Monday, August 31, 2020

The Duck (1739)

I came across the name Jacques de Vaucanson in Hal Foster's What Comes After Farce (2020), his chapter on the novelist William Gaddis ("Player Piano"). Honestly, I had no idea.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere (2001)

"During the reign of six monarchs (Charles VI, ascended 1711, to Franz Joseph I, died 1916), the Habsburgs transformed a medieval fishing town [Trieste] into a modern industrial seaport, with a population that had grown from some 7,000 to 220,000. Perhaps the nearest equivalent is Hong Kong, founded by the British in 1840, and equally eruptive."

Friday, August 28, 2020

A Postillion Struck by Lightning (1977)

"From the top of the [double-decker] bus you could look down on people in the street, and they never knew, and also, which was more fun, you could see into people's gardens all along the way, and sometimes into their rooms." (p.79)

"No one ever seemed to talk to [Mr Janes] really. But, sometimes, when we were in bed, we could hear Mrs Jane's voice telling him what we all had been doing during the day. We never heard him, only her, because she had to talk very loudly. Their room was next to ours so we were able to hear everything pretty clearly. I felt rather uncomfortable and tried to make coughing noises so that they would perhaps hear that we were awake. But she never did, and after a while I didn't bother any longer." (pp. 80-81)

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Crit Sketch

Tangle Rectangle, 2019, oil on canvas, 74 x 90 in. (188 x 229 cm)

I can't believe I'm doing this, taking an image of a painting I have yet to see from a website (the artist's dealer's) and re-posting it on my blawg without knowing what, if anything, I will say about it, but prepared to say something all the same. I guess it's the idea of this painting and what it suggests from what I can see of it that has me wanting to "hang" it before you, follow it with words.

Where to start? Well, I've started. But in addition to that, a big white painting that isn't just white because the attempt at depth, as if visited by an early-1960s Rosenquist brush stroke, is "supported" by shadows, black shadows, and that for now is race relations. The successive (regressive?) white rectangles assume their neatness, but life's alive with jiggles and the shadows "reflect" that. Not as tangles, but as entangles; that is, the representation of the relationship between the rectangles and the light that gives us life as race relations.

Portraits are verticals, still-lifes square. Landscapes make great rectangles, as do history paintings, and this painting, like the narrative landscape paintings of Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, is both. Indeed, I would even go so far as to suggest that this painting could be one of two unseen paintings hanging in Kerry James Marshall's Untitled (Underpainting) (2018) if the artist, like Robert Ryman, was born in the 1930s.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Bruce Chatwin: a Biography (2001)

Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia (1977) is one of my favourite books. Yesterday, while waiting for my prescription to be re-filled, I visited the bookstore down the street where I found Nicholaus Shakespeare's Bruce Chatwin: a Biography (2001). After much deliberation, I added it to a pile that included Dirk Bogarde's A Postillion Struck by Lightning (1977) and a beautifully bootlegged VHS copy of Andy Warhol's Frankenstein (1974)

The chapter that deals with Chatwin's travels in Patagonia ("Gone to Patagonia") is at dead centre and, against my better judgement, I read it first. Would anything I read before that have prepared me for a man as entitled as this one?

Here is Shakespeare on the Chatwin who dropped in:

"Usually, he arrived unannounced. 'He felt he was welcome anywhere,' says [his wife] Elizabeth. 'He couldn't imagine not being welcome.' This attitude caused friction further south. At Despedida, he appeared without warning while Jacqueline de las Carreras's husband was shearing. 'He was very arrogant, very sure of himself, very narcissistic,' she says. 'He didn't speak any Spanish and he didn't make any effort to be understood. He was very Me, myself and I'm the Queen of England.' He appalled Nita Starling, a 60-ish spinster who looked after the garden, by asking if she would wash his clothes. She refused."

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Modern in the Making

On Sunday we visited the Vancouver Art Gallery's Modern in the Making: Post-War Craft and Design in British Columbia. Lotsa thoughtful pots, furniture, clothes and jewelry on display, yet less thought, time and resources given to display infrastructure. Yes, the recessed pot wall is kinda cute (above, to the left of Mano Herendy's caftan), but for those wishing to see all sides of the wall's two-dimensionalized pots, a disappointment, and indeed a metaphor for a gallery so strapped for cash it can only resort to half measures.

Monday, August 24, 2020


In Walthamstow, Zone 3, Queens Road, £950 per week, ground floor, "very well served by public transport."

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955)

The Two for the Road (1967) DVD begins with some trailers for recent DVD releases, one of which is Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), director Henry King's adaptation of Han Suyin's novel that tells the story of a widowed Eurasian doctor (Jennifer Jones) who falls for an American correspondent in Hong Kong during China's Communist revolution.

Saturday, August 22, 2020


I've never had much luck with wildflower seeds. If it isn't my poor planting technique, then I assume it's the manufacturer, or the seeds themselves.

This year I added a packet of sun-responsive Pacific Northwest-friendly seeds from West Coast Seeds to my cart while waiting in line at Southlands Nursery, when out of nowhere boomed the unmodulating voice of its co-owner Thomas Hobbs: "Proven winners."

And it's true, they are! Especially the poppies!

Friday, August 21, 2020

For Your Consideration (2006)

Christopher Guest's For Your Consideration (2006) is a film about actors in a film, not a film about a film. The actors range from young up-and-comers to middle-aged never-wases. None of the actors are has-beens.

The thread that runs through this film begins when an on-set make-up artist relates to an actor that her (the actor's) yet-to-be-completed performance was mentioned on a blog as "Academy Award-worthy." As the film proceeds, all but one of the core actors is rumoured to be considered, and this of course magnifies the neurosis actors are known for. (The actor who is nominated turns out to be the one whose name was never mentioned.)

For Your Consideration is structurally different from other Christopher Guest films, though like Best in Show (2000), it contains a "months later" leap. Unlike Best in Show, the leap occurs much earlier in the film, turning what started as tragedy into farce.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Brick Chimney

I have yet to count the bricks in Cara and Matt's chimney, but check out those lining the mantle:

Bricks like these don't come readymade; they were custom cut with hammer and chisel. Who are the workers who cut these bricks? Where did they learn their trade? Was the decision to cut them the workers' or the builder's? Who came up with this design?

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Mean Girls (2004)

Films that come from Saturday Night Live actors and writers are structured less on the three-act screenplay than they are on the ever-cascading comedic sketch. Mean Girls (2004) feels like such a film, especially after the denouement that has the head Mean Girl disgraced; and then her retaliation against the ringleader, the "new girl" who takes her place.

What follows from there, with a half hour left in the film, is a massive group therapy session (testimonials, confessions, resolutions) involving all the girls in the school, led by the film's writer and contributing actor Tina Fey.

I have never seen anything like this before (apart from Twitter). After the session, the only remaining tension is "new girl" Lindsay Lohan's sneaking out of the house (from where she is grounded) to compete in the math team's final against a co-ed private school, where she goes one-on-one with the other teams' only girl -- and wins.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

"Everything I do begins with doubt and insecurity"

Akenfield (1969) is a great and rewarding read on rural life and social class in mid-1960s East Anglia (I am glad to see NYRB thought to re-issue it). Here's an excerpt from 29-year-old forester and Labour Party organizer David Collyer's testimonial:

"The village people live almost entirely without culture. I was over twenty before I realized that classical music was just 'music', and therefore all one had to do was to listen to it. I listened and at first believed that I had no right to listen to it. I felt affected. But when I began to enjoy it I stopped worrying. Everything I do begins with doubt and insecurity. It is as though I am using a language which I haven't a right to use." (106)

Monday, August 17, 2020

Like an Astronaut/ Bubbled for the Very First Time

Disney Hotels

When first used to describe COVIDian isolation, I thought, Good idea. Let's all bubble up, look after each other. Now the bubble is not only a protective mechanism but, like Saturn's moon in Gattaca (1997), a place of "privilege," a "career" move -- as evidenced by one of the six barbers chosen to cut the hair of basketballers bubbled at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida.

"This is potentially the biggest privilege of my career," said Marcos 'Reggae' Smith. "It's a blessing. I feel like an astronaut."

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Two for the Road (1967)

The year is 1959. A group of young British women are travelling through France in a VW microbus when they come across a recently graduated architect, played by Albert Finney. All but one of the women -- Audrey Hepburn -- comes down with chicken pox, so she and Finney set off together.

Prior to this we are introduced to Finney and Hepburn as a jaded married couple some seven years later, and then later in the film, Finney and Hepburn a year after they first met, and then Finney and Hepburn travelling with a contrasting American couple and their six-year-old daughter a couple years after their second trip, for a total of four trips through France, all of which cut back and forth to and from each other in what has been called "a masterful display of [narrative] editing."

Two for the Road is an irritating yet occasionally insightful film directed by the last of the Golden Age filmmakers, Stanley Donen. The film attempts some of what Godard explores with gender relations in films like Pierrot le fou (1965), only in Godard's film the man is more complex, more ambiguous than the two-dimensional angry young man Donen gives us.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Recent Acquisitions

On Thursday I stepped out of the heat to browse the DVD section at the 16th Avenue Salvation Army. Eleven DVDs for $39. Not bad. Nor a bad haul. Most are films I have seen before; some are films I think I should see, generational films like 8 Mile (2002), Pretty in Pink (1986) and Two for the Road (1967). Last night I watched Two for the Road.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Autumnal Notes

That subtle shift in the sun's angle, sometime near the end of the first week of August, as recorded yesterday, August 12th, just after five.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020


A very hot Monday in Vernon. After checking into the Silver Star Motel I walked around the block looking for a place to eat before heading downtown (four blocks away) for what I know and love -- haddock 'n' chips at Harry's.

Back at the motel, four straight episodes of Storage Wars before turning out the lights and dreaming of oceans, ferries, seagulls and arbutus.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Carved Dash

Fumbled with my phone trying to take a picture of the trailer en route to storage.

Got the picture,

but when I looked for it later, I found another: what looks like the middle section of a Bill Reid pole.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Paying Attention

The square on the left is the one we reach for absently and tear at until the roll comes undone. The square on the right is the one the first one is attached to. The square on the right is not the second square on the roll.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

"Sunny day/ Everything's A-OK"

The homemade pull-tab poster. A common sight on utility poles, put there by those trying to sell something (a car), find something (a cat), but rarely, if at all until now, to solicit responses to a visual statement -- a picture of a face made of stuff.

A cheerful and bearded form, this work/project belongs to artist Vivienne Bessette.

Saturday, August 8, 2020


"I was short and thin and quite self-centred, lost in daydreams. Good reports and enormous boredom. My breasts were at times Mamma's gloves stuffed into a secret bra bought with saved-up allowance. Gym classes, which most girls missed once a month by saying "usual reason" in a matter-of-fact voice when their names were called out. And when it never happened to me, I pretended it had, but I could never keep track of the dates. For a whole year I was a fraud -- without realizing that all the others knew, only teacher had asked them to be tactful and pretend they didn't." -- Liv Ullmann, Changing, 1978 (p. 35)

Friday, August 7, 2020

Akenfield (1969)

Akenfield (1969) opens with "The Survivors," five portraits of village elders. In this instance, four men and one woman, Emily Leggett, 79, who, consistent with the patriarchy, is introduced in relation to her marriages ("I have been wed and widowed twice").

"We took our poorness naturally. We knew within a little what we were going to get and that there would never be any more. So that was that. My father was one of eight and I've often heard him say that he didn't know what it was like to have a new pair of shoes on his feet. He only had shoes that other folks passed on to him. We ought to be thankful to be as we are today. Whatever would our poor mothers and fathers have thought if they could see all the money we get now! We know that it doesn't go far but we touch it." (49-50)

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Virtual Screening + Launch

While some arts organizations have responded to COVID-19 with Gone Fishing signs, others have found new and inventive ways to serve its audiences. Is there a correlation between Gone Fishing signs and organizations with over 75% public funding? Put another way, after Capilano University decided it no longer needed The Capilano Review as part of its English Department, the journal was forced to find new funding sources, which it did, in large part by encouraging new audiences.

Yesterday, the current TCR team launched its Virtual Screening + Launch of Issue 3.41 at Strathcona Community Gardens. Editors Emily Dundas Oke and Matea Kulić provided extensive introductions that included a range of land acknowledgements -- from ancestral and unceded lands (Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh peoples) to more recent land displacements (the City of Vancouver's destruction of the largely Black neighbourhood of Hogan's Alley in the 1960s), as well as "the ongoing displacements occurring within Chinatown and the Downtown Eastside, as witnessed by the tent camp just across the way."

Also introduced was cinematographer Israel Seoane, who was commissioned by TCR to make three short videos adapted from current issue content. Although I applaud the inclusion of Garden Don't Care in the current issue, its contribution (and representation) failed to resonate with this viewer. However, when seen in relation to Israel's video -- it came alive! This, I think, is an example of how literary magazines could themselves overcome years of (self-)isolation within respect to the larger cultural ecology, particularly in this era of social media, which, for better or for worse, drives everything.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

"Sha la la la la la Liv[] for Today"

Liv Ullmann first appeared before North American film audiences in 1971 as Kristina Oskar in Jan Troell's The Emigrants, then its sequel, The New Land (1972). PBS showed the two films together, which is how I saw them -- as a ten-year-old watching in awe and horror as Kristina and her husband Karl (Max von Sydow) endured hardship as Swedish homesteaders in 19th century Minnesota.

Imagine my surprise when the next time I saw Ullmann she was starring in a 1973 musical adaptation of James Hilton's Lost Horizon (1933). Gone was the mud and the grey skies of Minnesota's Chisago Lakes, and in their place, the rustic perfection of Shangri-La, where her character works as a singing schoolteacher.

A couple days ago I found a good condition Book-of-the-Month Club hardcover of Ullmann's 1977 ficto-memoir Changing (Knopf) at AA Furniture & Appliances on Kingsway and added it to a pile that included a UK paperback of Robert Blythe's Akenfield (1969) and a wooden milking stool that I will use as a side table. The New York Times was not very kind to Changing and its "chatty, childlike writing," but times have changed. Today the culture is very chatty, very childlike, which could explain why the book is experiencing a revival.

What I appreciate most about Changing, in addition to its poetic insights, is its Nordic ingenuousness (like Karl Ove Knausgård, Ullmann is Norwegian). Imagine being the Knopf publicist waiting at the airport for the author after having read this from the book's opening pages:

"The same men and women will be standing by the same exits and will exclaim the same words of welcome when they see me. People with flowers and kindness, all in a hurry to pack me into a car and drive me to some luxury hotel, where they can abandon me and go home to their own lives."

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers (1984)

"The argument I wish to make in this book is somewhat less watertight, I hope: I wish to show that the circumstances of modernism were not modern, and only became so by being given the forms called 'spectacle.'" -- T.J. Clark (p.15)

Monday, August 3, 2020

Bright Lights, Big City (1984) 2

So what's it about?

It's about grief. Grieving.

Who is grieving?

The narrator is grieving.

(Glancing at yesterday's post.) The end of his marriage?

His marriage is the bun, the death of his mother is the beef.

Funny you should put it that way. Wendy's "Where's the beef?" campaign was launched the same year as Bright Lights, Big City.


Did you see the film version?

I've seen bits. Same with Bonfire of the Vanities (1987) and Slaves of New York (1986). I've seen bits of those films too.


The narrator in Bright Lights is twenty-four-years-old -- the person playing him is twenty-seven but looks twelve.

You said you've only seen bits of the film version. Which bits?

Drinks with Alex Hardy and the narrator's coughing fit in front of his ex-wife at a warehouse party in TriBeCa. I'd like to see a whole film about Alex Hardy, but Jason Robards passed away twenty years ago.

The scene in the book that moved you the most?

The narrator's conversation with his dying mom.

Is it in the film?

I don't know.

Are you curious?

Not about that.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Bright Lights, Big City (1984)

This book was a big deal when it came out in 1984, a year that, according to George Orwell, was supposed to be a big deal, too, until everyone realized 1984 didn't differ much from the year(s) before and after it. But the same couldn't be said of Bright Lights, Big City. This was a book that the New York-based publishing industry was waiting for, written by a young, white, middle-class, straight male author who could and therefore should be the next Fitzgerald or Hemingway, both of whom were long dead and in need of replacing.

I have tried to read this book three times since it came out, but recently gave it another go after buying it for a quarter off a blanket on East Hastings Street. The book is 182 pages long and I am on Page 124, with our second-person narrator looking to self-destruct in the ballroom of New York's Waldorf-Astoria, where his ex-wife -- a fashion model -- is working. For those familiar with the book, this scene is typical of the world our narrator inhabits; but the scene below isn't, and that, apart from some very fine writing, is what kept me reading.

"The evening is cool. You find yourself walking the Village, pointing out landmarks and favourite townhouses. Only yesterday you would have considered such a stroll too New Jersey for words, but tonight you remember how much you used to like this part of the city. The whole neighbourhood smells of Italian food. The streets have friendlier names and cut weird angles into the rectilinear map of the city. The buildings are humble in scale and don't try to intimidate you. Gay giants stride past on hypertrophied thighs, swathed in leather and chains, and they do intimidate you." (p. 94)

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Articles, Letters, Questions

On Wednesday former Canadian Art Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher David Blazer published in Hyperallergic an article on/called "The Persistence of Structural Racism in Canadian Cultural Institutions." He's right, of course. Hard to fuck that one up. But apart from some sentences detailing the horrors of corporate sponsorship, he does.

Yesterday Canadian Art published "A Letter" by its staff stating that Balzer "implicated" them "without [their] consent," and in doing so "reproduces the structures being critiqued, including white arts leaders capitalizing on the labour of BIPOC staff," one of whom took to Twitter, not with threats but with promises:

A couple things: Did the editors of Hyperallergic fact-check Balzer's article with Canadian Art staff, or was this article intended as a surprise? Not nice if it was. Also, Canadian Art concludes its letter with a strange paragraph:

How is it that a letter such as this can conclude with the magazine "pausing [its] online publishing." Shouldn't a "pausing" occasion another letter (like the one we never received explaining why Canadian Art wasn't publishing a Summer issue)? Canadian Art's online publishing began gearing down months ago; more recently it has trickled. Yet never before (since the closing of museums and galleries in March) has its non-exhibition-based, infrastructural-interrogative content felt so necessary, so relevant.

What is going on at Canadian Art?