Archive for September, 2008

Once I Really Listened, the Noise Just Went Away

September 25, 2008

I’ve been hearing this song in my head for a week now. Perhaps it’s because I gave up coffee and sleeping pills, my mind is reaching out for something else to comfort me. I realized when thinking about the lyrics that the moments in my life when I’ve always felt the most anticipation are when I’m in a plane that’s landing and the earth looks like it was lit from within. That feeling quickly gets shoved aside in the rush to position oneself for a smooth exit out to the baggage claim (or to waiting areas where friends and family used to be allowed to wait), but for a few moments you can just feel potentiality breaking out all over the place. I’d love to actually be able to play this song when I’m landing somewhere, but that’s always when the stewardess comes by to make me put my music away. Luckily, my brain has apparently adapted to play music without a crutch.

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Intolerable Cruelty

September 24, 2008
Review of Uncanny X-Men #502 by Gilles Deleuze, citations taken from Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty & Venus in Furs.

Auteur: Matt Fraction
Artiste: Greg Land

Masochism is a story that relates how the superego was destroyed and by whom, and what was the sequel to this destruction.
The first is the hetaeric or Aphroditic era, born in the lustful chaos of primeval swamps: woman’s relations with man were many and fickle, the feminine principle was dominant and the father was “Nobody.” The second, or Demetrian era, dawned among the Amazons and established a strict gynocratic and agricultural order; the swamps were drained; the father or husband now acquired a certain status but he still remained under the domination of the woman. Finally the patriarchal or Apollinian system established itself, matriarchy surviving in degenerate Amazonian or even Dionysian forms.

How does the Greek ideal become transformed in the masochistic ideal? … Obviously through the catastrophe of the glacial epoch, which accounts for both the repression of sensuality and the triumphant rise of severity.
“Venus must hide herself in a vast fur lest she catch cold in our abstract northern clime, in the icy realm of Christianity.” Everything is suggestive of coldness: marble body, women of stone, Venus of Ice are favorite expressions of Masoch; his characters often serve their amorous apprenticeship with a cold statue, by the light of the moon.

The catastrophe of the Ice Age having engulfed the world of the Greeks and with it the type of the Grecian woman, both sexes found themselves impoverished. Man became coarse and sought a new dignity in the development of consciousness and thought; as a reaction to man’s heightened consciousness woman developed sentimentality, and toward his coarseness, severity. The glacial cold was wholly responsible for the transformation: sentimentality became the object of man’s thought, and cruelty the punishment for his coarseness. In the coldhearted alliance between man and woman, it is this cruelty and sentimentality in woman that compel man to thought and properly constitute the masochistic ideal.
The masochism of the sadistic hero makes its appearance at the outcome of his sadistic exercises; it is their climax, the crowning sanction of their glorious infamy. The libertine is not afraid of being treated in the way he treats others. The pain he suffers is an ultimate pleasure, not because it satisfies a need to expiate or a feeling of guilt, but because it confirms him in his inalienable power and gives him a supreme certitude. Through insults and humiliations, in the throes of pain, the libertine is not expiating, but in Sade’s words, “he rejoices in his inner heart that he has gone far enough to deserve such treatment.”
He ensures that he will be beaten; we have seen that what is beaten, humiliated and ridiculed in him is the image and the likeness of the father, and the possibility of the father’s aggressive return. It is not a child but a father that is being beaten.
Nature herself is cold, maternal and severe. The trinity of the masochistic dream is summed up in these words: cold – maternal – severe, icy – sentimental – cruel. These qualities point to the difference between the woman torturer and her “counterparts,” the hetaera and the sadist; their sensuality is replaced by her supersensuous sentimentality, their warmth and their fire by her icy coldness, their confusion by her rigorous order.

The torturess escapes from her own masochism by assuming the active role in the masochistic situation. It is a mistake to think that she is sadistic or even pretending to be so. We must not imagine that it is a matter of the masochist encountering a sadist by a stroke of luck. Each subject in the perversion only needs the “element” of the same perversion and not a subject of the other perversion.
Waiting and suspense are essential characteristics of the masochistic experience. The masochist is morose: but his moroseness should be related to the experience of waiting and delay. Formally speaking, masochism is a state of waiting; the masochist experiences waiting in its pure form.

I’ve Always Been The Easy Kill

September 23, 2008

When I Was Five I Killed Myself

by Howard Buten

After dinner we practised a little economy. Instead of drinking the coffee which remained from breakfast, we kept it for our tea with the cream and cakes which they brought with them; and, to keep up our appetites, we went into the orchard to finish our dessert with cherries. I climbed up the tree, and threw down branches of fruit, while they threw the stones back at me through the branches. Once Mademoiselle Galley, holding out her apron, and throwing back her head, presented herself as a mark so prettily, and I took such accurate aim, that I threw a bunch right into her bosom. How we laughed! I said to myself, if my lips were only cherries, how readily would I throw them into the same place!

— Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Confessions

The French middle class is to blame, especially Jean Jacques Rousseau, for the thousands of books released each year reflecting on the lives of children. It takes huge imaginative leaps to make children interesting. In Rousseau’s little piece of erotica, The Confessions, the idea of economy is to dream of violating Mme. Galley while allowing her to somehow keep her cherry. Tonguing Galley is the ideal means of keeping the hymen intact while extracting what young Jean-Jacques needs to go with his creams and cakes. Only a teen at this point in the time-line, Rousseau knows only to seek small sexual profits. Due to his influence, every modern literary novel descends into the nostalgic passages of autobiographical tween sexual longing. Some people credit Rousseau with normalizing childhood sexuality, making it less monstrous — something I find ironic given that Rousseau himself was consistently a monster from birth onwards.

Howard Buten is big in France. This reputed bigness comes up consistently every time When I Was Five I Killed Myself is discussed. In fact, the mystery of Buten’s appeal to the French literati is bigger than the mystery in the novel itself. I blame Rousseau. The title itself is a winner, but what about the structure and style of the book?

We start with eight-year old Burt Rembrandt being forcibly strapped down in an institution for autistic and disturbed children. Burt has done something horrible. Chapters flashback to the chronology of events that led him to institutionalization while they lead into his present-day treatment. SPOILERS: After much suspense, we learn that his horrific crime was to be caught in bed with a grieving girl (Jessica) whose father has just died. She’s riding him. I wasn’t getting erections at eight and I can’t imagine many boys were, so I presume that Jessica’s mother caught Burt with his thumb up Jessica’s ass. This part isn’t spelled out in the novel, but is the only possible interpretation available to readers possessed of deductive reasoning.

The advantage of writing in the voice of a child is the writing challenge of not being able to resort to overly sociological terminology. The difficulty of it is to avoid the precocious voice of the ‘wise child.’ Wise children are a bane in popular culture. The wise black child destroyed Magnolia for me as well as countless other cultural productions. Buten ably avoids this some of the time by having the child mention where he got a term and, often, misusing it. The successful claustrophobic effect this yields reminds the reader of the terror of early learning. While he ducks the ‘wise child’ hurdle, he trips and falls when it comes to subjecting readers to the random musings of the moronic child.

At breakfast everything is very silence because it is early in the morning. I can hear the clock in the living room. It says tick tock. My mom always has a cup of coffee. She stares at the wall. She zups it. Then she holds it in her mouth for an hour. I wait. Everything is quiet. Tick tock. I wait. Then she swallows it. It sounds like a tidal wave. Then she gives me my lunch to take. It is in a bag which is brown. It is a new bag. I have a new bag every day. She folds it over three times and staples it. Some of the other children, like from the Home, bring bags that are all wrinkly. Some other children have lunch boxes with cartoons on them which I feel are for sissies.

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There are some areas of achievement in the novel, though I’m unclear on Buten’s tone in them. One of the contrasts he draws is between the more traditional Dr. Nevele who treats Burt, and the Jungian psychologist, Rudyard Walton, who takes a liking to Burt. Nevele’s notes (which Burt steals) paint Dr. Nevele as a close-minded square who is ready to report on and persecute a hated rival from a heretical theoretical school.

Interest in this case is now being shown by Rudyard Walton, first-year intern, working in the Upper South Program here, dealing primarily with autistic and mentally retarded children.

Walton’s work, much praised thus far by his department, is supposedly of the “wounded healer” type, dealing with the patient one-to-one, and actually assimilating that patient’s symptoms himself, thus, I suppose, establishing an empathetic relationship.

The novel appears to sympathize with Walton who, in turn, sympathizes with Burt, telling him terrifying stories to demonstrate their similarities, such as their common fear of the dentist or their shared desire to defecate in the swimming pool. Walton eventually loses his job due to the “ignorance” of Dr. Nevele, after he makes the impassioned claim that what Burt did (which we later learned was simply thumbing Jessica) was neither a crime nor an act of violence. The “wounded healer” is painted as a dissident in the medical system.

I don’t really know a lot about training of Clinical Psychologists. From what I’ve seen there’s a huge emphasis on the scientific nature of case work. “Transference” is thrown around as a category where the psychiatric profession blankly muses on the possibility of its own lack of objectivity. I remember a similar sort of thing appearing a lot in 80s and 90s ethnographies, where Anthropologists would spend a portion of their articles considering their “place in history,” probing their guilt about the newly realized colonial guilt of their profession. Whereas transference seems to be a huge problem in the theory of psychoanalysis, my sense of it in American Social Psychology is that it’s brought up mainly as an injunction against having sex with patients. Buten’s book has an anti-Psychiatric edge to it inasmuch as he embraces the Jungian principle of identification and transference as the engine driving a productive therapeutic relationship. The novel’s “tragedy” is that Burt is left in the hands of parochial clinical psychologists who are practically ready to lobotomize the poor kid.

My sense is that the impractical embrace of anti-Psychiatry in the Parisian literary world has made Buten out to be a hero while they lament that positivists Americans simply don’t “get” the values embraced in his work. Possibly this is due to translation issues wherein the childlike voice Buten attempts to approximate in American slang simply rubs readers in the states the wrong way. Narrating therapeutic persecution through the romantic focalization of a kid’s voice looks a lot like talking down to readers. Readers resent failed illusions. Take the example of Opal Whitley whose “mystical diary” was celebrated in the 1920s and became a best-seller until critics claimed that it was an adult-written hoax. The hoax-revelation effect turned the public against the book, disgracing the diary. It’s now believed that Opal’s book is a genuine child’s production, but to me the incident shows the angry ressentiment that can come when readers feel like their being manipulated or taken for chumps.

I suppose that resolves the mystery of Rousseau’s appeal: he avoids the chump-effect by never pretending his reader is anything more than a chump.

Will Fuck For Art

September 11, 2008

Reader Emily has written in with a response to the Vicki Christina Barcelona post.

my boyfriend despised vicky cristina barcelona – i was only mildly annoyed? the vicky character reminded me of a cabal of gaudi groupies i encountered a few years ago at LACMA. one of the employees was waiting to open up the exhibit, but these women were so pushy and embodied a sexual desire for gaudi that was so comical, he was no match.

the quote that was the hardest to accept: when javier bardem tells scarlett johansson that she was the first to introduce him to Scriabin. Huh? There is just no possible way…

I would like to note for the record that I endorse none of the protagonists of Allen’s movie. They were intentionally reprehensible. As people should know by now, my taste runs from the slightly irritating to the completely unbearable.

Emily’s distaste for the frenzied Gaudi obsessives is understandable. One of my close friends spent two years art-stalking Esa-Pekka Salonen, the Finnish conductor/music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. It went way beyond swelling up and fidgeting in the front rows, desperately trying to catch Salonen’s eye. If I recall correctly, there were several nights when he tried to follow Salonen home. Salonen was cute enough ten years ago, but certainly not cute enough to obsess over.

Who would you fuck for art?

My answer? Possibly Eve Babitz.

"You Bring Me Nothing But Heartache"

September 8, 2008

“You’re irritable Nicki. Try to find time for a nap this afternoon.”

– Rhonda Volmer, “Where There’s a Will” S.1 E.11

Big Love is the greatest show to ever air in the history of television. Even the sociological realism of The Wire, which I have praised in the past, pales after comparison to this exploration of “the Principle” (of plural marriage). It’s a show about how deep-seated conventionality can co-exist with “outrageous” sexual breaches of the Liberal Kinship’s chosen arrangement, the couple-form. Simply put, the show’s greatness is due to loathsome ChloĆ« Sevigny, who plays the buttoned up 2nd wife of the Henrickson family. A “compound” girl through and through, Nicki’s derangement, barely sublimated Mormon rage, paranoia, and composing self-righteousness become the major plot engines of the show. Every single thing she does is appalling. If only HBO didn’t monitor youtube so closely, I’d love to post her soliloquy about the unholiness of oral sex or even her tight-lipped delivery of the following lines as she lays it on the line to her “sister wife” Barbara about the inappropriateness of Barbara’s part-time job as a substitute school teacher. Chloe’s stage presence practically drips with condescension in this scene:

Nicki: If I die and Bill dies, I doubt your commitment to The Principle. And that’s the way I want my children raised, pure and simple.

The only reason you’re able to go off and work is because you have me and Margie here as backstops. I know you hate to hear this, but women are designed to tend to the chicks in the nest, while men go out early to gather worms. Women go out to gather worms, who will take care of the chicks?

Barbara: That’s just not the world we live in.

Nicki: It’s the world we should live in. One mother can’t do it alone. It really does take a village, Barb.

Nicki is the most self-deluded character of any piece of fiction I’ve had the pleasure of reading or watching. A few episodes of her conniving and interference, you’ll either be agreeing with her mother Adaleen’s advice to husband Bill and 1st wife Barb that sometimes it’s necessary to give Nicki a good smack, or you’ll be completely won over by the commitment to a higher cause that allows her to buck any authority presented to her. Her compulsive catalog shopping and secret, out of control, credit card spending are a kick as well.

The writers must have realized they hit a goldmine with Nicki; by the second season, they gave her a Bingo addiction and an opportunity to completely unleash by driving a monster truck over a refrigerator as an aggressive fuck you to her mother. Someone put together a tribute to the insanity that is Nicki’s life, and it’s a shame that for legal reasons they had to dub music in over most of her classic lines.

Also available is the famous cheese scene with Nicki’s father Roman and mother Adaleen.