Friday, January 31, 2020

312 Main

Yesterday I attended the opening luncheon of 312 Main, the former "cop shop" turned Centre for Social and Economic Innovation. SFU President Andrew Petter was first up, followed by Tsleil Waututh Elder Margaret George, Am Johal (Co-Director, SFU's Community-Engaged Research Initiative; Director, SFU's Vancity Office of Community Engagement), the Honourable Melanie Mark (NDP MLA), Vancity President & CEO Tamara Vrooman, Stuart Poyntz (Co-Director, SFU's Community-Engaged Research Initiative), Shanthi Besso (Director, Leadership and Community Building Programs, SFU Lifelong Learning) and Janet Webber (Executive Director, SFU Public Square)   -- but it was Margaret who stilled the room when she pointed to the northwest corner and said, "Over there was the door I came through on Monday mornings to check to see if I had any clients in jail. After that, the morgue, then the hospital."

Am was kind enough to give us a tour of the facilities, which included production spaces, worker offices (Megaphone Magazine is a tenant) and remnants of the building's past. The original stairway is intact, as are the windows (the new ones are doubled-paned flush to the interior walls, allowing for a"dead" ledge space in-between). Wish I took their picture.

Thursday, January 30, 2020


Unlike the festival attendees in Godard's Notre musique (2004), I knew what I was looking at when I first saw this image. Had I not known, I too might have begun with guesses.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Experiments in Criticism Symposium

"The following words are angry. Their author has discarded the separation between emotion and analysis customary in his line of work. How else could a warm-blooded art writer respond when our most successful artists are increasingly implicated in making urban lives miserable, if not impossible, for the non-affluent?" -- Mitch Speed 

The preceding words are disingenuous. Their author, who knows better, refuses to consider that as long as there is language there will never be a “separation between emotion and analysis,” and that the 19th century custom that upholds this false separation belongs as much to those who concentrate power as it does to those who seek the equitable re-distribution of that power.

Why the author chose to open his essay in the third person, then switch to the first person, is further evidence of what isn't working in his affected discussion of art and contexts. Hopefully his essay will be addressed at C Magazine's May 22-24 Experiments in Criticism Symposium. Submissions will be accepted until February 16, 2020.  

Monday, January 27, 2020

Vancouver Art: 2019-1992

Top image: Cob building workshop for “x̱aw̓s shew̓áy̓ New Growth《新生林》,” led by T’uy’t’tanat-Cease Wyss and Mudgirls Collective, April 20 to 21, 2019. Courtesy the artists and 221A, Vancouver, unceded territories. Photo: Damaris Riedinger.

Bottom image: Dead Troops Talk (a Vision After an Ambush of a Red Army Patrol, Near Moqor, Afghanistan, Winter 1986 (1992), Jeff Wall

Sunday, January 26, 2020

"I, Robot ... You, Jane"

A month ago I picked up Season One of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (on DVD) for $2 at the East Hastings Street Value Village. Now I understand why the show has courses named after it. There are shades of Buffy in almost everyone I know under fifty.

I am currently up to Episode Eight -- "I, Robot ... You, Jane" (1997). A great take on Moloch, who, in this episode, is "captured" in text by a group of 15th century Italian monks. A half-century later, Moloch is delivered in book form to the Sunnyvale High School library and is scanned into a computer. As scanning is reading (and reading is reviving), Moloch converts online reader/programmers into his servants. A prelude to the worst aspects of our social(ly) media(ted) world.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

"that journey which lands us in a country free by default"

Near the end of Barthes's January 7, 1977 Collège de France lecture the author announces his appearance:

"... the myth of the great French writer, the sacred depository of all higher values, has crumbled since the Liberation; it has dwindled and died gradually with each of the last survivors of the entre-deux-guerres; a new type has appeared, and we no longer know -- or do not yet know -- what to call him: writer? intellectual? scribe? In any case, literary mastery is vanishing, the writer is no longer centre stage. On the other hand and subsequently, May '68 has revealed the crisis in our teaching. The old values are no longer transmitted, no longer circulate, no longer impress; literature is desacralized, institutions are impotent to defend and impose it as the implicit model of the human. It is not, if you like, that literature is destroyed; rather it is no longer protected, so that this is the moment to deal with. Literary semiology is, as it were, that journey which lands us in a country free by default; angels and dragons are no longer there to defend it. Our gaze can fall, not without perversity, upon certain old and lovely things, whose signified is abstract, out of date. It is a moment at once decadent and prophetic, a monument of gentle apocalypse, a historical moment of the greatest possible pleasure."

Friday, January 24, 2020


This afternoon Renee and I and a couple of students walked through the excellent David Wojnarowicz: Photography & Film: 1978-1992 at the Belkin. After two years of 1970s-set exhibitions, I cannot think of a better artist to kick in (kick out?) the 1980s than David Wojnarowicz.

The billboard outside the gallery is from Wojnarowicz's Arthur Rimbaud in New York (1978-1979) series, where the artist encouraged friends to pose throughout the city wearing a mask made from the 1946 New Directions Press cover portrait of Rimbaud's Illuminations. Later, while reflecting on this series, I recalled another mask project, this one by Kevin Killian (camera, friends) and Raymond Pettibon (mask).

For Kevin (and Raymond's) Tagged series (2013-2019), mostly male friends were given a cut-out section from a discarded Pettibon drawing and asked to place it over their corresponding regions. Below is a portrait of the writer Jason R. Jimenez:

Thursday, January 23, 2020

"Language is legislation, speech is code"

A paragraph (writing) by Roland Bartes for his inaugural lecture (speech) as the Chair of Literary Semiology at the Collège de France on January 7, 1977:

"Language is legislation, speech is code. We do not see the power which is in speech because we forget that all speech is classification, and all classifications are oppressive: ordo means both distribution and commination. Jakobson has shown that a speech-system is defined less by what it permits us to say than by what it compels us to say. In French (I shall take obvious examples) I am obliged to choose between masculine and feminine, for the neuter and the dual are forbidden me. Further, I must indicate my relation to the other person by resorting to either tu or vous; social or affective suspension is denied me. Thus, by its very structure my language implies an inevitable relation of alienation. To speak, and, with even greater reason, to utter a discourse is not, as is too often repeated, to communicate; it is to be subjugate: the whole language is a generalized rection."

Monday, January 20, 2020


We're moving here because we want to be here.

I'm here because I'm forced to be here.

I'm here because our people have always been here.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Michèle Bernstein's All the King’s Horses (1960) + Henri-Georges Clouzot's Infer (1964-)

“What do you do, exactly? I have no idea.”

“I reify,” he answered.

“It’s a serious job,” I added.

“Yes, it is,” he said.

“I see,” Carol observed with admiration. “Serious work, with big books and a big table cluttered with papers.”

“No,” said Gilles. “I walk. Mostly I walk.”

Saturday, January 18, 2020

"... a purely philanthropic matter ..."

In February 1943, two French battleships and their crews visit New York City. Simone Weil and her parents arrived six months earlier, with Simone leaving for London in November, to work with the Free French.

According to du Plessix Gray, Simone Weil "loathed the idea of coming to the United States. " In a letter to her brother André, Weil writes:

"[Americans'] hospitality is a purely philanthropic matter, and it is repugnant to me to be the object of philanthropy. It is more flattering ... to be the object of persecution." (182)

Friday, January 17, 2020

A Poem by Lucille Clifton (1936-2010)

blessing the boats

  (at St. Mary's)
may the tide 
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back     may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

Thursday, January 16, 2020

On Jeanne d'Arc

"Becher notes that Simone's anxieties about conforming with absolute precision to the teachings of the Church were part of the very authoritative, conservative streak in her thinking. She considered Joan of Arc outrageous, and thought it perfectly right that she had been persecuted -- where would we be if all young girls with strong opinions started imposing there political views? 'I'm amazed that any of them are allowed to do that,' she opined. She had a similar reaction when Becher reported that his sister, the nun, felt she could talk to Christ 'as to a friend.' 'I'm amazed that any of them are allowed to do that,' she said again, suggesting that his sister might have an overwrought imagination." (178)

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Love's Cover, Love's Color

I remember when Donovan's "Wear Your Love Like Heaven" (1967) could be heard in Love Cosmetics ads (above). Looking over its lyrics ("Allah, kiss me once more, that I may, that I may ..."!), you would think the song would be just as likely to be optioned by an art supplies manufacturer, if art supplies manufacturers took out TV ads.

Here are the colours that appear in Donovan's song:







Monday, January 13, 2020

"... mounted guard around her void ..."

June 13, 1940. It is the day before the German army arrives in Paris and the Weils -- father, mother and daughter, Simone -- have just left for Marseilles. It will take the Weils eighteen months to obtain the necessary visas to travel by freighter to New York (via Casablanca and Lisbon). In the meantime, Simone keeps busy -- reading and writing, when not picking grapes or tutoring the children of those whose floors she sleeps on.

It is in Marseilles that Simone bonds with Gustave Thibon, an autodidact Catholic philosopher and, according to du Plessix Gray, "the single most important chronicler of Simone's personalty."

Here is du Plessix (and Thibon) on that personality:

"Thibon notes, although Simone strives for detachment, 'she was not detached from her own detachment.' She did not seem to realize, in fact, the grave complications she caused in the lives of others when she undertook to fulfill her extraordinarily self-centred vocation for self-effacement. 'This soul who wanted to be flexible to every movement of the divine will,' he wrote, 'could not bear the course of events, or the kindness of her friends, altering by one iota the positioning of the stakes with which she had marked the path of self-immolation ... the way she mounted guard around her void still displayed a terrible preoccupation with herself.'" (172)

Sunday, January 12, 2020

from Margaret Atwood's Morning in the Burned House: New Poems (1995)

The Moment

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can't breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round. 

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Mujer Republicanista

Weil was a pacifist. The Spanish-Civil War changed that -- then changed it back again.

Incensed that Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy were assisting in the Nationalist attack on Spain's democratically elected Popular Front government, Weil travelled to Barcelona.

Here is Joshua Glenn on Weil's participation:

"The frail, near-sighted intellectual joined a unit of anarchists, was issued a rifle and almost immediately put her foot into a pan of boiling oil. Her ever-protective parents, lurking just over the border, yanked her to safety. Dismayed by the atrocities she'd seen her own side commit, Weil was confirmed in her pacifism."

Here is du Plessix Gray:

"Noting her awkwardness, her fellow volunteers immediately decided to avoid walking anywhere near her rifle's line of fire. They were also reluctant to let her join in commando missions. But she made such a scene, pleading to be included in all such operations, that she was allowed to join a group that planned to cross the right bank of the Elbo River in order to blow up an enemy railroad line."(112)

With a based camp established, Weil and a young German cook were ordered to guard the larder while the remainder of the unit pushed ahead.

Weil writes in her journal:

"From time to time, the young German lets out a sigh. He is frightened, visibly. Not me. But how intensely everything around me seems to exist!"


"If I'm captured, I'll be executed. But that is what we all deserve. Our troops have shed a lot of blood. I am morally an accomplice."

Friday, January 10, 2020

Surprise Military Homecoming

Visual art has its genres and sub-genres. Same too of writing, music, film, theatre and dance. A theatre or performance genre (sub-genre?) I am interested in is a variant of the Makeover Reveal: the Surprise Military Homecoming (SMH).

Last week I spent a half hour looking for anything written on SMHs, but all I found were examples. The closest I came to a commentary was a 1997 Jan Peacock exhibition at the Western Front, an exhibition I remember seeing and, more recently, reading about in the centre's now defunct magazine.

The following text is taken from Front Magazine, vol. IX, no. 1, p. 13, September/October 1997:

An Authorization: Notes towards an installation project by Jan Peacock for the Western Front. Those who cry out and clasp at each other at the International Arrivals Gate mark their otherwise permanent separation with sudden, almost violent releases of energy.
As for us, separation is an actual place from which we need never depart. And as for our more temperate embrace, please imagine in its place what it took to get us even this far. For us, the embrace is only approximate and always inexplicable, the skin never entirely exposed to the casual eye. As for the causal eye and as for you, read in this that we simply require more definition, a clearer position — somewhere between international arrivals and domestic departures.
We authorize you, then, to submit these strong bodies to your frail, mesmerized looking. Debate their trajectories; consign this collective musculature to speculation.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

"I among others"

Francine du Plessix Gray begins Chapter 6 of her biography of Simone Weil with an August 1935 letter Weil sent to a friend after Weil left her assembly-line job at the Renault factory: "Only the sea can wash away all this accumulated fatigue," writes Weil. A month later, while vacationing with her parents at a fishing village south of Porto (Portugal), Weil follows a Christian religious procession -- "the first in a series of events that were to transform her spiritual life," according to du Pressix Gray.

Weil, who was raised in a secular Jewish household, writes: "There the conviction suddenly came to me that Christianity is preeminently the religion of slaves, that slaves cannot help belonging to it, I among others." (103)

At the end of September, Weil resumes teaching, this time in Bourges.

du Pressix Gray writes:

"The twelve students in her class, who affectionately called her 'la petite Weil,' enjoyed teasing her by slipping right-wing periodicals into her desk drawer. She tried to sharpen their writing skills by asking them to describe humble everyday objects in terms of one single sensation, form, or colour (the winning essay in her class described an eraser)." (104)

An eraser!

In 1967, Francis Ponge published Savon (Soap, en anglais), his own description/interrogation of an everyday object. Not soap, per se, but the bar it comes in (and goes from?).

Ponge writes:

"There is so much to say about soap. Precisely everything that it tells about itself, until the complete disappearance, the exhaustion of the subject. This is just the object suited to me."

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Landscape to Portraiture

In an effort to appeal to those who consume content on hand-held devices, Samsung has designed the Sero TV. Named after the Korean word for vertical, the Sero turns from horizontal ("landscape mode") to vertical ("portrait mode") with the press of a button.

News to me that these petit genre painting terms are in use by those working in electricity, base metals and plastic. But what about the third petit genre -- the still-life? Are we talking the Joby Grip?

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Weil to Hesse

Simone Weil was distressed by the large apartment her mother rented for her at Le Puy. To manage her suffering, Weil arranged for another lycée instructor to share it with her.

According to du Plessix Gray:

"Simone particularly detested the idea of having a living room and soon turned it into a large closet, filling it with ropes on which the two women were to hang their clothes and laundry." (51)

Apart from this written description (the "picture-making mechanism" that Willa Cather mentions in the last line of "Paul's Case" [1905] and alludes to at the beginning of My Ántonia [1918]), there are no pictures of this room. The closest I have come to seeing such a room is Eva Hesse's No title (1969-70) above.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Georgia Straight Purchased for 1.25M by Media Central Corp Inc.

Media Central Corporation Inc.


We are built to influence, absorb and exploit momentum from emerging trends by targeting the tastemakers who are responsible for sculpting culture, disrupting traditional lifestyles and influencing policies on a global scale.

Key words: central, choose, reinvent, status quo, influence, absorb, exploit, momentum, emerging, targeting, tastemakers, responsible, sculpting, culture, disrupting, traditional, influencing (again), polices, global

Nouns: central, status quo, momentum, tastemakers, culture, policies, global

Verbs: choose, reinvent, influence, absorb, exploit, emerging, targeting, sculpting, disrupting, influencing

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Simone Weil

My family doctor, whose care I have been under since 1973, has gone from the youngest partner in his clinic to the oldest. When their lease came up last year, the responsibility of a new lease fell on him. Rather than renew (he is in his 70s), he accepted an offer from London Drugs to move the clinic into one of its new stores.

At my doctor's old location, the pharmacist was across the hall and was usually ready to fill my prescription the moment I walked in the door. Despite a staff of ten, the London Drugs pharmacy requires a half-hour wait. With little else to do, I am free to roam the aisles and buy stuff.

Not this time.

A block west of my doctor's new location is Tanglewood Books, a quiet, narrowish, high-ceilinged shop with enough darkness, dust and mustiness to turn minutes into seconds. While true that the books are more expensive than at Pulp Fiction or Carson, that's to be expected, given that Tanglewood is on the city's west side.

I went into the shop thinking I would read a few pages in the Travel section, then return to the pharmacy to pick up my prescription. But halfway down the aisle (Travel is at the rear) I noticed a biography of Simone Weil.

Although familiar with Weil, I have not read much of her writing -- not compared to those I know who were born in the early 1980s, some of whom cling to her words like Tess to her tattered shawl. Curious, I pulled the book from its shelf, opened it at random and started reading.

"'Alain' was the pen name of Émile Chartier, a philosopher and prolific author who is now published in four volumes of the Pléiade (an edition limited to masters of world literature) and who fifty years after his death is still known to most lycée students in France. A gruff, plainspoken Norman who flaunted his working-class origins and shuffled about the classroom with a limp caused by a World War I injury, Alain was defiant of most forms of bourgeois sensibility: Once, when his classroom was visited by a government inspector, he went on, undaunted, instructing his students on their humanitarian obligation to prostitutes. Alain refused all ear-marks of literary celebrity and shunned almost every kind of traditional comfort. He even declined marriage, stating that domesticity might diminish the energy of his writing, and only in his eighties agreed to marry the woman who had shared his life for forty years." (22)

According to biographer Francine Du Pressix Gray, Chartier was Weil's "master teacher" during her four years at the Lycée Henri IV. Flipping backwards, I sought out Weil's name and read forward.

"... Simone's cross-dressing, and her need to disfigure herself into a caricature of the beautiful girl she could have been, were related to far darker, more tragic aspects of her personality: the despair caused by her general sense of unworthiness, her sense that she was plain and somehow incomplete and could not be loved as a woman, her deep unease about gender issues." (20)

"... Simone began to suffer the acute migraines that would plague her for most of her life." (17)

"... the first of many health-weakening obligations she would impose on herself throughout her life." (16)

"... Simone's character was her almost pathological receptiveness to the suffering of others, and her strong tendency to cultivate her own." (15)

That last line clinched it.

I lay the book before the clerk, when I noticed the cover had tears in it. "Do you have a piece of tape?" I asked, pointing out the tears running from the cover's die-cut frame.

Without a word the clerk removed from a drawer a roll of 2" box-making tape, tore off a piece and patted it twice over the tears. The tears were in check, but now it was the tape's wrinkles that stood out. "Hmm, didn't do a very good job of it, did I?"

"No," I said trying to smooth out one wrinkle, while he did his best on the other.

Friday, January 3, 2020

George Elliott Clarke

My introduction to the poetry of Stephen Brown came via George Elliott Clarke's coy response when asked what he might read from during his upcoming U of Regina lecture. It was Brown who, under his birth name Stephen Kummerfield, picked up Pamela Jean George -- a 28 year-old  mom and occasional sex worker from the Sakimay First Nation -- and drove her to the edge of town, where he and his accomplice Alex Ternowetsky (whom Brown hid in the trunk of the car) beat George and left her to die -- then boasted about it.

Convicted and sentenced in 1995 (in his instructions to the jury, Justice Ted Malone of the Court of Queen's Bench inhumanly noted that George "indeed was a prostitute"), Kummerfield was paroled in 2000, after which he changed his name to Brown and moved to Mexico City, where he wrote poems like "Alejandra", about a sex worker. "Alejandra" is one of two Brown poems that Clarke, who considers Brown a friend, posted on his Parliamentary Poet Poem-of-the-Month page.

La pornai, in her one room installational
Gesamtkunstwerk, doing beads,
the stationed oddities of her 48 kilos of sweaty
anorixic perversity. Follow the blown words of Christ
in the bleached sands of her sandalprints,
for she has etched in the phrase: ‘s í g a m e.’ 1 

In the same blouse of black etamine
she hangs from wall to wall in her front dooryard,
an art-school chalk and charcoal of her
eating edamame in black etamine above her bathroom
wall cistern, also albaca, banana leaf;
Canteloupe Island in kef, with a Crosley turntable.

I follow her thru la fayuca in blinking light,
limp palm and plantain in corner limbo
between hammocks walled in with stacked blocks,
of asphodel, that greeny flower; obese market
women open-legged on wood stools fanning themselves
with leaves in the kaffir lime of tarped shade.

Day for night, a series of sounds in parenthesis,
so that it all sounds like music.
Or from when you begin
to listen to hear
until you no longer
hear what you’re
listening to.

A beaded curtain above a block half wall
separates watermelon Man on her suitcase Crosley
from her bed, where she sits cross-legged
in gestalt, her hair hung over a kitchen cutting board.
The tips snow white in the wet cake,2 and caked.
1 ‘f o l l o w m e’
2 Herb Alpert & Tijuana Brass – A Taste of Honey (1965)
Is it worth asking how our knowledge of Brown's killing of George has bearing on our reading of "Alejandra"? Does Brown's attention to detail belong to that of the psychopath? the poet? both? Is it worth wondering how Clarke might have presented Brown's material in the context of a talk entitled "'Truth and Reconciliation' versus the 'Murdered and Missing [Woman and Girls?]': Examining Indigenous Experiences of (In)Justice in Four Saskatchewan Poets"?

How Clarke could have even thought of presenting Brown/Kummerfield's poems without speaking first to George's family, community and relations is beyond me. That is not the George Elliott Clarke I know. But then Brown, until four months ago, was not the person Clarke knew either. Or so he says.

I am glad Clarke did the right thing and owned up to his behaviour. As for Clarke's "Metis" identification, I am sure that will be addressed in the Q&A.

Thursday, January 2, 2020