inside out and make it hot, peeling its pretensions back, as if lifting a pixelated curtain.

That's cool. I mean, hot. I mean, new.

Long ago Bruce Nauman talked about his frustrated desire to present ideas directly, without any intermediary clutter, but he had a hard time with the notion until the Fat Chance John Cage piece. Andy Warhol had to shove his photos through a silkscreening process to make them interesting. Philip Lorca-Di Corcia? His secret street shots were great, but he made every decision. John Routson documenting his channel-changing moments? No, limp with the randomity. That guy who lays out every frame of a movie on a canvas? That's from hunger, a tour de farce. Nam June Paik makes nice sculptures, but the crazy accelerated images on the screens (often the identical loop on many of them) do nothing to help give one purchase on the world. Christian Marclay comes close, because of his thematic choices and his selections from movies --reality once removed. Hanne Darboven and Arakawa recording time? Very little to look at, yes? Impoverished. As David Bryne sang, "No information left of any kind." Fischl & Weiss's ten jillion snapshots on ten tables in a gallery? Was that some kind of joke, like the ultimate boring relative with the photo albums thinking the sun shines out their ass?

Life trumps art. Everything else is hand-waving. Catherine King captures some of the ley lines of what's going on and displays them in the classical, rational grid, all at once, for the best kind of contemplation and comparison.

Here she has taken what is given and presented it raw --no tripod, no plasma TV, no freeze-framing, no Photoshopping to eliminate black bands, no astringent desire to make every image AJ-squared-away. Just jumping up every time pink showed up on a news show, grabbing the camera, and firing away. She had her criterion and her itch. Life would deliver the details, since every pixel on the newsscreen, just as every cubic inch in the television studio, is produced by someone.

In Kinds of Minds, Daniel Dennett writes:

In her book On Photography (1977), the literary critic Susan Sontag points out that the advent of high-speed still photography was a revolutionary technological advance for science because it permitted human beings, for the first time ever, to examine complicated temporal phenomena not in real time but in their own good time --in leisurely, methodical, backtracking analysis of the traces they had created out of those complicated events. As noted in chapter 3, our natural minds are equipped to deal with changes that occur only at particular paces. Events that happen faster or slower are simply invisible to us. Photography was a technological advance that carried in its wake a huge enhancement in cognitive power, by permitting us to re-present the events of interest in the world in a format, and at a rate, that was tailor-made for our particular senses.

Catherine takes advantage of this exact phenomenon, arresting the ever-accelerating pace of visual news, but retaining the sense of urgency, of time passing fast, in the partially degraded images.

Here's another example. Amazing, eh? Those little crosses . . . And here's Shepard Smith breaking up in New Orleans; the photo reflects his --and much of America's-- state of mind at the time.

This huge panorama of heads and shoulders and pink is a detailed social document, a portrait of July and August 2005 as presented by cable news --a fabricated world, with sci-fi backgrounds bubbling like lava lamps, and sleek industrial railings running through Mondrian-like rectangles composed of eight different space-age materials.

Someone might object that a more accurate social document would be to take shots of the stories themselves, not the anchors. First, that's foolish; there is no feasible way to capture the richness of the daily world pictorially and accurately. Second, the key is in that word anchor. The stories begin and end with the storytellers, and Catherine's point is that the anchors are not heavy; they have no gravitas. We're at war, and they show up for a sock hop.

My final example --like a parody of the cover of The National Inquirer-- shows life trumping art with its multiple absurdities. It may seem funny at first, and second, and third examination, but eventually, as we look away, at the other 153 frames, the real world breaks through the futile pink scrim and we see the truth of her title.

Posted by Jerome at 08:30 AM | TrackBack

September 04, 2005

Paglia, and Poetry, and The Power Of The Word

[Remember the victims of Katrina, and help. We have so few readers we need not start some link marathon; we just remind you. There are plenty of places to go. So. Go do what you can do, then come back and read. Thanks.]

In the beginning was Nature.
--Camille Paglia, first sentence, Sexual Personae, 1990.

We are stardust
(million-year-old carbon)
We are golden
(caught in the devil's bargain)
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden.

--Joni Mitchell, last refrain, "Woodstock," 1969.

by Jerome du Bois

A recent interview with Camille Paglia includes, in part, her critical summaries of the quality of the teachers and administrators in academia, especially literature and the arts. Her remarks support arguments we have made in our series on Rebarbarization in the Academy, but also among many of the pieces in our Pride Of Phoenix Series, and most of our single-artist reviews. The basic riff: drones create drones, and little fascists create little fascists, and the lone individual talent is long gone by then, toward obscurity or toward making their own strong mark, free from the quicksand suck of the postmodern muck. (See the piece on The Zombie Dispositions.) Dr. Paglia's thirty years as a classroom teacher of adults, and her own native brilliance, lend authority to her statements.

I've always taken this woman's ideas seriously. Our proposed semi-public art project, The Antidote, was based on her recent essay "The Magic of Images." A video-screen truck, parked on Roosevelt Row, would slideshow hundreds of classic art images, and selected aphorisms, couplets, and memes, while huge speakers blasted classical music for two hours. The essay ends on a key sentence:

The only antidote to the magic of images is the magic of words.

Which reminds me of Oscar Wilde's dialectic:

Only the soul can cure the senses, just as only the senses can cure the soul.

I suggest that local readers of this blog read the whole interview, especially those readers who purport to be writers and poets --who supposedly live by the word. For example, there's a passage that reminds me of the Phoenix coterie Writers Bloc:

CP: The thing is there is an up- and downside to those things. On the one hand it’s producing a kind of antiseptic writing, a certain kind of polished professional writing, and on the other hand people who are interested in writing in this period of media and the web and so on, they find it very sustaining to go to a place to meet other people who are similarly interested in it. That’s the upside but the downside is that to be a good writer you can’t just study writing. You have to live, OK? That’s the problem. The best writers have drawn from actual experience, have had some experience. What experiences do people have any more?

RB: [laughs] Shopping.

CP: Yeah, shopping. This is why I think literature, post-Plath, has drifted into a compulsive telling of any trauma that you can find in your life. Prozac—“I’m taking Prozac” or divorce or diseases or whatever. Endless kvetching. It’s a style of telling of woes and the potential range of literature is being neglected and part of my crusade now is—

RB: Crusading?

CP: I’m on a crusade—it’s to say to the poets and the artists, “Stop talking to each other. Stop talking to coteries. I despise coteries in any form. You are speaking to a coterie, OK. Stop the snide references to the rest of the world who didn’t vote with you in the last election.” This is big. Because we have all separated again. After 9/11, everyone was united. We are separated again thanks to what has happened in politics. People in the art world are full of sanctimonious sense of superiority to most of America. But they must address America, learn to address America. Yes, have your friends, have the people who support what you are doing in the art world, but you have to recover a sense of the general audience and the same thing I am saying to the far right, get over the sneering at art, the stereotyping—

The latest project by the Phoenix Writers Bloc debuted First Friday night at the main library. The subject: urban legends. I will let them describe it themselves:

Our modern folklore is important in explaining the world around us. We name our fears by forming compelling tales out of them. Telling stories is a great tradition. From our ancestors and family stories; the scary stories at sleepovers; the guy on the street that stops you to just tell his story; stories that we make up to amuse, entertain or compel. We all have a story, we hear them and tell them. Generally speaking, an urban legend is any modern, fictional story, told as truth, that reaches a wide audience by being passed from person to person. Urban legends are often false, but not always. A few turn out to be largely true, and a lot of them were inspired by an actual event but evolved into something different in their passage from person to person. More often than not, it isn’t possible to trace an urban legend back to its original source -–they seem to come from nowhere.

Art tells the story, in different styles, mediums, which can be interpreted by the viewer into their own story. The viewer’s interpretation is sometimes different than the artist’s intent. That is the beauty of art.

In this exhibit, eighteen (18) printmakers worked with a writer who composed a legend that interprets their art and it will be displayed in a format that complements their prints. It can be one that stretches beyond the art, takes the reader/viewer on a different journey. We feel that combining art and legends would be a compatible exhibit for the library.

A few points: Urban legends, like jokes, are unoriginal. That is, they have no real, or single, author. And they're mostly about horror stories and O.Henry suprises. Also, consider that both the audience and creators of this project have been brought up on Steven King and Scream Ad Nauseum and other popcorn nightmares. This twenty-year cushion of pop history, I believe, comforts the new writers, who may personally have little to draw from, since they've gone from school to school to college to grad school to workshop, with a lot of movies and a little life squoze in between those cloistered, predictable, regulated, dependable, and reassuringly collective experiences.

[I wrote the above before we went to see the exhibition yesterday afternoon. And behold, we were right:

Cindy Dach's "Snake Bite" is a very very pale reflection of, say, an X-Files episode in which the snake-handler is the good guy, the prissy preacher is the real demon, and a young woman gives birth to a nest of rattlesnakes. You remember it.

Greg Esser had some zoo administrator --geek-bureaucrats rule!-- as hero in a tired story about ecological niches in urban environments --frogs, which don't even go Biblical in his limp tale. In real life, amazing creatures live near the 500° vents in undersea trenches deeper than the Devil's feet embedded in the Ninth Circle of Hell. Besides, if you want an urban tale of transformation, and with pop culture to boot, think no further than Altered States. Do you see how easy it is to trump these so-called 21st-Century artists? And by the way, Greg, the word is "ceased," not "seized," in your narrative. All those writers and readers all night Friday and all day Saturday didn't bring that to your attention. You didn't catch it. And your crew wants to teach people how to write and edit, no?

Third and final example in mini-review: Kevin Vaughan-Brubaker manages to take some of our oldest and most difficult art --incising rock with hypnotic glyptic devotion to show something serious-- and turn it into a soiled sociopathic grin. He imagines some teenager killing his buddy out by the rock carvings, with his carving tool, no less, hiding his victim, and then coming back repeatedly to watch, in the one vivid phrase KV-B can muster, "the creeping smile of decay."

"Geiny," Catherine said with a grimace, referring to Ed Gein, who dressed in the dressed-out skins of his female victims. The woman can say a paragraph with a word. And I was reminded of "River's Edge," a movie from the the Eighties, I think, in which a bunch of zoned-out high-schoolers keep parading each other out to the eponymous location to see a dead body, slowly decaying. In other words, it's horrible, every time it happens in reality, but as regards this show --It's been done, people; in a phrase, done to death.

Catherine also pointed out two more deficiencies: the poems in the exhibition violate the notion of the legend, which is a tale, a narrative of sentences, as in someone's testimony. People don't normally speak in broken scans and occasional rhymes. So those pieces were more about the author than the subject, she pointed out. And besides, if you must make a poem of legend, why not use the ballad form, as in "Pancho and Lefty"? Second, she asked, and this floored me because I had forgotten the obvious --she asked, "Where's the Chupacabra?" Every one of these people missed out on a recent, and vivid, Southwestern urban legend, which has faded just enough for a lurid reminder. The Chupacabra's natural habitat is being shrunk, and, like coyotes, they are driven to the city. Why, we ourselves can confirm three actual sightings in our Central Phoenix neighborhood alone! If we're lyin' we're flyin'! We're still trying to digitally capture one. When we do, we'll post it. Now, back to the press release on the website.]

Second: the first two paragraphs thud like duds. "Telling stories is a great tradition." "We all tell stories . . ." "That is the beauty of art." Dull coins all. No sentence rings with authority, or dances, or bends, or zings, or seems happy to exist. They all just plod along, getting the job done. As illustrated above, my wife Catherine King, in ordinary conversation over breakfast or riffing off the television, half the time makes me want to take notes or record her comments, because she has such a distinctive style, a delicately-wired mind which makes the words "fresh" and "unique" stale and pale, which finds buzzing connections fetched from afar, and which always seems unsatisfied with convention, with the given, with the beige, with the frayed.

Third: I found the written description of the exhibit unclear. I had to examine the enlarged image of the poster to see that eighteen printmakers each paired with eighteen writers to create eighteen paired prints and stories. But it's still unclear. Which came first, the print or the legend? And who came up with it, the printmaker or the writer? Or did they collaborate? Unclear. (But you may now sign up for workshops at Writers Bloc on many types of professional writing, from $45 to $100 per seminar.) And what a wonderul image: a woman (of course!) bowed back into a painful position, possessed á la Linda Blair.

Finally, the whole collective thing creaks like crutches. Eighteen people. The clubhouse, which houses the crew, who direct the flock, who show up on the front doorstep with the slumped shoulders of the verbally uncertain. With the stuff that's green and folds. All of this continues junior-high writing club and the college lit mag crew, only writ larger and sometimes even with public money (beyond the $100/month the Bloc members pony up for Greg and Cindy Kaching-D'Escher, as well call them. Money on the sheeplehoof). They would feel very insecure out there on their own without their friends, so they hide behind each other's skirts --and, by doing so, they retard each other's progress, and do each other a disservice, especially about that most painful discovery:

Talent is an individual gift. Either you have it or you don't. This dog won't hunt for you, no matter how much you feed it. You have to cross that lonesome valley all by yourself.

What's that music?

You never understood that it ain't no good; you shouldn't let other people get your kicks for you.

Live with it.

All those educated and even post-educated minds pooling and mulling and brooding and exchanging notions, and this is what they come up with: urban legends --just like two kids under a blanket with a flashlight. Why, I remember the Woman With No Face At The Drive-In . . . Hey, whereya goin?

[And don't think these people monopolize the thematic clichés, because --okay, I guess these are some of the same people-- @Central Gallery plans to show the never-before-thunk-of themes of . . . wait for it . . .

Text: The Art of Words [my own specialty]
Pop Art
Dry Heat (works relating to or inspired by summer in Arizona), and
Artist's Books.

And MADE Art Boutique (!?) will show "Out Of The Box," Artist-Made Boxes, the parody to which I am already working on. I guess they're still not thinking outside of them, unless one or more of them is working on a non-box box.


To the artists and writers: you need to dig deeper within yourselves. If you don't know how, you need to change your ways. Talking to other writers of your demographic profile won't help one iota. A rut is only a grave that is open at both ends.]

All right, now everybody take a deep breath.

The interview with Camille Paglia led me back to its original subject, her latest book, Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-Three of the World's Best Poems. I had read it cover to cover as soon as I discovered it a couple of months ago. She still has all her chops, though I can't stand some of her later choices. Here, though, I want to quote from the introduction, which contains remarks expanding on those in the interview, about academia, it teachers and its graduates, and about poetry and the power of the word, which seems to be a nascent subject floating in the electrons around The Tears Of Things in the last few days.

Here is Camille Paglia on (literary) poststructuralism, the Tweedledum to (visual arts) postmodernism's Tweedledee:

But the New Criticism, attuned to paradox and ambiguity, was a sophisticated system of interpretation that has never been surpassed as a pedagogical tool for helping novice as well as veteran readers to understand poetry. Its destruction by the influx of European postrstructuralism into American universities in the 1970s was a cultural disaster from which higher education has yet to recover. With its clotted jargon, circular reasoning, and smug, debunking cynicism, postrstructuralism works only on narrative --on the longer genres of story and novel. It is helpless with lyric poems, where the individual word has enormous power and mystery and where the senses are played upon by rhythm, mood, and dreamlike metaphors.

I think the argument applies at least as much to visual art, where individual colors, shapes, and their psychological associations can have enormous power. This makes postmodernism's pervasive influence over contemporary art all the more disgraceful: these artists --twenty years' worth and counting-- got mugged by the boneless.

Poststructuralism and crusading identity politics led to the gradual sinking in reputation of the premiere literature departments, so that by the turn of the millennium, they were no longer seen even by the undergraduates themselves to be where the excitement was on campus. One result of this triumph of ideology over art is that, on the basis of their publications, few literature professors know how to "read" anymore --and thus can scarcely be trusted to teach that skill to their students. Cultural studies, for example, despite its auspicious name, has been undone by its programmatic Marxism and is a morass of misreadings or overreadings. During the past quarter century, humanistic principles and honest practical criticism could more reliably be found among low-paid adjuncts faithfully teaching service courses at community colleges than in the vain, showy professoriat of the elite schools.

Let's repeat that last:

During the past quarter century, humanistic principles and honest practical criticism could more reliably be found among low-paid adjuncts faithfully teaching service courses at community colleges [think of Thomas Klocek at DePaul in Chicago, who stood up to Palestinian anti-Semites, and got fired] than in the vain, showy professoriat of the elite schools [think, of course, of Ward "Tell Me About The Teeth, Ward" Churchill, still biting].

We see the results all around us. When we started this blog, an early entry made fun of boring local artists' talk. Not much has changed, except many more bare their teeth these days, but since they're only milk teeth from adult babies, their threat diminishes to toy-sized dimensions.

Anyway --we told you so.

On to poetry and the power of the word. Camille Paglia again, from the introduction:

What fascinated me about English was what I later recognized as its hybrid etymology: blunt Anglo-Saxon concreteness, sleek Norman French urbanity, and polysyllabic Greco-Roman abstraction. . . . The dazzling multiplicity of sounds and word choices in English makes it brilliantly suited to be a language of poetry.

She took five years to write this book, and spent two of those years just reading thousands and thousands of poems, so I take the following characterizations based on that knowledge:

In gathering material for this book, I was shocked at how weak individual poems have become over the past forty years. Our most honored poets are gifted and prolific, but we have come to respect them for their intelligence, commitement, and the body of their work. They ceased focusing long ago on production of the powerful, distinctive, self-contained poem. They have lost ambition and no longer believe they can or should speak for their era. Elevating process over form, they treat their poems like meandering diary entries and craft them for effect in live readings rather than on the page. . . . Rote formulas are rampant --a lugubrious victimology of accident, disease, and depression or a simplistic, ranting politics (people good, government bad) that looks naive next to the incisive writing about politics on today's op-ed pages.

She endorses song lyrics as poetry, as I do, and makes this interesting distinction between the spoken and the seen, the heard and the beheld:

In the 1990s, poetry as performance art revived among young people in slams recalling the hipster clubs of the Beat era. As always, the return of oral tradition had folk roots --in this case the incantatory rhyming of African-American urban hip-hop. But it's poetry on the page --a visual construct-- that lasts. The eye too is involved. The shapeliness and symmetry of the four-line ballad stanza (descending from medieval England and Scotland and carried by seventeenth-century émigrés to the American South and Appalachia) once structured the best lyrics of rhythm and blues, gospel, country and western music, and rock 'n' roll. But with the immense commercial success of rock music, those folk roots have receded, and popular songwriting has gotten weaker and weaker. In a course I created on song lyrics at the University of the Arts, I encourage aspiring songwriters to look at their lyrics on the page and to evaluate them for visual balance. Hence this book ends with a great lyric, Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock," which became an anthem for my conflicted generation.

As usual, Dr. Paglia's commentary on "Woodstock" is lucid and detailed. Most importantly, she refers to not just the written lyrics but Joni Mitchell's own rendition of the song, with a single electric piano and a few vocal scat-singing overdubs, not the more familiar, raucous CSN&Y rock version.

Keep that in mind when you read the lyrics. The opening of that song is as blunt and direct as a news report, but its directness is as old as The Book of J.

I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, where are you going
And this he told me

I'm going on down to Yasgur's farm
I'm going to join in a rock 'n' roll band
I'm going to camp out on the land
And try and get my soul free.

Note the repetition of "I'm going, I'm going, I'm going" --quintessentially American, yearning and learning.

Oh, don't get me going on song lyrics --Leonard Cohen alone!-- "Democracy," "The Future," "Everybody Knows"-- but let me close with some brief stanzas and couplets, to show the power of compression.

Remember "Pancho and Lefty," by Townes van Zandt? (Sung, of course, by Emmylou Harris):

Lefty doesn't sing the blues
All night long like he used to
The dust that Pancho bit down South
Ended up in Lefty's mouth.

George Jones:

I say you're nothing but a liar
And I'm the cold hard truth.

John Hiatt:

I will try, I will stumble
But I will fly, He told me so
Proud and high or low and humble
Many miles before I go
Many miles before I go.

And finally, in the aftermath of Katrina, Stephen Foster:

Let us pause in life's pleasures
To count its many tears
While we all sop sorrow with the poor
There's a song that will linger
Forever in our ears
Oh! Hard Times, come again no more.

Maybe words alone --no matter how strong, clear, and unambiguous-- can't save us, but without them we're lost. We deserve better custodians of them these days. Look what we're faced with, just this week --Nature raw in tooth and claw. In the beginning was Nature. In the end is Nature. We need strong poets for these times. Where are they?

Posted by Jerome at 10:15 AM | TrackBack

September 01, 2005

Kevin Vaughan-Brubaker Is One Mean Little Weenie

by Jerome du Bois

I was working on a writing project when along came a local yokel writer and art bureaucrat with an email which inadvertently referred to my subject: my wife's fashion collages, just below.

So now here's Kevin Vaughan-Brubaker with a long, detailed email full of polite insults, left-handed compliments, denigrations of my wife, our life, our blog, and our very existence. (He doesn't miss self-promotion, either.) He doesn't use a single nasty phrase or obscene image. In my own reply, on the other hand, I shall exercise no such restraint.

Everybody knows I won't let my wife be disrespected, so they try to provoke me. Anyone who knows these fools should ask them why. In the meantime, such attacks hone my verbal skills, but, more importantly and for the record, in the years to come after these bozos go away, this post will shine the light of truth on the bureaucrats who are running the arts into the ground in Phoenix and Arizona in 2005. Here's another one, Kevin Vaughan-Brubaker.

Before we make the jump, though, let us first ask:

Why did this guy even email us in the first place, except to provoke us, insult us, and to bayonet the wounded?

Why go out of his way? Why bother? Who are we to him and his?

We lost the whole high-road argument to the skuzzbuckets. But he can't leave well enough alone. He's going to be sorry he didn't.

In the Phoenix art scene, he is a winner, and we are losers. He has a nice cushy job with the state government, with at least three fallbacks of fucking up reviews and screening before he gets canned, no matter how much of a jerk he may turn out to be.

We have nothing but ourselves and our words and our art. You got that, you fucking vampire? Every day, while you go off and sit at a desk and read papers --petitions from needy artists, groveling, which must really make you feel important-- we are hanging on the drop edge of yonder.

So why do you come around, anyway? Why couldn't you leave us alone, much less try to criticize something you don't even understand while you're looking right at it, you stupid blind fuckhead? Why don't you go suck martinis with all the other operators who work the system? Do you think it's going to be fun to provoke me? I've got nothing to lose, and I've got the high ground.

Date: Thu, 01 Sep 2005 13:44:01 -0700
From: "Kevin Vaughan-Brubaker"
Organization: Arizona Commission on the Arts
X-Accept-Language: en-us, en
Subject: Greetings

Right off the bat, nota bene. This man sucks state titty. He derives his income from my taxes, my wife's taxes, your taxes, his own taxes, to help fund the lifestyles of artists. Don't ask me why, but we cut his checks, and we help support them. Nobody asks why anymore. His formal title is "Participation Research Coordinator." What in the hellajesus does that mean? It reminds me of creepy Orwellian phrases like "Leisure Delivery Systems."

[Update: in an email, KV-B corrects me: "My position is funded by the Wallace Foundation (private money) as part of a five year nationwide study of participation in the arts called: the START Initiative." As if that changes my argument much.]

Claro, for one thing, he helps make decisions about which titty-sucking and brownnosing artists get state money.

And then he has the damned gall to explicitly cut at the roots of his own mandate, which is to nourish the arts in Arizona. If this sonofabitch can really read, he might want to check out The Collective I before he even begins to think about attacking us. We have been trying to nourish public art and all art in Arizona and this Valley for over two years. Where has he been? Why hasn't he encouraged us? What an ignorant, arrogant dick.

Mr. du Bois. May I call you Jerome?

You already did, but no, don't do it again, if we ever correspond again, which isn't likely when I'm done with you. Very few of our contenders come back for a second round. They drop off something inspid or insulting or infantile, like you, and when we tear them up you never hear a peep from them again. You wil be the same, tiddlywink.

I am interested in the following statement you make in your blog entry "New Notes On La Pionera and The New Mango":

"Third, some may object to the use of marijuana as partial financial fuel for a revolution. Our suggestion is for the reader to do some research on rum, molasses, slaves, and tobacco, for starters; and then, later, when the revolution is over and we're all passing some kind of congratulations around, we'll compare the relative human damage done by these various substances and practices."

I have only read snippets of La Pionera, but this statement has fueled my interest. It sounds as if . . . [and he drones on and on.]

Whoa. You've read "snippets?" Tell you what, shitbird, I don't care what you're interested in; when you can read, much less craft, a story like "The Legend of The Seed Man," much less one paragraph of the quality and style of our novel, then maybe you can approach the very outer reaches of the pavilions of our attention. Maybe when you give us some respect, we'll give you some. You don't come around to people who sweat out thousands of words and talk about "snippets," you thickheaded, insensitive, snot-filled twit. In the meantime, please go fuck your questions and yourself with your pants on, you high-handed, presumptuous prick. I bring my attention and my time to my choices, not yours.

On Ms. King's photos. The one you use as your banner for your blog site is compelling and conjures the phrase, 'tripping the light fantastic'. Photography is the only medium where an accidental masterpiece may occur. Not to imply that Ms. King didn't know how the photo would turn out--but it reminds me of those moments of surprise when you come home with a freshly developed roll of film and find a meaningful gem that you had no idea existed.

We don't give a rat's ass what it reminds you of; once again, stumblebum, you don't know what the hell you're talking about. Or you do and you're just acting stupid. Who can tell with blockheads like you? Ignorance is no excuse. One reason I'm giving you any attention at all is because you're on the public payroll, and you're just what we've come to expect from years of government sinecures. I always marvel at the idiocy of those who solidify their words in electrons and come galloping out to challenge us, secure in their words. They always regret it.

There is no roll of film involved. If you had spent more than twenty minutes with the blog, you know that we are firmly committed to the belief that we capture the dead, in the form of orbs, all around us, on our digital cameras. What's the problem? Nobody ever talks about it. We don't care what other people think. We know what we're doing. We weep. We work. We go on. It is not up to you or anyone else to legitimize or deligitimize us. You are nothing to us.

We have been documenting these things for several years, and we were even preparing a large multimedia exhibition for Bentley Projects, all about American ghosts and orbs. We did not know how this digital photograph you refer to (we change the banner, that's why the pop-up) would "turn out" --in digital pictures, they don't "turn out," they happen instantly-- but here is its history:

It was taken by me, not Catherine, with a Canon A70, in the early evening of December 26, 2004. We have the precise time, but others may look it up as well: it was right around --and I mean within a minute-- of the Indonesian earthquake which unleashed so much death.

That's just a fact. But of the thousands of digital ghost photos we have taken, none has ever turned out like that one. It's not about tripping the light fantastic --a superficial urban term about youthful ambition-- no, we document tripping over death, and instead of picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off, and running away, we confront the truthful depth of it, vivid on your television even as I write these words.

I really enjoy the picture of the two lovebirds in the tree (reminds one of the childish song..."k.i.s.s.i.n.g") and the quotation. Having grown up on the edge of Encanto Golf Course . . . and he drones on about soul mates and he and his wife ten years and then we see this is all just polishing the knife because then:

The new images of Ms. King's collages leave much to be desired, I'm afraid. There is nothing new or exciting in these types of cut and paste pastiches of art. During my years spent as a resident assistant in undergraduate dorms at the University of Puget Sound, I saw countless numbers of these collages that bored students would create and tack to their walls. I suppose as artists we find success to be a hit or miss proposition depending on the eye of the beholder.

You are one stupid mofo, hyphen-man. You don't read or look in an even cursory manner. I can't believe I help pay your salary. The title is "Fall Fashion Boards 2005." In English. The images are painstakingly and painfully cut out of actual individual images, not pastiches or melanges or clever juxtapositions. The viewer is privileged to behold the fashion concourse Catherine King holds in her mind. I would ask you to ask your wife for some insight into this psychology, but if she's like most women in this town, she has the fashion sense of an employee of Dress Barn.

This is part of the article I was working on:

. . . let us admire the triptych above. Catherine has meticulously cut out, with her damaged hand, thousands of images collected from fashion magazines over the last five years, and then selected the best, according to her criteria. Each panel has a conceptual theme. I'll get to both the criteria and the themes below.

[Five years; longer than most of the bozos at the Hamberger School take to get their twee degrees.]

Formally, she flips the usual boring horizontal male (and, too often, Christian) triptych of three vertical rectangles, and erects a strong wide column of panoramas of female power, armor, beauty, the work, and adornment. A stand-up woman, to evoke an earlier piece.

Also, she made sure we rendered it large enough to overfill the screen top and bottom, so the viewer must scroll up and down. This is to acknowledge, she told me, that this is digital net art on a computer, that we live in the third millennium, and that it is fall, the season when the male, and Apollo, and the sun, retreat, to be overwhelmed by the deeper, more mysterious and uncanny light-and-shadow of autumn, when the female takes center stage, and owns it.

Catherine calls the top panel "Whole Looks and Jewelry," the center panel "Accessories," and the bottom panel "Separates." To me these correspond to the classical Greek divisions of head, thorax, and legs and feet. I want to examine them in detail, but first let me advance this caveat: the categories overlap. Remember, we are dealing with shifting, Chthonian, oceanic, female energies here. Rulers wilt, measurements melt. Still, I try to make sense of it, 'cause, after all, I'm just a man. Her man, and proud of it.

That's what I was working on.

I still don't understand why all the chickenshits in this town, like you, have to always attack my wife and her work --flowers, ghosts, fashion, art. It's beautiful work, but you go out of your narrow tight-assed way to criticize it. Why? And before you even think about answering, we've already heard "If you can't take it, don't dish it out." We can take it, I'm dishing it out now, but ask yourself --hell, ask your wife-- why you must attack Catherine King and the fashion boards she uses as working canvases while she continues to develop her astounding wardrobe.

Finally, this weenie has got the gall to plug the two poems he's going to have in the dumbass Urban Legends show at the library. (That's another review I'm already working on.)

Then, in a PS, he advertises several upcoming Az Arts events. Like we would ever have anything to do with those turds, but he blithely goes ahead anyway, as they have ever done with us. They stab you, then they hold out a band-aid.

Callous callous callous.

Stay away from us.

Posted by Jerome at 11:15 PM | TrackBack