Monday, September 28, 2009

Walking In A Moving World


English land/conceptual artist/sculpture Richard Long's recent retrospective at the Tate Museum is discussed at Revolutionary Boredom, excerpted here:

"In terms of artistic production...more how [these works] produce an artwork from such immaterial practices. Not only do they attempt to represent a walk, a fleeting experience in itself, but they represent that walk via experiential factors rather than reference (as in a regular map) to solid and identifiable objects like trees or castles or whatever. Most typical of this category is the ‘textwork’, usually a list of observations, feelings or conditions from a walk. The status of one of Long’s textworks is complicated, as it presumably has some personal meaning to Long himself yet remains only suggestive to the observer. Most of the details – including the date and place included on each work – are irrelevant and unverifiable. What these textworks comment upon is not the walk itself, nor the place walked, but the relationship between experiential moment and material representation."

Beyond the originality of Long's art (and its transitory nature), what interests me here is the notion of a text commenting in some unique and immediate way on "the relationship between experiential moment and material representation." This insight can be generalized to a great many modernist and postmodern practices, and relates to many of the narratives/discourses we might consider innovative.

In terms of form, Long's "textworks," collected here, can be seen as a form of concrete poetry, (though they also remind one of Francis Ponge's "object" poetry, in their refined consideration for the evocation of specific moment) and could be of considerable interest to students of writing.

(Note: Richard Long was one of the many sixties artists surveyed in Suzaan Boettger's comprehensive Earthworks: Art and Landscape of the Sixties.)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Separation as Archaeological Discovery

The piece below is in response to a recent article reporting the discovery of a wall, 3,700 years old, buried below modern Jerusalem.

Separation as Archaeological Discovery

The sensation is the thought (the sheer thought!) that rocks could be stacked so straight and so high without the use of mechanical equipment. The fascination (the sheer fascination!) is to wonder how a people could do this so long ago when the architects and engineers of our time haven’t a clue.

The lead has been buried. The rocks, stacked eight meters high, have been arranged to form that oldest of structures -- the wall. The desire (the sheer desire!) to separate humankind from one another is more ancient than the City of David. More ancient than that current policy of separation and oppression masked as self-defense.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Exploited, Forever

This essay by Joshua Clover in a recent issue of Film Quarterly, is a good example of the sort of thing I feel is important to critical writing--the ability to locate a work (a film, a novel, a record) within a broader context; specifically, the necessity to read a text within a web of definitive social realities. Especially germane here are Clover's comments on Soderberg's The Girlfriend Experience, which move effectively from the purely formal aspects of this film to its (and our) milieu:

Sasha’s and Chelsea’s affectless affect, the film’s thin
idea—these are matched by the relentless flatness of the
film’s style, from the acting to the HD videography, all cool
surfaces without heft. It’s like a long YouTube clip. Such banality
may itself be rhetorical, a way to try to understand the
emotional blankness of the new life made by immaterial
labor, the truth of which is not the nifty shit forthcoming in
the future, but the missing experience of now. It’s the world
that got flat; we’re just working in it. And this may be why the
immanent economic catastrophe, rifted with hysteria and
panic, is nonetheless the most charismatic figure in the film:
a social crisis and vast destruction, at least it’s a kind of
change, a kind of awakening from the blankness of sleep, an
awakening whose script might elude the ever-hovering technicians
. . . the slightest potential for futurity.

(article was originally cited at the blog Infinite Thought.)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Under Occupation

This passage, from James Meek's recent LRB review of British novelist David Peace's new novel Occupied City, caught my attention:

We’ve become so used to American and Irish novelists polishing their sentences till they glitter with ingenious similes and wise passions that the notion of another kind of poetic prose, one where the poetry is in the larger structure rather than word by word, seems alien now. But that is what Occupied City is, and perhaps the novel as collection-of-poems-and-prose is where a novelist takes shelter during the periods when the prose can’t seem to take the weight of the stories any more. It doesn’t always succeed, and it is not easy to read, but what it is trying to do is ambitious. The rhythms of its framing passages are poets’ rhythms; its repetitions are choruses.

Ash for hair, soil for skin, among the flakes and the sod
We defy the fire and the rake, the spade and the grave
The grave in the earth, the grave in the sky
In the abyss of the sky, in the abyss of the earth
Your earth, your sky. Not our sky, not
our earth
not here, not now
Now into the heights, we
fall, into the depths . . .

It seems to me that one reason younger writers might become interested in formal innovation is because often "the prose can’t seem to take the weight of the stories any more." In my case this was, and still is, true.

I'll leave this topic here, open to discussion.

(I have seen, incidentally, the film adaptations of Peace's Red Riding Trilogy and they are riveting.)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

We live in an age where satire doesn't work.

Satire is soooooooo Twentieth Century, given that it was invented by hippies and librul college professors and can't be understood anyway.

Satire said greed is good. And behold, it is.

Satire began with A Modest Proposal, which, if published today, would have inspired sales of cookbooks and a line of cookware suitable for roasting Irish babies.

Instead it inspired a generation of anti-abortionists, one of whom, while initially an ardent fan of satire, has now come to realize that satire doesn't work.

Satire, like leadership, is the ability to ignore and subvert the will of the majority while claiming to represent it.

Today people understand that if everyone in their social circle believes something, then it's true beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Today people propose modest proposals with a completely straight face, unaware that (once upon a time) a modest proposal was considered immodest.

And satire is just a synonym for wit.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Can University Presses survive this recession?

My local newspaper of choice recently printed an AP article about the possible demise of Louisiana State University Press. Seems in an era where universities are being squeezed of funding by their states, one likely victim will be the University Press.

Chancellor Michael Martin doesn't question the prestige the Louisiana State University Press brings to his school, with Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction and poetry, tomes on Southern history and culture and other noted works to its credit.

What it doesn't bring in is revenue, and, like cash-strapped colleges across the country, LSU is getting tired of propping up its press.

The school has said the 74-year-old original publisher of "A Confederacy of Dunces" doesn't generate enough money to independently function.
Fiction International understands the problem, which is why we began a drive to increase revenue. We applied a few basic accounting techniques to get expenses in line, then started (and continue) looking for subscribers. We created an online presence (including this blog) and went looking for past, present, and future contributors and avid readers.

The result is a journal that is - for now - making enough money to cover our publishing costs. A journal that is - for now - safe from the university's budget ax.

Who will be hurt most by this latest cost-cutting move by universities are the contributors, most of whom teach and need the publishing credit to retain their jobs. There are few markets for short fiction and poetry, and most are affiliated with a University, so losing fiction and poetry journals will be a severe blow.

If a university wants to save their publications, they need to find within their department an administrator who knows both literature and business. Imagine the revenue LSU Press would have if it had - for example - the publishing revenue from A Confederacy of Dunces when it was hot, instead of well after its money-generating days were over. (LSU Press quietly resumed publication of the Larg-Print version, while Penguin Classics publishes the version assigned by literature classes.)

So could LSU Press or any other university press make enough changes in their way of thinking about literature and the marketplace to increase their revenue enough to survive the recession? Yes they can.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sartre's Wall

In 1939, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote a short story titled, "The Wall." It takes place in Franco's Spain, and concerns a group of men about to be executed as anarchists - against a prison wall.

"Something is going to happen to us than I can't understand."

There was a strange smell about Tom. It seemed to me I was more sensitive than usual to odors. I grinned. "You'll understand in a while."

"It isn't clear," he said obstinately. "I want to be brave but first I have to know. . . .Listen, they're going to take us into the courtyard. Good. They're going to stand up in front of us. How many?"

"l don't know. Five or eight. Not more."

"All right. There'll be eight. Someone'll holler 'aim!' and I'll see eight rifles looking at me. I'll think how I'd like to get inside the wall, I'll push against it with my back. . . . with every ounce of strength I have, but the wall will stay, like in a nightmare. I can imagine all that. If you only knew how well I can imagine it."

"All right, all right!" I said. "I can imagine it too."