Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

A song to listen to while imagining the following strange and macabre tale...

* * *

murderous mary elephant

"Mary was the biggest elephant in the Sparks World Famous Shows circus, weighing in at about five tons. On September 12, 1916, the circus played the town of Kingsport, Tennessee. Walter ‘Red’ Eldridge was hired just the day before to work for the circus as an elephant handler, even though he had no experience with the animals.

On September 12th, Eldridge was riding Mary to a water hole so that she could drink. There are varying stories, but the most common version of what happened that day started with Mary veering off path to eat a piece of watermelon lying in the road. When Eldridge prodded the side of her head in an attempt to make her stay on course, she used her trunk to snatch him off her back. Then, she forcefully threw him into a wooden drink stand, walked over to his battered and bruised body, and proceeded to crush his skull with her enormous foot. Bystanders watched in horror as Eldridge’s blood and brains oozed onto the street.

The townspeople demanded that Mary be killed. Other towns the circus had scheduled to perform in said the circus was not welcome as long as Mary was in the show.

Debates on how to kill Mary ensued. It was determined that no gun existed big enough to take her down. Electrocution and canons were other proposed methods. Finally, it was decided that Mary would be hung from a rail yard crane in the nearby town of Erwin, Tennessee. The execution was heavily advertised, and the following day a crowd of more than 2,500 people, including children, gathered to witness her death.

Mary’s leg was tied to the crane so she could not escape, and a chain was put around her neck. On first attempt, the chain around her neck snapped. She fell to the ground and broke her hip. Reports say that the sound of her bones breaking was heard by the thousands of onlookers. A larger chain was placed around her neck and she was hoisted up again. This time, the hanging was a success. Mary was dead. They let her hang for a half an hour, then her huge body was buried in the rail yard.

The people of Erwin say they would like to forget that the town ever played a part in the hanging of Mary."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009



i cant believe you havent seen batman begins! i watch it every morning from 8-10. i cant get enough! when i watch it i pretend that i'm a super cool hero whom people both love and fear, and then i smile realizing that in fact that's who i am! it's invigorating. but you would do yourself good to keep away from such poor films. they will stifle your mind, your creativity, your self image, your perception of the world... they will do real harm. every bad movie or book that someone experiences is like a hammer blow to the head. look around - you'll see that i'm right. so many bashed, unrepairable skulls. have they no self respect? and i know that you sometimes watch garbage films with an eye towards irony, but i don't approve of that either. why put yourself above something? that's always been my motto. there are too many great films and books for us to waste our time on garbage. it might be too late for me xxxxxxx, but you can still save yourself.

before i forget, i wanted to recommend you something. last night i was bored so i sat down to watch a movie, david lynch's cartoon series dumbland. i soon realized it was not dumbland, but frownland. being the adventurous sort to whom rules do not apply, i pressed "play" just the same. well, this movie, frownland, is like a hammer blow to the head, but in a good way. a great way, in fact. it helped me drain out some refuse. my self image as a batman like super-cool-hero was annihilated. watching this film is like being zapped by a shrink ray and then flushed down the toilet. (since your imagination is not very powerful i will translate: it's akin to being spit on by so many people that you almost drown -- please forgive me if i've brought up painful memories!) it feels like a found artifact. "underground" in the sense that it was buried under miles of dirt, made for (and by) the mole people. you shouldn't be allowed to buy or rent this film. the director, ronald bronstein, should have burned copies to DVD and thrown them into dumpsters for the right people to find. and i do mean "the right people." this movie is not for everyone. richard hell once called bresson's le diable probablement the most punk rock movie ever made. i can see where he was coming from but i would now have to bestow that honor to frownland. i watched it twice. the second time i found it to be quite humorous and a very different experience from my first encounter. are you starting to get an idea xxxxxxx? the only films i can compare it to would be lodge kerrigan's keane or clean shaven, or maybe mike leigh's naked. or perhaps it would be helpful to say that it contains some of the best qualities of george romero's martin, though i don't care much for that film. amy taubin compared it to eraserhead. it also reminded me of taxi driver somewhat, but in terms of films about alienation, taxi driver cannot compete - it's far too safe. (not that either film can be boiled down to a single word.) anyway, none of this will give you a good idea because frownland is wholly its own thing. it is so unique, so singular in its vision that i wanted to make sure you knew to see it since i have long suspected that you are one of the mole people. oh, and i forgot to mention dore mann. it's worth seeing for his performance alone. amazing. by the time the movie was over i could see some of myself in the inarticulate, rambling keith, in particular during an argument with his roommate where i felt as if i was reliving an argument i had with one of my articulate (and demented) friends. (no, not you.) it's strange and beautiful how the movie manages to work like this, exposing the troll under our skin. anyway, that's all for now. thanks for taking the time to read this. i really appreciate it.

* * *

frownland Ronald Bronstein
frownland dore mann
* * *

From an interview with Ronald Bronstein:

JK: Frownland was excruciating for me to sit through at first, especially during that first 20 minutes. I was having a really tough time—and I can tolerate a lot. I can watch the slowest Iranian film where almost nothing seems to happen. I wouldn’t have bothered watching the rest if my editor hadn’t advised me to stick with it, and ultimately I’m glad I made the commitment. But plugging into Frownland is a huge challenge.

RB: It’s funny that you bring up Iranian cinema, or even the more modern equivalent of what is coming out of Asia right now, where it’s this sort of conceptualization of the quotidian. You’re watching somebody move through their apartment, making eggs in real time. But there’s something about those movies where they telegraph their intentions as art from the moment the movie begins. In a way, you feel in very safe hands. If you define yourself as an art enthusiast, you can relax into that because it is all framed under this conceptual veneer, for better or worse. I read this quote from Picasso on the back of a magazine that said good taste is the enemy of art, and feel like orientation is the enemy of art. It can help to be thrown out of your comfort zone a bit, and when a film telegraphs its intentions in a way that can be related to other movies, you can feel like you’re being enriched while at the same time being lulled into a very safe zone.

I was excited by the idea of tossing people into an experience that did not have those kinds of semaphores. Where you ask, “Was this good? Was this bad? Is this inept? Is this intentional? Is this a comedy? Is this a drama?” You’re forced to fend for yourself, in the hopes that it would make the film a more impacting experience.

Most movies that focus on outsiders, losers or misfits tend to romanticize the character in a way that coddles the sensibilities of the audience, and makes them feel more tolerant of the character than they would be in real life. They appeal to the loser in everyone, and can give little tricks to the character to make them seem sympathetic. I was actively trying to avoid that. You run across people in life who seem off. The reaction this instills in you is almost Darwinian. Anyone who has ever worked retail knows exactly what I’m talking about. The kind of person who would stop you on the street and ask for directions, before you know it, before you’ve even thought about it, you instinctively find yourself saying, “I’m sorry, I don’t live around here,” even though you know exactly where they need to go. You want to get that person out of your territorial bubble. In life you can dismiss someone like that so easily, go about your business, and not really address whether that rejection was justified. By making the viewer spend time with someone like Keith, I hoped they would find grounds for sympathy, but not coerce someone into a sympathetic point of view. I mean, this guy is totally unable to read social cues, which isn’t a saintly quality by any means. But he isn’t a bad guy. He’s more of a lost soul.

* * *


"Whoever put this movie out should be ashamed of themselves. A stinky pile of rotting waste materials covered in rabid hairless rodents with a putrid liquid oozing from all orafices." -Netflix reviewer

"For viewers who like to know exactly where they stand with their characters, Frownland will be a discomfiting experience. For those who find exhilaration in work that challenges convention and reflects the sloppiness of real life, it will come as an electrocuting revelation. [...] Bronstein’s decision to embrace this aesthetic—a seemingly anachronistic decision for the digitally driven early 21st Century—results in a truly freakish tone. Combined with Paul Grimstad’s synthesized score and an absence of up-to-the-minute pop culture references, Frownland feels like a 1983 filmmaker’s vision of a rundown, futuristic New York City." -Michael Tully

"The movie's energy is so peculiar, its vision of socially maladjusted loners so scathingly funny and its creative choices so uncompromising that the result is not just memorable, but haunting... It's a horror film about everyday life in which characters who fail to recognize their own freakish aspects behave monstrously toward others." -Matt Zoller Seitz

"One of the most unusual and audacious American independent films ever made." -Richard Brody, The New Yorker

"This is personal cinema at its most uncompromising and fierce."
- Manohla Dargis, The New York Times

“When US independent film has become so drab, marching on Sundance to better reach Hollywood, it is high time it regained the essence it lost twenty years ago...This is the reason why Frownland is so important.” – Cahiers Du Cinema.

“There is some kind of demented brilliance at work here.”
- Scott Foundas, The Village Voice

dore mann frownland
frownland grimstad charles

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Doors and Windows

max ernst doors paul eluard
Max Ernst, 1923.
Painted doors from Paul Éluard's house in Eaubonne

* * *

window sliding board slideA siege tower was a specialized siege engine, constructed to protect assailants and ladders while approaching the defensive walls of a fortification. The user, typically a child, climbed the ladder to the top, sat down, and then slid to the bottom. Those trapped inside the fortification would witness this act and long to participate. The siege tower would then drop a gangplank between it and the wall, ensuring an easy slide. Professional siege towers were covered or enclosed by a sheath of plastic. This allowed slide participants to have more privacy and security when sliding.

Monday, October 19, 2009

David Benoit: Televangelist. (aka The Most Horrible Christian Fundamentalist Moment Ever)

Even John Waters is shaking his head...

(Imagine what he would be like if Jesus hadn't made him so compassionate!)

Benoit's impression of the burn victim the first time I watched the video was less funny than it was appalling (though it was still so appalling that I found it humorous). Subsequent viewings provided me with much more laughter -- laughter borne out of disbelief -- especially when I skip right to that section. It's hard to watch that scene completely isolated from its context without part of your brain insisting you're watching a comedy sketch. And as a sketch on why so many people loathe fundamentalist Christians, it would be tough to come up with something better.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Joseph Pujol: Le Pétomane

The true story of the highest paid and most popular French performer of fin de siècle France. The story of a man who hobnobbed with artists like Renoir and Matisse. A genius who it is said was beloved by classical giants Ravel and Faure. A man of whom Sartre would supposedly later proclaim: "He gets it!"

"One summer's day in the mid-1860's, a young French boy named Joseph Pujol had a frightening experience at the seashore. Swimming out alone, he held his breath and dove underwater. Suddenly an icy cold feeling penetrated his gut. Frightened, he ran ashore, but then received a second shock when he noticed seawater streaming from his anus. The experience so disturbed the lad that his mother took him to a doctor to allay his fears. The doctor complied.

The boy didn't know it at the time, but this unsettling rectal experience at the beach not only indicated no illness, but it also foretold of a gift that would later make him the toast of Paris and one of the most popular and successful performers of his generation.

Joseph Pujol was born in Marseilles on June 1, 1857 to Francois Pujol and Rose Demaury, a respected stonemason/sculptor and his wife, both of whom had emigrated from Catalan. Young Joseph went to school until the age of 13, whereupon he apprenticed himself to a baker. Several years later, he served in the French army.

While in the army, he mentioned his childhood sea-bathing experience to his buddies. They immediately wanted to know if he could do it again, so on a day's leave soon afterward he went out to the shore to swim and experiment. He successfully reenacted the hydraulics of his childhood experience there and even discovered that by contracting his abdomen muscles, he could intentionally take up as much water as he liked and eject it in a powerful stream. Demonstrating this ability back at the barracks later provided the soldiers with no end of amusement, and soon Pujol started to practice with air instead of water, giving him the ability to produce a variety of sounds. This new development provided even more enjoyment for his buddies. It was then and there, in the army, that Pujol invented a nickname for himself that would later become a stage name synonymous throughout Europe with helpless, hysterical laughter: "Le Petomane" (translation: "The Fartiste").

After his stint in the army, Pujol returned to Marseille and to a bakeshop his father set him up in, on a street that, today, proudly bears the name "rue Pujol." At the age of 26 he married Elizabeth Henriette Oliver, the 20-year-old daughter of a local butcher. Pujol enjoyed performing, so in the evenings he entertained at local music halls by singing, doing comedy routines, and even playing his trombone backstage between numbers. He continued amusing his friends privately with his "other" wind instrument, but only at their suggestion and urging did he decide to turn this parlor trick into a full-fledged act for public audiences.

Pujol worked up a Le Petomane routine, and with some friends he rented a space in Marseille to perform it in. They promoted the show heavily themselves through posters and handouts, but word-of-mouth soon took over and they packed the house every night. Fin de siecle European audiences, deeply repressed but newly prosperous and trying to be modern -- the same people Freud observed (Freud was one year older than Pujol)-- must have found a man on stage building an entire act out of mock farting and other forms of anal play considerably more shockingly funny than we would today. Pujol's was a good act by any era's standards, but back then his scatology hit a raw nerve, and hit it hard, at an especially vulnerable time. Like Alfred Jarry, whose epoch-makingly scatological Ubu Roi actually post-dates Pujol's Paris debut by several years, Pujol was a French Revolutionary of the modern theater. Jarry gets the credit today because he was a "serious playwright" and not a lowbrow cabaret performer, but Pujol clearly laid some of the groundwork.

Word-of-mouth spread reports of the quality and uniqueness of Pujol's new show, and soon people from all over Marseille were coming to see it.

After the hometown success, Pujol's friends urged him to take the act to Paris. Pujol hoped to, but cautiously decided to play several other provincial cities first to refine the act and test the breadth of its appeal before taking it to the capital. He performed in Toulon, Bordeaux, and Clermont-Ferrand with great success, and in 1892 was finally ready to try his act at Paris's Moulin Rouge. It was then that Pujol reputedly uttered a line oft-repeated in cabaret lore; looking up at the windmill sails of the landmark Moulin Rouge ("Red Mill") building, he exclaimed, "The sails of the Moulin Rouge-- what a marvelous fan for my act!"

In getting booked at the Moulin Rouge, Pujol wasted no time. He walked in and demanded to see the director with such confidence that the secretary showed him in immediately. He then told the director, a man named either Zidler or Oller depending on whose account you follow (I'll use "Oller"), "I am Le Petomane, and I want an engagement in your establishment." He said that he was a phenomenon and that his gift would be the talk of Paris. When Oller asked for an explanation, he calmly replied, "You see, sir, my anus is of such elasticity that I can open and shut it at will. . . . I can absorb any quantity of liquid I may be given. . .[and] I can expel an almost infinite quantity of odorless gas." After this, he gave Oller a quick demonstration.

Oller put Pujol on stage that very night.

Pujol dressed formally for his act, wearing a coat, red breeches, white stockings, gloves, and patent leather shoes-- a stuffy, old-fashioned outfit that, coupled with his unrelentingly deadpan delivery, must have set up an abrasive comedic dissonance against the actual content of his performance. To begin his act he introduced himself and explained that he was about to demonstrate the art of "petomanie." He further explained that he could break wind at will, but assured his audience not to worry because his parents had "ruined themselves" in scenting his rectum.

Then Le Petomane performed some imitations, using the simple, honest format of announcing and then demonstrating. He displayed his wide sonic range with tenor, baritone, and bass fart sounds. He imitated the farts of a little girl, a mother-in-law, a bride on her wedding night (tiny), the same bride the day after (loud), and a mason (dry-- "no cement"). He imitated thunder, cannons ("Gunners stand by your guns! Ready-- fire!!"), and even the sound of a dressmaker tearing two yards of calico (a full 10-second rip). After the imitations, Le Petomane popped backstage to put one end of a yard-long rubber tube into his anus. He returned and smoked a cigarette from this tube, after which he used it to play a couple of tunes on a song flute. For his finale he removed the rubber tube, blew out some of the gas-jet footlights from a safe distance away, and then led the audience in a rousing sing- along.

This first night, a few tightly-corseted women in the audience literally fainted from laughing so hard. Oller immediately gave Pujol a contract to perform at the Moulin Rouge, elsewhere in France, and abroad. Turning audience-fainting into a great gimmick, Oller later conspicuously stationed white-uniformed nurses in the hall at each Le Petomane show and instructed them to carry out any audience members rendered particularly helpless by the hilarity. Meanwhile, to quash any rumors that his performance was faked, Pujol occasionally gave private men-only performances clad in a bathing suit with a large hole in the seat rather than his concealing regular costume.

It was after one of these private performances that a distinguished-looking man put a 20 franc gold coin in the collection plate. When Pujol questioned him, he turned out to be the King of Belgium, who had come incognito just to see his act.

After signing up with the Moulin Rouge in 1892, Pujol moved his growing family (starting in 1885, Pujol and his wife had a child every two years for eighteen years) into a chalet staffed by servants who soon became family friends. As he predicted, he became the talk of Paris, and admirers saluted him affectionately as he rode by in his carriage. Paris doctors examined him and published an article in La Semaine Medicale that described his health but offered no new explanation for his ability. It did however record that he could rectally project a jet of water 4 to 5 yards. Box office receipts alone attest to Le Petomane's popularity. One Sunday the Moulin Rouge took in 20,000 francs for a Le Petomane performance, an amount which dwarfs the 8000 francs typically grossed by Sarah Bernhardt at the peak of her career there.

But another thing happened in 1892 that provoked a series of battles between Pujol and Moulin Rouge management, the litigious nature of which makes it sound more like 1992. Pujol visited a friend of his who sold gingerbread, and to attract customers to his friend's stall, he did some Petomane tricks right there in the marketplace. Word of this "unauthorized performance" got back to Oller, who took it up with Pujol and threatened to sue. Over the next couple of years, Pujol, who dreamed of opening up his own travelling theater, had more rows with Oller. In 1894, Oller brought suit against Pujol over the gingerbread stall incident and won. Pujol was fined 3000 Francs. The next year, Pujol left the Moulin Rouge to start his own venture, the Theatre Pompadour. Soon after Pujol left, the Moulin Rouge put up a new act, billed as a "Woman Petomane" (they concealed a bellows under her skirt). Pujol then brought a lawsuit against the Moulin Rouge for plagiarizing his idea. At about the same time, however, a newspaper panned the "Woman Petomane" act, and the actress, Angele Thiebeau, sued the paper for libel. The judgement against Thiebeau was so harshly worded and humilating that Pujol, satisfied at the harm done to the Moulin Rouge's reputation, withdrew his own lawsuit against them.

Pujol's new Theatre Pompadour included mime and magic and other acts performed by Pujol's family and performer friends. He changed his own act into a woodland tale told in doggerel punctuated at the end of each couplet by Le Petomane sound effects and imitations of the animal and bird characters in the story. Paris audiences liked the winning charm of this home-grown variety show and still yucked it up at Pujol's fart noises, so the Theater Pompadour prospered for many years.

Le Petomane continued to be an enormous draw in his new venue until around 1900, when the interest of the show-going public began to wane. The Pompadour continued to do pretty well, however, until World War I, when four of Pujol's sons went off to fight and the theater had to close down. One son was taken prisoner and two of the others became invalids, and Pujol was so shattered that after the war he had no interest in returning to his performing career. The family moved back to Marseille and Pujol ran bakeries with his sons and unmarried daughters. In 1922, he and his family moved to Toulon and he set up a biscuit factory which he gave to his children to manage. He lived the rest of his life there, surrounded by his many dearly loved children and grandchildren. His wife died in 1930 and he died in 1945. One medical school offered the family 25,000 francs to be allowed to examine his body, but out of respect, reverence and love for this warm, funny, and caring man, not one of his children agreed to let them." — Paul Spinrad

"In the following decade Pujol tried to 'refine' and make his acts 'gentler'; one of his favourite numbers became a rhyme about a farm which he himself composed, and which he punctuated with the usual anal renditions of the animals' sounds. The climax of his act however involved him farting his impression of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake." — wikipedia

Monday, October 12, 2009

Bukowski on music and movies

The DVD of Barbet Schroeder's The Charles Bukowski Tapes (click to view number 2) has recently gone out of print. The two disc set consists of 52 short interview segments with Bukowski, a few of which will be familiar to those who have seen the 2003 documentary Born into This. For anyone interested, the film is still currently available through Netflix. I watched it last week, and it has put Bukowski on my mind, causing me to revisit his work.

The following is an excerpt taken from a journal entry Bukowski made Febuary 27th, 1993 that was published posthumously in The Captain Is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship.

* * *

"Why are there so few interesting people? Out of the millions, why aren't there a few? Must we continue to live with this drab and ponderous species? Seems their only act is Violence. They are so good at that. They truly blossom. Shit flowers, stinking up our chance. Problem is, I must continue to interact with them. That is, if I want the lights to go on, if I want this computer repaired, if I want to flush the toilet, buy a new tire, get a tooth pulled or my gut cut open, I must continue to interact. I need the fuckers for the minute necessities, even if they, themselves, appall me. And appall is a kind word.

But they pound on my consciousness with their failure in vital areas. For instance, every day as I drive to the track I keep punching the radio to different stations looking for music, decent music. It's all bad, flat, lifeless, tuneless, listless. Yet some of these compositions sell in millions and their creators consider themselves true Artists. It's horrible, horrible drivel entering the minds of young heads. They like it. Christ, hand them shit, they eat it up. Can't they discern? Can't they hear? Can't they feel the dilution, the staleness?

crumb bukowski
I can't believe that there is nothing. I keep punching in new stations. I've had my car less than a year yet the button I push has the black paint completely worn off. It is white, ivory-like, staring at me.

Well, yes, there is classical music. I finally have to settle for that. But I know that is always there for me. I listen to that 3 or 4 hours a night. But I still keep searching for other music. It's just not there. It should be there. It disturbs me. We've been cheated out of a whole other area. Think of all the people alive who have never heard decent music. No wonder their faces are falling off, no wonder they kill thoughtlessly, no wonder the heart is missing.

Well, what can I do? Nothing.

The movies are just as bad. I will listen to or read the critics. A great movie, they will say. And I will go see said movie. And sit there feeling like a fucking fool, feeling robbed, tricked. I can guess each scene before it arrives. And the obvious motives of the characters, what drives them, what they yearn for, what is of importance to them is so juvenile and pathetic, so boringly gross. The love bits are galling, old hat, precious drivel.

I believe that most people see too many movies. And certainly the critics. When they say that a movie is great, they mean it's great in relation to other movies they have seen. They've lost their overview. They are clubbed by more and more new movies. They just don't know, they are lost in it all. They have forgotten what really stinks, which is almost everything they view.

And let's not even talk about television."

* * *

In The Captain Is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship, Bukowski is at his most misanthropic and despairing. And lonely. He died just over a year after the final entry.

"We're all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn't. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing."

* * *

Here is an excerpt from Howard Sounes' biography Charles Bukowski: Locked in the Arms of a Crazy Life. It's the only specific information I have regarding Bukowski's taste in movies:

"Bukowski was not overawed by film actors because he had little regard for their work. He could count on the fingers of one hand the films he liked. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and All Quiet on the Western Front would be among them. Being more culturally sophisticated than is generally supposed, he also liked Akira Kurosawa's work and his all time favorite movie was Eraserhead. Bukowski demonstrated his dislike for mainstream movies, and their stars, when he met Arnold Schwarzenegger in September, 1985, at a birthday party for Michael Montfort's wife. For no particular reason, other than he felt like picking a fight, Bukowski told Schwarzenegger he was a piece of shit. "Hank was certainly not overly impressed with any of it," says Harry Dean Stanton. "He didn't care much for many movies, as I don't. Anybody who is perceptive is not going to talk about the thousands of great movies. It is relative to any art form. Excellence in any field is always a rarity.'"

* * *

from The Charles Bukowski Tapes:

"Anybody that can see the opposite of what’s going on, I think is exceptional. Any place you go, if you see 50 people standing in one line and 4 people standing in another, you know which line to get into, dontcha baby? The masses are always wrong. Wisdom is doing everything the crowd does not do. All you do is reverse the totality of their learning and you have the heaven they’re looking for. It’s a basic wisdom, whichever way the crowd goes, run the other direction. Through centuries they’re always wrong and they will always be wrong."

Saturday, October 10, 2009


alfred jarry
(Note: In the famous anecdote that follows, Apollinaire mistakenly says that Jarry lived on the third floor and a half when it was actually the second and a half.)

* * *

"Monsieur Jarry?"

"On the third floor and a half," answered the concierge.

The answer astonished me. But I climbed up to where Jarry lived -– actually on the third floor and a half. The ceilings of the building had appeared wastefully high to the owner and he had doubled the number of stories by cutting them in half horizontally. This building, which is still standing, had therefore about fifteen floors; but since it rose no higher than the other buildings in the quarter, it amounted to merely the reduction of a skyscraper.

It turned out that Jarry's place was filled with reductions. This half-floor room was the reduction of an apartment in which its occupant was quite comfortable standing up. But being taller than he, I had to stay in a stoop. The bed was the reduction of a bed; that is to say, a mere pallet. Jarry said that low beds were coming back into fashion. The writing table was the reduction of a table, for Jarry wrote flat on his stomach on the floor. The furniture was the reduction of furniture–there was only the bed. On the wall hung the reduction of a picture. It was a portrait, most of which he had burned away, leaving only the head, which resembled a certain lithograph I know of Balzac. The library was the reduction of a library, and that is saying a lot for it. It was composed of a cheap edition of Rabelais and two or three volumes of the Bibliotheque rose. On the mantel stood a large stone phallus, a gift from Felicien Rops. Jarry kept this member, which was considerably larger than life size, always covered with a violet skullcap of velvet, ever since the day the exotic monolith had frightened a certain literary lady who was all out of breath from climbing two and a half floors and at a loss how to act in this unfurnished cell.

"Is that a cast?" the lady asked.

"No," said Jarry. "It's a reduction."

alfred jarry, apartment, interior, apollinaire, reduction, and a half, floor, chasublery
Above: Jarry's "Chasublery" in the 1950s. (The small half-shuttered window is his.)

alfred jarry, apartment, interior, apollinaire, reduction, and a half, floor, chasublery

Thursday, October 08, 2009

"The more knowledge one gains, the more important becomes the question of what that knowledge will be used for."

"It should come as no surprise that in their deliriums psychiatric patients are always confusing themselves with political figures, that we agree that our leaders are the root of all our ills, that we like to grumble so much about them and that this grumbling is the consecration that crowns them as our masters. Here, politics is not considered something outside of us but as part of ourselves. The life we invest in these figures is the same life that's taken from us."

* * *

In light of the recent online publication of Communiqué from an Absent Future, I've decided to post my favorite excerpts from The Coming Insurrection. I marked these passages back in late June as I read the book, but I never got around to posting them because the book itself left me underwhelmed. Now, months later, The Coming Insurrection has been discussed and written about extensively, most humorously by Glenn Beck who condemned it without having read it, and recently an excerpt even appeared in an issue of Harper's (which also struck me as humorous). One of the best critiques can be found HERE (scroll down to part II).

I've decided to post the excerpts now for two reasons. 1.) As I said, The Coming Insurrection seems more prescient in light of the publication of Communiqué from an Absent Future (and other goings ons). 2.) Because I opened the book a few days ago to re-read the selections, and I was surprised by how good many of them were. I don't remember the majority of the book being as good as these excerpts, but I also don't remember the majority of the excerpts being as good as they are. Perhaps they work best divorced from the text where they can exist without preconceptions. Or perhaps I simply expected too much from an over-hyped manifesto titled The Coming Insurrection, and the entire book is better than I first thought.

* * *

"The injunction, everywhere, to “be someone” maintains the pathological state that makes this society necessary. The injunction to be strong produces the very weakness by which it maintains itself, so that everything seems to take on a therapeutic character, even working, even love. All those “how’s it goings?” that we exchange give the impression of a society composed of patients taking each other's temperature. Sociability is now made up of a thousand little niches, a thousand little refuges where you can take shelter. Where it's always better than the bitter cold outside. Where everything's false, since it's all just a pretext for getting warmed up. Where nothing can happen since we're all too busy shivering silently together. Soon this society will only be held together by the mere tension of all the social atoms straining towards an illusory cure. It's a power plant that runs its turbines on a gigantic reservoir of unwept tears, always on the verge of spilling over." p. 30-31

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"Contrary to what has been repeated to us since childhood, intelligence doesn't mean knowing how to adapt – or if that is a kind of intelligence, it's the intelligence of slaves. Our inadaptability, our fatigue, are only problems from the standpoint of what aims to subjugate us. They indicate rather a starting point, a meeting point, for new complicities. They reveal a landscape more damaged, but infinitely more sharable than all the fantasy lands this society maintains for its purposes.

We are not depressed; we’re on strike. For those who refuse to manage themselves, “depression” is not a state but a passage, a bowing out, a sidestep towards a political disaffiliation. From then on medication and the police are the only possible forms of conciliation. This is why the present society doesn't hesitate to impose Ritalin on its over-active children, or to strap people into life-long dependence on pharmaceuticals, and why it claims to be able to detect “behavioral disorders” at age three. Because everywhere the hypothesis of the self is beginning to crack." p. 34

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"It would be a waste of time to detail all that is moribund in existing social relations. They say the family is coming back, the couple is coming back. But the family that's coming back is not the same one that went away. Its return is nothing but a deepening of the reigning separation that it serves to mask, becoming what it is through this masquerade. Everyone can testify to the doses of sadness condensed from year to year in family gatherings, the forced smiles, the awkwardness of seeing everyone pretending in vain, the feeling that a corpse is lying there on the table, and everyone acting as though it were nothing. From flirtation to divorce, from cohabitation to stepfamilies, everyone feels the inanity of the sad family nucleus, but most seem to believe that it would be sadder still to give it up. The family is no longer so much the suffocation of maternal control or the patriarchy of beatings as it is this infantile abandon to a fuzzy dependency, where everything is familiar, this carefree moment in the face of a world that nobody can deny is breaking down, a world where “becoming self-sufficient” is a euphemism for “finding a boss.” They want to use the “familiarity” of the biological family as an excuse to undermine anything that burns passionately within us and, under the pretext that they raised us, make us renounce the possibility of growing up, as well as everything that is serious in childhood. We need to guard against such corrosion." p. 40-41

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"To cope with the uniformity that surrounds us, our only option is to constantly renovate our own interior world, like a child who constructs the same little house over and over again, or like Robinson Crusoe reproducing his shopkeeper's universe on a desert island – yet our desert island is civilization itself, and there are billions of us continually washing up on it."


"The world would not be moving so fast if it didn’t have to constantly outrun its own collapse."
p. 60

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"And these lips which swell up after I bite the apple – but it came from the farmer's market. The simplest gestures have become toxic. One dies at the age of 35 from “a prolonged illness” that's to be managed just like one manages everything else. We should've seen it coming before we got to this place, to ward B of the palliative care center.

We have to admit it: this whole “catastrophe,” which they so noisily inform us about, doesn’t really touch us. At least not until we are hit by one of its foreseeable consequences. It may concern us, but it doesn’t touch us. And that is the real catastrophe." p. 73-74

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"The situation is like this: they hired our parents to destroy this world, and now they'd like to put us to work rebuilding it, and – to top it all off – at a profit. The morbid excitement that animates journalists and advertisers these days as they report each new proof of global warming reveals the steely smile of the new green capitalism, in the making since the 70s, which we expected at the turn of the century but which never came. Well, here it is! It's sustainability! Alternative solutions, that's it too! The health of the planet demands it! No doubt about it anymore, it's a green scene; the environment will be the pivot of the 21st century political economy. A new volley of “industrial solutions” comes with each new catastrophic possibility.


...the new solution to the global energy crisis goes to show how much the new solutions resemble the old problems." p. 75-77

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"What is presented everywhere as an ecological catastrophe has never stopped being, above all, the manifestation of a disastrous relationship to the world. Inhabiting a nowhere makes us vulnerable to the slightest jolt in the system, to the slightest climactic risk. As the latest tsunami approached and the tourists continued to frolic in the waves, the islands' hunter-gatherers hastened to flee the coast, following the birds. Environmentalism's present paradox is that under the pretext of saving the planet from desolation it merely saves the causes of its desolation.

The normal functioning of the world serves to hide our state of truly catastrophic dispossession. What is called “catastrophe” is no more than the forced suspension of this state, one of those rare moments when we regain some sort of presence in the world." p. 80-81

* * *

"What makes the crisis desirable is that in the crisis the environment ceases to be the environment. We are forced to reestablish contact, albeit a potentially fatal one, with what's there, to rediscover the rhythms of reality. What surrounds us is no longer a landscape, a panorama, a theater, but something to inhabit, something we need to come to terms with, something we can learn from. We won't let ourselves be led astray by the ones who've brought about the “catastrophe.” Where the managers platonically discuss among themselves how they might decrease emissions “without breaking the bank,” the only realistic option we can see is to “break the bank” as soon as possible and, in the meantime, take advantage of every collapse in the system to increase our own strength." p.82

* * *

"Today the West is the GI who dashes into Fallujah on an M1 Abrams tank, listening to heavy metal at top volume. It's the tourist lost on the Mongolian plains, mocked by all, who clutches his credit card as his only lifeline. It's the CEO who swears by the game Go. It's the young girl who looks for happiness in clothes, guys, and moisturizing creams. It's the Swiss human rights activist who travels to the four corners of the earth to show solidarity with all the world's rebels – provided they've been defeated. It's the Spaniard who couldn't care less about political freedom now that he's been granted sexual freedom. It's the art lover who wants us to be awestruck before the “modern genius” of a century of artists, from surrealism to Viennese actionism, all competing to see who could best spit in the face of civilization. It's the cyberneticist who's found a realistic theory of consciousness in Buddhism and the quantum physicist who's hoping that dabbling in Hindu metaphysics will inspire new scientific discoveries.

The West is a civilization that has survived all the prophecies of its collapse with a singular stratagem. Just as the bourgeoisie had to deny itself as a class in order to permit the bourgeoisification of society as a whole, from the worker to the baron; just as capital had to sacrifice itself as a wage relation in order to impose itself as a social relation – becoming cultural capital and health capital in addition to finance capital; just as Christianity had to sacrifice itself as a religion in order to survive as an affective structure – as a vague injunction to humility, compassion, and weakness; so the West has sacrificed itself as a particular civilization in order to impose itself as a universal culture. The operation can be summarized like this: an entity in its death throws sacrifices itself as a content in order to survive as a form." p. 90-91

Sunday, October 04, 2009

UCSC Occupation

"University life finally appears as just what it has always been: a machine for producing compliant producers and consumers. Even leisure is a form of job training. The idiot crew of the frat houses drink themselves into a stupor with all the dedication of lawyers working late at the office. Kids who smoked weed and cut class in high-school now pop Adderall and get to work. We power the diploma factory on the treadmills in the gym. We run tirelessly in elliptical circles.

It makes little sense, then, to think of the university as an ivory tower in Arcadia, as either idyllic or idle. “Work hard, play hard” has been the over-eager motto of a generation in training for…what?—drawing hearts in cappuccino foam or plugging names and numbers into databases. The gleaming techno-future of American capitalism was long ago packed up and sold to China for a few more years of borrowed junk. A university diploma is now worth no more than a share in General Motors.

We work and we borrow in order to work and to borrow. And the jobs we work toward are the jobs we already have. Close to three quarters of students work while in school, many full-time; for most, the level of employment we obtain while students is the same that awaits after graduation. Meanwhile, what we acquire isn’t education; it’s debt. We work to make money we have already spent, and our future labor has already been sold on the worst market around. Average student loan debt rose 20 percent in the first five years of the twenty-first century—80-100 percent for students of color. Student loan volume—a figure inversely proportional to state funding for education—rose by nearly 800 percent from 1977 to 2003. What our borrowed tuition buys is the privilege of making monthly payments for the rest of our lives. What we learn is the choreography of credit: you can’t walk to class without being offered another piece of plastic charging 20 percent interest. Yesterday’s finance majors buy their summer homes with the bleak futures of today’s humanities majors.

This is the prospect for which we have been preparing since grade-school. Those of us who came here to have our privilege notarized surrendered our youth to a barrage of tutors, a battery of psychological tests, obligatory public service ops—the cynical compilation of half-truths toward a well-rounded application profile. No wonder we set about destroying ourselves the second we escape the cattle prod of parental admonition.


If the university teaches us primarily how to be in debt, how to waste our labor power, how to fall prey to petty anxieties, it thereby teaches us how to be consumers. Education is a commodity like everything else that we want without caring for. It is a thing, and it makes its purchasers into things. One’s future position in the system, one’s relation to others, is purchased first with money and then with the demonstration of obedience. First we pay, then we “work hard.” And there is the split: one is both the commander and the commanded, consumer and consumed. It is the system itself which one obeys, the cold buildings that enforce subservience. Those who teach are treated with all the respect of an automated messaging system. Only the logic of customer satisfaction obtains here: was the course easy? Was the teacher hot? Could any stupid asshole get an A? What’s the point of acquiring knowledge when it can be called up with a few keystokes? Who needs memory when we have the internet? A training in thought? You can’t be serious. A moral preparation? There are anti-depressants for that."

--from Communiqué from an Absent Future, September 24th, 2009

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* * *

Q. I take it you’ve followed the recent occupations at NYU and the New School, and perhaps earlier ones at Urbana-Champaign. Any lessons you’ve taken from those experiences?

A. We’ve received statements of solidarity from student groups across the country, including several schools along the east coast. We want to express our thanks for the support across the nation. Why stop at the borders of California? Let’s take this effort to escalate to the nation as well! Public universities are being run like corporations all across the U.S. This must be brought to an end.

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Lee Kang-sheng on The Colbert Report?

Lee Kang-sheng at the 64th Venice Film Festival

It was supposed to be a picture of University of Toronto Professor Kang Lee, who looks nothing like Lee Kang-sheng:

I guess someone googled "Kang Lee" and mistakenly decided on the picture of Lee Kang-sheng, but it doesn't really make sense to me. I've googled different variations of the two names and it took a long time of specific "Lee Kang-sheng" searching to find the exact picture they used, not to mention that in many of the searches the pictures that come up are clearly unrelated to the Toronto Professor. I'm surprised they didn't use this:

(In hopes of causing further confusion in the future, I have gone ahead and named the above picture "Professor Kang Lee.")

Watch the full Colbert video HERE. (starts around 2:20)