Monday, April 19, 2021

Extremes Meet


My reading of James's Washington Square (1880) continues between garden waterings. Lots of wit and wisdom in this novel, set in the 1840s, within a lifetime since the United States revolted from British rule.

The narration of Washington Square is tick-like, as if embedded in its characters. It would be a much shorter lifetime before F. Scott Fitzgerald gave us Nick Carraway to describe the hand-me-down glamour of Jay and Daisy.

The Great Gatsby (1925) is a novel about the three Vs: vanity, voyeurism and vicarity.  I am not yet sure what Washington Square is about, though I am hoping Catherine's still waters continue to run deeper as the novel progresses.

I am half-way through Washington Square and have made a number of notes in its margins. A recent note concerns the ongoing negotiation between Catherine and her father, Dr. Sloper, over Catherine's suitor, Morris Townsend. The following passage is not narratively interesting, though it contains an observation that speaks to our times:

"'You told me that if I should have anything more to say about Mr. Townsend you would be glad to listen to it.'

'Exactly, my dear,' said the Doctor, not turning around, but stopping his pen.

Catherine wished that it would go on, but she herself continued. 'I thought I would tell you that I have not seen him again, but that I should like to do so.'

'To bid him good-bye?' asked the Doctor.

The girl hesitated a moment. 'He is not going away.'

The Doctor wheeled slowly round in his chair, with a smile that seemed to accuse her of an epigram; but extremes meet, and Catherine had not intended one."

It is true -- extremes meet. Never in the way we expect -- as in political orientation, with its moribund Left-Right dichotomy -- but certainly in tone and attitude. Catherine and her father are different from each other, yet both are bound by faith and reason, qualities that were, in mid-19th century America, wound tight.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

"so much depends/ upon// a red ..."


For years I walked by this faded red fence, never thinking anything of it, until this spring, when suddenly it became the ideal audience for these gorgeous tulips.


Saturday, April 17, 2021

Lost Indentation


Recently I was asked by an online journal for a poem in honour of National Poetry Month. The poem I offered was subsequently published incorrectly (the fourth line was not indented) and efforts to have it corrected have proven unsuccessful.  

Everything moves so fast these days; no one has time to fix that which is considered finished. You would think of all the things worth returning to, a poem would be up there. But no, it seems we are always on to the next thing. Oh well. These are the times.

Here is the poem as I would like it to be considered:


We Can Have Both, But Not All
for Ashok Mathur


let's begin with what we have

we have each other

say it

each other

no, all of it

            we have each other

we have each other

all together now

            all together now we have each other

Friday, April 16, 2021

Great Courses


A few months ago a friend subscribed me to the Walrus, Toronto's answer to the Atlantic Monthly. With a subscription to the Walrus, not only do you get the magazine, you get mailings from whoever it shares your address with -- a most recent example being the Great Courses catalogue.

That the Great Courses catalogue arrived within days of Laurentian University's insolvency declaration is a chilling coincidence, one I hope is not indicative of a shift in the way post-secondary education is delivered -- a shift helped along by Covid's normalization of online courses. Most galling to the cultural nationalist who the Walrus counts on as its subscriber base (not to mention those branches of government who provide the magazine with public funding) is that the courses offered in Great Courses are all from U.S. universities.

If the Walrus is, as it bills itself, "Canada's Conversation," why won't it discuss with its subscribers who it sells our info to?  



Thursday, April 15, 2021

A Plausible Coxcomb

 

I forget when, but it was many years ago that I thought I should read some Henry James (1843-1916). So I started into The Golden Bowl (1904), and god if that book didn't want me around! Maybe when I'm older? I think I was in high school when I tried this, thought this.

Tanglewood was all out of Golden Bowls when I was in there last time, so I purchased James's Washington Square (1880) and am enjoying both its story and its prose. The States were a lighter place in those days -- if you had money. That hasn't changed, though one gets the sense that the potential for change has never been greater. 

In Washington Square, a widower's only child, Catherine, is now 22 and has attracted the interest of Morris Townsend, an older cousin of the man who is engaged to one of Catherine's seven female cousins. Morris has returned to his hometown (NYC) after years abroad, to settle down, but Catherine's father,  Dr. Sloper, believes his daughter to be too unattractive ("ugly," "diffident") to attract someone as dashing as Townsend, and that he is only after his money.

Here is Dr. Sloper's first spoken assessment of Townsend, as conveyed to his more "sensible" sister, Mrs. Almond:

"He is not what I call a gentleman. He has not the soul of one. He is extremely insinuating; but it's a vulgar nature. I saw through it in a minute. He is altogether too familiar -- I hate familiarity. He is a plausible coxcomb." (54)

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Pen and Paper


A couple days ago, while in the garden on the first of our progressively warmer spring days, I finished reading Dick Hebdige's Subculture: The Meaning of Style (1979). What a great book to re-visit, particularly now that we have some distance from the British postwar period it attempts to unravel -- the late-1970s, when certain dialecticians and semioticians began to cohabitate. Highlights include Chapter Eight --"Style as homology," "Style as signifying practice" -- with insights by Piccone, Lefebvre, Kristeva, Barthes and Genet.

After a delicious cheese plate of Footnotes and Bibliography I noticed on the last page (interior back cover) a hurricane, what looks like someone trying to get a pen started after years of inactivity. I found the first faint lines where the hurricane began, then its concluding eye. Was it my hand that did this? It could have been, though it doesn't look like it. Not sure I would have used a book this way, even in those days. A second-hand book, I think, purchased in Victoria, where I did my undergrad (1981-1986).

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

April is Poetry Month!


"And you are not the guy and still you fit the description because there is one guy who is always the guy fitting the description." (105) 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Call-Outs


Tamsin tells the story of a friend who was having a problem with her toilet. She tried everything before giving up and calling a plumber.

The plumber arrived, turned a screw a quarter-turn and viola -- problem solved. The plumber looked at his watch and said, "You have 57 minutes left on the minimum one hour call-out. Is there anything else I can do?"

What followed were a series of tasks based on an equal number of plumbing problems that conspired to make Tamsin's friend's life less than it could be. The plumber fixed all of them, not in one hour but in two. 

"Where did the time go!" said Tamsin's friend after the plumber once again looked at his watch.

"Into my wallet," he deadpanned, before busting out in laughter.

They agreed to split the difference, but when the plumber wrote out the invoice, it showed only one hour, not two. "For the coffee," he smiled. "And the conversation."

Before labour unions (and indeed after them), when workers were at the beck and call of their employers, a worker could be called-out in the middle of the night for a three minute repair job and be paid only for those minutes. One of the great achievements of a labour union is that workers who show up for work can expect to be paid not only an hourly minimum, but a daily minimum.

When I was a cannery worker on the Skeena River,  the United Fisherman and Allied Workers Union saw to it that my work day amounted to a minimum of four hours pay, regardless of whether I worked three minutes or 240 minutes. The same applied to those middle of the night knocks on the bunkhouse door when someone had to take those twenty +30 red springs off the deck of a southbound packer.

Yesterday, while chancing on 221A's website, I noticed a job posting for an On Call/Part Time Technician. The position offers an above-minimum hourly living wage ($25-$32) and a retainer based on a minimum 30-60 hours a month work. What isn't clear in this posting is how call-outs are dealt with. For example, if, in the fourth week, after the technician has surpassed the monthly minimum 60 hours and indeed the 15 hours of that week (as covered by the retainer), the technician is called in for a one hour repair job, is the technician paid only for that hour, or is there, like there is with Tamsin's friend's plummer, a minimum call-out charge? 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Cold Callers


A few days ago I decided it was time to read Dick Hebdige's Subculture: The Meaning of Style (1979) from cover to cover. Prior readings were based on whatever I was looking for in the Index -- usually that most misunderstood of postwar formations: "skinheads". I took the book from the shelf, collected my pot of tea and made my way to the porch. 

"Hello!"

"Hello!" I said looking up from my book. A young, uncomfortably well-dressed couple on the sidewalk.

"Whatcha reading?" asked the fellow in the almost-too-big blazer.

"I'm reading Subculture: The Meaning of Style by Dick Hebdige."

"Subcultures, as in gangs and such?"

"Some might not be happy with the characterization, but yes. And such."

The couple introduced themselves as realtors, with "family in the neighbourhood." Because it was a nice day, they decided to walk to her parents. Because I agreed with them about the weather, I decided not to ask if they always introduced themselves by their professions when on family outings. Nor was I tempted to ask who their family is. None of my business, right?

"You have such a nice house!" the woman said, turning the ankle of her high-heeled right foot inwards, a gesture I associate with deference.

"A lot of sadness in this house," I said forlornly.

"Oh, but a lot of happiness too, I'm sure!" the woman beamed.

"It might have been happy when the skinheads lived here, back in the eighties," I said. At which point the fellow glanced at the woman with a let's-get-out-of-here look.

"What was the name of that book again?" asked the woman, trailing after him.

"I Love Dick by Chris Kraus."

Saturday, April 10, 2021

The Back Garden


So many small jobs in the garden today. A little of everything. No list, just walking around noticing things. A self-seeded fern so small it needed potting. A pot that needed moving. A new pot to put in its place. The pot with the fern in it.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Canadian Art

Yesterday the Board of Directors of Canadian Art magazine issued a statement saying that they will postpone its summer issue, pause its online postings and temporarily layoff 12 staff members (for up to three months). There is more, of course, concerning the effort board and staff have made to work through issues facing the magazine and the world in general, but also less, for there is no mention of Editor-in-Chief Jayne Wilkinson's departure, as her name is no longer on the masthead.

I don't know Jayne very well, but I am acquainted with her and have happily worked with her as a contributor to the magazine. Although I no longer contribute to the magazine with the regularly that I once did, I have kept up with both its content and its controversies, and I have to say that, despite it all, I have often wondered how Jayne kept her head. I would think that someone who has worked as hard and as honestly as Jayne has to keep this magazine going deserves a proper farewell.

Canadian Art is the country's leading visual arts magazine. It boasts a print readership of 94, 568 people and an online readership of 157, 562, according to a 2019 Donor Impact Report. Can Canada do without a national visual arts magazine? One could look elsewhere. Do the visual arts in Canada need one? Same.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Months and Weeks


April is National Poetry Month. April 1-7 is Testicular Cancer Awareness Week. As a testicular cancer survivor and reader of poetry, here are three fairly recent poetry reviews I contributed to the Ormsby Review -- On Forgetting a Language (Baseline, 2019) by Isabella Wang, Render (Arsenal Pulp, 2020) by Sachiko Murakami and The Shadow List  (Wolsak & Wynn/Buckrider, 2021) by Jen Sookfong Lee.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Cats

 

In the backyard yesterday, digesting the vaccine, when who should slink past but a long lost friend -- the black-and-white cat who lives down the street. I had some salmon in the fridge for her. A bigger appetite, a bigger cat. 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Houses

Exfoliated face of a house off Fraser Street.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Kites


I never see kites getting caught in trees anymore. The danger, the capture, then the flier giving up, taking one last look before saying goodbye.

All I have now are my memories.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Resting Sleep Face


Sleeping, resting, passed-out are all descriptors we apply to images or pictures of people with their eyes closed. Some might even say exacerbated, given the public's growing discomfort with anything ambiguous. That too is tiresome.

One self-described member of the public told me that "instead of funding billboards of passed-out people, the money should be spent on housing them."

"Would you support a public housing project along the corridor where these billboards are placed?" I asked, knowing this person lived on the west side.

I was told I was "being difficult."

"Seems the difficulty," I said, "is in your inability to respond to the question. It doesn't have to be yes or no; you're entitled to your conditions."

"Look, I'm lawyer," the person said. "If you want an argument, I'll crush you."

"Coincidence," I said, "the head of the festival that commissioned these billboards is a lawyer, too. She has a nice quote in response to the billboard company's removal of the signs. She said, "Steven [Shearer]'s project has done exactly what it intended, which is to start conversations about the divide between public and private space."

"Well, we're not having one," said the lawyer, backing away from me like I was some kind of animal.

photo: Dennis Ha

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Friday, April 2, 2021

The Pact


I saw the story yesterday. A group of songwriters calling themselves The Pact are refusing to allow singers to receive as much as 30% of their writing credits when a singer has had no "meaningful" involvement in the writing of a song. This is not a new phenomenon. 

Apart from the song "amalgamations" of A. P. Carter, Colonel Tom Parker would insist that certain songs offered to his client Elvis Presley carry his name on the writing credits, while producers like Phil Spector hustled credits out of lesser known writers and musicians for prepositional changes to songs he had arranged and recorded. What is new is that there are less royalty monies available to musicians now that the era of ubiquitous radio play is dead; that digital downloads amount to little more than a tenth-of-a-penny for their Authors and Composers; and that touring during a global pandemic has been declared unsafe, if not illegal.

What is new is not to be confused with what has changed, and it is here that the list is longer, more complicated. One of the biggest changes concerns the way we have come to think about creation: not as a singular endeavour, but as a collaborative or relational activity. Not necessarily a bad thing. But when inclusion is manipulated by those seeking more of the pie than they already have, you have a problem.

Does a singer deserve a writing credit because their spectacular presence is such that the song they record would be nothing without their ability to take it beyond the kitchen table where it was written? Is melisma an essential part of a song's melody, or an example of its interpretation? This, like everything else right now, is a cultural issue. And no, The Pact is not all white guys.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Annuals


A leisurely drive to Jenny's yesterday to round up the usual suspects -- begonia, lobelia, fuchsia -- and whatever else caught my eye. This year's catch includes a pomelo, which I can't imagine producing fruit in our climate, though maybe a nice flower? Also, some petunias and pansies. Check out this one (above). Ever seen a pansy so miserable? I am thinking of getting it a Twitter account.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Unalaska, Alaska


Everywhere should carry evidence of its not-there. Alaska does. Along its Aleutian Islands chain, the town of Unalaska.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

400 Block of Powell Street


Sunday night. This month's socially-distanced social at Stan's. The usual suspects, featuring Stephen in his recurring role as Force of Nature, waving his phone around, until it is in your face: a picture of a painting that hangs in Sunrise Market.

The painting is of the middle of the 400 block of Powell Street where I lived (at 441) from 1987-1993 (just west of Sunrise's long-gone second store), and where Instant Coffee headquartered from 2007-2014, the year the building's east wall caved in and everybody had to leave if we wanted to save the building.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Vancouver Art Gallery: Vancouver, BC


The Vancouver Art Gallery's up-coming, self-titled exhibition Vancouver Art Gallery: Vancouver, BC features "security portraits" captured first by the Gallery's video cameras, then again by contributors who were invited to produce from these videos a screen grab that best reflects the gallery's current condition. 

Pictured on the catalogue cover (above) is my contribution, Meh (2021), which features a man from a demographic (South Asian men, 19-35) that the VAG has had little success in attracting to its membership. The man's half thumbs up gesture might well stand as an assessment of the VAG's effort to attract him and his contemporaries to a gallery that neither affirms nor critiques their interests.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

North Vancouver


North Vancouver was top of CBC radio's national news yesterday evening. Every time I see or hear "North Vancouver" I perk up, probably because I was born there and, for the first 5.5 years of my life, lived beside Edgemont Village, then a year or so in Queensbury before our family moved across the water to Kerrisdale.

The news concerned a number of stabbings at the Lynn Valley Public Library, located in the Lynn Valley Mall, a complex I am familiar with because I spent a couple years working in the area as a residential care day programmer after graduating from university. To my recollection, the mall was never a particularly dangerous place, though Lynn Valley does have a rough history that dates back to its "Shaketown" days, so named for its many shake-sided shacks, when Lynn Valley was still considered part of the wilderness.

Curious about North Vancouver's other neighbourhood names, I searched "North Vancouver neighbourhoods" and most of what came up were realtor sites, like Kim Taylor's, whose neighbourhood map is featured at the top of this post. Edgemont Village did not come up because it is in Capilano Heights. Historic townsites like Moodyville or Maplewood did not come up because, presumably, Moodyville sounds depressing to potential home buyers and Maplewood was populated by a later generation of squatters resistant to concepts like private property, despite the fact that the land these squatters were on was -- and remains -- unceded Coast Salish territory. 


Saturday, March 27, 2021

"A Small Pile of Leaves" (2021)


Last week I received in the mail my five contributor copies of Touch the Donkey 29, published as always by the indefatigable rob mclennan, and including contributions (in order of appearance) by Bill Carty, Nina Vega-Westhoff, Robert Hogg, Sara Alcaide-Escue, Colby Clair Stolson, Elizabeth Robinson, Simina Banu and Tom Prime.

I contributed five poems to TtD 29 (they appear between Bill's and Nina's), the first of which, "A Small Pile of Leaves," contains lines longer than I thought and as such the last word or words of each line were cut off and tucked below. (These things happen.)

Here is the poem as I intended it:


A Small Pile of Leaves

 

 

author writes to reader of a tree from behind the tree the author writes

 

the reader no longer sees the tree only the author hiding behind it writing

 

the reader writes it is the reader huddled behind the tree carving R-E-A-D-E-R

 

into the tree with a pen-knife then a key that breaks at the end of R-E-A-D-

 

now inspired the author deletes the tree and writes of a huddled figure

 

crying over a small pile of leaves I placed there before I sat down to write

 

these lines hoping they might be discovered by someone out for a reading



Friday, March 26, 2021

Soft Zipper (2021)


A package from New Star the latest new book by George I open it at random and read the writing "A Little Lunch" (pp. 87-88) charged with depth so finely observed and spiralled from rhetoric if this isn't the old guy learning as I turn the page to find it is not the father but the daughter Thea and your Portrait of the Father as a Young Dad.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

What the Tweeters Are Tweeting


A shift in the conversation that highlights means (care) not ends (cancelation).

A cultural entrepreneur is never a worker, always a manager.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

"You may find yourself ..."


Better the devil we know (Jinping, Trump, Putin, Bolsonaro, Mugabe,  Al-Qadhdāfī, etc.) than the ancients who raised us and who we remain loyal to despite their hypocrisies, laughing at us behind our backs because we are afraid to imagine life without them (democracy)? That's thug rule, and it has become so normalized (The Sopranos, The Wire, etc.) that we don't even need to imagine it -- it's all over us, rehearsed daily on social media, in the way we look at strangers.

Years ago, while living in Victoria, I remember a piece of graffito that said something about television being safe for children as long as their parents don't act like television characters. The attribution was to a band led by a tyrant with a personality disorder that shares spectral elements with those devils.

What to do during these unprecedented times? Look for precedents. They're out there. The past is another country, and there is more of it online than ever.

"Same as it ever was, same as it ever was ...


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

From Kristjana Gunnars's "a moment in flight: essay on melancholy" (2020)


"The body itself is also poetry: instead of clarity it gives you depth and music when it speaks -- woundedness is the human condition. We do not cure disease, he says, disease cures us."


Monday, March 22, 2021

Garden


I extended the pavers outside my door last weekend. Before that, the south end of what I now call my patio was taken up by three large ferns, two of which grew from the Bowen Island fern I planted there 20 years ago. In place of the ferns, a wooden slat bench that I found in an alley last summer.

The bench was placed so I could see from it the mountains through the spaces between the top slats of the fence. A mountain view is comforting for the space implied between me and the mountain. My ideal view, of course, is of the ocean -- "of course" because I was born overlooking one, and the magic in me believes such things to be true.

Summer will be here soon, and I am excited about spending more of it in the yard. The pizza oven (made entirely from DIY store pavers) can attain temperatures of up to 600 degrees, which will serve as a heating source on cool Juneary nights. As for the high Fenway Park-style laurel hedge that separates us from our western neighbours, I have trimmed it to what amounts to a screen, allowing the sun to peek through in spots, catching on certain leaves, turning them from green to gold.


Sunday, March 21, 2021

Milk Chocolate Barbie


Supermarkets have their display patterns. The day after Labour Day marks the beginning of the Hallowe'en season. The day after Hallowe'en -- Christmas. Easter has yet to establish a start date, but there it was yesterday, on the first day of spring.

Among the walls and towers of Easter shit was a milk chocolate bust of Barbie. Not a row or column, just a couple of boxes side-by-side containing America's most popular doll -- as chocolate. On the box, her blue eyes shining, her blonde hair arranged in double buns as she holds up a blue-eyed rabbit next to her almost as white t-shirt.

Through the plastic window we see the edible product: arms clutching her mid-section, her tight-lipped smile, eyes closed this time because closed eyes, like toothless smiles, are cheaper to manufacture.

I purchased the Barbie for one of the grouchy old neighbours I buy groceries for. Her order was small this time, and because she likes milk chocolate I thought I would throw it in. The Easters of my childhood were filled with sugar, and this gal has been talking a lot about her childhood of late.

Last night, while walking between rainfalls, I approached the old woman's house and saw her lit-up in the kitchen widow. She didn't have her glasses on, which meant she couldn't see me under the street light, so I slowed down and watched.

I couldn't see the counter, but it looked like she was preparing something. Suddenly the box's pinkness, its top flap open and she has the bust by the neck, bringing it to her mouth, and just like that she bites the head off!

Mantis! I said to myself as she opened the freezer door, inserting the headless, legless Barbie inside. 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Morgantown


Spring! Time to get Bach's Mass in B Minor off the playlist for something not Vivaldi.

I have always associated Joni Mitchell's Ladies of the Canyon (1970) with spring and her mornings, and after looking just now, I noticed it was released in April of that year.

This is an album I listened to a lot in the spring of 1982, living in Victoria two blocks from the ocean near the corner of Moss and May, a college student riding my bike up those hills to school most days, stopping on the way back at that deli across from the Ross Bay Cemetery for bread, cheese and its homemade eggplant salad, meeting up with Bonnie who lived in the suite below mine, or starting the day with Bonnie over filter drip coffee on the other side of Beacon Hill Park, at that ice cream parlour that can't possibly be there anymore, although with Victoria, where resistance to change is a point of pride, maybe.

Side One of Ladies of the Canyon. First song. "Morning Morgantown". Guitar strings like dew drops, piano keys like daybreak's golden rays. I was so in love with Bonnie!

Friday, March 19, 2021

Seven South African Poets (1971)


Books like this are often found out front in the discount bin. Anthologies. Poetry anthologies.

Anthologies, book publishers will tell you, are a hard sell. Add poetry to that. Then "South Africa" -- a country that was, until the early 1990s, boycotted by countries both capitalist and communist for its Apartheid policies.

Seven South African Poets (London: Heinemann, 1971) is subtitled (on the inside) "Poems of Exile Collected and Selected." It is edited by playwright and critic Cosmo Pieterse and features one of the most refreshingly existential introductions I have read in some time. Here are its final lines:

"... this volume, while not claiming to represent the poets, does represent them as individuals. Their work may have qualities in common, as some aspects of their lives have; but they do not form a 'school', nor does their work show any trend. These are, simply, seven poets from South Africa."

I purchased the book on the basis of the first poem by Dollar Brand (who now goes by the name of Abdullah Ibrahim). The poem is called "Africa, Music and Show Business: an analytical survey in twelve tones plus finale," and it scratches at everything -- from "geography" to "TIME." Here is "V": " rhythm afrique// joey had the biggest feet/ so he played tenor."

But for me the surprise came at the end of the book -- the poems of Arthur Nortje (1942-1970). In particular his long poem "Immigrant", where the poet's passage stretches from Johannesburg through the UK to Vancouver. "The flat sea washes/ at Vancouver Bay. As we taxi in/ I find I can read the road signs." How strange to learn that in 1967 Nortje taught high school in Hope, B.C. 

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Dream I Tell You (2006)


I spotted the book spine-out on the "New Arrivals" shelf at Tanglewood. I have a thing for its author so I removed it, flipped through it (selections from her dream journals), then put it back on the shelf. OCD'ingly I removed it again, flipped through it again, then lingered here and there, this time on the back jacket copy: "Cixous's accounts of her dreamscapes resist standard psychoanalytic interpretations ...." Is that possible? I am speaking of those readers trained in it, determined by it.  

Cixous's accounts are rarely over 250 words each. I decided to purchase the book and read an account three times before going to sleep each night. It was my hope that the account would find its way into my own dreams. After five attempts -- success!

I was late for a talk I was giving at the PdT, running down Manutention, hoping that the papers spilling out of my satchel were not my lecture notes, when who should I see coming towards me but Cixous! "Hélèn!" I cried out. "J'arrive!" And Hélèn lit up, quickened her pace, opening her arms as if to embrace me -- only it wasn't me her arms were for, but the ghost of Jacques Derrida falling to earth behind me.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Pronoundemonium

You confused my we for us. I was referring to my mother, the work we are doing to repair our relationship, together.

I’m trying to be respectful, but it's times like this that I would be willing to submit to state surveillance, towards a recording we could click on later, together, because you keep mishearing me, hearing what you want to hear.

 

Who or what has your activist so sharpened, poking wildly at the world? I mean it -- your rage is neither theory nor practice, but a lack of self-discipline.  

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Suite for Barbara Loden (2012, trans. 2015)


"I was reminded that only in unfamiliar bedrooms do we perceive with such clarity the true nature of our existence -- true because astray -- only away from our own bedroom, from the room that I longed for every minute of my trip -- how I longed to be there, to slip into it -- in the persistently unyielding space of a deserted place that just won't be appropriated." -- Nathalie Léger (trans. Natasha Lehrer and Cécile Menon)

Suite for Barabra Loden is a fiction that has its author reading and writing her way through Barbara Loden's film Wanda (1970). Thus, an auto-fiction, since Literature too is a car lot where readers crave new models.

Léger mentions Loden's appearance on the Mike Douglas Show, though she doesn't mention the name of the show. Nor does she mention what Loden told Douglas after he asked her a couple of questions about her working method relative to that of her filmmaker husband, Elia Kazan. "Does your husband have anything to do -- does he stick his toes in anywhere in your filmmaking?" Douglas asks (2:26), to which Loden responds in a way that brings in the episode's other two guests, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, pointing out how Lennon and Ono work "together," while she and Kazan "have separate interests." 

As for the next question (3:12), Douglas asks (in his trademark foreboding tone): "How does he feel about you making your own films, Barbara?" and Loden, seemingly unaffected by any suggestion that a male filmmaker could be threatened by a female filmmaker marriage partner, answers: "Well, um, he was the one who made me do it."

Monday, March 15, 2021

Duchamp's Socks


"It is hard to pin-point what happened," wrote my friend Tourneau when I asked him what became of The Exhibitionist. "There are many explanations, and I'm not sure we have enough pins between us to lay out all the reasons why."

Tourneau was never explicitly involved with the journal, though I had reason to believe he might have published work there. He is, after all, known for writing under as many as a dozen pen names, one of which I know of but, as a condition of our friendship, have sworn never to tell. Because The Exhibitionist came up in conversation, it occurred to me to ask. But carefully, mind you, so as not to suggest I knew under which name he contributed and thus compromise another with a name he had entrusted.

"Like Ray Johnson," said Katerina Svoboda on the topic of Tourneau's terms, "but fairer, less paranoid. Johnson would invite you into the New York Correspondence School, only to tell you you could be expelled at any moment -- for indiscretions known only to him! With Tourneau, it's clear-cut: you either told someone or you didn't."

Katerina is satisfied with Tourneau's terms, but I am not.

"You say it's clear-cut, Katerina, but how can it be clear when there is no provision for disputes. Anna Ragovoy was cut off by Tourneau after Flavour Meade told Tourneau it was Anna who told him that Tourneau was hustling a piece under the name Hollis Brutus. But as we both know, Anna is incapable of lying because she has Asperger's and Flavour was acquitted of that contempt charge because he found a doctor to convince the judge that his lying is symptomatic of a mental illness. Anna can't lie, while Flavour can -- and does! Yet Tourneau won't consider any of this, and to this day he still won't talk to Anna."

Katerina wrote back: "There are extenuating circumstances. I can't tell you what they are because it is a condition of my own friendship with Tourneau that forbids me from doing so. But since we're on the topic, did you know there is another Michel Tourneau publishing cultural criticism? And that the journal, coincidentally, is a spin off of The Exhibitionist?"

"How do you know it's not Tourneau himself? Seems more than a coincidence to me."

"Exactly! Which is why I think it isn't. I asked Samia and she said she spoke to his mother who told her Tourneau's given up writing to live with the al-Howeitat in Jordan!"

"Bedouins! After all he's said against them!"

"I know! This is a man who, unlike Acconci, could never move his bowels in a toilet other than his own."

"So what's the name of the journal?"

"Duchamp's Socks. Samia and I have pieces in it!"

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Annie Hall (1977)


The scene in Annie Hall (1977) when Allison is stage-managing a benefit for Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson and is asked by Alvy, an anxious comedian awaiting his cue, her name (Allison), her last name (Portchnik), if she works for Stevenson all the time ("No, I'm doing my thesis"), what she's doing her thesis on ("Political commitment in 20th century literature"), and based on this Alvy offers his conclusion:

"You're, like, New York Jewish, left-wing, intellectual, Central Park West, Brandeis University, socialist summer camps and the father with the Ben Shahn drawings, really strike-oriented ..."

As Alvy is running out of steam, he asks Allison to stop him ("before I make a complete imbecile of myself"), and it is here that Allison utters the line that recalls the days of playful sarcasm, those intervening years when political commitments in literature were separable from those we recognize as aesthetic:

"No, that was wonderful. I love being reduced to a cultural stereotype."

Saturday, March 13, 2021

An Occurrence of Lines



I can't think of a better way to keep us online than to keep us alone and indoors.

If this virus hadn't happened naturally, it would have to be invented.

If conspiracy theories weren't so tarnished (hello Adam Curtis), we might spend more time reading up on whose interests they serve.

The reign in shame falls gently on the terror.

Theories of power go back to time immemorial, when the(or)y were enacted by tricksters, justified by shamans, priests, eventually psychiatrists.

Thoughts like ticker-tape stream out of us, similes like out-dated machines for those who can't stand History -- because it's not about them?

Social media is in-dated machinery that empowers its user. It also creates the depressive conditions (Byung Chul-Han) that provide the need to feel empowered.

Complaints about depression only season the condition: metaphor with a simile on top.

Popularity is quantified by "like"s and is likened to a virus.

Skinner's pigeon gets its pellet.

Growing fat on right answers -- is winning?

Slavery existed prior to contact.

A bicycle is slower than a car, its operator exposed to the elements.

A bicycle requires balance, a car a history of extracted fuel that destabilizes a world in search of it.

The tweeter reserves the right to skip the rally, shout out the window, "I'm crying!"

Friday, March 12, 2021

Alien (1979)


RIPLEY (to Ash): "Unfortunately, by breaking quarantine you risk everybody's life."

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Walking


A walk I like begins at 33rd and Pine and follows the former CPR line (south) to the village of Kerrisdale. Sometimes on my way back I walk east up the lane just north of 41st and pass by the house I lived in during my high school years. A difference between then and now is how contained people's properties are. In the 1970s driveways weren't gated like they are today.

The picture up top is a driveway gate with a lock on it. The lock tells us the gate cannot be opened without a key. The position of the lock tells us it was secured just before the person living there drove away, and that the house is likely vacant.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

"There are you, you drive like a demon from station to station" (David Bowie)


"Stations," writes Derek Jarman in Modern Nature (1991), "attract all those who have no journey to take; they provide warmth, a roof in a sudden storm, and the illusion of being at the hub of things." 

The picture up top is of the Lewis Cubitt-designed King's Cross Station (1852) 43-years after it's construction, circa 1895.

King's Cross Station appears in the third verse of The Proclaimer's "It Broke My Heart" (1987):

Saw the son who's been gone two weeks
And he's down already with a job to seek
And he's in King's Cross and there's no one speaking that
Broke my heart

And then the refrain, which sounds familiar in light of the royals:

Talked about it with the family now who
What began in sadness ended up a row
All the guys with the clever mouths
They were saying we should move south


Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Flowers


How sad to lose a mother at their ages. I felt for these two after her passing; not just how it happened, but the circumstances that led up to it; what followed, what continues to follow. If I were these two I would always feel uneasy about the House I was born into.

The many flowers that backgrounded these boys in the days that followed her passing. The gesture of giving flowers, laid in honour of someone loved. I saw -- and continue to see -- this gesture. It is hard to see the flowers for the glare held by their plastic.

Monday, March 8, 2021

command + shift+ 4


A YouTube screen grab to look like a Polaroid print.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

1305 East 20th Avenue


The house at the northeast corner of East 20th and Clark is known as one of the oldest and most enchanted houses in the neighbourhood. I have heard that it was built in the late-19th century to oversee a vast farmland and, in the 1960s, was the dream home of a young girl who later married a man who bought it for her.

In the 27 years I have lived in the neighbourhood the house stood as a shared house, where in summer its inhabitants gathered on its south-facing front veranda to enjoy meals, drinks and sometimes project movies and sporting events. Making the veranda even grander, a long front garden and a central vignette.

A recent zoning decision to allow a new house in the front garden of the original house has destroyed the majesty of its veranda, which now faces a poster-sized bathroom window no more than six feet from its front step. What a shame. This new house just sits there so ... weirdly.


Saturday, March 6, 2021

Pruning


Years ago, when I first began pruning the apple tree, it took two days, not the half-day (if that) of today. 

Whether it was years of neglect, crappy pruners ("A bad workman blames his tools," my mother used to say) or my unfamiliarity with the ways of the tree, I'm not sure. But now it's easier.

Yesterday I pruned the apple in two hours, and that includes a fall, with me hanging momentarily by the sleeves of my red checked work shirt.

Oh, the exhilaration I felt when the ladder slipped from under me. Gravity's caress!